Monday, 12 September 2011

Smart Quill Editorial - dedicated to children's fiction.

Smart Quill Editorial is a literary consultancy dedicated to children's books. 
The editor currently commissions children's fiction for a major UK publishing house & has been working in the industry for 10 years & has contacts with agencies and publishers worldwide.

* What inspired you to set up Smart Quill and what makes it different from other literary consultants?

I have worked as an agent and a scout, then I did some freelancing for a literary consultant before landing my current job as a commissioning editor. In each role I was struck by the fact that children's books are in many respects completely separate to adults' books and as a result they demand different direction in terms of writing. It seemed to me that "one-stop-shops" weren't doing the genre justice, so I decided to set up a consultancy specifically for children's books. The idea is that as I am immersed in the world of children's books, both in my full-time job and my spare time, this immersion will benefit Smart Quill clients.

* Could you tell us about the ethos behind Smart Quill Editorial and the kind of working relationship you aim to build between you and your clients?

Every editor knows that slush piles are vast and largely ignored by publishing. It was frustrating to me that no dialogue was being established with aspiring writers; that a "no" signified the end of the discussion. Writers need feedback – they need developing, and they need to feel that someone is willing to work with them to improve their writing. I decided I wanted to make time to establish this dialogue, outside of work, so that more writers can make it out of the slush pile and into the bookstores. So that "it needs work" is no longer an excuse to cut short talent.

In terms of the relationship, it differs from client to client. Most people who ask for an editorial assessment of their work come back to me when it is revised to check they have done it properly. Still others ask for advice in getting an agent via the ARS, and then in managing multiple-interest from agents and publishers. I keep my Smart Quill work very separate from my day job, which is important for clarity. I work at the beginning of the writing process whereas as an editor I will work at the end. But the quality of editing I give Smart Quill clients is exactly the same as that I give to published authors.

* When reading manuscripts what would you say are the most common mistakes made by aspiring writers?

I expect many writers have heard it all before, but telling rather than showing...
Under-developed characters also make regular appearances.
And finally, a lack of connection to age-ranging. It is really important to know what age you are writing for and to make everything in the text work for that age.

* When looking at a new manuscript what are the main things that grab your attention and makes a piece of work stand out in a positive way?

Originality of concept or hook; a robust sense of protagonist, mired in a consistent perspective; turn of phrase; an understanding of pace i.e. how to speed it up or slow it down; cliffhangers; humour (but that's just me!).

* When looking at a new manuscript what are the main things that grab your attention and makes a piece of work stand out in a negative way?

Vague words like "something"; unnecessarily mean or spiteful characters (i.e. unrelated to plot); repetition; spelling and punctuation mistakes; using text as an opportunity to voice adult concerns or opinions irrelevant to the children at play in the story.

* Does Smart Quill Editorial specialise in a specific age group or do you offer editorial advice across the age ranges from picture books to YA?

I tend to do a lot of YA, but I suspect that is because YA is having a bit of a moment and there is a lot of it out there. I commission right through from picture books to YA fiction, so this editorial remit is reflected in the services I offer via Smart Quill.

* Would you ever decline to work with a client and, if so, for what reasons?

Gosh, I've never thought about it! I suppose if there was a conflict of interest I would decline to edit someone's work. Time constraints might also be a problem in the future. But for the moment, no, and I am glad because all my clients have been lovely.

* How do you think using the services of a literary consultancy can benefit an aspiring writer?

There is no doubt in my mind that writing can be taught. So a literary consultant will improve your writing. Whether they improve it to the point that agents and editors are forthcoming is never something on which I will pronounce, because the vagaries of the market are so unpredictable. But it most certainly ensures that decision-makers will see your work in its best possible state, and given how many immediate rejections are out there waiting for aspiring writers, this can only be a good thing.

* What advice do you have for anyone interested in working with Smart Quill Editorial?

It is super scary just sending your m/s and your money off to a website, so feel free to get in touch with me first. Send me an email outlining what you want from the process and what your background is. I always try and tailor what I do to individual requirements, and this has resulted in many specialised services. I do marked-up mss, sample reports, summary observations on illustrations, and comparisons between versions of poems. This is one of the reasons for the "info" boxes on the website, where clients can tell me about the history and writing experience. I want to know about people before I engage in the process with them, as an editorial relationship is very intense (and rewarding!).

* I’ve decided I’d like to approach Smart Quill Editorial for a report. What should I do first? And what happens when I send you my m/s?

Go to the website! have a look around, read the blog, decide what sort of report might suit your needs, and then get in touch. Once we have established what you want, and what the cost will be, you can either upload your m/s to the website or email it to me direct.

Reports take between 4 to 6 weeks – I know, it feels like forever but I have to work around my my full-time job! I always update as I go along so clients know what to expect. I give an initial estimation as to when I will start reading, and when I aim to have the report completed. I often have to ask for more time as I go along but the reports take a very long time to assemble. I would rather not rush and deliver something of high standard.

* How does the Smart Quill Agent Recommendation Service work?

In the event that something exceptional comes via Smart Quill, I will recommend the writer to an agent. As a commissioning editor I work closely with agents anyway, and there is always an exchange of information regarding good scripts. In the interests of promoting debut writers and ensuring they don't get stuck in slush, it is just another way that Smart Quill aims to add value to clients.

* What is the one thing you wish every beginner writer knew?

Hmm. There are lots of things and I tend to discuss them from month to month in the Smart Quill blog! So I might just direct your readers there...

* Any final words of wisdom and advice to aspiring writers?

There are many ways to get noticed in publishing. But in truth, the best thing you can do is give your book a fighting chance by getting a professional eye on it before it is seen by anyone who has the power to reject it.



Sue said...

Good to know about another literary consultancy, especially one dedicated to children's & YA. It's amazing how the market for literary consultancies is growing - when I first searched around for one on the web a few years back they were quite thin on the ground.

I guess that there is a demand for them and my own experience has been positive so far - I've used two different consultancies and had chats with a third. But I do feel for writers for whom 300 quid or so just isn't do-able (not that it doesn't hurt my bank balance!) and I really hope that literary consultancy input doesn't become another mandatory on the way to traditional publishing. There must always be a way for talented but skint people to break through!

Tracy said...

Hi Sue

I agree that the costs involved can be a stumbling block for many. I count myself in that scenario.

But one thing I try to highlight in my debut author interviews is that people from all backgrounds can and do get published without necessarily using the literary consultancy route.

We can only hope that talent continues to shine through and rise to the top no matter what the writer's background and financial situation.

Sue said...

...and it's great when literary consultancies provide tips and support free of charge, in the form of blogs or websites or even something like looking over a covering letter for a submission. I think one or two also run competitions where the prize is a free critique.

But at least for children's authors the cost of having a professional critique is slightly lower due to the word count - I'd really have problems with the cost if I'd penned a 100,000+ - worder!

martha said...

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