Deal or no deal?

As promised, and with a nice big gap, more thoughts on children’s book publishing.

In the last post – being taken on by an agent. It’s a lovely thing. Once I’d got my story up to scratch, she sent the manuscript to about 12 different publishers and I sat back and relaxed. In fact, I’m sure I barely gave it much thought at all, so busy was I going about my busy business. OK that’s not true. I checked my email obsessively and slowly the rejections pinged in. They all came via my agent. If the response from the publisher was positive but still a no, they would have the subject title ‘A heartbreaker’. That would indicate that the publisher had liked the book (or so they said) but couldn’t publish it because they already had something similar on their list/had to make some toast/were allergic to cats/all of the above. Others simply said no. Some were a teensy bit rude, but I got over it. I got over it a whole lot more when Scholastic came back saying, we’re interested, let’s meet and chat.

So on to the next phase – negotiations and general testing of the waters. Sadly, not all books are snapped up in frenzied bidding wars for large sums, but equally not all books are rejected flat out just because they’re not currently strong enough. Some really great editors out there are prepared to work with a new writer and help them hone their writing along the way. So it was for me. My editor at Scholastic suggested amendments and tweaks to my story and I rewrote it. This was partly to make the story better, but also to see if I could take direction. I could, the story improved hugely, and I signed a deal. But not before lots of people had to rubber stamp the manuscript (not literally). My editor put it forward to the head of publishing, and when she liked it, my editor took it to an acquisitions meeting, where sales and marketing bods also have a say. If you get a yes all round, you get a deal. I had to wait a slightly agonising three or four weeks between learning I’d made it through acquisitions and having an offer formally made. It was all worth it, though.

Being prepared to rewrite your manuscript has, in my experience, been essential. No good getting too precious. If you can see your story as a collaborative work, rather than a perfect piece of art created by a single individual, you’ll stand a better chance of getting published and creating something great. Only really established authors get to call the editorial shots. We jobbing ingénues must take direction – often on the chin.

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The write way – starting out and special agents

Join me on a (possibly self-indulgent) journey into getting a children’s book published. I’m not going to bore on about the creative process. There’s enough guff about that on the net already. But here’s how it went for me.

1. I started only knowing I wanted to write for kids, and write funny, too, if I could. That was it.

2. I had no idea if I could do it, so I sort of plunged in, like a swimmer trying to get their shoulders under in a cold sea. I turned off my email and spewed some stuff out for a few hours one morning (back in late 2010). This was my first draft. It needed a lot of editing – like, a lot – but the bones of an idea were there. 

3. I tried to write in my own voice and to keep it honest and uncontrived.

4. If it made me laugh, I decided that was a good sign. I kept the parental readers (and purchasers) of any kids’ book in mind at all times when I wrote.

5. I shared with friends. The feedback I got from mates and their children was really invaluable. 

And that’s roughly it. Once I’d written a draft I felt happy with I had to get an agent. Most now have online submission forms and tons of helpful advice about what to send in on their websites, but I simply emailed my manuscript to a couple of agents with a short synopsis, proposed word count and reading age, and a tiny bit about me. One said no. One said she’d take a look.

This was good news. Agents are essential. Children’s publishers rarely accept unsolicited manuscripts. You have to be solicited, if you know what I mean. You have to get an agent. She is your pimp, touting you to wealthy but capricious clients who may like what you do – but will probably not. It kind of goes like this:

Agent: ‘I have here Jo, she’s nearly 40, and has a neat line in social realist children’s fiction for 6-9 year olds… I think you could get along well with her…’

Publisher, lying back on a red velvet chaise longue, tugging on a fat cigar, looks suspicous: ‘Didn’t you show me this one last time? I’m through with social realist kids books and I really don’t think mysteries are going to make any of us happy. Next!’

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Ok so agents are the gatekeepers. They decide whether you’re allowed into the club. They also have a none-more-close eye on the industry, know what’s selling and what’s not, and know everyone involved in what is quite small section of publishing. 

My would-be agent asked for edits before she was prepared to take me on. This was another rewrite. And then, in March 2011, the email came in. ‘Stephanie at Curtis Brown, she say Yes!’ It was as though she had folded me to her bosom and promised me vast wealth and literary fame, as we stepped into the sunshine on our journey towards publishing glory. Actually it wasn’t quite like that. But it was better really. She took me on because she saw a tiny, almost miss-able spark of potential. I tidied up the manuscript one more time and then it was released, like an optimistic pigeon, onto the great publishing horizon.

So pimps and pigeons. All you need to know so far. More to follow.


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Back to it

I’m back and I’m blogging. There will be reflections on age, again, but I’m going to write about writing for children, too. It’s my new thing. Children’s books. I have a book deal and two books out and two more to follow next year. So, despite the usual orbiting 40 career cheek chewing, which still goes on, there is also a burgeoning sense of direction. I’ve also just really, really enjoyed writing fiction for children, so I’m going to get literary on yo asses, and spill the beans on how it all comes about.


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Hello again

I haven’t blogged much lately. Not for nearly a year. That’s not really the essence of the point of the aim of blogging is it? Even I know that, and I’m a techno-twit. It’s ok, you won’t have noticed, because you’re not reading it. Just as I’m not writing it. Except, hang on, someone is reading it. There were seven hits today – who are you? Show yourselves! (Seriously though, comments always welcome, so long as they’re nice and that.)

So what’s been keeping me from the blog-o-sphere? Is the Twitter-sphere or Twotter-sphere or the Facebook-osphere tempting me into other spheres? It is not. Is it the life-and-small-children-osphere, tugging at my sleeve for attention and often biscuits? It is.

So despite a huge number of months elapsing between this entry and last, I have no reflections on age (that’s the point of this blog, after all). Except, having given up alcohol for January, I realise I look more tired than before. Which seems a bit unfair. And also, I like to cut my sanwiches into four now. I can’t see myself ever going back to just halving them. That must be an orbiting 40 thing.

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Spring fever

What sights there are to greet your jaded eyes on a bright spring day… On a run this morning to the sea front, there was blossom and people cheerfully biking and teenagers wearing shorts and flip flops – a sure sign that summer is but a heartbeat away. The sea looked limpid and calm, too, hazing away to the horizon. Sadly, there was an epic amount of rubbish all over the place. Following yesterday’s warmth, around half the population of Brighton clearly repaired to the beach to make merry with strong lager and disposable barbecues. The place was strewn with them.

But it didn’t upset me. I had my new 1970s mix on my iPod, courtesy of husband and just as Donna Summer came on singing I Feel Love, a girl in shorts rollerskated past. Perfect.

Towards the end of my run, I was lucky enough to come across a vision of buffed loveliness, ambling through the park. Yes, it was a Patrick Swayze lookalike only, in the true spirit of lookie likies, he was a less good and shorter version of the original. Here he was, just back from the shops, carrying lots of plastic carrier bags. Lest that emasculate the Swayze-alike overly, he had stripped to the waist, to reveal bulging and quite possibly oiled pecs. What finer signal can there be that spring has most definitely arrived than oiled pecs on a crazy Swayze in your local park at 9.30am?

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You’ve got to conjugate to accumulate, possibly

At the risk of sounding like John Humphrys (and that’s not a risk I ever want to take), I’m a bit perturbed by a new grammatical trend. It’s for conjugating nouns that refer to a number of people or things, but are never the less singular, with plural verbs.

Here’s an example on my son’s school newsletter. ‘The whole of year 3 have delighted audiences with their show.’ Shouldn’t that be ‘has delighted audiences’? Year 3 being a singular thing?

On the radio, you are forever hearing that the labour party want one thing and the army need something else, when they should be wants-ing and needs-ing, really. Shouldn’t they?

But what hope do we have when even David Attenborough is up to it. When referring to lemurs on Madagascar, he says: ‘the whole troop head off’. I think they head off to eat some mud, but let’s put that to one side. Lemurs can eat mud if they want to, that’s their choice. The point is, the whole troop heads off, doesn’t it, being a singular thing?

By the way, while we’re on the subject of Madagascar, has anyone else noticed that eventhough Attenborough’s voiceover goes on about the massive diversity of wildlife on the island, I feel like I’m watching an awful lot of lemurs and chameleons, and very little else. Nice waterfalls, though.

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