When and Where to find a literary agent

I honestly believe that the best way to find a literary agent is to go to a conference or somewhere you’ll have the opportunity to meet them in person. That way you can both use your instincts to decide whether you like each other and could work together.

Conferences often offer the opportunity to have one-on-one assessments with an agent so you can get feedback on what you write.

Of course it’s not always possible to go to conferences or events to meet agents, but these days there are some great opportunities that exist online through places like:


TWITTER

  1. Twitter – If you type #MSWL in the search box, you’ll find a thread called Manuscript Wish List where publishers and agents post what kinds of manuscripts they are looking for.   Manuscript Wish List also has a website where opportunities are posted too, and they run Man
    uscript Wish List Academy.
  2. Type in the #MSWLMA hashtag on Twitter to find Manuscript Wish List Academy Manuscript Wish List Academy runs an online conference with opportunities to pitch to agents. They offer sessions like ‘10 minutes with an expert’, writing classes, writing critiques and writing consultations.
  3. #PitMad – ‘#PitMad is a pitch party on Twitter where writers tweet a 280-character pitch for their completed, polished, unpublished manuscripts. Agents and editors make requests by liking/favoriting the tweeted pitch. Every unagented writer is welcome to pitch.’
  4. Pitchfest – Savvy Authors – opportunities to pitch to agents and editors.

OTHER

  1. Query Tracker – https://querytracker.net- provides information to help you find a literary agent. They have over 1500 listings with information about each agent – and the opportunity to track your query. 
  2. Publishers Market Place https://www.publishersmarketplace.com is ‘the biggest and best dedicated marketplace for publishing professionals built on the foundation of Publishers Lunch, read by 40,000 industry insiders and considered “publishing’s essential daily read”.’

BOOKS, PUBLICATIONS AND OTHER RESOURCES

  1. Writers and Artists Yearbook UK https://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/writers-artists-yearbook-2020-9781472947512/ ‘an up-to-date directory of thousands of contacts for the book publishing industry including almost 400 Literary agents.’
  2. Guide to Literary Agents 2019 –  by Robert Lee Brewer – ‘Guide to Literary Agents 2019 is your go-to resource for finding that literary agent and earning a contract from a reputable publisher. Along with listing information for more than 1,000 agents who represent writers and their book’ https://www.amazon.com/Robert-Lee-Brewer/e/B002GO21SC/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0
  3. SCBWI – https://www.scbwi.org The Book: The Essential Guide to Publishing for Children – Agents Directory – available to download f
  4. ree from SCBWI members.
  5. There are Facebook Groups like Sub it Club where authors and illustrators offer information and support to others who are looking for an agent. ‘Sub It Club is a support group for writers and illustrators who are submitting (or thinking about submitting) their work. Writers of any genre are welcome to join us. We talk submissions, critique query letters, help each other with pitches, share tips, and more.’  There’s also KidLit411 run by the founders of www.Kidlit411.com where they have an agent spotlight.
  6. Literary Rambles http://www.literaryrambles.com A blog spotlighting Children’s Book Authors, Agents and Publishing. Does interviews with agents about what they are looking for and books they have represented.

WHEN TO LOOK FOR AN AGENT

Of course this is different for everyone, but I’ve found that it’s something that shouldn’t be rushed into. When your work sings, when your characters leap off the page, when you have an amazing story concept that you can sum up in a single paragraph, that’s when I would go looking for an agent.

You only get one chance. If you submit a manuscript that’s far from ready, an agent is unlikely to invite you to resubmit.  Revise, revise, wait, revise, revise, revise then submit. Don’t waste your opportunities!

This concludes the ‘Choosing an Agent’ series. I hope you’ve found these posts helpful.

Please feel free to share your experiences, tips and questions in the comments section of this post.

Good luck finding your dream agent.

Dee

Choosing the right literary agent part 2 – international vs local agent

EXPLORE YOUR OPTIONS

I’ve had an Australian agent, an international agent, and no agent at all (my current position). I’m still considering what’s best for my career.

I’m open to the possibilities of another agent, but there are so many things to consider. For me, I’ve realised that it’s not about finding an agent to put me on the New York bestseller list, although I wouldn’t knock it back of course. Like any author I want to earn enough to pay the bills and be able to eat, but you need to have realistic expectations about what an agent can achieve for you.

I write a LOT of words … a LOT! In fact, I have filing cabinets and boxes full of manuscripts in many different genre. A lot of these manuscripts are what I call my practice works … the manuscripts that have helped me to become a better writer. But there are a number of them that feel ‘right’ to me and although they require varying degrees of revising, some are close to my heart and I’d love to see them published.

So first and foremost, if I choose to work with another agent it will have to be someone who genuinely loves my work and wants to nurture my career, someone I can discuss this unruly collection of potential book babies with, someone who I can run an idea or a first draft past. It has to be someone who’s happy to advise, ‘Hmmm don’t waste your time, nobody will publish that,’ or if I’m lucky, ‘I know just the right publisher.’ 

INTERNATIONAL VS LOCAL AGENT

When I got my US agent I thought I was ‘on my way’, but publishing is complex and the US, UK, and Australian markets are so different. And what works for one market won’t necessarily work for another one.

For me, going through a US agent meant that I lost money on works published in Australia. Some publishers (not all) won’t separate payments between an author and an agent. So my payments from my Australian publisher went to my US agent who converted them to US dollars and then sent them back to me in Australia where I had to convert them back to Australian money again. I lost out by having my money twice converted. This is just something to be aware of, and perhaps check with your publisher in the contract stages.

An international agent who doesn’t understand that the Australian market is way smaller, might also try and negotiate an impossibly high advance that an Australian publisher can’t afford to pay and this can delay the contract and put the publisher offside.

Some people have an Australian agent (who understands the Australian market) and a US or UK agent (who understands the US or UK market) and this seems like a really good combination to me. Of course, getting one agent is hard enough, let alone two.

Getting an international agent and having your book published overseas first is great, but it can restrict your income earning potential in Australia. A book being published by a major international publisher doesn’t guarantee that it will be published in Australia. It might mean that it’s distributed it here, but not published. This limits your opportunities for ELR and PLR earnings and means that your book, if not published in Australia, might not be eligible for Australian literary awards.

What I’ve learnt in the agent search journey is:

  1. An agent has to love your work.
  2. An agent has to have an affinity with you as a person and an understanding of what writing means to you, and the shape you want your career to take.
  3. An agent has to understand the market that you’re writing for in terms of both genre and location.
  4. You need to know why you want an agent.
  5. You need to have realistic expectations of your agent based on these wants. With the best will in the world an agent can’t guarantee to get your debut novel (or any novel) on the New York Times bestseller list.
  6. If you’re working with a publisher you value, you need an agent who can work well with them.
  7. You won’t necessarily have the same agent for your entire writing life.  Don’t stress about it. The needs of both writers and agents change.

These are the things to consider when exploring opportunities at home and in the international market. Weigh up your options and decide what’s best for you.

In my third post, WHERE TO FIND AN AGENT, I’ll provide tips and actual and virtual places to find an agent.

Please feel free to share your experiences, tips and questions in the comments section of this post.

Dee

In case you missed last week’s post about Choosing a Literary agent, here’s the link.

Choosing the right literary agent -Part 1

HOW DO YOU KNOW WHICH AGENT IS RIGHT FOR YOU?

In 2011, I went to a SCBWI Conference in LA, hoping to find an international literary agent. Before I went, I thought that I’d pretty much say, ‘Yes’, to any reputable agent who wanted to represent me – after all, opportunities like that don’t come an author’s way too often.

But in LA, where there seemed to be as many agents as kangaroos in Australia, it made me realise that agents come in so many forms and personalities – they’re not ‘one size fits all’.

‘In LA, where there seemed to be as many agents as kangaroos in Australia’ Photo by Alex Proimos/Flickr

I discovered that I didn’t just want any agent – I needed an agent who would push me to be a better writer. I needed an agent who would nurture my career. I needed an agent who had a proven track record in actually selling the kind of books I wrote. But above all, I needed an agent I felt comfortable with – one I could brainstorm with, one I could talk to about my vision for my book. I realised I needed an agent I could feel comfortable crying in front of (if I felt the need).

Choosing an agent was a lot more complex than I first thought. I didn’t want a cool trendy agent (I’m not cool and trendy), nor did I want one that had 40 bestselling authors on their list so they wouldn’t have time for me. I certainly didn’t want one who reminded me of my old headmaster and made me feel like I was ten years old again.

SCBWI LA 2011 with Sarah Davis, Susanne Gervay and Lesley Vamos

So I decided that the agent I was looking for must be warm and wise, must love my writing, and like me for who I was.

Meeting the agents in person in LA gave me a great opportunity to find out what I needed to know to help me make my decision.

QUESTIONS TO ASK POTENTIAL AGENTS

If you’re lucky enough to be offered representation by a literary agent, here are some questions you can ask to help you decide whether they are the right agent for you.

  1. How many clients do you represent? (If they have too many, they might not have time for you.)
  2. How many books have you sold in the last twelve months?
  3. Do you offer editorial feedback? This is important for me but might not be important to you.
  4. Do you already have a publisher in mind for my book?
  5. Do you represent all the genres I write in?
  6. Do you have international contacts?
  7. How regularly do you correspond with your clients and is this done by email, phone etc?
  8. Will you let me know where and when you submit my work?
  9. Will you forward on rejection letters to me?
  10. Are you a member of an industry organisation like The Australian Literary Agents’ Association?
  11. Can you provide references from your clients?
  12. If you’re not Australian, do you have connections in Australia so you can help me get my work published in my home country?

These are just some of the things I felt I needed to know about a potential agent.

You probably have your own questions. Literary Agent, Rachelle Gardner’s blog has a very comprehensive list of questions to ask an agent.

In next Tuesday’s post – FINDING A LITERARY AGENT PART 2 – EXPLORING YOUR OPTIONS, I’m discussing some pros and cons, and factors to consider when choosing your agent.

If you are looking for an agent, good luck with your quest. Remember that a literary agent is a very individual choice – try and find the agent who suits you both as a writer and a person.

Please feel free to share your experiences, tips and questions in the comments section of this post.

Dee

 

 

Creating Compelling Characters and Writing Dual Narratives

I read an amazing book recently. It’s called Sick Bay and it’s a middle grade contemporary novel by Australian author, Nova Weetman. Sick Bay was published by UQP in June this year.  When  you  read  this  book  you  feel  like  the  characters  are  real  people  telling  you  their  story.

Meg uses Sick Bay to hide from other kids. She’s struggling with changes at home, wears slippers to school and buries her head in books.

New girl Riley is a type 1 diabetic with an over-protective mother. She’d rather chat with her friends than go to Sick Bay, but sometimes she has no choice.

They think they’ve worked each other out, but what if they’ve got it all wrong?

On the brink of high school, Meg and Riley need a place where they can find the courage to be themselves.

ABOUT NOVA

From Nova’s website: – I write books, as well as articles, tv shows and the odd shopping list. I eat a lot of chocolate when I’m writing. And spend way too much time hanging out in op shops trying to find a bargain, or looking through old recipes for something yummy to cook. I think they call it procrastination.

Apart from Sick Bay, Nova’s books include Every Thing is Changed, The Secrets We Keep, The Secrets We Share, Frankie and Joely, The Haunting of Lily Frost, and the Choose Ever After series.

DUAL NARRATIVE AND CHARACTERS THAT HOOK YOU IN

One of the most remarkable things about Sick Bay is that it’s written from two points of view and the characters are so well crafted that there is never any confusion about who’s ‘talking’ or whose part of the story we’re reading. We care deeply about both Meg and Riley right from the start.

Voice is such a difficult thing to master and Nova does it with two characters in the same book. Sick Bay reads as if Nova knows Meg and Riley as well as she knows her own children.

To me, knowing your characters is the secret to making them engaging and to ensure that they stand out from each other. Right from the start, the reader needs to feel as if they know these people. They need to see the character’s vulnerabilities and find them interesting. The reader needs to care about what happens to the character/s, to be so invested in their journey that they will follow it right to the end of the book.

Without telling or using info dumps, Nova hooks us into her characters and their lives straight away. It’s in the small detail, the things that make Meg and Riley unique. Here’s what I mean. In the first two chapters of Sick Bay, this is what we find out about each of the characters … and all this through their actions, thoughts and interactions:

MEG

  1. Doesn’t have many friends – best friend is a paper bag – sets her apart from other girl’s her age … establishes straight away that she’s dealing with something difficult.
  2. This is not the first paper bag she has used so we know this is an ongoing situation
  3. Attachment to bags and unwillingness to throw them out … she is looking for someone or something to love.
  4. Used to have a best friend who ditched her for ‘normal’ friends … makes us wonder what’s wrong with Meg. What happened to the friendship? Why did it break down?
  5. We are already feeling sympathy for Meg because she has a problem and has been abandoned by her best friend – but she is funny and eloquent  and lacking self-pity
  6. Spends a lot of time in sick bay and teachers let her so they must know something about her that makes them feel empathy for her.
  7. Office lady Sarah feeds her … so either she is poor or she has an eating disorder.
  8. No mention of parents but the teachers seem to have a protective attitude towards her so the reader wonders what the story of her family life is.
  9. Sick Bay is far from a hotel room so there must be some reason Meg she likes to hang out there instead of the classroom or the schoolyard.
  10. Meg spends a lot of time there but doesn’t appear to actually be sick.
  11. She is wearing her slippers to school, but we know that it’s not by choice.
  12. Usually brings her book to sick bay so we know she reads a lot.
  13. Meets Riley who actually appears to be sick.
  14. When Riley asks what she’s doing here, Meg jokes to cover up … defence mechanism.
  15. Meg is clearly very hungry.
  16. Meg wonders what is wrong with Riley.
  17. Meg Quotes things from books.
  18. She is the best writer in grade 6

Already Meg has many unique characteristics and habits that make her stand out.

RILEY

  1. Has some illness requiring regular testing, but we don’t yet know what it is.
  2. A boy has a crush on her but she doesn’t reciprocate so she has enough self-awareness and confidence not to be influenced in by it. In fact she hates the assumption that she should be flattered by the unwanted attention.
  3. Riley carries an insulin pump around her waist and is self-conscious about. So we realise she’s diabetic, but there are clues planted before this is stated.
  4. Trying to concentrate on teacher but her friend Lina wants to talk about boys. So Riley appears to be more interested in school than her friends.
  5. Her friends are made about boys but she’s not interested in them.
  6. She is not conventional either … that’s something she has in common with Meg.
  7. Likes the year coordinator so doesn’t see teachers as the enemy … another thing in common with Meg.
  8. She is asked to make a speech at graduation and wonders why she was chosen … very aware of people picking her for things because she’s diabetic.
  9. Has only been at the school for a year.
  10. Doesn’t understand why such a big deal is being made of grade 6 graduation.
  11. Tells teacher she is fine about moving on to high school but really she’s petrified. So she isn’t always honest about what she’s feeling.
  12. She is going to public high school but friends are going to private one. She doesn’t seem upset about this. Hint that friendships aren’t perfect.
  13. Parents are big part of Riley’s life – strict/protective – focus on bedtime and carb count. Contrast to Meg’s who aren’t mentioned
  14. Has diabetes and hates having to explain about it all the time.
  15. Meg has been asked to make graduation speech too. Riley sees that Meg is even more suspicious about why she has been asked to make a speech.
  16. Riley wonders what’s in Meg’s brown bag.
  17. Riley likes Meg’s honesty about not wanting to make the speech.
  18. Riley is in a friendship group of four. She lies to her friends about her diabetes so perhaps they’re not true friends.
  19. She is supposed to check her blood glucose levels before she eats but doesn’t always do it.
  20. Doesn’t like being in the sick bay.
  21. Doesn’t like doing tests in front of her friends.
  22. Self-conscious about diabetes and people judging her for it.
  23. Hates friends treating her as if she is one of their patients.
  24. Riley’s diabetes is life threatening.
  25. Mum is a psychologist
  26. Riley thinks of her body in two halves – body bits that are tested, bits that aren’t – bits that are normal. Indicates that what she wants most is to be normal.

Riley is part of the ‘cool crowd’ but has her own issues too.

TIPS FOR CREATING CHARACTERS THAT STAND OUT

  1. To create an engaging character you need to know them as well as if they were a real person.
  2. To connect with readers straight away, your character needs to be  vulnerable and yet speak with some authority – they must have credibility for the reader.
  3. It’s the small detail that makes a character unique and tells us about their internal and external conflicts. For example, Meg wearing slippers to school. This is something physically memorable about her but it also hints at internal and external conflicts. Something is not quite right in her life. Twelve year-old kids don’t normally wear slippers to school.
  4. Look for differences and similarities with your characters. Common ground is what forms friendships and relationships. Differences cause conflict.
  5. What does your character need and want … think of needs that might be unique to them? Specifics will make your character stand out.
  6. To create a dual narrative that works, your characters have to stand out. With Meg and Riley, they stand apart from each other because of their needs, their characteristics, their life circumstances, their family backgrounds, their view of the world.

If you’re thinking of writing a dual narrative contemporary MG fiction, I highly recommend you read Sick Bay.

Feel free to share other books you’ve read that have helped you hone your writing craft.

Happy writing 🙂

Dee

 

 

 

Trust Me I’m Dead – Tuesday Crime Writing Tips With Sherryl Clark

TODAY’S GUEST AUTHOR – SHERRYL CLARK

Sherryl Clark’s first venture into crime writing, Trust Me I’m Dead was shortlisted for the prestigious Crime Writers Association UK Debut Dagger Award for a new writer, and after reading it, I’m not surprised. It’s a cracking read full of clever characters and plot twists that keep you guessing till the end.

Sherryl’s here to chat about the book and share some writing tips.

ABOUT SHERRYL

Sherryl Clark has been reading and writing crime fiction for many years. Her early crime novels are now all in the bottom drawer, and in 1996 she began writing books for children and young adults, resulting in more than 70 titles published by Penguin Random House, UQP, HarperCollins, Pearson and Macmillan Education. Her books for young readers have won awards and been published overseas. Her middle grade crime novel, Dying to Tell Me, was published in the USA by KaneMiller and was a VOYA Top Shelf pick.

She continued to write adult crime fiction for her own enjoyment, and entered her novel, Trust Me, I’m Dead in the 2018 CWA Debut Dagger Awards. She was delighted to be shortlisted. This has led to a two-book deal with UK publisher, Verve Books. The sequel to Trust Me, I’m Dead is tentatively titled Dead and Gone, and will be out in 2020.

HOW SHERRYL WROTE TRUST ME I’M DEAD

TIP 1 – WHERE INSPIRATION COMES FROM

What was the inspiration behind your new book?

A long time ago I read an article that had a little snippet in it about a man who had died and left behind a tape recording that was a huge surprise to his family. It was the little spark that kept nagging at me as an idea, and the novel grew from there (into something a bit different). I know I kept that article, and one day I’ll find it! As is the way with these things, I suspect it won’t be what I remember, but it did get me going. The character of Judi just grew and grew, but I can see bits of her in old short stories I have written.

TIP 2 – KEEP GOING

You’re best known for your children’s and YA books, what made you decide to write a murder mystery?

I have always loved reading crime fiction and that goes back to my teenage years. I’ve actually been writing crime for much longer than the children’s books. My first attempt at a novel was crime, and so was my second. The first was truly terrible; the second was a bit better but I received a lot of rejections for it. However, the character in the second one reappeared in a couple of short stories that were published. That’s the kind of thing that keeps you going. My middle grade murder mystery, “Dying to Tell Me”, was the result of wanting to write another crime novel but for a younger audience. I wrote the first draft of “Trust Me, I’m Dead” back in 2008-09, and revised quite a few times, and even started a sequel in 2014. And now here I am!

TIP 3 – PLOTTING

Did you plot, Trust Me I’m Dead€™ in the same way you’€™d plot one of your children’€™s or YA novels? If not, what was different about the process?

I’m not a great outliner, I’m afraid. If I do anything, I diagram the plot and subplots. But with this novel, it grew from something fairly basic and probably way too short, and each revision added more words and layers, so it was more organic. In my children’s novels I can throw too many threads in, and then have to weed some of them out. With the adult novel, as long as I kept notes on the threads (my “bible”) and drew a good timeline, I could keep better control of all the ins and outs, and how well I was hiding the solution. I find the red herrings most often come from characters making mistakes, or making assumptions, like we all do, rather than anything tricky I can come up with! The follow up novel (called “Dead and Gone” at the moment) needed a lot more notes and diagrams, I found. With each book, I also now have to keep track of what has happened before. It can be so easy to accidentally change someone’s name, or something in the setting or description.

TIP 4 – THE IMPORTANCE OF FEEDBACK

How long did Trust Me I’m Dead take to write from initial idea to publication?

Eleven years! Although in that time I have written quite a few children’s and YA novels, so it hasn’t been a constant eleven years. Over that time I’ve had several lots of feedback from people, including one I paid for which was quite disheartening, but each lot of comments did contribute to another solid revision. The editors at Verve have been great, too, and with their feedback I trimmed about 5000 words which really helped to tighten the pacing.

TIP 5 – CHARACTER GROWTH AND DEVELOPMENT

What have you enjoyed most about writing this book?

Writing the character of Judi, and seeing her develop and grow. And now the book is out there, I’ve just loved readers’ responses to her. I hoped they would like her and feel for her, despite her tough exterior, and it seems that they do. She’ll never be mushy, that’s for sure. I’ve just received feedback from a writer friend to the follow up novel, and am really pleased with her comments on Judi – now I’m thinking about my ideas for Book 3 and making notes.

TIP 6 – FOR WOULD-BE CRIME WRITERS

What are your top 2 tips for would-be crime writers?

One is research. Invest in good resources and spend plenty of time to get the details right. I have half a dozen really good books now (some recommended by other crime writers), and there is so much on YouTube that’s helpful. But I’ve also now done a certificate course in crime scene investigation and forensic medicine, which filled everything out and was so valuable to me. The other would be spend as much time on your characters as you do on your plot. Plot can be strengthened and holes can be fixed, but a strong central character and supporting cast make a huge difference to whether you’ll be asked for more novels after the first one.

ABOUT TRUST ME I’M DEAD

Judi Westerholme hasn’t seen her addict brother for four years and now he’s been murdered. Judie is devastated, but not surprised. She knew that Andy mixed with some pretty seedy people.

What shocks her are the discoveries that her brother had been clean for years and now has a two-year-old daughter. After a traumatic upbringing, Judi’s never had the urge to be a mum. In fact, having been raised by an abusive father and complicit mother, she doesn’t like to get close to anyone.

She’s even more shocked to discover that Andy’s wife is missing and that her brother appointed Judi, the older sister he was once close to, as guardian for two year-old …

Judi wants to know who’s responsible for her brother’s death, but she doesn’t expect that returning to Melbourne where he lived is going to land her in the middle of a gangland war. Andy has left her a bizarre set of clues to follow and if she doesn’t solve the puzzle fast, Judi and … could end up dead.

Trust Me I’m Deadis a full of suspense and action. But it’s not just the physical conflicts that draw you in. Judi, the main character is facing an emotional crisis as well. She feels she owes it to Andy to find his killer and ensure his child’s safety, but this forces her to delve into a past she’d rather forget. Then there’s the enigmatic policeman … who threatens to break down emotional walls that she has worked hard to build up over time.

Sherryl Clark sets up a world that’s very relatable. She uses insightful detail to ground us in the world of her characters and their story. The nuanced characters, clever plot, masterful suspense and hint of romance make Trust Me I’m Deada book that I found hard to put down.

WHERE TO BUY THE BOOK

Trust Me I’m Dead is published by Verve Books UK and the e-book is available on Amazon, Apple Books, Kobo and Nook. Print copies can be purchased from the Sun Bookshop in Yarraville or direct from the author sherrylc1 at optusnet.com.au. Her websites are https://sherrylclarkcrimewriter.com and https://sherrylclark.com

Tuesday Writing Tip – Working With an Illustrator and Publisher

I admit it. I’m in awe of illustrators. I like to draw, but being an artist doesn’t make me an illustrator. Illustrators bring movement and life to words. They make characters leap off the page. They bring a whole new level of meaning to your text.

To see how an illustrator has interpreted your story and text, and added a whole new layer of their own, is one of the most exciting, surprising and rewarding moments of the book creation process.

1. Requesting your own illustrator

For a number of reasons (outlined below), most publishers will choose the illustrator for your book without input from you.

I knew Tracie Grimwood, the illustrator of our picture book, Reena’s Rainbow because she had already illustrated five  other books I had written. I suggested her to publisher, EK Books, and was thrilled when they agreed. But I had no expectations. I was happy that Reena’s Rainbow  was being published and was prepared to accept whatever decision the publisher made because I knew that there were so many factors about the design and illustration process that I didn’t know or perhaps hadn’t considered.


(Above are the five books Tracie had already illustrated with my text. Love her work.)

Publishers have a wealth of expertise and experience when it comes to pairing us with the best illustrator for our work. They have designers specifically trained in the area. They have marketing data and expertise about fonts and colours and styles and genre and mediums and all the minute decisions that go into deciding how to get maximum potential from the text and illustrations … how to reach more readers … how to reach the right readers.

Tip: If you plan to suggest an illustrator, do it politely and professionally. If the publisher chooses someone else, accept it gracefully, and don’t complain. There are a gazillion amazing illustrators out there and it’s in the publisher’s best interests to choose the one who’s right for your book. Publishers want to sell lots of books, just like you do.

2. Illustration notes

This is currently a hotly debated topic. Sometimes it’s necessary to tell a publisher certain information to help them understand the context of your story, but this can be included in the pitch document, email etc. If you feel the need to add lots of illustration notes because otherwise the publisher won’t understand your story, it may mean that you need to do some work on your text to make it clearer and stronger.

To tell you the truth, if I were an illustrator, I probably wouldn’t be happy to receive a swag of illustration notes. Imagine if we were given author notes telling us what words, settings and characters we were allowed to use. How restrictive would that be?

3. Leave room for the illustrator

Don’t be prescriptive in your text in relation to how you think the illustrator should depict words and meaning. When they emotionally connect with your story, they will bring a whole new layer of meaning using colour, character and setting. Telling them what to do will stifle their creativity and connection to your story. Be open minded and willing to be surprised.

In our picture book, Reena’s Rainbow, Tracie  drew sound waves and vibrations to show that Reena is deaf … and that’s how she absorbs sound. Imagine if I had insisted I wanted my character to wear a hearing aid or some other device to show she’s deaf. Tracie’s illustration encompasses all the information it needs to convey the text and meaning in a subtle and moving way.The park Tracie drew is full of vibrant colours, just like a rainbow. If I’d stipulated that I wanted a realistic park and trees, the image would not be anywhere near as effective. Tracie used talent and expertise that I don’t have to illustrate in the perfect style for the text, mood and meaning of the book.

4. Don’t interfere in the illustration process

Occasionally Tracie would run an idea past me, but it was a collaborative process and just as she never told me how I should write the text, I never interfered with the illustration process. Letting go of your text and allowing your illustrator, designer and publisher to do their job will ensure that you end up with a wonderful book and great working relationships. If you’re a collaborator not a dictator, people will want to work with you again. It’s also a wonderful experience to be able to share the promotion circuit with your illustrator, chatting about the book you both created.

5. Be flexible

Sometimes an illustration is so powerful that there’s no need for text on the page. Be prepared to ‘kill your darling’ and let the illustration shine.

6. Enjoy the surprise

I have two humorous illustrated middle grade books coming out next year and have never had any contact with the illustrator. On a recent visit to my publisher, she showed his hilarious roughs and they made me laugh out loud. I could see that the illustrator totally ‘got’ my story and character. His illustrations are amazing. A combination of factors – clearly the publisher used their expertise and resources to pick the perfect illustrator. They also chose a style I might never have thought of, but one that looks amazing. Just as we want people to have faith in us as professional writers, we must have faith in the professional publishing personnel and illustrators we work with.

As an author, sometimes it is important to speak up. I’ve seen a picture book where the text said a character’s eye colour was one thing and the illustration depicted another.  Make sure you carefully check every aspect of your book proofs, and if you have concerns, voice them in a professional and respectful way, and I’m sure they will be listened to. Any changes to your text should be run past you first. If the suggestions don’t fit your vision for the story, be prepared to explain your position and make requests in the same manner you’d expect people to treat you.

This blog post is dedicated to all the amazing illustrators who bring our text and concepts to life, and don’t always get the kudos they deserve. 

Whether you’re an author or an illustrator, please feel free to share your experiences and tips in the comments section of this post.

Happy creating 🙂

Dee

 

 

 

The Naughtiest Pixie in Disguise – Top Tuesday Writing Tips From Ailsa Wild

TODAY’S GUEST AUTHOR –  AILSA WILD

Ailsa Wild is an award-winning Australian author. She’s the creator of The Naughtiest Pixie and the hilarious Squishy Taylor series, which has been published in the US, UK, Spain and Turkey. When she’s not taking her characters on cheeky adventures, Ailsa is a performer, acrobat and professional whip-cracker. She lives with her family in Melbourne. She likes dressing up in costumes, eating cheese at bedtime and answering the question, ‘But … why?’

ABOUT THE NAUGHTIEST PIXIE IN DISGUISE

Adventurous pixie, Jenifry Star lives with her nana and elderly aunties who don’t seem to know the meaning of fun. Jenifry has Kipsy-cat for a friend, but she wants desperately to play with the human children, to have friends she can talk to. Her Nana and Aunts forbid it, and in spite of their warnings about the Pixie Hunter, Jenifry is determined to sneak into the school and pass herself off as a human.

She’s having fun until the principal asks her for proof of enrolment. The only way for her to stay at school with her new friends is to get Nana’s permission to be there.

Cheeky, bold Jenifry is so much fun, the sort of pixie that every child would want for a friend. Kipsy-cat is also a quirky fun character that young readers will love.

Lively language and made up words add a quirkiness and charm to this pixie adventure story.

Despite its playfulness, The Naughtiest Pixie has universal themes of belonging and friendship that add a whole new layer of meaning. This is also a story about facing your fears.

The Naughtiest Pixie is a real treat for adventure loving readers and even contains a Pixie Pancake recipe and fun character profiles at the end of the book.

Saoirse Lou’s gorgeous fun illustrations help bring Jenifry and friends to life.

HOW AILSA WROTE THE NAUGHTIEST PIXIE IN DISGUISE

TIP ONE – INSPIRATION

Where did you get the inspiration for the character of Jenifry Star?

Since I was really tiny my dad has loved it when I was cheeky and rebellious. I always think of his big, delighted laugh when, aged two, I climbed the kitchen bench to reach the sugar, or later stood up to high school power structures. Despite this, there were times when I was really well behaved because I was so afraid of getting in trouble. I did my homework because I was scared of being humiliated by my teachers. I didn’t ask questions because I was afraid of looking stupid. In a way I wrote this story for that scared little Ailsa – to give her some room to try being naughty in a fun way, rather than it being terrifying. I was also inspired by how much kids love the Treehouse books and how naughty Andy and Terry are. I wanted to write a girl character who is thatbadly behaved. To be honest I didn’t quite manage Andy and Terry’s level of ridiculously naughty, but it did inspire me to write a wonderful adventure story.

TIP TWO – MAKING A CHARACTER MISCHIEVIOUS

Why did you decide to write a book about Pixies?

I love stories about magic – especially stories that have their roots in folklore. I love how pixies play tricks on humans and I like their close relationship with nature. Pixie folklore comes from Cornwall, which is where I lived as a child, so I like that connection too. Also I wanted to write a about a little girl whose naughtiness is loveable and forgivable – and I thought readers might forgive her more easily if the mischief runs in her blood and is taught her by her naughty pixie family.

TIP 3 – TO PLOT OR NOT

Did you plot Jenfry’s adventure or did you just write and see where the character and her personality took you?

My writing is usually a mix of plotting and ‘just writing’. I wrote myself into the character of Jenifry and a few thousand words of story, then I stopped and planned things out in an excel spreadsheet! I wrote the story mostly as I’d planned but making some discoveries along the way. Then, after a break I actually went back and wrote a newplot in a new excel spreadsheet and wrote quite a different story. So my process is a real mix of planning and letting the story evolve.

TIP 4 – FIRST PERSON IN JUNIOR FICTION

First person isn’t common in junior fiction. What made you choose this point of view? Did the character just pop into your head and say, ‘this is how I want to tell my story?’

I love first person. I feel like you really get to be there, right inside the character on their adventure. It was a bit tricky writing Jenifry because my previous books, the Squishy Taylors, are also in first person. Both stories have a sense of action and physicality and both characters are quite strong and determined – so I had to be reallycareful to make sure I wasn’t writing Jenifry in Squishy’s voice. I did lots of thinking about pixie words and how a pixie body might feel and tried to bring that into the Jenifry’s voice. It was quite a process and definitely didn’t jump out fully formed!

TIP 5 – CREATING A FANTASY WORLD

Jenifry’s pixie world is fun and quirky and very authentic. What are your writing tips for creating a fantasy world?

My main tip is go nuts, and then cut back if you have to. That allows your creativity to just let loose and play and you can have all your wild ideas and create a different and wonderful universe. At first, don’t let anything be impossible. Then afterwards you’ll need to edit, and making sure everything fits together logically in the story-world. In all my early drafts (and I’m working on Book 4 now) I’ve had a moment where I’ve gone really over the top, like making Nana’s dialogue overly ridiculous, or having pixie magic way too visible to humans. I’ve had to prune it back so it’s believable within the story-world. I also did a bunch of handwritten backstory and world-building. I never did that systematically (though that might be a good idea!) but whenever I was confused or unsure about how the world worked, I would write it out.

Find out more about Ailsa and her books at her website.

Kids Being Creative

Last weekend I was honoured and inspired to present the young writer’s awards at the 2019 Daylesford Words in Winter Festival.

The event took place inside a blanket fort, the brainchild of one of the young writers I was lucky to meet.

There were so many things I loved about this event. So much colour and so many amazing primary school aged creators.

Prep to Year 2 winners

The stories I read were evocative and powerful, sometimes funny, always imaginative.

I was moved not only by the creative vibe I found in Daylesford, but also the love of story and story creation.

Grade 3-4 winners

There were hundreds of entries in the competition and every prize winner and contestant at the event was accompanied by at least one proud and supportive adult. I was born into a household where writing wasn’t considered to be a ‘real job’ so it was heartwarming to see the family and community support for these young writers.

Grade 5-6 winners

Many of the writers had also been encouraged to enter the competition by a supportive teacher or librarian.

I was so lucky to be invited to be part of this event, and it reinforced to me how much we can do to encourage kids to write, and to love writing as much as I do.

 

Don’t Give Up Your Author Dreams

When I was seven years-old I decided I was going to be a writer. When I was a teen bookworm and the most uncool girl in school, I realized that the type of writer I wanted to be was an author. I wanted to change the world with my words.

But life had other plans for me. Becoming an author is hard. Writing a book is just the start. A first book is rarely ready for publication, and it rarely earns instant income. I found myself working in insurance, which was as far away from my dreams as I could possibly get. I spent the next fifteen years or so trying to find my way back to my chosen career and in 2009 my young adult novel, Letters to Leonardo was published by Walker Books Australia, and I felt like I’d finally made it. Readers wrote to me that they loved my book. I received some very nice royalties and a lot of great reviews.

But Letters to Leonardo wasn’t published outside Australia and my dreams of reaching readers all over the world with this book didn’t eventuate.

But out of all the books I have written in the last twenty years, Letters to Leonardo is one that’s close to my heart. Matt’s story was inspired by something that really happened. His mother was based on a real person I knew, and some of the events in the story actually happened. I couldn’t let his story finish there. In the back of my mind I always felt that the journey for Letters to Leonardo wasn’t over yet.

Jump to January this year, and I was on a writer’s retreat with dear friends and fellow writers and illustrators, Edna Cabcabin Moran and Laura Elliott in the USA. Both of them had read Letters to Leonardo. Both of them wanted to see it published outside Australia. Both of them believed in Matt and his story. Edna suggested I send the manuscript to US publisher, Mazo Publishers who republish books like Letters to Leonardo.

I worked on the manuscript incorporating some of the skills I’d acquired in the last ten years.  I didn’t change the essence of the story, but I worked on the characters and events.

I submitted the manuscript to Mazo Publishers via their online form, and a month later I had a contract. They have been so wonderful to work with, so enthusiastic about Letters to Leonardo, so dedicated to getting Matt’s story out into the hands of a whole new generation of readers. And  I’ve  been  so  fortunate  to  have  my  dear  friend  and  talented  creator, Tania McCartney  design  this  cover, which I love so much.

Letters to Leonardo is now available in Australia again. It’s also available in the US, UK and other parts of the world at the publisher’s website and in bookstores.

If you have a story you believe in, and being an author is all you’ve ever wanted, don’t give up. It took me ten years to first publication in Australia and another ten to get Letters to Leonardo out into the wider world. But it has been an amazing journey and I’ve learnt so much along the way. And I’ve had letters from readers telling me how my book really did change their life.

I’d love to hear your stories about how perseverance and love for your story has led to publication. Feel free to share in the comments section of this post.

Happy writing 🙂

Dee

Letters to Leonardo is the story of a boy who receives a fifteenth birthday card from the mother he thought was dead. He decides to look for her and find out why she has been absent from his life, and why his father lied to him about her death. Matt helps make sense of his feelings of betrayal and confusion by writing to his dead idol, Leonardo da Vinci. But bringing his mother back into his life doesn’t have the outcome he expected.

It can be purchased direct from the publisher, Mazo Publishers and from bookstores.

Pitching Your Work at Conferences

Pitching your story to a publisher/agent panel is nerve wracking to say the least. I’ve done it twice and now I’m hanging up my pitching shoes, but I wanted to share the things I’ve learned to help anyone planning to pitch their work at a conference.

Although it’s scary, pitching offers a chance to hone your story concept, to get professional feedback on your work, and hopefully get some interest from the panel.

WHY YOU SHOULD DO IT

  1. It’s a chance to step out of your comfort zone, and make new publishing contacts. A little fear can be good for your creativity 🙂
  2. When you prepare your pitch it helps you get your head around what your story is really about. If you can’t summarise it succinctly enough to pitch, it might mean that you have too much going on, or that your story concept isn’t strong enough. Do you know who your character really is? Is there enough at stake for them?
  3. It helps you really own your story

The panel itself is actually the second step. First you have to get past the selection committee, and to do this your story concept needs to be fresh and clear, and your writing strong.

HOW TO CONVEY THE AWESOMENESS OF YOUR STORY

When it comes to presenting to the panel, there are some things you can do to help calm your nerves, and convey how truly awesome your story is.

I. I usually start with my personal connection to the story … this tells the publisher something about me and why I had to write this piece … and why I am the person to write it. For example, when I pitched my WW2 holocaust novel, Beyond Belief, I mentioned that my father had fled Austria because of Hitler, and this was my connection to the story.

2. Don’t try to tell the whole story. You need to say who your main character is, and what their story problem is and how it’s about to get even worse. Leave the panel wanting to know more.

3. Keep it simple. Don’t confuse people with detail. Focus on the high points of your story – the best bits, these are probably the parts you enjoyed writing most. You have to convey the essence of your book.

4. Make your pitch clear and coherent. In a way, the publisher panel is under just as much pressure as you are. They have to listen to your pitch, and give ‘on the spot’ feedback. Make it easy for them. Give them a story concept that can be summed up in a short paragraph, one that’s easy for them to comprehend.

For example, 12 year-old Abby is mortified when her embarrassing parents sign them all up for reality tv show, Happy Families. To make matters worse, Abby discovers one of the other contestants Is her arch enemy Melissa Hill with the perfect family. Melissa is going to make her life hell, but Abby can’t back out now because her parents desperately need the prize money to save them from bankruptcy.

Here I introduce the character and her story problem. I make things even worse for her, and I show what’s at stake and why she has to work through her problem.

5. Go to bookstores and libraries and research competitor books in the marketplace. If you have time, in your pitch, state why your book is unique and why it will appeal to readers.

6. Remember that agents and publishers are real people. They can relate. They may have a dog like yours, an allergy to capsicums or suffer from bad hair days. They are people and they want to hear your story so be proud to tell it.

7. Be prepared for questions. You know your story backwards, but the people you are pitching to won’t have read it. So try and anticipate questions that might be asked and have answers prepared.

8. Plan to read about one page of your work. You only have three minutes to sell yourself and your story. Your writing will speak for itself so one page is plenty. If you try to read too much, you’ll find yourself talking too fast, and the beauty of your writing won’t be clearly conveyed. Allow yourself time to get the panel connected with your character, engaged with your story and wowed by your writing. 3 minutes is not a long time.

You might decide to edit the first pages just for the pitch … so you can give your reading the most impact. You don’t have long to introduce the main character and hook people into their story.

9. Prepare and practice your pitch. Don’t go in cold turkey. Prepare what you are going to say in advance and practice, practice, practice. Practice it in front of your mirror, your dog, your cat, your goat or anyone who’ll listen.

10. When you practice your pitch listen to feedback. If someone says they’re not sure about something, your concept is unclear or your story doesn’t excite them … then keep working on your pitch. All is not lost. Your pitch just needs honing.

Even if you don’t plan to pitch publicly, preparing a pitch is actually a great activity to do in order to help you get to the heart of your story.

EXPECTATIONS

Even if publishers love the sound of your story, don’t expect them to sign you up on the spot. They will want to read the whole thing. The pitching helps them get to know you and whether they think they could work with you … and it helps them get to know your story.

Don’t be disappointed if they don’t jump on your pitch straight away. Look at it as information gathering … it’s a chance to test the viability of your concept … and for you to assess which publishers you might like to work with.

Have fun and be proud of your story … and the fact that you have taken this brave step.

Good luck 🙂

If you have any additional tips on pitching, please feel free to include them in a comment below.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to share this post if you think it might be helpful to others.

Dee