Jericho Writers
4 Acer Walk , Oxford, OX2 6EX, United Kingdom
UK: +44 (0)345 459 9560
US: +1 (646) 974 9060

Our Articles

Member

Agents for Women’s fiction

Are you predominately writing for women or about women, and in need of an agent? Then look no further, we answer all your questions here. Plus, we’ll even introduce a few agents you may like to query!   There are plenty of agents looking for women’s fiction but finalising your agent shortlist can be a painstakingly long, dull task. Unless you’re using AgentMatch, that is.   After selecting your country (we advise that US based authors should query US based agents), genre or non-fiction subject areas, you’ll receive a personalised list of suitable agent profiles. You can save your search results and work through them one by one, at your own pace. We’ve done all the work for you: scoured the four corners of the web for every interview, interesting fact, and noteworthy quote, it’s all there.   So, if you want to get to know the agents below (as well as the other 900+ literary agents!) a little better, then take out our 7-day free trial and get searching.  Betsy Amster Rachel Brooks  Jennifer Chen Tran  Jessica Faust Jennifer Jackson  Donald Mass  Quressa Robinson  Latoya Smith Need more information? We break everything down in our guide to finding a literary agent – it’s invaluable for all querying authors! Women’s Fiction Women’s fiction is a rich and broad market. It covers many sub-genres: romance, domestic noir, and literary fiction, for example. A literary fiction novel need not cancel out that the novel may also be classed as a romance. Nor does a sub-genre like domestic noir mean that this is a genre read only by women, even though the publishing world tends to market the genre as such.  So, it’s important to be careful how you choose your book genre. Is it really a book club type of novel (i.e. accessible and literary)? Is it romance? Erotica?  Just because your book may be about a woman and her relationships (not necessarily a romantic one), it doesn’t mean that you should be describing your novel as women’s fiction. Instead think more about what kind of book it is and what type of agent you’d like. 
Read more

How to find a US literary agent for non-fiction

Looking for a US literary agent that specialises in non–fiction? Here’s your guide to finding an agent; learn who they are, what they’re looking for and how to hook them.  Non-fiction Literary Agents There are plenty of ways to figure out which agents represent your genre but finalising your shortlist can be a painstakingly long, dull task. Unless you’re using AgentMatch, that is.   We’ve done all the hard work for you: scoured the four corners of the web for every interview, interesting fact, and noteworthy quote, it’s all there. So, why not take out our 7-day free trial to get complete access to all the US literary agent profiles. After selecting your country (we advise that US based authors query US based agents), genre or non-fiction subject, you’ll receive a personalised list of suitable agent profiles. Save your search results and work through them one by one, at your own pace. Here’s some non-fiction agents to get you started: Rita Rosenkranz   Andy Ross  Sam Stoloff  Howard Yoon  Anna Sproul-Latimer  Scott Hoffman  Elisabeth Weed Dawn Hardy  Matt Bialer  Michael Bourret  Need more information? We break everything down in our guide to finding a literary agent – it’s invaluable for all querying authors!  What Are Non-fiction Agents Looking For? Ultimately all literary agents are looking for a saleable manuscript. While non-fiction subjects can be varied, agents are generally interested in:  Celebrity-led projects, anything written or endorsed by a celebrity Strong and compelling memoirs Exotic travel stories, whether they’re funny or moving Popular science Narrative-led history Biographies, especially if the subject is well-known Major new diet or motivational work Strong and quirky one-off pieces LGBTQ+ themes.  The important thing to remember, is that unfortunately, no one is looking for niche. Anything specific with a narrow market, like local history books or biographies of unknown subjects, aren’t traditionally sought after by agents. You may find that your work might be picked up by the right publisher, but it’s unlikely you’ll get an agent for these types of projects.  You’ll notice that specialist and academic non–fiction isn’t listed here, either. That’s because your best bet would be to write up a book proposal and pitch directly to publishers who specialise in your subject area. You don’t typically need an agent for these.   Few agents focus solely on non-fiction projects. Most agents will build a fiction and non-fiction list, just as they would cultivate a literary and commercial list. The important thing to remember is that it’s the quality of the agent that really matters, not whether they specialise in a particular genre.  Having said that, there are some exceptions. As a general rule:  Authors of cookbooks, health and diet, or a how-to book may want an agent who does specialise in these areas. It’s definitely not an easy genre to break into, though. If you’re looking to work with a ghost-writer to help tell your story, then you’ll want to find an agent that has experience working on similar projects. But beware, very few personal stories warrant the cost of a ghost-writer. If you want to publish your story, then it’s worth writing it yourself – with our help, of course! Don’t forget you can research agent’s interests by either searching the relevant agency website, or by simply using our database of US and UK based literary agents, AgentMatch, to help narrow down your search.  How Do You Know What Literary Agents Want? This can be split into three categories: first, know what you need to query agents with.  For fiction submissions, you need to have written the whole book before querying agents. With non-fiction submissions, you can often get away with sending a book proposal, which is basically an outline of the book you intend to write, first.  If your book is story-led (think memoirs), then it would be worth writing the whole book before you submit to agents.  But if your non-fiction is subject based, then it‘s fine to start with the book proposal.  Secondly, deliver a saleable manuscript.  As I mentioned above, the only thing agents are really looking for is a manuscript that will sell well and make money. This means you need:  Strong, popular, entertaining writing – even if your subject is interesting, if the writing is poor no one’s going to want to read it! To write for the market. Obvious, yes, but a surprisingly high number of non–fiction authors don’t know who their intended market is. So, if you don’t know yours, then go to a bookstore or local library and find out.  And finally, get professional help. If you keep getting agent rejections or just want to perfect your manuscript first, then it’s time to ask for help. There’s lots of information out there. We’ve helped non-fiction authors in their writing journeys, and we can help you too. So, get in touch.  Best of luck with your submissions; and remember, let us know how you get on! 
Read more

Just the Beginning: Getting Published by Eleanor Anstruther

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

Literary agents for crime, thrillers and action novels

\" Written a thriller or work of crime fiction and need a literary agent? You’re in the right place. AgentMatch has a complete list of every agent in the UK with full detail about who they are and what kind of work they represent. So here’s what you do. Head over here.Click on the “select genres” box and choose “Crime & thrillers” from the pop-up list.You’ll find that there are a huge number of agents who represent work in this area. (Basically: most of them will happily represent crime; there are just about no agents who specialise only in that area.) So you’ll need to filter your list some more. Use our other search tools to bring your selection down to a manageable total.Then dive into individual agent profiles and read what each agent says about themselves.Make your final shortlist selection The twist in the tail All you need to access all our lovely data and search functionality? \"
Read more

7 years to publication, 7 things I’ve learned

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

US literary agents for Historical Fiction

Looking for an agent that represents historical fiction? Then look no further, we answer all your questions here. Plus, we’ll even introduce a few agents you may like to query! There are plenty of agents that represent historical fiction to choose from, but finalising your shortlist can be a painstakingly long, dull task. Unless you’re using AgentMatch, that is.     We’ve done all the hard work for you: scoured the four corners of the web for every interview, interesting fact, and noteworthy quote, it’s all there. So, why not take out our 7-day free trial to get complete access to all the US literary agent profiles.   After selecting your country (we advise that US based authors query US based agents), genre or non-fiction subject, you’ll receive a personalised list of suitable agent profiles. Save your search results and work through them one by one, at your own pace. Here’s some historical fiction agents to get you started:  Josh Adams   Natalia Aponte   Julie Barer   Joelle Delbourgo  Kemi Faderin   David McCormick  Kristin Nelson  Steven Salpeter   Mitchell Waters   Need more information? We break everything down in our guide to finding a literary agent – it’s invaluable for all querying authors! The Market The historical fiction market is a wonderfully diverse and rich genre to be writing in. It is comprised of award-winning authors like Hilary Mantel, commercial talents such as Kate Mosse and Phillipa Gregory, and the thrilling talents of Conn Iggulden and Robert Harris. Let’s not forget the weird and wonderful crossovers, like Victorian-inspired steampunk fantasies and even historical erotica.  As you can see, the historical fiction market is brimming with vibrant, intelligent and lively books. But what does that mean for you? Well, in short, it means that locating the right literary agent to represent you and your novel will be pretty trying. After all, Hilary Mantel’s agent may not be the right person to handle that Victorian-inspired steampunk fantasy. Just a mere interest or reference to historical fiction won’t be enough of a connection.  This is why, once you’ve created a longlist of potential agents it’s important to review each agent’s profile. Find points of contact with each agent. Maybe they represent a favourite author, or list one of your favourite books, or maybe they’re Irish and your book is set in Dublin, etc. These points of contact will help you ascertain which agents you feel would be a good match, and if you mention them in your query letter could make a great first impression with the individual agent.  Best of luck! 
Read more

How To Price An Ebook

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

Becoming An Author by Lucy Ayrton

Blogger and newly-published author Lucy Ayrton shares with Jericho Writers the experience of the early stages of her career and of becoming a fully-fledged author, but also reflects on what it really means to write and if there is a difference between writers and authors. The first time I ever seriously called myself a writer was on my wedding day. They ask you what your job is, to put on the wedding form. I dutifully wrote “Communications Manager” down and my soon-to-be husband nudged me. “That’s not all, though. What about your writing day?” I rolled my eyes. “They don’t need to have that on the form.” He shrugged. “It’s your job.” And I wrote it down for the first time. “Communications Manager and Writer.” I am a writer. It takes a while to claim, as an identity. The line between “writer” and “not-writer” is not clear cut. I mean, I’ve been able to write since I was about five. Maybe I wrote my first story when I was seven or eight. My first poem about the same time. But I wasn’t a writer. What about when I started scribbling in my spare time as a teenager? Or when I came second in the country poetry competition when I was seventeen? Or when I got onto my creative writing MA? Or was it only once I’d finished a body of work? People love to say that “writers write” – but that’s ridiculous, surely. Write what? How much? How well? It’s meaningless. Writer is a title that you have to bestow on yourself. By contrast, the line between “writer” and “author” is very straightforward. When you’re published, you’re an author, and that’s that. And this is my publication week, so I’m about to become an author. I have been looking forward to this for a very long time. It’s emotionally very difficult being a writer. You’ve got a day job, probably, and friends and family and other commitments and a life. It’s a big ask to carve out time to lock yourself away in a room and hang around with people you’ve made up in your head. You have to do a fair amount of not-going-to-the-pub, and going-to-bed-early-I’m-writing-tomorrow-morning, and basically being less fun than you could be. It is a choice you have made, between writing and watching Jurassic Park and drinking wine with your girlfriend, and you know it. When there’s just you and the book, making these choices can make you feel a little bit… stupid. You’re painfully aware there’s no guarantee that anyone’s ever actually going to read your work. It’s easy to wonder what it’s for. And I would always say that it ultimately doesn’t matter. The process of writing is valuable in and of itself, and the work produced has value too. I’d be miserable if I couldn’t write, and whether my work gets sold in bookshops or emailed to close friends doesn’t change that – if I didn’t write and share stories then I wouldn’t be me, and that’s why I do it. Art that isn’t sold is still art. But I’ll be honest, when I first got my book deal, the idea that my work was going to be a “real book” was a massive lift. I felt vindicated – all those times I’d felt a bit silly for the compromises and sacrifices I’d made, I’d proved it was worth it. I wasn’t missing out on other experiences to do a kind of grown-up version of playing with my dolls – this was a serious business. This wasn’t just some scribblings sitting on my hard drive anymore. I had undeniably made something, and now people were going to read it. I felt like “being an author” was going to change everything again. This time it would be even better, and  surely I would never have to doubt myself or feel stupid ever again – because I was an Author. I kept waiting to feel it – the rush of “being an author”. I thought it would happen when I first held the hard copy of my book. Like having a baby, I vaguely thought. I’ll hold it and suddenly feel it – suddenly understand. My author-ness will descend on me. And it really was brilliant holding my baby book for the first time. I flipped through it and cried and took photos of it with a glass of champagne. It was such a lovely evening. The thing is though – nothing changed. I still had to sit on my bum the next day and write the first draft of the next book when I could have been re-watching Game of Thrones. It’s not like I really needed the permission. My process hadn’t changed and neither had I. The little bit of swagger was lovely to have – a bit of spring in my step, a bit of a smirk when I opened my laptop  – but essentially I am still the same woman tapping away at her laptop wearing PJs while everyone else is at the pub watching football. Writing life is exactly the same. Ultimately, I don’t feel different. I’d assumed that it would either help, or paralyse me – the idea of a faceless audience, a crowd of people I’ve never met reading my precious words. I’d assumed that it would change things. But when I come to actually write, it’s still the way it’s always been – just me and the page and maybe an idea of just one person, who I’m telling a story to. But then, publication is still 3 days away. I’ll let you know. Tips For Your Writing Career So here is some useful advice I’ve had on being a “baby-author” Say thank you to everyone. I’ve read this advice from a few different people. It seems like a decent life rule in general! But also, I’ve been thanked for a positive review or a nice tweet before and it feels amazing.Get a new signature. You need a new signature – a different one to the one on your bank card – for signings. This is to make it harder for people to embezzle you.Get a uniform. A friend told me it was a good idea to decide upon an “author’s uniform” so that you’re a bit more recognisable at events and also you never have to worry about what you’re wearing. I actually already have this from my poetry career – a pretty dress plus Doc Martens.Think about money. It can be very easy to lose a handle on any income when you haven’t earnt from writing before. Luckily I had a hustle-heavy poetry career to teach me this. It’s always good to have a rough idea of how much you’ll charge for what (ie a visit to a school) so that if someone offers you some work you won’t be caught on the hop and agree to do a week’s worth of workshops for £10. Think about travel expenses! Also, if you’re not already a freelancer, sort your business side out.Make friends with other authors/book industry people. This is partly so that they can give you more helpful advice along the lines of the above. Mainly though, this is because having a network of friends and colleagues who just bloody LOVE BOOKS as much as you is a childhood dream in and of itself. Author Lucy’s debut novel One More Chance is out 28th June (ebook) and 15th November 2018 (paperback) with Dialogue Books. The novel follows the story of Dani, a London prison inmate, and combines physiological suspense with contemporary women’s fiction. To learn more about Lucy’s journey to becoming an author, have a look at her blog ‘Books and Bakes and Beverages’ here where she writes about the day to day happenings in her writing career.
Read more

A Question of Timing: When to Release Information in Your Plot

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

Festival Success: Joanna Cannon

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

Writers in conversation: Steve Cavanagh and Luca Veste

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

How to write themes in novels

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

How to write a short story in 10 steps – with examples

by Dan Brotzel In this article, Dan Brotzel shares 10 simple steps and practical pointers to get you up and writing shorter fiction! For about 30 years, I slogged away trying to write a novel. But I just never had the plotting smarts or the emotional stamina, and I became like a madman running again and again at a brick wall, doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Then, one day, and only a couple of decades overdue, I had a rather marvellous thought. You’re used to writing short things – articles, web pages and the like. You’re a sprinter, not a marathon runner. Why don’t you have a go at short fiction?  As a journalist and content writer in my day job, I like a deadline. Deadlines concentrate the mind, deadlines force you to finish things. So I googled ‘short story competitions’ and found that, surprise surprise, there were actually quite a few out there, and all with a deadline. One of my very first attempts won a modest prize (£40, I think) in a competition run by a small press. This was encouraging. I didn’t get anywhere with a story for over a year after that, but that small crumb of validation was enough to tide me over. I started writing more and more stories, and I’ve never really stopped since. I must have written over 100 by now. In 2019, a couple were nominated for the Pushcart anthology in the US. And best of all, in 2020 I published my debut collection of short stories, Hotel du Jack. I love writing short fiction, and I always have several stories on the go. But I’m still interested in getting novels published too, and my first, Kitten on a Fatberg, a co-authored comic novel, comes out from Unbound in 2021. I’m also putting the finishing touches to another full-length MS, working title The Wolf in the Woods. You may have noticed that I went from failing to finish novels to writing short stories… to finishing novels. And that, I believe, is no accident. Starting on short stories is a great way to build up your writing muscles. You get the satisfaction of structuring, shaping and, above all, completing things. At first, you may find you can’t write anything over 200 or 500 words. But after a while, you suddenly realise that your stories are getting longer and more complex, as you start to experiment with ideas and forms and voices. A short story is often not so different in length and shape from a scene in a novel, or even several scenes strung together. And one day you may find you have a different, chunkier sort of idea, one that requires more than a few thousand words to really do it justice. And maybe that day is the day you start on a novel – which you’ll now have a much better chance of finishing, with all the craft and experience that you’ve developed by completing a slew of shorter pieces. So: in a matter of months, I went from being able to finish nothing fictional to writing scores of stories and regularly getting them featured in competitions and magazines. If you’re looking to get your short-story writing off the ground, I hope these tips and ideas of mine will help you too… How To Write A Short Story In 10 Easy Steps Read widelyGet a great ideaExperiment with techniquesTake inspiration from everyday lifeStart writingAdd more levels to your writingEdit, rework, revise, repeatFocus on your beginning……and your endingRecruit beta readers Short Story: What Is It And Why Is It Special? I’ve always loved short stories. I remember my dad reading me the stories of O’Henry when I was little, studying Maupassant’s contes of the Franco-Prussian war for A level, discovering the (now deeply unfashionable) tales of Updike, marvelling at ‘The Language of Men’ by Norman Mailer and Katherine Mansfield’s ‘The Garden Party.’ ‘Cat Woman,’ Chekhov, the ‘murdered lady’ series of Cathy Ulrich (now collected as Ghosts of You), Aimee Bender, Salinger, Nadine Gordimer, Denis Jonson, Zadie Smith, David Vann… Oh, I could go on. Sometimes I think short fiction is closer to poetry than it is to the novel. The best short stories are little universes of compressed perfection, where every paragraph, every word, every punctuation mark has to earn its place. Short stories can be intricately plotted or they can relate little more than the movements of a mind in conversation with itself on a small domestic topic. They can be all showing or – whisper it – all telling. They can range over years or take place in a lunchtime, relating the end of a friendship or the decline of a civilisation (though the former, if we are honest, is more common). They seem, for some reason, to talk a great deal about death. Short stories can take one tool from the fictional toolkit – voice, character, dialogue, structure, point of view, idea – and major on that, almost to the exclusion of all others. They can talk of boring or obvious topics in fresh ways, or they can deliver great weirdnesses and wild thought experiments. In short, they can do whatever they like. They just have to be true to themselves, and make us believe in them, and not go on too long. For length, mind, we will need our piece of string. Short stories can be 30 pages long, or they can just be a few paragraphs. If we include flash fiction here – and why wouldn’t we, though it’s almost a whole separate article – we are looking at stories that can be as short as 100 words (technically known as drabbles). There are those who look down on flash fiction, but this I’m afraid is mere ignorance (I can say this with confidence, as I languished in this sort of ignorance myself till not so long ago). Not convinced? Try reading this or this or this or this or this or some of these. Flash is a distinctive sub-genre of short fiction. It is much harder than it looks, very much not just the offcuts of longer stuff, and the best exponents are very fine writers indeed. How Do You Structure A Short Story? There are many ways to structure a short story. You could have a beginning, a middle and an end. You could have a mini-version of the classic novel structure or one of the seven basic plots. You could have a classic sting in the tale – think of the stories of Roald Dahl or O’Henry or Saki. Or you could just start writing – and see what shape starts to emerge. Often voice or idea is far more important than structure in a short story, and you can often retro-fix the shape once you’ve nailed those essential components first. Because short stories are, well, short, you can sometimes even plan and draft them at the same time. Some stories read almost like anecdotes or well-crafted jokes; others appear to have no obvious plot in a novelistic sense, but are more like tableaux vivants which, like an interesting painting, reveal more meaning and information with every look. In some, like Hemingway’s ‘Hills Like White Elephants,’ nothing really appears to happen; there is talk of ‘an operation’ in a tense conversation between a couple, but the reader has to look between the lines to intuit what’s happening. All this, again, points to the wonderful fluidity and flexibility of the form. One classic way to tell a story is what I call the Pivot structure, where you set one non-human element against another, usually human, event or relationship. Over the course of the story, the non-human element starts to tick away like a metaphor engine for the human element of the story, resonating with different meanings as the narrative develops. For example, I’ve just read ‘Little Tiger’ by JR McMenemie, a beautiful story told from the point of view of two children who have just lost their gran. Their Mum is upset at having lost her Mum, and Dad is trying to comfort her. The kids have never been to a funeral before, and returning to their house in the aftermath is clearly a very unsettling experience for all. Mum engages in some aggressive tidying up, while Dad – who is struggling to juggle the competing claims of his children and his wife – starts laying a little heavily into the booze. Then, all of a sudden, the kids find a butterfly, sitting on top of a picture of a beach where they all spent many holidays with gran. This is odd, as in the story it’s February, in northern England. The children feed the butterfly some banana, and are keen to make a pet of it. All of a sudden, Mum announces that the butterfly is her Mum, come back to say goodbye. In the morning, however, the kids wake to discover that the butterfly is gone; Dad explains that they couldn’t really keep it. Do you really think the butterfly was Nan? they ask. The story ends with Dad’s reply: ‘I don’t know, son. It could have been. Your mum says some funny things sometimes. All I’m saying is that your grandma didn’t like bananas.’ This crude, simplified summary doesn’t begin to do justice to the patient, emotionally intelligent storytelling of the piece, but you can see that the butterfly acts as a pivot on which the whole story can keep turning. It is, by turns, a distraction, a projection of grief, potential proof of an afterlife, an emblem of marital devotion and, in its release, a key to the processing of loss and the attainment of a certain understated resilience. Do we live on after we die? Dad is doubtful, but he loves his wife and sees no value in challenging her theory. And she, in her turn, aching with love for her absent mum, can be forgiven a little magical thinking. If, indeed, it is magical: who, after all, can be certain that she is wrong? 10 Steps To Writing A Short Story, With Examples 1. Forage The World For Story Starters One of the attractive things about writing short stories, as opposed to longer stuff, is that you don’t need to work out a fully-fleshed outline, snowflake-style or otherwise, in order to get started. Nor do you need oodles of background words about characters, stakes, setting, timeframe and so on. You just need an idea. And that idea doesn’t even need to be an idea in the grand sense either; it can just be a prompt. It might just be a chance remark you overheard on a bus, a funny ornament in a front garden you pass every day, an odd-looking chap you spot on a holiday beach, a sudden childhood memory. It might be a smell or a view or a colour; it might be a thought triggered by a film or a radio programme or a children’s book. Of course, it might also be a break-up you’ve never got over, a terrible act of cruelty you once witnessed, or a historical event that has always had a special resonance for you. When you start, you won’t necessarily know what’s a story-worthy idea and what isn’t. So the first thing to do is to cultivate the habit of looking and listening, both to the outside world and to the things that bubble up in your mind. Now this might sound easy, but often it defeats people because they can’t believe it will ever get them to a finished story. We sometimes envision creativity as this wonderfully crazed, instinctive outpouring, whereas this note-taking business feels like something rather dull and premeditated. But your notebook, whatever form it takes, is where all the raw data of your stories will start to emerge. No data: no stories. So you have to get into the habit of jotting things down, and trusting that this is a worthwhile thing to do, and just repeatedly doing it even if you don’t really believe that yet, even when your first efforts are just dreadful callow things like So here I am writing in this book or Milk, wipes, olive oil. Post office! As with a half-used tube of toothpaste, you sometimes have to squeeze the crud out to get to the good stuff. For inspiration, try Morning Pages – as popularised by Natalie Goldberg, Julia Cameron and others. Basically, you sit down at the start of your writing session – it doesn’t even have to be morning! – and you just write down whatever comes into your head for 10 minutes. Don’t censor what pops up – just record your thoughts. You might be amazed what occurs – shopping lists, dreams, the fag-end of a row with your partner, a glimpse of a first crush, childhood memories, strange bits of wordplay, spiritual reflections, a person in your life you haven’t thought about for ages… It’s all good, and it could all get used somewhere in your fiction. Just as the stand-up sees the world as a bunch of set-ups waiting for a punchline, so the short-fiction writer sees the world as a bunch of prompts waiting for a good story. 2. Go With The Idea That Tingles My Dad always said that he could tell a really good piece of cheese because it gave him a funny tingly feeling behind the ears. I spent much of my childhood trying (and failing) to experience this elusive dairy-led sensation. But I do at least get the tingle when it comes to stories. Over time, you’ll start to look at the bits of mental flotsam in your notebook, and you may find there’s a phrase or an anecdote or an image that you keep coming back to. When that happens, you may well have the first tinglings of a story on your hands. From time to time I go back through my notebooks and highlight bits of scribble that I think I might be able to use. Sometimes it’s a setting. My story ‘The Beach Shop’ in Hotel du Jack, for example, about a heartbroken man stalking his ex-wife on her holiday, was inspired by my early-morning stops at a cafe on a French campsite. I loved the locale, and just started writing about it till a story came. Sometimes – often in my case – it’s a bit of anecdotal autobiography. My story ‘Plane-spotting‘ was inspired by reading a story to my young son about an airport where all the planes are animals. I thought it would be funny if the Dad was a real aviation nerd, increasingly infuriated by the inaccuracy of the drawings, and it just went from there. With the flash ‘Eau de l’avenir,’ the inspiration was a smell – or rather, a scent. To give one more example of how ideas turn into stories, George Saunders says his flash fiction ‘Sticks’ came from something he saw from his car every day. ‘For two years I’d been driving past a house like the one in the story, imagining the owner as a man more joyful and self-possessed and less self-conscious than myself. Then one day I got sick of him and invented his opposite, and there was the story.’ When you note down stuff, you don’t know if you’ll ever use it, or if you’ll end up using it several times. You may use it in a way that’s a complete betrayal of the original memory. You may dredge it up again, years later, and forget you ever jotted it down in the first place. It doesn’t matter: you’ve got it down now, and it’s adding to your imaginative store. It’s all good. 3. Try A Thought Experiment Another way to approach a story is to ask yourself: What if…? What if supermarket shelf-fillers and nurses were the most celebrated and best-paid members of society, and celebrities and lawyers were considered the lowest of the low? What if an epidemic of kindness broke out in the world – Agapia-117, let’s call it – and threatened the stranglehold of capitalism, with its built-in systemic reliance on rabid self-interest? (Just riffing here, obvs.) These kinds of story offer you a rich counterfactual challenge. Depending on the challenge, you might offer the reader the pleasure of watching an unexpected idea play out, or you might challenge yourself to pull off a narrative feat that the reader doesn’t know about until the end: What if (to cite a notorious example) you could tell me a whole story that turns out in the end to have been narrated by a cat? What if you wrote an alien contact story, only for us to realise at the end that the narrator lives on another planet, and the ‘aliens’ are actually humans from earth? The idea for my story, ‘Nothing So Blue,’ came to me when I asked my son for ideas of what I could write about. ‘Write about becoming invisible,’ he said. Now sci-fi isn’t really my thing, but then I thought: ‘What if you were granted a superpower, and it turned out to be a bit rubbish?’ Now that, I thought, was very much more my thing. A great example of the thought-experiment approach is ‘The Rememberer’, by Aimee Bender: ‘My lover is experiencing reverse evolution. I tell no one. I don’t know how it happened, only that one day he was my lover and the next he was some kind of ape. It’s been a month, and now he’s a sea turtle.’ 4. Borrow A Form From Everyday Life Structure doesn’t come naturally to us all (guilty), but an easy way to get round that is to give yourself a nice constrained timeframe, such as the hours of a day or the seven days of a week. I use this structure in a few of my stories, notably the title track of Hotel du Jack, because it offers a natural scale of narrative progression. On Monday, we meet the cast of the story and get a sense of what’s at stake. On Tuesday the first signs of conflict emerge. Wednesday sees problems escalate, Thursday brings a false dawn, and on Friday things really kick off. Saturday is the day the crisis resolves and the loose ends are tied up, and Sunday has that nice sort of epilogue feel to it. It is the day, as Craig David tells it, on which one chills; the day one rests after creating a world. You might choose a lunch-hour, or a night, as Helen Simpson does with her insomniac narrator in ‘Erewhon’ (collected in Constitutional), a man in a roles-reversed world who stays up worrying about kids and money and sexism while his high-powered wife lies snoring indifferently next to him. It could be a date or a work meeting or a conversation between dads at the side of a junior football match, where the competitive nature of the chat echoes the changing fortunes of their kids’ respective teams and the climax of the story coincides with the final whistle.Paris Mon AmourYou might choose a lunch-hour, or a night, as Helen Simpson does with her insomniac narrator in ‘Erewhon’ (collected in Constitutional), a man in a roles-reversed world who stays up worrying about kids and money and sexism while his high-powered wife lies snoring indifferently next to him. It could be a date or a work meeting or a conversation between dads at the side of a junior football match, where the competitive nature of the chat echoes the changing fortunes of their kids’ respective teams and the climax of the story coincides with the final whistle. Taking this idea a step further, hermit-crab fictions – also known as borrowed forms – are stories that are made out of everyday verbal templates. The more banal the form, the better – think product reviews, missing-person reports, recipes, maths problems, listicles, top tips, user instructions…Paris Mon AmourTaking this idea a step further, hermit-crab fictions – also known as borrowed forms – are stories that are made out of everyday verbal templates. The more banal the form, the better – think product reviews, missing-person reports, recipes, maths problems, listicles, top tips, user instructions… The trick is to try to stick quite closely to the structure you’re stealing, so that the story you tell will seem even wilder or more heartbreaking by contrast with its dull container. As you go through your day, you’ll come across thousands of these dead bits of copy – from insurance letters to FAQs to parish newsletters. Choose one, and make it your own. I’ve written hermit-crab stories in the form of a shopping list, board game rules, FAQs and even a penalty charge notice. In Hotel du Jack, you’ll also find a ghost story told as a neighbourhood forum thread, a reflection on #metoo in the form of board meeting minutes, a meditation on grief in the form of a dishwasher glossary, and a product recall notification. Another story, ‘Active and passive voice’, dissects a flawed relationship through the structure of a grammar lesson. Meanwhile ‘My Mummy is…‘ was written – out of a sense of profound inadequacy – just after I’d read a book with my 5-year-old son at school entitled My Daddy is a Firefighter. One of my favourites pieces of flash fiction, LIFECOLOR INDOOR LATEX PAINTS® – WHITES AND REDS by Kristen Ploetz, manages to condense an entire life into a trio of paint palettes. George Saunders has a lot of fun with this response to a customer complaint. Here’s a story of long-term love that’s also a 5-star blender review. And this story is just receipts. If you’d like to read more hermit-crab narratives, here’s a couple of great anthologies to inspire you: Fakes by David Shields and Matthew Vollmer, and The Shell Game, edited by Kim Adrian. 5. Start Writing If you’ve got a prompt that feels rich and interesting – whether it’s a vague memory or a thought experiment or a borrowed form – the next thing is just to get something down. My process at this point is crude: just bang a first draft out. If you have an idea that feels like a start, get it down and start playing around with what happens next. If you have an idea that feels like an ending, get it down and think about how your story might get you there. But do the thinking by actual writing. This is not a drill! And this is not a novel. Just write. As you go along, the idea will start to build and coalesce, especially as, remember, you chose something that’s already glowing and tingling for you. As the juices start flowing, you will start to see possibilities open out for you – structural bridges, snippets of dialogue, observations that you sense suddenly belong somewhere within the fabric of your story’s world. You can start to put in little headers too, little pegs to mark out future sections. Jot all these extra thoughts at the bottom of your doc, keep typing, and fold them in as you go. Sometimes, as the story starts to flow, you may get stuck on one bit but can start to see how a later section would work. Go with the flow, and start filling in that later section instead – just leave yourself some meta-notes for the bits you need to come back to later e.g. insert scene where elephant appears for first time or add in funeral-home bit here to explain why Moira’s always hated lilies. The same process also works at a micro-level, too. Often your ideas for the story run ahead of how quickly you can phrase things. Thinking about the broad contours of your story and fine-tuning phraseology are different creative tasks, and it’s not always easy or efficient to flit between the two. Don’t waste time waiting for the mot juste to arrive – just put in a bit placeholder copy or add some “xxxxxxxxxxxs,” and move on. Just get the broad brushstrokes down, and then you can go back and finesse the detail later. I guess the approach I’m advocating here is a bit like ‘writing by the lights,’ a phrase that inevitably takes us back to a line from EL Doctorow: ‘Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’ Sometimes the idea you have is a perfect little synopsis, and all (!) you have to do now to flesh it out in a way that does justice to the conception. Sometimes you just have an opening scene, or an image, or a character to work with, and you have to build the rest of the world around them. But the remedy is the same in every case: get that first draft down. The more stories you write, the more you get a sense of the optimum length for a particular piece. Some short stories are almost like extended gags; they go out and back in a simple anecdotal arc that culminates in a snappy zinger. Others require patience and stamina to deliver their potential. Their form might be much more complex: a spiral, a mosaic, a musical symphony of contrasting and resolving themes. But the best way to build up to writing complex stories is to start by completing simpler ones. And the best way to complete a story is get a first draft down fast. Then the real work can begin. 6. Work In Another Level A satisfying story can usually be read on more than one level. There is the surface level, and then there is a sense of an underlying meaning. If your story is to feel like more than a mere skit or vignette, we want to have a sense that there is another perspective, a subtext, a theme that’s whirring away in the background as we read. I’m not suggesting that you start with a grand theme and try and mould a story to it; that will usually lead you somewhere strained and leaden. I just mean that
Read more

Dealing with writer’s block

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

How to format your ebook

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

Tor Udall on patience and passion in writing

Guest author and blogger Tor Udall shares her story of publishing A Thousand Paper Birds with Bloomsbury after her time at the Festival of Writing, plus how patience, perseverance and passion were key to success. The Festival of Writing had a transformative impact for me. After signing with my agent, what happened next? More drafts. Another four to be exact, since A Thousand Paper Birds is a many layered thing. Based in Kew Gardens, with five characters, two love triangles and a mysterious death, it’s told from multiple perspectives and two time-frames. Add in a speculative thread and the folds of origami, and you can imagine why it took a while to pin this girl down. I learnt a lot in those two years – not just about my characters and craft, but also about perseverance and passion. There were days when it felt like I was entering a boxing ring, wrestling the pages, and leaving the desk with my jaw bloodied. In one particular draft, I tried so damn hard to please that I took on every suggested edit and ended up with a Frankenstein manuscript, the stitches so coarse you could see the seams. It had no blood in it. No heartbeat. I had to go back and lovingly unpick it, gently resuscitating it back to life and asking it to forgive me – and thankfully it did. It’s a delicate balance – taking in other people’s advice, but also staying true to the world you’ve created and to the book’s anima, or spirit. In September 2015, the manuscript was ready, and we sent it out on submission. What a terrifying process! Within 24 hours, an editor in Italy had read it overnight, fallen head over heels and wanted to make a pre-emptive offer. I thought this is it, we’re on a roll. Then nothing happened, for days. Slowly, other offers came in – Portugal, Netherlands, Russia – but nothing from the UK. The rapturous declines were wonderful, but frustrating (it made me laugh to discover that while agents send ‘rejections’, publishers send ‘declines’ … it’s all so much more civilised!). Finally, we got a bite from one editor (followed by a great meeting), then a few more showed interest, and suddenly editors were taking A Thousand Paper Birds to acquisitions. This is not an easy hurdle – the entire team must love it and in the run-up to Frankfurt Book Fair, a lot of books are vying for attention. Trying to keep positive, I took myself off to Kew Gardens (the book’s location) to hear the Director’s Talk. As I left the event, my phone rang and the moment happened. Bloomsbury had put in an offer. I was standing outside the famous Palm House, in the perfect spot. A couple of times I had to ask Jenny to repeat herself – partly out of disbelief, partly because the ducks were quacking, but there I stood by the glasshouse, my dream solidifying in the trees, the lake, the sky, my body. This elation continued in Frankfurt when Random House in Germany offered me a 2-book deal (without even seeing a synopsis for the second). Signing for a second book felt like the start of a career, a validation. So guess what happened next? Yup. More drafts. Two more. It’s pot-luck on who you get as an editor, but thankfully Alexa von Hirschberg is one helluva talented lady. Sensitive, funny, wise, stylish (we even share the same taste in musicians), she was a joy to work with. The copy-edit, too, was a wonderful experience. The copy-editor’s attention to detail was love-filled. It’s the fine work of the scalpel: ‘do you really want ‘in’ twice in a sentence?’ (see, I’ve just done it again), ‘should it be ‘garden’ or ‘Gardens’? Did you realise that you swap between imperial and metric?’ After the large-scale edits, it was a pleasure to focus on the miniscule. Ten drafts in all. So many different versions, characters cut or changed, whole passages gone, and for a while I worried that I would grieve for all the different ‘Paper Birds’ that had vanished. But when I read through the final edit it was the book it was always supposed to be. Everything had come into focus. During this period, there was a lot of other stuff happening, too. While I was writing the draft(s) of my life I also had to set myself up as a business, dealing with foreign tax forms, complicated contracts, asking the Foreign Office to certify certificates of residence. An illustrator was working on a map of Kew Gardens to go at the front, copy for the blurb and catalogue were needed, copyright permissions required for quotes and lyrics, author photos taken, the jacket design approved (oh my, it’s so flutteringly gorgeous!). Then there was also a pregnancy that involved me injecting myself in the stomach for 9 months daily, a premature baby and the usual sleeplessness and chaos that comes with a new-born – but that’s a whole other story …! And now I have a year to write my second book (the first one took seven years, so you can understand why my eye is twitching!). There’s a host of unknown and wonderful things ahead. And I’m frightened. Of people reading it. Of people not reading it. The author events, the promotion – all challenges for a publishing virgin. But in the end, away from the noise of twitter, book sales, reviews, I know my main job is the work itself: to write the next book better, using everything I’ve learnt. The landscape of language, the puzzles of plot and pace, the intimacies of character – this is where I’m happiest, and how privileged I am to be able to spend my day at the typeface, conjuring up things to believe in. This passion (obsession? endless curiosity?) is both anchor and fuel. So, yes, since York, life has changed. After years of writing alone, it’s amazing to be part of a collaboration with some of the most talented, brilliant people in the world. Good luck to all of you ever coming to the Festival of Writing, and remember, too, so much can happen in the one-on-ones, in the coffee queue, at the bar … the quickening of fate can happen in the most unlikely places. Who knows? The roller coaster may be coming for you, too.
Read more

US literary agents for memoir, true story, and autobiographies

Breaking into the book market can be difficult, but luckily for you, we have all the advice you need to find the right agent for your book. There are plenty of memoir-loving agents but finalising your agent shortlist can be a painstakingly long, dull task. Unless you’re using AgentMatch, that is.     We’ve done all the hard work for you: scoured the four corners of the web for every interview, interesting fact, and noteworthy quote, it’s all there. So, why not take out our 7-day free trial to get complete access to all the US literary agent profiles.   After selecting your country (we advise that US based authors query US based agents), genre or non-fiction subject, you’ll receive a personalised list of suitable agent profiles. Save your search results and work through them one by one, at your own pace. Here’s some names to get you started:  Margaret Bail Sonali Chanchani Dawn Hardy Edward Hibbert Jody Kahn  Ed Maxwell  Neil Olson Latoya C Smith Howard Yoon Need more information? We break everything down in our guide to finding a literary agent – it’s invaluable for all querying authors! The Memoir Market The market for memoirs is easy, if you’re a celebrity that is. If you find that you’re not a celebrity, then things can prove a little harder.  You will need to show that you have been part of something quite remarkable. Not my-friends-think-it’s-amazing remarkable, but the kind of remarkable that will captivate a perfect stranger, like Cheryl Strayed’s Wild.   The ability to transform those remarkable experience into excellent prose is another must. To hook an agent, you need to be able to bring to life the things you’ve seen and done. Masterpieces like The Hare With Amber Eyes and Empire Antartica are also great examples.  Gripping stories like these are rarer than you’d think.  
Read more

How To Make The Most Of The Festival Of Writing

Guest author and blogger Mari Griffith is a bestselling author of historical fiction. For fans of Philippa Gregory and Hilary Mantel, Mari’s debut novel Root of the Tudor Rose has been internationally acclaimed. Read her top tips on making the most of our annual Festival of Writing. I’d kept trying various writers’ advisory groups, but nothing really opened any windows of understanding for me. I had a knowledge of writing after thirty eclectic years in broadcasting, churning out scripts for documentaries, concerts, children’s programmes, the Schools Broadcasting service, even on-air programme promotions. But a novel? That was something very different. Then I came across some publicity for a writers’ weekend conference in York. Coming to my very first Festival of Writing, I found myself among like-minded people there for the same three reasons – to hone craft, to meet other writers and to relish the whole experience. Motivating workshops and one-to-ones provided insights I needed to get me into good habits. I saw the sense of crafting my novel, of getting to know my characters. I learned about scene setting, plot development, pace, character arcs, convincing dialogue, evocative prose … suddenly, there was so much to think about. My 2B pencil was working overtime! Home again, I realised the need to keep up the momentum. I junked my Prologue and twenty thousand words of my current draft and promptly enrolled on the Writers’ Workshop online course with Debi Alper and Emma Darwin. I never regretted it. They were unfailingly focussed, practical and pleasant in their teaching. Emma guided my footsteps as a writer of historical fiction and Debi offered flashes of pure inspiration. I’ll always be grateful for her thoughts on ‘psychic distance’! My association with the Writers’ Workshop has been enormously beneficial. It has given me confidence in my work and the ability to be my own best critic. That’s important for a writer because it means that your book will be as good as you can possibly make it before you show it to anyone else. Anything that can be enhanced thereafter by editors or book doctors becomes a valuable bonus. Chances are that your work will eventually be good enough to publish, if you can find an agent – and you might manage to do that in York, too. It has been known! Ultimately, everything depends on you, what you make of this golden opportunity. Having thought long and hard about it, I’ve drawn on my own experience to come up with six bullet points to help you make the best possible use of everything the Festival of Writing offers: Pick the workshops that best suit your writing to find out how you can improve and market it.Make notes: then write them up when you get home. Don’t trust to memory, otherwise you’ll never remember all the stuff you’re going to learn.Target your Agents and Book Doctors with care: they tend to specialise. Someone who’s looking for Crime Fiction isn’t likely to help you much with quirky chick-lit.Arm yourself with business cards, which give your basic contact details – you’ll be amazed how many you dish out.Don’t be pushy – not everyone wants your opinion on Kafka.And don’t be shy, either. If you spot a spare seat at the breakfast table next to a bunch of Book Doctors, just ask politely if you can join them. They’ll make room for you. Honestly! These days, I’m a veteran delegate at the Festival. I keep coming back because there’s always something new to learn. It’s fun, too, and that’s not just the craic in the bar of an evening. What’s also special is that since delegates, agents, book doctors and workshop leaders are all on campus for the whole weekend, you’re likely to enjoy useful conversations over lunch, while browsing in the book shop or even in the queue for the loo. I once shared a taxi from York station with Julie Cohen and had a fascinating chat. Another time, I chose Andrew Wille as my book doctor and he remains an encouraging friend to this day. Now I’ve had two books published and my third is a work in progress. I’m delighted to say that I know how it feels to have written a bestselling book (marvellous, in case you were wondering!), and I have the satisfaction of knowing that people do read and enjoy what I write. That’s very special. And the downside of all this? Well, there isn’t one. True, it’s not a cheap weekend, but it’s probably a lot cheaper than the membership fee at the local golf club. And you need to weigh the cost against the result – which is invaluable.
Read more

US literary agents for erotica

Are you looking for a US agent that represents erotica? Then look no further. We have all the information right here, at your fingertips. Oh, and we’ll also introduce a few agents too. There are plenty of ways to figure out which agents represent your genre but finalising your shortlist can be a painstakingly long, dull task. Unless you’re using AgentMatch, that is.    We’ve done all the hard work for you: scoured the four corners of the web for every interview, interesting fact, and noteworthy quote, it’s all there. So, why not take out our 7-day free trial to get complete access to all the US literary agent profiles. After selecting your country (we advise that US based authors query US based agents), genre or non-fiction subject, you’ll receive a personalised list of suitable agent profiles. Save your search results and work through them one by one, at your own pace. Here’s a few names to get you started: Steven Axelrod  Lucienne Diver  Danielle Egan-Miller Ethan Ellenberg  Sarah Megibow  Lori Perkins  Not too long ago finding an agent for erotic fiction was close to impossible. Agents were snobby. They were worried that erotic manuscripts were not saleable and feared that the erotica genre simply wouldn’t pay.  Then came E.L. James. After her huge success with the Fifty Shades of Grey series, agents and publishers have learnt the value of books in this genre. Even quite highbrow agencies are now open to submissions of erotic fiction.  So, if you’re thinking about querying agents, then you need to read our guide to finding a literary agent – it’s invaluable for all querying authors!  Best of luck! 
Read more

Social media for writers

Guest author and blogger Laurence O’Bryan is a novelist with HarperCollins (more) but also a pioneer in the field of using social media for book promotion. His BooksGoSocial site offers a range of promotional tools to help (primarily) self-published books get noticed. Laurence also runs courses in how to make the most of social media. Social media can be viewed as a series of puzzles. When, as a writer, you first start on social media it seems that everyone knows what you don’t. The mysteries of social media are revealed slowly as you browse and experiment and learn. This post will explore some important pieces of the social media puzzle, of relevance whether you’re new to social media or an old hand. What Are The Goals Of Social Media Participation? The first puzzle I’d like to explore is what are reasonable goals for social media participation? The reason this comes first, for me, is because how you answer this will affect every other social media action that you take. If your goal is simply to increase sales of your books, then there will be a series of steps you need to take to build relationships with people who might be interested in reading or them. This would, however, be a very restrictive and stunted use of social media. It would be like installing a telephone in your offices and only using it for sales calls. Every aspect of your work can be impacted positively by social media, if you let it. Research, industry knowledge, motivation and planning can all be helped by social media tools, which allow you to connect with people, listen and communicate. You can also use social media as a creative tool as well as for all the above. It allows you to express whatever you want; your love of Tolkien or photography or Proust or Joyce or whatever. But you can use social media to build relationships too. Real relationships. Is Social Media A Dog Chasing Its Own Tail, A Self-reinforcing Bubble, Or Is It Something That Will Last? There has been a steady drum beat in the media over the past few years of Luddite criticism of social media. Some commentators claim that it is all a waste of time, that social media is banal and trivial and that it will all pass. My personal view is that social media is here to stay and that it forces cooperation and openness. To be otherwise on social media would lead to being flamed or being shunned. Cooperation and openness lead to increased learning, as we take on board new ideas. I don’t think every Tweet or post is a symbol of progress, but there are enough positive ones, I believe, to make it obvious that social media is of benefit to humanity, overall, as a communication tool. I do think there is a danger of over hyping social media, the way radio was over hyped in the 1920’s, with a large number of radio companies coming to Wall Street to sell shares. But because many of those radio stations went bankrupt it doesn’t mean that radio was a medium set to die. Radio was hugely important in the Second World War and since too. Rock & roll and the popular music revolutions of the ‘60’s and ‘70’s are just some of the things radio enabled. I believe social media will have a similarly important role in the decades to come for writers. We are now able to reach readers without the help of a publisher or a large inheritance. Could Social Media Be An Agent Of Change In Our Culture? Social media could be as much an instrument of change as radio or TV was, influencing politics, popular culture and comedy to name but a few areas. Social media, like radio and TV, is a means of mass communication. And social media is changing fast. Facebook’s shares go down again, then up again, then down again. Google+ changes its look and feel, again. Twitter is used to assess the political mood and the likelihood of a stock market crash. Soon it will be used to predict riots and stock market rallies. The impact on writers, forcing a more open and accessible personal style, is likely to have a long term effect on what writers create and how they create. And we are still at the beginning of this revolution. Try searching for #socialmedia on Twitter and you will be assaulted by wave after wave of developments in social media. Every minute. No! Every second. But where will all this lead us? I see three clear trends, each of which could have an impact on writers: The visual web. Mobile video stream, Microsoft’s HoloLens 3d headset and local YouTube feeds may allow us to travel almost anywhere and experience everything as ultimate-voyeurs. Expect artistic photojournalism, environments that change as we look at them, permanent people tracking, your visual life on a site, celebrity holograms at your local book store and rebranding sites that will let you see how you might appear with a few nicks and tucks when you win that big publishing deal. Screens may surround us and allow us instant access to the thoughts and recommendations of other people, and even to see what they are seeing, to read what they are reading. We may eventually be able to piggy back onto other people’s lives through visceral monitoring, heart, sweat, body chemicals, leading to the manipulation of our own senses, but all that is far off. Whether we get there is another thing, completely. The auto posting trend. Expect your phone to auto post your location to your life-blog and your audio feed to text tweets to Twitter. Going beyond that we may be tracked by location posting sites for curfew enforcement, remote working and spouse spying applications. Auto posts already make up a big percentage of the posts you see. That includes re-posts and posts simply made at a previous time. The question seems to be, not whether you should auto-post an update on what you are reading/researching, but why you think your followers will be interested in learning that? Perhaps we will have training courses and later, degree course in “deciding what to post” and “deciding what to listen to and who to follow”. The digital chasm. The erosion of the middle class will lead to a divide between those of us who are fortunate enough to be able to pursue writing as a career and those who are not. Fortunately, writing well is not something you can easily outsource to the 3rd world. It requires a cultural dexterity, which can take decades to learn. Instant security services, auto-taser fencing and within-a-minute by drone-extraction from urban locations may all be our future. Security zones may extend to elite stores, clubs and hotels, all invisible to the rest of humanity by their anonymous exteriors. How Did We Survive Before Social Media (BSM)? If my memory serves me we did just fine BSM. Sure, we had to wait to hear gossip, and read newspapers or magazines to find out what was happening around us, but we didn’t know what we were missing. The internet was initially about newspapers and selling or buying things and searching and we used it less (it was slow), and BSM we read more and spent more time watching TV, but I don’t think we were any healthier or wiser as a whole. BSM we just didn’t know stuff. I can’t tell you whether it’s that important in the big scheme of things that we have intimate knowledge of each other’s lives, but I believe this social media trend is unstoppable now. It’s a genii that’s out of its bottle. And I don’t know what spell will make it go back in again, but it will have to be a powerful one. The only thing I expect, which could impact our use of social media is disruption to our electricity supply. And that would lead to a lot of deaths in our electric driven world. We will, I believe, be doing social media differently in the future, but I don’t think we are going back to the days BSM. And yes, much of the above may not happen before 2020. So if you want to write about the near future, consider incorporating some of the above elements. In any case it will be your ability to tell a good story that will make or break what you write. Luck still plays an essential role in all successful writing, but you do know what they say about luck; it’s better to make your own. For me these are four of the biggest puzzles about social media. You may have other ones you think are more important. I hope you will consider sharing those with us below. Please share if you have a puzzle. For me this is one of the most intriguing aspects of social media. How it is developing. 3 Key Takeaways Some of the puzzling aspects of social media: Do you know what your goals are?Are you taking full advantage of the opportunities that social media is providing or are you just using it to help you sell books? Is social media chasing its own tail?Social media has real benefits. This is not just my opinion. Sure, human connections made on social media are not as strong as the connections we have with people in our local area, but you can build useful relationships with people all over the world with social media in a way that was impossible before. Is it an agent of change?Only time will tell whether the changes in our societies as a result of social media are long lasting or if we will eventually turn away from technology. I strongly suspect that technology will develop further and further. It may plateau at some stage and we may need to change how we do things, such as the annual obsolescence of many devices, but software and the internet are changing too fast and more and more people are finding innovative ways to use the web and getting employed in it, so I don’t think this wave of change is over yet. Laurence O’Bryan is founder of BooksGoSocial.com.
Read more

Kate Armstrong on book critiques

Guest author and blogger Kate Armstrong shares her story of publishing The Storyteller after a manuscript critique from us. It was 2013. Summer. I was a nervous management consultant who had once, a long time ago, been an English student. I was opening an assessment report on the draft of my first novel. I’d sent it off for a professional reading a fortnight previously. In that fortnight I’d obsessively researched Jessica Ruston, who would be writing the report. The subjects of her books were very different from mine; maybe she wouldn’t get what I was trying to do. But then again, maybe she would read it and be astounded at my debut genius. In my wildest dreams, Jessica would declare this was the best writing since Plath – better even than Plath – and I would be turning away agents dangling golden contracts. In my nightmares, the report would come back dripping with pity and rejection. The reality was of course neither one nor the other. When I summoned my bravery to open the file, I found a thorough, balanced, extremely helpful set of comments. Jessica had understood the novel perfectly well. She pointed out both its strengths and where it was not yet good enough, and mostly I agreed. She found it ‘unusual and thoughtful’, praised the writing, and recommended more work on character and plot. I breathed a sigh of relief, and got to work on the next draft. Fast-forward three years, and that novel, The Storyteller, is being published by Holland House Books. It has, as they say, been a journey. Along the way I’ve learned how to take rejection, and how to accept graciously while keeping my hysteria in check. I’ve learned that an agent response of ‘you write incredibly well’ can be immediately followed by ‘but we don’t think we could place this’. I’ve learned how to do social media more effectively and how to write a blog that is true to who I am. I’ve pitched articles to magazines, and some of them have come off. I feel that I’ve been learning a new trade. Because that of course is what it is; both the writing and the ‘being a writer’. I’m published by a passionate literary independent, but passion does not go hand in hand with a huge marketing budget, so much of the marketing responsibility is mine. That was an eye-opener. The other eye-opener was how fast the book became an object separate from me. Other people had views on how it should be edited, what the cover should be like, how to market it. Cutting the umbilical cord – seeing it as a product in a market – was something I was unprepared for. The Storyteller is a very personal book in many ways. It draws heavily on my experiences of mental ill health and its aim, so far as it has one, is to share those experiences with others. It is also a coming of age novel, and a story of friendship, first love and betrayal. Whatever your definition of ‘literary’, it is certainly in that camp. It is, for my sins, narrated in the second person. (I had written it before I read articles advising against.) It is fuelled by atmosphere and character and not so much by plot. It has unsettled many of its readers. I hope it will continue to do that. But regardless of what it does for its readers, it has already changed my life. That life change is nothing external: I have no idea how it will sell. My dreams are of a prize-winning best-seller, my nightmares that only my mother-in-law will buy a copy. Neither is likely to happen. No, the change has been inside. Before I wrote it I could not share my life long experiences of depression, and I didn’t believe that I could write. When my publisher offered a contract it took me 18 months to accept; I didn’t think the book, or I, was good enough. Once the contract was signed I was too embarrassed to tell anyone, too ashamed of the content, too scared of what exposure as a writer would mean. Over the last year I have moved past all of those blocks. I am definitely now ‘a writer’, and that is where I want to be. I have risked sharing some of the things that go on deep inside. I have welcomed other people into my world. Most of all I have built the psychological platform to keep on writing honestly and openly, and in the way that is most true to who I am. Learn more about editorial feedback.
Read more

Getting an agent and deal you really want

Guest author and blogger: James Law will be well-known to Festival attendees. Here James tells us about his journey and what it took for him to succeed. (Going to the Festival is often a good idea.) So, where to start on the road to publishing? I think, and this is only my opinion, that we should start with ‘The Dream’. Set your sights on a dream and run with it. Make sure it’s big enough too, and I mean aim high! Shoot for the stars and even if you miss, the trajectory should carry you somewhere good and the view will have been great. But what do I actually mean? Well when I set out on my writing journey in earnest, I did a number of things: 1. I started acting like I thought an author should act. I started writing a book every year, setting my own deadlines and sticking to them. I sought help from readers and other writers for feedback and I submitted my completed books to agents. 2. I started networking. I went to events, super events like the Festival of Writing where I met more writers, readers and, of course, some agents and publishers too (usually in the bar, long after Cinderella’s ride was being carved into a scary face). I pitched my novel when asked, or when it was polite, but really, I just wanted to be recognised and known as someone who was serious about writing, so that when my next manuscript hit their desk, they knew the face behind the words. But I think the next is the most important one (so important, I split it in two). 3. I started treating getting published as though it were a project. I gathered intelligence on what I’d need to do, who I’d need to submit work to, exactly how they wanted it submitted, what books they liked and had bought or taken on, where the good places were to meet them etc. I created a plan that I thought would offer me the greatest chance of success – then I stuck to it. 4. I decided in my own mind what ‘success’ looked like for me, and defining this can be hard to do. I decided that, for me, success looked like this: a ‘top’ agent from a major British agency and a publishing deal with a ‘Big 5’ publisher. There, I said it! Outrageous, but that was the target I set myself. This was what success would look like in my project, the stars I was going to aim for. Now, let’s not be silly about this. This is a target, the ultimate end goal, but there could be steps along the way. I’m not saying I’d have turned down almost any agent in the beginning, I simply wouldn’t have, and I’m a loyal person so it’s unlikely I would leave an agent I liked and trusted, but this was The Target and I’d urge you all to identify yours and stick with it. If it’s to be a massive self-published success story, then go for that too, whatever your goal is, get at it with vigour and verve and don’t let any set-back, upset, rejection (I’ve had loads of them!), or dismissal put you off. ‘Publishing is broken! They don’t take debuts anymore! I submitted to five agents and got rejections from all of them!’, etc., etc. (Ring any bells?) If you submit your work to five agents and then give up, then you lack the tenacity for this business. I submitted my work through the usual channels – the slush pile – and got well over thirty rejections. (Some weren’t even rejections, they simply didn’t even acknowledge me at all and never have.) I kept going. I wrote six novels. The first four are pants, some not even that good. The fifth started getting noticed. I had some requests for the full manuscript and got some valuable feedback from great agents (and even a hint of an offer of a very small publishing deal with a small press), then I wrote Tenacity and submitted that. It got nowhere. I had easily twenty rejections and had all but given up, even though it was still out with some other agents. I was already writing my next novel, when I got an email from Curtis Brown – the office of Jonny Geller – yup, there are some agents who are so super that you’re allowed to swear in the middle of their name – Jonny ‘Freaking’ Geller called me. Excited doesn’t begin to cover it. Then, in the same day, more agents showed interest, more great ones. Suddenly, I was in business and that aim, that definition of success, didn’t look so outrageous after all. I signed with Jonny, having been picked up from the slush pile, and my debut novel Tenacity was published by Headline on July 30 2015. I also sold very quickly in the US, too. So my message is hopefully clear. Decide what you want to do, set out a plan to do it, and hang on to that plan as though your life, and the lives of everyone you hold dear, depend on it. Grit your teeth, be ready for rejection, but know absolutely where you want to go. If you want it bad enough, then show the world that you have the Tenacity to get it. And I love that word, Tenacity, so much so that I made it the title of my debut novel, and it’s hopefully one of the strongest traits you’d recognise in my lead character, Danielle Lewis. She doesn’t give up, ever, and neither should you.
Read more

US literary agents for YA

In recent years, young adult (YA) fiction has become a competitive and super selling genre. There are plenty of agents that represent young adult fiction to choose from, but finalising your agent shortlist can be a painstakingly long, dull task. Unless you’re using AgentMatch, that is.     We’ve done all the hard work for you: scoured the four corners of the web for every interview, interesting fact, and noteworthy quotes, it’s all there. So, why not take out our 7-day free trial to get complete access to all the US literary agent profiles. After selecting your country (we advise that US based authors query US based agents), genre or non-fiction subject, you’ll receive a personalised list of suitable agent profiles. You can save your search results and then work through them one by one, at your own pace. Here’s some agents to get you started:  Ben Grange  Leon Husock   Sarah Landis  Thao Le   Kiana Nguyen   Quressa Robinson  Cindy Uh  Need more information? We break everything down in our guide to finding a literary agent – it’s invaluable for all querying authors!  Books like J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series have made it acceptable and popular for adults to read and enjoy children’s fiction. What followed was a number of spectacular authors, such as Anthony Horowitz, Suzanne Collins, Melinda Salisbury, and many more.  The fact that the YA fiction market has been so successful means that agents are inevitably interested in the area and keen to take on outstanding work. So you’d better get started! Best of luck!
Read more

My Pathway to Publication by Sarah Linley

by Sarah Linley This week’s entry in the My Path to Publication series belongs to guest author, Sarah Linley. Sarah’s debut novel, The Beach, will be published in 2020 by HarperCollins’ digital publishing division, One More Chapter. Me, Myself And My Book I have wanted to be a writer since I was a little girl, but I didn’t really do anything about it until I reached my early 30s and decided that if I was ever going to get published, then I needed to take it seriously. In 2014, I booked on to the Festival of Writing and entered all the competitions with my first novel. I was incredibly lucky and was shortlisted for Friday Night Live. At this point, I had no idea how big or influential the festival was. I thought I was going to be reading to 20 people in the back room of a pub. That was terrifying enough. I had never read my work out loud before. I arrived to find a huge room, a stage, a microphone and an audience of around 200 writers and literary agents. Cue major stage fright and the conviction that I was going to vomit in front of everyone. I eyed up the exit and considered making a run for it. Fortunately, the other writers were equally nervous, incredibly supportive and I got through OK. People even laughed (which was good – it was a comedy). Joanna Cannon won that year and became a major literary superstar. I had two brilliant one-to-ones. I had requests for full manuscripts. I thought ‘this is easy’. I was so wrong! That book did OK. For a first attempt, I’m surprised that I did get full manuscript requests and helpful feedback but ultimately no agent. Fair enough, I thought, I’ll try again. I switched to crime. I read a lot of crime. I know and love the genre. My favourite books are psychological thrillers and I felt that was the right fit for me. I wrote another book. This time, I knew a bit more about story structure (thanks to Julie Cohen); psychic distance (thanks to Debi Alper) and the four-act structure (thanks to Allie Spencer). Harry Bingham had taught me to challenge my prose and to really care about its quality. I realised I needed to include some setting (which was conspicuously absent in my first book). I went to the next Festival of Writing feeling confident with my first chapter and my synopsis fresh off the printer. In retrospect, I should have waited. It bombed. The feedback from my one-to-ones was completely true, but hard to swallow. There were tears. I got onto the Curtis Brown Creative novel course, which was fantastic, and I learned to accept, welcome and value criticism. I met my amazing critique partner, Phil, and I revised the novel. I went to the Festival of Writing again and the feedback was more positive but still generally ‘meh’. To be honest, I was feeling the same way about book two myself. I gave up on trying to win over the industry. It just wasn’t going to happen. I licked my wounds a little and then decided to write something just for fun. If it didn’t get published, so what? I was just going to write something that I loved and if no-one liked it, then at least I would be proud of it. I wrote my third novel free from expectation but there was something deep inside me whispering ‘this is the one’. I started looking at digital-first publishers who would read manuscripts without an agent and had a faster track to publication. When I got the email from Killer Reads, a digital imprint of HarperCollins, I automatically thought it was another ‘thanks, but no thanks’. I had to read it several times to convince myself that it was a ‘yes’. I had a book deal. I stared at it for a long time, wondering if they had made a big mistake, sent it to the wrong person, but no, it definitely had my name on it. (NB Killer Reads has now amalgamated into One More Chapter). By the time The Beach is published in February 2020, it will have taken the best part of a decade to get a publishing deal. And I still haven’t managed to secure an agent! From Manuscript To Publication I got the book deal in March, just as I was about to embark on my third and final backpacking trip with my husband. The next stage was structural edits which came at the start of June. I was really pleased with the suggestions put forward. I thought they made the book stronger and I felt that my editor really understood what I was trying to achieve with the book. I didn’t have much to do with the title and the cover, but I thought they were both great, and I absolutely loved the blurb. They did a much better job than I could have done! I am now just awaiting the copy edits. I have just the one contact at HarperCollins – my editor Kathryn Cheshire – and everything is done via email. I did get chance to meet her at the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate this summer though which was lovely. Surprises It would have been so helpful to have had an agent when I received the publishing contract as I didn’t have a clue what to look out for! Harry Bingham’s Getting Published was invaluable for helping to explain the terms and conditions and I am fortunate that one of my best friends is a lawyer, so she helped me to understand what I was signing. I had read a lot about the industry beforehand, so I haven’t really been surprised by anything so far. I suppose the weird thing about getting a publishing deal is that suddenly people are interested in your writing in a way they weren’t before. You go from writing something quite secretly, perhaps sharing it with some writing friends, to everyone from your boss to your next-door neighbour promising to read it, and that feels very strange! Letting Go I think you have to accept that your novel will never be perfect, so my test for letting go is: if this version was published tomorrow, would I be happy for people to read it? Beta readers are fantastic for letting you know what’s working and what isn’t. Pick people who are going to be honest with you; there’s no point otherwise and listen to their feedback. You don’t have to agree with it, but you should always consider it. Also, deadlines help. Either your own or your publishers. As a former journalist, I am used to working to deadlines and I take pride in always meeting them, so if someone asks me for something by the end of July, it’ll be ready by the end of July! What\'s Next? I am currently working on my second novel. It’s the same genre and style as The Beach, but it’s not a sequel. I am trying to finish a complete first draft by Christmas and I’m really enjoying being back at the start of the process again, creating and developing plot and characters. Also, the research for this new novel is a lot of fun! About Sarah Linley Sarah Linley lives in Yorkshire and works as a Communications Manager for a housing charity. She spent two years backpacking around South-East Asia with her husband. Their travels inspired her debut novel, The Beach. The Beach will be published by One More Chapter in February 2020 (ebook) and May 2020 (paperback). You can follow Sarah on twitter here and keep up with her travelling adventures via her blog, here.Link to: How to Get Your Book Published
Read more

Agents for paranormal romances

Looking for an agent that represents paranormal romances? Then look no further, we answer all your questions here. Plus, we’ll even introduce a few agents you may like to query!  There are plenty of agents looking for the next top-selling paranormal romance but finalising your agent shortlist can be a painstakingly long, dull task. Unless you’re using AgentMatch, that is.   After selecting your country (we advise that US based authors should query US based agents), genre or non-fiction subject areas, you’ll receive a personalised list of suitable agent profiles. You can save your search results and work through them one by one, at your own pace. We’ve done all the work for you: scoured the four corners of the web for every interview, interesting fact, and noteworthy quote, it’s all there.   So, if you want to get to know the agents below (as well as the other 900+ literary agents!) a little better, then take out our 7-day free trial and get searching.  Natalia Aponte  Jenny Bent Joquelle Caiby  Llori Perkins  Paige Wheeler  Need more information? We break everything down in our guide to finding a literary agent – it’s invaluable for all querying authors! Paranormal Romance And The Market The success of Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight created a huge sub-genre in paranormal romance. Having said that, authors like Anne Rice have been writing in the genre for a long time and clearly point to its longevity.  It is a genre tailor-made for the ebook generation, and has inspired a number of films and TV series, covering the whole nexus of paranormal romance, urban fantasy, and YA dark romance.  So, to join the ranks of the paranormal romance market, your novel must:  Offer good, clean, readable prose. Have a twist on the basic genre that’s new and compelling. Create a romance that will capture your audience’s heart.  Once you’ve perfected your manuscript, you can start your search for the right agent, here. Best of luck!
Read more

Peter Papathanasiou’s Path to Publication

by Peter Papathanasiou Author, and Jericho Writers member, Peter Papathanasiou shares his journey to publication. From rejected manuscripts, getting and then losing an agent, to working with publishers and editors, and more re-writes, Peter leaves no stone unturned. The path to publication is filled with creativity, re-writes, disappointment, bad news and great news. The ‘My Path to Publication’ series features posts from writers, and Jericho members, who are sharing their journey to publication. We here at Jericho Writers are very excited to introduce our inaugural post by Peter Papathanasiou. Peter’s memoir, Son Of Mine, was published in July 2019 in the UK with Salt Publishing, and is available now from Amazon. If you’re based in Australia, then fear not, you can get hold of Peter’s memoir courtesy of Allen & Unwin, entitled Little One. You can find more information about Peter if you scroll allll the way down. Otherwise, sit back and enjoy. ME, MYSELF, AND MY BOOK I was born in 1974 in Florina, a small town in northern Greece, but raised in Australia. I was an only child and enjoyed reading and writing. I wrote stories at primary school, but during high school gravitated to studying subjects like biology and mathematics which were more focused at university entrance scores. I eventually went to university where I studied a law degree and PhD in genetics. In 1999, I found out I was adopted; my parents were actually my aunt and uncle, who’d been unable to have their own children and were gifted a baby by my biological parents in Greece. They already had two of their own children, so suddenly I had two brothers. We eventually reunited in 2003. I began to write about this time of my life in 2006 when I was at a writing course in New York City. In 2007, I turned it into a short story, entered it in three competitions, and won two. At this point I sensed I had something, but it was only the tip of the iceberg. From 2008 to 2010, I researched and wrote a full-length manuscript. The manuscript had two narrators, with half the book in my voice and half in my mum’s. Chapters alternated, with the story spanning a hundred years of family history. Editing took another year. I showed the manuscript to friends, my wife, and also got the help from Jericho Writers who lined up an exceptional editor. What made this editor so good? In short – he was a bastard. He saw potential in me and encouraged me accordingly, but he also didn’t let me get away with anything sloppy and told me firmly and without self-censorship. It was confronting to hear at times, but deep down I knew he had my best interests at heart. Additionally, it also avoided arguments with my wife over why this chapter wasn’t working or why that character wasn’t compelling enough. Money well spent! By 2011, and after 13 drafts, I had a polished manuscript of 100,000 words. Filled with optimism, I approached literary agents but received little interest. I must’ve submitted the opening chapters to a hundred agents in the UK and Australia, and only received requests for the full manuscript from a few. None offered contracts of representation. The vast majority didn’t reply at all. TURNING MY HAND TO FICTION Feeling slightly disheartened, I put the manuscript, and four years of work, in a bottom drawer. I decided to consider it my literary apprenticeship – the book I had to write in order to learn how to write a book. One agent who did reply said that most people could adequately write about their own lives, but that ‘that doesn’t make you a writer. The real test of a writer is whether you can write fiction.’ I found it an altogether interesting thing to say, and accepted his challenge. Opening a fresh computer file, I began writing a novel. With a super-fit writing muscle, I wrote faster and with more relevance. After three years, there was less fat to trim in editing. Only seven more drafts followed this time, and my Jericho editor had less to do, which pleased both him and me. By now, I was living in London, and enrolled in a Master of Arts (MA) to write a third book. But first, I submitted my second to literary agents. After only 12 submissions, I had three offers of representation. I was overjoyed. But my happiness was short-lived; after three months, my agent said she’d been unable to sell my novel to publishers. The familiar black cloud of rejection returned. I was told to push it away and instead write another novel. Easier said than done; but fortunately, I had a good idea brewing. From 2015 to 2017, I wrote a third manuscript, and finished my MA. My agent was more hands-on this time around, more proactive with suggestions and guidance than she had been with my first novel. During that time, I returned to Australia, became a father – twice – and lost my own father. Those were deeply emotional years and major life events. Deaths and births always are. 2018 shaped as a defining year. My agent was going to send out my second novel and I didn’t know if I would get a third chance. And with a growing family, it was now getting harder to find the space and time to write at home. It was then that I remembered my failed first manuscript based on my adoption story. Reopening the file, I gradually began to reacquaint myself with the words. I was soon seeing holes and deficiencies, but also things I really liked. Slowly, I began editing old chapters and adding new ones. A lot of new and significant life had been lived since 2011, which now also gave my story an ending. The first time I’d written it, I’d been forced to manufacture an ending, which technically made it a work of fiction. But it was all nonfiction now. I finished my 14th draft in June 2018 and was pleased with the 90,000-word final product. I was keen to show it to my agent. But not long after, she informed me that she hadn’t been able to sell my new novel to publishers, and politely added that I might also want to find a new agent. Needless to say, I was pretty devastated. This was the harsh reality of commercial publishing. I offered my memoir for submission but it was declined. I subsequently spent the next few months in an existential hole. I’d now spent a decade writing half a million words but hadn’t manage to publish a single one – they were still just words sitting on my hard drive. Picking myself up, I started submitting to new agents. I thought having already signed with one agent would help my cause, but I was wrong. More rejections followed. Every agent has their own taste and what they think can sell. Casting my net wider, I began submitting to publishers directly. There were still a few who allowed writers to do that, who opened up submission channels. Even more rejections followed. Those were dark days indeed. Light Emerged, In The Shape Of A Publisher But then, light emerged. It’s funny how it works like that. It’s always darkest before the dawn. I had an offer from a UK publisher, Salt, for my memoir, and two separate offers from Australian publishers. I signed with Salt first and then Allen & Unwin. Allen & Unwin actually plucked my manuscript out of their ‘Friday Pitch’ pile, which apparently makes it 1 in a 1000. I also signed with a new literary agent. Over the past few months, I was sent cover art and proofs from both publishers. I worked with copyeditors and proofreaders and graphic designers, and now with publicists. I shared the proofs with fellow writers whom I admire, and who provided advance endorsements. I called bookshops to organise launches and events. Whenever I needed a break from my manuscripts, I wrote and published short articles in a freelance capacity. These helped increase my public profile and were the equivalent of little ‘sugar hits’, which are needed to feed the publishing soul because writing a book can take so long and be so arduous. I am deeply indebted to my Jericho Writers editor, who has now been with me since 2013 and seen my writing evolve across three manuscripts. He’s not just my editor now – he’s a friend, someone with whom I discuss all things literary, not just manuscripts. I am also grateful for my fellow authors for their incredible support. I’ve found it especially amazing how the writing community embraces debut authors, perhaps because most writers remember how hard it was for them to get their break. The Winding Road To Publication It’s been a long and winding road to publication, but one which has made me a better writer, and also richer for the experience. Everyone treads their own path and in their own time. I’ll always remember the stories of two writers I met in London when they told me their literary journeys. One writer wrote a short story, entered it into a competition, won second prize, and was offered a publishing contract before she’d even started a book. Another wrote four books before she secured an agent, and another four before she was offered a publishing contract. As you can see, the differences can be striking. For me, it was an 11-year gestation from 2008 to 2019. And I’m only just getting started – I still have two completed manuscripts which remain unpublished, and plans to write another one. Naturally, I would’ve liked to have taken less time to publish my first book, but the time was not wasted – in terms of words written – and I know has also made me a better writer. ABOUT PETER Peter Papathanasiou was born in northern Greece and adopted as a baby to an Australian family. His writing has been published internationally by The New York Times, New York Post, The Guardian UK, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, Good Weekend, The Canberra Times, The Herald Sun, The Daily Telegraph, ABC, SBS, The Huffington Post, Frankie, Neos Kosmos, The Pigeonhole, Caught by the River, Structo, 3:AM Magazine, Elsewhere Journal, Litro, CutBank, Meanjin, Overland, Island Magazine, Going Down Swinging, Verity La, and Tincture Journal, and reviewed by The Times Literary Supplement in the UK. Peter’s short stories have won or been shortlisted for over twenty literary awards in Australia. He also holds a Master of Arts in Creative Writing from City, University of London, and a PhD in Biomedical Sciences from The Australian National University. His first book was published in 2019. You can follow Peter on Twitter here, he’s also on Facebook, and has a Blog too. Son of Mine was also reviewed by The Guardian, have a read here.
Read more

Why a bestselling author chose to self-publish

Guest author and blogger William Kowalski is a bestselling, traditionally published author. He’s shared with us here why he’s chosen to self-publish. This is a tale of two worlds, two centuries, two distinct epochs in the history of publishing, and one author – that’s me – who stands with a foot planted firmly in each age, a devil-may-care grin on his slightly-exhausted-but-still-boyishly-optimistic features, doing his best to appear as if he knows what he’s doing and hoping like hell no one figures out he hasn’t a clue. And it contains, at the end, an Amazing Discovery, certainly the most amazing discovery of my authorial career. Our brave author (that’s me again) is heading out of the familiar and comforting land of Traditional Publishing, wistful for the old days but mature enough to realize that they are gone forever. He is striking out into the frightening wilderness of Self-Publishing, which is not only scary in and of itself but also seems to involve a neverending foray into the even more frightening world of The Internet, that vast space filled with pictures of cute kittens, videos of baby monkeys riding backwards upon pigs, and approximately 1.9 squillion other self-published books. How did all this happen? How did this come to be? Our intrepid author (hi!) remembers all too well the luminous glow that surrounded him during what he realizes now were the last days of a glorious age, in the final moments of the twentieth century. When he was just a stripling of twenty-eight, you see, he wrote a book, and some Important Publishing People said to him, “What’s that? You’re completely unknown, have no platform from which to promote yourself, might not ever produce a second book, and aren’t even thirty years old? Well, in that case, we’d like to dump this large bucket of money on your head.” Well, said our author modestly, you may certainly go right ahead and do that. He rather thought, in his youthful optimism, that things were always going to be that way. They say the worst thing that can happen to a man is to win a lot of money on a horse race at an early age. A similar statement might be made about young writers who publish the first novel they attempt to write. Our young author moved to New York and took up the business of living just like a Real Writer. It was great fun: cigarettes and smoky bars (you could smoke places then), cool artists, trendy openings, literary cocktail parties. Then came big box bookstores and the home entertainment revolution; then 9/11, George W. and his wars; and then the crash of 2008. All of it was reminiscent of a long, long water slide with no end in sight, and quite possibly no pool of water at the bottom, either. The publishing world, like so many other worlds, was essentially turned upside down and shaken like a snow globe. Fast forward to the present day. Our author is no longer quite so young, but is still incredibly good-looking, and his talent has only matured in the manner of a very expensive French cheese. (Or at least that’s what he tells himself.) “What’s that?” say the Important Publishing People to him now. “You’ve published nine books, including one international best-seller, you have a global readership, and you’ve just finished a new book that critics and readers alike are hailing as not just Really Sorta Good, but also relevant to the pickle our modern society finds itself in? Welp, sorry, chum. We might be able to cough up a few bucks to print twelve copies of it, if you give us a year or two to think about it first. Then again, we might not. You’ll just have to wait and see.” That’s the situation in a nutshell. My latest book, The Hundred Hearts, which is my ninth published title and my fifth work of what I refer to with eternal optimism as literary fiction, was published in Canada in 2013 by Thomas Allen Publishers. Just after it came out, Thomas Allen was promptly gobbled up by another house, whose job it then became to do all the things Thomas Allen was supposed to do–all the things publishers have historically done, such as, oh, I don’t know, sell books. Yet that didn’t seem to be happening. Why not? I don’t know. Neither does anyone else. One might be forgiven for getting the impression that publishers buy books these days not to put them out, but to suppress them. “We hate this book!” I imagine them saying. “We hate its guts. We detest it. So we’re going to buy it, and we’ll pretend to publish it but really we’re going to stick it under this rock here, and because we own the rights, the author won’t be able to touch it!” Well, no, they don’t do that at all, but really, when I got my last royalty statement and realized that the number of copies sold in the last sales period was lower than my shoe size, and when I got on the phone with my agent last week and further realized that the chances of an American publisher putting this book out any time before my children become parents themselves were about equal to Sarah Palin’s chances of being made an honorary member of Monty Python, I knew with a great and mighty knowingness that the time had come. If anyone outside Canada was ever going to read this book, it would have to be self-published. Once I said the phrase “self-published” nine or ten times out loud in the mirror, it didn’t sound so bad. Not nearly as bad as the word “unpublished,” anyway. Why not, after all? I know how to make websites. I know, vaguely, how self-publishing works. It’s no longer considered the domain of the hopeless crank, the type of person who still often buttonholes me at social events to explain the sheer genius behind their scheme of writing a ten-volume series of novels in which they never use the letter E. There are plenty of perfectly respectable writers who self-publish, and in fact there always have been. Perhaps it was my own snobbery that needed to be laid to rest. After all, I had nothing left to prove. I could boast publication by the largest houses in North America and the UK. Even books I’d ghost-written under false names had been published by major literary houses. It was proof, to me if to no one else, that I could really write. That was something I could whisper aloud to myself as I lay in bed at night, staring up into the darkness, remembering the warm caress of the last rays of golden light as the sun went down on twentieth-century Manhattan. I would have to hold that memory close to my heart. Lord knows I couldn’t buy groceries with it. The most painful thing was to admit that I really had nothing to lose, either. Despite stellar reviews, generous blurbs, and even some most welcome press coverage from the likes of Lainey Lui at LaineyGossip.com, my book had only sold a double handful of copies in the land of snowy beaver pelts. If I sold even one copy anywhere else, it would be an infinite increase, percentage-wise, over previous non-Canadian sales, which were zero. So, here I am. It still feels strange, but is decidedly pleasant. I don’t know what the Other Writers are going to think of me now. Will they giggle into their hands as I walk by? Actually, I don’t care. Other writers don’t buy my books, after all. I strongly suspect they don’t even read them. Well, how could they? They’re too busy writing books of their own. Most surprising has been the reaction of the people who do read my books. They seem even more excited by this venture than I. I flatter myself into thinking it’s because they are happy to have another book by me to read. Certain friends of mine have been urging me to self-publish for years. The fact is this: readers don’t care who publishes a book. They only care that they get to read it. That’s the Amazing Discovery I want to share. The imprimatur of the publishing elite is growing increasingly irrelevant. Publishers and authors once needed each other to exist. That is no longer the case. People will always want to be told stories. They will never care whose colophon graces the front page of a book. So guess who will still be standing when the dust clears? I have plenty more to say about self-publishing, but that will have to wait for another post, perhaps. In the meantime, I need to send some emails out to reviewers, I have to finish converting the manuscript to yet another format, and I need to interact with fans on Facebook. Am I busy? Yes. Am I happy? Deliriously so. Onward.
Read more

US science fiction literary agents

The science-fiction market remains as varied as it has always been, with plenty of international (and commercial) appeal. There are plenty of science-fiction loving agents, but finalising your shortlist can be a painstakingly long, dull task. Unless you’re using AgentMatch, that is.    We’ve done all the hard work for you: scoured the four corners of the web for every interview, interesting fact, and noteworthy quotes, it’s all there. So, why not take out our 7-day free trial to get complete access to all the US literary agent profiles.  After selecting your country (we advise that US based authors query US based agents), genre or non-fiction subject, you’ll receive a personalised list of suitable agent profiles. You can save your search results and then work through them one by one, at your own pace. Here’s some science-fiction agents to get you started:  Tracey Adams   Julie Barer   Beth Campbell  Connor Goldsmith  Mark Gottlieb   Evan Gregory   Monika Verma Kieryn Ziegler  Need more information? We break everything down in our guide to finding a literary agent – it’s invaluable for all querying authors!  Are You Really Writing Science Fiction? Although you can still write classic space opera and find an eager market for it, there has been an increased interest in seeing more dystopia, genre collisions, and intelligent idea-driven fiction.  As a genre, science fiction remains rich. You can even argue that literary novelists like Margaret Atwood and David Mitchell have published science-fiction novels. George Orwell and Aldous Huxley are certainly renowned for their sci-fi masterpieces. While authors like Iain Banks and China Mieville, who aren’t traditionally considered as literary novelists, have produced some excellent examples of challenging, bold, and thoughtful fiction.   As the science-fiction market is so rich and deeply varied, it’s important to ask yourself: ‘am I really writing science fiction?’  For example:   A near-future thriller about an as-yet-undiscovered virus could well market itself more accurately as a techno-thriller and be suitable for crime and thriller agents and editors. An intelligent novel, like David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, is probably better sold as literary fiction, no matter whether or not it uses sci-fi ideas and techniques.  If science-fiction is the right genre for you, then you’ll probably want to read this article on world-building.   And, if you’re still unsure about where your book will sit then try using AgentMatch, our database of all US and UK agents. Using the genre search you can peruse the agent profile pages to see what agents are looking for and find the best possible fit for your novel.  Wishing you lots of intergalactic luck! 
Read more

Serendipity (or how I met my agent)

Guest author and blogger Lexie Elliott is author of The French Girl and shared with us how she met her literary agent en route to our Festival of Writing. Find her on Goodreads, on Facebook, or on Instagram. I like contradictions. I like it when there’s a round hole and a square peg that somehow fits it, I like it when things that should be black and white have shades of grey (erm, not those shades. Unless that’s your thing, in which case go right ahead). The exception to the rule always pulls my attention. There’s a story in there, I find myself thinking. How might it unfold? And because I like contradictions, I also like serendipity. The word itself has become a contradiction: in the original tales of the three princes of Serendip, the princes achieve success not merely through chance, as the modern day understanding of the word suggests, but more importantly using logical deduction. And that’s how I met my wonderful, inspiring, supportive agent Marcy: it was serendipitous, but I’d deliberately stacked the odds. I met Marcy just as the train we were both on pulled into York. I noticed a lady waiting to exit the carriage holding some papers emblazoned with Festival of Writing, realised we were going to the same place and somehow eschewed my usual British reticence in order to make small talk. She was having difficulty with her luggage, so I helped her with that and then we shared a taxi to the venue. It was only during that taxi ride that I discovered she’s that most important of creatures – an agent, no less – and, moreover, an agent representing writers in my genre (psychological suspense, since you ask). I plucked up the courage to ask if I could send her some material. Thankfully, she liked what she read, and we started down a path that has thus far led to an enormously exciting two-book deal with Berkley and the sale of the TV and movie rights for my first novel, The French Girl. Like I said, serendipitous, certainly – but it you want to meet an agent by chance, you must surely have a far greater probability of success if you go somewhere where there will actually be agents. I count that particular Festival of Writing as a pivotal point in my writing career, and not only because I met Marcy. I also met lots of other authors, agents (I got far down the line with a couple before settling with Marcy), book doctors, presenters, panellists. I learnt a huge amount about the craft of writing (or in some areas, relearning what I had forgotten). It was a deliberate investment, both in terms of time and money, in my fledgling writing career and an important psychological step to take: just registering for the Festival of Writing felt like a public acknowledgement that I was serious about my writing. I went to York entirely on my own, which forced me to get out of my hermit-like comfort zone and actually start up conversations with people, and I was warmed to find that those people were unfailingly friendly, polite and interesting. As a writer with a young family and a part-time job, I don’t have, well, any free time at all, actually, and certainly none to spend tapping into a nearby community of writers; it was heavenly to spend time talking about writing with people who weren’t either gently bemused by the compulsion to do it (my husband) or rather miffed that my stories don’t contain sword-fighting and/or spies (my sons). I returned from the Festival with a good idea of what was wrong with my current writing project, and a decent plan of how to go about putting it right. More importantly, I returned with a better understanding of my own creative process and a renewed enthusiasm for … wait for it … actually writing. Because, a lot of times, sitting down at the laptop can feel like hard work. It’s much easier to spend that time watching Netflix, or reading the result of someone else’s hard work. Sometimes it can even be easier to tidy the house and do the laundry than to write (admittedly, those are dark days). But those bolts of inspiration, that supposedly come from the blue to strike like creative lightning in the minds of aspiring writers, don’t really strike unless your mind is open to them. You must put in the thinking time and the writing time. You must make yourself into a lightning rod. It turns out that inspiration takers work (just another of those contradictions that I like). The Festival of Writing won’t do the work for you, but it will help you figure out how to get it done. And if you already have something that’s ready for the world to see, you have a pretty good chance of finding just the person to help you get it out there. Good luck! May the force of serendipity be with you. Serendipity (noun); the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.
Read more

Dominic Brownlow’s Success Story

Dominic Brownlow\'s Success Story I read recently on Chris Bonnello’s blog those distant and, until now, impossibly unreachable words ‘Then it happened to me’, and had to sort of shake myself, not because it has also happened to me but because I realised it is not as simple as that. It is not something that happened to me, or to Chris for that matter, I imagine, but because we’d made it happen. We’d shortened the string on that wild, flailing kite and pulled it out of the sky. This is not gloating, by the way. My journey to this point has been as long and as painful as everyone else’s, I can assure you. The writing part, or so I thought, finished a year ago. Those endless, fey evenings at my desk pretending to be an actual writer were, and are, some of the happiest, if not most distraught moments of my life. I loved it. I still do, but whether we care to admit to it or not we all crave for our stories to be in print, for the ‘It happened to me’ moment and so at some stage we must prise them from the confines of our computers and send them out into the dark, unknown world of agents and publishers. If you’re like me you’ll do this far too soon and potentially blow all your chances of publishing something that is fundamentally, so you believe, as worth publishing as anything else. As with many people here my writing was a secret affair. After a while, many years in fact, you tire of people asking you how the book’s going and people tire of asking. Eventually, my first draft completed, some five or six years ago now, I sought the advice of an editor. He was fantastically honest and I owe a great deal to him. He stuck with me as very slowly, scraping hours between work, I would once a year send him a new draft and he would, at the same time as encouraging me and persuading me I had the potential to write something publishable, quite brutally put me in my place. ‘I’ve been on many aeroplanes in my life,’ he once told me over coffee, sitting outside the British Library,’ but I wouldn’t think to fly one.’ This resonates with me still and I think is the best advice, as a wannabe writer, I have ever been given. Yes, I could write pretty sentences, often staring at them for hours, freely swapping the words around as though they were jigsaw puzzle pieces, and I had a decent story up my sleeve, but in order to write it I had, at first, to learn how to write. And so I did. With these words reverberating in my ears and what I believe to be the best writers’ guide available, Release The Bats, by DBC Pierre, positioned like a Bible at my side, I started again. I deleted the entire folder, 149,000 words, and started again with the same idea but a different outlook completely. It was slow, fastidious work, as we can all appreciate, finding hours here and there and forever being tired, but over time something clicked and I knew, in practice at least, I was doing it right. And I was loving it. If anyone had asked me how the book was going I would have told them with the fervency of a new father that it was going well, that I was getting ready to send out to people, but they weren’t asking anymore. Best to keep quiet about ‘the book,’ they most likely thought, but it didn’t matter, not now. A publishing deal was a dead cert. I even, lofty in my own self-belief, entered and was long-listed for the Bath Novel Children’s Award. It was surely only a matter of time. A quick trip to the York Festival, to get out of my house and into the publishing world at last, and I was in. But I wasn’t, was I? I wasn’t even on the starting blocks and I’d been going at it, one way or another, for nearly seven years. What I got, though, from the York Festival was encouragement from a couple of agents. They very kindly told me I could write well but, and here’s the cruncher, they didn’t think they were would be able to place the book. Was it a children’s novel or a literary novel? I had purposefully, and somewhat foolishly as it happened, set out to write a literary novel for young adults. Confused once again, disheartened and at a bit of a loss, I took the plunge of seeking professional help, to learn how to fly. I found the very fantastic Susan Davis at Jericho Writers and everything from that moment changed. Susan instantly took to the manuscript, concurrently instilling confidence but highlighting some quite major issues. More importantly she encouraged me to stick to my guns, that this was a novel that didn’t need categorising, even when others were telling me it did, that in order for it to progress it had to have a clear and definable place on a shelf. I never doubted her, even after making the changes and sending out to near enough two dozen agents and receiving some of the most glowing yet fundamentally worthless rejection letters imaginable. They all claimed they liked the book but couldn’t place it. Frustrated as I was with the responses, I turned again to Susan who contacted a friend of hers, Louise Walters, who had recently set up a small imprint, Louise Walters Books. In August this year I sent her the manuscript. She came back to me, saying that on first reading she loved it but, here we go again, she couldn’t categorise it. However on a second reading, back to back, she knew just how to resolve this situation and was in complete agreement with Susan about its potential. By this stage a couple of other small publishers were showing interest, but nothing now would stop me signing with someone who was not only willing to read the novel twice over in one sitting but to look at it with such vision and optimism and, dare I say, bravery, and we signed a few months later. Relief and, yes, a general air of purpose gild now the hours I spend at my desk but I am acutely aware, also, of the temporal nature of this solace. In order to retain ‘this thing that has happened to me’ not only do I have to keep learning but I have to pack my bags and leave for University. For, as I am fast learning, the lessons are getting harder, my lecturer is not simply a voice in my head and whilst I am unreservedly enjoying Freshers’ Week I understand that, really, all I have learnt so far is how to take off. The Naseby Horses is set for release in paperback and ebook in December 2019 with Louise Walters Books.
Read more

The Rewriter’s Journey by John David Mann

by John David Mann In this article, New York Times bestselling author, John David Mann shares his experiences editing and rewriting his first novel, Steel Fear (2020). When I handed my wife my five-hundred-page, hundred-fifty-thousand-word completed draft of my first novel, she did three things. She read it. She told me she loved it. And then she gave me the best advice I’ve had in a decade: “Send it to Jericho.” Context. This wasn’t my maiden voyage. I first learned about the value of rewriting—the agony and ecstasy of rewriting, its trials and rewards—more than a decade earlier. Back in 2005 I coauthored a little “business parable” with a friend and managed to secure us a terrific literary agent, who in 2006 sent it round to a handful of publishers in New York and got the following responses: Editor 1 at Publisher A said no. Editor 2 at Publisher B said no. Editor 3 at Publisher C said no. Editor 4 at Publisher D said no. Editor 5 at Publisher E said no. Editor 6 at Publisher F said no. Editor 7 at Publisher G said no. Editor 8 at Publisher H said, “This one was pretty interesting. The writing is good, but the payoff was a bit lacking.” In other words…no. So we took the manuscript back, spent months reworking it, and then in 2007 sent it round to publishers yet again. This time, some of those same editors from 2006 responded, as did a few different editors at some of those publishers, as well as some altogether new editors from entirely different publishers. Here’s what they all said: Editor 9 at Publisher A (Editor 1’s publisher) said no. Editor 10 at Publisher B (Editor 2’s publisher) said no. Editor 11 at Publisher I said no. Editor 12 at Publisher J said no. Editor 13 at Publisher K said no. Editor 14 at Publisher L said no. Editor 15 at Publisher M said, “Starts out with a bang but loses steam in the middle.” That’s a no. Editor 16 at Publisher N said, “Liked it, but not quite right for our imprint and the direction we are going in this year.” Nyet. Editor 17 at Publisher O passed to Editor 18. Who said, “Like it, but couldn’t get other team members enthusiastic about it.” Nein danke. Editor 4 (back at Publisher D) who’d said no on the first try, said, “It’s very well done, but I don’t think it’s the kind of book that will work well on our business list.” En-Oh. Editor 5 (back at Publisher E) read the new version and said, “Needs a unique hook or punchline to get people to respond. Writing is great but payoff not strong enough.” Fuggedaboudit. Editor 6 (still at Publisher F) said, “Saw this twice now. Liked it, but didn’t love it. While I like the message a lot, the story itself seemed a little more didactic and forced than we would like.” Amscray. Editor 7 (back at Publisher G) said, “Liked it. Wanted to love it, but I’m afraid I just didn’t connect with it. I’ve been incredibly wrong before and probably am on this one, but I’m going to have to pass, with regret.” Don’t let the door hitcha where the good Lord splitcha. Editor 19 at Publisher H, the same house where Editor 8 had said “This one was pretty interesting but the payoff was lacking” the previous year, said— Wait, what? He said “yes.” The Moral Of The Story We published THE GO-GIVER in early 2008. It hit some lists, won some awards, and to date has sold nearly a million copies in more than two dozen languages. But the moral of the story isn’t what you might think. You’ve heard the stories about persistence— JK Rowling turned down by a dozen publishers. Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen and their goofy idea for a book called Chicken Soup for the Soul turned down by 144 publishers. Harlan Sanders and his recipe for fried chicken rejected more than a thousand times. And so on. The moral is, persist! Believe in yourself! Don’t listen to the naysayers—keep knocking on those doors! Right? Yeah…but. Those first eight editors were right to reject our book. To this day I thank my lucky stars they all said “no.” Because if even one of them had said “yes” and we’d published the book back in 2006, it would not have sold a million copies. Maybe a thousand. Or not. Because it wasn’t ready. Those eight editors knew something we didn’t know. And that, that, is to me the moral of the story. Yes, believe in yourself, believe in your idea, trust that your story is the most fantastic and amazing and compelling story that has come around in years, that the world needs and wants your story. Have unshakable faith in yourself. But keep one ear open. Maybe both ears. Because there are people who know things you don’t know. And if you want your idea to become all it can be, all it should be, all it was born to be, then you need to hear those things you don’t yet know. Hear them, and act on them. During those months of reworking that original manuscript, our agent first covered every page with red ink, and I then spent dozens of hours rephrasing, simplifying, compressing, and deleting. Changed one character’s gender. Cut a few other characters altogether. Remember that comment about how “the payoff was a bit lacking”? Right: we tossed out the entire last chapter and wrote a brand new one. And it became the book it was meant to be. Which was why Number Nineteen (aka Adrian Zackheim at Portfolio, an imprint at Penguin, now Penguin Random House) said “yes” and launched my career. Fast forward a decade. By 2018 I’d written a bunch more books, some fairly successful, some not so much, but all of them sharing this in common: they were all shelved on the nonfiction side of the bookstore. In June of ’18 I set out to do something that terrified me: write a novel. Harry Bingham is one of my crime-fiction heroes. I’ve loved every word of the Fiona books. I wanted to do something like that. I’ve also come to love Harry’s teaching and coaching. Before starting work on my novel I read his How to Write cover to cover, joined Jericho Writers and watched his video course. Then I started. Steel Fear The story is a thriller called STEEL FEAR, and I cocreated it with a friend, a former Navy SEAL sniper with whom I’ve written before (all nonfiction, till now). He had the basic story idea, supplied technical and background detail, and was a rich source of color and flavor for the world I was building. The actual writing—creating characters, designing the plot, working out the twists and turns, putting flesh and blood and bones on the whole thing, and tapping out one damn word after another—was my job. Here’s the elevator pitch: A disgraced Navy SEAL stalks a serial killer aboard an aircraft carrier in the midst of the Pacific Ocean. It took me about fifteen months, from first research notes and scribbles to first draft. At which point my wife said: “Send it to Jericho.” Understand, this is something I’ve never ever done before: hired a third-party consultant to critique my first draft. I’ve gotten critique-and-review assistance from my agent, from my publishers’ editors, and from the handful of friends who form my early readers’ circle. This was different: a novel. My first. And a thriller, yet. I knew my wife was right. I needed professional help. So in mid-September 2019, I submitted the manuscript to Jericho for a full manuscript assessment. I don’t think it’s too early to say, that one action has changed the trajectory of my career. Jericho paired me up with veteran thriller author Eve Seymour, who turned around a lengthy, comprehensive critique within a shockingly short time. (Weeks, not months.) Eve was most generous in her initial comments, the “What I think is great” part. And then got down to business. Chapter by chapter, page by page, structure, plot, characterization, pacing and tension…she mapped out the entire thing, end to end, from broad-strokes observations to detailed notes. Her critique was fantastic, phenomenal, incisive, spot on. Kind but ruthless. Terrifying. Galvanizing. Motivating. I saw what was lacking, and what was possible. Eve helped me see that the story had major flaws. I’d conceived of it as having more or less three protagonists—and you can see the problem right there in the phrase “more or less.” It was vague. Not a clear three-strand braid, but not a clear one-hero thread either. She prodded me to make a clear choice as to who was the protagonist, and then rework everything to serve that choice. I had way too much backstory. Heaping helpings of unnecessary exposition. The pacing was fantastic toward the end but laborious in the first half. And inconsistent: some scenes zipped along, some dragged or halted the momentum altogether. Plot took way too long to get going. Some subplot threads didn’t really work. And so on. I had a lot of work ahead of me. I spent October through the end of the year completely reworking it, in the process shrinking from 152k words to 129k. On New Year’s Day I sent Draft 2 to my agent. Who read it. Told us she loved it. And asked for further cuts and revisions. Her observations ran along exactly the same lines as Eve’s. All I had to do was keep going. Between January and April I went through two more drafts, in the process taking that new 129k word count to 120k, and finally to 103k. (From the original, that’s about one in every three words chopped. Warning: Many, many darlings were murdered in the course of this production.) Deleted a handful of characters, some of whom I’d thought were “indispensable.” Tightened timelines. Shifted critical revelations to earlier. Rewrote all the murder scenes that were originally told from the killer’s POV to now be from the victims’ POV. Eliminated a prologue I’d thought of as brilliant and riveting but which turned out to be neither. And so on. Until, finally, it had become the book it was meant to be. In June we got a handful of offers, took the one from Ballantine Books for a two-book deal. Signed a contract in early August. The first book of the series, STEEL FEAR, will hit the shelves on August 24, 2021. The sequel comes a year later. With, perhaps, more to follow. And here’s the cherry on the sundae: we are presently in discussion with three A-list Hollywood producers, all of whom want to bring our story to the screen. The book has, as they say in Tinsel Town, “buzz.” Once a deal solidifies and we know for sure which horse we’re riding I’ll see if we can append that information to this post. Will the book be a hit? No one knows. Will the screen adaptation really happen? No one knows. But this I know, and know for sure: If we hadn’t gone through all that rewriting, none of those editors in New York would have jumped on it. Not one. And the novel would have ended its days sitting on my shelf. Writing made the story. Rewriting turned it into the story it was meant to be. About John John David Mann is coauthor of the New York Times bestsellers The Red Circle, Flash Foresight, The Slight Edge, and The Latte Factor. His Take the Lead (with Betsy Myers) was named by Tom Peters and the Washington Post as “Best Leadership Book of 2011.” His international bestselling classic The Go-Giver (with Bob Burg) was awarded the Axiom Business Book Award’s Gold Medal and the Living Now Book Award’s Evergreen Medal given for “contribution to positive global change.” You can keep up to date with John’s new releases, on his Amazon page. Find John on twitter here, or have a nose around his website here. Are you on the lookout for representation? If so, why not check out AgentMatch, our database recording all UK and US literary agents. Or, perhaps you’re also looking for some editorial feedback? If so, then you’ll probably find this blog about the types of editing really helpful, and not forgetting our editorial services too!
Read more

US literary agents for fantasy fiction

The fantasy fiction market has been incredibly successful over the years, and publishers have made a lot of money from it. There are plenty fantasy-loving agents but finalising your agent shortlist can be a painstakingly long, dull task. Unless you’re using AgentMatch, that is.     We’ve done all the hard work for you: scoured the four corners of the web for every interview, interesting fact, and noteworthy quote, it’s all there. So, why not take out our 7-day free trial to get complete access to all the US literary agent profiles.   After selecting your country (we advise that US based authors query US based agents), genre or non-fiction subject, you’ll receive a personalised list of suitable agent profiles. Save your search results and work through them one by one, at your own pace. Here’s some names to get you started: Tracey Adams Amelia Appel Amy Elizabeth Bishop Connor Goldsmith Donald Maass Kristen Nelson Tricia Skinner Need more information? We break everything down in our guide to finding a literary agent – it’s invaluable for all querying authors!  There have been some excellent authors who have written in the genre, China Mieville, Neil Gaiman, and Iain Banks to name a few.  This means that there are plenty of agents looking for the next big thing in fantasy to come their way. If that’s you, then AgentMatch should be your next stop!  To make sure your fantasy novel stands out from the slushpile try reading this article on world-building. You’ll probably also find this piece by published author Geraldine Pinch on how to write a fantasy novel useful, too.  Best of luck! 
Read more

US agents representing Horror

Looking for an agent that represents horror? Then look no further, we answer all your questions here. Plus, we’ll even introduce a few agents you may like to query!  Agents Seeking Horror There are plenty of horror-loving agents but finalising your agent shortlist can be a painstakingly long, dull task. Unless you’re using AgentMatch, that is.   After selecting your country (we advise that US based authors should query US based agents), genre or non-fiction subject areas, you’ll receive a personalised list of suitable agent profiles. You can save your search results and work through them one by one, at your own pace. We’ve done all the work for you: scoured the four corners of the web for every interview, interesting fact, and noteworthy quote, it’s all there.   So, if you want to get to know the agents below (as well as the other 900+ literary agents!) a little better, then take out our 7-day free trial and get searching.  Michael Bourret Elizabeth Copps Heather Flaherty Connor Goldsmith  Caitlin McDonald Maxmillian Ximenez Need more information? We break everything down in our guide to finding a literary agent – it’s invaluable for all querying authors! The Horror Market Since Stephen King revived and expanded the genre, horror has been a reliably steady element in the book market. The emergence of teen paranormal sagas has brought new readers to the genre, as well as changing the genre’s boundaries even further. While the ebook revolution has also introduced new readers to the genre, namely young men (traditionally more reluctant book-buyers) have been more willing to purchase fiction via their tablets and smart phones.  It’s important to remember that the genre shouldn’t be seen in too restrictive terms. Contemporary authors, such as the award-winning Lesley Glaister, have added quality to the genre. While well-respected authors like Susan Hill, have actually been writing horror fiction for years, albeit not for the typical audience associated with the genre.  You might find that some crime and thriller authors also plough through the classic horror territory.  (Oh, that noise from the old stone cellar? It’s nothing. Really, nothing.) 
Read more

What authors really think of publishers

Jane Friedman and I launched the English-speaking world’s most comprehensive survey of what authors think of the firms that publish them. We invited the views of traditionally published authors only, whether or not they had also self-published. We sought to create a survey that was both balanced and incisive: one that wouldn’t shirk the questions that matter most to authors. Our results are in. We’ve had 812 responses all told and the data makes for very interesting reading indeed. My personal take on the principal conclusions to be drawn from the survey follows, I do recommend taking a look at Jane Friedman’s note on the topic as well. Who Responded To Our Survey? Our authors were typically highly experienced. Almost 50% had published 6 or more books. Almost 80% had had something published within the last 12 months. More than 60% had the services of a literary agent. Our authors were also typically allied to Big Publishing. 56% of our respondents were published by a ‘Big 5’ firm or by one of the industry’s larger independents. (Such as Bloomsbury in the UK, or Perseus in the US.) About three fifths of our respondents were based in North America. Almost all the rest were based in Britain or Ireland. The Bookseller was a strong supporter of the survey, but we also had supportive tweets, blogs, appeals from (among others), the Society of Authors, the ALCS, Novelists Inc, and numerous other author associations and leading industry figures. In short, the authors who responded to our survey were a well-rounded, experienced and authoritative group. I’m not aware of any reason why our sample should be skewed either to favour or penalise the industry overall. On the contrary, we did all we could to invite views from the entire breadth of the spectrum. The rest of this post summarises the full data and draws some of the main conclusions. Conclusion #1: Authors respect their publishers’ editorial and design skills There’s no doubt about it: authors rate their publishers’ editorial, copyediting, cover design and copywriting skills very highly. Some 71% of authors thought their publishers’ editorial skills were good or excellent. On copyediting, the proportion was 73%. On cover design and cover copy, the proportions were 81% and 80% respectively. These results are equally strong when we consider only the smaller, indie publishers, implying that standards remain high right across the industry. These are outstanding results, proof that traditional publishing is indeed expert at taking a manuscript and making a book. It’s an excellent endorsement of some of the industry’s core competencies, and one that comes from those people in the best position to make the assessment. (Congratulations!) Conclusion #2: Authors have serious reservations when it comes to their publishers’ marketing skills and philosophy There’s no kind way to say this. Authors are unimpressed by their publishers’ marketing campaigns and the methods by which those campaigns are developed. If the top two responses can be taken as broadly equivalent to the “Excellent or good” categories we were looking at before, the 70-80% satisfaction rate has now dropped to less than 40%. Adding the “significant gaps” and “not marketed at all” answers together, we have a Poor/Non-existent rating that’s nudging 50%. Needless to say, any author would like a splashy launch with lots of consumer advertising and all those other lovely, expensive things. But note that our question explicitly calls attention to budgetary limitations and simply asks about whether the author’s own skills and connections have been properly used – an area where any cost implications are small to minimal. I would also note that if we look at the responses only of those (400+) authors who have published 5 or more books, the distribution of answers is essentially identical – and it would seem highly implausible that these experienced authors continue to have misguided expectations as to the scale of publisher marketing spend. In short, our survey offers no support for the hypothesis that authors only grumble about marketing because they are unrealistic about budgets. Indeed, our survey doesn’t simply offer a conclusion as to what authors think – it offers a massive clue as to why they think it. Here’s our data on the extent to which authors felt involved in their publishers’ marketing strategy. Over 60% of authors felt marginalised or worse by their publisher when it came to marketing strategy. A scant 20% felt closely involved and informed. These results look broadly similar whether the authors were being published by very large trade publishing firms (the Big 5 and their closest competitors) or by smaller indie or academic presses. They look broadly the same whether we look at North American publishers or British & Irish ones. In short, it seems that our authors – numerous and experienced as they are – feel neglected by their publishers’ marketing departments and feel underwhelmed by the campaigns that result. Conclusion #3: Publishers are poor at communicating with their authors In my view, the single most astonishing finding of this survey is this: a full three-quarters of authors are not asked for feedback by their publishers. That proportion is essentially the same if we look at authors publishing with a major publisher, or authors on large advances (defined for the purposes of this post as any advance of $30,000 or more.) British publishers were a little less likely to invite feedback than American ones, but only somewhat and within a plausible margin of error. This failure to ask authors about their overall experience of the publishing process doesn’t appear to be a one-off glitch in a generally strong and communicative relationship. We also asked authors to rate their publishers’ communications more generally. Answers divide pretty much 50/50 between Good and Excellent on the one hand, and Average or worse on the other. Given the generally strong experiences authors reported in relation to editorial and other book production functions, it seems clear that the industry as a whole could do better. That conclusion is underlined by a further question, which asked our respondents whether they received “systematic guidance from your publisher about how you could add most value to the overall publishing process”. Half of respondents either received that help or felt they didn’t need it. But a full half reported either that they received some guidance but wanted more, or that they received no guidance and felt marginalised as a result. The traditional publishing industry often claims to have authors at its heart, but our results suggest, on the contrary, many authors feel somewhat excluded from it. Since communicating better with authors would not entail significant costs (and might, you’d think, bring some significant benefits), it would seem that our data provides a large clue as to how regular publishers could improve their operations. Finally on this point, I think it’s worth relating a more anecdotal observation. In the course of collecting data on this survey, I was told by three authors – all formerly Big 5, now with Amazon Publishing – that Amazon constantly solicits and responds to feedback. One told me, “It’s night and day. There’s much more of a teamwork attitude there. Completely different from any of my traditional publishers.” That is: the faceless machine of Seattle may actually be better at author relationships than the traditional industry. If that isn’t a call to action for more mainstream publishers, I don’t know what is. Conclusion #4: A clear majority of authors are unimpressed by their publishers The single most important question in our survey was also the simplest. We asked, “For your next book, if a different, reputable publisher were to offer you the same advance as your current one, would you move to the new house or stay where you are?” What authors told us is that people would quit, or would consider quitting, their current firm than would choose to stay. The move/don’t knows together emphatically outnumber the stays, by almost exactly 2:1. If we look only at authors working with major trade publishers, the results look distinctly better – the “Stay” group now nudges up to 42% – but that still leaves almost 60% of authors who would, or might, choose to switch. The same effect is apparent if we look only at authors with large advances: the “Stay” category is now 44%, but a clear 31% of such authors would choose to move. I don’t think anyone involved in the industry would or should think that those numbers are acceptable. Given that authors are highly impressed by many aspects of their publishers, the two clear areas of weakness, as identified by our survey, are (a) authors’ involvement in marketing, and (b) the whole area of communications and feedback. Those two things shouldn’t simply be cheap to fix; better performance on those two fronts might well prove profit-enhancing. Conclusion #5: Authors generally love their literary agents Reviewing what we’ve learned so far, one might be tempted to conclude that authors are just a grumbly bunch. Maybe nothing would make them happy. Well, that’s a theory of course, but it’s not one with any visible empirical foundation. Our survey also asked the question, “If another reputable literary agent at another reputable agency offered you representation, would you accept it?” Looking only at the data from authors with literary agents, the reponse we got back was as follows. Fully two-thirds of authors are happy with their current representation, and the positively dissatisfied proportion is little more than 10%. The ratio of stay vs move is better than 6:1, as opposed to the worse than 1:1 ratio we discovered in relation to publishers. What’s more, authors’ frustrations with their agents seemed relatively limited. Although this survey did not investigate the author-agent relationship in depth, we did ask respondents for a Twitter-style summary of the message they’d want to send their agents if they could. Many authors just wrote some variant on the message, “I love you!”. The one negative issue which recurred again and again was a variant on “Answer my emails!” I’d suggest that if the poor communicators among agents sharpened up their act, there would be extremely few authors who would remain dissatisfied. Respecting career guidance. Just 3% of authors view their editor as being their main source of career wisdom. A further 17% answered “agent and editor”, as compared with the 57% who replied “agent only”. Some observers might argue that publishers are there to publish books, agents are there to guide careers, and there’s simply no purpose in the former group attempting to do the latter’s job. That isn’t, however, what the industry itself claims. For example, in its submission to the House of Commons Culture, Media & Sport Select Committee, the Publishers Association states that the “the publishing company[‘s] core roles are … to identify, nurture and develop authorial talent.” You can’t nurture and develop talent if you take no interest in its longer-term evolution. At present, literary agents seem to be performing that role very successfully. On our data at least, few publishers can say the same. Since our site is proud to serve writers seeking agents, we’re delighted that published authors share our favourable view of literary agents. Conclusion #6: Authors feel poorly paid and poorly treated It’s common for surveys like this one to report, by way of headline, that authors are badly paid. And, indeed, our median author received an adance that was somewhat less than $10,000 – or, let’s say, about £5,000. That figure, however, includes many academic authors, or poets, or people bringing out smaller books with smaller presses. It would be fair to assume that those people aren’t really turning to publication primarily as a source of income. On the other hand, if we focus only on authors who (a) have agents and (b) sell their work to Big 5 or other large trade publishers, it would be fair to assume both that those writers are writing primarily as a way to make a living and (certainly) that they represent the most commercially successful cross-section of our sample. Even here, however, our median author received an advance of just $20,000 or so (£13,000), which will not strike most people as a handsome income, (though royalties and overseas rights sales will tend to increase that amount.) Whether these sums feel like fair rewards, given the broader industry context, is perhaps more telling. And, when asked for their broad agreement/disagreement with a number of possible statements about publishers, only 7.5% of authors feel well-paid by their publishers. If we select only those authors who have literary agents and are with major publishers, that scant 7.5% stat rises … to 9.5%. When you consider that the average Big 5 graduate trainee is paid around 50% more than that median Big 5 advance, you can understand that authorial frustration. Now, to be fair, the industry has never claimed to offer large rewards to the bulk of those who write for it, yet you would hope a lack of financial remuneration is made up for by good treatment in other respects. Our data, however, do not provide evidence of that good treatment. Only one quarter of our respondents felt well-treated by their publisher “in non-financial ways”. The agented/large publisher authors felt well-treated just 31% of the time. That seems a dispiriting result. The only other firm messages from this question were that a clear majority of authors felt that the industry had been “lazy and un-innovative” when it came to digital matters, but that only a smallish minority (about 16% of respondents) think the industry is likely to vanish anytime soon. Curiously, most authors don’t think that publishers constitute a “crucial bastion of culture and learning”, a result I am not able to explain. (Except possibly as a matter of priming: it may be that by asking our authors to think through their relationships with publishers, we accidentally primed a kind of surliness by the time we reached this point in the survey. I’d also note that only 30% or so of authors felt that Amazon treats self-publishing authors well. Given that Amazon offers access to pretty much every reader in the world via a well-designed author-interface that costs nothing to access, that delivers instant results, that provides real-time sales data and very swift payment – and bearing in mind also that the firm’s sites and e-reader technologies are both state-of-the-art and have cost billions to invent and create – you sort of have to wonder what the 70% of hold-outs want from a self-pub company. In short, I think there is some evidence of surliness towards the end of our survey.) Conclusion #7: Authors aren’t leaving the traditional industry You might think that our results so far would imply that a broad swath of authors would consider leaving the traditional publishing industry altogether. And, indeed, there is some support for that view, as evidenced by this: some 44% of traditionally published authors have also self-published. Yet this data may well mean less than appears. To speak personally for a moment, I have self-published work in both the UK and US. In Britain, I’ve self-published some of my older work, where I never sold the e-rights. I make a couple of hundred pounds a month from the exercise, but not even remotely enough money to base a career on. In the US, I’m currently self-publishing some of my front-list work (for reasons explained rather exhaustively here), but I’m conventionally published in Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, and elsewhere besides. Those relationships contribute the vast bulk of my authorial income and I have absolutely no intention of disrupting them. I’d be crazy to do so. In short, it may be that plenty of authors are happy to self-publish their older or more marginal work, or self-publish in territories where traditional print publishing didn’t quite work out for them – yet those same authors have absolutely no intention of self-publishing their current, front-list work if they have an alternative. Just under a quarter of respondents say they’d feel excited by the adventure of self-publishing. Well over a third say they’d feel negative, or worse. But perhaps the key stat in this set of responses is that the question itself was skipped by more than half of respondents … a fact which suggests, to me at least, that most respondents were thinking, “I would never self-publish” (or perhaps “would never self-publish a front-list work in my home market”). That lack of enthusiasm for the new frontiers of self-pub is also evident when we focus directly on the cash implications of going independent. Our last question on that was skipped by most respondents, suggesting that the topic did not feel involving. And of those who did respond, only 15% of authors felt confident of improving their financial outcomes. To summarise: authors may have grumbles about their existing publishers, and many authors may seek to switch publishers if they could, but that does not imply authors are about to start leaving the industry en masse. Today, at any rate, authors are in a state of discontented equilibrium: grumbling, but not leaving, the industry. A parting note You’ve heard enough from me. A final hope on which to end. I’m a big believer in traditional publishing. I’ve been with the industry for 15 years and I hope to be with it for more – yet it’s no secret that my own journey has at times been rocky. I firmly believe that the things broken are not just fixable, I also think this industry could achieve better results by acting on these insights. The formula for success is not hard to find. Talk to authors. Involve them. Ask for feedback. Then rinse and repeat. More On Getting Published Link to: How to Get Your Book Published Getting Published All you need to know
Read more

Screenwriting: Structure

It’s what sends screenwriters into frenzied anxiety attacks, rapidly losing the will to live, but Structure can seem a whole lot less terrifying once you realise that all it really means is the way your story unfolds. Think of it not as some rigid template you have to squeeze your story into, but the way the emotional needs and actions of your characters are shaping and driving the story. Keep remembering that the aim of structure is to draw your audience into an intense emotional engagement with the story and keep them totally absorbed throughout. Think of it as the story breathing – ever-developing sequences of tension and release which keep depth-charging the emotions of the audience. Having a flexible outline of pivotal events can help. A story needs something to get it going, moments that are turning points which force the character in new directions (often an emotional revelation, not just surface action), a climax and a resolution (which can be ambiguous or open-ended).Some pointers for shaping the story: Watch A Film Once, Then The Same Film Backwards The idea is to trace how the narrative thread is not just shaped but layered. You’re looking for how the whole story is paced, moments or scenes where you’re given breathing space to absorb what’s happening and so on. You’re looking out for moments that move the story forward in ways that layer and interweave. Make notes as you keep hitting the pause button. Starting from the final frame: Be aware of how each scene has been prepared for in previous scenes. You’re following the thread backwards. Try to keep in mind the overall thread – something in scene 20 may have been foreshadowed in scene 2. Make a note of what it is in each scene that is driving the story. Is what’s happening now more interesting than before? How is conflict being developed? Look out for moments where you’re registering meaning through the ways in which the story is being orchestrated not just in terms of plot. Watching backwards is a terrific way to see how not just actions, but symbolic resonances, unspoken feelings, visual metaphors, subtext, dialogue, subtext are all structuring the story. (Silence can be structure.) How are all these script elements driving the story forward?How’s the pacing? Is it varied?How much tension and release is happening? Do this with other films so you can discover some of the most powerful ways to develop the natural unfolding movement of a story. Beat Sheet This represents emotional beats and events which are pivotal to the flow of the story, and helps to focus on a clear and concise storyline. Think of it as successive bullet-points. A beat can be something happening within a scene or across scenes. Jot down a bare outline of the main critical moments in the story. This will help with pacing. Are there ups and downs? Where are the moments of dramatic tension and release?Significant turning points where things move in a new direction?Any twists that surprise? Now you’ll have a firmer idea of what other beats to add – and crucially – where they fall in the arc of the story until you have a complete sheet. A beat sheet is invaluable for assessing how an audience will stay completely connected to the story. Look at every beat and ask: Will the audience want to know what happens next? It can also help to draw a graph of beats to see at once how varied the pace is and whether you have those all-important tension and release sequences. Getting The Pace Right Make your words move, shift, change gear. Give them energy. Open your script at random and read a page out loud. Is there something moving which impels one word to the next, one line to the next, one page to the next? Now this isn’t a question of speed. A work has effective pace when everything happens at the right moment for its dramatic purpose. A stopped momentum is pace. A high-octane action sequence is pace. The key is to vary the pace. Keep asking your script questions. I strongly urge you to get some friends to do a readthrough of your script. They play the characters, one of them reads the descriptions and you listen and make notes. It’s best if the ‘actors’ can stand up and move around. You’ll soon be able to see where the story sags and needs more tightening, or has too much going on and needs more breathing. It’s the quickest way to find out whether the structure and shape of the story is working. Pauline is a screenwriter, award-winning playwright, Shakespeare scholar, and former journalist. She’s also the author of one of the best guides there is to screenwriting: Screenwriting They Can’t Resist: How to Create Screenplays of Originality and Cinematic Power. Explode the Rules.
Read more

How I Got A Publishing Deal by Philippa East

By Philippa East Okay, well I’m not dead yet, but in the three years it’s taken me to create my novel Little White Lies, the story has reincarnated more times than I like to count. Draft zero took about three months to write. The subsequent editing took three years (and counting). Am I mad? Has it been worth it? Best if you decide… Before embarking on this novel, I’d had a number of short stories published, so I reckoned I could write okay. In December 2015, I had a premise, some characters and… not much else. In the end, I decided to just start writing. (Uh oh.) I set myself a target of 1,000 words a day and stuck to it for the next two and a half months. I ended up with 82,000 words of… something. I wrote THE END on the final page: draft 0, aka the sh*tty first draft. Honestly, mine was very sh*tty. I had written a mess, basically a patchwork of random scenes. I tidied up what I could and gave it (now called draft 2) to my sister. Always my biggest critic, I knew she’d be honest. She had a lot to say, some positive, a lot on what needed improving, all of it valid. I wanted to make it better but I was completely overwhelmed. And so, I signed up for Emma and Debi’s brilliant self-edit course. Over the next few months, I rewrote and rewrote. Characters, plot, voice, pacing. Pretty much everything needed fixing. In September 2016, I went to the York Festival of Writing for the first time and immediately liked the look of the one-to-one agent I sat down with (Sarah Hornsley). She had some pertinent feedback (the whole weird omniscient narrator POV wasn’t working AT ALL), but asked to see the full. Maybe I liked her because she asked for the full, but I think I liked her anyway. The novel, though, was nowhere near finished. It was still a mess. I was still rewriting and rewriting, this time trying to include Sarah’s feedback too. I could have just sent it, but I wanted to get it as good as it could be. A full year on from Sarah’s manuscript request, I was finally ready. By now the MS was on draft 12(!!). Alongside submissions to a handful of other agents, I sent the full in to Sarah. A couple of tense weeks later, I received her response: There is a lot I like here but I think at the moment it isn’t twisty enough for me to offer representation. I would love a call with you though to discuss some of my editorial thoughts as I do think it has real potential, but I think it would take a lot of work. By now I’d already written this book 12 times. I had worked on it non-stop for almost two years. Now an agent was calling me to suggest I rewrite the whole damn thing? She felt the plot needed a big twist. She thought it would work better written from two alternating POVs, instead of one. This was (in her words) ‘a massive rewrite’. Was I up for it? Another author might walk away at this point, feeling the agent’s vision was just too different. But a little voice in my own head was already whispering that the book could – and therefore should – go up another level. Personalised feedback from other agents was suggesting something similar. I realised I had written a book that was ‘for me’. Now it was time to let go of that version and write a book for the outside world. I told Sarah I would give it a go. The next couple of months were agonising. Coming up with a brand new twist idea, and re-drafting my opening chapters in dual POV (which I had never done before) were two of the biggest challenges I have faced as a writer. I had to push myself so far beyond my current level of competence, while trying not to freak out about how much was at stake (agent representation, a potential publishing deal, etc. etc.). I rewrote and rewrote, inching my way there, trying to avoid a nervous breakdown. Finally, I achieved what I wanted. Not perfect, but good enough to represent my vision. I sent my new outline and first 47 pages to Sarah. She emailed back within a couple of hours. She loved them and wanted to represent me. I jumped for joy, all about my house. Over the next eight months, under Sarah’s guidance, I rewrote the rest of the novel – all 85,000 words of it. (Again.) Together, we went through at least another 4 drafts. The version that we ultimately ended up with was so different to the original that, in my head, I now consider them two separate novels. One was the book I had to write for myself, and I still have a lot of affection for that story. But as they always say: you have to kill your darlings. What have I learnt from all this editing? Here are a few reflections: Don’t Be Afraid Of The Sh*tty First Draft. Painters need paint; sculptors need clay. We need word-vomit on a page. Writing is re-writing; it really is. Read (Current Titles In Your Genre). This is like getting your hands on a thousand past exam papers. If you’re trying to fix issues in your own novel, why not look at how other (successful) authors have done it? No need to reinvent the wheel. If You Possibly Can, Create Some Kind Of Outline. I’ve come to accept that, in the long run, pantsing will only ever get you so far. Eventually you’re going to have to learn how to plan. Learn Your Craft. Editing a novel isn’t about changing it. It’s about changing it for the better so that it works. There are basic elements of writing craft that make stories work for readers. These include: show vs tell, point-of-view, psychic distance and – so importantly – story structure. Getting to grips with these will make it easier to edit your novel successfully. Not easy, obviously. But easier. Be Humble. Listen to feedback, and accept that other people (agents, editors, even beta-readers) are often better judges of your own work than you are. Your book has a very best version of itself. Be open, and trust that others can help you achieve that vision. Don’t Panic (Too Much). Editing is scary, especially editing in response to feedback. By definition, you’re being asked to fix things that until now you haven’t been able to. You are going to have to do better than your best. Keep working at it, seek help when you get stuck, and trust that you will eventually get there. So was it worth it for me, in the end? By October 2018, I finally had a MS that Sarah was happy with. (Probably draft… ooo, 20 by now.) We were ready. Sarah talked me through her submission plan, advising that it would be about a month before we’d know if we had any firm offers. Oh, and just before we sent it out to publishers, could I edit the climactic scene just one more time? By the end of the week, I was ‘on sub’. Six days later, we had our first offer and a couple of weeks after that, Little White Lies sold at auction to HQ/HarperCollins. I celebrated with Pink Cava and made sure to enjoy the moment. After all, an editorial letter would soon be on its way…
Read more

Author website essentials: a writer’s toolkit

You’re an author. You need a storefront. You could put a sign up in your front garden or (better idea) you could build a website. Here’s everything you need to know. 1. The Book Comes First Do you have a book cover already? If not, you must get that in place before you start to design your site. That cover will define your brand as an author. It’ll be the primary way that readers ‘know’ you. That book cover will define the fonts and images that are part of your visual brand. Your website needs to support that, not conflict. There are no exceptions to this rule. That means: if you are an indie author and don’t yet have a cover, then get one. (Use this guide for how to commission your cover.) If you’re a traditional author, then wait for your publisher to produce a cover before you start to build your website. Either way, start with the book, then roll that look out to the site. 2. Build For The Long Term It’s really easy to think small, early on. That means limiting your budget. Limiting the design energy. Using a free domain such as yourname.wordpress.com instead of just yourname.com. (Or yournameauthor.com, if some celebrity has got to the domain name first.) On balance, I’d advise writers to somehow find the extra money needed to do this right. As your writing business expands, you’ll want your core assets to be strong enough to support that expansion – and that means getting the site right from the start. What’s more, doing it right doesn’t mean a lot of investment. Once you have your book cover, you’ll have the basic look of the site right there, together with font selections and images. Generating the rest of the site should not be hard or expensive. If you’re paying more than £1000 or $1500, you’re probably paying more than you need. So if you’re a pro or semi-pro designer yourself, then build your own site. Anyone else, commission a site, but make it clear from the outset that the designer should use the fonts and images that are used in your book cover. You’re essentially looking for a technician to plug things together for you, not an artist to create something wonderful and new. And pay the small amount needed to get your own proper domain name: harrybingham.com, not harrybingham[.]wordpress.com. Those little things do count. 3. Your Site Must Be Mobile-friendly These days, it would be a crazy designer who didn’t generate a site that wasn’t mobile friendly, but still, do be explicit in your brief. And when you see a draft site, then check it. If you’re working on a laptop not a phone, just resize the window so it’s phone-sized and take a look at your site now. If your key assets and messages are being buried at the bottom, you need to re-order those things so that they float up to the top. This isn’t hard to do, and any competent designer can do it fast. 4. Seo Doesn‘t Matter For Fiction, It’s Essential For Subject-led Non-fiction Are you writing fiction? In that case, Search Engine Optimisation basically doesn’t matter. If people want to search for your site they’ll almost certainly search you by name, in which case your site should pop up at or close to the top of any search. (If it doesn’t, just go out and do a few guest post with bloggers active in your niche. Make sure there’s a link through to your site at the end of the guest post. Those links should be enough to tickle Google’s algorithms that it figures out what to do.) If you’re writing creative non-fiction (a travel book, a personal memoir, or bringing some little-known historical narrative to life) then much the same thing applies. Those sort of books can pretty much forget Search Engine Optimisation as a source of readers and traffic. If, on the other hand, you’re writing subject-led non-fiction (a book on ‘How To Build a Great Author Website’, for example), then SEO matters a lot. Your first step is probably to ditch the idea of using your name as the site’s domain name, and instead use something like GreatAuthorWebsites.com – basically embed your core search term in the website title itself. Then give proper, search-engine-friendly titles to every page on your site. Make sure the content is good. And go build some links. That recipe basically works every time . . . but this isn’t a blog post on SEO, so I’ll leave it there. Suffice to say that for this type of non-fiction author, SEO does matter and it’s a big, important subject. Go research it with people like Brian Dean and Neil Patel. 5. Don’t Confuse The Brand Are you an eclectic, interesting person, with numerous interests and passions? Great. Please don’t tell me about it, or at least not on your author website. Your website is there for readers of your books. You need to target your site at them. You need to leave everything else at the door. If you want a more personal site that shows the full range of you to a wondering world, then fine. But your author site needs to stick to its knitting, which is your books and nothing else. If you write two very different series – slasher horror fiction under one name and heart-warming children’s books under another – then you’ll need two websites. Sorry, but again no exceptions. You can of course link between the two, so readers from one can easily navigate to the other but keep the core message clear. 6. Figure Out Your Priorities What do you want your site to do? Your answer is quite likely to be ‘help sell my books’, but remember it will basically never achieve that objective. If people haven’t heard of you, they won’t come to your site. If they have heard of you and are curious about your work, they will go to Amazon. The only people likely to visit your site are readers who have read your work and who are passionate enough about it to investigate further. Certainly, you may achieve some additional sales by providing a warm and interesting experience, but the truth is, you can probably only convert one or two percent of people that way. It’s not a priority. So if an author site isn’t there to sell books, what should it do? For me, there’s one very, very clear answer to that, and only a fraction of author sites do this properly. Your author website is there to collect the email addresses of passionate readers. Why does that matter so much? It matters for two reasons: When you next release a book you can contact your core readers and tell them directly about the launch. A high proportion of those readers will make the purchase and those are nice easy sales to make – one email, to sell hundreds or thousands of books. Better still, you can time the sales you make. When I send out a sales email relating to my Fiona Griffiths novels, about 30% of my list will buy within 8 hours of my hitting send. That causes a huge wave of sales to hit Amazon … which drives my book way up the salesrankings … which means that (because most Amazon search pages promote high-selling books over low-selling ones) my book becomes more visible right across the Amazon system … which means I start attracting the interest of completely new readers. Of these two issues, it’s the second which will make you the most money, so don’t neglect it. You can get a ton more help with all this from us and don’t forget to check out our post about Instafreebie. 7. Connect, Connect These days, the first thing that someone will do if they want to learn more about you is seek you out on social media. You don’t need to be a social media junkie to succeed these days. Personally, I’m more or less Trappist on both Facebook and Twitter, and I’m perfectly happy to stay that way. Still, you do want to make yourself open to the world for all sorts of reasons. For example: You want your site to be easily shareable for those who do use Twitter and Facebook You want to be easily contactable You want to have all channels open so you can, for example, make contact with a key blogger in your area who is contactable via Twitter, but may not be easily reachable via email. Your super-fans need a way to reach you direct. You don’t have to answer every email that comes your way – and you certainly don’t have to answer promptly – but those super-fans are the absolute heart of what will drive things. Happy site-building!
Read more

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

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

My Path to Publication by Ruby Speechley

Ruby Speechley got her big break after winning best Opening Chapter at the Festival of Writing in 2017. Now, nearly two years later, her debut novel Someone Else’s Baby has just been published. Here Ruby tells us about her path to publication and how the Festival of Writing helped her on her way. My Writing Journey My debut novel, Someone Else’s Baby was published by Hera Books on 25 July 2019. It won ‘Best Opening Chapter’ at the Festival of Writing in 2017, so it feels very special to be asked by Jericho Writers to blog about my publication journey. I’ve been writing on and off ever since I first picked up a pencil, but it wasn’t until thirteen years ago that I took my writing more seriously and applied to do a part-time MA in Writing at Sheffield Hallam University. My second child was only two and it meant driving to and from Cambridgeshire once a week, but I was determined to do it. Three years later, in 2009, I graduated with my first completed novel. But I needed a break from that book, and I wasn’t ready to start approaching agents, so I wrote another novel whilst being mentored on the Gold Dust scheme. In 2012 I heard about the Festival of Writing and decided to go, partly to meet my new Twitter friends, Amanda Saint and Isabel Costello and partly to see if there was any interest in my second novel. I came away from the full weekend experience buzzing with everything I’d learned in some of the best workshops I’d ever been to, given by the now legendary, Debi Alper, Andrew Wille, Emma Darwin, Julie Cohen, Shelley Harris and Craig Taylor. I made lots of new friends, but there was no interest from agents. I went home and dug out my first novel and worked on it again. In 2014, I went back to the Festival of Writing and this time three agents asked to see the full manuscript. Despite the positive comments, the rejections came in. After a further edit, I took it back in 2015 and again more agents were interested, but no offers of representation followed. I skipped the Festival the following year and started work on a new novel, but in October 2016, another idea came to me while I was watching a FoW friend on a TV show. Another guest, a surrogate and the couple she was having the baby for, took my interest. The surrogate’s pregnancy was fraught with problems, not what she’d expected at all and to me she seemed incredibly naïve to think she’d breeze through the experience. I wondered how well she really knew this couple who were promising to involve her in their baby’s future. What obligation did they really have to this woman once they’d paid her? I had so many questions! For the next two months I researched my idea as much as I could and on 1 January 2017, I started writing my messy ‘zero’ draft by hand. Four months later, my third novel was completed. I typed and polished the beginning and sent it out to competitions, including the Festival of Writing, to gauge the response. I arrived at the Festival of Writing a couple of months later, not knowing that my novel was on the shortlists for the Best Opening Chapter and Perfect Pitch competitions, because they’d forgotten to send out the email! So it was a shock to be called up on stage and even more of a shock to win Best Opening Chapter and be the runner up for the Perfect Pitch. I was asked to read out my prologue and it received a fantastic response. A flurry of agents contacted me on the night and over the following days, but my manuscript wasn’t quite ready. A couple of agents were prepared to wait for the next edit but one, Jo Bell at Bell Lomax Moreton, who I’d subbed my first novel to a year before, asked to meet me and to see my second novel, which was in a more publishable state. She loved that novel even more! When she offered to represent me, it was an easy decision because she loved my writing and all my novel ideas. I felt at ease in her company as soon as I met her. Although Jo isn’t an agent who edits, she offered insightful suggestions, as did her assistant. A few writer friends read it for me and I took on board their helpful and detailed comments in the final edit. Sending my novel out to editors was a drawn out and painful experience. Weekly rejections for months is not something I was prepared for. My novel received mostly positive feedback but there were no offers from traditional publishers. I believed in my novel and so did Jo. By this point it had won and been listed in eight competitions. I’d been told enough times that it was a unique take on surrogacy. I was determined to keep going so I worked on it again. This time Jo sent it out to a few digital publishers and an offer to publish quickly came back from a big publisher’s digital imprint. A few days later another offer came in from an established independent. While I was weighing them up, a third publisher, Hera Books contacted Jo. I loved reading their editor’s response to my novel – the big reveal made her gasp! They were a new company, set up by Keshini Naidoo and Lindsay Mooney. I remembered feeling excited reading in the Bookseller about this dynamic, female-led publisher only a few months before. Their entrepreneurial spirit spoke to me (I founded and ran my own local magazine business while doing my MA and successfully sold it on four years later). I consulted my scribbled wish-list – Hera Books were at the top. Once I’d heard from all three publishers, about their thoughts on how I could edit and improve my novel, I knew for certain that Hera was the right choice for me. Keshini completely understood the true story I was trying to tell. She did an incredible job in helping me improve my manuscript through a round of structural edits followed by line edits. With her expert guidance, I worked as hard as I could to make Someone Else’s Baby the best book it could be. The Festival of Writing has been such an important part of my journey to publication. Each time I went, I used the festival dates as deadlines to finish whichever novel I was working on. The workshops and agent one-to-ones were always helpful, relaxed and friendly. It’s an incredible experience to be in a room with so many writers, all at different stages – people who really understand the ups and downs of trying to break into the business. Hats off to Harry Bingham and his team of dedicated organisers and tutors who give everything to make the process of building writers’ skills and knowledge enjoyable and accessible. I’m back working on the novel I put aside to write Someone Else’s Baby. I was stuck, not sure how the story could develop and what the ending would be, but it worked itself out as I wrote the first draft in a month using NanoWriMo (National Write a Novel in a Month). Writing never ceases to delight and surprise me! About Ruby Ruby Speechley graduated from Sheffield Hallam University with an MA in Creative Writing. She is a Faber Academy alumna and prolific writer whose work has been longlisted for the Lucy Cavendish Fiction prize, Exeter Novel Prize, The Caledonia Novel Award, The Bath Novel Award, and has won the Retreat West First Chapter Competition and Best Opening Chapter at the Festival of Writing in York. Someone Else’s Baby is her debut novel. You can follow Ruby on Twitter here and have a look around her website here. Have you been to the Festival of Writing before, or will this be your first year? Head on over to Townhouse and join the festival conversations. We’d love to hear from you!Link to: How to Get Your Book Published GETTING PUBLISHED All you need to know
Read more

Jodi Taylor’s path to publication

What follows is Jodi Taylor’s guest blog about her path to self-publication. Do read what follows: Jodi tried the agent route, wasn’t successful (we’re still not sure why not), so published her book independently with amazing success, emerging at the end of the process with a three-book deal from an independent publisher. Some time ago, I sat down and wrote the first sentence of my novel, Just One Damned Thing After Another. Actually, that’s not true, because, having no idea what I was doing, I started in the middle of my book and wrote backwards, but I like a good dramatic opening. Like many people, once I started, I couldn’t stop. The word just piled up like the contents of an elephant house whose occupants haven’t been able to get out much. The first draft totalled 123,000 words and at this point I realised I was a writer in need of help. The Secret To Getting An Agent Free submission pack templateGET YOURS Jericho Writers has asked me not to plug them, but I can’t help it. I sent them my manuscript and seriously expected a ‘Thank you for sending us your novel. It’s not really quite good enough for publication but you obviously enjoyed writing and that that’s the main thing.’ What I actually received from them was a closely packed editorial report (a bit like these ones) and tons and tons of much needed encouragement. About six brain-boggling months later, during which I parted, weeping, with some of my best prose, my favourite characters and about thirty thousand words, I finally had something I was prepared to let the world see. At this point, never having heard of self-publishing, I proceeded along the conventional route, sending off the required chapters to a few carefully selected agents. Three months later I repeated the procedure. And then again. A year passed – I grew older and my cherished novel had been rejected by the biggest and best in the land. I was quietly proud. And then (have I mentioned the importance of wine in the creative process?), during a very long lunch with very good friends, I heard of the existence of an online organisation named Smashwords. Overcoming my deeply held belief that self-publishing is the last refuge of the talentless, I swallowed my pride, some black coffee, and got stuck in. I got the manuscript formatted – the technically competent can easily do it for themselves – or Smashwords can supply a list of approved formatters if you wish. Total cost $54 dollars for the Smashwords format and $54 for the zipped Amazon file. The same company also offers a range of cover design services. I chose the middle range option, sent them the blurb and told them they could be as creative as they liked. Cost $137. The result was first-class, and I’ve received some very favourable comments. The formatted files and cover design came back within five days, I sat down at my laptop and uploaded the files to Smashwords and Amazon. It took only a couple of hours and I was led through the processes, step by simple step. I clicked ‘Send’ and, terrified at what I had unleashed, retired into a wine bottle. And that’s it! That’s really all there is to it! The whole process – from being persuaded to give it a go, to my book appearing on the Smashwords and Amazon lists – 6 days. As soon as they’d checked the format, Smashwords sent my book on to Apple, Nook, Kobo, Barnes and Noble and all the rest. I didn’t have to do a thing. My life changed. It might perhaps be clear by now that I wasn’t particularly well balanced in the first place, but normal life as I had known it just disappeared completely. Obsessed, I started getting up in the middle of the night to view my all my download figures. Do not do this. Wobbling blearily up and downstairs with a mug of tea and an open laptop is not a good idea. Trust me. It gets even more embarrassing. Because I hadn’t got a clue what was going on, I couldn’t understand where all the reviews were coming from. According to the figures I had, apparently, only sold 3 copies and yet I had over one hundred reviews. I emailed Amazon. A very, very kind lady gently broke the news that I was looking at the wrong column and that I had, in fact, had over 25,000 downloads. Life changed all over again. For a start, I had to have a good sit-down. I began to suffer separation anxiety if I couldn’t check my download figures every couple of hours. Did I mention I wasn’t particularly well balanced in the first place? The book climbed steadily up the Amazon charts, reaching Number One of their Free list. I suspect this was because many people were downloading free books for their holiday reading. It never occurred to me to schedule publication to coincide with a seasonal event. That’s how dumb I am, but it makes sense. Publish a Christmas story at Christmas. By now, of course, I had to be surgically separated from my laptop. And then – I opened my emails one morning to find the independent publisher, Accent Press, was interested in offering me a publishing contract. The last remaining brain cell fled for the hills. They contacted me – we liked the sound of each other – and they emailed me a draft three-book contract. Because, even with over 65,000 downloads and over 500 reviews, I didn’t have an agent (and still don’t – what is it about me? I know I’m not normal, but I’m not that bad, surely?), I was advised to contact the Society of Authors, who were marvellous and offered excellent advice and assistance. So my book was published in paperback on September 12th, less than 3 months after the initial Smashwords publication on June 24th. Of course, my life is now full of deadlines, re-writes, blogs, author interview (only one, actually, but it sounds so grand. Please forgive me.), but the sequel, if I live long enough and survive the editing process, will be published around the end of November. And the third one, next year. So, do I have any advice for fellow writers? Well, first of all, you’ve got the write the damned thing. So knuckle down and write. Secondly, avail yourself of the very excellent service offered by this team. I have no hesitation in saying none of this would have happened but for their superb editorial services. Thirdly, if you can’t get an agent, it’s not the end of the world. You can do it alone. Some people prefer it that way because you have complete control over every stage of the process. Yes, there’s a lot of self-published dross out there, but there’s no reason why yours should be part of that mountain. Lack of attention to grammar, punctuation and spelling are common complaints. My scattergun approach to commas received one or two comments. Fourthly, do set up your social media sites in advance so you won’t be caught on the hop, like me. Even now I’m still not completely sure what a Twitter is. Get to know online book clubs such as Goodreads and add your book to their lists. Join the discussions. Drink wine. Eat chocolate. Not simultaneously, obviously. And enjoy yourself. More On Getting Published Link to: How to Get Your Book Published GETTING PUBLISHED All you need to know
Read more

Rejection Set Me On The Path To Publication by Sally Harris

By Sally Harris No-one told me writing should come with a health warning. Something like on cigarette packets would be great; a shocking or disturbing thing to dissuade the unwary from venturing too near pen, paper or laptop. When I signed up for a creative writing course several years ago, I assumed it would be nothing more than a relaxing pastime, a quiet hobby like reading. How wrong I was. As we waited for the first session to start I looked warily at the other would-be writers. I had no clear notion of what I would write and certainly no thoughts of publication. All that came later. There was just one thing that bothered me back then; what would the group make of my writing? Each writer’s journey is unique but we pass many common milestones. The writing community share tales of progress, disappointment, and triumph on social media. One writer may finish her novel in a year, another may take a decade. Others write flash fiction or short stories and never consider anything longer. However, we all experience one thing if we put our work out there, and that was what worried me back then. Rejection. If you are getting rejected on a regular basis, you are, without doubt, in fine company. J.K.Rowling’s submission story is well known. Beatrix Potter was rejected so many times she decided to self-publish. Both writers went on to sell millions of copies of their books. Even though we writers know this, we still dread the Big R. The staple of the writing life. I escaped much of this angst for several years. There had been the odd bumpy bit of feedback in the weekly creative writing class but nothing to raise my blood pressure too much. Classmates were kind, my tutor, very lovely. Nothing much to stress about. When I submitted my novel to agents, things start to heat up. The submission process was a whole new ball game. It didn’t help that I submitted my novel far too early. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but back then I’d done with redrafting and polishing; all I wanted to do was get the story out there. I buried the nagging little voice in my head that said the story wasn’t hanging together as it should. I researched suitable agents. Little did I know I was heading for rejection addiction. After I pressed send on carefully crafted emails to a few hand-picked agents fear loomed large. My pulse started to race and I suddenly became inseparable from my mobile. My little ghost story, an old and haunted house, a family, isolated and struggling to survive, was nothing new or unique. No USP. Imposter Syndrome took hold, my writing was inferior, the characters cliched. No agent would bother to respond with hundreds of stronger submissions arriving each week. Stress levels soared, rejection was heading my way. Weeks passed and silence pulled out. I’d been right, my story was boring, going nowhere other than agent’s trash-boxes. A couple of standard rejections dribbled in then silence again. I relaxed, assumed I would hear nothing more and went back to everyday things. No real harm done. I had been to a networking lunch when her email came through. Two hours of chatting with fellow lawyers, local business owners and listening to a speaker about new tax legislation had kept me away from my phone. I read the agent’s email, checked it was meant for me. It had my name on it, the title of my novel. A woman I had never meet and who knew about books and publishing had pulled my submission free from the slush pile. She was looking forward, she said, to reading the full manuscript. I danced a little jig in the ladies loos back at the office then sent off the manuscript. News spread, my writing group and tutor all held their breath. Again, more weeks passed, my mobile welded to my palm. Rejection, when it came, had a very sharp sting. Heightened by hope, the crash was steep. I rushed the novel out to more agents. Surely someone would offer on it? More agents declined. I was a junkie craving the next fix, no way could I stop now, not having come this far. Exhaustion set in. I paused, took stock and sucked up all the feedback from agents. I needed some expert help so I contacted Jericho Writers who teamed me up with Susan Davis. She looked over my submission package and said it looked good. Then a lengthy and detailed manuscript appraisal followed. Susan was generous with her praise and kind and clear regarding areas where improvements could be made. A lengthy phone call followed, more encouragement and advice was given. A fresh pair of eyes on the story made all the difference. I was clear about what was working. Taking to Susan solved problems with the plot and how giving information to the reader could be threaded through the narrative. The fog had cleared, I could, at last, see my way forward. I set about redrafting. The novel inched further along the path. Susan read the novel again. We stayed in touch with the occasional email exchange and piece of advise regarding agents, a kind word to keep me on track. The nagging voice became a mantra, restructure, restructure, restructure but I didn’t know how and it’s not easy to get advise on the big picture. I read books on the three and five acts, looked at character arcs, the turning points in a narrative. I obsessed about fixing the novel. Eventually, I pulled it apart, wrote out road maps, made lists, plotted timelines. During the Christmas holidays, I took a leaf out of Scrooge’s book and ignored the festivities, Bah humbug, all that could wait. I silenced the nagging voice and rewrote the novel. I sent Haverscroft out to publishers and agents in the spring of 2018. The novel was as good as I could make it. I knew that it worked. Without the rejection from that first agent, my novel would not have developed into the story it is today. The dogged determination to keep getting it out there would never have set in. Persist. If you don’t send out your writing it becomes invisible, no one can hear you. The best protection against rejection is to become the very best writer you can be. I signed with an agent in July at a time when three indie publishers also liked the look of the book. I signed a contract with one in September. Haverscroft was published by Salt on 15th May 2019. Now I wait for the reviews to roll in… Sally Harris’ novel Haverscroft is available to purchase now. Our list of over 50 editors work with hundreds of authors like Sally, providing  detailed, structural editorial feedback on your work including advice on how to address any problems raised. To find out more, click here. MORE ON GETTING PUBLISHED Link to: How to Get Your Book Published GETTING PUBLISHED All you need to know
Read more

How to format a screenplay

Guest author and blogger Jon Spira has written feature film scripts for Manga Live, Palm Pictures and a multitude of independent producers. He has taught the UK Film Council Screenwriting course since 2004. Screenwriting is probably the strangest discipline in the whole literary world. Unlike a novel, short story, article or poem, the finished screenplay is not really a fait accompli. Even the greatest screenplays in the world when finished and signed off are merely the first step of a highly technical process. I’ve never seen a published screenplay for an unproduced film (unless it was of huge interest due to its place in a highly esteemed film-maker’s body of work). A screenplay doesn’t really exist on its own. A screenplay is a blueprint for the production of a film. This is a good way to view it as, like a blueprint, it is a highly technical document which provides information for a very wide variety of people. Just reading a screenplay is a skill in itself. Understanding how this bizarrely, falteringly laid out piece of prose and direction could be visualized. Writing one is ten times harder. When you write a novel, you’re writing purely for your reader – to entertain or inform them. You can write the whole thing in first person if you like and just directly dump all that information into their head. A screenplay must be an engaging and distractingly enjoyable read but it also must deal with the expectations, demands and egos of far more than just one compliant reader. I’m not going to tell you how to format a screenplay – yet – but what I do want to explain to you is who you’re writing your screenplay for and what their needs are. Producers Need: To be impressed. The producer holds the purse strings and have the ultimate authority on a film. To make a producer happy, you need to, most importantly, have a good, commercial idea. This means you have written a film for a specific audience and touched all the bases that audience would want from a cinematic experience. You might think the Transformers films are cynical in this way but a film like The King’s Speech is almost identical in its awareness of what its audience demands. The producer also cares about budget, so think carefully before you make it rain in a scene or have a moment play out in front of a crowd of six thousand troops. Running time is a big issue for producers. Legend has it that many won’t even read a script that feels heavier in their hand than the 90-page product they can most easily persuade cinemas to exhibit – if you write a two-and-a-half-hour film, nobody will touch it as cinemas would have to do fewer showings, therefore making less money. The exceptions to the rule are always from very well-established film-makers who market their wares based on epic qualities. Keep it under 90 pages. Directors Need: To have control. Here’s your problem with the director. They probably hate you. There’s a gulf of ownership over a film which exists between the writer, who originates and creates the story and the director who interprets and realizes it. I’ve never held with the ‘Auteur theory’ but I can empathise with a director who slaves so hard over the job and who, really, is the person who will be held publicly accountable for its success or failure. They want to have creative control and you must give it to them. That’s your job – to make them look good. Careful formatting plays into this. The biggest no-no is to write camera direction into the screenplay (‘we zoom in’ ‘the camera pans left’ ‘the camera walks alongside them’) as this is telling the director their own job. Their job is to take what you’ve written and translate it for an audience using their vision. But you have your own vision too – you’ve already visualised the whole film in the cinema of your mind, as you wrote it. So here is perhaps the toughest part of screenwriting – you must write in such a way that the director can only interpret it as you saw it yet think that it’s their own vision. If you want a tight close-up of Billy’s eyes, you can’t write ‘extreme close up of Billy’s eyes panicking’ – you have to write ‘tiny beads of sweat form around the bags of Billy’s wildly rolling eyeballs’ – there is no other way a director can illustrate that without a tight close up. Crews Need: To have technical information. A technical crew couldn’t care less about your script or vision. They need the most basic of information and a screenplay formatted in such a way that they can get that purely by skimming. What do they want? They want clear and precise technical information. Formatting is key. You must put a slug-line at the beginning of each scene. It should look like this: 36. EXT. SCHOOLYARD. DUSK The ‘36’ is the scene number – this is important to the people who schedule the movie and make sure it’s running efficiently – the script supervisors, the assistant producers, the second and third units. The people who know what is happening when and why. You can’t say ‘we’re shooting the schoolyard scene today’ – there might be 30 of them, all differing wildly. You must number your scenes. The ‘EXT’ stands for exterior and it has a counterpart ‘INT’ for interior. Although it may be a whimsical choice to you if it is EXT or INT – for the production team, it makes a massive difference. An INT scene can be shot in a studio or closed location – it is controllable and easy and can be done with far less fuss. An EXT shoot demands issues of weather, light, sound, controlling the public – you need more crew, you must work quicker, it’s an entirely different proposal. Too many EXTs might even get the script rejected by the Producer on feasibility grounds. The ‘SCHOOLYARD’ is your specific location – something that is going to have to be secured or created by the production design team. The set builders and production managers really care only about these words in the whole screenplay. ‘DUSK’ refers to the time of day, though more common would be DAY or NIGHT but if you have a specific vision of twilight, dusk, dawn, or the like, you must make that clear. This affects art design, location management and camerawork. Also, don’t forget that anything not shot in general ‘DAY’ will cost a production a lot of money in overtime and, again, affects feasibility. Throughout the script you should also put important sounds and effects in block capitals to draw attention to them. The technical crew aren’t interested in your prose or the value of your work, they just want their responsibilities written clearly in CAPITAL LETTERS. Actors Need: To have dialogue (and just dialogue). Actors are the easiest to please. Their character names and dialogue run down a column in the middle of the page. It’s good form for everyone if the first time you mention the characters appearing in the prose sections, you do so in capital letters. It just lets people know that a new significant character is now making their appearance. Everyone writes dialogue differently – sometimes you’ll add in stutters and pauses, I think this should be a very rare thing – along with writing in such a way to reflect accent. The actors can figure this stuff out for themselves. I tend to say write the best dialogue you can and then trust the actors and director to worry about delivery and reflection. It’s bad form to write direction in brackets preceding the dialogue. The dialogue and strength of situation alone should convey the emotion. That’s basically it. Remember that all writing is altruistic but when composing your screenplay, you’re not just writing for the generic reader – you have the power to make a lot of people’s jobs a lot easier or a lot harder and these are the people who will dictate whether you get a career. And now you’re ready to format your screenplay. The lovely answer is that you needn’t. You can download formatters like the excellent Celtx for free online. And when you’re ready, you may just like structural feedback on your film script, too.
Read more

If An Agent Accepts Your Work, What Are Chances Of Getting Published?

And how to get a book deal yourself … You’re at that scary submissions stage. Your manuscript is edited right down to the very last comma. It’s time to go out into the big wide world and GET THAT BOOK DEAL. But – uh – what exactly do you have to do … and what are the odds of success? How To Get A Book Deal You want a book deal? So here’s the formula. This formula works for anyone wanting to be traditionally published (with a publisher, that is, rather than self-publishing via Amazon.) It also assumes that you are writing fiction or mainstream non-fiction – the sort of stuff you might find on the front tables of a larger bookstore. If that applies to you, then the formula for getting a book deal is: What Are The Odds Of Getting A Literary Agent? Those odds are somewhat scary. A typical agent in NY or London receives approximately 2,000 submissions a year. They are likely to accept 2-3 writers from that deluge. Some agents will accept fewer. So, as a rough rule of thumb, and allowing for plenty of variation, the chance of getting an agent are about 1 in 1000. That sounds frightening, but you can and should apply to more than one agent, so the 1 in 1000 is perhaps more like 1 in 100. And, in any case, it’s not about the odds. If your book is blindingly good – if you’ve written a Hunger Games, or a Gone Girl, or an All the Light We Cannot See – your odds of getting an agent are essentially 100%. So don’t focus on the odds. Focus on your book. That’s the only part that really matters. What Are The Odds Of Getting A Book Deal? Well, you can look at this in two ways. From the agent’s end, it’s probably true that a good agent at a top class agency will sell approximately 2 books for every 3 he or she auctions. That is, the odds of a sale are about 67% – which is why most writers, correctly, think that getting an agent is the most significant hurdle between them and publication. But that’s to look at it from one end only. I spoke recently with one editor, who has a key job at one of London’s best publishers (a major part of a Big 5 house). In effect, that editor is as selective as it gets. These days, he receives, via literary agents, about 12 submissions a week. Those 12 submissions equate to about 600 manuscripts crossing his desk each year. And of those 600 manuscripts, he takes on maybe 3-4 new writers a year. (As well as, of course, continuing to publish the work of his existing stable of authors.) In other words, he buys less than 1% of the work being offered to him. Yikes! These stats are frankly terrifying, but they need to be taken in context. In particular: A smaller or less prestigious publisher will be less selective. Robert Hale (for example) or Choc Lit are decent publishers, but are smaller and less selective than the big guys. They’ll offer much smaller advances to authors and they won’t have the marketing heft of their larger rivals – but if you get an offer from them, it’s still a massive compliment to your work. It’s a real publishing deal and you should be elated.It’s also wrong to conclude that if you have an agent, you have only a 1% chance of getting a top-ranked publisher. It isn’t so. If agents are looking to auction a manuscript, they’ll typically send it out to 8-12 publishers – that is, to all the bigger publishers in town. So while an individual publisher might take just 1% of work submitted, that means an overall success rate of more like 10%. Something similar, of course, applies with submissions to agents.The better the agent, the higher that success rate will be. A top agent will reject any work that doesn’t come up to the right standard, will seize hold of any work that does come to the right standard, and will do so with a strong expectation of selling it. Even then, no agent I know has a 100% record, but the best agents will have a strike rate of well over 10%. So why does my Big 5 editor reject so much of what comes his way? In his opinion – and also mine – agents (mostly less well established ones) are sending work out before it’s properly ready. You don’t want your work set out early, which means it’s time to consider … How To Think About Getting A Book Deal In the end, though, the conclusion has little to do with odds or stats. The 2012 British Olympic team contained 541 athletes. The US Olympic team is that little bit larger. Either way, those numbers are larger than the number of debut novels being listed by elite UK or US publishers today. So you need to be (at least!) an Olympian-of-writing to make the grade. That’s the bad news. The good news is simply this: If you are in the world’s top 20-30 sprinters, you will get selected for the Olympics. If you’ve written one of the best espionage novels of the year, you will get published. In brutal market conditions, the standard required by top publishers is rising all the time, but the best work still gets selected, still attracts advances and investment, still gets published. What you need to worry about more than anything else is the quality of your work. Promising will not do, but dazzling is essential. One further conclusion. We’ve always been against writers sending their work to dozens & dozens of agents. Our own rule of thumb is that if you can’t attract a Yes from an agent in 8-12 (intelligently chosen and properly presented) submissions, then your manuscript is not yet good enough. There will always be exceptions to every rule, but for the most part the rule is a very good one. If you find send submissions to 200 agents, your chances of hooking an agent improve, but I’d say that your chance of getting a publisher remains the same as before. About 0%, if the first 8-12 agents turned you down. A Little Bit Of Boasting That’s not because we’re miracle workers, but because we focus relentlessly on the quality of your work. Which is what you need to do. Do that, add talent and a good idea, and you’ll make the grade. Just keep at it.
Read more

Creative Writing degrees: waste or wonderful opportunity?

I posted a set of concerns about MA creative writing courses a while ago. I argued that they had far too little connection with the publishing market as it is today. After writing that, I looked at some course prospectuses. Here, for example, was the blurb in 2011 from UEA. “The MA does not function through exercises but by considering fiction as a form of aesthetic, psychological and cultural enquiry. Neither the poetry nor prose fiction strand is primarily commercial in direction and neither teaches conventional genre forms or, in the conventional sense, marketability.” Marketability in the conventional sense? If you wanted to be a writer – the sort who writes books that are sold in bookshops – then considering marketability in a conventional sense seems like a good idea. Here was the blurb from Goldsmiths: “The inter-relationship between theory, scholarship and the creative process is key to the Goldsmiths MPhil/PhD in Creative Writing. … Doctoral students for the PhD in Creative Writing are expected to combine their own creative writing with research into the genre or area of literature in which they are working, to gain insight into its history, development and contemporary practices. … They are also expected to engage with relevant contemporary debates about theory and practice.” I doubt publishers care. They’re probably just happy publishing good books. Here, really, is the point of this post. I’ve realised that the best courses do indeed do a stunning job for a proportion of their students. UEA can boast of the following alumni: Ian McEwan, Kazuo Ishiguro, Anne Enright, Tracy Chevalier, and plenty of others. Bath Spa says, ‘Two [of our recent students] were long-listed for the Man Booker Prize, three for the Orange Prize, one for the Costa Prize and one for the Guardian First Book Award.’ Those are strikingly good achievements. On the other hand, I’m still sceptical. A minority of talented writers may bloom to a wonderful degree. A large majority will, I think, end up being rejected by the industry, having quite possibly not been properly equipped with the skills that would have allowed them to thrive. So the conclusion remains the same. Don’t assume these courses will launch you as a writer. Research them carefully. Know what you want to write and what they want to teach. Check out your tutors. Check out what these tutors like to read, and their biases, for instance, if you’re a writer of children’s or genre fiction. Check out teaching methods. Talk to past students (and not only those who ended with a book deal.) And if you go for it – then have a wonderful time.
Read more

How I Got My Agent by Paul Braddon

By Paul Braddon The first in a regular new blog series, Paul Braddon takes us through his journey to finding a literary agent. My Writing Journey The writing bug first bit as a teenager when I entered a sixth-form essay competition run by Barclays Bank and shocked myself by winning a runner’s up prize.  Heady stuff! But the real surprise was how much fun telling a story could be when I wasn’t being told what to write. Anyway, I was now sold on a career as a novelist and the only sensible step was to study English Literature at university… although unfortunately, after three years of Dickens, Wordsworth and the major works of Shakespeare, I was no nearer to being published. My biggest hurdle was thinking I knew everything just because I’d read a few novels. I spent years on a lovely story titled The English Witch – a sort of Sabrina meets Harry Potter (all before JK Rowling put pen to paper) set in the 1930s – that I couldn’t interest agents in, although my friends were generous. ‘Better than Tolkien’, one told me, although that isn’t as great as it sounds because he was no lover of Tolkien. After The English Witch, I wrote an historical novel about a piano-playing German girl and with it made my first sensible decision – I commissioned editorial feedback. Nervous as to what I was paying for, I opted for Jericho Writers (Writers’ Workshop as it was then) on the basis that the offer included a follow up ‘conversation’, a guarantee in effect that the editor would have to do a half-decent job. In the event I got lucky and was allocated the truly excellent Liz Garner, who wrote me several extensive assessments, each followed up by a long phone call. I took my now much-improved piano-playing German girl manuscript to the York Festival of Writing but failed to interest my chosen agents in it. However, one of these agents was the fantastic Joanna Swainson, who was eventually to sign me, so not all would be lost, although of course I could not know that at the time. By now fed up with historical fiction, I was willing to do almost anything to succeed and turned my hand to a contemporary thriller set in Finland. The process of leaving my comfort zone was like casting off heavy boots and this book – The Butterfly Hunt, was my best work to date. Three of the first four agents I queried (including Joanna) requested the whole manuscript but the feedback I received was consistent, that although the first third worked, I needed to rewrite the rest. Which unfortunately was easier said than done! I think the lesson I learned is that when you change significant elements of a carefully structured plot, you can end up twisting it completely out of shape and end up with less than what you had before. In early 2018 I started on The Actuality, a further genre shift, this time into speculative fiction. The Actuality is set a hundred years in the future and could be best described as a cautionary tale of friendship, love and advanced bioengineering. My approach to writing The Actuality came from my experience on previous projects. My method has become to first plan out an overall structure, getting the main beats in place and when I’m happy with all of that, I dive in to see how I do. If this appears to work, I merely keep writing, filling in the plot details and editing chapters as I go, and if all continues to go well, in four or five months I have a reasonable first draft. That’s the plan anyway, but in the case of The Actuality it wasn’t so simple. In fact it was a massive struggle and this was because I grew to believe that the story of an AI living with her ‘husband’ at the top of a Thames-side high-rise complete with rooftop garden was almost certainly unpublishable. In the end, after rushing through the last couple of sections, I did make it to the finish line, but the word count barely scraped 62,000. Anxious as to what I had created, I only sent it to Joanna, hoping I could trust her not to laugh. To be honest, if she had, I would have shelved it. Instead, amazingly, she actually liked it, and liked it enough to chat about it and encourage me to expand it to a commercial length. Confidence regained, this I did, adding 18,000 words, and shortly after that in October 2018, she took me on! Last Piece Of Advice I think, if I was passing on any advice, it would be three things. Number One (and I think most readers will have worked it out for themselves by now) – Seek Professional Advice, whether that is through courses, editorial assessments or reading up on the craft – don’t spend years thinking you know everything. Two – Escape Your Comfort Zone – perhaps try a completely different genre, you can always go back, you never know you may not want to. And Number Three – Don’t Be Afraid of Trying Something a Bit Different, if that’s what you fancy – different will stand you out from the crowd if nothing else and if there is passion behind it, that will make a huge difference too. About Paul Braddon Paul Braddon lives in London with his wife Mary and son Thomas. He got the writing bug after coming runner-up in an essay competition as a teenager, and went onto study English Literature at Reading University. His debut novel, The Actuality, is due to be released in 2020 (Sandstone Press). You can find Paul on Twitter here, or have a nose around his website here. If Paul’s story strikes a chord with you, head on over to Townhouse and tell us about your writing journey. Are you on the lookout for representation? If so, why not check out AgentMatch, our database recording all UK and US literary agents. Or, are you about to embark on your first round of agent submissions? If you are, then you’ll probably find this really helpful!Link to: How to Get Your Book Published
Read more

How I Got My Agent by Helen Fisher

By Helen Fisher In this blog post, Helen Fisher tells us about her journey to finding a literary agent for her debut novel, Spacehopper Did I Always Want To Be A Writer? I’ve always wanted to write a novel, but didn’t do it until I was 44 when a friend bullied me into it. She told me to write a chapter a week and send it to her. Clocking in with her was a great incentive, although I realise a lot of authors like to write the whole thing before they let anyone see it. About 30,000 words in, I panicked: I DON’T KNOW HOW TO WRITE A NOVEL, I thought (constantly) and – realising I needed help – I bought Harry Bingham’s book: How to Write. I read it cover to cover and quickly discovered I wasn’t alone in any of my thoughts – neither the negative ones (I CAN’T do it) nor the positive (I CAN do it). As well as practical support, that book provided the emotional support I needed. I read it and went back to my novel, and – with steam coming out of my ears, and springs coming out of my head – I finished it. I commissioned a really useful editorial report via Jericho Writers, and submitted it to a few agents. But ultimately I shelved it. A year later I wrote my second novel, Spacehopper, the one that’s going to be published. I was in a better place to do it, because this time I had some tools in my belt before I started: the ones I didn’t have until I was 30,000 words in the first time round: I’d read How to Write, been to a JW Getting Published Day and used the resources I found on the JW website. What I Learnt And How I Learnt It I learnt a lot from reading books about how to write. Not just Harry Bingham’s book, but the famous On Writing, by Stephen King, and other books like that. Reading about writing inspired me and made me believe I could do it; I needed that. Mind you, the feeling would wear off quickly, it wasn’t long before I’d start thinking I can’t do this, again. It was like a drug I had to keep topping up to get the same effect, so I kept reading. Reading novels also helped. I found I was reading more attentively now, really looking at what I loved best in novels, so I could more knowingly make an impact on readers through my own writing. I took out a month’s membership at JW as a birthday present to myself, it was a luxury I found hard to afford – it is fantastic value, but I was skint – so I made the most of it: joined up when I knew I could make best use of the online videos. I immersed myself in the information, made notes, and soon felt like I had a bag full of stuff to help me get through the writing process. Unfortunately, at that stage, it did feel as though I was simply trying to get to the finish line, rather than enjoying the process. I’m an impatient person, and novel-writing isn’t ideal for the impatient. Now, I’m getting there: learning to enjoy the process. With my new novel, Gabriel’s Cat, my agent asked for a synopsis early on, something I’d never done until the book was finished. Being clearer about where the story was going has helped. I feel less frightened about what will happen next when I sit down to write. I have never enjoyed writing more. I learned a lot at a JW Getting Published Day. There were lots of really interesting and practical sessions during the day. I left with more inspiration, and was buzzing because I’d spent a blissful succession of hours with people who could talk all day long about writing novels, without glazing over once! My First Draft It took me four months to write the first draft of Spacehopper and I gave it to four friends to read in chunks. These were the same friends who read the novel I cut my teeth on the previous year, and this time was different. They didn’t really have any criticism, just wanted me to get on with it, so they could find out what happened next. This boost to my ego was essential: much as I wanted honest feedback, I think I would have crumbled, possibly stopped, if the feedback had been bad. I wanted them to be honest, but I wanted them to honestly love it. Spacehopper has a big twist; I didn’t think of it until I was more than halfway through writing the novel, and as soon as I decided on the ending, I couldn’t write fast enough. I wanted to hear what my readers felt about the ending. When I made them cry, I punched the air. When the first draft was done, I did the same as last time, and commissioned a full editorial report through Jericho Writers, from the same editor as last time. It was a stretch on my finances, and I knew I would only be able to afford one round of feedback. The report I got back was worth every penny, not only in its practical suggestions, but because the editor said she was certain it was a novel that would be published. Hearing that from a professional, gave me the confidence to keep going, make a few adjustments and start to get ready to submit to agents. I think I would have enjoyed writing Spacehopper more if I’d planned out the story in more depth before starting, and followed more of the plot structures that make stories work. Not just because there is something nice about knowing where you’re going with a story, from beginning to end – indeed I truly believe you can know too much about what’s going to happen in the novel you’re writing: things that you don’t plan will be some of the best bits. But when you understand the plot structures that make stories work – even if you don’t follow them strictly – you will surely have more confidence that your story is going to be better told. Understanding what makes stories work, makes us better storytellers. From First Draft To Final Version The editor who conducted a full editorial report, via JW, suggested I make some changes. I’ve looked back in my notebook and I see I made 39 changes to Spacehopper based on her recommendations. It might sound like a lot, but the majority were fairly straightforward. Essentially the novel remained unchanged (in comparison, when I made changes to my previous novel, it was a huge task and I felt I had a different book by the time I’d edited it). I worked for a couple of weeks tweaking Spacehopper, and after that, without the finances to put it through another round of editorial revision, I started getting ready to submit to agents. I didn’t give it to anyone else to read at this stage. As I mentioned, patience is not my strength, and I had to get it out. How I Got My Agent/h2> In September 2018, I put together my submission pack to agents. I trawled resources online and in books, to make sure my letter was just right and I used JW’s AgentMatch to look up agents that might like my type of novel. A problem for me was that my novel includes time travel, but it’s not science fiction, or fantasy, it’s about love and grief and what we would say to those we loved and lost, given the chance. But it’s hard for people to see beyond the time travel element. I put my synopsis together and finally decided that I needed to get a submission pack assessment done: I didn’t want to mess up my first impression with agents before I’d left the starting blocks. Again I commissioned this via JW, and after that I began submitting with confidence that my submission pack, at least, was as good as it could be. I’d read enough to know I needed to brace myself for rejection. It was a rite of passage, everyone said so, and even if I was to get an agent one day, I knew I would have to taste rejection first. But knowing you’ll get your heart broken, doesn’t make it any easier when it happens. The first time I saw the name of an agent in my email inbox, I held my breath. I was at work, and I stopped everything: the email wouldn’t open. I trotted to another part of the college trying to get a connection, all the time thinking what if they want me?? When the email opened and I saw it was a rejection, I realised I wasn’t really prepared for the disappointment; the way it stuck in my throat and made it hard to swallow, the way I teared up because this email had been the difference between my dreams coming true and my dreams basically, not coming true. And then I got another rejection, and another, and another, each one feeling like a shovel full of dirt being thrown over me, until I felt buried. Fourteen rejections between October and Christmas brought me to an all-time low, which I managed to hide from most family and friends. I remember thinking that if I couldn’t write, then I couldn’t do anything I really wanted to do. Plus I’d made the mistake of telling everyone that I was submitting to agents. One of my friends who’d read my book and loved it said he would help me self-publish, and I said I’d think about it. But first I needed to get myself into a better place. I’m usually a happy person and I was so down. I needed to get back up. Over Christmas and January 2019, when I’d put Spacehopper in a drawer and locked it, I convinced myself that I’d been happy before I wrote this novel, and therefore I could be happy again. Eventually I started to come to terms with the idea of not getting published, even though I still believed so strongly in this novel that I’d locked away. Then a little bit of fate stepped in. Last year – before I started submitting to agents – my ex-husband’s fiancé asked in passing if she could read my novel, and after some deliberation, I agreed. Then in February this year, I got a message from her saying I just read a book that makes me feel a bit like your book did. That’s nice, I thought. The next day I happened to be in Waterstone’s and picked that book up, wondered if the agent was mentioned in credits. She was. Maybe – I thought – maybe I’ll try just one more agent – Judith Murray, at Greene and Heaton. And I did. I submitted my letter, synopsis and manuscript to her in the middle of February. When I got an email saying that Judith was loving Spacehopper and could I send the rest of the manuscript, I wasn’t prepared: by now I was only prepared for rejection. I sent the manuscript, and held my breath for three days. She rang me, and on March the 1st I found myself meeting Judith in a restaurant in Borough Market in London. At last I felt I had opened the wardrobe door and stepped into another world. Meeting Judith was one of the most delightful experiences of my life, hearing her thoughts on my novel, getting to know her and that feeling that I’d met my fairy godmother and she was going to do everything she could to get me to the ball. My Author-Agent Relationship After we met, Judith and I talked about making changes to my novel that she thought would give it its best shot at being an attractive prospect for publishers, and she gave me a set of notes to work from. Everything she said struck a chord, and I enjoyed working on the edit. Where the changes were trickier to come to terms with, Judith explained why they would work, and by Jove, she was right! By the beginning of April, Judith was ready to submit to publishers. She told me that waiting to hear back from editors/publishers could be nerve-wracking (why does everything about this business have to be so bloody nerve-wracking!) and Judith clearly knows that some authors need more support than others during this stressful process. She was always there at the end of the phone or email and did what she needed to do to help me not lose heart. I always felt she was there for me, even though I knew how busy she must be with other authors and all those submissions. She kept in touch regularly during those early days of submissions and we talked on the phone weekly, or more if necessary. Even though we now have a deal and things are calm at the moment, we still talk and email. She is an utter joy to work with, and I feel incredibly lucky that I found her, and that fate led me directly to her door. I trust her completely, she is wise, and kind and life is better for knowing her. And if that sounds over the top, don’t forget she’s negotiating on my behalf to make my dreams come true. Last Piece Of Advice I have two pieces of advice I would give to anyone who wants to get published (I have more, but am sticking to two, as I’m well over my word-count limit!). The first is to listen to anyone who says your novel needs changes. If they are professionals, in particular, I think that for the most part you should trust that they’re right. You might not want to change things in the way they suggest – no problem – make changes in your own way, but certainly, listen to their advice and act on it. Similarly if your friends or family feel that something doesn’t work, even if they’re not professional writers or readers, they are still readers, and if they feel something’s not working, then they’re probably right. Secondly, targeting the right agent is key. You know that, I knew that, I’d read it a million times. But while the information available on agents’ likes and dislikes is useful, in the end, for me, it was finding a novel that felt something like mine that led me to the right one. If you can read a lot of books and find out which agents are likely to go for a story like yours, then hopefully, you will hit a bullseye. About Helen Helen Fisher lives in a small Suffolk village, with a black cat and two pinkish children. Before turning her hand to writing fiction, Helen worked in a number of interesting jobs, including as an ergonomist for the RNIB (blind people, not lifeboats). Her debut novel, Spacehopper, will be published in hardback in January 2021, and in paperback later that same year, by Simon and Schuster. It’s also going to be translated into German, Swedish, Polish and Portuguese. It won’t be called Spacehopper because in America, Space Hoppers are known as Hoppity Hops, so the publishers are currently wrangling over a new name. The deal with Simon and Schuster and Droemer-Knaur (the German publisher) is a 2-book deal so she’s currently working on her next novel, which is called Gabriel’s Cat (and hopefully always will be, because in America they’re also called “cats”), and is due to be released in January 2022.Link to: How to Get Your Book Published
Read more

3 key steps to building your author brand

Author branding, when done right, can be critical to future success. And self-publishing authors must be able to do this right. Even when choosing traditional publishing, something many authors miss at the beginning of their careers is creating an authentic online presence to engage readers. If you’re self-publishing, though, it’s central. You’ll be your own editor, designer, social media coordinator, production team, etc., and everything traditionally done by a publishing house, you’ll need to be doing yourself. And you may not like imagining yourself as a marketer when all you want is to get on and write. In this article, graphic design platform 99designs walks you through a few key tips (and how to keep it fun, too). Why Branding Is Essential For Authors (Self-published Or Not) Building a brand for yourself helps your audience find out what your work is all about, what you stand for and what they can expect from you. It establishes a connection with your audience and takes no more than a few careful steps to consider. Step 1: Defining Yourself As An Author The following aspects can help you communicate your unique personality and engage with readers. Your author personaUse the storytelling skills you (almost certainly) possess already. Then apply them to you. What is the character of your public self? Are you snarky, quirky? Or more introspective? What is it you are sharing with your audience? Defining yourself will help you understand what you want to create. So consider your story, or “public persona”. Your readersNext, think about your reading audience. Who is reading your books right now? Who do you want to read your books? Are they the same? Think about what kind of person would represent your current or ideal audience. Then examine why they are interested in your writing. By defining who your ideal audience is and understanding what they are looking to get from you, you’ll be able to communicate with strength and clarity to the right people, and think about the community you want to create. Your specialtyFinally, and most importantly, you will need to define your specialty. You may not be the only romance or fantasy writer in the world. But whatever you are writing about, you are bringing your specific one-of-a-kind perspective, voice and way of thinking to the page. This differentiates you from other writers out there. This is your “Point of Difference”. Do you have a specific style, unusual skill or experience? Consider how these things may make you or your writing special. (But, please, never show off.) Step 2: Presenting Yourself As An Author You need the right tools to communicate with readers. So here are a few tips on presenting yourself as a writer through design and social media. Get your author website designedYou’ll need to get a website and logo designed. And both must look clean, polished and professional, no matter how wacky the design. Your logo could be your name or a graphic, as long as it works with the style of the website and doesn’t clash. The look and feel of your logo and website should depend on this vibe you are going for. Look up any images that inspire you. Note down hues and typographies you like for CSS. Then once you’ve decided on a look, keep it consistent. Then build a presenceIt’s not enough to simply have a website. You also need to actively build your online presence around it. Engage with readers and other writers to have the most impact. One of the most effective ways is regular blogging, keeping your audience engaged and helping them to know you better. It’s also good to be active on social media, but consistency is everything. So select the channels you’re sure you’ll use. Stick with them until you’re happy to experiment. Share updates and answer questions, but don’t just tell us about you. Look up chat hashtags to join (i.e. #amwriting on Twitter). If you see things you like, repost and reply. Others will be likelier to reply to you, too, building your following. And engagement is better than constant self-promotion. Look also for Facebook groups, forums or other blogs, where you can comment, write posts or share your content and opinions. Brené Brown’s website, for instance, is an excellent example for author branding. Find your readers where they areThough it’s good to stick with the social media you’re confident with (especially if you’re new to it), look online for where you would find readers that could be interested in you. Say if this is Instagram (i.e. perhaps you’re a novelist, but also an aspiring poet), and you’re not an Instagram user, then it might just be time to learn. Join in the likes of Rupi Kaur and Lang Leav. Get to grips with hashtags, too. You can become part of the conversation and people will get to know you. By interacting via social media, as a general rule you can find vast groups of interested people to engage with, spread the word and start building a following of your own, leading them back to your site. Step 3: How To Stand Out As An Author The true challenge is to create a one-of-a-kind-brand for yourself as a writer that sets you apart from everyone else. To achieve this, here are some last pointers. Be true to yourselfTo really be successful, you need to be authentic. Only if you let your authentic personality shine through in all your efforts can you build a strong and compelling presence as an author. Your readers will appreciate your honest voice, so stick to who you are to build a connection. The most important core of your author brand is you. Be consistentIt’s easy now to be impressively consistent with your site design. Online tools exist to help you create matching Twitter and Facebook cover and profile photos, etc., for a polished look across your site and social media. To establish a clear idea, and so everyone knows it’s you, create a consistent style across the digital channels your audience can find you on. Incorporate your ‘Point of Difference’As discussed earlier, this is your biggest selling point. The clearer you can let it shine in all you do, the easier it will be for you to build a loyal audience. Your Aide For Success So, the obvious: good writing is what will get you read as an author. Nevertheless, building an authentic brand as a writer is well worth it, despite the effort involved. A clear and convincing image of your work to the world will be key to building a loyal and engaging audience – vitally, one which loves you not just for your writing, but also for who you are as an author. Enjoyed that, but still got some self-pub questions? Then read this huge article on self-publishing. Oh, and if you want to find out more about which ebook format is right for you, then we got you covered. 99designs is an online graphic design marketplace. Cookbook or crime thriller, 99designs’ community can create compelling book covers to stand out on Amazon or the shelves of your local bookshop.
Read more

Interview with agents: how to polish submissions

Having shared insights with Festival of Writing 2017 delegates, three agents – Catherine Cho, Sandra Sawicka, Susan Yearwood – sat down with us for an interview on getting agent submissions right, what they’re most moved by, and what they’re looking for in the slush pile. What sort of books do you love being sent? Catherine: I love books that are transportive; with layers and depth, with a compelling story at its heart, those are the novels that I remember. Sandra: I love reading about things I don’t know. It could be a particular setting that is foreign to me, or a character with a weird profession, or completely different set of experiences … worlds for me to explore and learn. Have you ever opened a new manuscript, read a single page, and thought ‘I’m going to end up making an offer on this’? What was it about that page which excited you? Sandra: Yes, first line in fact. It was Paul Crilley’s Poison City where a talking dog tells his owner off for not providing his favourite tipple (sherry). I immediately thought – this is mad, I need to tell everyone. Catherine: I have read manuscripts and been drawn in from the first page – usually from an incredible voice that immediately pulls you in. It’s an exciting feeling, especially after reading so many submissions and to discover something amazing, it’s a bit like falling in love. Are you most drawn to beautiful writing? Or a wonderful plot? Or a stunning premise? Or anything else? Susan: I’m drawn to writing that engages so completely that I’d rather read the submission than do anything else during the course of the day. A good plot and premise are difficult to realise fully without a good sense of place and character in any genre. Catherine: Plot and premise are very important. What I notice is that often, first-time novels don’t have a strong narrative drive, and we need that central conflict or narrative momentum to create a compelling story. Do you need good personal chemistry with your authors? Sandra: I mean, it helps. I usually meet authors before I offer to represent them, to see whether we are on the same page about the edits but also to talk about how I work. Tell us how you like writers to submit work to you and how you’d like them not to submit work? Catherine: I prefer to receive my queries by email with the cover letter, synopsis, and first 3 chapters in the body of the email. Susan: I prefer to see the initial 30-50 pages of a script (or a book proposal with a sample of writing at that length in the case of non-fiction submissions). The covering email (or letter if it’s impossible to send the submission by email) should be brief, with a line about the book, an explanatory paragraph with more detail about the script then a few lines about yourself. What’s your pet peeve on covering letters? Catherine: I have a couple of pet peeves on covering letters (Dear Sir, in particular), and this is a personal one, but unnecessary autobiographical details. I think a novel, even if it is inspired by personal experiences, should stand for itself. The grim stats: how many submissions do you get per week (or year)? And how many new authors do you take on? Susan: I receive about 80-100 per month, depending on the month. How many new authors I take on depends on the submissions I receive. I am looking to take on more writers in adult fiction and non-fiction than I currently represent and introduce 9-12 age range children’s fiction and teen/YA fiction to my list. Catherine: As I’m building my list, the majority of my writers are from the slush pile or writers I’ve approached from anthologies and writing journals. I receive 50-80 submissions a week, and because I read them all on my own, it means that I’m constantly behind! When did you come into agenting? What did you do before? And why agenting? Susan: In 2007, I founded Susan Yearwood Literary Agency (now Susan Yearwood Agency), having spent part of the early to mid-90s at Virago Books and Penguin. I spent some time outside of publishing and came back to books via agenting to represent the type of writer I enjoyed reading, which, I feel, is the most exciting part of being a literary agent. Catherine: I came into agenting in a roundabout way. After university, I went to law school and tried working in the corporate law world. I then shifted to lobbying and worked for a lobbying firm in Washington DC. After a year at Capitol Hill, I realized that I’d rather lobby for something I believed in, and I decided to try and move to publishing. I hadn’t heard of agenting before, and I initially planned to find a job in editorial. I slept on friends’ couches in New York and had many coffee meetings with different people, and someone suggested that I try to find a job with a literary agency. It sounded like a dream job, and as a bonus, it would mean that I’d also be able to use my legal background. I was lucky enough to become a literary assistant and contracts manager at Folio Literary Management in New York, which was a great introduction to the industry. And then when I moved to London, I joined Curtis Brown as a literary assistant and have been working on building my list. If you had one bit of advice to give to new writers, what would it be? Catherine: My advice to new writers would be to keep writing! Writing and querying is a very subjective business, and the most important thing is to keep going, to keep learning and improving your craft. Read more free advice on submitting to literary agents!
Read more

Meet UK literary agents at the Festival of Writing

It’s not easy wowing literary agents. With one email, just a letter, a synopsis, and your first chapters to go on. A great literary agent submission pack makes a difference, but agencies in London are often inundated and it’s not uncommon for writers to not hear back. UK literary agents are looking for new writers, though – and you’re that bit harder to ignore face-to-face. (It’s not to say you can harass agents. You couldn’t phone an agent to ask a meeting unless you were a client – nor is it an idea to thrust a manuscript under a nose at first chance. Nor send gimmicky gifts to UK literary agents’ offices. This has happened.) What you need is a chance to connect authentically, in a professional setting. With an agent there who is open and expecting to talk to you. Here’s how to make the most of the Festival of Writing in York and meet literary agents for yourself – plus an incredible story from one author who had several UK literary agents jumping to represent her after her time at the Festival of Writing. Who’s The Festival Of Writing Really For? If you’ve got a manuscript written and want to publish – and you’re ready to talk to editors, agents and book doctors about it – the Festival of Writing is for you. And whilst you’ll find great workshops on improving writing and craft (as on publishing topics), agent 1-to-1s are part of your ticket. So the focus is on publication, whether it’s traditional or self-publishing you’d like. You’ll be a writer looking to pitch an unpublished manuscript. You’ll be able to send competition entries on time for judges to review, opening chapters in time for your chosen agent to look at before the day. It means you’ll get full value out of your Festival ticket. If you’re also pondering self-publishing (our Festival workshops cover self-publishing), professional feedback is still vital before you self-publish a book. A literary agent, book doctor or editor 1-to-1 at the Festival can give that feedback. And if you’re not from the UK – that’s okay. We’ve had many writers fly in for this event. Just bear in mind it’s literary agents from the UK you’ll meet at the Festival. If you’ve just started writing, or you haven’t got a manuscript ready, or you couldn’t get it ready in time for the next Festival, this is an annual event, and one to plan for – you’ll want to have your writing ready as it can be. It could be the sort of event to write towards in a year. And you can follow us on Twitter or join our mailing list for ‘earlybird’ updates each year, too. How Prepared Should I Be For The Festival Of Writing? On one hand – there’s no need to be worried about presenting your agent pitch. The only thing that ever persuades an agent is the quality of your manuscript. Think of the pitch simply as a gentle way of introducing the rest of the discussion. 1-to-1 sessions are also the most formal part of proceedings, but we hope you will chat to agents over tea or in the evening, as well as other writers. Some of the best contacts can be made this way. All the same, you’re investing in your writing career. Aside from 1-to-1s, you’ll enter writing competitions (deadlines before September), and shortlisted entries are read out for literary agents in the room. Past Festival visitors have been offered representation because of these things. Your agent submission packs also need to be with your chosen agents before the Festival itself, so they need time to read your work over before 1-to-1s. So it’ll help you to prepare at least a few months in advance. Be as prepared as you can, because the Festival of Writing gets you noticed – as happened for author Tor Udall. Tor came to the Festival of Writing in 2013 and A Thousand Paper Birds went on to be published with Bloomsbury. Tor Udall’s Story (Warning: Attending The Festival Of Writing Could Seriously Change Your Life) The truth is I was terrified. My comfort zone is a quiet room with only my characters and words for company, so the idea of spending three days with hundreds of writers I didn’t know felt challenging. Apart from having to face industry professionals, there was also the prospect of the Gala Dinner. When I followed participants on the forum discussing dresses they were going to wear (taffeta was mentioned), I definitely wobbled. But I was determined to do something radical. I had been writing for 15 years, been close to publication a couple of times, but the overall message I was receiving was ‘you have talent, you write beautifully, BUT…’ Hearing I had potential in my early twenties was lovely. Hearing I still had potential 15 years later was frustrating and I realised that if I was going to cross that golden threshold I had to do something different. I had submitted my third novel to 5 agents in June 2013. After receiving silence, I booked my place at York. The week before the Festival, three of the original agents got in touch, saying they were interested. So I arrived at #FOW13 on a high and had an absolute blast. I learnt so much from the workshops and loved meeting writers from other genres. The biggest discovery was that I actually ENJOYED ‘small talk’ if it was about books. I was in my element. During the weekend, I met two agents who both asked to read the manuscript. I returned from the rollercoaster, proud that I had pushed my courage to the limit, and as I sat there on the Sunday evening I had no idea that the real ride was only just beginning. The agents from the Festival read my manuscript within 24 hours and both offered representation. I then returned to the original 3 and they offered representation too. Overwhelmed, I contacted two people I had met in York: the wonderful book doctor, Andrew Wille, and the fabulous Francesca Main from Picador. Both offered advice without being directive and both suggested that I contact other agents too. This led to a ridiculous number of agents saying yes and my diary became unrecognisable with daily meetings. I was in the centre of a ‘buzz’ and I realised that people were now reading the manuscript differently with a starting point of ‘how can I help make this work?’ The doors I had been knocking on for 15 years were crashing down around me. I now had a new problem. Who was I going to pick? All the agents were smart, passionate, experienced and a delight to be with. I would have happily worked with each of them as they all brought something unique to the book and showed great insight. By this point, several successful writers were also getting in touch to recommend their agent or offer advice – and I remain stunned and humbled at the support I received from so many professionals who took time out of their busy schedules to help. But it did get to a point where I was scared to look in my inbox to see which celebrity was there that morning: ‘BOO!’ However the overall message I received was clear. I needed to listen out for that infamous ‘click’ … and to trust my instincts. When I walked into the ANA offices, Jenny Savill led me into the boardroom where I found a pictorial homage to my book spread out on the table. There were not only photographs of the novel’s location, but print-outs of music I mention and images of motifs that proved to me she understood the subtleties of what I was trying to do. She then introduced me to her colleagues and they had read the book too. Despite being in the hectic run up to Frankfurt, each of them stopped to meet me and I was so overwhelmed that I walked into a glass door. A classic Bridget Jones moment. … Had I heard a click? There had been a symphony of castanets. But still I wasn’t sure. How could I possibly turn down the others who I also adored? But I kept coming back to Jenny who had shown me that she understood the book, and what I’d been trying to do, better than I did. The key moment came when I drove past a poster of an NME cover showing David Bowie surrounded by origami birds. Both of them key motifs in the book. It was the strangest synchronous moment … and the first person I wanted to call to was Jenny. And that was that. It was hard to let the others down – all who had put so much energy and belief into the book – and of course I would have loved to mesh them into one uber-agent! But this was the real world and after all the excitement, my suitors rode into the sunset to find other books to fall in love with, other writers to court. In the ensuing silence, I was left standing opposite the one I had chosen, the two of us looking into each other’s eyes, thinking of the years and challenges ahead of us and saying. ‘Okay, let’s make this happen.’ So then I had the draft of my life ahead of me. But I was back in my ‘happy place’, playing around with words and asking these wonderful, frustrating characters to reveal themselves to me just a little bit more. And as I worked, I didn’t only have the brilliant support of Jenny … but all the agents’ wise voices in my head. And I feel hugely supported and blessed. None of this would have happened without the Festival of Writing. They were the spark that lit the fire. I also can’t thank Andrew and Francesca enough for their unbiased support – I couldn’t have got through the rollercoaster of these crazy months (or had so much fun) without them. There are still many more hurdles to jump. But I have learnt an important lesson … and ironically, it’s a lesson I needed to learn for my characters too. If you do the thing you’re most frightened of, you might just get what you want. 11 Tips For Making The Most Of The Festival Of Writing Be brave. As Tor said – if you do the thing you’re most frightened of, you might just get what you want.Make sure to locate the front desk. This is where you’ll check in and can ask your questions during the weekend.Write down your 1-to-1s and keep these with your programme. This way you have your map, timetable and 1-to-1s all in one place!Be professional. We’ve mentioned it before, but it’s very important! First impressions really do count, and although this is a fun weekend, it’s the opportunity to meet UK literary agents with whom you may want a working relationship – so don’t just thrust your manuscript at them! They are people, too, so have a chat.Make the most of tea breaks, meals and drinks. These are all great times for networking and if you’re professional and polite, industry professionals will enjoy talking to you.Bring bottled water. Although there’s plenty of tea breaks, it can get hot and you’ll be going between workshops and 1-to-1s. Make sure you’re properly hydrated!Wear comfy shoes. Between workshops, panels and 1-to-1s, there’s lots of walking around. Make sure you’re comfortable in what you’re wearing!Take a walk if you need a few quiet minutes.Bring a bag with some empty space. There’s the opportunity to buy books over the weekend and maybe even have them signed by their authors. Leave some room to take your books home!Remember to ‘dress to impress’ for the Gala on Saturday! We’ve had kilts, black ties and ball gowns. On the other end of the spectrum, we’ve also had jeans, nice shirts and tops. Wear whatever you’re comfortable in to bring a bit of sparkle to your evening.Have fun and enjoy your weekend! Find out more about the Festival of Writing! A Thousand Paper Birds (Bloomsbury) was longlisted for the Author’s Club Best First Novel Award and has been translated in six languages. The paperback was released 3 May 2018. You can follow Tor’s journey on Twitter and at her website.
Read more

How to start a writer’s blog (the basics)

Whether you’d like to be traditionally or self-published, this kind of contact between yourself and readers can start with a blog. Sharing your thoughts and writing life in a blog helps create a connection to readers, whether you’re published now or are hoping to be. For in-depth social media and blog insights, you may like our self-publishing course content – but, be you published or not, here’s a whistle-stop tour on how to successfully start a writer’s blog for time-pressed writers. What To Write About In Blog Posts A few first ideas. Opinion post (perhaps wise or poignant, perhaps funny, depending how you write)How-to guide (on something you know well)Personal anecdotes (sharing stories that serve audiences and serve you)Book reviewsBook giveawaysRound-ups (e.g. writing or competition news, links, etc.) Enjoy mind-mapping, as this should be a passion project and unique to you. A blog you love is a blog others will love. (If you’re a planner, you may enjoy creating a blog content calendar, too.) What Blog Platform To Choose If you’re an uncertain blogger, try starting a hosted blog. WordPress.com, for instance, is a free platform that makes it easy to transfer to WordPress.org, the latter giving autonomy on domain, design choices, and more. You’ll have the option of upgrading later to a self-hosted site when you feel confident. Joanna Cannon, for instance, uses WordPress. Squarespace is an alternative blog home, as used by Tor Udall. If you’re time-pressed, another idea is a micro-blog. Writers like Erin Morgenstern, Rainbow Rowell and Neil Gaiman use Tumblr. On a hosted site like Tumblr, it’s easy to ‘re-blog’ if you’re on the move. You can re-share social content (bookish images, links, quotes, audio, and video), whilst still linking to original users. If you know you’ll struggle finding time for posts, Tumblr is a ‘low-maintenance’ choice, and you can buff up less-frequent writings with this sort of re-sharing. Question how much time you can really commit to a blog, how confident you are, your aims and the content you want to create. Research your options and work from there, as best suits you. How To Write Blog Content That Sticks You need writing readers can return to. How will your blog shine out, and how will your posts stick over time? Creativity on your own time and terms should bring fun and fulfilment, so write posts that bring you to life. Just remember, if you’d like to create engagement and connected readers, everything you post needs justification. What value is it bringing? If you’re writing for other authors, as an example, why must people with limited writing time stop by to read? Is there timeless advice you’re posting, encouragement you can share, a round-up of quotes, or tips for productivity and self-confidence you can give? Brainstorm advice, anecdotes, lists and inspiration you can offer. Write for enjoyment, but make it worth a reader’s time stopping by. If your content grips, they’ll linger, feeling more connected to and interested in you and your books. Look up popular authors’ blogs for ideas. A Note On Copywriting You’ll have no in-house editorial team as a blogger, no line- and copy-edits made, just as if you were self-publishing a novel. As a plus, you can write what you want. As a minus, you can write what you want. Shakespeare’s observed brevity is the soul of wit, so keep sentences clear, concise, and sharp. Use shorter paragraphs, bullet lists and subheadings, remembering people will often read on the move. Simpler is better in blog copy. How To Get People To Blog Your Book Whichever social channels you feel comfortable using (never the ones you don’t), add your blog URL to profiles. Make use of writers’ and readers’ hashtags like #amwriting, #askagent or #bookstagram if you’re sharing post links on Twitter. If there are calendar days or months like #NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month in November), tap into these, schedule thematic blog posts and join the chats. Social media helps feed your blog. (Just don’t spend too long on social media. Keep it to only an hour a day.) What’ll make readers linger on your blog, though, is still value of content. Once those readers are there, really enjoying your words and your stories, they can enter their emails to subscribe to your feed. Ultimately, whatever you’re posting should bring readers value and wisdom in some guise. This gets readers to your blog and keeps them there. Do Writers Need Blocks? You’ll need a website and social media, online spaces your readers can find you. A personal blog should display writings, musings, advice, insight into what readers may find in your books. It’s the space you can create meaningful connections with readers. Do share your links on social media with us. For more free insights, peek at our prose advice, or other writing advice pages to give you ideas. There’s also our self-publishing course with details on arranging blog tours, plus more marketing essentials for self-publishing writers and bloggers. Happy blogging!
Read more
Page 2 of 5