Guest blog: Ten Years as a Discovered Voice (Nick Cross)

In our first guest blog by past finalists, Nick Cross (UV2010), whose extract was Back from the Dead, reflects on how being short-listed ten years ago changed his life in unexpected and positive ways. 

Ten Years as a Discovered Voice: What I’ve Learnt

Just over ten years ago, I received the call that my extract had been selected for the SCBWI Undiscovered Voices anthology. I thought my life was about to change, and it did, but not in ways I could predict. Here are ten things I’ve learnt in the process.

1. Success is how you define it

Although I’ve written a further four children’s novels since UV2010, I haven’t had a book published. But I’m still writing (and now illustrating too) despite the many knock-backs and rejections. And I have had lots of children’s short stories published and even won an award!

2. You have to ride the rollercoaster
Photo by <a href="https://unsplash.com/@she_sees?utm_source=unsplash&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=creditCopyText">Charlotte Coneybeer</a> on <a href="https://unsplash.com/s/photos/rollercoster?utm_source=unsplash&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=creditCopyText">Unsplash</a>

A career as an author is not a dependable thing – you are at the whims of your own creative impulses, the publishing industry and ultimately your readers. I’ve seen writers whose first children’s novel got picked up for publication in a blaze of hype, but who then struggled to get a second contract. I’ve seen others who had to keep diversifying into other age groups and genres to survive (or even, gasp, writing for adults). And there are a lucky few who found the right publisher and audience, and by working incredibly hard have been able to carve out a steady career path.

3. Everyone needs a side hustle

Because authors’ careers are so volatile, you’ll need to maintain other streams of income, whether those are school visits, teaching adults to write/illustrate or selling merchandise on Etsy. In my case, I’ve worked full-time ever since leaving university, so writing and illustrating are actually my side hustle!

4. The world is out there

Through my involvement with Undiscovered Voices, I was pitched (pun intended) into a social whirl of publishing events. I got introduced to all sorts of writers, illustrators, agents and editors, many of whom are still my friends today. It was incredible to step into a world I’d only dreamed of, and to find that the reality of the publishing industry was more vibrant and complex, and yet also more grounded than I could have imagined.

5. Be open to the unexpected

While my Undiscovered Voices novel didn’t find a home, I did. I realised I liked the people and the industry so much that I wanted to work in publishing. So I changed my day job and I now manage a digital publishing team of ten people, which is demanding but also highly rewarding.

6. Give your creative aspirations room to grow

As I became more experienced as a writer, I was increasingly drawn to illustrated fiction. There was something so appealing to me about being able to tell stories in both words and pictures simultaneously. But the nature of the publishing process – in which an illustrator generally isn’t chosen until the publisher has acquired a book – frustrated me. I couldn’t express what I wanted to in just words, and yet I also hadn’t picked up a pencil since secondary school. Could I really be an illustrator? It turned out I could!

7. Feel the fear and do it anyway

Becoming an illustrator at the age of forty-five is just one of the slightly mad things I’ve done since Undiscovered Voices. A couple of years ago, I walked out onstage to pitch my novel for SCBWI British Isles’ The Hook, in front of a panel of four agents and an audience of two hundred people. I have a chronic anxiety condition, so it definitely wasn’t easy, but I’m proud I could do it.

8. Protect your health

Creative practices can take a toll on your body and mind, whether from sitting in one position for long periods, staring too long at a screen, or not getting proper rest and exercise. While it can be tempting to keep pushing yourself harder and harder to succeed, you only have a finite supply of energy. I learnt this to my cost, and barely a year after the exhilaration of Undiscovered Voices, I crashed into a long period of exhaustion and depression. But I also learnt that…

9. The community will help you through

Nurture your contacts and support network through the good times, and they’ll be there for you when things get tough. This last year of the pandemic has been impossibly difficult for many creative people, but virtual support networks have been a great way to stay sane. Along with the wider SCBWI community, the Undiscovered Voices alumni have been an invaluable comfort to me. I’m looking forward to seeing them again in person at the 2022 launch!

10. It’s worth entering Undiscovered Voices, whatever the outcome

Looking back on my ten years as an Undiscovered Voice reminds me that nothing in life is certain. While dreams of countless book launches and reaching the New York Times bestseller list have yet to be realised, I’m immeasurably richer in terms of friends, inspiration and experience for having been a UV finalist. That’s why I encourage you to put your fear aside and try out for Undiscovered Voices 2022 – who knows where it could take you?


Nick Cross is a writer, illustrator and blogger whose novel extract Back from the Dead appeared in the Undiscovered Voices 2010 anthology. Nick has had more than ten short stories published in children’s magazines, and was honours winner of the SCBWI Magazine Merit Award for fiction. He is a long-time contributor to SCBWI-BI Words & Pictures magazine – as well as his fortnightly Blog Break column, he is currently writing and illustrating a monthly comic called Antisoci@l Media.

Nick is represented by Heather Cashman at Storm Literary Agency, and can be found as @nick_w_cross on both Twitter and Instagram.

Guest Blog: Jane McLoughlin – UV’s “Awesomeness”

Jane McLoughlin 2015Last month I was delighted (and proud) to be attending SCBWI’s Undiscovered Voices launch at Foyles Books in London.

This competition (open to SCBWI members only—so join, why don’t you?) for unagented and unpublished children’s writers, seems to have more buzz about it every year. The number of authors who mention SCBWI and the UV editorial team in their acknowledgements is growing and growing, too.

At this year’s launch, the events room at Foyles was standing room only, and those in attendance got a mini-masterclass in how to enter the competition and how to submit to agents and picture editors and publishers in general. The event (free) was almost worth the price of the competition entry (oops, sorry…free again, as long as you are a member of SCBWI!)

So, what did winning UV 2010 do for me?

The Crowham Martyrs by Jane McLoughlinWell, I met my wonderful editors for my first book, At Yellow Lake, which was featured in the 2010 anthology, at the launch party.  And, I met my lovely agent (who has worked tirelessly to find my second novel The Crowham Martyrs a home) through Undiscovered Voices, though (typical for me) after I got the first book deal. I can’t say for certain that these books wouldn’t have been published without Undiscovered Voices, but, being included in the anthology has made a huge difference to me.

What else has winning UV 2010 done?

It’s made me feel part of a pretty cool group of children’s writers and illustrators.  There’s a camaraderie and closeness, and this support network has helped me cope with the ups and downs of trying to get published, and trying to stay published.  I am also proud vicariously, when another “Undiscovered Voice” gets an agent or a publishing deal. It’s wonderful to be able to share in the success of others who have been on a similar path.

Here’s an recent example of the awesomeness of UV winners…

As the UV 2016 launch was winding up, I was chatting to previous winners, Jane Hardstaff, Katie Dale and Sarwat Chadda.  A writer who was planning to enter the competition joined us, and asked a few questions. Jane, Katie and Sarwat were so encouraging and enthusiastic; all were happy to share their experiences and offer support. I know they would have been kind and helpful in any situation (like all SCBWI members, I hasten to add), but there is something about winning Undiscovered Voices that makes a writer doubly happy to support those who are at the beginning of the journey to publication. We are all so grateful to have been given this wonderful start.

So:

  • Join SCBWI, if you aren’t already a member
  • Finish the book, hone your illustrations, give it your all!
  • Enter the competition

And finally…

Remember that even if you don’t win, even if you aren’t on the longlist (a fantastic achievement in itself), membership in SCBWI will be the best thing you can do for yourself as a children’s writer or illustrator.

Undiscovered Voices happens every two years, but SCBWI membership gives rewards every day of the year.

When it comes to SCBWI,  everybody wins!

 

At Yellow Lake by Jane McLoughlinJane is originally from Minnesota, in the USA, but has lived in the UK for over 25 years. At Yellow Lake was her first novel for young adults. It has been published in the UK, the USA, Australia, New Zealand and will be out soon in Brazil. It has also been nominated for the Carnegie Award 2013 and Branford Boase Award 2013. Her second novel, The Crowham Martyrs, will be published by Catnip Publishing this month!