Undiscovered Voices is a SCBWI British Isles initiative, which helps both writers and illustrators find agents and publishers. It wouldn’t happen without the hard work of the volunteer committee, plus editors, agents and art directors and it’s a fantastic opportunity for fresh new voices to be discovered.
Undiscovered Voices 2018 will be officially launched on 2nd May 2017 with a Kick-off event in which the judges will offer invaluable advice for those planning to submit to the anthology.
Look out for the opening of the 2017 Undiscovered Voices Competition. Submissions will be accepted between 1st July and 15th August 2017 via an online submissions process. There is no submission fee, but only unagented and unpublished members of SCBWI living in the UK and Europe (writing in the English language) are eligible.
And just look at the amazing list of judges for the 2018 anthology:
• Chrissie Boehm, Artful Doodlers
• Claire Cartey, Holroyde Cartey
• Lauren Fortune, Scholastic
• Andrea Kearny, Bloomsbury Publishing
• Sarah Leonard, Orchard Children’s Books
• Joanna Moult, Skylark Literary Limited
• Polly Nolan, The Greenhouse Literary Agency
• Gillie Russell, Aitken Alexander Associates
• Hannah Shepard, DHH Literary Agency
• Kirsty Stansfield, Nosy Crow
• Will Steele, Osborne Books
• Nghiem Ta, Walker Books
SCBWI are thrilled to have Benjamin, Catherine and UV founder Sara Grant join members in London for a special preparation Masterclass on 6th May 2017, where they’ll talk about creating engaging stories for young readers aged 5-8 and 7-9 years old. Attendees will leave armed with practical advice and tips to hook young readers.
Ahead of the launch and Masterclass, I thought it would be great to find out more about Undiscovered Voices from Benjamin and Catherine and am delighted to share their interview with you.
Benjamin Scott tells us more about the competition:
Benjamin Scott at the Undiscovered Voices 2016 launch party
Q. Why was Undiscovered Voices created?
Undiscovered Voices was the brain child of editors Sara Grant and Sara O’Connor. As writers and editors, they both knew how difficult it could be for an unknown writer to get published and wanted to create an opportunity for some of the fantastic writers in the SCBWI British Isles to be discovered. They persuaded Working Partners to sponsor this amazing project and the rest is history.
Over the years, UV has expanded to include illustrators and SCBWI members living in Europe. Everyone involved in the anthology competition volunteers, from the committee members to our industry judging panels, which is testament to our belief in how important the anthology is. There is always great excitement from the industry when the next anthology is announced.
Q. Have you had many ‘success stories’ from the competition?
Just getting into the anthology is a success story after the rounds of tough sifting and judging, but we are continually delighted that our finalists’ successes don’t stop after the anthology comes out. Over half the finalists currently have agents (that’s over 42 with representation) and 36 now have published a book (or will soon be). In total, UV finalists have been responsible for well over 200 books and that’s in the UK alone – many have foreign rights deals too. You can check out what all the previous finalists are up to on our website.
And, UV hasn’t just helped the finalists. As a previous Honorary Mention in 2010, I can say that getting on the UV longlist was a definite boost to my writing career.
Q. Since UV was founded, is there a particular genre that you’d like to see more of in submissions?
We don’t set out looking for any genre or age group – we’re looking for a selection of some of the best undiscovered voices out there. If it’s suitable for children or teens, and isn’t a picture book, we’ll consider it.
However, we usually get a very strong showing from YA authors who send us very polished submissions, but fewer middle grade and fewer still young fiction. As we aim to have a range of genres and age groups in the anthology, we’d love to see more submissions for the younger age groups. Our goal is to provide a diverse range of voices and a balance of age groups and genres. One of the biggest challenges of the judging process is trying to get twelve different undiscovered voices that offer our industry audience the widest range of potential new authors!
Q. What are the reasons for offering a ‘getting ready for UV Masterclass’? Why are you specifically focusing on younger readers for this Masterclass?
Simply, we want to see more great younger fiction come through the submissions process and into the anthology. Over the last few anthologies we’ve noticed that the general quantity and quality of YA and MG submissions were higher than those for younger fiction. The whole team is passionate about all writing, but we wanted to find a way to encourage writers working on younger fiction to give themselves the best chance of impressing our judges. It’s such an important area in publishing, helping win over the readers of tomorrow to great stories.
We’re hoping the Masterclass will give writers not just inspiration and information but tools to refine and develop their work. Younger fiction isn’t a strange no-man’s land between picture books and MG/YA, but an exciting land of its own that is full of brilliant, exciting and sometimes funny stories.
Q. You have written many books for younger readers and reviewed many more, what sort of story in your opinion would make the longlist?
It must have a strong story idea at its heart – one that is instantly relatable and easy to grasp. A concept that can be explained in a single sentence is a good starting point – children at that age need the reassurance of knowing what to expect. These are young readers just beginning to really enjoy flexing their reading skills muscles, so the stories need clarity as well as being satisfying and exciting to read.
Aside from the concept, the writing needs to be tight and well-edited. Writing for younger children isn’t an excuse to get sloppy or careless with words, in fact, the opposite. It’s a time for precise language and carefully considered sentence structure. Working with a tight word rather than against it makes a huge difference – it informs the scope of the story, the pacing, the structure and the sources of drama suspense. The long- and short-listed stories will know which details are important and will have cut anything that doesn’t contribute to the story.
Benjamin Scott received an honorary mention in Undiscovered Voices 2010, since then he has written eight children’s books for book-packager Working Partners where he was lead author on the Star Fighters series (written as Max Chase) and written two titles in a reading scheme for an educational publisher. He teaches creative writing in a range of schools and organisations, including the Oxford University Continuing Education Department and the Uppingham Summer School. Benjamin also mentors other writers through his critiquing and editorial service. He is currently developing his own debut YA novel with his agent.
As well as being a committee member of Undiscovered Voices, Catherine Coe was also a judge on the first anthology in 2008. Here she talks about writing young fiction herself and what the judges look for in submissions:
Q. You have written numerous books for younger readers and edited many more - what is it about this age group that most appeals to you?
I remember clearly the magical moments of being a newly confident reader at that age and devouring book after book, and I think this is why I’ve naturally steered towards this audience in my writing. I think back to the imaginary worlds I loved reading about and write books that seven-year-old me would want to read. Helping to develop a passion for reading in children of that age is hugely important to me. There’s no better thing than receiving a letter from a parent whose child has found a love of reading through my books. The same goes for editing them – it’s such a wonderful age where anything seems possible, and children want to read books that ignite their imaginations.
Q. What can SCBWI members do to ensure they get a judge’s attention?
The first couple of lines are vital. It’s a bit like buying a house – people make their mind up within seconds. So make sure your opening is enticing – whether that’s by going straight into some action, or making an unusual or intriguing statement. Something that insists judges must read on to find out what happens. The worst thing to do is to open with backstory (exposition) – it’s one of the quickest ways to lose a judge’s attention.
The concept is also key, particularly in today’s market in which it’s very hard to sell ‘gentle’ books, so make sure that we get a sense of that in your extract and also that it’s clearly conveyed in your synopsis. You should have already written an irresistible one-liner that sums up the concept – so include that at the start of your synopsis to hook a judge into the premise.
You can find more tips for writers and illustrators submitting to the competition on the Undiscovered Voices website at http://www.undiscoveredvoices.com
Q. Should entrants write books that can standalone or with a view of them being in a series?
This is where the advice differs depending on which age group you’re writing for. Middle grade and young adult novels should be able to stand on their own (but there’s no harm in there being the potential of a sequel). But for young readers, it’s extremely important that a book has series potential, because publishers tend to publish series for this readership, not standalones. This is partly because a single slim book can get easily lost on the shelves, partly because of the reading habits of the audience – at this age children find something they like and want more of the same thing, particularly when they are building their confidence in reading. So if you’re writing for young readers, it’s crucial to consider the potential of your concept and whether it has longevity.
Q. Have you received a submission that has stood out for the wrong reasons?
Yes, we have. There are a few ways that a submission can be bad. One is where the writer really hasn’t thought about their audience – which might mean that the writing is very patronising, or there’s a mismatch in the writing level and content/themes/concept. I cannot stress enough how important it is to read widely in the area in which you’re writing in order to understand what engages your audience – both in terms of concept and writing. We also see a number of submissions that are preachy and heavy-handed on morals – particularly for the younger age group. Themes are fine, but keep the message subtle and make sure your book is entertaining above all else. Submissions can also stand out for the wrong reason when they’re littered with typos and grammatical errors, which inevitably make the reading experience less enjoyable. Make sure you ask someone with an eye for detail to proofread your extract and synopsis before you submit.
Q. Who is the finished anthology sent to?
It’s sent to all editors, agents and art directors in the UK, who are also invited to the launch party in early 2018. It’s a wonderful opportunity for the selected writers and illustrators – something that everyone in the industry looks forward to receiving in the hope they’ll discover the next exciting children’s book talent!
Catherine Coe is a children’s book editor and author with over 15 years’ experience. Having worked in-house for many years, Catherine went freelance in 2011 and since then has authored over thirty books for young readers, including series such as The Unicorns of Blossom Wood (Scholastic, 2016), The Owls of Blossom Wood (Scholastic, 2015) and Kid Cowboy (Orchard Books, 2012).
Editorially, Catherine’s freelance clients include many major and independent publishers and agents, and she also works directly with writers, offering consultancy, mentoring and editing services. When Catherine’s not reading or writing with a cup of Earl Grey in hand, you’ll most likely find her out running the waterside paths of Stockholm, the city she now calls home.
Please note that you don't have to be planning on entering the Undiscovered Voices competition to enrol for the preparatory class. It is suitable for anyone who is interested in writing younger fiction.
The Kick-off event is free for all SCBWI members and will be very useful for those submitting to the anthology competition. Book your place here now!
The UV2018 site is now live. For more information on Undiscovered Voices, visit www.undiscoveredvoices.com
A. M. Dassu is a member of the Words & Pictures editorial team, she manages the Events team and SCBWI BI events coverage. She has written five picture books since becoming a SCBWI member and is currently editing a contemporary teen novel.
Contact her at email@example.com
You can find her on Twitter @a_reflective and Instagram at a.m.dassu