Wednesday, 24 June 2009

2009 LBF Masterclass - How to Get Published

This article was posted over at my LJ account a few months ago but I thought I'd repost it here. I have also added a second part to the original post further below.

I shelled out a batch of cash to attend the well known Writer's Masterclass at the LBF, held at Earls Court a few months ago now.

The London Book Fair Masterclass: How to Get Published
The speakers were:

Mr Bill Swainson, Senior Commissioning Editor, Bloomsbury

Mr Simon Trewin, Co-head of Books Department, United Agents

Ms Danuta Kean, Journalist and acknowledged expert on publishing

Ms Kate Mosse, Author

Ms Lola Jaye, Author

Mr Gareth Sibson, writer and broadcaster, and self-published author of Single White Failure

I got from the underground and was stunned to see a group of around 200 or more people standing outside the hall, waiting to be let in...initially I thought, what the hell!?, surely they can't be ALL here for the Masterclass...and they were. And what a wide range of demographic too - I spotted elegant yummy mummies dressed like they were going shopping at Harvey Nics, there were a few alternative types bristling with piercings and tattoos, but the majority were utterly mundane looking people with that mad look in the eye, everyone here wanted to be a published author...

My heart sank a little but I took my place in the group, plugged into my music, and continued reading my copy of Rogue Angel: The Soul Stealer by Alex Archer. This was very much the ostrich approach - ignore them, and they'll go away - a good way to hide the burgeoning terror and concern I felt within me, realising that these 200 plus people represented only a fraction of aspiring writers out there. In other words, they were real live competition...

Then I started worrying about the Masterclass itself, I had no idea what to expect. I knew that I was excited, looking forward to hearing these professional speakers share some invaluable advice with us, but I couldn't help but wonder if it was going to be worth it...

We eventually started filing into the hall. Upstairs we were greated by some staff and shown into a communal area where we were fed tea and pastries before being ushered into the auditorium where we took our seats.

I had bought a new batch of lovely Moleskines and took out the first one, along with my superdooper pen to make notes. The new red Moleskine drew an envious look from my neighbour and we shared a moment of writerly geekness when it comes to stationery.

The talk started with Danuta introducing both Simon Trewin and Bill Swainson. Simon revealed something I did not expect in a big name agent - pure rock 'n roll enthusiasm and honesty about his profession. He spoke with great passion and explained that that is what an agent and publisher immediately can pick up in an author's query letter. He also mentioned that passion and enthusiasm for your own work goes a long way to help you getting published.

Bill Swainson took the time to explain how Bloomsbury handles newly acquired manuscripts, what his role was, who and what he represented and what he looked for when signing up a new author.

The three authors spoke equally of passion, determination and self-belief. They were hugely honest in their answers to the audience and in their advice. They echoed the words of both Bill and Simon - be professional at all times, be aware of what is currently going on in the market, do as much research as you can, speak to as many people as you can, find out the right people - agent or acquiring editor - to approach with your MS and be conscious of what is currently on the market. Visit bookshops and find the books you like and what you write / want to write. See who publishes them, look at who the agents are, and approach those people with your synopsis and sample chapters.

One thing which Kate Mosse said - which I never actually thought about - you are not the same writer as you are a reader. Which I realised is true - I LOVE crime novels and tv-shows...but I cannot write in this genre to save my life. My heart directs me to YA, urban fantasy and fantasy. Similarly I like mysteries but can't write one to save my life or Mark's! So, maybe that old adage of: write what you know, should perhaps be slightly changed.


Both Simon and Bill mentioned that they have never been busier. And I personally have seen this mentioned several times over from the various agents and publishing people I follow via RSS feed. Simon cautioned everyone at the seminar to be realisctic about why they are writing and what their motivations are. Very few people go on to become JK Rowling, with enough money to burn. He mentioned one item which he saw in several of the writers he represents; they can't bear NOT getting the words down. Everyone laughed at this but I was nodding thinking that this is so true. I constantly think about my writing, my characters and plot development. Writing for me is like breathing - I would die if I couldn't. A tad dramatic, maybe, but it feels TRUE.

In the Q&A session, someone asked about submission letters and the advice was: never longer than typed A4, make sure to focus on the subjects, try to communicate your passion for your work, mention your writing background, what you are writing next and always adhere to being professional and most importantly, stay patient. They also cautioned to be realistic, to approach the agents and publishers within the field that you do write in and to do your research!

The question about unsolicited manuscripts was raised and Simon and Bill responded, saying that agents act as "quality" filters to publishers and that publishers only very rarely find something worthwhile on the slush pile. Agents have the contacts and the know how about who to approach in the industry - not using them is shooting yourself in the foot. Look at the agent and publishers' submission guidelines and follow them. Don't try gimmicks, they won't be well received.

Further questions were asked, the most pertinent I think was that of: how do I write a synopsis. The advice was: how do you tell your friends/parents/family/spouse about your book? Use your own words, keep it short. Look at Amazon, Waterstones and indie booksellers' websites to see how blurbs are written. This will give you an idea and feel for what your agent/publisher is after.

General advice on your manuscript: NEVER send it off unpolished. Work it and rework it until it is so shiny it dazzles.

The THIRD PART will follow shortly.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

**Suspending your disbelief**

This is the biggest single request any author can make on a reader: suspend your disbelief, whilst you come along for a ride and I tell you this crazy story.

I am having some trouble with this in the current YA novel I am reading. It is vastly popular (no, it's not Twilight) and has a dedicated group of followers and reviewers singing its praises.

My problem isn't with the setting or the main character (who I think is wonderfully portrayed). It is with the sinister "Order" she is about to come a part of and with the mysterious Indian boy who is following her around - all the way from India (as a stowaway on the ship), to her new boarding school. He threatens her, he breaks into her room and leaves angry notes for her. He warns her from doing "magic" things with the Order but doesn't take the time to explain to her why she should be careful or who he really is. Instead of creating suspense, I'm just irritated.

The book - in my opinion - is written quite well, but these scenes relating to the mysterious boy are confusing and dull and let the rest of the book down. I cannot suspend my disbelief that anyone would be able to stow away on a ship for two months without starving or without being discovered. Then somehow figure out where the object of their stalking would be going to live in England and then get there before them and then join a group of gypsies in the woods and lay in wait for her and her classmates, in order to keep an eye on her.

My friends over at The Booksmugglers raised some very interesting questions on their blog about this very subject due to an an interesting article on Romancing the Blog written by Deb Werksman the romance fiction editor for Sourcebooks on the subject of credibility in fiction.
She mentions the criteria which she follows in order to recommend a book to be published and they are:

*a heroine the reader can relate to
*a hero she can fall in love with
*a world that gets created
*I can sell it in 2-3 sentences

But in addition to this criteria she also thinks about poet Philip Larkin’s criteria for the Booker Prize – Larkin asked himself:

*can I read it?
*if I can read it, can I believe it?
*if I can believe it, do I care?
*if I care, what is the depth of that caring and how long will it last?

The speculative fiction genre has always pushed the boundaries of belief, be it sci fi, fantasy, horror, the new weird, urban fantasy, steampunk, alternative history or whatever. It asks of a reader to suspend their own disbelief and to have an open mind. I have found some of the most amazing books this way - the stories are convoluted and insane but because the story and the plot is so good, you just keep reading, immersing yourself in the world and characters.

Case in point, the amazing Sharon Shinn's Samaria series. Not only is she an amazingly skilled writer but her world-building is just astounding. Another example of an author whom I greatly admire for her storytelling skill and scope of her novels, Faith Hunter. These two authors to should come together and write a "how to" novel on world building, character creation and plot. More importantly because they are adept at these three important sections, their novels work and not for one moment do you disblieve the characters or setting.

All I can hope for is emulating this whilst creating my own WIP. - narrows eyes, or else I get to eat humble pie-

Monday, 15 June 2009

And I'm back

... two years on, since I started this blog and I'm back with a WIP sitting at 30k.

The novel I'm currently working on is for readers 12+ and it is a little bit action, a little bit adventure and a whole load of running around the world finding various artefacts and clues to resolve the main conundrum. There is also a supernatural entity which needs stopping and a parent that needs saving.

I am making good headway with the novel, having done loads of research on this about two years ago. It's been percolating and making me write down snippets on and off.

Do you know what made me decide to sit down and start writing it "for real"? A competition. The new ChickenHouse/The Times competition with the deadline of 12th October, the day of final submission.

I looked at that earlier this year and went a bit breathless and shelved the writing I was doing at the time. It was too American and would not suit what Chickenhouse publishes. I've merely shelved it and will come back to it at a later stage, once I've completed the Chickenhouse book. You know, even if they don't bother reading it, even if it doesn't come anywhere, I'd like to end up with a fully completed MS - finishing it and polishing it until it is shiny and lovely, means more at this point, than actually submitting it. The thought of submitting it is utterly terrifying!

This is where I stand after this weekend's writing:

30150 / 80000 words. 38% done!

I suspect that the novel may be done under 80,000 words. I am merely using this as it was mentioned on the website that the novels should not exceed 80,000 words.

I have also been reading a lot of writers' blogs and have subscribed to several via RSS feed. Now all I have to do is open my Outlook and whomp! there it is. Articles and blogposts to read, print and file. Or not, as the case may be.

As I've also been reviewing over at my main site: I've had the chance to start reading a lot more children's and YA books. It has been a revelation. The scope for telling a good story, across the board, has seemingly no limit. And the one sector of the publishing industry, which according to various sources, is still growing and showing promise, is that of the children's market. Also, of course, science fiction and fantasy. And romance - especially in the States with paranormal romance being one of the largest sections showing tremendous movement and interest.

I'd like to point out that any wannabe writer, who does not do his / her market research is shooting themselves in the foot. With a canon. I've read about some awful things some people do in order to get published. I list these below.

Common sense things NOT TO do when looking to be published:

  • approaching agents who do not represent your type / genre of writing

  • approaching agents before you and your book is not ready for professional scrutiny

  • or employing an agency to approach agents on your behalf who then mass-mails it out to everyone on a massive list.

  • stalking agents / publishers online via social media such as Twitter / Facebook

  • finding out who your favourite author's agent is and then sending them your work saying: I am friends with....please consider my work...

  • sending gimmicks to get a publisher / agent to notice your work

  • not reading an agent / publishers remit on a) what type of writing they represent or b) not following the simple directions on these sites on how they want to be approached

The above are just a few items I've seen agents and publishers complain about on their sites and blogs. Can you imagine receiving 200 queries a DAY, the majority of which do not conform to what you've set out painstakingly on your site? No wonder agents and publishers don't bother reading your work! If they can't expect a new author to follow the rules, how difficult will she be when she becomes a client?

So, this "I'm back" blog post is getting a bit out of hand - but I enjoyed writing this. I will keep updating on here, with links to other writerly blogs etc. Because, you know, it's good to share!