On Writing (Sat 14 Nov, 2015)


Outside it’s pouring with rain but indoors it’s warm and cozy. The Christmas trees and most of the Christmas decorations are up since my husband leaves for work abroad, mid December, and won’t be home until January. We want him to feel festive before he’s off and enjoy a Christmas, however early.

Today, with my would-be writer hat on, I’m on an ‘up’. The house looks gorgeous and three days ago an agent offered to represent me!

A draft contract has been e-mailed for me to examine and, following advice from fellow SCBWI members (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), I have paid £95 to join the Society of Authors whom I am reliably informed will analyse the contract for me line by line to ensure my interests are protected.

I know there will be huge amounts of hard work to come in the future but, for now, I’m enjoying that special feeling of knowing my work will be easier to field to prospective publishers.

I think it IS possible for writers to get their manuscripts in front of publishers when they are un-represented, but it takes bloody-minded persistence, the use of contacts, good writing and luck.

When I first embarked on writing picture books, over 18 months ago, I thought the process would be easy.

The Wonder of Hindisght

How wonderful hindsight is!

If you are considering writing picture books or have just embarked upon this pursuit, my advice is ‘be realistic’. It’s NOT EASY and you have to be in it for the long haul.

In addition, it will serve you well to grow a thick skin, then another, and another on top of that.

You WILL be rejected many times and, if you’re not, then CONGRATULATIONS. Your work must be stratospherically good.

I was naïve at first. I popped out a rhyming ‘book’ every day or every other day for the first month or two and thought ‘how easy is this?’

It was only when I attended Winchester Writers’ Festival, in Hampshire, and didn’t win the children’s picture book competition, that I began to realise my writing might not be as good as I thought it was.

On top of this, I wasn’t even placed as a runner up!

I had tough feedback from my one-to-ones with agents who said my ideas were original but my rhyme wasn’t executed perfectly.

Holding Back the Tears

It wouldn’t be a lie to say I came home from that afternoon barely holding back the tears.

What I had anticipated would be a fun day, was actually a day for a mountainous learning curve I felt like hurling myself off.

On the other hand, I felt in good company as I shared a sense of solidarity with a hall packed-full of writers on the same road as I.

To cut a long story short, I didn’t give up. I kept writing in rhyme, honing my craft and, when I attended this year’s Winchester Writers’ Festival, I could see how much I had improved in 12 months.

I didn’t enter any further competitions as I wished to spare my feelings.

But, despite being sensitive, I must be a tough old bird. At the Festival, I began chatting to a man who had self-published his book.

“I was rejected once or twice. That was enough for me,” he said.

He proudly showed me the book he had self-published and I decided this wasn’t the way I wished to go. In my mind, he had given up too easily.

It’s great people are now empowered to create and publish their own books but I have chosen, for the time being at least, to plough the traditional field in the hope that something will thrive and blossom.

Initial Rejections

I approached three or four agents when I initially started writing and wished I had heeded the lesson to not send out work too soon.

Rejections came hurtling back at a million miles per hour with no feedback whatsoever.

To this day, I would still love literary agents to agree an industry-standard A4 tick box form to leave aspiring picture book authors feedback.

Boxes might read:

Too long

Too short

Insufficient narrative

Too much like a poem

Speech not attributed

Rhyme timing needs revision

Characters require emotional growth

Grammar needs work

Spelling mistakes

Weak beginning

Unsatisfactory conclusion

Well executed but not for us

Almost there

Anthropomorphic characters please

It is from feedback that writers grow. Agents will say they don’t have time but, as someone who has been on the end of rejections with no feedback, I don’t think clicking a few boxes would slice hours from their day.

I eventually paid for editorial feedback from a former commissioning editor and learnt much in the process. Other authors join critique groups which can be invaluable for honing skills.

Full Circle

A little over eighteen months after I first began writing and with manuscripts on the desks of three major publishers, who had each expressed an interest in my material, I plucked up the courage to send some of my stories to the first literary agency I had ever approached.

I didn’t play by the rules and naughtily tried to guess the individual e-mail address of the agent I was most interested in.

My tactic worked and, upon return from holiday, I found a promising e-mail in my inbox.

The agent in question said: “We are normally very strict about following submission guidelines simply because we receive so many approaches and, as a small agency, we can get a little swamped. However, your approach has paid off and I couldn’t resist reading your stories!”

The agent asked me to supply more details about myself and offered to ring the following week.

Since the agent represents one of my all-time favourite children’s authors and master rhyme writers, I was on cloud nine!

But I wasn’t handed a contract on a plate.

A Test

We chatted for over an hour-and-a-half on the telephone before the agent set me a test.

I was asked to edit one of the stories I had sent in. At 610 words, I felt it was tight enough, but was tasked with shaving a further 100 words.

I duly complied and pinged it back the next day.

The following week, the agent offered to represent me.

YAY! Mexican wave around the stadium.

I barely drink but, that evening, I opened a bottle of wine and enjoyed two glasses with my husband in celebration.

I know the route to publication will still be tough but am grateful I will have someone fighting my corner and enabling me to get on with what I enjoy doing the most – writing.

To everyone else who is awaiting a break, please don’t give up. Try not to take rejections personally (although that is much easier said than done) and keep learning.

I’ll do the same and maybe one day we’ll see our work in Waterstones, Foyles and all the other bookstores you can think of.

Dream BIG fellow writers. I am!


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