Monday, 11 July 2016

Writing the first draft

I've spoken in length on my blog about editing, self-publishing, querying and trying to secure an agent and or publisher. What I haven't spoken a lot about is the first draft.

In a few weeks I'll be in a role as mentor at a writers retreat. (You can check out the details here to get an idea of what we're doing).

The focus at this retreat is the first draft. I'll be writing a first draft alongside these authors and providing assistance and answering questions. As an author who recently completed the James Paterson Masterclass, I can honestly say I will be approaching my next first draft more clinically than the other first drafts. I will muse over three ideas and pick the best one, then I'll create three main character elements, then I'll prepare a detailed overview.

After this it should be a matter of typing as fast as I can to get the first draft finished.

The timing of this first draft sessions is perfect. My current Work In Progress should be finished this week and will become a Manuscript. I'll be pitching to agents the last two weeks of July, then it'll come to a halt because of Dead Month. This is the month that most agents and publishers take off to catch up on reading and recharge. Which means for August I'll be straight into my next novel.

For me, there is no slowing down. My husband has a saying when he goes out to catch fish for us to eat. The more lures he has in the water, the more chance he has of bringing home a snapper. I have adopted this philosophy and the more books I have out there with agents, the more chances I have of landing one.

I'll share with you the teaching tools I'll use at the retreat. If you'd like to read about these two you can sign up to the RSS feed on this blog, or follow me on Facebook and Twitter.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Coffee Chat with Mirren Hogan, author of Crimson Fire

Today I'd like to welcome Australian author Mirren Hogan to my blog for a virtual coffee and chat. Mirren and I met through my sister and we started out sharing a market stall together, as you do. We were both writers and quickly became friends. It's always wonderful to be able to share success stories of friends and local writers. Mirren has written many novels, as you do, and has now finally had her hard work turn into success with not one, but two fantasy series accepted for publication, the second series just announced today.

DL: Firstly, how do you take your coffee and when is your favourite time to partake?

Mirren: I'm a coffee philistine, I only like the sachet latte crap, and not very often. I prefer tea: Earl Grey, hot. Morning, noon and afternoon.

D L: You're a writer, a freelance editor, and an acquisitions editor for a small press publisher. Is it hard switching hats? And do you have any tips for others who juggle writing and editing and might be struggling?

Mirren: Yes it certainly can be difficult.

Writing is often pounding out a lot of words, while keeping the plot in the back of your mind and hoping it comes out half way decent. I've also taken to taking notes as I write, of names, places and random facts I might need later.

Aq editing is all about reading and giving feedback, and later liaising with the author to discuss promotions, sequels, etc. The Dragon's Rocketship wants the author to feel supported and involved at every step.

Editing is a lot more precise than either of these and requires a lot more focus. You cannot get caught up in the story, you have to see every word which is on the page and make sure it belongs there. I often have to re-read the first few paragraphs when I sit down to edit, to remind myself that I have to focus now.

My best piece of advice is to make sure you have time for the task you intend to do and don't switch hats in the middle of it. If you sit down to write, then write. Edit later. And don't edit while tired, unless you like doing it twice. Do write while drinking though, it can yield interesting results.

D L: Can you tell us about your upcoming novel. What is it about, when it is being released, have you seen the book cover yet?

Mirren: Crimson Fire (through The Dragon's Rocketship Publishing) is a fantasy novel about a young woman called Tabia. She's reasonably poor and her father is in debt to the royal family, so he gives her to them as a slave. Her mistress is a self-absorbed princess who soon discovers that Tabia can do magic. To increase her value, she sends Tabia to learn how to use it. However, self-absorbed princesses often have enemies and Tabia is caught up in a plot to kill her mistress and the king.

It should be out later this year. There's no cover yet, Druscilla Morgan is booked to do the cover art, but I've just finished writing the next book in the series.

D L: You're had short stories published in anthologies which you helped compile and edit. Can you tell us a bit about these anthologies?

Mirren: Tied in Pink is a romance anthology to raise money for breast cancer research. Like a Girl is to raise money for Plan Australia, to help girls all over the world to get an education.

D L: Can you tell us about the day you found out that your novel was going to be published.

Mirren: I checked my email one Sunday morning and saw one from the publisher saying they adored my book and offering me a contract. It's my second publishing contract, but I still smiled all day.

D L: What is the most daunting part of writing for you - past, present or future?

Mirren: It's a toss up between people not reading any of my work and people I respect very much, who write in my genre, reading it. There are some fantasy authors out there I respect very much and if they liked my writing I'd die happy.

D L: Are you a biscuit or cake kind of person?

Mirren: Biscuit, cake goes too stale too quickly and isn't as often covered by chocolate.

Once we have the covers, I'll do a cover reveal and provide links and blurbs on Mirren's books, so sign up to receive posts if you want to read more about Mirren's journey from writing to publication.

D L xoxo

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Writing for NaNoWriMo with other authors
Each year the writers group I belong to comes up with a project for NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. Our 2015 concept was created when another author and myself were at the annual speculative fiction conference held in Canberra, Conflux, now in its 12th year. We were sipping a glass of wine at the end of the day of listening to the most stimulating conversation ever!
Why is it that I can be in a room full of writers and readers and feel engaged enough to speak, take me some place else and I'd rather sit in the corner and talk with the plant.
Anyway, Cat had an ide about an alien zoo, and we brainstormed and our alien zoo was filled with shape-shifters and they had to plan an escape together with only limited places on the spaceship. Because Cat and I came up with the idea we decided we'd be the two zoo keepers (one good, one bad) and we'd let the other writer in our group be the in the enclosures.
Here's the thing about this project. It encapsulates all the elements of a story:
Goal - get off the planet and get back home
Motivation - there's a spaceship coming for a zoo exhibit, also they're dying inside from shapeshifting on command
Stakes - only 35 places on the spaceship, they must decide who goes who stays
Conflict - one zoo keeper wants to sabotage the plan, the other to help
Alien Zoo was written by authors who have published and who have not published before. So the tricky part when co-editing was to keep the voice of the writer but also to make it readable. It is difficult to ask and receive critique but having gone through professional edits with publishers before, oen thing that is rammed into my head is this: put ego aside, the book is the most important thing.
And we all worked on it till it's something we can be proud of. I know it's a little side project but I had fun writing and editing and designing the cover. 
If you have a writing group and are looking for a project to work on, I highly recommend a joint effort. It'll be hard work, difficult at times, but you'll learn a lot.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Does FREE even work when it comes to books?

Opening the email inbox this morning, I can see that my monthly free magazine of short stories have arrived. Volume 6 or something. Could be Volume 2 or 150 it makes no difference. I haven't even read the first 5 magazines. It's not because I don't want to read these stories. It's because they have nil value.

You mean I can stop eating this stuff because I didn't pay for it?
That's what free books are. Nil value. I can slip over the free books on the kindle, I can stop reading halfway through, or stop after the first chapter. Yet if I've paid money for a book, well I want to keep reading till the end to get my money's worth. Same as if I pay $5 for a bottle of shampoo, I'm gonna use it all up even if I have to slice open the top and scoop out the goo with my finger.

Free books are a useful marketing tool to attract new readers. That's what everyone says. And I can see the point of the exercise.  But, does free even work when it comes to books?

In 2013 I self published LITTLE RED GEM, and I gave away 30 copies through Library Thing in the hopes of readers enjoying the book so much they'd write wonderful reviews. 30 copies is a lot, it's also not a lot. An author or publisher can give away up to 100 copies of an ebook to readers.

I've received one review from this free read exercise. Other reviews on this site cam from paid promotions. Yet everyone was quick to grab the free copy and I get it. Hey, if someone is handing out something for free at the mall I take it and run, check it out when I get home, then I toss the grape peeling wonder device in the bin because who cares, I didn't pay for it.

Free is a quick impulse, must have grab. If someone's just gonna throw it out, might as well take it.

In my case, giving away 30 copies didn't attract readers, followers, fans, or sales, and why would it if nobody even opens the book to read it and just skips it over it on their kindle because, hey I didn't pay for it, so who really cares?

What do you do with the free stuff you get? Do you use it? Treasure it? Chuck it away?

I'd love to hear your stories.

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Can a writer get an agent through pitching queries?

Can a writer get an agent through pitching via their submission guidelines?

No not that sort of pitch
The first question I ask myself is, can I even get an agent submitting to them through the slush pile? There’s growing evidence that pitching to agents at writer’s conventions is the only way to go. Personal contact is key to securing an agent, but since I live in Australia and I’m not heading to New York in the near future, submitting via the agent’s submissions inbox is the only way I can do this. And I have to believe that it’s possible, otherwise why would agents even have a submissions page?

My husband is a fisherman, and there’s a saying he tells his clients. You’ll catch more fish with more lures in the water. And he’s right. When I first began pitching to agents, I had written one novel. So everything hinged on landing a publishing deal with one novel. I was lucky in that The Bird With The Broken Wing was accepted by a publisher after 18 pitches to a mixture of agents and publishers. It was accepted by a small press publisher, Etopia Press, and to me it was the biggest deal of my lifetime. We all start somewhere and this was my start. I pitched my second YA  novel Feedback straight to Etopia Press and they accepted it. They passed on my third YA novel Little Red Gem, and this book was the one I submitted to over 100 agents and it was not picked up by anyone.

Lesson 1 learned from this pitch. You can’t sell ice to an igloo. I was pitching this as paranormal romance and the editors were sick of PNR.

Lesson 2 learned from this pitch. I didn’t know my genre.

Still the wrong type of pitcher

It can’t be paranormal romance because the chick didn’t end up with the guy, she rebuffed him. It’s technically fantasy/magical realism but I hadn’t heard of that genre. Currently there are many publishes and agents seeking magical realism so I will begin pitching Little Red Gem as this genre, but then I love the book and the cover so much that I’m still considering keeping this self published. I gotta say, it’s nice to have the choice.

Not long after I self published Little Red Gem, Etopia Press dropped their YA range so the rights for two YA novels reverted back to me. Now I had three YA titles to pitch, but I decided to go with self publishing them all so I could focus on writing for adults.

What’s the difference for me with pitching at them moment? For a start, I have one adult sci-fi novel currently being pitched to agents, with a few requests for full manuscripts and partials. And I’m a few weeks off finishing a different stand alone book that I will pitch to these very same agents. Because this book is a very similar genre, I’ve already done the ground work of establishing who I can submit queries to. And since I’ve been able to generate some interest already, and I’ve introduced myself, it should look good on my part that I’m able to provide a second book rather quickly. And I can also still pitch my three YA novels if I come across a publisher or agent who is interested. So that’s five lures I’ll have in the water to (hopefully) attract a big fish.

April's efforts to pitch of my sci-fi apocalyptic series were once again worthwhile, even though unsuccessful. I've submitted to 39 agents, received 6 nos, and one request for a partial. So off went 50 pages to this agent. I’ve got my fingers crossed that he likes enough to request the entire manuscript. I’m still submitting via the submissions guidelines. I have to believe I can be successful this way.
Still the wrong type of pitcher. No wonder I'm getting stuck.

Overall, I believe an agent is the way for me to go with my current books. They are for broad markets and agents can provide access to publishers with a far greater reach than I can muster up. Agents are also far quicker at saying no than publishers. Yet, here are two important tips for anyone venturing down the same road as me.

Important tip 1 - Do not use the agent as your critique buddy. Only submit the work you think is at its final stage.

I submitted my sci-fi apocalyptic novel to the first round of agents believing the book was finished. It was not (though in my defence I thought it was), and I had to do major reworks when I received critique from an agent. It’s mortifying to have an agent give you critique. This should have been done earlier. There is no second bite of the cherry. I can’t resubmit the same book, but that’s okay, a different book is almost ready to go. I’m applying that old saying, I’ll catch more fish with more lures in the water. And since I’ve done all the ground work already, I can’t wait to get this manuscript finished and pitched to these agents.

Important tip 2 – if you are going to submit to agents and publishers, always submit to agents first.

Often, agents will pitch to the same publishers as you have already done, and if a publishers says no to you, they’re not going to say yes to an agent. Never. You should be aiming to widen the net, not closing it up. So exhaust all agent queries before submitting to publishers.

As they say, it takes only one agent and/or publisher. And that’s all I want. One agent and/or publisher. I’m not begging, but really I am.

I’d love to hear your story of landing an agent and/or publisher. Have you got any tips or advice to share?

Here's a look at the two pitching sessions for the same novel. The original version and the reworked version.

Original manuscript (pitched June 2015)

Query 46
No 23
Partial 1
Full 1
No reply 22
critique  1

Reworked manuscript (pitched April 2016)

Query 39
No 6
Partial 1
Full 0
No reply 0
critique  0

Friday, 15 April 2016

Why are dystopian books so popular?

I've just returned from grocery shopping. There were two little mishaps - I parked the car, got out, realized I'd left my cash at home. Then after I'd gone home and gotten the cash walked up to the supermarket I found there was not a single shopping trolley. Aside from these two little mishaps, the grocery shopping experience was uneventful. I found many items marked down on sale that I could freeze for another day. Stocked up on loads of goodies for the pantry. All in all, an uneventful, same old, everyday occurrence that millions of us take for granted.

I paid $150 for food that will be eaten in a week, perhaps scorned at, critiqued, not eaten, devoured hungrily, most importantly, taken for granted that all this will happen again next week. No wonder I see food shopping as pointless and boring. And if I find it boring and pointless, I'm sure there are other who do too.

We no longer have to fight or hunt for our food. All the tribal, primal, animalistic components have been cauterized, homogenized, and organized. No wonder dystopian novels are so popular. Characters have to fight for food, there's often the kill or be killed mentality, pushing others aside for the last scraps of food and water. Humanity is stripped away and we have to fight to keep it. In the modern world, there is no need to fight.

Just to treat you to the types of books I'm talking about there is a fantastic site called The Best Sci Fi Books. I recently found this post from September 2014 highlighting 96 Dystopian Science Fiction Books that are all on my must read list. I've read a few, and I must say I love dystopian worlds. And I think I know why. Our blessed lives lack the life or death challenges, they lack the hunt, the hunger, the fight for survival.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying I want world war to break out and coupons to become a way of life. I don't want to fear for my life as I make a cup of tea. Nor do I want to eat stale crackers and spoiled food.

But our love of dystopian fiction makes me wonder that perhaps we humans like the idea of chaos in our lives, to remind us that while we have evolved, we are still of flesh and blood.

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Book covers and genres

I should be an analyst because I love to see changes in the market place. One change I've noticed recently is the humble book cover. I'm talking about YA book covers at the moment. They are starting to become a little more contemporary.

Three years ago all the YA covers featured girls in gowns. Seriously, ever second book had a girl in a gown. I even wrote an article about it and the article appeared in the NSW Writers Centre member magazine.

This was around the same time I was submitted Little Red Gem to agents and publishers. It's a paranormal story because it features magic, astral projection, and ghosts, but it kept getting rejected because, and I quote, "editors are suffering from paranormal fatigue". So I self published the book because I believe it is a damned good story. And readers agreed.

The point is, publishers and agents at the time wanted contemporary books. And rightly so. A market  clogged with one genre is like only having one type of food to eat. Readers need variety. But I wasn't about to go "contemporizing" all my novels. And as a side note, guess what agents are asking for now? Not just paranormal but a nice mix of both contemporary and genre fiction.

Anyway, it's a few years later and I'm trawling through online sites and I notice a new set of book covers. They look very much like contemporary books. But here's the interesting bit. A lot of these books are still paranormal because the characters are dead or they're living inside people's dreams or there are ghosts - all the elements that make it paranormal. But look at the difference in covers.

There are still books with covers that clearly define the genre, yet from a quick look a lot of these titles were dystopian or sci-fi. It seems indeed, that we are not meant to judge a book by its cover. Because it seems that the book cover is a judge of what the current marketing trend is. Interesting.

I've spent the past few months updating my book covers and it seems that if contemporary covers are the norm then I may have to update them further. What do you think? Do these covers work?

So what do you think? Should books reflect the content or the market trend? I'd love to hear your thoughts. And have you read any books that the cover was a disaster but the content was awesome?