There are many factors that make a book great, here bestselling Poolbeg author Mary Malone summarises her tips for success. If you are nearing the submission stage, use this as a check list!
Mary will be chairing an author panel discussing editing and many of these elements, as part of the Cork World Book Festival Constant Reader Event on 23rd April 2016 (Cork City Library). The event has been programmed by Writing.ie’s Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin and kicks off with an agent panel with Simon Trewin of WME and Polly Nolan of The Greenhouse Literary Agency, chaired by Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin. After the author panel which includes ER Murray, Hazel Gaynor and Alana Kirk, Vanessa, Ireland’s leading literary scout, will spend the afternoon explaining what you need to do to get your book noticed, giving you the complete inside track on how the publishing industry works.
If you can’t get to Cork, book in for the International Literature Festival Dublin’s Getting Published Conference on May 28th, run in conjunction with Writing.ie, where five top agents, and a host of editors and authors will be explaining exactly how publishing works in a jam packed full day conference. Booking will open soon, but details are here – Date With An Agent submission has now closed, but there will be lots to learn on the day and the agents will be mingling during break times.
So what does you book need to attract an editor or an agent’s eye?
1. A strong opening that not only captures attention but introduces the characters. Who are the people, where are they, what are they doing and why should a reader care? Who is the protagonist? What is it about him or her that makes them the centre of the story. Hook your reader in with a strong opening chapter that starts right before the action begins.
2. A good idea. What makes this book different? Your idea needs to be intriguing and it needs to be developed so that it progresses with every chapter.
3. Pace – the story must build in pace as it leads to the climax – like climbing a hill, an exciting rush to see what’s at the top and over the other side.
4. Strong (believable) conflict – something preventing the characters from getting their goal. How do characters react to the events that unfold? The story lies in the conflict and the character’s reactions to it.
5. Real characters. Avoid stereotypes. Beware of protagonists who are too perfect and villains who are too evil. Flawed characters are much more real and interesting. Even villains have redeeming qualities. Get to know your characters intimately and they will reveal elements you didn’t know where there.
6. Voice. Develop a unique voice and style. This can take much longer than you think but is the key to any publishing deal. It might take several books for you to develop your own voice – when you stop worrying about individual words and focus on story, you know you’re there.
7. Supporting characters are always necessary to move a story forward. But unless the postman who appears in chapter two has some real significance in the novel and will appear again later in the story, there’s no need to even give him a name. A cast of thousands will confuse the reader.
8. Writing technique, vocabularly etc. All writers owe their readers good spelling and vocabulary. Use your spell check!
9. Emotion – Write as though you’re writing about family or best friends, the reader has to care about what’s happening. If you, the writer, are passionate about characters and story, it’ll ring true. Breathe the story, dream about it, keep it alive in your head while you’re writing. Want the best for your story, want it to live long after the final page has been read.
10. A satisfying ending – regardless of whether the characters live happily ever after or not, a satisfying ending is a must if you want a reader to recommend your book or buy your next title. The needs to be resolution of some sort.
Most important tip for writers – keep writing and don’t give up. Stay in your seat and get the words on the page. Writing is rewriting – what you produce first isn’t the finished product so don’t be disheartened, keep crafting and rewriting. Best of luck!
(c) Mary Malone