I can’t thank all the amazing booksellers at Waterstones enough for championing Small! from the start – from hosting the launch party to inviting me in for events and letting me scrawl my name inside their copies. I’ve loved every second.
Giant thanks also go to:
my brilliant indie publisher, Everything With Words. It’s great to be flying the flag for small (but mighty) presses with this prize
Rory Walker, Small’s illustrator. So much of the book’s humour comes from Rory’s wonderfully daft artwork – he brings the words to life in ways I could never have imagined
my agent, Lydia Silver, for believing in Small! (even when the big publishers turned it down). It wouldn’t have found a home without her.
Waterstones announces the overall winner on 30th March. Until then, expect me to pop up with my book stamps and signing pen in Waterstones branches everywhere.
Here’s a mini gallery of my signing excursions so far.
This Christmas Eve, the lovely Emma Suffield invited me to do a Q&A on her brilliant blog. Take a sneak peak here, then head to Emma’s page to read the rest (and discover lots of other interviews, too).
I’ve always loved writing. But it was watching Neil Gaiman’s Make Good Art speech on YouTube that spurred me on to be an author
2022 was my book’s debut year and I was determined to enjoy it! Sometimes, there were big things to cheer about – like being The Bookseller’s One toWatch or The Sunday Times’ Children’s Book of the Week. (I’m well aware how lucky I am that my little book had such a great start, and I’ll be eternally grateful to my publisher for working so hard to get SMALL! in front of the right people.)
But I celebrated the quieter moments just as much. The first bookshop to share pre-order links for SMALL! (Thank you Rocketship Bookshop!). The Instagram message from a mum telling me how much her daughter loved my book. My first school assembly. Running a ‘create a swamp creature’ workshop for three boys who didn’t want to leave. And, very occasionally, readers coming to my workshops on purpose. I’ll be honest, I usually roped in any children who happened to be nearby when I was about to start.
This year has been full of little wins and whether you’re publishing your first book or fifty-seventh, holding on to those moments will make every late night editing push or plot-hole-panic worth it.
2. Take joy in other authors acing it
I feel there’s one rule that all authors who want happy lives should follow: don’t compare yourself to other authors. If someone else has more sales, is on more shortlists or takes home more prizes, cheer for them. When a few authors in my debut group were nominated for the Carnegie, I genuinely squealed over my breakfast. One of the biggest joys I’ve had this year is seeing so many brilliant debut children’s authors doing brilliantly. And a win for any one of them feels like a win for all of us, as it shows children, teachers, booksellers and librarians are giving new, non-celebrity books a chance. That’s got to be worth cheering, right?
3. Give and share where you can
Giving your time as an author isn’t entirely selfless. When I write letters to schools, do I hope a few pupils might buy my book? Of course. When I create downloadable games and activities on my website, do I hope they’ll encourage teachers to use SMALL! in the classroom? Yup. And when I run events in bookshops, do I hope a few of the families that come will also buy my book? Absolutely.
As an author, there’s an obvious benefit to giving your time. But those little acts aren’t selling copies for me in the thousands, hundreds or even the tens most of the time. Instead, I hope they’re getting a few children excited about reading, as well as writing their own stories.
I had no idea just how much time promoting a book takes. This might vary a bit depending on the kind of marketing budget you have and whether there’s a team making resources for you. But if you’re eager to do things yourself, you could lose days:
making a website – if you’re building your own, leave lots of time for it
writing letters to schools
blogging, tweeting, TikToking etc
creating activities to go with your book
agonising about any of the things on that list you haven’t done yet.
I’ve loved promoting SMALL! But I’ve also struggled to get the balance between writing and promoting right. The result is that I almost always feel guilty about the things I’m not doing.
That guilt extends to the many fab books I know I’m not reading and shouting about, too. My TBR pile has never been bigger.
Going into 2023, I’ve promised to be kinder to myself and accept I can’t do everything. I’ll also try not to use promoting as an excuse to avoid the harder job of actually writing a new book…
5. Pick a good signing pen
In Goldilocks style, it took me three goes to find mine.
My first pen looked nice but the ink blotted into the pages.
My second pen didn’t blot, but the nib was too thick for my handwriting.
The third pen (a fineline version of pen two) is perfect. Here’s a pic of my Ultra Fine Sharpie in all its glory.
6. Ask for reviews
Amazon reviews – if you get over the magic 50 – help more people find your book. Even though loads of people have said lovely things about SMALL! I’m nowhere near that number.
I’ve posted occasional tweets asking for reviews and reminding everyone that you can buy SMALL! from Waterstones or your local indie and still review it on Amazon. But I’m fairly sure I’m asking in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The problem is that reviewing isn’t on most people’s radars. Before getting a book deal, I don’t think I’d ever left an Amazon review – even for books I LOVED. Looking back, I reckon my best chance to get reviews would have been to ask the parents at my events. It’s something I’ll try and do more of next year.
In the meantine, if you’re looking for a gift for me(!) or another author in your life this festive season, head to Amazon and leave a review. It won’t cost you a penny and it’ll mean the world to them.
Authors, what do you wish you’d known before you published your debut? Share your wisdom for other debuts in the replies.
The Rocketship Bookshop will always hold a special place in my heart. It was the first shop to post pre-order links for SMALL! months before anyone else was even talking about it. And it was the first shop I visited to sign copies, which was another pinch-me moment.
Jo, the owner really knows her stuff. She hosts all kinds of events and does gorgeous picturebook readings. And, oh, the wrapping! Order online and she’ll wrap your books beautifully – often with paper and bows that colour-cordinate with your chosen bookcovers.
If you’re looking for the perfect children’s book, Jo will find it.
I’ve visited lots of branches of Waterstones in the last few months (and have loads more on my list) but Emma Pullar in the Ashford branch is extra special. She’s been the biggest champion of SMALL! but also of so many children’s authors I love. She posts great recommendations on Instagram and Twitter and has a packed calendar of book events in her branch.
I was thrilled to run one of my first ‘Create a Swamp Ceature’ sessions for SMALL! with her. And because she’d worked so hard to tell young readers about the book beforehand, I met my first bookworm who’d already read it. (As a debut, I’m used to drumming up event interest from children and grown ups who happen to be in the store when I’m there. The idea of children coming to meet me … on purpose still feels extraordinary.)
Huge thanks also go to the other Waterstones branches who’ve hosted events with me, including Harrow (twice!), Salisbury and Worcester. And Filipa and the Trafalgar Square team hosted the most fabulous launch for SMALL! too.
Should you decide to move house based on whether or not moving means you’ll get a local children’s bookshop at the end of the road?
I think so.
I’m a creature of habit and felt seriously wobbly about leaving the one-bed flat my husband and I were in for the last nine years. Even though the whole working, eating, cooking, living in the same room thing had lost it’s charm about a week into the pandemic.
So was getting an extra room to write in what clinched the move for me? Nope (although now I have it, its amazing). It was Ottie and the Bea. It’s an absolutely delightful bookshop and toy shop a short walk from my new home. It stocks plenty of children’s books – including signed copies of SMALL! – as well as an adorable range of traditional toys that would make perfect Christmas pressies for little ones. The moment I saw it I thought, yes, I could live here. (The area, not the shop, although if the owner, Julia were willing…😁)
No book launch party these days is complete without book cakes. These personalised vanilla sponges were just perfect. They arrived bang on time, tasted great and added a splash of colour to the snack table. EatYourPhoto deliver quickly too (which was a huge relief after the first company I tried let me down).
I’ve been wearing my book necklace everywhere – especially when I know I’ll be dropping into a bookshop and asking to sign copies of Small! I’m not entirely sure what the booksellers make of me when I walk in madly pointing at my neck saying, ‘I wrote this! Honest! Can I sign it?’ But no one’s arrested me yet and, on the whole, it’s been a pretty good icebreaker.
If a writer in your life has a book out soon, and you can get your hands on the cover artwork, I’m sure a gift from NewLeaf (whether you choose the necklace, earrings or pin badge) will go down well.
Another thing that’s all the rage for authors on Instagram is book stamping. So, naturally, I gave it a try – creating a simple reward stamp that could have come straight from one of the teachers at Madame Bogbrush’s School for Gifted Giants.
And (as long as I keep the book VERY steady as I stamp) it’s worked well.* I’ve also noticed booksellers really like it. Lots have commented that children aren’t always interested in a signature squiggle, but they do like seeing the stamps.
I designed mine on Canva then loaded the design to getstamped.co.uk.
*Apologies if you’re the person who picked up my one smudged copy from Waterstones in Salisbury on my first day of stamping…
What are your favourite bookish accessories or launch day treats? Share your ideas in the replies.
Rory is an absolute marvel. I’m convinced most illustrators would have heard the brief, ‘can you draw me a friendly undead elephant with a visible skeleton and shimmery shadow memory of its former body’ and run a mile.
His madcap cartoonist style couldn’t be a more perfect fit for Small! I was in love the moment my editor, Mikka, shared Rory’s first rough sketches last summer. And the final designs bring so much fun to the story – I hope young (and old) readers will giggle as much as me when they see them.
All the illustrations on the cover appear in black and white inside the book. And if you take a look at Rory’s website, you might get a sneak peek of a few more, including every author’s dream – a map!
2. The cover designer
Sometimes your illustrator will be your cover designer too, but not always. (After all, they’re very different skills – I wouldn’t ask a pastry chef to whip me up a bouillabaisse.)
The colour, the lettering and the layout of the Small! cover were all Holly’s vision. I don’t think it’s easy working with someone else’s illustrations to create something new – but Holly’s design really pops. I totally LOVE it, and I hope you do, too.
3. The cover revealer
Jo Clarke aka BookloverJo
Not every book has an official ‘cover reveal’, but adding one to your publishing calendar is a fun way to keep the excitement going between your book announcement and the actual launch. And it helps people recognise your book when it lands in the shops.
My cover reveal happened on Twitter this afternoon, courtesy of the lovely BookloverJo. Jo is a school librarian, kidlit book blogger and soon-to-be debut author herself. Jo’s first book, Libby and the Parisian Puzzle publishes on 3rd March with Firefly press and you can pre-order now in all good bookshops.
Jo is an expert cover revealer, having done many a reveal before mine. And why do so many authors like me call on her? Well, as a librarian and blogger, Jo definitely has ‘kidlit influencer’ status. By revealing the cover, Jo’s not just making the moment feel even more special, she’s also helping lots more people see it. Thank you, Jo!
Disclaimer: In the spirit of my ‘three things’ format, I’ve stuck to describing three people who’ve had a big impact on the cover. But of course, huge thanks go to my publisher for teaming me up with such talent, and my agent for sharing her advice and artistic wisdom along the way, too. Publishing a book really is a team sport…
I’ve loved learning about cover design over the last few months. Do you have a favourite illustrator, cover designer or cover? Tell me about them in the replies.
When we’re still filled with festive cheer and the stress of the day job is a distant memory, it’s easy to set rigid writing goals. Sticking to them when reality bites is a whole different matter.
So, in 2022, I’ve decided NOT to set a daily word-count goal, or even to commit to writing daily. The chances are, I’ll still write most days because 1) I love it, 2) I feel genuinely sad when I’m not writing. But if work or life gets in the way sometimes, I won’t be beating myself up about it.
Instead, I’ll write my socks off whenever I can, and I’ll stay focused on big overall goals (like writing a sequel and pitching a non-fiction book). Then I’ll get there in whatever way I can, no matter how scrappily.
Fill your notebooks
Notebooks are there to be written in. (Yes, even the ones with the fancy hardback covers and gold sprayed edges.) This year, I refuse to be intimidated by the beauty of a notebook, and neither should you. It’s your words that make notebooks valuable. Fill them. Fill them. Fill them.
Be the writer only you can be
In 2022, I’m going to try really, really hard not to compare myself to other writers, or read their books and come away thinking things like, ‘Their words are so beautiful, I wish I could write lyric poetry…’
Instead, I’ll cheer and champion every writer’s brilliance (something I try and do already). Then I’ll get back to being the chaotic, daft and generally bonkers writer I already am.
It’s easy to dismiss your own writing style, especially if it comes easily to you. For ages, I thought ‘well anyone could write like this, everyone else must be choosing not to.’ It’s only really since early reviews have come in for my debut middle grade book, Small! that I’m starting to think that my particular brand of storytelling might actually be my strength.
Whatever your writing style, I hope you embrace it in 2022. I’ll be right here to cheer you on.
(PS if you fancy reading a bit of bonkers MG, you can pre-order Small! with the lovely Rocketship bookshop.)
What are your writing resolutions? Share them in the replies
Pantser (n) someone who writes by making things up as they go along (or flying by the seat of their pants)
1. It takes the pressure off
I’m writing a sequel at the moment. Which basically means, I’m filled with ‘second album syndrome’ fear, and piling the pressure on myself. Or, I was. Then I signed up for NaNoWriMo and swapped screen fright for scribbling.
National Novel Writing Month was made for pantsers – how else can you scramble your way to 50,000 words in a month? It’s a glorious, community-driven, slightly sleep-depriving way to write. But it’s also bags of fun. By Tuesday night, when I finally crossed the finish line, I had loads more words than I needed (my sequel won’t be more than 30,000). I was also bursting with ideas for the next draft.
2. It gives your brain room to roam
That’s the joy of pantsing. When you’re not following a carefully plotted plan, there’s nothing stopping you taking your story in any direction you like. I started November with a vague idea of what might happen. But almost all my favourite scenes now are things I’d never even considered a month ago. When I’m going for quantity, not quality, I can pull all sorts of weird (and hopefully wonderful) ideas from the depths of my brain.
Pantising is taking the scenic route rather than powering down a motorway. It’s not the fastest way through a book, but the view’s so much better.
3. It gives you something to edit
Nothing beats fear of the blank page like a quick and dirty first draft. The sooner you get some words down, the sooner you can knock them into shape.
A month of pantsing has been absolutely brilliant. Now I’m (just about) ready for the proper plotting begin.
Are you a plotter or a pantser? Let me know in the replies.