I’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!
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!
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?
The simple answer: no. There are various reasons for this.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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!
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!
I was delighted to attend the Get Writing Conference at the weekend as a delegate/author. Organised by Veralum Writers, the conference has grown each year and now attracts some amazing speakers and workshop leaders. I attended two workshops: comedy sketch writing with Mark Keegan and writing historical fiction with Emma Darwin. Both were hugely helpful and I now feel fired up to have a go at both disciplines while their excellent advice is still ringing in my ears. The great thing about writing children’s fiction is that you can encompass so many genres and styles. So watch out for a historical crime comedy thriller picture book in the distant future!
Here’s some pointers I picked up during the day (which also included talks and panels) that I hope will be useful to you too.
- Some people read a book a day, and two at the weekend (lizlovesbooks.com).
- Psychic distance is a thing and it’s rather useful (thisitchofwriting.com).
- Writers love cake. Not a tip, but it helps to know you are not alone.
- Successful comedy sketches are often about subverting the balance of power between the characters.
- You don’t have to be a ‘plotster’ (planning) or a ‘pantser’ (not planning) – there is a middle way. You need to choose the route that works for you.
- The British love a bit of wordplay, ambiguity and, of course, innuendo.
- Research before or after writing, not during (unless it’s crucial).
- BBC Writers Room is an oft-recommended resource and for good reason.
- Don’t blog unless you enjoy it. But if you do, it can help open doors.
- Use Google Scholar to search for academic articles about your chosen subject.
- Notice what your character notices – look through their eyes, not your own.
- Comedy can have dark undertones.
- Don’t sweat about the synopsis. Shock horror – half the time agents don’t even read them! Even if they do, it can be just a quick glance to make sure you’ve got the story in hand. Your letter and sample chapters are much more important.
- Use escalation to take your comedy sketch from mundane to ridiculous (in a good way).
- Watch Andrew Stanton’s Ted talk – The Clues to a Great Story.
- Go to writing conferences. Attend workshops. Keep on learning. Keep on writing.
PS – I will be randomly selecting the winner of the signed copy of The Snugglewump on Friday. If you haven’t entered, just comment on my previous post to be in with a chance!
Posted in Uncategorized, workshops, Writing conferences
Tagged Andrew Stanton, BBC Writers Room, Emma Darwin, Get Writing 2017, Google Scholar, Liz Loves Books, Mark Keegan, this itch of writing, Veralum Writers Circle
My new picture book The Snugglewump illustrated by Kate Chappell is out! The Snugglewump is a featureless comforter with an inferiority complex. When it hears the other toys arguing about which of them Molly loves best, it crawls out of the cat flap and ends up in a puddle in the local park. Will the Snugglewump be reunited with Molly? Could it be that she loves it best after all? To find out, why not enter my free signed copy giveaway? Just comment below and tell me what age group you like to write for and why. I will print off the comments and draw one out of a hat!
Also I’m running a two hour picture book writing workshop at the Get Writing 2017 conference at Oaklands College, St Albans, on Saturday 3 June. It’s an all day event where you pick which workshops you would like to attend as well as talks and opportunities to pitch to agents and publishers. Plus lunch! A lovely day – I have attended several times in the past. More details and tickets available here.
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 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.
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!
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
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.