Authors, take note. Here's what we've learnt from the Bee Ethicool Author Competition

  • by Leanne Lim

As midnight on Sunday night rolled around and then quickly expired, the editorial team here at Ethicool let out an audible sigh. For the last six weeks, they’d been dazzled with thousands of manuscripts for our inaugural Bee Ethicool author competition. 2178 entries later, the team are near to having shortlisted the final few, and oh-boy, what a task it’s been. We’ve read and reread hundreds of stories, pining over which ones to choose and why. But we’ve also noted something interesting: there were a fair few common areas that many stories fell down. 

When we announce the shortlist, we know we’re going to break many hearts (we’re sorry!), as well as send a few soaring. In order to do our best to cushion the potential disappointment felt, we thought we would address here some of the common issues we’ve seen, in the hope that when you, dear authors, do submit manuscripts again (remember, we’re always open for submission!), you can address these critical points. 

So without further ado, here are three recommendations for all authors submitting to us in the future … and also a sneak peak (without giving anything away!) into what we loved about the manuscripts that are currently shortlisted: 

The Bee Ethicool Competition: Future recommendations

1. Get creative and think outside the box 

It may seem like tired old advice, but we need to say it here on the record again: getting creative and thinking outside the box is absolutely key, especially when submitting to a publisher like Ethicool who prides themselves on progressive, new and unique stories. 

Firstly, we recognise that writing to a set of already completed illustrations can be extremely difficult. But before you start your story, take the time to sit down and think about all the possible meanings behind the illustrations. 

Take, for example, one of the competition illustrations, where there are multiple different animals climbing on top of each other, and an image of the moon. This construct could mean many things in many different contexts, and doesn’t necessarily have to mean that the animals are trying to get to the moon. We definitely saw a lot of people taking it to mean this, though - there were a significant number of stories where the animals built a rocket to get to the moon!  

When crafting a winning manuscript, subtlety is absolutely critical.

The best stories we saw had a strong core message, and didn’t at all abide by the physical limitations of the illustrations. In fact, it was clear that the authors had used the illustrations as a place of inspiration, as opposed to seeing them as limiting and literal.

2. Don’t underestimate the importance of strong characterisation

As we’ve written about before in our ever-popular blog on characterisation, strong characterisation is absolutely key in any children’s picture book. In fact, some of Ethicool’s most popular books, including Remembering Mother Nature, Watermelon Pip, and Samson C. Turtle have become popular precisely because of the strength of their incredible main characters. 

For the Bee Ethicool competition, we found that many authors became overwhelmed by the number of animals they saw in the illustrations.

Because of this, they zeroed in on the rabbit as the main character, and seemed to forget about the other characters. 

The strongest submissions, however, created a rabbit character, but also interesting other animal characters for little readers to relate to and connect with.

3. Take your time and make things unpredictable

Alongside character, a strong, unique and unpredictable plot is essential for a great children’s book (if you want to learn more about that, check out our article on plot here). As we alluded to before, we definitely saw some stories come through that included plots and story arcs that have used hundreds (or perhaps we might even say millions?) of times before in children’s books, making them quite predictable. Given we’re on a big mission to help inspire little ones to create change and make the world a better place, the ‘same old’ isn’t of great appeal to Ethicool. 

The best stories we saw were clearly not rushed in their execution. They had carefully considered plots, and they didn’t let the illustrations force the story.

Instead, they let the plot guide everything.

The Bee Ethicool Competition: What we loved  

Honestly, there was a lot to love about the manuscripts we received. But at the end of the day, we do need to create a shortlist so we can get to the exciting part … the voting and after that, a magnificent new addition to our growing Ethcool range. 

We won’t give too much away, but here are three things we LOVED about the manuscripts that have been shortlisted so far:

1. The illustrations were just a starting point

Francisco Foseca’s stunning illustrations were only ever meant to be a starting point for your stories. The best manuscripts we received recognised this, and evaluated the illustrations as more than just literal actions on a page. The best stories contemplated what more they could bring to the illustrations beyond what was on the page.

They added new ideas, new messages, and new themes to what they saw.

2. Uniqueness and charm 

The best stories were ones that were uniquely charming. While they may not have been perfect, they conveyed a strong message and used writing elements to heighten and accentuate that message. Their stories had a clear vision that was enacted from beginning to end. In sum, it wasn’t hard for us to imagine what our coveted ‘Action Page’ would say in the best stories.

3. Strong endings

One thing we never want Ethicool’s books to be is forgettable.

We LOVE and require a strong ending in all of our books; something that will leave a lasting impression on the reader and inspire them to think and take action. 

The very best submissions were highly memorable, and in fact, we’re still thinking about them at this very moment. 

And we ABSOLUTELY CAN”T WAIT to share them with you. 

Finally, a word of thanks. We’re beyond grateful and chuffed that so many people from all corners of the world would submit their beautiful words to us for consideration. For everyone who hasn’t been shortlisted, keep trying, keep writing, and we sincerely hope to hear from you again soon (and please vote for your favourite story too!). 

Watch this space for the shortlist announcement!

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