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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 However, it goes out of date every year, so maybe check if your local library has a copy you can look at.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
Tips for aspiring authors

Do you have any top tips for aspiring young authors?

As a published children’s author, I’m often asked for advice that can be passed on to aspiring young authors. Likewise, ‘How do I become an author?’ is a frequently asked question during school visits I make. So, drawn from my own experience, here are my five top tips for how children with a passion for writing can improve their craft (downloadable for displaying on this page):

  1. Read

Reading other people’s books or stories is a super way of honing your own style. Reading a wide range of genres helped me to understand what kind of author I wanted to be. The Accidental Diary of B.U.G. is a contemporary, realistic, funny series – the exact kind of books I enjoy reading myself.

  1. Practise

Writing is just like learning to play the trumpet or improving your keepy-uppy score. The more you do it, the better you’ll get. I started writing stories when I was about seven. Look at this:

That’s the first book I ever wrote! Since then, I’ve written tons of stories, in all sorts of genres, for many different purposes. I’m in my 40s now and I can testify that, while practise doesn’t always make ‘perfect’, it certainly makes ‘better’.

  1. Challenge yourself

Ask your friends and family to say a random genre, a name, a problem and an everyday item. Try to write a short story that incorporates those prompts. Sometimes thinking outside of the box can be super-rewarding.

  1. Edit

Once you’ve written something you’re really happy with, put it in a drawer for at least a week. When you re-read it with fresh eyes, try to make your sentences super sparkly, lose irrelevant details, and make sure you’ve given enough detail so your reader can imagine your setting (smells, sights, tastes, what things feel like, noises) and how your characters are feeling. ‘Show, don’t tell’ really does help here: ‘Her shoulders slumped when she heard the news.’ gives a better picture than, ‘The news made her sad.’

  1. Ask

Ask someone you trust to read your stories. Ask them what they like and what they think could be better, then work on making further improvements.

Good luck with your writing. I look forward to seeing a book you’ve written on the shelves of my local bookshop in the future.

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!