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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