Wednesday, April 6, 2011

So you want to sell a novel?

Last night was the launch for Undiscovered Voices 2012.


Really, I can't say Undiscovered Voices without adding a "Yay!" directly afterwards.

For those of you who don't know, Undiscovered Voices is a British SCBWI anthology of previously unagented and unpublished writers. It has been published twice previously (2008 & 2010) and currently 13 out of 24 of its featured writers have since been discovered, and are published or contracted to be published.

Oh, and yeah, I was in the 2010 anthology. Still waiting for my discovery!

But the experience was life-changing. I would encourage ANYONE living in the UK to consider submitting for this year's competition. You have to join SCBWI to participate, but it's worth it (honestly, SCBWI in itself is worth it!). More details here.

The judging panel includes three agents, three editors, and, new for UV 2012, a bookseller and literary scout. Last night at the launch the panel answered questions about the industry, trends, some of their favorite childhood reads, and what specifically they're looking for.

As my fellow UV 2010 winner Nick Cross joked with me, the evening was entirely stress free. We've already won!

But as someone fascinated by the world of publishing and books, it was such an informative evening. I had a truly insightful conversation with Amber Caraveo, Editorial Director at Orion Children's Books, about what makes a great beginning for quieter, or more character-oriented books (thanks to Benjamin Scott for asking such a brilliant, craft-oriented question, and Amber for really answering it!). The bookseller for Foyles, Jo Anne Cocadiz, admitted that a cover can break a book for her. And when the judging panel each listed their favorite book from childhood, there was so much overlap! Lots of mentions of Enid Blyton, but also Goodnight Mister Tom and Tom's Midnight Garden. They also had to each describe a book they had recently acquired and why--so many beautiful books that aren't available yet and already I can't wait to read them!

But for me, the most interesting part of the evening was what the judging panel said they were looking for. It's a bit frustrating, because as a writer you write what's inside you, not what anyone's looking for. And those submitting have probably already begun working on whatever they'll submit. But if you did want to sell a novel, and were just starting out or searching for a new project, they gave some great hints.*
  • Write younger! The judges said 1 out of every 2 submissions they see is YA. Early readers or novels for 9-12 year-olds stand a much better chance and are in higher demand.
  • They want more adventure and survival stories.
  • Humor is a huge plus
  • No traditional fantasy. As a reader, this made my heart sink a little, but when the panel actually defined traditional fantasy, I realized they're happy to look at unique fantasy. They just don't want Tolkien-rehashes, populated with wizards, dwarfs, and quests.
  • A unique premise or hook will help you stand out, especially if you're writing something in a heavily populated genre, like paranormal romance or dystopian.
  • Plot isn't everything. They're willing to work with a writer on plot problems if the writing and characters are good.
Now if only I were sitting on a fully-polished, character-driven adventure story for 9-12 year-olds! But when someone asked about realistic contemporary, every single judge started nodding! Phew!

Thanks to Sara Grant, Sara O'Connor, and everyone else at the event last night. I'm sorry I had to dash out so quickly afterwards to catch my train!

For further information about Undiscovered Voices 2012 (really, ENTER!), check out their website, and follow them on Twitter and Facebook. Good luck!

*Liz De Jager has posted an excellent, and much more thorough, recap of the event, including what specific editors and agents said what!


  1. I was there via livestream which I thought was an inspired idea! What a great evening!
    And glad to see my two questions helped re the definition of epic fantasy and realistic contemporary!! :)

  2. A fantastic recap - I think the panel may have helped me make up my mind on what to write next!

  3. So lovely to see you last night Anne. Great blog and I'm looking forward to your discovery soon!

  4. It was a great evening - really informative - and I came away feeling very excited about my new project! Good post Anne - thanks for the excellent recap!

  5. Hi, thanks for this great summary. I joined the Livestream chat - which was great - about half way through so missed the bit where they discussed "what makes a great beginning for quieter, or more character-oriented books". What was the answer???

    Off to get my submission ready. I presume it's one submission per author. Didn't notice anything about his in the guidelines as I skimmed through them.


  6. Tracy: Sounds like the livestream version was quite a party! Glad so many people who couldn't make it could follow along! And I'm sooo glad you asked them to explain their definition of fantasy: made us both feel much better! =)

    Candy: Thanks! And how exciting! I was thinking last night that these would be great notes to return to when I get ready to start my next project.

    Sara: Aw, thanks. So nice to see you, I just wish I hadn't had to run out! I'll have to send you an email sometime soon to let you know how things have been going.

  7. Sue: Thanks! And I'm so pleased to know the evening was so useful and inspiring to you. How exciting!

    Louise: Thanks! I'm almost a little sorry I missed the livestream chat--sounds like fun! Sorry for being unclear; Amber was chatting about beginning quiet books after the official question / answer session was over! Short answer: You still need to start with a hook, some kind of event to grab the reader's attention, or an opening line that suggests that something will or has just happened that's really intriguing. I might try to write a longer post about her answer, just wish I had had a recorder going when she started talking--it was brilliant, and very helpful for my current wip, too! I assume it's one sub per writer, but probably a question to ask the UV organisers.Good luck!

  8. Thanks for the insider notes, Anne. Can't wait for your discovery moment, so I can say, "I knew Anne, before she was ANNE."


  9. Bridgette: Hah! Then I'll be ANNE in all-caps and I'll be INVINCIBLE! Or published. Which would be cool, too. =)

  10. I was wondering if you were at this last night, glad you had such a good time, and thanks for the recap... especially the bit about how they're looking for MG adventure novels!! *fistpump*

  11. This sounds like a really great concept. I'll definitely have to check it out. :) Thanks for the links.

  12. GF: Ohhh, good news for you, isn't it? Are you thinking of entering? Email me or message me on the BBs if you have any questions about anything!

    Karen: You're welcome! I think it's a really good idea, and it's been exceptionally beneficial for many of the writers in it. It would be neat if some of the regional US branches could give it a try.

  13. Thanks, yes I'll have a month or two of querying before the closing date so unless my novel gets insta-snap-pounced on by an agent (hey, I can hope, right?) I'll probably enter. Will definitely contact you if I have any questions, thanks!

    Come to think of it - what I'd like to know might make a good blog post - I'm not a member of SCBWI yet - what are some other good reasons for joining? What exactly do they offer? (I have looked into this but the info I found was q vague.) (If you don't want to blog about it could you email me a brief answer? Thank you :)

  14. GF: That sounds like perfect timing for you; a chance to test out the market, and then the contest as a very good back up.

    A great idea for a blog post, thanks! In short, UK SCBWI has a very active email list, and tons of events, critique groups, and contests. It's a great way to meet other writers, too. I'll try and post on it sometime soon--but regardless, feel free to email me if you do have any questions.


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