December 2020 – Jericho Writers
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How To Write Descriptions And Create A Sense Of Place

Your first job as a storyteller is a simple one, and a crucial one. You have to get your passengers into your train – your readers into your story. Only then can you hope to transport them. And that crucial first step doesn’t have much to do with characters or story or anything else. What matters first is this: your fictional world has to seem real. It has to grip the reader as intensely as real life – more intensely, even. Writing descriptions that seem vivid, with the use of evocative language, is therefore essential. The buildings, cities, places, rooms, trees, weather of your fictional world have to be convincing there. They have to have an emphatic, solid, believable presence. A big ask, right? But it gets harder than that. Because at the same time, people don’t want huge wodges of descriptive writing. They want to engage with characters and story, because that’s the reason they picked up your book in the first place. So your challenge becomes convincing readers that your world is real . . . but using only the lightest of touches to achieve that goal. Not so easy, huh? Start Early Set the scene early on – then nudge. It may sound obvious but plenty of writers launch out into a scene without giving us any descriptive material to place and anchor the action. Sure, a page or so into the scene, they may start to add details to it – but by that point it’s too late. They’ve already lost the reader. If the scene feels placeless at the start – like actors speaking in some blank, white room – you won’t be able to wrestle that sense of place back later. So start early. That means telling the reader where they are in a paragraph (or so), close to the start of any new scene. That early paragraph needs to have enough detail that if you are creating a coffee shop, for example, it doesn’t just feel like A Generic Coffee Shop. It should feel like its own thing. One you could actually walk into. Something with its own mood and colour. One vivid descriptive detail will do more work for you than three worthy but colourless sentences. And once, early in your scene, you’ve created your location, don’t forget about it. Just nudge a little as you proceed. So you could have your characters talking – then they’re interrupted by a waitress. Then they talk (or argue, or fight, or kiss) some more, and then you drop in some other detail which reminds the reader, “Yep, here we still are, in this coffee shop.” That’s a simple technique, bit it works every time. One paragraph early on, then nudge, nudge, nudge. As the roughest of rough guides, those nudges need to happen at least once a page – so about every 300 words. If it’s natural to do so more often, that’s totally fine. Be Specific Details matter! They build a sense of place like nothing else. Gabriel García Márquez, opening One Hundred Years of Solitude, introduces his village like this: Macondo was a village of twenty adobe houses, built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs. Boom! We’re there. In his world. In his village. Already excited to see what lies ahead. And yes, he’s started early (Chapter 1, Page 1, Line 1). But it’s more than that, isn’t it? He could have written something like this: Macondo was a village of about twenty houses, built on a riverbank. I hope it’s obvious that that sentence hardly transports us anywhere. It’s too bland. Too unfocused. Too generic. There are literally thousands of villages in the world which would fit that description. In short, what makes Marquez’s description so vivid is its use of telling detail. They’re not just houses, they’re adobe houses. The river doesn’t just flow over stones, its flows over polished stones that are white and enormous, like (wow!) prehistoric eggs. The sentence works so well because Marquez has: Created something totally non-generic Via the use of highly specific detail, and Uses surprising / exotic language to make those details blaze in our imagination. That basic template is one you can use again and again. It never stales. It lies at the heart of all good descriptive writing. So here, for example, is a more ‘boring’ space . . . but still one redolent with vividness and atmosphere thanks to the powerful use of atmospheric specificity. In Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Offred introduces her room with details that not only grab us but hint at something dark: A chair, a table, a lamp. Above, on the white ceiling, a relief ornament in the shape of a wreath and in the centre of it a blank space, plastered over, like the place in a face where the eye has been taken out. There must have been a chandelier once. They’ve removed anything you could tie a rope to. Those clipped words transport us straight to Offred’s enclosed, and terrifying, space. We’re also told just enough to give us an image of that place, enough to heighten tension, enough to tease curiosity. This is just a description of a room – but we already feel powerfully impelled to read on. Be Selective With Your Descriptive Details Be selective – don’t overwhelm. It might be tempting to share every detail with us on surroundings. Don’t. Even with a setting like Hogwarts – a place readers really do want to know all the hidden details of – J.K. Rowling doesn’t share how many revolving staircases it has, how many treasures in the Room of Requirement, how many trees in the Forbidden Forest. That’s not the point. (And it would write off a little of Hogwarts’ magic and mystery.) If you’re describing a bar, don’t write: The bar was approximately twenty-eight feet long, by perhaps half of that wide. A long mahogany bar took up about one quarter of the floor space, while eight tables each with 4 wooden chairs occupied the remaining area. There were a number of tall bar stools arranged to accommodate any drinker who didn’t want to be seated at one of the tables. The ceiling height was pleasantly commodious. That’s accurate, yes. It’s informative, yes. But it’s bland as heck. The reader doesn’t want information. They want atmosphere. They want vivid language. They want mood. Here’s an alternative way to describe a bar – the Korova Milk Bar in A Clockwork Orange. This description delivers a sense of intimacy and darkness in a few words: The mesto [place] was near empty … it looked strange, too, having been painted with all red mooing cows … I took the large moloko plus to one of the little cubies that were all round … there being like curtains to shut them off from the main mesto, and there I sat down in the plushy chair and sipped and sipped We’re told what we need to know, thrown into that murky Korova atmosphere and Burgess moves the action on. All we really have in terms of detail are those mooing red cows, some cubies (curtain booths?), and a plushy chair. There’s lots more author Anthony Burgess could tell us about that place. But he doesn’t. He gives us the right details, not all the details. And if that’s not enough for you, then try reading this. Write For All The Senses You have a nose? So use it. Visuals are important, but don’t neglect the other senses. Offering a full range of sensory information will enhance your descriptive writing. Herman Melville, say, describes to us the chowder for the ship’s crew in Moby Dick: ‘small juicy clams, scarcely bigger than hazel nuts, mixed with pounded ship biscuits and salted pork cut up into little flakes.’ Such descriptions are deft, specific, and brilliantly atmospheric. Where else but on board a nineteenth century American whaler would you get such a meal? By picking out those details, Melville makes his setting feel vibrantly alive. Here’s another example. Joanne Harris’ opening of Chocolat plays to readers’ senses, as we’re immersed straightaway in the world of her book through scent, sound and sight: We came on the wind of the carnival. A warm wind for February, laden with the hot greasy scents of frying pancakes and sausage and powdery-sweet waffles cooked on the hotplate right there by the roadside, with the confetti sleeting down collars and cuffs and rolling in the gutters. These non-visual references matter so much because sight alone can feel a little distant, a little empty. By forcing the reader’s taste buds to image Melville’s clams or Harris’s pancakes – or making the reader feel that warm February wind, the confetti ‘sleeting’ down collars – it’s almost as though the writers are hauling the readers’ entire body into their scenes. That’s good stuff: do likewise. (And one easy test: take one of your scenes and highlight anything that references a non-visual sense. If you find some good references, then great: you’re doing fine. If not, your highlighter pen remains unused, you probably want to edit that scene!) Get Place And Action Working Together That’s where the magic happens! Use the atmospheric properties of a place to add to other properties of the scene. That doesn’t mean you should always play things the obvious way: no need for cliché;. You can have declarations of love happen in idyllic meadows, as in Twilight by Stephenie Meyer, but why not at a bus stop in the rain? Shouted over the barriers at a train station? Your character also brings one kind of mood to the scene, and the action that unfolds will bring other sensations. Lynda La Plante’s crime novel Above Suspicion makes a home setting frightening after it becomes obvious a stranger has been in protagonist DS Anna Travis’ flat, and she’s just been assigned to help solve her first murder case. So the place is influenced by action, once Anna notices: Reaching for the bedside lamp, she stopped and withdrew her hand. The photograph of her father had been turned out to face the room. She touched it every night before she went to sleep. It was always facing towards her, towards the bed, not away from it. … In the darkness, what had felt safe before now felt frightening: the way the dressing-table mirror reflected the street-light through the curtains and the sight of the wardrobe door left slightly ajar. Here a comfy, nondescript flat becomes a frightening place, just because of what else is going on. Go for unfamiliar angles that add drama and excitement to your work. Descriptions As Active Characters You know the way that a place can turn on you? So (for example) a place that seems safe can suddenly reveal some other side, seem menacing, then almost try to harm the character. That’s an incredibly powerful way to build descriptive writing into your text – because it feels mobile, alive and with a flicker of risk. You can use plotting techniques to help structure the way a reader interacts with a place: starting with a sense of the status quo, then some inciting incident that shifts that early stability, and so on. The inciting incident can be tiny – discovering that a photo frame has been moved, for example. Having your characters voice their perceptions of a place in dialogue also adds to its dramatic impact, because now the reader sees place both through the eyes of a narrator and through the eyes of the characters themselves. Good, huh? Do you need more help?Did you know we have an entire video course on How To Write? That course has had awesome client reviews, but it’s kinda expensive to buy . . . so don’t buy it! We’ve made that course available, in full, to members of Jericho Writers. Our members don’t just get that course, they also get: An incredible course on Getting Published A brilliant course on Self-Publishing A ton of filmed masterclasses Access to AgentMatch, the world’s best literary agent search tool A brilliant and supportive writers community Chances to pitch your work in front of literary agents, live online every month And more We’ve made the offer as rich as we know how to – and made it incredibly affordable too. You can find out more about our club here. Remember: we were founded by writers for writers – and we created this club for you. Do find out more... and we’d absolutely love it if you chose to join us. Use Unfamiliar Locations And smart research ALWAYS helps. Using unfamiliar settings adds real mood and atmosphere. Stephenie Meyer, when writing Twilight, decided she needed a rainy place near a forest to fit key plot elements. Like protagonist Bella, she was raised in Arizona, but explained the process of setting Twilight in an unfamiliar setting on her blog: For my setting, I knew I needed someplace ridiculously rainy. I turned to Google, as I do for all my research needs, and looked for the place with the most rainfall in the U.S. This turned out to be the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. I pulled up maps of the area and studied them, looking for something small, out of the way, surrounded by forest. … In researching Forks, I discovered the La Push Reservation, home to the Quileute Tribe. The Quileute story is fascinating, and a few fictional members of the tribe quickly became intrinsic to my story. As her success has shown, it’s possible to write successfully about a place you don’t know, but you must make it your business to know as much as you can about it. (Or if you’re writing a fantasy or sci-fi novel, plan your world down to its most intricate details.) And to be clear: you’re doing the research, not because you want that research to limit you. (Oh, I can’t write that, because Wikipedia tells me that the river isn’t as long / the forest isn’t as thick / or whatever else.) On the contrary: You are doing the research, because that research may inspire and stimulate a set of ideas you might not have ecountered otherwise. The key thing is to do your research to nail specifics, especially if they are unfamiliar, foreign, exotic. Just read how Tokyo is described in Ryu Murakami’s thriller In the Miso Soup: It was still early in the evening when we emerged onto a street in Tsukiji, near the fish market. … Wooden bait-and-tackle shops with disintegrating roofs and broken signs stood next to shiny new convenience stores, and futuristic highrise apartment complexes rose skyward on either side of narrow, retro streets lined with wholesalers of dried fish. There’s authenticity, grit to this description of Tokyo, as opposed to using ‘stock’ descriptions that could apply to many modern cities. Note this same thing with foods: in Japan, your protagonist could well be eating miso soup, as per Ryu Murakami. Or say if your story was set in Hong Kong, you might write in a dai pai dong (a sort of Chinese street kitchen), something very specific to that city if you’re describing a street there. Alternatively, if you are setting something in the past, get your sense of place right by doing your research right, too. In historical novel Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier, set in Holland in 1664, maid Griet narrates how artist Johannes Vermeer prepares her for her secret portrait, musing, to her horror, that ‘virtuous women did not open their mouths in paintings’. That last is just a tiny detail, but Griet’s tears show us how mortified she is. Modern readers won’t (necessarily) think about seventeenth-century connotations like this, so if you’re writing a scene set in a very different era or culture to what you know, research so you’re creating a true sense of place. Use Place To Create Foreshadowing A brilliant technique – we love it! Descriptions of place are never neutral. Good writers will, in overt or gently subtle ways, introduce a place-as-character. If that character is dangerous, for example, then simply describing a place adds a layer of foreboding, foreshadowing, to the entire book. Just read how J.R.R. Tolkien describes the Morannon in The Two Towers: ‘high mounds of crushed and powdered rock, great cones of earth fire-blasted and poison-stained … like an obscene graveyard.’ It’s obvious from this description trouble lies ahead for Frodo Baggins and Sam Gamgee. But even if you’re not writing this sort of fantasy, character psychology and plot (as we saw above) can also render seemingly harmless places suspect, too. A boring apartment in Above Suspicion becomes scary when it seems someone’s been inside. In the same sense, we thrill to the sense of a place with excitement and promise, too, like when Harry makes his first trip to Diagon Alley (in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone) to shop for Hogwarts equipment with Hagrid. There were shops selling robes, shops selling telescopes and strange silver instruments Harry had never seen before, windows stacked with barrels of bat spleens and eels’ eyes, tottering piles of spell books, quills, and rolls of parchment, potion bottles, globes of the moon. … They bought Harry’s school books in a shop called Flourish and Blotts where the shelves were stacked to the ceiling with books as large as paving stones bound in leather; books the size of postage stamps in covers of silk. Just weave place and action together like this to create atmosphere, excitement, tension, foreboding. Think About Your Words – Nouns And Adjectives Specific is good. Unexpected is great! One final thought. When you’ve written a piece, go back and check nouns. A bad description will typically use boring nouns (or things) in settings, i.e. a table, chair, window, floor, bar, stool, etc. If you try to fluff up that by throwing in adjectives (i.e. a grimy table, gleaming window, wooden floor), the chances are you’ll either have (i) made the description even more boring, or (ii) made it odd. Of course, this works for that first passage we looked over from Margaret Atwood. We sense Offred counting the few things she has in the little room she calls hers, the window and chair, etc., in terse phrasing. We sense her tension, her dissociation, and we feel trapped with her. All the same, play with nouns, with taking your readers to new surroundings. Give them a Moloko. Play with surroundings, how you can make them different, how you can render the ordinary extraordinary. With the right nouns in place, you’ll need fewer adjectives to jazz things up – and when you do use them, they’ll feel right, not over the top. Happy writing!

UK Literary Agents For Travel Non-Fiction

So, you’re well on your way to completing your book on travel, and have a cracking book proposal that you can’t wait to share with agents. Well, we’re here to help!  WANT TO JUMP STRAIGHT TO THE AGENT LIST? CLICK HERE  Travel Non-Fiction Travel writing is not as simple as it sounds, and far more varied than you may think. You can have travel memoirs, travel guides, and everything in between. Whether your book is narrative and personal, or fact-driven, it’s important that it appeals to readers and is an interesting read.  What makes your personal memoir interesting to the average reader? What makes you qualified to write a food-driven travel guide? Do you want your books to inspire people to travel, or just be a light Sunday read? These are the questions you should ask yourself and be ready to answer in your book proposal when querying agents.   Some well-known travel books include Eat, Pray, Love (which was even adapted to film), A Cook’s Tour: In Search of the Perfect Meal, Into the Wild, Under the Tuscan Sun. Look at what makes each of these books successful, and find where your own book fits in the market.   AgentMatch And How To Use It There are plenty of travel book-loving agents, but you won\'t want to approach them all. The best way to develop and refine your own shortlist of UK agents for travel non-fiction is to visit AgentMatch, our literary agent database, and use the search tools on the left to make your selection.  With AgentMatch you can select by genre (e.g. travel non-fiction), country, the agent’s level of experience, their appetite for new clients, and much more. You can even save your search results and come back to them, allowing you to work through them one by one, at your own pace. Each profile has been researched thoroughly including what agents like to read in their spare time, information on their most recent deals, manuscript wishlists, submission requirements, and exclusive interviews.  You can sign-up for a 7-day free trial which will give you a good feel for the data and functionality. Or join us as a premium member and get unlimited access to AgentMatch.  UK Agents For Travel Non-Fiction To get you started we’ve selected a list of 20 UK agents looking for travel non-fiction:  [am_show_agents id=14] More Resources   We’re here to help you at every step in your writing and querying process. Check out our favourite blogs that can assist you in putting together your query letter and synopsis, and if you want valuable, personal feedback on your writing you can book a fifteen-minute One-to-One with an agent of your choice. Premium members can also get a free query letter review from our lovely Writers Support team!     Happy searching, and good luck on your querying journey!   

US Literary Agents For Romance

Have you just finished your novel and are ready to begin your search for an agent? Well, we’re here to help!  WANT TO JUMP STRAIGHT TO THE AGENT LIST? CLICK HERE  Romance Fiction Romantic fiction is one of the most popular of all genres, usually following the romantic relationship between two or more people, and often having a happy or satisfying ending.   There are many different types of romance fiction that just happen to share this umbrella term but can be very different in how they are presented. While you can get contemporary romance novels where the entire focus of the novel is on the relationships presented within, there are often crossovers with other genres. These can include historical romance, and paranormal or fantasy romance. This means that each genre is equally important in the novel, creating a unique story.  Finding the right agent is a long process but at the heart of it you need an agent who is not only qualified to work with your book, but also loves the genre/s you’re writing in.  So if you have written a historical romance with fantasy elements, for example, you should look for an agent that expresses an interest in both genres, not just an agent looking for romance novels. This may seem like a daunting task but that’s where AgentMatch can help.   AgentMatch And How To Use It There are plenty of romance-loving agents, but you won\'t want to approach them all. The best way to develop and refine your own shortlist of US agents for romance novels is to visit AgentMatch, our literary agent database, and use the search tools on the left to make your selection.  With AgentMatch you can select by genre (e.g. romance), country, the agent’s level of experience, their appetite for new clients, and much more. You can even save your search results and come back to them, allowing you to work through them one by one, at your own pace. Each profile has been researched thoroughly including what agents like to read in their spare time, information on their most recent deals, manuscript wishlists, submission requirements, and exclusive interviews.  You can sign-up for a 7-day free trial which will give you a good feel for the data and functionality. Or join us as a premium member and get unlimited access to AgentMatch.  US Agents For Romance To get you started we’ve selected a list of 20 US agents looking for romance novels:  [am_show_agents id=7] More Resources   We’re here to help you at every step in your writing and querying process. Check out our favourite blogs that can assist you in putting together your query letter and synopsis, and if you want valuable, personal feedback on your writing you can book a fifteen-minute One-to-One with an agent of your choice. Premium members can also get a free query letter review from our lovely Writers Support team!     Happy searching, and good luck on your querying journey!   

Amanda Berriman, Author Of ‘Home’, On Getting An Agent

Guest author and blogger Mandy Berriman shares with us how she hooked her literary agent and the importance of never giving up. I went to a family wedding earlier this year. At our places at dinner, we each had a name card with a quote on the back. Mine read: I have one talent; I never give up. We laughed at the aptness, but it was also a well-timed personal reminder to me. Keep going, you’re almost there, don’t give up. And on I went with the current rewrite, kicking the doubt demons into the dust along the way. I think it is possible that in the history of Jericho Writers (The Writers’ Workshop), I hold the longest record for not giving up: eleven years, two months and 26 days, to be precise. I was one of their earliest clients with my nine chapters of an unfinished ghost novel for children. It was the first piece of fiction I’d written since leaving school and although I had experienced a huge buzz writing it, I’d taken a year and a half to get to Chapter 9 and then stalled. Was it any good? Did I even know what I was doing? Could I actually write a whole novel? After uttering once too often, ‘but how do I know if I can actually do this?’, my husband found The Writers’ Workshop and told me to go and find out. A few weeks later, I had a report back from Harry. The gist: yes, you can do this, and here are all the things you need to learn about writing. That was June 2005, and I haven’t stopped learning since – Arvon, reciprocal critiquing arrangements, constructive feedback from agents, self-editing, six Festivals of Writing, mentoring from outstanding Debi Alper, and always the ongoing support and encouragement from the team here. I spent many years on that original novel (writing, finishing, rewriting, editing, finishing again, rewriting, editing, finishing again), and I came very close with a number of agents, including one who read, offered feedback, and re-read several times over a period of three or four years, and my opening chapter was shortlisted at 2012’s Festival of Writing, but I never quite jumped the agent hurdle. I decided to put the novel in the drawer and move on. I’d been writing and rewriting it for nine years and was desperate for a change. I started a second children’s novel and rediscovered that buzz of fresh, no-idea-where-it’s-going writing. But fitting it in around two children and an increasingly demanding job meant progress was slow and I struggled with motivation. I dabbled in other bits and pieces, never settling on anything, but I started to write short stories and flash fiction in different styles and voices, and quite a step away from the children’s fiction where I felt comfortable. In 2013, several things happened to dramatically change my direction and fire my motivation. Firstly, I moved jobs to one that was far more creative, allowing me to focus on my passion for music and step back from time-consuming paperwork. Secondly, my youngest son started preschool freeing up a precious few daytime hours in which to write. Thirdly, and probably most importantly, Stories for Homes happened. Debi and her friend, Sally Swingewood, decided they wanted to create an anthology of short stories and poems on a theme of ‘home’ to raise money for Shelter. Debi asked for submissions of stories, techy help, proofreading and so on. I was determined to make progress on my children’s novel and I had no story ideas, so I replied to say that I would help where I could but doubted it would be in story form. However, just before the story deadline, I read Claire King’s The Night Rainbow, a wonderful, inspiring novel written from the POV of a five-year-old girl. (Read it!) Its themes are not about homelessness, but it sparked a thought – what does homelessness look like, feel like, smell like to a young child? And there was Jesika with her hands on her hips and that look she gets on her face when an adult is being really silly, wondering out loud why it took me for ages to notice her. I wrote and edited Jesika’s story in a week and sent it to Debi and Sally just in time for the deadline. They loved it. They made it the first story in the book. The book was filled with sixty or so other fantastic stories and poems and the book went on sale and raised over £2,000 for Shelter. (It’s still on sale, still raising money for Shelter.) I was very proud to be a small part of the overall project and when the excitement died down, I returned to the children’s novel. Except Jesika had other ideas. She wouldn’t leave me alone. I realised that one short story was not going to satisfy her. I’ve spent the last three years writing, rewriting and editing Jesika’s novel. In that time, Debi has continued to mentor me and I’ve been to four Festivals, each time taking a little bit of Jesika’s story with me for my one-to-ones. In 2013, all three agents told me they loved the voice, and they’d love to see more. (I wasn’t finished, so made a note of their names). In 2014, I saw two more agents who loved the voice, but weren’t convinced I could sustain it (and I still hadn’t finished it, so I couldn’t prove them wrong). However, that year I also went to a workshop run by Shelley Harris and because of a piece of writing I scribbled for one of her tasks, she introduced me to her agent, Jo Unwin, and we talked about the novel and she gave me encouragement to continue. In early 2015, I finished the first draft and started rewriting. In 2015, I submitted to Jo as one of my one-to-ones. She loved it and wanted to see more, and then after the festival, one of the agents I saw in 2013 asked to see the first chapter. She also loved it and wanted to see more, but the rewrite wasn’t finished. It took me a year to finish – during an emotionally challenging year and with enormous help from Debi’s editorial genius – and just before the 2016 festival, I was ready to submit again. I had two agent one-to-ones arranged and I emailed Jo Unwin and the other agent to ask if they wanted to see it, too. I assumed that nothing much would happen for a few months, and then I’d look at any feedback I got from the agents and talk to Debi about further rewrites. What did happen was I ended up with four agents reading the full manuscript, two making me an offer of representation, one taking me out for lunch and me having a choice to make – all in the space of three and a half weeks! I’m delighted to say (and still pinching myself when I say it) that I chose Jo Unwin. I know that this is one more hurdle in a series of hurdles and who knows what comes next, but I’m very excited to have arrived at a place I’ve been working towards for so long and so grateful for the day my husband handed me The Writers’ Workshop info and told me to get on with it. I stepped through a door that day that led me to so many fantastic opportunities, wonderful people and great friends – and I am the writer I am today because of them. Back in 2007, Harry posted about me on a now-dead blog to congratulate me on that initial success of finding an agent who believed enough in my first novel to offer feedback and ask to read it again. He acknowledged there were no guarantees that it would lead to representation but he said, ‘I bet Mandy makes it though. And I bet she sells well when she does. Certainly hope so.’ I printed that blog off and pinned it up to remind me to keep going, and I did keep going. Thank you, Harry. And thank you to everyone else along the way who believed I could do this. Lastly, incredibly, one of the many agents who rejected my children’s novel five years ago is the agent I’m now signed with as my book heads to publication with Doubleday. My advice: be rejected, crawl away and weep in a corner, look at feedback, eat chocolate, learn, re-read feedback, swear, try new things, get involved with other writers, allow your writing to be critiqued, learn more, delete, rewrite, edit, throw the whole lot in the bin for a day – but never give up!

US Literary Agents For Crime, Thrillers And Action Novels

Have you just finished your novel and are ready to begin your search for an agent? Well, we’re here to help!  WANT TO JUMP STRAIGHT TO THE AGENT LIST? CLICK HERE  Crime, Thriller, And Action Crime and thriller is one of the most enduringly popular genres of all time, from Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, to Gillian Flynn, Stephen King, and our very own Harry Bingham. Readers have always loved reading about crime and mystery, whether it’s more psychological and full of suspense, a police procedural drama, or full of gore and death.   These stories have always captivated us as readers and remain one of the most popular genres. Because of this, it’s important to make sure your book is unique and stands out. Crossover novels can be incredibly successful, whether you’re adding historical or speculative elements to your story, and this can help in creating that USP (Unique Selling Point) when approaching agents.   All you need to do is make sure you have a polished manuscript and a standout submission pack. After that, you’re ready to start doing your agent research and creating a shortlist. And that’s where we come in.  AgentMatch And How To Use It There are plenty of crime novel-loving agents, but you won\'t want to approach them all. The best way to develop and refine your own shortlist of US agents for crime and thrillers is to visit AgentMatch, our literary agent database, and use the search tools on the left to make your selection.  With AgentMatch you can select by genre (e.g. crime, thriller, and action), country, the agent’s level of experience, their appetite for new clients, and much more. You can even save your search results and come back to them, allowing you to work through them one by one, at your own pace. Each profile has been researched thoroughly including what agents like to read in their spare time, information on their most recent deals, manuscript wishlists, submission requirements, and exclusive interviews.  You can sign-up for a 7-day free trial which will give you a good feel for the data and functionality. Or join us as a premium member and get unlimited access to AgentMatch.  US Agents For Crime, Thriller, and Action  To get you started we’ve selected a list of 20 US agents looking for crime and thrillers:  [am_show_agents id=19] More Resources   We’re here to help you at every step in your writing and querying process. Check out our favourite blogs that can assist you in putting together your query letter and synopsis, and if you want valuable, personal feedback on your writing you can book a fifteen-minute One-to-One with an agent of your choice. Premium members can also get a free query letter review from our lovely Writers Support team!    Happy searching, and good luck on your querying journey!   

How To Self-Publish Your Book On Amazon Kindle Direct (KDP)

The ultimate guide for serious self-publishers, with everything you need to know about kindle publishing and how to sell e-books on Amazon. This is a jumbo post, because it tells you everything you need to do and how to do it. If you only need to research a specific topic, then use the index on the right hand side. Otherwise, jump right in – and let’s get you self-publishing successfully via KDP, Amazon\'s self-publishing platform. Self-Publishing – How To Make a Living An Overview Of Effective Self-Publishing Step 1: Write A Good Book Step 2: Create A Strong Cover Step 3: Prepare Your ‘Look Inside’ Material Step 4: Prepare Your End Material Step 5: Format Your E-book Step 6: Build Your Print Book (If You Want To) Step 7: Build Your Website Step 8: Create Your Readers’ Magnet Step 9: Mailing Lists And Other Technicalities Step 10: Social Media: Why You Can (Mostly) Ignore This Step 11: How to Choose Categories (BISAC Codes) On Amazon Step 12: How To Choose Keywords On Amazon Step 13: How To Price Your E-Book On Amazon Step 14: How To Launch Your Free Book Step 15: How To Launch Your Paid Book Step 16: The Long Term: Where Do You Go From Here? Self-publishing: How To Make A Living Via Amazon’s Kindle KDP The good news: self-publishing is easy these days. If you have a book and a cover, then uploading it is: Free. You pay nothing to Amazon, though there will be some costs involved in preparing properly. Fast. Allow 12-24 hours for the book to go live worldwide. Awesome. KDP can make your work made available to a worldwide audience. That’s something that even the largest traditional publishers can’t offer, unless they have acquired worldwide rights. That’s the great side of self-publishing, but there are challenges, too, of which the biggest is simply this: Invisibility. Amazon has 3.4 million titles in ‘literature and fiction’. 3.6 million history titles. Half a million comics and graphic novels. And of course, the flood grows ever bigger. Half a million new titles became available on the Kindle store in the last 90 days alone. Your title might be great, but bury it amongst 499,999 competing titles and it’s still likely to vanish. In short, self-publishing on Amazon is awesome and scary in about equal measure. This post will tell you how to publish your work on Amazon in a way that is low-cost (not zero cost), professional, and effective. Just how effective it is will depend on you, your books, your genre, and how much work you put in. But it is, these days, perfectly realistic to aim at earning a decent living wage from Amazon KDP publishing (possibly supplemented by publishing on Apple, Google, Kobo, etc). And just to be clear, although a good chunk of my author earnings come from traditional publishing, the money I earn from self-publishing my work in North America alone is excellent. In 2017, I earned $100,000 from just six e-books. And as you build your range of titles, your readership, your email list and your marketing skills, your income should follow suit. Yes, it’s hard work. Yes, it involves a little upfront cost. Yes, it depends on some clever tricks of marketing and presentation, but it works. It worked for me. It can work for you. The same basic principles underlie the success of thousands of other indie authors. And I’m going to share everything. This post is basically the ultimate guide to self-publishing your book on the Amazon Kindle store and I’ll update if things need to be tweaked or changed. Since the post is super long, I recommend that you bookmark it and use the Table of Contents up top to navigate. Tweet it, share it, link to it from your website, if it’s all helpful. To business. An Overview Of The Self-Publishing Process Effective self-publishing on Amazon requires: Strong underlying material. In other words, your book needs to be good. If it’s not, no amount of clever marketing will save it. A properly presented e-book. What I mean by this is that the cover needs to be strong. The material at the front of your e-book (the ‘Look Inside’ portion) needs to tempt the reader to complete their purchase. The material at the back of the e-book needs to clinch the deal. It needs to turn a one-off reader into a permanent, committed fan. (Not sure which ebook format to use? Then check out this article). A properly constructed author platform. That means a website, a reader’s magnet and a properly set-up mailing list. If that sounds scary or technical, don’t worry. There’s nothing hard here and I explain it all, anyway. Sensible pricing. No one will buy your book if it’s too expensive. You won’t make any money if it’s too cheap. Well-chosen metadata. Another scary term for something that’s basically simple. Because a lot of purchases on Amazon come via different types of search, you need to make sure that your book will pop up in the right places, not the wrong ones. And it’s all easy. Proper book promotion. So far, everything in this process is about getting ready for publication. Actually launching your book comes right at the end of the process. And, once you’ve built any kind of track record, you do that launch via your mailing list. You basically tell these guys (your committed fans) that you have a new book for sale. They rush out and buy it. Amazon notices that there’s a huge sales surge in this cool new book, so their search engine starts showing it to more and more people. So now you have totally new readers buying your book and as they enter your world, they start signing up for your mailing list, so your fan base grows and your next book goes even better. All that works well once you’ve got started, but how do you get started in the first place? Well, there are tricks there too and we’ll cover them. In short, the basic marketing process on Amazon is (A) prepare properly, (B) build a mailing list, (C) sell your work to that mailing list, (D) acquire additional sales from brand new readers who arrive at your work thanks to the visibility acquired via those mailing list sales, then (E) rinse and repeat, ad infinitum. Once you’ve mastered the basic essence of this underlying technique, you’ll want to add in the following methods too. (I’ve put the easiest techniques first, the harder ones later. Don’t work this list in the wrong order!) Book promotion sites Cross promotions with other authors Amazon Advertising Bookbub advertising Facebook advertising Of these methods, Facebook is probably the most powerful and scalable … but it’s also the most complicated and the easiest place to lose money. Most indie authors want to add Facebook advertising right away. That’s a mistake you pay for – with dollar bills magicked out of your pocket and into Mark Zuckerberg’s Fund For More Digital Wickedness. And though this post is long, don’t panic. Yes, there is set-up time and cost involved in getting started, but the basics of marketing are really quite easy thereafter. In July 2015 I launched a book in the US where my complete marketing plan consisted of: One email to my mailing list. Nothing else. (My wife had her second set of twins that year and we were … busy.) I didn’t tweet, post on Facebook, blog or send out review copies or anything else. You want to know how much money I made? I earned $30,000 from that one email and, since then, things have only got better. I’m going to show you how to do all of that, so buckle up as we hit the detail. Step 1. Write A Good Book People always laugh when I say that, “Write a good book,” but it’s the only absolute essential of the whole marketing process. It’s also the area where writers most tend to rush things. (Simple starter guide on writing a book here.) Again and again, we see writers struggling to achieve sales on Amazon. They talk with intensity about their metadata, their Facebook campaigns, their experiments with permafree and a million other things but when I look at their books, they’re too often just not good enough. And if your product isn’t a hundred percent, your sales will only ever be mediocre. Remember that if you’re writing thrillers, you are selling head-to-head against Lee Child and John Grisham. If you’re writing YA fiction, you are selling head-to-head against Stephenie Meyer and Veronica Roth. Getting nice comments from your beta-readers is not enough, because – scary truth – everyone gets nice comments from their beta-readers, so do things properly. Hone your craft, say with a writing course. Get detailed feedback from professional, third-party editors like ours. Put your work in the way of people who are skilled at finding flaws, not too quickly generous with praise. There are a lot of different editorial services out there; from manuscript assessments to developmental editing. We obviously think ours are pretty good, but do check out what different types of editing have to offer. Some of them are damn expensive and best avoided. There’s one school of thought, which is that you may as well get your work out there. Make some sales, acquire some readers, and learn on the job. Well, maybe, but I think that’s the wrong attitude. I think the writers who succeed are the ones who want to put the best possible product out there always, every time. And indeed, in self-publishing, there’s a strong argument which says that book #1 in your series should be the best one you write. That’s the portal into your series. That’s the one which hooks fans and compels them to read on. If you write a dud Book #4, your core readers will forgive you and buy Book #5 anyway. If you write a dud Book #1, you won’t have any readers for anything else you write. Another way to look at the same thing: Great marketing + a lousy product = a lifetime of struggleSo-so marketing + a brilliant product = easy sales A great book is the foundation for everything else. So get it right. Build those foundations strong. They’re going to support your entire career. Step 2. Create A Strong Cover The cover is second in importance only to the book itself. If the cover doesn’t immediately appeal to your core reader, then that reader won’t even arrive on your first page to read a single word. You must get the cover right. Nothing less than perfect is enough. That means your cover needs to: Look good in thumbnail. The book must work at small scale. Designers always like showing you the hi-res version of their image, which is fine, it needs to look nice at scale, too. Still, your very first task is to shrink that right down and see if it works when tiny. Look good when compared with competing titles. I always copy that thumbnail sized image onto a screengrab of an Amazon search page, full of books written by my own direct competition. Then I ask: does my image look competitive on that page? If not, try again. Inform the reader instantly what kind of book it is. A YA dystopian cover should announce its YA dystopia instantly. A rom-com cover should be instantly interpretable as such. Yes, that means that those covers tend towards clichés, but in this case, that’s good. The first task of a cover is to say, “I am a book of this genre”, where said genre is a rom-com, or thriller, or romance, or whatever else you’re selling. Convey a mood or feeling. Readers typically buy books because of a hook and a feeling, e.g.: ‘It’s this book about an ordinary girl and vampire who fall for each other.’ That’s a hook plus a feeling, giving a reason to buy. A book cover can’t really convey the hook (that’s the job of your blurb), but it can and must convey the feeling. Those Twilight covers conveyed a general sense of dark, forbidden sexiness. That was all they needed to do, and they did it superbly. Generate questions, don’t close them off. Covers that answer questions don’t tempt readers in. Covers that prompt questions invite further exploration. Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight cover is a good example. Why that girl? That apple? That black background? You instantly want to know more. If the cover had been pretty-girl-plus-hunky-vampire gazing adoringly into each other’s eyes, it would have sold some copies, but never have been the global hit it became. Similarly, your approach to your subject matters needs to be oblique and suggestive, not right on the nose. Use good quality images. That’s sort of obvious, but it’s common to see self-published books where the images look like (and almost certainly are) stock images from some free or low-cost image library. And they don’t look bad, exactly, they just look like stock images. They have a seen-it-before quality, death to your project of attracting a reader’s eye. If you need to pay money for a top-dollar image, then pay that money. Use good quality typography. Again obvious, but getting the typography (font styles, etc.) on a book is harder than it sounds. If a draft cover feels a tiny bit ‘off’ when you see it, then it is wrong. That feeling never lies. So once you know what you want to achieve, how do you achieve it? It’s strangely hard. You’d think getting a strong book cover was a reasonably mechanical process. You write a design brief. You hand it to a competent person. Boof, you get back a design that’s going to be anywhere from good to excellent. And, in my experience, it’s not really like that. I’ve had poor to mediocre covers from best-of-breed traditional publishers. I’ve had mediocre book covers from talented, award-winning freelancers. I’ve used competition type websites with results that were okay, but not utterly satisfactory. And, yes, I’ve also got some book covers that I’m totally happy with. So my recipe for success is as follows: Fire your Uncle Bob. Unless your friend, relative, etc., is a professional designer, that person is not right for you. And yes, you may save some money. But NASA would probably save some money by patching their rockets together from stuff found in a junkyard. There’s a reason they don’t do it. Use pros. You can go to competition type websites, of which 99Designs is the most prominent example. (Personally, I think you have to pay a lot of $$$ to get a good outcome from this, however.) You can go to outsourcing type sites like Fiverr or Upwork. You can search libraries of premade book covers for sale (for example, The Book Cover Designer. You can just Google around (search “book cover designers”) and look at different offerings. Or, simply design your own ebook cover. There are pros and cons to every avenue and in the end, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. You may blunder around a bit until you find the right solution for you, but that’s fine. This is a creative process and you may need to experiment before you get it right. Spend money. Just to be clear: the phrase “blunder around a bit” can mean “spend some money getting projects started with designers who looked really great (and are great, actually), just you didn’t like their initial designs and twigged things weren’t going to work out.” Don’t end up settling for almost-good, because you couldn’t bear to write off the $150 that you had to spend. Either invest again with the same designer to get something you’re happy with or close off that avenue and start again. Remember that your first cover will almost certainly be by far your most expensive. Once you’ve settled the look (the kind of image, the mood, the typography, etc.), the next batch of covers will be easy-peasy. Only work with people where you’re happy saying ‘no, not yet’. This is a crucial one. You must be happy with your cover. That means continuing to look at images, to work away at typographical niggles, until you’re genuinely delighted. If your designer charges you $90 an hour beyond a certain level of changes, or if your (talented, but not infinitely patient) Uncle Bob is just going to start rolling his eyes, then those people may not be right. You must feel okay with demanding perfection. And yes, that may mean being pushier than you normally like to be, but it also means working with someone where you can feel safe to be pushier. If you’re unsure, look up more tips on how to commission ebook cover designs here. Now we turn to the book itself. Step 3. Create Your Ebook: ‘Look Inside’ What is the front material there to do? For ebooks, there is only one answer: the front material is there to convert ‘Look Inside’ browsers to people who buy your book. It’s effectively a front door that has to look welcoming if you want to tempt readers inside. If your front-end material does not directly contribute to that goal, then it needs to go elsewhere. Yes, you may want to find room for your thanks, your copyright notices and all the rest. Those things don’t make people buy your book, though, so bury them at the back. The front of your e-book probably only needs: The cover – because you need it, and readers expect and want it. A title page – ditto. Formal proofs – that means any plugs from fellow authors, from newspaper reviews, or anything which tells readers, ‘Yes, serious, professional readers have read this book and rated it highly’. At the start of your career, you may struggle with those formal proofs, but that’s fine. All new authors are in the same position. Do what you can, but don’t fret too much. Social proofs – in other words, any comments from readers that tell people, ‘Yep, people like you have read and enjoyed this book.’ Social proof is quite possibly just as important, maybe more important, than any number of great notices in the New York Times Review of Books, and even as a newbie, you can accumulate social proofs. So go do it. And put those proofs up front where casual browsers can find them. Constant reminders about what your book is and what it offers. Remember that people who click on the ‘Look Inside’ feature may well only be browsing in quite a casual way. They’ll have sort of took in your cover design, sort of read your book description. Just as bookstore browsers flip books over to look at them in quite a casual way, though, so it is with people browsing on Amazon. You need to assume that these browsers haven’t intently studied anything. They are only two or three clicks away from buying something quite else. Hammer home your message, by carefully choosing formal and social proofs and other related text. My own ‘Look Inside’ text will try to remind readers that, “This is an exciting crime thriller featuring a really interesting female detective.” That proposition won’t appeal to all readers, but it should appeal to the kind of readers my book is aimed it. So make it clear. Keep it uppermost in the browser’s mind. Offer a freebie. I’m going to talk more about readers’ magnets and email lists in a later section of this post, so for now, just notice that I recommend you offer a freebie, a story available for readers to download for free, up at the front of your e-book. We’ll talk more about what and why soon. And plenty of text! The shorter your other front material, the more room you have to give readers what they really want, which is a taste of your book itself. Make sure that your first chapter is strong, and let readers get there fast! Step 4. Create Your Ebook: End Material If the front material in your e-book is there to persuade the browser to buy, the end material has a rather more complex set of functions. It should: Get your readers to buy another book from you. Get your readers to give you their email address. Build a real human bond between you and your reader. Encourage readers to write reviews. Make the extent and structure of your book series and other works really clear. The thinking here is simple. A reader has just finished your book. We have to assume they enjoyed it (if they didn’t, no marketing genius in the world will entice further sales.) So what next? Now is the moment to reach out and build a lasting bond between you and the reader. E-books that just finish without doing that are kind of like the door in the image: they kick you out onto the street, leaving a slightly disappointed feeling behind. E-books that look after the reader are far likelier to create a pool of keen buyers, who’ll come back to your work again and again and again. So how to achieve those happy results? Answer: Write an author’s note that feels personal. Make sure it’s full of your voice and personality, and directly thanks (perhaps even compliments) your readers. Invite participation Notably by encouraging readers to give you their email address in exchange for a free story from you. More on this shortly (and it’s key, you can’t miss this step). Be smart about offering those buy links. Remember that Apple won’t accept books with Amazon links in, so you can either (A) work exclusively with Amazon (probably the best bet for newcomers to indie-dom), (B) have a mobi (Kindle) file that is different from your epub (Apple, Google, Kobo, and everyone else) file, or (C) create a landing page like this to let readers choose their own store. Remember that e-readers are probably reading in an online environment where they can take instant action, meaning print books are a terrible model for how to put together your end-material. Web design is a better model. You want easy-to-access links in places where your readers may want to take actions enabled by those links. In other words, don’t just talk about other books in your series, make it simple for readers to buy those books on Amazon, Google, Kobo, wherever. Making it easy will make a huge difference to your conversions and that means making a difference to your pocket. Step 5. Format Your Ebook Don’t feel too fussed by this. Writing a great book, preparing inviting front material, developing material at the back of the book that seals the deal with the reader, those things matter. The rest is a technical exercise that you can either do yourself or outsource. It’s not expensive and easily done. So first, make sure that your Word file is in good shape to be converted. We’ve lots more advice if you need on how to format your ebook. (This section assumes that your MS is basically textual. If you are creating a design-led book that involves a lot of images, then Visme offers a great, simple, e-book creator. Did I mention that it’s free? Well, yes, it’s free.) Then, iff you’re working exclusively with Amazon (which, as I say, I recommend when starting out), then you can just upload your Word document to Amazon. It’ll make the conversion for you. And boom, that’s it. If you are distributing to all the e-stores, you’ll need an epub file, not just a mobi one. You can create that file yourself via simple online tools, Scrivener being one option (you pay for this, but it has loads of other features and loads of writers swear by it). Calibre is another. Apple users love Vellum. Some e-book distributors, for example Draft2Digital, offer free online tools that are very simple to use and come with no strings attached. Whatever route you take, just make sure that you preview the ebook before going live with it. All the those conversion tools offer previews, and just go through, checking every page. This is your product we’re talking about. Checking matters! Step 6. Want A Print Book? Then Sort That, Too. Most self-publishers will sell work in e-form, not book-form. My own e-sales are probably about fifteen times greater than hard-copy sales. (With my traditionally published work, the balance is much more even, or even leans more to print.) What’s more, print books are harder, more expensive to put together. You have much less control over the selling price. A lot of the promotional techniques that work brilliantly for ebooks don’t work as well for print. And so on. I say that to be honest, not to put you off. I sell several thousand self-published print books each year. I make a little over $3 per sale, so I end up with a satisfying amount in my pocket because of those sales. And I do nothing at all to promote those books. Nothing. All I do is promote my e-books actively and intelligently via the Kindle Store and elsewhere, and that visibility brings my work to the attention of some readers who think. ‘Hey, this looks good, but I’d rather have it in hard copy.’ And it’s easy enough to add a print element on to your offering. KDP offers a print option too. You’ll need a back jacket and spine design, as well as your front cover (but those things are easy, once you have the front sorted). The additional cost involved is minimal. You’ll also need interior formatting, to be sure your book looks lovely when laid out on the page. Don’t try to do that yourself – it’s harder than you think. Your best bet is an outfit, BB eBooks, which is based in Thailand and combines excellent experience and quality with Thai pricing. Once you have your cover and your text, you just upload them via KDP. Bingo. Worried about an ISBN? Don’t be. Ebooks don’t need one and most top-performing indies don’t bother with them at all. In terms of your print books, your print partner will sort out an ISBN for you. So, for example, if you create print books via Amazon KDP (your best starting option), Amazon will simply take care of it for you. Easy! Just remember, e-sales are likely to predominate by a large margin, and your print sales will only start to take off if your e-sales do. National or international distribution via bookshops is basically a fantasy, unless you have a traditional publisher to take care of that for you. Step 7. Build Your Website You know you need a website, but why? What do you want it to do for you? There are lots of flaky, fuzzy answers floating around the internet, and they’re almost all wrong. Some people will tell you: ‘Oh, it’s a key part of your brand. You need to build a platform.’ Really? Why? Most readers will surely just be happy with (a) the book, and (b) Amazon. Why do they need anything else? Or: ‘You need to make yourself discoverable by search engines.’ This is rubbish. Or it is if you’re writing fiction. Google-search and similar just doesn’t matter to most novelists. How could it? Here’s the one thing you need to know about your author website. Your website is there to collect reader’s email addresses. That is its purpose. That is why you have it. If it does that and almost nothing else, you’re doing fine. (Or, full disclosure, that’s true if you’re a novelist. If you’re writing non-fiction, then the truth may be a bit more complicated.) Yes, you will probably want a page for each one of your books. Yes, you probably want some kind of bio. Yes, you probably want a contact page. If you like writing blogs, you probably want a ‘news’ or ‘blog’ type page as well. Still, I can’t even remember the last time I posted on my author blog. I don’t make sales from my book-specific pages (I make them on Amazon.) The contact function is nice because it means readers can get in touch with me, but if I disabled the page, the world wouldn’t collapse and my sales would remain untouched. Your website is there to collect reader’s email addresses – and how does it do that? Well, the primary chain is simple. It’s this: You have a link in your e-book that says, “I’ve got a free story for you, please come and get it”. That links passes the reader to a page on your website that handles that story-for-email exchange. The reader gets your free story. You get a way to contact them in the future. That’s a fair exchange: you are, in a way, giving the reader something of more value than the thing they’re giving you. And it’s an honest one. You will make it clear that yes, you will retain that reader’s email address and sometimes make use of it, though only for matters directly related to your books. The way you structure that basic exchange is critical. Tiny differences in set-up will make a few percentage point impacts on your conversion rates, and, when cumulated, those little impacts can make a huge difference to the success of your campaign. Your ebooks need to take people to a page on your website that maxes the number of people downloading your story. Here is an example of a good page from my own website (and see what happens when you click the buttons – functionality matters). Key design points to consider are: Eliminate all in-site navigation. This page exists on my website and has completely normal navigation tools up at the top, excepting this page. On this page, I want people to click those buttons. I don’t want them to be distracted by any other good stuff I have on the site. This page has to say, “Either download the story, or close this page: there is nothing else to do, read, see here.” Have incredibly obvious calls to action. Giant orange buttons on a monochrome background works for me. Don’t ask for an email address straight away. It’s better to make it a two-stage process: (A) let the reader give you an order: “give me my freebie”, then (B) obey the command. And it just so happens that obeying that command involves collecting an email address. Around two thirds of visitors to my website end up leaving me their email address. They’re readers who have liked my work enough to buy it in the past, and to collect the free story I’ve offered. Those are the people who are likeliest to buy my work again in the future, and now I have a way to get in touch with them direct. Since you’re building a website, too, you may as well do the obvious bits right. Its branding should be synced with your books’ branding. The site should communicate what you are all about as an author as swiftly as your book covers do. Your site should be mobile responsive, so that it looks as good on a phone as it does on a PC or tablet. And so on. There are other bits and pieces to get right, but any half-way competent designer should do them fine. A few rules to follow are these: Pay that little bit extra for your own domain name. So pay for or Yes, is cheaper, but you’ll regret it in the long rum. Use WordPress. Wix and Squarespace and their like are cheaper in the short run, but they have vastly less power than WordPress. So again: think long term, not short term. WordPress needs a theme – a stylistic chassis, in effect – to hold your site together. I strongly recommend Parallax for Writers, because it’s great, it’s designed for you, and it’s crazy cheap. Learn a little bit of basic tech. You don’t have to be a tech wizard – I’m not – but if you know nothing, you’ll always have to go through someone else to make minor site tweaks which means that, after a bit, you won’t even bother. Your website doesn’t make you money directly, but it’s the launch pad – the blast station – for everything that follows. So build it good, and get ready for launch . . . Step 8. Create Your Readers’ Magnet OK, now listen up, because this stuff matters. We’re talking reader magnets. A reader’s magnet is a free story you give to your readers in exchange for their email address. You advertise the freebie in the front and back of your ebook to maximise the number of people who take you up on that incentive. You will then use the email list you build to bond with readers, launch books, boost promotions and, in general, to send you off, giggling, to the bank driving your own gold-plated Cadillac with a trunk stuffed with high denomination bills. To secure these outcomes, your reader magnet needs to be good. So be sure your story lives (broadly speaking) in the same fictional world as your for-sale novels. You can’t use a horror-fiction magnet as a lure for your fluffy romance readers, or vice versa. Be sure that your magnet is well-presented and has a lovely book cover. Obviously, you’re going to scatter plenty of links in your ebook (the front and back of it, not the actual text), so readers can’t miss the fact you have something free to offer. I also recommend you make at least some of those links visual (i.e. you use a book cover or similar) to invite the eye. Text links are great, and you should use those, but visual plus text beats text alone. That story you offer does not need to be a full-length novel. Anything from 5 to 15,000 words is fine. Just make sure it’s a satisfying piece of quality writing. Don’t cheat your reader. And that’s it. One story (a magnet) to attract readers and collect email addresses. That already sounds good, but in fact, as we’ll see, it’s going to form the absolute heart of your promotion strategy. Step 9. Mailing Lists And Other Technicalities Now we’ve got links in our e-books to take readers to your website, where the story-for-email exchange is made, but how does the actual plumbing of all that work? The answer is that you will need two tools. The first is Mailchimp (or any other mailing list provider.) They will store your email list, send mass emails, eliminate duplicates, handle the unsubscribe process, and plenty more. Some people find Mailchimp hard to use and prefer Mailerlite. If you are ambitious and tech-confident, you might want to use the more powerful Convertkit. The second is Bookfunnel, an outfit that makes the delivery of your free ebook (your reader’s magnet) unbelievably simple – both for you and for your reader. Both services are paid, but the money isn’t crazy. You’ll pay $100 a year for Bookfunnel, and Mailchimp is free until you hit 2,000 mailing list subscribers, and $20-30 monthly thereafter. Bookfunnel is so simple to use, you won’t need any help setting it up. In fact, I would be insulting you if I told you how to use Bookfunnel, so I won’t. (Phew. We’re still friends.) Integrating Mailchimp with your website could require help, depending how much you hate fooling around with that kind of thing, but don’t cut corners. Creating a smooth path for your readers is key. They need to: See a link in your ebook. Click over to a (navigation-free) landing page on your website. Hand over an email (to your Mailchimp mailing list). Be delivered a book via Bookfunnel. That’s all easy. If you need help with web bits, then get this. Again: all this set-up stuff can seem boring, but so is climbing up a long flight of steps. You’ve got to put the effort in, if you want the reward at the end. Rushing to publish too soon is the absolutely class, #1, gold-plated mistake that most indies make. Put in the effort, then enjoy the rewards. There’s a lot to take in, right? There is, yes. Self-publishing is more complicated than regular publishing, especially at the start. (Later on, it can actually seem simpler in many ways, especially if you hate giving up control.) But still: a lot to take in. A lot to do. And there’s this horrible (but accurate) sense that getting the detail right really matters. That’s kind of yikes!, right? Well, yes and no. Because the thing is we created an entire step-by-step video course that’s intended to be everything you need to know about getting set up as a self-publisher. That course is super-premium, which is a fancy way of saying (a) really high quality, and (b) scarily expensive. So don’t buy the course! That’s right: don’t buy it. It’s a great course, but it’s expensive, and you’re on budget, so – don’t buy it. After all, why buy, when you could rent? For a crazy-cheap (and cancel-any-time) monthly fee, you can become a member of Jericho Writers – a club designed for writers just like you. Quite simply, we aim to give members as much as we possibly can. An insane amount of value for as little as we can possibly charge. Think of us as a kind of Netflix for writers. So members get unlimited access to our self-publishing course. And unlimited access to a whole heap of filmed masterclasses, including some brilliant ones on self-publishing. And filmed interviews with authors and agents and publishers. And an incredibly supportive community. And live webinars from top experts on all the topics that matter most to you. Why so much? And why so much for so little? Well, that’s easy. We’re writers too, and we built our club for writers like you, writers like us. You can find out more about joining us here. We really hope you do. Step 10. Social Media: Why You Can (Mostly) Ignore This A lot of writers worry that self-publishing is going to be all about bigging yourself up on social media. Endless tweets, endless bragging Facebook posts. And it’s not. It’s not. Those things don’t work. They’re a waste of time. They’re horrible to do. I do have a Twitter account and an author page on Facebook, but I don’t get book sales via either route. (I have a Twitter account mostly because that makes it easy for Twitterholics to contact me if they want. Some of those contacts have proved of real value. I also have an author page on Facebook because a traditionally publisher once told me I had to have one. I got one, and neither they nor I ever used it.) Nor do you need to blog. Although I do blog here, I hardly ever blog about author things on my own website. And if I do, that’s because I feel like doing it. Actual book sales deriving from those blogs are trivial. There will be categories of author where social media does really matter. If you’re a fashion blogger wanting to sell books, you’ll need an Instagram following, and so on. It’s also true that social media can be a great way to network with fellow authors and influential bloggers in your niche. Those relationships are worth fostering but they’re not, directly, to do with selling books at all. For most of us, the big news is this: If you hate social media and want nothing to do with it, you can still sell books very effectively on Amazon. If you don’t want to blog routinely or do the work involved in building a large following, that’s fine, too. It doesn’t matter. To be clear, there are exceptions. In particular, if you build a strong audience on Facebook, you will make your FB advertising life a lot, lot easier.  If you’re interested in doing that, the rules are: Stay narrowly focused on your audience and their interests. Don’t ever stray from that core. Quality posts and interactions beat quantity. Post good stuff when you have something good to say. Be recognisable. When people scroll down their feeds you want them to know it’s your content straight away. Instasize is a great app for editing your images and keeping them on brand. If/when you have a decent FB following, you should pay to boost your launch post / promo posts. You can also think about advertising to your FB audience to support your email and boosted post campaigns. These are later stage tactics, though, and you can safely ignore these for now. If you’re nervous of getting involved in all that stuff, though, don’t be. Just forget about. You don’t need it. (For now.) Step 11. How To Choose Categories (Bisac Codes) On Amazon When a bookshop shelves your book, they need to choose where to shelve it. With romance? With crime? With general fiction? With health and beauty? Or what? It’s the same with Amazon, except that Amazon has far more categories. When you upload your book to Amazon (which is easy, and has become easier) you will see a little box prompting, and you need to choose categories highly relevant to your book. It’s important to understand the reason for this. You’re not choosing categories because you want to help Amazon with its filing. You are choosing categories in order to sell more books. Amazon has an overall bestseller list, of course, but it also has a massive range of sub-bestseller lists – for things like “Fiction > Crime” or “Fiction > Mystery & Detective > International Mystery & Crime”. Readers like perusing those lists, and Amazon likes to direct them there. If you can get on your chosen lists, your book will get more eyeballs, and all the clever stuff we’ve already put in place will convert those browsers into buyers. You need to choose categories by thinking of bestseller lists you’d most like to be on, and which you have a realistic chance of appearing on. That’s the whole deal right there. That’s (almost) all you need to know about choosing categories. For newer authors, it’s better to target rather more niche lists – in my case, “International Mystery & Crime” is more niche than “Fiction & Crime”. It won’t get as many viewers, but my chances of sitting close to the top of the list and staying there for a time outweighs that issue. Also – pro tip here – if you are picking a sub-category (eg: international mystery & crime), you are automatically entered in the relevant parent category (in this case, mystery & detective). So don’t waste your second category choice by entering the parent category as well as the child. Until you have a little experience of your book, your genre, your sales, you are largely guessing as to which lists to target. But at least you know what you’re doing here. If you are already published, then check out your Also Boughts to understand what kind of readers you have – what other books they like. You can use Goodreads or other online book recommendation tools to achieve the same kind of thing. Two last things on this topic: Amazon now uses the term ‘categories’ for this selection process. It used to talk about BISAC codes, a hoary old library classification system. You may come across both terms being used, but don’t worry about it. They’re the same thing. You need to read this section, on categories, in conjunction with the one that follows, on keywords. It’s when you put those two things together that the magic happens. Step 12. How To Choose Keywords On Amazon When you come to upload your book, Amazon will ask you to give it seven keywords that describe your book. (As you’ll see, some of those keywords can be two or three word phrases. That’s fine, but the term keyword is still used.) So far, so easy. Whilst categories have only one role (they let you choose what bestseller lists to target), Amazon keywords have two roles to play, and they both matter. Those keywords let you: Choose what sub-bestseller lists to target. Choose what thematic searches to target. Take the first of those things. When you look at the overall Amazon bestseller list, you’ll see that there are 330,000 or so mystery and detective books available for sale. If you’ve targeted that list, you might be a little nervous. You think your book is good, but do you really want to fight off 329,999 other bad-asses? What you need to do is break that group of 330,000 titles down into manageable sub-units, and if you click on the relevant broad category, you’ll see Amazon has given you a host of more manageable sub-units or mini-bestseller lists. Under ‘Moods & Themes’, for instance, I’m given various boxes to check under words like ‘Action-packed’, ‘Horror’, ‘Racy’, ‘Noir’, and more words to define the feel of my book. Under ‘Characters’, I’m given ‘Female Protagonists’, ‘British Detectives’, and so on. And something magical happens. Counting the number of books allocated to Amazon categories I want, the book count – i.e. your competition – goes down. More than half your competition disappears, just because authors and publishers haven’t chosen keywords that pin down good books into relevant sub-categories. (Recent changes have removed those numbers from the Amazon site, so you can’t now check what I’m saying. It’s still true, however!) Now you’re not going to get caught in that disappearing act, because you’re going to do this: Pick your broad category, Go to the relevant Amazon bestseller list Finding out which sub-categories might be relevant to your work. (You are looking at the left hand sidebar for this.) Pick out all the sub-categories which might apply to your work Use those sub-category titles as your keywords Obviously, it’s important that you don’t cheat at this, or your readers will feel cheated, too. So if your book isn’t racy, don’t use that keyword just because you feel you could clamber onto that list. If you see a sub-category where your readers are likely to gather, then jump on it. That’s it. Oh and the best way to find bestseller lists is just to enter ‘Books’ or ‘Kindle Store’ in the dropdown box on the Amazon search bar, and then, leaving the search bar blank, hit enter. Since the search bar is blank, Amazon knows you want to look for books but doesn’t know which books you want, so it just takes you to its default book navigation page. You want to explore the left-hand sidebar. That little baby is your friend. A useful pro tip here is that you can use multi-word phrases as your keywords, and every word counts. So for example, my sub-categories include options like Dark, Disturbing, Noir. My books tick all those boxes, so I could use three keywords to scoop up those terms … or, much better, I could have “Dark Disturbing Noir” as one keyword, and keep my powder dry. Keywords are best used in this sub-category extension way, but remember that people use Amazon’s search engine in multiple different ways. So people can find books in at least four ways: Author name (“Harry Bingham) Book title (“Talking to the Dead”) Series name (“Fiona Griffiths series”) General search (eg: “Murder mystery novels”) Now although it seems obvious you want to scoop up general search enquiries, it’s very doubtful that you’ll actually get a ton of sales from that route. Yes, “Gripping thriller” might seem like a great keyword, but if there’s any traffic on that term, it’s most unlikely that you’ll appear anywhere near the top of an Amazon search page. And if there’s no great traffic on the term, you won’t get any sales anyway. So don’t spend too much time on your general search terms, but for what it’s worth, here are the guidelines: Make a list of possible keywords – at least 12-15 if you want to do this properly. Start to type the first few characters into Amazon’s search bar Take a look at the autocomplete suggestions, and adjust your terms if Amazon is nudging you towards a slightly different version of your search term. Then actually look at the page of results that comes up. Check out the bestseller rank of the lowest ranked book. If that book is #5000 on the overall bestseller lists, it’s a pretty safe bet that your work will never meaningfully appear for that search term. If the lowest ranked book is #50,000, then you have a decent chance of appearing on that list, at least during launch/promo periods. If the lowest ranked book is #500,000 or below, then you can pretty much bet that there’s not enough traffic on this search term for you to care much about it anyway. To sum up this section: Choose categories according to what overall bestseller list you want to appear on. (Important) Choose keywords first according to what sub-bestseller lists you want to appear on. (Important) Choose keywords next according to what you think your readers will be searching for. (Not important) The whole exercise might take an hour or two, but can generate steady sales for years to come. Step 13. How To Price Your E-book On Amazon Pricing is scary, but also easy. The data you need: Free e-books get more downloads than paid ones. 77% of readers who download free work also buy paid work. Amazon offers two royalty bands of 70% and 35%. You get the 70% royalty if you price inside $2.99 – $9.99. Anywhere else, you get 35% royalty. Indie authors tend to price work (excluding free and promotional material) in the $2.99 – $4.99 range. It’s the same broadly for Amazon Publishing. That fact is relevant, because no one is going to be smarter than Amazon at interpreting data from pricing experiments. If $5.99 is their ceiling (and it is), then it should be yours. And that, really is all you need to know. Your price envelope is basically $0.00 to $4.99. (Some niches may vary, though, so always check against your own genre.) Now, pretty obviously, we don’t love $0.00 sales as much as we love $4.99 sales, but we’re going to use the cheap or free pricing, in a kind of Amazon ju-jitsu, to maximise our $4.99 sales. Free books get you readers. They build your fanbase. They make no money. $0.99 books get you lots of readers (but fewer than free). They make a bit of money, but not much. Sell a $0.99 e-book and you make $0.35. Sell a $2.99 e-book (at that higher 70% royalty rate) and you make $2.09, so you have to sell 6 times as many of the cheaper books to make as much. $1.99 books are kind of pointless. They’re too expensive to attract freebie readers, and they’re too cheap to get the 70% royalty. Just don’t price at that price point. You make money by pricing between $2.99 and $4.99. That’s where the money is. Where exactly you pitch your wares depends on all kinds of things. Do you want to aggressively grow your business in the longer term (while sacrificing some short-term revenues)? Then price at $2.99. Do you want to harvest your existing success? Then price at $4.99. Are your readers generally younger, or poorer? Then price low. Are your book buyers generally more affluent? Then price a little higher. Can’t decide? Then price at $3.99 which is an excellent compromise. Now we need to do two things. We need to get readers into our sales funnel – into our series – at the kind of price that won’t put anyone off (ie: $0.00 or $0.99), then use the love and commitment we’ve generated with our amazing writing to sell lots more books at $4.99. In short: You need to offer a free or highly discounted ($0.99) book to get readers into your universe. Without an existing fanbase, you have few other routes to this happy outcome. You need to have full price ($2.99 to $4.99) work that puts some money in your pocket. Those of you competent at mathematics will notice that I’m telling you to write two books to sell one. And yes, I am saying that. Except that, as you write more over time, that one free book will start leading readers into a larger pool of paid work. So you’ll be using one free book to sell two, then three, then four, then ten full-price ones. Also, those of you supremely gifted at mathematics will also have noticed that I’ve told you that: You have to give away a reader’s magnet, a roughly 10,000-word short story, for example, in order to collect emails. You need to write two books and one lengthy short story or novella to sell one book. Really? Well, yes, really. You are selling a series, not selling a book. If you understand that fully, your selling efforts will be vastly more successful over the long run. Step 14. How To Launch Your Free E-book I hope I’ve persuaded you that it’s worth giving away a book for free. Your purpose is to attract the greater downloads, to acquire fans. And it’s to get the email addresses of those fans so that you can contact them when you have a new book to share. There are four broad methods for doing this. Old articles never leave the internet, so you’ll see old advice that appears authoritative, but things change and change fast. Some of those older methods just look limp or expensive or awkward compared with more recent ones, so do read all of this section before you make your pick. So. Method 1: Just Give Your Book Away For Free Everywhere What you’re going to do here is upload your book on Amazon (at $2.99, or whatever), then upload it to Google, and Apple, and Kobo, and everywhere else, too. It’s too annoying to do that second part yourself, so you get an outfit like Smashwords or Draft2Digital to do it for you. They’ll charge a kind of agency fee on any revenues you make, but pay it. It’s money well-spent. Then, via your distributor, you simply make the Apple-Google-Kobo price $0.00. That’s easy-peasy. You just do it. Amazon doesn’t like free. (It’s a shop and it likes selling things.) Look at your book page, though, and scroll down to the Product Details section. You should see at the bottom there a little rubric (with contact links) that looks like this: “Would you like to tell us about a lower price? If you are a seller for this product, would you like to suggest updates to the product page?” Well, yes, you would like to tell Amazon about a lower price, so tell them. Report that lower price using the automated tool. I also recommend contacting Amazon more directly via the contact page on the KDP site. Say something like this: “I’m a serious and long-term author, looking to build fans for my work or series. I’ve made this book available for free through other stores, including Apple, Kobo, Google etc. I would really like it if you would consider making the book free on your store as well. And, to be clear, my long-term aim is to sell a lot of work, at full price, through your store. I very much appreciate your help.” They won’t guarantee to help. It’s not automatic. Their response is variable in terms of outcomes and timings, but you’re probably fine. Fingers crossed. The results can be very good. I did a freebie in January 2016 using roughly this method. I notched up about 10,000 downloads in the first week, through Amazon alone. Other e-stores were additional. Some further downloads followed (though at a much lower rate). And of course, my mailing list took a terrific jump upwards and I got plenty of emails and reviews from readers telling me that they loved that first book so much, they wanted to jump right into the rest of the (paid) series. Method 2: Give Your Book Away On Amazon Only (For A Limited Period) If you agree to work exclusively with Amazon – by enrolling in KDP Select – you will enjoy the ability to schedule Kindle Countdown promotions, which give you the opportunity to price your book cheaply, or for free, for 7 days in every 90 day period. Amazon will promote those deals itself and, if you go for the $0.99 option, you’ll still be on a 70% royalty (rather than the normal 35%). If you are exclusive to Amazon, and I think the default choice for new authors is probably to go exclusive as you learn the ropes, then you should use these opportunities fully. (I wouldn’t ever discount for seven continuous days, however. You’ll find that any sales surge quickly tamps down. You’re better off doing one three day and one four day promotion spaced about 1.5 months apart.) To be clear, though, these short one-off promotions are not really the same as the ‘perma-free’ option we’re mostly talking about. If you want a ‘perma-free’ book, you are probably making that one not Amazon-exclusive, pricing it free elsewhere, then coming back to Amazon as per Method 1 above. Method 3: Give Your Stuff Away Via Facebook Ads This approach had a real surge in popularity recently, but it’s a strange one, I think. With other approaches in this section, you pay nothing (or little) to give your work away for free. With the Facebook approach, you pay real money to acquire each new reader. You literally place ads on Facebook that say (in effect) “Hey, come and get your free book (but you’ll need to give me your email address to get it.)” And as a method of getting readers, it works, but that new reader of yours might be a flake. They might or might not read your free giveaway. They might or might not go on to buy other books in your paid series. The arithmetic looks like this: Unit revenue from your free giveaway: $0.00 Unit cost of acquiring those readers: $0.50 (or something like that) Your profit per reader: -$0.50 That arithmetic does not look attractive to me, but it is possible to make things work, if: You’re very good at managing your Facebook ads, so you target the right readers and keep your costs per click down very low. You’re very good at coaxing giveaway-readers into your paid-readership. That normally involves further little free gifts and a strong series of automated emails aimed at shifting kinda-interested readers into committed ones. You’ve a long tail of paid work to sell because, of course, the more you have to sell, the higher the expected long-term revenue that will be generated by each new reader. The people who succeed with Facebook ads do tend to have a lot of work to sell and they work hard and intelligently at managing their ad campaigns – which is all fine. All the same, do you want to be an ad manager or a writer? If (like me) you think the business of managing a Facebook ad portfolio could quickly become wearisome, there are probably better ways to do this. The one real exception I can think of applies to new writers who do have some cash to spare who just want to get on and do it. Instead of following my (very organic) sales method, where each new book just expands the mailing list and readership ready for the next one, you could just invest (say) $3,000 in basically buying 6,000 reader emails. Just be aware that paid-for emails will have a lower conversion rate than freebie ones. I assume about 1/3. Method 4: Use Book Promo Sites To Shift Your Work The best method, however, is to use book promotion sites to get your work out into new hands. There are two big ways to do this. One is via book discount sites. These sites have built large reader databases and they email their readers, saying, in effect, “Hey, these great books are on promotion.” You can build surges of attention to your work – and these tools can work very well indeed. The info you need about these sites can be found via Nicholas Erik here. Use those tools! Especially for newer indies, they are an indispensible way to get the word out. An excellent additional support is Prolific Works (formerly Instafreebie.) Those guys have good email lists themselves, but they also have great tools for collaborating with other author and cross-promoting work there. And I’m not going to tell you how to use that site here, because I’ve already told you in detail in this blog post right here. One indie author, J.N. Chaney, who has used both Facebook ads and Prolific/Instafreebie reports these results: “I just scaled back my Facebook Lead Ads. I still use them, but I’m now seeing better results with a lower price tag using Instafreebie. … My Facebook budget for that ad was $23 per day yielding an average of 49 subscribers per day at an average CPL [Cost Per Lead] of $.51. … Instafreebie is $20 per month yielding an average of … 84 subscribers per day at a CPL of $.0076. Not even joking. (It could have been 129 per day had I figured out that I need to require an email address to download.)” I also moved on from Facebook. I use Instafreebie myself, and it’s worked very well for me. Yeah, there’s a lot to think about isn’t there? So think about joining Jericho Writers and getting a TON of really classy learning materials that take you step by step through the whole process. I’m not going to give you a heavy sell. I’m just going to say that we built our Jericho Writers club for people like you, and you should think about joining us. You can find out all the details here, and we’d absolutely love it if you went ahead and joined us. Step 15. How To Launch Your Paid Book On Amazon KDP We’re there. We’ve done all our prep work. We have written a great book. Commissioned a great cover. Got great front and end material. We’ve written our reader’s magnet. We’ve got our website and other bits of plumbing in place. We’ve sorted out our metadata (our BISAC categories and keywords). We’ve figured out our pricing. We’ve got some initial names on our mailing list, probably because we’ve made use of Instafreebie or other tools to distribute free samplers of our work. And now we want to launch our first proper paid-for book on Amazon. We don’t just want readers. We want money. Good. (We need to live.) Now here’s a simple launch strategy for you to follow: Upload your book to Amazon, Apple, Google, and everywhere else. Send an email to your mailing list to tell them your book is now available for sale. That’s it. Have a drink, go for a long walk, take a nap. You’re probably thinking, you have got to be kidding, there must be more to it than that. Must there? On the one hand, yes, there are advanced strategies out there – and they make sense – but mostly, no. Follow this and you’ll do just fine, so long as your books are good. You can’t sell bad books. And the ultimate reason for the success of this strategy has to do with Amazon’s sales rank algorithm. That algorithm is crucial, but it involves just a tiny bit of arithmetic, so bear with me. Every book (indeed, every product) on Amazon’s system has a score which is made up of how many units you sold today, plus half the units you sold yesterday, plus a quarter of the units you sold the day before that, plus an eighth of the units you sold before that, and so on. A score is calculated for every book on the system. Those scores are placed in order. And, bingo, what you’ve got is Amazon’s sales rank. That piece of information is astoundingly important. Why? It tells you that short term movements in sales are intensely influential in determining overall rank. Let’s say you want to hit #100 in the Kindle bestseller lists. Good target, right? Well, you have broadly two ways to get there: You can sell (roughly) 500 e-books every day for a month, or you can sell (roughly) 1000 e-books in a single day. The first of those things is very hard to achieve. How, after all, would you even do it? Maybe a massive (and expensive) Facebook ads campaign could do it, but you’d end up spending a lot more than you were earning back. The second of those things, the big, one-off pulse in sales, is easy to achieve. And you already know how to do it. You just contact your mailing list and tell them, ‘Hey guys, I’ve got a new book out!’ They like your stuff now, so phrase it well, and they’ll look to buy your book. (On my last launch, 30% of my mailing list bought my book within eight hours of me sending the email.) And bingo! That’s your sales surge right there. The sales surge powers you right up the Amazon sales charts. All the good stuff you did with categories and keywords means your book will get to be visible right where it needs to be: in the exact places that your potential readers are browsing. All the good stuff you did with covers and your Look Inside section means those browsers will convert into readers. And those guys are new readers. They aren’t buying your book because they were on your mailing list. They’re buying your book because they were casually browsing, but you managed to ensure that your book was under their noses when they were doing so. You’ve just expanded your readership. And that’s good. But it gets better. Because all the lovely stuff you did with the end material of your book means that your new one-time readers will soon turn into your committed fans. They’ll join your mailing list and expand your reach for the next time you play this game. And that is the whole secret of successful self-publishing on Amazon. You turn that wheel and keep it turning, with book launch after book launch. If your work is strong enough to keep your readers reading, your sales will only increase from cycle to cycle. Step 16. The Long Term: Where DO You Go From Here? This (uber-massive) post has revealed the basic art of self-publishing success – but, believe it or not, it’s still something of a starter guide, a basic template. As you get your self-publishing career properly started, you’ll soon start to think about some broader questions, for example: How often am I going to publish a new book? Me, personally, I’m very old school. I write one book a year and can’t see myself going much faster than that. Loads of indie-publishers will aim to write and publish a book every three months. If anything, the trend is for writers to try and bring that down to one every two months. The more you write then (probably) the more money you’ll make, but you’re not just in this game for the money. You want a nice life, and you want to be artistically proud of your books, so where do those things settle for you? Are your current writing rhythms capable of change or are you happy where you are? What do I do between launches? The mailing list-driven, sales-spike approach works well to promote your book on launch and you’ll enjoy a lovely month or two of elevated sales as that book floats gently down the rankings. That still leaves plenty of months where your book sales spitter-spatter along at the rate of a few books per title per day. How do you gee things up there? Well, as I say, there are five basic add-on techniques that you will start to use as you build out your series. They are: Price promotions, combined with Kindle Countdown deals (if you’re Amazon exclusive) and juiced up with the support of one or more book promotion sites. (Info here.) You should look to build this technique into your selling process as soon as you feel ready. Amazon Advertising. A cranky system has become less cranky and more powerful. You can place Amazon ads on Amazon itself, so you are buying the attention of book browsers direct in-store. That’s great, but (a) Amazon ads are now quite expensive if you don’t have plenty of books in your series, and (b) they are desperately hard to scale. You should find it relatively easy to make some money each month via Amazon Ads, but a lot of money? I don’t think anyone anywhere manages that. Cross-promos with other authors. Find those authors via Prolific Works or Bokfunnel. Team up with them. Cross promote each other’s work. Make money. This is also easy and a strong way to make sales and build your email list. (Pro tip: don’t team up with anyone who’s not in your genre. You want to keep your email list full of core readers, otherwise you’ll confuse Amazon’s marketing robots.) Bookbub ads. A very powerful tool once you get it working for you. Read Dave Gaughran’s book. Subscribe to his newsletter. Do as he says. Facebook ads. Extremely powerful, especially if you have strong website traffic or a busy Facebook page. FB’s ad system is complex however, and it’s easy to lose money. Use this as the final element in your marketing system, not the first. Are you going to be Amazon-only? Or sell your work everywhere? You can go either way on this or, indeed, vary your approach. The Amazon-only approach has some advantages in that: (A) it’s easy to manage, (B) you enjoy sales via KDP Select that would otherwise be closed to you, and (C) Amazon is so dominant that you’re accessing most of the market anyway. And against that? Well, there are other retailers and they’re keen to make sure that they don’t totally lose out on the indie-publishing boom. Some prominent indie authors get a full 50% of their writing income from the non-Amazon stores, which they’ll achieve using techniques additional to the ones described in this post. With those other retailers, you don’t win via an approach of fire-and-forget, and where you stand on this decision is up to you. There are prominent voices on both sides of the fence. I strongly urge newer indies to go Amazon exclusive at the start. Once you’ve got a few books out and are hitting, say, $10,000 in annual revenues, you have a decision to make. Till then, stick with Uncle Jeff Bezos. And don’t worry. Copyright remains with you no matter what. If you ever want to remove your books from Amazon, you’ll still own the copyright to do with as you please. How do you strike a balance between writing and managing your business? Personally, I don’t do much business management at all. Most of my mailing list growth is organic: people like my books and sign up. I make enough money with my current approach and I just don’t particularly want to spend my time fiddling around with Facebook ads and the like. You may feel differently. You’ll have to figure out the balance that’s right for you. You might want to outsource some tasks to third parties. You might want to do it all yourself. A classic small businessperson’s dilemma. Do I need a literary agent? Once upon a time, that would have seemed like a strange question. You’re an indie author, right? You’ve turned your back on that whole traditional superstructure – except things do change. If you do well in English language markets, literary agents have a role to play in selling those additional rights. Foreign language sales. Film and TV. Audio. Or maybe you want to go for the full traditional publication with some portion of your portfolio? Or in one specific national market, such as the UK? If you’re not thinking about these things yet, you will probably want to do so in time. And that’s it – the ultimate (starter) guide to self-publishing on Amazon. It’s not comprehensive. There’s more to tell – but, this being a starter guide, you have what you need right here on how to self-publish with Amazon. (And if you found it all helpful, do click to tweet: The Ultimate Guide to Self Publishing on Amazon. (We hope!) If there are techniques working for you we haven’t covered, which you think others should really be adopting, drop us a line. We’d love to hear. As ever, best of luck, and happy writing!

How To Write A Book In 10 Steps

Are you writing a book? Maybe you’re starting out for the first time? Twenty years ago, I was in your exact position. My wife was seriously unwell. I’d quit work to look after her. And yes, a lot of my time was spent caring for her… but that still left a whole lot of hours in the day. I didn’t want to just do nothing with that time. And I’d always wanted to write a book. (I’ve still got a little home-movie film clip of me, age 9, being asked what I wanted to be when I was grown up. I answered, “I want to be an author.”) So, sitting at home, and often quite literally at my wife’s bedside, I opened my laptop and started to write. That book grew into a 190,000-word monster. I was engrossed by the damn thing too. Worked really hard. Was a perfectionist about every detail. I got an agent and I got a six-figure book deal with HarperCollins, one of the world’s largest publishers. And the book went on to become a bestseller that sold in a load of foreign territories too. And best of all? I got a career I loved. I’ve been in print continuously ever since, bringing out about a book a year in that time, and I’ve basically loved every second of it. (Oh, and my wife? Yeah, she’s got a long term condition that will never leave her, but she’s about a million times better than she was back in those days. It’s been an up-down ride, but we’ve been a lot more lucky than not.) A Super-Simple Step-By-Step Guide For New Writers But you’re not reading this because you want to know about me. You want to know how to start writing a book. You’ve got a big empty screen to deal with. A headful of ideas, a desire to write… but no structure for putting those ideas into practice. You want to know: what next? Well, that’s a good question. (One I didn’t think about too hard about when I started out, but then again I did end up deleting a 60,000-word chunk of my first draft because it was just no damn good.) So what do you need to do next? The book writing process can be incredibly daunting, so we\'ve made it simpler for you. If you want to start writing a book, take the following steps, in the following order… Write A Book In 10 Steps Take one fabulous idea Build a blistering plot Add unforgettable characters Give your characters inner life Add drama by showing it unfolding on the page Write with clarity, economy and precision Writing for children? Same rules apply! Be disciplined Revise your draft Get feedback 1. Take One Fabulous Idea If you want to know how to write a novel, there is only one sensible place to start, and that’s not with the first line as you might think, but with the very idea of your book – the thing you want to write about. This is one part of the writing process which you can\'t avoid. Which is great, as for lots of people it\'s the most fun part. Concept matters massively. It’s almost impossible to overstate its importance. Stephenie Meyer writes competent prose, but it’s her concept that turned Twilight into a cultural phenomenon. Dan Brown, Stieg Larsson, and Stephen King are similar. They’re decent writers blessed with stunning ideas. Agents know this, and – no matter what your genre – a strong premise is essential to selling a book. Given any two broadly similar manuscripts, agents will almost always pick the one with the strongest central concept. How, then, do you get your amazing book ideas? The answer is that you probably already have them. Your killer idea may be germinating in your head right now. It may arise from a passion of yours; it may come out of a book you love. It’s not about the seed of the idea. It’s how you develop it that counts. The key here is: (A) picking material that excites you, (B) picking enough material (so you want several ideas for possible settings, several ideas for possible heroes, several ideas for basic challenge/premise, etc. You want to be able to make choices from a place of abundance.) (C) – and this is the genius bit – you need to start combining those ingredients in a way that ensures you have at least one rogue ingredient, one unexpected flavour in your concoction. So let’s say that you just wanted to write a 1940s, film-noir style, private-eye detective story – an homage to Raymond Chandler and that great generation of writers. If you just replicated all those ingredients, you’d have an unsaleable book. Why? Because they’re too familiar. If people want those things, they’d just buy Chandler’s own work or others of that era. So throw in – a ghost. A German secret agent. Or set the story in a black community in Alabama. Or… whatever. Just make sure there’s one discordant ingredient to make readers sit up and take notice. Need more help? Then go watch this 10-minute video I put together that walks you through this exact part of the writing process. Expert tip: It also helps to know really early on what kind of word count you should be looking at. The gold-standard way to figure this out is to get hold of five or six recently published novels in your exact area. Then count the words on a typical page and multiply up to get an approximate total. If that sounds like too much work, then just use our handy guide. The gold-standard approach is better though! 2. Build A Blistering Plot The next essential for any novelist is a story that simply forces the reader to keep turning pages. Fortunately, there are definite rules about how to achieve this. Here are the rules you need to know: Work With A Very Small Number Of Protagonists  These are the main characters in your story. The ones who propel the action and whose stories the readers invest in. You probably only have one protagonist, and that’s fine. If you have two or three, that’s fine too. More than that? Not for a first book, please! They’ll make your job too hard. Unsettle The Status Quo Very Early On You could possibly do this from the first page, but certainly within the first chapter. The incident that gets the story rolling is called the Inciting Incident, and it’s the catalyst for everything that follows. Read more about how to make your Inciting Incident work really well here. Give Your Protagonist A Major Life Challenge  Do this very early on in the book and don’t resolve things till the very end. The reader basically read the book to see whether your protagonist gets the thing they’re seeking. Does the gal get the guy? Does James Bond save the world? Increase Jeopardy Though it\'s important to do this over the course of the book, it doesn’t have to be an even progression, by any means. But by the final quarter or third of your novel, your protagonist needs to feel that everything hinges on the outcome of what follows. End Your Book With A Crisis And Resolution So the crisis part is when everything seems lost. But then your hero or heroine summons up one last effort and saves the day in the end. In general, in most novels, the crisis wants to seem really bad, and the resolution wants to seem really triumphant. It’s achieving the swing from maximum light to maximum dark that will really give the reader a sense of a satisfying book. (More on plot structure here.) Delete Unessential Chapters And finally, one more crucial tip: if a chapter doesn’t advance the story in a specific way, you must delete that chapter. How come? Because all the reader really wants is to know whether your protagonist achieves the thing they’re seeking. If that basic balance between protagonist and goal doesn’t alter in the course of a chapter, you’ve given your reader no reason to read it. So axe unnecessary backstory. Ignore minor characters. Care about your protagonist with a passion. Sounds simple? Well, the principles aren’t that hard to understand, although executing the advice can be a wee bit trickier. Expert tip: Use the “snowflake method” to build your structure. The heart of this concept is the idea that you should start with an incredibly bare-bones summary of your narrative – one sentence is fine. Then you add something about character. Then you build that sentence out into a paragraph. And so on. It’s a great way of allowing your plot to emerge somewhat naturally. More help on that technique here – but don’t ask my why it’s called the snowflake method. It’s nothing like a snowflake. 3. Add Unforgettable Characters Long after a reader has forgotten details of a plot, the chances are they’ll remember the character who impelled it. The two things you absolutely must bear in mind when constructing your characters are: Make sure that the character and the story bounce off one another in interesting ways. If, to take a stupid example, your character has a fear of spiders, the chances are that your story needs to force your character to confront those fears. You must bring your character into their zone of greatest discomfort. Make sure you really, really know your character. It’s so often little things, and subtleties that make characters seem human (e.g. Amy has a passion for Manhattan in winter; she collects a shell from every beach she’s ever visited.) If you want to check if you know your character well enough, we suggest you use our ultimate character builder. Oh yes, and one great tip (albeit one that won’t work for every novel) is this: if in doubt, add juice to your character. Here’s an example of what I mean: Stieg Larsson could have just written a book about a genius computer hacker. But he didn’t. He could have written a book about a genius computer hacker with Aspergers. But he didn’t. He could have written a book about a genius computer hacker with Aspergers and a hostile attitude towards society. But he didn’t. He could have written a book about a genius computer hacker with Aspergers, a hostile attitude towards society, and who was also a rape victim. But he didn’t. He also tossed in a complex parental background, bisexuality, a motorbike, years spent in the Swedish care system, and an aptitude for violence. It was the intoxicating brew of all those elements combined that created one of the world’s most successful recent fictional creations. Short moral: if in doubt, do more. Expert tip: Our character development page has got a free downloadable character profile questionnaire that asks you 200+ questions about your character. Those questions basically challenge you to know your character better than you know your best friend. It’ll only take you an hour or two to complete the worksheet – and your character knowledge will be propelled to a whole new dimension of awesome. Honestly? It might be the single most useful hour you can spend right now. Uh, unless you are on a burning ship in a storm. In which case, reading this paragraph is not a good use of your time. 4. Give Your Characters Inner Life One of the commonest problems we see is when a character does and says all the right stuff, but the reader never really knows what they think or feel. If you don’t create that insight into the character’s inner world, the book will fail to engage your reader, because that insight is the reason why people read. After all, if you just want to watch explosions, you’ll go to a Bond or Bourne movie. If you want to feel what it’s like to be James Bond or Jason Bourne, you have no alternative but to read Ian Fleming’s or Robert Ludlum’s original novels. This character insight is one of the simplest things for a novelist to do. You just need to remember that your protagonist has a rich inner world, and then you need to tell us about it. So we want to know about: What the character thinks What their emotions are What they remember What their physical sensations are And so on It’s OK to use fairly bland language at times (“she was hungry”, “she felt tired”), but you’ll only start to get real depth into your characters if you get individual and specific too. See for example how much richer this passage feels, and how full of its character it seems to be: Seeing the meat, she felt a sudden revulsion. The last time she’d seen mutton roasting like this on an open fire, it had been when [blah, blah – something to do with the character’s past]. As the memories came back, her throat tightened and her stomach was clenched as though ready to vomit. Because the character has thoughts, feeling, memories and physical sensations all combining here, the moment is richly endowed with personality. A simple “She felt revolted” wouldn’t have had anything like the same impact. Expert tip: Once you’ve written 20-30,000 words or so, it’s worth pausing to check that your characters seem alive on the page. So just print off four or five random pages from your manuscript and circle any statements that indicate your character’s inner life (physical sensations, memories, thoughts, feelings, and so on.) If you find nothing at all, you have written a book about a robot and you may need to rethink. If you do find indicators of inner life, but they’re all bland and unengaging (“I was hungry”, “I remembered a barn like that when I was a kid.”), you may want to juice up your character. If you find a rich inner life, then you’re doing great. Just keep at it. 5. Add Drama Your job as a novelist is to show action unfolding on the page. Readers don’t just want a third-hand report of what has just happened. That means you need to tell things moment-by-moment, as if you were witnessing the event. Consider the difference between this: Ulfor saw the descending sword in a blur of silver. He twisted to escape, but the swordsman above, a swarthy troll with yellow teeth, was too fast, and swung hard. (This form of narration is “showing”.) And this: Ulfor was badly injured in a swordfight. (This form of narration is known as “telling”.) The first snippet sounds like an actual story. The second sounds like a news report. Obviously, you will need to use the second mode of storytelling from time to time. Telling can be a simple way to convey facts and speed things up, but for the most part, your tale needs to consist of scenes of dramatic action, glued together with bits of sparse narration. If in doubt, look up our free tips on the ‘show, don’t tell’ rule. Expert tip: One of the real drivers of drama on the page – and one of the real pleasures of fiction – is intense, alive, surprising dialogue. Writing dialogue competently is pretty easy – you can probably do it already. But writing really great dialogue (think Elmore Leonard, for example) is not so simple. That said there are rules you can follow which just make your writing better. For more advice on all this, just check out our page on dialogue. 6. Write Well It sounds obvious, but it’s no good having a glowing idea and a fabulous plot if you can’t write. Your book is made up of sentences, after all, and if those sentences don’t convey your meaning succinctly and clearly, your book just won’t work. Almost everyone has the capacity to write well. You just need to focus on the challenge. So think about the three building blocks of good writing: A. Clarity You need to express your meaning clearly. Of course, YOU know what you’re meaning to say, but would a reader understand as clearly? One good way to check yourself here is to read your own work aloud. If you stumble when reading, that’s a big clue that readers will stumble too. B. Economy Never use ten words when eight would do. That means checking every sentence to see if a word or two could be lost. It means checking every paragraph for sentences that you don’t need. Every page for surplus paragraphs. If that sounds pedantic, just think about this. If you tried to sell a 100,000 book that had 20,000 surplus words in it, you shouldn’t be surprised if agents rejected it, because it was just too boring and too baggy. But that’s the exact same difference as a 10-word sentence and an 8-word one. In a word: pedantry matters. It’s your friend! C. Precision Be as precise as possible. This normally means you need to see the scene in your head before you can describe it clearly to a reader. So it’s easy to write “a bird flew around the tree”, but that’s dull and imprecise. Just think how much better this is: “A pair of swallows flew, chirrupping, around the old apple tree.” The difference in the two sentences is basically one of precise seeing, and precise description. Need more help? Then you’ll find this article really useful! If you can manage those three things – and you can; it’s just a question of making the effort – then you can write well enough to write a novel. That’s nice to know, huh? Expert tip: Descriptive writing sounds like it ought to be boring, right? Everyone knows what a coffee shop looks like, so isn’t it just wasting words to tell the reader? Except that’s not how it works. The reason why writing descriptions matters so much is that the reader has to feel utterly present in your fictional world. It has to feel more real than the world of boring old reality. That’s where great descriptive writing comes into its own. If you can – economically, vividly – set a scene, then all your character interactions and plot twists will come into their own. They’ll feel more dramatic, more alive. And again: there are simple repeatable techniques for strong descriptive writing. Read more about them right here. 7. What If I’m Writing For Children? Same rules apply, no matter the age or genre you’re writing for, but we’ve put together a collection of our best tips for children’s authors, including help on how to get a literary agent who’s right for you and your work. Whatever else, write clearly and economically. If your style isn’t immediate and precise, children won’t have the patience to keep up with you. If a chapter doesn’t drive the story forwards, you’ll lose them. If in doubt, keep it simple. Write vivid characters to an inventive plot. Write with humour and a bit of mischief. But really: if you’re writing for kids, then follow ALL the rules in this blog post, but do the whole thing on a smaller scale. The only really crucial issue that distinguishes children’s fiction from adult work is word count. You just have to know the right kind of length for the specific market you are writing for. That means: Figure out what age range you are aiming at Figure out what kind of books you are writing (books about unicorns for 6-7 year olds? Adventure stories for young teens? Contemporary issue-driven books for mid-teens?) Get hold of some books in the right niche Take a typical page in those books Count the words Multiply the number of words by the number of pages. Done! Oh, and don’t rely on internet searches to give you the right answer. Because there is so much age-dependent variability in kids fiction, crisscrossed by a good bit of format and genre variability, the only safe route to follow is the one we’ve just given. Expert tip: The most common mistake made by aspiring children’s authors has to do with writing down to children. And that’s wrong. Children don’t want to be lectured or patronised. They want their world to be taken as seriously by you as they take it themselves. One of the reasons Roald Dahl was so successful was that he wrote about stuff that adults (in the real world, outside fiction) would have disapproved of. A giant who spoke funny? Adult twits who behaved badly? A lethally dangerous chocolate factory? Dahl’s willingness to be subversive put him clearly on the side of kids, not adults. Authors such as Suzanne Collins, Veronica Roth, JK Rowling, and Stephenie Meyer all use the same basic trick. Copy them! 8. Set Up Some Good Writing Disciplines The first rule of writing is this: Good writers write. They don’t want to write. They don’t think about writing. They don’t write a blog post about writing. They write. Sure you can do those other things too, but they’re not what counts. What counts is bum-on-seat hours and that document word count ticking ever upwards. Now the truth is that different writers approach their work differently. There’s no one set of rules that works for everyone. But here are some rules that may work for you. If they do, great. If they don’t, adapt them as you need. Either way, if the rules help you write, great. If they don’t, discard them. So. The rules: Set Up Your Writing Space So It Appeals Lose the distractions. Make sure you have a computer, pens, and notebooks that you like using. Get a comfortable chair. You\'re going to be in your dedicated writing space a lot, so it\'s important to find somewhere you can relax. (Just don\'t get so relaxed that you end up spending hours of the time that you allocated to your writing sessions surfing the internet or cuddling your cat.) Eliminate Distractions Got a TV in your writing room? Then lose the TV. Or change rooms. Get rid of the distractions that most bother you. Determine When And How Often You Will Write If you have a busy life, it’s OK if that’s a bit ramshackle (“Tuesday morning, alternate Wednesdays, and Saturday if I get a chance.”) But the minimum here is that you set a weekly allowance of hours for your writing sessions, and stick to it come hell or high water. Pair your writing schedule with: Set A Weekly Target Word Count Hit your word count target every week, no excuses. In terms of specifics, it doesn\'t matter how many words you write. Whether you reach a word count of 2,000 each day or 300, what\'s key is being consistent. Once you\'ve started writing and have tangible evidence of your hard work, it\'s likely that carving out some writing time and reaching your target will get easier. Make Some Kind Of Outcome Commitment For example: When I have finished this book, I will get an external professional editor to give me comments. Or: I will share this with my book group. You just need to have in mind that this book will be read. That knowledge keeps you honest! Commit To A Deadline Don’t make that too tough on yourself, but do make it real. Almost anyone should be able to manage 2,000 words a week, even with a busy life. And most adult novels are 70-100,000 words long, so in less than a year, you have yourself a book, my friend. With practice, you’ll get faster. Work To An Outline I said you needed to sketch your plot, right? (You can get that plotting worksheet by navigating to the top of the sidebar on this page.) Use that outline as your story-compass. If you need to tweak it as you go, that’s fine – but no radical changes, please! Always Prioritise The Reader’s Perspective Don’t write to please yourself. Write to please the reader. If you need to imagine an actual Ideal Reader, then do so. Write for them. Don’t Worry If Your First Draft Is Lousy It’s meant to be! That’s what first drafts are for. Jane Smiley said, “All first drafts are perfect, because all they have to do is exist.” Same goes for you, buddy. Take Breaks If you’re a fidgety writer (as I am), you’ll want to take a lot of breaks. If you concentrate fiercely for twenty minutes and take a break for five or ten, that’s fine. Just keep going that way. This is your writing time, and it\'s important that you set it out in a way which works for you. Warm Up Each Day I always edit my work of the day before as a way to warm myself up for the chapter I’m about to begin. If you like to warm up differently, then go for it. Just remember you may not be able to just start writing fresh text at 9.01 am precisely. Most of us need to warm the engine a little first. Even if all you do for the first ten minutes is get settled into your dedicated writing space and re-read yesterday\'s work, that\'s a great start. And that’s it. Do those things, and you should be fine. 9. Revise Your First Draft Nearly all first drafts will have problems, some of them profound. That’s okay. A first draft is just your opportunity to get stuck in on the real business: which is refining and perfecting the story you’ve just told yourself. That means checking your story, checking your characters, checking your writing style. Then, doing all those things again. You’ll find new issues, new niggles every time you go back to your work (at least to start with), and every time you fix those things, your book will get better. It’s a repetitive process, but one you should come to enjoy. Don’t get alarmed by the repetitions: think of this rewriting task as climbing a spiral staircase. Yes, you are going round in circles, but you are rising higher all the time. We’ve seen hundreds of new manuscripts every year, and we’re pretty good at recognising common problems. We’ve even got a checklist of recurring issues we find. Most are fixable, so you don’t need to worry too much if some of those apply to you. The thing is simply to figure out what the issue is, then sit down to address it. Remember that all successful novelists started the same way as you did: with a lousy manuscript. Expert tip: Editing your own work can be a challenging and somewhat mysterious process. So we’ve removed the mystery. We’ve put some actual edits to an actual book (by me, as it happens) up on the blog, so you can see how the self-editing process works for an experienced pro author. You can find more about all that over here. While you’re at it, you may want to take a look at the various different types of editing that are available. But don’t jump into paid editing until a very late stage. For now, self-editing will improve your manuscript and build your skills. 10. Make Friends, Get Feedback Writing a book is hard work. It’s lonely. Those around you are seldom equipped to offer expert feedback and advice – and, of course, this is a difficult road. Most first novels do not get published. So please don’t try to go it alone. Here are some things you can and probably should do: Join A Writing Group Or Online Writing Community It\'s really helpful to be able to interact with people who are on a similar path to you, and understand what writing is like. There are many communities to choose from. Like ours! See our expert tip below. Go Public With Some Of Your Writing Goals/Achievements That could just mean updating your Facebook page or talking with your friends at the office. The main thing is to avoid your book feeling like a dark secret you’re not able to share. Get Friendly Peer Feedback When your book is finished and roughly edited, it can be useful to seek supportive feedback, of the “Wow, you can really do this!” variety. You’ll need to get tougher in due course, but that early support can work wonders. Build Your Skills That could mean taking a creative writing course, or working with a mentor or a book editor, or attending an event. Whatever you choose to do, you will improve as a writer and writing & editing your next book will come easier than it did this first time round. Get Professional Feedback  Once you’ve done as much self-editing as you can manage, getting some professional feedback is the ideal next step. There is absolutely no better way to improve a manuscript than to get a rigorous set of comments from an experienced third-party editor. We offer a host of top-quality editorial services via our outstanding book editors. There\'s no better way to improve your manuscript. Remember, you don’t have to do all of this at once. This is a marathon, not a sprint. So go easy with yourself when setting out your goals. Under-commit and over-deliver, right? Expert tip: Meet friends in a free and knowledgeable community of writers. I blog there every week and thousands of writers like you meet to share peer-to-peer critiques, gossip, advice and support. And also – friendship. Passion makes friends like nothing else and our community is all about passion. Sign up is totally free. And fast. And easy. Just go here and do what you gotta do. Bonus Tip: Get A Literary Agent Literary agents only take about one book in a thousand, so before you take this final step, we do suggest that you’ve completed numbers 1 to 9 properly. You should also take a look at our advice on manuscript presentation to make sure you’re really prepared for the next stage. That said, if your novel is good enough, you will find it easy enough to secure representation. Just follow these steps. A) Select Your Target Agents We have a complete list of literary agents and you can filter all data by genre, agent experience and more. It’s the most complete source of its kind. B) Choose About 8-12 Names You’re looking for agents keen to take on new writers. If they happen to represent authors you love, so much the better. (More advice on how to start your agent search.) C) Write A Fabulous Covering Letter This can be a little daunting. But once you\'re familiar with the process, it will feel less overwhelming. Try using this advice and sample letter. D) Write A Good, Clear Synopsis Synopsis writing is a process that terrifies most writers, but this is easier than you might think. Just follow these tips. E) Get Your Stuff Out There And there you have it: 10 steps to help you start writing that novel. This may seem like a long, daunting process, but you want to write a book, and now you know where to start. So let\'s celebrate that for now! Happy writing, good luck. And keep going!

US Literary Agents For Popular Science

So, you’re well on your way to completing your book on a popular science topic, and have a cracking book proposal that you can’t wait to share with agents. Well, we’re here to help!  WANT TO JUMP STRAIGHT TO THE AGENT LIST? CLICK HERE  Popular Science Popular science as a genre is the exploration of scientific topics in an accessible way for the average reader. The work should be interesting and understandable to a non-expert, and focus on topics that will be of interest to the general public.  Popular science topics can include space, nature, biology and the human body, climate change, mental health (which can here have the crossover with psychology), time, data, and many more. These are topics that grasp the interest of the average reader, discussing the history of the universe, or genetics, or the history of the human race, in a way that is accessible to anyone who picks up the book. They remain a popular genre, particularly those books that follow on with current scientific discoveries and trends.  Authors of popular science and psychology are more popular than ever. Stephen Hawking, Oliver Sacks and Michio Kaku, to name a few.  AgentMatch And How To Use It There are plenty of science-loving agents, but you won\'t want to approach them all. The best way to develop and refine your own shortlist of US agents for popular science is to visit AgentMatch, our literary agent database, and use the search tools on the left to make your selection.  With AgentMatch you can select by genre (e.g. science), country, the agent’s level of experience, their appetite for new clients, and much more. You can even save your search results and come back to them, allowing you to work through them one by one, at your own pace. Each profile has been researched thoroughly including what agents like to read in their spare time, information on their most recent deals, manuscript wishlists, submission requirements, and exclusive interviews.  You can sign-up for a 7-day free trial which will give you a good feel for the data and functionality. Or join us as a premium member and get unlimited access to AgentMatch.  US Agents For Popular Science  To get you started we’ve selected a list of 20 US agents looking for popular science:  [am_show_agents id=11] More Resources   We’re here to help you at every step in your writing and querying process. Check out our favourite blogs that can assist you in putting together your query letter and synopsis, and if you want valuable, personal feedback on your writing you can book a fifteen-minute One-to-One with an agent of your choice. Premium members can also get a free query letter review from our lovely Writers Support team!    Happy searching, and good luck on your querying journey!   

US Literary Agents For Food And Cookery Books

So, you’re well on your way to completing your book on food and cookery, and have a cracking book proposal that you can’t wait to share with agents. Well, we’re here to help!  WANT TO JUMP STRAIGHT TO THE AGENT LIST?CLICK HERE Food And Cookery This is a market dominated by full-colour, hard-copy books. The eBook revolution has done little to change the basic market. Which is good news.   The bad news is that this means the market dynamics are challenging for debut authors in this area. A sure-fire way to get a cookbook published is to have a TV show first. Or a column in a national newspaper. Or, you’re a celebrity. But for ordinary cookery writers it is hard to get published. It can be hard to get publishers interested enough to invest in a book because the high production quality means that a book needs to shift a lot of copies to break into profit.   There are still opportunities for new debut writers. Especially if you are an expert in an under-explored area of food and drink. Having a strong platform with demonstrable interest in the area of food and drink that you’re writing about will only make your submission pack look even stronger.  AgentMatch And How To Use It There are plenty of cookbook-loving agents, but you won\'t want to approach them all. The best way to develop and refine your own shortlist of US agents for food and cookery books is to visit AgentMatch, our literary agent database, and use the search tools on the left to make your selection. With AgentMatch you can select by genre (e.g. food and cookery), country, the agent’s level of experience, their appetite for new clients, and much more. You can even save your search results and come back to them, allowing you to work through them one by one, at your own pace. Each profile has been researched thoroughly including what agents like to read in their spare time, information on their most recent deals, manuscript wishlists, submission requirements, and exclusive interviews. You can sign-up for a 7-day free trial which will give you a good feel for the data and functionality. Or join us as a premium member and get unlimited access to AgentMatch. US Agents For Food And Cookery Books To get you started we’ve selected a list of 20 US agents looking for food and cookery books: [am_show_agents id=37] More Resources  We’re here to help you at every step in your writing and querying process. Check out our favourite blogs that can assist you in putting together your query letter and synopsis, and if you want valuable, personal feedback on your writing you can book a fifteen-minute One-to-One with an agent of your choice. Premium members can also get a free query letter review from our lovely Writers Support team!   Happy searching, and good luck on your querying journey!  

400+ Literary Agents in the UK- and How To Approach Them

Congratulations! You\'ve finally finished your manuscript and now you\'re looking for a literary agent who represents writers like you. The good news is that literary agents positively want submissions. Most really big authors, from Hilary Mantel to JK Rowling, arrived via the slushpile, and there\'s no reason why you shouldn\'t do the same. But where do you start? There are hundreds of literary agents in the UK, and this article lists pretty much all of them: well over 400 UK-based agents. That list is available at the bottom of the piece and you can jump straight there - or read on for an in-depth guide to how to get and work with literary agents. WANT TO JUMP STRAIGHT TO THE COMPLETE AGENT LIST?CLICK HERE Find your perfect UK agent Literary Agents: All You Need To Know In this article we\'re going to guide you through everything you need to know about finding a UK literary agent - from agent submission guidelines to fiction submissions, how to write a covering letter to understanding genre when it comes to choosing your agent. Here are the 7 simple steps you need to take when searching for a UK literary agent: Understand what an agent does Know your genre Decide who to approach Create a shortlist Write a synopsis Write a query letter Check out our links to the UK\'s top agents and start making notes! And if you actually want a list of US literary agents, then you need to be here instead. Is it worth getting a literary agent? Literary agents are the gatekeepers of the book world. This can be a bitter sweet reality because, although they weed out books that aren\'t a good fit for traditional publishing, they are also the people standing between you, a top publishing house, and your dream of becoming a bestseller. When it comes to traditional publishing - especially the Big Four (Penguin Random House, Harper Collins, Simon & Schuster, and the Hachette Book Group) - no editor will look at an author\'s book proposal unless it comes from one of many reputable literary agencies. So if you have fantasies of your novel making it to Waterstones shop window, or for sale in supermarkets and airports, or if you want to be a Sunday Times Bestseller with your story turned into a movie via a film agency, then you will need to be with a big publisher. And if that\'s the case, you need an agent. Literary agents are salespeople - they take you on (not just for this book but YOU as an author) and they cheerlead you all the way to the editors who they feel will suit you and your work best. The idea is that they will help shape your career, you will work together for many books to come, so this relationship needs to work. Yes, you pay agents something for their work (more about that shortly), but the value agents add should multiply your total income many-fold. In short: if traditional publishing is what you want, getting an agent is a no-brainer. Just do it. How do you get a literary agent? Check your Genre Most agents are fairly eclectic in their tastes. My own agent handles high-end literary fiction, some very serious non-fiction ... and some very successful commercial women\'s fiction writers ... and crime fiction ... and some fun, light non-fiction too. He\'s actually typical, rather than unusual. That said, agents - like any readers - do have their passions and it\'s no use at all sending your speculative fiction to agents who just don\'t handle the genre. But be creative. If you\'re writing a thriller set in northern Norway, then somebody with a passion for all things Scandinavian may well be a good option, even if he hasn\'t sold many thrillers. An agent near you? The fact that there are over 400 literary agents in the UK can be overwhelming. Where do you begin? (Remember, you can jump straight to our list of agents or keep reading.) In term of location, don\'t worry about finding an agent near to where you live. For one thing, most UK agencies have a London office - because that\'s where most publishers are. There are good agents also in Dublin and Edinburgh, but not a lot outside those places. That just doesn\'t matter. Zoom exists. Phones exist. Trains exist. If you have a great agent, living a long way from you, but close to all the publishers that matter - that\'s a win. Finding agents open to submissions You need to approach literary agents who are keen to hear from people like you. It’s pointless wasting your energy on the rest. That means you want UK literary agents who: Are open to submissions in your genre Welcome submissions from new writers via their slushpile (this sounds scarier than it is, it just means adding your submission to their large pile of other unsolicited applications) You can just Google around, or you can use our AgentMatch tool. Our tool is comprehensive, but the result is that your longlist is likely to be at least 100+ names long. So let\'s whittle it away further... Finding agents you want to work with Take your longlist and pick out any UK literary agents that you especially like the sound of: Maybe they represent some of your favourite authors in your genres. Or they represent a favourite author in a different genre. Or they don’t represent a particular favourite writer of yours, but they have commented admiringly on that author. You have particular reason to like or admire the agent’s literary agency. They share a passion of yours. They made a comment in a blog / on YouTube / at our Festival of Writing / or anywhere else . . . and for whatever reason that comment struck a chord in you. And it’s OK if your reason is dumb. Maybe you like an agent’s face (never underestimate a gut instinct)! Really, you’re just looking for points of contact that make sense given your (relatively scant) information resources. Get matched with your perfect UK agent How many literary agents should you approach? The best number of agents to focus on, at the beginning, is 12-15. Fewer than that you\'re not giving yourself a chance (some agents may LOVE your book, but it may be too similar to something they already have or they simply don\'t have the time). Conversely, if you keep submitting after more than 15 rejections, with no concrete feedback and no full requests, it\'s almost certain that your manuscript isn\'t yet ready to sell - in which case you need to find out what\'s wrong, then fix it. (Our manuscript assessment service will help with that.) Submission Guidelines Whether you write diverse fiction or popular science, commercial or non fiction, the best way to be rejected by any literary agent is to not follow their guidelines. Most agents ask for a Word document or pdf. They\'re unlikely now to demand a particular font - but don\'t be weird, or too small. A Times New Roman font at 12pt won\'t go wrong. I use Garamond. But anything normal is fine ... so long as you\'re within the agency\'s own guidelines. Some will ask for sample chapters, others just the first few pages. Some are still accepting submissions via post, most are by email or their own online forms. Make sure you tick all the boxes! Write A Synopsis I\'ll keep this brief (we have many blogs on how to write a synopsis) but this is an important part of the submission process. A synopsis is a summary of your entire book, preferably over two pages or 600-or so words. You can\'t get your whole novel into this kind of space, so don\'t even try. Simply, ensure your synopsis focuses on the main characters, and the keys plot beats. In nearly all cases, your synopsis should, as well as noting the names of key characters, summarise: Status quo Inciting Incident Developments Crisis Resolution Don\'t worry about if your synopsis seems boring: it will be dull. This document is a working tool - an outline, only - and it\'s not meant to be exciting. Write A Query Letter In short, a query letter (or \'covering letter\') is a simple introduction to what you\'re looking for, a brief summary of your book, and some info on you. Explain that you are looking for representation and why this agent is the right fit for you and your book. Add your one line book pitch and an intriguing premise. Including why you were inspoired to write it. Outline some relevant info about yourself (this is where you highlight any relevant writing experience, awards, education, background that adds strength to your writing career). For a more comprehensive guide on writing the perfect query letter, read a sample query letter and get all the advice you need. Keep track of your agent search And if you STILL have questions... Case Studies No two journeys to acceptance by a literary agent are ever quite the same, so we’ve gathered together a few different stories of paths to publication by a few of our successful clients. Please feel free to browse these case studies for inspiration, support – and a reminder that this road can be long and winding ... Dominic Brownlow – Helen Parusel – Isabel Costello – Sally-Anne Martyn – Joanna Cannon. Agent Interviews We have an excellent selection of interviews with leading literary agents. They’ll tell you what they really looking for, the things the bother them the most and much else. Reading these interviews is also a brilliant way to remind yourself that agents are human, genuinely keen to uncover talent – and are every bit as passionate about books and reading as you are. We’ve got a lot of interviews on the site, but here are a few to get you started: Stephen Fraser - Megan Carroll - Paige Wheeler - Anne Perry - Camilla Bolton Comparison with digital-first publishing These days, the publishing world is much more diverse than it used to be. You can have publishers that are traditional (in the sense that they’re highly selective about what they take on) but operate “digital-first”, meaning that books appear as ebooks or online-print only. These publishers can be independent or operate as autonomous arms within larger publishers, such as HarperCollins for example. While you can approach these publishers via an agent, you have to have an agent at all – you can submit directly. One case study of a client of ours who succeeded in this way can be found here. Another, really inspiring case study (from 28 rejections to a 2-book deal) can be found here. In our view, it\'s quite wrong to think of digital-first publishing as in any way a second class option. On the contrary, it\'s simply the right approach for the kind of books whose audience will mostly be found in ebook rather than via print. That might well include your book. Comparison with self-publishing Equally, there’s a real opportunity now to self-publish. That’s such a huge topic, we’re not going to discuss it here, except to say that indie authors have a real opportunity to make money, build a career and attract readers. It’s probably true to say that there are more self-pub authors earning any given level of income from writing than there are traditional authors in the same bracket. (Not convinced? Check out our video here.) That’s a stunning fact and one that doesn’t get enough media awareness. Needless to say, self-pub (or “indie”) authors don’t need a literary agent. To learn more about self-publishing and whether it’s right for you, check out this resource. For a case study of self-publishing success, check out Peter Gibbons’s experience and Tim O’Rourke’s remarkable story. International markets A UK agent can sell your book overseas. Likewise, if you are a US author, for example, your American agent will be able to sell worldwide. In some cases, those overseas rights will be sold by the agency directly. In other cases, your agent will work using a network of overseas partners. And sometimes, if an agent sells world rights in a book to a publisher, then that publisher will itself make overseas sales on your behalf. If you want to know whether to query US or UK agents, check out our guide here. But don\'t overthink this. Any agent you pick will have ways to sell you internationally. Your focus now should just be on picking the agent who loves your work and is best placed to make that first crucial sale. How much does a literary agent cost? Literary agents are fantastically good value, because you never pay them anything. Or at le3ast, you should never pay an agent out of your own pocket. They work purely on commissions (generally 15% for domestic sales, 20% for film and abroad). they don\'t earn a penny from you until you earn. And don\'t think of that 15% as \"lost\" money. Any halfway good agent should make you multiples more on your behalf than you could possibly make for yourself. It\'s a good deal, and be happy with it. Industry trends Publishing is always changing. An important recent trend is the (horribly overdue) embrace of more diverse voices in publishing. But there’ll always be industry tittle-tattle about (for example) the rise and falls of such things as misery memoirs, paranormal romance, domestic noir and so on. On the whole, though, we’d suggest that you don’t get too swayed by such things. Publishing is a basically conservative industry because readers are quite conservative themselves. If you write a wonderful book, people will want to read it. Quite honestly, and unless you are a professional agent or publisher, that’s the only trend you really need to deal with. Submission Success Tips The only really key rules here are: Write a great query letter. This really shouldn’t be too hard for you. It’s a one-hour job and no more. Keep your query down to about a page, or maximum two. Make sure the agent knows what the heart of your book is – the USP, the thing that makes it special. It’s good to personalise your letter to a given agent, where possible. More information here. Write a great synopsis. The trick here is to build upwards from the structure of your book rather than trying to precise the book itself. More information on writing your synopsis can be found here. Choose agents with care. We recommend AgentMatch, which is our proprietary search tool available to our Premium Members. The trick is to make sure that the agents you approach handle your genre (in AgentMatch, that’s as simple as selecting a filter button) and ideally some sort of specific overlap as well. Choose 12 or so agents in total. Oh yes, and the most important rule of all ...? Write a good book. That last part is the hardest part, of course, but it’s also the only bit that truly matters. Agent Response Etiquette OK, we’re writers ourselves and we think that agents should always handle themselves with normal professional courtesy when dealing with writers. In reality, of course, agents are busy and not always professional, so the rules of etiquette that matter are: Submit your work according to the instructions on the agent’s website. Minor deviations from those instructions are OK, but nothing huge. Wait at least four weeks for a response. Better to wait 6 weeks. You can add a week if your query period runs over Christmas or the Frankfurt Book Fair in October. At that point, you can nudge, once. “Have you had a chance to look at …?” that kind of email. But only one nudge, and honestly I wouldn’t even advise that. Treat a silence as a “no.” If an agent requests your full manuscript, that’s great news. Send it. Be friendly. Be professional. If you hear nothing after that, you should definitely nudge – again after, 4-6 weeks. But again: one nudge per agent, maximum. If one agent requests your manuscript, it actually makes sense to contact any others you have live submissions with. The gist of your email will be “I wanted to let you know that another agent has asked to see the full manuscript. Please let me know if you would like it as well.” Basically, you’re telling agents that you’re getting Valentine’s cards from someone else and trying to make them jealous. It sounds childish, but I promise you the tactic works very well. If an agent offers you representation, then definitely tell everyone else you have a live submission with. If you can get a kind of auction going, that’s ideal. The best situation is that you end up talking with 2-3 agents and going with the one you have the best chemistry with. Don’t ask agents for feedback. That isn’t their job and there’s no reason why they should do it unpaid. If you want paid feedback direct from an agent, then read the next section heading. Getting feedback from literary agents If you want to get feedback direct from an agent, you can. You can book it through us right here. Just remember that agents are salespeople, first and foremost. You won’t get a full manuscript assessment from them and they wouldn’t be the best people to do that anyway. If you want your full manuscript assessed by a pro editor, then we can do that for you. More information here. Legal and contractual aspects Publishing contracts are long and complicated. Agent contracts can – and really should – be very sweet and simple: a two-page letter written in clear English. The two key elements of that contract are: If an agent does a deal on your behalf, they’ll continue to accrue earnings from that deal, and for the lifetime of the deal, even if you terminate your relationship with the agent. In my view, that’s a perfectly fair arrangement. You’ll pay 15% on any domestic deal (ie: a sale to your home market) and 20% on anything else – overseas sales, film and TV rights, and so on. Again, given that any competent agent should be adding way more than 15-20% to your total earning capacity, we think that’s a perfectly reasonable deal. You can learn more about literary agent fees and so on here. Writing communities and building networks OK, so this point isn’t quite about literary agents, but any serious amateur writer will do themselves a huge service by getting involved with a writing community and especially one that’s very well networked with agents and publishers and professional authors generally. That’s us. We’re here precisely for writers like you. We have a huge community of writers like you, loads of success stories and we are intimately involved with the worldwide publishing industry. You can join us for free and get a lot of support. Or join us as a premium member and get so much support, you’ll get a nosebleed. Either way, your journey to a literary agent starts here. Time to find your UK agent match Literary Agents: The Complete UK List The list below is a complete list of the top UK literary agents. Simply click on the links and discover the profile summaries for each agent. To get complete access to all data, click here and sign up for your FREE account. [am_show_agents id=2] Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer’s community. 

How To Plot A Novel (Using Our Easy Plot Template Technique)

All stories share a simple common structure - so the simplest way to outline your novel is to use that universal template by way of scaffolding. Figuring out that template and how best to use it to create the best story possible for your readers is exactly what I\'m going to do in this post. (Or – full disclosure – it’s what you’re going to do. I’ll just help a little on the way…) In this step by step guide to plotting a novel I will be teaching you everything you need to know about novel plotting - from my favourite mind mapping method, to understanding character arcs and how to tie up loose ends. Are you ready to learn the most important part of the writing process? Here we go... The Best Way To Plot A Novel Very few writers can have a load of story ideas and start writing without any clear direction as to where they are heading and what is going to happen. The novel plotting template I will be demonstrating in this article is more of an outlining process. A simple but detailed plot outline for your book that will serve as a skeleton from which to hang the meat of your story (sorry for that rather macabre visual representation). As you go further into your writing journey you can make this into a pretty bullet journal or a colour coded Excel spreadsheet if you want, but for now you just need a pen and a piece of paper. Ready? Good. Let\'s outline your novel together. What A Story Template Looks Like A story template is just a simple method for getting all those brilliant pictures out of your head and on to the page in a way that will help your story ideas make sense to your readers. To begin with we need to look at the key components of any story. Write down the following headings: Main character (who leads the story) Status Quo (situation at the start) Motivation (what your character wants) Initiating incident (what disturbs the status quo – conflict) Developments (what happens next) Crisis (how things come to a head) Resolution (how things resolve) And now sketch in your answers in as few words as possible - aim for 1-3 sentences. It\'s important to keep it simple at this stage as complex is our enemy. Fixating on intricate plot detail at drafting stage will only get in the way of finding the actual bones of your novel. And it\'s those bones that will hook an agent/editor/reader. The Novel Template: An Example You probably want an example of what your outline should look like, right? OK. Let’s say your name was Jane Austen and you had a great idea for a story about a prideful guy and a charming but somewhat prejudiced girl. If your were plotting Pride And Prejudice, the outline might look something like this: CharacterElizabeth (Lizzy) Bennet, one of five daughters in Regency England. Status QuoLizzy and her sisters will be plunged into poverty if her father dies, so they need to marry (and marry well). MotivationLizzy wants to marry for love. Initiating IncidentTwo wealthy gentlemen, Mr Bingley and Mr Darcy, arrive. DevelopmentsLizzy meets proud Mr Darcy and dashing stranger Mr Wickham. She despises Mr Darcy and likes Mr Wickham. She discovers Darcy loves her and that Wickham isn’t all he seems. CrisisLizzy’s sister elopes, threatening the social ruin of her family. It now looks like Lizzy can’t marry anyone. ResolutionMr Darcy helps Lizzy’s sister. Lizzy agrees to marry him, deciding now that she loves him, after all. Now that’s easy, right? That’s the whole of Pride and Prejudice in a nutshell, and it was easy. You just need to do the same with your book or your idea, and keep it really simple. In fact, if you struggle to know everything that goes in the ‘developments’ section, you can even drop in some placeholder type comments. If you were Jane Austen you might, for example, start out by saying something like “Lizzy breaks with Wickham, because it turns out he’s a bad guy. He killed someone? Stole money? Something else? Something to think about.” And that’s fine. Don’t worry about any blanks. It’s like you’re building a tower and you’re missing one of the girders. But by getting everything else in place and putting a “girder needs to go here” sign up, the structure is still brilliantly clear. That’s all you need (for now.) Oh, and don’t bother separating those down into chapters just yet, you can worry about that later – but when you do, read this, it’s really useful! Developing Your Story Outline You might feel that our template so far is just a little too basic. Which it is. So let’s develop the structure another notch. What we’re going to do now is add anything we know about subplots – or basically any story action that you DO know about, which doesn’t fit neatly into the above plot structure. So if you were Jane Austen, and had a good handle on your story, you might put together something like this. Subplot 1Jane Bennet (Lizzy’s caring sister) and Mr Bingley fall in love, but Bingley moves away, then comes back. Jane and Bingley marry. Subplot 2Lydia Bennet (Lizzy’s reckless sister) elopes with Wickham. She is later found and helped by Darcy. Subplot 3Odious Mr Collins proposes marriage to Lizzy. She says no. Her more pragmatic friend, Charlotte Lucas, says yes. Notice that we’re not yet trying to mesh those things together. In fact, the way we’ve done it here, Subplot 3 (which happens in the middle of the book) comes after Subplot 2 (which comes at the end). But again: don’t worry. Sketch your additional story material down as swiftly as neatly as Miss Austen has just done it. The meshing together – the whole business of getting things in the right order, getting the character motivations perfectly aligned and filling in any plot holes – that’ll do your brain in. Yes, you have to get to it at some stage. But not now. Keep it simple, and build up. How To Use Subplots If you’re a fan of Pride and Prejudice, you’ll know perfectly well that our outline so far still misses out masses of stuff. There’s nothing on where the novel is set. Or why or how events unfurl. It doesn’t say a thing about character relations, why each feels as they do. There’s nothing to say on character development, conflict, subtleties, supporting cast, and so on. And that’s fine to start with. It’s actually good. What does matter, however is your character’s motivation. Taking one subplot above as example, Charlotte wants security through marriage to Mr Collins. Lizzy, however, rejects her friend’s rationale. Charlotte’s marriage reaffirms Lizzy’s romantic values and, crucially, also throws her in Mr Darcy’s way again later in the book. Now that’s interesting stuff, but if a subplot doesn’t bear on a protagonist’s ability to achieve their goal or goals, that subplot must be deleted or revised. Luckily, though, our story structure template helps you avoid that pitfall in the first place. In fact, here are two rules that you should obey religiously: If you’re outlining a plot for the first time. Pin down your basics, then build up subplots, conflicts, and so on. If you have already started your manuscript and you think you’re uncertain of your plot structure, stop – and follow the exercises in this post, exactly as you would if you hadn’t yet written a word. And do actually do this. As in pen-and-paper do it, not just “think about it for a minute or two then go on Twitter.” The act of writing things out will be helpful just in itself. How To Plot A Novel: The Template Remember that every subplot has its own little journey. Maybe a very simple one, but it will have its own beginning, middle and end, its own structure of Initiating Incident / Developments / Crisis / Resolution. Go ahead and drop everything you have into the grid below for every subplot as well as the main plot. MAIN PLOTSUBPLOT 1SUBPLOT 2SUBPLOT 3INITIATING INCIDENTMAIN PLOTCRISISRESOLUTION If you’ve got more complexity to accommodate than this allows, take care. No matter how sprawling an epic you’re writing, you need to be able to identify the essence or heart of the story you’re writing, so try paring your novel down – you can always add more details and columns after. How To Further Develop Your Plot Outline What happens if your plot doesn’t fit into that grid? If you give that exercise your very best go and just draw a blank? You may have a great story idea, but that\'s all it is - a basic idea. So how do you go from there to the plot points? This is particularly hard when drafting your first novel. You may love the vibe of your story, have developed some cool characters, you may even know your rising action or character arcs, but that doesn\'t mean you know how to plot a novel. The basic problems here are twofold: You don’t yet understand your plot well enough, or You just don’t have enough plot to sustain a full-length novel. Two different problems. Two different solutions. Let\'s look at building a story from an initial idea... The Snowflake Method The snowflake method allows you to expand on an idea and flesh it out bit by bit. This doesn’t mean tack on needless bits and pieces, like unnecessary drama just for the sake of it. It means adding depth and subplots, and developing the complexity of your protagonist’s story. Here are four ways to grow your story idea into a full plot. Method 1: Mirroring Imagine your name is Harper Lee and your story is the tale of a girl named Scout. Let’s say Scout’s spooked by an odd but harmless man living on her street. It’s fine, though there’s not yet enough complexity yet to carry a novel, so complicate it. One thought is giving her a father figure, say a lawyer, named Atticus. He’s fighting to defend a man accused of something he obviously didn’t do. Targeted for who he is, rather than anything he’s done. A black guy accused for looking different? An odd-but-harmless guy who spooks Scout? It’s straightforward, tragic mirroring. Atticus’ fight is lost, the stories interweave, and Scout learns compassion in To Kill A Mockingbird. Introducing that second, reverberating plot strand meant that Harper Lee’s novel had the heft to become a classic of world literature. Method 2: Ram Your Genre Into Something Different Another way to complicate your plot is to throw action into a different genre – such as sci-fi, fantasy or crime. So take The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger. Without the time travel element it would be a standard issue romantic story, but by adding a fantasy element you have something shimmeringly new and exciting. Or take Tipping the Velvet, by Sarah Waters. Evocative Victorian historical novels are nothing new, but by adding a lesbian coming-of-age story in that context the result is a literary sensation. Method 3: Take Your Character And Max Them Out Why was it that The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo went on to get such gigantic sales across the globe? Stieg Larsson took a basic story and made its complex character, Lisbeth Salander, the star. Lisbeth is an autistic bisexual computer hacker and rape survivor - this made the story unique and intriguing. Method 4: Add Edge – A Glint Of Steel A few years back, I was struggling with one of my books, This Thing of Darkness. The basic plot, main characters and final climax were strong, it wasn\'t working. My solution? A glint of steel. I took an incident from the middle of the book – a break-in, and a theft, but no violence, no real time action – and I turned that into a long sequence involving the abduction of my protagonist. The need to rescue the main character made the book! Steel. Edge. Sex or violence. Those things work in crime novels, but they work in totally literary works too. Can you imagine Ian McEwan’s Atonement without that glint of sex? Would The Great Gatsby have worked if no one had died? How To Plot A Novel: The Next Step Now you have your plot, the next stage is to work on character development. I won\'t delve any deeper on that as info on character building is an entire collection of articles, which you can find here. But it\'s important to remember that plotting is merely the first stage of your writing process, because even with a strong plot a book without memorable main characters is nothing. Here\'s a quick summary of what we\'ve learned... Frequently Asked Questions What Are The 5 Parts To A Plot In A Story? Introduce characters and setting Inciting incident Main story premise Crisis/Realisation Resolution How Do You Plot A Novel In One Day? If you know roughly what your story is about, you can plot your novel in a matter of hours (in the most simplest of ways). Ask yourself what your character wants most in the world, and think about the incident that has turned their life upside down. Decide whether they achieve what they want by the end (or get what they NEED) and then show their journey. Start with this simple list: Main character (who leads the story) Status Quo (situation at the start) Motivation (what your character wants) Initiating incident (what disturbs the status quo – conflict) Developments (what happens next) Crisis (how things come to a head) Resolution (how things resolve) From here you can add all the details that will make your story shine. What Makes A Good Novel Plot? As a writer all you should care about is keeping your readers hooked. So make sure you understand your characters and their motivation, add lots of obstacles in their path to success, make them (and your readers) think all is lost, then show your character arc as they grow at the end (and if they don\'t succeed, at least offer some hope). Having completed this exercise you should have lots of notes on your plot and a very strong foundation from which to build your story. Which means now you can have the real fun and add all the details. Enjoy!

How To Write A Novel Synopsis (With An Example)

Including a template for you to follow and a working example When you approach literary agents, you will need to present them with a submission package that includes a query letter, a sample of your manuscript and, of course, a synopsis. If you’re asking yourself how to write the synopsis, you should know it will need to look professional – that is, it wants to follow a proper synopsis format – and it needs to do its job, of convincing a literary agent that your story sounds exciting. That’s not actually hard to achieve, and this post will tell you exactly how to write a novel synopsis. We’ll reveal the two huge tricks that make your life easy as a synopsis writer… and give you an example of a novel synopsis too, so you can understand exactly how to put the rules into practice. Sounds good? Let’s jump right in. How To Write A Novel Synopsis What is the synopsis? A synopsis is a 500-800 word summary of your book that forms part of your agent submission pack. It should outline your plot in neutral non-salesy language and demonstrate a clear narrative arc. Every character, any big turning point or climactic scene, and all plot twists should get a mention. But lets go into the definition in more detail. Definition: What Is A Synopsis? A synopsis is: A short summary of your story, in its entirety, from beginning to end, soup to nuts, nose to tail. Written in fairly neutral, non-salesy language. Follows the same broad structure as your novel. So if, for example, you have a novel with two intertwining time-strands, your synopsis would follow the order of events as presented in the novel. Your novel’s structure trumps any chronological issues. Probably about 500-800 words in length, but agents’ requirements differ, so do check against each agent’s submission requirements. What Is The Difference Between A Synopsis And A Blurb? A good synopsis is not like the text on the back jacket of a book. Those book blurbs are much shorter and normally offer only a teaser, rather than a full rundown of the book’s story. For the same reason, a novel synopsis is not the same as an Amazon-style book description. In fact, a book synopsis is what you think it is. A 500-word long spoiler for your entire novel. Every major plot twist. Every major character. Any big turning point. Your big climactic scenes. They’re all there, briefly, succinctly and (yes) a little drily narrated. Oh yes: and some good news – If you can write a novel, then you can definitely write a synopsis. Writing a synopsis is a lot, lot easier than writing a whole damn novel, so don’t stress. You should be able to put together your synopsis in a morning – and still have time for a stroll before lunch. Purpose: What Is A Synopsis for? I just said that a book synopsis is kinda dry – and it is. In fact, I doubt if anyone has ever enjoyed reading one. It’s just not that entertaining. So if it’s not for fun – why have it? What is the synopsis of a book for, and why do almost all literary agents ask for one? OK, so this is how it works: Most literary agents will look at your covering letter first, then turn to the manuscript. If they like the first three chapters, they’ll be thinking, “This looks great, but is it going to hold interest? Is it worth making that investment of time to read it all?” That’s where the synopsis comes in. Your book synopsis is there to outline your plot and to demonstrate a clear story arc, a satisfying ending. It’s your tool to make someone read on. That’s why your synopsis needs to: Tell an agent directly and clearly what your plot is – it needs to give a clear picture of the narrative arc; Clearly identify your main characters – and at least hint at any major character development arcs; Make clear what your hook, premise or elevator pitch is; Demonstrate implicitly its appeal and how plot momentum increases; Share an ending that feels satisfying. If your synopsis achieves all that – and your query letter and manuscript sample is up to scratch – the agent will ask you for the full manuscript. They can’t not. You’ve got them hooked. Synopsis: Length, Tone, Format The format of a wonderful synopsis has the following ingredients: Length Your synopsis should be about 500 words (but check agency requirements – they can be quite variable). There’s a lot of advice around suggesting that your synopsis should run to no more than one page. We think that’s on the low side. Most good synopses we see run to two nicely formatted pages (ie: reasonable line spacing, normal margins and a sensible font.) Language Be business-like; clear, to the point, neutral. In particular, it’s fine to tell not show: this is a business document, not the novel itself. Presentation Be well-presented with no typos or spelling mistakes. Use normal fonts, normal margins, and line spacing no narrower than 1.5. It’s fine if your synopsis runs to two pages, but (unless an agent specifically asks for more), don’t run to more than that. Character Names Put the names of main characters in bold or CAPS when you first introduce them. That makes the synopsis easier to navigate. Character Thumbnails As well as highlighting your characters names, you should give a swift resume of who they are, on first introduction. So for example: “James Bond, (38), a British agent – handsome, cruel, seductive, and high-living – …”. Note that you can insert age in brackets without having to say your protagonist “is thirty-eight years old.” Save that word count! Extra Points If you have a compelling way to ‘sell’ your story in 2-3 lines maximum, you could insert that little snippet up at the top of your synopsis. Third Person Presentation Even if your novel is narrated in the first person, your synopsis should be written in the third person. So (to pick one of my own first person detective novels for example), I wouldn’t write “I am a police constable in South Wales …”, but rather, “Fiona Griffiths is a police constable, based in South Wales…” You can instantly see how much more professional the third person sounds to the reader, right? Tense Your novel synopsis should be written in the present tense, so that the agent feels connected to the story and like they\'re experiencing its events in real time. File Name Please don’t call your file synopsis.doc. That works fine for you on your computer – but the agent probably has 100 files from writers with that exact filename. So help the agent out. Your file should be in the format title-synopsis. So: farewell-to-arms-synopsis.doc, for example. And once again: tell the story. Your job is not to sell the book, write the blurb, or anything else, just say what happens in the story. How To Write A Synopsis For Your Novel There are two big tricks in getting your synopsis right. They are: First, Build Your Synopsis Structure Don’t take your massive 100,000 word manuscript and try to figure out how to cram all its rich complexity into a 500 word precis. It can’t be done. You’ll go crazy. Your synopsis will be terrible. Instead of going from your manuscript and boiling it down, you need to go from your structure and build up. That’s the trick. It works every time and it’s awesome. What’s your structure? It’s this: Status quo Inciting incident Rising action/Developments Crisis Resolution Without looking at your manuscript, sketch out your plot using those headings in about 300 words. The ‘developments’ section obviously represents the largest portion of your novel, but it may not amount to more than 40-50% of your total word count here. That’s fine. Missing out excessive detail is exactly the point. It’s precisely what you’re trying to do. So do it, and don’t fret. Equally: don’t get into too much detail about character or settings or anything like that. Just focus on the exact mechanics of each plot point for now. Second only to your novel, these are the most important documents you’ll ever write – so get them sorted fast, easily, and with excellence. You’ll be glad you did. Second, Layer In Character Details The second trick is equally simple and equally effective. It’s this: Layer in information about who your characters are and how the events of the story impact them. Synopses can feel like rather cold and baffling documents. When they do (and assuming they’re decently written), it’s always because the writer has focused entirely on plot machinery and hasn’t said enough about why it matters to the characters. But we read books for the characters, so your synopsis has to engage with those emotional aspects too. Remember I gave you only 300 words for the actual plot machinery? The remaining 200 words are where you can express yourself with protagonists, emotions and character arcs. Example (Without Character/Emotion Language): “As BELLA walks into the class, a fan blows her scent towards a boy, named EDWARD CULLEN. Bella sits next to Edward in biology class on her first day of school. He disappears for a few days, but sees more of Bella upon his return. Bella is then nearly struck by a van in the school parking lot. Edward saves Bella, stopping the van with only his hand.”(Adapted from the Wikipedia synopsis of Twilight) Example (With Character/Emotion Language) “As BELLA walks into the class, a fan blows her scent towards a mysterious boy named EDWARD CULLEN. Bella sits next to Edward in biology class on her first day of school, but he seems repulsed by her, affecting her feelings in the process. He disappears for a few days, but warms up to Bella upon his return; their newfound relationship is interrupted after Bella is nearly struck by a van in the school parking lot. Edward saves Bella, stopping the van with only his hand.”(Source: as above) Do you see how much more engaging the second version is to the reader? Although the text remains quite dry, by including emotional/character-type language in its summary, we have some sense of the real, developing relationship. Short message: don’t focus so hard on plot mechanics that you forget to layer in emotion. Writing A Synopsis: Common Mistakes Here’s what not to do. Miss the agent’s word count by a mile. If an agent’s website gives you a particular word count to aim for, then deliver that, at least approximately. You may find you need a couple of different versions of the same documents, just because those blooming agents can’t cohere around one set word count. Jeepers. Those guys. Go into detail about setting: If you were writing a synopsis for a Jane Austen novel, for example, you might simply say: “This novel is set in a small village in Regency England.” You don’t need more. Go into vast detail about character: A few quick strokes are all that you need. (For example: “Ella, an experienced but overconfident assassin (36)…”) Be scrupulous about plot detail: It’s fine to skip subplots or ignore some finer details. The truth is, you won’t have time to include those things in a 500-word summary. Agents know that the synopsis is at best an approximation of the story. Hide the plot twist: A synopsis is the ultimate plot spoiler, opposite to a blurb, and your job is to reveal all major plot points, whether you like it or not. Start telling us about the novel. So, for example, don’t say, “Then the novel picks up the story of Kate and Jacob…”. Say: “Meanwhile, Kate and Jacob…” Cram in too many character names. Four or five is the maximum an agent wants to deal with. If you need to refer to other characters, just say, “the CIA agent” or “the beautiful doctor”. Forget to put your character names in CAPS or bold. Make it easy for the literary agent! Omit the title. Yes, we’ve seen synopses entitled “Synopsis”. Make sure you have both the title of your book and your name up at the top of your document. So your title line might read: A Farewell to Arms: Synopsis”, and beneath that in smaller text you’d have your name – maybe Ernest somebody-or-other. Use an unhelpful filename. Your document needs to be yourbooktitle-synopsis.doc. Write badly. Yes, a synopsis is a brisk, functional document, and you don’t need to write wonderfully. But you are still a writer trying to sell your work, so don’t allow yourself clumsy or badly expressed sentences. Fail to use our incredible Agent Submission Builder. These tools help you structure and write your synopsis and your query letter in a trice. Or even less than that – a dice. You can get them for free here. Watcha waitin’ for? If you’re not making those errors, you should be good to go. If you need help on getting your plot structure right in the first place, then check out these links: how to plot, more on using plot outlines, and how to apply the snowflake method to your story construction process. Synopsis: An Example This is a synopsis example penned by one of our own clients, Tracy Gilpin. The synopsis (and the book) went on to wow a literary agent and secure a book deal. Synopsis Of Double Cross By Tracy Gilpin Dunai Marks discovers the strangled corpse of Siobhan Craig, an activist who is not only her employer but also a mother figure; Dunai had been abandoned at an orphanage as a baby. Siobhan was about to present to government the results of a controversial population control model for possible implementation at national level. Dunai believes this is the reason she was murdered. The investigating officer on the case is instructed by an agent of the National Intelligence Agency to treat the murder as a botched burglary. Although some evidence points in this direction, Dunai believes Siobhan’s murder was work-related, which means she and Bryan, an American statistician, could be in danger. She strikes a deal with Carl, a private investigator. If she is able to find a motive for the murder he will show her how to go about catching the killer. Dunai discovers Siobhan was blackmailing five people who stood in the way of her pilot project, and was involved with a subversive group of radical feminists called Cerchio Del Gaia whose insignia is a double cross. Dunai and Carl investigate the individuals blackmailed by Siobhan. They include: an anti-abortion activist, the head of an all-male religious fundamentalist group, an Anglican bishop, a member of local government, and a USAID official. One of these suspects was the last person to see Siobhan alive, another is known to have approached a contract killer a month before her murder. Cerchio Del Gaia becomes increasingly entangled in both Dunai’s life and the investigation, and she is told that if she joins the group she will have access to information about her birth. The National Intelligence Agency is on a similar tack; if Dunai infiltrates Cerchio Del Gaia, which they believe is an international terrorist organisation, they will provide her with information about her origins. Dunai turns down both offers and the mystery of her birth and abandonment is eventually revealed by a woman claiming to be Siobhan’s sister, Dunai’s birth mother and the head of the South African chapter of Cerchio Del Gaia. Throughout the investigation Dunai has searched for Mr Bojangles, a schizophrenic vagrant who may have seen the murderer. When she eventually finds him he seems to be of little help, yet it is his ramblings along with another clue that leads to her close friend and colleague, Bryan, who has been wanted by the FBI for twenty years for terrorist activities in the US. Bryan murdered Siobhan after discovering she intended betraying him to the National Intelligence Agency to deflect attention from Cerchio Del Gaia and as proof that she abided by the law even when it meant personal sacrifice. Carl, who is now romantically involved with Dunai, offers to continue her training as an investigator and she agrees to divide her time between this and Siobhan’s NGO. What Next? We suggest using Tracy’s synopsis as a great example for your own synopsis format. If you need more help writing your synopsis and query letter, we offer an agent submission pack review, which is one of the many manuscript editing services we provide. Happy writing – and have fun. Frequently Asked Questions How Do You Write A Good Novel Synopsis? To write a good synopsis, you need to write in the third person; use correct grammar; examine the structure of your novel and include all the main plot points; write in neutral language; include your hook; ensure you stick to the word count; layer in information about your characters; include all spoilers and plot twists; and include your novel\'s title. What Should Be Included In A Novel Synopsis? A novel synopsis should include: your premise/hook, the overall plot (all of the major plot points), an introduction to your main characters, plot twists and spoilers, and character development arcs. How Many Words Should A Novel Synopsis Be? Synopsis lengths can vary- check to see the length the literary agent you\'re querying has suggested- but they tend to be around 500 words long.

US Literary Agents For Travel Non-Fiction

So, you’ve written a travel memoir and you’re ready to find an agent to represent it? Or maybe you’ve written a travel guide and can’t wait to get it out there.   WANT TO JUMP STRAIGHT TO THE AGENT LIST? CLICK HERE  Travel Non-Fiction There are many different forms of travel writing, and it’s important to figure out where your book places in the market before you start querying authors. A travel memoir is very different from a travel guide, and something narrative will have a far different appeal than something more fact-driven.  If you’re writing a travel book, it also needs to set itself apart from others like it in the market. Take a look at Into the Wild, Eat Pray Love, or Under the Tuscan Sun, what sets them apart and makes them so appealing to readers? Bear this in mind when querying agents, and show them what makes your book unique.  AgentMatch And How To Use It There are plenty of travel book-loving agents, but you won\'t want to approach them all. The best way to develop and refine your own shortlist of US agents for travel non-fiction is to visit AgentMatch, our literary agent database, and use the search tools on the left to make your selection.  With AgentMatch you can select by genre (e.g. travel non-fiction), country, the agent’s level of experience, their appetite for new clients, and much more. You can even save your search results and come back to them, allowing you to work through them one by one, at your own pace. Each profile has been researched thoroughly including what agents like to read in their spare time, information on their most recent deals, manuscript wishlists, submission requirements, and exclusive interviews.  You can sign-up for a 7-day free trial which will give you a good feel for the data and functionality. Or join us as a premium member and get unlimited access to AgentMatch.  US Agents For Travel Non-Fiction  To get you started we’ve selected a list of 20 US agents looking for travel non-fiction:  [am_show_agents id=15] More Resources   We’re here to help you at every step in your writing and querying process. Check out our favourite blogs that can assist you in putting together your query letter and synopsis, and if you want valuable, personal feedback on your writing you can book a fifteen-minute One-to-One with an agent of your choice. Premium members can also get a free query letter review from our lovely Writer Support team!    Happy searching, and good luck on your querying journey!   

How to Plot A Book Using The Snowflake Method

When I wrote my first novel, I had no idea the project was hard. I didn’t write a plot outline. I didn’t sit down to plan my story. I didn’t actually do anything by means of any preparation at all. I just sat down, and wrote a book. As it happened, that book worked out well. It sold for plenty of money and went on to become a bestseller. I thought, “Yep, I can do this. I’m a great writer. Of course I don’t need to plan my next novel. I’ll just figure it out as I go along.” Big mistake. My second book was so bad that my editor basically called me in and told me that it was completely unpublishable in its current form. My editor was right. I knew he was. So I went home, opened up the file on my computer. Hit Ctrl-A for “select all”. And hit delete. My second novel – gone. I rewrote that novel and this time it did fine. It got entered into one of the UK’s biggest summer book promotions. It aroused some film interest. (We got an offer actually, and accepted it, but the company went down in flames before I got any cash.) And I date my writing career – my real writing career – from there. Not from my first novel, which did fine, but which just landed in my head and on the page thanks to some benevolent higher power. But from my second novel, which I had to wrestle into existence. Which I had to figure out and plan from scratch. You’re reading this post because you’re smarter than I was back then. You’ve figured out not just that you want to start writing a novel, but that you want to plan it too. You’ve realised that: If you have an outline of your novel – a structure in fact –you’re much less likely to go wrong as you write it. Yes, I know that’s obvious. I was just dumb. So this post is going to tell you how NOT to write a novel the way I tried to do it that second time. We’re going to plan out an entire structure for a novel – a complete story outline, in fact – and we’re going to do it easily. And well. We don’t want an easy way to write a bad story. We want an easy way to write a good one. Are you with me? You are? Then let’s go. How To Plot A Novel Using The Snowflake Method: Write your story in one sentence Decide on your protagonist Write a paragraph on settings Add a beginning, middle and end to your story description Write short character summaries Expand your story description to 2 pages Keep adding details until you’re ready to write What’s The Snowflake Method, And Why Use It? So this post is going to tell you how to build up a novel outline, piece by piece. (For a reminder of plot basics, go here.) The idea of the “Snowflake” method is that it’s circular and incremental. So you don’t build your outline like this: Chapter 1: X happens, then Y happens Chapter 2: Something else happens Chapter 3: and then something else etc That way is really hard to pull off. I’ve written a lot of books and I’ve never once succeeded by attempting this technique. What you’re likely to find is a mess of a first draft. Yes, you can fix it, but it’s much easier to do things right in the first place. The way the Snowflake Method works is much cleverer. It’s a much simpler way to structure your story... and will give you a much better story as well. (The idea, by the way, was first developed by Randy Ingermanson – so, thanks, Randy.) Here’s the basic idea. You build your outline like this: What’s the idea of your novel? Write it down in one sentence. Who’s the protagonist (hero or heroine) of your story. Write that down in one sentence. What’s the setting of your story? One sentence there, please Then you go back to the idea of your story. This time you tease it out into five segments with 1 sentence (or so) for each one. And  so on The reason this method works is that it works the way the human brain works. It doesn’t ask for a ton of detail upfront before it’s settled in your mind. It uses the actual process of working to generate more thoughts and more you only ever need to make incremental changes to what you did before. How To Plan Out Your Novel: Approach And Mindset We’re writing creatively, right? That means two things: It’s going to be slow and jumpy.It’s not like writing a report at work, where you just need to put in enough hours and the job will get done. Sure, you need to put some hours in front of a keyboard . . . but maybe you also need to go walk the dogs, listen to some music, have a swim. It’s often enough when you’re musing but not actually working that you get the breakthroughs you need. So sure, sit at a keyboard: that part is essential. But give yourself the space to do other things too. Make space for those breakthroughs. You’ll make mistakes.And that’s good! Mistakes are good! The imagination has to be able to try stuff out. When you go clothes shopping, you see something you like,then try it on. When you look at yourself in the mirror, more often than not, you’ll think, “Nope, not  quite right.” But if you don’t try stuff on, you won’t find what is right. So let yourself try out ideas. That’s what a first draft novel outline is for. Give those ideas space and time to show you what they’re made of. And don’t get upset if you throw things away. You’ll only get to the great stuff by sifting plenty of just-not-good-enough ideas first Use The Snowflake Method: Getting Started Before you start writing your novel, make sure you have something worth writing about! The idea of the Snowflake Method is that you pen first the heart or core of your novel, so the rest can expand from here. From here, you flesh out, building out to key milestones in plot, profiling how each main character views the story, and so on, and so on – until you’re ready to start. Take a piece of paper or fire up a new document. This is how it’s done. 1 Write A One-sentence Description For Your Novel An easy starting point. This is the sum of your story, your protagonist’s journey. Where will they go, what will they achieve, how will they grow? See if you can condense all that succinctly in a single sentence or two. That sentence is the whole point of the Snowflake Method. So let’s say, you want to write a private eye type story set in 1940s Los Angeles. You love writers like Raymond Chandler, but you want to offer something new as well. So maybe you throw in one unexpected ingredient – you want to do something that Chandler himself would never have done. So, in this example, you’ve chosen to add a ghost story element to your novel. Sure, that’s just an example, but we’ll work with that idea as we develop the way the Snowflake Method actually works. Example: 1 sentence story description A private eye (Bernie Brandon) is trying to track down the killer of beautiful murder victim Amy Adderley... but Amy’s ghost is stalking Bernie. Does that work for you? It works for me, I think. I’d like to know more about that story. 2 Who’s The Protagonist (Hero Or Heroine) Of Your Novel? Now write down something – a sentence or two – about your protagonist. Don’t push yourself to write more here than you want, and remember that anything you do write can be scrubbed out and changed later. Changing your mind isn’t bad, remember. It shows that you’re approaching this task in a flexible and imaginative way. But, OK, for now, let’s try something like this: Example: Protagonist description in 1 sentence Bernie Brandon is an ex-cop. Lives alone. Is a problem drinker. Has a soft spot for any beautiful woman, but can’t manage long term relationships. Somewhat lonely. Is an excellent cello player, and plays the cello when he’s feeling blue. Did I say one sentence? I did. Was that one sentence? It was not. But if it comes, it comes. Don’t hold yourself back. The purpose of the Snowflake Method is to build incrementally from a simple starting point. It’s meant to remove the mental block of being asked to build too much scaffolding before you’re ready. But if you’re ready, then let yourself rip. We need to build up your main characters at some point anyway. Oh, and I originally thought that my protagonist was just going to be Bernie Brandon, only I realise I have an impulse to bring the victim / ghost more into the story as well. Maybe this story is going to be a two-hander, where Bernie and Amy both take turns to narrate? I don’t yet know the answer to that, but if you want to write something additional down about your characters here, then do. Example: 1 sentence about another major character Amy Adderley is a rich girl, dead before the start of the story. She is (or was) a singer. I didn’t find myself having more to say about Amy, so we’ll leave her there for now. 3 Write A Paragraph Or So About Your Major Setting Or Settings OK, we know what we’re doing here, right? We’re working with a 1940s Los Angeles noir. We want to evoke all that Bogart / Bacall smart-talking, hard-drinking era. So: Example: Paragraph about settings Los Angeles in the 1940s. The place is seedy, post-Prohibition, and most of the big money is dirty money. We’re thinking about big oceanfront homes, with  glossy sedan cars outside. We’re thinking about squalid little diners up in the hills where lonely souls, like Brandon, can get meals after midnight and avoid going home. This is an LA where the girls are pretty, but fallen, and the cops can be bought. And you know what? As I wrote that paragraph Click! Something clicked for me about Amy Adderley. I wasn’t looking for that to happen, but that’s how this outlining method works. You go round the various different elements of your novel (Story, Protagonists, Settings), step by step, adding detail as you go. And pop! Working one one thing, you get an insight into another thing. Those insights are what this outline process is all about. They’re why we use this method in the first place. So I’m going to jump back to my description of Amy Adderley and add this: Example: 1 sentence about another main character Amy Adderley is a rich girl, dead before the start of the story. She is (or was) a singer – but classical. She loves Schubert lieder and opera. her father, however, is a brute. A nightclub guy who made his money dirtily during Prohibition. The father’s type of singing is strictly nightclub fare – and a lot of his girls will do more than just sing for the customers . . . if the customers pay enough. Boom! You like it? We have to have a reason for why Amy is killed, and her father’s background already provides more than half an answer. And also, we gave Bernie the cello to play, just because he’s a lonely but talented guy and we had to give him something to do in his hours at home. But now Amy is a singer, a classical one. So there’s this lovely link between them. Almost like they could be lovers, right? Except that she’s dead already . . . but that feels just right for the mood of this novel. Notice that we haven’t yet said anything much about our actual story yet, but now that we have an outline of our major ingredients, we’re going to hurtle back with interest to the story itself. So, round we go again. We’re hitting the same basic targets – story, character, settings – but this time we already know more about our ingredients, so we can add layers of detail that weren’t available to us before. Using The Snowflake To Build Your Story Outline We’ve got the ingredients for our novel now. So now we need to add layers of detail. OK, so here we go again. And we’ll start by jumping back to the story that we started to create before. 4 Flesh Out Your Story Description, So It Contains A Beginning, Middle And End Our first draft story idea didn’t say a whole lot more than, “Let’s write a Raymond Chandler style novel . . . but include a ghost.” As we started to build the other elements of our novel outline, though, the story itself jumped into view a little more. (We got data on Amy’s father, and possible reasons why his daughter might have got herself killed.) So now we’re going to try to write a version of the story – still maybe only a single paragraph – but this time we’re going to give that story its basic structure: a beginning, middle and end. Already you can feel that first draft idea starting to wriggle into life. Exciting, right? So we might go with something like this. Example: Very short story outline, with beginning, middle and end Beginning: Amy’s father (Dorcan Adderley) sends a henchman to hire Bernie Brandon to investigate the death of his daughter. Bernie rejects the henchman, but meets one to one with Dorcan, and agrees to take the job. Middle: Bernie investigates. Keeps encountering / being pursued by Amy’s ghost. Bernie discovers that Amy had a fling with the son of some big wheel in the LA underworld. [Let’s call the son, Patrick Prettyboy – probably not a name that will end up in the final novel!] Bernie realises he’s meant to think Prettyboy killed Amy. He almost goes to the police with the news. End. Amy’s actual killer was her father. The whole private investigation thing was just a way to throw the blame elsewhere (and win a turf war at the same time.) Bernie doesn’t have enough evidence to take Dorcan before a court, but he confronts him and there is a struggle, which results in Dorcan’s death. Amy & Bernie, by now ‘lovers’ across the ghostly divide, play music into the small hours. How’s that? It’s not a finished story outline, by any means – but doesn’t this already feel like something that could have legs? And I’ll tell you the truth: when I began this blog post, I had no idea what story example I was going to choose. I just made it up as I went along. And presto: we already have the bones of a decent story here! That’s how easy the Snowflake Method can be. So now we cycle back to our characters again. 5 Write A Short Summary Sheet For Your Main Characters OK, I think we now have three or four characters to play with: Bernie Brandon, our PI Amy Adderley, our ghost Dorcan Adderley, our bad guy Maybe Paul Prettyboy, though he’s certainly lesser than these other three. So now we’d give them each a whole sheet of paper. We’d start to ask questions about them, and start to sketch out our answers. This is a trial and error process. So maybe we start off by giving Paul Prettyboy his own nightclub to run, a gift from daddy. Except maybe that makes the whole story a little bit too nightclubby in tone. So how about we jump to the other end of things? Maybe Paul Prettyboy runs an upmarket art gallery, somewhere nice in Pasadena. He looks sauve, and sounds suave, but under it all, he’s still just a thug. A mini-me of his father. If you want to get an idea of what questions to ask about your character, you can get a great starting list here. Because we’re beginning to get more detailed – and because this is only a blog post! – I’m not going to give examples of everything from here on. *** A Word Of Warning *** We’ll go on to develop the Snowflake Method as a tool for templating out your story or novel, but first let me make one thing clear. I’m just writing a blog post, and I don’t want that post to splurge to some ridiculous length. But you are writing a book, not a blog post, so you can’t mess around. In fact, for the avoidance of doubt: You have to do this exercise in full. So, you’re going to write one page on each of your major characters, plus notes on whatever other ones pop into your brain. And here’s one more guideline that you just have to follow as you go through this novel outline process. This rule is not optional and it takes precedence over all the others: If you get an idea, write it down. Until you have actually written it (handwritten or on screen, whichever),you haven’t captured it. And you have to capture it:that’s what releases your brain to go on to the next stage. That, in a nutshell, is why most of the people who want to write a novel, don’t write a novel. They think that dreaming around with characters and stories and scenes will produce a novel. It won’t. It doesn’t. What produces a novel is: work. You write stuff down. You start thinking of the next thing. You write that down. You move on. Yes, sure, at times you’ll go back and undo some of the stuff you did before. (So first we had Paul Prettyboy as a nightclub owner. Then we realised we weren’t satisfied with that and changed it to art dealer. But we had to specify ‘nightclub owner’ in order to get to the insight that produced ‘art gallery owner’. Even mistakes are rich in insight.) Right. Lecture over. Back to the Story Outline process. 6 Expand Your Story To About Two Pages Stick with those Beginning / Middle / End sections. They’re a helpful tool for organising your novel structure. But now you want to get more detailed. So in our early attempt at sketching the story, we wrote: Beginning: Amy’s father (Dorcan Adderley) sends a henchman to hire Bernie Brandon to investigate the death of his daughter. Bernie rejects the henchman, but meets one to one with Dorcan, and agrees to take the job. And that was fine, for back then, but now we want to know more. So that little beginning description might expand to something like this. Example: Story beginning in more detail Beginning: Bernie Brandon is in his office. No work, nothing to do. There is whisky in his desk drawer and he is trying not to drink it. A big scary guy – suit, colourful – comes to hire him. Plonks down a roll of dollar bills. Too much money  for the job. There’s some wise-cracking interchange. Brandon refuses the job. Big scary guy leaves. Brandon gets the guys registration plate, phones it through to the cops – his former colleagues – and gets an ID. Brandon finds the henchman’s car that evening, tails it to a nightclub. Realises henchman guy is working for Dorcan Adderley – with whom he, Brandon, has some history. Brandon barges his way into Adderley’s office and says, in effect, “I don’t work for the staff. If I work for anyone, I work for the boss.” Adderley laughs and gets him a drink. [and so on.] Oh, and you know I said that thing about writing stuff down? That just thinking about it isn’t good enough? Well, I’m right, and here’s the proof. As I was writing that little section above, I thought, “Hey, where’s Amy ghost in this? She needs to make an early entry.” So I almost edited the example above to make room for her, but then realised that this post is meant to give you an example of the  Snowflake Method in action, and that means that I need to show you the bits I missed, the new insertions, the second thoughts . . . all the changes of direction that the Snowflake Method is there to permit. So for that reason, here’s my second shot at that beginning section: Beginning: Bernie Brandon is in his office – blah, blah, blah – all the same as before, right down to Brandon getting an ID for the henchperson. Brandon finds the henchman’s car that evening, and waits outside. As he’s waiting, he hears music – classical singing. Schubert Lieder. Strangely, the (female) singer is singing the exact song that Brandon had been playing on the piano shortly before coming out. He tries to find the source of the music, but it proves elusive. He has a constant sense of being watched. When Henchperson leaves the for the evening, Brandon tails him to a nightclub. [Then all as previously, except I think that ghostly presence has to vanish, almost petulantly, as she/Brandon get close to Dorcan Adderley.] Yeah. That’s better, right? We’ve got a lovely double note coming into the start of that book. A contemporary reader would think, “Yep, this feels a little like Raymond Chandler, but with a subtle , strange different element that I can’t yet place. I like it.” 7 Keep Going Until You’re Ready To Stop Planning, And Starting Writing Your Novel The guy who popularised the Snowflake Method, Randy Ingermanson, has a pretty fixed bunch of guidelines on how you’re meant to do this. So you’re meant to go from a one paragraph description of the story, to a one page / four paragraph description of the story / then onto a full four page description of the story. Something similar applies to the other elements of your novel. If that works for you, then go for it! But really there are no fixed rules here, and no set end-goal. Or rather the only two fixed rules are: You have to write stuff down You have to circle round between story / characters / themes / settings,adding detail on every go round. And the only end-goal that matters is this: When you feel super-ready to start writing your novel –and not just ready, but actually impatient –then you can start writing your book. Personally, I’m not much of a planner, so I tend to jump into my books sooner rather than later (and, I’ll admit, sometimes regret my decision.) The mere fact that you’re reading this post suggests to me that you’ve got a good bit of planner in you (or you’re just procrastinating quite badly), in which case I think a reasonable stopping point would be as follows. You will have: Several pages of notes / ideas about your major characters At least a page on your most important secondary characters Several pages talking about settings, locations, themes, time of year, etc. All the background stuff that will make your novel live and breathe. 3-4 pages of notes on your story, and those pages will include . . . A full page (or more) on the beginning / set-up phase of your book. That’ll include the Initiating Incident (in our example, that’s the henchman/Brandon meeting but, even more so, the Brandon/Dorcan Adderley one), but you’ll probably also find yourself describing the immediate consequences of that incident. The Set-Up Phase will probably account for about 25% of your actual final finished novel. You will probably also have a page or so on the Climax and Resolution of your novel. In our example, it would involve the the denouement of the mystery (“Who killed Amy Adderley?”), the physical showdown between Dorcan Adderley and Brandon, and the romantic climax too (the ghost and the PI playing sad classical music into the small hours.) This Climax & Resolution Material will cover the final 25% of the novel Then you’ll also have something on that awkward middle section – the middle 50% – that we just label ‘Developments’. You want to know the truth here? Most authors – including pro authors with multiple books, and even perhaps multiple bestsellers under their belts – will tend to struggle with that ‘Developments’ section. When writers complain about their work (and we mostly love it), the mos tly love it), the most frequent reason is that they’re encountering the rocks and white water that mark the transition from Set-up to Developments. So, my own personal guidance (which you should tailor to suit your own personality and your own experience with your particular story) would be to make a decent shot at guessing what your developments section would look like. So I certainly wouldn’t advise that you just ignore it completely. But when you start writing your novel, be aware that you may need to pause once the book is about 25% written, so you can come back to a version of this exercise and redo it. Why redo it? Because you’ll be returning to your story outline process with much greater feel for your characters, your settings, all the richness of that set-up material, and so on. That richness will give you a ton of insight into how to navigate the rocks that lie ahead. If you’re a planner, then you may want to synopsise the entire novel at that point. You might even find that you can do it chapter by chapter. I can’t do it that way – never have, never will – but I do still take a moment at the 25% mark to rethink where I’m going. (Oh, and when I say “take a moment”, what I actually mean is “Spend two weeks grumbling around the house and looking for excuses to do anything else other than sit in front of my laptop and work.” I LOVE writing, and I love being a writer. But that part of the planning process? I do not love.) Ready To Start Writing Your Novel? Get help. It may make the difference between success or failure. When I wrote my first novel, I didn’t write much of an outline. I didn’t plan anything very much. I just sat and wrote. And yes, that novel got published and did well. But yes, I also ended up doing a ton more work than I would have done if I’d planned properly from the start. And my second novel? Well, it was just a total car crash, because I thought I knew how to write novels, when I really, really didn’t. We’ve talked through a lot of the technique you’re going to bring to bear in your own writing journey, and – believe me – that technique is going to reward you a million times over. But wouldn’t you like more help than that? Of course you would! Writing is a pretty lonely business, and wouldn’t it be great if you could: Get comments and feedback on your work from like-minded writers? Get the benefit of a massive super-premium video course on How To Write? Watch filmed masterclasses from top tutors teaching specific examples of writing technique? Meet literary agents and editors online, so you can get a feel for the industry you want to be a part of? Get an entire video course on Getting Published from a bunch of people who have helped hundreds of people like you get published? Watch films & videos especially created for writers like you and focusing on the questions and issues that writers like you are interested in? Have a kind of “Agony Aunt” for writers service, where you could just bring your questions and have them answered with tact and expertise? That sounds good, doesn’t it . . . but surely not for real? Surely nothing like that actually exists? Well, yes, it does. And you’re right here on the site that can make all that happen. Jericho Writers is a club for writers like you and we welcome new members. Once you take out a membership, everything that we can provide digitally comes to you for free. Every course, every video, the entire community, everything. Membership is cheap and you can cancel any time. There are no restrictions at all on how much of our content you can access during the course of your membership. The Snowflake Method is a truly great way to develop and plan your novel outline. But Jericho Writers can help with absolutely everything: writing, publishing, self-publishing, everything.

US Literary Agents For Politics And Current Affairs

So, you’re well on your way to completing your book on politics and current affairs, and have a cracking book proposal that you can’t wait to share with agents. Well, we’re here to help!  WANT TO JUMP STRAIGHT TO THE AGENT LIST? CLICK HERE  Politics And Current Affairs Political non-fiction includes topics such as governments, current affairs, and political figures or situations. They cover a range of topics that will be accessible and of interest to the mass readership, and often intend to educate readers on things they may not otherwise know. It is important to remain current and up-to-date on what is going on in the world when writing political non-fiction, particularly if it relates to your own book. The political and social worlds change at such a pace that something that was of relevance 6 months ago may not pick up the same level of readers today. An understanding of the political world would therefore be required in order to predict and be aware of trends. For example, a book about the American voting system (or a presidential election) would likely be most successful in the year leading up to the election (as candidates take on the lengthy campaign process), and then immediately afterwards.   Very niche topics will be difficult to find an agent for, as they simply won’t sell as well as something very commercial or broader topics that will appeal to a wider range of readers. If your book is very niche you may be best going directly to publishers who specialise in that topic.  Literary agents may have a more broad interest in political non-fiction and be happy to receive anything within the genre, others may have more specific tastes or interests. You should look closely at their wish-lists in order to find the best agent for your book. There may even be an agent who is especially interested in receiving the exact book you are writing, which would be perfect.  AgentMatch And How To Use It There are plenty of agents who love political works, but you won\'t want to approach them all. The best way to develop and refine your own shortlist of US agents for politics and current affairs is to visit AgentMatch, our literary agent database, and use the search tools on the left to make your selection.  With AgentMatch you can select by genre (e.g. politics and current affairs), country, the agent’s level of experience, their appetite for new clients, and much more. You can even save your search results and come back to them, allowing you to work through them one by one, at your own pace. Each profile has been researched thoroughly including what agents like to read in their spare time, information on their most recent deals, manuscript wishlists, submission requirements, and exclusive interviews.  You can sign-up for a 7-day free trial which will give you a good feel for the data and functionality. Or join us as a premium member and get unlimited access to AgentMatch.  US Agents For Politics And Current Affairs  To get you started we’ve selected a list of 20 US agents looking for politics and current affairs:  [am_show_agents id=21] More Resources   We’re here to help you at every step in your writing and querying process. Check out our favourite blogs that can assist you in putting together your query letter and synopsis, and if you want valuable, personal feedback on your writing you can book a fifteen-minute One-to-One with an agent of your choice. Premium members can also get a free query letter review from our lovely Writers Support team!    Happy searching, and good luck on your querying journey!   

A letter To Myself

Sophie Beal came to the Festival of Writing 2018. She did not get an agent, but did get inspired. Dear Myself-of-the-Weeks-Before-the-Festival, This letter is for you, poring over the Jericho resources, searching for wisdom on those ultimate questions: how can I know the Festival won’t be a waste of time and money? And what if, instead of an agent, I get conclusive proof I’m delusional? These are the things you’ll want to know up front. You don’t make any of the competition shortlists. You have a very depressing 1-2-1. That dream, where agents and publishers stalk you? It doesn’t happen. You’re now wondering if you should cut your losses, stay in Bournemouth and save the petrol. Keep reading. Sometimes, people meet their agent in the coffee queue. This is unlikely in your case. Either, you’ll be too scared to strike up conversation, or not be scared enough and say something really stupid. So there you are. Four hundred and sixty pounds down, no chance of representation and surrounded by three hundred odd people all after roughly the same thing. It’s going to be murder, right? That’s what you’re thinking. That first 1-2-1 is not the agent’s fault. She’s lovely, but doesn’t think you’re the next Tolstoy. “I’m getting caught up in the medical red tape,” she says. She has no idea of the time you’ve spent trying to make sure that didn’t happen. You sit there and listen. You write notes. You return to your session. Then you go back to your room and grieve. After all, unless something magic happens, this is probably the end of the line for your novel. After eleven years. If you could fit this into the hour and a half before dinner, it would be an ideal time and place. It’s quiet. There are no children asking you for snacks or arbitration. But you’ve a soul to vomit and mealtime comes all too soon. You’re not pretty when you cry. People will assume you’re dying of something they don’t want to catch. Or they’ll know the truth – that you’re not as good as you hoped. You drag Rachel, your trusty writing partner, to your room. She gives you a good hug, and supervises you while you rinse your eyes in warm water and make your way towards food. And there you meet someone else who hasn’t yet had either of their 1-2-1s, but is thoroughly fed up with the submission process. You share your own tale of woe. And the lady on the other side shares hers. And you say things to each other you would usually reserve for the mirror (or Rachel). Like, “I think I’m good.” Someone buys three gins and tonic and instead of slipping out before Friday Night Live, you surprise yourself by staying up to whinge until eleven thirty (that’s three am in young person time). You’re still feeling a little fragile the next morning, but all that panic-surfing has paid off. You remember Emma Darwin’s blog. You have your first coherent thoughts: You really didn’t think your world through before you wrote your novel. Your main characters are academic anaesthetists. How many non-medics know those exist? And there’s so much more you need to set up alongside the love story, including the ambition and rivalry. World-building in these circumstances is difficult, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the novel is doomed. The agent didn’t criticise your prose, your first page, or your characterisation. A lot of your work has paid off. Mandy Berriman had a difficult journey to publication. People have told you she’s lovely. You will try to speak to her. Together with a cooked breakfast, you’ve reason enough to get out of bed. Penny Holroyde and Allie Spencer sit at your table in the canteen. This is the moment you should try and impress Penny who is after all an agent. But when they ask you about your festival, you end up telling them the truth. It’s the best thing you can do. They are both lovely. “So many published authors I know, have a novel they love but can’t sell,” says Allie. “It doesn’t mean it’s not any good.” You talk about easy reading for thinkers.  She wrote her first romantic comedy about a young barrister, so understands your world-building issues and gives you some pointers. You come away thoroughly inspired. That is your “all is lost moment” done and dusted. Having planned plenty of alone time, you don’t miss a thing after that: Sarah Pinborough may apologise for waffling in her keynote lecture, but has everyone in stitches as she describes life as a published author. And everyone’s crying by the end of Julie Cohen’s session about Pixar story-telling. At the book club and literary industry panel you’re told genre boundaries are blurring. Pinning your book down as literary or commercial doesn’t matter as much as it did. Finally, someone produces a useful definition of book club fiction. It’s obvious really: “something people want to talk about with their friends.” You contemplate skiving the Futurecast session. It’s on Sunday morning; you’re tired and already know vampires are out, uplit and psychological thrillers in. But there’s loads more to learn. Afterwards, everyone you speak to is considering self-publishing. And somewhere in the middle of all that, you have a second 1-2-1. It’s far more relaxed than your first, possibly because you now know the problem. You bring up the world-building issue yourself. She suggests emphasising the love story over the setting from the start. But she says, “You’re clearly a very good writer.” You have time left. You could show her your elevator pitch for novel number two, but you forget and use the minutes up blithering about how much her opinion means to you. There you are: three competitions, two 1-2-1s and no agent. But you now understand more about how you could fit into the industry. And you’ve found the rest of the people like you in the world. The money isn’t wasted. On Sunday morning, you listen to Mandy Berriman’s keynote session and her full story of knockbacks, perseverance and eventual success with her second novel. Over lunch, you tell your fellow writers about your novel number two. “That one will be so much easier to sell. I can condense the idea down into a few sentences.” You tell them it’s about a couple about to abandon fertility treatment when the woman is raped. She then discovers she is pregnant. She thinks the baby is her husband’s. He thinks she’s delusional and wants an abortion. Someone says, “I’m wondering what I’d do.” And someone else, “You need to write that.” Then you remember you’re actually on your second draft. This sets off those pesky dreams again. You see yourself up on the main stage, about to publish your first novel as your second. The editor next to you is saying, “I couldn’t believe she had something so marvellous in her bottom drawer.” With very best wishes Sophie Beal

List Of US Literary Agents

This post has (at the bottom) a complete and regularly updated list of the literary agents active in the United States. By clicking through to each agent, you will also find which literary agencies they belong to. WANT TO JUMP STRAIGHT TO THE COMPLETE AGENT LIST?CLICK HERE If you want a list of agents active in the United Kingdom, you’re on the wrong page. Hum God Save The Queen, throw a Union Jack round your shoulders, and teleport over here instead. Want A Quick Reminder Of How To Get An Agent? Finding a literary agent to take on, edit, sell and champion your work is a career-defining moment for any traditionally oriented writer. But it’s career-defining partly because it’s hard to achieve. So let’s try to keep this simple. Here’s what you need to do to attract a literary agent: Step 1: Write a wonderful book. That’s hard, admittedly, but you’re on this page because you’re serious. Step 2: Compile a longlist of qualified literary agents. A qualified literary agent is one who is (A) in the right country, (B) open to your genre, and (C) reasonably open to taking on new work and new clients. Once you have that longlist – which could easily run to 100+ names – you can start to filter it. Our AgentMatch tool, which is a literary agent database, allows you to select agents by genre at the click of a button. You can search by literary fiction, women’s fiction, crime thriller, romance, fantasy, science fiction, non-fiction, young adult, and pretty much every other genre you can think of – including all major non-fiction genres. It\'s a great tool for helping you decide which agents to query. Learn more about AgentMatch. Step 3: Narrow down to a shortlist of 10-12 names. Once you have your longlist, you need to work to find the ones who jump out at you – normally because you find a point of contact. You’re looking for something that seems to connect the kind of reader that agent is with the kind of writer you are. A shared favourite author. A passion for steampunk. Book set in your agent’s childhood state. Shared passion for the ocean. The point of contact doesn’t matter. Just find agents who sing to you. Step 4: Write a brilliant query letter. Sounds hard, but it’s really easy. All you need to do is read our amazing query letter advice – and follow it. Step 5: Write a sizzling synopsis. Sounds very hard, but it’s also very easy. There are two big tricks to writing a successful synopsis fast and easily. We tell you what they are (and with some bonus tips included) in our synopsis article. Step 6: Give your manuscript and opening chapters a last check. Look: I’m not about to tell you how to write a book. But you probably want to check your opening chapters meet the basic requirements for professional manuscript format. You will probably also be interested to learn what we think are the most common mistakes made in the kind of manuscripts that go out to literary agents. If you want a properly complete guide to getting an agent, you can get that here. Phew! Literary Agents: All You Need To Know Agents sell manuscripts to publishers All the agents in the US are listed on this page You need to shortlist 10-12 agents Write a synopsis Write a query letter Submit your work to your shortlisted agent Keep your fingers crossed How To Use Agentmatch To Find Your Literary Agent AgentMatch gives you a complete, easily searchable list of all literary agents in the US – and all those in the United Kingdom too. Our English-speaking, graduate researchers have put together profiles of all literary agents out there, making use of ALL publicly available information (not just that on the agent’s website.) Then we make it incredibly easy to search: By country By genre By experience By level of interest in acquiring new writers Size of literary agency And much else Each agent has a detailed profile, including photo wherever possible – so you can complete an entire search process in a swift and completely non-haphazard way. Sounds good right? Except presumably we’re going to ask you for a ton of money. Except – no. We’re writers too, so we offer a free trial of Agent Match . That gives you access to ALL the data, not just profile summaries. You can also get access to our search tools, which allow you to compile your agent longlist in about 20 seconds . . . and compile a really effective shortlist in the time it takes to drink a couple cups of coffee and maybe eat a croissant too. And “free trial” means just that. We don’t ask you for any payment details. We don’t restrict your usage of the site. Any data you collect, you are welcome to retain and use for your own purposes. (We’re nice like that!) You can get your free trial here. We hope you love it! Meantime, we promised you a complete list of every literary agent currently active in the United States so that you can embark on the next step of your publishing journey. So scroll on down and knock yourself out. Or actually – don’t. Knocking yourself out? Ouch. Just scroll. US Literary Agents: The List [am_show_agents id=3]

UK Literary Agents For Women’s Fiction

Have you just finished your novel and are ready to begin your search for an agent? Well, we’re here to help!  WANT TO JUMP STRAIGHT TO THE AGENT LIST? CLICK HERE  Women’s Fiction As genres go, women’s fiction is one of the hardest labels to describe. It tends to be a rich and broad market, covering a variety of sub-genres, such as domestic noir, romance, and literary fiction. The publishing world tries to class women’s fiction as writing predominantly for women, about women. But women’s fiction is much more complex than that.  So, it’s important to be careful how you choose your book genre. Is it really a book club type of novel (i.e. accessible and literary)? Is it romance? Erotica?   Just because your book may be about a woman and her relationships (not necessarily romantic ones), it doesn’t mean that you should be describing your novel as women’s fiction. Instead think more about what kind of book it is and what type of agent you’d like.  Once you’ve clearly defined your genre and where your book sits in the market, it’s time to put together your agent shortlist.  AgentMatch And How To Use It There are plenty of women\'s fiction-loving agents, but you won\'t want to approach them all. The best way to develop and refine your own shortlist of UK agents for women\'s fiction is to visit AgentMatch, our literary agent database, and use the search tools on the left to make your selection.  With AgentMatch you can select by genre (e.g. women\'s fiction), country, the agent’s level of experience, their appetite for new clients, and much more. You can even save your search results and come back to them, allowing you to work through them one by one, at your own pace. Each profile has been researched thoroughly including what agents like to read in their spare time, information on their most recent deals, manuscript wishlists, submission requirements, and exclusive interviews.  You can sign-up for a 7-day free trial which will give you a good feel for the data and functionality. Or join us as a premium member and get unlimited access to AgentMatch.  UK Agents For Women\'s Fiction  To get you started we’ve selected a list of 20 UK agents looking for women\'s fiction:  [am_show_agents id=30] More Resources   We’re here to help you at every step in your writing and querying process. Check out our favourite blogs that can assist you in putting together your query letter and synopsis, and if you want valuable, personal feedback on your writing you can book a fifteen-minute One-to-One with an agent of your choice. Premium members can also get a free query letter review from our lovely Writers Support team!    Happy searching, and good luck on your querying journey!   

US Literary Agents For Non-Fiction

Have you got a new and exciting work of non-fiction on the go and are ready to begin your search for an agent? Well, we’re here to help!  WANT TO JUMP STRAIGHT TO THE AGENT LIST? CLICK HERE  Non-Fiction Non-fiction is any literary work with the goal of providing information for the reader. It is fact-based and requires a level of knowledge and expertise of the author, in order for them to be an authority to educate on the chosen topic.  When literary agents are looking for non-fiction, they are often looking for the topics that will sell. If something is too niche, you may be better off going directly to an appropriate publisher. The most popular non-fiction genres include:  Historical non-fiction  Memoir, biographies, and autobiography  Popular science  Politics and current affairs  Celebrity-led projects, anything written or endorsed by a celebrity   Interesting travel stories  Motivational and self-help works  One of the most important things to remember as a non-fiction author is that your work should always be entirely rooted in truth and fact, and that you should be qualified to write on your chosen topic. These are things that not only readers are looking for, but literary agents too. You need to be able to demonstrate why your book is special and why you are the person to write it.  Few agents focus solely on non-fiction projects. Most agents will build a fiction and non-fiction list, just as they would cultivate a literary and commercial list. The important thing to remember is that it’s the quality of the agent that really matters, not whether they specialise in a particular genre.   How Do You Know What Literary Agents Want?  This can be split into three categories: Firstly, know what you need to query agents with.   For fiction submissions, you need to have written the whole book before querying agents. With non-fiction submissions, you can often get away with sending a book proposal, which is basically an outline of the book you intend to write, first.   If your book is story-led (think memoirs), then it would be worth writing the whole book before you submit to agents.   But if your non-fiction is subject based, then it‘s fine to start with the book proposal.   Secondly, deliver a saleable manuscript.   As I mentioned above, the only thing agents are really looking for is a manuscript that will sell well and make money. This means you need:   Strong, popular, entertaining writing – even if your subject is interesting, if the writing is poor no one’s going to want to read it!   To write for the market. Obvious, yes, but a surprisingly high number of non–fiction authors don’t know who their intended market is. So, if you don’t know yours, then go to a bookstore or local library and find out.   And finally, get professional help. If you keep getting agent rejections or just want to perfect your manuscript first, then it’s time to ask for help. There’s lots of information out there. We’ve helped non-fiction authors in their writing journeys, and we can help you too. So, get in touch.  Non-Fiction Genres Let’s look at the most popular non-fiction genres a little closer: History  Historical non-fiction is any piece of literary work that looks at a specific time or event from the past. This could be delivered in a very fact-based way, or in a narrative way (such as The Five by Hallie Rubenhold), and can explore very wide and general topics (such as the Romans, or the Elizabethan era) or a very specific person, event, or niche topic (even something as obscure as salt – no really, it exists. Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky).  Food And Cookery  Non-fiction that focuses on food and cookery is a staple of many households. Recipe books would be the most common form of this genre, but it can also include crossover books that explore the history of food (such as Scoff by Pen Vogler), or food-based memoirs (such as Stanley Tucci’s Taste, or Grace Dent’s Hungry). This is a varied and diverse genre, full of useful tips and interesting facts.  Memoir  Memoirs can encompass a wide range of books, from the food-based memoirs I mentioned above of celebrities Stanley Tucci and Grace Dent, to a memoir of a postman (Please, Mister Postman by Alan Johnson). If you have an interesting story to tell, then there is space for you on the memoir bookshelf. That’s not to say it isn’t difficult to get there. If you’re not a celebrity, then you need an incredibly interesting story and a true way with words in order to reassure a literary agent that your book will sell.   Mind, Body, Spirit  This genre is an interesting one. It spans topics of mindfulness, meditation, astrology, the paranormal, and much more, and can be quite divisive (depending on an individual’s beliefs). Whether you are a doctor writing professional advice (Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before? By Dr Julie Smith), or you’re writing based on your own experiences (The Wim Hof Method by Wim Hof), it’s important to demonstrate the value you bring, not only to the genre as a whole but to the readers picking up your book. It is likely that readers of Mind, Body, Spirit want to learn something new about themselves, or how to approach the world we live in and our daily lives.  Politics, Society, & Current Affairs  Politics and current affair books can cover many things, from political history to a focus on an individual, or a deep-dive into a specific political event. Bestsellers like Owen Jones’ The Establishment (exploring British politics), or Watergate: A New History by Garrett M Graff, explore popular topics at the time of their publication. One of the most important things to remember when writing political non-fiction is to remain current and relevant, unbiased (unless your work is biased, in which case it’s important to make that clear), and to ensure your book is fact-based (as far as facts are available at the time of publication).    Popular Science  Popular science is a genre that makes current scientific discoveries and theses accessible to the average reader. Anyone should be able to pick up your book and come away with a greater understanding of the topic than they did coming into it. Popular science can cover any topic (especially ones that are of particular interest or relevance at the time of publication), from space, psychology and medicine, to astrophysics and our understanding of death. Anything that is current and of interest to the general population. Once again, one of the most important things when writing in this genre is to have demonstratable expertise, and to be able to explain why YOU are the person to write this book.   Travel  Travel writing can encompass everything from a travel guide to a travel memoir (Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert). Books in this genre can do a deep dive into a specific city, or they can give general advice for camping or backpacking. They can be food based (One More Croissant for the Road by Felicity Cloake) or based in history (Madhouse at the End of the Earth by Julian Sancton). Whatever your expertise or experience, it’s important that the writing of your book lines up with it’s aim. If you are writing a guide it should be informative, whereas if you’re going for a more narrative interpretation it should be able to strike the balance between fact-based and interesting.    Popular Culture  Popular culture is those topics, beliefs, themes or objects that are dominant and widely known in society. This can encompass books, film, music, art, fashion, and much more. Chuck Klosterman’s The Nineties: A Book does an excellent job of capturing the popular culture of an entire decade, while Matt Alt’s Pure Invention: How Japan Made the Modern World focuses on an entire nations historical influence. The importance when writing works of pop culture is to remain current and relevant, alongside the emphasis on being fact based. You can deliver a serious discussion on a topic, or a more tongue-in-cheek satirical view, but whatever you do it’s important once again to demonstrate your expertise and why it will be of interest to the mass readership.   Narrative Non-Fiction  Narrative non-fiction describes a piece of literary work that is fact-based at its foundation but presented in the style of a fiction novel. Take Hallie Rubenhold’s The Five. This is a book that explores the history of the victims of Jack the Ripper, providing facts and citing her sources. Hallie takes creative liberties in her presentation of this story, using the facts to create a fleshed-out narrative of the lives of these women; in this way the narrative element suits her book as she seeks to humanise them. When writing narrative non-fiction, it is important to strike this balance between fact and fiction. Your book should read like a story, but remain entirely fact-based. This form makes the writing accessible and interesting to the mass readership, and they can go away having learnt something new (sometimes without even realising it).   Business And Finance  This genre can provide business advice, explore historical aspects of business and economics, look at finance analysis, marketing and management, or encompass cross-genre books such as politics (Butler to the World by Oliver Bullough), or memoirs (We Can All Make It by Sara Davies). Where you are an expert in your field or have personal experience to draw on when writing your book, you should demonstrate not only that you are the best person to write it, but that there is a space and interest for it.   Health & Lifestyle  This genre focuses on all aspects of health and lifestyle, from dieting and working out, to mental health, relationships, and careers. Whatever your focus is, it’s important to make sure your book is relevant, well-researched, and that there is space for it in the current market.   Self-Help  Self-help falls into similar categories to Mind, Body, Spirit, and Health and Lifestyle. These books all focus on the individual and encouraging personal development, but self-help sits apart as more of a guide. Marie Kondo’s Spark Joy and James Clear’s Atomic Habits provide information and advice for how the reader can go about making the relevant changes in their own life. They are there to evoke a positive response in the reader and to provide them with something that will remain even when they put the book down. Once again, relevance and expertise are required when writing in the self-help genre.   Sports  Sports non-fiction covers everything from guides to biographies. They cover any and all sports you can think of, and can either be an interesting read or a tool for the reader to develop their own skills. Whether you’re considering the social influence of sports, specific individuals, or the history of sport, it is important that you can demonstrate your knowledge and whether there is interest for your book.   Arts  This genre covers a wide range of topics, including art, photography, fashion, music, film, crafts. They can work incredibly well as coffee table books, or as an exploration into an individual (A Life of Picasso by John Richardson) or a movement. They can provide a collection of creative work, a historical exploration (The Secret Lives of Colour by Kassia St Clair), or offer advice for beginners (Read This is You Want to Take Great Photographs by Henry Carroll).   Women\'s Issues  Also categorised as Gender Studies, this genre explores a variety of topics, from feminism to medicine, history to race. Books that focus on women’s issues attempt to evoke change, and often look at social discrimination and inequality. Books like Caroline Criado-Perez’s Invisible Women and The Authority Gap by Mary Ann Sieghart use data and facts to inform the reader, and offer up ways we can make change for the future.   LGBTQ+  This is a very broad genre that encompasses a variety of topics and crossovers. From memoirs (What if Feels Like for a Girl by Paris Lees), to essay collections (Gender Euphoria by Laura Kate Dale), and from histories (The Pink Line by Mark Gevisser), to guides (Queer Up by Alexis Caught). The aim of this genre is to inform and to evoke change, both for those readers who are queer, and for those who aren’t. From appeals for change to uplifting real stories, this genre is as diverse as its authors and topics. It is important when writing in this genre to remain relevant (is there a market for your book), fact-based, and to have personal experience of your chosen topic and be able to demonstrate why you should be writing it.   AgentMatch And How To Use It There are plenty of agents who love non-fiction, but you won\'t want to approach them all. The best way to develop and refine your own shortlist of US agents for non-fiction is to visit AgentMatch, our literary agent database, and use the search tools on the left to make your selection.  With AgentMatch you can select by genre (e.g. your non-fiction genre), country, the agent’s level of experience, their appetite for new clients, and much more. You can even save your search results and come back to them, allowing you to work through them one by one, at your own pace. Each profile has been researched thoroughly including what agents like to read in their spare time, information on their most recent deals, manuscript wishlists, submission requirements, and exclusive interviews.  You can sign-up for a 7-day free trial which will give you a good feel for the data and functionality. Or join us as a premium member and get unlimited access to AgentMatch.  US Agents For Non-Fiction  To get you started we’ve selected a list of 20 US agents generally looking for non-fiction:  [am_show_agents id=5] More Resources   We’re here to help you at every step in your writing and querying process. Check out our favourite blogs that can assist you in putting together your query letter and synopsis, and if you want valuable, personal feedback on your writing you can book a fifteen-minute One-to-One with an agent of your choice. Premium members can also get a free query letter review from our lovely Writers Support team!    Happy searching, and good luck on your querying journey!   

Just The Beginning: Getting Published

I got a call from my agent.  “I have news.” I sat on my kitchen table, my feet on a chair, my elbows on my knees, one finger jammed in the other ear, the better to hear. For the first time in days I hadn’t been obsessively checking my inbox; I’d let it go, I’d given up, I’d said to myself, oh well, I’ll just have to write something better.  I’d gone off to town with my children, I hadn’t looked at my phone all day till I was home and saw three missed calls and an email saying, do call when you have a minute.  I was holding the phone in my hands, staring at the screen, when it rang again. It’s a bit like when you’re pregnant for the first time, all you think about is the birth.  Not the aftermath, the what comes next, the slow reveal of fears you never thought you’d have.  I’d spent a decade driving at representation, a manuscript finished and loved and taken up by an agent.  When I signed with Jenny Savill following FoW16, I thought that was it.  It was a height I had dreamt of and not once had I thought beyond it.  It had never crossed my mind that anything would be as fraught. A friend once commented that being taken up by an agent was child’s play compared to selling to a publisher. A writer can submit to the same agent year on year if they want. But once a publisher turns your book down, that’s it. It’s a one shot game. At the beginning, with Frankfurt Book Fair looming and all the excitement of total ignorance, I was convinced I’d hear within days, hours, of easy success. Instead the weekly updates from Jenny were crammed with kind, encouraging notices of failure. It was three weeks into that torment of declines that Jenny gave me the best advice I’d ever had.  Lower your expectations she said to my whining misery that I hadn’t been bought overnight, that the industry moves at its own quiet pace, that clearly I knew nothing.  And when it seemed like pessimism was getting the better of me, she said It’s not over yet.  But Christmas came and went and my infant novel looked for all the world as if it would never make it to adulthood.  I practised saying it happens and searched for examples of Booker Prize winners who’d struggled to find air.  I got on with writing something else. A trip to town on a freezing afternoon at the end of January, my children needing boots, or the dentist, or maybe I just needed to get out of the kitchen and away from what felt like humiliation – I don’t remember anything of that day except coming home, and checking my phone for the first time since breakfast, and seeing three missed calls and an email.  When it rang in my hand my heart jumped and my breathing went funny. “We’ve had an offer.”  And then she told me who it was, and I sat on my kitchen table with my feet on a chair, and my elbows on my knees and one finger jammed in the other ear, and I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. My debut, ‘A Perfect Explanation’, came out in March 2019, published by Salt Books, one of the finest independent publishers of literary fiction.  It happened; the thing that I gave no thought to, that I presumed would be easy, and wasn’t and felt crushed by.  Those four months seem like nothing now, but looking back at the struggle, I have learnt this: that every step is a test of what you know and reveal of what you don’t, and when a brilliant and hard working agent and you decide to work together, remember it is just the beginning.

Literary Agents For Crime, Thrillers And Action Novels

Written a thriller or work of crime fiction and need a literary agent? You’re in the right place. AgentMatch has a complete list of every agent in the UK with full detail about who they are and what kind of work they represent. So here’s what you do. Head over here.Click on the “select genres” box and choose “Crime & thrillers” from the pop-up list.You’ll find that there are a huge number of agents who represent work in this area. (Basically: most of them will happily represent crime; there are just about no agents who specialise only in that area.) So you’ll need to filter your list some more. Use our other search tools to bring your selection down to a manageable total.Then dive into individual agent profiles and read what each agent says about themselves.Make your final shortlist selection The twist in the tail All you need to access all our lovely data and search functionality? Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

7 Years To Publication, 7 Things I’ve Learned

Isabel Costello’s debut novel Paris Mon Amour was released in June 2016 in digital and audiobook. She also hosts the Literary Sofa blog, where you can find her selection of recommended Summer Reads 2016. Isabel attended the  Festival of Writing in 2012 and 2013 and hopes to return one day! Like any endeavour measured in years, my journey to publication has many significant milestones, starting with the decision seven years ago to stop talking about wanting to write (don’t most people?) and get on with it (many people don’t). Fast-forward three years and I had a novel ready to submit to agents (or so I thought) and attending the Festival of Writing for the first time in 2012 was a watershed. As well as being sociable, stimulating and educational, it made me realise just how many people shared my precise goal of getting their novel published. It was the best kind of wake-up call: slightly alarming at the time but the catalyst for good things. Without it I doubt I’d have reached – another four years later! – the most exciting landmark so far: publication of my debut novel. Many people have been astonishingly generous and supportive on a road that’s had a few bumps, as most paths to publication do. I’ve learned a lot – and not just about how to write books. This is definitely not a ‘How to...’ (it’s pretty obvious I don’t have a magic formula.) For me and most of the writers I know, getting published has been mostly down to persistence and hard work. The Secret To Getting An Agent 1. Reading Matters Reading as a writer alters the experience in a way that can be distracting, but noticing the structure, the language, even being able to guess the twist or the ending three chapters in (so annoying!) are signs of developing your own sense of what works. Payback time comes when you forget to register any of that because you’re so immersed in the story. That’s inspiration. It’s what you’re aiming for. 2. Friends Matter You might be – and hopefully are – writing ‘the book or story only you can write’ but that doesn’t mean you have to go it alone. The camaraderie and support amongst writers at all stages has been one of the best parts for me. It’s easy to others at events like the Festival of Writing – I’ve made wonderful friends this way I would never have met otherwise. But keep in touch with your other friends to avoid living in a literary bubble. 3. It\'s All About The Book - Seriously, It Is And a very large side of luck and timing. In a business where getting anywhere is very hard, it’s easy to invent imaginary obstacles. It probably doesn’t hurt to be young, movie-star gorgeous with a life story as fascinating as your book, but it’s far from essential. Not saying they aren’t great, but you do not need an MA in creative writing. (I have no writing qualifications.) And don’t fret about ‘who you know’ (or don’t) in the business. Frankly, if that made a difference it wouldn’t have taken me this long to get published! 4. There\'s Nothing Like Editorial Input This is a tricky one because it generally involves money, but the reality is that to get noticed by agents, publishers or competition judges you need to be submitting work that’s already of publishable standard, or very close. When I think mine’s good enough, it rarely is, and the honest, constructive input you need at that point is unlikely to come from anyone who’s not a confident and experienced editor. A structural edit following my first Festival of Writing transformed my fortunes entirely, resulting in a choice of agents. It was worth every penny. 5. Don\'t Pin Your Happiness On An Outcome You Can\'t Control Learning to cope with the inevitable setbacks in a positive way is important, and something I’ve discussed openly along the way. Some advice from Lionel Shriver at an event I attended has stayed with me: write what matters to you – it’s the only way you can be sure your time is well spent. There are no guarantees in this business. Although it’s impossible to avoid completely, comparing yourself to others – your process, your book, your success – is not a good use of time or energy. The most important lesson I’ve learned is to focus on the only part I can control: producing the best work I can. Closely followed by enjoying other things! 6. Visualise Writing Success, But Not What It Looks Like I know this sounds like a contradiction, but positive thinking can be a self-fulfilling prophesy too! I could always picture myself succeeding, however remote the prospect (and for a long time it really was). ‘Disruption’ in the book business has led to many new ways of reaching readers. I may not have anticipated my novel coming out first in digital and audio but I know an exciting opportunity when I see one. 7. The Right Way To Write Is The Way That Works For You Faced with the deluge of generic tips directed at writers, there’s an art to identifying those which motivate, assist and inspire you in your work – thereby making it more enjoyable, and you more likely to stick at it – and ignoring all the rest. For every person inspired by ‘write what you know’ or ‘write every day’ there are many more left cursing and grinding their teeth. Ultimately it’s not about the method; it’s the end result that matters. Structural feedback may just help you get there, too.

US Literary Agents For Historical Fiction

Have you just finished your novel and are ready to begin your search for an agent? Well, we’re here to help!  WANT TO JUMP STRAIGHT TO THE AGENT LIST? CLICK HERE  Historical Fiction The historical fiction market is a wonderfully diverse and rich genre to be writing in.   It is comprised of award-winning authors like Hilary Mantel, upmarket commercial talents such as Kate Mosse and Phillipa Gregory, and the thrilling talents of Conn Iggulden and Robert Harris. This includes crossover books, which pair historical fiction with romance, literary fiction, young adult, and more.   It’s important to find an agent who works with the specific genre and theme that you’re writing in. Such as an agent who loves WW2 fiction, or who loves queer historical fiction, or enjoys historical fiction with a speculative twist. The reason this is so important is because this will be the best agent for you, because historical fiction can be so broad. Make sure to take a closer look at your novel and decide what the USP (unique selling point) is and what else an agent might find in it to interest them.   Once you have polished your manuscript and completed your submission pack, it’s time to start researching agents and putting together your shortlist. And that’s where AgentMatch comes in.  AgentMatch And How To Use It There are plenty of historical fiction-loving agents, but you won\'t want to approach them all. The best way to develop and refine your own shortlist of US agents for historical fiction is to visit AgentMatch, our literary agent database, and use the search tools on the left to make your selection.  With AgentMatch you can select by genre (e.g. historical fiction), country, the agent’s level of experience, their appetite for new clients, and much more. You can even save your search results and come back to them, allowing you to work through them one by one, at your own pace. Each profile has been researched thoroughly including what agents like to read in their spare time, information on their most recent deals, manuscript wishlists, submission requirements, and exclusive interviews.  You can sign-up for a 7-day free trial which will give you a good feel for the data and functionality. Or join us as a premium member and get unlimited access to AgentMatch.  US Agents For Historical Fiction To get you started we’ve selected a list of 20 US agents looking for historical fiction:  [am_show_agents id=17] More Resources   We’re here to help you at every step in your writing and querying process. Check out our favourite blogs that can assist you in putting together your query letter and synopsis, and if you want valuable, personal feedback on your writing you can book a fifteen-minute One-to-One with an agent of your choice. Premium members can also get a free query letter review from our lovely Writers Support team!    Happy searching, and good luck on your querying journey!   

How To Price An Ebook

The Publishing Industry Is In A State Of Change New authors face, for the first time, a real question about whether it makes sense to approach the market by the traditional agent and publisher route, or whether to go it alone. For now, I think most authors still need the resources and experience of proper publishers. There are some striking exceptions, of course, but it’s still notable how many self-published authors end up working with the biggest firms (E.L. James and Random House, for example.) But it’s still vital to understand this new market. And one of the most critical interrelationships is that between the price of an ebook and the eventual sales. I’ve just come across this chart, which is the best thing I’ve ever seen on that topic. What the chart says very simply is: price too high and you throttle sales. Price too low and you give away money without any addition to sales. (My guess is that readers assume, correctly, that a $0.99 ebook is often not going to be much good.) There’s a weird twist here, however. Traditional publishers are deeply reluctant to sell books at the $2.99 level. Although they might boost sales on an individual title by pricing low, they can’t boost sales overall by slashing prices because, in the end, a reader is only going to buy and read so many books a year. So there’s a curious way in which traditional authors are inhibited by their publishers. The most obvious and proven method of increasing sales (and readers) is to cut the ebook price... yet that’s the method least favoured by publishers. I still think that regular publishing is the best move for most authors. That’s not mere talk. I’ve got a non-fiction project that I’m tinkering with and am trying to figure out whether to sell it via my agent or whether to publish it myself online. I’ve not finally decided, but I’m inclining to go the conventional route. Like I say though, these things are moving all the time. The right answer today may well not be the right answer in a year’s time. As the Bard remarks, Don’t speak too soon, cos the wheel’s still in spin, and there’s no telling who that it’s naming. (And no, not that bard, this one.)

Becoming An Author

Blogger and newly-published author Lucy Ayrton shares with Jericho Writers the experience of the early stages of her career and her tips on how to become a writer, but also reflects on what it really means to write and if there is a difference between writers and authors. The first time I ever seriously called myself a writer was on my wedding day. They ask you what your job is, to put on the wedding form. I dutifully wrote “Communications Manager” down and my soon-to-be husband nudged me. “That’s not all, though. What about your writing day?” I rolled my eyes. “They don’t need to have that on the form.” He shrugged. “It’s your job.” And I wrote it down for the first time. “Communications Manager and Writer.” I am a writer. It takes a while to claim, as an identity. The line between “writer” and “not-writer” is not clear cut. I mean, I’ve been able to write since I was about five. Maybe I wrote my first story when I was seven or eight. My first poem about the same time. But I wasn’t a writer. What about when I started scribbling in my spare time as a teenager? Or when I came second in the country poetry competition when I was seventeen? Was it when I got onto my creative writing MA? Or was it only once I’d finished a body of work? People love to say that “writers write” – but that’s ridiculous, surely. Write what? How much? How well? It’s meaningless. Writer is a title that you have to bestow on yourself. By contrast, the line between “writer” and “author” is very straightforward. When you’re published, you’re an author, and that’s that. And this is my publication week, so I’m about to become an author. I have been looking forward to this for a very long time. It’s emotionally very difficult being a writer. You’ve got a day job, probably, and friends and family and other commitments and a life. It’s a big ask to carve out time to lock yourself away in a room and hang around with people you’ve made up in your head. You have to do a fair amount of not-going-to-the-pub, and going-to-bed-early-I’m-writing-tomorrow-morning, and basically being less fun than you could be. It is a choice you have made, between writing and watching Jurassic Park and drinking wine with your girlfriend, and you know it. When there’s just you and the book, making these choices can make you feel a little bit… stupid. You’re painfully aware there’s no guarantee that anyone’s ever actually going to read your work. It’s easy to wonder what it’s for. And I would always say that it ultimately doesn’t matter. The process of writing is valuable in and of itself, and the work produced has value too. I’d be miserable if I couldn’t write, and whether my work gets sold in bookshops or emailed to close friends doesn’t change that – if I didn’t write and share stories then I wouldn’t be me, and that’s why I do it. Art that isn’t sold is still art. But I’ll be honest, when I first got my book deal, the idea that my work was going to be a “real book” was a massive lift. I felt vindicated – all those times I’d felt a bit silly for the compromises and sacrifices I’d made, I’d proved it was worth it. I wasn’t missing out on other experiences to do a kind of grown-up version of playing with my dolls – this was a serious business. This wasn’t just some scribblings sitting on my hard drive anymore. I had undeniably made something, and now people were going to read it. I felt like “being an author” was going to change everything again. This time it would be even better, and  surely I would never have to doubt myself or feel stupid ever again – because I was an Author. I kept waiting to feel it – the rush of “being an author”. I thought it would happen when I first held the hard copy of my book. Like having a baby, I vaguely thought. I’ll hold it and suddenly feel it – suddenly understand. My author-ness will descend on me. And it really was brilliant holding my baby book for the first time. I flipped through it and cried and took photos of it with a glass of champagne. It was such a lovely evening. The thing is though – nothing changed. I still had to sit on my bum the next day and write the first draft of the next book when I could have been re-watching Game of Thrones. It’s not like I really needed the permission. My process hadn’t changed and neither had I. The little bit of swagger was lovely to have – a bit of spring in my step, a bit of a smirk when I opened my laptop  – but essentially I am still the same woman tapping away at her laptop wearing PJs while everyone else is at the pub watching football. Writing life is exactly the same. Ultimately, I don’t feel different. I’d assumed that it would either help, or paralyse me – the idea of a faceless audience, a crowd of people I’ve never met reading my precious words. I’d assumed that it would change things. But when I come to actually write, it’s still the way it’s always been – just me and the page and maybe an idea of just one person, who I’m telling a story to. But then, publication is still 3 days away. I’ll let you know. How To Become An Author: Tips For Your Writing Career So here is some useful advice I’ve had on being a “baby-author”: Say thank you to everyone. I’ve read this advice from a few different people. It seems like a decent life rule in general! But also, I’ve been thanked for a positive review or a nice tweet before and it feels amazing. Get a new signature. You need a new signature – a different one to the one on your bank card – for signings. This is to make it harder for people to embezzle you. Get a uniform. A friend told me it was a good idea to decide upon an “author’s uniform” so that you’re a bit more recognisable at events and also you never have to worry about what you’re wearing. I actually already have this from my poetry career – a pretty dress plus Doc Martens. Think about money. It can be very easy to lose a handle on any income when you haven’t earnt from writing before. Luckily I had a hustle-heavy poetry career to teach me this. It’s always good to have a rough idea of how much you’ll charge for what (ie a visit to a school) so that if someone offers you some work you won’t be caught on the hop and agree to do a week’s worth of workshops for £10. Think about travel expenses! Also, if you’re not already a freelancer, sort your business side out. Make friends with other authors/book industry people. This is partly so that they can give you more helpful advice along the lines of the above. Mainly though, this is because having a network of friends and colleagues who just bloody LOVE BOOKS as much as you is a childhood dream in and of itself. Author Lucy’s debut novel One More Chance is available now from Dialogue Books. The novel follows the story of Dani, a London prison inmate, and combines physiological suspense with contemporary women’s fiction. To learn more about how to become an author from Lucy’s perspective, have a look at her blog ‘Books and Bakes and Beverages’ here where she writes about the day to day happenings in her writing career.

A Question Of Timing: When To Release Information In Your Plot

Haydn Middleton edited books for Oxford University Press before becoming a full-time writer. (Haydn’s Goodreads page shows a selection of his titles.) He has published seven novels for adults and an eighth is forthcoming in October 2018. This piece of writing is going to be about 1,200 words in length, and around the 900-word mark I’m going to tell you something that will blow your head off. Getting The Reader ‘In The Vehicle’ That’s a fairly crude way to open a blog post.If you’re a reader of refined sensibilities, it may well have put you off. (Another kind of reader again will go straight to the 900-word mark and check out whatever may be in store !) On the other hand, it may just have tickled your curiosity and made you think, ‘Whatever this showman has up his sleeve, it could be worth me hanging around until the 900-word mark, just in case his reveal is as big as he says.’ And that works for books, too. Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events warns children away, but only makes them curious to read on . It’s a fine art, withholding information. So you will see at once that what I’m talking about here is – well – not talking about things. Or rather, making it clear to the reader that in due course you, the writer, will be delivering something rather tasty, but not quite yet. Because it’s not just about what twists your book can deliver – it’s how you, the author, will get us there.It’s the fine old writerly art of withholding information, and it can be classified within the box of technique tricks of known as ‘Getting The Reader In The Vehicle’. Jump In And Snap On Your Seatbelt I took that phrase about the Vehicle from the brilliant contemporary novelist and short-story writer, Haruki Murakami. He once wrote: “For me, a story is a vehicle that takes a reader somewhere. Whatever information you may try to convey, whatever you may try to open the reader’s emotions to, the first thing you have to do is get that reader into the vehicle.” It’s a sad but true fact that if you don’t fairly soon get that reader comfortably seated and belted in, then she probably isn’t going to go on the journey with you. And offering the “bait” of some juicy information that will be delivered a little further down the line can be a good way to encourage your reader to suspend her disbelief. But there are hazards in this approach, too. You can’t share too much, too soon, yet you need to share enough at once to engage interest. In writing your story, you might not choose to address your reader as directly as I did at the start of this piece.You might instead kick off with a scenario which is intriguing but inexplicable (an envelope which arrives in the post one morning, say, containing a human thumb and a pine cone). The implication is that by the end of the tale, the reader will at least have a clearer idea of what’s going on.If the recipient of that envelope himself doesn’t initially understand why he has been sent those things, that can be useful. Because while he tries to get to the bottom of the mystery, so too will the reader. Matters get more complicated if the recipient does know why he’s been sent the package and this is made clear to the reader (e.g. the recipient shows no shock, placing the envelope in a drawer with fifteen others of exactly the same shape and size). Then it is up to the narrator – first-person or third-person – whether he explains at once to the reader what is going on, or else he withholds the information till a later stage. Deftly handled, either approach might work. But ideally, the reader will want to feel that there is a damned good reason why she is not yet being let in on the secret. And what might such a reason be? I guess the main one is that the reader will have happily made a tacit agreement with the author that what he is presenting to her is a glorified joke, and no one wants to be told the punchline half way through a joke, or indeed at its very beginning. That can make for a rattling good read, especially in the case of works like the better short stories which Roald Dahl wrote for adult readers. There’s other kinds of fiction set out to pull off something a little more complicated, to present life in all its unmanageable and distinctly non-punchline-type glory. And it’s with regard to these other genres – which many Jericho Writers clients describe as broadly ‘more literary’ in submitting their scripts – that I’d like to talk from here on in. Smelling Rats And Driving Off Cliffs In telling a serious story about a serious subject (which, as The Catcher in the Rye triumphantly demonstrates, doesn’t mean there can’t also be plenty of humour along the way), it’s inadvisable to hold back key information about a character or situation merely in order to keep the reader reading. She will almost certainly smell a rat, lose faith in you as her driver (you’re taking her on a journey, remember), and jump out at the next set of traffic lights. I’d say this particularly holds true with third-person narratives. If a first-person narrator fails to mention that he is actually married with three children until just before the end of a memoir in which he has been describing his recent courtship of a foreign princess, he can at least claim to have been in denial.‘Unreliable narrators’, such individuals are called.* Amnesiac protagonists, like Christine in Before I Go To Sleep. Or protagonists who rationalise horror, like Fred Clegg in The Collector. Which leads me to the knotty issue of using multiple perspectives in a story, and by that I mean any number of points of view greater than one. I’ve lost count of the number of otherwise promising scripts I’ve read where things start to wobble, fatally, when an author forgets that Character A hasn’t yet found out what Character B has always known about Character C, who in turn has some dirt on Character A. In such cases, the author is not just having to withhold information from the reader, but also from the respective characters. Too much withholding, already! In my world, especially for new writers, there must be an irresistibly good reason ever to use more than a single narrative perspective, not least because then the author can often save himself the bother of writing about the same event twice over – which outside of courtroom dramas seldom makes for the most riveting read. But finally, don’t go away from this post imagining that you should declare absolutely everything about a character or a situation right up front. That can be just as much of a turn-off as keeping stuff concealed. How To Release Plot Information (Without Driving Off Cliffs) As in all things, there’s a happy medium to be found. Share with your readers just enough to keep them intrigued and reasonably informed, but not so much that they’ll be bored. Remembering this helps you time and control release of information for any plot. It might be an idea to think of this reader as an actual friend or acquaintance – use this as a litmus test as to how much you say at any given moment about the passing scenery. If you know that the road after the next bend will lead you straight over a cliff, you really ought to tell. If you feel compelled to share with them every fact you know about every tree you leave in your slipstream, ask yourself whether they would really want to have her ear bent about it. Now with all that advice under your bonnet, off you go. And happy motoring! *That was around the 900-word mark. You don’t have to believe everything you’re told in an opening paragraph. ‘Unreliable narrators’, we’re called.

Festival Success

Guest author extraordinaire and blogger Joanna Cannon attended our Festival of Writing in 2014. Jo walked away with seven offers from literary agents and eventually signed with Susan Armstrong from Conville and Walsh. The Trouble with Goats and Sheep is her first novel, published by The Borough Press (HarperCollins), called ‘A delight’ by Paula Hawkins and ‘A wonderful debut’ by Jill Mansell. There is a certain, creeping horror, when I look back and think I nearly didn’t enter the Friday Night Live competition at the Festival of Writing. I was a real eager-beaver when it came to the Festival booking. I was logged in and ready to pick my one-to-ones the minute the website went live. But the competitions were a different matter altogether. They were A Scary Thing. I’d been to the Festival before, and watched other writers on stage, reading their work out to an audience of very important people. I didn’t want to do anything quite that scary. I’d much rather stick to the brilliant workshops and talks, and the Gala Dinner and scary (but slightly more manageably scary) one-to-ones. But right at the last minute (sorry, lovely organisers!), I changed my mind. It’s a strange business, this writing malarkey. We write because we have something to say, but when it comes to saying it, we run for cover at the thought of anyone actually hearing us. I avoided telling anyone I write. On the rare occasion I admitted it to someone, it was always accompanied by a slight apology for being so ridiculously self-indulgent. I don’t write anything very interesting, it’s just a little hobby, nothing will ever come of it, etc. ,etc. Yet in September last year, I found myself on a stage in York, with 500 words of my manuscript trembling away in my hands. I’m not going to lie, it was the most terrifying thing I have ever experienced, and as I walked up to the microphone, I honestly felt my legs were going to give way. But it needed to be done. We spend so long agonising and doubting, and battling with our words, we really owe them a chance to be heard. Even if it is a Scary Thing. The best experiences of my life have usually started with more than a pinch of anxiety and, as it happened, this was going to be one of them. No matter what else life has in store for me, winning Friday Night Live is something I will always remember. Overcoming my fears, and looking out at the audience and seeing people raise their hands to vote for me, was the most incredible feeling (and if you were one of those lovely people, thank you!). It really was one of the best nights of my life. What I didn’t realise, was within hours of leaving York and heading back down the M1, I would have seven offers of agent representation. Seven amazing, incredibly skilled people who wanted to help me with my book. I felt like I’d either stumbled onto the set of a Richard Curtis film, or I was having a transient psychotic episode. After a very tense, tearful and pacey few days (I know it’s a great problem to have, but it was still very stressful!), I decided to sign with Sue Armstrong at Conville and Walsh. I met Sue during one of my one-to-ones, and I just knew we’d get along brilliantly. C&W represent some of my favourite authors, and it’s a huge privilege to be joining such a prestigious agency. Within a week, HarperCollins had offered a life-changing amount of money for my manuscript (the manuscript I was worried about showing anyone, because doing that would be a Scary Thing), and I began to spend large amounts of time staring into space and trying to believe it was all true. That’s when the creeping horror began. When I began to imagine what would have happened if I’d listened to the internal narrator we all have, the one who tells us to walk away from the Scary Thing. The Festival is the most wonderful, supportive, fun environment, filled with amazingly talented people, and I’ve learned so much in the time I’ve been going. I do hope I will see you there and I really hope you’ll ignore that ridiculous internal narrator, and enter all competitions. You have nothing to lose and absolutely everything to gain.

Writers In Conversation: Steve Cavanagh and Luca Veste

Steve Cavanagh is a human rights lawyer working in Northern Ireland. The Defence is his debut novel, which was longlisted for the Crime Writer’s Association Ian Fleming Steel Dagger, and shortlisted for two Dead Good Readers Awards. Luca Veste, a former civil servant, guitarist and actor, is author of the Murphy & Rossi crime series and editor of the Spinetingler-nominated charity anthology ‘Off The Record’. Luca – I’m endlessly fascinated by the story of a writer’s journey. I started out quite late – I thought – with my own writing career. I didn’t write stories or anything of that sort until I was 28, so I’ve only been at this thing of ours for a few years. Speaking to other writers however, I know there’s a fair few out there who started writing when they were young, in school, getting attention for having a big imagination. How did it start out for you? Steve – For me the desire to tell stories started early, but it took me a fair few years to get my ass in gear to do it. My Granda and my Dad would sit around with their friends, most nights, telling stories. I would just sit and listen, fascinated. Neither my Dad or my Granda read much, but my Mum did. She read four or five books a week, and I caught the crime bug from her. When I was young, far too young in retrospect, she gave me a copy of The Silence of the Lambs and that changed everything for me. I read all the books, especially American crime thrillers, that I could get my hands on. But when it came to writing, I didn’t write crime at first. In my late teens I started writing screenplays, mostly comedies. I even got an agent, but he couldn’t get anything sold so I gave up age 21. After that I always harboured the fantasy of writing a book, but never did it. Then in 2011, when I was aged 35, my Mum passed away quite suddenly. She was the only person who ever encouraged me to write so I thought I’d give it one more shot, for her. I started writing The Defence in September 2011, in secret, after a 14-year break. What about you? Starting at 28 doesn’t seem late at all. And you’ve still got your hair! Luca – Yes, although being half Italian, I would be very annoyed if I lost my hair this soon. We’re a hirsute bunch. Like you, I was surrounded by stories in my family. And jokes. Everyone always has a funny story to top the last one. My dad was a screenwriter as it happens and actually made a film back in the 90s. I was a voracious reader as a child as well. Started with Enid Blyton and then went into horror when I was a teenager. I didn’t really read crime until I was around 23 – which was about 7 years after I’d pretty much stopped reading and started doing “teenage” things – and someone gave me Mark Billingham’s first book. I quickly caught up with his series and have read predominantly crime books since. Dead Gone – my first book – started out life as a very different book and came from writing short stories and progressing to something longer. I abandoned the first version of that story – which was a woeful scouse gangster-style cliche of a novel – and wrote a first draft in a few months. Then, redrafted three times to finally land an agent for it around a year later. How long did it take you to get an agent? Steve – Well, first, Dead Gone is a blinder of a debut. The work paid off. Getting an agent? Well, that took a while. It took me about six or seven months to do the first draft of The Defence, then I spent maybe another six months redrafting it, polishing it. So I think it started looking for an agent mid-2012. And I finally got one in April 2013 so probably around nine months to get representation. And I tell you, those were a hard nine months. I started off trying to get a US agent, but I didn’t think I was good enough to go for any of the big agencies, so I mainly tried the small and medium sized agencies. And I got a lot of rejections. Then, I got a little hint of light at the end of the tunnel. I started to get requests for the first three chapters, from agents that just wanted a pitch letter, and then requests for the full manuscript. I got a real buzz from this and a bigger downer when the rejections came back. One agency really loved the first three chapters, and requested the full book. I was enthusiastic about this small UK based agency, but I’d been in that situation before, so I thought I may as well try a couple of the bigger agents. I was getting rejections, anyway, so I thought I may as well get rejected by the best. I remember it was a Monday night, I got the email from the small agency who’d read the full manuscript and who I’d been really keen on. They hated it. It was a rejection which contained the lines, “You can write, but this book will never be published. Write something else and we’ll read it.” Man, I was devastated. I thought, that’s it – this book is over I need to write something else. Then on the Wednesday I had two of the biggest agencies in the UK come back and offer representation for the same book that I’d been told would never be published. It was an amazing feeling. So now I’m very proud to be a Heathen (I’m represented by AM Heath). How did you hook up with your agent? Luca – I was quite bullish when it came to finding an agent. I knew a few other writers at the time and there were a couple who always raved about their agent. Now, I edited a couple of charity anthologies around that time, and I think that agent was tipped off that I was writing a novel. He sent me a message on Twitter saying good work on the anthologies, when you’ve got a novel to show people, I’d love to read it. That was back in February 2012. I finished the first draft in about March, read it once, thought it was as good as it was ever going to be, and sent it to the agent. He rejected it, somewhat nicely, a few weeks later. I took his notes on board, redrafted, and sent it back in the June. He rejected that one as well, with the option to resend another draft. I was, similar to you, devastated. I’d worked tirelessly on all the notes and only succeeded in creating new problems. By this point, I was convinced I couldn’t write a better book, so decided to send it to four other agents. One rejected within a day, as they had decided to concentrate on children’s fiction. The other three agents asked for the full manuscript. As a matter of courtesy, I emailed the original agent, who by now was quite friendly with me, and let him know I was showing other agents the book and was getting some interest. I received an email back straight away, asking if I could speak on the phone. What followed was ninety minutes of the agent telling me exactly what was wrong with the book, what need fixing, and a general tearing apart of my work. The last five minutes of the call was him offering me representation. I pretty much immediately accepted the offer. Best decision I’ve ever made. I rewrote the book in a month, working almost every hour I was awake (which as an insomniac, is quite a few), and he was happy with the result. What is bizarre, is that it took only six weeks after that to find a publisher. A year to get an agent, six weeks to get a publisher … shows how valuable a good agent can be, and I have a great one in Phil Patterson. The Defence is ridiculously good. To the point where I was hoping it wasn’t really a debut, but a new novel from an established writer under a pseudonym. I can only imagine it was picked up the next day by a publisher in a sixteen-way auction? Steve – That’s class. I love that story. What I hear sometimes from writers who are looking for an agent, or a publishing deal, is that they are quite precious about their book. Which is totally the wrong attitude. When you write your first book you basically know nothing. You learn by writing and then it’s your agent’s and publisher’s job to point out all the shit that you can’t see and make the book better. Thanks for the kind words about The Defence. It was picked up quick, but only after a lot of work. I got representation from Euan Thorneycroft in April 2013, and he sent me pages of notes on the book; what worked, what didn’t work. I knew we were a good match because everything he thought needed changing really did need changing, but I just couldn’t see that. So I worked on the book flat out, and we got it ready for submission in September. I remember Euan telling me he was sending it out and that it could take months to hear back, so he would email me in three or four weeks and let me know how we got on. That was on a Monday. On the Friday I was stood in my hall, when I got an email. It was from Euan – there was an offer for the book in the UK. Four offers. He would be conducting an auction. I was completely blown away. I remember running into the living room and telling my wife that the book would be published. At that stage I didn’t care who published it, but I knew somebody would and that was enough. In the end I went with Orion, who publish some of my heroes and things have worked out well. So in your first book we meet DI David Murphy and DS Laura Rossi. How did you go about shaping those characters and did you conceive the first book as the beginning of a series? If you didn’t, is there anything you would change now? Luca – That’s my favourite kind of publishing story. Unsurprising, given how good it is, but there’s still an element of doubt with anything regarding publishing! Well, Murphy happened quite by accident. I’ve already mentioned the discarded scouse-gangster novel, which contained an element of what makes up Dead Gone – the psychology angle, someone killing people based on real psychological experiments etc. When I started over, I kept the psychology bit, and disregarded everything else. I remember I was re-reading one of my favourite books – The 50/50 Killer by Steve Mosby – and thinking I wanted to write something more like that. So, I started with the woman on the night out, getting in the taxi, and disappearing. Then, I was going to concentrate on her partner, but realised writing those ‘ordinary people in extraordinary situations’ novels were extremely difficult to write! I decided I needed a police point of view, as they could do things ordinary people couldn’t really. My uncle is an ex-copper, so I used him as a basis. He shares his physical size, nickname, some of his qualities, but has none of the baggage Murphy does. Once I started writing about Murphy, I just found he was more interesting to me. Murphy quickly usurped the boyfriend character and became the star. However, back then, his sidekick was a bloke called Nick Ayris. Going back to that phone conversation with Agent Phil, he casually mentioned that usually it’s a male/female partnership, and that there was nothing Italian in the book. Which was surprising to him, given I was half-Italian. Nick Ayris became Laura Rossi and that’s why agents are important! Rossi is by far my favourite character to write now. I can get all these little things about my Italian family in there – my nan asking me if I’m hungry as soon as I’d walked through the door, before saying hello, my dad swearing in Italian, the quick-temper, etc. I did envisage a series if it got picked up, but I’d still change things. I probably wouldn’t have Murphy having quite such a lot of baggage to carry, although that worked (hopefully) eventually. That’s about it though. There’s no plan as such, but I have ideas for about seven or eight books total. I’m writing number four now, so I’m halfway through! And those ideas will probably change. You and Eddie Flynn … always a series as well? Steve – Have to say I love Rossi; the Italian swearing! She is such a great character. Ahm, yeah, I had an idea for the character first. A con artist who became a lawyer, because I wanted to explore the overlap in those professions and how a trial works – the art of cross examination and how that really is the art of persuasion, misdirection and manipulation. Before the book got picked up I had an idea for four or five, and I really wanted to start writing them but I knew The Defence had to be the first one. If that book hadn’t been published I wouldn’t be writing about that character because the events in The Defence cause Eddie to fall back into his old hustler ways. No other storyline could’ve achieved that in the same way. Right now I’m writing the third book. I love series characters, so it felt natural to try and start my own. Although, I’ve been hit with several decent ideas for standalone books lately. I don’t know if I’ll write them. Maybe down the line. Do you ever think of trying a standalone? And how do you go about writing? Plotter, pantser, when and how do you write? Luca – Can’t wait to read more Eddie. I’ve got the beginning of a standalone in a word doc on my computer. It’s pretty much plotted out as well, but I’m happy writing the series for now. I’m a big fan of series characters as well, so I’m happy at the moment. I’m a little of both. I plot a little, then just write for a while, before plotting a little more. Usually, this leads to me rewriting half a book, four weeks before a deadline though! I start with a small idea. Then, I need some sort of theme – with the new one, Bloodstream, it’s about love and media – and I can just go from there. With my books, there’s always an investigation that starts you off, which usually involves a body or the lack of one, so it’s just a battle against making that too samey/cliche and just writing. Then rewriting. Then throwing things at the wall and hoping inspiration hits at some point! Do you plan much? And the same question about standalones to you… would you consider writing something set in your own country? Steve – That’s interesting that you start off with a theme. I know Ian Rankin does something similar so you’re in good company. I think doing it that way, with a theme in mind, really helps you focus on what you want to achieve with the book. I’m reading Bloodstream at the moment, and loving it. The whole celebrity thing is well done, and my wife zipped through the book in a day or so. I tend not to have a theme, and one or two kind of emerge. I don’t plot or plan anything. I write line by line, and then I go back and rewrite the beginning until I have it nailed. Once I’ve got a decent 50 pages or so, I’m off and I don’t tend to look back until I’m almost at the end. Then I stop. Go back and redraft from the beginning before I write the end. It’s a weird process. I tend to have a vague idea, and go from there. The second book, The Plea, touches on white collar crime like money laundering and how it’s done in the digital age, and there’s a locked room mystery done with CCTV. (A word of advice to new writers. NEVER do a locked room mystery, not until you are well down the line with at least a couple of books under your belt. And then plan it all out from the beginning.) Standalones are very appealing when you’re writing a series, but also scary. I think you have to time it right. That last thing you want to do is release a standalone when everyone is waiting for the next book in the series. It never quite has the same impact. I don’t know if I’d write something set in Northern Ireland. I won’t rule it out, but the ideas for standalones that are kicking around in my head are set in the US. Although, I did have one idea for a Northern Ireland story, but I sort of think that would work much better on TV than in a book. Luca – I’ll take the company of Ian Rankin. I saved a penalty of his, in a crime writers’ football match. I don’t mention it very often. Locked room mystery, ouch. That’s not something I have planned to do any time soon! Interesting that Northern Ireland hasn’t really featured much in your planning. When I started out, I couldn’t imagine setting my books anywhere other than Liverpool. I can’t really imagine writing about anywhere else, even with the help of Google Maps. You didn’t just choose a different city, but an entirely different country. How does that work and is it solely so you can pass of US holidays as expenses? Steve – A US holiday would be very nice. It’s not so much of a leap really. I grew up watching US TV shows and reading books set in the US, so the language, the rhythms, the pace and the locations, all seem very real to me. Plus, New York fits with the pace and the style of story I wanted to write. And by setting it in New York I can cheat. If I’d set it somewhere in North Carolina, I’d have to take a fair bit of time to describe the place. Whereas, as soon I say New York, every single person reading the book immediately creates their own mental image without me having to help them too much. If I’d set the book in Belfast it just wouldn’t have worked. Plus, look at all the writers coming out of Northern Ireland, like Stuart Neville, Brian McGilloway, Eoin McNamee, Adrian McKinty, Gerard Brennan, Claire MacGowan. I just couldn’t compete with that lot. How important is setting to you? A few of the places and buildings in The Defence are fictional, any fictional settings or are they all meticulously researched? And what does Liverpool add to the series, for you? Luca – Stuart Neville, now there’s a writer. When I grow up, I want to be as good as him. Nothing really fictional in my book. Everything exists, with a couple of minor changes here and there, so no one sues me. There’s a house in the first book which plays a major role in the ending and that’s slightly invented. The road it’s on exists, but the house itself is a creation. My police characters work from the real offices in the city centre, they live in real locations (again with some alterations), and I hope daily that it doesn’t get me into trouble! Liverpool to me just feels natural. It’s a setting not really utilised in crime fiction, so I have that going for me, as it’s somewhere new for readers to discover. It’s big enough, that I have many locations within it to utilise. Plus, there are so many different characters in Liverpool, that I can bring in realism to what is an unrealistic topic. We last had a serial killer in Liverpool back in the 1800s (we’ve exported a couple since then, but never had any on the streets from what I know), which means my serial killer books don’t really conform to the reality of the city. Hopefully, with the characters, topics, and locations, I can make it a little more realistic. What’s the one thing you want to achieve in your writing career … awards, events, etc.? Steve – You should set your books in Northern Ireland, we’ve had more than our fair share of serial killers. And I totally agree about Stuart – phenomenal talent. The one thing I want to achieve? I don’t know if I could narrow it down to just one thing. It’s weird, when you’re struggling to be published you just want to have that moment of seeing your book on a shelf. When you’ve achieved that, then you want somebody to actually buy the bloody book, take it home, read it and enjoy it. Then you want lots of people to do that. Ideally, enough to get you onto the bestseller list – so I think your goals change throughout your career. I’m sure there are well known bestselling writers, who want higher sales, and better chart positions every year. For me, I have two goals. One is to be able to sell enough books, and make enough money that I could be financially stable and support my family through my writing. That is the big one for me. Second goal, to write a better book than the last one, year on year. Awards are totally in the lap of the Gods. You do your best and if someone wants to give you an award, well that’s lovely. But there are plenty of amazing crime novels that don’t win awards but stay in print and become classics. The other part of this writing game is getting to meet so many other great writers. There are still a few legends on my list of people that I want to meet – Stephen King for one. What about you – career goals? Luca – Similar to you, I just want to write a better book than the last one. Security would be up there as well. I’d love to have a novel in hardback, as that’s something I always equate with quality (for some unknown reason). Awards – I’d like them and I hate people who have them (jokes!), but not a top priority. I’ll be standing next to you when you meet Stephen King. My literary hero. Which neatly leads me into a conclusion to this conversation. What’s your favourite book? Mine is by the aforementioned – and soon to be Steve and Luca’s best mate – Stephen King, and is The Stand. Steve – If we meet Stephen King I’m going ask him to take a photograph of you and me. Just for the Craic. (“Excuse me, Mr King. Could we get a photo?” “Why sure,” says Stephen King.) I’m joking of course. I’d be a complete gibbering mess meeting somebody like him. That would be a cool day, and another reason to envy Stuart who has indeed met the man. Favourite book? I haven’t read it in years, but The Lord of The Rings used to be my favourite book. I used to read it every Christmas, for about ten years. Now I think I’d have to go with Red Dragon, or The Firm. If you’d asked me last week I would’ve said Every Dead Thing by John Connolly or The Concrete Blonde by Michael Connelly. My favourites change all the time. And as a final bit, best bit of writing advice you can give to a new writer? Luca – Ha! We must do that. Hopefully in the future we’ll get the chance. I’m awful with advice, but here’s the best I can do … finish. Whatever you’re writing, just finish it. That’s the hardest part of writing, I think. Finishing the bloody thing. Having a complete story in front of you makes things much easier. Then, you can get to the fun part. Rewriting. Your advice? Steve – Read and write. Read the best books you can find and aspire to get close to that level. And write as much as you can every single day. It’s the only way to improve. More about Steve Cavanagh:Steve was born and raised in Belfast and is a practicing lawyer. He is married with two young children. The Defence, has been chosen as one of Amazon’s 2015 Rising Stars programme. The Defence was longlisted for the Crime Writer’s Association Ian Fleming Steel Dagger, and shortlisted for two Dead Good Readers Awards for Best Ending and Most Recommended Book. Steve writes fast-paced legal thrillers set in New York City featuring lawyer and former con artist, Eddie Flynn. The Defence is his first novel. Find out more at or follow Steve on Twitter @SSCav More about Luca Veste:Luca is a writer of Scouse and Italian heritage, author of the Murphy & Rossi series. His latest book is called Bloodstream. He is also the editor of the Spinetingler Award nominated charity anthology ‘Off The Record’. He is a former civil servant, actor, singer and guitarist (although he still picks it up now and again). He can be found at and on twitter @LucaVeste.

How To Write Themes In Novels

If characters form the heart of a novel, the plot its musculoskeletal system, then the theme is a book’s soul. These might be personal or social issues, like emotional heartbreak or betrayal, or racial hatred or injustice, which sound all the way through the novel. What Is A Theme? These themes are not likely to be prominent. Lectures are to be avoided: these are no good. But if a book reverberates in the memory long after it’s been put down, rather like the way a trumpet note sustains itself after the instrument has left the lips, then that’s because of the book’s theme. A book with a theme is a book with soul. Write A Memorable Book It’s that easy. Have you read To Kill a Mockingbird? The appalling shock of racial prejudice in the old American South, the burning sense of justice, the desire to put things right. That’s why the book sold. That’s why readers still remember it today, even if it was a decade or three since they read it. Perhaps you’ve read Pride & Prejudice. Its plot and lead characters, Lizzy and Darcy, are vivid, memorable, but what about the title? Does that just possibly suggest to you that Jane Austen had a certain theme in mind when she wrote it? (Its first working title, also, was First Impressions.) You can write a bestseller without having a theme, but you can’t write a good book without one. You certainly can’t write a book that lasts. How To Find The Theme Of Your Book You can’t just plug a theme into a book. Other things can be planned, crafted and worked at. But if you approach your theme front ways on, it’ll sound crass and didactic, so what do you do? Well, the most important thing is to write well. If your stories, characters and prose are superbly knitted together, you’ll start to see themes forming like a mist rising from a field at dusk. It just happens. (That may sound rather fluid, we know, though it’s true for all that.) Secondly, it’s fine to have some ideas in mind as you write. They should stay towards the back of your mind, though. Stories must be told through character and action, and it’s these things which should occupy your conscious attention. But if those things are at the back of your mind, then they’ll wriggle their way into your work. Trust us on this, too, that you’ll often enough be surprised by themes. Things will pop up in your work that you never intended to put there. Welcome all such strangers. Great authors always do. Last, as you revise your text, you can shape, nudge, tweak things, so that those themes become a little more prominent. Subtlety is the hallmark. And they don’t have to know that they’re reading a book with soul, intelligence, etc. You needn’t lecture or tell anyone anything. If the soul is there, the reader will find it, whether they know it or not.

How To Write A Short Story In 10 Steps

In this article, I\'ll share 10 simple steps and practical pointers to help you write shorter fiction, including how to start off and how to end a short story. For about 30 years, I slogged away trying to write a novel. But I just never had the plotting smarts or the emotional stamina, and I became like a madman running again and again at a brick wall, doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Then, one day, and only a couple of decades overdue, I had a rather marvellous thought. You’re used to writing short things – articles, web pages and the like. You’re a sprinter, not a marathon runner. Why don’t you have a go at short fiction?  As a journalist and content writer in my day job, I like a deadline. Deadlines concentrate the mind, deadlines force you to finish things. So I googled ‘short story competitions’ and found that, surprise surprise, there were actually quite a few out there, and all with a deadline. One of my very first attempts won a modest prize (£40, I think) in a competition run by a small press. This was encouraging. I didn’t get anywhere with a story for over a year after that, but that small crumb of validation was enough to tide me over. I started writing more and more stories, and I’ve never really stopped since. I must have written over 100 by now. In 2019, a couple were nominated for the Pushcart Prize anthology in the US. And best of all, in 2020 I published my debut collection of short stories, Hotel du Jack. I love writing short fiction, and I always have several stories on the go. But I’m still interested in getting novels published too, and my first, Work in Progress, a co-authored farcical novel-in-emails about an eccentric writers group, comes out from Unbound in 2021. I’m also putting the finishing touches to another full-length MS, working title The Wolf in the Woods. You may have noticed that I went from failing to finish novels to writing short stories… to finishing novels. And that, I believe, is no accident. Starting on short stories is a great way to build up your writing muscles. You get the satisfaction of structuring, shaping and, above all, completing things. At first, you may find you can’t write anything over 200 or 500 words. But after a while, you suddenly realise that your stories are getting longer and more complex, as you start to experiment with ideas and forms and voices. A short story is often not so different in length and shape from a scene in a novel, or even several scenes strung together. And one day when pondering what to write a short story about, you may find you have a different, chunkier sort of idea, one that requires more than a few thousand words to really do it justice. And maybe that day is the day you start on a novel – which you’ll now have a much better chance of finishing, with all the craft and experience that you’ve developed by completing a slew of shorter pieces. So: in a matter of months, I went from being able to finish nothing fictional to writing scores of stories and regularly getting them featured in competitions and magazines. If you’re looking to get your short-story writing off the ground, I hope these tips and ideas of mine will help you too… How To Write A Short Story In 10 Easy Steps Read widely Get a great idea Experiment with techniques Take inspiration from everyday life Start writing Add more levels to your writing Edit, rework, revise, repeat Focus on your beginning… …and your ending Recruit beta readers Short Story: What Is It And Why Is It Special? I’ve always loved short stories. I remember my dad reading me the stories of O’Henry when I was little, studying Maupassant’s contes of the Franco-Prussian war for A level, discovering the (now deeply unfashionable) tales of Updike, marvelling at ‘The Language of Men’ by Norman Mailer and Katherine Mansfield’s ‘The Garden Party.’ ‘Cat Woman,’ Chekhov, the ‘murdered lady’ series of Cathy Ulrich (now collected as Ghosts of You), Aimee Bender, Salinger, Nadine Gordimer, Denis Jonson, Zadie Smith, David Vann… Oh, I could go on. Sometimes I think short fiction is closer to poetry than it is to the novel. The best short stories are little universes of compressed perfection, where every paragraph, every word, every punctuation mark has to earn its place. Short stories can be intricately plotted or they can relate little more than the movements of a mind in conversation with itself on a small domestic topic. They can be all showing or – whisper it – all telling. They can range over years or take place in a lunchtime, relating the end of a friendship or the decline of a civilisation (though the former, if we are honest, is more common). They seem, for some reason, to talk a great deal about death. Short stories can take one tool from the fictional toolkit – voice, character, dialogue, structure, point of view, idea – and major on that, almost to the exclusion of all others. They can talk of boring or obvious topics in fresh ways, or they can deliver great weirdnesses and wild thought experiments. In short, they can do whatever they like. They just have to be true to themselves, and make us believe in them, and not go on for too long. For length, mind, we will need our piece of string. Short stories can be 30 pages long, or they can just be a few paragraphs. If we include flash fiction here – and why wouldn’t we, though it’s almost a whole separate article – we are looking at stories that can be as short as 100 words (technically known as drabbles). There are those who look down on flash fiction, but this I’m afraid is mere ignorance (I can say this with confidence, as I languished in this sort of ignorance myself till not so long ago). Not convinced? Try reading this or this or this or this or some of these. Flash is a distinctive sub-genre of short fiction. It is much harder than it looks, very much not just the offcuts of longer stuff, and the best exponents are very fine writers indeed. How Do You Structure A Short Story? There are many ways to structure a short story. You could have a beginning, a middle and an end. You could have a mini-version of the classic novel structure or one of the seven basic plots. You could have a classic sting in the tale – think of the stories of Roald Dahl or O’Henry or Saki. Or the best way to start a short story might be to just start writing – and see what shape starts to emerge. Often voice or idea is far more important than structure in a short story, and you can often retro-fix the shape once you’ve nailed those essential components first. Because short stories are, well, short, you can sometimes even plan and draft them at the same time. Some stories read almost like anecdotes or well-crafted jokes; others appear to have no obvious plot in a novelistic sense, but are more like tableaux vivants which, like an interesting painting, reveal more meaning and information with every look. In some, like Hemingway’s ‘Hills Like White Elephants,’ nothing really appears to happen; there is talk of ‘an operation’ in a tense conversation between a couple, but the reader has to look between the lines to intuit what’s happening. All this, again, points to the wonderful fluidity and flexibility of the form. One classic way to tell a story is what I call the Pivot structure, where you set one non-human element against another, usually human, event or relationship. Over the course of the story, the non-human element starts to tick away like a metaphor engine for the human element of the story, resonating with different meanings as the narrative develops. For example, I’ve just read ‘Little Tiger’ by JR McMenemie, a beautiful story told from the point of view of two children who have just lost their gran. Their Mum is upset at having lost her Mum, and Dad is trying to comfort her. The kids have never been to a funeral before, and returning to their house in the aftermath is clearly a very unsettling experience for all. Mum engages in some aggressive tidying up, while Dad – who is struggling to juggle the competing claims of his children and his wife – starts laying a little heavily into the booze. Then, all of a sudden, the kids find a butterfly, sitting on top of a picture of a beach where they all spent many holidays with gran. This is odd, as in the story it’s February, in northern England. The children feed the butterfly some banana, and are keen to make a pet of it. All of a sudden, Mum announces that the butterfly is her Mum, come back to say goodbye. In the morning, however, the kids wake to discover that the butterfly is gone; Dad explains that they couldn’t really keep it. Do you really think the butterfly was Nan? they ask. The story ends with Dad’s reply: ‘I don’t know, son. It could have been. Your mum says some funny things sometimes. All I’m saying is that your grandma didn’t like bananas.’ This crude, simplified summary doesn’t begin to do justice to the patient, emotionally intelligent storytelling of the piece, but you can see that the butterfly acts as a pivot on which the whole story can keep turning. It is, by turns, a distraction, a projection of grief, potential proof of an afterlife, an emblem of marital devotion and, in its release, a key to the processing of loss and the attainment of a certain understated resilience. Do we live on after we die? Dad is doubtful, but he loves his wife and sees no value in challenging her theory. And she, in her turn, aching with love for her absent mum, can be forgiven a little magical thinking. If, indeed, it is magical: who, after all, can be certain that she is wrong? 10 Steps To Writing A Short Story, With Examples 1. Forage The World For Story Starters One of the attractive things about writing short stories, as opposed to longer stuff, is that you don’t need to work out a fully-fleshed outline, snowflake-style or otherwise, in order to get started. Nor do you need oodles of background words about characters, stakes, setting, timeframe and so on. You just need an idea. And that idea doesn’t even need to be an idea in the grand sense either; it can just be a prompt. It might just be a chance remark you overheard on a bus, a funny ornament in a front garden you pass every day, an odd-looking chap you spot on a holiday beach, a sudden childhood memory. It might be a smell or a view or a colour; it might be a thought triggered by a film or a radio programme or a children’s book. Of course, it might also be a break-up you’ve never got over, a terrible act of cruelty you once witnessed, or a historical event that has always had a special resonance for you. When you start, you won’t necessarily know what’s a story-worthy idea and what isn’t. So the first thing to do is to cultivate the habit of looking and listening, both to the outside world and to the things that bubble up in your mind. Now this might sound easy, but often it defeats people because they can’t believe it will ever get them to a finished story. We sometimes envision creativity as this wonderfully crazed, instinctive outpouring, whereas this note-taking business feels like something rather dull and premeditated. But your notebook, whatever form it takes, is where all the raw data of your stories will start to emerge. No data: no stories. So you have to get into the habit of jotting things down, and trusting that this is a worthwhile thing to do, and just repeatedly doing it even if you don’t really believe that yet, even when your first efforts are just dreadful callow things like So here I am writing in this book or Milk, wipes, olive oil. Post office! As with a half-used tube of toothpaste, you sometimes have to squeeze the crud out to get to the good stuff. For inspiration, try Morning Pages – as popularised by Natalie Goldberg, Julia Cameron and others. Basically, you sit down at the start of your writing session – it doesn’t even have to be morning! – and you just write down whatever comes into your head for 10 minutes. Don’t censor what pops up – just record your thoughts. You might be amazed what occurs – shopping lists, dreams, the fag-end of a row with your partner, a glimpse of a first crush, childhood memories, strange bits of wordplay, spiritual reflections, a person in your life you haven’t thought about for ages… It’s all good, and it could all get used somewhere in your fiction. Just as the stand-up sees the world as a bunch of set-ups waiting for a punchline, so the short-fiction writer sees the world as a bunch of prompts waiting for a good story. 2. Go With The Idea That Tingles My Dad always said that he could tell a really good piece of cheese because it gave him a funny tingly feeling behind the ears. I spent much of my childhood trying (and failing) to experience this elusive dairy-led sensation. But I do at least get the tingle when it comes to stories. Over time, you’ll start to look at the bits of mental flotsam in your notebook, and you may find there’s a phrase or an anecdote or an image that you keep coming back to. When that happens, you may well have the first tinglings of a story on your hands. From time to time I go back through my notebooks and highlight bits of scribble that I think I might be able to use. Sometimes it’s a setting. My story ‘The Beach Shop’ in Hotel du Jack, for example, about a heartbroken man stalking his ex-wife on her holiday, was inspired by my early-morning stops at a cafe on a French campsite. I loved the locale, and just started writing about it till a story came. Sometimes – often in my case – it’s a bit of anecdotal autobiography. My story ‘Plane-spotting‘ was inspired by reading a story to my young son about an airport where all the planes are animals. I thought it would be funny if the Dad was a real aviation nerd, increasingly infuriated by the inaccuracy of the drawings, and it just went from there. With the flash ‘Eau de l’avenir,’ the inspiration was a smell – or rather, a scent. To give one more example of how ideas turn into stories, George Saunders says his flash fiction ‘Sticks’ came from something he saw from his car every day. ‘For two years I’d been driving past a house like the one in the story, imagining the owner as a man more joyful and self-possessed and less self-conscious than myself. Then one day I got sick of him and invented his opposite, and there was the story.’ When you note down stuff, you don’t know if you’ll ever use it, or if you’ll end up using it several times. You may use it in a way that’s a complete betrayal of the original memory. You may dredge it up again, years later, and forget you ever jotted it down in the first place. It doesn’t matter: you’ve got it down now, and it’s adding to your imaginative store. It’s all good. 3. Try A Thought Experiment Another way to approach a story is to ask yourself: What if…? What if supermarket shelf-fillers and nurses were the most celebrated and best-paid members of society, and celebrities and lawyers were considered the lowest of the low? What if an epidemic of kindness broke out in the world – Agapia-117, let’s call it – and threatened the stranglehold of capitalism, with its built-in systemic reliance on rabid self-interest? (Just riffing here, obvs.) These kinds of story offer you a rich counterfactual challenge. Depending on the challenge, you might offer the reader the pleasure of watching an unexpected idea play out, or you might challenge yourself to pull off a narrative feat that the reader doesn’t know about until the end: What if (to cite a notorious example) you could tell me a whole story that turns out in the end to have been narrated by a cat? What if you wrote an alien contact story, only for us to realise at the end that the narrator lives on another planet, and the ‘aliens’ are actually humans from earth? The idea for my story, ‘Nothing So Blue,’ came to me when I asked my son for ideas of what I could write about. ‘Write about becoming invisible,’ he said. Now sci-fi isn’t really my thing, but then I thought: ‘What if you were granted a superpower, and it turned out to be a bit rubbish?’ Now that, I thought, was very much more my thing. A great example of the thought-experiment approach is ‘The Rememberer’, by Aimee Bender: ‘My lover is experiencing reverse evolution. I tell no one. I don’t know how it happened, only that one day he was my lover and the next he was some kind of ape. It’s been a month, and now he’s a sea turtle.’ 4. Borrow A Form From Everyday Life Structure doesn’t come naturally to us all (guilty), but an easy way to get round that is to give yourself a nice constrained timeframe, such as the hours of a day or the seven days of a week. I use this structure in a few of my stories, notably the title track of Hotel du Jack, because it offers a natural scale of narrative progression. On Monday, we meet the cast of the story and get a sense of what’s at stake. On Tuesday the first signs of conflict emerge. Wednesday sees problems escalate, Thursday brings a false dawn, and on Friday things really kick off. Saturday is the day the crisis resolves and the loose ends are tied up, and Sunday has that nice sort of epilogue feel to it. It is the day, as Craig David tells it, on which one chills; the day one rests after creating a world. You might choose a lunch-hour, or a night, as Helen Simpson does with her insomniac narrator in ‘Erewhon’ (collected in Constitutional), a man in a roles-reversed world who stays up worrying about kids and money and sexism while his high-powered wife lies snoring indifferently next to him. It could be a date or a work meeting or a conversation between dads at the side of a junior football match, where the competitive nature of the chat echoes the changing fortunes of their kids’ respective teams and the climax of the story coincides with the final whistle. Taking this idea a step further, hermit-crab fictions – also known as borrowed forms – are stories that are made out of everyday verbal templates. The more banal the form, the better – think product reviews, missing-person reports, recipes, maths problems, listicles, top tips, user instructions… The trick is to try to stick quite closely to the structure you’re stealing, so that the story you tell will seem even wilder or more heartbreaking by contrast with its dull container. As you go through your day, you’ll come across thousands of these dead bits of copy – from insurance letters to FAQs to parish newsletters. Choose one, and make it your own. I’ve written hermit-crab stories in the form of a shopping list, board game rules, FAQs and even a penalty charge notice. In Hotel du Jack, you’ll also find a ghost story told as a neighbourhood forum thread, a reflection on #metoo in the form of board meeting minutes, a meditation on grief in the form of a dishwasher glossary, and a product recall notification. Another story, ‘Active and passive voice’, dissects a flawed relationship through the structure of a grammar lesson. Meanwhile ‘My Mummy is…‘ was written – out of a sense of profound inadequacy – just after I’d read a book with my 5-year-old son at school entitled My Daddy is a Firefighter. One of my favourites pieces of flash fiction, LIFECOLOR INDOOR LATEX PAINTS® – WHITES AND REDS by Kristen Ploetz, manages to condense an entire life into a trio of paint palettes. George Saunders has a lot of fun with this response to a customer complaint. Here’s a story of long-term love that’s also a 5-star blender review. And this story is just receipts. If you’d like to read more hermit-crab narratives, here’s a couple of great anthologies to inspire you: Fakes by David Shields and Matthew Vollmer, and The Shell Game, edited by Kim Adrian. 5. Start Writing If you’ve got a prompt that feels rich and interesting – whether it’s a vague memory or a thought experiment or a borrowed form – the next thing to do is not worry about how to write a good beginning of a story, and just get something down. My process at this point is crude: just bang a first draft out. If you have an idea that feels like a start, get it down and start playing around with what happens next. If you have an idea that feels like an ending, get it down and think about how your story might get you there. But do the thinking by actual writing. This is not a drill! And this is not a novel. Just write. As you go along, the idea will start to build and coalesce, especially as, remember, you chose something that’s already glowing and tingling for you. As the juices start flowing, you will start to see possibilities open out for you – structural bridges, snippets of dialogue, observations that you sense suddenly belong somewhere within the fabric of your story’s world. You can start to put in little headers too, little pegs to mark out future sections. Jot all these extra thoughts at the bottom of your doc, keep typing, and fold them in as you go. Sometimes, as the story starts to flow, you may get stuck on one bit but can start to see how a later section would work. Go with the flow, and start filling in that later section instead – just leave yourself some meta-notes for the bits you need to come back to later e.g. insert scene where elephant appears for first time or add in funeral-home bit here to explain why Moira’s always hated lilies. The same process also works at a micro-level, too. Often your ideas for the story run ahead of how quickly you can phrase things. Thinking about the broad contours of your story and fine-tuning phraseology are different creative tasks, and it’s not always easy or efficient to flit between the two. Don’t waste time waiting for the mot juste to arrive – just put in a bit placeholder copy or add some “xxxxxxxxxxxs,” and move on. Just get the broad brushstrokes down, and then you can go back and finesse the detail later. I guess the approach I’m advocating here is a bit like ‘writing by the lights,’ a phrase that inevitably takes us back to a line from EL Doctorow: ‘Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’ Sometimes the idea you have is a perfect little synopsis, and all (!) you have to do now to flesh it out in a way that does justice to the conception. Sometimes you just have an opening scene, or an image, or a character to work with, and you have to build the rest of the world around them. But the remedy is the same in every case: get that first draft down. The more stories you write, the more you get a sense of the optimum length for a particular piece. Some short stories are almost like extended gags; they go out and back in a simple anecdotal arc that culminates in a snappy zinger. Others require patience and stamina to deliver their potential. Their form might be much more complex: a spiral, a mosaic, a musical symphony of contrasting and resolving themes. But the best way to build up to writing complex stories is to start by completing simpler ones. And the best way to complete a story is get a first draft down fast. Then the real work can begin. 6. Work In Another Level A satisfying story can usually be read on more than one level. There is the surface level, and then there is a sense of an underlying meaning. If your story is to feel like more than a mere skit or vignette, we want to have a sense that there is another perspective, a subtext, a theme that’s whirring away in the background as we read. I’m not suggesting that you start with a grand theme and try and mould a story to it; that will usually lead you somewhere strained and leaden. I just mean that when you write your story, you want to have an eye on how others will find it interesting or meaningful. You don’t have to have a pat answer to this question, quite the opposite in fact. Where novels often build up to an accumulated truth, the best stories often have an inconclusive, open-ended quality. Often in life, when you think about it, we are working through familiar challenges and conflicts in a variety of different guises and permutations: freedom versus commitment, future hopes versus mortality, child versus parent, addiction versus abstention, ego versus altruism – the list is endless. What short stories often do is replay one of these central conflicts for us in a way that is both very specific – involving particular individuals in detailed interactions – but also has a timeless, universalising feel to it. Life is ambiguity, and things rarely get resolved. So, as your story takes shape, ask yourself: which pattern am I enacting here? This might sound a bit complex, but really it’s very simple, because every story we tell inevitably has the potential to speak beyond its own obvious remit; the trick is just to polish your words in the light of their wider applicability. As you start to get your story down, have an eye on the meanings and themes that emerge with it, and shape your material accordingly. You don’t have to be able to say what the story is really about; you just need to leave enough space and enough interesting glimmers for the reader to want to fill in the blanks. Take, for example, Conrad’s ‘The Secret Sharer.‘ This rich and subtle tale is full of nautical detail and has the feel of being based on a true incident, lightly fictionalised. But Conrad is careful throughout to dial up the elements we can all relate to: the fear of not being good enough, the loneliness of command, the terror of being brave, and so on. Katherine Mansfield’s ‘The Fly’ – as well as being a pair of beautifully observed little scenes – speaks to us about bereavement, and the agony of a loss which can no longer even find expression. And in retrospect, we see that JD Salinger’s ‘A Perfect Day for Bananafish’ – for all its enjoyable elements of comedy and social satire – speaks also to the corrosive effects of trauma and the inadequacy of our responses to it. 7. Edit. Revise. Rework. Repeat. Writing, as so many have said, is re-writing. Now that you have a rough draft down, the real work can begin, as you hone and polish and finesse your story into the best story it can be, and remove in the process all avoidable friction from the reading process. A few pointers: Look hard at the movement and logic of the story. Read the story out loud to yourself, and see if it makes good narrative sense. Is the middle soggy? Are there any tedious info dumps? Is there too much telling at the expense of showing? Is there a good balance between different sections and viewpoints (if you have more than one)? Is the story long enough, or do you rush to the conclusion and throw the ending away? Look out for redundancies. Strip away phrases, sentences and even sections that don’t add anything to the mood or voice or development of the story. Murder your darlings – all those bits (phrases, plot points, devices etc) that you’re really fond of but don’t really fit into the texture of the story you have developed. Add in clarifications and bridges. Editing isn’t just taking things away. Sometimes it’s about adding things too. If a transition between two sections isn’t clear, or your intro throws up a commonsensical question that you don’t ever answer, the reader will be too busy scratching their head to fully appreciate your story. Sometimes just a clarifying phrase here or a subtle time or place reference there can be all it takes. Look for words and phrases that you know you over-use. I’m a sucker for ‘suddenly,’ ‘seemed,’ ‘now’ and ‘screenwash’. I have certain pet thoughts and jokes that, if left to my own devices, I will happily try and shoehorn into everything I write. Watch out for ‘had’ too – if half your story is in the form of a past-perfect flashback, that’s probably going to be a problem. See more tips on self-editing here. 8. Look Extra Hard at Your Start… The start of your story needs to work hard to lure us into the world of your narrative. It must intrigue us from the off. We want to feel instantly that we are in an interesting place, where interesting things may happen, and that we can trust and enjoy the person who is telling us about them. Ambiguity, cliche, long-windedness, unnecessary cleverness – these can all spell death to a good intro. You might start with an intriguing hook (‘In the beginning, Sanford Carter was ashamed of becoming an Army cook’ – ‘The Language of Men’, by Norman Mailer.) You might set the scene with a sweep of historical backdrop (‘Paris was blockaded, starved, in its death agony’ – ‘Deux Amis’, by Maupassant.) Or you might start by setting the rules of the world, as in ‘By the Waters of Babylon’ by Stephen Vincent Benét, in a way that has the reader wondering from the very start what will happen if one is broken: ‘The north and the west and the south are good hunting ground, but it is forbidden to go east. It is forbidden to go to any of the Dead Places except to search for metal and then he who touches the metal must be a priest or the son of a priest.’ Naturally I am instantly curious about what happens if I head east. And the Dead Places? These are things I need to know about. For more on this topic, see my 10 examples of how to start a short story. 9. …And Look Extra Hard at Your Ending You need to bring your story to a conclusion in a satisfying way that is of a piece with the style and mood of the narrative that you have created. If you have written a taut, sting-in-the-tale mystery, the ending should close things off with a satisfying snap that tells us the case is closed and justice – consistent in some way or other with the internal logic of your piece – has been served. A story that is more reflective and interior in tone, on the other hand, will ideally finish with a line that adds a new perspective or dimension to our understanding of the whole, and keeps rippling and resonating in the reader’s mind long after they have finished reading. The ending can be a shock to the system that makes sense of everything that’s gone before; ‘A Perfect Day for Bananafish’ is an obvious and powerful example of this. Or it can zoom away from the action, just as a camera takes leave of its subject. Or it can inject a twist that calls into doubt everything you’ve read so far. It can sometimes be read two different ways, leaving the reader to work out their own ending. And it can of course just show that the world keeps on turning. My ‘Ella G in a Country Churchyard’, for example, brings a story of an uncomfortable parent-child conversation about mortality to a close with the Dad asking: ‘Ready for some sausages?’ This could be seen as an evasion, but then again there are no adequate answers to the girl’s impossible questions about what happens when we die. Life goes on, and it is almost teatime. 10. Get Another View Don’t send out the story to any magazine or competition until someone else has read it and fed back to you. And not just anyone, but someone whose judgement you respect, and who can give a candid take on what’s working and what isn’t. You may have a trusted beta reader – perhaps your partner, or a relative or friend – who always reads your stuff, or you may get feedback from a Facebook group. And of course there’s the Townhouse. These are great resources, but in my experience nothing beats being part of a real-life writers’ group. In a writers’ group, you’ll have the experience of reading your words to others – itself often very instructive, as you can often sense where the story is working and where it’s dragging just from the quality of attention in the room. And you’ll get constructive, practical feedback from people who are dealing with the same challenges, albeit from different perspectives and genres. Short stories lend themselves particularly well to group critique, because they are often just the right length to read in full. No doubt there will be feedback – from yourself as well as from others – and you will need to decide which bits you want to act on and which, not: learning the difference is a lifetime’s work. Inevitably you will find yourself returning to step 7, and perhaps steps 8 and 9 too, but that’s no bad thing. Writing is re-writing, remember. How Do You Write A Short Story in One Day? Can you Write A Short Story in One Day? Yes! It’s perfectly possible to write a story in a day, or less. Sometimes, when you get a great idea, the piece – especially it’s a flash or shorter fiction – may emerge fully formed. That’s not to say you’ve only been working on it that day – in my case, a story might get drafted in a couple of hours that I’ve been turning over in the back of my mind for a couple of years. And that’s not to say it’ll be the final version either. While you might be able to complete the draft in a day, it’s always wise to sleep on it and come back to it next day, to review and revise, and to get some other people’s feedback too. Publishing Your Short Story So, you’ve written your short story, but what next? There are loads of litmags and competitions out there. Many of the editors and organisers are aspiring writers themselves, and can be wonderfully supportive with feedback even when they’re not able to accept your story. You can find useful lists here, here and here. Sometimes there’s a prompt or a theme, which can be a great help when you’re stuck for an idea. With magazines, take some time to read a few stories and get a feel for what they like, and whether you’d be a good fit. Simultaneous submissions are generally acceptable, especially as it can take months to get a response (just make sure you let them know if you get accepted elsewhere). Before you enter, always read the requirements carefully, and get the formatting and labelling right. Have lots of stories on the go, so you move on when you get stuck. ‘At any given moment, I have a half-dozen story ideas shelved in my mind,’ says Benjamin Percy, author of the collections The Language of Elk and Refresh, Refresh. ‘I always choose to write the one that glows brightest.’ Above all, don’t be afraid to keep submitting. For most of us, rejection is the norm and an acceptance is the exception. The more you submit, the luckier you’ll get, and the less those rejections will sting. You can do this!

Dealing With Writer’s Block

You know how it is. You’ve spent ages thinking about what you’re going to write, anticipating it, feeling frustrated because other things are getting in the way of it. Finally, you clear a couple of hours from your busy schedule, switch on your computer or get out your pen and paper and...c nothing. The words won’t come, or they seem laughably trite or clichéd or flaccid. You’re gripped by the urgent need to wash the kitchen floor, track down a sock that’s been missing for the past five years or surf a favourite website. Hey, maybe you could call that research. Or maybe you could call it procrastination. Or writer’s block. It’s an insidious business because the more you allow it to happen, the more often it will happen. So how do you stop it? Here are some of my favourite tips. 9 Tips To Conquer Writers’ Block 1) Sit Down And Show Up As Mark Twain so famously said (and as other writers have echoed since), writing is all about application: the application of the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair. Don’t give in to those internal urgings to tidy up, sow some lettuce seeds or do anything else that will curtail the agony of sitting there and not writing. You’ll never make any progress if you don’t get those words down. Sit it out! 2) Cut Out The Internet If you find that you’ve spent two hours at your desk but most of that time has involved writing emails or surfing the web, then the only answer is to switch off your Internet connection at its source before you start work. If you don’t, you’ll be drawn to the icon of your chosen browser sooner or later. Don’t give yourself that temptation. 3) Write Something Else Instead If the words really won’t come, write something else instead. Write about how you’re feeling. Write a letter to your dog. It doesn’t really matter what you write, as long as you write something. (But don’t write anything self-defeating, such as telling yourself how pathetic you are. That won’t help.) Write for ten minutes and stop. Switch to your current project and start writing that. Don’t think about it. Just do it. (Julia Cameron created a whole creative practice built on this called \"Morning Pages\" and it can work really well even beyond breaking writer\'s block.) 4) Embrace The Mess Writing is an untidy business, but published books rarely reflect that. If they’ve been edited and produced in a professional manner, the prose is seamless. It flows in a way that may make you tear your hair on a bad day. Don’t let yourself be intimidated by this. The raw manuscript of your favourite novel was probably just as messy as yours is right now. That’s OK. No one is going to see it. You aren’t completing an exam paper. 5) It Doesn\'t Have To Be Perfect If you want every sentence to be perfect as soon as you’ve written it, or you fret that your grasp of apostrophes isn’t all it could be, you will probably agonize over every word so much that the flow will soon dry up. Right now, you need to get the words down. The editing stage can come later. And if there really is room for improvement, maybe you could start teaching yourself grammar, spelling and syntax in your spare time. 6) Take Notes For Later If you aren’t happy about a word or a sentence when you write it, and you keep coming back to it instead of moving ahead, highlight it so you can come back to it later and keep the flow going in the meantime. If you use Microsoft Word, get into the habit of using Track Changes. This allows you to insert a comment into your text at the relevant point, so you can flag whatever is necessary. Track Changes also remembers your editing in case you have second thoughts about it and want to revert to your original text. 7) Set An Achievable Goal If you’ve only got half an hour of writing time, there’s no point in telling yourself you’re going to write 1000 words. It’s unlikely to happen, which will be discouraging. If you are really struggling, aim to write a single paragraph. Then, if you’ve got time, write the next one. 8) Give Yourself A Stopping Point Some writers like to stop work when they reach the end of a chapter. Others always stop mid-chapter or even mid-sentence, so they can plunge straight back into what they were writing because they’re excited about what happens next. Figure out where it feels good to stop, when you know that you\'ll have something exciting to come back to -- because you\'ll be setting yourself up for success tomorrow. 9) Write At The Same Time Ideally, try to write at the same time each day. This makes it part of your daily routine, so it becomes a habit. If you show up every day for the muse, the muse is more likely to show up for you.

How To Format Your Ebook For Publishing

We want all our writers to have access to readers and we’re not snobby about self-publication. Self-publishing is easier now than it’s ever been, but there are some mysteries involved, the thought of which can put some people off. So we’ve cherry-picked the finest talent to assist in your journey. Today, we have guest blogger Ben Bryant to tell you how to format your Word document so as to simplify the digital conversion process involved in formatting ebooks. I have worked with Harry Bingham on his past few novels, formatting them into ebooks, specifically the two most common file types, namely Kindle’s mobi and ePub, which is the file type widely accepted by most other ebook distributors, including Apple. He has asked me for some tips to help other writers publish in ebook formats. The following advice is basically a list of ‘good practice’ whether it be preparing a Word document for sending to a conversion service or self-formatting a Word document for direct upload to an ebook store’s automated conversion system. Firstly, simplicity is key in formatting ebooks. The beauty of an ebook file is that the same file can be read on hundreds of different devices from desktop computers to tablets and mobile phones. Device manufacturer and operating system make no difference, the file can be read on all. Although the file can be read, it won’t always display as intended, particularly if the formatting is complex and you are using an older device. Though newer e-reader devices or apps can deal with complex formatting, such as multiple column layouts and tables, there are hundreds of thousands of older devices still in use. You need to ensure that your book reads as intended on all devices so avoid complex layouts such as multiple columns on each page, text wrapping images, text boxes and drop-caps. This next point may sound ridiculous to some people, but you will be surprised how often I come across it. Do not use the space-bar or the tab key to centre text. Multiple space-bar keystrokes and tabs are ignored by e-reader devices, so you will find your text back on the left. Instead just use the ‘centre text’ button on Word’s Home tab. There are at least three common ways to create indents in a Word document, however only one is understood by e-reader devices. Do not use multiple space-bar keystrokes to create indents, for the reasons mentioned above. Likewise, the use of the tab key is also ignored by e-reader devices. The correct way to create indentions is to set the indentation using paragraph styles. Just expand the paragraph options on Word’s Home tab and select the indent type and size you require. I recommend indents of less than 1cm as e-reader screens can be quite small and a 1cm indent can look excessive. You can use multiple paragraph returns to space out paragraphs but ensure that you use a page-break at the end of each chapter. This ensures that your next chapter (and all chapter titles) will start at the top of a new page. You should not add headers or page numbers. Every e-reader device will automatically create headers based on the book title and/or author name. Page numbers are generated by the e-reader device itself. Note also that your book will vary in number of pages depending on the screen size of the device and the user’s font size settings. It is therefore unwise to refer to specific page numbers within the body text of your manuscript. Following on from my previous point regarding pages, footnotes do not work in ebooks, as you cannot be sure where the page break will fall. Instead you can use endnotes, either at the end of each chapter, or at the end of the book. There is no problem including images in an ebook, however there is a significant issue that needs to be considered when selling through Amazon, namely delivery fees. Unlike other ebook sellers Amazon charges you, the author/publisher, a delivery fee every time your book is purchased and downloaded. This fee is based on file size. The more images you use, the larger the file will be and the higher the delivery charge. The issue is further complicated by Amazon’s royalty structure where if you select the 30% royalty option, they waive the fee. You can factor the delivery fee into your ebook’s list price but if it is a large file and you wish to sell it cheaply this may not be the best solution. You will need to weigh up which royalty option works out best for you, based on the price you wish to charge for your ebook and its file size. It sounds a little complicated but more info can be found here. Body Text Rules to Follow Use a standard font such as Times New Roman, Georgia or Arial. Use a point size of 10, 11 or 12 for the main body text. Use black text. Avoid line spacing greater than 1.5. Use standard margins. Do not use leading or kerning as these will be ignored. If you wish to highlight particular words or sentences, use only basic formatting tools such as bold, italic, and caps. The above tips cover the essentials when preparing your work for ebook formats. All ebook sellers will have their own list of requirements for the files you submit to them and many still will not accept Word documents for automatic conversion. Some that do, such as Smashwords, have further stipulations such as limitations on font colours, restrictions on indentation options, and the requirement to credit them as publishers. A quick Google search should provide you all the info you need on your retailer of choice. Unfortunately, creating an ebook from a Word document can still be a bit hit-or-miss as the process is an automated one. This is why many people employ people like me to create their books using html code. If you have any questions about this article or have other ebook-related queries, you can reach me via my website or email address below. I hope this short guide comes in useful. All the best with your literary ventures. Ben no longer formats ebooks for clients, but you can find other paid services such as Word-2-kindle’s service, just by Googling around. Search for “ebook formatting services” and take your pick. Be sure to go for a service that allows for no-added-cost revisions. A regular novel should cost an absolute maximum of $100.
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