Monday, April 11, 2011
Last week saw the launch of Undiscovered Voices – an anthology of unpublished and unagented children’s book writers organised by SCBWI UK. Apologies to our American readers, this competition isn’t one for you as it’s UK only – but hopefully you’ll find this post interesting as it’s also about what it takes to make it in the book business. The two subjects dovetail quite nicely.
UV has a special place in our hearts at Greenhouse. Sarah spotted and signed up Sarwat Chadda and Harriet Goodwin after judging the first anthology in 2008. And both authors have gone on to build thrilling careers and make us very proud.
For the second time running I’ll be on the judging panel and I can’t wait. It’s a fun, invigorating and eye-opening job, and the process also reveals a truth about our industry: in order to make it, you have to write something that another person is prepared to fight for.
Of course, the book business is a subjective one. You might not think too much of the book I love; I might feel a bit ‘blah’ about the book you’re raving about. When judging a writing competition you get to see that subjectivity up close and personal.
A couple of months before the judging on the 2010 anthology all of the six judges received a giant Jiffy bag filled with partials delivered to our offices. We had plenty of time to read through them, make notes, pick our favourites and think on our reasoning – and also to put aside the ones we weren’t so keen on. On judgment day everyone sat down around a table with bottles of (untouched) wine, clutching our top picks and brimming over with excitement for the job at hand.
Would it be a surprise if I told you that most judges had a different favourite? And a good few times it was a favourite that the other judges had discounted right at the first stage? As each of us went through our top picks there was nodding and agreement but also a fair bit of shaking heads and wide-eyed surprise.
Every writer who made it to the anthology was working at a high level, with a great many compliments to take home. Below are a few of the stories we talked about, and the reasons why they made it to the final 12.
FIFTEEN DAYS WITHOUT A HEAD – Fabulous title with a stand-out, original voice.
BLINDING DARKNESS – Contained one of the most sinister and memorable scenes of the anthology.
THE TRUTH ABOUT CELIA FROST – Started with some great drama and a dark, original premise.
BACK FROM THE DEAD – Punchy, poetic introduction and alarming, immediate first scene.
In the UV anthology there is no winner, there are 12 selected writers. And while we managed to bang out a fairly good consensus on the majority, getting to an agreement on the last few was like the UN. I wouldn’t say there was a lot blood on the walls of the judging room, but there were splatters.
I think every judge’s favourite made it through to the final 12. I made sure mine did. But the books which didn’t have a champion – a judge who put energy and a bit of fight behind them – fell out of the bottom. And that’s true of the industry as a whole. A champion is what a book needs from an agent and a publisher. And also a publicist and marketeer, a rights team and sales force, a bookseller, a librarian. A reader too. All these people have to have a bit of fight in them about the book, if it’s to become a success.
It really is a truth of our business. Not everyone is going to like a book, but a book doesn’t need to be liked. A book needs a fair few people to love it, like really LOVE it. To be prepared to back it, push, pull and defend it. It’s truly inspiring so see that play out on judgment day.
I’m counting the days till I get my Jiffy bag!