Children’s picture book marketing – case study interview

When I occasionally host interviews my aim (as with the rest of my blog) is to share best practice and know-how that I think will help fellow children’s authors. Today is no exception and without further ado I’d like to introduce London-based picture book children’s author Shweta Aggarwal.

Headshot of Shweta Aggarwal

Shweta Aggarwal

Shweta first came to my attention when she contacted me through the Alliance of Independent Authors to ask advice about approaching schools with her new book, Dev and Ollie – Kite Crazy.

Front Cover_page_25.02.15

As well as referring her to my more general children’s book marketing posts and to my Indie Recon video presentation on Self-publishing and marketing children’s picture books, I asked Shweta to email me a PDF of the story to enable me to take a look through.

I was immediately taken with her delightfully colourful adventure in which young Dev is given a new kite for his birthday but doesn’t know how to fly it and is whisked off to India overnight by his bedtime magical owl, Ollie. Here he gets to join in the Gujarat Kite Festival — one of the largest kite festivals in the world and is returned home an expert kite flyer! The combination of the magical trip to India, the kite flying and multi-cultural festival themes, not to mention the vibrant illustrations made offering suggestions as to how Shweta might break out a session for little ones – and what props she might take – extremely easy! Variety is key and there is plenty of it in this story to draw on.

Shweta not only ran a very successful school session, but went on to host two events during October half term that led to many sales and lots of very satisfied young customers. And, as if that wasn’t enough, she was lucky enough to be selected by Amazon to be featured as part of their Black Friday deals!

Below I find out more about the story behind the story and how Shweta has gone about marketing her picture book.

Karen:

Dev and Ollie’s Kite Crazy adventure is a wonderful tale and the tradition of kite flying is something children everywhere will be fascinated to learn about. What gave you the idea to write the story?

Shweta: 

The idea of writing about festivals came to me whilst attending a festival in Watford a couple of years ago. Indian by origin and having grown up in Japan, I now live in England with my family. My upbringing has been that of a global citizen. And after having children, I am keen for my children to be global citizens while also to be proud of their own culture and heritage. Also, adding variety to their bookshelf is something I actively work on. In fact, my mission is for ALL children not just to be reading well, but to be well read.

So I created the characters Dev and Ollie with a universal appeal. And as my mission is to impart cultural knowledge, I believe festivals are the best subject for the stories. Festivals evoke the best of any culture! Colour, noise, excitement, family, laughter – all are perfect ingredients for children’s stories.

During my time in India from 1995 to 1999 for my undergraduate degree in computer science, I travelled extensively within India. That’s when I experienced an array of amazing festivals. Kite Crazy is about one such cherished experience, the annual kite festival in Gujarat, India where I flew kites on the rooftop with cousins from dawn till dusk. Food, drinks, piles of kites, everything would be planned for. We’d fight to have a go (because we had fewer kites remaining than the number of cousins!). Then seconds later, we’d be ganging up and competing against others on neighbouring roof terraces.

“I realised that if I still remember kite flying so vividly, then children would love to read about it too.”

You recently organised an event to promote Kite Crazy. Can you tell us a little bit about it? What did it entail?

I organised two book readings and kite making competitions; one in Central London at the Indian High Commission cultural wing and the other at Harrow Arts Centre. Both launches went really well. The highlight of both events was children making their kites…they absolutely loved it! In the end I gave a little prize for the best kite and Ollie stickers to all other children for participating. I decorated the rooms with simple handmade kites. A little personal touch of asking all children to bring along their cuddly toy as they sit and listen to the story worked wonders too.

Children watching author reading from picture book - kites pinned to the backgound wall

Shweta’s event at the Indian High Commission cultural wing

How did you get your audience along?

I have to say that Facebook is the best medium for me personally as there’s no better way of connecting with mothers’ network groups. I posted the invite on various groups and that was it! Printed leaflets didn’t even get me 5% of the traction I received on Facebook. Perhaps what also helped was that the book reading was a free event over half term and parents are always looking for activities then to fill the day. Almost everyone who came also bought a copy. Some even bought five copies — for Diwali and Xmas presents!

How is the story going down with school children? Do they enjoy meeting Ollie?

Children love Ollie! A cuddly toy is a great way to break the ice. I start by asking children about their toys and all the wonderful magical things their toys do…some very entertaining stories unfold there! So far I’ve had a phenomenal response from children, teachers and parents! I believe Kite Crazy is a story any child can enjoy because it’s a cultural, festival experience without any religious context. And my hidden mission behind this book is also for children to enjoy gadget free activities. Kite flying is a very refreshing experience.

How did you find your illustrator? Where is he based?

As I have no prior experience or contacts in the publishing world, finding the right illustrator was like searching for a needle in a haystack. So I did just that…I searched on Freelance.com. I asked eight illustrators to submit character sketches of Dev and Ollie. Some were British, some from Eastern Europe and a couple from India. Somnath Chatterjee, based in Calcutta, India, was the first person who came back to me and in fact also turned out to be the only illustrator who translated my vision perfectly.

Do you brief him tightly or let him come up with the illustrations based on the story?

I would say it’s a combination of both. I start with very brief bullet points for every illustration and ask him for his ideas too based on the manuscript. Then after receiving the initial sketches, I go through it thoroughly looking for any details to be added that will bring the illustration alive.

Tell us about the Amazon 40% deal you were offered – were you surprised? And were you able to make the most of it?

I was very surprised! As it’s still early days, Kite Crazy hasn’t reached thousands of readers yet. But it’s been receiving amazing reviews and I think that’s what must have mattered because a few days after the initial deal, I was offered another deal again! The flash deals on Amazon help tremendously in reaching out to a wider & new audience. I see it as an entirely positive thing even though your book value is drastically reduced. It’s the best marketing because I’ve seen sales go up significantly even after the flash deal ended.

Who did you use to print the book and what does it retail at? Are you happy with the finished product?

The book is available using using print on demand (POD) on Amazon via CreateSpace and via Ingram Spark for wider distribution. The cover is glossy and of great quality. The colours are just right. The only minor setback I had when I first received a physical copy of the book is the internal paper quality with POD. For a children’s picture book particularly the quality and thickness of paper is extremely important. I decided to stick with CreateSpace POD and drop the price the book to £4.99 instead of asking for £5.99. I do have some copies printed from a traditional printer — Oxted Printers with much thicker paper. I sell those books in schools at £5.99 explaining the difference and parents are happy with that.

This is exactly the approach I took with Ferdinand Fox’s Big Sleep, as you know. It’s certainly unnerving ordering stock up front but on the upside I’ve found that I can make a better margin on sales from my short-run books. I assume you’ve found likewise?

My profit margin is three times that of what I receive via CS. It’s a tricky one because we all know, the larger the print run, the greater the profit. But then stocking a large number of books becomes a problem. I do plan on selling books on my website too and giving customers the option of purchasing directly on Amazon or the website (with extra added perks such as a free key ring etc).

You have a very nice ‘Facts For Curious Minds’ educational section at the end of your story — with facts and figures. Has that proven popular with children/parents/teachers?

Thank you! I was told by some publishers that this is overtly educational and that in fact the whole book is! However I disagreed and went with my gut instinct. And now many parents and teachers comment on how they find the section at the end very useful. Some even say it’s the one of the highlights of the book!

Image of kites, map and text about kite facts

Kite Facts for Curious Minds

Are there annual kite flying events in the UK that our children should know about?

The Kite Society of Great Britain is a fantastic resource for information on kite festivals and events taking place around the country. Portsmouth International Kite Festival, which takes place in August every year, is a perfect day out by the sea and it’s free!  And for those living in London, there’s nothing like flying a kite in Primrose Hill Park on a beautiful sunny summer day. The views are spectacular and the winds are just right for kite flying. I took my kids there this summer and they just didn’t want to leave! We spent hours just flying a kite (before and after lunch).

Can you make a kite? 🙂

I learnt how to make one recently since I started with the book readings. It’s surprisingly easy to make and a perfect activity for little as it doesn’t take too long either. The only tricky bit is getting the right type of paper and string if you want your kite to actually fly! I tend to use a heavier paper because children can rip thinner paper easily. But they are more than happy anyway just to be able to make one!

More books coming soon…

Shweta says she has further books planned, including Colour Carnival, about India’s festival of colours called Holi and Camel Chase about the world’s largest camel fair in Rajasthan, India. She says:

All stories will have a universal appeal even though they take place in India. I’m also researching other unique festivals around the world. For example, I’m certainly going to write about the Snow & ice Festival in China and that book title is Winter Wonderland.”

With many thanks to Shweta for sharing her book marketing experience with us.  If you’ve children aged 4-6 who you think would like to know more about kite festivals you can order a copy of Dev and Ollie’s Kite Crazy adventure on Amazon

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Blog Update, Children's Books, Marketing, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Using crossword puzzles to promote your children’s book

If you’re looking for additional marketing inspiration for your children’s book – or indeed for a YA or adult book – below I share how I’ve used crossword puzzles to help promote my books in recent years. (If you caught this post on the Alliance of Independent Authors’ website recently, skip to the end of the page where I talk about new software I’ve just tried out for converting graphic novels: a full post on this coming soon!)

Crosswords as a simple book marketing tool

It struck me early on when taking my time travel mystery, The Secret Lake, into shop signings that having a free ‘interactive’ activity sheet to accompany it would make sound marketing sense – not only to attract parents and children to my signing table but also to help market the book after a sale, or indeed after a non-sale!)

Solving puzzles is ‘fun’ and without a doubt appeals to children’s detective-like curiosity and often to their naturally competitive instinct. (And let’s face it, as adults we all know the sense of satisfaction and achievement that comes with solving the simplest of crossword clues, not to mention a whole puzzle!)

Image of two crossword puzzles with book cover and spaceship design included

I’ll talk in a moment about the software I used (which is fun in itself) but first here are a couple of case studies.

Case study 1– ‘The Secret Lake’

My crossword for The Secret Lake takes the form of a general knowledge quiz about the story. When wording the questions or ‘clues’ I took care to bring out exciting plot points (without giving anything away) and to allude to characters in a way that would intrigue and tempt the reader of the crossword – ie the child or parent picking it up in a bookshop – to want to find out more. Of course I could have created a simple ‘quiz’ sheet but I’m not sure it would have appealed; the crossword format somehow adds a fresher and more fun dimension.

While the software I used offers various background images that you can lay the puzzle onto (at various levels of transparency from 10%-90%) I chose a blank sheet and then added a large image of The Secret Lake book cover in one corner instead, as seen below. I could have been more adventurous, but this was my first go at it and I wanted to make it as easy as possible for children to read the clues.

As well as offering the crossword with every face-to-face book sale, I also offer it as a freebie to take away where I don’t make a sale – on the pretext that the book’s details are on the sheet should the parent, grandparent or child want to track it down at a later date  🙂

Image of a crossword puzzle and The Secret Lake book cover

Use clues to tempt new readers who may only take the hand-out

The answers are available to download or view on the book’s website, and this, of course, offers a further marketing opportunity as that site includes info and links to my main author site and other books. The crossword sheet itself is also available to download and print or share from my site which offers a further marketing / social media opportunity.

NB I now have a catch-all author website – I don’t recommend setting up separate websites for each book as there is too much to maintain and it doesn’t offer a smooth cross-marketing journey! I will in due course move the crosswords over to The Secret Lake section of kareninglisauthor.com  – this has been on the ‘to-do’ list for a while!

Case Study 2 – ‘Eeek! The Runaway Alien’

For Eeek! The Runaway Alien – in which a football-mad alien runs away from space to Earth for the World Cup – I used a crossword to pick up on the buzz of the 2014 World Cup. Thus most of the clues focused on simple general knowledge to do with the World Cup teams, matches and players. For the background images I chose an alien spaceship from the puzzle maker site’s library of images rather than one of my own graphic novel images. I then tweeted links to the crossword (which can be downloaded in Word or as a PDF from my website) using #WorldCup2014 and other relevant hashtags being used for specific matches – targeting mainly soccer-loving dads! Because #WordCup2014 was trending at the time, this led to over 50 downloads over a short period. (This may not sound like much but in children’s publishing terms it really isn’t that bad – and all helps to spread the word about the book!) During that period I also I provided handouts of the crossword with books to my local bookshop, which stocks all of my books.

Image of alien holding up a pair of football boots

You can view Eeek’s crossword download puzzle here. If you keep scrolling you’ll also see links to the answers sheet – shown as a screenshot above. (As this was a more recent marketing exercise my author site was up and running and you can clearly see how easy it is to cross market to my other books from there.)

Puzzle-maker.com software

I used Puzzle-maker.com to create my crosswords. I can’t say they have the most fabulous looking website (!) and the user interface could do with improving, but bear with it. It’s great fun creating the puzzles and you have the option to play around, preview and then rearrange the shape of the puzzle as many times as you wish if you don’t like the initial shape it comes up with. You start by entering the answer to your clue and then the question – and the program does the rest for you.

There are three levels of puzzle: ‘good,’ which comes free; or ‘better’ or ‘best’ puzzles for which there is a small charge: either a one-off cost for one puzzle or an annual subscription which allows unlimited puzzles. The free puzzles come in HTML type format for printing and may contain advertising – I wouldn’t recommend this. By contrast, ‘better’ or ‘best’ allow you to create downloadable PDFs that you can email out, print or share on your blog or website. The paid option also offers a range of background images that you can use to ‘theme’ your crossword if you wish, as I did with Eeek! and the spaceship. All three levels offer the blank crossword with clues underneath plus an answers page.

Having done a quick Google I can see that there are lots of sites that offer free crossword making facilities so do check them out and leave a note below of any that you rate! This one worked for me and I’m signed up to its annual subscription service, which at under $15 didn’t feel too onerous!

Please do leave links to other sites in the comments box if you’d like to recommend them!

One reader on the ALLi blog suggested The Teacher’s Corner website which I shall be trying in due course. Other suggestions gratefully received below for everyone’s benefit 🙂 And of course please do share ideas of other hand-outs that have worked for you.

Stop Press – formatting software for graphic novels…

I have recently discovered software that has enabled me to very easily convert my graphic novel, Henry Haynes and the Great Escape, to Kindle and ePub. I had avoided doing this until now due to the formatting costs and headaches associated with converting black and white illustrations. But using my CS files it was a breeze!

I shall be blogging about this soon. In the meantime below are links to the ebooks if you’d like to see what can be done! This is a fun story about a boy who falls inside his library book and is aimed at ages 6-8. Please do share and leave a review if you enjoy :-). If you’re based in the USA do check out the UK reviews of which there are more – also Henry Haynes is in USA Amazon.com’s Matchbook scheme, which means you get the Kindle version for free if you buy the print book over there.  Enjoy! Karen

Image of boy chasing a snake and a gorilla staring out of a cage at them

Buy me on Kindle

Boy chasing a snake with gorilla looking on - book cover of Henry Haynes and the Great Escape

Buy me in the iBooks Store

 

Posted in Children's Books, Marketing | Tagged | 1 Comment

How to support bricks & mortar bookshops with IndieBound links

As is the case with most children’s authors, my books sales are predominantly in print, with many being at school events. But I’ve also sold very respectable numbers (running into the 100s) in local bricks and mortar stores, including several branches of Waterstones in southwest London, and smaller independent bookshops such as The Barnes Bookshop (I’ve sold more than 100 here), Sheen Bookshop, Wimbledon Books and The Notting Hill Bookshop.

Image of 5 bookshop windows

Some local bookshops that stock my books…

Supporting bookshop stockists with links and mentions

Until now I’ve made an effort to promote my bricks and mortar bookshops stockists by including mentions and website links in relevant book page blog posts or ‘How to order’ paragraphs. However, I’ve long been conscious that plastered down the right-hand side of every page have been book thumbnails that link out only to Amazon.

Adding sidebar links to IndieBound search pages

IndieBound logo

Connects readers with local bookshops

Spurred on after the camaraderie of this weekend’s Barnes Children’s Literature Festival — where my book sales passed through The Barnes Bookshop – and by the launch of the Alliance of Independent Authors’ fantastic and inspired #Authors4Bookstores campaign, I have finally put extra sidebar links in place to enable UK and US readers coming to my site to order my books locally if they prefer. Below I share how I did this to save you time if you have a WordPress site and aren’t sure where to start or, like me, don’t really understand HTML beyond the basics 🙂

Since it’s a well-know fact that web users are in a hurry I wanted the links to sit in context close to each book jacket, and not to confuse matters by adding any extra logos. However, you can of course also use the IndieBound logo above in a generic spot on your blog or website and link to the relevant UK or US search page from it. I plan to do this.

Following this route presupposes that bookshops can order your book in. I own my ISBNs and my distributor is Lightning Source, which supplies the main book wholesalers in the UK, USA and beyond. The wholesalers in turn supply the bricks and mortar bookshops who can see and order my books in their systems. If you have an ISBN that you own and are with Lightning Source or Ingram Spark I believe that most US/UK bookshops located through IndieBound should be able to order your book.

Steps to add sidebar text links to Indiebound

The HTML coding provided below will, I am sure, work for any site. The process I describe is for WordPress blogs ( I use the free one).

1/ In the dashboard choose Appearance > Widgets

2/ Select the ‘Text’ widget and drag it to the area on the page you want it to appear (I use the Primary Widget Area on the right hand side)

Image of Widgets inside WordPress Dashboard

Drag the text widget to your preferred area

3/ Click on the ‘Text’ tab in its new location to open it up (see screenshot below) and then:

  • add the title of your book in the first text field
  • type the code shown in the screenshot below* into the next larger field – or you can of course save yourself time by looking out the IndieBound URL and pasting that in. [I tried to include all of the coding as body text to enable you to select and copy/paste it, but WordPress stripped it out!]
  • (optional) edit the text the reader will see if necessary (eg instead of ‘UK Bookshops’ it could say ‘Order from you local UK bookshop’. I had this to start with, but felt it was taking up too much room).
  • *note that the last part of the coding shows how I have also provided contextual links to Amazon and Barnes & Noble – this is for info only and for you to omit or adapt for your own book as necessary.

The Secret Lake text widget (2nd one down)

Image of text widget & example coding in WordPress

Adding code & links to with the text widget

  • The above coding translates into this at the front end:Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 13.26.54If you have inserted a picture below in the widget area, the overall look is as below and as seen on the right-hand side of this blog page. (I choose to add a ‘Buy from Amazon’ caption on each image and this goes to the relevant Amazon page based on the reader’s location). While I still feel a little bad adding the Amazon link, the reality is that many customers will be looking for this – and I’m in business just like everyone else is to sell books  – so it feels madness not to provide it!Image of The Secret Lake book cover and links to where to buy it

Top Tip: Once you’ve tested the coding, copy and paste it all into a Word document to use or edit in the future if you need to change anything.

Read more about the Author4Bookstores Campaign here

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Barnes Children’s Literature Festival Sat 25 April ~ what goes around comes around

Since the The Secret Lake first came out back in 2011 it’s been heartwarming to see just how far industry attitudes towards self-publishing have evolved. We’re now entering a period where the lines are truly beginning to blur in the minds of booksellers, the press, event organisers and publishers when it comes to deciding what makes a good read, and where the next big thing readers will want might come from. This change in perceptions from the people who help introduce readers to new authors and put books in readers’ hands is undoubtedly good news for all involved.

It’s therefore with perhaps less surprise than I might once have anticipated that I’m thrilled to announce my inclusion in the inaugural Barnes Children’s Literature Festival, which takes place on Saturday 25 April in southwest London.

Barnes Children’s Literature Festival

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 19.09.32

Barnes Children’s Literature Festival – click to visit the website

As you may be able to see from above, this festival – organised by book publicist and local mum of two girls, Amanda Brettargh – is thinking big. It includes a fantastic line-up of award-winning authors for children of all ages – so if you’re within reach of southwest London and have children aged from 3-12  I’d highly recommend coming along.

Barnes village lies a mile or so south of Hammersmith Bridge. It’s a lovely place to spend the day – we have our very own duck pond and village green, plenty of cafes, delis, family-friendly pubs and restaurants, the river Thames at the top of the high street and one of the coolest cinemas in London – on which more below!

Barnes pond, Barnes, London SW13

Barnes Pond – Barnes village is a five-minute bus ride south of Hammersmith Bridge

 So who will be there …?

Well, here are just a few tasters… (you’ll find a link to the full programme below)

  • Multi-award-winning picture-book author, Chris Haughton – not only will he be bringing his fabulous picture books to life at his own session, there’s also the UK  premiere of the stage production of his award-winning picture book  ‘A Bit Lost’
  • Picture book illustrator Alex Scheffler – of Gruffalo fame – say no more!
  • Abbie Longstaff – author of The Fairytale Hairdresser series
  • Sally Gardner –award winning author of ‘Maggot Moon’ – at the festival she’ll be talking about what makes a good detective and her fairy detective series ‘Wings & Co’
  • Author-illustrator David Mackintosh – who’ll be drawing as well as reading from his latest book ‘Lucky’
  • Marcia Williams – author of the acclaimed  ‘Archie’s War’ – a child’s scrapbook of the First World War
  • Jim Smith – author of ‘I am not a loser’ series
  • Piers Torday – introducing his new novel ‘The Wild Beyond’ – the final in his trilogy
  • Horrible Histories® illustrator Martin Brown
  • Britain’s favourite poet and local resident Roger McGough who has even penned a poem for the festival!

There will also be book-to-film cinema events curated by Guardian film critic, Danny Leigh, at the ultra cool Olympic Studios. And Julia Eccleshare, children’s books editor of The Guardian, will be interviewing teenage author Helena Coggan.

For my own part, I’ll be introducing 7-10 year-olds to my popular graphic novel Eeek! The Runaway Alien – you can find out more about my session here

The above really is just a samplesee the full programme and book tickets here. (All ticket sale proceeds go to charity.)

Making the cut: thanks to my local bookshops & schools

Needless to say I’m both proud and honoured to be part of the festival. And while being a local author clearly helped, I am in no doubt that this alone was by no means enough. I earned my place through my track record, which in turn is inextricably linked to the support I’ve had locally.

Those of you who follow my blog will know that I regularly take my books into schools in southwest London and have hosted many signing events in local bookshops and Waterstones (one of the UK’s main bookshop chains) – all of whom have been incredibly receptive and have stocked my books from the outset, often placing them face-out with shelf-talkers that I supply.

The success of my signing events and school visits, coupled with strong sales more widely – especially for The Secret Lake – speak for themselves. Without this track record and all the hard work it has entailed over the last few years I am in no doubt that entry to the festival would not have been possible.

So I’d like to say thank you to the Barnes Children’s Literature Festival – and to southwest London yet again – for giving me this next opportunity. And thank you to my local bookshops, notably The Barnes Bookshop (through which my festival sales will pass), Sheen Books, Wimbledon Books and seven branches of Waterstones in southwest London. Also thanks to so many local schools for having me in and to the local press for so often sharing my stories. But most of all, thank you to my young readers, both near and far!

Barnes Bookshop

The Barnes Bookshop – with Eeek! poster in the window during the World Cup 🙂

Festivals and book fairs of the future

With Foyles Bookshop hosting the Indie Author Fair at their flagship store in Charing Cross on 17 April as part of London Book and Screen Week and Debbie Young hosting the inaugural Hawkesbury Upton Literary Festival on World Book Night 23 April  we are already seeing a shift in the nature and landscape of literature festivals. (Not forgetting, of course, the Indie Author Fringe Festival that ran alongside the Chorleywood Literary Festival last November).

So here’s to bookshops, litfest organisers and authors themselves for helping reshape the future of book selling in this brave new world. I’m sure we all agree that these changes are for everyone’s benefit – author, reader and bookseller alike.

Getting to Barnes

If you’re on public transport it’s a five-minute bus ride or 20-minute walk from Hammersmith Tube, or a five-minute walk from Barnes or Barnes Bridge over-ground stations. If you’re driving you’ll find parking in the streets a few minutes walk away from the immediate central village area.

Click here to view the full programme and book tickets to the
Barnes Children’s Literature Festival

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The Writers’ Advice Centre for Children’s Books

A seriously good option for self-publishing children’s authors

We all know that the golden rule of self-publishing is never to put out your book without first getting feedback, ideally using beta readers to start with – and most certainly using a professional editor.

With this in mind I’ll get straight to the point and tell you about the review and editing service offered by The Writers’ Advice Centre for Children’s Books, run by Louise Jordan.

Image of Writers' Advice Centre for Children's Books website home page

The Writers’ Advice Centre for Children’s Book offers advice and training to children’s authors

Louise, who co-founded Writers’ Advice in 1994, is ex-Head Reader for Puffin UK, and a children’s literary scout with over 20 years’ experience in the industry – oh, and an all-round lovely person!

Image of Louise Jordan

Louise Jordan – ex Head Reader for Puffin UK

My early encounter with Writers’ Advice…

I discovered Writers’ Advice back in late 1990s, a few years after I had started to write children’s books – and attended one of Louise’s excellent one-day workshops on writing for children.

Writers’ Advice still runs those workshops – as well as home study courses – but training isn’t all that’s on offer. Louise and her team of experienced children’s publishing professionals will give you frank and constructive feedback on your children’s book manuscript – whatever stage it’s at. The review takes into account everything from your book’s theme, to its plot, overall structure, characterisation, viewpoint, dialogue and target age group. They’ll also give you advice on how to approach publishers if that’s your aim.

How Writers’ Advice helped me with The Secret Lake

A year after attending Louise’s course – and reading her excellent book How To Write For Children And Get Published – I had my first draft of The Secret Lake ready, and used the Writers’ Advice manuscript appraisal service. After taking on board that feedback I then sent in a further draft.

The Secret Lake by Karen Inglis

Over 6,000 copies sold…

Looking back at the reports I received I realise just how instrumental they were in helping me move the story in the right direction.

  • I had the children grow up by the end of the story (what on earth was I thinking? – cut and major rework – kids aren’t interested in reading about adults!)
  • My opening was way too slow (Louise suggested I move a scene which is now the opening to the book…)
  • Certain key plot elements needed teasing out for the readers’ benefit – even though they were clear in my head
  • The children’s dialogue was way too mature in places…

These are but a few examples: suffice it to say that the feedback provided at all levels was thorough and, most importantly, highly practical.

How the reports looked back then…

Back in those days the advice service was all conducted by snail mail – authors sent manuscripts by post and received a feedback report a few weeks later.

Image of report on The Secret Lake

Early reports – circa 1999/2000

Here’s an excerpt from inside the second report I received back for The Secret Lake 🙂 I went on to write many more drafts after this (after leaving the story in a box for 10 years!) – in the later stages working with a close colleague and editor friend, Bridget Rendell, but many fundamental issues were solved by that time and I felt a lot more confident about my writing thanks to the advice I had received already.

Image of manuscript text

The Writers’ Advice Centre’s report on The Secret Lake

     I also sent an early draft of Eeek! The Runaway Alien to the Writers’ Advice Centre, as well as a clutch of shorter stories, including my rhyming tales about Ferdinand Fox – oh and one other story that’s still on my hard drive…watch this space!

Of course times have changed and documents are now usually exchanged online, though you can choose a postal service if you prefer. Louise also offers telephone and face-to-face feedback.

All of these services come at very reasonable prices, based on word count – or length of call if using the phone service. Use the links below to find out more.

An editorial service ahead of its time….

Writers’ Advice was originally set up to help aspiring children’s authors improve their chances of getting picked up by an agent or publisher, but it has adapted without fuss to serve the needs of authors looking to self-publish too. In fact as part of their offer they will give you realistic feedback on which route may be best for you. In this sense, I can’t help feeling that it’s a service that was ahead of its time.

As the publishing world continues to transform I’m certain that increasing numbers of freelance editorial services made up of experienced industry professionals will evolve to serve the needs of all writers. These changes are good news for authors and editors alike – each meeting a market need for the other. And of course they are great news for readers too.

In the case of The Writers’ Advice Centre for Children’s Books it’s a case of ‘business as usual’ and welcome to our world!

New Wacky Bee children’s imprint…

Wacky Bee children's publisher logo

Visit the website…

STOP PRESS! Louise Jordan has set up a new imprint, Wacky Bee, and is looking for new titles for her list aimed at ages 5-12.

To be considered for Wacky Bee you must have used the Writers’ Advice Centre’s manuscript appraisal service. Contact info@writersadvice.co.uk or check out the website www.wackybee.co.uk 

I’ll be doing an interview with Louise on Wacky Bee in the near future – but in the meantime I asked her what her one piece of advice would be to children’s authors.

Here’s what Louise said:

My one piece of advice to writers would be that placing a piece of writing in the market place is a bit like buying or selling a property. It’s all about location, location, location. In other words targeting is the most important thing…and a great writing voice!

Thank you, Louise!

Over to you…

Are you a current or aspiring children’s author?  Please feel free to ask questions or leave a comment below about your own experience of getting feedback on your work, or deciding whether to self-publish or follow the traditional route.

Posted in Blog Update, Children's Books, Editing, Self-publishing, Writing & Editing | 11 Comments