By Carolyn Ward & Emma Finlayson-Palmer
Considering getting your children’s book edited?
Stuck and unsure about where you are up to? Or what ‘editing’ even means?
Come talk to us at Write Mentor to discover how you can easily get an honest and kind appraisal of your book.
Write Mentor is an organisation where kindness is in everything we do. The Write Mentor Spark editors follow the same basic guideline – working with kindness and honesty. We are here to bring our experience to best help you and get your manuscript in the best shape it can be.
Importantly, all of our Spark editorial team are experienced in writing for children for all age groups and genres. They are also skilled at querying agents, have editorial experience with agents and publishers and are confident and positive about working collaboratively. Some have specific experience that can help specific requests – such as Own Voices support or sensitivity reading.
At Spark we work in a completely bespoke way – if you need a polish, a limp start sorting, a saggy middle to tighten or an end to be rejigged, we can help. There are fifteen Spark editors and you can be matched with the most suitable one or use the guide and links to select your own.
It is such an honour to be able to read these new stories, and to work with so many different authors. I enjoy working with all age ranges, and all genres.
First, I read through the work I’m sent, and think deeply about what the story is. How can it be clearer, sharper, more readable? What can be tightened, what needs more explanation? I work initially as a fresh-eyed reader, able to see new angles and inspire new ideas.
As a reader I expect certain beats and structural features, and will have gut reactions about when something works well, is funny, has made me feel an emotion, or where something misses the mark – and why. I always note these revelatory moments on the manuscript.
After the read through I think and consider what really hits hard – and begin to make notes about the key things – characters, plot, voice, pacing, dialogue, style, stakes.
I have been editing for four years now, and have had the pleasure of working with clients from Australia, America and the UK. I have worked on books from every age group from PB to YA, and I think it helps that I have also written in these age groups. I’ve edited all sorts of books and short pieces, and even a children’s interactive website. The Spark team has editors available who are able to work with all projects.
I think the most common advice I give to my writers is to read freshly published children’s books in your genre. Don’t necessarily buy them – although if you do this means you can annotate them to note things like character points and the inciting incident. Your local library is a totally free goldmine of children’s writing. Ask yourself – why was this published? How does the story fit together? What happens at chapter endings and at the ending of the book? Is my voice comparable, is it consistent for the age group I am writing for?
There are so many elements to a good children’s book – not least a hooky, original idea, believable characters and exciting settings. It needs stakes high enough to drive a plot which surprises and delights. There must be a satisfying (usually) happy ending!
The most important strength that I have as an editor is that I LOVE it. I love reading and considering new things and getting to explain my thoughts. I love having an author come back to me and say – yes, I get it… I really see what I can do now.
I feel incredibly privileged to be able to work with so many amazing writers, from those just starting out on their journey, through to those who have written multiple books and are looking for fresh eyes. I have been editing for about four years now and have experience working with editors in publishing houses, SCBWI critique groups and beta readers. I have worked with writers from across the globe on stories for all age groups. Many of the Spark editors will have a similar range of experience.
Fresh eyes on your work are invaluable. When you work with an editor you are working with someone who has a wealth of experience that they can bring to your work and give you insight and new perspectives, perhaps on aspects of your writing that it’s sometimes impossible to see when you’re deep into the editing. Sometimes it’s hard to see the wood from the trees or the comma from the semi-colon in your writing so let us Spark editors do that for you.
I’m excited by stories that are written with passion and heart and this shows in the writing. Writing about things you love and enjoy really shows in your writing.
One of my biggest pieces of advice for other writers is to read. It sounds a silly thing to say to people who are already so passionate about the written word, but reading stories published recently in your chosen age group and genre is absolutely vital to seeing what works and what is already out there. These books form a type of mentor and template for you to follow and understand what works in terms of structure, pacing, dialogue and so on, and I can’t recommend enough how important it is to read widely.
QUICK SPARK – IS IT FOR ME?
Quick Spark is a full edit of your entire book in one go. This is quite a different option to the monthly Spark edit support – where a Spark editor works with a writer for a longer period – anything from a few months for a quick rewrite to several years across multiple projects.
Quick Spark can take anything from a couple of days to a month, and if you have time constraints, we can often offer an expedited service to speed the process to hit deadlines for competitions, or agent 1-2-1s for example.
We offer detailed edits on structure, beginnings, endings, plot, style and voice. We look at pacing, readability, characterisation and character arcs. We sniff out stakes- could they be higher? Is the story exciting, gripping, entertaining? There is so much that needs to come together to make a strong story. We can assess marketability, originality, age-appropriateness, and offer answers and ideas and suggestions to strengthen what you have already created. Spark editors can suggest books that could have similar content that would be good for researching your age group or genre. Sometimes these suggestions would work well for comparison novels for when you query agents, as some like to know where your story would sit in the current market.
When we edit we read and critique to the standard that a literary agent would expect to see in a good submission. We will offer suggestions to cut, to add, to rejig, and to think more deeply about. As standard we work with Word, using the comments bar and track changes, so the suggestions are really clear, precise and easily accessible. Sometimes editors may suggest writing exercises that will help you work on a specific area in your draft, or develop a particular area of your writing. For a full edit this would also come with an editorial report that will both summarise the comments and changes on your document, but also expand on them so you have a report to refer to as you edit with lots of information that will help your story to shine.
All edits are suggestions, and the author remains in complete creative control. You can choose to act on or ignore the suggestions; as ultimately your editor is providing you with insight and comments that are there to hone and improve your writing, but you also need to choose what is right for you and your vision for your story. It is always worth taking your time with edits, allowing the suggestions time to sink in to see if they really fit, or if they spark something new and different.
For a full development edit and report via Quick Spark you can expect your Spark editor to read the full story, add comments and track changes throughout. You will also receive an accompanying report which will vary in length depending on how many notes and suggestions your manuscript requires, but this could be anything from 2 or 3 pages to 12 or so. The report will look at areas that need strengthening, such as plot, characterisation, voice, dialogue, setting, structure, character arcs, pacing, and although developmental edits aren’t a proofread as such, we will usually flag up any typos or areas of grammar that we feel need addressing.
For a submission package report your Spark editor will usually look at the opening three chapters of your story, or a set amount from the start as this is what an agent will initially be looking for. We will also look at your synopsis and query letter, and hone this with you so they are strong and showcase your story so that its unique selling point is clear. The whole aim is to make it as appealing to potential agents as possible. The comments and suggestions will be made on your documents using track changes, and an accompanying overview will usually be included either on your document or as a separate attachment if necessary.
Payment is by direct bank transfer or Paypal, and Stuart will ask if you have an editor in mind, or will select the most appropriate for your project. There is the option to ask some questions via email after your edit, but all Spark editors work hard to make sure their suggestions are clear and well explained. Each edit will be tailored to your individual needs and the price will be based on both your individual requests and the total word count.
Ultimately, editing should be fun and working with an editor can help you hone and polish your story into something amazing. If you feel you would like to explore these editorial options, go for it. Let the Spark editorial team at #WriteMentor help your story “SPARKle”! 😊
Emma Finlayson-Palmer lives in the West Midlands with her husband and a multitude of children, cats and chickens. A writer of children’s fiction, with a special love of chapter books, and has been editing for over four years, she is represented by Veronique Baxter of the David Higham agency. Emma runs #ukteenchat, a writing themed chat on Twitter, and has been a #WriteMentor mentor from its inaugural year and now edits, mentors and reads competition entries for both the #WriteMentor Children’s Novel Award and the short story competition for the #WriteMentor magazine. She’s also one half of Word Witches with fellow mentor and editor, Carolyn Ward.
Carolyn Ward studied for an English degree before working in retail management in the Midlands and Manchester. Now settled near Wolverhampton, she is represented by Thérèse Coen at Hardman and Swainson for her MG writing. She became a pioneer member of Write Mentor in its first year, and has mentored and edited hundreds of writers from all over the world with stories from PB to YA.