Q&A: Writing and Publishing

Over the past two weeks you’ve been sending in questions about writing and the publishing industry. Now you can see them answered by our Head Copyeditor and founder, Eleanor Hemsley. Keep reading to find out how to appeal to agents and style your manuscript.

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How do I choose an agent?

Choosing an agent you’re happy with is relatively easy. Think of a writer that your writing is similar to. Got one? Now see who their agent is and apply to them. If you don’t yet know what writing your work is similar to, have a read around writers within your genre. Chances are one of them will have some similarities with yours. Agents probably won’t think you’ve copied this writer; it’s inevitable that your writing will be like someone else’s. By doing this you’re just choosing an agent that you know will like your style, and showing them that you’ve done your research.

Which bit of my submission is most important to an agent?

It’s really hard to say. Some agents focus on the synopsis, others focus on the first page of your manuscript. The best thing to do would be to attend a talk that your agent is at. If this isn’t possible, follow them on social media. You’ll find that a lot of them give small tips for writers. It also doesn’t hurt to call the agent or the company they work for to ask for advice. This doesn’t show weakness, but more shows a determination to get your submission right.

How can I make my writing good enough to get published?

Just try your best. Write every single day, and be a harsh critic for your own writing. Join writing groups in your area and give in a chapter every now and then to see what they think. As a writer you’ve got to be able to take criticism on board and respond to it well. Get friends and family to read your manuscript and ask them to be honest and brutal. And, if you’re still unsure, send it to a copyeditor or proofreader. It’s their job to make sure your manuscript is good enough to be published, so trust them.

What’s the most important think to get right in my story?

Character! There’s no story without a good character to experience it with. If you’re finding it hard to build a character, try spending time writing about their life, from the very beginning up until the start of your story. Here are a few questions to help you build your character.

Do I need to attend a writing course to become a writer?

Definitely not! Obviously attending writing courses can teach you skills that you possibly may not otherwise learn, but this doesn’t mean not attending one will stop you from being published. If you want to be a writer, just write every day and you’ll soon be good enough. Read online magazines and articles about writing, commit yourself to it and you’ll be just fine.

How should I lay out my manuscript for submissions?

Double spacing, not single spacing. No matter who your agent is, they will want this. Start every chapter on a new page, and write the chapter heading in such a way that they’re obviously new chapters (either in bold or underlined, but not a different size). Make sure page numbers are at the bottom of every page. Keep the font at either 10pt, 11pt or 12pt, and simple. Times New Roman is a good, solid submission font. You don’t want fancy embellishments here because agents just want to get to know the content, not your artistic prowess. And when it gets sent to be published they’ll get rid of all of these things anyway.

 

Thanks so much for sending your questions to us, and we hope we’ve managed to answer them I a way that you find helpful. You just need to remember that writing is something that needs passion to drive it, so work hard, enjoy yourself and eventually you’ll achieve your writing dreams.

Happy writing!

Writing Prompt Tuesday

Here’s a writing prompt for you to have a go at today. Think beyond your novel at what your protagonist might be doing in the future, whether that’s having a baby or moving to a different planet.

Happy writing!

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5 Good Writing Habits to Get Into

 

For most of you, writing is something you work around your day job, which means sometimes weeks go by when you’re not writing, whether it’s because you’re too tired after a long work day or because you didn’t have the time. Whatever the reason, these long breaks without writing can change the way you write, as well as lowering your chances of finishing your novel. To avoid this, here are 5 good writing habits to get into.

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Schedule your writing

You know what you’ve got on and when, whether that be your job or your daughter’s football practice. Whatever’s going on in your life, create a schedule that includes your writing time, every single day. This could mean getting up half an hour early and writing then, or taking a pen and paper out with you and writing in the car while you wait for Jerry to finish arts club. Whenever it is, you should be fitting a minimum of 20 minutes of writing in at least five days a week.

Do writing exercises

You’ve planned to do half an hour of writing everyday, that’s great, but maybe one day you don’t feel like writing your novel. That’s fine, don’t write it, but don’t use it as an excuse to have a day off either. Instead of working on your big project, do a writing exercise. These can be great for mixing up your writing routine and can also help with writer’s block. In fact, we’d advise doing at least one writing exercise a week just to keep your imagination active and your creativity flowing. There are plenty of books full of writing prompts out there, but if you don’t want to buy one we post a free prompt every Tuesday on this blog.

Find your writing place

Having a specific place where you write can really help boost your efficiency, whether it’s the local Costa or a room in your house. If it’s a space in your house, try decorating it with motivational posters and quotes. It might also be a good idea to make this an internet-free zone to avoid procrastination. Doing all of your writing in this space will eventually lead to your brain associating the space with writing, making you want to write whenever you’re in there.

Disconnect

We’ve already mentioned disconnecting from the internet in your writing space, but there’s much more you can do to boost your productivity. Turn your phone on silent and shut it away in a drawer for your 30 minutes of writing time. Do this with all of your devices, isolating yourself in your room so you have nothing to do but write. If your writing space is near a busy road or noisy school that can be distracting, play some music that you can write easily to. For me this is anything without lyrics, from The Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack to Handel.

Treat yourself

Have you got a favourite flavour of green tea or a favourite snack? Keep these treats in your writing space and only allow yourself to have them whilst you’re writing. However, if possible try to keep these snacks relatively healthy. Sure, put a sneaky Kit Kat in your treat drawer, but limit the unhealthy treats to one or two a week. Chocolate may give you an immediate sugar rush, but eating too much of it will leave you feeling lethargic and demotivated.

 

Do you have any questions about writing your cover letter, writing your synopsis or approaching an agent? Or, come to think of it, do you have any questions about writing or the publishing industry in general? Post them in the comments below or message us privately here, then join us on the 26th February to see them answered.

NB: if you want your question to remain anonymous, please let us know in your message

Writing Prompt Tuesday

Good morning! Here’s a little writing prompt for today. If you don’t feel like writing about this from your own point of view, perhaps write it from the point of view of a character in a book you’ve read.

Happy writing!

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Writing Your Cover Letter

If you’ve been following us these first six weeks of 2016 you’ll have your novel and synopsis written, ready to be sent out to your chosen agent. The last thing you need to do now is write your cover letter. Unfortunately, this is something you have to do yourself; it’s not a job you can really pass on to someone else to do for you. Get it right though and you’ll be well on your way to publishing your manuscript.

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Remember the novel

It’s easy to talk about yourself in cover letters, especially when considering that’s what you’d do for a job. This is a little different though. In this cover letter you’re selling your novel, not yourself. Make your first paragraph a very short and concise summary of the novel. You’ll need to include:

  • Approximate length
  • The protagonist
  • The genre
  • Main plot line

If there’s anything else you feel is essential to getting across the general gist of your story you should include it here too.

It’s possible that your novel doesn’t fit perfectly into any genre, but instead spreads across two or three. This is fine. State that it crosses over confidently and with conviction; if you sound like you’re questioning yourself you’re giving the agent reason to question it too.

Show off

That’s right, we’re telling you to show off, just a little. Have you had anything published before? Whether it’s a poem in an anthology or a short story in a magazine, the agent most probably wants to know. Take this opportunity to write about all of your writing achievements, including any writing courses you’ve been on. Keep it short though. This paragraph about you is just a little bit of background information, not your autobiography.

Future plans

Do you know what agents love more than your first manuscript? Your second. If you only intend on writing the one novel in your lifetime it means the agent only has one shot with you, so they’re less likely to take it on. However, if you’re planning a few more books they’re much more likely to consider you. If your book is part of a series that you’ve planned, briefly mention this. Or maybe this manuscript is a stand alone novel, but you fully intend on writing another in future. Either way, your agent wants to know what your writing plans are past the novel that you’ve submitted so they know what to expect from you in the future.

Be yourself

Most importantly, be yourself. You’re not writing your novel here, you’re writing a letter asking an agent to represent you. This means you should just sound like you, not your narrator. Avoid using clichés, avoid being braggy (stating that your novel is the best modern day fantasy romance won’t do you any favours), and avoid exaggerating. Just be genuine, tell the truth, and inject the enthusiasm you have for your novel into your words.

 

Do you have any questions about writing your cover letter, writing your synopsis or approaching an agent? Or, come to think of it, do you have any questions about writing or the publishing industry in general? Post them in the comments below or message us privately here, then join us on the 26th February to see them answered.

NB: if you want your question to remain anonymous, please let us know in your message.

Writing Prompt Tuesday

Have you ever wondered what would have happened if your antagonist fell in love with your protagonist? Or maybe if your protagonist fell in love with your antagonist’s dragon? No? Well get thinking, because today is the day to write about an unlikely romance.

Happy writing!

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6 Do’s and Don’t’s for Writing Your Synopsis

You’ve finished editing your novel now, so you’re probably thinking about sending it out to an agent. This can be the hardest part, as you’ve got to research exactly what the agent wants from you and give them just that. Undoubtedly, they’ll want a top notch synopsis from you, so here’s a few do’s and don’t’s for you to bear in mind when you’re writing yours.

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Do include everything

And by everything, we mean everything. You must include the end of your novel, that ending you worked so hard on to shock the readers with. It will hurt you to do this, but 99% of agents want it. Think about it; if they don’t know the ending, how are they meant to decide whether your story is any good?

Don’t waffle

So you’re really proud of this one scene you’ve written, I get that, but don’t waste half of your synopsis talking about it. Glide over it the same as you have with the rest of the plot, so that when the agent reads the actual manuscript they can experience it in all its glory. Try to be concise. Think hard about the words you choose, because you don’t have too many of them to impress with. Try to describe things in as few words as possible whilst still giving all the information in an interesting way.

Do pay attention to your agent’s preferences

Every agent wants something different. Some want a one page synopsis, whilst others want ten pages. If you really can’t find a way to fit your synopsis onto one page then pick a different agent; sending a three page synopsis to someone who only wanted one won’t get you anywhere. Agents may also specify how many paragraphs they want on plot and how may they want on characters. Listen to their wants and respond to them well.

Don’t include too many names

A synopsis is meant to be a concise summary of the key points in your novel. This means only including the characters that are essential to the plot. Putting too many names in your synopsis can be very confusing, which can put people off your novel. My general rule is to mention a maximum five people. These should be the protagonist, the antagonist, and then anyone else you feel is very important to the plot, for example, the protagonist’s sidekick.

Do keep it simple

This doesn’t just apply to your wording, but also the look of your synopsis on the page. Your word choice should be simple but effective, giving as much information about plot and character as possible. On the page though, your synopsis should look easy to read. Keep it a simple font, for example Times New Roman, and make it 12pt. Don’t add any unnecessary embellishments; even the title ‘synopsis’ should be simply in bold.

Don’t add your style

You’re a writer, which means you have a writing style. Letting this creep into your synopsis is fine, up to a certain point, but remember that your synopsis should be written very neutrally in third person to give the best and most straight forward view of your novel. Try not to slip into the voice of your protagonist, and try not to write the usual poetic descriptions that you put in your novel. This isn’t the place for them.

 

These six simple tips should help you to write a synopsis that impresses the agent you send it to. Work hard on it; after all, it’s just as important as your novel. Don’t forget that this one page of writing (or ten pages!) could be what gets your book published. Work at it, put in the time, and you’ll hopefully get the results you want.