agents

When Are You Going to Write a Proper Book? The Lowdown!

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 and my social media for further details. Apologies for any typos or wild sentences – it’s Sunday morning and I need to bring my daughter to a hockey match very soon. Better done than perfect!

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 and in the UK is a similar figure, which elicited a gasp from the audience. Surely that’s wrong, one man tweeted using our hashtag for the day #properbook. 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 (or ‘Scooby’ as they call themselves) 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.

Colleen explained how ‘Scooby’ 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, 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.

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 nothing to e2,000 advances from Irish publishers. That yes, I’d received a couple of the mythical ‘six figure’ book deals for my children’s books but that was the exception, not the rule.

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.

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 2 years 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 from Walker Books, 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
me - exhit

The Best Children’s Book Agents 2016

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

lonely beast 1
lonely beast 1

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

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

How to Attract a Top Children's Literary Agent

Chatting to Judi Curtin at the West Cork Literary Festival
Chatting to Judi Curtin at the West Cork Literary Festival

I'm at the West Cork Literary Festival this week, teaching a workshop for adults - Writing for Children - and talking to children. At festivals I always make the time to listen to other writers read and also to attend a masterclass or talk about something that interests me.

On Monday I listened to Julia Churchill speak and I was very taken with her honest, direct and open manner. She talked about her role as an agent and what she's looking for in a new writer. She spoke real sense and is a gifted communicator. I took lots of notes so that I could share her words of wisdom with you.

Julia Churchill
Julia Churchill

Julia is a children's agent at AM Heath after cutting her literary teeth at Darley Anderson, where she was one of the first readers to discover Cathy Cassidy in the slush pile. She says Cathy's manuscript made her cry and was one of the few manuscripts (along with Sarah Lean's) that needed little or no work before being sent out to editors at publishing houses.

This is how Julia sees her job:

- to spot talent

- to develop talent

- to sell her clients' books

- to create a career for her writers.

It's refreshing that Julia puts so much emphasis on building a career for her writers and not just selling rights. I listened to another agent speak recently and she talked largely about selling rights and not about helping her writers.

Her core 'day job' is taking care of the authors on her books. However 95% of her writers come from unsolicited manuscripts so she reads submissions in the evenings and at weekends.

First she has a quick look at the submissions and sees if there is anything really exciting in there that she needs to act on immediately, before other agents pounce on it. She wants to be the first person on the phone to this kind of author. I was impressed by her competitive nature - this is the kind of agent I'd want representing me - quick, smart and ready for action! If my own agent wasn't such a superwoman, Julia would definitely be on my list.

She said all submissions get read - which is heartening for debut writers. She reads 'Until a point that I want to stop reading' but did point out that this may be at the (bad) covering letter.

She wants 'a voice that transports me'.

She said 'most debuts will need work'. The most common problems are: too much going on - strip out anything that isn't needed.

The market is tough at the moment she explained. There are more agents than ever before, more books out on submission and less books being published. Writers have to appeal to the marketing and sales team as well as editors.

In 2014 A M Heath took on 4 new writers but new agents will take on more writers.

Julia deals with a core group of 25 editors in the various children's publishers. An important part of her job is contracts and getting the best deal for her writers.

How To Find an Agent

Julia explained that this is a marketing job. Finish your book and make it as strong as you can. There are approx 40 children's agencies - look at the Writers and Artists' Yearbook for details - the most up to date one. Find each agency's submission details and follow them. Be professional from the start. Submit to 7/8 agents and take your time. Act on any feedback you get, rewriting your manuscript.

She says the secret of a good covering letter is simplicity and a good book pitch (the paragraph about your book). You can follow up (your submission) politely after 2/3 months.

Do not follow trends - you will be launching into an overcrowded marketplace. A book can take up to 2 years to get to market, the trend may already be over.

What Julia is Looking for in a Book:

- concept

- character

- setting

- theme

- story

- voice

A book has to work on all these different levels. A book also needs high stakes - the reader needs to care about the characters.

water
water

She said 'Publishers can be heroic. They can take risks.' She cited Sarah Crossan's The Weight of Water as an example of this, a book in verse that went on to win many awards. 'If a book is fabulous, it will sell,' she said. 

Chatting to Judi Curtin at the West Cork Literary Festival

If you are looking for a strong, wise children's agent it would be worth seeking her out.

Yours in writing,

Sarah XXX

The Best Children's Book Agents in Ireland + the UK

Who represents Eoin Colfer? Who helped Derek Landy climb to the top? Who represents Cathy Cassidy? A few years ago I wrote a blog about the best children’s agents – my most popular blog ever. So here is a brand new, updated version. I’d like to pay tribute to Philip Ardagh who posted a question on Facebook recently – ‘Who is your agent and would you recommend them?’ Lots of writers responded (myself included) and it was useful for this blog. Thank you to Philip and all the writers who answered his question.

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.

So firstly I’m often asked ‘Why do you need an agent? Can’t you just go it alone?’

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 (Ireland) will also read unsolicited manuscripts – www.littleisland.ie

Penguin Ireland have just appointed highly experienced writer and teacher, Claire Hennessy as their Children's and YA Editor - Claire will read unsolicited manuscripts and will accept them by email. Submission guidelines here.

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 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 Who?

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. She has just set up her own agency and is currently taking submissions (2014).

www.sophiehicksagency.com

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

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

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

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.

Other Recommended Children’s Agents:

(Check their websites for submission details)

Cathy Cassidy is represented by Darley Anderson.

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; also 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 Caroline Sheldon

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

 

How To Get Published by Breakthrough YA Author, Louise O’Neill

Louise O'Neill
Louise O'Neill

Louise will be appearing at the Mountains to Sea dlr Book Festival on 13th September (details below)

Upon hearing that I’ve written a novel, some people want to know where I get my ideas from, as if there’s an idea-shop you can just pop in to on your way home from work. Lidl will probably start offering ‘Idee’s’ soon. They’re basically the same thing as ideas but far cheaper.  Others ask about the storyline. ‘It’s a dystopian tale exploring the contemporary obsession with the female body. Think The Handmaid’s Tale for teenagers.’  I answer, watching as every man in a two mile radius backs away. No wonder I’m still single. And then, of course, there are the frustrated writers, lips tightening with barely concealed envy when they hear my good news. I know these people. I was one of them, poring over a newspaper article about some child of fifteen who has sold their first novel for half a million euro, trying to ignore the hatred threatening to suck me under, as greedy as a slurry pit. There is nothing more disheartening than seeing someone else realising your dreams.

So, here are my top tips on how to finally write that novel.

  • Read voraciously. Stephen King said ‘If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time to write.’ A badly written book will demonstrate what not to do and a well written book will inspire you. Be warned, a masterpiece will merely leave you with a general sense of hopelessness as your novel will never be anywhere as good. I had to take to my bed for a few days after finishing ‘Cloud Atlas’ like a Victorian maiden with a case of the vapours.
  • Think of your writing skills as a muscle. The more you use them, the stronger they will become. The thought of completing an entire manuscript can seem so insurmountable we find ourselves unable to take the first step. Set yourself smaller tasks to begin with. Write an article for your local newspaper. Write a short story. Write five hundred words on your first holy communion. Julia Cameron, in her excellent book The Artist’s Way, recommends ‘morning pages’ and I’ve found freehand writing to be an effective tool of unblocking creativity.
  • When you do decide to start your novel, make sure you’re passionate about your idea. This might sound obvious but you’ll be working on this project for the next nine to twelve months, or more. There will be days when you hate your book, you hate your brain for generating the original idea and you hate your laptop for having the audacity to record all these stupid words. If you don’t adore the idea at the beginning, you will likely ever reach the end.
  • Set yourself a deadline. When I first moved back to Ireland from New York on September 1st, 2011, I decided to take a year out to work on the novel that I had spent the last ten years threatening to write. I finished the first draft on August 31st, 2012.
  • I remember phoning my father from New York, complaining that my job in fashion ‘didn’t make my heart sing.’ I know. Oprah has a lot to answer for. He told me if I wanted to write so badly I should take any opportunity that I had to do so. Bring a notebook with you and write on the subway, he advised, unaware that I spent my subway journey gawking surreptitiously at barefoot crack heads or avoiding eye contact with anyone I might feel compelled to offer my seat to. (Apologies to that pregnant lady on crutches. My bad.) Once back in Clonakilty, I made myself sit at my desk from 7am to noon every day, whether I felt like it or not. Some days, the words came. Other days, I sat there, staring at the blank page. It didn’t matter. I still sat at my desk at the same time every day. Of course, I was lucky enough to have parents who provided a room ‘of one’s own’ and, more importantly, a new laptop to put in that room.  I don’t have children or a tyrannical boss or a crippling mortgage to pay and I’m aware that these must feel like truly impossible obstacles. But you owe to yourself to at least try to carve out some time every week that you can use to write.
  • Social media, while beneficial for ‘research’, is really only a method of distraction. When asked how one of the authors on his roster managed to maintain such a prolific work rate, Jonny Geller, an agent with Curtis Brown, replied ‘He doesn’t have twitter.’ Until novels come in a 140 character size, it’s not helping you.
  • Be prepared to make sacrifices. In my case, the first casualty was an active social life. Jodi Picoult describes writing as ‘successful schizophrenia’ and I found it very difficult at times to interact normally with other people when all I could think about was this world I had created in my head. Personal aesthetic standards also suffered. When I worked in fashion, I didn’t own any items of clothing that could ever be described as ‘practical’. Or, indeed, anyway comfortable. Things are so bad that when I wash my hair, my father asks if I’m going anywhere special and my mother claps her hands in glee, like I’m a toddler learning to use the potty.
  • Some authors edit their work as they go along but I saved all my editing for the end, like the crappy pink and brown Roses at the bottom of the tin that no one wants at Christmas. There is a peculiar type of shame in reading ‘Slowly, she walked slowly down the corridor slowly.’ In case you don’t comprehend the subtlety of my brilliance, I was trying to convey that the character was very, very, very slow.
  •  Once you finish the first draft, edit, edit and then edit some more. As Faulkner said, ‘...kill all your darlings.’ You’re just showing off anyway. Ask a friend who is an avid reader to take a look at your manuscript. Choose someone you trust to be both honest and gentle with you.
  • When you have a finished manuscript in fairly good nick, you need to find an agent. An agent will take a proportion of your earnings (generally around 15%) but they are essential, as most publishing companies don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts. When submitting to an agency, they usually want to see the first three chapters, a covering letter and your CV but check their websites for individual guidelines. Choose an agent that has authors you admire on their roster or who represents authors who are writing in similar genre to you. Make your covering letter engaging. If you’re someone’s love child, now is the time to mention it. Unless it’s someone embarrassing, like Mick Hucknell. Keep that to yourself. Forever.
  • Be prepared for rejection and don’t take it personally. JK Rowling famously received twelve rejection letters and I think she’s managing to pay her electricity bill these days. You want your agent to fight for your book when they’re trying to sell it to a publisher. If they don’t ‘get’ it, then they’re not the right agent for you anyway.

Going Too Far? Panel Discussion on YA Fiction with CBI

Venue: dlr Lexicon, Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin

Date: Sat 13th Sept @ 4.30-6.30pm

Price: e8/e5 students

Age: Students and adults

only ever yours
only ever yours

Booking: www.mountainstosea.ie or 01 2312929

Writing Worries - Don't Clip Your Own Wings

Apologies for the lack of recent blogs, I was helping to run the Mountains to Sea Book Festival and taking some much needed time off. I wrote the following blog in August, before I sent my new proposal to my agent. More on this at the end. For weeks now I've been worrying about a book proposal. Is it good enough? Will my agent like it? Will my publishers like it?

I've published 23 books now and it never gets any easier. The doubts are still very much there for every single book or proposal.

I worked hard on the proposal, on getting every detail right - the series title (it's a new series for girls of 9+), the title of each book, the girls' names (there are 4 main characters), the plots for each of the first 3 books, the setting; especially the setting. I started reading widely on the subjects covered in the plots and added details to my proposal.

I wrote some of the first book, then rewrote it many times until I was happy with it. Only then did I send it to my agent. She read it and gave some suggestions. I took those on board and rewrote the whole proposal again. Finally it was ready to be sent to my editors and so began the waiting game.

What happens next? My editors - if they like it - take it to an acquisitions meeting where the sales and marketing team get their say. If they all like it, and they think it will sell, then you have a book contract.

amy5
amy5

I visited my publishers, Walker Books in London to hear the news and I waited anxiously for their verdict. I didn't have to wait long. As soon as I walked into the reception area (where some of my other Ask Amy Green books were twinkling at me from the book shelves), one of my editors said 'Everyone loved your proposal'. I was so relieved! I thought my proposal was good, my agent thought it was marvellous but you never can tell . . .

But nerves are good. In fact they are important to writers. It's what keeps us on our toes, makes us try our very hardest to produce something excellent. Nerves are like the adrenaline before a race, keeping us alive.

As writers we wear our hearts on our sleeves, outside our bodies. We are largely a highly emotional bunch and like actors, we crave an audience for our work - we need readers. We want people to say 'We love your books'.

But we also need to have confidence in what we are doing. So once we get that initial 'You're on the right track' nod, we need to take that affirmation on board and then get back to work. We need to put all those fears and doubts aside and write as if nothing else mattered.

Because if we let our writing worries consume us, we clip our own wings.

So once you get that initial nod - from your editor, or if you are not yet published, from a trusted friend - put all your worries behind you and fly. The only way to live a writing life is in the air and not stumbling along the ground.

memory box frt 5
memory box frt 5

I'm all set to take my own advice. After proof reading The Memory Box, my next book for adults which will be out in early 2013, I'll be writing the first book in the new series. The series is called The Wishing Girls. More about that soon.

Yours in writing,

Sarah XXX

A Who's Who of Popular Fiction Agents

Who is Marian Keyes’s agent? Who looks after Cathy Kelly and Sheila O’Flanagan? Who helped Melissa Hill climb to the top? If you write popular fiction, live in Ireland and would like to get published, these are the agents to try first as they have a proven track record with Irish authors. Now, because they have such high flying clients they may not have the time to take on new authors, but if they spot talent, they may pass you on to another agent in their company.

I secured my first agent (who was with Curtis Brown at the time) via a recommendation by Cathy Kelly. This agent and I have since amicably parted ways, but I found my new agent via another writer friend, the wonderful ‘Vampirate’ Justin Somper. I’m currently represented by Peta Nightingale in Lucas Alexander Whitley on the adult side (I also write for children). I’m her only Irish popular fiction client, but many of the other agents on my list have several ‘Irish girls’ in their stable, such as Sheila Crowley in Curtis Brown.

Peta has been a wonderful asset in many different ways. She worked as an editor for many years and has a brilliant eye for plot and character. She’s very honest and she pushes me, makes me want to be a better writer, which is vital at this stage of my career. When it came to writing my new book, The Shoestring Club (due early 2012), her help was invaluable.

These days having ‘potential’ isn’t enough, your manuscript must be as perfect as you can make it before it goes anywhere near an editor – this especially goes for popular fiction. A good agents can play a vital role in this process.

If you are looking for an agent, Godspeed. Hopefully this list may help you in some small way.

Yours in writing,

Sarah XXX

Who Represents Who? Irish Popular Fiction Writers and Their Agents with Contact Details c/o Sarah Webb www.sarahwebb.ie

Remember to check each agent’s website before you send anything out for submission guidelines.

Maeve Binchy is represented by Christine Green

Tel. 020 7401 8844 info@christinegreen.co.uk Christine Green Authors' Agent 6 Whitehorse Mews Westminster Bridge Road London SE1 7QD

Marian Keyes Cathy Kelly Monica McInerney are all represented by Jonathan Lloyd (also CEO of Curtis Brown)

0044 (0)20 7393 4418 lucia@curtisbrown.co.uk

Sheila O’Flanagan is represented by Carole Blake

Blake Friedmann Literary, Film & TV Agency 122 Arlington Road London NW1 7HP

Telephone: 020 7284 0408 Fax: 020 7284 0442 email: info@blakefriedmann.co.uk

Cecelia Ahern is represented by Marianne Gunn O’Connor Marianne represents Claudia Carroll, Anita Notaro and Sinead Moriarty

Marianne Gunn O'Connor Literary Agency Morrison Chambers, Suite 17 32 Nassau Street, Dublin 2 mgoclitagency@eircom.net

Melissa Hill is represented by Sheila Crowley Sheila also represents Emma Hannigan, Sarah Harte

00 44 (0)20 7393 4492 crowleyoffice@curtisbrown.co.uk

Sarah Webb is represented by Peta Nightingale at LAW (LAW also represent Sophie Kinsella – Irish name, but not actually Irish!)

All submissions should be sent, in hard copy, by post to: LAW, 14 Vernon Street, London, W14 0RJ www.lawagency.co.uk

Clare Dowling is represented by Darley Anderson

Darley Anderson Literary, TV and Film Agency Estelle House 11 Eustace Road London SW6 1JB Tel: 020 7385 6652 Fax: 020 7386 5571 Email: enquiries@darleyanderson.com

Marita Conlon McKenna is represented by Caroline Sheldon

www.carolinesheldon.co.uk 71 Hillgate Place, London W8 7SS

Patricia Scanlan is represented by Lutyens & Rubenstein Literary Agency

www.lutyensrubinstein.co.uk 21 Kensington Park Road, London W11 2EU

Other Recommended Popular Fiction Agents:

Madeleine Buston at Darley Anderson

Darley Anderson Literary, TV and Film Agency Estelle House 11 Eustace Road London SW6 1JB Tel: 020 7385 6652 Fax: 020 7386 5571 Email: enquiries@darleyanderson.com

Lizzie Kremer at David Higham David Higham Associates 5–8 Lower John Street Golden Square London W1F 9HA Switchboard: 020 7434 5900 Fax: 020 7437 1072 E-mail: dha@davidhigham.co.uk