Chapter Two: Denouement and Resolution - Masterclass for authors with Tara Weikum

Vice President of Harper Collins USA, Tara Weikum

Vice President of Harper Collins USA, Tara Weikum

Listening to Tara speak about how to approach a revision after an editor has provided feedback was riveting. I took as many notes as my typing fingers could muster.

While Tara’s talk was based on her personal approach to editing, she provided us with universal truths about writing and revisions.

Tara approaches each manuscript differently. She speaks extensively with the author and aims to provide feedback that fits their needs.

She doesn’t make notes on the manuscript; she prefers to write an editorial letter.

Tara’s editorial letters:

  • Can be 20 pages, and they can be intimidating - not a sign your story is awful, rather a sign that the editor has a passion for your work, they are invested and want to make it as strong as possible.
  • Can be 3-4 pages - it varies depending on the book.

Tara usually writes her comments under subject headings, e.g. character development, pacing, voice …

The letters contain suggestions - not absolute changes. However, if she believes certain changes are necessary she discusses this with the author before signing them. Sometimes changes are deal breakers and she needs to be certain that she and an author have the same vision for the book and can work together to achieve it.


Tara suggests authors think about plot in terms of jacket copy:

  • How you would right your own jacket copy?
  • Can you describe your story in a succinct and compelling way?
  • What is the core story?
  • Which plot line is the reader meant to care about the most?
  • If you can write your own copy then you (and your editor) will have clarity about the plot.

Tara said editors are concerned authors will think they don’t ‘get’ the story if they question the plot. Instead, editors are trying to find out why a story is written a particular way and if there is a reason for the way a story unfolds.

Revision is more difficult if a story has layers of mystery and subtext, because any problems might not be obvious. Tara approaches these edits by pointing out that something isn’t working and she’s not sure why. Then it up to the author to think ‘what can I do to make this clear?’


Tara suggested we make sure our stories start in the right place. Beginnings need to include a set up and story thread that will lead the reader into the second chapter. The set up not just dumping reader in the middle of the action.

Number One Problem

The most common problems she sees is … telling vs showing. A way to think or fix the telling problem is to ask yourself:

  • ‘Can I show this through action and/or dialogue?’
  • ‘Would this scene be stronger if I show why?’
  • ‘By summarising this part does it keep narrative flowing?’ Closely followed by ‘If this isn’t adding to the story or moving it forward, then can I get rid of it.’


Voice can be elusive to edit, and it’s difficult to tell someone why a voice doesn't work. A problem with voice is usually caused by a conflict between the character on the page and the character the author is trying to establish.

Tara suggests an author figure out the reason why you write a voice in a certain way, if you know the reason then you’re more likely to develop an authentic real character.

Some things to think about when writing a teen voice include:

  • word choice - the way teens communicate, and
  • focus on what they care about.

Some other great points Tara made during her talk included:

  • When you receive feedback from an editor decide what makes sense for your story.
  • With critiques, sift through what is going to work as you contemplate a revision.
  • Editors want to collaborate.
  • You may not agree with everything you hear.

If you don't have a contract with an editor and they write to you, take what they say seriously because they would only do this if they believe a story is worthwhile.

Tara tries to get as much feedback as she can in an editorial letter so the author doesn't have to go through another revision thinking they could have fixed it the first time.

She never turns down something she loves, even if it needs a lot of revision. However, the authors writing ability has to be strong.

She pauses if significant changes are required to a manuscript e.g. an ending. Tara asks the author if they will go through a revision with her before she decides to take the story forward.

Finally, editors only sign up books they love because they need to sustain their passion for a story through the gruelling acquisition process.

Sketch attributed to Liz Anelli

Sketch attributed to Liz Anelli

Thank you Tara for the insights into your editorial process. We hope to see you over our way again soon.

Melanie Hill Roving Reporter




Chapter Two: Ascending Action with a Big Twist! - From Ideas to Publication

Editors, authors and illustrators from Penguin Random House and Harper Collins discussed the process of creating their books.

The audience were treated to an exciting insight into how ideas are developed by a team of committed people, each with a unique skillset, to create the best possible book.

'All we want to do is create the best book possible' Lisa Berryman Harper Collins

Harper Collins - Lisa Berryman, Jen Storer and Lucinda Gifford

The idea for Jen's book The Fourteenth Summer of Angus Jack started when two goblin girls strolled onto the page while she was writing The Accidental Princess. The girls didn't fit this story, but they were fascinating, and Jen invited them onto a blank page so she could find a different story for them. Eventually they made themselves at home in Angus Jack.

Lisa had a strong vision for Angus Jack and knew an illustrator would need to bring out the gothic atmosphere of the story, but she didn’t have anyone in mind at the time. Lisa and Jen had seen Lucinda’s work separately and were both thinking her style suited the story. When Lisa suggested Lucinda, it was an easy decision.

Lucinda took time to develop the characters because the target age of the readers meant that the illustrations needed to have realistic features, not stylised one. She also focused on quirky details described in the story, such as the artefacts. Lucinda sent sketches to get feedback, then developed roughs before the final drawings were submitted.

Lisa loves creating a team and values a collaborative process. She selects a designer early so they are involved with the author, illustrator, editor and publisher from the start. In the case of Angus Jack, the book designer had a strong vision, which helped guide Lucinda's illustrations.

The team worked together to find the voice of the book - i.e. the marriage of text, illustrations, internal design, and cover design.

Lucinda and Jen happen to live close to each other. When Jen used a local antique shop and its owner as the inspiration for a character and setting, Lucinda could draw on the same source of inspiration for the illustrations. Their collaboration resulted in the characters being drawn just as Jen envisioned them.

Penguin Random House Team - Belinda Murrell and Serena Geddes (Zoe Walton was unwell – we hope she’s started to feel better – Ed)

The Lulu Bell books were created collaboratively too. The writer, illustrator and editor developed the books together.

The idea for the Lulu Bell series came to Belinda in 2011 and was a shift from writing for 10-14 year olds to writing for 6-10 year olds. Initially, Belinda found writing for a younger audience challenging. The editing process focused on adjusting the sentence length and changing the vocab to suit the readers.

Belinda lived in a vet hospital when growing up. There were a number of quirky animal characters she drew upon, including an escape artist python.

The series was initial named Charlie Rose. Zoe loved it but asked Belinda change it because of Jacqueline Harvey’s Clementine Rose. Belinda tried many names and eventually came up with Lulu Bell.

After suggesting a number of other illustrators for Belinda’s new series to Zoe, Serena finally gathered the courage to put her own work forward. Zoe said she couldn’t promise but she’d try.

Serena’s illustrations are inspired by watching the author speak about the story they’ve written. She also borrowed a lot of Belinda’s photo albums and based the characters on Belinda as a girl and Belinda’s family members. Using real people and things in her illustrations also peaks the interests of kids when she’s visiting schools and libraries.

The consistency within the series (family life, characters, clothing, etc.) is maintained by the editor and publisher.

Belinda was asked why there are 13 books in the series. Originally four books were planned, written, and released. They were so successful, Penguin Random House took the series to six, then eight, then ten, a Christmas special, and the final two. Three big bumper books will be released this year.

The panel was a great insight into how books for younger readers are created by a team of dedicated and passionate professionals.

Melanie Hill Roving Reporter




Rovers Revealed # 4

I do love a good reveal. I confess, I’m one of those types who appreciate a bit of explanation at the end of a well-read tale so I can be sure of who’s who and what’s what and why it all ended up that way. Colour me duller than dishwater but for me, that beats being left in the dark with my (out of bounds) imagination.  Here at SCBWI, we never want you to feel in the dark either, so here is another of our Meet and Greet series reveals. Sit back and become better acquainted with two more of our sparkly Roving Reporters, Canetoad, Melanie Hill and Cockroach, Ramona Davey. *

Melanie Hill

Melanie Hill

Melanie Hill

Melanie has loved fairy tales since her birth in 1971. She has always written poetry for pleasure. The need to write fiction was dragged from her unconscious during hostage training prior to deploying to Iraq. Now, she is the matriarch of a wild gang of outlaw kids and is married to a former pirate. Melanie is terrified of crocodiles, mice and swamp monsters, but she enjoys cloud busting, travelling by train, and stories with hopeful (but not happy) endings.

You can follow Melanie on twitter @melanieahill, facebook under Melanie Hill Author, or her blog

Is this your first SCWBI Conference?

This is my first SCBWI Conference

What is the most memorable (SCBWI) Conference experience you’ve had to date, or hope to have?

I hope to come away with 1-2 new writing friends and ideas on how to improve my work.

As a creator in the Kids Literary Industry, what do you want to be best known for?

I would like to be best known for children's poetry, and action packed stories.

Name one thing you cannot live without.

I cannot live without my family. They inspire me and stop me from spending too much time daydreaming.

Ramona Davey

Ramona Davey

Ramona Davey

Ramona Davey was born in Jersey. She is an experienced primary teacher with a specialty in Art & Design.

Ramona writes picture books, junior fiction and middle grade novels. She has a passion for rhyme, quirky stories and historical fiction.

She also participates in Tania McCartney’s 52 week Illustration Challenge.

In 2012 Ramona wrote, illustrated and self-published a picture book called “The Jersey Twelve Days Of Christmas.” She also created it as an eBook for iPad with sound effects for iTunes.

Writers Groups/Societies:

NSW Writers Centre

SCBWI - NZ & Australia

Ramona is new member co-ordinator for SCBWI Aus/NZ – Sydney region)

You can contact Ramona on the following social media:




Is this your first SCWBI Conference? If not how many have you attended, where?

This year will be my third SCBWI Conference and I am really looking forward to it.

What is the most memorable (SCBWI) Conference experience you’ve had to date, or hope to have?

This year's may be the most memorable, as I no longer feel like a nervous newbie. As New Member Co-ordinator for SCBWI Sydney region I can meet and greet new SCBWI members and do my best at making them feel welcome and not alone. 

As a creator in the Kids Literary Industry, what do you want to be best known for?

Writing hard to put down children's books - whether it be through my humorous writing or for extremely interesting and mind blowing historical stories.

Name one thing you cannot live without.

Hand cream. :-)

 *Any assumption that either of these ladies resemble the creatures of their home-states is purely speculative and that of the author’s. No offence to either state, reporter or creature is intended, unless of course you are a Queenslander, like I am…

Better rove you later!