Monday, 2 September 2013

Chickens, eggs and editors.

I have been following the development of The Golden Egg Academy since it first began last year, after all how often can you expect editors the caliber of Imogen Cooper (Previously Head of Fiction at Chicken House), Beverley Birch (Previous commissioning editor at Hodder) and Bella Pearson (Previously at David Fickling) to be available to help up and coming authors?

Therefore as soon as the opportunity arose to meet Imogen in person came up I jumped at the chance and headed off to a London Writers Cafe event at a pub near Liverpool Street last Tuesday night. I wasn't the only one either as the room was packed with hopeful writers all waiting to hear Imogen's words of wisdom.

She began with a brief introduction and told us how much she enjoyed working with Barry Cunningham at Chicken House. She said that the small team of seven led to a very exciting environment, with plenty of creative ideas and a fair few arguments as they all worked together towards the same goal. However Imogen saw so many manuscripts from the slushpile with potential that just needed the help of a good editor she decided to take a step back.
She moved from the position of Head of Fiction at Chicken House to the role of Senior Editor and set up the Golden Egg Academy with Beverley and Bella.

They are now offering their skills and support to writers in the way of workshops, in depth reports, one to one sessions and mentoring.  Imogen is also planning to set up a course for editors with Winchester University that will provide training for up and coming industry professionals.

Next, Imogen began to talk about the three things that make a desirable novel -

1. Strong Concept
2. Driving Plot
3. Universal Themes

When she became an acquiring editor she had to start looking at manuscripts in a different way. She needed to be able to explain to a whole team of people from different departments why the novel she wanted to buy was so great and back it up with solid reasoning. This meant that she had to have a real understanding of the novel, she needed to be able to find the essence and heart of the story so she could explain why children needed to read this book and what made it so original.

Imogen was firm in the idea that knowing the heart of your novel will make it stronger and enable you to edit it effectively.

She asked us if we knew what our book was about, was it different to others and could we describe it in one paragraph? Imogen suggested we all try to distill our work into one paragraph that we could then use when submitting or pitching to agents and publishers.

What is the backstory/skeleton upon which everything else hangs?

Who are the main characters and what are their motivations? (You should be able to see these in every scene).

The story must come first with any themes supporting the story and being shown subtly within the motivations.

She said it was very important to be able to break your story down and be objective. Of course it isn't that easy as any writer could tell you and one of the reasons why an editor can be so important. She quoted one of her mentoring clients as saying her book was a beautiful jigsaw puzzle until Imogen helped her turn it into a 3D picture. A bit like connecting the left and right sides of your brain or turning a written play into the stage version.

Most importantly she said the paragraph should be about the BIG PICTURE and not the detail.

To give us some ideas Imogen brought along some advanced information sheets on a few Chicken House Books like Poison Boy by Fletcher Moss and Muncle Trogg by Janet Foxley. On one side was a copy of the book cover and on the other some info on the author and the all important blurb.
It was very useful to see how these books had been distilled down to their essential parts and I understood just how hard it could be as during my submission to Undiscovered Voices I'd been forced to write a fifty word blurb for my entry.

Imogen suggested we all try to write that paragraph and then keep it written up near our writing space so that we never lose track of the heart of our story.

Next we were lucky enough to hear about the Book Map which Imogen sees as an essential tool for use with editing. After the first draft has been written she suggests writing out some or all of the following -

Chapter info
Plot summary
Dramatic incidents
Main characters - including their involvement and motivations. You could divide these up into fore, mid and background characters.

You can add or take away from this but however you do it she believes it helps you to take a step back from your story and view it as a whole.
It's a little bit like storyboarding where you make the whole thing come alive.

You can then use this method to see the whole novel, all of it's important elements and then try to weave everything else through during your second and third drafts.

The whole room was buzzing by the time Imogen finished speaking and she very kindly agreed to answer some of our questions. One of which was on the biggest problems she sees in submissions.
Imogen said it was mainly plot related and often involved authors not seeding the clues throughout their book and not signposting enough.

I really enjoyed hearing Imogen speak, her enthusiasm for her work shone through and I'm sure motivated many of us to go away and start working on our manuscripts! I imagine it would be a real pleasure and privilege to have her keen and exacting eye focused on to your own work and with the Golden Egg Academy you might just get that chance.

Thank you to Imogen for such a useful and informative talk. You can find out more about what the Golden Egg Academy offers Here.


  1. Oooh good post - thank you. Off to write my paragraph and do a book map!

  2. Good luck Sue! Hope it helps. x

  3. Ah. So that's where I've been going wrong, then.
    It's that damn word again.
    Almost as bad as (bleurgh) synopsis.
    Very useful post. Thanks.

    1. Yes, does seem rather important doesn't it. Glad it helped x

  4. Great and most timely post, thank you. Must go now to check on my book's heart...