UV Masterclass report, part 1

This year’s Undiscovered Voices preparations are bigger than ever with our very first UV Masterclass series proving hugely popular. But if you missed out, don’t panic! Here’s a breakdown to clue you in. Each of the three sessions focused on different elements of your UV submission. Our first report focuses on the first, TITLES THAT SELL, with freelance editor Jenny Glencross and Dani Wilson from Simon & Schuster Children’s sales team.

Titles that sell: what did they say?

Titles are important. They’re the first thing an agent, editor, publisher, or reader will see. They have to work hard to grab attention, hint towards your book’s genre and intended readership and entice them to actually open the book. The right title can make a big difference to sales! Would you pick up a book called Trimalchio in West Egg? No? But you might pick up The Great Gatsby. How about a book called First Impressions? You might be surprised to learn that one later became Pride & Prejudice.

Why not consider the titles of your favourite books – what do they tell you about the story, the intended readership, the genre and tone? e.g. The Day the Screens Went Blank tells you so much, including the timeframe the story is set in.

They Both Die at the End means you instantly know it’s YA and it gives you the ending, but you buy it hoping it’s not true.

So, how do you pick the right title for you? Jenny and Dani suggest brainstorming keywords or phrases that describe the plot, character and themes of your book or even phrases that might be in the book that encapsulate your story.

If you’re really stuck, maybe consider some of the classic title conventions and structures, such as the one-word title (Brightstorm, Cogheart, Nevermoor), the name + noun title (Amelia Fand and the Barbaric Ball, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone), the play on words title (Who Let The Gods Out, Murder Most Unladylike), the juxtaposition title (Dragon Mountain, Dangerous Remedy, Demolition Dad), the noun title (The Boy at the Back of the Class, The Clockwork Sparrow) and the list title (Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging; Me, My Dad and the End of the Rainbow; Chocolate Mile, X-Ray Specs and Me).

If in doubt, don’t overcomplicate it and don’t try to be too poetic or clever. Remember, if you get signed by an agent, they might want you to change the title, as might an editor or publisher, or maybe even the booksellers! Keep an open mind and whatever you do, don’t use picking a title as a device to procrastinate and keep you from writing!

Coming soon – UV Masterclass report, part 2

Andrew James is originally from the Lake District and teaches English, Film and Media. He completed his MA in Children’s Literature at Goldsmiths in 2018 and for the past five years, he has organised and hosted monthly agent pitch evenings for his local writing group. He has a passionate dislike for anything referred to as an ‘easy peeler.’ Satsumas are the only way to go.

Guest blog: Nine things I now know (Annaliese Avery)

As recent Undiscovered Voices finalist Annaliese Avery (UV2020) celebrates her debut novel, she reveals the lessons learnt from a simple, but career-changing piece of advice in our latest guest blog post.

Nine things I now know

A few years ago, I was chatting with SF Said about the road to publication and he said to me, and I’m paraphrasing here, that “publication should not be the reason that you write. Your aim is not to be a published writer, your aim is to enjoy what you write, it’s all about the journey”.

At the time, I nodded and agreed. But in my head, I thought to myself, “that’s alright for you to say, you’re SF Said! You wrote Phoenix and Varjak Paw!”

However, I thought about what he said on the way home. And that night. And the next day. And the day after that, too. After a week or so, I sent him a message to let him know that I finally got it and I really did.

Whether you’re just starting to think about entering Undiscovered Voices or in the final stages of polishing your extract, here are a few things that I learnt about writing while thinking about what SF said – and a few things since.

1. You can only move within your power

Sometimes, when it comes to trying to get our stories out into the world, we feel powerless, we are waiting for a yes. Waiting for someone outside of us, an agent, a publisher, an editor, to tell us that we can. We forget that there is a huge part of the process that we have ultimate control over and that part is the story.

You have power on the page. You are in command of the words you write and how you write them and when or even if you write them. You put in the work. You learn your craft. You shape your story. And, here’s the key, you get to make it the best story that you can possibly write. Our power as writers lies in creating as few opportunities as possible for someone to say no.

2. Keep your why close

Why do you write? And more importantly, why are you writing this story? Take time to think about this. Keep checking in as sometimes your why changes. Mine did after talking to SF, my Why went from being “to be published” to “to write the best story that I can”.

Once you have your why, take it everywhere and use it when things happen that challenge either the why of your story or the why of your overall writing endeavours. When this happens go back to your why – it will keep you on the right path.

3. Write towards the joy

Write the story that brings you joy. Write the characters that capture your interest. Write the themes that make you mad and the ones that make you hopeful. Write the stories that sing to you. Write the ones that make your palms itch for a pen.

Whether you get published or not, it’s important to enjoy writing. And, when the day comes and you’re asked for another book – it will feel like too much of an adventure to be work.

4. Learn your craft

Invest in yourself, invest in your skills. Never stop doing this. You will never learn all that there is to writing because some things are beyond knowing, they are innate and mysterious.

However, you can give yourself the best shot at success by learning about the craft of writing: how to tell an engaging story, how to connect with the reader, and how to write realistic characters. All of these things you can learn how to do, and put it all into action in a way that’s uniquely yours.

5. Time worries not

Photo by Kevin Ku on Unsplash

The time will pass, as time does, second by second, weeks, months, and years so write in the times that you have. Be precious about your time whether you have minutes or hours to dedicate to your writing, guard them like a bear does her cubs.

We are all given an unknown and finite amount of time to do all the things we need to do. If writing is a thing that brings you joy, a thing that you want and need and love, then give the time to it and give it with dedication, purpose, and power.

6. The journey is yours

It’s called your writing journey for a reason! There is a map … somewhere, and no two maps are the same. It’s different for everyone. There are often route markers, but they’re written in a language that you only almost understand.

Write your story in the best way for you. My advice is to keep finding joy in your journey – look for the light and move towards it. Seek assistance when you are lost. Most of all trust your internal compass – you know the true north of your story is, so believe in yourself.

7. This too will pass

There will be times when you don’t feel like writing and times when you do. Neither stays. When you experience them, embrace them or let them go – whichever works best at the time.

8. Do not ignore your doubts and fears

The doubts will be there whether you talk to them or not. If you ignore them, I’ve found, they will do the same as all things that are ignored they will brood and grow.

Take time to listen. Whether they’re fears of success, failure, or simply writing the story, step back from them and share your why with them. They won’t be as frightening as they once were.

9. The road is lonely but it need not be

Writing is often solitary, but that doesn’t mean lonely. SCBWI offers you an opportunity to connect with other writers.

Find your people. Find those who will support you and guide in a way that makes you feel valid, heard, and included. I have found no greater source of encouragement, support, and nurturing than among my fellow writers.

That’s alright for me to say

So, these are the things I know that have helped me on my writing journey. I hope they can help you, but it’s okay if you just nod and agree while thinking, “that’s okay for her to say, she just had a book published”.

Some advice, like some stories, takes longer to do their thing – words that seep into you and get you thinking. I still think SF is right and we should aim to enjoy what you write.

If you are entering Undiscovered Voices 2022 I wish you good fortune. Make your submission the best that you can and then let it go, the next bit is outside of your power but what you do with the time that is in front of you, how that shapes your journey, that’s all on you.

Annaliese Avery has spent most of her life surrounded by stories, both in her work as a library manager and at home writing them.

She holds an MA in Creative Writing and is a Program Leader and Editor for The Golden Egg Academy.

In January 2020, Annaliese was shortlisted for the SCBWI Undiscovered Voices 2020 anthology. The Nightsilver Promise is her debut middle-grade novel, and the first in a thrilling, new fantasy trilogy to be published by Scholastic.

Guest blog: The joy of deadlines and other tips for success (Anna Brooke)

Anna Brooke 2020

In our latest guest blog post, a recent Undiscovered Voices finalist, Anna Brooke (UV2020), shares her story of procrastination, pandemics and promising publishing potential. 

The joy of deadlines and other tips for success

I’d been a journalist and travel writer for years, but writing children’s fiction had always been the dream.

The problem? I’d never finished a novel.

Why? No deadline.

Confessions of a serial procrastinator

As a serial procrastinator and a journalist (a profession ironically incompatible with procrastination), I knew the only way to kick the P-word was with a deadline — one set by someone who’s not me. But while newspaper and travel guide editors dole them out in scores, I’d never found a way to get one for my fiction.

Then along came SCBWI and Undiscovered Voices, and suddenly, the skies filled with trumpets as the two-syllable word I’d been longing to read leapt off the competition rules page: DEADLINE. I was sorted.

Erm, no.

Starting with a monster of an idea

As a procrastinator, I didn’t have anything ready to enter! But I did have this silly image trotting around my head: a tower made of bogeys that gets struck by lightning and turns into monster.

Don’t judge me, I know! My approach to the whole novel was very pantsy – but over the next few weeks, as long as it made me laugh, I rode with it. And finally, with a deadline to work towards, I could structure my time.

And guess what? It worked. I had completed my novel in time to enter the competition.

Navigating the brain-fog of lockdown

In November 2019, Sara Grant called me to say that Sean & The Franken-Bogey had made it into the anthology! Not only that. In early February, agents contacted me to say they’d be interested in reading the full MS after the party.

I was ecstatic. But now there was another hurdle: getting it ready for those agents. The week after the party became my next deadline. But here’s where it went pear-shaped: the pandemic.

Photo by Kevin Ku on Unsplash

Like many people, Lockdown fogged my entire brain and morphed all creativity into an OCD-esque obsession with catching the deadly pathogen. Over-night all my travel writing disappeared, leaving nothing but worry in its place. That, plus 24/7 childcare, stinted all progress for six whole months.

I wrote to the agents to explain, and was overwhelmed by how understanding they were. Then from September onwards, once the schools had re-opened (I live in France), I flung myself back into the story. And here’s the great thing: it turns out that the initial deadline had carried me so far, that I didn’t need anyone to set another one. It was finally my own drive to get the book finished that thwarted any procrastination.

A hard, stressful but ultimately wonderful decision to make

Finally, in February, one entire year after the UV party, I was ready to send.

Then imagine my shock when six agents offered me representation! Choosing between six top-notch agents was a dream come true. But it was also stressful – in fact, it was the hardest, most stressful professional decision I’ve ever had to make.

Today, decision made, I couldn’t be happier. I’m agented by the wonderful Sam Copeland at RCW, and I hope to have official news to share about a deal with a fabulous publisher very soon.

Thank you SCBWI and UV and your deadlines. You literally changed my life.

They may well, fellow writers, change your life.

Here’s my three top tips for getting your UV entry ready
  1. Start bold. In the first 4,000 words, give the judges a real taste of what to expect in the rest of your book. Hook ‘em with your tone and the action.
  2. Don’t censor yourself. Allow yourself to write whatever you want, no matter how gross or weird. Write it down. Judge/tweak it later.
  3. Read it out loud. Listen to your story as it’s spoken to check the rhythm and your choice of words.
Anna Brooke 2020

Anna Brooke was a finalist in Undiscovered Voices 2020, you can download the anthology and read her extract here.

She lives in Paris where she’s simultaneously a freelance travel writer for The Times, a voice actor, a scriptwriter and a mum. She is represented by Sam Copeland at Rogers Coleridge and White.

When she’s not reading or writing, she’s composing songs. Anna never picks her nose.

You can find her on twitter at @AE_Brooke.

Guest Blog: Getting to the heart of your story (Bryony Pearce)

In our third guest blog post, the author of over 11 books and one of our first UV finalists, Bryony Pearce (UV2008), encourages writers to really get to the heart of their story to make sure every moment resonates with its purpose. 

Getting to the heart of your story

It is easy to get to the heart of your story, right? After all, it’s your story. You wrote it. You know what’s at the heart of it. But, as a mentor of aspiring writers, I find that this is one of the areas that is most complex and confusing. People regularly struggle with this and sometimes, even miss it out, leaving their stories heartless and, consequently, pretty lifeless.

So, what is the heartbeat that drives the blood through your story? How can you identify it and how can you keep the focus there?

For this you need a two-pronged approach.

First, you need to know the message of your story.

What do you want your reader to take away?

Is your message that ‘bullying is bad’ (like my Weight of Souls), or is it a message about growing up (like my Phoenix Series), is it a feminist message (Windrunner’s Daughter), is it about trust and blame (The Girl on the Platform, Raising Hell, Savage Island, Cruel Castle).

What is your message?

Sometimes, if you’ve come up with a story first, and it’s grown organically, you might not know why it is that you’ve picked this story to tell. So, take some time and unpick it – this could involve some soul-searching. You need to ask yourself:

  • Why is this story important to you?
  • What does it take from your own life?
  • What do the characters fear and what do they learn?
  • How does it end?

You should be able to tell, when answering these questions, what message is, or should be, at the heart of your story.

Once you know your message, write it down, pin it somewhere you can see it and make sure you are thinking of it all the time when you are writing. How can each scene emphasise this message?

In The Weight of Souls, for example, my story about bullying, the main character is bullied, not only by the stereotypical school bully (and associates), but by those who stand by and let it happen and by her father, who forces her to bend to his will. Every character in the story has some relation to the bullying at its heart – perhaps they are standing by her, perhaps they have abandoned her for fear of retribution, perhaps they are ignoring what is happening. In the end, the bullies get their comeuppance and lessons about empathy are learned. The main character learns to love and trust again.

Once you know your message, and you know that each scene must reinforce that message, the next step is to make sure you drive your narrative onward while keeping your message at its heart. The best way to do this is to ensure that your main character has a goal. A mission, if you like,which relates to your message,which has stakes for failure, and which will propel your protagonist through the adventure you are writing.

In The Weight of Souls, one of Taylor’s bullies is murdered and she has to solve the crime. If she fails, there are supernatural as well as real-world consequences (stakes) – the murderer will get away with it and will likely strike again.

This goal (and the stakes for failure) should be introduced during the inciting incident. The goal should not be achieved until the climax and it should drive the narrative to a conclusion that reinforces your message.

When entering the UV anthology, you can only send your opening, so you must make sure that the message (heart) of your story is beating throughout your first few thousand words.

Your character’s goal should grow from your character’s needs, wants and fears, so establish those in your introduction by giving us scenes that show us who your character is. Establish the mood of your story, which will reinforce your message and, if you can, give us a scene or scenes that highlight your message. For example, in the opening of The Weight of Souls, we meet a gang of nasty bullies. In Raising Hell, Ivy defeats a hell hound, only to be blamed for failing to protect a student from a rich family. In my winning UV entry, we saw my female MC facing her mother’s illness and deciding to defy the rules of the patriarchy and go out alone to save her.

Good luck with your writing and I hope to get the chance to buy your book one day.


Bryony Pearce was a winner of UV 2008, which seems really long ago now! Winning UV helped secure her an agent and, since then, she has sold eleven books to publishers, including YA award winners: Angel’s Fury, Savage Island and Phoenix Rising. She has also had several short stories published in adult sci-fi anthologies and has, recently, branched out into writing adult thrillers.

Her debut adult thriller, The Girl on the Platform, was published on 15th April by Avon.

She also has two YA novels out this year, Raising Hell (UCLAN – June) and the sequel to Savage Island: Cruel Castle (Stripes –August).

She lives in the Forest of Dean and is always looking for new writer friends. Find her on Twitter @BryonyPearce, on Instagram @bryonypearce, or on her website: www.bryonypearce.co.uk.

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.

UV2020 Honorary Chair, Candy Gourlay, speaks!

Undiscovered Voices is delighted that the amazing Candy Gourlay agreed to be our honorary chair for UV2020. She recorded this heartfelt and uplifting video to celebrate the success of this year’s finalists.

Thank you so much Candy for taking the time to make such a wonderful tribute.

We’re excited as this year’s finalists take the next step in their writing careers. We’ll be posting updates as we hear from them. For now, we want to congratulate them once again.

  • Annaliese Avery – The Invention of Night
  • Yvonne Banham – Tulip Finola Barnacle
  • Sharon Boyle – Pupil K
  • Anna Brooke – Sean & The Franken-Bogey
  • Dr Adam Connors – The Genius Machine
  • Clare Harlow – The Shape Of A Girl
  • Urara Hiroeh – The Air We Cannot Breathe
  • Helen MacKenzie – Hagstone
  • Michael Mann – Ghostcloud
  • Angela Murray – The Sea Lord’s Curse
  • Laura Warminger – The Great Prime Minister Swap
  • Harriet Worrell – The Good Child Serum

You can learn all about our finalists here: http://www.undiscoveredvoices.com/?page_id=1106

Read what the UV2020 judges had to say

Our judging panel took questions from members as part of our successful launch event on Facebook TV.  Rosie Best has kindly typed up a transcript of the interesting and illuminating conversation between the judges and the team.

Our amazing judging panel are:

  • Helen Boyle, Literary and Illustration Agent at Pickled Ink
  • Aimée Felone, Co-founder of Knights Of
  • Annalie Grainger, Senior Commissioning Editor at Walker Books
  • Stephanie King, Commissioning Fiction Editor at Usborne Publishing
  • Polly Nolan, Literary Agent at Greenhouse Literary Agency
  • Alice Sutherland-Hawes, Children’s Agent at Madeleine Milburn Literary Agency
  • Clare Wallace, Literary Agent at Darley Anderson Children’s Book Agency 

SARA GRANT: Hi and welcome to the UV2020 kick off, and also our first SCBWI live event. We’re excited to start the search for our seventh annual anthology, looking for those fresh new voices that are out there. Authors from the first six anthologies have contracts for more than 250 books, so UV has a great track record for helping authors in the UK and Europe launch their careers.

We do this with the help of an incredible volunteer team, and I want to start with a huge thank you to those people who give hundreds of hours to make this happen. Our videographer tonight is Candy Gourlay, and Ashley Taylor, assistant regional advisor, is also going to be online fielding your questions.

My final thanks is to Working Partners who’ve loaned us their office for this event, but they’ve also been a sponsor and financially supported Undiscovered Voices from the very beginning, we couldn’t do Undiscovered Voices without them, so I’m going to turn you over to Chris Snowdon, MD of Working Partners.

CHRIS SNOWDON: Thank you, Sara! It was Sara and another Sara fourteen years ago who bullied us into doing this, in the best possible way, and we’ve never ever regretted it. I’ve got the UV books here and it’s exciting to know that we’re going to carry on with this and it’s becoming a real cultural fixture in the publishing calendar. I’m very excited for all of you, because Sara’s told you how many books have been commissioned from these anthologies, so you might be next! So really do take the opportunity to exploit the people in the room, we’ve got agents and editors and I’d really like to thank you guys for giving up your time to help shape the careers of some of the people who’ll be sending in their entries over the coming months. It’s a great thing to do, I hope you have loads of entries, and we’re really excited as ever to read the next anthology. So good luck, everyone, and well done, Sara, and everyone here.

SARA GRANT: Thanks, Chris! We are lucky tonight, we have five of our seven judges for UV – just a powerhouse of expertise and insights for you this evening. I’m going to ask each of our panellists to introduce themselves, then I have a few questions to warm everyone up, then we’re going to take some questions that have already been sent in, then we’ll take some live questions as well. So I’m going to start here, if you don’t mind, tell us a little bit about yourself and your agency?

ALICE SUTHERLAND-HAWES: Hi, I’m Alice, I’m one of the agents at Madeleine Milburn Agency, I represent everything from picture books up to YA. We have two children’s agents, myself and Chloe Seager. I also do some of the foreign rights for some of the smaller territories.

STEPHANIE KING: Hi, my name’s Stephanie King, I’m commissioning fiction editor at Usborne Publishing. Usborne is the largest independent children’s publisher in the UK, and on our fiction list we commission books from 5+ all the way up to YA.

AIMÉE FELONE: Hi, I’m Aimée, the founder of Knights Of, we’re a new independent commercial kids’ fiction publisher, we publish everything from 5 to teen, we specialise in inclusive kids’ books, and that’s inclusive across a range of diversities.

CLARE WALLACE: Hi, I’m Clare, I work at Darley Anderson Children’s Books Agency and represent everything from picture books through to YA.

ANNALIE GRAINGER: Hi, I’m Annalie Grainger, senior commissioning editor at Walker, and I look after books from 5+ up to YA.

SARA GRANT: Great, thank you! We’re off to a good start. I’m just going to open this up to any of you: what makes a manuscript stand out, do you have any tips for our writers who are out there watching? You have slush piles, you have manuscripts coming in – hundreds a week?

CLARE WALLACE: Easily.

SARA GRANT: So what makes a book stand out? What makes you stop what you’re doing and read?

CLARE WALLACE: I just really love a really punchy opening line. I think that first page and that opening line is possibly the most important thing you’ll ever write, it’s going to open doors for you with agents and with publishers, so I think, yes, that first line for me.

AIMÉE FELONE: I would agree as well, and I don’t think it even has to be something particularly smart or witty or like ‘this has got all the words I can put into one super-long run-on sentence’, it just has to grab your attention and make you stop what you’re doing, and make you not look at your phone which is the mark of a good manuscript!

General agreement

ANNALIE GRAINGER: I think it can be a confidence thing, sometimes, that you just feel completely confident in what the writer’s writing about, and like Aimée said it doesn’t have to be something completely different or original, but just that confidence is something I definitely like to find.

STEPHANIE KING: Yeah, I think that’s absolutely true. Sometimes you get a manuscript and you just know that the author’s really in control of their work and knows exactly what they’re trying to achieve. And it’s really difficult to work out exactly what that is, but it’s about a writer that’s writing and knowing exactly what the story is that they want to tell.

ALICE SUTHERLAND-HAWES: I don’t think I have anything to add, they’ve covered it!

SARA GRANT: That’s great! And Kate Rosevear said: do you usually know from those first few pages, or even the opening line, if you’ve got something special?

ALICE SUTHERLAND-HAWES: Yes – I have quite a full list at the moment, which means that something really has to stand out for me to want to take it on, and on Tuesday a submission came in and the opening page was so powerful that three hours later I’d read the full manuscript and called the author. Everything else just kind of fell by the wayside, it completely hooked me in on the first page. And then, you can also tell within a page if it’s not for you, unfortunately. 

SARA GRANT: That’s great! I think everyone out there wishes that we were that person, that would make you stop and take notice. So what are any common pitfalls in those opening pages? (to AIMÉE FELONE) You said cramming as many words as possible into a very, very long sentence that may be difficult to read, that might be a common pitfall, anything else that’s a don’t?

STEPHANIE KING: If you’ve got a complex world or a lot of history to your characters, don’t throw in a load of exposition in the first chapter! It needs to come out organically and gradually, we want to spend time with your characters, we want to get to know them slowly – a big info dump is a no-no.

CLARE WALLACE: I think, because we get so many submissions, we see so much of the same thing that authors wouldn’t know about. One of the things that I see all the time is things opening with people waking up, and that’s logical! It’s starting at the beginning and people start at the beginning of the day, but unless that’s really, really integral to the beginning of that story, we just see it so often that for me it’s almost an immediate ‘oh, what a shame’.

SARA GRANT: So if you wake up as a cockroach…

CLARE WALLACE: Then that’s different – but if your story’s set in a world of cockroaches…

SARA GRANT: So getting to the action, getting to the heart of what happens. And also I see some that talk about ‘I’m just an average, ordinary person, a boring person’, which makes me go ‘well…’ and I know it’s going to change, I know you’re going to tell me why that’s not the case, but don’t start your story by telling me it’s not going to be interesting. Any other dos, don’ts?

ALICE SUTHERLAND-HAWES: I have two. One is a very well known YA trope – ‘I let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding’. (General laughter of agreement). Honestly whenever I read that line I’m just like, ‘oh, god.’ The other one is that as an agent, I get the first three chapters and if I like them I’ll ask for the rest of the manuscript, and more often than not the rest of the manuscript is not at the same standard as those three chapters, which can be a real shame.

AIMÉE FELONE: If anything I would also just add, don’t over-promise in your covering letter, don’t set us up to be really excited and then when we get in there we’re disappointed. I think it can be difficult because you want to show your ideas and you want to convince the person who’s reading, that what it is is actually amazing, but when we open it up and find that it’s not, that’s very disappointing.

CLARE WALLACE: I was going to say maybe a lot of people just don’t start in the right place, they haven’t found the point of intrigue or the point at which the story really leaps from and I think that’s a really common mistake I see, and if they just spend a bit more time thinking, ‘well, have I started in the right place?’ they’d give themselves a much better shot.

ANNALIE GRAINGER: That’s what I was going to say! It’s such a good point. I think going on from that as well, it’s also finishing the book. So you could spend years perfecting those first three chapters, but I think you don’t know what you’ve got or where to start until you’ve written the whole thing, so I think just keep going, get that first draft out and then worry about finessing it afterwards.

SARA GRANT: I think that’s a really great point because a lot of times it takes you that first draft to figure out the story you’re trying to tell, and those themes and what’s going to bubble up. I also think starting the inciting incident, the younger you’re writing for, the sooner you should get to the inciting incident. And the inciting incident, for anyone who’s not sure, is the moment that changes the character’s life forever and puts the story in motion. Do you have examples of something you’ve acquired that our writers could go to that ticked all these boxes?

ANNALIE GRAINGER: I bought a book – it’s a buy-in actually from the States which means it’s already been edited – it’s Blair Witch meets Stranger Things, and I just remember I was a bit like Alice, I could not put it down. I just remember I was at home and reading it, and I was just so terrified! And just that, when you’re absolutely absorbed in the world. And it is our job and we love reading but I think if you can forget you’re reading for work that is the moment you know you’ve got something you really, really want.

ALICE SUTHERLAND-HAWES: Leading on from what you were saying about when you forget that you’re reading for work, one of my authors recently delivered a middle grade book, I started reading it on a Friday night thinking, ‘oh my god, I’ve got so much work to do I just have to read this,’ and it was just the most staggering thing, two hours later I was staring at a blank wall like ‘what the hell just happened?’, and I’ve been so excited about that book ever since, so, 2021!

STEPHANIE KING: I recently acquired a YA thriller that started with just the voice of the main character, first person protagonist narration, and that voice just grabbed me by the throat and I just wanted to spend time with that teenage boy, it made me laugh, and it started in a place that should be absolutely terrifying. Basically the main character had been outed at school, and then the story took this unbelievable twist, I thought I was getting one story and then I realised I was getting a thriller, and I just could not put it down. And when I took the manuscript to acquisitions, I didn’t give them the full manuscript, I cut it off at a cliffhanger, and I said, ‘if you let me buy it, you can read the whole thing’! So I think that’s it, you need to pull people in early, and keep them with you.

ALICE SUTHERLAND-HAWES: I want to know what that is, and also can I have a proof, please?

SARA GRANT: We all want in on that! Any other books that are out, any other suggestions for people to go to that were especially hooking?

AIMÉE FELONE: I remember the first time I read Sharna Jackson’s High Rise Mystery which has just been published, and her opening line was ‘If you think finding a dead body is a fun thing, you’d be 33% right.’ And I just had so many questions! Like, why am I finding a dead body, why is it a fun thing, where have we got this statistic from? And it was that classic thing, it was the first line that really hooked and pulled me in, and that intriguing fun voice carried on throughout the entire book, but it was definitely that opening line that sucked me in.

SARA GRANT: There was a question that ran on from what you were saying, Stephanie, Katherine Latham asked, is there a preference for first or third person? I know it depends on a lot of things but I think it’s a question that a lot of people have, they think there’s a right or a wrong answer. Do you have any thoughts about age ranges, is there a preference?

STEPHANIE KING: I guess maybe in the slightly younger end, the 5-8, I definitely see more that’s in the third person, but really it’s all about the voice. I don’t think there’s a right answer, and with some more complex YA that I edit, there’ll often be like three different perspectives, like a first person and a third person perspective or maybe two first person perspectives. It’s just the voice that you need to tell the story you want to tell.

SARA GRANT: Have you ever asked a writer to change it, so they come in as third person and you think actually it’s first person, or vice versa?

ALICE SUTHERLAND-HAWES: I do it all the time.

SARA GRANT: Really?

ALICE SUTHERLAND-HAWES: Yeah, it drives my authors mad! I don’t really have a preference but sometimes you just really feel that it should be the other way round. Like for example, if it’s in the first person and you kind of want to hear from other characters a bit more, then third person lets you get into the other characters heads a bit more than you normally would, so for that reason sometimes I turn around and say ‘do you want to try this the other way round?’ and they’re like … ‘no’.

SARA GRANT: But the ones you sign say, ‘yes, I’m happy to try’.

ALICE SUTHERLAND-HAWES: We have a conversation about it, maybe a couple of chapters!

SARA GRANT: I also think it’s a great exercise, to whatever you’re doing, try the opposite. I do first person naturally, and you can turn it to third person and see what comes up, and vice versa. Zoe James Williams asks, any tips on editing your manuscript? How do you balance editing with losing the original flow and freshness of the original story? Basically, how do you stop over-editing?

ANNALIE GRAINGER: This is one of my favourite questions! So I think you have to finish something first, totally finish it, and then you have to put it in a drawer or somewhere, for a few months, a week, as long as you can bear, and then come back to it with fresh eyes. I don’t think you should edit as you go because your little brain will be going, ‘aah, this is terrible I don’t know what I’m doing,’ so you just have to finish it and then take a step back. That’s my top tip.

SARA GRANT: Also, we can spend so much time polishing those first chapters and then we send it to Alice who says, ‘cut those first four chapters’ and then we’re like ‘but those are sparkly polished diamonds!’ Any other editing tips?

AIMÉE FELONE: I completely agree with Annalie, but also just to say know your characters outside of the world you’ve put them in, so say ‘what would they do if I took them to this place?’, or ‘what would they do if they were in this situation?’, so really envisage them as full complete people outside of the world that you’ve set them in, just to really give them character and to give them little nuances as well that will add to the story.

STEPHANIE KING: I know with some of my authors, they have people that they really trust that they send their work to first – maybe not someone who’s very close to you emotionally, but someone you know is going to be honest with you and whose opinion you trust, and that can really help. And also they might notice things, like plot holes or inconsistencies that you haven’t caught before you send it off to an agent, and it just might help to have some feedback before you put yourself out there on the submissions front line.

SARA GRANT: And SCBWI is a great place to find those people! I’m in a group of SCBWI members and have been at different times throughout my writing life. It’s amazing what you think is on the page, and then someone will ask you a question and you’ll go, ‘well, obviously they’re a redhead’, then they’ll go well where is it and you’ll say, ‘well, it was in the draft from 2017 but apparently not now’!

So, we ask the writers to send in a 75 word synopsis and we’ve had a few questions about this, one is: any suggestions how to pitch your story in a short, punchy synopsis? Which is tough! I always say that I would rather write a 50,000 word book than a synopsis, because I find them very hard. Any thoughts about comparison titles, because (to ANNALIE GRAINGER) you talked about ‘it’s this meets this’…

ANNALIE GRAINGER: I don’t know how helpful that is if you’ve only got 75 words, though. I think it’s really hard, I know one of the things I find hardest is writing blurb, I can spend – this is really bad, but I can spend six months on and off writing a shout line. Obviously I do other things as well! But it can sometimes take that long to find those few perfect words. So I would be inclined for this to just focus on what your story is. And maybe, I’m not sure what you guys think, but maybe just think of it as if you’re writing a blurb, so back cover copy. So you want something that’s pithy and engages people.

ALICE SUTHERLAND-HAWES: I’d also have a look at the Twitter pitching events like DVPit and PitchWars, because I think it’s less than 75 words, it’s however many characters you can fit into one tweet, and you would be really surprised by how much people can get across in that one tweet, I have signed people basically on the basis of that tweet. So have a look at those, because they manage to get comps in, they manage to tell you what the question the book is asking is, and it’s really quite impressive! I couldn’t bloody do it, so…

SARA GRANT: The other question someone had about synopsis was, should they contain spoilers or be more of a blurb? For UV, because it’s going to be so widely published, I would say no spoilers. Do you agree with that?

CLARE WALLACE: I think for this purpose, definitely. Otherwise, definitely check agency websites because people will have very different tastes, everyone’s quite divided over it. I really like spoilers if you’re submitting to me, but I work with a colleague who absolutely hates them because she wants to just have the reading experience and not to know anything. So if you’re at the point where you’re submitting to agents, I’d say definitely check the website.

SARA GRANT: And that’s just good advice in general, checking the website to see what they’re interested in, how many chapters and do they want spoilers and all those kinds of things. Do we have any questions from the chat?

ASHLEY TAYLOR: We do, yes! One question was: will my submission be read by every judge?

SARA GRANT: I can take that question, we have a team of editors – not the judges – who will read every submission, every submission has a minimum of two readers, and the farther it goes into the process, the more readers it will have.

ASHLEY TAYLOR: Another question: someone is dying to know the title of this Blair Witch meets Stranger Things book!

ANNALIE GRAINGER: That makes me very happy! It’s called Rules of Vanishing and it’s out in October, and it’s by Kate Alice Marshall. And it’s really good so please read it!

ASHLEY TAYLOR: And another one: if you find something that you love, but you think it will be difficult to sell, would you still take it on?

AIMÉE FELONE: I think we make things difficult to sell, right? I mean a bestseller is made – it starts with great writing and a great manuscript, but it’s also marketing and everything else around the book, so if I fall in love with something, I’m going to want everyone to read it and I’m going to sell it in the best way possible. So I don’t really agree with that ‘difficult to sell’ mindset, I think we make it difficult. If I love it, I should be able to sell it.

CLARE WALLACE: I think as an agent it can be really really hard, particularly if someone is clearly a brilliant writer, and you just think it’s not going to be this book or this story. And it might just be that there’s been something else recently that’s doing a very, very similar thing, and there’s just not enough room, or it might be that it’s at the very tail end of a trend and you just know that everyone’s going to be full – there was a long time where dystopia was just an absolute no even if it was incredible. But, I don’t think I would not take someone on. I’d have a chat about what other ideas they had, what else they were going to work on, if there were things I thought they could do that would shift this and make it more saleable in terms of meeting the feedback we get from editors all the time. And we do do that all the time, we meet with editors and hear about things that they don’t have room for as well as all the things they’re looking for.

ALICE SUTHERLAND-HAWES: Yes, I would just agree with everything that you just said. It can be really tricky as an agent because you can love someone’s writing and just think, all the conversations I’ve just had with editors are pointing towards no. And it’s a horrible feeling because you really believe in these writers and you really believe in the story, but the market is just not there for it at the moment. So generally it would be a conversation – what else do you have, or are you willing to wait a year or so and see what happens then?

SARA GRANT: Belinda Briers asked, if you have a prologue, do the judges want it to be submitted in the four thousand words, or do they want to go straight to the first chapter of the book? I have an opinion, but…

STEPHANIE KING: Well, I would ask, if the prologue isn’t an essential part of the story, is it necessary and do you need it there? Because a prologue, really, is your first chapter in real terms. And if you think it can be detached from your submission, do you need it?

SARA GRANT: That’s what I’d say. If you can cut it and not influence the power of your story, then you probably need to cut that altogether. But we want to see the start of your story, and if that’s a prologue which is completely integral to your story, then send it.

ALICE SUTHERLAND-HAWES: I would actually argue that if you cannot cut your prologue, then why isn’t it called Chapter One? But I’m not a really big fan of prologues…

SARA GRANT: I used to say I never liked a prologue, and in my new project… there’s a prologue, so never say never!

ANNALIE GRAINGER: There is a place for them, definitely. I think if it’s something where you’re setting something up, but it’s not quite the first chapter, I think there’s a place for it. But you need to know that before you start the story. I feel like that was very inadequately put! But, yeah, I feel like sometimes you need them.

ASHLEY TAYLOR: If you’re looking at chapter books, are you always looking for something that has a potential for series fiction, or would you look at something that was stand-alone?

SARA GRANT: And by chapter books I’m assuming they mean 5-8.

CLARE WALLACE: I would absolutely look at stand-alone, but series potential is always a really good thing, I’d say. Obviously you want the story to stand alone on its own merit anyway, but if there is potentially room to revisit or continue I think that’s a really good thing.

AIMÉE FELONE: I recently acquired a stand-alone book from one of my authors who writes series, so we’ve gone the opposite way. I wouldn’t say no to stand-alones, but I would say yes loudly to a series!

Laughter and agreement

SARA GRANT: We are in the Working Partners office which is all about series fiction and I’ve worked on a lot of series – I write a stand-alone but always with a window, just a door open for a possible continuation, because if someone begs me for it, who are we as writers to say no?

ASHLEY TAYLOR: So, what would be the shorter end of YA? Is it 42,000 words? Where would you put a shorter YA?

SARA GRANT: And Kate Rosevear also asked a similar question: do you have any kind of thumbnails for the average length – she actually put it as the ‘Goldilocks zone’ – so what’s just right for chapter books, lower middle grade, upper middle grade or YA? Because I know it’s ‘how long is a piece of string’, but sometimes we’ll get submissions and they’ll say ‘I’m writing a middle grade and it’s 150,000 words’, and we all say ‘maybe not’.

ALICE SUTHERLAND-HAWES: I will take this, but…

SARA GRANT: We won’t hold you to it!

ALICE SUTHERLAND-HAWES: Exactly! I’m not going to go near chapter books because I don’t really do those and there are people here who’ll be able to speak about them much more eloquently, I think middle grade is 25,000 as an absolute minimum, up to about 65 at an absolute max, and then YA comes in 60 to about 90. And 90, for me you can get away with if it’s fantasy but I would much prefer it at 75-80. I will say that I have a YA novel that is 23,000 words, but it’s verse.

SARA GRANT: So all bets are off on that.

STEPHANIE KING: It’s a bit of publishing insider knowledge, but when it comes to us publishing and thinking about selling it globally, if it’s too long then international publishers won’t take it because of the translation fees. So, with middle grade, ideally you don’t want to go too far over fifty, unless it’s a big epic sprawling thing, because I think it might be hard to think about it in a wider context. But we’re publishing a YA book this summer which is 45,000 words, so…

SARA GRANT: We make rules, and we break them!

STEPHANIE KING: Yeah, absolutely.

SARA GRANT: Anybody want to talk about length for chapter books or that kind of lower middle grade?

ANNALIE GRAINGER: So I think if it’s illustrated, sort of 15,000-ish, so that would be kind of 7-9. And then younger than that I don’t know – picture books probably about 4 or 5? It’s not an exact science at that point.

ASHLEY TAYLOR: There’s another one here: are talking animals a no for middle grade?

ANNALIE GRAINGER: Well, Phillip Pullman has talking animals!

AIMÉE FELONE: I think this is a personal question!

ALICE SUTHERLAND-HAWES: I’m so sorry to whoever asked this, but I cannot bear talking animals. It’s an absolute no for me personally. But it is a personal thing, publishing is a very subjective industry, so for me I won’t go near talking animals, but someone else here might.

STEPHANIE KING: I love a good animal story, I do think they work better in the market for the slightly younger age group. But then, you know, I don’t think Animal Farmis a 5-8 so it all depends on the story. The Rats of NIMHwas one of my favourite books when I was 11, and I think lots of people would say, ‘oh, no, those are for a much younger age group’, but I loved that book.

CLARE WALLACE: Oh, yes, Redwall, they were great as well.

AIMÉE FELONE: It is very personal. I feel – and this is again very personal, disclaimers, disclaimers! – I feel like there are enough kids books with animals talking in them, and not enough books with representative characters, so I am always going to pick a story that has representation over an animal. And that’s just me personally, I just am not a fan.

CLARE WALLACE: I don’t mind them! I think they’re really, really hard to do really, really well, and that’s why I think there are a few standouts that have done incredibly well. I’d quite like to find one actually, but I work with another agent, Lydia, who’s brilliant but does not want to find any speaking animals, so if you have one of those, don’t send it to her, send it to me! But no, I’m OK with it. Watership Downwas one of my favourite books when I was growing up, I have tattoos of the rabbits! So I can’t say that I don’t like talking animal books…

ANNALIE GRAINGER: I think it depends how they’re done, really. I’m thinking of a book that has humans as well as animals or humans that change into animals – does that count? It’s very sophisticated and it works very well. So I just think it depends. I wouldn’t want to rule out the talking animals in case it was going to be a masterpiece.

ALICE SUTHERLAND-HAWES: I’m entirely with Aimée, absolutely. I think there were more talking animals than characters of colour in kids books last year, and that’s just really sad.

ASHLEY TAYLOR: So we’ve got one more: when will we be notifying about the longlist?

SARA GRANT: I’m going to ask you to hold on to those questions because at the very end I’m going to talk about the process, timelines and deadlines and some of the criteria.

ASHLEY TAYLOR: And this might fall into that: when you’ve submitted to UV, can you continue to submit your manuscript to agents and editors in the meantime?

SARA GRANT: Yes, I would never tell you not to do that, but we would always ask that if you get picked up by an agent you could let us know, and we can pull you out of the running. We would say that if you were contacted for the longlist, we would also ask you to take yourself out of the running. But again we’ll talk a lot more about that in just a few minutes. Belinda Briers asked about genres, is there anything you’d like to see in genres and why, which is a very very broad question. But do you have a genre that you love, and if so, any thoughts about what you like to see?

AIMÉE FELONE: I’m still looking for my UK version of The Sun Is Also A Star, by Nicola Yoon. And I’ve been looking for that for about three years. It was told from alternating perspectives and featured a few black characters as well, and I just think it was done really, really well and was just a nice ‘clean teen’ book, and I just haven’t seen that or come across that. So I’m still on the hunt.

SARA GRANT: So if you have that…

AIMÉE FELONE: Yes, please, I would love to see it!

STEPHANIE KING: It’s very specific! I’ve been looking for historical queer fiction for… I don’t know, eight years? I want a YA Sarah Waters, so if you have one of those, send it to me!

SARA GRANT: Alice, are there any genres you really want to see?

ALICE SUTHERLAND-HAWES: I’m going to be honest and say no, because I have just recently found a bunch of them, so sorry! I feel smug…

CLARE WALLACE: I actually also have been looking for an incredible, real YA love story. I’ve just been searching for so long I think they must be really hard to do, and to capture that sort of first love, and the passion of that, but also without going over the top with it, I think is just so difficult. And I’ve been looking for that since I started agenting, so, yeah, if anyone’s got one of those, please send them to me!

SARA GRANT: Another question is: titles. Finding that perfect title is a very difficult thing. We also know that often as agents you’ll work with writers on their title, and publishers may also say ‘that’s very nice that that’s your title – here’s a new idea’. Any suggestions on how to help writers find that perfect title? Because it is the first thing that we see, and it can be something that the writer has to overcome, almost.

ALICE SUTHERLAND-HAWES: I’m terrible at titles so I’ll take myself out of this!

AIMÉE FELONE: I would say if you are thinking of writing a series, try and think of that for your first book and how you want to set that up, because it will help you to establish the series going forward. Yeah, titles are tricky! Be prepared to go back and forth with agents and publishers, and be open to that as well.

ANNALIE GRAINGER: I think, thinking of your competition – so other books in the same genre or age group that you’re writing in – can be quite helpful. But titles are really difficult. I guess it’s summing up what your story is, which can be quite hard – then sometimes titles come very easily because you know what that is, but sometimes that just takes longer. I think don’t stress about it too much.

CLARE WALLACE: Yeah, I’d say it’s not a deal-breaker, as well. We’re never going to not read something or turn something down on the basis of a title that’s not hitting all the right beats.

SARA GRANT: But there are also titles that, when you get them, you go ‘wait a minute, I will read that now’. I think do spend time on your titles, and again, brainstorming with other people, I find sometimes just talking about it and throwing out words can sometimes help. And again, SCBWI – advertisement! – a great place to partner with someone and brainstorm your titles, have them read part of it and you read part of theirs, and maybe suggest titles and help you polish that title.

ASHLEY TAYLOR: It seems like you’ve already answered this one: where do you stand on historic YA? It sounds like everybody’s on board for that.

CLARE WALLACE: I think there are probably periods of history that are harder to make work?

ANNALIE GRAINGER: I think it has to have something extra, perhaps, other than just being historical, I think. So maybe a ghost story or… I’m trying to think of other genre mixes. Zombies? Just something else, I think, at the moment in the market.

ASHLEY TAYLOR: And do’s or don’ts on chapter book humour?

SARA GRANT: I think humour is great – it’s tough though, because you have to get it right, and for that younger audience, it can be tricky.

STEPHANIE KING: Yeah, we had a conversation today in the office about whether we can have farts in a book. And it was a good 20 minute conversation about whether it would put parents off, and about whether you can make those jokes that you know kids find funny, but you don’t know if parents or teachers are going to be put off by them. Body humour or toilet humour will tick boxes for some, and will absolutely negate it for others.

SARA GRANT: I will say, I would love to get more funny. I don’t think we get a lot of funny submissions for UV, though we get some. And funny sells! But it’s a tough thing because it’s so individual and so contextual. As I would say with any genre, if you’re writing humour, go find Diary of a Wimpy Kidand study it, why does it work, what is that humour? Go find those funny books, look at those romcoms and look at that historical fiction, and learn from those brilliant writers. Study and analyse and dissect what other writers are doing, and see if there are some lessons in there as well.

ASHLEY TAYLOR: Here’s another one: how about swearing in YA, bearing in mind Phillip Pullman’s language in The Book Of Dust?

ALICE SUTHERLAND-HAWES: Well, OK, Book of Dust is not a children’s book, in my opinion. That’s an adult book. Swearing is fine as long as there’s a good reason for it. A very well placed F word can be extremely powerful, but if you’re just chucking them all over the place, then it’s just like… mate, no.

SARA GRANT: And for the publishers, does that make it more difficult for book clubs and librarians, does it make it more challenging?

STEPHANIE KING: Yeah, it totally changes it.

ANNALIE GRAINGER: Yeah, it does. I think if you’re doing it for a reason then definitely it’s OK, but because it changes the market and what your audience might be, I think it’s worth thinking quite hard about whether it absolutely needs to be there.

STEPHANIE KING: I don’t know if you find this, but there are some ‘softer’ swear words that you can use, that don’t involve using the classic four letter words, that you can put in that are OK with teachers and librarians. I think there is a list that book clubs have got, of what’s OK and what’s not. And obviously the four letter words, you just can’t use them. And if it’s not going to compromise your story, I’d say don’t use them.

ALICE SUTHERLAND-HAWES: I reckon if JK Rowling uses it, then you’re probably OK. That’s sort of where I land on it. She uses ‘bloody hell’ (sorry)…

ASHLEY TAYLOR: There was a question about querying agents while you’re submitting to UV, should you wait, should you leave it till afterwards?

SARA GRANT: Yeah, I’d say go ahead, we don’t want to stop your progress if you want to query agents. We do say, if you’ve already submitted to this panel of judges and they’ve rejected your work, I’d suggest not submitting it to UV. And we’ve had that in the past, things that have made it to the final, and every agent and editor in the room said ‘we saw this two years ago’. I would say to wait, because if you’ve submitted your extract to one of the judges before, that’s going to influence their decision. But if you’ve heard something tonight that someone’s looking for and you think, ‘that’s me!’, I would send it out! The longlist is announced at the end of the year, at that point we do ask you to remain unagented and unpublished until the anthology comes out in February 2020. 

Let’s end with a final top tip for writers.

ANNALIE GRAINGER: Oh my goodness, my top tip! I’m going to go quite fluffy, I think enjoy writing and love it and make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons, because you enjoy it. Because ultimately there’s no guarantee of anything else, so you should just love what you do. That’s really fluffy, sorry, but that’s my tip!

CLARE WALLACE: I’m going to reiterate my earlier point about have a think about your first page and your first line, really interrogate that. And also remember that we’re all on your side, we’re all of us looking and without you we’re without jobs, so we need you too!

AIMÉE FELONE: I’m just going to say read as much as possible. I think the best writers are also the biggest readers. And if you believe in your story, make us believe in it too.

STEPHANIE KING: I’m going to say, please write the story that you want to write, please don’t try to predict what we’re looking for! I don’t really know, I’ll just know it when I see it. And just concentrate on getting your voice distinctive and original and fresh, and I really look forward to reading them!

ALICE SUTHERLAND-HAWES: I think my tip would be just to make sure that you are doing your work justice. How long have you spent writing this book? Just don’t chuck your shot away, just make sure you’re doing everything you can.

SARA GRANT: And as you’ve heard, everyone at UV is doing this because we love children’s fiction, and it’s always wonderful when we get together for judging or for events like this, for me to learn anew how much people in the room are looking for new stories, and want to find your stories, and are excited about what’s new, what’s coming up and what you’re writing. So keep that in mind!

Again I just want to say thank you to the UV team, to Simon, Rosie and Jenny, who are here, to Catherine, Benjamin and Elizabeth who are online, a huge thank you to Candy and to Ashley.

An extract from my book that would become Dark Partieswas in the first anthology, so I know what an act of courage it is to even submit your book, so do it! Be brave, take heart, and submit your work to Undiscovered Voices.  

We are open for submissions from 1st June 2019 until 15th July 2019. During this period there will be a link on this website to complete the submission process.

After the 15th July, you will no longer be able to enter the contest.

Undiscovered Voices is run thanks to the kind support of Working Partners Ltd.

UV2020 judging panel reveals their top tips!

Meet this year’s stellar judging panel and discover their top tips for any writer thinking of entering this year’s Undiscovered Voices!

Our amazing judging panel are:

  • Helen Boyle, Literary and Illustration Agent at Pickled Ink
  • Aimée Felone, Co-founder of Knights Of
  • Annalie Grainger, Senior Commissioning Editor at Walker Books
  • Stephanie King, Commissioning Fiction Editor at Usborne Publishing
  • Polly Nolan, Literary Agent at Greenhouse Literary Agency
  • Alice Sutherland-Hawes, Children’s Agent at Madeleine Milburn Literary Agency
  • Clare Wallace, Literary Agent at Darley Anderson Children’s Book Agency

We are open for submissions from 1st June 2019 until 15th July 2019. During this period there will be a link on this website to complete the submission process.

After the 15th July, you will no longer be able to enter the contest.

Undiscovered Voices is run thanks to the kind support of Working Partners Ltd.

Getting Ready for UV2020 – Guest Blog with Sarah Merrett

In our first guest blog by past finalists, Sarah Merrett (UV2018), whose extract was called The Darlington Miracles, talks about how being short-listed opened doors for her and shares tips to get your extract in shape before you’re ready to submit. 

Preparing your UV submission: things to ask yourself

So, you’re thinking of entering Undiscovered Voices 2020. Should you go for it? Most definitely. It was the best decision I ever made for my writing career. Becoming a winning finalist in 2018 was the stuff of dreams. It really opened doors for me. I had agents asking to see my book without even sending out a query. Lots of agents. I was lucky enough to be offered representation from my dream agency before the UV launch party had even started. I still pinch myself sometimes.

I hope that’s tempted you into giving this a go. After all, you have nothing to lose. So what now? How do you prepare your submission to make it the best it can possibly be? Here are a few questions you might like to ask yourself:

Your first line

  • Is your first line attention grabbing enough? Does it entice your reader by posing a question such as why, what or how?
  • Analyse the opening lines of some successful children’s books. Why are they strong? How do they lure you in?

Your opening scene

  • Could your opening scene be improved by adding more drama, excitement or mystery?
  • Have you shown the unique and interesting aspect of your main character?
  • What’s at stake for the main character if they don’t achieve their goal?
  • Have you portrayed strong emotions?

Your first chapter

  • By the end of chapter one, what has happened to lure your reader into the next chapter?
  • Have you ended with a strong enough hook or cliffhanger?

Your extract

  • Have enough story events happened in your extract?
  • Are things moving along quickly enough?
  • Where have you ended your extract? Is this stopping point the best place in order to leave your reader wanting more?

Your pitch

  • What makes your story different to others in the same genre?
  • You don’t need to summarise the entire plot of your book. Give a sense of the story and its genre, what’s special about it, and give an intriguing hook

And finally

  • Edit, edit, and edit again
  • Put your story away for as long as you can bear, then read it with fresh eyes. Weak areas should become much clearer after a break
  • Proofread, and if possible, get someone else to proofread too
  • Submit and give yourself a well-earned treat
  • Try not to stew over the outcome. Why not start your next story? It’s a great way to set aside your emotions for your competition entry

Very best of luck!

Sarah Merrett

Before You Click Submit, Part 4 – Hunting Mistakes

As we get closer to the opening of UV submissions, we’re posting tips to make sure your submission stands the best chance of making it into the anthology.

In this post, we’re looking at a great way to scrutinise your text, some commons errors and few pet peeves that can let your extract down.

No Place to Hide – Paragraph Swap Around

UV Founder and Author Sara Grant suggests reading your extract out of order. First switch the pages around and read them out of order. Next read the paragraphs out of order.

“It’s surprising what you’ll find when you scrutinize pages and then paragraphs out of context and individually,” she says. “You start considering if every line, word and punctuation mark is correct. Also you may spot words, phrases or ideas you overuse reading in this mixed-up fashion.”

Just make sure your paragraphs are in the right order when you submit.

Find-and-Replace Mistakes

Rosie Best (UV 2012)

Author and Working Partner’s editor, Rosie Best, warns about the sort of errors that come with using ‘find-and-replace’ on the manuscript. “We all use it,” Rosie says, “But you need to check the results for consistency.”

Make sure find-and-replace has caught every version of the word – some find-and-replace software misses out possessive versions of words, or where a different grammatical agreement has been used.

“A common error is when find-and-replace makes a change inside another word entirely. If you’ve changed a character name from Rose to Emily, you may end up with a sentence like this ‘in the morning, Ben aEmily from his bed’.”

“Also double check that you’ve also deleted any obsolete references that may be left over from previous drafts,” Rosie adds. “It can be surprising how many can survive repeated edits.”

Pet Peeves and Common Errors

“We all have writing ticks,” says Benjamin Scott, committee member and creative writing tutor. “Whether it’s a sentence structure we tend to favourite, a set of words we always reach for first, or, some stock dialogue. It feels comfortable to use, but often leads to wordy, untidy writing.”

A good critique partner (or editor) will point these ticks out to you, but there are plenty web-based editing tools (like http://editminion.com/) that use algorithms to suggest potentially useful edits to your text.

Keep looking for ways to tighten your writing and search the web for common errors to avoid. Here are some of our favourite pitfalls to dodge (thanks to Sara Grant):

  • Unnecessary word repeated in short space, or over-usage in the whole piece.
  • Unnecessary phrases – i.e. his heart thumped in his chest, nodded his head, imagined in his mind, blinked his eyes, actual facts, at this moment in time
  • Main character or narrator thinking too many questions in quick succession – i.e. What was he thinking? What could he do? What did it all mean?
  • Not trusting yourself as a writer and not trusting your readers by showing and telling your reader something – i.e. My hands began to sweat. Fear fizzled in my stomach. My eyes widened in surprise. I was scared.
  • Too many competing metaphors or similes in close proximity to each other. Let your best metaphors and similes breathe.
  • Appropriate level of description – avoid either too much or not enough. Tell your readers what they need to know to picture a scene and understand the action.
  • Too specific action that proves unimportant – i.e. He picked up the knife with his left hand and turned counterclockwise.

And, finally, watch out for tenses – nothing is more disruptive that an unexpected and unintentional shift in tense!

Stay tuned for our final tips, coming tomorrow. Submissions for UV2018 will open this Saturday (1st July 2017) and will close 15th August 2017. Why not sign up here for submission reminders?