Established in 1935, David Higham
Associates represent an outstanding range of writers across all genres,
in all media and languages throughout the world, and are the leading
agency for children's authors and illustrators.
Nicola works at the Orion Publishing Group, and has had experience selling titles from across all of their lists. She will soon be moving to their illustrated non-fiction imprint, Weidenfield &
Nicolson, which works with authors such Richard Hammond, Michael Palin and Kevin McCloud. To date, she has had first hand experience working with agents and authors, and has followed books from acquisition through to publication.
In her spare time, Nicola is the Vice Chair Young Publishers (SYP); a non-profit organisation which aims to assist those trying to get into the publishing industry. Over the last year she has created a vibrant events programme on subjects such as audio and digital publishing, writing for teenagers, as well as how to write and publish a bestselling book. She is currently a volunteer for English PEN, and is working with their Writers in Prison programme to create visits with some of Orion’s authors.
Alan Gibbons was a school teacher for some time and now works as a full-time writer and independent educational consultant. He is also a regular contributor to education newspapers and magazines such as Times Education Supplement and Junior Education.
He has written many books for children and young adults, and a fantasy sequence, Lost
Souls. The Number 7 Shirt (2008), a book for reluctant readers, is the latest in a series of other books he has written for Barrington
His books for teenage audiences often deal with difficult issues, and have included stories about bullying, domestic voilence and the effects of terrorism.
Alan won the Blue Peter Book Award: The Book I Couldn't Put Down in 2000 for Shadow of the Minotaur (2000), and has been shortlisted twice for the Carnegie Medal and the Booktrust Teenage Prize.
find out more at www.alangibbons.com
Ali Sparkes, author of the Shapeshifter
and Monster Makers books, is published by Oxford University Press,
Scholastic and (on the website) BBC Radio Four.
Her brilliantly original
'Frozen in Time', winner of the Blue
of the Year Award was also shortlisted for the West Sussex Children's Book
Award, and is now a contender for the Coventry Inspiration Awards 2010
and the Blue Peter Book Awards (Book I Couldn't Put Down section).
Ali also does a lot of work with
schools, and is currently busy with the launch of her own independent
publication of 'Miganium', the back story of Tyrone, a character who pops up in the last two books of the Shapeshifter series.
find out more at www.alisparkes.com
Kate’s years working for publishers Hodder and Stoughton gave her a good insight into the requirements and obligations of publishers and authors to each other and her diligence and perseverance once she decided that she wanted to become a career author means that she knows all too well the pitfalls and opportunities along the path new authors have to tread.
She now has two children’s fantasy novels in print, and two more under contract and on the way. She is extremely popular with young readers, especially in Hastings where she is a frequent visitor to schools. She is writer in residence at Helenswood school in Hastings. The first of her ‘Shadow of the Dragon’ novels won the 1066 Book Award in 2009.
Above all, Kate’s stories are an enjoyable, exciting read but they aren’t frivolous - Kate says she likes to explore current moral issues through the guise of fantasy.
She still works part time, on a freelance basis for several publishers, and in her free time is an active and enthusiastic member of Hastings Writers’ Group, and enjoys helping new authors to develop their skills and their careers.
find out more at www.kateohearn.com
Rosalie Warren took early retirement from her university lecturing post four years ago and since then has been pursuing her dream to become a writer. Her first break came when she was shortlisted in an Earlyworks Press competition in 2007, and Circaidy Gregory Press published
'Charity’s Child', her novel for YA/adults, in 2008. In the following year, Robert Hale published her next novel,
'Low Tide, Lunan Bay'. Rosalie has completed a third novel for adults and is working on a fourth. She also writes for children, and her novel for age 11+,
'Coping with Chloe',
is soon to be published by Phoenix Yard Books.
Rosalie loves to write across a variety of genres and age groups, which doesn’t necessarily help in finding publishers, but she is determined to go on doing it just the same. She enjoys commenting on others’ work and belongs to a number of writing groups, both on and offline. Without the advice and support of her fellow-writers, she would have given up long ago. She is an enthusiastic collector, not only of rejection slips but of first editions of her favourite books.
Find out more at
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Individual comments have been sent to
entrants where the judges deemed it appropriate to do so but here is a
public overview which we hope will prove useful to all authors planning
to present a work for children or teenagers to an agency or publisher.
Rosalie Warren writes....
I thoroughly enjoyed reading these entries. Many, if not most, of them showed real imaginative flair – the ability to create an entrancing world in the first few paragraphs. The child in me was thrilled by what I read. I think what always captivates me most at the start of a story (and I’ve heard others say this too) is a good strong voice, combined with an appealing and intriguing central character. For me, these things are even more important than a strong plot hook, though that’s vital as well.
What let down many of these entries was formatting. It was the single biggest problem. Agents and publishers normally ask for paragraphs with the first line indented and with no space between them. The trouble is, when you change formats the paragraph indentation often disappears, making the text difficult to read. So please, when submitting anywhere, check your text in its final form to make sure that your paragraphs are still properly indented. It makes a huge difference to the mood of the reader, and you want the reader on your side, after all. Remember font size (at least 11 point) and line spacing (double) too, though these were less of a problem in the entries I saw.
Now the letter. First of all, it should exist (some of them didn't, if you see what I mean. Or maybe you forgot to include them). A good introductory letter is enormously important – it’s the first thing most people look at and it can sometimes be the only thing. Don't include the whole of your synopsis in the letter – that should be a separate document. Your letter should give basic information about your submission, including its intended age-range – and should contain a compelling ‘hook’. This should tempt the reader to look at your chapters – in fact it should make it impossible to resist reading on.
Secondly – the synopsis. It should contain a clear summary of the story and introduce the main characters. No need to include every detail of the plot. Bring out the ‘theme’ and the sense of excitement in the story as much as you can. Once again, make me want to read the chapters. Do justice to your story. Quite a few of the synopses I read made the stories sound dull – which they weren’t. But an agent or publisher, or a harsher judge, might well have stopped reading at that point. Nearly everyone hates writing synopses, and it shows. Make yours glow.
Thirdly – the text. Please don't introduce lots of difficult names in the first few paragraphs, even if sci-fi or fantasy is your genre. I get frustrated if I don't know how to pronounce the words I read. Avoid flowery language and long paragraphs when you’re writing for children. Make sure your pronouns are clear – who do ‘he’ and ‘she’ refer to? Be vigilant with spelling and grammar – and make sure your work really is finished (as good as you can make it) before you submit. One or two entrants admitted that this was an early draft. Don’t waste an entry fee on something that’s half-baked. Fresh-out-of-the oven and fragrant with promise, that’s what a story submission should be. (If only it were that easy. Now I’m off to try and apply these things to my own work...)
Kay Green writes....
As competition administrator, I would
be saying a lot of the same things as Rosalie - but in a more paperworky
way. I'm thinking about the things which might influence, for example,
an agent's assistant or an editor's secretary. As the entries for this
competition mounted up, I found myself feeling very grateful to those
entrants who had sent clearly headed, clean, organised entries, whilst
becoming increasingly frustrated by entries I couldn't open, couldn't
find contact details for or, in the case of e-entries, those I didn't have
the software or know-how to open.
Perhaps boring things like that won't
make any difference to your career, but I think they might. Good office
procedure helps your work to arrive on the right desk in the right form.
After that, good language and communication skills help you produce a
letter and proposal that will carry your story forward. Don't upset the
administrator - it really is no good being a superb writer if your work
is always in the bin before it reaches a commissioning editor. For
that reason, here is a summary of the situation from Kate O'Hearn, whose
career has given her a clear view of new novels from both sides of the
editor's desk. I hope all our competition entrants will read and
remember her words. It took me eight years of (mostly inappropriate)
hard work to get my first publication contract. If I'd known what is
written below back then, I could have saved myself vast amounts of
And after Kate's report comes a comment from Laura West of David Higham Associates which I think carries one of
the most important points. The internet is overburdened with all kinds of
opinions on exactly what agents want to see. Not one single
sentence of it is true across the board. Literary agents are not all the same. If you're sending your work to an
agent, read THEIR website or publicity material and find out what is
right for THEIR agency before preparing your submission.
Kate O'Hearn writes...
Ok, let’s face it. We all want to write and share our creativity. We get so excited about our stories that we often forget the other side of the industry. The boring commercial and business side of things. So with that in mind, once you have unleashed your creative self, when the writing is done, you must put that creative monster back in its cage and put on your business hat.
You must write an introductory business letter. You would to a bank, so why not to a publisher or agent? Think about it. It lets the editor or agent know you are serious about your intentions. So this letter should be brief and concise
and yet have a style that catches their attention and makes you stand out. Tell them who you are, what you like to write, and who your writing might be compared to and directed at. Tell them what genre you like to write in. If you have any publishing accomplishments, here is where you tell them. Blow your own horn, no one else will!
But be warned – please, under penalty of DEATH – don’t tell an editor they will make millions with your
book. They will stop reading there and then. (Trust me. I have seen it for myself)
Next we have our synopsis. AKA, pure unadulterated HELL!
No one likes writing them. And I’d be worried about someone who says they do like to write them. But we all have to – it’s just like death and taxes. For authors, they are unavoidable.
A synopsis should not talk about the genre or the style of writing. And once again, Don’t mention how it will be a best
seller! It is exclusively about the story – not the writing of the story. The synopsis serves only one purpose in life
– to intrigue the editor or agent and entice them into reading the book.
So, first mistake? Telling it all. This isn’t an outline (that is another nightmare for another time) So don’t tell the whole story. Tease the reader. Treat them, pull them in, and then leave them wanting more. Insert questions, “Will Fred Flintstone every get back with Wilma? Will Barney Rubble ever teach Bam Bam not to hit people with his club before it’s too late?”
A synopsis is almost like the blurb on the back of a book – a little bit longer, but still there to get the reader’s attention and make them want to know more.
The actual manuscript:
If I have learned anything, it is that you must know your market. We hear that all the time and I really want to kick myself for saying it. But it’s true. If you want to write for the 9+ market, you’ve got to read some of those books. Find out how far you can go with your story. Learn both your limits, and freedoms. And find out about length! Most 9+ books go from 40K to 70K words. So a 20K book just won’t make it, no matter how good the story is.
We can be a lot more aggressive with our writing these days. Our readers really are more sophisticated. Perhaps the advent of video games has created a generation used to more violence than what we had in books just a few years ago.
Sadly, these days, sweeter, gentler stories are reserved for younger readers. I hear this from my own editors all the time, pace, PACE,
PACE. So much so, it drives me crazy! I spend half my days dizzy from writing a breakneck pace!
But if I want to be published, it’s what I must do.
Children’s writing is at a very exciting moment in history. Children’s writers are making history! So just keep writing and loving all of it. Including the dreaded introduction letters and synopses.
Laura West writes....
A question we’re often asked is whether agencies need a description along the lines of a blurb, a synopsis or a full outline when submitting their work. It was clear from the entries I received that there is some confusion about this. Guidelines may well be different from agency to agency so it is important to tailor submissions accordingly. We suggest that authors write a
short blurb-like description – of only a couple of sentences – in their covering letter and include a separate full plot outline with the submission. But this shouldn’t be
overly long; a page is fine. The outline should, as much as possible, be as well-written and engaging as the narrative itself. It should clearly set out the main plot and character points in the order in which they are revealed to the reader. If an agent has engaged with the idea and the voice of the sample material the outline will be their next port of call to see how the story will play out. If the plot intrigues they will certainly ask to see the rest of the novel/book.
Conclusion (by Kay Green)
And finally, huge congratulations to
everyone who made it into the top ten. There is always an element of
personal preference in judging fiction and it's possible that any one of
our finalists could have been the winner if we'd used different readers.
Nearly winning may seem like more of an annoyance than a bonus right now
but put that shortlisting on your CV, read the personal comments from
the readers (which you will be receiving privately by email)
tailor your submission accordingly and get it off to some agents. In our
readers' opinions, ALL of our top ten are potentially successful books
and we'll be looking out for them on publishers' new release pages