Diary of an Aspiring Author: 2019 Roundup

This year seems to have been a year of starting and stopping. I began the year wanting to progress with short stories and write a second novel. Yet mid-year, after receiving feedback on my first novel, I decided to put my other projects on hold and re-write that first novel instead.

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I guess that’s the nice thing about being an aspiring author. You still have the absolute freedom to write what feels good, free from scary deadlines and mounting pressure.

The target I set myself at the beginning of 2019 was very broad: be my own competition. This basically meant committing to taking my writing seriously and trying to progress beyond what I accomplished the previous year.

In some ways, my progress this year has been disappointing. I’ve achieved a grand total of 0 publications. That is less than 2018.

But it isn’t as simple as that, or so I hope. Despite my disappointing publication count, I have been writing, and I have been pleased with the writing I have completed.

So, what have I been up to in 2019?

  • Back at the beginning of the year, I received my first review for a short story I published in December 2018. It was really encouraging that someone had taken the time to write a letter to a magazine, saying how much they enjoyed my story.
  • I’ve completed a few more short stories – I just haven’t focused on ‘getting them out there’ yet.
  • I got feedback on my first novel – and am becoming better at the process of asking for and receiving feedback (and taking it on board).
  • In fact, one of my short stories is being rather publicly critiqued in February 2020s issue of ‘Writing Magazine’. (Yikes!)
  • I’m still writing blog posts, and the number of views is slowly creeping up.
  • I’ve “finished” the revised draft of my first novel, ‘Lost in Galderwood’.

Last week, I printed my manuscript, ready for final edits and proofreading. It’s so nice to have a hardcopy to read. I find it much easier to spot those pesky typos when reading something on paper, rather than looking at a computer screen.

Once that’s all done, I need to write the dreaded synopsis, ready to send out to agents in the new year.

It feels like the right time to start thinking about 2020, and to set my targets for next year. I want to keep being my own competition, but I want to be braver and more daring, to put my writing out there more and just give things a go, without worrying so much about whether I am good enough.

A few general goals are:

  • Get my novel sent out to agents.
  • Keep writing
  • Keep submitting.

What are your goals for the new year?

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.

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Where to start when editing your novel

You may remember a month or so ago, I blogged about why you should get feedback on your novel. Getting good quality feedback has motivated and inspired me so much during my editing process.

Today, I’m going to discuss the editing process itself in more detail and explain how it can be enjoyable if you approach it with the right mindset.

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Before you begin to even think about editing your novel, there are three things you should do:

  1. Put your novel away somewhere and don’t look at it for a long time. How long? Long enough so that you have separation from it and a chance to emotionally detach. I’d recommend at least a month.
  2. Then, send you novel off to get feedback from someone you don’t know well (not a friend or family member). Check out my feedback post for ideas here.
  3. Mentally prepare yourself that your novel is not finished. There is still work to do, and really you’re only at the beginning of the long novel writing process.

When I finished the first draft of my novel at the beginning of 2018, (eek! How is it that long ago?!) I put it aside for a little while (days!) before starting the editing process. My mistake was I hadn’t followed the above three rules closely enough. I hadn’t given myself enough distance from my novel, and I hadn’t sought proper feedback. I was desperate to get it finished as I was eager to send it off to agents.

I began the editing process by focusing mostly on correcting grammar and hoping to make my writing ‘flow’ better. This stuff is really important – don’t get me wrong – but the most important question you should ask yourself is, is my story the best it can be?

You can break this down into smaller sub-questions:

  • Is the pace right?
  • Are my characters believable and engaging? Is their dialogue realistic? Do they all help to drive the plot forward, or serve a purpose in the story?
  • Is it all in the same POV? Or if not, am I following the same ‘rule’ throughout?
  • Is the ending satisfying?
  • Is the plot gripping? Does the story grab you straight away, or are you wasting words with needless descriptions?
  • Does each chapter leave the reader with a reason to read on?
  • Are there any holes in the plot or contradictions?
  • Are the character’s motivations clear?
  • And yes, is the writing (grammar/ language) good?

As authors, when we ask ourselves these questions, it’s inevitable we’ll see our own novel through rose tinted glasses. We will read it how we want it to be read. That’s why it is so important to have someone else read your novel and allow them to give unbiased feedback on all the above questions.

I skipped over my three ‘”to dos”, which led to a frustrating year not being 100% satisfied with my novel, but unsure where to go with it. Despite really believing in the plot line and knowing it had potential, I ended up putting the novel on the backburner for a whole year trying to figure out what to do with it.

This was until I decided to revisit those “to dos”. I’d now had a long enough break from it, I was prepared to seek out feedback and put in the hard work to make my novel the best it could be.

After I received detailed feedback, I felt much more inspired by the editing process. I could see clearly ways to make my plotline stronger, where to add detail, and where to cut back.

That is why, rather than editing my original manuscript, I decided to completely re-write it. I am currently going through it line by line, deciding what could be kept and what should be changed. It’s an exciting process and not as daunting as it might sound. Having the foundations in place already (and of course chunks can be copy and pasted) really speeds up the process. I’m over halfway through already.

I’ve also found that forcing myself to type out almost every sentence again has made me re-write and improve sentences that otherwise might have been missed. I’ve noticed how much my writing has improved in the last couple of years since that first draft.

Are you a writer? What is your editing process like? As always, get in touch!

 

 

 

 

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?

Why it’s important to get feedback on your novel

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It’s been a long time since I last updated you on the progress of my first novel, a middle grade fantasy story called ‘Lost in Galderwood’. That is partly due to the fact I’d put it on the back burner whilst I focused on other stuff.

I have a confession. About a year ago, I had an agent interested in representing me for that first novel. In fact, they were keen for me to write a sequel and had the contract in the post before I could blink. It was a dream come true. It’s what I’ve always wanted, since I was about four years old. I remember writing stories as young as nursery age.

So why, you might ask, am I still here now – still seeking a literary agent? That is a long story – and maybe a future blog post. Yet it’s fair to say that event has brought me to where I am today: rewriting my first novel.

After I turned down the agency contract, I wanted to go away and work on my writing more. I needed time to figure out what kind of writer I am. Where I want my writing to go. How I want it to look. I was delighted my short story ‘A Different Tuesday’ was published.

I went on to submit my novel to a competition after some further editing. The winning prize was a publication contract, and each runner up would receive a full critique of their novel. Although it would have been amazing to win that first prize, I was particularly interested in the competition because of the runner up prize. I’d investigated getting my book professionally critiqued, and found it cost hundreds of pounds – not always something affordable for the average office worker!

When my novel didn’t even make the longlist, it really knocked my confidence. I know competitions can be subjective; just because it hadn’t been chosen by that judge didn’t make it a bad story. Yet this sparked a strong need in me to get professional feedback.

I bit the bullet. I have some creative friends, who have friends of friends in the literary world. I asked around: did anyone know anyone who may be willing to critique a book? Who maybe needed experience, or where just starting out? I needed someone who had some experience of critiquing novels, but who hadn’t yet reached the point where they were charging hundreds for it.

And I was in luck. The sister of one of my colleagues was able to help. She gave me a full report on my book, as well as in-line feedback for the first few chapters. I am so grateful to her, and so pleased I finally decided to get proper feedback.

She highlighted glitches in my plot I hadn’t noticed before. Having someone read your novel, who doesn’t know you personally, is a truly valuable experience.

The feedback has given me so many ideas, and I’m super excited to get stuck into my first novel again. I am now much more confident that when I send my novel to agents, I’m going to be sending out a much stronger manuscript that the first time around.

I hope I’ve explained, maybe in a rather long-winded way, why it’s so important to get feedback. You may think you’ve edited your novel, but until someone unconnected to you gives it the thumbs up, chances are you’ve still got more work to do.

Of course, you don’t necessarily have to pay for professional feedback. You could join an online critique group of a writing meetup.

The sequel, which has featured in some of my blog posts is still happening. Only feedback has made me realise before I move forward with the second novel, I need to get the first right.

Are you published? Did you get feedback on your novel? As always, I love to hear from other writers.