It was the year that…

This week Francesca and Elaine review what they’ve done, writing wise, in 2016.

IMG_0840Elaine: I have to say I was quite shocked at how much time away from home has been committed to writing. 2016 has been the year of opportunity for me. I had the chance to walk away from my full time paid employment in March and I grabbed it with both hands. It is my dream, and has been for many years, to write novels for a living, but life got in the way of that dream.

The year began with me renewing my membership of the Romantic Novelist Association (RNA) New Writers’ Scheme. If you want to become a writer of romantic fiction, it is something I would highly recommend.

The London Book Fair

The London Book Fair

Since then, I have attended numerous RNA events. The London Chapter meetings, which I have to admit I haven’t attended as much as I would have liked, the RoNA Awards, the summer and winter parties, and the valuable RNA Conference in Lancaster. Smattered in between them have been The London Book Fair, several writing retreats and workshops. I also attended, for the first time, the Historical Novelists Society (HNS) Conference, which was quite enlightening.

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Elaine R, Francesca, Natalie, Elaine E in Ramsgate

Francesca: Looking through my diary, it certainly has been a busy year for writing activities. I continued with the RNA blog’s ‘Competition Monthly’ and will carry on into 2017. I attended all the things Elaine’s mentioned, apart from the HNS Conference. We also attended Foyles Discovery Day in February. 

Elaine and I did a week’s writing retreat in Ramsgate in May, along with Elaine Everest and Natalie Kleinman. I will never forget singing My Sharona with Elaine R (you had to be there!). Later in May I went to the Romance in the Court event with Elaine E and Natalie. There I got an opportunity to talk to Freya North, an author I greatly admire.

Summer was busy with the RNA Conference and for me, The Writers’ Holiday in Fishguard. Don’t be fooled by the word ‘Holiday’ – we all work jolly hard!

My White Board Plan

My White Board Plan

Elaine: For the first time, I tried my hand at writing a Victorian saga; once I got my head round the difference between a historical romance and a saga, it made life a little easier. I would like to thank Louise Buckley for explaining the differences to me at my RNA one to one with her. I was quite proud of my work and it got good reviews at the RNA and HNS Conferences from the Literary Agents and Publishers alike. Unfortunately, as much as they liked it, I was informed, both directly and indirectly, that Victorian doesn’t sell, so it was back to the drawing board or perhaps I should say white board. Of course, what I haven’t mentioned is the many hours of research that is the commitment of writing anything historical.

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London Book Fair: Elaine with Rosemary Goodacre

Francesca: Moving into autumn, Elaine and I attended the Woman’s Weekly’s historical novel workshop and visited the ‘Undressed’ Exhibition at the V&A for clothing research. In October I went to the lovely Bishop’s Palace in Wells for the results of a novel competition I’d been shortlisted in. (You win some, you lose some!) 

I got my RNA New Writers’ Scheme report back in November for A Woman Walked into a Life, and was thrilled that the reader said it read like a published book. Still a little bit of work to do but it was very encouraging.

In November Elaine and I joined the Society for Women Writers and Journalists. The first six days of December  saw me at the RNA London Christmas lunch, the SWWJ Christmas afternoon tea  and The Write Place Christmas dinner (the last two on

the same day!). 

Elaine: I am now working on another historical piece, which will also be a saga, so watch this space. I have also made a commitment to interview organisers of Literary and Book Festivals for the RNA Blog.

If anyone should ask me, am I committed to my writing, I would answer just look at my calendar, because in-between all those things, I also try to write at least a thousand words a day.

Inside A Berlin Shop At Christmas

Francesca: I’m  currently dipping my toes into an historical novel set in World War One. At the same time I have ideas going through my head for two contemporary novels. Then there’s A Woman Walked to work on. And I’ve loads of ideas for short stories.

It’s going to be a busy year for both of us. What have you got planned?

@RobertsElaine11                     @FCapaldiBurgess

 

We wish our readers a very happy Christmas and a wonderful 2017.

It’s All In The Title…

Elaine Roberts talks about wrestling with the problem of titles.

I have always read a lot; my mother used to tell me off for not going out to play when I was a child, because my nose was always stuck in a book. There was nothing I enjoyed more than losing myself in a good adventure. Books like The Famous Five, The Secret Seven and The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe were books I read over and over again. Nothing has changed in that I am still an ardent reader, except I now write as well.

Anybody who isn’t a writer would think coming up with an idea for a novel would be the hardest part, but not for me.

My White Board & Plan

My White Board & Plan

Some writers who are learning their trade, like me, may think coming up with the structure and avoiding the saggy middle is the most difficult part, but not for me.

Once the manuscript is written, some might think the editing is the worst part; now I don’t like it, but it’s not the hardest part for me.

Coming up with a title is my biggest problem. Am I the only one? It’s one I have mentioned on a few occasions to different people and have had a number of really good suggestions, yet I can’t seem to make them work.

Why is the title so important?

IMG_0143All the professionals say you should have an attention-grabbing title. The cover and the title of a novel usually draw a reader’s attention first. When you are submitting a manuscript to an agent or publisher, there is no cover to grab their attention so the title needs to make the manuscript stand out from the other hundreds they receive. So a title needs to be memorable and easily understood.

Titles can be about the theme of the novel; an example of this is Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Alternatively, they can contain the main character’s name, such as Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronté. Some titles also contain the character’s occupation or title.

It doesn’t matter whether I am writing a short story, a blog piece or a novel, my biggest sticking point is always the title. The name is meant to give an idea of what the story/article is about. What I find puzzling is that I know what my story is about and yet a catchy title seems to evade me and I don’t understand why. Writers come up with excellent titles all the time and yet I can’t seem to.IMG_7427

Several people have suggested record titles, which is an excellent idea but not one that has helped me with my latest novel. Maybe a film title, but no, that doesn’t work for me either.

Perhaps it is my Achilles heel; maybe I have a mental block on the subject.

I wonder how others decide on their titles, where do they get their inspiration? Any advice would be gratefully received.

@RobertsElaine11

 

It’s Just A Matter Of Time…

Elaine Roberts talks about her demons, deadlines and Chapter 5.

From birth, our lives are governed by time. Our earliest memories probably involve having to be somewhere by a certain time, whether that’s attending family occasions, meeting friends and getting home again for dinner, or going to school and handing in the homework on time. clock5We’re brought up on the importance of time and more importantly, the importance of not being late.

With most jobs, there are deadlines attached and writing is no different. As writers, we often work to them, whether they are self-inflicted or real ones set by someone else. Participating every year in NaNoWriMo (National November Writing Month) shows what you can do and it’s fun, in a strange pressurised way. There’s nothing like a target of 50,000 words in a month and, hopefully, a rising graph to give you encouragement to continue trying to reach the target by the 30th November.

In the past, I’ve wondered if there’s something masochistic in me that makes me set my own targets and deadlines, after all I don’t enjoy the pressure it adds, or maybe I do. I definitely work better under pressure and actually having a deadline certainly focuses my mind to the job in hand, it adds motivation, especially if someone is waiting for the work to be finished.

Having said all of the above, deadlines can make you sloppy as well; I’ve definitely made mistakes that have all been down to “more haste less speed”.

In the last couple of months, there’s been a period of around five weeks where I haven’t written a word, and that has made me wonder what my motivation is to write in the first place. The demon, self doubt, has taken over, asking questions like “can I write a successful novel” or “why are you bothering, you’re useless at it.” I don’t think for one minute I’m alone with my demons, but it does stop me from moving forward. You maybe asking what brought it all to a standstill in the first place and I’m not sure what the answer is. I believe it’s partly because I like to discuss aspects of my writing with my son and husband, but circumstances meant I stopped doing that. I also tried to change the way I write. Several successful writers I know start at the beginning of their novels and work their way, in chronological order, through to the end. I, on the other hand, jump about all over the place. I write the scene that takes my fancy when I open my laptop and then ensure it joins together in a logical manner in the editing process. What have I learnt through this process? Do what comes naturally to you, I got stuck at chapter five and consequently never wrote another word for five weeks. Chapter five became an impossible barrier that I couldn’t get round or over.

Having had that break, I’m now writing again. Why? Mainly because it’s a compulsion, I can’t live without writing anymore. Mentally, I was stuck at chapter five, so I have reverted to my way of working and I’ve left chapter five to simmer in my sub conscious, while I write a different chapter.

I have two completed manuscripts with two different publishers, waiting to hear the outcome is nerve wracking and, while I believe the ultimate success is being published, it takes commitment to complete a novel, and I should also recognise that as a mark of success.

Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained

Francesca concludes the series on our publishing world observations.

The expression ‘All human life is here’ was once the motto of the now defunct News of the World. This seems to be true of the publishing world itself. Not that I mean it’s full of scandal and outrage (though I imagine they have their fair share) but that the people who inhabit that world are many and varied.

FB publications sampleI’ve dealt for many years with magazine publications and on the whole my experiences have been positive. You send a short story; you wait a while; it’s accepted or rejected. There were always two or three magazines that only contacted you if it was an acceptance, which is irritating when you don’t know whether you can submit it elsewhere. Recently there’s been a worrying trend towards this method, with other magazines jumping on the bandwagon, making the whole process much more fraught. Part of it seems to be due to lack of editing man (person?) hours, so not always the editor’s fault. But as usual, it leaves writers up poo creak without a paddle. The best thing is to impose your own waiting period, say three months, as a reasonable time before sending a story elsewhere.

Incidentally, the longest I’ve waited for an acceptance is two years and eight months. A nice surprise but still rather shocking!

As for book publishers, often they just don’t understand our brilliant work. Yes, my tongue is firmly in my cheek as this analysis tends to come from a particular type of writer. These are the ones, and many of us have met them, who think their novel (dashed off and unedited) is the best thing since pot noodle and should have been snapped up within the week. It’s often members of one particular gender who have this outlook (sorry!). Though not exclusively.

LBF sign smallIt’s true, some book publishers can be disagreeable. I’ve had a few industry appointments with publishers and editors and talked to others on spec at events such as The London Book Fair and the Romantic Novelists’ Association conference. A couple have been moody, maybe because they were fed up sitting in one place all day talking to a numpty would-be novelist like me. Happily many more publishers are perfectly helpful, appreciating the part writers play in the publishing process. You never know which sort they’re going to be before you meet them so it’s always a little fraught. If they turn out to be less than pleasant then I can’t help feeling that’s their problem. It’s pointless taking it personally.

To end on a positive note, I do currently have two publishers interested in one of my novels, which shows it can happen even to a pessimist like me. Both have suggested changes (entirely different from each other!), after which they’d like to see the novel again. I’m well aware that this doesn’t guarantee a sale, but it’s a start.

Encountering publishers personally is a scary notion, but if I hadn’t overcome the fear (or rather, felt it and done it anyway) I wouldn’t now have this chance of publication for my novel. So, if you’re thinking of approaching a publisher and feel a bit nervous, remember the old saying:

Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

http://www.thewriteplace.org.uk/page23.htm

https://twitter.com/FCapaldiBurgess 

If at first you don’t succeed…

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Elaine Roberts shares her experience of the publishing world.

I have been submitting short stories for approximately eighteen months. After several rejections, I finally received an e-mail asking to buy one. I was at home on my own, I couldn’t believe a magazine would want to buy something I had written. I danced around my front room, phone in hand, stopping intermittently to re-read the e-mail, I was convinced I had read it wrong, or worse, they had sent it to the wrong person. That was about ten stories ago, but I still get a thrill when I receive an acceptance and I don’t dwell on the rejections.

The success with my short stories has added to my already existing appetite to succeed in my novel writing. It has taught me to write tighter and sharper, because it’s all about the word count.

Since joining the Write Place, I have been lucky to receive guidance and encouragement to attend the Romantic Novelists Association (RNA) Conference, where there are opportunities to have one to ones with agents, publishers and editors. The first type of these events was the Curtis Brown Discovery Day, where I had a chance to do a thirty second pitch and hand over the first page of my novel for feedback. I have to say, up to that point, it was probably one of the scariest things I have ever done. It was with shaking hands and a pounding heart that I stepped forward to take my seat opposite the agent, yes, it was very nerve wracking. To say I was stunned when the agent asked me to send in my first three chapters is a massive understatement. However, it did get rejected, but when I read it again I could understand why.

It is important to say, in my limited experience, that everyone I have met or corresponded with, has come across as keen to advise and point me in the right direction. I do believe they want you to succeed and I’ve been fortunate to always receive good feedback about my work.

At my first RNA Conference last year, it soon became clear that the digital age has assisted new authors in becoming published. Yes, authors would like to see their book in a major bookstore, me included, when I get published. However, in the past, most major publishing companies only took on a couple of new traditionally published authors a year, against an average of half a dozen a month now being published digitally. Therefore, while we want to see our names gracing our bookshelves, there is more opportunity for new talent to be discovered. Yes, I’m aware I could digitally publish myself, but personally, going through a respected publishing company is confirming my writing is at an acceptable standard, and that is what I’m striving for. My confidence is rising everyday; it’s just a matter of time before I finally become published. It’s all about perseverance.

The modern world dictates that we use social media to market ourselves and our creations, which is something I fought against for a while, but my fellow blogger, Elaine Everest, kept telling me I had to embrace it and I hate to admit, especially on such a public forum, she was right, but please don’t tell her I said so.

The London Book Fair: A Useful Resource for Writers

Francesca Burgess considers the merits of attending this annual event

The first London Book Fair I attended, back in 2010, was very quiet due to the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull (I’m glad I’m writing that and not pronouncing it!) which grounded air traffic. Lucky for me and Elaine Everest; not so lucky for the delegates from abroad who couldn’t make it. Since then it’s been much busier, but I have found this event useful to me as a writer.

Katie Fford (in pink) talking to attendees.

Katie Fford (in pink) talking to attendees.

For starters, there are the author talks. This year, Elaine, Natalie Kleinman and I sat in on one about Genre Fiction. This gave us valuable tips from Katie Fford (romance novelist), Manda Scott (historical novelist) and Jo Fletcher (publisher specialising in sci fi, fantasy and horror).

Other talks this year (and there were many) included an introduction to publishing, hints on acquiring more readers, the emerging short fiction market and the children’s market.

The author workshops and agent one-to-ones were snapped up very quickly. I wasn’t worried about this as I’ve done similar events elsewhere, but certainly it would have been a fantastic opportunity for writers. There was also a Dragon’s Den style panel where ten authors got to pitch their books to several literary agents. One agent is bad enough but the thought of a panel has me quaking at my computer!

What takes up most time at the book fair is perusing the many stands, for both fiction and nonfiction. They do give a good insight into what publishers are looking for. Although the ‘Big Five’ publishers do attend, and it’s useful to see what genres and subject matter are currently popular with them, it’s often more useful to look at the stands of the smaller publishers. The people here, and they’re often the owners, are usually very friendly. This gives an opportunity to ask about their current requirements and submission process.

Publishers on the smaller stands are usually willing to talk about submissions

Publishers on the smaller stands are usually willing to talk about submissions

If you’re really bold, you can hand them a synopsis and first chapters of your novel, or a proposal for a nonfiction book. They’re often willing to take them, though increasingly now they’ll ask you to submit online instead. Either way you have absolutely nothing to lose.

Often on these forays we’ve found genres or nonfiction subject matter we hadn’t considered writing before. It all helps to open up new possibilities.

With around 1,500 companies represented, 150 subjects covered and over 250 free seminars, what I’ve described here really is the tip of the iceberg and aimed at all publishing professionals, not just writers. At £25 for admission (if you get your ticket early enough), it’s not cheap, but you can go along all three days.

Personally, I didn’t find the LBF so useful for me this year, maybe because five years is enough. In the future I’m going to have a go at some of the other literary events, like the Hove Book Festival and the Whitstable Literary Festival. However, if you’ve never been, it’s well worth giving it a go.

Tips for attending The London Book Fair:

  • Wear flat shoes.
  • Wear layers – it gets very hot indoors.
  • Take a bag for the directory, leaflets, layers etc.
  • Take several copies of your synopsis+chapters!
  • Sit down with a coffee when you arrive to decide your plan of action. It saves wasting time wandering around aimlessly.

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For more information: http://www.londonbookfair.co.uk/

HOW WAS YOUR MONTH?

January is at an end. Did our team reach their goals?

Elaine E: Dear reader I failed. Dancing in the Dark has not yet been sent off to my publisher. It is now a completed draft but not yet in a fit state to show to anyone. However, I won two extra article commissions and I did manage to write two short stories that are ready to send on their way to magazines around the world. Two RNA events, as well as the first month working on the RNA blog with Natalie, kept me busy. A meeting during the month may well lead to exciting news that I can share with you in future months.

Elaine R: Having read the 25,000 words of my third novel, I have re-organised my chapter breakdown and the novel, so they are now in line with each other, consequently I have added a further 6,355 words. I have written a short story and submitted it to a woman’s magazine, as well as writing my blog article and answering the comments readers made. I finished the book I was reading and it has given me a fresh perspective for my own writing.

 Francesca: January’s been a little slower on the writing front than I would have liked. I decided on a plot change around for the current novel, which has meant rearranging other parts. On top of that, I’ve added another 3,000 words. I finally wrote out a chapter breakdown which I normally do before hand, but under the pressure of NaNoWriMo I didn’t get to do it. My previous novel, Ten Years Later, is doing a new round of competitions and publishers. I’ve also scribbled lots of ideas for new short stories, have been rewriting some old ones and currently have four stories ‘out there’

 Natalie: This month has seen a great start to the year for me. During the first week I sold two short stories with a third following on the 22nd January. I’ve added six and a half thousand words to my novel and submitted nine stories to magazines. Having undertaken this and the RNA Blog, neither on my own thank goodness, I’m finding it far less daunting and much more enjoyable than I’d anticipated. It could of course be something to do with the fact that I love writing.

 Vivien: Did I achieve my planned 10,000 words? Sadly my novel only progressed by a pitiful 500 – but I did complete two commissioned articles for a nursery magazine (3000), two brand new short stories (5000) and one article (1300) which have been submitted to women’s magazines, and rewrites of seven previously rejected stories (2000+ added). I won another commission too, for an article/children’s poem, and made two story sales on the same day! As to the fate of my characters and why the novel came to a halt – find out in my next blog post, coming soon.

 Well done ladies. Let’s see how February fares for our busy writers. Have a good month!