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Once in a while something happens which renews your faith in human nature and in the belief that we are all really here to help oneanother regardless of our differing viewpoints.

Anyone who has been following my blog over the past week will be aware of the debate in the Blogosphere around YouWriteOn, particularly on Jane Smith’s ‘How Publishing Really Works.’ In my last post I bemoaned the lack of support in the forums from anyone in the publishing industry, and also mentioned the need for advice on marketing for the 5000.

Help has come from a most unexpected source- Jane Smith herself. In her comment on my last post she said that despite her opposition to YouWriteOn she knows that the only way that any of the 5000 will go anywhere with their books is through publicity and marketing through  ‘non-bookshop’ outlets. Jane has marketing experience and will be asking some of her contacts in the field to put posts on her blog. So if you are one of the 5000, or the author of a self-published book, keep your eye on http://howpublishingreallyworks.blogspot.com/

Also, if you are one of the people waiting for the publication of your book by Legend Press you will probably have been, like me, thinking how you can get your book out to as many people as possible. I will be blogging about the ways in which I intend to do this, and would like to invite as many contributors as possible to add their ideas, so that there will be a repository of marketting tools here for anyone to access. It would be such a shame if, after all of the hard work that so many people have put into their books, they do not get a decent readership through lack of marketing.

Thanks for your encouragement pennyb22, I look forward to hearing from more of you,

Allan.

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My 2007 copy of the ‘Writers’ and Artists’ Year Book’ is full of useful articles by published authors. I haven’t got the 2008 version, but I can guarantee that even though they say that the content changes every year the message will be the same: If you want to get your book onto the shelves you need tenacity, staying power, and a positive mental attitude.

Funny how none of them mention the mental attributes of a box of frogs…

I remember the day I completed my novel, thinking naively that I would send it off, maybe get a few rejections, but that by this time next year…
When it doesn’t happen it is easy to get disheartened. Read accounts of how bestselling writers went through the same. Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ is a good one.

In the 2007 Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook J.K. Rowling tells of how getting rejection slips made her feel like a real writer. I feel so sorry for her not having the chance to feel that way again that I’m going to send her some of mine in return for her fortune and movie franchise.

I have found confidence coaching a useful tool. (For more information go to http://thelynngrocottacademy.bravehost.com/coaching.html or read Lynn’s book, ‘Cut the Strings.’)

What I would highly recommend is that you find a confidence coach. You can read about the techniques, but there is no substitute for having a real live person helping you along. These days this doesn’t have to be face to face- Lynn Grocott coaches by phone, by email and through Skype.

One of the main tools that I have used is the pyramid. Draw a pyramid with lots of bricks with room to write in. Put your goal at the top- e.g. ‘I want to see my book on Amazon.’ This is what you are working towards. Do you believe that? If so you will be working towards that until you achieve it, or for the rest of your life- whichever comes first.
The bricks at the bottom will contain those things you need to do first- e.g., if you’ve not already done so, write the novel. Others will be about research you have to do, browsing publishers websites, completing your synopsis and application letter etc.
Many publishers these days like to see that a writer can help market themselves, so marketing should come in there somewhere.
Your pyramid will be topped by a massive goal, but the steps below will be things that are easy to achieve. And as you achieve them cross them off or highlight them. This is really helpful when you feel like your goal is a long way off.
And do something every day. You may think that you don’t have time. That something may be a five minute phone call, or a browse on the internet for writing or publishing sites. It all feeds into the pyramid and gets you a little closer to your goal.

GOOD LUCK

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2007 was an annus horribilis…

Things just seemed to go wrong. I actually put a blog on my MySpace page entitled ‘Victor Meldrew Week,’ because of the number of times in one week I said the words ‘I don’t believe it!’

People I cared for died. I was in a car accident which wrote off my car and left me with whiplash. My wife had to leave her Primary School Headship due to ill health. My hobby of amateur dramatics had for one reason or another stopped being fun, and I seemed to be getting nowhere in my quest to publish ‘Tasting the Wind.’

I felt a need to make changes, to regenerate, but didn’t know where the energy to do so was going to come from. I haven’t mentioned yet a sad fact about my life which is my obsession with the T.V. programme Dr. Who. I find the idea of regeneration fascinating, and think of it as a modern myth representing the changes that we all need to make at points in our lives in order not just to stay alive but to really live.

The other thing I haven’t mentioned is that some years ago I was diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder. I don’t know if it was anything to do with the fact that the Summer of that year had failed to happen, but when it got to October my SAD symptoms kicked in with a vengeance- tiredness, low mood, anxiety. It’s like watching twenty four hour reruns of ‘Eastenders.’

It was sometime in November when I was checking my emails that I found that someone had sent me a message through MySpace.

It was entitled ‘Can we join forces?’

The message claimed to be from someone called Lynn, who went to the same school as me, and now wanted to be my friend on MySpace. l wasn’t in the mood for making friends with anyone. I remembered David Tennant’s Doctor, grieving after leaving Rose in a parallel universe, (non-afficianados please bear with me) then suddenly finding that there was a strange mad woman in his Tardis.

That’s all I need- a stalker.

I popped downstairs to refill my glass, and mentioned the message to my wife. She suggested it might be someone after money.

Of course! The profile mentioned fundraising.

Then I saw it. This lynn was not only a fundraiser, she was a public speaker. And not only that. She was an author. A published one. Someone who had been published was trying to contact me…
TO BE CONTINUED…

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I referred previously to Johnboy and his unwitting stumble into vanity publishing. I won’t be dealing with that subject here- just Google ‘Vanity Press’ and you will find endless websites and blogs with a message which can be summed up in three words: don’t do it!
What I’m more interested in here are the ways in which the internet has created a new environment for people to make money from the writer’s desire to get published.

The first rule to apply is never to part with money. Not that all services that ask for money are disreputable- some will provide you with a professional critique at a cost, with no catches. I myself paid for one from Golganooza, and from frontlist (My experiences are chronicled elsewhere in this blog.)

The internet has also opened the way for print on demand (POD.) What POD does is cut out the need for expensive print runs, as a book is only printed when someone orders it. Your book is stored electronically. Publication: guaranteed, no cost: guaranteed, sales… well.

One criticism of POD is that if you look at what is available in this format you will not have heard the names of any of the writers. Although sites may promote your book, they do not have behind them the vast marketing resources of the big Publishing houses.

But it does mean that you could publish now, even if it means that your only readers are your friends. A very popular site is ‘Lulu.’ You can also upload your work to Amazon Kindle. This is a new e-book reader which promises to be as easy on the eye as paper. We have yet to see if readers will embrace this over the centuries-old paper book. In my opinion I don’t think that we should underestimate the sensory satisfaction gained from the feel and the smell of a book.

In an episode of Star Trek, when Captain Jean Luc Picard was on leave, he sat reading a book. The creative minds behind the series obviously felt that whatever the technological advances we will still be reading books made of paper. And It looked sort of right.

Continuing my quest for an agent over the internet I came across what looked like a promising company calling themselves the ‘Writers Book Agency.’

They said that they were different to other agents in that they worked closely with promising writers, giving support and feedback which would get their work to a publishable standard.

I sent my letter, synopsis and opening chapters and, whoopy-do, they were interested.

They said things to allay my fears, like not asking for the whole book. They said that they had got four books published- surely, I thought, if this were a scam they would not claim such a modest number.

So I applied one of my tests- I googled ‘Writers Book Agency review.’ What it brought up was an interesting debate- one in which the Writers Book Agency were taking part- about the integrity of the company.

The question was raised as to why the WBA never revealed the identities of those they had taken to publication. It also emerged that after a series of very wordy emails the WBA suggested that writers pay for an independent reading of their work. The implication was that the ‘independent’ readers recommended were actually WBA by another name.

I will withold judgement, but we have here an agent who won’t tell you which published authors they represent (the agents in the writers and artist’s yearbook list their clients) and which inevitably asks you to part with money. They even implied that unwillingness to spend some money on the process indicated lack of belief.

This exploitation of the needs and insecurities of the unpublished writer doesn’t seem that far removed from the methods of the Vanity Press.

And yes, I got my email, saying that they wished to take me on, and recommending people who would, at a price, read my work. I ignored it. Who knows- this may be a genuine outfit which has helped four people achieve their dream. But if it is not a scam, why doesn’t it realise that it is going around around dressed as one?

I remember watching as John Walton Junior struggled to become a published author.

‘I’ve had so many rejection slips,’ he remonstrated, ‘that I could paper my room with them.’

Now considering that Johnboy grew up during the Great Depression, using rejection slips in this way sounds like a great enrepreneurial idea. So, as we face recession, here is how you too can cut down on the cost of decorating.

Firstly- you need the ‘Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook.’ There’s a new one out every year, and its articles do reflect changing trends. I’m still using the 2007 edition. I have a pact with it: when it helps me to sell my book, I will use some of the money to buy another one- and not before.

Writers and Artists has articles not only advising you on how to submit your work to agents and publishers, but also contains information on alternative forms of publishing such as self-publishing and print on demand.

But if we’re honest, I suppose the overriding attraction is the information and addresses of agents and publishers.

It is generally recommended that you get an agent. Avoid anyone who asks for payment before you publish because real agents never do this. They will cream off about 15% of what your book earns, but because they live and breathe the world of publishing they will negotiate for far more than you ever could and save you from the pitfalls.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it? The downside is that agents and publishers’ prime concern is not purely to promote quality- it is to promote what will sell.
There is a clear preference these days for the single genre high concept novel, typified by Dan Brown, and a whole range of clones.

But… people get published- why shouldn’t it be you?

Agents requirements vary. They will ask for about two chapters, a synopsis, and a covering letter- I won’t go into any more detail here because the Year Book covers that. Just make sure that you give exactly what each agent asks for- not a page more or a page less.

Don’t be fooled like I was into sending your submissions out one at a time. It can take weeks to return. I always send them in threes now. And you’re better assuming that ‘it’ (that is your A4 stamped, self- addressed envelope) will return. It stops your heart from sinking too far when you hear it land on your mat- your returned extract, and more wallpaper.

The annoying thing about agents’ letters is that they are standard. You don’t know if your work just isn’t what they are looking for, if it’s almost good enough- or if it’s irredeamable slush.
One agent’s letter said that they received 300 submissions per week and only took on three writers… PER YEAR.

But they do take them on. So why shoudn’t it be you?

One of the key characteristics at this point is tenacity. Believe in your work. Never give up. And remember-



a book is not just for bedtime: it’s for life.

And if it takes you years to get published, just think of all that free wallpaper.
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At the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence not only can you see ‘David’ but also several of Michelangelo’s unfinished sculptures.

An assumption I had always held about sculpture was shattered the day I visited that gallery: I had always assumed that a sculptor would chip away at the front of his slab of marble, then gradually move round it, whittling it down to a figure. Not so Michelangelo- He worked from front to back- and the unfinished pieces look as if all you have to do is to break the remainder of the ‘cocoon’ from aroud them to reveal a complete statue.

Some writers work that way. Stephen King, for instance, starts at the beginning and writes until he gets to the end, developing characters and situations naturally as they emerge.

I don’t think that I could write that way as long as I’d got a hole in my **** (or, for any American readers, ***.) I’m more of a potterer around the marble with my chisel sort of writer- I may start at the beginning, but in my mind I have scenes from the end or half way, and I need some sort of structure- loose as it may be- to hang the story on- a plan, an idea of major themes and significant scenes.

I don’t mean anything too complicated, and it doesn’t even have to be written- especially not on stone, so that once the characters start to find their feet they can run if they want to.

Having a structure can help when you hit the block- you might be getting bogged down with an earlier part of the story, but feel inspired by a theme which has flashed into your mind from further on. I would recommend that you go for that, write it (In these days of Word Processing it will hang around for you below the earlier pages until you catch up with it) then return to where you got stuck, refreshed with a dip into your creativity. Usually I go back to the sticking point after this and find that it is so below the level of what I’ve just been writing that I just delete it and start again.

And what about chapters and where to end them? Remember: each chapter MUST add something to the story- either in moving the story on or revealing something new about a character. If it doesn’t, you might as well get rid of it. And try to end your chapters with ‘page turners.’ Although my last posting was partly a bit of fun, there is something to be learned from an aspect of Dan Brown’s writing which is shamelessly parodied there. You get to the end of a Dan Brown chapter and there is always something there you didn’t expect, or which makes you ask ‘what happens next?’ or ‘how do they get out of that?’

To my mind, a lot of Brown’s page turners draw too much attention to themselves for what they are, and I think that he produces tiny chapters in order to do this (Look at chapters 53-59 of ‘Deception Point’ for example.) But who am I to knock this? I have read and enjoyed all of Dan Brown’s novels (with reservations about the DaVinci Code because I am a qualified theologian and know just how much he twisted the ‘evidence’- but hey, this is entertainment, and his sales figures speak for themselves.)

The point is, if you want to know what a page turner is, just go through a Dan Brown novel and simply read the last line of every chapter.

And when you’ve done that, if you are a writer, go through the last lines of each chapter of your novel. Do they just fizzle out, or do they make the reader want to read on?

This is your homework until next time.


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