Do I like writing enough to be a real writer?

A few days ago, I noticed a post on Twitter. It was about imposter syndrome as a writer. It explained that for them the syndrome was not originating from the belief they weren’t good enough at writing, but rather that they’re not obsessed enough with writing to be legit.

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I could relate completely to this. Social media is dangerous for making us believe “real writers” spend all their time writing or reading, visiting literary events, and talking about books. It can make you feel like if you’re not reading and writing (and talking about the reading and writing) consistently, then maybe you don’t want to be a writer enough. Maybe you don’t deserve to be a successful writer.

In fact, I’m slightly envious of authors who wrote and published before social media existed. Wouldn’t it be nice to just be able to read and write, without having to worry about what our image is online?

I’ve rather a negative opinion of social media for personal use in general. I’ve been limiting my use of it over the past 12 months and deactivated my Facebook account for much of last year. For me, there’s no question of its negative impact on mental health. To know what everyone whom I went to school with fifteen years ago is up to now and, whether I mean to or not, compare myself against their achievements is something I feel is unhealthy.

Yet it’s harder to completely distance yourself from social media from an aspiring author perspective. It has become the norm now within the industry to have an online presence, and to not have that could put you at a disadvantage. Social media is a place where people can find you as a writer, a place to market books and stories. I use Twitter mainly to follow other authors, publishers, and lit agents, in the hope of hearing about submission opportunities.

Yet I do sometimes worry I’m not tweeting enough about the third book I’ve read that week, or about the 3000 words I’ve written that day. I worry that I’m not doing these things at all, let alone shouting about them. I compare myself to that other aspiring author who’s tweeting every other hour about something they’ve just read, or a story they’ve just finished writing. And that brings me back to my original question: do I like writing enough to be a real writer?

And the answer is yes! I know I am committed to my writing. I know it’s what I want to do. I know I’m committed to getting feedback, improving my writing, and pushing forwards whenever I can. We shouldn’t need to tell social media about how much we’re writing to be considered legit. It’s also important to remember social media doesn’t necessarily relate to the real world, and those shouting loudest online aren’t always the ones getting the most writing done.

I’ve always believed to be able to write the best stories, you need to get out there and experience real life (admittedly a little harder right now due to lockdown!). Doing non-writing related things can spark fresh ideas and can help you to meet interesting people, which could influence interesting fictional characters! It’s fine that writing is just one aspect of your life, and not what you think and breathe every minute of every day.

If you’re suffering from imposter’s syndrome, just know it’s completely normal to feel to feel that way from time to time. And also know, there is no normal way to be a writer.

Reading as a writer – my favourite reads of 2020 so far

There are two pieces of advice I hear repeatedly: to be a better writer you must write more, and you must read more.

As England enters its second lockdown of the year, it’s fair to say 2020 has been a strange and stressful year. For me, this has been reflected in my writing habits. I’ve posted before about how, during the first lockdown, I initially struggled to concentrate on writing. Later on during the lockdown I preferred to focus on writing short stories, rather than big novel-length commitments.

However, one thing that has been consistent throughout is my joy of reading books.

As you will see from the below selections, I’ve read a range of books this year, everything from children’s fiction to non-fiction. I think it’s important to read a diverse range of books and experience different styles of writing. It can help you to identify what works best in your own writing too.

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Lockdown Book Recommendations

Here are some of my favourites. Hopefully, they’ll give you some ideas if you’re looking for a lockdown number two read!

1. The Foundling, by Stacey Halls

Released this year (2020) The Foundling by Stacey Halls is historical fiction set in 1754, London.

“Six years after leaving her illegitimate daughter at London’s Foundling Hospital, Bess Bright returns to collect a daughter she’s never known… but, her daughter has already been claimed, by her…”

I love Stacey Halls as a historical fiction author, as I find her books really plot driven, fast moving, and accessible. Although this is fiction, there are some many fascinating facts about this era of history woven in.

My enjoyment of reading historical fiction encouraged me to make my first attempt at writing historical fiction. My short story, Florrie Moore is Innocent, was recently shortlisted in Writers’ Forum Magazine fiction writing competition.

2. This Lovely City, by Louise Hare

Another historical fiction read, This Lovely City is set in post-war London. It tells the story of jazz musician Lawrie Matthews who arrived in London from Jamaica aboard the Empire Windrush.

“Playing in Soho’s jazz clubs by night and pacing the streets as a postman by day, Lawrie has poured his heart into his new home… until one morning, while crossing a misty common, he makes a terrible discovery…”

3. The Boy at the Back of the Class, by Onjali Q. Rauf

This is a children’s book, offering a child’s perspective on the Syrian refugee crisis.

“There used to be an empty chair at the back of my class, but now a new boy Ahmet is sitting in it.”

This is a wonderfully heart-warming story that really made me smile. I’ve been trying to read more middle-grade fiction this year (as it’s the age group my novel is aimed at), but this a great book for adults to read too.

4. Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again…”

I am also trying to read more classics. This is honestly one of the most beautifully written books I’ve read. Du Maurier not only writes beautiful descriptions, but also writes a plot driven, gripping story here. Highly recommend!

5. The Salt Path, by Raynor Winn

Non-fiction life writing. Raynor learns her husband, Moth, has a terminal illness. In a short space of time they also lose their business and family home, making them homeless. This is the true story of her and her husband’s decision to walk the south west coastal path together. It’s laugh-out-loud funny, emotional, and inspiring. It’s also left me wanting to walk the south west coastal path too!

I’ve read a lot of great books this year – but I think these have been my favourite!

Do you have any great lockdown number two book suggestions?

How to get a literary agent

You’ve written the novel, edited it, edited it again, and now it’s time to get it published. But unless you’ve got a long publication history behind you, knowing where to begin can be extremely daunting.

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Generally, there are two main routes to publish your novel:

  1. Self-publishing
  2. Getting a Literary Agent

Most large publishing houses will not accept unsolicited manuscripts, which is why you need an agent to help you get your novel through the door.

Some smaller publishers may accept unsolicited manuscripts, which I suppose would be route three. However, these are increasingly uncommon. Check individual publisher’s guidelines to be sure, otherwise your manuscript will only end up in the virtual bin.

I try to base my blog posts on my own ups and downs as an aspiring author, which is why this blog post is focusing on the literary agent route. That doesn’t mean I’ve completely rules out the self-publishing route, but for me there’s some comfort in knowing somebody else likes my work enough to want to represent me.

So, you’ve picked your route. What next? How do you actually go about getting a literary agent?

Do your research

There are numerous sources out there which list literary agents, but I recommend the Writers and Artists Handbook. This lists all literary agents in the UK, their contact details and a little bit about what they’re looking for. For instance, there would be no point submitting your love novel set in space to an agent who only represents cookery books.

Draw up a long-list of agents you think might be a good match, then take to the internet to further your research. Most agents will have a web page letting you know if they’re open for submissions, and exactly what to submit.

Get together your submission package

This will vary between agents, but generally consists of a cover letter, synopsis, and an extract from your novel. This is typically the first three chapters, but make sure you double check!

Format your submission package exactly as the agent wants it – double or single spaced, font size and style. Do they want the writing and synopsis attached or in the body of the email? Agents look for any reason to get rid of manuscripts out of their inbox, so don’t give them a silly reason to get rid of yours.

The Synopsis

This is (usually) a one-page summary of your novel. It should highlight your key plot points, and give the agent a good understanding of your story’s arch. However, it doesn’t need to go into too much detail, or explain every single character or sub-plot.

It also doesn’t need to read like a blurb and can be slightly ‘boring’ in style. It can, and probably should, give away spoilers.

Again, make sure you check the agent’s submissions guidelines as they may specify a length or style for the synopsis.

The Cover Letter

This should also be under a page. It should introduce your novel and yourself, and unlike the synopsis you can write the cover letter so it’s a little more ‘blurb-like’ to entice the agent.

Make sure you personalise each cover letter you send out to each agent by using their name and a short explanation about why you are submitting to them.

A good, basic structure is:

Dear ADDRESS AGENT BY NAME,

I am submitting my novel TITLE, GENRE, WORDCOUNT. Include WHY you chose THEM.

1 paragraph about the novel.

1 paragraph about yourself. Include relevant writing experience, what you do for a living, etc.

Finish by letting the agent know if you’re submitting to multiple agents and thank them for their time.

I also include my contact details at the end of the letter.

Keep a record

I find it useful to keep a record of which agents I’ve submitted my novel to and when I submitted it. I also record their expected response time, and any other useful information such as ‘assume rejection if no response in 8 weeks’.

How many agents should I submit to?

There’s no rule, but I read somewhere once 7 is a good place to start. I’d say between 5-10, then wait a few weeks. If you send off more than 10 in close succession only to discover there’s a typo halfway through your synopsis, you’re going to be pretty disappointed.

Wait

accuracy afternoon alarm clock analogue

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Why not try to pass the time by working on a different project, like a short story?

I’ve had a response, what next?

Congratulations! When I received my first ever response from a literary agent, it was super exciting. What you do next very much depends on the nature of the response. They may have asked for the full novel, or you may get a form or personalised rejection. You can find out more about how to interpret different kinds of rejection emails here.

An agent wants to work with me

It’s the news we all hope for! Just take a moment before you sign on the dotted line to make sure the agent is right for you. You can read more about this on my post ‘How to decide whether to work with a literary agent’.

As for me, I’ve recently started sending my rewritten novel out to literary agents. I’m therefore in the waiting stage.

Do you have any tips for how to find a good literary agent? If so, please let me know in the comments!

 

 

 

 

Is your perfectionism hindering your progress?

I’ve never thought of myself as a perfectionist. That was until I took one of those personality ‘what kind of inner critique are you?’ quiz things and scored highest on the perfectionism trait.

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I think perfectionism can affect all writers to a degree. Are you the kind of writer who doesn’t let others read your work until you are happy it is ‘right’?

It wasn’t until I realised I was a perfectionist and started talking though what this meant for my writing the truth really hit me; maybe my perfectionism has been hindering my progress.

Let me ask you some questions. Some of these you may relate to, others not at all:

  • Do you allow others to read your work when it is still in the early stages?
  • Do you avoid putting yourself in situations where you might fail?
  • Do you set high expectations for yourself? And criticise yourself when you don’t achieve them?
  • Do you compare yourself to other writers, and convince yourself you’re not as good as them?
  • Do you avoid submitting your work to competitions/ magazines etc, believing your writing isn’t good enough so there’s no point.
  • Do you become easily disheartened when something isn’t going the way you planned?

The above questions tie in self-belief, confidence and imposter syndrome – but an underlying feature is also this perfectionism trait.

Are you waiting for your writing to be so perfect, that you never even give it a chance?

If the answer is yes, then what can we do about it?

Grab opportunities – what’s the worst that can happen?

If you don’t win that competition, so what? You’ve nothing to lose and may even get valuable feedback.

Over the next year, I’m going to try and turn the volume down on my perfectionism. The fact is, things are never going to be perfect – and if we wait for things to be perfect, we could watch great opportunities pass us by!

I’m not saying never edit your writing again or submit first drafts to Editors without a second glance. But don’t be afraid to send out the earlier stages of your work for feedback – or submit that short story that’s been lurking in your drawer out to a competition. See what happens; it might surprise you!

It’s very freeing to loosen the reigns on perfectionism. And on that note, I’m off to submit one of my flash pieces that was recently rejected to another magazine.

woman s hand using a pen noting on notepad

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How to decide whether to work with a literary agent

It may seem like an odd statement. Why would you, after no doubt years of hard work and a significant amount of time spent seeking an agent to represent you, even contemplate turning down a literary agent offer?

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This is exactly what happened to me. I’d been working on my novel for just over a year and had sent the finished manuscript out to various literary agencies without much success. Some had responded with personalised emails saying they’d enjoyed it, but it just wasn’t for them; others sent form rejections and some ignored my query letter altogether.

Then I went to a writing conference and met a literary agent. She asked me to send her a copy of my manuscript, and so I did.

I was surprised and unbelievably excited when she called me less than a week later to tell me she loved my manuscript and wanted to represent me. It was a dream come true. I’ve wanted to be an author my entire life and felt like this was finally it. I immediately said yes, and the agent said she’d send me across a contract to sign.

Looking back, what I should have done was thank her for the offer and said I would like some time to think about it. I knew very little about this agent after all. It may be different if it’s an agency you’ve spent time researching and approached yourself.

However, due to some useful advice I’d received at Swanwick Summer Writers’ school, I knew about the Society of Authors (UK). I’d been pre-warned to not sign any contracts with any agents or publishers until I’d read through all the terms thoroughly and had a professional read through them. Therefore, when the contract arrived on my doorstep a week later, I sent a copy to the Society of Authors (SoA).

SoA offer fantastic advice to new and established authors free of charge, on a whole array of issues including contracts. I highly recommend you run any contracts past them before signing. They will be able to explain any terms you are unsure of and will let you know if there’s anything you should be wary of or ask to have changed before signing. The SoA picked up on several terms to change in my contract.

These are some of the other things you should consider before agreeing to work with a literary agent:

  1. Do they represent any other authors? Are they experienced or new? How successful have their other clients been?
  2. Do they have experience representing authors in your genre?
  3. What is their vision for your work?
  4. Are you liable for any costs? How long is the contact for?
  5. Are they accessible and approachable? Do you think you will get on and have a good working relationship?
  6. Is the contract in your best interests? If there are things you would like to change, is the agent flexible to changes?
  7. Do you want the same things? E.g. does your agent sees your book more as a small publication for boutique bookshops, whereas you want to be more widespread.

It turns out my would-be literary agent didn’t have experience of working with authors who wrote YA fiction. Now this doesn’t necessarily mean they wouldn’t have been good at representing me, just maybe they’d have fewer contacts at YA publishers than some other agents.

I’m not trying to say don’t get excited when agents say they want to work with you. Absolutely do! It’s fantastic news. But think it over before you sign on the dotted line. Ask others for advice, and ask yourself, is it a good match?

Back to my own story. As I began the process of negotiating the contract based on the advice from SoA, it became increasingly clear to me that me and the agent were not a good match. There were certain terms we could not agree on, and we wanted different things. It was with regret I eventually decided not to sign the contract.

A year later, I still sometimes wonder whether I made the right decision. If I’d just put my niggles to one side, and signed the contract, would I have a book on its way to the shelves now? It’s possible, but would it be the book I wanted?

I’m a firm believer you should go with your gut, so that’s what I did. Rightly or wrongly, I’ll guess I will never be sure. I haven’t approached any other agents since then, and after some useful feedback, I’ve decided to re-write that first novel.

Already, even though I’m only halfway through, I feel like this version of the book is much stronger, and that when I do approach agents again, I’ll be doing so with increased confidence.

Do you have an agent? If so, how did you find yours? Or do you prefer to self-publish or approach publishers directly?