An Update on Me

I’ve been rather quiet about my own literary endeavours of late, so here’s a quick update.

Cup Cakes

Pre-Covid Memories from March 2020

At the beginning of February the first three chapters and synopsis of last year’s NaNoWriMo manuscript generated a call for the full manuscript from my agent. Since then I’ve been working on bringing the rest of the manuscript up to scratch. Today I pressed ‘send’ and now have around six weeks to wait for the verdict. 

I’ve also completed a training course (via Zoom) to become a Shared Reading Group Leader. I’m looking forward to the end of restrictions and the opportunity to get a real-life group started.

So what do I do while I wait for the above two things to come to fruition? I’ve made a little list of possibilities. They won’t all get done but, hopefully, the list will mean I don’t waste too much time procrastinating:

  • Complete article commissioned by The People’s Friend
  • Chase up pitches outstanding with other publications.
  • Attempt to win my way to the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School by entering their short story competition.
  • Publish my short story collections on Kobo when the relevant KDP Select enrolments end. This will involve sourcing new covers. Kobo cited the existing covers as a factor in stopping the books being accepted into their promotions. 
  • Investigate whether I have enough short stories to publish another collection.
  • Revisit the categories/keywords on my existing KDP publications.
  • Update Kindle Direct Publishing for Absolute Beginners.

Watch this space to find out how I get on!

What’s everyone else working on? Are you a list-person or do you just go where the whim takes you?

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The Dead Cat Poetry Prize

This is such an unusual theme for a poetry competition that I just had to give it a mention here! Cat Poetry competition

According to the competition website: “The Dead Cat Poetry Prize is an annual poetry competition de(a)dicat(t)ed to the world’s best poetry about felines that have shuffled off their nine mortal coils. The first prize will be awarded in 2021”.

However, this competition is not all doom, gloom and dead cats. Visit the website’s FAQ (Fiercely Anticipated Questions) page and you will learn that poems about cats who are still alive can also be submitted. Poems concerned with ‘feline mortality’ will be accepted, even if the subject is still alive.

So what are you waiting for?! Pens and felines at the ready, please!

Closing date is March 17th 2021. The entrance fee is £2.75. There are prizes of £25, £10 and £5 and winning poems will be published on the website.

(By the way, the cat in the picture isn’t mine. It was spotted on holiday in Passau.)

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Lockdown Reading

This article was written for the Mirthy website but I have permission to reproduce it here.

A positive aspect of lockdown has been the increased time available for reading. I’ve got through a wide range of novels but, until recently, avoided anything that focused on pandemics or lockdown. For me, fiction is a means of escaping ordinary life and day-to-day problems. However, this self-imposed rule was broken when Lockdown by Peter May was chosen as the monthly read by my book group and I spotted publicity for Just the Two of Us by Jo Wilde. These two very different books transported me out of my lockdown situation because the challenges facing the characters were so very different to my own.

Lockdown by Peter May
The Story
Lockdown takes place over 24 hours in a London locked down by a bird flu, H5N1, pandemic. This flu has a mortality rate of more than sixty percent and London is at the epicentre. This fictional lockdown is far more rigorously imposed than our own COVID regulations. There is a night-time curfew, checkpoints, soldiers carrying guns and special clearance needed to drive in certain areas. Against this backdrop, a bag of bones is discovered, the bones of a murdered child. D.I. Jack MacNeil is put on the case but MacNeil is working his last shift before leaving the Metropolitan Police. The case and the injustices this child went through consume the detective and the race is on to solve the murder before he leaves the force. Lockdown by Peter May
The Background
Before writing the novel, May already had an interest in pandemics following his research into the Spanish Flu for an earlier book, Snakehead. Then, in 2005, he started investigating the possibility of a bird flu pandemic and how it might spread and engulf the population. Armed with the science and a crime, May wrote Lockdown in only six weeks but it failed to find a publisher. Editors thought May’s portrayal of London under lockdown was unrealistic and could never happen. Fast forward to 2020. May dusted off his old manuscript, which had suddenly become very topical, and the book was published.
My Verdict
This is a fast-moving thriller which hooks the reader on page one and keeps him enthralled until the end. Like most fictional detectives, MacNeil has personal problems that get worse as the story races along. He breaks the rules, performs heroic deeds and goes far beyond the call of duty, given that this is his last shift with the force. The final sentence of the book is poignant – so don’t be tempted to read the last page first (yes, there are people who do that!)

Just the Two of Us by Jo Wilde
The Story
Just the Two of Us takes place in the first few weeks of the March 2020 UK lockdown. Julie and Michael have been married for thirty-four years. They sleep in separate bedrooms, they live separate lives and their children have left home. The disintegration in their relationship is so bad that Julie has consulted a solicitor and has the divorce papers ready to hand to Michael. Then Boris Johnson announces the national lockdown. Julie and Michael can’t escape one another. It doesn’t seem the right time to rock the boat and Julie is left in limbo. Unable to leave the house and forced to meet eyes across the dinner table every night, things begin to change but is it possible for them to rekindle their relationship or do they have to find another way forward?

Just the Two of Us by Jo WildeThe Background
Jo Wilde is an established author, writing historical novels under the name Joanna Courtney and contemporary fiction as Anna Stuart. Unusually, Jo’s publisher came up with the idea for Just the Two of Us and presented Jo with outlines of the characters and the main plot points. Jo liked the idea and with lockdown kicking in hard was happy to devote herself to the writing. That actual writing took only four weeks followed by a further two weeks of editorial input. Usually it then takes eighteen months before a book appears on the shelves but, because of the topical nature, the whole process was accelerated and Just the Two of Us came out in July 2020.
When asked about the writing, Jo said, “It was pretty hectic but gave me the perfect excuse to make my teenage kids (two of whom had just had GCSEs and A-levels cancelled and one of whom had sadly had to come home from a ski season working in Canada, so all were at loose ends) do all the housework and cleaning. I holed myself up in my office and wrote and I really enjoyed it!”

My Verdict
This is an easy-to-read story about relationships, families and empty nests. It captures perfectly how things can disintegrate when there is a lack of communication between two people and no time in hectic lives to talk things through. The story is set in the early part of the first lockdown but uses a lot of flashbacks to earlier points in Julie and Michael’s marriage. The reader slowly pieces together how the relationship disintegrated, why Julie is carrying secret guilt over her mother’s death and how Michael feels about working away. But, unlike some books, there is never any confusion over what is current and what is flashback.
As a woman of a certain age, I could empathise with many of Julie’s feelings.

Although initially wary, I enjoyed both Lockdown and Just the Two of Us. I was worried that I might find them too much of a mirror to the lockdown world we find ourselves in, and thus depressing. But because the characters’ situations were fundamentally different to my own, I was still able to escape into the fiction without being constantly reminded of face masks, hand sanitiser and the two metre rule!

 

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Indie Publishing: No Barriers, But Plenty of Responsibility

Today I have a thought provoking post from long-time indie author and publisher, Elizabeth Ducie plus a heads-up about her free and discounted books on the Business of Writing – essential reading for those serious about making an income from their writing.

Over to Elizabeth:

I’ve been an independent publisher for more than a decade now. And by that, I mean I am responsible for publishing my own books, in a variety of formats, using a variety of tools and platforms; and for the ongoing marketing and sales.The Business of Writing

But do I do everything myself? Of course not. There are aspects I can’t do: cover design for one; proofreading for another; or production of physical copies. There are experts I contract in for that, and I pay for their services. But I take full responsibility for, and maintain full control over, the project.

One of the biggest benefits of indie publishing to me is the absence of barriers to entry; or gatekeepers. The technology is available for all, at a low cost, or even free in some cases. There are no agents to turn down that manuscript you’ve spent years getting right. There are no publishers to decide your book isn’t on trend. The decision to go ahead with the project rests solely with you, the author.

Conversely, one of the biggest disadvantages of indie publishing is also the absence of barriers to entry; or gatekeepers. Just because it’s possible, even easy, to get your book out there, doesn’t mean you necessarily should. Not until it’s ready.

That’s where the responsibility comes in. I once had a conversation with a member of staff for a well-known retailer. He picked up a copy of my debut novel, which had been runner-up in the previous year’s Self-published Book of the Year awards and said “wow, it looks like a proper book!” As you can imagine, I didn’t know whether to be proud or insulted!

There should be no difference for the reader between an independently published book and one that’s gone down the traditional route. The cover should be professionally designed; the content should be correctly formatted; the text should be free of typos and other errors. The quality requirements are the same however a book is published; the only difference is who takes ultimate responsibility. Actually, there’s no difference there, either. In both cases, it’s the publisher. The only difference is that as an indie, the author is also the publisher.

Elizabeth DucieSelf-publishing, as being an indie is sometimes called, used to be a really dirty word in our industry. It’s less so these days, as more people realise it’s not the route of last resort, but a viable option. And frankly, I don’t believe most readers ever notice, or care, who’s published something. But there’s still a number of books out there that aren’t ready and shouldn’t have been published.

If you are considering going down the indie route, I wish you good luck; it’s a fun time to be an indie. But please, please, please take it seriously and take responsibility for the quality of the finished product. Your readers, and fellow indies, will thank you for it.

 

Elizabeth Ducie is the author of The Business of Writing, a series of books on business skills for authors. This week, her books are all on special offer:
Part 1 Business Start-Up is free until 27th January.
Part 2 Finance Matters; Part 3 Improving Effectiveness; and Part 4 Independent Publishing are all on Countdown deals and are available today at 99p / 99 cents each.
For members of Kindle Unlimited, the entire series is free to download at all times.

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Be Inspired!

So, we’re in that weird time between Christmas and New Year when we eat chocolate, watch TV and wait for the world to start turning again (or not, depending on lockdown restrictions where you live).Public Speaking for Absolute Beginners

Kobo PublishingBut this is also the time to get inspired for all those great things we’re going to do in 2021, whether it be write a novel, exercise more or increase our confidence. Following the disaster of 2020, many of us have high hopes for 2021, so let’s use out current enthusiasm and inspiration to get started on that journey towards a new skill.

On that note, I’m pleased to say Kobo has included Public Speaking for Absolute Beginners in their ‘Be Inspired‘ promotion which runs from January 1st to 14th in Canada and the U.S.

I don’t want my UK Kindle readers to feel hard done by, so I’ve already lowered the Kindle price of Public Speaking for Absolute Beginners to only £1.50 for a limited time (and the paperback is not bad value at £5.49 if you’ve had an Amazon gift card for Christmas).

Public Speaking for Absolute Beginners will give you everything you need to know in order to face an audience, whether that be a handful of people in your writing group or work team, or a larger gathering at a book launch or other event. You will learn how to craft an attention grabbing speech, banish self-consciousness, use gestures, inject humour and finish speaking with a persuasive call to action. And it will improve your confidence in everyday situations as well.

For those who prefer to write rather than speak, I’ve also reduced the price of Kobo Writing Life Publishing for Absolute Beginners to just £1.50. This book takes the reader all the way from e-publishing first principles to accessing Kobo promotions and marketing suggestions. So no excuse not to get your book in front of readers during 2021.

Finally, A Happy New Year to all of you and a massive thank you for sticking with this blog and supporting me through the last twelve months. May you all enjoy health, happiness and success in the coming year.

 

 

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Mirthy Online Talks

So many things have moved online since the first UK lockdown in March and public speaking is one of them.

Recent start-up, Mirthy is an online platform for professional public speakers to provide online talks to older adults in the comfort of their homes. Sally Jenkins Author Talk

Free talks are available each Thursday at 4 pm for anyone to watch. Simply register for the talk via the Mirthy website and then join the presentation by clicking a provided link.

Alternatively, those who are part of a group, such as Probus, Women’s Institute etc., can (for a fee similar to what they might pay for a ‘live’ speaker) book their own exclusive talk at a time to suit the group and from a wide choice of speakers, with an optional Q & A with the speaker. Each group member then watches the talk in their own home but simultaneously with the rest of their group. Full details of what’s available are on the Mirthy website.

The really exciting news is that my author talk, How To Make Money Out of Murder, has been approved by Mirthy and is now available for booking via the Mirthy catalogue.

I’m also offering a twenty minute version of my presentation via Zoom. I’m looking forward to my second booking on Monday. For details of the Zoom presentation please email sallysjenkins ‘at’ btinternet.com (replace ‘at’ with @).

The wonderful news about a Covid vaccine means that we can look forward to a return to normality at some point in 2021. However, we still have several months of limited social contact meaning that all things virtual will still be an important part of all our lives for some time to come.

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The Short Story Synopsis – How to Get It Right

Much is written about crafting the novel synopsis and agent pitch but there’s far less on how to sell a short story to the women’s magazine market via a synopsis.
Writer, S. Bee has put together some good tips for those of us trying to make sales in this ever decreasing market. Here is her advice:

Six UK women’s magazines require a short synopsis – either with the story itself, or before the story is submitted.

  • The regular, fortnightly Yours
  • The Yours Fiction Special
  • Take a Break’s Fiction Feast. (N.B. This has a closed writer’s list and takes all rights.)
  • Spirit & Destiny. This magazine requires a story pitch upfront. If they like the sound of the story, they ask for it to be emailed for consideration. They also take all rights to accepted stories.
  • My Weekly require a brief synopsis to head up the story. This magazine has a closed writer’s list.
  • During the current lockdown, The People’s Friend is asking for writers who have previously been published by the magazine to email a synopsis. Writers new to the magazine should continue to submit by post.

Possible reasons editors ask for a short story synopsis:

S. Bee

S. Bee

  • It allows the editor to quickly see what kind of story it is – sweet romance/comedy/crime/revenge, etc.
  • It explains the plot, so the editor can decide whether or not the story will work for that magazine.
  • It’s useful for the illustrator/picture editor – so consider including significant details about the age and appearance of characters or the location.

Below are six steps to getting the synopsis right:

  1. Keep to the word count. If the guidelines ask for 200 words, don’t ramble on. Don’t start with: ‘This is a story about…’ Provide a clear outline of the story from start, middle and end.
  2. Do I reveal the ending? There is some debate around this. Some writers do (I’m one of them) but some choose not to. It’s entirely up to you.
  3. Run it past a womag writer/ reader friend before submitting. Asking other womag writers to read your work before submitting is useful. I run a womag writers’ email critique group; we read each other’s work and give constructive feedback. Not only can others point out the flaws in the story, they might be able to spot the flaws in your synopsis too.
  4. Themes/ Genres There’s no need to include the theme or a genre in your synopsis. The word count matters, so don’t fill your lines with: ‘This is an empty nest/ moving on/ dealing with bereavement story.’
  5. Get to the point Imagine you are an aspiring scriptwriter who steps into a lift with a movie producer. You have an amazing opportunity to pitch your story – but only 30 seconds to do it. Cut the waffle and focus on the chain of events in your story: The main character has a problem/conflict. How do they overcome this problem? What complicates it? How is it solved?
  6. Get over the dread writing of them. It can seem like a synopsis cruelly chops our work down and removes the heart of the story. But without it, there’s no chance of a sale to the above magazines. The more synopses you write, the more confident you’ll become.

Women’s magazine writer, TW, has kindly provided me with an example synopsis:

Music manager Ross King is visited in his office by Beth and Sam, who are members of one of his most successful pop acts.
Beth and Sam are in their early twenties, slim, blonde and beautiful. They are very excited, as they have met a potential new member of the group, Penny. Ross has a shock when Penny enters the office, as although she is also slim, blonde and beautiful, she is over forty. Ross thinks the group’s young fans won’t accept an older woman as part of the group. He’s forced by politeness to watch Penny audition (sing and dance) and recognises that she is very talented. After some tough argument, Ross agrees that Penny can join the group.
The girls are so keen on her joining them that Ross suspects – rightly – that there is something they are not telling him about Penny, and at the end of the story the girls reveal what this is.

The above story was published in Take a Break’s Fiction Feast. Note that the twist ending wasn’t revealed in the synopsis.

Practice makes perfect. Writing a synopsis – whether it’s for a short story, a novel, article or a play – is a specific, highly valued skill. Give it a go and increase your chances of a story sale!

 

Paws for ThoughtS. Bee is the brains behind the lively short story anthology Paws for Thought. It is available on Kindle and raises money for the RSPCA.
To find out more about S. Bee and her critique group, Fiction Addition, please visit her website.

Don’t forget there’s lots more information about writing fiction for women’s magazines at https://womagwriter.blogspot.com/

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Highland Book Prize Longlist Announced

We couldn’t go on holiday this year but I spent the latter part of the summer travelling the length and breadth of the Scottish Highlands. In books.

I was a reader for the longlist of the Highland Book Prize.

The Highland Book Prize is an annual book prize that celebrates the talent, landscape and cultural diversity of the Highlands. It is open to fiction, non-fiction and poetry.
In 2020 there were 52 entries, which were initially reviewed by a panel of 145 volunteer readers, comprising both industry professionals and avid readers. Our opinions and comments were then aggregated to build a longlist of thirteen books.

The longlist will be read by a panel of experts who will draw up the shortlist. The final winner will be announced in May 2021 and will receive £1000 and a place on a writing retreat at Moniack Mhor.

Reading for the longlist was a great experience. I was sent a mix of fiction, memoir, non-fiction and poetry. Some of it challenged me and other stuff was more along the lines of my usual reading matter. I learned a lot about the people, landscape and nature of the Highlands. I’m hoping to be on the panel again next year. If you’d like to take part as well, applications to be a reader in 2021 are now open.

On another subject entirely, if you are struggling to find the time or space to write, you might be interested in this post, which I wrote for Lightbox Originals

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Two Autumn Anniversaries

October and November 2020 contains two big anniversaries for me.

Five years ago, on 26th October 2015, my first psychological thriller, Bedsit Three, was published in paperback and e-book format.
The book was the result of my 2013 NaNoWriMo project (after a substantial amount of re-writing and editing!) and went on to win a competition. Bedsit Three
Michael Barton, one of the competition organisers, said, “This novel is well-constructed and well-written. But it’s also far more than that. It’s a book that elicits emotional reaction, drawing the reader into the story and placing him or her in the middle of the action page after page. Be prepared for a sleepless night, because you won’t want to put it down until you get to the end.”
The Kindle version of Bedsit Three is currently only 99p!

At the beginning of November this blog will be ten years old! And I’m in good company, fellow bloggers about the writing life, Helen Yendall and Carol Bevitt celebrated the same milestone in October. There’s lots more of you who’ve been blogging a long time too. Possibly some of you longer than ten years? Please drop your blog link and longevity in the comments – even if you’re a relative newbie. We all deserve a pat on the back.
My first, tentative post was about self-discipline for writers.

I am attempting NaNoWriMo again this November and so I may be gone some time. But don’t go away! In the middle of November I will have an interesting guest post about writing the short story synopsis – something several women’s magazines now ask for.

 

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A Few Interesting Nuggets

I’ve had a day of writing events.

First up was a writers’ networking meeting organised by Writing West Midlands:
The chief executive, Jonathan Davidson, explained how the selection process for the writer development program Room 204 works – each year there are around 150 people for 15 places, but a worthwhile scheme for ’emerging writers’ if you can make the grade.
The Arts Council England is now open again for applications for Developing Your Creative Practice – grants from £2000 to £10000 are available, but be quick because they close on 5th November.
And a reminder about the free courses offered by Futurelearn and be edX.

Then it was off to Bristol Literature Festival and Build Your Social Media Presence with Tom Mason. He told us that social media posts that include images get 150% more engagement than those without. He recommended using Lumen5 to create mini promotional videos to use with social media and Canva for graphics.

Next up in Bristol was a panel discussion between Phoebe Morgan, editorial director at Harper Collins, literary agent Kate Hordern and book blogger, Anne Cater. Phoebe explained the importance of the hook – it is the selling point to an agent, on to a publisher and then on to supermarkets and book shops. It’s also essential that the book fits a recognised genre, otherwise even the best written book is likely to fall by the wayside. Kate Hodern echoed the importance of hook and genre and mentioned the usefulness of being able to draw comparisons between your book and others already out there. She added that younger agents are often more hungry to take on new writers than older, more established agents who already have a large stable of writers. Anne Cater gave an explanation about the blog tours that she runs for both mainstream publishers and indie authors. She and Phoebe both agreed that, hot on the heel’s of Richard Osman’s The Thursday Murder Club, cosy crime is likely to be the next big thing. There was a general consensus that psychological thrillers are still hugely popular but to be successful, they need to be better than the books being published five years ago and need to offer the reader something different to what has gone before.

Please take the above nuggets and use them as you see fit!

Finally, a couple of months ago I recommended Readly for accessing a multitude of magazines digitally. I now have a link offering you a two month trial subscription if you fancy trying it out: Readly 2 Month Trial. The link is valid until 31/10/2020.

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