Children’s Author Meredith Costain Provides Tips for Success

When you’re doing everything you can to write an excellent story and then, to try and land that elusive publishing contract, it’s natural to focus on the initial stages of book creation. However, remember that once you do get a deal with a publisher, you have to work with an editor to ensure the book reaches its full potential, too.

Get Published spoke with prolific Australian children’s author Meredith Costain about how to work with editors effectively, and tips and tricks to try out when you get to this stage of the process.

When authors submit manuscripts to editors, what are some of the most common mistakes made?

1. Not following publisher guidelines. Most publishers have websites with detailed information for authors about their submission requirements. These cover things such as formatting, number of manuscripts to be sent at a time, whether hard copies or electronic copies should be sent, whether they are actually open for unsolicited material at that point in time, or how long before you can expect a response from them (to avoid follow-up queries from people submitting). Ignore them at your peril!

2. Submitting a manuscript that has been poorly laid out or that is riddled with typos or grammatical errors. First impressions definitely count!

3. Trying to make your submission ‘stand out’ from the crowd by sending it in a fancy folder, printing it in colour using a fancy font, or including ‘novelty items’ that tie in with your storyline such as beach sand, pressed flowers or a squeaky toy.

4. Assuring the editor that members of your family, or the class you read your story to at the school where you teach, adore your story – guaranteeing that everyone else will too! Or trying to include too much information in their cover letter. Editors are always short of time, and don’t have time to wade through pages of waffle. Stick to the basics.

For first-time authors, what are some tips for working with an editor?

Not only do editors have years of experience to share with you, they genuinely want to help you make your story the best it can be. They can help you to pinpoint plot holes, strengthen characters and structure, tighten up wandering sentences, and identify places where what you intended to say is still in your head rather than on the page.

Writers need to develop very thick skins – not only to cope with rejection, but also to deal with what they may perceive to be ‘criticism’ of their work. Try to remember that editing suggestions will always be ‘constructive’ criticism – editors aren’t out to bring you down for sport!

If there is a suggestion that you strongly disagree with, however, it’s fine to argue the point. But remember to remain professional at all times – provide reasons explaining why you think what you’ve written should stay, or evidence if you believe a grammatical error has been made. I’ve heard of deals dissolving due to writers refusing to have any changes at all made to their precious ‘masterpieces’.

Any advice to help authors develop good relationships with their editors, so they can work with them on future books?

Editors are usually working on many different books at one time. Be aware of this – perhaps put the title of your book in the subject line when emailing and don’t expect an immediate answer to your question. They might be finalising someone else’s book to go to the printer. If you are making changes to a manuscript, wait until you’ve completed these and send everything at once, rather than barraging your editor with a series of emails over several days.

Be flexible and open to suggestions – and do your best to meet your deadlines! Your editor will also be working to a strict timetable to fit your book – and those of others – into a publishing schedule. If your work is consistently late, it will throw everything else out of whack.

You write the popular Ella Diaries series, amongst others. Is there any difference when working with editors on series versus standalone books?

Working with an editor on a series of books over a longer period of time definitely allows you to build a stronger relationship. They understand your characters and can be very helpful when it comes to brainstorming new scenarios for them!

What’s next for you, Meredith?

Two new books have been released recently. The Super Secret Club is the fifteenth title in the Ella Diaries, a best-selling junior fiction series that helps readers negotiate their way through friendship and playground dramas.

The Big Chicken Mystery is the fifth book from my new series Olivia’s Secret Scribbles, featuring Ella’s feisty little sister, Olivia. This one has more of a STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) focus. Both feature quirky illustrations from Danielle McDonald.

Here more from Meredith Costain at: