Monday, 30 June 2008

Mentoring Scheme for Fiction Writers

One of the toughest things for new fiction writers is getting ongoing constructive feedback on their work. Using a reputable literary consultancy can provide valuable advice. Now there is a new service which has taken this a step forward and provides a mentoring scheme for fiction writers.

Gold Dust was founded by novelist Jill Dawson in response to frequent requests from writing students for more individual support. The scheme operates from London, Cambridgeshire, Manchester and Oxford. It is unique in offering new writers ten hours of individual consultation time with an established writer, usually spread out over a period of a year. Meetings take place in either London, Oxford, Manchester or Cambridgeshire. Travel is at the new writer’s expense. In between times the mentor writer reads work in progress, for a further total of ten hours.

The fee is £2000, payable on acceptance to the scheme. The scheme is competitive, and work is accepted on the basis of the promise shown. Judges assess the quality of the work submitted and mentors are involved in the final decision. Limited places are available; a writer who is not successful the first time may be asked to reapply. Gold Dust does not guarantee publication but mentors will advise about this and may suggest agents or further avenues to explore.

Gold Dust also offers help with screenwriting, for film and TV and have two hightly experienced mentors in these fields. For further information visit the Gold Dust web site.

Friday, 27 June 2008

Marketing Your Book-Getting Your Name Out There

There was an interesting article in The Bookseller magazine last week about research conducted on the changing consumer attitudes to books. For an author – apart from the difficulty of getting a publisher in the first place and then holding on to them – one of the hardest things is getting your name out there in a crowded market place. The big publishers spend the majority of their marketing budgets pushing the top names, (the big sellers) with a lesser percentage spent on those who are breaking through, (unit sales of about 200,000) and then diminishing money on those who are ‘ones to watch,’ with nothing left over for the others. The new authors (unless the publisher has spent an inordinate amount on acquiring the titles) are left to their own devices. If their books don’t sell the author is then dropped and can find it extremely difficult getting another publishing contract. And no marketing means fewer book sales. The biggest challenge therefore as an author is getting your name out there.

The research, compiled by Next Big Thing and sponsored by IBS Bookmaster, asked consumers the question ‘How do you find out about new books or authors?’ Most people in the UK said they get their information from in store displays (26%). But how do you get an in store display? OK, so it might not be too difficult with an independent bookshop near you, for example, my local bookshop on Hayling Island prominently displays my titles with a photograph of me. But getting an in store display in one or more of the chain booksellers is another matter. These are bought spaces, purchased by the publisher who will only put money behind – yes, you’ve guessed it, their big sellers. There is an exception to this however, and that is your local branch of the chain store booksellers. For example Waterstone's have a ‘local authors’ display (well they do in my hometown of Portsmouth) and this is extremely valuable to an author. When, my thriller, In Cold Daylight was shortlisted for the World Book Day Prize this year, we were promised in store displays to promote the Top Ten titles, (which included In Cold Daylight) but the Waterstone’s stores I visited had no display. Instead the Top Ten titles were left to flounder willy nilly in the store with a three for two sticker on them. What a disappointment and a lost opportunity for the author, publisher, bookseller and of course, the consumer.

So if getting an in store display is out for the majority of authors what else can we do? In second place in the survey consumers claimed they got information from a newspaper or magazine book review (14%). Again, it is extremely difficult for a new author, or an author who has not made the big time, to get a review. Reviewers tend to favour non-fiction and literary novels. However, media coverage in your local and regional area, or in specialist magazines, might not be so difficult, but don’t wait for your publisher’s publicist to do this, because they probably won’t. Remember they are tied up with their big name authors. So build your own media list and send out your press releases. Look for unusual stories and angles to generate media interest. Give radio interviews wherever possible. If you don’t know how to write a press release or give a radio interview then get yourself on a course. It could be one of the best investments you make.

This is closely followed by celebrity mentions (13%), the ‘Richard and Judy’ effect in the UK and the Ruby Wax effect in the USA. Again it can prove almost impossible for a small publisher to get a title on one of these ‘book’ programmes, and if you’re contracted to a large publisher you’re competing against many hundreds of titles and authors. Perhaps review copies to personalities and celebrities might work.

If these two avenues are ruled out then where does that leave you? Well, take heart because the next biggest data driver, according to the research, is recommendations from friends and family (12%) followed by Internet recommendations (9%). Combined this adds up to 21% and in my calculation has got to be worth pursuing. They are both areas of marketing that are available and accessible to any author.

In the UK people are increasingly looking to their peers for information. So book specific and genre specific web sites are an important part of your marketing plan. And with the proliferation of bloggers they’ve also got to be a target area, not to mention creating your own blog and/or website to show case your work and interact with your readers and potential readers.

Generating word of mouth and raising your profile through the use of the media is cost effective and affordable. However, it takes time, effort and persistence, which can be frustrating especially if, like me, you think you’ve entered the sprint only to find you’re in the marathon. But it can be fun and rewarding. Sitting in your garret compiling your masterpiece, then letting your publisher get on with the business of marketing and selling your books is not an option for thousands of authors. If you want your books to sell, not only do you have to produce the work that people want to buy, but you also have to be a clever and persistent marketer.

"Reading the Future" is researched and written by consumer research and future trends consultancy Next Big Thing, and sponsored by IBS Bookmaster. The final full report costs £195.00 plus VAT.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

What comes first plot or characters?

Pauline Rowson is author of the marine mystery crime novels featuring the ruggedly seductive Inspector Horton and of the thrillers, In Cold Daylight and In For The Kill. She regularly gives talks about her writing and runs workshops on writing fiction.

This article is also posted on Pauline's blog

What comes first plot or characters?

It's a question that I often get asked when I give talks and readings and it's a difficult one to answer or at least to explain. The two are so interlinked that it is impossible to say, well for me at least. This week has been a fairly clear week so I thought I'd crack on with the new Inspector Horton novel. The idea for the novel came easily, based on something I'd been told - more than that I can't say otherwise I'll give the game away. Beginning to turn the idea into a workable plot started well until about chapter six. Then I knew that before I could continue I needed to do more research and development on my characters. Until you have interesting characters then there is no plot, or it is weak or fizzles out. Why? Because characters drive the plot, it is their emotions and reactions that make the story. But you can't let them run around willy nilly otherwise your book would be wandering all over the place. You need a plot. So as you can see plot and characters often develop together or rather you can't have one without the other - bit like that song really, how does it go..."love and marriage... go together like a horse and carriage..."When I get stuck I always know it is because I haven't done enough work on my characters. So it's been back to the paper and pencil this week to map out who they are, why they are the way they are, their motivations and personalities and how this drives them to do the things they do in the book. I find it all incredibly fascinating.Of course I do some of this research before starting the novel but at that stage, although the characters might look fully formed on the paper, I know they are not. For me they don't really come alive until I begin to put dialogue into their mouths, so I have to start writing the novel even though I might have huge gaps in the plot at that stage. Then, after a while, it's back to the plot again and more research on the characters, (the paper and pencil bit) before refining the plot and then continuing with the creative writing process on the computer screen. And, of course, in a crime novel you also need to make sure the clues, red herrings or pink elephants (as my husband, Bob, likes to call them) are all in place. But I'll leave that for another day. Back to the novel. Now if only I could work out who done it!

Monday, 23 June 2008

Getting the first lines of a novel right

Tales and Tips from the Trenches by Amy Myers

Amy Myers has been a full-time writer since 1988, and has written a wide range of novels, from historical sagas and contemporary romance to crime. She is married to an American and lives in Kent. Many of her novels have been published under the name of Harriet Hudson. Her latest novel is Murder in the Mist.

The first line in a novel needs tender loving care – only closely rivalled by the last line. I wouldn’t go so far as Harriette Wilson, who famously began her memoirs in the 19th century with ‘I shall not say why and how I became at the age of fifteen the mistress of the Earl of Craven’ but she’d certainly been to a spot-on creative writing course. There was also the young man who, told he had to capture his readers’ attention with his very first line (correct), began it with ‘hell said the Duchess’ ( er – way out of line). Readers are not dumb; they need the first line not only to seize their attention but to be a valid introduction to the novel, rather than an attention-seeking line whose promise is not fulfilled by the text that follows. It needs to indicate the novel that lies ahead in its style, content and the genre. That sounds complicated, but it isn’t when you put it into practice. Some writers find they can’t start the novel until the perfect first line is in place, although the risk is that the perfect line might then never come and therefore nor does the novel. Others write it last, or as the muse drives them during the writing period. So don’t worry about it too long; you can go back later and see if what you have written fits the bill.

By indicating the novel ahead in its style, I mean that a beautiful quiet line, perhaps for example that there is a gorgeous sunset outside the window, will indicate to the readers that a thoughtful quiet novel lies ahead, rather than a rampaging thriller or erotic romp. That sounds obvious, but it’s surprising how many new writers begin with, say, the main character waking up in the morning and yawning, obviously with the intention of beginning on a quiet note before an exciting plot gets under way. With today’s busy life style, however, readers won’t give it that long before they put the novel down.

When indicating the novel’s content in the first line (or, let’s be generous, first paragraph) there are two points to consider. The first is that it should if possible indicate what’s often called ‘the inciting incident’, the point that kick-starts the whole plot. This doesn’t have to be spelled out, but it should suggest if possible that there’s a problem ahead. For instance, suppose a traveller gets stranded for the night with a broken down car (to use a hackneyed situation) and goes to a nearby haunted inn for board and lodging. Don’t begin with ‘Joe Bloggs was looking forward to his journey over the moors’, but with his desperate, if wary, knock on the door for help. His arrival at the haunted inn ignites the plot.

The second point dovetails with this in that it is more effective to begin a novel in the middle of an action, rather than with the lead-up to it. Readers always need to be taken forwards in a story, so don’t fall into the temptation of explaining in great detail after your first line how dear old Bloggs got to that point but concentrate on what he found when he stepped inside this mysterious inn. Then once you have the readers hooked in the first chapter by the exciting prospect of Joe meeting a headless Anne Boleyn’s ghost or whatever, you can then begin to slip in little by little the essentials (and only the essentials) of what the readers need to know of Joe’s background to understand the story ahead.

Lastly, genre. If readers are expecting a hard-boiled crime thriller, they won’t be thrilled to read a first line indicating that a romance lies ahead, e.g. As he knocked on the door, Joe Bloggs was wondering what Susan would say when he failed to turn up this evening. The memory of her luscious brown hair made him weak at the knees etc. These same readers would be disappointed in their hopes of gory scenes ahead on the mean streets of London, if the first line read: ‘Colonel Bloggs’ body lay on the tigerskin rug by the fireside in the library.’ Nor would that impress them if they were looking for a thoughtful novel about modern relationships. Maybe these examples are rather extreme, but I hope they make the point.

As always, Jane Austen had the art of the first line to perfection: ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.’ Or try Dickens with his: ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.’ I’m not suggesting that you spend ages trying to emulate Jane Austen or agonising over the first line, otherwise it will turn into a hang-up as you become self-conscious about it. I tend to use the first line that comes to me, edit it at the draft stage if it doesn’t strike the right note, and alter it again later if necessary. But it does most certainly need that TLC.

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Finding a Publisher or Literary Agent

Pauline Rowson is author of the popular marine mystery crime novels featuring the ruggedly seductive Inspector Horton and of the thrillers, In Cold Daylight and In For The Kill. She has also written nine non-fiction books, has run her own marketing and media company and set up an independent publishing company in 1998 which she has recently sold to Crimson Publishing. She has self published and is published by Severn House, Isis and Summersdale. Her crime novels are sold around the world, have been translated into several languages and are also available in libraries in America and the UK. She lives on the south coast of England where her marine mysteries are set. In the following article she discusses finding a publisher or literary agent and using a literary consultancy.

Finding a publisher for your work is about as difficult as climbing Mount Everest naked and almost as impossible in these tough times. But you can improve your chances by taking some simple steps before submitting your manuscript. First, ensure that you do your research. What type of publisher takes your type of book? Don't waste your time and the publishers by submitting work that they are not publishing, for example sending fiction to a non-fiction publisher. Rather obvious you might think but it is surprising how many people ignore this.
You can do your research in a number of ways.

Study the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook and make a note of the publishers you’d like to try, or refer to Cassells Directory of Publishing.

Identify books in your local bookshop or library which are in the same category as yours, make a note of the publisher. Then search for that publisher in the above named directories or on the Internet.

Check if they will take submissions, they may even provide guidelines on how to submit your work to them.

Attend Writers’ Conferences where you are able to meet with publishers and literary agents. There are many of these worldwide. Find out what is happening in your district or area, ask at your local arts centre, or library, or search the Internet.

Subscribe to the trade press. Publishing News and The Bookseller in the UK or Publishers Weekly in the USA. This will give you news and information on publishers, the market, new works commissioned, contacts, information on best sellers plus much more.

Attend book fairs in your country. The London and Frankfurt Book Fairs are particularly lively and packed with publishers from all over the World. Browse the stands, pick up catalogues from publishers and see what type of work they publish. Don’t try and sell your work at these Fairs, the publishers are not interested because they are too busy selling existing works to overseas visitors and others.

Attend writing courses where you can improve your craft and meet guest lecturers, authors, literary agents and publishers.

Consider self-publishing. If you can build a track record of sales for your book then you might have a better chance of being taken on by a publisher.
Don't always aim for the big publishers but search out smaller independent publishers who are always on the look out for talent.

Do I need an agent and if so how do I find one?

Sometimes having a literary agent can be the only route into a publisher. Many of the medium and larger publishing houses no longer take submissions direct from authors but only through an agent and finding an agent is as difficult as finding a publisher. Even when you do find an agent there is no guarantee that he or she will be able to find you a publisher. This is extremely frustrating for the author and disappointing for both author and agent. Although agents have contacts in the publishing houses, they are operating in the same publishing climate as you.

How do I make a submissions to a literary agent or publisher

Your chances of getting published can be ruined by a poor submission. Publishing houses receive hundreds if not thousands of submissions a year so make sure that your submission is professional.

Fiction submissions

Your work should be typed using double spacing and wide margins in Times New Roman point 12. This should be typed on one side of white A4 paper only. Do not use fancy coloured paper as it will make the typescript hard to read and will only annoy the editor. Do not staple pages together or bind them in any way, they will only have to be unbound and many editors (or submissions departments) and agents will not even bother to do this. Put a large elastic band around the bundle and a hard piece of cardboard to support it through the mail. Post in a jiffy bag or similar, only e-mail if they say submissions will be accepted by e-mail. Send a covering letter and enclose return postage if you want a reply and your MS returned to you.

Always comply with the publisher/agent's request when submitting your work, if they say they want only two chapters then send them two chapters not four. Also always send the first two chapters and not two chapters picked out at random. If they say they want a two-page outline/synopsis then send only this. (Read an earlier article on this blog by Amy Myers to find out how to write a successful synopsis.)

Make sure the copy you send is clean and tidy without coffee stains, and is not torn or dog-eared. If it has done the rounds it may look the worse for wear so print off a fresh copy. With word processing facilities there is no excuse for it looking tatty.

Be professional. Keep a record of your submissions and only chase by a polite telephone call, e-mail or letter after six weeks. You can send multiple submissions i.e. sending your work out to more than one publisher/agent at a time.

Put the title of your MS at the top of the page in the left hand corner along with your name, and the page number on the right. For example:

Tide of Death/Pauline Rowson 1.

If you don’t succeed keep trying. Try not to be too disappointed, although I know how incredibly difficult this is. If someone takes the time to give you some constructive feedback welcome it and take a fresh look at your work. Can you improve it? Are you approaching it from the right angle?
Literary Consultancies

Before you submit your work to a literary agent or publisher make sure it is the best it can possibly be. When writing you obviously get very close to your work and can find it difficult to be objective. This is where another opinion and a professional one can make a huge difference turning an OK manuscript into a good one. A literary consultancy can help you. You will have to pay for this service but it is well worth the investment.

A literary consultancy is not the same as a literary agency.

A literary consultancy can offer you an unbiased critique on your work. The standard of literary agencies vary, some provide excellent feedback for the money line by line, others do little more than provide you with a brief letter of critique.

The Hilary Johnson Authors’ Advisory Service, ( offers professional appraisals of typescripts for both unpublished and published authors including novels, full-length non-fiction, short stories, children’s books, poetry, radio/TV/film scripts, etc. They also have specialist readers available for Science Fiction/Fantasy, Crime, Harlequin Mills & Boon, etc. In addition, there is a copy editing/proof reading service, which could prove valuable if you decide to go down the self published route. Fees vary according to the type of material involved. They use readers to assess and critique the work and these are in the main former editors. They consider authors’ work from both the writing and the commercial points of view.

Beware the literary consultant who flatters you or offers unrealistic expectations. A frank assessment is not always comfortable, but anything less than this is unlikely to be helpful.

In summary

do your research - what type of publisher/literary agent takes your type of book?

don’t waste time and money sending your MS to the wrong people

ensure your submission is as professional as possible

do comply with the publisher/agent's request when submitting your work

always send the first two chapters and not two chapters picked out at random

send your submission with a brief covering letter and enclose return postage

keep a record of your submissions and only chase by a polite telephone call, e mail or letter after six weeks

If you don’t succeed keep trying, keep writing and keep improving.

Good luck.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Write Hard, Not Easy

I recently read this little item from the editor of Absolute Write an American web site designed to help writers of all genres and types. It issues a regular e newsletter and is full of fascinating and informative articles. The article below is re-produced by kind permission of

It's been an interesting week. Someone (or ones) vandalized the mailboxes on a quiet cul de sac where a friend of mine lives. So one of her neighbors and I spent a chunk of the afternoon setting a new post and replacing the mailbox while my friend was at work.

It started me thinking, though, while I dug the posthole. There's a constant and ancient tension between those human impulses for creation and destruction, but it seems awfully unfair that the destruction part of that equation involves a moment or two of unrestrained impulsive behavior -- while the creation part costs exponentially more time, energy, planning, and concrete.

That's why we set such value on creative acts, though, right? Because they're supposed to be more difficult and costly.

So I'm always bemused when someone expresses dismay that writing isn't easier. Writing wouldn't be creation, if it were easy -- and would possess less inherent and intrinsic value.

I'm re-reading Stephen King's On Writing, this week -- if you haven't read it, it's a terrific book about the craft of writing and the shaping of a writer (King) and well worth the time.

You can find Stephen King's On Writing
at the Absolute Write Amazon Bookstore

Have a great week, everyone -- write hard, not easy. Write true. And write on.
MacAllister Stone

Monday, 2 June 2008

Writing Crime Fiction

Roger Silverwood has been witing crime fiction for 37 years. He has also written plays for the theatre in the USA. His recent novels feature Detective Inspector Michael Angel, whose patch is the fictional town of Bromersley in South Yorkshire. THE WIGMAKER has just been released and will be followed by MURDER IN BARE FEET in September, and WILD ABOUT HARRY, the 13th Angel book, in January 2009. He is currently working on another Angel book for May 2009. In the following informative article he talks about how he structures his work using his computer and provides lots of tips on how he manages his plots, and sub plots.
How I Work- Managing Plots, Sub Plots, Character Details and Timing
One of the problems you develop when you live a long time is that your short term memory is liable to become unreliable. You can bluff your way through most of the time, but if you’re writing a book length story, I’m afraid you can’t. If, like me, you have a memory like a cheesecloth, here are a few tips to help you along.

I write, of course, on a computer; there is surely no other way to do it, but, I must confess here and now that I never seem to write two books in exactly the same way. So I have found that at the point of starting a new book, it is necessary to take one particular course of action to keep me on the straight and narrow all the way through to the last page. On my computer, I create four files called Features, Calendar, Plotting and Narrative. I set them on the browser so that when I am actually tapping out the book, I can pull them up and drop them back as required. I must do this to keep the work in some sort of order and help me recall what I am writing about, when I am some weeks down the trail.

On this file, I record, as I write, all the facts, figures, characters’ names, addresses, numbers, and any other fiddling details: stuff that copy editors love to pounce on if you get them wrong on later pages. I remember an early incident before I established this routine. I had (still have) a regular character named Harker. He’s a complex character who is senior to my DI Angel and is difficult to work under. Anyway, in a book I was writing, he started out quite correctly as Harker. However by page 40 he became Harper, on pages 41 to 72 he was Harpin, on pages 73 to 122 he was Hooper, and thereafter to the end of the book, his name changed back to Harker alternating with Harper. By the time the book was finished I had no idea what his damned name was. It was all so exasperating.

Recently, I discovered ‘pre-sets’, and I have all the frequently used names and places entered, which enables me simply to press down two keys and the selected ‘pre-set’ arrives on the computer screen. There’s no excuse now for forgetting or misspelling a frequently used name, word or phrase. I only recently discovered how to do this and have found it to be a great time saver. If you don’t know how to do it, ask a friend who is computer friendly.

I draw a table of two columns and construct my own calendar, year, month, date and day in the left column and vital events in the story on the right. Where it matters, I enter people’s ages, generations, etcetera, and all dates pertaining to the progress of the story.
I found this is necessary for me because I once had Angel, interviewing a woman who had been dead two days. Also, I write in real time, which makes it more obvious if I make a mistake.

This is the busiest browser, particularly at the beginning of the book. Before I can write a word of narrative, I draft out the plot and sub-plots only very roughly. I don’t write any detail. I rely on spontaneity to supply that, and I reserve the right to change the way the story develops as I go along if instinct so directs, also provided that the change improves the story and keeps to my rules of criminal fiction writing.

I need one main plot with an unusual and original twist, or as Alfred Hitchcock used to call it, a Maguffin. I won’t start a book until I have that. It is absolutely essential. Also, I need at least two sub plots (sometimes I have up to four). Here, I highlight each plot in a different colour: yellow for the main plot, the crux of the story, green for subplot 1, magenta for subplot 2 and grey for subplot 3 and so on. I add and take away from the plots as ideas come to me throughout the writing, and I keep the text highlighted in its appointed colour throughout this file. I do this so as not to get lost in the morass of events.

This is self explanatory. I am, I believe, a bit unusual in that I write and polish as I go along. After correcting typos, changing ugly words, cancelling unnecessary words and deleting other rubbish, 98% of what I write after polishing stays written. I rarely change it. The advantage of polishing I find is that it slows me down and gives me time to consider more carefully where I am taking the story to next.

I don’t always write the book in sequence. If I have a clear vision of a scene, particularly the dénouement, I might write it, polish it of course and keep it in another file until it is the time to copy, cut and paste it in position. My most recent book, THE WIGMAKER, I wrote the last six pages shortly after beginning the book. The exposé was so clear in my mind it would have been silly not to have tapped it out. I think all writers must do this.

Well, there are a few ideas, and a routine, which I hope will help anybody having difficulty remembering. I wish you luck with your writing. Now where did I put that memory stick?

The Wigmaker By Roger Silverwood

Wig maker, Peter Wolff is found dead and his workshop on fire. There are no clues, no DNA and no apparent motive. Detective Inspector Michael Angel is baffled. At the same time, high flying model, Katrina Chancey goes missing; womaniser Gabriel Grainger is reported missing by his long-suffering wife, Zoë; Lord Tiverton has been robbed of a valuable suit of armour; jewel robberies by The Fox, continue unabated, and another body is discovered in unexpected circumstances. It’s a race to the finish to find the murderer and arrest him before he strikes again!

Set in the industrial town of Bromersley, South Yorkshire, enjoy another jaunt into the criminal world of Inspector Angel as he tackles this unusual case with his customary unique quirkiness and skill.