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 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!





Writer’s CV – addendum

4 08 2013

I realise that my last blog didn’t tell you exactly what I put into my writing CV. That was deliberate but perhaps I should explain why.

I did some research. Trawled the chat rooms and forums as well as websites of other authors, agents, publishers and pros.  All gave advice and tips. And all was useful. But it was too much! If I listened to all the cooks, my broth would be spoiled. So, as I am sure thousands have done before, I took a pinch from one, a soupcon from another and a handful from the best and mixed them all together.

However, no matter how confident I am in my final output, I am not going to tell other people how to do it.  Two reasons. Firstly, I am no expect – an amateur indeed. Secondly, if I have got the mixture just right I think, for once, I will keep it to myself my cocktail hits the desk of someone who likes the taste.

The t’interweb has quite enough people adding unchecked, inaccurate, subjective opinion about things they know little enough about for me to add more with advice on writing a CV.

I think this mini-blog is enough subjective opinion added for today!





That first manuscript

31 07 2013

Then it happens.  Years have passed, hours of solitude beyond measure, living in your own head.  You have tied off the final loose end, your (anti) heroine has achieved her aims, the final fact has been checked against more than one reference source. It’s finished.  A full draft of your first book.  You’ve proof read it again and again and it looks fine.  You know there will be oodles more typos to spot but this is it.  Add the header detail and page numbers, do a final spell check, open the window and set preferences.

Then. Press. Print.

Go boil a kettle – your home printer always takes longer than the one at work or down at the printers.

Then you have it in your hand. Your first manuscript. What the hell do you do now?

I remember doing all that. I printed it. It just sat there on the table I used as a desk back then, with a bulldog clip holding it together.  It was bigger than I’d expected and that was before I printed it single sided for sending off my publisher. I remembered exactly how I felt.

I ignored it. So I could pretend it wasn’t there I put a copy of the newspaper over it. It became a newsprint lump to try to ignore. I was pretending I didn’t have a piece of life, of mind hiding in those pages.

Who to read it first? I didn’t let anyone see it, not even a page. A big part of me was tempted to send it off before I even let my friends read it – is it right that I should prefer scorn and rejection from a stranger than from those closest to me?

But it wasn’t mine any more. That’s the point. Give birth and let it find its own place in the world. It really was an education, long sought.