Wednesday 26 August 2020

Chapter or Verse, a poet’s guide to getting published

By Dom Conlon 

So you’ve opted for the life of a writer.  Congratulations. The race to the depths of your soul begins now. But fear not, there are many wise people to guide your way and darkness shall never... oh, wait. What’s that? You’ve chosen to write poetry? For children? 

Oh, dear. 

You’re screwed. Plus, this is a post-pandemic world so… y’know… you’re doubly screwed for reasons which become clearer further down. There are several differences between getting published as a writer of fiction versus getting published as a writer of poetry. 

Neither is easy, but poetry is (perhaps fittingly) more peculiar.  
Fortunately ‘peculiar’ is my middle name so I’m going to offer a few tips and the occasional beard-stroking word of wisdom. 

You will probably not get an agent

The first issue to raise is that you will probably not get an agent. I mean sure, you’re amazing. It’s just that agents for poets are few and far between. 

I know only a handful of professional poets who have agents. And those tend to have agents because of their non-poetry publications. That poses a problem right away: namely that whole getting published thing. Which may or may not be why you write but probably is, given the title of this article. 

The good news is that submissions for poetry aren’t quite the same as they are for fiction. Sort of. 

There are specialist publishers of poetry who welcome direct contact from poets but... you’re going to have to stand out. But that’s ok, you’re amazing! 

You have to stand out

One way to stand out is to get yourself into anthologies. Easier said than done (of course) but not impossible. 

Some editors put out public calls for entries, some don’t. The former tend to be rarer and if you are unknown then you won’t hear about the latter. 

Don’t worry. Don’t give up. 

You have to be visible.

My top tip for all your poetry writing is: BE VISIBLE. 

 Let’s face it, writing poetry differs from its fictional cousin in one big way: it’s shorter (usually). 

Which means you’ve probably not spent three years writing a poem. 

So write lots of poems. Write as many as you possibly can. Not all of them will be gems but you’ll get to know yourself better (and who you are as a poet) in the process. 

You have to share.

So share them. I view the sharing of my poetry as a way to say something nice (or interesting) about the world. Why wouldn’t I want to share that? 

Of course, sharing your poetry isn’t guaranteed to get you into anthologies. It might catch the eye of other poets who (generally) love nothing more than to celebrate great poetry. 

I will share other people’s poetry if it speaks to me. I don’t look at the person’s Poeticum Vitae in order to assess whether or not I should be sharing it. If I love it, I’ll want others to see it. But as inclusive and welcoming as the world of children’s poetry is, there is a deep pool of talent for editors and publishers to draw from. 

You have to try different things.

So in addition to being visible, you might want to try other things. Like entering competitions and submitting to magazines. There are not THAT many competitions but the ones which do exist are marvellous. Write for them. Try them out. Just don’t bet your entire future as a poet on the outcome. 

Magazine submissions, however, are a whole different kettle of haiku. We are in the golden age of magazines for children. Online and print magazines have sprung up to inform and delight children and they rely on great content. 

Buy them, read them, get to understand who they are for and what the editorial policy is, then submit something. 

I wish the same were true for open mic events. In the world of adult poetry, open mic is a rapidly expanding phenomenon. They provide a platform to air your poetry and develop a reputation. But kids don’t tend to hang out in bars or dark gin joints and so you are going to have to turn to festivals, libraries and street corners (I’m joking on the last one, don’t be weird). 

There are festivals where new acts are welcomed. Film yourself and try to get on the bill. Visibility is the goal here, something which isn’t always easy for attention-shy poets. 

You have to sell.

The other, often unsaid, tip for getting published comes down to sales. 

Can you demonstrate an ability to sell your work? Are you a regular visitor to schools? Do you have three million followers on Twitter? Will your extended family buy every last copy of your book and pass them around on street corners (don’t do this, don’t be weird)? 

Publishers are businesses and business rely on sales. At some point in your poetry publishing career, you will have to face this. Part of every publisher’s marketing plan (sometimes the only part) is YOU. Which, in this post-pandemic, socially-distanced world… is really tough. 

It’s something which probably needs to change but that’s a whole different article. All of which, in a roundabout-maybe-I-ought-to-have-mentioned-this-earlier kind of way, leads me to talk about self-publishing. 

There is less of a stigma about self-publishing these days. It’s a natural (albeit more costly) extension of sharing your work publicly and can act as a calling card to publishers. 

You have to be patient.

But here’s another tip: don’t be hasty. Putting a collection together (even a pamphlet) requires you to step back. The role of an editor isn’t always present in children’s poetry but that doesn’t mean you are the best judge of your own work. 

If you want to showcase your work then get some input on it. Someone who you trust to be honest. That said, if you are only using this as a calling card then it is an expensive method of attracting attention so think through your aims and motivations with care. 

 Finally, the most difficult part of being a poet lies in finding opportunities for your voice to shine through. It is, I find, also the most wonderful. 

Poetry can be small enough to slide beneath the door and loud enough to be sung. There may be times when you have to find your own way, but try to remember that there is always a way.

@Dom_Conlon is a poet and author whose unique blend of science and poetry can be seen in This Rock That Rock, a collection of fifty poems illustrated by Viviane Schwarz (@VivSchwarz), and Leap, Hare, Leap! the picture book about bio-diversity and environment illustrated by Anastasia Izlesou (@izlesou). Dom has no cats, three pens, and a fondness for cake. You can read more about him and invite him to tea via

Saturday 15 August 2020

How Not to Get an Agent: Submission Pet Peeves plus a Passive Aggressive Ukulele Ode to an Agent

By Candy Gourlay 


Inspired by You'll Be Back, mad King George's song in the musical Hamilton by Lin Manuel Miranda, George Kirk scarily demonstrates how not to communicate with literary agents. If you haven't seen Hamilton, you can hear the original song below. We love it! 


If you're a ukulele strummer, you can download the chords and lyrics here.

Always keen to be of service, we asked literary agents what their top subbing peeves were. 


If this has made you fear for George's chances of getting an agent, don't worry, she's already got one, Alice Williams of Alice Williams Literary

We asked Alice what her top subbing peeve was and it wasn't 'Passive aggressive ukulele lyrics' but interminable submission letters.  

Alice says: "Remember an agent will often sit down and sort through a big batch of submissions in one sitting. They are looking for the standout ideas and writing, and interesting creative people. An overly long covering email can slow the process down and be a bit offputting." 


Author Nizrana Fahrook, author of the utterly brilliant The GirlWho Stole an Elephant, kindly asked her agent Joanna Moult what pet peeve gets up the collective noses of her agency Skylark Literary.

Joanna Moult
Joanna replied: "Amber (Caraveo) and I often talk about our most hilariously unappealing submission! It came in from a writer who said next to nothing about themselves in the covering email, other than to insist in VERY STRONG TERMS that they were only willing to communicate by email and that a publisher would not be allowed to change a single word of it. It all sounded so mysterious, so we were intrigued and opened it immediately. It turned out to be a disastrously badly written story. So that was a pretty easy ‘no’!"


Notes from the Slushpile denizen Nick Cross offers this from his agent, Heather Cashman of Storm Literary Agency (you can read a brilliant article on Nick and Heather's author agent relationship over on the SCBWI newsletter Words & Pictures and you might be interested in Heather's Manuscript Wishlist)

Heather Cashman
Heather says: "This is such a difficult question to answer, because it's hard to choose 'the worst' thing that people have done. I've been told (by aspiring authors that) they have book deals when they didn't, I've been DM'd or emailed incessantly by the same person, I've been propositioned ... but I think the worst would be showing blatant prejudice through the authorial voice. It really offends me."


New York Times bestselling author Mo O'Hara (whose graphic novel Agent Moose just came out ), has this from her agent Gemma Cooper of The Bent Agency.

"Sending a book out on submission is stressful, and lots of agencies have different requirements, so you are adding complicated systems to that stress! That is to say that for me, I understand if mistakes happen. Check the website and try your best to follow the guidelines."

Please don't gaze at the starkly worded instructions on agent websites and think you can do it better.


Gemma collected some comments from other agents at The Bent Agency and there was an astounding number of comments about the lack of self belief on display in submissions.

"I don’t like to see authors putting themselves down," said one agent, citing the number of times she's had to read lines like: “It’s probably not very good" and “I’m sorry for wasting your time”.

"If I’m open to submissions I want to hear from you, so my time is yours to take. You’ve written a whole book. That goal is on a lot of bucket lists, and you did it! Be proud of this and confident in your approach. Be professional. Don’t put doubt in my mind before I’ve read a single word."


Molly Ker Hawn riffed on query letters that didn't actually query.

"Query letters that are all about the author and why they wrote the book, and don’t include a solid pitch for the book itself."


Zoe Plant
Zoƫ Plant adds: "Queries for books in areas or g
enres that I don’t represent."

So, guys, please don't submit a children's book to an agency that only represents adult non fiction, or a young adult novel to a picture book literary agent. It's a waste of everybody's time.

Candy, Mo and George are children's authors who love playing the ukulele together and rewriting the lyrics of songs. During the lockdown they made a video rewording the World War II anthem We'll Meet Again as We'll Write Again. They are pictured playing their ukuleles at the 2018 conference of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (left to right: Candy Gourlay, Mo O'Hara, George Kirk and Tania Tay)

Tuesday 4 August 2020

Launching a book in lockdown: disaster or opportunity?

by Teri Terry
Do you have a book coming out - during lockdown or post-lockdown or possible future lockdown? The book trade and publishing landscape has changed - the world has changed - and we're just finding our feet again. Dark Blue Rising came out on 9th July. It was a difficult, stressful time in the lead up to publication. But some positives definitely did come out of it.

I ADORE my cover!!!!
Designer: Michelle Brackenborough
GIF by Sara O'Connor
A new book - a new series! - a new imprint, Hodder - a new year. It was all change for me after a 2019 that, well, let's just say had more than its share of challenges. But somehow I got through it, finished editing, was happy with the story, AND - the dream! - got a book cover that I ADORE. So around February 2020 I was feeling cautiously optimistic about the launch of Dark Blue Rising, coming in July.

And then ... well, you know what happened.

At first there was denial: this isn't as bad as it seems, it is an over-reaction, everything will be back to normal in a blink.

Then panic: it isn't as bad as it seems - it's worse. I'm worried about my family, my friends, the world. I can't write, can't concentrate on anything. 
(I got past my block, eventually - I'll post a vlog on that below.)

Then guilt crept in: I'm worried about launching my new book. 
The very entertaining, tail-wagging,
sock-stealing Scooby

It felt wrong to even admit it with so much going wrong for so many people. So far, the worst for me was having to cancel some events and a long overdue trip to Canada to see family. We were healthy and well, had Scooby to entertain us, a park across the road for our early morning walk, a decent sized garden for outdoor space, no immediate financial concerns. We had it good, and I knew this - still know it now. 

But what about MY BOOK?? WAHHHHH

Sometime around April I called my lovely agent - wondering if the publication date should be postponed. There were conversations back and forth with my publisher. They felt we should stick to the July date; that so many books were being postponed that the Autumn would be too crowded, and with the only other option leaving it to 2021, I agreed. 

Then things seemed to be getting even worse, both with the pandemic and in the book and publishing sphere. There were tales of new books being held up and not delivered to shops, supply chain woes, even Amazon was putting book delivery down the priority list. And again - feeling guilty to even be thinking about things like this when people were losing family, friends.

There is no point worrying about things out of my control, right? I'm rubbish at listening to my own voice of reason though. I half-heartedly read up a little on zoom and other virtual event platforms, but I was scared: of working out the technology, of security and privacy issues using virtual events with my mostly 12 - 14 year old readers, our woeful broadband, being on screen, etc etc etc. I was putting in time learning how to use a number of different platforms on free trials even as I didn't really want to go that way, and feeling increasingly unsure of the right approach.

Then on 9th June I attended - virtually! - a Society of Authors event with Candy Gourlay and Chitra Soundar, entitled Social Media 101. In the chat box I confessed my worry about launching my book, that nothing would happen if I didn't go virtual, that I didn't know what to do. And it felt so good to say it out loud! Well, typed in a chat box. And it really was from that moment on that I decided to take control of what I was going to do.

I won't go into all the details of how I came up with and structured my virtual events as I've blogged about it elsewhere; I'll post the link below. But this is what I did:
1. Virtual Publicity Tour:

I offered a week of free virtual events run on password-protected pages on my website, complete with live Q&A with me, but done in comment boxes: so there was no live video of me or them, no requirement for me to have their personal details. It worked kind of like chat boxes - the sort of thing I felt comfortable doing myself. 

Would schools be too stretched and stressed to want to take part? No! I ended up with eighteen school events being booked, from class size to year groups. I found them in a variety of ways: past teacher and librarian contacts; twitter; Facebook; being shared on a few librarian groups.

the tweet that started things off
Why free? Well, it was my book launch week. Also, I felt I didn't really know how it would work; it was a learning experience. From what I learned, I'm ready to go forward with paid events in the new school year.

2. GIF and Book Trailer:

The GIF was total serendipity - from lunching with lovely Sara O'Connor, previously of publishing fame but now working in coding and programming. I showed her my book cover which, in case I haven't mentioned yet, I ADORE, and she offered to make a GIF, as above. With everything going online it was brilliant timing.

The trailer I made myself: on Vimeo!

3. Social Media:

Hachette Childrens Books rightly focused their efforts here, and they truly did a great job of getting the word out on Instagram and Twitter. They made some great images that were perfect for sharing, and share I did. I did worry a little if I was sending out too much book spam, but actually I think that at the moment, we're all more tolerant and supportive of these things. We all understand - this is our megaphone just now, and we have to use it.

Overall: Disaster or Opportunity?



1. Not getting to events in person. 

2. Missing YALC. WAH! I was really looking forward to that.

3. Book Fairs being cancelled and foreign publishers likely being more cautious; time will tell how that pans out. 

4. Difficulty getting books sold with virtual events.

5. Worry about a certain large online retailer taking over, while independent bookshops and highstreet chains struggle. 


1. I know how to do stuff I didn't before. I'm much more comfortable making videos, something I used to HATE. I know how to make them look and sound better. There was a fair amount of hair pulling and occasional swearing along the way as I worked it out, but if I can do it - anyone can.

2. Even though I was quite seriously stressed about what to do/not to do in the lead up, I actually really enjoyed the virtual event experience! Answering an avalanche of questions in comment boxes took concentration and good touch typing skills, but it was FUN. I'm sure I'll continue promoting virtual events even if - finger's crossed - there is a miracle vaccine available just around the corner. 

3. Comments from librarians afterwards were that they felt the format engaged the students, in some cases even more than an in-person event: students who wouldn't readily engage or ask questions were comfortable doing so using this format (link to their comments, below).

4. Going forwards with paid virtual events in the new school year, the reduced cost compared to a live event will make it more accessible and less something only schools with bigger budgets can afford.

5. Shouting out about the virtual event offering got a huge amount of engagement from librarians and teachers around the UK. Many of those who couldn't take part for one reason or another expressed interest in hearing about my coming virtual workshops. Yay!

these were LUSH
6. The reach of virtual publicity events is far greater than just the few I could have travelled to in person. The word is out, even if only time will tell how that translates to sales.

7. I missed some hugs, but Zoom book launches have some pluses: you only have to buy your own wine, and you get to eat ALL the cupcakes.

8. At last: I could dye my hair to match my book cover! In complete confidence that no one would see it unless I wanted them to.

A final word: After my launch week, I was tired - but happy. I did all that I could to give my book its chance in the world, and what more can you do?


And finally, below is my Vlog on struggling to write during a pandemic: other narratives are important!

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