Friday, 4 October 2013

Love at First Sight

EDGE Author Sara Grant Shares Insights From Undiscovered Voices

I’ve spent the last two months sorting through this year’s crop of Undiscovered Voices submissions. We’ve had an unprecedented number of submissions. And it’s not just the quantity that has increased. The quality of submissions has also improved. Each time Undiscovered Voices rolls around, I get an advance tutorial in crafting killer openings.

Undiscovered Voices is a project of the British Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). Unagented and unpublished SCBWI members who live in Europe can submit the first 4,000 words of a completed novel. Twelve extracts will appear in an anthology that is then distributed to agents and editors. Undiscovered Voices endeavours to showcase the talent in SCBWI and help the selected authors find agents, editors and, ultimately, readers. From the past three anthologies 22 of the 36 writers have received book deals – including yours truly.

I know the fear and thrill of submitting your work. All the writers who submitted this year deserve congratulating -- it really is an unbelievable accomplishment to finish a novel and an even bigger leap of bravery to share it.
With Undiscovered Voices, I get a taste of what it’s like to be an agent or editor by reviewing what must be a cross-section of current slushpiles. I love reading through the submissions. I feel privileged to get the first glimpse of so many stories that I know will be published one day. I find something to admire in every submission. And for so many submissions this year -- it was love at first sight.
After my recent immersion in opening pages, I’m reminded that publishable fiction really is a perfect storm of forces – both inside and outside the control of the writer. After pouring through this year’s submissions, here’s what I think makes a submission stand out:

·         Originality – A few submissions excite me because I’ve never read anything like it before. But this also can be one of those forces outside the control of the author. Writers can’t know that theirs is the third book featuring a detective panda that the editor has read this week or that he/she will shortly be publishing a similar book with a gritty teen romance set in Yugoslavia in the 1960s.

·         Hook – Am I desperate to read on? It could be character, plot, setting or voice but there’s something about the story that draws me in and makes me eager to know what happens next.

·         Plot – Some plots amble, others rocket, but by the end of the extract, I should know what journey the writer is taking me on. Sometimes writers cram too much into their opening. Other times after 4,000 words I still don’t know if this is a romance or a thriller. And there’s a balance of revealing and withholding. Writers have to tell me enough so that I understand the world of the story but not so much that the opening is an info dump.

·         Character – I need to meet and be intrigued by the main character. They don’t have to be loveable, but they have to be interesting. What’s unique about them? I need you to show – not tell – me.

·         Confidence – Confidence must shine from the page. It lets me relax and enjoy the story because the author disappears and the tale seems to weave itself.

·         Magic – And sometimes I can’t explain it. There were will be an extract that’s not perfect, and yet I can see through its flaws and am mesmerized by what I can only call magic.

I’m always glad I don’t have to decide what submissions will ultimately be included in the anthology. I leave that to our incredible line-up of judges. I’m also relieved that we don’t pick one winner. Undiscovered Voices is meant to be a collection of some of the best work by SCBWI members in Europe. It’s a sample of the amazing work out there and reflects a variety of age ranges and genres. I only wish we could highlight more. This year I’m not sure how our judges will ever select from such a stellar group of stories.

About Sara Grant
Sara writes books for both children and teens. DARK PARTIES, her first young adult novel, won the SCBWI Crystal Kite Award for Europe. Her next novel for teens – HALF LIVES – is a story told in two voices from a pre- and post-apocalyptic time. She also writes a funny magical series for young readers – MAGIC TRIX. She and Sara O’Connor co-founded Undiscovered Voices. Sara and Sara are also part of a team of editors and writers – called Book Bound – who are offering a weekend writers retreat in 2014. Find out more about Sara at


  1. This is an enormously helpful post for anyone submitting to UV or indeed to agents/editors/ manuscript reviewers/ etc. You tell it how it is and how it must be Sara in the very competitive field of modern children's/YA writing. The bench mark is high but its worth rising to high jump it.

  2. Dammit! Someone's pinched my idea for a Yugoslavian 60s hippy detective panda story! That aside, excellent post. Thank you.