Congratulations to Pow-Wower Louise Palfreyman, whose story The Jewel of the Orient is published in prestigious online literary journal The View From Here:
Book To The Future is a festival of the written and spoken word at the University of Birmingham from the 24th to the 29th October. There’ll be workshops, readings, lectures and Q&A sessions featuring authors, poets, playwrights and storytellers, including a few who’ll be familiar to PowWow regulars.
On Sunday the 27th October both Andy Killeen and Katharine D’Souza are running events aimed at writers. From 12 until 1pm Andy’s session ‘So, you want to write a novel?’ will guide you through the process and potential pitfalls. Then, from 1pm until 2, Katharine will look at ‘Self-Publishing: the right choice for you and your book?’ to answer your questions about self-publishing. Both events are free; you just need to register online for a ticket at the festival website http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/bttf.
The programme has a huge variety of other events including both Andy and Katharine talking about their books, as are Charlie Hill, Richard House and William Gallagher all of whom you may have seen speak at PowWow LitFest in recent years. Best of all, most of the events are free. Check out the programme and we’ll see you there!
Congratulations to Pow-Wower Jennifer Kennett, who is featured author in this month’s edition of Gzine. You can read a sample of Jennifer’s story here:
and buy the magazine here:
Recently, the vexed issue of booking reading slots has come up for debate once again. In many ways, this is a good problem to have. It means lots of people are doing lots of writing, and value the feedback they get from the group. However, it makes it hard to be fair to everybody: to make sure that those who come regularly and critique other people get their turn, but without excluding new members, who might have to wait months before they can read. At the moment we are booked up into 2014, which is not ideal.
Sofia has come up with a simple and sensible solution, which I’m proposing to bring in as of 10/9/13, unless there are substantial objections. This is that people will only be able to book ONE future reading slot at a time; once you’ve done your reading, you can then book another one. We’ll continue with the current rule too of only one reading per person per calendar month.
To implement this we’ll be crossing out any future bookings bar the one allowed each, and opening those bookings again. Apologies to anyone who’s booked ahead- but it will make it easier for you to get future bookings in.
Please note this does NOT apply to Pow-Wow Plus (the Wednesday night sessions.)
If anybody has any thoughts or comments, particularly if there are objections, then please do reply to this post, email me, or talk to me on Tuesday- I value everybody’s opinions, and want to run the group so that it meets everybody’s needs. However as it stands this seems to me to be the fairest, simplest way forward.
Anybody who has ever written a novel will, at some point during the process, find themselves hating their creation, feeling weary, sick and despairing, overwhelmed by the sense that they have wasted their time and effort, and certain that if they are ever going to write a successful book, then this will not be it.
It is possible that there are exceptions to this rule, that there are people who sail through the process untroubled by doubt, fatigue and existential terror. I have never met any of them, and frankly don’t want to; the jealousy would be unbearable.
For the rest of us, these feelings are an inevitable part of writing. If you only have one such crisis per book, you can consider yourself lucky. The crucial issue is correctly to diagnose the problem. Is it a temporary loss of confidence, to be overcome by gritted teeth and persistence, or a warning from your subconscious that something has gone horribly wrong? Here is Doctor Andy’s pathological analysis of writing breakdown.
Diagnosis: The Fear
Symptoms: This is the most common form of writing problem, and features to some extent as a complication of nearly all the others. It is however powerful enough on its own to kill a book if not tackled quickly. The Fear takes on many disguises, appears in many forms. At heart though it is a simple lack of confidence in your own ability to do it, and in the quality of your work. I suspect this never goes away; however successful you may become, there will always be the lurking anxiety that you will lose the ability to do it.
Treatment: Recognising The Fear for what it is is the vital first step to overcoming it. It will often pretend to be one of the other problems listed below, particularly Project Disorder. The main treatment is simply to keep going, and don’t look back. Whatever is worrying you about what you’ve already done, let it go. You can always fix it in revision, this is only a first draft, it doesn’t have to be good, it just has to be written. Move your story on, find out what happens next, make the next scene as good as it can be. Don’t re-read, don’t analyse, and don’t imagine that other people find it easy. If you feel The Fear, it means you’re doing something right.
Symptoms: Writing is hard, and so is life. Sometimes you just need to give yourself a break. The problem is that The Fear loves to masquerade as Exhaustion, because then it achieves its goal of stopping you writing. How, then, to tell the difference? The biggest clue lies in how it’s been going immediately prior to the problem arising. If you’ve been putting a lot of hours in, it’s been pouring out of you, and you just feel spent, like you have drained your well of ideas too dry, then it’s Exhaustion. If you’ve been finding it difficult, have been away from your writing because other stuff has been getting in the way, and you feel sick at the very thought of sitting down to your story, then a break will be disastrous. The only answer is to write through.
Treatment: Genuine exhaustion requires a break, doing something restorative. You shouldn’t think about your story unless you feel like it- let your subconscious brew it for a while. However, the break must be pre-defined, like a holiday from a work. Make yourself an appointment to return to your writing, and keep it, however you feel when that time comes round.
Diagnosis: Constipated story
Symptoms: You just can’t think what happens next. The characters are staring at you from the page, asking what their motivation is, what they should be doing and why, but you have no answers. You have a lurking sense that the story took a wrong turn at some point. As you stare at the blank page, The Fear creeps in and begins to tell you that the whole project is useless, and that you should just give up.
Treatment: Sometimes it is beneficial to have a rest, but you need to be careful that The Fear does not take root and kill your book while you’re not looking. If you do take a break from your novel, it is often a good idea to work on something else instead, just to keep your writing muscles limber. Occasionally it helps to take a couple of steps back in the narrative: find the last point you were happy with it, scrap everything afterwards (keeping a copy just in case, of course!) and start again from there. However the most effective way of loosening a constipated story is to challenge your assumptions. If you’ve written yourself into a corner, then the walls are all of your own making, and equally are yours to knock down. Think about the things you have taken as given: do they have to be that way? Like a picture of a vase becoming two faces, you’ll find yourself suddenly seeing your invented world differently, and the solution will have been blindingly obvious all along. This is one of the best feelings in writing, and is worth hanging in there for.
Diagnosis: Project disorder
Symptoms: You develop an overwhelming sense that the story you are working on is a waste of time, and that you should abandon it and start on the new idea that has been exciting you. This is almost never a good thing. If you are more than a few pages in, you have already made a commitment, so at some point the idea seemed worthwhile to you. It is much less likely that you were wrong then than it is that you are now, while you are experiencing The Fear, Exhaustion and so on. The new idea can only benefit from a bit of composting time, and you will do a better job of it when you have the experience of completing a novel. When you come to write it, you will have a much stronger sense of what it’s all about and how to do it justice.
What is usually going on, though, is that the new idea is like the unattainable fantasy figure we might obsess over when a long-term relationship is going through a difficult patch. If the fantasy ever becomes reality, it rapidly loses its shine, until another idea wanders past and catches our eye. This leads only to a string of incomplete stories, chasing perfection and achieving nothing. The simple truth is that the idea itself is nowhere near as important as the act of finishing it.
Treatment: Nearly always it’s best to keep going.
Diagnosis: Career dislocation
Symptoms: You find yourself thinking that this writing lark is not all it’s cracked up to be. You’ve been working on your novel for ages, but don’t seem to making any real progress. It’s boring, it’s lonely, and it’s really hard work. Reading is no fun any more, you miss your social life, your gardening, your chilled out evenings in front of the telly…
Treatment: You need to give serious consideration as to whether writing is really for you. There’s no shame in recognising that it’s not your vocation. Our culture bafflingly nurtures the idea that writing is easy, that “everybody has a novel in them,” and there’s an industry grown up around encouraging people in this folly. If you’re finding writing difficult and tedious, that’s because it is. The satisfaction comes from overcoming the challenges and finishing your story. Writing a novel, like running a marathon, is on many people’s “bucket lists”; but if you can’t face putting in the hours and keeping going through the pain, then you’re better off going skydiving or bungee jumping instead.
Time for the final review. And I have to admit, I’m not particularly familiar with the concept of ghostwriting. I think there was a Jonathan Creek once where a ghostwriter was killed, and that is pretty much the depth of my knowledge on the subject. So we’ll see…
Writing Tips: Ghostwriting
The positive: As an introduction for someone who doesn’t know about this, it strikes me as very honest (probably because there are lots of numbers) and down to earth. It’s also interesting to see that it’s aimed at those who want ghostwritig done for them, not ghostwriters looking for work (I wasn’t sure). I hadn’t heard of “halfway house” ghostwriting either (neither have you?). It handles sensitive issues carefully and gives advice that may save people’s feelings, including links to other (internal) sources.
The negative: It isn’t typo-free and, littered with success stories, it’s definitely a marketing page, but I do reckon that makes sense here. More importantly, I take issue with this:
“On the other hand, if what you want is a beautifully bound and presented book to share with friends and family, then we can sort that out for you. Self-publishing like this gives you total control over cover design, illustrations, layout, etc. It can be a wonderful gift, either to yourself or for a loved one. ”
Self-publishing can seem like an attractive idea, but there are several important things anyone considering this should know. For example, that if you self-publish, it is very, very unlikely that a mainstream publisher will pick up your work afterwards. I know this page is aimed at those who want their life story made into a book for them, not those who want to break into a writing career, but as the only mention of this, it should provide all the information if it is to act as an advice page, not select self-serving parts: not mention the disadvantages of self-publishing when you are selling a service for it seems inherently dishonest to me.
Weirdly, the link to the copyediting page goes to a post entitled Writing Children’s Picture Books ????????
…And then talks about editing picturebooks. It’s a nice page with character info, numbers and contact details, but still not what I was expecting. Copyediting being a useful tool for dyslexics was mentioned elsewhere, but no such thing is even alluded to here. I think an additional post could bulk out the copyediting section and take some of the strain out of the very long post in the first section!
So the reviews continue…
Writing Tips: How Long, How Many, How Much?
So his section is sensible, including numbers on length to actually quantify stuff… but I have read it before elsewhere…!
Luckily, not all of it. And when even as it comes to what agents do (the bits we don’t know about) there are numbers. Numbers are good. They offer certainty and security. we know now. More internal linking and references too (this piece is almost scientific!).
On the other hand… a quibble: “Manuscripts aren’t rejected because their winning number doesn’t come up in a lottery. They are rejected because they’re not strong enough to sell in a competitive market. So – make your manuscript good enough” [bold mine] Perhaps the wording is overcareful, but, “in a competitive market”does mean their lottery number didn’t come up. It means that they’re only not good enough right now, today. The placement is the lottery and your scrappy novel could be good enough when nobody is writing anything good in its area. And if I get this impression, so will lots of other people reading this, and then instead of improving their novel they’ll put it aside and wait until they think the chick-lit vampire genre is doing poorly again (and I’m not sure that is good advice).
And this next to some very good advice which properly makes the point attempted above (and which I’m going to repeat here because it makes me draw smiley faces on my review notes and if, writers, you haven’t read it on Writer’s Workshop, you can read it now):
- Rule 1
Write what you want to write and what there is a market for. If you’re not sure what the market is, then go into a bookshop and find out.
- Rule 2
Be utterly perfectionist about your work. The successful writers are the ones who obsess over their every page; who revise their work repeatedly. And quite often they’re the ones who come to us for help.
How Long Does it Take to Sell a Book?
Well, I’ve learnt a few new things in the section, and it’s interesting as well as novel (do you see what I did there?).
- “[A]n oral agreement is nevertheless something you can depend on. These agreements never sour. ” Because this is the kind of thing everyone would just expect you to know, and would be offended if you doubted. And after a long waiting process and nobody tellig you, who could blame you?
- It’s easy to sell US books in the UK, but hard in reverse. Reading why, this makes total sense, but it’s not instinctive, and Writer’s Workshop not only tells us that it is, but explains the market.
- Advances from different countries are not necessarily what you’d expect. Well, at least we know to expect that now.
And to sum up by Monique, a commenter:
Thank you for a very informative article. You’ve answered several questions of mine, all at once! I’ll be back for more.
Given the absurd lengths of some of the early posts, I AM SURPRISED THIS SECTION EVEN EXISTS. Not the content, but as a section, it’s own post, because meeting publishers is not only unusual, but it’s not normally recommended (except apparently in the US, as the post goes on to say… surely this should be a subsection of a post about US publishing?)
It has a few other teething problems as well. For instance, sometimes, the headings in the bullet points, which are aligned with the text as if part of a paragraph, don’t juxteposition well. Like, “Scrub up a bit. Contrary to widespread belief, publishers aren’t just chasing books by the young and beautiful.” …So, um, be clean, the publishers don’t want you to look good? What a cofusing message. Which only starts to make sense later on when you realise the second sentence is part of a longer point, the header of which sums up the conclusions.
Also, “Don’t forget things digital. Publishers know that digital platform matters, but they are pretty rubbish at helping authors with it. So take a one page sheet setting out what you’ve done already (in terms of blog, website, etc) and explaining what further things you intend to do. Those things won’t swing a deal all on their own, but they do make a difference. ” …which leaves me in the dark. I literally have no idea what this means (beyond “make a plan”). It is so broad and vague I wouldn’t know where to start on this, and it’s frustrating that it tells you to do something, but not what that something is. “take a one page sheet setting out what you’ve done already” took me three readings to even understand that they weren’t talking about a blog page print out (yes, that was slow of me).
I’m not sure if this section is special, but on the home page of Writer’s Workshop Advice Section, the title Meeting Literary Agents and Other Matters is in a different (but similar) colour to the other headings. …We’ll find out.
(Actually, I’ve just discovered it’s not the home of the Advice Section, either that or it can’t make up it’s mind… I clicked on Literary Agents under the Advice tab to navigate there. I think the internal navigation system may be a bit confused!)
There are five links in this section (though one is a second link to the US vs UK article – which is fine: it should be easy to locate):
How to Meet Literary Agents
In this post, the structure is just downright confusing. In the paragraph about “pouncing” on literary agents, I am unsure until right at the end whether this is something I’m being warned off or recommended.
There is also missing information. For example, “If that means using outside help (as for example the sort that we offer), use outside help.” Okay, so the sort offered here and… what? I think if you’re selling something and offering advice, it’s vitally important to validate your advice by providing other options besides your services. Definitely recommend getting family, friends, readers and other writers to look at your work, go to writing groups and use writing websites. Then, if you want a professional, personal service and are prepared to pay for it… there’s the sort offered by Writer’s Workshop (and it’s not like I’m saying they should recommend rival services, is it?). Exclude the free options, and this is bad advice.
Writers’ conferences is not a new thing on me, but reading about them here brings up new (unanswered) questions – such as how much do these things typically cost, and which kinds of agents (established, new career, fact/fiction, sales-oriented, et cetera) attend, and why? I can see why writers would attend – agents not so much so.
The Getting Published Event
This… is out of date. Even putting an “Our Last Event” subheading between the out-of-date advertisement and the heading whilst nothing else is in the pipeline would be better than leaving an out of date page on an active website.
Literary Agent Fees
This page is good. It’s interesting to actually get numbers in examples – and actually the first time I’ve seen this anywhere! It also lists what the literary agent does to earn their fees, which is great, although this has already been done on Do I Need A Literary Agent? I actually think it is better suited to this page (I complained about it’s placement before). In principle, repeating information is okay as not everyone will read the entire site, but I would still cut it out of the first place on this occasion.
Also don’t expect much from the link at the end, as it goes back to the Advice Centre and not to individual articles (and now I know the website this well, I even know where it should link to!).
Should you Ever Pay a Reading Fee to Literary Agents?
No. The answer is no and it says no – emphatically, but without skimping on the explanation, so this post has already done it’s job well. Someone has made a thorough bodge of updating it, though, starting off with:
“We’re in the process now of compiling an online directory of literary agents. It’s going to be sortable, have very rich data in every agent and will be enriched with our own recommendations and advice – and absolutely no one knows agents better than we do. [The database exists now, by the way. It's called Agent Hunter and it's fab.- HB]”
I’m hoping this will be tweaked and sorted out in time. Especially as the “it’s going to be good” doesn’t sit well beside claims elsewhere of being the best and only.
And here are some of the great reasons why not to pay a reading fee:
- “at £350 per client, agents have an incentive to offer representation as widely as possible. That means they take on poor quality manuscripts. Which means that editors distrust those agents. Which means their representation is worthless. Possibly even unhelpful.”
- “And you don’t need to pay so much as a string bean to an agent, unless that agent makes money for you. ” = combine this with the advice about agents being worth every penny of their commission and you have a very healthy business relationship going on here
- The advice offered to the commenter
Mm, better no agent than a bad agent who makes you look bad beside them!
As I review the Writers’ Workshop Advice Section, I’m starting to get a little bit frustrated that the names of the links on the parent advice page don’t match the titles of the pages they link to. It’s a little thing, but it makes it very hard to reference what I’m talking about! …It also makes me wonder whether one or the other was changed after the original synthesis and nobody cross-referenced…
How to Write a Novel Synopsis
Well, this starts off good: actually putting a number on length (writers do have a tendency to say “long”/”short”/”quick” and expect you to know what they mean in pages or word count) and then (yay!) an example! Although only one, and as it purports to be a synopsis example from a WW client, I have to query why only one – surely more clients are happy to support the site that has supported them, mm?
But it’s not just about showing off the love of clients: greater variety is greater advice.
Whilst the content of this page is useful, I do feel that it is grossly incomplete. I’m sure vast swathes of information could be added, but we wouldn’t want the page length to get out of control. Here are just a couple of things that it would have occurred to me to say:
- Tell the story, the whole story, and don’t stop dead on a cliffhanger. This is not a blub.
- Write well – everything you send to an agent is proof that you can write, not just the novel and query letter (this advice is included elsewhere, but after so much repetition is noticeably absent on this page).
How to Write a Book Proposal
“His academic qualifications to write the book in question? Precisely nil. The quality of the material is what sells the book, not any number of letters after your name.”
But it is really important to justify knowing about a subject – it’s not the be all and end all. I know that if I were to write a book about climbing, saying I was CWA qualified and had x experience teaching would help, but I doubt Joe Simpson had a problem. Different agents will put different emphases on this, and the truth is, if your book is borderline, assuring them you know what you’re talking about could make all the difference. If your book is brilliant in its own right, they won’t care.
I’ve already expressed my liking for example, but the book proposal one is rubbish. The styles of the “good” and “bad” are so different that basically it seems to say you can’t write fact in a neutral form and have to write it like a novel, which is bad advice. I don’t like to read fact books presented in that way, and lots of other people don’t either. Sometimes it’s just not appropriate for a certain kind of book. The “good” example is also long winded and doesn’t get to the point. The way I read it, it advises you to waffle. This is why a single example just won’t do. It’s hard to show “perfectlygood” and “perfectly bad” without being silly.
Writing a non-fiction synopsis by Sam Jordison
Well, this threw me. A different voice, but with an intro that runs straight into the post without a dashed line or a diferent font or a clear “here we go!” If you write it well, you’ve won half the battle.” – I agree: and differentiating between different voices is an important part of that.
It could also do with a little proofreading. The phrase “The things easy to get wrong” crops up, and as it’s talking about a synopsis (singular) not its contents (plural), I’m pretty sure there’s a missing apostrophe. If not, then it’s not easy to read. It just doesn’t bode well that expert advice on writing contains writing errors, human though we are.
And I do like this post: introducing a different voice was a good idea. Chiefly, I think, because it shows a different approach. Instead of the “just do it” attitude, we have a more empathetic tone of anecdotal excuses: “Some authors can hammer out hundreds of pages without breaking a sweat, but break down in front of the awful task of filling that single sheet of paper.”/”The difficulties are twofold. First, it’s very hard to boil down all those hours of work, research and inspiration to the kind quick frothy summary required to hold the attention of a time-pressed and quite likely bored editor (who has already read dozens of other synopses that morning). Second, selling yourself is awkward. If you’re like me and have rather a shade too much English reserve it’s hard not to feel gauche when you’re blowing your own trumpet. ”
Real feelings that real authors experience. Even if they shouldn’t. Reading advice that reminds you everyone else is struggling with the same writing and publishing problem is reassuring, especially if it then goes on to help you get out of that rut. The idea of modelling synopses on book reviews is new to me (I haven’t read this page before and it hasn’t come up elsewhere), and I am definitely going to look some up now. What I don’t know is why a review site or section isn’t linked to in this article!
If I were proofreading, I would also have deleted the last paragraph, which reads like it was thrown in at the end on a whim. Advice on brevity has been included elsewhere and better.
Today I’m a much happier bunny with the sections I am reviewing for Writers’ Workshop. The Final Polish is littered with pictures, bullet points, bolds, subheadings and linked references to good resources. And the golden component – examples.
I am a little disappointed that the punctuation guide doesn’t drive through a couple of points, however:
- that every writer has their own style and use of punctuation; variety is good, and so long as you check that your usage is correct, it’s okay if you don’t use semi-colons with the dedication of Ruth Rendell
- whatever you choose to do, once you get an agent and a publisher they will want to imprint all their punctuation idiosyncrasies on your document anyway
I’m quite amused to see “brevity” on the list given yesterday’s review, but this section does live up to all of its own advice, which is solid. Alas, it’s somewhat let down at the end with a link to other advice which turns out just to take the happy clicker to the home page – which is probably how they accessed this section in the first place.
This I’m more dubious of. It starts off really well, but there is only one query letter and when I read it I stop, frown, reread it, shake my head and finish unconvinced. This is why:
“It becomes rapidly clear that Fiona Griffiths herself is a very peculiar woman“…
This innoculus line completely threw me because the name has not previously been introduced. It may seem obvious to the writer who Fiona Griffiths is, but I have been presented with only the information that
- it’s a police procedural
- a young woman and her daughter have been found dead
- a millionaire died in a plane crash some months previously
My guess is that Fiona Griffiths is the young woman who is dead, but if the murder is not the heart of the book’s mystery, the dead woman might not be neither. Fiona could be the daughter, a police detective or the millionaire.
This kind of confusion is definitely something I would want to avoid in a query letter. It doesn’t make the reader intrigued as to who Fiona Griffiths is – it annoys them that her name has been thrown in at random. So my advice? Think carefully about your assumed knowledge of the book as you write your query letter and synopsis and ask someone whom you have never mentioned your novel to to read it through and comment!
As the article points out, query letters are not the be all and end all. The novel is, so a few mistakes will be easily forgotten, but don’t get blaise!