by Dianne Bates
Publisher, editor, author and Lady Cutler Prize award-winner, Dianne Bates, has so generously shared her insider knowledge on what’s hot, and what’s not, from a publisher’s perspective. A fascinating account! Thanks so much, Di! 😊
In 2016, I established a children’s book imprint, About Kids Books publishing junior novels for readers aged 8 to 12 years. Recently I received an email from a newish children’s author. Below find her question — and my answer.
“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 Magrit 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 and Bill Condon whose latest junior novel, The Simple Things (A&U) was CBCA short-listed in 2015.
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 150 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.
Recently I published the first About Kids Books title. It is written by Bill Condon who has won the Prime Ministers’ Literary Award for Youth Literature and has been CBCA short-listed four times, winning 3 Honour book awards. Bill is also my husband. His novel for 8 to 12 year olds, All of Us Together, was streaks ahead in quality of any other manuscript submitted to me. A measure of its quality is that it pre-sold almost 3,000 copies to book clubs. If you want to read more about this family story set in 1930’s Australia, go to http://www.aboutkidsbooks.com/books/322-all-of-us-together
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 http://www.celapenepress.com.au and scroll down the page. You will see also that Celapene published Nobody’s Boy, a junior verse novel and CBCA Notable.