Beyond the Creativity Bit

Paul Newsome

“What do The Martian by Andy Weir, 50 Shades of Grey by E. L. James and Eragon by Christopher Paolini have in common?” Paul Newsome, writer and founder of The Self Publishing Studio asked the gathered members and guests of the Hampshire Writers’ Society this Tuesday night.

The answer is that they were all self published.

Paul’s story begins the same way as that of many writers. He’d written a book and he had a dream of becoming a published author. Naturally excited, he embarked on the next step — find an agent. He set about writing the perfect enquiry letter along with the perfect synopsis. Those were sent off and Paul waited for the replies. He waited…and he waited. Every now and then he received a rejection email, two or three lines long saying nothing more than thanks, but no thanks. Often, he heard nothing at all.

The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook! The almanack recommended by the agents themselves, the enchanted book of publishing spells. Now he was really excited – “What could possibly go wrong?”

Indeed, the Writers’ and Artists’ yearbook is crammed full of contact details, advice and useful articles.

Paul looked into using ‘Other Publishers’. “Confusion!” he recollects, “If you get an agent, they do it all for you. But some ‘Other Publishers’ do nothing.”

By now, Paul knew enough about” the publishing industry to smell a rat with the publisher who wrote to him, loving his work, promising bountiful opportunities and in the small print asking for a mammoth fee.

There are some genuinely helpful independent publishers. The list of things that they couldn’t do however, was too large.

Using the DIY approach, Paul published his book, Hamish. Followed by Hamish and the Vegetarian Crow. “Definitely,” he says, “publishing is 1% Inspiration and 99% Perspiration.”

Amazon is a minefield. There are many opt-outs within its obstructive contracts, an author just needs to find them.

Paul’s gap in the market gaped – the writer’s dream on one side and the reality on the other.

He set up the Self Publishing Studio offering the author all the publishing processes without the stress over the perfect enquiry letter. Paul knows his authors have passion, they must have, to have got this far.

“Think about your goals,” he tells us, “keep it simple, keep realistic and have clarity.”

It is up to the writer to cherry pick their requirements. The Self Publishing Studio will work to the author’s budget.

An editor can be found, one who will read your story and comment on flow, plausibility. They expect the author to return their comments, and they understand that they will have to explain themselves.

Assistance with marketing will be given too, advising the writer to find something different e.g. Andy Weir published The Martian chapter by chapter on a blog until he had such a large following who were all telling him to publish professionally.

“Not all writers want to be the next JK Rowling, it is perfectly fine to want nothing more than to see your manuscript, turned into book form, adorning your coffee table.”

 

Report by L Nightingale

What Editors Want!

“Editors are often thought of as gatekeepers, holding back the masses from Mount Olympus.” Caroline Wintersgill, editor for thirty years told the members and guests gathered for the December meeting of the Hampshire Writers’ Society.

Caroline Wintersgill

An editor, specialising in non-fiction, for publishers large and small, corporate and independent, including Bloomsbury, Cassell, Routledge and now Biteback, Caroline sees herself more as a curator. A “snapper up of unconsidered titles”. One of the first books she snapped up, the uninteresting sounding ALMANAC OF BRITISH POLITICS was given an illustrator whose caricatures bordered on rude, along with scurrilous, unheard excerpts from the Alan Clark diaries. The Almanac became fun to work with. “We worked on the knowledge that MPs rarely sue”, Caroline smiles, “they look too silly.”

Publishing a book is a process, a honing of skills, developing of a craft and it will pass through many hands before it comes to publication day. The editor’s appraisal will be based, using their experience of similar works, on the authors’ use of their artistic craft.

Publishers tend to problematise taste, turning it into a literary issue. It is the story that counts. Like all other readers, an editor desires an emotional sometimes visceral response to the proposed book. This is where the author needs to start. “When the book makes them shake,” Caroline laughs, “then the editor wants to work with it.”

With a non-fiction book, the chance of publicity is higher. Non-fiction books are much more likely to be included in the review sections of magazines and newspapers.

Perhaps for some nature, art, music, current events or cookery books, Caroline points out, it is necessary for the author to have an agent. But, in general it is possible for non-fiction authors to settle a good publishing deal without an agent. The life of a non-fiction book being longer than that of a fiction, the author may only write one or two books; this may not be the length of career that an agent is looking for.

For a non-fiction author, media platform is important. Your platform may start small, but it will expand. “Consider the CHEESE MONGER’S HISTORY OF THE BRITISH ISLES; the author had little more than his being a cheese monger that ran tasting events to go on. When published, the book outsold the popular fiction titles.

The author should know their audience, where to reach them and what they are looking for. Taking a risk, Caroline used previously unrecognised language in THE PRECARIAT, this catapulted the book into the limelight. Then, recognising that the book’s audience was not likely to buy it, she took a leap of faith and made chapters freely available to read on the internet. The book became a best seller rocketing the author to two four-figure deals with Bloomsbury.

Non-fiction authors do not need to wait until the manuscript is finished to submit it. A proposal of the work will do; an editor will be looking for a chance to shape the book for the correct market. Also included must be your title; it must be clear and memorable and the contents page which needs an outline of each section. The author still needs to be able to write, so also include a chapter or two. “It is difficult,” Caroline agrees, the sample chapters should show your distinctive voice but also the book’s similarity to the editor’s list.

Site your book, know the editor’s list, motivate them too. With the growth and ease of on-line shopping, readers can buy any or every book on earth; so why should they choose yours? Think of the best-known person in your field; this is your competitor.

Often working against a deadline, time constraints on the editor are tighter. The non-fiction publishing process is “old fashioned” with salespeople touring the booksellers roughly twelve months in advance. Remember, that salesperson will have only thirty seconds to sell your book to busy booksellers.

Create a buzz! If there’s a society that appreciates your subject, then you should join it. Do this prior to publication. “Have a go,” Caroline urges; write your blurb and an elevator sales pitch, gain a clear insight into the selling of your book and go some way to showing you what the editor is looking for.

Report by Lisa Nightingale

Myth-busting the Publications Industry; Laura Williams, Literary Agent

“It’s the best job in the world,” Laura Williams, Literary Agent for Greene & Heaton told the members and guests gathered at the Hampshire Writers’ Society November meeting, “I get to work with authors, from day one of their career, until the end of their career.”

“Agents are not out there to take the author’s money,” she says, “and neither are they there to crash your dreams.” Outside the agency, they are super competitive. But, inside they are very forgiving. They talk books all day, swap manuscripts and read unbelievably fast. As agents for authors, they need to get to know all the publishers and booksellers in the industry. They go to book fairs and carry out a huge amount of editing. Laura’s message is that; if her author isn’t happy, she isn’t happy. Myth numbers one and two — busted!

Myth number three: your submission needs to be perfect? No. A bad synopsis will not preclude your submission. Your synopsis should be like a “greatest hits of your book.” The end MUST BE INCLUDED. Your covering letter needs to be polite, to the point and endorse that you know your book thoroughly. Also include a little about yourself. It doesn’t matter that you might have your genre wrong, that is fixable.

It also doesn’t matter who, in the industry, that you know. Laura is keen for us to understand that “It is all about the book.” Myth number 4 — busted!

Until she reads it, Laura sometimes doesn’t know exactly what it is that she is looking for in a manuscript. Her list varies from horror to big love stories that make her cry. As for timing and luck of your submission? The year’s two biggest book fairs take place in March and December. Do not expect an expedient reply if you submit at those times. Also, manuscripts submitted on Christmas Day are not likely to be read until the New Year! “Try three pm on a Thursday in August.” Laura says in jest. But yes, Agents really do read every submission that they receive.

On to myth number six – no, you do not need to live in London. Perhaps this was partly true in times of posting hard-copy manuscripts. Agents travel well and they are eager to try out all other cities. Laura even has clients in Canada.

Myth number seven: it’s about the prizes that you’ve won. It isn’t! A list of the competitions in which you’ve been successful, and your membership of societies (Hampshire Writers’ Society for one) in your covering letter shows that you are serious about your craft. Again, Laura is keen to advise that; “It’s all about the book.”

The same answer shot down myth number eight: it’s essential to have an MA in Creative Writing. There is a plethora of websites offering free advice. The Writers and Artists’ Yearbook is another free resource readily at hand.

Find the “essence” of your book and use that to pitch it in answer to the question, What’s it about? The essence is not always what the book says. All books can be pitched in this way.

Do not write for the market or the current trend. Some trends pass by very quickly, going right out of fashion. It may well be that by the time your novel is to come to fruition, the trend will be long gone. Always write the story that you want to write. If the agent picks it up and the genre isn’t clear; they’ll just “make it up”. And that takes care of myth number nine.

Ten: it’s all in the great writing? It’s a great story that is necessary. If, however the agent suggests a change, it is a good idea to listen. Again, here the agent supports their author. Laura once spent a Sunday afternoon re-writing half of a future client’s manuscript in order to change the point of view; the author did the other half.

What about social media? The agent and the publisher are there to help you through social media. Even if you have no presence on social media at all, it doesn’t matter.

Finally, to number twelve: once you have an agent, you’re set for life! Laura wishes that were true, but unfortunately it is not. Not all books are sold. However, many authors debut is not their first book. In the rare event that the agent is unable to sell your book, they will talk this through with you and together you’ll work out a way forward.

“Carpet bombing may not be quite the right phrase.” Laura says, “But, you get the idea. Send your manuscript to everyone that you want to read it. That’s what she does.”

Report by Lisa Nightingale

‘A Journey to Self-Publishing’ Emma-Nicole Lewis, supernatural historical fiction author of three self-published novels, business strategist and Hampshire Writers’ Society member.

EMMA-NICOLE LEWIS appeared last month on the HWS blog featuring in the trailer for a mini-documentary about, Eyam the town where her latest novel, A SHADOW BEYOND, is set. The documentary, for which she sought permission from the museum and church used, took her only a week or so to make and has brought interest in her from as far away as Russia.

“Making yourself visible is now what it is all about.” she told the meeting last night, “Amazon has done wonders, but for the writer, it has saturated their market.”

Writing has been a passion of Emma’s since a young age and following the success of her first novel, THE WISHING HOUSE, she made the decision to swap her career in business strategy for full time novelist.

“Define your reader,” she says. It is something that can be done within your other research. As an unknown, new to the market, you won’t be selling books on your name alone. Think about how your story might fit with your reader. Consider the sort of book clubs that they might belong to, what are their interests, their hobbies, where do they go for leisure time and what are the websites that they might visit. By pin-pointing your readers, you’ll find it easier to market your book. Emma’s stories are historical; many of her readers will be interested in history, so she made good contacts with the museum and coffee shops in the town where A Shadow Beyond is set, leaving advertising leaflets there for readers to pick up.

Have your marketing plan in place before publication day. “Getting those pre-orders in to Amazon will raise your stakes in their best-seller lists.” she tells us. This in turn encourages them to spend their advertising space on you. “So, line up your reviewers and bloggers before you go live.”

Establish a PR hook. Find a story within your story. When Emma told the story of how her first novel was written whilst she was on maternity leave (she still doesn’t know how she did it), the local press bit quickly. Interest seems to be on the person who wrote the story almost as much as the story itself, so Emma’s social media pages are peppered with pictures of her and her family on her latest research expedition. It brings out either the Aaah! or the humorous side of your readers.

“Love your readers.” she urges, “It might sound soppy but, if you love them, they’ll love you back.” Reply to contacts and comments when appropriate (DO NOT RESPOND TO REVIEWS; ITS NOT THE DONE THING) your readers will talk positively about you, share your work and comments. A sort of virtual marketing team.

Finally, what is it that you want to see from your favourite writer? An avid reader, Emma often gets to the end of which ever book she is reading, wondering about what that author will do next. She often looks into it. If that author is not doing what she wanted – she does it herself!

Get on the Customer’s Shelf

“Booksellers are Pragmatists,” says Crispin Drummond, proprietor of P&G Wells independent booksellers in Winchester, “not Romanticists.”

The Shop at College Street

P&G Wells have been in the business of selling books for over 200 years. Crispin was sold the shop on College Street after one too many glasses of wine. His only credentials — he liked to read. A year of learning on the job followed. He learned that the horror stories are true; there are too many books, chain-stores are closing and yes, authors are getting a bad deal from publishers.

The bookseller is firmly on the side of the customer and P&G Wells’ first policy is to give thoughtful customers a wide choice. So, when looking at new titles, deciding what to stock, he considers the customer and listens to their wavelength. The bookseller will think on over 50,000 titles, of those they will stock roughly 8,000. For a pragmatist, choosing those titles is blissfully free of the sentimentalities suffered by the romanticist. Of course, he doesn’t do “blissfully”.

“The average British reader only buys 3 books a year.” Crispin reports, “5 at most.”

The bookseller’s customers will not be swayed by the Best Seller label, they can get those anywhere. It is the fresh books that sell. P&G Wells supports a far larger number of authors than any of the chain stores, regardless of who publishes them.

To get your book on the P&G Wells customers’ shelves, it must be well-written, it needs to have something new, bring something special to the shelf. The customers would not forgive the bookseller for offering them something that was run-of-the-mill. They do not buy the same-old, same-old.

“Obviously, the booksellers’ best time of the year is Christmas.” Crispin told the members and guests gathered, “When the ideal customer is the one who wants to buy presents for every member of their family. And P&G Wells has just the book for each of them.”

Crispin is the Hampshire Writers’ Society treasurer. He is the bookseller in the foyer at every Tuesday night meeting.

Report by Lisa Nightingale

E.M. Davey: Fiction as a Window on Our World

E. M Davey

“A thriller writer needs to gain the trust of his reader.” E.M. Davey informs the gathered guests and members of the Hampshire Writers’ Society. With this in mind, he seeks out genuine ancient text, quotes and voices from those who were there, actually on site at the time to use in his conspiracy thrillers.

No stranger to the media, Ed decided on the use of the pseudonym E.M Davey, after being confused one too many times with Ed Davey MP. His day-job is in investigative journalism, harbouring a stint in undercover filming with a passion for travel and he uses it all to influence his thrillers. He grins when he points out that his job is exciting and a lot of fun. If the anecdotes he regaled us all with are anything to go by, his novels will be full of fascinating characters, beautiful settings and bustling cities.

“There’s something about that world that attracts absolute nutters!” he assures us.

It was the British Museum that captured his interest in history and he went on to study it at University. That was 15 years ago and he confesses to still uncovering ancient unknown civilisations. Clearly, he remains fascinated.

After pin-pointing the idea that will spark a novel, Ed totally immerses himself in his subject. He reads up extensively on it, attends exhibitions about it, watches documentaries on it and visits the setting. Seeing himself as a magpie, collecting snippets of information that will interest people, he’s never without his diary and now has a shelf of colourful, one-off, first account records for the 60 or so settings that he has visited.

“Find your Investigator’s Friend.” he advises.

Ed’s was invaluable when after researching in China he arrived home to find he’d been so blown away by the setting, he hadn’t taken any notes and for a writer so bullet pointed as E.M. Davey that wasn’t good.

“Its like being a bad, tabloid journalist, taking a quote and blowing it out of context.” he says.

A knowledge of the law is handy, although a writer, no matter how absorbed in their subject should have a care for the humanity in people. Those who have only recently passed-away may have family trusts set up.

There’s no right way to writing a novel, he tells us. In fact, Ed’s wife writes in the exact opposite way to his organised, chronological plotting, arcing, drafting and editing.

Ed’s system is to equip himself with a large Black and Red book which he then divides into colour coded sections in which to file his research. When the book is full, he creates a word document for each part and transfers all the information.

He then makes around 50 bullet points and begins dropping bits and pieces of story, character, setting in between these until an unashamedly large first draft is formed. A hard edit is then embarked upon, followed by 2 or 3 more until the final edit is down to roughly 80,000 words.

Here, Ed imparts a piece of advice that he was given when concerned that his books were boring. “Remember, none of your readers have read any of your book before. So, it is bound to seem boring to you; especially after 2 or 3 hundred reads.”

Report by Lisa Nightingale

September is a New Year

September! For Hampshire Writers’ Society, September is the start of a whole new year. The programme for our forthcoming season is now shining brighter than a diamond on the website.

E. M Davey

We’re starting the year off with Thriller writer E. M Davey. Ed spent eight years with the BBC, going undercover for Panorama, presenting the BBC World Service, and working on investigations for Newsnight, File on 4, and News at Six. He has visited more than sixty countries and next Tuesday Winchester where he will recount to HWS how adventure, travel, history, and investigative journalism have inspired his thrillers.
PG Wells Proprietor and HWS Treasurer, Crispin Drummond is our special guest. Crispin will spill the beans on how book shops choose the books that they stock and sell and where those books come from. His talk will be a must for writers planning on self-publishing.

Claire Dyer

In October, our speaker is Claire Dyer. Claire is a novelist and poet who likes love stories and cheese! However, she is “allergic to mussels, oysters and the like.” Still, Claire is proud to announce that she has an MA in Creative Writing from Royal Holloway, University of London which, when added to her BA in English & History from the University of Birmingham, and her MA in Victorian Literature & Culture from the University of Reading she has “three degrees so all she needs is to be able to sing in tune and wear sequins without looking foolish!” You must join us for Claire’s talk; it promises to be a giggle. Writer and poet Hilary Hares joins Claire as special guest.

Laura Williams

Literary Agent, Laura Williams in November is going to bring us all back down to earth with some myth-busting about the publications industry. November special guest is to be novelist of history and the supernatural, Emma Nichol-Lewis.

Caroline Wintersgill

Editor, Caroline Wintersgill in December is going to let us in on a secret – What Editors Want. Our own wonderful historical novelist, David Eadsforth is our Christmassy special guest.
Before you get excited about Christmas, HWS has four excellent speakers worth a listen even if their writing isn’t your thing. All genres, types, makes or brands of writing go into making a novelist and our speakers are eager to pass on that tip-bit that will click all your everythings together.

Check the programme on the website for monthly competitions and the remainder of the 2019-2020 programme.

Post by Lisa Nightingale

Writing Crime, Reporting Crime; Story Telling Is Innate In All Of Us.

“Being a writer is wonderful – it gives us carte blanche to get away with everything.” Simon Hall, seven times published novelist, former BBC News Correspondent of twenty years and tutor at the University of Cambridge, tells the gathered members and guests at Hampshire Writers’ Society’s Tuesday night meeting.

Simon loves to ‘people watch’; often from a spot in the pub in his beloved Cambridge. It is characters that drive his writing. Adam Breen and Dan Groves, even Rutherford the dog, the characters that he created for his TV Detective novels work together, not only literally, but together they form a crucial ‘relationship’.

Dan Groves, the TV reporter half of the duo appears to have everything. He also suffers with depression which he calls “the swamp”. Simon tells us that he has received many emails from men suffering the same affliction, saying thank you for giving the illness this coverage; it is good to know that they are not the only ones, the character of Dan is one that they can relate to.

Story telling is innate in all of us, he says. There’s no secret to writing a story, there may even be a formulaic way to do it and plenty of stories start at the end – reverse chronology. Simon once killed off a character; something for which he, his editor and publisher received much criticism – in reality, the character would have survived. But Simon argued the necessity that she be “killed off” – Dan, having had three successes, was in danger of succumbing to delusions of grandeur; he had to be taught a valuable life lesson.

So, here Simon imparts a piece of advice – “Let the story find you. Use your characters and your experiences.”

Research is done on-the-job. Simon recognises that it is important and suggests a researcher try to get as close to the original source as possible, because there you’ll often find an interesting fact to support your research. For his new book which is out in September this year (as yet it has no name – The Editor is a popular choice – although, Simon likes to have at least three words in the titles of his novels) he spent much time researching the city of Cambridge, which of course he greatly enjoyed.

“Writers are a species apart.” he says. It is a relationship, which is possible why everyone has their favourite authors – they can be relied on the to give ‘value for money’. As such, Simon follows four unbreakable rules which he calls the Four S’s

1                 He steers clear of science. Except for on the peripherals – a crime novel will always need a little of science.

2                 He skips on what he calls “slop”, we would understand slop as gore. The reason for this is that he feels he could not write anything worse than the reader can imagine. Most people will say that their favourite scene in Hitchcock’s Psycho is the shower scene. “You don’t actually see the murder.” Simon points out. The mind bridges the gap, your imagination does the rest.

3                 He avoids swearing, using it only to keep the dialogue real.

4                 He doesn’t do sex. His first attempt at writing a sex scene was laughed out of the draft by his editor.

“Humour is ubiquitous in our society”. he says. Humour is what keeps us going, it forms a bond between us. It is therefore omnipresent in Simon’s writing. “Everyone seems to think that the past is terrible and that the future is scary,” he tells us. Horrible things do go on and, as a reporter for the BBC, he has seen some of the worst. But, he truly believes that the majority of people are good.

Report by Lisa Nightingale

Going Incognito, a Tuesday Night Talk by novelist, TV Writer and Producer, Neil Arksey

 

Like all of us, Neil Arksey, novelist of mid-grade, YA and now dark adult crime, TV head writer, series producer and screenwriter, is in awe of Barbara Large’s work in founding the Winchester Writers’ Festival and the Hampshire Writers’ Society.

A closet writer for years, Neil, the only Neil of his kind was successful in acting. But after falling asleep whilst leaning on a column at Shakespeare’s Globe in the guise of Brutus, the fault of heavily overpowering pain killers he assures us, only to be awoken by a prod from Cassius, he decided a ‘sitting job,’ was needed. That was when Neil turned to writing.

Short stories were his choice to start with. One such story he sent to his nephew, Tom. On Tom’s advice, Neil submitted it to Random House. Here, he gave us some advice not to take – borrowing a book from his niece’s shelf, he copied the publisher’s address onto an envelope, stuffed the ice-cream stained copy of the story in, along with a post-it note saying: “My nephew liked this, you might too,” and sent it to Random House.

The problem was that Neil had unwittingly stereotyped himself. The view of his publisher was: “We own you and you are a brand.” More stories like Brooksie, Neil’s first novel, was what they wanted. MacB, Neil’s third book which was a slight change was rejected.

At this point he was feeling a little vulnerable. Neil took the advice of a fellow author and sought out a writer’s community. It was at an event held by Penguin, where he’d gone to hear one of his favourite authors, Melvin Burgess, speak, that he networked and found a home for MacB.

‘How hard is it to be a writer?’ Neil asked not just the present members and guests of the Hampshire Writers’ Society, but of himself, when his novel writing still failed to pay the bills.

Taking on writing for TV, Neil became a head writer. After a while he found that his own personal writing had taken a back seat; this was not what he wanted for his career. Teaching came next. A smattering of hours gave him enough to live on and he got back to writing.

Reading tomes of adult crime and using their techniques, Neil produced his much-loved dark adult crime fiction. ‘It took much longer than writing middle grade,’ he admitted. It needed drastically reducing. So, he re-wrote it.

The publishers were less than supportive. After fifteen years as a children’s author they were not keen to remarket him.

‘Do I really want to throw it all away and start again?’ he asked himself. Well, thank goodness the answer was yes.

Neil bandied about and re-hashed a pseudonym, finally settling on: James Brodie. Looking on it as active research for his students, he set about submitting his novel to agents. The role of head writer had given him some much welcomed experience of sitting ‘on the other side of the desk’ where he was used to receiving up to eighty unsolicited scripts a week. Tailoring his synopsis and covering letter to fit each of a list of thirty agents, he made a start in October last year and submitted to one a week.

‘Irritate them,’ he says, ‘you’ve spent so much time working on your novel, if you get even a glimmer of interest, send your work again. Even if you don’t, send it again – what’ve you got to lose?’

The response he got was the same lack-lustre response that many writers receive. It wasn’t until he’d somewhat alarmingly reached number twenty-three that he received some genuine interest.

Determined to play the game, Neil then contacted all those agents who’d requested the full manuscript only to brush him off and told them about the interest he’d had. Suddenly they all wanted him. After a ‘feeding frenzy’ as he called it, he selected an agent.

‘I think,’ he said, ‘We’ll leave it there.’ We wait with baited-breath for the next chapter.

Report by Lisa Nightingale