Posts Tagged Submission package
Your first pages – 5 manuscripts critiqued at @Litopia by literary agent @AgentPete @AJ_Dickenson and me!
Posted by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris in How to write a book on March 10, 2023
I’ve just guested again at Litopia, the online writers’ colony and community. Each week they have a YouTube show, Pop-Up Submissions, where five manuscripts are read and critiqued live on air by literary agent Peter Cox @agentpete and a guest, or sometimes two. This time the other guest was Andy Dickenson @AJ_Dickenson, ITV reporter and YA author.
The format is simple. Five manuscripts, each with a short blurb. We hear the opening pages, then discuss how they’re working – exactly as agents and commissioning editors would consider a submission.
This week’s edition had a range of genres. Speculative fiction, fantasy, sweet romance, contemporary and – a new one on me – Martini-flavoured spy thriller in a grounded steampunk world.
Have you heard of that? I hadn’t. But it turned out to be an accurate description.
As always, the manuscripts had many strengths. They were fluently written and thoroughly realised. The authors often had solid track records in other areas of writing. But how did they do as novelists, and were these submissions ready to wow an agent or publisher?
There were several issues we discussed.
Titles – Some titles suggested the wrong genre. Or weren’t memorable enough. Or didn’t catch the spirit of the text. Some hit exactly the right notes, but even so, the chatroom audience still had questions, worrying about whether the word order could be switched for more oomph.
Blurbs – Blurb-writing is a dark art of its own, and mostly loathed, but whenever you present a manuscript, you have to write a short summary. Some blurbs hit just the right notes, promising plenty of the kind of action that would appeal to readers of that genre. Some gave too much, so the reader was confused by the end. Some gave far too little – a vivid moment from the action, but no indication of the overall trajectory of the book, whether it would be personal essays that dwelt in the moment or a bigger arc, perhaps of tragedy, perhaps of healing. It’s so interesting to learn what the reader needs from that one, agonising paragraph.
Beats of action – one of the openings had an interesting incident, but was cluttered by another incident that took too much of our attention before switching to the important character. At the start of a novel, the reader is so adrift, they are easily overloaded.
Purpose and lack of purpose – one of the manuscripts had a vivid setting with one character observing another. But somehow the narrative lacked purpose – we didn’t know what the protagonist was there to do. This made the narrative hard to understand.
Starting at the wrong moment – two of the manuscripts were trying to front-load a lot of explanation and back story, but had done it in scenes that were not intrinsically interesting.
Developing a writing voice – this wasn’t a problem in any of the manuscripts we examined. All flowed beautifully in styles that seemed natural to the writer and suitable for their chosen genre. But Peter, as an agent, and also as Head Lit of Litopia, sees a lot of manuscripts that lack these qualities, so we spent one segment of the show discussing the elusive ‘it’ factor – how do you find your own writing voice?
Enjoy! And if you’ve got a manuscript you’d like critiqued, apply here.
There’s a lot more about writing in my Nail Your Novel books – find them here. If you’re curious about my own work, find novels here and my travel memoir here. And if you’re curious about what’s going on at my own writing desk, here’s my latest newsletter. You can subscribe to future updates here.
It’s a cover! My Memories Of A Future Life – and how to find your novel’s theme
Posted by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris in Book marketing, My Memories of a Future Life, The writing business on July 23, 2011
A crucial part of introducing your novel to agents or directly to readers is identifying your novel’s central theme. But that can be mighty hard to do. Here’s how I did it
Final tweaks are being twaught. Kindle hell beckons. Blurb hell too. But cover hell is over, at least the front.
And what theme is this pretty book scratching away at, you may ask? What questions are burning out of the red piano and the blue sky?
Answering that has caused me considerable grief. The journey in the book takes 100,000 words. How do I find one sentence – just one – that captures the heart of it?
It took me a while. Much pacing up and down.
My first thought was, it feels like it’s about the whole of life itself. Everything. The universe.
As a theme, ‘everything’ was a bit, well, vague. And it’s the very least you’d expect of a self-respecting well-rounded novel.
Then I made lists of common themes in fiction, as if I was doing an essay for A-level English. It was no help at all.
Everything seemed to fit. Love, loss, friendship, fate. Cheating, lying, haunting, being haunted. Nature, confinement, superstition, the weather. It was easier to find themes that weren’t in the book than themes that were.
I had to pull away from ‘subjects’, because every multi-layered novel will have plenty of them. So I asked myself: what are people doing in this book that gives it its distinctive flavour?
It had to come down to the MC. Her relationships. Her central problem. The patterns that repeat again and again with everyone she meets. The things she reacts to that show what she’s searching for. Her peculiar situation and what she needs to understand.
After quarrying down that seam, I had it. This is what My Memories of a Future Life is about.
How do you find where you belong?
Red piano: Bonnie Schupp Photography at iStockPhoto
Have you found your novel’s theme yet? If so, how did you do it? And if you have, share it in the comments