Interview with Penguin Ireland’s Claire Hennessy

Thank you to everyone who suggested questions for Claire Hennessy, children’s author, writing teacher and Penguin Ireland children’s editor.  And thank you Claire for sparing the time to talk to us in between your many commitments!  (Where appropriate I have removed specifics in the questions to make the answers relevant to everyone rather than just the individual concerned.)

Seeds of Liberty by Claire Hennessy

Is Penguin Ireland is open to submissions from across the UK or does it just focus on the Irish market?  How about overseas authors, eg Australia?

We get submissions from all over the place but as Penguin (now Penguin Random House!) is international it’s probably best to approach the division closest/most relevant to where you live.

It is unusual for a big publisher to have an open submission policy.  What are your reasons for this – and are you swamped?!

A little swamped! But in a great way. The publishing scene in Ireland is slightly different to the UK, in that most Irish publishers will deal directly with writers rather than having an agent be almost-essential. Combine that with it being a small country with a huge amount of creative talent – open submissions mean that lack of an agent doesn’t stand in the way. Though there are submissions from agents too, of course.

What word counts are you looking for in the different age ranges?

There’s a really good post here from American literary agent Jennifer Laughran which is worth looking at: http://literaticat.blogspot.co.uk/2011/05/wordcount-dracula.html

Generally once something is within the rough parameters of its age group, it’s fine. If it seems not to match up, there are usually other problems with the manuscript in terms of being a fit for the age and genre.

Do you publish fantasy and science fiction?

Currently open to everything (if it’s good!).

Do you accept books that have already been self published?

Never say never. But they’re very tricky. It’s best to submit something new, and include any relevant details (sales figures, etc) about your self-published work.

What information do you like to see in a covering letter?

Basically what it says in the submissions guidelines (http://www.penguin.ie/static/penguinirelandsubmissionguidelines/index.html). Shorter is better. A brief summary of the book – including a word count – and then anything relevant about the writer (e.g. previous writing or other creative experience, bookselling experience, etc). Did I mention shorter is better?

Every Summer by Claire HennessyIn your opinion, is it worthwhile spending money on professional editing services before submitting to agents or publishers, to make a book the best it can be?

It’s definitely worthwhile investing time and energy and (if possible) money into your manuscript and into your writing career, in the same way you would with anything else. That might be working with an editor at a literary consultancy, which, although it can seem pricy, can really help someone view their manuscript differently and also teach them how to edit their own work (current and future) more effectively. Or it might be taking writing workshops, or joining writers’ groups – anything that helps them move past their early drafts and really polish up their work so that it’s as good as it can be. It’s really difficult to learn how to edit your own work – we’re not trained for it in school; it’s a much bigger and more dramatic and often more exciting and creative process than we imagine it might be – but it’s also crucial. Editors and agents are looking for work that is as good as you can make it – and then to work with you to make that as good as you can both make it. ‘Writing is rewriting’ as they say.

What are your views on picture book apps?  Do you think they have a future?  Should picture book writers be writing for this new market?

Picture books are not something I’m handling at the moment but I would agree with the sense that apps need to complement books, and do something different to them, rather than replace them. It’s a different medium. Picture books are still gorgeous physical objects which both parents and kids appreciate.

Would you recommend joining a writers group?  Friends and family, although wonderful, can be too kind. Can you recommend any other way to get honest feedback?

Writers’ groups (which includes online writers’ groups too) can be terrific but the quality varies hugely. You need to ensure that the other writers are at roughly the same level you’re at – e.g. have been writing for a certain amount of time, and also are taking it as seriously as you are – and that they’re prepared to give constructive feedback rather than just telling you what they think you want to hear. Adding new members every so often can also help in terms of keeping things fresh.

If you have friends who are writers, it can be useful to get feedback from them too – but I think it does need to be a reciprocal arrangement and something where you both understand that non-glowing feedback isn’t something that’s going to destroy a friendship.

Non-writer friends and family are to be avoided – too much else going on in those relationships!

With the advent of technology, smart phones and kindles, what is the best piece of advice you can give to a beginner?

Use them! For example: if you’re on your phone the whole time – make notes about your story or your surroundings or an idea you’ve just had, rather than scrolling through Facebook. (And it looks less awkward than pulling out a notebook to scribble down your ideas.) But also: don’t let them distract you too much. There’s a lot of publishing information out there online, which is easily accessible, and brilliant (when I started researching publishing in the ‘90s things were a bit different), but it can distract you from the absolute most important things when it comes to writing: thinking, reading, writing (repeat as needed).

You were first published while still a teenager.  Why do you think there aren’t more books for teens written by teens?

I think there are plenty, actually! I’m currently reading ‘Falling Into Place’ by Amy Zhang, which was written when she was a teen; next up is Alice Oseman’s ‘Solitaire’. Beth Reekles is also terribly young… and then there are American writers like Hannah Moskowitz and Kody Keplinger who are now in their 20s but were first published as teenagers. Not to mention S.E. Hinton of ‘The Outsiders’ fame (1967) who wrote that as a teen. And Amelia Atwater-Rhodes, the American YA horror writer… and Christopher Paolini… and Catherine Webb…

There are definitely teen writers out there but, as with older writers, there are more people submitting manuscripts than getting published. Teens are also, by virtue of their age, more towards the start of their careers, and your chances increase the more you write and the longer you’ve been at it.

When you were in the age group for which you now write, who were your favourite authors (apart from yourself!)?

Oh so many, many of whom are still my favourites – Sarah Dessen, Laurie Halse Anderson, Judy Blume, Paula Danziger, J.K. Rowling, Ann M Martin, Madeleine L’Engle, Jacqueline Wilson.

As a writer, how do you recognise which ideas to ditch and which to run with?

I write down all the ideas so that they’re always there – because sometimes even if they don’t work on their own, or now, they’ll work in the future if combined with something else.

Novels require a whole bunch of different, linked ideas, not just one thing, so I tend to wait until I feel like I have enough ‘stuff’, enough material, to sustain an entire book. That’s usually several pages of notes and scribblings, to be added to as I start writing and more ideas come to me. Once I’m at that stage the challenge isn’t so much ideas as it is the motivation and discipline that comes with any long-term project.

You can keep up with Claire at www.clairehennessy.com and follow her on Twitter at @clairehennessy

 

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Children’s publishers accepting unsolicited manuscripts

* UPDATED JULY 2019 *

You can’t get published without an agent, and you can’t get an agent without being published – or so the adage goes. Thankfully, there are still a few children’s book publishers who are happy to wade through the ‘slush pile’, that teetering tower of manuscripts we imagine fill up a corner of the office, each one representing an agent-less writer who is hoping against hope that they might be plucked from obscurity. So in the spirit of writerly comradeship here is my current list of writer-friendly children’s fiction publishers in the UK who still accept unsolicited manuscripts.  Check their website guidelines and submit away, but please do correct me if I’ve made any errors or incorrect assumptions. NB   Where there is a link, I have endeavoured to take you, the linkee, to the submissions guidelines page of the publisher’s website; where that is not possible I have linked to the main website page.


Andersen Press Ltd Anderson Press publish picture books of approximately 500 words (1K max), juvenile fiction of 3-5K and older fiction of up to 75K.  They require a synopsis and 3 sample chapters, hard copy only, and aim to reply within 2 months.  They use a standard rejection slip and reply promptly.
Bridge House Bridge House is a small press which specialises in themed anthologies of short stories, often for charity.  They are occasionally closed to submissions but check the website for future anthology details.  May be unsuitable for ‘darker’ material.


Buster Books An imprint of Michael O’Mara Books, Buster Books publish children’s non-fiction and activity books as well as a small range of fiction (but no picture books).  Submission details are sparse so try the usual three chapters plus synopsis and covering letter/email.  You can submit by post or by email and they ask you to include an envelope if you would like your paper manuscript returned, but they can’t guarantee a response.  Again, probably best to assume the usual procedure and submit elsewhere after three months if you haven’t heard back.


Crooked Cat – check website for next submissions window Crooked Cat is a small UK publisher which accepts, amongst other types of fiction, young adult fiction for its Silver range, up to a maximum of 90,000.  Watch the website for submission windows and only submit at the specified times.  Send a covering letter with brief bio, details of the genre, wordcount, readership and plans for promotion; a 2 page synopsis; and the first 3 chapters (to max of 10K words) in a Word document.


Curious Fox A new publisher who released their first titles in Spring 2013, Curious Fox are looking for “bold, fun and imaginative” fiction for age 3 upwards and develop a lot of their books in-house.  Send them sample chapters and a resume by email and expect a response only if they are interested.


Dinosaur Books Dinosaur Books are a small indie publisher looking for exciting fiction for the 5-12 year old readership with a traditional feel – see their wonderfully illustrated Dinoteks books for an example.  No picture books or rhyming books – think fast-paced adventure for 5-8 or 8-12.  They prefer email submissions of the first three chapters and synopsis of the book and aim to reply within six months if possible.

 

Everything With Words is a young indie publisher with high standards established by Danish writer and storyteller Mikka Haugaard.  They are looking for books for readers aged 7+, so think middle grade and YA for this publisher.  They lean towards the literary with a hint of darkness.  Email with three chapters or the first fifty pages, and note the minimum length required.


Fat Fox –  CURRENTLY CLOSED TO CATCH UP BUT WATCH THIS SPACE – Fat Fox published their first books in 2014.  They are looking for picture books, young fiction (6-9 approx), fiction (9-12) and young adult (12-14) to produce as high quality paper books and e-books.  Submissions should consist of a good one page covering letter, synopsis, the full text of the book if it is a picture book (no illustrations) and the first three chapters plus final wordcount of longer books.  Send these as Word documents to the email address given on the submissions page.


Fledgling Press This is a Scottish company that focuses on debut authors writing a variety of fiction including YA.  If you’re Scottish too that will help!  You should send three chapters and a short synopsis by email and they aim to reply within 6 weeks.  If accepted your book will be placed on a longlist for possible publication.  Note they do not want sci fi.


Floris Books This Scottish publisher accepts postal submissions for its Picture Kelpies, and Kelpies range of books for 6-9 and 8-12 year olds.  Books should be between 30 and 60K words and you should expect to hear back within 3 months.  Note: only approach if you are a Scottish writer or your book has a Scottish setting and/or theme.


Flying Eye Books Flying Eye Books are an imprint of publishing house Nobrow and are committed to producing a selection of high quality, visually appealing children’s fiction and non-fiction. They are currently accepting picture book and non-fiction submissions.  Email your submission as an attachment that includes the synopsis and they will get back to you as soon as they can.


Frances Lincoln (Quarto Group)  This well-established publisher publishes picture books, young fiction (6-9 years) and novels (9-14 years) and are looking for exceptional writing that really stands out.   They are part of the Quarto publishing group so submission requirements are on the Quarto website.  Submit by email only with the specific information listed, including a signed submission agreement.

Hogs Back Books This small publisher specialises in picture books for up to age 10.  Send your manuscript by post or email – full text for picture books, first three chapters and synopsis for young adult.  Paper submissions will not be returned so just include an SAE or email address for a reply.  View the catalogue on the site to get an idea of what they publish.


Hot Key Books This exciting publisher is looking for novel submissions for aged 9-19.  They accept email submissions and, unusually, ask for the full manuscript plus synopsis (which makes sense for an e-submission).  Submission requirements are fairly sparse but the comments section on the page indicates that they reply in 3-4 months if they are interested.

 

Lantana Publishing  Committed to publishing books that reflect the diversity of the children who read them, Lantana is keen to see submissions by writers of BAME heritage.  They are looking for picture books for 4-6 year olds or slightly longer texts for 7-11 year olds.  Send the whole text and expect to hear back in about 12 weeks; if not, it’s a no this time.


Maverick Maverick publish a range of lively and colourful picture books.  They are looking for quirky, interesting reads with strong storylines.  Note that the maximum length is 650 words and preferably less!  Also no illustrations.  Unlike some picture book publishers they do accept stories in rhyme.  Email submissions are preferred as pdf or Word attachments together with a covering letter or email, but you can also submit by post.  Submissions are occasionally closed to allow them to catch up.


Mogzilla Mogzilla are an independent publishing company with educational links, currently looking for historical fiction only for age 6-15 years.  They ask for proposals to be emailed and they will then request the manuscript if they are interested, either by post or in pdf form, so don’t send them a manuscript unless you have had a proposal accepted.


Nosy Crow NOT CURRENTLY ACCEPTING UNAGENTED WORK BUT MAY REVIEW – Nosy Crow is a relatively young publisher that is going from strength to strength.  Keen to embrace the latest technologies, they accept manuscripts for readers up to age 12 (think family-orientated rather than edgy).  They ask for a short synopsis and the first chapter (or full text if it’s a picture book) plus a covering letter about your work.  They accept by email (preferred) or post.  If you haven’t heard back within 6 months, you can assume it’s a no.


O’Brien Press This Irish publisher accepts picture books of less than 1K words, and fiction for 6+, 8+, 10+ and 13+.  They ask for a synopsis and 2 or 3 sample chapters – full text for picture books – by post only.  Although they state they do not return unsuccessful submissions, they did return mine.  Also note that if you do send an SAE don’t use English stamps!  They aim to reply within 8-10 weeks.


Pants on Fire Press This US publisher is a small independent ’boutique’ publisher keen to expand and explore new areas of technology as well as traditional printing.  They accept submissions from the UK and signed Welsh horror author Craig Jones to a four book deal.  They are currently accepting unsolicited manuscripts for picture, middle grade (equivalent to the 8-12 age readership in the UK) and young adult books.  Send an email with the first three chapters in the body of the email, plus the information they ask for on the submissions page (don’t include any attachments or your email will be deleted!).  Also check out the specific details for middle grade and young adult.


Penguin Random House Ireland The children’s division of Penguin is accepting unsolicited manuscripts in all areas of children’s fiction and non-fiction apart from picture books.  They prefer email submissions, and ask for a short covering email with a Word attachment which should be one document containing the cover letter (again), short synopsis, and the work itself in its entirety.  Read the guidelines carefully and format the email title as they request.  Response time is three months.  You can submit by post but should provide an email address for response and don’t expect the manuscript back.  The children’s editor, Claire Hennessy, is happy to answer any queries via Twitter (@chennessybooks).


Piccadilly Press Piccadilly Press specialise in contemporary fiction for 6+, 8-12 and 11-15 year olds.  They also publish picture books of between 500 and 1K words (32 pages).  The accept email submissions only and you should send the whole manuscript and a synopsis.  They will only respond if they are interested but don’t give a timescale, so I would assume after 6 months that it’s a no.


Strident Strident are looking for books for the 5-8, 7-10, 8-12 and YA age groups.  They don’t accept picture books.  Do not send the usual submissions package but email with information about your book as outlined on the submissions page on the website.  This should include a blurb you have written yourself (imagine the back of a book – how would the book be described which would make you want to read it?).  They will then contact you in around 3 months if they wish to take your submission further.


Stripes Stripes are owned by the same company as Little Tiger Press and they publish books for readers aged 6-12 and young teenagers.  They have regular submission periods so don’t send anything until you’ve checked the website.  Currently the next submission period is September 2018.  They accept email submissions only which should consist of a covering letter, a detailed synopsis and the first 1000 words.  Do not send picture books.  Expect a reply only if they are interested.


Sweet Cherry Publishing – This independent Leicester-based publisher accepts manuscripts for all ages but is ideally looking for potential series or collections.  You can submit by post or email, or use the form on the submissions page and upload your manuscript.  You should include the first three chapters (or 3 picture books), a covering letter, a synopsis, and brief outlines of future books in the series.  They aim to reply within 10 weeks.  Unlike the majority of publishers, they do not pay royalties but an up-front fee, discussed on acceptance.


Tamarind Part of Random House, Tamarind was set up to redress the balance of ethnicity in children’s literature by promoting books with black, Asian or mixed heritage characters.   They prefer to be approached via an agent but will consider ‘exceptional’ unagented manuscripts; read their submissions guidelines which also suggestions word count and possible subjects  You can submit by post or email and should send them a covering letter/email, a synopsis and the first three chapters.  Picture books can be sent in their entirety without illustrations and you should avoid using animal characters but keep to the ethos in the guidelines.


Tango Books Ltd – NOT CURRENTLY CONSIDERING SUBMISSIONS BUT KEEP AN EYE ON THE SITE – Tango publish novelty books for age 1-8 with an international element.  They accept manuscripts by post or email and you should include the full text up to 1000 words and a brief author biography.  You should hear back from them within a month.


Templar Publishing – Best known for the wonderful ‘ology’ books, Templar accept picture book and novelty book manuscripts by post only and aim to reply within 3 months.

 

Tiny Owl – This independent publisher produces beautiful multicultural books and encourages submissions by diverse authors about diverse characters..  Keep an eye on the site for occasional submission windows.  Picture books should be below 600 words.

 

Tiny Tree – Tiny Tree is a new children’s imprint from independent publisher Matthew James Publishing and they are looking for picture books.  Submit by post or email with a covering letter, synopsis and author biography.  They confirm receipt and aim to reply within 4-6 weeks.


Imagine That Publishing (previously Top That!) specialises in picture books and chapter books for young readers.  No middle grade or YA.  They prefer email submissions but will accept postal manuscripts with a contact email address (no returns).  Email attachments should be under 1MB.  If you don’t hear back within 8 weeks then you can assume you have been unsuccessful.  No simultaneous submissions (ie don’t submit to other publishers at the same time).

 

Wacky Bee Books is a fairly new small publisher that began as an offshoot of the literary consultancy service Writers’ Advice Centre for Children’s Books.  Although they prefer authors to have used their services, they are also open to general submissions and are looking for picture books, early readers (4-7) and middle grade books, with a particular interest in the early readers.  Submit the whole manuscript to the email address provided.


Walker Books A big name in the picture book publishing world, Walker don’t generally accept unsolicited work, but what they will accept is illustrated manuscripts – so if you are a writer/illustrator you have an opportunity to submit.  Use the email address given to send the whole document as an attachment using Word for the text and jpegs or pdfs for the pictures.  You can also submit by post with a dummy copy and/or typed manuscript but do not send original pictures, only copies.  They will only respond if interested.

Zuntold

Zuntold is a brand new independent publisher based in Manchester, looking for children’s fiction from middle grade upward.  Submit using the form on their ‘Contribute’ page but be prepared – there’s a pitch requirement!  Stories with a strong character journey or that touch on mental health issues would be a good fit for this publisher.


Short Stories

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.  Themes vary each month for every magazine so see what they are looking for and that might inspire you!

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.

Zizzle

Zizzle is a new online international children’s magazine for 9-14 year olds.  They are looking for literary fiction from 500-1200 words and are a paying market.  Submit through their website.
Catalogues


When submitting to publishers it is worth looking through their current catalogue to see what they are accepting at the moment.  If you can’t find a link to a catalogue from the main site, try googling the publisher’s name, “catalogue”, pdf and the current year.  I have easily found quite a few catalogues this way.