Writing tips

Working with an editor – some tips and advice #amwriting #writinganovel #writingtips #selfpublishing

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I’ve been editing for a while now and have worked with some truly lovely writers. I understand that it can be quite nerve-wracking to approach an editor, and if you’re a new writer, you might not know what to expect. Here are some things to bear in mind.

Remember that an honest, professional yet friendly relationship between editor and client is crucial in order to make your manuscript the best it can be. Your editor wants to help you, to guide you, to advise and to encourage you in your writing journey. To do this, there are some things that your editor needs from you.

Read the FAQs

This may be the first time you’ve worked with an editor. You should have lots of questions and most editors will be more than happy to answer any concerns that you have. But before you send a lengthy email, have a look at your editor’s blog or website and see if they have a Frequently Asked Questions page. You will probably find a lot of the answers to your questions here.

Send your manuscript on time

If you have agreed a date with your editor, then do please make sure you send your manuscript on time. Even a morning’s delay can have an impact on your editor’s schedule. It is probably best to send the manuscript the day before, at the latest.

Read payment terms carefully and adhere to them

Editing can be an expensive business. But it is your editor’s job, their livelihood. They may be relying on the fee that you have agreed to pay bills, for example. Please pay on time – just because you have a sudden extra expense, it doesn’t mean that your editor should have to wait to be paid. You have entered into a professional agreement – be professional about it. And do accept that your editor is investing their time. Don’t expect them to edit for nothing, or for a pittance. I’ve seen editors and proofreaders offering their services for next to nothing. As with most things in life, if a deal seems to be too good to be true, then it probably is. Check your editor’s credentials and do bear in mind that old saying – ‘you get what you pay for’.

Be open to advice

You are paying your editor for their expertise and their knowledge. If they offer you advice, take it in the spirit it is intended. It is there to help you.

Keep in contact

Let your editor know how things are going. I care very much about my clients and their books. I want to know how you’re doing, how the book’s doing, if you’ve had positive reviews (or not!).

Check if they want to be acknowledged

As an editor working mainly with independent writers, I have no control over what is eventually published. I can only correct, improve and advise. I cannot force a client to take that advice, make those improvements or even accept the spelling or grammatical corrections that I make. I have, on more than one occasion, advised clients, have had that advice ignored, have seen that client publish the book and then seen reviews making the points I have raised. It is excruciating to have a client ignore your advice and then to see a reviewer say that the book could do with a thorough edit. On the other hand, your book is your book and you are perfectly within your rights to ignore my advice and recommendations. But if you do so, then please don’t thank me for my editing in the acknowledgements. While I appreciate the thought, it makes me look like a terrible editor!

Give feedback

You know how lovely it is when your editor says good things about your writing? How it makes you feel wonderful? Well, it’s lovely when you tell an editor how pleased you are with their work, how you appreciate their help and advice. And it’s also really helpful, if not so lovely, to know if something wasn’t quite right.

Recommend them!

The majority of my clients now come from recommendations – something that makes me incredibly happy! It is a minefield out there. I am a member of a certain reading/writing website and I do belong to editors’ groups on that site. Almost every day I see people advertising their editing and proofreading services. Sometimes I have a look at their websites (it’s good to keep an eye on the competition after all!) and, while there are some fabulous editors, there are also people who set themselves up as editors with absolutely no relevant experience, qualifications or knowledge whatsoever. So what does a writer do? Apart from looking at an editor’s blog/site extremely carefully, I do think it’s a great idea to ask for recommendations from your fellow writers. And if you do work with an editor that you feel did a great job, then please tell everyone else!

 

 

 

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Writing the dreaded query letter! #amwriting #writingtips

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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!

Writing the dreaded synopsis! #amwriting #writingtips

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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!

 

 

Writing the dreaded blurb! #writingtips #amwriting #writinganovel

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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

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***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.

 

 

How to Approach an Agent – The Query Letter #publishing #writinganovel #ThrowbackThursday

A post from a while ago that aspiring authors may find helpful.

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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!

Writing and Editing Tips Revisited: Writing a Blurb #writingtips #wwwblogs

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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!

Writing & Editing Tips Revisited – Contractions in Dialogue #wwwblogs #writingtips #WritingANovel

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A very quick tip here for writers struggling with dialogue.

One of the issues that I find in a lot of the manuscripts I edit is that the dialogue can seem forced and contrived. Realistic, believable and authentic dialogue is a must for a good novel, and authors need to make sure they get it right. But many new writers think they have to write ‘properly’ and they think this means eschewing contractions.

Generally, if you want to make your dialogue flow and for readers to believe in it, then you need to use contractions (there are exceptions to this, in particular types of fiction). Think about it. How many people do you know (however posh they are and however ‘properly’ they speak) who say things like this:

‘Please do not walk on the grass.’

The answer is no one. No one ever (except perhaps the queen and probably not even her) speaks like that. It sounds horrible.

So remember:

‘Don’t’ not ‘do not’
‘They’ve’ not ‘they have’
‘Should’ve’ not ‘should have’ (and definitely NOT should of)
‘I’ll’ not ‘I will’
‘Can’t’ not ‘cannot’
You get the point.

There are three things you can do to improve your dialogue:

Listen – actually listen to people talking. This has the advantage of also often being very entertaining.
Read – when you’re reading, make a note of dialogue that really works, and why it works
Speak – read your dialogue out loud. Does it sound right?
Contrived, formal, awkward dialogue is, I’m afraid, the sign of a writer still learning their craft. Get it right, and your writing will be smooth and professional and your dialogue a pleasure to read.

Writing & Editing Tips Revisited: Using Adjectives and Adverbs #WritingTips #WritingANovel #wwwblogs

 

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The use of adverbs and adjectives is an issue for many writers. Many overuse them in the hope of making their writing seem more interesting, more descriptive. And while I’m not at all advocating that you cut all adverbs and adjectives out of your writing, what I have seen over and over again in the work that I edit, is that both are often added for no discernible reason. This is often, it seems to me, because a writer is trying really hard to set a scene, to draw a reader in. They can see the scene, the characters in their head and they want to convey everything that’s there. And they want to show that they can write, that they have a wide vocabulary. But unfortunately, these adverbs and adjectives often add nothing to the scenes in which they appear.

So how do you know what adjectives and adverbs to cut?

Let’s look at adverbs first.

Adverbs modify verbs. If you’re using an adverb to modify a verb, ask yourself why you need to. Is the verb not doing its job? If the verb alone can’t tell your reader how someone or something is doing something, then is it the right one to use?

For example:

John walked quickly down the street.

man walking quickly

You want your reader to know how John walked, so if he’s walking quickly, then say so – right? Well, no.

John hurried down the street.

One word instead of two – tells us exactly how John is moving.

How about:

She totally, completely accepted that her work needed editing.

Neither of those two adverbs is needed. Just say:

She accepted that her work needed editing.

(Actually get rid of ‘that’ too!)

There are also adverbs that are totally redundant – like ‘totally’ in this sentence!

The fire alarm rang loudly.

How else would it ring? It wouldn’t be much use as a fire alarm if it rang quietly.

 

fire alarm

A well-placed, strong and evocative adjective can add great detail to a word, phrase or scene. However, too often they come across as contrived and unnecessary.

The beautiful, bubbling river sparkled in the golden sunlight, its silvery ripples reflecting the brilliant, blazing rays that played on the shivering surface.

Too much, far too much. What’s wrong with:

The river sparkled in the sunlight, silvery rays playing on the shivering surface.

(Though, to be honest, that’s still too much).

And be very careful of ‘broad’ adjectives like ‘beautiful’ in the first sentence. ‘Beautiful’, ‘nice’, ‘wonderful’, etc.are broad terms – these words are subjective and mean different things to different people. They add nothing and are best avoided, except in dialogue.

Also be wary of the thesaurus. It is useful and can help you describe things in a fresh, new way. But be careful. Very careful.

joey

The use of adjectives and adverbs is a contentious issue – I’d love to know your thoughts.

Authors – why you shouldn’t ignore bad reviews #wwwblogs #bookreviews

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The one or two star review. It strikes fear into the heart of every author. There are reams of articles about how to handle bad reviews everywhere. And most of them give the same advice.

Ignore them, they say. Scroll right on past. Don’t take it to heart. All authors get bad reviews. Not everyone will like your book. Maybe the reviewer had an ulterior motive. Forget about it. Move on. Keep your head up.

Well, yes. To all of these. But also, no…

Writing is hard. I know that, I’m an author. You invest huge amounts of time and effort into your writing. It can be a pain. And it’s terrifying having your work out there, where it can be picked apart. Wouldn’t it be lovely if everyone could bear all that in mind when they write a review of your book?

But why should they? No one has forced you to put your book on Amazon. And your reader, who has spent their money and invested their time in reading your book, is entitled to their opinion. You chose to sell your book. They bought it in good faith.

Now, I’m not talking about the reviews that are silly and thoughtless and are to do with delivery times and downloading issues etc., etc. Or the sort of reviews that complain about the amount of sex or swearing in a book, something that’s down to personal taste. Or reviewers that mark you down because they don’t like the genre. Those can certainly be discounted. I’m talking about reviews that point out a fault with your book. And if lots of readers are telling you that your books are full of errors, or are too wordy, or are boring, or that they had to skip great big sections, then you need to take note. The problem is, lots of writers lump all these types of reviews together. Worse, they accuse these readers of being trolls.

On Twitter the other day, a writer was asked what he thought about the one star reviews his book had received. Oh, I ignore those, he said, they’re all trolls.

Hmm, I thought. Are they? I decided to do a bit of digging (I love a good distraction). The author’s book had a lot of one and two star reviews. Some of them were scathing. The majority pointed out that the writing was poor, full of grammatical errors and typos.

Surely all these people can’t be trolls, I thought. Why would they be? So I went to the ‘Look Inside’ feature. All these people were right. The opening pages of his books were all very poorly written and full of lazy errors.

Now, the problem with all these articles, caressing these poor authors’ egos, is that this author now feels that he doesn’t have to listen to these readers. That their opinions are worthless. So he goes blindly on, ignoring the issues with his writing, deluding himself and churning out more dreadful books.

And this is a problem with a lot of authors and it’s one that does other indie writers no favours. There is a tendency among authors to be very precious about their work. They think because they’ve worked hard and because they’ve sweated over a book then that means it should be above criticism. They seem to think that because they’ve poured their hearts and souls into something then no one must be mean. Well, I’m sorry, but that’s rubbish.

Why do we writers think we’re above criticism? That it’s OK for us to put something that’s poorly written or badly edited out there, expect people to pay for it, spend their precious time reading it, and then not expect to be taken to task if it’s not up to scratch? If you went to a restaurant and bought a meal and it was crap would you think, oh well, but the chef spent time on it, I should be nice? No, you wouldn’t. You’d complain. You’d be entitled to. And if you’ve put a book out there, then the reader that buys it is entitled to complain if it isn’t up to scratch too.

And while there are a few horrible people out there who are just nasty for the sake of it, I doubt very much that every single person who’s ever given a bad review falls into this category. Most are just fed up and disappointed because they bought a book, with their own money, and it wasn’t that good.

I also know of book reviewers who have dared to criticise books and who have been met with insults and worse. One has even given up reviewing books because the stress of it has made her ill. She’s been so badly treated by authors that her health has suffered. That’s just not on.

Indie authors say they want to be treated with respect. They say they want to be recognised. But then some expect special treatment. The world doesn’t work like that.

So look at those one star reviews. It’s painful, I know. But there might be something in there that really helps your writing.

Be brave. We only learn through our mistakes after all, and if you never face those mistakes and correct them, then you’ll never grow as an author.

And just to lighten the mood, here’s my favourite one star review, for the movie ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’:

wolf street

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