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

Creating empathy with universals and ant mothers
1024 576 Siobhan O'Brien Holmes

I recently worked with a YA sci-fi author whose protagonists were non-humans permanently floating in space and trying to survive. It’s unlikely teenage readers from Earth will be able to empathise with this plight, so I recommended my author limit her marketing to the more distant planets like Uranus and Neptune. Okay, not really. I suggested she find something universal in these teen characters that readers could identify with. Parent trouble, crushes, internal conflict. So what if these things aren’t…

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Obstacles and goals in Sex Education
1024 576 Siobhan O'Brien Holmes

You’ve probably noticed editors and writing teachers are always banging on about the importance of obstacles in fiction. That’s because if you give your characters exactly what they want right away, they won’t have anywhere to go from there. Characters need to have clear goals and it’s your job to dream up conflicts that stop them achieving those goals (you big meanie). Obstacles create tension, increase excitement, force characters to make decisions, reveal their personalities and give your protagonist the…

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The Magic Words by Cheryl B Klein
1024 576 Siobhan O'Brien Holmes

I adore reading books about writing and I have several favourites that I always recommend to everybody. When I read them for the first time, I cover the pages in pink highlighter (sorry to the sensitive book preservers amongst you) and write up the best bits in an Evernote notebook so I can search for them later, and I thought I could share some of my favourite highlights with you here. I decided the best way was to give you…

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Lessons from R. L. Stine’s Masterclass #1: No moralising
1024 548 Siobhan O'Brien Holmes

Last year I took R. L. Stine’s masterclass on writing horror for young readers and it was utterly fascinating. I was a huge Point Horror fan as a teenager and still read a lot of middle grade and YA horror now, so I knew I had to sign up for this course. Just minutes in and I’d completely fallen in love with him. I wholeheartedly recommend the class to anybody remotely interested in writing kidlit because Stine is such a joy to…

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The Shining as a romcom: notes on genre conventions
1024 576 Siobhan O'Brien Holmes

When I use examples to talk about writing craft, I really try to stick to books, TV and films that are aimed at a middle grade or YA audience, but I am such a huge horror fan that it was inevitable some grown-up movies would sneak into the blog eventually. Sorry about that – regularly scheduled programming will resume shortly, honest! One of the reasons it’s important to know your genre is so you can get to understand the conventions…

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Analysing The Tale of the Phantom Cab
1024 684 Siobhan O'Brien Holmes

Welcome back, genre authors, to what is quickly becoming one of my favourite blog series ever! In the last post I explained that I’m going to be analysing each episode of Nickelodeon’s 1990s Are You Afraid of the Dark? TV series, exploring the horror tropes, themes and techniques the show uses to scare and captivate young viewers (and, ahem, slightly older ones). You may have noticed that I started the series with The Tale of the Lonely Ghost, which is the…

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Can I include edgy content?
1024 683 Siobhan O'Brien Holmes

Welcome back, authors, to the YA Fundamentals series, where I talk about the common problems and points of confusion I see in my clients’ manuscripts most often. Next up is content: can you talk about mature topics like sex, violence, drugs and alcohol in YA novels? This is one of those blurry areas that doesn’t have totally clear-cut rules and you’ll sometimes have to go with your gut when making choices (which is one reason to read lots and lots…

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How long should my story be?
1024 587 Siobhan O'Brien Holmes

Welcome back to the YA Fundamental series, lovely authors! Today I’m talking about word count in YA manuscripts, which is something I see my clients getting in a muddle over all the time. And for good reason! There’s lots of conflicting advice out there, and just when you think you’ve got a handle on the ideal book length in your demographic and genre, you pick up a bestseller that’s 50,000 words longer! So, what is the magic number? As always, the…

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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


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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’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

‘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.

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.

‘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

‘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 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.

‘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

‘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 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

‘Absolutely delightful!’

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

Jena Ataras | MG fantasy 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

‘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

‘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

‘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 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

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

‘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.

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!

‘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)

‘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.

‘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.