Dos and Don’ts when submitting to agents and publishers

So, you’ve written the book and are ready to take the literary world by storm. All you need now is an agent and/or publisher to get the ball rolling. Simple.

Believe it or not, when you come to the query letter – the letter you address to the agent/publisher when you send them your work – writing the book will suddenly seem like the easy part. It’s a bit like giving birth then realising the hard work hasn’t even begun.

I’ve written my fair share of query letters (and still do!), so I’ve picked up a few tips over the years. Hopefully some of these might help you to write the letter that leads to publication…

DO – Keep it succinct. No-one likes a rambler. Any more than a single page and you’re rambling.

DO – Take the time to find out the name of the person you’re writing to. Dear Sir / Madam is lazy, and there’s no need for it now we have so much information at our fingertips. Even worse – Dear Sir – assuming everyone is male. Don’t do that unless you want your submission to go straight in the shredder.

DO – Include a short section on yourself: have you had any work published previously? If so, give details. Is your day job relevant? Even if you write business reports, it’s still writing, and if this is the extent of your CV, then mention it!

DO – I love this one. Always say WHY you’re writing to this particular agent/publisher. It’s good to mention other authors they represent whom you admire or who write for similar audiences to yours.

DO – And this is the biggie. Make sure you read CAREFULLY the requirements of the agent or publisher on the website before you write. In almost all cases they’ll tell you what they want you to include in your query letter. They don’t give these instructions so you can ignore them – they give you them to help you give yourself the best possible chance of it being read. Ignore at your peril!

DON’T – Send a submission to an agent or publisher who isn’t interested in your genre. You can work this out pretty easily – although it can be time consuming – by searching on the internet and reading the agents’ websites. They’ll always share this information as one thing they definitely don’t want is irrelevant submissions to add to an already huge reading pile. Thinking your work might be the one thing that changes their mind and gets them suddenly inspired in a genre in which they have no interest or experience, is pure delusion. So best not to do it.

DON’T – Be arrogant. Passages in your letter such as ‘This manuscript will change your life’ or ‘You’re sure never to have read anything of this quality before’ is a guaranteed fast track to that faceless rejection letter.

DON’T – Think this is the time for wacky creativity. Most agents and publishers these days request submissions are made by email rather than post. Even those who still accept post will not thank you for packages containing glitter bombs or any other quirky method of communication. Send what they ask, how they ask.

DON’T – Include irrelevant information. You don’t have the space. The recipient doesn’t care that your dream is to one day pen best-selling novels from the beach house you will buy when your debut book hits the big time, nor do they want to hear that you’ve read a load of rubbish books recently and reckon you could do better. Be proud, be confident, but be humble.

DON’T – Forget your contact details. Imagine the author or publisher loves your work but can’t get hold of you. Nightmare! Include an email address, postal address and phone number. And always make sure you mention any social media or blogging activity you do that’s relevant to your writing. Agents and publishers want to know you’re capable of self promotion.

Good luck!

Hooray – it’s publication day!

Very exciting day today as my latest book is out! The Curse of Camelot, published by The Wild Rose Press, is an erotic medieval novella. It was my favourite book to write as not only does it have a lot of ‘action’ in all senses of the word – I also hope it raises a few moral questions.

Here’s a short extract to give you a flavour.

Guinevere looked down at the man at her feet, the man she once loved. The only man she had ever loved. The man, who now looked pathetic in her presence. “Be standing, Sir Lancelot.”
He raised his broad body until he stood tall, towering a full head’s height above her. She took a step forward so they were as close as they could be without touching and looked up at his determined face shrouded with unruly blond hair that tumbled to muscular shoulders.
“You look weary, my knight.”
He avoided her gaze. He avoided looking at her altogether. Instead, his eyes focused firmly at the window of her chamber.
She smiled to herself. He knows what will happen when he catches sight of me. He knows resistance is futile, and yet he attempts it anyway. His stoicism almost made her feel sorry for him.
Almost, but not quite.

The Curse of Camelot is available as an e-book at https://www.amazon.co.uk/Gina-Hollands/e/B07HWQXYFD/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1

I’m often asked if you can read e-books if you don’t have a Kindle. The answer is yes, quite easily. Kindle has a free app you can download either from the play store or through Amazon. Just click on the book on Amazon and you’ll see the option to get the free Kindle app. Easy peasy!

Should I write in first or second person? Top ten tips to help you decide

This is a question I’ve been asking myself lately, as I’m about to embark upon a new book, which is different from anything I’ve written before. Normally, with commercial romantic fiction, third person is most common – although yes, there are plenty out there written in the first.

If you every find yourself with the same predicament, here are my top ten tips, which might help you decide:

  1. It could be argued that in the first person, you can really reach into the thoughts and feelings of the character, allowing the reader to empathise on a deeper level with them.
  2. If you stick with the first person, you can’t fall into the trap of head-hopping!
  3. Choosing the third person, however, means you can tell the story from more than one person’s point of view, which could be advantageous.
  4. If you opt for first person, there can’t be anything in the plot the main character doesn’t know – which could affect your story and how you tell it.
  5. Think about the genre you’re writing in and read, read, read! If you’re 50/50 whether to go for first or third person, you might like to go with the majority of authors writing in your genre – it could be an insight into what publishers prefer.
  6. If you’re writing commercial fiction and your aim is for your book to sell and be read, think about what’s fashionable at the moment. Literature trends go in waves, like any other type of fashion. If you’re unsure which way to go, thinking about what sells mean you shouldn’t go too far wrong.
  7. If you do opt for third person, remember you can still get into deep point of view by conveying the character’s thoughts and feelings. Italics tell the reader what is an unvoiced thought.
  8. Try writing a few paragraphs in the first person, then tell the same story in the third. What works best? What feels right to you as an author?
  9. Do you prefer reading books written in the first or the third person? It may well be that your reading preferences reflect your writing preferences too.
  10. Finally, like all dilemmas connected to writing, go with your heart! If your brain is telling you that you MUST write in the first person because that seems to be the trend, and everyone else is doing it, but your heart is screaming out at you to write in the third, go with your heart – it’s usually right!

Sooner or later, the rhythm is gonna get you

I had the best afternoon and night out in ages a couple of weeks ago as a few of us ventured into London for my lovely friend’s 40th birthday. Armed with tickets to see Gloria Estefan’s musical, ‘Get on your Feet’, and a restaurant reservation at The Port House on The Strand, we were like pigs in muck.

The Port House is a Spanishy/Portugesey tapas restaurant, which serves – wait for it – sangria cocktails! Mmm, delicioso! We ordered loads of different dishes, which we shared, all of which were scrumptious – especially the pork belly.

When it came to dessert we had something I’ve been wanting to try for ages – pastel de nata – or Portugese custard tarts. Oh my goodness – divine. I was so upset we’d decided to share. We also had churros with chocolate sauce, which my friend went completely ‘gooey’ for, and vanilla ice cream with sherry. Who’d have thought something so simple could be so utterly amazing!

We then waddled down the road to the Coliseum Theatre for the show. Never make the mistake of asking a stranger where ‘The Coliseum’ is. He’ll tell you it’s in Rome, which is exactly what happened to me when I enquired about the location of said establishment to a man outside a pub.

Luckily, we found it just in time, and took our seats for the performance. And what a performance it was – so much energy, great Latin tracks and some incredible salsa dancing.

We all absolutely loved it. Although it’s finished now in London, the show is touring the UK, so plenty of time to see it. If you’re looking for a super day out with friends, which is fun and frivolous, I can heartily recommend it.

@ Home Delivery

https://www.onyourfeetmusical.co.uk/

The Best Bit

The best bit of a new book coming out in my opinion is definitely seeing the front cover art for the first time. It can be a breath-holding moment if you’ve got a definite idea in your head about what it should look like. It could even be disappointing if the end product isn’t what you envisaged. I’ve been very lucky with all the books I’ve done so far in that they’ve all exceeded my expectations.

In my eyes, The Wild Rose Press has done another great job with my next book (to be released 23rd September). I had a really strong idea as to what I wanted to see on the cover of The Curse of Camelot – an erotic mediaeval novella – and it wasn’t exactly like the piccie above, which I think is a lot better than what was in my head.

With some publishers – The Wild Rose Press being one – you can submit notes as to what you’d like the cover to look like. Of course, unless you self publish, the publisher will always have the final say, although it’s important to remember that, in the vast majority of cases, the publisher does know best what sells!

For the Curse of Camelot I knew I wanted a close up of the main character, Guinevere, with a focus on her eyes. I imagined it would just be her, but the cover artist Diana Carlile added the knights in the background, which I think is a really nice touch.

Unless you’re with a publisher who photographs models for your book cover, your artist will normally work with stock imagery and will therefore be limited by the photos available. This means they can’t do things like show the characters from a different angle, or change their outfits.

When I see the email with the cover art attached pop into my email, it’s always with mixed feelings of excitement and trepidation that I open it. Thankfully, I’ve always loved the result, and this one’s no exception. I was very happy when my son said about Guinevere, “She looks like you, Mum.” I was all smug for a minute till he quickly added, “Just a hell of a lot younger”.

The Curse of Camelot – release date announced!

It seems like ages ago I put the final full stop on my latest erotic novella, which had at the time a working title of ‘Guinevere’. I loved writing the story, as it was my first historical/fantasy, and I didn’t hold back at all on the story line or the graphic descriptions.

I wasn’t sure whether a publisher would accept it as it is rather on the racy side to say the least, and is definitely not for readers who prefer a sweet romance, but the lovely folk at The Wild Rose Press took it (after confirming it fitted within guidelines), worked hard at getting everything tip-top and have today given me a release date of 23rd September.

My editor suggested a title change to ‘The Curse of Camelot’, which I thought was miles better, and patiently put up with all my changes, even the last minute ones where I realised I’d made some very stupid mistakes!

The artist is busy working on the front cover now, and I really can’t wait to see it. It’s nerve-wracking as for a change I have a particular idea how I’d like it to look, so I’m hoping she shares my vision. The same designer at The Wild Rose Press created the cover for The Virgin’s Gamble, Ice Hot and Secrets of the East Wing, and I love all of those, so I have every faith this one’s going to be great too!

The Curse of Camelot will be available to purchase on e-platforms (at 30,000 words it’s too short to print) from various websites including Amazon.

A Quick Good News Flash

It really perked me up last week when I received an email from the Ulverscroft Group saying they’d like to make one of my books into large print. As one of the leading worldwide publishers of large print, this was a great privilege, and it’s nice to know that one of my manuscripts will be available for a whole new audience.

The book in question is ‘Saving Alice’ which first came out in April this year as a My Weekly Pocket Novel. Pocket Novels are only on the shelf for two weeks (although I believe they can be back ordered online through the My Weekly website), so it’s great that the book will soon have a new life.

Who knows – one day it might even be available from the library. That would be a good day!

https://www.ulverscroft.com/

A Weekend in Belfast

My best friend and I like to meet up once a year in a different place. Given that she lives a couple of hundred miles from me, we rarely get to see each other, so a little treat away can be just the ticket. In the past, we’ve been to New York, London and a fancy hotel in the country. This year, it was destination: Belfast.

I’ve been to Belfast once before for 24 whole hours. It was for work and involved taking two professional strongmen on a ghost hunt around Crumlin Road Gaol – but that’s for another day.

This time, it was Belfast for a whole weekend and purely for leisure. How wonderful. And we weren’t disappointed. The best thing about Northern Ireland (in my humble opinion) is the people, who are so friendly and welcoming.

Belfast is a great choice when you only have a weekend at your disposal, as the city is small and easy to navigate around (even for someone challenged in that department, such as myself). We stayed at the Hampton by Hilton, which is centrally located and perfectly serviceable. It’s definitely ‘chainy’ so if you prefer a more independent lodging, probably not your best bet. Everything was clean and in working order and brekkie was good. The staff were all very nice.

If you fancy a trip to Belfast, I would suggest going in spring/summer when the weather is more likely to be good. When we went the weather in England was glorious and the weather in Belfast was fair, which I don’t think is particularly unusual. What was great, however, is that it was still really light at 11pm – much lighter than at home in South East England.

On the Saturday afternoon we went for afternoon tea at the Merchant Hotel, which was very pleasant – the building is spectacular. A champagne version is also available, but as we’re lightweights, we stick with the Darjeeling.

Later, we went to see Rock of Ages at The Grand Opera House. It wasn’t at all what I was expecting, but was a lot of fun. Afterwards, we went to Nu Delhi restaurant for a curry. To our surprise, it was buzzing, even at 10.30pm when we arrived. The food was good – very spicy! All was going as expected until a rather drunken bloke, who said he was the restaurant’s PR, turned up with free sambucas. It would be rude not to accept them, so we did, then we accepted the second round as well. There was then an almost-fight between PR man and one of the bar men, and we left, rather more under the influence than we’d planned. Anyway, all made for a fun evening.

During our stay, we also paid a visit to the highly recommended Titanic Museum. It’s definitely worth a visit, and there’s a cool little ride inside, which I hadn’t expected.

Transport to and from the airport (Belfast International) was really cheap and easy with the shuttle bus. It departs regularly, even on Sundays. My friend flew into George Best Airport and took a taxi. It’s only around 15 mins from the centre.

I flew with Easy Jet which was, on this occasion, beautifully punctual!

Where we went:

https://hamptoninn3.hilton.com/en/hotels/united-kingdom/hampton-by-hilton-belfast-city-centre-BFSCCHX/index.html

https://www.themerchanthotel.com/

https://titanicbelfast.com/

http://www.nu-delhilounge.com/

Positive Erotica

There is a big appetite at the moment for positive erotica in literature – that is, overtly consensual sex. Quite possibly in the wake of the ‘Me Too’ movement, sexual violence for entertainment, especially against women, is quite rightly frowned upon more than ever.

Perhaps that goes some way to explaining the increasing popularity of positive erotic writing . Forward-thinking publishers and tech companies are providing the modern female reader with what she’s looking for – short erotic stories featuring women, written predominantly by women.

One such company is Sunsette, www.thesunsette.com, an app which sends subscribers a short (10 minute) erotic read to their phones four days a week at sunset. The stories are diverse in theme and category, and come with a ‘kink’ rating so readers have an idea of what’s in store!

Sunsette pledges 10% of profits to ending sexual violence, and has been featured in several media articles about the importance of making erotica positive, such as this one in Bustle http://tiny.cc/au5s8y.

I had my first story published through Sunsette two days ago. Entitled ‘Perks’ it’s about a young female whizz kid who founds out her new job offers certain benefits she hadn’t expected. It was great fun to write and I’m interested to see the reader feedback metrics that Sunsette sends its writers.

Writing for Sunsette was a very good experience. Their communication was excellent and the publication journey certainly wasn’t drawn out, so it’s an avenue I would recommend for writers of erotica. If you are interested in submitting to Sunsette, you can find out more here https://www.thesunsette.com/authors.

How to write sex scenes – top 10 tips

In just a few weeks’ time my fourth erotic story will be published, so I thought now was a good time to share my top 10 tips for writing raunchy scenes. Here they are:

  1. Choose words that fit your heat rating: The language you use and detail you go into depends on the ‘heat rating’ of your story. If you’re aiming for a romance sprinkled with a few naughty scenes, then words such as ‘her centre’ or ‘his length’ might be more appropriate than words you would use in an openly erotic novel, such as ‘pussy’ or ‘cock’.
  2. Keep it aspirational: Remember that romance is fantasy not reality. Readers want beautiful sex, even if it is graphic. They don’t want to hear about wet patches or dodgy noises, so keep it rosy!
  3. Shifting perspectives is OK: Any writer will know that head-hopping in between scenes is a big no-no. I’ve found the only exception to this is sex scenes. Editors tend to be more lenient on shifting between perspectives in erotic scenes as it’s such an intense moment that readers can benefit from seeing it from both points of view.
  4. It’s all about the senses: In sex scenes more than any other, senses are really important as the characters’ sensitivities such be heightened. What does their partner smell like (pleasant, hopefully), what do they taste like, what do they feel like?
  5. It’s not a documentary! I always have a bit of a chuckle when reading sex scenes when the man goes all night like some sort of horny teenager. It’s fun to read though, and that’s the main thing. Unlike real life, when we’ve often had hard days, and have another hard day to look forward to, in literature that’s irrelevant. If your reader would like to think it could happen – make it happen. It is escapism, after all.
  6. Know what’s allowed: Publishers are generally very brave and accept – and actively seek – same gender sex scenes, orgies (not easy to write – you get confused with who’s doing what to whom) and fantasy sex scenes featuring vampires and the like.

    Study your intended publisher’s guidelines before embarking on writing a sex scene to ensure you know what’s allowed and what isn’t. Usually, for example, if it’s legal, you’re OK. Non-consensual sex is, in the romance genre, usually disallowed for good reason. My latest novella features a menage with werewolves, which are in man-form at the time – otherwise it would be bestiality, which would just be too weird.
  7. Who needs words? Actually, as a writer you do. It’s not all about the actions – what your characters say, and the noises they make, in the heat of the moment are just important a part of the sex scene as the sex itself. A sexy moan or mutter of a name (as long as it’s the right name!) can really ramp up the passion.
  8. Mix up the pace: If you’ve got a story with several sex scenes, be careful not to fall into the trap of them all being the same. This will bore your reader and have them skimming through the hotter sections, and you don’t want that. A good way of mixing things up is by changing the pace. You might have one scene where the characters can’t rip each other’s clothes off fast enough, whereas another time might be slow and sensual, and the next might be fuelled by an emotion, such as love, possession or anger, for example.
  9. Relax: For some writers, sex scenes are the easiest to write, whereas others really struggle. The more relaxed you are, the better your sex scenes will be. Write these scenes when you’re chilled out, know you won’t be interrupted, can relax that someone won’t be sneaking a peek over your shoulder and can even have a glass of wine or two.
  10. Just go for it: I know how it feels to think people are reading your sex scenes and most likely making all sorts of judgements about you. I use to care about this. Now I don’t. So what if people think you actually do that stuff you write about. Who cares? Let ’em think it. My usual response is ‘I wish my life was that crazy!’ Like I always say, no-one thinks Martina Cole goes around torturing people or JK Rowling can actually perform magic. It’s fiction. Get over it and write it all down. Writing sex scenes is brilliant fun – so what you waiting for?