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How To Write Characters (Not Clichés)

Characters are what bring life and energy to your plot. You may have rich, compelling material for a dramatic story, but if we’re not interested in spending time with your protagonist, if we aren\'t invested in their journey and growth, then even the most exciting plot in the world will be in danger of ringing hollow. It’s critical to a story’s success that your characters be captivating enough to linger long after the last page. It\'s also critical that the action of the story be \'character-driven\' -- and for that to happen, your characters must have depth and autonomy.  Before you dismiss character profiling as a waste of time, or if you\'re thinking that you can wait til later because you want to get on with plotting, try reading this article first. Then, before you get going on the writing, create character profiles for your protagonist, antagonist, their sidekicks and best friends, and any other significant characters you sense need it. You\'ll be glad you did. Understanding Your Characters In Aristotle’s Poetics for Screenwriters, Michael Tierno has written: The function of the poet [i.e. the writer] is not to say what has happened, but to say the kind of thing that would happen, i.e. what is possible in accordance with probability or necessity. Basically, you aren\'t here to dictate events -- you\'re here to write down things \'as they happen.\' Maybe that feels a little strange to say, considering that you\'re the one with the pen making these things up... but the trick is to create characters whose motivations and actions all make sense. They have to act logically within the story they\'re in, otherwise the whole thing will fall apart. Famous authors have spoken of characters taking on a life of their own, wanting to do something their plotlines hadn’t accommodated, because they have taken on life in their imagination (we assume for the better, because it’s typically characters we fall in love with, not events). How do you start to understand characters as human, though, not as chess pieces? You’ll need to know them as well as possible. You’ll need to be able to answer as many questions about your character as you can, when you begin to build a character profile. We’ve a few reasons why any conscientious writer shouldn’t skimp on this. Archetypes Vs. Stereotypes How do you build characters that are human, avoiding caricature or stereotype? It\'s perfectly fine to root your characters in a classic model -- the Reluctant Hero, the Clown, the Lover -- because we instinctively understand these stories. There\'s a reason that the Major Arcana of the Tarot deck are models of archetypes: we can see ourselves and our journeys in them quite easily! The danger comes from relying too much on cliché, or an idea of how certain people should act or be. Thriller author Christopher Rice has shared the female stock characters of police procedurals he’s desperate to avoid, like the nagging wife, the ‘ice-queen bureaucrat’ or the ‘babe-assassin’ (‘on the surface she seems like an attempt at gender equality … [but] if we never get a real explanation for who she is, how she got that way, she just ends up being a cardboard character’). Fantasy writer Samantha Shannon (who created a criminal heroine with depth, in Paige Mahoney of The Bone Season) has also argued the case for complexity: Complicated women are still treated like they’re a curiosity. … We don’t keep marvelling at “strong male characters”. Male characters can fall into a version of this trap, too, if they\'re rendered as handsome romantic caricatures or burly, brusque brawlers rather than real people. So how can you avoid these things and write your characters with sensitivity and feeling? Firstly, by drawing out of your own well of human emotions and experiences. Russian director Constantin Stanislavski developed training methods still used by actors today. In his book Building a Character, he offers guidance to actors (applicable to writers) who seek to ‘build’ characters out of stereotypical ideas or images, rather than from their own bank of emotional experiences. Stanislavski shares examples of cliché in Building a Character: A professional soldier … holds himself stiffly, marches around … speaks in a loud, barking tone out of habit. … A peasant spits … wipes his mouth of the tail of his sheepskin coat. An aristocrat always carries a top hat … his speech is affected. … These are … clichés. They are taken from life. … But they do not contain the essence of [a] character. Writer Scarlett Thomas, examining Stanislavski’s writing, builds on his musings in Monkeys with Typewriters: We could equally say that the chav wears a hoody and trainers and carries a can of lager … the geek has pale skin and acne and glasses. … Stanislavski’s work represents a profound rejection of cliché, stereotype and commonplace assumptions. … Stanislavski also teaches us to look for the motivation behind the action. … Begin with the character’s desire and build up from there, otherwise characterisation will be patronising. Following this, Scarlett Thomas encourages writers to uncover what Stanislavski calls a ‘super-objective’ in characters: Examples of super-objectives are ‘I wish to be comfortable’, ‘I wish to be perfect’, ‘I wish to be in control’, ‘I wish to be loved’, ‘I wish to be a success’. … With one wish, what would your character want? During her novel The End of Mr Y, for instance, Scarlett Thomas has protagonist Ariel Manto admit her ‘wish’ to another character: she wants to know everything. This filters down into Ariel’s less significant actions, too (rendering everything significant, after all). ‘I wish to know everything’ as a super-objective accounts for Ariel buying a rare, cursed book with all the money she has left to live on (not caring that she now won’t be able to eat). Your own character needn’t be conscious of a ‘super-objective’, an overarching character motivation – and it’s better if they’re not, perhaps. We as human beings typically aren’t aware, either. We may be aware of various major goals and needs, compelling us to act. As a writer, though, you’ll need to be conscious yourself. Why does your character want something? Maybe they want money, but is this because they want to be wildly successful, to show off? Or is this because they’re poor and just want to be comfortable? Your character’s specific longings and actions should feed back into one vague but dominant, all-encompassing wish. Know the nature of that wish, and why it’s there. It’s your character’s emotional heart and heartbeat. Consider your character’s background, too, their day-to-day life now and in times past. How does this feed into desire, into their nature? In Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, for instance, the Mirror of Erised illustrates Stanislavski’s principles when Albus Dumbledore points out to Harry that harried, teased Ron Weasley sees himself distinguished, without his brothers and family, the best of them all. Isolated Harry, who’s lived in a cupboard for ten years, sees himself in the mirror with a loving, but lost, family. Such longings aren’t viewed in the mirror by accident. Start with your character’s desire and let this help you map out their inner nature. You’ll then be on the path to creating characters with depth, who are fully human. Avoid Common Clichés You’ll probably have encountered ‘stock’ characters or cliché characters before. The glasses-wearing nerd, the mustache-twirling villain, the damsel-in-distress who can\'t do a damn thing for herself... no human being you\'ve ever met fits so neatly into such simplistic boxes! Adding in ‘rogue’ elements to subvert clichés like this is one way of initially working against your own subconscious biases in writing characters. Fiona Griffiths, in Harry Bingham’s thriller Talking to the Dead, is a gifted, morose protagonist recovering from Cotard’s Syndrome, but this isn’t incidental. She puts herself in hazardous situations in her empathy and determination to uncover victims’ stories. In Robert Galbraith’s crime series, opening with The Cuckoo’s Calling, protagonist Cormoran Strike is an army veteran turned private detective. Strike never ‘marches’, never speaks ‘in a loud, barking tone’, as per Stanislavski’s cliché. Strike is reserved, brusque but often uncertain, and has a prosthetic limb after losing part of his leg in Afghanistan (occasionally affecting his mobility). Strike’s prosthetic limb isn’t just incidental, either. It is indicative of his past trauma, his identification with sufferers of violence, and motive for the work he does. It’s not illogical to guess past trauma feeds into Strike’s emotional reticence with on- and off-partner Charlotte (who soon marries someone else), later with deuteragonist and new romantic interest Robin, at first. All of these are examples of ways to add subversive, original elements to your characters -- without them being incidental or irrelevant to the story you\'re trying to tell, or without hijacking them and turning the story on its head in a way that feels random. Circles And Starts Should characterisation really come first in novel-plotting? Or is it the plotting itself? It\'s a little bit like asking about the chicken or the egg (although of course we all know the answer to that one...) -- because inspiration can come from anywhere! Start where your imagination wants to start, but know this: characters must ultimately drive a plot, propel it forward. If your characters don’t act in ways that are plausible (as Aristotle indicated all those years ago), your plot is in terrible danger of falling apart -- and once your reader questions a character in this sense, your narrative spell is broken. Things also become less interesting when characters aren’t decidedly at the heart of storytelling. Let’s take romance as a genre or a device in fiction (i.e. as plot or subplot) to explore that idea. Writers continue to visit and revisit romance in stories, because it resonates with us all, often transcending genre. It is the characters, though, that elevate romance as formula out of the mechanical, making a story human. Taking two classics with potential – a spirited heroine challenges her moralising hero, a selfless heroine solaces her heartbroken hero – most readers care if a certain Miss Bennet marries in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, fewer (generally) care if a certain Miss Price marries in Jane Austen’s previous novel, Mansfield Park. In Pride and Prejudice, a relationship develops in action and conversation, with resulting character growth in the span of the action. Lizzy and Darcy retain strength of character, yet soften and mature as they listen, learn from and fall in love with the other. In Mansfield Park, nothing much prompts heroine or hero to grow. We’re told, not shown, how love turns from fraternal to romantic in just a couple of passages at the novel’s end. As a result, it’s a bit harder to connect with this story. As fictional characters, the point is that Jane Austen’s characters were never just in want of a spouse but they underwent an emotional journey, and this is what makes readers connect and care. As such, a story doesn’t necessarily need to be ‘correct’, nor do protagonists need to do ‘good’ things for us to love reading about them. Your story just needs to resonate with readers – and that begins with your characters being human, or at least operating in a way that your human readers will recognize. They might be six-tentacled aliens on a planet orbiting Betelgeuse, or anti-heroes like Patrick Bateman in American Psycho -- but even the most inhuman or unlikeable characters can all astound us and move us, because we see some glimmer of our own humanity in each of them. What’s key to your storytelling is, and always will be, emotional connection. Where To Start It makes narrative and dramatic sense to create fully rounded human characters who will face story challenges, who will make active choices, and who will reflect and change as readers spend time with them. Ponder this as you start planning. If you’re wondering where to start with characters, make a list of questions for them to build a personality profile. Ideas might be: Where was your character’s childhood spent?What was your character’s favourite place as a child? Where did they feel most joy?What made your character feel safe?What subjects did your character love at school?What books did they love to read? What were their hobbies?What was their worst accident as a child? What lesson did they take from it?What would their Myers-Briggs personality be?What’s their reason to live, their all-encompassing drive? Let some of these ideas get you started. Just be sure you’ll know their innermost depths, the life-wish that drives them, too – since these will propel your plot, too. If you want to create a more in-depth character profile, try our free Jericho Writers Character Building Worksheet. Enjoy your character-building and happy writing! Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

Voice In The Novel (Or Finding Yours)

Countless agents will talk about voice, or something similar, above all other assets that an author might bring. One agent we know of, for example, offered representation for a book having read just one sentence of it. So what is a ‘voice’ in writing, and how do you get one? What Is Voice In Writing? What Authorial Voice Is – And Why You Want One Voice is to writing as personality is to humans. Voice is the stylistic imprint of the individual author – their unique, signature style, if you like. The idea is that authors with real “voice” are inimitable. That they sound like themselves and no one else. So here’s Cormac McCarthy, for example: Here’s Raymond Chandler: He walked out in the gray light and stood and he saw for a brief moment the absolute truth of the world. The cold relentless circling of the intestate earth. Darkness implacable. The blind dogs of the sun in their running. The crushing black vacuum of the universe. [The Road] I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun. I put them on and went out of the room. Here’s Gillian Flynn: Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl. Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding. [Gone Girl] In each of these cases, those authors have an instantly recognisable quality. One that just drips with personality and mature stylistic confidence. What Is ‘Voice’ In Writing? ‘Voice’ refers to the author’s writing style, or authorial voice. It is the stylistic imprint, or signature style, that authors leave on the page. An authorial voice should have an instantly recognisable quality, or personality, and remain present throughout the novel. It’s what will captivate your readers and hook an agent. Why Do Literary Agents Care So Much About Voice? Just imagine you were an agent looking through your slushpile – maybe 2,000 manuscripts through the course of a year. Many of those manuscripts will be perfectly fine. Competent thrillers. Decent rom-coms. Accessible literary fiction with interesting themes. But their ‘perfectly OK-ness’ is the problem. Why would an agent prefer Competent Thriller A to Competent Thriller B? What would force an editor to buy one over the other? In many cases, the answer is ‘nothing much.’ And that’s where voice comes in. If you, as a debut author, can stride into the agent’s consciousness sounding like nothing else in his/her slushpile – sounding like yourself and no one else – you force the agent to pay you attention. And in the course the editor. And in due course the reader. And that’s why voice matters. That’s why voice is golden. Achieving Voice: Aspire To Authenticity Voice is often left until later in writing courses. That’s emphatically not because the concept doesn’t matter, but because you only get to deal with matters of finding your voice once the basics have all been properly dealt with. That certainly means that your prose style will read competently. But it goes beyond that. It would be exceptionally rare for a writer to have a wonderful voice without also having a certain minimum level of competence at matters such as plotting, handling points of view, and all those other things that go to make up a technically proficient novel. In short, if you’re uncertain whether you are yet entirely competent as a writer, you probably still need to worry at your technique as your priority. (Oh, and I should be clear that I’m not using ‘competent’ here in a dismissive sense. Rather the opposite. A professionally competent carpenter is a wonderful and skilful thing. Being able to lift a hammer or a cut a piece of wood doesn’t make you a carpenter. Likewise, many first-time novelists may struggle with aspects of technique, which is fair enough if you haven’t done this before.) Don’t Fake A Voice That’s Not Yours A lot of thriller writers, for example, knowing that Raymond Chandler is famous for his prose style and flashy images will seek to do likewise, and jam their prose full of over-the-top imagery and wild similes. This could work, yes, in principle – but by golly it seldom does. And the trouble is partly a misreading of Chandler (who was carefully selective about when to pick an over-the-top image out of his toolkit), but mostly a lack of authenticity. The typical sign is a prose style that judders from the bland to the excessive and back again. Character, Character, Character, And Story To achieve authenticity, you need to not start off by worrying about voice. If you do that, you will end up imposing some excessively designed voice over the head of your character. Really, it has to work the other way round. You find the style that suits your character and work with that. I’ve put a chunk of my own first-person prose down below (so you can look at it and laugh at me), but character can influence voice even when it’s not first person. For a remarkable exercise in third-person character determining voice, try Brooklyn by the wonderful Colm Toibin. What you notice in that book is how little the author appears to do. How much is not said. But that’s because the protagonist is herself from a limited background without much range of personal expression. The intensity of the novel arises from what Toibin called – only a little pretentiously – a system of silences. Character determining voice. And if character is mostly paramount, then story matters, too. The voice that Toibin used for Brooklyn would not work well at all for (say) my own Fiona Griffiths detective stories, and vice versa. If you start with character and story, then write as well as you can, you’re most of the way to doing what you need. Remember Imagery, Yes, But Also Everything Else When it comes to ‘fine writing’, a lot of people have a strange idea that it’s all to do with imagery or sentence structure. And sure, if you have those in your armoury, then why not? But other elements of voice abound. For example: RhythmLength of sentences and parasVocabulary (broad or narrow, both can work)Vocabulary as a palette (for example, a book might cleave very tightly to agricultural and natural images, colours and allusions)Lyricism versus stony realismHumourWarmthIronyDoes the book stick close to one or more characters, or does the narratorial voice sometimes protrude?Descriptive or terse?Minute dissection of moments, emotions, thoughts? Or very sweeping? Intimate or wide-angle?Does the writer tease the reader? Are mysteries left to linger unsolved?Present tense or past? And how are those tenses deployed?Preference for Anglo-Saxon vocabulary or Latinate, French?Smoothness or unexpectedness? Does the voice remain very consistent in tone, or does it move around to surprise the reader? I daresay if you think a few moments, you’ll be able to extend that list a good way yourself. All these things can go to make up voice. You need to pick the bits that matter to you. Remember It’s Not A Competition In Technique And, also, you don’t get points for some show-off technique like, for example, writing a novel in the first-person plural. (The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides is a good example.) You get points for writing well. That can be by doing the basic things very well indeed. Don’t seek to flaunt some exotic piece of technique unless the book really demands it. And for a last hint, I think that as you start to understand your own style, it can be worth doing the same thing, but just a little more. Taking your existing ingredients and cutting out anything that doesn’t quite mesh and emphasising your signature notes a little more. It would be exceptionally easy to overdo this, of course, but it never hurts to nudge the reader, just a little, with what to look out for. My Voice (Or The One I Share With Fiona Griffiths) And there’s no use in talking about voice without showing it on the page. This is me, talking as my detective character Fiona Griffiths. Fiona is working undercover, is currently in prison, and is hoping to uncover some secrets from a fellow inmate, Anna Quintrell. Quintrell is brought to the cell when the light is dying. She looks rough. Not injured and knocked about, like me, but exhausted. Defeated. She’s still in her cutsie little summer dress, but someone has given her a grey fleece to wear over the top. We stare at each other. She sits on her bed. There are four blankets in the room and I’ve got them all. ‘What happened to you?’ ‘Resisting arrest,’ I say. ‘Except some of it happened after arrest.’ She draws her legs up on the bed. ‘Can I have my blankets?’ I give her one. ‘And another?’ I tell her to fuck off. Say I’m cold. ‘So am I.’ I shrug. Not interested. There’s a pause. A pause sealed off by steel doors and concrete walls. ‘They bugged my house. My phone. They’ve got everything.’ I shrug. Light dies in the ceiling. She tries to make herself comfortable. Twitches the fleece and blanket, trying to get warm. A losing game. There’s a call button by the door which allows prisoners to ask for help from staff. She presses it, asks for more bedclothes. Someone laughs at her and tells her to go to sleep. She stands by my bed and says plaintively. ‘You’ve got my blanket.’ I tell her again to fuck off. She’s bigger than me, but I’m scarier. She goes back to her bed. The light fades some more. I try to sleep. The aspirin has worn off and my head hurts. Quintrell starts crying. Quiet sobs, that tumble into the blanket and are smothered. Down the corridor, we can hear more suspects being brought in and processed. Doors slam through the night: church bells calling the hour. I sleep. I won’t comment much on that, except to note that my style is unusual in its attempt at combining two things. First, its clipped quality (very short sentences and paras, lots of sentence fragments or verbs missing their subject), not uncommon in thrillers, but then I try for an almost lyrical quality, also (“A pause sealed off by steel doors”, “Light dies in the ceiling”), though this is unobtrusive, even sparse, because those interjections can’t detract from the action. The combination of the two – plus that intense, up-close present tense – go to create a lot of what we experience as Fiona’s voice. She’s also an odd combination of highly intelligent (hinted at here only) and very, erm, blue-collar in her speech. It’s those dissonant ingredients that go to make our Fi. If you’re struggling for that elusive ‘voice’ in your novel, and you’re writing in the first-person, why not set aside your story for a moment, and scribble a conversation with your protagonist or a page from their diary. What does it sound like? Happy writing! Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

Literary Agents For Science Fiction

The market for science-fiction remains as interesting and varied as it’s ever been. You can still write classic space opera and find a market, but there’s an increasing interest in dystopia, genre collisions, and any intelligent idea-driven fiction. The genre remains rich, deep, and you can certainly argue that the literary novelists, Margaret Atwood and David Mitchell, have written sci-fi novels. George Orwell and Aldous Huxley are especially famous for sci-fi masterpieces. People like Iain Banks and China Mieville aren’t usually considered literary novelists, but they are excellent writers who write challenging, thoughtful, bold fiction. A healthy, confident market with plenty of international appeal. And AgentMatch can help you tap it. Are You Really Writing Science-Fiction? We suggest you think hard about whether you are really writing science-fiction. For example: A near-future thriller involving (say) 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. Using our genre search along with careful use of our agent profile pages means that you’ll get the best possible fit for your novel. AgentMatch And How To Use It On AgentMatch, there are plenty of science-loving agents, and you won’t want to approach them all. The best way to develop and refine your own shortlist of likely targets is to visit our page and use the search tools on the left to make your selection. You can select by genre (e.g. science-fiction) but you can also select by the agent’s level of experience, their appetite for new clients, and very much more. Our database is completely comprehensive and it’s really, really easy to create the searches you want. This site is designed to give users a good feel for the data and functionality for free, but the real riches of our site are available only to members. Become a member. Our AgentMatch search pages can help you look for agents. Peek for the Select Genres box, click that, and choose “Science Fiction”. And the list of agents will automatically be filtered. Simply choosing agents who like science-fiction will give you a list that is too long to be manageable, though, so you will need to pare it back in some way. You can do that by: Figuring out if you would rather be represented by a large agency or a small one;Looking for agents who are “Keen to build client list” rather than “List largely complete”;Looking for agents who have been in the business a little less long, so are hungrier to attract new clients;Other uses of the search filters. You should also explore the profiles of the agents who come up to see who really is a match for your book and who really isn’t. Some agents are happy to look at all submissions that come their way, but won’t have a real keen interest in the genre. Others are particularly keen on the area and would strongly welcome your submissions. Wishing all intergalactic luck! Become a member. More On Uk Literary Agents UK Literary Agents, the Complete List (with Links to Agent Profiles) Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

How To Generate Ideas For Worldbuilding In Fiction

Novelists of science-fiction or fantasy know worldbuilding is a huge part of the fun of writing, from magical medieval worlds to apocalyptic dystopias. There’s something wonderful about writing brave new worlds. As George R.R. Martin has written: We read fantasy to find the colors again, I think. To taste strong spices and hear the songs the sirens sang. There is something old and true in fantasy that speaks to something deep within us, to the child who dreamt that one day he would hunt the forests of the night, and feast beneath the hollow hills, and find a love to last forever somewhere south of Oz and north of Shangri-La. They can keep their heaven. When I die, I’d sooner go to middle Earth. What’s described here just comes down to worldbuilding. Whatever genre you’re in love with – historical fantasy, urban fantasy, hard or soft science-fiction, or something else – here are some general guidelines from us and an overview to consider. Worldbuilding: Two Methods To Choose M. John Harrison has defined worldbuilding as an ‘attempt to exhaustively survey a place that isn’t there’. There are two established methods for science-fiction and fantasy, defined in The Kobold Guide to Worldbuilding. These are outside-in (otherwise called top-down) or inside-out (bottom-up) – so we’ll work with these definitions to help you sense which broad approach you prefer. If you’re for outside-in, you’ll go with worldbuilding before just about anything else (i.e. plot, character, creatures) in your sci-fi or fantasy writing. You’ll want that intricately-crafted world there in your mind, detailed in notes, ready for readers to explore as much as you yourself would wish to. Maybe you’ll need it complete with histories, languages and more – because you feel fantastical worlds need a sense and structure first for a story to operate in. Perhaps you’ll want to know every nook and cranny, creating mythologies, histories, etymologies surrounding your characters, like J.K. Rowling, or as J.R.R. Tolkien did when he created Middle Earth. Tolkien, though, built The Hobbit around Bilbo Baggins – and then there came the history of Middle Earth and more. This makes Tolkien an inside-out world-builder. Bilbo, his character, came first and Middle Earth is built around Bilbo – all he must achieve, how he must grow – before Bilbo’s young cousin, Frodo, is forced to pick up Bilbo’s legacy in The Lord of the Rings and continue the journey. Similarly, the centre of J.K. Rowling’s series was always Harry himself. With an inside-out approach, you’ll build worlds around characters, exploring as you go. This way is (arguably) most useful to you, helping you not get bogged down in the fun of worldbuilding. You mustn’t ever neglect your story. Mapping A New World It’s not just a lot fun to create a world map. It’s worth doing even as a draft sketch for yourself, because the key rule to never break in worldbuilding is that your world must have an internal, underpinning logic to it. This helps convince us that no matter how fantastical your book material, it is authentic enough to feel plausible – enough for readers to buy into it all. Think as you map mountains, savannahs, deserts – what do terrains mean for the societies you’ll create? In fantasy epics, much of plot – including backstories, world histories and more – is tied up in mapping. The Iron Islands of A Song of Ice and Fire, as an example, are known for ironborn ships. Surrounded by seas, Iron Islanders depend upon their Iron Fleet. This doesn’t just sound imposing and impressive as a plot device from George R.R. Martin. It makes a certain logical sense that Iron Islanders would be dedicated to seafaring for their prosperity and survival. There must be underpinning, internal rules to your world to create a due sense of realism, and this can feed into your plot arc, character journeys and all the rest. As Jeff Vandermeer has written in Wonderbook: Approaches to setting and character should be multidirectional: organic and three-dimension, with layers and depths. Throwaway settings are like throwaway characters: a missed opportunity. These geographical elements are interconnected and worth exploring, researching carefully as a conscientious writer. Mapping A Universe If you’re building a planet for your science-fiction novel, or mapping star systems – all sorts of scientific questions begin to surface. That’s enough for a separate tome entirely. Still, a quick note here to ‘hard sci-fi’ writers on its importance. Let’s say you were creating an alien planet with rings like Jupiter or Saturn. In terms of detail, some geological knowledge and understanding could help you in your descriptive writing. Writer Stephen L. Gillett has written in his book World-Building how this planet would look: Rings would make for spectacular skies … during the day, a vast white arch, probably visibly subdivided into concentric arcs, would stretch high across the southern sky, pallid but plainly visible. … As the sun set, the arch would blaze … like a lacework with its multiple interior arcs. Shepherd moons would appear like bright pearls. … As nightfall encroached … no stars at all would appear in the black band … [then] high in the east a brilliant arc would appear where the rings first caught the sunlight, and the brilliance would spread westward until the whole arch would glow just before dawn. If you’re an enthusiast for science-fiction, learn to love the sciences, and read up on them. They could just offer new mines of inspiration. It’ll all take time, yes – and is it necessary? It just depends. Know how deep you wish to go. Know if your story (or you) may need it. It can’t hurt to consider, though. Writing World Histories Readers love exploring the histories of Westeros in A Song of Ice and Fire – the complex, horrific politics of King’s Landing. Readers become immersed in the stories of George R.R. Martin’s great families, forging uneasy alliances to retain positions of power. The books wouldn’t allure us if it weren’t for such details. On the other hand, part of the suspense and unease of a novel like Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale stems from Offred’s patchy knowledge of her dystopia and its ambiguity. A fairy-tale retelling like Uprooted by Naomi Novik strikes a middle ground. Some history is sketched for us but there’s no extensive mapping, no comprehensive history of intrigue. There’s still much mystery surrounding the Dragon, the ‘reaping’ faced by Agnieszka and Kasia, which can work to advantage in Uprooted. A little mystery is no bad thing. However, to truly know your world, a world history or survey detailing just as much as you need to write would probably be useful. It’ll be useful material for you, yourself – no matter how much you share of it in your book. So that’s the most valid reason to create a world history – if you’ll enjoy making it, love writing it. Create notes, etchings for yourself. You needn’t create these with the intension to publish, either. J.R.R. Tolkien wrote The Silmarillion, reams on the histories of Middle Earth, but never meant this book or others to be published. J.K. Rowling also kept detailed notes and sketches of Harry Potter’s world for years. All of it was meant for her reference and only after Harry’s success did she go on to reveal these on the website Pottermore, from supporting characters’ back stories to the intricacies and origins of wandlore, and more. Wherever stories catch on, a desire for more can often follow as George R.R. Martin also discovered before finishing his series. He published The World of Ice and Fire, an informative history ‘textbook’ for his world, detailing all that led up to events of A Game of Thrones. Still, your world history is really your backdrop for readers. In one sense, you must ‘always leave them hungry’ because a world history is not the same thing as your story – and it’s the stories themselves that grip us. Better leave readers hungry then inundate too much and risk boring anyone. This said, a world history would still bear heavily upon your plot and any world history should feel organic, not tacked on. Your world history, at least as far as readers are concerned, needs to be fleshed out just enough as far as is relevant for the here and now of your plot and characters. Writing Alternate Histories Building alternate histories (i.e. reworking the histories of this world, recreating this world with intricately changed aspects), though, is another matter. A separate branch of worldbuilding, this is trickier, because you’ll need to research extensively before you rework. If certain events didn’t happen, how would this bear on your written worlds or societies? Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is an example of how to write an alternative history well. Set in Regency England with magicians thrown in, the myth of the Raven King casts a shadow over all as magic ‘returns’ to England, as London society is dazzled by spells and ladies raised from the dead. The entire novel is punctuated with long (optional) footnotes and backstories, making for a deftly and thoroughly researched world of alternative history. In this sense, you can take inspiration from real-life histories – in A Song of Ice and Fire, civil war ensues following the beheading of key protagonist Eddard Stark – but anyone who’s read The Accursed Kings by Maurice Druon (on the collapse of the French Capetian Dynasty) will see some parallels in A Song of Ice and Fire. Don’t be afraid of tapping into history, however extensively, to inform your own worldbuilding. Creating Magical Societies If you’re writing a fantastical society with some magic (as so often will be the case), what are your magic’s rules and limitations? Harry Potter’s magical universe is held together by rules. A curse can be met with a counter-curse. Servile creatures like house-elves have secret powers that Voldemort, who wants to be invincible, spurns to his cost. Are there cults (religious or not), guilds or secret societies, like the Order of the Phoenix created to battle Voldemort? Also, how will it affect your protagonist if he or she isn’t using magic in a magical world? Are they afraid of it? In children’s series The Song of the Lioness by Tamora Pierce, Alanna and Thom are twins sent away from home. Protagonist Alanna is to go north and learn magic (as ladies do in her world). Thom is to become a knight, and neither wants their fate. In secret, Thom travels north – both boys and girls can learn magic – but Alanna becomes ‘Alan’, disguises herself a boy, and learns to fight. Alanna isn’t drawn to magic (synonymous with power in these stories), as her brother is. She finds she must still use her magic to help defend Tortall as she grows older. If you’re creating religions, too, will these be monotheistic or polytheistic? In George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, different gods are worshipped – with consequences. Arya Stark joins a cult worshipping the ‘Many-faced God’ or ‘God of Death’ to become an assassin. Melisandre is a prophetess carrying religion to catastrophic extremes. In The Song of the Lioness, however, it is a Goddess worshipped. She’s able to appear to protagonist Alanna as a tangible being, appealing to Alanna’s inner life and journey at a deeply personal level. So how will your story’s religion affect things, if you’re writing one? This can’t be a throwaway topic, just as there can’t be throwaway settings or people. Everything, no matter how much you create, how big or small the details, should remain significant. Creating Dystopias Dystopian societies are (arguably) on trend in writing right now. Dystopia has long been established as a ‘soft’ sci-fi subgenre, as have fantasy novels. Writing dystopian societies whilst keeping details rich, and characters human despite their loathsomeness, can be tricky. In The Handmaid’s Tale, for instance, ‘criminals’ targeted are hanged in public to control, to crush subversion. Handmaids like Offred lose their names in Gilead, so Gilead also makes the spread of information impossible. Margaret Atwood’s setup is clever and it makes revolution seem a distant dream – it’s impossible to rebel if you can’t pull together accurate enough information. As an example, Offred meets her companion, Ofglen, one day, only to find a different Ofglen waiting. Her Ofglen has been replaced. In the novel, Offred is left to believe Ofglen hanged herself before a van could arrive and take her away. Names, identities, information, are lost as another tool of this repressive society. Even in Gilead, though, nothing is black and white. Offred’s Commander helps uphold a sick regime. Yet even he is nostalgic for the past – offering Offred a secret night out, bribing her with Scrabble game matches, old magazines – outlawed under Gilead. So keep your storytelling, characters and worldbuilding complex, even (or especially) where it’s tempting to paint the world in black and world. Releasing Information If you inundate readers too much on ‘world material’, it could risk being a ‘turn-off’. So often a novel works because of a delicate control of information, i.e. you reveal more as you write, more as we read. Authors like J.R.R. Tolkien know this. He released information to his readers and to Frodo over time, just as J.K. Rowling does for Harry, etc., etc. Meanwhile, Samantha Shannon, author of fantastical dystopia The Bone Season, has written on building heroine Paige Mahoney’s world of clairvoyants and the Rephaim, as well as writing about releases of information. How do you reveal a complex world without launching into fully-fledged history? Samantha’s blog post reads: After several attempts at an opening, I finally decided that it was worth setting aside a few pages in the early chapters to explain some key aspects of the world – spirit combat, the London gangs, Edward VII, dreamwalking and so on – before the story got going. In the long run, I knew this would save me time and stop me having to drop in this information in later chapters. It would also, critically, allow a reader to grasp the bare bones of the world before I started fleshing it out – at the risk of making them feel like they were being ‘talked at’. It was a fairly big risk and I know it won’t work for everyone, but I’d rather a reader knew too much than too little. So just remember to bear in mind ‘story view’, as a narrator – how much do your readers need to know at this moment? Will it serve the plot? Think where and how you’ll connect the dots over your novel. An End Is Just A Beginning These are the pointers, the foundations of all you need to think about. Sketch and map out the details of your world, and if you need, create a collage (or a Pinterest board) of ideas and images to spark inspiration. Most importantly – have fun, and happy writing! Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

How Long Does It Take To Publish A First Book?

The first time I thought I’d finished my novel was in November 2015. It was 80,000 words and it had a beginning, a middle and an end, and I’d given it to some friends for feedback and made some minor changes. I was DONE. Well done, me! I sent it off to a couple of competitions and put my feet up, resolving to send it to some agents in the new year. I felt very, very pleased with myself. The next time I thought I’d finished my novel was the summer of 2016. I’d been shortlisted for one of the prizes I entered and had some feedback from agents and publishers. I’d done a rewrite, swallowed my pride, deleted a load of my beautiful, precious words to make way for new ones, and done another proof. I mean … NOW I was done, right? The next time was the spring of 2017. I had found a brilliant agent who loved my book and had some ideas of how to make it even better. We had worked on it together, tweaking, making changes, polishing and rearranging. Now, it was the eve of the London Book Fair and we were officially ready to send it out on submission. The book was surely finished. In September that year I started working with my publisher and editor. Of course, the fact that “editor” is a job title should have tipped me off that she may want me to spend further time on the work. I was really happy about the changes that we were making together! It was exciting to be nearly finished. In October that year I discovered that line edits were different to structural edits. In November I discovered that copy edits are different again. In January 2018, I was sent a fully typeset manuscript to proofread. My book, typeset! Now for real it was done, hurray! All I would have to do, I was sure, was have a quick skim through to make sure it was all in order – something I had done many times before – tell them it was all okay, and we were off. I set aside a whole day to do this, which seemed excessive. I figured I would probably be able to knock off and go to the pub mid-afternoon. In late March, after a fair few back and forths and me spending an entire panicked weekend staring at a text, believing myself to have forgotten how to read. (Professional proofreaders spend FIFTY HOURS with a novel, guys! It turns out you can’t knock it out in a long afternoon.) I got an email from my production manager. She said that this was the very last round of edits, and that after this one, we wouldn’t make any more changes – it would be sent to the printers. It would finally and truly be done. As I emailed back the approval, I didn’t feel as triumphant as I thought I would. I felt a little bit sad, almost scared. I’d spent so long with that book, with my protagonist and in my world. I didn’t really want to let her go. I love that book. What if I couldn’t write anything as good ever again? I almost didn’t want to sign the proofs off. But I did it. I hit send, and I turned back to my work in progress. And over the next couple of weeks, I found I had a lot of energy on this new project. It seems so unlikely that a scrappy little manuscript will ever come to anything, but I think this one can. I know I could do it again, you see, because I’ve done it before. I’ve finally finished a novel. Some Tips On Letting Go: Admit to yourself that there is no such thing as perfect. It can be easy to hide behind perfectionism as an excuse for never putting your work out there. Obviously, if you’re sending work to agents, it should be as good as you can possibly get it, but it will never be 100% there. When you get to 99%, it’s time to move on.Value your time. Writing a novel takes ages – of course it does! But it does not take an infinite amount of time. Weeks spent “polishing” without adding value to your nearly-finished project are time that could be spent on your next book.Have a process. With such a huge, overwhelming task as writing a novel, I find it really helpful to have clearly defined stages, with multiple drafts. I do three drafts and then start showing people my work, with a different round of edits after every batch of feedback. It’s a lot to work through, but at least if you have a plan, you know when you’re at the end of it. Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

Promote Books On Bookbub For Huge Sales

How to get chosen. How to structure your promotion. How to maximise sales across your series. And why servies like Bookbub are great for authors. You’ve launched your book, you’ve accrued some sales, you’ve had some nice comments from readers and then … … Launch sales drop away. You may not have another book out (if you’re me) for another twelve months. It’s not that your books become invisible on Amazon, exactly – you’ll still be kicking around on some sub-bestseller lists, you’ll probably be visible on some Also Boughts – but, no question, your sales drop off to levels that are a pale shadow of what they were. So what do you do? Well, there are a few possible answers to that. After Your Book Launch: Some Strategies Option #1- Quick Release Model One popular answer is: just keep pumping out the books. Bookouture, a wonderful British digital-only publisher, works on a book-every-three-months model. The beauty of that is that no sooner has a reader finished one book by Author X than they can pre-order the next one. (Amazon pre-orders are limited to 90 days, hence the three-month model.) Although Bookouture is the most visible example of such a publisher, the basic model was invented by indies. John Locke, Sean Platt / Johnny B. Truant, Adam Croft, and countless others blazed that trail, or variants of it. And the model works. Each new launch helps build the mailing list and elevates the visibility of the entire series. What’s more, because you accumulate backlist so fast, even if you only make $200-300 per title in a quiet month, your list may be as big as 10-20 titles long. You only have to multiply that out, add in some extra money during those juicy launch months, and suddenly the financial arithmetic starts to look more appealing. Disadvantages? Well, none really, except you have to pump out the fiction and maybe (like me) you feel that you can’t do that and retain the quality. Option #2- Paid Ads So a second popular answer is: advertise the heck out of your books. That’s easier said than done, to be honest. Facebook ads are very expensive these days, and conversion rates have fallen. AMS ads are fabulous value, but can be hard to scale meaningfully. Bookbub’s own advertising platform (ie: paid-for ads, not featured deals) is great but Ex. Pen. Sive. So yes, advertising is still an option. It still works for some authors, some genres, and some titles. But you do need to be very careful with it – you need to become as as skilled at advertising as you are at writing. Option #3- Join Bookbub So a third – beautiful – answer is Bookbub, designed to stuff money into your pockets, and the more the better. Bookbub isn’t so easy to access, and even if you do succeed in accessing it, there are tricks and tools for maximising the value it creates for you. So buckle up, sit tight, and let’s go Bookbub. What Is Bookbub? Bookbub is basically an email service. Readers can sign up (here) for a series of emails that alerts them to high quality ebooks at deeply discounted prices. That’s great from a reader’s point of view – the emails are human-curated, so you are getting some real assurances as to quality and the books are priced at a minimum 50% discount, but are often free or just £0.99/$0.99. Obviously, readers can specify what genres they’re interested in, and Bookbub is smart enough to flex those lists as tastes and interests change. The reason why this service is so great for authors is that Bookbub’s free books email lists are huge. I write crime fiction and Bookbub’s crime emails go out to nearly 4 million crime readers worldwide. Sure, lots of those 4 million won’t read or open every email. And sure, not everyone is going to be interested in your book, but the numbers are still huge. Bookbub reckons that a free crime book should expect around 50,000 downloads. A £0.99/$0.99 one might hit 4,000 sales. In a day. How Does Bookbub Make Money? Bookbub’s service is free to readers, but as an author (or publisher) you have to pay to play. The full data can be found here, but suffice to say that the cost in a popular genre can run into thousands of bucks. If you want to submit your crime novel as a free ebook, it’ll cost you $512. If you want to advertise it as a $2.99 ebook, it’ll cost you a thought-provoking $2,560. How Does Bookbub Make Money For Indie Authors? These numbers are impressive, but the astute indie may be thinking, “50,000 downloads multiplied by no money at all, equals, uh … hang on, that can’t be right.” Even if you price your book at £0.99/$0.99, it’s quite likely that the actual sales made on the day of your Bookbub promo will only just cancel out the cost of buying the promotion in the first place. This might makes it sound like Bookbub is fun as a way to draw attention to your books, but not actually a way to make money. Except it is. Because Bookbub’s numbers are so huge, they basically buy you access to the upper end of Amazon’s sales rankings. And sure, you may or may not make money on the day of the actual promo, but who cares about that? If you’re smart (and have any kind of backlist), you make money by the spadeful in the days and weeks that follow. In essence, Bookbub gives you visibility on Amazon. That visibility brings new eyes to your book page. Not just Bookbub users. Not just your existing readership. But completely new readers. A proportion of those guys buy your book. That’s new readers, new fans, for you. And the day after Bookbub, sure: your sales rank starts to crash back to earth again. But not all the way, and as you travel back down from (say) #100 on Bookbub day to (say) #30,000 or wherever your ‘steady state’ sales rank tends to settle, you will accumulate new readers and new sales. Because most writers eliminate or reduce their discounting post-Bookbub, those new sales will be at full price. And, of course, a good proportion of those new readers will become committed fans of your whole series, so a £0.99/$0.99 or free Bookbub offer could bring in readers who then buy half a dozen books or more at the full £4.99/$4.99, or whatever your chosen price point is. (Need some actual figures on an actual Bookbub promo? Stay with me. We’re getting there.) How To Get Selected For A Bookbub Promotion There’s no real magic here. Bookbub tells you exactly what you need to be considered, so you just need to go ahead and supply it. The minimum requirements are clear enough (listed in full here). Your title, minimum, needs to be: Free or discounted by at least 50%.Error free.A limited-time offer.A full-length book.Available at least in either the US or the UK. In short: you need to submit a book that is a full-length text, at a radically discounted price, which hasn’t been offered for less money over the past few months, and is high quality (no errors!) and widely available (which is code for “not exclusive to Amazon, please.”) In addition, you should certainly also review this advice on how to make your submission stand out. The gist there, quite simply, is you need to make sure you are offering Bookbub’s readers a wonderful, professionally produced text that has already demonstrably satisfied numerous readers. In particular, you should check that: Your book has a classy, professional cover. (More advice here.)Your cover copy (or book description) is classy, inviting, and error free.You have a good number of positive reader reviews for your book or your series. I’d suggest that your entry level ambition should be an average star rating of no fewer than 4.0 and (depending on genre) anywhere from 50 to 100 or more reviews in total. For crime or romance books, you might need to do a fair bit better than that to pass muster.Ideally, you’ll have scored some prize shortlists or awards, or positive critical reviews in nationally recognised outlets, or been a NYT bestseller, or something along those lines. Those things are harder for indies to come by than it is for traditionally published authors, but don’t panic. They’re more of a nice-to-have than a real essential. Great, authentic reader reviews will do just fine instead.You should also aim to have your title available wide, not narrow – that is, not exclusive to Amazon. You should also aim to have your deal global in scope. A flexible promo date also helps with the scheduling. Personally, I don’t think any indie author should be soliciting a Bookbub deal unless they’re offering their work free or at £0.99/$0.99. (Unless it’s a box set, in which case £1.99/$1.99 is OK too.) Bookbub tells you that they won’t offer the same book to their readers more often than once every six months or any book by the same author more often than every 30 days. That’s true, yes, but a bit misleading in bigger genres. If you’re not a Mr John Grisham or a certain Ms Rowling, I’d suggest that you should bank on getting at most two Bookbub deals in the course of a year … or, more likely, just the one. How To Make Bookbub Work For You The key to making these promotions work is twofold. You need to lure people from the book to the series, and you need to expand the sales window from one day to 2 weeks, or even two months. Let me explain. Let’s say you’re like me and you have a six-book series to play with. My standard ‘full’ price is $4.99, and I might want to give the first book away for free. So here’s one way I could do things: The Naked Bookbub Strategy Book #1: down from $4.99 to free. Back to (say) $2.99 post-promo Books #2-#6: $4.99 (no change) That’s fine, except that it doesn’t really do anything to lure Bookbubbers into the series then and there. A lot of them will probably think, “hey, this series looks interesting, but expensive. I’ll read this free book at my leisure and if, in a few weeks time, I want more, I’ll take a look then.” And sure, you will pick up new readers that way, but you’ll get a thin trickle drawn out over a number of weeks, and that trickle will do nothing so great for your sales rank, or your visibility. We’ve reached those Bookbub free-sample types, and no one else. So let’s try running our promo like this instead: The Enticing Bookbub Strategy Book #1: down from $4.99 to free. Back to (say) $2.99 post-promo Books #2-#6: $0.99 (for a few days post-promo, then $4.99) The brilliant thing about this approach is that Bookbubbers are likely to see that the free book is an entry to a whole, wonderful, cheap series, and they’ll fill their boots. Yes, you’re giving the book away free, but you’re making money back from all those $0.99 sales. $0.99 is hardly great, but those are paid sales, which means they boost sales rank, so that by the time you do snap back to full price, your books are going to be a lot more visible than they were before. But it gets better. Because there’s a really obvious extension to this strategy, and one that instantly adds a ton of profitability. The Crafty Bookbub Strategy Book #1: down from $4.99 to free. Back to (say) $2.99 post-promo Books #2-#6: $0.99 on a Kindle Countdown deal (few days post-promo) Then snap back to full $4.99 price. If you’re okay with having your #2-and-later books exclusive to Amazon, then you can jump from a 35% royalty share to a 70% one, simply by synchronising your Kindle Countdown deal with your Bookbub promo. That’s an easy-peasy way to put money in your pocket. It’s like having your very own $100-bill counterfeiting plates. Only legal. And, you know, less likely to land you in a Federal Penitentiary. The Ultimate Bookbub Strategy But it gets better. We said that to make real money from Bookbub, we wanted to achieve two things: Lure people from the book to the seriesExpand that sales window We’ve done that by pricing the rest-of-series books aggressively, and keeping the discount window open for long enough to really boost sales rank and visibility. But there’s one easy – free – way to ramp up the success of a Bookbub promo, and it’s this: you co-promote the giveaway. Sure, Bookbub boasts an email list that’s a gazillion times bigger than yours. But who cares about that? You boast an email list consisting entirely of your readers and ones who already have a personal connection with you. Use that list. Load bullets into that little Email Service Provider gun of yours, and blaze away like a deranged Charlton Heston. Like the end of a Schwarzenegger movie. Or, to say the same thing in somewhat less colourful language, allow me to unveil the Ultimate Bookbub Strategy. The Ultimate Bookbub Strategy Book #1: down from $4.99 to free. Back to (say) $2.99 post-promo Books #2-#6: $0.99 on a Kindle Countdown deal (4 days post-promo) Then snap back to full $4.99 price Email support from your list: Emails to go out Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, and Day 4 If you like, also a teaser on Day -2, or something like that And sure, most of your readers may have bought most of your books, but only a fairly small fraction of your list will have bought everything. Even committed fans may have missed the launch of #5, or have lost the copy of #2 that they once had on their Kindle. And even if they have got everything, maybe a low-cost sale like this is the moment where they think, “Oh, what a great offer, I’ve got to tell my reader-buddies about this.” In short, if you email your fans to say, “Hey, if you’ve got any holes in your collection, this is the perfect time to fill them,” that’ll seem like a helpful, kind and generous offer. You’re not annoying them, you’re helping them. Meanwhile, the support that Bookbub has given your books gets another kick from the further support that your readers give them. Result: huge sales rank boost, long term visibility gains – and sales. New sales, to new readers, at full price. Why the hooting heck are you even reading this post?I’m gonna guess that you’re an indie author and you want to maximise your returns from your list. But did you know that Jericho Writers is a club for writers just like you? And we have an entire, complete self-publishing course with tons of information in it for writers in your exact position? And that you can get free access to ALL our materials, just by taking out a simple, low-cost, cancel-any-time membership.Your best strategy as an indie? Learn more about Jericho Writers now.Like right now. This minute. Go. Bookbub Series Promotion: A Case Study That all sounds good, right? But you’re an indie author, and I know how your mind works. Talk is all very well, but in the end it comes down to the figures. So here are some figures. I ran a Bookbub promo earlier this year, using essentially the Ultimate Bookbub Strategy described above. The full price for my books is $4.99. My email list at the time was then about 6,000 names, but a good chunk of those related to the UK, where I’ve been traditionally published in the past. I’d say my email list then wasn’t huge – it’s more than doubled since February – but it was committed. My open rates and click rates were always excellent. So. That’s the background. I ran a Bookbub promo, bringing my #1 series title down to free, on February 21, 2017. Here’s what happened: On the day of the promo My #1 title hits the #1 rank in the Amazon free charts in the US. It does the same in the UK. My other titles start to sell like crazy. I’d earned out my $512 Bookbub fee by about midday EST on the day of the promo. Subsequently I had a big kick in sales in February, which was solely because of my Ultimate Bookbub Strategy. I did no other promo activity at all. I didn’t even tweet. March and April: the same thing. That was the tail end of the Bookbub effect. There’s nothing else jigging those numbers around. No new ad campaign. No launch. And, to be clear, those were all paid sales. I’m not taking the free downloads into account. And aside from my #1 series title, my books are exclusive to Amazon and so eligible for KU borrows as well. There was no huge effect in February itself (because Bookbub readers were digesting book #1 before turning to the rest of the series.) But then came a huge surge in March. The effect was still significant in April. And even May was ahead of the “steady state” reader-flow in January. Indeed, if we take January as my “steady state” month, then Bookbub probably delivered the equivalent of an additional 8 new sales-months, and maybe 4-5 new KENP-months. All that, from a one day free promo. That cost $512. In my experience, nothing at all delivers a better outcome than this … aside of course from launching a new book, which has the irritating disadvantage that you actually have to sit down to write the thing. How To Maximise Your Returns From Bookbub Final reflections Posts like this one follow a conventional strategy. Introduce a book-promotional topic (in this case, Bookbub)Outline a basic strategyIntroduce some refinements to that strategyReveal some case-study style dataAnd – ta-da! – job done And whilst posts like this one are useful, and the strategies outlined do really work, they also miss something. The thing that they miss is still the one thing that really, really matters. Think about it: why does our Ultimate Bookbub Strategy work? Bookbub’s giant email list pours gasoline over your sales, and your laser-targeted email-support tosses in a stick of gelignite, but plenty of authors use broadly similar tactics and don’t always see the same results. In the end, the difference between a good Bookbub experience and a dazzling one is simple. Whether readers love your book. That Bookbub free promo put a free sample of my work into the hands of 50,000 readers. Do those readers read beyond the first chapter? Do they read all the way to the end? Do they feel compelled to sign up to your email list? Do they feel compelled to go and buy other books in your series? Or maybe the entire series? The ultimate success of a properly structured Bookbub promo has to do almost entirely with the actual quality of your actual book. And not just the quality of that very first book, but of the entire series. In the end, you can market books as hard as you like. But if the product is duff, the product is duff. So the final moral of this post is the same as it should always be. Write hard, and market easy. It’s more satisfying that way – more satisfying to you, the creative artist – but long run, it’s more profitable too. The best of both worlds. Happy writing. Happy editing. Happy publishing. But don’t leave it there!We created our Jericho Writers club especially for writers like you. Members get access to our super-premium self-publishing course completely FREE. And our crazily popular writing course, completely FREE. And masses of other stuff as well. All free. You can find out more about what we offer and what our club is all about. But remember: we’re writers too, and we built this club for you. Learn more about the club. Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

Libel Law For Writers And Authors (What You Need To Know)

What Are Defamation And Libel? Firstly, you might hear the terms used interchangeably: libel and defamation mean effectively the same thing, and they refer to any published material that damages the reputation of an individual or an organisation. You might hear the term \'slander\' thrown about as well, which is defined as ‘defamation by word of mouth’. As well as books, this covers material on the internet as well as radio and television broadcasts – so even drama and fiction can be defamatory if they damage someone’s reputation. You can only publish defamatory material if it comes within one of the recognised legal defences. If it doesn’t, the publication will amount to libel and you may have to pay substantial damages. The Purpose Of Libel Law Libel law protects individuals or organisations from unwarranted, mistaken or untruthful attacks on their reputation. A person is libelled if a publication: Exposes them to hatred, ridicule or contempt.Causes them to be shunned or avoided.Generally lowers them in the eyes of society.Discredits them in their trade, business or profession. Get Your Facts Right The most important point is to make absolutely sure that what you are printing or writing is true. Do not make claims or accusations that you cannot prove. Even if you think you can do this, be cautious. Proving things in court can be very difficult. And the test of what the words mean is what a reasonable reader is likely to take as their natural and ordinary meaning, in their full context – what you intended as the author or publisher is irrelevant. If you write something that cannot be substantiated, the credibility of your site, organisation or cause may be questioned. It can also land you with an expensive lawsuit and there is no legal aid for libel cases. The Burden Of Proof Lies With The Defendant In libel cases, the burden of proof lies with the defendant (the author or publisher, in writing-example terms) and not the plaintiff. In other words, you must prove that what you write is true. The person you’ve targeted does not have to prove that you’re wrong. This is because libel laws are meant to compensate people for damage done to their reputations -- they\'re not meant to punish someone for lying. Something important to note here, as a corollary: a true statement that damages someone\'s reputation isn\'t libel! It may, however, be an invasion of privacy -- which we\'ll discuss below. Three Tips For Writing Safely Don’t rely on the literal meaning. You cannot solely rely on proving that your statements were literally true if, when they’re taken as a whole, they have an extended, more damaging meaning. Also, for example, if somebody was guilty of fraud once, calling him a fraudster in a way which might suggest he’s still doing the same may well give rise to a libel which can’t be defended. Be especially wary when referring to events in the past. Don’t exaggerate in your claims or language. For example, a company may run a factory which produces certain chemicals. For you to suggest that babies will be born deformed as a result may get you into libel trouble. Innuendo can catch you out. Your comments may not appear particularly defamatory taken at face value, but greater knowledge of a person or situation may make it problematic because of the innuendo. To say Mr Jones doesn’t recycle his waste paper may sound harmless enough. But to people who know that Mr Jones is a Green Party activist, the innuendo of the statement is that he is hypocritical in his politics. Common Mistakes And Assumptions Repeating rumours. It is inadvisable to repeat a defamatory rumour unless you are in a position to prove it’s true. Even if you are contradicting the rumour you should not repeat it. And adding ‘allegedly’ is not enough to get you out of libel difficulties. Quoting others. If you publish defamatory remarks about people or organisations made by other people you will be just as liable to be sued as they are. So if you can’t prove the truth of their statements, don’t repeat them. Drawing unprovable conclusions. It is a common mistake to draw unverifiable conclusions from the basic facts. For example, if Mr Brown is seen going into a hotel room with a call-girl, this does not necessarily mean he enjoyed a ‘night of passion’, and will certainly not prove that he did. Irresponsible adjectives. Be very careful about the adjectives you use. A misplaced word can result in costly action. If you are campaigning about a factory that releases chemicals into the atmosphere, referring to the factory as ‘poisoning the atmosphere’ is inadvisable. Defences Against Libel The law lays down a few ways in which defamatory publications may be defended. If the defences succeed, the publisher wins. But if they don’t succeed, the publisher loses: the complainant will have been libelled and will therefore be entitled to be paid damages and their legal costs. The defences are listed below. First, justification. The most usual defence against libel is to prove that the information published is true. But this can be a dangerous route because an unsuccessful plea could increase the damages against you because you will have increased the harm to the complainant. And remember, you must be able to deal with every libellous possibility, such as inference and innuendo. If your statement implies something greater, it is not enough to prove that the statement is just literally true. Merely asserting something will not be sufficient to prove that it’s true – you will need witnesses and documents to back up assertions (whether they’re yours or someone you’re quoting). Second, fair comment. This covers content, mainly opinion, that cannot by its very nature be true or false. To be properly defensible, these comments must be: based on fact, made in good faith, and published without malice. Here\'s a great example (albeit an older one): in 2001, Daily Mail lost a libel action brought by the former Tottenham Hotspur chairman Alan Sugar over the remark that he was a “miser” when he ran the club because he didn’t give his manager enough money to buy top class players. The jury were not sufficiently persuaded that there was any factual basis for making this comment. They didn’t deem it fair comment. He was awarded £100,000. Last, privilege. Privilege is the defence where the law recognises that individuals should be free to speak their minds (and others to report what they say) without fear of being sued even if they get their facts wrong. It allows people to speak freely in court proceedings and debates in government, and allows for such proceedings to be reported, so long as the reports are both fair and accurate. The Right To Privacy Writers tend to think a lot about libel issues, but they would be well to consider privacy as well. As we mentioned earlier, you might write something that\'s factually true and thus not subject to a libel suit... but it might invade someone\'s privacy. Human rights law give each of us a right of privacy, so even if you are not saying anything defamatory about me, you might nevertheless reveal enough about my personal life that I’d feel my privacy had been invaded. Under such circumstances, I would in theory have an actionable claim against you. And, as it happens, we at Jericho Writers have never seen a book that was basically publishable but which fell down on libel issues. On the other hand, we have seen examples of a book that was publishable -- except for privacy issues. The case I particularly remember was a really excellent and shocking memoir by a British-Asian woman who had been forced into an arranged marriage and had been very badly treated by both husband and mother-in-law. The husband had in fact been charged with assault by a court, and convicted, so libel issues weren’t in play. The substance of the book’s allegations had been tested in court and upheld. The text was certainly defamatory, but it was most demonstrably true. So the thing that broke the book – we got an agent for the author, but not a publisher – was the mother-in-law’s right to privacy. This awful woman, who had been highly complicit in her son’s abusive behaviour, nevertheless had a right to privacy that the courts might have been willing to uphold. So all the publishers contacted by the agent refused the book. A Note On The Deceased It\'s important to note that a person\'s right to privacy expires when they expire. A deceased person cannot be libeled, nor can their descendents/estate sue for defamation on the deceased\'s behalf. However, individuals (be they descendents or no) can have grounds for a suit if they believe that their reputations have been marred by the statement as well. Satire And Parody You might be wondering about your brilliant satire of the American political system, in which you\'ve cleverly changed names and exaggerated details but where your fictional President Ronald Dump retains a certain je ne sais quoi that ensures no modern reader will be confused about who you\'re satirizing. You\'re blurring the lines between truth and fiction, but in that blurring lies your best defense. With a libel case, the facts at hand are largely rooted in the plaintiff arguing as though you\'ve said something untrue about them that has damaged their standing in the world -- but if the \'something\' you\'ve written is so obviously untrue, so completely exaggerated, it\'s very easy to have the case dismissed by pointing out that what you\'ve written is fiction, a made-up story commenting on present actions, as opposed to attempting to portray them in a realistic light. Libel & Privacy Law In The Real World Writers anxious about libel / privacy law can, in most cases, relax: It’s exceptionally rare for a novelist to be sued for libel. As long as you are not obviously writing a roman a clef, your single strongest defence to any claim will just be to point to the way the book is categorised: “This is fiction, dummy.”Let’s say you are writing and self-publishing a memoir, that isn’t vastly defamatory of anyone and isn’t very privacy invasive either. You do those real life people the courtesy of changing names and other details, so it’s not obvious who you are talking about. Let’s say you commission a print-run of 500 copies and sell a few e-books as well. Is it theoretically possible that you face a lawsuit for the issues talked about in this post? Yes. Is it practically likely? No. It will be, for most authors, a vanishingly small possibility.And if you are writing anything else non-fictiony, very much the same applies, at least 99 point something per cent of the time. Yes, the conventional advice is “take legal advice”, but that advice will cost a minimum of $5,000 / £3,000 if you’re going to a properly experienced lawyer. So for most writers, the actual practical advice will be: Proceed thoughtfully and with caution.Change names and other details. Make your characters actually different from the real world subjects.Think about privacy as well as libel.Be realistic. If you are making serious comments about public people and your work is likely to have significant readership / impact, then you can’t wing it. In all other cases, then just take good care and you should be fine. For what it’s worth, I have written fiction and non-fiction and only once have my paths crossed with a libel lawyer (paid for by the publisher, not me.) I was working with a prominent hedge fund manager and his text made some quite serious allegations about (for example) the non-tax-paying habits of GE, the huge American manufacturer. (The text made quite a few allegations about quite a few companies and people; that libel lawyer had plenty to get his teeth into.) The lawyer queried one particular point in relation to GE and said it was essential that we contact GE for comment. So we did. We sent the relevant bit of text to the head of Media Relations and asked for comment. He replied – quickly and with some heat – that the allegation was completely untrue and he rejected it completely. We responded by asking why, in that case, his company’s own annual report, in some deeply buried footnote, confirmed precisely the point we were making. He withdrew his rejection (rather gracelessly) and it was pretty clear that the big bad wolf of GE wasn’t going to sue us, or would lose if it did. The real point of all this is that you need to use your own real-world wisdom to make these calls, not just a reading of the law. If your book is going to sell enough copies to raise a real threat of libel / privacy claims, then you’ll almost certainly be working with a publisher resourced to deal with the issue. If your book is more of a private printing with a limited circulation, it’s conceivable but certainly not probable that any suit will come your way. Do the basics, and you should be fine. Disclaimer We’re not lawyers. We haven’t read your book. We don’t know your situation. And pretty obviously, if you face some real legal issues, you need to get help from specialists who do know your situation. A blog post is not the same as a legal advisor. Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

Literary agents specifically seeking new authors

We get asked a lot of questions over the course of a month, but perhaps the commonest questions boil down to these: how do you find a literary agent? Do you know literary agents who are taking on new and first-time writers? And the answer, of course, is yes. Nearly all agents, great or small, take on new authors. If they didn’t, they’d go out of business. Not straightaway, maybe, but out of business nevertheless. There’s a second point here, too: all agents need to submit to the same bunch of editors (and a small bunch at that: most books will be pitched to between eight and twelve publishers in the first round of marketing). By and large, agents are all looking for manuscripts that meet a certain quality threshold. If they find one, they’ll agree to take it on. If they don’t, they won’t. That’s the homily. A homily which boils down, as ever, to the first and second commandments of getting a literary agent: Write a good book.If you need help, get editorial advice where you can. It’s somewhat easier to secure a less well-established agent than a Giant of the Industry. That’s not because quality standards are lower – they aren’t at all – but because a newer agent knows he or she must work harder to build a list. If you went to such an agent with a novel that is dazzling but imperfect, they may well be prepared to put in the work needed to fix it. An agent with a longer list may (regretfully) turn the book down. That’s worth remembering. If you want to find a literary agent who genuinely welcomes first-time authors, as opposed to merely accepting them, you will do well to approach those who have been less long established in the business – basically, you’re looking for youngsters, or those who have come into the profession from elsewhere in the industry. It is not a sensible strategy simply to pick smaller agencies, because (1) there are plenty of one- and two-person agencies who have been in the business a long time, and whose lists are already amply populated. Also, larger agencies will all have new recruits who are hungry to build up their lists. You shouldn’t rule those people out from your search. With bigger agencies, it’s fine to call the switchboard and ask for suggestions about which agents might be right for a project. Not all agencies (or receptionists) will be helpful, but enough will be, to make it worth your while. Indeed, it was good advice from an office receptionist that encouraged me to approach the Well-Known Literary Agent who ended up offering to represent my first novel. As always, though, these guidelines must be balanced against everything else. You’re looking for an agent who loves your book and believes they can sell it. That’s all. If that agent works for a big agency or a small one, is young or venerable – doesn’t matter. You, the book, the agent. If those three things gel, nothing else much matters. Use our literary agent advice pages to navigate your way. Use our database for reference. And if your book isn’t taken on by the first fifteen agents, then do consider editorial feedback as an option. Writing a book is hard and few get there on their first attempt. We can help. Good luck! More On Uk Literary Agents Link to: UK Literary Agents, the Complete List (with Links to Agent Profiles) Literary Agent List For every genre

How Crime Writers Can Research Police Procedure

Guest author, blogger and former police officer, Clare Mackintosh, shares how to research police procedure. Whether you’re a published crime writer or an aspiring one, you’ll need to know how to research police procedure, and the prospect can be a daunting one. Perhaps you have police officers in the family, or within your circle of friends, or maybe – just maybe – you’ve been arrested enough times to add a ring of authenticity to your writing… If, like most crime writers, your only brush with the law has been a speeding ticket, this post on how to research police procedure is for you. Watch Television It might seem counterintuitive for an author to suggest you watch television, yet there is a wealth of police procedural information on the small screen right now, most of it meticulously researched. It’s been many years since The Bill slammed its cell doors for the final time, but dramas such as The Missing and The Fall give a great insight into forensic possibilities, and can be a good starting point for researching police procedure. Television shouldn’t be your only source of information, but that’s true of any research medium. Read Fiction In my experience, police-based novels tend to be less reliably accurate than television, and I’d advise a hefty pinch of salt when using these to research police procedure. I’m assuming that, as an aspiring crime author, you already read widely within the genre (and outside it), so use what you learn to inspire, rather than inform your own writing. Authors like Peter James and Val McDermid are known for their accuracy with regard to procedure, and with more than fifty books between them, they should keep you busy for a while. Read Non-Fiction Michael O’Byrne’s updated 2015 The Crime Writer’s Guide to Police Practice and Procedure, for the serious crime writer, might be worth the investment. The cramming tools of the serving police officer are the Blackstones Police Manuals. As these are updated every year (making failing one’s Sergeant’s exams an expensive process), you can often pick up previous years’ editions on eBay for not much money. Use The Web There’s no excuse for inaccuracies when referring to legislation and criminal offences: it’s all right there on the web for you. The Crown Prosecution Service Legal Guidance pages list every piece of legislation – from Abuse of Process to Youth Offenders and everything in between. Bookmark it now, and use it as a checklist to make sure your case is watertight. Consulting Cops also offer a range of helpful resources too, you can find their website here – it’s definitely worth a read. Phone A Friend So you don’t have a police officer you can phone and ask questions? Are you sure? They say you’re never more than seven feet from a rat, and with more than 100,000 cops in the UK, the same is probably true of the Old Bill. Ask everyone you know. Put out a call on Facebook, speak to the neighbours, hassle Aunt Maud, and the chances are someone you know knows a police officer. For a crime writer, nothing beats having your own tame police officer to call on. Ask The Police If you really can’t find someone, it’s time to be brave. Go into your local station – or visit the force where your books are set, if this is different – and ask if someone can spare the time to speak to an author. If you’re not yet published, don’t feel you need to apologise for that: everyone starts somewhere, and most police officers are keen to encourage an accurate representation of their work. If you get a knock-back, don’t be deterred: maybe they’re just having a bad day. Try a different officer, a different station. If no one has time to sit down and chat over a cuppa – they’re busy people, after all – apply for a ride-along, where you get to shadow an officer for a few hours. It’s an amazing experience, and the best way of absorbing police culture as well as picking up investigative tips. Follow The Police Not literally. At least, not unless you want to see the inside of a custody block, which might be taking ‘method writing’ a little too far. There are hundreds of cops on Twitter nowadays, and almost as many blogging (both legitimately and anonymously). This increase in transparency from Britain’s police force is a gift to crime writers. Spend some time browsing social media (yes, this is your invitation to procrastinate), bookmarking the ones you like the look of. Dip in regularly to stay up to date with how today’s cops are feeling, the cases they’re working on, and the pressures they encounter. Hire A Professional Advising writers of crime books and television dramas is a lucrative side-line for many retired police officers, but most authors don’t have a BBC-sized budget, and I’d be wary of leaping into a cash relationship with someone. In my experience, most police officers are happy to lend their expertise for free, but if you feel you’re going to need more help than just the occasional chat, make sure you do your research (yes, you need to research the police officer helping you research police procedure). That grizzled ex detective superintendent with 30 years’ experience of Major Crime will undoubtedly know his stuff, but he’s been retired for 20 years: is he likely to be up to date? And the traffic sergeant charging by the minute for his expertise may know dangerous driving from undue care, but how is he on witness protection issues? Ask for credentials, testimonials from authors he or she has helped, before getting out your cheque book. Done all that? Congratulations: you’re a master in how to research police procedure, and your crime novel should now be ringing with authenticity. As with all types of research, moderation is the key. Not everything you discover should find its way into your book, otherwise you may as well write a police manual, but your findings will add realism to your characters and settings, as well as ensuring no one can pick holes in your plot. Although this post is about how to research police procedure, I firmly believe that story should come first, accuracy afterwards. Many a good yarn would be spoiled by the intrusion of too much real life, but consider carefully which elements can be stretched. Ask your helpful police advisor not does it happen this way, but could it happen. Like grammar, you need to understand the rules before you can decide which ones to break. Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

Types Of Editing: How To Choose

Developmental editing. Structural editing. Line editing. Copy editing. Proofreading. Yes, we know: you’ve written a manuscript. You know it needs some kind of professional help. But what kind of help? Copy editing or line editing? Structural editing or developmental support? There seem to be so many options to choose from. But never fear. We’ll tell you exactly what each of the different types of editing are – and offer some suggestions on what editing you do/don’t need right now. The good news is that, quite often, you need less editorial input than you might think. (The bad news is that you have to put in a lot of hard graft instead...) What Are The Different Types Of Editing? Developmental editing: checks concept, plot coherence, and character development/arc.Structural editing: identifies issues with plot, pacing, characters, settings, themes, writing style.Line editing: looks at details line-by-line.Copy-editing: is much as above, except with less attention to line-by-line correction of clumsy writing.Proof reading: looks for simple typos or errors in the text. How Editing Works Before we go any further, it’s worth explaining the editorial heirarchy. Essentially you go from large to little, from structural to detailed. So it’s like building a house: you start with foundations, walls and roof. Then you start thinking about doors and windows. Then you start thinking about paints and wallpapers. Last, you go around sweeping up and sorting out any last little snags. The same thing with editing, where the hierarchy runs roughly like this, from big to small: Developmental editing. Is this concept sound? Does my plot cohere? Are these the right characters for this book?Structural editing. Identifying and addressing any number of issues covering (for example) plot, pacing, characters, character development, settings, emotional turning points, themes, writing style and much else.Line editing: this starts to look at the detail. Is each sentence clear? Are there typos? Unwanted repetitions? Minor factual errors?Copy editing: much as above, except there’s less attention to line-by-line correction of clumsy writing.Proof reading: At the proof stage, you generally expect that all the essential work has already been done, so this is really just rushing around the manuscript looking for last bits of lint to pick off and typos to clear away. That’s the overview. Not all manuscripts will go through all of these stages – indeed, if you’re doing a decent job as an author then two or three of these stages are probably redundant. All that said, let’s jump straight into the meat... Developmental Editing We’ll start with the biggest, broadest, most sweeping kind of editing you can get: developmental editing. That’s a type of editing that used to have one meaning, but it’s kind of morphed into two distinct beasts for reasons, I’ll explain in a second. Definition: What Is Developmental Editing? In the good old days, developmental editing used to have one precise meaning. It now has certainly two, and maybe three. A. Developmental Editing – Traditional Definition But we start with the first, core, and most precise definition. To quote the ever-reliable Wikipedia: “A developmental editor may guide an author (or group of authors) in conceiving the topic, planning the overall structure, and developing an outline—and may coach authors in their writing, chapter by chapter.” In other words, any true “editing” took place before the writing. It was a planning and design function, in essence. Because competent authors can probably take care of planning and design perfectly well by themselves, such editing was always relatively rare and, in fiction, very rare. (I’ve authored getting on for twenty books now and have never once had a development edit. I’m damn sure I never will.) B. Developmental Editing As Industry Euphemism But of course not all authors are perfect and, now and again, publishers have to deal with a manuscript they’ve commissioned, but which turns out to be absolutely dire. Think celebrity memoir of the worst sort. Or a multi-million-selling author who’s long since stopped caring about how he or she writes, because they know the money will roll in anyway. So what to do? Well, the standard solution in trade publishing is to do what is euphemistically called a ‘development edit’. What that actually means is that an editor takes on the role of something akin to a ghostwriter. They rip out everything that’s hopeless and rebuild. I’ve known a Big 5 editor who had done this a couple of times, and he said it was soul-destroying. He didn’t get any bonus for doing the work. He didn’t get a share of fame or royalties. He didn’t go on the chat shows or the book tours. And he was always dancing on eggshells with the Famous Author, because the author in question was very prickly about having his work slighted in any way. Even though the work in question sucked. Great. So that’s the second meaning of a development edit: basically a euphemism designed to disguise what is basically a ghostwriting job. When Is Classic Developmental Editing Right For You? It isn’t. You don’t need it. What you probably need (either now or in due course) is a professional manuscript assessment and possibly some of the add-ons normally associated with developmental editing. But in the classic sense of the term, you just don’t need it. We’ll talk about what you do need right away. Try our developmental editing service here. Structural Editing, Substantive Editing, Editorial Assessment Right. So I’m not a big fan of developmental editing, but I LOVE the type of editing we’re about to talk about. But first up: definitions. Definitions Structural editing is, strictly speaking, a set of comments on the structure of your work. That will certainly involve plot and pacing. But it may also include comments on character, mood, emotional transitions, dialogue, character arcs, writing style and much more. If you’re being strict about it, structural editing should focus only on structure, but in practice editors tend to comment on anything that, in their view, needs attention. (Which is good. Which is what you want.) Basically, a good structural edit will tell you: What’s working (though they won’t spend too long on this)What’s not working (this is where the report will concentrate all its firepower)How to fix the stuff that isn’t yet right A good report will quite simply cover everything that you most need to know. It’ll do that from the perspective of the market for books as it is now. So the kind of crime novels (say) that could have sold 25 years ago may not be right for the market now. A good editor will know that, and set you on the right lines. Substantive editing is basically the same as structural editing, except that technically it doesn’t have to limit itself to structure alone. But since structural editors don’t in practice confine themselves to structural comments, it’s pretty safe to say that, in practice, the two things are exactly the same. Editorial assessment, or Manuscript assessment. These two things are exactly the same as structural editing. The difference is that an editorial assessment gives you an editorial report, but doesn’t usually also give you a marked-up manuscript as well. Again, in practice, these things blur into each other. Our own core editorial product is, indeed, the manuscript assessment. The main deliverable there is a long, detailed editorial report on your book. That said, a lot of editors will, if it’s useful, also mark-up all or part of your manuscript. Or if they don’t, they may quote so extensively from your work, that it’s kinda the same as if they did. In short, and give or take a few blurry bits on the edges: structural editing = substantive editing = editorial assessment = manuscript assessment Easy, right? Is Structural Editing / Editorial Assessment Right For You? Yes. Almost certainly: yes. Now, to be clear, I own Jericho Writers and if you trot along to buy one of our wonderful manuscript assessments, you’ll make me a teeny-tiny bit richer. So in that sense I’m biased. On the other hand, I just told you not to buy developmental edits, and I’d make myself a LOT richer if I got you to buy one of those things, so I hope I have a little credit in the bank. I’m speaking truth, not salesman yadda. And the reason I like structural editing so much is that: It is and remains the gold-standard way to improve a manuscript. Nothing else has ever come close. I’m not that far away from publishing my twentieth book. (I’m both trad & indie, and I love both channels, in case you’re wondering.) I’m a pretty damn good author. I’ve had very positive reviews in newspapers across the world. My books have sold in a kazillion countries and been adapted for TV. And every single one of my books have had detailed editorial input. And they’ve always, always got better as a result. Always.It makes you better as a writer. You always emerge from these exercises with new skills and new insights. You will apply those to your current manuscript, for sure, but you’ll apply them to the next one too. The more you work with skilled external editors, the more you’ll grow as a writer. (And, I think, as a human too.) So that’s why I think structural editing works so well, and for such a huge variety of manuscripts, genres and authors. When Should You Get Structural Input On Your Work? Well, OK. The businessman in me wants to say, “Get that input right now. Hand over your lovely hard-earned dollars / pounds / shekels / yen, and your soul and career will flourish, my friend.” But that’s not the right answer. The fact is that the right time for editorial input is generally: as late as possible. If you know you have a plot niggle in Part IV, then fix the damn niggle. Fix it as well as you can. Don’t go and pay someone to tell you that you have an issue. That’s dumb. Same thing if your characters feel a bit flat, or your atmosphere is a bit lacking, or whatever else. If you know your book has issues, then do the best you can to fix those issues. You’ll learn a lot and your book will get better. That means, the right time for editorial input comes when: You’ve worked hard, but you keep going round in circles. You’re confusing yourself. You need external eyes and buckets of wisdom.You’ve worked hard, but you know the book isn’t right. You don’t know what’s awry exactly, but you know you need help.You’ve worked hard, you’ve got the book out to agents, but you’re not getting offers of representation. You know you need to do something, but you don’t know what.The self-pub version of 2: you have a draft you’re reasonably happy with, but you’re about to publish this damn thing, and your whole future career depends on the excellence of the story you’re going to serve the reader. So you do the right thing and invest in the product. You’re going to get the best kickass structural edit you can, then use that advice as intensively as you can. (Editing, in fact, is one of the only two things that should cost you real money at this early stage: the other one is cover design. And, no surprise, they both relate to developing the best product it is in your power to produce.) In short: work as hard as you can on the book. When you’re no longer making discernible forward progress, come to an editor. And – blatant plug alert! – Jericho Writers is very, very good at editorial stuff. We’ve got a bazillion people published, trad and indie, and the success stories just keep coming. Developmental Editing – As Premium Manuscript Assessment I love manuscript assessments – I think they’re the single most helpful thing you can do to improve your work. At their best, with author and editor working well together, they’re like a magic formula for improving your work. But a lot of people still find them insufficient. In particular, a manuscript assessment might say something like, “Your character Claudia isn’t yet cohering. Here’s what I mean in general terms [blah, blah, blah]. And here are some specific page references which illustrate my general point [page 23, page 58, etc].” Now that’s helpful, but it still leaves you to do an awful lot. If Claudia is a major character, the specific changes you need to make are likely to go well beyond the handful of examples the editor uses to make their broader point. So what do you do? Well, hopefully, you understand exactly where your editor is coming from, and you make the necessary changes, and your manuscript becomes perfect. Only maybe not. Some people just are helped by having their manuscript marked up page by page. That’s not instead of the more general report. It’s in addition. That way you get to see the broad thrust of the comments, as well as the more specific issues as well. So you get an overview of (for example) why Claudia isn’t quite working as well as a detailed laundry list of all the specific places where her character grates a bit. And it’s not just characterisation. It’s plot issues. It’s matters of writing style. It’s sense of place. It’s everything that goes into a novel. So – and this is because our clients have specifically asked us to create the product – we now offer a version of developmental editing that combines these services in a single package: Manuscript assessment – overview reportDetailed mark-up of your manuscript – literally page, by pageOne hour discussion with the editor, so you can resolve any outstanding questions or niggles you may have. Pretty obviously, this is a deluxe package and, pretty obviously, it’s expensive. It’s also, honestly, not what most of you need. Will I Benefit From Developmental Editing, Jericho-style? As a rough guide, very new writers are probably best off building their skills by taking a writing course or, of course, just hammering away at their manuscript. (That’s still the best learning exercise of all.) After that, once you have a first, or third, or fifth draft manuscript, it makes sense to get a regular manuscript assessment. That way, you can grasp the main issues with your work and you have a plan of attack for dealing with them. Because developmental editing is as much concerned both with the broader issues AND with the narrower ones, it doesn’t really make sense to purchase the service until your manuscript is in pretty good shape. After all, the outcome of a manuscript assessment might be “That whole sequence set on Venus just doesn’t work and needs to be rethought from scratch.” If that’s the case, then having detailed page-by-page comments on the way you write isn’t really going to help you much. So as a rough guide, you will benefit from developmental editing, if: Your manuscript is in pretty good shape (ie: this should be the last major round of work before submitting to publishers or self-publishing the manuscript)You want both broad and narrow commentsYou want the opportunity to talk at length with your editorYou are OK paying for a premium service. You will not benefit from developmental editing, if: Your manuscript is still at a somewhat earlier stage in its journeyYou feel able to handle the narrower issues yourself, so long as you have reasonable guidance from your manuscript assessment report. Because we don’t want to take your money if developmental editing is not right for you, we have made the service by application only. That’s not because we’re going to stop you doing what you want to do. Just, if we’re not sure whether it makes sense for you to splash the cash, we at least want to be able to check in with you before we go ahead. Line Editing, Copy Editing, Proof Reading OK. We’ve dealt with the broader, more structural types of editing. We’re now going to home in on the ever finer-grained types of editing. We’ll start as before with some definitions. Definitions Of the detailed, line-by-line type edits, line-editing is the one that has the broadest remit. I’ll start with proof-reading (the most narrowly defined of these editorial stages) and build upwards from there. Proof-reading comes at the final stage prior to printing/publication. It basically assumes that the manuscript has already been checked over thoroughly, so this is really only a final check for errors that have managed to slip through the net. (And, in fact historically, the process of type-setting for print often introduced errors, so proof-reading was partly necessary to reverse those. These days, unsurprisingly, you can format a document for print without messing it up.) The kind of errors a proof-reader will catch include: typos, misspellings, punctuation errors, missing spaces, and the like. It’s a micro-level, final-error catching task, and nothing much else. Copy-editing includes everything included in proofreading, but it’ll have a somewhat broader scope. So a copy editor will also be on the look out for factual errors, timetable and other inconsistencies in the novel, occasional instances of unclear or weak phrasing, awkward repetitions, deviations from house style (if there is a house style), and so on. In the traditional publishing sequence, copy editing will take place after all structural editing has been done, but before the book has been set for print. Line-editing will cover everything that’s detailed above, plus a general check for sentence structure, clarity and sense. In other words, it is part of a line editor’s job to fix clumsily phrased, repetitious or otherwise awkward sentences. Yes, you the author should not be writing clumsily in the first place, but if by chance you do, the line editor is there to put things right. Try our line-editing service here. Why does anyone ever want or need line-editing? Well, some authors are brilliant at generating character and story, but their actual sentence-by-sentence expression of that story just isn’t so great. In these cases, a publisher will commission a line-edit to put those things right. The Editing Process: What You Need & when You Need It Right. What kind of editing you need and should pay for depends on what kind of publication you are looking at. So: The Traditional Publishing Sequence The normal publishing sequence (for traditionally published books) would be: Structural editing (ie: a detailed manuscript assessment)Copy-editing (or line editing if the author really needs it, but never both things)Proof-reading That’s it. If you are aiming at traditional publication, then you may well need to invest in a manuscript assessment, in order to write something of the quality needed for a literary agent / publisher. You certainly won’t need copy editing, or anything along those lines. That’ll be carried out, for free, by the publisher down the line. (They’ll also do some more structural editing work too, but don’t worry about that – you can’t get too much, and your book always gets better.) The Indie Publishing Sequence Indie publishers, inevitably, focus more on cost-cutting than the Big 5 houses do, so a typical indie process might look simply like this: Some kind of structural support – probably an editorial assessment or something similarSome kind of copy-editing support If you don’t have the budget for both, I’d urge you to get the structural help: that’s what will really make the difference to the sheer readability of your book. That’s where to spend your funds. Indeed, though we at Jericho Writers offer a full range of copyediting and proofreading services, I don’t usually advise writers to invest in them at all. If you are an indie on a lowish launch budget (which is the right kind of budget to have when you’re just starting out), then I’d recommend an editing plan along roughly the following lines: Full editorial assessment, ideally from Jericho Writers (because we’re really good at it.)You then rework your book in the light of what you’ve been toldYou then give it a good hard proofread yourself for any errors and typosYou then enlist the help of any eagle-eyed friends to do the same That plan won’t give you a manuscript as clean as if you give it the full cost-no-object Big 5 treatment … but it’ll be just fine. Don’t overspend at this stage. What Kind Of Editing Is Right For You? OK. You know the basic layout of what editing is and when it’s used. Here’s what I think the big questions are. Developmental Editing Vs Structural Editing You know my view on this. I think for 99% of you reading this, you are best off (a) working and self-editing as hard as you can yourself, then (b) getting professional input on your work from a structural editor. That’s going to be miles cheaper and the end result will be better too. Yes, you’ll need to do a lot of work, but you’re a writer. You like work. (If you don’t, you’re in the wrong job.) If you are a newer author, you may well need two or three rounds of structural input. That’s fine. That’s not a failure on your part. That’s you learning a new trade. It’s money well spent – and you can prove it to yourself too. Just ask yourself: are you a better, more knowledgeable, more capable writer at the end of the process? If the answer isn’t yes, I’ll eat my boots, jingly spurs and all. (*) * – disclosure: I don’t actually wear spurs. Structural Editing Vs Copy Editing OK, these are two very different things, but of the two, the structural editing definitely matters more. The purpose of structural / substantive editing is simply: make your book the best book it can be. The purpose of copy editing is simply: make the text as clean as it can be. Both things matter, but if your budget only permits one of those things, then go for structural editing, every day of the week. A wonderful story is much more important than tidy text. And again, though we sell copyediting services, you shouldn’t need them at all if you are heading for trad publication, and you should probably be able to find an acceptable but much cheaper substitute if you are self-publishing. Line Editing Vs Copy Editing Vs Proof-reading Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

How to Write a Script for a Movie: Screenwriting Tips

How to Write a Script for a Movie There is no more satisfying (or possibly more lucrative) form of writing than screenwriting. It’s one of the most technical areas; scriptwriting format is one of the hardest to get right. You need a powerful story, but using the grammar of the screen. You have to write with pictures, not words. Nearly all screenwriters should look up, at least, a foundation course in screenwriting to learn proper script structure and to get to know all the necessary parts of a script. Basics Of Screenwriting In the meantime, though, there are some important (often neglected) rules worth following, which will help you get to grips with what a movie script looks like. 1. Read Scripts It’s not enough to watch movies, you need to read them. Get scripts and read them page by page. Then watch the movie. Then read the script again. This is the way you will grasp the rhythm and feel of a script. You can download hundreds of scripts for free online. 2. Read Widely You needn’t restrict yourself to newer scripts or scripts you love (though do read what inspires). Just remember to read broadly. Read the scripts with accolades, letting your knowledge and versatility expand with each you read. 3. Learn How To Format Film scripts need to be written in the right format, so learn this. There are software packages helping with formatting, giving useful story tools, Celtx being one. Fewer people now need MovieMagic or FinalDraft. Learn more on the importance of formatting. The Next Stages Of Screenwriting You also need to: 1. Understand Structure This is the heart of scriptwriting. Read books from writers like Robert McKee or John Truby. Then absorb story structure into your film writing. 2. Understand The Scene Nearly all new screenwriters use too many words. Let your looks, scenes, silences do the talking, too. Read more tips on film scenes. 3. Understand Dialogue Dialogue is best when it’s fractured and oblique. If dialogue sounds too formal or fluent, your words are likely to sound stilted and awkward on screen. Read more tips on film dialogue. 4. Understand Character Novelists can spend 100,000 words exploring a character. You have about a quarter of that amount with which to write a movie, nut novelists don’t have actors. You do. You need to provide a framework that actors fill out, so stick to your job. Use action lines as cue in screenwriting. Read more tips on characters in films. 5. Thinking With Pictures Although camera angles are the director’s province, you need to see the movie you’re writing, and your script can do a huge amount to nudge a professional reader into sharing your vision. If you do this well, you may not just have a good script. You could have a great one. Selling Your Film Script Writing a good script is hard, but selling it is harder. Unknown novelists with no prior training are picked up every day by literary agents, and many go on to be successfully published. The film industry does tend to draw new screenwriters in from conventional routes: film schools, TV soaps, production company insiders, actors, and the professional theatre. It doesn’t mean securing an agent is impossible if this doesn’t apply to you – and if your script is strong enough, we’ll help it get read by a film agent anxious to find new talent. Meanwhile, peruse our guide to selling a film script and learn more about our script feedback. Good luck – and we’re rooting for you. Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community.

Literary Agents For Young Adult fiction

Young Adult (YA) fiction has become a super selling genre in recent years. J.K. Rowling’s books made it acceptable for adults to read children’s fiction, and then the genre hit a whole mother-lode of superselling authors, such as Anthony Horowitz, Suzanne Collins, Melinda Salisbury, and many more. The fact that so many young adult books are selling means that agents are inevitably interested in the area and keen to take on outstanding work. But that doesn’t mean that finding the right agent for you and your work is all that easy – there are just so many agents, and it’s so hard figuring out what each one wants. Luckily, we’ve made your agent search easy with AgentMatch. AgentMatch And How To Use It On AgentMatch, there are plenty of agents who love YA fiction and you won’t want to approach them all. The best way to develop and refine your own shortlist of likely targets is to visit our page and use the search tools on the left to make your selection. You can select by genre (e.g. children’s or young adult) but you can also select by the agent’s level of experience, their appetite for new clients, and very much more. Our database is completely comprehensive and it’s really, really easy to create the searches you want. This site is designed to give users a good feel for the data and functionality for free, but the real riches of our site are available only to members. Become a member. AgentMatch provides: A list of every agent in the UK;Masses of data on each one (photos, biographies, client lists, genre preferences, likes and dislikes, and much more);Search tools to make it easy to sort through all our goodies;Submission info for every agent;Further links to any other key information we’ve been able to locate on the web. More On UK Literary Agents: UK Literary Agents, the Complete List (with Links to Agent Profiles) Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

Literary Agent Etiquette

Good News From An Agent Some time ago, a writer called Chloe wrote this to me: I had two full manuscript requests for my novel this week (I gave it to both agents non-exclusively). One of the agents has now offered to represent me. I plan to tell him that I’d love to meet up and discuss it, etc., etc. I also plan to tell the other agency that I’ve had this offer (I think it’s polite and professional – is that right?). I’ve been trawling around trying to find out what agents expect in this situation and the etiquette. I don’t want to offend the agent that’s made an offer by looking like I’m holding out for another one, but I also want to make sure I’m with the right agent. Anyway, the bit of etiquette I can’t find an answer to is whether I should tell the three other agents I’ve submitted my partial to, or not. At the moment, presumably, my MS is sitting on their slush piles. Should I tell them that I’ve got an offer? Should I just tell them if/when I sign to an agency? They may well not be interested – I’ve had one other rejection already – but I want to be polite and do things “properly”. (By the way, my first attempt at novel writing was critiqued by you and, although I didn’t find an agent for that, I learned so much from the critique. … Thanks very much!) First off, congratulations to Chloe. Woo-hoo for her, and I’m delighted that we played an important role in the early part of her journey. Seeing someone make this huge leap from unrepresented to represented (or published) writer always the most thrilling aspect of what we do. But what about this question of etiquette? What do you say to agents if you’re in Chloe’s fortunate position? It\'s Not Tea, It\'s Business Let\'s start by dropping the idea that etiquette has anything to do with it. You’re not going to tea at the Ritz; you are about to enter one of the most important business transactions of your life. Naturally, because you’re a good sort of person, you will behave truthfully, courteously and professionally at all times -- but you will also look after your own interests with fierce single-mindedness. This is your career, and it matters! So of course you want to do what you can to maximise the chances of securing multiple offers of representation. That way, you can meet the various different literary agents and see who you feel most comfortable with. It’s like getting quotes from different builders – the only difference being that this relationship will likely last longer, have more influence on your career, and (you hope) be of greater financial significance. Suggestions For How To Respond I\'d suggest that you try this. With the agent who has your full manuscript, you drop a note saying something like this: “I’ve had an offer of representation elsewhere, but I don’t want to say yes or no to that offer until I’ve heard whether or not you might have an interest in this MS. If you do, I’d love to talk to you. Is there any chance that you might be able to read the manuscript within the week and let me know your thoughts? If that was feasible for you, it would be wonderful for me.” An email along those lines is truthful, polite, a tad flattering – and it will serve your interests very well. In the meantime, it’s best simply to tell the agent who has made you the offer that you’d love to come in and see him but, gee, the next few days look difficult, is there any chance of coming by a week from Thursday...? Agents are much more used to competing for authors than you might think -- so while no agent wants the competition, they’re unlikely to be offended. What About Agents With Partials? Then there’s also the question of what to do with those literary agents who have partial manuscripts, but not full ones. I would definitely try to loop those guys into your ring too. I would simply send an email – with the full manuscript attached – saying: “I’ve had an offer of representation, but don’t want to commit to it until I’ve heard back from you. I know that you may have a lot on your reading list, but if there was any chance of moving this manuscript up that list, I’d be delighted.” That might sound pushy to you, but really, an email of that sort is welcome to most agents. After all, at the moment, they’ve got 100 manuscripts in the slushpile at their elbow. They know that they might have a real decision to make about 1, maybe 2, manuscripts in that pile at most. By sending the email I suggest, you essentially save a mountain of work for them, by alerting them to precisely the manuscript that is likely to be of most interest to them. And when you do accept that sweet offer of representation from an agent, be sure to write to everybody and let them know that you\'ve accepted representation elsewhere! You don\'t need me to remind you that tastes differ, and the market is hard. What boils one person’s kettle may leave another’s stony cold. But the fact that things are difficult and unpredictable only means that you should look after your interests as carefully as you can. These things matter and are for the long term. I’ve had at least eight editors in my life as a writer, not to mention numerous publishers and more publicists than I can shake a manicured fingernail at. But I\'ve only had two literary agents, and I’d be quite surprised if I don’t stay with my current one until one or the other of us retires. Best of luck, Chloe! If you’re also searching for agents, this may help, as may this. Happy writing! Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

7 Tips For Writing A Thriller Novel

With numerous successful novels to her name, guest author and blogger Eve Seymour has cemented herself as a master of the thriller genre. In this post, Eve shares her secrets for writing a thriller you just can’t put down. 1: Focus On Characterisation Whatever the genre, strong, memorable main protagonists are important.  In thriller writing, they are absolutely vital and can make or break a story.  Irrespective of gender, if your main player lacks the tenacity and determination to crack the code or conspiracy, locate the kidnap victim or hunt a murderer, he is pretty much sunk before that opening chapter is penned.  So if your main player would rather file his/her nails, watch sport on TV, or stay in bed, think again. In a similar vein, boredom and cynicism are no defence for inactivity and ‘seeing how things pan out.’  The main protagonist needs to at least make a stab at being in control of events, rather than behind the curve, even if he fails due to the many obstacles thrown in his path. Notwithstanding all of the above, there’s no need for your central character to be an angel.  Crime fiction and thrillers are littered with flawed individuals.  Drink and relationship problems, sometimes inextricably linked, and failure to commit are popular attributes.  It’s easier for readers to empathise with characters who have identifiable weaknesses and failures and who, at times, seem just like us.  Recently, there’s been a trend towards characters that are morally ambiguous.  This can be a thorny path to tread for the new writer and requires the utmost skill to pull off.   Probably best not discussed here. It may be stating the obvious, but an octogenarian with a limp isn’t going to cut it with the bad guys.  The obvious simple fix is to ensure that your main man (or woman) is young enough or fit enough to run like hell – even if in the opposite direction.  More importantly, they must be smart.  This does not mean they are members of MENSA, but they do need to be bright and have a measure of psychological insight, (which means that writers need to too).  Street cunning and being able to think outside the proverbial box also goes a long way to defeat enemies of whatever persuasion. Which brings me to those pesky ‘bad guys.’ It’s not enough to refer to shadowy dark forces doing dastardly things in dungeons.  Give your foe a face.  Let the reader hear an antagonist’s voice, see how he behaves, take a trip inside his mind and let’s hope it terrifies because a main protagonist is only as ever good as the main villain.  This is where a writer can really pull out all the stops.  Seems easy, doesn’t it?  And yet, to avoid stereotype and caricature, coming up with convincing antagonists is harder than it sounds.   The best way to avoid obvious pitfalls is to ensure that your bad guy or femme fatale ticks with his or her own internal logic, even if he/she seems nuts to the rest of us.  How to do this?  Look at motivation and backstory, and ensure both are watertight and credible. 2: Create Plausible Characters Still on the subject of characterisation, there’s a school of thought that writers somehow have to choose between characterisation, or plot.  In truth, the two are indivisible because, although a story can unfold in a variety of ways, these are self-limiting due to the particular attributes of character. To take a facile example: say your main guy is an estate agent.  He’s unlikely to grab an MP5, eliminate the opposition, board a helicopter, grab the controls (and the girl) and fly off into the great blue yonder even if this is to suit the purposes of plot. While coincidence occurs in real life, it’s harder to pull off in fiction and yet often writers will write characters that just happen to be on the right street at the right time, enabling them to randomly carry out an action critical to the story.  Sounds vague?  That’s because it is. While coincidences can occur at the beginning of a story – a killer claps eyes on his victim  – random events fare less well if dumped into the plot mid-way.   The obvious faux pas is when a random event occurs to get the writer out of a hole, a classic case of Deus Ex Machina.  When applied to an ending, the result can be excruciating. 3: Ensure Every Scene Contains A Plot Twist When creating a scene, ensure that you give enough away to compel the reader to keep turning those pages, or clicking the side of a Kindle.  While you might be able to confine this to a minimum number in other genres, in thrillers there’s a requirement for numerous ‘turning points’ or revelations to sustain the narrative and guarantee exceptional pace and tension.  If a scene doesn’t ‘turn’, then, as brutal as it is, it has to go. After all, plot twists are an essential part of the thriller genre, and they are particularly crucial in psychological thrillers. It’s known as ‘murdering your little darlings’, and nobody likes blood on their hands.  It can be dispiriting to chop lovingly written material, containing tons of detail and exposition, but, sadly, no ‘turning points’. However, information alone won’t cut it. Everything must be relevant to the main thrust of the story.  If your main man is en route to question a potential suspect, he’s not going to drop into Costa for a coffee and baguette en route, or spend time discussing Christmas plans or his next salsa class with his best mate first.  It’s really tough to excise a perfectly decent or beautifully written scene but if it doesn’t drive the story forward, your best option is to hit the delete button. A good tip when creating a scene is to think about the situation in which the main protagonist finds himself.  Simplistically, if things are going roughly his way, then mix things up and throw in a few obstacles so that, as the plot develops and he makes more discoveries (relevant to the main plot line), his situation turns from not too bad to not too good.  The reverse also works (to a point).  With more and more (hopefully grim) revelations, and pressure put on your main protagonist, clearly the ‘bad days’ will outnumber the ‘good days’, as he finds himself boxed more and more into a corner.  If you do this, before you know it, tension will be as taut as cheese wire. 4. Avoid Superfluous Exposition (An Instant Pace-slower) This is really the incestuous cousin of the above.  Some writers are natural scene-setters.  They love the build up.  They love description – and they are very good at it.  That’s grand and most definitely has its place but it cannot be a substitute for telling the story, or a delaying tactic for ‘getting on with it’. ‘Cut to the chase’ is one of my most overused pleas.  The trick is to understand what’s important and what isn’t.   Nine times out of ten, less is more.  This particularly applies to the writer who ‘overwrites’ or ‘covers old ground’. More often than not, this will occur around the halfway mark and it usually signifies that the plot is in trouble and the author has run out of steam.  As a basic rule, if the reader is made aware, for example, that great aunt Ida is a bit of a cow, there is no need to remind the reader at any and every opportunity.  We get it. Aside from resisting the urge to bash the reader over the head with something already well established in the text, there is a very good reason for heeding this advice.  Superfluous exposition has a deadly effect on pace, suspense, and tension.  Before you know it, the reader will be thinking about what’s for dinner and whether there’s time to nip to the gym.  A good way to avoid the story running into ‘snooze time’ is to read it aloud.  If you start to flag after a chapter or two, the reader stands no chance. 5: Avoid Dreams, Memories, Recollections And Flashbacks Unless applied with exceptional skill to ‘turn’ a scene, in which case they can be used for dramatic effect, these are instant pace-slowers. For some reason writers can be quite taken with dream sequences and recollections. Perhaps it’s the freedom to go ‘off piste.’ Scenic detours, like these, may well work in other genres, but in thrillers, when focus is a key issue, they can overshoot their intended destination. Not only do they interfere with strong narrative drive in what must be a fast moving plot line, they puncture tension. As mentioned, there is an exception to the ‘rule’. A flashback or recollection might emerge during the last third of a novel when a character suddenly remembers something that has a bearing on current events. If used within the climactic scene, they can be used to stunning effect because they throw an original and illuminating light on the denouement. It’s a cliché but, for example, if good guy comes face to face with bad guy, and is about to kill him in self-defence, the good guy might recollect to playing with his (missing) brother as a kid, and recognise the birthmark on his arm. The effect on the reader should be an emotional one, i.e., ‘Blimey, didn’t see that one coming.’ 6: Collect Two Types Of Research: ‘Nuts And Bolts’ And Emotional Both are essential for authenticity and quite distinct from each other.  ‘Nuts and bolts’ might be research into police procedure, forensics or ballistics, and all the permutations in between.  Imagination will only carry you so far. Basically, you can’t take the procedure out of the police procedural, or the military out of the action adventure.   Today’s crime readers are so sophisticated that they can sniff out lack of authenticity at fifty paces.  Many will give the average crime or thriller writer a run for his or her money when it comes to knowledge.  Unless you’re an ex-con, intelligence officer, police officer, in the military, with inside knowledge at your fingertips, you’ll need to get out and about and research. Google is a good starting point, but if we all write according to the Gospel according to St. Google, then our stories will wind up with same or similar shout-lines.  I’m a fan of multiple sources.  If you have a library, use it to check out your chosen subject.  But, and it’s a big one, nothing beats approaching people ‘in the know.’  Most folk respond to a friendly and polite approach, especially if the ‘help’ word is applied.  While I wouldn’t suggest rocking up at your local police station to bend ears, there are other avenues to pursue, via police press officers. If you’re really stumped, there are now plenty of recently retired police officers that, for a fee, will walk you through an investigation.  Similarly, pathologists, ballistics experts and crime scene examiners are normally happy to talk about their favourite subject. If you can ferret out a tame source, you’ll get a feel for how things roll.  In the interests of research, I’ve flown in helicopters, spent a memorable evening with firearms officers in a laser-simulated training suite, flown to Berlin and Barcelona, both for location hunts, and talked to people working at the United Nations and those connected to various charities involved with refugees and victims of war. All this comes with a warning:  if you’ve spent your hard-earned money on obtaining information or oceans of time fact finding, there is a temptation to slay the reader with your newly acquired fund of knowledge.   This is where I refer you back to point number 4.  A few books ago, an editor once told me:  ‘This is really interesting, Eve, but it doesn’t add anything to your story.  Cut.’ I did.  Lesson learned. ‘Write what you know’ is a well-used, and occasionally misunderstood, phrase. While we may all believe that our existences are thrilling, not many of us lead the kind of lives that will translate easily into great page-turning thrillers.  So what does ‘write what you know’ really mean?  It means you draw on personal emotional experience.  Just saying someone is sad or angry won’t cut it. This is where emotional research comes in. All writers are amateur psychologists.  We need to know how people tick and how they respond.  While you might not experience what it’s like to be shot at, you will know what fear feels like, just like you’ll know how it feels to have loved and lost, loved and found the woman or man of your dreams, got the job you always wanted, failed to get the job you always wanted, passed your driving test, or failed it for the millionth time and, dare I say, obtain agent representation after slogging away for years, or feel the cutting pain associated with your umpteenth rejection. In essence, we all know what it’s like to feel lonely and unhappy, elated and sad, frustrated and angry and everything in between. These are the emotions you draw on for your characters so that, when you describe them, they are a true representation. ‘Okay,’ you might say, ‘I can do all of the above, but how do I write about something well outside my sphere of experience, for example, the trauma associated with violent crime, either as perpetrator or victim?’ Simply put, it’s hard to avoid cliché, stereotype, and melodrama when tapping into trauma, if you have no direct experience of it.  Again, crime readers are bloodhounds at spotting false notes.  Best advice is to, firstly, ensure that the stakes are raised high in your story so that characters are forced to grapple with powerful, life-on-the-line events.  Be bold in this regard.  Think of the worst that can happen to your character then make sure it does.  This way, you’ll ensure that your characters are properly motivated to respond truthfully. Sneak right under their skins and imagine the extremes of human behaviour and what it does to people.  But, before you do this, climb under your own skin and dig deep.  You may well be surprised, maybe even shocked, at what you find loitering beneath.  Whatever you unearth, this is what you use as a foundation for your character’s response. If this doesn’t work, you could always try a more ‘nuts and bolts’ approach, and talk to a psychologist or someone trained to help people who have encountered tragedy in their lives. 7: Take A Big Breath And Read Aloud You’re a writer.  You love stories.  You’re interested in words and their correct spelling.  You go all tingly when your sentences flow and convey your magical  (or should I say your diabolical) world.  So ensure you take the time to read the entire manuscript aloud to pick up on pesky typos, clumsy sentences, repeat words in consecutive sentences, verbal ‘tics’, punctuation and grammatical errors, and mysterious verb tense changes.  Avert your eyes now if you are of a sensitive nature. In three words:  ‘This.  Stuff.  Matters.’ And it’s no good thinking that you can wing it. If you don’t know the difference between ‘there’, ‘their’ and ‘they’re,’ or ‘where’ and ‘were’, do yourself a favour and learn.  On occasion I’ve been told that ‘Agent Bloggs will be so knocked out by the story, it won’t matter …’, and ‘The copy-editor will fix it …’, as if he or she has a handy magic wand with which to transform your less than perfectly polished prose. Agents receive so many submissions they can afford to be picky.  If your lovingly crafted story is set aside due to a multiplicity of errors on the first page, it stands no chance of reaching the fairy copy-editor.  Your hard work would be wasted. And that would be a shame. Very best of luck. Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

Book Launch Plans 2022

Indie and traditionalBasic | Intermediate | Advanced Launching a book is the most exciting moment in an author’s journey, but it’s also the scariest. You only really appreciate the sheer scale of the competition facing you when you’re getting ready to launch your book into the world. And launch is confusing too. There are so many strategies out there, but which one is right for you? You can easily feel that you have to do everything – which is impossible – so you end up feeling like a failure before you even start. So let’s make things clear and simple. We’re going to show you four strategies for how to plan a book launch. They are: New author (first book launch)Intermediate author (third book launch)Advanced author (tenth book launch, let’s say)Traditionally published author Obviously, these strategies are guidelines only. If you have specific assets (a well-listened to podcast, for example), then you’re going to make use of them in cross-promoting, no matter where you are in your publishing journey. Likewise, you have skills and preferences and those need to play a part too. If you just hate tech, you probably aren’t going to get heavily involved in advertising. If you’re great on social media, you’re going to want to be active there. And so on. In short, what follows is a set of guidelines for you to adapt around who you are. If you don’t follow one exact recipe in what follows, that’s not you being dumb. That’s you intelligently adapting an approach around your specific needs. Oh, and yes, I know you want to plunge straight in here, but don’t. The single thing which will most determine the success or failure of your book is the quality of your preparation. If you’re so impatient to get to launch that you’ve rushed your cover, or your text, or any of the other essentials, you’ll simply be leaving a big fat heap of money on the table for someone else to pick up. Think of launch as a bucket where you are trying to scoop up as many readers, fans, sales and reviews as possible. If you don’t make damn sure that bucket is sealed and watertight before you start, you are going to leak readers like crazy. You can work like seven devils and still not be rewarded for all your effort. So before we get to your launch plans, we’re going to run you through a checklist. If you’re solid on all those bullet points, then please proceed to launch. If you’re wobbly on some of the checklist items, then fix those things before doing anything else. Preparation: it’s boring, but it matters. Your Book Launch Checklist So you have an upcoming book, and you feel ready to launch it into the world. Here’s your checklist, organised in rough order of priority. The Essentials This first set of bullets are things that you just can’t compromise on. Yes, you can theoretically publish a book if you haven’t done these things, but you can’t do it well. So for a successful book launch, don’t skimp. Completed text.Professional editorial review. I’ve put this in italics, just because Jericho Writers offers a very high quality editorial service and we have an obvious interest in boosting editorial services. But I’ve been a pro author for twenty years, and I’ve never once launched a book without a third party editorial review. And you know what? My books have always got better. So: yes, I’m biased. And yes, editorial help makes a difference.Copy editing / proofreading. Same thing here. You will need help with copyediting, unless you want your book to go out into the world strewn with errors. We also offer copyediting help but honestly? This is an area where you can save money. If you’re friends with an English teacher, or librarian, or anyone else you trust to read a text very closely and pick up errors, then go with that. You DO need a second set of eyes to review your text. You SHOULD save money here if you can. A few errors won’t hurt anyone.Quality cover. Don’t skimp. Get this right. If you only 95% like the design you have, then go on until you’re at 100%. The first cover you ever make will be the most expensive, because that’s where you’re evolving the strategy for the entire series. Once you have the basic template, your future covers will be easy. But get this right.Amazon book description. Get this right.Categories and keywords. Get this right: an hour or two’s work upfront will pay dividends for literally years to come.Front matter. This is the “Look Inside” portion of your e-book. This is where you convert the curious browser into the brand-new reader. So make sure that the front part of your e-book helps that conversion process. You need to be clear about what your book is, and why someone should read it.End matter. This is so crucial. The platform for all your future launches is the readers you collect from this one. And the place to collect those readers? Is right after they’ve finished your book and are still in a state of focused excitement about it. In particular, the back of your book is the place where you need to (A) offer a free download and (B) solicit reviews.Free download offer. You need to offer your core readers a freebie. The basic offer is, “Hey, do you want a free story / video explainer / set of cheat sheets / anything else?” Not all readers will engage with that offer, but your best readers WILL engage … and you’ll get their email address … and that email list will form the basis of everything else you do.Email collection system. You can’t just offer people a free story (or other incentive). You also have to deliver it. That is going to mean you have an author website with the right technology on it, or you are going to use a third party service (like the ever-excellent Bookfunnel) to collect the email address and deliver the book.Email service provider. You need to be signed up with a Mailchimp or ConvertKit, or some similar company. Those guys are going to collect emails for you, automate emails, send emails, and everything else. If you need more help with any of this, you probably want our monster self-publishing guide, which you can view for free here. If you need more than that (and you probably do), we have an exceptionally good self-publishing course. That course is expensive to buy – because it’s really, really good – so don’t buy it. That course, plus a ton of other incredibly good stuff, is available FREE to members of Jericho Writers. And if you’re serious about your writing, we’d love to welcome you as a member. You can find out more about us and how to become a member right here. The Nice-To-Haves What follows are things that you may well already have in place, or think you absolutely need. Advanced authors are likely to tick every one of these boxes. For newer authors – well, you can’t do absolutely everything all in a single go. So don’t panic. Facebook author page. You need to make sure that your profile picture is 100% consistent with your book cover visuals. You need to add content at least weekly and – this is the important bit – that your content is very narrowly focused on your ideal reader. So if you are writing non-fiction about training dogs, then your Facebook page should be very narrowly focused on that topic, and nothing else. If you have to choose between 100 passionate fans and 1000 people half of whom are there for the freebies or the cute puppy pictures, then choose the 100 every time. The “not all that interested” brigade will ruin your engagement metrics and blur your audience definition. Focus matters. Scale doesn’t – or not nearly so much.Amazon Author Central page. It’s an easy win this one, so you probably want to take care of it. Basically: Amazon lets you build your own author profile on their system. Will it sell books for you? Not really. Maybe a few.Author website with blog. You\'ll notice that I DO think you need an email collection system that works, and for most authors the actual story-for-email exchange will be done on their website. But that’s by far the most important element of any author site. If you also want to blog, then do, but it’s no big deal. If you blog, then see what I’ve said above about the Facebook author page. Narrow focus is much, much more important than just grabbing random sets of eyeballs.Facebook tracking pixel. If you want to use some more advanced ad techniques on Facebook, then you’ll want a tracking pixel on your site, so Facebook (in its incredibly creepy way) can watch when its users visit your site. Even if you don’t use that data now, you probably want to start collecting it, so Facebook can start populating its creepy databases.Twitter. Oh heck. Some people love Twitter. If you do, then you’re already on it. If you’re not, well, maybe you don’t want to be. I don’t think it sells books, so don’t worry. The “Why Bother?” List Somethings that people say you ought to do, you don’t need to do. Including: Your Goodreads profilePrinting flyers / postcardsPress releasesA launch party. I mean that’s fun, and you should probably have one. But you should have one because it’s fun celebrating with your friends. It’s not a serious book launch technique.Book trailer. Not much point here, unless you have a significant YouTube audience, or similar.Giveaways, unless these are very carefully targeted. OK. Checklist all done and dusted? Then let’s move onto three book launch plans, graded according to author experience. We start easy, and build from there. A Book Launch Plan For The First Time Author This is your first book launch. And your first job is to set your expectations appropriately. You will not make much money from this book. You will not reach many readers. You will not get many reviews. You will probably lose money, if you take into account all your upfront costs. All the same, this book launch really matters. This first-of-series book is going to be your little ambassador to the Big Wide World. It’s where the majority of all your series readers ever are going to start. So the quality of the book matters. Ditto the number and quality of reviews. The quality of your cover and book description. And so on. Here’s your book marketing plan. 1. Price This is your first book and nobody knows you. So this is like one of those little bits of cheese they give you as tasters, when they want you to buy the whole damn cheese. It’s free to nibble, but you pay to gorge. In short: price your book free or at £0.99/$0.99. Or yo-yo between those two price points. Or kick the price up to £4.99/$4.99, so when you slash the price to free, it looks like a great offer to readers. At this stage, you’re not looking to make revenue. You’re looking to: Build reviewsPopulate your Also Boughts with the right type of readers (more on that in a second)Collect emails for your mailing list If you tick those three boxes in a satisfactory way, don’t worry too much if your revenue is small to negligible. You are building a platform for the future. 2. Ask For Reviews At the end of your book, include a note to the reader that you would love them to review your book. Tell them how to do it and say how much it means to you personally. Those direct appeals really help secure reviews. Oh, and it probably goes without saying that you should never buy reviews or anything of that sort. Amazon will sniff those things out and send an army of tiny robots to invade your bloodstream and turn your skin yellow. 3. Offer A Free Download We sort of covered this in the checklist material, but it’s so important I’m going to say it again. You need to offer your readers a free download. They get a story (or video, or cheat sheet, or whatever). You get their email address and permission to contact them. This is the rock that stands at the heart of everything else you ever do. Don’t neglect it. Get the details right. You have to make this part work. 4. Friends And Family It’s fine to ask your friends and family to buy your book and leave an honest review, BUT only ask those people who actually like and regularly read your specific genre. If your mother only ever readers slasher-zombie-horror books and you only write Sweet Romance, then her purchase of your romance book will be an active negative. How come? Because Amazon needs to understand who the readers of your book are, and if you start, in effect, saying to Amazon “this Sweet Romance book will be enjoyed by readers of Slasher-Zombie-Horror” then Amazon won’t know how to market your book. Key lesson: A bad sale is worse than no sale at all. Don’t be tempted. 5. Hit Your Email List (If You Have One) Let’s say you’ve already released a free novella via, for example, Instafreebie. That release will give you a list of email addresses. You can and should go to those people and say, “hey, I’d love you to buy my book [or get the free download]. But in particular, I’d really love it if you left a review for me on Amazon. I’m just starting out in my career and those reviews are invaluable for me – and they’re so helpful to other readers too. Thanks so much.” 6. Go Narrow Don’t be tempted by Apple and all those other book stores. You are better off going all in on Amazon. Yes, you lose the (pretty meagre) sales available from Apple and co, but in return you gain access to Kindle Unlimited readers, who may easily make up 50% of your income, or even more. This isn’t even a marginal decision, to be honest with you. When you have 3+ books out and are making $10,000+ in sales revenue, then maybe you have a decision to make. But starting out? Go narrow. You’ll do far better. 7. Don’t Go For Pre-orders Pre-orders stink. Why would you want to drive traffic to an Amazon page that has zero reviews and which doesn’t actually let readers get a book on their devices right now this second? Answer: you wouldn’t. So launch naked. No pre-orders at all, please. (And yes, there are exceptions to this rule, but if you are a newbie, then you’re not one of them.) 8. AMS Adverts AMS – Amazon Marketing Services, Amazon’s own in-house ad-platform – is a great but frustrating ad platform. It’s great, because it’s easy to build ads that convert well and make money. It’s frustrating because the interface is dire and because the ads are really hard to scale. (Unlike on Facebook, where you just have to throw more money at the service.) But still: AMS ads are great for new authors, because they’re cheap and because the sales and reviews will mount up over time. (Also, and this post is in part an overview for what works at the moment, Amazon will surely give AMS a much-needed overhaul as currently, the interface is just embarrassingly bad.) 9. Free / Discounted Book Sites There are sites like Robin Reads, ENT, Freebooksy and others that build large databases of readers interested in free or discounted titles. Those lists are segmented by genre, so if you write Space Opera you won’t be bothering people who only love Cosy Mystery. You definitely want to drop some money on those sites. Get your book right in front of people specifically looking for titles like yours. And yes, those email lists go to discount hounds, but a lot of those discount hounds are looking for a new series to commit to and enjoy, so they want their “taster” experience to be free (or low cost). Thereafter they’ll be happy to pay full e-book prices. Oh yes, and while Bookbub is the biggest discounted book site by a mile, you are extremely unlikely to get access to it at this stage in your career. So start smaller and build up. Expert tip: you probably want to stack promotions if you can. It’s better to drop $300 over several promo sites at the exact same time, than to pay the same money in split promotions. Especially on Amazon, big, bold promos work better than multiple small ones. Expert tip II: Use the great Nicholas Erik for an always up-to-date guide of which book sites are great and which ones are just meh. Get his insights here. 10. Blog Tours, Etc I’ve listed this last on the checklist, because I think it’s optional. I don’t think you get a lot of readers from blog tours, soliciting reviews from bloggers, etc. But – this is your first book. Maybe you just want to get out there and you will get some readers, and those readers are gold dust for you at this stage. So if you want to go for it, go chase around some bloggers in your niche. If you can’t be bothered, then don’t bother – and don’t feel guilty either. Is all this doing your head in? I’m not surprised. There’s a lot to take in and it can seem overwhelming. The solution for most people will be to take a really good step-by-step course that just walks you through the entire process.We have just such a course – here – and it’s superb. Inspirational, practical, and lavishly documented. Trouble is, our course, like all the other good uns on the market, is really expensive. So don’t buy it. That course, and a ton of other good stuff, is available totally free to members of Jericho Writers. If you’re serious about your writing & your publishing, then we’d love to have you join us. All the info you need is right here. We look forward to meeting you! A Book Launch Plan For The Intermediate Author This is maybe your third or fourth book launch. Some of the strategies above are either second nature to you now, or they’ve dropped away completely. (Approaching friends and family is mostly a first-book-only thing. Ditto blog tours and the like.) So for your third or fourth book launch, you’re going to use all of the above strategies – where they make sense – and then add / elaborate as follows: 1. Sophisticated Use Of Email Lists With our first book launch, we just thumped out a “buy my book now” email to the few names we had on our list, and we got what we got. OK, but that was then. Now we have a stronger list, and we can play things a little more cleverly. Because here’s the thing: Amazon likes email-driven sales surges (and drives your book high up the bestseller charts as a result).Amazon LOVES strong and steady sales surges, especially those that continue over four or (play safe) five days. So, assuming that we have a decently performing list of, let’s say, 2,000 names or more, we’re not just going to bang out a “buy my book” email on the day of launch. Instead, we’re going to divide that list into three or four roughly equal slices, and launch emails on day #1, day #2, day #3, with reminder emails to non-openers on days #3, #4, and #5. (Or something like that. The principle is more important than the exact way you choose to implement it.) The resulting steady pattern of sales will signal to Amazon that this book isn’t a one-day wonder. There’s real selling strength behind it. That signal will prompt Amazon to work harder, and for longer, than it otherwise would. This simple, free email strategy remains the most powerful single strategy at your disposal. If you do this well, and little else, you can still achieve great things. 2. Get Reviews From Your Best Readers Once you are developing your email list nicely, you can go to your best readers and offer them an Advance Review Copy of your forthcoming book, in exchange for a review once they’ve read it. You’re not asking them for fake reviews. You want honest verdicts. But crucially, you want anyone with an ARC to post their review within 48 hours of your book being launched. That’s the part that really, really matters. How come? Because with all your activity around launch, the visibility of your new title will never be as high as this again (give or take a huge Bookbub promo, perhaps.) That visibility means that a ton of totally new readers will be finding your work for the first time. And that means, you want to populate your page with reviews as soon as humanly possible. Waiting 30-60 days for the reviews to populate organically will slaughter your conversions at the time when your Amazon book page has its maximum levels of traffic. So get your readers engaged early. And feel free to nudge them. Get the reviews, and get them fast! 3. Series Listings In Your End-matter The best place to sell your e-books? Your other e-books. As you start to build out your list, make sure you go back to the e-books you already have out on sale and list all your titles. Make sure that you include the series number and a very short blurb (50-100 words is plenty) for each book. You also, of course, need to include purchase links for each book with link text that’s more tentative (“Find out more”) than pushy (“Buy now!”). 4. Remarketing Ads On Facebook And Google Both Facebook and Google let you “remarket” to your “almost-but-not-quite” customers. So Google allows you to push ads at people have who have recently visited your website. Facebook does the same, but also lets you market to specific audience groups – for example, people on your mailing list, or people who didn’t open and click your launch email. Because these ads are going to a very warm audience, they tend to have an excellent conversion rate, with good CTRs and low CPCs. Even so, before you start to advertise with any kind of meaningful budget, you do need to test carefully to get the right creative. It remains a lot easier to waste money with ads than it is to make it. Take care! 5. Series-level Promos Now that you have a series of books to play with, you can get a bit more creative with the way you structure your promos. You should no longer think about promoting a book, but about the series. So if you’re launching #3 in your series, you might want to arrange things like this: Book #1. Free promo. Use Freebooksy, ENT, and other sites to promote the freebie. Make sure you stack promos to deliver downloads in the necessary volumes.Book #2. Use a Kindle Countdown deal to earn 70% royalties at £0.99/$0.99. Maybe use some of the other promo sites to support this offer. Maybe try some remarketing ads, using a carousel to display all three of the products you have for sale.Book #3. Launch, launch, launch! This is where you’re going to spend most of your firepower. You’ll use your email list to support the launch, of course, but you’ll probably want to draw attention to the other offers too. The more your whole series increases its visibility in Amazon, the more new readers will pour into your series as a whole, with all the lovely readthrough sales you’ll collect over the long term. 6. Think Kindle Unlimited If you’re still intermediate in terms of sales and list, then you should stick with Kindle Unlimited. It’ll simplify your life, and make you more money. But you also need to have a KU mindset, because the way you make money on Apple/Kobo/etc is different from the way you’ll earn money on KU. The essence of effective Kindle Unlimited marketing is simple. You want to achieve big bursts of visibility. As much visibility as possible, extended over a minimum of four days, but ideally for a week or even more. That extended big-burst visibility will earn you money for weeks and weeks. You’ll see a surge in page reads that dies off slowly rather than fast. Granular, drip-drip-drip marketing techniques cannot achieve this effect. On this model, you’d do much better to have a big budget, 0% ROI promotion that really lifts visibility, than to have a couple of nicely performing little campaigns that achieve decent ROI but don’t really impact visibility. Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

Writing A Book For The First Time – Tips

If you’re writing a book for the first time, it’s good to have the tips and writing steps you need in one place. Here are our advice pages on all aspects of novel-writing and the many different ways to write a good book. How To Have Ideas And Inspiration Nothing is harder to come by than inspiration, and it’s not enough to be inspired, you need a concept a publisher is also likely to get excited by. Coming up with ideasHow to write your elevator pitch9 tips to conquer writers’ blockHow to find inspiration for your writingHow to become a better writer Story, Plot And Pacing Your book’s heart is its story. Get it wrong and your book will not be saleable. Our advice: How to plan a novel: a plot structure templateHow to chart your plot mountain or plot diagram for momentumHow to write seven basic plotsFreytag’s pyramid: understanding dramatic structure and applying it to your own narrativeWriting a three act structureHow to write a compelling plot twist Character Any good story needs strong, convincing characters to populate it. Even if you’re writing a true story (a memoir, for example), you need to bring your characters to life on the page. Here’s how to do it: Characterisation and character developmentHow to develop characters and inner worlds in fictionHow to write characters (not clichés)How to write different points of viewHow to show, don’t tell, in writingWhat is a foil character?How to create a character bio templateWhat are secondary characters?How mannerisms can create memorable charactersThe 12 character archetypesAnti-hero vs villain: a complete guideProtagonist vs antagonistRound vs flat characters Prose Style And Editing Your Work Sentences need to matter as much to you as paint does to a painter. And remember that good writing is usually good re-writing, so be prepared to put in the hours. Our guides: Your writing style checklist The omniscient narrator: all you need to knowHow to self-edit your draftHow to write dialogue in fictionThe hero\'s journeyHow to write setting and spaceWhat is purple prose?How to eliminate passive voice from your writingHow to present your manuscriptWhat is copyediting? Next Steps Have we remembered to mention that writing a book for the first time is quite hard? Help is at hand, if you need it from us. Get editorial feedback on your work. We work with partial manuscripts, as well as complete ones.Try a writing course. Our courses are online, so you’ll be able to work around commitments.Come to our events like the Festival of Writing to meet literary agents in person and pitch your manuscript. Signing up to our mailing lists you’ll be first to hear announcements. Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

How To Chart Your Plot Mountain Or Plot Diagram

Plot structure is one of the trickiest and most vital things to get right in a story, but using the idea of a plot mountain can be a great way to solve your plot problems – and deliver a great experience for the reader. Plot is loosely defined as a chain of events in a story – i.e. this happened, so that happened. Notice that little word “so” – it means that Y happened, because X happened. That everything in your story is linked together, literally like links in a chain. A linear, logical chain of events, though, isn’t all that exciting. You need a story arc – a plot mountain – to engage readers, to build tension and excitement. Here’s what you need to know. Use A Plot Diagram For Story Momentum A plot diagram (or plot mountain or story arc) will deliberately look like a triangle, with action and drama building to excite us before subsiding. It mightn’t sound inspired. To most readers, a story is a living thing and you’re alive in those writers’ very dreamscapes. Often, though, rules can help keep a writer on track. (And once understood, they can be bent and broken a little.) Consider a plot mountain your roadmap for sustaining emotional momentum through the story – and let’s cover some points. Plotting Your Foundations (Your Characters) Any foundation for a good story is character. It may veer on a cliché, but think of it as inverse pot-of-gold at the start of a rainbow. The more you bury early on, the more you can mine and dig up later over your plot mountain. Character is only the start of good plotting, but it is no less than that. The best stories are essentially character journeys. Your protagonist will need to be human and compelling. Your protagonist will also be in need for a story arc to take place, so they must lack something. This is your foundation for a good story. Start here and think of both your character’s goal or goals, as well as your character’s motive(s). This distinction between goal and motive is important. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter needs love and acceptance (motive), having grown up uncared for under his uncle and aunt’s roof. Then Hagrid appears and Harry ‘needs’ to escape to Hogwarts (goal). Harry’s goals change through the books (going to the Quidditch World Cup, winning the Triwizard Tournament). But his motivation is to fight throughout for peace and tolerance – and his overarching goal has evolved by the last book to be the death of Voldemort and peace for the wizarding community. So map goal to motive as you plan for your character’s growth, their story arc and your plot structure – and take a look at our character building page for help, ditto how authentic characterisation is essential to help drive a plot forward. Character needs may evolve as your hero or heroine grows, but goals and motive can’t be ‘illogical’ and cancel out the other (e.g. you write in a goal not in keeping with your character’s nature). And remember any story is born out of your protagonist desiring something, rooted in overcoming weakness to get to a stronger new equilibrium. (We’ll get to this soon.) Plotting Your Initiating Incident Having mapped out your foundation and novel beginnings, you can tie in your initiating incident. A good example might be Harry Potter receiving his Hogwarts letter. Out of the Cupboard under the Stairs, onto Hogwarts. And any initiating incident or call-to-action, no matter how over- or understated, must actually throw the character into a worse-off situation than the start in order to set your novel off on the right trajectory. Story charts are called ‘story mountains’ in schools, after all, because stakes get higher and things need to get emotionally a lot tougher before they can wind down to a happy ending. So the initiating incident you just kindled should spark drama. It should lead your protagonist into what we’ll (loosely) call a fraught setup where drama will unfold. It looks as if Jon Snow’s going to the Night Watch will result in a quieter life than the trauma unfolding for his family in King’s Landing. Jon’s choice leads him to danger instead. And it looks as if Harry Potter will be safe at Hogwarts under Dumbledore’s watch. And it looks as if Jane Eyre will be settled and happy at Thornfield. A good plot subverts such hope. Your drama builds from this. The protagonist is placed, somehow, in some jeopardy that rivets us and pushes us to read more, so bear in mind your initiating incident carefully. You’ll later need to subvert our sense of safety as you ‘bridge’ your way to your next plot points and remember your initiating incident should map back to earlier foundations (your character’s nature). Will they take up their call and be right for your plot structure and story arc? Make sure it marries up to motive, with the person they are at heart. You need a protagonist to actively take this call-to-action up. This is true even for reluctant heroes, i.e. Arthur Golden’s Chiyo in Memoirs of a Geisha or Suzanne Collins’ Katniss in The Hunger Games. Chiyo tries to run away at first, fails, but she finds other reasons to train as a Kyoto geisha and remain in her okiya. Katniss volunteers for the Hunger Games in her sister Prim’s place, with no choice but to fight to save her sister. Once she’s committed, she’ll fight to survive. Some protagonists are more proactive and will create their own ‘call’, rather than fairy-godmother-summons. Jon Snow, for instance, opts to leave home and ‘take the black’ in A Game of Thrones. Jane Eyre is at first sent to school, then creates her ‘call’ because, bored years later, she advertises herself as a governess. Whether your protagonist knows an initiating incident could lead them to danger (as Katniss does), they still can’t help taking up the mantle. They’ll always choose to take up the call, and so it always maps back to intrinsic needs. In The Hunger Games, Katniss needs to save her sister because she couldn’t live with herself if anything happened to her. And the rest of your plot is about mounting drama and the protagonist reaching their end goal. Creating Plot Development Plot development’s where you get to wreak havoc and brew drama, the clouds and storms gathering up the plot mountain. So play with scenarios and ideas. Be sure everything is done right when you edit your plot, keeping all that happens to your protagonist relevant and necessary, and don’t meander, but do get your ideas down. Plotting should be fun and, like a first draft, you can edit and hone as you go. As Edgar Allan Poe wrote, ‘no [plot] part can be displaced without ruin to the whole.’ You also need here to accordingly sketch your antagonist (if not fleshed out yet), and they’ll compete for the same thing as your protagonist. Yes, really. According to storyteller John Truby in The Anatomy of Story, a good protagonist and antagonist compete for ‘which version of reality everyone will believe’. Think of everyone in A Song of Ice and Fire vying for the Iron Throne. This is a story of many people believing they should rule – and George R.R. Martin’s multiple protagonists work as one another’s antagonists. Each has a version of reality they want to assert. And we’ve invested emotionally in all these characters and rivals, which is why A Song of Ice and Fire is so gripping. Your story arc (or the bulk of it) is in fact about which reality will be established if your protagonist fails and the conflict resulting from this threat is the rising action. This is where your story tension, drama, poignancy and urgency will be born. And there’s just no point in mismatching protagonist and antagonist, any more than you’d mismatch your love interest in a romance novel, if you want drama ensuing. Create your character’s very antithesis, then. Who’d be the worst antagonist for your protagonist to be faced with? Bring them to life. Which gifts would be the ultimate worst-case scenario for your protagonist to deal with? Give them those gifts. Make it personal and keep it human. This isn’t just about plot mechanics, either: a protagonist-antithesis means your character’s journey will end in real growth and change, that stakes will be heightened. And a face often grips us more than a secret network, machine or monster. There are exceptions, i.e. Frankenstein’s Monster, or White Walkers, but there’s still a ‘humanness’ in really monstrous beings that makes them more sinister. Cersei Lannister is more ominous than Daenerys’ dragons in A Song of Ice and Fire. Cold Aunt Reed and petulant Blanche Ingram aren’t larger-than-life murderesses à la Cersei, but they’re larger-than-life threats to Jane Eyre and Jane’s hopes for happiness. Bar a gripping (powerful, threatening) antagonist, there aren’t set rules for rising action, but a good story checklist of things to include could be: Create your antagonist with care and add psychological ‘meat’ when setting up an opponent or supporting opponents, something for us to discover (their views, value set, etc.), and write in how something about them hinders your protagonist growing, flourishing, getting where they need to be;Create ‘surprise reveal’ moments with care in your plot structure, sharing new information for characters, and with the result of ennobling or refining protagonist attitudes and goals;Create a protagonist’s goal or plan and your antagonist’s counter-goal or plan, giving equal care to both, no matter your genre (e.g. Katniss Everdeen plans to survive the Hunger Games whilst the Capitol tries to crush her in various ways);Create plot setbacks and comebacks, e.g. Jane Eyre’s seemingly found freedom and happiness on her engagement, before being thrust back (by discovering Rochester’s wife);Create pieces of foreshadowing for readers to pick up on;And create plot events and actions consistent with your protagonist drive, remembering your original character motivation as you weave it through your drama to keep its heart. You’ll want to throw in allies, true and false, betrayals or misunderstandings, perhaps red herring threats and veiled or surprise threats. And any subplot characters should be dealing with the same issue or issues as your protagonist, or there’s no point to them (at least in your story terms). If nothing else – be sure you’re building up your character’s desire for their goals. The stakes should be getting tougher. The choices should be getting harder. These things should be building throughout, so the goal becomes more urgent as plot jeopardy mounts in your story arc. Remember that everything you map here needs to map back to character revelations, to shifting goals. This too maps up to story climax and to your protagonist’s emotional catharsis (when you’re mapping out ‘falling actions’ later). Pinpointing Your Character Revelations Character revelations are key to great plotting, as otherwise it all grows rather mechanical – and plotting and characterisation are such infused, melded, twisted-together processes, after all. There isn’t one without the other. It’s been said we often do the best we can with the information we have. As such, your protagonist needs ‘surprise reveal’ moments where some new information is shared for their character growth and for plot development to happen. So, as mentioned, rising plot tensions should accommodate ennobled motives and, sometimes, slightly altered goals for a compelling story arc. Again, Harry Potter has several important revelations over his series and these change his goals and the nature of them. Growing up in Hogwarts, Harry gradually grasps his power to make a difference. He starts teaching Hogwarts students defensive magic. Trying to save Sirius, Harry learns even his best efforts ‘playing the hero’ can lead to tragedy. Harry then works with Dumbledore to become less a moving target than an active fighter, as he learns more about Voldemort’s origins, how to anticipate him as Voldemort anticipated Harry’s efforts to save Sirius. Such revelations should marry up with key plot points (or plot events). There aren’t set rules, per se, as to when character revelations should appear, how often and which ones. It’ll all depend on story and your characters. But it’s important to punctuate your plot chart with revelatory moments, building in importance for growing urgency. Revelations are a story’s heartbeat, meat and blood. Plotting Your Story Climax Or Crisis Plot events can be climactic, but there’ll typically be one major climax or crisis. (There are exceptions.) Choose it, build to it, plot it carefully. It’s Clarice Starling’s showdown with Buffalo Bill, Jane Eyre’s ghostly summons across the moors back to blinded Rochester. In the simplest terms, Robert McKee defines any story climax, in Story, as ‘absolute and irreversible change’. And in John Bell’s Plot and Structure, story crises are transition points called ‘doorways of no return.’ So a story climax is (structurally) also something that’ll set up for a resolution, for falling action and a new order of things. Bear this in mind, especially if you’re feeling confident enough to create multiple major crises (more of a plot mountain range). And whilst your protagonist may have gone through many other big challenges and changes, this should be irreversible, and there should be some self-revelation tied up here. Clarice Starling’s self-revelation is one of self-belief. She’s not ready to take on Buffalo Bill, but she does. She beats him. And she learns she could beat him. This question of her aptitude hung on Clarice’s many conversations with Hannibal. The story’s been leading us to this point. A crisis (as above) is the peak of your story arc, and pinnacle of a protagonist’s self-revelation. And the rest is about winding down, dealing with the emotional aftermath. Plotting Your Resolution Or New Equilibrium Your protagonist’s world is, very simply, either better or worse now the story climax is over. From this, you’ll plot your resolution as your story arc falls. Your protagonist has either achieved their goals after their battles and evolution and self-discovery – or not – and so there also needs an emotional catharsis. Your story mustn’t lose heart simply because we’re winding down. Your falling action plays a vital cathartic role for both your characters and your readers. Clarice Starling, for instance, defeats Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs, and then becomes an FBI agent. She saves Catherine Martin, the first victim she rescues; or ‘lamb’, after the lambs’ cries that have haunted her sleep before now (because Clarice couldn’t help or save them). Think again of Robert McKee’s ‘absolute and irreversible change’, John Bell’s ‘doorways of no return’. Clarice’s door, if you will, has opened onto a new life and Clarice can’t go back to the lesser life experience she had. This is the new equilibrium. You’ll create the same for your characters as you wind down. In this instance, Clarice is an agent, and Buffalo Bill is gone. But Hannibal is at large. There is still danger in paradise, and scope for Thomas Harris’ sequel, Hannibal. In A Game of Thrones, the climax is Eddard Stark’s beheading. And with the demise also of King Robert, the new equilibrium is set for dystopia under King Joffrey Baratheon, with Sansa Stark his hostage, and Arya Stark on the run, as Robb Stark rallies in the north. A Game of Thrones sets the stage for its sequel, A Clash of Kings. In romantic Jane Eyre, Jane is happily united with Rochester. The new equilibrium is a happy ending, but after the novel’s crisis (her refusal to marry Rivers, hearing Rochester calling on the moors), the build-up to Jane’s new equilibrium, her happy reunion with Rochester, is cathartic because it is written as such. The same is true in Memoirs of a Geisha. Chiyo (now called Sayuri) writes readers a dreamy fairy tale end after her final talk with the Chairman, her emigration to America. So, when you’re ending your tale, think of the new equilibrium you’re establishing and don’t deprive readers of a cathartic end just because you’re in a hurry now to finish plotting. We know how hard writing is, but we’re rooting for you. Keep going, and never give up. Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

Is There A Market for Poetry Writing?

The first thing to ask about the poetry market: does it exist? Few make money from poetry. Seamus Heaney may have done, but he had a Nobel Prize. There is also, of course, the rise of the Instagram poets like Rupi Kaur, Lang Leav, Atticus, and so on. Here’s what you need to know. Selling Beauty Poetry remains a niche market. Even large bookshops will typically just sell acknowledged classics, academic anthologies, and a few books by today’s most famous poets. Few poets ever reach this level. More important for beginning writers are the specialist poetry magazines and poetry presses, the heart of the poetry scene. A collection of poetry might well only sell a few hundred copies. Few will make a profit. Poets themselves seldom make any money from their work. People who buy these books are poetry aficionados and will buy these books from ads in poetry magazines, from poetry festivals, etc. Getting Published It may be easier to walk across hot coals than to become a published poet. It’s fine to write poetry for yourself and friends, but suppose you really want to get published. What then? Agents rarely accept poetry submissions, and big publishing houses are interested in making money. Your ultimate aim should really be to interest the smaller poetry presses. Even if you aspired to be an ‘Instapoet’, it really is better to know if your poetry resonates with readers at the most critical levels, before you go and post online. In nearly all cases, these presses will only pick up a new poet if they have a track record of publication in the poetry magazines. As a rule, you should aim to have had 6-8 individual poems published in magazines before it makes sense to try and publish a collection. So start submitting good quality work as soon as you can. Poetry Magazines Some of our favourite magazines are The Rialto, The North, New Writer, Ambit, and Anon – but there are zillions of others. For a good place to browse go to Poetry Library, or The Poetry Kit. All magazines have their own submissions procedures, but as a rule, you should send out no more than half a dozen poems with a stamped addressed envelope for a response. It’s competitive getting accepted, so prepare for rejections before you get anywhere, and don’t expect speed either. Three months to get a response is normal. If and when you get 6-8 poems accepted by these, then is the time to start approaching publishers. Self-Publishing There is one other option, which is self-publication. This isn’t a fast-track way to get well-known, to make money, to get your work into bookshops, or anything else. It could lead to more, but it is a way to get bound copies of your work for you to distribute (or sell) to families and friends, at least. The easiest route for most poets is simply to go to your local printer. Get quotes for printing and binding copies of your work, and go with the best. This won’t be too expensive, and you won’t be ripped off. Beware of any ‘publisher’ advertising online for your work. Real publishers don’t solicit work. Anyone who wants you to pay to publish your work will print the work, but they will not publish it in any normal sense. Your work will not appear in bookshops. You will not make money from it. And there are lots of bandits out there. (You have been warned.) Who knows, though? Rupi Kaur self-published her poetry. Now Milk and Honey is published by Andrews McNeel. Good luck. Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

How To Write According To The Myers Briggs Personality Type

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

How to Create a Great Inciting Incident

Got a great plot-twist in mind, but not quite sure how to get there? C M Taylor’s blog post will help you piece together your ideas and show you how to implement that all important inciting incident. The catalyst. The plot-twist. Or, as we’re calling it here, the inciting incident is the pivotal moment when your protagonist is forced to change course. This blog post will give you all the tools you’ll need to create your own page-turning incident. What Is An Inciting Incident? Put as simply as possible, the inciting incident is an event that occurs, in relation to your protagonist, near to the beginning of your story, which sets that story moving in a different direction. The word ‘inciting’ is used because the event which occurs incites your protagonist towards a new course of action. But note, it causes them to react. It does not necessarily cause them to act at this point, that may come later. The inciting incident as we are calling it here has many names. Joseph Campbell in his book The Hero’s Journey calls it ‘The call to adventure’. Blake Snyder in his book Save The Cat refers to it as ‘the catalyst’.  Scott Myers, host of the esteemed Go Into The Story blog and resource calls it simply ‘the hook’. You can call it what you like, but in terms of how you tell your story, it has the same effect. It provokes the hero, it incites them, it creates a before and an after. The inciting incident is the gateway to the action. And like all gateways, it leads from something and it leads to something. The inciting incident leads from the before to the after. It leads from the world that was to the world that will be. Before the inciting incident, the world is as it was. The hero was about their normal business. They were doing what they normally do at work, at rest and at play. This is what Chris Vogler in his book The Writer’s Journey calls ‘the ordinary world’. It is what Dara Marks in her book Inside Story refers to the as ‘the known world’. It is what Blake Snyder calls the set-up. Snyder says that, ‘in the set-up you have told us what the world is like and in the catalyst you knock that wall down.’ The known world is suddenly not the only world there is. There is the glimmer, the allure of the new world on the horizon, tugging away at the hero. Perhaps not yet compelling the hero to act but certainly disturbing them with the strong sense that their everyday world is fragile and temporary... How to Write An Inciting Incident: Make sure the inciting incident is suitable for the genre you\'re writingAn inciting incident is normally (not always) done to not done by the protagonistThe event should upset the status quoIt should create questions for the reader and engage the reader\'s attentionAnd, generate a sense of urgency by setting the story in motion How Soon Should An Inciting Incident Take Place In My Novel? While there are strong tendencies and traditions, there is no programmatic answer to this question. It’s always a good idea to consider how you’re going to move your story on in the planning stages. Remember, most stories have an inciting incident that takes place very early on in the story, within the first 10-15% of elapsed story time, certainly within the first quarter of the story. But that does not have to be, because your story – its genre and tone – will dictate the nature of your inciting incident. I’ll explain… Five Tips to Write A Great Inciting Incident The Inciting Incident Is Commensurate With Your Genre And Theme In The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald, the inciting incident does not take place until a quarter of the way through the book. This is when the narrator of the novel meets the titular character for the first time and the relationship, which will define the plot’s course, commences. Now, even though this is an unusually long wait for an inciting incident, it is perfectly appropriate for the subject of the book. The Great Gatsby is a work of apostolic fiction – where one person tells the story of an impressive other. The book is about being dazzled by money, is about money separating the rich from others and from consequence, and it’s about the mysterious nature of the titular Gatsby. Dazzle, mystery, separation. What better subjects could justify holding off the meeting that incites the action than those? Holding off increases the allure, the anticipation, the yearning that are the subjects of the book. The subject and genre of the book has dictated the timing and nature of the inciting incident. Conversely, in the screenplay Juno by Diablo Cody, the inciting incident has already happened when the film begins. The titular Juno, a 16-year-old school student is already pregnant after a one-off dalliance with her best friend, Bleeker. How can you have an inciting incident happen before the story starts? Well, remember that the inciting incident is a departure from the known world. Now in many stories, the inciting incident obliges the hero to leave their physical world in quest and so the backstory of the character – the known world – needs to be sketched to show what is being departed from. But in Juno, Juno stays at home throughout the film. The film takes place in the backstory. There is no physical separation. It is an existential departure. The problem of the film for the main character Juno is how to integrate the unknown of the pregnancy into the known world. We see her friends, school, parents, home throughout the film. The contrast between the new world of the pregnancy integrating with the known world of the mundane high schooler is the subject. If you are writing an adventure story, the inciting incident might be a physical summons in some nature, a push or a pull into a new physical world. If you are writing a crime story the inciting incident is very often a crime, or villain, that is brought to the attention of the detective. The Inciting Incident Usually But Not Always Is done to Rather Than Done by the Protagonist The letter arrives. The stranger arrives. The murder is committed. The friend betrays. The partner leaves. The bank forecloses. The job ends. The aliens descend. The microfilm is stolen. But this is not always the case. Take the film Her for example. The protagonist of that film conjures the inciting incident themselves by buying the software with which they are going to fall in love. Whenever It Happens, and Whoever Authors It, the Inciting Incident Seems Designed to Upset the Status Quo As Robert Mckee says in his book Story, ‘The inciting incident radically upsets the balances of forces in your protagonist’s life.’ But that is not all. A great inciting incident, as Dara Marks says, ‘Prays on the inner conflict of the character established in The Known World.’ Harry Potter is already established as victimised and desperate to leave his known world before the letter from Hogwarts arrives. Luke Skywalker is already frustrated and bored on the farm before the message from Leia is transmitted from R2-D2. The protagonist is already susceptible to the summons of the inciting incident before it arrives and the incident maps on to and accelerates the disintegration of the status quo. Create Questions for the Reader The inciting incident introduces the central problem of the story. How will Juno handle the pregnancy? What will the narrator learn of the mysterious Gatsby now he has made his acquaintance? The protagonist is the avatar for the reader in the story and the summons for the unknown world creates mystery and urgency. Generate Some Sense of Urgency The ticking clock of Juno’s pregnancy means the action is concertinaed by necessity. The jeopardy voiced by Princess Leia communicates to Luke that he needs to get his skates on. The inciting incident sets off the ticking clock – the known world is disintegrating and the unknown is beckoning. And yet the inciting incident is just the call to adventure, it is not the adventure itself. It is the signal that the departure must be made, it is not the departure itself. The protagonist reacts to the incident - they do not yet act on it. In Joseph Campbell’s description of the underlying structures of narrative, what is followed by the call to adventure (our inciting incident) is the refusal of the call. At first, the new world which has beckoned the heroic character feels too onerous, too difficult, the cosy allure of the status quo, however dissatisfying, is stronger in the beginning than the summons. As Dara Marks explains in Inside Story, humans only ever act to make radical changes when the risk of staying the same is greater than the risk of changing. When the inciting incident arrives, the risk of staying the same is still not great enough in many examples to justify definitive action. The inciting incident is the beginning of the story arc. The inciting incident introduces the problem to be solved, it is not the protagonist acting to solve the problem. Cinderella receiving the invitation to the ball is not the same as her attending. Inciting Incidents: 8 Great Examples In the anonymous 14th century chivalric romance, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the gigantic Green Knight interrupts King Arthur’s New Year’s feast at Camelot to issue the gathered nobles with a challenge.In The 2015 Ridley Scott film The Martian, during a violent storm on the planet mars, botanist-astronaut Mark Watney is separated from his team. Believing him to be dead they take the difficult decision to evacuate without him, marooning Watney on the red planet.In the 1992 film by David Mamet, Glengarry Glen Ross, based on the author’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1983 play of the same name, the inciting incident occurs when the salesman Blake is sent from head office to motivate a team of dysfunctional salesman. Insulting and subjecting them to profane abuse, Blake challenges the team to sell or be sacked.In Homer’s 8th century BC epic The Odyssey, after the opening exposition, the hero Odysseus having being marooned in the known world of Ogygia for seven years, is visited by the Goddess Hermes who urges him to build a ship.In the 1942 Michael Curtiz film Casablanca, small time crook Ugarte shows Rik the letters of transit which will allow two people to leave the occupied city. Ugarte is arrested, leaving Rik with the letters.In Jane Austen’s 1813 novel Pride and Prejudice, Mr Darcy’s negative assessment of Elizabeth and his refusal to dance with her set in train the suppressed and combative emotions that will eventually see the two fall for each other. Just to really demonstrate this sense of how malleable the call to adventure can be, it is often said that in the romantic comedy genre it is the meeting of the lovers that is the call to adventure or the inciting incident (a moment that aficionados of the form refer to as the ‘meet cute’), but it really does not have to be so. To take a couple of examples… In the 1984 rom-com, Romancing The Stone, written by Diane Thomas, it is the arrival of a treasure map pointing to the possible whereabouts of her kidnapped sister Elaine which incites lonely romantic novelist Joan towards action.While in the 1993 Nora Ephron directed and co-written romantic comedy masterpiece Sleepless in Seattle, the lovers do not meet until the final sequence of the film, and it is the Meg Ryan character Annie hearing the Tom Hanks character Sam talk on the radio about his deceased wife that incites the lovers to cross paths. So, there we have it, a foolproof method to create an inciting incident. What do you think? Have we missed anything? Head on over to the Jericho Townhouse and let us know.  Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community.

Do I Query US Or UK Literary Agents? (A Simple Guide)

International writers often have to make choices about which literary agents to approach. Here’s a quick guide to help you make a decision. (If you’re unsure about what literary agents do, then have a quick read of this first.) US Vs. UK Agents- Which To Choose? On the whole, it’s simple. British authors write books. They send them to UK literary agents – often ones based in or close to London. A British agent finds a British publisher. Then, once that first crucial deal is in the bag, the process of international sales begins. For US authors, it’s the same. You find a literary agent, often one based in New York. They find a US publisher. You sign your US book deal, and off they go to see what you can get overseas. There are countless complications, though. What if you’re Irish? Or Australian? Or South African? Or Canadian? Or of dual citizenship? Or resident in one place, but citizen of another? There’s no easy way through such complexities. It all depends on your situation, the book you’re trying to sell. International Agent Submissions: The Basic Rules To start off super-simple, American authors (when resident in the US) will almost always seek a US literary agent in the first instance. British authors, resident in the UK or Europe, will almost certainly seek a British agent. So: Rule #1 In general, authors in the two largest English-speaking publishing markets should seek an agent local to that market: American agents for American writers, British agent for British writers. Easy. It’s not much more complicated if you are Irish or Canadian (or Aussie, or whatever) and writing a book of strictly local interest. So it’s pretty clear that The History of Kilarney Castle will have its best market in Ireland. Likewise, How To Care For Your Moose is likely to have a better market in Ontario than Orlando. In these cases, again, you can just play it simple. Rule #2 Authors in smaller publishing markets writing books of strictly local interestshould query local agents (if there are any) or just submit directly to local publishers, who will be happy to receive submissions. But of course plenty of Irish and Canadian authors are writing books with obvious international sales potential. So Colm Toibin and Tana French (both of Ireland) are great examples of smaller-market authors with terrific international sales. I’m reasonably confident that Margaret Atwood and Yann Martel (both of Canada) have sold a book or two in their time as well. This type of author has a choice. In the case of Ireland and Canada, these are both obviously satellite markets orbiting a much larger one right next door. So, one way or another, authors from these countries need to find a way to access that much bigger market Rule #3 Canadian authors with international sales potential can approach Canadian agents or US agents. Either way is fine. Likewise, Irish authors with international sales potential can approach Dublin-based agents or British agents. Either way is fine. If you’re opting for a locally based agent, you probably want to check that the person involved has a decent track record of sales into the larger market . . . but those checks are almost certainly going to come back in the affirmative, because Irish agents would struggle to live on sales into the local market alone. The same goes (if rather less emphatically) for Canadian literary agents. For more distant locales – South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, or anywhere else come to that – you need to play it a little bit by ear. UK literary agents tend to be more naturally international, and UK publishers have closer connections with the Commonwealth (which, in publisher-land, includes Ireland but not Canada). Overall, writers from the Commonwealth will naturally knock on a London door first, but there are exceptions. If I were an Aussie sci-fi writer, for example, I might well be attracted to the US market, because of its depth. So, our (slightly fuzzy) fourth rule runs as follows: Rule #4 International authors from Commonwealth countries should probably query UK literary agents in the first instance.International authors from non-Commonwealth countries should probably query US agents. But this rule is fuzzy, because US agents would be perfectly happy to receive a great submission from India / Singapore / Nigeria / Australia. Likewise British agents would be perfectly happy to receive a great submission from Argentina / Japan / the Philippines. Often when (say) a Nigerian writers does choose to query a US literary agent as a first step that’ll be because they have some kind of connection with the US that makes it a natural thing to do. So when Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie chose to seek US representation for her first novel, she did so because she was studying in the US. She felt part-American. She was resident there. For her, it would have been unnatural to query an agent in London, simply because Union Jacks once flew in Lagos. You can apply the same basic tests. Truth is, no one cares too much. And if your manuscript is absolutely amazing, then no one will care at all. But what about if you were an American living permanently in the UK? Or a Brit living permanently in the US? Well, our even fuzzier fifth rule is: Rule #5 You probably want to prioritise residency over passport when it comes to querying agents.(But no one really cares.)(So you can go either way.) As a matter of fact, if the circumstances of your life are such that you can provide plausible sounding reasons for submitting queries to both major markets, then our (whisper it quietly, tell no one you’re doing this) sixth rule is: Rule #6 If you want to query agents in both markets . . .And you’ve got reasonably plausible reasons for choosing either market . . .And you don’t tell agents, “Hey, I’m just querying everyone,” . . .Then you’ll probably get away with it. After all, it’s not like anyone checks. Or cares that much. You’re not breaking any rules. There’s one curious issue, though, to which there’s no good answer. Bestselling thriller writer (and one of our Festival of Writing speakers) R.J. Ellory writes very good US-set thrillers, but he’s British . . . and for a long time he struggled to find an agent. UK literary agents were reluctant to take him on because his books sounded like they’d been written by an American. US agents were reluctant to take him on because he was British, without representation in London or a UK book deal. That meant that American agents, even if they liked his work, felt kind of suspicious. How come this guy hadn’t got local representation? It sounded like there might be a catch somewhere. In the end, he was so good that he was taken on (in Britain, first). His career took off. This story brings us to our seventh rule, the super-essential Ur-rule for all agency submissions: Rule #7 Write a super-incredible dazzling book. If you obey that rule, then the truth is that nothing else really matters. Any agent from anywhere will want your work. Where Do You Find A List Of International Literary Agents? Why, you find it here, of course. On Agent Match. Agent Match here on Jericho Writers is a complete, searchable, database of literary agents. It\'s the biggest agent database on the planet, covering nearly every literary agent active worldwide. And it\'s not just a comprehensive database, it\'s a smart one. Let\'s say you wanted to search for: “Literary agents in the USwho are open to historical fiction submissionsand who are currently seeking new writers” . . . well, you could perform that search in about twenty seconds. And get a complete answer. And a complete set of agent profiles for absolutely everyone on that list. I mean, maybe you’d prefer to spend a week on Google (and get a slightly worse set of answers), but it’s totally your call. Access to AgentMatch is restricted to members of Jericho Writers . . . but since membership of JW confers an awesome cornucopia of writerly fabulousness, you probably want to consider membership no matter what. Which leads us to a bonus rule, rule number eight... Bonus Rule #8 Find out more about Jericho Writers! You’ll be rootin-tootin glad you did. I do hope you come and join us. We’d love it if you did! Any more questions? You can contact us here. More than ready to get the ball rolling with agents, but just need a little push? Or perhaps you’ve had a few rejections but aren’t sure why? Our Agent Submission Pack Review gives you detailed professional advice on how to perfect your submission and increase your chances of securing an agent. Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

Narrative Distance Definition (With Examples For Fiction Writers)

What is narrative distance or psychic distance in fiction? Find out what it is and why it counts. Are you ever boggled by how many decisions you have to make, and keep making, as you write your story? When you’re imagining a scene, which aspects of it do you put on the page? And how much of them? What about showing and telling? What about point-of-view – and how do you move into a different one? What about the stuff about “close third” versus “omniscient” narrators? And what if you’re in first person anyway? And then there’s voice, the thing which all editors and agents say they look for – but what does that mean for how you write this sentence? It’s all very confusing. Which is why, when I first came across the concept of Narrative Distance or Psychic Distance in John Gardner’s classic The Art of Fiction, I whooped with joy. Not only does it integrate all those different questions into one simple one, it gives you a sure way to make sure that readers feel involved with your characters, while you also keep the story cracking on. So these days it’s a key part of my teaching. Not least on the course Self-Editing Your Novel I developed and co-teach with Debi Alper at Jericho Writers. What Is Narrative Distance Or Psychic Distance? The basic idea is this. As well as evoking external events, a novel’s narrative takes the reader inside one or more characters, to evoke thoughts, feelings, perceptions and moment-by-moment physical experience. Crucially, this isn’t a binary inside/outside decision, it’s a spectrum, with the writer controlling how deep we feel we are inside that subjective, individual, close-up of a character’s consciousness. And the writer also controls how far out the narrative takes us, towards an objective, wide angle telling of those events that is beyond any one character’s experience. It was winter of the year 1853. A large man stepped out of a doorway.Henry J. Warburton had never much cared for snowstorms.Henry hated snowstorms.God how he hated these damn snowstorms.Under your collar, down inside your shoes, freezing and plugging up your miserable soul. These are just points on a spectrum, of course, but look at they changes the reader’s experience of this moment in the scene: Level 1: Remote and objective. The narrator – the storyteller – conveys lots of information about what’s happening (Telling, if you like) but no evocation of that man’s direct experience. It’s a camera long-shot, which is also wideangle.Level 2: We get a bit closer, because we’re given individual information about him. His name and his emotions. But it is information, conveyed by the storyteller in the storyteller’s voice.Level 3: Henry is starting to feel like someone we know, while “hated” evokes his emotion a bit, rather than just informing us of it.Level 4: Shifts into free indirect style. The narrator’s voice being coloured by Henry’s own voice, so we feel much closer inside Henry’s personality. But because we’re still in the narrative’s past tense and third person, we haven’t broken with the flow of it. There’s lots of showing, but not much information; it’s like a close-up of Henry’s face.Level 5: Henry’s direct experience has taken over. The writer is evoking a brain-download – a stream of his consciousness in this – and the storyteller has faded out. This access deep inside a character is unique to fiction, a place that a movie camera can’t go. Notice how what aspects of the scene get evoked depends on which character’s viewpoint we’re in. Maybe Henry’s wife Jane likes snowstorms. Her Level 4 might be Oh, how she loved feeling snowflakes on her nose, her Level 5 a download of happy snowballing-memories. On the other hand, the storyteller’s “Jane S. Warburton had always enjoyed snowstorms” is no different in voice or perspective from Henry’s equivalent. How To Know The Levels Of Narrative Distance At Any Moment If you’re writing in first person, your narrator or storyteller happens to be narrating events that they were part of, so to get your head round this, keep thinking of them as two different entities. Here, Old Hal is telling a story about his childhood: In the far-off days of Uther Pendragon, witches stalked the earth.Every village had its witch, and we feared or consulted her according to how desperate we were.When I was a child Mistress Margit frightened me, and when she walked down the street the big ones would shout “Here comes Old Margit!”, while I hid and crossed myself.And here came Old Margit, with her ragged clothes and her big black cat, and I shivered and prayed because St Mary would save me, wouldn’t she?Margit’s coming and her cloak like little demons dancing and what’ll I do – mustn’t catch her eye – hide in the ditch cold and wet but Black Peter will see me – Mother Mary save me, he’ll look at you and then Margit can see into your mind and plant demons in there and… Of course, in real writing, the narrative will not stick at one level for very long at all. It will move dynamically to and fro, according to what’s right for the storytelling and characters at that moment. More evocation, showing, subjectivity, character’s-voicey-ness? Or more information, telling, objectivity, storyteller-in-charge? All you have to do is ask yourself, “How close-in or far-out should I be at this moment?” and all those other questions are answered. Most mainstream fiction will spend much of its time round about the 3-4 areas of the spectrum. Just don’t forget that the far-out distances are brilliant for scene-setting and conveying the big information that we need to know before we close in. And the deepest-in, stream-of-consciousnessy close narrative distances are great when the viewpoint character does lose touch with ordinary life – extreme grief or joy, sex, violence, drugs or drink. And, finally, on changing point of view, have you noticed how the far-out levels don’t inhabit any character’s individual voice or point-of-view? The storyteller is in charge. So, to move from Henry’s voice-and-point-of-view into Jane’s, just move outwards from hers, by stages – 4, 3, 2 – into that neutral, storyteller’s space, then go inwards, by stages – 2, 3, 4 – into Jane’s. And there you have narrative or psychic distance in fiction writing. (If you’d like to explore this in more detail, click through to more resources on my blog, too!) Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

How To Find A Literary Agent For Non-Fiction

Here’s how to find non-fiction book publishing literary agents, what kinds of non-fiction they’re looking for, and how to give them what they want. What Does A Literary Agent Do? So, why should you try to get an agent for your book? What do agents do? Well, literary agents work with writers to help them promote their work, pitch it to publishers and other professionals in the industry, and act on their behalf. Some agents also help writers to edit their manuscripts. They are key figures who help negotiate, and co-ordinate between writers and editors/publishers. What Are Non-Fiction Agents Looking For? All agents are looking for the same thing: saleable manuscripts that might make money. Whilst specialist or academic non-fiction isn’t on the cards (you’ll need a book proposal to pitch to non-fiction publishers, in this instance), non-fiction literary agents are looking for: Anything celebrity-led, and written by or endorsed by that celebrity;A strong and compelling personal memoir;A funny, moving, exotic tale of travel;A popular science tome;A narrative-led history;A biography, if the subject in question is genuinely famous;A major new diet and motivational work;A strong, quirky one-off. What no one’s looking for is niche. Guidebooks in minor subject areas, books of local history, biographies of little-known subjects, aren’t sought after. These books may well sell to the right publishers, though mightn’t sell for enough money to make it worth an agent’s while to get involved. In such cases, it’s fine to approach publishers direct. Where Can You Find Non-Fiction Literary Agents? Very few agents specialise in non-fiction. Most literary agents handle fiction and non-fiction, literary and commercial work. Some specialist non-fiction agents do exist, but you’re better off seeking a good all-purpose agent for your work. I’ve sold four non-fiction books myself, it didn’t occur to me to switch to a ‘specialist’ agent, and I’m quite certain that I wouldn’t have achieved a better outcome if I had done. What matters is the quality of the agent, not whether they specialise in a certain area. There are however exceptions to this general rule, namely: If you are writing a cookbook, health, diet or how-to book, you may well want an agent who specialises in this niche. You may need a prolific presence first. It’s not an easy area to crack.If you want a ghost-writer to tell your story for you, you probably want an agent who has worked in this way with previous clients, but be realistic. Very few personal stories are interesting and commercial enough to justify the cost of ghost-writing so in general, if you want a story written, you’ll need to write it yourself (or ask us to help.) If you need more details, use agents’ websites to narrow down who’s interested in what, and do look at this guide on how to find a literary agent. How Can You Give Literary Agents What They Want? First, you need to decide what you are going to present to agents. With fiction, you always need to write the whole book. With non-fiction, you can often get away with offering agents a book proposal – that is, an outline version of the book you intend to write. If your book is strongly story-led (true of most memoir, for example), you’d be advised to write the whole thing before seeking agents. If your story is more subject-led, it’s usually fine to work off the back of a proposal. Second, you need to deliver a wonderful, saleable manuscript. That means: Strong, popular, entertaining writing (even if your subject is an extremely interesting one, people won’t want to read what you have to say about it if you write badly, so don’t).Write for the market. It’s obvious, but most non-fiction manuscripts aren’t written for the market. If you’re not sure what your market is, go to a bookstore and get the answer. Third, if you get knocked back by literary agents (non-fiction or generalist) – or if you want to give yourself the best possible chance before you approach them – then go and get professional advice. We’ve helped propel non-fiction books into print. Authors brought us ideas, talent, work ethic. We brought knowledge of the market, contacts, and expertise in writing. Put those things together, and you can have a powerful combination with eventual success. That’s how to find a literary agent for non-fiction. Best of luck. More than ready to get the ball rolling with agents, but just need a little push? Or perhaps you’ve had a few rejections but aren’t sure why? Our Agent Submission Pack Review gives you detailed professional advice on how to perfect your submission and increase your chances of securing an agent. Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community.  More On UK Literary Agents

Profanity In Writing – When Is It OK To Swear In Writing? (The F-Bomb: A User’s Guide)

A short guide to obscenity, profanity, cussing, and creative swearing in the novel. In this post, we discuss swearing and bad language when it comes to writing fiction. (And, uh, trigger warning, guys: this post is going to use some naughty fucking language, so if that’s a problem for you, you may want to hasten away to the unthreatening pastures of Cozy Mystery or Amish Romance. Right here, on this post, we’re gonna swear like a GI with Tourettes.) Is that fucking OK with you? It is? Cool. So the questions we’re going to face are: Is it OK to swear?How much do novelists (in a fairly, though not extremely, gritty genre) generally swear?And are there any rules which govern the scale or amount of your swearing? And I should fess up. I’m not super-potty mouthed myself, but I’m perfectly comfortable with using obscenity and profanity in general fiction. This novel of mine, for example, contains 125,000 words, of which no fewer than 78 are ‘fuck’ or its variants. First Lesson: Swearing Is Ok Which suggests that the first lesson of this short post is a simple one: it’s okay to use the word ‘fuck’ for effect, depending on genre. And to be clear: mine is a crime novel. Its heroine (and first person narrator), Fi, is gritty and direct in her speech. For me and my story, not to use the word ‘fuck’ would be to betray both character and story. Because Fi often swears, I have to. There’s no other way to do it. In short, the presence of at least some swearing in the story is as important to the atmosphere and mood as the presence of the Welsh hills themselves. Bad language doesn’t have to be lazy writing: it’s often essential. Be True To Your Genre Swearing in itself doesn’t matter. All that matters are your story and your characters. If some obscenity is right for those things, then it’s right to use it. For example: War fiction (even, quite possibly, historical war fiction) is probably not going to come over as very realistic, unless there’s some bad language. That doesn’t mean your characters should swear as much as real soldiers in actual combat: your job, always, is to create the semblance of reality; your adherence to actual reality is much less important.For the same kind of reason, contemporary grit-lit, all sink estates and drug dealers, will sound wrong if characters don’t swear fairly copiously. A boozy, relaxed contemporary love story won’t probably have copious swearing, but it too is unlikely to want to avoid it completely. More broadly, swearing is exciting because it’s taboo-breaking: the amygdala in the brain actually responds differently to swearwords than it does to any other type of language. In effect, obscenity gives the writer a very specific colour that nothing else quite does. Possibly, your canvas doesn’t need that colour – Jugular Crimson, let’s call it – but if it does, or might, there’s no real substitute. And because swearing is taboo-breaking, it also introduces an edge of force, of toughness that otherwise only violence, or the threat of violence, quite can. My own crime novels, for example, do feel quite dark. That is: they speak of a world where violence is possible and where its consequences actually matter. (No Colonel White bumped off with a candlestick, and no one quite caring about his death, except that it creates a jolly good mystery.) But although my novels carry that edge of force, of possible violence, they aren’t actually especially violent at all. There’s not a lot of on-screen violence. Very few gun-fights, punch-ups, car chases and the rest. But my violence, when it comes, is, I hope, well-chosen, and a spatter of bad language in the book maintains a sense of edge, of pressure. At the same time, if my story were something quite else – a light romance set around a pensioners’ knitting circle – excessive use of foul language would be quite inappropriate. Indeed, if a mild mannered knitting grandee were brought to the point where she said something like, “Get out, damn it, get out!”, it might well be that in the context of that novel that ‘damn it’ indicated some very strong emotional turbulence. It might, in other words, work exactly the same way as “Go fuck yourself” in a less genteel novel. What To Do About Reader Emails I should say as well that any vaguely sweary author with half-decent sales will get emails from (mostly American) readers complaining about the use of the f-bomb. If you make much use of blasphemy, you’ll get similar comments. And, well, I don’t disrespect those readers or their comments. They’re not simply entitled to their views. At a guess, I’d say those readers are more likely to mow their lawns, be helpful to strangers, pay their taxes, and in countless other ways be upstanding members of society. But as an author, I think you just have to accept that you can’t please all the people all the time. You’ll kill your novel if you even try. So when I get negative reviews to the effect that “this guy can write, but it’s all a bit too dark / sweary / graphic for me”, then I just think fine. I’m just not writing the kind of book that reader was ever going to like. As long as I please “my” core readers, I ought to be happy. Swearwords On The Page Are Stronger Than Swearwords In Life Having said that, you also do need to bear in mind that swearwords sound fiercer on the page than they do in life. Soldiers may use swearwords freely. (One possibly apocryphal tale from WW2 has a Scots driver analyse his broken car with the fine sentence, ‘the focking focker’s focking focked.’) But to use them on the page as freely as soldiers do in real life – that’s probably excessive. You are imitating the effect of reality, not reproducing it. For the same reason, repetition grates on the ear, so even if you want a scene full of strong expletives, it’s probably worth tossing in some variety, or at least making sure that any repetition looks chosen, not inadvertent. Use The Expressive Power Of Creative Swearing It’s a cliché among the sort of people who don’t like bad language that the use of expletives arises from a lack of imagination. Well, perhaps, in some contexts. But in others, even an expletive can be a writerly word so long as it’s deft, well-chosen. Here’s a tiny snippet from my third Fiona Griffiths novel. (And it’s naughty, but I like it.) I have a brief interview with the duty solicitor. She seems like a nice woman – Barbara, mumsy, keen to help. I tell her to fuck off. Then sit without speaking for ten minutes. Then we’re done. For my money at least, that instance of the word ‘fuck’ is precise, neat and well-chosen. The  description of Barbara – mumsy, nice, keen to help – gets the reader thinking along one path. (Roughly, “Oh, Fi is going to hit it off with this nice duty-solicitor”). Then, boom, that swear word blows everything up. It trashes that particular train of thought. It’s particularly shocking here because Fi is deliberately being rude to someone who is actually nice and helpful. And that whole 180 degree pivot occurs in the space of a single word. The abrupt ending of our hopes for Barbara mirrors precisely what has happened in the interview room itself. For those (few) prudes who don’t like swearing, I have to ask: is there anything that could have completed that pivot more emphatically and more neatly? I want to say, no. In contexts like that, I don’t think you can say that swearing is lazy writing. I think it can be good, efficient, well-chosen writing. When Swearing Is Just Lazy There are examples, however, when swearing is just lazy. Take this snippet for example (from Old Habits): Ghost malls are even sadder than living people malls, even though malls of the living are already pretty damned sad places to be. And let me get this out of the way right now, before we go any farther; I’m dead, okay? I’m fucking dead. (My italics) The italicised bits – a damned, a fucking – are used just as intensifiers. A substitute for the word ‘very’. So here’s a plea from me: Harry’s Plea~~~ Please don’t use swearwords as simple intensifiers ~~~ Swearwords are beautiful and special things because: They are shocking – taboo-breakingThey are like a small form of linguistic violenceThey can mark character traits or moods or turning pointsThey can be used for comic effect If all your characters use swearwords in all moods, elevated or not, then you’ve basically drained the Swearword Proper of all function. You do just have another way to say “very” . . . and we’ve got a million alternatives for that already. Did you know? Jericho Writers is a club for writers. That is: we are a club for people like you. We’d love it if you chose to join us. Membership is low cost and it’s cancel-any-time, so you can just try it and see. You can learn lots more about what we do and why you might love us right here. And, you know, it’s just one click to find out more. One tiny little click. How Much Swearing Is Normal? I mentioned that my book of the moment contains about 70 uses of the word fuck (and its derivatives: fucked, fucking, and so forth.) Is that a lot? Or a little? I didn’t know, so I decided to compare notes with some crime writer buddies of mine. To that end, I created a brand new tool, which I immediately christened the Fuckety Index. You calculate your personal Fuckety Score as follows: The Fuckety Index(A) Find the number of times you use the word “fuck” in your novel(B) Take your total novel word count, and divide by 1000 (so a 80,000 word would score 80)(C) Your Fuckety Score = A divided by B Users notes:The easiest way to count your “fuck”s is to Find the word fuck and replace with the word fuck. Then hit Replace All. You’re making no actual changes to your novel, because you’re just replacing one word with the same thing, but you are also picking up all those fuckeds, and fuckings, etc. If you are using MS Word, you’ll get a message like “34 changes made” and that number is the one you need for (A) above. Fuckety Score of 0 You are writing Amish Romance. Or Cozy Mystery. I don’t know why you’re reading this article. Fuckety Score of 0.1 to 0.5 Your book is unsweary. Any mainstream fiction can have a Fuckety Score in this range and not be thought of as especially sweary. Fuckety Score of 0.5 to 1.0 This is pretty normal for any gritty genre, such as crime. I’m about average, in fact, for my genre. Fuckety Score of 1.0 to 2.0 Yep, you’re pretty fucking sweary, even if you are writing in a reasonably gritty genre. Fuckety score of more than 2.0 I’m scared of you. You are very sweary and are probably dangerous. So,um, I think your writing is great, yeah? Not too much swearing. No, no. Not at all. ** Backs gingerly away ** When Not To Swear If you’re writing for young children, then bad language is just not okay. When it comes to writing for Young Adults, swearing is allowed, so long as the themes of your novel demand it and you’re writing for the more mature YA audience (that is, one likely to be making its own book selections). US audiences too tend to be more prudish than British ones: many is the time I’ve been reproved by American readers for my use of the ‘f-bomb’. I’ve never yet had a British reader complain. On more general fiction, you just need to feel your way for yourself. If you’re writing Jane Austen era romance, you might wish to avoid obscenity. On the other hand, the probability is that past ages swore much more than we do, and a writer like Antonia Hodgson deals with the Georgian period in a very different way from Jane Austen. But it’s your call. Happy swearing writing. Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

What Makes A Good Villain- Build Your Own Bad Guy

Ever wondered what makes a great villain? Well, guest author C M Taylor has given you all you need to build your own bad guy in this blog post. In this blog, C M Taylor takes inspiration from some of the greatest fictional villains of all time to help you create a villain of your own - a dazzling and multi-dimensional bad guy.  What Is A Villain? The term ‘villain’ defines a character who personifies the forces which thwart the progress of the main character. Now, while it is feasible that the villain is the main character – and we will come on to that less usual and more nuanced situation later on – in the vast majority of cases, the villain is villainous in relation to opposing the needs and desires of the main character. This structural role of antagonising the main character is the reason the villain is often described as the antagonist. They are a character who stands in negative relation to the spiritual, emotional, moral or financial progress of the main character, a character who is often described as the protagonist. How To Write A Memorable Villain: Let your theme influence their traitsUse their backstory to show why they’re like thisHumanise your villain. Show why they became corruptedMemorable injuries are clichés. AvoidTo compete with the protagonist, your villain also needs to be specialYour villain should feel unbeatable, at least for a while Why Do Villains Matter To Fiction? Answering this involves taking this question right back to ask ourselves: what is a story? The crux of a story is concerned with how the main character changes, or fails to change, over time, in contact with internal, external and relationship pressures. A story is a map of this change over time, or this failure to change over time. The change is both an internal, emotional journey and an external, physical journey. Now if the journey comes easily, then there will be no drama, because drama requires struggle. The journey which the protagonist goes on needs to be ripe with struggle – with obstacles, tests, high stakes. The most common and identifiable way to manifest struggle is to have it between people. Between the antagonist (or villain) and the protagonist (or heroic character). It is the antagonist who provides the obstacles standing in the way of the protagonist’s need to consummate their change. It is the test of wills between the antagonist and the protagonist that generates the struggle. On a very simple level, in terms of the mechanics of plot, it is the villain who sets the test and the heroic character who sits the test. It is the villain whose actions provoke the need for the hero to act. Batman without The Joker would have no need to act. The villain is a dark twin to the hero. The villain embodies the shadow qualities of the hero. The villain is what the hero might have been, what the hero might be, should they make the wrong choices, which is what gives rise to the clichéd piece of film dialogue, ‘We are not so different you and I, Mr Bond.’ If the heroic character struggles to embody the positive possibilities in a work of fiction, the villain convincingly embodies the negative aspects. The villain personifies the specific forces of antagonism which aim to prevent the protagonist from completing their internal and external journey. Does Every Story Need A Villain? The short answer to this question is no – in terms of the villain being a physical personification of antagonism, not every story has or needs this. A story needs antagonism, yes, and most usually this antagonism takes the form of a human being standing in opposition to the progress of the heroic character, but it is not necessary to do this. Antagonism can be generated in other variations than the single, embodied villain. The antagonism might be within the heroic character themselves. It might be a mistaken belief about life which leads them astray or into repeated unhealthy actions; or it might be an addiction. Note that choosing to centre the antagonistic force internal to the main character influences what type of story you are telling. It would be hard to make this choice and write an action story, for example. The choice to situate the main antagonistic force internally, as an aspect of the heroic character, is more associated with character-led stories – literary or dramatic works, or sometimes the psychological thriller. Whereas the more traditional human villain personification of antagonistic force is more usual within crime or fantasy or action stories. There are other forms of antagonism too. It might be centred around a group of people. It might be the family that a young person needs to escape to ‘become’ whole. Or it might be the pain still felt when a parent abandoned a child. Or it might be a best friend who continually leads the main character into activities which are against their best interests. Basically, antagonistic forces can be anything as long as they are the main obstacle in the way of the protagonist achieving what they most need. Traditionally this force has been embodied via the personification of a villain, but the villainous function can be performed within a story by other forces. How To Create A Memorable Villain: A Checklist Thematically A writer can usefully begin their creation of a villain via an understanding of theme. Are you writing about loyalty, for example? In which case, your protagonist has issues with loyalty which they must overcome, via the obstacles of the plot, to achieve a healthy, positive attitude to loyalty. Hence the role of the villain is to embody and prosecute a version of loyalty which is negative but tempting, which is corrupt but seductive, which might derail the heroic character’s attempt to achieve a healthy version of the theme. It is the villain’s job to oppose the progress of the hero, and so, knowing the specific thematic nature of the progress which the hero must make, that necessarily takes you some way to defining the nature of your villain. Your villain must be suitable and specifically adept at preventing the thematic success of your hero, hence must embody a negative version of that theme. Via Backstory So, once you have understood your theme and decided which negative version of the theme is embodied by your villain, you next ask yourself why they are like this. For an example, let’s stick with the theme of loyalty. Your villain might espouse a version of loyalty which states you must have only loyalty to yourself, or loyalty to chaos, or loyalty to crime, or loyalty to the dead. Any unhealthy version of the theme will do. Let’s pick they have loyalty to chaos and want to bring disorder and anarchy to the whole world. Why are they like this? Their parents were unbelievably controlling and up-tight and rational and crushed the villain with their excessive punctiliousness maybe. Or the villain and their brother were in some youth cadet force which was all about order and discipline and the brother died in an accident born of excessive following of the rules. You see, once you have your thematic relation, you move to explain it via the backstory. (Want to explore this more? Then check out this article on character motivation.) Good-Turned-Bad Our thematically-driven excavation and development of the villain’s backstory allows us to take an emotionally logical approach and explain why the villain is like they are. Continuing with our theme of loyalty, our rule-following cadet was eager and good to start with, tragic events having turned them on to a negative chaotic version of loyalty. Or our young child started off good but was hounded by neurotically rule-bound parents to crave the release of chaos. If you show the reader that it is emotionally logical for the villain to have passed from a state of health to their current corrupted self as a consequence of events, you humanise the villain. You make the reader think that they themselves might plausibly have reacted the same way in the same circumstances. You give the villain an emotional plausibility and a gravitas. And a decent villain needs gravitas, needs the emotional plausibility and heft to pull the villain into their version of the theme, into their version of reality. A good villain is like a moral centrifuge. What they pull towards them and put in peril is the hero’s self, their morality, the hero’s version of the theme. Showing it was entirely reasonable for the villain to arrive at the moral place they are in shows that the hero might arrive their too, and so puts a huge amount of jeopardy in play for the hero. Memorable Injury The clichéd villain is often physically disfigured, right? There being a suggestion of a relationship between moral and physical disfigurement. I would however caution against this simple equation, quite apart from it perpetuating discrimination against people who are unfortunate enough to be physically disfigured, it has been done to death. Why not mix it up? The hero is trying to overcome prejudice against their physical disfigurement while the gorgeous villain is prone to the ravages of narcissism. Alarming Gifts Your protagonist has to be special. In some genres like fantasy or science fiction they can be ‘the one’ level of special. In genres such as crime or thriller they can ‘exceptional human being’ levels of special. In genres such as romance or realism, they can ‘normal person pushed to the edge behaves heroically’ levels of special. And if your protagonist is special well, given that it is the job of the villain to oppose the protagonist, then in order to seem anything like able to compete with the hero, the villain needs to be special too. The Unbeatable Villain Every villain needs to seem unbeatable to start with. The obstacles they place in the way of the protagonist must seem insurmountable. If the hero can beat the villain at the beginning, then there are no struggles needed. It is the insurmountable villain that causes the hero to develop and grow. It may be that your story is a tragic and the hero fails to beat the villain in the end. However it ends, in the beginning there must be no way that the hero – in their current state – can compete. How To Create A Likeable Villain As I write above, the villain stands or falls on the plausibility of their world view – the villain is the hero in their own eyes. If you can show why the villain has ventured from the path of moral health to become the creature they are today then you have created the route by which the reader can empathise with the villain. And if they can empathise then – in the current parlance – they can possess relatability. All the best characters are layered, multidimensional and above all, unique. So, if your bad guy can have some redeeming qualities, or a journey that the reader can connect with, then that could definitely make for an interesting read. What If Your Protagonist Is A Villain? Your protagonist can be both hero and villain – look at Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Or your protagonist can be a criminal – look at The Godfather, at Breaking Bad, at The Sopranos, at Crime and Punishment. Or your protagonist can be an anti-hero – look at Mr Robot.  They can be any of those things. As long as they are subject to thematically congruent antagonistic forces, the rules are the same. As long as we know why they are like they are – In The Godfather, Michael Corleone gets pulled back into the family business of murder and extortion through love of his threatened father. Walter White sells meth – initially at least – to protect his ill family in Breaking Bad. Elliot from Mr Robot illegally hacks computers to out greater criminals. This is a common strategy – outflanking your villains with even greater villains to make your villain comparatively empathetic. Look at Dexter. Yes, he is a serial killer, but he only kills people who are themselves worse than him. He performs bad acts for a comprehensible and relatable reason. Inspirational Bad Guys: 12 Great Examples Tricking Othello into murdering his own wife makes Iago a pretty good start to our collection. Another trickster, in Treasure Island, Long John Silver tricks Jim Hawkins, disguising his own role as leader of the mutiny. Why do we care for and want the sociopathic murder Tom Ripley to escape throughout Patricia Highsmith’s Mr Ripley novels? Because he feels love and we feel his vulnerability and inadequacy. And why do we admire Hannibal Lecter in Thomas Harris’ novels? Because he is brilliant and stylish and logical. Only somebody as prodigiously gifted as Moriarty could aspire to being a villain worthy of Sherlock Holmes special powers. Anne Wilkes in Stephen King’s Misery turns out to the fan no writer wants. Xan may seem like the villain in P D James’ The Children of Men but isn’t the broader antagonistic force that of infertility itself. No mistaking that it’s a shark who is the villain of Peter Benchley’s novel, Jaws. Isn’t narcissism the antagonistic force in play in Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Grey? Are dinosaurs the antagonistic force of Jurassic Park? Rather I would say it was the human vanity and over-reaching that lead to the recreation of dinosaurs in the first place. Same with Dr Frankenstein – it’s the Dr not the monster who sets the test. Isn’t the entire Republic of Gilead the antagonist force in The Handmaid’s Tale? So, there we have it, a foolproof method to build your very own bad guy. Have we missed anything? Anything else you’d like to add? Head on over to the Jericho Townhouse and let us know what you think.  Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

How To Write A Children’s Book: All You Need To Know

There are some people who will tell you that writing a children’s book is really easy. I mean – they’re shorter than books for adults, right? Wrong. Writing children\'s books is actually a lot harder than it looks! In this article I will be explaining what it takes to write great children\'s books, how to avoid classic mistakes and how to get your book published. How To Write A Children’s Book In 10 Steps: Know the children’s book marketRead contemporary children’s booksHave a unique ideaCreate relatable charactersPlot using character arcsFind a captivating voiceUse settings and experiences kids recogniseWrite and re-write!Avoid classic mistakes all new writers makeGet an agent Writing books for children isn’t an easy alternative to writing a long adult novel - in fact writing a book in fewer words is harder than churning out a lengthy tome. There are a whole host of new things you have to consider when writing for children that wouldn’t cross the mind of an adult novelist. How do I know? Well, I’ve been writing books for children and young adults since I was just a kid myself. When I began, I thought it was going to be easy, too. Three dead books, over fifty rejections and fourteen years later – I realised that it was a whole lot harder than it looks. Writing Your First Children\'s Book Sometimes, in the world of writing, you need to stop. Take a deep breath. And change tactics. And that\'s exactly what I did. Instead of giving up after so many set backs I sat down and I followed a set of rules to write a book for Young Adults called ‘Outside’. I sent it to an agent, who offered me representation within forty-four minutes of receiving it. And in January 2019, it was published in the UK by Penguin. Writing for children is hard. But you’ve got this. And this blog is going to tell you exactly what you need to write a book that children (and publishers) will love. And even though it’s going to be a difficult ride, I think you’re secretly going to love every minute of it – just like I did. So, where do you start? 1. Know The Children’s Book Market ‘Children’ isn’t a very defined audience. Within that category, you have babies and toddlers (board books and picture books), young children (early reader, chapter books, and middle grade), all the way through to teenagers - from those starting secondary school to those about to leave for university (teen and young adult books). Children’s books are as rich and diverse as children themselves, so it’s absolutely essential that you know exactly what kind of children you are writing for. The market tends to shift every few years, but in general, the categories within children’s books look a bit like this: Picture Books (0 – 5 years) Between 300 – 1000 words, depending on who the book is aimed at (babies 300, toddlers 500, pre-schoolers 1000).Early Readers (5 – 7 years) Less than 10,000 words. These books can be illustrated and are divided up into chapters.Lower Middle Grade (7 – 9 years) Between 10,000 – 30,000, depending on the reading age they are best suited for. The lower the reading age, the lower the word count.Middle Grade (9 – 11 years) Between 30,000 and 60,000. There is a bit more room in Middle Grade to push the boundaries of wordcount and theme, within reason.Teen (12+ years) Usually around 60,000, but there are books in this category as low as 40,000 and as high as 90,000!YA / Crossover (14+ years) Over 60,000 words. Fantasy books in this category can push the wordcount to more like 90,000, but usually around 60,000 – 70,000 is the magic number. As you can see, books for younger children are much shorter. To write picture books, you don’t have to rhyme, or even know an illustrator (in fact, some agents prefer writers to submit text minus any artwork, as they find it easier to match these with their own illustrators later). You do need to be able to tell a story that will make adults and babies feel all the feels though, within a very short word count. If you ask me, writing picture books might well be the hardest of all of these to perfect – and is one of the most competitive, too. Between ages 7 and 11, the reading ages start to shift. You might have an 8-year-old reading a book written for an 11-year-old, and that is okay! At this point, it’s worth thinking about things in terms of ‘Reading Age’ rather than actual age. Early Readers are for children who are just learning to read, and Lower Middle-Grade tends to be lighter, funny reads. Middle-Grade books are booming at the moment and are often read for pleasure by adults, too (myself included). They can be darker and you can push the wordcount a bit further. You can perhaps take a few more risks, providing the heart of the book is with the characters (more on that later). Then we have Young Adult (YA) fiction. I like to think of this as two categories: Teen and Young Adult / Crossover. Teen fiction tends to focus on topics affecting teenagers around 12-13 years old. They are lighter, sometimes funny books. Young Adult or Crossover fiction can be anything where the protagonist is under 18. They can be romances set in a school, or dark, chilling tales. You can find out more about average novel word counts in this article and how long chapters should be, these aren’t specific to children’s books, but make for an interesting read! Whatever age you choose to write for, ensure you know that market back-to-front. Which leads me to tip number two: 2. Read Contemporary Children’s Books The best way to know your market is to read everything you can that fits into it. Yes, adults can read children’s books for pleasure too, you know! Some of the most delicious and astounding books I have read have been for children. Don’t fall into the trap of re-reading the books you enjoyed as a child. The market is constantly evolving and what was publishable ‘way back then’ may not be marketable now. Keep your eye on books that are coming out this year, particularly debuts (as you’ll hopefully be one of those yourself soon!) When you are reading, make notes on things like sentence structure, characters and plot arcs. Is the language simple or sophisticated? What age are the characters? And what twists and turns appear in the story? This will help you no end when it comes to write your own. 3. Have A Unique Idea So, now we come to your own book (woohoo!). And I have some bad news, I’m afraid (boooo). The world of children’s books is incredibly competitive and only the absolute best books stand a chance of getting published. But that’s okay. Because you can make your story into one of those books using this blog post. And it starts with an astounding idea that will make an agent stop scrolling and forget to breathe. Think of your favourite stories. You can usually sum them up in one, hooky line, can’t you? Something like: “Death narrates as a girl steals books in WW2 Munich, as her foster parents conceal a Jewish fist-fighter in their home.” – The Book Thief “A girl has been trapped Inside her whole life, until one day she finds a hole in the wall.” – Okay, so that’s my book, but you get the idea. Your concept needs stakes. It needs to be different. It needs to pique interest. Nothing else will work for this market. Need some help developing an idea like this? Try this free Idea Generator – it comes via an email. You can also learn a lot from this post on How to Get Book Ideas. 4. Create Relatable Characters Okay, so you have your amazing concept that will hook an agent, then a publisher, then eventually a reader. Want to keep them? Then you’ll need to create characters that children can relate to. The first rule for this is to think about their ages in relation to the categories we outlined above. Usually, children like to read about characters a couple of years older than them. In Young Adult fiction, I usually make my characters between 15 and 17. 90% of books for children have children as their central protagonists. The other 10% is usually made up of animals and magical beings, but they will nearly always speak and act like children in that age group. They are hardly ever adults. The next thing is to think about the qualities that children of that age look for in a protagonist. Usually, this is bravery (although this doesn’t mean all characters need to be sword-fighters – there are many different kinds of bravery). Usually they are kind (although not always to everyone all the time). And usually they are quirky in some way – they have some interest or ideals that colour their world and make them interesting. Let’s take an example protagonist. ‘Charlie’ from ‘Charlie Changes into a Chicken’. This is a funny Lower Middle-Grade book, and the main character is a boy who suffers with anxiety. Whenever he gets anxious, he turns into an animal. And with his brother in hospital and the school play coming up, there is a lot to worry about. Although Charlie has something going on that I would hope most children can’t relate to (eg: turning into a pigeon), there’s an awful lot about him that readers want to root for. His anxiety is one – and the book does a lot to normalise this and teach the reader how to deal with it. He’s also a classic ‘good guy’ – always one to attempt to smooth things over with his bully, and worry about his brother. He is brave, kind and quirky. In terms of secondary characters, this book is great at busting stereotypes, and that’s really something to keep in mind when writing (more on this later). You’ve got a smart, scientific friend, as well as those who provide some comic relief. You’ve got an antagonist bully, who we understand. And other grown-up antagonists such as grumpy teachers, and parents who have the ability to be ‘disappointed’. In short, these are all characters that children around 8 years old will relate to and enjoy reading about. (As well as grown-up writers who have the mind of an 8-year-old, too!). It’s worth spending time getting to know your characters using something like this Ultimate Character Builder (downloadable via email). This worksheet asks hundreds of questions about your character that forces you to think of answers. Something else I quite like to do (mainly because it is wonderfully fun procrastination) is to use personality tests. Try getting into the mindset of your characters – including secondary characters – and taking the House and Patronus quizzes on Pottermore, for example. You might find out that your protagonist is a Slytherin with a rare winged Patronus, which might affect the way they behave in your plot. Another great tool can be found at 16 Personalities. This asks you a lot of questions and gives you a Myers-Briggs personality type at the end, with pages and pages of information about how that person would react to things like relationships, family and difficult situations. It’s worth spending some time doing some further reading on characterisation. Good places to start include learning about the theory of character development and spending some time making realistic antagonists, alongside your protagonist. 5. Plot Using Character Arcs When it comes to plotting a children’s book, it is useful to keep one bit of advice in mind at all times: Plot is driven by character. Never the other way around. If your characters are at the centre of your story, then you need to ensure that they are the ones driving it forwards. If you shoehorn them into a twist that goes against everything that your character stands for, then readers will be left cold. This is why the primary step to writing a children’s book is to get to know your characters back to front and inside out as we discussed earlier. Once you have a good idea about who they are, you can start using this information to plot your story. There are a number of ways you can plot a book, including methods like the Snowflake Method or using this guide on writing a plot outline. For me, I like to start with something my character wants. This can be simple, like perhaps they are looking forward to an upcoming school trip. Or it can be much bigger than that – like perhaps they want to keep their family safe from being picked for The Hunger Games. Next, you throw something in their path that means they can’t have what they want. They get framed for something they didn’t do at school and are banned from the school trip. Their sister is picked for The Hunger Games and they must volunteer as tribute to protect her from almost certain death. What comes next is a series of incidents that raises action and keeps your character on their journey. They try to sneak onto the school bus, but end up on the wrong one, going instead to France. They get off the bus for a wee and it drives off without them. They try to buy a baguette with their lunch money, but it gets eaten by a dog (which they are afraid of) etc etc. Within this middle point are highs and lows. They meet friends and helpers along the way – usually children their own age, or animals. There might even be other grown-up helpers or antagonists (think about Haymitch and Crane in The Hunger Games). Usually around the mid-point of the story, what your character wants has now changed. The boy on the school trip now wants to find a way to go home. Katniss in The Hunger Games wants to stay alive. This all leads up to the climax of the story – where all the issues you have dropped in before come to a head. There is usually a small battle to be won first – perhaps that is getting over the fear of dogs to save a friend in France, or it is beating the other Careers in order to stay alive in The Hunger Games. Then there is a small dip in action before the big beast is slayed – maybe that is as simple as finally asking for help to go home in France, or it is tricking the makers of The Hunger Games so that they can live. To finish off, we have the resolution. This is where you tie up the questions you set up earlier in the story and resolve differences between characters. Maybe we see the boy return from France and ask his parents for a pet dog. Or Katniss returning home to her family as victor (whilst also leaving something unresolved here with a larger antagonist for book two in the series). Even if you’re not traditionally a plotter, it is worth spending time thinking about the main beats in your story and how this relates to your character’s central journey. Thankfully, there’s loads of help for useless plotters (like me!). Some useful blog plots for further reading: this one on the seven basic plots. There are also some brilliant masterclasses on the subject by the brilliant Jeremy Sheldon and this one from C M Taylor, all free as part of the Jericho Writers membership. 6. Find A Captivating Voice Okay, so you now have the bones of an exciting story down. Excellent. Now – we need to talk about the way you are going to tell this story. The first thing to do is consider what point of view you are going to choose, and then stick to it entirely. The most popular ones in children’s books are either third person (He/She/They), or first person (I/We). You do tend to find books for younger readers tend to be third person, and teen and YA are usually first person – but this isn’t a rule. Try writing a scene using both and see which one feels more natural for you and this story. It’s worth noting that children’s books in second person (You) are few and far between. This is because it’s a difficult thing to do well, and to relate to as a reader. But nothing is ever out of bounds in the world of children’s books, so if you are confident about using this POV, then go for it. Whatever POV you choose, you must, must, MUST have a captivating voice. By ‘Voice’, we mean the way the story is being told – the language and sentence structure used to tell it. In first person, we need to believe that the person telling the story IS a child. In third person, we need that to a lesser degree, but we still need that sense that we are close to a character and understand who they are through their language. Let’s take first person as an example to start with, because it’s a bit easier. A first-person voice can contain any one of the following things to make it a bit different: An accent or dialect (eg: Southern American).Short, matter-of-fact sentences, or long lines with little or no punctuation.Complex language, or simple words.A ‘Frame of Reference’ for understanding the world. For example, if your character loves painting, then you would expect their language to be a fountain of colour, using terms that painters would love. My favourite article on voice is this one from Annabel Pitcher. Do give it a read – she is the master. When creating your voice, it is worth making a note of all the things that might influence the way your character speaks. So, think about where in the world they come from, and the different words they will use. Think about their age. Think about their personalities. Think about their passions and interests. And use all of this to create a voice that is unique to them. This becomes a bit harder when writing in third person. You can use some of this to colour the voice of the narrator, which can be particularly important when writing for younger children, who need to be reading ‘simple’ words along with the protagonists. You can also give the narrator their own voice altogether, as done in The Book Thief and Charlie Changes into a Chicken. Whatever you choose to do, ensure that it is striking and work on it until it feels like ‘you’. It took me around four books to realise what is ‘me’ about my writing – I think sometimes it is one of those things that you need to write to realise! You can find out more about finding your voice here. 7. Use Settings And Experiences Kids Will Recognise So, now we come on to the setting of your book. There are no real rules here when it comes to setting. Books like The House With Chicken Legs is set all over the world, within a rickety old house with the legs of a chicken. But even in this book, there are still things included that children will recognise as similar to their own experiences. A feeling of loneliness from travelling all the time. A parental figure. A feeling of being bored when trapped inside the house. With contemporary children’s books, the settings tend to be focused on home, school and other familiar places, such as parks and after-school clubs. If you are writing a book set in the real modern world, then you will probably need to include a school in there somewhere. Some authors do this really well, but I personally hate writing schools. If you’re like me, then setting a book in the summer holidays, or having protagonists who are over sixteen can sometimes be a way around this. For fantasy writers, it’s worth thinking about things like education and home-life when you are world-building, too. Your character may well be going on a huge quest that will take them to the ends of the earth, with no time for school. But even The Hunger Games had lessons in flashback. As I’ve said before, there are no rules here as such. Children’s books can take you to all corners of experiences. But ensure you think about your settings and how a child reader will recognise them. And if you choose to include things like school, then ensure you get that experience right! 8. Write And Rewrite Okay, so now we’re getting to the part where you have to put pen to paper. You’ll read a lot of articles all over the internet that will tell you rules here like “write every day” and “don’t look back on your first draft”. But I don’t want to tell you any of those. Because honestly – writing a book is something every writer does differently, and that’s rather wonderful. Try writing every day, but if you can’t because you have your own kids to worry about, then that is perfectly fine. And maybe try not to spend years perfecting scenes before you get on to the next one (only because you will probably have to delete it later), but if you do need to make something perfect before you can move on, then that’s fine too. Do whatever you need to do to keep writing. I will however say this. First drafts suck. They do. And that is okay. Books aren’t made on the first draft. This is where you let your characters drive that plot, and sometimes they don’t really know what they are doing. Books are made in the next stage – the re-writing. The editing. By getting feedback and working to make something shine. In fact, I personally don’t even do first drafts any more. I call all my first attempts the ‘ditch draft’, because I know that chances are, I’m going to have to bin most of it and start again. I know that sounds a bit long – but again – do whatever you need to do to keep writing. When it comes to re-writing, I personally like to open up a new document for my second draft and copy-paste the bits I like over and write the rest from scratch. There’s something freeing about not having words already there in front of you. For editing, you can try these tips on self-editing your work, and an editor called Debi Alper runs a life-changing tutored course on Self-Editing here. You can also try getting feedback from other readers – either friends and family, or a writing group. Or perhaps through something like a Manuscript Assessment, which are particularly useful if you know something isn’t quite working, but you can’t quite pinpoint what. If you’re confused about the different types of editing, this post is quite useful for navigating. Books are made in the self-edit stage, so keep going until you have something that is really quite something. Because nothing much less will be good enough when it comes to the next stage… 9. Avoid Classic Mistakes All New Writers Make But first – I want to pause and look at some common mistakes. Because these are the things you need to watch out for before you even think about sending out to agents. Avoid Stereotypes The cry-baby little sister. The dysfunctional dad. There are certain stereotypes we take for granted. So think when you make decisions about every character in your novel – can they be subverted? Can you show that boys can cry too, and that dad’s can do all the housework? This goes for race, gender, sexuality, disability and pretty much everything else. Write characters, not clichés. If You’re Writing What You Don’t Know, Get To Know It This is becoming increasingly important in children’s fiction – and so it should. If you are writing about a character with an experience different to your own, then you need to ensure you do copious amount of research – including speaking to people who live this experience. This especially goes for anything to do with race, gender, sexuality and disability. There are things you can do to help ensure you are not portraying these lives in a way that is stereotypical or harmful. Sensitivity readers are now becoming a mainstay in children’s publishing and authors can even hire their own if they feel the need to check their facts. You should know however that no amount of research ever makes up for the real experience and you should learn from any feedback you have from readers, rather than challenge it. Don’t let this put you off writing diversely as this is incredibly important for all children’s writers to do, whatever background they are from. But ensure you do it sensitively. Don’t Start A Story Where The Character Is Waking Up If I had a dollar for every story I have read that starts with this, I would be a very rich author. Don’t do it. Your opening scene should grab a reader by the hand and pull them immediately into the action. Think about what the inciting incident is, then give your readers an idea of what life was like for the main character before then. If the inciting incident is about to send them on a big adventure, then show the contrasting quiet life they had before then. If the big character arc is that they become braver, show them being scared early on in the story. Don’t Start A Story With A Scene That Has Nothing To Do With The Rest Of The Story Alternatively, don’t go the other way and start your story somewhere that has nothing to do with the rest of the story, just because it is more exciting than waking up. Your opening scene should excite, but it should also introduce the reader to the world that will appear in the rest of the story. So, if you’re story is about a girl’s relationship with her mother, then don’t start your story in the middle of a fist-fight unless that very quickly turns into something to do with the mother. Of course, this changes if you are writing fantasy where the beginning of the novel is set in the everyday world before the magic is let loose. Still here though, ensure you are spending time introducing us to the characters and situations that will be important throughout the rest of the story. Don’t Mix Tenses Or POVs Pick one, and stick to it (flashbacks permitting!). There’s nothing worse than reading a story that switches heads or propels us back and forth in time. Try reading this article on Psychic Distance if you need more clarification. Depending on the the age of the children you may want to stick with one or two points of view so they find it easier to follow, but once you are writing young adult novels for teens, then don\'t hold back from pushing boundaries and being brave with format and structure. Teens are no different to adults when it comes to following a more complicated plot! Don’t Tell Us – Show Us (For The Most Part) This is one of the biggest mistakes I see writers make – including myself. When you are trying to explain a world or situation, it can sometimes be easier to just dump that information on the page. And some of that is fine, but too much can slow action and feel amateur. Try showing certain things within your writing whenever you can. For example, if your character is angry, have them shout, rather than putting ‘he was angry’. Don’t Rhyme For The Sake Of Making It Rhyme This one is particularly for the picture book writers amongst you. Rhymes are wonderful when they work, but I’ve seen writers fall into the trap of sacrificing sentence meaning to shoehorn in a rhyme. If you are struggling to make a sentence flow because of your rhyming structure, then try something else. Or try no rhyme at all! Some of my favourite picture books don’t rhyme – it’s all about the characters and the story you are telling. Don’t Overuse Adverbs And Adjectives All new writers seem to fall into this trap. Perhaps we want to show off how beautifully we can write, so we pen long, languid sentences that dazzle and glitter with sparkly splendour. Unfortunately, they also weigh down your words. Keep your sentences to the point and I promise that those metaphors and similes that you do scatter in, will be all the more breath-taking because of it. Avoid Clunky-Sounding Dialogue Usually this happens when we want to try and ‘show’ something and not ‘tell’ it. And we might end up with a scene a bit like this: “Why are you so upset Billy?” Mum said. “Because my game was cancelled again, like it was last week.” “Do you mean when you kicked the ball over the fence and it had to be called off?” “It wasn’t my fault. A dog came onto the pitch.” “And we all know you’re afraid of dogs.” This doesn’t feel very realistic, does it? That’s because people don’t tend to spend their time reiterating things they all already know. Avoid doing this in your own book – especially with parents and their children, which tends to be where the clunkiest dialogue comes into its own! Try these tips on writing realistic dialogue. Don’t Have An Adult Save The Day Finally, we have the ending. There is nothing worse than rooting for a child protagonist all the way through a book, only to have a grown-up step in and save the day at the end. Children want to see themselves as having the power to change the world. Sometimes, that might mean asking for help from a grown-up, but the decision to conquer should always come from the child. 10. Get An Agent And Get Published So that leads us to the last point – how to get this wonderful children’s book you have written, published and on the shelves. This could be a whole other blog article in itself, and indeed there are plenty around. The more comprehensive overviews are things like this article on how to get a book published, or this one on how to find an agent. However, the most important things to know are that you will nearly always need an agent to get a publisher. And getting an agent is very, very difficult. Agents will receive around two-thousand submissions every year and will only have space to take on one or two. Out of these one or two, a third then never find a publisher. So the odds are perhaps not in your favour. But that’s okay. Because the fact that you have read all the way to the bottom of this blog post tells me that you are serious about writing a brilliant children’s book. And brilliant children’s books are the only ones that get published. The other alternative to getting your book published is self-publishing. This shouldn’t be seen as a ‘last resort’ option. In fact, plenty of authors create lucrative careers from publishing independently and it is fast becoming the number one option for a lot of writers. It can be a little harder to self-publish in the world of children’s books. Illustrated books don’t always transfer to eBook easily and the market tends to favour print in general. However, there are authors who are doing really well in the YA genre fiction market, particularly for things like paranormal romance. If you are interested in this option, then you can find plenty of free information here. Writing For Children: Conclusion Being a children’s author takes an incredible amount of hard work and dedication, but it is the most fulfilling thing you can do (in my biased opinion!) Children don’t like books, they LOVE them. And once your book is published, hearing from those readers makes every step of this whole process completely worthwhile. I’ve mentioned the Jericho Writers membership a few times in this article, and it is something to think about if you are serious about carving a career for yourself as a children’s author. Reading and writing will take us so far, but sometimes we need a helping hand from the experts to create something at the level it needs to be to get published. You can find out more about that membership here. I do hope you have found this article useful and wish you every luck (and enjoyment!) in writing your own children’s book. You’ve got this. Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer’s community. 

How To Plan A Novel

A step-by-step guide You have an idea. You want to write a novel. You know that’s a big undertaking – a huge one, in fact. But what next? Do you just pull your boots on and start marching? (A terrible idea in almost every case.) Or do you start to plan your journey? And if so, how? This can seem like a journey without maps, where most routes can easily lead to disaster. Well, worry ye not, these questions have solutions. Understanding how to plan a novel is both the most important question you face right now … and a completely achievable goal. In this post, we’re going to give you, not a template exactly, but a set of tools and a clear understanding of the way forward. It’ll probably take you several weeks to plan your novel out (and – a warning – those weeks feel like damn hard work, even though you’re not racking up the word count and throwing chapter after chapter down onto the page.) Planning A Novel: The Need-To-Knows The single most important job you have now is to understand what you need to know about your novel. Sure, then you have to start filling in the blanks, but the first task is simply to generate your headings. And here’s what you need to know about the book you’re going to write: What Genre Is It? Who Are Your Readers? What Kind Of Books / Authors Are You Most Like? You don’t have to answer those questions in complete detail. You won’t in fact know the answers until you’ve written your book. But you need some rough idea. If your book doesn’t sit at some natural point where readers gather, then either you are a genre-busting genius (unlikely), or you have a commercial disaster on your hands. What Are The Genre Expectations Of Your Novel? What Kind Of Length Does It Need To Be? If you know your genre well, you probably have the genre-expectations wired into your bones – which is good. But it’s still worth being a bit explicit about it. There’s no point writing a light chick-lit type novel of 180,000 words – those things are normally half that length, if that. Likewise, if you are writing a tense techno-thriller with a ton of slapstick moments, you may just have an unsaleable mess on your hands. Read up on average chapter lengths and overall word counts so you know what you’re aiming for. How Do You Plan To Publish The Book: As An Indie Author Or Via A Traditional Publishing Route? Maybe that question is a tiny bit premature, but the rules for self-publishing and trad publishing are a bit different. It probably helps to have a rough sense of your likely endpoint. And yes, you can change your mind during the writing process – but remember planning a book is different from writing a book. You can make a plan, then change your mind halfway through – but you’ll still be a mile better off for having made the plan in the first place. What Is Your Story? You need a rough sense of the overall shape of your story. We’ll talk about this more in a bit, but you need a sense of the status quo at the start of your book.what happens to disrupt that status quo. This is the initiating incident.some very very rough ideas of what happens next. This is the hard-to-define Middle Act of your book, or just a general section of Developments. (You’ll hear both terms used by people talking about this stuff.)You may also have a clear sense of some big middle-of-book crisis or action sequence or other tipping point. If so, great, this is your midpoint. If you don’t have this clearly visualised yet, don’t worry about it: that can come later.Then you want a reasonable idea of your end-of-book crisis andan idea of your resolution – how everything ties up at the end. That right there, that fivefold structure, is how you are going to develop your story. Remember that at this stage, you don’t need complete answers to these questions. All we’re doing for now is laying out what you need to know (roughly) before you start writing. We’ll talk more about how to develop that knowledge in a minute. Who Are Your Characters? Again, you need a rough sense of your characters. That means your protagonist, for sure. (Protagonist = hero or heroine of your book. You’ll also see the term MC, which stands for Main Character.) But you also need to identify and have a sense of who your other major characters are. What Are Your Settings? Settings are left out of a lot of novel-planning lists, because often enough those settings seem kind of obvious. So let’s say that your novel is set in New York, a part of you thinks that New York is New York is New York. What more is to be said? Except that’s not true! There are a million New Yorks. Let’s say your story was a coming-of-age tale in 1960s Italian-American, Mafia-world. That New York is radically different from a contemporary tale about (say) a tech-startup world. By understanding your particular settings in detail, you’ll find yourself illuminating the whole story you’re about to tell. Again, we’ll talk more about this shortly. What Are Your Themes? Finally, what themes are you going to be tackling? Perhaps that’s the least important question on this list, and some writers will want to ignore it completely … but, well, I think that question will nag at a lot of you anyway. And while you don’t want to overdo it, I think it helps to have some early sense of what the Big Questions underlying your novel are. That’s just as true of genre writers (crime, SF, romance, whatever) as of proper literary writers. I write crime fiction, but there are still big issues underlying my work and my writing would be poorer if they weren’t there at all. Filling In The Blanks How to sit down and plan your novel without going crazy. OK, so we have our headings: Genre & genre expectationsProbable publishing routeStoryCharactersSettingsThemes Your job now is to start putting some flesh on those bones. Planners Vs Pantsers There’s a dreary old distinction between writers who prefer to plan things out upfront and people who prefer to fly ‘by the seat of their pants’ and just wing it as they write. The fact that you’re reading this post in the first place indicates that you’re intending to plan things. And so, frankly, you should. At Jericho Writers we run a lot of courses for new writers, and we do a lot of editorial work on finished manuscripts. And here’s the simple truth: People who plan their novels, at least a bit, before they start are miles more likely to finish them. What’s more, the basic quality of those manuscripts is much higher too. Planning works. Don’t let anyone tell you it doesn’t. (And yes, talented and experienced authors who work with quite ‘freeform’ stories are an exception to that rule. But you’re not in that category. So keep reading!) How The Planning Process Works The way you are going to plan your novel is like this: You are going to give yourself the headings above.You are actually going to do that In Real Life. It’s probably better if you do it with pen and paper, but I’m OK with you doing it on screen, so long as you actually do it. This is a process where thinking-about-the-process is totally different from actually doing it. You need to actually do it.You are going to write notes under each heading.Yes, those notes will be scanty to start with. That’s OK! You don’t need to know everything yet. But write what you know under each heading.Then start to elaborate.Perhaps your early story idea is pretty damn basic … but then you write a little bit more about your characters and your settings … and you get an idea for an incident in your story, so then you pop down your idea for that incident, and your story-understanding has just grown.Keep going, take time.It’s important to realise that this process is a process. You can’t just allocate Monday and Tuesday to the job, then start writing on Wednesday. You are seeking to create a complex, elaborate and imaginative structure. Finding the right answers – and the right questions – will take time. I’d say that, for most writers, you are looking at several weeks, not several days.Try ideas out, delete the ones you hate.Let’s say you are making notes on character, you get an idea for a story incident, and you write it down. That’s what I just told you to do, right? Well, good. Yes, I did say that. But maybe the idea sucks. On reflection, it just doesn’t fit into the story you want to write. So delete it. You don’t know if an idea works until you try it out – noting it down in written form alongside everything else. But deletion is as much part of the process as creating. You might need to try four different routes, before you find the one that works for you. So those failed avenues aren’t failures at all. They’re what led you to the solution that finally worked.Work in a circular, iterative fashion.If it’s not already clear by now, this process is a circular one. You don’t write a complete set of notes on story, then move onto character, then move onto settings and you’re done. On the contrary, you do a bit here, then a bit there, and gradually, little by little, the whole picture fills out. Iteration, and building from sketchy to more detailed is the way this game is going to work for you. So those are your headings and that’s the basic process. Just a few more comments before I leave you to it. The Snowflake Method Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method is just one, rather rigidly structured, approach to planning your novel. And it’s limited – it works more for genre novels, and even then only some genre novels, than for Fiction In General. The heart of it, however, is simply the realisation that you can’t just sit down and write a four-page plot synopsis of your book upfront. That exercise would either fuse all your brain cells into a single steaming lump … or it would produce a really dire synopsis. So you start with a simple one-sentence story outline, then write a bit about characters, and then circle back to the story and so on. The basic process is precisely the one we’re talking about in this post. But I don’t like the precise format involved because it doesn’t really drive you to think more broadly about the book (settings, themes, market), it’s over-prescriptive about what you have to write when, and the “three disasters plus an ending” seems like a pretty damn crude summary of a book. So yes, by all means, go take a look at the Snowflake Method approach to planning … but I think you’ll prefer a more relaxed approach, such as the one we set out here. Understanding The Market The first two headings – the ones that relate more to the market than to your story in particular – you can just fill in and tidy away in an hour. You need to make notes on length, genre expectations, comparable authors and the rest. Those notes are really just to remind you of your basic compass bearing. If you actually write them down, you are much less likely to go wrong than if you don’t. And, truthfully, this part of the exercise shouldn’t be hard to do. Give yourself an hour or two, and you’re probably done. That said, you might well find that writing some notes on these topics suddenly makes you aware of some gaps in your knowledge. Yikes! What is the right length for a steampunk Victorian fantasy? Gosh! I want to publish traditionally, but do I actually have a sense of what debut novels are making a splash in my genre right now? Those questions may drive you to do some research – they might drive you to an actual bookshop. If so, no question, you’ll be a better author after doing that research than you were before. The market you want to write for matters. You have to know it inside and out. We at Jericho Writers have seen some horrible car-crash type manuscripts written by perfectly good writers. How come? Because those writers didn’t understand the market for their work before they put pen to paper. And if there’s no market for your basic idea, then no amount of editing work is going to save it. Sorry. When Do You Start Writing? So. You’ve written your headings. You’ve researched your market. You’ve started to make notes on plot, on character, on setting, and on everything else. But when do you actually start to write the actual book? When do you shift from planning to doing? And the truthful answer is: It depends. It depends on you, your story, your character, your life cuircumstances. I’d suggest that you need at least: A good idea of the shape of your story. (That means status quo, initiating incident, crisis and resolution, plus at least some vague idea of the direction of travel in the middle half of your book.)A good idea about your characters.A decent feel for settings and all those other things.A strong sense of the market for your book. If you end up accumulating more planning info than that, but don’t go crazy. Yes, JK Rowling famously plotted out her Harry Potter books, but she’s rare. Stephen King and Lee Child do 50% of Naff All. If you have a few pages on story, character, settings & market, and if you feel happy with those things, you may well be good to go. In particular, I think the right time to start a book is about 3-7 days after you’re desperate to start your book. Let that head of steam build up. You’ll know when you’re ready to write. Then start writing. Start enjoying yourself. And happy writing! Need more? We have an incredibly useful Idea Generator tool. Just grab it from the pop-up or the blue banner below this post. It doesn’t just help you structure your ideas … it gives you an incredible insight into how to plan a novel that has the potential to be a genuine bestseller … Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

How Long Should A Chapter Be?

You’ve started your book. You’re brimming with ideas. You start hammering away at your text. And then – you hit a pause.  So now what?  Do you create a page break and start a new chapter? Or do you just do the three little asterisk thing? Or just crash straight on?  And what if your chapters are too short? Or too long? Will your readers laugh at you? Will you cause literary agents to spill their lattes with laughter?  Well, no.  Honest truth? Chapter lengths don’t really matter too much. No manuscript has ever been rejected by an agent or neglected by a reader just because a chapter was too short or too long.  That said, chapter breaks are one of the key rhythmical features of a novel. Your story’s most obvious beats. So, it makes sense to use those beats to enhance everything else you’re doing. Getting that right is what this post is all about.  Chapter Length, In A Nutshell Too short: 1000 words or underVery short: 1000-1500 wordsShort: 1500-2000 wordsStandard: 2000 to 4000 wordsLong: 4000 to 5000 wordsVery long: over 5000 Those are the rules for adult novels. Kids’ books will have chapter lengths that vary by age range. And there’s no wrong here. Ducks, Newburyport has no chapters and it’s 400,000 words long. It’s still amazing. What Is A Chapter? And Why Use Chapters? OK. You know what a chapter is. A chapter is generally the major (and often the only) sub-division to be found in a book or novel. It’s marked, almost always, by a page break. The new chapter may be numbered or titled or even both. In terms of scale, some books will also be divided into parts. (Part 1 might include 10 chapters, and so on.) Individual chapters may have minor separation breaks indicated by an asterisk, or similar.  But you knew all that. More important is why is a chapter? Why have them? Why do books need or want them, even after the concept of an actual printed book has become a bit blurred out by e-books and audio books?  And the answer is that any story has beats in it. Punctuation marks, in effect. Moments when the story – and the reader – want a moment’s pause. So the question of how many words there ought to be in a chapter is really a question of: how much text should a reader be asked to read before you give them a break?  To answer that question, we need to figure out when a reader is likely to demand a pause.  What Is The Purpose Of A Chapter? The purpose of a chapter is to allow the reader to pause, and those pauses are most essential when:  There is a change of point-of-view characterThere is a major change of scene There is a major jump in time A major sequence of action has just been completed  Put like that, it’s kind of obvious why you need a pause. You need a pause to avoid confusion. If you simply continued from one paragraph to the next while implementing a major switch of character / time / place / action, the reader would be perplexed. They’d need to read the section two or three times to figure it out, and that would (paradoxically) cause a weird slowdown in momentum.  The chapter break, in effect, tells the reader, “OK, you need to hit the reset button and prepare for something a bit different. The story is continuing, but that last scene has now ended.”  That convention means that as soon as the reader has flipped the page, they know to wipe the slate clean and prepare for some new scene to get going.  And that’s also why you need to be a little bit careful here. You can’t just say, “Oh, that scene was in a café, this one is in a street, that one is in a park, so we need a total of three chapters to handle all that.” You need to use your judgement too. If the same pair of individuals simply wandered through a city, having a conversation about the same thing, it doesn’t matter at all that the locations they pass through vary. The reader, correctly, regards that as a single unit of action.  If on the other hand, it’s not just the scenery that changes, it’s also the participants, their concerns and the type of action, you need to chop that sequence up into chapters accordingly.  What Is The Right Word Count For A Chapter? With all that in mind, we can start to figure out how long our chapters ought to be. (Clue: it’s your story that is going to govern this in the end. Your story, and your readers.)  But here, for example, are some famous novels, along with word counts and chapter lengths:  A Suitable Boy, by Vikram Seth, 592,000 words, 19 chapter, average chapter length a totally insane 31,000 words. A Game of Thrones, by George RR Martin, 298,000 words, 60 chapters, average chapter length 4,970 words Twlight, by Stephenie Meyer, 118,000 words, 25 chapters, average chapter length 4,720.1984, by George Orwell, 89,000 words, 24 chapters, average chapter length 3,700. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, by Michael Chabon, 216,000 words. 75 chapters, average chapter length 2,880 words. (Book is also divided into 7 parts.) The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green, 65,750 words, 25 chapters, average chapter length 2,630.Talking to the Dead, by me – Harry Bingham – 113,000 words, 49 chapters, average chapter length 2,300 words. The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood, 96,400 words, 46 chapters, average chapter length 2,100. Along Came A Spider, by James Patterson, 106,000 words, 97 chapters, average chapter length 1,100.  You can pretty much forget the first of those examples – the Vikram Seth one. His book was almost boastfully extravagant in terms of length. That was its selling point, in a way, and it is such an outlier, you can discard it.  Martin’s Game of Thrones is epic fantasy fiction and its 5,000 word chapter length pretty much benchmarks the very top end of normal.  Likewise, Patterson, with his famously rapid-fire fiction, pretty much benchmarks the bottom end of normal. Most books (including, I discover, my own) lie in the 2,000 to 4,000 word range.  How To Figure Out What Chapter Length Is Right For You In truth, you won’t really choose your chapter lengths. You’ll write your story, and your story will insert its own natural breaks, as you change scene, viewpoint or whatever. But as you can begin to guess from the data in the previous section, the story you tell is likely to impose a varying set of chapter lengths on you. So, from smallest to biggest, here’s what different stories are likely to need.  Very Short Chapters, Under 2,000 Words Fiction with very short chapters has a kind of jump-cut, fast-edited quality to it. It will work for action fiction, but even then, it’ll work for the very fastest – and least reflective – action writing.  James Patterson is the huge benchmark of this type of fiction. You can’t really get shorter, faster, snappier writing than his … and notice that his chapter length doesn’t dip below 1,000 words (or not really. I expect that somewhere in his massive canon you’ll find an exception.)  That means if your average chapter length falls below 1,000 words, you are probably trying to cut too often – or that you haven’t yet given enough weight and depth to the scenes you are telling. Remember that even action fiction needs space to make an impression.  Normal Chapters, 2,000 To 4,000 Words Just take a look at the list above. You’ll notice an impressive range of fiction in this ‘normal’ range.  There’s young adult fiction (Fault in Our Stars). There’s my own crime fiction. There are a couple of absolute literary classics (1984 and The Handmaid’s Tale).  In other words, whether you’re writing genre fiction, or literary, whether you’re writing for adults or teenagers, chapter lengths in this broad range will strike the reader as normal, expected, nothing to be alarmed about.  Very Long Chapters, 4,000 To 5,000 Words If you’re writing chapters that regularly exceed the 4,000 word mark, you are, in effect, announcing to your reader that your story has a more than normal amount of heft and swagger. So George Martin’s Game of Thrones announces its genuinely epic aspirations in part by those epically sized chapters.  For authors of epic fantasy, long chapters will certainly work. The same probably goes for authors of some kings-n-queens type historical fiction. But this will be the exception. To most readers, most of the time, very long chapters will just feel … very long.  Chapter Rhythms: Mixing It Up So far we’ve spoken of average chapter lengths, which is all well and good. But you can have long ones and short ones, as well as plenty of middling ones.  The shorter ones, especially, will mix up the rhythms of the rest and jolt the reader, in a useful way.  At the longer end, I still wouldn’t generally advise going over 5,000 words all that often. It’s just a plot of text, and readers need to be able to put the book down now and again.  At the shorter end, short can be very short. I’ve quite often written chapters that are 500 words or so. (That’s a page and a half or so of an ordinary paperback.) If you want to go to 300 words or even less, you can. All I’d say is that the hyper-short chapter is a little bit of an attention-seeking device. You risk having the reader think about you the author, rather than the story you have placed in front of them.  And the story, of course, should always come first.  You can find out more about standard word counts, here.  How To End A Chapter Chapters end at natural breaks in your story. OK. We know that much. But you don’t just want to stop abruptly. You want to give your reader a satisfying ending for the chunk they’ve just read. Here are four great ways to end a chapter. They’re not mutually exclusive, so you might use more than one technique in a single place. Symbolic Reversal A scene or chapter is there to tell its own mini-story, with its own beginning, middle and end. And because stories are about change, scenes are about change too. So, a scene is typically based around some kind of story question, which is then resolved or changed by the end of the scene. One good way to end a chapter is to find a way to highlight or encapsulate the change that has just happened. So let’s just say we have a proposal scene. Mark Manly has just gone down on one knee to propose marriage to Winona Winsome. He offers her a single red rose.  She says no. She rejects him.  There’s an argument. In the course of the argument, the rose is damaged. Winona marches out of the room.  The scene ends with Mark clutching a bare-rose, no petals. A sign of his failure.  I’m not sure that’s a super-brilliant way to handle a non-proposal scene, but you see the point I’m making. The rose comes to symbolise the hope at the start of the scene and the failure at the end. That’s one nice way to handle things. Looking Back Alternatively, however, let’s say that Winona says yes.  And let’s say that Mark has secretly loved Winona since he was an 11-year-old boy, seeing her arrive in (um, I don’t know) a skiff, a carriage, a hot air balloon outside his castle.  The triumph with which our current scene ends – she said yes! she said yes! – could be a reason to look back to the past, to that 11-year-old boy, and the long trials and tribulations of his love.  Again, a closing paragraph that looks back to the past could be a nice way to end the chapter.  Looking Forward Let’s twist the lens again.  Winona wants to marry Mark, yes, but the Dark Lord of Boundercad Hall has sworn to enslave her. He is coming for Winona that evening accompanied by (oh, I don’t know) twenty mounted troops and a very scary parrot.  So now, terrific, the intrepid couple see the prospect of infinite wedded bliss – but only if they can figure out a way to escape the clutches of the Dark Lord. So this chapter would naturally end with a look to the future. A glance up to the brooding presence of Boundercad Hall. Or a mention of the sound of horses being saddled, or a scary parrot squawking.  That hint of the future isn’t a cliffhanger, exactly, but it reminds the reader that big things are on the point of being decided.  Looking Sideways If you have a dual-protagonist drama, then scenes (and chapters) will naturally switch from Person A to Person B and back again.  So let’s say, instead of a proposal scene, Mark and Winona are planning to elope. We’ve just had a chapter with Winona buckling on a sword, preparing her horse, saying farewell to her beloved three-legged cat. And now – the chapter ends. She’s ready for her night of adventure, but what about Mark?  You don’t have to make that question over–explicit in a chapter ending. (In fact, too explicit, and it’ll sound weak.) All you need to do is prompt the idea in the reader, as subtly as you like. So your chapter might end. “She was ready. All that mattered now was that Mark would be on that ferry.”  Again, that’s not really a cliffhanger, but it switches the story question from Winona to Mark. The reader will now think, “Jeepers. Yes! What about Mark?” and they’ll be all prepped for a scene where we see Mark facing some obstacle to getting on the ferry in time.  The Classic Cliffhanger You might think it’s odd that I’ve left the classic cliffhanger scene to last … and that’s because such things are quite rare and usually quite crass.  The very first example – where the term came from, in fact – was Thomas Hardy’s A Pair of Blue Eyes, and it’s terrible. (See here for more.) It’s terrible, because the chapter ends with a man hanging (thoughtfully, calmly) by his fingertips from a cliff … and the next chapter starts with the exact same person hanging (still calmly) by his fingertips in the exact same spot and the exact same situation.  In fact, the badness of the Hardy scene reminds us that chapter breaks belong where stories have their natural breaks. There probably are good examples of the classic cliffhanger, but really, not many. For the most part, techniques 1-4 or some variant thereon will do you better.  That’s it from me. Have fun with your chapters – and, as ever, happy writing.  Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

How To Write A Great Scene (And Nail It Every Time)

Enrich your novel, by writing great, vivid and memorable scenes. Writing a great scene – or just as importantly, knowing if a scene you have already written stands up – can be approached as a process of inquisition. If you\'re asking yourself how to write a great scene, then you should ask yourself a number of questions to find out if the scene holds up. One successful writer of my acquaintance has a list of sixty questions which he asks himself about every scene he writes, and while we’re not going to reach that number, below I have gathered 10 key areas to ask questions about when writing scenes, thinking about scene structure, or assessing the scenes you\'ve already written. If you score ten out of ten, your scene should be good to go. If your score is a lot lower than that, you’ve still got some editing work to do. Let\'s have a look at these 10 key areas... What Is The Unique Purpose Of The Scene? This is worth asking first of all, because if you get the wrong answer here, you save yourself the bother of asking all the other questions as you can just use our friend the delete key to solve the problem. Does this scene earn its keep? Is it doing something that is simply not being done anywhere else in the work? And if the unique thing that it does was omitted from the story, would the story have a hole? Does the scene belong in the story being told? Should you kill it? What happens? How does it uniquely advance the plot? Or uniquely establish mood? Or uniquely deliver character comprehension, or feeling? Does it advance the work in a way that might be done more effectively in any other scene? If you pass that test, move on to the next question. Is The Scene Thematically Congruent? If the theme of your work, say, is unrequited love, does your scene angle in to that theme? Does it demonstrate a circumstance or a feeling which is associated with unrequited love? Or does it demonstrate a circumstance or a feeling about requited love, so as to throw into relief the experience that one of your characters will have about unrequited love? Is your scene about what your book is about? And if it not but you still need it in because – as above – it’s the vehicle for a unique and irremovable aspect of your story, then how are you going to rewrite the scene so that it amplifies, however distantly, the theme of your story? How Does The Scene Turn? What do I mean by ‘turn’? Well, first let’s back up… People say that without conflict there is no drama. Now, I’m not so sure about that, I think a broader and more accurate assessment would be not without conflict but without change. Without change there is no drama, and what people mean by conflict is resistance to change. You could write a scene about a woman digging a tree stump out of the ground that was full of drama, as she struggled and the tree stump resisted, and she changed from being in an optimistic state to an exhausted, pessimistic state. But would that scene be full of conflict? You might say she was in conflict with the tree stump, but that to me would be stretching it. Instead it is a scene where a character tries to change the world and that change is resisted. Or, you could write a scene where somebody realised they had totally misremembered a very important incident from their past and that life in facts was different to how they imagined it. The drama would be in the correction of the memory. It would not be a conflict, instead it would be a swift and significant change. So, when I ask, ‘How does the scene turn?’, what I mean is, ‘What change does it effect?’ If all of the characters in the scene are in the same state at the end of the scene as they were at the beginning of the scene, then no change has been affected and so no drama has occurred. What is the central change of the scene? What is it that turns from one state to another state? Is it one character who turns? Many characters? A situation? Is the turn for the negative or the positive? Is the character further way from what they want, or closer? What are the obstacles facing the character from turning the scene the way they want to turn the scene? If the character does not get what they want, change and drama are still demonstrated as they have failed and so their emotional state and desperation have increased.  No change externally does not mean no change internally. Change is of course linked to motivation and goals and desire. Make sure that the change which the scene turns on directly affects what your character is trying to achieve. Make sure their goal and motivation are clear. Are they closer to their clear goal, or are they further away? How your scene turns will be bound up with your cast list. Does the scene change when a new character enters? Who is present at the beginning of the scene and who is present at the end? If a new character enters, is their entrance memorable and is it their arrival that turns the scene? If not, why not? In that case you have introduced a new character without that introduction having a big impact. Is that what you want? Does it suit your plot and their character for them to sidle in? Maybe it does. If you want more information on how to create that scene turning event, then check out our inciting incidents blog post too. Are You Clear On Your Point Of View? The person to whom the largest change is happening is often, but not always, the person from whose point of view we will be seeing the scene. ‘Often, but not always’, because in fiction, unlike in film, point of view is not an utterly promiscuous tool, it needs to settle on, usually, one or just a handful of characters. So, whose point of view are you telling the scene from? If it is possible, best do it, but it may not always be possible to tell it from the point of view of the person to whom the greatest change is happening. If you think about how to write a death scene as an example. The largest change is happening to the person who is dying, but it is often not right to write the scene form their perspective as once they’re gone, they’re gone. In fact, some of the most famous deaths happen off screen. Take Cordelia in King Lear, or Ophelia in Hamlet as examples. Both of these deaths are moving, but both happen off stage – out of point of view. But take Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich which as the title suggests is clearly focussed on the biggest change of all for Ivan and whose death is described as ‘that black sack into which an invisible, invincible force was pushing him’. So, don’t go chasing the point of view of the person to whom the biggest change is happening if it mutilates your novel’s point of view schema. But if you can describe death from the point of view, then make it as appropriate to the unique sensibility of the character as possible. Similarly, when thinking how to write a sex scene, or if you are thinking about describing a kiss, point of view is everything. The unique attributes of the person to whom the sensation is happening govern how the sensation is described. How does it map on to their personal history? What are they not saying? How would their particular imagination describe what was happening? Basically, are you in the point of view of the person having the strongest sensation of change? If you can’t be in that point of view, make sure the change being experienced elsewhere emotionally impinges on the sensations of your point of view character and effects their motivations and desires. Does Your Scene Make Good Use Of Location? Where does the scene take place? At what time of day or night? Could another time or location serve to heighten the impact? Where were the characters before the scene started? Where are they going after it ends? How do they move physically across the space? Are you creating a sense of place? Some scenes require the claustrophobia of a locked room. Other require a huge canvas. Location is particularly important when thinking how to write a battle scene. For example, the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan is nothing without the water and the sand, while the Battle of Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back would lose so much without the ice world. In those instances, the type of battle you can have is heavily defined by the location. The combatants’ experience of the battle will be similarly defined. And of course if you filter the character’s experience of battle through that physical reality (sand in the eyes, struggling to keep the rifle’s magazine out of the salt water …), you will end up with a much more vivid and intense scene than you’d have without that level of detail. Is Your Scene Commensurate With Your Genre? Let’s say for example that you are thinking about how to write a fight scene. If you are writing a work of historical fiction, say set amongst the samurai of feudal Japan, then you will make the fight scene a different scale and tone and pace to if you were writing a work of science fiction. And again, for example, the tone of a sword fight set in feudal Japan, which might be bound up with honour and stoic, wordless masculinity, would be very different to say the sword fight scene we get in the fantasy comedy The Princess Bride where Inigo Montoya is given humorous dialogue as sharp as his rapier to utter as he fights. Any scene must be attuned to the feeling tone of the genre in which it is placed. How Do You Make Use Of Dialogue? Does the dialogue reflect character? Is it natural? Forced? Can you cover up the name of the person who is speaking and know who they are just from the sound and pattern of their words? Do they have unique speech patterns? Or if they all have the same accent, is it your conscious and correct decision to make them all sound the same? How is your dialect rendered? And then feed those thoughts back into the ones about location, and genre, and theme. These things all feed off themselves, of course. So your dialogue may naturally include observations about the location. (“Damn sand!” or “Hell, my rifle’s soaked.”) Those genre / thematic issues will smuggle their way into the dialogue too. And that infiltration is an entirely good thing, of course. It’s part of making your work feel integrated and alive. Is Your Scene Static Or Mobile? Do your characters have something to do? Is there something going on? An activity they are engaged in? If two characters are talking about their love lives what would they be doing as they spoke? In screenwriting they call this ‘interference’ – an action that characters take part in which can mirror how the scene is developing emotionally. Are they playing tennis? Putting up an Ikea shelf? Let’s say it’s tennis, their game can improve as they talk confidently about their love life, or degenerate as they talk neurotically about their love life. If they are putting up a shelf, they can drill through a pipe just as they are told bad news. Give your characters props to enact their feelings. Of course, some scenes are physically static and internal. No problem. Make the energy internal. Don’t let their emotions be static. Let the reactions rather than the actions carry the kinetic power of the scene. How Does Your Scene Deal With Time? Narrative art is intrinsically about the passage of time. Change can’t happen without it. Be absolutely sure where the scene stands in the work’s overall chronology. How much time has elapsed since the last scene? Is it clear to the reader how much time has elapsed? If we are moving into the future or the past, had you better make that very clear to the reader or are they okay to surf the time waves? Think about continuity. Is your characters hair long one week after it has been short? If your scene takes place in a very different time are their physical characteristics about the character you can employ to imply this passage of time and give a sense of time passing? And Finally – Is Your Scene Any Damn Good? Be honest. You can probably find a way to start your scene later, to get out of it earlier, to push up more on the felt drama of your point of view character, and to clarify and affect your turn more dramatically. Don’t just go through all these points once, go through them again. Scenes are not brought to their sharpest point in one pass. If you found this helpful, then you’ll definitely find this article on spicing up your writing and this one on chapter lengths useful – especially when you come to writing that great scene. Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

How To Write Seven Basic Plots

Knowing the key plot archetypes can help you get going, so we’re looking at the prospective seven basic plots that underpin all fiction. Whilst your story mightn’t conform consciously to a plot structure, such structures do exist, and knowing them could help keep you inspired and on track. What Are The Seven Basic Plots? According to Christopher Booker, there are seven main plotlines, as written in The Seven Basic Plots. If you’re still planning things, why not choose one to place your ideas in so far? (If you’re at a very early stage in planning, read up on how to have story ideas. Remember, you can mess around a little, too. No story will ever fit only one plotline, there may just be one obvious one. Take subplots, plots within plots, to layer your story and give it complexity and meaning.) Here are the seven basic plots and how to make each one work for you. Overcoming The Monster Your protagonist must battle a monster (or a monstrous force) that threatens, probably, more than just your protagonist’s survival in scope and scale. Christopher Booker offers the classic examples of The Epic of Gilgamesh or Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Stephen King’s It falls under this plotline, too, but of course monsters needn’t always be literal. They can be human. They can be ideological. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis is (foremost) about the Pevensie children needing to overthrow the White Witch and bring peace to Narnia with Aslan’s help. The Help by Kathryn Stockett is about Skeeter, Aibileen and Minny battling racial prejudice (embodied in housewife Hilly Holbrook) in Mississippi during the 1960s. To make your ‘monster’ work, you’ll need this threat to chill us. You need a genuinely existential battle of survival to make things work. You’ll also want the monster to represent something beyond just claws and fangs. It needs to be vengeance, or racial intolerance, or something else that really matters. Voyage And Return Born with Odysseus and The Odyssey (battling monstrosities like Circe, Scylla and Charybdis to journey safe home to wife Penelope) in Greek myth, your protagonist here must journey from home, returning with new strength and experience from challenges faced. Think of Bilbo Baggins’ journey out of the Shire in The Hobbit. First come trolls, and after (not before) comes the dragon. The key is in your rising action, the threats getting worse as Bilbo carries on, growing in courage. Your voyage should be getting more dangerous all the time, before your protagonist can safely make a ‘turnabout’ and return (not without transfiguration, since Bilbo comes home braver, stronger). The fact that Bilbo never turns back before the essential point and challenge of the quest is faced is also important. Giving your protagonist chances to turn back reflects growth and heroism when they soldier on, anyway. To make this plot work, your protagonist is going to be leaving one world, encountering another, ending up transfigured – so raise the stakes. Give plenty of options to turn back (which they won’t take, because something other than themselves is at risk, too). Rags To Riches The word ‘Cinderella’ sums up this plotline, but the ‘riches’ in this phrasing is relative, and needn’t be literal. The point is that your protagonist should grow in character, strength and understanding, helping them achieve their desire, or better, and be empowered. Your protagonist should ascend, with newfound strength, from a low point to new heights, sometimes involving romance, and sometimes not. A good example of ‘not’ would be Chinese Cinderella by Adeline Yen Mah, where a happy ending simply means being able to attend college. Other examples include Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha, or Aladdin and His Enchanted Lamp from The Thousand and One Nights. You’ll make this plot work by empowering your protagonist in various ways. Cinderella, in her fairy tale, makes it out of rags to riches but we can assume she won’t still be scrubbing floors at the palace. She’s valued for herself in her new home and free to live on her own terms, so she’s become empowered (inside and out). This is your key to unlocking plot material. The Quest In this narrative, your protagonist sets out to find someone, or to find an object, a proverbial ‘buried treasure’. Famous examples include the His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, or (broadly) Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling. Philip Pullman’s protagonist Lyra in Northern Lights (or, in the US, The Golden Compass) for instance, faces bears, witches and kidnappers to reach her father, before she carries on into another world. Lyra faces worse as the challenges mount up, so she matures and changes with learning and strength. Ultimately, Lyra makes her costliest sacrifice at the close of her (multiple) quests in His Dark Materials, and so she becomes heroic. We are given final proof of her courage and selflessness as her adventuring concludes in The Amber Spyglass. You’ll also need to raise stakes, making things harder and harder, before a final ‘good’ deed from your protagonist grants them victory. Comedy In comic narrative, the gist is to create a whirl of misunderstandings for your protagonist that becomes more fraught with time. All will ‘miraculously transformed’ near the end, as your action moves happily from dark to light. Classic examples include any of Jane Austen’s novels, The Inimitable Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse, Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding, or Chocolat by Joanne Harris. Make your comic plot work by continuing to muddle events, feelings and perceptions as we go, right up to the finish line. Bridget Jones remains confused about Mark Darcy in most of the novel (firstly misjudging Mark, then Daniel, then misjudging how both feel about her) before all is happily resolved. Tragedy This is the inverse of ‘Comedy’, moving from light to dark. Your protagonist here has an irredeemable flaw or makes an irredeemable mistake, causing their undoing and ‘fall’. Your protagonist could be reprehensible, like Humbert Humbert from Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, or like the example Christopher Booker gives us, Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Shakespearean tragedies give a rich choice of protagonists whose flaws lead them to doom, such as Othello and his jealousy, or Lear and his arrogance. Other tragic protagonists may be more questionable, as in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. An example of an innocent protagonist falling to tragedy would be Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Anna’s ‘mistake’ being to fall in love and leave her husband for a man who’ll betray her. You’ll make a tragic plot work by thinking deeply about all the ‘if onlys’ of your protagonist’s situation. Think how we mull over our own mistakes, wishing we’d seen things coming. If only Othello had trusted Desdemona, or if only Gatsby hadn’t fallen for Daisy. How could all have been avoided? How differently could things have worked out? Give your poor protagonist routes out (which they’ll not take, e.g. Jay Gatsby fails to accept Nick’s warning that the past can’t be repeated, since Gatsby can’t let Daisy go), then seal off exit options to amplify emotion in your tragic plot. Rebirth ‘Rebirth’ is poised to be like ‘Tragedy’ but with a hopeful outcome. Your protagonist needs a redemptive arc to their journey. This is sometimes combined with a hero romantically redeemed by a heroine, or vice versa. Classics examples of this trope are fairy tales like Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont’s Beauty and the Beast or Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen, and retellings based on these tales, such as Beauty by Robin McKinley or Uprooted by Naomi Novik. Other examples are The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, Emma by Jane Austen (also a ‘Comedy’ tale), or The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. Make a plot like this work by making a happy outcome dependent on nothing but the ‘Rebirth’ component alone. Identify what this is, because your protagonist’s success and happy ending will hinge on it. In a tale like Beauty and the Beast, for instance, love can’t be mutual until Bête lets Belle go free. Emma Woodhouse needs to reflect and change before she can marry someone as good as Mr Knightley. Amir risks his life returning to Kabul, but can’t be free of his past guilt in The Kite Runner until he tries to help his best friend’s son. The question, after all this, is which general plotline feels authentic for where you’d most like to take your story? Choose More Than One Plot And Add Subplots So, we\'ve discussed the seven basic plot examples, but sometimes more than one plot outline will fit your story material. In A Game of Thrones, there is a tragic narrative for one protagonist, Eddard or Ned Stark, and the ‘fault’ that kills Ned is his integrity in a dark world. However, A Game of Thrones uses various plot archetypes to tell multiple protagonists’ stories over a sprawling scale. It isn’t only a tragic plot. J.K. Rowling’s stories don’t fit neatly into a single plot idea, either, since Harry Potter’s overarching tale checks several of these boxes. Harry’s story could be defined as a ‘Rags to riches’ tale, because he goes from an abusive boyhood living under his aunt’s staircase to freedom, to a successful career and happiness with his wife and children at the series’ close. There’s also a ‘Voyage and return’ element to each book, as Harry attends Hogwarts every year, only to return to his aunt and uncle every summer (though in the seventh, Harry leaves Privet Drive for the last time). It’s also an ‘Overcoming the monster’ story, because the spectre of Voldemort haunts Harry throughout the series, as do other monstrous beings like the Basilisk or Dementors, or monstrous characters like Voldemort’s supporters (led by Bellatrix Lestrange), Professor Umbridge, and others. It’s also a ‘Quest’ because Harry’s ‘hunts’ through the series culminate, in the seventh book, with his seeking Horcruxes and Hallows. The existential question of which is right to seek becomes a determinant of Harry’s success, and overall character development. There are strong comic elements, strong tragic elements, and there are strong elements of ‘Rebirth’, too. In sum, stories often can’t be boxed and they shouldn’t be. These plotlines are threadbare for a reason, since they’re foremost guides, and exist to help you build upon them. 3 Next Steps To Penning Your Plot Too little plot can be as tedious as no structure at all, so plan with care and remember plotting can be your aide. Plot should serve as a creative constraint, existing to help you produce your best work. A few steps on what you can do from here with the seven basic plots: Gather your story material. Review characters, the things you want to happen, and pick a plot for your novel.Map your key plot events. Adapt them to whichever plot you chose. If it’s a quest, map out testing moments where your protagonist can or should turn back – or, if it’s tragic, map out moments your tragic protagonist could have avoided what they’re heading for, and so on.Link these moments together and create your resolution to the action. All this will create a core meaning in your narrative (before you add subplots for complexity). After this, you’ll be needing a plot mountain, too, for adding the fun bits. Story structures are always there to help, not hinder you. Happy writing! Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

How to Write a Book Description for Amazon That Sells (Examples & Template)

An easy template | Loads of writing descriptions examples | A flood of sales … You’ve lured readers to your book page. Congratulations. Maybe, your stunning cover art has done it. Or a great title. Or a really well-constructed email campaign. Either way, you’ve got readers where you want them. They’re curious. They’re interested. But . . . they’re also suspicious. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying those potential readers are unusual in any way. Quite the reverse. They’re like you or me. Sure a $2.99 ebook isn’t a huge purchase decision – but a dollar is a dollar, and we value our time, and no one wants to buy a book that doesn’t grab them. And that’s why your book description is so intensely important: a vital member of the Fab Four of sales conversion. A strong description may make a reader buy the book or, perhaps more likely, go to the “Look Inside” feature which gives them more data on which to base their decision. And that really is the task of your book description: make readers click “Look Inside”. If you do that, you’ve won. Keep reading to find out how to write such a description. (Oh, and before we go further, I should say that the basic description writing template we’re about to lay out works for both novels and non-fiction – but it produces very different results in both cases. Bear with me, because we’ll look at both.) The Sales Pathway In fact, if you like to visualise the complete sales journey on Amazon (and excluding a ton of complicating factors), then it looks like this. Amazon Search Page ⇒ Your Book PageKey conversion factors: Cover, Price, Reviews (total number)Supporting cast: Title, Reviews (average rating) Your Book Page ⇒ Look InsideKey conversion factors: Book descriptionSupporting cast: Cover, reviews Look Inside ⇒ Buy NowKey conversion factors: The book itself!Supporting cast: Cover, book description, Reviews, Price Every step of that pathway is critical, except of course that in some cases the book page will push users straight to the Buy Now button. (Although, who actually makes purchase decisions that fast? You do if you’re buying Lee Child #97, because you’re already a keen fan of Lee Child #1-96. You do if you’re buying a “How To” style non-fiction book and you know that this author and this topic will meet your needs. But mostly? Mostly, I think, users want to try before they buy with authors who are new to them, and that means it helps you to visualise your sales journey in three steps, not two.) What Your Amazon Book Description Has to Do So, OK, your book description has to push people into hitting that “Look Inside” feature. That’s the step which defines success. But how do you actually accomplish that goal? How do you write Amazon book descriptions that really sell the book and compel the reader? To answer that question, you have to get a clear read on your who reader is – what their state of mind is. So let’s say, like me, you are a crime novelist. I’m going to assume that you’ve set your keywords and categories correctly. (Not sure about them? Check here for guest blogger, Dave Gaughran’s super-expert guide.) So, if you’ve done things right to this point, your book should start popping up in front of readers who: (a) have come to Amazon looking for a book,ie: they have real purchase intent – they want a crime novel (b) are interested in your genre,that’s how come your work is showing up in their searches, but (c) don’t know anything specific about you or what you’ve written Your great cover and great reviews persuade those people to click through to your book page. And these people are your perfect customers, in the sense that they have an immediate purchase-intent and they want a crime book. But They’re impatientBecause this is the internet, and everyone is impatient.They need information about what you’re offeringBecause you as an author are new to them, and they need help in understanding your product.They need to understand why they should buy your productBecause they need you to answer the question, “What will this book do for me? What will I get from it?” And finally of course: They want to be blown away They want to find themselves trapped in a place, where the only way out is to read your book. (And they probably need to be nudged towards that course of action.) So how exactly do you do it? How do you nudge the reader to set out on a book-length journey with you . . . when you only have maybe 150 words to convince them to take the trip? How to Take The Reader With You . . . In 150 Words or Less We’ve said that readers are impatient (it’s them that set that 150 word limit, not Amazon.) So you have to achieve a lot in a very short space of time . . . and here’s the basic template you need to follow. First, you need (1) to hook your readers in your first or second sentence. Then you need to (2) provide more data about what kind of book you’re offering. (Yes, a crime book, in our example, but police procedural? Or violent gangland thriller? And set in a quiet English village? Or south central LA?) And beyond that, you need to (3) give the reader a sense of what emotional payoff they’re going to get from your book. And that means that your reader actually needs to feel that payoff. Sure, there’s only so much emotion you can generate in a short space, but your readers understand the difference between the trailer and the movie. They understand the difference between the book description and the book. Then finally, (4), you need to nudge your reader towards the next action (either “Buy Now” or “Look Inside”). I’m not a huge fan of really direct calls to action in a book description, but you can still tip the reader in the direction you want to take. So that’s what our description has to accomplish. I’m about to tell you how to do it. Do just note that this is not a complete guide to the art of self-publishing. Luckily, though, we already have one for you, if you want it. It’s right here. Your Amazon Book Description Template The basic template for a book description is: Hook. This is one sentence, maybe two. Ideally, no more than that. If you go for three or more sentences, that can be fine . . . as long as they’re very short ones!Content. In the case of fiction, this will be a mini-story in its own right. In the case, of non-fiction, you will be laying out the substance of the book. In both cases, though, you’ll be answering the “what is this?” question and the “what will it do for me?” one. For fiction, your mini-story should run to about 75-100 words. Non-fictioneers can (and probably should) go long.Climax / call to action. If your main content is a mini-story, you want to end it on a cliffhanger, or a question, or some other place that is unsatisfying to the reader. In that sense, the cliffhanger IS your call to action. You’re effectively saying, “Hey, you don’t like being left in that place of suspense? Well, there’s only one way you can fix that problem, buddy . . . and the ‘Buy Now’ button is right up there.” You don’t even need to say that explicitly to say it. Oh, and the same basic approach works with non-fiction too. We’ll look at both. In terms of length, your climax is probably just one sentence. It could be two, but if so, they’re probably short ones . . . To be clear, that template works for every book. It’s the heart of every successful book description ever. We’re going to go on to look at some specific examples of how that template works out in practice, but before we get there, we have to face one more question. Do you want a very clean, pared-down book description, of the sort that Amazon Publishing generally favours? (One example here.) Or do you want to follow the kitchen-sink model favoured by Bookouture, an outstandingly successful British e-publisher? (One example of their monster book descriptions here – note the huge number of reviews etc included as part of that book description. Personally, I prefer the latter model. I like the ability to hold the reader on “my” part of my book’s web real estate. So I want readers to look at the reviews that I choose to shove under their nose. I don’t want my reader wandering down to look at the “also boughts”. I want them to feel complete before they even reach the end of the book description. But to be clear: that’s not the only method. Amazon, in case you hadn’t noticed, is rather good at data, and if their publishing arm favours a very trimmed-down version of the book description, it clearly works for them. So you can go light, or you can go heavy . . . the one thing you can’t do is mess with that template. The next thing for us to do? See how it works in practice. This stuff is helpful, right?But, you know, there’s a lot more where this came from. We’ve got an entire self-publishing video course, that’s expensive to buy (see details) . . . but which we’d like to give you totally free.And not just that course, but an awesome on on How To Write. And live webinars with literary agents and top book doctors. And an incredible cinema, full of films by writers for writers.In fact, our Jericho Writers club is made for writers like you – and was created by writers like you. We think you’ll be blown away by what we have on offer. To find out more, just Explore Our Club. We’ look forward to welcoming you soon. Your Book Description: Some Examples OK, you want an example of a top quality book description? Well, here’s one from Amazon imprint author, Mark Edwards. Mark writes his own descriptions and Amazon loves them so much, they don’t change a word. Mark opts for a super-pared down description and it works unbelievably well, as you can see. Here’s an example from his BECAUSE YOU LOVE ME. (Here on, or here on Amazon UK.) You can see that the hook / content / climax template is alive and well in that short piece of text. (Which totals just 100 words, by the way. I’d say that 100 words sits at the very short end of what you can get away with. Anything between 100 and, say, 180 words feels about right.) In this case, the hook is simply: “this author is a #1 worldwide bestseller, and if you like stories about jealousy / obsession / murder, you’re probably in the right place.” Works for you? Yep, it works for me too. Notice that that one short sentence has ticked two boxes. It’s said, “here are the themes of the book [so you already know what kind of emotional journey it’s going to offer.” But it’s also said, “And you don’t need to be worried about wasting your $3.99, because I’m a top author and you’re in good hands.” The story here is delivered with extreme economy, but just look what it accomplishes. That first sentence (Andrew meets Charlie) gives us the premise. In effect, that’s the initiating incident right there. In one sentence. Not just that, but you’re given the first uh-oh moment. (“He is certain his run of bad luck has finally come to an end.” You and I known damn well that it’s only just starting.) With the starting position swiftly drawn, the story instantly escalates . . . things missing, a stalker, misfortune, tragedy. The issues start small and build fast. In effect, in the tiny world of this book description, Mark Edwards has succeeded in building a perfectly formed story. What’s more, that little story answers the “what kind of book is this?” question. You just know exactly from the information you’ve been given. But it answers the “what feelings will you have when reading it?” question too. You know exactly what your emotional payoff is going to be. And then the climax / CTA: in this case, a question. Is this woman an angel – or a demon? Notice that you don’t actually need to do anything as crude as say, “Hey, go and buy my book!” That would actually spoil the emotional place you’ve got the reader into. What you’ve done is smarter than just some crude “buy me” message. You’ve engineered a little emotional conflict in the reader. They want to know the answer to your angel / demon question . . . but the only way they can resolve that is to buy the book. Don’t know about you, but that works for me. Different Ways to Deliver Hook Marks’s hook was a neat and uncomplicated one. Basically, “This book is a story about X, and you can trust that it’ll be a good one because I’m a #1 bestseller.” That’s OK if you are a #1 bestseller. If you’re not? Well, there are a million other ways to do it: Social proof. (“Readers are raving about this book. ‘Awesome, gob-smacking.’ Annie J. ‘Breathtaking. I never wanted it to end.’ Jaco R.”)Formal proof. (“The New York Times called this book ‘dazzling’.  The Washington Post said, ‘It’s so good, you’ll want to read it twice.\'”)Question. (“Was she an angel? Or a demon?”)Provocation. (“Finally – a heroine to kick Lisbeth Salander’s ass.”)Comparison. (“If you loved Donna Tartt’s Secret History, you’ll love this tale of darkness, betrayal – and Homer.”)Premise / set-up. (“She was his ex-wife. He still loved her. But why was she driving the getaway car in Chicago’s biggest-ever heist?”)Sales. (“100,000 copies sold in the series. And fans rate this as the best one yet.”) Or whatever! Be imaginative. Use whatever you’ve got. It doesn’t matter what type of hook you use. It does matter that you have one! Different Ways to Deliver Your Climax / CTA Likewise, your climax can operate in different ways. Choice / question. (“Was she an angel? Or a demon? Or – worse still – was she both?”)Suspense / cliffhanger. (“There was only one way to find out. And that was to open the tomb.”)Reminder of social proof / sales / formal proof. (“This is the novel that has sold a bazillion copies / that the New York Times raved about / that readers have awarded 100s of 5-star reviews.”)Comparisons nudge. (“Perfect for fans of Stephenie Meyer and Suzanne Collins.”) Again, it doesn’t really matter what you do; it does matter that you choose to do it. Personally, when it comes to fiction, I think you want to leave your readers in the story. That means the choice / question / cliffhanger ending works better for me than the jump back into “hey, the New York Times loved this”. But that could be a personal thing. Certainly you see plenty of competent indie authors / trad publishers using a whole variety of methods here. One More Example Just to show you how universal this model is, I’m going to give you an illustration from my own work – this one comes from the UK edition of my police procedural, THE DEAD HOUSE. I wasn’t in fact the primary author of this description – I just tweaked a description written by my publisher – but it’s probably the best of the descriptions of my work out there. You’ll see how precisely that description follows our template. The hook delivers a sense of emotion (“Chilling, atmospheric and gripping”), and a proof of quality – here’s top author Mark Edwards bigging the book up. (I’d forgotten, actually, that Mark had plugged The Dead House when I extracted his description above – but he’s a damn nice guy, with excellent taste . . . and he can write quite nicely too!) The story / content builds from the premise (victim’s body found), adds some mystery (who is she? why is she here? what’s with the thin white dress?), then escalates is one more time (another woman went missing). All that in a space hardly longer than Mark Edwards’s super-economical 100 words. And then the climax / CTA follows the template too: a question of the type that crime readers love. In fact – big claim here – if you find ANY good book description on Amazon, you’ll find it follows the same basic template. You don’t believe me? What about non-fiction, you cry? Pshaw, says I, and fiddle-de-dee. It’s true of non-fiction too. I’m going to show you an example of that in just one moment – but first some very important remarks about formatting, and how to make the most of the 4000 character allowance that Amazon grants us for book descriptions. Book Descriptions: Formatting, Length and Additional Content If you’ve been thinking about book descriptions at all, you’ll have noticed that some descriptions make good use of formatting (bold, italics, subheadings, etc), some make wildly excessive use of them, and some make no use at all. About Formatting Although Amazon’s own imprints make almost no use of formatting (and those guys test extensively, so they’re not just being stupid or lazy), my own view is that some good, calm, tasteful formatting adds structure and intelligibility to the blurb. I’m not going to talk in detail about how to insert bold and italics, etc. The short answer is that you use html tags like or to make text bold or italics respectively, and then lose the tags with, for example or , once you want the bold / italics to stop. But that’s not really a complete answer, so: You can read Amazon’s own guidelines here, but better stillThere’s a really easy tool here, which allows you to format your text on screen in a way that you’re happy with. Once you’re happy with the way your book description looks, you just hit “Get code” and the tool will deliver you with the text you can just cut and paste into your Amazon book description box. Simple! I’m happy enough using html tags, but I still use that tool, just because it’s easier to design nice-looking text if you can see what you get, real-time. In short, my advice is DO use formatting, but carefully. I think both my DEAD HOUSE description and the Italian guidebook description we’re about to look at use those formatting tools in a nice, clear, helpful way. But then another question looms. It’s this: do you want your book description to look very short and sweet – like the Mark Edwards description we looked at first – or do you want it to segue from book blurb into a whole pile of reviews and the like? Book Descriptions: Short Versus Long? Compare the Mark Edwards book description here, with this one from Angela Marsons, who is published by hyper-successful British e-publisher, Bookouture. The Angela Marsons one follows our template at the start – so it has a blurb-like blurb with intro / story / climax like all the others. But then it tells us “Readers are loving Dying Truth” and lays out a whole set of reader / blogger / formal reviews. Now there’s something interesting here. If you look at their records over the last several years, there’s a strong case to be made that Bookouture and Amazon are the world’s two best publishers when it comes to publishing and selling on Amazon’s KDP platform. They text extensively and monitor outcomes. But one firm – Amazon – goes for extremely short, unformatted book descriptions. The other, Bookouture, goes for very long, highly formatted ones. Which to prefer? Well, if you have two great firms making quite opposite choices, that says to me that both options work. Personally, I prefer – and use myself – the Bookouture model, of conventional blurb followed by a ton of reviews, but it’s your call. There’s no absolute right and wrong here. Using Formatting to Brand Your Book Finally, do take a look back at that book description for Angela Marsons. Notice the way that the publishers use formatting not just to say “this book is great”, but to ram home their key marketing messages for the book. So take this bit from the book description: ‘Just wow. This is police procedural at its best…It is complex, intriguing, and the writing hooked me in completely. I read the majority of this book in a few short hours not pausing for breath’ (5 stars) Rachel’s Random Reads That quote (and use of bold) is reminding the reader that this book is a police procedural. In other words, it’s sending out the not-so-subtle message to readers who like police procedurals that this book could well be for them. So the perfect reviews to select for your book description will be ones that (a) say “this book is great”, but also (b) reinforce your basic message of what this book is and what the emotional payoff will be. In effect, any reviews you include at the bottom of your book description should say, “You know that implicit promise from the blurb? About what you can expect to get from the book if you buy it? Well, trust me, buddy, this book will more than deliver for you.” So the blurb part of the book description delivers a promise, and the review part of it affirms that other readers / reviewers consider that promise to have been met. That’s a template that I personally like very much and use for all my self-published work. Has This Been Helpful? Before you leave this page – and just before we get to that long-promised non-fiction book description – may I ask you a question? It’s this: Has this page been helpful? And, because you’re an indie author, what that really means is: Will you make more sales by using insights from this page?Will you develop your career?Will you look like – and be – a more professional author? I’m really hoping that the answers to those questions are yes, yep, and you betcha. In which case – why stop at one blog post? Why not go the whole hog? Because – did you know this? – we have an entire course on self-publishing that tells you everything you need to know in incredibly clear detail. It’s fun. It’s engaging. It’s comprehensive. And it will get you from zero to sixty in no time at all. Basically, it’ll cut out all the mistakes and get you on the road to indie-dom fast and properly. And yes, there’s a catch. But, panic ye not, there’s a way to sniggle your way past that catch without being snared. So the catch is quite simply price. The course is a super-premium course and it costs hundreds of dollars to buy. (You can view the course outline in full here.) The price makes sense. You get 13 full length videos, plus a ton of bonus material too. Those videos come with full, extensive PDF-downloads, so you have notes on every topic at the click of a button.  Unless you are a super-sophisticated indie author already, this course WILL make you a better, richer, happier author. It’ll basically cut out all the mistakes and trial-and-error decisions, and put you on the road to success. But it’s expensive. So what to do? The answer is: don’t buy it. Rent it. If you become a member of Jericho Writers, you get all the learning material on this site FOR FREE. All of it. There’s no limit to your access. So you can gobble up that video course, and all our self-published filmed masterclasses, and all our material on how to write, and everything else besides, and not pay one dime over your monthly membership fee. You can learn more about Jericho Writers here or just sign up here. What’s more, our membership is cancel-any-time, so you can just sign up, help yourself to whatever you want from our learning tools, then quit. We’d love it if you stayed, but if you don’t want to, that’s fine too. We’re writers ourselves and we’re here to help. Non-Fiction Book Descriptions – Also Formatting, Length & Reviews The thing about non-fiction, is that you still need the hook, to draw readers into your page. You still need the springboard-style lift So here, for example, is the book description from Rick Steve’s Italy – a guidebook that I’ve chosen to complement the beautiful images of the Italian landscape that adorn this post. Notice the enticing intro, the meaty content, and what is effectively a call-to-action right at the end. Notice too the clever way this blurb moves from standard guidebook stuff (“top sights and hidden gems”) to things that make you start visualising yourself in Italy with this book in your pack (“Over 1000 Bible-thin pages”). That’s the whole book description template in (beautifully formatted) action, right? In fact, I hope that you can see our book description rules are basically universal. If they can cover dark crime fiction like mine / Mark Edwards’s / Angela Marsons’s AND a standard-issue Italian guidebook, then they just have to work everywhere, right? So go write your book description, entice those readers and grab those sales! Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community.

Literary Agent Fees (What You Need to Know)

How Much Do Literary Agents Cost? And Are They Worth It? One thing that puzzles a lot of writers about literary agents is their fee structure. Can you afford an agent? What do they charge? How much do literary agents actually cost? The answer is mostly good news . . . with a little bit of bad news thrown in. The good news is that literary agents charge absolutely nothing upfront. Not a penny. They don’t charge fees down the line either. I’m Harry Bingham. I’ve been a professional author for twenty years. I’ve sold a lot of books and been paid a lot of money for them. And I have never once been given an invoice by my agent. Too good to be true? Well, there’s a catch of course, and it’s this: Literary agents charge commission. That is, for every $1000 they get you in advances or royalties or overseas sales or film rights, they will take their cut. If they earn nothing for you, they will charge nothing. If they sell your book for a lot of money – well, they’ll be doing well for themselves as well as you! The brilliant thing about this arrangement is that your agent’s financial incentives are almost perfectly aligned with your own. That means, when the agent is querying different publishers, or reviewing contracts, or hassling over hiccups in the publication process, their financial goals are exactly the same as yours. For that reason, authors tend to be very close to their literary agents . . . and are often rather less close with their editors! 1) Literary Agent Fees Typical commission rates for literary agents Typically commissions work as follows. Your literary agent will take: 15% of all sales made in home markets (ie: the US if you are working with a US agent; the UK if you are working with a British one.)20% on overseas sales, and20% for sales of film and TV rights. Some agents may vary from this, but these rates are increasingly standard. They are not compulsory however, and if you are bold enough to negotiate, there’s nothing wrong with that. (And indeed, top authors often don’t pay full whack. They don’t have to.) Literary Agent Commissions: An Example Let’s say you’re a Brit and you sell your book to: a UK publisher for £10,000, anda US publisher for $25,000 then your agent will take 15% of £10,000 (so £1,500), and20% of that $25,000 (so $5,000). There would also be fees for any foreign language sales and for film or TV sales. In practice, film & TV deals are relatively rare and generally a lot less lucrative than the newspapers would have you think! 2) Royalties When you sell a book to a publisher, you sell it for an advance against royalties. So let’s say you sell your manuscript to a publisher for $10,000, but that book goes on to be a bestseller. You will be entitled to a per book fee on every copy sold (that’s called a royalty, and the actual calculation of those things is a bit complex.) But, to simplify, let’s say that over the first two years of sales, you earn $110,000 in royalties. The first $10K of that is set aside – your $10,000 upfront advance was an advance against royalties, so you can’t claim it twice. But the other $100,000? Yep, that’s yours, and you will start to be paid that money via six-monthly instalments, depending on sales. Be aware, though, that your literary agent is also entitled to their fees on those earnings (because they brought you the deal that turned your book into a bestseller). So minus your literary agent\'s fees, what you would actually get in this example is: 85% of your $10K advance (your agent gets the other 15%)85% of your $100K royalty earnings (again, your agent gets the remaining 15%) Again, be aware that good agents will press for the highest advance they can get away with, so you can easily, easily earn a living as a professional author and not see a royalty check from one year’s end to the next. 3) If You Move On From Your Literary Agent If you decide to fire your agent, or otherwise move on, then your agent is still entitled to any commission due following deals that they signed. And that makes sense. If you get rich because of a deal done by your agent, then your agent should be entitled to their share of the fruits of that deal, no matter how far down the road. In practice, most client-agent relationships are quite long term, and if you have signed a book deal successful enough that it’s still pumping out money, then you’re not likely to split with your agent. But still: the possibility is there, and it’ll be carefully covered in any contract or letter of engagement you have with your agent. So read that letter or contract – and if in doubt: ask! 4) Are Literary Agents Worth Their Fees? Yes. Was that emphatic enough? I don’t think it was. So one more time, with feeling: Yes, yes, yes!Get an agent!They will make you much more money than they will cost you!It is the best career move you will ever make! A good agent will do the following for you: They’ll make sure that your manuscript is right for the market. That may mean that you need to tweak the book, but those tweaks are intended to get it just right for publishers in today’s market.They’ll approach the right editors at the right publishing houses. That means having impeccable contacts and staying current. (That’s also why, by the way, nearly all agents are based in New York or London. They need to be close to the publishers, and those fine cities are where the publishers hang out.)They’ll run a proper auction. That’s the salesy bit of their job, and most agents are very good at it.They’ll negotiate a proper contract for you. Publishing contracts today are typically up to twenty pages long (in the UK and US, though European ones are shorter). Contracts are full of abstruse terms and royalty rates, and you need to be an industry insider to navigate them properly. It’s not a task you can do yourself. I am a very experienced author myself and (because of my role in Jericho Writers) I am exceptionally well plugged into the wider publishing industry. But you know what? I still use an agent, because I make loads more money that way. And save myself a ton of hassle. And can draw on a ton of expertise that I couldn’t easily access any other way. So get an agent. Pay their fees. Write well. Be happy. Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

Ideas for Writing a Book (and How to Develop Them)

We once got a strange email. It was three lines long, from someone telling us he wanted to write a book. OK. That’s great. The email wasn’t written very well. The spelling wasn’t great. The punctuation – uh – had all fallen off. But none of that was the issue on his mind. His email was simply entitled “Book Ideas“, and he was writing to ask for help. In a word, he wanted us to develop his ideas for writing a book. And here was the thing. He was sure he was a good writer, which is great, but he hadn’t actually written anything. Worse still, he said he didn’t have a single idea for a story, so could we maybe give him one? Right. Yes. I’m sure that’s how Herman Melville got started too. But the fact is, all of us know what it feels like to feel uninspired and stuck in a rut when ideas just won’t come. And this post is all about solving that problem, showing you how to get started writing a book, and how to come up with ideas. Where do ideas for a book come from? How do you know if they’re any good? And how can you take your existing ideas and make them better? Big questions, but let’s see what we can do to help. What follows is a simple way to generate good quality ideas that work for you. We know they’re going to work for you, because the ideas come from you. In fact, you already have them in your head right now. All we’re going to do is help you find them. Let’s start. Book Ideas: How To Get Them And What To Do Next Note down your ideas – your daydreams, interests, favourite booksLearn the market by reading your genreStart developing your ideas, jotting down what you know about your future bookGive your ideas time to develop – don’t rush it!Work on your writing skills and technique How To Have Ideas: The Good News Consider this. It’s not a question of forming the idea, but of recognising one (or ones) you already have, so let’s do that. Make lists of: Things you daydream about;Your special interests (medieval churches, IT security, tattoos);Your areas of expertise;Your current passions (things that get you off on a rant or long-winded explanations);Things you loved as a child (amazing how often the child seems to predict the adult, so look back, see what you loved in the past);Books you loved as a child;Books you love now. Write actual lists of these things. Not in one single half hour session, but bit by bit, over time. Let things stew, bubble up. Almost certainly, you’ll find something nagging at you. Something that stays with you after you leave your lists. That there is your idea. Good, huh? But stick with us. We’ve only just got started. How To Handle Ideas For Books (What To Expect) The trouble with inspiration is it never arrives fully formed. Writing is messy. Few novels arrive complete. Most have had to be hacked out of rock. It’s okay, though, if you decide development is easy and fun, and remember ideas take time. You don’t get from nowhere to perfect in one leap. It’s not a generator. It’s an incubator. You don’t find your idea. You grow it. We’ll talk a little more about that shortly but first, ask yourself. Is your book idea any good? Be sure your idea is strong enough to carry you to publication before you start writing. There are techniques for (a) figuring out if your idea is strong enough and (b) adding sparkle to it if it isn’t, fortunately. Learn The Market Read the area, niche, genre in which you are going to write. Read widely. Stay current. Know new names, not just old ones. It’s a massive mistake not to do this, and many new writers don’t. You should, because these are the books your ideal readership is reading. Start Developing Get a sheet of paper and write down what you know about your future book, or interests you’d like your story to make room for, to explore. That might be very little at first. It might be no more than: Antarctic settingSeismologySecret weapons testing That has no characters, no plot arc, no meaningful line of development, but it’s a start. Not just that, but it’s an exciting one. There’s a frisson of interest there already. A stew that might bubble up into something wonderful. So keep going. Whatever comes to mind. When you\'re looking at how to come up with characters for a book, and developing the plot, jot down words and sentences. Note down anything that comes to mind around plot events, themes, settings, ideas for your protagonist. Keep listing, see what comes to you. An Example: First Attempt Try out things. So you might find yourself writing things like this: Ex-SAS man turned seismologist is there.Baggage from the past (a mission gone wrong?).Meets Olga, glamorous Russian geologist. How do you feel about those? Take a moment to see what your actual reactions are. Me personally, I think the ex-Special Forces seismologist could be a decent character, but the glamorous Russian Olga feels like a bit of a cliche. I feel I’ve seen her too often before. And the ‘baggage from the past / mission gone wrong’ element feels dangerously on the edge of cliche. That’s fine. Remember that this whole process is a development exercise. So you can try things out, see how they feel, and discard them as much as you like. Discarding stuff is good – that shows that you’re pruning the bad stuff and keeping only the good stuff. Just add explosions … An Example: Second Attempt So maybe we try again. We might start sketching something like this. Leila – who is ex-Special Forces – is a British seismologist.She loves extreme adventure, including climbing, sky-diving.She’s sampling ice cores to track past earth disturbances.She finds weird, inexplicable traces – too recent.A multinational team – many scientists there.Russian scientist, aloof, unnerving (will turn out a ‘good guy’). … … And so on. Maybe we haven’t yet nailed much with this list, but it’s the forward-back process of development that brings rewards, helping you make subsequent connections (e.g. perhaps you decide Leila’s the only woman on that team, perhaps she needs to prove she’s as strong as any of them, etc., etc.). The only test of whether a list like this works is whether you have a deep-ending tickle of excitement about your jottings. If that fades, you’ve gone wrong somewhere, so find out which element isn’t working, delete, and try again, following your intuition. Remember that the process of story development is one of constant experiment. You sketch something out. You see how it feels. It feels good? OK, great. You continue to add depth to your sketch. (Add a character, a possible plot point, some more about settings, some more about the challenge to be faced, etc.) It feels wrong? OK. So scratch out the thing that felt wrong. Try something else in its place. Or if you can’t find (say) the right antagonist for the moment, then leave that issue for the moment and turn to an area where you do have some good ideas. You’ll find that as you build up one area of the story (say, settings), you’ll find that other parts (say, your antagonist) suddenly flash into view. Each part of the story illuminates and supports the others. How To Give Your Story The “X-Factor” And as you’re doing this, remember that readers always want something new, something unexpected. So give it to them! The way to do this is to make sure that your list of story ingredients always includes a rogue element – something that you don’t expect to be there. That rogue element will always have the effect of lifting the story and giving the reader a little thrill of excitement. What’s more the rule basically applies to ALL huge-selling novels of recent years. Take romance plot ideas, for example: BORING STORY: a normal American teen falls in love with a normal American boy.GREAT STORY: a normal American teen falls in love with a vampire. Two versions of the same thing; the basic ideas to write a love story. One is too dull to cross a room for. The other one (Twilight) was one of the biggest YA sensations of all time. Or how about crime novel ideas: BORING STORY: a journalist investigates a murder in Sweden.GREAT STORY: a journalist plus a bisexual, Aspergers, rape-surviving, computer genius combine forces to investigate a murder in Sweden. The “rogue element” of Lisbeth Salander’s kick-ass character basically gave the Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy the fire it needed to conquer the world. And so on. You can look at any huge selling hit of recent years and find that unexpected ingredient that blasted the book to international success. And you can repeat that trick for yourself. If you find your story is just too expected, then throw in something to freshen it up. So, let’s go with this Arctic idea, and let’s say that your draft story looks something a bit like this. FIRST DRAFT STORY:Leila, ex-Special Forces British seismologist is sampling ice cores in the Antarctic.She finds evidence of recent blast activity – human-made.She suspects of team of Russian scientists are really testing a new type of nuclear device.She investigates.The situation escalates.It resolves itself in a dramatic shoot-out. And what are your feelings there? I’m going to guess that you thought, roughly, “Yeah, that’s OK, but it doesn’t really set my pulse racing.” And the issue is that everything is exactly what you’d expect. It’s as though we read this story plan, and already feel like we’ve read that book or something very similar. So now let’s apply our rogue element strategy and see how the story might run. STORY WITH ROGUE ELEMENTLeila, ex-Special Forces British seismologist is sampling ice cores in the Antarctic.She finds evidence of recent disturbances that make no sense.And there are thefts from the camp – unexplained>At first the Russian team is suspected, but – caught out with a Russian captain, Arkady, in a snowstorm – it looks like Leila and Arkady will both perish. But they’re saved – mysteriously – as fresh kerosene is added to their supplies.Leila and Arkady come to believe they are dealing with the ghosts of Scott’s tragic expedition to the Antarctic.They realise the souls of Scott and his men are trapped in the ice and are only seeking escape. Leila & Arkady use their knowhow and technical resources to liberate the ghosts. How’s that? Personally, I’m not yet sure about it – I literally just this minute came up with the idea – but I will say this: You were not expecting that story to emerge. You’ve never read anything like it before. Already, it has a grip over your imagination that the first version never did. In fact, if we took the bones of that story and really did some work with it, I’d say we’d have the chance to create something really extraordinary. A story that no one had ever read before, or would ever forget. The short moral of this example is obvious: Yes, the process of story development is intuitive, trial-and-error, and has plenty of dead ends. But it’s not random. Good stories follow a formula, which can be put roughly as follows: Your passions + a rogue element = a great story If you want to structure that process some more – and you should – then do use our idea generator, available on this page. It’s great, and it’s pretty much guaranteed to work. From here you can go on to work on character development and character arc. Developing the plot beyond your initial idea is important too, so check out our articles on seven basic plots, and plotting a novel. Remember To Give Yourself Time Give yourself time to muse over your book. If all this takes a week, it’s taken you too little time. Three months would be good, but if it takes six months, that’s fine, too. Jack Kerouac, famed for writing his draft for On the Road in twenty-one days, pondered his ideas for years. My most successful novel (Harry Bingham writing) was two years in development, then written within two months – so development matters. Real inspiration takes time, care, effort, and thought. Technique Matters, Too Often, new writers can give up on a project by starting in a rush, noticing things aren’t quite working. They don’t quite know how to analyse what isn’t working, though, so give up – probably convinced that they don’t have the talent. And that’s not just untrue, but a shame. Writing books takes time and needs patience. It is also tough, and some new writers spend no time learning how to do it. The best solution? Simple: Get expert helpHang out with supportive writer-friendsImprove your technique And you know what? Jericho Writers is a club for writers like you and was set up to help writers like you. Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

15 Common Novel Writing Mistakes (Beginner Writers Beware!)

If you’re a beginner writer, then you have to read this. We tell you what the most common literary mistakes are – how bad they are – and how to fix ’em! We see a lot of novels here, many hundreds each year. And our writers are an admirable, successful bunch. We’ve had years of experiences, lots of time spent understanding what agents want and what they really, really don’t. It all adds up to a pretty good idea of the most common novel writing mistakes made by newer writers as they set out to write their first novel. Oh, and we’re going to talk a lot about mistakes in this post – but please don’t think we have anything other than total respect for new writers. I’m Harry Bingham, and I am now a successful author with a ton of novels and other books behind me. I’ve been commercially successful and the mistakes that we’re going to talk about here? Well, luckily for me, I don’t make them any more. But I did. My first novel? Not too bad, actually, by first novel standards. But I still deleted the first 60,000 words of the first draft, because those words just weren’t good enough. My second novel? A total, utter, ocean-going, gold-plated, forty-eight carat disaster of a book. That one made most of the mistakes we’re going to talk about here . . . and was so bad, I deleted it. So my second published novel is really the third novel that I actually sat down and wrote. No exaggeration. It was that bad. Anyhow. That’s my confession out of the way. And, like I say, we take our hats off and say, ‘Nice writing. Good on you.’ to anyone at all who has the guts to write and complete a novel. But you want to know which mistakes our editorial team sees most frequently? They’re the ones we\'re going to talk about right now. What follows is a checklist of which mistakes are most often made (and that the new writer should beware of) and, more importantly, what to do about them. To make it more interesting, we’ve taken a stab at guesstimating how many manuscripts commit these errors, giving them a howler rating according to how hard they are to fix. So draw a deep breath, and take courage.As Neil Gaiman said, ‘if you’re making mistakes,it means you’re out there doing something’. We like that. Now, let\'s look at how not to write a novel. 1. A Terrible Concept Some concepts just don’t work. An ‘educational’ novel for Young Adults with reams of explanation about climate science stuffed into a creaky plot. A book for adults that features the life history of the author’s parrot. A sad story about a woman’s not-very-terrible mid-life crisis that ends with her deciding to work part-time and take up baking. None of these books stand a chance of interesting an agent. (Well, okay, if they were handled by an out-and-out genius, perhaps, but almost no one is.) The Stats Of Doom How many manuscripts make this mistake? 1-3% Howler rating (5 stars is worst): ***** Comment:You can’t fix this error. You must start again. Get help on your elevator pitch, or just firkle out some new and better ideas. 2. A Book That Doesn’t Ramp It Up Enough Surprisingly, this is something we see a lot. Thrillers that don’t quite thrill. Comedies that don’t really make you laugh. Romances that aren’t all that poignant or stimulating. Literary fiction which doesn’t really dazzle. And you can’t be so-so about these things. If agents and editors are faced with a choice, and yours isn’t the more thrilling thriller, which do you think they’ll pick? Short message: Ramp it up. The Stats Of Doom How many manuscripts make this mistake? 5-20% Howler rating (5 stars is worst): **** Comment:You can fix it in theory, and with a lot of work, but sometimes it’s better just to pick a better idea – say if your story isn’t exciting you enough to make it exciting for others. 3. A Manuscript That’s Written For A Different Era Agatha Christie, Mark Billingham, Stuart MacBride, Peter Robinson … these are big selling authors, so if you write like them, you’ll get sales like them, right? Well, no. Those authors wrote for the market as it was when they got started. They dominate that market – both subject-wise and era-wise. Unless you know your era very well, as well as do something distinctively new, there is no reason why agents, editors or readers should favour your book. It’s the same with books trying to reprise the 1980s comedies of Tom Sharpe. Or YA authors rewriting Stephenie Meyer, not noticing there’s been quite a lot of vampire-lit since Twilight. Just don’t do it. Unless you’re writing historical fiction, it’s as well to write for the world as it is now. The Stats Of Doom How many manuscripts make this mistake? 3-5% Howler rating (5 stars is worst): **** Comment:This error is all but unfixable in truth, unless you’ve written exceptionally well. Sorry! 4. A Manuscript With No Discernible USP Your USP. Your ‘Unique Selling Point’. Sometimes, a manuscript only ticks the boxes. It’s a love story with genuine warmth. It feels contemporary. The writing is fine, and perhaps it’ll be top of an agent’s slushpile – but you need to be in the top nought-point-something-percent of that pile to get taken on, and what will tip the balance in your favour is usually an angle, a concept, a pitch that’s immediately captivating. A tale, for instance, about a time-traveller’s wife? I want to read more. I’d pick up The Time-Traveller’s Wife. Or a fostered child in Nazi Germany, stealing censored books and visited by death? The Book Thief is an original take in children’s fiction, on a troubling, much-visited subject. If your book doesn’t an original concept, it’ll hamper the search for an agent – but we’ve clues on building a strong elevator pitch you can read for that. The Stats Of Doom How many manuscripts make this mistake? 20-30% Howler rating (5 stars is worst): **** Comment:It’s a lot of work, but you can fix this. Usually, you need to take some already-extant aspect of the novel, and simply push it further than you’ve so far dared to go. Or you can take some totally new element and ram it in. (So Stephenie Meyer took ordinary teenage angsty-romance lit and rammed into it with a vampire story. Wow! Brilliant collision. The results were . . . well, you know damn well what they were. A global multimedia phenomenon.) In short: you have to think big and bold to solve this issue. It will be a lot of work though. Tinkering-type solutions will not be the fix. Get better ideas. 5. Lousy Presentation Manuscripts written in purple ink? With awful spelling or weird fonts? And punctuation that forgot to turn up for work? This is less common than folklore would have you believe, partly because computers and spellcheckers eliminate egregious faults. Nevertheless, tell-tale clues can often be enough. Let’s suppose I were an agent, and I received a manuscript, and that manuscript had loads of run-on sentences, which is where you have independent sentences separated by commas rather than full stops, and if I was quite busy, maybe I would think I had better things to do than read any further. If you were the author, you might be quite upset that I never got past the first page – so give yourself the best chance of ensuring this doesn’t happen. The Stats Of Doom How many manuscripts make this mistake? 5-10% Howler rating (5 stars is worst): *** Comment:On the one hand, punctuation is simple to fix. A problem is that poor punctuation is often allied to sloppy prose, which takes a lot more work. Both things matter. If you are sure that your prose and story are fine, but know you need input on presentational matters, you could think about copy-editing, but be careful. Most manuscripts don’t need copy-editing, just better writing. Manuscript presentation help here. 6. Lack Of Clarity In Prose The first job of your prose is easy. It needs to convey meaning, clearly and succinctly. Your meaning must always be clear. When you use pronouns (‘it’, ‘she’, ‘he’, etc), it must be clear who or what is being referred to. Don’t use ‘dangling modifiers’. Your reader needs to know where they are and when, and what’s happening (unless, of course, you are being deliberately mysterious). This is simple and so basic, but not all manuscripts achieve success. Simple message here: you are seeking to make a living as a professional writer, so the basic quality of your writing has to be good enough. There are no shortcuts here. The Stats Of Doom How many manuscripts make this mistake? 5-10% Howler rating (5 stars is worst): ** to **** Comment:Sometimes, a rigorous line edit is all that’s needed, but sometimes sloppy prose equals sloppy thinking, harder to address. In truth, I think it’s very rare that a novel with genuinely poor writing will ever be lifted to a place where it can be effectively published. (And that’s true even if you’re aiming at self-publishing. The standards of both routes are much the same these days, as in the end the readers call the shots.) Learn how to write better prose. 7. Writing Is Not Economical Most writers don’t think enough about making every sentence as economical as it can reasonably be. Very few books can bear too much verbiage, so prune, then prune again. Be ruthless. If you haven’t cut at least 10,000 words from your manuscript by the time it comes to editing, you haven’t really tried. We’ve had many beginner novelists offer us manuscripts that needed to lose 30,000 words or more. What we always try to communicate is that they can probably lose that level of word count without actually losing any content. Like if you have a 12 word sentence that could be written just as well as in only 9 words, you’re not losing content, you’re just removing surplus. Likewise, we’ve seen descriptions of (say) a North African street market which were kinda great, but involved 6 descriptive sentences. Those 6 would probably work more powerfully, if you just picked the 3 best images/sentences and went with those. The reader would actually end up with more sense of the place, not less. And so on. The short message: be more brutal with your work than you currently think possible. Your work will love you back and give you a great big kiss once you’re done. Learn how to edit a book. The Stats Of Doom How many manuscripts make this mistake? 30-50% Howler rating (5 stars is worst): * to **** Comment:Again, sometimes a good edit is all that’s needed, as long as sloppy prose doesn’t equal sloppy thinking. 8. Writing Is Over-The-Top Before I started editing manuscripts, I just didn’t know this was an issue, but it really is. We get so many manuscripts that are just loaded with extremities – scream, agony, torture, yelling, misery, overwhelm, fury, all on the first page – sometimes even all in the first paragraph. Of course, strong language is vital, as is emotional resonance, but you need to be careful to moderate its use. A surprising number of first-time novels just cram too much all in on page one, then carry on cramming. Nuance is key. Short message: gently does it. Lead with the character and the story situation. Oblique is better than direct. The Stats Of Doom How many manuscripts make this mistake? 1-3% Howler rating (5 stars is worst): *** Comment:It’s easy to fix in theory, so long as these issues aren’t deeper than just poor word choice. Again, the root cause is quite often that a first-time writer isn’t properly in contact with his characters and that can be a harder issue to fix. (Oh, and did you pick up on my non-gender neutral ‘he’ just then? Yep, well, most of our editorial clients are women, but the people who most often make this mistake are men. And by “most often” I mean “90% or more”. Sorry, lads, but it’s true!) Strangely, a good way to write a book with good emotional texture is to really work at your dialogue – the two things often go together. You just can’t write strong dialogue, unless you have a tight handle on what your characters are feeling moment to moment. Our dialogue tips here. 9. Clichés Abound Full-on clichés are (thank goodness) relatively rare in manuscripts we read. We don’t read many ‘wet blankets’, or ‘sick as a dog’ instances, but cliché is so often more insidious than just those howlers. You can have a passionate, flame-haired girl. Or scenes of domestic bliss that involve log fires. Or villains who are steely-eyed. A cliché is anything which makes us feel we’ve read this before … and, sorry to say, in that broader sense, we see a lot of these in manuscripts. Short message: any kind of cliché starts to kill the reader’s absorption in your story. Very soon you will lose that reader completely. The Stats Of Doom How many manuscripts make this mistake? 20-50% Howler rating (5 stars is worst):** to **** Comment:Once you’ve identified a phrase, character or plot device, it’s simple (if time-consuming) to fix. It’s finding the things that’s pesky. 10. Points Of View Are Mishandled We read a lot of work where one character is thinking and feeling something … then, suddenly, we’re in the head of some completely different character, sharing their thoughts and emotions. And obviously, it is okay to move about between characters, but this transition must be properly handled (normally by moving properly out of one head, before moving into the next). Our colleague, Emma Darwin, has some good advice to follow, but when those transitions aren’t correctly handled, you cause giddiness, confusion in the reader, and are at risk of causing rejection letters to come a-fluttering to your doormat. Short message: keep control over your points of view. One simple rule to follow is: one point of view per chapter. More sophisticated writers can mess about with that rule but if you’re unsure – just follow it! If you want the real ins-and-outs of point of view, you can get a very detailed guide here. The Stats Of Doom How many manuscripts make this mistake? 3-10% Howler rating (5 stars is worst): *** Comment:Very fixable, but normally a slew of changes will flow from any initial set of corrections. 11. Descriptions Absent Or Bland We’ve read novels where all action seems to take place in a white and featureless void, where any description is bland or muted. Readers want to be transported to a different world. So transport them. Descriptive writing is actually essential to this goal. We’ve got some great advice on how write descriptively right here. The techniques involved are suprisingly easy . . . and they can deliver an amazing lift to the novel. More than you think. Sometimes, however, if a novel lacks emotional punch, it’s not to do with the descriptions – but an absence of drama on the page. In such cases, the issue is nearly always to do with the author telling the reader about the action, rather than just showing us the action as it happens. Too much telling will kill a novel stone dead, and you can’t let that happen to yours. Here’s all you need on show vs tell, in case you need a refresher. The Stats Of Doom How many manuscripts make this mistake? 3-10% Howler rating (5 stars is worst): ** Comment:Easily fixed, just make sure weak descriptions aren’t masking a broader problem with prose style. Intermission: Do You Need Help? New writers make these mistakes because writing novels is HARD. But we can help – and save you huge amounts of wasted time. Writing a novel is hard. Writing a novel for the first time is harder. Writing a novel for the first time and making sure that your novel is strong enough to be published – well, that’s one heck of a goal to set yourself. It’s OK to find this tough.It’s OK – actually sensible – to get help. As a member of Jericho Writers you get full, free, unrestricted access to courses that cover some of the very issues we\'ve already discussed. As well as films and masterclasses, events, our Townhouse community, AgentMatch, and so much more. And membership of Jericho Writers: Is low costIs cancel-any-time.You can literally sign up, and cancel in the same day, and still enjoy the single month’s membership you paid for. We hope you don’t do that, but if you just want to spend one intensive month using our materials, that’s fine with us. Whatever works for you.Is absolutely stuffed with benefits, and we’re adding more all the timeWas developed for writers exactly like you.We’ve had over ten years serving writers like you and we’ve got hundreds of them published. We’d love to help you too. We’re sure we can do it. That’s a crazy-good deal, right? I certainly hope so, at least, because when we developed the whole membership concept, the basic brief to ourselves was, “Let’s just build the writing club of our dreams. Let’s make that thing happen, then charge as little as we possibly can.” So that’s what we did. I\'d love it if you chose to learn more about membership, or just say what the heck, I wanna sign up. But if that’s not right for you now, sit tight, and we’ll review the last common mistakes that writers make when they write their #1 novel. 12. Unliterary Literary Writing We get plenty of ‘literary’ novels. Literary fiction still relies on a wonderful plot or a stunning premise to hook its audience, and if you want your novel to sell as a ‘literary’ one, it has to be flawlessly written. Basic competence is not enough: you must demonstrate something more. If you don’t read a lot of literary fiction (Pulitzer / Booker Prize type work), then you are probably not writing it either. The Stats Of Doom How many manuscripts make this mistake? 10-30% (of literary novels) Howler rating (5 stars is worst): *** Comment:You need to pay careful attention to prose style, but this exercise is usually manageable. You just need to care, a lot, and make sure that you take care with every sentence you write. 13. What Happened To The Plot? Strange, but true. Some writers complete an entire novel without really knowing what their story is. And stories don’t create themselves. Check out our blogs on plotting and making use of the snowflake method to plan things out. This is an issue you just have to get right, irrespective of what genre you choose to write in. The Stats Of Doom How many manuscripts make this mistake? 3-10% Howler rating (5 stars is worst): **** Comment:A strong story matters in all genres, and for debut novelists especially. Jane Austen, Shakespeare et al. aren’t above plots, so you’re not either. 14. Unbelievable Or Bland Characters Sometimes, everything seems to be moving along all right in technical terms. Story, check; descriptions, check; prose style, check. Still, somehow, a manuscript is failing to connect with its readers. It’s often because the central character(s) aren’t really showing up for work, and that in turn is usually because you, the author, don’t yet know them sufficiently – almost as though you don’t trust your imagination to feel out the limits of the people you’re writing about. We’ve got some simple free advice right here. The Stats Of Doom How many manuscripts make this mistake? 3-10% Howler rating (5 stars is worst): *** Comment:Poor characterisation is easy enough to fix, albeit there’s some work involved. Often the issue is just that a writer was so busy constructing the novel’s plot / settings / research underpinnings etc that they couldn’t handle the additional act of characterisation too. If that’s the issue, then the advice is just, “Time for Draft #2” 15. You Haven’t Really Finished Your Novel Yes, we know – you’ve reached the final full stop – but when you reach that milestone, you are perhaps, if you’re lucky, halfway done. Many novels – even ones accepted by an agent – need to be reworked, re-edited and reworked again. That’s how they get better and why all professional authors work closely with a professional editor, supplied via their publisher. You mightn’t yet have that vital support and advice from publishers, but you can get editorial feedback from consultancies like ours. We’ll check your manuscript for any structural weaknesses. The Stats Of Doom How many manuscripts make this mistake? Hard to say! Comment:Agents reject 999 in 1,000 manuscripts, so arguably 999 people are sending work out too soon. Explore what editorial feedback may offer. In the meantime – everyone – happy writing, and good luck! Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

Character Development – And The Ultimate Character Bio

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

30 Screenplays For Every Screenwriter To Read (Plus 20 Of Our Favourites)

Here’s a list of essential screenplays for every serious screenwriter to read – screenplays, not films. If you are a budding screenwriter, you can’t just watch the film and learn screenwriting from it. You must read the screenplay itself.  Watch the film, but the screenplay is the thing. Read the rhythms. See scripts unfolding.  I’ve noted a few places where you can get movie scripts online, but the web is a rich resource. You can find most things if you poke around.  Hopefully, these scripts will give you a sense of how to format your screenplay, write dialogue, create captivating characters, and more. Here’s the list.  30 Must-Read Screenplays 1. Some Like It Hot A deft blend of comedy and drama. Given there are two romances which matter, plus whether our two ‘ladies’ are going to get executed by the Mob, there’s a lot of plot to deal with and it’s done with wonderful grace and wit. A great film. (Read the script.) 2. Casablanca Is this as good as everyone says it is? Casablanca is here because it tops most lists, though for me, the film is in the acting. The script itself plays a supporting role. (Read the script.) 3. Psycho  A landmark in film-making and scriptwriting. To kill the heroine midway is a terrifically bold and (still) shocking decision, yet one that does not derail the film. If you tried the same in a novel, you’d kill the novel. Here, it works. (Read the script.) 4. Chinatown Chinatown is magnificent, packing a ceaselessly interesting plot whilst combining two stories of real human weight (a corruption tale, an incest one). Decades after its making, the film packs emotional clout. Though Chinatown is often held up as a perfect example of the three-act drama, I do question that. Isn’t it, in fact, a film that brings plot twists steadily and unexpectedly throughout the film? Read the script and see what you think. (Read the script.) 5. The Godfather  A film whose power comes from the emotional force of seeing a decent man corrupted by his family and his circumstances. The gangstery stuff is all great, but the central story is one of emotional destruction, handled so unflinchingly. Its script details the Italian-American mafia life in such rich texture, taking the film beyond its (stunning) visuals. (Read the script.) 6. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid  I love the sunshine in this film, the wit, the friendship, the lightness of touch. It’s a film willing to linger in places where plot isn’t being driven forward – a risky ploy in movie-making, but one that, in this instance, goes to create a film that is greater than a mere bank-heist Western. (Read the script.) 7. Bringing Up Baby Mismatched lovers falling in love despite apparent unsuitability has never been better handled. Yes, the acting is spot on, but forget about that. The script has a wonderfully light touch, one that’s happy to get ever crazier as the long night draws on. And that final dinosaur scene? Lovely. (Read the script.) 8. American Beauty A poignant film that starts with an astonishing script. Each character is beautifully formed, all with a convincing personality – before the actor comes to fill it – and each must deal with an aspect of appearances complimenting Lester’s own journey. That’s far too rare in movie scripts, but American Beauty shows how it can be done. Plus, on top of that, the drama is wonderful, its twists unexpected. (Read the script.) 9. Memento Memento is told in reverse chronological order, but this wasn’t just Christopher Nolan trying to be smart. Its structure is vital not just to audiences stepping into the shoes of Leonard (an amnesiac), but to unveiling the crux of the tale, revealing the story just wasn’t what we thought it was. (Read the script.) 10. Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind This film serves as a philosophical exploration of identity and love. It’s moving, thought-provoking cinema, delivering fully on entertainment as well. (Read the script.) 11. When Harry Met Sally  When two graduates have a chance encounter it results in a short-term friendship. But they are forced to deal with their feelings for one another when they meet again five years later. The witty dialogue and excellent characterisation are instantly apparent in both the film and the screenplay. (Read the script.) 12. To Kill a Mockingbird  This 1962 classic is centred around Atticus Finch, a Depression era lawyer, who sets out to defend a black man, who is accused of raping a white woman. It\'s expectedly harrowing and beautifully done. The final court scene is a particular standout. (Read the script.) 13. Carol A woman who works at a department store encounters the beautiful Carol who\'s shopping for a Christmas gift for her daughter. Things take an unexpected turn when they develop feelings for one another. This film excels at drawing you into the protagonists\' worlds. (Read the script.) 14. Pulp Fiction  In this crime drama, a group of criminals and misfits are brought together in the underworld after a series of incidents. This is a much beloved classic which will entertain you as much as it will teach you about film. (Read the script.) 15. Rear Window  This 1954 film centres around a photographer who is stuck in his apartment with a broken leg. Bored, he begins to surreptitiously spy on his neighbours and, after lots of monotony, comes across something shocking. This is the screenplay to examine if you want some guidance on pacing and building suspense. (Read the script.) 16. Gone Girl The screenplay for this psychological thriller was written by the author of the book it\'s based on and it shows. The characterisation is excellent and the pacing is perfectly executed as you are drawn into the worlds and minds of a husband-and-wife pair of unreliable narrators. (Read the script.) 17. The Shawshank Redemption  A man who receives a life sentence in prison becomes a rather unconventional prisoner, all while claiming his innocence in the murders of his wife and her lover. This film has a pretty even focus on character development and plot, making it both engaging and thought-provoking. A classic which became more popular in the years after its release than when it was initially released. (Read the script.) 18. Little Miss Sunshine When their young daughter wants to participate in a beauty pageant, a family travels across the country in the hopes of making her dream come true. This film goes way beyond its premise, and tells a coming-of-age tale while also navigating family dynamics and mental illness. Sharp, funny, and brutally honest, this is a must-read (and see). (Read the script.) 19. Get Out While we all love familiar tropes and happy endings, nothing beats a good plot twist. In this horror/thriller, it\'s probably one you won\'t see coming. Or, at least, you won\'t expect every detail of it. The acting, writing, and directing all align here to create a film and screenplay which instantly captivate. (Read the script.) 20. Room After years of being held captive for seven years by a kidnapper, a young woman and her son strive for freedom. Another film based on a book (with the screenplay written by the author), the majority of this tale is told from the perspective of a five-year-old boy, a unique viewing point which enables the reader/viewer to comprehend things that the narrator cannot. This is as simultaneously heart wrenching and endearing on the page as it is on the screen. (Read the script.) And to complete the top thirty, hats off to these, the next 10 screenplays to read (and watch):  Annie Hall The Sting Apocalypse Now The Usual Suspects Shakespeare in Love The Best Years of Our Lives LA Confidential Raging Bull The Life of Brian 12 Angry Men  20 Of Our Favourite Screenplays If you\'re looking for more screenplays to tear through, here are 20 more of our favourites: The French Connection Little Women (2019)The Manchurian Candidate Citizen KaneBlade Runner High Noon La La Land Thelma and LouiseDead Poet\'s SocietyPan\'s LabyrinthThe Silence of the LambsGravityMiseryAmerican HustleBridesmaidsSingin\' in the RainLadybirdThe Social Network12 Years a SlaveThe Breakfast Club These scripts contain a wide range of themes and topics, and it might be helpful initially to read scripts from the genre you want to write/are writing in. But whether you\'re a screenwriter who writes comedies, or one who favours thrillers, every one of these screenplays will help you learn and grow as a writer. Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer’s community. 

How To Write An Elevator Pitch For Your Novel

Writing is scary – but of all the scary things about it, perhaps the scariest is getting the concept right. The hard fact is: a lousy concept will kill your novel, no matter how good your actual writing is. And how can you isolate the concept? The thing which makes the difference between success or failure? The answer is via your elevator pitch – a very short summary of what makes your book so special. We’ll get to some examples in just a second, but let’s start by defining terms . . . and understanding just why your elevator pitch is such a massive deal. How To Write A Great Book Pitch: Keep it to 20 words or less.Be original.Make it memorable – An astronaut seeking to survive. A woman who fakes her own murder. An ordinary boy – an orphan! – going to an extraordinary school.The result should make the listener say, “tell me more!” What Is An Elevator Pitch For A Novel? And why does it matter so damn much? An elevator pitch is the term given to any sales pitch that could, in theory, be delivered in the space of a short elevator ride. The idea is that you might find yourself in the elevator with Someone Important who can’t, for those twenty or thirty seconds, escape or deflect your attentions – so you can use that time to deliver a sales pitch so utterly compelling that that Person of Importance is drawn in and wants to hear more. To be clear: this is a fantasy scenario. You are never likely to be called upon to pitch your book in this way. It’s just not how any normal submission process happens. (Or, for that matter, how any normal elevator ride happens. I’ve twice been in an elevator with the CEO of a major publisher. On both occasions, we chatted about the weather, or the shiny new canteen, or whatever people normally talk about in elevators.) But that notional elevator pitch still matters, because it’s a neat conceptual way to understand: The very heart of your book’s Unique Selling Point – which in turn determines,How literary agents could pitch your book to a publisherHow an acquiring editor could pitch that book internallyHow a sales team could pitch that book to retail buyersHow a publicist could pitch that book to reviewersHow you could describe the book – pithily but attractively – on social mediaHow the book blurb could pitch that book to readers (online or physically) And no book succeeds unless it’s pitchable in that way. In fact, you can define an elevator pitch like this: An elevator pitch for a novel is a very short summary of what makes the book: UniqueStrikingFresh, andCompelling If your book pitch doesn’t tick those boxes, your book is unlikely to sell. An agent will think “can I pitch this to editors?” and think, No, probably not. An acquiring editor will think, “can I pitch this book in house?” and think, No, probably not. And so on down the chain. The book pitch is, in a way, the very heart of book marketing. It’s the heart of your product. The heart of your brand. How short is very short? Well, there are no set rules, but I’d suggest that fewer than 20 words is ideal. Fewer than 50 words is essential. If you like, you can think of the pitch as being something that would work and stand out amongst the hurly-burly of social media. If you had just 280 characters to talk about your book, what would you say? That’s not a bad discipline to apply. Brevity is key, not because that theoretical elevator ride is short, but because you need to isolate what is special about your book. That means discarding nearly everything about the book – for example, the settings, the plot twists, the great characters, the genius denouement, and so on. Sure, you need to get to those things in time. If the Very Important Person in the elevator gets out on the same floor as you and says, “Sounds great, tell me more”, then all those other things are going to matter too. A great elevator pitch is essential, yes, but it’s never enough on its own. But still. The elevator pitch is very short. And it matters. Example Elevator Pitches How successful novels get that way . . . Here are some examples of elevator pitches. These are our versions of the pitch in each case – our attempt to isolate what makes these books special. So here goes: TwilightA teen romance between an ordinary girl and a boy who is actually a vampire.[15 words] The Da Vinci CodeA professor of symbology unlocks codes buried in ancient works of art as he hunts for the Holy Grail.[19 words] Gone GirlA woman (Amy) goes missing, and her husband is suspected of murder. But the sweet diary-writing Amy of the first half of the book is revealed to be a very different woman in the second half . . .[36 words] The MartianAstronaut, stranded on Mars, has to figure out how to survive.[11 words] Brokeback MountainA love story between two male cowboys.[7 words] Harry Potter seriesOrphan boy goes to school for wizards.[7 words] Alex Rider seriesYoung James Bond.[3 words] I hope it’s obvious that these books all have great premises. We’ll look at exactly what makes these ideas so great in a second . . . but first let’s have some (made up) examples of elevator pitches for books that could never sell. So here are some really bad elevator pitches: Eco-fantasy for 6-7sThree children go to a fantasy world where they must save the planet and learn about the importance of recycling and the dangers posed by electro-magnetic radiation. Non-literary literary fictionA slightly mediocre book about two somewhat boring people in whose lives nothing seems to happen. Paranormal romance (2018)A teen romance between an ordinary girl and a boy who is actually a vampire. We get books like these, as do literary agents. Anything lacking a grabbing, easily communicated pitch is already at a disadvantage . . . or to put that more bluntly: will simply never sell. And notice that the paranormal romance pitch in the list just above is exactly the same as the pitch we put together for Stephenie Meyer’s hyper-successful Twilight. What makes this second pitch so terrible, and the first one so great? It’s timing of course. Agents need something that will make editors sit up and say, “Hey, tell me more.” When Twilight first came out, that pitch was electric. Now? It’s so tired, it needs to sleep. Need more help? If you want more help on anything in this post, then do check out our How To Write course that has a crazy-good 1 hour video on these exact topics. The course itself is quite pricey, so we generally recommend taking out a cheap monthly membership which gives you access to EVERYTHING we offer in terms of video courses, masterclasses, etc – and at an easily affordable, cancel-any-time price. Find out loads more here How To Write Your Elevator Pitch OK. So you know why an elevator pitch matters so much – because it’s THE key sales element in the chains that runs from: You ⇒ Agent ⇒ Acquiring editor ⇒ Publisher Publisher’s sales team ⇒ Retail buyer ⇒ ReaderPublisher’s publicity & marketing team ⇒ Reviewers ⇒ Reader You know what you want to achieve: a pitch that is Short, Unique, Striking, Fresh, and Compelling. So how do you actually achieve that? The most important thing to understand is that you throw out almost everything in your novel. Take that Harry Potter elevator pitch: “Orphan boy goes to school for wizards.” That doesn’t say: Anything about VoldemortAnything about Harry’s parentsAnything about his muggle uncle & auntAnything about Hermione & RonAnything about his summons to the schoolAnything about the specific storylines once Harry is at Hogwarts And that’s not just OK. It’s good. That’s the whole point of the exercise. You are not seeking to explain your book in the elevator pitch. The only answer you are seeking to elicit is, “Hey, that sounds interesting. Tell me more.” When you get the “tell me more” type response from anyone (the agent, the acquiring editor, etc), you know you’re golden. That’s the point at which you can start to explain the broader context and story of your book, confident in the knowledge that you already have a good hold on your listener’s attention and interest. Great pitches combine a tiny bit of WHAT the book is (eg: in Twilight‘s case, that’s a teen romance), with a sense of WHY the book will be great to read (eg: “ooh, a girl and a werewolf: that sounds dark and sexy . . . and scary . . . and sexy . . .”) So the way to write your elevator pitch is to ignore everything about your book . . . except the aspect that will most make your reader say, “tell me more.” There’s no one approach you have to take. So the Harry Potter elevator pitch worked with a setting (that school for wizards. The Gone Girl one relied on its twist. (Real Amy is different from diary-Amy!) The Martian one relied on a setup / premise. (Astronaut stranded on Mars: how does he survive?) And so on. Remove everything from your book description except the part that most interests the reader. And keep your pitch intensely short. Under 20 words is good. Under 10 words is excellent. Anything over 50 words? That’s not an elevator pitch; that’s a snoozefest. Is Your Elevator Pitch Any Damn Good? And what you should do if it’s not. So write your elevator pitch. And that means: Actually do it! Or, in fact, it means: Actually do it right now this minute,or I’m going to get a mite tetchy. Reading a blog post about elevator pitches is a genius idea if it impels action: if you actually start to write and examine your own elevator pitch. Reading the same blog post if you don’t actually DO anything as a result doesn’t count as research. It’s procrastination. OK, so you have written / are currently sketching your elevator pitch. So is it any good? Do you have a saleable novel in front of you? Or an unsaleable clunker? Well, once you have a draft of your elevator pitch, you simply need to ask yourself, is it: Very short (<20 words, for preference)?Unique – does it feel original? Does it feel distinct from all the other books out there at the moment?Striking – is there an edge? Do you feel a glimmer of steel somewhere? (An astonaut seeking to survive. A wife who fakes her own murder. An ordinary boy – an orphan! – going to an extraordinary school.)Fresh – does your idea feel timely? Does it feel like part of the next iteration of what’s happening in your genre / fiction in general?Compelling – does it make any listener say, “Hey, that’s great, tell me more.”? If your pitch checks those boxes then, my friend, you have a winner. Sure, you still have a lot of work to do in actually writing the novel that lives up to the pitch – but yo’re on the right track. Congratulations. And if not – if you have an uneasy sense that you haven’t yet nailed this issue – then you have to nail it. Don’t con yourself into doing more work on that awkward Chapter 27. Or finessing the character of Bazhran the Bad any further. You have to write a novel whose pitch gets a reader to that crucial, “Tell me more” point. Oh, and if you aren’t sure whether your pitch has nailed it or not, then – trust me – your pitch hasn’t nailed it. We’ve got some great suggestions for how to develop and improve your core ideas right here. And if you want help writing your cover letter and synopsis, why not try our agent submission pack review. Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

How Many Words Are There In A Novel?

When I (Harry Bingham) wrote my first novel, I started to worry that I was off the mark regarding how many words I had to offer. I was scared that agents would reject my book simply because I had got the length wrong. How many words are there in an average novel, how many pages in a book, how many words per page? I didn’t know. I went to a bookstore, gathered some (big, hefty) novels in a genre like mine, and sat there on the shop floor and counted the average words per page to come up with a number. It turned out that, yes, in terms of book length, I was at the very long end of things, but not impossibly long. I sold that book for a good six-figure sum, and have never looked back since. At least you don’t need to run down to your nearest bookstore, since this guide will tell you quickly the ideal word counts for every category of novel. Average Word Count For A Novel The average word count for adult fiction is between 70,000 to 120,000 words. For children’s fiction, the general rule is the younger the audience the shorter the book, and for YA novels the average is 50,000-70,000 words. Non-fiction word counts sit between 70,000-120,000 words. Word counts also vary by genre, as detailed. How Long is a Book of Adult Fiction? Novel word counts vary by type of book So: how many words in a novel? Broad Guidelines We’re going to talk some specific genres in just a moment, but it’s worth setting the landscape a little first, just because you may as well know the territory here, and because a lot of fiction simply doesn’t fit in tidy boxes. So, the average wordcount for a typical novel is anywhere from 70,000 to 120,000 words. I’d guess that the actual average number of words in a novel was somewhere close to 90,000 words. (How come? Because novels mostly cluster at the shorter end of that 70-120K spectrum. There are plenty of prolific authors who might never break the 100,000 word barrier.) These guidelines assume that your book is broadly commercial (rather than highly literary, let’s say) and that you are writing for adults. If you are within that broad zone, then as far as length goes, you’re doing fine. But then again, sometimes fiction is long. If your story justifies the length, you needn’t worry if you get up to 150,000 words, or even 180,000. But that is on the very long side. 180,000 words print about 650 paperback pages. You only get away with novels of that scale if the story has an epic quality and storytelling is remorselessly excellent. (Also, don’t trust any source on the internet which tells you that such stories are unsaleable. They’re just not. My own first novel was 190,000 words long and was sold to HarperCollins for a lot of money.) Genre Romance If you are writing true genre romance – the kind of thing Harlequin Mills & Boon is known for – then books are typically short. Your target is probably 50-60,000 words. That said, longer books that still tell a proper romantic story, can do well. These books generally run from 75,000 to 100,000 words, or in rare cases a little more. Examples When we Believed in Mermaids – Barbara O’Neal – 100,000 wordsAnd Then You Loved Me – Inglath Cooper – 90,000 wordsThat Boy – Jillian Dodd – 80,000 wordsRescuing Lord Inglewood – Sally Britton – 55-60,000 words Women’s Fiction A lot of fiction written for women will have an element of romance, but is far more complicated and interesting than classic Mills & Boon fare. Such books will have a minimum length of 75,000 words but seldom exceed 110,000. See our comments about saga though! Examples Me Before You – Jojo Moyes – 140,000 words — very unusual length for women’s fiction this one, but it was a very unusual book!The Storyteller’s Secret – Sejal Bedani – 110,000 wordsWhere the Crawdads Sing – Delia Owens – 105,000 wordsThe World That We Knew – Alice Hoffman – 95,000 wordsThe Dressmaker’s Gift – Fiona Valpy – 80,000 wordsBridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding – 75,000 words Family Saga Saga, by definition, has an epic feel, and you’re not really in saga territory at less than 150,000 words. But some of those books are very long. I have a friend who writes saga and her publisher actually wants books of 250,000 words. That’s about three ordinary novels squashed into one. Wow! (And, uh, you don’t get paid three times as much, so unless you really want to write saga, I’m going to suggest you review your choices!) Examples The Thorn Birds – Colleen McCullough – 195,000 words Crime And Thriller Genres Crime novels often run a little longer than women’s fiction. So 75,000 words is fine as a lower limit, but anything up to 120,000 words is unproblematic. Truth is, as long as you make sure every single word counts, you can go up to 135,000 words without troubling anyone. Examples I Am Pilgrim – Terry Hayes – 195,000 words (epic feel to this book, hence the length)Talking to the Dead – Harry Bingham (that’s me by the way!) – 115,000 wordsI let you go – Clare Mackintosh – 95,000 wordsThe Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins – 95,000 wordsThe Crossing (Harry Bosch) – Michael Connelly – 80,000 words Historical Fiction Historical fiction is a slippery category, because it’s not really a category. A literary-type love story set in Renaissance Venice is very different from massive war story about the Mongol hordes. Reader expectations are utterly different in both cases. So for “normal” historical fiction – typically, a somewhat literary category – I’d suggest that 75,000 to 100,000 words is about right. But as soon as you introduce the sense of something epic – in time, space, and magnitude of events – you can get up to word counts of 150,000 to 180,000 words, or even more. Examples What the Wind Knows – Amy Harmon – 100,000 wordsBeneath a Scarlet Sky – Mark Sullivan – 150,000 wordsWolf Hall – Hilary Mantel – 200,000 words Fantasy And Sci-fi Genres Fantasy novels can be long. They can be up to 180,000 words, or even over 200,000, but the novel must be wonderful and must fully justify its word count. In other words, you must be scrupulous about editing every sentence for length. With SF, you really just need to explore your niche, as it can be quite variable. Epic space opera can easily run to over 150,000 words, whereas a short, hard space disaster book might run to just 60,000 words. If you’re not sure of your genre, just find the most appropriate bestseller list on Amazon and take a look. You’ll soon get a sense for where your book needs to fit. Examples Lord of the Rings / The Fellowship of the Ring – J. R. R. Tolkien – 190,000 wordsThe Atlantis Gene – AG Riddle – 135,000 words1984 – George Orwell – 90,000 wordsHarley Merlin and the Secret Coven – Bella Forrest – 110,000 words Literary Genre - Novel vs Novella If you’re writing for a more literary audience, then the rules above apply on upper limits. In other words, anything up to 120,000 words, no problem. And lower limits are quite a lot lower. A good, short literary novel might be 60,000 words. A very good, very short novella might be as little as 45 or 50,000. The shorter it gets, the better it needs to be. Examples Wolf Hall (by Hilary Mantel) is over 200,000 words On Chesil Beach (by Ian McEwan) is just 40,000 words long A Note About Our Word Count Estimations In some cases, word counts are published and in those cases, we’ve used those published sources. In other cases, we’ve used online tools such as Reading Length to estimate the length of a work. We would expect the actual length to be within +/- 10% of our stated length and usually closer. We have rounded to the nearest 5,000 words in all cases. How Long is a Non-Fiction Book? Memoir And Biography Most memoirs need to be in the 70,000 to 100,000-word range. Only if you’re a major celebrity can you blow right through that word count and just keep going. Examples Becoming – Michelle Obama – 165,000 words. I’d say she’s a major celebrity, though, so …Educated – Tara Westover – 100,000 wordsThe Salt Path – Raynor Winn – 90,000 words Popular Non-Fiction For the kind of book that normally sits on the front tables at Waterstones or Barnes & Noble, you’ll find that 70,000 to 120,000 words is about typical. If the topic really justifies length (and especially if your credentials are highly impressive) you can go longer, but check that you remain interesting, even at length. Examples Really hard to give examples, because this is a very broad category indeed. But for what it’s worth … Thinking, Fast and Slow – Daniel Kahnemann – 150,000 wordsFear: Trump in the White House – Bob Woodward – 135,000 wordsHillbilly Elegy – JD Vance – 75,000 wordsA Brief History of Time – Stephen Hawking – 50,000 words Niche Non-Fiction For anything really niche – e.g. How to Get Started in Internet Fraud – there are no real limits. Just write a good book on the topic and let length look after itself. How Long is a Children’s Novel? Young Adult Fiction YA fiction usually needs to be 50,000 to 70,000 words. You can go up to 100,000 if your material is phenomenal and justifiable, but no longer than that … Or at least that’s what I used to say, except that Stephenie Meyer really rewrote the rules. So yeah, you can go over 100,000 words if you are about to reinvent an entire category of fiction. Examples Twilight – Stephenie Meyer – 120,000 wordsHunger Games – Susan Collins – 100,000 wordsThe Fault in Our Stars – John Green – 90,000 wordsOutside – Sarah Ann Juckes (our head of membership content) – 70,000 words Middle Grade Fiction Children’s fiction is so varied in terms of length, type, illustration. Your best bet is to go to a good children’s bookstore and look at books like your own in terms of target audience. Multiply up by the number of pages and get to a rough word count. The younger the child, the shorter the word count. Examples It’s not really safe to offer examples. Your best bet is to figure out what books yours is comparable to, then sit down and count the words on 2-3 typical pages. Get a rough average. Multiply by the number of pages in the book. And that gives you your rough word count. Self-Published Work And Ebooks: Word Count Guidelines In the world of print and physical bookstores, length kind of mattered. There’s just a minimum cost of printing a book, trucking it to a store, marketing it, and everything else. Since a 50 page book for $7.99 just feels like bad value most of the time, books like that were never commissioned by publishers. They just didn’t happen. Because traditional publishers still tend to think of print first and digital formats second, the same thing still mostly holds true. For them. But if you’re self-publishing, it just doesn’t need to hold true for you. What if you wanted to write: Beach read romances – 30,000 words each – in a series of 8 or so books. Well, heck, you can do it. Readers love that kind of thing. Short, subject-led books on internet marketing, or cat nutrition, or meditation technique. Well, heck you can do it. Readers can get real value from that kind of thing. There’s no right or wrong here. The only golden rule is: You communicate the type of book accurately to the reader, andYour pricing reflects the length / value you are offering. I know that’s technically two golden rules, but the second one is kind of a repeat of the first. As a rough guide, I’d say that a 30,000 word book shouldn’t sell for much more than $2.99 / $3.99. If your book is very short – 15-20,000 words – it probably wants to be $0.99 or free. Do You Need to Edit Your Novel? Take a good look at the average word counts you need for a novel or non-fiction. If your book is too long and you need to cut it, don’t fret. It’s often possible to take a good 30,000 words out of a book without really affecting the content, just by being rigorous about what works – what words, sentences, paragraphs, scenes and chapters truly earn their place. The secret to effective self-editing is always just a relentless search for material that isn’t really contributing to the story . . . and searching at every scale. So you need to ask, “Is this chapter or scene really needed? Could I cut it or simply delete it?” But you also need to ask, “Does this sentence contain more words than it needs? Could I do the same job more effectively with less?” Bear in mind that cutting a 12-word sentence down to 9 words might feel like nothing to you . . . but that’s the same proportionate reduction as cutting a 120,000 word novel down to 90,000 words. And you only achieve that kind of reduction by being picky about every single word. Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

How To Get A Literary Agent In 8 Simple Steps

Do you need a literary agent? Are they worth having? And how do you actually maximise your chances of getting a literary agent? Getting a good literary agent and avoiding dozens of rejection letters may feel impossible, but it really isn’t. In our comprehensive guide on how to query agents, we will be talking about what makes a good agent, how to find the right literary agent for you, and how the publishing industry works. So get ready to discover your first agent. This may well be the blog post that changes your writing career! Find A Literary Agent In 8 Simple Steps Whether you\'re writing literary fiction, or a commercial genre novel (such as science fiction or historical fiction), to get in front of traditional publishers - especially the big four, such as Penguin Random house or Harper Collins - you need a literary agency to represent you. Here\'s our very simple 8 point checklist which we will go into detail further along. If you can get past point 1, then you\'re good to go! Write a wonderful bookHave realistic expectationsPrepare your manuscript properlyResearch agents with careSend out simultaneous submissionsPrepare for agent rejections – it happens (a lot)Review your progressGet out there But before we run through the list, let\'s answer some urgent questions. Do I Actually Need A Literary Agent? The answer to that question depends on who you are and what you are writing. You definitely DO NOT need a literary agent if: You are self-publishing your work on Amazon. You can just upload your material for free without anyone’s permission or approval. The only time you would need a literary agent as a self-published author is if you sold a lot of copies in the English language, and you needed an agent’s help with foreign language sales, audio sales, film/TV rights, and the rest.You are approaching independent publishers. Some smaller indie publishers don\'t require you to have an agent. They may not pay a big advance (or any, in fact) but if they cater for your target audience and specialise in your preferred genre, then you may be happy to work with them direct.You are writing poetry or flash fiction or other non-commercial art forms. Agents are there to make money. If your work is art-for-art’s-sake then (a) great for you, but (b) forget about an agent.You are writing niche titles that won’t attract significant advances. Let’s say, for example, you are writing a book on “How to Care For Your New Alpaca”. I guess there IS a market out there for alpaca owners who need that kind of book, but most agents want to make money and that book won\'t sell the kind of numbers they need. You DO need an agent if: You\'re writing commercial fiction. A traditional publishing house (ie the kind who dominate book stores and trade press) only takes submissions via literary agents. You won\'t even get close to them without the right agent.You\'re writing a children’s novel. Read the paragraph above. Every word of that applies to you too.You\'re writing narrative non-fiction. Walk into a large bookstore and look around at the front tables bearing non-fiction. Ask yourself, “could my book live here?” If the answer is YES, then you need a literary agent for the exact same reason the writer of that book has one (because they will do).If the answer to the question is NO (probably because the book you’ve written is too niche to appeal to the general reader), then it’s doubtful whether you need an agent . . . or an agent needs your business. There are, of course, always exceptions. Many commercial fiction authors are very successful working directly with digital first publishers, such as Bookouture, who you don\'t need an agent for. Or they may already have a good relationship with an editor. Other writers with a large and established following (ie celebs or experts in something), may also be sought-after directly by a publisher. The best rule of thumb before starting your agent search is think about what authors you want to emulate and see how they got there. Do you need an agent? How Much Do Literary Agents Cost? This is a very easy answer. NOTHING. The only money you pay an agent is commission – typically 15% of any income earned on home sales and 20% of anything earned on overseas or film/TV sales. So if they don’t make money for you, they don’t make money for themselves. Never ever pay an agent upfront, not to read your manuscript or to submit to editors. If that is what they\'re asking, then they\'re not to be trusted. Are Literary Agents Worth It? Let\'s see what you get: Access to publishers who would otherwise not take you seriously – and those are the publishers with the huge sacks of money availableAccess to the best editor for your work (because it\'s an agent’s job to know who’s who in the publishing world)Someone with a great track record of conducting auctions for books like yoursSomeone who can organise the exact same thing globally. And where your agent doesn’t know the territory themselves (Bulgaria, say, or South Korea), they’ll work with a trusted counter-party who doesSomeone who has trodden the book to film route before and can guide you through that (most treacherous) mazeSomeone of real editorial acuity who, most importantly, knows the market for your book and how to optimise your writing for that target audienceSomeone whose financial interests are exactly the same as yours (ie you both want this book to sell) Is an agent worth it? If you want your book to become a Sunday Times Bestseller, be in a book shop window, feature in the press, reach your ideal audience, be translated into other languages, be made into a movie, and make you money - then yes. You need a literary agent. But how do you find these most elusive of angels? Let\'s start with the hardest part... 1. Write A Wonderful Book The bad news is that the best agents want the best books. Each submission is a long shot, but there are no shortcuts! And the right agent doesn\'t just want a great book, they want one that is easy to sell to an editor, who they will be able to sell to bookstores, who they can sell to the public. See where this is going? Debut authors who are about to start querying often call literary agents \'gate keepers\' like it\'s a bad thing - but it\'s not. They are the filter between books the public are most likely to buy, and books (no matter how brilliant) that probably won\'t sell. So how do you write a book that will grab an agent\'s interest? Look at what sells: You can\'t easily pre-empt the market or trends, but if it\'s easier to find agents with a romance or thriller (rather than your horror book featuring cowboys and unicorns) then look at changing genre Know your comps: If your books is unique yet still sits comfortably between two best sellers in its genre, then use them as comparisons Get your pitch ready: If you can\'t get a potential reader excited about the premise in less than a minute then an agent with 300 manuscripts to read in their inbox won\'t give yours any more time either Learn to write: This may seem obvious, but you can have the best premise, but if your sample chapters are littered with bad grammar and clunky prose then no good agent will take it on Get an editor: This may seem counter-productive, many agents work with writers to strengthen their story before submission. But have a professional editor look at your work first will ensure that at least it won\'t be the writing, language, pace or plot stopping your work from being taken on. Details of where to find this level of support can be found right here. Write a wonderful book! 2. Have Realistic Expectations Literary agents spend most of their time handling existing clients. A typical agent might take on just two new authors a year, and most agents receive around 2,000 manuscripts a year. That means, inevitably, they reject most submissions. This is disheartening, of course – but it’s not about odds. Finding a literary agent is about: Quality. If your book is strong enough, it will sell. At Jericho Writers have virtually never seen an exception to that rule, and we have handled thousands of client manuscripts over the years. Professionalism. Even when you get a no, keep it professional and courteous. Publishing is a small industry and you will cross paths with all these people again! Faith in yourself. We’ve had clients who have sent their (very good) manuscripts out to 2-3 agents. They didn’t get a positive response, so they gave up. I once encountered such a client at a crime writing festival. We\'d helped edit her manuscript, so I asked how she’d got on. She’d been to three agents, hadn’t got anywhere, and shelved the manuscript. I pretty much yelled, \'you can’t do that!\' I told her she needed to reach out to at least a dozen agents in total before drawing any final conclusions. So she did, she got an agent, and then a book deal! Persistence. Let’s say you take your first book out to 12 agents. No one offers you a deal, but you get back some encouraging comments. What then? If you quit - you are not a writer and never really were one. That’s when the real writer keeps going. You might write another book. You might take your existing book and get editorial help on it. Or you rework your book and take your original idea down a different and more exciting road. After a long time in this game, I can tell you that persistence wins every single time. 3. Prepare Your Manuscript Properly Agents see hundreds of manuscripts, so don’t miss out because you didn\'t follow their submission guidelines. Even the font and size matters. Check! Also, eliminate spelling errors and don’t rely on a computer spell check (bee shore of what ewe right). Lay your manuscript out like a book, not a business document, which means no space between paragraphs, and with the first line slightly indented. Every page should be numbered, your title and your name in the header. You do not need to worry about copyright, either. Making a fuss about it marks you as an amateur. Pro tip. Don’t name your documents for your convenience; think about your agent instead. So whereas you are unlikely to be confused by a document called novel.doc on your computer, that’s of no help to an agent sifting through 30 unread manuscripts on her e-reader. So call your manuscript, for example, A Farewell to Legs, Maggie Mildasmilk, First 10K words. doc. That’s cumbersome from your point of view – but amazingly helpful to the agent. And it’s the agent you’re trying to impress! Select an agent with care 4. Select Agents With Care Time to research literary agents! Remember many take up to three months to get around to reading your book (even though most know within a few pages if it\'s right for them). Therefore send your submissions out in batches, much like applying for many jobs, because even agents don\'t expect you to wait for their response before moving on. The Simplest Way To Find An Agent You can Google search for days, hunt through Twitter, and look at the acknowledgement pages of your favourite books - or you could become a member of Jericho Writers. Our AgentMatch tool is quite simply the best way to find a literary agent, and we often run free trials! In one easy search you\'ll be able to find all the UK and US agents you need, listed by genre or agency size or experience. Then when you want to learn more about any given agent, you simply dive into their individual profile, where one of our native English-speaking graduate researchers (most of whom have BAs / MAs in English or Creative Writing) has put together a detailed profile, along with a ton of specific data about that agent. Find out more about our AgentMatch service here, read about specific agents via our agent blogs, or discover more about becoming a member here. Send out simultaneous submissions 5. Send Out Simultaneous Submissions Most agents have submission guidelines that require the following: Your first 3 chapters, 10,000 words, or 50 pages of your manuscript (check individual requirements)A short query letter (download our FREE template)A 500-700-word synopsis, unless agency guidelines explicitly ask for something else Most agencies take submissions by email, others provide an on-line form, so follow instructions or your query letter and manuscript may get lost or dismissed. How Many Literary Agents Should You Approach? You are aiming to generate a shortlist of about a dozen names. What you’re looking for is: Agents who are open to your genreAgents who are genuinely open to new clients (which will often mean younger or newer agents)Agents with whom you can find some point of contact. So it might be that a given agent has one of your favourite authors on their client list (in your genre or out of it), or said something in a blog post somewhere that really resonated with you, or shares a passion (for sailing say, or synchronised swimming.) Why a dozen agents? Because if you approach fewer you risk being rejected just because the agents you approached had their hands full of existing work at the time you approached them. So why not more than that? Well, OK, you could go to more. 15 would be fine, and maybe even 18 wouldn’t be too crazy. But really, as soon as you are querying 10 or more agents, one of those guys WILL ask for a full request if your book is good enough. If you send your book out to 12 agents, and get either rejection slips or silence, then you need to ask yourself why. Either the book idea is not exciting enough, or your writing isn\'t good enough (painful, but important to know). Don\'t use up your chances with other potential agents by trying to flog a dead horse, go back and look at your book proposal and see why it\'s not working. How To Write A Query Letter (ie Covering Letter) It’s not hard to write a good query letter. In fact, if you can write a half-decent book, you can unquestionably write a perfectly good query letter (download our FREE template). Here\'s an example: Dear Mr Redintooth,I am currently seeking an agent for my first novel, A Farewell To Legs. The novel (at 81,000 words) tells a love story, set against the background of a busy amputation clinic in Glasgow. I have enclosed the first three chapters plus a brief synopsis with this submission.[Then one short paragraph of no more than 100 words describing the setting / hero / premise of the book]I\'m a 30-year-old accountant from Leeds. This story arose from my own experiences during a recent trip to Glasgow. The book attempts to deal with themes of loss and suffering in an accessible, moving, and uplifting way. I was particularly keen to write to you, after your success with Goodbye, Little Ear, the biographical work by Mr Van Gogh.I very much look forward to hearing from you.I look forward to hearing from you.Yours,Ms Mildasmilk If you have completed a well-recognised MFA or creative writing course, then say so. If you are a professional writer in any other capacity (in journalism, TV, radio, etc), then say so. Ditto, if you’ve won any prize that has real merit. If you have a recommendation from ourselves or any other person or organisation likely to command respect, then you can say so too – but expect to be checked up on. But it’s really OK if you are Mr or Ms Unknown of Nowheresville. My own literary agent once had a totally unsolicited submission from an unknown Englishwoman living out in the Middle East. He liked her writing and took her on . . . and that author has gone on to write (and sell) a book or two – and win a small mountain of literary prizes to boot. ALL agents have stories like that, so you need have no anxieties about being unknown. It’s the manuscript that matters, not the person behind it. Prepare for rejections 6. Prepare For Agent Rejections – It Happens, A Lot It\'s all good knowing where to find a literary agent, and it doesn’t matter how good your book is, you will receive at least one rejection letter in your writing career. Every single successful author - from Rowling to King - have been rejected. And most of the time it has nothing to do with you, your book or your query letters! Reasons Why Literary Agents May Reject Your Work They’re busy with clientsThey’re on maternity leave/left the company/not taking anyone else on and haven’t updated their websiteThey’re overwhelmed/not very efficient and have 2,000 unopened submissionsThey have an author who is writing closely competing workThey didn\'t like itThey really liked it. They just didn’t like it quite enough This is why we recommend you send your manuscript off to five or so agents at a time (one agent per agency, to start with). Then, for each rejection you get, send another off. Keep a spreadsheet with the date, their name, agency, email address, notes and feedback - and colour code it for Waiting, Rejection, Full Request and Offer. Some authors even buy a big box of chocolates, and eat one with every rejection. Well, you may as well get some pleasure from the pain! 7. Review Your Progress If you\'ve reached the end of your list and you\'ve still had no bites, then it\'s time to look at where you\'ve gone wrong. If you’ve tried your luck with agents and got nowhere, then the chances are that one of the following apply to you: You haven’t tried enough agents (or you’ve tried the wrong ones)Your approach to agents has been howlingly badYour novel has just totally misjudged the market – for example by having a word count that is either way over or way under what agents and publishers are seeking (word count guidelines here.)Your book just isn’t good enough (YET!) If you handle your submissions process with proper professionalism – and the fact that you’ve read our monster post this far already is a very good sign! – then #4 may be the issue. So then the question is, how near or far are you from success? The submissions process itself should give you some clue: You have had warm, personal and encouraging rejections. That’s great. That means you are in the zone. You just need to identify any remaining issues in your text, then nail them. If you are in this category then seek professional editorial feedback. It may simply be a matter of changing the genre or a few plot tweaks.You have had at least one request for your full manuscript. Again, if I were in that camp, I’d certainly be seeking editorial help.You have had no full manuscript requests / no warm feedback / silence / standard issue rejection slips. That means – nothing much. Your manuscript could be in the top 10-15% of all manuscripts submitted and come to that same end. You really could be a future bestseller, and still have that outcome with your first round of submissions...or you may really need to hone your writing skills. Remember I told you earlier that I rated persistence above talent? Yep. Well, this is the stage where you find out quite why that matters so much. So either get professional help with your novel, or write your next book and start querying that one all over again. 8. Get Out There: Go To Events And Meet Agents Finally, if you want to meet agents in person and get feedback from them directly, you can. Our Festival of Writing brings committed writers face-to-face with agents every year. You’ll get direct feedback on work and, just as useful, hear agents talk about the realities of their industry, what they’re looking for, any tips and advice they can give. (Joanna Cannon is one author who signed with her agent just after the Festival.) Through our in-person and on-line events, you’ll meet agents, editors, and publishers – plus it’s uplifting to realise the industry is warm, welcoming, and always open to new writers. Frequently Asked Questions How do you get a literary agent for a screenplay? Much like authors, screenwriters also need agents. Here is everything you need to know on perfecting your screenplay and finding representation. You can also take advantage of our screenplay and script coverage service. How do you get an agent for TV? There are two ways of seeing our story come to life on the big screen. If you\'re a screenwriters, see above, or choose an agent for your novel with experience in film rights (then hope your book gets optioned). Most agencies either have an in-house agent who specialises in film rights, or they work with a partner agency. Who are the literary agents looking for new authors in 2022? The best way to know who is looking for what this year, is to take part in our Agent Match free trial. Alternatively, for a comprehensive look at the top 400 UK literary agents looking for new talent this year, check out this article. And for the US you can click here. How do you get an agent for poetry? Most agents take on commercial fiction, genre fiction, children\'s literature, and non fiction - but there are a few who are interested in poetry. The easiest way to discover which agents are looking for poets is to visit our Agent Match page and search via genre. If you\'re not a Jericho Writers member then look out for our free trial and discover a whole world of agents around the globe! Find The Agent Of Your Dreams! Lengthy as this guide is, we know that some of you will still have questions. For that reason, we’ve put together our jumbo literary agent explainer – a kind of FAQ for all things agent. You’ll probably want to take a peep at our Getting Published guide as well. You can get that here So off you go, get that literary agent of your dreams, and don\'t forget to visit our blog for further research. The best agents, top traditional publisher, and best deal is out there waiting for you! Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

Show, Don’t Tell – Meaning and Why it Matters

What it Means, Why it Matters – and How to Add Drama to Your Novel “Show, Don’t Tell” is one of the oldest pieces of advice to new writers, but it can be kinda confusing without some show and tell examples. What exactly is the difference between Showing and Telling? Is “Showing” always right? And is Telling always wrong? As we’ll see, “Show, Don’t Tell” is good advice in certain circumstances. Not just good advice, in fact, but absolutely essential to any half-decent novel. At the same time, virtually every novel ever written contains passages that are told, not shown . . . and that’s fine. You just have to understand which mode of writing to use where. These things get confusing when spoken about in the abstract, so we’ll use plenty of showing vs. telling examples to show you exactly what’s what. Sounds good? Then let’s motor. What Is ‘Show, Don’t Tell’? ‘Show, don’t tell’ is a technique authors use to add drama to a novel. Rather than telling readers what’s happening, authors use this technique to show drama unfold on the page. ‘Telling’ is factual and avoids detail; while ‘showing,’ is detailed and places the human subject at the centre of the drama. Show, Don’t Tell: What This Actually Means ‘Don’t tell me the moon is shining. Show me the glint of light on broken glass,’ Anton Chekhov once advised. Here’s an example of what he means: Telling:The night was cold and moonlit. The sleigh moved fast through the forest.Showing:Ekaterina was shocked by the cold. She’d known winters before, but never this far north and never this deep. Burrowed under furs as she was, she still felt her eyelashes freeze. There were crystals of ice on her face where her own breath had frozen solid. It was a clear night, and they raced through the whispering pines, like a feather drawn over a sheet of silver. It seemed magical. Impossible. Temporary. Forbidden. What do you notice? You’ll instantly notice a number of things here. How To Recognise The “telling” Mode Any piece of prose written in the “telling” mode: Is factual.Is brief.Is an efficient way to communicate data.Prefers to avoid detail, and is happy to convey broad overarching messages. (“It was cold.”)Is not necessarily human-centred, and as a result...Does not, in general, stir the heart. How To Recognise The “showing” Mode Any piece of prose written in the “showing” mode: Is human-centred (usually, though sometimes only by implication).Is a slower, richer, more expansive way to communicate.Is not efficient – quite the reverse!Loves detail.Tends to place the human subject right at the centre of things, and as a consequence...Can often stir the heart. An Example Of Showing Vs Telling From Literature You want an example of showing story from literature? OK, try this: TellingThe parties were dazzling and opulent. They spilled out of the house, into the  garden and even the beach. [That’s my version of how a “telling” version might go.”ShowingIn his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars. … The last swimmers have come in from the beach now and are dressing up-stairs; the cars from New York are parked five deep in the drive … floating rounds of cocktails permeate the garden outside … the lights grow brighter as the earth lurches away from the sun, and now the orchestra is playing yellow cocktail music, and the opera of voices pitches a key higher. You want to guess which method Scott Fitzgerald used to describe the parties in The Great Gatsby? I’ll give you a clue: it wasn’t the first of those ways. An Extended Example Of Telling Vs Showing One more example – this one a little bit more extended. The example here comes from my own book, The Deepest Grave, which I’ve chosen just to make the point that these rules and disciplines apply to all of us. To Scott Fitzgerald. To me. To you. So, here’s one more example, as before given in in two possible versions. TellingBowen, Katie and FIona find a sheet of vellum in an old Welsh church.ShowingBowen lifts the 1953 fish-restaurant newspaper out of the wooden wall box.‘I suppose that can go.’He looks glumly at the mess behind the cupboard, knowing that it’ll be his job to clean it. Katie looks into the box, now missing its newspaper floor.Glances once, then looks more sharply.‘No, that’s not right,’ she says, and starts picking at the bottom with a fingernail.I already looked under the newspaper and saw just the pale, bleached colour of old pine – pine that has never seen the sun – but that was me being dumb. Me not knowing how to see.Katie picks at the bottom and it comes away.A sheet of paper, blank on the upper side, but with writing in clear purplish-black ink on the lower. Latin text. A hard-to-read medieval hand. I’ve given you quite an extended chunk of ‘showing’ here because quoting at length makes a few further points very clear. As well as everything we’ve said so far, Showing: Is dramatic – it’s story told as drama. You could actually imagine the long-form version of the scene above as something played out on a stage or in a movie. Literally every time that you could imagine a piece of writing as a stage or movie play, you are reading something that is shown not told.Often involves dialogue. It’s no coincidence. Movies involve actors saying their lines – and again, literally every time you encounter proper dialogue in a book, you are reading a scene that is shown, not told. In the example above, the characters immediately started talking about what they had found, thus emphasising the dramatic quality of the moment.Plays out in real time. Take a look one more time at those two passages just above. The first – basically “three people find vellum” – isn’t real time at all. There’s no sense of elapsed time there at all. It’s told like a news report on CNN or the BBC. In the extended passage – the one from my actual book – you could imagine a clock on the wall, counting out the seconds as the scene  elapsed. If you had to make a guess at how long it took from Bowen fishing out the newspaper to Katie finding the vellum, you could actually make a reasonable guess. These thoughts lead us to the next massive point you have to know about the whole showing / telling thing: Namely, why people get so obsessed by it. Show, Don’t Tell: Why It Matters People get obsessed with showing vs telling. Here’s the reason why. OK. Here’s a question for you: Why do readers read books? That’s a real question, and you should think about your answer. If you think about it, you’ll probably give me some answer like: Readers want to get involved in a story. They want to experience emotion through the lives and adventures of fictional characters. They want to get swept up in other people’s dramas. And yes. Exactly. And to immerse ourselves in the experiences of those characters, we need to feel them as the characters themselves feel them – which is real time, minute by minute. That’s the whole deal right there. If you want to get your readers emotionally engaged, you have to plunge them into the drama of the moment. It would be no good Jane Austen telling us that “D’Arcy proposed to Lizzy Bennet and Lizzy said no.” The whole reason we read Pride & Prejudice is to be with Lizzy as she experiences that first (awful) proposal. To feel her emotions and reactions almost second by second as she goes through that scene. Readers always experience the closest emotional contact with their character during scenes that are shown, rather than via facts that are simply reported. As a matter of fact, I don’t particularly like the “Show, Don’t Tell” mantra for two reasons, the first of which is that Henry James phrased the whole thing better: “Dramatise! Dramatise! Dramatise!” That’s so easy and so clear. If you have a patch of writing that seems a little low energy – a little blank, a little dull – then just let those commandments echo in your head. Those dramatic scenes are all, always, shown not told. Those scenes are what keep your readers reading your novel. Your novel should be formed almost completely of such scenes. By this point, you’re probably thinking, “Ah, OK, I’ve got this. I see why this is so important. I gotta remember never to tell story, and always to show story.” And that’s what some people think. And what some writing tutors teach. And they’re all wrong. Stick with me, and I’ll tell you why. “Show, Don’t Tell”: Why This Rule Is Sometimes Just Plain Wrong So far in this post, we’ve looked at – and preferred – examples of writing that were shown rather than told. We’ve said that showing is more dramatic and more engaging. It’s the way we plunge our readers into the drama of our story. It’s our basic method for getting them to experience the emotions of our characters. And that’s all true. But right at the start of this post, I also said: Telling Is factual.Is brief.Is an efficient way to communicate data. And hold on – those things can be good as well as bad, right? So, sure, if we have some crucial scene – D’Arcy proposing to Lizzy Bennet, or my gang of Bowen, Katie and Fiona finding some vellum in a church – then you have to show that scene, not merely report the action. But let’s say, you have a line in your book that says: “Years passed and during that time Yulia hardly ever thought of the incident again. It was gone. It belonged in some past life,to some past self. She was busy now with other things. Only then, one bright, clear day in March . . .” That’s telling, right? It’s the narrator just reporting stuff, not showing it. And according to the “Show, Don’t Tell” mantra, telling is bad. But It Isn’t! What is telling? Telling is the wrong way to deliver dramatic scenes (which should, of course, compose the vast bulk of your novel), but it can be great way to deliver information that is essential to your story, but of no great dramatic consequence. So take that “years passed” passage above. How would you even go about showing all that? Would you really have Yulia waking up day after day, month after month, and year after year, NOT thinking about whatever that past incident was? Sure, that would be showing not telling . . . but you’d be crazy to do it that way. The truth here is pretty simple: If you have essential factual information to deliver, and that information has no dramatic interest in its own right, then just tell it. Don’t try to show it, because you’ll slow your book right down – and probably kill it. Showing is for drama (and your book should be mostly drama.) Telling is for the efficient delivery of all the non-dramatic information your book requires. The way I usually think about it is that my dramatic scenes are the stones in my wall, but for the wall to hold together, to be intact, it needs a little bit of mortar too. The mortar is the glue that holds all the good stuff together. Yes, there’s a lot more stone than mortar in the wall. Showing and telling: you always need both. How To Use “Show Don’t Tell” in Your Writing Seven steps to totally awesome greatness We’ve talked a lot about general principles, but it would be kinda nice to implement them, right? So here goes with the 7 Ninja Tips of Showing vs Telling Greatness. You are now officially just one short rocket-ride from success … 1. Use Dialogue Dialogue always delivers a scene that shimmers with life and emotional movement. (Especially when you write dialogue right, of course!) What’s especially great about dialogue is that it makes the reader decode the speaker’s true meaning in exactly the same way that we have to decode it in real life. So if a character says, “Yes, I’d absolutely love that,” they probably mean that they’d love it … but if it’s a macho guy being invited to get work experience in a make-up boutique, you would probably guess that he’s being sarcastic. That’s a pretty clumsy example, of course, but the gaps between what a character says and what they really mean can feel really alive to the reader. (And a lot of fun for the writer, too.) 2. Punctuate Your Scene With Actions Some scenes will punctuate themselves with action very naturally. If you are writing a high intensity scene, such as a battle scene for example, your scene will be naturally studded with big, dramatic activity. But almost all books will have plenty of less action-intense scenes. So, for example, you might have a big corporate meeting in some glossy boardroom. The events being discussed might have huge consequences for your characters and your story … but there’s no onrush of dramatic activity. No cities being set on fire. No Vikings with swords. No car chases. No nothing. But you still have to include actions. If you don’t the scene will start to float away from the characters and seem unreal, without anchor. How do you show your story in this instance? What you need to do is insert actions anyway. You actually need to engineer something to punctuate the scene. So yes, getting up, turning pages, pouring coffee, looking out at the view – all those things count and help — somewhat. But maybe the corporate mogul at the heart of the action could at some point get angry. Hurl a coffee cup at a wall. Start shredding a binder full of company documents. Those things wouldn’t count for much if you were writing an action-adventure book, but for the kind of scenes you’re talking about, they deliver exactly what you need. Short message: all scenes need actions, and those actions need to be suited to your place, your characters, and the kind of story you’re writing. Vikings with swords for one kind of book, thrown coffee cups for another. 3. Exploit Your Physical Setting Actions and dialogue help, because they help keep your characters alive on the page – and alive in the mind of the reader. For much the same reason, great descriptions of place help as well. They anchor everything that’s happening in the scene. That anchoring means that the stuff you’re describing feels like real things happening to real place in a real location. Now, I’m not for a moment suggesting that you need to write whole pages of purple prose talking about the wind in the palm trees, or whatever else. What I am saying is that you need a paragraph or so to locate the action relatively early in the scene … and then you need to keep nudging the reader to remind them where you are. So let’s say your scene is taking place in a rainy New York garden. You’d have two or three sentences setting the scene. (Let’s say: iron railings, rain, noise of police sirens, a sad-looking willow tree, smells and steam coming from the back of a Chinese laundry opposite.) Then you start to let your scene unfurl and, as the characters move and talk and act, you drop in little sentences like, “rain dripped from the willow.” or “She paused to let the howl of a nearby siren pass down the street.” You’re not interrupting the action. You’re just helping the reader actually visualise it. 4. Make Use Of Your Character’s Physicality In the example just given, I suggested that you might write “rain dripped from the willow.” And, good, that’s perfectly fine. But let’s bring your character right into that rainy garden, shall we? So you might have something like this: “Rain dripped from the willow. Her hair was getting soaked but he couldn’t help noticing that she seemed barely aware of it. And this was Esmee. Esmee who was normally so conscious of the tiniest bit of discomfort or, as she put it, ‘outdoor horribleness.’ That’s effective writing, because you have the physical location and the character interacting – and interacting to a specific emotional / story purpose. In this case, that purpose is to emphasise that Esmee is so taken aback by the events of the scene (whatever those are), she’s stopped noticing stuff that would normally really bother her. The short moral: use your characters’ body and physical sensations to make them physically present and alive in your scene. 5. Use Specific Words, Not Generic Ones Another easy win here. If you are trying to locate a scene in a place that feels real, you want to get specific rather than generic. So “rain dripped from the tree” feels blandly universal. “Rain dripped from the willow” feels already more specific and immediate. Sometimes, of course, you’ll want to get really specific. Something like this maybe: “rain dripped from the willow’s long, drooping tendrils. She noticed that the tree was balding, losing leaves, as though unhappy to be here. As though longing for escape.” I don’t want to suggest you always need to be that specific – sometimes it’s fine for a willow to just be a willow – but in this case, some specific comments about a tree rebound back to hint something about what the character’s might be feeling. Short moral: always prefer the specific to the generic. And sometimes, if it makes sense, you can get very specific. 6. Always Make Space For The Reaction Shot You know how in the movies, you’ll always get the reaction shot? LIke this, I mean: Beat 1: “I don’t want to marry you,” she said. “I never did.” Beat 2: Close up of the guy’s face And it’s kind of obvious why you have those rhythms. If you don’t have the reaction shot, you’ve lost a lot of the drama from the action of beat 1. You need both. And it’s the same with novels. Sometimes, you’ll need a whole paragraph describing a reaction. Sometimes you’ll leave it to dialogue. Sometimes you’ll make do with hints, but leave plenty of scope for creative ambiguity. And any of those routes (depending on the situation, depending on your story) are fine. What’s not fine is to leave the action without a reaction. Short moral: always include the reaction shot! Easy. 7. Don’t Be Rushed: Let Readers Feel The Beats FInal ninja tip of all-out showing & telling awesomeness: Don’t rush. Yes, you want to write a compelling and dramatic scene. Yes, you may have your heart set on a whole long action sequence with plenty of gunplay and chase scenes and whatever else. But let the reader enjoy it! Let them savour the moment! Don’t say, “the car was out of control. The car careened downhill and struck Damon on the hip, smashing him to the floor.” That’s OK, but where’s the time to savour anything? The lovely thing about this moment is that Damon notices the car is out of control and he’s right in the firing line. What does he think? What does he do? What does he feel? I don’t know, because this author hasn’t told us. It’s slower, yes, but it’s actually more exciting to tease out that moment in more detail: The car was clearly out of control. Damon could just about see a driver but there was something about the curve of his shoulders, the loll of his head, which suggested the driver had lost consciousness, or worse. The fall of the hill put Damon right in the firing line. He remembered thinking, “I’m going to be hit. I need to move aside.” He probably took the very first part of that action too. Some sideways move. Some break for shelter. But …” And so on. You can see that by slowing the action down you’ve actually ramped the excitement up. Pretty good, huh? And fun to write, every single damn time. That’s it from me. Have fun with the showing & telling. Do it right, and your scenes will come alive, and you’ll enjoy writing them too. Happy writing! Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

How To Write A Plot Outline For A Novel (With Examples)

Starting out simple and layering up Good novels start with decent plots. So start with a simple sketch outline, then make it progressively more detailed. We show you exactly how to do it.  The simplest way to write a terrible book is to start out having no idea what your story is, or where it’s going to lead. The easiest way to avoid that outcome is to prepare a simple outline of your plot before you even write the first sentence.  The downside of this approach: you actually have to do some thinking before you can start writing.  The upside: you won’t end up writing a terrible book. Which is a plus point, no?  7 Steps To Writing A Plot Outline For Your Novel: Understand the purpose of your outline.Start with a barebones outline.Add a midpoint.Have a firm sense of purpose.Integrate your characters.Complete your outline.Work in circles. Understand The Purpose Of Your Outline At its simplest, a plot outline can be defined as a very simple, barebones summary of your story. It could be as short as a single page outline. Or it might run to as many as ten or twenty pages.  Either way, it’s important to realise that you’re not telling the story, you’re summarising it. So if your outline feels flat and unengaging, that’s fine. Your story itself can’t be either of those things, but your outline just needs to be functional, clear – and brief. The outline is for you, and for you only. It’s not for a reader either now or in the future.  The approach we’re going to recommend in this post is to start really simple, then start to build as you get more insight into detail. Here goes.  Start With A Barebones Outline It’s commonly said that there are only seven plots in the world. We’re not totally sure about that, in fact, but it’s certainly true that pretty much every novel will adopt the same rough shape. That shape, at its simplest, is as follows: Status quo: This is the situation at the start of the book. So, for example, if we were dealing with a Lee Child / Jack Reacher novel, the status quo might be “Jack Reacher is travelling through rural Montana, wanting to heal after a particularly bruising recent adventure.” At this point, nothing has happened. The situation is stable.Inciting incident: The inciting incident is whatever happens to disturb that status quo. It could be an apparently small thing, or an obviously big one. So in Twilight, for example, the inciting incident is simply that Bella Swan’s attention is caught by an attractive – but odd – boy at school. In our Reacher story, it could be that an unseen sniper kills the bus driver dead and seems intent on killing everyone else on the bus too. Either way, the important issue is that the status quo has been disrupted. The reader already feels that a story has been set in motion.Developments: This is the big middle chunk of your book. This is the part that probably occupies you from (say) 15,000 words into your book right up to 10 or 15,000 words before the end. It’s the scariest part of your outline, whether you’re a new novelist, or a seasoned scriptwriter, or anything in between. We’ll talk more about this element of your plot later in the post, but for now just bear in mind that your character will encounter obstacles, victories and reversals – but the victories won’t be permanent and the reversals won’t be lethal. Everything is still in play … but the stakes will gradually rise.Climax: We said that the stakes gradually rise and, by the end of the book, the stakes feel like life and death. In a romance story, your protagonist will feel that she has to get this guy, because he is going to be her forever one. In a thriller, it’s not just that your protagonist’s life is in danger, it’s that some vast other risks are in play as well (a bomb in New York, a high school massacre, or whatever.) It’s not too much to say that the success of your book really stands and falls by how profound and engaging this climax moment feels.Resolution: Then your story needs to resolve. It could be a triumphant resolution: Jack Reacher wrestles the bad guy on the lip of a gigantic dam and ends up hurling him over the edge to his destruction. Or it could be a bitter failure: The guy your romantic protagonist really, really wanted rejects her, or dies, or otherwise becomes unavailable. Or you could have some bittersweet ending. So in The Fault In Our Stars, the two romantic protagonists are truly in love (yay!), but their sickness takes its inevitable and tragic course.  I strongly recommend that, for the first draft of your plot outline, you simply use those five headings. Quite likely, you have a pretty clear idea in your head of the first two of those stages, and a fairly clear idea of the last two as well. So just write down whatever you know under those headings. If you don’t have a clear idea, just leave a blank or a write question to yourself. (For example: “Jack Reacher has to find a way to escape the prison. But how?”)  Most likely, the area where you’ll struggle most is the Developments section – but don’t worry. Just write what you know. We’re about to move to the next stage. Before that though, let me offer one more heading, which is kind of optional … and kind of doesn’t fit into a post on plot outline … except that it really, really does as well. So especially if you are writing a book with an interesting or complicated character, I suggest you make notes on: Main character(s). A paragraph or two of notes on each of the main characters in your novel will help inform the work you do on plot – and vice versa. Your plotting insights will also enrich your main character. And because you want to think of character as fluid rather than static, you should also consider making some short notes on …Character arc or character development. You want to sketch – in broad, simple terms only – how your main character changes or develops through the course of the book. More help on that here. Got that? Good. OK: Onwards. Add A Midpoint We just said that the developments section is the one you’re going to struggle with the most – and that’s fine. That’s just part of the joy of writing. But we can make your job a bit easier.  The single hardest thing about that developments part of your book is that it feels very long and unstructured. So the simplest way to navigate it is to give yourself a solid anchor in the middle.  That anchor is typically a piece of major drama in a particular scene (read more about how to perfect that dramatic scene, here). Sometimes it’ll look as though the protagonist has ‘won’. Sometimes it’ll look like he/she has ‘lost’. But either way, because we’re not yet at the true climax of the book the defeat or victory will be a false or temporary one.  The actual type of drama involved will depend on your book. In a crime thriller (like the ones I write, for example) there will typically be an episode of action/adventure that also does something to change the complexion of the case being investigated. So I’ve had my protagonist get involved in hostage situations. I’ve had her be abducted. I’ve had her investigate a major unexplored cave system. And so on. They’re the sort of extended, memorable sequences that should echo long after the reader has finished the book.  A romantic story needs the same kind of major twists. So it could be that your happy couple go away on what should be the holiday of their dreams, only for things to go terribly wrong. Or an ex-boyfriend/girlfriend comes along to mess things up. Or something else.  If you can determine what your midpoint is, you’ll find your whole plot feels more manageable. Imagine your plot as a bridge. In the first ‘barebones’ version of your plot outline, we just had a major support at the Initiating Incident point and then again at the Climax/Resolution one. The rest of your plot was just a long stretch over the void.  By introducing a midpoint, you give yourself another major support element. So it’s like you only have to manage the span from the Initiating Incident to the Midpoint , then from the Midpoint to the Climax. By breaking that developments section into two, you’ll find it much, much easier to navigate.  Have A Firm Sense Of Purpose It probably goes without saying, but we’re going to say it anyway …  No plot will cohere or feel compelling unless your protagonist has a really clear sense of purpose. That purpose can morph a little through the book, but it can’t change its essential nature.  So a Jack Reacher novel, for example, might start with Reacher trying to protect the bus passengers from the sniper … but as the narrative evolves, he might end battling a plot to – I don’t know – swamp Great Falls in drugs, or plant a bomb under the state Capitol, or whatever it is. But there has to be a solid continuity in what drives him throughout the book. He can’t start off chasing bad guys in Montana, then zoom off somewhere else and start some totally different story.  The way to be sure that your outline is staying on track is to define, upfront, what your character’s motivation is. You may also want to state explicitly what his/her antagonist is and what the obstacles in the way of success are. (That approach works better for some books than others, so if it doesn’t quite make sense to you, you can just ignore it. What’s the antagonist in Twilight, for example? There isn’t really a great answer to that question.)  Integrate Your Characters So far, we’ve spoken of a plot outline as something almost mechanical – like a piece of clockwork you just have to wind up and set in motion.  But of course your plot is propelled by its characters and the best stories aren’t character-led or plot-led, but led equally and powerfully by both. You can read more about plotting here. To take an example, think of John Le Carre’s The Spy Who Came In From The Cold. The twisty, double-crossing plot needed a suspicious and experienced spy at its heart. And if that sounds cold, then the spy, Alec Leamas, also had a desperate desire to find love, to be able to trust again after his years of secret service. That character – cynical, but with that hopeless dab of longing – turned an efficient spy story into a twentieth century masterpiece.  The best way to bring your characters and plot into perfect synchrony is to develop them both together. So you probably want to work on your character worksheets (more here) at the same time as you’re developing your story outline.  So you might fill out your developments section with a new idea you had for a scene there. That might trigger an insight into your character, so you’d go and add something to your character worksheet. Then back again.  You’ll find you don’t even need to work too hard on the integration. If you develop your story and your characters alongside each other, each element will bleed into and influence the next. The process will happen automatically and in a beautifully seamless way.  Complete Your Outline How far you take your outline is very much up to you. Some writers like to plan very intensively. Some like to use the Snowflake method. I know writers who will write a detailed 30 page synopsis of their novel before they proceed. I know others (like me!) who do the absolute bare minimum. Who just trust their instincts to be able to create on the run, if you like.  So I’m not going to tell you how far you need to take your outline. What I will say is that if you want a detailed plot outline template to follow, then you may well want to use Blake Snyder’s famous beat sheet from his ‘Save the Cat’ book. That book was written for screenwriters and doesn’t have universal applicability to novelists, but a lot of people find it helpful all the same. So if you are Mr/Ms/Mx Detailed and you want a roadmap, then here it is:  Opening image. This is like a touchstone for where your protagonist is at the very opening of the book. Theme stated. All decent books (or films) should have some underlying theme or debate. You want some statement of that theme – possibly playful; you don’t have to be too heavy – in the opening couple of chapters of the book. Set-up. This corresponds roughly to our Status Quo section Catalyst. This corresponds roughly to our Initiating Incident section. Debate. Is the hero going to rise to the challenge posed by the Initiating Incident? Quite often there’s a refusal or reluctance, before something tips the hero into changing their mind. Break into two. That’s the moment that launches the story from the opening set-up into the excitement of the Developments section. It’s where your character decides to accept the adventure being offered and launches off into the guts of your story itself. B story. A really good tip this. Very often, there’ll be some secondary story to accompany your main one. So if you are writing a broadly action-themed novel, the secondary story might be a romantic one. Introducing that that secondary tale right after the opening section is done and dusted feels just about right in terms of timing. Fun and Games. This is Snyder-speak for the opening round of action, where your premise really starts to make itself felt. So if you were writing (let’s say) an ‘action’ film set in an old folks home, this is where you’d really start to have fun with the premise. Yes, things are at stake here, but this is still the lower stakes portion of the book. Things seem to matter, but they’re not that consequential compared with what follows. Midpoint. As discussed above. The quivering dagger at the dead centre of your book. Bad guys close in. After the midpoint, things feel more consequential. Yes, your character may notch up some ‘wins’, but the mood, broadly, will be one of increasing seriousness as you move towards the climax of your story. All is Lost. It looks like everything is lost. Bond is captured and the villain is going to detonate his bomb. Or Lizzy’s Bennett’s silly sister has gone and destroyed her hopes of happiness with Darcy. Dark Night of the Soul. This is the interior / emotional counterpart of the ‘all is lost’ moment. It’s how the character reflects to themselves after the disaster that’s just happened. Break into three. This is the moment where the character bursts out of their despair. Where they come up with one last desperate stratagem, or some last effort of will. Finale. This is the climax and resolution elements we’ve already spoken of. Closing image. This is the image that shows where we are now – and is often a mirror image, in some way, of where we were.  As I say, there’ll be elements of that template that may seem very helpful, and others that may not especially speak to you. So grab what you want. Discard what you don’t.  And when you come to thinking about adding in more details, read this article on chapter lengths – it’s really helpful! Work In Circles In most things we do, we want to work in a logical, disciplined way. Start at the beginning. Follow a plan. Complete the task. Done.  Outlining a novel is not like that. It’s the opposite.  I’ve already mentioned that you’ll probably be developing plot as you develop character. So you’ll dive from one thing to another and back again.  Good. That’s not indiscipline at work. That’s creativity.  But also –   You’ll make mistakes. You’ll screw up. You’ll have ideas, you’ll write them down – then you’ll figure out they’re bad and you’ll delete them again.  Good. That’s not incompetence at work, it’s creativity.  A cyclical, repetitive, trial-and-error type process is exactly what you’re after. That also means you’re not going to be able to sit down and develop a decent plot in a weekend. That’s not how it works (or almost never anyway.)  So give yourself time. Forgive yourself errors. And have fun.  Happy plotting. Happy outlining. And happy writing …  Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

9 Tips For Writing Perfect Prose

How To Write Prose- The Best Way When you send your work off to an agent, the agent’s first look will be fast, smart and brutal. They’ll ask, “Do I even like the concept for this book?” And they’ll ask, “Can this person write? Does this feel like the prose style of a serious, professional author?” If the answer to either of those questions is in the negative, you’re on the path to rejection, no matter how hard you’ve worked on all the rest of your manuscript. Well, we’re not going to address the issue of ideas in this post (though you could check out our comments in our article on writing an elevator pitch, if you’re worried, or see what we have to say about checking and developing your ideas.) We’re going to deal with the second of the things that an agent (or their assistant) has uppermost in their mind when they consider your submission. Quite simply, they’re thinking: Can this person write? Agents see hundreds of manuscripts and you’ll need yours to say, from that very first page and paragraph, “Yes, this is good prose. You are in the hands of a confident, capable writer. You will not be wasting your time with what follows.” What are you aiming for? You are aiming for prose that is: ClearEconomicalPrecise If you can check those three boxes, you’re doing fine. John Grisham isn’t some kind of prose writing superstar. Nor is Suzanne Collins. Nor is Stephen King. Their genius all lies elsewhere. 9 Ways To Perfect Your Prose Style: Avoid clichés.Be accurate.Keep it short.Trust your reader.Cull your adjectives.Mix your rhythms.Ditch the modifiers, let the verbs do the work.Use unexpected words to shock readers into understanding.Ask for help. If you can write clear, economical and precise prose – and it isn’t hard to do – you’re basically forcing the agent to read on. To judge your novel on its merits. To give your story a chance. Here’s what you need to do. Not sure what prose writing is? It’s basically the opposite of poetry. Any novel is written in prose. So is the text in any newspaper. So is the letter you write to your bank or your doctor or your secret lover. When novelists talk about prose style, they really just mean the way you write. Does your writing sound good or bad? Does it do the job you want it to do? Or does the way you express things always let you down? Wikipedia has more on what prose is, if you want to know that. Kill Clichés Cliché is the enemy of every author. And you recognise it when you see it, right? We’re talking about things like this: His eyes were blue enough to swim in.She felt a sharp pain, as though cut by a knife.The breeze whispered softly through gently waving trees. It’s like watching a movie we’ve all seen before. It’s language that’s stale, old, past its sell-by date. But cliche creeps in all over the place. The flame-haired passionate redhead? She’s an old, overused stereotype. The midnight hostage exchange in a deserted warehouse? Seen it, read it. The rose-covered cottage with a smiling old lady and lots of home-made cakes. Yep, nothing new there. The simple fact is that wherever you grab for pre-made stereotypes – scenes, people and settings that we’ve seen a million times before – you bore your reader that tiny bit. You distance them from the text, when what you want is to hug them close. So, look for cliches everywhere. Then kill them. Need more help? We have a brilliant video tutorial on Cliches – it’s part of our How To Write course and is available free to members of Jericho Writers. If you’re serious about writing, you probably want to consider joining us. You get tons of free learning materials, live online classes, an active and supportive community, and so much more besides. Learn more or join us. Be Accurate Let’s start with an example. Consider this sentence: She lay in the early morning light listening to the roar of traffic softly rising like mist in the streets. What do you think of that? Good? Bad? Half and half? I hope you said that it’s an awful sentence, because it is. If I were an agent and I encountered this sentence on page 1 of a submission, I would read no further. Why? Because the writer isn’t in control of their language and that proves to me that they aren’t yet ready to go pro. So let’s see what’s wrong. “She lay in the early morning light” – that’s fine. Nothing wrong with that. “listening to the roar of traffic” – yep, OK. (Although why is there a roar of traffic in the early morning? Unless there’s a very specific setting which answers that question, I worry that we’re not really dealing with early morning here, in which case why say so?) “softly rising like mist in the streets” – OK, that’s where this sentence collapses completely. If traffic roars, it can’t softly rise. You could have a murmur of traffic doing something softly. Or a roar of traffic doing something loudly or violently. But roar + soft just doesn’t work. The two ideas are fighting each other. And that’s not all of it. Mist doesn’t rise, it just hangs. It’s a stationary image, not a moving one. So that’s another fail. And why say ‘In the streets‘? Obviously cars are in streets (so why bother to remind us?) And if you want to talk about a slow-rising mist, then isn’t that more naturally a rural metaphor? In which case the word streets again introduces an awkwardness. In short, the writer of that sentence failed the Accuracy test, because they weren’t sure enough what they wanted to say and ended up just serving up a mess. Oh, and if you think I’m being picky here, then I admit it: YES! I’m picky. So should you be. Prose style matters – and it’s good that it matters! Books are made out of sentences and sentences are made out of words. If you\'re not very picky indeed about your word choices and sentence constructions, you will never be (or deserve to be) a real professional author. So be picky. It’s the first ingredient of success. Keep It Short When you write, treat your manuscript as though you had to pay 10p a word for the privilege of writing. Look at this paragraph, for example: He walked slowly away, trying not to make any kind of sound. His feelings were in a turmoil, roiling and boiling, a tumult of emotion. He couldn’t help reiterating to himself again and again that he had done the right thing; that he had done everything he could. He insisted to himself that she, too, would surely see this one day. Ugh. Let’s try that again. Here’s the same example, tightened up. He crept away, his feelings in turmoil. He had done the right thing, he told himself. One day, she would see this, too. Almost a third of the length. And everything about it is better. It doesn’t just say it faster, it says it better. In the first version, all that verbiage just got in the way. And again: you just can’t be too picky here. Let’s say you had a sentence in your book that was 12 words long, when it could say the same thing in just 9-10 words. Would you make the change? Or would you just think, nah, who cares? I certainly hope that you said you’d make the change, because look at it like this. What if you write a 120,000 word book that could be reduced to 90 or 100,000 words without losing any material content? That book would be 20-30,000 words overweight . . . and would be way too baggy for any top-end literary agent to get involved with. But you will only cut that 20-30,000 word surplus by finding the 2-3 unnecessary words in that 12 word sentence and cutting them out. That’s what that part of the editing process is all about. There are no shortcuts. In short: good writers work at their writing. Getting your prose style right is all about acute attention to detail. If a bad sentence bothers you, you just need to keep going until you get it right. You have to care about your sentences –because your entire novel is made of them! If you’re not open to cutting your work in service of your novel, making it the best you can, we’re in trouble. Trust Your Reader Another amateurish trait is that of not trusting the reader. We get many clients who write something rather like the following: He rolled in agony. Fire shot through every limb. He felt like screaming out in pain. His entire face was distorted with the grotesque effort of not shouting out. That uses many very forceful words (agony, fire, screaming, distorted, grotesque). You don’t need that many words to do the job. It’s as though the writer of this snippet doesn’t trust the reader to get the point, so he/she keeps making the same point again and again like some classic pub bore. Readers will ‘get it’, as long as you write in clear, forceful, non-repetitive language. Here’s another example. What do you think of the following little dialogue / micro-scene? “Yes?” I nudged.“Yes, only . . .” she hesitated, then stopped completely. Waved her hands at me to signal she was done, or that I should look away. Some gesture like that.“So, yes, we should invite him?”“Of course. Fine. Whatever you want. It’s not like I care.” We don’t know what’s going on here of course – presumably, if we read this in a book, we’d have more background to make sense of it all. But it’s pretty clear, isn’t it, that the woman here has some set of quite strong, deep emotions about the guy they might or might not invite to something – and she’s not that keen to talk about what she feels.# And you got all that, without the writer having to spell anything out at all. The writer just dropped stuff on the page and let you figure it out. So now take a look at this way of doing things: “Yes?” I nudged her, anxious to know what she would think.“Yes, only . . .” she hesitated, then stopped completely. She waved her hands at me to signal something. I guess she was quite conflicted about me inviting him. Maybe she was a little bit angry, plus a little embarrassed. Her body language was more than consistent with these two emotions, so I decided that I should try to clarify the situation in order to identify her opinions more precisely.“So, yes, we should invite him?” I said, hoping that this time I would get a more detailed answer.“Of course. Fine. Whatever you want. It’s not like I care.”But although she said she didn’t care, it was evident to me that she did. As a matter of fact, when she spoke the words “whatever you want”, it struck me that maybe she was being passive-aggressive, that although she said “whatever you want”, maybe what she actually means was, “No, I’d prefer not to see him.” That’s terrible, right? And it’s terrible, partly, because this version of the dialogue massively breaks the “keep it tight” rule. But it’s also terrible because it just lectures the reader in this horrible heavy-handed way on stuff that the reader can perfectly well figure out for themselves. It’s even worse than that, actually, because in the first example, all the nuances of the situation were left open to the reader to figure out. In the second example, all that clunky explanation just crushes the nuances underfoot. The moral of this story? Trust your reader. They’re smart like that. (And get more dialogue help, if you want it.) Cull Those Adjectives To stick with this theme, and especially when it comes to descriptive writing, double adjectives are almost always a no-no. The second adjective almost always weakens the first. You want an example? OK, so take a look at this: He leaned over the black iron railings, the coarse grey cloth of his sleeve catching on the sharp, treacherous spike. Deleting any superfluous adjective improves this description straightaway: He leaned over the iron railings, the coarse cloth of his sleeve catching on the sharp spike. That’s better, right? But I hope you notice that we can go one step better again. Every sentence needs nouns and verbs, while adjectives are definitely optional. And in many cases, a sentence just doesn’t need any adjectives at all. So in fact, the best way to write that sentence would be simply: As he leaned over the railings, his sleeve caught on the spike. Good writers use adjectives sparingly. And if you\'re in doubt, write the sentence without the adjectives and see if it works better. If it’s actually missing something then reinsert the adjective. Your prose will instantly tighten and feel more alive, more taut. Want more help on descriptive writing? Then get it here and here. Mix Your Rhythms Short sentences are strong. So use them. But too many? All short sentences? They’ll irritate the reader. You’ll annoy them. A lot. Aren’t you annoyed already? I bet you are. Equally, if you work with only longer sentences, you risk losing the reader, who’ll miss that bit of grit, of sharpness, that shorter sentences bring. The same thing applies across the board. Description is great, but too much of it? Every small thing described? You’ll lose the reader.Abstract nouns are great – but big blocks of them? You’ll lose the reader.Emotional language is great. It’s a big part of why we read. But constant examination of every small emotion? Yep, you know what I’m going to say: you’ll lose the reader. The secret, always, is variety – and flexing your language according to the mood and moment of your story. So if your hero gets brutally dumped by his long time partner? Then look in detail at his emotions! But if you’re in the middle of a tense action scene? Now’s probably not the time for all that. Of course, it sounds obvious if you put it like that, but it’s not always so obvious as you write your text. One great trick, used by plenty of pro authors,is to read your work aloud. If it starts to grate with you, or if the rhythms seem awkward to say, then stop and rewrite! It’ll be worth your time, guaranteed! Work Those Nouns, Work Those Verbs! Look at these examples, and figure out what’s wrong with them: He said loudly, raising his voice so she could hear it across the field.She jumped high in the air.He said as quietly as he could. In most cases, of course, you’ll do better to simply cut out the adverbs (the things that describe the action – like loudly, high, and quietly). English is rich in vocabulary so in most cases, there are neater ways to say what you’re after. For example: He called to her (adding, across the field if you want).She leaped.He whispered. I’m not saying those replacements are always better – you have to use your judgement given the particular place you are in your story. But as a rule of thumb? Ditch the modifiers and let the verbs do the work. There’s a similar trick to see whether your nouns (words for objects) are working hard enough for you. Compare these two examples: He passed her some food, on an old white plate.He gave her lamb tagine. Big scoops of it, mounded on a plate of old porcelain, with a faded floral rim. The first sentence is very bland, partly because all of the components words are very bland. If you listed all the commonest words in the English language, them pass, food, old, white, and plate would surely be amongst their number. The second sentence has some much less common words, lamb, tagine, scoops, mounded, porcelain, faded, floral, rim. Because those words are less common, they feel tangier to the reader. They burn brighter in the reader’s imagination. Again, I’m not saying you can use this trick all the time – your judgement has to come first; sometimes simple is good – but it’s worth bearing in mind. If you read over your prose and find it a little bland or lacking in energy, then giving (especially) your nouns and verbs a big more zing will make a huge difference. Do you find this helpful? We have some brilliant video tutorials on prose writing – they’re part of our How To Write course and the whole thing available free to members of Jericho Writers. If you’re serious about writing, you probably want to consider joining us. You get tons of free learning materials, live online classes, an active and supportive community, and so much more besides. Learn more or join us. We’d love it if you did! Add Some Little Flashes Of Genius You’ll occasionally find a phrase that perfectly captures something: an unexpected word use that shocks a reader into understanding. Here are some dazzling examples of what we mean: “A quick succession of busy nothings.”“One moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in.”“I shall be dumped where the weed decays, and the rest is rust and stardust.” These are snippets from writers of genius – Jane Austen, Graham Greene, and Vladimir Nabokov. Never try forcing this on your every paragraph or page (they didn’t). Only a scatter of diamonds here and there has effect, so go for it, if you can. And if that seems a bit daunting to begin with, then start small. The main trick in writing well is simple:You just have to care enough. We mean that pretty literally. Let’s say, there’s something you want to convey. Something, let’s say, about those moments of transition in childhood, when new possibilities suddenly open up. You’re talking about a semi-magical moment, so it would be great if you could find a description that had a little magic to it. But how to do it? The answer is, you write something and see how you feel about it. Maybe this, for example: It was one of those moments in childhood, that suddenly seemed rich in possibility. That’s OK, right, but not exactly magical. So just let your imagination find what you are trying to say? What is it that for you conveys that idea of ‘rich in possibility’? As soon as you ask that question, you might start finding some answers. For example: It was one of those moments in childhood, where the future suddenly bloomed, like a field full of poppies.A moment in childhood, where a window swung open, letting in the sunshine, letting in the future. Or of course, you might end up with something like Greene’s own version: “One moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in.” Bear in mind, he probably didn’t write that sentence cleanly at the first time of asking. He probably wrote something, felt it wasn’t quite right, then fiddled with the sentence until he was happy. That’s how writers write. Dissatisfaction + more work = the route to better writing! Get Writing Help I hope you know by now that Jericho Writers is a club for writers just like you. We have a ton of helpful advice to offer. There are free courses. Free films. Free webinars where you can ask agents and authors real questions about your work. There’s a community full of writers like you exchanging questions and comments on each other’s work. And once you take out your (low cost, cancel-any-time) membership, everything within the club is absolutely free to members. It’s like you get access to the world’s best resource bank for writers, and pay just a fraction of what it would cost to buy those things outright. Does that sound good? We really hope so. We built the club for writers like you, and we’ve already helped 100s of writers to achieve their dreams of publication. Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

How To Present A Manuscript

The Art And Craft Of Beautiful Manuscript Presentation Manuscript presentation makes a big difference to the way literary agents receive your work. Yes, sure, agents are looking for wonderful writing above all, so in that sense the way you format your manuscript is secondary . . . but getting an agent is hard, so you may as well make sure that first impression is a good one. And of course remember this: literary agents aren’t mostly looking to accept a manuscript. They’re looking for early warning signs that say this author hasn’t taken enough care to be worth reading further. So the lousy presentation of your book’s cover page can screw up your chances of success before your book has really given itself a chance. Sounds scary? It doesn’t need to be. Follow the tips below and you’ll be fine. What Is A Manuscript? There’s a difference between a manuscript and a book, and it’s much the same as the difference between a writer and an author. A writer is anyone at all who writes. An author is a writer whose work has been published. The same thing is basically true of manuscripts / books, so a reasonable definition of the word ‘manuscript’ would be: A manuscript is the text of your novel (or work of nonfiction),before that text has been turned into the finished book. In the old days, when the industry still worked with paper, the manuscript was literally the stuff you printed off on your home printer. When I sent my first manuscript out to literary agents, the damn thing ran to more than 180,000 words and it was enormous. Over 600 pages of printed paper, as I recall. These days, your manuscript may well never be printed off at all, anywhere. Quite likely, you will work away at your manuscript on a laptop. You’ll send it to an agent by email. Any editorial work will be conducted by email and an e-copy of your manuscript. When the thing is ready to go out to publishers, it’ll go as a computer file, only. It’s referred to as a manuscript though: it’ll only become an actual book once it’s been typeset and bound (and becomes an actual hard copy, dead-tree book), or once it’s been formatted and packaged up as an ebook. (As a matter of fact, I think some of the kudos that still attaches to trad publishing as opposed to self-publishing has to do with the way it marks out that transition.) Format Your Manuscript Professionally: Use double or 1.5 line spacingUse a standard fontMake sure to use font size 12Use standard marginsChapter breaks should be marked by page breaksInsert page numbersIndent paragraphsDon’t overuse the ellipsis… Or, exclamation marks!Title pages should also include your name, contact info, and wordcount Manuscript Basics So your manuscript is basically just a computer file that lives (for now) on your home computer only, but may in time come to sit on the e-reader of your literary agent and (you hope) a whole bunch of editors too. While the manuscript remains on your laptop and nowhere else, then you can format it just as you please. There are no rules at all. No one will see. No one will care. I know one (really good) literary author who has poor eyesight and weirdly bad spelling. So he types in a huge font size – Arial, size 16, often all bold – and just ignores the spelling errors. If he sent out his work out like that, it would make a terrible first impression on anyone reading it. But he doesn’t. That’s just the way he works. So manuscript formatting rules only apply when you’re ready to go out to agents . . . and even then, you need to realise that there are no rules, exactly. There’s no standard manuscript format. No required novel template that you have to follow, or else . . . So the only real rule of manuscript presentation is a simple, ordinary one: Your manuscript should look like a clean, professional document. If you obey that one single rule, you’ll be just fine. That said, there’s a follow-up quasi-rule, which can be expressed as: You probably want to set out your manuscript in a way that is most helpful to a literary agent. Those guys read a lot of new manuscript submissions, so if you make their life harder, you are – even if just in a small way – acting against your own best interests. Ways you can make an agent’s life easier include: Helpful choice of filenames Maybe the file on your computer is called novel.doc, because you hadn’t settled on a title when you started to write. That’s fine – plenty of my novels have started out that way too. But remember that an agent may be looking at your submission alongside 50 others. So don’t call your documents novel.doc / synopsis.doc / query.doc – you’ll confuse the agent almost instantly. Best practice would be to name your file something like The Great Gatsby, Scott Fitzgerald, first three chapters.doc. [Except I think that title might already have been taken . . .] Clean, clear title page I\'ll give more detail on that in a second No unnecessary additional text Your manuscript is just a working document, that has – prior to publication or the offer of a book deal – no special status in life. So don’t write dedications in here. Or Author’s Notes. Or long acknowledgements. If there”s a really compelling reason why you need to do these things, then OK. But in most cases, all that stuff can wait. Easy readability for the main text itself More on that shortly as well! Oh yes, and I should probably also say that in the screenwriting trade, there are fierce and important rules about formatting. They matter because of an equation like this: length of screenplay = run time = production costs. That equation does not apply if you\'re writing a novel or nonfiction book, and the result is that the publishing industry requirements about format are much looser. And quite right too! How To Format Book Title Pages Applies both to novels and non-fiction books. Your title page should contain: The book’s title in a large fontA subtitle, if the book has one. Most novels won’t.A quick genre specifier, if you want it. “A crime thriller”, for example. I’ve added “A novel” to the page below, only because this page was prepared for the American market where “a novel” is quite often used as a kind of subtitle.Your nameThe book’s rough word count, rounded to the nearest 1,000 or 5,000 wordsYour contact info (Email, phone, address) in the bottom right hand corner, or otherwise somewhat secondary It doesn’t need anything else. It doesn’t need and shouldn’t have a copyright notice. (See an example of the title page for one of my novels.) Oh, and NO ARTWORK. Unless you are a professional illustrator, say, you just want to keep the front cover bare of anything except text. Remember that the publisher, not you, will decide what the final book looks like, so sticking your own imagery on the book will, in most cases, look a awkwardly amateurish. Epigraphs, dedications, acknowledgements and all that kind of stuff can be left for when your book makes it into print. At this stage, you really don’t need that kind of thing. If you really must put in an epigraph, you can certainly do so on the second page or (probably italicised) on the cover itself. Your cover page would ideally not have any page number on it but, as you can see from the image, I didn’t bother eliminating the number from my title page. It’s no big deal. Manuscript Text Formatting Guidelines Follow this broad template, and you’ll have a happy literary agent . . . The following guidelines will mean that you deliver the kind of manuscript that any literary agent will instantly consider professional and easy to navigate. If you want to deviate from any of these exact strictures, you probably can. The golden rule is to deliver something that looks like any normal, professional document AND one that is laid out like a book, not a business letter. (ie: indented paragraphs not line breaks in between.) And even that rule about indenting the paragraphs is often not followed by first time writers. But are literary agents going to turn down great work just because they don’t love the paragraph formatting? Of course not. So don’t worry too much. OK, enough preamble. For a nice looking manuscript, you want to present it in something like the following way: Make sure to use double or 1.5 line spacing.Use a nice ordinary font. (Times New Roman, Garamond, or Georgia are all good choices. Arial is quite common, but maybe better avoided as sans serif text is just harder to read at length.)Ensure that you use a font size no smaller than 12, and no larger than 14.Use standard margins. Your existing defaults are probably fine, but check.Chapter breaks should be marked by page breaks, so each new chapter starts on a clean sheet.You can mark each new chapter with a number, if you care to. Or anything at all, really, just so long as it’s clear what’s going on. (If you’re worried about how long your chapters are, or how many pages are in a novel, then read this and put your mind at ease).Don’t forget to insert page numbers (though, truth be told, all that matters less now that everything happens in e-form. It’s still a nice touch.)Indent paragraphs (using the tab key or the paragraph formatting menu – don’t rely on the space bar). Do not leave a double space between paragraphs except as a section break.Oh, and don’t overuse the ellipsis (“…”) or the exclamation mark. Professional authors use those things very sparingly. This page shows my own choices: a nice looking chapter header (but mine is a lot fancier than you need.) Modest paragraph indentation, I like 0.3″. A personal, but not wacky font. (I usually use Garamond, though I’m not quite sure what I used in this example!) Line spacing that’s clear, but not too spacy. (I use generally use 1.5 line spacing, though you can go as low as 1.25 if you really want.) Plus a nice neat page number, of course. It would be good practice to include your name and the title of the book in a header or footer, though I haven’t done so in this image. Oh, and did you notice that the very first paragraph in that page was not indented? That’s technically correct and looks quite classy . . . but don’t worry if you haven’t done it. At that level, no one will care. (And that’s one big thing to remember about manuscript presentation. You need your work to look clean, professional and literate. If you check those boxes, then you’re fine. Really, truly, nothing else matters – except the quality of your actual book, which needs to be amazing.) Manuscript Format: Dialogue Presentation This isn’t a full guide to dialogue format, so do check more complete sources if you need, but for a quick refresher: Dialogue counts as new paragraphs, so it should be indented.When speech by one character is interrupted by a descriptive line, and then the speech continues, this all counts as one paragraph. Begin the next paragraph with the next speaker.Use single quotation marks for dialogue. When dialogue is followed by ‘said X’ or ‘chortled Y’ you should not capitalise either the s of said or the c of chortled. This is true even if the dialogue ends with an exclamation mark or a question mark.If the speaker quotes someone else within dialogue, you show that inner quotation with double inverted commas. Like this, for example: ‘No,’ said Hugh patiently. ‘What Sophie actually said was, “Go to hell, you bloody idiot!” Words to that effect anyway.’For more help on writing dialogue in the first place, then nip over here. Again, though, that rule about quotations within dialogue is hardly ever going to matter . . . and no one at all will care if you get it wrong. It’s your novel or non-fiction which matters! Dialogue Format: An Example    ‘This manuscript is nicely presented,’ said the agent.   ‘Indeed it is,’ said the publisher. She paused briefly, to strike off a few zeros from an author’s royalty statement. ‘It is well presented. And intelligent. And beautifully written.’   ‘But Oprah won’t like it.’   ‘No, indeed. Nor the Chief Buyer at Walmart.’   ‘So we’ll reject it!’ they chorused, laughing wildly.   Their limousine swept on through the rainy streets, leaving a faint aroma of cigar smoke and Chanel no. 5 lingering on the mild springtime air. Use the example above for guidance – or, if in doubt, open any paperback book. The way it’s laid out is the way yours should be. Manuscript Presentation: Punctuation Basics Your presented manuscript needs flawless punctuation. A few last tips. There is one general rule for punctuation. It is there to help avoid ambiguity.Commas are tricky, but often missed out before names. Get into the habit of putting them in and you will avoid absurdities like ones noted by Lynn Truss in Eats, Shoots and Leaves.Hyphens are an endangered species, and only the writer can save it. Again, it is vital to avoid ambiguities and absurdities – for instance, the white toothed whale. Is it the whale or the teeth that are white?It is a good rule to avoid lists of adjectives but, when you have them, check to see if any should be hyphenated. You can have a dining room, but a table there becomes a dining-room table.Semi-colons are also endangered, yet can bring a deal of subtlety to a writer’s style. A semi-colon links two related sentences; the second often elaborates or adds context to the first. A semi-colon is stronger than a comma, not as strong as a full-stop.Colons are used where one sentence introduces another. The rule is simple: use the colon when one sentence introduces the next. The three mistakes that our editorial team sees most commonly are these: 1. Not Enough Use Of Commas Commas are like a tiny pause within a sentence and they can divide sentences into little blocks of meaning. They can make (especially) long sentences much easier to parse and comprehend. And commas are free. Use them! 2. Use Of Commas Instead Of Fullstops/Periods Yes, we like commas, but commas aren’t there to divide one sentence from another, if you use commas where you mean to use fullstops (periods), you will end up with sentences that never seem to end, writing of this sort will drive your editor mad, punctuation-related homicides are rising sharply as a result. (*) 3. Misuse Of Apostrophes The mistake which will have most agents screaming has to do with apostrophes. These are simple, so get them right. (‘It’s’ means ‘it is’, It’s raining, for example. ‘Its’ means the thing belonging to it, The mouse gnawed its cheese, for example – and ‘its’ is correct. No apostrophes are added to other possessive pronouns like his or hers, either.) If you’re unsure, look these things up. * – Oh and if you wanted to know how that sentence ought to look, it’s like this: Yes, we like commas, but commas aren’t there to divide one sentence from another. If you use commas where you mean to use fullstops (periods), you will end up with sentences that never seem to end. Writing of this sort will drive your editor mad. Punctuation-related homicides are rising sharply as a result. If you wanted a semi-colon instead of a period after “mad”, that would be very elegant and your editor would probably want to give you a kiss. Instead of shooting you. Which has gotta be a win, right? Get Help Writing a book is hard. Getting an agent is hard. Getting published – well, that’s still harder. And getting well published? Actually making a career out of this thing? That’s never been even remotely easy, and (if you’re talking about traditional publication) may be harder than it’s been for decades. So get help. Don’t start spending crazy money, but get help. Why not try our video course on Getting Published that covers everything you need to know. Or, if you\'re eager to polish your manuscript, but aren\'t sure where to start, get help from an experienced professional editor with our Manuscript Assessment Service. Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer’s community. 

Vanity Publishing & Austin Macauley

A short journey to the sewer We’re always on the side of the book. We’re always on the side of the writer. With books, we want them to be as good as they can be – written well, edited well, pressing clients to be as wonderful as they can – and if you have the guts and determination to pick up a pen and write a book, we’re on your side. And that’s why we are firmly, emphatically, viscerally opposed to vanity publishing in all its forms. This is a story, yes, about Austin Macauley, but it is also a story about a whole raft of other vanity presses too. Snakes, worms and weasels, every one. Why such strong language? Because vanity publishers take vast sums of money from authors to publish their books. This is in contrast to how to best practice in both traditional publishing (where publishers pay you), and modern ebook-led self-publishing where it costs nothing to upload your book to retailers like Amazon, and where per book royalties are excellent. So if you want to know more about what to avoid – and about Austin Macauley Publishers specifically – then read on. A more complete guide to (proper, legitimate, profitable) publishing can be found here. What Is Vanity Publishing? Vanity publishing is where authors pay for their book to be ‘published’ and where ownership of the book passes to the publisher as part of the contract. Vanity publishers never call themselves by that name. They’ll say they offer ‘partnership publishing’ or ‘hybrid publishing’ or say they offer a ‘contributory contract’ or anything else of that sort. But if any publisher: Asks you for moneyEnds up owning the rights to your book you should regard them as a vanity publisher. That’s if you’re polite, and inclined to be generous. Quite frankly, we prefer to think of them as thieves and fraudsters. To be clear: they are not breaking the law. But whether some narrow legal test of fraud is or is not met misses the ethical heart of the issue. The fact is that these publishers are offering writers a contract which they basically know will not meet the legitimate dreams and aspirations of those writers. What Vanity Publishing Looks Like We’ve spoken to one writer who was offered a ‘contributory contract’ from one vanity publisher (not Austin Macauley), requesting from her a staggering £7,000 to publish her poems. This lady was dying of cancer, and she wanted to earn a little something for the son she’d leave behind. Thankfully, she called us first, and asked for our advice. What we told her was this: There is not meaningfully any market for poetry, and certainly not of the (sincere, but quite home-spun) verses she’d written.She would never see that £7,000 againSales would be modest in the extreme. Aside from any sales she made to friends and family, her sales would quite likely be zero, nothing, nix, nada.She almost certainly would get a nicely produced book to hold in her handsShe would not find that book being sold in bookshopsYes, the book would be available on Amazon, but so are 5,000,000 other titles. Uploading a book to Amazon is easy. Selling it once it’s there – that’s hard.She would not, meaningfully, get any marketing support from the publisher once the book had actually been produced.In effect, she’d be paying £7,000 to have her book printed & the rights owned by somebody else. You could easily spend no more than £1,000 for a book of that length, print as many copies as you wanted, work with lovely, truthful, well-intentioned people, and still retain all the rights to the book. Naturally, she did not use that publisher to ‘publish’ her work. Instead, she went to a reputable local printer and, for a modest sum, got the thing printed up for local distribution. She told me that she wanted everyone who came to her funeral to get a copy. And look, there’s something good here and something awful. The good thing is that a dying woman made a book that she wanted to create. That spoke her thoughts to those she cared about. There is nothing at all of vanity in that impulse. In that sense, the term ‘vanity publishing’ is a total misnomer. I’ve seen a lot of people snared by vanity publishers, and in not one single case was vanity the issue. On the contrary, it’s naivete, hope, and nothing else. So that’s the good thing. A dying woman wrote and distributed some verses. And here’s the bad thing: someone wanted to steal £7,000 from her. Sick, dying, and not at all wealthy. Did I say bad? I meant awful. The thing about vanity publishers is they don’t really publish at all. They get books designed & printed. You can do that too, just google “typesetting”, “cover design” and “book printers” and you’ll have everything you need. Or use an ethical outfit like Matador, or Lulu, or CreateSpace, or IngramSpark, or Completely Novel, and you’ll get a fair service at a fair price. (What each of those outfits offers is different, so you can’t just compare prices – it’s more complex than that.) So if you just want to pay something to produce 10 books (or 100, or 1,000), you need to work with a company like one of those guys. Or source your own design / copyediting / cover design, etc. It’s not hard, and it can be very rewarding. What Are The Alternatives To Vanity Publishing? A word about traditional publishing and modern self-publishing [This section talks about the alternatives very swiftly. If you need more help, go to our main publishing advice page that gives you a load more detail in a very helpful format.] Traditional Publishing Or you can publish in the traditional way with a regular publisher. The advantages of that route: you get paid, upfront plus (potentially) royalties as wellyou get a real publisher working hard to market your bookyou will be sold in bookstores and have the pride of having done a hard thing well. There’s also one obvious disadvantage: It’s very hard to get accepted by a traditional publisher – the rate of success is probably 1 in 1000 submissions (or even worse) If your work IS of that quality, you probably need a literary agent. Details on how to do that can be found here. We answer further common questions about literary agents here. We also offer free lists of agents in the US and the UK. Self-publishing If you don’t want to go that route – too hard? too slow? you don’t want to lose control of your book? – then modern self-publishing is also an excellent answer. Modern self-publishing involves selling your book via Amazon and/or the other e-tailers such as Apple. You will make a majority of your sales – perhaps over 90% of them – via ebooks, but it’s perfectly possible to create and sell print-books as well. They’ll be of good quality and will be available to readers all over the world. The advantages of self-publishing include: Royalties are superb: Amazon pays 70% royalties on ebook sales, whereas traditional publishers will pay just 17.5% (or less, if you inlcude the amount you’ll owe your agent.)It’s easyIt’s fastYou reach readers right across the globe The disadvantages include: you have to handle the various bits and pieces yourself: cover design, ebook formatting. Most people will just outsource those tasks, but you still need to find the right people for the job.Because of those tasks, you are likely to pay something to get our book published – but $1500 / £1000 would be a perfectly reasonable  budget for most.You have to market your book. Amazon is a platform; it’s not going to market on your behalf unless you have some prove sales potential already.There is still a difference in kudos between self-publishing and the traditional sort. That doesn’t really make sense to us. (Who do you admire more: someone who sold $100,000 worth of self-published books on Amazon? Or someone who got a £1000 book deal from some remote bit of Penguin Random House?) But still: it matters to some people. If you want to find out more about how to self-publish your work, you can find out with our (characteristically comprehensive) guide here. Info on book descriptions here. Info on categories and keywords here. Advice on getting your book covers here. It’s also true that writing really well is a skill that can be learned – and then learned some more. If you’ve struggled with literary agents in the past, it may well be that your actual book isn’t as strong as it could be. For that reason, we’ve got useful advice on how to write a book right here. Learning About Writing And Publishing Also – this does’t quite fit on this page in a way – but: it’s possible you don’t yet know enough about the whole writing/publishing industry to yet make a decision on how to proceed. And if you think, yes, maybe that applies to me, what then? Well, there’s a LOT you can do. If you feeling like flashing the cash (a very little bit), I’d urge you to become a member of Jericho Writers. You’ll get access to the world’s best resources on writing, publishing and self-publishing. Info here. You should also, certainly, join our Jericho Townhouse writing community, that just gives you an exceptional way to meet other writers, and exchange questions help and community. View our forums, our blogs, our groups. Austin Macauley – A Close-up Look At One Vanity Publisher Hold your nose, folks. We’re heading down . . . This post grew (as you may have guessed) out of an encounter with Austin Macauley, a vanity publisher. Or rather: multiple encounters, all of them negative. We heard about authors feeling cheated. We heard about authors being threatened with legal action if they spoke out about their experience. We heard about authors going to court against the firm. We heard about a prominent blogger – a person of integrity and intelligence – being threatened with legal action for speaking out about these things. So we thought we’d look into Austin Macauley reviews . . . and we did not love what we saw. If you\'re asking yourself \'is Austin Macauley publishers reputable?\', we have the answer. No. In this updated post, we take another look at Austin Macauley – but please remember that ALL vanity publishers operate in much the same way. What we say about this firm could, mutatis mutandis, be said about all its snakelike brethren. Indeed, we DO say it about all those firms. Oh, and to be crystal clear: we do not believe that Austin Macauley is engaged in illegal activity. In our opinion, what they do is totally unethical and close to cheating, but some bad things are within the law; vanity publishing very much included. (Alas.) Okie-doke. So- If you Google “Austin Macauley”, as I just did, you may find this: Screengrab taken 17.5.2020 And – huh? A publisher who advertises? Go and Google Penguin Random House. Or HarperCollins. Or Simon & Schuster. Those guys don’t advertise. Why not? Because their business model works like this: Find great books. Publish them well. Make money. No part of that relies on advertising to authors and luring them in. (So how do they get those great books? They pay for them. And authors and literary agents bring them all their best stuff.) But the Austin Macauley model works like this: Find authors willing to part with cash. Part them from their cash. Deliver some kind of book. That’s it. The book doesn’t have to be good. It doesn’t have to actually sell. AM doesn’t even actually have to try to do all the things that real publishers do to make sales. Of course not! They’ve already made money. From you! Bu I get ahead of myself. Here’s what they say on their website home page (text copied 24 April 2018) We pride ourselves on our hybrid publishing model, a progressively more popular means by which both new and previously published authors can establish themselves in the increasingly competitive world of books. This is horseshit. Here’s that same bit of text with my explanations in brackets: We pride ourselves on our hybrid publishing model [we take money from authors which no reputable publisher does. Deep in our snakelike hearts, we know that this is a horrible way to make a living, but we may as well make a virtue of it and pretend it’s normal.]a progressively more popular means [Rubbish. Traditional publishing is great. Self-publishing is great and has zoomed up in the world. Vanity publishing is used only by those who don’t know any better. It’s “popular” largely with those people who don’t know better and who are taken in by flashily effective advertising.]by which both new and previously published authors can establish themselves in the increasingly competitive world of books [Double-rubbish. You want to know if Austin Macauley establishes writers in the the world of books? OK. So do this. Go to the biggest bookstore near you. See if you can find any Austin Macauley books. Browse the shelves. Ask a checkout clerk. Seek specific titles by name. You will find almost none, and most likely none at all. And if I’m wrong, I’ll give you a dollar and a kiss for every one you find.] Indeed, let’s take the partnership / hyrbid / vanity agreements that Austin Macauley and its peers offers. We’d want to ask: What is the median cost to the author of these partnership agreements?Partnership implies some joint sharing of risks and rewards, so do these firms contribute a sum broadly equivalent to that contributed by your authors?What are the median sales of partnership titles? Note that ordinary averages (means) can be distorted by one or two high-selling titles, so a median figure would be helpful. This is a crucial question, and you should not part with a single penny before getting an answer.What, loosely, is the median financial outcome for partnership authors? Do they recover their contributions via royalties? Do they generally make a profit, and how much? And if they make a loss, what is the average magnitude of that loss? I hope it’s obvious why these questions are important. Austin Macauley Publishers operates within the law insofar as it prints books, makes those books available on Amazon, available for order by bookshops (not the same as saying that these books are likely to be stocked in bookshops). It makes modest efforts to secure publicity for its books and authors. All that does not amount to a good deal. It amounts to a right royal stinker of a deal. Avoid Austin Macauley. Avoid its peers. And may they, one day, all bite the dust! Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 

How To Write Erotica And A Damn Fine Sex Scene

The romance genre is one of the best selling book genres in the world, and that includes erotica novels full of unforgettable sex scenes. So how do you get over the awkwardness of writing sizzling action, and learn to write sex scenes that your readers can\'t get enough of? In this article I\'m going to be talking about erotic fiction; from how to start your first draft and engage your reader\'s imagination, to ensuring you are writing high quality erotica that will have your target audience wanting more! So, like any good romance, let us start at the very beginning.... What\'s The Difference Between Romance Novels And Erotica? The simplest way to look at the two is this: Romance novels have the sex scenes revolve around the plot. Erotic fiction has the plot revolve around the sex scenes! So before you start writing erotica, ask yourself whether your story is about the characters and an exciting plot (that just so happens to have the odd steamy scene) - or whether the hot action is what your readers want, and you simply have to thread each sex scene together with a plausible storyline. Which leads us on to structuring your story - because, like any genre, your romance needs to have a plot! Structure Your Story Now I’m not going to go into a ton of detail about how to write a great book - because every successful author of erotica will have a different story to tell. All I will say is that you do need to respect your basic story structure. Writing erotica novels is no different to writing any other kind of fiction! The teasing quality of a suspense-driven story (Will the heroine succeed or not? Does he or doesn\'t he like her?) should match up perfectly with the will-they/won’t-they quality of the romantic/erotic dance. Without that suspense, that build up, you have no momentum driving the story forward. That said, when it comes to writing erotic fiction, your story can be relatively simple – and relatively short. A 50,000 word story wouldn’t work so well as a crime-thriller, but it’s plenty long enough for erotica. Hit The Beats And I\'m not talking BDSM here! \'Hitting the beats,\' in the most basic of storytelling ways, simply means making sure your book has a story arc. this may sound formulaic, but if you have too much of any of these segments, some or missing, or they are in the wrong order then your readers will notice as the pacing will feel \'off\' and it won\'t keep readers hooked. Make sure your romance or erotic story includes all of this: Set The Scene (Act 1) Where does the book take place? Is it on a tropical island? Or in a 19th century mansion? Two very different stories. Introduce The Characters From the onset we need to know who the characters are - is the MC a love-starved vampire or a controlling millionaire (or both)? Readers need to see what the main character\'s life was like before the... Inciting Incident What happens in the book that\'s a point of no return? This is the part when the book gets going. The Middle (Entering Act 2) Some writers struggle with this part as it\'s generally the least exciting part of the book. It\'s where the character grows and learns things, it\'s their journey or discovery. What will happen between your two characters? Add lots of twists and surprises. False Peak/False Defeat The book isn\'t over yet. There\'s either worse things to come or hope on the horizon. Keep the readers on their toes. Things Can\'t Get Any Worse Your hero/heroine thinks that all is lost, then they work out the solution The Hero Overcomes (Enter Act 3) Show the MC overcoming their internal or external struggles and finally getting what they set out to get at the beginning of the story Happily Ever After Because you are writing erotica/romance, it\'s important that you have your two main love interests get together at the end. And if they don\'t, well, at least hint that they might in future books. Always end on a high note! Let\'s take a look at what makes amazing writing and what the best erotica writers consider when building their worlds. Think Character Even if your story is simple, your characters shouldn’t be. The power of sexual tension (and release) is multiplied tenfold on the page if there is some conflict and resolution between the characters. That doesn’t have to mean the two main characters are always shouting at each other (though that could work). It means you must have some kind of push-pull dynamic that will have to be resolved somehow … and often via them taking all their clothes off. It also means that your characters have to develop through the course of your story. The sex they have on first meeting won’t feel the same as the sex they have at the end of your book. But sex is just sex, right? Wrong. Writing Sex To Reflect Plot Most people, when thinking about adding sex scenes in their erotic novel, focus on the body parts. What goes where, who does what, what they are wearing etc. But it\'s so much more than that. Sex doesn\'t belong in any book without a purpose. Much like in any other genre, a sex scene is no different to an action scene. Every fight isn\'t the same, every car chase is different. The sex your protagonists have at the beginning of the book should not be the same as the sex scenes at the end of the book. They have been on a journey, they know one another better, their relationship has helped heal old wounds or accomplish what they set out to do. How they interact with one another has to move the plot forward and show character growth in such a way that you\'ve moved beyond the sexiness to something a lot deeper. But you need to do this subtly. How? Show...don\'t tell! Show Don’t Tell When writing erotic stories, showing and not telling is vital. People read erotica to be part of the sex, to feel the same emotions the characters are feeling. That means you can’t merely report that character X had great sex with character Y. You have to let the scene unfold, action-by-action, on the page. Keep plenty of dialogue there too, make it part of the plot. Remember that interesting character interplay = interesting sex. Put yourself in their shoes (or lingerie) and imagine what they are experiencing. Engage all five senses. What are they thinking? What are they feeling? What can they smell, hear, taste, see? Make sure that what the setting and props reflect the story. If the scene is set in a 19th century mansion then is he ripping off her silk ballgown? Do the candles in the chandeliers flicker? Is she feeling off her gloves finger by fingers? Alternatively, if they\'re on a dessert island, do they have sand in their mouth and hair? Can they hear tropical birds and the crash of waves? Is the warm breeze caressing their naked backs? How To Write A Great Sex Scene We\'ve established the importance of character, story structure, and showing not telling when writing your erotica novel as a whole - but how do you write your individual sex scenes? Here is my simple guide in ten easy steps (this advice refers specifically to erotica, the genre my Unbreakable trilogy, starting with The Silver Chain, is written for. Although it can be applied to sex scene writing in general): Create A Picture Of The Characters, Imagine The Flow If you can, put yourself in the scene. If you find that too difficult, then superimpose famous heart-throbs, or a secret crush, on to your characters. Imagine these characters making love in front of you on a screen, and describe what you see and feel. Put yourself in the picture. If it\'s not exciting you...then it won\'t excite your readers! Make Your Readers Care Because if they don\'t, they\'ll soon get bored. Your protagonists may come from different worlds, or there may be a difference in age or in the balance of power between them, but they are drawn to each other like a couple of magnets. And once we know how this dynamic works, we will know how and why they like one another, and your readers will be attracted to them, too. Remember that in erotica, upon first meeting, these characters have one aim - to have sex with each other. And the aim of most readers is to watch that attraction unfold, grow and reach an unforgettable climax (in every sense of the word). Voyeuristic, yes, but true! Choose Your Location So next, place them in a sexy environment for this first time. Depending on their age, situation, energy, athleticism and/or pure machismo, the back of a clapped out Ford Cortina or the bins behind the Plaza cinema might be just the place for a quick, rough first time, and that will certainly do it for some readers. Any good erotic writer is more than capable, like the old Martini adverts, of creating a sex scene any time, any place, anywhere! But others usually pick up an erotic novel to get away from the dirty old mean streets of real life. They\'re after escapism! So whisk your characters off to a place you’d like to be. A moonlit beach, or a sumptuous penthouse hotel room, or a soft rug in front of a roaring fire. Imagine you are a film director setting the perfect scene. Make sure there\'s low lighting and great music or some other subtle sound track. Garish lighting and deadly silence are not always the sexist ambience, at least for the first time. But as the story progresses you can really have fun with your characters - having them so hot for each other that after the first seduction they’ll do it anywhere. A lift, a restaurant, a riding stable, an art gallery. And to keep us on our toes, you can also later on play with the dynamic, too. Have the meek heroine take the lead, for once. See how the hero responds to that. Don’t Forget The Build-Up/Foreplay Build up sensuously to the physical act with suggestive conversation which will either be blatant and in your face, or playful, teasing, even holding back. Depending on whether you have just 50,000 words to play with and it\'s straight forward erotica, or whether you are writing a 90,000 word steamy romance, you can decide how long it takes them to get together. They can have wild passionate sex in chapter one, then get to know one another...or they can spend four chapters stealing glances at one another. Either way, stick to your story beats in terms of pacing and keep the readers just as tense and excited as the two lovers! Also, remember characters don’t stand woodenly about like actors in a bad am-dram before they get down to it. Have them eating, drinking, dancing, singing, involve us in that experience, then show us their clothes, how well they fit, are they too formal or tight, how good does it feel as they come off? Unbuttoning cut-off jeans can be just as sexy as unzipping a ball gown. Make it tense, passionate, breathless, but … Take It Slow In real life the first time you have sex with someone new is often urgently desired but ends up fast and disastrous, but this is fantasy! So although there can be some hesitation, shyness and teasing, ultimately everyone, reader included, needs to be on tenterhooks to get their hands on each other and get down to it. Teasing the characters means teasing the reader, which is what they picked up the book for in the first place! Structure Your Scene Structure your scene like the sex act. That is, foreplay, action, climax, wind down. Too obvious? You might think so, until you start writing the scene. Think of the foreplay as the aforementioned setting. The removal of clothes, the first sensation of skin on skin starts the action rolling in the obvious direction. If it helps, think of a movie scene. I know actors always say how pedestrian and workmanlike it is simulating sex in front of a crew of burly cameramen, a bank of arc lights and a demanding director, but imagine yourself as an extremely involved, generous, hands-on director with your characters. Make sure the bed is soft, the studio is warm, and soon they’ll take off on their own towards the strong, satisfying, long-awaited penetration! As for the climax, well, no beating about the bush, is there? This is when the glorious pinnacle of where we all want to be is reached, and tread carefully here with the language (see below). Challenge yourself to find different ways of describing that rush of ecstasy. Avoid waterfalls, avalanches, orchestras! What actions or words stimulate the eventual moment? Focus on emotion just as much as action here. Keep A Tad Of Realism Alive Slightly unrealistically erotic couples tend to come together every time but if you want to be more realistic, let one come before the other and show who is the generous one, who is thoughtful, who is selfish. Or are they both equally considerate, and if not, will they become so as the novel progresses? Finally, the wind down is often the hardest. After the shivering and shuddering, do they fall asleep, or analyse, or do it all over again? I often have a knock at the door, or a phone call after the act, so that in the early days the couple are never at leisure totally to relax or take each other for granted until the next drama occurs. Find The Right Balance Of Cinematic And Plausible Make it dramatic, but human. Not impossibly athletic, but not mundane either. The characters will already be attractive and/or beautiful, or arresting in some way to turn the reader on. The men have got to be strong and well hung and very experienced (unless the opposite of that caters for a specific audience). The women are generally curvaceous, soft and wonderfully proportioned, and if not experienced, then primed and ready to learn. Again - if you write for a different audience then change your characters to fit the readers\' ida of perfection. If this is a romantic setting, lots of kissing and stroking, exploration. If this is more down the BDSM route, then the participants will get their kicks from spanking, binding, and pain. But there is always room for sensuousness and tenderness - and most importantly, whatever they do in the bedroom must be a natural part of the plot AND help the reader understand the characters better. Don’t Get Coy With Your Language Keep it simple, punchy, evocative, but not obscene or anatomical. Don’t, like John Updike, veer away from simple words and use hideous ones like ‘yam’ to describe a penis. Don’t use euphemism or flowery words, either. ‘Cock’, ‘cunt’ and ‘fuck’ are acceptable with some publishers, but not others, and certainly not in the new mainstream type of erotica. There\'s a difference between well written erotica and graphic pornography! You also have to use your powers of evocation very carefully to avoid sounding awkward or coy. So ‘manhood’ and ‘sex’ can be used, but sparingly. Read erotic romance books and other works of your chosen genre, or find a publisher’s house style, to find what works and what publishers/readers prefer. Use The Rhythm Method Next try to get into a rhythm similar to the rhythm of sex. Slow, slow, quick, slow. Yes, that’s it. Like a dance. Why else to you think dancing was considered so daring in the old days? It was the nearest people could get to each other in public. And have you ever seen sex better choreographed than in the Argentine tango? Frequently Asked Questions Do you still have questions about writing erotica? Here are some FAQs... How Do I Start Writing Erotica? Start with your characters and setting, think about how they influence your plot, and what kind of relationship they may have. You may want to practice with fan fiction first or self publish before approaching a publisher. How Do You Write An Intimate Scene? Begin with all four senses and picture yourself in the scene. What are you feeling? Try to avoid brash or corny words, keep it simple, and focus more on the characters, the setting and the emotions than the step by step actions. No one reads erotica because they want a How To sex manual. How Do You Write A Steamy Romance? Steamy romance novels are different to erotica as the sex is part of the plot and moves the story forward. With romance novels the characters and plot are the most important part...then the sex. Whereas with erotica it\'s all about the sex and the plot matters less. With steamy romance novels try and focus on the characters, what they want and how being with the one they love will achieve their goals. Don\'t add sex scenes for the sake of it, ensure there\'s a build up, lots of teasing, the pull and push suspenses, and then a big climax (as it were). The Ultimate Guide To Writing Sex And there you have it, everything you need to write a sizzling sex scene for your erotic fiction. Just remember to connect with all your senses, write about whatever specific kink interests you, and have fun. The last part is the most important - because if you\'re not enjoying yourself your readers won\'t either! Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer’s community. 

Writing Dialogue In Fiction: 7 Easy Steps

Speech gives life to stories. It breaks up long pages of action and description, it gives us an insight into a character, and it moves the action along. But how do you write effective dialogue that will add depth to your story and not take the reader away from the action? In this article I will be guiding you through seven simple steps for keeping your fictional chat fresh, relevant and tight. As well as discussing dialogue tags and showing you dialogue examples. Time to talk... 7 Easy Steps For Compelling Dialogue Getting speech right is an art but, fortunately, there are a few easy rules to follow. Those rules will make writing dialogue easy – turning it from something static, heavy and un-lifelike into something that shines off the page. Better still, dialogue should be fun to write, so don’t worry if we talk about ‘rules’. We’re not here to kill the fun. We’re here to increase it. So let’s look at some of these rules along with dialogue examples. “Ready?” she asked. “You bet. Let’s dive right in.” How To Write Dialogue In 7 Simple Steps: Keep it tight and avoid unnecessary wordsHitting beats and driving momentumKeep it oblique, where characters never quite answer each other directlyReveal character dynamics and emotionKeep your dialogue tags simpleGet the punctuation rightBe careful with accents Dialogue Rule 1: Keep It Tight One of the biggest rules when writing with dialogue is: no spare parts. No unnecessary words. Nothing to excess. That’s true in all writing, of course, but it has a particular acuteness (I don’t know why) when it comes to dialogue. Dialogue Helps The Character And The Reader Everything your character says has to have a meaning. It should either help paint a more vivid picture of the person talking (or the one they are talking to or about), or inform the other character (or the reader) of something important, or it should move the plot forward. If it does none of those things then cut it out! Here\'s an example of excess chat: \"Good morning, Henry!\" \"Good morning, Diana.\" \"How are you?\" she asked. \"I\'m well. How are you?\" \"I\'m fine, thank you.\" She looked up at the blue sky. \"Lovely weather we\'re having.\" Are you asleep yet? You should be. It\'s boring, right? Sometimes you don\'t need two pages of dialogue. Sometimes a simple exchange can be part of the narrative. If you want your readers to know an interaction like this has taken place, then simply say - Henry passed Diana in the street and they exchanged pleasantries. If you want the reader to know that Henry finds Diana insufferably then you can easily sum that up by writing - Henry passed Diana in the street and they exchanged pleasantries. As always she looked up at the sky before commenting on the weather, as if every day that week hadn\'t been gloriously sunny. It took ten minutes to get away, by which time his cheeks were aching from all the forced smiling. No Soliloquies Allowed (Unless You\'re Shakespeare) This rule also applies to big chunks of dialogue. Perhaps your character has a lot to say, but if you present it as one long speech it will feel to the modern reader like they\'ve been transported back to Victorian England. So don’t do it! Keep it spare. Allow gaps in the communication (intersperse with action and leave plenty unsaid) and let the readers fill in the blanks. It’s like you’re not even giving the readers 100% of what they want. You’re giving them 80% and letting them figure out the rest. Take this example of dialogue, for instance, from Ian Rankin’s fourteenth Rebus crime novel, A Question of Blood. The detective, John Rebus, is phoned up at night by his colleague: … “Your friend, the one you were visiting that night you bumped into me …” She was on her mobile, sounded like she was outdoors. “Andy?” he said. ‘Andy Callis?” “Can you describe him?” Rebus froze. “What’s happened?” “Look, it might not be him …” “Where are you?” “Describe him for me … that way you’re not headed all the way out here for nothing.” That’s great isn’t it? Immediate. Vivid. Edgy. Communicative. But look at what isn’t said. Here’s the same passage again, but with my comments in square brackets alongside the text: … “Your friend, the one you were visiting that night you bumped into me …” She was on her mobile, sounded like she was outdoors. [Your friend: she doesn’t even give a name or give anything but the barest little hint of who she’s speaking about. And ‘on her mobile, sounded like she was outdoors’. That’s two sentences rammed together with a comma. It’s so clipped you’ve even lost the period and the second ‘she’.] “Andy?” he said. ‘Andy Callis?” [Notice that this is exactly the way we speak. He could just have said “Andy Callis”, but in fact we often take two bites at getting the full name, like this. That broken, repetitive quality mimics exactly the way we speak . . . or at least the way we think we speak!] “Can you describe him?” [Uh-oh. The way she jumps straight from getting the name to this request indicates that something bad has happened. A lesser writer would have this character say, ‘Look, something bad has happened and I’m worried. So can you describe him?’ This clipped, ultra-brief way of writing the dialogue achieves the same effect, but (a) shows the speaker’s urgency and anxiety – she’s just rushing straight to the thing on her mind, (b) uses the gap to indicate the same thing as would have been (less well) achieved by a wordier, more direct approach, and (c) by forcing the reader to fill in that gap, you’re actually making the reader engage with intensity. This is the reader as co-writer – and that means super-engaged.] Rebus froze. “What’s happened?” [Again: you can’t convey the same thing with fewer words. Again, the shimmering anxiety about what has still not been said has extra force precisely because of the clipped style.] “Look, it might not be him …” [A brilliantly oblique way of indicating, \'But I’m frigging terrified that it is.\' Oblique is good. Clipped is good.] “Where are you?” [A non-sequitur, but totally consistent with the way people think and talk.] “Describe him for me … that way you’re not headed all the way out here for nothing.” [Just as he hasn’t responded to what she just said, now it’s her turn to ignore him. Again, it’s the absences that make this bit of dialogue live. Just imagine how flaccid this same bit would be if she had said, “Let’s not get into where I am right now. Look, it’s important that you describe him for me . . .”] In short: Gaps are good. They make the reader work, and a ton of emotion and inference swirls in the gaps. Want to achieve the same effect? Copy Rankin. Keep it tight. And read this. Dialogue Rule 2: Watch Those Beats More often than not, great story moments hinge on character exchanges with dialogue at their heart.  Even very short dialogue can help drive a plot, showing more about your characters and what’s happening than longer descriptions can. (How come? It’s the thing we just talked about: how very spare dialogue makes the reader work hard to figure out what’s going on, and there’s an intensity of energy released as a result.) But right now, I want to focus on the way dialogue needs to create its own emotional beats. So that the action of the scene and the dialogue being spoken becomes the one same thing. Here’s how screenwriting guru Robert McKee puts it: Dialogue is not [real-life] conversation. … Dialogue [in writing] … must have direction. Each exchange of dialogue must turn the beats of the scene … yet it must sound like talk. This excerpt from Thomas Harris’ The Silence of the Lambs is a beautiful example of exactly that. It’s  short as heck, but just see what happens. As before, I’ll give you the dialogue itself, then the same thing again with my notes on it: “The significance of the chrysalis is change. Worm into butterfly, or moth. Billy thinks he wants to change. … You’re very close, Clarice, to the way you’re going to catch him, do you realize that?” “No, Dr Lecter.” “Good. Then you won’t mind telling me what happened to you after your father’s death.” Starling looked at the scarred top of the school desk. “I don’t imagine the answer’s in your papers, Clarice.” Here Hannibal holds power, despite being behind bars. He establishes control, and Clarice can’t push back, even as he pushes her. We see her hesitancy, Hannibal’s power. (And in such few words! Can you even imagine trying to do as much as this without the power of dialogue to aid you? I seriously doubt if you could.) But again, here’s what’s happening in detail “The significance of the chrysalis is change. Worm into butterfly, or moth. Billy thinks he wants to change. … You’re very close, Clarice, to the way you’re going to catch him, do you realize that?” [Beat 1: What a great line of dialogue! Invoking the chrysalis and moth here is magical language. it’s like Hannibal is the magician, the Prospero figure. Look too at the switch of tack in the middle of this snippet. First he’s talking about Billy wanting to change – then about Clarice’s ability to find him. Even that change of tack emphasises his power: he’s the one calling the shots here; she’s always running to keep up.] “No, Dr Lecter.” [Beat 2: Clarice sounds controlled, formal. That’s not so interesting yet . . . but it helps define her starting point in this conversation, so we can see the gap between this and where she ends up.] “Good. Then you won’t mind telling me what happened to you after your father’s death.” [Beat 3: Another whole jump in the dialogue. We weren’t expecting this, and we’re already feeling the electricity in the question. How will Clarice react? Will she stay formal and controlled?] Starling looked at the scarred top of the school desk. [Beat 4: Nope! She’s still controlled, just about, but we can see this question has daunted her. She can’t even answer it! Can’t even look at the person she’s talking to. Notice as well that we’re outside quotation marks here – she’s not talking, she’s just looking at something. Writing great dialogue is about those sections of silence too – the bits that happen beyond the quotation marks.] “I don’t imagine the answer’s in your papers, Clarice.” [Beat 5: And Lecter immediately calls attention to her reaction, thereby emphasising that he’s observed her and knows what it means.] Overall, you can see that not one single element of this dialogue leaves the emotional balance unaltered. Every line of dialogue alters the emotional landscape in some way. That’s why it feels so intense & engaging. Want to achieve the same effect? Just check your own dialogue, line by line. Do you feel that emotional movement there all the time? If not, just delete anything unnecessary until you feel the intensity and emotional movement increase. Dialogue Rule 3: Keep It Oblique One more point, which sits kind of parallel to the bits we’ve talked about already. It’s this. If you want to create some terrible dialogue, you’d probably come up with something like this (very similar to my previous bad dialogue example): “Hey Judy.” “Hey, Brett.” “You OK?” “Yeah, not bad. What do you say? Maybe play some tennis later?” “Tennis? I’m not sure about that. I think it’s going to rain.” Tell me honestly: were you not just about ready to scream there? If that dialogue had continued like that for much longer, you probably would have done. And the reason is simple. It was direct, not oblique. So direct dialogue is where person X says something or asks a question, and person Y answers in the most logical, direct way. We hate that! As readers, we hate it. Oblique dialogue is where people never quite answer each other in a straight way. Where a question doesn’t get a straightforward response. Where random connections are made. Where we never quite know where things are going. As readers, we love that. It’s dialogue to die for. And if you want to see oblique dialogue in action, here’s a snippet from Aaron Sorkin’s The Social Network. (Because dialogue in screenwriting should follow the same rules as a novel. Some may argue that it should be even more snipped!) So here goes. This is the young Mark Zuckerberg talking with a lawyer: Lawyer: “Let me re-phrase this. You sent my clients sixteen emails. In the first fifteen, you didn’t raise any concerns.”MZ: ‘Was that a question?’L: “In the sixteenth email you raised concerns about the site’s functionality. Were you leading them on for 6 weeks?”MZ: ‘No.’L: “Then why didn’t you raise any of these concerns before?”MZ: ‘It’s raining.’L: “I’m sorry?”MZ: ‘It just started raining.’L: “Mr. Zuckerberg do I have your full attention?”MZ: ‘No.’L: “Do you think I deserve it?”MZ: ‘What?’L: “Do you think I deserve your full attention?” I won’t discuss that in any detail, because the technique really leaps out at you. It’s particularly visible here, because the lawyer wants and expects to have a direct conversation. (I ask a question about X, you give me a reply that deals with X. I ask a question about Y, and …) Zuckerberg here is playing a totally different game, and it keeps throwing the lawyer off track – and entertaining the viewer/reader too. Want to achieve the same effect? Just keep your dialogue not quite joined up. People should drop in random things, go off at tangents, talk in non-sequiturs, respond to an emotional implication not the thing that’s directly on the page – or anything. Just keep it broken. Keep it exciting! This not only moves the story forward but also says a lot about the character speaking. Dialogue Rule 4: Reveal Character Dynamics And Emotion Most writers use dialogue to impart information - it\'s a great way of explaining things. But it\'s also a perfect (and subtler) tool to describe a character, highlighting their mannerisms and personality. It can also help the reader connect with the character...or hate them. Let’s take a look here at Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower as another dialogue example. Here we have two characters, when protagonist Charlie, a high school freshman, learns his long-time crush, Sam, may like him back, after all. Here’s how that dialogue goes: “Okay, Charlie … I’ll make this easy. When that whole thing with Craig was over, what did you think?” … “Well, I thought a lot of things. But mostly, I thought your being sad was much more important to me than Craig not being your boyfriend anymore. And if it meant that I would never get to think of you that way, as long as you were happy, it was okay.” … … “I can’t feel that. It’s sweet and everything, but it’s like you’re not even there sometimes. It’s great that you can listen and be a shoulder to someone, but what about when someone doesn’t need a shoulder? What if they need the arms or something like that? You can’t just sit there and put everybody’s lives ahead of yours and think that counts as love. You just can’t. You have to do things.” “Like what?” … “I don’t know. Like take their hands when the slow song comes up for a change. Or be the one who asks someone for a date.” The words sound human. Sam and Charlie are tentative, exploratory – and whilst words do the job of ‘turning’ a scene, both receiving new information, driving action on – we also see their dynamic. And so we connect to them. We see Charlie’s reactive nature, checking with Sam what she wants him to do. Sam throws out ideas, but it’s clear she wants him to be doing this thinking, not her, subverting Charlie’s idea of passive selflessness as love. The dialogue shows us the characters, as clearly as anything else in the whole book. Shows us their differences, their tentativeness, their longing. Want to achieve the same effect? Understand your characters as fully as you can. The more you can do this, the more naturally you’ll write dialogue that’s right for them. You can get tips on knowing your characters here. Dialogue Rule 5: Keep Your Dialogue Tags Simple A dialogue tag is the part that helps us know who is saying what - the he said/she said part of dialogue that helps the reader follow the conversation. Keep it Simple A lot of writers try to add colour to their writing by showering it with a lot of vigorous dialogue tags. Like this: “Not so,” she spat. “I say that it is,” he roared. “I know a common blackbird when I see it,” she defended. “Oh. You’re a professional ornithologist now?” he attacked, sarcastically. That’s pretty feeble dialogue, no matter what. But the biggest part of the problem is simply that the dialogue tags (spat, roared, and so on) are so highly coloured, they take away interest from the dialogue itself – and it’s the words spoken by the characters that ought to capture the reader’s interest. Almost always, therefore, you should confine yourself to the blandest of words: He said She answered He replied And so on. Truth is, in a two-handed dialogue where it’s obvious who’s speaking, you don’t even need the word said. Get Creative As an alternative, you can have action and body language demonstrate who is saying what and their emotions behind it. The scene description can say just as much as the dialogue. Here\'s another example of the same exchange: Joan clenched her jaw. “Not so!” “I say that it is.” His voice kept rising with every word he shouted, but Joan was not going to be deterred. “I know a common blackbird when I see it.” “Oh. You’re a professional ornithologist now?” Not one dialogue tag nor adverb was used there, but we still know who said what and how it was delivered. And, if you\'re really smart and develop how your characters speak (pacing, words, syntax and speech pattern), a reader can know who is talking simply by how they\'re talking. The simple rule: use dialogue tags as invisibly as you can. I’ve written about a million words of my Fiona Griffiths series, and I doubt if I’ve used words other than say / reply and other very simple tags more than a dozen or so times in the entire series. Keep it simple! Dialogue Rule 6: Get The Punctuation Right Dialogue punctuation is so simple and important, and looks so bad if you get it wrong. Here are eight simple rules to know before your character starts to speak: Each new line of dialogue (ie: each new speaker) needs a new paragraph – even if the dialogue is very short.Action sentences within dialogue get their own paragraphs too. The first paragraph of a chapter or section starts on the far left, and the next paragraph (whether it starts with dialogue or not) is indented.The only exception to this rule is if the sentence interrupts an otherwise continuous piece of dialogue. for example: “Yes,” she said. She brushed away a fly that had landed on her cheek. “I do think hippos are the best animals.”When you are ending a line of dialogue with he said / she said, the sentence beforehand ends with a comma not a full stop (or period), as in this for example: “Yes,” she said.If the line of dialogue ends with a question mark or exclamation mark, you still don’t have a capital letter for he said / she said.  For example: “You like hippos?” he said.If the he said / she said lives in the middle of one continuous sentence of dialogue, you need to deploy those commas like a comma-deploying ninja. Like this for example: “If you like hippos,” he said, “then you deserve to be sat on by one.”And use quotation marks, dummy. You know to do that, without me telling you, right? (Yes, yes, some serious writers of literary fiction have written entire novels without one speech mark - but they are the exception to the rule.)Use the exclamation point sparingly. Otherwise! Your! Book! Is! Going! To! Sound! Very! Hysterical! Dialogue Rule 7: Accents And Verbal Mannerisms Realistic dialogue is important, but writing dialogue is not the same as speaking. Remember that the reader\'s experience has to be smooth and enjoyable, so even if your character has an accent, speech impediment, or talks excessively...writing it exactly as it\'s spoken doesn\'t always work. Accents If you want to show that your character is from a certain part of the UK, it often helps to add a smattering of coloquial words or In The Last Thing To Burn by Will Dean, the antagonist, Len, has an accent (Yorkshire or Lancashire, it\'s obvious but never stated). The protagonist is trapped inside this man\'s honme, she has no idea where she is, but by describing the endless fields and hearing his subtle accent the reader knows exactly where in the UK she\'s trapped. Len says things like: \'Going to go feed pigs\' and \'There\'s a good lass.\' You can highlight location, a character\'s age, and their social standing simply by giving a nod to their accent. On the flip-side, if they have a foreign accent, it can sometimes be too jarring to write dialogue exactly as it sounds. \'Amma gonna eata the pizza\' is an awful way to write an Italian accent - it\'s verging on racist. Try to avoid that. Instead, simply mention they have an Italian accent and let the reader fill in the blanks. Accents Written Well But, of course, there\'s always an exception! Irvine Welsh writes English in his native Scottish dialect and it\'s exemplary - but nothing something we would recommend for a novice writer. Here\'s an excerpt from Trainspotting: Third time lucky.  It wis like Sick Boy telt us: you’ve got tae know what it’s like tae try tae come off it before ye can actually dae it.  You can only learn through failure, and what ye learn is the importance ay preparation.  He could be right.  Anywey, this time ah’ve prepared.  Perhaps, if you have a Scottish character in your novel you may want them to speak in a strong accent. But getting it wrong can ruin an entire novel, so unless you are very skilled and very confident, stick to the odd coloquialism or word and leave it there. Verbal Mannerisms Whether you realise it or not, we all have speech patterns. Some of us speak slowly, others pause, people also trail off mid-sentence. Some people also use verbal mannerisms, such as adding a word to a sentence that is unnecessary but becomes a personal tic (such as \'man\', \'like\' or \'innit\'). Or repeat favourite words. These can be influenced by age, background, class, and the period in which the book is set. Here\'s an example of two people talking. I won\'t mention their ages or backgrounds, but see if you can guess. \"Chill, Bro.\" \"Chill? I\'m far from chilled, you scoundrel. That\'s my flower bed you\'ve just dug up.\" \"I found something, though. It was sticking out the ground.\" \"Outrageous behaviour. So... You... One simply can\'t go around digging up people\'s gardens!\" \"Yeah. And what?\" They both stared down at the swollen white lumps pressing out of the soil like plump snowdrops.\"What is it, though?\" Harold swallowed. \"Fingers.\" A Few Last Dialogue Rules If want some great examples of how to write in dialogue, read plays or screenplays for inspiration. Read Tennessee Williams or Henrik Ibsen. Anything by Elmore Leonard is great. Ditto Raymond Chandler or Donna Tartt. Some last tips: Keep speeches short. If a speech runs for more than three sentences or so, it (usually) risks being too long. Break it up with some action or someone else talking.Ensure characters speak in their own voice. And make sure your characters don’t sound the same as each other. Remember mannerisms, speech patterns, and how age and background influences speech.Add intrigue. Add slang and banter. Lace character chats with foreshadowing. You needn’t be writing a thriller to do this.Get in late and out early. Don’t bother with small talk. Decide the point of each interaction, begin with it as late as possible, ending as soon as your point is made.Interruption is good. So are characters pursuing their own thought processes and not quite engaging with the other. Frequently Asked Questions What Are The 5 Typesetting Rules Of Writing Dialogue? Part of the editing process is to ensure you format dialogue correctly. Formatting dialogue correctly means remembering 5 simple steps: Only spoken words go within quotation marks.Use a separate sentence for every new thing someone says or does.Punctuation marks stay inside quotation marks and don\'t forget about closing quotation marks at the end of the sentence.You can use single quotation marks or double quotation marks - but you must be consistent!Beware of capital letters. Always at the start of a sentence and after the quitations mark. How Can You Use Everyday Life To Perfect Your Dialogue? Listening to people speak will really help you perfect good dialogue. Sit in a cafe and people watch. Watch their body language and how they express themselves. Their verbal mannerisms, tics, how they choose their words, the syntax, speech patterns and turns of phrase. Make notes (without being spotted) and look out for contrasting word choices and personas. What Is A Bad Example Of Dialogue? There are plenty to choose from above - but the worst things you can do include: Using too many wordsWriting an accent how it\'s heard (unless you are Irvine Welsh, which most people are not)Writing dialogue that\'s irrelevant or misleadingUsing too many dialogue tags (or none at all)Bad punctuation - remember dialogue formattingAvoid long speeches How Do You Start Dialogue? There are many ways to start dialogue. You can ease into it, by introducing the character to the scene. Or you can jump in median res, slap bang into the centre of the action. Much like life, sometimes we hear a person\'s voice before we see them - they pop up out of nowhere - and sometimes we call them or walk into a room where they are, and we have rehearsed what we plan to say. See what works best for your scene, your characters, and the genre you are writing in (dialogue in a crime thriller will sound very different to dialogue in a young adult novel, for instance). That\'s All I Have To Say About That We really hope you have found this article interesting and that you have now found the confidence to tackle the dialogue in your novel. What your characters say and how they say it can make the difference between a good book and one that everyone is talking about. So get eavesdropping, get practising, and read as many books and plays as you can to create better dialogue. Practice makes perfect and don\'t forget to enjoy yourself! Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer’s community. 

10 Great Examples Of How To Begin A Short Story

In this article, author Dan Brotzel shares 10 examples of how to create a perfect opening for your short story. In a short story, where a whole world or emotional journey can be summoned up and dramatised in the space of a few pages, every line and word has to count – and that’s especially true of the way you begin. Here, for inspiration, are a range of starting strategies from some great exponents of the form… 1. The Telling Detail “One Dollar And Eighty-seven Cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one’s cheek burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty-seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas.” From ‘The Gift of the Magi’, by O Henry Sometimes known as the American Maupassant, O Henry’s stories are tightly plotted narratives of ordinary lives with lots of humour that usually end with a classic sting in the tale that, while surprising, flows with unerring logic from the story’s premise. In this classic tale, we know the whole set-up within a few lines. It is Christmas and Della has no money to buy a present for her beloved husband James. In their whole house they possess only two things that they really value: his gold watch and her golden hair. In a formula that has been much copied since, we watch Della sell her golden locks to raise money to buy a fancy fob for James’s watch, while unbeknownst to her he has pawned his watch to buy her a set of ivory combs that she has long coveted for her (now departed) hair! It is a tale that sounds tragic, but is actually heartening, because in the end the couple are confirmed in their real gift: the love they bear each other. (Plus, of course, Della’s hair will grow back!) But it all stems from a single telling detail: that opening cinematic detail of a tiny sum of money, piled up in pennies and scrimped from tense negotiations with tradespeople, that is all Della thinks she has to show James how much she loves him. 2. The Paradox “In the beginning, Sanford Carter was ashamed of becoming an Army cook. This was not from snobbery, at least not from snobbery of the most direct sort. During the two and a half years Carter had been in the Army he had come to hate cooks more and more. They existed for him as a symbol of all that was corrupt, overbearing, stupid, and privileged in Army life…” From ‘The Language of Men,’ by Normal Mailer Published in 1953, ‘The Language of Men’ tells the story of an over-sensitive, frustrated serviceman who, after years of being passed up for promotion and never finding his niche in the army, ends up as a cook – the thing he hates most about the army. Immediately we are curious: What will happen to a man who becomes the thing he most despises? Carter feels that he never manages to understand other men, to feel either equal to them or able to lead them. ‘Whenever responsibility had been handed to him, he had discharged it miserably, tensely, over conscientiously. He had always asked too many questions, he had worried the task too severely, he had conveyed his nervousness to the men he was supposed to lead.’ Even after starting to enjoy his work as a cook, the story builds to an incident where the men come to him and ask for a tin of oil for a fish fry-up they are organising – a party to which he is not invited. Carter stands his ground, and earns some grudging respect, but then undercuts it all again after the event with his ‘unmanliness’ – the true source of his self-disgust. The whole drama of a man failing to fit in with and gain respect among other men is foreshadowed in the paradox that’s set in motion in the story’s opening lines. 3. The Historical Backdrop “Paris was blockaded, starved, in its death agony. Sparrows were becoming scarcer and scarcer on the rooftops and the sewers were being depopulated. One ate whatever one could get.As he was strolling sadly along the outer boulevard one bright January morning, his hands in his trousers pockets and his stomach empty, M. Morissot, watchmaker by trade but local militiaman for the time being, stopped short before a fellow militiaman whom he recognized as a friend. It was M Sauvage, a riverside acquaintance.”From ‘Two Friends,’ by Guy de Maupassant A protege of Flaubert and the author of the novel Bel-Ami, Maupassant wrote over 300 short stories, many of them – like this one – set during the Franco-Prussian war, and showing how innocent lives are swept up and crushed by futile, brutal conflict. This story starts with a brief paragraph of context and another telling detail: the absence of sparrows. At this point in the conflict, the Prussian army has established a blockade around Paris and is seeking to starve out its citizens. The two friends of the title were passionate fishermen in peacetime, and after a chance encounter they convince each other to go off and fish once again. As well as the hunger they feel, they are motivated by a hankering for a return to the innocent pleasures of their pre-war lives. They slip out past the French lines, to an area where they think they will be safe, but after a brief interval of bliss the Prussians detect them, with tragic consequences… The opening line describes the war situation in vivid, journalistic terms, after which we are plunged into the tale of these two innocents. In a few telling phrases, it provides context and general background for the very particular tragedy which is about to ensue. 4. The Anecdotal Approach “Margot met Robert on a Wednesday night toward the end of her fall semester. She was working behind the concession stand at the artsy movie theatre downtown when he came in and bought a large popcorn and a box of Red Vines.“That’s an… unusual choice,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve ever actually sold a box of Red Vines before.”From ‘Cat Person,’ by Kristen Roupenian ‘Cat Person,’ reportedly the first short story ever to go viral, tells a simple tale of a doomed romantic encounter. Margot, a student, meets an older guy, Robert, and they begin a flirtation that turns into a date that turns into a rather unsatisfactory (for her) sexual encounter. Robert starts off as rather funny and charming, but over time we see that he is needy, insensitive, possessive, and utterly unaware of what Margot is thinking or feeling. Margot regrets the whole thing but doesn’t know how to tell him; Robert, when he is let down, turns all-too-predictably toxic. In short order he goes from mooning after her to demanding who she’s slept with to calling her a ‘whore.’ This sequence of events struck a chord with many, many people because it is clearly so familiar. The story emphasises the banality of the whole progression by narrating events in a straightforwardly chronological, anecdotal style, right from the opening paragraph. This approach serves to underline the depressing banality of Robert’s misogyny while implicitly asking the question: Why should women have to accept this as normal? 5. In Media Res “And after all the weather was ideal. They could not have had a more perfect day for a party if they had ordered it. Windless, warm, the sky without a cloud. Only the blue was veiled with a haze of light gold, as it is sometimes in early summer. The gardener had been up since dawn, mowing the lawns and sweeping them, until the grass and the dark flat rosettes where the daisy plants had been seemed to shine. As for the roses, you could not help feeling they understood that roses are the only flowers that -parties; the only flowers that everybody is certain of knowing. Hundreds, yes, literally hundreds, had come out in a single night; the green bushes bowed down as though they had been visited by archangels.”From ‘The Garden Party,’ by Katherine Mansfield Literally ‘in the middle of things’, an in media res beginning is where the story drops us into the middle of the action of the narrative, so that we are instantly caught up in events. In this case, we are plunged into the excited bustle of a well-to-do family preparing a sumptuous garden party, and the story does a fantastic job of building up the anticipation and painting a picture of the affluence of the hosts. There is a marquee to put up, a band on its way, an enormous delivery of fancy flowers, fifteen kinds of sandwich, and a retinue of servants to ensure everything is ready. Beginning with ‘and’ adds to this effect, giving us to understand that garden-party fever has been going on already for days, and seeming to hark back to earlier worries about what the weather would be like on the day. But against all this blithely affluent gaiety comes the story’s turning point: news that a poor workingman living in a cottage nearby has died in a sudden accident. Laura, a daughter of the house, wonders if it appropriate to continue with the party, especially as all the noise and music and bustle will carry to the grieving widow (who also has six children, we later discover). But just as happens to the reader with the introduction, she is swept along by the occasion, and only really reconsiders the incident at the end of a successful party, when her mother suggest she take a basket of sandwiches from the party down to the widow. Laura’s reaction to this difficult task is initially ambiguous, but ultimately it seems as if again she finds a way to paint the tragedy in complacently optimistic colours, choosing to find a serenity and beauty on the dead man’s face and so blind herself to the grim reality of the tragedy and the agony of the grieving wife. 6. The Refrain “The thing about being the murdered extra is you set the plot in motion.You were a girl good at walking past cameras, background girl, corner-of-the-frame girl. Never-held-a-script girl, went-where-the-director-said girl.You’ll be found in an alley, it’s always an alley for girls like you, didn’t-quite-make-it girls, living-four-to-a-one-bedroom-apartment girls. You’ll be found in an alley, you’ll be mistaken for a broken mannequin at first, you’ll be given a nickname. Blue Violet, White Rose, something reminiscent of Elizabeth Short, that first girl like you, that most famous one. The kind of dead girl who never really dies.”From ‘Being the Murdered Extra,’ by Cathy Ulrich Cathy Ulrich’s extraordinary ‘Murdered Ladies’ flash fictions present a series of stories – there are 40 of them in her collection, Ghosts of You – which always begin with the same line: The thing about being the murdered extra/girlfriend/moll/classmate/witch/dancer [etc] is you set the plot in motion. It’s a thought-provoking line, which grows in power with every repetition. On the face of it seems strange to see these women as setting the plot in motion, when they are all victims of male violence. But we start to see that what they set in motion is actually the story that the people who survive them will appropriate from their lost lives, and blithely relate in their absence. Each woman may set her plot in motion, but in each case she is not alive to explain how everyone gets her wrong, or projects their own version of events to absolve themselves too easily. We see that this theft of each woman’s own story is another violence that is done to them, something the stories seek in some small way to redeem. As Ulrich says: ‘Every story is looking for the lost girl from the title […] I am looking for the lost in these stories. I don’t know if I will ever find them.’ 7. Setting The Rules “The north and the west and the south are good hunting ground, but it is forbidden to go east. It is forbidden to go to any of the Dead Places except to search for metal and then he who touches the metal must be a priest or the son of a priest. Afterwards, both the man and the metal must be purified. These are the rules and the laws; they are well made. It is forbidden to cross the great river and look upon the place that was the Place of the Gods—this is most strictly forbidden. We do not even say its name though we know its name. It is there that spirits live, and demons—it is there that there are the ashes of the Great Burning. These things are forbidden—they have been forbidden since the beginning of time.”From ‘By the Waters of Babylon,’ by Stephen Vincent Benét In any story that seeks to build a world that is not ours, there is some work to be done in establishing the reality of that world – its customs, its landscape, its people, its rules. World-building stories can sometimes fall down when they indulge in too much of an expository info dump, as the accumulation of background detail can quickly dent narrative momentum. What’s so clever about the start of this story is that the rules are themselves the engine of the plot. We pan cinematically across the edges of the story’s territory, and understand the legends and forbidden areas of this world. But the quest of the narrator – who is indeed the son of a priest – will take him east, into the forbidden Place of the Gods (about which, of course, we are already very curious). At the outset of the story we do not the time in which the story is set, what kind of being he is, or where he lives. But all these things will be revealed as the narrator’s journey through a post-apocalyptic, post-technological world takes him to places that gradually start to seem very familiar… 8. Beginning With The Inciting Incident “The day my son Laurie started kindergarten he renounced corduroy overalls with bibs and began wearing blue jeans with a belt; I watched him go off the first morning with the older girl next door, seeing clearly that an era of my life was ended, my sweet-voiced nursery-school tot replaced by a longtrousered, swaggering character who forgot to stop at the corner and wave good-bye to me.”From ‘Charles,’ by Shirley Jackson Screenwriting guru Robert Mckee describes the inciting incident as a moment that ‘radically upsets the balance of forces in your protagonist’s life’. It’s the moment when our main character is plunged out of their normal routine and a challenge or quest appears which will shape their journey, and with it the rest of the story. It’s common to locate this point near the start of the story after some introductory ‘normality,’ so that we can understand how the main character’s life is to be disrupted.But here the inciting incident is placed by mystery and horror writer Shirley Jackson – best known for The Haunting of Hill House – at the very start of the story. Everything that happens flows from Laurie starting kindergarten. Laurie gets cheekier and less innocent with each passing day, as he brings home increasingly hair-raising tales of an even naughtier boy called Charles. The whole story deals with the comic escalation of Charles’ behaviour, as reader and narrator alike become ever more curious to meet the errant child and speculate on what his parents are like. I won’t spoil the ending, except to say that there is perhaps a clue in the mother’s lament in the opening paragraph about the end of an era of innocence… 9. The Thought Experiment “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.”From ‘The Rememberer,’ by Aimee Bender Aimee Bender’s story begins by asking the reader to imagine something extraordinarily counterfactual: that her lover is regressing through millennia, going through the evolutionary process so fast – a million years a day, in reverse – that we can actually track his progress by the day. One day he is a baboon, another a salamander; eventually he is no longer even visible to the naked eye. As with so many of Bendee’s stories the result is mournful, strange, poetic and profound. She takes a surreal thought like this and turns into a powerful meditation on memory, the difference between evolution and maturity, speciesism and loss. And it all begins with that challenging idea which confronts us in the very first sentence. 10. THE CONUNDRUM “1-0. Who would expect the Embassy of Cambodia? Nobody. Nobody could have expected it, or be expecting it. It’s a surprise, to us all. The Embassy of Cambodia!Next door to the embassy is a health center. On the other side, a row of private residences, most of them belonging to wealthy Arabs (or so we, the people of Willesden, contend). They have Corinthian pillars on either side of their front doors, and—it’s widely believed—swimming pools out back. The embassy, by contrast, is not very grand. It is only a four- or five-bedroom North London suburban villa, built at some point in the thirties, surrounded by a red brick wall, about eight feet high. And back and forth, cresting this wall horizontally, flies a shuttlecock. They are playing badminton in the Embassy of Cambodia. Pock, smash. Pock, smash.”From ‘The Embassy of Cambodia,’ by Zadie Smith This subtle and absorbing story from Zadie Smith opens with a mystery: an embassy, set in a leafy north London suburb rather than a grand central district of the city, and a wall, behind which a mysterious game of badminton is being played. The rest of the story picks at this mystery and uses the imagined score in the ongoing game-playing as a backdrop to the unfolding tale of Fatou, a domestic servant to the affluent Derawals, who has escaped servitude and dodged abuse in Africa only to face privations and hardships in London. Each mini-chapter of the story is headed with a score from the badminton match – from 1-0 up to 21-0. This mechanism provides a rhythmic framework to the tale. We may never learn who actually holds the rackets, but we see that the back-and-forth motion behind the wall of an embassy – an institution with the power to grant deny or people access to whole a country – is a fitting counterpoint to the enforced travels of impoverished migrants, and to the desperate movements of Fatou’s hopes and fears in a world where she has little agency or resources, and only one friend. Now you’ve seen how these authors have done it, it’s time to get stuck into actually putting pen to paper – or fingertips to keyboard – and start writing your short story. For more from Dan, check out his top 10 steps for writing short stories (with even more examples!). Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 
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