Monday, 30 April 2012

Publishers are in it to make money - get over it

Earth to writer: yes, publishers are in it to make money. Duh.
  1. Otherwise, how will they pay their staff and overheads? Etc.
  2. When they make money from your book, so do you.
  3. If they don't, you don't either.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Writer's Block

On Twitter, you'll see people talk about what they are writing, or simply inform the world, unfascinatingly, that they are writing. They use the hashtag #amwriting.

This is a hashtag that I have rarely been able to use in the last couple of years. You (most of you) didn't know this but I have been suffering from writer's block. And don't let anyone tell you it doesn't exist, only that they have not experienced it. (And it is completely different from hating your job or not wanting to go to work or not wanting to start a task. It is something peculiar to those who need the emotional parts of their brain working properly for their work - writers, artists, musicians.)

The block does not have to be a brick wall, just ugly sludge, preventing free flow, causing a grim trickle. Sometimes, you do force words through the sludge, because if you're a professional you just have to do it, but it doesn't feel like writing. Not really. I have been performing to order for two years and hating almost every minute of it. And feeling ashamed of hating it. Yes, I've written words - I even wrote a novel - but it was a horrible process.

I know the reasons for this. You don't need to know the reasons. Let's just say, "Stuff happened." The stuff began in January 2010, and continued for over a year. It was stuff that was sufficient to rock me. It speared me in the part of my brain that allows creativity. And for a while that part was almost completely paralysed. I could blog, tweet, speak, plan, campaign, but not write fiction.

None of that matters, because now I truly #amwriting.

Conversation with my husband this morning:
Me: I need to warn you about something.
Mr M (looks worried): Ye-es?
Me: You know that thing I used to do when I was really into the book I was writing?
Mr M (After a short struggle to remember): You mean when you won't answer questions and you go all silent and get up early in the morning and suddenly say odd things in the middle of a meal? And you're sometimes grumpier than usual?
Me: Yes, that.
Mr M: What about it?
Me: It's happening now.
Mr M: Good!
Me: What, you don't mind?
Mr M: Is it going to make any money?
Me: Actually, rather possibly. You never know.
Mr M: Well, about time, too.

What am I writing? I'll tell you soon! It is very exciting for me, and I have not written the words "writing" and "exciting" in the same paragraph for a long time.

This blog post would be self-indulgent if I didn't have some advice for you. Here it is.
Creative* writing relies heavily on the emotional parts of our brain: the limbic system. The things that cause writer's block are those that overwhelm that emotional limbic system: grief, shock, anger, stress, hate, fear. Those things take so much of the limbic system's power that there is none left to fuel and allow the writing. Every time you try to access the emotional parts, they are busy grieving or being angry or going over and over and over the emotion of whatever it is that is happening to you and around you.

[*By "creative" I don't only mean fiction; I feel that good non-fiction needs to access the emotional part, too, though not so heavily, and depending on what it is.]

That is what happened to me. Every time I tried to get into that limbic writing state, emotions from the "stuff" intruded. I lay awake at night full of the wrong emotion, the negative thoughts. The writer in me had been used to lying awake thinking of plots and having conversations with my characters; the blocked, stressed, angry me couldn't. Every time I tried, the other stuff raged.

It is hardly surprising that when emotions overwhelm us, we cannot also write. Except perhaps write about those emotions - which is perhaps why sometimes people can write during depression. (Depression was not what I had, by the way.)

So, if this is happening to you, what to do about it?

Give yourself time for the cause of emotional overload to dissipate and lessen. It will. How quickly that happens and what (if anything) you can do to speed it depends on the cause and on how deeply it has troubled you. You may not be able to rush it. But everything passes and one day you will find that you want to write.

But, and here's the important thing: you may not be able to. When you find you still can't write at the point when you feel you should be able to, you will doubt yourself, your very core. This is when you need to act. Now you need to coax your battered creative brain back into life, and I'm afraid no one will do it for you.

Give your brain three things:

1. Time to think. Not about your stupid job or stuff or tasks or lists. But ideas, characters, scenes, words, stories. Time on your own, with no one talking to you. Make that time. No one will give it to you if you don't give it to yourself. It's something to fight for. Fight those around you and fight yourself.

2. Light, air and the great outdoors. Our brains are more creative when we are in big, high spaces and can see far into the distance (preferably a green, natural distance.) Go walking. Alone. Breathe. Give your brain oxygen, literally and metaphorically.

3. Desire. You have to want it enough. You have to remember that this is what gives you heartsong. Remember heartsong? If not, you need to read Write to be Published, the bit at the end, the bit that everyone writes to me about.

Give it those things and bit by bit your battered, comatose, creative brain will slowly waken and strengthen and you will write again. The heartsong will return and you will remember once more how it feels to be a writer. You will be a writer again.

(PS If you're interested in what I said about the brain being more creative in big spaces, see here. But come back and comment here because I won't see comments over there!)

Friday, 20 April 2012

Blog/tweet = success: chicken or egg?

An email the other day raised an interesting question. With the sender's permission, I will answer it here.
Hello Nicola
We met on the stairwell before going into your Skills Session on "Looking for a Publisher" at the Glasgow Aye Write book festival.  I was wearing a red necklace and admiring your beautiful turquoise and green necklace. [Always a good way to start an email, though I feel my shoes really should have got a mention. They were certainly uncomfortable enough.] 
I very much enjoyed your session, my first dip of the toe into the writer's world. [Clearly, my emailer is a woman of immense discernment and will go far.] 
I am lazily resisting embracing media skills and was wondering if you began blogging and tweeting only once you had became a successful author?  (Hoping that your answer might be "yes". )
Behind this question I detect some sub-questions:
  1. Are blogging and tweeting necessary to becoming "successful"? In other words, can we avoid them if we don't want to do them?
  2. Or do blogging and tweeting really become most useful and important after we are established and successful? In other words, can I therefore please not do it now? Pleeease.
  3. What can an unpublished writer usefully do in terms of this type of activity? After all, without something to tweet and blog about, what's the point? In other words, give me permission to wait till I've got something to talk about.
Let me answer the original question first: wondering if you began blogging and tweeting only once you had became a successful author?  (Hoping that your answer might be "yes". )

Yes. But the main and simple reason for that is that my "success" (however I think you are defining it) came before blogging and tweeting existed... So I didn't have a choice.

However, there is absolutely no doubt that blogging and tweeting have hugely helped at least some parts of my "success", specifically the "profile" bit. In other words, rather obviously they have made more people know about me. Because that's precisely what blogging and tweeting do. Even if they don't sell as many books as some would love to believe.

They have also led to a number of publishers quite often saying they'd love to publish a book of mine. Which is obviously happifying, but never ever ever does this over-ride the fact that first I have to write the right bloody book. Because, unless you are a boob-enhanced celeb, writing the right bloody book is the only way to get published.

But let's look at the other parts of the question.

1. Are blogging and tweeting necessary to success? Clearly, it's possible to be a well known and successful author without them. Some successful authors don't do any of this stuff. However, if you decide not to do any of it, you set yourself a higher hurdle and give yourself weaker muscles with which to leap it. You will almost certainly find more readers if you do this stuff than if you don't. But I would never recommend doing it for such functional reasons alone: you must enjoy at least parts of it, otherwise your lack of enjoyment will come over and it will look like cynicism. Never a sexy look.

Also, for them to be successful, they must be done well and properly. Otherwise, they are a huge time commitment for no gain.

2. Should you (or can you) wait till you have a book out before doing it? Well, you can, but it takes time to build up friendships (and it's friendships, to one degree or another that we're talking about), and it's definitely easier if you build up contacts and connections and friendships sooner, rather than later. If you leap into Twitter the week your book comes out, it's pretty obvious why you're there; and you are likely not to have enough people listening to you anyway.

I'd add that if you are writing non-fiction, building up your platform beforehand is essential. With fiction, it's just advisable, IF you can and IF you can face it.

Also, tweeting and blogging takes practice. Best do that before people have heard of you? I think so, but, again, it's not compulsory.

I do agree that it's an awful lot easier once you are already somewhat known and have a book to show for things, but many people have a lot of fun and success on blogs and Twitter before a book deal or even an agent deal.

3. So, if it's probably a good idea to do it, how does an unpublished author find something useful to tweet and blog about? 

Here are my tips:
  • I did a popular post about blogging here. Much of it will apply before you have a publishing deal.
  • If you are writing non-fiction, you might create a blog that aims to be a go-to resource for that topic. 
  • If you are writing fiction, your blog could either be about writing or some other aspect of your life, such as a hobby or passion or ability or disability or anything that you feel strongly about and which says something about who you are. It doesn't need to be relevant to your novel. Or you could make it about writing or your life in general - but please do be aware that there are eleventy million blogs like that and most are very boring. They probably even bore the writers themselves and, I assure you, that is not a happy scene. You've got to do this three times a week (ideally, though not compulsorily) so you need to like it.
  • Whatever you do, remember that Twitter and your blog are public: so, be yourself but be your nicest self. If you are not nice, shut up or disguise yourself.
  • On Twitter, don't worry about providing interesting content if you can't think of any: just chat. Not everyone has to be a provider of info. You can just be the nice person who says hello and is supportive and sensible. Or even just supportive. It's a very good way of making friends.
  • Learn how to use Twitter properly. My ebook, Tweet Right, has everything you need to know, including how to avoid faux pas.
  • Be patient. Don't expect anything interesting to happen for ages. (Which is why I suggest you start asap.)
  • Don't think of the internet as an electronic medium. Just think of it as a way of meeting lots of people but never having to worry about being shy. The social skills involved - listening and noticing body language, following rules of the group - are not much different from those in real life. Listen as much as transmit.
  • People want a combination of things from the people they meet online: Friendship, Information and Entertainment. Don't worry about providing all three - one or two is quite enough.
  • [Edited to add, with thanks to Stroppy Author] Some unpublished writers, bruised by rejection, make the terrible mistake of slagging off agents, editors and publishing in general. As Stroppy says, doing this stuff wrong is worse than not doing it at all. Keep your anger hidden at all times. Until you are Anthony Horowitz, you can't afford not to. (That link goes to a jaw-dropping piece, by the way!)
However, if you don't want to do any of this, or you really want to wait till later, remember one thing: there is no law that you have to do it. I strongly recommend that you give it a shot but you Do Not Have To. And if you decide not to, don't fret: writing your book is more important than blogging and tweeting.

On the other hand, until you try, you won't know how much fun (and useful) it can be. I hurled myself into all this accidentally and certainly without thought. And I love it. Mostly.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Complementary World Book Night again - #WBNextra

Well, hey-ho: here I am, blogging about World Book Night again. Why the hey-honess? Because I regret that I have to repeat myself. Last year, I proposed a simpler way to achieve the same aims. WBN aims to increase readership - fabulous! The Complementary WBN aims to increase readership while also boosting book sales, and directly helping authors (not just the prescribed 25), their publishers and agents, and bookshops. Fabulouser, in my view.

The Complementary WBN idea (which I'll explain in a minute) created so much support last year that I found myself on Newsnight, and quoted in many newspaper articles. In fact, the lovely Julia Kingsford, CEO of WBN, asked to meet me later to discuss what could be done the next year. We met. And, as far as I can see, absolutely nothing was taken on board. I'm sorry, Julia, and I'm grateful to you for talking to me, but I just don't think I got through to you at all. I have logged that as one of my failures.

After I blogged last year, and after WBN was over, I was contacted by a wide variety of people high up in the book industry, who had not been able to speak out, who favoured my simpler, cheaper, more heart-warming idea. They all hoped I would do it again. Some of them asked where I was going to get funding. I have no funding. The idea at this stage needs no funding. That's one reason why it is a good idea.

Last week, I was chatting to someone in publishing, and she said words to this effect: "Sadly, it seems that the whole industry has given up and is simply going along with WBN. I hope people follow your idea though!"

The problems with WBN (bearing in mind that I love the motivation and hate having to knock it)  
  • It's unnecessarily expensive. 
  • It's absurdly unnecessarily complicated.
  • It involves a prescribed list. (I don't object to the books on the list. I object to there being a list at all.)
  • I can't see how it helps authors or publishing (except the authors and publishers of the prescribed books.)
  • It does not directly produce book-sales, which bookshops badly need.
  • It involves the special printing of a million books, rather than selling a million copies of normally printed books.
  • Therefore it is wasteful of time, money and resources.
Last year on the night itself, Twitter was full of messages such as, "Where can I get a free copy of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie?" No! If people want to read books for nothing, they should use a public library - that's what a library is for and anything that undermines that does not get my vote. This was not the aim of the initiative. 

Don't get me wrong: as before, I LOVE the energy behind the idea of giving away so many books. (Though someone always pays when something is offered "free" and I think many people fail to notice who pays.) I HATE that I have to raise a voice of any negativity against it. Again. I LOVE the enthusiasm of the organisers and the givers, and the stories of happy recipients. But I find myself shaking my head at the shocking waste of money, energy and time, when our industry so badly needs a commercial boost. The same aims could have been achieved more simply and at less cost to the industry. Actually, with gain to the industry.

What is Complementary World Book Night?
Simple! Any person buys any book of his or her choice from any bookshop of his or her choice and gives it to any person or organisation of his or her choice, after writing a simple message in the front. My suggested message is: "A Complementary World Book Night book, bought and given in the spirit of World Book Night 2012, bought from ****** bookshop. Enjoy!" And you can add any other message and your name if you wish.

WBN is 23rd April, so that's the target date for doing this.

How lovely it is to give a book. To give a book to someone who might love it, who might not otherwise have read it, or who might not have read anything, who might not have access to books. Indeed, it is. But how much better it feels to give a book that you have bought, thereby helping your chosen author, your chosen bookshop and your chosen reader.

If you'd like to do this, please comment below. Tell me where you plan to buy your book, what it might be and who or what you would like to give it to. And spread the word!

Remember, this is not an ALTERNATIVE to WBN. It's complementary, extra, a bonus. Do both if you wish! The hashtag on Twitter will be #WBNextra.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Publicity or spam?

I am regularly accused of not being crabbit. I do find this accusation rather offensive, but I understand the reason. Trouble is, when most people meet me I am pleased to meet them, we are drinking coffee or wine, and they are sensible and nice people, otherwise I would not have chosen to meet them. I can assure you that I am very often crabbit, especially when the people I accidentally come across are irritating, foolish, or send me emails asking me to do things which they have absolutely no right to ask me to do. In short, when people invade my extremely busy space in a mindset of ignorance and a total failure to think things through.

I feel you need an example. 

Is it my job to publicise other people's books? Does it say anywhere on my blog or website: "Do contact me at any time with details of your book or project and I'd be delighted to spend any amount of my valuable time constructing a blog piece, complete with links, just because YOU think my 'blog readers would enjoy it.'" No. Nor am I a complete idiot with nothing better to do with my time than publicise your books. Have you noticed that my blog is not a review site? Have you noticed that I do not take guest posts? Well, dear blog readers, I know you have noticed, which is why you don't send me crappy requests like this. But there are a load of people out there, including proper publicists of proper publishing companies, who do not read my blog but send me emails starting,
"Hi Nicola, I love your blog and I've got something your readers will love, too."
"Hi Nicola, I attach a press release for the forthcoming title by O. B. Scure Author. It's a wonderful collection of stories from boardrooms around the world. I know you'll love it so please download the 800-page attachment or click on this link."
Oh, hang on. You want an actual example? Certainly. Here's an actual email correspondence I had last week, with all identifying features removed. Though the publicist herself will certainly recognise it.
Hello there, [FGS don't call me "there". How many other mugs did you send this to?]
Just wanted to send this on the info (see below) about [name of book] again in case you missed it.. [Yes, I certainly missed it, because, as you well know, you never sent it. Or are you saying that the information has been plastered all over the interworld, so marvellous is your publicity-machine, and that I really ought to have seen it and be desperate for more?] We’re just sort of looking for online news pieces and features if you fancy it? ["just sort of"? What kind of writing is that? "if you fancy it"? What, like when I want a bit of fun in between the actual work that actually attempts to earn me a living? Like, you know, sort of relaxation?]
Oh and another little snippet of info, it was mostly recorded at **** Studios in North London - owned by **** of ****! [WTF are you talking about and why should I care about this? Does my blog suggest any interest in that?]
We have tonnes more information on this project so if you would like to know more please do get in touch! [No, I really really wouldn't. Besides, you are putting the burden on me. You are also spamming me.]
Here's a link to ****, an acapella piece that could very well have been performed in Shakespeare's time: [At which point I nearly spilt coffee on my Mac keyboard.]
And a five track sampler of more contempoary [sic] material, featuring the afformentioned [sic] Elizabethan instruments, including **********
Many thanks, [small omission of any recognition that I might be really busy]


Not sure why you've sent me this. I'm a professional author and would be happy to let you know my fees if you are interested, [LOL] but I'm guessing you're looking for free copy [duh], in which case I'm not your woman!

Best wishes
Hi Nichola, [which is not how to spell my name, so thanks a lot for actually reading my blog and knowing anything about me at all before you ask me to do something substantial for you]
Ah yeah sorry we’re not really looking to pay. [*falls on the floor in surprise*] I hope you liked the idea of the project anyway!

Many thanks,
E**** x [We really aren't actually on kissing terms, tbh]
E****, I'm sorry - I didn't and won't have time to read about it. I get sent so many things and to be honest it feels like spam. A lot of authors like me are drowned in this stuff.  Sorry.
No worries :)
This whole conversation really annoyed me. (And similar emails come my way often - I usually just don't reply. This time, I did.) There was absolutely no recognition on her part as to what she was asking me to do. There was no suggestion that I might be busy, no attempt to show that it was actually something substantial that she was asking of me. Normally these approaches at least contain some kind of recognition that I'm actually quite good at what I do, that my blog is widely-read, that there was a reason for approaching me. Does she really think that a professional writer has time or inclination to do this, for nothing? That is, to be clear, work for nothing. Work for nothing on behalf of a project which has absolutely nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with my life or work. 

I decided the only way I could turn it into something which hadn't utterly wasted my time was to blog about it, with the strong message to anyone involved in publicity, whether for your own book or the book that you are being paid to publicise:

a) Research who you are contacting. Some bloggers review books or have guest posts; others don't. If they don't, don't approach them.
b) Don't be all pathetic and pseudo-friendly with your kisses and smileys - be professional.
c) Ask yourself why on earth an author (as opposed to a book blogger) would have any desire to spend a great deal of time publicising someone else's book? A total stranger's book at that.
d) Engage your brain. Please. Just a bit. 
e) An email sent to a load of people who you haven't genuinely and honestly decided would be happy to receive the email is spam. Spam spam spam spam spam spam spam. 

In short: consider whether your desire for publicity has turned you into a spammer.

So now you know what makes me crabbit.

Well, that's one of the things. More later! 

Monday, 9 April 2012

A new blog baby: Jen Campbell, "Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops"

A blog baby is a writer who got a book deal or agent deal while following my blog, and who believes that the blog helped. I'm very proud to be the blog mother of lovely Jen Campbell, author of the new Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops. Jen says, "Your blog was very helpful when submitting to agents. You are a lady of wonderful knowledge! All writers should listen, and listen carefully." *bows proudly*

And I am interviewing Jen here today. Her publisher, Constable, has generously offered a free copy to one of you. All you need to do is comment below and one name will be picked randomly. Deadline Thursday 12th, 5pm GMT. 

About the book
"Can books conduct electricity?" "My children are just climbing your bookshelves: that's ok... isn't it?" A John Cleese Twitter question ["What is your pet peeve?"], first sparked the Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops blog, which grew over three years into one bookseller's collection of ridiculous conversations on the shop floor. From "Did Beatrix Potter ever write a book about dinosaurs?" to the hunt for a paperback which could forecast the next year's weather; and from "I've forgotten my glasses, please read me the first chapter" to "Excuse me... is this book edible?" This full-length collection illustrated by the Brothers McLeod also includes top 'Weird Things' from bookshops around the world.

A huge welcome and mahoosive congratulations to Jen Campbell! Jen grew up in the north-east of England, graduated from Edinburgh University and now lives in London where she works in an antiquarian bookshop. She’s a published poet and short story writer.

NM: I know you work in an antiquarian bookshop now but when you worked in a general bookshop, what was the most annoying sort of author behaviour, the sort that would stop you wanting to stock the book?
JC: Most authors are perfectly well behaved and lovely [yourself included!]. There have been occasions where authors move their stock so it’s facing out on the shelf or on the display table, but that’s harmless. This happened once:  
customer: You don’t have a very good selection of books.
bookseller: We’ve got over ten thousand books.
customer: Well, you don’t have the book I’ve written! (storms out) 
There have been authors who leave a copy of their book, or post a copy of their book, to the shop and then call up a couple of days later to ask if the bookseller has read it and if they liked it. I completely understand that writers want feedback (we thrive on it!), but pestering is never good.
Basically, be a nice person. Be understanding. Be considerate - this will get you so much further than being pushy. And, as much as we booksellers like chocolate and wine, you don’t need to bribe us with those, either [though a part of me wishes this weren’t true].
NM: Publishers are the ones who are supposed to get books into shops. Do you think there's a genuine role for authors in that respect? What sort of things would you advise authors to do when they go into a bookshop?
JC: Hmmm. I’m torn here. I think it’s up to the individual author and how they feel about that. Personally, if I went into a bookshop and they didn’t stock my book, I wouldn’t go up to a bookseller and tell them that they should be stocking it. I don’t know if that’s right or wrong; I just know that I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing it. Booksellers are obviously always looking out for new and exciting things to stock, but to have the author him/herself telling you that their book is amazing is not the same as lots of other unbiased people telling you that. I’d rather promote my book via my blog etc a way that doesn’t force people to listen, and then hopefully more people will stumble across it, read it, talk about it and in turn more bookshops would hear about it and stock it, too.
NM: “to have the author him/herself telling you that their book is amazing is not the same as lots of other unbiased people telling you that” – oh, hear hear! And this is the problem that self-published authors have: you need a credible judgement by someone else.

What do you think authors and customers most misunderstand about the business of book-selling?
JC: Hmmm. Let me demonstrate this through the mode of quotes:
1. customer: Have you read every single book in here?
bookseller: No, I can’t say I have.
customer: Well you’re not very good at your job, are you? 
2. customer: If I give you these three paperbacks, will you sell them and give the money to charity?
bookseller: We’re not a charity bookshop.
customer: Oh. Where does your money go to?
bookseller: . . . It goes into keeping us in business. 
We all love a bargain, but I think that a lot of things have happened in the publishing industry to make people think that books are things that should be cheap. It’s easy to forget how many people have to be paid for one book: the writer, agents, editors, marketing people, designers, proof readers, wholesalers, bookshops. Those bookshops in turn have to pay rent, business rates, their staff... the list just goes on.
I think we all know [because it makes sense] that if we don’t shop in bookshops then bookshops will close, but it seems [as with a lot of other things] we’re waiting for other people to rush to the rescue. That isn’t going to happen. If we want to keep bookshops then we have to support them. Otherwise we’ll all be like the Waterstones’ apostrophe - looking for a new job in a sausage factory.
NM: Entirely agree with all that. Fably put.

So, are you looking forward to going into bookshops, finding your book there and agonising about whether to pluck up courage to speak to the bookseller? What will your opening words be? Or will you run away, as I usually do?
JC: Well, if the book wasn’t there then I would run away. However, if it was there, I’d probably also run away. Ha! I am looking forward [a lot!] to seeing the book in bookshops [eek!]. I’ve also got a few events lined up to talk about ‘Weird Things...’ and sign some books: I’ll be at The Edinburgh Bookshop on the 10th April 5:30-6:30, and I’ll be at Blackwell’s in Oxford on the 17th April, all day as a writer in residence, with an event in the evening where I’ll be talking about ‘Weird Things...’ and also reading some of my poetry (an interesting combination, there!). I’m very much looking forward to those.
NM: What has most surprised you about the process of becoming published? What has been the hardest part? The nicest?
JC: This is a tough one! The nicest part was probably seeing the book in the flesh for the first time. I can’t really describe that feeling. It was amazing. I have to say probably the most surprising thing about getting published was... getting published! Being a writer is all I’ve ever wanted to do [apart from a brief period when I was five and I was convinced I wanted to be a lollipop lady], and I’ve dreamt about it for so long that it doesn’t quite seem real yet. Also, ‘Weird Things...’ wasn’t initially a book idea, so the fact that it became a book was also a lovely surprise. At the time, I’d just got myself an agent because of my fiction, and we were busy discussing that when I was approached about writing ‘Weird Things...’.
 The hardest part is not to do with ‘Weird Things...’ in particular but relates to the whole of becoming published/being a writer and that’s the hard slog - all the work you put in before any of this happens: editing your work, trying to make your writing better, believing in yourself and holding on to the possibility of getting a publishing deal. Now that I have one book deal, I have to make sure that I work even harder. 
NM: What is your favourite Weird Thing?
JC: Ah, that changes all the time. But here are three for now: 
1. customer: Do you have any books on star signs?
bookseller: Yes, our esoteric section is over here.
customer: Good, thanks. It’s just I really need to check mine – I have this overwhelming feeling that something bad is going to happen. 
2. customer: Do you have a book that has a list of aphrodisiacs? I’ve got a date on Friday. 
3. customer: What’s your name?bookseller: Jen.
customer: Hmmm. I don’t like that name. Is it ok if I call you something else?
Thanks, Jen! It's a lovely book and will definitely make people laugh. It would make a fab gift. Shame it's not Christmas but I'm sure your publisher will still be pushing it then! And I adore the cover. 

[Edited to add - AND I'm mentioned in it, in one of the quotes! I hasten to add that it wasn't me being weird, but a customer referring to my book, Write to be Published. Which is not, in itself, a weird thing to refer to, except that in that case it was a weird comment.]

Don't forget, people: comment to win a copy. If you're picked, I'll contact you for your address to give to the publisher. And I'll announce the winner on Twitter.


Friday, 6 April 2012

Crabbit's Tips 6: Writing a synopsis

Today's Crabbit's Tips is about how to write a great synopsis. As you know, I've written a book called, ahem, Write a Great Synopsis, but I'm giving you some free advice, too, as ever. The Crabbit's Tips series is available as free downloadable and printable documents and this one is here. God, I'm good to you.

PS Remember: today is the deadline for the What has Twitter Ever Done For You competition.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

The rejection resubmission

A blog-reader asked me to say something about: "Resubmitting to agents when you've had a 'rewrite and send it back' kind of reject. What do you put in the covering letter?  Do you say what you've changed or just let them see? How much of previous correspondence do you mention? If you want to give them first shot and a reasonable amount of time to read but don't want to leave it forever what's the best way to suggest this?"

Good questions. This is when you get the kind of rejection that says, "I liked lots of things about your work but feel that x, y and z were weaknesses. The current market is very competitive and, in order to gain good reviews and uptake from bookshops, books of this sort need p, q and r. I wish you luck placing it elsewhere but if you were to revise it I would be happy to see it again."

So, imagine that you agree with the points made and are therefore more than happy to revise along the lines suggested. (You can't revise if you don't agree with the criticisms, or don't understand them.) And imagine you've revised and revised and really believe that your MS now sparkles in the way that the agent or publisher wishes.

"What do you put in the covering letter?  Do you say what you've changed or just let them see? How much of previous correspondence do you mention?"

Your task is relatively simple: you need to remind the agent that she's seen this work before (and when) and that she said she'd be happy to see it again after a rewrite. And let her know the main things you've changed, though I suggest that the synopsis is the best place to do it. Also, remember that the agent has a) quite possibly forgotten everything about your book and b) really needs to read it from scratch anyway, so does not need glorious details of your changes. I wouldn't bother mentioning too much or too much detail of the previous correspondence, to be honest. What counts is your new version, regardless of what you've changed.

Here's an example of your letter:
Dear "Name", (First name if the agent signed herself with first name in her correspondence; if you feel in any doubt, err on the side of formal and write Ms Surname.) 
In October last year you read my YA novel, MORTICIA RISES, and were kind enough to say that you'd be happy to see it again if I were to make certain revisions. I was very grateful to you for taking time to give me such constructive feedback, and I believe my book is far stronger now. I know you will have read many other manuscripts since then, so I have included brief notes on the revised synopsis, which will show you what I have changed. The new pitch for Morticia Rises follows. 
(Pitch para - no need to indicate what has changed. Just pitch it.)
Then my blog-reader asked, "If you want to give them first shot and a reasonable amount of time to read but don't want to leave it forever what's the best way to suggest this?"

I suggest (and you should obviously adapt to the situation):
Another agent also expressed a willingness to see a revised version. I'm sending it to you first, because [insert reason if there is one; for example, "I know you handle ***, and I'm a huge fan of her work" or whatever else is reasonable and true; but if there isn't a reason, no problem]. I wonder if you could tell me how long you would like to keep it for before I send it to the other agent? I know you'll understand that I'm keen to start sending it out sooner rather than later. Also, of course, I am on tenterhooks! [Never any harm injecting a little bit of relaxed cuteness at this stage!] 
I really hope you like the new version of Morticia Rises but even if you aren't able to offer me representation, I'm very grateful for your insight and for helping me turn it into a much better book. It has been a great learning experience.
I'm a great believer in injecting subtle personality into letters to agents. They are human and they want to work with humans. Never think of them as grim automata. They want your book to be fab. Now, go and make it so.

Need help with writing a great synopsis? You know where to go.

Monday, 2 April 2012

A reminder of why toffee is not a way to get published

This has remained one of the most popular posts in the three years of this blog's life, so I thought I'd let you see it again. Although it's fun to read, there's a very serious point to it. Take note!