Scenes from a coffee shop part 8

Feeling a bit stir crazy at home this morning I decided to go for a walk. It turned out to be quite eventful. The main street was mobbed with people, many more than is usual for a Saturday morning and a lot of them men. Then I found out why.

I walked passed a throng of men smoking outside a pub and overheard them talking about “The Football.” In Glasgow that can only mean one thing, Rangers v Celtic and kick off was in less than half an hour at noon.

I can certainly pick’em.

So, with some business in the Post Office to take care of, this took a while with a queue of twelve people, I evaded the masses as best I could and found a coffee shop. My ‘usual’ was stowed out, with people queueing out of the door and blocking the pavement, so I chose another I occasionally visit.

And here I sit, with the white blouse and coffee and cake brigade all around me I laugh inwardly when a man asks for brown sauce with his food only to be given tomato. If only the problems of the world were as trivial as that.

A very loud talkative lady in denim comes in with an older man, her father perhaps, maybe/maybe not. On reflection after a few moments I would say not, but then, the world is a curious place these days.

I look around and survey the scene. A couple of ladies are peering over a mobile phone, another ‘couple’ are looking past each other and I realise that denim lady may not be as young as I thought, or maybe she is. I can’t tell without appearing to stare, I decline.

Elsewhere, a mother nurses her child and another ‘couple’ are sitting as far away from each other on a large leather sofa as is possible. Their conversation is low and limited.

Well, I’d better go before the half time rush for a rag blocks the streets, until next time.

Keep writing…

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The value of community for writers.

Writers know that writing is for the most part a solitary occupation. There we sit, in our den, office, shed or wherever doing the hard yards, knocking out the words. Line by line, paragraph by paragraph, page by page and chapter by chapter. Then there are the edits, revisions and a whole plethora of activities that draw the process out to the limits of elasticity until at some point, the end means the end.

Book drafted, beta read, copy edited, formatted, printed off and stored in a folder somewhere close to the workspace. The data has been backed up and all that can be done is done, even the dreaded synopsis and blurb.

But still, the writer stands alone. From my experience, with the exception of brief contact through e-mail or some other kind of digital communication to beta readers etc, the whole process has been undertaken without the contact of another soul.

This is why the writer must venture out into the big wide world and make contact with people, situations and nature. Not only will it start to fill up that resource pool of ideas for future work, but it will also make the writer feel that they are part of something bigger than themselves.

It is important that a writer feels “needed,” even if that is just being amongst other writers at writers groups or conferences and so on. Understanding that the process that they have just gone through for perhaps 6 or 9 months is also one that others have been through somehow makes the writer feel part of something bigger than just their work. In doing so, it is likely that someone will share an experience that helps the writer for future projects.

Like many things in the world, being part of an understanding and supportive community is at the heart of who we are and what we do.

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Writing essentials – the master notes and ideas file.

If you are a writer like me who needs (and likes) to get things written down, then the master notes and ideas file is one of your most important writing assets.

What is the master notes and ideas file? I hear you ask.

It is essentially what it sounds like. A single file on your computer that has every single idea for a book, story line, character(s), situation or incident (usually a funny or particularly poignant one), that you have.

So, when you have been out and about and have seen, thought, heard that gem of an idea and you write it in your notebook, this file is where you keep it. As you type up that event you will find that one or two sentences become a few paragraphs. A few paragraphs become a few pages and you will soon find yourself in full free writing flow.

Do not move, stay there and keep writing. It doesn’t have to make sense, it can be a series of bullet points or a list. One or two parts may become “proper” writing, just keep at it and write it all down. Let your imagination out on the longest lead you have and keep writing.

You will end up with the basics for a book or indeed several books. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you get it all written down in that file and you save it and back it up.

When this happens to me and I am in free flow I am in such a place that the world around me does not exist. All I do is breath and write. Breath and write and I let myself go.

Print it off and keep it safe. There is work to do on that file, later.

Sometime later, read that file. Look for commonalities, trends and themes. See how parts of the file fit together, see what parts don’t fit. Soon, you will be going through it and organising the various parts into collective ideas for your next book or books.

I have so much information in my master notes and ideas file that I have created a spreadsheet of all the different books and storylines/plots that there are. It is an extensive list and having made it, the ideas contained in it are working in the background of my unconscious mind until BAM! one comes to the fore and that particular idea grows into a story.

One of the key things that a writer must do is to write down all of those ideas, gems and situations that you can. The next step is to transfer those gifts into your master file.

Trust me, it will be the most important file you have.


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Researching Publishers and Agents

Okay, so you have written that killer novel, had it beta read and copy edited and you have made it as good as you can possibly make it. Every word has a place and you are ready to send it out into the publishing world.

I am assuming that you are looking for a conventional agent and publisher for your work and are not going to self publish.

Now you have very important work to do so that you give yourself the best chance of getting your work seen and read.

First up, you need to ask yourself some key questions:-

  • What genre is it?
  • is it for adults or children or is it a cross over of some kind?
  • does it “fit” the conventional length for that genre? There is no point writing a 150,000 word Young Adult novel as your first book.

Once you have established that, you need to look at the standard reference texts for agents and publishers. Two of the most popular are,

The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook

The Writers’ Handbook

If writing for children and young adults, there is also the Children’s Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook.

There are others and there are also lists and resources that you can find by searching the web.

Make sure you are using the most up to date version. The publishing world is in a constant state of flux and changes all of the time.

You need to go through these books by reading every agent and publishers entry to see if there is a match for your genre. If so, mark the book or make a separate list in your notebook. Do this for the whole listing. It takes time but it is essential.

The next thing to do is to go through your list and visit EACH agent or publishers website. Many publishers don’t accept submissions from writers. they only accept from agents. There is no point sending to them, you are wasting your time, and theirs.

Check to see if they are currently accepting manuscripts from writers. Some now use a limited “we are open for this week, or month” procedure so you have to know when to submit to them.

If you are sending to an agent, look up each agent and see who your work best fits and send to them, or as directed by their website.

Most agents and publishers now accept submissions by email, some do not. Comply with what they ask for. It is all too easy in this day and age of email submissions to just send it to someone on the off chance. Don’t, please do your research and only send to those that are looking for your work.

It is also useful to join writers groups on various social media. Many of these groups can provide very useful updates on what is going on in the publishing world and who and when certain publishers are open for submissions and so on.

Be professional do your research.

For what and how to submit to an agent or publisher, see my recent blog post


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The importance of writers groups for writers

Writing, by definition is a solitary occupation. All that time spent doing research, plotting and maybe even world building is usually done by the writer alone.

The countless hours crunching away at the keyboard as the word count slowly ticks along towards a big enough number or perhaps, as for me, when I have finished the story. Those two instances are not necessarily the same, I may blog on that at another time.

This is where, at some point, the writer needs support and third party interaction and not just from beta readers. A writer needs to “feel” that they are a part of something and not apart from others. Being a member of a writers group, or several writers groups takes on a significant role in the writing process as a whole.

People in writers groups have a wide and varied breadth of knowledge and more often than not are willing to share their expertise with fellow writers. A tip here, a prompt there or a different slant on your project can pay great dividends.

Above all, being in a writers group gives support and comfort to the lone writer and that above all is worth its weight in gold.

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Write something different.

Writing is a lonely task and for some of us to find that daily urge to write can be difficult. This can have a negative impact on the writer and the writing. This often happens in the middle of the book where, after the euphoria of starting and building plot, characters and action, you become engrossed on where it is all going and how it will end.

For some of my books, I have no idea what the “end” is until I get there while for some other books, I have been woken at 6am by the urge to write the last page when only on chapter 1.

One of the useful tools I find when I am in the mire of middle book blues is to write something completely different. Pick a normal everyday situation like waiting for a bus, or being in a supermarket on a busy Saturday afternoon and allow yourself to start writing. Don’t worry about the minor detail, write. Think of the “what if?” moments. Does the man fall from his bike? or is that dog going to cock his leg over the ladies shopping bag?

There are a thousand things that could occur that can be used to change your focus and enable you to write for the freedom of writing without the burden of hitting another thousand words on your book. Allow yourself the time to free write something else and soon you will be invigorated and able to progress your book.

Who knows, that something else may grow and become another book sometime down the line. An idea is never wasted if it is written down.

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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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