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

February Meeting Report – Angela Hicken

Angela Hicken, Literature Development Officer with the Hampshire Cultural Trust is only too aware that there are many sectors who will enjoy the intervention of the written word.

Angela Speaking at HWS
Angela Speaking at HWS

A sad statistic is that only 36% of our population read for pleasure.

Angela programmes and promotes events supported by the trust. She tells us that she has been lucky to come into contact with writing collaborations such as Prime Writers and The Killer Women.

Continuing to work with the Hampshire Poet 2016, Isabel Rogers exploring the relief brought to sufferers of mental illness by poetry, Angela listed the Winchester Poetry Festival as an important event. It takes place from Friday 7th to Sunday 9th October 2016.

Not to be missed this year is the 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice. Linking with this event, the Hampshire Cultural Trust will launch two new competitions – a YA letter writing and a short story.

Please see the HWS Website Events page and the member newsletter for a full list of the events outlined in Angela’s talk.

February Meeting Report – Jude Evans

JudeEvansFeb2016

Happy 30th Birthday, Little Tiger Press!

Publishing is exciting and challenging,’  says Jude Evans ‘It’s a good time to be writing.’

The range of reading products for children is rich and diverse with YA, a huge crossover.

Jude could not stress enough: ‘know your market.’

Know your audience.

Get to know the interests of your chosen age range and remain reflective of a broader society.

At Little Tiger Press, the character is the key.

Put yourself in the reader’s shoes. Think; what is my book (super commercial, literate, contemporary) therefore, what is its ‘tone’? It is essential that the opening hook them in.

It is our aim that children WANT to read. We are introducing them to the ‘magic’ of words.

You should consider the ‘travel’ of your story – how will it translate into other cultures?

When you’ve finished your manuscript. Put it away for a while – when you return to it, you’ll be able to remain objective. Also ask for the opinions of it from those most valuable to your progress.

Then, think like a Publisher. An agent will already have a familiar relationship with publishers and will negotiate on your behalf.

Your covering letter should be brief and pertinent.

Your synopsis; no more than two sides. Don’t bombard agents/publishers.

DON’T GIVE UP. It can take weeks before you receive a reply.

Investing in business cards might be opportune. Use them in conjunction with your manuscript or a conversation – don’t just drop them willy-nilly at book fairs.

Jude signing books
Jude signing books in the Stripe foyer

Finally, Jude issued an invitation to all of us present!

For full report –  see the members’ Newsletter. Not a member? Join us for only £20.