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Novel in November Update: Day 15!

Greetings, Friends!

I don’t know about where you are, but here in West Berkshire, it is most definitely mid-November! The sky is Charlie Brown grey (if you’re a Peanuts aficionado, you know what I mean), my garden grass has disappeared beneath a blanket of brown leaves, and it’s proper chai-tea-sipping cold out!

But what’s more, we are HALFWAY through National Novel Writing Month!!

Are you finding your groove? Feeling stressed? We’re here to celebrate with you and to commiserate with your stress, so leave a comment & exult or vent all you like. Either way, I promise you, you’re not alone.

And that brings me to business: My own NaNoWriMo update (drum roll…..)

Learning curves + new publishing tools

In case you’re not up-to-speed with these updates, I (Mez) decided to use this November not to write a brand new manuscript, but to launch the novel I wrote last year for N in N.

It’s been a bumpy road with many a sharp learning curve, but…

I’m loving it!

Here’s where I’ve got up to so far this month:

  1. Completed developmental edit to smooth out story glitches
  2. Have been (& still am) working with a cover designer, & I’m SO excited about his concept drawings. One this is certain, this is going to be a beautiful book!
  3. Am just finishing up formatting the ebook & print versions to send them off to my Proofreader (last polish!!)
  4. I’ve gathered an awesome launch team & polled them on potential title options. The winner? Katie Watson and the Painter’s Plot. 

What I still need to do:

  1. Create an audiobook version (any tips? Please share below!!)
  2. ORDER print copies from IngramSpark
  3. Market, market & market some more!

**I’m always on the lookout for willing & able reviewers. Do you review Middle-Grade books? Please get in touch– I’d love to send you a copy!

Like I said, indie publishing is a new world for me, and I’m learning tons at a crash-course pace as I race to Launch Day (10 December). I couldn’t have got this far without a few tricks of the trade, so of course I’m going to let you in on these little secrets…

Trade secrets/ tools that have been game-changers for publishing your book:

Scrivener is my new best friend — how did I ever write without it?! If you’ve not tried it out, you can trial the software for FREE. But honestly, it’s the best $40 I’ve spent this year!

Reedsy.com is an awesome online publishing market where you can link up with vetted professionals (these people work for the big time publishing houses!) & hire them for your book — editors, cover designers, formatters, you name it!

Vellum is a book formatting software, and my goodness, it’s amazing! Formatting has been the one thing I’ve most dreaded. I’m not super techy, and I’ve heard this can take even experienced authors days upon days. But Vellum does all the hard work for you! It’s actually fun to use! Not exactly cheap, but definitely a good investment if you plan on publishing in ebook or print!

So there you have it! My November journey has been an exciting one. Watch this space — I’ll be sharing links to get your FREE ebook copy of my novel very very soon!

*And next week, more from Bri! I can’t wait to read her TWO Novels. I know she’s behind in one, & a lot behind in the other, but still, she’s written a TON of words which are sure to be brilliant!

Happy writing (or publishing!) this week!

Mez

The World of Publishing: a sneaky peek behind the mystique

I quite recently had the good fortune of attending an event with Mantle Books (an imprint of Pan Macmillan Publishers) called simply & promisingly “Getting Published.”

While the event didn’t quite deliver a silver bullet for getting my novel on the shelves in 30 days, editor Maria Rejt did drop many a little gem of insight to be snatched up by all 200+ author-hopefuls in the audience. So I deem it only fair to pass on the to you lot, our  dreaming of one day breaking through the barrier between the realms of wanna-be-writers and published authors.

In no particular order…

The Voice

We’ve all heard it. Agents and publishes are ever and anon referring to “the voice” in a novel. “Oh, I just really loved ‘the voice’.” “I’m looking for a unique, strong, fresh, fill-in-the-blank ‘voice’.”  But just what is this Voice and how do I capture it? Please somebody tell me!!! Well thank heavens, Maria unmasked the mystery of “The Voice”, explaining that there is no definition or description for it because “it” is merely the “intangible thing that grips you and keeps you up at night…that inspires you.” In other words, when agents & authors talk about “the voice,” what they really mean is that the book spoke to them personally, whether because of the language, plot, character they related to, or any combination of things. I  don’t know about you, but I feel a great sense of relief knowing that this “Voice” isn’t some secret key successful authors out there have discovered & are all sharing a joke about while I wonder aimlessly in search of it. It’s just a matter of writing in my own way & hoping, one day, that speaks to some agent or publisher who just loves “My Voice.”

What’s in a Title?

Apparently a lot. As an editor, Maria stressed that a catching title is essential if she is even going to open the manuscript and start reading. There’s simply too large a pool out there for her to waste time on lifeless titles. I asked her just what makes a title good, and here were a few pointers she offered. A good title will be Memorable (hence not too long or wordy), Immediate (hit you in the face sort of effect), potentially Narrative (ie. Little Neddy Goes to War), and may Incorporate the theme/s from the book. Ha! Good luck!

Helpful resources for getting published

Maria recommended two books that she believes every struggling author ought to read. STEPHEN KING ON WRITING by Stephen King and MAX PERKINS BIOGRAPHY by A. Scott Burgh. The first one is partly King’s personal journey into the World of Publishing and partly his practical guide. The second book is about one of the most successful editors in English literature history, and is, according to Maria Rejt, still entirely relevant to the publishing world. If you want a better look behind the veil at what editors want and do and the whole thing roles, give it a go!

Looking into the world of Publishing from an editor’s-eye-view was, for me, both enlightening and a little terrifying. Sure, the odds of a debut author getting snapped up just like that are slim indeed. BUT it does happen, all the time. There are more big success stories than I was ever aware of (yes, believe it or not J.K.Rowling is not the only writer to land a writing career with her debut). So I figure it’s well worth keeping up a valiant attempt, because one thing all those successful published authors have in common is this: they didn’t give up!

**Many thanks to Foyles Charing Cross Rd. for hosting the event, and to the folks at Mantle for the great insights & goody bag filled with free books & sweets!

How to craft a catching cover letter

Allow me to tap the breaks just before we head out on the motorway to crafting your cover letter (or agent query letter). If you’ve not yet been on an agent hunt, put your letter on hold and make that your first port of call. Why delay? Because, as when writing a novel, your Cover Letter is most likely to hit its target if you know exactly at whom your aiming. No two agents are alike in what they are seeking in a new author for their list/ perfect novel. But all agents I’ve come across are alike in this: they expect you to do your homework before submitting.

How do you know which agents are the right agents to pitch to?
  • Check out Bri’s article, We’re going on an agent hunt, for some handy resources. For those of you hunting in the UK, I would add the Children’s Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook for a full directory of agencies & what they look for.
  • Once you’ve found agents who reps similar writers to you, check out their blogs, twitter, etc. to find out if they have wish lists & to find personal points of connection. After all, agents are really people in disguise as agents (*SHOCKING*). Hence you want to address them as people in your Cover Letter.

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*So the key to pitching your cover letter is the 3 Ps:
  1. Make it particular to the agent your querying. Do your research. And by all means, address the letter to the agent BY NAME! Not Dear agent,… 
  2. Make it professional. Don’t try to be cutesy, though not too formal either.
  3. Make it personal. Again, you’re writing to a person, so you use the personal ‘you’ to address him or her. And it doesn’t hurt to let your own personality shine through a bit too!

Huzzah! So you’ve gone and hunted down the perfect agent? Now you’re ready for the nuts & bolts of crafting that Cover Letter. 

What to Include:
  1. General Information – Title, author, genre, age range, length (word count), etc.
  2. Your 1-Line Pitch. See how to write one here.
  3. Your Blurb. *This should be the main body of your letter as you want the book to primarily sell itself! Check out these how to tips on blurbs.
  4. Selling Points – Who will just love your book? What published books are similar, but also what makes yours unique? Show you’ve done a little market research (which may simply mean you’ve snooped around your local bookshop to see what’s selling!)
  5. Profile – This is your chance to share just a little about you as the author. Don’t get carried away about your favourite foods and TV shows, but do include anything relevant – other projects on the go, previous work, anything published or short-listed for a competition, etc. – or interesting details that may help promote your book.
  6. Miscellany – very briefly why you’ve selected this particular agent/agency; maybe a 1-line idea for your next book

 

Final tips:
  • Your Cover Letter should take up about 1 side of A4 (no more!), usually single-space, 12 font (something generic like times new roman), with spaces between each paragraph/section.
  • Check your agent’s instructions carefully. Most these days want the Cover Letter pasted as the body of an email, but others prefer it attached.
  • Remember to let your novel sell itself – the letter should be 90% novel, 10% you.
  • Be excited and proud about the work you’re submitting! Don’t down-talk it to the agent, but at the same time, don’t pitch it as better than anything on the market to date.
  • Look online for good & poor examples of Cover Letters to get a feel for what to do & what not to do. And stay tuned – Bri & I may be sharing our own in the coming week!

 

Hope that was a helpful introduction if you’re new to or rusty on Cover Letters. Good luck crafting yours, and leave us questions and comments below!

 

How to write a simply stellar synopsis

Just in case you’re new to the Café, following a month of writing in November and a month of editing (ouch!) in December, the month of January has dedicated to the next step in the journey: the terrifying but wonderfully exciting topic of SUBMISSIONS!

So far, we’ve touched on how to find an agent how to pen the perfect pitch.

Coming up on the agenda, we’ll cover Cover Letters (stay tuned!). But today let’s knock out ye olde synopsis.

Although not every agent will require a synopsis as part of your submission package (check their guidelines carefully!!), it’s still worth your time and effort to get ‘er done for a couple of reasons:

  • You should be able to describe your book start to finish in the length of one side of A4. This will be a helpful exercise for those future meetings with agents, publishers, editors or just friends who ask you to summarise your book for them.
  • Melting down your plot into a synopsis will hopefully help you detect any lingering holes that need patching up. It’s a way of getting a bird’s eye view of your story to see if the thing is airtight and ready to ship out.

I realise the thought of looking at your story from a bird’s eye may strike a chord of terror. After all the work you’ve done, the last thing you want to find is a hole in the plot! But never fear – go for it! Writing a synopsis is a simplifying, distilling exercise. It’s a great way of getting clarity in your own mind about your own story. And hey, if you’re not clear on it, nobody else is going to be!

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Convinced? Good. Here are a few tips to make your Synopsis shine: 

  • limit it to 1 side of A4, single spaced, with paragraph indentations (spaces between paragraphs)
  • Don’t use voice or dialogue – regardless of your book’s POV, you the author are the narrator of your synopsis.
  • Be choosy! One A4 is not a lot of words. Focus on your story’s narrative arc & emotional drama… the juicy stuff!
  • Include the ending.  A synopsis is not a trailer or a hook. No need to give spoiler alerts to your agent. He/she wants to know the whole story: begging, middle & end.

How to structure your synopsis – Think 3-Act Structure of your Story:

   Paragraph 1) Who is this story about?

   Paragraph 2) What sparks the story into action?

   Paragraphs 3-5) Mounting drama/ mini climax

   Paragraph 6) Apparent failure

   Paragraph 7) Turn-around, climax & resolution

   Paragraph 8) Tie up loose ends (or *denouement* if you want to get fancy;-)

Remember: Cut-&-dry, do NOT be wordy, use action verbs!

*Stick to those keys, and I promise it’s gonna be fine! Good luck writing that stellar, seller synopsis. And hey, let us know how it goes!

**This information comes from a Writers&Artists workshop – How to Hook an Agent – with some of London’s top literary agents. Hats off to them!

Penning the Perfect One-Line Pitch

Here’s a scary thought for you: after months of research, writing, editing and finally submitting your brain-child novel, guess how agents are going to determine whether or not your work is worth their while?

The ONE. LINE. Pitch.

Suppose you actually hook an agent (and I hope you do!). The job’s only partly done. Guess how he/she is going to turn around and try to actually sell your novel to a publisher? Once again.

Your Pitch.

But the process doesn’t end there! Publishers then have the task of selling your book to retailers, and guess how they do that? You guessed it! They include a short pitch in a catalogue. That’s it. That’s all the folks responsible for the future success of your “baby” have to go by.

Need I even say, being “pitch perfect” is a pretty crucial business. It’s not easy either. How often have you been in the in the situation in which some well-meaning person asks the perfectly natural question, “So what’s your book about?” and you want to slap them silly and say, “You try boiling down months of toil, sweat & tears into a snappy sentence or two!!!”

But folks, that’s exactly what we’ve got to do if we want to send our work into the world!

So enough scariness. How do you write the killer pitch?

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First, a few pointers to bear in mind:
  • An Elevator Pitch should be deliverable in about 20 seconds (the time it takes for an awkward silence to form between floors in the elevator… at least I assume that’s where the name comes from…?)
  • Your one-line Pitch should capture the heart and soul of your novel. Go for essence. Don’t spell out every detail. (This means you want to focus on the main character &  his/her plight – the thing that catches the reader’s interest & emotions)
  • When it comes to your cover letter to agents, you must include a one-line pitch & a slightly longer elevator pitch (blurb). Not sure what’s the difference? Think films trailors: the one-liner is your teaser trailer (one image & one line that grabs interest).  The blurb is the plot summary on the back of the DVD box.

**For practice writing both, check out Graeme Shimmin’s cool, apparently fool-proof formula for Loglines & Elevator Pitches.

The ultimate advice on crafting that perfect pitch comes down to one word: Practice.

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All you need is a blank few pieces of paper and a chunk of time. Start with your blurb – think who, what, when, how, why. Then boil it down, and boil it down again until you can extract the essence of your book in a beautiful one-liner.

Not only will you be one leap closer to selling your book, you won’t  feel the need to run screaming into the night the next time someone innocently asks you “So, what’s your book about?” And that can only be a good thing!

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