EVENTS Where does my story fit?

Where does your story fit within the world of children's literature? Yvonne Banham attended a fascinating discussion at the recent Edinburgh International Book Festival.

SCBWI Scotland's Network Organiser Caroline Deacon chaired the discussion with Simon James Green and Lindsay Fraser of Fraser Ross Associates Literary Agency. She started off by asking Simon about the importance of knowing where your story fits.

Simon: Everyone’s looking for a reason to turn you down! Knowing where your story fits shows that you’ve researched the market and understand it. It gives agents confidence that they could form a long-term partnership with you. Getting an agent is a highly competitive process, so it must be clear from your submission where your story fits.

Lindsay: An agent needs to know an author has done this work. There have been many changes in children’s publishing, and while some common characteristics remain, the nature of story has changed.

Simon James Green and Lindsay Fraser

Simon gave some general guidance: the introduction of ‘Point of Sale’ means books are now mainly categorised as follows:

  • Picture Books 4-600 words.
  • Chapter Books: 5-7 years, 4-7,000 words. First independent reader. Main character a couple of years older. Internal illustrations.
  • Lower MG: 7-9 years, 15-30,000 words, some internal illustrations. Main character aged 10-11.
  • Upper MG: 11-13 years, 30-60,000 (be aware of less confident readers when considering word count).
  • Teen: Emerging category. 12-15 years, 40-65,000. No swearing or sexual content.
  • YA: Age 13-18 years, 60-85,000 (higher for fantasy), covering a huge range of life experience.
  • New Adult: More adult themes. Another emerging category. 60-85,000 (higher for fantasy).

Lindsay suggested asking yourself ‘Who’s curled up reading my book?’ Be clear on this and be prepared to argue your point if you feel your work is an exception to these categories. Also consider the following gatekeepers:

  • The author. What are you comfortable with?
  • The industry buyer. The overall buyer in charge of Waterstones’ purchasing will differ greatly to independents. Not every shop can take every title.
  • Parents. Protective of their child and may base purchasing on their own reading experience, possibly being over-cautious in their choices.

As there is so much more available now, ‘up front’ titles are helpful in making selections, for example Simon’s Gay Club. This book is YA because of the age of characters, LGBTQ themes, language, politics, light sexual content. Simon pushes boundaries as teens can access information in many ways. If they don’t find the desired content in books, they might not read. But it still needs to be stocked in school libraries. There’s a balance between achieving reality and keeping it acceptable to the gatekeepers (schools, parents). 

Simon: Certain ideas fit certain categories. For example: first crush – upper MG; Romance – YA; dancing llama – picture book. There are universal characteristics, it’s the delivery that changes. Consider how your characters sound on the page, how you play with language, what makes your character unique. Do a deep dive into your character, immerse yourself in their world.

Lindsey added that writing up or down between age ranges is a common conversation between agents and authors. The agent wants to be clear where to pitch the book to publishers. It’s not easy so don’t be disheartened if you get it wrong at first. Always think back to your central character and remember to enjoy what you’re doing.

Advice on pitching

Simon: Distil your pitch but have a variety of options. The ‘Hollywood Pitch’ is super-distilled and great for high concept ideas, for example Alien becomes ‘Jaws in space’. But that doesn’t work for all titles, so have a series of nuggets including concepts and teasers to pitch, and then move forward when you’ve caught the agent’s interest.

Lindsay: You need to sum it up quickly. Everyone in the industry is short of time. Be clear on genre. Agents have so many submissions you have to grab their attention. Books also go through many hoops during the publisher’s acquisitions process, and they want to see what they’re dealing with quickly.

Exercises: in groups of two to three, attendees condensed their story ideas and then had one minute to describe the plot to their partner(s) and vice versa, including why the story is happening now, what is your inspiration, why are you the one to write it. Then each recited what they understood from the other’s pitch.

Example: the pitch for Gay ClubGay Club charts the race to be president of the high school LGBTQ society. No details. Then this was expanded to: '…not a popular club. Four members and two are his mates. He’s confident until Bronte opens voting to the whole school.' Then, why now/why you? (Simon’s) awareness of the rising tide of anti LGBTQ sentiment and experiences of visiting schools.

Finally, it’s safe to pitch ideas to publishing professionals. There is no such thing as a new idea, but your individual take needs to come across. Be prepared for rejection but stay determined, it’s the only way. 

*Header image provided by Yvonne Banham: (from l to r) Chair, Caroline Deacon (Network Organiser, SCBWI Scotland); Simon James Green, Author (Noah Can’t Even, Gay Club, Llama Glamarama ), Lindsay Fraser (Co-founder of Fraser Ross Associates Literary Agency)


Banham's debut middle grade novel The Dark and Dangerous Gifts of Delores Mackenzie will be published by Firefly Press on April 6th, 2023. She was selected for the Undiscovered Voices Anthology 2020 and is currently part of Scottish Book Trust’s Debut Lab, supported by Creative Scotland. After 10 years living in The Netherlands and five in Edinburgh, she now lives in the almost-wilds of Stirlingshire. 


Stephanie Cotela is the new Network News & Events Editor for Words & Pictures magazine.

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