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The inside word from Penguin, Random and Panterra

Saturday was the highlight of the Southerland Shire Writers calendar with the Writers Unleashed Festival providing the opportunity to hear from editors from various publishing houses. The event concluded with the Editor panel where we heard from:

  • Heather Curdie, Children’s at Penguin.
  • Beverley Cousins Adult Fiction Random House.
  • Zoe Walton, Children’s at Random House, and
  • James Read YA and Adult, Pantera Press.

Heather highlighted her tips and recommendations for manuscript submissions. She said that first and foremost she comes to a manuscript as a reader, looking to be engaged and entertained. She follows no firm rules and tries to clear her mind of preconceived ideas. But what it must have is;

  • Quality writing
  • A great voice (must be distinctive and original)
  • Great characterisation (characters must come to life on the page)
  • Compelling plot
  • Engaging first few chapters (for children’s books this is so important, they won’t persevere if they are not pulled into the story in the first couple of chapters)
  • A really satisfying conclusion

She’s currently looking for: Contemporary YA with a strong male protagonist & High quality stand alone Junior Fiction, that’s fun and intelligent.

Beverley spoke about what makes a manuscript publishable.

Things that are taken into consideration when looking at a manuscript they like;

  • Balance of the list – do they need more or less historical fiction at that time, do they already have too many rural fiction pieces on the list etc.
  • Profit potential – is the book commercially viable
  • Publishability of the book.

It is a difficult balance because each book is a work of art, but it needs to make a profit. So there is no easy answer.

She looks for Quality;

  • Well written
  • Compelling story
  • Ability to reach a wide audience

For commercial fiction, here is her advice:

  • Plot is key
  • They like a novel that promotes debate
  • The author has a clear idea of what the novel is about and it is something that a large number of people would want to read about.
  • Don’t go overboard describing everything you have researched.
  • Don’t overload with stage management.
  • Don’t over explain characters emotions.
  • Everything on the page should have a reason for being there and drive the story forward.
  • Make sure it is well edited before submitting.

Zoe used examples of books that they have recently published to highlight what they look for.

Starting with her best selling Rangers Apprentice series. She noted that whilst it was not an original concept John brought a really great sense of humour to his writing which kids love. He uses fantasy without magic which is unusual and makes his characters have to work hard for their success.

Next she looked at Alice Miranda. She said it is Jacqueline that makes these books special, she really understands and engages with her fans, and she works really hard for her books.

Lulu Bell was next, of Belinda she said that she really knows her market and knows what appeals to her readers. She is a great example of write what you know. Belinda’s dad is a vet and so is Lulu Bell’s in her stories.

Samuri verses Ninja, Here the title says it all. It is a high concept book with wide appeal.

Moving on to her Young Adult books she said that what makes a story stand out from the crowd is an original voice.

Are You Seeing Me? She couldn’t stop thinking about the characters in the story after she’d read it, which compelled her to acquire it.

 

James said that Pantera are a boutique press and they like to take on debut authors and nurture them, their writing and their careers. They are VERY unique in the publishing industry in that they pride themselves on a fast turnaround time. Getting back to authors within 3 weeks. Yes 3 weeks!!!! But you do need to follow their submission guidelines very closely.

They consider all types of fiction from Young Adult upwards and they are currently looking for commercial womans fiction. Ideally the next The Devil Wears Prada. Their submission guidelines are on their website https://www.panterapress.com.au/submit-your-manuscript

 

 

 

The Rise and Rise of Shelly Unwin Part 2

Here is part two of my Just Write For Kids interview. It includes why I signed with my literary agent Alex Adsett and also how I chose Allen & Unwin as the home for my upcoming Picture Book Series.

Source: The Rise and Rise of Shelly Unwin Part 2

The Rise and Rise of Shelly Unwin Part 2

shelly unwin jwfkzoo shelly unwin

Today is Part 2 of my interview with Shelly Unwin – newly signed author. For part 1 go here

(I’ve highlighted some themes to pick up on at a later date)

So Shelly, you had an editor interested from the Sutherland Shire Writer’s Festival editor consultation, and you had sent the manuscript to an editor you had met at a SCBWI conference. What happened then?

With an interested editor the pressure was on to really polish the other four first drafts. My critique group was fantastic, agreeing to give me email feedback as I worked, as well as face to face during our meetings. The other four manuscripts were also very compliant and came together very willingly. The publisher from the Southerland festival was excited by the two manuscripts and asked for the other three.

I was also booked in to the Literary Speed Dating event through the ASA on the 15th November and I wanted to have five polished manuscripts by then. I pitched the series to two publishers at this event and both were keen to see the full series. I also pitched it to (my now) agent Alex Adsett, who could see the commercial potential of the series and after some additional dialogue agreed to represent me. In the mean time I was also doing a course at the Faber Academy for my Young Adult novel, and I was asking my tutor for advice on signing with Alex. My tutor asked me about the series I was discussing with Alex and then asked if she would be able to pass the series on to the Children’s Publisher there at Allen & Unwin – of course I said yes. So it was now in the hands of five publishers, all of whom were showing an interest.

Wow! Five interested publishers how exciting! But with five interested publishers why did you feel you needed an agent?

Having it in the hands of five publishers was a dream come true, in fact it was beyond what I’d ever let myself dream. But I was suddenly dreading the phone ringing. What did I do when one of them made an offer? If more than one house made an offer how would I manage that process without upsetting anyone? The fear of the next stage was taking the shine off what was otherwise an incredibly exciting situation. So an agent really was the answer. Alex has great industry knowledge, and specializes in contract negotiations so she was the perfect agent to provide me with unbiased, commercial guidance.  So at this point I really handed the reigns over to Alex. Once the first offer came through, which was fantastic, Alex gave the other four publishers a week to respond. By the end of the week we had two publishers who had put offers on the table, and the exciting decision process started there.

How did you decide who to go with? That couldn’t have been easy?

It wasn’t! Both offers were from incredible publishing houses. I would have been happy to sign either contract the minute it arrived on the doorstep. That’s where Alex really helped. We discussed both of the offers in great detail and really worked through what was important to me. I then had a meeting with both publishers to get an understanding of what they were hoping to achieve with the books and how they envisaged them looking and feeling. Allen & Unwin were so aligned with my thoughts, but not only my thoughts, also with my enthusiasm and ambition for the books. I also met with the CEO there, who had read my blog!! And who told me how excited he was by my work, I walked away from the meeting buzzing! And slightly apprehensive about writing my next blog piece – the pressure was on! Alex then led the contract discussions, and walked me through the complexities of world rights, film rights, discount sales percentages etc – all of which were new to me. And from there it was done. Allen & Unwin was home to the series and it feels so right. Should I point out here that although my surname is Unwin, I am no relation!

You may not be a relation, but it’s a great fit with your name! Do you have an illustrator signed?

No illustrator signed just yet, but some very exciting conversations in progress. I’ll tell you as soon as I can!

So now you just twiddle your thumbs until the books come out?

Yes, I might head off to an exotic island and relax for a year or so 🙂

No. I have another picture book that is looking very promising and I am also working on a new manuscript that I am totally buzzing about. Plus I have atonne of manuscripts that I have been working on over the last few years that I continue to tweak. I have also written a Young Adult novel that is currently going through the re-writing, re-writing, re-writing phase, and one day it might be ready to leave the nest. I will continue to take courses, network, critique and do all things writerly in the mean time – it’s all so much fun!

 

I appreciate Shelly’s willingness to be interviewed for this blog – we may still be able to squeeze another post out of her experiences next month!

By Debra Tidball September 4015

For Shelly’s website: http://shellyunwin.com

For Debra’s website: http://www.debratidball.com

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Lothian looking for Junior Fiction

It is always good to get an insiders view on the publishing industry and this morning was no exception, with the delightful Suzanne O’Sullivan from Lothian sharing her thoughts at the NSW Writers’ Centre, First Friday Club.

Suzanne confirmed that with blockbuster titles from the likes of John Green helping the market along, children’s book sales continue to be very healthy. And the area of the children’s publishing market that Lothian are keen to see more strong submissions in, is Junior Fiction. Series books for 6-9 year olds, with an approximate word count of 15,000-20,00 words. Suzanne is also always on the look out for great picture books.

However getting your work in front of Suzanne is no mean feat, as she only accepts agented submissions, or submissions following on from consultations at conferences or literary speed dating.

But if you are lucky enough to make it into her pile of submitted manuscripts, these are her tips for how to stand out:

  • Have a really clear sense of the market, “this book fits into this trend,” or “this book fills this gap,” (but be careful that the gap really is a gap in the market and not a gap in your knowledge of the market!)
  • Really hone your writing. Make sure it is fully workshopped and edited before you send it.
  • Let your writing be the star, regardless of your other successes the writing needs to speak for itself.

And what themes is she looking for?

  • Humour, she loves a story that makes her laugh, but the humour must be supported by a good story with heart.
  • Friendship, friendship themes are always very popular in junior fiction.
  • Adventure based stories.

So according to Suzanne, what can writers be doing to help them achieve publication?

  • Be active on social media.
  • Be active in writers groups and attending conferences etc
  • Show a willingness to get out there and promote yourself.

Suzanne also mentioned a preference for authors who have a body of work targeting one area of the children’s market, so that they can build a strong readership and utilise this readership for the authors other books.

And there is a small glimmer of hope if you are not lined up to attend a conference or event where Suzanne is meeting writers- Lothian are currently thinking about opening up submissions for one genre at a time, probably early next year, so make sure you follow Suzanne on Twitter @Suzanne_OS and keep your eye on the Hachette website http://www.hachettechildrens.com.au

Happy writing everyone!

 

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The Next Generation of Authors

As I sat at my computer today reading the work of the Year Five and Year Six children that were selected for the Writing Masterclass at my local Public School last week I was blown away. Some of these kids have an astounding amount of talent. In some of the stories I read (all capped at a 600 word limit and with the guidelines of being based around a 10-12 year old protagonist who suddenly finds themselves in another country) I found myself swept away by brilliantly crafted images, strong story lines and authentic dialogue.

It is a wonderful experience to see the plot lines and characters that are oozing from our next generation of authors. In some it is possible to see influence of currently popular middle grade books, and in some the influence of current affairs and the media. Some follow the traditional spy book format and others find something that feels new and unchartered. In each case there was a glimpse of something special and it was a privilege to work with such gifted children.

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How Audio Books have improved my self-editing

I find School holidays leave very little time for writing. However as we approached this six week long break I committed myself to as much reading as possible. And I discovered the wonder of audio books. What is so brilliant about audio books is that you can watch the kids on the beach whilst listening to a story. You can iron, fold washing and even make dinner whilst listening to a story. So I probably doubled my book consumption by way of audio books.

Having just completed the Editing Essentials course with Faber Writing Academy I was ‘deep reading’ and critically evaluating everything that I read, or listened to. And a brilliant thing happened. I always read my work aloud, but having listened to audio books I have developed a much stronger ear for when the rhythm and pace are working, or not, and when the dialogue feels authentic, or not. I feel that it has greatly improved my ability to asses my own writing.

So I am now an official advocate of the audio book. Not only does it double your reading time, it also improves your writing (Well mine at least :)) Just don’t all jump on board at once, audio books via the library are very limited and the best books have quite a wait time.

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How I Got My Agent

Firstly woohoo!! I have an agent!

Now that’s out of the way, here is the story behind my signing with Alex Adsett of Alex Adsett Publishing Services.

It all started three years ago, when I decided that I was going to be a writer. I threw myself into this decision whole heartedly, signing up for many courses, attending as many conferences and networking sessions as possible, and most importantly finding myself the most awesome and talented critique group with which to workshop my work.

I was starting to get wonderful and encouraging feedback from editors and publishers and a couple of manuscripts came very close. But then I had an idea. It was on the 18th October, so really not very long ago. I was in bed and I suddenly sat up, woke my husband up and told him. Despite being woken, which as a bit of an insomniac, really is his pet hate, he was enthusiastic. He even threw in some suggestions before letting his head hit the pillow again. The idea is for a picture book series, and it is so obvious now that I’ve thought of it, it’s amazing that it’s not already out there.

I threw together a first draft for the last book in the series. I was a jittering bundle of excitement. Fortunately I didn’t have to wait very long until my next critique group session. I needed to test the water and make sure I wasn’t over-reacting to my idea. The good news was; the girls agreed it was the start of something big, and that golden word ‘commercial’.

So I worked that one book until it felt solid and sent it off to one of my favourite publishers, with a very excited letter. Then I went to work on the other four books. They all came out at great pace and with a really joyous voice, not one was difficult to work on, they all felt like they wanted to be written.

Time was of the essence to get them to a presentable state as I had a conference on the 1st November where I was meeting with an editor and I wanted to have the whole series ready to pitch. Happily she loved the idea and was keen to take it back to her publisher.

Then came the ASA literary speed-dating event. I had avoided this event the year before because I didn’t feel confident that I knew how to pitch. But following an ASA course focused on pitching, I felt I had a much clearer grasp on what to include in a pitch and how to deliver it. I was armed with my picture book series pitch and my YA novel pitch. It was a nerve-wracking experience, but I have to say all of the publishers and editors were very supportive and encouraging. I had a very enthusiastic response to my series from the two publishers I pitched it to and came away feeling kind of floaty. Having run out of people to pitch that to, I decided to pitch my YA novel. It had been away resting for about 3 months, so I was a bit rusty, and I don’t think my first pitch did it justice, however, the questions the editor asked made me evaluate and improve how I delivered it. The second time was much better!

The second time was with Alex Adsett. I hadn’t planned to pitch to Alex, because she had stated that she was looking for ‘well polished’ novels. I was just about to embark on an editing course with Faber Writing Academy, which I knew would mean a re-write, pushing my ‘well polished’ back by about 4-6 months. But I decided I would be upfront about that and pitch anyway. Alex was interested. She was such a pleasure to talk to and she gave really great insight and feedback. So I took the opportunity, and asked whether she ever represented picture book authors. ‘Occasionally,’ was her response. So I pitched my series, and left a copy of all five manuscripts with her.

Alex emailed me on the Tuesday to say that she had thoroughly enjoyed reading them and could understand why there was so much interest in them. And so we began a discussion. Having more than one publishing house interested in a piece of work is an absolute dream come true. However, the idea of having to negotiate with them was really taking the shine off the excitement for me. The idea of Alex taking over the communication, and helping me through the decision making process took a huge pressure off my shoulders, and I am now living in the moment again. Of course this is still the very beginning of my journey, and there are never any guarantees of what will happen from here. But needless to say, I am very excited and hopeful.

And the moral of the story is to always ask. You have to put it out there. If I hadn’t taken the opportunity to speak to Alex, or asked the question about picture book representation I would still be a bundle of nerves, desperately waiting for the phone to ring, but also dreading the conversation.

Good luck everyone. And I’ll keep you posted about the series.

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The beginning of the Christmas festivities already!?

We had a wonderful evening at the Children’s Book Council of Australia, Northern Sub Branch Christmas Dinner last night. It was great to listen to the incredibly talented Peter Carnarvas as he told us about his writing journey. He also played a couple of little songs on his ukulele and drew a quick picture of his George character from Oliver and George, which then went into the silent auction. So much talent. Peter then went on to signing books that people had bought that evening, and I wondered if he might be suffering from an acute bout  of signusitis today after signing so many? (sorry! I blame my dad for my silly sense of humour) I for one brought home six signed books! And he drew a little picture in each one – I love it when author/illustrators do that!

Peter Carnarvas

We also heard from Paul McDonald of The Children’s Bookshop, Beecroft. He talked about the age of visual literacy in which we find ourselves. He commented that Jessica’s Box by Peter Carnarvas is a great example of this. Schools are also pushing for interactive books and he recommended ‘Mix it up,’ by Herve Tullet, who also wrote ‘Press Here,’ both fantastic books for young children. For middle grade readers he recommended ‘Awful Auntie,’ by David Walliams, it’s apparently hilarious. And his suggested read for adult book clubs was ‘We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves,’ It has a major twist around page 70 and from there the book takes off and you can’t help but want to talk about it. It will be my recommendation to my book club this month!

Wendy Blaxland also launched her beautiful book, The Christmas Rose by Walker Books. She also spoke passionately about Marion Street Theatre for Young People, which has been thrown a lifeline by council, but still needs much public support to ensure it is an ongoing resource for the community. My stepson Jack participates in the weekly class for children with an intellectual disability and he absolutely loves it. We also love the opportunity to see him perform. I still smile when I think back to last years performance at the Concourse Theatre Chatswood, when Jack took about two minutes to walk to the back of the stage to hang a pretend picture, because he needed a real wall for his pretend picture – a beautiful moment J

It was a great night. It was lovely to catch up with so many warm, generous and gifted friends, and great to celebrate everyone’s successes for the year. But I still can’t believe we’re celebrating Christmas at the beginning of November!