Tag Archives: Twitter

After the End

After the EndThis weekend was spent at the Faber Academy’s two-day course, After the End.  Since one of the things I learned there was the importance of a good title, I thought I’d play it safe and stick with their example…

The “end” in question, as anyone else out there desperately trying to finish their first novel will already have deduced, is the end of the manuscript. In other words, how do you know when it’s ready to send out, and what should you do to maximise your chances of success with an agent or editor.

Two days of information and discussion on those questions were led by Sarah Savitt, an editor at Faber & Faber, and Nicola Barr, a literary agent at Greene & Heaton.

They were both brilliant.  Honest, open, empathetic and immensely knowledgeable. For anyone at this stage of their writing, if you can get along to a future course I’d highly recommend it. (And I’m not on commission.)

At £275, though, it’s a lot of money.  So here are a few of the things that I took away from the discussions:

Good writing is the single most important thing.  Both Sarah and Nicola described the feeling they get as they’re reading a first page and their shoulders drop as they relax because the author knows what he/she is doing. Having said that…

…there are a lot of people out there who know how to write.  That’s not necessarily the same thing as being able to tell a story.  No matter how beautifully written something is, it’s going to lose the reader if it’s not taking them on a journey, and if they don’t care about the characters.  Sarah said, “If I’ve read 50 pages and I can’t see what the story is, I’ll be impatient.”

Think about your “hook”. In other words, how would you describe your story in a way that would make someone interested to read it. That might be because it’s high concept, like the Time Travellers’ Wife; or perhaps something distinctive about the story telling.

Trends are important to publishers. The reality is that a publisher doesn’t just need to love your book, they need to believe there are enough people out there who are going to be prepared to shell out their hard-earned cash to buy it.  We talked about the success of Gillian Flynn’s brilliant “Gone Girl” and the trend that set for smart, psychological thrillers aimed at twenty- to forty-something women.  Publishers will, though, get twitchy if they think readers may be on the verge of getting bored of something – so timing will be important to the appetite for your book.  Given how long it takes to write and publish a novel, the conclusion I took away from this is that there’s little point trying to write in order to jump on a bandwagon (and if that’s the only reason for writing your story, your readers will probably see through it anyway); just be aware of the market and realistic about what this might mean for your book.

Both the market and the relationship between the industry and readers is changing.  Self-publishing and new ways of communicating, particularly social media, are having a massive impact.  Agents and editors are recognising that they are “no longer the sole arbiters of taste” and, encouragingly, both Nicola and Sara said they’d be completely open to writers bringing them previously self-published work.  Recognising what a difficult process self-publishing is, they also said that not having sold many copies wouldn’t be an automatic turn-off.  We talked a lot about social media, but the basic message was: get on Twitter, participate in things like #pitmad, and don’t be shy about approaching people in the industry through that route.  (My own observation on this would be that some agents are more responsive to this than others, so you might want to follow them for a while to see their response to new contacts before deciding to get in touch this way.)

The editing process can mean big changes. I’d somehow imagined this to be a case of cutting an adverb here, or changing the sentence structure there. Not so.  Perhaps the single most useful part of the day for me was seeing two examples of first pages that had been submitted by authors who now have publication deals, before and after editing.  This really brought home the importance of focussing on the action to keep people reading. The realisation that your material can be good, and can fit well at other points in the book, just not at the beginning, was a real light bulb moment for me. Seeing those examples alone was worth the course fee.

Of course, the other great thing about the course was meeting other writers, all at a similar stage. What a genuinely lovely group of people they were.  Here’s hoping we see our names on bookshelves one day.

Twittersweet Symphony (or How To Get Noticed When Everything Around You is Amazing)

The other night I was sat reading the book for my first ever book club meeting next month (Anthony Trollope’s The Way We Live Now, since you ask) and, in a rare scene of domestic tranquillity, my husband was sat next to me on the sofa looking at Earth Pics (@Earth_Pics) on Twitter. (That’s right, the telly was OFF. Sign me up for my subscription to Organic Vegan Yoga Weekly now.)

The raison d’être of Earth Pics, for the uninitiated, is to share astonishing or beautiful things from around the world, captured on film.  Every so often, Husband would interrupt my reading to show me something particularly astounding. Photos I saw:

  • a German cavalry soldier circa 1935 standing ramrod straight and perfectly balanced on the saddle of his horse whilst firing his rifle;

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    Dobbin wasn’t sure that Thai massage was for him.

  • a towering wave in Antarctica, turned to a snow-coated tube of ice at the very moment when it should have broken;
  • two oceans joining, a clear line between royal blue on one side and turquoise on the other, because the waters for some reason don’t mix;
  • a couple of 1940s types playing tennis on the wings of an aircraft in flight.

Anyone with access to the internet can see this stuff. It’s amazing.  We should spend our days in a state of perpetual amazement.  We should pause on that very first photo and spend the evening discussing it.  We should spend the next day telling our friends about it.  Instead, we murmur to one another how wonderful it is and move on to the next one.

My point is this: when everyone has access to these incredible images, to a world of fantastic, eye-popping, brain-scrambling photos and paintings and video, all at the click of a mouse, how on earth do you get your material noticed?

I don’t just mean this little blog (though I mean that too, obviously).  But setting aside the wonders of Earth Pics and thinking about reading for a moment, there are five centuries’ worth of incredible books out there.  All those classics that have withstood the test of time are now free as e-books. Austen and Dickens and Thackeray and Trollope, all of them amply re-paying second and third readings and all of them available for precisely no pence.

Fair enough, Woman cannot live on the classics alone.  But honestly, am I the only aspiring writer out there who reads a new David Mitchell or a Barbara Kingsolver or a Julian Barnes and dies a little inside?  When there’s so much writing out there that’s absolutely, bona fide brilliant, what miracle of chance or fate is needed to get a reader to choose to spend hours of their life with my offering?

Taking as read that the odds are stacked against me, I’ve seen two tips over the last couple of days that I think might help.

The first was: be a perfectionist in your writing.   Having spent the better part of the last two years trying to silence my inner critic in order to complete my novel’s first draft, I’ll be  honest, I find this one a little disheartening.  I’d got to the point where I quite enjoyed the freedom that came with recognising this or that paragraph didn’t quite flow properly, that my simile was a bit of a cliché, or that my whole chapter’s structure seriously needed work and ploughing on regardless.  This being a perfectionist business sounds like a lot of hard work.  That probably means it’s worth doing.

The second was that persistence is more important than talent.  I like this. It feels reassuring.  Talent seems to me one of those things you either have or you don’t.  Persistence, on the other hand, surely just requires a bit of will power.

Both of them, though, imply a degree of effort. A measure of blood, sweat and tears.  A soupçon of struggle and strife.

Hmm. I think I might be revising my deadline for completing that second draft.