This November, during the ABRAXAS children'sbook festival in Zug, Switzerland, the "Baarer Rabe" will be awarded for the second time. This award for upcoming children's book writers celebrates an unpublished work of fiction in German. Eligible are a team of authors or one person alone, who write literature for children or YA but haven't been published in that field (from the ABRAXAS-Festival website). With a prize of CHF 4'000, it's one of the best paid of its kind in all of the German speaking countries. In addition to that, the story will be published by SJW-Verlag in their usual format.
|The beautiful venue where the jury met|
Again, I was able to help choose the winner as a jury member. The competition had received a more stringent set of rules. Perhaps this was one of the reasons, why the quality of the sent-in stories was better than last time. But even so, it was obvious that some people think you can write a children's story for a quick fun on a rainy Sunday afternoon, and that quality doesn't matter anyway. The jury noticed, for example, that none of the texts – even the winning story – was of a high enough standard to be published without heavy reworking. (As opposed to the 2013 winner "The Best of Tarantino", whose wonderfully worked voice and prose – besides an absolute stunning plotline and great humour – intrigued and convinced the jury.)
1.) Follow the rules!
If they ask for loose sheets in the usual manuscript layout and double spacing, they mean it. A bound MS with 1.5 spacing will most probably not even been given to the jury.
2.) Activate autocorrect!
So many stories were full of typos every usual autocorrecting programme will spot. So: activate autocorrect and take note of the suggested changes. This point leads directly onto the next one…
3.) Read the story!
Before posting your story, read the finished work at least once aloud. Hacked-off sentences, long and meandering structures, and flaws in rhythm will only shine out if read aloud. Also, you'll notice if a sentence changes direction midway. We noticed this flaw in many stories.
Most people find it hard to believe, but children and young adults are a much more demanding audience than adults are. If a text doesn't grab them on the first page, they'll put it away. If the language is hackneyed and too convoluted, they'll put it away. If the story doesn't flow logically, well, you get the point.
So: edit until the prose flows, the story is easy to read and races along from the first line to the last.
5.) No preaching!
Moral lessons, schoolmaster wisdom and adult patronising don't belong in a text for a young audience. They aren't daft. They'll smell lessons of any kind 10 miles against the wind and will shy them like the plague. Two wonderful clichés, but all too true. Good children's and YA literature educates, yes, but this needs to be well wrapped up with a beautiful bow on top.
So - who's the winner of the "Baarer Rabe" 2015? As the press release hasn't been distributed yet, you'll have to be patient. But you'll certainly read about it soon enough. All I can say is: The story deals with a difficult topic in a thrilling, moving and compassionate way.
And now, good luck for your next competition entry.