January 2021 – Jericho Writers
Jericho Writers
167-169 Great Portland street, 5th Floor, London, W1W 5PF
UK: +44 (0)330 043 0150
US: +1 (646) 974 9060

Our Articles

Punctuation For Writers: Tips & Advice

Punctuation matters. Correct punctuation tells the reader how to read the words you have on the page: where to put the pauses, how to make sense of your sentences. It’s not too much to say that bad punctuation will kill a book. It’ll get rejected by agents and readers alike. Trying to sell a badly punctuated manuscript is like going on a date wearing last week’s jogging pants. The underlying problem is the same in both cases. The badly punctuated manuscript and the dirty jogging bottoms both say, “I don’t care.” I don’t care about you, my hot date. I don’t care about you, my precious reader. Any sane date will just make their excuses and leave. A reader will do the same – and quite right too. So here goes with a quick guide to the major punctuation marks. In each case, we’ll talk about: The basic rule The most common punctuation errors that writers make More advanced ways to use the tool Most of you reading this will know the basic rules. Even so, it’s likely that you’ll be committing at least some of the errors some of the time (a few of them are very common indeed.) And pretty much everyone will get at least something from thinking about how to use punctuation marks in a more sophisticated, writerly way. The Period, Or Full Stop (.) OK, you know when to use this little beast. You use it at the end of sentences, so long as those sentences aren’t questions or exclamations (in which case you’d use the “?” or “!” instead.) Easy, right? The Most Common Error One of the most prevalent errors in manuscripts written by first time writers is the so-called run-on sentence. It looks something like this: She was a breath of fresh air in our little town, she came into school on her first day with a bunch of garden flowers for the teacher and home-made candy for us, her schoolmates, it should have looked cheesy, but we fell in love with her on the spot. The error here is simple. The writer is using commas (“,”) where they should be using periods. The result is like someone just gabbling in your face, yadda-yadda-yadda, without giving you a chance to draw a breath or reflect. The solution is simple. You chop the sentence up with periods, to produce this: She was a breath of fresh air in our little town. She came into school on her first day with a bunch of garden flowers for the teacher and home-made candy for us, her schoolmates. It should have looked cheesy, but we fell in love with her on the spot. Phew! That’s a mile better already. Notice that there’s still a comma dividing two of the sentences (“It should have looked cheesy” and “we fell in love with her.”) The grammar-reason why that comma is OK is that you have “but” – a conjunction, a connector word – joining the two sentences. In a way, though, I’d prefer you to forget about the grammar and just listen to the rhythms. Say the first snippet out loud, then the second one. If it feels right, it is right. That’s pretty much all the grammar you are ever going to need. More Advanced Ways To Use The Tool Back at school, you were probably told to avoid sentence fragments – the name given to sentences that lack a main verb. (Like this one, for example.) That’s rather old-fashioned advice in some ways, and it’s certainly unhelpful advice to offer when it comes to writing fiction or creative non-fiction. Take my own work. My narrator is jerky, tough, awkward, abrupt. Her voice is all those things too, and the consequence is that her prose makes use of a lot of sentence fragments. For instance: There’s a woman at the wheel. Forties, maybe. Blonde. Shoulder-length hair held back in a grip. Blue woollen coat worn over a dark jumper. I kick the door. Hard. I’m wearing boots and kick hard enough to dent the panel. Pretty clearly here, the periods are dividing my language up into units of meaning, not into sentences. The words Blonde and Hard are just words, after all. They’re not even attempting to be complete sentences. Equally clearly, my narrator’s language forces that kind of punctuation on the manuscript. If you wanted to follow the “period = end of sentence” rule, you’d have to rewrite the text so it looked something like this: There’s a woman at the wheel. She is in her forties, maybe. Her blonde, shoulder-length hair is held back in a grip. She wears a blue woollen coat worn over a dark jumper. [and so on] That’s not just differently punctuated. It has a different tone, a different mood. It’s perfectly fine writing … but it’s not what I wanted. The “correct” punctuation ends up destroying the voice I worked hard to create. As a rough, rough guide, literary fiction will tend to have relatively few sentence fragments, while crime thrillers and the like will have many more. But fiction is much more supple than that general rule suggests. So yes, my character is tough. Yes, she uses lots of sentences fragments in approved noir style. But she also reflects on philosophy, quotes poetry, introspects extensive, and so on. In the end, you build from the character to the voice to the punctuation. It makes no sense to try building the other way. The Exclamation Mark (!) An exclamation mark (or point) marks an exclamation, denotes shouting, or otherwise gives emphasis to a sentence. It’s like a shouty form of a period. But watch out! You think you know how to use the exclamation mark, but … The Most Common Error The most common error is to use the exclamation mark! It’s fine in emails. It’s OK-ish in blog posts. But in novels? Avoid it. As Scott Fitzgerald remarked, “An exclamation mark is like laughing at your own jokes.” It’s like you’re trying to make your punctuation compensate for a failure of your actual writing. If you want a rough rule of thumb, you can use one or maximum two exclamation marks per 100,000 words of prose. If you have zero, that’s just fine. And never, ever have a double or treble exclamation mark in your text. What’s fine on Twitter, looks just awful on the printed page. More Advanced Ways To (Not) Use The Tool So if I (like most pro authors) hate the exclamation mark, what do you do instead? After all, there may be occasions where you feel your work actually needs the emphasis. But consider these alternatives: #1 “Go get it.” #2 “Go get it!” #3 “Go get it,” he ordered her, sharply. Those options are ranked in approximate order of shoutiness. The first option doesn’t feel especially emphatic. The addition of the exclamation mark adds a little force. The third option adds even more, via a highly coloured verb and adverb combo. But neither of the last two options is great. And the issue here is simply this: the actual bit of underlying dialogue is fairly colourless, and that’s not going to change, no matter how many toppings you put on. In other words, if you started out with option #1 and found yourself thinking, “Hmm, this feels a little bland, so let’s get out the heavy-duty punctuation,” that should be a signal that you need to rewrite things. So a better option than either #1, #2 or #3 above would be: #4 “Go get it. Get it now. Give it to me. Never take it again.” You’re not using anything more than a common old period there, and you’re not resorting to ordering sharply, yelling loudly, yodelling wildly or exclaiming defiantly. But because your dialogue is now unmistakeably emphatic, it’s fine on its own. If the burger tastes great, you don’t need the relish. The Ellipsis (…) An ellipsis is a bit of a slippery brute. What it does is mark the fact that some words are missing. So, in dialogue, for example, people will often trail off, rather than actually complete a sentence. That much is easy – but how do you actually write it? Three dots is pretty much universal, but do you have spaces between them? Do you have a space before and after the ellipsis? And if you have the ellipsis at the start of a sentence, do you have a period (to denote the end of the previous sentence), then a space, then the ellipsis? That option sounds technically correct, but also rather fussy. The good news for you is that none of this really matters. Different style authorities advise different things, with some variation between British and American usage. And in the end, who really cares? Your editor won’t. Your agent won’t. Your reader won’t. It’s just not a big deal. I’d suggest, in general, that you use three dots without spacing in between, but with a space before and after. Like so: “Oh, Jen, if you really think that, then we should … I mean, maybe this was never meant to be.” The Most Common Error As with exclamation marks, the primary error is to overuse these little beasts. What works fine in an email, quickly looks annoying on the printed page. But whereas I’d advise you to hunt the exclamation mark almost to extinction, you can let the ellipsis breathe, just a little. One ellipsis per chapter is probably too many, but you’d have to be quite a fussy ready to object to half a dozen, or even a dozen, over the course of a full length novel. More Advanced Ways To Use The Tool As with the exclamation mark, the best way to use the ellipsis is to let it nudge you into querying your own writing. If you feel yourself wanting to use the ellipsis, just check that it’s not your writing that needs to change. In nine out of ten cases, adjusting your text will be a better option than using the ellipsis. The Semi-Colon ( ; ) The semi-colon is a divider, the way commas and periods are dividers. The comma is the lightest of these in weight: it inserts the shortest of pauses. The period inserts the maximum pause. The semi-colon lives somewhere in between. Here’s an example of all three in action: It never normally rained, but the weather that day was awful.(comma = minimal pause) It never normally rained; my mother didn’t even own an umbrella(semi-colon = mid-weight pause) It never normally rained. That day, though, there was a deluge.(period = strongest pause) And look: you can live without the semi-colon completely. Personally, I quite like semi-colons, but my narrator, Fiona Griffiths, never uses them, so in about 750,000 words of published Fiona Griffiths’ novels, there’s only one semi-colon – and that enters the text via a direct quote from Wikipedia. Short message: if the semi-colon scares you, it’s fine to leave it well alone. The Most Common Error There are no common errors with semi-colons, except maybe overuse by people thinking they’re fancy. More Advanced Ways To Use The Tool Thinking of semi-colons as a middle-weight pause is technically correct, but it misses something, nevertheless. A better way to conceive of the mark is this: You need a semi-colon when you have two sentences, and the second one corrects or modifies the meaning of the first. So take those examples above. We used a semi-colon in this context: It never normally rained; my mother didn’t even own an umbrella. The first sentence is, in effect, adjusted by the second. The semi-colon tells us to read the second sentence as a kind of comment on the first one: “look, here’s just how much it never rained.” Or, if you want a slightly more grown-up example, here’s William Faulkner in The Sound and the Fury: Clocks slay time… time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life. But you can get too hung up on these things. Arguably, sentences that speak about each other shouldn’t need any punctuation to get their point across. The text itself should handle the communication just fine. So there’ll be plenty of writers (including my narrator) who’d agree with Kurt Vonnegut’s lesson in creative writing: First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college. And who cares if you’ve been to college, right? Parenthesis Brackets () | Dashes – – | Commas ,, There are three types of parenthesis you can use. They are: Commas: The comma, always a useful creature, can be used to separate one clause from the rest. Dashes: The dash – a more forceful beast – can be used in much the same way. Brackets: The bracket (perfectly fine in non-fiction) is relatively rare in fiction. But these three are not equivalent, and not equally common. I just opened up my Word document that contains the entire Fiona Griffiths series, and checked to see how many of each punctuation mark I used. In about 650,000 words of text, I used: 39,000 commas, of which, admittedly, many thousand wouldn’t be parenthetical. 5,000 dashes, though most of these were actually hyphens, as in “short-tempered”. So I’m going to guess maybe only 1,000 actual dashes. 100 brackets, of which many were things like “in Paragraph 22(c)”, where the use of the bracket isn’t really a parenthesis in the normal way. The Most Common Error There are two common errors when it comes to parenthesis. The first error is not to use anything to mark off a clause from the rest of a sentence resulting in (often, but not always) a sentence that is just plain hard to read. For example: The comma always a useful creature can be used to separate one clause from the rest. Tucking commas in around the useful-creature clause makes the meaning pop right out. The second error is kind of the opposite. It’s as though writers get worried that commas aren’t emphatic enough, so they start clamping their text inside brackets, like this: She couldn’t get enough of him (understandable, given her past), so she tried to find reasons why he couldn’t leave. And that feels heavy-handed. A simple rewrite releases the sentence and lets it breathe: Understandably, given her tangled past, she couldn’t get enough of him and she tried to find reasons why he couldn’t leave. There’s more flow there. Less sense of an author forcing information at you. The no-brackets alternative seems much more natural to fiction. The with-brackets version is better suited to the information-delivery task of non-fiction. More Advanced Ways To Use Parenthesis The real trick with parenthesis – and with commas particularly – is to learn to feel the weight of a sentence. In most cases, commas will cover your parenthetical needs. If you need to rewrite something to make it work, then rewrite it. If you need the greater weight of dashes, then go for it, but recognise that you are, in a small way, pulling on the handbrake mid-sentence. If that’s what you want, fine. In many cases, there’ll be better options. Oh, and though I personally never read my text out loud, lots of authors swear by it – and any hiccups or awkwardness as you read is a huge clue that your punctuation or your text (or both) are at fault. Hyphens And Dashes The hyphen, the en dash, and the em dash We can’t quite leave a post about punctuation without talking about the various dashes available to you. Specifics in one second, but first, a public annoucement: The specifics don’t really matter. Yes, a lot of writers (especially those college-educated brutes that got Vonnegut all riled up) care a lot about their en dashes and their em dashes. But if you’ve never spent a moment caring about them in the past, you don’t have to worry that you’ve been doing something very wrong. You haven’t. Any “errors” on this scale will bother almost nobody – neither readers, nor agents. So, here’s what hyphens and dashes are and how to use them. The Hyphen The hyphen is on your keyboard as a minus sign. You use it to connect words, as for example: The hot-headed wood-cutter tip-toed past the one-eyed she-wolf. Apart from a slight anxiety about whether a hyphen is needed in a particular context (is it woodcutter or wood-cutter?), it’s hard to get these little fellows wrong. Oh, and although everyone will have a house-style defining when to use hyphens, everyone’s style guide will be a bit different, so there’s often not a clear right and wrong here anyway. The En Dash The en dash is so called because it is a dash approximately the same width as the letter N. And it doesn’t live on your keyboard anywhere: you have to give it life and breath all by yourself. You do this by hitting Ctrl and the minus sign at the same time, to give yourself something that looks like this: Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827) As that example suggests, it’s used mostly for dates, or for things that feel much the same, for example: Washington–New York (in the context of a flight timetable, for example.) The Em Dash The em dash is so called because … well, you’re going to have to guess which letter-width it’s named after. You create this little critter in Word by hitting Ctrl-Alt-minus. And the em dash performs the following functions: It marks an interruption in dialogue.“The buried treasure,” he said, as he lay dying, “the treasure can be found just to the right of the old—” It marks a parenthesis in the middle of a sentence.The em dash—more forceful than commas—marks out a parenthesis in the middle of a sentence. But it can also mark out a parenthesis at the end of a sentence.He was allergic to fruit, sunshine, exercise and soap—or so he always insisted.(The “so he always insisted” part is the parenthesis here. If you were using brackets, that whole end chunk would be enclosed in brackets.) It can be used as a slightly informal colon.The result of that informal colon—often a little hint of comedy, or something of a “ta-daa” quality. It marks deleted or redacted words.The accuser, Ms — —, struck a defiant tone in court. Best practice is generally to use the em dash without a space before or after, but that’s one of those things that doesn’t actually matter. Newspapers tend to use spaces and British usage is much more tolerant of spacing and lots of people just don’t know the rules anyway. That’s it from me. Beautiful punctuation is often a sign of careful writing and a beautifully readable book.

Read A Sample Literary Agent Query Letter, With Hints & Tips

Sample Query Letter & Template Included You want to know what a great query letter to literary agents should look like? We’re going to show you a perfect sample letter in a moment. But we’re also going to figure out what your query letter needs to do – and how you’re going to write it. This blog post will give you everything you need – and I promise that if you are talented enough to write a book, you are EASILY capable of writing a strong, confident query letter. OK. We’ll get stuck in in one second. But I should probably tell you that I am a real author describing a real book. The query letter below pretends that this book is a first novel and I have no track record in the industry. That\'s obviously the case for most people reading this, but if you DO have a track record of note, then for heaven\'s sake tell agents about it. Boasting is good! What A Query Letter Should Accomplish Your query letter needs to accomplish the following goals: Introduce the purpose of your letter (ie: to secure representation). To define in a very concise way the manuscript that you’ve written (ie: title, genre, word count). To introduce your work at slightly more length – so you say what it is (setting / setup / premise / main character). To give a sense of the emotional mood of your work – what is the emotional payoff for the reader? To give a hint of your book’s USP or angle. To help the agent understand where your book would fit in the market by including comparable titles and agent personalisation. To say something – not much – about you. The Structure of your Query Letter Here\'s the structure that most query letters should take. There are some exceptions (notably non-fiction and literary fiction), but for most purposes your query letter should comprise the following: Introductory sentence – include your purpose for writing (you’re seeking representation!) book title, wordcount, genre. 1-2 paragraphs about your book – what your book’s about and why a reader will love it. A brief note about you – who you are and why you wrote the book. We’ll expand on these things shortly. A sample query letter First up, however, here’s a query letter of a sort that would make any sane agent want to start reading the manuscript in question: Dear Agent Name I’m writing to seek representation for my first novel, TALKING TO THE DEAD, a police procedural of 115,000 words. The book opens with news of a murder: a young woman and her daughter have been found dead in a rough area of Cardiff, Wales. The house where they’re found is in poor condition, but in the corner of the room is a platinum bank card belonging to a local millionaire. A millionaire who died in a plane crash some nine months previously. New recruit, Detective Constable Fiona Griffiths is assigned to the investigation. Puzzling as this crime looks, it’s not the heart of the book’s mystery. It becomes rapidly clear that Fiona Griffiths herself is a very peculiar woman, who is withholding crucial secrets from the reader. Who exactly is her father? What was her childhood illness? And what is it with her and corpses? I currently run my own small consultancy business, and this is my first novel. I look forward to writing further novels in the series. I enclose the first three chapters and a synopsis. I hope you like what you see and look forward to hearing from you. Yours, Harry Bingham Simple right? And you can do it, no? Here’s that query letter again with my comments highlighted in bold: Dear Agent Name [probably Jenny Smith, for example, rather than Ms Smith or just Jenny. But do check spellings, please! Someone called Jon may be annoyed to be addressed as John.] I’m writing to seek representation [the purpose of you getting in touch] for my first novel, TALKING TO THE DEAD, a police procedural of 115,000 words. [title, genre, word count – all defined fast and clearly.] The book opens with news of a murder: a young woman and her daughter have been found dead in a rough area of Cardiff. The house where they’re found is in poor condition, but in the corner of the room is a platinum bank card belonging to a local millionaire. A millionaire who died in a plane crash some nine months previously. [This sets up the basic premise of the crime story. Already, the agent has the basic co-ordinates she needs to navigate, including location. I haven\'t explicitly mentioned that this is a contemporary novel, but if it\'s historical or speculative you certainly need to spell that out.] New recruit, Detective Constable Fiona Griffiths is assigned to the investigation. [Introduce main character – clearly and succinctly.] Puzzling as this crime looks, it’s not the heart of the book’s mystery. It becomes rapidly clear that Fiona Griffiths herself is a very peculiar woman, who is withholding crucial secrets from the reader. Who exactly is her father? What was her childhood illness? And what is it with her and corpses? [This hints nicely at the book’s mood and USP. It starts to suggest the emotional payoff – a mystery to do with the book’s central character. In effect, this is where you deliver something like the book\'s elevator pitch - the reason why the agent has to know more.] I currently run my own small consultancy business, and this is my first novel. I look forward to writing further novels in the series. [A line or two about me. Confirmation that I understand I’m writing a series – an important touch for this kind of fiction. If you are writing in any genre that expects a series (eg: plenty of children\'s genres) make it clear that you understand that expectation.] I enclose the first three chapters and a synopsis. I hope you like what you see and look forward to hearing from you. [Wrap it up. The whole letter easily fits onto one page. And yes, I know you’ll be sending an email, but you know what I mean.] Now you know what you’re doing, we’ll get into a slightly more specific analysis. The Components of Your Query Letter The 1 Sentence Summary You need to say why you’re writing. (You’re seeking representation, right? So say so.) You need to give the title of your book, either underlined or (better) in italics, please. You need to give the word count of your book, rounded to the nearest 5,000 words. (And one word of advice: just be sure your word count is approximately right for the market. Advice here.) You need to give the approximate genre or territory of your book. If you do those things, the agent can instantly understand what you want and what you’re offering. You will also, by the way, prove yourself to be a swift, professional writer. It\'s absolutely fine to model your sentence after the one I\'ve given you above. It\'s my copyright, but I don\'t mind a bit of plagiarism. What\'s your genre? It\'s all very well for me to tell you to define your book\'s genre: my books have a really clear, easily named genre. But that\'s just not true of lots of books. If you\'re writing a historical novel involving a cross-cultural romance amidst the wars of the 18th century Ottoman empire - what is that book? A romance? A war story? Historical fiction? The simple truth is that it\'s all of those things and agents aren\'t that fussed about putting things into neat boxes, because fiction has never come in neat boxes. So just describe the book, in 1-2 sentences. \"The novel follows Ali, a caliph in the 18th century Ottoman empire and his romance with Anya, a Balkan servant girl. The novel centres on the XYZ war and has its climax during the 17xx siege of Dubrovnik.\" Now, I\'ve just made that up - I don\'t know if there was a siege of Dubrovnik, but you can see that I\'ve explained what kind of book this is without needing to reference a genre. If your book doesn\'t fit any neat category, then just do the same. The 1-2 Paragraph Introduction To The Book First, it’s important to say what this is not. You are not writing a back-of-book blurb. But nor are you writing a detailed outline of your story. (That’ll come in the form of your synopsis – get more synopsis help right here.) What you are doing is explaining what your book is and why a reader will feel compelled to read it. That ‘what’ element will typically be a matter of presenting some facts. You need to give some more information about your settings, your premise, your characters and so on. You don’t need to be as salesy as a cover blurb, and you don’t need to be as dry as a synopsis. It’s almost as though you were chatting to your best friend and telling her about the book you’ve just been reading. The ‘why’ element is equally crucial. Here, you are conveying something about emotions. What is a reader going to feel as they read the book? What kind of atmosphere will they inhabit? What kind of emotional payoff or challenge is likely? Comparable Titles Including comparable titles is a clear and simple way to help authors understand where your book fits in the market. It\'s important to query agents who specialise in your genre, and comparable titles help them get a sense of where your book would fit in with their list. Some people choose to include this in the introduction of their query letter, while others add it in later on; you can place it anywhere that suits you. The standard advice is that you should try to include two or three comparable titles. You could reference them by saying \'readers of x, y, and z would love (your book)\' or \'x meets y in (your book)\'. Make sure that you also describe why your book is unique and detail the extra elements it adds to the books you reference. Personally, I\'m a little sceptical that agents always need this kind of triangulation. Done badly, and it can seem a bit crass - a bit unsophisticated. For this reason, and if you do choose to go the comparable title route, it\'s important that the titles you use are genuinely similar to your book. Though it can be tempting to reference books you admire, it\'s helpful to show an understanding of the market you\'re writing in and give the agent a sense of the overall tone/style of your book. The titles should be commercially successful and contemporary (ideally from the last two years or so) to show your agent why you think your book will sell in the current market. Oh yes, and don\'t just pick the current genre bestsellers as your comps. That\'s a bad idea for two reasons: first, everyone else will do it, and second, it\'s actually important you pick the books and authors that really do give the agent a real clue as to what you\'re all about. That could be the book currently at the top of the NYT bestseller list ... but it probably isn\'t. Agent Personalisation Agent personalisation is a very brief part of your query letter, but it\'s an important one. Lots of writers eagerly send query letters to lots of different agents, and agents want to know that you put some thought into deciding to contact them specifically. As with comparable titles, this is a section which can go anywhere in your query letter. Providing an agent with a specific reason why you chose to query them will help make your query letter stand out, and it also shows that you\'ve done your research. Maybe they represent an author in your genre who you\'re a big fan of, and that\'s how you found out about them. Or perhaps you discovered them on Twitter, or went to an event they took part it where something they said really resonated with you. Let them know! Including this element of personalisation will make your letter more memorable. Again, don\'t do this on auto-pilot. If you genuinely have a particular reason for writing to this particular agent, say so. If not, keep silent. Most agents have 2-3 big name authors and a horribly huge proportion of the query letters coming to those agents say, \"I am writing to you because you represent Famous Author X and I think that my book ...\" Yeah, right. If in doubt, just keep quiet. A Brief Introduction To You, The Author About you Luckily, agents don’t care too much about you. Nor should they. They should care about the book, and only the book. That’s a fine, honest, meritocratic approach. May the best book win! That said, agents are obviously curious about the person behind the manuscript. So tell them something about yourself. It’s fine to be human here, rather than resume-style formal. It’s also OK to be quite brief. For example: “I am a 41-year-old mother, with three children, two dogs, one husband, and the finest vegetable garden in the southwest.” That\'s much better than \"I spent twelve years as an ACPO-registered bookkeeper with a variety of small and medium enterprises by way of clients. I was nominated for the New Mexico Young Bookkeeper Award three times, and was successful on one occasion (2003).\" Believe me, agents don\'t care - and nor should they. Your manuscript matters. You don\'t ... much. Why you wrote the book If there is a real connection between who you are (a shrimp fisher, let’s say) and the book you’ve written (something to do with the sea and fishing) then it’s worth another sentence or two to tease that out a bit. But don’t feel compelled to do that. In my case, I wrote a crime novel, just because I wanted to write one. I’m not a cop or ex-cop. I have no forensics expertise. I have no legal expertise. Or anything else relevant. And that doesn’t matter, of course – what matters is the quality of the book. So if you have something good to say, say it. If you have nothing to say, then say nothing and don’t worry about it. Your previous writing history If you have some real background as a writer, then do say so. For example, you might have written a textbook or similar on a topic relevant to your own professional area. Or you might have won or been shortlisted for a major short story prize. Or perhaps you work as a journalist or copywriter. Or something similar. If anything like that is the case, then do say so. But if it’s not – don’t worry! We’ve seen a lot of agent query letters that say things like “I haven’t had much writing experience, but my English teacher always used to say that I would be a writer one day . . .” And, you know what? It just sounds feeble. So don’t say it. Agents know that most slushpile submissions will be by complete newbie authors. And that’s fine. JK Rowling was a newbie once . . . Writing a series? If you are writing a series, then you should say so, much as I did in that sample letter above. Agents will like the fact that you recognise the series potential of your work and that you are committed to taking the steps needed to develop it. What you don’t want to do, is sound overly rigid or arrogant. (“I have completed the first four novels in my Lords of the Silver Sword series, and have got complete chapter outlines for the next 11 titles. I am looking for a publisher who will commit fully to the series.” — if you write something like that, agents are likely to reject you out of hand.) How Long Should Your Query Letter Be? Your overall letter should not run to more than one page. (Except that non-fiction and literary authors can give themselves maybe a page and a half, maybe two). And that’s it. If you\'ve written your query letter, and would like some feedback before querying agents, why not purchase an agent submission pack review from us. We can help YOU get published.Did you know, we have a complete course on getting published? The course covers absolutely everything you need to know: how to prepare your manuscript, how to find agents, how to compile your shortlist, how to write your query letter and synopsis – and much, much more besides. That course is quite expensive to buy . . . so don’t buy it. The course is available completely free to premium members of Jericho Writers. Not just that course. You get our Agent Match tool for finding literary agents. You get our awesome How To Write course. Plus our members get regular opportunities to pitch their work live online to a panel of literary agents. Sounds good, doesn’t it? So hop over here and find out more about joining us. Query Letters: The Exceptions OK, there are a few exceptions to the above rules. Of those, the two most important ones you need to know about are: You Are Writing Literary Fiction If you are writing genuinely high end literary fiction, agents will want you to strut a little, even in your query letter. So if you were writing about (Oh, I dunno) a fictional nun in 14th century Florence, you might talk a bit about the themes of your work and what inspired you to pick up this story. This kind of thing: “I got the idea for this story, while working as a game warden one winter on the Hebridean island of Macvity. I was all alone and with a deeply unreliable internet connection. It occurred to me that my solitary life had its religious aspect and I became very interested in female monasticism. Blah, yadda, yadda, blah.” (Sorry for the blahs, but personally I like books that have corpses in them.) The idea of this kind of approach is that you are selling the book (its themes, its resonances), but also you’re selling yourself – you’re showing that you can walk the talk as a literary writer. You Are Writing Non-fiction And You Have A Remarkable Platform Let’s say you are writing a cookbook and you have a couple of million people who subscribe to your YouTube channel. Or you are writing a book about motorcycle repair and you have a motorbike-themed blog with 250,000 monthly readers. In those cases, you have to delineate your platform in enough detail to convince an agent (and ultimately a publisher) that you are the right person to write this manuscript. In those cases, then your query letter does need to outline your platform in sufficient detail. You may even want to kick that outline over into a separate document. However you handle it, the “one page query letter” rule can safely be binned. Your prospective agent wants to know what kind of platform you can supply – so tell her. Oh yes: and having a website is not a platform. Having 10,000 followers on Twitter is impressive, but means nothing in the context of national or international marketing. In short: if you are going to make a big deal of your platform, your platform itself needs to be a big deal. That means having six- or seven-figure numbers to boast about. Nothing else will really cut it. You Are Writing Non-fiction And You Have Extraordinary Authority Much the same goes if you are (let’s say) writing a book of popular psychology and (like Daniel Kahnemann) just happen to have a Nobel Prize to wave around. If you bring amazing authority to a topic, then you need to cover that, either in your query letter or a separate bio. Again, the one page rule just doesn’t apply. Literary Agent Etiquette So. Let’s say you’ve got a shortlist of agents. You’ve checked those agents’ websites for their specific submission requirements – probably opening chapters + query letter + synopsis. You use our query letter sample and write your own perfect query letter. You avoid any weak language, misspellings or grammatical howlers, of course. You use our advice to put together your synopsis (advice right here). You don’t spend too long on writing the synopsis either, because if you use our techniques, that process is simplicity itself. You read the opening chunk of your manuscript one last time – and follow our simple rules on manuscript formatting. And then – well, you send your stuff off. You light some candles, pray to your favourite saints, tie a black cat into a knot and throw a mirror over a ladder. (Or under it? Or something to do with a wishing well? I’m not sure. Superstition isn’t my strong suit.) Anyway. You get your stuff out to at least 6 agents and preferably more like 10-12. You wait an unfeasibly long amount of time – but let’s say 6-8 weeks as a rough guide. What happens next? Well. Rejections do happen, and are likely to happen even if you’ve written a great book. (Because agents have their hands full. Or just like a different sort of thing. Or have an author who is too directly competitive. Or anything else. It’s not always about you or your book.) But if you send your material out to 10-12 agents, and find yourself being rejected, then you have to ask yourself: Am I being rejected because I’ve chosen the wrong agents? Am I being rejected because my query letter / synopsis are poor? Am I being rejected because my book isn’t up to scratch? Truthfully? The third of these issues is by far the most common. If you’ve written a great book, and a rubbish query letter, you can still find an agent. The other way around? Never. If you are confident that you’ve gone to the right agents, and have been rejected by 10+ people (or heard nothing after 8 weeks, which amonts to the exact same thing), then the probable truth is that your book is not yet strong enough for commercial publication. And, you know what? That’s not a big deal. All books start out bad. Then they get better. So getting rejected is really just a signal that you still have further to travel down that road. (Find out about the type of rejection letters to look out for here.) Remember that getting third party editorial advice is the standard way of improving your work. We offer outstanding editorial help and you can read all about it here. Alternatively, join the Jericho Writers family, and you can get a ton of help absolutely free within your membership. Free courses on How To Write. Free courses on Getting Published. Free access to AgentMatch. And so much more. Find out more here. Happy writing, and good luck!

How To Write A Memoir That Your Readers Can’t Put Down

We get loads of enquiries from writers wanting to write their own life story. Sometimes it’s just a personal project. Sometimes it’s for friends and family. Sometimes it’s intended for commercial publication. But the question we’re asked is always the same. Where do I start? That’s an easy one. Follow the rules below. 1: Tend Your Expectations Writing your life story down is massively worth doing, but please don’t think that it’s easy to get published. It’s not, if you’re after commercial publication. Only the best stories will get taken on by literary agents and publishers, and only then if they are really well written and well told. Of course, you can always self-publish, too. 2: Keep It Simple Many memoirs fail because they try to over-complicate. Keep it very simple, but be sure to do the simple things well. That means: Start at the beginning and move forwards chronologically from there. (If you’re not doing this, have a good reason, and be talented at it.) Keep the reader in your shoes. Talk about what you saw, what you did, what you felt. Stay in the present moment of your story. Don’t digress. Don’t tell your story in diary form, unless you keep a journal as compelling as Sylvia Plath’s. A diary is a very stop-start type of experience. You need to write a flowing narrative that keeps the reader engrossed. Don’t lecture. Remember to stay descriptive. You may remember what Heathrow looked like in the 1950s, but most of us don’t, so tell us. That’s why we’re reading your book. 3: Research Research the market. Find out how professional, published memoirs are written. See how those writers handle the things you need to deal with. One book we recommend you look at is Please Don’t Make me Go by John Fenton. We recommend this for two reasons. One: we worked on it with John, so we’re fond of it. Two: it’s a masterclass in memoir writing. Very simple, but very, very good. Other memoirs of note might be Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt, Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth, Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen, Reading Lolita in Tehran by Nafisi Azar, or Where am I now by Mara Wilson. Look at these and other memoirs you like and ask yourself what all these have in common. It could be a poignant insight into off-piste topics (Mara Wilson’s musings as a former child star turned writer), or a knack for colouring the ordinary to make it unusual, compelling (Jennifer Worth’s years as a midwife in London’s East End). There may be other great, well-written memoirs from celebrities you like. What Happened by Hilary Rodham Clinton might be a compelling memoir, but a readership was already in place for her. Publishers would have considered this (before looking at a manuscript) when offering her a book deal, so try to pick out books from relatively unknown writers (or unknown before publication) wherever you can when researching the market. Also, do get a proper idea of length. For commercial publication, and to have a chance with a literary agent, you’ll probably want to produce a manuscript of between 70,000 and 100,000 words. If you are much longer or much shorter than that, you can pretty much forget about publication almost irrespective of content. Finally, although you are writing about your own life, you may well find that some research really does wonders for what you are talking about. Let’s say you were working in Iranian oil fields in the 1950s. You’ll remember a lot, but you’ll have forgotten things, too. The more you can research that time, the more you may spark your memory. 4: Take Care With Your Style If you want to grip a reader, to make sure that your words and your story hold the attention, then you must take a lot of care with your style. That means you can’t just write as you speak. It means you need to get in the habit of challenging yourself to write clearly, forcefully, visually, so the reader can see exactly what you are telling them. For more tips on good writing, please check tips on prose style. 5: Seek Feedback Once you’re properly stuck into your project, why not come to us with the first 10,000 words or so? That’s far enough into it that we can give you detailed advice on what is and isn’t working in your writing, and how to improve where needed. The advice will cost, but for a project as important as this, it can be worth the investment. Alternatively, if you prefer to plough through and come to us with a complete manuscript, we’d be delighted to work with that, too. We’ll tell you whether your writing is the sort that a literary agent or publisher might be interested in. If it is, then we can advise on next steps regarding agents. 6: Enjoy Don’t let writing your life story become anything but a pleasure and a joy. This is your story. Enjoy telling it and be proud of it. You deserve it. Your Life Story If you’ve come through to this page, you’ve perhaps been through challenging times and have a story to tell. As far as publishing that story goes, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that the market for inspirational true life stories (also called inspirational memoirs) is still fairly hot. The bad news – you guessed it – is that competition is intense and only the best manuscripts are taken on by literary agents. If you have a story to tell, please ask yourself these questions first: How will you feel if your story never gets published, or even accepted by a literary agent? How will you feel about commercializing your story? Can you tell your story in an emotive and unique way to connect with readers? How will you feel about doing PR and other publicity work? If your responses to these questions are negative, then ponder before going any further. If your answer is that you still want to go ahead, then read on. Cathy Glass Shares Her Tips Cathy Glass is bestselling author of seventeen books. True life stories, or inspirational memoirs as they are also known, have enjoyed so much success in the last ten years that they have become a genre in their own right, often separate from biography. My own first book Damaged, in which I told the story of a child I fostered, spent three months at the top of the bestseller charts. Since then Please Don’t Take My Baby, and Will You Love Me? have also been at number one, with all my other fostering stories going into the Top 10 for weeks. To date, I have sold millions copies of my books around the world, and they have been translated into ten languages. Is there a formula for writing memoirs like there is for Mills and Boon romance? One that I can pass on? Not a formula as such, but having spent some time pondering how I write these books, I have come up with a few suggestions which may be of use if you are about to embark on memoir writing (more covered in my book). If you are writing your own memoir, as opposed to ghost-writing for someone else, you will know your story better than anyone, and here lies your strength. Write straight from your heart. Think back and remember. When, and where did it all begin? Where were you? What could you smell and hear? What could you see through the window? What was going through your mind? Be there and relive it, although this may be very upsetting if you have suffered; but writing is cathartic and writing it out is a therapy in itself. Have an aim for your book (a remit) – a message you want to impart to your readers. It may be one of courage, faith, hope, or sheer bloody-mindedness. And remember when writing a true life story you have an emotional contract with your reader. You owe your reader honesty, and in return you will have your readers’ unfailing empathy and support. I have been completely overwhelmed by the thousands of emails I have received from readers who felt they knew me personally and were part of my family from reading my books. Their words of encouragement have been truly wonderful and are much appreciated. Some of these emails are on the blog on my website. Write scenes, not a monologue. Although the memoir is true it doesn’t have to be a diatribe of abuse and suffering. Write it as you would a gripping novel, building scenes, creating tension, and using cliff-hangers at the end of chapters to keep the readers’ interest. There will be highs and lows in your story, so keep the reader on a roller coaster of emotion. There will be some very sad scenes, some horrendous incidents, and some funny incidents. If there is constant and unrelenting degradation and abuse the reader will soon become desensitized and lose empathy, and therefore interest. Make your book episodic, describing in detail events that are of interest or highly poignant to your story. Leave out the mundane unless it is an intrinsic part of building the scene. You can kaleidoscope years into a couple of lines, or spread half an hour into two chapters as necessary. Your memoir should be approximately 85,000 words in length, with double line spacing, using a word processing package. If it is your first memoir, the agent and publisher may also want a detailed proposal, even if your book is already written. For writing a proposal, there are guidelines to follow, as there are for getting a literary agent. Read other books in the same genre, and consider how and why these books work. Good luck with your writing, and most importantly, enjoy it!

How To Revise A First Draft- Step By Step

A checklist for your novel or manuscript rewriting process So you’ve written the first draft of your novel (or other manuscript). That’s great. Congratulations! It’s a big moment. But now you need to make sure that your novel draft works on other readers as you want it to. Maybe you’ve just about managed to tame your novel, but now you’re facing A Big Revision or Rewriting of your first draft – so where on earth do you start? Before you edit, revise or rewrite anything, here are some pointers. Step 1: Read Through Your Book First, I suggest, you need to do your own appraisal, trying to read your first draft novel straight through, and as much like a reader as you can. I call this “problem-finding”, and by far the best way to do this it on paper, with a pen in your hand. Using track-changes and comment balloons on screen is a poor second, but possible; either way, you’re trying to record your reactions, as a reader, to the story, not start problem-solving: that comes later. Also note any wider thoughts that this reading throws up, but don’t then just dive into the most urgent or least frightening job. Because so many decisions and changes will affect all sorts of other things, it’s terribly easy to lose track, get diverted, lapse into fiddling and tinkering, and generally get into a worse muddle than you started in. Step Two: Organise Your Thoughts So, first bring all the different feedback you’ve had together, make an enormous pot of coffee or your working-drink of choice, and start sorting it out into rough categories. Problems that run all through the story: the order you’re telling the story in doesn’t work; a character is cardboard, or vanishes, a lost-letter plot’s in a muddle; the narrative voice is dull. Problems with particular sections: a saggy middle; that scene where the dialogue is flat as a pancake; the too-confusing opening; the crucial but oh-so-difficult sex, or battle, scene. Problems of continuity and consistency, such as paragraphing, how dialogue is punctuated, or how you represent dialect. What I call “bits”: individual corrections and tweaks, from typos, to one-off clunky paragraphs, to missing research. Once you have the overall picture, you can sort it out into a to-do list, and decide on the order to tackle your rewrite. The temptation here is to plunge straight into the revision process . . . but you need to resist that. Before you start to edit, revise and rewrite like crazy, you have a little more organising to do. Step 3: Work From Big To Small One possibility is to look at your first page, do everything it needs, then move on to page two, but that’s probably not the best way to tackle it. As with totally renovating a house (only this is one you don’t have to live in at the same time), it’s not wise to do the whole of one room, from damp-course to top-coat, before you start the next. You need to make sure the structure is solid and the roof waterproof, then get the electrician in to move lights and install heating, and only when all that’s done, do you paint the walls and lay carpets. Whichever order you do things in, any major change probably has ramifications elsewhere. Get into the habit of not galloping off to follow up now, but make a note on your To Do list to tackle it at a logical point. And although every writer is different, this, I suggest, would be a good order in which to tackle things: Big structural changes. Don’t worry about the close-detail of stitching the sections into their new places, just do the rough carpentry. Any all-through-the-story things which need shrinking, changing or enhancing. Individual work on scenes and sections, now that they’re all in the (probably) right place. Consistency and continuity things which are most easily done when you put on the right glasses and deal with that issue all together: a character’s taste in clothes, say, or the punctuation and paragraphing of dialogue. Just work through from the beginning of your manuscript, and adjust anything that will adversely affect the reader\'s experience. You could even recruit some beta readers to help you out with this stage. Step Four: Work In Layers As much as you possibly can, tackle any particular problem working forwards in the story, so that you stay in touch with how the reader reads. It’s super-important for plots which depend on many other elements of the book (sub-plots, foreshadowing, pacing etc). But it also matters for things like characterisation and setting, because the reader is encountering this person or place in stages, through time: make sure you’re in control of how that knowledge develops. If it helps you, work through the novel focusing on just one layer: focus on editing Aunt Anita’s character arc, let’s say, or the way you build a picture of 1940s Manhattan. Ignore anything else (good or bad) if it doesn’t pertain to those exact issues. I know it feels inefficient to “go through the book” so many times, but believe me, you save far more trouble than you spend, because you don’t get in a muddle, duplicate work or cause muddles elsewhere without realising. Step 5: Re-Read The Entire Text If you follow the advice above, you’ll have far less work to do once you get to the last stage: Do another straight read-through-like-a-reader, in print or on screen. Use this to pick up any darning-in of the big structural changes that’s still needed, and anything else you might have missed. This also is a very good moment to read it aloud, pen in hand, if you haven’t already: it’s brilliant for picking up typos, and more generally getting outside the novel to read it as if you didn’t write it. Just have a big jug of water to hand. Step 6: Stay Positive If all this sounds as if it’s more work than writing the first draft was – you’d be right. All authors know that writing is rewriting. Revising the first draft of a novel isn’t easy. True, some rewrite each page or even line, until it’s perfect, then move on, while others hurl a whole first draft down on the page, spelling-mistakes and all, and only then go back and start to hammer it into shape. Still, most would say that they spend perhaps three or four times as long on that rewriting of a page or novel as they did on putting the first version of those words on paper. But, like most things, rewriting gets easier with time. I hope these steps have given you the support you need to get started. Happy rewriting!

Opening Lines For A Story (Great, Effective & Bad Examples)

What’s great & effective? What’s downright bad?Real Examples From Real Writers. Recently, we ran a competition soliciting opening lines or sentences from real writers, with a small prize available for the winner. We’re going to look at some examples drawn from that competition... along with my own (hyper-picky) comments about what’s really good, and really effective. And what’s just a bit... not so good. Before we plunge into our sentence surgery, three quick comments. First, the examples that follow are drawn from writers writing real novels (or short stories). They are, like you, serious aspiring writers, but not yet published. For the most part, we were looking at works-in-progress, so these examples were all subject to change anyway. Second, opening sentences don’t matter all that much. The opening paragraph of the novel I’ve just handed to my publisher ran, in its entirety, as follows: \'Rain.\' Was that a good opening line for a novel? Well, no one asked me to change it, but does that sentence hook a reader in? And hook them into a story set in Wales, where the presence of rain hardly merits much discussion? I don’t think so. The fact is that the process of hooking a reader usually takes longer than a sentence and writers shouldn’t obsess unduly about the stuff above and to the left of the manuscript’s first full stop. There’ll be plenty more full stops to come. And last: I’m horrible. I mean, yes, I’m nice to widows, orphans and stray dogs, but I’m horrible to slightly iffy sentences. I’m very picky and my standards are high. So if some of my could-do-better commentary below depresses you – well, forget it. It’s not you. It’s me. But if you want to learn how to write opening sentences, then you probably want to look at what follows... How To Write A Good Opening Line: Full stops are your friends. Short, clear sentences will grab your readers’ attention. Use language that will add weight to your sentences. Use your verbs correctly, and your adjectives sparingly. Opening lines don’t have to be loud, subtlety is just as effective. Opening Lines To Novels / Short Stories: Examples So much for the preamble. Now for the sentences. (No authors are named because very few of the sentences I had had named authors on the page.) Example #1 \'There were just three things that Samine was certain of in her life; first she was dangerous; second, she was never allowed to leave her room and, third, the spirit of a dragon lived inside her.\' Not bad, though it’s a little too close to Stephenie Meyer’s now famed three-part quote from Bella Swan in Twilight. Still, you can see what the author is wanting to do and the idea itself is fine. Here’s one way of tweaking things without altering anything too much (though it brings it still closer to Stephenie Meyer’s phrasing): There were just three things that Samine knew for certain. First she was dangerous. Second, she was never allowed to leave her room. Third, a dragon lived inside her. That’s shorter, clearer. It’s also better weighted. The key word in the first part of the writer’s sentence is “certain”. The addition of “in her life” doesn’t add much meaning but it does de-emphasise “certain”. My formulation is that bit clearer about where the interest of the sentence lies. One other thing, I’m not sure if this is the place to reveal that Samine can’t leave her room. The middle of one of the three certainties doesn’t tie obviously to the other two and feels a bit different. (#1 and #3 feel like existential statements; #2 feels like a simple, known fact.) But if the middle of those three statements goes, then the whole opening needs reconsideration. Example #2\'The most ironic thing about your first impression of me – I looked like butter wouldn’t melt.\' Interesting. I almost like this. My only real worry is that “the most ironic thing” bit. It feels a bit like a teenage use of ironic, which is perhaps not correct given the context, but in any case, I do wonder if there aren’t simpler, less laboured ways of doing the same thing. Suppose, for example, we just said this: Your first impression of me: I looked like butter wouldn’t melt. That is surely strongly suggesting that that first impression might be way off base, yet it conveys that impression by making the reader do most of the work. As a rough guide, the more the reader feels they’ve made a deduction, the more powerful that conclusion will feel. Example #3\'He’s stalking behind the disused factory, waiting for the flapping of wings to alert him to where you are.\' You remember when I said I’m pedantic? To stalk is a transitive verb, that is, it requires an object. I stalk you, etc., I don’t just stalk in the abstract. So that first clause feels a bit uncomfortable. And “alert him to where you are” also feels a little bit strained. Wouldn’t “alert him to your position” read better? And the double participle (waiting for the flapping) seems a bit needless here. But you only need a little tweaking and this is a strong, engaging opening: He’s searching you out behind the disused factory, waiting for a sudden flap of wings to reveal your position. That’s better. (Oh, you want to delete the word “sudden” from that? Yes, that’s probably better.”) Example #4\'The house had something American Gothic about it, though nothing it was minded to share.\' Excellent! Nothing to pick at, except that me personally I’d probably sooner say “had something of the American Gothic …”. But it’s a great, subtle opening. I like it a lot. Example #5\'What do you pack when you have four minutes to leave your husband?\' Again, that’s great opening line. Oh, and you want to know why that sentence works as well as it does? It’s because it makes you do a double-take. The first part of the sentence makes you think, “oh, this is a question about packing...” The second part makes you go, “whaaaaaat?!” It’s that mid-sentence pivot that gives it wellie. It’s also nice, because it instantly launches the reader into two important story-questions. Not just “why is this woman leaving her husband?”, but “why does she only have four minutes?” Of those two questions, it’s the second one that has the greater bite. Marriages collapsing are (unfortunately) a rather everyday occurrence. Marriages that collapse and give the wife just one minute to get away – well! We want to know more. Example #6\'My mother’s shroud was a grubby net curtain and her coffin was a gun case.\' You like that, don’t you? Yes, and it’s almost terrific. But I don’t like that word “grubby”, at all. It pulls attention away from “net curtain” and the use of a net curtain for a shroud is quite striking enough irrespective of whether it’s grubby. Just delete the adjective. The sentence gets instantly stronger Also, I hope this writers is about to tell us how come the gun case was big enough to fit a mother. I mean, that’s a very large case, or a remarkably small mother. So long as the author explains that niggle sometime soon, that’s fine, and (once you’ve deleted that “grubby”) it’s a good opening line. Example #7\'It was not a good day to bury a child, let alone ‘The Chosen One’, and the more Thomas Cowper tried to console his mother the more she sobbed, ‘Fear not, Mary... Blessed art thou amongst women.’ Hmm. I’m afraid I don’t rate this as an opening line. It’s almost good, but gets itself into a tangle, then trips over itself. And the thing is, the best bit of this sentence is the very opening and the longer it goes on the more the writer overwrites that clean and striking opening. Some full stops would help: It was not a good day to bury a child, let alone ‘The Chosen One’. The more Thomas Cowper tried to console his mother the more she sobbed. ‘Fear not, Mary … Blessed art thou amongst women.’ That’s already a lot better. Even so, I’m not completely happy. That opening line now has real merit and launches plenty of story questions (why is this a bad day? Why is a child being buried? Why is this child The Chosen One?) So if it were me, I’d leave the reader dangling a bit more, before starting to answer the questions they really cared about. So I’d run with the first question (why is this a bad day?), and just answer it with a description of winds and rain. Mourners getting soaked. Rain on the preacher’s Bible. That kind of thing. And this approach would work because I’m pretending to answer the questions I opened up with my first sentence ... but not the ones the reader really cares about. It’s like the reader is yelling at me, WHY ARE YOU BURYING THIS CHILD? and all I’m doing is explaining why the day is a bad one. I’ve basically created suspense already, and my description of the weather is just keeeeping that suspense going for longer. Example #8\'Deano’s hair was still wet from the pool and he swept his palm over his scalp trying to chase off the cold. ‘Come on, cock-snot. Pick up. Please.’\' Okay, I very much like the dialogue. I like the contrast with the more formal opening line. The writing itself is fine. Just... I don’t quite believe the gesture you’re telling us about. When people get out of the pool their hair is normally already very flat and smoothed from the water. You definitely can’t chase cold away by palming your already flat hair and it’s not even a gesture most of us feel tempted to make. If he’s cold, he grabs a towel, or moves into the sun, or does something other than what you tell us he’s done. Picky? Yes. But getting those kinds of details utterly convincing from the off is part of what gets a reader into the story. Here, you do get the reader in, but you’ve done so with a tiny – and needless – stutter upfront. Example #9\'The hands on the clock didn’t seem to move, unlike mine as I drummed and fidgeted on the table.\' Hmm, this is okay, but it’s not quite good. The hands-not-moving-on-the-clock isn’t a cliche exactly, but it is a very familiar idea. Likewise fidgeting hands: also a very standard way of conveying impatience. Further into a novel, those kind of issues dissolve a little bit. Sometimes it’s just quicker and cleaner to reach for the familiar, so the novel can hurry onto wherever it’s heading. But in an opening sentence, I think any whiff of cliche threatens a reader’s trust, and you need to extirpate it completely. As I say, there isn’t an out-and-out cliche here, but I do think you’re cycling a little too close to the edge. My verdict? Rethink this sentence from scratch. Example #10\'The cat barked.\' Everyone will want to read on to see what follows. Purrfect. That’s a terrific opening line. Example #11\'The fucking train is cancelled. Again.\' Yep, good – cancelled trains as a sign of commuter distress is well-used, however, so I hope the writer has an interesting way to develop the incident. I would be disappointed in an opening page that just rehearsed the various woes of the commuter – but we’re on sentences here, not pages, and the sentence itself is fine. And finally: Example #12\'I had not been awake long, when I heard the knock on the door, I opened it and saw Sheriff Dennis Munroe on the porch, he stood a little over five foot six, but gave the appearance of being almost cubic he weighed over two hundred and fifty pounds and had arms like a bear, thick, powerful and covered in coarse black hair.\' Here’s one of those ‘sentences’ which is begging to be carved up. A few full stops instantly make this a mile better: I had not been awake long, when I heard the knock on the door. I opened it and saw Sheriff Dennis Munroe on the porch. He stood a little over five foot six, but gave the appearance of being almost cubic. He weighed over two hundred and fifty pounds and had arms like a bear, thick, powerful and covered in coarse black hair. That’s a relief already, only a few remaining niggles really. Using Munroe’s full name doesn’t seem right, since the narrator clearly knows the guy, and we don’t think of people as know as Title Firstname Lastname. Yes, you may want to give us Munroe’s full name in due course, but you don’t have to do it here. Secondly, that last sentence has four ands in it. That feels awkward, especially so early in the book. Third, how does the narrator know what Munroe weighs? I mean, the sheriff is clearly a fellow who likes his meat and potatoes, but that’s different from knowing someone’s measured weight. I’m not convinced. And finally, a minor thing, I have a hesitation about ‘I opened it’: it’s just that you’re narrating every tiny incident, even those we take for granted. Better to take a slightly less blow-by-blow approach. Something like this, maybe: It was early, when Sheriff Munroe came calling. He stood at my door, five feet six and almost cubic. He must weigh close to two hundred and fifty pounds, and he has the arms of a bear: thick, powerful and profusely hairy. I know that last sentence still has three ands, but the restructuring helps the rhythm, at least to my ear. And it’s so much shorter! It has the exact same content as the first sentence, but compresses it into a much shorter space. Result: much more energy per pound – and a much more compelling story. Best Opening Lines: The Winner There, we’re all done. If I must pick a winner, I’ll go for: \'What do you pack when you have four minutes to leave your husband?\' Or: \'The house had something [of the] American Gothic about it, though nothing it was minded to share.\' I like both of those. The second is a bit more literary; the first is a terrific opening line for a psychological thriller, or something of that sort. They’re both excellent. And One Last Comment On Story Openings The thing to remember? That your opening line it doesn’t really matter. The opening sentences for my five Fiona Griffiths novels are: #1: Beyond the window, I can see three kites hanging in the air over Bute Park. #2: It’s a Friday afternoon. #3: I like the police force. #4: Rain. #5: ‘Well?’ None of those are good opening sentences (though none of them are terrible). And, in most cases, it doesn’t take long to get something that puts a scrap of meat on the reader’s dish. The opening paragraph to my second Fi Griffiths novel, for example, goes like this: Example: Love Story, with MurdersIt’s a Friday afternoon. October, but you wouldn’t think so. High clouds scudding in from the west and plenty of sunshine. The last shreds of summer and never mind the falling leaves. That last sentence already advertises a certain strength and confidence. The reader feels immediately placed in the mood of the story. Because the writing has that confident tone, the reader trusts me. It’s as though they’re thinking, “OK, this is supposed to be a crime story. Nothing much seems to be happening yet, but I can tell this author knows what he’s doing, so I’ll stick with him and see what develops.” An opening paragraph can do more if it wants to, but it really doesn’t have to. Notice that this opening para sets up nothing interesting about the character, the situation, or, indeed, even the weather. It just sets a scene and does so with confidence. If your manuscript does that then, no matter how unshowy that opening sentence, you’re doing just fine. Oh, and if you need a little more inspiration for your opening lines, check these out. More than ready to get the ball rolling with agents, but just need a little push? Or perhaps you’ve had a few rejections but aren’t sure why? Our Agent Submission Pack Review gives you detailed professional advice on how to perfect your submission and increase your chances of securing an agent. Happy writing – and happy editing!

How to write according to Myers-Briggs personality type

Guest author and blogger Lauren Sapala is a writing coach, the author of The INFJ Writer, and writes about writing, creativity, and personality theory on her blog. She currently lives in San Francisco. It’s often empowering to understand what helps you as a writer, but types only take us so far. First and foremost, you’re you. What builds your own creativity and what holds you back? If you’re struggling to make headway on a writing project, think how you best work, how maybe a “weakness” could be a strength, and what’ll most help you finish – will it be a deadline? Or a designated day of the week to write? For more on the MBTI system, the Myers & Briggs Foundation website is a great place to start. However, I’d urge every writer to experiment with many different methods of writing to find what works best for them. There can be great variation, even among the same type. Every artist is an individual. All artists should give themselves the permission to do whatever works best for them. Are You An Intuitive Writer? I struggled for years as a writer. I wanted desperately to write a novel, but I couldn’t even write the first page. Then, when I finally worked up the courage to take a creative writing course in college, I failed miserably. I stopped writing altogether for seven years. Oddly enough, it wasn’t until I discovered my Myers-Briggs personality type that I began to shine as a writer. Finding out that I was an intuitive personality was just the information I needed to finally move forward. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is a system of 16 personality types that divides people along a spectrum of traits that determine how an individual interprets and reacts to the world. The MBTI system focuses on such tendencies as introversion versus extroversion, and intuition versus sensing (i.e. relying primarily on concrete information gleaned from one’s five physical senses). The complexity of the MBTI system is too vast to be addressed fully in this article, so if you don’t already know your type or you’re interested in learning more about this fascinating area of psychology, I recommend you make use of the wealth of helpful resources that can be found online. If you do already know your type, and you want to know a bit more about how this affects your strengths and weaknesses as a writer, look at my selection of “writers by type” below, to discover how you can start using your type as a creative advantage. These below are intuitive personalities on the MBTI system – ones I seem to work oftenest with, encouraging their ideas and intuitive talent. Tips For INFJ Writers I’m an INFJ writer myself, and so I’m intimately acquainted with many of the most common obstacles INFJ writers face. The number one challenge I see INFJ writers struggle with is perfectionism. INFJs have a rich, all-consuming inner life, and they excel brilliantly at seeing the big picture and imagining the ideal version of how something could take shape in the future. Because INFJs are such amazing abstract thinkers, it’s easy for us to bring together different elements in our mind to form a perfect whole. It’s when we try to make this “perfect whole” a physical reality that we’re confronted with the real world and all the messiness, pitfalls, snags, and less-than-perfect elements it contains. INFJ writers who are unconscious of their own perfectionistic tendencies will get stuck at this stage, always dreaming and never making any of their dreams a reality. It’s only when INFJ writers realize that the real world is never perfect, and anything they create will necessarily be bound to this real-world truth, that they can begin to accept their writing for what it is, flaws and all. Tips For INFP Writers INFP writers suffer the most from too many ideas, and a feeling of being overwhelmed by all the choices and different creative paths they could take. I’ve written on my site on the non-linear way I’ve often seen INFP writers work. This can be a strength, though – a means to connect patterns between scenes, images, characters, and ideas. It’s also not uncommon to see an INFP writer working on several writing projects at once, but the problem is not that INFPs work on too many things at the same time. Instead, the problem is that they tend to judge themselves harshly and resist their natural tendency at every turn. INFPs need a lot of variety. They also need a sense of flexibility and the freedom to be spontaneous and fluid in their artistic pursuits. Out of all the types, INFPs are most likely to work in circles. This means that the INFP writer usually works on one story, then moves onto painting for a few days, then moves onto writing a poem, and finally circles back to the story. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this approach and, in fact, it can work quite well for INFPs who have accepted their nature and embrace this circular way of working. INFP writers run into trouble though, when they compare their creative processes to others and try to force themselves to work in a linear manner. Tips For ENJF Writers Out of the four intuitive feeling types (INFJ, INFP, ENFJ and ENFP) the ENFJ is the type that is most likely to fall prey to an extremely harsh inner critic. ENFJs are almost preternaturally aware of the relationship dynamics surrounding them, and that includes a thorough assessment of how others view them and how they measure up in the larger order of any community of which they happen to be a part. This leads many of them to easily play the comparison game, and many times feel like they’re coming out on the losing end. ENFJs also have a strong need for connection and community. If they feel isolated in their writing pursuits, or like no one understands them or “gets” what they’re attempting to do with their writing, they can quickly shut down and then begin isolating themselves even further. ENFJs must feel emotionally supported by a group of peers they love and respect. This is when they will do their best work. Tips For ENFP Writers ENFPs are similar to INFPs in that they suffer from the feeling of being overwhelmed by too many ideas, but with ENFPs this includes an outer world component that can contribute to even more overwhelm. Simply put, ENFPs are unabashed extroverts. They love people and they love getting out and having adventures with people. A healthy ENFP might work two jobs, have a family, and still take up demanding hobbies such as snowboarding or Spanish classes in their spare time. This kind of schedule usually leaves little time for writing. The number one problem most ENFPs struggle with is finishing things. They begin novels, plays, and short stories full of enthusiasm for the project, but then a sparkly, too-interesting-to-resist person or cause comes along and immediately distracts them. The best method for ENFPs is to devote one day a week to a certain piece of work (maybe the novel they’ve always dreamed of writing) and keep firm boundaries in place around that day so that the project gets a guaranteed slice of their creative energy on a regular basis. Never feel boxed in, though. Find your best writing habits. Always do what works for you. Learn about Lauren’s journey and read more at her site. Learn more about all different MBTI types and writing styles – and check out more free writing advice on us.

Vivid Verbs – The Easy Way to Spice up Your Writing

The ultimate guide on how to use verbs in your writing, including vivid verb examples and a handy list of over 333 strong verbs! Sometimes you write something and it just feels… dead. So you go to work on it, juicing it up with adjectives and adverbs. Trying to put a sparkle into your writing. Only then do you take a step back and look again. And what you have is actually worse. It’s still flat, but somehow trying too hard at the same time. Like playing canned laughter at your own bad party. So let’s pare back and go back to basics. Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives and adverbs. The adjective hasn’t been built that can pull a weak or inaccurate noun out of a tight place. From The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops. To put it another way, they’re like dandelions. If you have one on your lawn, it looks pretty and unique. If you fail to root it out, however, you find five the next day… fifty the day after that… and then, my brothers and sisters, your lawn is totally, completely, and profligately covered with dandelions. Stephen King Others, such as Elmore Leonard and Mark Twain, seem to agree. So what’s the problem that all these authors are getting riled up about? The fix sounds simple enough, and yet we may still find ourselves asking: exactly what are vivid verbs? Weak Verb + Adverb Versus Strong Verb Take a look at these sentences: “No, Thomas,” she said very quietly. He ran as quickly as he possibly could to the station. She jumped as high as she knew how off the diving platform. The words in italics are either adverbs or (same basic idea) adverbial phrases. And don’t you feel how cluttered they are? Don’t you feel like there are a lot of words being used there to communicate very little? Here’s how we could have done it: “No, Thomas,” she whispered. He raced to the station. She leapt off the diving platform. Fewer words. No adverbs. Simple, effective communication. Doing more with less. And that’s the basic idea about vivid verbs. If you use the right verb, you will communicate more swiftly and effectively than if you choose the wrong one to start with – then try to patch the damage with yet more verbiage. OK. So that’s a win. But there’s more to explore here – because, yes, there’s another way to go wrong with creative writing verbs, and it’s this. State of Being Verbs Take a look at these sentences: Jerry was a great believer in the virtues of cold water. Jemima was never out of bed before midday. Notice that both those sentences use a state-of-being verb (in this case, “was”) to link a person to something about that person. And, OK, there are plenty of times when that’s a perfectly fine approach. None of the issues raised in this blog post are rules; they’re more like guidelines, or at least useful things to think about. But in this case, both sentences could be made better by using a more active verb – a vivid verb – in place of that state of being one. Here’s how those sentences could have gone: Jerry believed passionately in the virtues of cold water. Jemima lay in bed well beyond midday. Better right? Jerry is now doing something, not just being something. And in Jemima’s case, we’ve removed that negative / state of being approach, and made a positive statement about her indolence. Both sentences seem somehow more active, more emphatic. Oh yes: and you probably noticed that, in the sentence about Jerry, I slipped the word passionately in there. That’s optional, but if you want to strengthen the verb, you can. There’s no neat one-word way to say “believed passionately”, so using an adverb there is certainly a legitimate choice. There Is / There Are Another perfectly valid construction in English is to start a sentence with “there is” or “there are”. For example: There were countless trees in that forest and only one of them… There are many opportunities at this company… Those sentences are not grammatically wrong. You won’t get shot if you use them. But… Well, we could do better right? For example: Countless trees peopled that forest and only one of them… This company offers many opportunities… Boom! In the first case, we’ve got rid of a horrible empty construction (“there were”), we’ve used a good strong verb (“peopled”), and the whole sentence has got better. It feels like that forest is more alive, more exciting. That’s a perfect demonstration of how a good vivid verb can help fix an underpowered sentence. Same thing with the next sentence too. In the first version, the “company” features only as an afterthought. In the second version, it is actively offering something – it’s the subject of its own sentence and its generosity seems now like a positive act. And note the role of the verb here. The act of generosity is encapsulated in that verb, “offers”. We’ve killed a weak verb, added a vivid one – and our sentence has improved. Better right? And so damn easy. Passive Verbs vs Active Verbs Let’s take a look at two more sentences. The cake was made by my grandma. The fender was bent out of shape by a fallen branch. And yes: you spotted the issue there. In both cases, the sentences use the passive voice, not the active voice. So the person who actually made the cake was grandma. The thing that actually bent that fender was the branch. (Need more help remembering the difference between active versus passive? Check out this easy guide.) So in effect, both sentences pushed the real subject to the back of the sentence, almost as though shoving them out of sight. Here’s how to rewrite those sentences and make them better: My grandma made the cake. A fallen branch bent the fender. (Yes, you could say “out of shape” but doesn’t the word bent already convey exactly that? I think it does.) But again, I want to remind you that we’re dealing with guidelines not rules here. Which of these is better: Detective Jonas arrested and charged the suspect. The suspect was arrested and charged. The first sentence is all about the admirable Detective Jonas. But what if we don’t care about him? What if this story is all about the suspect, and what happens to him? In that case, the second sentence is better. In fact, the use of the passive voice here almost emphasises the suspect’s powerlessness. As always in writing, you need to use your judgement. And if in doubt, you can find extra help here and here! Sometimes Weak Verbs Are OK And while we’re on the issue of judgement, let’s just remember that sometimes weak verbs are really OK. For example, you can’t get a much blander verb than say / said. So you might think that your dialogue should be littered with words like trumpeted, shouted, asserted, called, whispered, muttered, declaimed, hollered, and so on. But can you imagine how ridiculous that would get how quickly? And what do you want people to pay attention to? The dialogue itself, or your comments about it? There’s no contest. In other words: weak / dull / lifeless verbs are fine when you don’t especially want to call attention to that part of your writing. Let the dialogue shine. The rest of it can just go quietly about its job. The Ultimate List Of 333+ Strong Verbs OK. That’s a lot of preamble. But you want some vivid verbs? You got em. Here goes, grouped by the kind of word they might replace: Instead of say: Ask, enquire, reply, answer, state, hiss, whisper, mumble, mutter, comment, bark, assert, shout, yell, holler, roar, rage, argue, implore, plead, exclaim, gasp, drawl, giggle, whimper, snort, growl, scream, sing, stammer Instead of run: Sprint, dart, bolt, canter, gallop, trot, zoom, hurry, speed, jog, saunter, scamper, hurtle, rush, scramble, spring, swing, swoop, dive, careen Instead of walk: Stroll, hike, promenade, saunter, march, amble, stride, tread, pace, toddle, totter, stagger, perambulate Instead of look: Observe, glance, stare, examine, peek, study, notice, see, glare Instead of go: Leave, depart, shift, take off, move on, quit, exit, take a hike, travel, drive, proceed, progress, run, walk away Instead of eat: Pick at, nibble, munch, chew, gobble, devour, consume, demolish, gulp, swallow, scarf, wolf Instead of hold: Grip, clench, grasp, seize, reach, embrace, clamp, clench, clasp, grab Instead of give: Provide, offer, present, hand over, deliver, contribute, furnish, donate, bequeath, pass over, pass to, extend, assign, allow, lend, bestow, grant, award, confer Instead of let: Allow, permit, authorise, agree to, consent to, accede to, give permission for Instead of put: Place, set, lay, position, settle, leave, situate, locate, plant, deposit, plonk, plunk Instead of pull: Yank, heave, haul, draw, cart, lug, hump, drag, tow, jerk, attract, pluck, wrench Instead of move: Progress, transfer, shift, topple, change, redeploy, refocus, relocate, prod, nudge, induce, cause, budge, stir, lead, encourage, propose, induce, slink, scamper, careen, zip, ram, drift, droop, heave, edge, stalk, tiptoe, creep, crawl, plod, waddle, drag, stagger Sensory verbs / quiet: Sigh, murmur, rustle, hum, patter, clink, tinkle, chime, whir, swish, snap, twitter, hiss, crackle, peep, bleat, buzz Sensory verbs / noisy: Crash, thunder, clap, stomp, beat, squawk, shout, yell, explode, smash, detonate, boom, echo, bark, bawl, clash, smash, jangle, thump, grate, screech, bang, thud, blare Instead of tell: Order, command, instruct, dictate, require, insist, warn, caution, decree, mandate, charge, direct, dominate, lead, rule Instead of like: Love, adore, yearn, treasure, worship, prefer, idolise, cherish, admire, enjoy, be fond of, be keen on, be partial to, fancy, care for, appreciate, hold dear Instead of want: Desire, crave, covet, yearn for, aspire to, envy, fancy, require, wish for, hanker after, need, lack, miss, aim for, choose Instead of cover: Bury, wrap, conceal, mask, veil, hide, cloak, shroud envelope, obscure, blanket, curtain Instead of throw: Toss, lob, chuck, heave, fling, pitch, shy, hurl, propel, bowl, cast, drop, project Instead of surprise: Confuse, puzzle, bewilder, baffle, bamboozle, disconcert, flummox, perplex Have fun, my friends, and happy writing!

10 Tips For Writing Really Bad Villains

Ever wondered what goes in to writing a nasty villain? Or what makes a good villain? In this article, I\'ve put together my top tips for writing the best villains, plus everything else you need to build a well-rounded bad guy. How To Create A Good Villain The term ‘villain’ defines an evil character who personifies the forces which thwart the progress of the main character. Now, while it is feasible that the villain is the main character – and we will come on to that less usual and more nuanced situation later on – in the vast majority of cases, the villain is villainous in relation to opposing the needs and desires of the main character. This structural role of antagonising the main character is the reason the villain is often described as the antagonist. They are a character who stands in negative relation to the spiritual, emotional, moral or financial progress of the main character, a character who is often described as the protagonist. 1. Thematically Develop Your Villain A writer can usefully begin their creation of a villain using villain characteristics via an understanding of theme. Are you writing about loyalty, for example? In which case, your protagonist has issues with loyalty which they must overcome, via the obstacles of the plot, to achieve a healthy, positive attitude to loyalty. Hence the role of the villain is to embody and prosecute a version of loyalty which is negative but tempting, which is corrupt but seductive, which might derail the heroic character’s attempt to achieve a healthy version of the theme. It is the villain’s job to oppose the progress of the hero, and so, knowing the specific thematic nature of the progress which the hero must make, that necessarily takes you some way to defining the nature of your villain. Your villain must be suitable and specifically adept at preventing the thematic success of your hero, hence must embody a negative version of that theme. 2. Create A Compelling Backstory So, once you have understood your theme and decided which negative version of the theme is embodied by your villain, you next ask yourself why they are like this. For an example, let’s stick with the theme of loyalty. Your villain might espouse a version of loyalty which states you must have only loyalty to yourself, or loyalty to chaos, or loyalty to crime, or loyalty to the dead. Any unhealthy version of the theme will do. Let’s pick they have loyalty to chaos and want to bring disorder and anarchy to the whole world. Why are they like this? Their parents were unbelievably controlling and up-tight and rational and crushed the villain with their excessive punctiliousness maybe. Or the villain and their brother were in some youth cadet force which was all about order and discipline and the brother died in an accident born of excessive following of the rules. You see, one you have your thematic relation, you move to explain it via the backstory. 3. Build Emotional Logic Our thematically-driven excavation and development of the villain’s backstory allows us to take an emotionally logical approach and explain why the villain is like they are. Continuing with our theme of loyalty, our rule-following cadet was eager and good to start with, tragic events having turned them on to a negative chaotic version of loyalty. Or our young child started off good but was hounded by neurotically rule-bound parents to crave the release of chaos. If you show the reader that it is emotionally logical for the villain to have passed from a state of health to their current corrupted self as a consequence of events, you humanise the villain. You make the reader think that they themselves might plausibly have reacted the same way in the same circumstances. You give the villain an emotional plausibility and a gravitas. And a decent villain needs gravitas, needs the emotional plausibility and heft to pull the villain into their version of the theme, into their version of reality. A good villain is like a moral centrifuge. What they pull towards them and put in peril is the hero’s self, their morality, the hero’s version of the theme. Showing it was entirely reasonable for the villain to arrive at the moral place they are in shows that the hero might arrive their too, and so puts a huge amount of jeopardy in play for the hero. 4. Show Physical And Mental Scars The clichéd villain is often physically disfigured, right? There being a suggestion of a relationship between moral and physical disfigurement. I would however caution against this simple equation, quite apart from it perpetuating discrimination against people who are unfortunate enough to be physically disfigured, it has been done to death. Why not mix it up? The hero is trying to overcome prejudice against their physical disfigurement while the gorgeous villain is prone to the ravages of narcissism. 5. Add In Super Human Gifts Your protagonist has to be special. In some genres like fantasy or science fiction they can be ‘the one’ level of special. In genres such as crime or thriller they can ‘exceptional human being’ levels of special. In genres such as romance or realism, they can ‘normal person pushed to the edge behaves heroically’ levels of special. And if your protagonist is special well, given that it is the job of the villain to oppose the protagonist, then in order to seem anything like able to compete with the hero, the villain needs to be special too. 6. Make Your Villain Unbeatable Every villain needs to seem unbeatable to start with. The obstacles they place in the way of the protagonist must seem insurmountable. If the hero can beat the villain at the beginning, then there are no struggles needed. It is the insurmountable villain that causes the hero to develop and grow. It may be that your story is a tragic and the hero fails to beat the villain in the end. However it ends, in the beginning there must be no way that the hero – in their current state – can compete. 7. Writing Well-Rounded Bad Guys And Villains Why do villains matter to fiction?  Answering this involves taking this question right back to ask ourselves: what is a story? The crux of a story is concerned with how the main character changes, or fails to change, over time, in contact with internal, external and relationship pressures. A story is a map of this change over time, or this failure to change over time. The change is both an internal, emotional journey and an external, physical journey. Now if the journey comes easily, then there will be no drama, because drama requires struggle. The journey which the protagonist goes on needs to be ripe with struggle – with obstacles, tests, high stakes. The most common and identifiable way to manifest struggle is to have it between people. Between the antagonist (or villain) and the protagonist (or heroic character). It is the antagonist who provides the obstacles standing in the way of the protagonist’s need to consummate their change. It is the test of wills between the antagonist and the protagonist that generates the struggle. On a very simple level, in terms of the mechanics of plot, it is the villain who sets the test and the heroic character who sits the test. It is the villain whose actions provoke the need for the hero to act. Batman without The Joker would have no need to act. The villain is a dark twin to the hero. The villain embodies the shadow qualities of the hero. The villain is what the hero might have been, what the hero might be, should they make the wrong choices, which is what gives rise to the clichéd piece of film dialogue, ‘We are not so different you and I, Mr Bond.’ If the heroic character struggles to embody the positive possibilities in a work of fiction, the villain convincingly embodies the negative aspects. The villain personifies the specific forces of antagonism which aim to prevent the protagonist from completing their internal and external journey. 8. Does Every Story Need A Villain? The short answer to this question is no – in terms of the villain being a physical personification of antagonism, not every story has or needs this. A story needs antagonism, yes, and most usually this antagonism takes the form of a human being standing in opposition to the progress of the heroic character, but it is not necessary to do this. Antagonism can be generated in other variations than the single, embodied villain. The antagonism might be within the heroic character themselves. It might be a mistaken belief about life which leads them astray or into repeated unhealthy actions; or it might be an addiction. Note that choosing to centre the antagonistic force internal to the main character influences what type of story you are telling. It would be hard to make this choice and write an action story, for example. The choice to situate the main antagonistic force internally, as an aspect of the heroic character, is more associated with character-led stories – literary or dramatic works, or sometimes the psychological thriller. Whereas the more traditional human villain personification of antagonistic force is more usual within crime or fantasy or action stories. There are other forms of antagonism too. It might be centred around a group of people. It might be the family that a young person needs to escape to ‘become’ whole. Or it might be the pain still felt when a parent abandoned a child. Or it might be a best friend who continually leads the main character into activities which are against their best interests. Basically, antagonistic forces can be anything as long as they are the main obstacle in the way of the protagonist achieving what they most need. Traditionally this force has been embodied via the personification of a villain, but the villainous function can be performed within a story by other forces. 9. How To Create A Likeable Villain As I write above, the villain stands or falls on the plausibility of their world view – the villain is the hero in their own eyes. If you can show why the villain has ventured from the path of moral health to become the creature they are today then you have created the route by which the reader can empathise with the villain. And if they can empathise then – in the current parlance – they can possess relatability. All the best characters are layered, multidimensional and above all, unique. So, if your bad guy can have some redeeming qualities, or a journey that the reader can connect with, then that could definitely make for an interesting read. 10. What If Your Protagonist Is A Villain? Your protagonist can be both hero and villain – look at Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Or your protagonist can be a criminal – look at The Godfather, at Breaking Bad, at The Sopranos, at Crime and Punishment. Or your protagonist can be an anti-hero – look at Mr Robot.  They can be any of those things. As long as they are subject to thematically congruent antagonistic forces, the rules are the same. As long as we know why they are like they are – In The Godfather, Michael Corleone gets pulled back into the family business of murder and extortion through love of his threatened father. Walter White sells meth – initially at least – to protect his ill family in Breaking Bad. Elliot from Mr Robot illegally hacks computers to out greater criminals. This is a common strategy – outflanking your villains with even greater villains to make your villain comparatively empathetic. Look at Dexter. Yes, he is a serial killer, but he only kills people who are themselves worse than him. He performs bad acts for a comprehensible and relatable reason. 11 Examples Of Evil Villains And Bad Guys Tricking Othello into murdering his own wife makes Iago a pretty good start to our collection. Another trickster, in Treasure Island, Long John Silver tricks Jim Hawkins, disguising his own role as leader of the mutiny. Why do we care for and want the sociopathic murder Tom Ripley to escape throughout Patricia Highsmith’s Mr Ripley novels? Because he feels love and we feel his vulnerability and inadequacy. And why do we admire Hannibal Lecter in Thomas Harris’ novels? Because he is brilliant and stylish and logical. Only somebody as prodigiously gifted as Moriarty could aspire to being a villain worthy of Sherlock Holmes special powers. Anne Wilkes in Stephen King’s Misery turns out to the fan no writer wants. Xan may seem like the villain in P D James’ The Children of Men but isn’t the broader antagonistic force that of infertility itself. No mistaking that it’s a shark who is the villain of Peter Benchley’s novel, Jaws. Isn’t narcissism the antagonistic force in play in Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Grey? Are dinosaurs the antagonistic force of Jurassic Park? Rather I would say it was the human vanity and over-reaching that lead to the recreation of dinosaurs in the first place. Same with Dr Frankenstein – it’s the Dr not the monster who sets the test. Isn’t the entire Republic of Gilead the antagonist force in The Handmaid’s Tale?

Points of View in Fiction Writing

Points of View in Fiction Writing (with Plenty of Examples) What is first person writing in fiction? What’s third person narrative? What’s all this about limited vs omniscient…? How you narrate a story – or what points of view you choose when writing fiction – can make all the difference to its appeal. What’s more, the choices you make now will affect every page (indeed, pretty much every sentence) of your novel. So you’d better get things right, huh? No worries. This post will tell you everything you need to know. We’ll start with some definitions and some examples, then assess the pros and cons of each possibility. Oh, and buckle up. This stuff can sound quite technical and scary, but (a) it’s simpler than it sounds, and (b) the choice you want to make instinctively is probably the right one. It’s really possible to overthink these things! First up: some definitions. All You Need To Know About Points Of View Point of view (POV) is the narrator’s position in relation to the story: First person – the narrator and protagonist are the same Second person point of view– very rare and hard to pull off Third person – an ‘off-page’ narrator relates a story about your characters Mixed – combines first-and third-person passages Point of View: Definitions The Point of View (or “POV”) is the narrator’s position in relation to the story. There are a few basic possibilities here, one of which is exceptionally rare. They are: First person narrationIn this instance the narrator speaks in the first person, (“I did this, I said that, I thought the other.”) The narrator and the novel’s protagonist are essentially one and the same. Second person narrationHere the narrator speaks in the third person (“You did this”, and so on.) It’s exceptionally rare as a technique and is definitely not advisable for beginners. Third person narrationIn this instance, the narrator speaks in the third person, (“She did this, he did that, they did the other.”) The narrator is basically an invisible storyteller, telling the reader what happens to the novel’s protagonists. Third person narration comes in two basic flavours: limited third person and the extremely grand-sounding omniscient third person. We’ll get more into the detail of those two in a moment, but the basic difference is that a limited 3rd person narrator stays very close to the character whose viewpoint is being used. An omniscient one is more inclined to wander free from the character and give a broader view of things. (Not sure you’ve got the distinction? No worries. We’ll get to more details in a moment.) Mixed narrationIf a novel combines passages told from the first person point of view with passages told from the third person point of view, it has mixed narration – or mixed first and third person point of view, if you really want to spell it out. Point of View: Examples Examples of first person narration are legion. For example: The Sherlock Holmes stories (narrated by Dr Watson, in the first person) Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe stories (narrated by Philip Marlowe, of course) Bridget Jones’s Diary, narrated by … well, you’ve already guessed, right? Moby Dick, narrated by … well, put it this way, the famous first line is “Call me Ishmael.” Hunger Games, narrated by Katniss Everdeen Twilight, narrated by Bella Swan The Kay Scarpetta novels of Patricia Cornwell Some of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher books (but not all) Here’s an example of first person point of view in practice: “Call me Ishmael. Some years ago—never mind how long precisely—having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation.”—Moby Dick, by Herman Melville Examples of second person perspective are extremely rare. Famous recent examples include: Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City opens with the line, “You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time in the morning” and then it continues from there, with the protagonist always described as “you”. Italo Calvino did much the same thing in If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller. There are a few other examples too, but you’ve got to be a really smart and skilled writer to do this. In short, for 99.99% of writers out there, just fuhgeddabahtit. This technique isn’t one for you. Examples of third person narration are also commonplace. For example: Girl with a Dragon Tattoo, which is about Lisbeth Salander, but not narrated by her The Da Vinci Code, about Robert Langton, but not narrated by him Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice John Grisham’s The Firm Stephen King’s Misery Some of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels, but not all And here’s an example of third person narration in practice: It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters. “My dear Mr. Bennet,” said his lady to him one day, “have you heard that Netherfield Park is let at last?”—Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen Got that? OK. We’ll skip on to the limited / omniscient distinction, then start figuring out how to apply point of view to your novel. Third Person POV: Limited vs Omniscient OK, the thing that probably most confuses newer writers is the distinction between third person limited and third person omniscient. Quite honestly, though, this isn’t something to trouble with too much. If you want to write in third person, just do what’s right for your characters and your story, and you should do just fine. If you want to know more, however, what you need to know is this: Third Person Limited: Definition & Example When you use a limited form of third person narration, you stay very close to your character. So the narrator isn’t telling the reader anything that the character in question wouldn’t themselves know / see / hear / sense. Here’s a beautiful example from Anne Tyler (in Breathing Lessons): “They planned to wake up at seven, but Maggie [the point of view character in this passage] must have set the alarm wrong and so they overslept. They had to dress in a hurry and rush through breakfast, making do with faucet coffee and cold cereal. Then Ira headed off for the store on foot to leave a note for his customers, and Maggie walked to the body shop. She was wearing her best dress – blue-and-white sprigged with cape sleeves – and crisp black pumps, on account of the funeral. The pumps were only medium-heeled, but slowed her down some anyway.” You’ll notice that nothing at all in that passage is something that Maggie doesn’t know about. So even when the passage talks about Ira heading off to the store, that’s done from Maggie’s perspective. We know that he goes and what his purpose is there, but we know nothing at all about his walk itself – whereas we know exactly what Maggie’s wearing, and why, and why her shoes slowed her down. This is third person limited (because it’s so closely limited to Maggie’s perspective) and as you can see it delivers a kind of intimacy – even a homeliness. Third Person Omniscient: Definition And Example The omniscient version of third person is, as you’d expect, able to tell the reader things that aren’t directly knowable by any of the characters in the tale. The most famous example of this narrative voice in literature is surely this passage from Charles Dickens’s Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope,it was the winter of despair, …” As you can see, this isn’t told from any character’s viewpoint. It’s almost as though a lordly, all-seeing Charles Dickens is hovering over London (or England? or the world?) and giving his kingly overview of the situation. This type of writing has become rather less common in fiction, so you’ll tend to stick with broadly limited narration, interspersed (perhaps) by something a little more omniscient in flavour. Point of View: Which One Should You Write In? First Person Point of View First-person narration shares action as seen through the eyes of your narrator. A narrator can therefore only narrate scenes in which he or she is present. Coming-of-age novels – Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle, Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower – work exceptionally well in first-person narration. A lot of YA books are written in first person, because their intimate, emotional narration chimes with their teenaged readership. Romances (with their emotional focus) are also often first person. So are ghost stories with a sense of claustrophobia like Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black. In particular, however, it’s worth thinking about Jonathan Franzen’s dictum that, “Write in third person unless a really distinctive first-person voice offers itself irresistibly.” In other words: (A) do you feel you have to write in that first person voice, and (B) does that first person voice really sound and feel distinctive, personal and indvidual. I’ve mostly written third person, but my recent detective novels are first person – essentially for the reasons Franzen hints at. Here’s an example from my book, The Deepest Grave. (I’ve made some short edits for length, but mostly this is as it appears in the finished book.) The narrator is Fiona Griffiths, my detective protagonist. I’m a little earlier than I said, but it’s not long before I hear the sound of approaching feet. Katie appears. Sees me up here on my bank. I raise a hand and smile welcome. She approaches. Impressively torn black jeans. Black cowboy boots, well-used. Dark vest-top worn under an almost military kahki shirt. A chunky necklace. One of those broad-brimmed Aussie-style hats with a leather band. […] The look has attitude and personality and toughness, without quite dipping into angry hippy counterculture. Also: she walks with a ski-stick, a mobility aid not a fashion statement. She comes up the bank towards me. Sits beside me. I say, ‘You hurt your ankle?’ You’ll notice that it’s not just that the observations are made by Fiona. (eg: “not long before I hear the sound of approaching feet”). It’s also that the character of those observations is shaped 100% by Fiona herself. So yes, the list of clothes that Katie is wearing is a fairly neutral list (though the very short sentences and lack of any verbs – that’s all Fiona). But that summary comment about the overall effect (“the look has attitude  . . .without quite dipping into angry hippy counterculture”) is what Fiona thinks about Katie’s look. I can’t comment myself, because this is Fiona’s narration. She’s in charge. For the same reason, if there were, let’s say, a lion in the undergrowth about to spring out on Fiona, the book couldn’t say anything about the lion, until Fiona herself had seen / heard / smelled / witnessed it in some way. Does that sound claustrophobic? Needlessly restrictive? Well, maybe. But I’m now halfway into writing novel #7 in that series, and when that book’s complete I’ll be close to 1,000,000 words published in the series. And every single one of those words, without exception, comes from Fiona’s voice. There is no other perspective anywhere in the series. In other words, the restriction of first person is real, but you can still write at length, and successfully in that style. First Person Point of View, Pros And Cons This is quite easy, really! The pro is the opposite of the con and vice versa. Pro: First person narration gives you intense, personal familiarity with the narrator. The reader can’t – short of putting the book down – separate from the narrator’s voice, their thoughts, their commentary, their feelings etc. Con: You lose flexibility. If there’s a lion in the undergrowth, you can’t say so, until your narrator has seen the damn thing. If a key thing happens in your plot without your narrator in the room, then tough. He or she can only talk about it when they encounter the consequences down the road. My comment:I’ve written books both ways. There’s no right or wrong here. I love both. One good tip is to use first person narration mostly when you have a distinctive narrator with a strong voice. Most thrillers are written third person (so they can flip between different points of view (eg: investigator / victim / perpetrator), but there’s no absolute rule. I write mine first person. Likewise, a lot of romance stories are written first person . . . but you can go either way there too. Third Person Point of View Third person narration uses “he” or “she”, where a first person narrator would say, “I”. Here’s an example taken from (and this is a blast from the past for me!) my first novel, The Money Makers: They spoke of other things until it was late. They damped down the fire, cleared away the dishes, and walked upstairs. Fiona went right on into the one usable bedroom. Matthew stopped at the door, where his bag lay. ‘Fiona,’ he said. ‘You remember you said you would never ever lie for me again?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Any chance of your lying for me right now?’ He looked at the inviting double bed, heaped high with clean linen and feather quilts. She smiled. Once again, ambiguity flickered in frightened eyes, but her answer was clear. She walked right up to Matthew and stopped a few inches from him. Her long dark hair fell around her shoulders, and her face was only inches from his. This scene (and the whole chapter) is written from Matthew’s perspective. So, yes, much of the factual data here (“they spoke of other things until it was late”) was available to both Fiona and Matthew in this scene. At the same time, when they step up close and get intimate, it’s Matthew we’re with, not Fiona. (How do we know this? Because when we get to “ambiguity flickered in frightened eyes”, it’s Matthew that sees this, not Fiona. If that little bit had been written from Fiona’s perspective, it would have had to say, “she felt ambivalent and frightened”, or something like that. Limited vs Omniscient My advice to newer writers is mostly to forget about this distinction. As a rule, you should stick close to your character – and that means adopting a generally limited point of view. How come? Well, quite simply, readers want to experience story through the eyes and ears of its characters, and that means time away from the limited perspective is time spent away from that precious character-experience. That said, if now and again, you want to dive into something a little more godlike (or omniscient), you absolutely can. Just: Make sure that your godlike voice offers something grand, the way Charles Dickens’s does in Tale of Two Cities. (The opening passage of White Teeth by Zadie Smith offers a rather more contemporary example.) Use that omniscient voice only in small doses. You want to zoom, pretty damn fast, from the omniscient view to the up-close-and-personal one. The golden rule to remember here is that readers want character – and they only get that experience from the limited perspective. Third Person Point of View: Pros And Cons The main limitation we found with the first person narrative approach was its restrictiveness. My and my Fiona Griffiths books, with every one of those 1,000,000 words locked into one voice, one point of view. So most writers adopting the third person approach will use multiple perspectives. George Eliot’s Middlemarch is one famous example. The same goes for much of nineteenth century fiction, especially of the more epic variety: Dickens, War and Peace, Vanity Fair, Henry James, you name it. What you get from those many perspectives is the ability to see into many hearts, many minds, many souls. That multi-viewpoint narration gives your novel: Richness – all those multiple perspectives Flexibility – you can set your movie camera up wherever the action is happening. You avoid the restrictions of narrow first person narration. Potentially something epic in scale – because all those characters and voices lend a depth and scale to your story. Also notice this: There are types of suspense you just can’t deliver in a first person novel. So Hitchcock famously distinguished between surprise and suspense. If two people are sitting in a cafe, when a bomb detonates – that’s a surprise. But let’s restructure that same episode with multiple viewpoints, and you get something completely different. So we might see (Point of View #1) a terrorist planting a bomb in the cafe, then switch perspectives to (Point of View #2) the innocent couple drinking coffee right by the ticking bomb. In that case, the simple scene of two people drinking coffee becomes laden with suspense. The reader knows the bomb is there. The couple don’t. What’s going to happen . . .? That’s a type of suspense that we first-personeers (or single perspective third personeers) just can’t deliver. Consequently, third person / multiple viewpoint novels are particularly common with: thrillers and suspense novels anything epic in scale. We’ve mentioned some nineteenth century fiction already, but George RR Martin and his Game of Thrones series is a perfect example of modern and big. Ditto any door-stopper by Tom Clancy. Third Person Point of View: Summary Most third person novels are written with multiple perspectives, even if (as in Harry Potter) the point of view stays mostly with a single central character. Advantages and disadvantages? Well, essentially you get the opposite of the first person pros and cons. So third person / multi-viewpoint narration: Is flexible. You can pop the camera anywhere you want. You can deliver suspense as well as surprise. Enlarges your book. It can move you from a narrow-focus/small book to a wide-focus/epic one. Loses intimacy. In particular, if your camera gets too promiscuous – if you just use too many viewpoints – you risk breaking the reader’s bond with your central character(s). If that happens, your book dies! Third Person Narration: The Golden Rules We said above that the main risk of multiple viewpoints is that you break the reader’s bond with your main character and as a result you end up losing the reader completely. Bad outcome, right? A book killer. Multiple Points of View: Three Golden Rules Fiction is about inner worlds and inner journeys, and you need to respect that. So here are the rules: GOLDEN RULE #1Limit your number of primary characters I’d suggest that, for almost any new novelist, you should not go above three. My first book was a story about three sons, although the sister too had a significant secondary viewpoint. I’d say that count of three-and-a-half viewpoints represents the upper limit for any first novel by all but the most gifted novelists. You can go higher than that. I think of books that run to dozens of viewpoints. But as a place to start? Nope, that kind of thing is too dangerous for 99.9% of you. (And the 0.1% are talented enough, that I don’t really know why they’re reading this!) Your next rule follows from the first: GOLDEN RULE #2Never go more than 3-4 pages before returning to your primary characters. We’ve all watched movies where the leading couple is so incredibly strong that the movie starts to die as soon as one of them is off-screen. Or take that great first series of Homeland, where Carrie (Claire Danes) and Nicholas Brody (Damian Green) had a mesmeric quality together. You could have scenes with both of them in (great!). Or scenes with just one of them in (very good!). But scenes with neither? They flagged very quickly. And sure: you need some filler scenes just to make sense of the story. But if you stay away from your main characters for too long, the book dies. And just because I said “3-4 pages” in the rule above doesn’t mean that you have that much space every time you take a break. You don’t. You need to keep those non-protagonist scenes as short and tight as possible. Three pages is better than four. Two pages is better than three. And our next rule follows from the first two – and from absolutely everything we know about why stories work as they do. GOLDEN RULE #3Every main character (every protagonist) needs their own fully developed story arc. If you use any Point of view repeatedly, the character needs a fully developed inner life, a fully developed arc, a full set of challenges, encounters and personal change – and relevance, too. Is this person relevant to your collective story material? So take my first book, The Money Makers, with its three (and a bit) protagonists. Every single one of those three needed: A motivation A challenge A set of external obstacles (ie: things in the world) A set of internal obstacles (ie: things in their character that blocked them from accomplishing their goals) A crisis, linked to all the things in the list so far A resolution In effect, to write a three-handed story, you have to write three stories, each perfectly structured in their own right. Phew! That sounds like a scary undertaking, and yes, I guess it is. But because a book can be only so long, if you write from three points of view, each one of the stories you are telling can afford to be quite simple – the kind of thing that would seem a bit flat if told on its own. (If you’re a bit worried about fitting it all in then you’ll probably find this blog on chapter lengths and this one on word count really useful.) As it happens, I love third person / multiple viewpoint narration almost as much as I love first person. There isn’t a right or a wrong in the choice; it’s only a question of how you want to write and how your story wants to be written.

Character and characterisation in novels: techniques, examples and exercises

How to write great characters in your novel.How to make them lifelike.How to make them dazzle. What makes a reader glued to a book? What makes that person come back to it again and again? As a rough guide, people turn the pages because of plot, but they remember a book because of character. Don’t believe us? Then answer this. Can you recall, in detail, the plots of: To Kill a Mockingbird? The Hound of the Baskervilles? The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? We’re going to bet not. But do you remember Scout and Atticus? Holmes and Watson? And the badass Lisbeth Salander? Of course you do. And that’s the aim of this post: helping you achieve the same level of vibrating life that these characters achieved. In effect, we’re going to tell you how to develop a character that can be used for both the protagonist (hero) and the antagonist (bad guy). How to write the kind of characters that will elevate your novel to a whole different plane. And it’s not magic. It’s just the logical application of tried-and-trusted writing techniques. But let’s start by figuring out what character development is, and how it works for you. Don’t want to wait for the blah?Just download our 200+ question Character Bio Template. It’s freeGet the Ultimate Character Profile Template What Is Character Development? Character development is two things: Character development is the the process by which an author develops a detailed character profile. This activity is usually done in conjunction with plot development and takes place as part of the planning process, before the writer actually starts to write. Character development also refers to the way a character changes through the course of the novel, generally in response to the experiences and events gathered through the course of the story itself. This is known as the Character Arc. (Need more? Get plot structure advice here.) Those twin definitions are immediately helpful. Yes: you have to develop a character profile before starting to write, but you also have to knit your character so closely to the story you’re going to tell that the two things seemed joined at the hip. Ideally, the reader won’t be able to imagine any other character occupying your story – just like you couldn’t imagine Girl with a Dragon Tattoo without the inflammatory, exciting presence of Lisbeth Salander. So: the first question is, how do we choose the right character for the story we’re about to tell? That’s up next. Plan Your Character Arcs The two basic character types in fiction – and how to choose the one who’s right for your novel. There are two basic types of main character (or protagonist) in fiction: The first type is an ordinary character plunged into the extraordinary. And, by this process, they become a little more extraordinary themselves. The second character type start out extraordinary – they could make things happen in an empty room. You need to be careful about identifying which character is which. You might think that Harry Potter can’t be ordinary, because he’s a wizard. But think about it. He seemed like quite an ordinary boy. And when he gets to wizard school he seems quite ordinary there too (daunted by the school, a bit scared of Hermione, and so on.) He’s an ordinary wizard who finds his inner extraordinary self over the course of seven books. Lisbeth Salander, however, never strikes the reader as ordinary. She’s a rule-breaking, computer genius with anti-social traits and a scary capacity for violence. You just know she’s going to cause waves, no matter where she goes. Here’s a quick way to figure out what kind of character yours is: Ordinary Characters Will typically refuse adventure, or accept it only reluctantly Will typically have something of the boy next door / girl next door quality to them. That doesn’t mean they have to be boring (we’re all different after all), but it does mean that they can act as a kind of placeholder for the reader. “That person could be me. That adventure could have been mine.“ Will typically find something heroic or extraordinary in themselves as a result of the adventure. Something that was buried becomes visible. The adventure has to echo or vibrate with whatever is distinctive about the character. So at the very start of the Harry Potter series, Harry seems like an ordinary boy, except that he’s an orphan. No wonder then that the entire series revolves around Harry completing the battles of his lost parents. Extraordinary Characters Will often leap into adventure. May even create it. Will typically seem nothing whatsoever like the nice kid next door Will have something astonishing in them all the time. Something that probably makes them look awkwardly ill-at-ease in the ordinary world. But, as with ordinary characters, the adventure will resonate with who they are. Sherlock Holmes is a detective – so let him solve crimes! Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan is a CIA guy, so drop him into a thriller, not a schmalzy love story! What A Character Arc Looks Like You can already see how these three things need to intertwine: Your character’s profile at the start of the book The story your character plunges into The way your character develops through the course of that story So for one hyper-simple example, you might have: Harry Potter starts out as an ordinary boy, albeit one with natural wizarding ability He is plunged into a life or death battle against Voldemort He discovers previously unseen reserves of courage and resourcefulness – he finds his inner extraordinary. Here’s another example of the same thing, this time from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice: Lizzy Bennet is an ordinary young woman, but somewhat prone to impulsive and immature judgements She is plunged into a tumultuous love story, and … Discovers new wisdom and maturity. These things are beautifully simple when you see them – but needless to say, designing something beautifully simple ain’t so easy. (Just ask Steve Jobs!) Build Your Character Development Arc Your first task? Simple. Just do the same thing as we’ve just done for Harry Potter and Lizzy Bennet. Take a sheet of paper and write out – in a few words only – the following: Your character’s broad start position The nature of the story The way your character develops as a result of the story you are telling. Do that exercise. Make sure you’re happy with it. And when you are – congratulations. You’ve just taken your first big step in developing your character. Try Our Ultimate Character Profile Template Also called a “Character Bio Template” Figuring out who you want to lead your story is the first essential of success. But the next part – the fun one – is every bit as important. And the rule here is simple: You have to know your main character better than you know your best friend. That’s it. The simple fact is that strong characterisation is based on knowledge. The only way to write a really convincing, lifelike, vibrant protagonist is to know them inside out. If you have this knowledge, you will find yourself using it. If you don’t have it, you can’t. So the problem of writing character comes down to this: you have to know protagonist. And we’ve got a brilliant technique to help with just that. If you haven’t yet started your book, then work on the character creator exercise below before you start. It makes developing a character so much easier. Or cheat! It’s fasterWhy not download our 200+ question Character Bio Template? It’s freeGet the Ultimate Character Profile Template If you have started, but think that maybe you started prematurely, then back up. Do the exercise and then read back through your work, looking for places where your characters seem a little blank. So. Let’s start. Use A Character Profile / Bio To Develop Stunning Characters Begin with a blank sheet (or screen). And begin to write down everything you know about your central character. Don’t be too concerned to edit yourself at this stage. Just let rip: this will be your character profile. It helps to group your comments a bit under certain themes, but if that inhibits your flow then just write. Group your notes up later. You should cover all kinds of topics, including: Backstory Where did your protagonist come from? What was their childhood like? Happy or sad? What were relations like with their parents? Or brothers or sisters? If their father was (say) extravagant, what impact did this have? If their mother was (say) easily tearful, how did this affect them? And what about now, where relations with others are concerned? Were there key incidents in childhood that shaped this person in a way relevant to your book’s story? What about more recent backstory? Their move to Arkansas, joining the army, their first girl/boyfriend? Sketch those things out too. Write how your protagonist’s backstory has shaped their drives, their character arc, and will shape your plot. It helps if examples are concrete, showing your protagonist via actions and choices in specific situations. (And yes: showing matters. If you need a show vs tell refresher, we’ve got it for you.) Looks And Physical Attributes Get to know how your character looks, how they inhabit their body and how they interact with the world: Is your character tall or short? What hair colour, face & body shape, what eye colour? Are they physically graceful? Or clumsy? Or what? What animal do they most remind you of? If you had to choose one image to represent this person, what would it be? [Hint: the best answers to that question often float between the physical and something a bit more spiritual. There’s often something mobile in the image, not just static. examples: “She was like a deer grazing in snow.” or “He was like an iron sword of the old type. Unbending. Strong. Prone to a sudden, flashing anger.”] How does your character sleep? How do they fiddle? Are they impatient? How do they eat? What foods do they love and hate? What do they look like from a distance? Or close up, when seen by a stranger? What is their voice like? Or their laugh? Think of an actor or actress who could play your character. If you need a visual image to work from, then look through magazines until you’ve got something you can use. Pin it up close to where you work, and work from that. Or create an inspiration board, either a real one or using a site like Pinterest, to pin images of your characters, of story aesthetic, etc Your Character’s Personality Is your character sunny and carefree, like Lizzy Bennet in Pride and Prejudice? Or hardened, unforgiving, like Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? What impression would they make on a casual observer? Are they screwed up in any way? Are they conflict-avoiders or conflict-seekers? Are they sensitive or selfish lovers? How emotionally involved would they get? How does all of this feed into their character arc (ie: the way they develop through the story)? If you answered a Myers-Briggs personality test in character, what would your character’s results be? Relationships Why has your character chosen this partner? Is he or she like the partners your character normally goes for? Do they go in for cutesy baby-talk? Or hard-edged flippancy? Or reflectiveness? What are their pet names for each other? Do they encourage maturity in the other or bring out the less mature side? What are their disagreements about? Do they row, and if so, how? How do they mend rows? What does one love most about the other? What do they most dislike? What is your predicted future for the relationship beyond the end of the novel? Goals, Fears, Ambitions Be sure, most essentially, you know your characters’ deeper goals and motivations. What’s their deepest wish? What are they most afraid of? What would failure mean for them? What voices would they have in their head commenting on that failure? (eg: a critical parent, or a disappointed friend.) What’s the goal, the thing they most desire? Does it change? And why? What’s their motivation for wanting it. What does it say about their nature? The Ultimate Character Profile Template The very best way to get to know your characters is to do this: Write a list of 200+ questions about your character Then answer them Do that, and before too long, you’ll know your character with utter intimacy. You’ll move beyond some mechanical character development exercise into deep, fluent, easy knowledge. Do note that you have to write the questions before you start answering them, otherwise you end up just asking questions that you already know answers to. Oh, and it’s incredibly hard to come up with a really long list of questions that really probe everything about your character – so we’ve done it for you. We’ve created the Ultimate Character Builder, and it’s yours for free. Get the Ultimate Character Bio Template. Give yourself an hour or two on that exercise and, quite honestly, your development of character journey is mostly complete. Nice to know, right? Build Empathy With Your Characters When you are writing a character, their motivation matters so much. You know that thing that literary agents do? “While we liked your book a lot, we didn’t quite love it. We didn’t quite feel empathy with your main character, but wish you the best of luck in finding representation elsewhere.” Makes you want to scream, doesn’t it? And the issue is NOT that your character isn’t nice enough. It’s not that she needs to do more home-baking, or go to more church meetings, or smile more sweetly. The equation is simply this: Empathy = Character’s motivations + reader understanding. That’s it. The whole deal. If a character really wants something, and the reader really gets why that thing matters so much to that character, then the reader is committed. They’ll feel intensely involved. They will, if they’re a literary agent, want to represent your novel. In terms of your character development challenge, that means you need to: Understand your character’s motivations deeply Make sure your character really cares (because if they don’t, the reader won’t.) Make sure your character’s motivations come through in your writing. And that’s it. Simple, right? Dialogue: Characters In Relationship While we’re on the topic of building empathy, it’s also worth remembering that your character doesn’t exist in isolation – they’re at the centre of a particular web of relationships that will be tugging at them with complex and often contradictory forces. That’s quite likely tough for the character – but great for the reader. And dialogue is where you’ll feel those emotional pulls and pushes most forcefully and in their most alive possible way. Making sure that your dialogue is sinuous and mobile will give a real kick to your character – and add whole new layers to the process of acquiring and retaining the reader’s empathy. More dialogue help right here. That’s It: Character Development – Done! If you’ve done the work on developing your character arc, and you’ve explored your character in detail via our Ultimate Character Development Sheet, then you know what? You’ve completed your character development work. Yay! Truthfully, you’ll be ahead of at least 95% of the other writers out there. Well done you. If your plot is roughly in shape, then you’re good to start writing, and your first draft (though it won’t be perfect) should be a pretty damn good platform for your final, finished book. That said, once you have written (say) 10,000 words of your first draft – STOP. Just stop writing and review what you’ve written so far. Does your character feel like a fully rounded human? Or a cliche? Do you make plenty of reference (where appropriate) to your character’s thoughts, memories, feelings and physical sensations? Does the character feel fresh or stale? Individual, or just a standard character type? If your answers are yes, this character feels fresh and individual, then your work has paid off. You’ve created a great character – and your novel is well on its way to being a damn good one. Congratulations on finishing your book! Keen to improve the first draft and polish your manuscript, but not sure where to start? Get help from an experienced professional editor with our Manuscript Assessment Service. Premium Members get 10% off!

How To Copyright Your Book Fast, Easily And Cheaply

It’s easy to copyright your work. We explain exactly how to do it and what you can hope to achieve in this article. What Is Copyright? You’re probably reading this because you’ve created something – a book, a novel, a story, a play. Whatever. Good. You now own the copyright in your work, which means that you have the absolute right to control its use and distribution. If someone tries to copy your work without your permission, you have the legal right to stop them. If you wish to license or sell your work to a third party on defined terms – such as a book deal with a publisher – then you have the right to do that too. That all sounds simple, right? And in essence, it is. Unsurprisingly, though, there are some twists and turns, so it’s worth reading all the way to the end of this post before deciding what to do. Is Copyright Automatic? The first surprise, for some readers, is that copyright protection is automatic. In other words, you acquire copyright protection for your work simply by writing it down. As soon as the words have left your fingertips – as soon as they’re marks on a page or screen – they belong to you and no one can copy them. The trouble is that there are two ways in which it is, in theory, possible to copy someone’s work. Direct copying of text. If someone just takes all or part of your text and copies it out word for word, that’s a breach of your copyright. In the most egregious cases – like e-book pirates simply stealing your book and selling it online – the offence is utterly obvious and beyond dispute. But that’s not the only way that illicit copying can occur … Copying of ideas, characters, sequences, concepts. But it’s also possible for a breach of copyright to take place even without direct copying of text. For example, suppose I decided to take Delia Owens’ smash hit Where the Crawdads Sing and rewrite it in my own words. I might decide to use my own words and a new set of character names, but to leave every single plot incident, emotional moment, and so on exactly as in the original. In that case, I would be breaching Owens’ copyright as surely as if I’d just written the whole thing out word for word. If Owens chose to sue me in a court of law, I’d most certainly lose. You can read more on that, here. Now, all that seems pretty damn obvious, but there’s an ugly little legal loophole that remains open. If I’d copied Crawdads out word for word, everyone would know that I’d copied and where I’d copied it from. There’s just no possibility that my copying was a remarkable coincidence. But what if the themes / characters / plot twists seemed very similar, but had some differences? You might say my version of the book looked eerily familiar … but there are supposedly only seven plots in the world anyway. Themes of death, parenting, coming of age, self-expression and so on (all themes to be found in Crawdads) are common enough. Maybe two different authors just happened across the same basic set of ideas. Now if you were Delia Owens and wanted to prove that my version of the Crawdads story was a deliberate knock-off of your own, you’d have to prove, in court, that I had read your book before composing my own version. If you could achieve that level of proof, you’d probably win the trial. Fail, and you’d probably lose. That feels like a really tricky problem to solve... but it’s the problem that copyright registration was born to solve. Why Register Copyright In Your Work? Registering copyright can solve two problems for you. They are: How can you easily and simply prove that you are the author of a given work? And how can you easily and simply prove the date on which your manuscript was complete? How can you get around the issue of having to prove that a given plagiarist had accessed your story before their copying began? Fortunately, there are solutions to both of these conundrums. There’s a cheap, easy version that does a bit less for you. And there’s an annoyingly bureaucratic and pointlessly expensive version that does more. Here are the options: How to register authorship and date of production If all you want to do is prove that you are the author of a given work and that your work was completed by such-and-such a date, then you can just use an online ‘copyright vault’ service, such as Protectmywork.com. Using such a service will solve the “whose work, what date?” issue. It will not solve the second issue highlighted above. If someone copies your ideas and plot, but doesn’t snatch your exact wording, you would still have to prove that the plagiarist had read and used your work. That’s going to be tough. For that reason, anyone really serious about copyright, will take the more complicated – and official – action below. The advantage of this cheap and cheerful version of protection, however, is simply that it’s cheap and cheerful. So for $50 / £30, you can copyright-protect not just one document, but many. If you’re prolific and want the assurance of proper legal documentation of your authorship, this is a very low-cost way to achieve what you need. But let’s say you want to do things properly, in that case you’ll want to register copyright with the US Copyright Office, part of the Library of Congress. How to register your work with the US Copyright Office If you register your work with the US Copyright Office, you will prove that you are the author of a given work. And the date of production will also be proved. But better still, if you register your work with the Copyright Office, anyone copying your work will be automatically deemed to have read it. So Delia Owens no longer has to prove that I’ve read her Crawdads book. If she (or more likely her publisher) has registered her work, then any court will simply assume that I have read it. Then the legal argument will simply revolve around whether my version is or is not too close to her version to constitute copying. That’s a win, right? The trouble is, the cost is a lot higher ($100 per document registered) and the process is annoyingly bureaucratic. The form you need to fill in is here. You need to print out that form, fill it out, and send it off with cheque for $100 and a paper copy of your work to: Library of Congress Copyright Office-TX 101 Independence Avenue SE Washington DC 20559-6000 And yes, I know. A printed form! And a paper copy of your work! And this is in the 2020s, not the 1920s or 1820s. But there you go. Bureaucrats just wanna bureaucratise. If you’re really serious about protecting your work, that’s the route you have to take. But before you start printing forms and scribbling out cheques to the government, just pause a moment to think what you will achieve and whether it’s worth it. Will Copyright Protection Defeat Plagiarists? Arguably, the big question is simply whether copyright protection serves any practical purpose at all. And that means considering the world as it is. (You might want to peruse this list of plagiarism scandals as a reminder of how these things actually operate.) And here’s what we learn: Are publishers or literary agents likely to steal your work? No. Because their business would come to an abrupt, juddering, nasty halt as soon as they were caught, which would be pretty damn soon. I’ve read around a little bit and can’t find any bonafide case of an agent trying to steal and profit from an unpublished author’s work. OK, maybe there’s a case somewhere that I’ve missed, but the literary agent community receives hundreds of thousands of manuscripts a year. Stealing just basically doesn’t happen. You should worry about lightning strike or asteroid falls before you start to worry about those things. Are professional book pirates likely to steal your work? Yes. Or rather: no, if your book never really achieves any sales. But yes, definitely, if your book sells enough copies to seem worth thieving. I’m not going to dignify any of those plagiarism websites with a link, but they exist. And they are there to steal books. So if your book is selling well on Amazon at $7.99, there’ll be a plagiarist selling the exact same text at $0.99 or less. They don’t have to actually copy out your text to do that. They just have to break the DRM lock on your ebook (easily done; it takes two minutes), then they copy the file. I don’t know any properly bestselling author (including me) whose work has not been pirated. Will copyright protection defeat the pirates? No. Of course, it won’t. They’re thieves. They steal stuff. Those websites are commercial enterprises which exist to profit from theft. So what about you send those guys a cease and desist notice? What about you actually hire a hotshot, $600-an-hour lawyer to go after them? Well, here’s a guess: they laugh at you. Wherever they are, you can be damn sure they’ll base their horrible website in a jurisdiction which really, really doesn’t care about your copyright issues. Is there practically speaking any way to defeat plagiarism? No – and I can prove it. Here’s my argument: I am willing to bet that your resources are less than those deployed by, say, Penguin Random House. PRH’s authors are routinely plagiarised. Yes, PRH chases the thieves around the internet and uses hotshot lawyers wherever it’s plausible those guys will make a difference, but … PRH’s authors are still routinely plagiarised. That’s probably true of pretty much all their top-selling authors. You can afford $100 to register your work with the Library of Congress. That’s true. But you probably can’t afford a lot of hours that are charged at $600 an hour, and you certainly can’t afford them if the likelihood of that spending making a difference is close to nil No government agency or law enforcement body anywhere in the world is going to care that a plagiarist is stealing your work. So there is nothing you can do. Conclusion Honestly? My advice? Look register your copyright if it’ll make you feel better. But you aren’t ever going to go to court to enforce your copyright and you’ll probably bankrupt yourself if you do. So write a great book. Sell it. Then write another. If you do well – if you do really, really well – book piracy sites will steal a tiny bit from your sales. (Or maybe not: because maybe the people who take books from those sources would never put an honest dollar in your pocket anyway.) But there’s nothing you can do about it, so just write another book, and sell it, and be happy because you are doing a hard thing well. And you feel good about doing it. Oh, and if you meet a book pirate? Well, as far as I’m concerned, you’re welcome to thump them.

How To Get A Book Published: A Complete Guide

To the uninitiated, the process of getting a book published can feel like an unfathomable mystery. It’s entirely forgivable to feel daunted by how to get your book published as a writer and how to get a book deal. Finally holding your book in your hands can feel like a very distant dream for any new writer - let alone getting that all-important book contract! So what do you do when you’ve finished your story? Should you even finish a full manuscript before you send it to literary agent, or is it better to send a partial manuscript with your query letter? Who do you send it to? Who will best be able to look after your work? How do you find a publisher? What are most agents looking for? Do you even need a literary agent? What about publishing it yourself? And these questions are just the tip of the iceberg. But don\'t panic, because in this article I will be outlining everything an emerging writer needs to know before they get anywhere close to a publishing deal. How To Get Published- The Three Main Paths Even to the initiated, the publishing process can feel mysterious and confusing. I’ve been in the industry for over twenty years but that doesn\'t mean I find it in any way straightforward. Although that’s also what makes it interesting and exciting. There are many possible routes from manuscript to published book. The following guide will provide you both with the map you need to start finding your way through those woods - and some good reasons to start putting one foot in front of another. The first thing to know about getting a book published is that there are three main paths: traditional publishing, self-publishing and hybrid publishing. I’ll describe each of these in detail as this article goes on, but briefly, for now: Traditional publishing is the route where you sign a contract with a commercial publisher who will be responsible for getting your book made and then out in the world, in the shops and into readers’ hands. This should also include editing, marketing and distribution. More on that later. Self-publishing is, as the name suggests, the route where you take on the responsibility of producing, marketing and selling your own work. Hybrid publishing is, as the name also suggests, a kind of blend of the two, where an author might pay for some of the services that traditional publishers supply and do the rest themselves. There are also numerous other options including crowdsourcing, putting work on fan forums, online platforms like Wattpad, and approaching various specialist forms of micropress. But I’ll get to all that as we get deeper into things. For now, let’s focus on traditional publishing because I know it’s the aspect of getting published most authors at the early stage of writing are curious to hear about, and what most have in mind as their desired end point. Traditional Publishing  Traditional publishing is what a lot of people think of when they consider writing a book and getting it published. It’s so traditional that you can trace its lineage at least back to Guttenberg. The business of printing and selling books is still recognisable from the 15th century. ‘Traditional’ is a useful label to use to conceptually separate this kind of publishing from self-publishing and hybrid publishing. Not that any readers consider it when browning through books in a store. Traditional publishing is what the majority of people think of when they think about publishing at all. It\'s the business of seeing an author’s manuscript through from completion to the moment it is sold in the shops - and of trying to make a profit from it. The UK and US publishing market is dominated by the ‘Big Four’ (Penguin Random House, Hachette Livre, Harper Collins and Pan Macmillan) who are responsible for numerous imprints publishing all manner of literary fiction, genre fiction, and non-fiction and have multi-million pound annual turnovers. There are also dozens more medium sized publishers like Bloomsbury, Oxford University Press, WW Norton, Faber & Faber and Canongate who also have annual turnovers in the millions. And then there are hundreds of smaller independent presses and micro-presses catering to all kinds of tastes and interests. How To Get Your Book Published Traditionally Finding the right publisher for you can be tricky, so here are some key things to consider. Importantly, this form of publishing does not cost the writer anything. Instead, the publishing house pays the author. Generally a traditional publisher will give writers an advance against royalties (anything from £100 to £100,000 and more) and then a percentage of the sales (generally something in the region of 10-25%) once that advance has earned out (ie the book has sold enough copies to make back that publisher\'s initial investment). It\'s important to note that the advance is rarely a reflection of the quality of the book that has been acquired, but can be determined by how much interest it has had (ie if more than one publisher wants it then it may go to auction), or it may reflect the writer\'s past successes or ability to sell books (ie a celebrity). This is why a literary agent is important, as they will do their best to negotiate the very best deal for you. The publishing house also foots the bill for all the other vital parts of the book production process such as cover design, editing, print, distribution, marketing, and promotion. Already you can see the benefits of having a literary agent and not having to pay for all the important and expensive parts required to get your book published - but there are also more advantages for writers: Having A Literary Agent Agents are like brokers for the publishing industry. You\'re a lot more likely to get a great book deal (and have your announcement appear in trade press, such as the much-coveted Publishers Weekly) if you have an experienced and supportive agent. More on how to get one further down the article... Agents are experts at getting books in front of publishers, at knowing what publishers will want to see, and they often already have a great relationship with editors - knowing which publisher and editor is most likely to sign your novel. Most agents will also work with you on your manuscript to help get it into shape before submission, looking at sample chapters and suggesting edits. There are many different agencies with a vast range of specialities, so not only is it vital you approach the right ones but that you form a strong working relationship with them. Successful authors can work alongside these agents for years and years, and together they build great careers for one another. But remember you only need an agent for a traditional publication, not when you go out and do it yourself! Editing Good publishing houses have skilled and experienced editors who are experts at helping writers make their books as clear and complete as they can be, this applies to both fiction and nonfiction books. Editors should help with line edits, structural edits and everything in between. For instance, a great editor will help fiction writers bring their characters to life, avoid plot holes, keep a grip on pacing, and keep to the ideal word count. They will also help non-fiction writers martial and order their arguments, check their facts, and avoid mistakes. Editors will have a good understanding of the readers you want to reach out to, as well as the nuts and bolts of the writing process. They will often be the best in the world at what they do and their help can be invaluable. Very few great books have become a success without the help of an equally great editor! Professional Production And Printing As well as working on editorial, publishers are responsible for copy-editing and proofreading manuscripts and also for getting them properly typeset. (Typesetting is the art of getting arranging words on the page so they look good, without strange gaps and more. It is a crucial, if generally invisible part of the process. Read more about it here.) Traditional publishers design covers and write blurbs, as well as help find great quotes from top authors to help promote your work. They also oversee the printing of the books (normally via an offset printer, not digital print on demand) and the preparation of ebooks. All these things are complicated technical processes involving considerable skill and knowledge. Without a traditional publisher, doing these jobs properly can cost a lot of money (and those who self publish soon learn the hard way that doing these things yourself can damage sales and careers). Publishers also have the capacity to print very large numbers of books, if need be, leading us on to storage and distribution. Effective Distribution Once books are made, the next challenge is to store them and get them out into the shops when they are needed. Publishers have established networks to get this done and a dedicated sales team - not to mention the budget to promote them in the trade press. They also have the necessary relationships with bookshops and other retail outlets to persuade them to stock the books. Remember, not all books that are published by a traditional publisher is guaranteed to end up in a bookshop - many factors are at play to ensure a book becomes a bestseller (even a book published by big names). Publicity And Marketing Talking of networks, the traditional publishing route also offers the best chance of getting your book seen by reviewers and journalists. They have the media contacts and the ability to achieve the necessary column inches. If your book starts doing well they should also have the marketing muscle to make sure even more people hear about it via social media, digital advertising, PR, and trade press. Kudos Thankfully, some of the stigma has gone out of self publishing, especially as we are seeing more and more established and traditionally published authors become hybrid authors and releasing books both ways. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t still some prestige to getting a book published with established and well-regarded publishing houses. If you spend a lot of time on places like Twitter, you may see a lot of criticism of publishers being gatekeepers and arbiters of taste. But take that with a pinch of salt. Partly because some of that social media bile comes from resentment, but also because being a gatekeeper is a publisher’s job and part of their strength. For better or worse, publishers can bestow a seal of quality and approval (let\'s be honest here, we all know a book published by Penguin and stocked in Waterstones is going to probably be better edited than a self-published book, with few reviews or press coverage, that you can only buy on Amazon). The simple fact that a traditional publisher is prepared to put their time and money into a book is a demonstration to the world that someone other than the author believes in it - and not just in the ability of the writer, but the fact that book is more likely to appeal to a wider audience. After all, publishers aren\'t signing books to be nice. It\'s a business! The fact that these big publishers are reputable professionals who know the industry and the market (or, at least, they ought to be!) and that they believe in your work should be a demonstration that the book has potential. So it stands to reason that most authors start out wanting their book to be signed by one of the top four big publishing houses. But that doesn\'t mean that route will find you money and fame. In fact, a lot more money can be made (and a lot quicker) publishing your book yourself! It just involves a lot more skill, time, money and know how... Self-Publishing With this option of the publishing industry, authors take responsibility for the production and marketing of their books and all other parts of the process. Generally, this means they will publish ebooks of their works on platforms like Amazon and Smashwords. But they can also produce audiobooks of their work, print on demand paper copies, and even pay for their own print runs and book storage. All this means that authors take responsibility not only for the words on the page, but how they are presented. It might be that they do all the work themselves, or they employ professional editors, copy-editors and proof-readers, cover designers and typesetters to help them present their intellectual property in the best possible condition. There are also agencies who can help you convert your finished manuscript to ebook form - or you can use the in-house explanations and templates provided by platforms like Smashwords. Once you\'ve produced the necessary computer files, there aren\'t normally too many more upfront costs when it comes to how to producing your own ebook. The platform you choose is generally supportive and easy to use, and they will help you get it out to readers while taking a percentage of each sale. Print on demand suppliers like Lulu.com provide a similar system. They will offer you a cost per book based on your production specifications. The print on demand supplier will then take a percentage from the sale of each copy sold on their store, and pay some royalties to the author. If you choose other print methods and print in bulk, you will generally be expected to pay those production costs yourself and will need to find a place to store all these books and sell them at either events or through distributors. People choose to publish their books themselves for three main reasons: They\'ve tried the traditional method, had no luck securing a literary agent or publisher, so decide to go out there on their own. They understand that their choice of genre or fiction is niche, and better suited to readers who look online for these kinds of books (because they aren\'t commercial enough for book stores and big publishers to stock). The author is already established in their own right (ie big social media presence, or an expert in their field) so they know they will be able to make more money using their already-established captive audience and communication channels, and can sell books that way.This normally works best for a nonfiction book (ie you\'re a famous gardener with a number of garden centres around the world where you can sell your book) or you\'re a huge TikTok star and can promote your novel that way.  However you choose to produce your own book, or why, here is a list of reasons why it may be the right choice for you: Ease Of Access  Perhaps the clearest advantage of self-publishing is that just about anyone can do it, and there are very few barriers to entry. If you want to write about cowboy mermaids in space, you can, there is absolutely no one stopping you! Speed You can also get your book out quickly. When considering how to get your book published, ask yourself how important the timing is. A traditional publication may take three years from final draft to bookstore shelves (you need to find an agent, go on submission, secure a deal, then wait 12-18 months for your book to be released). Most platforms offer a step by step process that helps you through production. This means that with just a small amount of know-how you can convert your manuscript into an ebook within hours. And it doesn’t take much longer for that book to pass the quality control checks on whichever platform you choose. After that you can start selling. You Generally Get A Higher Percentage Of The Profits  Because there are far fewer people involved in the publication process and because there are fewer costs involved in getting your book out as an ebook, you can also generally expect to receive a higher percentage of the profits from each sale of your book than you would in the traditional publishing industry. (There are caveats to bear in mind here though. Self-published ebooks generally also have to have a lower cover price to attract buyers - so you’re only going to get a larger percentage of far less money. The books also tend to sell fewer copies.) Control Since you are in charge of the publishing process you also get to make all the decisions about when the book comes out, cover design and pricing. Plus you have full access to sales stats and get paid royalties monthly, not quarterly or yearly. You Get To Unleash Your Creativity Okay, this isn’t for everyone. Often book covers and their related artwork are best left to the professionals. But if you do have design skills, creating a self published novel gives you a great opportunity to make the most of your design, illustration and photography skills. Hybrid Publishing Also sometimes known as co-publishing, author-assisted publishing, or partnership publishing (and, more misleadingly, indie publishing) hybrid publishing is an umbrella term for a mix of traditional publishing and doing it yourself. Generally, the publishing company offers professional publishing services when it comes to things like cover design and typesetting - and sometimes they will even take on distribution. But the author pays some of the upfront costs of getting the book made and into the world. Although don\'t get these mixed up with vanity publishers, who we strongly recommend you stay clear of! Many people opt for Hybrid as a \'self-publishing but with help\' alternative. Here are a few advantages: Ease Of Access Because they are not taking a risk on your writing, hybrid publishers are often more likely to take your work on. The flip-side of this is that they will not always care about it as much - but if you have realistic goals and enter into the partnership with open eyes it can be a good way to get a decent quality version of your book out into the world. More Control Since you will be footing the bill that should also mean you get more say over the look and feel of the book, book cover design, when it\'s released and how many copies are produced. High Royalty Rates Many hybrid publishers offer attractive royalty rates. But a word of caution here - because you are paying them upfront, they have less of an incentive to help promote your book as they have already earned from it. Other Publishing Models You can publish a book with a publisher in more than just three ways, as there are a huge variety of publishing companies out there. Other options include: Micropresses There are dozens of high quality small independent publishers in the UK and USA who represent books by all sorts of writers, releasing both top quality fiction and non-fiction. There are different definitions for what constitutes a small independent publisher or micropress, so let\'s take a closer look. Some say it’s a company that makes less than $50million a year (which is still pretty big!). One useful guide in the UK is the entry criteria for the excellent Republic Of Consciousness Prize for small presses which is an annual competition for publishers with fewer than 5 full-time employees. In the USA (where everything tends to be bigger) the equivalent prize instead defines small presses as those which publish an average of 18 or fewer published titles per year. They generally operate more like a bigger publishing house and are likely to offer you a traditional publishing deal. But all small presses accepting submissions are different. They all have their own personality and impact on the market, with different passions and beliefs. They cover everything from: Science fiction Children\'s books Young adult books Hardcore literary fiction Short stories Non-fiction books Specialist books LGBTQ+ books Travel books And much much more! Smaller presses (including university presses) are often specialists, with distribution options to reflect that, and in most cases you don\'t need to submit your work via an agent. But, the flip-side of that, is that your book may not reach as many people. Crowdsourcing This is an interesting alternative way to get your book published. As in hybrid publishing, the crowdsourcing publisher offsets some of the risk of publication by asking the creator to raise the funds necessary to produce and print a book. But in this case, they are asking their target readers to help out! In the UK the publishing company Unbound has published several successful and well-regarded books using its crowdfunding platform. And Kickstarter.com is now one of the biggest publishers of comics and graphic novels in the world because creators have had so much success on their platform. Crowdfunding can work for creators because it connects them directly with their audience, the process of raising money for a work can also help to raise its profile and generate excitement. Plus, because many platforms have reward tiers that allow creators to offer extra incentives to their funders, it means creators and their fans get to work on a project together. Digital First Publishing Some big companies like Harper Collins have digital first imprints, a division that only produces ebooks and distributes them on relevant platforms. Many even accept un-agented authors. Some genres (ie crime and thrillers) do incredibly well as ebooks, and if a book become an instant bestseller the publisher may choose to then print the book too. Most digital contracts do not offer an advance and the publisher has a much lower investment in each book than under their traditional models. But this can also mean they sign on a multi-book deal, they can get it out sooner, and often pay higher royalty rates. Amazon Publishing Amazon offer a digital and print service that helps you quickly build your book and get it to market on the Amazon website. It\'s one of the quickest ways to get your book ideas published and out into the world, and as they also offer a publishing service they have a ginormous captive audience to publicise it to. Fan Fiction Forums This is niche but it can often be a great way to build a dedicated readership. If you’re a fan of something and love writing about it, there may well be people who love reading about it. There are numerous forums for the Star Wars universe, Harry Potter, the Twilight saga - and much more. Famously, the multi-million selling 50 Shades Of Grey started life as Twilight fan fiction and there have been other self published authors who have found mainstream success in this way by being snapped up by a traditional publisher. And even if such breakthrough stories are rare, publishing on these forums can be a really good way to reach readers and practicing your craft. Wattpad Wattpad calls itself “The world\'s most-loved social storytelling platform” and is so big it deserves a heading of its own. With a community of millions of readers, writers publish their work directly via the site across a huge range of categories from adventure, LGBTQ+, romance, nonfiction books, books for young adults, historical and fan fiction. There are also - inevitably! - a whole range of erotic categories. A number of Wattpad stories (mainly YA and romance) have even become successful TV series and films (ie Through My Window, The Kissing Booth, the After trilogy). How Do You Get A Book Published?- General Tips We’ve seen the main publishing options that are available, but many writers at the early stages of penning their novel will still have questions about how to write and publish a book.  So here are a few of the things that will help you on your journey: Get Editing The first step (no matter what publishing route you decide to take) is to get your manuscript in the best shape it can be. Finish it. Read it. Re-read it. Carefully check for elementary spelling and grammar mistakes as well as all the important matters of structure, plot holes, characterisation, flow, argumentation (we have a blog post on everything a writer needs on our site). It often helps to set your manuscript aside for a while after you have finished writing. And also to print it out so that you can read it away from the screen in a new context. If you have trusted beta readers, bring them in too. Consider Getting Professional Help If you are uncertain about the quality of your work and how to develop it further, it can help to get a professional assessment. Yes, friends may offer to help, but you really need an expert who is objective and honest. Professional writing mentors can answer all kinds of questions that may be nagging you. Is my query letter OK? How do I choose a book title? How long should my book be? Will anyone want my non fiction? Is my writing strong enough? A mentor or professional editor will not only read your book proposal and manuscript, they will have had some of the same battles with finding the best publishing routes that you have and will guide and support you. Most writers find these services invaluable.  Take a look at the mentoring, editing and agent match services we offer at Jericho Writers. Attend Writing Conferences A good writers’ conference will give you the opportunity to meet industry professionals, to ask questions about what they are looking for and why, and listen to talks from established traditionally published writers, self-published writers, agents and publishers. Being part of a writing community is important when it comes to meeting fellow writers who are also learning how to publish a book with a publisher. They are a great place to swap stories, give each other encouragement and to learn that you aren’t alone. Why not take part in Jericho Writer\'s York festival of writing, our Summer Writing Festival, or join our FREE writing community! Scope Out The Market Determine your genre, have a look at the kind of books that are being published in that genre and who is publishing them, and try and gauge what the public enjoy reading. This will help you decide the best route to market and how to get your book published the right way. Approach Literary Agents We\'ve already discussed how it\'s not possible to get a publishing deal with the big top four publishers without an agent. So how do you get one?  Most literary agents have what we call an MS Wish List - this is a clear outline of the kinds of books they are looking for and the kind of writing they enjoy reading. Do your research and draw up a list of those who are more likely to want to read your work. It can be a bit of a mine field, but luckily you can find plenty of free resources on the Jericho Writers website: A list of US literary agents along with tips on how to write your query letter A list of UK agents along with tips on how to write your query letter Discover our agent match service to help find your dream agent Some more useful tips on how to approach agents Put Together A Submission Pack  If you wish to become a published author of fiction, a submission pack is what literary agents ask to see once you have a finished manuscript and are seeking representation. In most cases, a submission pack consists of a query letter, a brief synopsis (and maybe a chapter by chapter summary) and a sample of your work. If you are writing non fiction it may be simply be a concept and some examples of writing plus credentials along with your query letter. The most important tip about the submission pack is that you should carefully check on the website of each agent and publisher to see what they are asking for. Follow their submission guidelines carefully (some even request a certain font type and size). Some may want to see a full manuscript. Some may want sample chapters. Some may want a chapter-by-chapter summary. Or some will have different requirements for different kinds of books. Make sure you tailor your submission accordingly. It’s not only good manners, it demonstrates that you know who you are applying to and care about what they want. Here are more articles on the subject: You can read a sample query letter here - along with some useful hints and tips Here\'s a guide to writing a novel synopsis Here\'s more information on how to present your manuscript Build Your Author Platform  If you can raise your author profile through writing a blog post, being in the press, attracting social media followers and winning writing competitions, it can help to stand out to literary agents and publishers. Most writers like to start with at least a Twitter or Instagram account to appeal to their target audience. Although building up your author profile before sending out a query letter isn\'t vital to your success and won\'t automatically lead to a book proposal (most literary agents, acquiring editors and readers simply want to read a great story), it can help grow a bigger audience for your writing, regardless of the path you wish to take to publication.  Now You Know How To Get Your Book Published! Phew. You made it to the end - well done! I hope the information shared has helped you understand the best route to publication. I also imagine that most of you reading this will be at the early stage of your writing career, whether fiction or non fiction. And the vast majority of you debut authors will now be wondering what the heck you\'ve gotten yourselves into. Well don\'t worry, the writing community is a fun and supportive one, so at this stage just take your time and focus on writing a great story. Maybe bookmark this article and refer back to it at each stage of your journey. Time To Get Going The key things to consider, when choosing how to publish your book, is what you want out of it. Do you want to set your sights high and aim for the top dream of traditional publishing, see you books in Barnes and Noble and Waterstones, and even make the New York Times bestseller list? Do you want to write a book every two months, be in full control, and make lots of money? Or do you simply want to hold your book in your hands and have it read by your nearest and dearest? Whatever you choose, this article demonstrates that there are many routes to publication, all of which have the potential to make you happy and proud. And at the end of the day, all that matters is that you finish your wonderful story, and that you share it with others. So go on, get out there, and make it happen. Because we are right there beside you, cheering you on every word of the way!

How To Write A Non-Fiction Book Proposal: A Guide

Creating an agent submission pack for fiction is reasonably simple, with clear guidelines. But nonfiction book proposals can be a little trickier. In this article, I\'ll show you how to write your own nonfiction book proposal that will work for a literary agent and a publisher. I’ll provide a sample proposal and give you examples of what to do (and what not to do) as you put your proposal together. We’ll start off by considering what nonfiction publishers actually want from you. Their wants drive what you need to give them. In effect, we can just build a template book proposal where all you have to do is fill in the blanks. Easy, right? Write A Nonfiction Book Proposal In 4 Steps: Prepare a query letter – include a book overview, target audience, USP, writing CV, and motivation for writing. Add a bio – including a professional resume and platform, i.e. social media, blog, mailing list etc. And a market overview. You’ll also need to send sample chapters, book outline, and introduction. What Is A Book Proposal? And what do publishers want from it? A book proposal is a pitch to a publisher. Quite likely, you reach that publisher via a literary agent, so the first pair of eyes on your work will be those of an agent, but either way, your final target is a publisher. So, when you’re writing a nonfiction book proposal you need to think about what makes your book stand out. Your pitch offers the traditional publisher the opportunity to acquire a nonfiction book, authored by you, on the subject set out in your proposal. In exchange, the publisher will (assuming they’re keen to proceed): agree to publish your work pay you an advance pay you royalties if and when your advance is ‘earned out’ by book sales. You will receive a slice of that advance payment once a contract is agreed. The remainder of the advance will be paid out, typically, (a) on acceptance of a complete manuscript, (b) on hardback publication, and (c) on paperback publication, if you have one. If your nonfiction book only comes out in one edition, the last two chunks will come as one. Clearly, publishers make their money by acquiring books with commercial potential, so it makes sense to pitch them with interesting book ideas. Here are some things you should cover in your proposal: Subject What do you want to write about? Audience Why do you think anyone would be interested? Competition What other titles are there in your area? Or, to be rather more accurate: what titles in your area have made money? That’s important, because those comparable books will form an important part of any acquiring editor’s in-house pitch at the time of acquisition. Angle How does your book differ from everything else that’s out there? Why does the particular angle you bring feel urgent, necessary and compelling? Authority What qualifies you to write on this topic? Why should anyone listen to you? Platform What platform do you have to generate publicity or visibility for your book? Answers might include large followings on social media, a regular broadcast presence, or a position as a columnist in a major national newspaper or magazine. Title It’s almost possible to overlook the title, just because it’s so damn obvious. But a great title counts for a huge amount. A good title should do two things. It should communicate what the book is about, but it should also do that in a sexy, edgy, novel, exciting way. A book called A Journey of Self-Discovery would be unpublishably bad. A book called Eat, Pray, Love could just be an international hit. Or just think how many extra sales Yuvral Noah Harari achieved by calling his first book simply Sapiens. That’s a huge subject with an utterly enticing one-word hook. Perfect! Do likewise. Intended Word Count Honestly? You won’t know this until you’ve written your book. But say something. 70-90,000 words would be about right for most memoirs. A 100,000-word book would be about 350 pages in print, so think roughly how long you want your finished book to feel. Anything over 120,000 words will have a slightly epic quality for the reader (and be more expensive for the publisher to produce), so only aim for high word counts if the subject matter is really worth it. (The American Civil War: yes. One somewhat interesting murder in Minnesota: no.) All that is to look at your proposal from a publisher’s point of view, but they have to think about things from a readers’ perspective as well. So they will also want to know: The Pitch To The Reader How would you go about pitching the book to a reader, rather than to a publisher? Does that pitch feel compelling, or a bit flat? Writing Skills Can you write decently? What is the actual experience of reading your book going to be like? Detailed Subject Matter What is your book actually about? It’s all very well to say (for example), that your book will be a history of Rome. And good – that’s clearly the kind of subject matter for which there is a perennial market. But what will the actual, detailed, chapter by chapter content be? You need to be able to outline your content and do so in a way that will make sense to someone who has little prior knowledge of your topic. These questions have to be answered by the proposal you offer to the publisher/literary agent. In effect, your proposal will simply go through these questions one at a time and answer them in a way that will give the strongest possible reassurance to the people holding the chequebook. What Should Be In Your Book Proposal:A Template A nonfiction book proposal template might run roughly as follows. (Why only “roughly”? Well, several reasons, really. First, non-fiction is a very varied field, and the basic template will need to bend a bit depending on what’s on offer. Secondly, there’s no required industry-standard format, the way there is with screenplays. That gives you some wiggle room. And third, you may be stronger in some areas and weaker in others. There’s nothing wrong with constructing your proposal so as to make the most of your assets!) Right. So things may vary, but a good place to start is as follows: 1. A Covering Letter (Or Query Letter) Your covering letter will deal with the following elements: Purpose: Explain why you’re writing in the first place.Example: “Dear Annie Agent, I am writing to seek representation for the attached book proposal, A Puzzle in String” Subject matter: Explain what the book is about.Example: “My book is a popular science book that explains string theory in terms that laypeople can understand [etc].” Audience: Explain who you think will be interested.Example: “The book will appeal to anyone interested in understanding the most fundamental aspects of the universe we live in. It will appeal to broadly the same people who bought Steven Hawking’s Brief History of Time . . . etc.” Angle: The world mostly doesn’t need more books. So why is yours the one that readers will want to pick up, given the vast range of options they already have?Example: “My book differs from the other books on the market in that it …” Personal background: Explain (in brief) who you are.Example: “I am a Professor of Physics at XYZ University . . .” (Optionally) Motivation: In some cases, it can help to explain why you felt driven to write this book.Example: If you were writing a book on silence, you might want to mention (say) that you had spent six months living, in silence, as a hermit. Documents: Explain what documents you are presenting.Example: “I attach the following documents . . .” A good letter will run to no more than two pages. (If you were a novelist, we’d suggest your letter run to no more than a single page, but the rules are a bit different for nonfiction authors. You have a little more room.) 2. A Professional Author Bio Your self-description needs to cover (usually) two elements: Here’s where you set out something like a professional resume. Even here, bear in mind your audience. So let’s say you are a professor of physics. Since you\'re addressing laypeople, instead of listing your papers in detail, you can just say, “I have authored more than 70 scientific papers . . .” You should also set out your platform, if you have one. That platform will include any way you have of reaching your target audience: social media, broadcasting, journalism, a blog post, a mailing list – anything. Do note that publishers have pretty high standards here. You’d need several hundred thousand Twitter followers, for instance, to move a publisher’s stony heart. Typically, you will either bring significant authority (“I’m a physics prof”) or a significant platform (“I have over 2,000,000 followers on Instagram”). It’s pretty rare that an author brings both, but if you have both – brag. And what happens if you have neither platform nor authority? Well, authority and platform are great, but if anyone tells you they’re essential – well, they’re wrong. Great writing plus a great idea will work fine every time as they\'re the most important things. If you have neither platform nor authority, your bio doesn\'t need to go into any great depth. 3. A Market Overview A marketing plan is also crucial. You’ll need to provide: A swift definition of your market as you see it. Be as precise as possible here. Don’t tell agents/publishers that your book will appeal to “all intelligent book buyers”. Define your audience as precisely as you can.Example: “This is a book of popular physics, part of the broader popular science market. Because the book lies at the harder end of the science market, it’s likely to appeal to readers with past enjoyment of quantum physics, astronomy…” Measures of engaged audience size: You want to give publishers some kind of metrics for the possible target audience – but be sober here, not expansive. If you are writing a book about Ireland, for example, don\'t say, “The worldwide population of Irish, Irish-American, and other Irish descended people is estimated at…” Yes, you may arrive at a large number that way, but it will be a meaningless number. Much better to say something like, “Nuala FitzShamrock’s history of the Irish Famine spent Y weeks on the NYT bestseller list.” It’s quite hard to get useful measures of engaged audience size, but you\'re better off giving a few hard stats rather than a larger number of fluffier ones. Offer an overview of major recent titles plus, if you want, some older classics – but publishers will certainly be focusing primarily on titles of the last 2-3 years. Don’t just list out the titles themselves, but include details of author, publisher, publication date, ISBN, page count, formats (eg: hardback, paperback, e-book, audio), and price points for each. These things matter a lot to a nonfiction publisher because they’ll instantly be able to tell what kind of market currently exists for these books. (They can also check, which you can’t, what the sales history for these titles are.) So if the only current publishers for your subject are academic publishers with books priced at $100+, it’s unlikely that a trade publisher will think that a mainstream market exists for your book. You\'ll want to provide data on at least 5 comparable titles, but 10 would be a better number to aim for. Provide any data you have on sales / prizes won / publicity achieved for your comparative titles. This can be hard, by the way, because this is an area where publishers will have paid-for sources of data that you don’t have. All the same, it’s worth making some effort here, as you can show yourself to be a professional, market-aware author – something publishers love to see! The easiest way to guesstimate approximate sales is by looking at Amazon sales ranking . . . just be aware that those rankings are volatile, so they can be an unreliable guide.Example: “String Theory for Idiots, by Prof Quentin Quark (Pub: Penguin Random House, 2018) is currently ranked at #1,800 in Amazon.com’s overall bestseller list. Format, pricing and ISBN details are: …)” Angle: Provide a brief summary of how your book differs from the competition. What makes yours special? Why does the market need your book? This last point is the crucial one. Sometimes, you might come across an idea that hasn’t been done before. In that case, say so. You have to bring something new to the market you are writing for. It is the newness and urgency of that idea which will go a long way to determine whether your nonfiction book proposal succeeds in generating offers or not. 4. Sample Material So far, the material we’re offering to the publisher includes stuff about the book (your query letter, that market overview) and about you (the bio.) But we do also need to give publishers a good taste of the work itself, which means you will also need to supply: A. Sample Chapters You\'ll need to include sample chapters from the book itself, to give the agent and publisher an idea of whether you can actually write. Can you write engagingly for a broad audience? This is your chance to prove it. If your book is narrative nonfiction, you will need to include the first three chapters from the book, because the narrative won’t make sense any other way. For subject-led non-fiction, the chapters can be non-contiguous. B. A Synopsis You need to give a detailed synopsis of the complete book. If you\'re writing narrative nonfiction, that can take the form of a regular synopsis, but probably longer than what you’d offer for fiction. Aim for about 2,000 words, if you’re not sure – though again, these things are variable. In some cases, you’ll find that narrative nonfiction – such as memoirs or travel books – simply demand to be treated like the novels they resemble. And that will probably mean that you need to write the whole damn book and that a proposal will simply not be enough. Sorry! (Though you can always get a proposal over to an agent. At the very least, a good proposal will start a useful conversation with an interested agent.) So what about the more subject-led non-fiction? The good news here is that you may be able to get away with relatively little. If you’re writing, let’s say, Paleo Science: What’s fact, what’s myth, and what matters to you, a detailed skeleton outline of a few pages should be fine. Don’t go wild. C. An Introduction As well as a sample chapter or two and a detailed outline, I strongly favour including the introduction that you intend to appear in the final finished book. That intro should act as a kind of manifesto for the book. It needs to proclaim, in effect, “Here’s why this topic is so important and so urgent that you have to fish $20 from your pocket right now and buy this book.” The manifesto is partly a communication of facts. (For example: “If sea levels continue to rise at their current rates, 47% of lower Manhattan will be underwater by 2029.”) But it’s also partly a process of seduction. You are seeking to entice the reader into seeing the world your way. That’s where strong writing comes into its own – and indeed, this will probably be the most important chapter you’ll write, as it’ll be the most influential in that buy/don’t-buy decision. Quite likely, you’ll find that actually writing that intro will bring your own project into greater focus, even for you. You’ll realise exactly what it is about your project that drives you so much. Communicate that passion to the reader, and you are onto a winner. What Not To Do In Your Nonfiction Book Proposal When you\'re including anecdotes in your nonfiction proposal, it\'s important that you add some human colour to it, rather than just offering a piece of information in an uninteresting manner. In particular, if your book is narrative non-fiction, you want the reader’s response to be rather as it would be at the start of a novel. Why are we here? What’s going to happen next? It’s those questions that compel attention. It’s that human anecdote which seduces the reader into the author’s project, and the author’s passion. If you can get your actual writing to strike the right seductive tone, you will succeed. Readers will read your book for pleasure and interest above all else. Want More Help With Your Book Proposal? Why not try an agent submission pack review, or our video course on how to get published. Or, take a look at our range of editorial services here. Frequently Asked Questions How Long Is A Nonfiction Book Proposal? The average length of a nonfiction book proposal is roughly around 10-25 pages. This varies greatly, depending on the topic, how thorough your proposal is, and how many sample pages of your writing you include. Specific literary agents and publishers may also have their own requirements for the lengths of the book proposals they receive. What Is The Format For A Book Proposal? The format of a book proposal may vary slightly, though most of them include: a query letter, a professional author bio, a market overview, and sample material (which includes a synopsis, sample chapters, and the introduction to your book). How Do You Write A Pitch For A Nonfiction Book? A pitch for a nonfiction book tends to be one or two sentences in length, and will reference the setting, subject, story, and unique selling point. Pitches summarise the key points of a book in a way which is clear and engaging. How Do You Write A Synopsis For A Nonfiction Book Proposal? The synopsis for a nonfiction book proposal should have a clear beginning, middle, and end; reflect the tone of your writing and the genre of your book; be engaging; reveal the key sections of your book (including any unexpected twists or spoilers); and be objective. They tend to be around 2,000 words long, though if you\'re writing subject-led nonfiction it can be briefer and around a few pages long.
Page 1 of 1