Writing advice…

January 16th, 2012

Recently someone sent me a sample of a friend’s work (I shall call her To Be Published or TBP). I also picked up on a Twitter exchange between agent Carole Blake (@caroleagent) and a would-be writer, who didn’t like Carole’s email rejection being accompanied by the suggestion that she read her book ‘From Pitch to Publication’. She dismissed the email as a book puff. However FPTP is an invaluable distillation of all Carole’s years as an agent.

Indeed, I recommended it to TBP. Like most authors, I don’t usually read unpublished work because I don’t feel qualified to say what is and isn’t publishable. I’m not an editor or an agent. And I don’t have an ‘open sesame’ to the publishing world. All I can do is suggest things that helped me or would have helped me if I’d known about them earlier. This advice would be the same whether I’ve read your work or not.

I sent TBP a reading list:’From Pitch to Publication’, Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’, Robert McKee’s ‘Story’, Jane Wenham-Jones’ ‘Wanna Be A Writer?’ and ‘Wanna Be a Writer We’ve Heard of?’(good if you’re already published, too) and ‘How NOT to Write a Novel’ by Newman & Mittelmark. I particularly like this last one because it doesnt tell you how to write, it just tells you the pitfalls to avoid. And it’s funny.

I also suggested the Arvon Foundation (www.arvonfoundation.org), The Faber Academy (www.faberacademy.co.uk. Most famous graduate: SJ Watson/ Before I Go To Sleep), the self-publishing author website Authonomy (www.authonomy.com), the Romantic Novelists Association New Writers Scheme (www.rna-org) and going on Twitter (www.Twitter.com).

Being on Twitter is like having a publishing magazine delivered to your door every day (see my ‘Twitter For Authors’ post on this website). Last week’s links included the Guardian Culture’s story of self-publishing sensation Amanda Hocking, a post from agent Andrew Lownie on what editors want in 2012 (@andrewlownie) and various writing competitions. Writers were famously isolated before Twitter, and their opportunities to influence their own careers were limited. Now we are expected to promote ourselves through social media, so it’s worth getting going. And self-publishing through new media is an interesting new development, although Hocking has also recently signed with a traditional publisher.

TBP knew some of it already: she’d done a creative writing module in an English degree. She said she would start sending work off again. ‘No-o-o!’ I emphasised: ‘Read FPTP first.’ And How Not to Write a Novel. And… Sending work off without thinking about where you are in the market, who would be interested in you, and how you should approach them, is like putting it in a bottle and throwing it out to sea. There are too many other bottles bobbing about in a rather large ocean.

Maybe it’s disappointing if people give you general advice, rather than addressing your own work,especially as the actual writing itself is so important. All this extra stuff may seem like alot of work, none of which is getting words on the page, which is what publishers are going to buy, after all. But if you’re a writer, you have to do it. It’s recommended that a self-employed person spends 20% of their time promoting themselves and looking for new clients. A writer – with or without a publisher – is self-employed. No matter how crowded the bookshops, publishers are always looking for a fresh voice. It’s up to you to make it your voice that’s heard.

And TBP – if you did take my advice and join Twitter, maybe you’ll be reading this. Let me know what you think.

One Comment so far, please feel free...

  1. Imogen Matthews Says:

    January 16th, 2012 at 10:15 am

    So much of this chimes with me. I’m unpublished and it’s a total conundrum as to what steps to take towards rejection, oops, publication. I’m a member of 2 writing groups and we are hugely supportive of one another and not afraid to critique each other’s work. However, we’ve had limited success, mainly because we lack the confidence to bare our souls. I hope I’m getting there, by keeping on writing {I’m on my second novel} and hopefully I will gain the courage to push myself out there. I’ll be forwarding your blog to all my fellow writers and intend to discuss it when we next meet.
    Thanks, Alexandra, you’re an inspiration!

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