Book Review: The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter by Rod Duncan

This month I didn’t choose a book to review, it chose me. The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter by Rod Duncan was given to me by someone who thought I might enjoy it, and they weren’t wrong. It’s a beautifully written novel that proves itself to be my favourite fantasy/steampunk book of the year, with plot twists and complicated characters that kept me on edge until the very end.

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As the genre suggests, this novel (the first in a series) is set in an alternative 1973 England. From the very start we’re thrown into this world, with an eloquent writing style reminiscent of Thomas Hardy and a character attire that screams of old England. The story starts in Leicester, and within a few pages the history of this reality is introduced. England is split in two; there’s the aristocratic Kingdom and the Anglo-Scottish Republic. The difference between the two halves is highlighted most prominently by the clothing worn in them. Bright, bold colours are always worn in the Kingdom (even with skirts hitched a little above the ankle), whereas dark, dull colours are worn in the Republic. Whether this stark colour difference is to highlight the rich/poor divide or the desires of the protagonist is up to you to decide.

Had I been a man, I could have strolled into that dark warren of narrow streets, blind alleys and iniquity…but the Back is no place for a lady…thus I strolled along Churchgate attired and disguised as a young gentleman.

An opening to be remembered for sure. Introducing Elizabeth Barnabus, our happily unmarried heroine who turns her back on the expectations of women and does what she wants. A feminist lead to be reckoned with, she refuses to get married, despite the many disapproving conversations she gets for it. And yet she’s smart enough to accept this sexism and manipulate it to her advantage.

Her income comes from being a private detective. Knowing that she can’t work this as a woman, she dresses up very convincingly as Mr Barnabus, her brother. Not only does she go to work herself, but she changes between her natural female form and her male disguise frequently, using the fact that she’s a woman to get the best results.

My most prominent memory of Elizabeth is when we first see her transformation.

I ripped the false hair from my cheeks and upper lip then snatched the hat from my head, revealing the lacy head-covering beneath.

Within seconds she removes her disguise and sits looking just like the woman she is, in all the correct attire. It’s a beautiful picture that Rod Duncan has artfully painted, showing off Elizabeth’s knowledge and skill so we know exactly what she’s about from the start.

Courageous, smart and witty, Elizabeth proves to be a proud woman. She’s proud of her gypsy heritage and of her beloved boat. And, she’s such a kick-ass ball of sass that she barely bats an eye at John Farthing, a man who repeatedly shows interest in her.

 

Julia Swain, a young girl Elizabeth is tutoring, develops the most over the course of the novel. She starts out as a young lady led firmly by the law and quick to fall in love. She’s idealistic, naive, but has the potential to become so much more. And she does. By the end she’s breaking rules and shows a fierce loyalty to Elizabeth that can only be admired.

One of the scenes I remember the most is in the second half of the novel, and is a moment where Julia really rapidly matures. Elizabeth is trapped by the Duke of Northampton’s men, but comes up with a brilliant plan to escape them. She leaves her hiding place without her travelling case, using her skills of disguise to alter her appearance. Then she sends Julia to collect her belongings and hide them in a larger case for her.

It’s a truly wonderfully written bit of prose, with tension rising throughout at the risk of Julia being caught. It proves to be a brilliant plan too, showing Elizabeth’s intelligence and skills. More than anything though, it shows how far Julia is willing to go out of her comfort zone for her friend, a quality to be admired above all else.

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The story proves to be a mystery at heart, a true detective story with a real problem to solve. There were moments when I truly feared for Elizabeth’s life, and others where I thought the mystery was about to be solved when in fact the truth was further away. Duncan has a real knack for storytelling, writing a fast paced tale full of twists that I couldn’t have predicted.

He cleverly puts Elizabeth in a situation that should be safe and comforting but that instead is full of danger and doubt, tricking us into a false sense of security. She grew up in a circus, and to solve the mystery she must once again join one. The man in charge, Harry Timpson, knew her father well and seems to appreciate her heritage. You’d think this safe, familiar setting with family connections would be comforting, and it is for a while, but just as I began to relax into it Duncan put me back on edge.

He has a great skill for putting in backstory without making it seem forced. By the end of the book I felt like I knew just as much about Elizabeth’s history as I did the adventure I’d just read about, and it’s an exciting one too. It’s written in naturally, and just rolls off the page.

The ending though is truly magnificent. There’s a M A S S I V E twist that I did not see coming, and I really don’t want to say more about it because I’ll give away the ending, but I really enjoyed it and it’s just the perfect end to the book. Not very informative for you, but I’m sure you’ll forgive me once you’ve read it yourself.

 

My favourite scene encapsulates all of my favourite things in the story; Elizabeth’s courage and intelligence, her magical transformation, the tricks of the circus and the unforgiving, bitter bad guy. They’re blended together in a way that reminds me what I love so much about Rod Duncan’s writing.

Elizabeth is being taken to her death in the back of a horse-drawn carriage. Fumbling through the boxes around her, she leaves a trail that looks like an escape then hides in one of the crates. While her executioner follows the red heron she makes her escape, transforming quickly into her brother and walking confidently down the road. It’s clever, it’s cheeky, and it’s most definitely the scene from the book that sticks with me the most.

 

I’m going to stop now before I give anything away. I could so easily write another thousand words on this book, but instead I’ll just leave you with this. The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter is a unique and immaculately crafted novel that everyone should read, whether they’re a fantasy novice or expert. Angry Robot have found and nurtured a magnificent writer in Rod Duncan, and I look forward to reading more of his work in the future.

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Writing Prompt Tuesday

Here’s a writing prompt for today. Using an unusual setting for your story can really help to develop your characters.

Happy writing!

Writing A Romance

Towards the start, when we first started writing our blog, we wrote a post on how to structure your novel. This novel plan works perfectly fine for every genre, whether that’s fantasy, crime or erotica, but if you’re writing a romance there are a few other things you might want to add…

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The First Sight

When and where do your love interests meet? Do they talk on this first meeting, or do they just see each other? What are their first impressions of each other? These are all things you’ll need to cover when talking about your soon-to-be couple meeting for the first time. I think one of my favourite examples of this type of scene is in Bridget Jones, when Bridget meets Mark Darcy for the first time. Humour is used well in this scene, through the use of dialogue and Mark’s ridiculous Christmas jumper.

The First Kiss

When do they have their first kiss, and what sort of kiss is it? Are they angry, drunk, was it accidental, or part of a game? The first kiss can help to shape how their relationship forms over the course of the novel, and you can even use it as foreshadowing for their big finale snog, or something like that.

The First Date

This scene is sort of optional, although I imagine it will pop up in your novel. What is their first date? This could be anything, from a romantic dinner to a sports game to a night in. Make it suit the characters, and choose your setting based on how the date is going to go. If you want the date to go wrong, pick a setting that will help enable the bad things to happen. Similarly, if you want this first date to be funny to the reader, pick a scene that will help add to the humour.

The OMG THEY’VE BROKEN UP Moment

This is the moment where it appears all is lost and your reader’s new favourite couple weren’t meant to be. There’s no love there anymore (for at least one of them), and it looks like there will never be love there again. Your protagonist starts to move on with their life, because the conflict that instigated the breakup seems unsolvable.

The Resolution

Would you believe it? They’ve found a way through their problems! This is your big finale, the moment your two lovers realise that they can and will be together. They’ve sorted out the conflict and they’ve declared their love for each other. There’s a commitment between them, whether that’s an engagement, a promise to be monogamous or just a lot of sex. This. Is. It.

 

So there they are, the super important extra scenes you should be including in your romance novel. Happy writing!

 

3 Programmes to Help You Write

Writing a novel is a difficult process, but it’s also meant to be a fun one with a learning curve. If you’re going to be writing on your computer/laptop, there are plenty of writing programmes to choose from. We’ve picked out our favourite three, and written you a pretty swift analysis of each.

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Microsoft Word

Although it’s not made specifically for novelists, this proves to be a great tool for writing your novel. It’s probably the simplest programme and the one that you’re most familiar with using. All you do is open a new document and type, easy. No frills, no automatic chapter layout, just a simple programme where you can type your novel. Although this programme has no benefits to you as a writer, it does provide the format that most publishers require when receiving manuscript submissions. You can easily change the language setting to numerous languages (there’s even separate settings for American English and UK English) then it will highlight for you all spelling and grammatical mistakes for that language. Also, because it’s such a widely used programme, there are plenty of online tutorials to help you become an expert at using it. Still, without this advanced knowledge you can still easily type your novel, no problem.

Scrivener

Scrivener is the dream tool for writers. It’s easy to use and has many extras that will really help when it comes to writing your novel. I love that you write your novel in sections rather than as one long document, whether that’s scenes or chapters, and all of these sections are separate to each other. This is super useful, as it makes restructuring your novel easy and effortless, especially through the use of the cork board. There’s also a really useful ‘research’ section, where you can store anything and everything you have relating to your novel. This includes things like inspirational photos, PDFs full of information, and anything else that may come in handy whilst writing. As someone who uses index cards during the planning of my novels, I love that they’re a feature in Scrivener. You just create a new index card for each section and write a small synopsis on it. It’s really easy to use as a beginner, and can be really useful for planning and writing your novel. In other words, Scrivener is the bees knees. Give it a go.

Celtx

Celtx is technically a script writing programme (and is really great if you do write scripts), but I think it can also be used pretty well for novels. It’s pretty simple to use, and free to download too. You just type on the main editor, not bothering with things like pages and word counts, so you can just write without having to worry about reaching a made up target. It has a useful chapter heading tool, so every time you start a new chapter you use the tool to highlight it, then it appears in a sidebar. You can then skip to different chapters to look back at what you’ve previously written. This programme also has an index card tool, and it’s especially useful if you’re writing a story with more than one plot. There’s a selection of seven different coloured index cards, so if you’re writing the main plot you can use yellow cards, and if you’re writing about a secondary subplot you could use blue cards. I really enjoy using Celtx. Sure, its main use is for script writing, but it does have a novel writing section that is easy to use and that has useful writing tools for any novelist.

There are many other writing tools out there, all of which have different extras to help you write your novel. It’s probably worth trying quite a few of them before settling down on one; this way you’ll find the perfect tool that will help you to finish writing your novel.

Writing For Young Children

There’s a common idea amongst many people that writing for children is easy. This isn’t true. In some ways writing for young children can be harder than writing for adults, as things like word choice require a lot more thought. Still, there are always tips to give for all types of writing, so here are ours for writing for young children.

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Decide on a reading age

As children work their way through primary school they very rapidly expand on their reading knowledge. One year they’ll be stuck on simple sentence and the next they’ll be more than happy to use compound sentences. This means you’ll really need to know your target audience before you write. If you’re not 100% sure on what words are best for your audience, buy a literacy teaching exercise book for your age group and have a look at what words are suggested in those.

Make it a challenge

Books should challenge children, as it’s this slight difficulty that helps them to expand their vocabulary. Use a few words in the book that are a little above their reading age but that can still be sounded out. This way they’ll either be able to guess what the word means by the context or they’ll ask a parent or teacher. Don’t make these few extra words too advanced or too frequent though; you don’t want to put them off reading.

Make it aspirational

For children, a lot of their time is spent thinking about what it’s like to be older, whether that’s being year six and sitting on the benches in assembly or year three and being in a different section of the playground. Similarly, your books for six year olds shouldn’t have children of that age as the protagonist. The protagonist should always be a couple of years older so your readers can aspire to be like them.

Think in threes

This is best for books written for really young children, but in theory it works well for all readerships. Think of fairy tales; there are the three little pigs, the three billy goats gruff, the three wishes, everything is in threes. This is because they provide a pattern for the children without dragging the story out too much.

Use repetition

Repetition is a great way to make children’s books interactive. I remember We’re Going on a Bear Hunt was my favourite book as a child because I loved joining in with the repeated bits. Not only does this repetition make the reading fun (and so encouraging children to read more), it also helps children to recognise and learn the words on the page.

 

These seem like pretty simple tips, I know, but follow them and you’ve got the makings of a great children’s story. If you’re ever stuck just think back to when you were younger and take a good look at your favourite book then. What made you love it so much? Chances are, the reason you loved that book will be the reason your readers love yours.

A Short Guide To Dialogue

Every novel requires dialogue, and wouldn’t be as exciting to read without it. Used well, it can bring tension and action to a story, as well as helping to let readers know what different characters are thinking and feeling. Getting it right can be pretty tricky, so here’s a few tips to help you out.

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It’s never perfect

…so don’t try to make it so. People never have a conversation where every question is answered and every word is heard and reacted to; it just doesn’t happen. Often, people will answer a question with another question, or they will complete ignore it and talk about something else. Not doing this and instead making everything perfect is unrealistic and won’t sit well with your readers. I feel that this is especially important when it comes to police interviews. The interviewee will most definitely not answer every question, and will often change the subject to talk about something or someone else. They might even just ask for a drink.

Think of people’s feelings

The undertones of text are just as important, if not more important, than what is being explicitly said. You want your character to let her friend now she loves her. That’s great, we all love a good romantic confession. However, you don’t have to outright say that. Do you really think a girl is going to just stand there and say ‘hey, I love you’ to her best friend? No. It’s much more difficult, and you have to capture that. Instead she’d probably go on about the little things that made her fall in love, and from these we can guess, and so can her friend, what she’s getting at.

People exaggerate

People exaggerate things, so even if your reader knows that the tiger your protagonist fought was just out of its mother’s womb, the protagonist is much more likely to describe it to their friends as the biggest tiger they’ve ever seen. It may seem silly including little things like this in your work, but it’s something that will make your dialogue more realistic and will bring your characters to life. And your exaggerations don’t have to be this wild. It could be something as simple as elaborating on how happy or angry someone was to them.

Don’t overuse punctuation!

See? Seriously, just don’t. The more you use an exclamation mark, the less impact it has when it really matters. And anyway, I doubt your characters really do shout that much, so why make it look like they are? The only punctuation marks that should show up really often are full stops, commas and question marks. Everything else, save for special occasions. Similarly, make sure you use ellipses (…) and hyphens (-) correctly. Use ellipses to show where someone is trailing off at the end of a sentence, and use a hyphen to show that they have been interrupted.

Don’t cram

There’s a lot of information crucial to your story that you want to get across during speech, we get that, but is it realistic that your character would sit and say all of this to someone in one monologue? If not, find another way to get the information across, whether it’s two different people taking it in turns telling bits or just that part of it is written on paper for people to see instead. Make sure you only get the essentials across in the actual dialogue, and tell us the rest in a different way.

 

If you follow these five simple tips, your dialogue could improve massively. The main thing though is to read back through any dialogue you’ve written with a friend. If anything feels unnatural to you, or it sounds forced or unlikely, change it so it feels right. Dialogue can be a very useful tool to a writer if used correctly, so make sure you get it spot on.

A Short Guide to Adjectives

adjective – a word naming an attribute of a noun, such as sweet, red or technical.

 

No story is complete without adjectives to make it stand out. Without them we wouldn’t know what our favourite characters look like or what it’s like to be stood in a fantasy world. For this reason they’re my favourite type of word, so here’s a few pointers on how to use them well.

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The Power of Three

There’s a lot of power in threes, which is why we use them so often. The three little pigs, three musketeers, you get the idea. This works for adjectives just as well as it does for everything else. Things tend to sound better when there are three words together, especially when describing something. Take a look at the following sentences.

Olivia had short, dark, curly hair.

Olivia had short, dark hair.

Which sounds better? Although the first gives more information, the second reads much better. If you think it’s absolutely essential for that third adjective to be there, give it to the readers in another way.

Olivia had short, dark hair that fell in soft curls around her face.

This sounds much better and still has all the information in it. You don’t have to stick religiously to these rules though. If you think three adjectives before the noun sounds best in a particular sentence that go ahead and use it. Generally though, stick to using just one or two.

Use All Five Senses

We use all five of our senses when describing and remembering things in our day to day lives, so why wouldn’t we use them in stories too? The sense we use most often is sight, so it makes sense to use this the most in our work, but remembering to include the others will really improve the quality of your writing. Tell your readers what a room smells like, how food feels in a character’s mouth, what sounds are coming from the tent in the woods. Just in case you’ve forgotten, here are the five senses you can use in your writing:

Taste

Touch

Smell

Sight

Sound

Using all of these rather than just one or two of them will help plant your reader firmly with your antagonist in the world that you have created.

Be Bold

There are so many adjectives out there to choose from, so why is it that everyone uses the same ones? How many times have you read that something is big in a book, or that skin feels like leather? Words like big are used so much that they don’t have a massive effect on us. If you really want to express that something is big then use a different word that’s full of meaning and paints a picture in your readers heads. I mean, if a child is describing an elephant, to them it’s not big, it’s humongous. Using synonyms can really boost your writing and strengthen the world you’ve created.

Adjectives are the most important part of your writing, and if you follow these three tips your writing will really stand out and shine. And if you’re ever unsure about an adjective or want to find a new and interesting one to use, grab a thesaurus and have a look.

Guest Post: Gareth Baker on Indie Publishing

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“My name’s Gareth Baker, and I’m an Indie Author – and a proud one at that.”

It took me a long time to feel that way, especially as some writers I’ve met often look down their nose at me. At first, I didn’t blame them. I felt the title tried to sound grander than it was, and for the first year or so I referred to myself as a self-published author. Looking back, it was like I was apologising for myself. That yes, I agreed with the nose starrers that I wasn’t good enough and was cheating by jumping the queue. But then I slowly came to realise, about a year ago, that I had worked hard – very hard – to achieve what I had and that I was more than a self-published author, but a creator, a learner, a writer and an Indie publisher.

This April I will have been an Indie for three years. That length of time both seems like a lifetime and a blink of an eye. To be honest, I never wanted to be an Indie. I’d sent off a handful of applications to agents and publishers (not many really) and did what most people do – gave up. Then my friend published on Kindle, and not to be outdone, I did the same. My plan was to self-publish for five years, writing at least one new book a year, and use it as an apprenticeship, learning my craft. By April 2018, I will either be successful or be aiming at the traditional route (as well as being an Indie) as my apprenticeship will be over.

So far my business (and I do see it as a business. I don’t write for art, but I do write for fun), Taralyn Books, has published six books, with around another five waiting to come out in 2016. I now write under two names: Gareth Baker for children’s fiction and G H Mockford for thrillers and, coming later this year, fantasy. Whether Taralyn Books will publish other authors in the future is something I’ve yet to decide, but I have considered it.

Being an Indie’s no easy task, and after three years I am finally beginning to reap some rewards. By that I mean I am financially breaking even. This next year, my fourth, I hope to begin realizing my ambitions of making it a viable source of (realistic) income.

Over the course of the last three years, I have learned many valuable lessons. If you’ve researched how to be a successful Indie (there’s plenty of people willing to give you advice, and many who will charge you for that information too) you may have heard some of what I’m about to say before. When I started out I did some research, but, in the end, decided to throw myself into the ring and learn from my own mistakes. Learning to write a novel – and I mean learn – has been my most valuable experience and one I can’t really outline here as each novelist has to find their own style/path. Did I waste time by not standing on the shoulders of giants? Perhaps. But for me, making my own mistakes was very powerful.

I call the lessons I’ve learned “The Five Challenges of The Indie Author”, and here they are.

Challenge 1 – Time

The biggest enemy of all non-professional writers (by that I mean people who do not make a living solely from being a writer) is finding the time to write. If you’re holding down a full-time job and have a family, where do you find the time? My blunt answer is this: if you really want to tell that story, you will. Get up an hour earlier than you need to. Go to bed an hour later. Most importantly, turn off the TV. It’s as simple and difficult as that.

Then there are writers who have the time but can’t settle or get sucked into Facebook or other distractions. Those writers need to learn some self-discipline and join what I call the Writers’ Gym, or ask themselves what are you afraid of? These words might sound harsh, but only one person is going to write that book – you. Focus. Show some dedication. Get the book written.

In short, while time is an issue, if you want to write a book, really write a book, you will.

Challenge 2 – Money

Some people will tell you that being an Indie is low risk financially, and if you want to present a poor product (or you are highly skilled in editing, Photoshop, marketing etc), or only an e-book, it may well be. In the first two years of being an Indie, I lost money and not because I spent it unwisely (well, maybe sometimes). Producing a quality book, especially if you want to create hard copies, is going to cost you money.

With this challenge, I think you have three options open to you:

  • Publish with what money you have and then pour any profits back into the product. This is what I did.
  • Find a source of money (several thousand) – your own, a family member, take out a bank loan. I did consider the last of these options last year.
  • Rob a bank or win the lotto. I advocate neither of these as one will land you in prison, the other is unlikely.

Now you have some money, you have to decide what you’re going to spend it on. Cover? Editor? Formatting? There are many people who can help you with these, and many of them will charge you a lot of money to do it. Unless you have money to burn, learn to do as much of this as you can for yourself. If you only have enough to pay for one of these, get a great cover. If you can’t afford an editor, get at least four friends to read your typescript and then save up and use an editor as soon as you can. They can be invaluable.

Challenge 3 – Knowing your Audience

Are you writing the book you would want to read? If you’re not, give up. You need to be enjoying yourself. Are you writing a book that fits a genre that you read a lot? Make sure you know what your audience expects. I’m not saying don’t experiment and put new angles on things, but you need to give your audiences what they want. Having said that, many successful Indies find a niche market.

Challenge 4 – Marketing

I’ll be honest with you, this is the area I still have to master, especially in the e-book market (most of my sales are hardcopies). The advice is to use Facebook, Twitter, a blog. I’ve tried all of these with no effect. Perhaps I didn’t persist for long enough. In the end I chose to focus my energies on being a prolific writer so that I have a large catalogue of work.

Challenge 5 – The 3 Ps

Patience, persona and persistence. These three words are probably the key for all writers, traditional, Indie or otherwise. It’ll take time (unless you’re incredibility lucky) and it’ll feel like you’re treading water, or, worse yet, sinking. If you have the drive and the talent, it will happen. Give it at least five years.

Here’s my final piece of advice. Write the story. Don’t worry about getting it word perfect, just get it finished. I spend at least three times as long rewriting and editing than I do writing the first draft. That’s okay, and everyone works differently, but if you keep polishing the same bit over and over, you’ll never finish.

So, those are the challenges I’ve faced and some of the lessons I’ve learned. I’m about to enter my forth year and this will be a critical one. I feel I’m finally hitting my stride in terms of finding an audience and a style. If you want to be an Indie, go for it, pursue your dreams, but know this; it won’t be easy.

If you’d like to find out more about me or my books please visit www.taralynbooks.com or if you’re more interested in my books for children, www.gareth-baker.com. You can also find me on Twitter and Facebook. Please follow the links on my website, and sign up for my newsletter.

Take care, and look after yourself,

Gareth

 

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.

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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.

 

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.