My top 10 picture book tips – and The Knight Who Might giveaway!

Just like the eponymous hero of my latest picture book The Knight Who Might, I don’t give up. It took me 15 years of submitting before I was finally published in 2016 – and no one was more surprised than me that it was a picture book that turned out to be my debut. (That book was Professor McQuark and the Oojamaflip.) Picture books are tricky little blighters to write and it’s so hard to define the magic ingredients, but hopefully these pointers will give you some guidance and encouragement. Of course the most important ingredient is you, the author (see tip 7)!

See further below for a chance to win a copy of The Knight Who Might.

  1. The Rule of 12 – Most picture books have 12 double page spreads, so it helps to write with this in mind. Take a piece of paper and divide it into 12 sections. Think about what you want to go in each one. Make sure something happens in the middle. And what about the twist at the end? Seeing all this on one piece of paper really helps.
  2. Use interesting language. Children love onomatopoeia like CRASH! BANG! WHALLOP! – or be creative: SPLONGE!
  3. Remember the reader. An adult will probably be reading this story aloud. Make them work hard with dramatic sentences, funny voices and silly words.
  4. Remember the listener. The child will looking at the pictures while the story is rad. An illustrator will provide them with plenty of visual entertainment. Children’s illustrators are amazing! Leave room for this by not overwriting.
  5. And don’t forget the plot. Sometimes you can get to the end without noticing that SOMETHING hasn’t happened. That SOMETHING should change things.
  6. Look for a new angle. So many subjects have been covered by picture books that it’s hard to find a new topic. If you don’t find one, how about tackling an old topic in a new way?
  7. You can be the angle. You are the writer of this story – what can you bring to it?
  8. Treat the text like a poem. That doesn’t mean it has to rhyme, but if you were editing a poem you would look at every word to see if it earned its place. Dig down into each sentence, each phrase, and see if it adds value.
  9. Less is more. 500 words is a good amount to aim towards. Some of the best picture books have much less.
  10. Be playful. Let your inner child out. Forget about the critic leaning over your shoulder. The enjoyment will shine through.

If you’d like to learn more about writing picture books, why not sign up for my 6 week online course? Click here for details.

To win a copy of The Knight Who Might, just comment below and I’ll choose a winner at random on 17 November at 12 noon. Good luck!

Writing rhyming picture books that scan

I’ve been asked a number of times to explain scanning in rhyming picture books, so I’d thought I’d share this recent emailed explanation in the hope that it helps.  Scanning, or scansion, is for some people an instinctive skill, while others need to give it more thought.  Basically if you regard your rhyming picture book text as lyrics for a song, or more specifically one verse that repeats over and over, you have the gist of it.  It’s worth remembering that Julia Donaldson was a lyricist before she was an author – no wonder her picture book texts are so rhythmic.

If you were given a popular song and asked to rewrite the lyrics, you would have to make sure that every syllable matched a note.  In the same why, when writing you are trying to fit words into the same sort of tight pattern.  Let’s say your chosen rhythm is De DUM de DUM de DUM de DUM.

So your verse without words would be

De DUM de DUM de DUM de DUM.
De DUM de DUM de DUM de DUM.
De DUM de DUM de DUM de DUM.
De DUM de DUM de DUM de DUM.

Catchy, isn’t it?  Now imagine putting the words to that, eg off the top of my head:

A lonely mouse came out one day
And asked an elephant to play.
The elephant said, ‘Not just now.
I have a playdate with a cow.’

The reason this fits is that (a) every syllable fits on to a de or a DUM and (b) every stressed syllable is on a DUM and every unstressed syllable is on a de.

An example of (a) every syllable fits

if the first line was ‘A tortoise came out one day’ it wouldn’t work as there’s a missing syllable after tortoise so we have to leave a pause when we read it aloud to get it to fit. The reader won’t know about this pause. Your aim is to make your text ‘first read proof’ so even if the reader has no idea what the rhythm is it will still be there. What about a longer word? If I wrote ‘A hippopotamus came out one day’ I have gone well over the amount of syllables I have for that line. In fact to make it fit I would have to change it more substantially.  ‘A hippopotamus one day…’ would work , but then the next line would have to be changed as well to make sense.

An example of (b) every stress fits

If we tried to use ‘alert mouse’ instead of ‘lonely mouse’, it doesn’t work because the stress on this word needs to be on the first syllable in order to fall on DUM in the rhythm, as in lonely, not the second syllable, as in alert.

Here’s the verse again with the stressed syllables shown in bold:

A lonely mouse came out one day
And asked an elephant to play.
The elephant said, ‘Not just now.
I have a playdate with a cow.

The words have to fit the rhythm to create the correct scansion so you need to pick your words carefully; you can’t force them in or change the way they are stressed because it just won’t work. It either fits or it doesn’t – rather like doing a word puzzle. The difference is that you create the framework yourself, but you then need to stick to it throughout.

A good way to test your text is to get someone else to read it through aloud without reading it beforehand.  Does the rhythm hold?  Are there any pauses, hesitations or rushed parts?  Is the rhythm clear?  Can you clap along to it?  You can try the clapping bit without anyone else to help.  Establish  the rhythm you need with your hands acting as a metronome and then start reading.  Good luck!

For more help with writing, why not try my critique service or join my next online picture book writing course?

 

Launching my Writing Picture Books online course

I’m very pleased to share with you that I can now offer an 6 week online course in writing picture books.  I’m really excited about this as it’s something I’ve been wanting to create for ages, and I’ve tried to include everything I wish I’d known at the beginning (and some things I’m still learning now)!

Writing Picture Books poster

The course covers researching, drafting, using appropriate language, crafting plots, creating memorable characters, how to lay out your text and how to approach publishers and/or agents.  By the end of the course you will have created a final (or close to final) draft of a complete picture book, with feedback from me all the way.  Although the course materials will be sent once a week, there is no time limit so you can set the pace yourself.

Payment is £150 payable before the start date of either 1 May or 4 September 2019.  Please email me if you would like to enrol or use the form below.  Looking forward to working with you!

Click here to download course outline

Click here to pay via PayPal (or contact me for bank transfer details)

 

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 aim to respond to you within 6-8 weeks.  You can also include your synopsis and covering letter for each manuscript for free!  Payment is per thousand words.  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.

Please see Critique Service page for current prices.

 

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!

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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 email, synopsis and first three chapters.  All should be typed, page numbered and double spaced.
    Covering 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.  Most are now email only.  Some may want the submissions package as one document or embedded in the email.  It’s crucial to get it right.
  5. Email your submission, follow the instructions on your publisher’s submissions page to the letter.  If you are submitting to other publishers at the same time, let them know.
  6. Start work on your next book, if you haven’t already.  You may be waiting many months for a response.
  7. If you get a rejection, take note of any feedback but don’t expect any.  Look on the rejection as an opportunity – it’s another rung on the ladder of success!
  8. 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.

UK literary agents for children’s books

* UPDATED JUNE 2021 *


Following on from my list of children’s publishers who accept unsolicited manuscripts, I thought I’d post a list for people who are submitting children’s books to agents, as I’m considering that route for one of my novels and I thought others might find it helpful. Publisher or agent?  There are mixed opinions about which to try first.   As we know, there aren’t many children’s publishers (or indeed adult ones) who accept unagented manuscripts these days, but on the other hand some small publishers may be more likely to take a chance on an unknown than an agent.  Some people argue that if you approach publishers first then the agent won’t be able to submit to them, but to my mind there are such a small number of publishers you can approach yourself that I don’t think this would be a problem. If you have decided to take the agent route, this list of agents is not exhaustive but will give you a starting point.  You can find full listings of UK agents in the Writers and Artists Yearbook or the Writers Handbook. You will find that agents are more likely to respond promptly than publishers as they are always searching for the next breakthrough book.  The turnaround can sometimes even be brutally quick!  You are also more likely to get a standard rejection form, so you need to develop a tough skin and not take the lack of feedback personally – it’s simply a lack of time. If you haven’t approached agents before, take these points into account before submitting:

* Be professional.  Make your submission business-like and to the point.

* Study the agency website thoroughly.  Get a feel for the type of work they like and the authors they represent.

* Links to submissions requirement pages are included on this list.  Make sure you following the guidelines for submitting to the letter or risk the wrath of the reader!  Missing something simple like what should be attached and what should be pasted into the email could cost you a response.  Note that quite a few agents don’t take postal submissions any more.

* Make a note of whether the agency prefers to be exclusively submitted to.  Some recommend you approach multiple agencies while others discourage it.

* Some agencies don’t accept picture books; others prefer literature for older children or teenagers only.

* Make a list of your favourite agencies and work your way through them.  If your manuscript returns home or to your inbox with a rejection, send it straight back out the next day to the next name on your list.  Don’t waste time feeling despondent when your bestseller could be back out there finding a home!  Good luck and if this list helps you in any way, I’d love to hear from you.

Alice Williams  Alice Williams set up her own agency after ten years at David Higham and represents a growing number of children’s authors and illustrators.  Follow the helpful guidelines on the submission page to ensure you include the correct information and respond during an open submission window.  She aims to respond within 6 weeks.

AM Heath This is one of the UK’s leading literary agencies with 7 agents and with a huge list of clients.  The children’s agent is Julia Churchill who is looking for picture books right up to YA.  They only accept electronic submissions; you should use their submissions form and follow the instructions to type or paste in a covering letter and synopsis, and attach your sample chapters.  They suggest you follow up after six weeks if you haven’t heard back from them.

Andlyn A boutique literary agency, Andlyn focuses on nurturing a few select authors across various media.  Agent Davinia Andrew-Lynch is looking for chapter books, middle grade and young adult, including graphic novels but not picture books at present.  Find something that will ‘smack us between the eyes and capture our hearts’ and send it to the email on the submissions page (covering letter, one page synopsis and the first three chapters or 3000 words).

Andrew Nurnberg This London agency also has a number of overseas offices.  They have a large number of authors on their books including Cornelia Funke.  Send a covering letter, synopsis and the first three chapters or 50 pages by email to the specific agent required.  If you do not hear back within 3 months you can assume you have been unsuccessful.  No picture books please.

Anne Clark Literary Agency Anne Clark, previously from Piccadilly Press, has founded an agency specialising in children’s and YA authors and it is growing fast.  You should paste a synopsis and the first 3000 words into a covering email.  Picture books can be sent as a complete text.  Anne favours the personal touch with dealing with clients so prefers UK or UK-based authors.

Annette Green Authors Agency This is an independent agency who pride themselves in the personal service they provide between agent and author.  Annette Green and David Smith are the agents.  They accept fiction for older children and teenagers (preferably not science fiction or fantasy), by post or email, and you should send a covering letter or email, a brief synopsis and sample chapters up to 10,000 words (Word not PDF).

Antony Harwood This Oxford-based agency has a large list of high profile authors writing in many fields including children’s literature.  They accept manuscripts by post or email; you should send a covering letter, brief outline and the opening 50 pages.  Jo Williamson is the children’s agent and accepts picture books to YA.

Bell Lomax Moreton This is a large agency which handles adult fiction and non-fiction as well as children’s books for all ages, including picture books.  Agents handing childrens books include MD Paul Moreton, Lauren Gardner (not picture books) and Lorna Hemingway.  To submit, send the first 3 chapters up to 50 pages (full text with sample pictures, if any, for a picture book), a short synopsis, and a covering letter.  You can send up to 3 picture books.  You can email or post material, and response time is 8-12 weeks.

Caroline Sheldon This is a leading literary agency who are very selective about their work.  They have two agents and a large list of clients including the incomparable Julia Donaldson.  Submit by email (although post is acceptable as well) for the attention of Caroline or Felicity Trew (read about their preferences on the site) and attach a synopsis and the first three chapters or 10,000 words, whichever is shorter.  If the children’s book is under that length you may submit it in its entirety, or up to three picture books.  You should also read their twelve pet hates!  In fact, read them anyway whether or not you are submitting.  They aim to respond in 4-6 weeks.

Caroline Wakeman Literary Agency  This growing agency with international offices founded by author and industry expert Caroline Wakeman represents illustrators and authors of picture books and early chapter books, but has recently expanded into older chapter books and middle grade.  Submit a synopsis and first chapter to the email address provided.  They usually deal with published authors only but at present have an open window for new authors.

The Catchpole Agency – CURRENTLY CLOSED TO SUBMISSIONS – This is a small agency with two agents who take on only one or two new authors a year.  They have a very specific way of handling submission: a dedicated email address to which you should send a brief email and a small sample of your work pasted into the  email itself (no attachments).  If they are interested they will ask for more.

Conville & Walsh This large, established agency takes pride in championing first time authors.  They have 14 agents for both adults’ and children’s books.   Email your covering letter, synopsis and the first three chapters or 50 pages to the appropriate agent by visiting their page and using their contact email.  They aim to reply within 2 months.  They encourage authors to submit to other agencies at the same time, but you should mention if your manuscript has or is being read in full by anyone else.  They are not looking for picture books.


Curtis Brown – CHILDREN’S SUBMISSIONS CURRENTLY CLOSED – Curtis Brown are a large, long established agency with a huge number of clients working in literature, TV, film and theatre.  They have a brand new submissions system on their website and no longer accept postal submissions.  Prepare a covering letter, synopsis of no more than 1,500 words and the first 10,000 words of your manuscript and follow the prompts in the link above to submit directly – do not send by email.  The children’s agent is Stephanie Thwaites and you can read my interview with her here.  Curtis Brown aim to reply in 10-12 weeks.

Darley Anderson Children’s Book Agency A spin off from the main Darley Anderson agency dedicated purely to children’s authors, it has around 40 of them on its books.  Send a covering email, synopsis and the first three chapters or up to 3 picture book texts to Clare Wallace or Lydia Silver – or if you are not sure which agent to choose you can also send to the general submissions email.  They aim to respond to all submissions within 8-10 weeks.

David Higham This is a huge, long established agency with a large stable of authors.  The children’s agents are Veronique Baxter, Christabel McKinley and Caroline Walsh.  The email should take the form of a covering letter to which you should attach a word document consisting of a synopsis and the first three chapters plus a CV.  For picture books attach the whole manuscript and you may send up to 3 texts.  They aim to respond within 6 weeks.

DHH Literary Agency is a London agency with an editorial focus.  They have a large number of authors and Hannah Sheppard is their children’s agent and director.  Send her your covering letter, first three chapters or 10,000 words and synopsis in that order pasted into the body of the email (see her individual page for details).  You should hear within 8-16 weeks if they are interested.

Eddison Pearson This is a small London-based agency run by agent Clare Pearson that deals mainly with children’s books and has a select number of clients.  The website asks you to email them for their latest submissions details, which then provides you with a form to respond.  They should reply in eight weeks.

Eve White – CURRENTLY NOT ACCEPTING CHILDREN’S FICTION – This small agency has a good number of authors including the brilliant Andy Stanton, author of the Mr Gum books.  About half her authors are children’s writers.  You should submit by email only with one attachment consisting of a brief synopsis, word count and the first three chapters.  She is currently not accepting picture books.  You will receive an automated conformation of receipt and impressively she aims to reply within a week.  See also the FAQs.

Fraser Ross Fraser Ross Associates deal mainly with children’s writers and illustrators.  They have two agents and  many clients.  They accept submissions by post or email using the form provided which should consist of a synopsis, the first three chapters, and a writing CV – read their guidelines for more details about this.   They warn on their website that a response may take some time so assume it’s a no after 8 weeks.  In my experience they can take a long time to reply but have given valuable feedback to me in the past.

Greenhouse This UK/US-based agency has three agents and a large number of clients and has a focus on nuturing their author’s careers.  They prefer to be a paperless office and use a system called Query Manager with which you can check the status of your query.  Note that they only accept picture book submissions if you are an author-illustrator.

Kowal Stannus Agency (KSA)  This boutique agency with a global perspective is run by American rights and publishing expert Angharad Kowal Stannus.  She represents a select number of children’s authors and illustrators and is open to new submissions.  Send the complete manuscript to the email address provided together with a few lines about the work and yourself.

Lindsay This one woman agency is keen to develop new talent and currently represents over twenty authors  You can submit by email but check the website as they are currently catching up with their backlog.  Attach the first three chapters and the synopsis as two seperate Word documents.  A covering email should introduce yourself and your work.  They accept picture books in which case you should send the whole manuscript.  As a small agency they don’t commit to a time frame for a response so you need to be patient.

Luigi Bonomi Associates This growing agency has five agents and a large number of clients and is keen to develop new authors.   Louise Lamont is the children’s agent (but note she is not currently accepting picture books).  You should submit by email directly to your chosen agent and attach the synopsis and the first three chapters.  They will respond within 12 weeks if interested.

Madeleine Milburn A leading London agency actively looking for new authors.  They have six agents, and Chloe Seager is looking for middle grade and funny books across all ages.  She is also a horror fan!  Read the specific submissions requirements carefully before submitting by email only to the dedicated children’s email address.  You will hear back within 12 weeks if they are interested.

Marjacq Scripts This is a large book, film and TV rights company.  They have six agents and numerous authors as well as directors, screenwriters and software developers.  Catherine Pellegrino accepts middle grade and YA submissions.  Submit via email to which you should attach the synopsis and first fifty pages.  No picture books.

MBA MBA are a large agency who represent writers in all media.  They have five agents and a number of authors including children’s writers.  Agent Sophie Gorell Barnes handles children’s writers and is particularly looking for middle grade fiction.  Email submissions should be marked for the attention of the appropirate agent; send a covering email and attach the synopsis and first three chapters.  They will reply in eight weeks if interested.

Miles Stott Children’s Literary Agency is a small but dynamic dedicated children’s agency.  They have three agents and represents both authors and illustrators.  They focus on all children’s writing from board book up to young adult and including non fiction, and are happy to hear from both debut and mid-career authors.  Submission is by email only and response time is 4-6 weeks if they are interested.  If submitting picture books, send up to three.

Pickled Ink  This wonderfully monikered agency began as an illustration agency but now represents authors and author-illustrators as well.  They have three agents, two for illustrators and one, Helen Boyle, for authors.  Pickled Ink are looking for chapter books, middle grade and young adult books in particular and are not currently looking for picture books unless you are an author-illustrator.  Email only and expect a response if they are interested in taking your submission further.

RCW (previous known as Rogers, Coleridge & White) are one of the world’s leading literary agents with a vast stable of big name clients including the brilliant Katherine Rundell.  Three of their 13 agents handle children’s writing: Claire Wilson, Sam Copeland and Georgia Garrett.  You should submit directly to them with a covering email, synopsis and the first 3 chapters or 50 pages (no US submissions).  They aim to respond in 6-8 weeks.

Skylark Literary Agency  A boutique children’s literary agency run by two industry experts.  Looking for anything from chapter book to young adult.  Send the full manuscript with one page synopsis and covering email.  Lots of useful information on the site, including guidance as to what to put in your covering letter.  They confirm receipt and respond in a month.

The Ben Illis Agency (BIA)  No, it’s not the secret service of the literary world (or is it…?) – it’s the young, dynamic literary agency of Ben Illis, previously of AM Heath.  Submit using the form on the submissions page to which you can attach your synopsis and sample pages, and you should hear back within 2 months.  No picture books  You can read an interview with Ben on the Golden Egg Academy website.


The Bent Agency (TBA) The Bent Agency is a large agency with a boutique ethos, and two offices on either side of the Atlantic.  They deal with both adult and chldren’s literature and non fiction plus memoir, lifestyle, history – you name it.  A number of their agents represent children’s writers so look through the bios to see who would suit your work and submit to them directly.  Read the submissions guidelines on how to structure your query, which involves pasting a sample of the work into your email.  Response time for requesting further material is one month.

The Blair Partnership  This large, modern agency packs a punch with a large range of authors including JK Rowling as their clients.  They also have 2 production companies and adapt some of their own work.  Josephine Hayes is the children’s literary agent.  Submit the first 30 pages and a synopsis in Word or PDF and take account of the email content requirements on the submissions page.  Reponse time is 6-10 weeks.

The Soho Agency Lucas Alexander Whitley or LAW has merged with Factual Management to form dynamic new agency The Soho Agency representing large list of bestselling authors internationally.  Philippa Milnes-Smith is the children’s agent and managing director.  You should submit a covering letter, short synopsis and the first three chapters or first thirty pages if shorter to the email address specified.  Read the tips before you submit – and you should hear back quickly or not at all.

Tyild’s Agency  This recently founded small agency specialises in children’s authors and illustrators who are, or have come from, the teaching profession, from where many amazing authors have sprung!  Send them your fiction or non-fiction for ages 2-12, preferably as a PDF.  They respond promptly within a month.

United Agents United Agents are a large literary and talent agency with interests in many fields and big name children’s authors including Anthony Horowitz, Ali Sparkes, Rick Riordan and Ian Whybrow.  Their two dedicated children’s agents are Jodie Hodges and Emily Talbot, to whom you should submit by email.  Picture book authors can send three picture books.  Expect a response in 12-15 weeks.

Watson, Little Watson, Little handle a wide range of writers among their 6 agents and their children’s agent is Megan Carroll.  See her page on the website to find out what she is looking for.  They ask for a covering email, synopsis of 1 page maximum and sample chapters.  Submit by email only.  You should expect to hear back in 6 weeks.

Redrafting Checklist

As promised, here are my notes on Jude Evans’ seminar ‘Redrafting Your Work’, given at the Winchester Writers’ Conference on 2nd July 2011.  Although it is aimed at children’s writers, I’m sure Jude’s advice would be useful to anybody looking to improve their first draft.

I have also typed the notes up as a tickable checklist, so if you would like to print this off (and tinker with it to suit you) please download as a Word document by clicking on the link below.

DOWNLOAD REDRAFTING CHECKLIST

REDRAFTING YOUR WORK

(notes from Jude Evans’ seminar at Winchester Writers’ Conference 2 July 2011)

Put away your book for 2 weeks!  Now re-read.

FIRST REACTIONS
Does the mood and atmosphere come through strongly?
Are the characters convincing?
Does the writing flow?
What are the best bits?

Read again, this time with your red editing pen!  Be objective and break down the prose to look at it from different angles.

PLOT
Draw out a diagram/timeline of your plot and look at the narrative pace, the highs and the lows.
Is your plot watertight and logical?

OPENING
Does it compel the reader to continue?  What is the hook?
What can the reader identify with?
What makes it special?
Is it immediate?  Will the reader feel dropped in to the scene?
Use economy – don’t weigh down with explanation.

ENDING
Will it make the reader remember the book?
Does it make the reader feel the way you planned, eg inspired/shocked?
Use economy – don’t weigh down with tying up loose ends.
Does the resolution work?
Imagine a scene as a film – have you described enough to make it real?  If not consider adding movement or detail to bring it to life.

UNIQUE SELLING POINT
Research your market – look in Amazon, bookshops and libraries.
What are people talking about online, eg forums, mumsnet?
What is your strength?
Will your book sit well in publishers’ lists?  (If not, is it special enough to make it even though it’s different?)

WHAT IS YOUR BOOK ABOUT
Can you capture it in a few sentences?
Why would a child want to read it?
Is the message clear?

CHARACTERS
Are they memorable, individual and real?
Do they have quirks, attitude, humour?
Is their dialogue natural, eg own turns of phrase?
Do they behave true to character, not as slaves to the plot?

DESCRIPTION
Imagine a scene as a film – have you described enough to make it real?
Is the reader experiencing events as vividly as possible?
Is the description a high point, or dry and flat?
Are you showing, not telling?

STYLE/AUTHOR VOICE
Is it suitable for your audience?
Is it consistent?
Does it communicate what you planned?  (NB  Don’t worry about this when you are in the flow of writing – think about style and tone afterwards.)

PACE
Have you leapt straight into the story?  Are the hooks early enough?
Is there enough action or intensity?

SETTING/CONTEXT
Do you make clear the time of day/year?
…the country or place you are in?
…the place in history?
Is the world believable and real?
Are you drip feeding or doing an information dump?

AUDIENCE
Is it suitable for the age group in its
…length
…structure
…tone
…topic
…interest level
…reading level?
What makes it appeal?
Have you immersed yourself in their culture?

READ
Are you reading and analysing the work of others in your field?

CUTTING
Cut out anything that doesn’t contribute to the plot.
Are any characters or scenes taking the reader down a cul-de-sac?

BE OBJECTIVE
Read it aloud.
Discuss the plot with someone.  Can you describe it clearly?
Write yourself an editor’s review letter.
Write a synopsis – it acts as a mirror to your plot.
Get feedback on the synopsis from a friend – does it appeal?
Write a blurb.

Put the manuscript aside for 2 weeks.

Repeat until your book is the best it can be!

What wordcount should my children’s book have?

Following on from my blog post on which publishers are accepting unsolicited manuscripts for children, I thought I’d put together something else I had difficulty finding on the web – a guide to word counts.

The reason there isn’t a definitive list is that publishers vary considerably in their requirements and so you will see that the range is large within each category.  Before submitting, make sure you check the publisher’s website.  If they don’t specify a word count, and many don’t, take a look at some of their books in your local library and do a quick word count by counting three lines, dividing by three to get an average, multiplying by the number of lines on the page and then by the number of pages.  If it’s illustrated, adjust the word count by the percentage you feel the pictures take up.  You will only have an approximate guide but at least you won’t be wildly off course.

Picture books

Generally around 500, maximum 1,000.  Less is more as the pictures do the talking.  Classics include The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle, The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson and Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney.  You won’t be expected to provide illustrations – the publisher will match you with an artist (unless you are one yourself!).  The whole text is usually submitted for this length book.

6-9 years

Sometimes called early readers or chapter books, these books bridge the gap between picture books and novels with plenty of line drawings within the text and can be 6-15,000 words long.  The Horrid Henry books by Francesca Simon are a good example.  (The audio versions narrated by Miranda Richardson are brilliant, by the way!)  Series books for this age range are popular and include Beast Quest, Rainbow Magic and Cows in Action.

8-12 years

Called middle grade in the US, these can be 20,000 to 75,000.  Established authors can get away with more.    Derek Landy, JK Rowling, Jean DuPrau and Charlotte Haptie are all great writers for this age group.  Publishers will usually ask for a synopsis and the first two or three chapters.

Young adult

At least 30,000, going up to 100,000.  Increasingly, these books are appealing to adults who are not put off by length.  Examples include How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff, Angel Blood by John Singleton, Numbers by Rachel Ward and the brilliant Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld.

Useful links

guidetoliteraryagents.com

This post by writer American Chuck Sambuchino is a great guide to required word lengths for American markets, children’s and adults’.

sarah webb

Another blog from across the pond with useful advice on word counts.

tall tales and short stories

Tracy’s interviews with children’s agents and publishers will give you the low down you need before submitting.

I would love to know if there are any more resources on this area, so please get in contact if you know of any so I can add them to my links!

UPDATE

Skylark Literary Agency blog post

Here’s a very informative post about word counts from the experts at Skylark.

How to write a synopsis

Writing the synopsis for your novel is a task generally loathed by writers, yet it is an essential part of selling your book.  Why?  And why do writers hate the process so much?  Shouldn’t we enjoy having the chance to demonstrate how brilliant and exciting our plot is?

What a synopsis is for

A synopsis is really just a summing up of the main plot points of your novel and the journey of your main characters. If your sample chapters are a demonstration of your writing ability, your synopsis is a demonstration of your ability to put together your content in a way that will draw the reader through the story and satisfy them at the end. If a publisher or agent enjoys your sample chapters and is excited by your synopsis, he or she will ask for more.  The synopsis may also be used later as a selling tool in order to win over other people or departments who will be involved in the process of producing your book. It may also be used to sell a series or prove you can come up with a sequel.

When to write it

Should you write your synopsis before or after your manuscript?  It depends on your method of planning.  If you prefer to plot your novel first before writing, there is much to be said for coming up with a synopsis first which you can use as a working plan.  It may need revision at the end to account for unexpected events but the basics will be there.  Most writers, however, tackle the synopsis at the end, which is probably why it becomes so dreaded a task.  Your precious manuscript is complete and ready to go out into the world, and now you have to squeeze all the magic out of it and bash out the main points in a page of dry, academic prose when all you want to do is get the thing out there and move on to the dizzy excitement of planning a new book.  Tough!  It’s got to be done.

How to write it

There are many resources online which give advice on synopsis, and links to them are included below.  These are the basic points I have picked up which I feel would suit the majority of unpublished children’s writers who are drafting a synopsis for the first time and need something to suit the majority of publishers/agents they are submitting to.

  1. Length – one single page is a good length welcomed by most publishers.  It doesn’t need to be double spaced unless you feel that will aid readability.
  2. Voice – omniscient (all-knowing) narrator is best.  Don’t write from a character’s point of view. Try to be consistent with the tone of your novel within reason, for example if it is a comedy you don’t need to squeeze in as many gags as you can!  Use the present tense.
  3. Content – concentrate on the journey of the main character or characters, what happens to them, the main plot points and the climax at the end.  Forget minor characters, subplots and anything which digresses too much.  If you are struggling with what to include, imagine someone asking you at a party what your book is about and you having to explain in a few sentences above the noise.  Then expand it using only the most important plot points until you have filled the page.  Don’t hint or tease like you would on a blurb on the back of a published book. Your publisher or agent needs to know what happens!
  4. Polishing – some agents and publishers will read the synopsis before anything else.  Try to look on your synopsis as a selling tool and spend time perfecting it.  It should, of course, be free of errors, but also clear and concise but not dry.  Your book is exciting/humorous/emotional/dramatic so make your synopsis reflect that.

You will probably hate your synopsis by the time you have spent hours beating it out.  Don’t worry.  If you’ve done all you can, send it off with your sample chapters and your covering letter, and get on with the next book.  And this time, perhaps try writing the synopsis first or even as you go along.  It may save you a least a little agony later.

Resources

Try these links for articles and discussions about synopses.  You will find advice that is conflicting but it just proves there are no set rules about synopsis writing.  Before submitting, check the requirements of your chosen publisher or agent.  They may ask for a particular length or even a chapter by chapter breakdown.  If that is the case, you will already have your prepared one page synopsis ready to adapt.  Good luck!

Writer and former editor Caro Clarke

A practical and really useful step-by-step breakdown of what it takes to create a synopsis based on an existing manuscript using a real example.

Crime writer Beth Anderson

An deservedly oft-linked to article that goes into detail about crafting a great synopsis.

Fiction Writer’s Connection

Short and punchy summary of the main points.

Writer Joshua Palmatier

Useful article with author’s synopsis of one of his own books.

Agent Nathan Bransford

Brief but salient advice from the agent’s point of view, followed by a good range of agonized comments!

The Literary Consultancy

In-depth how-to article by Rebecca Swift that also appears in the Writers and Artists Yearbook.

eHow article

Short how-to article that makes the process sound even more complicated than it already is…

Amazon

Try looking up your favourite novel and reading the summary.  It will be more like a blurb in tone but will give you an idea of a tight precis.  This link is for Marcus Zuzak’s The Book Thief.

Wikipedia

Alternatively read novel summaries on Wikipedia for inspiration.  This one for Tolstoy’s War and Peace must have taken a while…