How Ten Words Won Author Ally Sherrick a Book Contract

allysherrickTake a place at the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) conference, an entry in the Ten Word Novel Pitching competition and a well-known children’s publisher as the judge. Mix them all together and what have you got? A small but important chance for your story – the one you have slaved at for months in your writer’s garret and in which you believe so passionately – to reach the audience of bright-eyed and enthusiastic young readers you’ve written it for.

black-powder-aw-2-195x3001When I entered my ten word summary of Black Powder in the competition, I had no inkling at all that I might actually win. I had already collected a number of rejections from agents who had told me that unfortunately my story ‘wasn’t for them.’ In fact I was very close to consigning it to the ‘Bottom Drawer of Not-Likely-To-Be-Published Doom’. So I was over the moon when I discovered that Barry Cunningham, Publisher and Managing Director of Chicken House Publishing Ltd, had picked it from the pile of entries.

The prize was a review by Barry of 2,000 words of my story – an historical middle grade adventure about a boy who gets mixed up in the Gunpowder Plot. I was delighted that I was going to receive comments and perhaps some advice back from him; but I was thrilled when he contacted me after reading it and said he’d like to read the whole thing.

chickenhouselogoAfter some last minute further polishing, I sent my manuscript off to Barry in late November 2014 and spent a nail-biting few weeks waiting to hear. Imagine my delight when he contacted me to say he had really enjoyed reading it and that he’d like to take it to the next Chicken House acquisitions meeting. He warned me that they may yet decide not to take it on, but that, at any event, they would like me to come down to meet them at the Chicken House coop in Frome, Somerset. A date was duly fixed for a meeting in early March – although I was still none the wiser as to where things might be going!

But all that changed when, after an initial chat round a ginormous old table in a room which looked suspiciously like Dumbledore’s study, Barry told me they’d like to publish my story. If I’d been over the moon before, I was now heading on warp drive into another galaxy entirely – especially when the offer came through from Barry the next day for a two book deal!

18 months later and though my book is now published and sitting proudly on the bookshelves of bookshops up and down the land, I still haven’t quite beamed back down to earth.

But, two things from my travels through space I do know to be true:

  1. We writers must always keep the faith. If you love your story, never give up on it, no matter what.

And …

  1. Seize every opportunity that comes your way. Entering that SCBWI competition nearly two years ago gave me the chance to realize my dream of becoming a published author and of sharing my stories with a whole world of readers.

And the lucky ten words? ‘Boy must join Gunpowder Plot to save father from hanging.’

Black Powder is available from Waterstones, Foyle’s, WH Smith and all good bookshops, and online from Amazon.

For more information about Ally visit her website: www.allysherrick.com or follow her on Twitter: @ally_sherrick

Q&A with Barry Cunningham, MD of Chicken House Ltd, Publisher, Agent and Discoverer of Harry Potter

barrycunninghamQ. In your talk at the September meeting of the Hampshire Writers’ Society, you told us that a writer’s voice is important to an Agent/Publisher. To save a writer many painful rejections from targeting the wrong agents – how would they know if their voice is that of a children’s writer? Is there a checklist of things that the writing must or mustn’t have?

A. I THINK THIS IS ALL TO DO WITH BEING ABLE TO ‘ACCESS’ YOUR SUBJECT. IF YOU SET OUT TO WRITE FOR CHILDREN THEN TRY AND FIND THE VOICE APPROPRIATE TO THE AGE GROUP YOU ARE AIMING AT – IF IT COMES EASILY – GREAT – IF IT DOESN’T THEN YOU’LL KNOW THAT CHILDREN’S BOOKS ARE NOT FOR YOU!chickenhouselogoQ. Similarly, as an Agent how would you know if what has been submitted is a teen or a YA? Do you think that there are any taboos? Or ‘must haves’?

A. NO – BUT MAINLY SEXUAL CONTENT AND SWEARING IS FOR YA – IT SHOULD ALWAYS BE HANDLED CAREFULLY

Q. The lines between children’s, teen and YA are very blurred – can you outline them for us?

A. THE SAFEST AREA FOR MOST GENERAL APPEAL IS ‘CLEAN TEEN’ WITHOUT EXPLICIT MATERIAL – THE OLDER EDGES OF YA MERGE WITH ADULT AND SHOULD BE HANDLED POSITIVELY AND WITH CARE

Q. How should a children’s author writing a trilogy or series go about submitting?

A. SAMPLE MATERIAL AND A SYNOPSIS OF HOW ALL BOOKS IN SERIES/TRILOGY ARE GOING TO WORK WITH A CLEAR OVERALL PLOT LINE

Q. And what about their commitment – should they finish book one and sell it before starting book two?inkheartA. NO – ACTUALLY BEST TO HAVE BOOK 2 IN PROGRESS – BE CONFIDENT!

Q. Advice is to ‘write what you love’. Simon Trewin of WME said ‘don’t even think of publishing until your book is finished.’ The Writers and Artists Yearbook advises us that when you come to submitting, first decide on a genre. Shouldn’t we decide on a genre first, saving ourselves a lot of heart ache and work? And that brings me back to question one!

A. NO – GENRE IS NOT SPECIFIC – YOU SHOULD WAIT UNTIL THE BOOK IS WELL UNDERWAY – THE GENRE BOUNDARIES SLIP ALL THE TIME AND ARE LARGELY WHAT THE MARKET/PUBLISHER WANTS THEM TO BEblack-powder-aw-2-195x3001