Categories
My journey to publication

What inspired you to write the B.U.G. series?

It was a complaint from my son when he was about eleven that drove me to write the first draft of what has since been published by Puffin as The Accidental Diary of B.U.G. series.

At the time, the only kinds of books he’d read independently were laugh-out-loud funny, highly accessible to even the most reluctant reader, and (more often than not) heavily illustrated. (I’ll blog about my experience of the power of funny books for reluctant readers in a subsequent post.)

His complaint: Why do the main characters in these types of books never have two mums or two dads?

After failing to source him such a book, I figured I’d write one.

In all honesty, my initial draft was for his eyes only. Avoiding his reading kryptonite of text-heavy paragraphs in favour of interactive pages, doodles aplenty and gags about spellings, I created a protagonist whose life vaguely represented his reality (adopted by two mums) and I was overjoyed when he told me he loved it.

Mission accomplished!

Or so I thought…

A couple of years later, I shared the manuscript with my then eight-year-old daughter and was thrilled to see her as engrossed as my son had been. It was when she expressed how much she’d love all children to have access to a mainstream ‘laugh about it in the playground’ book that illustrated how perfectly ‘normal’ ‘different’ families actually are, that I knew I needed to try my luck at finding a publisher!

Positive representation, I’ve learned, matters enormously to all children. At the time of my son’s complaint, our bookshelves were sagging under the weight of books featuring children who had been adopted and children with same sex parents. The problem was, they were all picture books we’d shared when our children were small, non-fiction books a little too earnest in their ‘you’re so special’ message, a bit depressing, or contained too many emotional triggers.

We also had plenty of books that featured families very similar to ours as a matter of fact – manic parents making questionable packed lunches, children recounting school mishaps, curious family anecdotes and so on. But none of the main characters ever had same sex parents.

It was the light-hearted humour, combined with the honest, matter-of-fact, ‘this is who I am’ nature of Billie, the protagonist of The Accidental Diary of B.U.G. series, that my children took to. Not only did it satisfy their hunger to see themselves in a book, it enabled them to verbalize how a book like mine could fill the gap they were both acutely aware was missing from their peers’ libraries – a funny ‘middle grade’ read that would incidentally expose all children to the normality of everyday life of our kind of family.

The Accidental Diary of B.U.G. and Basically Famous are available to buy now. The third in the series, Sister Act will be published on 3rd February 2022.

I really enjoyed reading the adventures of Billie Upton Green (not Bug!!)! Billie is a delightful and relatable character, and her escapades are both funny and heart-warming. I particularly enjoyed the inclusivity in the text, and it’s a real joy to see such positive LGBTQ+ representation in children’s books. Jen has written a real treat for younger readers, and the artwork is fabulous, too!

― L. D. Lapinski, author of The Strangeworlds Travel Agency

Readers will love Billie’s adventures, and her funny, doodle-filled way of sharing them, as much as they love the Dork Diaries or Wimpy Kid stories, and it’s great too to see such a warm celebration of diverse family life.

― LoveReading4Kids

Carney’s lively, upbeat Billie is a welcome inclusive addition to the world of illustrated diaries. Her two mums feel like people I know, her weariness at explaining their existence just as familiar – and Billie herself is a treat, from her passion for biscuits to her determined pursuit of the school thief. Fun, funny, and deceptively clever.

Susie Day, author of Max Kowalski Didn’t Mean It

brilliant, hilarious and heartwarming book! I’m pretty sure if I’d read this as a child it wouldn’t have taken me quite so long to understand and accept my own queer identity. Amazing for normalising same-sex parenting and adoption, completely laugh-out-loud funny and a feast for the eyes with lots of fun and engaging doodles. I loved it!

Abigail Balfe, author of A Different Sort of Normal
Categories
My journey to publication Tips for aspiring authors

How do you find a Literary Agent?

This post comes with a huge caveat…this is what worked for ME. I’m sure other writers will have differences of opinion.

So, five ideas for finding a literary agent (other than Googling ‘Literary Agents’ and spending a year sifting through your gazillion hits until you find your perfect match):

  1. Look in the acknowledgments of books you love. What does the author say about their agent? Even if it’s a different genre from what you write, chances are there’ll be another agent at the same agency who represents yours. This was how I found my agent – the perfect match for The Accidental Diary of B.U.G.
  2. Look at the websites of authors you admire. Their agent is usually credited somewhere. (Mine’s here!) Look them up. See if they’re open to submissions. Check what they’re looking for.
  3. You could use the big, fat, red Writers and Illustrator Handbook often seen as the industry standard. It lists publishers, agents etc. However, it goes out of date every year, so maybe check if your local library has a copy you can look at.
  4. Get yourself on Twitter. This is something I’ve only realised since entering the bookish world. Quite a lot of agents advertise what they’re looking for on social media. Search #MSWL or #opentosubmissions and see where it leads you.
  5. Similarly, look for hashtags like #Pitmad #pitwars (I’m sure there are many others) on social media. There are certain days in the year when you can plug your book to agents seeking new clients.

And five ideas for approaching the literary agent you’d love to represent you:

  1. Check their website for their specific submission guidelines. Some want three chapters and a synopsis. Others want to see the first 500 words.
  2. Stick to their rules and submission guidelines. Attach only the documents they ask for and make your email brief but compelling. Introduce yourself without going into your full life history, sum up your book in as few words as possible, state what genre it is and mention how many words it has. (Just my opinion, but I wouldn’t advise approaching an agent if your novel is unfinished; if they like the sound of it, you’ll want to keep the ball rolling.)  
  3. Wait. Try not to refresh your inbox every ten minutes. Good literary agents are busy people.
  4. I’d say it’d be okay to send a follow-up email a month later if you’ve not heard anything (unless their guidelines have a waiting time guide). And when I say ‘anything’, know that a holding email counts as something.
  5. Stalk them persistently*

*not recommended

Categories
My journey to publication Tips for aspiring authors

What’s your journey to publication been like?

Let me take you back to when I was in my early twenties…

Welcome to the late-1990s! Oh look, there’s a Spice Girl.

I had a drama degree under my belt and was combining working as a teaching assistant with the odd acting job, but I’d never lost the love for writing that had been in me since producing this heavily plagiarized, cereal box-bound beauty circa. 1983!

In my spare time, fuelled by a desire to be part of the early movement of writing children’s books that featured under-represented family units, I wrote a YA novel I considered to be ground-breaking. After finding a copy of the Writers & Artists Handbook in my local library, I set about approaching a handful of small publishers directly.

Good voice, but no thanks

A couple responded to say they liked the book and that I had a good ‘voice’, one liked it but said it was too similar to something they were already pursuing, and the rest just sent impersonal rejection letters (yes letters, not emails – OMG, how old am I?). So I promptly gave up on that manuscript.

Advice for aspiring authors #1: Don’t give up just because a couple of people say no. As I’ve since learned, there could be many reasons for this and none of them might be ‘you’re rubbish at writing’.

Back to the drawing board…

Not quite ready to throw in the towel on my dream, I wrote a couple of middle grade fantasy novels, tried my hand at screenwriting, entered a few competitions, penned and illustrated some picture books, and tried again – using exactly the same approach. A couple of picture books got a bit of interest from small publishers who didn’t mind my direct approach, but nothing concrete ever happened.

Advice for aspiring authors #2: Literary Agents are worth their weight in gold. I wouldn’t try to by-pass this step if I had my time again.

Living hand to mouth

Without the funds to keep printing off reams of paper, I put my dream on hold, completed a P.G.C.E. and, in 1999, became a fully-fledged teacher, content to put my ‘little hobby’ to good use writing stories and penning plays for my classes to perform.

I don’t regret going into teaching. It was fun (if very hard work) and many of my experiences in the classroom will undoubtedly find their way into one of my books at some point. (Yes, I was THAT teacher – the one stifling giggles at assembly farts.)

Fast forward…

Fast-forward to 2016 and I’d taken a job with a Literacy Charity. Happily enjoying writing course materials and delivering community writing projects, my eldest (we’ll call him Biggy and he was eleven by this point) complained that the kinds of books he liked (funny, full of pictures, easy to read) never featured families that reflected his reality – adopted by two mums.

So I wrote one!

After he’d enjoyed it (phew), I contacted a well-known adoption charity to see if they’d be interested in publishing it. They responded to say that, although they’d enjoyed my sample, they felt it would suit a more mainstream publisher. That was nice to hear, but, as often happens, adulting took over, and the manuscript went up into the loft while real life continued.

I realise I’m meandering, but it’s relevant I promise.

Fast forward a bit more…

Oooo look, you’ve arrived in 2019! Remember 2019? The year face masks were only worn by dentists? Good times.

Anyway…by this point, I’d reached the ripe old age of 42 and was married with three children: Biggy (now aged fourteen) Middly (eight at that point) and Diddly (age two by then). I’d been working as a Bid Writer for a youth charity, but after Diddly’s arrival, and for a variety of reasons, chose not to go back to ‘work’.

THRILLING STUFF…

A massive fan of thrillers, when Diddly started nursery, I decided to give novel writing another go by writing a ‘thriller’ of my own. I found it hard work, but I was so pleased with my end result I gave it to a few family members to get their thoughts. They had nothing but (completely biased) praise for my efforts. Right, I thought, I’m going to try again with the whole publisher thing.

Thank goodness I now have the Internet…

Older and a bit wiser, (and with the world now at my hands thanks to Google and Twitter) this time I spent time properly researching how aspiring authors manage to get their books traditionally published. I found out what different types of publishing terms meant, got my head around literary agents and their pivotal role in the industry, sent my manuscript off and crossed my fingers.

Nothing happened.

We’re getting to the turning point…

Shortly after that, Middly turned nine and I remembered the book I’d written for Biggy (told you that bit was relevant). That’ll give her a giggle, I thought.

It did. She was in hysterics. ‘I wish this was a REAL book mummy,’ she said (although she might have said mum, don’t quote me on that), ‘so I could take it in to school and all kinds of kids could see show “normal” families like ours are.’

ANOTHER CHALLENGE!

Over the next few evenings, I tweaked the book here and there, cast aside the thriller I’d been agonising over and sent my revamped manuscript off to three literary agents I thought might be interested.

AND GUESS WHAT? Two actually were!

One of them (the super-splendid one I’d set my heart on, henceforth referred to as 007) asked me to bob down to London for a chat.

(There was no bobbing about it. I live in Northern England.)

Anyway, I went down and was delighted to find she was 100% my cup of tea – just as I’d imagined she would be after reading her MSWL (Manuscript Wish List – one of those terms I’d learned about in my research week). She ‘got’ my book so well and was already totally invested in my characters. I was bowled over. She wanted me, I wanted her, and a verbal agreement was struck there and then! YAY!

About a month after our meeting, having taken on board 007’s inciteful ‘tweaking’ advice, my manuscript went ‘on submission’ (i.e. 007 emailed it to appropriate editors at different-sized publishing houses).

Jolly holidays

Informing me she was off on her jolly holidays the following day, her parting comment was: ‘It might be weeks/months before anyone bites.’

And GUESS what happened THE VERY NEXT DAY?

I think it was probably a case of right book, right time, but I was lucky enough to gain interest in my series from a range of publishers. What followed was a fortnight of fun (including pre-empts and an auction and another trip to London which I’ll blog about another time) but, to get to the point, in September 2019 I was thrilled to sign a three-book deal with the wonderful Puffin team at Penguin Random House!

The Accidental Diary of B.U.G. was published in April 2021 and the second book in the series, Basically Famous, in August 2021. The third in the series will be published in early 2022.

Advice for aspiring authors #3: Don’t give up your daydream!