Archive | January 2013

Where Do Ideas Come From? Shopping…!

I have had a weird morning and I thought I would pass on the experience, just to share it really….it’s something I’ve just been blogging on another site but I thought it might be of interest. Apologies if it’s not….hey ho.

I have a book for children on the go at the moment. You may have read me going on about it in recent posts. I apologise if I am becoming a bore.

Well, moving on, the manuscript is complete at last. I began writing it in mid December and gave myself until the end of January to finish it and up until noon today I was quite happy with where it was ‘at’ and ready to do a final ‘polish’.

Then I went shopping. Mundane stuff really. Bread, milk, tea bags, rhubarb crumble, the usual suspects.

So there I was making the two mile drive into town when something hit me like a wet fish in the kisser.

Steve, that ‘quarry’ scene near the end of the book simply isn’t funny enough. Make the location a disused chemical plant. Toxic waste dump…that kind of thing.”

Just like that. Not really a voice, more a realisation. More like someone sitting in the back seat of the car mumbling to no one in particular. And I overheard it.

And yes, it all made sense. Lots of ideas for gags and slapstick came to me, most of which I dismissed thank goodness, but there were nuggets of pure gold in there too. So where did it come from? The idea? I haven’t a clue.

It happened the other day too. Nothing really major as far as the plot is concerned but just a nice little ‘touch’ of humour that can easily be shoe-horned into the story to make it….er….better.

Amazing, isn’t it? If I had a sound bite for the intro to the Twilight Zone I would stick it right HERE.


Your Writing – Making A Difference

For me, yesterday was not about writing. Yesterday was about celebrating the life of a friend who passed away last week.

It was to be a simple funeral service. Very informal. Friendly. A family affair. Brothers, children, grandchildren, work colleagues and those in the medical service who came into contact with my cousin Peter in the final couple of years of his life.

I hadn’t seen my Peter or one of his four brothers for almost fifty years. I grew up with these five cousins. They were like my elder brothers. Each in their own way had an impact on my early childhood. They made me who I am. But even having said all that it was still the  funeral of a stranger.

The small hall in a quiet West Yorkshire town was packed and throughout the service there were countless examples of how Peter had ‘made a difference‘ in his life. How he had inspired others. Changed their lives. Touched them. It was wonderful to hear.

He was a simple man at heart. He worked with wood. He had his family and friends. And that was it. Nothing flashy. Nothing grand. But you could see by the reaction of the people in the hall how he had affected all their lives in some positive way or another.

Back home last night I thought I would write something, but I simply wasn’t up to it. I tried, but it didn’t seem worth  much. And it set me thinking about writing and  ‘making a difference‘. How as a writer, you could touch people in that way.

I am no writer. I tap at the keyboard, I might make the odd funny comment. String a couple of sentences together. But make a difference? No, I don’t think so.

But great writers do. We all know that. There are thousands of examples we could all quote.

And over the years, as I’ve encouraged people to write, I’ve seen countless examples of wonderful writing from simple, ordinary folk. People in local communities who were just going about their business getting on with life, who just happened to have written ‘a bit of something’  about their lives, their town, the way it was years ago and then put it away in the drawer until I asked if I could read it. And it would almost always be amazing. Priceless.

Nothing fancy, no fine grammar. Just written from the heart. But touching. And yes, ‘making a difference‘. I can honestly say that their writing did make a difference to my life. It was inspiring.

And isn’t that an amazing thing for us all to be able to do? Whoever we are. Even if we’re only ‘writers’ for ten minutes a week.

So, if like me, you ever feel what you’re writing isn’t worth a jot, don’t give up, just keep doing what you’re doing….and know that it will ‘make a difference‘ to someone, somewhere.



Do You Need A Literary Agent – And If So, What Do They Do?

Literary Agents. What do they do and do you need one?

As old Mr Zimmerman once said “The times they are a changing…” and that is certainly true of the book publishing industry. Sorry to use the word ‘industry’ but I’m afraid that’s what it is. And so it does make you wonder if being represented by a Literary Agent is the thing we should all be aiming for….?

Once upon a time…(what a terrific way to begin a story, I must make a note of that)…as I say, once upon a time the only way to get your work in front of a major publisher as an indie writer was through a Literary Agent. And getting yourself accepted by a decent agent was pretty tough. It still is.

However, I’m here to tell you that if your work is any good, I mean really good, and you target the right agency (more important than you know) there is a chance you’ll be accepted into their fold. But it’s not easy. They see hundreds of manuscript submissions before coffee break…..and your work will have to stop them dead in their tracks if it’s to get you a deal. I mean, totally dead in their tracks. So no typos, no waffle, no letter of introduction from your mother, no links to websites where your work is tucked away behind photos of you and your loved one in a bar in Magaluf at five o’clock in the morning last summer. No, not even that one.

So what do Literary Agents actually do? Well, obviously, they are agents and agents make their money by charging you a percentage of your earnings. Terms are fairly standard for new writers, so expect 15% for UK advances and 20% for USA and worldwide.

Don’t forget the agent needs you to be a success to make any ‘real’ money, so it’s in their interests to help you write books that will have commercial appeal. I know several writers who never did get a publishing deal through having an agent, but who derived great benefit from the advice and support they received from their agent.

Most agents will tell you they ‘Advise on career paths, suggesting new directions where appropriate‘…in other words “Listen sunshine, if you wanna make the big bucks you gotta write stuff like Dah Dah Dah.” Actually I don’t think agents talk like that, but you get my drift. They will definitely steer you towards the commercial end of the market, obviously, but that’s why you signed up with an agent in the face place – to make you money!

The really cool thing they do for you is to negotiate you a better deal with publishers and tricky things like foreign rights and up front advances, discount book royalties, and film and TV rights if appropriate. Through years of experience they will also instinctively know when to push and when to back off once they’ve secured the best deal they can get. It’s something most writers would struggle with. As I say, it is in their interests to get you a great deal….

But even if an agent likes your book and thinks your the next big thing, once they submit your book to a top publisher, there is no guarantee the editor of the publishing house will go for it. What the agent can do is secure a deadline by which time the editor/publisher must have read the submission, digested it, discussed it, and made some kind of decision. Agents make sure your submission does not end up on the publisher’s ‘slush pile’.

The UK Writers & Artists Yearbook has all the agents listed….but my advice is ‘be picky’, don’t just begin at ‘A’ and work your way through, emailing hundreds of submissions. If you haven’t bought the book a quick trawl of Google will dredge up (?) most of the top UK agents.

There are plenty to choose from, but as I said, try and focus on the ones that actually are looking for authors in your particular genre. That’s not always such a clear cut case, so you need to do your own research by checking out their websites and looking at who works where and what their background is….it’s well worth the effort.

I just thought I would point you to a couple, in no particular order. Even if you feel they are not the kind of agent for you it will give you a good idea of who they are, how they work, and also submission guidelines. Very important – submission guidelines. Fall foul of those and you’re sunk! Trust me. Get it wrong and it’s the Titanic all over again.

They are all, without exception, extremely approachable, but as I warned earlier, they are in business (it’s an industry) and they will not be amused if your submission is less than ‘perfect’. Even if your mother does write a beautiful letter.

Finally, to repeat, always check that the agent you are approaching actually accepts clients in your particular area of writing…there’s no point sending your book for children to an agent who makes his/her money from authors of gritty adult novels.

So here are a couple of links for you to take a peek at….you should find them interesting if you’ve not looked at their websites before.

and finally a  larger agency based in the Haymarket, London…. and the offshoot which is well worth checking out

Apologies to blog readers in the USA for being so parochial….

If anyone has any interesting comments about previous attempts to sign up with an agency in the UK or USA or wherever, please let me know……oh, and do I personally think you should try to sign up with a Literary Agent?  ‘Yes’. You should at least try a couple of submissions to your favourite agents and see what happens. What have you got to lose?

A Writer’s First Book – The Joy of Having A Self Published Book

In this crazy mixed-up world of writing and self-publishing some days are better than others. Yesterday was a good day. Let me tell you why.

I called into my printing company yesterday to pick up a box of books I’ve just published for one of my authors. It’s his fifth book with me, and I know that when he receives his copies he’ll be thrilled as usual.

I also know that he’ll sell all of his books far quicker than he believes. It’s a niche market book, it has a limited readership but the chap has a knack of hitting the spot with his books and he rarely fails to sell them all, even after two or three re-prints. It happens like that sometimes. He writes well, he is confident about his market, and he turns out books every year or so that do well. As I say, it’s his fifth book. He’s a self-publishing pro if you see what I mean. When he receives his books he’ll thank me and be on his way. Job done. And that’s good.

However, I also have another book with the same printer….a full colour book for children by a first time author. This author knew absolutely nothing about the process of publishing or book production when we met but he was keen to get his books out there, so when I offered to do all the work for him and produce and publish his book he jumped at the chance.

After almost six months of working with him the finished book finally went to print a couple of weeks ago, and yesterday whilst collecting the other books the printer asked if I would like to see the latest colour proofs for the new book? Sure. Great.

The print quality was excellent. The colours were perfect. I couldn’t have been more pleased. It’s what the author has always wanted. So, all being well, the books should be ready in the next week or so. So what’s the big deal?

Well, I know how the author is going to feel when I hand them over. The guy is passionate about his book, and he already has three other books in the pipeline which he can’t wait to see in print. But this first book is the main one. Well, it’s his first. And we all know what the ‘first’ of anything means, don’t we?

I just know that when he sees that first box of books he will be completely bowled over. I am expecting tears. I know what it means to him. I can’t wait to see the look on his face. A writer’s first published book is really something to celebrate.

I’ll not go into too many details but suffice to say this chap has had his fair share of problems over the years and this first book project really stretched him emotionally and physically. It took a lot out of him. It was not an easy thing for him to do, but by working closely together we got through it in the end. Handing his books over to him should be rather special.

Endings for Children’s Fiction – Happy? Sad? Optimistic?

A few words about a current project if I may. And Endings.

I have this book for children. I’ve been writing it since mid December and resolved to finish it by the end of January and I am aware that this is the week I need to wrap things up. But how?

I realise many of you plot your books carefully before you begin. You have a structure to work to. The bare bones. A skeleton. A beginning, middle and end. Amen. It sounds a fantastic way to work. I just wish I could do it.

I’m one of those people who has a few great ideas (?) to kick off the story and a half decent Act 2 in which all manner of silly things happen, but sadly Act 3 is always featureless….a barren desert of nothingness. Yes, it’s as bad as that. Does anyone else write like this? I suspect there are more of us than we think.

So, instead of having a completed first draft, a complete story which I can then re-jig and improve, I tend to end up with a finished Act 1, an exciting and inventive Act 2 that works well but would benefit from a few tweaks, and an Act 3 that appears to be wandering around aimlessly hoping to bump into an ending….any ending...just get me the hell out of here.

But what kind of an ending? It’s a book for children. Does it have to end happily ever after? I’d rather not if you don’t mind. But I’m only the writer. Think of the poor children….. “and Sleeping Beauty never did wake up, children…..

Another problem lies with my bad guys. I have two of them. Nice characters. I love them to bits. I always prefer my bad guys to the hero/heroine. Every day.  How to dispose of them in Act 3?

Do I give them a break and let them repent and promise to be good boys for the rest of their lives? Or make it a brutal blood bath? I suspect the kids I know would prefer the latter. So would I actually. Maybe that’s the answer. A bath of blood. Er, maybe not.

But endings do matter of course. A heck of a lot. As readers we crave a really top notch ending. Good endings, be they negative or positive, do satisfy us. We crave resolution of some kind. There is some psychological mumbo jumbo to support this view but don’t ask me what it is. Just accept it.

‘Leave them wanting more‘ is another quote we can all recognise. That works.

Actually, come to think of it, I do have a rather good final paragraph in which the main character is nicely set up to have another adventure (Books 2, 3 and 4 will be on sale in all good book stores by Christmas) but this is in what at one time would have been called the ‘Epilogue’ .

So, I’m struggling at the moment. Maybe I should do what I always do and lock myself away and simply tap a finger on the keyboard and see what happens….it’s more in hope than realistic expectation but hey ho, that’s the joy of writing I suppose.

And finally, I seem to recall a quote about endings….I can’t quite remember who said it (Duh!) (Frank Herbert?) but it went along the lines of “There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.” I’ll buy that.

Writer? Self Published Author? How Can We All Make The Breakthrough To More Sales?

It’s Sunday here in the UK and time to reflect.

I keep trying to think of new ways to help writers and self published authors, you perhaps, make some kind of breakthrough. Achieve more sales. Quite significant sales. There has to be a way.

I’ve come up with various ideas and schemes in the past few months and discussed them with writers in all genres and although these ‘ideas’ do have their merits there is nothing that stands out as ‘the solution’.

I suspect it’s the big question we all need answering. How can we promote our books without it costing an arm and a leg, and in a way that is professional and appeals to a wider audience and will achieve substantial sales?

So rather than just talking about it I’d like to try and do something about it. Set something up that will make a difference. That all writers will buy into and support. Something that is not already available. That will work. But what exactly?

I have the time and the skills. I need to know what it is we all want.

And so I’m asking, please, for suggestions if you have any….ideas that could be put into action.  I would definitely give it a go.

If not, then have a pleasant Sunday….



Self Publishing – Doing The Right Thing – But Be Original

I seem to have been handing out quite a lot of advice recently about self-publishing and how to write, and when to write, and how to do this and that etc etc. Not that I’m the world’s greatest expert. Far from it. I’m just getting by and looking to share a few thoughts about how it is from my side of the road, and has been for over sixteen years, with anyone who needs a hand.

And all this self-publishing advice…is it worth it? I’d like to think most of it is.

So, is there a certain way we should all be doing things? A way to guarantee success with your writing and self-publishing?

Obviously, in general, it does pay to work to a set of ‘rules‘ or ‘guidelines‘ about writing and self publishing, particularly if you don’t know where to start. I have to be honest and say that’s more or less why I moved into the self publishing ‘thing‘ all those years back.

All the advice is meant to help those who might be struggling. It’s meant to save them all the hassle I had when I started, and I’m sure there are many first time writers out there who appreciate any help they can get, from whatever source.

Self publishing is extremely rewarding, there’s no doubt about that, but it does have its downside.

In the short term there’s ‘instant success’. You have your book out. In print or online. Great. Excellent. Life is fine!

Then you hit the wall – sales dry up. Selling even the odd book now and then won’t satisfy you. You’ll feel as though the whole thing has been a monumental waste of time. It’s natural. But don’t give up.

In the end I believe the real winners in this crazy writing/self publishing game will be the ones who somewhere along the line ‘dare to be different‘. I believe these guys (gals) are the ones who will stand out from the crowd. The ones who will write something so sensationally original that everyone will sit up and take notice. At some point you have to try to be one of those people.

I suppose in a nutshell what I’m saying is…..yes, follow the guidelines, follow the rules, take all the advice you can get, read as much as you can about self publishing, even those ‘interesting‘ articles  ‘How I made a Million Bucks in a Weekend by Self Publishing’. There will be some advice in there that will be useful.

But in the end if you want to hit the big time I believe you must Be Original.

Dare to break the rules. Think the unthinkable. Try the impossible. Write the way you want to write.  Walk on your own side of the road.

It will be a difficult journey. Of that there is no doubt. But if you have the courage and the self-belief to keep going and create something that is truly original, then you will make it. I’m sure of it.