Well that’s a pretty big question! Anyone who aspires to publication spends quite some time second guessing the desires of those legendary gatekeepers, Agent and Editor. In our never-ending quest we tirelessly seek out the breadcrumb trails of informed rumour and whisper. Collectively, the great unpublished try to work out how to unlock the door to the magical kingdom of publishing. And for every scrap of knowledge there is an equal and opposite alternate reality.
Hurrah then for SCBWI and their always brilliant masterclasses. This is the fast track route to the knowledge and Rachel Wade, Children’s Book Editor with Hachette Children’s Group gave us a full insight into what editors do and want.
Rachel started out by asking what we knew of imprints – cue a bit of head scratching. Publishing houses will often have different imprints and each one will focus on a particular style or genre of book, so within Hachette Children’s Group you can find various imprints such as Hodder Children’s Books or Orchard. The mention of Orchard took me straight back to the many “Orchard book of…” titles that used to grace the book shelves of my classrooms and my perennial favourite “Five Little Ducks”!
With that cleared up we looked at the role an editor plays in the journey from “The Idea” to “The Book”. Once they fall in love with your idea, it is your editor who creates that essential buzz within the publishing house and gets the initial text to the point where everyone involved is happy. From here external agencies may be involved in the copy editing and proof reading process until finally off it goes to print. With the editor as midwife, a new book is finally born.
So how do you improve your chances of getting your masterwork pounced on by an editor?
Top tips from Rachel include:
- Be serious. Successful authors see their work as a career. Use your networks to build your own profile as a writer.
- Remember feedback is just an opinion – write your story and only edit if you think it is the right thing to do.
- Talk to trusted readers – critical friends or other writers.
- With picture books, just focus on your book. Editors might look to a series if the first book sells well.
- Is your angle different?
- Experiment with the form of your book – is it in the right genre, from the right perspective or point of view?
- Make sure every word is working for you – does it hook your reader in from the start?
“Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”
Prior to the workshop Rachel asked us to bring along a favourite opening paragraph. It’s an interesting exercise: go back to your favourites and ask yourself, “why did I want to keep reading?”
As any seasoned submitter will know, “the pitch,” that introduction to you and your writing, is so difficult to get right. There was much sighing and crossing out as we all tried to pull a pitch together simply to share with a colleague! Rachel helped us think in more depth about what we can do to make our submissions as professional as possible:
- Understand the books they agent – are you a good match for them?
- Know who your intended audience is.
- Include a bit about yourself: successes, related first hand experiences and things of relevance (being a teacher is good!)
- Include your pitch letter at the start of your manuscript – this can help a busy editor on their eReader recall who you are!
- Keep your submission letter to one side of A4 and your book pitch to two or three sentences.
To finish up we had a go at editing ourselves, something I enjoyed greatly. I was straight home to wield the axe on those darling little adverbs I had so carefully selected. I’m making every word count. I’m closer to the door.
©Chez l’abeille 2016