Simple English ~ Nicola Prentis

Thoughts on ELT, English and whatever else comes into my head

Writing Graded Readers – A Timeline

Since there seems to be interest in this process from people, some of whom have the same “Wait a minute, I could do that” feeling that I had, I started wondering what a more detailed breakdown of it would look like. What I found out when I started looking for the dates and all the steps had me quailing and wondering how I kept on with it.


This is the journey from my first reader The Tomorrow Mirror to my second Reader As Others See Us which will be out this year. And I categorically do not mean this as a criticism of any of the people I’ve been lucky enough to work with. This is just how the system works.

Sept 2011

Suggest a book to my editors at Publisher 1 that I thought would make a good adaptation. They agree it would and go off to investigate acquiring the rights.

Sept/Oct 2011

Come up with the idea for the As Others See Us and write a chapter by chapter synopsis.

Oct 2011

Pitch it to the editors I worked with on the last one. It is rejected as not fitting with their market, indeed even being alienating towards them ie teenagers.

I realise my mistake, a huge never to be repeated mistake: not submitting sample chapters.

I’d been keen to get it in what I believed was their commissioning window (I’ve since learned no such concrete thing exists) and I was also reluctant to write the thing unless someone was interested. I thought too, presumptuously, that a synopsis would be enough now they knew I could write.

Wrong move. With only a synopsis the editor has to imagine your story and in my case, they had imagined something different enough to what I was imagining that they thought it wouldn’t fit their market when, in fact, it does.

Two weeks later, with three sample chapters written and a little tweak of the synopsis to avoid the previous misinterpretation, I pitch it to Publisher 2a. They are potentially interested but not looking for anything new until 2014 and not able to make a decision until Nov 2012.


November 2011

Find out that Publisher 1 can’t get the rights to the Adaptation I’d suggested which all agree is a shame because it would have made a good one. And they’re closing their lists to new titles until 2014 ie commissioning sometime 2013. So of no use to me for a long time.

Dec 2011

I can’t think what I was doing in November? Slacking clearly. Pitch it to  Publisher 2b using the contacts from their website to find out who to send it to. This turned out to be the Commissioning Editor for Adult Readers so she told me she was passing it to the Young Adult Editor.

I wait.

And wait.

And wait a bit more. I wait the three long months I’d been given to understand is normal in publishing terms, by which time I’d finished a job, got over a terrible relationship, moved country, continents had formed, species had died out.

March 2012

I send a gentle enquiry and it turns out the person who was supposed to have got it never had. Another lesson learned: be more of a polite nuisance. However, this guy was like lightning. He sent me the Author’s Guidelines and asked if I could make it 10 chapters and 8,000 words. And he was hoping to get it done super fast in order to have it in their 2012 catalogue. Dazzling speed.

Resoundingly Obama style YES  I can!

I can do whatever they want me to.

It means adding a new plot element to make it fit the longer word length and he recommends the new proposal to the person with the decision making power.  This is looking good.

April 2012

I write the complete first draft. This is not as easy as I had hoped. Stretching it out is difficult and I’d lost some of the momentum I’d had six months ago when I started it. Lesson learned: Write. Just bloody write it. Then stick it in a drawer and forget about it. It’s much easier to go back and rework something that’s complete than only partially done.

And then I start waiting again. Long enough for me to be robbed twice, be accused of the robbery by my landlady,  get an agent for EFL writing, move again, fall in love.

June 2012

I make a polite enquiry. See? Learning. Not about the love thing though. I was heading for a fall there.

Due to internal changes at Publisher 2b, things are at a halt and will be for the summer. This is fine, I have a very demanding summer job and could do nothing more about it anyway. But it is now looking like I might not hear from publisher 2b until the time Publisher 2a had said they were looking at new titles. I briefly consider the wisdom of playing them against each other. I realise I am not JK Rowling and should stick with the one who was at least saying the right things.

August 2012

I enquire again. Struggling to think of different ways to phrase this question by now.

Oct 2012

See August 2012!

I get detailed feedback on the first draft. I have to read it from behind my fingers. It is an evisceration. But, a couple of weeks later, when I dare to read it again, it isn’t that bad – more of an invigorating exfoliation than an excoriation. And there was plenty of it that was working. The bits that need work are the additions I’d made to make it do what I think of as another bump in the path to the story’s resolution.

November 2012

The offer is fairly certain but I don’t have an actual contract. It’s certain enough though since, apparently, my title is in the proofs for the publisher’s 2013 catalogue which would presumably cost a fortune to redo. So I rewrite it for the second draft over December and submit. Which is a good idea anyway as, just in case this deal falls through, I have a full, revised manuscript to pitch somewhere else.

January 2013

The contract’s in process…I’m waiting for it… and for feedback. But probably not long enough to undergo any major life events this time.

And I  start writing the third one with a view to finding a home for it asap. Publisher 2b – let’s call them Publisher 2 from now on, shall we? – have closed their lists for another year so I can’t pitch there. Back to Publisher 1 who I find out is commissioning titles in Spring. But note, only because I asked, they didn’t let me know. I can see that contacts don’t mean a lot. Yet or ever? I wonder.

Get my advance copies of The Tomorrow Mirror, the first Reader, which goes on sale next month. Might have mentioned this on the blog before 🙂 Once or twice!

End of Jan 2013

Well, I’m still waiting for the above but I used this month to finish the first draft of the third Reader which is mouldering away in the drawer of Publisher 1 for the next six months while they finish other projects. I forced myself through it on plenty of days I didn’t feel like doing it with a strict timetable of one chapter a day. This is from a lesson previously learned that if you sit down and write, something usually comes out that’s usable even if it ends up rewritten. Sounds obvious but that alone is the main difference between writers and people who’d “love to write a book one day.”

And today, I gathered my forces and made a valiant attempt at creating order from chaos. I’ve contacted all of the publishing houses, making an effort to use existing contacts or seek out the right person at places I have no prior connection with, to ask when their commissioning windows are and for which series (serieses?? ouch, ugly). I am reliably informed this is a largely pointless endeavour but I refuse to believe I can’t somehow get into a rhythm of pitching and getting contracts and it can’t hurt for me to be gently badgering the right people.

Things I should also have done/written today…a list to long to mention.

Feb 2013

The feedback, but not the contract, for As Others See Us came. There was a bit more to change than I thought and I had to change the order some of the story’s events came in. It was a genius piece of insight by the editor to spot that and the whole thing works much better now. I have to admit I am sick of this story now. I read this quote today by Matt Haig “The joy of writing never changes, however many books you have published. It is not always a joy. It is only a joy for a fraction of the time” that sums my feelings up.

March 2013

One out of the six publishers I scatterbombed about writing Graded Readers sounds interested, has read and liked The Tomorrow Mirror, and might be commissioning before the summer and could even have two or three slots for me, assuming I can come up with ideas. Result! And proof, if I needed it, that persistence and keeping your name in people’s minds is everything.

Time is slowing down in Reader’s World again so I have, in fact, moved flat again which makes three times during the long labour of this book. Maybe that says as much about how often I move as it does about publishing. I sent the publishers my new address, pleased to have found a new way of asking for the contract. Still waiting.

But, in other writing news, very excitingly I’d sent a sort of novel pitch to a major agent, reminded them after eight weeks with a nudge that I’d read about a similar project that had won a publishing deal after auction i.e. kerching!, and they immediately asked to see the full manuscript. Nothing might come of it but it’s a step in the right direction. And, as above, proves persistence and knowing your market is key.  I have allowed myself some daydreams about the very expensive shoes I’m going to buy if I get an advance.

April 2013

Silence, tumbleweeds, lucky I’m getting so good at this waiting lark. I have in fact forgotten I have a book underway. And then suddenly the contract arrives. Half as much money as I was hoping for but nonetheless, it’s official and far more than you get paid for writing short stories for magazines etc. However, publication is now delayed until Spring 2014 (if you remember way back at the conception of this book’s journey, it was due to be out 2012!) but this is possibly a good thing as it ties in better with the publisher’s promotional period.

May 2013

Approving final edits, chapter by chapter. Man…this is the relaxing part. Click ‘accept suggestion’ or ‘reject suggestion’. Try to put myself back into the story but also benefit from the long gap between editing and writing the third draft. I do occasionally have to add or change bits which means actual writing but the pressure is off – or it feels like it. I’m not precious about this kind of thing – my manuscript is not some sacred document which shalt not be changed. Whatever they think; they’re the experts.

And two publishers got in touch regarding my pestering in the winter. So that is possibly one new original and one adaptation to do in autumn. Looks like the fee based over royalties based movement is happening in earnest now as one of those is not going to include royalties but, as I’ve no idea yet what volumes these things sell in, I’m not too bothered and it will be another 6 months before I find out what sales are on The Tomorrow Mirror  to know if I’m screwing myself over. But anyway, since I make sure I am contractually allowed to take the basic story and characters and write it up into screenplay, novel etc I have other possibilities than royalties. Intend to do that for any story I see further potential for.

June 2013

Final edit approval on a chapter by chapter basis got a bit more taxing – there was actual writing to do, but only little bits.

July 2013

Final, final edit approval is waiting for me in my inbox like the Grim Reaper. All the chapters have been put back together and that might incur more fiddling. I don’t have time to look until August by which time I will have forgotten the story – again – and be fresh. Actually I’ll still be sick of it. Lord of the Rings can’t have taken this long.

August 2013

Somewhere along here I think I got paid. Strike that, I thought I got paid. Writing this made me check and no I didn’t. That’s the thing about this freelance lark folks, chasing commissions is equalled by chasing payments. I am starting to realise a scribbled list of who owes me money which I seem to randomly cross things off based on who I have a good feeling about rather than by cross referencing against my bank statement is not actually a system.

I am going to have to make A Spreadsheet. That would mean having to know how much I am earning as a writer and I am not sure I am ready to be confronted by the fact it’s probably not enough to live off. Yet.

Anyway, I digress. The final stage of the edits is underway. This is a level edit. So far this is a deja vu process where words added by the editors in previous drafts are then highlighted by a computer programme which says they’re out of level. However, it’s still mostly a right-clicking exercise.

Then the Glossary and the Artwork brief had to be written out in full. And then I will appeal to the parole board for either immediate release or the electric chair. Nothing in between. I can’t right click without getting the shakes.

TBC…But I really hope that ellipsis is finally a full stop.

Dec 2013

There have been a handful emails over the last month or two concerning the final page layouts and asking me to come up with some more suggested illustrations as either I got the required number wrong or I was given a lower number than I should have been. I would have to go through old emails/drafts to check but I’m not bothered and don’t mind doing it. It did take about 6 weeks until the final layout came through though so I’ve not done anything about it until now. I also have to write a list of characters – easy – and was asked if I cared to comment on the suggestions for resizing artwork and changing where lines fall on to the next page or not. I have no opinion about this and am happy to leave it up to the editors.

Now surely the next in the TBC line is the one where the book is appearing for sale?

Jan-April 2014

Too many rounds of proofs to list individually but now we finally had a handover and a publication date! June 2014.

The one thing that happened that I was really pleased about was that Publisher 2 agreed to commission the graphic artist Lance Tooks to illustrate my book. I know Lance and he lives here in Madrid so we get to work together which is fantastic. He’s been drawing since he was 16 and worked for Marvel comics and so the book is going to look very different from a lot of Graded Readers.

It already started being fun when I complained he hadn’t drawn the male lead character good looking enough. Lance is American and his reply was “Well, you asked for him to look English!” There wasn’t a lot I could say to that but the character, Robert, now looks more emo/Harry Styles.

I see this as an ongoing collaboration and hope we can be a team for future commissions – if there ever are any since the big publishers seem to be abandoning Readers which is crazy.

Another Reader I had written for Publisher 3 fell victim to restructuring and the shelving of the project. But I’ve found that my publisher for a Skills Book I have out in May has just started putting out Readers and is keen to expand so I might have a better outlet anyway.

And one more thing, The Tomorrow Mirror was announced as a finalist at the Extensive Reading Foundation Awards! Winners are announced in July.

August 2014

Why am I surprised that the publication date (July) has come and gone and there is no book? The cover has not even been added on Amazon. I don’t know where the delay is – possibly printing I suppose. At 6,000 words the manuscript is probably shorter than the emails chasing this book would be if they were compiled. If I hadn’t started this log I don’t think I’d believe how long this has taken. I’m not actually sure even that is enough for credulity.

However, I did win that ERF Award for The Tomorrow Mirror.

September 2014

Due to delays at the printer’s (or something) the book now won’t be out until October.  However, you can now see the front cover when you find it on the publisher’s website.

October 2014

I can’t even be bothered to type this up. Ditto the above post but insert “November”.

Three YEARS. In the original artwork brief I had to be careful not to make the mobile phone that features in the story too prominent as it would inevitably date the book.

I now see why.

By the time this book is out, people will be communicating via SIM cards in their brains.

November, 2014

lance picsI’m holding in my hands an advance copy of As Other See Us. I say advance as publication is now slated for December according to the publisher’s website. Lance’s illustrations look amazing, at least.


In life terms, in the birthing process of this book, I have gained two nieces, moved flat however many times, had 2 other books published, started writing for online magazines, got a job as a blog editor, met The One (no more of that pretend stuff) and am having a baby. I would not say with confidence that the book will be on sale before I become a mother. It just goes to show you have no idea what will happen in your life or how long it takes to get where you think you’re going.

December, 2014

By far the longest post I´ve written, this is now longer than my first Graded Reader. Will it reach the length of the still yet-to-be released As Others See Us? Amazon now tells me it is available Jan 2015. No-one’s getting it in their Chistmas stocking then. Apparently this doesn´t disqualify it from being in the ERF Awards for 2015. At this rate, the judges will be the only ones who´ve been able to read it. That still hasn´t stopped someone offering it as a free download on some pirate site though. Kudos for managing that!

However, in other news Readers-wise. I got two offers for the new one I’ve been hawking for two years. Am accepting the higher one of course.

January, 2015

A-a-a-nd, it’s out! Out and actually available. I’ve been periodically googling it to see what’s going on and, at long last, there it was, with a price and saying how many days it would take to ship. A real thing. It’s not all smooth though the audio — which is supposed to be downloadable as opposed to a CD which no-one has the equipment to play these days — does not appear where it should on the publisher’s website. That’ll be another year then …

But, good news is that the book copies got shipped in time to be put entered into the ERF Awards for 2014. Can I do the double?


4 comments on “Writing Graded Readers – A Timeline

  1. Ebefl
    March 21, 2013

    Very interesting! If like to hear more about publishing materials…it’s something I know nothing about.

  2. Nicola
    December 7, 2013
  3. katieyangel
    November 13, 2014

    What a great post, Nicola! Made me laugh and gave me chills down my spine at the end. You’re a tough cookie!

    • Nicola
      November 15, 2014

      Thanks Katie! I can’t think of anything more I’d want to achieve with one piece of writing 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


This entry was posted on December 7, 2013 by in Graded Readers, Writing and tagged , , , .
%d bloggers like this: