In this week’s Write for Your Life podcast, me and Donna talk about the author who sued her publisher, the Man Booker Prize 2013 shortlist, and the most stylish people in publishing. Iain also talk about the demise of Very Meta and whether we should all be more careful about taking on too many projects. It’s a bumper episode. Listen up.
In a feisty and thought-provoking episode of this week’s Write for Your Life, me and Donna talk about the writing tools of famous authors. Things hot up when we move on to the publishing industry, YouTube and why they always seem to be one step behind. And then the spice continues when I talk about a site called Patreon. Should we ask our readers/fans to become patrons and support our work with actual money? Listen in and let us know what you think.
This week, I’m joined by Shawn Mihalik, author of The Flute Player, a novella published by Asymmetrical Press. Topics include how to write short fiction, the difference between a novella and a novel, and how Shawn found his publisher via a slightly unusual route. Lots of good chat and interesting stuff. Go find your headphones. Then come back. Listen up.
I fly solo this week to celebrate four years of Write for Your Life by sharing some of the blogging lessons I’ve learned in that time. From taking it seriously to sticking at it, not making money and meeting ace people, there should be plenty in it for bloggers and writers of all shapes and sizes. Headphones on. Get listening.
This week I’m joined by Hannah Shepperd, Creative Director at IPR License, who’s here to tell us about rights and how they affect all authors, whether published tradionally or independently. It’s fascinating stuff and an important topic that all writers should try and get to understand. This is the perfect place to start. Look out for initial, minor Skype issues. All plain sailing from then on. Listen in and enjoy!
This week’s Iain is joined by Joanna Penn, author of the Arkane series of thrillers and ace blogger over at The Creative Penn. Iain and Joanna talk about their writing plans for 2013 and provide seven ways that you can start to take your writing more seriously in the coming year. It’s an episode packed with advice, tips and other goodies too. Go fill yer ears!
This week Iain is joined by widely-published children’s author and his real-life mother-in-law, Kathryn White. Kathryn talks about how she started writing for children, why she likes using animals as characters, and provides an insight into her writing process. Lots of good advice and a must listen to anyone with an interest in children’s fiction. Get it in your lugholes! And don’t panic, the crying stops after the first few minutes!
In this week’s episode of the Write for Your Life podcast, Iain is joined by author, Emma Newman, to talk about suspect writing advice and prolificness. If you’ve ever read that you absolutely MUST write 1000 words every day and it’s made you want to break down and cry, this is the episode for you. Pop your headphones on and get listening.
Those of you who’ve followed this site and the podcast for a while will know that it took some time for me to first write, then publish my first novel, A is for Angelica. Like every other author, I had to deal with life getting in the way and make a number of sacrifices. Nothing unusual about that.
It’s all about rejection. No, not online dating, but publishing: according to an editor I was chatting to last week, it’s an industry of rejection.
Personally, I’m a little tired of all the negativity around publishing. I think it’s time we all pulled together and tried to do things differently and push things forward. So I confess to letting out a gentle sigh when I read that first paragraph.
But I needn’t have worried, because Stephanie’s post isn’t really about rejection at all. Instead, it’s a great reminder that, for every book that gets published, there is a team of hardcore fans behind it, willing it on and making it happen.
On this week’s episode, I’m joined by Nicola Morgan, widely published author and founder of the excellent blog, Help I Need a Publisher! Nicola’s new book, Dear Agent, tells you all you need to know about writing that all-important cover letter when you’re approaching an agent or publisher. She gives me a few tips and even takes a look at the letter that got me my very own agent!
Squarespace (use the code ’70decibels8′ to get 10% off your first order)
In this episode of the Write for Your Life podcast we’re joined by the fantastic Emma Newman who talks us through her unconventional but totally brilliant route to getting a book deal with Angry Robot. Emma and Iain compare notes and Myke does a great job of reading the sponsorship. Thanks Squarespace!
Squarespace (10% off your first order)
In this week’s episode, Iain and Myke talk about book covers and the many factors you need to consider when designing one! They also cover the announcement on Monday from Waterstones, the UK’s largest chain of bookstores. They’ve struck a deal with Amazon to sell Kindles and the industry is up in arms about it. Imagine!
Nicola Morgan is the author of around ninety books for all ages, fiction and non-fiction. To writers she is known for the no-nonsense expert advice in her blog, Help! I Need a Publisher! and her highly acclaimed book for writers, Write to be Published, as well as Tweet Right – The Sensible Person’s Guide to Twitter.
Nicolas’s latest book, Write a Great Synopsis (WAGS), tackles one of many writers’ most feared foes, the dreaded synopsis. I kicked off the questions as follows.
I found writing a novel terribly unpleasant at times. Then when I’d finished came the most unpleasant experience of the lot – writing the synopsis. I hated it and I know that I’m not alone. Why does the humble synopsis cause us writers so much distress?
No, you’re not at all alone. I’m one of the few writers I’ve come across who never feared them. Anyway, to answer the question: I think there are three main reasons. First, there are a lot of apparently conflicting messages about how to do them or even what they are, so writers go into them never sure whether they are doing it right. And that’s very stressful, like doing something blind. And second, most writers don’t fully grasp WHY they have to write a synopsis. If they remember that the reason is to show the agent (or whoever) that the story works well and what sort of a story it is, that makes the whole task simpler. Third, we are too close to our book. We care too much. Sometimes I think a reader will find it easier to write a synopsis than a writer. (Until the writer reads WAGS!)
I think my fear was less of the synopsis itself, but of messing up my chances on something so… well… something that isn’t the actual thing – the real writing. How much does a synopsis really matter?
Ah, I’m glad you asked me that! The very good news is that it is easily the least important part of the whole submission. It is very unlikely to lose you a deal if your synopsis isn’t as brilliant as it could be. On the other hand (and this isn’t bad news, not really), if you are a writer, ALL of your writing is important. You want it to be as good as you can make it, which is I think what you are meaning. But I think it’s important to realise that it is only going to lose you a deal if it’s really bad and if your actual sample chapters also aren’t cracking. Is that more reassuring?
It is reassuring, but putting that into practice might be more difficult. I am Captain Pernickety and do like everything to be nice and, you know, perfect. But anyway. I know that you are right. Are these the kind of problems that made you want to write a book on synopses in the first place?
Captain Pernickety is good, up to a point. Captain Over-Analysing is not because he is married to General Procrastination and together they produce Major Paralysis. Anyway, yes, that’s pretty much why I wrote the book. To be honest, I never had a problem with synopses myself (sorry) but it became more and more apparent that many writers do and when I see a problem I like to don a cape and swoosh in to fix it. So, I swooshed.
You say that part of the reason a synopsis can be daunting is because of conflicting information. Where does that conflict usually come from and is there such a thing as the right way to do it?
Conflicting only in the sense that it comes from different sources and is often not talking about the same things. As I say in WAGS, there are several different types of synopsis for different occasions, and what’s right for one occasion is not for another. But the one that we are bothered about is the one that an agent or publisher wants before deciding whether to take the book. And then the right way to do it is the way that a) follows any specific requests of that agent, for example about length, and b) shows that your book works and what sort of book it is.
That’s the one rule I’ve always told people when I’ve been asked: do as you’re told. Would you say that’s good advice? And if so, is it always good advice?
Not always, no! When it’s part of submission guidelines – in other words, the agent or publisher has said “This is what we want you to do,” – then yes, you must do it. They know what they want and there’s every reason to give it to them. But if it’s something like me or someone else saying “you shouldn’t mention the subplot” or “you shouldn’t use unanswered questions”, no: IF you genuinely feel, after reading all the advice and UNDERSTANDING the reasons for it, that your book actually suits a slightly different way, do it your way. Rules can always be broken WHEN you know what they are and what they are there for; and when you are so confident about it that you know that your reason for breaking the rule is stronger than the rule’s reason for existing, break it.
I did mean do what you’re told if you’re following submission guidelines, and I totally agree that it’s all about understanding the rules and what they mean before making a decision. Finally, WAGS is the third book you’ve published via your own means – how’s it all going and will there be more?
It’s going well, thank you, especially the non-fiction titles, because the particular market is not hard to find. So, yes to more! Next in the pipeline are (not necessarily in this order) Dear Agent (the dreaded covering letter), How To Promote Your Book Without Bugging the Pants Off People, and something about writing a non-fiction proposal. Now I just need to write them! But I’m also supposed to be writing some fiction, hoping for “normal” publication, so I need to get going on that, too. And I want to. Fiction is where my heart is; non-fiction is where my head is.
Thanks so much for your questions, Iain. It’s been fun batting them back and forth one by one! Good luck to all your readers and remember: Don’t panic – it’s just a synopsis!
Write a Great Synopsis by Nicola Morgan covers: the function of a synopsis, differences between outlines and synopses, different requirements for different agents and publishers, finding the heart of your book, how to tackle non-linear plots, multiples themes, sub-plots and long novels, and it answers all the questions and confusions that writers have. Nicola also introduces readers to her useful Crappy Memory Tool, explains the art of crafting a 25-word pitch, and demonstrates with real examples. Gold-dust for writers at all stages.
On this week’s podcast I’m joined by Kathryn White, widely published children’s author whose books include Here Comes The Crocodile and Ruby’s School Walk. We talk about the situation here in the UK, where great swathes of our wonderful libraries are faced with closure due to funding cuts.
Kathryn has been heavily involved with the campaign to save our libraries, to try and prevent the many library closures in her home county, Somerset. I’ve included some links below for more information on the things we talked about in the podcast.
Finally, as my favourite thing this week, I chose a truly incredible rejection letter that was sent to Gertrude Stein. And we writers think we have it tough these days? Pah!
Kathryn White’s website
Map of library closures in the UK (this is incredible)
Hands off our libraries | The Guardian
We Love Libraries campaign and video (starring Kathryn)
The best rejection letter ever?
Guest post by Fiona Maddock
I read shovel loads of stuff about how, when and why my first novel won’t be published. In fact, if I read too much more I’ll be buried under it and then I’ll never get anything done.
I do believe strongly though, that there is ‘Life Before Publication’ however murky and sleazy it appears to the polished published people. Here’s my experience of being one of these unknown, unpublished lowlifes.
The freedom of being ‘Unpublished’
You can write what you like. You can roam freely through your head and take whatever imaginary, insightful, crazy, quirky, colourful, sombre, hilarious or spine-chilling ideas come to you and you can turn them into a story. It really is a blank white sheet.
You can have any number of imaginary friends and crazy ideas and nobody will march you off to see the nice man in the white coat at the psychiatric hospital, because you’re a ‘writer’. You can have fun; escape all the boring bits of real life – such as cleaning the kitchen or finding out why the car won’t start – in your noble quest to become that awesome being, The Published Author.
The beastly family or annoying day job may force you to phone the breakdown company but there’s no pesky editor or agent on your writer’s back so you can go at your own pace and not give two hoots about anyone else.
Grammar, punctuation and spelling
There are some rules, though, if you are going to play the game. To be able to respond honestly to the question asked at social events, ‘What do you do?’ by saying ‘I’m a writer’ you must observe certain standards.
Good grammar, punctuation and spelling are indispensible. There are plenty of aids out there. I have a good old fashioned Oxford Dictionary of English – paper version – and I regularly use Wiktionary on line. In the word processor I use the spell and grammar checker.
Commercial length fiction
I do not assume that everyone is writing commercial fiction but I am so that’s what I shall talk about. You must observe the conventions of the marketplace.
My genre (science fiction) requires a minimum of eighty thousand words. It’s a long and tearful journey to get there and it brings me neatly on to the next stage, which is the First Draft.
This is the first major milestone for you – unpublished, unknown, worthless, anonymous scribbler that you are. It is the raw version of your concept in anything from eighty to a few hundred thousand words and it is the material which you will shape into the finished work.
Those of you who have a first draft should award yourselves your favourite treat and pat yourself on the back (difficult if you are not a circus acrobat so ask a good friend to do it for you). It is no mean feat to get there, so feel proud of yourself, feel elated and enjoy the moment.
Rewrites and editing
This is a traumatic and difficult process and worthy of a post of its own. I’ll summarise here by saying that it was during this phase that I almost took that night-time shelf-filling job at the local supermarket after all.
Anyway, somehow I have come through this phase more or less the same person I was before, but still unpublished. I am currently learning how to experience trauma all over again as I go through The Submission Process. This stage has the quality of rides at Alton Towers and is most definitely worthy of a blog post of its own.
One thing’s for sure, nobody on this planet is holding their breath waiting for my novel to land on their desk, which means my time is still my own and I’m in no danger of being forced to abandon the Muse in order to attend that tiresome book launch party .
Wow! Here it is! Ninety thousand and seven hundred words, twenty crates of wine, two printers and a lorry load of black ink cartridges later, I have The Final Version of My Manuscript.
I’m so proud of it. See that ream of printed paper? I wrote that – all by myself…and it’s good. Good? No it’s not good, it’s brilliant [add glowing reviews here].
As audience of my own work I can have every accolade I dream of. All I have to do now is find an agent and get it published. Move over J.K.! Make room for another one up there on the prize winners’ podium.
Life After Publication
Savour your anonymity, fellow worthless unpublished key-tappers.
Once your work is through the slush pile, it will be dissected, scrutinised, edited, praised, vilified, scrubbed and polished, chucked back at you for re-writes, scrubbed and polished again, packaged, promoted, and that’s before the critics get hold of it.
Feeling discouraged? I thought not. You’re a writer and like a wilful teenager, whatever anyone says to you, you’ll do it anyway, but remember the free and leisurely days of being unpublished.
Once those days have gone, they’re gone forever.
Guest post by Emma Newman
I’ve been writing for many years now. It’s the first thing I think about in the morning, and if I don’t get my daily fix, I’m just hell to live with.
I’m ready to acknowledge my addiction. Oh, hang on, this isn’t the right place for that. Sorry. Suffice to say that my debut novel is at the ARC stage and I am waiting for a launch date from my publisher.
I wrote the first draft of 20 Years Later nearly five years ago, and I started blogging almost two years ago, just as I was trying to decide whether to self-publish or not.
So the (awful) process and subsequent joy of finding a publisher has been written about over at my place for some time now. As a result, I’ve received emails and had Twitter conversations with aspiring writers since I got my publishing deal.
I am not an expert on getting published or even the publishing industry as a whole. I’m a writer who got lucky, and someone who (like most human beings) likes to notice patterns.
In fact the only thing I would say I’m an expert at is making a nice cup of tea.
I used to look for answers to all of these questions myself at varying stages of my writing life, so it’s not intended to ridicule – just to point out that asking these questions are actually very clever ways to avoid doing what you need to do first.
Trying to write the first novel can be overwhelming, bewildering and frustrating. If that sounds like where you are, then read on.
1. How many words should my novel be?
This one, in various guises has come up on Twitter a lot. And in every case, it was asked by someone who hasn’t yet written a book (but really wants to).
Yes, there is some merit in looking at word count once the book is finished, but if it’s your first novel, just writing the damn thing is more important.
The first draft of 20 Years Later nudged 70,000 words. But that was only because I had ended it in the wrong place – and that only became apparent two drafts and several beta readers later. Now it’s approximately 95,000 words – but that doesn’t mean that modern YA books should be the same.
In my humble opinion, the book should be as long as the story demands. Look at Perdido Street Station or Shogun. Both long, both lean and fantastically told.
If it’s 100,000 words and flabby as hell (a certain teen vampire bestseller springs to mind) it should be edited down (and why that one wasn’t I will never understand).
But having an arbitrary word count fixed in your head first seems backwards to me. How do you know how many words it will need until they’ve been written?
2. I have a great idea for a story, how do I find an agent?
Don’t even go there. An idea is not a book. A first draft isn’t even a book.
Having an idea and looking for an agent is like finding out where to sign up for the London marathon when you’ve never even run for a bus.
An idea and the bringing of that idea into the world are very, very different things.
3. I’ve written four chapters now, can you advise me on how I write a query?
See number two. So many agents aren’t interested if it’s your first novel and isn’t more polished than a clumsy child’s single sports trophy.
You’ve a long way to go, and besides, you may not be able to finish it. Or you may realise it’s actually a very different story that you want to write, and thus far it’s been excavation work.
What if you sold the book then realised this afterwards? That’s a one way ticket to Stressville, Idaho I reckon.
4. Is there a market for… (insert genre)?
You’re asking me? I took me four years to get a publisher. It’s my first book. When I wrote it, everyone was looking for the next Harry Potter. This is the first year that I’ve heard of Dystopian YA being ‘hot’ and the books that people are touting as ‘hot’ now were first written years ago.
No-one knows really. Especially not me. And there is no way of knowing what will be popular in a year or two’s time, which is when your book would be coming out if traditionally published.
5. I have so many ideas, I don’t have writer’s block. I just can’t decide which one to write. What should I do?
Actually, I think you do have writers block. Having ideas is not writing a novel. If none of them are reaching the page, then you need to work on the reason why.
That’s what I did. It took many, many years too, so don’t feel bad if it takes a long time. The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron helped me, but there are lots of other books out there.
What it all comes down to is writing one word after another, and a lot of bravery to face the fear that is stopping you from writing.
If you don’t think the avoidance behaviour comes from fear, I would say you are probably wrong, but who am I to know that?
6. Should I write a certain amount of words every day? How many?
This is impossible for anyone to answer but yourself. When I was clawing my way out of a ten year writing block, I read everything I could get my aching fingers on to see how other authors wrote novels. And what did it do? Absolutely nothing.
Oh, it made me feel inadequate, guilty, confused (they all have different systems!) and afraid. Only halfway through writing my second novel did I stumble upon the best process for myself, and that is all it is – the best for me.
It may be that you need something completely different, and the only way you’re going to find out is by, yes, you guessed it, writing and a healthy dose of experimentation with routine, word counts etc.
In case you’re wondering, I write before I do any other work, and don’t stop until I hit 1000 words minimum. As for the whole “shall I outline or just write by the seat of my pants” debate, I wrote about my version of it here, if you’re interested. I often go over that 1000 words and have to force myself to do the work that pays the mortgage.
One day, I hope, they will be one and the same.
Your daily ideal may be 250 words, or you may prefer a time based goal. You may only write well on Sundays after chocolate ice cream.
7. How much money will I earn?
If you’re thinking about that before you’ve written the book, don’t go into fiction writing. You could fit the number of debut authors that pay their mortgage with the income from their first novel into a small dining room in Devon.
Really, don’t write for money. Write because you feel like you might die if that story doesn’t get out of your brain.
8. How long will it take to get an agent/publisher if I start sending queries now?
Blimey. That is impossible to answer, aside from saying it will be twice as long as you think and more agonising than you can imagine.
9. Do I have to write the full book before I try to get an agent?
Yes. See answer to question 3. Don’t even think about agents until that book is complete, gleaming and even then you might not get one anyway.
I didn’t manage to bag an agent, but have a publisher now. And I was a sneeze and a ‘bless you’ from just ignoring them all anyway and going it alone (which I did for my short story anthology after my novel got picked up.)
Write the book first. Then worry about what to do with it.
10. Which writing software do you use and recommend?
I only use Microsoft Word and it irritates the hell out of me. I’m still figuring out the best way to track what I’ve written, and am nearing a workable solution with a clumsy combination of Word, a spreadsheet and post-it notes.
You’d think, seeing as I am now writing my third novel, that I would have found something else – Scrivener or the like – but I’m so fixated on the words, I can’t be bothered to re-learn a new piece of software just to get them out of my head.
Asking before writing the novel may be good forward thinking, but it may also be a distraction tactic, akin to salivating over running shoes before dragging yourself once around the block.
What does it all mean?
No prizes for seeing the message here. Write the book first. Don’t trawl the web looking for help or advice on getting published until the second draft (at least) is done.
Every minute spent trawling the web trying to answer these questions is a minute spent avoiding that terror of writing something that you burn to tell, but know will suck. And it will. That’s what first drafts are for. And the answers to all those questions won’t make it any easier. You writing your first book will.
Good luck, and I’ll see you on the other side.
Image: Jordan Pérez Órdenes
Share your thoughts
Do you recognise some of these questions? Have you asked them yourself or are there some missing from the list? Tell us what you think or fire away in the comments section!
It’s all kicking off in the world of self-publishing and ebooks.
The Kindle is now very affordable and the iPad is like the sexiest book in the world apart from a real sexy book that’s littered with filth and stinky sex talk. The times, quite frankly, are a-changing.
And I’m down with that. I really am.
In fact, I want to make it clear that this episode is in no way intended as an anti-self-publishing diatribe or a whistful longing for tradition. No. It’s about technology and pragmatism. That’s all.
Let’s get real
It’s hard to move around the blogosphere and Twitterverse without bumping into some post or another about the rise of ebooks and the changes taking place in the publishing industry.
I picked out a couple of articles on my other (brilliant, go and subscribe) blog, Broomeshtick.
Writing for Newsweek, in an article called Self-publishing: Who needs a publisher anymore?, Isia Jasiewicz quoted author, J.A. Konrath as saying:
“It’s an even playing field for the first time,” says J. A. Konrath, a thriller author (Whiskey Sour) who plans to release all his future novels as self-published Kindle books. “The gatekeepers have become who they should have been in the first place: the readers.”
And that phrase jumped out at me – level playing field – because it’s one I’ve heard a few times over the last couple of years as the e-revolution has gathered momentum.
This was my response:
I’m sorry, but I don’t think it’s an even playing field at all. It’s only even if all writers have the technical will, knowhow and time to transform their manuscript into a sexy PDF. And then market the hell out of it. Some people, you know. Some people just want to write.
And I stand by it. In the UK we have 10 million people who still don’t have internet access. Of course, most of those are likely to be elderly, living in difficult circumstances or simply not interested.
But I bet some of them are writers.
My point is this: a level playing field is a place or environment where no one person or group of people has an advantage. In the world of e-publishing, e-people have an advantage. And a huge headstart.
The came Seth
You may have heard, but marketing guru and he-of-extremely-shiny-head-fame, Seth Godin, decided this week to only publish ebooks from now on.
Here’s what he wrote:
Time will tell whether other leading authors adopt a similar model [as Seth Godin]. For an author, nothing is better than being able to get closer to your reader. The question is whether this model will work and whether other authors have the personal brand, the distribution platform and most importantly the courage to try something like this. I’d argue that if book publishers followed the model I outlined in this deck, they’d be less worried about what’s happening around them.
Leaving aside the fact that Seth Godin has a huge audience and the kind of platform that the rest of us can only dream of, I responded to Shiv’s article by saying:
There’s been an awful lot of fuss made about Seth Godin deciding to go digital only. In fact, advocates for self-publishing have been completely cock-a-hoop about it, heralding the move as some kind of tipping point for the publishing industry.
This article by Shiv Singh on Going Social Now brings a bit of sanity to proceedings, while still recognising Godin’s decision as significant, which I think it is.
However, for the overwhelming majority of writers, self-publishing ebooks creates more obstacles than clears paths.
Far from create the proverbial ‘level playing field’, it generates a whole new set of skills, both writing-related and technical, that the writer must have.
And that’s fine. One day we’ll all have those skills. Writers will know how to create a PDF. They’ll know how to set up a blog. They’ll know how to market their work through social media.
But this is a time of change. For the moment, we are learning. And we are not Seth Godin.
Which led me to this
So with all this in mind, I decided to talk a little more about this subject in this week’s episode. It’s a really interesting area and I think we should all be excited about what’s happening.
As I say at the end of this video, I think we online writers, those of us who already have technology as part of our everyday writing lives, have a responsiblity to help those writers who don’t.
Only then, when we’re all equipped with the necessary techno-knowledge, can we think about calling the playing field, or whatever the metaphor might be, level.