Friday 10 May 2013

Notes from an Editor: How (NOT) to Get Published

By Bella Pearson
Guest Blogger

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.

For all aspiring authors, a list of seven things to do in order not to get published, listed in no particular order.

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

Ignore 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.

As 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.)

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.

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.

Using 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

Don’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.

From Zazzle

There 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!


  1. The "vampires were passe ( I made that last one up)" got me giggling out loud :-)
    Thanks for the good reminders!

  2. Sol Stein wrote: "The function of an editor is to achieve the writer's intentions". I feel lucky to have worked with Bella, who quietly sets out to make the doubting writer discover the story she wants to tell. Thanks for guesting on the blog, Bella!

  3. Sage and witty words. Thanks for helping us keep faith, Bella

  4. How much do you charge for editing? LOL

  5. I really enjoyed meeting Bella at a SCBWI conference a few years back - any writer would be lucky to work with her.

  6. Ah Bella, you're a breath of fresh air! And a witty inspiration. Thanks for a post which has cheered up my day!

  7. Thanks for taking time to blog to us Bella. Great post!

  8. Oh I LOVE this post - I think I've going to print it out and stick it on the wall. Thank you Candy and Bella - and btw, everyone of those stories mentioned above, especially Tall Story, I loved - so thank you also for that wonderful gift :)

  9. Brilliant post. I'm going to find that Snoopy cartoon and put it on my noticeboard!

  10. I love the worms! Oh and Snoopy, and the Marx quote is framed on my shelf and I'm looking at it right now!

    Another great post, thanks Candy! (And Bella)

  11. So many fantastic books to be associated with, Bella! Great and funny post *puts away book token*. Thanks!

  12. Yikes, I've been prevaricating all morning... must get those words down on paper.

    Thanks for the sound advice, Bella - and the snoopy strip!

  13. I appreciate the encouragement from number 6b, but I'm beginning to ask myself when it is wise to move my focus somewhere else. I'm still hopeful, have published a lot of creative work in forms other than a novel and know I'm a good writer. I've also been at this a loooooong time. It seems to be making the right connections that's so hard.

  14. Thanks for all the comments, Candy's pics were perfect - where does she find them?!
    It certainly must feel tough at times; I'm just getting used to the freelancing art of self-motivation and that's nothing compared to the dedication required for invention and writing.

  15. What a lovely post! And beautifully illustrated by Candy. My best is the Snoopy cartoon. Fabbo. And the Groucho quote...I can attest that Bella Pearson is one of the VERY BEST EDITORS OUT THERE!

  16. This post ought to be pasted into the Writer's and Artist's handbook. Lovely presentation, Candy.

  17. The thing is, getting an agent is horribly difficult. My own experience, before I gave up, was,"My books are full" from those few agents who had the courtesy to reply and no answer at all from the rest, even with the appropriate return postage for my inquiries. I still don't know what to do to get the attention of one of these, given that there are some terrible books out there which thank "my wonderful agent" who must indeed have been wonderful to persuade a publisher to take on such poorly written work. So I have managed without one.

    Otherwise, I think I have followed these rules. Thanks for sharing.

  18. This comment has been removed by the author.

  19. Good grief, I broke rule #5 just by trying to reply!
    What I meant to say was:
    Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  20. Thank you for this! Just as a writer, I have enough people telling me how great their (imagined) book will be someday, or that I should write their memoirs, or that they have this GREAT idea that I can use for a cut of the royalties, or... *headache*. I can't imagine what agents and editors go through!

  21. Wonderful post - thank you, Bella and Candy. And the Snoopy cartoon made me roar with laughter. Must find it and put it on my wall.


Comments are the heart and soul of the Slushpile community, thank you! We may periodically turn on comments approval when trolls appear.

Share buttons bottom