Getting published

WriteNow 2017 – Picture Book Editor Joe Marriott on what he’s looking for in new children’s writers

Joe Marriott

I couldn’t be more excited about WriteNow 2017. The first WriteNow was one of my highlights of 2016 – it was so refreshing to sit down with people throughout the company and acknowledge together that we had a challenge on our hands.

Many voices are currently underrepresented in book publishing in the UK – and we need to do something impactful to rise to this challenge. As a mixed-race, gay editor I feel a particular responsibility to help find stories and role models that resonate widely – I know what it feels like to struggle to find myself in a book and I don’t want any reader to have to go through that. There are a huge number of talented people throughout Penguin Random House who, for whatever reason, whatever their background, have a passion for trying to ensure that the books we publish are inclusive. It feels so positive to be working with these people towards making a real difference.

Working on WriteNow has been an exhilarating journey: from the early days of brainstorming the idea, involvement in the process of reading and reviewing manuscripts, attending the events and meeting authors, and finally the difficult process of narrowing down the talented field to 12 mentees. Hopefully everyone involved will have gained from partaking, but I feel a special sense of excitement about the future careers of the final 12– where will their careers take them and who will they inspire in turn?

And now that we’re kicking off the process all over again I feel the same sense of anticipation and possibility. What new voices will we find – could I discover a new picture book star?

What I’m looking for . . .  

I’m a picture book editor, so in particular I’m looking for texts and ideas for children from 0-5. Picture book texts are deceptively tricky to write – you need a clever idea which feels fresh; a funny, moving or thought-provoking concept; just the right words; and a story structure which will appeal to the youngest readers. And then everything needs to come together in a text that parents are happy to read again and again.

It’s not easy, but some writers have the most amazing knack for telling stories that really work for this age group – and my role is to support them in making their ideas the very best stories they can be (and then to find illustrators to bring those stories to life visually).

It would be great to see ideas from new perspectives – perhaps central characters of BAME heritage, or characters questioning their gender identity. I’d love to see stories featuring same-sex parents or characters with disabilities. But in all cases my preference would be for stories that feature these characters unselfconsciously – i.e. they don’t need to be books specifically about ‘issues’ – my dream stories are funny, imaginative, entertaining, surprising and completely child-focused in their construction, while just happening to feature strong central characters from underrepresented communities. Above all else it needs to be great writing – and a story that the writer genuinely loves.

My focus is on picture book fiction, but I’m also intrigued to read original non-fiction ideas for young children - ideas with an interesting take on the world.

Beyond my specialism of picture books I’m hoping that WriteNow 2017 uncovers stories of all genres from perspectives that we don’t encounter enough – for instance, gay central characters in fantasy, sci-fi or crime, BAME characters at the heart of romance novels and thrillers.

There’s so much talent out there and what better time than now to discover writing that opens people’s minds about what a great book can be. I can’t wait to get reading!

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