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Success story – Juleus Ghunta

Tata and the Big Bad BullI am delighted to share the news that one of my critique clients, Juleus Ghunta, will have his book Tata and the Big Bad Bull published by CaribbeanReads on 31 May 2018.  The book is part fable, part adventure story as Tata attempts to get to school, overcoming various obstacles, not least of which is a fearsome bull whom he has to outwit.  I asked Juleus a few questions about his publication journey.

What inspired you to write Tata?

I grew up in Jamaica in a single–parent home with my mother and three siblings. Due to financial constraints I began formal schooling a year later than most students. While I was in primary school, mother struggled to pay for my lunch and bus fare. I was determined to go to school so I decided to take a shortcut through a pasture. The pasture was home to some fierce bulls but the route cut the distance in half. One evening, on my way home, I was attacked by a bull. We stared at each other for a few minutes before I climbed through the barbed wire fence. When I stepped into the pasture, he charged and I got stuck. I was lucky to escape unharmed. I sprinted the long way home. It was terrifying but the following week I was in the pasture again. I had no choice. The ‘big bad bull’ character was inspired by this real–life experience; however, the bull is also a metaphor for the wide–ranging challenges I experienced as a child and the way I endured and overcame them.

Because of financial and other challenges, I learned to read at age 12 and was the only student from my class who was forced to repeat the 6th grade. Learning to read improved my self–confidence but I was saddened by the fact that there were no books in the school library with stories about black boys like me. I vowed to write such stories, I’m glad this lifelong dream has come true. There are many “hidden” stories in this book that readers will never know unless I tell them. Hopefully, I will get opportunities to share.

How old were you when you realised you were a writer?

Juleus Ghunta

I spent much of my childhood in the home of the late Jamaican writer, C. Everard Palmer. I couldn’t believe that such an influential writer grew up in my village. It felt surreal. Becoming a writer was the farthest thing from my mind though. That didn’t seem possible. I started writing ‘seriously’ four years ago; however, I don’t think of myself as a ‘writer’, despite my success. Writing has been an outlet for my grief; the way I unpack my traumatic childhood. Maybe one day I’ll feel comfortable with the ‘writer’ designation. I’m not there yet. For now, I’m content with the way writing helps me ‘breathe’.

How did the critique process help you? 

It was a major turning point. Many of your suggestions made it into the book, including the very important point you made about humanising the bull by giving him a name. I was surprised by your detailed response and moved by your generosity. The book needed a lot of work, but you did not dwell on that. You showed me what was possible.

How did you find your publisher and what was it like working with them?

I did research to see who’d be interested in publishing Tata and received many rejections. I’m glad those publishers said no, because I kept searching and eventually found CaribbeanReads. I could not have asked for a better publisher. CaribbeanRead’s editor, Carol Mitchell, helped me rewrite and reshape the manuscript. It is a much better story than what I submitted. Her patience and vision are legendary.

Did you have any involvement in the illustrations? 

CaribbeanReads helped me with the storyboard. I sent instructions to the illustrator, Ann–Cathrine Loo. Ann–Cathrine and I come from very different cultures. She grew up in Sweden so many of her initial sketches were inspired by images from her childhood. I instructed her on every detail of the illustrations and she did a truly remarkable job.

What do you hope children will gain from reading Tata?

The book reminds readers of the importance of compassion and forgiveness. There are lessons inside regarding how children should respond to bullying and ‘othering’. I hope Tata will encourage children to think more deeply about the emotions and experiences of others, especially their peers. Tata is a gift to children whose courage, resilience and leadership are needed in this troubled world.   

When will you launch the book?

Tata will be launched on 30 June 2018 at Bradford Lit Fest. Please check my website for details.

And finally, what’s next for Juleus?

I’m working on a picture book manuscript and a poetry collection.

You can pre-order Tata and the Big Bad Bull on Amazon.  Juleus can be found at www.juleusghunta.com and on Twitter as @Ghunta100.  He is currently pursuing MA Peace Studies at the University of Bradford.  His poetry has appeared in several journals including The Missing Slate, Moko, Easy Street, Chiron Review, Pittsburgh Poetry Review, and has been anthologised in Cordite 81: New Caribbean Writing and In This Breadfruit Kingdom. He was awarded the Catherine James Poetry Prize by Interviewing the Caribbean in 2017. In 2015 and 2016 he was shortlisted for the Small Axe Poetry Prize.

 

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Publication day giveaway!

Homework on PlutoThis weekend I’m celebrating the release of my new junior fiction title, Homework on Pluto published by Maverick, and as part of that I’ll be giving away a free signed copy to the lovely readers of this blog.  To take part, just comment on this post and I will choose a winner at random on 15 May by printing them out and putting them in a hat.  (A sou’wester probably, judging by the weather at the moment…)

Junior fiction or chapter books are great fun to write.  Here are my tips:

  1. Write to the right length.  6-10,000 words are what you are aiming for.  So think in terms of 6 chapters of 1000 words each to give you a rough outline.
  2. Keep it punchy.  You’ve got a lot to fit in to make a complete book work within this small space, so don’t waste words on lengthy descriptions or long dialogue exchanges.
  3. Write a series.  Readers this age (around 6-10) love series.  Conversely, your first book should be able to stand alone, just in case it doesn’t get followed up.  And you only need present one book to the publisher, as long as it has series potential.
  4. Create memorable characters.  Think Mr Gum, Horrid Henry, Flat Stanley… The character is the book.
  5. Utilise humour.  Don’t be afraid to be silly.  Silliness is underrated.

Homework on Pluto is available to order from all good bookshops, The Book Depository or Amazon.

The Caterpillar Poetry Prize

Caterpillar poetry prizeThe Caterpillar is not only a beautifully produced, high quality quarterly children’s magazine featuring stories, poetry and art, but also has a rather spiffing annual poetry competition.  The prize is one thousand euros and publication in the mag.  Judging is by renowned children’s poet Chrissie Giffins.  Entry is open to anyone over 16 but the poem must not have been published or online.  Entry costs twelve euros per poem and entry details can be found here on the website.  Closing date is end of March so why not sort through those poems and give it a shot!

I’m on CBeebies Bedtime Stories!

suranne-jones-snowflake-mistake-012- snippetWell, actually I’m not, but my book is and it will be read by the amazing actress Suranne Jones (of Dr Foster fame) on Friday 15 December at 6.50 pm on CBeebies.  That’s tomorrow!  I’m so excited.  I’ve had to keep this quiet for a long time as I found out by accident when the BBC Pronunciation Department (who knew?) emailed me to find out how to say my name.  That was way back in April so I presume the reading was filmed then, though judging from the photo they have definitely got into the wintery mood with snowy clouds and even the Snow Queen’s ice palace in the background!Snowflake-Mistake-LR-RGB

The illustrator, Maddie Frost, has done such a gorgeous job on the illustrations and I’m so happy for her that they get to be seen up close on screen.  All her textures are scanned in from a variety of different materials and found objects which makes her work unique.  I love it.

So I’m getting ready to put on my dressing gown and slippers, grab my hot cocoa and enjoy.  But I won’t be going to sleep – oh no.  I’ll be watching it another fifty million times first!

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Seasonal signed books giveaway!

As 2017 thinks about putting on the kettle for its hot water bottle and taking its nightly medication, I would like to thank the followers of this blog for another year’s loyalty with a signed book giveaway.  This will be for my new picture book Daddy and I, sumptuously illustrated by Sophie Burrows, plus my two early readers that came out this autumn which have delightfully cute pictures by Dean Gray and David Creighton-Pester.

To be entered into the random draw, just comment below by the end of November, and I’ll get them signed and sent to you in time for… shh!  You know what!

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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A critical year!

It’s almost a year since I started my critique service and I can’t believe how many manuscripts I have read!  I have laughed, cried (well, almost) and been blown away by the talent out there.  And the really exciting news is that one of my critique customers, Fiona Barker, has had her critiqued picture book manuscript accepted by independent publisher Matthew James Publishing Ltd’s new imprint, Tiny Tree Books!  More about that very soon, including an interview with the publisher to find out exactly what they are looking for from authors.

In the meantime I want to thank everyone who has used the service, and also let you know that I will be changing the price structure slightly in order to reflect the time I am putting in and make it a fairer system.  At the moment, if you submit multiple picture books you get a much cheaper price than those who submit one at a time,  which is great for the customer but means that because I do a full report on each book, the payment per book gets much lower the more I receive in one go.  So for future submissions, the price will be a set £25 per book up to 1000 words, and a further £5 per 1000 words thereafter.  This will actually slightly reduce the price of longer works but will also mean that each book critique will cost the same per person per book.  I hope this is acceptable and I look forward to reading more amazing writing in the year to come!author pic lou treleaven daddy and i

‘Daddy and I’ is out today!

Daddy-and-I-Cover-LR-RGB-JPEGI’m celebrating as my new picture book ‘Daddy and I’, illustrated gorgeously by Sophie Burrows, is out today!  It was a tricky one to write and to be honest I wasn’t expecting a yes from my publishers at Maverick… maybe because I’d just spent so long hammering away at it, trying to get every verse to include a different rhyme for the word ‘I’.  Sometimes you just wish you’d never started something!

I’d been thinking for a while of writing something that worked on two levels, the child’s point of view and the adult’s.  What can be quite a mundane experience for us can be full of wonder for a child because they see everything with a fresh eye.  A walk was the simplest way of expressing this, and I’ve got lovely memories of going for super-long walks with my Dad (probably quite short now I come to think of it) which we treated as a huge adventure.  I thought it would add a fuller background to the story to put it in the context of a Saturday visit where the child doesn’t necessarily spend the rest of the week with her dad, so the time they have together is extra special.  When I saw Sophie’s sketches I knew she completely understood what I was trying to say!Daddy-and-I-Spread-1-LR-RGB-JPEG1

I’m glad I finally got the chance to write the idea that had been simmering for so long.  Sometimes it can take a long while for a story to brew.  At other times it can be very quick.  One of the mysteries of the writing process!

And a last minute ‘good luck’ to anyone entering the Writing Magazine/Amy Sparkes/Julia Churchill picture book writing contest.  I know a lot of my critique customers are going for this.  I’ll be crossing my fingers for you!

Frequently asked questions #1: Do I need to find an illustrator?

I thought I’d use this blog to answer some frequently asked questions about the submission process, starting with one of the most common.  Do I need to find an illustrator for my book before I submit it?

jon writing letters with both handsThe simple answer: no.  There are various reasons for this.

  1. Publishers usually like to source their own illustrators.  They may even have artists in mind that they want to work with, and are waiting for the right manuscript to come along (as was the case with my own manuscript Professor McQuark and the Oojamaflip and the illustrator Julia Patton).
  2. A publisher will often have a house style that makes their books stand out as theirs.  The type of illustrators they choose will reflect this.  Yours is unlikely to fit unless you are only ever targeting one publisher.
  3. Fashions change in children’s illustration as much as anywhere else.  Your publisher will have a much better idea of how your book should look and what will make it fit (or stand out) in the current market.
  4. The right illustrator takes your book to another level – it’s like having a co-author who comes up with brilliant ideas.  The publisher knows which illustrator will make the most out of your text.
  5. Your editor and designer have a wealth of experience in laying out books, not only in terms of pictures but in the way the text interacts with the pictures, the pacing of the text through the spreads, typography etc.  Rarely these days does text simply sit under a picture.  It’s more likely to be dancing across a page, growing and shrinking or even spiraling through a spread.  If you’ve already provided illustrations, this hampers the space the designer can use rather than allowing them to work with the illustrator.

Exceptions

If you are already an illustrator then of course you will want to provide your own illustrations.  (Picture book author-illustrators are amazing and, in my opinion, demi-gods!)  Another exception might be that you have already teamed up with an illustrator and you want to work as a partnership or not at all.  It will be harder to be published in this case as both words and pictures will have to be accepted.  And finally if you are self-publishing you may need to find your own illustrator.  Self publishing is not something I tend to cover in this blog but there is plenty of help on line if you do pursue this route.

What happens next?

So how does your publisher find an illustrator?  While you are going through the editing process and refining your text, the publisher will also be researching artists and asking for sample pages to be created.  They may approach the artist directly or through an agency.  You may see these samples and be asked for your opinion but you may not!  Rest assured, your publisher knows what’s best for your story.

After the illustrator has been commissioned they will produce sketches for each page which are put together into a dummy pdf together with the text.  Again you may be asked to comment on this.  Once the roughs have been agreed, the illustrator finalises them with colour and detail.  The whole process can take a few months, but when you see the detail that goes into a picture book it’s surprising it’s not a few years!  By this time your text is normally complete too and you will be asked to look over the finished pdf and check for typos etc.  The book then goes for printing which can take about three months if it’s being printed abroad.  Finally you and your illustrator have a bouncing baby book – and you may never even have met!

Picture book competition

I couldn’t wait to tell you about the exciting picture book competition in this month’s Writing Magazine!  It’s open to any unpublished and unagented writer and the prize is a lunch consultation with top children’s agent Julia Churchill (plus a subscription to Writing Magazine – oh, and £200 as well).  And who knows where that could lead?

From my critique pile I know loads of you have some fantastic picture books waiting for the right opportunity, and there’s no entry fee so I urge you to give it a go!

Your text should be no longer than 800 words and can be rhyming or prose.  You can present it in page spreads or as continuous text.  No illustrations, pop-ups etc.  Details here.

There’s also some great tips on picture book writing from prolific picture book writer Amy Sparkes in the accompanying article (August edition).

Closing date is 29 September.  Good luck!