Children's Fiction Competition: How to Get your Manuscript in Tip-Top Shape!

Posted by Rachel L on Wednesday August 19th, 2015

Thinking of entering the Times/Chicken House Children's Fiction Competition? Editorial Director Rachel Leyshon shares her top tips on what you should do before sending your manuscript off ... 

So you’ve typed that last full stop, written ‘The End’, and printed out your manuscript. The euphoria! Phew! You can hardly believe that the surprisingly chunky – yet beautiful – pile of crisp white paper is covered with your very own words (hopefully all of them in the right order). Sometimes it’s good to be old school.

And even though most editors read on Kindles and edit on-screen, at this time of year in the Coop we love watching the pile of manuscripts grow, just as it used to when I first started in publishing –  before most publishers shut down their slush piles and everything became electronic.

But just before you put your precious into the jiffy bag and take it to the post office – that final, irretrievable, terrifying step – pause.

It is true, as Leonardo da Vinci said, that art is never finished only abandoned – but as the editor also said, one more day won’t hurt … (This also is the point at which my colleagues usually start singing Frozen’s ‘Let it Go’ …)

Watch Barry’s video on what’s really important to us at the Chicken House – voice, central idea, true child-appeal – but in terms of the practicalities, here’s some final advice, and for this you will need something that’s in short supply for any author who’s recently finished a novel-length story: a fresh pair of eyes. Being objective is incredibly difficult for every writer, but close though you are to your story by now it’s important to try to see your book from the outside, as it were.

So put the jiffy bag away – sorry – and instead take your printout to a comfortable, quiet place. Put a notebook by your side for when literary inspiration strikes. Do not sit at your computer. Disconnect all social media. Banish the outside world for as long as is possible. Do not edit your novel for the millionth time (no editor will mind a few typos if the idea and the writing are brilliant). Instead:

1. Be a reader. This sounds strange, but try to see your novel from the point of view of a reader who’s never heard of you. Ask yourself: would this story appeal, entertain or even make sense to your imaginary child – emotionally as well as narratively? At what points do you laugh, cry or cringe? (Be honest.) What would you say about it if you were taking part in a book club?

2. Think about pace & structure. You don’t have to stick to any particular structure in writing – though these can work very well if you’re beginning a story or if you find yourself in a writing crevasse – but it is important to identify whether there are any long sections in which nothing important happens. Is there a satisfying end, a gripping beginning, and lots of incident in the middle? Are there any good surprises for the reader?

3. Murder the undeserving. Do all your characters justify their place on their stage? Too many will make the story feel cluttered and confusing – how annoying it is to have to turn back 100 pages to remember who a character is. Do you have characters that actually (when you think about it) fulfil the same role?

4. Read scenes aloud. Especially the ones that are niggling you. Once you hear yourself stumble you will know what to change. Reading to children is just as good – the minute they start to yawn or fidget (or in extreme cases tell you they’re really, REALLY bored and is there anything to eat) you know it’s time to get out the scalpel (or the axe).

5. Write two lists. One summarising the novel’s strengths and another outlining its weaknesses. Hopefully, the former will be longer ...

Enter the competition for the chance to win a £10,000 publishing contract! Visit our submissions page for more details. 

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