Category Archives: Events

Back in Print and Better than Ever!

Just a quick update post to say that I Belong to the Earth is now once again available as an ebook (Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk). The shiny new print version will be available around mid October 2016 – I’ll keep you posted. This second edition has been tidied up, given a new and improved formatting and interior design, any errors eradicated (hopefully!) and includes the FREE and exclusive short story ‘Friendly Fire’.

All for the special introductory price of £0.99 or $0.99 -depending on where you live.

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In addition, Unveiled #1.2 – Girls’ Night In (a short story) is also available for the princely sum of £0.99/ $0.99. (Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk)

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Happy reading 🙂

(And if you can spare the time – whether you love it or hate it – I really appreciate an honest review – just a line or two would be great! 😉  )

P.S. Look out for this week’s episode of Dissecting Dragons on Friday 29th September 2016 – I’ll be talking about the inspiration behind the books in the Unveiled series and just why I wrote such an unusual and in many ways, disadvantaged, MC – all with my fabulous co-host, M.E.Vaughan.

I BELONG TO THE EARTH – SECOND EDITION COVER REVEAL!

WINTER

 

I am so excited about releasing the new cover for I Belong to the Earth, that I just had to write a sort post about it.

The new cover for Book one of the Unveiled series will be released tomorrow at 6.00pm GMT.

 

If you haven’t read it yet, I Belong to the Earth is a YA paranormal fantasy about a young girl named Emlynn, who has an affinity with the Dead. After surviving a horrific car accident leaves her with brain-trauma and a strained relationship her family, Emlynn finds herself further adrift when her father moves the family to a lonely vicarage on the North Yorkshire Moors. Withdrawn and wary of trusting anyone, Emlynn wants nothing to do with her strange ability, let alone with a centuries old repeating Pattern of rage, jealousy and poisoned love. But when her hostile older sister gets involved with the local bad boy, Emlynn has to confront her power or lose the rest of her family for good. Only the Dead have the answers she needs. Rushing towards another tragedy, can she bring herself to ask them?

 

This  second edition of I Belong to the Earth will be available from Amazon on 25th September 2016. (Paperback to follow in October, release date TBC). If you happen to have read the first edition, the story has not materially changed. Instead, as a more experienced writer, I have tightened up the prose a bit and removed a few continuity errors (I’m actually surprised I didn’t get called out on those!) So the second edition is not a new book but a cleaner, better, tidier version. I promise I have not gone George Lucas on it 😉 In addition there is also a brand new, never seen before Unveiled short story included because hey, if you’re a fan, you’ve had to wait ages and that is no way to treat your readers. A gift to you from me.

 

A bit about writing the book; I Belong to the Earth is my debut novel. I’ve written more books since then but I can honestly say that I have yet to feel compelled to share a story in the same way.

I was strongly influenced by three things. Classic literature, folk lore and genuinely wondering what it must be like not to be able to read or articulate your thoughts? I mean, being able to read and to communicate is a real gift – one I had sort of been taking for granted. At this point in her half-timid, half-take-no-prisoners way, Emlynn charged in and demanded the story be told.

I also wanted to look at the relationships and power dynamics between sisters. It was something I felt I hadn’t seen enough of in books and Emlynn, together with her older sister, Grace, and younger sister, Amy, were perfect for telling that side of the story too. Some people leave you better for having known them. I can now swear to the fact that some characters do the exact same thing – and Emlynn isn’t done with me yet.

Goodies and extras; Whilst going through my files when I re-edited this book, I discovered all sorts of snippets, extras, sneaklets and short stories. The pick of the bunch will soon be available to read FREE here on my website. Look out for the ‘extras’ button on the main menu.

See the new cover tomorrow at 6.00pm  GMT on my tumblr, facebook, webpage and goodreads.

 

 

I am the Silence – Get your free esampler now!

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(please note – not final cover)

I am the Silence – Unveiled Book 2

My feet refused to move. I was going to die a horrible death right here, right now, because I could not run.

From the other side of the fire, a huge dark shape slunk forward. I gasped in smoke and hacked it out. The shape from my nightmares. I watched as its mouth opened, lips peeled back over teeth as long as my fingers. The beast snarled and sprang…

A year after breaking the Pattern, Emlynn no longer fights her gift. She’s become quite good at sending the Dead on to rest. Perhaps too good – her overconfidence is about to lead to a fall…

Sent to investigate reports of a haunting, Emlynn finds herself facing a crushing embarrassment, and worse, a deep betrayal. It’s time to leave the supernatural alone for a while. Get away from it all. Staying with her childhood best friend, Beth, for the Milton Abbey music festival should take her mind right off everything. Ghosts, betrayals and disappointments. Except Beth seems to have changed. She’s definitely running with a new crowd, whose leader, Rhys, has an unhealthy interest in Emlynn.

As if that isn’t enough, her violin tutor is a volatile, hostile and rude young man, whom Emlynn knew a long time ago. Lucas has definitely changed and that’s one mystery Emlynn can’t leave alone. Caught between her connection with Beth’s troubled younger sister and the terrifying black beast that stalks her in her dreams, there’s no rest for the weary psychic. Facing the reality of what Beth has got mixed up in, Emlynn may have finally picked a fight she cannot win…

I am the Silence is book 2 in the Unveiled series. You can get a free downloadable esampler of the book by clicking on either of the links to join my Readers’ Group. This will also give you access to other freebies, competitions and release dates.

This book is available for limited time only.

Happy reading 🙂

(Since I am trying not to irritate my subscribers with needless mail, if you are already a member of my Readers’ Group and would like this free esampler, please get in touch via the ‘contact me’ page and type ‘Silence’, your name and your preferred email address and format – mobi or epub – into the message field. I will be happy to send it out to you.)

Throwback Thursday: Tales of York, Volume One – How to write a Sentence

 

You might be looking at that deceptively simple title thinking, but everyone can write a sentence. Well, yes, illiteracy aside, everyone probably can. The point is to write a sentence that grips people and makes them want to read on. To write sentences that create sympathy between your audience and your characters. Used correctly sentences can alter the flow and rhythm of your prose, adjusting it to the correct pace.

This seminar was taught by Andrew Willie (www.willie.org). He is an experienced and enthusiastic copy editor, with a real knack for spotting good prose.

So to break things down to their constituents before we reassemble them;

Parts of speech

A noun – names a person, place, thing, idea, quality or action.

A verb – describes an action or a state (doing something, being something)

An adverb – usually describes a verb, or how, when, where or how much something is done.

An adjective – describes or limits a noun.

A pronoun – is used in place of a noun, to avoid repeating the noun. (She, him, it)

A conjunction – joins two words, phrases or sentences together (and, as, but)

A preposition – usually marks the relationship between nouns or pronouns (of, on, in, into, around, along)

An article – is used to introduce a noun. (a, the, an)

An Interjection – expresses emotion or surprise. Often followed by an exclamation mark. (Hurray!)

A participle – is a form of a verb that is used in a sentence to modify a noun or noun phrase, and thus plays a role similar to that of an adjective or adverb. (Singing, writing – present participle. Written, sung – past participle.)

So those are the parts of a sentence. How do you string them together?

The subject of a sentence is the person/animal/ thing which the sentence is about.

The predicate is what the subject does.

Eg; the cat (subject) sat on the mat (predicate)

The most interesting thing in a sentence is not the subject but what the subject is doing and why. Ideally you always want to scatter a breadcrumb trail of ‘why’ for your readers to follow. So that the read the next sentence and the one after that and the one after that.

In most cases the best way to do this is to avoid using the passive voice.

An example of the active voice would be ‘the cat sat on the mat.’

In passive voice it might read ‘the mat was sat on by the cat.’

The passive voice is less gripping, less interesting. It doesn’t convey action in the same way. However there is a place for the passive voice. If for example you wee setting a scene where there was about to be a lot of action, you might start with some passive voice to lull your reader into a false sense of security or to even out pace. If time has been spent setting up an event the passive voice provides contrast.

Eg. The mat was sat on by the cat. The mat exploded.

Also passive voice is useful if you are extending sentences.

Eg the mat was sat on by the cat, where he then went and shat. (Sorry that was the class example.)

For more information, try the guardian essays by Phillip Pullman and Phillip Gardner.

A few other things to consider;

You can use first person, second person or third person but second person is harder to read and much harder to sell.

Present or past tense – either is fine but in general most people write better in past tense. A notable exception is Suzanne Collins in The Hunger Games, where the present tense adds to the tension.

I’ll leave you with the same quote Andrew left us with;

‘A first draft is just a writer telling himself the words of the story.’ Sir Terry Pratchett.

Recommended reading; Sin and Syntax by Constance Hale (which is on my kindle but I haven’t read it yet. Must get on that!)

Thanks for reading. If you missed this class, I hope the above notes helped. 😉

 

Throwback Thursday: Tales of York, Volume one : The Sci-Fi Master Class

(First published on my old blog, 18th October 2013)

High time I continued with my York FoW13 chronicles. Only a fairly short one tonight, as this was one seminar where I think you had to be there.

Gary Gibson, well known science fiction author of Angel Stations and Stealing Light (amongst others), took the Sci-Fi master class seminar. While Zi highly recommend attending this seminar yourself if this is in your area of interest, here are some of the things I found most interesting.
Sci-Fi has been written for a long time (if you include ‘Frankenstein’ by Mary Shelley, it’s been written for hundreds of years.) Early authors include H G Wells and Jules Verne. The interesting point the Gary made was that you need 20th century understanding to make sense of sci-fi. Actually I agree. Partly because science needs to have emerged as something respectable from the esoteric studies it, and maths, were once part of. Partly because advances in scientific knowledge have allowed more and more plausible plots, no matter how far fetched, due to greater understanding. And partly because the human psyche needed to be less ruled by religious doctrine, of whatever flavor. That’s no slight to personal faith, it’s just that science and religion are in the uncomfortable, not-quite-friends-but-trying, post break-up phase.
In the last 100 years there has been a huge race of scientific progress. We are now at the tipping point of literally being overtaken by our own technology. (And yes I do find that a bit scary – I worry that we’ll lose an essential part of our humanity or at least humane-ness if we carry on without thought.) Anyway, as Gary Gibson said, science fiction is a way of questioning and making sense of this.
Originally after masters such as H G Wells had retired from the field, sci-fi became very sloppy. Pulp books were turned out very quickly with little thought, plot or research involved. Now there’s nothing wrong with something written purely to entertain – even OK magazine has found its audience after all. (Can’t for the life of me imagine why but I guess I’m not part of their target demographic.) However the knock on effect of so much crap sci-fi being published in the early 20th century, was a lingering belief that all sci-fi (and fantasy) was crap. This is clearly not so – think of Dune by Frank Herbert or Brace New World by Aldous Huxley or The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Attwood – however it is a stigma that has stuck, which is why there those who give you ‘the look’ if you say you write sci-fi or fantasy today.
All we can do is continue to write amazing sci-fi until the nasty, junk food taste of early sci-fi pulp is a dim memory.
Within Sci-Fi/ fantasy there are many sub-genres; slipstream, steam punk, cyber punk, dystopian, space opera, hard sci-fi to name but a few. They are all equally relevant dispute their different approaches. It all comes down to personal taste. Ultimately you should write what you love. I won’t tell the story Gary told, about his friend who lives a nomadic existence between sofas so he can write about dwarves hitting things with axes, because it’s not my story to tell. It is well worth hearing though. Ultimately it points at the fact that if you really want to write, you will make it happen. As my friend said to Gary Gibson, after a seminar ‘it was the most laid back motivational speech ever.’ From the look on his face I believe he took it as a compliment. 😉
So where do we go as writers of sci-fi?
Firstly read widely in the genre and research! You can be excused scientific ignorance if its something we haven’t discovered yet or if you hang your story on a theory that is disproved in twenty years time. You will not be allowed such lassitude if you make a gaff due to lazy research.
The example Gary quoted, was the ubiquitous asteroid field. In a lot of sci-fi films asteroid belts are deadly places full of whirling rock and space debris, ventured into only by the most fool hardy and navigated only by the bravest and most skilled. In actual fact, to hit anything in an asteroid field, you’d have to be trying pretty damn hard as there is no gravitational pull and the asteroids don’t move! We all love ‘Empire Strikes Back’, but we’ll have to assume that in that galaxy far far away, different laws of physics apply. It couldn’t be that George Lucas didn’t do his research…
Ultimately, whenever you write something that requires more than the usual suspension of disbelief, the mundane details must be as realistic as possible. Even if you are writing about a sentient, alien race as MCs, you must find an emotional level on which your readers can engage and empathize with them.
Another thing to consider, is that it’s rare for sci-fi and fantasy to crossover in a bookshop. They might do in real life, in the book. Alien is more of a space horror, Handmaid’s Tale is definitely literary. But as targeting for an audience, you particularly need to know where your book will sit in a book shop. Where will your fans go to find your book? There was one lad in several of the same seminars as me, who argued hotly against being pigeon holed. His book crossed seven genres equally. You know what that’s fine. But you can’t sell it in a book shop like that. You’re unlikely to be able to sell it to an agent. Exactly how are they supposed to sell it to a publisher? ‘Its a sci-fi horror fantasy steam punk space opera with literary overtones and magical realism.’ It might very well be but no one will buy it like that. Pick the main genre and maybe one or maximum, two crossover genres and describe it like that.
(A note here, never, as an author describe your book as being literary or containing magical realism. These are terms applied by agents and publishers. Saying that as an author makes you appear arrogant and is a distinctly unpopular move in the publishing world. What if you’re wrong? You’ve completely discredited yourself in five seconds flat. Stick to a more general description and let the professionals sing your praises.)
And the last point but the most important; those who succeed as writers are those who are writers first and anything else second. This doesn’t mean chaining yourself to your lap top or ignoring your spouse but cultivate the mindset that you are a writer, whether or not you are paid for your labors yet.
If you ever get the chance to go and listen to Gary Gibson, I highly recommend it; thoroughly nice bloke and very entertaining and down to earth.
Perhaps that’s the secret; if you’re writing about happenings amongst the stars, your feet need to be firmly on this planet first.

Throwback Thursday: Tales of York, Volume One – Slushpile hell to Slushpile heaven

(First published on my old blog, 12th October 2013)

 

Right, after my lazy attempt last night, I feel I should deliver some substance today so here is the next installment in my York FoW13 chronicles.
This seminar was run by the lovely Julia Churchill and Penny Holroyde (both well known agents). It focused on what you can do to make your manuscript stand out of the slush pile, giving you the best chance of being picked up by an agent. As I said in an earlier post, agents are serious book lovers (and don’t have horns) so don’t go in with the attitude that they are your enemy, out to prevent your book from connecting with its audience.

It was extremely interesting and heartening to get the take of two agents on this. They didn’t talk about specific genres – why would they? It’s not their job to write the book. That’s our job! But there are special annoyances to avoid when submitting your manuscript to an agent. I’m going to list what I gleaned from this seminar but I will mention Nicola Morgan at this point. She is a published author and self-styled ‘crabbit old bat’, who writes brilliant, helpful posts on how to get published on her blog. I strongly recommend checking this out before you submit anything, I found her advice really helpful in preparing for York.

Ok then, hints, tips and other gleanings;

– Finish the book! Do not submit your manuscript until it is finished. I heard a lot of agents say this over the course of the weekend. Nothing is more annoying to them than reading the first three chapters of something, loving it, calling up the author asking to see the rest – only to have the author say ‘ oh, but I haven’t written that yet. Can you wait?’ Well yes they might wait and they might still want to see the rest of the manuscript when you’re done but the chances that they are still going to be as excited about it, as they were when they first read it are very slim. If you write non fiction, sample chapters, an outline, synopsis and CV are fine. If it’s fiction then finish it first! Remember, though publishing moves slowly, agents and publishers actually move very fast; they have to in order to be a step ahead of various literary fairs and book lists.

One at a time.   Perhaps you’re massively prolific in your writing or the planets have aligned and filled you with strange energies so you have finished off half a dozen novels that have been lying around in various states of undress for some time. Pick one and submit. The others have to wait their turn. You might be really good and highly marketable but if you bombard an agent with submissions you’re likely to get a no, just so you’ll leave them alone.

Do your homework. Make a list of possible agents, checking into them a bit to see if you think you’d like to work with them. These agents should be people you want to work with and they should handle books in your genre. The ‘pray and spray’ approach to submissions, rarely works. If you send your historical romance to an agent who only deals with  yachting biographies then the answer will be ‘no’ and everyone has wasted time.

Formatting. Most agents have a list of formatting guidelines with their submissions policy. Read them. If you don’t, you are going to appear either lazy, as if you haven’t checked out the agent (which by the way the agent expects) or that you don’t bother to read. None of that is attractive to an agent. Most agents nowadays use Kindles to read submissions. So don’t send PDFs as they are illegible on kindle. Title your files clearly – if an agent has two dozen files on a kindle and eighteen of them are titled ‘sample chapters’, she is going to read the one titled with the books name first. Remember, when the files are loaded onto a kindle, only a certain amount of the title appears in the list. So if you title something ‘sample chapters; [title of your book]’ then the only bit that appears is ‘sample chapters’.

Submitting you MS. Have a great title; they’ve seen a lot of it before. A great title makes them more likely to pick up your book first. In the covering letter, use a reasonable sized one paragraph pitch. Include a bit about yourself. Agents are interested in building careers not just one book, if they are thinking about representing you, you will probably be asked what you’re working on now. Agents don’t really care about previous publishing credits. They don’t need a CV of published short stories. Ultimately they want good debut authors.

Resubmissions and Replies. Yes you might get a rejection. Everyone does at some point. What you never ever ever do under any circumstances, is write a rude reply to the agent. We saw some in the seminar and I felt horrified and embarrassed for the people who sent them. Publishing is actually a fairly small world and they DO all talk to each other. On the other hand if you’ve done significant work on your MS and really feel you’ve improved it (especially if you got a ‘no thanks but think about looking at this’ sort of reply) then it’s encouraged to resubmit to the same agent. Agents usually only leave feedback if they are interested in your book – they are not a critiquing service. So don’t expect some in a reply. And don’t be a pest. Your MS is getting read. They can’t take the chance that a gold nugget is getting swept away in the pile of rocks. Four weeks is about the right time to send a friendly inquiry about your sample chapters. Six weeks, if they’ve asked to see the whole MS.

Finally, here are the Submission Bootcamp Dos and Don’ts;

– ‘I have submitted this to a handful of carefully selected agents but will of course inform you…’ Big don’t. In reality agents know that you can’t submit to them one at a time but highlighting it at the sample chapter stage is foolish. At worst it smacks of trying to force their hand.

– Don’t use silly email addresses; agents want to know they are dealing with someone professional.

– Do drop the names of authors on their lists that you admire. This doesn’t mean saying that you are the next Philip Pullman, but you can say ‘would appeal to fans of Philip Pullman’ about your work. Also showing that you know who an agent represents proves you’ve done your homework about them.

– Don’t include copyright pages. What you’re saying when you do this, is that you don’t expect an agent to act professionally. And of course your MS is copyright protected. The minute you write it and send it (even if you only email it to yourself) it’s under copyright.

– Do re-submit

– Don’t submit unfinished manuscripts.

– Don’t request a receipt on your email. Agents hate this kind of trickery!

– Don’t direct an agent o dropbox, Yousendit, a link or amazon.

– Don’t lie. Ever. They will find out. They are spooky like that.

– Do mention if you’ve met the agent before.

– Do highlight if it’s a resubmission, but this isn’t essential.

– Do submit your next book, even if the first is rejected. They still want to see what you write.

And there you have it. Much of it is business courtesy but these are all important  points. Remember. it’s just as big a deal for the agent to call an author and offer to represent them, as it is for the author to receive that call!

Tales of York, Volume one: A Distinct lack of Brimstone

(First published on my old blog, 4th October 2013)

From the title, I’m sure you can guess I’m continuing my York memoirs 😉 In this instance I want to talk about agents.

If you read my earlier York post, you’ll know that I was very nervous about going due to my ineptitude at talking about my writing. Since I’d booked two one-to-one sessions with agents to find out how marketable my book is, I was definitely jittery about the whole thing.
In my naivity, I booked both ten minute sessions back to back. A bit of description for anyone who hasn’t tried this; there are small tables with two chairs facing each other across them, set up slightly like a prison visiting area as seen on many TV shows. There are lots of these little capsules of literary intrigue within a single open room. There are also lots of one-to-ones taking place at the same time.
Timing is strict. You have ten minutes from the buzzer; a one minute warning at nine minutes; then you have to clear off when the buzzer sounds again. It is insane, manic speed dating with far more riding on it than the conventional kind. You’ve already picked who you’ll see and you want them to be invested in your work.
To backtrack a bit, six weeks in advance, you send 3000 words of your manuscript, a synopsis and a covering letter. The agent (or publisher or book doctor) will read this and make notes prior to the event.
Scary stuff, huh?
On how many other occasions are you asked to pitch straight in, talking about something really personal and close to your heart and make a connection?
Of course the aim isn’t necessarily to acquire an agent that day – though some do ask to see the full manuscript. The aim is to make a connection as a basis for future contact and to find out if what you write is marketable. If so, what do you need to improve.
So, first proper day at York, 10.30am Saturday morning, with my courage grasped tight in both sweat-slick hands and my heart, lungs and stomach clinging to each other in my throat, I went to meet the Kraken.
This is a very unfair description but that is what it feels like. Happily for me, both of my appointed agents were lovely. It was incredibly hard to pitch my book, despite all the preparation I had done. I had one horrible moment with the first agent, where I opened my mouth and nothing came out. She had asked me what my book was about. I sat there for thirty endless seconds thinking ‘I can’t remember!’ Then my brain clunked into gear and my ongoing love for the story took over. She even said my pitch was good!
Both agents said that they thought my idea was highly marketable and would appeal to a wide readership. They then preceded to explain what I needed to work on. All in all it wasn’t that bad at all. I’d caught a glimmer of interest.
It’s incredibly heartening as well as useful to have feedback from an agent. They do know what will sell after all. I would say that if you are not good with taking critique or feedback you won’t get so much out if it. These are professional book lovers who know the market. If they tell you that you’re over writing, you probably are! As with all criticism though, it should be divided in to ‘accept’, ‘adapt’ or ‘reject’ categories. Agents have preferences too and aren’t right about everything. ( though I have to say they were bang on the money about me and what I needed to do.)
Curiously light headed and seriously high on adrenaline I toddled off to a seminar and let it all sink in.
It was weird. All those agents and not a whiff of brimstone. Could it be that they were book lovers plus ten? I’m a rabid reader (I’d say avid but it just isn’t strong enough) but I’d never pushed myself into the arena of trying to make literature appear (unless you count writing.) for a moment I had a glimmer of what being an agent must be like. If you love books, it must seem like being Indiana Jones in a slush pile; the greatest treasure hunt ever. Exciting but I don’t believe I could ever do it. Just that mad speed dating once a year must take it out of you. All those hopeful authors, most of home you will have bad or indifferent news for…emotionally exhausting in the extreme. Add to that the fact that some writers can be so precious about their work that they only want to hear ‘Yes’. So it might be close to good but they don’t want to hear about improving it. That’s go to be maddening too.
I was to find out later in the day that some writers send unpleasant even abusive emails when their work is rejected. I read some of them in a seminar I went to that afternoon (personal details removed of course). My jaw hit the desk. Who in their right mind thought sending these was going to make an agent reconsider? I won’t repeat them but rude was an understatement.
And in case anyone wasn’t clear, nasty letters to an agent are a big no-no. And they do remember you. Also, all agents talk. It’s a small world, publishing. I’m just saying…
At the gala dinner that evening, fortified with half a glass of champagne, I screwed up my courage again and went to speak to another agent casually.
I did not do this to pitch my book. I had no intention of bringing it up at all. I wanted to have a chat as Id followed this person on twitter for a while and thought they were witty and clever. I’m not saying that I hadn’t considered submitting to them. I had. But my purpose was to scope them out in person. I was beginning to get an inkling of how important an agent you like and get on with is.
Which is what we talked about among other things. (For the record either I hid my nerves better than I thought or this person was just too lovely to comment on it. My hands were shaking.) It was a good chat. Even though the third thing U said was ” turns out agents don’t have horns!” Luckily this person had a sense of humour and got where I was coming from.
What I learned;
-Agents don’t have horns.
-They’re in it for the long haul. It’s not a case if them representing one book, they are looking to represent your developing career.
– An agent will turn down a perfectly sellable book if they don’t feel excited about it. This is not a reflection on the writing. It’s a case of them not feeling passionate enough about it to want to take it on. Isn’t that a good thing? If someone takes me on, I want to know they’re as excited about the journey as me.
– Agents are book lovers with market knowledge and contacts. It may seem like they have the power of life and death over an author’s career but actually that power never leaves a writer’s hands. We’re the ones who have to write good books after all.
– Agents are happy to see resubmissions of the same book if work has been done in it, especially if they left feedback when they rejected it the first time.
– Agents aren’t trying to be a barrier to your writing career. They need books to sell. In effect they need us as much as we need them.
– Agents do not care if you have previous writing credits or not. They want debut authors, they want careers they can help grow from the ground up. As one agent said, we’re always looking for the next JK Rowling or Dan Brown.
– an agent is usually being kind if they tell you something is unsellable. As horrible as that is to hear, it’s crueler to encourage false hope and have everyone waste time.
-Agents are human too. They don’t always get it right. If you believe in your book stick with it.
– Agents absolutely hate the idea of the one that got away. They do read your submissions. As professionals they may only need to read two paragraphs before they know that it’s not up to scratch or not for them. Take on the chin and move on.
All that from one 10min conversation. Worth screwing up my courage for methinks!
Perhaps I was lucky. I have heard other people say that they had a less positive or even negative experience with their one-to-ones. Since I wasn’t there I can’t comment. All I can say is that all the agents I met, were lovely, intelligent, discerning people who love books.
I’m feeling better about submitting my novel now. And I no longer expect to see horns 😉

Throwback Thursday: Tales of York: Volume One – Intimate Strangers

(First published on my old blog 2nd October 2013)

I’d hate to give anyone the wrong impression, so I’ll state now that while the title was a pleasing oxymoron for me and apt for this topic, I won’t be covering any erotica today – sorry about that 😉

September 2013 saw the University of York once again hosting the Festival of Writing. I was one part excitement to two parts bundle of nerves. It wasn’t just the thought of meeting agents for the first time ever (that actually deserves a blog of it’s own, so I won’t go into it here) it was the idea of meeting complete strangers and not so complete strangers (people I’d met and befriended via theWord Cloud) and talking about myself.

In a bizarre conjunction of personality traits, I’m quite happy public speaking, talking to strangers doesn’t bother me; I’ve stood in front of classes of 300 adult karate students and taught for 4 hrs with nary a twinge of nerves or the idea that, objecting to my gender, comparative youth and scrawniness, they might reckon me unable to teach them anything and rebel. (In point of fact they never did – I think it helps when you don’t question your own authority, maybe?)  Ask me to stand and talk about anything personal or more specifically anything close to my soul and suddenly all the shyness I thought I’d left behind in childhood crashes down on me. I like to think I’m fairly articulate. Ask me what my book is about and … blank.

Of course when you gather around 400 people together for a writer’s convention, the popular opening line is ‘What do you write?’ In fact that line is pretty much guaranteed to open up a whole vista of new acquaintance. Except that when I was asked that question I got as far as ‘Young Adult Urban Fantasy’ and then got stuck. I know exactly what my book is about. Of course I do. I worked hard on plot and themes and character – all that good stuff. I am just rubbish at selling myself. And consequently, not that good at pitching my book. There is hope however. This appears to be a skill you can learn.

When you think about it though, it’s not so weird to be overcome with shyness talking about your own writing. Aside from the fairly commonly held anxiety that what you write is probably pap that good trees shouldn’t die for, how often would you sit down to dinner or a drink with a stranger and bare your soul? Abruptly you find yourself in deep conversation on the finer points of part of your novel with someone who’s last name you don’t know. Might not ever know. You may not get around to talking about your husbands, wives, girlfriends, boyfriends, kids, pets… All the things that you would have talked to a really close friend about at some point. Usually before you got on to examining the deep seated dreams you’ve nourished in private for years. Because when writers talk shop, they really talk shop. So yes it is a strange intimacy.

Did I get over it? Well I still stumbled over discussing my work if the question came out of the blue at me. But by and large every time I did talk about my book, it got a bit easier. There is the horror movie theory of course; if you’ve seen the same horror film a hundred times it ceases to be scary. I probably did start a gentle process of surface desensitization. But there was so much more to it. For the first time everyone in the room, everyone I could possibly find myself in conversation with, was a book lover. Not necessarily my book, maybe not even my preferred genres. But we were all linked together by a love of the written word and a passion for creating it ourselves. In short, I’d found a niche I belonged in where I didn’t have to fight for space.

To para-phase Yuxin; In the heavens there is room for infinite stars to shine, with out one diminishing anothers brightness.

That was how I came to feel…within three hours of being at the festival. There were definite nervous moments but mostly it was a sense of coming home. The big realisation was that no one in that room was judging my writing as harshly as I was judging it. They all knew how hard it was. They all had the same fragile hopes.

In our daily lives I think we have lost, to some extent, that sense of communion as a group. It was wonderful and strange to discover something I wasn’t even aware I was looking for. It was even more wonderful that it was amongst writers I found it.

Self-Publishing Success with Joanne Phillips

Last month I took part in The Writer’s Workshop Self-Publishing Success course. I have a lot of respect for Writer’s Workshop – they provide advice, resources, help and opportunities for writers from all walks of life. Being part of that community has smoothed my path no end. But even if I were not an active participant of ‘The Word Cloud’ – the WW forum – it would be worth following the Writer’s Workshop just to participate in the yearly get together in York at the Festival of Writing. (This year will be my fourth year and I am already looking forward to it!) So you can probably imagine that I have a lot of respect for course run by WW, especially since I had already done their brilliant ‘Self-edit your novel’ course a couple of years ago.

 

I was not/ am not a complete newbie when it comes to Self-Publishing (or Indie Publishing if you prefer). I had co-edited two anthologies and done al the formatting for The Random Writers – a superb if sightly unusual writing group I belong to. So the technical stuff, the terminology and the big learning curve at the start of Self-publishing… well I was fairly confident I had digested all that. Not confident enough to do it entirely on my own behalf mind you. Oh no. I wanted to be firmly backed up by a dozen or so brilliant writers. So that alone should have told me that I was looking for something.

 

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Enter Writer’s Workshop Self-Publishing Success tutor, Joanne Phillips.  Joanne is a successful Self-published author who writes contemporary mysteries, commercial women’s fiction and romantic comedies. She has also been an Amazon top 100 Bestseller and won the SpaSpa award for best Romantic Comedy. More importantly, Joanne was also down-to-earth, personable, chock full of interesting tid-bits and advice in self-publishing and just generally lovely to work with.

It was a four week course, taking place entirely online which was brilliant because you could conceivably be anywhere in the world with a laptop and internet connection and take part. The subject of Self-Publishing was broken down into four segments – an overview of self-publishing including learning terms and types of self publishing. getting ready to publish, the technical side of uploading and actually self-publishing , and last but in no way least, marketing.

At the beginning of each week we were provided with course materials including an introductory video to that week’s topic and extensive but accessible notes. A home work task was also set and often there was an optional discussion topic to get involved in. Part of the homework was to look at and give feedback on your course mates’ homework.  As is usually the way wit WW courses, this was pretty intense. While I was aided by my prior knowledge and the fact that I am already a sort of hybrid author, there was still plenty for me to do and take on. In fact it would be fair to say that the homework pushed me in ways that I had never pushed myself.

My goal at the beginning of the course was to find out how to market better and reach my readers. As it turned out the major flaw in my marketing plan was revealed in week one. Namely that as well received as my books might be to the smallish number of people who had read them, I wasn’t reaching my readers because no one knew about my books. It seems so obvious in retrospect however it’s something that many authors struggle with; the ability to talk about their work and tell people that it’s out there for the buying.

Then there was the addition of several new tools to my writing toolkit for example press releases – which I may never love but can at least see the value of now (I’d always sort of skipped them before)- and vlogs – a short video blog aimed at fellow writers and members of my audience, a powerful aid to connection which I may one day post here…

All in all this course is worth every penny. Jo is a great person to work with and gives really valuable feedback. Learning how to identify the right key words was a revelation – seriously my mind is still blown. The concept is simple but putting it into action takes a lot of thorough careful work. I can see how it could immediately improve sales and no one – not any of the books I’ve read or blogs on self-publishing or speaking to other self-published authors – has ever explained it in such depth and clarity before. Maybe it’s one of those things you think every one knows and understands if you know and understand it yourself – either way it’s a much bigger deal that the odd paragraph here and there allows for.

If you’re just starting out Self-publishing or you’ve been doing it for a while but not seen much in the way of results, this course is for you. In fact if you think you know enough about self publishing, this course is for you. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

A big thank you to Joanne Phillips who completely changed my perspective and gave me the confidence to go forward in self-publishing on my own behalf 😀

Dissecting Dragons – hatching a podcast

Dissecting Dragons - Writing, Reading, Loving and sometime Hating, Speculative Fiction.
Dissecting Dragons – Writing, Reading, Loving and sometime Hating, Speculative Fiction.

 

Today was an exciting new first as my fellow fantasy author, M. E. Vaughan, and I prepared for the launch of our new podcast. ‘Dissecting Dragons’ is aimed at fans of all forms of speculative fiction – fantasy, sci-fi, horror, dystopian, steam-punk – you name it and we’ll be discussing it. As we are both driven writers and avid readers, we wanted to produce the kind of show that we would like for ourselves. So we will be looking at books, films and T.V. series as well as discussing the nuts and bolts of writing speculative fiction.

We recorded our first podcast today and will be launching it early in February. (Check out our Facebook page for more information. You can also contact us there.)

While Madeleine and I had both had a little podcasting experience before, it was the first time we had ever tried to direct our own show with our own original content. After some natural nerves and more than a few giggles it went really well. It’s amazing how easy it is to forget there’s a microphone on when you are in the middle of a really interesting discussion about books and writing!

Anyway, this is just the beginning of our adventures. We already have some fellow writers who will be making guest appearances on the show, as well as a very long list of interesting speculative fiction topics to tackle. (Not that we’re not open to suggestions on that score.) Look out for our first episode – we hope you enjoy listening as much as we enjoyed making it 🙂