Beth Reekles’s Five Top Tips for Writers

Beth author photo TO USE1When did you decide you wanted to be a writer? For super-star author Beth Reekles, that urge came at fifteen when she started sharing chapters of The Kissing Booth on story-sharing platform Wattpad. It quickly accumulated over 19 million reads and was snapped up by publishers Random House. Since then, Beth has written three more Kissing Booth books and three other YA novels, had her story turned into a smash-hit Neflix film starring Joey King and Jacob Elordi, and is now writing for adults too.

To achieve all this around university and a job (as well as parties, holidays and, well, life), Beth has had to develop some strategies for her writing, from editing all the way down to just getting started. We asked her to share her top tips for budding authors out there, and she came up with some brilliant suggestions:

Five top tips for writers

  1. Write the book you want to read

I absolutely swear by this advice. I consider it my motto! I find myself so much more inspired and motivated when I write the kind of book I’d like to be reading, and I definitely would never have written The Kissing Booth if I didn’t follow this advice – I wrote it when vampire romances were all the rage, and I was just a little bored of that, wanting a regular high-school romance instead.

  1. Read

When I’m not reading, I’m less inspired to write. I think a lot of that is because when I’m reading, I’ll end up thinking about the kind of storylines and characters I’d like to see that maybe aren’t showing up in the book I’m reading. But also: reading definitely helps you develop your own writing style and pick up on techniques that you might struggle to learn otherwise.

  1. Set goals and get organised

I wouldn’t get anything done without my ToDoist app and lists of monthly/yearly goals. I’m a forgetful person anyway, but holding down a full-time job and working on seven books in one year keeps me pretty busy – so organising your time is vital. I’d really advise scheduling in any chores or commitments first, so you can figure out what time you have to write… and set yourself goals, even if it’s just hitting a milestone in your word count, to hold yourself accountable and treat yourself a little when you meet them!

  1. Get social

Social media can be pretty daunting and difficult, and I’m not going to pretend that I haven’t unfollowed certain authors because they make me feel like a failure sometimes. But overall, I’ve found the bookish community – especially on Twitter – to be so supportive. It’s great to connect with other writers and something I love to do is share when I am writing and how many words I’ve managed to do in a particular writing session, because it helps drive me. Plus, there’s the added bonus of broadening your audience and connecting to more readers.

  1. Just start!

The worst thing you can do when you’re thinking about writing a book is to worry about how to start it. Editing is hard – but trust me, it’s so much easier to edit a bad chapter than to try and write a perfect one in the first place. You’ll edit your novel no matter what, and they do say ‘done’ is better than ‘perfect’. Give it a try and get stuck in! You never know what might happen.

Beth Reekles is the author of The Kissing Booth series (The Kissing Booth, Going the Distance and The Beach House, Penguin Random House) as well as three other novels for young adults (Out of Tune and Rolling Dice, Penguin Random House, and Cwtch Me If You Can, Accent Press). Her first story for adults, It Won’t Be Christmas Without You, is out now in eBook from One More Chapter and will be available in paperback on the 31st October. Beth has also been selected as one of the World Book Day authors for 2020, and her World Book Day £1 book The Kissing Booth: Road Trip! will be published in March 2020.

You can follow Beth on Twitter, Instagram or visit her website where she shares more of her top tips as part of her Writing Wednesdays series.

It Won't Be Christmas Without You - Beth Reekles

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Samantha Tonge’s Top Tips for Writing

Sam Tonge new photo 2018_nSamantha Tonge is a contemporary women’s fiction novelist whose debut, Doubting Abbey, was shortlisted for the Festival of Romantic Fiction Best Ebook award. She has also won the Love Stories Awards Best Romantic Ebook award, and is a Top Ten Amazon Kindle bestseller.

Learning the craft of writing is a task with no end. After eight years of writing manuscript after manuscript, and receiving numerous rejections (yes, a couple from Darley Anderson!) my debut finally came out in 2013. Since then I’ve had 11 books published. My 12th is out soon. And during the last six years every new project has taught me something new.

Thank goodness. Because if I ever got to the complacent point of thinking I knew enough, it would make for one very boring career – and probably wouldn’t produce my best work. Part of the joy, for me, is a sense that I am always improving and that there is fresh knowledge to take from each new book.

Here are my five top tips.

1 – At all times work to propel the reader forwards to the next page. To do this make sure the end of each chapter is gripping. This doesn’t have to mean a series of big cliff-hangers. In the first manuscripts I wrote (before getting published) I eventually noticed that I used to tie up each chapter nicely at the end, as if each one was a complete short story. This was satisfying for me as the writer, but where was the hook for the reader? Why should they carry on turning pages? I soon learnt to always leave the reader wanting more.

Then a fellow writer shared a tip a prospective agency had given her – to begin each chapter with a hook as well. Again, this doesn’t have to be anything momentous, just enough of a hint of intrigue in the upcoming chapter for the reader to keenly plough ahead. Or it might just mean a really tightly-written, crisp first paragraph. Don’t ever get lazy and feel that because you are a few chapters in you can take your foot off the pedal. Yes, pace needs to wax and wane – otherwise the reader will feel exhausted – but this doesn’t mean the intrigue needs to disappear.

And don’t forget the crucial first line or lines of the whole novel. It/they must grab the book browser and reflect the tone of your story. Here are examples from some favourite books of mine.

Even before stepping into the cottage, Gary knows that this is bad.” The Taking of Annie Thorne by C.J. Tudor

The thing about lying to your parents is, you have to do it to protect them. It’s for their own good.’ Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella.

From the very beginning there was not the slightest doubt that Olga da Polga was the sort of guinea-pig who would go places.” The Tales of Olga da Polga by Michael Bond.

I am old. That is the main thing to tell you. The thing you are least likely to believe.” How to Stop Time by Matt Haig.

2 – To really grip the reader – and any agent/publisher considering your manuscript – begin where the story really starts. In other words, cut the backstory. My 2018 novel, One Summer in Rome, is about a woman fed up with her London life who decides to escape her problems and move to Italy. Originally my opening chapters were about her life in England and what was wrong with it. But as my agent pointed out, the story is really about her trip abroad. So the final published version actually starts with her sitting on the aeroplane and all of that previous set-up is instead threaded through the following chapters.

3 Raise the Stakes – you want the readers to really be rooting for your main character and to become totally invested in their story. For this to happen the stakes need to be high. My 2019 women’s fiction novel, Knowing You, is about Violet, an unassuming young woman taken under the wing of a domineering new best friend. The result of this threatens a romance, threatens her friendships… but I realised, after feedback, that this wasn’t enough to really pull the reader into the story, and might produce an almost “so what?” reaction. Therefore in the final version her whole career and livelihood are put at risk as well.

4It’s all in the detail. Really explore the five senses whilst writing your novel, in order to offer your reader a fully escapist, satisfying, realistic read where they can imagine the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and textures of the literary world you are inviting them into.

My upcoming release, The Christmas Calendar Girls, is my 3rd festive book and in those novels I work hard at creating that magical December atmosphere by describing the smells – of pine needles, mulled wine, roasting turkey… the sounds – jingling bells, children’s laughter, Christmas music… and so on.

Readers don’t just need to know how to simply visualise your characters and settings – after every paragraph you write consider if you’ve offered a full sensory experience.

5 – A brief one here – yes, you often must “murder your darlings”. You know, the parts of your novel that you think are outstanding, those paragraphs or ideas that you’ve harboured and held onto and possibly lifted from a previous unpublished work, that you’ve polished and re-read hundreds of times because you think they are so good (or is that just me!)? Often you’ve become too attached to them and they need to go. But no matter. As I’ve learnt from experience, the mind of a creative is a fickle thing and you’ll soon replace them with something new.

Don’t give up – and good luck!

The Christmas Calendar Girls will be released on the 3rd of October and is available to pre-order here

You can follow Samantha on Twitter or Facebook and visit her website here, where Samantha also blogs about her writing journey and mental health.

The Christmas Calendar Girls

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On Writing: Adolescents with Cathy Cassidy

On Writing is back. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be bringing you some more invaluable writing tips from the DA Agency authors and the DA Children’s Book Agency authors. This series will lead us into the beginning of September, known in the publishing industry as the beginning of ‘Frankfurt Book Fair fever’.

To kick off the new series, we’re looking at writing characters who are at one of the most pivotal and life shaping stages of their lives: adolescence. A teenage character is quite often one of the hardest age groups to accurately portray or write convincingly. Nothing is more jarring, or even cringe inducing, than reading a teenage character who is evidently written by an adult (e.g.  if you’re writing dialogue that includes “far out” or “tubular” in 2019 – it’s pretty safe to say it’s not an accurate portrayal of a contemporary teenager).

To help guide us, we have the critically-acclaimed and bestselling children’s book author Cathy Cassidy. Cathy is the author of over 30 novels for children and young people, including the outstanding Chocolate Box Girls series and the Lost & Found series. She has now sold over 3 million books worldwide and has been lauded for writing ‘touching, tender and unforgettable’ characters. Her unique and distinctive voice always feels  truthful to a young person’s experience.

We asked Cathy a few questions to give us an insight into how she brings this authenticity to her writing:

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Where do you draw inspiration from?

Inspiration is everywhere… things I see, hear, remember, imagine! People are a huge source of inspiration – I am a real ‘people-watcher’ – and I’m fascinated by emotions too, so there is never any shortage of ideas! My readers are constantly in touch with me and I meet them regularly at signings and events and book festivals, and sometimes readers have unwittingly inspired a story. By the time I put that spark of inspiration through the whole daydreaming, story-making process, they wouldn’t recognise that the story had any links to them at all!

 

How do you make your characters feel and sound authentic?

The characters are ‘real’ to me, I think that’s the key! The story unfolds in my mind in daydream form, as if it’s a movie, and as the author I get to pull the strings and direct what the characters do. They don’t always listen! I always feel that I know far more about my characters than is ever revealed in the books. I always draw the main characters, which somehow makes them come alive for me. I think if those characters are real and authentic to me, that carries over into what I write. I hope so!

 

What is the biggest challenge? 

Managing my time and staying disciplined… and meeting deadlines! Sometimes it can be hard to get a good balance in life, especially when life throws a few curveballs at you, but once you jump into the story it generally grabs you and pulls you right in, so then it’s just a case of sticking at it. I don’t plan on paper, so I sometimes go off at tangents… but sometimes they are the best bits!

 

What are things to bear in mind when writing for teens or a younger audience?

I think that for me, it’s just the way my stories come out – the ‘voice’ is not a conscious thing, it’s instinctive. I’ve written for that age group for most of my life, even before the novels… short stories for teens, work as a teen mag journalist etc., so the way I write is very much natural and ‘from the heart’. I think kids do pick up on this… if you’re not being authentic or true to yourself, they’ll spot it. I’d say it’s important not to ‘write down’ to children or young people… not to be patronising or twee… and to tackle difficult issues (if you are going to tackle them at all) with honesty, warmth and hope.

 

How do you keep up with relevant issues for teenagers?

I don’t think too much about it to be honest. Many of the themes are timeless, though the details may change with time… for instance, when Honey is stalked in Sweet Honey, it’s cyber stalking and that whole online safety issue and the concern of internet safety is explored. I suppose I stay pretty much up to date on what concerns my readers have because they email and message me constantly to tell me just what worries them! I think if a reader identifies strongly with a book, they then come to trust the author and perhaps confide in them. Either that, or it’s my past experience as a teen mag agony aunt coming out!

 

Be sure to follow @cathycassidyxx on Twitter and pick up a copy of her latest novel Sasha’s Secret (Lost & Found #3)

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Why Dave Rudden is supporting #DACBaccess

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Dave Rudden is the author of The Knights of the Borrowed Dark trilogy, and is our partnering author for YA books in our #DACBaccess month. Here is why Dave is supporting the open month:

When I’m not writing, I run a live roleplay show in school for 10-year kids. It’s glorious and chaotic – the kids all play characters, I and the other performer tell them a story, and they provide suggestions at crucial moments. That’s all stories are really – a selection of crucial moments, and what people decide to do in them. We’ve had kids defeat the story’s villain by proposing to them, unlock magical cages by singing, and teachers are always so impressed that the kids not only accept the crucial moments we throw them, but are well fit to come up with a host of solutions that have sometimes surprised even us. We could just tell the kids a story, but we learn a lot more when we listen and they tell us theirs.

The thing is, kids are immersed in nick-of-time rescues and famous last stands from the moment they’re old enough to be read to. By the age of ten, kids are fluent in adventure. Proficient in peril. They soak up every rule and detail of the stories they hear because it’s at that age that you believe you may need them.

The only time I’ve ever seen a kid nonplussed is when we unveil the artwork for our characters. The leader of our party of heroes is Lady Jayna Falchion, who has armour, a sword that talks, and dark skin. When we clicked through to the slide with Jayna’s picture (drawn by the very talented Dearbháil Clarke) a little black girl at the back of the room exclaimed;

‘She looks like me!’

She didn’t say this with joy, or pride, or interest, but with a blank sort of shock. She simply had no frame of reference for seeing herself as a main character, let alone a leader of a band of heroes. When I hear white, straight people (usually men) complain that the world is being taken over by diversity, that every character now must be a person of colour, or LGBTQ or other than themselves, I don’t think about the numbers –

(though the numbers are damning. Bigotry is as irrational as it is systemic, but research shows that, no matter how loud certain protests are, no such takeover is taking place)

– I think about just how much children learn from story. Stories tell kids what is possible, and what is impossible, and all the odds in between. We are soaked in the visual language of narrative, and when you present heroes as all white and straight and able-bodied, you are lying to your audience.

You are letting them know where they stand, telling them that crucial moments and the options bound into them only belong to others, and not to them. It’s our responsibility as authors and creators – especially those who have directly or indirectly benefited from being on the inside looking out – to not right this wrong, but to make room for the voices that have not yet had a chance to speak, because you can only learn so much from telling your own story again and again and again. There are better stories out to hear.

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Rashmi Sirdeshpande’s Tips for Picture Books

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Rashmi Sirdeshpande is a picture book author, writing both fiction and non-fiction texts, and is our partnering author for picture books for the #DACBaccess month. Here are her thoughts on why the open month is important, and her very best tips for picture book writers and illustrators.

 

A note about the open submissions month 

 

The agency is ALWAYS open to writers and illustrators of ALL backgrounds and they actively seek them out too (I can vouch for that bit!). But this is a shout-from-the-rooftops kind of initiative to make the whole process feel more accessible to underrepresented groups. Sort of a “yes, I mean YOU”. Before I was selected for Penguin Random House’s WriteNow programme, I didn’t think children’s publishing was really open to writers like me. WriteNow was my “yes, I mean YOU” moment. I hope this can be yours! 

 

Rashmi’s top tips for new picture book writers and illustrators 

 

1. READ! Oh my goodness, if you do nothing else, READ, READ, and READ! Pull apart picture books you love to really understand what works. Get a feel for the language, the page turns, how the words and pictures work together. If you’re a writer, you need to leave space for the illustrator to work their magic. Leave out anything that can be expressed visually. By reading lots, you’ll get a sense for how this is done. There are also some brilliant blogs out there with lots of guidance like SCBWI’s Words and Pictures, Notes from the Slushpile, and the Picture Book Den!  

 

2. WRITE/ILLUSTRATE LOTS and if you do, call yourself a WRITER or ILLUSTRATOR (drop the “aspiring”!). It sounds like a tiny thing but it’ll make a big difference to how you see yourself and your work. We all have other commitments so don’t beat yourself up if you have a slow patch but you know what works for you – get that practice in. Writing/illustrating is a learned craft. Don’t let anyone scare you with the idea that you either got it or you ain’t. If you ain’t got it, you can go and get it. The more you do, the better you get. 

 

3. DON’T WORRY ABOUT TRENDS or if someone is doing something similar. If you’re a writer, write the story YOU want to write. If you’re an illustrator, work in the style or styles that speak to you. Publishing takes AGES and by the time your book is on submission or even on the shelves, everything will have changed. Be yourself. Tangent: if you’re looking for an agent, find someone who really gets you, someone who can back your entire career. I’m lucky to have found that here at The Darley Anderson Children’s Book Agency. 

 

4. SEEK OUT HELP. Surround yourself with writers and illustrators you look up to and with people who love and believe in you and your writing. When Imposter’s Syndrome strikes (and it will!), go back to those people. Find mentors who can bring out the best in you. Find other writers on similar journeys – look for them in groups like the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). Join a critique group (online versions work too!) – it’s a great way of getting fresh eyes on your work but ALSO, reviewing and commenting on someone else’s work will fine-tune your own skills. Win, win. Just make sure you work with people on the same page as you. Fit is everything. 

 

5. BE PATIENT. Publishing takes time. Pictures books can take two years to publish even after they’re acquired by a publisher. A lot depends on book fairs and illustrator availability but also what else is on the publisher’s list. So many factors out of your control. The one thing you can control is this: keep working on your craft. It’s not a race and it’s not a competition. Well, OK, it’s business but there really is enough pie for everyone. Keep writing and illustrating, and keep believing in yourself. Somewhere, somehow, when the time is right and the stars are aligned, it WILL happen for you. And when it does, be prepared to keep LOTS of secrets. Publishing is full of them! 

 

Can’t wait to see what you come up with! Good luck! 

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Why Polly Ho-Yen is supporting #DACBaccess

d7ab377c9fb0a45131800085199c77e1Polly Ho-Yen is the award-winning author of Boy in the Tower, Where Monsters Lie and Fly Me Home. She is our partnering author for Middle Grade writers during our #DACBaccess open month. Here’s why Polly is supporting the open month, and her top tips on putting together a submission:

‘There was a winding line of children waiting to have their book signed at the school I visited last week. We’d been doodling ideas for stories. Each student, as they approached me, was gripping on tightly to their piece of paper as though their idea might take flight and disappear if they didn’t. I talk to school groups about the value and the richness of their everyday experience – how no one else in the world is quite like them and so whatever they choose to make will be completely original because they made it. I tell them about my family. I show them a picture of my dad when he’s about four, with a little rounded sticking out pot belly. I tell them about small things that I’ve experienced that become big things when I write them down. We talk about soggy broccoli (possibly too much.)

I love visiting schools because it’s as though you can see a switch has been flicked; I can almost see them thinking, ‘well, if she can do it, then …’ Possibilities swarm the room, with excitement following as its tail.

The next boy stepped in front of me. “I’m like you,” he told me, grinning so widely that his cheeks expanded out. Two inflating balloons. “I’m half Chinese too. Only it’s my mum who’s Chinese. My dad’s English,” he went on. He told me the story of how they met, finishing with, “There’s no one else like me in the school” before launching into his idea for his book, without pausing for breath.

Next month I’ll be reading submissions made to Darley Anderson as part of their open submission month for BAME writers. #DACBaccess is a simple idea – over the month of November BAME authors can submit their work to a dedicated inbox to be read by agents over December and a shortlist will be given detailed feedback from both an agent and an author. I’ll be looking at the middle grade stories. I’m doing this for a very simple reason: we need more diverse writers and we have to do more to find them. Of course, submissions are open to all, all of the time but #DACBaccess has been created to make little more space for BAME writers to send in their submissions.

Like the standard submission, #DACBaccess asks for a covering letter, a synopsis and the first three chapters. It has to be a piece of work that you have finished (and that you feel that you’ve finished – it needs to be as polished and edited as you can possibly make it.) You might be reading this and decide here and now that you’re simply not at this stage in time for this open access month. I would urge you not to give up and wait until you truly feel that you have the whole book finished and that you’re as happy with it as possible, before you submit, open submission month or not. You need to be at the point where when you whisper softly to your book, “Are you the best you can be?” and it solemnly nods its head back at you, before you think about submitting. If you’re at this stage, then approach the covering letter and the synopsis like they are writing exercises. I’ve got to say I hated writing my covering letter because I felt a bit like a fraud and that I definitely was not good enough and I HATE talking about myself and I’m not even sure that my writing is any good in the first place. So if you’re feeling like that’s you, take a deep breath and remember these things when writing your covering letter:

Try to keep it short and succinct. Don’t give the agent a sinking feeling that they have to trawl through reams of writing to try and work out who you are and what your book is – make it nice and easy and clear for them.

– Start with a basic introductory sentence that tells them the title of what you are submitting. (There’s no point reinventing the wheel here.)

– Followed by (roughly) a one or two paragraph summary/introduction to your book which will tell them why it will interest them. This is the tricky bit of the letter – it needs to be direct, clear and communicate the plot, tone and style of what you have written. Think of that one line hook that captures what your book is. For ‘Boy in the Tower’ I wanted to communicate that it was a kind of ‘The Day of the Triffids’ for kids in a modern urban setting that I knew.

In fact, this is exactly what I wrote:

I would like to submit BOY IN THE TOWER for your consideration.

I started writing this book after I couldn’t get a picture out of my head: A lone tower block standing, amidst a lush, jungle-like landscape. I work in a South London Primary School, which is surrounded by tower blocks, estates and a network of busy roads, and so perhaps it was a reaction to the inner city that brought me to BOY IN THE TOWER.

It tells the story of a nine-year-old boy called Ade who is a survivor of the attack and invasion of the Bluchers, a type of plant or fungus which feed upon the buildings of the city, dissolving them down into nothing. Ade finds himself trapped in his tower block as the world around him changes beyond all recognition. I am a fan of post-apocalyptic literature and film and I wanted to create a modern day story for children on this theme, with a nod to Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids.

I can’t say it better than Patrick Ness who in his tips for writing at Booktrust (which are brilliant – maybe don’t read this anymore and check them out: https://www.booktrust.org.uk/books-and-reading/tips-and-advice/writing-tips/writing-tips-from-authors/patrick-nesss-guide-to-writing) to remember that the covering letter “is an advertisement for yourself and for the book, so make it as good as possible. It must serve the same function as your fiction: it must be good enough to make them turn the page.”

I also hate writing synopses and so I’m sorry that we’re asking you to have to write and send that in too but the agent needs to see quickly what happens in your book. They want to get the sense that the plot is strong and will hold up. Be as short and clear as you can, but include all the plot twists and turns – it needs to tell the complete, full story.

Then those first three chapters. That should be the easy part, as you have already written those and read them to yourself a million times and have had anyone you’re living with asking you why you’re talking to yourself because you’ve been reading them aloud when you think no one else is in.

Then press send to access@darleyanderson.com and think about something else for a while. Maybe eat a brownie.

I hope that you will think about submitting and that this is just the start of things for you. I wish you all the luck for the beginning of your book journey and beyond, and hey, I can’t wait to get reading!’

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Why We’re Launching the #DACBaccess

Last week, we announced the launch of our open submissions month for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic writers and illustrators. Running from the 1st – 30th November, our open month is designed to give aspiring writers the chance to get feedback from both agents and our brilliant partnering authors, and we’re excited to get reading.

But why are we running this month? After all, we are always open to submissions from authors from under-represented backgrounds, including BAME authors. Why do we need a separate competition?

Our springboard for this was the CLPE’s Reflecting Realities report, which showed that only 1% of books published in 2017 featured a non-white protagonist. 1%! That’s in contrast to 32% of primary school pupils who come from minority ethnic backgrounds. Clearly, if we want children to read books that reflect their own experiences, we have to do better.

When this study was published, we reached out to see what the barriers were for BAME authors to submit to us. We know that you are out there, writing, illustrating and being incredibly creative, but that wasn’t reflected in our submissions inboxes. And one of the key things that we found is that authors and illustrators from minority ethnic backgrounds didn’t necessarily feel that they were welcome to submit – that this wasn’t a space for them.

We want to change that, and so we hope our open submissions month will give authors the encouragement they need to send their work to us. We’re also partnering up with authors at our agency who have been through this, and understand the challenges involved. We really hope that we’ll find some incredibly exciting new authors from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds, and that we’ll be able to sell books that really reflect our classrooms.

In the coming weeks we’ll be introducing our partner authors and giving you some tips on how to submit to us, so follow #DACBaccess to keep up!

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