Tag Archives: writing tips

Self-Promotion: A Spreadsheet to Spread Your Sh*t ;)

Okay, so the weather is too warm and pretty in London to concentrate at the computer very long today. These days need to be seized, as my skin cells have been deprived of Vitamin D for too long, I say. I could practically hear my legs shreak, “It burns!” the second they were freed from perpetual cover…right before they gave a satisfied “Ahhh” as they gulped the fresh air down.

Anyway, just popping in to share with you a nugget that crossed my path a few days ago—it might be the daily recommended dose of Vitamin D that your promotion efforts need, where “D” is for “Domino.” Say wha’? Okay. A friend alerted me to Seth Godin, marketing guru, and a new venture he’s undertaken called The Domino Project. I’m still exploring what all this is about (it’s sponsored by Amazon.com), but it’s clearly in response to the rapidly changing landscape of publishing in light of e-publishing, self-publishing, and social media that places great responsibility on authors to self-promote. As every writing seminar I attend says time and time again, even the traditionally published must take on this burden, so it seems Seth is a proponent of authors marketing themselves as if they’re self-published regardless.

And so, author Jenny Blake has shared with The Domino Project a spreadsheet she’s developed “as a way of organizing the hundreds of things an author thinks about on the road to book launch.” Comprised of 15 different tabs, it’s nothing to sneeze at and certainly worth reviewing to get in the mindset of what it takes to successfully promote your book. This kick-ass resource can be found at the link below:

A Spreadsheet for the Self-Published

Happy perusing, and keep your smelling salts nearby—it’s a tad overwhelming but a good dose of reality when it comes to the business of publishing and building your presence in the market, step by step. The domino effect can only happen after you’ve already laid your pieces down one at a time, so take it in stride…


Happy Endings

Friday night: Curled up on the sofa in a state of despondency. So quiet and lackluster that my husband continually asks me what’s wrong. To which I *sigh* and say I’m fine, just wiped out after a few days of steadily revising manuscript #1…yet again. What I don’t proceed to say is that I think my ending continues to suck, and I don’t know how to fix it, and I can’t wrap my brain around it anymore, and I’m so sick of my manuscript, and all I wanna do is lie curled there and sip from my glass of red wine and watch TV to lose myself in other people’s stories until I drift to sleep.

Saturday afternoon: Husband comes into our second bedroom/office to check on me at the computer because, masochist that I am, I couldn’t stay away from dear ms #1 for long. I look at him, smile, and proceed to bounce in my loudly creaking chair over and over and over again in a way that surely makes the neighbors think we’re up to something naughty. They’re not entirely wrong, because I am at  this point climaxing and reveling in a satisfying ending. My manuscript’s ending. The first version of it I’ve ever been happy with as providing decent resolution. My mind was massaged and able to get off in the end…it almost needed to smoke a cigarette afterward.

Sunday morning: I tweak a bit more at the ending and review how it follows after the climax (a bit tricky, this, as working with two narrative threads has kinda resulted in a climax-within-a-climax…I have zero clue if I’m handling it right, but it feels appropriate). And I realize that for all the work I just put into it, the revision of this ending wasn’t even a rewrite at all! Honestly, it was done through mainly structural changes in which I pulled earlier scenes (that worked better as falling versus rising action) and inserted them into the last couple chapters. It’s hard to explain how it works, but O-M-freaking-G it does!

One of my issues with story arc was an overly quick resolution. It wasn’t “satisfying” and failed to clarify what the heck had actually happened during the climax. This was a pure product of me thinking I’d be so clever and not hand-hold my readers through anything, make them work it out themselves and leave it fairly open-ended so the readers can do the work there, too, and form their own conclusions of what happens next…basically, make them do my job because I think I was honestly too tapped (or lazy) to figure it out myself. 🙂

Well, that’s fine and all, but when it comes down to it, I’ve learned we do need to throw readers an occasional bone. In my previous post on marketability, I’d mentioned the strategies I’d try to make my work more commercially viable but had come to realize: “Is that writing commercially exactly or just better?!” Writing in a way readers can understand and enjoy is not commercial. Writing a well-resolved, satisfying ending isn’t selling out. “Satisfying” doesn’t have mean “happily ever after” or that every single loose end is tied up and explained in full. No, we don’t have to dumb everything down so readers are not only hand-held but pushed along in an adult-sized stroller and spoon-fed a purée of the unthinking obvious—and that’s not me being a snob as a writer; that’s me being a snob as a reader who finds stories like that mind-numbingly dull if not insulting. Resolutions should be like “a flick of the wrist,” I’ve been told, so I think it’s left to the writer’s  judgment which matters can be wrapped up concisely, which developed a bit more, and which left to the reader’s imagination. I think a healthy mix of all of the above can be satisfying indeed for any novel.

I’m not saying I’ve written the perfect ending. It might not be satisfying yet to someone else or even to myself in a few days. It might go through dozens more face-lifts. But what I am saying is that the towel has been flicked at my arse, waking me up to the fact that the ending in my head wasn’t on the page, and mind-reading psychics aren’t necessarily my target demographic that would maybe make that okay. This is not only my story; it’s for future readers, so I need to be less selfish with what I share of it. And such is the moral at the end of this story. 🙂

How about YOU? What issues (if any) with your endings need some massaging out?


Picking My Fleas – aka, Constructive Criticism Part 2

* SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t seen The Sure Thing *

Ah, a little inspiration in one’s life can go a long way in one’s writing…love, love, love that movie.

But to pick up where I left off Monday, here are the last two items covered during my one-on-one sessions at the Festival of Writing with agent Juliet Pickering and author Emma Darwin—

Opening Chapter:  Does your opening chapter compel further reading?

JP – “I don’t have a strong sense of [main character’s] age or experience. She seems fairly calm in this alien place – has she travelled a lot before? Surprised that no wariness when accepting drinks etc.”

ED – “Yes, to some extent. Want to know about the mysteries in the past, and how the prologue fits. Can’t say I care much yet, about [main character] because we haven’t had much insight into what makes her tick, what drives her, why she’s come to [this setting], etc.”

Me: Let me just preface with some context –  as you can probably tell, my first chapter starts out with my protagonist traveling in a foreign country. During our session, Juliet had seemed mildly interested in the chapter, but her lack of feel for the character prevented her wanting to read more. Emma, however, told me she definitely did want to read more, if for any reason because she was intrigued by my prologue in the voice of the historical thread’s main character and how it would come to relate to my modern thread. To repeat (and elaborate on) my last post, I have both a modern and historical narrative. The modern thread is the dominant one accounting for the bulk of the story, but the historical one pops up now and then to gradually reveal its influence on the former. Emma was engaged by the historical voice and the mystery of its cryptic words, but it was unfortunately my modern protagonist that fell flat for her as with Juliet.

I place a lot of the blame on the fact that this first chapter used to be my third one. I’d hacked out a duller, wordier opening and likely didn’t thoroughly think through what necessary elements of character were thrown right out with it. I’ve therefore been working to reincorporate that into the opening chapter; it isn’t all as simple as adding an age reference in there, but showing more characterization (and consistency in that characterization) through thoughts, dialogue, and actions. Bearing in mind the critique of my writing style from last time, I’ve also worked to simplify sentences and present it in a *hopefully* snappier, more engaging way that will make the reader more interested in my gal by virtue of better understanding her personality, background, and motivations.

Next Steps:  Recommendations for the way forward.

JP – “Perhaps add a little more emotion into [main character’s] thoughts/feelings?”

Me: Juliet’s primary recommendation related to the issue above – characterization needs to be strengthened from the get-go. Emma hadn’t written anything down for this, but, in person, she reemphasized to me the importance of my two narrative threads having an impact on each other. She liked my writing (was hooked by the first sentence of Chapter 1—score!)—and just warned against the over-writing that confuses what I’m trying to say.

One sigh of relief was Emma’s validation with the way I shift POV between the two threads – the indie publisher I referenced Monday had an issue with that, but Emma said it was perfectly fine. There is an abundance of stigmas against first-time writers and what we are and are not able to do expertly enough; not that I’m saying I’m handling this case in point “expertly,” but I have a list of reasons why I’m doing it the way that I am that I’m choosing to stand by, no matter what. I can see it making a difference if a newbie tries something just for the sake of doing it, to be stylistic and experimental, but when there’s actual purpose underlying the choices we make, that’s gotta be worth something (see “POV for Vendetta” for an instance of this). We’ll see.

So once again, I ask you, readers, what feedback have you received on your manuscript’s opening that you’ve found helpful? How did you address it? 


Picking My Fleas – aka, Constructive Criticism Part 1


I’d mentioned ages ago that I would share the feedback I received at the Festival of Writing, so today I’m finally getting around to it. Along the lines of my post last week, the 10-minute one-on-one sessions were geared toward discussing the marketability of my story based on its first chapter (which the agent/author read in advance). I met with UK literary agent Juliet Pickering of AP Watt and author Emma Darwin (yes, she’s related to Charles), and this is what they wrote on the standard session form…

Market Appeal:  Is the concept of your MS well-designed for the market?

JP – “Literary fiction – female readership? Any authors you could reference in intro?”

ED – “Always room for well-written high-end commercial women’s fiction, but it still needs to be strong in narrative drive, and the history-plot needs to have an effect on the story of the modern strand.”

Me: Juliet had a harder time discerning who my market would be exactly, so she recommended being more specific in my query letter. I’m still not exactly sure what authors I would list…My inspirations for story came from Rumer Godden’s A Fugue in Time, Penelope Farmer’s Charlotte Sometimes, and Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw to an extent, but I kinda modeled my approach (*wishful thinking*) after more modern books by Audrey Niffenegger and Gregory Maguire (Lost, not his fairy tale retellings). I haven’t aimed to copy anyone’s style nor do I want to, but I guess I’d aspire to Kate Morton if I did.

In any case, during our session, Juliet did say she thought the ghost-story element of my manuscript is marketable at this time. I have two threads of narrative running through the manuscript of different time periods, so Juliet had also echoed what Emma later said about one narrative needing to have an impact on the other. Rest assured, they do relate, though the interaction only gradually becomes clearer by the second half, and I leave the reason for this relationship open to speculation until close to the end. Right or wrong, I’m relying on the mystery of that to keep the reader going and give the ending its ta-da!, so hopefully it’s okay that the connection isn’t readily obvious from the start.

Prose Style:  Is your prose style strong enough to sustain an agent’s interest?

JP – “Yes”

ED – “Potentially rich, and very evocative at its best, but it is over-written: too many elaborate words getting in each others’ way. Also I think it’s blinding you to where you’re using words loosely or wrongly, or a sentence doesn’t actually make sense.”

Me: Juliet’s commentary during the session was short-in-sweet on this point, too. Emma, however, was invaluable in calling me out on what I do get criticized on time and again. I had a professor in grad school who told me, “You’re a very good writer. You could be great if you relaxed it more.” The indie publisher who previously offered me a rewrite opportunity likewise said that my writing at the outset of my story was “very ‘erudite’ sounding with lots of metaphors and description, lots of almost ‘purple prose'” and needed to be “simplified a bit to make it more accessible so as to meet with the expectations of our typical readers.” So let’s just say I know this about myself and have for quite some time. I was also reading A.S. Byatt and stuff like Of Human Bondage and Victorian Gothic fiction at the time I started, which made a lot of old-school formality creep in. I’m working on it.

Interestingly enough, that publisher found my language to evolve over the course of the book, which no doubt has to do with practice making, well, closer to the elusive “perfect.” The act of writing itself is the way to become a better writer, and, not having tackled such a lengthy project before, I know that I fell into a more natural groove as the story progressed and had been applying other lessons learned along the way. So I’ve been concentrating lately on these opening chapters to make the writing more consistent. And when Emma says, “using words loosely or wrongly,” ha! Ouch! She’d noted specific instances in my first chapter, and they were definitely parts where I let myself drift into a bit of prose poetry without considering whether I’d let myself get too experimental/abstract. I’m hoping my writing prompts or Eda vignettes will be my outlets for that sort of thing and help get it out of my system for longer prose that should be more straightforward. 🙂

There are a couple other items on the list that I’ll leave for Part 2. In the meantime, happy writing-to-write-better, everyone! And please do tell what feedback YOU’VE received on the two questions above. How did you respond?



Pacing Your Pages – Part II

Playing the "Time Lord" is no matter to horse around with.

After surely leaving you in suspense all week with the dramatic hook at the end of my last post, “Pacing Your Pages – Part I,” I bring you the thrilling conclusion of the joke:

A horse walks into a bar, and the bartender says

“WHY THE LONG FACE?”

Boddum-bum. *ching!*

Right. To get back on topic, last time I introduced the first part of author Julie Cohen‘s workshop on Pacing. She’d explained how we’re the “Time Lords” over our readers’ experience with our novel—how engaged they are and how quickly they move through it. We’ve already been over analyzing our use of conflicts, functions, hooks, and variety, so moving onward today…

Keeping secrets is another tool for creating a page-turning novel. As Cohen said:

“Readers are nosy.”

As the writer, we can choose to either keep a secret from the reader or let them in on one that’s kept from a character. However you approach it, try to keep that secret for as long as you can, as wanting to find out what it is (or see the character do so) is what will prompt readers to keep reading. That being said, know when to let it go, even if it’s earlier than you’d want to if it means not distracting or overly teasing the reader. You want them intrigued, not annoyed.

And just when we’ve been talking about how to pick up the pace of your novel, just as important is slowing down. Moments warranting a slow-down are dramatic events, sudden happenings, and emotional high points that we might want to prolong for their significance and to allow the reader to process them. Strategies for expanding on reader time include adding section breaks, changing point-of-view, and leaving an incident for a chapter before returning to it later.

Then there’s the matter of speeding up. If you want to get things rolling a little faster, avoid coffee-drinking scenes and the like with characters just sitting around and gabbing if it’s not moving the story forward, along with description for its own sake. Establishing atmosphere and such can be better achieved through a few concise, well-selected descriptions than rambling on over every detail of everything appearing in a scene—and remember your R.U.E.: Resist the Urge to Explain! Other areas to cut include naturalistic but unneeded dialogue, bits that aren’t hooks at the beginning and end of scenes, and things necessary to real life but not fiction (think going to the bathroom or getting from one side of the room to the other).

Where making these cuts are concerned, Cohen says:

“If you have a sneaking suspicion something shouldn’t be in there, cut it.”

We new writers hear this advice at every turn. That’s because it’s essential, but it doesn’t have to be painful. Looking on the bright side of cutting things out, we can: 1) accept that we’ve learned something from writing it; and, 2) use it again somehow…perhaps in another story, as a “free read” on your website or blog as a means of drawing readership, or, quite possibly, it might even have to be stuck back in the story it originally came from! Cohen herself had this experience—she’d cut a scene out by her own choice, but when her editor later suggested that that part of the story was lacking a certain something, the bit that she’d cut was exactly the solution!

Finally, I’d mentioned her color-coding system before for determining the appearance and interplay of conflict throughout a manuscript. She likewise closed her session with a similar method for outlining other aspects of plot. Basically, however you’d like to slice and dice it, assign each plot element a color (e.g., interaction between hero and heroine, interaction between hero and his mother, etc.) and jot it on a Post-It note. Then go chapter by chapter and apply the Post-Its to a sheet of paper for each to see your story’s development. This isn’t so much for outlining in advance as it is a post-draft diagnostic tool.

* To see a photo of this strategy and read Cohen’s own description of it, see her blog post, “Post-It Plotting“:
http://www.julie-cohen.com/blog/2010/09/17/post-it-plotting/

What pacing strategies have worked for you? Would you give any of these from Part I or II a go?


Pacing Your Pages – Part I

Whoa there, horsie! Slow-n-steady does NOT always win the race...

Ah yes, welcome back to the Animal Kingdom, where if I’m not a monkey, I’m evidently a horse…let’s just say my husband and I are big fans of the Grand National and cheer the horses on the best way we know how from the pub. Now the Grand National is a looong-lasting steeplechase, so, just as in the London marathon two days ago, the runners have to pace themselves strategically so they have enough energy to race through the climactic finish. But that doesn’t mean they start walking, and, of course, it’s crucial they stay on track. Likewise, the workshop I attended, “Pacing: Or, How To Keep ‘Em Turning Pages,” at the York Festival of Writing instructed on how to keep the pace of your novel moving without meandering off course.

To start, as you can see on the right side of the screen, I’ve just started reading the novel Getting Away With It. I’m doing so for entertainment, yes, but also as a lesson in pacing—it so happens that its author, Julie Cohen, led the above-mentioned workshop, so I thought I’d check ‘er out.

Cohen started out by noting “novel time” and recommended using a blank calendar to map out the story’s timeframe (bearing in mind “reader time,” the timeframe during which the readers actually read it…you want to keep a novel moving, but you also want to work in enough time for your readers to catch their breath). And while a longer novel versus a shorter one can allow more breathing room for character introspection (which are necessary moments), she recommends against over-using it.

As for conflict, Cohen calls us the “Time Lords” over reading time. 🙂 What she means is that reader time is subjective; it’s the writer who manipulates it. And she advocates doing so by including as much conflict as possible in each page, which I’m sure we’ve all heard before:

A lot of well-handled conflict will go quickly, no matter how many pages.”
Julie Cohen

She’s not talking car-chase, high-drama conflict at all turns but, rather, varying types of conflict—this could be any of the usual types: Man vs. Man, Man vs. Himself, Man vs. Society, Man vs. Nature. A blend of these conflicts are likely occurring in your novel, and Cohen suggests tracking them via a color-coding system to map out how they coincide chronologically. This can help you visualize the interplay of conflict as well as an approximation of your story’s shape.

Next up is function. A pacey book is efficient in its storytelling. Among the functions its chapters/scenes serve is moving the plot/subplot forward, developing character, creating emotion/atmosphere/conflict, and imparting information. But if you find you have several scenes serving the same function, either condense them or add in additional functions. A good way to determine this is to make a “scene function” list.

Also essential to pacing is starting and ending each scene with a hook, as well as giving your reader variety in mood, topic, theme, and style. To demonstrate the efficacy of this, Cohen had us do a simple exercise with Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (it took a teacher to identify another teacher right off the bat, by the way—her presentation style was straight out of the trenches of keeping teenagers engaged, complete with energy, worksheets, and jigsaw activity. Everyone loved her! :)). Anyway, she’d provided a list of consecutive events from Act 1 Scene 1 to Act 2 Scene 2, and we were to label each with symbols denoting different tones, emotions, characters, and dramatic points of the story. The result is…*drum-roll*…That’s right, variety. You see an interplay of different elements without formulaic repetition.

Putting your readers on a rollercoaster is going to make them think and feel like they’re going faster.
Julie Cohen

So in an attempt to pace myself and allow time to digest the above, I’ll quit here and resume with the rest in Part II. But to practice my lessons, I’ll end on a hook. While I haven’t yet shared the punch-line to my “Why did the monkey fall out of the tree?” joke, I’ll leave you with this one, in keeping with today’s theme:

A horse walks into a bar, and the bartender says


Leggo My Ego

I am a sensitive artist.
Nobody understands me because I am so deep.– King Missile

I can’t help it
Because I am so much more intelligent
And well-rounded

Than everyone who surrounds me. […]

I stay home
Reading books that are beneath me,
And working on my work,
Which no one understands.”

Yep, there are a lot of divas out there like this, particularly among those of an artistic temperament, so we writers are no exception. Well, becoming a teacher certainly knocked any such pride out of me, reducing me to such a state of humility on a daily basis that I finally learned it’s okay to admit when I don’t know something. No one could know all information, master all skills, and we certainly won’t grow in any respect until we can learn to acknowledge our limitations and accept help from others. 

That’s what I’ve been enjoying so much about the blogging community I’ve shared in for the last year—aspiring writers who are proud of their work, yet willing to put their vulnerabilities and uncertainties out there in their blog posts for all to know and empathize with. By doing so, we’re learning and improving. We also learn and improve from having our work critiqued, be it by peers in a writing group, an informal beta-reader, editor/agent feedback, etc. When taking on such a personal task as writing that inherently possesses so much passion, however, it can be difficult to accept criticism of our babies. What we write is who we are, and who likes hearing that they’re anything less than perfect? I’d say not a single one of us, if I were a bettin’ man (or a man at all, for that matter).

Yet take it in stride we must. It’s hard to control how another will respond to our work, but we can control how graciously we respond to their feedback. I love the tale I’ve written and certainly want to retain ultimate creative license, but as agent rejections already start rolling in (2 so far), I understand that there will always be something to adjust. And in this case I just hope I can handle it as gracefully as the author whose work I’m presently editing. I just got her edits back, along with this lovely email:

“I must say, your editorial was wonderful, so user friendly and in tune with what I was aiming for and didn’t quite reach.  I particularly appreciated how you explained why certain patterns weren’t working or how they could work better.  I believe that your input will benefit my future writing as well, and not just this work. […] I did take your suggestions to heart, and I’m pleased with the result. Really, your editorial was invaluable. I’m looking forward to your opinion of the revised work.”

Not that I’m letting this go to my head ;)…but it was an inspiration, not to mention such a relief! So time now to get over myself and help this author reach her personal best. Ego begone! But confidence, stay.

How about you? Has a dose of humility ever caught you getting a bit too stubborn during the writing process? How do you know when to assert what you believe are your strengths and when to concede your weaknesses?


Pin the Tail on the Monkey

Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you—

You look like a monkey, and you smell like one too!

Hey, who let that kid in here? Shove a cookie in his cakehole, and let’s try this again…*ahem*…

Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday
dear Fallen Monkey, happy birthday to you!!!

Ah yes, it was at 5:50pm on this day one year ago when this proud blog-mama gave birth to a healthy, sassy little monkey in an attempt to get over writer’s block. It weighed in at 10 posts over the first month. Author and baby were doing fine.

And still doing fine, thanks to the loyal readers who indulge the writing prompts, rants, and primate poop jokes. Time to go blow out the candle on the banana cream pie before it melts…


WordPress Picked My Fleas – 2010 in Review

The stats helper monkeys [FaMo’s Note: I swear this is their phrasing, not mine…as much as I love any chance to exploit my theme] at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 4,500 times in 2010. That’s about 11 full 747s.

In 2010, there were 86 new posts, not bad for the first year! There were 102 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 20mb. That’s about 2 pictures per week.

The busiest day of the year was August 6th with 101 views. The most popular post that day was The FaMo Awards.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were blogcatalog.com, twitter.com, milo-inmediasres.com, WordPress Dashboard, and nickielson.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for the fallen monkey, fallen monkey, back to the future polish, cluedo, and cluedo board.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

The FaMo Awards August 2010
19 comments and 1 Like on WordPress.com,

2

Monkey with a Mission January 2010

3

Human Persona May 2010
2 comments

4

The Shotgun-Shack Story: Nowhere to Hide August 2010
21 comments and 2 Likes on WordPress.com

5

If Truth Be Told… August 2010
22 comments and 3 Likes on WordPress.com

[FaMo’s Note: Well, guess I’m glad I used that Clue board photo in my “The Kitchen Culprits” post to get those Google referrals 🙂. Am also amused that people have directly searched for me, unless I’m intercepting visitors for another fallen monkey out there…that poor, forlorn creature laying in the grasses somewhere for someone to see it has fallen, while instead they read my nonsense…At any rate, cheers to Milo and Nicki as well for the referrals! I had a hell of a fun year picking the grey-matter lint from the folds of my brain and piling it up here and look forward to more in 2011! Thank you, dear readers, for stopping by my tree.]


The Manuscript Manicure – Part IV: On Publishers & Publicizing

“Throw gloom over your shoulder.”  – Wendy Robertson

All right, we’re in the home stretch of my Manuscript Manicure miniseries! On to approach publication in the absence of gloom…

Okay, then. Next topic for convo at the Room to Write workshop dealt with researching publishers and agents. Again, no one-size-fits-all remedy, they merely directed us toward the Writers and Artists Yearbook (I guess Writer’s Market would be the U.S. equivalent). As you peruse these comprehensive listings, read carefully for the genres preferred by each representative to get a feel for who would be most receptive to your story. Newer agents are typically listed last. Regardless how you slice and dice this abundance of information, make sure you isolate a specific name to whom you address your query. My impression was that the facilitating authors didn’t seem keen on using an agent, but they acknowledged the obvious benefit of their industry contacts as well the validation your work is good. They favor big agencies over small, finding the latter to be unreliable or at least more likely to be. They also recommend doing a punt with the publishers (well, those accepting unsolicited submissions, that is), as their slush piles are probably smaller than agents’ these days.

As for those publishers…the workshop highlighted independent publishers. These are the ones most likely to accept unsolicited submissions, and in some cases you can send your entire manuscript straight away. The cons with this avenue are: 1) the odds – small publishers might purchase only a handful of books a year, and 2) promotion – the bulk of this burden may still fall on you; indeed some independent publishers require a proposal of your self-marketing plan concurrent with your submission.

And there’s the alternative route becoming ever more prevalent: self-publishing, or, as Wendy prefers to call it, “Private Editions.” I love that :). Pros to this are: 1) getting to see your book in print and finally share what you’ve been up to all this time with others, and 2) greater control over your editing, cover design, etc. Cons are obviously: 1) cost, 2) rigorous self-editing, and 3) rigorous self-promotion. This last aspect is not something all writers are comfortable with, so one of our fellow attendees, Jackie McKenzie, offered the following media tips from her journalism experience:

[These 10 steps are all directly quoted; I’d use the quote box, but it’s too awkward.]

1. Seek out the media – they won’t find you. Be brave and proactive, not pushy, just quietly methodical.[…]
2. Research which media to contact – […] Start with local papers and radio plus titles relevant to the book. Try titles relevant to new writers and ones that publish book reviews.
3. Think online as well as offline – there are more opportunities for coverage in online publications than traditional printed ones. […]
4. Prepare the pitch – write two opening sentences suitable for a quick introductory phone call. Start with “I have a news release that you may be interested in…” then sell yourself and the book, one sentence for each!
5. Get named contacts – use the two-sentence pitch to phone news desks directly and ask who you should send the press release to. Named emails are more effective than generic ones. […]
6. Prepare a news release – keep to one side of [the page]. Use the same two lines from the pitch and include a bit about the storyline (blurb) plus some background on you. Highlight any topical issues or local landmarks etc. that may be of interest. Include any links to any relevant websites, blogs or social media that may help to sell the story. Include your contact number and details of where the book is being sold. (“It’s not all about the book; build a story around you!”)
7. Send out the release as an attachment – include a jpeg photo of you holding the published book or a visual of the front. […] Keep the message in the body of the email very short. If you have spoken to the journalist beforehand refer back to the conversation.
8. Follow up emails with a quick call – after two days contact each journalist [to ask] if it is of interest and offer to send them a copy of the book. If they are not interested end the call quickly.
9. Send out email invites to the launch – use the same media contacts. Most will decline but it adds credibility. […] If they can’t attend ask if they are interested in a post-launch news release. If so, it may be worth paying a freelance press photographer to come along to the launch. […]
10. Prepare a post-launch release – re-cap on the details from the first release but refresh the story with an opening paragraph about the success of the launch, numbers attended, etc. If anyone of local interest is there […] borrow them for the photograph and ask them for a quote to add to the release. If a reputable press photographer has been used mention them by name on your email message (anything to persuade them to consider the picture).

A good book launch is a must. And after the launch, keep going! Consider scheduling monthly events.

As of this workshop, three writers in attendance were on the verge of launching their own first novels. All three for their own reasons chose self-publication—I mean, private editions—and two of which published through their local HPM Group, a Durham-based printer that I have to say produced two of the highest quality self-publications I’ve yet to see. Their books look like any to be found on a major retailer’s shelf, and one author had the creative license to use her own painting as the cover image, so I was very impressed with the creative and physical production possibilities given the right printer and the right amount of coin—you get what you pay for, after all. In any case, to give a quick shout-out to these ladies in congratulations:

Anne Ousby – Patterson’s Curse
Erica Yeoman – Devil’s Drove
Eileen R. Elgey – The Smile of Deceit

Wendy Robertson also just launched her memoir, The Romancer: On Being a Writer.

To close with more of her pearls of wisdom as we embark down this rocky road to publication:

“Every book and every short story you write is part of your apprenticeship.”

“There are good kinds of rejection. Don’t pore over the nasty ones; piece together the best bits of the good ones.”

PART I – Macro-editing

PART II Micro-editing

PART III – Submitting a Manuscript


%d bloggers like this: