|By Antonio Litterio|
|By Antonio Litterio|
In the first five parts of this series, I’ve covered finding ideas, character development, planning (or not), basic three-act structure and dirty drafts. If you’ve got your first, rough draft down on paper and you’ve managed to put it aside to mellow for a while, you’ll be raring to go.
Now’s the time to tie everything together. This is where the old line “write about what you know” can be both a blessing and a curse. Inside knowledge is perfect for adding details, and that’s the problem. If you’re a mechanic writing a thriller, you’re the ideal person to give tantalising glimpses of the power of getaway cars, and the intimate luxury of limousines. Just make sure you only salt your work with facts, rather than pickle it in brine. John Grisham gives enough detail in his legal thrillers such as The Firm to fill you in and keep you reading—he’s careful not to make you feel you need a Bar exam to read his books.
What if your book is a personal memoir, and you think you don’t have technical expertise in any field? Think again. Everyone knows how it feels to be hungry, thirsty, disappointed or excited. You’re an expert in being you. Put your own personal spin on your fictional characters. Deepen their conflicts by drawing on your experience of your own feelings, and the reactions you’ve seen in other people. Use all your senses to enliven your work. The sound and feel of fresh snow crunching under your feet, the sight of clouds rushing across a March landscape in fitful spring sunshine, the fragrance and taste of fresh baking…writing is a chance to indulge your creativity, so get thinking!
Make sure you do plenty of external research to get all your technical details correct. Don’t feel you have to include everything you know, or find out—see the comment about John Grisham’s books, above. Keep some things in reserve, complete with all references, so you can answer any questions put to you by your readers. I used my memories of a recent holiday at a luxurious spa to spice up His Majesty’s Secret Passion, then double-checked everything I could.
|From Amazon, with love: http://amzn.to/14udZUC|
However brilliant you are, there’ll always be someone out there who knows (or thinks they know) more than you do—even if it’s only your mum. You owe it to your readers to get everything as near-perfect as you can. As well as checking specialist facts and figures, don’t forget the little things. Unless you’re writing about an alternative universe, don’t say the date’s 30th February, or give England tropical temperatures on Christmas Day. Stranger things have happened—but not many.
Once you’ve produced a detailed second draft, take the time (and the throat sweets) read it through aloud to yourself. I use this step to produce a timeline, too, if I haven’t done one already. This makes sure everyone and everything hangs together. Make all the alterations and amendments your work needs, then repeat the reading and nit-picking as often as it takes to make your work perfect.
Then comes the moment when you find out whether your manuscript can survive in the wider world. If you have a friend you can trust to give you impartial advice, get them to read your work. A fresh pair of eyes will shine like searchlights through holes in your plot, and pick out the kind of typos and inconsistencies we all miss when we’re poring over our work. It needs distance to be able to spot these things. I type “form” instead of “from” and vice versa all the time. However careful I am about reading back and checking, my Beta reader almost always finds one that’s slipped past me.
If you think your friend will be either too kind or too harsh (it can happen!), employ a professional Beta reader. Word of mouth is the best recommendation, but there are plenty of ads in writing magazines, and online. Check them out thoroughly before you part with any money.
Once you’ve polished your book until it gleams, put it aside again for at least another week while you get on with the next important steps in the birth of a book: starting the next one and finding a market. Those topics are going to be the next parts parts in my Birth Of A Book series. To make sure you catch them, sign up to my blog clicking on the link above, or email me at christinahollis(at)hotmail.co.uk with the word “Blog” in the subject line, replacing the word “at” with @ in my address.
|By Antonio Litterio|
You’ve heard of “show, don’t tell”? In your covering letter, you’ve got to “sell, not tell”. Imagine you’re surfing the net to check out holiday sites while your boss’s back is turned. You’ve only got a few seconds, so it’s the sites where one glance tells you all you want to know that get bookmarked, isn’t it? The same goes for the letter you send with your manuscript when it’s sent to an agent or publisher.
That letter is your landing page. It’s your shop window, where you entice an overworked reader to stop and take a second, and maybe a third, look. Make it sleek, professional, uncluttered, and easy to understand. Writing for publication is a business, so make your communications businesslike. Keep it to one side of A4, and don’t write it by hand. Get it printed.
Direct it to the right firm, and if possible, a named person. This shows you’ve done your research, rather than copying-in multiple agents and publishers with a scatter-gun approach.
Tell them who you are, and give details of any relevant publishing history you might have. Be brief, and don’t be afraid to blow your own trumpet, but beware. What’s the first thing you do when you discover a new person? That’s right, you check them out on Google. The writing industry is no different. If the Dalai Lama doesn’t really ring you for advice each morning, your credibility will go the same way as your chances of reaching nirvana.
Include the length and genre of your book, the market you’re targetting, and why you’re the best person to tell this story. Explain why you’re writing to them in particular. “The MegaPublisher website names you as the commissioning editor in charge of contemporary romantic fiction,” shows you’ve read up on them. Make sure you’ve checked out their requirements, too. List what you’re sending, which should ideally be no more than a synopsis, your manuscript and return postage if you’re sending it via the postal service.
YOUR ELEVATOR PITCH:
This is the essence of your story, distilled into no more than a sentence or two. A synopsis is the proper place for full details of your story (you can find out how how to write the perfect one here). Your covering letter must major in facts, to plant seeds of curiosity about your fiction. Cultivating an overworked editor’s need to find out more about your work will stop them moving on to the next manuscript in their inbox.
Tell them why you write and for Pete’s sake, be original. We all have “a compulsion”. None of us “can help ourselves”. Sad sacks that we writers are, we all “just have to write” and “can’t go a day without doing it”. Imagine the excitement of an editor who’s read a million of those tired old trills when they come across something like “My sense of injustice provoked me to write this story,” or “Solitary confinement after my conviction as a rogue trader left me with time to fill, so here’s the inside track on pork belly futures,” They’ll dance with joy—as long as you don’t go on to blow it all by claiming the Dalai Lama got you released.
Unless it’s true, of course.
Wreck your chances by telling them it’s a work of genius, you’re the next E L James and you’ll be ringing them in a week’s time to arrange a date and time to sign your contract. They’re much better qualified to make decisions about things like that than you are.
It’s not only self-pubbers who have to market their own books these days. Mainstream publishers expect a team effort. They have a lot invested in their authors, so everyone has to work hard at promoting their books. An unknown who shows they’ve got a good grasp of the marketing basics by presenting a faultless covering letter stands a much better chance of getting their manuscript read.
Can you condense your favourite classic book down into the one or two sentences of an elevator pitch?
|By Antonio Litterio|
- If you want to be published, never lose sight of your readership. Write in a way that’ll engage your audience. Know who you’re aiming for. A fourteen-year old boy won’t be reading the same thing as his middle-aged grandmother. Even if he was, the language would need to be different. But whatever you write, pour your heart and soul into it. Believe in your work, and so will your readers.
- Once you’ve decided who your audience will be, concentrate your literary firepower. Direct it straight toward your reader, as though you were telling them a story, face-to-face. Make sure you put your own writing pleasure before profit. If you can sit back after finishing a piece and say “I really enjoyed doing that!” you’ll never need to sell a word – unless the bailiffs are hammering at your door.
- Never pad out your writing with pointless description or backstory. If you’ve written a trilogy but two-thirds of it is info-dump, distill your work into a single title instead. It’s not lowering your sights, it’s improving your work and upping your game. Remember: make every word a wanted word – but never delete anything. Catalogue it, and save in a way you can easily find it again. You never know when that extract or nugget of research will come in handy.
|By Antonio Litterio|
Once you’ve finished writing your book, it feels like the hard work’s over. Then you discover it’s only just beginning. Unless you’ve got a literary agent, you’ll have to come out from behind your keyboard and start selling–yourself, as well as your books. This is the toughest part for many authors. Most of us like to spend every spare moment shut away in our own little worlds. The bright lights of publicity are dazzling, but here are some great ways to cope:
1. Buddy Up: To be an author, you only need to put words down on a page, or up on a screen. Telling a story needs an audience. Actually selling a book needs readers willing to hand over good money. Start gently, with your friends and family. If they like your work, they shouldn’t take much persuading to set up a daisy-chain of sales by recommending your book to their friends. News spreads like ripples in a pond, on the Six Degrees of Separation principle. Make friends with your local librarian (see the next point!) as they’re often keen to give publicity to local writers. Join groups such as the Romantic Novelists’ Association, whose members are keen readers as well as writers. They’re a fund of useful advice when it comes to book-selling opportunities. Go online where the readers are, too, on sites such as Goodreads. Twitter‘s a great way of networking but remember, the most important thing is actually to build friendships and find out what readers like, rather than go all-out to sell. The internet lacks the subtlety of face-to-face contact. Make sure you only include a sales pitch once in every dozen tweets or so. Make contacts, have fun, and see any effect on sales as a bonus.
2. Go Equipped: Never leave home without something you can hand out to people you meet. A picture tells a thousand words, so get illustrated! If you don’t have a good local printer, you can pick up some great stuff online; bookmarks, flyers with your book’s cover on one side and a teasing quote on the other, and business cards. Make sure your contact details are on everything. If your book’s available in hardback or paperback form, carry a couple of autographed copies, too. Libraries are aways glad of donated books, and you can give them some bookmarks at the same time. It all helps to get your name recognised, and that’ll help widen the audience for your work.
3. Contract Out: This is where literary agents and virtual assistants can really save you time and stress. Ok, you have to pay for their time and expertise, but they spend their working days honing their specific skills. Wouldn’t you like to do the same with your craft? Employing someone to do all your non-writing work gives you more time to be creative. You can read more about the pros and cons of literary agents here. I did a blog tour with Nas Dean for The Weight of The Crown, and it was an easy, fun way to connect with readers. While Nas did all the organisation and paperwork, I dropped in at every blog to answer questions, and reply to comments from readers. It was great–the dates, scheduling, formats, information spreadsheets and prize draw admin was handled by Nas, while I spent all my time doing what I love: writing, and chatting online with readers.
For more writing tips, visit my website by clicking here. You can sign up for my occasional newsletter by mailing me at christinahollis@hotmail(dot)co(dot)uk, putting “NEWSLETTER” in the subject line.