My review of ‘Redemption Song’ for #RBRT
Some excellent advice here – a must read for writers.
I love writing but confess when it comes to marketing and promoting the two novels I’ve published so far . . . This post about Hazel Gaynor’s excellent talk at last year’s RNA Conference is very much a case of ‘Do as I say, not as I do.’
HAZEL GAYNOR began with the lesson of E.L. James’s runaway success. ALL publicity is good publicity. What followed was effervescent.
As a reader Hazel needed to be told three things:
- Tell me the book exists
- Give me a reason to care
- Convince me to buy it
She showed how to go about doing this by quoting from the Bookseller Marketing and Publicity Conference using the link #mpconf15, reminding us the author knows their book the best, and is, therefore, the ideal publicist.
All that followed made perfect sense. Hazel emphasised be nice to everyone, engage rather than sell, keep engaging and…
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So you’ve finally completed your manuscript and you’re wondering what to do now. If you have decided not to self-publish and want to try and secure an agent, then how to you go about it?
1. Make sure your manuscript is ready
And I mean really ready. It’s vitally important that your manuscript is as clean and professional-looking as possible. This is your chance to showcase your work – don’t send it out with typos and grammatical errors. Has it been edited and proofread? This doesn’t necessarily have to be done by a professional editor or proofreader, but have you at least had two or three people go over your manuscript? If you’re worried or embarrassed about having someone read your work then this is a good time to get over it. After all, if you are lucky enough to see your work published then hopefully lots of people are going to read it.
2. Do your research
Get a copy of the latest Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook and look through the agent listings really carefully. Pick out those agents that look the best match and make sure they accept unsolicited manuscripts. Then check their website. You should be looking for agents that:
- are open for submissions
- are interested in your genre
- have published similar works
3. Stick to their requirements
Read the submission requirements really carefully. Make a note of how they accept submissions (email or post?), and what exactly you need to send. Most will ask for a query letter, a brief synopsis and the first two or three chapters of your manuscript, but it does vary.
4. Stick to their requirements
No, that’s not a typo. This is so, so important it’s worth saying it twice. Send EXACTLY what they ask for. Don’t be tempted to send the middle three chapters of your book, or the two first chapters and the last. Only send what they ask for.
5. No gimmicks
No weird fonts to make your submission stand out. You need to send your manuscript in a clear format. No silly jokes or ‘surprise’ gifts in your submission that are related to your manuscript. You may think no one’s done that before, but they have. The agent is looking for a manuscript they can sell – your WRITING needs to shine, that is what needs to attract their attention. Bells and whistles will get you nowhere.
6. Prepare your query letter carefully
This is the first impression an agent will have of you. It’s really important that you get it right. There’s lots and lots of (sometimes conflicting) advice about this online and I’ll also be writing a whole post on the subject in a couple of weeks.
7. Take time over your synopsis
A synopsis can be a tricky thing to write. How do you express your book in so few words? This is another subject worthy of its own post which will be on this blog soon.
8. You’re not ready yet
Double check. And triple check. And check again. The agent isn’t going anywhere, so take your time and make sure you have everything ready that each agent has asked for.
9. Send it out
Once you’ve checked and checked and checked, then send it out. This can be terrifying I know, but you’re not getting an agent unless you pluck up the courage to approach one. So send it. Go on.
10. Be realistic
Getting an agent is difficult. Really, really difficult. You’re extremely likely to be rejected. Several times. Accept this. You’re going to probably have to send your work to more than one agent. More than five agents. Possibly more than ten. And it might never happen. And even if it does, that’s only the beginning of a very long process after which your book might still not find a publisher. There may come a point when you will have to decide whether or not to keep submitting. No one but you knows when that point is. But do remember that agents ARE looking for authors – it’s their livelihood after all. But you’re going to need a thick skin and realistic expectations.
I reviewed ‘Redemption Song’ for Rosie Amber’s Book Review Team.
Saffron and her mother Rain have moved to North Wales to start again after a tragedy that has caused them heartbreak, guilt, and confusion. Joe is also running, trying to escape a past that haunts him while simultaneously bent on revenge.
The story is told from three different points of view – Saffron, Rain and Joe. In many novels, this can be confusing, but Laura Wilkinson is a skilful writer and the point of view changes are seamless, with each character having their own distinct voice. The different points of view give a fresh perspective on many of the issues facing the characters and the conflicts between them.
The author has a real ability to give a sense of time and place. Small town North Wales was authentically portrayed and the other characters – Saffy’s new friend Ceri and her father in particular- are a joy to read, honestly portrayed and entertaining. The oppression and depression of a Welsh winter, the drabness of a seaside town off-season are beautifully contrasted with descriptions of the beauty of the countryside in sunshine and snow.
This isn’t a fast-paced drama. The histories of the characters come out slowly, the reader discovering things along with Saffy, Rain and Joe. This works well for the most part, but was a little frustrating at times.
The characters are, for the most part, easy to sympathise with. Rain is lovely, kind and caring if a little OTT at times, but her love for her daughter is clear. Joe too, while mysterious, is genuine and honest, and you know that whatever has happened in the past, there must be a good reason for it! Saffy, however, left me feeling conflicted. She seems very selfish, and is quite horrible to her lovely mum. This would be more understandable if Saffy was a teenager, but she is in her twenties and is studying to be a doctor. The stroppy, selfish, tantrum-throwing side of her character doesn’t seem to fit and I wondered why it didn’t put Joe off.
I also feel that the back stories aren’t developed enough. I don’t want to give too much away but Joe’s issues are dealt with a little too neatly and conveniently for me. This aspect of the plot could have been given more depth and detail.
The writing is solid, however, and it’s a well-crafted and enjoyable read.
Hoping to attend a writing festival this year? Here’s a great list to start with.
For a while now, I have been searching for writing conferences. All I come up with are events across the pond in America. That is, until I was talking with my friend Christina, andshe mentioned that conferences were probably called festivals here.
Well, what do you know, I had a google and a wealth of events opened up.
In every industry I can think of there is one rule to getting ahead of the game.
Networking. How better to network than a festival full of literary people?!
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My annual Valentine’s Day post just to remember the real ideas behind the celebration.
Yes, I know it’s Valentine’s Day and lots of you will be receiving bouquets of roses and planning romantic dinners (not me- my husband knows I have no time for the gross commercialism that is Valentine’s Day and is under pain of divorce not to buy me flowers – and I mean it), however, it would seem that Valentine’s Day has always had a lot more to it than hearts and flowers. In fact, it originates from an ancient pagan ritual that was celebrated for years before anyone had heard of Valentine.
In Rome, many centuries ago, the festival of Lupercalia was celebrated from the 13th to the 15th of February. On the 14th of February, a day devoted to Juno, queen of the gods and patron of marriage, young women would place their names on slips of paper put into jars. The young men would pick out a name and the two would spend Lupercalia together.
Lupercalia itself was a strange festival. It was held in honour of the gods Lupercus and Faunus and the founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus. The ritual began at the cave where Lupa the wolf was reputed to have suckled Romulus and Remus. A goat (fertility) and a dog (protection) would be sacrificed, and the goat flayed. Men would then run through the streets whipping women and crops with this flayed hide, in a bid to encourage fertility and to ease pain in any future childbirth. Not quite as romantic as a candlelit dinner, but this was ancient Rome.
So how did this rather wild sounding festival become the St Valentine’s Day of today? The rise of Christianity saw Pope Gelasius officially condemn the pagan festival, banning it at the end of the fifth Century. He declared that 14th February be St Valentine’s day. Although no-one really knows who this Valentine was, he is possibly an amalgamation of two different men. During the reign of Emperor Claudius, it was decreed that all marriages be stopped. A priest called Valentine was imprisoned for continuing to perform marriage ceremonies. In the 3rd Century A.D. another Valentine was imprisoned for helping Christians. He allegedly fell in love with the daughter of his jailer and cured her of blindness. This good deed did him no good whatsoever, as he was executed on 14th February 289 A.D. These two Valentines may be the ones at the heart of Valentine’s Day (sorry!).
Even the tradition of young women placing their names into a jar to be picked by a man was incorporated into this new celebration – with one rather huge difference. The girl’s names were replaced by those of Saints; each man vowing to emulate the life of the saint whose name he picked for the coming year. Not quite as romantic as the original really.
So, like many other feast days and holidays, Valentine’s Day has its roots in something far from saintly. Still, whether you object to the commercialism or not, it’s as good a day as any other to tell someone you love them!
My current WIP involves three different centuries and was inspired by a painting by Eugene Delacroix. The painting ‘The Death of Sardanapalus’ portrays a man watching as his possessions (including concubines, slaves and animals) are destroyed around him. The painting is lavish and in some ways shocking. So just who was Sardanapalus and why did he allow this to happen?
One of the problems with trying to write about such an ancient subject is the lack of information. But I have been able to find out a surprising amount – how much is accurate, how much actually happened, is, of course, debatable, but as with all historical research, you can only learn from what’s there, keeping an open but questioning mind.
According to the Greek writer Ctesias of Cnidus (I’d be really interested to know how to pronounce that!) Sardanapalus was the last king of Assyria. Already though, it’s not that simple. The last king of Assyria was actually Ashur-Uballit II. Ctesias was a physician and historian. He wrote a series of books about the history of Assyria and Persia called ‘Persica’. Unfortunately, the books are lost. There are fragments included in other books and abridgements, but not the originals. In the account written by Diodorus, a Greek historian writing in about 30 to 60 BC. who used Ctesias as a source, we get an idea of Sardanapalus as he is later known – a decadent man, self-indulgent, concerned mainly with physical gratification.
The name Sardanapalus is most likely a corruption of the name Ashurbanipal, the last king of the Neo Assyrian Empire. However, Ashurbanipal was, by all accounts, completely different to Sardanapalus; he was a scholar, a military man, powerful and efficient. The similarities seem to lie in the fact that Ashurbanipal fell out with his brother, as does Sardanapalus in Diodorus’ account, and it is this brother’s death that bears a passing resemblance to Sardanapalus’ fate. However, nether Ashurbanipal or his brother led the type of life that Sardanapalus is associated with. Confused yet?
Delacroix was apparently not inspired by either Ctesias or Diodorus though. He took his inspriarion from the play by Lord Byron, who was inspired by Diodorus. So by the time we get to Delacroix’s painting, we are seeing something inspired by a play inspired by a Greek historian writing hundreds of years before, who was inspired by a Greek physician and historian writing about three to four hundred years before that. It’s not really surprising that things might not be completely historically accurate but we are left with this enduring idea of a lascivious, decadent, self-indulgent man who lived for pleasure.
It is this that is depicted so well and so shockingly by Delacroix – the moment when, his city besieged, Sardanapalus has everything he owns made into a huge pyre, and awaits the moment when all will be set alight, including him. It is his expression, his apparent lack of concern that really stays with you.
Of course, the painting didn’t go down too well at the time. The violence, the nudity, the actual style of the painting itself and the techniques used brought Delacroix much criticism. It was only in later years that the painting became valued for its boldness and its bravery.
A caveat before I begin this review – a very long time ago I worked for Compassion in World Farming. I’m also a non-dairy consuming pescatarian (occasionally eat fish but definitely no meat and no dairy or eggs) and am still a supporter of CIWF. Philip Lymbery is the CEO of CIWF, a charity that campaigns to end factory farming and to improve the welfare of farm animals around the world.
‘Farmageddon’ is a thought-provoking and very readable account of what is going on in the farming industry worldwide and how that not only has consequences for the animals but also for all of us. I have to be honest, I have a lot more respect for livestock farmers than I do for meat eaters who pop into the supermarket, buy a £2.99 chicken for dinner and don’t for one second think about how that chicken was raised and killed so cheaply. The type of people who put their fingers in their ears and don’t want to know where their food comes from. People seem to still believe that pigs and cows and sheep and chickens all live on Old MacDonald’s Farm, happily chomping away at grass in the fields or pecking in the farmyard, despite all the evidence that’s now available to the contrary.
The consequences of humanity’s reliance on meat are far-reaching and potentially devastating. This book explores in a thoughtful and intelligent way the disasters that have already been caused by our appetite for cheap meat – the decline in the number of birds for example (in the last forty years the population of tree sparrows, grey partridges and skylarks, among others, have plummeted), the threat to bees, and the pollution caused by the need to get rid of the huge amounts of waste produced by the millions and millions of animals now being farmed.
I know from experience that people don’t want to be preached at – and this book isn’t preachy at all. The author isn’t trying to make you vegan – he is just telling you what he has seen, from China to the US, to South America and though Europe, and gives options and alternatives that could see an end to the suffering of those millions of animals (and they do suffer) and better health and a better environment for everyone.
This book is, in my opinion, an absolute must read. It isn’t always comfortable reading, but it’s time we pulled our fingers out of our ears.
Great advice here on how to use juxtapositions to create depth in your writing.
One of my favourite quotes is a juxtaposition, pitting perfection against failure.
“I think perfection is ugly. Somewhere in the things humans make, I want to see scars, failure, disorder, distortion.” Yohji Yamamoto
There are a million juxtapositions I could have used as examples, even ones as simple as: light and dark. But the point is over the last few books I have read, I have discovered what an extraordinary tool they are and, one that should be in every writers’ bag of tricks.
Here’s why, and how to use them more effectively.
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Another great review for ‘Do Not Wash Hands in Plates’ by Barb Taub. Really recommend this book 🙂
I gave Do Not Wash Hands In Plates 5* out of 5*
To use an adjective favoured by the author, this is a “honking” good read
The Book Blurb (much condensed!)
“Once upon the Land Before Time (or at least before mobile phones), my two best friends and I decided to leave the US from separate locations and meet up in Europe. To everyone’s shock, Janine, Jaya and I pulled it off—mostly because we went to Luxembourg, a country so small the odds in favor of chance street encounters were almost 100%, but also because Jaya was carrying the BS, a blue suitcase so enormous it took up approximately a third of the country’s square footage and was…
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