Pitching in

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Well, I’ve done it!
I’ve sent off my first agent submission letter.

I’ve looked at sample letters on the internet.

I’ve consulted the Agent Association Members Directory to be sure I know who is legitimate.

I’ve checked the websites of several agents, looking at who they represent, what type of books they are looking for, and what guidelines they give for submissions.

I thought about making multiple pitches. Most of the online advice suggests that you should probably pitch to between three and six agents at a time. Not more than eight. This is to balance maximizing your chances of getting a yes against flooding the market with a pitch that may need honing.

I’ve already picked out a handful of other agents in case I get a rejection from the first, but decided I would make a single pitch to start with.

I would be thrilled to get signed by this agency, the Caroline Sheldon Agency. They represent some of my favorite authors, such as Teri Terry and Julia Donaldson, and also some wonderful illustrators such as Debi Gliori.

I know the odds are that I’ll get a ‘not interested’ from them. I know the odds are I’ll get dozens before I a get a yes – if I ever do – but I have to start somewhere.

The longest journey begins with a single step.

I’ve taken that first step.

Let’s see where it takes me.

World Book Day: Field Tests 2 & 3

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Thursday 6th March and I’ve been booked in schools all day as ‘guest writer’ for World Book Day.

Morning: Hazeldene Lower

I had a very busy schedule as I was to visit every class from reception up to Year 4 – 10 in all.

I sent the stories ahead of time, and the school arranged their whole day around the theme of Dragons and Giants. Most of the children and a large number of the staff came dressed as Dragons or Giants. Some of the home-made costumes were awe-inspiring. One girl had a rainbow knitted hat with spines that went down her back. There were cardboard dragon heads, and dragon masks – one was a gorgeous Chinese dragon – and face painting. There were also many, many dragon onesies, both child and adult – Primark should give me commission on all their sales! Some of the giants were impressive too: big bulging bellies, big ears, big feet.

I started in the reception classes and worked up, with around 15 minutes allocated to each. I read a story and answered questions with each group. As well as all the usual questions that came up over and over, there were some different and interesting ones: “Have any of your family helped with your story writing?”; “How many of your friends are writers too?”; “Why does your first story have so few characters?”; “What do you do when you’re not writing?”

Because time was so short, I was only able to read one story to each class, so they chose which one they wanted to hear. The most popular turned out to be “There’s a Dragon at the Seaside” with “There’s a Dragon in my School” a close second. The seaside theme fitted in with a project year 2 have been doing on the ocean. Some classes also asked for the first story, “There’s a Dragon in My Soup”.

The readings all went very smoothly, apart from the first year 3 group, when I had a coughing fit in the middle of reading. I guess all the reading and answering questions throughout the morning was a strain on my voice. They were very patient while I stopped and had a few sips from the water bottle I’d had the foresight to bring along with me.

The children were all very well behaved and polite. They listened intently despite the absence of pictures to focus on. I asked several groups if there had been anything they hadn’t liked about the stories. One or two of the younger children hadn’t liked Sweetpea’s roar and blowing flames as they said it was scary. One boy said he didn’t like Mrs Giant saying that Ginny shouldn’t keep Sweetpea. One girl said she didn’t like the dragon climbing out of the soup as it sounded ‘icky’ that he was covered in soup. The only comment that really reflected on the writing rather than the subject matter was one girl who said that the soup story ended too soon. That is the second comment I’ve had that suggested it might be somewhat anticlimactic, so perhaps it may need a little reworking. All the other comments were very positive. One girl gave me a bookmark she’d made proclaiming herself my #1 fan.

We were running late by the time I got to Year 4 and I had to get across town to the second school I was going to visit. So they combined the two classes to cut down on the question time. At the end as I was leaving one boy asked for my autograph, which prompted several others to ask as well. I felt like a real author!

Afternoon: Kempston Rural

As I was running late I had a mad dash across town. So wouldn’t you know it, the bus was late and I missed my connection. I had to get off the second bus some way from the school and walk the rest. That distance would normally take me over half an hour, but I did it in thirteen minutes. Phew!

I arrived with two minutes to spare and was shown into the year 1 classroom where the children were being registered. Then I read them the first two stories and they chose a third – the seaside! That seems to be coming out as the clear favorite at the moment.  The class went to their tables and drew a picture based on the seaside story. They had around fifteen minutes for this so they didn’t all finish. The teacher kindly had some of them photocopied for me so I could bring them home. When they had shared their pictures, I read the last two stories.

Again the children were all very receptive and complimentary. 

I am feeling quietly confident. My stories have an audience.

Next stop – pitching to an agent.

I’ve already started trawling through the Agent Association Members Directory and have picked out a number of agents that I intend to approach. I’ve done a couple of practice pitches, which I now need to hone.

Fingers crossed that I can find an agent to believe in my stories and take me on.

 

 

First Field Test

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Tuesday 4th March 2014

Today I had my first opportunity to ‘field test’ my picture book stories with children in a local school.

The advice online is to share the material with a target audience not connected with you in any way to gauge the market. Before this the only feedback I’ve had from a child is from the son of a friend, so that wasn’t 100% unbiased.

So I sent out some letters to local schools and arranged to go and share my stories during Book Week – this week.

The first visit was to Bromham Lower School, a lovely village school on two sites. My wonderful daughter paid for me to get a taxi there, saving me from 75 minutes on two busses, going all the way into town and out again to get to a site only around 3 miles away.

I arrived a little before 9am and waited for the pupils to be registered. Then I was invited into a large classroom to meet the Year 2 pupils [aged 6-7]. They were a delightful bunch who asked lots of intelligent and interesting questions, such as whether I’d ever written any non-fiction. [Not to date]. When they asked which writer(s) inspired me I was ready with my copy of ‘Too Hot to Hug’ by Steve Smallman.

Having read them the first of my stories ‘There’s a Dragon in My Soup’, they asked me to read ‘Too Hot to Hug’ for comparison. They noted the main differences – Steve’s book is published and so beautifully illustrated by Cee Biscoe, and his story doesn’t rhyme – then they compared the two in terms of enjoyment, and mine fared far better than I dare hope. It was very encouraging.

Next I moved to a smaller classroom where, either side of break, I read all five stories to two groups of eight children from Year 1. They were all very receptive, and enthusiastically asked for more after the first one. During the second session one girl did put her head down on the desk towards the end, but this is only to be expected when there are no pictures to engage them.

We discussed each story after it was read, talking about their own pets etc. I asked them to pick their favorite story at the end, and all five stories received at least one vote. Most of the children gave an answer, changed their minds, then settled on ‘all of them!’

One girl in the second group said ‘I wish I could have a pet dragon now!’ but agreed her parents might not think it such a good idea.

They all said they would check the books out if they found them in the library, and some said they would buy them. Since they don’t hold the purse strings at that age and pocket money is more likely to go on sweets and toys, I count that as a successful result!

I talked to the teacher during coffee break and said, “I hope they really enjoyed it as much as they said and weren’t just being super-polite.”

She said that they were a well behaved bunch, but children that age are renowned for their honesty and would have made it perfectly clear if they hadn’t liked the material.

I am optimistic moving forward.

A great big Thank You to the staff and pupils of Bromham Lower School.