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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7 Great Gifts for Writers

Everyone has a writer friend, right? That person in their life who’s never without a notebook and pen, whose head is forever in the clouds. So what do you get them for their birthday or for their graduation present? Don’t worry, we’ve got a few ideas to keep you covered.

 

A Book of Writing Prompts

Every writer uses writing prompts to help get their creativity going, so what better present to get them than a book choc full of them? There’s plenty in The Write-Brain Workbook, with great variety for different moods. Go on, have a look…

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A Magazine Subscription

Not just to any magazine, to the magazine; The Writing Magazine. It’s a must-have for all writers, full of writing tips and competitions to enter. It doesn’t have to be to this particular magazine, there are plenty of others out there, but I find that this one is cracking.

 

Story Cubes

These are amazing! They’re dice that you role to give you ideas for stories. I know many writers that use and collect them, and I’m sure your writer friends will find them super useful too. You can have lots of fun with them, in a group and by yourself. And, when you get bored of using the same set of dice, there are plenty of Story Cube expansion packs that you can buy.

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A Poetry Card

You might remember that a few weeks ago we reviewed a poetry pamphlet by the wonderful Candlestick Press. They make great substitutes for birthday cards, and with the variety of topics available there’s something for every writer. You can take a look at them here…

 

An Editing Gift Card

For a writer to submit their work to competitions and literary agents, and even publishing companies, they need to have their work edited. We offer gift cards that you can give to them to help pay towards their editing services. Take a look at them here. They’re available in different designs and at different prices.

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A Novel Writing Book

Writing a novel is hard, but this book here, Ready, Set, Novel!, is great for helping to plan the plot along with the characters. It’s a must-have for every writer, and your friend will love you forever for getting it for them. Don’t believe me? Take a look at it and see what you think…

 

A Novel Poster

These make A M A Z I N G presents! If you know your friend’s favourite classic novel, buy them a poster of it. These posters have the entire novel written on them, really small, shaped in an image relating to the book. I love this one of Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea! You can read every word on it, so it’s like buying them a book that they can frame and put on their wall.

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Hopefully we’ve given you an idea or two on what to get your writer friend for their special event. Tell us in the comments below the best present you’ve ever been given as a writer to give us more ideas!

Book Review: Five Nonsense Poems

I’ve recently discovered Candlestick Press, a small publisher of poetry in Nottingham, and I am so happy to have done so. The highlight of their publications is their collection of ‘cards’ for children that they make. These contain a selection of poetry to give in lieu of a traditional greetings card. After browsing in my local Waterstones, I finally picked one out to have a read.

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Out of the entire selection on the rotating rack, it’s Five Nonsense Poems that caught my eye. The striking blue of the cover along with the fun illustrations appealed to me, and with my young nephew’s upcoming birthday on my mind I just couldn’t resist.

The paper quality is fantastic. It feels great in my hands; a top quality feel of thick, textured card that tells you it’s been printed and produced by someone who cares. Inside, the pages are just thick enough so that you can’t see through them to the print on the back, with meticulous printing of the ink on each page. There’s not one mistake to be seen; the sign of a talented editor who knows exactly what they’re doing.

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I feel that I cannot comment on the actual writing within the pages, as the poems are all selected from previous works, but whoever selected them chose them well. You can’t have a selection of nonsense poems without featuring Spike Milligan, and Carol Ann Duffy’s poem is a great choice for the opening. It was a slight surprise though; I was expecting new poetry from new poets, but what is there does not disappoint. And, if I had bothered to read the blurb rather than being focussed on the cover design, I would have seen the names of all the poets in there and known.

The highlight by far though is the beautiful illustrations by Ruth Green. They’re bold and bright and just what a book of nonsense poems needs. I especially love the illustration that goes with Pauline Clarke’s poem – it’s fun and neat and looks great alongside the poem. Green’s imagination and creativity is what attracted me to the collection in the first place, and her art is the perfect fit for the poems. And, as a collection advertised as being perfect for children, it’s beautiful enough even for the youngest of readers to enjoy.

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As a present, it really is wonderful. It comes with a striking blue envelope as well as a high quality bookmark and sticker with illustrations from the collection on them. They’re a nice little touch that gives something extra to the collection. There’s even nice touches on the inside to, like a ‘to’ and ‘from’ page and a page at the back for the receiver to write their own poem or draw their own creature.

 

I really do love this collection of poetry. It makes a perfect gift for a child or an adult, and has a great quality to it that lets you know the publisher cares. The other collections look equally appealing; in fact, I might go buy the collection of cat poems now.

Jargon Buster 2

Whenever talking about writing here at The Writers’ Den we tend to use a lot of jargon. These specialist, writing specific words help us to explain what we mean in the best way possible, and without them our posts wouldn’t make much sense. A lot of you are beginner writers though, and might not know some of these words, so here’s a list of some writing terminology and their definitions.

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Archetype: A typical example of something.

Audience: The intended readers of a writer’s work.

Backstory: The story of what happens before your novel begins.

Cliché: An expression that has been overused.

Exposition: A direct way of giving readers information that is needed for the story to make sense.

Denouement: The final part of a story, in which everything is pulled together and explained/resolved.

Dystopian Fiction: This genre is often categorised within fantasy and science fiction, and explores social and political constructs in a darker world similar to our own.

Foreshadowing: Hints that are left early on in a story to give clues to an important event that will occur later on.

Head-Hopping: This is where numerous points of views are told in one scene. This can be very hard to achieve well.

Hyperbole: A deliberate exaggeration.

Imagery: The use of language to create an image that appeals to the senses.

Indie Author: A writer who has chosen to to have complete control over the production of their books.

Premise: A one sentence story of what your novel is about.

Proofreader: Someone who checks a manuscript for spelling and grammatical mistakes.

Show Don’t Tell: A way of giving readers information that is needed for the story in an indirect way, by showing things through actions, senses or feelings rather than just saying it.

Tone: The writer’s attitude that comes across through their writing.

Has this post helped you to expand your writing vocab? If there’s any other writing jargon you can’t quite get your head around, let us know in the comments below and we’ll include it in our next jargon busting post.

Book Review: The Forgotten and the Fantastical 2, edited by Teika Bellamy

The Forgotten and the Fantastical 2 is a collection of short stories written by various writers on the theme of mythology and fairy tales. Published by Mother’s Milk Books, a Nottingham based publishing company, it’s a creative triumph that really shows off the talent of emerging and established writers.

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The collection is a great read, I think especially for fans of mythology and fantasy. Unfortunately though, it’s the weakest story in the collection that serves as our first taste. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a decent story, but to me it lacked the originality and flair that the other stories are brimming with. It seemed to fall flat at the end, with no clear conclusion or resolution, resulting in the feeling that the story has just been cut off. I imagine if this story were in the middle of the collection I wouldn’t have noticed these small flaws, but I always hold the first story of an anthology to a very high standard as it’s that piece that will make me decide whether to read on or not. It’s a shame that this one didn’t quite hit the mark, but nonetheless I read on and the rest more than made up for it.

My favourite story in the collection is The Jungle Goddess, written by Anuradha Gupta. I love the exotic setting that stands out amongst the dull English background of the other stories. It’s vibrant and refreshing, with a spark of energy that brings the tale to life. Gupta has written the story in the present tense, and whilst it’s very unusual it’s done so well that I couldn’t help but enjoy it.

The drummers drop their sticks and a silence falls over the crowd. Men and women, all turn to stare at the vision before them. Gungun, with her dark untamed locks tumbling down over her bare shoulders and breasts, adorned in nothing but a silver anklet, stares back absently at the blazing fire and the grey shadows that stand all around it.

The story is new and the writing is truly excellent. This extract is just a small example of the imagery and innovative writing that Gupta uses in the story. It’s a fantastic story that really shines out in the collection.

Little Lost Soul, written by Marija Smits, is very different to the other stories in the collection, mainly because of the writing style. I find Smits’ writing to be very literary and of a high quality that could easily produce the next Penguin Classic. It’s hard to find the right words to describe it. I guess the closest I can think of is to compare it to the writing of Philip K. Dick. For me, it resembled his writing very much, with its industrial, futuristic setting and amazing writing. I look forward to reading more of Smits’ work in the future.

Lilasette is a story that for me really embodies the spirit of the publishing company, whilst giving us a true fairy tale. It has a great evil queen that steals her servant’s newborn baby so that she can have a daughter to shape into her own image. Despite not being a main character, it’s the servant who really stands out in this story. Her empowerment is to be admired and she really helps to shape the story into something that reminds you of why mothers are so important.

It’s also worth giving Ana Salote’s story a quick mention. Her fairy tale twists what we know and gives us a refreshing take on a fairy. I think it is great writing and I really enjoyed the 21st Century, slightly gritty realism of the story. The title Grimm Reality is very well chosen, and embodies Salote’s writing style.

On the whole the book is very well put together. It’s a good collection of varying stories and has been edited and produced very professionally. I was a bit disappointed to see that the same fairy tale has been used twice in the book. Up until the very last story I was really impressed that I hadn’t come across any obvious repetitions, but the last one was a little too similar to the first for me. However, the editor clearly recognised the similarity as they’ve started and ended the collection with these two pieces. If you can’t avoid a repeat, embracing it like this is the best way to do it.

The real highlight of the book is the illustrations. I don’t know where Teika Bellamy found Emma Howitt but she’s the silent shining star in the book. Howitt’s illustrations are beautiful and intricate and really help to bring each story to life. I hope more people take notice of her work, because it’s so beautiful that it deserves to be scattered across books everywhere.

 

Overall this book really is worth a read. I loved the stories, especially the modernised ones, and felt that they all slotted in well with each other. Having not read The Forgotten and the Fantastical 1 I can’t really compare the two, but if that one is anything like this one it’s most definitely worth a read. Full of fairy tales for adults brimming with truly fantastical characters, this collection belongs on everyone’s bookshelves.

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.

 

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:

https://writersinkouragement.wordpress.com/2016/03/10/how-to-get-published-advice-from-an-editor/

If you have any questions about getting published or working with an editor, drop us an email at info@hemsleyseditorial.co.uk 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.

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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!

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.