Shara Ashley (@scmAshley) is a 2012 graduate of City University London’s MA in Publishing Studies. After having gained experience at some of the best publishing houses in London, she is now excitedly pursuing a career in Children’s publishing.
The query letter is a fascinating species of writing. It lays bare the hopes, dreams and aspirations of would-be authors and asks the reader to go on a literary journey and take a risk if they like what they see. Full of promise and sincerity, the query letter never fails to remind me of the responsibility I hold as a reviewer and how the effort and imagination each author puts into her manuscript should be matched with an equal measure of my own concentration and dedication.
It was one year ago that I read my very first submission at a London literary agency. I opened the email, downloaded the attached manuscript and then had to ask myself if this ordinary Word doc could really be a book? With no professionally designed glossy jacket, no embossed foil title, no textured paper or cleverly placed sketch illustrations to enhance and distract me from the real content, it felt strangely foreign to being reading such a naked manuscript. How was I supposed to judge if its words and the story they formed were worthy of becoming not just any book, but a good book? I was soon advised that like falling in love, finding a good book amongst the slush pile of manuscript submissions is a matter of ‘you’ll know it when you see it’. Writers are often told by agents and publishers that strong voice, humour, compelling worlds and cunning plots are the keys to successful storytelling and while this is true, there are as many incarnations of each of these aspects of storytelling as there are books in a library. The question then becomes how do you know if the combination of literary components that sits before you are the seeds that will sprout a bestseller?
For me, falling in love with a submission begins with forgetting.
Just like any talented person who makes her craft look easy and puts the viewer at ease, I know I am reading something special when I forget to analyse sentence structure and pace, characterization and plot, clarity and fluidity a few pages into the process. When a book does its job well the real magic of reading begins. Reality fades to an unimportant subplot as the new world you are devouring page by page grows more vibrant, more exciting, more compelling. And unlike a happy dream that you can never return to, the story that first swept you into its embrace is waiting to welcome you back.
The books that I return to time and again are those that captured my imagination as a child and continue to enchant me as I become part of an industry that helps bring reading to young people. When a book has the power to transport a young reader, expose them to new ideas and allow them to tribulate and triumph with their literary heroes then reading is a magical experience. I loved my week at Hot Key Books, but perhaps what I enjoyed most was the opportunity to read some of the excellent submissions they receive. Each day I had the pleasure of sharing in writer’s hopes, dreams and aspirations and was lucky enough to come across some truly eloquent and original writing. I am so thankful to have contributed even in a small way to Hot Key Books’ mission of bringing quality and innovative storytelling to the Children’s market. The energy, imagination and enthusiasm at Hot Key Books is palpable and only confirms my belief that a little bit of magic goes into every Children’s book.