What I’ve been writing during lockdown

I wrote a blog post towards the beginning of lockdown about how I was struggling to write. My mind just felt too busy to be able to focus on a big writing project or mapping out a new novel.

antique crumpled crumpled paper dirty

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But then I got thinking. Why not write about lockdown? Short stories based on real everyday life. Stories that record memories and reflections of this unique and slightly surreal time.

For some reason, I’ve been finding it much ‘easier’ to write short stories now. These capture emotions, the focus being on the characters, rather than huge action scenes or shocking drama. I’m finding these stories are coming more naturally to me, and I’m now working on my fourth since lockdown began. For me, who usually struggles to finish anything, that is quite a lot of fresh, new content in a relatively short space of time.

I’ve been enjoying having multiple stories out for consideration simultaneously. It feels good to have not all my eggs in one basket and makes me feel much more optimistic about getting work accepted.

I’ve also noticed lots of calls for submissions for short fiction set during this time – so I haven’t been struggling to find places to send stories to!

In fact, the first lockdown story I wrote, ‘A dog called Rupert’ is due to be published in a brand new, Somerset based magazine tomorrow! More details on that to follow 😊

I’m not sure why it’s the stories which feature dogs that always seem to do the best, but it does seem to be part of the winning formula!

I still have dreams of becoming a novelist and hope to get back to the bigger projects soon. But for now, I’m enjoying the instant satisfaction and the freedom that writing shorts brings.

What are you writing in lockdown? Have you found the change to normal routine a writing help or hindrance? As always, get in touch.

 

 

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

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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!

 

 

 

 

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!