This page contains everything that you need to know about writing, publication, marketing, writers block, motivating yourself, handling rejection and inspiring and helpful tips from published authors.
Note: If you are a published author and wish to take part in helping new/other authors, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will send you the questions.
Unlock Your Creativity
From the authors themselves – Sue Johnson and Val Andrews
Sue Johnson is a published poet, short story writer and novelist. She also creates books aimed at helping other writers. Her first novel ‘Fable’s Fortune’ was published by Indigo Dreams Publishing in 2011. They are also publishing her second novel ‘The Yellow Silk Dress’ and her first full collection of poetry ‘Tasting Words, Hearing Colours.’ Sue is a Writers’ News Home Study Tutor and also runs her own brand of writing workshops.
Val Andrews is also the author of ‘Unlock Your Creativity’ and runs writing workshops.
- What’s the best way for a writer juggle their personal and writing life? Ordinary life often gets in the way of a planned structured day. Any tips? I have always had a minimum amount of writing that I aim to do – typically a minimum of 500 words on my current work in progress plus my ‘poem a day’ (something I pledged to do after a couple of glasses of wine on New Year’s Eve 2012 and have kept up ever since). I had three children in less than five years so I’m used to making the most of small fragments of time. My best advice is to carry a notebook wherever you go and just be prepared to grab an opportunity – you can write a lot in three minutes!
- What can a writer do to overcome ‘writer’s block?’ I am fortunate never to have suffered from writer’s block and I think this is because I’ve always got several projects on the go at any one time – both fiction and non fiction. If one thing isn’t working out, then I switch to something else. I reward myself for having done something – irrespective of what it is.
- What should a writer look out for when deciding if their manuscript is the best it can possibly be before releasing it to an agent/publisher/the public? I would always suggest putting a manuscript away for a few weeks and then coming back to it as if you haven’t seen it before. Read it aloud – preferably when there’s nobody else in the house. You’ll spot any bits that drag or don’t sound quite right. Don’t stop reading, but mark those bits and re-check them later. Before submitting your novel, double check for things like spelling and grammar and also things like time shifts and the chronology of the book e.g. make sure a pregnancy doesn’t last longer than nine months!
- How can a writer be prepared for, and deal with rejection? Rejections are never nice – however long you’ve been writing. I make a point of having lots of pieces of work in circulation at any one time – usually between 40 and 50. (These can be poems, articles, short stories, flash fiction as well as novels). American writer Jodi Thomas says you should reward yourself for every rejection you get because it proves you are a writer! I aim to send a rejected piece of work out again within a week.
- How should a writer deal with negative reviews about their book? There will always be people who give negative reviews. I’m never sure what they get out of writing them! My best advice is to concentrate on the nice ones you get. Pin the best ones above your desk and follow that energy. Don’t allow the good work you’ve done to be undermined by somebody who you probably wouldn’t get on with if you did happen to meet them.
- Can you share with us some of the helpful advice/tips featured in your book -‘Unlock Your Creativity? ‘Unlock Your Creativity: a 21 day sensory workout for writers’ published by Compass Books is my first co-written book with writer and artist Val Andrews. (My other two books aimed at helping writers are: ‘Creative Alchemy: 12 steps from inspiration to finished novel’ published by HotHive Books and ‘Surfing the Rainbow: visualization and chakra balancing for writers’ published by Compass Books). The ‘Unlock Your Creativity’ book and the courses Val and I run focus on what is holding a person back (very often negative messages from the past) and how they can create positive affirmations to keep themselves on track. The book contains 21 days of sensory exercises that can be done in any order. The message of the book is ‘believe in yourself and the story you wish to create – and keep going until you succeed.’
- Can you share any valuable websites/magazines/blogs for authors in respect of tips, help and advice? There are a huge number of helpful books, websites, magazines and blogs to keep writers on track. I’ve always been greatly inspired by the work of Julia Cameron and Natalie Goldberg. I also enjoy Writing Magazine, Writers’ Forum and The New Writer. I follow a number of blogs –
Kath McGurl, Simon Whaley and Morton Gray. My Facebook friends are also a great source of inspiration.
- Any tips in respect of getting the synopsis right? A synopsis is the ‘selling document’ for the book so it needs to give a good flavour of it. I usually begin by creating a back cover ‘blurb’ (sticking to the main plot line) and make sure I’ve mentioned who the story is about, what is special about them, where the story is set and what the final outcome is. Use the senses – include a fragment or two of dialogue. Check that it’s attention- grabbing by putting it away for at least a week. Then re-read it. If it doesn’t make you feel as if you’d like to read the first chapter, then you need to do some more work on it.
- Any tips on marketing and creating a fan base?Take any opportunity you can to give your book a mention. Think layers! Build a following on social media before your book is published. Have postcards and/or book marks made of your cover. Send those to as many different places as possible – e.g. post them to friends in other parts of the country. Contact your local papers and radio station. Do a talk in your library or for local W I groups or Writers Circles. Set up a website or blog and add regular posts. Form a network of writing friends so that you can help and encourage each other.
- Lastly, can you share with us about what your usual writing day is like When and where I write will depend on whether I’m running a workshop that day. I tend to work in short snatches – spending no longer than an hour on the computer at any one time. In between, I fit in bits of housework, a daily walk or yoga session and meeting friends for coffee. I’m often awake at 3 a.m. scribbling down ideas – if anyone else is awake at that time, maybe we should form a group!
Unlock Your Creativity Blog: http://unlockyourcreativity.wordpress.com
Sue’s Top Ten Tips
* Carry a notebook wherever you go – and use it!
* Write every day – even if you only manage five minutes.
* Use the senses – give your reader the full experience!
* Be prepared to re-write … and re-write… and re-write.
* Read work aloud to yourself – you’ll spot any dodgy bits
* Finish what you start – however bad you think it is. Tidy up later.
* Don’t look to your family or non-writing friends for proper criticism
* Don’t take rejection personally – keep trying
* Trust your own judgement – if you like something, stick with it!
* 1% effort each day = 100% of something in just over a month.
- What’s the best way for a writer to juggle their personal and writing life? Ordinary life often gets in the way of a planned structured day. Any tips?Allocate a set time every day, or at least every week, to do the writing, and then do it. In the meantime, carry a notebook with you and smash every thought, idea, question and image relevant to your writing project into that notebook. Don’t use that notebook for anything else, for your creative work may get lost in it.
- What can a writer do to overcome ‘writer’s block?’ Write, especially stream of consciousness first thing in the morning, as this will loosen up writing expression. And then, if still stuck, there are loads of warm-up and idea-forming exercises that can be done to help increase the flow. We have offered a number of these exercises in our book ‘Unlock Your Creativity: a 21 day sensory workout for writers.’
- What should a writer look out for when deciding if their manuscript is the best it can possibly be before releasing it to an agent/publisher/the public? Let it be for a couple of months, and forget about it. Allow it to percolate through your subconscious as you get on with other things. Then come back to it with a more critical mind and the benefit of more life experience. Re-read it, tweak it and then go for it.
- How can a writer be prepared for, and deal with rejection? Don’t worry about it. Consider self-publishing.
- How should a writer deal with negative reviews about their book? Give them fair consideration. Learn what you can from them and bring their essence into your next piece of work. But if the negative review really doesn’t resonate with any sense of meaning for you, then forget about it and move on. Don’t ruminate, as this will block you.
- Can you share with us some of the helpful advice/tips featured in your book -‘Unlock Your Creativity?’ We feel the writing exercises in our book will help a new or blocked writer to find their writing in all its dimensions (voice, style, theme, subject matter etc.) Whilst there are a number of different kinds of writing exercises in our book, the 21 day sensory exercises are especially designed to be used over a 21 day period to help the new or blocked writer form the daily habit of writing.
- Can you share any valuable websites/magazines/blogs for authors in respect of tips, help and advice? We have listed a number of books, blogs, magazines, websites and organisations in the ‘Resources’ section of our book ‘Unlock Your Creativity: a 21 day sensory workout for writers.’ Here are a few:
- Arvon Foundation: (www.arvonfoundation.org)
- Author Sophia (www.lifestyleandliterature.wordpress.com)
- Historical Novelists Association: (www.historicalnovelsociety.org)
- Prize Magic – competition website: (www.prizemagic.co.uk)
- Romantic Novelists Association: www.rna-uk.org)
- Society of Authors: (www.societyofauthors.net)
- ‘The Artist’s Way’ by Julia Cameron (1995)
- ‘The New Writer’ magazine
- The Writer’s Toolkit: (http://www.writers-toolkit)
- Unlock Your Creativity (http://www.unlockyourcreativity.wordpress.com
- Any tips in respect of getting the synopsis right? Sometimes a synopsis can be very easy to write, but if you’re struggling with it, take a bit of time away from you manuscript, and let your subconscious work it out while you are busy getting on with other things. It will come to you. If you’ve written the entire manuscript, you can write the synopsis.
- Any tips on marketing and creating a fan base? Sue Johnson and I each have accounts / profiles with Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, and we each have different contacts on those social media. When we post a new message, story or competition on our blog, we share that link across social media. We have also built up a number of contacts from the workshops we run, and keep them informed, via email and blog postings, of our latest news.
- Lastly, can you share with us about what your usual writing day is like? As I have a full time ‘day job’ which occupies 45-50 hours per week, my typical writing day is one hour in the mornings before work. Most weekends, I can allocate a 3 hour stint to work on a writing project. My ideal writing day (when I am not working full time) is about 6 hours with a ½ hour break in the middle. After the 6 hours, I like to go for a long, fast walk to re-energise.
Samantha is a UK based writer of fiction and articles on various subjects. Her first novel, Despite Losing it on Finkle Street, is published by Fygleaves publishing, and her short stories and articles have been published in anthologies and magazines around the world. She won first prize in The H E Bates competition and The Tacchi-Morris Arts Centre Prize. Samantha’s first single story chapbook will be published by Folded Word in August.
- What’s the best way for a writer juggle their personal and writing life? Ordinary life often gets in the way of a planned structured day. Any tips? If you’re serious about it then you have to treat it seriously and act like a professional. Stick to your office hours, whatever they are, and make sure your friends and family know about them. In the same way, it’s important to have set times off. So, if that’s weekends, take your weekends off. It’s very tempting to keep working through, but you need to recharge in order to work well. Make sure everyone understands that this is your job and keep clear lines between your personal and professional life.
- What can a writer do to overcome ‘writer’s block? I don’t really believe in writer’s block. It’s just a term to describe the times you don’t feel like working, but everyone feels like that sometimes in whatever it is they do. The solution is to write. If the thing you’re working on isn’t flowing then work on something else for a while. Go for a walk, keep thinking and keep writing.
- What should a writer look out for when deciding if their manuscript is the best it can possibly be before releasing it to an agent/publisher/the public? That’s a tricky one because you never feel like it’s ready, but there comes a point when you have to get it out there, you can’t re-write forever! Make sure you’ve checked it over for mistakes and left it alone for a while before trying to read it cold. Then what I do if I’m not sure, is to read a good book, maybe something along the lines of what I’m hoping to achieve, and then immediately read mine. That usually tells me if it’s ready or not!
- How can a writer be prepared for, and deal with rejection? Don’t take it personally. They are not rejecting you, and sometimes it’s not that the work isn’t good enough, but that it doesn’t fit right with their list, they are full, or the person reading it on that day just wasn’t into it. A different person reading it on a different day might be. Take any feedback you get seriously and listen to it. Everybody gets rejected. Re-write and send it somewhere else, and keep going.
- How should a writer deal with negative reviews about their book? It’s a bit like the rejections really, don’t take it personally. You can’t please everybody, and as long as others like it, you’re doing ok. Don’t spend time being gloomy about negative reviews and focus on the positives.
- What’s the best piece of advice you have heard in respect of writing/being an author? I heard a great one recently. I’ve never liked the questions about what your next book/play/story is about, but I didn’t really know why. Then I saw some video advice Garerth L Powell was giving on Youtube and he said something along the lines of – the reason we shouldn’t tell anyone the story before it’s written is, the first draft is you telling the story to yourself. If you talk about it down the pub the desire to tell the story has already been fulfilled and the fire goes out of it.
- Can you share any valuable websites/magazines/blogs for authors in respect of tips, help and advice? A good thing to do is to connect with as many agents and publishers as possible. Follow them on Twitter and Facebook, you can get a good feel for the market and what they are looking for that way.
- Any tips in respect of getting the synopsis right? It is the hardest thing to write. Harder than writing the book! Keep it brief. Imagine you are telling someone you’ve just met what your book is about in the hope that they will buy it! Make sure it sounds interesting, leave out anything that doesn’t absolutely need to be there, and ask yourself, if you were reading this would you want to read the whole thing?
- Any tips on marketing and creating a fan base? Understand that most of this is going to be down to you, no matter who your publisher is. Engage with readers, bloggers, bookshops, festivals etc on Twitter and Facebook. Have a blog and a website. Be positive and put yourself out there, but don’t spam anyone or try to sell your book aggressively. Reply to comments and questions as much as you possibly can. Seek out any events – book fairs, festivals, readings – that you can be a part of and use the opportunity to meet people.
- Lastly, can you share with us about what your usual writing day is like? I turn on my computer at 7.30 am and deal with emails, facebook, twitter etc. Then I eat breakfast and have a shower. That usually takes me to about 9.00 am when I open up whatever I’m working on at the moment. I work for a bit then I go for a short walk before lunch. This helps me to think and figure out any plot problems etc. I find I can do about 2,000 words a day, less than 1,000 before lunch and more than 1,000 after, but I don’t beat myself up about it on the days that doesn’t happen. I stop at about 3.00 pm when my kids are heading in from school and college. Then I deal with anything else – emails, more facebook and twitter, jotting down ideas, research etc. In the evening I watch a film or TV (drama) and read at bedtime – all of which can still be considered work 😉
Jane lives in North Yorkshire with her five children, three cats, two dogs and an ever-increasing number of bacteria. Jane believes housework happens to other people, and writes romantic comedy novels in a frantic attempt to avoid being asked to ever do any. She works by day in a local school, writes in the evenings and never watches television, unless it’s Doctor Who. She is published by Choc Lit publishing.
Her novel ‘Please Don’t Stop the Music’ was voted Romantic Comedy of the Year and overall Romantic Novel of the Year for 2012.
- What’s the best way for a writer juggle their personal and writing life? Ordinary life often gets in the way of a planned structured day. Any tips? Firstly, don’t beat yourself up. Setting too rigid targets is setting yourself up for failure, and if you’re the sort of person who gets miserable if they don’t hit the daily 2,000 words but the dog had to go to the vet and it was Sports Day at school…why make yourself unhappy? There’s plenty of time for that when you’re working to a four-day deadline and your computer has a breakdown…
Secondly, give up watching TV. Honestly. There is no programme on earth that is worth losing that feeling of having written 1,000 quality words for. I hear so many people say ‘I’d write a book, if only I had the time’ and then proceed to discuss the plotline of a half a dozen soaps and Ripper Street. I’m not saying don’t watch any TV EVER, but, honestly? Those three hours a day you spend in front of the box? You could be writing. Just saying.
Thirdly, try to write at the same time every day. Even if it’s only 50 words that you then delete and go and eat ice cream – your brain will start to associate that time with writing and be more receptive to getting in ‘the zone’, plus people will learn to leave you alone then. Locking the door helps. As does leaving a large bar of chocolate on your desk, to be eaten when you hit whatever word target you’ve set for the day. Positive reinforcement, people, it’s a real thing.
So, basically, relax, give up TV, and work at regular times (with chocolate. Or gin, gin works too).
- What can a writer do to overcome ‘writer’s block?’ Okay, here’s an exercise you can do that will help. Go now and find the worst book you can. It helps if this is in the genre you write, but anything will do. Go on, I’ll wait….
Right. You’ve now got a book that is truly terrible, right? I mean, steamingly bad (if you need advice, head over to a review site, find a book that’s got 1 star and a lot of swearing in the review), shockingly badly plotted with holes you could abseil through, cardboard characters, no story arc and appalling grammar. Put that book somewhere safe.
When you next find yourself suffering from Writer’s Block, go and get that book out. Read a few pages. Then, if you can stand it, read a few more. After you’ve got through half a chapter you should be muttering to yourself ‘how did this trash get published? I mean, LOOK, the heroine was a mute, one legged virgin earlier and now she’s choral singing whilst waltzing with a manipulative billionaire…’ I can almost guarantee that the rage this book engenders will drive you to your keyboard, yelling ‘even I can do better than that!’
If this doesn’t work, then just read. Read loads. Your brain will soon be so full of words it will have to get some of them out on paper.
- What should a writer look out for when deciding if their manuscript is the best it can possibly be before releasing it to an agent/publisher/the public? I’d always advise putting the manuscript away in a bottom drawer for AT LEAST six weeks, a few months would be better, before doing ANYTHING with it. There is a tendency, on finishing a book, to breathe a sigh of relief and want it out of the way, but, trust me, that book isn’t done yet. When your six weeks is up, get it out and re-read it, you’ll have fresh eyes after that time and it will be easier to pick up mistakes. I also recommend running it through a programme like Wordle, which will pull your most-used words up in big font – this is fine if the most used words are your characters’ names, or locations, but if you find that words like ‘just’, ‘but’ and ‘like’ are coming up huge, you may want to give the manuscript another look over.
Next, give it to someone to read through. Not, and I cannot stress this highly enough, anyone related to you or that you are friendly with, or who will die at your hand if the feedback is less-than positive. Employing a beta reader who lives a long, long way away is a good move. You want creative criticism not ‘yes dear, it’s lovely’. Read what they say about your manuscript and decide what action to take, but don’t be precious about it. If your beta reader doesn’t understand part of the plot, then the chances are, unless your beta reader is an aardvark or something, neither will the reading public. You may need to make big changes. Prepare yourself.
And again, with the chocolate and/or the gin.
- How can a writer be prepared for, and deal with rejection? You can’t prepare for it. Honestly. If you are prepared for rejection, then it’s because you are subconsciously aware that your book isn’t as good as it could be. Rejection should, because of your deep self-belief, come as a bit of a shock. Dealing with it is tough, but regard it as a preparation for the day on which you get your first terrible review (which you will, every author does, however terrific the book). I’d advise a three-stage plan to deal with rejection:
One – tell everyone how misguided your rejector is, how they clearly don’t understand your work, are probably only functionally literate and more than likely impotent too. But, and this is important, ONLY TELL THIS TO YOUR NEAREST AND DEAREST AND NEVER NEVER NEVER ON TWITTER/FACEBOOK. The person who has rejected you must never know what you have said about them. Also kick furniture, punch pillows and shout at the sky. Yes, people will think you are crazy, but you are a writer, so they already think that anyway. Chocolate and gin come in here as well.
Two – reluctantly concede that your rejector may, however misguided, functionally literate and impotent they are, just have a teeny tiny point. If they have offered any reason for the rejection, any advice at all, seize upon this as though it is gold and think about actioning. Yes, even if they hate your hero and want you to make him a snake-charmer from Somerset. If they haven’t given you any reason for the rejection it’s tougher, but give your manuscript another read through, just in case.
Three – More chocolate, more gin and tell yourself that all writing is subjective. What one person hates with a passion, another may well love (it’s the only reason I can come up with for the success of One Direction). Okay, so you got rejected, well, maybe that person was having a really bad day, maybe their husband just left them and the dog got sick and the cat ran away. You’ve got plenty more people to send out to, right? And they can’t all have been deserted with unreliable pets…
- How should a writer deal with negative reviews about their book? See above. Only with more chocolate. Also, re-reading your good reviews helps, as does looking up really famous books, particularly ones that you love, and reading some of the negative reviews that they have got. You can’t please all of the people all of the time, but you can drink gin like it is going out of fashion.
- What’s the best piece of advice you have heard in respect of writing/being an author? ‘Just do it’. I don’t know who said that, probably Stephen King, he’s got some cracking advice on writing. But, yes. Just do it. Don’t worry too much about how good it is – you can work on a rough piece of writing, you can’t edit a blank page. Someone said that too. Might have been me, actually.
- Can you share any valuable websites/magazines/blogs for authors in respect of tips, help and advice? I hesitate over this one, because what one person finds useful, another might find terminally patronising, so I’m a firm believer in every writer seeking out what they, personally, find works for them. Saying that, I can offer a few pointers..
http://www.creativewritingmatters.co.uk/the-creative-writing-students-handbook.html is a fabulous resource for those setting out on the road to publication,
Writing Magazine.. https://www.writers-online.co.uk/Writing-Magazine/ likewise is excellent both for those starting out and those who want to advance their writing careers.
As to books, the one I would most recommend (with the proviso that what suits one writer might not suit another) is http://www.amazon.co.uk/How-NOT-Write-Novel-Published/dp/0141038543 It’s very funny, and I find that people often take in more information when they are laughing than when they are trying to be deadly serious.
And can I put in word for some of the review sites? Reading reviews and essays on books – finding out what works and what doesn’t work in the world of fiction can be very valuable. Good reviewers will not only grade a book but tell you what, in their opinion, was particularly special (or otherwise) about it, why it worked (or didn’t) for them. Sites like Dear Author http://dearauthor.com/ also often have essays on various fiction-related topics which can help to give a deeper insight into the world of words.
- Any tips in respect of getting the synopsis right? Oh, I suck at synopses, but so does everyone I know… There are some great articles online about writing them, but we all struggle so hard…I mean, all the story is important, right, otherwise why would we have written it? I’d just say, try to concentrate on the main theme of your story in the synopsis, not get sidetracked by secondary characters or plotlines. Give the story and journey of your main characters, their conflicts and resolution. Keep it brief (one page max) unless you’ve been asked to produce a certain number of words, and don’t forget, the synopsis is the WHOLE STORY, including the end! Don’t be enigmatic or try to keep the reader guessing about the end – you wouldn’t buy a car if the advert didn’t tell you the mileage or the make, would you?
- Any tips on marketing and creating a fan base? Fortunately, at Choc Lit we get a lot of help with marketing, but we also have to do a lot ourselves, as is the case with most publishing houses nowadays. I’d say, have an online presence but don’t beat people over the head with marketing, chat, go on Twitter and be random about your day…people are more likely to buy a book from someone they can perceive as a real person not a robotic selling machine. Do local fetes and markets, take a stall at the Christmas Fayre at the kids’ school, offer the local paper a column about the life of a writer. Gone are the days when we could scribble in our garret and never see daylight because we were too busy Being Artistes. As for creating a fan base…I thought they were like guinea pigs, you started off with a couple and, before you knew it there were hundreds of them. They sort of do it themselves, as long as you write good books.
- Lastly, can you share with us about what your usual writing day is like? Oh, I would so love to say that I roll out of bed at ten and sit at my desk in my office writing until the sun goes down… But it would be a lie. A horrible, terrible lie. In fact, I get up at 6am, run with the dogs for two miles (because writer’s bum is a real thing), go to the day job, where they are kind and let me drink coffee, until 12.30. Then I head home, shuffle randomly through the freezer in search of food that the kids will eat for tea, then shut myself upstairs in my bedroom with my laptop. Sometimes I write, sometimes I shift between Facebook and Twitter, there’s usually something written somewhere at some point, and then I have to walk the dogs again and cook food. If I’m on a roll I go back and write some more in the evening. Somehow, books get produced, I’m not quite sure how.
Website and Blog are at www.janelovering.co.uk
Publisher’s pages: http://www.choc-lit.com/productcat/jane-lovering/
Julia Williams is the author of seven published novels of commercial women’s fiction, several of which have appeared on the bestseller’s list. Before she was a writer/mother/dogsbody she used to edit teenage fiction, and as well as her adult writing, is currently working on a fantasy series for teenagers.
- What’s the best way for a writer juggle their personal and writing life? Ordinary life often gets in the way of a planned structured day. Any tips? I’d say don’t fret about it. I started writing when I had small children and have juggled it with that and other family commitments for fifteen years. As a result my day is not in the slightest bit structured. I write when I can. And I have found over time that for me, personally, trying to be too organised about it is fatal. I spend a long time getting to know the story in my head, without ever setting a word down on page. That can feel like I am frittering time away, but in the event, the story always gets written somehow. If you are at a stage in your life where you don’t have much time, try to use the time you do have wisely. If you can only manage to write for say half an hour each day, discipline yourself to get that half hour in. If your writing gets interrupted for any reason, write down notes on where you plan to go before you stop, in case you can’t get back to it again for a while. Writing is an organic process and different for everyone, but if you find a method that works for you, stick to it, and don’t worry too much about whether you write a particular word count, or have a proper working day. So long as the words get written, it doesn’t matter how you do it!
- What can a writer do to overcome ‘writer’s block?’ As I have always had to fit in writing around everything else, I have never really been able to allow myself the luxury of getting stuck. However on some days things do flow more slowly than on others. If you are really struggling, put the writing down and do something else. Go for a walk or a run. Do some gardening, or make the tea. Maybe even leave it for a couple of days if you can afford to. More often than not, when you get back to your desk, an idea or two will have presented themselves to you.
- What should a writer look out for when deciding if their manuscript is the best it can possibly be before releasing it to an agent/publisher/the public? First and foremost you need to present it in as professional a manner as possible. That means using a clear typeface like Courier or Times Roman, in 12pt, double spaced on one side of A4 only. You should also have thoroughly gone over your work and eradicated spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. It’s no good having the best story in the world if you’ve got a punctuation howler in the first line which means an agent or editor doesn’t bother to read on.
Then, you have to be ruthlessly honest with yourself. Do you think it is good enough? Is your story readable? Have you breathed life into your characters? Are their motivations sound? Have you filled all the plot holes? If the answer to any of those is no, go back and rework it, and make it better.
Get sensible and honest advice from people who know what they’re talking about. (Don’t rely on friends and family, unless they are professionals they are likely to be uncritical readers!). Listen to your critics – if several people point to a similar area of your work which appears weak, there is likely to be a problem with it. Don’t take it to heart when you receive criticism, but listen and learn from it. Particularly from people who know what they are talking about. To that end, I’d advise you to join writer’s groups, go on courses, and get involved with the industry so that you are getting proper advice about your work, which will help you improve it.
- How can a writer be prepared for, and deal with rejection? Every writer meets rejection at some point. Even the ones you read about with their six figure deals. And even published writers have to accept the occasional knockback from time to time. It goes with the territory.
So, bearing that in mind, you have to be tough, and accept rejection as part of the process. Don’t take it to heart (easier said than done), but listen to the reasons given for why your work is being rejected, and learn from them. What could you do to improve this particular story? What can you do to make it better next time? And remember, sometimes it isn’t that your work isn’t good, it’s just that it doesn’t necessarily meet the criteria that that particular agent or editor is looking for. So long as you are not being told your writing is rubbish, take heart, pull yourself up by your bootstraps and try again!
- How should a writer deal with negative reviews about their book? In the main I’d say ignore them. Take too much heed and that way madness lies. Particularly in these days of Amazon reviews, when anyone and everyone can post what they like about your work. Every author I know has a number of nasty one star reviews on Amazon, and it’s not worth taking too much notice of them. An honest constructively critical review is worth listening too, but anything else, don’t worry too much about. If enough people like your work and are buying it, that’s the reward you need! (I’d also say on the other side, don’t get too excited by 5 star reviews either. Try to be level headed and rational at all times!)
- What’s the best piece of advice you have heard in respect of writing/being an author? Don’t give up the day job? (Which is what we used to say to people when I was an editor!) But more seriously, I like Terry Pratchett’s view that writing is the best fun you can have by yourself. Because it is.
- Can you share any valuable websites/magazines/blogs for authors in respect of tips, help and advice? For women writers, I’d advise you read Mslexia from time to time as it is full of useful tips.
If you write romantic fiction, look at joining the Romantic Novelist’s Association which runs a New Writer’s Scheme. But get in quick as it gets very full up! If you’re on Twitter follow the hashtag #asktheagent , which a number of agents use to offer advice to people.
And if you are short of time, try writing Flash Fiction and doing a short piece on a Friday called Friday Flash. As this is a great way to exercise your writing muscles.
- Any tips in respect of getting the synopsis right? Synopses are very tricky. Don’t make them too long – no agent/editor wants to read pages and pages about your story, they want to read your story. Try and give the main thrust of it, showing you have thought out the plot and characters, and that you know where it is going. Sometimes a single page of script will suffice (not everyone is a detailed plotter), sometimes you might need more, but make sure it is readable and interesting, and that you have a hook that will draw your reader in and make them want to read more of the story.
- Any tips on marketing and creating a fan base? Social media is an amazing tool that modern writers have at their disposal. But be wary how you use it. Engage with other writers, bloggers, readers etc on a daily basis, but not just to sell your work. By all means talk about the problems you might have with it, and ask advice (I recently posted on FB a question about how to dispose of some bodies of wolves for a fantasy novel I am writing, and got some hilarious responses back), but don’t whatever you do bang on about your book coming out on Kindle at every turn. That is the fastest way to put people off and lose readers. Also don’t (as has happened to me) write to your favourite authors linking to your book page expecting them to promote it for you unless you have got a reasonable relationship with them and they have shown you the sort of interest that makes you think they might share it with the rest of the world!
On the other hand, if you act like yourself, show interest in other people, and build up relationships online (otherwise be a normal human being and not a plank), you will find that your fan base will already be there and waiting when your book comes out. And you can build on it as your writing career grows.
- Lastly, can you share with us about what your usual writing day is like? As I said at the beginning, I have always fitted writing in and around other commitments. So I don’t have a typical writing day as such. Now my kids are older, they take themselves to school, so I tend to sit down at my desk at around 9am. I try to fit in some exercise first – so sometimes that is later. If I am in the planning stage of the novel, I might spend time researching and looking stuff up (and yes, chatting a lot on Facebook and Twitter). If I am writing, then I take myself off to the library, or a local café, with a notebook and pen, and write until I have got at least a chapter down. Sometimes I manage two. Not usually more than that. In an ideal world I would go straight home and type the work up straight away, but of course I never do. So when I have finished the book, I then have a hideous time typing it all up in a rush. One day I will be more organised! I then usually spend a couple of weeks tweaking it, and revising until I am happy to send it to my editor – usually by the time I am on draft four! I then sit back and wait for her response and look at my office and realise it needs a good tidy. Which is a good way of keeping my nerves calm while I wait for her response.
Kelly Lawrence, author of Wicked Games, and literary teacher for seven years gives us tips and advice on writing….
- What’s the best way for a writer juggle their personal and writing life? Ordinary life often gets in the way of a planned structured day. Any tips? Try and set a timetable for yourself. Actually pencil in the time you can allocate to writing and stick to it. You need to plan ahead to work around issues such as kids and planned events. And make sure your friends know that when you’re writing, you’re not to be disturbed!
- What can a writer do to overcome ‘writer’s block? Write. You really do just have to write through it. Even if you write complete garbage you can edit it afterwards. If you’re really stuck do ten minutes free writing – take a word or image and just write whatever comes to mind. Then get stuck in to your current task. Take regular breaks too – preferably every hour. Go for a walk, do some yoga, play with the dog, whatever. It prevents burnout.
- What should a writer look out for when deciding if their manuscript is the best it can possibly be before releasing it to an agent/publisher/the public? Edit, edit and edit again. And take a good look at the structure of your work – does the pace sag in the middle, is the viewpoint the best one to tell the story? Structural issues can feel like a minefield but when you know what to look for, it’s easy. I have a writing guide, ‘Building your Story’ coming out in August with Compass Books looking at these issues in detail.
Also it’s not enough to send a great ms any more. Make sure you know where it fits in the market and who is likely to buy it. The first thing a publisher wants to know is ‘Is it good?’ the next is ‘Can I sell it?’
- How can a writer be prepared for, and deal with rejection? It sucks. You just have to pick yourself up and keep going. ‘Harry Potter’ was rejected dozens of times before it was picked up, as were many bestsellers. It happens to us all. If you get feedback be grateful for it, even if it seems overly harsh. There may be something in the criticism that you can take on board and work on to make your manuscript better. Remember a rejection rarely means ‘it was crap’ it just wasn’t right for that person at that time.
- How should a writer deal with negative reviews about their book? I do find this hard. Reviews are crucial. However remember a bad review is better than no review. As with rejection, see if you can take something constructive from the criticism. And remember that people can sometimes be downright nasty for a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with you. Brush it off.
- What’s the best piece of advice you have heard in respect of writing/being an author? I heard this line in Sister Act 2 twenty years ago and it’s stayed with me ever since; ‘Don’t ask anyone else if you are a writer. If you wake up in the morning thinking about writing, then you are a writer.’
- Can you share any valuable websites/magazines/blogs for authors in respect of tips, help and advice? Try Write to Done at http://writetodone.com and in the UK, read Writing magazine and Writer’s Forum.
- Any tips in respect of getting the synopsis right? Don’t over-write. More than 5 pages is too much. They can be hard to do but are crucial to your chances of publication. Try pretending you are a book publisher and ask yourself – what do I need to know about this book? Take each chapter and sum it up in five short bullet points, then craft your synopsis around that.
- Any tips on marketing and creating a fan base? It’s crucial, these days, but you can end up spending more time doing this than anything else. Create a blog and post at least once a week, and have a Twitter feed and Facebook page devoted to your writing. You can then link them all so you only need to post once for it to appear on all three platforms. Do some marketing on a local level too – go to literary events, join writers groups, get your local media on side. It builds from there. In a year I’ve gone from getting coverage in a tiny village newsletter to a national tabloid – it’s the domino effect.
- Lastly, can you share with us about what your usual writing day is like? Chaos, usually. I’m awful at following my own advice! But I do try….
Bio: Edward Owen has been writing stories since childhood. His style ranges from horror to humor with a healthy mixture of sci-fi, paranormal thrillers and murder mysteries. His works include “Gunn Sight”, a sci-fi novel and ‘The GAME’, a horror novella and audio book. Nightmares and Body Parts, a collection of short stories, was released last December. Current projects include a web series called Black Rabbit and a multi-genre novel called “Equitorius”. He was a winner in the 2012 NaNoWriMo contest, completing fifty-three thousand words in the month of November. He lives in Rancho Cucamonga, CA with his wife and sons.
- What’s the best way for a writer juggle their personal and writing life?
When someone figures this out, let me know. 🙂 Juggle is the operative word. It depends on the other demands in your life. If you have young children, it can be a three ring circus and writing may happen very early or very late in your day. Ordinary life often gets in the way of a planned structured day. Any tips?
Be flexible. I have a 40 minute bus ride back and forth to work four days a week. I try to use the time to write. It’s a challenge typing on a bumpy bus ride, but no one interrupts me. At home, I get most of my writing done early in the morning on the weekends when my family is asleep. If I really need a long block of writing time (I did this a lot during NaNoWriMo) I try to find out what my family needs from me and get those duties done first so they will give me my time. My youngest is 19, so it is a little easier to make this happen now than it was ten years ago.
2.What can a writer do to overcome ‘writer’s block?’
I personally do not believe in writers block. Unless you are literally handcuffed to a chair, you can write. If you can’t make the words flow into your current WIP, there are a million places you can find writers prompts. Write about something else. Blog (which you should be doing anyway); write a letter to your muse letting her know that you are not happy with her lack of cooperation in this matter. Write a big, steaming pile of crap (save it, it might be the next 50 Shades…), but write something. If you are really stuck, email me and I will give you a topic. You must, however, promise to complete at least a thousand words on the topic, no matter how uncomfortable it may be.
- What should a writer look out for when deciding if their manuscript is the best it can possibly be before releasing it to an agent/publisher/the public?
First of all, if it has not been professionally edited (that means you paid someone who earns part of their income in this capacity to do this) it is not ready. Period. Before that, you will probably rework the manuscript at least three to five times. Look for different things each time. One to three times for typos (read your book out loud then the paragraphs backwords), once or twice for plot holes, at least once for continuity (if your hero is locked in a room in Chapter One, he better still be there in Chapter Two) and once for word usage and repetition. Beta readers are great. They give you the best kind of feedback: from those who would buy your book, but they are one part of the process and cannot replace professional editing. The same goes for your book cover. Unless you are a graphic artist, you need to pay for the services of someone who is (if you are self publishing. Traditional publishers will usually dictate what the cover looks like.)
4.How can a writer be prepared for, and deal with rejection?
First of all, if you aren’t expecting to be rejected, you are in for a big shock. You will be rejected; often, repeatedly and sometimes in the most callous manner possible. I have only submitted a few works, so my experience in this area is not as vast as others. It is also why I self publish. If acquiring an agent and/or a book deal is your goal, toughen up, butter cup, it’s a bumpy ride. Remember, it’s not necessarily because your book isn’t good (see comments on editors above), it just isn’t what the agent/publisher is looking for. ‘Harry Potter’ was rejected 12 times before a publisher picked it up (and it was represented by an agent). If you aren’t prepared to wallpaper your office with rejection letters then you should either self publish or simply write for fun.
5.How should a writer deal with negative reviews about their book?
Thank the reviewer for their opinion and move on. There’s a saying about opinions – “Everybody’s got one …”
- What’s the best piece of advice you have heard in respect of writing/being an author?
Stephen King- Write one word at a time. “A radio talk-show host asked me how I wrote. My reply—’One word at a time’—seemingly left him without a reply. I think he was trying to decide whether or not I was joking. I wasn’t. In the end, it’s always that simple. Whether it’s a vignette of a single page or an epic trilogy like ‘The Lord Of The Rings,’ the work is always accomplished one word at a time.”
- Can you share any valuable websites/magazines/blogs for authors in respect of tips, help and advice?
WANA International- http://wanaintl.com (founded by Kristen Lamb) Full of resources and contacts
http://warriorwriters.wordpress.com/ – Kristen’s blog- a must read, especially for new authors
http://www.worldliterarycafe.com/ Another great resource and an awesome group of folks
http://www.chwritersgroup.org/ My own face to face writers critique group. We have chapters in
http://literatureandlatte.com Makers of Scrivener, the best writing software anywhere IMNSHO.
http://writeordie.com Great software to keep you writing
http://focusme.co/ (not a typo, that’s the site) Block access to internet and other distractions on your computer.
- Any tips in respect of getting the synopsis right?
Write it after you write the manuscript. Start with one line from each chapter and then boil it down from there. You actually need two or three; the back of the book blurb to market your book (again, traditional publishers usually do this), the query letter synopsis for prospective agents/publishers and your elevator speech. You must be able to sum up your story in a single sentence of twenty words or so. If not, you don’t have the idea solid in your mind.
9.Any tips on marketing and creating a fan base?
Yes, read Kristen Lamb’s blog and her books. She is awesome at this and I am not. I will say, if you are not blogging once a week, get busy. It’s writing, it counts.
- Lastly, can you share with us about what your usual writing day is like?
I work in Los Angeles forty to fifty hours a week (see bus ride comments above), I have a wife and family so I have very few writing ‘days’. It’s more like shorts spurts of creative energy slapped onto the page. On those rare days that I do manage to dedicate to writing, I give myself half an hour or so to check email, Facebook and Twitter, then turn off the internet and focus. I wear headphones and play instrumental music (check out Thomas Bergerson, his stuff is awesome http://www.thomasbergersen.com/ ) and the real world simply fades away to the one I am creating. Sheer Heaven on Earth.