Tag Archives: Fiona Barker

Fiona Barker’s success story

I love sharing a success story, so if you haven’t heard of Fiona Barker and her passion for picture books, please read on and enjoy!  Fiona’s book Danny and the Dream Dog came through my critique service and I was thrilled to learn it will be published by Tiny Tree in October.

danny and the dream dog

Welcome to the blog, Fiona, and congratulations on your forthcoming book.  You started off as a self published author.  Can you tell us a bit about what that was like?

Thank you for inviting me onto your fab blog! Yes, I self-published a picture book ‘Amelie and the Great Outdoors’ in 2016. I had submitted it as a text in the conventional way about 10 years previously. Looking back now, my submissions were cringeworthy! Unsurprisingly I didn’t get anywhere so I shelved it for about 7 years. Then I came back to the story, which I still liked. This time around I investigated self-publishing. I worked with a freelance book designer and together we commissioned lovely illustrations from Rosie Brooks. Then I approached Matador who took me through the process of printing and publication. By now I knew that I had the picture book bug and so I started to view Amelie as a ‘practice’ for trying to get traditionally published. I won’t lie, it was an expensive process! But once you have a book in your hands you can get experience with events in schools, bookshops and libraries. I’ve learned so many lessons and I think that would all have taken much longer if I hadn’t self-published and had to market my book myself. My current publishers, Tiny Tree, told me that they were impressed by the fact that I had some history and a track record in promoting my book and that was one of the reasons that they signed me. So although I haven’t broken even financially, nothing is ever wasted. The experience has been invaluable.

Why did you feel you wanted to pursued a traditional publishing contract?

Lots of reasons! I couldn’t really afford to self-publish again. Self-published picture book authors are at a disadvantage because they have to pay up-front illustrator costs and this puts it out of reach for many writers. Also, I had rediscovered a real passion for picture books and wanted to explore pursuing writing as a career. It’s hard to pull that off with self-publishing. I have massive respect for anyone who manages to do that. And, like it or not, there is still a stigma attached to self-publishing. Several bruising experiences when trying to market Amelie showed me that!

What attracted you to Tiny Tree?  How has the process been, working with them?

I found Tiny Tree through Twitter (which is my favourite and my best!). I saw a tweet by one of their authors and decided to look them up. The information on the website sounded great, they were quite new at that stage so I thought I might be in with more of a chance than with a more established publisher and they accepted unsolicited submissions! It felt like I might be in roughly the right place at roughly the right time for once but I wasn’t confident as I’d had so many rejections in the past! They have been brilliant right from the start. They agreed to work with the illustrator that I wanted and they’ve been very hands on in getting everything just right. It’s so different from self-publishing where absolutely everything is down to you. This feels much more collaborative and it’s great to have other people who are excited about your book!

Bit of a cheeky question coming up!  You had a critique done during the drafting process of Danny and the Dream Dog.  How do you think this helped you?

It was HUGE! I’d advise anyone to get independent professional advice on their texts. It helped me refine the style and voice. I also changed a couple of important aspects of the plot and one of the main characters names. So some quite major revisions! But I didn’t follow through with everything. There were a couple of times where edits were suggested but I decided to stick with the original, including the title! I’ll let everyone judge for themselves whether that was a good idea or not! But it was great to be forced to carefully consider and justify the things I kept. I’m sure the professional advice helped because no changes were made to the text by the publishers!

You are very active on the literary scene with Picture Book Club, school visits and adult events such as WI and U3A meetings.  Do you think this has helped your author profile?

Massively, especially Picture Book Club. That’s not why I did it though! I set up PBC as an affordable way for people (including me!) to meet and learn from established industry professionals. And it gives me something to tweet and blog about. The adult talks I do are just a chance to witter on about picture books for an hour or so. And I love doing school visits. That’s done a bit for my profile locally but I’m not famous enough to get many long distance school gigs (-; 

How did you find your agent Alice Williams?  Tell us a bit about what an agent does for you.

Alice was on my ‘hit list’ because she represents my SCBWI friend and fellow picture book author Clare Helen Welsh. I submitted to her and then met her in person at the SCBWI conference in 2017 and I signed with her shortly afterwards. She is awesome. She is responsive if I have any queries and takes quite an editorial role which I find very helpful (even if I cry into my laptop initially!). She also knows the industry and has the contacts that I will never have. Having spent years pressing the send button myself, it feels weird having someone else do that for you but she is getting my work seen by editors that I could only have dreamed of previously. 

As an audiologist, do you think your day job affects your writing life?

I only work as an audiologist 2 days a week so writing fits round that quite well. I also have incredibly supportive colleagues which helps enormously. I’m terrible at compartmentalising things though so I always have a notebook with me, even at work and I often have to break off from working on a story to take a call from a patient. I recognise that I’m very lucky to be able to maintain both though. Variety is the spice of life!

What are your ambitions?

Ooooo! In the short term, I have one or two texts that are very special to me which I would really, really like to see in print. In the longer term, I’d like to write something that has longevity. Something that might still be in print in 10 or 20 years time. It’s a bit of a pipedream but you might as well aim high! 

And finally, any words of advice to other writers?

My number one piece of advice would be to join SCBWI and find a local or online critique group. My own SCBWI crit group are, without exception, amazing writers who I continue to respect and learn from all the time. You will also meet so many other fantastic writers and illustrators as well as other industry professionals. I met Howard Gray, who has done a brilliant job illustrating Danny, at the SCBWI conference in 2016 and the rest is history!

Many thanks Fiona and the best of luck with your new book!

Danny and the Dream Dog by Fiona Barker and illustrated by Howard Gray is published by Tiny Tree in October.  You can pre-order here, or why not order at your local bookshop or library?

Visit Fiona at fionabarker.co.uk or on twitter at @Fi_BGB

Find out about Picture Book Club.

And check out the wonderful dog charity Cinnamon Trust.

 

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An interview with Tiny Tree

Following blog subscriber and critique customer Fiona Barker’s picture book acceptance by Tiny Tree, I caught up with James Shaw from Matthew James Publishing to ask him about his new picture book imprint and what he might be looking for in a submission.

Tiny Tree logoWhat made you decide to launch a picture book imprint?  How many picture books are you planning on publishing each year?

Not only am I a big fan of literature in general, I am also a huge art fan and a very visual person. Since taking over MJP I was always excited by the prospect of working on picture books, and as a father of two small boys I am constantly surrounded by the wonderful possibilities so many other publishing companies had produced. For me it was an obvious step. Although it hasn’t been easy, it has been very worthwhile.

As a small independent we don’t have a quota for how many books we publish each year and can be quite picky. Next year though we already have about 10 titles on the way, with many more submissions still filtering through. We like to keep it to no more than 1 a month though.

What length picture book are you looking for?  And do you accept rhyme?

We like to have 32 page picture books, but we will stretch to 48 or drop down to 24 at a push. We have done much longer titles, but we prefer 32 pages as a rule. We accept rhyming and non-rhyming books, the story is the important thing, and as long as it is told well it doesn’t matter if it rhymes or not.  Honestly not always fussed about a particular word count but we do find that around 600 words works best for children’s picture books.

Are there any topics that you are particularly attracted to?  Do you like books with a message?  What about humour?

Humour is really important to us. As a parent it is easier to read a book to my kids 40 times if it is funny. However, we at Tiny Tree love to provide books with a message. Bullying, friendship, loneliness, change, anything that could affect the life of a child is perfect. We want to stand out amongst the crowd, but we also want to provide something to the children, and the parents, above and beyond a beautiful book.

How are your authors paid, eg flat fee or royalties?  Do you pay an advance?  Do you sell foreign rights?

Our contract states a royalty of 10% on print versions, 25% on electronic versions. We also discuss with the author incremental increases in royalties based on sales. We don’t usually pay an advance unless one is required for a piece we absolutely must have. As a small independent we want to focus all our budget on producing and marketing a great product, and we like authors who are focused on that goal as well.

We can and do sell foreign rights, although we haven’t had much opportunity to up to this point. We have done our own translations for titles, to work with the authors from other countries though. Like any traditional publisher we are always looking for new avenues of sales for books and to make sure they get as much exposure as possible.

How do you find illustrators for your picture books?  Is this something the author would get involved in as well?

A multitude of ways really. Sometimes an author/illustrator will come to us with a title they have already illustrated, like Binx the Jinx. Sometimes an author will know someone who they would like to use or they have worked with before, like Russ Brown and Jamie Cosley. Sometimes we get portfolio submissions from illustrators which we keep on file for possible work.

There have only been a couple of times where we have had to find an illustrator from nothing, but there are so many organisations and communities out there that it always very simple. The only problem comes with trying to match up the work and trawling through hundreds of possible illustrators when there so many talented people out there.

What attracted you to Fiona Barker’s book?

Fiona’s book attracted me in a number of ways. First, it was a simple and heart-warming story. There is a message there, but it is surrounded by just a simple, funny, inviting story that makes it easy to read and something I could certainly see myself and others coming back to. Fiona herself is also easy to sell; she provided a great deal of marketing information, she already has a great presence and she has an approachable persona that makes it simple to plan around her.

She also provided us with an illustrator that worked perfectly for her title. Although having something illustrated before submitting can sometimes be problematic, in this case it really worked in her favour.

 

Details on how to submit to Tiny Tree here

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A critical year!

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

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