Getting Published


I’ll be running a weekend course for anyone interested in writing for children very soon with Grainne Clear, who is a Senior Editor at Walker Books, London.

There are only 15 places so if you are interested email or text me quick!

Grainne Clear and Sarah Webb (with Lucky)

Writing for Children Weekend with Grainne Clear (Editor) and Sarah Webb (Writer)

Focus on Fiction

Sat 31st August and Sun 1st September 

 Everything you need to know about writing for children and getting published!

 Grainne Clear is a Senior Editor with Walker Books and Sarah Webb is an award-winning children's writer

 (look out for our picturebook day in early 2020)

During the weekend they will cover:

Age groups and genres

Creating compelling characters

Plotting and the story arc

Creating authentic dialogue

Rewriting and editing 

The world of agents, editors and children's publishing 

and much more! 

 The weekend will also feature a guest author of MG or YA fiction to speak about the day-to-day of being an Irish writer and share their writing tips

 Before the course begins, Grainne or Sarah will critique your work (or book idea if you are just starting out) so you can concentrate on the areas that need attention over the two days

Max 15 people to guarantee plenty of individual attention 

 Cost - including 1 page manuscript critique and notes, lunch on Saturday and coffee/tea both days: e250 

 Venue: Royal St George Yacht Club, Dun Laoghaire (e5 parking per day to the right of the club on the pier, e6 per day in dlr Lexicon Library car park), 2 mins walk from 46A bus stop and Dun Laoghaire DART station 

Times: Sat 10am to 5pm (coffee/tea and light lunch provided)

Sun 11am to 4pm (coffee/tea provided) 

Booking - or text 0866086110

The Best Children's Book Agents 2018 - Recommended by their Writers

Every year I update this post - one of the most popular posts on my blog. I hope it's helpful. If you are a published writer and would like to recommend your agent, please contact me. I'd be delighted to add your agent to the list. 

All the agents on this list are recommended by people in the know - their writers and illustrators. Thank you to all the writers and illustrators who responded to my call out for recommendations. 


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.

Little Island are also happy to read unsolicited manuscripts – they have excellent submission guidelines.

Gill Books has recently started publishing children’s fiction, Mercier and Poolbeg also publish children’s books and accept unsolicited manuscripts.

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


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.


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.


Eoin Colfer is represented by Sophie Hicks. Sophie is a very experienced agent and her writers rate her highly. She also represents Oisín McGann.

Lucy Coats adds ‘Sophie Hicks of SHA is, of course, the best agent in the world! Sympathetic and positive in adversity, great sense of humour and fights her authors’ corner like a tigress on speed. Highly recommended.’

Derek Landy is represented by Michelle Kass, who also represents Patrick Ness.

Darren Shan is represented by Christopher Little   For general enquiries email:

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

Steve McCarthy says: ‘I'll second that for Philippa! I can attest to her kindness, wise-ness and hilarity.’

Contact: All submissions should be sent, in hard copy, by post to: LAW, 14 Vernon Street, London, W14 0RJ

Marita Conlon McKenna is represented by Caroline Sheldon

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!’

Let's hear from some other Irish writers:

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.

Sinéad O'Hart is represented by Polly Nolan who is also recommended by Louis Stowell.

Celine Kiernan says: 'I changed agencies late 2015. I am with Sallyanne Sweeney now, of Mulcahy Literary Agency. Have worked with her on two books now and find her wonderful.'

Sheena Wilkinson: ‘Faith O'Grady. Not a children's specialist -- handy as I am writing adult now, but very supportive and approachable. Based in Dublin.’

Sheena Dempsey says:  ‘Felicity Trew is absolutely brilliant, a determined bulldog but with a lovely manner and thorough to the last where contracts are concerned. Incredibly supportive where editorial and art direction are concerned. Always pushes for better terms. Top marks.’

Marianne Gunn O'Connor represents Shane Hegarty and Cecelia Ahern. 


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

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

Russell Sanderson and Lu Hersey recommend their agent, Ben Illis.

Zana Fraillon recommends her agent, Claire Wilson.

Julia Churchill at A M Heath who says 'my speciality is checking if people need to go to loo before meetings.' I have met Julia and she is a funny and smart woman who knows her onions. Well worth sending your manuscript to. Nikki Sheehan says Julia 'would win against 100 horse sized ducks.' 

Jo Nadin says: ‘I love Julia Churchill without reservation. She’s quietly kickass, clever, kind, and, best of all, listens.’

Mark Burgess: 'Im represented by excellent & wonderful Nancy Miles of Miles Stott Children's Literary Agency. She also represents Gill Lewis & Frances Hardinge.'

Sarah McIntyre: ‘ I'm represented by Jodie Hodges at United Agents, she's brilliant! I couldn't do without her, she keeps my life in order.’

Catherine MacPhail says: ‘Caroline Sheldon. Always keeps in touch. Great agent.’

Cathy Brett says ‘And Felicity Trew, Caroline's co-agent. A little terrier!’

Mary Hoffman: ‘ It was Pat White and, since her retirement, is now Claire Wilson, both of Rogers, Coleridge and White.’

Eve White, Eve White Literary Agency

Catherine Clarke at Felicity Bryan

Robert Kirby at United Agents

Jodie Hodges at United Agents (recommended by William Bee); Catherine Mary Summerhayes, Jo Unwin and Clare Conville at United Agents

Hilary Delamere at The Agency

Lindsey Fraser at Fraser Ross

Gemma Cooper at The Bent Agency

Penny Holroyde at Holroyde Cartey

Elizabeth Roy –

Laura Cecil –

Madeleine Milburn –

Sam Copeland and Claire Wilson at Rogers Coleridge and White –

Good luck with finding a great agent!

Interview with Children's Writer, Helena Duggan

Children's writer, Helena Duggan has made the transition from self-published writer to traditionally published writer this year. She tells us about her writing and publishing journey. 

a place helena.jpg


Helena, can you tell us about your latest book,  A Place Called Perfect and where the idea came from?

A Place Called Perfect is a children's middle grade book about a girl named Violet who moves to a town called Perfect because her Dad, the worlds finest Opthamologist is offered a job by the Archer Brothers Edward and George. He's been tasked with fixing the only problem this perfect little place has. After only a short time in the town anyone who visits goes blind...

That's the main background to the story and, of course, not all is as it seems in Perfect.

The idea came from a pair of glasses I picked up while backpacking in Australia. I bought them in an antique shop with the intention of changing the lenses to suit my sight. The more I carried them however, the more I began to think about their past owner and how their memories might have become locked inside the lenses. That's how Perfect began.

a place new cover.jpg


How long did it take you to write?

About 6 months for the first draft and then a very long time to edit! There were a few different editing versions as I self published first after rounds of edits. Then I found a home with Usborne and had to edit further!

You originally self-published the book in 2012. Why did you decide to go that route first?

I had been following the self publishing revolution and had written a previous book title "A Load of Rubbish" that had been through the publishing mill without much luck. I'm a graphic designer by day so I decided self publishing would be easy for me to do. I thought I'd gather together some reviews and sales figures and then look for a publisher. That's exactly how it turned out!

Self-published cover for A Place Called Perfect 

Self-published cover for A Place Called Perfect 


How did it come to be published by Usborne (a UK publisher)?

I had decided that I wanted to try for a UK publisher after taking advice from other authors and booksellers. The local bookshops in Kilkenny were amazing support and Khan Kiely from Khans books offered me a ticket to the London book fair and told me to arrange meetings with agents. I contacted a few that had shown interest in my work first time round and secured some meeting. Of the back of that I was taken on by Bell Lomax Moreton in London and they found a home for Perfect with Usborne.

Did you have to do much editing for the Usborne edition?

Yes it was a really good learning curve actually. I had an initial meeting with Anne my editor and she asked me lots of questions about the story. I remember answering all of them but thinking she couldn't have read the book if she had these questions, they are all answered in it! Then I expressed this sentiment and discovered that, while all of the answers were in my head, I hadn't committed them to the page. I also learned quiet alot about timelines and technicalities like when do the characters eat or sleep etc... the process was hard but well worth it.

What did you find surprising about being traditionally published?

How nice Usborne are. I had thought I'd be in the big bad world of publishers and I'd be a number on a list of other numbers but with Usborne it is not like that at all. I don't know if I'm just lucky or if it's because Usborne is family run or because that's just the way publishers are but my experience has been amazing. Everyone is so nice to deal with and they are all really just people who love books.

Would you recommend self-publishing? And if so, why?

Well yes because if it wasn't for self publishing Perfect would never have been traditionally published. It is difficult though as you have to be everything, the writer, designer, editor, sales person, accounts etc. It can be draining. The hardest part was sales, a book is personal and for this reason I found it extremely hard to sell, luckily I have a mother who would sell her soul for her kids so she did it for me. I also would also strongly advise getting your book professionally designed and edited, a self published book has to almost be produced better than a traditional book to get into a shop. There is still a stigma around self publishing.

How do you organise your writing day? For example, where do you write? And when?

At the moment it's very disorganised. I'm on maternity leave with a four month old baby. I go to my Mam and she minds Jo while I write but the days and times vary. I will be heading back to work in 6 weeks so it'll be scary to figure out how to balance a baby and writing with all of that...if anyone has any tips I'd gladly take them!

Do you use a computer or write long hand?

Even though I'd love to say long hand I don't, I write onto a computer. I wrote my first book long hand and then typed it all up but it's much quicker I find now to type everything straight in.

Do you edit as you go along? Or at the end of the first draft?

I do small edits as I go and then larger ones at the end of the first draft. I'm writing the sequel to Perfect at the moment and trying to remember what I did the first time round. It's all a learning process I think, and I'm forever learning.

Do you find rewriting difficult?

Yes and no, sometimes if I get a little stuck I remind myself that it's my world and therefore I can really do whatever I want. That makes the whole process a little easier!

Do you use the internet for research? What research tips can you give writers?

Yes I do, I love to research actually and take names etc from real people or places if they fit the story. My only tip with researching is to remember your meant to be writing and get of the internet in a reasonible amount of time! I still struggle with that one and can find myself trawling through pages hours later.

What type of books do you like to read? Do you have a favourite book?

I read all sorts of books really. I like crime thrillers and childrens books but I can be found dipping in and out of anything. My favourite books are all childrens really. I love Roald Dahl and all the Harry Potters, I also love All The Light You Cannot See, for some reason that book has stuck with me lately. I will never forget how I felt reading Under the Hawthorn Tree as a kid either.

What is the best thing about being a writer?

Finding yourself lost in a world you created and getting so deep into writing that when you come out and read back you don't believe you've written it and can't for the life of you remember where the story came from!

The worst?

Time. I'm bad at managing time!

What are you working on next?

The sequel to Perfect. I'm about 40,000 words in and trying to juggle it with a small baby, a bit more difficult than the first time round. The story is all plotted though so it makes it easier.

And finally, do you have any advice or tips for writers?

I'm not sure really if I should give any advice. I'm new to all this myself and everybody has their own way of doing things. What worked for me was persistence, I believed in my story and was lucky to have an amazing family who believed in it too so I kept going. Also when I write I try not to think of an audience and just go with the story that comes into my head, I feel if I write for an audience then I won't enjoy myself in the process and that misses the point.

Thank you, Helena, for sharing your writing life with us.

What Publishers Want - Picturebooks

Image by Alan O'Rourke

Image by Alan O'Rourke

Today I hosted a day in the dlr Lexicon Library all about picturebooks. It was the second in a series of events focused on different areas of writing for children and teenagers, called When Are You Going to Write a Proper Book? Or #ProperBook for short. The events were held in association with the wonderful Children's Books Ireland and this one also had the support of IBBY Ireland

Here is a roundup of the day. Thanks to all the speakers and to everyone who attended. The next #properbook day will focus on writing fiction for children and teenagers and will be held next spring.

Thanks to CBI and various attendees for the photos and Alan O'Rourke for his great #properbook graphic above.

First Valerie Coughlan and Lucinda Jacob talked about the visual narrative in picturebooks (how the pictures help tell the story), and rhyming versus prose picture books. Both agreed that all picturebooks need rhythm but not necessarily rhyme. Valerie quoted American picturebook critic Barbara Bader who said:

As an art form it [the picturebook] hinges on the interdependence of pictures and words, on the simultaneous display of two facing pages, and on the drama of the turning of the page.
On its own terms its possibilities are limitless.

Valerie shared some of her favourite picturebooks including Rosie's Walk and Where the Wild Things Are and recommended Illustrating  Children's Books by Martin Salisbury (see full book list below for details). 

Lucinda spoke about rhyming picturebooks and explained that the rhyme had to form a pattern, like a song. Her favourite picturebooks include Hairy Maclary and Each Peach, Pear Plum. 

Next up was our illustrators' panel: Michael Emberley, Mary Murphy and Chris Judge. They talked about the genesis of an idea, which was largely different for each book. Michael gets an idea first, then works on that idea, for Chris and Mary the character comes first. Once they have a character, they start working on the story.

They had some great advice for new writers:

Research - read modern picturebooks. Mary explained how important this is. She talked about her work, which mainly focuses on young children and has deceptively simple text and vibrant, beautifully designed artwork. 


Be yourself. Michael spoke with passion about being yourself on the page and not trying to be someone that you are not. He explained how publishers were pushing the costs (of producing a picturebook) 'downstream' towards the author. He said that these days you need to make your book as good as possible before sending it off to a publisher. The days of sending off an 'idea' or a rough, unfinished text are gone. (Interestingly on a later panel, Deirdre McDermott from Walker said she doesn't like to see artwork that is too finished, as there is no space for it to change and grow - see below for more from Deirdre.)

Chris talked about not giving up (it took him several years to get his first picturebook published). He also said to take your time and to produce something you are proud of - don't be in a rush to get published. 'It takes a long time to make a great book,' he said. 

The image below is of his Beast character. 

Jane O'Hanlon and Debbie  Thomas from IBBY spoke about their Silent Books exhibition which is in the Lexicon library until the 29th May. A matching set of the books are on the Italian island of Lampedusa where refugees from Africa and the Middle East often land on their way to Europe. The books are shared with the refugee children. Teachers and students from St Laurence College spoke about their recent trip to the island, which was a lovely addition to the day. It made me think about the importance of picturebooks as a form of communication as well as an art form. 

Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick gave us a brilliant insight into the work of a picturebook maker, showing lots of her rough sketches, dummy books and even the colour chart she created for Owl Bat Bat Owl, her latest picturebook.

Marie-Louise shared her tips on one clever slide

Marie-Louise shared her tips on one clever slide

So - the burning question - what are publishers looking for when it comes to picturebooks? Deirdre McDermott from Walker Books is interested in working with new Irish illustrators. She loves warm graphics - she mentioned Lucy Cousins and Mary Murphy in this regard. 'I want to feel the blood in their (the artists') veins. I want to feel they have a heartbeat.' She loves Chris Haughton's work for its sense of humour and she loves his brilliant use of colour.

Interestingly she's not looking for highly polished, finished work. She's looking for something different and exciting, and often finds her illustrators in unusual ways, not always though an agent. 

For picturebook texts Deirdre said she's looking for something that instantly grabs her attention: 'You read the first four sentences and it just gets you.' 

Emma Byrne from O'Brien Press is looking for Irish content and Irish creators. She says Ireland is a small market and she makes an effort to give Irish illustrators a chance. Like Deirdre, she doesn't use agents to find illustrators (although some do come this way). She looks at magazines - she mentioned Totally Dublin - flyers and posters for images that make her react. She's also looking for a sense of humour in the work and is drawn to unusual colour.

Tadhg MacDhonnagáin from Futa Fata is looking for narrative picturebooks for age 3 to 6. He's looking for books that are not based in Ireland but that have a strong story, with a main character that goes on a journey and changes. He's looking again for humour and for a writer with great enthusiasm. He would love to find an illustrator or picturebook maker who can speak Irish and can do events in schools and at festivals, but has yet to discover one

Margaret Anne Suggs from Illustrators Ireland gave this advice:

1/ Have something worth submitting.

2/ Do your research - look at what the publisher or agent likes and see if you are a fit.

3/ Follow the submission guidelines carefully.

And the publishers' pet hates? Letters addressed 'Dear Sir' (to Emma or Deirdre). 

Elaborate packages of artwork with no return address.

Rhyming picturebooks with no story. 

Margaret Anne said that illustrators are often told to write their own text. She described this as being bisexual. 'It doubles your chance of a date,' she said. 

Other information shared was:

Writers and illustrators rarely meet.

If you are a writer you do not need to find an illustrator. You submit your text without pictures. The editor will match your story with the right illustrator. Do not provide illustrations yourself (unless you are also an artist) or pay someone to illustrate your book. 

Don't put grown ups in your book if you can help it.

If you are an illustrator, apply to Illustrators Ireland who can help you with contracts and professional advice. 

Always get a contract if you are an illustrator and ask for royalties, not just a set fee (esp for picturebooks). 

Walker split the writer/illustrator royalty 50/50.

Illustrators' agents take 25 to 35% of a contract and literary agents 15 to 20% (for writers or illustrators).

It was a really enjoyable, informative day and thanks to all the speakers, to Marian Keyes at the library and Artscope for their help. 

Watch out for the podcast of the day which I'll post here soon. 

I'll leave you with this list of recommended books about writing and illustrating picturebooks which I put together for the event. 

Books about Writing and Illustrating Picturebooks

Recommended by Sarah Webb

riting Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul – especially good on how to write a rhyming picturebook and how to check your rhythm and rhyme. Highly recommended.

Writing with Pictures: How to Write and Illustrate Children's Books by Uri Shulevitz – excellent book, well worth reading. Especially good on format.

Illustrating Children’s Books by Martin Salisbury – a must have for illustrators. Full colour hardback with lots about technique.

Children’s Picturebooks: The Art of Visual Storytelling by Martin Salisbury and Morag Styles – excellent book about the history of picturebooks, publishing, process + much more. Highly recommended.

100 Great Children’s Picture Books by Martin Salisbury – a gem – treat yourself!

How to Write a Children’s Picture Book by Andrea Shavick – a good beginner’s guide to writing picturebooks.

Writing Children’s Books for Dummies by Lisa Rojany Buccieri – don’t let the title put you off, this is a useful, sensible book. Especially good on the different age groups and genres.

Sarah Webb mentors new and emerging writers and critiques picturebooks and novels for children. Contact me for details about how to book (now taking bookings for Sept)


Sarah Webb's Top 3 Tips - Writing Picturebooks

1/ Picturebooks are generally short – around 500 words – and are made up of 12 double page spreads. Make every word count and work on the text until it shines.

2/ You do not need to provide artwork. Concentrate on the text, don’t worry about illustrations. An editor’s job is to match text with the right artwork and they are gifted picturebook matchmakers.

3/ Read award winning and best-selling picturbooks. Study Julia Donaldson’s poetry – and it is poetry – every line is carefully worked out. Just because you can rhyme sat with hat doesn’t mean you can write a rhyming picturebook. The whole line has to sing. More about this in another blog soon.

Read Maurice Sendak. Read some of the best Irish picturebook talent: Yasmeen Ismail, Oliver Jeffers and Chris Haughton.

Coo over Helen Oxenbury’s babies and Mem Fox’s outstanding text in the modern classic, Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes.

Learn from the greats – and then get back to your own work.

Work at it and keep working at it until you crack it. Don’t give up!

I’ve been teaching creative writing for over 20 years now. Good writers with tenacity and grit, writers who are prepared to work hard at their craft, they are the ones who get published. Good luck!

Yours in writing, Sarah X

Mammoth March!

My Writer in Residence Diary for March 

March was a manic but wonderful month, full of book events and book fun. The picturebook art exhibition, A World of Colour featuring the work of Beatrice Alemagna and Chris Haughton -  images above - ran from 4th  February to the end of March and it was such a joy passing it daily on the way to my Writer in Residence room on the 5th floor. A world of colour it certainly was!

On 10th March I attended a conference about Mental Health and the Written Word in the Lexicon Studio which was most interesting and I also spoke on a panel called Happy Kids: Raising Children in the Digital Age with some experts in the area of children and safely online. The podcast is available here

I attended two talks by international writers for adults, Mohsin Hamid and George Saunders which were excellent (preview Mountains to Sea dlr Book Festival events).

I took part in a World Book Day event for schools with Marita Conlon-McKenna and Chris Judge and my book clubs and writing clubs continued during the month. We had a very well attended Drop in Writing Clinic with over 15 young writers and also a clinic for adults writing for children which was also very well attended. Our teen creatives had workshops in Vlogging with Dave Lordan and Comic Books with Alan Nolan and on 1st April were visited by Dave Rudden who gave them tips for their Junior Cert which went down a treat!

I also continued with the Baby Book Clubs in Deansgrange library (last Tues of every month at 10am and Dalkey (31st March, 7, 21 + 28th April 10.30am), Kids Create Workshops in Stillorgan for age 7+ (next ones are 4th May + 15th June booking required with the library) and a writing workshop in Blackrock Library all about creating realistic characters.

The Mountains to Sea dlr Book Festival also took place in March. I programmed the children's and school's events and the highlight for me was meeting two of my book heroes, Judith Kerr (The Tiger Who Came to Tea) and Beatrice Alemagna.

It was a fantastic five days of book fun and here are some of my favourite photos from the week. Enjoy! 

Robin Stevens, Katherine Woodfine and Jo Cotterill start the slide show from the festival - click on their image to see the other photos.

Yours in books,

Sarah XXX

When Are You Going to Write a Proper Book? Full Podcast

Photo by Peter Cavanagh from The World of Colour Exhibition in the Lexicon Library    

Photo by Peter Cavanagh from The World of Colour Exhibition in the Lexicon Library 


Here is the Soundcloud podcast from the recent When Are You Going to Write a Proper Book? event. #properbook if you want to check out the posts on Twitter. It's the full day and thanks to dlr Libraries for providing the podcast. A must listen if you are interested in writing or illustrating for children. 

Soundcloud Podcast

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

Lexicon Reader and Writers' Day 5th Nov - Timetable and Details

Lexicon Reader and Writers’ Day – Saturday 5th November 

reader and writers day poster
reader and writers day poster

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 Laoghaire


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; 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

Lexicon dlr Writer in Residence Events + Workshops

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 reading to a child
sarah reading to a child

Sarah XXX


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.


16th September (evening)



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.


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


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’sWriting 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


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)


 ‘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.

Want to Write? Here's My Secret

Mum reading to me and my sisters when we were little - I'm on the far right
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

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!

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 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 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

Rejection and the Writing Life

sally go
sally go

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.

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.

book of learning 1
book of learning 1

ER Murray

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

knights of the borrowed
knights of the borrowed

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...

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.

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:

Little Island are also happy to read unsolicited manuscripts – (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.

Derek Landy is represented by Michelle Kass, who also represents Patrick Ness.

Darren Shan is represented by Christopher Little For general enquiries please email:

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

Marita Conlon McKenna is represented by Caroline Sheldon

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 –

Laura Cecil –

Madeleine Milburn –

Sam Copeland and Claire Wilson at Rogers Coleridge and White –

Good luck with finding a great agent!

Yours in writing,

Sarah XXX

Down with the Kids: Writing YA

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.

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'."

darkmouth 3
darkmouth 3

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.

"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 Readers' Day - Timetable


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)


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


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

Top 3 Writing Tips - Martina Devlin + Kate Beaufoy

Martina Devlin and Kate Beaufoy will be talking about writing and their new books at What Lies Beneath Readers' Day on Saturday 7th November in the new Lexicon Library in Dun Laoghaire. To mark the occasion, I asked them for their top three writing tips.

Martina Devlin

Martina Devlin
Martina Devlin

1/ Write early in the day, as soon as you rise. It doesn't have to be a 6am writing spurt, but it does have to be first thing by your body clock. 3/ Take care with your characters, even minor ones, if you want readers to go on a journey with them. They need not all be likeable. But their actions should have an internal logic, or make sense to readers. 3/ Leave a note to yourself where you meant to take the story next at the end of a writing session. It's amazing how much we forget, even in the space of a day.

Kate Beaufoy

1/ Try converting chunks of your text into a different font. That way you can read it with new, more objective eyes, and you’ll spot things you may not have noticed otherwise.

2/ Don’t advertise the fact that you’re writing a novel; you'll regret it every time someone asks you how it’s going.

3/ Find one or two readers whom you can trust to be straight with you in the nicest possible way. NEVER petition Facebook friends to read your work.


Hear more from Kate and Martina about their books and how they write at What Lies Beneath Reader and Writers Day - Sat 7th November. Lexicon Library, Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin  

Book here.

 Or ring 01 231 2929 12pm to 5pm

Kate Beaufoy
Kate Beaufoy

What Lies Beneath

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.

Book here. 

Patricia Scanlan
Patricia Scanlan

Writing Tips - Getting it Right - the Importance of Research

My New Book
My New Book

My new book, Sunny Days and Moon Cakes is out next week – exciting. It was great fun to write and even more fun to research. Sunny, the main character in the book, has a condition called selective mutism which means she finds it difficult to speak. In order to write her story I needed to do a lot of research. I was lucky to meet a mum early on who has daughters with the condition and she was really helpful, reading my manuscript and talking to me about her daughters’ lives. She was really kind to share her family's stories with me.

Research Tip No. 1:

Nothing beats talking someone with specialist or personal knowledge of a subject.

I also watched a lot of documentaries about selective mutism and read academic books. An expert in the field, a UK speech therapist called Maggie Johnson was also a great help. I read her wonderfully clear and well written book on the topic and also emailed her. It’s amazing how kind people are if you ask them for help with research.

Research Tip No.2:

Ask for help. Don't be afraid to go to the top. People who are fascinated by their work and love their subject are generally delighted to talk about their work.

In the book, Sunny's little sister, Min has a terrible accident and has to be airlifted to hospital in a helicopter. Now, I've never been airlifted, thank goodness, so I had to do more research. I wrote to the Irish Coast Guard at Waterford and they arranged for me to fly in their rescue helicopter with my daughter, Amy. It was a remarkable experience and made the cliff rescue scene in the book truly come alive.

Research Tip No.3:

Never say never.

Never think 'I'll never find someone to take me up in a helicopter/out on a super yacht/meet a lion'. Ask around - you'll be surprised how willing other people are to help you track someone useful down. My contact in the Irish Coast Guards came from an old school friend who is now a fireman. I put a call out on Facebook and he stepped in to help connect us.

I'm working on book three in the series now and it's all about dolphins and sea mammals. That has been a lot of fun to research too. I can't wait to share all my newly found animal knowledge with young readers. This photo of a Humpback Whale breaching was taken by Simon Duggan, an old school friend of mine who lives in West Cork - isn't it brilliant? My research is throwing up all sorts of ideas for this and future books.

A Humpback Whale
A Humpback Whale

Research Tip No.4:

Research can play an important part in the writing process.

It can trigger plot ideas and inform your knowledge or feel for a character. If your book is set in the past, research is a vital part of the process. The adult novel I am working on at present is set in the 1930s and I found reading novels set in this period particularly helpful, as well as newspapers and magazines from the time.

Research Tip No.5:

Don't let the research slow down or stop your writing.

It's important to get your book finished. So no matter how interesting the research is, you must know when to stop. If you've started coming across facts you already know it's time to get back to the writing. You can always go back and check details after you've finished your first draft.

Yours in writing,

Sarah XXX

A version of this blog first appeared on Girls Heart Books.

How to Get Published by Louise O'Neill

Louise O'Neill
Louise O'Neill

Louise O’Neill

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.
Louise's new book, Asking for It, will be out in September
Louise's new book, Asking for It, will be out in September
only ever yours
only ever yours

Picture Books: To Rhyme or Not to Rhyme?

Some of My Picture Book Collection
Some of My Picture Book Collection

I was doing some intense thinking about picture books last night. My writing class asked me why I'm not keen on rhyming picture books and I didn't have a coherent answer for them. But I do now!

When I got home I read dozens of rhyming and non rhyming pictures books. Every month I am sent review copies of all the new titles (and proofs or early reading copies) by the various Irish and UK publishers, and I read ALL the picture books and as many of the novels as I can. So I get a great overview of what's going on in the world of children's books. (Aside - when I was the children's book buyer at Waterstone's and then Eason's I saw the covers and titles of up to 8k children's books a year. Booksellers are a font of knowledge when it comes to children's books, trends, titles, covers etc. I'm proud to say I still work with booksellers, as a consultant with Dubray Books.)

So what conclusion did I come to after my late night read? A large number of rhyming picture books are all about concept (love, ABC, 123, colour) and it's hard to get emotion and conflict into even the best of them.Yes, yes I know Julia Donaldson manages to pack her books with emotion (and others do too - Madeline, Millions of Cats, Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes etc) but she is one in a million. Non-rhyming picture books are all about story, character and emotion.

Spread from Owl Babies
Spread from Owl Babies
monster mamma
monster mamma

I like books that squeeze my heart, books full of emotion and power. Owl Babies, Where the Wild Things Are, Lost and Found, The Heart and the Bottle, Monster Mama (see below for details).

I hate insipid, badly rhyming picture books about loving your mummy (who is also a teddy dressed in human clothing). Managing to make the last words on each line rhyme does not magically turn a writer into a poet. The whole line has to sing.

And for the record here are my all time top 10 favourite picture books (not the best books, or the ones that have won the most awards, the ones I love the most). Books I could not live without:

1/ Where the Wild Things Are - Maurice Sendak

Is there a better picture book?

2/ Owl Babies by Martin Waddell, illustrated by Patrick Benson

Love it - and it has my name in it!

3/ Lost and Found - Oliver Jeffers

Oliver Jeffers
Oliver Jeffers

Oliver is exceptional. One of the greatest picture book talents Ireland has ever produced.

4/ Busy Busy World - Richard Scarry

My childhood is embedded in this book.

5/ The Elephant and the Bad Baby by Elfrida Vipont, illustrated by Raymond Briggs

Loved it as a child, love it now.

6/ The Red Tree -  Shaun Tan

From The Red Tree
From The Red Tree

The illustrations make me shiver, they're so good. I also love Rules of Summer. All his work in fact.

7/ Monster Mama by Liz Rosenberg, illustrated by Stephen Gammell

Incredible book about a mother and her son, bullying and the power of love.

8/ Alfie Gets in First - Shirley Hughes

Best writer for toddlers ever. Her domestic scenes sing with love.

9/ Peter's Chair - Ezra Jack Keats

Exceptional picture book from 1967 about sibling rivalry. I was read it first when my sister was born and it's stayed with me all that time.

10/ Fighting it out for the last slot - I can't choose. There so many amazing picture book makers. Jon Klassen is my pick for today. I Want My Hat Back. But I also adore Dr Suess (who doesn't?), although may of his books are more illustrated books than picture books (maybe Richard Scarry's too?). A topic for another day. And for pure illustration, Lizbeth Zwerger all the way. Journey by Aaron Becker is pretty special too (wordless picture book). So many pretty books ...

A Spread from Journey
A Spread from Journey

Better get back to the writing! I'll leave you with this: award winning picture book maker, Marie Louise Fitzpatrick talking a lot of sense about picture books that rhyme:

Yours in writing,

Sarah XXX

I Don’t Have an Agent – Where Should I Send My Work?

I put this together for my writing class at the Irish Writers Centre. It might be useful to you also. Here are the submission details of the main Irish children’s publishers who accept unsolicited manuscripts: O’Brien Press, Little Island, Penguin Ireland, Poolbeg Press, and Mercier. The information is taken from their websites. The Little Island guidelines are particularly useful.

Good luck!

O'Brien Press - Submission Guidelines

Thank you for considering sending your manuscript to The O'Brien Press. We are committed to new and developing talent, and encourage any aspiring authors to send their writing in to us.

However, please note the following:

We publish mainly children's fiction, children's non-fiction and adult non-fiction. We generally do not publish poetry, academic works or adult fiction.

Due to the high level of submissions we receive, unsolicited manuscripts will not be returned. As such, please do not send us any original work, illustrations etc. Note also that stamps from countries other than Ireland are of no use to us!

Unfortunately, due to time constraints, O'Brien Press is not in a position to offer critiques of any unsolicited manuscripts we receive.

Should your submission be 1000 words or less then you may submit your work in its entirety. Please number all the pages of your submission appropriately. For anything in excess of this length -- for example a children's novel -- a synopsis and 2 or 3 sample chapters is more than adequate.

We will only accept submissions/proposals/artwork etc, via the post. Please do not email your work to us.

Please send submissions to Submissions Department, The O'Brien Press, 12 Terenure Road East, Rathgar, Dublin 6, Ireland.

Please allow a minimum of 8/10 weeks response time. As the number of unsolicited manuscripts requiring review by our editorial team can be quite high, sometimes this process can take longer. Please do bear with us.

At The O'Brien Press, we are very conscious of the environment and recycle as much paper as we possibly can. We would therefore encourage you not to use excess paper clips, staples, folders, etc.

Little Island - Submission Guidelines

Little Island is always on the lookout for quality fiction for children and teenagers, and you are welcome to send us your manuscript for consideration. You don’t need to have an agent – but submissions from agents are also welcome. As an Irish publisher, we tend to give preference to books with an Irish connection (though we also publish books in translation).

What we are looking for:

Fabulous writing (Take a look at Good Red Herring.)

Great stories (Take a look at Fennymore and the Brumella.)

Nightmare Club stories (1800–2000 words) Annie Graves doesn’t really write these books. If you can write a funny spooky story for the 7+ age group in Annie’s voice, we’ll consider it.

Storybooks for younger children (max 20,000 words, shorter is better) Funny, adventurous, sad or thoughtful. (Take a look at The Powers, for example.)

Novels for older children (25,000–45,000 words) We are on the lookout for well-written novels for children that tell a good story. (Take a look at The Keeper or Bartolomé – super writing, great stories.)

Novels for teenagers (max 65,000 words, shorter is better) We publish novels for younger teenagers and also for ‘young adults’ (15+). Funny, sad, romantic, fantastical, sassy, grittily realistic, tough, amusing, puzzling – we’re open-minded. (Take a look at Grounded or Primperfect.)

What we are not looking for:

Books by children (Sorry if that sounds mean; we have our reasons, but we can’t go into them here.)

Trilogies (or books with several sequels planned)

Books that have been previously self-published

Sequels to self-published books

Issue-driven books (Stories that deal with issues are fine, that’s different.)

Books about fairies or angels (They are just not our kind of thing.)

Horror (No, you can’t count The Nightmare Club!)

Dystopian fiction (Nothing against it, but we’re full up on that one.)

Stories with accompanying illustrations

A book your children/grandchildren love because you wrote it and it’s about them (Great if they love your book for other reasons, of course.)

Books that treat children as if they are under-cooked adults

Books with the word ‘snot’ in the title

Stories that start from the premise that the main character’s father has got a new job and the family has had to move

Some advice on submitting:

We only publish about eight or nine books a year. This means we have to absolutely love a book before we can even think about publishing it. So you will have the best chance if you send us your book when it is as sparklingly wonderful as you can possibly make it. The reason is that we get lots and lots of manuscripts, some of them fabulous, some of them really rather good and some of them just not working. The ‘really rather good’ ones are problematic for us. These may turn out to be fabulous in the end, but if there’s an already-fabulous book that we can have instead … well, obviously, that’s the one that is much more likely to get published.

If you have a good idea but are not sure how to develop it, by all means give us a ring and we’ll have a chat – but it’s better not to send us a tentative or underdeveloped manuscript.

So get cracking on your fabulous book and knock our socks off!

How to submit and what to expect:

If you are submitting a short book for younger children, you may as well send the whole thing, along with a covering letter.

If you are submitting a novel, the first forty or fifty pages is enough, along with a one-page synopsis and a covering letter.

We like to get submissions electronically first (you can use the form below to send it via the website). If we’re interested in reading more, we’ll ask you to send hard copy also to: Commissioning Editor, Little Island Books, 7 Kenilworth Park, Dublin 6W.

We will send your manuscript back by post if we are not going to publish it, but only if you send us the postage in Irish stamps.

It can take us a while to get to your manuscript. We do try to acknowledge scripts as they come in, though, so if you don’t hear from us within a short while, then assume it’s gone astray and try again. After we’ve acknowledged your script, give us about three months. Then give us a nudge if you haven’t heard.

What our feedback means:

Sadly, we can’t give detailed feedback to authors whose work we are not going to publish.

We may say that a book ‘does not fit our list’. For example, we don’t publish horror, so if you send us a book set in a dungeon inhabited by a family of vampires and we tell you that it ‘does not fit our list’, that’s just the honest truth. It may be wonderful horror, but it’s not for us.

Another reason that a book does not fit our list could be that we have too many books of that type already on the list (and our list is small – there isn’t much room for duplication).

If we say that your book does not appeal, that is also just the simple truth. It means we did not like it enough to want to publish it. But that is a matter of personal taste as much as anything, and someone else may indeed love it. Don’t be discouraged.

If we feel a book has potential, even though it is not right for us, we’ll try to give you a little advice if we can, but don’t expect a long and detailed critique.

If we really love your book, you’ll know all about it.

Penguin Ireland - Submission Guidelines

We strongly encourage submissions via email, to:

If you wish to submit electronically, please send a Word document consisting of a cover letter, short synopsis (no more than 500 words) and the work itself. The cover letter should include a brief summary of your book (a couple of sentences – not a synopsis) and a short note on yourself. Please do not send separate documents: all three elements should be included in a single document.

In the subject line of your email please include:

• your name

• the title of your work

• whether it is fiction or non-fiction

• the initials of the editor you would like to look at your material if you have a preference (check out details of who our editors are and what they publish on the Contact Us page).

So your subject line might read like this: Stephen Green - The Chimneys (F) – BB.

In the body of your email please duplicate the information you have provided in your cover letter. (We ask you to provide this information twice for administrative reasons.)

When you send through your submission, you will receive an automatic email acknowledging receipt.

Hard copy submission:

If you do not wish to submit via email, we also accept paper submissions of between 20 and 40 pages. Please also include a synopsis and a cover letter that includes your contact details (particularly an email address as this is our preferred way to contact you), and post to: SUBMISSIONS at PENGUIN IRELAND, 25 ST. STEPHEN'S GREEN, DUBLIN 2.

We cannot consider hand-written submissions. There is no need to have the manuscript bound or to present it in any special way. Please do not send us the only copy of your manuscript. While we take scrupulous care of the material we receive, it is not possible for us to confirm receipt of hard copy material and we do not accept responsibility for it.

Please note that for administrative reasons we do not return hard copy material, even if you include an SASE or postage.

Response time:

An editor will read your submission as soon as possible. Please allow at least three months for a response; because of the volume of submissions we receive, it is impossible for us to estimate precisely how long a response might take. We are not in a position to give you information about the progress of your submission by phone or email. Unfortunately, it is not possible to give editorial feedback at submission stage.

We are very keen to consider your work, and we thank you for adhering to our submission requirements, which are intended to help us consider it as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Poolbeg Press - Submission Guidelines

How to Submit a Manuscript to Poolbeg Press:

All manuscripts are submitted at the author’s own risk. Due to the large number of submissions we are not in a position to acknowledge or return your manuscript. Please do not send your original copy as it will not be returned. If you do not hear from Poolbeg within three months then your work is not suitable for our list.

Please do not send a synopsis only. A synopsis plus a sample of the first six chapters is preferable in hard copy plus a CD containing the word file.

Manuscripts should be typed in double line spacing on one side of the page only (please note for fiction titles the minimum word count should be 100,000 words).

Presentation is important so check spelling and punctuation.

Pages should be numbered.

Please include a CV and short biography on yourself.

Manuscripts and CD copies in word should be addressed to:

Paula Campbell,


Poolbeg Press,

123 Grange Hill,


Dublin 13

Mercier Press - Submission Guidelines

Mercier Press is Ireland's oldest independent publishing house and we take great pride in publishing works by Irish authors and bringing them to a global audience. We are happy to accept unsolicited submissions for adult non-fiction. Our list concentrates on Irish interest material, principally Irish history, cookery, biography/memoir, politics/current affairs, sport and lifestyle.

We are not currently accepting unsolicited submissions for adult or children’s fiction or poetry.

Submitting your manuscript to a publisher can be a daunting prospect. It can often be difficult to discover which publishing house is the best fit for your work. Many manuscripts are rejected because they are sent to publishers who do not publish that type of material. You need to check the competition in the marketplace to discover which publishers produce books in your manuscript's category. Go to your local library or bookshop and look for books similar to yours to see who has published them. Read some of them to make certain that you are selecting the right publisher.

You can also find a list of all publishing companies in Ireland and the types of subject they publish at and at

Many thanks for thinking of Mercier Press and we look forward to receiving your submission.


Please take time to read the submission guidelines below:

Non-fiction submissions must contain a proposed outline, chapter outline and a sample chapter if available.

All submissions must be accompanied by a submission form which can be downloaded through the below link. This form is intended to help us to assess your project in terms of intended readership, the market and suitability for our publishing programme. If this important material is not included then your proposal will not be considered.

contentfiles/SubmissionForm.doc (see )

Submissions can be sent by email to or by post to Sarah Liddy, Commissioning Editor, Mercier Press, Unit 3B, Oak House, Bessboro Road, Blackrock, Cork, Ireland.

Submission Response:

Due to the high level of submissions we receive, please allow at least three months for a response; it is impossible to estimate precisely how long a response might take and unfortunately we cannot comment individually on every submission.

We prefer to receive email submissions, but if you send your material by mail, please do not send us any original work, illustrations etc. We do not accept responsibility for any material sent to us. If you want your manuscript returned after we have considered it, please enclose an adequately sized self-addressed envelope with adequate postage, or, if you live outside the Republic of Ireland, a sufficient number of International Reply coupons. Please note that non-Irish stamps are not accepted by An Post. Submissions without the correct postage will not be returned and will be discarded.