Wednesday, 28 July 2010


[Apologies for the temporary brief disappearance of this post. I'd left the house for an appointment, forgetting that it was scheduled and that I hadn't done a final edit - ironically ;-). Amazing how many Twitter messages I had telling me to hurry up! I didn't find any mistakes but I did tighten it up - my aim is nearly always to reduce word count and I do a lot of rephrasing to achieve that.]

Here 'tis:

Every writer needs two editors. Another person and the writer himself. Yes, we all need an outside view, someone who can be as objective as possible and who is knowledgeable about our own genre. But we must also edit our own work. Trust me: no agent or publisher nowadays can bear to look at something that has not been polished until gleaming. That doesn't mean perfect - just as perfect as you can get it.

So, we have to edit our own work. Good unpublished writers know that, which is why so many of you ask for tips on how to do it. So, I thought I'd let you know how I do it, add some of the things that I know work for other people, and then let you add your own pet methods.


Stage One
This happens during the actual writing. I can't switch off my internal editor, so, by the time I get to the end of the "first" draft, I have already cleared up quite a few problems and it can hardly be described as a first draft. Importantly, I will also have started making a list of things I will change or check during re-drafting.

So, my editing process will revolve around this list, made in the Moleskine notebook dedicated to that particular WIP. (This notebook will contain character notes and time-lines etc, too.)

Stage Two
This is the Silent Pass – a run-through of the whole book, acting on my list from Stage One. Gradually the points are ticked off – although this always causes some more to be added as I notice other things.

At this stage, I am looking for large things like: plot inconsistencies, character development not being smooth or effective, pace, voice slippages, inappropriate POV switches, boring bits, threads that I failed to pick up. For non-fiction I'm looking at structure, repetition, sense, coherence.

Of course, I will also deal with small things if I happen to notice them, such as typos.

This stage can involve several passes, because changing something can lead to more things needing to be changed.

Stage Three
This is the Reading Aloud Pass – I read the whole book aloud. Here I am doing three specific things:
  • First, I am imagining that my audience consists of a group of potential readers who would rather be doing something else. My job is to hold them. So, I’m honing my prose to ensure that every word ought to be there.
  • Second, I’m listening for anything that sounds wrong – it’s amazing how often reading aloud alerts you to a repetition or an oddity that you can’t see with your eyes. Voice slippages are also easy to detect when reading aloud.
  • Third, I’m looking for small errors and typos. Reading aloud, slowly as though for a performance, helps me spot things that my silent reading eyes would have skipped over.
Stage Three can also involve several passes.

Stage Four
This mainly involves dizzy eyes, paranoia and an eventual acceptance that the book is rubbish but is at least perfect rubbish.

What adaptations might you make and what other methods or tips have I heard of?
  • To maintain consistency of your characters, keep notes of any description you make of them. This could be in a notebook or on-screen document, such as a spreadsheet.
  • Consider using a text-to-voice software – I’ve heard of one called textaloud – which means you can listen to your text being read while you edit.
  • Use comment boxes to raise doubts / remind yourself to look at something.
  • I recommend that you keep an unedited version as a separate document, in case for any reason you change your mind about something you've changed your mind about and want to retrieve the original.
  • For non-fiction, how you format headings and sub-headings is important. A publisher may well change all your formatting, but it makes a huge difference to the readability and sense of a book, as well as your professionalism, if it’s consistent from the start. For fiction, it helps if you are consistent with paragraphing and lay-out of chapter headings.
  • If you can leave it out and retain the same meaning, do.
  • If when you’re reading aloud, you sense your imaginary audience yawning, tighten it up.
  • Try to look at it through your readers’ eyes, not your own.
And then, of course, there's that Killing Your Darlings thing. Yes, our favourite bits are often the bits that have to go, and yes, ruthless is good, but KYD is just another way of saying Edit, edit, edit.

I was just about to schedule this piece when I saw this post on Writer Beware. Very good sense.

And to those who say that editing interferes with the creative flow: creative flow, my backside. Fine, let it flow but mop it up afterwards.

Sunday, 25 July 2010


Our writing and our journey towards our writing goals must inevitably be wrapped up in who we are. As we try to become published and then stay published, we focus, rightly, on the words and the book we're writing. But, in many ways, our personalities shape all that, too. We can't avoid it.

So, what personality traits are needed to hack it as a writer?

I wasn't thinking about this much until I came across this rather fascinating article by editor Victoria Mixon. Of course, she doesn't mean to delineate these as truly separate personality types, but they do contain different traits which are varyingly helpful or not towards our success and equilibrium.

One sentence stood out for me: "The publishing industry is nobody's mommy." Oh, how very true. I just heard of two friends being dropped by their publishers this week. Successful, talented, award-winning, but not writing the books their publishers want any more. So, there's another personality type you need to develop: the Versatile Opportunist.

I blogged here about the need for writers to diversify and be practical, not to have all our eggs in one basket, and I've now been invited to speak about this. If you're interested, it's free and you'd be most welcome to come. 
Weegie Wednesday - August 11th - 7.30pm onwards
Glasgow - venue details from me
Weegie Wednesday is a monthly event in a bar, where writers - unpublished or published - and others connected to publishing gather to chat and listen to a couple of speakers over plenty of wine. It's free but you buy your own drinks. I'm hoping someone might buy one for me... If you're interested - in coming, not in buying me a drink! - drop me an email at and I'll let you know the venue. I hope to meet you there.

Meanwhile, be opportunistic, be versatile, be realistic, be professional - but please don't lose the heart and soul of your writing.

Friday, 23 July 2010


I hope you would never do any of these things.

I have seen versions of all these awful query attempts so I know they are not exaggerated. Some people laugh at them - I tend to wince, partly because I have done similar things myself in the distant past.

Don't do it!

Tuesday, 20 July 2010


One common fault I see in less-than-fab writing, and one which could easily be rectified, is the repetition of sentence structure. It's a style thing rather than a grammar thing, but it's still important for the feel of your writing.

There are two very common varieties of this problem.
  1. Where too many consecutive sentences begin with the subject immediately followed by the verb.
  2. Where too many nouns are immediately preceded by an adjective.
Here's an example of both. I have highlighted in bold examples of 1 and italicised examples of 2:
Loretta ran through the thickening twilight, calling his name. Her breath came in painful gasps and her straggly hair was plastered to her sweaty forehead. Her legs were tiring now and black specks rained across her vision. Thick clouds were gathering, rolling in across the darkening moors. Loretta collapsed, unable to run any further. Laughter rose up in her chest. "That's like bloody Wuthering Heights, you stupid woman!" she cried, "Except badly written." The looming rain-clouds opened and she was soaked within seconds. Loretta didn't care. It would make her look much sexier when he came back, as she knew he would. She adjusted her silken top somewhat, and waited.
Lazy, yes?

Now, don't become too paranoid about the subject+verb sentence starts: this is the natural way in which the English language works. But do try to vary it a little. Certainly make sure you don't have too many consecutive She/he/name+verb or anything that sounds too obviously similar.

The easiest way to vary this is to make the occasional sentence start with a participle. For example, "Adjusting her silken top somewhat, she waited." Or a subordinate clause, such as: "As Loretta ran through the twlight, she called his name."

The obvious way to avoid the repetition of adjective+noun is simply to use fewer adjectives and make them work harder. You can do this by choosing stronger verbs, or by trusting your reader to understand - for example, in the second sentence, at least one of those adjectives is redundant. (Straggly, I suggest.) You don't need looming rain-clouds because you've already said they are gathering. In the last sentence, you could have omitted silken and said something like, "As the rain fell, the silk clung to her body." Or something.

There's an easy way to spot any of this: read it aloud and listen for the jarring repetition of pattern.

Here endeth today's top tip.

Friday, 16 July 2010


A Submission Spotlight for you to comment on. This time, it's a novel for 10-12s and our writer is "Mandy Lemmer". Brave lady!

If you would like to know how this works, and why there's a covering letter and 500 words but no synopsis, please go here, for the guidelines.

Please do be constructive and respectful. "Do as you would be done by" is a pretty good motto, and I think it is especially important on these Submission Spotlights.

Oh, and by the way, please ignore Mandy's remark about the caramel toffees. This is, I hope (!), her little joke. I think it also goes without saying that the letter would really be addressed to the agent's name...

Dear Mrs. Awesome Agent

“I wish you weren’t real. I wish that you just never existed, that you weren’t ever born.”

It was just a squabble. Arrow hadn’t really meant it, had she? Well maybe, but she most definitely hadn’t thought it would work. Cousins don’t just disappear because you say they should, but why did everyone keep telling Arrow that Cathy wasn’t real? Why did they all think Cathy was nothing more than an imaginary friend Arrow had had as a kid.

Arrow struggles to adapt to the idea. Everything she remembers about Cathy feels real, too real. Has the world gone wrong or is Arrow a loony with mashed potato for brains?

Fear that the syringe wielding lab coat men are going to lock her up (and maybe a little guilt) sends Arrow into a world of giant slugs, absentminded kings and storms that rain socks to rescue her cousin and prove she isn’t a loony.

Complete somewhere between the count of 30-40,000 words (my constant editing tends to alter the count) Nowhere Place is a fantasy novel for 10-12 year olds. Please find attached the first 592 words.

I hope the caramel toffees find you in a good mood,

Mandy Lemmer

Chapter 1

“No,” Arrow said.

She had barricaded herself behind a book. Her knees were curled into her stomach and her back was facing Cathy. A cartoon print duvet bunched awkwardly behind Arrow’s knees. Sunlight played across her stick-like frame and danced along the posters on the wall. Most of the posters were faded with age and curling at the edges. They boasted pictures of fairies, dragons and other mythical beings.

“Oh Arrie, just a touch of colour,” Cathy whined.

“I said no!”

Cathy and Arrow were cousins, but you couldn’t tell just by looking at them. Where Cathy’s skin was fair, Arrow’s was a soft caramel cream. Cathy’s hair was dark and perfectly straight. Arrow had a mop of light brown curls.

“Listen, a dab of mascara and some eyeliner could really open up your face.  And then you won’t look so… boyish anymore,” Cathy said.

Arrow sighed.  Just that morning, Gran had helped Arrow set up a camper cot. The makeshift bed took up a lot of space and Arrow’s bedroom wasn’t very big to begin with. Now Cathy sat on the edge of the rickety thing with a hairbrush in her hands. Cathy’s tog bag slouched against the end of the camper cot, taking up even more space.

“At least let me do your hair. Just because you’re an orphan doesn’t mean you have to look like one.”

“Yap yap yap! You’re like a dog with a bone.”

Cathy frowned, “Am not!”

Arrow shot her cousin an over the shoulder glare before turning back to the pages of her book.  Cathy’s words had left a nasty taste in Arrow’s mouth. Arrow did not like being reminded that she had lost her mom when she was just a baby. She did not like that her mom had kept the identity of her dad a secret.

“Arrieeee, don’t be so stubborn. I’m only trying to help!”

When Arrow failed to respond, Cathy began tapping her foot to a melody in her head. Her eyes wondered around the room and she blew, rather loudly, at strands of hair that had escaped from her pony tail.


Arrow slammed the book closed and shot up. She swung her legs over the side of her bed and glared at Cathy, “What do you want?”

Cathy put on her sweetest smile, “To help of course.”

“If you want to help,” said Arrow. “Be quiet and let me read my book.”

“What’s it about anyway?”

“The book?”

Cathy nodded. Her sparkly blue earrings jingled in agreement. Arrow closed her eyes and took a deep breath.

“It’s about this girl who works in the kitchens of a castle and the prince is really bossy, but then the castle gets invaded and Giselle and Maximums, that’s the girl and the prince, are kidnapped together and they have to find their way back home.”


“And what?”

“Well what happens?”

Arrow clenched her fists, “If you really want to know you can read it after me.”

Cathy blew at the loose strands of her hair again, “If it’s any good they’ll turn it into a movie. I don’t like reading.”

With a groan, Arrow flopped back onto her bed. The glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling stared down at her. They were faded with age and prestick marks were visible through the cheap plastic. It was a wonder none of them had fallen off. Arrow looked at her book, but didn’t pick it up again. She was counting down in her head, three... two...

 “Oh,” Cathy blabbered on.

 And bingo.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010


This blog is not about self-publishing but it's right that you know what my position is on that. Happily for me, my views match those expressed here by Mary at Kidlit.

What she says is clear and coherent. Many of you may disagree with her and me. In fact, some people did disagree with her, using the usual arguments, but Mary deals efficiently and truthfully with them in this subsequent post here. In both posts there is good discussion in the comments, too.

Here's what else I think: good self-publishing will only gain the status that good writing deserves, when we (readers) find better ways to discover which are the writers worth reading. That's what the publishing industry does at present, not 100% effectively but a hell of a lot more effectively than authors simply saying, "I'm good - read me." Would you believe any author saying that? Would you believe me saying that?

Very often, the "traditional", selective publishing industry sucks. Very often publishers make decisions which look inexplicable. It's certainly riddled with unfairness and frustration, much of it unseen by the average reader. But for me as a reader, books chosen by publishers are preferable to those not chosen by publishers because the chances that I'll enjoy them are vastly higher. This is simply becuase there's been a selection process in which someone other than the author has decided it's worth investing money. I know that's terribly frustrating for good self-published writers but somehow they are going to have to find a way to get their books under my radar and the radars of lots of other readers who simply don't have time to read everything.

Anyways, let's not have an argument about the merits or otherwise - I have a much more constructive challenge for you. Do you have any suggestions as to how good self-published authors can get their work seen and read by mainstream readers? Thing is, when I read a published book, I know someone selected it, edited it and believed in it enough to invest money in it. That's a powerful endorsement.

How can self-published books compete against that endorsement? I'm genuinely keen to know. And if you are contemplating self-publishing, you absolutely must know the answer to that question.

Friday, 9 July 2010


Here begins a series of brief points, in no particular order. It's a handy way of keeping you on your toes while I attempt to write four books simultaneously and have a life.

(By the way, you don't seem to have noticed that, although I said I was going to take a bit of a break, I didn't... Yep, I just couldn't stay away.)

Anyway, my first Top Top for writing for children and teenagers is this:
Because you have been both child and teenager, you are much more interested in them than they are in you. Therefore, where adults appear in your story, do not bother to include their emotions, desires or crises. Your readers do not care. They care only as far as adult actions impinge on the characters.
So, you can show adults doing things and behaving in annoying, reprehensible, or even, if you must, admirable, ways. But you must not get into the minds of the necessarily minor adult characters or begin to see the world through any adult's eyes. And if there is to be any explanation of the bad or silly behaviour of your adults, it must be seen or explained through relentlessly child / teenage eyes.

Don't forget this: you are nothing in a book for children. You just get in the way.

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...)

Tuesday, 6 July 2010


When you get your first publishing contract, your eyes will be so awash with tears of joy that you won't be able to read it. When the tears have dried up and you're celebrating properly, you'll be so addled with champagne that you will laugh inanely at all the long words and not know what they mean. When you've sobered up, you'll be so excited about impending glory that you won't care if the contract was drawn up by a dalek egged on by Godzilla.

And even if none of that were true, you won't understand the contract anyway. Bits of it will make sense - for example your name, and the bit where it states your deadline - but other bits will be gobbledygook.

My strategy on receiving a contract is to glaze over and sign it because I have an agent who has already negotiated it for me and what she says goes.

But what if you don't have an agent? Or what if you actually do want to know what you are signing? (Which is a very good idea and of course I do, despite my apparent glazing over.)

Well, I have a simple answer for you (and very simple for me). Go and visit the blog of Stroppy Author, who has had about 130 books published and, as she says, has argued with many publishers over the years. She has been writing a long-running series of posts called "How To Read a Publishing Contract", and if you scroll down to the labels and choose the label of that name, you will find them all. Very detailed, very excellent and very useful. More then that, actually: essential and could save you lost earnings.

She says her blog is mostly relevant to children's authors but, in fact, this particular strand is equally applicable whatever books you write.

I told her she should bundle her posts into a book but she's got too many other books to write at the moment. So, get it while it's free!

Monday, 5 July 2010


Right, you lot. For long enough now you have been taking my advice and gallavanting off into the sunset with it. I have no idea whether you've followed it or forgotten it, but it has been there for you and so have I. So, now I am asking for your help.

In fact, I have three ways in which I'm going to ask for your help, and the other two will come very soon. Here is your first task.

As you know, I'm writing Write To Be Published. (I will not let you forget this.)

In the section where I talk about rules for different genres, clearly I can't write a whole book about each genre. So, one thing I want to do is direct readers to a small but fabulous selection of resources for each genre. I have collected some myself but I thought I'd ask you for your suggestions. I will be looking for a mixture of books and websites / blogs. What I'll probably also do is collate all the suggestions into a resource list to put in a later post, but for the book I will choose only three (ish) for each genre.

Ideally, for each one, I ultimately want to have
  • an online resource which includes links / lists of other resources
  • an organisation that supports writers in that genre, whether pubbed or not - especially if that organistion has a list of resources on its website
  • a book
But it might not work out like that and if not, I just want the best resources of any sort. Please be cautious when recommending a blog: it needs to be one with likely longevity, otherwise it might not exist by the time the book comes out.

I do NOT want books such as the Writer's handbook or any general writing advice book or resource. (Those will come at the end of the book.)

The genres:
  1. Romantic - I have the Romantic Novelists Assoc
  2. Historical - I have the Historical Novels Review / Hist Novel Soc / Solander.
  3. Fantasy &/ sci-fi (I give reasons for tackling these together) - I have Jeffrey Carver's wonderful site
  4. Non-fic, including general and educational
  5. Other fiction - literary and commercial - these probably don't require resources, because they aren't technically genres and simply follow the general rules for fiction writing, but if you have any ideas, let me know
  6. Crime - I actually have enough, but happy to have more ideas for the list I'll put on the blog later.
So, over to you: your best recommendations for resources for each genre, please. This could end up being a really useful list for a blog post of resources.

Sunday, 4 July 2010


The other day, I came across a list of questions an author should ask his character, in order fully to understand that character. I am not going to send you to it because I was unimpressed. The questions were facetious and the fact that they were deliberately so didn't make them more pointful. Why would I want or need to know whether my character prefers milk or dark chocolate? This tells me sod all. (That wasn't one of the questions, but you get my drift.) The writer was trying to make the point that we need to know our characters inside out - true enough, but the point would have been made much better if the reason for needing to know was properly understood and then the questions were designed to reflect this reason:
that it is the character who drives the story and therefore that without knowing our characters we can't control the story.
I do think that interviewing our characters is a good idea but the questions should be ones which will genuinely help us with the story. So, I thought I'd try to come up with my serious, non-facetious list. If you want to understand the relevant things about your MC and simultaneously grasp your plot by the short and curlies, ask of your MC:
What is your worst fear? And your second worst? (Likely to be part of the conflict and tension.)

What would you most like people to know about you? (Make sure it's obvious, then.)
What would you most like to hide? (Every hero has a flaw.)
What would you most like to change about your life? (Could be part of the conflict and motivation; could be sub-plot.)

Why should we care about you? (Because if we don't, we won't read on.)

What were you doing before this story started? (This informs your back-story.)
Do people understand you? If not, what do they get wrong? (Makes your character more real because it informs interaction with other characters.)
If I met you for the first time, would I immediately know what you were like or would it take a while to get to know you? (As above.)

What sort of people like you? Do adults like you? Do boys like you? Do girls like you? Why? Or why not? (Helps place your character within the real world instead of just on the page. It may also inspire some ideas for painting your character richly but subtly.)
Are you happy on your own? (As above.)
What are you going to achieve in my story? (Crucial for plot, since character drives action.)

What trivial but annoying habit do you have? (Makes character more real. Character can show this habit when angry / sad / stressed - helps you show without telling emotion too much.))

What trivial but annoying habits do you dislike in other people? (As above.)

What four (or three or five) adjectives best sum you up? (Helps you remember traits to paint most strongly.)
Are you going to die in this story?** Should you? (Informs plot and interacts with reader's engagement.)
(** Edited to add: on second thoughts, and after a v useful comment by Miriam Drori, I have changed my mind about this. It's certainly not necessary for the writer to know if the character is going to die - I often don't know things like that. But asking whether the character should die is useful, as Miriam says. That will add to the tension and suspense, and get you thinking about that plot aspect. Of course, if this book isn't one where death is going to be at all relevant or appropriate, you'd omit this question.)

When you can answer all these questions, you know your character and you know your story. Your story will be infinitely easier to write and immeasurably more human.

Or canine, if your character is a dog.

And now, a challenge for you: do you have an even better question to add to that list? If I think it's a superlatively brilliant question, I may add it to the list when I come to that bit in Write to be Published - but hurry, because I'm writing it NOW. You'll get your name in the acknowledgements but you'll get nae dosh.

Thursday, 1 July 2010


You want to know how to write? Well, I cannot tell you. Yes, I have written more than half a million words on this blog; yes, I've had a large number of books published; and yes, I am writing a book called Write To be Published. And yes, aspiring writers ask me and other writers things such as, do you plan? Do you talk to your characters? Do you outline? Keep spreadsheets of characters? Know the end before you get there? Use Moleskine notebooks? Talk to yourself? Drink lots of coffee? And I have answers to these questions but the answers and the questions are entirely irrelevant to you.










This is because how a writer writes is entirely irrelevant to anyone but the writer. All that matters is the result: what you write, what the words sound like when you've written them, what readers think of them, whether they work.

The method, the route you take, matters zilchly. No one cares whether you plan or whether you fly by the seat of your pants. No one cares whether you interviewed your characters or spent the night dreaming of them. Well, OK, they might care, but only out of weird reader interest. If you are asking these questions in order to find out how to write yourself, you are barking up the wrong tree.

Please. Just write your book in whatever way works for you, even if that means hanging from a chandelier naked. It will be judged only on the result. Don't get hung up on method, or at least on other people's methods. You will find what works for you and that's all that matters.

Fair enough; sometimes another writer's method is worth trying, to see if it might work better for you than the one you use, and for that reason the questions are not entirely pointless. But only as long as you never get hung up on the answers, and never worry if you are doing it differently from others.

Just write, eh?

When you look gorgeous, I do not need to know how you got dressed.