Event Report: How To Optimise Your Chances of Publication

Keen SCBWIs gathered recently at The Savoy Tup, a London pub located just off the Strand, for an evening of industry insider tips. Mandy Rabin introduced the panel which included SF Said, author of Varjak Paw and Phoenix, Julia Churchill, Literary Agent at AM Heath, Sarah Stewart, Senior Fiction Editor at Usborne Publishing Ltd. and Dee Shulman, Illustrator/Author of Hetty the Yetty and Polly Price series. The panel covered a broad range of topics culminating in questions from the audience. Here’s a summary of the evening's highlights.

Starting Out
Dee and SF talked about their early careers. Looking back, both said they’d known very little about how to get a book published. Dee, a closet children’s book illustrator, didn’t attempt publication until she had children of her own. She submitted a dummy to Penguin and with rare beginner’s luck was immediately published. Four books followed in quick succession before she experienced a ‘horrible hiatus’ and she learned, ‘you’re only really as good as you're last book.’
SF Said and Dee Schulman
SF’s quest began in the early 90’s, when few courses and less networking opportunities were available. Persistence and tenacity were key, ‘the harder you work, the luckier you get!’ After years of close encounters of the almost-but-not-quite-there kind, Varjak Paw was published. ‘I thought having a book published would change my life,’ he said however, ‘your life will carry on much as it was, except people will expect things from you!’
The panel: Sarah Stewart, Julia Churchill, SF Said, Dee Schulman
An Agent & Editor’s Perspective
Julia receives about one hundred and fifty submissions a week. She doesn't read submissions so much as ‘consider’ them, taking on two clients a year if she’s lucky. She knows in seconds if it’s not for her. Her attention is focused on her established list of about thirty five to forty clients. She doesn't read the synopsis on submission, it’s a technical document and difficult to pitch. She suggested aspiring authors submit to a spread of established and new (but not unknown) agents. Submit widely. Agencies seeking new talent will spend more time on submissions and editing prospective work. Every agent is different - check their website for submission guidelines. Pay attention to your covering letter. Employ one or two skilful details into your pitch to bring it to life. If the concept is communicated clearly it’s a promising sign indicating a good set of skills.
Sarah Stewart & Julia Churchill
Sarah receives forty submissions a month from agents. If she likes the concept it will go to the top of her pile. Sarah reads manuscripts in isolation to see how it makes her feel. She doesn’t read the pitch and generally finds synopses awful to read and write! A synopsis is a useful tool for foreign deals and translation rights. Finding the right person to edit your work is vital. An editor must have passion for the project in order to infect the rest of the team. Make sure your opening is attention grabbing rather than a slog! Remember she has to forward your manuscript to the acquisitions team. Passion for your manuscript will propel the project forward.
Audience listening to the panel
Tips For Writers
  • Discover and do whatever enables you to write, be it a course or joining a writers group. Or perhaps you work best alone.
  • Write what is unique to you, go with it because ‘weirdly,’ said SF, that’s what will have universal appeal. Put everything you’ve got into making your story the best thing you can. Make your USP stand out. Not just in your pitch to agents but continually throughout the process. This will sell your work along the chain and ultimately to your reader.
  • It’s impossible to predict the market. No second guessing or jumping on bandwagons; write the story that only you can write, not the one you think might sell.
  • Be passionate and keep at it.
  • Use feedback. Improve your work. Learn and move on.
  • For SF, being a writer feels like being a two headed creature. He can’t have his creative head and editorial head on at the same time. He sends one to the beach while he deals with the concerns of the other. Part of being a writer is being comfortable with these gear shifts.

Social Media
On the upside social media facilitates community and networking, including contact with your eventual reader. The downside is its powers of distraction. Twitter has changed SF’s whole way of being a writer. He prefers to write for several hours every morning in his local library, where he doesn't know the wifi password! Dee advised, in the nicest possible way, switching off Facebook to avoid the continual declarations of other writers! Six figure deals, big word counts, latest awards etc may not productive if you’re struggling with your own writing.
Kathryn Evans, SCBWI stalwart & author of More Of Me. Kathryn encouraged us all 'to keep at it', along with her editor & panelist, Sarah Stewart.
Dee’s Pointers for Aspiring Illustrators.
  • Develop an online portfolio/website; for inspiration look at www.deviantart.com www.behance.net www. fantasygallery.net
  • Get a name and submit specifically to that person. Do a dummy layout of your book.
  • Never send original artwork.
  • Don’t send loads or inundate with follow up emails.
  • If submitting directly to publishers, find out the names of designers used by the design room. Print a card or make a little booklet & post it to them. You may not be commissioned in the first instance but perhaps perhaps you’ll make an impression for later.
  • Avoid aggression, hyperbole and cliched comparisons, although a good comparison can work. Embrace the writing process and try, as SF suggested, not to be too preoccupied with ‘getting there.’ Be OK at being at the desk and writing, he said, because even writers who win the Carnegie Medal still have to write another book! ‘The goal is really important but the process is what you’re doing.’
With thanks to Mandy Rabin, the panel and fellow SCBWIs for a great evening.
All photo credits: Kellie Jackson
Further References:
The Association of illustrators: www.theaoi.com
The Society of Authors: www. societyofauthors.org
The Children’s Writers & Artists Year Book, published by Bloomsbury Bird by Bird. 

Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott. 

Kellie Jackson is a London based Aussie. Her stories have aired on BBCRadio4. She has a BA in English Literature and an MA in Creative Writing from Goldsmiths. A SCBWI member since 2014, she loves reading YA, short stories & contemporary fiction. She’s currently writing a novel and runs Words Away, a monthly salon for writers with a focus on the writing process.

1 comment:

  1. Sorry I couldn't make it. Looks like a very useful evening.


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