Monday, 28 December 2015

Most Inspiring/Helpful Advice I've Received From An Editor or Agent - Group Post

As this is the last post of 2015 we decided to share some of the most inspiring and helpful advice we've received. We hope you find it useful and if you've received any useful advice please feel free to share in the comments. 

Keep it global - Lynne Garner

I was once advised by an editor to think globally whilst writing a story. By this my editor meant unless the setting is an important element of the story then try not to include festivals, celebrations or holidays that are only enjoyed by one country or religion. This hopefully means your publisher can sell your book to a sub-publisher without making huge changes to your story. I followed her advice whilst writing A Book For Bramble" and made the celebrations Teasel enjoyed ones that were linked to the seasons. As you can see from the attached cover her advice worked and the book was translated into other languages, resulting in increased royalty payments for me.

Don't rush - Moira Butterfield 

When I was a young editor I was very gung-ho and wanted to do everything quickly. My boss, Jenny Tyler at Usborne, told me 'more haste, less speed', and I've never forgotten it either as an editor or as an author. I do tend to rush things by nature and have to rein myself in. It's important to leave text to marinade - even if you only have a limited time schedule. Give it space. Put it away for a day or two and then go back to it. Don't send it off to anyone until you are sure it's fully formed. That means reining in your initial excitement about it and not jumping the gun.

A spread from I Saw a Shark, illustrated by Michael Emmerson, out at the end of 2015.
I kept this text to myself for ages, tinkering
with it and not giving myself any pressure. 

Focus on your strengths - Jonathan Emmett
The most valuable piece of advice I’ve been given came from my agent Caroline Walsh when I was just starting out in children’s publishing. I’d intended to be an author-illustrator and many of my early projects were both written and illustrated (and sometimes paper-engineered) by me, but there was little interest from publishers. Caroline explained that there were plenty of illustrators who could produce good picture book illustrations, but not many authors that could write good picture book texts. Caroline told me that I could write good texts, so if I wanted to make a living out of picture books, I should focus on the writing. I followed her advice and I've been making a living as a picture book author ever since!

One of my early illustrations for the my picture book story Fox's New Coat,
which was eventually published with illustrations by Penny Ives.

Be prepared to change - Jane Clarke

When PictureBook Den's Natascha was an editor at Random House, she asked me to change a character in Knight Time from Mummy to Daddy - and it's a much better book because of it- thanks, Natascha!

Fab illustrations to the finished book by Jane Massey -and a very scruffy alteration to the original text by me: 

Have fun! - Paeony Lewis

Alex Bear and Baby Pog having fun in I'll Always Love You,
by Paeony Lewis, illus by Penny Ives
Long ago I sent three stories to an agent for children's books. Although this particular agent didn't take me on, she replied with comments. One comment in particular has always stuck in my head and it was simply to have more fun in my writing. So even now, when I've finished the draft of a picture book text, I'll read it and ask myself if  I've included enough fun. I appreciate that not all picture books are 'fun', but almost all include humour, even if it's subtle. For me it was simple, great advice.

Read it aloud in a different accent - Michelle Robinson

Don't assume your rhyming text rhymes in every tongue just because it does in yours (e.g. 'again' and 'rain'), and definitely don't cheat and tell yourself a near-rhyme will do the job because it almost certainly won't. I can't remember who gave me this advice now so I don't know who to credit - but it's something I still need to remind myself to do as it's not something that comes naturally. I also kind of wish I'd avoided ending lines with nouns in 'Elephant's Pyjamas' as having to switch words to their non-rhyming American equivalents (e.g. 'jimjams' became 'jammies') made doing the U.S. edit rather tricky.

We hope sharing the above will help and inspire you. We also hope that 2016 brings you all you wish for.

With our very best regards,

Everyone at the Picture Book Den


  1. Thank you very much - this is a very good post.

  2. Moira - your advice made me laugh. It's almost as though you've been spying on me...

  3. A fabulous collection of great pieces of wisdom, thanks for putting this together.

  4. All excellent tips. Thank you for sharing. Happy new year!