They stole my idea – or did they?

John Lewis and Moshi the Monster have recently been all over the news, and not for a good reason.  I haven’t had the pleasure of reading Chris Riddell’s, ‘Mr Underbed’ as yet, so I can’t comment on how similar the two are, although surely Mr Riddell has very good reason for believing there are significant similarities between the two.  But it got me thinking – are there actually any original stories or are we all simply drawing from the same pool of ideas?

This concept is something I’ve heard before – especially for picture books- and certainly there are many authors who’ve discovered a story they wrote is unfortunately similar to something else.  It’s easy to cry plagiarism, but more often than not it’s simply coincidental.  Just this morning a friend of mine was lamenting over another Christmas advert that seems eerily similar to a picture book text she has recently been laboring over.

 

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When I started my mentoring with Natascha Biebow of Blue Elephant Storyshaping, one of the first things she said was what I thought was one of my ‘stronger’ stories had already been ‘done’ several times – and in much better ways!   Another story – which has caught the eye of a few people in the industry – we discovered FOUR published books of a similar idea with almost identical titles! (And Natascha has since flagged a fifth one to me – d’oh!)  A third story, an agent pointed out a self-published book on Amazon which has exactly the same title.  I was honestly not aware of any of these stories when I wrote my own.

Obviously the first reaction to these revelations was to cry!  But Natascha told me similarity isn’t necessarily a problem – the trick is to make sure your story has enough of a point of difference to make it unique enough.  Because we ARE all drawing from the same pool of ideas!  How many picture books have you read that are about sharing, or being yourself?  How many about the unexpected visitor who causes havoc, the animal who uses wit and wiles to save themself or their babies from a hungry predator, or even the monster who lives under the bed?  Happily once I actually looked into these other stories, I was satisfied that although the titles were similar and the core idea was kind of the same, my own stories DO have a point of difference, and in some cases aren’t the same at all.

What can you do if you suspect someone has stolen your idea?  I believe its a hard one to prove.  Take the case of author Dan Brown and his court battle with the writers of ‘Holy Blood, Holy Grail,’ Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln.  I have read both books, and I was very surprised the court ruled in Mr Brown’s favour.  One thing you can try when you have a new idea is to do an internet search to see if there is anything similar out there already.  If you’ve unfortunately discovered there is – what can you change to make your story different?

At the end of the day, there are millions of people in this world.  They say we all have a doppelgänger somewhere, so its not unlikely someone else might have had the same bright idea as you.  Try your best to be original, and don’t deliberately lift ideas from someone else is my advice!

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Celebrity Bashing

I know we writerly folk have been hearing a lot about celebrity authors recently. The latest news that eight out of eleven World Book Day books have been written by celebrity authors seems to have really brought the issue out into the open. Some people say it’s just sour grapes, and that career-authors are whinging unfairly. I know there is good reason for publishers to want to publish a celebrity author. I know it’s profitable, and publishers want to make money at the end of the day. I also don’t necessarily agree with the argument that celebrity penned books are grossly inferior to those by career authors. A story doesn’t always need to have a deep moral message or be particularly lofty or idealised; a story can just be fun. I think the reason people are upset is that it actually is somewhat unfair.

I know of authors who’ve been previously published and made enough profits for their publishers to warrant being published again. But when these authors have a new book out, there can sometimes be little or no publicity promoting it. The author themselves does the necessary things to get publicity – they’re active on social media, they do school and library visits, go along to literary festivals etc. They normally have day jobs because what they make from writing isn’t enough to make it a full-time occupation. It must be incredibly frustrating seeing the ‘celebrity author’ and their books being publicised heavily everywhere you look. It must also grate to hear of the advances the celebrity author apparently gets…

I heard recently from a reliable source how one celebrity author got her book published. Her publicist rung around to say the celebrity in question had an idea for a book. And the doors opened wide. Did she write this book completely on her own? No – of course she had lots and lots of editorial help.  I know this apparently isn’t the case with all celebrity authors, but seriously- how many people could suddenly decide they’re going to write a book and immediately write something that’s of a publishable standard?  Most first time books have been a long time in the making…

So now look at it from the as-yet unpublished authors view. It’s not easy as a newcomer trying to break into the market. I know lots of hopeful authors who have great ideas, and great writing skills. We have near-misses where we’re told our idea is great, that we write well, but sadly our story ‘isn’t quite there yet’. No one offers to work with us on getting those promising stories right. Apparently no one in the publishing industry has time for that. But they make time for the celebrity author – enough time in some cases to all but write the story for them!

And what makes celebrities want to write children’s books anyway? Is it the money, the added exposure, or simply pandering to their ego?  I know I’m not the only one who can’t help but be impressed  when they hear someone has published a book with a legitimate publishing house.  Do celebrities think by having a book published it then gives them a bit more credibility?  If so, then why do we never see them writing crime novels, suspenseful thrillers or even chick-lit?

I feel all this simply adds to the assumption that writing for children is easy.  Those who take it seriously know that it’s anything but, yet the slush content of any literary agents email account will testify just how many people out there think childrens books are a piece of cake.  And celebrity authors clearly have it easy when they decide to write a book – so why wouldn’t people assume anyone can do it?

What is the solution to this? Perhaps if the general public could stop buying into the whole celebrity worship thing, and buy books because they are good books, not because of who wrote them, then that would be a start. And perhaps celebrities could think about do something charitable if they want more credibility?  I dunno…

Pitch Perfect

Another year, another SCBWI agent’s party. Last year I was nervous. This year I wasn’t. And why was that, you ask? Well, this year I decided not to pitch.

Left to right – Sara Grant hosts a panel of experts, Vicki Willden-Lebrecht from Bright Literary Agency, Yasmin Standen from Standen Literary Agency, Mark Mills from Plum Pudding Illustration, and Caroline Sheldon from Caroline Sheldon Literary Agency.  (photo credit to Kerry Trickett)

 

The whole point of the SCBWI Agents party is that it’s an opportunity to pitch your work to literary agents actively looking to build their lists. It is an amazing chance, and last year I came away from it with a supposed ‘near-miss’ from one very sought after agent. But I found pitching a bit awkward. Because I have so many picture book texts, I had chosen to give a brief overview of some of my stories by memorising a little speech. It was a pretty good little speech if I do say so myself, but I felt wooden reciting it. I didn’t feel like I made much of a connection with the agents as a result.

So this year I decided to try a new approach. I decided to just talk to the agents. Say hello, get my face and name out there, and hopefully be memorable. The truth is those agents meet so many people by the end of the night faces and pitches become one big blurry mess. The quality of your submission is as important as it ever was because that is still what it comes down to in the end.

And as far as submissions go, I’m feeling a lot more confidant. The mentoring work I did earlier this year with Natascha Biebow of ‘Blue Elephant Storyshaping’ was possibly the best investment I have made so far for my writing career. I knew I had a couple of really great stories – I’d had interest in them from both agents and publishers – but for some reason they weren’t right, and having worked on them for so long I couldn’t see why they were lacking. But after working with Natascha I was able to pinpoint where they were going wrong, fix the problems, and then polish, buff and tweak the stories into ones that are now truly submission ready. I’ve already had interest and some very positive feedback on these edited stories. But the best thing of all is I honestly feel the quality of my writing has gone up a few notches. The stories I’ve written since are coming together much quicker, I can spot where they aren’t completely working myself, and I often ‘hear’ Natascha’s voice critiquing them in my head!

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Here I am, selfie-queen, with some of my very talented critique group – Frances Tosdevin, Fiona Barker and Rachel Lovatt

So, off I went to the party, which was an absolutely fabulous evening. The volunteers from SCBWI do an outstanding job organising this event – it’s an awful lot of time and effort on their behalf, so thank you guys!  Some very ‘big cheeses,’ (as one person put it!), from the agenting world were present, all of whom were absolutely lovely and full of wisdom (check out #scbwichat for tidbits of what was said on the night).

But as well as the agents it was also a great chance to meet with fellow writers.  I am fortunate to have an amazing online critique group and that night EIGHT of us made it to the party! For some of us, it was the first time meeting in the flesh.  And another lovely lady from my local SCBWI group was there too, not to mention many wonderful people I’ve ‘met’ on Twitter, AND my hilarious mate Al, whom I met last year. If I hadn’t been so preoccupied with chatting to the agents it possibly would have ended up as a rather inebriated train journey home….

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More of my very talented critique group – Catherine Emmett, and soon-to-be published Leonie Roberts

I think my game-plan worked. I didn’t feel nervous speaking with the agents; I think I had a bit of a rapport going on with two of them, (one gave me a double kiss when I said goodbye, which could mean either she liked me or she’d had a few glasses of wine), and I was able to really enjoy myself.  I actually did end up pitching – one agent wanted to know more about my stories and it was the simplest way to tell her what they were about.  Unlike most people, I don’t mind writing my PB pitches/one sentence hooks, and luckily I know most of them off the top of my head.  I wouldn’t say I recited them perfectly, but the agent seemed to like them, so good enough!

Arabella Stein from Bright Literary Agency listens intently to a pitch by Frances Tosdevin (photo credit to Kerry Trickett)

So, my advice? Make sure you’re confident your submission is in absolute tip-top shape. I would recommend getting some professional input if you can afford it. Then get yourself out there – do what you can to meet agents and editors face to face, so they can put a face to a name. But try to relax. Don’t give them the hard sell – you shouldn’t have to if your manuscript is in great shape. Agents are people too. As well as looking for stories they love and that they’ll be passionate about representing, they also want to find someone they’ll enjoy working with on a personal level.

How short is too short?

I’ll admit it – I’m feeling pretty frustrated this week. It’s all down to word count. Why is it that some picture book writers are able to publish stories of 600 -800 words, yet unpublished newbies are constantly being told to use less and less? Some publishers specify a maximum of 600 words, I’ve seen agents who want 500 or less (one particular agent specified a maximum of 200 words!) I have critique group friends who’ve been told to cut their 500 word texts in half, but yet at the same time some of my work has been seen by both editors and agents who made no comment on their word counts of 600-700.

When did picture books suddenly become so short, and who decided they had to be? I agree there are some books which unnecessarily go on and on. There are a few fairly recent picture books by a very well-known and much loved author that I personally think waffle on, and which I strenuously avoid reading to my children! But – and I know I’ve said this before – a lot of the shorter texts are too short. With only a few words on every page, the page turn comes too quickly and the child doesn’t have time to absorb the story or the illustrations.

There were several things I heard a lot during the mentoring I undertook with Natascha Biebow of ‘Blue Elephant Storyshaping’. A story needs a character that has both personality and some kind of motivation – there’s a ‘need’ or a ‘want’ that drives the story forward. They must go on an emotional journey. There should be a strong story arc. The ending needs to be satisfying and preferably ‘bookend’ with the beginning. The reader needs to know what the story’s message is. Natascha also said a story should make sense when being read aloud without seeing the illustrations. She wanted virtually no illustration notes – only when absolutely necessary, like when the illustration needs to show something that differs from the text. By trying to make my stories contain all of the above points, my word counts jumped – and in the case of my shorter, illustration-note heavy texts, jumped quite significantly.

This week I was told by a lovely agent who had asked to see some of my prose texts, that what I was writing were early readers, not picture book texts. They told me I was ‘saying’ things that should be said via the illustrations and that the text should be ‘captions for the illustrations’. Okay – this makes perfect sense, but it’s also pretty much the opposite from what Natascha said about the story needing to be clear without the illustrations. The stories I sent were between 600-700 words, and this agent suggested I rewrite one of the stories and aim for 100 words. I’m having a go at doing this, taking out everything Natascha had told me to put in and more, (and putting back all the illustration notes – and more!)  So far I’ve only managed to get down to 318 words, and I feel like the story has lost its personality.  I guess I could write a completely new story altogether, but I actually liked my original idea.

I know there are some successful picture book authors who can write an extremely short text which still has voice and personality. But I think these types of people are the minority. They are also, apparently, often ex-marketing professionals already skilled at saying a lot in few words. I would also like to suggest that some of these very short stories aren’t actually narratives, but more poems or concepts.

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But my point is something else. Why do we all need to fit into this particular super-short text box? Obviously there is room for writers who write longer narratives, because many people do. The majority of modern day classics beloved by both children and parents alike fall into the 500-700 word bracket. So why are new authors expected to write stories containing motivation, personality, and emotional journey all in 100-200 words? Is this the result of some head-honcho in marketing insisting that what works for advertising also works for children’s stories?

Why should children be forced to accept stories of less than 200 words – doesn’t this only reinforce the ‘instant gratification’ lifestyle of today’s world? Parents, teachers, librarians and child-carers WANT longer texts to read their children! Yes – no one likes a story that unnecessarily waffles on and on, but we’d still like some that take more than a minute to read. This seems to be the clear public opinion, but yet for some reason writers are still being told to write less. Children are bombarded with television, tablets, apps, online this and that – all instantaneous, quick, fast information. Wouldn’t they actually benefit from longer stories of 500-700 words, as opposed to 100-200?

Publishers and agents say they are looking for new ideas and new voices – by insisting new authors fit into a specific word count, aren’t they then narrowing the pool of new potential? Perhaps one day I will have an idea for a story with all the necessary elements that I can tell in 100 words. But right now this is simply not my style, and when I have written something totally pared back I’ve been told to add more to it! And at the end of the day, there are some stories that cannot be told in 100 words.

I believe there is a place for both longer narrative stories, and for short concept or poem-like books. But I wish there was more open-mindedness for new authors. Not all of us are writing complete slush – some people are writing stories that if they already had a name for themselves, might actually have a chance of being published. Why make us fit into a particular box? How about considering what we have to offer on its own merit?

To rhyme or not to rhyme? That is the question!

I love rhyming picture books – they are what got me so fascinated with picture books in the first place. There is something particularly satisfying in the way a good rhyming story flows off the tongue! A good rhythm is soothing and fun to read and a clever rhyming couplet will always bring a cheesy grin to my face. On the other hand, I find a badly-rhymed story that doesn’t scan well to be both frustrating and irritating.

 
It took a lot of practice to get my rhyming at the level it is today, and I have to confess I’m quite proud of where it’s at.  I now find myself in the position where I’m getting positive comments from people within the industry on my rhyming ability, and this makes me very happy. But there is another thing I’ve been hearing a lot lately too…..

 
This is the suggestion that I should drop the rhyme and focus on prose.

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Now part of me wants to resist this idea at all costs – why should I when rhyming stories sell so well? I heard recently according to someone from Waterstones, rhyming stories are still the bestsellers. Most authors and parents I know seem to prefer rhyming stories, and it goes without saying that kids love them. Yes – we all know about the limited potential rhyming stories have for co-editions, but I have also been told by a successful children’s publisher that this necessarily isn’t a problem. If an international buyer likes a book enough, they will happily translate it.

 
Yet, a rhyming story needs to stand up on its own without the rhyme. Apparently the legend that is Julia Donaldson, submits all her rhyming stories along with a non-rhyming version. I have been told many times by agents and editors that I should try writing some of my rhyming stories in prose, in order to get the structure correct. So far I’ve managed to get these stories working without resorting to putting them into prose, but yesterday something happened that’s thrown me.

 
I was fortunate enough to attend a picture book meet and critique in London, run by the Children’s Book Circle. There I met with the children’s editor of a very well-known publishing house and had feedback on two of my stories.  This lovely editor seemed to like both stories – she said the structure was great, and all the necessary elements were present and correct. However – she felt both stories were strong enough without the rhyme, and although the rhyming was very good, she personally found it distracted from the story!

 

Now I know in some of my stories, as previously mentioned, the rhyming was preventing the structure of the story from gelling. I’ve also been told several times now to avoid writing in rhyme because of the limited co-edition potential. But I’ve never been told my stories didn’t need the rhyme, or that my rhyming distracted the reader! Yet, I believe I know where this editor is coming from. Recently I’ve found the picture book market to be saturated with rhyming stories. As much as I love rhyme, some of these stories leave me cold because although very well written, it feels like the rhyme doesn’t add anything to the story. I’ve also entered a few recent competitions where the organisers commented on the unusually high amount of rhyming stories submitted. So it seems almost everybody is writing – or trying to write – in rhyme.

 

I don’t want to write a rhyming picture book that, although well written, is instantly forgettable. I still remember the first time I read, ‘Room on the Broom’ – ideally, I’d like my stories to have that same sort of memorable impact. But do I fall into the category of writing in rhyme for the sake of it? The last few agents who’ve given me personal responses to my submissions both suggested I drop the rhyme and write in prose. But I personally don’t think my prose stories are as strong as my rhyming ones. My story ideas either come as a rhyming story, or a prose – I can’t seem to force them any differently. I also often find a rhyming story writes itself, whereas a prose one is much harder to make work. I recently spoke with a very talented debut author who only writes in rhyme, and has eleven books either already published or in the pipeline, (I repeat – ELEVEN!), and she said exactly the same thing.  Or do I think my rhyming stories are stronger simply because I have a personal preference for rhyme?

 

So what do I do next? My friends and peers all say they really like my rhyming stories. But I’m not sure if I can go by their opinions alone because I know they are all people who – like me – really enjoy rhyming picture books! Perhaps it’s time to take on board the professional advice to focus more on prose. Lately I have actually been writing more in prose. My four most recent stories have all been prose, and I honestly believe that if I want to be truly successful – which I do – then I need to be able to write well in both formats. I’m guessing what I’ll be working on next will likely be prose versions of my rhyming stories. I can’t imagine it’s going to be easy, but perhaps it’s a necessary step forward.

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How much editing do you really need?

 

I’ve had a pretty good month. 

 

Firstly, I discovered that four of my stories got longlisted for the Oh Zoe rising talent award.  Considering that Oh Zoe were looking for books that could be personalised and my stories only kind of fit this criteria at best – I only entered at the urging of my critique group – it was a bit of a surprise.   Apparently they liked my style….

 

Secondly, I was runner up in the latest SCBWI Slushpile Challenge.  Again this came as a surprise – I started my month’s mentoring with a children’s book editor right after the competition entry date closed, and that particular story has since been edited considerably.  I was convinced the older version that I’d entered into the competition wouldn’t place anywhere.

 

So, before you roll your eyes at my crowing about my ‘successes’, I’m going to move right along on to my point.  Which is – how edited does a story need to be before submitting it?  I know I’ve discussed this before – edit, edit, edit again, get feedback, edit, be one hundred percent sure your story is ready before you submit.  But what I’ve found is no matter how perfect you think something is there is always room for improvement.

 

My month’s mentoring was fabulous.  I chose to go with Natascha Biebow of Blue Elephant Story-shaping as she was recommended to me by an agent, and I’d also attended a SCBWI workshop with her which had included feedback on one of my stories.  After the initial shock of seeing she didn’t love my story as much as I thought she would (if at all!), once I’d considered her comments a while I could see everything she said was spot on.  So I signed up and sent off my three strongest rhyming stories and my latest prose story which I thought it was still a bit weak.  Turns out the only story she seemed to like was the prose!

 

Receiving critique on your work is never easy, and I will confess that I was crushed when I read Natascha’s first lot of comments.  Not original enough was the main issue, but the real knife in heart was the comment that ‘you shouldn’t write in rhyme unless you’re really good at it’.  (Errr, hang on! What?  I AM good at it!!!)  There were tears…. but, once I’d got past my ego and sat and processed her comments, I could see what she was trying to say.  Taking her comments and using them resulted in significantly better stories.  She is the experienced one after all, and really knows her stuff.

 

So great, right? I should feel confident submitting these stories knowing that they are now definitely in tip top shape!  Except I’m even more nervous now.  Those stories were the ones I’d been told were my best.  They’d previously caught the eye of both editors and agents.  They were supposed to be ‘close’, yet they weren’t.  So what if someone likes my work and asks to see more, but everything else I’ve got is still far from ready?

 

What is important to keep in mind is even the most recognised names in the business go through the process of editing.  The story that is published is probably far removed from the version originally sent to agents and publishers.  A well-known children’s author told me she often feels like crying and throwing her stories in the bin when the first lot of notes come back from the editor!  I guess this means I shouldn’t be afraid.  Having the determination to succeed, being open to suggestion, and being willing to work on your manuscripts to improve them are all very important things. 

I think it is harder for those of us without agents and who are still unpublished.  Agents don’t really need new clients most of the time, so to stand out from the pile it is worth having something perfectly polished to submit.  An experienced editor will see things you won’t see on your own, and they should be able to steer you and push you into producing something even better than what you started with.  My time with Natascha not only helped me produce much better work, but she also showed me things I can use going forward.  Hopefully my standard of work will have jumped a few notches when I write something new.

 

I’m shouting, but where is my voice?

 

So what exactly is voice?  I’ve been hearing this term a lot lately and I wasn’t entirely sure what it meant.  I thought I had a voice.  If you gave me a pile of unnamed stories that were written by members of my critique group, then asked who wrote what, I would probably be able to tell you.  People have distinctive ways of writing, and I always thought I was one of them.

 

If you read this blog, you will know I’ve had a lot of ups and downs on my writing journey so far.  I recently made the decision to work with an editor as a way of trying to figure out why my stories are not quite hitting the mark, and the topic of voice came up again.  And I think I get it now….

 

Voice isn’t just your unique way of writing as an author.  Your characters need to have voice – and by this I don’t mean just in the words they speak.  Voice can be so much more – is your protagonist a bit fussy?  Are they bossy?  Mean?  How can you show these things without actually saying it in words?  For example, instead of saying, ‘Amelia was very bossy’, you could show she is bossy by the things she is doing, or in the way she speaks.   This also comes back to another phrase we picture book writers hear a lot – ‘show, don’t tell’.  SHOW your reader that Dad is scared of the dark, not just by his reaction in the illustrations, but by giving him a quiver in his voice, or with an action such as biting his nails, or pulling at his shirt. 

 

Picture books need to say an awful lot in very few words.  There are lots of clever ways you can give background and life to your characters by adding subtle layers of ‘voice’ to your text.  ‘Olivia’ by author-illustrator Ian Falconer, is a perfect example of a character who has a whole lot of personality and voice, all of which is shown very clearly – but at the same time almost subtlety – through actions and behaviour, and very few words.  And wonderful illustrations of course…

 

Secondly, does your character’s voice fit your character?  This was a big ‘aha!’ moment for me.  I love writing in rhyme, and nothing makes me happier than coming up with a clever couplet or a witty joke, written in perfect metre.  But if your narrator is a five-year old boy, are the words you’ve chosen the type of words that a five year old boy would typically use?  If not, then your story is not going to work.  I have a trio of stories which revolve around a very clever idea, but the narrative voice up until now has been very adult sounding, when the narrator is actually meant to be a child.  So no wonder I’ve been getting nowhere with them.

 

So have a look at some successful picture books.  How has the author relayed to the reader clues about characters, without actually saying what type of personalities they are meant to have?   A story needs a strong voice for the reader to relate to, and also to make to stand out from the pile.

 

 

 

My political protest – not sure how to end it though….

Cockroach Catastrophe

 

The garden was bursting with fruit that was ripe,

And all bugs were welcome, no matter their type.

And though they were different, they still got along,

But, sadly, this peace didn’t last very long.

 

“The garden’s in trouble!”  A cockroach declared,

“And all of you bugs should be worried and scared. 

The threat of invasion is horribly real,

For all that we have, other bugs want to steal!”

 

“Outside of this garden, those other bugs dream,

Of having all this, so they plot and they scheme.

But no need to panic, I know what to do –

Let me be the cockroach who’ll fix it for you!”

 

He spoke with such gusto, such vigour and vim,

That everyone shouted, “We must follow him!

He has no credentials; he’s new to the job,

But he’s still our man,” cried the gullible mob.   

 

“But hang on,” an elderly grasshopper cried,

“We don’t need this leader!  Who else has applied?

There’s plenty for all, so where is the big threat?

If he has some proof, he’s not shown us it yet!”

 

But nobody listened to Grasshopper’s plea.

They lapped up the cockroaches’ words with great glee.

And soon they were chanting his catchy refrain,

“Let’s all make our garden a great place again!”

 

And, not even stopping to ponder their fate,

They made him the leader of garden and state.

Then sitting up high on the very best flower,

That Cockroach knew now he had absolute power.

 

He looked down below with a hideous grin,

“I still can’t believe those fools voted me in!” 

Then called for his team – quite a sinister bunch –

Of cockroaches, wasps, and a rat eating lunch.

 

They swarmed through the garden, they stole every seat.

They swiped every morsel, took all they could eat.

And now with his army put firmly in place,

The Cockroach stood up with a smirk on his face.

 

“So now I decree – no outsiders at all!

To keep them all out, I will build a big wall.

Along every inch, I shall station a guard,

Then no one can pass, it will be much too hard.”

 

Though some of the garden folk listened with dread,

“He’s building a wall?  Is he out of his head?”

Still, more of the others approved this great plan,

“Put up a big wall?  Well, you know that we can!”

 

Old grasshopper cried, “This is not what we need!

This bug only thinks of himself and his greed!”

But Cockroach declared, “I don’t care for your views,

Whatever you say- I’ll just call it fake news.”

 

The guards on the wall looked below and said, “Hello!

We’ll only take those who are brown, black and yellow.

Now no need to argue, please don’t make a fuss!

You’re fine to come in, if you look just like us.”

 

The bugs at the border cried, “Please let us in,

They’ve cut down our grass; put our homes in the bin!

Our children are hungry, our cupboards are bare.”

But cockroach just said, “And I simply don’t care!”

 

The beautiful garden now looked like a bin.

The rat had moved all of his family in.

The wasps had erected an oversized nest.

The great cockroach army were acting the pest.

 

And if any insect should dare to complain,

The poor soul was not seen, or heard from again.

The cockroach, he sneered, “I don’t care how it ends,

As long as it works out for me and my friends.”

 

“Now listen to me, what I say must be done.

And here are my rules – you’ll obey every one!

And should you dare question what I have to say,

I’ll order my army to take you away!”

 

“All ladybird boys must be gone at first light,

They don’t fit their name, and that cannot be right.

And as for those snails who are both girl and boy –

This kind of weird thing, well, it’s best to destroy.”

 

“The old and the injured are no use at all,

And past contributions won’t cushion their fall.

The weak and the poor cannot benefit me –

As everyone knows, I give nothing for free.”

 

Now more of the insects began to feel scared,

And spoke in a hush, ‘This is worse than we feared!

It seems his agenda is hate, fear and greed.

It’s perfectly clear he’s a bad bug indeed.”

 

“We can’t let him rule, we must think of a way –

A bug is a bug, at the end of the day!

No matter what colour, what size, shape or form,

We all have a right to live here on the lawn”.

 

“We don’t want his hate, and we don’t want his greed,

 We will respect others, and help those in need!

Let’s look to the future – our garden’s at stake!

He needs some reminding it’s not his to take.”

 

They gathered together, to march on the flower.

“Let’s show him who really has absolute power!

If he wants a war, then a war we will give him.

Its war on his hatred, and we’ll never give in!”

So you think you’re ready to submit? Think again….

How do you know your work is ready for submission?  If only I knew the answer to this question…  

We’ve all heard it many times – don’t submit until you are absolutely sure it’s as good as it possibly can be.  Edit, leave it in drawer for a while, come back to it and edit some more, leave it alone, get a few people to read it aloud, edit it again etc etc.  But how many times have I honestly believed something was ready, submitted it, and realised later on  – sometimes even at the very instant I pressed ‘submit’ – that it wasn’t ready by any stretch of the imagination. 

Most writers I know are an eager bunch – keen to get a second opinion, but then secretly crushed when that second opinion doesn’t come back with glowing, ‘thumbs ups’, and ‘send it out immediately,’ comments.  Then there are the other kind of writers, those who are such perfectionists they sit on things and never send anything out.  I, unfortunately, fall into the first category.  In some ways it’s a good thing – if you never try, you never know right?  It’s because of these hasty submissions that I’ve had, on occasion, some positive feedback – which for the unpublished is a really big deal.  But, it also has some major downfalls….

I have one particular story which has caught the eye of more than one agent now, though unfortunately not enough for an offer of representation.  This same story has had no response whatsoever from the few publishers I’ve sent it to.  Its been edited countless times, tightened up to a point that it reads seamlessly, and everyone whom I’ve shown it to have loved it.  I honestly thought this story could be polished no further.  Yet, just the other week I showed it to a writer friend of mine, who is quite familiar with editors and the kinds of comments they make.  She made a suggestion, which when acted on, improved the story immensely.  Only now, is it possibly submission ready.  Problem is I’ve already submitted it…. to a number of people.  D’oh!

So can I submit the same story twice?  Well, I could argue there is a very good chance it was vetoed before it even got to the agent or editor it was intended for, so therefore they may have never seen it in the first place.  But, unless you’ve been specifically asked to resubmit, this is generally a very big no-no.

I absolutely believe a critique group is an invaluable source of feedback, and crucial to development as a writer.  But I’m starting to see that a critique group made up of your peers can only get you so far.  This past week I was fortunate enough to have had both an experienced editor and a very successful children’s author, give me feedback on two of what I had considered to be my ‘stronger’ stories.  Both stories had received very positive feedback from people who already read them, and little had been offered in the way of suggestions for their improvement, so I was feeling confident they were in good shape.  However, both the editor and the author indicated these stories needed a lot of work on their structure.  The comments made were very different from comments I’d had previously – clearly a professional eye is going to notice issues that a non-professional won’t see.  But this has thrown me – now I feel like I don’t know anything!  Are any of my stories actually good enough?  And how can I find out?

I’ll keep you posted….