Partners in Crime – Andrea Reece

As we all know the road to publication is a long and windy one and right at the end of my journey I had the unexpected bonus of having a publicist. Andrea Reece. Strictly speaking she isn’t mine, she works for Troika Books among others. But as Help I’m an Alien is coming out at the end of May 2016 that means she is working on promoting my book. I can’t believe my luck.

The only downside is that I’m not use to having a publicist so I’m not very good at sharing the load. But I am really enjoying working with her because she has loads of useful contacts, great promotion ideas and is totally fantastic.

Portrait of Andrea Reece

Portrait of Andrea Reece

I caught up with Andrea recently and to find out more about her passion for children’s books.

Tell me about your career path. How did you become a publishing publicist?
It was a very long time ago, and a complete accident! I needed a job and a friend saw an advert in the Guardian for a job with Transworld working on their children’s list.  I had never thought about publishing, but applied, got it, and have never regretted it for a moment.       
What things might appear on your daily To Do list?
Writing press releases; pitching ideas; sending out photos and information; contacting bookshops, schools, libraries about book events; meetings with authors; cover discussions with my publishers; reading books!
What is the best part of your job?
When people say yes to an idea I’ve suggested; when I see people buying books I’m working on; reading books
What books do you read on holiday?
I was a Costa judge last year so took 14 of the nominated titles with me – happy to say I read them all! Don’t know what it will be this year, but suspect I’ll have another suitcase full of children’s books.

I’m not sure what I am going to do when Andrea moves onto another project and I am alone again. But I do have two more books coming out with Troika Books so hopefully we will get the opportunity to work together in the future.

Hooray for publicists!

You can follow Andrea on Twitter @reeceandrea

Partners in Crime – Martin West

Needless to say, in order for a book to be published, the author needs a publisher. The author is generally introduced to a publisher by their agent. This part of the agent’s job is similar to an estate agent – matching up wonderful manuscripts looking for a home with awesome publishers willing to give them one.

My publisher for Help I’m an Alien is Troika Books which is the brain child of Martin West.

Troika logo

Troika Books may not be the largest publisher in the UK, but with Martin at the helm I know I am in safe hands.

Martin West  his long career in children’s books at Oxford University Press and Blackie before launching his own list: Happy Cat Books. In 2005 he founded Catnip Publishing Ltd. and in 2006 it was shortlisted for the Independent Children’s Publisher of the Year. Martin later joined Ragged Bears in 2009.

Troika Books was launched in Spring 2013.

Martin kindly took a few minutes away from publishing Help I’m an Alien to answer a few questions for me.


  • Why did you decide to set up Troika Books?

I was spending a lot of time helping authors with self-publishing their writing. To this end I set up a company to provide distribution and sales. As I had the infrastructure in place I later felt it was time to join in with publishing my own list, with authors and illustrators of my choice

  • How many titles do you aim to publish a year?

As many as my budget allows. That was the plan. But it became clear that I needed to give writers space to develop their ideas rather than to rush into publication, that you have to work at the illustrations to get them right and be constantly checking text – time spent copy editing and proofreading is vital. And a good typesetter is invaluable. Cutting corners is a waste of effort. So publish less and do it well.

  • What is the greatest challenge facing a small publisher like yourself?

Finding time for everyone. Finding money to fund what I want to do. Finding new, non-traditional ways of selling. How to promote my list and get the books bought.

  • What are the qualities that make a great book?

The way a story is put together – plot, pace, dialogue. Are you desperate to pick it up and continue reading? Does it make you sob, or laugh. Don’t want it to end? And think of those things that will stay with you for ever – Alfie’s special stone, Bonting, that gets lost on the beach, Rosemary Wells’ Noisy Nora slamming doors, from picture books I adored sharing with my family because these were like things happening in our lives too.
Help I'm An Alien

When I wrote Help I’m an Alien, I had no idea if anyone would publish it or if they did, who would be my publishing partner in crime. I’m thrilled that it turned out to be Martin West.

I feel very privileged that of all the manuscripts in the world, Troika Books have chosen to publish mine. Help I’m an Alien is out now and there are two more books in the series to follow.

Head on over to the Troika Books website to find out about the rest of their amazing books.

Partners in Crime – Anne Clark

All unpublished authors know the horrible feeling when an email arrives in their inbox from an agent they have recently submitted their precious manuscript to. It’s hideous! When I was submitting Help I’m an Alien I became totally inboxaphobic, in fear of what would come pinging over the internet.

Anne Clark

My fantastic agent Anne Clark

One day about six emails, various subjects, landed at once. One of them was from Anne Clark. She had recently set up a new literary agency and I was hoping that as she had a hungry list, she would at least look at my submission seriously.
‘Another rejection! I’m not opening that,’ I said to the cat and left the email untouched. I didn’t need another kick in the teeth right at the moment, but the flipping thing kept glowering at me, daring me to open it.
It took me an hour to pluck up the courage to click and . . .

Hi Jo
Thanks for sending me Help! I’m an Alien. It made me laugh, and I’d like to have a look at the rest of it if I may.
Would you mind emailing the complete MS to this address?

I’d made an agent laugh! Suddenly I was zinging.
‘Would you mind emailing the complete MS?’ Those words were the best words ever!
I screamed, I danced, I scared the living daylights out of the cat.

Tom kitten

Tom Kitten

I was only one step closer to finding an agent, but it was a big step. I knew that despite all my best efforts, the beginning of the MS was the weakest part. I was absolutely convinced Anne was going to like the full book.
She did!

Anne helped me sort out the weakish beginning and the rest is history.
That was three years ago. Even with an agent behind you, living in the world of publishing is full of dark moments as well as sparks of delight. I am so lucky to have Anne by my side showing me the way. She was my first professional partner in crime and I hope that we will have a long and happy career together.

Recently we had a chat about her life as an agent :

  •         Why did you choose to set up your own agency?

It was time for a new adventure which involved my favourite things – working with authors and getting great books out into the world for children and teenagers to read.

  •          I was thrilled that you picked up Help I’m an Alien from the slushpile. What was it that drew you to the story in the first place?

It made me laugh! But I particularly loved the warmth of your humour, and the way that the comedy grows out of your spot-on observations of how real-life boys interact with their families and friends.

  •          An agent’s job is very varied, which is your favourite part?

Finding a gem among my submissions. Settling down to read the latest MS from one of my clients and finding it’s as good as I’d hoped. Finding that a publisher loves a book as much as I do, and clinching a deal.

A selection of Anne Clark's clients

A selection of Anne Clark’s clients

  • I know you get loads of submissions a week. How do you deal with your submission inbox?

Decisively! By now I can tell fairly quickly if I’m going to be interested in a submission, so I don’t dither.

  •          Unpublished writers always want to know what individual agents are looking for or what the next trend will be. Can you offer any advice?

It’s usually not a great idea to try to write what someone else wants, unless of course they are offering you a commission! If you set out to follow a specific trend, the chances are that things will have moved on by the time your MS is ready. However, it’s a very good idea to keep up with new and successful books in your age group and genre (bestsellers as well as prize-winners), so that you have a feel for what is actually working in the market. And do be aware that every new book needs a hook – something that makes it different and special. Then write what you want to write. Good luck!

Isn’t she lovely? If you would like to submit to her, head on over to her website and read her submission guidelines.

Look out for my next partner in crime post- my publisher Martin West from Troika Books.

Partners in Crime #1 – Critique Group

Writing can be a very lonely business. I’m happy in my own company and often spend the core part of the day not talking to anyone (except myself and my dog). I’ve always had a hankering to be an eccentric recluse in a writers hut, but I suspect the reality of being so isolated would drive me mad.

Once my writing starts looking like a book, I get other people involved in the process. I have a number of Partners in Crime who feature at different stages of the creation of a completed project – my agent, my publisher, my publicist and my illustrator. Do come back and read about the others, but first of all I want to introduce you to my critique group.

Emma Styles, Tasha Kavanagh, Alli Jeronimus, Jen Miles and me.

Me, Tasha, Alli, Jen

Me, Tasha, Alli, Jen

Me, Tasha, Alli and Jen at Tasha’s launch party. (Emma was working that night)

The exact membership of the crit group has changed over time, but this particular line up has been going strong for a few years. We currently meet every two weeks during term time at a secret location on the South Bank.

I asked the team about their experience of being in our critique group.

Tasha : It’s great when you get to know a group of writers well. Beyond the obvious – ie the great feedback – the support and camaraderie is invaluable.
Alli : I can bring a plot problem to you four and I know I’ll leave with it sorted.
Jen : I love (and dread) hearing your comments on my work and learning from them  – sometimes things are pointed out that I’m amazed I didn’t see myself. That’s both brilliant and annoying.
Emma : Mostly that I am never alone when working on something and always have a team on my side.


Emma in one of the exotic locations she writes about

Interestingly we all struggled to come up with a negative thing to say about being a member of the group.

I guess that is why we have been together so long, with no sign of stress.

Although, I’ve been pointing out the overuse of rhetorical questions for three years and they still ignore me which sends me slightly insane, but hey – it’s their book!

Sometimes there can be a danger of ‘writing for the critique group’. It can happen in a classroom situation where the tutor has to be strict on time. Writers tend to write short chapters, all ending on the same note. I don’t believe that happens with our group. Probably because we read each other’s work so regularly and often look at a chunk of 5,000 words at a time, so we’d pick up on that sort of thing.
For most of us, this is our only regular critique group. With the exception of Jen.

Jen says ‘I belong to three critique groups. I’m a crit group junkie… all very different in approach and experience, though similar comments often come up.’
Receiving feedback can be quite intense so everyone tries to take time to digest the comments before they wade in and make changes, but I guess it depends on where we are in the writing/submission cycle. Most people end up finishing their book and sending it out before the group have reached the final chapter. So there is a chance that we don’t actually get to read the whole book until it is published.This group has spawned two book babies so far.Help I'm An Alien

Crit Group Book Babies




We meet in a public space on the South Bank so now bring our own lunch. I asked everyone what they like to eat on a Friday.

Tasha  :   Uh… anything or nothing. Except now I’m vegan, so mostly chips.
Alli   :  Sushi. And then I steal bits of the Brownies Jo brings. [NB that is why Alli is slim and I am not]
Jen  :  Part of the pleasure is the jaunt to the Southbank, and I treat myself to yummy stuff either from the food market or the café inside.
Emma  :  I’m never organised enough to bring something from home, but I am partial to a cheese and pickle sandwich and a bowl of fries with mayo…
Jo  :  I love the opportunity of eating a meal cooked by someone else. My favourite is the vegetarian dosa from the Friday food market behind the Festival Hall and the gluten free brownies from the cookie/cake stall.

I hope you enjoyed reading about my amazing critique group.
The next installment of my Partners in Crime series will be all about my lovely agent.