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,


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.

Hello, January. I’ve been expecting you. I’m currently in the middle of several projects – a proposal for a new children’s series (writing good proposals takes a long time – I’ll blog about it soon as it’s vital to get your proposal right), the first book in that new series, a book about whales and dolphins (non fiction), writing the text for my book festival brochure (Mountains to Sea dlr Book Festival in March), and researching a new novel for adults.

My New Children's Novel, Out in March 2016

My New Children’s Novel, Out in March 2016

I find starting projects the easy part, it’s hitting the half way mark that I find most difficult. So here are some words for those of you who are mid way through a project and need some motivation.

Many writers get to around 40k or 50k words and then they hit a wall (novels for adults tend to be around 80k to 100k depending on the genre). They say ‘There is so much more to write, so much more work involved, I don’t think I can do this.’ It’s important to note that all writers have off days or weeks, published or unpublished, and it’s important to develop a ‘writing habit’ if you want to finish a whole book. As Clare Dowling says in her excellent writing tips (below) ‘writing is a craft and the best way to learn it is to practice.’

But how do you stay motivated?

All writers find writing a book tough going. I often hit a difficult patch roughly half way through a book, knowing that I still have a lot of work ahead of me. It’s perfectly normal to feel a bit overwhelmed at any stage of the writing process. You are writing a book after all. And if you are a huge reader like me, you have a responsibility to both yourself and the future reader to produce something worthwhile, something special, something original.

Woody Allan once said that ‘90% of success is just showing up’. And for writers, showing up at the page day after day, week after week is vital. For some, the effort proves too much, and the book never gets finished.

Here are some of my favourite quotes about motivation and staying the course:

The mere habit of writing, of constantly keeping at it, of never giving up, ultimately teaches you how to write. Gabriel Fielding

The only certainty about writing and trying to be a writer is that it has to be done, not dreamed of or planned and never written, or talked about, but simply written; it’s a dreadful, awful fact that writing is like any other work. Janet Frame

The way to write a book is to actually write a book. Anne Enright

And I particularly like this one, also by Anne Enright:

Remember if you sit at your desk for 15 or 20 years every day it changes you. It just does. It may not improve your temper but it fixes something else. It makes you more free.

She is quite right, it does change you. It does make you more free.

If you’re finding writing difficult and need some encouragement, here are some suggestions:

1/ Keep a writing diary

My Diary Collection 1986 to 2015

My Diary Collection 1986 to 2015

Every time you’ve finished writing, jot down how many words you’ve managed and how you feel your work is progressing. If you respond well to deadlines, keep deadlines. For example: Monday – write 500 words, Tuesday – finish Chapter Two. If you’ve stuck to your deadlines reward yourself with some television or a bar of chocolate.

2/ Attend writing workshops, readings and talks

Many libraries host regular events for writers. Check your local library for details. I love hearing other writers read their work or talk about their work, and I always learn something valuable or that makes me think. It’s a real treat to be around fellow book lovers too.

3/ Read books about writing:

On Writing by Stephen King

Inspiring and full of good advice – worth buying

The Right to Write by Julia Cameron

One of the best books about being a writer and living a writer’s life I’ve ever found. Succinct, direct and truthful, a book I come back to over and over again if I’m in need of a little writerly pick me up.

4/ Pencil in some internet free days. I check my social media accounts on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. I spend one hour on each of these days writing blogs/content for posts, reading and commenting on other people’s posts and replying to my messages. That’s three hours a week. I check in after working hours too, but I don’t waste my writing time online. Perhaps you could set yourself some internet ‘rules’ too.

If your writing has come to a standstill and you need some practical assistance the following might help:

1/ Ask for advice and/or encouragement from a respected friend or work colleague; someone who loves reading and who will give you an honest but kind opinion. Explain that you need honest feedback, but ask them to be kind. If you don’t know anyone suitable, see number 3.

2/ Join a writers’ group

Many libraries host regular writers’ groups. These are not for everyone, but many writers swear by them. Many published writers are in writing groups, others have writing friends who they talk to about their work and any problems they are having. I have several writer friends and they are a Godsend. Writing can be a lonely old business, and having someone to talk to who understands is very important. Seek out fellow writers on the internet or in person.

3/ Contact a writer’s advisory service

For a professional opinion on your work, the following advisory services are recommended – www.cornerstones.co.uk/  and www.inkwellwriters.ie

Inkwell are based in Ireland, Cornerstones in the UK and both are excellent, well respected professionally run organisations.

On the Practical Side of Things

Even if you don’t feel like writing try to do something writing related: research, editing, making notes. Sometimes you may be simply too mentally tired or out of sorts to write, never force yourself, take a break and come back to it the following day instead. Try to approach the page with optimism and enthusiasm, not dread! Sometimes you will have to talk yourself into a positive frame of mind, but you’re a writer – you are smart, creative and powerful. If you can create a whole world on paper, you can certainly cajole yourself into a bit of writing.

Never use ‘I’m too busy’ as an excuse. Your house will probably be less tidy and sometimes the dishes will sit in the sink for the evening, but these are the sacrifices a writer has to make!

Once you’ve set your writing time aside try to sit down at your desk regularly so your story will stay fresh in your mind. If you can’t write every day, think about your characters and your plot when you can. Agatha Christie once said she did her best plotting while washing the dishes.

Try to write at a desk or table in a well lit and if possible quiet area. Buy yourself nice notebooks and coloured pens – these small things make writing more of a pleasure.

If possible get your hands on a computer. Typing directly onto a computer takes a while to get used to but it makes writing and most especially editing so much less painful – plus you have spell check!

How long does it take to write a book?

The old expression ‘how long is a piece of string’ springs to mind. Each writer is different. Popular fiction writers are often contracted to write a book a year. If you can manage to write 2,000 words a week for example, it will take you just under a year to write a whole book. Try to find a writing pace that suits you and your lifestyle.

The honest fact? I can’t motivate you to write. No-one can do that but yourself. If you want to write badly enough, you will find the time and the energy.

Yours in writing,

Sarah XXX

Tips on Staying Motivated by Clare Dowling

1/ Get into the habit of writing. This doesn’t mean you have to knock out a thousand words of a novel a day; it can be emails, letters to friends, or a description of your cat. Writing is a craft and the best way to learn it is to practise.

2/ Get yourself a proper writing space. Some people can write a book on the kitchen table amongst the dinner dishes but most of us can’t. It really helps if you have a special place for writing and when you arrive at it, your brain clicks into writing mode.

3/ Don’t wait for genius to strike. It probably won’t, and you’ll achieve tonnes more if you spent your time practising your writing, developing interesting characters, and thinking hard about what you’d really like to say. Most successful writers aren’t published because brilliant ideas visit them on a daily basis, but because they work very hard and stay motivated.

4/ Read, read, read. We can all learn from other authors’ work – how they construct a plot, how characters are effectively drawn; how they manage to make a scene in a supermarket the most memorable you’ve read all year. Don’t be afraid that you’re going to copy their style; you won’t. But you might find that that you learn lots of new techniques that will lift your own writing up a level.

See the writing.ie article I contributed to here.

Writing Tips from Sheena Wilkinson

Sheena Wilkinson with Elaina Ryan of CBI and Writer, Deirdre Sullivan

Sheena Wilkinson with Elaina Ryan of CBI and Writer, Deirdre Sullivan

See Sheena at the Mountains to Sea Book Festival (details below)

  1. Everyone will say the same thing here; that’s because it’s so important. READ. Read everything. Read in your favourite genre and outside it. Read to see how stories work. Read to remind yourself that books are magic, and that you want to create that magic for someone else.
  2. Find out what works for you. I faffed around with unfinished novels for years because I kept stopping to edit as I went along, always aiming for that perfect first chapter. For me, it’s better to write to the end of a rough first draft and then go back and redraft, and redraft, and redraft. It’s less work in the long run, and for me having a complete draft, even though it’s rubbishy, gives me a feeling of achievement and something to work on. This seems to work for lots of writers. It may not work for you but it’s worth trying if, like me until about six years ago, you find it hard to get to the end. And the first drafts are getting better.
  3. Give yourself goals. It may be that you’ll write for an hour a day, or that you’ll finish a sort story by the end of the month, or that you’ll do a thousand words a day, or 500 or even 100. You can move the goalposts as you get more serious. If I think about the whole project of a novel, I feel a bit gulpy and want to go and lie down, but if I think that I aim to do 6,000 words a week and that means 1,000 words day with a day off, that seems more manageable. I have printed off a geeky calendar so I can waste time filling it in and adding happy/sad faces accordingly. You can get software to do this for you, but why bother, when you can use up hours of writing time colouring in and highlighting?
  4. Fall in love. With your book. I can’t get into something and spend a year – or, in the case of my forthcoming novel, 2 ½ years (I took time off to write another book in the middle) – on it unless I love it. So don’t follow the market or write about something because you think you ‘should’: write what you love. It helps to have a bit of  a crush on at least one character. BUT, however in love you are…
  5. Don’t be precious! You know how being in love is great, but it can make you a bit blind to someone’s actual qualities? That. So when your editor/agent/writing buddy/mum suggests that something in your book could maybe work better, consider that they might be right. After all, you want them to fall in love with your book too.

Sheena will be appearing on the Going Too Far? Panel Discussion at the Mountains to Sea Book Festival 2014 with debut novelist, Louise O’Neill, David O’Callaghan from Eason, reviewer and writer, Mary Arrigan and reader, Aaron Williams.

A must for anyone interested in writing or reading YA fiction.

Saturday 13th September, Lexicon, Dun Laoghaire (new library) 4.40-6pm

e8 adults/e5 students

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east coast fm balloonExclusive Slots with with The Writing Doctors, Vanessa O’Loughlin and Sarah Webb at East Coast FM’s Coffee Morning in Aid of Wicklow Cancer Support Services

The Beach House, Greystones
Friday 4th April
10am to 12pm
e10 for a 15 minute session with Vanessa or Sarah (e20 for 30 minutes) – please pay at the door (all money will be donated to cancer support services in Co Wicklow)

Writing a book and want to know how to get it published? Looking for the right literary agent? Or just need some writing help? Join publishing and writing experts, Vanessa and Sarah for some expert advice.

Vanessa runs the highly successful writing website, writing.ie and is also a literary scout for several UK and Irish agents; Sarah is an experienced writer and writing teacher. Together they are the Writing Doctors. If they can’t fix your book, no-one can!

To book a time slot with Sarah or Vanessa (4th April, 10-12, The Beach House, Greystones) please email Sarah before 3rd April – sarah at sarahwebb dot ie – stating which Writing Doctor you’d like to see and your ideal time – 10.00, 10.30, 11.00, 11.30 etc
Places are limited, please book asap

(Last year over e46,000 was raised for cancer support services in the Wicklow area – please help this year by attending one of the coffee mornings or our clinic and bring your friends. PS There will be a certain Irish X Factor singer entertaining the troops in Greystones – so come early!)

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Are You the Next Judi Curtin?

Are You the Next Judi Curtin?

This week I invited three editors to speak to my writing class at the Irish Writers’ Centre: Helen Carr from the O’Brien Press, Grainne Clear from Little Island and David Maybury from Penguin and Brown Bag Films. All wonderfully honest and entertaining speakers.

Here are some notes from their talk – I hope you find them useful. All three editors take (and actively encourage) unsolicited manuscripts – check their various publishers’ websites for submission details.

 How They Decide What to Publish

Helen Carr explained that she’s looking for ‘the new Derek Landy’ – great fantasy/action adventure for age 9+, books for girls a la Judi Curtin and Anna Carey, YA books like John Green’s. No pressure then! She keeps a close eye on the newspapers, trade press and social media – to see what’s topical and what people are talking about.

 Writers and Social Media

All editors agreed that having a social media presence is vital for emerging and established writers alike. The first thing they all do when they read a manuscript they are considering is to google the author. A well written blog or website is a bonus; odd things on their Facebook/Twitter feeds is a no no. So keep it relevant and PG, folks if you want to write for children.

 The Cover Letter

They all emphasised the importance of a good cover letter – clear, short and well thought out. Find out the editor’s name and address your submission to them directly. Always type your cover letter. Do no open the letter with ‘Hi! I’m Molly McGolly and I LOVE children.’ Grainne Clear says that she ‘judges people on their cover letter’. David Maybury says to avoid the ‘my mum/class/sister loves this book!’ Don’t put in anything too personal and only include relevant information. The fact that you are a teacher/librarian/bookseller is relevant; the fact that you studied science/accounting/languages at college is not (unless your book is related to this).

 The Importance of a Strong Opening

If the editors like the covering letter, they will read the first 50 or so pages of the book. But no more. If they like your  book after reading 50 pages, they will read on, if they don’t they will put it aside and move on to the next manuscript. So make your opening as strong as you can, grip the reader in the opening sentences and don’t let them go.

 The Importance of Dialogue

Helen Carr says good dialogue is timeless. All the editors look for strong, sharply written dialogue. All dislike adverbs (he said longingly, she shouted loudly) and Grainne Clear mentioned the fact that you can’t laugh out a sentence. Avoid ‘It’s a fine mess,’ she laughed. When in doubt, she/he said is the default.

 Digital Road Testing

David Maybury is happy for writers to test out their writing on sites like Wattpad. He says this works especially well for YA novels and for younger writers. He mentioned the success of Throne of Glass by Sarah J Maas, which started life on www.fictionpress.com.throne of glass

 Unsolicited Manuscripts

All three editors accept and encourage (good, well written) unsolicited manuscripts. David Maybury from Penguin is sent over 30 Irish manuscripts a week. It takes the editors several months to read manuscripts – so be patient. And be professional at all times. An email or phone call to see where your manuscript is in the process is fine, hassling or stalking is certainly not. You want to come across as a person who is good to work with.

The good news is that all three are actively looking for new voices. Maybe 2014 will be your year. Good luck!

Yours in writing,

Sarah XXX

I was in London last week (talking to one of my publishers about a new book for 2014 – more about that soon) and I picked up a copy of Psychologies Magazine at the airport. I don’t often get the time to read magazines so it was a real treat.

After my meeting I lay down on my hotel bed and flicked through the articles. There was a great conversation between Joanne Froggatt (Anna in Downton Abbey) and Irvine Welsh. Joanne is starring in his new film, Filth.

During the interview they discussed failure and making mistakes. ‘We’ve all got to be prepared to make mistakes,’ Joanne said. ‘My dad has a very Northern saying – “Them that never do ‘owt, never do ‘owt wrong”.’

Irvine agreed with her. ‘Life is all about making mistakes,’ he said. ‘What’s the phrase? Try again. Fail again. Fail bigger (sic). Fail better. One of the most horrible things in life would be not to be able to fail again.’

The phrase he quoted is one of my favourites in fact – it’s by Samuel Beckett and it’s a great mantra for writers.ever tried

So often we decide not to try something for fear of failure.

I won’t write that blog because it won’t be as good as/as funny as so and so’s blog.

I find writing short stories really hard so I won’t even try.

Poetry? That’s for intellects.

I can’t write that time travel book because I’m not sure how to plot it. I’m scared it will be rubbish.

These are my own personal writing fears and there are plenty more where they came from.

What are YOU afraid of?

Not being a good enough writer?

Not being as good as (fill in any name you like here)?

Being laughed at?

Being rejected?

Getting published? Because then you’ll have a whole new set of problems and worries.

We all have our own set of writing fears.

Next month I will start writing that children’s time travel novel. I have no idea how it will turn out, but I’m willing to give it a go. It may work, it may not, but at least I’ll have tried.

What will you be doing? Worrying about failure? Or taking a giant leap of writing faith?

Yours in writing,

Sarah XXX

Since my first book for age 10+ (Ask Amy Green: Boy Trouble) I’ve been working with young editors. My first young editors were Emma and Kate. They read an early manuscript of Boy Trouble and gave me some valuable feedback. They are both now in first year at college and Kate is studying English and hopes to be a writer some day.

Sarah with some young readers

Sarah with some young readers

For the past two years I’ve held a Young Editor Competition to find new readers to help me edit the Amy Green books. In 2011 Yazmin and Anna won the competition and gave me useful feedback on Ask Amy Green: Dancing Daze.

I asked Anna about her experience and this is what she said:

1/ Did you enjoy being one of my Young Editors?

Yes, it gave me a chance to see what it’s like and helped me decide if I want to take writing up as a career choice.

2/ Was it hard work?

I didn’t think it was especially hard; the only worrying/hard bit was reading the book in time and giving the feedback that I thought would be useful.

3/ What did you learn about writing a book?

I learnt that it’s not as easy as I thought as you have to do multiple drafts and changes before getting to the final copy.

4/ Would you like to edit another book in the future?

Yes, or maybe even write one of my own . . .

5/ Do you have any tips for Amy Green fans entering the new Young Editor Competition (2013)?

My tips are to give your honest opinion and say lots of likes and dislikes – some people might be afraid of telling the dislikes but don’t be afraid as it helps the writer a lot. (She’s quite right too!)

This year I had five young editors as they all sent in such good entries to the Young Editor Competition – Alice, Niamh, Iseult, Ellen and Sophie. Here is some of their feedback (they worked on Wedding Belles):

The Latest Amy Green Book

The Latest Amy Green Book

Niamh: First of all, this was actually my favourite book out of the series. I think it was because you could see how all the characters have developed since the start of the series. Amy has grown up a lot. We can see this through her relationships with all the characters in the book but especially with Seth and Clover. Amy’s a great character because she’s not perfect but she tries to do what’s right and you still root for her.

Iseult: I really enjoyed the experience of being a young editor for this book. I have to admit it was really hard work and sometimes I felt like giving up. The way I have edited is I read it once and then I read it again and if I found anything that I found confusing or something I didn’t understand I’d write a note about it. Overall the book was really great and brought a tear to my eye at the end.

 How Would You Like to be One of My New Young Editors (2013)?girls jumping

All you have to do is to log onto www.askamygreen.com and click on the Young Editor Competition button and tell me in 300 words or less why you like Wedding Belles (the new Ask Amy Green book), who your favourite character is and why. Enter before 30th November. Good luck!

Yours in books, Sarah X

(This blog first appeared on the Girls Heart Books website)

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I did this Q and A recently for a UK website, I hope you like it.

1. Tell us about your new book The Memory Box.

Just published

My latest novel, ‘The Memory Box’ is the story of an Irish woman, Pandora Schuster who on the eve of her thirtieth birthday discovers that she may have her mum’s heredity cancer gene, Breast Cancer Gene 1. This sends her into a complete tail spin, and makes her question her life and also the future of her nine-year-old daughter, Iris. Pandora is a single mum and she has never told Olivier, her ex-boyfriend that he has a daughter. So she travels to Paris to find him, with disastrous consequences.

2.       Why did you decide to take the book over to Paris?

Pandora is passionate about clothes and it made sense for her to study fashion in Paris. Plus it’s one of my favourite cities in the world.

3.       Did you spend any time there to write about your surroundings?

Yes, I spent four months in Paris during college, working in McDonald’s, so that was helpful. I’ve been back a few times since then, most recently for my 40th birthday.

4.       Do you have a memory box in your life?

No, but I do have a large chest full of my children’s school books, drawings, craft, photographs. I’m very much a hoarder.

5.       Why was a memory box such a good device for story telling for this book?

The Memory Box was a way of unfolding Pandora’s past life for the reader without using an excessive amount of flashbacks. The letters Pandora writes to her daughter, Iris and puts in the box give the reader glimpses of Pandora’s life in Paris and her deep love for Olivier.

And then the box is accidentally discovered. I won’t say any more in case you’d like to read it.

6.       You have recently published another book in the Amy Green series, so what can you tell us about this? amy6

Yes, Wedding Belles has just been published. It’s the 6th book in the Ask Amy Green series, about a 13 year old Irish girl and her 17 year old crazy aunt, Clover who works as an agony aunt for a teen magazine. Together they are planning Amy’s mum’s second marriage in this book, but things start to go horribly wrong …

7.       How much do you have to look into Pandora’s hereditary illness for the book?

I took the research very seriously. I read cancer memoirs, including Emma Hannigan’s excellent ‘Talk to the Headscarf’. I read blogs and forums about cancer and most especially Breast Cancer Gene 1, the gene that Pandora may have (she’s waiting for the test results during the book). I also spoke to a breast cancer specialist, an amazing woman consultant surgeon called Sarah Rastell, who very kindly read my manuscript for accuracy.

I also tried to ‘feel’ how Pandora would feel while waiting for her test results – anxious, scared, alone, but yet determined to fight. Emotional truth is also vital and a character’s reactions must be honest and believable.

8.       Tell us about your inspiration behind the story.

I’m not sure where the story came from to be honest. I’d read about the breast cancer gene and it just fitted this story. The characters grew and developed as I wrote the book and some of their passions are also my passions – art, family, Paris.

9.       What is your writing process?

I plan a little to start with, then I think about the characters and their motivation obsessively. I do some early research at this stage also – but I often don’t know what I need to know, so I don’t spend too long on this at the early stages of writing. Once I’m happy that I know my characters well I start to write, leaving gaps where I need to do some more detailed research – I add that in later. I write several drafts – between 5 and 8 – and learn a lot more about my plot and characters during this stage of writing.

10. What is next for you?

I’m currently working on the first book in a new children’s series for age 9+ and I’m also writing a new book for adults. Both will be published in 2015, all being well.

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