Being on Submission is a Funny Old Thing

It really is, you know. Being on submission is a funny mix of patiently waiting and endlessly hoping. An intrepid author can easily drive themselves mad given a spare five minutes on the Internet, some searching around, and enough will power. There are articles about a million pound advance for a celebrity nobody turned children's author. Articles about the award winning book that took years to be discovered. Articles about the death of publishing, and the rebirth of publishing, and the fact publishing never changed, or that is has to or it will die.

Poor publishing. No one will leave it alone.

And as for the writer - there's stalking to be done. Editors, newly signed authors, new agents on the block, established authors ... Twitter and blog interviews and company websites give so many morsels of information. Enough to drive a writer mad - and they don't tend to be the sanest bunch to begin with.

What's to be done when your book is out and you have to behave?

Book sculptures in situ: Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure IslandThe obvious answer is write. But who wants to be obvious? We're the dreamers of dreams, aren't we? And books can do so many things beside drive you mad.

Take book sculptures, for instance. Stunning, intricate, and if you live in Scotland, also kind of secretive. Some book are for reading. Some are for so much more. Those hours of waiting for your answer have gotta be used for something, right?

You could start planning for the future - a future when your books are multitude and require quite a lot of awesome shelf space. Stacks and piles? Sure. But why not seesaws, swings, or even this rather fetching walk in shelf. Heh. Geddit? Walk in! Because he's ... he's ... oh, never mind. Just look at the pretty thing:

18 Insanely Cool & Creative Bookshelves You'll Wish You Had 6

What else can you do in the lonely waiting times? Eat, of course. Eat while you can still afford food. Want to be literary? Fine. How about some of these pretty awesome book cakes (bookakes? No.) Make cakes of your favourite books and eat them up. Make cakes of your most hated books and slice them up. The key word here - as with so many other times, friends - is cake.


Yes, book are versatile things, whether you're reading, writing, eating, storing or artifying them. 

Being on submission's a great rite of passage for professional writers - so have some fun while you can, eh?


Found in Translation - Foreign Language MG and YA Books

When you're an author, and especially before you've sold a book, you spend a lot of time dreaming and imagining what it will be like - the look, the feel, the cover. And what about if it sold abroad? Imagine your writing in French, or German, of Japanese, of Norwegian, etc., etc.

It's a crazy thought, but it's a reality for plenty of writers.

The other day on Twitter I asked about MG / YA books that have been translated into English. What are the books we read that made it over from other cultures? Twitter didn't let me down, and it's great just to know so many people are reading, finding new things, and are willing to share them around. Isn't that what books are about? Sharing and exploring and adventuring.

File:Littleprince.JPGYou might be surprised at the books - even the classics - that were never actually written in English. Heidi was written in German (by Johanna Spyri), of course.  But Bambi, too? It's by Paul Zsolnay Verlag and the German title is, rather fetchingly, Bambi. Eine Lebensgeschichte aus dem Walde, which really rolls off the tongue, doesn't it?

One of the classic children's books I think of when it comes to translation is  The Little Prince - Le Petit Prince to give it its French title, written by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (Who knew that? Points if you did.). And there's the modern classic that I suspect is more watched than read nowadays, The Neverending Story by Michael Ende (Die unendliche Geschichte). Personally I'm more a fan of his Momo, though its full title's a bit much even for me - Momo oder Die seltsame Geschichte von den Zeit-Dieben und von dem Kind, das den Menschen die gestohlene Zeit zurückbrachte (Momo, or the strange story of the time-thieves and the child who brought the stolen time back to the people).

Well, quite.

File:Inkheart book.jpgTwitter was full of some great suggestions and some surprises, I gotta admit. Cornelia Funke writes in German? Well, yes. You probably knew that. Clever clogs. Inkheart (Tintenherz) is proper German literature, and so you can legitimately feel clever reading it, as if you needed an excuse.

What else? You might know Carlos Ruiz Zafón's El Príncipe de la Niebla by its English title, The Prince of Mist, and (this one was new to me) Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie was published in English in 2001, originally having the much sexier-on-account-of-being-French title Balzac et la petite tailleuse chinoise.

One of the books I remember most reading in Japan was a chance find at a friend's house and was, I later managed to half-remember, half-discover, Benjemin Lebert's The Bird is a Raven - or Der Vogel ist ein Rabe. There's so much out there. So. Many. Books.

But there have to be more. What book have you read, have you loved, that were written then translated? Do you have a favorite children's author from abroad? Let me know in the comments.


New Adult: a new frontier? Guest post by Kat Ellis

Last year, when agents and writers and other publishing folk started talking more about New Adult (NA), I looked at it the same way I used to look at washed-up jellyfish on the beach: What is that? Is it alive?

Now that NA has been poked with the proverbial stick, it seems it is, in fact, A Thing.

My initial hesitation was mostly because I didn't get it. Fiction for the 18-26(ish) age group? Isn't that just skimming the top off upper YA and bleeding over into adult? Isn't that just crossover?

Well, no. Crossover fiction tends to be those novels aimed at a younger readership, but which still speak to the adult market. Harry Potter, Twilight, The Hunger Games. These are your crossover staples (also known as ‘breakout’ fiction, so I've recently read.) And the protagonists are all under 18 (at least to begin with), so they don’t follow the rules of NA.

More recently, I've seen NA defined as being college-age contemporary, with a strong lean towards romance. Granted, I can see this being a strong part of it, but surely if NA is to be a standalone category, it needs to be more than that?

I like this definition from NA Alley’s site:

“Typically, a novel is considered NA if it encompasses the transition between adolescence—a life stage often depicted in Young Adult (YA) fiction—and true adulthood. Protagonists typically fall between the ages of eighteen and twenty-six, though exceptions may apply. NA characters are often portrayed experiencing: college, living away from home for the first time, military deployment, apprenticeships, a first steady job, a first serious relationship, etc.”

Kat Ellis
That gives some great situational examples, and I think gives a good, succinct definition of what NA actually is.

Naturally, as a SF/F writer, I look at the potential for NA fiction to be written in those genres. I can think of a few film/TV/book examples that I would say fit into that classification: think Starship Troopers (military school graduates in a war against alien bugs), UK Channel 4’s Misfits (a group in their late-teens/early-twenties who are on community service when they get hit by a freak storm which gives them superhuman powers), and Chloe Neill’s Chicagoland Vampires series (where a college student is attacked by a vampire and is recruited by a vampire House to become its sentinel). I’d even throw Isaac Marion’s Warm Bodies into the mix. None of these were marketed as NA (it didn't exist then, so…) but have been very successful. So there is a market there for NA SF/F, it seems.

What about other genres? NA Historical? Thriller? Steampunk?  Sure. I can think of premises which would fit these genres and also fit most comfortably in the NA category – and I’m not talking about sexual content as the reason for this. Yes, with older characters in more mature situations, it may be appropriate to include more sexual content in some NA novels. But as with any story—no matter the genre/category—it needs to be there for a reason. If you’re writing NA erotica, then that could legitimately be the reason, but otherwise what’s the point? If there’s no point, then *ahem* take it out.

If you’re a querying writer, you’ll have seen that more and more agents are adding NA to their want lists, and it seems like writers out there who have previously been quite set on the idea that they are either YA or adult category writers are now dipping a toe into NA waters.

I may even be one of them.

But I also see that with the addition of a new frontier in the form of NA, this sudden rush to explore it is going to lead to it very quickly becoming a saturated market. So, I dip my toe with cat-like caution.

Are you a NA writer, or thinking about writing NA? Where would you put the boundaries?

Hello all, Simon here. Thanks to Kat for this epic post! You can check out here blog here (where I have a guest post as well) and I'd highly recommend you follower her on Twitter as @el_kat. Leave all yo' input in the comments. Personally, I was hesitant, like so many others, about NA. It sounds like a joke. But if you ignore the labels and their marketing value, books are books and good stories are good stories. We'll see what happens, eh? Excelsior!



Hey guys,

I've traveled over to guest blog on Kat Ellis Writes today - all about being a children's writer and explaining that to people. See you there!

Photo by Cea


Terry Deary's Libraries: A Response

There's quite the storm brewing in the world of libraries.

Terry Deary, who you'll probably know if you're British, and probably won't if you're not, has caused quite a to-do with his recent statements about the future of libraries - namely, that there isn't one.

Photo by Jeffrey Beall
A bit of background: in the UK local councils are facing increasing budget constrains and cuts, and in efforts to save money have been systematically turning to libraries as something to cut. It's not an intellectual war, it's not a ideological disagreement - it's just about doing the best they can with the limited funds they have, and seeing libraries as a bit of a drain.

Reaction has been very strong and pretty effective, for the most part. Local groups and influential authors, thinkers, and doers have leaped to libraries' defense, pointing to their role in child education, social and cultural growth, adult education, etc., etc. The image of libraries as just as place for books is outdated, and to close them is to remove a vital social leveler providing access to resources, education and information that not everyone has at home.

Terry Deary's argument is something new, though. Rather than see libraries as a cultural thing, or as a part of the education system (itself not a thing he particularly cherishes), Deary seems to take umbridge that libraries provide books for free.

Talking to The Guardian newspaper, Deary explained:

"If I sold the book I'd get 30p per book. I get six grand, and I should be getting £180,000. But never mind my selfish author perception – what about the bookshops? The libraries are doing nothing for the book industry. They give nothing back, whereas bookshops are selling the book, and the author and the publisher get paid, which is as it should be. What other entertainment do we expect to get for free?"

Now, in the UK, UK authors get paid when you borrow their book. It's called Public Lending Right and it's a good thing. As far as I can tell, Deary's argument is that then 6p or so he gets when you borrow his books is way below the royalties he'd get if you bought it. Why, libraries are undercutting bookstores. They're rivals, and they're cheating!

No. Firstly, to see libraries as just big rooms with books in is to ignore to the point of idiocy their role in local communities working with children, mothers, families, adults, the elderly - you name it - to run courses, workshops, act as information hubs, and to provide space to work and read. In a way the economic argument does have some sense in it - libraries do provide books for free - but the sense is simply this: is makes sense to make reading material available to those who can't buy it themselves. It also makes sense to make it available to those who could buy it themselves, and may well do later on. But to see the libraries as bookshops's competitors? To think they've had their day? No.

Public library on Henley Street. Stratford, England.
Photo by ell brown

When I moved to America, do you know what I did? I registered at the library. I've used it. I've bought books that I first read there. One of the woes of living in Japan was not having an English language library to hand. I used the Birmingham library system growing up, and the Bristol one when I was a student.

There may well be a larger conversation to be had in Britain about the role of libraries and where the funds should come from - in fact, it would probably help boost their public image and help correct some misunderstandings about what they are and what the do. But to support their demise simple because they have the gall to give things away for free is bordering on miserly and ignores the real-world uses of libraries for so many people.

If my books ever made it to UK or U.S. libraries, I would be overjoyed. If I got paid for it? More so. if I didn't? I really do think I would be OK. I know what getting children to read means. It means they become readers throughout their life - and that is something you can't put a price on.


And Once Upon a Time, a Poem

There are always stories out there, hiding
Living in the world,

In your head or in your dreams,
Waiting to be told
and waiting to be found and to be opened and to be.

For some these tales are hidden
In life
and noise
and the turn of the world;

They are lost, or never found,

And that is good, and life is great.

For some 
They are not.

They could never be missed

And they see the shadows
In the smile of a stranger, the hum of the journey,
Or the smile on a grave 
On a frozen day. 

And the story begins,
And the world spins to life,
And the grave smiles on,
And once upon a time.


UK and U.S. Query / Cover Letters

Good Friday to you all. It's snowing on the East Coast - and it will for some time, if you believe the news. Seems like this weekend might be a good one to hunker down, get the fire (or central heating) going, and read a good book.

Photo by M Glasgow
If you're a querying writer, it could be a good time to work on, y'know, what to say to agents. It can be a tricky business, getting the first contact just right. Bad letters are quickly dismissed, it feels like, but rambling ones that have too much information in them can be off putting for agents who have so much to do already. Letters to agents are that terrifying combination of needing quite a lot of information, but having to be as succinct as possible. But hey - you're a writer. It's a challenge, and you can rise to it.

Approaching agents in the U.S. and the UK whether you live in one of those countries of not is becoming increasingly common. Along with the increased submissions rate, the rise of e-mail and the Internet has broken down traditional walls in publishing. Case in point, my own agent lives in London. I live in NJ. Her agency, The Bent Agency, covers both territories. For writers, it's a brave new world with a larger pool of possible contacts and opportunities, even if it is diluted by the sheer number of people who can now send their material in with little more than the click of a button.

But let's assume you're not in that percentage of people who shouldn't be submitting. Let's say your book is ready, edited, and frankly amazing. You've decided to get an agent - hooray! - and now it's time. UK and U.S. agents both strike your fancy. Good for you. But do you need to write different letters?

Well, yes.

These aren't hard and fast rules, please note - just some common practices I've noticed after a few years of reading and doing and learning.

UK - Cover Letter

UK letters are still more letter-y than U.S. ones (hey, it's a word), set out to tell the agent about both you and your ms. Open with a simple 'Dear Ms. Flabbergast, I am writing to submit ...' and give a bit of information about your book - title, word length, genre. Mention that it's complete, sure. 

Now a bit about the book, as you would describe it to a friend. 'THE INCIDENTAL SAUSAGE is about a girl's hunt through Victorian England for the man who stole her breakfast.' Comparisons are good, as are style descriptions. 'Written in a similar style to A. A. Milne, the book was inspired by...' and then one or two lines more of synopsis.

Then a bit about why this agency, why this agent, and then any pertinent information about yourself; profession (if it matters), previous publications, quirks (if they make sense in the context of the book), etc. 

Thanks 'em for their time, and sign off. Not easy, but short.

  • Introduce yourself
  • Have one line AND full paragraph blurbs of your book
  • Any comparisons with current authors
  • Very brief bio of yourself, but check all info is relevant.

U.S. - Query Letter 

U.S. letters were the ones that surprised me. There are some great sites around to help with them, and it was these I used when I first moved to America. 

U.S. letters open directly with the synopsis, as a blurb with a hook. So, 'Dear Ms. Gubberfest, When Natalia's sausage is stolen, there's no where in London the thief can hide. She's a girl on the edge - the edge of hunger - and the Victorian world is about to learn what she's capable of.'

From here, flesh out the story. Another paragraph, introducing any major characters, the main plot focus, and the rough conclusion - but leave it open. You can end it with a question, if you like. 'The Count de Pork knows things about her family - but for the return of her sausage, Natalia must face one final meal.'

It's a tricky art to get right. When you have, though, you can end with one final line including the title and the word count. 'THE INCIDENTAL SAUSAGE is a historical thriller complete at 65,000 words'.

Then, any agent-specific links, and publications if they actually mean something, and sign off.

  • Straight into blurb. Start with 'hook' - to grab attention - then continue and cover plot.
  • All bio info to be kept till end, and very, very brief.
  • Word length and title come at end.

Now, none of this information should be treated as gospel, and remember that every agency has their own likes and dislikes, so check their website.

At the moment, UK agents still tend to prefer a cover letter and the first three chapters, after which the will request the full.

U.S. agents tend to request the query with the first x amount of pages, then, sometimes, a partial - or sometimes just the query, which can result in a partial request - and then a full request.

Clear as mud? Hopefully a bit better than that.

Read around. Use Query Shark for U.S. letters, and Writers' and Artists' Yearbook for UK. Ask others. Practice. Work at it.

It's all going towards a good thing - and you'll never regret work put in now to help get your story out there and being read.


Woah Moments in Life and Stories

Woke up this morning to find a light layer of snow on the world. Not much - it'll be gone by tonight - but enough so that when I opened the curtains, I said 'wow!' without thinking. It was - for me, who doesn't watch weather forecasts - unexpected and instantly hearkened back to that very childish belief that snow is instinctively good because it means play and difference and maybe a day without school.

I mean 'childish' there in a very positive sense, by the way. You don't write children's books if you think childhood is just a phase that people need to get out of.

A lot of writing is about trying to recreate that feeling on the page - getting people to turn the page and be stunned for just a second because what happened wasn't normal or predictable or unnoticed. Things that are new and surprising and have that 'woah' factor - for children and adults - make great books.

So that's it for today. Want some homework? Find the things that make you stop for just a second and do a double take - and remember them.

(Completely unrelated but good - these 13 Writing Tips from Chuck Palahniuk. Number Ten - 'Write the book you want to read' - is so good)


How Captain Planet Taught Me to Write

Hindsight is a great thing. So, I suppose, is patience and the ability to wait. When it comes to writing, or being a writer, there's a very direct link; stories and the writing in them always look worse in hindsight, and get better if you wait before you edit.

Writing always looks worse in hindsight - there's a lot in that statement. If you've written something, then it's OK to be proud of it. Heck, if you finish a book, it would be odd not to be proud. And even if you know it's not perfect, you think you're getting somewhere. There are even scenes, or sentences, or particular phrases, that are pretty damn good. You're not half bad at this. You can write! You're a master!

But take that writing, leave it - ooh, a couple of weeks? A few months? - and go back to it. It's not pretty. It's like rewatching an old cartoon from your childhood and seeing the horror, the cliche, the nonsense of the stories in all their garish 1980s glory.

I loved Captain Planet as a kid. I couldn't see anything wrong with it. Heroes from all over the world uniting through awesome magic to save the earth and beat the bad guys! Yeah!

I watched an episode with some friends when I was at university. Bad Idea. The inane stories, the cheesy, throwaway characters, the morals crowbarred in to the episodes - oh, man. We swore off Captain Planet and preferred to keep our childhood memories alive.

And why was there never a European there, either? And ... Power of Heart? Please. Everyone knows that was the worst of all the Powers. Pff.

Anyway - we looked back at something that had been so good in our minds and had turned out to be so bad. Writing can do that. Going back to read stories I wrote and just staring in mute horror at the sheer levels of ineptitude isn't exactly an ego booster, but it does help those stories get better, in the end. When you can see flaws you can fix them. If you're too wrapped up in the moment, you tend to lose sight of the point of what you're doing. It's not just to get the story down, it's to do it in a way that's readable.

And also not to waste time watching old cartoons. It doesn't end well.