Submissions, why it is important to do your research.

All writers get to the stage where they think their work is “ready” for publication. For those of us who would love to get a publisher (or agent) to take us on, there are a few things that are essential otherwise you are wasting your time and that of any potential publisher.

First up, I am going to assume that you have had your work beta read, copy edited and it is absolutely the best version of your book that it can possibly be. If you have a niggle that something isn’t right, fix it first.

So, all that aside, you have to find a publisher to take you on. This is NOT easy. The important thing is to realise that you have to be an investigator who keeps meticulous records and takes the time necessary to find the right sort of publisher.

Establish what genre your book is. If it is a cross over of some sort, look up both. My first port of call is the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook. Make sure you use an up to date version, not an old one. The publishing world is in a forever state of flux and what was done a year ago may be old hat now.

Go through the listing of publishers from A to Z and write down what publishers may be suitable for your work. The next step is to look up each potential publisher you have just listed and look at their website. Take time over this, for some, their submission guidelines are always that easy to find, persevere. Also check their “about us” pages and see what sort of books they are publishing to check that they are still relevant to your book. Some change, some add new genres, pay attention.

If that publisher is still a possibility, make sure that they are taking submissions from authors directly and not through an agent, otherwise you are wasting your time. Then pay particular attention to their submissions page. This is were they will tell you EXACTLY what they want.

From my experience of submitting to publishers in several different genres it is fair to say that all publishers are different in what they want. The list below is a sample of what I have found recently:-

  • a 1 pages synopsis
  • a 2 page synopsis
  • a 500 word synopsis
  • a 2000 word synopsis
  • the first 2 chapters
  • the first 3 chapters
  • the first 1,000 words
  • the first 10,000 words
  • the first 10 pages
  • the first 30 pages
  • the whole book
  • left justified only
  • with author bio
  • book blurb sample
  • what recent 3 books are of a similar nature
  • an “elevator pitch”
  • your social media presence

You can see that there is a significant variation in what you need to submit to different publishers and the onus is on you to comply without question.

Fortunately now, most publishers now accept electronic submissions. They will tell you this on their submissions page. But, this can also be very specific. These are some of the requirements I have found recently:-

  • All information cut into the body of one e-mail, no attachments
  • a “cover letter” e-mail with 1 attachment comprising synopsis, text, bio and other information they ask for (this means you will have to cut and paste one specific file with all that they ask for)
  • a “cover letter” e-mail with 2 attachments. One for the text, one for synopsis and everything else they ask for in the body of the “cover letter” e-mail
  • submit via their electronic platform where you answer questions and fill in the required fields with what they want

All of this requires the writer to be vigilant and to submit what you have been asked to submit. I have a “submissions” folder on my computer for each book I have and there are many extracts of my work in there for specific publisher requirements. Most importantly, I have a spreadsheet of what I have sent and to whom I have sent it.

There are a lot more publishers out there than are listed in the reference books. I have joined a number of writers’ groups on Facebook and some of those do a great job of sending out lists of publishers accepting work directly from writers. One I got this week had a list of 25 publishers accepting YA submissions from authors.

There has never been a better time to be a writer, the opportunities out there are huge. If you are going to submit to a publisher (or agent, much of what I have said here applies to agents as well) give yourself the best possible chance by sending what that particular publisher has said they want. Don’t fall at the first hurdle by being lazy. It may have taken you a year or more to get your book written and ready. Do the research, give yourself the best chance possible.

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How social media can be great sources of inspiration for writers

All writers need to find their inspiration from somewhere. Whether they sit and observe people in coffee shops or the supermarket we all need that something to kick start their work. These observations may or may not be the central plot, but to have observations and situations to supplement the story and develop the characters is vital to the writing.

This is where social media can help. Not a day goes by when there isn’t a list of some kind on Facebook about the 21 worse things to say on a first date or 15 disasters from the funeral directors and so on.

These are treasure troves of “real” stories people have collated and are sharing with you now. Todays offering is “patients sharing their most embarrassing moments at the doctors.” It is a belter. One of them goes something like this:-

A woman doesn’t want to be embarrassed by having a bowel movement when giving birth. It happens, there is a lot of pushing going on. So she has an enema to clean her out. The problem is that it gave her a serious gas problem and just when the doctor went to check on something in the target zone, she let rip a monster. It blew his hair back.

I am still laughing at that and can just picture the scene. A moment to be captured in someone’s writing.

So, the next time you are looking for inspiration, check out your social media and marvel at all those embarrassing moments others have shared with you for the benefit of the world. Some may be fictitious but I think most are genuine.

One idea for a book came from just such a list.

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The POV edit.

As writers we are always finding things to tinker with in our work before sending it off. But, as I have found to my own cost it is not the number of times a piece is read, it is what you do to it that counts.

One of my previous “fails” has been in Point of View (POV). Point if View is an important part of the story. A story is told from a particular POV and one has to be consistent in keeping that POV, unless it is clear by creating a new chapter or section in the work that a new or different POV is now being considered.

You can’t switch hit from one POV to another from line to line. The story loses focus and the reader will become confused and lost. Have a POV and stick to it.

This is why after I have read it through several times and fixed the continuity, time line and other plot based errors I do an edit that solely looks at POV. I ask myself, from whose Point of View is this section about? There can be more than one character in the section and all sorts of things are going on, but who is driving the bus? If is Jim, then tell the story as Jim would see it.

That means you can’t put things like “Jim handed her the bag and Sarah felt it was too heavy.”

If the bag was too heavy, how would Jim “know” that it was too heavy, i.e. what did Sarah do that would tell Jim that the bag was too heavy? Did her shoulder slump? Did she say anything? That is still keeping Jim’s POV.

I would always recommend a separate POV edit. It makes the work consistent and that will keep the reader on board.

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The joys of free writing

Athletes of all kinds often say that when they are doing things automatically with freedom, skill, and success that they “are in the zone.”  Those of you who can remember back to Headingly 1981 saw two of the finest examples of sportsmen being in the zone.

First up, Ian Botham. The second innings where he played with freedom and sent the Australian bowlers to all parts of the ground and stand for an unbeaten 149. Along with able support down the order from Graham Dilley and Chris Old, England posted a lead of 129.

Right from the outset of the Australian second innings there was the sense that the unthinkable could happen. Up stepped one R G D Willis, tall, lanky and that big mop of hair bouncing up and down he ripped into the Australian batting with a display of supreme hostile fast bowling. It culminated with Bright’s middle stump flying through the air and England won by 18 runs.

Bob Willis was in the zone, nothing was going to distract him from his task and nothing did. He took 8 wickets for 43 runs that day. I have never seen a better more controlled display since. If you get the chance to look back at the highlights, when he wasn’t bowling he remained in the zone, completely focussed and nothing was going to alter that.

One of the great things I like about my writing is that I can get in that zone. I am there, at my desk and the words are coming so thick and fast I don’t actually know what it is I am typing. I have an idea, but it is moving fast in order to keep up with my brain. I trust the story and let it happen.

I do not stop. I don’t worry about red and green squiggly lines, typo’s or anything else. That is for later. Just keep the flow going and write.

Write, write, write. It is all I can do. Time is irrelevant, it doesn’t exist. All that matters is getting the story out of my head and onto the page as quickly as possible.

This is total freedom, being in the zone free writing and just letting it happen. You too can do this, allow yourself to be connected to the story and write freestyle. You will be amazed at how good that feels and what you can achieve when you are in the zone.

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How to “unstick” your novel.

We have all been there, the initial rush of enthusiastic typing, the deluge of action and ideas has slowed down and every keystroke is now a painstaking test of character.

You have reached the doldrums, your novel is stuck in the drab and dreary and you feel like giving up.

Help is at hand, there are things you can do to get your zest back and put your writing back to awesomeness. The first thing to do is not to panic. Take time out and rest.

Giving your book a few days or even weeks of nurturing time will do your book and you a great deal of good. Sometimes to be away from “it” is the best thing you can do so that the next phase is building slowly in your unconscious mind and when the story is ready to continue, it will pour out like the breaking of the winter waterfall and cascade onto the page.

There are other things you can do also that will help the writing, these include:-

  • Printing off your work and going through it page by page to produce a few bullet points as “chapter summaries”. My chapter summaries are 4 to 8 one liners for each chapter and they help you find the threads of the story, what happened and when and what the significant moments were. This is an absolutely priceless tool when editing, particularly when you have that spark of realisation that something is wrong when having your dinner and you need to find where Dave and Helen had that fight in the restaurant and fix something. Try piling through half the book to find that. Chapter summaries will help you find that easily.
  • Then read your chapter summaries out loud and see what you get.
  • Read the work out loud. How does it flow? Where do you stumble and what makes you want to put it down and correct that line or paragraph for some reason?
  • Write a one page summary of the book so far. What insights about what might happen or should happen later in the book do you get? Write them down.
  • Think out of the box. Let the lateral and “what if” brain take over for a while. What event could happen that is unexpected but is still congruent with the characters or story?
  • Think about having a significant event happen; maybe a storm, a car crash, a building collapses, a stranger picks you up when you stumble, old Uncle Bob turns up at your door, something, anything different and see how and what happens to the characters during and after the event.
  • Above all else, save it and save it to your back up. Never cease a piece of work even unfinished without backing it up.

Then, when the story is ready, it will let you know and you can continue on reinvigorated and energised.

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The observant writer

This morning I woke to fine I had to go to the shops for by breakfast. Not a big deal when you consider the events of the last two days, but it gave me the chance to put my writer’s senses on full alert.

The walk didn’t disappoint.

First up was an elderly gent dressed in full lycra kit who was moving slower than me (and for those who know me, that is slow!)

Then at the traffic lights an elderly women who judging by her actions shouldn’t have been allowed to drive a long time ago, proceeded to remain stationary at a green light while she engaged in a full on conversation with her passenger completely oblivious to the tooting of horns behind her.

It gets worse.

Then she moved forward to a red light just 30m ahead of her. She stopped there for a few seconds then ran the red light into a flow of oncoming traffic while people swerved to avoid her.

There has come a time when we should treat road users like people who operate plant in the construction industry. Someone who operates a digger or truck for example has to keep their training up to date and is reassessed for competence on a regular basis.

But to drive a lethal weapon, one can pass a test at 17 or 18 and never ever get tested again. This is simply irresponsible in a modern society and I have no doubt is resulting in the deaths of countless people every year.

There should be a mandatory retest after a year, then 3 years then very 5 years until the age of 65 when a full test and medical is undertaken to check for competence. Anyone who fails at 65 is not allowed to drive again, full stop.

It is all well and good stating people should be independent, but how many people of the 1713 killed on the roads in 2013 in the UK were killed by those who should not be allowed to drive?

If it is more than zero, then the system needs a complete overhaul.

To every writer out there, be that writing superhero and have all of your super writing senses on full alert at all times for there may come a wonderful moment of human action that can aid your writing and give it that zing of authenticity. After all, if you weren’t there, you wouldn’t have seen the expression on the face of the lady standing at my side when the old lady jumped the red light.

A priceless gem for your writing.

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Writer beware!

Many years ago, from around 1997 to 2003 I spent many a long night over extended periods of time editing my first novel, The Long And Winding Road. When I thought it was “ready” I did my research and sent it out to the big wide world, expecting it to be snapped up and a healthy advance winging its way to me.

It didn’t happen. I have a spreadsheet somewhere in my backup with a list of nearly 50 publishers and at least 25 agents that declined it. I was distraught.

Then, someone mentioned a publishing house to me that I hadn’t heard of and so I sent it off to them and I got a hit. They liked it and said “it deserves the chance to be published.”

They got the full manuscript and a short while later then sent me my first publishing contract. I was so overjoyed it is difficult to put into words, ecstatic doesn’t do it justice.

Then I calmed down. I printed off the contract and started to read it. Alarm bells began to clang and with some experience from my work in contracts I got that feeling of something isn’t right.

Then I did the wisest thing I have ever done in my writing. I phoned the Society of Authors and asked then about one or two clauses that I just didn’t like. They cautioned me not to do anything rash and asked me to send it to them. A few days later I got an e-mail from them that went through the contract line by line.

It was damning and could be summed up in one line, “don’t touch this with a barge pole.”

One at least two clauses they said something like “an author should never relinquish these rights.”

I phoned them, thanked them and sent a short email to the publisher declining the contract. Since then, this publisher, who shall remain unnamed, has had “issues” shall we say with their contracts and relationship with authors.

The moral of this story, no matter how euphoric one is when an offer to publish your precious book lands on your desk, read it carefully and if you are unsure, seek professional advice before agreeing to anything.

It saved me a huge amount of grief and disappointment.

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