Friday, 30 March 2012

Crabbit's Tips 8: Authors Doing Events

The latest in my series of Crabbit's Tips for Writers aims to help authors doing events. If you'd like the downloadable, printable version, click here.


It follows my recent blog post aimed at event organisers. (By the way, I've had great feedback on that behind the scenes, from agents who are also sick of seeing their authors poorly treated or unpaid. And, for your info, the agent does not take a commission on the author's fee!)

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

On publicity, publicists and doing it yourself

Nowadays, almost all authors have to do much of their own publicity. This is not necessarily a bad thing and, by and large, not something I particularly complain about, although a preferable option would be for me to lounge around being sent bottles of champagne by my grateful publishers and for readers to be queuing up outside every bookshop, desperate to buy my books even if I don't get out of bed.

Monday, 26 March 2012

On rejection

I've just come across a useful and wise post on why agents so rarely give a reason beyond "It's not for us." It is written by Steve Laube, and agent AND author, so he knows of what he speaks.


I would draw your attention to this hugely important point which so many people fail to understand: "... even a morsel of advice can take considerable time to compose so that it is genuinely helpful." Oh boy, is this true! As you know, I have a writers' consultancy, Pen2Publication, and most of that work involves giving very full, detailed, honest appraisals of manuscripts. Clients pay a decent amount of money for this work but even that probably doesn't properly account for the huge amount of time I take over the report. Giving any kind of feedback is a great responsibility. I regard myself as enough of an expert (otherwise I wouldn't feel able to do this at all) but I know that, despite any expertise and knowledge of the market, I am still inevitably reading with personal response. The effort to ensure that personal response has not played too great a part, the effort to make sure that I don't make any suggestions that I can't explain and justify, the effort to make sure I don't send the writer off on a false path, the effort to ensure that I don't trap the writer into thinking there's only one way of improving the text - all those efforts are colossal. And that's one of the main reasons why agents - and other writers - can be so reluctant to play the feedback game. We want to help you but we know what it may cost us. And you.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Crabbit's Tips 7: The Non-fiction Proposal

I continue my irregular series of Crabbit's Tips with a list of advice about making a proposal for a non-fiction book to an agent or publisher. If you want to download a pretty version to pin above your desk or collect in a sparkly binder, then go here.

I also suggest you first read my Seven Steps to Publication, if you are a beginner at this game.

Monday, 19 March 2012

What has Twitter ever done for you? (With a competition)

This post is to launch the NEW, updated version of Tweet Right. But wasn't the first one as perfect as a perfect thing? Well, of course. But then Twitter and Tweetdeck screens changed and suddenly there were bits in Tweet Right which no longer precisely applied. I'd wanted to be able to say, "You'll find that button to the top right of your screen" or, "It's the icon that looks like a red banana", but suddenly those instructions made me look as though I'd been hallucinating. Even when I hadn't.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Seven steps to publication

The other day I did a one and a half hour event, during which I gave as much information as I think anyone possibly could on how to become published. At the end, the final question came from a gentleman who asked (after telling us that I'd given a really good talk and that he'd written a really good book), "How can I get my book published?"

So, for anyone else who simply doesn't hear the words I spend so much effort speaking, or who has missed all the info in this blog and my books, here are my Seven Steps to Publication.

1. Write the book. It must be a book that has a market. Write it as well as you can and then make it better.

2. Research publishers or agents (or both) who handle that sort of book. Make sure they know what they are doing, by checking to see that at least some of the books they handle are at least moderately successful, appearing in shops, receiving mainstream reviews, etc. Make sure they are proper publishers, not printers. Any "publisher" which says on its website, "For all your printing needs", is a printer, not a publisher.

3. Become informed about the process of submission and all the mistakes that can be made. How? Read this blog, read Write to be Published, read other blogs on my blogroll to the right of this page, read From Pitch to Publication by Carole Blake, become switched on to all the fabulous advice out there, which is often freely given. There is no excuse for ignorance of this process - the info is not hidden. Carole and I can both be a little bit crabbit about the fact that we've written these books, which have received fab feedback, and yet there are still some aspiring writers who haven't read them. I mean, really.

4. Prepare your submission carefully - bearing in mind that the covering letter will be slightly different for each approach to an individual agent / publisher and that their synopsis requirements may differ. Begin with getting your sample chapters right. If you don't know what "right" is, the info is in Write to be Published and many other places, including this blog post here.

5. Make sure your synopsis (or proposal, for non-fiction) suits the specific requirements of the agent / publisher. Other than this. Write a Great Synopsis will tell you ALL you need to know about the perfect synopsis. It will even make it seem easy!

6. Make your covering letter sing. The two important parts are the paragraph where you sell your book and the one where you sell yourself. There are MANY mistakes to be made in both. See here for some of them and read Write to be Published and From Pitch to Publication for many more and much positive guidance, too. (I'm writing a book on this, called Dear Agent, but the earliest this will be available is August.)

7. SEND IT! Yes, polish, polish, polish, but at some point stop polishing because you can't make it more shiny than shiny, so, let it go. Send it to 2-4 agencies or publishers at once, usually. And when 2-3 have come back as rejections, adjust / revise and send to more.

That's it. This blog, plus Write to be Published and Write a Great Synopsis really do contain what you need. Please read them before asking me, "How do I get my book published?" I have no more time to spend than I already do. *gently lets head collapse on desk*

Oh, and don't send toffees or naked photos or confetti, or anything. But you know that, don't you?

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

The Simple Guide to Caring for an Author

It really is simple. Organising a festival or other event is not simple but looking after your author(s) is. Simple it may be, but important it absolutely is. It makes the difference between us being able to perform with energy, passion and positivity, or us collapsing at the end in a quivering, possibly furious, heap.

My simple guide
1. Pay us. Please. We don't have salaries or wages; we've taken a lot of time to prepare, to travel, to wait for the event; we are also experts in our field. Whether this is the first time we've done a talk or the five hundredth, we are an expert about the book or topic you've asked us to talk about. We are also adults; we pay taxes and bills. And most authors are not at all well paid. Occasionally, for reasons of our own, we might do something for nothing: but you must NEVER expect it, and never ever ever cover up your inability to pay with phrases such as: "Our budgets have been cut," "Other authors are doing it for nothing," "It's a good cause," or - the worst - "It will be great for your profile."

2. Make space for us. There should be a room where authors/speakers can go before and after the talk, a place where we can leave our coats, go to the bathroom, and escape from the audience afterwards. (I recently spent two hours between events dodging desperate questions from aspiring writers from my first talk of the day, who simply wouldn't let me sit, eat, drink or breathe. Some were delightful and apologetic; I wanted to help them all; I couldn't - my blood sugar was plummeting and no one noticed.)

3. Feed and water us. No, we don't need champagne and smoked salmon - though obviously I wouldn't spit it out. Just offer us something, anything. Please.

4. Plan the time-table properly. With gaps.

5. Give us a few moments peace before we do our talk. However relaxed we might be or seem, we still need those moments to clear our heads, breathe a few times, and remember what we are going to say. Do not bring a local dignitary to meet us at that point. Or a photographer.

6. INTRODUCE US. It's hard to explain the difference between having someone say a few glowing words that we couldn't say about ourselves, and having to introduce ourselves to a bemused audience. Recently, I was introduced as, among other things, "She's been shortlisted for a few things." Well, actually, I've won a few things but I couldn't say so, could I? It means that the audience ends up never knowing - except that on this occasion, a fellow-author who was speaking after me was generous enough to put the record straight.

7. At the end, wind up the questions and thank us, saying something nice if you can possibly bring yourself to do so. Not long ago, an organiser had told me she didn't have any spare staff to do intros or thanks. As it turned out, she was actually IN my audience, but still didn't find it in herself to say anything at all to me, either privately or publicly. Now, I happen to know that the event had been a good one, because many in the audience contacted me afterwards, and because you can tell from people's faces, but that young woman sat there and said nothing. Nor did she mention either thanks or praise in any of the emails I had to deal with from her afterwards, which were mostly about invoices and expenses.

8. Do not deduct tax from our invoice. If you do that to me (and I specifically state on my invoice that I am registered self-employed) I will a) charge you a £75 admin fee and b) send a swarm of especially nippy wasps to your garden and ask them to stay there until the tax has been refunded.

9. Be prepared. The better prepared you are, the better the event will be. This is not just about the author but about the whole audience. So, think ahead and discuss with the author in advance - but try to avoid reams of disjointed email correspondence. A simple question, "What do you need?" goes a long way. Trust me: the answer will be reasonable. Very few of us are actually prima donnas; we are simply trying to create the conditions that will allow us to deliver a brilliant event for you.

10. Be sensitive. All writers are different. Some are nervous and look nervous; others look calm but are churning inside. Err on the side of caution and just be nice to us. You don't have to fuss, you don't have to jump to attention, you don't have to treat us with kid gloves. Just try to imagine that you are doing what we're doing: about to face a strange audience for an hour, for an event which is really important to our careers. We're on our own, we're vulnerable, we are the ones who will suffer if it all goes horribly wrong.

11. If in doubt just ask. Honestly, most of us are lovely. Despite my crabbitness above, I think I'm as lovely as possible, too. I only get crabbit when people get so much wrong and make all my hard work a) harder and b) unappreciated.

Random points:
  • Photos -  if you are having a photographer, schedule this so it's not immediately before the event. Or during, as has happened to me on several occasions in school events - by which I mean that the photographer arrived mid-event and I had to stop in the middle of my favourite story about surgery without anaesthetic...
  • Recording - do not do this without asking and do not spring it on us at the last minute. Discuss in advance. I will not let a full event be recorded but I don't mind extracts, as long as I see them first.
  • Book-selling - never expect the author to do this herself. This has happened to me before, once at a well-known book festival to which I will never go again. (That isn't the only reason.) 
It has to be said that most events are well organised and most organisers that I've come across are dedicated, fantastic, kind and thoughtful. Unfortunately, it's the others that sometimes stick painfully in my mind.

Yesterday, Danuta Kean blogged about this very effectively. A load of us have been discussing the whole issue and we want to set the record straight. If you know anyone organising any kind of author event, do send them our way.

Thank you. You've been a lovely audience.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Pitch Pitch: two contemporary pitches

Another double pitch for your constructive criticism today. Remember, these are designed to be the paragraph within the covering letter in a UK query which describes and sells the book, hooking an agent or publisher. They need to be eloquent, focused, concrete,  and give a sense of the ending.

Please add your constructive comments below. As you know, I always try to add my thoughts after the pitches, but I just don't have time at the moment as I'm still off on a bookish tour.

New Beginnings – a contemporary romance by Johanna Nield
Newly single and just hitting her thirties, Tasha fears she’s falling in love with her married boss. Distracting herself with work, friends, and a persistent colleague, she pours her secret thoughts and desires into her on-line diary. Her blog also reveals life-changing events, heartache and happiness, and the uncertainty of an unfolding future. This is Tasha's story - a tale of love, loss, life and lots more - but don't be misled: you may laugh with her at times, but you'll also cry with and for her as she tries to make the best of what life throws her way.

Leverage (working title) - a light-hearted thriller/mystery/romp/chick lit novel by KC.
Nellie Pert is 40, single and chaotic. By day, and sometimes through the night, she earns a crust as a business intelligence consultant, dishing the dirt on philandering CEOs, spilling the beans on hostile takeover bids and generally making a nuisance of herself for a series of scheming corporate clients.
By night, and sometimes all day, money burns a hole in Nellie's purse. Every sou she earns is splashed on pino grigio, fine dining, net-a-porter and items of a spangly nature, much to the exasperation of her long-suffering creditors and the friends who bale her out between assignments.

Nellie knows a lot of secrets, and before long her chaotic lifestyle, shady acquaintances and tipsy indiscretions land her in a whole heap of trouble with some very powerful people. In the ensuing commotion, the reader is plunged into the murky undercover world of the corporate spy, as Nellie attempts to extricate herself from a dastardly plot to frame her for a heinous crime.

Comment away, people!

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Cheers for children's reading - with a healthy dose of spinach and strawberries

Today I'm in Stirling, giving a keynote speech at a conference of literacy specialists. I used to regard myself as a literacy specialist, one who especially specialised in reading difficulties such as dyslexia, but it's a while since I spoke about it very much and I don't feel expert any more, although you never forget what you feel passionate about, and I do feel passionately about reading. However, once I established that I was not going to have to talk about certain things I'm allergic to - initiatives, statistics and the Curriculum for (So-Called) Excellence - I was happy to do it.

You might be interested in a recent article in which I talk about strawberries, spinach and children's reading, for Bookbrunch. Bookbrunch asked me to do this in connection with the Scottish Children's Book Award. Thank you, Bookbrunch! I then, by chance, met one of the founders, Liz Thomson, at a dinner last week, where I was the guest speaker. I'd met Liz once before, at the opening party for the Edinburgh International Book Festival, when she and Nicholas Clee had recently had the idea that became Bookbrunch and I remember talking to her about it then.

David Robinson, books editor of the Scotsman, did a nice piece on how children cheer more wildly for books than adults do. Or, at least, that was my interpretation of it!

I'm still not really here, of course. Doing a good impression, though, aren't I?

Monday, 5 March 2012

Pitch Pitch - two novels today

Two pitches for novels today and, as last week, I have no time to add my comments as I’d wish so, it’s over to you, readers. You should know the form by now but if not, scroll down to last week’s pitch or put the words Pitch Pitch in the search box on the right.

Constructive comments, please, and don’t forget to say whether you are normally a fan of this genre.

The Apprentice – a historical novel by Zeba Clarke, who writes as Madeleine Conway
A young woman avoids the convent by masquerading as her brother at the decadent court of Henri IV. Young Apollonia, apprenticed to her uncle, a court painter, is ensnared in the intrigues of Henriette D'Entragues, the King's mistress. D'Entragues is determined to marry the King. But he opts to marry the Duke of Tuscany's daughter, rich, pretty Marie de Medici. The two women become bitter rivals, each jockeying for power and precedence.

When her uncle is accused of murdering one of the King's many lovers, Apollonia risks everything to save him, including her own identity and the respect of the man she loves, to identify which of the King's women actually instigated the murder. 

The first in a trilogy following the life and love affairs of Apollonia Ghiselli, successful artist and spy, as she travels the courts of Europe, caught between the demands of her work and the desires of the two men who love her.

Reparation – a crime novel by Joanne Michael
Two women battle for supremacy, not only against each other but over their inner darkness.  Only one knows the face of her adversary.

Returning to North Wales, in an attempt to put her husband’s infidelities and betrayals behind them, Jenny Richards, a former poster girl for the Met., tries to rebuild her shattered family and self-confidence.  As she delves deeper into the cold cases of six missing, elderly women, an insidious sense of foreboding and danger threaten to destroy what is left of her family and her sanity.

Laura Collins; a.k.a. Libertine, an ambitious reporter; has her own closely guarded demons to purge. Suffering a childhood littered with abuse and indifference from those in authority, she watches as Jenny inexorably moves toward her.  As Laura’s carefully maintained mask begins to crumble, her primal instinct to protect her deeply loved sister ignites.  Laura has to stop Jenny.  Permanently.

Comments? What do you like/not like and what could be improved?

Friday, 2 March 2012

Pitch Pitch - three YA/12+ pitches

In an effort to get through the backlog of pitches that brave writers have sent in, I’m putting up three teenage/YA pitches in one go. If you aren’t familiar with this incredibly useful and popular exercise, do go and read some of the comments on recent pitches. (Put Pitch Pitch in the search box at top right.). If you’d like to pitch your own book and get help from my highly constructive readers, do read this post to find out what to do.

And I have an apology: I have no time at all to comment on these pitches as I usually do. I’m away on a scary schedule of events and I am running to keep up with myself. So, readers, it’s over to you. Be constructive and honest with respect, as you always are. 

Fire in the Blood – an urban fantasy for 12+ by Audry T
Ever since her father abandoned her, Sandra Guirola has seen herself as a defender of the underdog, tough enough to keep those she cares about from being hurt by others. But Sandra's carefully-spun illusion begins to unravel when she sets her best friend Juliet up with a boy she thinks will bring the shy girl out of her shell, and inadvertently exposes her to a preternatural killer who has been lurking on the fringes of both their lives for more than a decade.

Juliet Abrams has lived in near-seclusion most of her life, thanks to the scar disfiguring her face and the traumatic memory of seeing her family murdered by an unholy monster. She lives vicariously through Sandra's romances, believing that love is a distant dream she will never achieve, until the night she meets a boy who empathizes with her disfigurement, and finds herself drawn into a deadly love triangle that nearly ends up tearing to pieces the only relationship that truly matters -- her friendship with Sandra.

(Audry also mentioned to me that it’s told from two alternating first-person perspectives, which she has not indicated in the pitch but would in the longer synopsis.)

Training Time – a YA novel by Kirsty Stanley
After her step-brother is murdered, Jane, fuelled by grief and her untreated bipolar disorder, nearly ends up dead, or in jail. Her step-father, the commander of the time police academy persuades the judge to recruit her to the academy rather than commit her. 

Inspired by the teachers pioneering this new technology and by the classmates who treat her as an equal, even when they are sabotaging her, Jane starts to get closer to the truth, of what she wants her life to be and to discovering who murdered Jamie. 

Travelling through time brings new challenges including a burst appendix and adhering to ethical guidelines regarding what is right and wrong. But, Jane has never really been one to follow conventional rules and this time she has friends to play look out for her, even down to spotting the love of her life. About time.

We Took Risks – a YA adventure with romance, by Jennifer Burkinshaw
The stakes are high for 17 year old Tess on her drama residential in Grange-over-Sands:  having always needed speech therapy, she has to succeed in her ensemble devised performance.  That will show her nemesis, Courtney, also in the group, that Tess can speak clearly enough, as well as the necessary confidence to study law.

But Courtney and the other four are distracted both by romance and an increasingly dangerous series of dares to liven up this has-been resort. Following their guided walk across Morecambe Bay, Korean Terry is hopelessly determined to find the last body of the Chinese cocklers. When the five set off alone across the lethal Morecambe Bay, it’s Tess who brings them a compass in the fog, and stays with Courtney as she’s stuck in sinking sand.

Jack, Tess’s speech therapist, is also on the trip to help with the drama and becomes part of the rescue of Tess and Courtney. Faced with death, Tess can finally acknowledge her feelings for him.

(Jennifer adds: What I don't feel I've managed to get into my pitch is that it's narrated in the first person by Tess, and there's an element of satire to it.)

Thanks to all those writers for being intrepid. As I say, I’m so sorry I just have no time to add comments but please, the rest of you, comment away!