#writingguidance

Yes, we do judge a book by its cover! #writingtips #amwriting

pencils

It’s a very old and very well-known saying that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. But this is a saying that shouldn’t be taken literally. While I urge you not to judge other things in life by their appearance (particularly people!), it’s usually a safe bet that a poorly designed book cover means a poorly executed book.

Unfair? Well, taking off my editor hat and putting on my reader hat for a minute, if I’m going to spend my (very) hard-earned cash on a book, I want to make sure I spend it wisely. And what have I got to go on when I browse the endless goodies on offer on Amazon? I have the blurb, (please authors – get this right. It is NOT a synopsis), the reviews (if I can trust them), and I have the cover. And I won’t get to the blurb or the reviews if the cover doesn’t grab me in the first place.

A good, well-thought out, attention-grabbing cover tells me that this author cares – cares about their work, cares about their book, cares about their reader. A poorly executed cover sends warning bells ringing that this author hasn’t researched the self-publishing world thoroughly, doesn’t understand what they need to do to publish successfully, and has probably rushed to publish.

So what makes a good cover, and what doesn’t? And what should you bear in mind when designing your cover?

Think thumbnails. Will your cover stand out in that tiny, tiny little space it will have in a search?
Think genre. What’s your book about? If it’s a romance, go for an image that says romance. If it’s a gritty detective story, then show that in your cover. Don’t be vague, and don’t overthink it.
Think trends. I hate to say it, but there are fashions in book covers as there are in anything else. Look at other books in your genre and see what’s popular at the moment. People know what they like and they may go for a book by an author they don’t know if the cover reminds them of a book they’ve liked (although don’t plagiarise, obviously). But do give it your own twist and be original too.
Think title. Make sure it stands out and that people can read it. Make sure the font is clear and big enough.
I’ve seen covers with dreadful hand-drawn images, cut and paste pictures that are the wrong size and perspective, and random images that have nothing to do with the book itself. There are blogs devoted to showcasing the worst of these – which, while it’s easy to laugh, it’s also heart-breaking that these authors haven’t done the research and have set themselves up for ridicule.

Self-publishing can be an expensive business – but there are some things that cannot be scrimped on. Editing, proofreading and a great book cover are worth investing in. There are some great designers out there who do a good job and don’t cost the earth (although you shouldn’t expect to pay peanuts for a professional). Research, ask for recommendations; if you see a self-published book with a great cover ask the author who designed it – most will be more than happy to give you a recommendation. If you’ve spent time crafting a wonderful novel, give it the polish and packaging it deserves.

Advertisements

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

contract_salesman_signature_md_wm

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!

 

 

 

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!

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!

Writing and Editing Tips Revisited – Transitions #ThrowbackThursday #WritingTips

Another post from the past – this time looking at how to take your characters from one place to another, and to take the reader along too.

furlough

Transitions are used to:

  • Change time
  • Change location
  • Change character viewpoint
  • To skip unimportant time periods or events

One issue I’ve seen with many writers is that they put too much detail in these transitions, showing how a character gets from one place to another – getting into their car, driving home, parking, walking up the stairs to their apartment, just like this scene from the infamous B-movie Birdemic:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KrremE8SCQk&t=8m12s

The reader doesn’t need to know that. They just want to get on with the story, on to what happens next.

So how do you use transitions skilfully?

  • Start a new chapter – this easily lets your reader know the narrative has moved on
  • If you’re changing scene/time/viewpoint within a chapter use a physical sign like ***** centred on the page, or double space and then don’t indent the first line of your next paragraph.
  • Keep it short and simple – ‘That night’, ‘The next morning’.
  • Jump right in – rather than say: ‘When Linda arrived at the coffee shop the next morning’ go for ‘Linda slid into the booth and took a sip of her first coffee of the day.’ We know where and when Linda is straight away.

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

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

letter_writi_24714_lg

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

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

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

writing-dialogue

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

 

adject

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

one-star-frown

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

Buzzfeed