Back from the editor

15 November 2008 - Leave a Response

My manuscript has come back from the editor for me to check over.

This is needless to say, highly exciting for me. There have been moments over the past few weeks when it felt like this couldn’t possibly be real. But now I have a hard copy of my work complete with editor’s comments and covered in little marks.

The editor gave a sheet of queries. I think only getting twelve points he felt needed to be listed in a 400 page manuscript is pretty good. Unfortunately, the rest of the manuscript shows a whole host of tiny errors. It’s hard to believe the number of times I went through this thing looking for typos when I look at the number the editor has found.

I’ve got quite a lot of pages to check through before I go down to the offices and speak to the editors in person. Still, it doesn’t look like anything major has changed and I’m pleased to note that something I wrote in as a personal joke is still there.

That time of year again

2 November 2008 - Leave a Response

It’s November and that means Nanowrimo. For those who don’t know, Nanowrimo is a challenge to write 50000 words of a novel in a month. The idea is that writing a novel tends to take so long that people give up in the middle. If you have this deadline looming, you get the writing done. It’ll be a draft and it’ll need serious editing, but it will be written.

I’ve succeeded twice before at Nanowrimo. Those two stories are now parts one and two of my novel, Child of the Hive.

Now, it’s day two and I’ve written 4864 words. That’s a good start to the month.

How to get Published – part three

11 October 2008 - Leave a Response

So, here’s the third in my collection of posts on how to get published. Please bear in mind what I said in the first of these and go and do more research. I’m not an authority on the subject. One thing you should do if you honestly hope to get a book published is go and read advice of people more knowledgeable than am I and accept there advice.

If you’ve done that, my third piece of advice is to make your own luck. Just about every agent or editor (or every one that I’ve heard of) will be swamped with submissions. I’ve received plenty of rejection letters apologising that more time couldn’t be spent on my submission because of the sheer volume they have to deal with. I mentioned Snowbooks, who received three books a day. When you consider that they’re relatively unknown, it should give you a clue about how many submissions the bigger publishing houses will receive.

If this was just a case of luck, you might as well try winning the lottery!

So how do you improve your odds a bit? Well, think about what I said in the first two of these posts. A lot of people send off manuscripts without really checking they’re sending them somewhere suitable. If people are sending thrillers to children’s publishers and crime novels to places that prints romances, there are bound to be a hundred manuscripts on the pile that are completely irrelevant to the company. If you send the submission to the right publishers, your odds are looking better already.

Some submissions will be, let’s face it, pretty terrible. I wrote a novel when I was about twelve. A twelve year old who’d never had a boyfriend should not have been trying to write about true love separated between mystical worlds. It was awful. I sent off the first chapters and synopsis to three different publishers. Two sent back polite rejections. One didn’t even do that.

I briefly dated a guy who wanted to be a writer. He wouldn’t accept criticism regarding his book. If I couldn’t bring myself to read more than two chapters while I was dating him, I don’t think he’ll have much success with publishers.

The fact is that there are some people out there submitting some really bad writing. So long as you’re not one of them, you just got a bit more likely to succeed.

Still, you’ll need your manuscript to hit the desk of the right person just as a gap is opening up in their market for the sort of book you’ve written. It won’t matter if you’ve written a great book, if the publisher has just signed a contract with a different author for something very similar. You need to get the timing just right and there’s no easy trick to doing that.

So keep trying. If the odds are a hundred to one, send out a hundred copies.

This time, when I submitted my novel, I sent it to over thirty places. Some were publishers, some were agents, most replied quickly with standard rejections. Keep trying.

If you try out every publisher who works with your particular genre, redraft the opening chapters and send it out again under a different name. Or put it on the shelf and work on the next book; that novel will make a good second book one day.

If you send out enough submissions, eventually the odds will be in your favour.

How to get published – part two

8 October 2008 - Leave a Response

This is the second in my series of posts offering my advice on how to get published. Today’s advice is to write something really good.

OK, hands up everyone who’s bought a book, started reading it and thought, “I could write better than this. If this guy’s published, I should have no problem.” Yes, there is some rubbish out there in the shops. I don’t know how they got published. They must have either been really lucky or they know someone in the business.

If you know someone in the business, great. Chances are you’ll only need to write something good enough and have your friend put it on the right person’s desk. For the rest of us, good enough just isn’t good enough.

The publishers Snowbooks publish about twenty books a year. They get three submissions a day. And they’re not even a big name publisher! Imagine how many submissions the famous publishers must get. I’ve seen talks by people who’ve walked into editor’s offices in seen mountains of paper that make up the pile of manuscripts they’ve got to read through.

It’s not enough to write a story that’s pretty decent. The editor has got to think it’s better than the hundred others they’ve read that week. They’ve got to love it enough to devote a lot of time over the course of the next year to get it ready for publication.

Get feedback on your book. For my novel, I read extracts out at my local writer’s group. I gave it to my mum, one of my cousins and one of my aunts to read and comment on. I asked one of my neighbours to give me feedback. I sent a copy to a friend of my sister’s who I’d never actually met. I attended the writing holiday in Caerleon and received comments from a tutor (who has several books published) and some of the other attendees. The most detailed feedback I received was from a colleague of my dad’s who’s also an unpublished aspiring writer. When it came to this latest round of submissions, I, my mum and some of my friends went through in great detail looking for any typos, mistakes or awkward phrasing in the first three chapters.

The more people you can ask about your book, the better. I think it probably helps not to restrict yourself to family and close friends, because you never know if they’re just being nice. It’s also true that everyone has a different opinion about what makes a good book. I’ve read books that other people have through wonderful and not found them that great. I’m certain that the reverse is also true. If one person likes or doesn’t like your work, that might just be their personal opinion. If ten people read it and nine of them like it, you’re probably doing pretty well. If only five like it, you’d better think carefully about what they don’t like because there’s probably some room for improvement.

Writing something good doesn’t just apply to the story. You’ve got to get the cover letter and synopsis right as well. With so many manuscripts to get through, editors aren’t going to waste time. If your synopsis doesn’t look good, they’re probably not going to look beyond the first page of your manuscript, no matter how much time you spent getting it perfect.

I’m no expert in this field. My advice is to go find the advice of someone more knowledgeable than me. I got some really useful help from the tutors at Caerleon, so I would strongly recommend going to courses run by published authors and getting them to help. Failing that, there are books and articles about the subject.

Finally, hunt down those typos!

No matter how carefully I think I’ve checked something, there’s always a little error left in it somewhere. Check, check and check again that your letter, synopsis and opening pages are completely free from annoying little mistakes that might put someone off your story.

How to get published – part one

7 October 2008 - Leave a Response

This is the first in a series of posts about how to get a novel published.

Now, I understand that people reading this post might want to be a bit dubious about anything I write here. After all, I’ve only had a publishing contract for one book and that’s not out in print yet. I’m hardly an expert on the publishing industry or the practice of getting your first book out on the shelves.

However, I have done a lot of research on the subject. I’ve read about half a dozen “how to write” books, all of which included at least a chapter on getting published. I’ve read magazine articles on the subject. I’ve attended talks by writers and editors. I’ve read countless websites and forum posts about this. So these posts are based on knowledge gathered from multiple sources, most of them substantially more experienced than me. I’m not just making stuff up.

So my first piece of advice is to do just what I’ve described. Don’t assume that getting published is going to be straight-forward. If you’re reading this post, I’ll make the assumption that you’re open to taking advice, so go and hunt that advice down. Don’t listen to one person; they might be wrong or speaking from a restricted viewpoint. Go and find a dozen different sources of information and pay attention to them all. That way you’ll know what to expect and you’ll be better prepared to face it.

Do your research. Particularly, check up on the publishers and agents you’re planning on submitting your work to.

I attended a talk by a senior editor of a company that publishes non-fiction books for schools, particularly teachers’ guides. She commented on the huge number of submissions they get for children’s fiction. It doesn’t matter how good those stories might be, they’re going to get rejected simply because her company doesn’t deal in fiction.

Make sure you’re sending your work to the right place. It’s no good sending a crime novel off to a publishing house that only prints romance books. A good way to check is to see if the publisher gives a list of their books currently in print. That way you can see if they work with titles similar to yours. The same applies to agents as well. Most agencies only deal with specific genres of fiction, so send your submissions to the right ones.

If you’re going directly to the publishers, check that they accept unsolicited manuscripts. Read their websites. Read the Writer’s Handbook or The Writers and Artists Yearbook.

This technique doesn’t always work. When submitting my novel, I came up with a list of publishers using a copy of the Writer’s Handbook that was two years out of date. I then went through that list, checking websites so that I could make sure I was addressing the submission to the right person. If the entry in the Handbook said that the company accepted unsolicited submissions and the website didn’t say one way or the other, I went with the Handbook entry. Turns out, there were some who didn’t accept unsolicited submissions who hadn’t bothered to update their websites to say so, and I got the first rejections back by return of post.

Another thing to research is what form they want submissions to take. Most places, publishers and agents, want three chapters, a synopsis and a brief cover letter, but there are many, many exceptions to that rule. Some places want you to email an entire manuscript. Some want the first chapter. Some want the first three thousand words. Some want any two chapters of your choice. And so on. The length of the synopsis can vary hugely. Some companies ask for a synopsis of no more than five hundred words, some ask for up to a thousand. A few want a one page synopsis, others ask for a three to five page one. Many don’t specify the length they want.

Go to the websites and read carefully what they ask for.

There’s a lot more to getting published than that, but that’s a good place to start.

Why I write

5 October 2008 - Leave a Response

I’ve been asked in the past, on many occasions, by many different people, why I write or how long I’ve been writing. The truth is, I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t making up stories.

I have a memory of when I was pretty young, making a little “book” by folding sheets of A4 paper together. I used to do this loads and wrote stories about the Fish Wars. I don’t actually remember finishing any of those stories though.

I remember some of the stories I wrote when I was about six. There was the one where the blob people had a day out to the museum. And there was the one where I killed a dragon in the living room and my mum made me clean up the mess. It’s a shame my mum was never the sort to hoard school books and things because I would quite like to see some of those stories again. Ah well. Maybe it’s a good thing. They probably wouldn’t be nearly as good as I remember them being when I was six.

I remember when I was seven and I got worried because I didn’t get my English homework back like all the others in the class. It turned out the teacher wanted to display my poem on the wall.

I even remember the games I played. My sister and I used to play with Lego a lot. A heck of a lot. She used to like building extravagent houses and making towns on the big board that could slide under the bed. I was more interested in inventing the lives of the Lego people who lived in those houses.

I can’t imagine not creating stories. If, for some bizarre reason, all paper, computers, type writers and other writing implements were to vanish completely, I’d still be thinking up plot lines in my head.

That’s why I write. It’s not because I dream of being the next J K Rowling. It’s not because I hope to be famous one day. It’s not because I honestly believe I’ll be able to make a decent living from being a novellist. It’s simply because I can’t not write.

Whether my novel becomes an overnight bestseller or only sells one copy to my mum, I will be writing the next one.

A little summary

3 October 2008 - Leave a Response

If I expect anyone but me to be excited about my upcoming book, I need to tell you something about it.

The book’s title is Child of the Hive. There’s a little “provisional” in brackets next to this in the contract, but I don’t expect it to change. A few random people have told me they like the title, so I expect it will stick.

The story is a fast-paced speculative thriller touching on some deep psychological questions. Essentially, this means you can enjoy it on two levels. Either you can read it as an adventure story and enjoy it for the plot and excitement, or you can read it and ponder over some of the key issues that the storyline considers.

There are several main characters, all with a distinct personality and unique viewpoint. Hopefully, most readers will find something they can relate to in some or all of them.

For more details, you’ll have to wait and read later posts. I will put exerpts and blurb when the final version is approved by my editor.

Signed and ready

2 October 2008 - Leave a Response

I’ve signed the contract to have my first novel published by Book Guild. I’ve been wondering for a while about writing a blog to discuss and share my fiction. This seemed the perfect time to start.

It will be about a year before my novel is ready to hit the shelves, but I’ll be updating this blog with news as I go through the publication process. Hopefully my experiences will be of some help to others just starting down the rocky road to publication.