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Monday, 23 April 2018

Dealing with rejection by going Full Tea Towel.

Now comes the stage in your publishing career where you have to send your book baby out into the wide world - which is why I've called this bit 'rejection'.

I know you think your book is perfect. Of course you do! You wouldn't be submitting it otherwise, would you? You think it is the shiniest thing that ever shone and it's amazing and wonderful and original and lots of other adjectives that can otherwise only apply to Lord Tony of Robinson...
Just tell me if he isn't the most adorable thing you've seen since my appearance in the penguin onesie...
So, you've got your book all shiny, and now you need to send it out to people who might just put it out into the wide world. And how do you go about that?

Firstly, go and buy yourself a copy of the Writers' and Artists' Yearbook. Honestly. it's full of Really Important Information like names of agents and publishers and their submission details, and, if all else fails, it makes an excellent doorstop. You can make a list, if you like, of all the agents (or publishers if you're going the direct route) that deal with the sort of book that you've just written. If you are really keen you can do a spreadsheet, but I've never really got to grips with those, and just end up with lots of little boxes which get all mangled and it looks like a wall built by someone who'd rather be knitting.
Like this. Only with words in.
And then you go online and you look up the agents and/or publishers. Their websites will have their submission guidelines - pay close attention to these. If they ask for you to send the first three chapters, then send the first three chapters and not a word more. Honestly, there's very little that annoys a publisher or agent more than people who don't read the guidelines, and you don't want to make them any more purple-faced with rage than they already are, because the publishing industry is the sort of industry that brings out the purple face of rage more readily than any other.

You submit your work, and then you wait. And yes, it's all right to send it to more than one place at a time (although it's only polite to tell those you are sending it to that this is what you have done). Submission guidelines will tell you whether they want a covering letter, a writer's CV or a synopsis as well. Do make sure you've put it all in the envelope before you post, there's nothing worse than toddling back from the post office, or pressing the SEND button, only to find that you left out a vital piece of requested information and having to send it separately (see: Purple Face of Rage).

Now is the time to lay in a supply of chocolate, lots of biscuits, some very good friends and a vocabulary laden with invective. I'm particularly fond of 'hamfisted amateurs with the imagination of a brain dead dinosaur'. Because when your rejection comes, you will need every last, sweary, chocolate-stained word, but that's fine. Honestly. Channel your inner Malcolm Tucker. Go Full Tea Towel. (If you've never heard of Tucker's Law, then it's here but not for those who are easily offended).

Then you smile, and send it out again somewhere else. And you keep doing that.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Beta Readers - or why too many cooks might spoil your broth

Where were we?  Well, in my case, mostly in Tony Robinson's shrubbery, but we'll let that go for now (or, at least have it taken into account with several other pending cases). We were at the next stage of 'how the hell do I write a book anyway', which I now realise isn't the catchiest title.

You've written it. You've re-written it and taken out all the 'just's and the 'then's and you've made sure your story has a character arc and plot development and doesn't just tell a flat story. You've also, hopefully, made sure that your heroine doesn't change eye colour half way through, or start the story coming from Latin America, widowed and owning a small boat, and somewhere along the line starts coming from Swansea with a pursuing husband and owning a small cottage in Holderness. You have checked all those things, haven't you?

I'll wait while you go back and look.

Right. So now you are at the stage of letting your book be seen by someone else.  I realise you might have been tempted already to let someone have a quick read, but do try not to. That way madness lies, and I should know, because I have a holiday home there.
It's like this. Only with more screaming.
If you let people look at work before you get it to the state where you think it 'might' be finished, you will find yourself getting "oooh, I love it but why don't you make him a blacksmith. Blacksmithing would be good"  and so you make him a blacksmith because it does seem a good idea at the time. Then another person reads it and says "why is he a blacksmith? You need him to be a jewellery designer, so then he can design her a ring - oh, oh, I know, and then they can go on a TV show where they have to compete for this huge prize and she wins and...."and various other inputs and opinions. When you are still in the 'creating' phase, the last thing you need is opinions. You will have plenty of your own. And most of your own opinions will conflict with your other opinions so you don't want other people putting theirs in there too - we talked about madness, didn't we?

So the book is as nearly perfect as you can get it, what with your feeble eyesight and your typing it out using only a crow's beak and an old bent fork you found in the garden - oh, hang on..., apparently that's only me.
I did wonder.

And what you need now is a Beta Reader. Someone to test drive your book and iron out all the little wrinkles. I did a post on beta readers a while back, and you know how I hate to repeat myself, so here's the link.

so now all you have to do is find one. You can ask on Facebook, that's always good. Just DO NOT USE YOUR MUM, all right?

Sunday, 8 April 2018

What to do with a flabby middle

The average book is around about 80,000 words, give or take a full stop.

So, using 'author maths' (which is the only kind I am any good at, I can't even count my fingers and toes and reach the same total twice), you need around 5,000 words to introduce your characters and set up the premise for your book, and, say, another 10,000 to get things moving. And then it's going to take you around about another 10,000 for your denouement, to wrap up all the loose ends and get it all over and done with.

As you can see, that leaves you with...(hastily calculates) around 55,000 words in which you are neither starting nor ending your story. And, if you are not careful, those 55,000 words can just sit there, all lumpy and not pulling their weight, because words will do that, if they are allowed to. They lie back on the sofa of your novel, eating crisps and hogging the remote and doing absolutely nothing to advance your plot. And you need to go after them with the cattle prod of plot development and then give them the kick up the bum of character arc too.
Imagine it like this. You are the boot and the little man is your story, by the way. If you are imagining it the other way round, you may want to rethink the life of an author.

Remember what I keep telling you? That every single word needs to further your plot or develop your character? Take a look at those 55,000 words. Now, stop treating them like teenagers who don't tidy their rooms or bring their dirty plates out into the kitchen, and start treating them like co-workers who are leaving you to do all the heavy lifting whilst going out and getting drunk and coming back and putting their feet on the desks.

Basically, make them work. What about introducing a sub plot to give those 55,000 words something to do? Or a twist to the plot you've got? If you really can't get them to do something, maybe have a think about your plot. Have you got enough to fill an entire novel?

If you are really struggling, and those wretched words have not only taken over the remote but they've eaten all the chocolate too and are now lying back and asking you to make them a coffee - try taking your novel apart. Go through, chapter by chapter and make a list of which characters are doing what in each one. Then sum up each chapter - does it need to be there? What does it achieve in terms of the book as a whole?
Do not let your words tell you this. If they are not dragging your story, kicking and screaming, onto the next act, then they are not working.
And don't let me catch you using the 'really long descriptions' excuse to use up a lot of those flabby middle words. Those are still flabby, they're just wearing flattering clothes.