Thursday, 8 July 2010


The other day, I asked for your recommendations to add to a list of useful resources. And now, there is something else.

(EDITED TO ADD THIS NOTE - the response to the first request below - asking for critical volunteer readers - has been overwhelming and I now have far more people to choose from than I can easily cope with. Thank you! Each will receive a personal reply in the next week or so, either asking for your help or else apologising for not accepting it. The comments that you've made already are hugely helpful and appreciated, and the behind the scenes support has been very reassuring. No more volunteers needed now - sorry.

I would still value any comments you want to make in answer to the questions I ask further down.)

I am (was...)  looking for a very small number of readers to comment on the first draft of Write To Be Published, and I thought there was no better bunch of people to ask than you lot.

The readers I need must be:
  1. Honest - this is no place for flattery. I know it often is, but not this time.
  2. Trusted - not just because I need you to be honest but because I will have to trust you to keep the contents of the first draft confidential. It is a first draft and much will change, so it's essential that it does not go anywhere except your own computer.
  3. Available during August - I expect to have the first draft by the end of July, and would need your response by the end of August. 
  4. Because of points 1 and 2 above, I need you to have commented before on this blog a few times and not to be anonymous. I need to know where to find you!(Not, I think, because I will want to kill you but in case I want to discuss a point with you.)
  5. The target audience - normal purchasers of this sort of book. (You don't actually have to buy it.)
  6. Willing to be unpaid but profusely thanked.
I will NOT want to you to write any kind of detailed, formal report. You just have to say what you think, in your own words, as briefly or fully as you wish. I will give you some pointers / questions, so that you know what I'm looking for. You are not copy-editing and you will not be held responsible if I go along with your views and then reviewers slate me.

Please note that I only need a very few people so don't be upset if I don't pick you: I will be looking for a varied range so it may be that I don't pick you because you are too similar to someone else - don't be offended. *feels stressed already*

What to do if you are interested: email me - on  -  and say a) who you are, b) what stage you are at on the route to publication and c) whether you've read any other books about writing / being published and, if so, a sentence re what you liked or didn't like. (I won't quote you...) I will probably also use a more or less first-come-first-served process, so, again, don't be offended. I want to sort this out quite quickly.

I would love to have lots and lots of views but it will confuse me, small brain that I have.

(STILL RELEVANT) ANYONE ELSE: I have some questions for anyone about Write To Be Published. Please use the comments section below/
  • Do you think I should avoid using quotes from my own books to illustrate points that I make?
  • Is there anything you hope I will / won't do / include? Anything that would annoy you?
  • I will be toning down mentions of chocolate, wine and shoes - do you agree?
  • Anything else you want to say.
That's it! Thank you, folks. I have had great fun writing WTBP and I do consider you to have been a major part of the blog and therefore the book, but, to clarify, you are getting NO MONEY. (Nor am I unless it sells...)


fairyhedgehog said...

I wish I was up to being a reader but aside from the CFS I'm away for half of August!

Your smaller points though:

I tend not to like writers quoting from their own books when giving writing advice.

I think that the references to shoes, wine and chocolate help to give this blog its unique voice. Depending on how it comes across in a book, it might help to lighten things up and keep the reader reading.

My favourite writing book is Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. What I like about it is that it's well-written, well-structured, amusing in places, and gives well-chosen examples. Plus you can dip in and out as you need to.

I'm sure your book is going to be great, based on everything I've read of yours.

Miriam Drori said...

About quotes from your own books: personally, I think it makes sense to do this, but I can understand that some readers would see it as advertising.

If you include your tips from this blog, along with your usual dollops of humour, I think it'll be a fantastic book and at least as good as Anne Lamott's 'Bird by Bird'.

As long as you don't subtitle the book 'Writing for Dummies', I don't think you could annoy me.

I hope you don't tone down mentions of chocolate, wine and shoes too much. They're your trademarks.

I would volunteer to be a first draft reader, but not during August.

Anonymous said...

This one is going to be filed in the the sublime and ridiculous folder. #1. First you asked readers to find sites for you. #2. Now you want beta-readers. #3.Don't you already have some poor soul acting as an unpaid lackey, arranging your blog tour for the book?
Just cut out yourself and get others to write the book. It all sounds very unprofessional. I won't be buying it.

Anonymous said...

Hmm I think it's easier to be impartial when you use quotes from books written by others.

But I don't think you should tone
down any refereces to chocolate, boots or anything else. It would compromise you lovely crabbity voice!

Queenie said...

I think it's fine to use some quotes from your own books, as long as you don't do so exclusively or at great length.

I hope you won't be too repetitive, or skate over subjects.

I hope you will cover plotting in some detail, as very few how-to books do this. I hope you will also give a fair amount of space to revision/editing, as too many how-to books focus on helping people get to the end of the first draft (which I know is a big deal in itself) then cover all the rest of the work - a complex task that often amounts to several more drafts - in the last five pages, if that.

I also hope you will have a good clear structure and a professionally compiled index.

I don't have a feel for how much of the book is intended to cover the 'published' end of the title - i.e. whether you're going to include lots of information about finding agents, publishers, etc etc, or deal with this more as a summary with signposts to other resources. I think I'd prefer the latter, although I know you have lots of insight so I'm a bit unsure about this. But it could end up being a very fat book!

Absolutely agree with other commenters about the shoes, wine and chocolate. Characters need props and, as you are writing this book, you are pretty much the protagonist, in one sense, and the props help to define you as that character. Plus they increase the scope for your sense of humour to come into play, which is no bad thing.

jtwebster books said...

Mention of wine, chocolate and shoes - yes please.

Excerpts from your own book - yes, what better way to highlight what you are trying to tell us.

I have learnt so much from your blog Nicola. Thank you for all your wonderful advice. I can't wait to get my mitts on a copy of this book, and I think it is very sensible of you to ask us bloggers for help and advice about content. After all it is people, just like us, that are going to want to read it.

Lacer said...

To answer your points:

* I quite like it when writer's use their own books to illustrate their points, as it shows that they hopefully know what they're talking about, but I'd use other books as well.
* Stuff to include: I agree with one of the other commentators, stuff on plotting please!
* Chocolate, shoes, wine - I think people are likely to buy the book because it's you and therefore will expect chocolate, shoes and wine.
Good luck!

Anonymous said...

I'm willing to be a guinea pig and I'm around until August 27th. You've given us plenty of help over the years and it's probably time to repay the favours. 'Anonymous' clearly does not understand this cooperative spirit that we enjoy here in blogland.

As to the other questions:

Quotes from your own books: I would say that balance is key here. A few well-chosen ones will certainly help. However, if you use exclusively your own quotes, it might come across as self-proclaimed expert, rather than real expert.

Things to include or not include: A quick list from the top of my head...

* Please cover a mixture of genres, types of writing etc, not just YA books.

* I would prefer more on the getting published angle. There are already plenty of general 'how to write' books.

* Any chance of covering non-fiction as well?

Chocolate: Ambivalent. Wine: Love it, bring it on. Shoes: They're the things you put over your socks, right?

Good luck with it. Let us know when it's available (like you wouldn't).

Anna Bowles said...

When authors quote from their own books, it makes me suspect them of either being smug, or too lazy to go and find something else. Unfairly, perhaps.

Include plenty of horror stories - everyone likes to think 'Phew, at least THAT hasn't happened/I'm not that bad!'

Whether you should tone down the wine and shoes etc depends on how much it's a NICOLA MORGAN SAYS book and a how much THIS IS ABSTRACT EXPERTISE book. The cover suggests to me the latter, so I'd go with the toning down.

Jane Smith said...

Nicola, if I were you I'd quote from other people's books: it gives more variety and scope. If you want to tear anything apart and be very critical of it, though, you would probably be best only using your own work for that (so use an early draft, and show how it progressed).

One of my very favourite books about writing is an old one: Taking Reality By Surprise, ed. Susan Sellars. There are sections in it from writers at all stages of their careers, and it's got so much in it to inspire writers. It's worth a look if you've not seen it.

KarenG said...

Don't tone down the wine & shoes too much. It's your voice we love. And as for using examples of your own writing-- that's a huge pet peeve I have with writing books. I DO NOT like it when that happens, makes me stop reading I know many do so but I think it comes across as self-serving and it gets boring to have the author keep going back to their own works.

Dan Holloway said...

I'd love to in answer to the first bit.

other qs
1. quote your own work judiciously if at all - use it because there is an amusing anecdote attached to that particular piece ("I met someone at an Arvon weekend who suggested I stand upside down in a plate of ravioli whilst writing car chases - I was sceptical at first but when it helped me change blah to blah-di-dah I was won over") rather than as general illustration (besides, if you use others' work as exaemplars of good practice (with permission) they will owe you chocolate.

2. I hope you will answer the "do you obey the agents' rules" question for synopses - and, more generally, give specifics on when it's OK to break such rules

3. I get annoyed in such books by generalisations when I was hoping for details - "write what the market wants" - er, I could have guessed that. We KNOW an author doesn't know what the market WILL want 3 years hence, but some accounts of people who have been successful because they paid attention to the market is what we want - specifically what they did that we can emulate (there are too many books that use to many "black swans" - such and such succeeded despite the odds/by being brilliant and original - well, great for such and such but one in a million isn't a model we want to set out to emulate)

4 - er, no- keep in the things that make the voice yours - they're what makes us fell like we have a frienlly tutor with whom we can relate rather than a Gradgrind

zornhau said...

"Do you think I should avoid using quotes from my own books to illustrate points that I make?"

No. Use them. They are your credentials.

"Is there anything you hope I will / won't do / include? Anything that would annoy you?"

I'd hope you talk about modern reader expectations, and never mention anythng written before AD 1990.

"I will be toning down mentions of chocolate, wine and shoes - do you agree?"

Personality is what makes Stephen King's book a good read.

However, please keep the quirk out of the info dumps. E.g. if you're dishing out substantive suggestions about - say - outlining - don't wander off into chocoholic land.

"Anything else you want to say. "

Good luck!

Nicola Morgan said...

Thanks for all your helpful comments. Re using examples from my books, although there's some disagreement, I think my instinct is NOT to, though I will still tellstories of crappy or not so crappy things I did. Although some of you said you didn't mind, those who DID mind sometimes did so strongly, and I have seen comments to that effect about other books. So, you confirmed my instinct.

Thanks too, to those of you who have emailed either / both to volunteer and to give support.

I know I won't be able to please everyone, but you and people like you are the target readership, so your views are important.

Oh, and I'm glad the chocolate, shoes and wine have not been voted out!

Nicola Morgan said...

zornhau: "However, please keep the quirk out of the info dumps. E.g. if you're dishing out substantive suggestions about - say - outlining - don't wander off into chocoholic land." I think that's very good advice - moderation and context.

Catherine Hughes said...

Dear Anon

May I please correct you? You have insulted me as well as Nicola with your comments and I'd like, if you don't mind, to set the record straight as far as I may.

I am the person who organised Nicola's blog tour. I would happily have done so free of charge, not least because it brought me into contact with lots of lovely people, one of whom went on to help me get further work. I also admire Nicola, and her work, and have been grateful for her support for a long time now as I struggle to join her in the ranks of the published. What she does for me, she does indeed do for free, and her help has been significant.

I'd like to point out that the idea of unpaid internships is hardly alien to the publishing world but, in fact, Nicola pays me for what I do for her. She is both reasonable and generous. I am no lackey - Nicola recognised that I have certain experience and knowledge from my working life that she could put to good use and she accords me a great deal of respect even though her accomplishments far outstrip mine.

Blogging, as many of us know, takes up a considerable amount of time. No-one but the most foolhardy slings up any old post and assumes that it will suffice. Nicola has a huge following here because she gives generously of her time and her knowledge. It is hardly a cardinal sin for her to look for some feedback and support from those of us to whom she has devoted considerable effort by way of her posts here.

That you hide your remarks behind an anonymous comment speaks volumes in itself.


Tom M Franklin said...

i don't think i've commented here before (if so, not very often) but if you need readers, i'm available in august and would be happy to do so. also, i'm a guy, should you specifically want a guy's perspective.

one of my personal peeves is reading a book on writing where the author continually cites their own work as Examples of How to Do It Right. i view it as egotistical self-promotion at its worst. if you're doing it once or twice, that's okay. more than that, i get suspicious.

(one notable and important exception to this is in successful query letters. since those were judged by an agent to be successful they carry more weight. as well, i like getting an idea of the thinking that went behind condensing a full-length book and your life experience into 250 words. it's something all writers struggle with and reading how someone else successfully handled the juggling act in such a way as to impress an agent is great)

as for "chocolate, wine and shoes", well, a bit of personality helps to make a book on technique more enjoyable. however, a little bit goes a long way for me -- especially when it comes to shoes. (again, a guy's perspective)


womagwriter said...

I would like to see a variety of books used as sources for quotes, and preferably books I know of. Though if you are looking for a what NOT to do example, you are probably better off making one up!

Keep the shoes and wine and chocolate in. In fact, tape a bar of chocolate to every book sold, and include an Oddbins voucher inside the back cover. Am not so bothered about the shoes, having discovered the joys of Fitflops.

Nicola Morgan said...

YIKES - far more people wanting to be beta-readers than I was expecting! No more, please. I will reply to you all in due course, either asking for your help or apologising profusely for not asking you - please don't worry if you don't hear from me till next week, though. Thank you all so much - I'm glad I asked!

Meanwhile, do keep making suggestions in the comments here, if you have any things you'd like me to do / not do - obviously, I can't follow them all, as you'll all have different views, but I'll do my best to listen. Luckily, most of what you've said so far fits with what I've done.

Catt said...

I wouldn't say don't completely not use your own books, after all you wrote them and are given advise form your own perspectiv and experiance, but if I were reading a book such as the one you are working on, I personally would be offput by the author using their own work as examples.

Elizabeth West said...

Do you think I should avoid using quotes from my own books to illustrate points that I make?

Not at all. I've seen lots of writing books where the author does that, and also uses examples from other published works.

Is there anything you hope I will / won't do / include? Anything that would annoy you?

Some funny stories would be nice. That's a good way to illustrate a point, especially when you're talking about what NOT to do. I really like the awful author behavior stories!

If I didn't enjoy your voice, I wouldn't read this blog. You haven't annoyed me so far. :)

I will be toning down mentions of chocolate, wine and shoes - do you agree?

A few are fine since they are your trademarks. I think with an instructional book too many might be a tad informal.

Anything else you want to say.

I plan on getting a copy, even though I'm not in the UK. Good writing advice is always welcome. I'm looking forward to it.

catdownunder said...

I put a paw up to help - possibly too late as I live Downunder. Never mind. You know you can ask if you need additional cat hairs from me.
Examples from your own books? No I am afraid not. You need examples from lots of books. It will, as I am sure you know, show your readers you know your subject field. (There is nothing worse than reading an academic paper filled with references to previous papers written by the author and almost nothing about other work in the field. You start to wonder what the person really knows.)
For mention? Unless I saw what you have already written I am not sure I could help but I am hoping there will be some wise guidance on the editorial process, something which makes us understand that our kittens have to grow up into well behaved cats and this means being trained.
Wine, chocolate, not drink the first, the second is not good for me and who said cats wear shoes? Seriously, don't overdo it or I think it might sound as if you are not taking your subject seriously.
Does that help? I will leave you to sort out your helpers.

Ebony McKenna. said...

I think you should use quotes from your books to illustrate your point - and you won't need copyright approval etc.

However, I think you should also balance it with examples or quotes from other books (where you can get/need permission) to balance it out, so it's not all 'me me me'.

Also, being in a writer's group, I will be getting a copy or two of this book for the benefit of the group. So if you need comments (YA? Romance? etc) then I'm happy to be a beta reader and am available in August.

Vanessa Gebbie said...

brilliant - what a great idea, and how clever to do some market research beforehand. Havent been reading many blogs for a bit, for one reason and another - nice to come back to a lovely thing like this. I dont have time to beta read, Im afraid - wish I did. It will be marvellous.

N - lots of power to your elbow.

My preference would be for a modicum of shoes n chocolate to make me feel Im talking to a friend, a modicum of examples from your own work, the majority from other writers.


PS. Sending large glue gun to stick Anon's fingers up its own nose.

Anonymous said...

Gah I've left it too late to apply to be a beta reader :(

And I love catherine's response to anonymous. I totally agree. Nicola you have every right to ask your readers for help. You've done more than enough to help us. Plus only horrible people feel the need to keep their identities secret.

Spider Griffin said...

Hi Nicola, ah, I'm kicking myself for not reading your post sooner; I'd would have thoroughly enjoyed reading and giving my honest opinion of Write To Be Published. Such is life...

>>"Do you think I should avoid using quotes from my own books to illustrate points that I make?"

I would consider that a modest percentage of quotes could be from your own books, but only in addition to others. That's not to say that your quotes are not good enough; they are much more than good enough, of course, but quotes from others will introduce more "flavour" to the book, as well as adding different writing styles.

>>"Is there anything you hope I will / won't do / include? Anything that would annoy you?"

I think chapters that are too long would annoy me in a book of this kind; short snappy chapters would be ideal, in my opinion. I hope you will include your excellent wit and sense of humour throughout; as well as interesting anecdotes. Or maybe one spread through the book, with the ending in the last chapter!

>>"I will be toning down mentions of chocolate, wine and shoes - do you agree?"

I'd agree; it's fun to mention once or even twice, but anymore might become a bit too much for people who've never read your blog!

>>"Anything else you want to say."

I really hope it sells and sells for you!


Stroppy Author said...
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