Showing posts with label Blackwell's. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Blackwell's. Show all posts

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Write to be published - tips from Nicola Morgan

Nicola Morgan doesn’t mince her words. An ex-teacher and the author of 90 books (ranging from teen novels to non fiction), she’s known as the Crabbit Old Bat for her forthright views. She writes the popular Help! I Need a Publisher! blog and offers such constructive and honest advice that best-selling novelist Joanne Harris has described her as “the tutor I wish I’d had when I was starting out…” 

So as soon as I spotted that Nicola was running a Write to be Published workshop in my neck of the woods I snapped up a ticket like a shot.

The evening, hosted by Blackwell’s in Oxford, proved worth its weight in gold. During the course of Nicola’s two-hour talk she outlined everything from the importance of knowing your genre inside out to the nuts and bolts of writing a submission letter. As Nicola said: “I had 21 years of failing to get a novel published, then ten years of success. This is what I wish I had known when I was trying to get published.”

The 25 or so writers at the session scribbled her advice down intently, particularly when it came to the art of drafting a submission letter for prospective agents and publishers. When Nicola heard that most of us were writing novels she advised that fiction submissions must comprise a covering letter, synopsis and the first three chapters of the book (you must, by the way, have finished the book before you approach anyone).

Novel chapters obviously vary in length, so as a rough guide, said Nicola, you shouldn’t send more than 10,000 words or 50 pages. Your manuscript should be double-spaced, typed in a “sensible” font and have reasonably-sized margins.

Next, Nicola offered advice on covering letters, which should be limited to one page. The first paragraph should introduce the book, its title (typed in capital letters at the first mention and lower case after that), its length and its genre. The second paragraph should be your “pitch.” This should be objective, give a specific (not general) outline and include the elements that will make readers sit up (in other words, the must-read factor).

The third part of your letter should be about you, giving relevant information about what you’ve had published and showing that you are serious and professional about your writing (without saying exactly that, of course).

As for writing a synopsis, Nicola's e-book about that very subject is out this week. I’ve ordered a copy and if it’s anything like as informative as her workshop it’ll be essential reading for writers. If you order in January, by the way, it will only cost £1.

Write to be Published by Nicola Morgan (Snowbooks, £8.99)

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Life and Fate on Radio 4's Start the Week - and bumping into an old friend

Another upside of working from home (see previous blog), is that every now and again you can escape from work without a grumpy boss raising an eyebrow.

So yesterday I walked to St Peter’s College in Oxford to listen to a special recording of Andrew Marr’s Start the Week. The beautiful Victorian chapel was packed to the gunnels for the event, one of a series of discussions to mark Radio 4’s forthcoming dramatisation of Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman. It promises to be one of the must-listens of the year, with Kenneth Branagh and David Tennant starring, yet I’m ashamed to admit that until this week I barely knew anything about Grossman.

But as Marr (shorter and more dapper in real life than I’d expected) and his guests – historian Antony Beevor and writers Linda Grant and Andrey Kurkov – revealed, Grossman’s story is a tragic, but fascinating one.

Scientist turned writer Grossman was a formidable journalist. Writing for Red Star, the Red Army’s newspaper, he wrote eyewitness accounts of the Soviet retreat, the defence of Stalingrad and the fall of Berlin. He was also the first journalist to reach the hideous Nazi concentration camp of Treblinka.

After the Second World War, he became increasingly critical of the Stalinist regime. In the early 1960s, after he submitted Life and Fate for publication, Politburo ideology chief Mikhail Suslov decided it could be published – but not for 200 years. KGB officers raided Grossman’s flat and seized the manuscript, copying paper and even his typewriter ribbons. Grossman died in 1964 assuming that nobody would ever read his novel. Actually, it turned out later that he’d given a copy to a friend and a network of dissidents managed to smuggle it out of the country.

Many critics now compare Life and Fate, the history of a nation told through one family’s eyes, to War and Peace. In fact Linda Grant told the Oxford audience that she’d not only failed to finish War and Peace but that she reckons Life and Fate is a better novel. That was enough for me. After the talk I dashed straight round to Blackwell’s in Broad Street to buy a copy. Not only that, when the Radio 4 dramatisation starts on September 18 I’m going to be glued to the radio. Meanwhile you can hear the Start the Week debate on Monday at 9am.

PS: “That’s funny,” I thought as I headed home along a packed Cornmarket. “From the back that man walks just like my old friend Pete Davies. He’s got exactly the same long stride and laid-back manner.” Pete and I were at school together but he lives 200 miles away in Yorkshire and I haven’t seen him for 15 years. The closer I got the more extraordinary the likeness of his walk seemed. I shouted “Pete” in a discreet way, just in case the man turned out to be a complete stranger. And guess what? The man turned round in puzzlement, glanced at me and glanced again. Slowly recognition dawned on his face. It was Pete!

Saturday, 4 June 2011

The trials and tribulations of self publishing

Self publishing gets a terrible press. SoI’m always pleased to hear of a writer who’s self-published a book and sold heaps of copies. The latest success story is Dan Holloway, whose thriller, The Company of Fellows, sold a magnificent 1,766 copies last month in the UK alone. Not only that, it’s just topped a Blackwell’s Bookshop online poll to find readers’ favourite Oxford novel – no mean feat when it was up against the likes of Evelyn Waugh, Philip Pullman and Colin Dexter.

But there’s no doubt that self publishing is a risky business. I speak with authority because I self-published a children’s book five years ago. A fast-moving, fun read for nine to 12 year old fans of The X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent!, The Rise and Shine Saturday Show follows the fortunes of five children from very different backgrounds who are all desperate to be stars. The competition takes place in a rambling mansion in the wilds of the Lake District, where the five finalists embark on intensive tuition in singing and dancing.

My self-publishing venture began when having devoured everything by Meg Cabot, Celia Rees and Jacqueline Wilson, my daughter complained she couldn’t find anything she wanted to read. “Why don’t you write a book for me?” she asked. So that’s what I did.

Once I’d finished the book, I (madly) hit on the idea of taking charge of the publishing process myself – from choosing the typeface to commissioning a jacket design. So despite knowing next to nothing about how to get an ISBN number or the importance of printing a barcode on the back I plunged in.

Finding an artist to design the cover was the biggest challenge but I eventually found Meng-Chia Lai, a fabulously talented artist who was a student prize-winner at the V & A Illustration Awards. Our meeting was a bit like something out of Brief Encounter. Meng-Chia was about to fly home to Taiwan so we met for a cup of tea at Marylebone Station. There, surrounded by harassed commuters, Meng-Chia showed me the ideas she’d sketched out for my book. Painted in soft hues of purple and pink, her designs were gorgeous. She did my book proud.

Next I had to find a printer prepared to do a short print-run. Cox & Wyman agreed to print 2,000 books, a scary number, but the minimum they’d do. Even so, it was a shock when the consignment was delivered to my house. As the middle-aged courier staggered down our wonky basement steps and stacked them in a daunting pile by the back door, he said witheringly: “I usually deliver to publishers' warehouses. Then every so often I get one of these.”

The mountain of books was so huge that it certainly got me cracking. I was immediately on the phone to wholesalers, booksellers and journalists, offering my sales pitch at break-neck speed. My daughter designed me an ultra-professional despatch note and my son trotted endlessly back and forth to the post office with parcels of books to send to the wholesalers.

I got a fair bit of publicity (the book even made it on to Radio 4) but the hardest part of all was actually getting a self-published book into bookshops. Local shops were keen to help and I sold quite a few on Amazon but I didn’t have any luck further afield. In the end I sold around half of my books and broke even. My foray into self publishing was fun, creative and very hard work. But no, I wouldn’t do it again.

If you’d like to buy a copy of The Rise and Shine Saturday Show, go to Amazon or
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