Posts Tagged Books Are My Bag

Voice of experience: 5 things that established authors would tell new writers

Advice for the new writer Nail Your NovelA few weeks ago, a bunch of authors gathered for Books Are My Bag day at Barton’s bookshop in Leatherhead, Surrey. Inevitably, some customers asked for advice on writing and publishing. These were the five MFDs (most frequent discussions).

1 You are not alone.

This realisation marked an important threshold. The moment we all found other writers, online or in real-life groups, was like opening a secret door to home. For me, it was a revelation to be among people who treated writing as a routine part of life. Before then, I had a hoard of notebooks with scattered fragments, but couldn’t see a next step. Trying a book seemed a bit improbable, indeed ridiculous. After all, what would I do with it? Meeting other writers made it possible. Within a few months, I was sending short stories to magazines and searching for a grand idea that deserved to be a novel.

I saw this pattern repeated with other writer friends, especially when they began new relationships. Within a few months, the new partner would start writing. The baton was being passed. For some, it was a passing phase; for others, the start of a lifelong habit. And this makes me wonder – how many of us are looking for someone to show the way?

How to have ideas: Your brain, mushroom moments – and why boring tasks are good for your writing2 Write down your dreams.

One writer said that three of her five novels were started from dreams. In one case, she dreamed the entire first chapter, complete with the character’s voice.

Most of us don’t find our dreams are so directly usable. Also, the self-indulgent dream sequence is high on most editors’ hate-lists.

But you can use dreams as prompts, or primers for another way of thinking. I recently found a dream diary from years ago, and expected it to be twaddle. The events were mostly nonsense, but each account had an underlying quality of significance and gut-level logic. Sometimes it’s worth connecting with that if we’re stuck, or unsure which way to take a story. We might find it helpful to open up a more poetic way of thinking, and put aside the literal.

3 Accept that you might have to park a project.

Many of the authors said this was a rite of passage. Although we strive through many rough drafts to complete a book, sometimes we simply can’t make an idea work. Perhaps we need to get older, wiser, more skilled at writing. It’s a mark of maturity to recognise that you can put a piece aside and start on something else. The missing piece might arrive out of the blue, but if it doesn’t, the book was a learning experience.

4 Don’t give up the day job.

One author in our group said: ‘Advances are tiny these days and hardly anyone gets enough royalties or PLR (payments from libraries) to live on. If you give up the day job you’ll have to tour 24/7 doing workshops in schools and every festival on the planet.’

Hands up: who imagined that if they got a publishing deal they’d be ditching the nine-to-five? It hardly ever happens. And festivals/workshops aren’t a reliable source of income, even if you have the energy to do them (and when will you get time to write?). Unless you set out with a business plan as well as a creativity plan – and some writers do, especially indies – your other life will be paying for your authorly life.

5 Separate your publishing achievements from your writing achievements.

Publishing is the ecosystem we’re involved in. Sometimes we’ll fare well, and sometimes we won’t – even if we’ve done everything right. Publishers might reject us or drop us. Marketing departments will decide we’re not worth publishing. Whether we’re traditionally published or indie, our books might not sell, despite the most astute campaigns. Amazon might change its algorithms or invent a new incentive that steals away all our readers. We don’t have any control over this. But we do have control over our craft. Writing – the reward of making good books and satisfying our own standards – is where we should put our pride.

Thanks, Leo Hartas, for the eyes and brain pic – which is from Husband Dave’s graphic novel Mirabilis, Year of Wonders

As we reel into December, how’s 2015 been for your writing and publishing endeavours? Is there something you’ve learned that you would pass onto a new writer? Perhaps this was the first year you made a serious go of writing, or put  significant mileage into a manuscript, or hit your goals, or did something you wouldn’t have imagined was likely or possible. Leave a comment – and forgive me if I’m a little slow replying. I’m away this week with sporadic internet access.

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3-ish tips for pitching your book

5183319657_7679455bdf_zI’m slightly early with my post this week. On Saturday I’m an author in residence at Barton’s Bookshop as part of the national Books Are My Bag celebrations this week. After that, Morris HQ is on cyber-shutdown for the weekend as we celebrate a friend’s 40th. Just as I was wondering what (on earth!) to post about, this question popped into my inbox:

‘I have to give a presentation about my novel at college. Could you give me some tips on what to talk about? Thanks, Fahim’

Thank you, Fahim. Since I’m going to spend the day explaining my books to complete strangers (and hoping not to frighten them) I could do with thinking about this. So whether you’re wooing a class, an agent or just one interested book lover, here’s an express guide to pitching your book. It’s a brief post, but attention spans are short… ooh, tree mammal.

1 The novel in a nutshell

First, they want to know what it’s about. Orientate them with a polished one-liner that gives a clear idea of the kind of characters and the story – eg ‘it’s a novel about five friends at college who murder somebody and have to live with the consequences’.

2 Get the title in early

Make sure your one-liner explains the title, or makes the title intriguing. Your audience will probably remember no more than a couple of details. You want one of them to be the title and its tantalising promise.

3 Get personal

Tell them why it became your personal mission to write the book. If you have an anecdote about your initial inspiration, that helps pull the audience on board. Hint about where your research took you and why there’s much, much more than you could say here. Single out key characters with strong dilemmas; people are more memorable than themes. Weave in comparisons with other novels or films if they’ll help make your point more strongly, but they’re not essential.

4 Is there scope for a reading?

Obviously you won’t give a reading if you’re buttonholing an individual. But if you’ve got a bigger audience, it might be natural to round off your talk with an excerpt. If so, context is everything. It’s hard for listeners to plunge into the middle of action, or adjust their minds to a section of dialogue. Whatever you choose to read, make sure it continues the threads you’ve been tempting them with so far. Perhaps a tricky, cruel character, or the awesome difficulties of spending the night in the same house as a dead Mafia boss. You can find more tips here on choosing a passage to showcase your book.

bagPS What’s Books Are My Bag?

It’s a national campaign to celebrate bookshops. If you’re in the UK, drop by your local bookseller and see if they’re breaking out in bunting, orange cake and sloganed T-shirts. Chances are, if you buy some books, they’ll give you a smart tote bag. If you don’t, they’ll probably set their pet authors on you…

Thanks, Fahim, for the inspiration. (And thanks Alexisnyal for the pic) Do you have any tips to add?

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