"Be original. Don’t look at what’s selling and try to imitate it..."

We sat down with the delightful Zoe Griffiths, Senior Commissioning Editor at Bloomsbury Kids, to ask her some questions about finding brilliant children’s fiction.

How many submissions do you receive a week, roughly, and when do you find time to read them?

When it is a really busy time of year, for example around the Bologna or Frankfurt Book Fairs, you can receive up to ten a week. The norm is usually three a week though, and those come from agents as well as from our international rights teams. I am lucky enough to have a pretty long commute, so I use that as my reading time. Bloomsbury are also kind enough to give all the Commissioning Editors Kindles to help with reading piles, but if I am particularly excited about a submission I will still print out a hard copy. My brain seems to absorb better from paper!

What do you like best about your job?

The variety! Getting to work with different authors, as well as every book being different. I never feel bored or that I do the same thing every day, as one day it might be a big structural edit, the next talking about covers with the design team. I also love working with people and can’t help feeling just a little bit proud that I may have helped an author get the best out of their book.

How do you know you’re on to a winner when you’re reading a submission?

If it grips me straight away! I’m a real sucker for voice. It has to pull me in. I believe that everything else in terms of plotting can be worked on, but if the voice isn’t there that’s really hard to change. Obviously, that is really subjective, but then so much of editing is subjective. Often you have periods where you doubt yourself, but as soon as a submission comes in that holds your attention you know it is still there.

What’s the last book you fell in love with and knew you wanted to acquire, and what was so special about it?

It wasn’t my most recent acquisition, but buying WE ARE BLOOD AND THUNDER by Kesia Lupo (due to publish May 2019) always stands out for me. It was the first book I acquired when I returned from maternity leave. It is a big bold fantasy with a unique identity all of its own. I was gripped from the first page by Kesia’s strong characterisation as well as her skilled build-up of tension and suspense. I couldn’t believe she was a debut because her writing felt so accomplished. I took it to our acquisition meeting before I’d even finished it. I knew from that first chapter it would be amazing.

What would you love to see more of in your submissions pile?

Diversity! I know there is so much talk of this right now and as much as everyone in the industry is working so hard to improve this, there just isn’t the quantity coming through yet on submissions. There is still a lot of work to be done at grassroots level, I think, to show everyone writing could be a career for them.

What’s your top tip for aspiring children’s or YA authors?

Be original. Don’t look at what’s selling and try to imitate it. By the time it comes to publication that moment will have passed. You have to be true to yourself and what you want to write about. That’s where the best books come from.

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