The children’s writing and YA writing market is a particularly tough one, with trends often hard to spot and audiences shifting regularly. As we get ready for our next children’s writing course, we talk to someone who knows a bit about how to make a submission stand out in this crowded market: Isobel Gahan, who now assists children’s writing agent Stephanie Thwaites at Curtis Brown.
Recently joining us after a stint at J.K Rowling’s very own Pottermore, Isobel sees a huge number of submissions arrive in her inbox each week. I sent over a few questions to our new arrival at Curtis Brown, and she gives us a sense of what is likely to catch her eye.
You’ve come over to CB from Pottermore – could you tell us a bit about your role there?
I worked in a production and editorial role at Pottermore creating Harry Potter ebooks. I was lucky enough to get to work on the play script for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which was an amazing thing to be able to read early!
As someone who is reading through new submissions every day, what are you most sick of seeing? Any common mistakes new writers make?
I think there’s often a tendency to set out lengthy exposition in opening paragraphs when it would be much more powerful to plunge the reader straight into the action. Clichéd turns of phrase are also off-putting as it doesn’t give me any sense of originality about the writing.
Any trends you’re particularly interested in or excited about in the YA/children’s writing at the moment? Any standout title for you in the past 12 months?
I’m a big fan of fantasy and plots with a mythical twist, and it’s been great to see this coming into the foreground over the past year with titles like Girl of Ink and Stars. I’m excited by clever and imaginative world-building and fantasy that does something a little different than the well-ploughed ‘high-fantasy’ model.
And what is likely to catch your eye in a new submission? Would you say that either strong writing or a distinctive concept held more weight for you?
Strong writing is much more important to me; a plot with weak patches can always be worked on, but a brilliant concept will only hold up for so long if the writing can’t support it. I always look out for a strong, distinctive voice that feels natural and draws me into the world.
As well as expert teaching from published authors, all our three- and six-month novel-writing courses offer dedicated modules on submitting your novel to literary agents – and include sessions on writing a synopsis and preparing a covering letter. Click for more information or to apply for our creative writing courses.