Saturday, 10 January 2009


Excuse the random order of these. It'll keep you on your toes.
  1. A bad covering letter. It's your shop window and many agents and publishers will not read a single word of your work if they don't like your letter. Why would they? After all, if you can't write a brilliant letter, how can you write a brilliant book?
  2. Sending Chapter 28, 31 and 56 and in response to the question, "Why didn't you send chapters 1,2 and 3?" answering, "Because they're not as good." Get them good and then send them.
  3. Disobeying the simple rules of how to submit work to publishers/agents. Very often in this blog, I give you the solution to that. Go find!
  4. Not reading contemporary published books within your genre. It's arrogance and ignorance all rolled into one deeply unattractive and undeserving mess if you can't talk with passion and fervour about the authors and books that are being successful in your genre. Read. A lot. End of.
  5. Being old-fashioned. If you wrote a new Pride and Prejudice it would not get published. Nor would it deserve to. If people want Pride and Prejudice they'll read it. They don't need your imitation. You have to try to be new and you can't do that with 19th century prose, excellent though it was. You even have to be careful about the names you choose - someone once sent me a proposed children's story with the characters Bill and Sue. No, no, no.
  6. Having an inconsistent voice. If you don't know what voice is (and I didn't when I was failing to get published) then you need to find out. Find a creative writing class or blog or book. It really is a common mistake - to slip out of voice, or unintentionally disobey the rules of voice.
  7. Being unpleasant. An agent or editor wants to work with you - why would they want to do that if you are rude or inconsiderate or abrupt or if you insist on pestering them, questioning their integrity, phoning them at the weekend? An author nowadays has to have some kind of public persona, too, and an editor won't want you on her/his list if you are likely to frighten/bore/annoy/bemuse/offend the booksellers/readers/librarians/publicity girls/reviewers. Yes, it has not escaped my notice that some authors are poisonous and regularly boring or drunk, but they will have successfully hidden that during their first contact with agent/editor.
  8. Showing ignorance - you need to read the INEXCUSABLE IGNORANCE article. Just do your best to find out as much as you can about the business of becoming published. You're doing that already but keep going: go to talks by authors on getting published, or join organisations and writers' groups; subscribe to a writing magazine. (I'm going to investigate these for you soon - it's been a while since I read them but I used to get Writers' News and The New Writer and both were helpful. Actually, please let me know if you use/recommend them and I can put them on the list of links - please send me a website if possible).
  9. Not getting straight to the point in a book, whether fiction or non-fiction. You have to think of your reader - don't wax lyrical with your beautiful prose without ensuring that your reader is following. Often this means NOT starting at the beginning, but leaping into the action and then explaining as necessary later. Let your reader wonder - don't flood them with background at the start.
  10. A great beginning, followed by a floundering middle and / or unlikely ending.
  11. Coincidence which could happen in real life but just doesn't feel believable in a book.
  12. The feeling, obvious to most readers but not to the author desperate to force the plot to work, that the author was desperate to force the plot to work.
  13. For older children and teenagers, the feeling that the author is trying to teach a moral message. Even if you are.
  14. For younger children, a trite homely little story. Give it some oomph and orginality. But show that you care about your reader.
  15. I could go on but I'm stopping there ....


Echo Freer said...

Excellent site, Nicola.

TOM J VOWLER said...

Great piece. Yep, guilty of at least half of those when I started 5 years ago. Where were you then, Nicola?

Nicola Morgan said...

I wonder where I was too, because I seriously could have done with my own advice if only I'd been there to give it. Isn't it amazing what we learn in a few years? btw, did you see that I put your blog on my recommended list? Good luck - seems to me you deserve it. By the way, I once wrote a covering letter in rhyme ... OH GOD. And I hadn't even been drinking.

TOM J VOWLER said...

I did see, thank you. I'd love to see that letter sometime.