Here we give you the resources that accompany the Facebook Live series Everything Your Ever Wanted to Know About Publishing But Never Dared Ask featuring literary agent Simon Trewin.
Simon Trewin established his agency, Simon Trewin Ltd, in February 2019. Previously Simon headed the London literary arm of WME, the worldwide talent agency and was a senior partner. He has been an agent for over twenty years and is a three time nominee for the Bookseller Industry Awards Literary Agent of the Year. As a former Secretary of the Association of Authors’ Agents his knowledge of the book world is assured.
Trewin began his career in the theatre and he continues to represent a number of playwrights including West End and television favourite, Jeremy Dyson. In 2007, he was one of a group of agents who broke away from super agency, Peters, Fraser and Dunlop to set up United Agents. After a spell as a Director at UA, he made the move to William Morris Endeavor in search of a more global stage, ‘I wanted my clients to play on the biggest possible canvas they could. Simple as that’.
WME’s American ownership and Trewin’s stable of high profile US and UK authors make him something of a literary powerhouse on both sides of the Atlantic.
Trewin’s client lists include a number of award winning writers including: national treasure and former Poet Laureate, Andrew Motion; John Boyne, author of the phenomenally successful book turned film, The Boy In Striped Pajamas; Andrew Miller, winner of the 2012 Costa Book Of the Year, Mary Costello, winner of the Irish Novel of the Year 2014; bestseller Sam Blake plus many more fiction and non fiction authors. Visit his website to find out more.
Resources Week 1
Watch back here:
These are our tips and Simon’s thoughts on making sure your book is ready for submission:
Simon Trewin says, ‘I recently opened my agency to new submissions during Lockdown via
the email address firstname.lastname@example.org. I have had almost 200 submissions in the
last ten days and hope to add yours to the talent pool once you are ready’
Writing.ie are always dealing, happily, with a flow of inquiries from new writers who have
finished their books and want to know what they should do next – while they have masses of
content about getting published and self publishing at Writing.ie, we both felt there was a
need for a guide that takes the mystery out of starting that process, so as part of the
collaboration between Writing.ie and the Simon Trewin Agency we have put this together…
Writing is rewriting
The first thing for every writer to remember is that writing is rewriting. The moment you put the last full stop down at the end of the last sentence of your first draft isn’t the time to start thinking about sending it out – it’s the time when the work really begins.
No published author submits a first draft and expects success, but rather they draft and redraft, write and rewrite until, as author Mary Malone says, ‘you’re so sick of your book that you never want to see it again!’
As Simon Trewin says, ‘The world doesn’t need another novel – it is the writer’s job to make the agent feel that, in some way, his or her view of the world we all live will be a slightly more textured and rich one if seen through your prose’
So there should be no hurry about this process – take your time and think very carefully about each step of this journey.
How do you know what to change as you redraft? Here are some tips:
- Read your work outloud, particularly the dialogue, making sure that nothing jars. If it helps, record yourself reading and play it back, or use the text to speech function on a Kindle to play back passages.
- One of the problems with writing is that our brain thinks it knows the words that should be on the page, and can be blind to the words that are actually there. It is essential to print out your entire book and read it in hard copy as part of the editing process. Choose a different font from the one you normally work in and it will help you spot the problems. We have some great tips on structural and self editing here.
- Ask a writer who works in your genre to read your book and give you their comments. Even an enthusiastic reader will not understand the techniques required to make your story work – a writer will, and if there is too much backstory or not enough description in the right places, they will spot it.
- Join a critique group or writers group to get feedback on your manuscript.
- You can use sites like Scribophile or YouWriteOn.com to submit parts of your book (the opening chapter is a good place to start) to get feedback from other writers and to be in with a chance of an editor spotting your book. Take their points on board, but bear in mind they may not have the experience of published authors.
The next step: length & genre
As you are redrafting, it’s time to check that your book is:
- The right length (word count) for the market – we have guidelines here.
- If you are writing for children, your reader – and the age bracket you are writing for – has a direct impact on the age of your protagonist and the length of the book – make sure you have got this right. Children’s Books Ireland have fabulous resources and we’d urge you to join them if this is your field – from workshops to advice, this is the organisation that can help.
- If poetry is your area, check out Poetry Ireland who again have specific resources to help you.
- If your book is fiction, does it fall within a recognised genre (crime, romance, women’s fiction, humour) or subgenre (historical crime or women’s fiction for instance)? Books that cross genre can be hard to place with publishers as it can be tricky to know how to market them/where to put them on the bookshop shelf. Understanding genre will help, read as much as you can in the genre you write in. That said, if your book is brilliantly written genre will not be an issue.
- If your book is non-fiction you need to be aware of what the competition is in the marketplace – what makes your book different from what’s available already, and why are you the best person to write it?
Who to approach?
Matching your manuscript to the right type of publishing house or agent is essential to success – not every publisher publishes every type of book, and if you submit a children’s picture book to an academic publisher you are guaranteeing a rejection.
You can reduce your chances of rejection with a little detective work. We have a complete list of Irish publishers here at writing.ie, plus a list of Irish agents. For information on UK agents and publishers, The Writers and Artist’s Yearbook is an invaluable resource (there is a specific edition for anyone writing for children).
Go to your local bookshop or library and find books that are like yours – read the acknowledgments and find out who the author’s agent and editor are – use this information to start a list of who to approach. Read our section on tips for submission.
Simon Trewin says, ‘Personally I would always advise going to an agent first rather than to a publisher – unless you are doing something very specialist (in the non-fiction market for instance) where an agent can’t bring much added value. As I explained in Episode 1 – agents are there to provide a quality filter and to present work to a publisher in the format they need to evaluate it effectively’.
Your submission package
Every publishing house has slightly different requirements for authors submitting to them. It is essential that you read the guidelines and follow them to the letter. There is nothing more annoying for editors than maverick authors who have a better idea of how to submit. Make the editor’s job easier by following the guidelines.
Essentially you will be required to submit a covering letter, a synopsis of your book and the three opening chapters (info on format here) – some publishers want the first fifty pages, some want a query letter outlining your book before you even get to this stage (this is the norm in the US). Their guidelines will be on their website – check them to see what they want.
Simon Trewin : ‘This is an area we will be going into in great depth during this series and I look forward to sharing my Do’s and Dont’s with you then’.
Essentially your book needs to be in tip top condition before you send it anywhere – editors today just don’t have time to detect a glimmer of genius in a unpolished draft. At the risk of driving editors and agents to distraction, you really only have on chance to submit your book, so don’t send it anywhere until you are absolutely sure that you cannot do any more to it. You can get professional help on your manuscript before you send it from a range of services – Ireland’s leading publishing consultancy, The Inkwell Group has a team of published authors and industry professionals who can read your book and give you report on it, give you a line by line critique of the opening chapters, or edit all or part of your book. You can get information on their full range of services and read their success stories at their website.
Understanding the business
If you are serious about becoming an author it is vital that you get to understand the business side of writing and how it works. You can do this by reading author’s publication stories and tips (we have masses of information on writing.ie), attending workshops, book launches and festivals (lots listed in our events section) or joining a writing course that includes a publishing element.
Simon Trewin adds, ‘I would recommend you subscribe to the free update from the industry magazine The Bookseller for an overview of the UK market and to a daily email alert called Publishers’ Lunch in the US. Reading these on a regular basis will give you so much more texture to your understanding of what we all do on the business side and how you can all best interact with it’.
If you feel you’re ready to submit your book and you want to be in with a chance to meet one of the six leading London agents attending Date with an Agent on October 24th, click through to find out how to submit.
When you understand the options available to you, you can consider whether traditional publishing (with a publishing house) or self publishing is the best route to get your book to readers.
What not to do
If you Google publishers, often the first few results you get are actually ads. As a general rule, bone fide commercial publishers really don’t need to advertise for books, they have more than they need sent by agents or directly by authors every day. Please, please, check anyone you submit to carefully before you commit to a contract of any sort – we would urge you to get professional advice from a publishing professional – the Society of Authors offer free contract advice to members (based in London but with member all over the world), they have a dedicated and experienced team – their membership could be the best money you spend! It’s essential that you know exactly what you are committing too – sometimes a shiny publisher or agent may not actually be offering what you think they are, and once you get locked into a dodgy (and what can be very expensive) contract, it’s very hard to get out of it.
Simon Trewin’s Top Tip – ‘In a traditional publishing deal the money should be flowing in the direction of YOU the author. If it isn’t then you are subsidising the publisher and need to ask yourself whether this is a wise thing to be doing’.
Think about your author profile and how you will sell your book
Publishers are naturally inclined to be interested in authors who understand a little bit about marketing, who have a blog or website established and who have a social media presence. Having lots of connections with people who will buy your book has to be a good thing. Think about starting a blog and getting onto Twitter – we have lots of tips if you click the links.
If an editor likes your chapters there is a good chance that they will Google you to find out more about you. Google yourself and see what they will see! Now might be the time to take down those stag night pictures…your own blog or website allows you to be in full control of the images and information that is available about you, and gives an editor a good idea of your personality.
If you hate social media and don’t want to blog, think about other ways of connecting with potential readers. Can you give library or schools talks? Not a public speaker? Now is the time to think about ways around that, as marketing is a vital part of every author’s life.
Publishers need writers
The most important thing to remember as you look for a publisher, is that the industry cannot operate without writers. Writers are the fuel that keeps the machine going. There is no question that there is a high level of rejection in this business (this article might help), and that is something that writers must prepare themselves for early on, and often. But at the same time, there are more opportunities open to you with the growth of digital and print-on-demand/self publishing, than ever before. It’s a great time to be a writer!
Resources Week 2
Watch back here:
I am really enjoying this weekly interaction with you all and this week the subjedct is HOW TO WRITE A KILLER SUBMISSION LETTER.
Once I get through the hyperbole and overblown salesmanship of most covering letters, it is all about my relationship to the prose.
In the case of fiction (which it usually is) I am looking for a voice. Simple as that.
I am not so concerned about plot or setting to begin with – I just want to feel that I am setting off on a journey with a writer who just for one moment or two can grab me, make me forget I am reading a book and who might just might change my perception of the world around me.
A great writer can accomplish all that and more in a paragraph. Think of the opening of Catcher in the Rye or Great Expectations and you are totally drawn in as a reader. If a writer’s prose is bland, derivative or just plain clumsy, then I won’t read beyond the first page. If I get beyond that then I want narrative. Big time.
In a world where we are bombarded with micro-messages, greatest hits and tweet-sized chunks, I am convinced that all we yearn for is to be taken back to those bedtimes when we were nicely tucked up and having a wonderful story being read to us. ‘In the beginning there was a Princess who lived in a castle in the middle of an enchanted forest…’.
So basically if you want me to keep reading your work (and maybe even take it on) I want the simple conditions to be met:
- spell my name right
- check my website and see that I actually am looking for your kind of writing
- write me a letter that makes you sound great but not so arrogant that working with you will be a nightmare
- be the creator of sparkling life-changing prose, and
- take me on a wonderful journey somewhere with your narrative.
Get it? Got it? Good. Now back to the enchanted wood and the Princess…
Literary Agent Sallyanne Sweeney also has some fabulous tips on covering letters, in a bumper edition of Sam Blake’s Behind the Bestseller podcast https://www.headstuff.org/behind-the-bestseller/sallyanne-sweeney/
Your covering letter is your first point of contact with someone who, potentially, has your future in their hand, so make the right impression the first time.
Your covering letter should be:
Well presented! The person opening your submission package is someone whom you hope to build a professional relationship with – think of your letter as a job application.
PERSONALLY address your letter to the right person – use the agent or publisher’s name (NOT Dear Mr. Penguin/Dear Mrs. Curtis Brown) Go to their website, find out if the agent or editor you are approaching is a Mr. or a Ms.· Make sure this is the right person within the organization to handle your genre. Mistakes here show you haven’t done your research, which in turn throws a question over how serious you are about getting into the publishing business – why should an editor spend time reading your submission if you haven’t spent time finding out how they spell their surname or if they represent science fiction?
- Clearly include ALL your contact information – your telephone number, social media links and website or blog if you have one. Make it easy for the agent to find out who you are and to get in touch. Include your name and email in the header or footer of your manuscript too, just in case the covering email becomes detached from your submission in a busy inbox.
- Ensure you include your book’s title, genre and word count. The word count will immediately tell an editor whether your book is of a commercial length.
- Be SUCCINCT – a maximum of one page. If you have significant writing accolades or are a TV star, include this information in a separate author profile.
- Try and summarise your book in a few killer lines – your pitch paragraph. You will need to practice this to get it right but these will be lines you will use continuously. When you find yourself standing next to a legendary agent at a book launch, stun them with your brilliant pitch and they’ll remember you when you send in your manuscript!
- Don’t start with a question that they might answer no to or be annoyed by – have you ever wondered? Are YOU looking for the next BIG thing?
- For a fiction submission, ensure the letter is more about the book than you – the agent will want to know a bit about you, get a feel for who you are but they don’t need to know your dogs name or where you went to school. For non-fiction, platform and qualifications are very important, so your query should be 60% about the book, 40% about your platform (if your book is about surviving in the Himalayas, your adventures are relevant and important). If you are submitting non-fiction ensure that you make it clear why YOU are the best person to write this book – what are your qualifications/experience?
- DO NOT say that you are the next JK Rowling or Dan Brown, but do say that you hope to emulate/write in the style of, for instance, Maeve Binchy or Rosamund Pilcher, or that you see your books as something like Brooklyn meets The Martian (!) This can give the agent/publisher an idea where you see your book falling in the market.
- Do NOT say your mum loved it. DO say if you’ve worked with a professional editor or author on it.
- Show you can write – no typos, tangled sentences or waffle. Or they may never get past the covering letter.
- Only pitch one book. Your book might be part of a trilogy, but that’s not the most important thing about it – if you can’t sell one book, you won’t be able to sell the other two. Mention in the closing line that you see this book as part of a series if it’s important.
- If you are approaching more than one editor or agent at a time with your manuscript make this clear in your letter.
- FOLLOW THE SUBMISSION GUIDELINES. It’s not difficult. Try not to irritate the agent or editor you are submitting to by including the whole book when they’ve asked for three pages – if they like your book they’ll ask for more. If they only ask for three chapters and you feel that your book starts taking off at chapter five, don’t send the five chapters – rewrite them so they are fabulous from chapter one!
- If you are approaching multiple agents or publishers by email make absolutely sure each one is individually addressed.
- The whole of publishing works by email, so make sure that your email address is a sensible, businesslike one, and represents you properly!
- If you’ve set up a new email for submissions, forward it into your own email, or remember to check it regularly!
Resources Week 3
Watch back here: https://www.facebook.com/writing.ie/videos/659135131577892/
The concept of an elevator originated in Hollywood– if you get into a lift with Stephen Speilberg and you’ve got five floors to sell him your idea, what do you say? Master the 60-second pitch and it will form the backbone of your entire marketing campaign from pitching to an agent to that agent pitching to an editor. In film, the elevator pitch is usually a maximum of 20 words, but you’ve more space with a book pitch, see what you can say in a few sentences.
Don’t overthink this – you are unknowingly using elevator pitches in all aspects of your life – whether it is describing the box-set you just binged on, raving about the new restaurant you have just tried out or a book you just devoured in one sitting. If you have ever tweeted about something in 140 characters or less you know how to do an elevator pitch! Trust me! And as you are never likely to meet an agent in an elevator you mustn’t worry about this too much. If you are passionate about what you do then this should be something you want to do and want to do well. With our help you will achieve all this and more. You don’t have to hone it to the extent that someone did when first pitching the movie ALIEN with three words – JAWS IN SPACE – but we can get pretty close…
I have worked with Vanessa in her ‘Sam Blake’ iteration and have enjoyed throwing ideas back and forth at the early stage of a book’s inception. We usually start with a bunch of ideas and end up focussing on one and then thinking, before the book is even written (WAY before that actually!), how the book would be sold to customers. I usually think of a busy person at a railway station with seven minutes till their train departs running into a WHSmiths (or similar) and being faced with a wall of gorgeous paperbacks. What makes someone pick up one title over another? Sure the book jacket is crucial but so is the STRAPLINE – the words on the cover that hook the reader in and gets them to the till. Personally I love an X meet Y pitch (I joke that JURASSIC PARK meet BRIDGET JONES would be the best example of that ever…alas that book hasn’t been written…yet) or a question. A good question draws someone in…something like ‘Why did two best friends end up as the best of enemies?’ or I also like a bold statement – ‘No one puts Daisy in a corner’.
Anyway – back to Sam Blake – The pitch for Keep Your Eyes on Me hasn’t changed very much from the original concept to the blurb that’s now on Amazon – it summarises the book and has been used at every stage of the sales process, from her email to me, to her publisher Corvus Atlantic pitching to their sales teams, bookshops and readers online:
Keep Your Eyes on Me: Strangers on a Train meets Dial M for Murder
When Vittoria Devine and Lily Power find themselves sitting next to each other on a flight to New York, they discover they both have men in their lives whose impact has been devastating.
After a series of affairs, his latest mistress is pregnant, and it looks like Vittoria’s pilot husband Marcus has hired a contract killer to save him from a costly divorce. Lily’s brother Jack has been swindled out of the family business in a card game by playboy art dealer Edward Croxley.
By the time they land, Vittoria and Lily have realised that they can help each other, and have come up with a plan that will see each of them get payback, destroying the men who have hurt them and righting the balance.
But only one of them knows the real story.
We worked on the basis that most people had heard of both the two films we were referencing and many will had seen at least one of them. It was a punch hook and intriguing and enough to make someone want to lean in and read on.
So here are a few points to think about when you’re writing your pitch:
· You should be able to pitch the perfect high concept commercial novel in one line.
· Not every novel is the perfect high concept book – pitches can take a while to get right. When I was agenting THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PYJAMAS our original pitch started ‘We don’t want to tell you anything about this book’…
· To write a great pitch, you need to have written a great book – if you can’t sum up the essence of your novel in a few short lines, now is the time to start questioning why.
· A pitch will be used in your covering letter, whenever you discuss your novel in person, by your agent to grab an editor’s attention. It is an incredibly useful tool.
· If you must mention 4+ characters in your pitch for it to make sense, you probably have some problems with the story.
· The voice in the pitch should match the mood of the story.
What’s a Synopsis?
Often harder to write than the book itself, try and write an overview of the story before you begin – it’s much easier to change it reflecting how the story develops, than to write from scratch at the end!
· A synopsis is an overview of the full book, covering the narrative arc and containing all the reveals.
· It is not a blurb/back jacket copy. You’re not writing a punchy marketing piece for readers that builds excitement – save that for your pitch.
· Ideally your synopsis should be short (agents are busy!) one page, single spaced. Check each agent’s submission guidelines though – some may want something even shorter.
· Synopses are often most effectively written in active voice, third person, present tense (even if your novel is written in first person). Don’t waffle at any point and don’t include detail that doesn’t move the story or characters forward. If the character makes a cup of tea in chapter two because they are thirsty then DON’T include it – if they make a cup of tea because they are about to slip poison into it to KILL SOMEONE then please DO include it!
Why you need it
· The synopsis helps the agent (and you!) see how the story unfolds – it ensures character actions and motivations are realistic and make sense.
· Your synopsis will reveal any big problems in your story—e.g. the whole thing was a dream, there’s no resolution for the characters, the narrative arc is off centre.
· A synopsis will reveal plot flaws, issues with character motivation/inconsistency, or a lack of structure.
· A synopsis will reveal how fresh and original your story is; if there’s nothing surprising or unique, your manuscript may not get read.
Note: Some agents hate synopses and never read them; some read your covering letter and go straight to the synopsis – do your best to encapsulate the story. I never read the synopses until I have read the sample material but I know some agents who will reject a project on the basis of a bad one.
What you need to achieve
· You are aiming to tell the story of characters we’ll care about, including the protagonist. Generally you’ll write the synopsis with your protagonist as the focus, and show what’s at stake for him/her. The higher the stakes, the more gripped the reader will be.
· Give a clear idea of the core conflict for the protagonist, what’s driving that conflict, and how the protagonist succeeds or fails in dealing with it.
· We need to understand how that conflict is resolved and how the protagonist’s situation, both internally and externally, has changed as a result of the story. Without change there is no story.
· You won’t be able to mention all the characters or events. You’ll probably leave out some subplots, and some of the minor plot twists and turns. You don’t need to detail all the characters, only the key ones that drive the story, showing their relationship to the protagonist.
· The synopsis is not a summary of each scene or chapter, but an overview of the crucial events that lead to the conclusion.
· A synopsis isn’t a list of plot points. Show the characters emotions and feelings, their reactions to events.
· Don’t worry about themes – the synopsis tells the story. This isn’t the place to interpret what it means or get carried away with the literary merit of your book.
· Avoid including dialogue or your synopsis will read like an excerpt from your novel
· Avoid character backstory – focus on the key events
· Don’t bullet point or use subheads, write as prose.
· Synopsis needs to tell the story as compared to your novel where you need to show it.
In conclusion I would say that no one knows your novel better than you do and anyone you are writing to about it needs to get an innate sense of what your book is doing that is different to any other book in the genre.
Finally – you are allowed to get this synopsis and pitch very wrong many times until you get it right but just make sure it doesn’t end up in someone else’s inbox until you are really thrilled with it and excited about the reaction you hope it is going to solicit.
Resources Week 4
Watch back here:
This week we looked at books that arrived in Simon’s ‘inbox’ as debuts and immediately caught his eye. Going through the opening pages, Simon discussed what it was that made them special and why he took the authors on as clients. Each of them has a clear concept and a unique hook as you’ll see here (click on the images for links to bookshops who have them in stock and are shipping!)
KEITH LOWE/Tunnel Vision 2001
Until now Andy’s interest in the London Underground has been relatively harmless. Rachel, his long- suffering financee, has long since learnt to put up with it. But on the eve of their wedding, in a fit of last-minute nerves, Andy makes a drunken bet which threatens to ruin everything. His task is to travel to every tube station on the system in a single day. As part of the challenge his passport, his honeymoon tickets and his credit cards have been hidden in various places along the way – he has just 20 hours to find them all and complete his journey or the wedding is off. Tired, hungover, amazed at his own foolishness, he sets out on his journey at 5am with Brian, a drunk he picks up in Morden. He knows he can win his bet, and at first he seems to be making good progress. But then everything starts to go wrong…
ANDREW MILLER/Ingenious Pain 1997
At the dawn of the Enlightenment, James Dyer is born unable to feel pain. A source of wonder and scientific curiosity as a child, he rises through the ranks of Georgian society to become a brilliant surgeon. Yet as a human being he fails, for he can no more feel love and compassion than pain. Until, en route to St Petersburg to inoculate the Empress Catherine against smallpox, he meets his nemesis and saviour.
CHLOE ESPOSITO/Mad 2017
I watch Beth’s life flash before my eyes: the money, the husband, the baby, the car. My twin stole everything, right from the start. Well, I’ll show her. Two can play at that game.
I’ll steal him right back.
I’ll steal her life.
THE THIEF OF TIME/John Boyne 2000
Matthieu Zela has lived his life well. In fact, he’s lived several lives well. Because Matthew Zela’s life is characterised by one amazing fact: his body stopped ageing before the end of the eighteenth century.
Starting in 1758, a young Matthieu flees Paris after witnessing his mother’s brutal murder. His only companions are his younger brother Tomas and one true love, Dominique Sauvet. The story of his life takes us from the French Revolution to 1920s Hollywood, from the Great Exhibition to the Wall Street Crash, and by the end of the twentieth century, Matthieu has been an engineer, a rogue, a movie mogul, a soldier, a financier, a lover to many, a cable TV executive and much more besides.
Brilliantly weaving history and personal experience, this is a dazzling story of love, murder, missed chances, treachery – and redemption.
LITTLE BONES/Sam Blake 2016
Attending what seems to be a routine break-in, troubled Detective Garda Cathy Connolly makes a grisly discovery: an old wedding dress – and, concealed in its hem, a baby’s bones.
And then the dress’s original owner, Lavinia Grant, is found dead in a Dublin suburb.
Searching for answers, Cathy is drawn deep into a complex web of secrets and lies spun by three generations of women.
Meanwhile, a fugitive killer has already left two dead in execution style killings across the Atlantic – and now he’s in Dublin with old scores to settle. Will the team track him down before he kills again?
Struggling with her own secrets, Cathy doesn’t know dangerous – and personal – this case is about to become…
What do you need to think about to make that crucial first impression? Remember writing is rewriting – the day you write the last word is the day the work begins. NEVER send out a first or early draft! Here are Simon’s thoughts:
- It’s essential you have finished your book before approaching an agent and to be happy to be judged by what you are sending out.
- Ensure, whatever your genre, that you have some sort of hook at the beginning. This could be a ticking clock, a question that needs answering or a dilemma that seems impossible to be solved. Think about what you are trying to achieve at all times.
- Clear characterisation is vital – characters must be empathetic (like you) and three dimensional; they should resonate with the reader long after they have read the story. They need to be characters that one can imagine having a life off the page at all times.
- Crucially your characters must change as a result of the story or, if not, then they must change the world around them in a demonstrable way.
- Ensure you have a narrative arc – the three-act structure is present in every film you ever see and in most volumes of commercial (and some literary) fiction. It is so widely used for a reason!
- Ensure you have strong dialogue that moves the plot forward. Try reading the book outloud – if the dialogue sounds wrong then it IS wrong!
- Pitch your book in a specific market/genre and ensure that the word count is right for that genre.
- Don’t over write – don’t let the words get in the way of the story. Get ‘into’ the scene at the last possible moment in the action and cut away as soon as you can.
- READ the opening chapters of half a dozen books you love and see if you can work out why they hook you in.
Resources Week 5
Watch back here: https://www.facebook.com/writing.ie/videos/2606799639640219/
This week was all about contracts – the contract you have with your agent and your publishing contract. Here are Simon’s takewaways:
The Agency Contract
– You should always sign a contract with your agent, agreeing what rights you want them to represent and agreeing their commission. An agent ONLY makes money (commission) on what they sell for you, they do not charge you for services or expenses unless agreed in advance.
Standard commission rates are typically 15% for home sales, 20% for foreign and between 10 and 20% for TV, film etc.
– Your agency agreement gives your agent the authority to negotiate on your behalf, to submit your work to publishers and to process payments from your publisher.
– Just in case you and your agent part company at some point, ensure your agency agreement has a fair termination clause with a 30 or 60 day notice period on either side. This gives them the right to tidy up any ongoing business for you during the period but it also protects you from any open-ended complications.
The Publishing Contract
– Never sign a publishing contract without discussing it with someone who understands it. The Society of Authors offers a free service to members assisting them in negotiating contracts, so if you don’t have an agent, don’t be stuck – their membership will be the best investment you ever made! If a publisher objects to your taking advice on an offer they have made you before you accept it, then you need to ask yourself why that might be, and whether they are the right publisher for you. As soon as you have said yes to an offer you are in a far less powerful position to request an improvement in terms and conditions.
– An agent will discuss with you the terms of the contract with the publisher before it is finalised, but if you are dealing direct with a publisher, the contract they send will be less open to negotiation
– Your agent will recommend what rights you sell to a publisher based on their experience. Publishing deals in foreign language territories and areas such as audio and film or TV are all separate deals (and contracts) your agent could negotiate if those rights aren’t granted to the main publisher.
– If you have several publishers offering for your book, your agent will give you their best advice and may well advise you meet the interested parties before deciding which way to go.
– Authors are paid an advance against the royalties the book is projected earn when it’s on sale – the publisher will usually make an offer based on the number of books they feel they can sell. There is no guarantee though that it will sell sufficient copies to earn royalties.
– Royalties are based on a percentage of the published price of the book. Once your book has earned out – effectively ‘paying back’ the advance – then for every sale thereafter you will be paid the royalty percentage which will be accounted to you every six months.
– Authors advances are paid in 3 or four payments – on signature of contract, on the delivery (and crucially) acceptance of the book by the publisher and on publication.
– Advances can vary in size considerably depending on the publisher, the interest in the book and the book’s anticipated sales potential. Often the really huge deals you see mentioned in The Bookseller for instance, are a combination of all the deals done for a book and may include film, audio and foreign rights.
If you have a good agent they will act as your spirit guide throughout the process. They make nothing unless they make you money – you are both on the same side!
Above all you will feel supported and well advised by your agent. If you don’t then you need to get a new one!
Resources Week 6
Watch back here: https://www.facebook.com/writing.ie/videos/238345400833747/
This week we looked at what happens post contract signing but before publication – what can you be doing to assist your publisher, what do you need to be thinking about to prepare yourself for publication? Do you need social media? We had some great questions this week too (we do every week!) so watch back to get all our tips.
Here are Simon’s tips:
THINK OF YOURSELF AS A BRAND.
1. Tidy up your social media feeds ahead of submitting to an agent and before they submit to a publisher. Don’t post anything that you aren’t happy to be judged on! Try and ensure your name and avatar are consistent across all your accounts so readers can recognise you and find you easily.
2. Sign up for the free daily news update from www.thebookseller.com, publishers lunch and Bookbrunch. These will be invaluable about getting savvy about how the industry works.
3. Register your name as a domain name in .co.uk and .com not just for your own use but also to stop anyone else registering it! Use your name rather than your book title for your author page on Facebook and your domain – if you want a career as an author you’ll have many books!
4. Use social media as a real-time resource. Follow your favourite authors and follow some debut authors to see how and how not to make the most of the platform.
5. Maintain a list of all people you know or who have a connection to (or who you have met at an event etc) who could be useful down the line in terms of you and your publisher sending them an early copy of your book for an endorsement or a preview or a review.
6. Go to as many literary events as possible and meet some authors and ask them their story about how they got their first book deal. Other people’s stories are always inspiring and useful – find out what they’d do differently!
Most importantly enjoy the process!
Resources Week 7 & 8
Watch back here: https://www.facebook.com/136161103103887/videos/734680053936626/
- Start a mailing list (Mailchimp is free) and link it to your website and Facebook pages
- Get professional or good photographic head shots taken – ensure you have them in a range of sizes to suit different social media and that you have some in high resolution that can be used for print. Think about your genre when you’re getting your photo taken – DON’T use a family photo taken on the beach!
- Make friends with your local bookshops – hand selling is one of the best ways for your book to reach readers and booksellers love meeting local authors. Offer to sign your book when it’s available.
- Work with you publisher’s marketing team – many will have a questionnaire that will help you focus on articles that you can write surrounding the book. If they don’t have one, create your own questionnaire and list of interesting things about you that people may not realise.
- Think about all the contacts you have in the media and make a list of them. Make a list of people who may review your book/and or be happy to provide a quote for the cover.
- Think about and make a list of all the local media in your area – local radio, the local paper – also in your home town/your school/univeristy/local library.
- Think of places that you can reach out to, to perhaps give a talk when your book launches
- If you are organising a book launch in a local hotel or golf club, ensure the bookseller who supplies your books is on the Nielsen register so that their sales will go towards the bestseller lists. (Find out how to write a book launch press release here) The lists are compiled midnight Saturday to midnight Saturday so ensure the main thrust of your marketing activity is on one sales week.
(c) Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin & Simon Trewin