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)