Thursday, 30 June 2016

A Publisher’s Perspective

As most readers will know, I have a children’s book imprint, About Kids Books ( ). I am still seeking a first manuscript to publish (after receiving and rejecting 130 manuscript submissions). Recently I received an email from a newish children’s author. Below find her question -- and my answer.

I was wondering if it okay for me to ask you something as a publisher, please? If you don't mind sharing, what is it about the manuscripts you've received thus far, that hasn't appealed to you? What should I avoid?
Most of the stories I receive don't have a vivid, memorable voice. Often the language used is pedestrian, the storytelling not at all compelling. Often there is a lot of telling rather than showing. And opening paragraphs are lack-lustre and don’t grab one’s attention. Too often, as well, the punctuation – particularly paragraphing and dialogue -- is appalling!

Today, a children’s author friend sent me the first three chapters of her new novel today and eight hours later I am still thinking about it. That's the sort of story I want! The setting of her story is unusual (in a graveyard), the narrator is a boy ghost who meets a very eccentric girl (not sure if she's human, yet). My friend’s last manuscript, which I'm sure she'll get published, features, in an Australian country setting, a girl with synaesthesia who has a relationship with her family’s Japanese exchange student: both are keen on the history of the girl’s town.

What most attracts me is a story such as Maya Angelou said: 'The idea is to write it so people hear it and it slides through the brain and goes straight to the heart.'

I want to be moved by a story, whether it is deep and meaningful or full of imagination and fun (like Will Mabbitt's Mabel Jones books). One of the best books I read this year is by Linda Coggin. That Dog, Ray tells of how a girl gets 'inside' a dog; she tells the story from a girl's point of view, but as the story progresses the dog takes over the human in thinking and feeling. An amazing read! Another graveyard book, for older readers, which impressed me, is Magritt by Lee Battersby (Walker Books Australia).

So what I want is some -- or preferably all -- of the following -- a main character who totally engages the imagination and is memorable, prose that is rich and succinct, storytelling that sweeps the reader along, a setting that is unusual. It can be a story about anything! Originality is the key. Oh, and the book must be child-friendly (some authors focus too much attention on parents in stories).

An Australian debut author's book I'd have greedily grabbed with both hands is Figgy in the World by Tamsin Janu (Omnibus Books). Set in Africa about a small girl who goes with her goat looking for America so she can get medicine for her ailing grandmother (but the child has no idea where America is, only that the country has specialist doctors).
                                                                                                                                                                                   I am a big fan of junior novels by Ursula Dubosarsky and Glenda Millard. I would also publish any junior book written by my husband Bill Condon whose latest junior novel, The Simple Things (A&U) was CBCA short-listed in 2015. I am a huge fan of his multi-prizewinning novels for both children and young adults.

Yes, I will take a debut book: I have one at the moment which interests me and I am now getting a second -- and maybe a third -- opinion. It is set in Rome, has a third person narrative, and is from the point of view of a dancing cat which saves the day. It’s written by a debut author but the story is different from any other I've read. The author has absolutely no social media presence: until I asked her to do so, she didn't even have her own email address!

Finally, two other books (of the 130 mss I've read so far) which interested me...
One was a legend and far too short: I asked the (well-known) author for another story of the same size but she didn't have one. The other very interesting and well-written story, by someone who has published and is well known as an editor, was set in medieval England, but it needed a glossary:  this turned out to be 135 words, far too long. She says she is 'dumbing it (her story) down' which sounds sad, but I'll take another look if she resubmits. There was a third book by someone whose books I love, but this writer is in grieving and she just couldn't manage to re-write: maybe one day she'll get back to her humorous junior novel.

As a reader, my preference is for social realism books but anything that's terrific is of interest. Meantime, I have been reading an Australian historical novel All of Us Together which I'm sure to publish when it's finished (later this year).

Note: When the writer asked which of my own books I thought was worth a read, I told her A Game of Keeps (Celapene Press). It’s a book I think worthy of the About Kids Books imprint! Go to and scroll down the page. You will see also that Celapene published Nobody’s Boy, a junior verse novel and CBCA Notable.

By Dianne Bates 

Monday, 27 June 2016

Thoughts from a Publisher

‘The idea is to write it so that people hear it and it slides through the brain and goes straight to the heart.’ Maya Angelou

Often those submitting to my children’s book imprint, About Kids Books ( do not read the website carefully. No, I don’t publish picture books. What I want and the book lengths are clearly spelled out on the submissions’ page. Most of all, I want quality books. Books which will be read again and again by children because they are so good. Books that are memorable. Which have characters who you care about.

What I get are far too often are bland books which have no personality. What most gives a book its personality is the voice. How the book is told. The narrative voice. I want a narrative voice which is distinctive, quirky, eccentric. There should be a freshness in the writing. Word choice is the key. The writer ought to use words that sizzle on the page, and too, the story-telling ought to be fast-paced so you want to keep reading. But when you get to the end of the book you want to go back and re-read it. The sort of book we all love to read. Kids love that, too, though they might not articulate what it is that fascinates them so much.

Here are some opening sentences from children’s books which have compelled me to keep writing:·       From a crack in the plaster, where the bottle has smashed, tomato sauce dribbles down the wall.
·       There’s nothing quite as good as folding up into a book and shutting the world outside.
·       One huge shiver trudging on to the oval, that’s us. First thing on a frostbite Monday morning.
·       I was twelve years old the first time I walked on water.
·       If I could tell you only one thing about my life it would be this: when I was seven years old the mailman ran over my head.
·       The bedroom is strange. Unfamiliar. I don’t know where I am, how I came to be here. I don’t know how I’m going to get home.
·       This story begins with a smile. It was a stupid-looking smile on a rather stupid-looking face.
·       The Herdmans were absolutely the worst kids in the history of the world.
·       They say Maniac Magee was born in a dump. They say his stomach was a cereal box and his heart a sofa spring.
·       12th Day of September
          I am commanded to write an account of my days: I am bit by fleas and plagued by family. That is all there is to say.·       Miranda Tagliotti had been planning to kill Bridget Aldich for a long time.
·       I will never forgive my mother for calling me Erica with a surname like Yurken.
The day after my mother died, the priest and I wrapped her body in a grey shroud and carried her to the village church. Our burden was not great.