Category Archives: Anita says…

More on Market research

When I first started out I found market research extremely difficult. But, the more I tried to do it the better I got. I have been published in several national magazines.


The ones below are just a small selection. I now automatically pick up a magazine and look at the adverts, the letters page and the way the stories and articles are written, to get an idea of who the readership the magazine is aimed at, are.

I ask myself questions like:

  • Whose viewpoint is it from?
  • How long are the sentences?
  • How long are the paragraphs?
  • Is it in first or third person?
  • What tense is it written in?
  • How much dialogue is used?
  • Is slang used?
  • Is compression used (i.e. i’ll, we’ve)?
  • Are there any sentences beginning with And and But?
  • Are there any swear words?

I believe this was excellent training and has helped me to launch my career into writing for children because, although the writing and market is different you still need to consider who the target audience is and whether you are meeting the requirements of the in-house style.

So my advice is to anyone who wants to get published, whether it is in writing for magazines, writing for children, adults, your publisher, or a specific editor – do your market research. Know who you are writing for.

If you are interested in writing for magazines, get hold of the contributor’s guidelines. These are often available online.

Think About Theme

The theme of a book is an ‘abstract idea’ such as friendship, loyalty or a quest for identity.

Themes are different to morals. The theme should be subtle and strengthen your story by adding depth and meaning. Visit your local library and look at some of the classic picture books. Notice that although the text may be brief and tightly written there lay truths that are timeless. The story should leave readers with a residual feeling that stays with them.

Season collage

You should be able to sum up your theme in one or two words. The theme of the first series of Season books is friendship. I have written two more Season picture book series since then. This is a book with a compilation of my Animal Stories for all Seasons. They will also be available to buy individually.

Animal Season Treasury Cover (003)

Your characters should always carry the theme. It is important not to blurt out your theme but to let it emerge from the story. If you must come out and say it, do it in dialogue, not narration and whatever you do avoid preaching. Children’s stories should be explorations of life not Sunday school lessons.

In picture book you should keep your theme positive. If writing about difficult situations and feelings, offer constructive ways for your readers to cope with them.

Use Slang Sparingly

This is not necessarily only good advice for writer’s writing for children. I think it is true for what ever books you are writing.

What we need to remember is the dialogue is not real conversation but has to create the illusion of a real conversation. Slang words and catch phrases can date a book and go out of fashion very quickly so it is best to avoid them. Remember you want you children’s characters to sound like children and not an adult pretending to be a child.


Consider your character’s patterns of speech rather than particular words. For example, an impatient character would use short sentences and not waste words whereas a dreamer might ramble on without care. Much like some of my blog posts.

So be careful with slang. It dates dialogue.

“It is best to get the flavour and texture of what you want to say without having to patronise or, worse still, getting it wrong.” Andrew Melrose

The idea is to keep dialogue short and concise. There is no room for lengthy descriptions in dialogue. The other characters would get bored and wander off. You should be able to sum it up in a few words.


If you do want to use speech to convey important information it is better to begin the section of dialogue with the information or end with it. If you bury it in the middle of the dialogue it could get missed.

And avoid ellipses… unless absolutely necessary for effect. Don’t litter the page with dots.

Know Your Readers

It is essential for who ever you are writing for to have a good knowledge of your audience and have a target age in mind.


When writing for children remembering back to your own childhood is a starting point but you must keep in mind the modern child in today’s technology filled world. This does not mean every child in your book needs their own mobile phone or games console. In fact it is often better for tension if they are unable to call for help at a touch of the screen.

The best way to find out about your audience if you are writing for children is to observe them. Not in a stalkerish, creepy kind of way. If you have children, or have friends and relatives with children talk to them, find out what is going on in their lives. Ask about their likes and dislikes. Find out what books they love to read and their favourite characters. If you don’t have children talk to friends who have, or talk to your local children’s librarian.

Another good way to find out about children today is by watching children’s movies and television. Immerse yourself in the adventures, problems and emotions of the characters. They are likely to defy authority and will be outspoken with their own strong opinions. This may vary in intensity for reception, junior and secondary aged children but there should be a degree of independence.

One More Step

I’m in a very philosophical mood today. The ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius said:
“Every journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.”
He also said:
“Be not ashamed of mistakes and thus make them crimes.”

Think of each step you write as a single incident, such as writing one paragraph, producing a character sketch or sketching a map of the location. It is a process of going through the layers.

The process of writing itself, even for very experienced writers, can be difficult and frustrating. The choices involved in creating the text, selecting appropriate words, arranging these words into meaningful sentences and using these sentences to explain a flow of fast moving ideas is hard work. Writing is a physical activity:


So take the first step…
Think what is it you want. Where you are now? Where do you want to go? What’s the first thing that you need to do to get moving? Don’t worry about making mistakes just get the story down on paper.

And keep taking steps….
Even if they feel like baby steps! We all have days where every step feels painful, or there is something else to do, or it’s just plain too difficult. This is the, ‘Don’t wanna’ tantrum. Go on, even if it’s something really easy, take that one step. Just open the file on your computer. It’s only a small step, but it proves your intent. After all, the files open now, you might as well do something with it.

And most importantly enjoy every step you take…
The psychotherapist and child psychologist Haim Ginott once said:

“Happiness… is not a destination: it is a manner of travelling.”

So have fun on your journey. Enjoy your writing and when you get there rather than moving straight to the next place, next goal, and next challenge, rest a while and glory in the fabulousness of what you have achieved.

But most importantly… Read it aloud and be proud of what you have written.

Visualise Your Story

Writing can be a visual, multi-dimensional experience similar to painting, or designing a structure. I have always developed scrap books of my stories using pictures I have found to help me describe my character and setting.


I once went on a Book Bound course led by Karen Ball of Speckled Pen. She made us rip out pictures from magazines that linked in some way to our character. We were not allowed scissors we had to use our hands and carefully tear out the images. At first, I found this difficult as I like order and conformity and this was a little too haphazard. But I soon got into the flow and found it quite freeing and inspiring.

It was fun. It didn’t help with the character I was working on at the time as she was quite dark so the magazines were not suitable. But it did help develop a new character from scratch. It can also help to develop key images within your story before they are drafted into scenes. I believe visualising your story is a great way of adding texture to your text. It is good to see the world from a different perspective. Let your imagination go wild.


I suggest you search the world wide web and magazines for images that inspire and help you develop your characters, setting and plot. Turn it into a collage. This could be done using sites like Pinterest, or software like Paint, or by hand-gluing pictures printed, or cut out of magazines onto large sheets of paper in the same way as Karen Ball made us do, although you can use scissors if you want. Don’t glue down the pieces too early so you can let your mind free-flow.

tree collage

You could even turn your writing space into a canvas. Sketch with words, post scenes form your novel and photos all around your study or writing space to sculpt them into a 3D-version of your book. Move things about, add some colourful phrases and quotes from your characters here and a touch of darkness there. Look where the light is coming from and then transfer this light into the pages of your story.

OK. Maybe I’m going over the top but writing is multi-tasking, and I am quite good at that.

The Fictional Dream

Read for inspiration. If you admire an author and their writing, copy a couple of pages of their work and take it apart to find out how they did it.


Shakespeare’s Titania depicted by Edwin Landseer in his painting Scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, based on A Midsummer Night’s Dream act IV, scene I

When you read you forget the words. You enter the fictional dream. You don’t read on unless the dream is continuous and vivid. You have in your mind’s eye what you want to write about and the film is running in your head. What you feel, hear, touch, the clothes you are wearing, the sensation on your skin. Know these physical clues and work the scene.

“If you put your energy into getting all the senses right, the words come easier.”

Pamela Cleaver

Modified by CombineZP

The story produced is like growing crystals. You have to be there. Being there is writing what you see, hear and feel. An image or idea can be developed. Your unconscious will join them up. Work with your unconscious and accept the ideas do not come in the right order. Ask, what does the reader really want out of this scene? By seeing you can lead the reader into the fictional dream.