Thursday, 22 December 2011

Ask Keren...(part one)

I've  been giving out quite a bit of advice recently, so I thought I'd have an agony aunt blog for a few days before Christmas.  Starting with this..

Dear Keren,

You don't know me, but I was at the dental hygienist recently and I mentioned that I'd written a children's book and his cousin's wife works with someone who knew you from the parent and baby gym group you went to c 1997.  Remember Jason and Mason? Them. Anyway, I've written a few books I'm really keen to get them published. One is for the 5-12 age group, about a boy wizard, and another is for older's a bit controversial and there's a lot of swearing, but I think it's all justified. Do you need an agent? I've done a bit of research and I've made a list of 179 possibles. Should I write to them all at once? Or should I write to publishers? Or is it best to self-publish?

Hello!  Yes, I remember Jason and Mason well, especially when Mason bit...but never mind. Glad to try and help. Here are my orders....I mean, advice...

1) Check out this website. It is by Nicola Morgan,a children's writer who has been writing for much longer than I have and knows infinitely more about the subject. In fact why don't you...never mind...She has loads and loads of excellent advice about all aspects of writing for publication. There is also a book Write to be Published which is a fascinating and very useful read - basically the same stuff that's on the blog, but easier to navigate. Nicola knows it all.  Another excellent website to read is  Notes from the Slushpile.  (Did I read these blogs before writing to agents, one day after finishing my first draft and without a title for the book?  No, I was too impatient to do any research.)

2) Join the Society of Children's Writers and Illustrators  Attend its annual conference which is in Winchester, mid November. There you will meet agents and editors, writers and artists and you can attend masterclasses and workshops on all aspects of writing for children. Even if you can't go to conference SCWBI holds regular events, masterclasses and the like, an agents' party in September and, every year publishes the Undiscovered Voices, an anthology which is compiled from a competition among un-agented writers.  Being long or short-listed for UV is generally a fast track to being agented and published, and in several cases UV writers have gone on to win awards.  (Did I join SCWBI and enter UV before looking for an agent? No, I thought I'd wait until I had a publishing deal because then the membership would be cheaper).

3) Start researching agents. Which children's authors do you like, and who represents them? Which writers have a similar style to you, and who represents them? Do you want an agent who will be very business-oriented, or one who is keen to be involved in giving you edtorial feedback? It's worth thinking about all of this before you approach people.
Agents will have submission guidelines on their websites. They will tell you what they want - not everyone wants three chapters. Also whether you should print it out, or send by email. Don't write to 179 agents at once. Let the rejections (or indeed offers) trickle through slowly. And don't bother agents if they haven't replied to you within a month. Especially if it is August. (Did I badger an agent mid-August because I hadn't heard from her three weeks after sending her my first chapter? Need you ask?)

4) Start researching the business. For example, a little bit of research will tell you that books aren't generally for 9-13 year olds - 8-12 is the usual age range. The more you know, the better you are able to present yourself to agents. (Unlike me, who though in a vague way that a book about a 14-year-old ought to appeal to 14 year-olds. And who had never heard of most YA writers and had no idea that anyone else might have written about knife crime..that was a nasty shock...)

5) When you do start approaching agents, get ready for rejection. You need to be tough. It is a hideous process. I was turned down by about ten agents - then offered representation by three. Then I was rejected by at least 25 publishers, before getting a two-book deal.  It's really hard but try not to take it personally. (and drop that will do you no good...)

6)  Self-publishing used to be a screamed desperation, incompetence and sub-standard. You might as well put a big label 'Written by a Loser' on your book. But we are entering a new phase of self-publishingand everything is changing.  It is easy-peasy to put your book on Amazon as an e-book, price it low and see what happens. Unlike conventional publishing, you will receive 75% of the cover price. Unlike conventional publishing you will not have to wait for a year to sell your book. The drawbacks -  you have to do (or arrange) your own editing, cover design and marketing (but even with a conventional publisher, you have to do a certain amount of editing and marketing).  Your book will not win awards, nor be bought by libraries or schools. You will not have lovely shiny copies of your book to hold.
Right now, I wouldn't advise self-publishing unless you've become completely jaded by attenpting the conventional route. Whether I'd give the same advice next year..I'm not so sure. And for authors who've had rights revert to them -  go for it.

Tomorrow: What books do you recommend?

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