Many students on our creative writing courses are writing novels for children and Young Adults. And they’re always asking how to make their work stand out in an ultra-competitive market. So I spoke to Emma Bailey (above), assistant to Curtis Brown children’s and Young Adult agent Stephanie Thwaites, and asked her about some of the common mistakes she regularly sees in new submissions, the importance of finding a strong voice, and the ways in which the Writing YA and Children’s Fiction course can give aspiring writers a valuable edge.
‘Probably the most common problem with a lot of submissions we receive is a weak cover letter,’ says Emma. ‘Lots of authors fall at this first hurdle; it’s really key for your cover letter to stand out. When thinking about what to put in your cover letter, it is important not only to think about the agent who is going to be reading it, but also to consider how your book might be sold to the publisher or the reader.
‘If you can show you have an awareness of the industry, can recognise new trends or how your own work might slot into the market, that is a really powerful way to get an agent to sit up and take notice. A snappy strapline, or a creative cover letter can go a long way in making your submission stand out.
‘One of the great things about the Writing YA and Children’s Fiction course is feedback sessions from agents, in which they work with students to hone their cover letters. Getting feedback from the very people who spend their days looking at new submissions, and who are well positioned to help you give your letters the edge, is enormously helpful to budding writers.
‘In terms of what we are looking for at Curtis Brown, we are always open to different genres; for instance, we’d love to find a new YA fantasy series, or a humorous middle-grade novel. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with writing another dystopian YA title, you just need to make sure you have a fresh take on it.
‘But what we’re always looking for in new writers is the combination between a great voice and a great concept. Often we receive submissions from writers who have a fantastic concept, but haven’t quite found that unique or compelling style. Often I get the opposite; a fresh and exciting voice, but a weak story or idea. We are always desperately on the lookout for that synergy between the two.
‘The Writing YA and Children’s Fiction course is led by Catherine Johnson, someone who has an enormous background in children’s literature and has great taste; she is a real writer’s writer. The online course is a fantastic environment for an aspiring writer to hone their voice and find their market. Perhaps most importantly, it works as a brilliant support group, which supplies the crucial channels of support for developing authors.
‘On the course, writers can bounce off their ideas, receive feedback, and have some sense of how your peers (as well as industry experts, and published authors) are reacting to their work. Children’s writing is a very competitive part of the market – the Curtis Brown Creative children’s writing courses can help an aspiring writing get that edge, and really stand out in the industry.’
For an in-depth course as part of a group of 15 (in which students are selected on the basis of their submission) with a great tutor and participation from our literary agents, apply for:
Six-Month Novel-Writing Course in London with Christopher Wakling (deadline for applications is Wed 17 January).
Six-Month Online Novel-Writing Course with Lisa O’Donnell (deadline for applications is Wed 24 January).
For a dedicated online course for those writing for young adults or children as part of a group of 15 (in which students are selected on the basis of their submission), with a top children’s author, apply for:
Writing YA and Children’s Fiction with Catherine Johnson (deadline for applications is Sun 28 Jan).
We are offering three low-cost ‘foundation’ courses, featuring tuition from CBC director Anna Davis:
Starting to Write Your Novel (deadline for enrolment is midnight on Mon 15 January).
Write to the End of Your Novel (deadline for enrolment is midnight on Mon 22 January).
Edit & Pitch Your Novel (deadline for enrolment is midnight on Mon 29 January).