I was sitting in a
room with fifty or so writers and three
publishers. It was a seminar for all writers, not
specifically aimed at writing for children.
Someone asked the
question: what do publishers want?
Silence. Every head was turned toward the three
The publishers looked at each other, blank
expressions on their faces. No one spoke at
first. Each publisher was probably waiting for
the other to speak.
Finally, one of the publishers said that she
didn't know what she wanted until it landed on
Great. That was a lot of help!
We kept at them, like a pack of dogs gnawing at
The publisher went on to say that she wanted
Terrific. All we had to do was paste sparkles to
If only it were that simple.
The publishers saw no escape. They had to answer
the question, to ward off the pack of ravenous
dogs. So they went on to explain.
What it came down to was this. Publishers want a
writer who can:
a) write well,
b) write more than one story, and
c) be professional.
They are also looking for that extra something.
Sparkle. Freshness. Originality.
My publisher said the same thing about writing
for children. He was looking for sparkle.
Freshness. Originality. And a surprise ending. He
loves surprise endings.
Okay. But what does this mean?
When pressed, the publishers defined sparkle,
freshness and originality as YOU. You bring a
special element to a story that is unique. Your
experience. Your personality. Your emotions.
No two people write the same story. We come at
the same topic from different backgrounds,
experience and personalities.
Pour yourself, your soul, into a story because
that is what makes it special. You.
As an author of more than 80 published children's
books, I will explain this further using my
experience as an example. But it doesn't matter
what genre you write, publishers want that extra
sparkle in a manuscript - you.
The idea for my novel Backstage
originated from a personal fear and my high
school memories of catty female behaviour. It was
impossible for me to write from my personal
experience without putting a lot of me - my soul
and my fear - into the story.
Laura is rehearsing for the school play in an old
theatre. She goes to the toilet and, while
inside, the lights go out. Everyone goes home and
Laura finds herself locked in the theatre.
Excerpts from Backstage
Darkness swirls around her - thick darkness, like
She hates staring into the darkness. It is so
black and unknown. She closes her eyes - it makes
her feel a little better. What should she do?
What can she do?
A floorboard creaks. This time it isn't coming
from her feet. It's further away, behind her, to
the right. Laura stops, holds her breath and
listens. Everything seems still except for
the pounding of her heart and the trembling of
her hands. Slowly turning around and squinting
into the darkness, Laura sees shadows. Some
shapes she recognises and some she doesn't. Is
All of the emotions that Laura feels are drawn
from my own experience and feelings of being
alone in the dark. I put myself in her place and
vividly imagined every scene. I felt her emotion.
It's fun exploring your fears through characters.
You get to experience the anxiety and insecurity
from the safety of your home. You get to do
things to characters that you wouldn't want
happening to you.
Experienced writers often tell newcomers to write
about what they know. One of the reasons is
because you can put so much more of yourself into
a story. I don't know what it's like to be locked
in a dark theatre. But I do know how the
darkness, night, strange environment and
unfamiliar noises can effect your imagination and
composure. I've experienced the feelings of being
alone in the dark and can draw on them to give my
story that extra sparkle.
However, it isn't easy pouring so much of
yourself into a story. You're bearing your soul
to the world and it can be an uncomfortable
experience having others read about something so
personal. You feel vulnerable. Exposed. But it's
the difference between writing a good book and a
great book. You must learn how to let go once the
story is finished.
If you want to be published submit what
publishers want - the unique sparkle that is you.