I first decided I wanted to write professionally for children in 2001. This was the year I attended my first SCBWI conference in Winchester. I’d already had a little success writing short stories for the women’s magazines and now wanted to break into the children’s market. I knew both types of writing have to be tight with no wasted words. I had ideas for children’s books floating around in my head but nothing concrete on paper. I needed an idea of where to start.
My first workshop was with the children’s author Sandra Ann Horn. She emphasised that when you submit a manuscript it is terribly important to play by the rules. Your manuscript needs to be professionally presented. She said always have a front page with a title, who it is by, how many words and also send a covering letter.
Here is my children’s book of ____ words, aimed at age ___ . I enclose a stamped addressed envelope.
Sandra went on to explain that some publishers only read the first paragraph and it needs to engage the reader. She said the first paragraph is the most important of all to pitch your story to editors and publishers and should show the power of your story. She told us to, make it intriguing, set the tone, give some sort of indication of the age of the reader and make the reader want to explore more. There is a poetic rhythm at the beginning. The reader is bought in to the adventure and they are part of it. The first paragraph should indicate the type of book we’re going to be reading. There should also be a hint of how the story will progress. There should be a promise of a journey.
She told us to pick a suitable publisher. Know where your book sits on the shelf. By this I think she meant, you should have an idea if the publisher’s you are approaching publishes the type of book you are writing. She suggested to telephone first and ask who you should send your manuscript to. She also said, that make sure if they asked for a synopsis you say in your covering letter, further to our phone call or, as asked for.
Some other things she said during the workshop that I have found useful and still keep in the back of my mind when I write is that you should tell the reader the state of mind of the character by showing what they are doing. Read your work aloud to check the flow of words. This will help to identify where your story slows down and which parts are unconvincing. You can hear immediately where it flattens. Ask yourself do you need that description. If not, take it out and use a drip-feed method. Think of the pace. Remember, the first bit has to excite the reader but you can slow down after that.