When Are You Going to Write a Proper Book? A Day for Children’s Writers and Illustrators

Sarah Webb, Writer in Residence, Dún Laoghaire Rathdown in association with Children’s Books Ireland and supported by Words Ireland

Publishers Panel

Publishers Panel

This is a short overview of the day with facts, figures and highlights. A podcast of the day will be available within the next few weeks – stay tuned to this blog, the Children’s Books Ireland website and social media, and my own social media for further details.

Children’s Books Ireland are looking at having similar days soon – more about that when they are announced. With over 70 on the waiting list for this event, there is certainly a demand for such days. It’s great to see such a keen interest in writing for children.

On Saturday 4th February the Lexicon Studio Theatre was packed with writers, illustrators, publishers, agents and children’s writers in various stages of their careers. There was a focus on telling our ‘truths’ and being honest and open about writing and publishing. Grainne Clear gave some really useful info about advances and royalties. She explained that the average writer’s advance in Ireland is e1,000. In the UK for smaller publishers like Little Island (not for the larger houses) it is roughly between £1k to £5k. Surely that’s wrong, one man tweeted using our hashtag for the day #properbook asking about Irish advances. But Grainne had done her homework – asking publishers, writers and agents for their input. And e1k it stands.

Sheena Wilkinson told us about her healthy regard for being solvent and confirmed that she had received e5,875 in advances for her 7 books, backing up Grainne’s figures. Alan Nolan gave his advice, have another income stream and marry up! Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick told us about her SFDs – shitty first drafts and David O’Callaghan explained that he just couldn’t sell PAF books in Eason – Posh As F*** (hardback picture books) and boy had he tried. He said his customers panic and grab the nearest Julia Donaldson.

It was a most thought-provoking and stimulating day. More details below.

The 1st panel which I chaired  – Aoife Murray from Children’s Books Ireland, Colleen Jones from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and Valerie Bistany from the Irish Writers Centre talked about their organisations and how they helped writers.

Aoife explained how important events are to a children’s writer and said that Dave Rudden had done 52 events in October 2016, quite an achievement! She explained how they try to lobby for children’s writers and illustrators and be a voice for children’s books in the media. And a great job they do too.

Colleen explained how SCBWI could help self-published writers and told us about their award for self-published books, the Spark Award, won recently by Irish woman, Denise Deegan.

Valerie talked about the Irish Writers Centre classes and workshops, residencies. I teach at the Irish Writers Centre and also work as a mentor for new writers through the centre.

The 2nd panel talked about money – earning a living as a writer. The chair, Elaina Ryan from CBI asked writer, Alan Nolan should writers be expected to do events for free. He said no. He quoted Celine Kiernan: ‘If I wanted exposure, I’d run naked down O’Connell Street.’

Grainne Clear from Little Island explained that smaller publishers focus on festivals rather than author tours. She said that an author may need to arrange a tour or a launch themselves.

Elaina Ryan and Sinead Connelly

Elaina Ryan and Sinead Connelly

Grainne said that for big UK publishers that doing events and having a profile could be a deal breaker for a publisher (when looking to take a writer on). She noted that it wasn’t the case for Little Island who are all about strong writing.

Librarian, Maeve Rogan McGann said she was very open to good pitches from writers and quoted ER Murray and Alan Early as an example – they had approached her directly and did several events together and workshops for her.

Sinead Connelly from the International Literature Festival, Dublin said she was interested in pitches for events from writers but she wanted something really interesting, something that told her about the writer and who they were as a person. She gave the example of the Friendship event that I did at the festival with my writer friend, Judi Curtin as an event that gave insight into writers’ lives and was something a bit different. Thank you, Sinead!

Alan explained that 60% of his income came from design work, 40% from his books and his events and school visits. He gets paid e150 for a 1 hour school or library event. The Writer in Schools fee of e200 for a 2.5 hour school visit (+ travel) was also quoted by Elaina. For details of recommended fees for writers see this excellent post here from the Words Ireland website.

Maeve said she pays e100 per 45 minute event or short workshop, or e300 for three events. Sinead pays her festival writers e300 per event for a standard event.

All agreed that you should say no if asked to do an event for free. Elaina quoted Jane O’Hanlon from Poetry Ireland’s Writers in Schools scheme who explained that writers who work for free undercut their colleagues.

And then to the topic of royalties. I’d already shared some of my own ‘truths’ about royalties. That I’d been paid from no advance (for my very first book, Kids Can Cook) to e1,500 and e2,000 advances from various Irish publishers. All have earned out (earned more that the advance paid), some have been translated and I regularly receive good royalties from all these Irish published books. I enjoy working with Irish publishers very much and have a new book out with O’Brien Press in the autumn. That yes, like a handful of Irish writers, I’ve been lucky enough to receive some of the mythical ‘five and six figure’ book deals for my children’s books for UK and World rights (and hopefully will continue to in the future if I work hard enough and come up with strong, original ideas) but that is the exception, not the rule. The large advances are in the news because they are just that – unusual and news worthy! Shane Hegarty, Dave Rudden, Cecelia Ahern – all exceptional writers with original, commercial ideas and great agents and publishers.

Since first writing this blog, figures have been coming in from other writers published in the UK and internationally – and thank you to the writers for sharing their experiences. I’ll be updating this blog as often as I can so please do send me further information.  According to one experienced writer, average UK advances from larger publishing houses range from £5 to 10k for a novel and £6 to 15k for a picture book (1/3 to writer, 2/3 to illustrator).  Writers deserve to be well paid for all their hard work and  creativity!

Grainne explained that advances are paid to a writer based on how many books the publisher thinks they can sell and the price of the book. Hence a larger country like the US (or the UK) with a bigger market can pay larger advances.

Little Island pay a standard advance to all writers, both new and established – this was something I hadn’t realised and useful to know. Authors usually get 7.5% royalty of the recommended retail price of the book. Average advance for a 1st book is 1k and average yearly income for a writer is e10k to 12k. The average Irish print run is 2.5k copies she said.

Alan Nolan and Maeve Rogan McGann

Alan Nolan and Maeve Rogan McGann

Alan’s advice was to marry up – he was only joking! He explained how important it is to have a second income stream.

Maeve gave some great advice – clear some time in March and October for school and library visits, she said. Keep some days free as these are the times we are most looking for writers.

We broke for lunch here – I think the audience needed to mull over the facts and figures. The people I spoke to were surprisingly chipper about the lack of money in children’s books. ‘Just as well I love writing if I’m not going to be a millionaire,’ one woman told me with a smile. With that attitude she will go far!

After lunch Sheena Wilkinson hit us with what Alan Nolan described as ‘Wisdom Bombs’. She said that only 10% of her income comes from book sales. She has never been in the news for her big advances, but she has been in the news for winning a lot of book awards.

She has received e5,875 in advances for 7 books. She said writers can’t create if they are anxious about having a roof over their heads.

In 2016 she did 26 school visits, 18 library visits and spent 143 days doing events and teaching.

She said to ‘Seek out the rest of your tribe’ – the children’s book tribe. She admitted that a year ago she feared that her career was over. She had no new contract and she was genuinely worried. But a few months later things had changed and she’s been publishing steadily ever since.

Sheena was open and honest and many people’s highlight of the day, mine included. Sheena is a strong, intelligent woman who is not afraid of letting people see her vulnerabilities, which made this a really special talk indeed.

Next up David O’Callaghan from Eason, Oisin McGann and Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick told us some of their truths.

David O'Callaghan

David O’Callaghan

David explained how important a good cover is to make a book stand out. He said what makes him buy a book for his stores is:

Word of mouth – the buzz around a book and early reviews and info from people he trusts

Originality – something different

He said if you want to know what trend to follow (when it comes to writing), you’re already too late. He will always push something original that may catch readers’ imaginations. But he can’t seem to sell PAF books – Posh As F*** hardback picture books.

Oisin Mc Gann said ‘You’re not going to make much money writing for children so you may as well have a good time doing it.’ He explained that modern children’s (and adults’) reading stamina is reduced and all writers need to think about this. He described reading stamina as ‘the time bomb in children’s books.’

David O’Callaghan gave great advice for writers:

For age 0 to 4 pitch (your marketing and publicity) at the parents and the bookselling community

Age 5 to 12 – work hard

Do school events

Your audience is kids and their parents

YA – get on social media and use it

Tumblr, Snapchat, blogging

Put in the work. He name checked Louise O’Neill and Deirdre Sullivan as writers who do this well.

Finally he said ‘Writing a book sounds like too much work to me. I’ll stick to selling them!’ And we’re lucky he’s such a passionate and devoted bookseller!

The final panel was called ‘Is It Me You’re Looking For?’ and featured Conor Hackett, Publisher’s Agent with Little Island, Walker Books and other publishers, Ivan O’Brien from O’Brien Press, Nicki Howard from Gill Books and UK agent, Penny Holroyde.

Penny said that picture books are the hardest place for a new writer to start. Many of the submissions she receives have no beginning, middle or end, are too long and are patronising.

She said it’s best not to try and write a rhyming picture book and noted the luxury non-fiction as a nice trend, books like Gill Books’ Irelandopedia with well curated content.

Nicki Howard admitted that she was surprised by the success of Irelandopedia. She explained how the idea came from Gill Books and how they commissioned Fatti Burke to illustrate it, after seeing her work in Cara magazine. Fatti brought her father, John on board as the writer, which Nicki explained was a great backstory for promotion.

Word Count

Penny said the ideal word count for a picture book is 500 to 800 words.

Think of the book as 12 double page spreads, she said.

Conor said that Shh! We Have a Plan by Chris Haughton is only 90 words.

Early Readers – 2 to 3k words. Penny explained that publishers tended to have armies of set writers for this age group and rights were hard to sell.

Middle Grade – age 9 to 12

Publishers Panel

Publishers Panel

Are you the type of author who will put in the time and work to be successful? Penny asked. A successful author (for this age) is a hard working one all agreed.

Ivan said that he looks for how hard a writer will work on events and promotions when considering taking on a new writer.

New writers – need to blog, be on social media and also be part of the children’s book ‘tribe’.

Ivan said – we are not interested in doing 1 book with a writer, we’re looking to build up backlist.

Nicki is interested in writers who are enthusiastic about what they are doing.

Conor is looking for books that really deliver.

Penny joked that her ideal writer was a bestseller. When working at another agency her boss told her: ‘Normal people don’t write books’.

American YA has an ambition that UK YA doesn’t, Penny said.

Ivan said that O’Brien Press is not actively looking for picture books. They are looking for good fiction for age 10+. Great novels.

He said to make the first book as good as it can be and maybe think of a sequel (or a series) after that. Alice Next Door by Judi Curtin came in as a stand-alone book he said. Word count – he suggested not more than 50K but make every word count.

Nicki Howard is looking for Irish focused books and illustrators.

Penny is looking for great age 10+ books like Beetle Boy of 40k words and is always interested in looking at illustrators.

Conor gave writers this advice:

Go to book launches

Engage with the industry

Meet people

The opportunities are there, he said. Take them!

A great way to end the day. Afterwards we launched the World of Colour Exhibition which is in the Lexicon from now until the end of March and features the work of Beatrice Alemanga and Chris Haughton.

Speaking at the Launch of a World of Colour

Speaking at the Launch of a World of Colour

Thanks to everyone at Children’s Books Ireland – Elaina, Jenny, Ciara and especially Aoife who helped with programming advice and support, Marian Keyes, Susan Lynch and all at the Lexicon Library for their help and Words Ireland for their support.

me - exhit

Lexicon Reader and Writers’ Day – Saturday 5th November 

After the success of last year’s event, we are back with another packed day of readings, interviews and chat. Hear thriller writers, Liz Nugent and Sam Blake discuss dark psychology with journalist and writer, Dave Kenny; bestselling UK writer, Lucy Diamond and historical novelist, Hazel Gaynor will talk to broadcaster and writer, Sinead Crowley about their paths to publication; and find out how the book industry works and what agents and publishers are looking for in 2017. Plus enjoy lots of book chat with fellow readers over coffee and lunch. Bring your book club or come and make new friends – see you there! Bookshop on site with thanks to Dubray Books, Dun Laoghairereader and writers day poster

Booking: https://www.eventbrite.ie/e/lexicon-reader-and-writers-day-tickets-28356676583

Cost: e20 (includes coffee and light lunch)

Venue: Lexicon Studio, Dun Laoghaire   Registration from 9.30am

 

10.00am Welcome by Sarah Webb, dlr Writer in Residence

10.10am to 11.00am Dark Psychology: Research and the Writers’ Psyche

Bestselling authors, Sam Blake (Vanessa O’Loughlin) and Liz Nugent talk to writer and journalist, Dave Kenny about the research behind their crime and thriller novels.

11.00am to 11.20am Coffee and Signing

11.20am to 12.10pm In Another Man’s Shoes: Creating Characters

Award winning writers, Catherine Dunne and Adrian White talk to journalist and writer, Sue Leonard about creating realistic characters.

12.10pm to 1.00pm The Glass Shore: A Celebration of Short Stories from Women Writers from the North of Ireland

Writer and columnist, Martina Devlin and writer, Evelyn Conlon talk to fellow writer, Lia Mills about their stories in The Glass Shore collection, edited by Sinead Gleeson.

1.00pm to 2.00 Lunch and Signing

2.00pm to 3.00pm Paths to Publication  

UK bestseller, Lucy Diamond and historical novelist, Hazel Gaynor talk to broadcaster and writer, Sinead Crowley about their journey to publication, and share some of their writing secrets.

3.00pm to 3.15pm Break and Signing

3.15pm to 4.15pm The Business of Books:  An Insider’s Guide

Martina Devlin hosts our panel of publishing experts: Vanessa O’Loughlin from The Inkwell Group and Writing.ie; Peta Nightingale, UK Agent with Lucas Alexander Whitley (LAW); and Michael McLoughlin, MD at Penguin Random House Ireland and Publisher at Penguin Ireland.

4.30pm Close

 

Writer in Residence: Events, Book Clubs and Writing Clubs

All events and clubs are in the Lexicon Library, Dun Laoghaire

I’m delighted to be hosting a wide range of events, clubs and workshops for children, teens and adults during my residency. Here are the events from now until the end of the year.

I hope to see you at the dlr Lexicon very soon!

Yours in writing,

Sarah XXXsarah reading to a child

Events

13th September (school day)

Roald Dahl Day for Schools – Celebrating 100 Years of a Master Storyteller

Events and workshops inspired by the work of Roald Dahl with Oisin McGann, Alan Nolan, Grainne Clear and Enda Reilly.

Booking: dlrlexiconlib@dlrcoco.ie

 

16th September (evening)

CULTURE NIGHT – SMASHING STORIES AND DASHING DOODLESPrint

5pm to 7pm Story and art fun for all the family with Sarah Webb and Alan Nolan – no booking required.

 

Friday 16th September (school day)

Schools Events – Canada Day with Children’s Books Ireland

School events with award winning Canadian writers and illustrators, JonArno Lawson, Sydney Smith and Katherena Vernette. Find out how a book is made with our international guests.

Booking: dlrlexiconlib@dlrcoco.ie

 

Children’s Book Club

Age 9+

Max number: 15

1st Wed of every month: 7th Sept, 5th Oct, 9th Nov, 7th Dec

3.15pm to 4.30pm – Level 3 Meeting Room

BOOKING: dlrlexiconlib@dlrcoco.ie

Do you love reading? Would you like to chat about stories and characters with fellow young book lovers?  Whether you’re a Harry Potter fan, or eat up Judi Curtin or David Walliams books, this is the club for you! For our first meeting we’ll be talking about our favourite Roald Dahl book, in honour of his centenary on 13th September.

 

Children’s Writing Club

Age 9+

Max number: 15

Thursday 15th Sept, 29th Sept, 13th Oct, 10th Nov, 24th Nov, 8th Dec (last of the year)

3.15pm to 4.30pm

3.15pm to 4.30pm – Level 3 Meeting Room

BOOKING: dlrlexiconlib@dlrcoco.ie

Do you love writing stories and poems? Would you like to find out more about creating fantastic characters and gripping plots? Then this is the club for you!

 

Teen Creatives

Age 12+ (1st year students upwards)

Max – number 15

10am to 12pm       

Venue: Lexicon Lab on Level 3

17th Sept, 1st Oct, 22nd Oct, 12th Nov, 26th Nov, 10th Dec (last of the year)

BOOKING: dlrlexiconlib@dlrcoco.ie

 ‘To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.’ Joseph Chilton Pearce

Teen Creatives is for all teenagers who love to write and draw, and would like to learn how to create video blogs and edit movie clips. We will be talking about how stories work, writing, drawing, cartooning, making short movies and vlogs, and exploring the practical, behind the scenes side of the arts world, from hanging an art exhibition to curating a book festival.

Artists, writers and arts curators will be invited to talk to the group about their work, such as writer and cartoonist, Alan Nolan and award winning writer, Sheena Wilkinson.

 

Drop in Writing Clinic for Children and Teenagers 

Age: 8 to 18 years

Wednesday 28th Sept, 26th Oct, 30th Nov

3pm to 4pm

Writer in Residence Room, Level 5

Are you a young writer? Would you like our writer in residence, Sarah Webb to read your work and offer advice? Drop in to her writing clinic. No need to book.

Please bring a copy of your work for Sarah to read. Children under 12 must be accompanied by an adult.

Drop in Writing Clinic for Adults

Writer in Residence Room, Level 5

Wednesday 28th Sept, 26th Oct, 30th Nov

4pm to 5pm

Are you an adult who is writing for children or teenagers? Would you like some help and advice? Our writer in residence, Sarah Webb is hosting writing clinics for emerging children’s writers. No need to book.

Sarah is happy to read short extracts from manuscripts during the clinic. Please bring a print out of your work.

Mum reading to me and my sisters when we were little - I'm on the far right
Mum reading to me and my sisters, Kate and Emma (I’m on the far right)

I could live without many things – radio, newspapers, television, even ice-cream – but I couldn’t live without books.

We all read every single day. We read without even knowing we’re doing it – street signs, Facebook, text messages, corn flake boxes, recipes. It would be very difficult to navigate the world without reading. But that’s functional reading, the reading I’m talking about is far more important. It’s the kind of reading that keeps me alive.

My Dad
My Dad

It all started a long time ago – when I was a very small girl. I was lucky, I grew up in a family who loved books.

My dad was a quantity surveyor and loves history books and biographies. My mum was a primary school teacher and loves short stories and novels.

My sisters, Kate and Emma also love novels. Emma is a Montessori teacher and cares for people with disabilities and Kate thinks up cool ways of marketing things. My brother, Richard is also a teacher and my grandpa was a professor.

My Grandpa Reading Gulliver's Travels to his Grandchildren!
My grandpa reading Gulliver’s Travels to his grandchildren
(We’re looking at the illustrations in this shot)

He and my granny were big readers too – my granny loved Mills and Boon books and used to hide them down the back of the sofa, and my grandpa read and wrote books about ancient Greece. He used to read us all kinds of books, from Gulliver’s Travels to Jason and the Argonauts, and my personal favourite, Pandora’s box.

Me reading at age 11
Me reading comics at age 11

I didn’t find reading easy and I was almost ten before I read fluently, although I hid this from my teachers and family (I’m still the worst speller!). But I was lucky – I had parents and grandparents who loved books and who read to me and that made all the difference.

I fell in love with Posy, the amazing dancer in Ballet Shoes, with difficult Mary in The Secret Garden, with Sara Crewe in The Little Princess – she even had my name! I loved escaping into fictional worlds and I found new friends on the pages of my books.

Books did something else very special for me – they made me want to write, like my heroes Noel Streatfeild, Enid Blyton and Frances Hodgson Burnett.

The Magic Sofa - a book by me inspired by Enid Blyton! (Age 12)
The Magic Sofa – a book by me (age 12) inspired by Enid Blyton

I’m proud to be a reader AND a writer. These days I still find great friends in books and love getting lost in amazing fictional worlds. I hope you do too.

Do you want to be a writer? I’ll let you in on a secret – read! Immerse yourself in story. Most of the writers I know, from Judi Curtin to John Boyne and Cathy Cassidy were big readers as children and teens. Drop everything and read, read, read! It certainly worked for me.

Yours in books,

Sarah XXX

This blog first appeared on Girls Heart Books website

 

 

I’ve been writing full time for over twelve years now. In that time I’ve published number one bestselling novels for adults (Always the Bridesmaid) and children’s books that have been shortlisted for awards (Ask Amy Green series, Sally Go Round the Stars) but I’ve had book ideas turned down by my publishers and have started several novels that will never (and should never in most cases!) see the light of day.sally go

When books are turned down –rejected – it can be a real blow to your confidence but it’s part of every writer’s job to dream up new books. Some will work and others won’t. Other times the idea is good but the market isn’t strong enough to make it worthwhile for the publisher to take it on.

Award winning author, Sheena Wilkinson says the ‘standard story is of rejections and then the magic yes. But another story is after that. When you keep writing better books, have a track record of awards and good reviews, but not great sales, and then get rejections. I think people are less willing to talk about that. And perhaps less prepared for it.’ I agree, it can be tough and all professional writers experience it.

Sometimes we have to ‘reject’ our own work, and it takes guts to admit that the book we have been working on for months or even years isn’t good enough. About ten years ago I wrote a long 100k adult novel and I was gutted when I realised – after some honest feedback from a trusted industry friend – that I’d have to start again with a different idea.

Recently I’ve been asked am I still writing for adults (my last novel, The Memory Box came out in 2013) and the answer is a resounding yes, absolutely. I’ve been working on a new novel for almost three years now. I’ve rewritten it many, many times (seven? eight? nine? I’ve lost count!).

The working title is The Boathouse at Summercove and it’s partly set in 1934 and is quite different to my previous novels. I’ve never worked so hard or enjoyed writing for adults so much. It’s been a fantastic challenge. And kudos to my amazing agent, Peta who has been tirelessly working on it with me and cheering me on from the sidelines. I’m determined to repay all her time, energy and expertise by putting my heart and soul into the rewriting.

I’ve also been teaching creative writing in the Irish Writers Centre which I adore. I can tell instantly which writers will make it to publication and is not always the best writers (although beautiful writing is of course a bonus). It’s the women and men who are determined to see the book through, who take feedback on board, who are happy to rewrite and who will keep rewriting with the dogged determination you need to get a book up to scratch for submission.

I’m working with one particular writer at the moment who is good humoured, hard working and incredibly funny, on paper and in person. And I know her book will be published as she is determined to make it happen and is willing to put the work in. She has that vital quality, resilience, the ability to bounce back.

To have a successful writing career you need self-belief, energy, dedication and above all, resilience. The skin of a rhino also helps!

If you have been turned down, if you’ve faced rejection after rejection, remember this – you only need to find one person who loves your work, one editor who believes in you. One.

There will be many speed bumps along the way but you are not alone. Every writer has faced rejection. All writers get turned down. Don’t believe me? Read on, my friend. And a huge thank you to all the writers who shared their stories with me via Facebook.

Yours in writing,

SarahXXX

Rejection Tales

Sarah Webb

My first book, Kids Can Cook was turned down by most of the Irish publishers – O’Brien Press, Gill and Macmillan, Mercier, Poolbeg – before finding a home at the small but wonderful Children’s Press. Sadly they are no longer in existence but it paved the way for future books and I will always be grateful to the editor, Reena Dardis for taking a chance on me.

Philip Ardagh

Philip Ardagh

Philip Ardagh

When I was in my early twenties, I sent many an unsolicited manuscript or sample chapters to publishers. On most occasions, I received variations on the standard rejection letter but it was much harder when they asked to see more, which I then sent them, and THEN they rejected it. And, in the pre-e-mail era, when sending a manuscript involved brown envelopes and trips to the Post Office, the time between sending in work and receiving a response seemed unbearably long. I received most encouragement from Joanna Goldsworthy at Gollancz who, over the years, wrote me a number of encouraging letters on a manual typewriter and surprising small pieces of headed paper. She praised what I’d written, explained why it wasn’t quite working for her, and always asked to see what I came up with next. Looking back, I wish I’d been more profuse in my thanks for her time. And what did I learn from all this rejection? Not to be in a hurry to send out a new piece of writing; to let it ferment, even when I thought it done, and to come back to it with a new set of eyes. But what I learned most of all was that I wasn’t going to let rejection stop me on my path to publication. I’m pretty sure I was born a writer and that, over years of writing, I’ve become a better one, but rejection showed me that I was determined to become a published one. Over 100 books later, I’m still going.

ER Murray
book of learning 1

The Book of Learning was rejected so many times I shelved it and wrote something else, believing it was the book that got me my agent. After finishing Caramel Hearts, I reread TBOL & still believed in it. Both books went on submission, and both books got signed. Belief, timing, and determination are key.

Oisin McGann

I was turned down by eight or nine agents in the UK at the start (I didn’t even get as far as the publishers), but as an illustrator, I was already used to hearing ‘no’ and just moving on to the next job. As Philip says, most of them were standard rejection letters. One woman in Curtis Brown took an early interest in the first draft of ‘The Harvest Tide Project’, which to be fair, was in a very unrefined state, and gave me some helpful advice, but then turned it down after I’d refined it.

Oisin McGann

Oisin McGann

I finally signed five contracts with the O’Brien Press without an agent – two Mad Grandad books and three novels – after pitching for some illustration work from them and then writing the MG books because they had nothing for me to illustrate – they liked one of the styles I worked in. Thirty-five books later, written and illustrated, with numerous publishers and I still get rejections sometimes. I never take it personally.

Dave Rudden

Twenty five agents said no to Knights of the Borrowed Dark (now a bestseller  in Ireland – Sarah) before one said yes! I was actually rereading the letters this morning. No horror stories – most were form, with a couple more in-depth. Actually still waiting for a couple to respond but that was three years ago so… I think it was probably a no…knights of the borrowed

Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick

Back in the day when you sent physical mock-ups of picture book manuscripts to publishers I remember the postman brought me four parcels in three days. He thought it was my birthday and wondered why I had such a puss on me… I had just spent an encouraging two weeks visiting publishers in London with 4 different book ideas and now they were arriving back, no after no after no. 4 parcels returned = 16 rejections in 3 days… Three of the books did eventually get published years (and many more rewrites and rejections) later. And, yes, I still get rejections.

Judi Curtin

This all sounds so familiar. My first novel was rejected multiple times, and was only published after I’d written and published another one. Even after the success of Alice and Eva, I’ve had a number of rejections . Still hurts but not at all as bad as when I was starting out.

Gordon Smith

I wrote my first novel when I was eighteen, a really gory horror novel called Asylum, about angels that ate people. I was so utterly convinced that this novel was going to make me a millionaire that I stopped working on my A-levels, and consequently failed them (I had to stay in school an extra year). At the same time I was doing my exams, I sent this novel to three publishers, because I knew that one of them would offer me a million pounds to publish my book. I mean, I was so sure of it that I didn’t even really check to see if they even published horror. Anyway, at the same time I got my exam results back I started to get rejection letters that were actually pretty harsh (“what is wrong with you?”). It was a pretty gruesome book… I was so devastated that I actually stopped writing for SEVEN YEARS. It never occurred to me to send it to another publisher, to keep trying, or maybe to just write something else. I thought I had failed. It taught me the most important lesson in life, never give up–a lesson I sadly only learned at the end of those seven years. It also taught me that even your failures are vital, because that book that I thought was a failure was a hugely important part of my writing life. It was the first novel I’d ever completed, it taught me that I had it in me to actually finish a story. I learned so much from the experience, even if I didn’t acknowledge it at the time. I know now that those stories I wrote as a teenager, the ones that never got published, which I thought had failed me, were actually the building blocks of the success I have today. If I hadn’t laid the foundations as a teenager, I wouldn’t be able to write the books I do now!

Liz Nugent

After the first 19 rejections of Unravelling Oliver, I asked my agent not to tell me until she sold it. My mum stopped reading books in protest. (Liz’s book went on to be a huge bestseller in Ireland – Sarah)

Roisin Meaney

My first two books were published without a single rejection: the first won a write a bestseller competition that Tivoli was running and the prize was a two book deal. I then wrote a third book, feeling like God’s gift to readers – and just as I got to the end of it, Tivoli (who had verbally agreed to take it) went out of business. My agent then did the rounds of Irish publishers, and to a man (and woman) they rejected it. I was gutted: rejection feels like a vicious thump in the belly – but it was a very valuable lesson, and it put manners on me. After my wounds had been thoroughly licked I chanced writing another book, and this was picked up by Hachette, who were Hodder Headline at the time. But I’ve never taken publishing deals for granted since. And the rejected book? It was years before I was able to press the delete key and consign it to a literary grave!

Jo Cotterill

Jo Cotterill

Jo Cotterill

Back before I was published, I wrote a story about a knight. It was 6000 words long and, I thought, aimed at the 6-9 market. I’d done my research, you see, read the Writer’s & Artist’s Yearbook cover to cover, and I knew enough to know I needed to age band my own submissions. I was very, very fond of this story. It made me laugh and it made my family laugh, and so I had high hopes that it might find a home. It was turned down everywhere – with one exception. An editor at Bloomsbury thought it might work better as a picture book. Of course I was prepared to try to do this, even though I wasn’t sure it would work. I cut down the story to just over 1000 words and sent it off to the editor. It took a long time for her to reply – perhaps four months. And then she wasn’t sure. I tried pruning it still further (back then, picture books could be longer than publishers like now) and re-sent. Again, I waited for a response. I can’t remember how many times I re-wrote and re-submitted. After a year of doing this, I finally got up the courage to ask the editor if she was actually going to accept the book or not. She still ‘wasn’t sure’. But by now I’d been working on it for over a year, with no contract, and I was fed up. I said if she couldn’t offer a contract, I would withdraw and try my luck elsewhere. My bluff was called. She apologised for not being able to offer a contract, but said she still didn’t think it was ‘strong enough’.

It’s about fifteen years later and I still haven’t sold the book. I’d love to one day. I submitted it to a publisher of early readers last year and although they liked it, they ‘already had a book about knights’.

But I learned a lot about the publishing process, about how authors sometimes bend over backwards to please a publisher in order to get that desperately-wanted contract and about the awful feeling of nausea when it doesn’t come. I also learned that books often have a particular ‘shape’: I don’t think this story would ever work as a picture book and as a more experienced writer now, I can see why. The humour comes from the language and the context, which would have been too pruned in a picture book.

I am very grateful to that editor, even though I felt I’d been left dangling for months on end, and she finally rejected the story. The whole experience taught me that patience was going to be the most valuable asset in my publishing career – and it still is!

Mary Murphy

I don’t mind straightforward rejection, when a publisher says ‘This is nice, but not for us’. (And I don’t even try to read between the lines on that.)

But I had two rejections that stand out for me as having more impact. Both were rejected at the acquisitions stage. Both happened within the last four years.

Both were with publishers that showed interest in my work, and who asked for specific developments on an idea I had sent them. We co-operated over months. In both cases the design/editorial team invested a lot in the project, and so did I.

One rejection was because the publisher was publishing a similar title by a better-known author. The other was because the editorial team felt the book would only work if I did a series of about 4 (and I agreed). The acquisitions felt that was too big a risk, as I had not worked with them before – but also saw it would not work to do a one-off title.

I think what was difficult about these rejections was the exhaustion. I felt unable to go further with the ideas, or to approach another publisher – I had spent my energy/creative budget already.

My approach now is to say no to development work without a development fee. Publishing is changing, it’s common for editors not to have acquisitions power. So I protect myself from acquisitions and sales by asking for a development fee, which means the editorial team need to investigate the reality more thoroughly because they have to do some accounts and form-filling. So far, so good.

This is the most popular blog on my website and I update it every year with agents recommended by their writers. Thank you to all the children’s writers who responded to my 2016 call out.

I’d like to pay tribute to Philip Ardagh who first posted the question on Facebook in 2015: ‘Who is your agent and would you recommend them?’ which inspired me to continue his work.

I’ve had the good luck to work with one of the best agents in the business, the wonderful Philippa Milnes Smith from LAW (details below). Good luck in finding someone as clever, kind and supportive as Philippa.

Who represents Eoin Colfer? Who helped Derek Landy climb to the top? Who represents Cathy Cassidy? Read on and find out!

Why Do You Need an Agent?

Eoin Colfer

Eoin Colfer

In Ireland we are lucky to have the O’Brien Press whose editors are happy to read unsolicited manuscripts. You can send your book directly to one of their editors. Details of how to do this are here: http://www.obrien.ie/guidelines.cfm

Little Island are also happy to read unsolicited manuscripts – www.littleisland.ie (they have excellent submission guidelines)

Penguin Ireland – experienced writer and teacher, Claire Hennessy is their Children’s and YA Editor – Claire will read unsolicited manuscripts and will accept them by email.

Gill Books has recently started publishing children’s fiction, Mercier also publish children’s books and Poolbeg are also back in the game after a strong season of 1916 related children’s books

But most UK publishers do not accept unsolicited manuscripts so you will need to submit your work through an agent.

What Does an Agent Do Exactly?

1/ An agent can advise you on your manuscript and on how to make it more attractive to a publisher. Some of them will act as unofficial editors to their clients or at the very least can suggest changes or improvements. They are also excellent at coming up with zippy book titles as I’ve discovered.

2/ An agent can find the right editor or publisher for your work – like a book matchmaker. And they can sell your UK, US, digital and foreign rights. They can also look after any film or television rights.

3/ Agents deal with the difficult and technical area of contracts. This is particularly important at the moment as digital rights can be tricky.

4/ Financial back up – they can chase up your royalties and talk to your publishers about outstanding monies owed to you.

These days having potential isn’t enough, your manuscript must be as perfect as you can make it before it goes anywhere near a publisher. A good agent can play a vital role in this process.

Who Represents Some of the Best Children’s Writers?

The Agents Who Represent Some of the Most Successful Irish Children’s Writers (with Contact Details) and Children’s Agents Highly Recommended by UK Writers

Remember to check each agent’s website for submission guidelines before you send anything out. Or ring the agency for details – I know it’s daunting but they are always happy to advise you on how (or if) to submit. Be warned – you may get the agent herself/himself on the phone. Be prepared.

Highly Recommended Children’s Agents:

Eoin Colfer is represented by Sophie Hicks. Sophie is a very experienced agent and her writers rate her highly. www.sophiehicksagency.com

Derek Landy is represented by Michelle Kass, who also represents Patrick Ness. www.michellekass.co.uk

Darren Shan is represented by Christopher Little For general enquiries please email: www.christopherlittle.net

Sarah Webb and Chris Judge are represented by Philippa Milnes Smith at LAW
lonely beast 1

Contact: All submissions should be sent, in hard copy, by post to:

LAW, 14 Vernon Street, London, W14 0RJ www.lawagency.co.uk

Marita Conlon McKenna is represented by Caroline Sheldon www.carolinesheldon.co.uk

Irish Writer, Elizabeth Rose Murray recommends her agent, Sallyanne Sweeney of Mulcahy Associates (London). She says she’s ‘supportive, thorough, creative, knowledgeable & really champions her authors. And she really loves children’s/YA literature too – always a bonus!’ She’s also from Dublin originally.

Let’s hear from some other Irish writers:

Sheena Wilkinson: My agent is Faith O’Grady who’s lovely.

Dave Rudden: I’m with Clare Wallace at Darley Anderson – can’t recommend her enough!

Clare also represents Olivia Hope.

Shirley McMillan: My agent is Jenny Savill at Andrew Nurnberg Associates. She is wonderful.

Jenny also represents Nigel Quinlan.

Other Recommended Children’s Agents (UK authors)

Cathy Cassidy is represented by Darley Anderson and highly recommends him.

Cathy Cassidy

Cathy Cassidy

Eve Ainsworth:  I’m with Stephanie Thwaites at Curtis Brown, she’s fab

Julia Churchill at A M Heath

Eve White, Eve White Literary Agency

Veronique Baxter at David Higham

Catherine Clarke at Felicity Bryan

Robert Kirby at United Agents

Jodie Hodges at United Agents; Catherine Mary Summerhayes, Jo Unwin and Clare Conville at United Agents

Polly Nolan at Green House (Polly is from Galway, now based in the UK and is a highly experienced editor as well as an agent.)

Hilary Delamere at The Agency

Lindsey Fraser at Fraser Ross

Gemma Cooper at The Bent Agency

Penny Holroyde at Holroyde Cartey 

Elizabeth Roy – www.elizabethroy.co.uk

Laura Cecil – www.lauracecil.co.uk

Madeleine Milburn – www.madeleinemilburn.co.uk

Sam Copeland and Claire Wilson at Rogers Coleridge and White – www.rcwlitagency.com

Good luck with finding a great agent!

Yours in writing,

Sarah XXX

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This piece was originally published in The Irish Independent.

These days, children’s books are big business with Irish bestsellers Cecelia Ahern and Sheila O’Flanagan about to join the fray. Already having dipped their toe in the YA pool are actors Russell Brand, Chris O’Dowd and Emma Thompson, plus musician-turned-writer Julian Gough, who has just published a charming early reader called Rabbit and Bear: Rabbit’s Habits.

On March 24, Ahern will publish Flawed, her new novel. With many award-winning novels under her belt, not to mention two movies and a television show, you might be forgiven for presuming Flawed is a contemporary drama for adults set in the world of politics or perhaps modelling. However, you’d be wrong. Flawed is set in a future dystopian world where society values perfection above all else, and it’s aimed firmly at teenagers.flawed

A life-long fan of reading, in an interview for Mumsnet Ahern says: “The books that I remember are the books that I read to myself such as Enid Blyton’s Famous Five, The Babysitters Club and Sweet Valley Twins.”

Sheila O’Flanagan’s novel for age 10+, The Crystal Run (published in April), is a fantasy novel about a boy named Joe who is bullied at school and one day steps through a portal into a different world.

It’s hardly surprising that Ahern and O’Flanagan’s agents and publishers have encouraged their interest in writing for youngsters. For the first time since records began, children’s book sales have recently surpassed adult fiction sales across Ireland and the UK. With growth of 11pc year-on-year in the UK in 2015, children’s sales now account for over 30pc of the market’s total value, up from 27pc in 2014.

Children are digital natives who have grown up with computers and the internet, but research shows they love ‘real’, physical books. They are also avid book collectors, and as any former Enid Blyton or Goosebumps fan will tell you, never underestimate the power of the book collector. My daughter has a manga and Jacqueline Wilson collection that would make any library proud. My neighbour’s son collects David Walliams books.

Walliams’ comedies, from Awful Auntie to his latest, Grandpa’s Great Escape, have been taking the children’s literature world by storm, but he never set out to write for them.

In an interview for the BBC Radio 1 website about his first children’s book, The Boy in the Dress, Walliams says: “I had the idea of, ‘what if a 12-year-old boy went to school dressed as a girl?’ Then I thought, ‘what’s the best medium for this?’ And I thought, ‘well, it’s a story about a child, so maybe it should be a book for children’.”

Former journalist-turned-bestselling-children’s-author Shane Hegarty had a similar experience. He hit the headlines in 2013 when news broke of his six-figure children’s book deal. The third book in his fantasy adventure, Darkmouth: Chaos Descends, will be published in April. But, like Walliams, he never set out to write a children’s book.darkmouth 3

“I wasn’t really writing for kids,” says Hegarty. “I was writing for me. I’d written some adult books and I really wanted to do another book but I wanted to give fiction a go. I wrote the story that I would have liked as a boy. I wrote it for my own enjoyment and entertainment.”

If he could give Ahern and O’Flanagan some advice on writing for children, what would that be?

He laughs. “I went to Cecelia for advice and I’ve met Sheila. I bow to their experience and talent. However, I will say this: the big difference in writing for children is the events.

“It’s scary being plonked in front of 500 kids but it’s hard to imagine a better audience than a group of 10-year-olds. They are the most excited, excitable, interested, curious and unselfconscious audience. And when they love something, they’ll tell you. As a writer, it allows you to be free and to lose your inhibitions. And to act the eejit.”

So did O’Flanagan know she was writing a children’s book? “I wanted it to be an adventure story,” she explains, “and it seemed to me that I could focus on that more with younger characters. Unlike my adult novels, where the characters usually drive the plot, in this case I had a very clear idea of the overall plot first.”

Marita Conlon-McKenna also has some advice for Ahern and O’Flanagan. Her famine novel, Under the Hawthorne Tree, is a modern children’s classic and she has almost 20 years’ experience of writing for both children and adults. “When a child loves your book, they will read it 16 times and know it word for word,” says Conlon-McKenna. “They will talk about your book with their friends, play games based on your book. It becomes part of their world, part of their life, part of their family.”

Marita Conlon-McKenna

Marita Conlon-McKenna

She gets hundreds of letters every year from young readers all over the world and answers every one. “Children will confide in you,” she warns. “Be prepared for this. You have to treat each child with great care and great respect. It’s a huge privilege to write for children. Your audience are very special. Never take it for granted.”

So who will be next to join the children’s arena?

My money’s on Sinead Moriarty. When asked about this possibility, she says: “All of my books have children in them so I do constantly think about children and how they behave and think and see the world. I love writing young characters, they are so much fun.

“My kids keep asking me to write a children’s book,” she adds. “So hopefully I’ll get around to it before they are adults.”

And she’s looking forward to seeing Ahern and O’Flanagan’s books on the shelves. “They are very talented ladies. I have no doubt their books for young readers will be fantastic.”

Sarah Webb writes for both adults and children. Her latest book for children is The Songbird Café: Aurora and the Popcorn Dolphin (Walker Books)

 

 

What Lies Beneath: A Readers’ Day

Saturday 7th November 10am to 4.00pm

Kate Beaufoy

Kate Beaufoy

Lexicon Studio Theatre, Dun Laoghaire

Cost: e15 (includes coffee and lunch)

Booking: http://www.paviliontheatre.ie/events/view/what-lies-beneath-a-readers-day-programmed-and-hosted-by-writer-sarah-webb

On site bookshop with thanks to Dubray Books

If you’re passionate about books and love talking to other book lovers, this is the day for you. Find out how bestselling UK author, Freya North and Irish bestseller, Patricia Scanlan got their first breaks; hear how Kate Beaufoy and Kate Kerrigan researched their latest historic novels; listen to Sinead Moriarty and Claudia Carroll talk about their favourite books; discover the inspiration behind Sinead Crowley, Martina Devlin and Marita Conlon McKenna’s new novels; and hear Sinead Gleeson talk about the wealth of short story talent in Ireland, past and present, with Lia Mills and Éilís Ní Dhuibhne. A stimulating and thought provoking day for all readers and writers.

Martina Devlin

Martina Devlin

 

Programme:

9.30am – 10.00am Registration

10.00am – 10.50am   This is How it Begins . . .

Martina Devlin, Sinead Crowley and Marita Conlon McKenna will read from their new novels and talk to RTE’s Evelyn O’Rourke about the inspiration behind their stories and characters.

10.50am – 11.10am  Coffee and bookshop signing

11.10pm – 12.00pm  The Long Gaze Back: Ireland and the Short Story, Past and Present

Broadcaster and Editor, Sinead Gleeson will talk about putting together her new short story collection, The Long Gaze Back: An Anthology of Irish Women Writers. She will be joined by Lia Mills and Éilís Ní Dhuibhne who both have short stories in the collection.

Sinead Gleeson

Sinead Gleeson

12.05pm – 1.05pm This Writer’s Life: UK bestseller, Freya North and Irish bestseller, Patricia Scanlan in conversation with RTE’s Sinead Crowley.

1.05pm – 2.00pm Lunch and bookshop signing – meet the authors and get your book signed at our dedicated bookshop, kindly provided by Dubray Books.

2.00pm – 2.50pm  What Lies Beneath:  researching a novel set in the past

Kate Beaufoy and Kate Kerrigan both write historic novels and will talk to fellow novelist and journalist, Martina Devlin about their research.

2.50pm – 3.10pm  – Break and bookshop signing

3.10pm – 4.00pm  My Favourite Books

Sinead Moriarty and Claudia Carroll share their favourite books of all time and talk about how reading has inspired their own work. Discover new ideas for your own reading or your book club and share your own favourite reads with the audience. Chaired by Mary Burnham of Dubray Books.

Claudia Carroll

Claudia Carroll

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