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Poems about Birmingham Wanted

In February 2017 Birmingham will be hosting ‘Verve’, its first ever Poetry and Spoken Word Festival, organised by Waterstones and the Emma Press.

To get things started a poetry competition has been launched for poems on the theme ‘Birmingham’.

So start thinking poetic about things like Spaghetti Junction, Edgbaston Cricket Club, the Bullring, the Jewellery Quarter, New Street Station etc. etc. Maybe you live in the area or maybe you’ve done the tourist bit or perhaps been here on business – whatever your connection to the city, there’s lots of inspiration to get your teeth into.

The only problem is I’ve left it a bit late to tell you about this. The closing date for the adult section of the competition is September 11th 2016 and for the children’s section it’s September 30th. But a short deadline is good – it forces the brain cells to perform!

Full details of the competition are on the Verve website.

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Celebrating on a London rooftop!

Last night I and five other short-listed authors were sipping sparkling wine in the rooftop garden of Hachette UK. Also among us were the team from Writing Magazine, several of the authors published by the various imprints of Hachette, editors and literary consultants. Earlier in the day we’d each made a short video interview in the Darwin room (Origin of the Species was one of the first books published by the company). It was all exciting stuff! Just Write 2016

The six of us had been shortlisted from 130 entrants in the 2016 Just Write Creative Writing Competition organised in association with Writing Magazine and John Murray Press. The competition asked for short stories of 4,000 to 8,000 words in any genre and on any theme.2016 Just Write

In true award ceremony style, the name of the winner was taken from a ‘gold’ envelope and announced to the waiting crowd. Emma J Myatt was the worthy winner and we expect great things from her in the future! There followed lots of chatting to literary people and I got encouraging feedback for an idea I have in mind – something to work on for the future …

We all came away on a high, with goody bags full of books plus copies of the newly-printed anthology containing all six of our shortlisted stories. And we were kept busy signing the anthologies for lots of the other guests to take home – I felt like I was famous as people kept pushing books in front of me to sign!

Many thanks to everyone involved in organising the event and I’ll be watching for my fellow shortlistees – Louise Hare, Sumana Khan, Ian Laskey and Dan Purdue – to hit the big time!Just Write 2016 shortlist

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The Questions Asked of Writers

Earlier this week I gave a talk to a local neighbourhood forum group. They are a mixed bunch of people who meet every couple of months principally to discuss what should be done to improve our locality. But before their business meeting they often have a speaker – hence my visit with my pile of books to speak about my experience of self-publishing.

When I’d finished my spiel there was time for questions. This can be the point when things go awkwardly quiet because no one likes to be the first to speak. But the forum chairman was great at getting things started. He’d been scribbling as I talked and had noted several points to raise with me. His questions got the audience relaxed and soon everyone was asking things.

I’m pleased to report that no one came up with the old chestnut ‘where do you get your ideas’ but here are some of the things I was asked:

  • What do you think of ghost writers? (in relation to books by celebrities)
  • How many words can your write in one hour? (I’d told them about NaNoWriMo)
  • Could your book be made into a film?
  • How many books have you sold?
  • How much did it cost to have the novel professionally edited?
  • Would I consider writing a historical novel?
  • Could I make my book available in Waterstones?
  • Did JK Rowling and EL James find it difficult to get published?
  • Would I be willing to go and talk to two reading groups that a couple of the attendees were members of? (Yes!)

It was great to get people engaged, pass on the message that self-published books can be just as good as traditionally published works and sell some copies of Bedsit Three.

Author copies of Bedsit Three

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Finding an Agent

Yesterday evening I braved the torrential rain that hit Birmingham and attended a Waterstones event on how to get a literary agent. The speakers were local authors Gemma Todd, Liz Tipping and Stephen Aryan.

Here are their stories (in brief):

Gemma Todd (writing as G.X. Todd)worked her way logically through the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook. She noted down all the agents working in her genre and then researched them further on the internet, looking specifically for anything that she could use to personalise each agent’s covering letter. Her first novel went out to 17 agents and received some positive comments but no offer of representation. So, she put that book aside and wrote another. She repeated her submission exercise with the second novel but also going back to the agents who’d made positive comments about the first book.
After six months of submissions with her second novel, Darley Anderson agreed to represent Gemma.

Liz Tipping found her agent, Juliet Mushens at United Talent Agency, accidentally via a Twitter appeal for ‘hilarious romantic comedies’. However, at that point Liz’s novel wasn’t finished. When it was complete, she went back to Juliet plus other agents she discovered via the internet. Liz said that she chose to submit to agents who looked ‘friendly and nice’ in their photos and, to make the experience less daunting, she turned it into a challenge to amass one hundred rejections rather than one acceptance. She also put her book on the now defunct site Authonomy and received interest from Harper Collins editors. Liz signed with Juliet Mushens and is now published by Harper Collins.

Stephen Aryan wrote eight books in several different genres over fifteen years before he was signed by an agent and published. When he started his first hunt for an agent at the turn of the century things were much more difficult because the internet was in its infancy and all submissions had to be posted rather than emailed. Now he advises using social media to follow agents that interest you and using #askagent to ask questions. Stephen was also signed by Juliet Mushens and spent a year working on the book with her and then another year working on the book with the publisher.

The overall message from the evening was positive with a theme of: ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again’. And also a reminder that the wheels of the literary world turn very slowly.

Happy agent hunting!

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2016 Self-Publishing Conference

Last Saturday I went the Self-Publishing Conference at the University of Leicester.2016 Self-Publishing Conference

I took two key messages away from the conference (as well as a bag of leaflets and promos!):

  • Self-publishing is no longer an inferior, second best alternative to traditional publishing. Well-written self-published books that are put through similar editorial and design processes to their traditional counterparts are indistinguishable from ‘normal’ books. Readers choosing a book online, in a bookshop or in the library seldom check the publisher before deciding whether or not to have the book.
  • Quality is key when self-publishing. We all know that some get-rich-quick merchants push anything out on Kindle and, unfortunately, give the rest of us a bad name. However the rules are being tightened with Amazon cracking down on books containing errors. The successful self-publisher always puts his book through quality control procedures such as copy-editing and/or proofreading.

Throughout the day I absorbed other information such as:

  • How to get e-books into the digital catalogues of libraries through Overdrive (loans of self-published material are growing). There is no PLR but it is a sale which may get you known more widely.
  • It’s free to generate a QR Code which can be added to bookmarks and other promotional materials. The code will take readers direct to your website via a smartphone.
  • Bookshops and libraries will not readily order/stock Createspace books. If it’s important to you to have copies of your books available in this way then consider a different method of self-publishing, such as through a provider like Matador.
  • How ISBNs and metadata work. This was complex and generated a lot of questions! ISBNs can now be bought singly as well as in blocks of ten.

If you’re serious about your self-publishing activities and ambitions, this is a conference well worth attending. I’ll be looking out for the announcement of next year’s date.

P.S. There was also a very good lunch plus chocolate brownies in the afternoon!

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Dianne Noble – From Rejection to Success

Most writers get used to rejection early in their careers. The trick is to have a little cry, eat some chocolate, take on board any constructive criticism offered and then get back to the business of writing. And it always helps to know that you are not the only one being constantly kicked in the teeth.

I first met Dianne Noble on a weekend novel writing course in 2013 and then again at Swanwick a couple of years ago. Dianne’s first novel, Outcast,  Outcast by Dianne Noblewas published last week by Tirgearr Publishing and she’s kindly agreed to share her rocky journey to publication:

It started with a journal.
I’d been doing voluntary work in India for several months, teaching English to street children in Kolkata and keeping a diary. My experiences seemed to be a good basis for a novel. Alas! Agents and publishing houses alike thought differently and 32 rejections later I stopped submitting, sat back and licked my wounds.
The painful truth was that my writing was just not good enough. After nursing my bruised ego for several months I started another book, based in India but with a different story. This time I took it in, chapter by chapter, to each of two writing groups I had joined. Their critique was merciless and I often felt like abandoning the whole idea. Why did I think I could write? What made me think I could be a published author? However, bit by painful bit, my work was pulled into shape and I felt ready to start the submission process again.Dianne Noble
I trawled through the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook highlighting a) agents and b) publishing houses who not only handled contemporary women’s fiction but also accepted unsolicited manuscripts. I found them to be thin on the ground!
The plan was to have three submissions out at any one time and as each rejection was received, submit one more. This didn’t always prove to be viable as response times varied dramatically.
Conville & Walsh refused me in 17 days, Curtis Brown took 5 weeks, Aitken Alexander 8 weeks. Some were many months in responding, others didn’t reply at all.
It’s hard not to take rejections personally, to feel that you are deluding yourself that you can write, but all you can do is plough on and hope. One morning I opened an email from Tirgearr Publishing with the usual sinking heart, without noticing there was an attachment. A contract. How many times I read this before I could believe that someone liked my novel!
This small, independent publishing house requests the complete manuscript and guarantees an answer within 4 weeks and this is exactly what they delivered. Once I had signed the contract I was fully prepared for them demanding radical changes to my book but they accepted it as it was, other than a small amount of editing for grammar, punctuation and the occasional anomaly i.e. he had dark hair in Chapter 1 and by Chapter 12 he’s gone bald! Art work for the cover was organised in house, a website was set up linked to Tirgearr and the book was released on March 16th 2016.
The most important thing for any author, in my view, is to join a writing group. Not a cosy one where gossip is exchanged over coffee and cake but a tough one. A group who will critique, pull your writing to pieces, maybe reduce you to tears. Then, when your novel is as good as you can possibly make it, start submitting. Again and again and again. You’ll get there.

Good advice from Dianne. Her success has been hard won and well-deserved. Outcast is already sitting on my Kindle and I’m looking forward to reading it.
Find out more about Dianne and her itinerant life on her website and why not take a look inside Outcast?

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International Women’s Day 2016

Last week I took part in an event for International Women’s Day organised by Birmingham Adult Education Service . Sally Jenkins Author StandI was asked to speak about something to do with women and writing. Women are flourishing in the field of self-publishing so that’s the area I chose to focus on.

An early female ‘self-publisher’ was Jane Austen. Sense and Sensibility was only taken by the London publisher Thomas Egerton on the condition that the Austen family made good any losses suffered by the book if it didn’t sell. In my mind that equates to self-publishing because the author was taking all the financial risk. This story removes much of the stigma attached to self-publishing – showing that even classic writers have done it.

Jump forward 200 years and books by indie women authors are outselling those by men. An article in the Guardian stated that in early 2015 67% of the top-ranking self-published books were by women, compare that to the Telegraph’s ‘Best Books of 2014’ list – 70% of those were by men.
This article in the Daily Mail showcases three women who’ve sold thousands of their books on Kindle. We all know that they are the exception but they provide inspiration to the rest of us and show that it is possible, with hard work and an understanding of the marketplace, to make it big.

Having (hopefully) enthused my audience with these facts, I went on to give them a whistle stop guide to self-publishing on Kindle, based on Kindle Direct Publishing for Absolute Beginners. Afterwards a couple of ladies came and told me that they’d been inspired which was very gratifying.

Just in case I’ve inspired you too, my non-fiction e-books on writing are both only 99p/99c (UK & US only) until Sunday 20th March 2016. And men are allowed to make use of them too!

A Writer On Writing

Kindle Direct Publishing for Absolute Beginners

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Writing for The Weekly News

On Saturday The Birmingham Chapter of the RNA held a Writers’ Day and I was asked to do a session on short stories. I chose to talk about writing tales with a twist for The Weekly NewsThe Weekly News

The official guidelines for The Weekly News are on that treasure trove of information, Womagwriter’s Blog, but here are some of the other points that I made in my presentation:

Research the market. The Weekly News can be hard to get hold of but I find it more readily available in smaller newsagents and convenience stores rather than WH Smith or large supermarkets. Ask your newsagent to reserve a copy for you. Alternatively, stories that have been previously published in The Weekly News can be found in these two e-collections: House Guests and Other Stories and Old Friends.

The twist should come as late as possible in the story and will often turn the tale completely on its head BUT the reader should not be lied to. The story should make complete sense whether read with the twisted ending in mind or the ending that you hope the reader will assume is coming.

Types of Twist

  • Character Identity – the small boy nervous about going to school turns out to be the headmaster
  • Character Motive – the head juror is pushing for a quick verdict not because he’s in a hurry to get home but because he’s actually committed the crime and therefore wants the defendant sent down ASAP
  • Location – the stranded climber is not on a mountain top but is on a climbing frame in the park

Things that (seem to) work for me:

  • Having a male main character (both sexes read The Weekly News)
  • Aiming at the lower end of the 1200- 1500 required words. These stories pull the wool over the reader’s eyes and the fewer words, the easier that is.
  • Keep the time period for the story as short as possible (I’m talking seconds/minutes rather than days) to keep it snappy

I know that a lot of you are successful Weekly News writers and probably have your own personal set of ‘rules’. You might prefer to keep them secret from the competition(!) but if not, do they differ greatly from mine?

Finally a shout-out to some of the people who helped Saturday go with a swing:

Marilyn Rodwell who ably orgainsed the whole day
Bella Osborne who taught us how to plan our novel (and gave us post-its to play with)
Lizzie Lamb who talked about her self-publishing and marketing experiences
Alison May who educated us about editing and said it’s OK to hate your first draft
Helen Barrell who talked about all things social media
and fellow blogger Maria Smith who came and introduced herself to me – lovely to put a face to a name.

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What Can We Learn From The Geese?

Yesterday I went to a presentation organised by Birmingham Adult Education Service to collect my Preparing to Teach in the Lifelong Learning Sector (PTLLS) certificate. What we can learn from the geese
It was an inspiring event and as well as the certificate, I came away with two thoughts related to the virtual writing community of which we are all part.

Everyone at the presentation was given the sheet of paper shown on the right of this post and asked to think about it.
Then we were shown a three minute video about why geese fly in a ‘V’ shaped formation. As each goose flaps its wings it creates an uplift for the following birds, making their flight easier. This means that by flying in formation, the flock has a 70% greater flying range than if each bird flew alone. When the leading bird gets tired he drops back into the formation and another goose takes the leadership strain. If a bird gets sick and has to land, two other geese accompany him and stay with him until he is either well enough to fly again or until he dies.
This made me think about how we are stronger as a virtual group of writers rather than a single lone writer. Together we can help each other with publicity and promotion. We can offer support and encouragement when the going gets tough. Those who are feeling enthusiastic and strong can take the lead by trying something new and sharing their experiences with the rest of us. As a group we can all be more successful.

The celebration of success is the second thought I took away from the presentation event. A PTLLS certificate does not represent years of study and, in the academic world, it is quite small fry – but it’s worth celebrating. Celebrating each of our small achievements gives us the confidence and enthusiasm to take the next step forward along whichever path we have chosen.
So let’s all take a moment to reflect on our latest achievement – it might be meeting the deadline of a short story competition, plucking up the courage to pitch an article idea to a magazine editor, completing a synopsis, winning a prize, having a letter published in a newspaper, or anything else that makes you smile with satisfaction.
Record your achievement in the comments section beneath this post and let us all celebrate with you!

I’ll start the ball rolling. I’m chuffed to bits with an Amazon UK review for Bedsit Three which describes it as, “a psychological why dunnit reminiscent of Barbara Vine/ Ruth Rendell.
What a great lady to be compared to!

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National Short Story Week 2015

It’s a mystery to me why National Short Story Week takes place in November when writers are hammering away at keyboards trying to complete 50,000 words of a novel. But it’s worth taking a break from your magnum opus and celebrating the art of the short story. A change is as good as a rest.

This year National Short Story Week is the 16th to 22nd November 2015.

National short story week was launched in 2010 by Ian Skillicorn of Corazon Books. It aims to:

  1. Get more people reading and listening to short stories
  2. Get more people writing short stories
  3. Develop creative and commercial opportunities for individuals and organisations involved in the short story form.

I was hoping to point you to lots of resources and activities related to National Short Story Week but there seems to be very little happening online. So here’s a couple of free to enter competitions to get the creative juices flowing:

Morgen Bailey runs a monthly 100-word story competition. There is a different theme each month and the prizes are access to up to three of her online courses.

Words Magazine has an open-themed short story competition closing on December 31st 2015. First prize is £50 and second prize is £25. Word limit is 2,000.

Finally, in celebration of National Short Story Week, my latest story collection, House Guests And Other Stories, is only 99p/99c until 22nd November 2015. House Guests and Other Stories

It’s a cornucopia of contemporary short stories about modern life. Enjoy a plethora of twist endings, some humour plus a tiny bit of romance.

Happy Short Story Week!

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