Category Archives: Uncategorized

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!

 

 

World Book Day fun

I had an amazing week last week visiting schools for World Book Day celebrations.  Did you know it was the twentieth World Book Day?  For parents the thought of concocting a costume for this sort of event can be stressful, but when you see what goes on that day and all the energy and enthusiasm that everybody shows, it’s so worth it (and if in doubt, wear casual clothes and go as one of the Famous Five!).

world-book-day-2017

First stop was Beech Hill in Luton, where I shared the story of Professor McQuark with the Early Years classes.  They then had the task of designing their very own wacky scientists.  I had a very tasty school dinner and then got to judge the designs and give out some prizes.  It was hard as they were all so fun and quirky!  I think my favourite was Professor Rainbow.

On Tuesday I visited St John Rigby in Bedford.  They had a very craft day making snowy pictures and spinners that pointed to the seasons inspired by The Snowflake Mistake, while the older years channeled their inner Professor McQuarks by making crazy vehicles.  Some even travelled in time!

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Any excuse to dress up as Professor McQuark.

Wednesday saw me going to Biggleswade to St Andrews (West) for a couple of big assemblies.  I had to project my voice as well as the book illustrations!  Everyone joined in with sound effects for the picture books.  After reading Letter to Pluto to the older pupils I explained to them the journey from an idea to a  published book.  We needed lots of volunteers to show how many people are involved.

On Thursday it was the big day itself – the twentieth World Book Day.  I was very excited to go to London and visit Surrey Square Primary School in Southwark the day.  The atmosphere was amazing and the teachers for each year group had co-ordinated their outfits so in one year the teachers were a set of crayons (‘The Day the Crayons Quit’) and in another year they were The Twits!  I did a mixture of assemblies, class visits and a workshop and felt like part of the Surrey Square family.

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I always stir my ideas with a wooden spoon.  Call me a traditionalist but that’s how I am.

Finally on Friday it was back to Biggleswade to St Andrews (East) where, after a short scenic detour (ie getting lost), I arrived at a beautiful newly built school like something out of Grand Designs.  The children had been waiting very patiently for me and eagerly volunteered to help me find the ideas in my ideas sack to make the stories.  After a reading of Letter to Pluto and a session with the older pupils about the journey of a book followed by some fabulous questions, my World Book Day week was over.

I can’t wait for next year!

Short story markets

If you have a picture book text that’s too long for publishers’ requirements, have you considered the short story market?  There are a small number of magazines out there, both in print and online, that accept children’s stories and will happily consider a longer length.  Here’s my current (short) list which also includes markets for older children’s fiction and young adult; if you know of any others please do comment and I will add them.

Cricket Media submissions

The US-based Cricket family of children’s print and digital magazines includes Babybug for up to three years, Ladybug for 3-6 years, Spider for 6-9, Cricket for 9-14 and Cicada for over 14s.  They all have different submission requirements so be sure to check out the word counts required by each one.

The Caterpillar Magazine

This beautifully produced Irish-based print magazine accepts stories up to 1,000 words as well as poetry and art.

Knowonder

Knowonder is an online site that promotes literacy.  They are occasionally open for submissions of short stories between 500-2000 words but do not pay.

Alfie Dog Fiction

This small but ambitious publisher aims to be the foremost choice for downloading short stories on the web, and payment comes as a percentage of the small download fee charged to customers.  Length is 500-10,000 words.

Cast of Wonders

This site is a little different and features young adult fantasy stories up to 6,000 words recorded as podcasts.  See this blog post for more details and an interview with a Cast of Wonders author.

Feeling drafty!

A couple of days ago I listened to a live talk on Facebook by publisher Scott Pack on the five most common mistakes people make when submitting their manuscripts.  The most interesting point to me was when Scott said that in his experience about half the people who submit are sending a manuscript too early.  He said some of these manuscripts might even have been very good after a third or fourth draft, but they were rejected.  The reason this struck a chord with me is that I have done this myself many times.  Caught up in the exhilaration of finishing a book, I’ve rushed it off into the outside world without another thought.  If you think about it, it’s like pushing your baby out of the door and into the cold alone without even a coat and hat.  In fact you haven’t put any clothes on them at all!  They are not going to survive!

How do you resist the temptation to submit too early?  It’s difficult, but you have to start thinking in terms of first draft, second draft, third draft and so on and move your expectations so that submitting becomes connected with the fifth draft, or the sixth one, or whenever you decide you can’t possibly do any more to improve your work.  The first draft is just a sketch.  Or the naked baby again.  Don’t let anyone see your work naked!

It was a big leap for me when I understood that in the first draft anything goes because no one will see it and it’s not going anywhere.  You’re free to make mistakes, experiment, write huge chunks that will never be used, or introduce characters that make absolutely no sense later.  It doesn’t matter, because the editing stage will take care of all that.  Every time you edit or redraft your work you will see a huge improvement.

Everyone’s different of course, but to give you an example this is how my own drafting process goes:

  1. First draft – write longhand in a notebook, preferably using the same pen.  Lose the pen.  Panic.  The muse has gone!  Try writing with another pen.  Realise it’s going to be okay.  Maybe even better.  Phew.  Find the original pen.  Panic.
  2. Second draft – type up first draft on to the computer, editing as I go.  Correct the problems at the beginning caused by having a different middle and end to the ones I intended.
  3. Third draft – correct printed out second draft using a pen (any pen – the superstition has mysteriously gone).  Perform a massive facelift plus possibly invasive surgery (of the manuscript, not me).  Result can be a fifty percent improvement (of the manuscript, definitely not me).
  4. Fourth draft – print out third draft and put away in cupboard.  Agonising wait, preferably for a month.  Desired outcome: the ‘I don’t remember writing this!’ effect.  Edit again feeling like an older, wiser person.
  5. Final fifth draft – the paranoia edit.  Recheck on screen or paper, tidying, honing and searching for typos and cliches.  Realise I’ve used the word ‘look’ a million times on one page.  Wear out shift + f7 looking for alternatives. Gah!

Bing!  It’s ready.  Submit and prepare to repeat stages 3-5 if rejected.  Meanwhile buy new notebook and pen and start next project at stage 1.

Happy drafting!

You can still read Scott’s broadcast on Reedsy’s Facebook page to find out about the other common mistakes.  The question and answer session at the end was very useful too.

Launching my Writing for Children critique service

After having had several enquiries about manuscript assessments, I have decided to launch my own critique service.  Simply choose your rate depending on the length of your manuscript and email to me.  Once I have received your payment (Paypal or bank transfer) I will respond to you within 2 weeks.  You can also include your synopsis and covering letter for each manuscript for free!  Payment is per thousand words but can include more than one manuscript, so for example if you have four picture books that are 500 words or less you can send them all for a total of £35 (see below for 2017 rates).  Or for a longer book, why not send the first three chapters plus synopsis and covering letter for an appraisal of your complete submission package?

My critique includes:

  • Assessment of pace, plot, characters, dialogue and your author voice.manuscript-critique-service-pic
  • Advice on grammar and punctuation.
  • Help with presentation and layout.
  • Suggestions on how to edit your work.
  • Areas to work on, and most importantly, your strengths!
  • Appraisal of your submission package, if applicable.

I specialise in picture books and young fiction as that’s the age group I’m published in, but I’m happy to look at any writing for children up to young adult.

Rates for 2017

£25 for up to 1000 words

£35 for up to 2000 words

£5 per 1000 words after that

Plus free synopsis and cover letter critique with each manuscript!

Payment should be via paypal to lou dot treleaven at sky dot com or bank transfer (please email me for details).  I look forward to hearing from you!

Signed books winner!

Thank you to everyone to entered the draw to win signed copies of my new books The Snowflake Mistake and Letter to Pluto.   To be in with a chance, I asked you to comment with your favourite writing tip.  If you haven’t read the comments, there’s some brilliant tips there including keeping a compliments jar, listening to conversations around you (in the non-stalker sense!), using prompts, spending time with nature and reading widely.

The winner is…. Michelle Zal!  Michelle, please email me at lou dot treleaven at sky dot com with your address and the dedications you would like on the books and I will post them off to you.

I had a lovely time recently doing two workshops and some book signing at the Booktastic Bedford Children’s Book Festival, which was held this year at the Panacea Museum.  I got to meet author Guy Bass too, author of Stitch Head and about a million other books (would love to be that productive and talented!).   The event was sponsored by Rogan’s Books, a new independent children’s bookshop which is not like any other bookshop you will have been to – it even has a secret door!  Check it out here.

 

It’s giveaway time!

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To celebrate the launch of my two new books, The Snowflake Mistake and Letter to Pluto, I am giving away a signed copy of the two of them.  To be in the draw, just comment below with your most helpful writing tip.  Hopefully we will get a good pool of knowledge we can share!

Here’s mine: Don’t be afraid to write a terrible first draft.  No one will see it!  Silencing your inner critic is really hard, but just tell them (or it) that you’ll be letting them out when it’s editing time, and they can feast on your words then but not now.

The moment I mastered this tip, my productivity increased by about 500%!  What’s your most helpful piece of advice?

Free creative writing session!

If you are in reach of Luton, I’m running a free creative writing taster session next Wednesday 15 June as part of Festival of Learning.  Previously known as Adult Learners’ Week, Festival of Learning gives everyone a chance to try something new for free.

My session will be all about how to generate ideas and get your creative juices flowing, so it’s suitable for experienced writers who want a few fun techniques as well as those new to writing.  No need to book, just turn up and enjoy!

Festival of learning leaflet

Barriers to Writing

Recently I’ve been thinking about what stops us writing, and why.  It’s a very odd phenomenon, but one that seems almost universal amongst writers, that we continually procrastinate when we should be writing.  And yet we love it!  We love that feeling of creating something from nothing, the buzz of flying through a world of our own creation.  We feel miserable when we don’t write.  But we still find it hard to start.

Why should that be?  If you like singing, sing.  If you like writing, write.  Unfortunately it’s not that simple. Here are some reasons why I think we put up these barriers to creativity, and some suggested solutions.  If you have any more solutions, let me know!

  • Overwhelming

    Writing is probably the most demanding of the arts, because you are literally creating something from nothing.  The whole world of Harry Potter is simply lines on some pages.  The rest is JK Rowling’s imagination.  You may say art is similar, but at least an artist has materials, a palette, brushes.  A writer has twenty-six letters and nothing more.  The act of looking at a blank notebook or screen can be so overwhelming that it can stop you writing a single word.

    Suggestions

    Try writing a train of thought, anything that comes into your head, just to get you going.  Write a daily diary, just a few sentences or impressions.  Jot down snippets of conversation.  Write down a ‘found poem’.

  • Confidence

    Having enough confidence in your writing is a daily battle for any writer, published or unpublished.  Who doesn’t hear their inner critic carping on and telling them everything they write is rubbish?  My productivity increased hugely when I learned to ignore this destructive inner editor.  I just tell him/her that I’ll change it later if I don’t like it, but for now it’ll do thank you very much.

    Suggestions

    Ignore the critical voice.  That’s for the editing phase later on.  Try entering some small competitions to increase confidence in your writing.  Read writer’s success stories – they succeeded because they persevered.  Be happy to make mistakes.  No one has to see them if you don’t want them to so who cares?

  • Too much to do

    It’s easy to put writing at the end of a long list of tasks.  Or not to be able to relax until your workspace is sorted.  Or simply not have enough physical hours in the day to write.  If you are truly a writer you need to learn to put writing at the top (or near the top) of your list.  You’ll feel better for it, and if you write before you do household tasks you’ll find you’re thinking of your plot as you do other things.

    Suggestions

    It’s tough to write if your work hours don’t allow you much spare time.  The solution is learning to write in short bursts.  You do get used to it, and even a few sentences each day builds up quickly.  I write for fifteen minutes a day while I have breakfast.  I often do more, but that is my regular slot.  My book is progressing slowly but surely during that time.  When my children were young I wrote a complete book during their weekly swimming lesson, half an hour at a time.  Sitting in that changing room surrounded by screaming children and stressed parents was completely chaotic, but funnily enough, writing took me out of it.

  • Feeling disheartened

    When you’ve been trying to get published for a long time, it’s only natural to feel disheartened and wonder if it’s worth slogging on.  If you feel like that I recommend finding an outlet so you are producing something that the world sees.  This could be a blog, a self published book, articles for local publications, competitions, twitter poetry – any opportunity that will allow you to express yourself and feel validated in your output.  When I wasn’t getting published in fiction, I started writing sketches for my local am dram society.  This led me on to entering play competitions, and I won Best Script at Pintsized Plays.  Now I have short plays being performed all over the country.  It wasn’t an avenue I had imagined myself pursuing, but now I love it, and it kept my spirits up while I was submitting to children’s publishers.

    Suggestions

    Explore other avenues.  Try self publishing, for example through Amazon Kindle.  Enter competitions.  See if you can write for local magazines.  Start a blog reviewing books.  Enter poetry competitions.  Make a scrapbook or family history book.  See yourself as a writer of anything, not just your genre or field.  You may find more opportunities that you thought.

  • Writer’s block

    My view on writer’s block is that it doesn’t exist.  But sometimes you may find yourself going through emotional situations that are too draining to allow you to concentrate on writing.  If that happens, be kind to yourself.  Don’t worry about the writing, it will be there for you when you’re ready.

    Suggestions

    Take your time and do things that you can manage.  Read a writing magazine or visit a library.  Watch a TV adaptation of a favourite book.  Write what you feel like writing, not what you feel you should be writing.

I hope some of my suggestions are helpful.  How do you break down your barriers to writing?  I forgot to mention, a cup of tea and a snack also help the flow!

Waterstones author visits

I’ve just had a lovely time doing author events in three local Waterstones stores in Hertfordshire.  First I read Professor McQuark and the Oojamaflip to the children, and then we made some crazy crafts that the professor would be proud of!  It’s so exciting even just being in a Waterstones – the buzz of having famous authors whispering to each other in the shelves, the enthusiasm and passion of the staff, the tantalising new titles laid out just begging to be bought… bliss!  It was hard not to go on a splurge and I finally caved in at the last visit and bought my daughter some cracking young adult titles including a signed Rainbow Rowell – what a find!

Thank you to all the children who came to St Albans, Welwyn Garden City and Hatfield Waterstones stores – you were stars and Professor McQuark is very proud of your gadgety glasses and extraordinary oojamaflips!