Monday, June 26, 2017

Six things that hit home from my visit to Random House

Editors’ personal taste does not rule

Random House have a consumer intel-team which have a Hot Title meeting every week. There are fourteen people in the fiction team with ten commissioning editors who all have personal taste but everyone also has to consider the list. They have to take in consideration how a new title will work with the list and the books position in the market. There has to be an in-house excitement about the book and they do not consider anything that feels mid-list as Random House has a reputation for publishing high-profile books.

It is harder to market an author who writes for different age-groups

This revelation made my heart sink as I write and have completed a multitude of picture books, two mid-grade books and a YA book. Apparently it is because an author who writes for a multitude of age ranges loses retailer confidence.

It works with more established authors than debuts, especially if they already have an audience. This has not put me off as I love writing for all age ranges. I think my best bet is to push my picture books and then try and work myself up with my readership.

Diversity is key now more than ever

We have always known essentially every child should see themselves in a book. We are also aware that publishers are actively seeking books where the protagonist happens to be ‘different’ and it is not an issue, such as gay, disabled, different culture, etc. I believe, as long as the research is strong, a writer can write as a character not from their own background. Diversity is about showing respect.

Random House have a scheme to encourage writers to tell them in 1000 words where more diversity is needed called the Right Now Scheme. Submissions are taken from different regions throughout the UK.

Gender does make a difference

Girls are happy to read about boys but boys are not happy to read about girls. This is less true for picture books. Boys do not like to read domestic dramas.

Second book syndrome is a thing

Random House never take on one book deals they always agree a second book. This second book is expected in six months and this will be specified in the contract. This can put an added pressure on an author.

Just because you have been taken on by a publisher does not mean you have made it

Every year publishers like Random House sit in a Title Majority Meeting where they discuss each debuts progress. If a book has not made out its advance the author and their book will be cut from the list. This does not do your career any good. Big publishers have to look at the bigger picture and they have to think how they are going to compete in the United States.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Poetry for Performance

I was lucky enough to be invited to submit some poems for a new innovative poetry anthology aimed at Speech and Drama teachers. it is called Poetry for Performance and published by The Playing Space.

The Playing Space is a drama company based in Southgate, North London. They teach speech and drama to children, young adults and adults. 

All the poems were selected because they are ideal for performance. The book has been conveniently divided into age groups:
  • poems for 6–10-year-olds
  • poems for 10–14-year-olds
  • poems for performers aged 14 and over·      

These poems are also perfect for speech and drama exams, verse speaking competitions, festivals and ideal for classroom study at both primary and secondary level. 

The book is available to buy from Amazon

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Graeme Simsion's Research Secrets

Australian romantic comedy author, Graeme Simsion, spoke to me about how you can't beat real-life experience as the best research resource.

His first two novels are, The Rosie Project and its sequel The Rosie Effect published by Penguin Books. His hero is forty-one-year-old geneticist, Don Tillman, has never been on a second date and then he meets Rosie, gets married and moves to New York.

His most recent novel is The Best of Adam Sharp also published by Penguin in the UK. This novel explores a re-kindled relationship and its consequences.

Graeme advocates that when doing research writers should talk to people and not for the facts but for the stories behind the facts. These snippets of information is what can make your writing great.

The feature on Graeme and his Research Secrets is out now in the latest issue of Writers Forum.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

A visit to Random House

One of this year’s SCBWI Industry Insider Events was a visit to the Random House Publishing House where Editors Carmen McCullough and Naomi Colthurst talked us through their publishing process.

Carmen McCullough
Naomi Colthurst
Random House only take agented manuscripts, unless the author has forged a relationship with an editor.

When they receive a manuscript from an agent they talk as a team in an editorial meeting and then an acquisition meeting where everyone would have read the whole book. All reading is done in their own time. Carmen and Naomi will often read five to six titles a week.

It is unusual for something to go to acquisitions and not get through. Once acquired the book is scheduled and there is a structural edit. Structural edit deadlines vary. Some may tie in with specific events. Delivery dates will be specified in the contract. Naomi specifies a month in the first instance. Carmen often allows more than a month but if the edits drag on she will reduce to two weeks. These are additional edits that happen after a structural edit with an agent.

A structural edit can go 2 or 3 rounds before going to the Editorial Two Team for copy edits. Naomi has never taken on a book that does not need editing for at least two rounds. Copy edits are often with an out of house freelance editor. When it is approved it will then go to the Production Team. The whole editing schedule usually takes about a year.

Six months before the book is due to be launched Publicity will work on feature ideas, press and events. There are also rigorous cover meetings.

From start to finish the whole process may take two years with everyone working in unison.

…the book goes on and on as Random House continue to find ways in which they can keep marketing and publicity going.

Overall Random House aim to:
  •         Make the big brands bigger
  •         Reinvent the Classics with new cover looks and picking a hero title each year to pitch a high-level campaign that is often tied into events like Science Week.
  •         Push their dazzling debuts as tomorrow’s brands today.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Writing 4 Children - Dionne McCulloch

In my Writing 4 Children column in this months issue of Writers Forum, I interviewed for Dionne McCulloch.

She works as an editor for Cornerstones, is a judge for the Bath Novel Award and writes her own YA novels. How does she fit it all in? Dionne explains how it is a balancing act and talks us through her typical day. Dionne has previously written and edited scripts for TV and copy-edited speeches for US President, Bill Clinton.

In the feature, Dionne also gives us an insight on what she thinks makes a children's book great and gives readers expert tips to help develop their writing skills.

The Bath Children’s Novel Award 2017 is now open for unsigned novelists writing for children or young adults.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Oskar Cox Jensen's Research Secrets

In the July 2016 issue of Writers' Forum I interviewed Oskar Cox Jensen about the research he did for his novels, The Stones of Winter and The Wild Hunt, which are set in Scandinavia. He explained how fieldwork inspired him and helped him to solve specific issues with the series.

The books are Viking tales of myth and magic. All is not well at the Viking court of Jelling. Home to the mysterious Yelling Stones (three witches turned into stone). It has always been a place of power and a haven for 'the old ways'. Troubling news has reached King Gorm's court - but fourteen-year-old princess Astrid isn't concerned. She's far more worried her family prefers her inside sewing, or planning her marriage, rather than letting her explore the forest, or ride Hestur, her beautiful snow-white horse.

Astrid finds herself at the heart of a battle that will change her life forever. Leif, an ambitious and talented young poet, arrives at King Gorm's court and announces he has been sent visions from the witches of the Yelling Stones, saying a dangerous and powerful force is coming - one that will change the face of Denmark -and only Astrid and Leif can stop it. With danger all around them, including trolls, witches and a terrifying creature called 'The Beast', can they tell who the real enemy is in time to stop them?

To find out more about Oskar Cox Jensen you can visit his website at:

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Picture Book Retreat in Herne Bay

Last weekend I was teaching a course on writing picture books in Herne Bay, Kent.

The course launched with wine and nibbles at the Grosvenor House guesthouse, hosted by the lovely Frances Brown. I did a presentation on the myths of picture book writing and we all got to know each other. We then walked into Herne Bay town, to a local art gallery called, One New Street Gallery, owned by Helen Wilde and her partner Terry Sole. They had arranged a private viewing of paintings by John Butterworth for us before we went to eat at an amazing little Italian pizza house, A Casa Mia on High Street.

After breakfast, our morning session kicked off with an introduction to picture books looking at word count, structure and themes. We spent time analysing a wide range of picture books looking for common features and what appealed to us as readers. This sparked lots of interesting discussion.

For lunch, we went to an adorable vintage tea shop with lace table clothes on William Street called, Very Vintagebefore embarking on our afternoon sessions where all the delegates plotted a new picture book. They shared and discussed their ideas within the group and for homework were asked to complete their stories and make dummy books to show the group in the morning.

Each course member completed their homework to a high standard and I was impressed with the quality of the stories they presented. They had all taken on board everything I had said about plot and structure. After looking at each of the picture book dummies we started another picture book idea, inspired by group work and role play to develop a new character.

During the final session, we discussed the submission process, writing a picture book elevator pitch and I told everyone my top ten tips for being a picture book writer. 

We are hoping to run a similar course in the Autumn. If you are interested please contact Frances Brown at Grosvenor House Events, Herne
Places are limited to six people per course. It is also a fantastic venue for writing retreats.