Just had to write to you after reading your two books, The Healing Time of Hickeys and The Cure for Crushes. What a fantastic read. Who couldn't help but love and relate to Haley and her trials and tribulations as a typical teenager! I laughed along with her antics, angst and general feelings of inadequacy. You certainly captured the essence of being a teenager.
I am currently starting on my lifelong dream to write pre-teen/teen books (though I work full-time outside the home) and I couldn't help but feel even more motivated after reading your fun and entertaining books. I'm trying to get my hands on every type of teen book that I can in order to gain an understanding of what works and what teens are looking for. It also probably helps that I currently have four teenagers in my home right now! :-)
Any hints/tips for getting started? I have some ideas of course, but not sure at what point you should submit these to a potential publisher. I like what I have read about Raincoast Books however I see they will only accept a Query letter initially. Is that how you started with them? Would you recommend starting with a Canadian publisher?
I am also currently enrolled in the Institute of Children's Literature course for writing children's stories, and am about half way through.
Any words of wisdom or feedback are gratefully accepted!
Yours in reading,
And a fellow westerner! :-)
This is a great question. Thanks for asking it. I also liked the generous helping of compliments that you opened with. Compliments usually help me want to answer questions sooner.
Now to the answer. I hope it was worth the wait. (Sorry.)
When you are starting out, you don't submit ideas to publishers at all. Most publishers (but I'm not a publisher so I can't speak for all of them) respond to queries -- and queries only -- and even then, this process can take ages. In the rare event that the query interests them, they expect to be looking at completed works before making purchasing decisions. And if they are interested (even if it's taken them six months to get back to you), you better have the whole thing ready for them to see or it will be gone and forgotten. Unless you are a genius with the most unique and fantastic idea in the known universe, no one is going to buy a partial YA fiction manuscript from a first-time novelist. At least, I've never heard of this happening. Which isn't to say it never happens. Maybe it does. It didn't happen to me.
I sold my first book to Orca Books based on a query, followed up by the complete manuscript. After that, I procured an agent (Carolyn Swayze) who took over the submitting and so on of my books to publishers. It took me seven books before I sold a publisher on an unwritten idea, and that was a series (the first book was submitted in full). I believe the golden rule is that non-fiction can be submitted as an idea, but fiction needs to be done. Complete. A nice tidy pile of white paper with appropriate margins and spacing. Black ink. Nice, clean font. These things are important, but not as important as the strength of your story.
As a Canadian, it's very very very hard to break into the US market. I would say that starting with a Canadian publisher is really your only option. US publishers are hit with millions of manuscripts a year, and from that they cull the best they can find and I guarantee that they will pick American manuscripts because then they don't have to deal with red-tape and unecessary and time-consuming complications. Once your book is published in Canada, you may then be in a position to re-sell it to a US publisher but getting your foot in that door is very, very hard. Or it is/was for me. Now I have an agent to do that so I don't know how hard it is, but I suspect it's still very hard. The competition is FIERCE. Here, too. But there are fewer of us here.
Honestly, the key to success is finishing the book and getting it out there for feedback. It can take an awful lot of rejection before the pieces fall into place, but keep trying! Good luck. And good luck with the four teenagers, too.