No sparkly fairies please (edgy fairies maybe….)

Ben Illis talked to the Club yesterday (15 October) and his notes follow (members will be receiving the video of the event – if you’d like to receive a copy, join the club here):

There is a growing gap between the idea/concept for a book and the actual publishing of that book. This is due partially to economics – there is simply less time and money now – this results in agents (and to some extent authors) having to edit and submit manuscripts which are ready to publish. Editors have less time to invest in substantial edits so agents need to be more hands on than before. This is one of my USPs – I work with writers very closely on their work – at weekends or evenings if needs be.

One of my authors, Lisa Glass, had a brilliant voice when I found her book in the slush pile – we worked very hard on the plot (spending more than 3 hours at a time on the phone brainstorming and working through ideas). Her book, Blue, a surfing romance,will be published by Quercus in 2014. (

Another author, Clare McFall, author of The Ferryman was discovered on the slush pile – the voice was incredibly strong and Templar published it in March. It is in the YA age group – 14 to 21.

How to approach agents:

  • Read around the age group.
  • Stick to one age group.
  • Focus on one book – your best book and the book that really works.
  • Think of your agent and yourself as a team – ask yourself can you work as a team?
  • Blurb – come up with your own book blurb – look at the back cover of books and really work on this.
  • Communication – always follow appropriate communication – don’t pursue authors on Twitter or Facebook.
  • Keep Going!

Word counts:

  • 5-7 age group – 8-15k words
  • 7-9 – 15-30k words
  • 9 plus – 30-50k words
  • 12 plus – 55-70k words
  • 14 plus – max. 75k words

Another author, Ian Johnson, author of The Bell Chronicles, sent me a book which was 160k words – we split it into two but HarperCollins felt it should still be one book and edited it down. There are always exceptions to the rule of word counts.

Characterisation and Voice

  • The hardest thing to fix when its not working.
  • Must be real. Feel realistic.
  • Give your characters a voice – actually speak it aloud.
  • The narrator needs to see the world through the eyes of the main characters – their world experience and world view. For example children can’t tell the age (specifically) or height of adults.
  • Use a slang or voice that rings true.
  • Act it out.

My wish list

  • More mid-grade.
  • YA which is different – or saying something different about the world and asking questions.
  • Not sparkly fairies (edgy fairies maybe….).

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