The excerpt I submitted came from my story, Prince Bob and the Horrible Hagatha. It had been an Undiscovered Voices winner in 2012 under the title of To Destiny or Death! It had reached acquisitions at Scholastic but had been turned down even though the editor was keen to publish. So, as it fitted the brief for Amber's Challenge, I thought I'd submit it in the hope that I'd get some feedback on what to do with it. Maybe even some insight into why acquisitions had rejected it.
When entering this Slush Pile Challenge I made sure I followed Amber's submission guidelines.
Amber's comments on the web were very helpful. They gave me a great boost. She was looking for voice and I love creating characters who are distinctive, so I was delighted that she'd enjoyed them. I was also really pleased that she identified the techniques I'd used to create the voices.
The meeting was brilliant. It was by phone which can sometimes feel awkward but Amber was friendly and easy to talk to.
Amber had read the whole book and it was so good to discuss the story with an agent, who came from an editorial background.
Amber was able to explain to me the mismatch that I often seem to have between the premises I like to write about and the style and length of the books I produce. This mismatch has been pointed out to me before but I've never really taken it on board. It's no good telling me something, because I'm like a kid with the 'But Why?' comeback. She explained why there was a mismatch and why it was getting in the way.
Amber's been very influential and I'm actually thinking of my work differently since our meeting.
We discussed my use of poetry. At one point Prince Bob can only speak in rhyming couplets and then later he blurts out some rhymes. Obviously there are translation problems and Amber suggested writing out Prince Bob's dialogue in prose and compare the two versions. Would his voice still be distinctive? The other comment was - you're more likely to get away with rhyme if the book is pitched at a younger audience but that would require a lower word count.
I'm removing some of the rhyme, changing a character, and going for the lower word count. I'm pruning Prince Bob from 12,000-words to 8,000. It's been fun. I got it down to 7,000 and now I'm building it back up a bit so I should hit the target. It's definitely a better book for it. Punchier and faster paced. Amber also asked what else I was writing and she's currently reading Witch School Sucks!
Thank you to the SCBWI BI Words and Pictures Team for organising this competition and to Amber for her excellent feedback.