Indie Publishing: An Introduction

Publishing trends are constantly changing, and with more aspiring writers wanting to get their work out there publishing companies aren’t providing the platform many need. Enter indie publishing, self-publishing’s cool, less stigmatised sister, and thank fuck for it.


Remember the days when you could see people cringe when you told them about the great self-published book you’d read? The assumption was that people only self-published because publishing houses wouldn’t accept their manuscripts. These were the rejects, the nerds in the school playground, and no one ever respected them despite their strengths. They were nerds because they were never accepted onto the netball team no matter how hard they tried, because they never quite had the right look or said the right things. Well, nerds are back and with them a cool, refreshing rebellion that’s lead to the beauty that is indie publishing.

Let’s break it down for you here, back to the basics. I want to make sure you 100% get the definitions here. Traditional publishing means a novel has been printed through a publishing house, like Penguin. Indie publishing literally is what it says; independent publishing. These books have been published without the help of publishing houses but by the writers themselves.

Nowadays, writers use the term ‘indie’ to set them apart for those who have self-published, and to show that they are serious about their writing and that they are worth the read. Because no matter what happens, you’ll always have those self-published books that have been put online without any thought going into the editing, typesetting or cover art.

Indie writers are not the rejects of the publishing houses. They’ve chosen to publish their own work for their own reasons, whether that’s to keep 100% control of their manuscript or to avoid making big changes that publishing houses might request.

This choice that writers are now actively making means that the quality of some of the writing out there is top bloody notch. Of course, you’ve got to be able to find it, but when you do you’ll have so many more books to read. Just take a look at the success stories, Fifty Shades probably being the most famous. Of course, just because a publishing company offers you a deal after you’re published independently doesn’t mean you have to take it; being an indie author comes with a great sense of freedom and control that you might not want to give up.

Deciding which publishing route to go down is hard, but in the end it depends on what you want and what your main goal is. If you want complete control of what your book looks like and reads like then indie publishing is probably the best route for you. And places like Amazon make it relatively easy to produce good looking books now so there’s help there for you. However, if your main goal is to see your book on the shelf in Waterstones I’d advise traditional publishing. You’ll have less control over the actual book, but with the contacts publishing companies have they’ll have more of a chance when it comes to getting your book on the shelf. Do bear in mind though that with the rising popularity of Kindles and eReaders, having a book in Waterstones doesn’t mean as much anymore (although I’ll admit, it’s still pretty damn cool).

So if you want to be an indie author there are a lot of things you need to consider. For a start, there’s the initial costs that will need to come out of your own pocket. You’ll need a book cover, a damn good one too if you want to attract readers. For this, unless you’re a cracking cover artist yourself, you’re going to have to hire a designer. Similarly, with the label of indie writer comes an expectation for the best, meaning your readers will be less accepting of spelling mistakes, plot holes and typos. This means you’ll need to pay for a proofreader/ copyeditor to make sure your novel is spot on. There’s also the possibility that you might need to pay for a typesetter, although many publishing programmes make it easy for you to do this yourself.


Now is the best time to be an indie author, with eBooks rising in popularity and ease of access at its best. There are plenty of forums, writing groups and workshops you can go to that will give great advice on how to start out. This support will really help you develop as an indie writer, and I think you’ll probably find that you’re just as happy with it as you would be if you were published by a big publishing house.


What are your experiences with being an indie author? Do you think it’s better or worse than traditional publishing? Let us know in the comments section below.


Writers Inkouragement

There’s a great blog out there for writers that gives out tips and posts up to date creative jobs on a regular basis. It’s definitely worth checking out if you have a spare moment! This week I’ve written a guest post for it on how to get published, you can take a look here:

If you have any questions about getting published or working with an editor, drop us an email at and we’ll be happy to help you out.


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.


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 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.

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.

Self-Editing Your Novel: The Final Steps

It’s editing time again, with this being our last post on how to self-edit your novel. Now you’ve completed our other three sets of tips, it’s time to look at polishing your manuscript off. You’ve made all the big changes, so stay with us to do those little adjustments that’ll make it shine.

find and replace

Take a look at your chapter headings. Are they just numbers, or do they have names, or both? Either way, they need to be consistent. Choose whether you want to use the actual numbers (1, 2, 3) or whether you want to write them out (one, two, three). And how are you capitalising the words in your chapter titles? Are they all in lower case, or does every word start with a capital letter? Whatever you choose, make sure this style stays the same throughout.

Consistency in spelling is also something you want to be aware of, especially in hyphenated words. If you’ve put a hyphen in book-wise at the start of your novel but not in bookwise towards the end, you need to pick one version and change all of the others to match. Do the same with capital letters too. If the Aura has a capital A in some places, make sure it does all the way through.

As writers, we all know which words we have constant difficulty with spelling (for me, it’s broccoli). No matter how many times you look this word up in the dictionary you can never remember how to spell it. Similarly, there might be some words that you type in the wrong order. If you know of any of these, it’s very easy to fix them. Put your cursor at the top of the document and do a find and replace (F5). If it were me, I’d be replacing brocolli with broccoli. This saves a lot of time and gets rid of any obvious errors.

We’ve already spoken about punctuation in a different blog post, but there’s one more bit we’d like to go over. Did you know that in the UK single quotations are used for speech, whereas in America double quotations are used? Some publishers do vary from this, but in general you’ll find it to be true. If you have a specific publisher in mind that you want to submit to, check which they use then change yours accordingly.

At this point, it’s a good idea to have a read through the manuscript and make any changes to spelling and grammar. Doubly make sure that there are no spelling errors or typos, and if a sentence doesn’t quite flow right rearrange it so it does. Can be tedious, but you need to be 100% focussed to make sure you miss as few mistakes as possible.


We’ve now reached the end of our self-editing month, so hopefully you have a well-polished manuscript sitting in front of you. There will inevitably still be mistakes in there, as it’s very hard to spot all of them in your own work. At this point we’d advise you to get someone else to look at it, whether that be a family friend or a professional copyeditor, as long as it’s someone who knows what they’re doing. Hopefully you’ve found these posts really useful, and thanks for following us through them right to the end of January.

Happy editing!

Self-Editing Your Novel: Convincing Characters

Over the past two weeks we’ve been posting tips on how to self-edit your novel. If you haven’t completed those steps yet, you can find the first ones here and the second here. For those of you who’ve managed to keep up, here’s our third post with more steps for you to follow.

John Seely image

When writing your novel (especially during writing challenges such as NaNoWriMo) it’s really easy to fall out of character. On those days when your heart just wasn’t in it, you might find that your narrator’s voice changed a little to match your mood. This is completely normal and is bound to happen to everyone at some point, and it’s easy enough to fix too. Whenever you read a section where your voice is slipping out of character, highlight it. Then, when you’re in the mood to write, tweak those sections a bit so they’re more consistent with your usual narration.

Now, does everything you’ve written make sense? Or have you put something nonsensical in to move the story forwards? If possible, make these plot devices believable within the world of your story. If you can’t, it’s not the end of the world, but it may make your readers question it later on. A great example of this is in Star Wars, where to destroy the Death Star it must be hit in a very specific spot. Fans ridicule this a lot, but without this slightly unrealistic weak spot the story wouldn’t have been so exciting.

Similarly, look at your character’s emotions and reactions. Is it really believable that Amelia would work with the man who killed her mother? Yes, it works well to move the story on, but it’s very unrealistic. Find a way around things like this, making sure that your character reacts in a way that makes sense.

When you’ve done that, it’s time for the less pleasant of editing duties. You need to start cutting bits out of your novel. Read through your novel, looking at each scene individually. Are there scenes that exist purely to push up the word count? Every scene you’ve written must have a purpose. It must either:

  • Develop a character
  • Move the story forwards, or
  • Give important information.

If you have sections that don’t do any of these three things, get rid of them. There’s no point in scenes that have no purpose. Don’t just think in terms of this book though. If you’re writing a series, as long as a scene is important for one of the books leave it in.


And that’s it for today. These steps might feel small to you, and it may even feel at first like there’s not much to do, but this bit of editing will take up a lot of time. Keep at it, and if you start getting bored or frustrated leave it for an hour then come back to it with fresh eyes. Don’t forget to join us again next Friday for our last few tips on self-editing your novel, but until then, happy editing!

Self-Editing Your Novel: Stunning Simplicity

Last week we posted the first steps you should take in self-editing your novel, from changing inconsistencies to finding plot holes. If you haven’t yet taken these steps, you can find the post here, then come back to us when you’re done. For those of you that have completed the steps from last week, this post will guide you through what to do next. Today’s steps may seem small and unimportant at first, but it’s these small changes that could make the difference between getting accepted or rejected from an agent. Are you ready? Get out your red pens, it’s time to edit.

red pens

Take a look at your punctuation. Have you got a really wide variety of it in your work? If you have, highlight every one that isn’t a full stop, comma or question mark. For these highlighted ones, reread the sentences they’re a part of and try to decide if they are essential. Chances are, they could happily be replaced by a full stop or comma. This sounds like a really unimportant thing to be doing, but a lot of readers don’t like to be drawn away from the story because of ill-placed exclamation marks. It’s distracting for them, and when over-used it has a lot less of an impact than when it’s used effectively. In my editing experience, I find that the semi-colon is a writer’s biggest punctuation mistake. Most of the time, semi-colons can be replaced by commas or full stops. And of course, it’s always worth remembering that a lot of publishing companies don’t like using them either.

Dialogue tags are another thing that writers get very creative and excited with, but often to too great an extent. Dialogue tags are the words you use to describe how someone says something, like shouted and cried. About 85% of the time said works perfectly well. This means that if you’ve got another dialogue tag every couple of pages you need to get rid of a few. Asked is used quite a lot, and you probably won’t need to change it, but for everything else, stop and decide if it can be changed. Did Amelia really shout at her mum, or did she just raise her voice a little bit? Play out the scene in your head to help you decide. If you use words like shouted too much, when your character is actually shouting it won’t have much of an impact on your readers.

Now look at all of your descriptions of people, objects and places. Are they just huge blocks of text that cram everything in? Most readers tend to skim over bits like this so they can get back to the action of the story. This means they might miss out on important pieces of information. This is very easy to counteract though. Only put information that is completely necessary into these descriptions, just the essentials. Then, everything else you want your reader to know, drop in small pieces of it every now and then through speech or narration. For example:

‘Who are you?’ asked Amelia, dragging her eyes away from the man’s neon striped tie to look into his midnight blue eyes.

 This way, your reader gets a complete picture without having to digest it all at once. Just make sure you’re not doing this in every other sentence.

On the contrary, maybe you’ve under-described things instead. Do you ever mention what colour your protagonist’s hair is? It’s easy enough to find yourself not putting information like this in, because you know the characters and places so well that you forget others don’t. That’s fine while you’re writing, but now you’re editing it’s time to make sure that nothing important has been left out. Write down a list of things that should be described and tick them off every time you come across them in your manuscript. You can add in the bits you’ve missed at the end.

Now you’ve got all of the descriptions in the manuscript it’s time for the last step of today’s post. Make them perfect. Adjectives work best in threes or less, so if you’re describing something put a maximum of three adjectives before it. Any more and it won’t flow well when read. Also, bear in mind that alliteration, when used well, can be a powerful tool. Sounds and rhythms aren’t just for poetry, so make sure your descriptions roll off the tongue nicely too.


Hopefully, after finishing these steps, you’ll have a simple yet engaging manuscript that’s ready for next week’s editing steps. It might take a while to make these changes, so don’t panic if they take more than a week. Take your time then come back for the next steps when you’re ready. Until then, happy editing!

Self-Editing Your Novel: The First Steps

It’s the start of a new year, which means it’s time to get your novel up to the best possible standard ready to send out into the world. Towards the end of 2015 we gave you a few tips on how to find a literary agent that suits your needs. Keeping the agent you found in mind, it’s time to work on your finished manuscript to make it perfect. Follow us for the rest of January to hear our weekly self-editing tips, starting with the first steps we’re taking today.


Firstly, you need to pull your novel out of the drawer it’s been left in and read it. It should be at least a month since you finished writing the manuscript: any less and it will be too fresh in your mind for you to be able to read through it objectively. You need to be looking at it new, as if you’re reading it from the first time. You are your own critic here, so get ready to read.

Have a notebook and pen next to you for this first read through. Every time a character or a place is described, write down what the description is. In your notebook, have a fresh page for each new character or place so you can keep your thoughts and notes organised. You’ll also need to write the page number next to each description so you can go back and find it later on.

Make a note of each plot point as it happens. This way you can easily keep track of what’s happening to who, when it happens and what the direct consequences are. These don’t have to be the big plot points, they can be as small as ‘the protagonist starts to trust the antagonist’ – anything that changes or sways the story or a character.

Whilst reading, try to keep an eye out for anything that doesn’t make sense. Don’t think about grammar and sentence structure here, but instead look at the story as a whole. This first reading that you do is to improve the actual story, not the writing. If you see a small plot hole, fix it. If you find that your character talks about the mystical cube of destruction before actually finding out about it, fix it.

When you’ve come to the end of this read, put the manuscript down and look through your notes. Check for any inconsistencies then go back and change them. Make sure scars and fringes haven’t swapped sides mid-battle, and make sure eye colours haven’t changed over time. And most importantly, make sure that everything in your list of plot points makes sense. If your protagonist puts their coat down in a lift and we don’t see them pick it up again, how are they wearing it in the forest two chapters later?


So that’s it, the first step towards self-editing your novel. For some of you (particularly those that meticulously plan before writing), these steps may have only revealed one or two minor mistakes. If this is you, don’t worry. It just means that you’re ready for the next step of self-editing we’re going to take next week. For those of you who have unearthed a fair few problems, just relax. Make a cuppa and sort through your notes and corrections one at a time, then come back to us next Friday ready to tackle the next set of instructions. You may find this tedious or even boring, but it’s an essential step towards publication.


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Literary Agents: How To Approach Them


So you’ve taken the first steps towards finding a literary agent that suits you. Now you’ve got one or two in mind, how do you go about approaching them? There are so many ways that you can go wrong here, so here’s a few tips to keep you on the right track.


About them

In many ways, approaching an agent is just like applying for a job. You need to know about them, about their brand and their work, and you need to find a way to show them this without sounding like a Wikipedia article. Chances are you found your agent because they represent your favourite writer, so find out who else they represent and read some of their books. Have a look to see if there are any publishing companies they seem to work with more than others, and if there are see if these publishing companies look like places where you want to be published.


Give them what they want

This is possibly the most important thing to do. If the agent you’re approaching says they want a 5000 word extract from the start of your novel and a one page synopsis, give it to them. Don’t give them your favourite 5000 words from chapter nine, and don’t give them a synopsis that stretches over three pages. This will make it look like you don’t care about being published, and it also makes it look like you’re not serious about them. They ask for these things for a reason. You ignoring them makes you look like a difficult writer, and that’s the last thing they want.


Give them the ending

I think this is the thing most writers struggle with. So you’ve got a cracking twist ending, or you’ve written a detective novel with the most unexpected culprit being revealed at the end. You’re proud of this, and as a writer you don’t want to ruin this surprise ending for anyone who’s about to read your book.

But you have to.

Unless an agent specifically tells you not to reveal your ending (and this is rare), put it in your synopsis. They want it so they can see that you’ve put just as much thought into the ending as you have in the extract they have from the beginning. And if you really think about it, how can they possibly judge whether they want to represent your novel if they don’t even know the whole story?


Meet them

I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but meeting an agent can be the most useful thing for you. If the agent you want to apply to is going to be giving a talk that you can get to, go to it. Similarly, if there’s a book fair near where they work, they are probably going to be there. Going to these events means that you get the chance to ask the agent you’re applying to for advice. Ask them what qualities they best like to see in a writer, what mistakes people make on cover letters that make them put the manuscript down. And then, when you send your now perfect cover letter, you can also drop in the fact that you met them once.


Be yourself

At the end of the day you’re one out of thousands of writers that this agent has to choose from. Your cover letter is what reveals the most about you, so keep it nice and to the point. Don’t be arrogant or snooty, just be yourself. Tell the agent about you, but keep it relevant. They don’t want to know about your football trophy from year 6, they want to know what writing groups you’re a part of and what previous publishing experience you’ve had. Keep it relevant, and keep it honest.


We hope you’ve found these tips useful for when you start preparing to approach an agent. Watch out for more posts in the New Year, where we’ll be helping you to edit your novel ready to send out to your favourite agent.

Have you had any experience with finding literary agents, good or bad? Share your story with us in the comments below.