The Den: A blog for authors of children’s and YA genre fiction

The Den: A blog for authors of children’s and YA genre fiction

Lessons from picture books: Cake by Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet
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Sometimes, even though they’re aimed at a completely different age group, picture books contain perfect, concise little examples of storytelling techniques that we can apply to middle grade and YA. Luckily, I get through a heck of a lot of picture books at home: my husband and I read Caeden three books a night at bedtime plus we go to the library at least once a week (we currently have about 60 books on loan 😬) so I often come across lovely demonstrations of writing craft and get super excited mid-story. 

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FAQ: What makes you qualified to edit my book?
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This is a great question and a super important one to ask about any editor you’re thinking of working with. Currently in the UK there is no official accreditation for editors (like you’d find for accountants or engineers, for example) which means anybody can call themselves a professional editor regardless of experience or qualifications, so it can be difficult to judge whether somebody is right for your project. Proven experience and pass marks with CIEP The CIEP recently gained chartership…

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Start a book club for kidlit writers
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You’ve heard of reading like a writer (because I talk about it all the time). Now it’s time to book club like a writer! In the mid-nineties, ‘Book Club’ to me meant the Scholastic catalogue handed out after lunch and a pile of paperbacks waiting on my desk when I got back from assembly. In my early twenties, ‘Book Club’ meant white wine and themed cupcakes at a friend’s kitchen table, discussing the novel *some* of us had read that…

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5 simple ways to tell if a book’s MG or YA without opening it
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Wondering how to tell if a book is YA or middle grade just from a quick glance? When you pick up a book, say at the library or in a book shop, how do you know which audience it’s been written for? Sometimes the way books are shelved doesn’t make it obvious: my local library labels its middle grade section ’11 to 14′  which combines upper middle grade and lower YA, while the chapter book shelves are labelled ‘6-10’ which…

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Start me up: Read the first page of Last One To Die like an editor
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This is part of Start me up: Mark-up on successful novel openings, a blog series designed to help you read like an editor. I’ll analyse the first pages of some of the middle grade and YA novels on my bookshelf and dig deep into the mechanics and craft. Why did the author make those choices? What clues does this opening give us about the rest of the story? How well does it grab the reader’s attention from the off? You…

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Tips for writing a creepy attic or basement in middle grade or YA
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Alright, I don’t blame you. Attics (AKA lofts) and basements (AKA cellars) are obviously the scariest rooms in any house (except for maybe Regan’s bedroom in The Exorcist) which is why I’m glad I’m a Londoner and don’t have either. But their innate creepiness isn’t enough to sell your setting: you need to make readers see, feel, hear, smell, taste the room, experience the claustrophobia, sense the lurking danger.

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Start Me Up: read the first page of Tobin, Bigfoot & Me like an editor
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By now you all KNOW I’m really passionate about the importance of not just reading for authors (although yes, do read! Read lots!) but also reading analytically and with purpose: something I’ve started calling ‘rabbit hole reading’.  It’s brilliant to simply let yourself get totally immersed and enjoy a novel – that’s a really important experience for writers – but you’ll get so much more value from a story if you let yourself go down a rabbit hole when you read. Analyse the plot, the structure, the characters. Ask yourself why the author made the choices they did. Make notes. Annotate. Discuss it with other people. Even mine the acknowledgements page for the names of agents, editors and publishers involved and learn about that author’s writing and publishing process.

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May Wrap-up: A month in the life of a kidlit editor
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I just got back from a long bank holiday weekend in Devon and it was totally lovely. Not relaxing, obviously, since I have a five year old but it was super fun and just nice to be somewhere different – especially after having Covid earlier this month and not being able to leave the house. We stayed in a little cottage near the sea and spent lots of time walking, making sandcastles, doing treasure hunts, going on rollercoasters (Caeden and Steve, not me) and eating scones in the scorching sun. 

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Hello! I'm Siobhán, a developmental editor of middle grade and YA genre fiction. This blog is aimed at authors who write for a young audience, particularly those working on horror, sci-fi, fantasy, mystery or anything with a dash of magic or macabre. Posts typically focus on:

  • Actionable writing advice
  • Active reading
  • Advocating for the young reader


Quiz Your Protagonist!

A free email course with two weeks of fun interview questions to get to know your MG or YA character


A bumper guide to middle grade & YA genres and subgenres, from cyberpunk and space opera to magical realism and portal fantasy



Testimonials

Here are some lovely things my gorgeous clients have said about me. When I'm having a bad day, I like to read these and eat Cadbury's Creme Eggs.

I will seek a developmental edit much earlier next time

Well I have read the report and documents and ARRGHH!! But in a good way. I have to say that your comments, suggestions and advice are excellent and I don’t disagree with much if anything that you suggest. They are really helpful and will truly make this book better. Also the pointers will definitely improve my subsequent stories. I will seek a developmental edit much earlier next time as I think this would have made the whole process a quicker and much more streamlined editing process.

‘One of the best editors working with emerging voices’

Like the best of editors, Siobhan will respect your own individual writing style – and work within those parameters to coax you towards ever greater clarity and impact. She has an instinctive grasp of story, and some of the best craft knowledge I’ve ever come across. As a writer herself, she understands the highs and lows of the journey and always has a listening ear. She is never one to rush, and when a script inevitably throws up a knotty issue, will ponder deeply before putting forward possible solutions. Her openness, kind heart and gentleness make her one of the best editors working with emerging voices.

‘I can’t believe how lucky I was to encounter you!’

Thank you so, so much for this. I actually jumped for joy when I read your first comments! I couldn’t respond immediately as I was travelling but this took away so much of the stress of the flight – I was on such a high (literally!) There’s so much to take forward. Thanks so, so much again, Siobhán; I can’t believe how lucky I was to encounter you!
Middle grade author | Cub Report

‘My eyes hungrily soaked up every paragraph’

Thank you so much for the report – I’m going to devour it. My eyes hungrily soaked up every paragraph and I love that you ‘get’ the type of story I’m trying to tell. I will do my absolute best to reinforce your recommendations in the MS. I could rattle on all day but I’m bursting to get back into it.

Valerie Troy | Cub Report

‘I’m so glad I landed on your name in a sea of editors’

I’m seriously so glad I landed on your name in a sea of editors. Thank you for the advice, recommendations, coaching and teaching. It’s all brilliant! I was so clueless and am very grateful to now have this information to guide my thinking. There is a lot of info about writing out there but it’s infinitely better to have someone who can help me focus on the important stuff (with great links) in a contemporary context. I’m very excited about the next draft and think the direction you have proposed in most instances feel right to me. Importantly, I feel empowered by your critique and that makes me more confident that I can produce better work.
Anoshi Mocktar | Critique

I couldn’t have asked for a better editor

You’ve nailed everything and picked up on the things only an editorial expert can spot! You really have been amazing. I couldn’t have asked for a better editor to help with this! All of your comments have made me realise exactly what needs working on.  They are super informative, and will really lead me in the right direction. It feels so much stronger, and I’m now super excited to see it in print.

‘Absolutely delightful!’

Thank you so much! Working with you has been absolutely delightful! I truly appreciate your thoughtfulness.

Jena Ataras | MG fantasy critique

I am completely blown away!

I finally had time to read through the entire Monster critique and I am completely BLOWN AWAY! Your feedback is SO helpful and SO thoughtful. You are a truly talented editor! Not everyone has your gift to provide notes that are so comprehensive, succinct, and meaningful! You’ve given me ideas, direction, and underscored the key elements for crafting MG in the horror genre. This is the best Christmas present I could’ve ever wished for and I need to read it at least a hundred more times to let it all soak in…and to percolate all of the ideas that are already flowing in my head. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I am so grateful to have this opportunity!

‘Your generous effort has already made the book better’

Thank you SO much for all your notes and for the honesty. I read them all and they’re extremely helpful. I’m very grateful for you taking the time. Your generous effort has already made the book better.

‘A breath of fresh air’

Siobhan has not only been a breath of fresh air, breathing new life into my first ever draft manuscript, but she’s also provided me with the impetus to get it finished. Her comments and feedback led me to make some hard decisions but these have resulted in a much better book. Here’s to the future!

David Rogers | MG sci-fi dev edit

‘I can’t wait to dive back into my story with greater clarity’

Wow!! This cub report is AMAZING and I need to read it like 16 more times to let it all soak in! You’ve given me such concrete suggestions! I love all of the little tips, suggestions, examples, etc that you’ve provided and I am seriously going to be re-reading this report MANY times. I can’t wait to dive back into my story with greater clarity about the pacing. I also truly appreciate the comps and MG insight! Thank you, thank you!
Jennifer Grolemund | Cub Report (Pacing)

‘I don’t want our editing relationship to end yet’

I have just skimmed through your brilliant editorial critique and will follow your suggestions and recommended reading lists. I think you have been very good at steering me the right way. I don’t want our editing relationship to end yet. I still need you!

Akin Jabar | MG sci-fi critique

‘The story has been truly seen for the first time’

I just wanted to say thank you so much for all the hard work you have done on my edit. I am absolutely thrilled with it; the attention to detail and depth with which you went into the manuscript left me speechless. The hashtag system is so handy and the book map made so many things clear for me. I feel like the story has been truly seen for the first time. I will recommend your work without hesitation.

Aisling White | YA fantasy dev edit

‘The best editing I’ve ever received’

Siobhan is absolutely brilliant! I’m trying not to sound too gushy but her work truly is astonishing — the best editing I have ever received. She is immensely creative, able to help solve a manuscript’s problems and repair its shortcomings. She is efficient and generous, bright and fun — an absolute joy to work with. I have never felt so quickly understood and supported by an editor.

‘It’s already helping massively’

I want to say a MASSIVE THANK YOU for all that you’ve done for me and my book baby. It’s already helping massively. I already love all the three big suggestions you made and I’m really happy you thought it’s a book worth working on as that’s exactly what I’m planning to do 🙂

Martina O'Brien | Dev edit

‘One of the best things I’ve ever done for my writing’

Getting The Monster manuscript critique was one of the best things I’ve ever done for my writing. I’ve been writing for years, but this manuscript critique has developed and delved into a much stronger, deeper and focused version of my novel. Plus, the book map has offered me a solid, dependable way to create my plots and stories in the future (even if it took me 45 minutes to do one row – eek!). The book map feels unnatural and weird, but I know it’s pushing me to question what I think about every single scene so that I can justify it all. I feel like a much stronger writer and can’t imagine ever working another way – especially now I know my work is always going to benefit from it.

‘I’ve learnt so much from the process’

Once again the insights are amazing. I’ve learnt so much from the process and I think and hope my MS is all the better for your advice and recommendations. It is so beneficial to have an expert opinion on my query package. Honestly, I’ve stared at it for so long that I had run out of ideas but now I have superb guidance to hopefully take the MS and the query package up yet another level. Not a chance I could have done that without your input.

Valerie Troy | Query package

Several pennies have actually dropped’

I’ve had a look through everything and wanted to thank you so much for the forensic view of my novel. It’s the first time I’ve had a developmental edit like this completed and it has been, in turn, horrifying, enlightening, surprising and confidence boosting! But I guess you’ve probably seen that before. In many respects, several pennies have actually dropped and I have a firmer idea of what I need to do and will work on more research and reading.
Maria White | MG fantasy dev edit

‘I’m really impressed with your critical eye’

Wow, an excellent middle grade manuscript critique! I’m really impressed with your critical eye and what you’ve picked up on here – your comments are very astute and your feedback has been very valuable, as always. I agree with almost everything! Thanks a lot for this – I can’t wait to send you another.
John Lomas-Bullivant | MG fantasy critique

‘So thorough and rich with insight’

What a treat! This is exactly what I needed. Your critique seems so thorough and rich with insight. I will be sure to send you questions if I’m unsure about anything you meant but I think you’re so thorough that I will be able to digest almost everything on my own just fine. It was an absolute pleasure to work with you as well!
Chanya Sainvilus | YA sci-fi critique

‘I’ve never felt so quickly understood and supported by an editor’

Siobhan is absolutely brilliant! I’m trying not to sound too gushy but her work truly is astonishing — the best editing I have ever received. Siobhan is a master editor at every level, from word to idea. She is a consummate craftsperson and expert researcher. She is also immensely creative, able to help solve a manuscript’s problems and repair its shortcomings. She is efficient and generous, bright and fun — an absolute joy to work with. I have never felt so quickly understood and supported by an editor.

Sara Cassidy | Children's adventure critique

‘Thank you for your tending loving care’

Thank you for your tender loving care with my manuscript and all your kind words, and for providing such detailed, useful feedback.
Lori Kohler | Developmental edit