Month: May 2018

Writing the dreaded query letter! #amwriting #writingtips

letter_writi_24714_lg

Along with the dreaded blurb and the dreaded synopsis, the query letter seems to rank as one of the hardest thing a writer has to tackle. Write a 100,000 word novel? No problem. Write a one-page letter? No thank you!

And while it’s true that the world of publishing is changing, and that many authors are happy to self-publish, some writers still wish to find an agent, and so will need to introduce themselves with a query letter.

What’s important

It’s absolutely vital to remember that this letter is the first example of your writing that an agent will see, so make it count. These are the key things to remember:

  • Address your letter to a specific agent – avoid Dear Sir/Madam.  Using a name shows that you’ve selected that agent – not just stuck a pin in ‘The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook’
  • Make it clear you’ve done your homework – state why you’re approaching that particular agent (similar authors? Looking for your genre?)
  • Make your book sound interesting
  • State the genre and word length
  • Include any details of your writing history – competitions, publications, experience
  • Keep it formal, keep it short, be business-like
  • Do include EXACTLY what they’ve asked for

Structuring your letter

When I’m helping my clients to write a query letter, this is the basic structure I suggest:

  • Paragraph 1 – why you’re writing and what you’ve included
  • Paragraph 2 – a VERY brief, two or three sentence summary of the book
  • Paragraph 3 – brief details of any relevant writing experience/successes
  • Paragraph 4 – the fact the manuscript is complete and word count. Also, state if you are working on a series, a new novel etc. Agents like to know that you have longevity
  • Paragraph 5 – contact details including a telephone number and an email address

What not to do

  • Don’t make jokes or try anything wacky – they’ve probably heard and seen it all before
  • Don’t spell the agent’s name incorrectly
  • Don’t forget to include your submission (apparently that does happen!)
  • Don’t come across as arrogant – if the agent takes you on you will have a very close working relationship, so you don’t want to sound as if you’ll be a pain in the backside
  • Equally, don’t beg or sound needy – agents need writers!
  • Most important of all, be professional. Yes, we’re all artists, and creative types and so on, but publishing is, first and foremost, a business. This is a business letter – treat it as though you’re applying for a job (because you are)

Good luck!

Advertisements

Writing the dreaded synopsis! #amwriting #writingtips

15-more-reasons-writing-is-important-header.jpg

Like writing the dreaded blurb, writing a synopsis can throw the best writers into a panic! This is something else I’ve written about before, but is definitely worth repeating.

I’ve worked with lots of writers who can compose the most beautiful prose, bring scenes to vivid life, make me care about their characters, keep me turning the page, but these same writers find one thing almost impossible to do – they can’t write a synopsis.

What is it about a synopsis that has so many writers struggling? It doesn’t seem to matter how great a writer you are, there’s just something about condensing your masterpiece down into one or two sides of A4 that strikes fear into a writer’s heart.

And I think that’s the issue. As authors, we spend so long on our books, every last detail is important to us. A synopsis asks us to get to the heart of the story, to strip away to the bare bones – and that can be really hard when you are so close to the world you’ve created and the characters that live there.

So what should, and what shouldn’t, you include?

  • First of all, check what the agent/publisher is looking for. They may well specify a length and may want you to write a chapter by chapter synopsis. If there are no specifications, then I would advise sticking to one page, single-spaced, six hundred words maximum.
  • Remember to write in third person (even if your novel is written in first person).
  • Use active voice and present tense.

Now to the actual writing of the synopsis itself.

When I was studying literature, we learnt a lot about narrative structure, and although it might not initially seem like it, most novels do fit into this basic structure:

  • Set up – main characters introduced. Introduction of the problem.
  • Conflict – the main body of the story. There is a catalyst that sets the conflict in motion. Characters go through changes because of this conflict and develop – the character arc.
  • Resolution – the problem is confronted and solved – or not – and loose ends are tied up.

To write your synopsis, it is really helpful to look at your novel in these terms and break it down into this structure.

  • Start with the set up – who is the protagonist? The other main characters? What is the problem?
  • Then move on to the conflict – there may be more than one. Decide what conflicts, plot twists and turns are really important; what do you need to include for the ending, the resolution, to make sense? How does this conflict change the main characters?
  • Finish with the resolution. Remember – this isn’t a blurb. The agent/publisher needs to know how your novel ends.

Remember:

  • Don’t get caught up in too much detail. Think about what’s really important.
  • Don’t include lots of backstory – you don’t have the space.
  • Be short, concise, clear. This isn’t the time for showing off your beautiful prose. That’s what the sample chapters are for.

Agents/publishers are looking for something new, something exciting – if your novel has that (and it should) then make sure your synopsis makes that clear.

And please, please, please remember that this is not a blurb. You MUST include the ending.

Good luck!

 

 

‘Good Vibrations – A Story of a Single 60s Mum’ by Margaret Halliday #RBRT #BookReview #TuesdayBookBlog

#RBRT Review Team

I reviewed ‘Good Vibrations’ for Rosie’s Book Review Team.

51rb0snhyaL

Amazon.co.uk

Margaret Halliday’s second book, Good Vibrations: a Story of a Single 60s Mum tells the poignant tale of her harrowing and often hilarious experience of unmarried motherhood in pre-Abortion Act Scotland. 17-year-old Margaret’s Glaswegian romance results in unplanned pregnancy and heartbreak but she battles on overcoming all obstacles which will make you laugh, cry and sometimes scream.

Margaret’s story makes for a very interesting read and offers a real insight into how things were for young woman in the sixties.
She’s an intelligent girl, with a bright future, but she finds herself pregnant. With a supportive sister, she has somewhere to turn when she has to leave college and give up her dreams of a future in horticulture. But the baby’s father doesn’t want to know, and Margaret still wants the chance of a career, so she decides to give her baby up for adoption.
After the birth however, she has a change of heart, and the remainder of the book charts her struggle to provide for herself and her son, through a series of dodgy housekeeper positions, refuges and housemates.
Margaret’s bravery and determination to fend for herself come through really well and you’re rooting for her even when you’re willing her not to make the wrong decisions. The story really shows how difficult and dangerous it was for a single mother back then.
This has the potential to be such a great book. Margaret has a lovely voice, funny, clever and honest, but there isn’t enough detail here, and the text really needs a bit of reorganisation. There are some fabulous characters that need developing further. With some restructuring this would be so good, a really brave and important book. But it’s a little patchy at the moment. Well worth a read though.

3.5

Writing the dreaded blurb! #writingtips #amwriting #writinganovel

website-migration-failed-frustrated-woman-at-laptop-300x200

A lot of the writers I work with have a great deal of trouble writing a blurb. I’ve given some tips on this before, but they are definitely worth repeating.

Almost as feared as the dreaded synopsis, the book blurb has the power to turn wonderful writers to jelly. But the blurb is the hook, along with the cover, to reel those readers in. You need to make sure that you entice your reader, that you intrigue them without giving too much away. Longer than the elevator pitch, but shorter than a synopsis, the book blurb is key to whetting a reader’s appetite.

So how should you approach it? Here are some quick tips on getting that blurb up to scratch.

Keep it short. This is NOT a synopsis. You want a couple of two to three line paragraphs. Too much and you risk giving too much away and turning off your reader. Too little and you might miss the mark.

Mention your main character(s). It’s important for your reader to know who the book is about.

Be precise. There is no place or space for vagueness, long-windedness or clever clever vocabulary in your blurb. Short, sharp, to the point.

Make it interesting. Obviously. What’s intriguing about the story? Why would I want to read it?

Don’t give away the ending. It might sound silly to even point that out – but it does happen.

Don’t compare yourself to other writers or compare the book to other books. Tell your potential reader that you’re the next J.K Rowling or Stephen King and you’re more likely to annoy them than anything.

Watch out for clichés or overused words and phrases. Try and be refreshing and new. And interesting.

Good luck!

Editing and proofreading services – new prices and special offer #editing #selfpublishing #amwriting

editing-e1452170134574

***Offer – 20% discount for bookings taken before the end of May***

I have been running my editing business for several years now and have just finished my three-hundredth project! I’ve worked with some wonderful authors and writers and have felt extremely privileged to be part of their writing journey.

I have learnt an awful lot too about running a business and a lot about how much time and effort is involved in editing and proofreading and how much this can vary from manuscript to manuscript. I previously charged clients on a rate per thousand words. However, experience has shown me that this isn’t always fair on the client – or on me! The time involved can vary enormously and I have had manuscripts of 80,000 words that have taken three to four days to edit and others that have taken twice that.

I’ve decided that it is much fairer to charge an hourly rate. Of course, I’ll provide an estimate so that clients can have an idea of the total cost, and if it looks as though things are going to take a lot longer than expected, then I’ll let clients know as early in the process as possible.

My prices are based on the amount of experience I have, my qualifications (I have a first degree in English, a master’s degree in creative writing and a journalism qualification), and the amount of feedback and advice I provide. My rates are competitive, and I do provide a fast turnaround. I have excellent testimonials – you can read them here. Most of my business comes from word of mouth recommendations and authors who come back to me with subsequent books.

The services I offer are:

Proofreading – correction of spelling, grammar and any minor issues with sentence structure and plot inconsistencies: £20.00 per hour. ***£16.00 per hour for bookings taken this month***

A proofread of a manuscript of 80,000 words will take, on average, between 15-20 hours to complete (average cost between £240-£320).

Editing – a note on editing: as I work mainly with authors who are planning to self-publish, or who want to have their work edited prior to seeking representation, my editing service works in a slightly different way to the editing process that happens in traditional publishing, which would usually involve a developmental edit, followed by a line edit and then a proofread. Most writers are on a restricted budget and so would find it difficult to pay for all these different stages of editing. There is also always some overlap in these editing stages.

So, my editing service comprises of an edit for spelling, grammar, sentence structure, flow, characterisation, continuity, plot consistency and style. I use the track changes facility in Word and will provide you with two copies of the edit: Edit 1 shows all changes made so you can trace what I have done, Edit 2 is a clean copy with all changes accepted – this will show you how the manuscript will read if you accepted all the changes that I’ve made. Having both copies means that you can easily see the difference the changes will make, while still having the option to choose whether or not you want to make those changes. You can go through Edit 1 accepting or rejecting each change as you see fit. As well as the edits, I will write a detailed report focusing on plot, structure, characterisation, pace, setting and style, making suggestions for any changes: £25.00 per hour. ***£20.00 per hour for bookings taken this month***

An edit of an 80,000 word novel will take, on average, between 20-30 hours to complete (average cost £400-£600).

***If you book an edit followed by a proofread, then the cost of the proofread will be reduced by 10%***

Beta Reading – general feedback on elements such as plot, characterisation, setting, story flow, continuity and any grammar/spelling issues. Please note that this is not a proofread and I will only give general advice on spelling and grammar, not a line-by-line edit. I do not fact check: £15.00 per hour. ***£12.00 per hour for bookings taken this month***

Help with introductory letters, synopses, evaluation of first chapters for submission, blurbs, evaluation of published work: £20.00 per hour. ***£16.00 per hour for bookings taken this month***

When you make a booking, I’ll give you an estimate of cost based on wordcount. I’ll then ask for a 50% payment based on this figure to secure the booking. When your edit/proofread is complete, I’ll invoice you for the remaining balance due.

If you already have an edit scheduled in with me then the agreed rate still stands.

I’m very excited to be developing my business and working with more fabulous authors and writers. I know it can be an expensive business and I believe that my rates offer excellent value for money.

If you have any questions then do get in touch via the contact page, drop me an email at alisonewilliams@sky.com or call on 07891065012.

 

 

‘The Bad Mother’ by Amanda Brooke #BookReview #FridayReads

51VGCRS1j8L

Waterstones  Amazon.co.uk

That’s what he wants you to think…

A good mother doesn’t forget things.

A good mother isn’t a danger to herself.

A good mother isn’t a danger to her baby.

You want to be the good mother you dreamed you could be.

But you’re not. You’re the bad mother you were destined to become.

At least, that what he wants you to believe…

Lucy is pregnant with her first child. She is happy with her husband Adam, and has a strong relationship with her mother who has brought Lucy up since the death of her father. But not everything is as it seems to be.

Lucy, an artist, has left behind her days of festivals, of going out and having fun, and is looking forward to a steady future with Adam, who, at eight years older, seems dependable and steady, who she trusts and who makes her feel safe. But always lurking in her mind is the shadow of her dad, and his depression, and the fear that she could be the same.

As Lucy’s pregnancy continues, she finds herself forgetting things, minor things at first, like losing her keys and leaving the freezer door open. But soon the little slip ups become bigger ones, and she begins to worry that she’s a danger, not only to herself, but to the child she’s carrying.

This is a frustrating read – but only because the reader soon knows exactly what’s going on. I felt so angry on Lucy’s behalf as times, and that, to me, shows what a good book this is. I really cared about Lucy, and wanted her to wake up. The manipulation is so subtle, the undermining and the planting of little seeds of doubt; small things that build and build until Lucy no longer trusts herself. I’ve seen some reviews criticising the book for the way Lucy behaves, questioning how someone so confident could ‘allow’ this to happen. Unfortunately this happens to lots of women, whether they are ‘strong’ or not. And the author writes so well that you can really see how Lucy could end up in the position she’s in.

The relationship between Adam and Lucy is really well developed. Their arguments are authentic and Lucy’s reactions are believable. The shift in the balance of power between them is genuinely unsettling to read. My only quibble is that I wanted to understand more completely how Adam came to be the way he is and I do think that adding more depth to this would really add to the novel.

A difficult subject matter, and not an easy read, but definitely gripping.

four-and-a-half-stars

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the review copy.

 

‘The Wicked Cometh’ by Laura Carlin #bookreview #TuesdayBookBlog

34812995

Waterstones   Amazon

Down the murky alleyways of London, acts of unspeakable wickedness are taking place and the city’s vulnerable poor are disappearing from the streets. Out of these shadows comes Hester White, a bright young woman who is desperate to escape the slums by any means possible.

When Hester is thrust into the world of the aristocratic Brock family, she leaps at the chance to improve her station in life under the tutelage of the fiercely intelligent and mysterious Rebekah Brock.

But whispers from her past slowly begin to poison her new life and both she and Rebekah are lured into the most sinister of investigations, dragging them into the blackest heart of a city where something more depraved than either of them could ever imagine is lurking. . .

A compelling page-turner from a gifted new voice in historical fiction, The Wicked Cometh is the perfect read for fans of The Witchfinder’s Sister, Fingersmith and The Essex Serpent.

I’m really in two minds about this book. On the one hand, I really admire the author’s absolutely exemplary research and attention to historical detail. The novel is meticulously researched. The settings are portrayed so well, the sounds, sights and smells of the time and places so well written, you really feel like you’re there.

And Hester has the potential to be a compelling main character. Her circumstances show how easy it was (and still is) to find yourself only just surviving in a cruel and unfair world, and her feelings for Rebekah come across as genuine and are written in a heartfelt way that lacks any sentimentality.

And the subject matter has so much potential too – the poverty of London, the plight of the poor, the terror of mysterious disappearances, all based in the real history of a time when the poor counted for nothing and their lives were viewed as worthless. Fiction mixed with real events and history is something that I love to read.

But for me it was really overwritten. There’s a balance when writing historical fiction in that it needs to be authentic but also accessible. A writer like Hilary Mantel makes this look easy. And Sarah Water’s masterful ‘Fingersmith’ (which this reminded me of) does this beautifully. This book, however, felt overblown and overdone in parts and I did find myself skipping over some of it. A good, brave edit, cutting things down and adding clarity would do wonders for this book. The story felt lost under all the writing at times. Which was a shame, because it could be brilliant.

I can’t fault the research though, or the idea behind the novel. If there was a rating between three and a half and four stars, that’s what I’d give this book – but there isn’t so I’ll go for four as I would read more by Laura Carlin.

4 stars

Thanks to the NetGalley and the publisher for the review copy.

‘The Art of Hiding’ by Amanda Prowse #bookreview #FridayReads

415XTk2RrNL

Waterstones   Amazon

What would you do if you learned that the life you lived was a lie?

Nina McCarrick lives the perfect life, until her husband, Finn, is killed in a car accident and everything Nina thought she could rely on unravels.

Alone, bereft and faced with a mountain of debt, Nina quickly loses her life of luxury and she begins to question whether she ever really knew the man she married. Forced to move out of her family home, Nina returns to the rundown Southampton council estate—and the sister—she thought she had left far behind.

But Nina can’t let herself be overwhelmed—her boys need her. To save them, and herself, she will have to do what her husband discouraged for so long: pursue a career of her own. Torn between the life she thought she knew and the reality she now faces, Nina finally must learn what it means to take control of her life.

Bestselling author Amanda Prowse once again plumbs the depths of human experience in this stirring and empowering tale of one woman’s loss and love.

I really wanted to like this book. It has the potential to be a great story, and one that could be so relevant to the UK today. But unfortunately, it is full of clichés, stereotypes and unrealistic situations that have been really poorly researched.

Nina is insecure, anxious and feels completely out of place in her life. She loves her husband Finn, adores her two sons, and loves living in and taking care of her beautiful home in Bath. But she is out of her depth with the private school mums, and, having married so young, she doesn’t really know who she is or what she’s capable of.

Her husband Finn dies, and as she is grieving she finds out that he was losing money hand over fist and she is now in debt to the tune of eight million pounds.

She loses her house; the boys lose their place at school. She is penniless.

This could be such a fabulous storyline. Nina could find strength and reserves she never knew she had. Her sons could find that life isn’t all about possessions. And she does, and they do – to an extent. But there is no realism here. None at all. Every last one of Nina’s rich friends is horrible and shallow. Conveniently, someone in Nina’s family has a vacant flat in Southampton they can move into. Nina’s sister Tiggy is wonderfully helpful. Nina finds a lovely job in an old people’s home (not one that involves anything even mildly messy though). Nina meets lots of new ‘salt of the earth’ council estate dwellers who are welcoming and friendly and would give you their last pound. I’m from a council estate. Lots of those stereotypes are true. My son went to private school – some of those stereotypes are true. But people aren’t stereotypes. Not everyone on a council estate is generous and welcoming and decent. Not everyone whose children go to private school is snobby and materialistic and shallow.

And Portswood, the part of Southampton that Nina returns to, isn’t a slum. It’s a student area. It’s not Bath, but it’s not a ghetto either. Did Ms Prowse set foot there at all?

And why doesn’t Nina claim benefits? Why doesn’t she ask for help? And where is the gut-wrenching, sickening despair that real people who find themselves in poverty experience? Where is the desperation? The worry that wakes you up at night and that you carry on your shoulders every day. Nina feels none of this. Instead she gets excited by buying a blind for a few pence in a charity shop, and making her new lounge look nice with some well-placed cushions. And of course, her sons love the new comprehensive (even though the youngest son is ten and wouldn’t be at the same school as his older brother). Their grief, their resentment, their anger isn’t fully realised at all. They settle in, find new friends and apparently life seems much better struggling for money and coping with everything on your own.

I don’t like writing reviews like this.  I know how difficult it is to write a book and put it out there. But this book made me angry. It’s glamorising the real struggles that people go through.

Very, very disappointing.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the review copy.

‘The Pursuit of Ordinary’ by Nigel Jay Cooper #bookreview #TuesdayBookBlog

36313350

Waterstones   Amazon

After witnessing a fatal car accident, a homeless man wanders the streets of Brighton, trying to ignore the new, incessant voice inside his head. But he can’t forget the crash, can’t get the face of the woman cradling her dying husband out of his mind. She stared into his eyes, his soul. He has to find her. Is Dan ill or has he really been possessed by the spirit of Natalie’s dead husband, Joe? If he hasn’t, why does she let him into her home so easily? Does she have secrets of her own? The Pursuit of Ordinary is a twisting tale of modern life and mental health where nothing is what it seems… Following the success of debut novel Beat the Rain, Roundfire introduces the second book from bestselling author Nigel Jay Cooper.

This is such an interesting premise. Natalie appears to be grieving – but there is more her relationship with deceased husband Joe than first meets the eye. And homeless man Dan is a complex and conflicted character – is he ill or actually possessed? At first, the reader really doesn’t know, and this adds depth and interest to the novel.

The storyline around Natalie’s marriage and how she got to the point at which she’d arrived at the opening of the novel has so much potential, as do the issues around Dan’s mental health and the failings that have led him to where he is when the two meet. But I felt that these things were overshadowed by the structure of the novel.

I really didn’t like the way the same events were relayed by different characters. This can really work and can give a different perspective to those events, but here there was far too much repetition. The same scenes were rewritten from different points of view – the same things happening and exactly the same dialogue. This became very tedious and repetitive to read, unfortunately, and spoiled, at least for me, what could have been an excellent book.

3.5

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the review copy.