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5 mistakes every first-time author makes

Remember the first time you rode a bike? Or perhaps the first time you wrote an essay? Doing anything for the first time is challenging, and you're bound to make mistakes. Children's authors, ahoy! We wrote this post to try to prevent the most common ones. 

After a hugely successful first few months of manuscript assessments (did you know that one of the authors we worked with for the assessments is now getting published!? woohoo), we're LOVING all of the beautiful stories that we get to examine in detail. But after seeing many hundreds of stories, our editor Leanne is starting to notice some common mistakes...

...So in the hope that you don't make them, we thought we'd share them here. First-time authors, read this list carefully before submitting: 

Mistake 1: Not sticking to the fundamentals of storytelling 

Let's be honest, conceptual children's story books really touch our hearts. Think If You Came to Earth by Sophie Blackall, or, closer to home, Stuart French's The Day We Went to Away. Story books with strong concepts like this are memorable and magical, and feel like a warm hug. But oh-boy, they can be difficult to execute. 

We're finding at the moment that we receive a lot of conceptual manuscripts, but very few outstanding ones. This could be quite simply because they are so difficult to execute, but in a nutshell, we are seeing that a lot of manuscripts are vague and broad in their concept, but lack strong direction and pacing. 

In fact, we're seeing this so much that our editors have gone as far as to say that they think that first-time authors should consider staying away from this type of story. 

Our children's book manuscript assessment editor Leanne recommends: 

"Not every story needs a character or plot, but it's always a great place to start. 

You need to understand the foundations and fundamentals of storytelling before you can start to break the rules." 

Mistake 2: Thinking that every story needs to rhyme 

We're a big fan of the good old rhyming story here at Ethicool! In fact, it's been responsible for a number of our best-sellers, including Remembering Mother Nature and When Grandma Was the Moon. 

However, not every story need to rhyme, and if the quality of the rhyme isn't good, then sometimes, you're simply better off not using it. 

This doesn't mean, however, that your language has to be boring. There are countless different poetic devices you can use in your writing to make it more literary and appealing, and Leanne often shares these with authors during her assessments as ways to vastly improve their writing. 

Mistake 3: Submitting the first manuscript you've ever written 

Firstly, we so get this. And GUILTY. But still, it's not something we recommend first-time authors do. 

It's totally normal to be excited once you've written something, and writing is no easy task. But still, it's sometimes best to take a step back and ask yourself how you might be able to improve your manuscript, or even ask a few friends (or children in your life!). According to our editor Leanne, there's a huuuggeee difference between manuscripts that have been edited once (even self-edited), and ones that are totally fresh. 

Mistake 4: Thinking too much outside of the box

Of course, it's important that any story submitted to Ethicool (or anywhere else!) is original. But lately, we've seen swathes of stories that are a little too out there to be relatable. Think stories written about obscure animals that no one has ever heard of, or around witch craft practices that are just plain spooky! 

At the end of the day, stories that are the most near and dear to us are those that have the ability to connect to our lives and offer a sense of relatability. On this point, Leanne says: 

"Making characters extremely whimsical or wacky for no particular reason and with no relation to the pilot story might make them stand out, but not for the right reasons." 

Mistake 5: Not doing enough research before writing 

Again, it's so easy to get excited when you're writing, and this is something we all relate to. BUT. And there's a big but. 

When you're starting out, it really pays to go back to basics. That is, learn the fundamentals, figure out what picture books you love, and ask yourself why. It's really clear to us when someone has rushed in with their manuscript and the idea is simply not well-thought out. 

And with that, we're off to our Submissions inbox to see what's there! A reminder that if you are a first-time author (or even if you've published before but you're not sure why your latest story isn't getting noticed), we strongly recommend a manuscript assessment to give yourself the best chance of being noticed. 

You never know, your story might be published by us ... or elsewhere! 


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