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Monday, 30 April 2018

Those three little words...

So you've submitted your first three chapters, and you've heard those magic three words for the first time..

No, not 'I love you'. It would be odd to be hearing someone say I love you in response to submitting your novel, unless you have submitted it to your Significant Other, which would be, largely, pointless unless you are dating the head of Random Penguin or whatever they call themselves today. Plus, if you are dating the head of a random penguin, your problems may well be further reaching than I can deal with in this blog.

The three words to which I refer are 'Send. More. Please.' There is a caveat about making sure that these words refer to your words, and not, say sandwiches or cake or biscuits - it's always wise to double check, but in the event that you've heard a publisher or agent say them, and you have therefore Sent. More. Words (those words being further words of your novel, not just stray words you happened to have lying around the place), now you need to fill your time until you hear back about the satisfactory nature of those words.

This can be a hard time. You will obsess. You will have the e mail button open on your laptop at all times, and every time a new mail pings in you will open it with your heart thumping. Unless you are expecting your credit card statement, of course, in which case you will close down all means of communication and probably move to the moon. You will make bargains with Fate, wandering around muttering 'if they promise to buy the book I will never again eat four Walnut Whips in succession' and suchlike. Usually with at least one Walnut Whip in your hand.
Unless, as previously stated, you are talking to a random penguin head.
You will read books published by the publisher (or represented by the agent) and try to work out whether your work is in any way comparable. You will also eat a lot of chocolate and sleep standing up.

What you should be doing:
 Apart from pledging yourself to diet off those biscuits and chocolate at the first opportunity, this is what you should do: Get Yourself On Social Media. If you haven't already got one, get a Facebook profile, get on Twitter and make yourself a blog. (What? You didn't think I was doing this for FUN did you?). Because the first thing that publisher or agent will do, on receiving your treasured manuscript is Google you. And it's all very well keeping a low profile and being all mysterious and unavailable and everything, particularly if you have either recently robbed a bank or have more injunctions taken out against you by a certain Sir Tony Robinson, but what a publisher or agent wants is someone who knows how to sell themselves.

I tried to sell myself to Sir Tony, but he returned me with the receipt and asked for his money back. I was, apparently 'not fit for purpose'. Sigh.

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.

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Editing: You are now at the 'chop chop arrrgh' stage

All right, calm down. Deep breaths. Now. You've written your novel and you've followed my instructions and you are now staring at pages and pages of scribbled on manuscript, convinced that this is the worst idea you've had since you bought that outboard motor and strapped it to the swimming aids in the local pool.
To be honest, that was NOT your finest hour
So now what do you do?

Sit down, have a large cup of tea and a packet of HobNobs, and a think. Do you have one of those Kindle thingies that reads to you? Doesn't matter if not, you can do this with your own voice. If you have got a fancy Kindle, save your manuscript to it and get it to read it aloud to you. If you haven't, then you're going to have to do the DIY version, and read it aloud to yourself. As you go, make notes, and bear in mind that EVERY SINGLE WORD has to earn its place. Remember what I said about huge long descriptions? And lots of words about things that are never going to appear in the book again? I don't want to have to come round and slap your hands...

Notes. Lots of notes.
Thsi is what organised writers do. Apparently
This is the time to move scenes and people around if they don't work where they are. Or kill them, killing them is good - not necessarily really killing them, unless it's that kind of book, but if they don't seem to work, or they appear on the page, say something vital and then go off never to be heard of again - try to think of a different way that information can be got over. Merge two people into one (don't try this in real life, they don't like it). Make your characters REAL. Just take out the boring bits of real life, nobody wants to read about cups of tea, walking the dog, cleaning the toilet...if your characters must do these things then at least have them talking about things RELEVANT TO THE PLOT while they are doing them.

And I cannot stress this enough...every single word you write must advance the plot or deepen the characters. I know you've done lots of research into tree felling, but the readers don't care. They don't need to know how you fell an oak, they just want the characters to do it and move on to the next thing.
Yes, it's complicated. Yes it takes work. But your readers want 'chop chop arrrrgh' not a lecture
In fact you need to get your book distilled down to the 'chop, chop, argggh' stage. Cut out all that flabby prosey stuff, where you describe the night sky for four pages. Readers know what a sky looks like, they want to know what is going to fall out of it.

And, as you cut stuff out, you are going to be thinking 'chop, chop....arrrgh, I love that bit, surely I can leave that in?!' Just think about how important it is to the plot...

Next week I am going to be working on your 'flabby middle'. Won't that be nice?