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

March wrap-up: A month in the life of a kidlit editor
1024 683 Siobhan O'Brien Holmes

Life and work This month has flown by! I’ve been kept busy with a Monster Critique of a lovely graphic novel, a Plot Check-up on a really original animal fantasy and an Advanced Report on a fun YA mystery, plus I’ve booked in two exciting projects that I can’t wait to get started on. I’ve started a new course on editing comics with Jim Higgins which as been really interesting – it takes place at 1am my time so I’m…

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FAQ #1: What does Writer and the Wolf mean?
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Hello, writerly friends! Welcome to a new series on the blog where I respond to some of my most frequently asked questions. If you have a question of your own, send it on over! So: what’s with the title of my business? Where did Writer and the Wolf come from? Well, the writer bit’s easy. You – lovely, hardworking author – are the reason I do this job and you’re at the centre of everything I do, think, read and…

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Exploring kidlit subgenres: Supernatural horror
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Back in 2020 I wrote a blog post called ‘A guide to middle grade and YA genres and subgenres’ and to this day it remains my most popular blog post of all time! I wrote it because I know sometimes it can be really difficult to navigate literary genres and subgenres in general but especially in the kidlit space, partly because a lot of people tend to think ‘middle grade’ and ‘YA’ are genres in their own right (they’re not – they’re audiences) and partly because the uninitiated often assume children’s books are a monolith.

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How old are MG protagonists? An evolving cheat sheet
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One of the most common mistakes I see in clients’ manuscripts is a main character who is too young or old for the intended audience – middle-aged protagonists in YA, preschoolers in middle grade – and it’s one of the questions I’m asked the most when I give talks to writing groups: ‘How old is too old?’ ‘How young is too young?’ I’ve talked a lot on the blog about publishing conventions and reader expectations associated with middle grade and…

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Want to read more YA horror? Start here! 2022 edition
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Last year I published the blog post ‘Want to read more middle grade horror? Start here! 2021 edition‘ full of recommended kids’ titles in the genre and suggestions for where to find more. But what about all those amazing YA titles? Well, here they are! So if you’re an author thinking about stepping into the YA horror space and you want to get a feel for the market, here are a few excellent novels that received lots of industry buzz…

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February wrap-up: A month in the life of a kidlit editor
1024 683 Siobhan O'Brien Holmes

It’s been so nice to get back into the swing of things this month and it feels like business might be slowly starting to return to some sort of normal after a strange 2021. I’ve had a pretty constant influx of enquires and manuscripts and next month is looking super busy with editing, coaching and speaking engagements. I finished my year-long fiction writing programme with Golden Egg Academy in December and it’s been nice getting my evenings back but now the terrifying query process starts with my middle grade contemporary novel. See, authors, I really do know what you’re going through!

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Read like a writer: Last One to Die by Cynthia Murphy
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This was a really fun, pacey YA horror with grown-up Point Horror vibes as Kathryn Foxfield pointed out in her quote on the back of the book. What I found particularly interesting about Last One to Die is that it reads as a realistic slasher up right until the last couple of chapters and then – SPOILER ALERT! – it turns a corner into supernatural horror for the big reveal. I say spoiler alert but actually Kat Ellis’ quote on the back, ‘a supernatural horror-fest’, sort of gives away that twist. This is what sets it apart from Point Horror stories, for me, as those are always based in reality.

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Read like a writer using Evernote, part one: Saving examples of clever writing techniques
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I know it’s easy for me to sit here shouting ‘Read analytically! Take notes! Annotate!’ but that’s not very helpful without practical, actionable advice to go along with it. How do you annotate? What’s the best way to record what you’re reading? So, friends, I’m going to take you through my Evernote system. Lucky you! Of course I’m absolutely not suggesting you have to take notes like this when you read or that you should keep digital records rather than…

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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


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 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.
Angela Kecojevic | YA sci-fi dev edit

‘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

‘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.

Chad Lutzke | YA horror beta read

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 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.

Jonathan Evans | YA fantasy critique

‘Absolutely delightful!’

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

Jena Ataras | MG fantasy critique

‘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)

‘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 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

‘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.

Chrissy Sturt | Advanced report

‘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’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

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!
Jennifer Grolemund | The Monster

‘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

‘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

‘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