My writing journey has so far spanned almost a decade. In that time I’ve learned a lot, and things might have run a lot smoother if I’d have known then what I know now. In this section I share with you – fellow writers – writers hints, tips and advice to hopefully help you along the way.
Fiction after coronavirus
Self-isolating or being on lockdown is probably less of an issue for writers than many other people. Let’s face it, a lot of us voluntarily isolate anyway!
However, the issue raises questions in another way. I’m just coming to the final stages of my work-in-progress and, due to the current circumstances, will need to change all the dates since the time spans from June 2020 and June 2021 – with obviously no mention of Coronavirus, as when I began it, ‘Corona’ was nothing more innocuous than a lager.
Oh dear. This week I’ve been thinking – do I move the time in the story on a year, not knowing of course if Coronavirus might come back and therefore be a major world issue still, or move it further back, thereby potentially running the risk of making it less relevant. Hmm, questions, questions…
No doubt I’m not the only writer with this or a similar dilemma. In my next book, which I’m planning to start in summer, do I mention Coronavirus as it either still will be or will have been such a huge part of life, or do I avoid the subject all together?
That’s it – answered my own question. Who wants to either write or read even more about something we’re surrounded by day-in, day-out? Not me! No siree. No thanks very much. All that isolation, death, illness and job losses – hideous. If I remind myself why I read and why a lot of other people read – it’s to get away from all of that – escape, relax and enjoy, even if it’s just for the length of time we’re immersed in those beautiful pages.
So, no, I think I’ll keep Coronavirus out of it. And then we can elect to stay home for a nice reason – to read a book that makes us happy.
Thinking of writing a romance?
Publishers will often say there is no format when it comes to writing in this genre, which is often criticised for being formulaic. Is that the truth? Well, it depends what is meant by ‘format’. Certainly your book should not be a carbon copy of another, albeit it with the names and maybe location changed. There are however certain elements that are ESSENTIAL for a romance novel.
Publishers do state they want to see fresh voices and new ideas on traditional tropes, however, this does not mean they want something so unrecognisable from anything else ever published that it could barely be considered romance.
It’s important to remember that readers of this genre are loyal and big lovers of romance, and therefore they tend to know what they want. No, of course they don’t want to read the same rehashed story over and over, but they do expect certain things that romance writers should stay true to if they hope for success.
So, what are these ‘things’?
1. A happy ever after or at least happy for now (HEA/HFN)
A romance novel cannot end with death, destruction or sadness. Unlike the books of years gone by, a modern book can conclude with a happy for now, e.g. the start of a wonderful relationship as opposed to a marriage proposal.
Don’t be tempted to get cocky by changing these rules and thinking your writing is going to change the face of romance forever. It won’t. What’s that you’re saying? Nicholas Sparks does all right by bending the rules? Yes. Yes, he does, doesn’t it? What can I say – there’s always an exception. Chances are, however, if you’re just starting out, it won’t be you, so best go with the HEA/HFN.
2. The black moment
This is the moment in the book when, just as everything is looking rosy with the couple, the proverbial sh*t hits the proverbial fan. Perhaps an ex comes back on the scene, a secret is revealed, or the hero/heroine makes an unwelcome discovery about the other. Whatever it is, at this point their relationships looks doomed. The reader realises there are only a few pages left – precious little time for them to get back together – and is concerned it can never happen. Plus, if you’ve built your characters up so the reader really, really cares about them, this will be felt even more powerfully.
Be under no illusion: no conflict = no story. Well no good story anyone wants to read, anyway. Have you ever read any decent romance where the characters meet, sail through the getting-to-know-you process, and live happily ever after? No, you haven’t, because that stuff doesn’t get published.
Conflict is at the core of every romance. It’s the reason your characters can’t / won’t get together immediately. In fact, the conflict should be so strong that the reader is hard-pressed to see how these two could ever make it.
So, what kind of conflict are we talking about? Clearly it’s not that she wants to paint the walls white but he prefers green. This is deep-rooted, internal conflict. By internal, I mean it’s nothing someone else is imposing on them, and nor is it some silly misunderstanding. Some examples are:
- The characters are from feuding families
- They’re fighting for opposing sides (political, environmental, capitalist v liberal, etc)
- They share a turbulent past
- His job conflicts with her moral beliefs (or vice versa)
There are many manifestations of these and other conflicts, which is why no two romances may ever be the same.
4. They learn from one another
Just like in a real-life relationship, two people in a fictional work need to get something out of the relationship and from each other. That ‘something’ is often a new way of thinking that makes them stronger in some way. Examples could be:
- An up-tight character becomes more relaxed thanks to the other person
- A commitment-phobe learns to love
- A workaholic realises the importance of family time
- A fat cat discovers the needs of a community
There are many others, so the world’s your oyster, but the important thing here is make sure that BOTH parties learn something from the other, and not make it all one-sided.
5. The couple finally reunites and finds a resolution
This goes back to point 1 – the HEA/HFN, but before the author realises all is good with the couple, it needs to be made clear how this has been achieved. Some examples are below:
- An action triggers one of the characters to have a change of heart / see the world for what it really is – e.g. the boss they serve makes an unreasonable demand forcing the character to re-evaluate their values.
- Self-reflection and perhaps some harsh but true words result in a shift in a character’s mentality.
- One character discovers the other’s true feelings, even if they’re not said in a plain way, e.g. sees a painting they’ve created / hears a song they’ve written.
- One character realises their eyes have been opened by the other, e.g. the fat cat who’s always been driven by profit sees the true sense of community in the village they’re trying to knock down.
Whether you call this a formula or not, hopefully you can see that such a wide spectrum of options means every romance can still be beautifully unique while being true to the must-have elements in the genre.
I’ve just created my second book trailer, this time for my erotic novella, Ice Hot, and I thought it might be helpful to share some insights into how I did this in case you are looking to do the same. I created this at absolutely zero cost, so whereas it could no doubt have been more sophisticated with some budget behind it, I wanted to see if it was possible to do it all for free, and found that indeed it is.
I’ve seen other authors creating book trailers and thought I’d give it a go. Some are brilliant, others not as much; some are just a few seconds, others go on well over a minute. I kept this one for Ice Hot to under a minute as I think any more than that and interest starts to wane.
I wanted the trailer to give a flavour of what the story was about and use the tone of the music, video and graphics to give a clue as to the mood of the story. I’m not suggesting this is the best trailer in the world, ever, but I’m proud of it for a second attempt, and pleased I’ve found some good, free resources for pics and video.
I have to confess, I was a bit green here having never created a video before. I researched ‘free video editing platforms’ and find a few including Animoto, Canva and Adobe Spark – the one I finally used.
I started on Animoto but if you use the free version the watermark is really obvious on every slide and I didn’t want this. Canva seemed more suited to graphic design rather than moving imagery, although an expert may have a different opinion. I’ve heard great things about Canva but I have no experience in it and it didn’t seem to me to be the easiest option. In the end I went for Adobe Spark as it was free and very easy to use.
It’s worth mentioning that for a fee you can upgrade your account and get rid of the watermark all together. A paid-for account almost certainly will do more whizzy things, but I found that the free version was perfectly suitable for what I needed.
Photos and Imagery
You have to be extremely careful when using photos and videos in your trailer as you’re not allowed to simply find this content online and use it. You can get in big trouble for this and end up with a fine. You’re free to use any photos and videos that belong to you, i.e. that you have taken and that you have the explicit permission of anyone in them to use.
I didn’t have anything of this type that was suitable, so I used photos and videos from a number of different websites which offer royalty-free content. These included:
Even on these sites, some of the images/video require a credit. The website makes it clear which videos/images need to be credit and even tells you how to do this. You can see on the final page of my Ice Hot trailer that I’ve included the credits here.
On Adobe Spark you can choose from a library of royalty-free tracks, all categorised by mood, which made the selection extremely easy. Most videos will be viewed through social media and therefore the sound will often be switched off, so it’s important to keep this in mind – your trailer has to be just as effective without music. Having said that, I wrote in the post that it’s best viewed with the sound on as I felt the music really added to the feel of the video.
My final video can be viewed here: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=2573097506108528
Ever seen an article in a local (or even national) magazine, newspaper or online about an author you’ve never before heard of who has a new book out, or tuned into the radio and heard an interview with the same? Ever wondered how they managed it? Here’s how…
Unless you happened to know someone very well who works in the media and can pull a few strings, you will have to contact the media to let them know details about you and your book. The normal way of doing this is to put together a short press release – no more than two pages – which includes a bit about you and your book, and why this is of interest to the journalist you’re writing to.
If you’re with a big publisher, they will undertake some marketing for you, but if you self-publish or are with a smaller publisher, all the marketing will be up to you. The more marketing you do, the more books you will sell.
Normally the ‘hook’, i.e. the bit that gets the media interested, is that you’re local. Alternatively, it could be that the location where your story is set, is the area where the radio station, newspaper, etc. is based. Either way, make the local connection abundantly clear in the press release and your cover letter.
Generally, all correspondence with media these days is done over email, so you will need to find their email address and make sure you’re addressing your mail to the correct person. You can do this by researching online – most of this information is freely available if you search for it – but this can take time.
You can try to call the news desk, or forward planning for radio, but journalists answer their phones very infrequently, if at all. However, you may have more luck with a phone approach with radio, so it’s definitely worth a go.
If relevant, you could tie your press release in with a particular awareness day, e.g. if your main character is living with breast cancer, you may want to try approaching the media on the run-up to October – breast cancer awareness month. Be aware though – national and glossy regional magazines can have up to a 4 month lead time! Radio works day-by-day and weekly newspapers work two weeks in advance. Online is pretty instant.
Visual media (magazines, online, newspapers) will most likely request an image if they decide to use your story. This could be an image of you and/or your book. Make sure you have both available in high resolution (min. 300dpi). If your image is not high res, printed media will not use it as it will come out pixelated. For online, the resolution can be lower.
Radio stations are a good shout if you’re trying to raise awareness through media. I suggest trying your local BBC station. Commercial radio stations (such as Heart) are extremely unlikely to touch your story as they survive on advertising revenue – something you won’t be offering unless you have several thousands of pounds to part with.
If the BBC station is interested in your story, they may invite you to be interviewed. Snatch this opportunity with both hands as they don’t come along very often! They will not ask you to pay for this and you will not be paid. Chances are, they’ll want you in the studio, as this will give them a better quality of sound. The interview may well be live, so it can be scary, but it’s well worth doing for the publicity opportunity it affords you.
Like anything else, media is a long game. Don’t expect to get one press cutting or do one radio interview and to be propelled into the limelight or sell hundreds of copies of your book. This is extremely unlikely to happen. However, appearing in the media is excellent for your profile as an author and is good experience for when you do reach that best-seller status!
Good luck with generating that all-important media attention. Go get ’em, tiger!
I’d never considered the concept of ‘active reading’ until I received my latest copy of Writing Magazine (I recommend subscribing if you’re a writer, btw). On the letters to the editor page is a letter from a lady who, as an aspiring writer, knows that reading is a great way to learn how to write (Absolutely!). What she questions is how to read ‘actively’. That is, how to read in a way that you notice whether the book is written in first or third person, what tense it’s in, and so on.
Of course, if you’re not trying to be a writer, the best way to read is probably, well, just to read, without being consciously aware of tenses, point of view, etc. However, if you are looking for trends, tendencies in genre, and the like, then active reading is definitely worth a go.
- Enjoy. First and foremost, reading should be for enjoyment. So, rather than becoming obsessed with technicalities, read the book with your active reader button switched off. If you liked the book, switch the button on and read it a second time (you can skim this time) and try to answer the following questions…
- Tense. Is it present tense?
e.g. I slap his face so hard my hand stings, then turn and run away.
Or past tense?
e.g. I slapped his face so hard it made my hand sting, then turned and ran away.
What affect on the story does the tense have? How does it make you, as a reader, feel? Why do you think the author chose to work in that tense? In what way would the story be different if the author had chosen the other tense?
- Person. Is the book written in the first (I), second (you – this is very rare, especially in full-length novels) or third (she) person?
How does the person choice affect the reader’s relationship with the characters? Would the story feel different if it were written in a different person?
- Dialogue. Approximately what percentage of the book is written in dialogue (where the characters are speaking)?
Dialogue increases pace. Would you have appreciate more or less dialogue? Which parts of the book did you enjoy most – the sections with dialogue in, or the sections with narrative (story-telling) in? Take a look at the sections mainly made up of narrative. Why do you think the author chose to use narrative in these sections? Could they have used dialogue instead and, if so, how would this have impacted the story?
- Dialogue tags. Dialogue tags are the bits that come after the closing speech mark.
E.g. “I love you,” he said
“You love me?”
“Yes, that’s what I said,” he muttered into his collar.
“Is that all you have to say on the matter?”
“What did you want me to say?”
He shook his head and sighed. “Never mind. Don’t worry about it.”
You may notice in the passage above the lack of tags as well as the inclusion of them. When reading your book actively, ask yourself why the author might have chosen to use tags when she/he did, and why they might have chosen to leave them out.
Would more tags have helped – are there any parts of dialogue where it is unclear which character is speaking? Or, do the tags sometimes get in the way; is there too much ‘he said / she said’?
- Description. By this I mean descriptions of people and places. Highlight the areas where the description is most intense. In your opinion, do these add to the story in a positive way, or is reading these bits more of a struggle?
Why do you think the author chose to spend longer describing these people/places? If they hadn’t, would the lack of description have impacted the story for the better or the worse?
- Character idiosyncrasies. Choose a character in the book (not the main one) and flick through for where that character features. Read those sections carefully. Do you notice any speech patterns or gestures common to that character, which the author chooses to repeat?
E.g. Perhaps a character calls everyone ‘duck’ or has a hair-flicking habit. Whatever it is, why do you think the reader has chosen those traits and reminds the reader of them? Does it help you understand or get to know that character better, or do you find it annoying?
There are many other elements of writing you can actively read for and ask yourself what motivated the author to make their choices, and how they impact you as a reader. Things to look out for include:
- Humour – does the author use it?
- The use of adjectives, or – more importantly – lack of them (remember show don’t tell). E.g. He strode purposefully, she laughed gleefully.
- Senses. How often does the author mention smells and sounds?
- Which are your favourite passages and why?
Finally, when you’ve repeated this exercise with several books, see if you can see commonalities within and across genres. Do thrillers tend to be in the first person, present tense, whereas romances are in the third person, past tense, for example?
Once you’ve tried actively reading several books and answering the questions above, plus any others you may wish to pose yourself, you should feel more confident in giving your own writing a try.
Remember – just because someone else uses a particular style, that doesn’t mean you have to, but ase a practised active reader, you will be all the more aware of how your choices affect your readers’ relationships with your story and your characters.
Trying to find time to write anything that could be considered remotely good quality is extremely difficult when you’re trying to balance everyday life. Work, the dreaded ‘life admin’, juggling a family and chores make up a full-time job. How is it possible to do all this and write?
I’ve read interviews with writers before where they’ve said things like ‘even if you only have five minutes, you can still write a few paragraphs’. Hmm. I’m cynical of this. It takes five minutes for me to warm up my computer and remind myself what happened in the story the last time I wrote. Advice such as ‘when you’re waiting in your car to pick-up your kids, whip out your notebook…’ leaves me cold. Great if it works for you, but it sure doesn’t work for me.
Plus, you need time to get into ‘the zone’ – or ‘flow’, whatever you like to call this. Getting into the flow is amazing. It’s when you experience the ‘magic’; words fly onto your screen, ideas shoot into your head like never before and time zooms past, to the point that when you finally stop for a break, hours have past and you haven’t even realised. You can’t get this during five minutes on the school run.
Bliss for me is the extremely rare occasion when I have a full day to myself to write and, critically, I get away from my house. Even if it’s just escaping down to the local cafe, I find I get so much more done when I have a change of scenery.
Although going down to the local cafe for a coffee and a teacake someone else has made, is luxurious enough, what’s even better, if you can manage the time and the cost, is to go away for a weekend or a week and spend a substantial amount of that time on your latest project.
I’ve been on day, weekend and week creative writing courses in the UK and Tuscany (okay, Tuscany once many years ago) and find that pretty scenery, a tranquil environment and new people who share your passion, are highly inspirational for writing.
When you have a family and are limited to annual leave from work, then retreats are a rarity, but even a family holiday can offer the space you need to work on your writing – just the increased head space alone is so valuable. When you’re at home, doing your jobs and looking after the family and home, there is very little time to ponder about your plot and your characters, but being away offers a completely different approach.
If you’re struggling to find time and/or inspiration to write, then think about a week or weekend away if finances and time allow. If not, a couple of hours in your local coffee shop could work wonders!
If you’re self-published, or your book is published with a small, independent publisher, you’ll need to market your book yourself. The realistic result of doing no marketing is that your book highly unlikely to sell.
I’ve both self-published and been published independently, and work in marketing, so have compiled these tips designed to help you sell more of your books with effective – and affordable – marketing you can do yourself.
These days, small publishers will want to see that you have an active profile online before they’ll consider publishing you. Smaller publishers do not have the budgets of the bigger boys, and therefore rely on the authors to promote their own works and make sales.
Many authors have unfortunately failed to sell their books, or have given up writing all together, because they hate self-promotion. It’s not my favourite thing in the world either, although I entirely understand the need for it. Promoting someone else is always easier than promoting yourself, so if you have a spare few grand, you could always hire a marketing company to work on your behalf. Let’s face it though, that’s unlikely, so for the rest of us, here goes:
- Social media – “Eurgh!” I hear your cry. Love it or hate it, social media can mean the difference between fail or succeed when it comes to marketing your books. Rather than doing it all, I’d advise choosing two platforms you’re most comfortable and familiar with. It’s essential to update your followers regularly – absolutely at least once a week but daily if you can manage it – otherwise they might think you’ve disappeared off the face of the earth.
Rather than sticking with boring posts all the time, mix it up with video (your smartphone will take a really high quality video) and photos. You don’t have to tell everyone what you had for breakfast; but it is about showcasing, not just your work, but your personality too. Be careful not to hard sell – it’s called ‘social’ media, after all. Talk about your books of course, but also talk about where you’ve been to get inspiration. Taken a walk on a crisp autumn morning? Show a few pics from your walk, for example. Going on a writing course – make a post about that. Think creatively and watch your audience grow.
- Talk to your local media. Here I’m referring to you local newspaper, radio station, TV station if you have one, and local bloggers / websites.
This might put the fear of God in you, but ask yourself – what have you got to lose? If you get nothing from it, at least you’ve tried.
Journalists will likely ask for a press release. This is an article about you and your book – not longer than 1-2 sides text, along with a picture (vital!). Remember to put your contact details on the bottom of it in case they want further information or would like to interview you.
In your press release include a ‘hook’ – what is it about your story that’s different and interesting? First, you’re a local author, which on a basic level should be of interest. But on a deeper level, is your book somehow relevant to the local area? Was it inspired by a local personality? Put your thinking cap on and I’m sure you’ll think of something.
I could write a whole article on how to write a press release, as I’ve written thousands of them in my day job, but the most important things are to write in the third person and avoid any hyperbole. Your book might be the best thing since sliced bread, but clearly you would think that. Offer it out for review and let them make up your own minds.
- Start a website or blog. If a potential reader is interested in your book, the first place they’ll usually go to find out more or to make a purchase, is your website. A website needn’t be expensive. If you don’t want to pay a professional, then you could try to find a student from the local college who’ll do it for a lower amount, or you could even do it yourself with one of the many template options available online.
Instead of a website (or as well as) you could consider a blog – like this one! A website can get away with being more static, but if you opt for a blog you will have to keep it regularly updated (at least once a month) with new content. This can be more time consuming, but it should help you build an audience. Remember, every time you create a new blog article, you can link to it from your social media sites to help drive traffic.
That’s just a trio of marketing ideas to get you started. There are many more where they came from. Keep posted for future articles, such as:
- How to write a press release about your book
- Which social media site is best to promote my book?
- Hosting a book launch event
I was on a writers’ facebook page yesterday and was surprised to see several posts from different writers, all saying they’d finally worked up the courage to send an entry into a competition. I was surprised, not because they’d entered, but because they’d all had an attack of self doubt before thankfully overcoming it and pressing ‘send’.
Great that these people got over their fears and did it anyway, but imagine how many people didn’t. Then it struck me that there must be hundreds, if not thousands, of really great writers out there whose work will never win a competition, be published, or even be read, because a lack of confidence is holding them back.
And I’m sure it’s not just writers. There are people with all sorts of talents who’ll never be discovered because of crippling fear. What is this a fear of? I’ve felt uncertainty myself in connection with my writing, and in my case it’s always a fear of being judged, mainly by people I know, who might think my books are too erotic, not literary enough, and even based on them!
And I was right – to some degree all three of those fears have come true.
But what I’ve discovered is it really doesn’t matter. What I’ve got out of writing far outweighs anything I’ve been scared of. In fact, most feedback about my books has been complimentary and positive.
It isn’t all positive, however. I’ve had criticisms about my books that I hadn’t been expecting, and surprised myself to find I wasn’t at all offended – genuinely.
You see, you can’t please everyone, and you never will. Trying to please everyone is a fruitless pursuit that will never work, and therefore is a waste of time and energy. Instead, write something you enjoy writing – that you’d like to read, and you’ll find you won’t be the only one who gets pleasure out of it.
This is a picture of me in November last year, proud as punch at having my first short story published in a mainstream magazine. My colleague kindly took the photo. I didn’t ask her to. Actually, I cringed a bit inside when she suggested it, but bit back my fear and thought ‘just get on with it and be brave’. I thought if I put it on social media it would look showy-offy. It was actually one of my most popular posts.
People are generally kind and like to celebrate the success of others. There’s nothing wrong with being proud of an achievement – especially one you have worked hard for. Everyone can relate to this, and far from it having an eye-roll effect, it tends to lift the mood.
Submitting a piece of writing is like giving up a part of your soul. It’s going out there for the world to see. This is big. No wonder we get scared. That’s normal.
Here are some common fears. Ring a bell with you?
- You imagine the agent at Simon & Schuster / Mills&Boon / DHH / etc, etc is having a good old laugh at my submission. In fact, it’s so crap and hilarious, they read it out over the tannoy so the whole office block can enjoy a moment of laughter therapy.
- You want to enter a competition, but what if a bitter employee of the firm leaks out the worst entries and publishes them online under the title of ‘And they thought they could write…?’
- By some miracle, your work might get published (perhaps the intern was choosing that day). You’re happy as Larry until the following year when your child comes home with an English lit textbook containing samples of ‘how not to write’. You’re horrified to discover your work is a case study!
- Your book is published, all your friends, family and work colleagues read it. Due to the explicit sex scenes / dark humour / gory descriptions your mother-in-law won’t speak to you, your friends think you’re going through a psychotic episode and you get sacked because your boss thinks you’re a deranged pervert.
I’ve had all these thoughts at some point, but have managed to overcome them with a ‘Oh, sod it!’ and pressed send before thinking about it too hard. I highly recommend this as a way of overcoming fear.
So what if your work makes an agent spit out their coffee – at least they’ll remember you for next time. So what if your teenager reads it one day and thinks you’re a complete lunatic – they’re teenagers, they’ll think that whether you write a book or not. So what if your colleagues think you’re more sex obsessed than Michael Douglas on Viagra – better that than being known as the one who steals the toilet rolls.
None of it matters. What matters is you, your writing and the fact that if you don’t get it out there, the world won’t know how great it is. And that’s doing the world an injustice.
Feel the fear and do it anyway.
Writing is a mug’s game. There. I’ve said it. At the risk of being labelled a pessimist, destroyer of all joy, fatalistic moron, or whatever else, I’m afraid I have to be truthful. If you’re a writer trying to get published, or just about to embark on your writing journey, I’m afraid the likelihood is you’ve either already collected enough rejections to decorate a bungalow, or are about to start your collection.
If I had a pound for everyone who said, “Well, J.K Rowling did it, and she had hundreds of rejections before…blah, blah, blah. BLAAAHHHHHH,” then I wouldn’t need to write a best-seller – I’d already be minted. J.K Rowling won the equivalent of the publishing lottery. There are some winners, yes. In fact, every week there’s usually one, but for every winner there are thousands upon thousands of losers. Unlike nipping down the newsagents to buy a lotto ticket, however, writing a book requires time – sometimes years of it – passion, and a huge investment in commitment, energy and hope.
Another thing people say when they’re being kind is: ‘as long as you enjoy writing, it doesn’t matter you get rejected, does it?’
Yes it does. It matters. It matters because when you write a book you pour your heart into it. Of course, the writing process is enjoyable (otherwise, why do it?), but it also takes a lot of time and means making a lot of sacrifices – especially if you have a family to think of. After all that, receiving a rejection is like a kick in the gut. Ten rejections is like getting a thorough beating from the biggest kid in school, and trying to pick yourself up to go back to lessons with a smile on your face.
When you get rejection letter one, you might be fairly philosophical about it – ‘ah well, didn’t expect to get picked up straight away, anyway.’ After rejection letter 10, you might start questioning your writing abilities. Imagine this many – and more rejections – for each novel you write. Then things start getting tougher.
In the last two years I’ve had three acceptances of novels, four of novellas and one for a short story. But in this same time and for five years before this, please understand, I’ve had tens of rejections. After a recent bout of rejections I was finding it particularly difficult to get started again with my next project.
I asked myself:
What’s the point if I’m so crap that no-one wants to publish me?
I’ve spent seven years of my life writing, and for what? – I could have spent the time doing a PhD and had something to show for it!
Just as I was really starting to question whether I was wasting my life doing something fruitless, an acceptance popped into my inbox. I’d almost forgotten even making the submission, and there it was – a real acceptance from a real publisher offering to pay me real money for a story I’d written that they really liked. Well, bloody hell.
This came at just the right time and spurred me on to re-work a manuscript I’d previously had rejected and submit it again.
This is the reality – agents and publishers receive thousands of submissions every year. They’re often reluctant to say how many, but on one agents website I was reading last week, it said the figure was in the region of 2,000 a year. The same agent said they took on around two new authors a year. The stakes ain’t high, folks.
Now, you’d be forgiven for thinking this article is designed to put you off writing. Far from it – it’s a reality check to manage expectations, but also me sharing my experiences to hopefully help you realise that if your work gets rejected over and over, you are very definitely not alone.
Rejections do not mean:
- Your writing is crap.
- You will never get published.
- Your life is a big, jokey waste of time and you are deluded if you think your book will ever see the light of day.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to launch into some dross about how rejections make us more resilient and are part of the journey to success. Both those things are true, but they sound naff. What I will say however is that there is one way of guaranteeing you’ll never get published, and that’s if you stop writing.
A couple of years ago, before I got my first publishing deal, I just wanted someone to tell me whether I was wasting my time and should give up. Did my writing show any promise, whatsoever? I realise now that’s the wrong question. You know if you can write, right? You know if you have the desire and the gift to put sentences together and tell a ruddy good yarn. You know that.
Getting that publishing deal is a heady combination of luck, timing and you stopping feeling sorry for yourself after your squillienth rejection for long enough to get off your butt and write something amazing.
Every time you write a story, send a submission and get a rejection is one step closer to you getting that deal. If you can write, and you keep writing and submitting, you WILL get there. I read an interview with a very successful author recently who said that every book on a shelf represents years of hard work and dedication from someone who never gave up.
Who knows – you might be one of the very few who gets there first time, but if you’re not, take heart that you’re in excellent company. Many fabulous writers don’t get there first time, second, third, or even tenth, but they DO get there. And so will you.
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.
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:
- 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.
- If you stick with the first person, you can’t fall into the trap of head-hopping!
- Choosing the third person, however, means you can tell the story from more than one person’s point of view, which could be advantageous.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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!
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:
- 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’.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
To celebrate the release of my new erotic short story, Secrets of the East Wing, I thought I’d share some tips that I’ve learned along the way of writing erotic fiction. Here are my top five.
- Don’t leave it too long before the first erotic scene takes place. Readers of this genre are looking for the action scenes, so give them the first one as soon as possible, ideally within the first few pages. If you leave it too long before your characters leap into bed (or wherever they choose to do it), then you risk losing your audience.
- Start as you mean to go on. It’s unlikely (although not impossible) to open your story with a sex scene, but you can pave the way for what’s to come with your choice of language. For example, if your female character is getting ready to go out, you might talk about how her hand skims her breasts as she’s dressing. This gives the reader a flavour of what’s coming up – so to speak.
- Don’t forget the plot! Although you’re writing erotic fiction, it’s important to remember it’s still a story and needs all the ingredients of any other, i.e. conflict, resolution, and the black moment, not to mention dialogue and emotion. Even the most enthusiastic reader of erotica will start getting bored with the sex scenes if there’s no story to back it up.
- Pace yourself – and your characters. Leading on from the previous point, your story needs to be a healthy balance of erotic scenes and plot/story line. If you have too much of one and not enough of the other, it could annoy your reader. Although erotic literature has its name for a reason, too much action between the sheets will have your reader glossing over the scenes in search of your story.
- Don’t hold back – go for it! The question I’m asked most often is “Where do you get your inspiration?” It’s always said with a cheeky smile and a wink, as if they suspect I spend my days living out the scenes in my books. For the record, I don’t. Having the time and energy would be a fine thing!Funny, because no-one asks crime writers if they’ve committed murder. Like any fiction writer – it’s mainly about imagination. If you write erotic literature, you’re laying your imagination bare for the world to see in all its glory. No-one will ever look at you the same again, and if you have teenage children, you being a writer of the genre going to embarrass them no end.If this is an issue, consider a pseudonym. I tried one, but kept forgetting my adopted name! Then thought, to hell with it – go for it – who cares!
Secrets of the East Wing, published by The Wild Rose Press, is now available for pre-order https://www.amazon.co.uk/Secrets-East-Wing-Gina-Hollands-ebook/dp/B07HRY5LLV/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8
I was very excited yesterday when I was flicking through Prima magazine, only to find a story I’d written in it. I’d obviously remembered my first attempt at a magazine story had been accepted for their November issue, but hadn’t realised that was the issue I was reading!
The loveliest part of it was seeing the illustration – my story brought to life. Just like when you first receive your new book’s cover art, you realise someone has taken the time to become familiar with your characters, and create a visual representation of them.
So, here, for this blog, I thought I’d share what I know about which UK magazines accept fictional stories. Fewer do now than ever before, but there are still some out there.
Prima – publishes one 800 word story per month in their ‘reader’s fiction’ feature. Payment is £100 per story. Of course, it’s unlikely that once you’ve had one published, you’ll get another any time in the near future. Audience I would say is women 35+.
My Weekly – A slightly older audience, I would say females 45+, My Weekly is full of fiction. However, you can only submit if you have published a My Weekly Pocket Novel. Pocket Novels are 50k words and are generally sweet romances, either modern or historical.
They accept unsolicited submissions for the Pocket Novel and pay a one-off £300. This doesn’t sound a lot for that amount of words, but is worth considering if you have a suitable manuscript for which you’re seeking a reputable home. Regular contributors to Pocket Novels tell me that you can earn a fair amount from ALCS payments www.alcs.co.uk.
Woman’s Weekly – Long considered the Holy Grail of short story authors, Woman’s Weekly has attracted a lot of negative publicity recently regarding the issue of authors’ rights. It may therefore be wise to think carefully before you submit. https://www.societyofauthors.org/News/Blogs/SoA-Blog/August-2018-(1)/On-Womans-Weekly
The People’s Friend – I have heard positive things about the way this magazine treats their authors. This much-loved magazine has a much older audience (I’d say men and women 50+), and is well-known for its fiction. They accept unsolicited submissions. Content is sweet and uncontroversial.
If you decide to submit – the very best of luck!
Having met a lot of writers, I know that many people find it difficult motivating themselves to sit down and put words on a page. If you’re finding it hard to get going with that book, here are 5 good reasons to crack on:
- What else are you going to do? Watch TV? Yes, you could watch another fly-on-the-wall documentary about some under-funded A&E department, keep up with the Kardashians (as if anyone could actually do that), depress yourself by watching the news, or depress yourself further by wasting your life viewing non-celebrities eat bugs in the jungle. OR, you could write a novel and be really proud of yourself. Hmm, tough one…
- Writing is a good avoidance technique. Don’t want to do the supermarket shop, cook dinner, or pay bills? Now you don’t have to. Simply use the excuse ‘I’m working on my art’ and you are instantly exempt. Your lovely, supportive partner will do all that stuff for you, as they don’t want to interrupt your creative flow. Honestly, that’s exactly what will happen
- Fancy going to an exotic or far-flung location, but haven’t quite made it yet? An easy fix is to take your characters there. This means doing lots of research, watching vids and looking at pics of the said location. By the time you’ve finished you’ll either feel like you’ve been without paying a penny, or be so sick of researching, you won’t want to go. Either way, win-win. And if you get that book published, you can book the flight to celebrate!
- Spending an evening writing is a good way to convince yourself you made the right decision not to traipse down the sweaty sports centre for the ‘Ab-Blast’ workout. Ab-Blast is of course a valid option, or you could put your dressing gown on, get your feet on the pouffe and do some writing. Writing is better. It exercises the brain, and the brain is a big muscle. Actually, I don’t think the brain is a muscle, but it must need exercising as much as any other part of the body – probably more come to think of it, so….wise choice.
- Some nights I might actually fancy my chances at keeping up with Kim and Kanye. I might want to push a trolley around Tesco, then come home and cook dinner quickly before I buzz off to bust a gut at Ab-Blast. If for some crazy reason any of that seems like a good idea, I might need to remind myself that if I want to be a writer and get my books published, I will have to get on and make it happen. That thought, I believe, is the best kind of motivation.
I now have two books under contract, awaiting release, which is a marvellous feeling, but for every acceptance there are 10, 20, 30 or more rejections. Unless you’re one of the lucky few (and it does happen) who get accepted with their first or second go, this is a screen many unpublished – and published – writers will be all too familiar with.
In this picture you can see my submissions page for one particular publisher. I have eight rejections, the earliest going back to 2014. And this is only one publisher. I have many more rejections from many other publishers.
The one at the top is my most recent submission. I’m hoping the ‘received’ button doesn’t turn into another ‘rejected’, but odds are it will, ‘cos that’s the world of writing! And if it does, then I’ll try more publishers, and write more manuscripts until I see ‘accepted’.
Some of these rejections came in after my books were contracted – albeit they were accepted by a different publisher. Being a published/contracted author does not give you automatic licence to get accepted for every future manuscript, although wouldn’t that be nice?
Receiving rejections is part of life for the vast number of writers. The secret is to never give up! I truly believe that if you are a good storyteller and you persevere, then you will one day get there. But sometimes keeping going feels like a race you can never win, and it can feel oh-so-tempting to put down your pen and take up a new, more instantly gratifying hobby. Like gardening. Or cooking. Or watching TV while eating a whole trifle.
Don’t give into temptation! Imagine how you’ll feel when your book finally hits the shelves. It might be a year after you started writing, it might be 20 years, but if you keep going and believe in yourself, then eventually someone else will believe in you too, and it WILL happen. You’ve just got to make it.
Nice friends and colleagues may ask you ‘How’s the book coming on?’ and you may talk about it for a time, probably aware that you don’t want to go on about it too much through fear of being known as a ‘writing bore’.
So, when can you talk about your current project, your characters, writer’s block, your new plot line, recent submissions and blah, blah, blah, all the rest of it that is your LIFE without boring everyone to tears?
Answer: find others like you and chat away till your heart’s content.
Whether it be joining a writer’s group, going on a course for novelists, or – like me – becoming a member of the RNA (Romantic Novelists’ Association), being able to talk to people who understand, really helps.
I recently went on an afternoon tea event organised by the RNA. Before the cakes came round and best-selling novelist, Milly Johnson (whom I love!) made her speech, there was time to catch up with old friends, and fellow novelists.
I consider myself very lucky that the group of friends I’ve made at the RNA over the last couple of years are a lovely, self-deprecating, down-to-earth bunch, who share frustrations, offer support, and always make you believe that one day you might just be the one making the speech!
And I did get to meet Milly Johnson, who was absolutely lovely (pic).
Thank God for the novelists’ sisterhood. I always come away feeling happy, relaxed, and ready to tackle whatever obstacles my writing has in store for me. Come on, rejection letters, you can’t hurt me now!
I’ve finally finished the read-throughs of my new manuscript and have sent it off for consideration to a publisher. Normally I’d ask at least two other people to proof read it, as you’ll never pick up all the mistakes and plot flaws on your own. This time, however, I wimped out because I was too embarrassed! It’s an erotic short story, you see, and I didn’t want to offend anyone / make them think I was a total perv by asking them to cast their eyes over it.
Goodness knows how I’ll cope if it ever does see the light of day then. But I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it – that would be a good problem to have!
I’ve only sent it to one publisher at the moment but intend to send it to more. I could be wrong, but I always think it’s wise to hedge your bets in this business! So, I’ve been researching worldwide publishers who accept unagented manuscripts, and I thought I’d share my findings in case anyone else out there is writing erotic short stories and is looking to find a publisher.
Just a word before I start – I don’t have firsthand experience of working with the majority of these publishers, so although I’m very happy to share, I can’t in any way endorse or recommend anyone.
It goes without saying you need to carefully check the submission details as each publisher requires different formats and information. Ignoring or being careless about these is a sure fire way to not get published.
Also, some accept content that others wouldn’t. For example, some publishers aren’t even interested in a male/female scenario, however racy – it would need to include menage or same sex couplings. I’d suggest always reading through their guidelines carefully to avoid wasting your or their time.
Part of the international giant, Harlequin, Carina is actively calling for erotic short stories of 10 – 17k words.
Their ‘Scorched’ line is for both short and full length erotic manuscripts.
Accepting erotic (and sweet) romances of all types, from 10,000 – 100,000 words
The Wild Rose Press
TWRP accepts erotic stories in their ‘Scarlet’ line and will look at manuscripts from 5,000 words long.
Accepts manuscripts with a heat rating of ‘sensual or higher’. Word count between 15,000 and 75,000 words.
Good luck with your submissions!
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t always need an agent to get published. There are now a number of completely reputable, professional publishers who accept manuscripts from unagented authors. Here are some of the ones I have discovered:
Bookouture is a relatively new digital publisher, which has won awards for the way they treat their authors – a very good sign if you’re thinking about submitting to them. They publish a range of genres including romance, crime, thrillers and women’s fiction. They let you know within 2 months whether they’re interested in your manuscript.
Carina is a digital-first publisher, meaning they also publish in print and audio. Genres they look for include historical fiction, erotica, romance, young adult and fantasy amongst others.
You need to submit the whole manuscript, and decisions are made within 3 months.
The Wild Rose Press
These are the lovely people who are publishing my novel! The Wild Rose Press have earned some very high praise from their authors about how they work with them. They accept a number of different genres including romance, women’s fiction, mysteries, thrillers and historical fiction.
A full manuscript plus synopsis is required. Manuscripts over 45,000 are eligible for print publishing.
Mills & Boon
Perhaps surprisingly, one of the world’s biggest romance publishers, Mills & Boon, accept unsolicited manuscripts. You need to submit the first three chapters of your manuscript plus a synopsis and covering letter. Expect to wait around three months for a response (although they do say up to 6). The publisher prints different lines of romance from modern to historical, and sweet (Cherish) to medical.
This digital and print publisher looks for a variety of romantic sub-genres including fantasy, contemporary, thrillers and sci-fi. The full manuscript plus cover letter is required. Expect to wait 60 days for a reply.
I have recently signed with a publisher and am quickly learning about the publishing process. I have to say, I was clueless as to how it all worked before, but am finding the whole thing fascinating as it unravels.
I naively thought you write a book, they decide if they’re going to publish it and if they are, they correct a couple of errors and Bob’s your uncle. Oh no, no, no. That is not how it works at all.
Here’s what’s happened so far:
- After sending the submission off (synopsis plus first few chapters) I waited for a response.
- It took several months for the response to come, although they did send me a courteous holding email saying when they’d let me know by.
- When they came back it was to say they liked my story and characters but I needed to make a few edits before they made a final decision. These changes were mainly to do with point of view and the fact that I’d jumped between heads all rather quickly from one to another! I could see this instantly when they pointed it out but hadn’t noticed when I’d been proof-reading it.
- The editor assigned to me has been very good at giving me timescales as to when the next stage would happen.
- When they’d had chance to review what I’d changed they sent me a contract to read and sign.
- After that I received a form to fill out which asked me to detail what my characters looked like – for the all-important cover! Very exciting stuff.
- On this form I was also asked for a dedication and blurb. I always assumed that was written for you and it was fascinating to see that the author is actually behind it (although I imagine this depends on your publisher).
- I have now (about two months from receiving the publisher’s first positive response) being sent the first round of edits. I haven’t dared open these yet as she’s warned me the red might look intimidating – that’s tomorrow’s job!
- I now need to go through the edits and accept or challenge them.
- The manuscript then goes through a further two rounds of edits.
I have to say, I never knew how much work went into one manuscript, on behalf of the author and the editor. It’s highly interesting and exciting to have this experience and a great insight into the whole publishing process.
I have a feeling I’m only really in the initial stages, so I’ll keep you posted on the latter stages as and when they happen.
I’ve taken a break from writing recently. I felt I wasn’t really getting anywhere and needed to hone my skills by doing something different, rather than ploughing on relentless.
Time will tell whether this detour has helped my writing, but in the meantime I’m enjoying the experience.
Here’s what I’ve been doing:
1. Judging Contests
As a member of the Romance Writers of Australia (even though I’m in the UK – they do an international membership option), I applied to be a volunteer judge. Several times a year the RWA runs contests and needs judges – who don’t have to be published authors – to grade the entries.
I’ve recently completed a batch of judging and, although it was very time- consuming, it was also extremely interesting looking at how other people approach the task of entering a writing competition.
I also inevitably end up comparing my work against that I was reading and could see my own mistakes in the work of others, even though I hadn’t realised before then they had been mistakes!
So altogether, a really useful exercise for improving my writing, I thought.
2. The Choc Lit panel
Publisher of romances, Choc Lit, invite avid readers to join their panel. This involves reading and reviewing as yet unpublished manuscripts. The idea is that they will publish that are most popular with their panel.
In order to be a judge you need to read at least one manuscript per month. This is a big deal when you’re busy with work and family but if you’re a keen reader it’s a great way of getting books for free (you can read on your Kindle or on pdf, but not hard copy unless you’re prepared to print out hundreds of pages). And if you’re an aspiring author it’s a great way of seeing how other people approach their writing.
3. A writing buddy
Also through the RWA, I found a critique partner. You’re matched to your critique partner based on your strengths and your weaknesses.
Whereas my strengths tend to be grammar and hopefully flow of language, I struggle with writing emotion and – as it turns out, am guilty of often putting things in the passive tense!
She, on the other hand, is great at writing emotion – So together in theory we should be an unstoppable team.
So far, it’s working really well (well, I think so anyway!), and her comments are honest, but sensitively phrased and really, really helpful. I hope she feels the same way about me!
Word of warning though – I’d suggest only going in for a writing buddy if you’re prepared to take criticism. It can be hard hearing that all your hard work doesn’t make the other person jump for joy all the time, but if your skin’s thick enough, it should bring out the best in your writing in the long term.
I firmly believe that if you work hard enough to achieve something it will happen – even if it costs you blood, sweat and tears in the process. Despite this belief, from time to time I need an injection of inspiration from people who’ve been there, done it and got the T shirt (or the book deal).
As an aspiring writer, I asked a couple of the successful published authors I admire if they’d be kind enough to share some tips. Thankfully, they said yes! Here’s who they are and what they said.
Rachael is the author of seven Mills & Boon Modern romances, securing her first book deal in 2013 having been shortlisted in a competition run by the publisher. Her titles include A Deal Before the Altar, Craving Her Enemy’s Touch and From One Night To Wife.
Rachael’s tips for aspiring writers:
- Believe in yourself and take your writing seriously.
- Write regularly. That doesn’t have to be every day, it could be once a week, do whatever suits your lifestyle and stick to it.
- Enjoy what you write. If you don’t, a reader is never going to.
- Never give up. You just don’t know what is around the next corner.
Following many years working as a university lecturer, Eileen has forged a successful career in writing mystery crime novels. She is the author of four works of fiction – Blackmail for Beginners, Miss McGuire is Missing, Sins of the Past and We’ll be Watching You.
Eileen’s tips for wannabe writers:
- Ensure your book is finished and polished to the best of your ability before sending it to an agent or publisher.
- Your first page is all important; to make it stand out above the hundreds of submissions that editor and agent receive every week, I would suggest you make the first sentence / page either intriguing, humorous or outrageous.This is known as the hook. Of course it must fit with your story. You only have about 90 seconds to catch the editor’s eye and make them want to read on.Imagine this – you are in a bookshop and want to buy a book. What would be the first thing you would do? Having found a book you liked the look of you would look at the blurb then read the first page.Don’t make the mistake of telling the editor they will love the book once they get into it – they need to love it from the first page.http://www.eileenrobertson.co.uk/ A big thank you to Rachael and Eileen for sharing their wisdom, and I hope you can draw inspiration from these wise words whenever you might need a bit of a boost!
Generally on this blog I steer clear of giving tips, mainly because, since I’m still to realise my ambition of becoming a professional writer, I don’t consider myself qualified for offering advice quite yet.
However, as I’ve spent the last five years or so proof reading as part of my day job, this is one area I do feel confident enough in to offer some tips.
I’ve avoided this article before just in case I make a mistake myself – that would be ironic, wouldn’t it? And as no-one proof reads my blog before it’s published, that’s a risk I’m taking! If you do find an error, consider it a test of your proof reading skills, and congratulate yourself if you find one.
So, here are my top five tips when proof reading your written work:
- Read from the bottom up If the article is short (fewer than two sides) then read from the final paragraph up. Our brains get used to reading the same passages over and over, which is why you can read something several times and not spot a mistake. Reading in a different order steps your brain up a level and allows you to see those errors.
- Phone a friend Ask someone else to read it for you. We become ‘word blind’ to our own work, so asking someone who has good English skills to cast their eyes over it can make all the difference.
- Trust in the technology (almost!) Spell Check can be your friend, but use with caution. Spell Check is often a royal pain in the booty, especially if it doesn’t seem to want to switch over from American/British English. It also makes its own mistakes so should never be relied upon 100%. However, rather than disregard it completely, I suggest using it as a final tool to give your document a once over.It’s a bit like a sat nav; if you rely on it completely and allow your brain to take a holiday, you’ll likely end up driving through a river at some point or another. But if you apply your knowledge and use the technology as a back up, then you’re more likely to reach your destination the best way possible.
- Read aloud Reading aloud not only forces you to read slower, and therefore take in more information, it also allows you to hear what your words actually sound like, enabling you to pick out any potential problems.
- If in doubt – look it up Sounds obvious, but it’s so tempting to avoid using a particular word if you’re not sure about it. Rather than doing this, perform a quick Google search and find the answer. You’ll learn loads of new words and grammar rules this way, and will become a more proficient writer – and proof reader – in the process.
When I’m on a writing course I enjoy being surrounded by people with whom I have something major in common – the love of writing and the passion for penning something that may one day be published. This coupled with the support they offer in believing in each other’s abilities offers a much-needed confidence booster!
However, I still feel like the odd one out when it comes to my age and life situation. Many writers don’t seem to take up the hobby until retirement – quite understandable given that this is the first time in most people’s lives that they have the bandwidth to write.
When I mention that one of my main difficulties is finding the time, suggestions include “what about when your child is at school?” or “how about weekends?”.
Ho, ho, ho – if only. The simple truth is that when my child is at school I’m at work, and on weekends my husband is at work which means entertaining a child. And anyone with a little one knows that this is no easy feat.
So rather than come up with excuses for why I don’t have time to write I’ve decided it’s much more productive to find ways to create the time. Here I’ve produced my top tips for time-poor writers with young children. I hope it’s useful!
- Soft Play. Oh, what a wonderful, ingenious invention.
The upsides of soft play are hours of uninterrupted, guilt-free writing time: while your child socialises, has fun and is active.The downside is that there may be a fair amount of chav-dodging to do, especially on rainy days.Top tip: If writer’s block should strike I like to play a private game of ‘hunt the hunk’ ie finding a half decent, hero-inspiring bloke in the crowd. This can often be very challenging in such establishments; like a MENSA version of Where’s Wally, but I promise you that there’s always one – trust me on this and have a go.You will need a good imagination to think what they’d look like if they weren’t wearing joggers but this helps get the creative juices flowing.
- Movie Afternoons. Key to success: setting the scene
A movie afternoon doesn’t just mean whacking on a film and job done, oh no no no, it means closing the curtains, getting out the duvet and buying in the cinema style popcorn and drinks.I generally find I can sit on the sofa (so half partaking in movie afternoon) and switch off from the film to concentrate on the writing. Some kids’ films are geared for adults too though and are really entertaining so be wary of these.Top tip: The recent Snoopy film is a good one – it’s a load of rubbish through adult eyes but kids love it.
- Join a class. Keeping active and time to focus – result! I take my son to gymnastics on a Saturday morning. It means an early start but it’s worth it for the one hour solid writing time this gives me. I don’t have to worry about him as he’s being well looked after and is doing something that brings him many benefits, and it means that by 10am I could have written several hundred words.Top tip: Don’t be tempted to treat it as a social occasion. If you end up sitting next to the same parent every week you’ll spend all your time chatting politely about how wonderful their little Isla Mae’s arabesques are.Not only won’t you a) know or b) care what an arabesque is, you’ll also hope for poor Isla Mae’s sake that her other hobby is rugby, judging by the state of those awful arabesques. One thing for sure is you won’t get any writing done.So be anti-social. If anyone tries to strike up conversation, look at them blankly and start picking your nose. I also find that asking them if they know a cure for the noro virus gets rid of them quite quickly and leaves you a bit more space on the bench to spread your stuff out.Following these tips should ensure you remain a no mates long enough to write something substantial.
- Making sacrifices. You may just have to deal with it unfortunately.
Jokes aside, as a working mum I of course like to spend weekends and evenings with my son and yes, I do try to carve out an hour or so on a weekend to write, but sometimes I just can’t because we’re doing lovely things together and that’s wonderful. So this means that when he goes to bed the laptop comes out.Now this means that it might be 7.30pm after a full working day, after cooking tea, doing housework, helping with homework, reading, bathing, etc etc. Needless to say, I’m often not feeling particularly inspired at this point. But too bad. If I’m serious about writing a good book, I need to shut up moaning and get on with it.I like to go out dancing – salsa, modern jive, lindy hop, etc. But often it’s a choice between going to class or sitting on my backside and putting something on the page. Last year dancing invariably won but this year as much as it pains me, I can’t let it win, not if this book is going to become a reality.Top tip: The husband of a very successful author told me that when she started out writing she had to be selfish. He was at the time referring to spending less time with her young child. And yes, this has to happen to some degree. But it also means being selfish with yourself and giving up some of the other things you like to do.It’s a pain, it’s a hassle and it’s not easy, but nothing that’s worth doing is ever easy, so I’m trying to remind myself that the sacrifice hopefully won’t be forever and if I actually manage it, it will be very worthwhile in the end.