Of particular importance to the British Isles group is the Undiscovered Voices competition.
Now in its second year the twelve winners were recently announced and their writing journeys are well underway. I asked the winners if they would like to share their experiences and over the next few days I shall be posting their stories on tall tales & short stories.
Left to right foreground: Yona Wiseman, Lisa Joy Smith, David Cousins, Anne Anderson, Paula Rawsthorne; back row: Nick Cross, Melvin Burgess, Jane McLoughlin, Lauren Sabel, Abbie Todd, Claire O'Brien, Emily George (not in picture, Jude Ensaff)
First up, with some background and information about the Undiscovered Voices competition is Sara O'Connor, one half of the two Sara's who came up with the fantastic idea of holding the competition.
Sara Grant & Sara O'Connor
Undiscovered Voices is an anthology of novel extracts from twelve unpublished children's book authors. It is selected by three agents and three editors, printed and then sent, at no cost, to every agent and editor in the US and the UK, in the hopes that the authors would then be discovered and ultimately published. From the inagural 2008 edition, eight of the twelve selected authors are now published or under contract to be published.
The contest is hosted by and exclusively for the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, British Isles chapter (SCBWI-BI). The co-editors are both long time members of the SCBWI and volunteer their time to make the project happen.
The SCBWI-BI is an incredibly supportive and connected community of writers and illustrators passionate about books for children. There is the interactive ning, the Yahoo group, the professional series, critique groups, the conferences, the masterclasses... The opportunities for authors to improve their writing and get their questions answered are boundless. Anyone with an interest in creating books for children should be a member, in my opinion.
How Undiscovered Voices happened:
Undiscovered Voices happened because of Sara -- the actual name. Sara Grant and I met because we shared the same name (quite essentially with the same spelling) and we became friends because we'd both moved from America to marry British husbands and both loved children's books with a firey passion. One day when we were sitting in a pub garden, Sara suggested doing an anthology of unpublished stuff to try to get it published. So we came up with a plan and a budget, got SCBWI on board as the host, got Working Partners on board as the sponsor and got to work lining up agents and editors to judge.
We debated various aspects of the project: could we do anything with the I in SCBWI, as in illustrators? Have a cover competition or a chapter art showcase? But we reluctantly had to decide that our expertise was in fiction. We were also very concerned about the legitmacy of the project -- we didn't want to charge an entry fee or cause any controversy about locking people into contracts, like some contests do, so we were very careful to keep the outcomes open and a free for all. The judges' only advantage over all the other agents and editors that received the anthology is a couple of months' time between the selection and the printing to woo their favourite authors. The concept is simple and an idea we would love to see replicated throughout the SCBWI chapters. It's not easy, but it isn't hard either. Just takes a few people willing to put the time in. (If anyone reading this wants to get in touch, we'd be happy to advise them through the set up process.)
Things we learned between 2008 and 2010:
The first anthology allowed agented writers which turned out to be tricky. Agents like to have control over where and how their clients' material is submitted but the anthology is a blanket submission. In the end, we decided that if a writer has an agent then they have been discovered, and don't need the promotional leg up that is the entire point of the anthology. In addition, we realized that the best way to take advantage of the promotional push is to have the full novel ready to submit right away. (Just like you wouldn't send a query about a book you couldn't follow up on.) So, for 2010, we required authors to be without an agent and submitting a full novel.
About Working Partners:
Working Partners creates quality series fiction for children, creating concepts in house and hiring writers to flesh out detailed storylines on an advance and royalty basis. What people might not know is that the editorial team are all writers in their own right, at various stages of their writing careers. Rather than automatons churning out stories to a formula, every project comes from the creative passions of the individual editors -- the editors agonise over revisions, celebrate and despair over ideas and get very excited about the tiniest details that end up on the cutting room floor. The best thing about being an editor at Working Partners (and there are lots of good things) is the team of friends and colleagues there to help each other the rough patches -- much like the SCBWI, it's a close network of creative support.
To read interviews on tall tales & short stories with published SCBWI Undiscovered Voices 2008 please click on the author's names -
Many thanks to Candy Gourlay for the photos and video of keynote speaker Melvin Burgess. Candy was an Undiscovered Voices 2008 winner and her debut novel TALL STORY is published later this year. Watch this space to read an interview with Candy but in the meantime if you'd like to read a bit more about her book, Tall Story, I announced her publishing deal right here.
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Click here to find out more about SCBWI British Isles