I’ve been thinking a lot over the last 4 months about how far we’ve come as an organisation, since I started a small, voluntary mentoring programme in late 2017.

It was done without much ambition, but with a lot of heart, well-meaning and positivity. We’ve grown since and while I’ve made a whole ton of mistakes – I really, really have – I am hopeful the positives outweigh the negatives.

But ultimately, I’m aware enough to know we’ve made some impact within the children’s writing community. And I hope our impact is known because of our openness, friendliness and the affordability and accessibility of what we offer.

Aside from our big summer mentoring programme, we’ve now expanded to offer affordable monthly Spark ⚡️ mentoring, short and longer online courses, a novel award and an online conference. Not to mention our brilliant quarterly magazine, which has just under 200 subscribers.

We tried to start (and were interrupted by Coronavirus) more in-person, UK-wide weekend events. These were mixed in terms of numbers attending (but always well received with 4.7/5 average feedback rating) and affordability. Something we will look to right if, and when, we are able to get back into in-person events.

Fortunately much of what we do is online, and so throughout the pandemic, I hope we’ve been able to offer many of you the opportunity to continue to be involved with us and the wider community, and have found our presence valuable.

But the time spent in the house has not been wasted, and I’ve spent a lot of planning for WM going forward – future-proofing our organisation so that we’re not just around for now, but for always.

I do not have limitless energy, patience and good will. And it’s with that in mind, I’ve brought Florianne Humphrey on board to help me with, and lead, different areas of what we do. She has helped me immensely in the last 10 months. I suspect without her help, advice and positivity, I’d maybe have given up…

The reality is that running WM is a LOT of work. It’s far more than a full-time job and it’s voluntary. In both 2018 and 2019, WM lost money. Quite a lot. I helped to plug those holes personally, because I believe in what we’re doing.

Those losses came mostly from my over-generosity. In my eagerness to help people, I don’t make the best financial decisions, and a recent count showed me that we’ve given away nearly £12,000 worth of scholarships, free places or entries and discounts on the various things we offer.

Clearly that was not sustainable.

As I say, between Florianne and I, we’ve discussed how to run things more sensibly, and while we won’t be able to afford the luxury of so much assistance going forward, we will continue to maintain our ethos of accessibility and affordability, as much as is financially viable.

So, that’s the boring stuff out of the way – it’s probably overshare, but I’m a huge believer in total transparency at every level. I am always honest but I am not always right. I do things with my heart rather than head and I leap before I check, almost every time. I think of it as passion, and eagerness to provide opportunities, rather than recklessness, and I hope that reflects in what we do.

To the future…

WriteMentor Summer Mentoring Programme

We don’t have plans to make massive changes on this front, but I am consciously aware that nothing can grow or reach new people, with a single person at the helm. So, I’ll be reviewing things at the end of this year’s programme with a view to gaining opinions and advice from people involved (and not) on how we can make the programme even better, even more inclusive and even stronger going forward.

Static (non-tutored) online courses and content

We’ve had discussions and requests from writers about making WM content more available for those who perhaps can’t do courses or intense mentoring. And we are currently working very hard on a static content platform, which will be tiered and progressive, and will link closely with our courses, but can also be accessed and used discretely. And of course, all of this will be available at an affordable level. We are due to launch this in January with beta testing before this.

We are also working on launching a child beta reading service. This is obviously tricky in terms of child protection etc, but it will work in a similar fashion to our kids feedback in the novel award, where children can earn book tokens in exchange for reading work from our community members. More specifics on this to follow later in the year.

Novel award(s)

The 2021 WriteMentor Children’s Novel Award is due to be split into two separate awards (as we’ve already announced) with a PB (Picture Book) and a novel award.

We will operate our usual feedback system for this year, then we will be altering things slightly, going forward.

We will be introducing a new, summer novel award which is for novels- or texts-in-progress.

Our Novel-In-Progress award will specifically aimed at those who are looking for some feedback from our adult and kid readers, and novels would not need to be completed, as the award would be given on the basis of the opening only.

Our Novel and PB awards would be for completed, polished manuscripts and so would involved the winners being judged on the full novel.

We hope that the two would be symbiotic in nature and offers two very different options for people, but we hope that you’d use both. More to come on both of these next year.

Online Writing Weekends

After the success of May’s online writing weekend, we’ve decided we’d like to hold these more often, especially in light of our current world circumstances.

We’d offer varied workshops and agents at each weekend, and would always try to accommodate PB and novelists alike.

Writing Retreat and Conference (in-person)

We had plans for both of these (on a small scale) for 2020 or 2021, but unfortunately both of these have had to be delayed, both in planning and implementation. We’d love to do more events where we meet each other. But when it is safe to do so, and if we get the appropriate funding, both of these will be back on the table.

Spark ⚡️ Mentoring

Our Spark mentoring programme has been a very changeable and evolving element to what we do. We have a great bunch of mentors and over the last two years we’ve had a lot of happy writers using the service. I’ve been receiving mentoring via the programme (I’m paying, don’t worry – no volunteer staff benefits here!😂) and can honestly profess for its worth. Again, it’s affordable and with no obligation in the long-term.

That said, we’re always looking to improve in every area and we’ve added a couple of new mentors lately to try and ensure we have greater coverage of the various age groups and genres our writers are looking for help with.

And a reminder we have a whole course with posts on various aspects, created by our mentors, for free. Click here.

WOWCON

I’ll start with a thank you to you, the person reading this. You’ve probably bought a ticket for WOWCON and supported us on starting an online conference last year, in 2019, before the whole industry HAD to go online. And I’ll always appreciate that.

It was a risk to do it, and make it so cheap to attend, while still trying to pay our professionals an appropriate fee (my thanks to Dave Rudden for his stellar advice on this actually!). And while we made a loss initially, with the community clogging together and buying some post-conference access, it brought us to the even mark.

It was that last act, which allowed to proceed this year with more confidence and a slightly expanded line-up.

And again, you have blown us away with your support. And in return, we are working hard behind the scenes to make it as good as it can be this year – a year in which we need all the positivity and good experiences we can muster!

It also means we know that WOWCON has a future. And for that, I thank you all again.

Magazine

This is the nice of the wonderful Florianne, who has taken on the idea of maybe doing a wee digital mag and has taken it and ran so far beyond what I expected. Every time she delivers a magazine full of wonderful, varied content and most importantly is aimed exclusively for children’s writers. And features YOU! Well, those of you who email Florianne to be featured in celebration corner. Please do more of this, big or small, we want to celebrate with you.

We remain digital, which keeps the costs down, but also means greater accessibility and as you know, those 2 things matter to us most. To date, we have nearly 200 subscribers and we hope that more of you will sign up. I simply cannot imagine a better £9.99 you could spend.

OTHER PLANS

We have other things in the pipeline – but sensibly, we’ve put the brakes on a few of them, planning to be more gradual going forward.

I just see so many things we can do to help and want to do them all. It’s my absolute flaw, but like any good character arc, I hope I am working towards overcoming that flaw throughout the span of this story.

As I say above, the success of WriteMentor isn’t about me, or any of our authors who’ve got deals, or any of the amazingly talented people we have involved, it’s about you, the developing writer – the one with the growth mindset, who takes every opportunity to learn and grow and bring those marvellous stories from our heads onto the pages of books that young people will read. And hopefully it will change their lives.

That’s we do all this for, to make the world our children grow up in, that little bit better and to teach them the moral lessons (through story) that they need to navigate the ever trickier world we live in.

Writing can lonely, but it doesn’t have to be.

May the Force be with all of you, for now and forever.