You’ve sent your submission – what happens next? #getpublished

It’s time to make a diary note about chasing in three to six months’ time. Meanwhile, let’s get busy doing other things.

IMG_3383Waiting by Degas, 1880-2

This will be harder than you think. Our inner writer longs for approbation and needs it fast. Do you remember the feedback stage, how hard it was to let your readers take their time? This sensation can be even more powerful now that your work is in the hands of professionals. Please be patient.

Take a break. Celebrate having reached this stage, you’ve done well! Get out among friends again and enjoy the real world. Then get stuck into writing something else. Make yourself a tight schedule of writing and research and stick to it. If a positive answer does come, they will want to know what you’re working on now.

Sometimes an agent/publisher’s submissions page will let you know how long they usually take. Allow them at least three months anyway – that’s the blink of an eye in publisher/agent time. Then a gentle reminder checking that your submission has reached the right person will be fine. Keep it calm and professional.

In my experience an outright rejection comes pretty swiftly. If they like what they see, they will read and re-read, share it around the office, have a word with marketing and accountancy, and so on. If they’re taking a while, it might be good news…

Rejections first – let’s get them out of the way. Some rejections are about you and some aren’t.

Reasons for rejection you cannot avoid:

  • The agent/publisher is feeling unwell, really tired for other reasons, has a headache or hangover, is about to get the sack. We all have off days.
  • Their office has so many unsolicited submissions stacked up, they have succumbed to temptation (who wouldn’t occasionally) to get rid of some. They all deny it but this does happen. There are many easier ways for publishers and agents to make money and there’ll be another load of talent arriving in the morning.
  • They’ve had too many of your kind of thing and don’t have time to say so.
  • They really like your kind of thing and have one in the pipeline or have recently done one just like it. Sometimes they will say so.
  • They’ve just had a bad experience with a new writer – too much trouble, lost too much money? – and can’t face it again for a while.

Reasons for rejection you can avoid:

When agents and publishers come to the slush pile, what buoys them up is the hope of finding the Next Big Thing and making their fortune. They may not know exactly what they’re looking for but they know what they don’t want. Let’s help them out by avoiding the following:

Rejections take many forms:

IMG_3385Sometimes you will receive no answer at all. Considering how many people are sending out submissions these days, this is understandable. Some websites even declare this is their policy. Never mind. The silence could be for a multitude of reasons that have nothing to do with you.

A standard form reply is common, without your name or a personal signature. Try not to be downhearted, as above.

A personal rejection with your name on it is a big step forward. It might say your submission doesn’t ‘chime’ with what they are looking for but at least they have bothered to look and might well remember what you’ve done. Try to be pleased.

With all of the above, there is no need to respond. Be patient and detached about these rejections and keep studying your craft, looking for ways your submission and script might be improved. This ‘rejection stage’ is your most important learning stage too.

Hard as it is not to take a rejection as a personal slight, it is vital that you stay professional and do not bother anyone who has sent you a rejection. At all costs do not telephone to argue the toss and above all do not call on them in person in their offices. Not only will you ensure that they never look at your work again, neither will their friends and loved ones who may well work in the business.

 Buoying up the spirits

This stage can take years and leave you feeling low from time to time. This is normal. So in one of my writing groups we found ourselves talking about how to keep the spirits buoyed up through rejection times.

  • Repeated rejections of the same piece of work just might mean it still needs fixing. Keep trying to improve.
  • Take up something really good fun that gets you out among non-writers. Dancing or playing a musical instrument can work, whatever you enjoy most. It’s all material.
  • Keep catching those inspired patches of writing, whatever they’re about. Keep flexing happy writing muscles in your journal, or with poetry, flash fiction or whatever else suits you. Remind yourself that this is not peacekeeping in a war zone or fostering orphans, it’s only putting words on pages. If you keep crafting, it will come good.

Good rejections

Are there such things? Oh yes, and if I can do one thing to help you through this stage, it is to lift your spirits when you receive a good rejection and see it for the gold dust it is.

  • A personal rejection with your name on it that gives feedback and some positive comments – well, it’s time for celebration. You have no idea how rarely this happens! IMG_3387It means you have been noticed. It’s time for a kindly thank you and a close look at the feedback. Your inner writer might feel rejected but to have professional advice at this level is a huge step forward.
  • A personal reply makes no promises but compliments some aspects of your writing and recommends a manuscript advisor, perhaps giving a contact. This means that your script has been read and appreciated but needs help. Instead of working with you in-house, as used to happen, you are asked to pay. A manuscript advisor that works closely with your chosen agent might be the best thing for you chances of publication. Maybe not. See how you and your bank balance feel.
  • A personal rejection with feedback, some compliments and an invitation to send your next script – it’s time for celebration. This is great news! Reply warmly with thanks but please do not be tempted to send something until it is ready, even if it takes time. Ask if they might be prepared to consider an idea in principle.
  • A personal reply asking for your full manuscript. It’s time for celebration with fireworks. But before the rest of your script leaves home, have a final check through to make sure everything is on its toes. All too often agents and publishers are hooked by the first three chapters and find that, with the rest, the quality goes swiftly downhill. Take time to make sure all is well first. Then congratulate yourself, you have come a very long way. Fingers crossed.
  • The personal reply asking you to call to make an appointment to meet or speak on the phone. This is the big one. It can be the beginning of one of the most valuable and rewarding relationships of your life.

Next time we’ll look at why agents and publishers reject. Meanwhile, I wish you the very best of luck and happy writing. Good luck!

Sending your synopsis #getpublished

Picture the agent or publisher arriving for work on a Monday morning. Their slush pile is the least attractive part of the week but today just might deliver that career-changing, elusive gem. Let’s make their lives easier:

  • Your synopsis should look professional. If they don’t specify on their website, then go for 12-point in one of the usual business-like fonts on one-sided A4 with broad margins. Single or 1.5 spacing is fine.
  • Make sure your book’s title and total word count are clear, with your name and contact details.
  • In around 500 words sum up your story. This exercise is excellent for the health of your story and may well take you some time. It can reveal flaws in your plot and character work that need to be fixed in your script before your submission goes out. You wouldn’t be the first writer this has happened to.
  • A synopsis is not about every turn in the plot. Go for the narrative drive of your main events without slabs of back story. You are after the essence of the story’s conflict, the main flight of your story arc with a clear idea of what the stakes are on every level. If you have several plots, pick one thread to expand from.
  • Your tone should be engaging and give a sense of your fiction style. Funny, if that’s appropriate. Tell it like a story, not a washing machine manual.
  • Try to give an idea what kind of book it is, even if it does not fit a genre.
  • Start with your main character: ‘Jane is a governess who falls in love with her employer…’ IMG_2431Give vivid, short descriptions of your other main characters as they appear. Each time you move to a different character, start the sentence with the name so that the reader knows who you’re on about.
  • Include your ending. It’s tempting to leave it open but they want to see how you handle your story’s finish. Do you deliver the combination of surprise and inevitability that readers love?
  • Weed out the typos, spelling, grammar and syntax problems, and above all clichés. This exercise might also make you aware of clichéd situations in your plot as well as your use of language. Remember that your respected agent/publisher reads very widely and can spot clichés in their sleep.

What is a chapter summary?

Your synopsis (above) is a broad summary of your novel, told as if you are talking to a friend who has pressing things to do elsewhere.

A chapter summary is what it says: a brief description of each chapter as it comes, from beginning to end. Some agents and publishers prefer this as it discloses how the story unfolds, who drives it, how sub-plots knit and how the arc rises and falls to the end. In short, it is more unsparing about your handling of plot than a synopsis. The good news is, it can be a bit longer.

Summarise each chapter in just two or three lines (making it clear whose point of view we are in by starting with the relevant character’s name) and work up to a maximum of about one thousand to twelve thousand words. Again, don’t be coy about the ending; you are showcasing how you wind up your marvellous story.

Tomorrow we’ll look at polishing up your chapters for submission.

Happy writing!

Sending it out – 5 best tips #getpublished

Publishers or agents?

An agent told me once that if you take independent publishers into account, more publishers are accepting direct submissions than agencies. It’s hard to say whether luck will favour you starting with agents or publishers, so it’s a good idea to try a mixture of both.

1/ Who do I try first?

Make a longlist of your best targets in order of preference, remembering that a rejection means you cannot approach them again with a later version of your novel unless you ask you to.

Do I try one at a time or several?

Publishers and agents like to feel that they are the first and only readers of your proposal, of course they do. On the other hand, each one can take three to six months to say it’s not for them. So, it’s not unreasonable for your first shortlist to be around three publishers – one big and well established, one medium sized and one tiny – and the same for three agencies. You’re looking for a spread of size, experience and sense of novelty. Within a well-established agency, their new young adventurous agent might be a good idea, for example. Or not. Much depends on how the wind is blowing and we won’t know until we’ve tried.

The more websites you scroll through, the more of a feel you will get for each firm’s ‘personality’. Have you noticed how kind they tend to be? They really do want to find our best new stories and sell them for us.

2/ What do I send?

Always send precisely what the submission guidelines ask for. This sounds obvious but if you’re sending more than one at a time, details can slip and overlap. Best to concentrate on one submission at a time.

Usually they ask for three things:

  • Your cover letter or email. Some are happy with emails, others (still) specify hard copy only.
  • A synopsis and/or chapter summary.
  • Sample chapters. Usually for fiction it’s the first three.

Many agents and publishers like email and often have an online submissions process on the website to help you out. A letter can feel like a slog these days but it will give you the satisfaction of feeling the physical weight of what you send. Always do your best to make sure your submission is complete in one go. Sending follow-ups with additions or corrections will not gain you extra attention – you risk being seen as annoying.

3/ What goes in the email/letter?

If your submission coincides with a busy agent or publisher having an off day, sorry to say it but your email/letter may be the only part of your submission that will be read, so take time to make it as engaging as possible.

Your tone is important. This is a business communication and you need to be professional. On the other hand, don’t be too formal and dry. Agents and publishers love a good story well told and your words should carry that.

There’s no point in being showy either. The days of pinning a Monopoly fiver to the front page are gone, as are dubious jokes.

  • ‘Dear [first name and surname, spelt correctly]’ usually works these days.
  • In your first line, drop the name of your recommendation by one of their authors if you have one. Likewise, mention where you met, if you have, such as an event where the agent was speaking. Best not to be over-friendly: ‘You might remember me’ is plenty.
  • Why is your work apt for them and for the particular person you are writing to? Which aspect of their author list or particular publications of theirs do you admire? Try to be specific without grovelling. (Saying they are a ‘leading’ publisher or agent is not enough; they know that.)
  • No negativity: ‘This must be your worst nightmare’ or ‘sorry to be boring but’ just puts ideas into heads and stops them reading.
  • Describe your book in one paragraph, not forgetting the title, genre and total word count. This is your sales pitch and needs to be the most arresting part of your submission. Agents and publishers are looking for narrative drive, a good strong story. Above all, be clear. This is harder than it sounds.
  • Characters first: who do we care about most in your story? Another way to put that might be, whose story is it. Focus on that character: what does s/he want, what stops him/her getting it, why do we care? If you have several main characters, keep to two or three at this stage; more are confusing.
  • What is the gist of your story arc and why is it vital? Be specific: a character ‘has many other adventures’ is not enough.
  • Between the lines is a sense of why your book should sell while others do not.
  • In another short paragraph, give your writing CV. This should be two or three sentences about the 3 to 5 main places you have been professionally published or are in the pipeline, any prizes in recent writing competitions or your completion of a university creative writing course (though this is not essential). People with most to brag about tend to have short, plain bios. If you are a first-timer, do convey that you are a committed writer keen to improve your craft and output. Show that you are enthusiastic about the revision process by briefly mentioning your writing group and circle of critical readers. However hard you toil at producing reports at work, they do not count. Nor do unpublished scripts. Saying that your mum loves your story will not help.
  • Why are you the person to write this book? This is what they mean by ‘anything relevant about the author’. For example, if your romantic lead is a fire fighter, it will help to know that you are one. Why did you come to write this book? If there is an interesting story there, give it a line or two. Do not waste their time saying that you’ve loved reading and writing since an early age, that is taken for granted.IMG_2930Still Life with Books and Candle, Matisse (1890)
  • Who is likely to buy your book? Here is where you describe how your book fits with the book market (which shelf in the shop, which age range for children) and how yours stands out from the others available. Are there other markets besides bookshops that might welcome yours?
  • How would you help to sell? Are you happy with giving public readings and talks, being interviewed, writing journalism and blogging? Any other ideas? Summarise your online and social media prowess – you will be expected to have some.
  • If your submission is with other publishers or agents at the same time, it is polite to say so without detail or appearing to pressurise.
  • Do not forget (even though they are also on your script’s cover page) to provide your name and contact details, and your website if you have one.

4/ Things not to include:

  • Full CVs of you and your family with or without holiday snaps of pets etc.
  • CDs and tapes.
  • Artwork unless specifically asked for.
  • Marketing plans – let them deal with that.
  • Extracts from rejections from other agents and publishers. However tempted you are to mention the ‘This looked OK but…’ part of a rejection, it is irrelevant here.
  • Confirmation postcards. A waste of time, they just get lost.

5/ Is your submission email/letter ready?

You know by now that writing is about rewriting. Let’s look at this first draft of your submission again:

  • Is it too long? How much is too much? Aim for one side or equivalent of 12-point A4, or slightly more. More than two pages are unlikely to be read.
  • Read it aloud to yourself. Does it feel easy, relaxed? What jars or feels repetitive?
  • Is the tone right? Friendly and professional, hard-working but easy to get along with. Have another look at the publisher/agent’s website to see how formal their tone is and follow their lead. Is there room for wit without being cringe-worthy?
  • Typos, spelling, grammar, cliché check: there’s always time for a last careful look, by somebody else if you are sick of it. You don’t want a hilarious typo to mar the whole thing.

Well done! That’s the first thing. Next time, we’ll look at your synopsis.

Happy writing!

#getpublished – format your script

Before your script leaves home, let’s make sure it’s in the right shape. What do publishers and agents expect to see on your page, apart from your undiluted genius?

In today’s competitive world, having your precious words in the wrong font and size might well mean they will be binned unseen. Writers are expected to provide what is asked for and to the kind people who are reading the right format all day, any variation will leap out.

You will find submission guidelines on agents’ and publishers’ websites. It may seem obvious but please read the submission guidelines of each agent and publisher you try, with your very best attention to detail. That way you’re already a leap ahead of the thousands of writers who don’t. Sometimes they have a submissions template or proposal form for you to complete.

If they spell out their requirements, this is the sort of thing you will find:

  • Printed submissions only. No beautiful calligraphy or hand written exercise books. We are after a clean, professional look.
  • 12-point.
  • Double-spacing.
  • A plain, simple font like Times New Roman, Calibri or Arial. Your friends might be panting for something off a Whitby headstone IMG_E1877 or a squillionaire’s signature but professionals do not have the time to fight their way through it.
  • Wide margins, about one inch to the left, two to the right.
  • One page per sheet, one side only.
  • In a header show the title of your book, your name and a contact email or phone number, all in small capitals or italics to distinguish from the text.
  • Number your pages as you would a book, running through the whole book, not chapter by chapter.
  • Start each chapter on its own page, about a third of the way down that page.
  • No justification – rough edges on the right are fine.
  • On your un-numbered front page, the title appears centred half way down with your name/pseudonym, and in the lower right corner your name appears again with your contact details.
  • Some aspects of layout are down to each publisher’s house style. Publishers vary in how they deal with dialogue, paragraph indents and spacing, and new chapter layout. They probably won’t notice if you follow their usual practice; they will if you don’t.
  • There is no need to plaster your work with statements protecting your copyright in the UK. You keep it automatically.
  • No need to bind your pages as if the book has already been published. In fact, it can be a bad idea: some agents and publishers see it as a suggestion that you’re not as open to improvement as they’d like you to be. All submissions are seen as work in progress. It’s best though to make sure your pages will not fall on the floor the minute they’re touched. Michael Legat suggests a ‘wallet-style folder’.
  • Your biography need not go in the typescript – its correct place is an economical paragraph in your email or letter of submission.

This is only a guide – please check through the submission guidelines of each agent and publisher you try, while you’re putting your submission together.

You may well think you’ve been attending to formatting as you go but it’s amazing how often word-processing software falters, allowing fonts, margins and type sizes to jump and slip. It makes sense to give it that final check all the way through before it goes.

It also gives you a sense of the enormity of what you’ve achieved, that you are scrolling through something that looks more and more like a professionally written book. Congratulations on getting this far! It’s time (again) for the hillside exercise – let’s call it the mountainside exercise now.

Now that your novel is ready to go,  we’ll look next week at finding your ideal agent or publisher.

Happy writing!

 

What do publishers do, 2? From book launch to beyond

I love book launches, my own and other people’s, and didn’t discover until my second novel that you can have as many of them as you like!

It’s a good while since publishers would lay on a big bash for a first-time author at their expense, inviting every respected critic for miles, but you never know. Mostly we authors arrange and pay for our own. What do you do?

  • Find a location. Galleries and libraries work well. Any space will do where all your friends can gather, drink your wine, hear you talk about and read a bit of your book to whet appetites, and thank everybody who helped. Loud applause.
  • Who do you invite? Everybody you know – in my experience your friends will love it, especially the ones who think they are in it. They will also be more than happy to take away a copy without paying for it as if their friendship entitles them to this. (Maybe it’s just my friends but I doubt it.) Explain to them gently that they are to buy your book, as many copies as they can carry. In exchange you will sign their copies mentioning their names, with the place and date to make it unique.
  • Invite local media too, distribute flyers and put up posters. Not many strangers will come if they haven’t heard of you but you never know.
  • Make sure your books arrive on time. You’d be amazed how often this doesn’t happen, even for well-established authors!
  • If you’re like me, choose something a bit extra so that people will remember your launch in particular. Friends of mine who were trumpeters used to come and play a short fanfare before my readings. Gallery 4At the launch of my poetry collection Orion, professional actor Alice Barclay read the poems. It transfixed everybody far more than if I’d read them.
  • I like to keep the momentum up by moving on to a cheap meal close by but that’s up to you.
  • Spread happy photos around social media afterwards with pictures of your books in stock in shops. Done and dusted!

Back to what publishers do. Here are four more things following from Friday’s post to make a round dozen:

9/ ‘Brand building’

Time and again I’ve heard it said that publishers make very little money out of fiction until an author’s third book. That’s right, 3rd. Until readers get a feel for your name and style, for your regularity of output, for your ‘brand’, sales are unpredictable. Your publisher will try to find out about you and your life to depict you as a unique writer worth watching, to enhance their publicity efforts.

You remember how JK Rowling was a single mum writing in cafes with her buggy beside her? Cafes are excellent places to write and most of us do it some time or another. What her marketers were doing was painting a picture in our minds and hearts to lift Harry Potter beyond the book itself.

10/ Protection of your legal rights

Both your agent and publisher will do this – your legal rights are (usually) their legal rights and they want your work to make as much money for everyone as possible. They will ensure that nobody else passes off your ideas/style/concept as their own. Fan fiction is only a compliment as long as it does not steal your thunder and income.

Where your rights conflict with those of your agent and/or publisher, you can have a word with the Society of Authors or consult a media lawyer.

11/ Sales

Aha! Now we’re talking. Publishers have access to networks of great big warehouses and lorries that should carry your books to places you have never thought of. They have lunch and drinks with bookshop owners in other continents. They do their utmost to make sure the boxes of your books will actually be opened in book shops and your books displayed, sometimes even paying for the privilege. (Some boxes of books lie unopened in the back store for months, such is the busyness of life.) They do deals to get your books into prominent places on tables and shelves and sometimes onto recommended lists.

Many bookshops will not take self-published books. Yes, lots of us read happily on a variety of electronic gadgets but the paper book trade is still the majority of sales. A traditional publisher gets you onto all the gadgets and into the bookshops too.

12/ Publicity copies

You will probably be allocated some publicity copies. These are not freebies for your grandparents. (Those are the ‘author copies’ described in your contract.) You will be expected to circulate your publicity copies among your contacts to spread the word and this includes pounding the streets looking for lovely bookshop managers who have time to listen to you. Waterstones are remarkably helpful and at the time of writing still have discretion to stock something they like, or which has local interest. Independent book shops are invaluable too. They will not all have time to read your book, even if they said they would. Bookshop staff are heavily overworked and underpaid. While your publisher is cultivating your brand, we authors do well to cultivate as many of these lovely people as possible.

The day might come when you’re sitting on public transport and see someone reading your book. Or someone crosses a room to say how much they liked it and when can they buy your next one. Until then, it is your publisher more than anyone who makes you feel that your writing, your hours of work, all your effort are worthwhile. Agents are invaluable but they can only hope to sell your book. All being well, your publisher will publish it and what a thrill that is.

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With the Arcadia Books team 2009

Next week, who is your ideal publisher or agent?

Happy writing!

 

 

What do publishers do, 1? Before your book launch, 8 things to expect

When a publisher finally says they love your novel, it usually means they love it so much they’ll ask you to revise it another half dozen times under their supervision.

1/ Editorial input

This is editorial input, sometimes called ‘content curation’. It means more rewriting and can involve major changes like cutting out characters, changing from 1st to 3rd person or vice versa, or changing the way your plot unfolds. If you’re the sort of writer whose hackles rise at such interference with your genius, traditional publishing is not for you. If you find it inordinately exciting to have professionals take an interest and can’t wait to let them help you make your book the very best it can be, you’re a natural for it.

When my first novel was being edited, builders were in the throes of replacing just about everything on the ground floor of my home. Having heard nothing from the publisher for months, suddenly I was in the headlights of the editor’s total attention so, with my wi-fi blinking on and off throughout the day as electrics were replaced, I would rewrite each chapter and email the result. With mayhem going on around me, my story kept getting tighter and better and I loved every minute.

IMG_1295

Robert Graves’ desk at home in Mallorca

2/ Cover

That’s the most exhausting bit over. There might be a lull before the publisher’s choice of cover arrives for your approval. Sometimes an in-house designer has produced it, sometimes it comes from a picture library. You should get a veto or at least a chance to point out if something is inappropriate. That first novel of mine was set in a Gothic abbey and the first cover offered by the publisher showed something more like a nineteenth century factory, a square brick box with chimneys. They’re all juggling a number of different books and nobody knows your book as well as you do, so speak up. Mine agreed to get rid of the chimneys.

3/ Blurb, acknowledgements

They will ask you provide the few words that go on the back. Those brief summaries – 10, 20 and 50 words – that kept your through-line on track come in handy here.

4/ Acknowledgements

You will also be asked who you would like to thank in your acknowledgements. Here is the usual pecking order of thanks:

  • Everyone who read and critiqued your book at draft stage, expert or otherwise, while accepting any errors as your own.
  • Any other sources of research such as helpful librarians.
  • Members of your writing group or MA course whose critique has helped.
  • By this time, you and your editor are friends for life so it’s usual to give her/him a glowing mention.
  • Everyone else in the publisher’s offices who has helped you. With luck they are all your friends for life now, even if individuals move on from this publisher to another one.
  • Your agent.
  • Undying love to your other half. My favourite is PG Wodehouse’s thanks in The Heart of a Goof for his daughter Leonora’s tireless sympathy and encouragement without which ‘this book would have been finished in half the time’.
  • Absolutely no need to mention your cat, therapist, masseuse or accountant unless relevant to the content of your book.

5/ Final edit

Edits always produce funny little blips or words in the wrong place. The final read through, for story and proofing, is down to you alone. Everybody will be in a tearing rush by then, but do your utmost to insist on peace for a few days to make sure it’s all finally OK. Otherwise you will open your lovely author copy and see a horror on page 2.

6/ Consents

Have you any extracts from other people’s work in your story? Your chapter headings, for example, are lines from poetry or songs by living writers? Publishing contracts usually make you, the author, responsible for getting and paying for copyright consents for any extracts you have used. It is easy to blink past this in the dizzying joy of signing your contract but it can cost you time and money if you’re not careful. A good publisher may well guide you past the most difficult and expensive options. In my first novel I was set on using extracts from WB Yeats’s poetry. How on earth was I going to get consent to use them? Luckily the publisher knew how and arranged free consent for me in-house.

7/ Make the book available in every possible form

Your traditional publisher will want to spread your marvellous story as thoroughly as possible around the world. You should get paper books and presence in the kindle world and equivalents. What about radio readings, audio books, film deals, telly deals, serialisation in newspapers, translations in a hundred different countries? Well, the budget for a first novel by an unknown writer may well include some of these but be patient. The more books they publish of yours, the more budget the publisher will be prepared to invest.

8/ Marketing

A publisher will do its best to market your book:

  • A bona fide review in a main stream newspaper or magazine is gold dust these days and happens very rarely for a first novel. The days of gathering a sheaf of print reviews are gone. Mention in a blog or online magazine is less rare but well worth celebrating. A goodish review is as good as a great one – it’s the mention that matters – and a bad one can do sales a power of good if it’s amusing or by someone high profile.
  • Social media: your publisher will have goblins spreading the word through all the social media outlets. It’s good manners to help along.
  • Events, book groups, book festivals etc. You will be expected to clear your diary for anything your publisher suggests as well as rustling up your own, if you can. Again, try to dredge up all your contacts to get yourself interviewed or otherwise noticed.
  • Your own website. Now is the time if you haven’t done it already. Expect to pay for it yourself.
  • Word of mouth is still the most powerful marketing tool of all. Over to you and your friends!

On Sunday: to your book launch and beyond! 

Happy writing.

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The Most Intimate Place launch 2009

 

How to avoid painful feedback– losing track of time

Times are bad,’ he said, ‘children don’t obey their parents any more and everyone is writing a book.’ That was Cicero in 43BC. Everyone’s life is full of majestic stories but crafting them into a novel takes skill, perseverance and several rewrites that can tax the brain. That’s why writers need this feedback stage so much.

Feedbackers who give you clear, itemised lists of where you can improve your draft might make your teeth grind but at least they’re useful. It can be hard to know how to react when they are vague, unsure. They say they got lost, couldn’t finish it or, worst of all, they got bored. Bored?!! You think, how can they be bored, you’ve sweated blood over that draft …

Generalised dissatisfaction is often down to plot problems. In other words, does your story arc slacken and need a tweak or two? If you’re sure it’s not that, then it may be your use of time that’s confusing them. Let’s think about how you’re using memory and flashback.

MEMORY EXERCISES: 5 minutes each

  • Your main character is telling you in the 1st person about an important memory from early childhood, many years ago.
  • Your character is alone, quietly remembering the same event only 5 or 10 years after it happened. This can be in 1st or 3rd person, it’s up to you.
  • The day after this event happened, your character is telling someone else in your story about it.

This is about how memory alters with age and distance from the thing remembered. It also shows us that while we remember, however vividly, we stay in the present, aware of who and how we are now, while remembering.

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Manet, The Railway: 1873

Flashbacks are different.

First, let’s distinguish psychological flashbacks, where involuntary memories of traumatic experiences can invade a person’s present so vividly that it feels as if they are almost happening afresh, there and then.

Story-telling flashbacks are devices conjured by you, the writer, to bring the story from one of the story’s time zones to another for the reader’s benefit. They are like that bit of old movies where the screen goes wiggly and the characters are twenty years younger, until the screen goes wiggly again and they are back in the harsh, unhappy (or otherwise) present.

Those old films can teach us a thing or two, namely:

  • It’s important that readers are clear when you’re going into flashback and coming out again. They often read to relax with a mind full of work stress, children playing close by or with a busload of distracting people around them. If we are going to do something unrealistic like fiddle about in our use of time, we should guide them confidently.
  • The shorter your flashbacks, the more easily your reader will keep track of what’s going on. If a flashback goes on too long, you risk losing people. (Unless your whole book is in flashback and your reader knows that.)

FLASHBACK EXERCISES

  1. Your character is doing something mundane: cooking, driving, maybe daydreaming at work. What triggers the flashback? Hover there and concentrate on that moment. Then describe to yourself your character’s sensual awareness. Go through the five main senses (sight, sound, taste, smell, touch) and heat and cold, tension and relaxation, readiness or sleepiness and so on. Find one or two predominant ones – if your character is washing up, has he paused to feel the water swoosh around the hands? Noticed an aroma or something out of a window? Now take your character into the flashback and write it. Using that sensual experience, the swoosh of water again, come back out of the flashback and write the character’s reflections on it. Bring the reader securely back to the book’s present world.
  2. Now, what did you want that flashback to do? Explore this free writing, for yourself.

Lastly today, let’s try a version of our first memory exercise:

  • Your character, many years after the incident in a flashback, is telling you (the writer) about it for the first time, in the first person.
  • Explore on your page or screen how these exercises have shown you how memory and flashback differ. Both can be exciting, heart-breaking, immediate in their different ways – what do they have to offer in their different ways?

Next week we will start looking at how to send your novel out and get it published. Exciting!

Happy writing.