Dear Auntie Hot Key

Dear Auntie Naomi –

I’m a young person who really wants to write fiction for Young Adults. I’ve written a book but I’m finding it really difficult to find anywhere that takes on unsolicited manuscripts. What’s worse, half the time I send things in and no one ever gets back to me.

What do you think I should do? I love writing, but I’m getting really disheartened with all this rejection!

Sad in Sandringham

Don’t get frustrated!

Dear Sad in Sandringham –

I really feel for you! It is so difficult to get published, and I know it can feel like the industry is impossible. First of all, well done for having finished the book! That’s really impressive, and you should keep that in mind – lots of people TALK about writing books without ever actually doing it, so you’ve kind of won half the battle!

You say you’re finding it hard to find somewhere taking unsolicited manuscripts – well, have you tried sending your book to agents? As you’ve clearly already discovered, most publishing houses will not accept manuscripts from an author without an agent, and there are numerous reasons for this, one of the most important being that YOU the author are in a much more stable position if you have an agent. You are more protected legally, you are more likely to get a better deal, and it is the agent who will do all of the hard work sending out the manuscript and persuading publishers you’re the next big thing!

The other big reason why many publishers won’t take un-agented manuscripts is simply a matter of quality. If a book has come from an agent, it has already been ‘vetted’ and is therefore likely to be pretty good.

This unfortunately brings me to my next piece of advice – if you have found that your book has been widely rejected by both agents and publishers it might be time to start afresh on another book. I know that is probably really horrible to hear, but try to take it as a positive – keep going, maybe write something a bit different and read lots and lots of children’s and young adult fiction so you get a feel for what’s popular at the moment. That said, DON’T write something just because you think it has commercial potential – that’s one of the worst reasons to write a book! I know that if you love your characters and the story you’ve written it can be hard to let them go, but think of all the new stories and characters just waiting to be discovered by you – I’m sure you’ll find you’ve got lots of fresh ideas once you start putting pen to paper on a new book.

I’m sorry to hear you haven’t been getting any communication with publishers. I always try to write a nice rejection note as I think it’s polite, but do bear in mind that big publishing houses can get hundreds of submissions a day so it would be impossible to get back to everyone. Also, if you get a personal rejection note, take it as a positive (hard as that might be!) as it means you stood out enough for someone to take the time to do one.

As a final bit of advice, you might want to try joining a writing group for a bit of extra practice, or going on a writing course. There are also writing consultancies, but please do check their credentials before you part with your money. You could look to the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCWBI) group ( ) who run meet ups, evening events and online critiques. The Writers and Artists Yearbook ( ) has brilliant advice for aspiring writers, where you can also match your project to an agent that is looking for your type of work. A great blog for aspiring authors is Notes From The Slush Pile ( which was started several years ago by the now very published (and Carnegie long-listed) Candy Gourlay.

And whatever you do… don’t give up!