Claire is a middle grade author and her debut, THE VOYAGE TO MAGICAL NORTH, is now available from Henry Holt. She is represented by Gemma Cooper at the Bent Agency.
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What advice would you give to querying writers?
Don’t give up; you never know when success will come. And take advantage of all the resources that are out there. Join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and ask for advice. Making mistakes does not disqualify you from getting published - I queried for years and made all sorts of embarassing mistakes, and then I met my agent after I won a SCBWI competition. There are many routes to publishing success. The only certain route to failure is to stop trying.
Had you queried other books before the one that got you your agent?
Yes - three. The first one was a gigantic, heavyweight fantasy which was universally rejected, and thank goodness for that. The next two (one fantasy, one YA sci fi) got several requests for the the full manuscripts and a lot of encouraging comments, enough to reassure me I was heading in the right direction.
What helped you get though the query trenches?
The requests for full manuscripts and the positive rejections really helped. I knew that I was on the right track, at least. Writing another book was definitely what worked best for me, though. It took my focus off the book I was querying and made me look forward to the next thing. Rejections still stung, but they never made me want to give up because I was already writing the next one.
How did you know your agent was the right one for you?
After the SCBWI competition win I had offers from four agents, all of whom were fantastic people, so it was a tough decision. I chose Gemma because her ideas for revisions made a lot of sense and she’d consistently stayed in touch with me and offered help and advice all through the decision-making. Also, her authors have a great team spirit, which Gemma encourages with meet-ups and writing retreats together. So I knew I wasn’t just signing with an agent, I was becoming part of a writing team. Which, for a newbie who’d never had that much contact with other writers, was a really big thing.
Once a writer has signed with an agent, what’s the next step?
Revisions. Or it should be - very few manuscripts will be ready to go on submission exactly as they are. It’s good to get a timetable on this - find out when they expect you to send in revisions and when they’ll get back to you with any comments.
You may have to do more than one round of revisions. I did three before my agent thought the book was ready to send out.
At what point do you share new story ideas with your agent?
Very early on. She likes to be involved right from the start and is happy discussing ideas. I’m currently working on a book that started out with a set of one page outlines I sent to her.
What is a typical first round like once a writer goes on submission?
Mine was quite untypical, but I was expecting a wait of several months and weekly updates from my agent (I’d asked for that rather than getting updates as they came in as I knew I’d be checking my email every ten seconds otherwise.)
As it happened, we had our first expression of interest within a week and things moved very quickly after that, which shows I can’t do anything properly.
What is the next step if an editor shows interest?
If an editor is interested, they’ll share it with their immediate and then it will go to an acquisitions meeting with the whole publishing team. If it gets through acquisitions, an offer will be drawn up. It can take a few weeks from a first expression of interest to an acquisitions meeting.
What do you suggest a writer does while out on submission?
Start writing something new. You might have time to complete a whole new novel by the time you get an offer. If you really can’t write, do something else. Take the cat for a walk, do some gardening, read. Do anything except sit over your computer refreshing your email. You won’t make news appear any faster.
What is the best thing about being a debut author?
There are so many things happening for the first time. Working with an editor. Seeing your cover. Linking up with other debut authors and celebrating milestones together. Everything is new and extra specially exciting. And the whole children’s book community is so friendly and welcoming - I’ve made some great new friends over the past year or so.
What other 2016 debut books have you gotten to read? Did you get to read them early?
I have read some incredible debuts by the Sweet Sixteens authors and it’s so exciting to get them early. I’m currently reading FEAR THE DROWNING DEEP by Sarah Glen Marsh and I am utterly enchanted by her characters, the Isle of Mann setting and the use of sea folklore.
Is there a lot of support among debut authors?
A huge amount. The Sweet Sixteens group has been an amazing resource. Because I’m in the UK, I haven’t been able to get to conferences and face to face meetings but the online support is so good I haven’t felt like I’ve missed out at all. I’m really proud to be part of the group.