Category Archives: unsolicited manuscripts

An interview with Tiny Tree

Following blog subscriber and critique customer Fiona Barker’s picture book acceptance by Tiny Tree, I caught up with James Shaw from Matthew James Publishing to ask him about his new picture book imprint and what he might be looking for in a submission.

Tiny Tree logoWhat made you decide to launch a picture book imprint?  How many picture books are you planning on publishing each year?

Not only am I a big fan of literature in general, I am also a huge art fan and a very visual person. Since taking over MJP I was always excited by the prospect of working on picture books, and as a father of two small boys I am constantly surrounded by the wonderful possibilities so many other publishing companies had produced. For me it was an obvious step. Although it hasn’t been easy, it has been very worthwhile.

As a small independent we don’t have a quota for how many books we publish each year and can be quite picky. Next year though we already have about 10 titles on the way, with many more submissions still filtering through. We like to keep it to no more than 1 a month though.

What length picture book are you looking for?  And do you accept rhyme?

We like to have 32 page picture books, but we will stretch to 48 or drop down to 24 at a push. We have done much longer titles, but we prefer 32 pages as a rule. We accept rhyming and non-rhyming books, the story is the important thing, and as long as it is told well it doesn’t matter if it rhymes or not.  Honestly not always fussed about a particular word count but we do find that around 600 words works best for children’s picture books.

Are there any topics that you are particularly attracted to?  Do you like books with a message?  What about humour?

Humour is really important to us. As a parent it is easier to read a book to my kids 40 times if it is funny. However, we at Tiny Tree love to provide books with a message. Bullying, friendship, loneliness, change, anything that could affect the life of a child is perfect. We want to stand out amongst the crowd, but we also want to provide something to the children, and the parents, above and beyond a beautiful book.

How are your authors paid, eg flat fee or royalties?  Do you pay an advance?  Do you sell foreign rights?

Our contract states a royalty of 10% on print versions, 25% on electronic versions. We also discuss with the author incremental increases in royalties based on sales. We don’t usually pay an advance unless one is required for a piece we absolutely must have. As a small independent we want to focus all our budget on producing and marketing a great product, and we like authors who are focused on that goal as well.

We can and do sell foreign rights, although we haven’t had much opportunity to up to this point. We have done our own translations for titles, to work with the authors from other countries though. Like any traditional publisher we are always looking for new avenues of sales for books and to make sure they get as much exposure as possible.

How do you find illustrators for your picture books?  Is this something the author would get involved in as well?

A multitude of ways really. Sometimes an author/illustrator will come to us with a title they have already illustrated, like Binx the Jinx. Sometimes an author will know someone who they would like to use or they have worked with before, like Russ Brown and Jamie Cosley. Sometimes we get portfolio submissions from illustrators which we keep on file for possible work.

There have only been a couple of times where we have had to find an illustrator from nothing, but there are so many organisations and communities out there that it always very simple. The only problem comes with trying to match up the work and trawling through hundreds of possible illustrators when there so many talented people out there.

What attracted you to Fiona Barker’s book?

Fiona’s book attracted me in a number of ways. First, it was a simple and heart-warming story. There is a message there, but it is surrounded by just a simple, funny, inviting story that makes it easy to read and something I could certainly see myself and others coming back to. Fiona herself is also easy to sell; she provided a great deal of marketing information, she already has a great presence and she has an approachable persona that makes it simple to plan around her.

She also provided us with an illustrator that worked perfectly for her title. Although having something illustrated before submitting can sometimes be problematic, in this case it really worked in her favour.

 

Details on how to submit to Tiny Tree here

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How to write a covering letter or email

The covering letter is an important part of your submission package, but it shouldn’t be one you have to agonise over.  The main thing is to keep it business-like.  Introduce your work and yourself, and then let the writing do most of the talking.  In the States it can be a bit different as you may be asked to pitch your idea before being invited to submit a sample, in which case your initial letter will be more of a sell.  But for a simple covering letter to accompany your one-page synopsis and three sample chapters (usually – or whole text if it’s a picture book), these tips will help:

  1. Address the agent or publisher you are writing or emailing to by name if possible.  Dear Sir/Madam hints at a blanket letter to multiple recipients, or at the least a lack of research.
  2. Introduce your book with a snappy blurb and an indication of length and market.
  3. Include a short paragraph about yourself, focusing on relevant information, eg writing courses you have done, or any contact you have had with your target audience eg teaching, volunteering.
  4. It can be helpful to mention why you are approaching that particular publisher or agent.  For example, you admire the work of one of their writers, or you see that they publish books in rhyme.  Remember to keep the tone business-like.  This is, after all, a business letter.
  5. Don’t ask for feedback.
  6. End with ‘Yours sincerely’ if you are addressing someone by name – or you can end with ‘Best wishes’ if you like.
  7. Add a link to your website or blog under your name.
  8. Remember to attach your manuscript and synopsis!

Once you’ve submitted, make a note in your diary for three months’ time.  If you haven’t heard back by then, I think it’s fair to submit elsewhere.  But don’t give up hope – I heard back after nine months with a yes!

 

 

2017 – the year YOU get published

Happy New Year readers – I hope you enjoyed your festivities and are raring to go with your new year’s writing resolutions.  And I am here to help!

I will shortly be working through and updating both my list of publishers accepting unsolicited manuscripts and my list of UK children’s agents, making sure that you get the correct information you need to submit.  I’ll be deleting any markets that no longer look at unagented work or, in the case of new markets, haven’t developed as promised – but don’t worry, there’ll be a few new opportunities going in too.

I will also be continuing to offer my new critique service, giving you the chance to get an extra pair of eyes on your manuscript before sending it off into the big wide world.  Alternatively if you have something that keeps being rejected and are wondering why, perhaps I can help?  I have adjusted the prices slightly as the feedback I am giving is a lot longer than originally planned, but I hope you’ll agree it’s still excellent value for money and I have had some lovely comments from my first customers.

Finally as usual I will be looking out for new writing opportunities and reporting back from any useful writing events I attend.  So let’s make 2017 the year you get published!

Interview with Penguin Ireland’s Claire Hennessy

Thank you to everyone who suggested questions for Claire Hennessy, children’s author, writing teacher and Penguin Ireland children’s editor.  And thank you Claire for sparing the time to talk to us in between your many commitments!  (Where appropriate I have removed specifics in the questions to make the answers relevant to everyone rather than just the individual concerned.)

Seeds of Liberty by Claire Hennessy

Is Penguin Ireland is open to submissions from across the UK or does it just focus on the Irish market?  How about overseas authors, eg Australia?

We get submissions from all over the place but as Penguin (now Penguin Random House!) is international it’s probably best to approach the division closest/most relevant to where you live.

It is unusual for a big publisher to have an open submission policy.  What are your reasons for this – and are you swamped?!

A little swamped! But in a great way. The publishing scene in Ireland is slightly different to the UK, in that most Irish publishers will deal directly with writers rather than having an agent be almost-essential. Combine that with it being a small country with a huge amount of creative talent – open submissions mean that lack of an agent doesn’t stand in the way. Though there are submissions from agents too, of course.

What word counts are you looking for in the different age ranges?

There’s a really good post here from American literary agent Jennifer Laughran which is worth looking at: http://literaticat.blogspot.co.uk/2011/05/wordcount-dracula.html

Generally once something is within the rough parameters of its age group, it’s fine. If it seems not to match up, there are usually other problems with the manuscript in terms of being a fit for the age and genre.

Do you publish fantasy and science fiction?

Currently open to everything (if it’s good!).

Do you accept books that have already been self published?

Never say never. But they’re very tricky. It’s best to submit something new, and include any relevant details (sales figures, etc) about your self-published work.

What information do you like to see in a covering letter?

Basically what it says in the submissions guidelines (http://www.penguin.ie/static/penguinirelandsubmissionguidelines/index.html). Shorter is better. A brief summary of the book – including a word count – and then anything relevant about the writer (e.g. previous writing or other creative experience, bookselling experience, etc). Did I mention shorter is better?

Every Summer by Claire HennessyIn your opinion, is it worthwhile spending money on professional editing services before submitting to agents or publishers, to make a book the best it can be?

It’s definitely worthwhile investing time and energy and (if possible) money into your manuscript and into your writing career, in the same way you would with anything else. That might be working with an editor at a literary consultancy, which, although it can seem pricy, can really help someone view their manuscript differently and also teach them how to edit their own work (current and future) more effectively. Or it might be taking writing workshops, or joining writers’ groups – anything that helps them move past their early drafts and really polish up their work so that it’s as good as it can be. It’s really difficult to learn how to edit your own work – we’re not trained for it in school; it’s a much bigger and more dramatic and often more exciting and creative process than we imagine it might be – but it’s also crucial. Editors and agents are looking for work that is as good as you can make it – and then to work with you to make that as good as you can both make it. ‘Writing is rewriting’ as they say.

What are your views on picture book apps?  Do you think they have a future?  Should picture book writers be writing for this new market?

Picture books are not something I’m handling at the moment but I would agree with the sense that apps need to complement books, and do something different to them, rather than replace them. It’s a different medium. Picture books are still gorgeous physical objects which both parents and kids appreciate.

Would you recommend joining a writers group?  Friends and family, although wonderful, can be too kind. Can you recommend any other way to get honest feedback?

Writers’ groups (which includes online writers’ groups too) can be terrific but the quality varies hugely. You need to ensure that the other writers are at roughly the same level you’re at – e.g. have been writing for a certain amount of time, and also are taking it as seriously as you are – and that they’re prepared to give constructive feedback rather than just telling you what they think you want to hear. Adding new members every so often can also help in terms of keeping things fresh.

If you have friends who are writers, it can be useful to get feedback from them too – but I think it does need to be a reciprocal arrangement and something where you both understand that non-glowing feedback isn’t something that’s going to destroy a friendship.

Non-writer friends and family are to be avoided – too much else going on in those relationships!

With the advent of technology, smart phones and kindles, what is the best piece of advice you can give to a beginner?

Use them! For example: if you’re on your phone the whole time – make notes about your story or your surroundings or an idea you’ve just had, rather than scrolling through Facebook. (And it looks less awkward than pulling out a notebook to scribble down your ideas.) But also: don’t let them distract you too much. There’s a lot of publishing information out there online, which is easily accessible, and brilliant (when I started researching publishing in the ‘90s things were a bit different), but it can distract you from the absolute most important things when it comes to writing: thinking, reading, writing (repeat as needed).

You were first published while still a teenager.  Why do you think there aren’t more books for teens written by teens?

I think there are plenty, actually! I’m currently reading ‘Falling Into Place’ by Amy Zhang, which was written when she was a teen; next up is Alice Oseman’s ‘Solitaire’. Beth Reekles is also terribly young… and then there are American writers like Hannah Moskowitz and Kody Keplinger who are now in their 20s but were first published as teenagers. Not to mention S.E. Hinton of ‘The Outsiders’ fame (1967) who wrote that as a teen. And Amelia Atwater-Rhodes, the American YA horror writer… and Christopher Paolini… and Catherine Webb…

There are definitely teen writers out there but, as with older writers, there are more people submitting manuscripts than getting published. Teens are also, by virtue of their age, more towards the start of their careers, and your chances increase the more you write and the longer you’ve been at it.

When you were in the age group for which you now write, who were your favourite authors (apart from yourself!)?

Oh so many, many of whom are still my favourites – Sarah Dessen, Laurie Halse Anderson, Judy Blume, Paula Danziger, J.K. Rowling, Ann M Martin, Madeleine L’Engle, Jacqueline Wilson.

As a writer, how do you recognise which ideas to ditch and which to run with?

I write down all the ideas so that they’re always there – because sometimes even if they don’t work on their own, or now, they’ll work in the future if combined with something else.

Novels require a whole bunch of different, linked ideas, not just one thing, so I tend to wait until I feel like I have enough ‘stuff’, enough material, to sustain an entire book. That’s usually several pages of notes and scribblings, to be added to as I start writing and more ideas come to me. Once I’m at that stage the challenge isn’t so much ideas as it is the motivation and discipline that comes with any long-term project.

You can keep up with Claire at www.clairehennessy.com and follow her on Twitter at @clairehennessy

 

How to submit a children’s book

If you’ve just finished writing a children’s book and are ready to get it out into the big wide world, this post is for you.  I’m a serial submitter, and these are my steps to getting your manuscript seen.

  1. Finish the book.
  2. Edit, re-edit, re-draft, polish and shine to a glittering finish.
  3. Prepare the submission package: covering letter/email, synopsis and first three chapters.  All should be typed, page numbered and double spaced.
    Covering letter/email: a short introduction to the book and yourself.  Half a page will be fine.
    Synopsis: a one page (max) summary of your plot, present tense, third person.
    Chapters: have you got a killer first page/first paragraph/first line?  Can those three chapters impress on their own?  If not, carry on polishing!
  4. Research your publishers.  Check out my list.  Make a shortlist of publishers producing books like yours and note down the requirements of each.  Some may prefer post.  Some may want the submissions package as one document or embedded in the email.  It’s crucial to get it right.
  5. Post or email your submission, follow the instructions on your publisher’s submissions page to the letter.
  6. Start work on your next book, if you haven’t already.
  7. Forget about the first submission.  Okay, just try to.
  8. Wait three months (or longer if the publisher has specified a longer waiting time).  Submit to the next name on your list, remembering to re-jig your package (oo-er missus) accordingly.
  9. If you get a rejection, take note of any feedback but don’t expect any.  Look on the rejection as an opportunity.  Now you get to submit to the next publisher on your list!
  10. Stay positive and keep working on your next book.  Good luck.

As an alternative to approaching publishers directly, you can submit to a literary agent who, if they take you on, will manage the submissions side for you and are able to deal with publishers who won’t take on unagented authors.  The process of submitting to agents is similar to the above, and there is a list of UK agents here.

New indie markets

A couple of interesting indie publishers featured in Writing Magazine this month.

First is Fledgling Press,  a Scottish company that focuses on debut authors writing a variety of fiction including YA.  If you’re Scottish too that will help!  You should send three chapters and a short synopsis by email and they aim to reply within 6 weeks.  If accepted your book will be placed on a longlist for possible publication.  Note they do not want sci fi.  Full submission details at www.fledglingpress.co.uk/submissions.

The other indie that caught my eye this month is Ghostly Publishing which has been founded by a paranormal investigator, no less!  The premise gets even more intriguing as the submission process involves peer review on the site, so you need to register then upload your submission – first three chapters and synopsis – rather than emailing or posting it.  There is also a free ‘manuscript checker’ which apparently can instantly score your book to test if it is ready for publication – the closer you get to zero, the better!  Take a look at these details on the site to familiarise yourself with the process.  As you might expect, Ghostly wants fantasy and sci-fi for child to teen readership.

And finally, if you do buy Writing Magazine this month you’ll find my article on how to interpret your blog stats nestling happily on page 28 under the pun-derful title Stat’s Amazing!

Happy submitting everyone!

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.

New markets

A couple of children’s fiction markets for you this month.  Crooked Cat is a small UK publisher accepting young adult fiction for its Silver range, up to a maximum of 90,000.  The bad news is that it is closed to submissions at the moment, but the website asks you to check back in January, so hopefully they are just going through a catchup period.  Worth keeping an eye on, I think.

Also, spotted in Writing Magazine this month, is the indie publisher My Little Big Town which is the brainchild of author/illustrator Calvin Innes.  Think Aliens Love Underpants rather than Princess Poppy and you’ll be on MLBT’s wavelength.  Submission guidelines are strict so follow them to the letter to get the best chance of being read.  Unusually, you should send the entire manuscript, and you should also print off a covering header sheet which can be downloaded from the website.  Do NOT submit by email!  (I’m guessing they are swamped.)  MLBT accept all sorts of genres and lengths, but looking at their site I would guess that picture books and chapter books (7-9) are the types of manuscripts you should send to this market.

Finally I would like to wish you all a very happy Christmas, and a successful and happy writing year for 2014.  My new year’s resolution is to have one morning a week dedicated writing time instead of snatching moments out of the day.  It will be bliss!  What’s your writing resolution for next year?

A-Hunting We Will Go! On the prowl with Agent Hunter.

At last you’ve finished writing your masterpiece.  It’s time to take a journey.  Either to find a publisher, or to venture into that no less terrifying and treacherous terrain that is… (cue tribal drums and the distant cries of wild beasts) … literary agent territory.

If you are lucky you might find a small herd around a watering hole, discussing their latest acquisitions, while more boisterous agents lock horns with passing publishers over foreign rights.  Sometimes a young, defenceless author  may venture into the clearing, separated from its pack (or Writing Circle).  Scared, confused, it pads up to the water to take a much-needed drink in a last attempt to prolong its dangerously uncertain life.  It is then that the agents pounce.  The poor author submitted her manuscript to ten at once, addressing all her scruffily packaged, misspelled submissions with ‘Dear Sir/Madam’.  She has no chance.  The agents tear her apart in seconds.

But what if the poor author had researched her agents properly?  What if she had targeted an individual, found out what they liked, and sent off a professional submission?  It might just have saved her life!

Recently literary consultancy The Writers’ Workshop kindly offered me a free subscription to their searchable agent database, Agent Hunter.  It costs £12 to join for a year and instead of trawling through the web for information you are able to search their databases.

To start a search, you simply click Start Your Search (obvious when you think about it, isn’t it!).  On the left hand side are filters.  I called up the list of literary agents, then filtered them by children’s agents, then agents who are actively looking to build their list, then agents who use Twitter, have blogs and accept email submissions.  This quite specialised search brought up five agents.  When you select an agent’s name you can view much more detailed information such as their client list, how to submit and sometimes a personal manifesto or advice.  Of course this can all be found on the internet as well if you look hard enough.  It’s the filters that really help.  Being able to draw up a list of agents that are actively interested in your subject is really useful.  You can even be more specific and search on Picture Books or Young Adult.

They also have a database of publishers on there which I was keen to see.  I set the filters to children’s publishers accepting unsolicited manuscripts.  Unfortunately it’s a bit out-of-date already as Egmont are listed accepting unsolicited manuscripts and, as we know, they’ve stopped.  Ragged Bears are also listed and they are no more!

Agent Hunter is a great idea and I certainly think it will be a good resource.  However, it needs to make sure it is absolutely up-to-date before people subscribe or they will not feel they are getting their money’s worth.  I also think it would be useful to have links to other sites open in a new window rather than replacing the Agent Hunter window.

You can try out Agent Hunter for free, although some information will be greyed out.  It’s a useful way to see how the database works and what information is supplied.  You can also try and cancel within 7 days.

Ready?  Let’s go bag us some agent!

Children’s publishers in the US accepting unsolicited manuscripts

I’ve been asked several times about US publishers and have not been able to help very much.  I did think about trying to put together my own list, but it would involve a massive amount of research and time!  Luckily, thanks to a handy blog post by JR Poulter, I have discovered Brian Grove and his site My Perfect Pitch (www.myperfectpitch.com) where, as well as dispensing wisdom and advice to aspiring writers, he also maintains lists of publishers to approach.

So to see a list of US publishers accepting manuscripts, visit http://myperfectpitch.com/childrens-book-publishers-usa/.  As always, read the individual requirements of the publishers very carefully before you submit.  The better we writers make our submissions, the more likely the few publishing companies who still accept unsolicited work will continue to do so.

The very best of luck and please tell me of any success stories – I love to hear them!