editing

Small publishers – a bit of a rant! #WWWBlogs #writingtips

Buyer-Beware

As well as writing and editing, I also read and review a lot of books. I try to read a variety of genres and read indie authors, traditionally published authors, big names, small names, complete unknowns, new writers and established writers. So I read a lot of books published by small presses.

Now before I get a load of flak, I do appreciate that there are a lot of really excellent small presses out there who do a fantastic job and who look after their authors. I also know that there are big, traditional, well-known publishing houses that don’t look after their authors. However, as the problems I have come across have all been with these smaller presses, those are the ones I want to talk about here.

I have read several books recently, for the most part eBooks, where the author has been published by a small publisher. Being rather nosy, and being an author always looking for opportunities, I have looked into many of these organisations. They all have lovely websites, all have lots of authors they are working with, all say they have plenty of experience in the industry, all say they are offering authors more than other publishers. Most also provide editing, formatting, book covers etc.

So why then are the majority, and I mean at least 75%, of these books not of publishable standard? Why are they full of typos and formatting errors? Full of spelling mistakes? Why, when they have supposedly been edited, do many contain basic writing no-nos such as ridiculous dialogue tags, exposition, stereotypical characterisation, unnatural dialogue, and information dumping?

Why also do so many of these organisations insist that authors promote each other? Why do I often look at glowing five star reviews for a book I can’t bear to finish and find those reviews are written by authors publishing with the same company? I’m all for authors helping each other, but I smell a rat, particularly when a publisher’s website states that the organisation treats its writers like family. All very nice I’m sure, and I’m very fond of a lot of my clients, we talk about stuff other than writing, we even occasionally meet up for coffee, but when they’re paying me their hard-earned money for my hard work it’s a professional business relationship, not family, and that’s how it should be.

I’m not suggesting that these companies are deliberately misleading authors, or that they aren’t trying their best. What I am suggesting though is that they aren’t up to the job. And OK, they might not be charging their authors up front – they’re not vanity presses – but they are taking a cut of the writers’ earnings (if there are any) and for that an author deserves professionalism, deserves an editor who knows how to edit, a marketing manager who has experience in marketing.

I think a lot of this has to do with people thinking they can publish books just because they can. And on closer inspection, a lot of them, despite vague statements to the contrary, don’t have any RELEVANT experience.

So please, please, please lovely authors – beware. Don’t let the fact that a publisher wants to publish your book go to your head. You deserve more than what some of these people are offering. You can probably do what they do better yourself. I shall be posting soon on what you should be careful of and what you should look for if you are considering a small publisher. In the meantime, do be cautious, and do your homework.

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#WritingTips Active Vs. Passive #WWWBlogs #Writinganovel

This is a post I wrote a while ago that deals with an issue many writers struggle with.

active passive

When developing your writing craft, one of the ‘rules’ you will often hear is that you should avoid the passive voice. Using the active voice makes your writing simple, clear, concise and immediate, drawing your reader into the action of the piece and giving your writing energy. Using passive voice, on the other hand, can make your writing seem too formal, dull and wordy and can create a distance between the reader and the words. But many writers don’t really understand the difference between active and passive, and so are unsure how to write actively and how to avoid passive voice.

Passive

In passive sentences, the thing acted upon is the subject of the sentence, and the thing doing the action is usually included at the end of the sentence, for example:

The book was read by Sam.

boy reading book

The book is the subject receiving the action, ‘was read’ is the passive verb and Sam is doing the action.

Active

In active sentences, the thing or person doing the action is the subject of the sentence, and the thing or person receiving the action is the object. So:

Sam read the book.

Sam is the subject doing the action,’ read’ is the verb and the book is the object receiving the action.

What’s the problem?

The problem with passive is that the thing or person receiving the action becomes the subject of the sentence, but he, she or it isn’t actually doing anything. They are having something done to them. The first sentence isn’t grammatically wrong – it makes complete sense, but it sounds unnatural and forced. Another issue with passive voice is that it can be wordy. For example:

Passive

It was thought by most people that I killed my husband because he cheated on me.

husband passive

Contrast the active:

Most people thought I killed my husband because he cheated on me.

Or:

Passive

That evening, a delicious meal was eaten by Sarah and James.

Contrast the active:

That evening, Sarah and James ate a delicious meal.

Making sure you’re getting it right

One of the simplest things we can do to improve our writing is to get rid of unnecessary words, keeping our sentences clear, concise and to the point, getting rid of unnecessary words. Changing passive sentences to active sentences can be a good starting point.

If you’re not sure whether you’ve written a sentence in the active or passive voice, look out for the use of ‘was’ or ‘by’. Although not all sentences that include these words are necessarily passive, they can be a good clue. For example;

The dog was walked by Sam. (Passive)

When you spot a passive sentence, try rewriting it as an active sentence. You might be surprised at the difference it makes to your writing.

And although it pains me, as a vegetarian, to use this example, it does sum it up!

mac passive

 

 

Dialogue Tags – An Editor’s Worst Nightmare (almost!) #writingtips #writinganovel

dialogue tag 1

 

When my children were small, I worked for a while at their school. One of my roles was to take the ‘able and gifted’ children for creative writing lessons. Part of this was to increase their vocabulary and we duly spent a great deal of time thinking about different words, more interesting words, particularly more interesting words than ‘said’ and ‘asked’. Honestly, I’ve spent hours writing down word after word after word that could, technically anyway, be used instead of ‘said’!

Now I spend a great deal of time highlighting more unusual and interesting dialogue tags and begging my clients to please, please, please delete them and, if they must use a dialogue tag at all, then stick to ‘said’ and ‘asked’.

I can hear the intake of breath from here – particularly from those of you who are newer writers  (and possibly from some of those who aren’t and who should know better!). Surely it’s a mark of a good writer to have an extended vocabulary? Surely you’re showing your writing prowess by having the thesaurus open and using ‘snickered’, ‘interjected’, ‘commented’ and ‘sighed’?

No, you aren’t.

What you’re actually doing is taking that carefully crafted fictitious world you’ve spent months, even years in some cases, crafting, and smashing it down.

Because the point of a dialogue tag is to signify who has spoken. That’s it. Nothing else. It shouldn’t indicate how something is said. It shouldn’t indicate the tone or the volume of the words. It should simply show only who is speaking.

Why? Well, lots of reasons. (If you are a client and you have read all this before then I do apologise.) Readers are so used to seeing ‘said’ and ‘asked’ that they skim over them, noting quickly who is ‘saying’ or ‘asking’ and getting on with the important things. The flow of the writing isn’t interrupted, the reader reads on smoothly and happily. If a dialogue tag suddenly crops up, like ‘chuckled’ or ‘screamed’, the reader is forced to pause, to think about the tag. The flow is interrupted, and for no purpose. The reader is also suddenly reminded that they’re reading a book. They’re not actually in an eighteenth century English prison, or on a spaceship circling Mars, or on a beach in Sydney. They’re suddenly pulled out of that world and back into reality. ‘Look at me,’ the dialogue tag says, ‘the author looked me up in a thesaurus because they wanted to sound interesting. Also, they didn’t have enough confidence in their own writing to know that the character’s words, actions, situation and emotions would be sufficient to let you know that the character was shouting, or that you, the reader, were clever enough to work that out yourself. The author thinks you’re stupid.’

And that cleverly crafted world is destroyed.

If you don’t believe me, then look at this dialogue from the wonderful Douglas Adams:

‘Drink up,’ said Ford, ‘you’ve got three pints to get through.’

‘Three pints?” said Arthur. ‘At lunchtime?’ 

The man next to Ford grinned and nodded happily. Ford ignored him. He said, ‘Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.’

‘Very deep,’ said Arthur, ‘you should send that in to the Reader’s Digest. They’ve got a page for people like you.’

(The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy)

It’s also worth bearing in mind that most dialogue tags don’t really make sense. Take ‘chuckled’ for example. No one really chuckles a word. They might say a word and then chuckle, but you can’t do the two things at once.  Dialogue cannot be laughed, smiled, giggled, nodded or screamed.

Remember, writing should appear effortless (although it is far from it) and a dialogue tag that stands out reveals the author, reveals that the world has been crafted. To paraphrase Stephen King – you have told your story well enough to believe that when you use ‘said’ or ‘asked’ your reader will know how it was said or asked.

So please, avoid that thesaurus, and avoid using distracting, horrible dialogue tags. Even better, try not to use tags at all. You can use actions to signify who is speaking. For example:

‘Where have you been?’ Adam folded his arms, his mouth a thin line.

Jennifer rolled her eyes.

‘It’s none of your business.’

‘It is when you’re late for dinner.’

She looked at the table, set for two, and then glanced at her husband.

‘I’ve told you before not to bother cooking for me.’

In this (admittedly not very good) example, it’s completely clear who is saying what, and we also can tell how it’s being said – the physical actions and reactions give us all the clues we need.

So trust yourself, and trust your reader. You don’t need that thesaurus. At least not for dialogue tags.

 

 

 

Writing a Query Letter #wwwblogs #writinganovel

query letter pic 3

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

manu1

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.
balloons

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.

post eastkilbridepost.co.uk

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

How to Help Your Editor #writinganovel

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!

 

 

 

#WritingANovel : Feedback

feedback 2

One of the most difficult things to deal with when writing a novel is getting feedback, whether this is from a friend, a beta reader or an editor. Honestly – it can be completely terrifying. I know this from experience having written two books myself. The first experience I had of getting feedback on a piece of fiction was when I began studying for a Masters in Creative Writing. A huge part of the course was the workshop. We took it in turns to send a few chapters of our WIPs to everyone in the group and then a week or so later we would gather (online) to discuss that writing. The first time it was my turn I actually felt physically sick. I was terrified that the other students would hate my work, that they would destroy it. So, as an editor, I do completely understand how nerve-wracking it is to get that feedback. And sometimes it’s not only terrifying, it’s also confusing, especially when two or more of your readers or editors have completely different opinions about your work. So how do you deal with feedback?

Feedback from Beta Readers

So you’ve sent out your manuscript to five beta readers and you have five conflicting opinions about it. What should you do?

First, step back and coolly asses your betas. Whose opinion do you really trust? If one of them is your mum, then she’s probably not the one to go with.

Then go with your gut – you know if someone’s comments rings true, if something makes you think ‘Oh yeah. That’s a good point’. You need to be honest with yourself.

Look for common threads. If three of your betas hate the same thing, but one loves it, then it’s probably safe to go with the majority.

Feedback from Editors

Again, take a step back. Yes, that’s difficult; your work is so personal to you, so much a part of you. But feedback is vital to improve your craft. So put the process into perspective. Your editor is (hopefully) trying to help you. Their criticisms (if they’re any good) should be constructive. Trust me, when I give feedback on a manuscript, I’m not trying to hurt your feelings, or upset you or belittle you. But it would do you no good whatsoever if I wasn’t honest. I want to help you. So bear that in mind and try to be objective when you look at feedback.

Make sure you understand what your editor is trying to tell you. If you don’t understand their comments or you need some clarification, then ask. Personally, I feel that if a writer comes back to me about a point I’ve raised, then it’s my job to address their concerns. Just because I’ve finished the edit, it doesn’t mean I can no longer answer questions or provide feedback. A caveat though – don’t take advantage of your editor’s good nature; ask a question, accept the answer, but don’t expect a long-running dialogue. And don’t argue either – you’ve asked me for my professional opinion, I’ve given it and I’ve given my reasons for that opinion. It serves no purpose if you don’t agree for us to have back and forth emails about it.

Remember – you own the story. You don’t have to do what your editor says. It’s entirely up to you. But do remember that your editor is not your enemy. We don’t sit there trying to pick faults – we want to help you make your manuscript the best it can be. So if we say something you don’t agree with, take a deep breath, read the criticism again and really think about it. Does your editor have a point?

feedback

#Writinganovel – what to expect from an editor

editing 2

Since starting my editing business, I have worked on more than seventy projects. I feel very honoured and very privileged that these writers have trusted me with their work. As a writer myself, I understand how fellow writers feel about their work, and also how difficult it can be to hand that manuscript over to someone else, often someone you don’t know, and trusting them to do a good job. Choosing an editor is a minefield – there are so many out there now, so what should you expect from an editor? And what should you look for when choosing one?

Testimonials

thumbs up

Look for testimonials from previous clients. If an editor can’t provide testimonials find out why. When I began my business, I provided free edits in return for honest testimonials. This way I began to build a reputation and a client base (most of those clients that I provided free edits for came back to me with their next projects) and could also provide new clients with evidence that I could actually do the job. I’m happy to say that since then I have had testimonials from many clients and that now most of my work comes from happy clients who come back to me.

Sample edits

An editor should offer to provide you with a free sample edit. This way you can see how they work and see if it is right for you.

A contract

An editor should provide you with a contract setting out exactly what you should expect and what the editor also expects from you. This contract should include dates, fees and a summary of what’s included in your edit.

A price

I have worked with clients who have lost money to unscrupulous editors including one client whose ‘editor’ asked her to pay up front and then didn’t deliver. OK, you might think she was naïve to pay out, but this was new territory for her and she was unsure how things should work.

I know all editors work differently and that some charge according to word count and some charge according to the time it takes to edit. I prefer to charge per thousand words. I do understand why some editors charge an hourly rate. However, I think charging this way makes it quite difficult for the client. How do you know what to set aside for editing costs? In online discussions I’ve heard editors make the point that if you have two manuscripts of the same length, one might take twice as long as the other to edit. If you charge by the hour then you are compensated for the work you put in. If you charge by word count, as I do, then you earn slightly less for the manuscript that takes longer. Fair enough. But I personally think that this is a cost to be borne by the editor, not the client. It’s just how it goes. Also, I know I have some days when the work just flows and I’m really in the zone, and other days when it’s like wading through treacle. And that’s not always because of the manuscript. Sometimes it’s because of me. Why then, if I’m having an off day and it’s taking me longer to edit, should the client have to pay for that? An upfront fee, made clear and agreed to at the start, means everyone knows where they stand.

A reasonable timescale

Your editor should give you a date when your edit will be done and back to you. If they can’t commit to a date – ask yourself why. I’ve worked with clients whose previous editor hasn’t delivered when promised, has made excuse after excuse or has refused to give a firm date in the first place. Where does this leave a writer with a publication date in mind? And don’t let the process go on for months and months. If I have an editing project then that is what I work on – it takes priority. I plan my schedule so that projects – paid for writing projects or editing projects – take priority over everything else. I give a client a firm date – usually five working days for an edit of a manuscript of up to 100,000 words. I have seen editors who will take up to six weeks to do the same amount of work. That’s fine if that works for you – but make sure it does work for you and that the deadline is agreed by both of you.

Honesty

bad

Sometimes this is a hard one to take. It’s not very nice having someone tell you about all the faults in your work, all those things that don’t work. But an editor should do this. What’s the point otherwise? I know that I have built a bit of a reputation for my honesty – and that some people don’t see that as a good thing. They usually don’t ask me to edit their full manuscripts. Which is probably a good thing. If you’re paying money to someone to edit your work then you must realise that the editor isn’t there to pat you on the back and tell you what a great writer you are. They are there to offer a professional, unbiased, honest critique of your work and to show you how to improve it and get it to a publishable standard.  Yes, I do compliment a writer on things they have done well, things that really work. But what’s the point of me glossing over something that isn’t right? Something that doesn’t work? That will mean you’ve wasted your money. As one of my clients says:

‘Alison will pull no punches, but then, why would you want her to? You want your book to be the best it can be, right? You want your readers to get the best possible story you can produce, right? You want five-star reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, right?’

Exactly

So when you’re looking for an editor, do make sure that you are very careful, make sure you both know what’s involved and what everyone’s expectations are. And do be ready to listen to and take advice. That’s what your editor is there for.

Happy writing!

#Writing a novel – do you need an audience?

Dart on Target and  People

When I started researching and jotting down ideas for this post, I was pretty certain that the gist would be to help fellow writers to think about just who they were writing for – who their audience was. After all, what’s the point of writing if you don’t have an audience, people to read your book, to buy your book, to recommend your book to other people? That’s the whole reason we write, isn’t it? To share our stories with people who will enjoy them?

So I thought about the audience I’d had in mind when I began writing The Black Hours. And I realised that I hadn’t had anyone in mind at all. I’d simply had a story in my head that I wanted to write down. Yes, I wanted it published, yes, I wanted people to read it, but I certainly hadn’t thought to myself – this is a novel that will go down well with Mrs Smith at number 27, or the postman. Had I done the whole thing wrong? Should I have been thinking about my target audience before I began to write?

As I so often do, I turned to Google to see if I had been doing things wrong again. And it turns out that apparently I have. There’s a raft of articles about thoroughly researching your audience. Some suggest visualising your book for sale and then analysing the people buying it. What do they look like? What are their hobbies? What do they do for a living?

Now, I do think it’s important to have your reader in mind when you write- at least to a certain degree – particularly if you are writing for children or young adults. But does anyone really work it out to this extent?

Yes, I have readers in mind when I’m writing, and yes I have my clients’ readers in mind when I’m editing – usually I’m thinking, will people understand that bit, will they follow that plot point etc. But when I write, and when I’m editing, the story comes first. Afterwards, I might think about who would enjoy it, what they would expect to see, etc. For example, I write historical fiction, so I know my readers will expect the details to be accurate. And ‘The Black Hours’ is pretty dark, so my audience certainly won’t be readers of historical romance or chick lit fans. But the story comes first. Otherwise I’m writing to a formula, and surely that’s not great for me or my readers.

So, I’m left in a quandary really. And certainly no wiser than when I began to write this post. Internet experts say that I should have a target audience in mind, that it will focus my writing and increase my chances of success. After all, a publisher needs to know who to market to, and if I self-publish then I’ll need to sort my categories on Amazon. I can see the wisdom in that (although my WIP is set in three different times, has one real figure from history and one sort of mythological figure and a great deal of stuff about painting and Romanticism- not sure what genre I’m going to stick that one in). But should a story that’s going round my head change to fit a certain genre? Should I alter a character to suit some idea of a potential ‘customer’ in my head? Or should I be true to my story?

What do you think?

#WritingANovel: Preparation for Plotters and Pantsters.

“It’s a job, not a hobby. You don’t write the way you build a model airplane. You have to sit down and work, to schedule your time and stick with it. Even if it’s just for an hour or so each day, you have to get a babysitter and make the time. If you’re going to make writing succeed, you have to approach it as a job.”
Rosellen Brown 

 So you’re ready to write your novel? You’ve got an idea burning away at the back of your mind that you can’t get rid of. Characters keep popping up, talking to you, urging you to write their story. But the notebook’s blank, the computer screen‘s white. You’re hesitating over that first line. How do you get prepared?

Spongebob blank

Well, that rather depends on whether you’re a plotter or a pantster!

If you’re a plotter, like me, you like to have that security of knowing where you’re going with your writing from the outset. I like to write a simple plan, listing my characters, and a simple timeline of what’s going to happen. I then go back over the plan, filling in more details, random thoughts and ideas, and anything that occurs to me that might be useful. This doesn’t mean it’s set in stone. Characters and situations have a funny way of evolving when you’re writing in ways you don’t expect. But a plan gives me something to turn to if I’m stuck or if a scene isn’t working. The plan sometimes acts to kickstart the writing, or allows me to jump ahead to a later scene while the tricky scene is working itself out in the back of my head.

If you’re a pantster, then you write ‘by the seat of your pants’, that is, you start writing without a plan, letting the words flow as they happen. Of course, you have an idea of what you’re going to write about, a situation, a couple of characters. You start writing and see what happens.

In reality of course, most writers are a combination of the two. When you start to pigeonhole a person, or a process, you usually find that most people don’t conform to a particular definition. And whatever works for you, works. But whether you’re a plotter or a pantster, there are some things you can do to prepare yourself for writing your novel:

  • Read as much in your chosen genre as you can. In a saturated market, think what your book can add to the genre. What could be its Unique Selling Point?
  • Even if you’re not planning your book – plan your time. If you’re writing something that requires a lot of research factor that in. Now plan when your writing time will be. First thing in the morning? A couple of hours in the evening? Plan it and stick to it. In a busy world with busy lives, writing can often be seen as unimportant, not a priority, but you need to be strong about this. Plan your time and use your time.
  • Set yourself some goals and write them down. This can be a simple as ‘I’ll have written five thousand words by the end of the month’ or ‘’I’ll have finished my research by …’ Having your goals written somewhere you can see them reinforces them all the time, keeping them to the front of your mid.
  • Prepare a space to write. It doesn’t have to be a great big desk in an office just for you. It can be a corner with a laptop. But make it a dedicated writing space. This helps you to get into the right mind set. When you’re in your writing space, you’re there to write. Incidentally, writing at the same time every day can also reinforce this – after a little while, if you sit down in your writing space at the same time (your writing time) you easily slip into writing mode (works for me anyway!).

Now you just need to get writing.

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