Monthly Archives: April 2012

An Interview with Michelle Harrison

Today is the publication day for Michelle Harrison’s hotly anticipated and chilling new YA standalone thriller, UNREST. Michelle is the award-winning fantasy writer of the THIRTEEN trilogy. THE THIRTEEN TREASURES won the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize in 2009 and THE THIRTEEN SECRETS was shortlisted for the Independent Booksellers Award 2011.

Sophie Gordon, the Children’s Book Agent at the Darley Anderson Agency, interviewed Michelle about UNREST and her journey to publication.

In a tweet can you tell us what UNREST is about?

Since a near fatal accident, 17-year-old Elliott suffers sleep paralysis and out-of-body experiences in which he connects with the dead.

Where did the idea come from?

The idea came to me through my sister, who’s lived with sleep paralysis and out-of-body experiences since she was a teenager. I’ve always found her recollections both horrifying and fascinating, and one day I wondered what would happen if someone who was having an out-of-body experience returned to their body to find it had been possessed by another entity.
How and why did you first start writing?

I’ve always been an avid reader and got a lot of pleasure from other people’s books, so I wanted to try creating my own. I began writing short stories when I was about fourteen and attempted a novel that only progressed to a few chapters before I gave up. I also kept diaries for a few years although I eventually had the sense to destroy them – I’m sure my mum was reading them while I was at school. It was all good practise.
How did you go about getting published?

I’d seen The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook mentioned on a couple of authors’ websites so once I was about halfway through my first manuscript (The 13 Treasures) I bought a copy and started to read the sections on how to submit work to agents and publishers, then made a list of all the agents who dealt with children’s books. Over the next four years I worked my way through that list, collecting rejection slips and reworking my novel as I went along. Ironically, I avoided submitting to the Darley Anderson Agency for some time because I felt intimidated by its high-profile clients, but after a significant rewrite I had the confidence to submit. I couldn’t believe it when I was taken on.
What do you like doing when you’re not writing?

When I’m not writing I’m usually thinking about it. But I also love reading – obviously, binge-watching a good DVD box set (although I rarely watch ordinary TV), visiting old or spooky places, watching live bands, bookbinding, drawing, and recently I’ve been getting mad urges to bake.
What are your favourite books?

There are so many but here are a few:

The Merrybegot by Julie Hearn

Leaving Poppy by Kate Cann

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

A Kind of Intimacy by Jenn Ashworth

Faeries by Brian Froud and Alan Lee

The Witches by Roald Dahl

Wideacre by Philippa Gregory

Road to Nowhere by Christopher Pike
What is the maxim that you live by?

Every now and then I read Max Ehrmann’s Desiderata, although it’s probably too long to be considered a maxim. So, along the same lines, this is something I ‘liked’ on a friend’s Facebook page a few days ago:

Always be a first-rate version of yourself, and not a second-rate version of someone else.
And finally, what would be your top tips for aspiring authors hoping to get published?

Don’t rush it. My first mistake was sending work out before it was ready to be seen. Try to leave a few weeks between finishing something and editing it, the space makes mistakes and slow parts much easier to weed out.

Forget querying one agent/publisher at a time. If they take three months to respond that’s only four queries a year. Query half a dozen at a time with your sample chapters and synopsis. If an agent is interested and requests a full manuscript, that’s the time to offer it on an exclusive basis.

For a while I kept a file of other authors’ ‘how I got published’ stories. As well as being inspirational it helps to read about other writers’ struggles and to know you’re not alone.

Finally, don’t give up, however long it takes. Success is sweeter when you’ve worked hard for it, and you never know if it’s just around the corner.

From all of us at the Darley Anderson Agency – Happy Publication Day Michelle!

You can visit Michelle’s fantastic website here.

Our Top Ten Tips for Writing a Tip Top Covering Letter

No. 4: To Whom It May Concern

Everyone who has ever been on the internet has Googled their own name. Bands and stand-up comedians alike know that they will get a big response if they simply shout out the name of whatever town they happen to be performing in that night. And I have a hoodie that I paid an extortionate rate for on my graduation day simply because somewhere on the back amongst hundreds of other names it has my name on it.

There’s no getting away from the fact that everyone likes to feel acknowledged.

Literary agents are no different.

I cannot stress enough that the literary agent you will be submitting your work to is a real person just like everybody else. They too will have Googled their name. They will have cheered to hear someone well-known mispronounce the place of their origin. They may not have fallen into the hoodie extortion scheme but they’ll probably have at least one of those bookmarks, key chains or coffee mugs that provide a complimentary character reference for everyone who shares the same first name as them.

So my advice would be to address your covering letter to a real person.

Dear Sir/Madam is always going to be a slightly disappointing opening to any letter. It feels so impersonal and is a difficult tool to communicate excitement through. Most of all it indicates that the covering letter you are sending out to us is almost definitely being sent out to other agencies without even a swift name change being employed.

Ideally, you want to make the person you are writing to feel special, like they have been carefully chosen out of the crowd.

A good way of communicating this is to make it true. After all, you are sending out your work, your writing, your talent. Choose carefully. Look into what books an agency represents. Are they similar to your work? Or do they seem to like representing new writers like you? Visit their website. Find out about their ethos and what their authors say about them. Visit their blog, if they happen to have one.

Once you’ve found that chosen person let them know why you selected them in your covering letter. Include a short paragraph telling them all of the reasons why you think they are great. If you’re a fan of any of the agency’s authors say so. If you found out something impressive about them, such as any particular deals they’ve done in the past, do tell.

Ultimately, as I said in Top Tip No. 1, what you are trying to do in your covering letter is create a positive impression. The personal touch will always achieve this. Tell us why you have chosen us and it will give us a little lift. After all, we’re only human.

Of course, judging by the fact that you are already reading this it is possible that I am preaching to the converted. So, well done. You’re already on the right track. Now go out there and use your covering letter to show your chosen literary agent that you took this initiative.

You want to Google your own name again, don’t you? Me too. OK, quickly do that first and then go and show off your initiative.

By Vicki Le Feuvre

Dictionary Corner – Publishing Terms Translated

Have you ever spoken to someone in publishing or browsed the submission portion of an agency’s website and wondered what on earth we’re all talking about?

Well, wonder no more. Here in Dictionary Corner we will strive to shed some light on the technical jargon and industry lingos that often confuse new writers.

Synopsis – We don’t mean to patronise, we’re sure you know what ‘synopsis’ means. But this is what we personally want to see when we request a synopsis:

An outline of all the important events in the novel with no elusive references to what might happen or incomplete conclusions along the lines of ‘and what they discover will change their lives forever…’. Spoilers are well and truly welcome.

Ideally it will be a page long and will introduce all the major characters and themes as well as thoroughly giving away the ending.

Are there any terms we use that befuddle you? Please do let us know by leaving a comment or emailing and we’ll respond with our own personal definition just for you.

By Vicki Le Feuvre

Our Top Ten Tips for Writing a Tip Top Covering Letter

No.3: The Elevator Pitch

Do you ever watch Dragons’ Den? I hope you do because it is going to feature quite heavily as my main analogy this week.

Imagine that your book is a product which you are going to take before the dragons. You wait nervously in that windowless basement and finally you are ushered up the stairs for the meeting which inexplicably takes place in someone’s sparsely furnished and badly lit attic room.

You stand in front of them. There’s Deborah Meaden, eyeing you up over the pile of cash which we’re led to believe all successful entrepreneurs carry everywhere with them. Duncan Bannatyne doesn’t look too happy, but then he rarely does.

What are you going to open with? You have three minutes. Go.

Obviously, we are nothing like as scary as the dragons and we don’t live in a gloomy loft guarded by Evan Davis. However, if we do take your work on we in turn will need to feel confident pitching it to intimidating teams of publishers (possibly in drafty attic rooms, you never know). So it’s a good idea to show us how pitchable your work is.

My advice would be to start your covering letter by talking about the concept you are approaching us with.

Personally, if I were an author writing to literary agents I know how I would begin. My covering letter would definitely start with something that is often referred to in the industry as an ‘Elevator Pitch’. For those of you who don’t speak yuppie, this is basically a summary of the thing you are selling which is short and snappy enough to be recited over the course of a short ride in a lift. (The business-minded folks who invented this term were presumably so busy doing business all day long that they decided even the precious few minutes spent standing idly in lifts had to be filled with something business related.)

Your ‘Elevator Pitch’ would ideally endeavor to get our attention and show us that, above all else, you are most excited about your writing. Fundamentally, it will act as a very short blurb.

Something along the lines of: Jane Doe always thought she was an ordinary girl until she found out [enter revelation here]…

Or: Imagine if [something really upsetting/exciting] happened. What would you do? This is the decision that Joe Bloggs has to face…

Or perhaps: My writing is [name of a successful author your work is reminiscent of] meets [name of another successful author your work is reminiscent of] but with [something particular to your work]…

Or even: [Adjective]. [Adjective]. [Adjective]. John Smith has had some tough cases in the past but he has never seen anything like this etc.

Whatever you feel is appropriate for your concept and style of writing. Just make it engaging, exciting, and not much longer than a paragraph.

Lead with your work. Get us interested in your writing from the off and once we’re hooked you can wow us with everything else we need to know about you. If someone went before the dragons and spent the first two minutes talking about their past experience, or how they came up with their idea, they would miss out on their one chance to actually get the dragons interested in their motorized forehead swabber or flamingo shaped ice pick.

Don’t miss out on your big chance. Sell your book to us. It’s why we’re reading your covering letter, after all. And this is your chance to get other people excited about your idea. Take full advantage of it.

 By Vicki Le Feuvre

SAE – Dictionary Corner – Publishing Terms Translated

Have you ever spoken to someone in publishing or browsed the submission portion of an agency’s website and wondered what on earth we’re all talking about?

Well, wonder no more. Here in Dictionary Corner we will strive to shed some light on the technical jargon and industry lingos that often confuse new writers.

SAE – we throw this term around all the time as if everyone will surely know what it means. But why would you? Especially in this brave new digital world. SAE means Stamped Addressed Envelope.

If you submit to us in the post and you want your work returned to you we ask that you include an SAE. This just means that you need to get an envelope big enough to fit everything in it, write your address on the front and put enough stamps/postage on it to get your work back to you from our office in London. Then you simply slip this in with your covering letter, synopsis and first three consecutive sample chapters.

If you don’t want your work returned to you please let us know and remember to include either a small SAE for our reply or an email address that we can contact you on instead.

We will feel particularly warm towards your submission if you do all of these things rather than just some of them. We make a point of responding to all submissions but we are constantly receiving submissions with only a few stamps clipped onto them or accompanied by a plain, unstamped envelope and no address to be found and so on. This makes sending our responses out all the more time-consuming.

Seeing your submission accompanied by a neatly addressed envelope with the correct amount of stamps already helpfully stuck into place gives us a warm, stress-free glow.

Are there any terms we use that befuddle you? Please do let us know by leaving a comment or emailing and we’ll respond with our own personal definition just for you.

By Vicki Le Feuvre