Bella Pearson spent twelve years working for David Fickling Books editing many award winning books such as The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne, Before I Die by Jenny Downham and Tall Story by you know who. She won the Branford Boase for co-editing A Swift Pure Cry by Siobhan Dowd. Bella recently set up as a freelance children’s book editor and consultant while continuing to work with both publishers and individuals. She has an MA in Children’s Literature from the University of Surrey and lives in Oxford with three boisterous boys and a husband. www.bellapearson.com
For all aspiring authors, a list of seven things to do in order not to get published, listed in no particular order.
1 PREVARICATE.If you don’t write anything, you won’t get published. I know it sounds obvious, but you wouldn’t believe the number of writers whose book is still in their head – my mother’s memoirs being one of them; a friend’s picture books another. The words need to come out of your imagination and onto some paper – if you have a good story to tell there are people waiting to read it. As Groucho Marx said: ‘Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside a dog, it's too dark to read.’
|Image by Kerry Madison|
2 IGNORE THE WRITERS’ AND ARTISTS’ HANDBOOKIgnore at your peril - it is invaluable. The bible for aspiring writers – this tells you everything you need to know and more. It will point you in the right direction of publisher for your submission, the most suitable agents to try, the right organization for anything word-related.
3 SEND GIFTSAs an editorial assistant many moons ago, I was thrilled to receive a £10 book token along with an unsolicited manuscript. The following day my knuckles were rapped for accepting bribes and the said manuscript was returned forthwith, as was the token. Cupcakes, flowers and chocolate are not permitted either. (Which is a shame, because editorial assistants aren’t paid much and could do with a boost.)
4 DOUBT THE IMPORTANCE OF AGENTS.An author and I were having lunch a few weeks ago, when she mentioned her agent. A chill wind blew through the restaurant and my soup froze – we struggled on but the mood had been broken.
But seriously, agents are lovely, and by far the best way to break free of the slush pile. We all know that it is notoriously difficult to stand out from the enormous number of m/ss that publishers receive – and pink paper, glitter and confetti just don’t work. There is no better way of getting your book noticed than if it is at the end of an agent’s arm, being proffered with enthusiasm.
5 DISREGARD THE CRAFT OF WRITING.The two main things that I look for in a writer are a voice that stands out, and a story that makes me want to read on. Harder than it sounds - but there are ways of learning the craft of writing, the things that make some manuscripts stand out from others: by reading, taking classes, listening to others in writing groups. There are such supportive networks around, and instructive ones too.
6 USE SWEARWORDS IN PICTURE BOOKSUsing graphic words in books for children of pre-school age is a big no-no. (Oh, hang on, I’m mistaken – you CAN get a book deal if you swear. Ignore this point.)
|Read about Go the F**k to Sleep|
6b GIVE UPDon’t give up! Please don’t give up. As an editor, nothing beats the feeling you have when reading something that is original, exciting, moving, more than a sum of its parts – and most excitingly of all, by someone yet to be published. If at first you don’t succeed, remember that success for most authors has not been overnight; in most cases it has been years.
7 TAKE ANY OF THESE POINTS TO HEARTThere are always exceptions to the rule.
|From Fork Party|
Harry Potter was too long, no one wanted to read books about the war, vampires were passé. (I made that last one up.) It’s easy being an editor/publisher. If you hang around in the right place, sooner or later something fantastic is going to turn up which has been the result of someone else’s hard slog.
There is no new ‘Harry Potter’ – only the next great writer or great story.
So keep writing, keep believing, and bravo to all aspiring writers – we salute you!