The envelope of doom – part 2

7 08 2013

How do they do it? What do they look for? What makes the next big thing? What do they want to see?

If publishers and agents knew what the next big thing was my guess is they would have hired a ghost writer and already thrown it to the reading wolves. The next big thing isn’t based on a recipe. It isn’t, by definition, formulaic. A sequel can be formulaic, a follow-up can continue a story we know people are interested in – whether messrs Langdon, Potter or Grey – but a first novel has to break new ground to win big.

Most don’t.

First novels can be launched to great fanfare and perhaps they are the Great British Novel awaiting only time to bring awards and accolades to your door. Most aren’t.  Most fit a genre, have a bit of a twist or are penned by an author with potential to produce more and the face to fit on a breakfast telly sofa and pull readers in. Most do OK. Only OK. Some a bit better, some a bit worse, but OK.

But back to the point of this blog. What do they look for? They are looking for you. They want you to have written something good, something readable, saleable, promotable and ultimately, just plain interesting. Write your best, edit it to hell and back, then have friends and family do the same.

If you want specifics on what they look for, you’ve come to the wrong place. Speculation is all very well, it has its place, but why not look at the website, look in one of the Writers’ yearbooks/guides etc. Don’t speculate – do some research. They want to waste their time even less than you want to waste it so DON’T. Give them what they ask for in a format they want to see it. The contents, the story, then has a chance to shine through.

And please do a final spell-check before you send it! I’d be disheartened at finding typos on the first page – your target might not even get to the excellent third sequence before it is on the slush pile!

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The envelope of doom!

6 08 2013

So here it is. That time of trial, of testing. The torment of a wait begun.

Your first manuscript, in a big brown envelope. Just three paragraphs, the synopsis, CV, covering letter and self-addressed envelope. A recipe followed, with the secret ingredient being your talent to turn a great story idea into a great story.

You don’t trust the postbox – obviously. Post office only. Main branch, for preference. Registered or just first class?

“Are the contents worth more than £20, sir?”

Stupid question – I always hope so anyway.

Then it’s gone. Vanished. In the system. Flying through the ether with a sparking thread latched back onto your heart.  The one big hope is that you never, ever see that self-addressed envelope again! You hope against hope that those stamps on the SAE never fulfil their potential.

But it is gone from you, to another. It appears on a desk, in a tray, probably with a score of other hopefuls. Whose desk? A name from a website, perhaps a face found on the t’interweb – a kind face, one that beams hope to all who see it. You could marry that face if it smiled back at you. Is it an agent or have you, a new author, dared to go straight to a publisher. You interloper, you!

But it is on the desk, in the office. Waiting a letter-opener, the sigh of a bored reader expecting paste but hoping for diamonds. Third cold-read of the day. Have they had a good night’s sleep? Are they full of caffeine, hyped on sugar? Do they even like the title?

Perhaps I will rename the blog.  Is ‘The envelope of hope!’ more appropriate? I do hope so.





The synopsis

5 08 2013

If I could fit my story into a page I wouldn’t have needed the other 300+ would I? A synopsis! Bah humbug. How the hell does anyone craft a synopsis for the first time?

It’s never that hard actually. I always rant at the request but then fall back on reality.  It should be the easiest thing in the world because most authors explain their latest pet to anyone who will listen – friends, at family gatherings, at parties. Just writing down that normal patter had a synopsis ready to go in half an hour. The elevator pitch!

It wasn’t that hard – but nor was it that easy. The premise is fine, one paragraph, one edit and done. But an author never tells random people the ending. Never reveals the key twists, the characters’ difficult relationships. But a publisher only wants to read three full chapters and then expects to know how the rest of the book develops in only one page more. Completely. Utterly. Conclusively.

That’s usually more tricky. Five pages long. First edit down to four. Then three (and a half, unfortunately).

I mentioned my professional life in a previous blog. Another role with writing at its heart. Reports, reviews, succinct summaries of complex issues for the time-poor. I’d been so busy focussing on my writing life I felt like a Homer ‘Doh!’ moment was appropriate. I stopped looking at my synopsis as a book and saw it as a report to be summarised. Extraneous text vanished, pared to the bone. Whole paragraphs fell beneath my professional sword.

And there it was. A story on a page.

I noticed in my research that one agent was only expecting a paragraph of synopsis. ONE paragraph!

Bah humbug!