Everybody has a story, but if you want to share yours with the world in the form of a book, how do you get that book on the shelves of the best bookshops in Singapore? Want to turn your dreams of being a published author into a reality? I have a few of my own books-to-be in living my computer too, so for all fellow aspiring authors, I spoke to local authors Catherine Carvell, Emma Nicholson, Sarah Mounsey and David Seow to find out how they made their breakthrough and became published authors of popular children’s books.
PS: Looking for great reads for your little ones? Don’t miss our list of all-time favourite children’s fiction, kids’ storybooks set in Singapore, kids’ bookstores in Singapore and our favourite books for babies and toddlers!
Catherine Carvell, author of Darcy Moon and the Deep-fried Frogs
“Darcy Moon and the Deep-fried Frogs was released in March 2014. It was my first published book, and a life-long dream come true. Getting published has been absolutely one of the most exciting and rewarding things that has ever happened to me.
I first started writing in 2008. I wrote when the babies slept. I scribbled in notebooks in the dead of night. I ignored the dishes and dusty floors. I joined writing groups, critique groups and online writing courses. Every sentence I wrote felt like a victory. I was chasing my dreams and enjoying every minute.
In 2010 I had a completed manuscript and, at the same time, discovered we were moving to Singapore. Changing countries with two children under five kept me busy, and when I finally had time to look at my manuscript again, I was able to see it with fresh eyes. I rewrote the whole thing!
I kept editing and getting feedback through every avenue I could (competitions, conferences, panels, peers: competitions are a really great way to get your words into the right hands and give yourself a chance of being discovered!) and in early 2012, I had a manuscript ready. I researched publishers religiously. Who was accepting unsolicited manuscripts? What sort of titles did they publish? What was the difference between a cover letter and a query letter? What was a synopsis and how on Earth did you write one? It took me months to gather the courage to submit, but Fremantle Press were accepting manuscripts by West Australian Authors or with West Australian content and settings.
I sent it off and, to my complete delight, seven weeks later I received a ‘we would like to publish your manuscript’ email! I was home alone at the time and, after reading the email 10 times to make sure I understood correctly, I squawked and squealed and danced around the house like a maniac. For the next 18 months I worked with an in-house editor and marketing agent, and watched in awe as the illustrations and cover page took shape. I built a website and blog, did radio, newspaper and magazine interviews and organised the book launch!
Since its release, my book has been distributed throughout Australia and Singapore, serialised in a West Australian newspaper, become the basis of a literacy program for Australian school children and has been translated into Turkish by Aylak Adam Publishing! In April 2016, Star Bright Books are due to release Darcy Moon and the Aroona Frogs in the United States. None of this could have happened without a traditional publishing house supporting me all the way.
I currently run writing workshops and conduct author talks at schools, libraries and writing festivals. I also coordinate the Singapore chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). If you are interested in writing and/or illustrating children’s books please visit the SCWBI website or contact me on Singapore@scbwi.org to find out more.
Emma Nicholson, author of Princess Petunia’s Dragon
“My writing journey is full of twists and turns, like any good story! I started life in a house full of books in Birmingham, England, with three sisters, an imaginary friend, and a head full of rambling tales about Tina the Horse and Buttercup the Cow. By my early twenties I had a job at a children’s publisher where I typed invoices and packed books in the warehouse. I moved on to other publishers, learning how to edit words and pictures from so many creative people. I was in my element!
Fast forward a few years and, with two kids at school, I decided to be creative again. So I signed up for a critiquing course and wrote loads of unpublishable twaddle. Then came Princess Petunia’s Dragon. The first draft was a short picture book, but with help from my writing friends, I developed it into a chapter-book 10 times as long. And what about submitting to publishers? Well, they gave me encouraging feedback, but nothing more.
When we moved to Singapore, I showed it to my writing group (SCBWI) who exclaimed, “Why’s this not been published?” So with encouragement from them, and especially picture-book author Dave Seow, I put my publishing hat back on, commissioned a young illustrator and consulted a printer. Of course there was official paperwork to do (you need to set up a business through ACRA, and then if you are on a dependent’s pass apply for a Letter of Consent. Next you must register your book with the National Library of Singapore, and also sign up with a distributor to give your book the chance of being bought by the bookstore chains), but eight months down the line my book was printed and bound in all its glory.
It’s been fun and challenging in equal measure, plus it’s given me the chance to meet my readers in Singapore, India and England… with more to come! So what’s my advice? Well, you need an eye for detail, an ear for language, a bucketful of humour and extremely helpful friends.”
Sarah Mounsey: Purple Paw Prints series
“I had no idea when I moved to Singapore that this amazing city would lead me on my publication journey. I had wanted to be a children’s author for as long as I can remember and I always thought it was something I would do when I was old and grey. When I went on maternity leave from teaching I decided to give it a try. We lived in London and I enrolled in some creative writing courses, but life was extremely busy once number two son came along.
After joining the Singapore branch of The Society of Children’s Book Writers (SCBWI) some fellow writers in the group encouraged me to independently publish. I’d hoped to be published by a traditional publisher, but publishing houses can get hundreds of submissions every month, and may only publish two picture books in a year. So I took the plunge and started my own publishing business, thinking it would be nice to be able to sell a few hundred copies of my first book, Purple Paw Prints. I was so fortunate that it did better than I ever dreamed. Two more books followed, Paw Prints on the Magic Sofa and Paw Prints and the Itchy Spots.
All of the Paw Prints books are illustrated by Jade Fang, who is also based in Singapore. We have been delighted that our book series won a bronze medal in the Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards and they have been converted by the Pen Pal Pen into an interactive reading story. It has been quite a journey and one that has taught me that by taking a little risk, and working hard, you really can make dreams come true!
David Seow, seasoned children’s book author
“Singapore doesn’t have a huge children’s book publishing scene, but it has grown significantly since I first started back in 1998. I was lucky because my parents knew someone who was working with a publisher… they accepted my manuscripts on the spot and then commissioned another nine manuscripts! I published 22 books with them altogether.
It was very different working with my next publisher and although I learned a lot from them, I had very little editorial control. Next up I tried self-publishing which, for me, was a tough experience. I was responsible for everything, from finding my own illustrator and designer, to editing and also sourcing distributors. With self-publishing you will also have to do your own marketing, and it can take a lot out of you. But if you’re in a rush to get your book into the world then self-publishing could be the way to go.
My third publisher, Epigram Books, has been a dream to work with: best editors, illustrator and marketing team for sure. They also accept non-solicited manuscripts online so are definitely worth approaching. I’ve commissioned nine books with them so far, and there are more to come (look out for my new book, A Royal Adventure in April!).
If you really want to learn more about children’s publishing then I would also suggest going to the Asian Festival of Children’s Content, where you can meet editors, agents, and publishers to whom you can pitch your ideas. Getting good contacts can really help with finding a path to being published”.