agents

Self-publishing and the snobbery issue

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I work with all different types of authors, those who are hoping to secure a publishing deal, those who are chasing the self-publishing dream and even a couple who have gone on to secure a deal with one of the big five (or six, or whatever it is). Some of these writers are brilliant, some are really talented, some are steady, dependable story tellers who can spin a good yarn, some aren’t that great, some have accepted help and advice and have improved in leaps and bounds, a few I have advised to go right back to the drawing board and there have been a handful who I have had to advise that writing is perhaps not the path for them (this is at the sample edit stage – I never take a penny from authors in this situation).

You might be surprised to know that most of the authors that I’d put in the first three categories are self-published.

Some of these have chosen this path and some have had it foist upon them, as it were, as they have been unable to find representation. Plenty of them are far better, more skilful storytellers than some of those that have secured representation and publishing deals.

Now, I’m never surprised when people I know who aren’t authors sneer a bit at self-publishing. These ‘outsiders’ don’t really know how the publishing world works or how it’s changed in the last few years. But I am very surprised and very disappointed and angry when other authors sneer at self-published writers.

I mean no disrespect to all the very lovely writers I know and who I’ve worked with who have a publisher when I say that just because you’ve secured a deal it doesn’t mean you’re  a better writer than those who haven’t. Because it doesn’t. You might be a better writer than some of them, but many of them will be better writers than you.

Last week I read two books. One was by a self-published author. Another was by an author who has just been published by a small independent. The self-published book was brilliant. It was a real page-turner, professionally presented, skilfully written and thoroughly enjoyable. The other one, while not terrible, had far too many typos than are acceptable, the story dragged somewhat, and I found myself skipping huge sections.

I have read so many books recently that are ‘properly published’ and that are terrible. I’ve been unable to review quite a few of them. This isn’t always the author’s fault – quite often they are let down by these companies with poor editing. But I have also witnessed a few of these authors bragging all over social media about how wonderful they are and how they are proper writers, and how self-published authors can’t actually be that good, can they?

I really despise this kind of attitude. It’s a tough world out there for writers. We should be supporting each other, not crowing about our good luck and looking down on other writers who may have chosen self-publishing, or, even if they didn’t, might be much better writers.

I have one particular client whose books are an absolute joy to read, right from the first draft. They are intelligent, beautifully written, skilful, concise, the characterisation is a joy. This client is retired and is finally indulging his passion for writing. Can he get an agent? No. No one’s interested. Does that make him a bad writer, who obviously isn’t good enough? No. Absolutely not. It just means that the agents can’t see how to market him, how to pigeonhole his writing. He doesn’t have a social media presence, because he genuinely doesn’t want to do that. He isn’t a celebrity. And he’s far too sensible to be sucked into a lame deal with a two-bit company who’ll do nothing for him just so he can tell people he’s published.

So he goes on writing beautiful stories that I can’t wait to edit, and he makes me absolutely love my job.

So authors, do us all a favour. Learn when to keep your mouths shut. Be sensitive, be kind, be helpful. Celebrate your success, but don’t be a bragger. It’s a long way down from that ivory tower.

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Writing a Synopsis #wwwblogs #writinganovel

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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 a Query Letter #wwwblogs #writinganovel

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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!

Approaching Agents #writingtips #wwwblogs

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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.
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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.

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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.

Good luck!

fingers crossed