Category Archives: picture books

Signed book giveaway and workshop

The SnugglewumpMy new picture book The Snugglewump illustrated by Kate Chappell is out!  The Snugglewump is a featureless comforter with an inferiority complex.  When it hears the other toys arguing about which of them Molly loves best, it crawls out of the cat flap and ends up in a puddle in the local park.  Will the Snugglewump be reunited with Molly?  Could it be that she loves it best after all?  To find out, why not enter my free signed copy giveaway?  Just comment below and tell me what age group you like to write for and why.  I will print off the comments and draw one out of a hat!

Also I’m running a two hour picture book writing workshop at the Get Writing 2017 conference at Oaklands College, St Albans, on Saturday 3 June.  It’s an all day event where you pick which workshops you would like to attend as well as talks and opportunities to pitch to agents and publishers.  Plus lunch!  A lovely day – I have attended several times in the past.  More details and tickets available here.

My publishing journey has begun…

I am so happy to tell you that a picture book I submitted to Maverick Books has made its way up through the slush pile and has been accepted for publication!  You will know that this is a dream come true for me and I am still afraid I will suddenly walk into an exam hall without my trousers on and realise it is a dream and I have to retake my physics O level instead.

I sent the manuscript at the end of April 2014 but I knew there was a big backlog and Maverick was my first choice so I decided to wait and concentrate on other material.  I have a lot of manuscripts of different age ranges and genres all whizzing about at once!  Then at the beginning of February I received an email asking if the manuscript was still available and for more information about myself.  Funnily enough Maverick had already heard of me due to the number of click-throughs coming to their site through the list of publishers on this blog!  I was thrilled to hear they were interested but tried not to get too excited as I have been at this stage so many times before.  The next email invited me to visit their offices in Horsham.  It was a two-hour drive but nothing was going to stop me!

It was very interesting seeing inside a publisher’s office and I learned a lot about the process as we talked about how a picture book was put together and how Maverick works.  Although it is a small team they have big ambitions and really high standards.  They also like to work closely with their authors and get them involved in editorial meetings, which sounded great.  Contracts were mentioned, hands were shaken and I left the meeting walking on air and hoping I wouldn’t crash the car on the way home!

Putting together a picture book is a lengthy process, so I won’t see Professor McQuark come to life fully until 2016.  But there is the editorial process to enjoy, plus the excitement of seeing sample illustrations from three different illustrators before a final style is selected to suit the Professor and her amazing inventions.  I think that’s what I’m looking forward to seeing most of all.

I’ll keep you up to date with my publishing journey as it happens.  But for now, keep submitting, keep writing – you never know what might happen!

Trudi Granger’s success story

I am delighted to share the success story of Trudi Granger, a reader of this blog, who is due to have her picture book ‘Always There Bear’ published next month by Top That! Publishing.

Always There Bear by Trudi Granger

What is your background and how long have you been writing for?

Ahh my background….. banking law!  For quite a few years I was a senior associate in Australia.  So, in a sense I have been ‘writing’ for years, in the form of loan agreements and other finance documents, as well as legal articles.  However it was not until 3 years ago when I returned to the UK with my husband and children that I started to think about writing for children.

 Slowly, little picture book ideas formed in my mind and I started to note them down.  However, it was not until about 18 months ago that I started to formulate my first picture book story.  After so many years of legal writing – where you write with absolute precision so that there is no ambiguity – it was quite liberating to write something for children, where the language could be simpler, more lyrical and encourage imagination, particularly once the so very important illustrations were added.

What made you write Always There Bear?

 I wanted to draft something that was reassuring and heart-warming for young children.  I wanted to create a story that could be read at bedtime and put the listener in a ‘good place’ when the lights went out.  (Clearly I also had the interests of the parents in mind as well!).  My thoughts focussed on teddy bears and the fact that many children have a special cuddly toy which they take around with them to share the good times and make the not-so-good times better.  How many times have parents managed to stop a child being upset or scared by handing their child their special teddy bear?  And how many times do little children decide to take a cuddly toy with them on a special outing or to nursery?  So many of them have an ‘always there bear’ who almost becomes one of the family.  And so that is what I tried to embrace in the picture book.  Coincidentally, just as I was at the stage of submitting the draft I read an article by historian David Cannadine about the enduring appeal of teddy bears.  Following his article, readers wrote in to tell their stories about the importance of their childhood teddy bears.  This made me wonder (and hope) that perhaps parents/carers/grandparents reading this book to children might also have an appreciation of the very simple message the story was intended to convey.

Tell us about the publication journey – did you submit to many places?  How did you feel when you got an offer?

Being a complete novice I had been a bit hit and miss sending off other submissions in the first couple of months until …. I came across your blog and the list you had created of publishers accepting unsolicited submissions!  It was by studying that extremely useful list that I got a more comprehensive understanding of children’s publishers and what they wanted.  Having taken a rather scattergun approach with earlier submissions (which is a real no no), this time, with ‘Always There Bear’, I was more measured, took time to look at the types of books the various publishers were currently advertising, and probably submitted the draft to only 5 or 6 publishers, including Top That! Publishing, who accepted my submission.

Unsurprisingly, I had been the recipient of my fair share of rejection letters (and worse still, deafening silence) in relation to other submissions, so the submissions for ‘Always There Bear’ were sent off with some realism as to what the response would be.  However, as with lottery tickets, we know the odds, but we still live in hope that fortune might favour us.

As regards how I felt when I received the offer via email – delighted, but slightly disbelieving!  I clicked on the email several times on the day it arrived and read it very thoroughly each time to make sure it did indeed say what it did.  (It was rather like that feeling you get when you leave the house and wonder whether you have indeed switched the oven off.  You know you have, but you still have to go back in the house to double check!)

I felt very green when I first found the courage to email Top That! Publishing, and explain to them that this was my first foray into writing and would they please explain to me what would happen once contracts had been signed.  They explained that the book, once the illustrations had been completed and the format signed off, would be showcased at the Frankfurt book fair, and would be due for publication in mid 2014 (now February 2014).  Top That! Publishing selected an illustrator, Gareth Llewhellin, and I have to say I was delighted when I first saw samples of his drawings for the book.  The illustrations complement the book completely.

Has being published changed your writing ambitions at all?

That’s an interesting question.  I am sure that many people, before they have anything published, have that feeling that they must keep going as they want to achieve the success of publication.

However, now that I have had my ‘fix’ of publication success there is indeed that feeling of wanting to go further.  Ideally I would love to be able to write a story for 7-9 year olds.  I have an idea, but I am very new to this craft and the standard is so very high.  So, I am realistic.  I shall carry on writing and will submit when I think something might be suitable.  However, if writing remains just a hobby for now, I shall be happy simply to have had the experience of having a book published and to have been introduced to an industry that I would otherwise never have known nothing about.  It’s been an enlightening journey!

What’s your advice to other writers hoping to be published, particularly in the picture book field?

Keep writing!  Always have a pen (or in my case, propelling pencil) and paper to hand to jot down your ideas as they come into your head.  Read other people’s writing blogs.  Go in for writing competitions.  But whatever it is, make sure it feels right for you.  And, most of all, I wish you all the very best of luck!

Thanks so much for your time, Trudi, and congratulations on your success!

‘Always There Bear’ will be available in bookshops and on Amazon from February.

Stretch your wings with Storybird

storybirdAspiring picture book writers and artists should check out Storybird, a beautifully presented and well structured site that is a cross between online publisher, social media site and playground!  Basically Storybird allows you to create your own online picture book using presupplied artwork.  The artwork is uploaded by artists who are sharing their work for free.  You type in a keyword, bring up some pictures and start pulling them into your blank pages.  Add some text and you have created your own picture book which can either remain private or be shared on the site and commented on.  If you want a hard copy you can pay for one (and the artist earns royalties), otherwise everything is free.

So what’s the catch?  Well, you’re not really in control of the material because you can only do one search (keyword or artist).  You have to use the pictures that your search brings up.  The point is to be inspired and create, not to prewrite your own story and find pictures to fit it.  Also it’s not the place to publish the picture book you’ve been working on for months as you don’t get any revenue for sharing it (and it may not be accepted by a traditional publisher as it will be seen as already published).

Instead, Storybird should be seen as a place to play.  It’s a place to try out your style, connect with other people, admire the amazing artwork and see if you can do it justice with your words.  Here’s my tips on how aspiring writers can use Storybird:

  • Read other people’s books and see how they’ve stretched the definition of a picture book – writing for teenagers and adults, for example.
  • Browse the artwork and get inspired.
  • Try out some different layouts on your storybook text.  Keep this one unpublished if it’s something you plan to send out to publishers.
  • Create a book and get feedback from other members.
  • Join a challenge or challenge some friends to come up with themed stories.
  • Sign on as a teacher and create a ‘class’ for your writing group or friends.
  • Create a story for your child, relative or grandchild.
  • Create a story with your child, relative or grandchild.

Here’s my story The LapTopper.  It’s a Catvert!

Have fun on the site and let me know if you create a book.

Pete’s success story

Followers of this blog (and particularly followers of the comments on the Children’s Publishers Accepting Unsolicited Manuscripts page) will be impatient to hear news of Pete, who has been keeping us updated with his publication story.  I caught up with Pete to ask him how it was all going and find out a bit more about what the process has been like.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your writing journey?  Have you been published before?

My name is Pete Shaw, I’m 27 years old and I live in God’s county of Lancashire, North West England. I have a beautiful daughter, Jessica, who will be three years old in March. For day job I am a supermarket manager, and up until eighteen months ago I had had absolutely no history of writing to any noteable level, never mind being a published author!

Midway through 2011 I decided to write a story, Little Ronnie and Magic the Horse. My only previous writing experience had been composing short stories at school, and writing small pieces whilst studying English Language at college. The story only took about 3-4 hours in total to write, and maybe an hour or so doing little bits of tweaking here and there, writing my synopsis, exploring various ‘submission help blogs’ 😉 etc. It’s roughly 750 words long, and is written in rhyme.

little ronnie and magic the horse

What was the inspiration for ‘Little Ronnie and Magic the Horse’?

There are three main inspirations for me wanting to write. The first one is my daughter, Jessica. One day I thought to myself, “Why am I buying stories to read to my daughter at bedtime, when I can have a crack at it myself and have the satisfaction that I have written the story that she loves to hear?” It was only once I had finished writing the story that I decided that it would possibly be good enough for some publishers to have a look at.

My second inspiration is Roald Dahl. His stories were my absolute favourites as a child, and if I possess the smallest of fractions of that man’s talent, then I’ll be successful and produce some wonderful things to read.

Thirdly, Julia Donaldson is a very recent inspiration for me personally, and is a firm favourite of my daughter’s. The Gruffalo is a brilliant read, and we have all her books at home. Again, if I even begin to emulate any of her work, then there is a lot to look forward to.

What do you think made your book stand out to the publishers?

I can only guess at what made my book stand out, as I haven’t received any specific feedback other than the fact that they loved it! Going off what my family fed back to me upon reading Little Ronnie, the rhyming aspect to the story is something that is a massive hit with children, and the fact that the story SOUNDS good to the child must be a massive factor.

How did the artwork process work?  Did you have any input?

I was asked if I’d like to recommend an artist or illustrator, but being a complete novice to the writing scene, I didn’t have any contacts. The publishers chose an illustrator for me, pairing me up with someone who they thought could best compliment my words with their illustrations. Coincidentally, I was looking through the children’s books at work one day and I stumbled across a book that was actually illustrated by Daniel Howarth, the illustrator for ‘Little Ronnie’!

I have since been sent the PDFs of all the pages of the book, and they are most impressive! It’s quite surreal to see words that were once in your head brought to life by someone who has put their own unique interpretation into them!

Were you asked to do any editing or redrafting?

I wasn’t asked to do any editing, although they have made a few tweaks themselves.

Have you been asked to get involved with marketing at all?

With Little Ronnie being due for release in Spring 2013, I have been told that marketing will be stepped up in the new year, and that they will contact me in due course to discuss how I can help. I have specifically asked to play as big a part in the marketing as they will allow me to play! I know the book was shown at the Frankfurt Book Fair earlier this year, and at time of writing, Little Ronnie will be available to buy in the UK, United States and Australia.

What are you working on now?

I’ve already written another story in the same style (completely unrelated storyline), which still needs a bit of tweaking. I also plan to write a sequel to Little Ronnie in the near future, but for the time being I am going to see how Little Ronnie performs in what is an incredibly competitive market. If the demand is there, I would be delighted to continue Ronnie’s adventures! I hope to write a full-length novel one day, but one step at a time I think!

What would you say to people who are still trying to get published?

Don’t let a a few rejections get you down. I received nine rejections followed by an email telling me that a publisher loved it! You just have to stick it out and explore all the different avenues available, and ultimately you may have to bite the bullet and accept that it’s not the right time for your story to be accepted. Double-check and even get someone else to proof-read your submission – even the covering email/letter should be checked for mistakes. I can only presume that when publishers are receiving literally thousands of submissions, a spelling mistake in the first sentence would render the rest of your submission pretty pointless!

And finally… Did the list of publishers on my blog help?!

A resounding YES! I would literally not be writing this email, nor would I be having a book published next year if it wasn’t for Lou’s blog. An amazing help, and I can’t thank her enough!

Little Ronnie and Magic the Horse is due to be released in Spring 2013, by Top That! Publishing.  You can follow Pete on Twitter at @pdshaw09.