Sunday, 26 April 2009

WORD OF THE WEEK

I am, as you may know, going away, far far away. I may be some time. Well, to be honest, I will only be four days, but it will seem like a long time to me. I have pledged to leave my laptop behind. But he doesn't know I'm sneaking a pen and paper into the suitcase. What I expect to do with that, goodness knows, but it's worth a try.

Anyway, I said I'd give you an activity to keep your brains alert. And I will. But don't scroll down to the end of the post. Read the "learning" first. Remember how you had to eat your greens before you got your dessert? Well, this is not very much like that.

All writers like to play with words. We like the sound of them and the feel of them in our mouths and what they do to the minds and hearts of the reader. Writers can have conversations about the beauty of words in the same way that other people can go gooey-eyed over the gorgeousness of scart leads.

One of my favourite words is one I don't often get the chance to use. It's "hapax legomenon." (OK, two words.) And it describes any word which has only ever "once" (hapax) been "read" (legomenon, obviously). So, it's a word that has only ever appeared once in the whole history of literature. Trouble is, as soon as you then write that down in order to comment on it and discuss its position in the cannon, it's not hapax any more, is it? Don't suppose they thought of that when they started talking about hapax legomena. "Oooh, electricity - there's one! Oops, now it's gone ...."

Anyway, let's not be pedantic. Let's say that a hapax thingy could (should) also mean a word which was at one time "once read" until some aspiring writer spoilt its uniqueness by writing it again and then damned well getting published so someone else could read it for the second time.

If you invented a word, it woud be a hapax legomenon until someone else used it.

Well, I invented one yesterday. It was while I was gardening, or, to be precise, while I was gazing in admiration at the results of my gardening. See, I have a very small garden but I like to do my bit for the environment so I had been planting lettuces and beans and things in pots, so that, come the sun, I'd be in, if not clover, then at least lettuce.

You need to see it before I go on:















Isn't it cute? Sorry about the tulips, which are clearly not edible, but I thought the lettuces needed something to inspire them. To model good behaviour, so to speak.

Then came my inspirational word invention. See, there I was gazing at my tiny collection of pots, leaning on my fork, and thinking to myself, that's not so much an allotment as ....


.... an allittlement (Or should that be with one "l"? We need a ruling on that.)

Now this word is, quite literally, a hapax legomenon. At the moment. And, as I am sure you will agree, it should exist, so I'd like you to help me raise it from its hapaxity (woah! another one!) and take it into common usage. I want to be remembered for something more than just being the first Google result for "crabbit old bat". Please.

But that's not your main task. Oh no.
Your main task (and there's no prize or nasty judging or anything divisive and time-consuming, because I'm going to be up to my eyes in things when I get back from the sunny north) is to share with all of us your own invented words. Words that damned well should exist. And if we like them, we will all go out there and take them into common usage.

Go on - think of your legacy!

All your words in the comments box, please. If you can't think of any new words, entertain us with your favourite existing words - if you speak about them interestingly, we'll get to love them too. Go on, inspire us! And if they're really unusual words that we might not have heard of, you'll have educated us too. Goodness me: "inspire, educate and entertain"? We'll be turning into the BBC soon ...

Meanwhile, here is my own personal Cerberus.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

INEXCUSABLE DIMNESS


You don't need to read this. You know it already. You're clever and wised up and you've seriously been paying attention over the last few weeks. However, there may be someone in a distant corner of a distant land who is trying to get published but has been going around with eyes closed, brain in neutral and a deluded grin on his/her face.


If you know such a person, please direct him or her to this post. And now get ready to roll your eyes in tired incredulity.

Answer me something. Suppose there was an agent who worked on his own and didn't have an army of secretarial staff. And suppose the agent, as with so many agents, had put clear submission guidelines on his website. Suppose one of the guidelines was,

"Please do not phone me or send your manuscript electronically unless you are already my client."


And supposing this then happened:


The agent's phone rings. It is an unknown voice. The agent knows from the sound of the anxious breathing and the distinctive sound of toffees being unwrapped that this is an aspiring writer looking for an agent. (New readers of this blog may need to refer here for elucidation of that point.)


Writer:
Hello, I wonder if I could have your email address so I can send you my manuscript.
Agent: Have you read my submission guidelines? They're on my ....
Writer:
Yes, I know, but it just seemed like a waste of paper and stamps when I could so easily email it to you.


NOTHING
is a waste of paper or stamps or time or money or effort or blood or tears or sweat or coffee or chocolate or wine or years off your life to achieve your aim of publication. Nothing, do you hear?


Just.

Follow.

The.

Guidelines.


Otherwise, either
(major crabbit old bat alert ...):

  1. Since you can't read, I'll bet you can't write, OR
  2. You are letting your great writing down by not reading and following the guidelines which are given to you free, repeatedly, and simply
Unusually succinct post by yours truly, don't you think? And nary a hint of all those silly colours I used to shower you with in the early days when I was carefree and irresponsible.

Tomorrow I will bring you a little bit of word play and a teensy competition (I knew that would get you going) to indulge you while I disappear for a few days. Four days out of blog-shot. How will I cope without you?

Friday, 24 April 2009

ALWAYS LOOK ON THE BRIGHT SIDE OF LIFE, de dum, de dum de dum de dum

(NB You need to be a Life of Brian fan to get your teeth round all those de dums)

I may be too busy and fraught to bring you a carefully researched and ruthlessly perceptive blog post at the moment, but I'm never too busy and fraught to bring you someone else's carefully researched and ruthlessly perceptive blog post.


So, I do recommend, for your edification, education, and simultaneous hilarity, this post from literary agent Rachelle Gardner.

Now, those soul-shredding rejection letters which you open and weep over in the privacy of your own garret suddenly don't seem so painful, do they?

And lest you think I am above telling you about my own bad review, I thought you might like to put yourselves in my admittedly gorgeous turquoise boots when I read the shocking review of my novel Fleshmarket, on Amazon. Somewhat weirdly, the reviewer claims to be Bob Geldof, but I don't think this can be true because a) BG has better things to do and b) there's no swearing. All I can do is to remind myself that a) the reviewer is delusional b) the other reviews are good c) the poor sod had probably been forced to study Fleshmarket in class, which is a nasty thing to have to do when you'd rather be out kicking a football / pulling wings off flies, and I apologise to him for causing him distress d) he could well be right, but I can't change it now. I'll try to write betterly next time. Or e) it might be the surly shop assistant I was rude to the other day, getting his own back. And who can blame him?

Which brings me to the real moral of the story: remember that when you are published, you will no longer be able to be rude to anyone and get away with it. It's a crying shame.

Monday, 20 April 2009

NANOWRIMO - WHY? BECAUSE ...

I do have a habit of doing mad things. Frequently I regret it. Usually in the middle of the night. I once took a test to see whether I was a risk-taker. I scored pathetically on the type of risk which involves physical danger - like sitting by a window when at any moment a pigeon might come crashing through - but impressively bravely on "new experience-seeking".

If there was a category for "things no sane person would do but which aren't actually even a teensy bit dangerous" that would be my type of risk.


So, doing a NaNoWriMo is pretty much in that category.
(A Nanothingy, btw, is where a group of idiot writers decide to write 50,000 words in a month. You're meant to do it while having a normal working life, though you will not be normal by the end of it.)


I am fascinated by several aspects but I'll share just three with you. And I'm going to be briefish because a) my posts are often too long (though none of you has been cruel enough to tell me so) and b) I've, er, got 5,000 words to write tonight.


1. Changing your writing habits is a good thing

We get into ruts. People ask writers things like "Where do you write?" or "When do you write?" and we have answers. We shouldn't have answers. Whatever your answer is now, why not change it? Our brains are wired to love change. They get excited by it, pumping out dopamine, the chemical that makes us learn, and live, and love to live and learn. This week, I've changed. I was a keyboard-addicted-email-addicted-writing-is-a-last resort-can't-write-unless-I've-vacuumed-the-dog kind of a writer, but I'm now a writer who can write With A Pen On Paper, in the garden, in a coffee shop, on a bus with yackety people around me; I'm a writer who writes first and does tasks later. This is a revelation.

2. "No Plot? No Problem!" - the book by the founder of Nanowrimo, Chris Baty - is a must-read for authors. I rarely say that anything is a must-read, but this is. If you don't find something in it that excites or challenges or improves you, I'll eat my novel. I've never read a book about how to write a novel and never wanted to, but this is a totally different book about how to write a novel - it shows you how to write your novel, not how novels are written or what to put in them. Everything from time management made sexy (que?) to how to bribe, terrify or blackmail yourself or your friends into writing is covered.

3. The important thing is to turn off your internal editor. As Baty says, "The first law of exuberant imperfection is essentially this: the quickest, easiest way to produce something beautiful and lasting is to risk making something horribly crappy." You're just supposed to write, get that first draft down, and allow it to be substandard. For me, it's hard not to re-write every sentence five times before going on to the next one. But it feels so much better to get some kind of flow and I used to be able to - I'm just getting it back, that freedom to write rubbish and deal with it later.

The way Nanowrimo works is that you all encourage each other. Or threaten, bribe, goad, jeer at or otherwise abuse each other. On Saturday, one of the participants and I were being silly on Facebook - "bet you can't" / "oh yes, I can" / "I'll raise you 5,000" / "losER" and in the end we challenged each other to write 10,000 words on Sunday. I woke up on Sunday with a migraine and she had a serious hangover (shame on you, Gillian ...) but we were both at our desks. (Yes, OK, I see this isn't sounding attractive.) And we wrote, oh boy did we write. Neither of us reached 10,000 - well, I could have, of course, but I felt sorry for her with her hangover, so I generously eased up and took another couple of codeine. But none of our several thousand words would have been written if we hadn't been doing this. Which feels pretty good.

Writing a novel is hard. Writing it with other people pushing and encouraging you is a whole lot easier. I recommend it. You don't have to wait for the official Nanowrimo to start - get a group of friends together online and just do it. Go to the website here for everything you need to start one. Or do a smaller challenge - anything to break whatever habits might be holding you back. (And you'll never know till you try.)

And even if you don't do anything vaguely Nanoesque, do remember:
  • you can (and often should) change your habits or at least challenge them
  • it really is worth reading this book:


Mind you, I have only done a week. In another three, I could be a wreck. I could really regret this whole post and be cursing the day Chris Baty ever decided not to be a normal person doing a normal job.

But at least I took the risk.

Friday, 17 April 2009

A LITTLE PRESENT FOR YOU

Hah! that got your attention. No, really, there is a present for you herein.

Two happy things happened to me today. First, I'm proud to say that my 100th follower registered on this blog. (Welcome, Suzette - but you do realise that the rules say that you have to take part in an initiation ceremony? I will let you know what we want you to do, once we've all decided behind your back, OK? Ideas, anyone?)

I almost feel like the Pied Piper
with all those followers, but fear not: I have not been paid by agents and publishers to rid their letter-boxes of all unpublished authors; nor am I going to lead you a merry dance into a mountainside and leave you there. Though still as crabbit as ever, I plan to stay with you for much longer, because you are very good company and because I am waiting to hear that you have found a publisher / agent / both and that you are on your way to success. Well, you are on your way to success, we know that, but let's speed it up a bit, hey?


And second, my lovely publishers, Walker Books
, sent a seriously cool screensaver as a free download to pass around amongst my teenage readers, but there's no rule that says you have to be a teenager to enjoy nast
y iridescent beetles crawling across your screen, so I thought I'd share it with you.

So, if you would like it and/or if you have any offspring / friends / relatives / pupils who would like to have the latest coolness for their computer,
then here 'tis. (Unless you're a Mac user, in which case I do have the file but can't see what to do with it.)

I hope you're not going to go all middle-aged on me and say you can't work out how to put it on your computer. Basically, you open the link,**** click on the download button, the thing magically saunters onto your desktop and you select "install", whereupon it asks you a couple of simple questions; then you do nothing at all for a few minutes and then beetles start crawling and smoke appears. Failing that, ask a teenager.

(****Edited to add: Er. not so basic, actually. I have just discovered that this is a TEMPORARY link and will die on about May 6th, and from then the screensaver will be available on the Walker website at www.walker.co.uk)

If you're one of those people who thinks that everything should have an educational point
(what management bods apparently now call a "learning") then you can store in your adulty/parenty/teachery brain that the book features a girl who gives away way too much about herself on a social networking site and that this screensaver is not un-akin to but a million times more attractive than what appears on her computer when she unwittingly accepts the attentions of an insect-obsessed stalker. So, if I were to give any kind of message in my books, which I so absolutely wo
uldn't, it would be Be Safe Online, Kids.

Otherwise and preferably, just enjoy the pretty beetles.

Either the marketing people at Walker were enjoying themselves way too much or else they must quite like me because they've also provided a "viral bug" (it's not as dangerous as it sounds) which you (or a tech-savvy teenager) can put on your (their) phone and send to ... er ... someone. I think you can just right-click the pic and copy it to your desktop, then onto your phone. Or blue-tooth it. I did it so it can't be beyond the bounds of middle-aged possibility.(EDITED to add - this is now a new one, and works better: yes, I know, it just looks blank now but put it on your phone and woah!)


And if you want to know the really clever bit: when you actually put it on your phone, it dances. Yes, really.


Anyway, it was a happy day, which quite made up for the shocking weather. I know this is Britain, and that I am in the Scottish part of it, but really.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

PIGEON COMPETITION RESULTS


Well, well, my husband surprised me. He went for the literary novelist. Hmm, note to self: the pen is mightier than the sword.


Here's Harry's verdict on your pigeon post pieces.
(By the way, he is a man of few words so don't expect any gushing):


"I congratulate the bloggers and their creativity. Every entry brought a smile or a shiver. All should win prizes. (Steady on there. You're not that nice to me.)

I especially commend:
For wacky, original, left fieldness - bshanks (the Geisha girl)
For cool language - Jan
For wit - Rebecca (the troll) (don't make personal remarks about my blog-readers, please)
For nice try but too many words - Ebony (yeah, Ebony, read the submission guidelines, why dontcha? He liked that one a lot but he's a rule-follower so you had to go)
For management training advice - Phoenix (heh? He doesn't normally like management training advice.)

But, the winner for me - and this is because I find the evocation of war zones heartbreaking and scary - is Sally Zigmond - "when her window shattered she knew he had lied."

Well done everyone. A humble capitalist salutes your skill - all of you.
Best wishes, Harry Morgan
"

Aww. Thank you, Harry. (Edited to include the words, for Sally's benefit: A very good choice - you are, after all, a man of taste.)

I should add (because it's my blog and I can interfere if I want to) that, because he hasn't been following this blog properly, he missed the cleverness of Sandra and Sarah, who both did pigeon-related spoof query letters (and one in rhyme and mentioning Werther's toffees, no less). I also loved Emma's disappearing garden idea, and Elen's detective-themed one. Really, there were loads of others he or I could have mentioned but life's a bitch. We laughed, a lot, and then we laughed again. And then we realised that a decision had to be made so I went and had another glass of wine and he made his decision. Which is as it should be.

I thought the whole thing was fascinating. So many different writers, so many different personalities, so many different takes on the same subject. Every genre was there, and every mood, from urban to surreal, from literary to chick-lit, from dark to light and from sensual to prosaic. There were the ones who'd done their research, the ones who'd used local knowledge and political topicality (comparing us to our fairly near neighbour, Fred G, are you??) and the ones who led others in new directions.

It was the world of books in microcosm.

Then too, there's the reader. Oh, the reader. The unpredictability of another person's response; the need for a writer to understand that not everyone will "get" what you were trying to do; the knowledge that your reader will judge you while not knowing what was in your mind, or without appreciating your talent or wit. Every reader comes from somewhere different, brings different desires and meanings and pleasures to the words he/she reads. And likes it differently. You don't know the reader but the reader will judge you as though you were writing especially for him.

So, when you write, and then you send it out, you take a leap into the unknown. You can't know how it will be received.

Which is so the scary bit. Trouble is, readers just don't know how hard it is. Damn them.

And then, of course, there's trying to sell books, which I've just realised I have spectacularly failed to do: my husband just picked as the winner the one person who'd already said she was going to buy Deathwatch anyway. So, that's one lost sale and we don't get to eat today. Thanks, mate. Back to my garret.

Meanwhile, thanks to everyone, congratulations to all the named writers and especially to Sally.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

ANTI-GUFF RANT POSTPONED BY PLEONASMS


The best laid plans, etc. There I was, all set to have a good old rant about the guff spouted by arts organisations, and along comes something from an arts organisation that is actually useful and to the point. My guff-detector was rendered silent.


Honestly. I was sent some info about a project or three by an organisation called Hi-Arts (Hi = Highlands & Islands - as in "of Scotland") and found myself quickly shunted onto their website, from which I seamlessly garnered some crystalline and - pause for astonishment: after all, this is public money we're talking about and usually that means it's headed drainwards - practical resources for writers. Not a whiff of waffle.

Depending on who you are, you will have different needs and interests, but surely all of you fall into one or more of these categories:
  1. You want to know how to write a great covering letter and synopsis and you'd like a leading agent (Jenny Brown) to tell you how.
  2. You're a Scottish author interested in having a FREE, anonymous and professional critique of your WIP. (Are you still there? I know, it's hard to take in without hitting your head on the ceiling. But you do have to be Scottishish ...)
  3. You're trying to break into the children's writing world and want some fab advice from leading literary agents and general founts of all knowledge of the genre, Fraser Ross Associates.
  4. You are a writer of any sort and want to make sure that you're not littering your writing with pleonasms and really want Allan Guthrie to explain it to you.
  5. You don't know what a pleonasm is ....
Links to clear guidelines on all these things are to found here, on a single page. Yes, an arts org that doesn't hide its info deep in the recesses of a labyrinthine website designed to fool anyone with a normal brain and less than four years to find the right page.

It really is quite remarkable. And now I'm going to lie down in a darkened room and work out how I can justify a major rant about arts organisations. I will find a way. They will not defeat me.

And please don't analyse this post for all the pleonasms. This is a blog, not a literary novel, and besides, I'm self-publishing it and it's well-known that self-published work has a tendency to be less rigorously edited than other work ...

Monday, 13 April 2009

CAN YOU LEARN TO WRITE?

WARNINGS:
a) this is a big one: get coffee and some of your Easter chocolate
b) there are very few bits of coloured font. You'll discover why soon.

So. Learning to write?

Thomas Huxley first posed the monkeys and typewriters thing - that if enough monkeys tapped at enough typewriters for long enough, you’d eventually get Psalm 23. In 2003, scientists at Paignton Zoo in Devon gave six monkeys six weeks to come up with the goods and at the end of it were presented with mostly the letter S. Nothing even approaching a small word. Though I suppose S is one third of the word She, which is the first word of Henry James' The Wings of a Dove, so they were getting there.

OK, so the scientists weren’t trying to teach them to write - they were trying to show the difference between machines and animals. As the project designer said, “The monkeys aren't reducible to a random process. They get bored and they shit on the keyboard rather than type." Which real authors would never do. Another similarity with real writers: distractions. "There's loads of stuff for them to do in there, they've got climbing frames, ropes and toys." See, even monkeys do Work Avoidance Strategies.

Now, I know, you’re jumping up and down wanting to point out the obvious flaw in this as an experiment: the researchers should have kept half the monkeys there crapping on keyboards and sent the other half on a Creative Writing MA. Then we’d have seen some serious creativity going on. We could easily have got some Ts and Bs along with the Ss.

OK, we haven’t got all day to monkey around so let’s get to the point. Can you teach someone (human) to write? As in not just spell and stuff but really be a writer. If so, what can you and what can’t you teach?

There are plenty of books and courses out there, and plenty of people going on them, so a lot of people think you can. But aspiring writers should be very careful not to infer from this that a course (of any sort) can turn a non-writer into a writer. Unless by writer you mean someone who can do no more than pen some crappy saccharine greeting card fodder. Which you don’t.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently, partly because I’m involved in an event at the Edinburgh International Book Festival (sorry, have to use full EIBF title - corporate branding blahdy blah) called Monkeys and Typewriters, in which we’re going to discuss this. And I have a good friend, Sam Kelly, who’s heading up a brand new Creative Writing MA at Edinburgh Napier University. And I used to be an English teacher, during which time I attempted to teach some little monkeys to write. Moreover, I was recently contemplating (until sanity returned) offering an online tuition course.

So, do I think you can be taught to write? In a monkey-nutshell or three:

  1. A good course will take someone who already has the required talent and will improve his/her skills so that said talent can be revealed to all - ie become worth reading.
  2. If you already have the required talent, a course can show you what you are doing wrong.
  3. A course is not the only way to improve your skills and show you what you are doing wrong, but it can be a good one. Or it can be a seriously rubbish one. Not much better than sitting in that zoo with those monkeys.

What do I mean by “required talent”?
The bit you can’t teach. You’ve got it or you haven’t. It includes inspiration, originality, imagination and the desire to write. If you could invent a talent detector, it would analyse neural activity at that moment when the idea in your head transmogrifies into the words your brain comes up with to express that idea; before the internal editor is kicked into gear. Give a hundred people a topic and ask them to write thirty words about it (which I am about to do to you ... Be patient, please) and you’ll get a hundred different responses, and not just different in small details - what went on in the head of each person as they came up with the chosen words is the mysterious bit that can’t be taught. In a way, all that can be taught is the subsequent editing of those words by the writer. (And then how to take them to market.)

So, I am saying that a course can teach you to self-edit. Which is a damned fine thing and a very good raison d’├ętre for good courses.

I asked Sam Kelly (Edinburgh Napier CW MA - pay attention at the back, please) to give a couple of aspects of a writer's craft that she thinks can and can't be taught. “The key term here is 'craft' …. Craft, in any area, is the set of practical skills that you can acquire. Everything else is what you can’t teach: talent, originality, energy, commitment, intellect, etc, etc. But seedling talent can certainly be grown, through the judicious application of challenge and encouragement." (I said “couple”, Sam - see, she can write but she can’t read. Like a lot of writers …)

I agree, apart from the seedling bit. I think you need something a lot less weedy than a seedling to start off with if you want to grow into any kind of half-decent tree. And the bigger and stronger the seedling at the start of the course, the mightier the resulting oak. Sam told me “We want students to come up with amazing original ideas and be able to write brilliantly.” Quite, and you don’t get amazing original ideas from just anyone, nor can you teach just anyone to have amazing original ideas. Forget seedlings, Ms Kelly - I’d say the Edinburgh Napier MA is certainly looking for pretty damned sturdy saplings for its course.

Two good pieces about Creative Writing MAs: Jenn Ashworth's brilliant piece of educational satire and Tom Vowler's equally useful but serious one.

One interesting USP of the Edinburgh Napier course is that it is “replacing the traditional workshop with one-to-one mentoring, because we believe this is the most effective way to develop individual talent.” That will be interesting to those of you in critique groups. I’ve long shuddered about the advice sometimes given by unpublished writers to other unpublished writers. (See Jane Smith’s excellent piece here). It’s too difficult to be
professionally and constructively critical, when a) you haven’t proved that you’re not making lots of mistakes yourself b) you know that the person may be upset and c) you know that that upset person has also got to critique you.

My own preference (and this is really personal preference, though the bit after the "and" also constitutes advice), would be for one-to-one mentoring by a professional, and I’d want it to be someone who’d had proven knowledge and success, as an editor, agent or relevantly published and respected author. But I wouldn’t believe everything I was told - I’d
constantly critique the critique too. (God, I'd be annoying ...)

For those of you contemplating critique groups or writers' group workshoppy things, (and yes, of course there are good ones, and some very good ones) first read this.

As for other writing courses, obviously there are good examples at all levels - Daniel Blythe teaches one. (I mention it because a) I’ve heard good things about it and b) he’s probably reading this post. Oh, and c) he says sensible things and earns a living as an author so he knows what he’s talking about). Always check the credentials of the people teaching you and remember that no course will make you a writer if you don’t have the talent already.

I asked Sam what she thought were the greatest misconceptions about MA courses. (And her answer equally applies to other types of course, imo). “The most grievous delusion is that it will make you a writer. It won’t – it will make you someone who’s been on a course. If you have talent, choose the right course, and use the opportunity wisely, then what you learn on an MA programme can definitely increase your chances of success out there in the world. But there are no shortcuts: you still need to work on your writing for as long as it takes.” How true. And you noticed, I hope, the phrase “If you have talent” …

Talent is the sine qua non and there’s no course on earth can teach it to you. Please write out 100 times.

But a course is not the only way to learn the necessary skills. You can also learn from:

  • Comments from other writers - recently, Tom Vowler very delicately and charmingly pointed out that I use colours a lot in my blog (too much, methinks he was suggesting). Notice anything today? Really restrained on the colour front, don’t you think? Whether it’s an improvement or not, I await confirmation. Or not. But the point is, I heard, I listened, I thought he might have a point, and because I write for my readers and not for my own self-indulgence, I reacted. Did I have a hissy fit? Of course not. I analysed and decided I trusted him. Even though I liked the colours ...
  • Comments from readers - a teenage reader once asked me why my chapters were so long. I hadn’t a clue - I’d never thought about it. But her wish was my command and I drastically reduced them. She was right. Big improvement in pace.
  • Practising, reading, writing, growing up.
Now, that was a long (and almost colourless - thanks, Tom - she ungrits her teeth with difficulty) post so I’m rewarding you with a COMPETITION. Remember I talked about that moment between the idea and the writer’s brain coming up with the words to express the idea, and how the (teachable) internal editor would trot along afterwards to hone the editing of the words? And I said that 100 people given a small writing task would all come up with different words and approaches?

Well, let’s do it.
By lucky chance, while I was writing this post, I nearly had a heart attack. Honestly. Thing is, a pigeon exploded through my window. Lightning may not strike twice in the same place, but clearly pigeons do: this is the second time this has happened to me while writing erudite stuff in the last few months. (See my other blog, Ghostlygalleon). They never come crashing through the window when I'm out, only when I'm sitting trying to work. It's the magnetism of my writing, clearly. Either that or I smell like birdseed.

Anyway, so, a few minutes ago, this exocet pigeon attacked again. (Not the same one - the first one died.) It’s remarkable that you didn’t even notice, but such is the extent of my self-control. Such is the degree of my husband’s self-control that he came padding through in bare feet - funny, I never had him down as one of those glass-walking transcendental meditators but he is a man of many talents - and said, “Take a photo and use it as an inspirational creative writing task on your blog.” Excellent idea, young man. He now wants to enter the competition but I think I’ll get him to judge it. Much fairer. And less chance of marital discord.

The prize? Er, sorry but it’s a copy of my next book, Deathwatch. Which, since it’s not published till June, only has one review, and modestly doesn’t permit etc. But you can probably find stuff about if you’re that interested.

Anyway, please study the photo below and write no more than thirty words inspired by it. I am going to give you no guidance at all, except to say that it must be in English. And you are supposed to be showing that unteachable talent, coupled with that teachable editing craft.




No emails - all answers in comment box. As many entries as you like. Feed off each other, be influenced or be genre-busting - up to you.

The deadline is whenever I decide. And then my husband will train his talent-detector on you. Once he's finished bandaging his feet.



Sorry for such a long (monochrome .... yeah yeah, one day I'll get over it) post - I promise my next two will be short, partly because I feel guilty about keeping you for so long and partly because I'm starting a NaNoWriMo tomorrow. Oh foolish woman. The point of a NaNoWriMo (apart from nothing) is to learn to switch off the internal editor. So today's post was my last supper of self-indulgence.

And finally, here’s Flannery O’Connor: "Everywhere I go I'm asked if I think university stifles writers. My opinion is that they don't stifle enough of them." Sorry, you probably wish someone had stifled me before I woke up today.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

WHO KNOWS BETTER? READER OR WRITER?

Interesting piece on BookBrunch here. The woman who button-holed Trevor Dolby is making the same mistake as some unpublished authors - believing that there's some kind of conspiracy amongst agents and publishers not to publish good writing. (Er, hello, can someone please suggest a single sane reason why such a conspiracy might exist????) It's another deluded idiot symptom and will get her nowhere. (Understandable though her frustration is, and I really mean that.)

Such people also seem to think that no agents or publishers would know a good piece of writing if it came up and spat at them. No, sorry, it's we the authors who are the last people to be able to be objective about our own work - though we need to try - and the sooner we accept that the opinion of our desired readers, including the professional and multi-experienced ones, matter more than our own, the sooner we will become published and enjoyed by the reading public.


And here's the thing: all the agents and publishers who rejected me during my now well-documented and shameful 21 years of failing, were RIGHT. And I am even grateful to them. (Though at the time, I'd probably have stuck pins in a few publishers' wax models if I'd been any good at fashioning passable likenesses in wax.) See, I believed I was good enough a writer - which we have to believe, in order to keep going, don't we? And yet at the same time, we also need to recognise that there's something about what we're doing that isn't yet good enough. That's the dilemma, the razor-edge we have to walk along. And all that is why I'm deeply grateful (and not even through gritted teeth) to all of them for not publishing my substandard stuff.

I don't know about you, but much as I desperately need to be published, I more need to be read and enjoyed. We don't write in a vacuum, or even in a nurturing bubble occupied only by our family, undiscerning friends and pets: we write to be read and heard. Don't we? Therefore, we simply have to listen carefully to those who might read and hear us and those who might have a fighting chance of taking our words to the wider audience.

And if no one wants to listen to our words, then we should either shut up or write better.


Woah, crabbit or WHAT today??

TIPS FOR SUBMISSIONS - PART 3 - RULES


For those of you planning a submission to an agent,
or wondering why your previous submissions haven't got anywhere yet, here's a quick nudge in the direction of some very useful and common questions and answers on lit agent Rachelle Gardner's blog today.
It's also worth looking at other bits of her blog, such as her submission guidelines. Different agents will have slightly different preferences (for example, she is happy for you to submit simultaneously elsewhere, whereas some are not) but it's worth reading lots of different guidelines because then you get a real sense of what agents in general need. You'll see many common themes, the main one being how overwhelmed they get by volume of slush, and how keen they are to be bowled over by a brilliant idea/book.

Your aim when submitting work to any agent or publisher is
:

  • to make their day far better than they thought it was going to be when they got up and saw that it was raining.
Your aim is NOT:
  • to end up way down the slush pile with all the dross written by arrogant fools and deluded idiots (not forgetting the sweetly but hopelessly misguided and also the ones who can actually possibly write but haven't yet written something that someone outside their family would want to read). Because that is a seriously enormous slush pile.
  • to make them grind their teeth
  • to make them yawn
  • to make them wish they were anything but an agent
So, how do you make their day? You do this by:
  • offering them a proposal which even from the cleanness of the envelope and tidy way you stuck the stamp on, proclaims (but modestly, not in a shouty way) that you are efficient, decent and that you want the process of opening and reading it to be a beautiful one for the agent (or, indeed, publisher)
And by presenting them with a query/synopsis/sample/proposal which:
  • shows that you understand the market in which you are writing
  • (if fiction) describes a finished book
  • is perfectly written and constructed from the first line of the covering letter to the last line of whatever you are including
  • presents you as rational, modest, talented, amenable, NICE, intelligent, willing to learn and with a career ahead of you (but doesn't SAY any of these things - "show, don't tell"...)
  • is simply a fab idea for a book, written with such a well-controlled and/or (preferably and) fresh voice that the recipient will be droolingly desperate to read the whole thing - that above all is what will brighten their day.
Agents get REALLY endearingly excited when they find The Right Book. (They won't tell you what it is before they get it but they know it when they see it. Don't blame them for that - you're exactly the same as a reader.)

Of course, following submission rules is (or should be) the easy part. But you'd be amazed how many writers simply ignore them when submitting their masterpieces. Writing a brilliant book brilliantly is the hard bit. But you'd also be amazed how many people think it's easy. If you think writing is easy, I strongly suggest that you think again, because you almost certainly haven't done it well enough ...

And on that typically crabbit note, I'm off to try to write something myself. In an unusual attempt to be a disciplined writer, I have today made a time-table for myself. A set of rules for the day. Let's see how good I am at following my own rules ... Now, what's the first task? Ah yes, make coffee. That, I can do. Second task? "Write. For an hour. Without looking at the internet." Now that's hard.

But worth it
.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

PS re WRITERS' RIGHTS

As you may have guessed, I do not need any encouragement to speak about writers' rights. Hold me back, some might say, and often have. If you can bear to listen to me on my soap-box again, please see my long comment beneath the post on Fighting for Writers' Rights.

And thank you to those of you who joined my Facebook group, Fair Reading, after reading that post. I will be finishing my term as Chair of the Soc of Authors in Scotland in August, but I plan to continue riding my hobby horse all over the place long after that.

Those who are (as yet) unpublished may find the idea of writers' rights somewhat hollow or academic - trust me: you need to care, because one day you are going to be published. And if you didn't believe that, you wouldn't be here. So, you need to think about where you stand on your rights, and which ones you are happy to give away.

Funny, when I was at university and had just come up somewhat painfully against my college principal for organising some kind of protest (I can't even remember what it was about now - probably the offness of the milk at breakfast, which was doubtless the most serious issue I could think of), she said, "You know, Nicola, I can just see you becoming one of those angry trade union leaders." I suppose what she meant was she knew I was going to turn into a crabbit old bat. But I am a well-meaning crabbit old bat.

I'll return to advice on writing better and getting published soon, but meanwhile I'm off to train for all the chocolate I am going to be forced to eat on Sunday. Someone's got to do it.

Monday, 6 April 2009

FIGHT FOR WRITERS' RIGHTS

Whether published or not (yet!), all writers need to be aware of our rights and the threats to them. Like the basic copyright in your own written words and the enshrined right to earn from your talent and hard work.

There are way too many people out there who think that if they can get it for free, they should, and that they should be proud of having done so. Well, they shouldn't, because it's theft. And it's not trivial; it's dangerous and important, and has the potential materially to affect the future of literature in all its forms by disabling an author from being able to survive as an author.

Every time someone downloads or copies in any way the work of someone who has not given permission, that act of theft hinders the writer's ability to earn anything even remotely approaching a reasonable fee. And don't use the "but what about JK Rowling?" argument on me - this is a matter of principle and the vast majority of writers earn stupendously less. If you care about books at all, if you care about the future of writing and indeed reading, you have to care about the ability of talented authors to earn a living from that talent. And if as a writer you don't care enough, how can you expect readers to?

So, we all need to know what is going on with Scribd. There have been reports in many big newspapers in the last few days but one of the best ways to undertsand the issue is to watch this Sky news item. Peter Cox at Litopia has vehemently taken up the cudgels on our behalf.

I have a Facebook Group called "Fair Reading" - Fair Reading is a phrase I came up with to campaign amongst authors and readers for greater awareness of exactly what it means to deprive an author of rightful royalties. If you're on Facegroup, do go and join it, and contribute with your views. (If you're not on Facegroup, I think you won't be able to see it.)

What else can you do?
  • don't download or copy anything that you are not sure is there with the copyright-holder's permission
  • check that none of your own books is on Scribd without your / your publisher's permission
  • ask your publishers if they are checking for illegal use - Scribd will remove anything if you can show it's not meant to be there
  • spread the word about the need for total respect for copyright and royalties
If we don't act now, at a time when ebooks and digital downloads are gaining momentum and while no one has properly dealt with the digital possibilities of abuse, we will lose any chance of dealing with the pernicious "the written word should be free" mentality. This has the potential to destroy everything that makes books powerful, extraordinary and essential. (And by books, I don't just mean the ones printed on paper, that we curl up with - I include ebooks, because I've got nothing against any form of book as long as the author gets properly paid for it.)

But if we allow the "written word should be free" thing to win, then it won't matter whether you write well or not: frankly, you might as well give your dog a computer.

Don't let anyone steal your work. You can give it away if you want to and if you have good reason - after all, blogging is free - but it has to be your choice. Not the choice of some website owner who thinks that rampaging through other people's work and pillaging it is any kind of road to glory or progress.

I've said my piece. Well, I probably haven't finished yet but it's a start. Now, I'm off to do some writing - and keep your hands off, please.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

AND THE WINNER IS ....

(NB - in case you are wondering, your eyes have not gone funny while reading this post: some of the text has gone greyish instead of black. Although I do know why this happened, I can't fix it without unformatting the whole lot. And much as I admire and care for you, I can't be bothered to do that.)

Anyway.

You know when someone is about to announce the winner of an award and begins by saying, "This was
such a difficult decision," and you think, "Yeah, yeah, yawn, yawn"? Well,
boy, was it absolutely true this time. Virtually every entry to my foolish competition was hilarious and brilliantly awful. You'd made every mistake I'd expected, and a few I'd never thought of. I had a lot of fun reading them and no fun at all trying to judge between them. And I regret that I couldn't give prizes to lots of you. But, a competition's a competition, and a competition needs a winner, and some runners up. Which is what we have.

Right, I'm going to tell you the lucky people now, and then I'm going to quote from lots of your appalling entries, in a didactically-inspired effort to illustrate all the mistakes that people really do make in submissions to agents and publishers. They really do, trust me. Please don't be too disappointed if you are not mentioned - it really was an incredibly high standard.

Highly commended:
  • Jo Franklin
  • Tara Maya
  • Neil Waring
Then there were six entries which I found horribly difficult to decide between:
  • Sandra Patterson (extra point for worst title - The Gore of Edna)
  • Andrea Robinson (extra point for over-involvement of pet dog)
  • Moniza Hossain (extra point for including home-baking)
  • Daniel Hahn (extra point for most exclamation marks)
  • Sarah McGuire (extra point for missing the deadline ...)
  • Ebony McKenna (extra point for not addressing her submission to agent or publisher but to an author)
Oh gosh, this is really hard, and as I type this I am still undecided. I'm not exaggerating when I say that at one point every single one of those six was down to be the winner. But my final decision is that ...

.... the winner is Moniza Hossain!

Moniza's entry was beautifully controlled, which you might say makes it not bad enough, but I just felt it was really well-crafted awfulness and it got all the features of disaster over perfectly. So, it got my final vote. I hope you'll like it too.

I loved the utter farcicality of Ebony and Daniel's. Ebony's was in horrible pink type, full of shocking spelling and other mistakes, really gloriously tacky. Daniel's rambled wonderfully, and ended with "With literary greetings", except that it didn't end there because there were two PSs, in one of which he admits that although he has lots of ideas and a "great sense of humour" he finds writing quite difficult and would welcome the agent's help with it.


I loved the painful authenticity of Andrea and Sandra's entries, and I thought I'd share their opening paras with you:


(Sandra) Dear Derek, I'm sure you'll remember me from last year's Duffleberry Writers' Conference. I was the one shouting and waving at the back of the hall during your keynote address. Anyway, you may recall advising me to go off and write, or words to that effect, so it is only fitting that I give you first look-see at the fruits of my labours.

(Andrea) To Whom It May Concern, Have you ever wondered what would happen if a star fell in love with a giraffe? IF ONLY YOUR NECK WERE LONGER, my 234,654 word children's novel, answers this timeless question through the use of linked short stories, experimental poetry, and illustrations by my dog, Pepper.

Sarah's was also fabulously authentic, wincingly so, and her story about trolls and Fairyland was as cloying as the worst proposals I've ever heard of, combined with the inappropriateness of exploding trolls and horrible moral messages.

I'm going to put Moniza's full entry at the bottom of the post, but first let's have a look at some of the starring bits by all of those named above. And since this is supposed to be of educational value, here's a list of things to look out for, all things which people do horribly often when approaching agents and publishers:
  1. Over-familiarity - eg with LOL, !!!!!!, soooooo, u r,
  2. Being delusional, either by announcing your own brilliance and failing to realise that you are not necessarily the greatest writer who has ever lived, or by comparing yourself to famous authors, often quite impossibly, and always meaninglessly
  3. Enclosing illustrations (whether by yourself, your child or your dog) when you aren't an illustrator
  4. Mentioning your fear of someone stealing the idea (and may I say now that I will NOT steal any of the ideas that have been sent to me? If I do ever write a book called the Dragon Fairy Chronicles, it will bear no resemblance to Daniel Hahn's masterpiece. Besides, there is no copyright in ideas or titles ...)
  5. Being illiterate, with appalling grammar, spelling and punctuation - or having some other symptoms of being useless at writing English
  6. Doing anything cute with fonts or layout
  7. Being gushingly complimentary to the agent/publisher
  8. Mentioning JK Rowling
  9. Not having written the whole book yet
  10. Sending/offering anything other than the first pages+synopsis
  11. Enclosing anything edible
  12. Mentioning that someone pointless likes your work; eg your physics professor or your relatives or any children at all, even if the book is for children
  13. Making inappropriate demands - eg asking them to drop everything or pay postage
  14. Complete inability to make the book sound even remotely interesting, clever or book-like
  15. Seeming to teach the agent/publisher his/her job
  16. Failing to understand the boundaries or rules of children's fiction
  17. Sending it to someone even though they don't normally handle this type of work
  18. Being completely confused about what genre you are writing in
  19. Being unpleasant or aggressive to a total stranger who owes you nothing (ie the person you are writing to)
  20. Being intensely boring
  21. Showing any other symptoms of insanity

So, which of those classic errors can you spot in my favourite extracts below? (And in case anyone comes across this blog randomly and has missed the point of this competition: these are all deliberately bad and every spelling etc error is intentional ... All extracts are printed with kind permission of the authors, and no payment for their talent and creativity will be forthcoming.)

From Jo F:
"I ain't got round to typing it yet. Me and computers don't get on. I don't know how many words it is but it's two whole exercise books of gripping action."


From Tara M:
"This fiction novel will be transforming your sole and make you glad to be life. This is a novel of the triumph of love and beauty and hope and goodness and the importance of friendship over an evil appliance of governments, religions and corporations, to control your brain and make you do what they want."


From Neil W:
"'John, the roses look really good this year.' Then Mary said, 'It must be the fertilizer,' then she winked at John and he smiled.' Not every author can right good dialogue but as you can see from the above this novel will be filled with some good dialogue."


From Andrea R:
"I think this innovative technique will appeal to the millions out there who hear voices." and "Don't be the agent who passes on the next JK Rowling. I've attached a cute photo where I dressed Pepper up as a giraffe and pasted a star made out of construction paper on her head."


From Sandra P:
"The Gore of Edna is my debut novel of 250k words. (I know you don't normally handle fiction but this sci-fi/detective/romcom/thriller is bound to change your mind). I would say it sits somewhere between Agatha Christie and AA Milne."


From Ebony McK,
in huge pink type: "Dear author, I know u r not an agent or and editor, but I am sooooo tired and frustrated at getting 20+ rejections per day." and "I know I was born 2 b a writer. Eva since I was 3 my mom said I had a wonderful imaginashun" and "My storey is a book for children from 2 to 102" and "I know allot about the industry because I have loads of riting and publsihing credits from Lulu and inunivers and publish america and I know I am on my way."


From Sarah McG:
"The last 46 pages of my book show Bob the fairy in many different social situations. Every time he is nice to a troll, it explodes, making Fairyland a kinder and cleaner place. Finally, on the last page, all the fairies follow Bob's example and explode the remaining trolls. Children will love this book so much they will hardly notice their being taught a lesson. Plus, the mixture of fairyland and exploding trolls should be exciting for both boys and girls."


From Daniel H:
"You also say 15% but I presume this is negotiable?" and "My new book, Dragon Fairy (The Dragon Fairy Chronicles vol 1) is just the book you need to make your little agency a world-wide success - it's exciting, it's funny (if I say so myself! Lol!) and perfect for any readers aged 8 to 108" and "So far I've only written two 'chapters' ... I will send you what I've written so far and also some ideas I had about how you might want to go about selling it (I'm very creative ... so I thought it wouldn't do any harm to help you a bit)"

And here is Moniza's wonderful entry in its entirety:

To whom it may concern,

Even though you are a very busy agent, I would be eternally grateful if you would take some time out of your extremely busy day to consider my query. This is my first attempt at getting published, but I have written for many school magazines and my friends and extended family love to read my stories! My debut novel has been described as "Jane Austen with sex!" by Dr. Roger Lim, my physics professor. I personally feel my writing style is a combination of Audrey Niffenegger and Charlotte Bronte with a touch of Stephen King.


My fictional novel is about the pathos of love and the tragedy of an indomitable attraction that can never come to fruitation. It is called "Love in the Pulpits", a heady tale of love and deceit featuring a Dashing Catholic Priest and a Virginal Protestant Girl. Tom Hammy, a quietly handsome priest falls irresistably in love with the blonde and stunning Genna Gables when he sets eyes on her. But there's is a love that can never be, in a society torn by religious strife and prejudice. Like two moths to a flame, they are drawn to each other though they must burn and perish. Melinda Striufe, an austere widow observes their story from afar and harbours a deep and dark secret.


The town is ravaged by an earthquake that throws their lives into turmoil and leaves them unable to cope with the impending death of their loved ones. Can they overcome the evil machinations of Melinda Striufe and her lesbian lover? It is a question they MUST answer before the earthquake hits and irrevocably DESTROYS everything.


Love in the Pulpits is a 607 page fictional novel, set in 18th century England. I have attached the last three chapters to this query because the first few are not as enjoyable. Please note that chapter 27 takes place after the earthquake has hit and trapped Glenda under a statue of Baby Jesus. I am also willing to send you a hardcopy of my manuscript (including sketches of my characters). I'll include a home-baked muffin free of charge :)!! I hope to hear from you very very soon!


Love,
Moniza

Well done, Moniza! Please email me on n@nicolamorgan.co.uk and let me know which one of my books you'd like and an address to post it to. I have a feeling you're in Singapore ...

Thank you so much to everyone who took the trouble to enter. You've brilliantly absorbed all the horrible mistakes that unpublished authors make. Trouble is, there are far too many aspiring authors out there who simply aren't getting the message about the crappiness of submission standards. So, your mission, should you choose etc etc etc, is to go out into the world and spread the word. Getting published means getting it right - right book, to right publisher in right way.

I was quite disappointed by one thing, though. No one wrote their query in rhyme. Maybe you think no one would be so stupid, but as readers of this blog know ... I once, er, did.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

AGENTS AGAIN - AND WHY YOU REALLY DO HAVE TO LOVE THEM

What a good idea and I just wish it was mine. We all like a good moan and sometimes we like it too much. But praise and good news are more uplifting and often more useful. So, those of you who over-indulged in the opportunity on Bookends to off-load about agents should make a return trip back to a new Bookends piece here and see all the very excellently positive things that people also say about their agents.

And remember that when you are feeling aggrieved that someone who isn't your agent and therefore owes you nothing doesn't drop everything to reply to you fully and immediately, it's because a lot of the time they are quite rightly and inevitably working for their existing clients.

Understanding a) what good agents do and b) the commercial reality of earning a living as either writer or agent, is an essential step in the process towards becoming a professional writer, because a professional writer is not just someone who can write but someone who can work intelligently and knowledgably within a very difficult market. My blog aims to help you understand the market from lots of different angles, and here endeth the lesson on agents.

Now I will put my soap-box away and ATTEMPT to make a decision about who has won my Worst Query Competition. You would not believe how difficult this is proving, and just how much Green and Black's I have had to consume in the course of duty.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

AGENTS, YOU'VE GOT TO LOVE 'EM

I did a post some time ago about what agents can do for you and how to become eminently agentable. Clearly, getting an agent is easier said than done, and many of you (those of you at least who are unpublished and/or unagented) will be understandably frustrated by the process and the knockbacks and the failure of your desired agents fully to appreciate the toffees or naked photos that you sent with all the best intentions. Well, I'm about to direct you to a blog post which will help you vent some of your frustration.

What I'd really like you to do, however, is to see beyond that often extreme frustration, and even anger, to some serious points. So, before you read the post, and indeed before I tell you where to find it, please consider that:
  • agents have clients to look after and must, for good reason, spend most of their time working for those existing clients
  • the vast majority of what agents receive onto their slush piles is utterly awful - and I really do mean sanity-defyingly awful - and they have learnt to fear the postman, especially when bearing gifts
  • very often, when an agent replies with a polite negative, he/she is subjected to vitriol and instructed to rot in hell; this does not do great things for patience and amenability
  • most of the complaints you'll read in the post I'm about to tell you about are from people who don't have agents, rather than those who do but are unhappy (though of course there are some of those - how could there not be in this imperfect world?)
Your anger and frustration are utterly understandable, and sometimes probably justifiable, but if we all, whoever we are, spend some time putting ourselves into another person's shoes, many infuriating/incomprehensible/reprehensible/shocking/sanity-threatening things actually become simply mildly eyeball-rolling or sweetly and whimsically human. They require little more than a decent chocolate fix to forget. Or at the very worst a little bit of sticking pins in a wax figure, for purely psychological reasons, not because you believe in witchcraft.

One other thing: don't let this anger and frustration stop you doing the one thing you're meant to be doing - improving your writing. Your focus should not be on how annoying a total stranger was for not spending a whole day attending to your needs without likelihood of financial gain, but on how good a writer you could become.

So, at last, with this in mind, do go to the bookends blog here and see what I'm talking about. Agents amongst you need to have a stiff drink first. There were 253 comments last time I looked ... And do read Janet Reid's piece. I think between them both and with my typically and unassailably impressive words of caution above they should give you a pretty good insight into the frustrations of both sides. (Thanks to Colleen Lindsay at the Swivet for pointing these blog posts out - and if you missed the "Queryfail" stuff that began all this, you'll find that there too. Your cup runneth over.)

Getting an agent is hard. In case you hadn't noticed. For an agent to earn a living is hard. Both agents and authors would do well to understand more about the other side, then perhaps there would be less pain and frustration and more love and er ... well, kind of getting on better and things. And lest there be any doubt, I am lucky enough to have a suberb agent. Who reads this blog and quite often tells me that she likes the blog but would like it even more if I did some writing that would earn me (us) some dosh.

Meanwhile, with all this advocacy of love, or at least understanding, between agents and unpublished/unagented authors, I'm off to prepare my acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize. Actually what I'm really doing is trying to deal with the fact that the first copy of my new book, Deathwatch (you know about shameless plugs by now and how necessary they are, if unpleasant) arrived through my door today, which engenders simultaneous maternal gooeyness (sorry, is there a spelling for that?) and utterly paralysing stress and inability to open the damned thing because when I do all the mistakes will scream at me. Wine, chocolate, boots and all other good things are called for in order to deal with the problem. I know, you don't understand, so get back to angsting about agents if you like.

Anyway, back to the point: a smidgen (spelling again? Why can't I use normal words?) of mutual understanding is the answer to world peace.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Everything you need to know about getting published

Not quite sure why I blog at all when there are blogs as good as James Moran's around. If you're an unpublished author, wondering what you're doing wrong, please, please, read it and follow the advice in it. Your future fame, fortune and everything else depend on it.

The only things he fails to mention are boots, chocolate and sparkly wine, but I reckon he has all the other publishing essentials down there. Oh, and he forgets to tell you not to put toffees or photos of you naked in with your submission, but he's probably never met anyone stupid enough to do that. Whereas I have.

Thanks to Daniel Blythe for pointing me towards James' blog. Daniel is another writer who knows what he's talking about. He earns a living as a writer, so he must be doing it right. Gestures of admiration.

Well done, guys! See, you don't need to wear sexy boots to give writing advice. On the other hand, maybe you do wear sexy boots. Wouldn't like to make gender-stereo-typical assumptions.

OK, woman, quit while you're ahead.