Check here for my little cache of tips, suggestions, things-not-to-do and other useful tid-bits I’ve picked up on my long, and oftentimes lonely, journey towards publication.
Like me, this page is a work-in-progress. Like me, it always will be! So don’t forget to check back here later.
What’s here so far:
Looking for inspiration? If you’re ever in Christchurch, New Zealand, make a point of visiting this awe-inspiring display on dyslexia awareness. (Worcester Boulevard, opposite the Arts Centre.) Whenever I have writer’s block, I like to visit this bronze girl. She reminds me to be thankful for the gifts I have and, also, to open my eyes. Because, so often in life, what we see as obstacles are actually opportunities in disguise.
Conviction and Courage – Essential Writer-ly Traits
So here’s the thing. I finished my first novel. No, really, I did. I wrote it, edited it, rewrote it, re-edited it, re-re . . . you know. Tortuous stuff. And I finally decided I could call it “finished”.
Then I started submitting. And the rejections started pinging back. I submitted some more, and more rejections boomeranged back. I haven’t stopped submitting. (Well, okay, I’m taking a temporary break, but I haven’t given up.) It’s a whole new kind of torture, this submission game, and you’ve got to keep believing in yourself and your writing because if you stop believing it’s game over. You’re lost. Find a new dream.
Amidst all the rejections, every now and then I get a wee spark of hope. A request for a full here, a complimentary rejection there. Nothing to get excited about, but enough to keep me hanging in there.
Then, a few days ago, another rejection – but this time the agent stated why she was passing. I read it, went away, came back to it, re-read it – and finally understood. Like a sustained-release A-ha! moment.
Now I have something tangible to work with, and it’s given me a fresh burst of energy. Is my novel finished? Yes – but . . . And it’s the “but” I need to address.
I’m determined, I’m bloody-minded, I’m focused on the end goal – but the road to publication is rougher than I ever imagined. I keep telling myself “don’t give up” but, you know, it’s hard. When you’re human you might be tempted to take those rejections personally. And you can’t. You’ve just got to keep going and wait for that lucky break, be it an agent or editor who loves your story – or an agent/editor who gives you an unexpected A-ha! moment.
Conviction is what this game is all about, folks. That, and having the courage to listen to constructive criticism so you can take your writing to the next level
PND For Beginners
No, I’m not talking about post-natal depression, though the symptoms are remarkably similar. I’m talking about post-novel depression. You’ve just birthed your novel. There it is. The tome. In all its glory. You feel euphoric, unstoppable, triumphant.
And then, as if the lights have gone out – you feel flat. Anti-climactic. Empty. A few days later you make the mistake of flicking through a couple of pages of your baby and realise, with a sickening thunk in your gut, it’s not perfect. It’s not even close to perfect. It’s screaming to be fed, and changed, and burped, made better. Right now.
Oh God. The hard work isn’t over. It probably never will be. You feel panicky, and then panicky gives way to – nothing.
So what are you going to do with it? Keep adding more shine? Get a second opinion? Start the next one? Not that you’ve got the energy. You haven’t got the energy for anything. Hell, even getting out of bed takes effort.
PND is not imagined. It’s real, you’re not a freak (well, no more than any other writer!), and it affects more of us than you may think. So if you’re a newbie writer – enjoy your moment of triumph when you finally can say “I finished my first novel”. And if you feel strangely deflated afterwards – don’t worry. Stay in touch with your writer buddies. Take time out. Enjoy the other facets of “you” that you neglected in the final push to get your book finished. Enjoy your family. Catch up with friends. See a movie. Read a book (or five). Go out for coffee. Live. Breathe. Replenish.
And whatever you do – if your PND isn’t going away, talk to someone about it, get medical help. Don’t feel silly or emotional or inadequate. You’re not. Above all, know you’re not alone in this.
Spotlight on . . . Pitching
So here I am, trying to get my head around this pitching thing. I mean, it’s critical. Almost as critical as finishing the damn book. If I can’t then pitch it, how am I ever going to convince anyone to even read it, let alone buy it?
The first pitch I ever attempted was at a RWNZ conference. I had no idea how to approach it, so I asked around and got some really great advice which helped me focus on the pertinent issues (internal and external conflicts of the hero and heroine, character growth, resolution).
But how to present it? Should I just have a casual conversation (um, well, my novel’s about a girl who . . .); or should I make it a lively – albeit sit-down – performance, complete with opening one-liner (“Thou shalt not ever, under any circumstances . . .”)? What order should I say it all in? Did it even matter?
What I really needed was to be a fly on the wall, to actually watch someone do their pitch. I didn’t get that, of course, so I went in and made a right hash of things. The agent, to her credit, handled herself very well and I only felt mildly ridiculous afterwards.
Painful as that experience was, it gave me the kick up the backside I needed. I came home and started looking far more seriously at my novel pitch. And I kept looking. I looked in books. I looked in blogs. I looked in agent/editor submission guidelines. I googled “pitch” and discovered all sorts of musical stuff I hadn’t bargained on. I found online pitching contests to enter, all with ridiculously low word limits, thought nasty thoughts as I agonised over my words, and fired off entry after entry. None of which ever came close to catching anyone’s attention, I’m sure, because I STILL DIDN’T KNOW HOW TO PITCH.
So imagine my excitement when I found a post by Elana Roth (at that time an editor with Caren Johnson Literary Agency) telling me precisely what I needed to know. The post itself has disappeared in the mists of time and cyberspace, but this is what it boiled down to:
One short sentence, with a hook. Then a slightly longer sentence, with the same hook. Then a few more sentences that summarise the plot. Great stuff! She makes it sound so simple! Thanks, Elana.
(And before you ask – no, I still haven’t got my pitch down pat. But I’m finally thinking about it with clarity. I know what it has to achieve and, better still, I know how to get there. Now I’ve just got to find the words.)
Getting Published – In Seven Easy Steps!
Step 1: Finish the Book!
Sounds obvious – but it’s very, very easy to get distracted by all the other things we “should” be doing (query letters, starting the next book, blogging/tweeting/facebooking, reading everyone else’s blogging/tweeting/facebooking, entering competitions . . .). By far the best option is to actually FINISH WHAT YOU STARTED, then POLISH IT, then POLISH IT some more.
Step 2: Get your manuscript critiqued. (Gulp.)
By this I don’t mean you need to pay for a manuscript critique service, although that is one option. If you belong to a writing group, or have a critique partner, get them involved. If you have neither, maybe it’s time to link in with other writers. (I found my writing went up a notch – or three – when I linked in with other writers for critiquing purposes.)
Choose your manuscript critique people (yes, more than one is a good idea) carefully. Are they able to give you the sort of feedback you’re wanting? Clarify, for yourself and them, what you want out of this process. Selecting the right people for this job is critical.
Step 3: Really finish the book!
With the feedback you’ve been given, go back to your manuscript and look at it with fresh eyes. Tighten. Re-work. Polish.
Is it finished? Great! Now you can concentrate on other stuff.
(DISCLAIMER: having said all that, I’ve never been one to follow rules! I’ve created this website, for starters. And I’ve found entering competitions a great way of getting feedback and clarity of focus. My advice: choose your competitions carefully. Aim for those your novel is suited to, and target those with final judges you’d love to be read by.)
Step 4: Do some brain gym! (a.k.a. Hone your query . . . )
Think the process so far has been hard work? Brace yourself . . . it just keeps getting better! Now that you’ve completed your manuscript, you need to work on the other stuff agents and editors ask for. You can’t just fire off your manuscript and hope for the best. Most agents and editors have submission guidelines, detailing precisely what they expect and in what format they wish to see it. This is to streamline their (arduous) job, but it’s also useful for you because it helps you to clarify in your head precisely what your book is about.
Typical requirements are generally some combination of:
* a query letter (if the agent/editor has a blog you may be able to see the sort of thing they like and dislike receiving)
* first five pages or first three chapters or first whatever-they-like-to-see (it varies – but they’re wanting to read the opening to your book, to get a feel for your writing style and the quality of your work). Polish these beyond belief. No, seriously, go back and do it again. You need to.
* a synopsis (again, the length varies – check their guidelines). Be aware that a synopsis should a) show the style/voice of the book, and b) tell the whole story. DON’T keep the ending or plot twists secret.
Read up on how to write a good query letter and synopsis – skills in themselves. They are the only shot you have of catching your target agent/editor’s attention, so don’t whip them up in an afternoon. Work at them with as much dedication and anal-eye perfectionism as you did with the manuscript.
WARNING: make sure you adhere completely to each agent/editor’s guidelines, unless you’re happy to fast-track your way to their rejections pile.
Yes, it’s time-consuming – but every submission you make should be tailored to the individual agent/editor. Generic submissions smack of half-heartedness. They’re a sure way of getting rejected before your work is even read.
NB this article was written several years ago, before self-publishing had gained traction in the wider publishing world. If you are aiming to traditionally publish, the query letter and synopsis are still important skills to learn. If you’re intending to self-publish, however, these skills may have less relevance – swapped instead for “writing a great blurb” and “writing a great logline”. Never underestimate the importance of being able to summarise (in one sentence, one paragraph, one page, one elevator pitch . . .) your novel. You’re going to need it.
Step 5: Find an Agent/Editor
A few questions to ask yourself:
1 Where do I want my book published initially? (and have I written it accordingly? – eg spelling, formatting, setting, dialogue . . .)
2 Do I want my book to be traditionally published or do I want to self-publish?
3 Do I want an agent?
4 What genre is my novel?
The answers to these questions should help you narrow your search. If you do decide you want an agent, it’s a matter of asking other writers, searching online, checking the agents/editors of your favourite authors, and getting a long-list together. I say long-list because the odds of securing the agent/editor you most desire are slim. Having said that, if you don’t ask you won’t get! Me? For now I’ve decided against an agent. That may change in the future and if it does, I’ll draw up a long-list in order of “want” and I’ll submit to my top agents/editors first. (I like to think I’m an optimist – I like happy endings, after all!)
A good place to start an agent hunt is Agent Query. Don’t forget to check them out on Preditors and Editors. (If they’re not good to work with, you’ll likely find out here.) And it’s probably worth checking out Writer Beware before you get too far into the game.
IF you do a fab job of the initial query, the agent/editor may ask to see more of the novel. This is a good sign!
IF you get a “revisions letter” – ie a letter saying something along the lines of “this is interesting but you need to focus more on . . . and you need to change . . . and you need to . . .” – this is a VERY good sign! You should do what they’re suggesting, because they’re basically telling you what to do to make it a saleable product. (They’re also seeing if you can a) work to deadlines, b) work with them, and c) make changes as requested.)
Step 6: Write your next novel!
Well? What are you waiting for? Go on, you know you want to! And it’ll show them you’re not just a one-hit wonder. (So little time, so many books to write . . .)
Step 7: Marketing and other hideous secrets . . .
Think being a writer is all about writing? Think again! Writing the book is only the beginning. So brush up your online networking skills, join Toastmasters and get used to public speaking, and start making friends in the media world. Because it’s all going to help. See, you’ve written a novel – but your publisher will be selling a package comprising not just your book but YOU as well. #clothingbudgetblowoutalert