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.
*PLEASE NOTE NEW PRICING STRUCTURE*
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 3 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.
- 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 per manuscript as from 12/10/17
£25 for first 1000 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!
Posted in covering letter, critique service, Submissions, synopsis, Uncategorized, writing resources
Tagged advice, appraisal, assessment, chapter book, children, Covering letter, critique, editing, Fiction, manuscript, middle grade, picture book, submission, synopsis, writing, writing for children, young adult, young fiction
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?
Rhyming stories have always been popular with children. From Hilare Belloc’s Cautionary Tales for Children to Tom Fletcher and Dougie Poynter’s The Dinosaur that Pooped series, rhyming stories have had a place on our bookshelves and no doubt always will. There’s something very satisfying about reading a good rhyme – it’s like putting the last puzzle piece into a jigsaw. And rhyme and rhythm are great at helping with reading skills as well as making text easier to remember and above all – fun!
But for writers rhyming stories can pose a bit of a problem. It’s widely believed that rhyming books are much harder to get published, and this is to some extent true as it’s harder for the publisher or agent to sell translation rights. The text either has to be translated word for word, losing the rhymes in the process, or almost completely rewritten. However, the popularity of rhyming texts is testament to the fact that publishers are still publishing them; you only have to look at the success of Julia Donaldson. But the text has to be good. The rhymes have to delight. There are plenty of pitfalls to stumble into when writing in rhyme, so I’ve put together a few tips that might help when you’re coming up with your own rhyming story. The tips are geared towards picture book writers but hopefully will assist with any rhyming-based writing activity.
- Put the stronger rhyme second
When you’ve got two rhyming words that end your lines, think about positioning them so the weaker rhyme goes first, followed by the stronger rhyme. This gives the impression that a great rhyme has slipped naturally into place rather than just because it fits. For example, in my book Professor McQuark and the Oojamaflip, Professor McQuark is looking at the other inventions in the science fair and the couplet reads as follows:
“A yo-yo with slo-mo, a door with a zip,
But nothing as fine as the Oojamaflip.”
This is much stronger than if I had written it the other way round, where it would sounds like I have come up with the “door with a zip” invention just to fit the rhyming pattern. Of course I have, but positioning it first makes it seem like I haven’t!
- Don’t forget the rhythm
Rhyming books aren’t just about the last words, they are about rhythm too. Imagine a song where you have to fit the words to the notes. If in doubt, read it out! You’ll soon hear where the words don’t fit. You can also beat the rhythm out on the table (or get your drum kit out). Try this with master rhymers Julia Donaldson or Dr Seuss to get an idea of the ‘beats’ you might use.
- Don’t mess with sentence structure
You do need to think about positioning your words, but try not to end up with a strange sentence structure just to fit the rhythm. Chief suspects are the words ‘it’ and ‘did’ which are sometimes sneaked into rhymes in order to make up the right number of syllables, such as in this made-up example:
“The clock it struck twelve, time to leave for the show,
So off to the big circus tent we did go.”
If you don’t speak like that in real life, it won’t sound very convincing in a rhyme either. If you find yourself tempted, try to rethink the sentence so you get the right number of syllables in a more natural way.
- Alliteration is good in small doses
“She ran to her shed and she banged and she battered,
She sawed and she sanded, she clanged and she clattered.”
Yes, I love alliteration, but almost too much. I have had whole lines rejected because I have turned them into tongue twisters. So use as much alliteration as you like, but make sure you can say it without getting your tongue in a knot.
- Look for internal rhymes
An internal rhyme is a rhyme occurring in the middle of a sentence. For example, in the Professor McQuark extract above, “a yo-yo with slo-mo” rhymes with itself and adds a little extra icing to your rhyming cake. It’s amazing how often an internal rhyme can slip in, so if you see one, celebrate it.
- Don’t let the rhyme tell the story
It’s hard to let a brillant rhyme go, but sometimes you have to when it just doesn’t fit the story. The rhyming words should serve your story structure, not dictate it. Try to think of what you want to say, then say it in rhyme, rather than thinking of the rhymes and then making them into a story.
- Harness the power of repetition
Fortunately for picture book writers, children love repetition. Not only do they like to hear the same story again but they like the same phrases again. The Gruffalo is a great example of this with its repeated phrases, the repeated scene with a variation for each animal and ultimately the story itself repeated but reversed. A repeated phrase allows you to reuse rhymes, but beware of overdoing this as readers still need a surprise or two along the way.
- Make it look easy
Good rhymes look easy but may be anything but! Personally I find that sometimes the rhyme just pops into my head, but more often than not it’s a result of a long dog walk and twenty minutes of washing up before the right word or phrase is finally sifted from the detritus of my brain. I also find that most rhymes can be improved by twiddling with the sentence or swopping an odd word here and there, to make the rhyme look more natural. And don’t feel guilty for looking in a rhyming dictionary or online, but try not to let it seduce you with its long and clever words. Sometimes the best rhymes are the simplest.
You’ve read my advice and are raring to go.
But if you have other tips, please let me know!
Posted in Drafting
Tagged cautionary tales for children, dougie poynter, dr seuss, hillaire belloc, julia donaldson, picture books, rhyme, the cat in the hat, the dinosaur that pooped, the gruffalo, tom fletcher
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!
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!
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Thank you to everyone who came to my book signing at WH Smith in Luton last week. We made lots of pairs of glasses (some with special powers) and amazing oojamaflips with wings and even parachutes. Photos of these incredible inventions are now up on Professor McQuark’s website.
Thanks also to everyone at Smith’s for having me!