Emerging Writers’ Festival: publishing trends and tips

In my last post I talked about Structure, inspired from a session I attended at the Emerging Writers’ Festival (EWF). Now that the EWF is officially over, I thought I’d give you an exclusive. See, I attended sessions with authors, editors and publishers and I felt selfish keeping the things I learnt to myself. These included:

  • How do you give your spin on typical characters?
  • A new genre/category to emerge
  • Tips for Childrens and Young Adult writers
  • How to pitch right – from the horses’ mouths
  • How many manuscripts are picked out of the slush pile each year (actual figures)

So …

BOOKS & GENRE

How do you give your spin on typical characters?

But your manuscript is unique, right? No, wait, I got it: “I’m not writing literary fiction; I don’t analyse literature for this type of stuff.”

Wrong.

Emily Maguire, author

Emily McGuire has these tips on well-crafted characters:

  • Rewrites are the stages where it all comes together — let the first draft pour out of you. Deal with the specifics once you have a story.
  • Get down heeeeaaps of detail about character. I love this thing she said: write character profiles. You may not use 90% of what you write, but the character will feel real, like a friend you know, and this will help to write characters completely different to you as well as giving every profiled character a spin.
  • Bring in different character viewpoints so readers get to know a character “unbiased”. Let the reader know how characters see things regarding an event (i.e. think The Slap).

A new genre/category to emerge

Yes, you heard right. Here’s the conundrum: Young Adult is marketed for children as young as eleven and as old as nineteen. Adult fiction is marketed for adults. One of the obvious differences is YA typically steers clear of the scary S-E-X topic. Another is adult fiction doesn’t deal with the parental/growing up issue as YA does.

This genre is intended to cater for readers who like to read YA, but want to read topics such as sex, careers, abortion, etc.

Where does this leave readers between the ages of 19 — early-20-ish?

This is where NEW ADULT comes into the mix.

When publishers contract a new manuscript, they need to decide how they’re going to market it. For teens or adults? When you have a protagonist who’s 19 — 20 and dealing with complex issues, whilst still growing up … well this causes issues.

Watching, *not* stalking!

Tips for Childrens and Young Adult writers

  • Understand what children/teens want
  • Spend time with children/teens
  • Watch (note not stalk; this is illegal) what children/teens go for in bookstores
  • Above all, write the story you want to write. This has to be the story no other writer can do but you.

PITCHING

How to pitch right – from the horses’ mouths

  • Figure out how the publisher would market your book and then DO that job when YOU pitch to them (or an agent).

I break this down as:

– Hunt other novels similar to yours. Use elements such as plot or themes.

– Read back cover blurbs. How are these books marketed?

– What attracted you to these books? What aspects work?

Text Publishing are among the leading independent publishers in Australia. I know from personal experience that they publish unique and stellar books, and début authors. Click here to read my suggested read. Apparently it’s because they have one of the best structural editors in the world in their publisher, Michael Heyward.

This is the advice they give about pitching:

  • Take the time to write a good synopsis. It’s good to show who your manuscript is for.
  • Further, tell them who your market is. I.e. seem aware, intelligent, informed.
  • P.S. They’re most interested in Crime, Literary, and edgy YA fiction.
  • They publish novels mostly between 60,000 — 90,000 words. Just a hint, guys.
  • They like new writers!

More tips (sorry, Novel Girl readers, I can’t remember which publisher said this. Maybe Penguin):

  • What captures attention? Power of writing. Specifically, originality of voice.
  • Think about why you’re writing this story. Does it have to be written? Does the execution not do the idea justice? Think, think, think.
  • What are your goals? If you want to win the top literary award for fiction, trade publishers like Penguin won’t be the best idea to get you there. Or, do you want a bestseller and commercial success? Think. Now, you’re getting somewhere.
  • A tip: not every publisher goes for the “this novel is Jaws meets Alien concept.” Perhaps you’re best reading back cover blurbs to see if this comparison is their ‘thing’. You do not want to annoy the people who may be interested in paying you money to publish your manuscript.
  • Good cover letters sell a novel. Bad cover letters give your competitors a head start. Like in sports, the person with the head start may not win, but you have a lot of catching up to do to win your audience back.

The “slush” pile

How many manuscripts are picked out of the slush pile each year?

This is good news! For those who have researched typical figures, this will surprise you.

Text Publishing are a medium publisher. Not the big guns but quite decent.

Okay, enough procrastinating. So how many manuscripts did they pick from the slush pile last year?

This many:  … or …

this many : 

 = Four/4/IV

I know. Now get off that tree or you’ll break your neck. And stop blowing those party poppers because you’ll blind someone with your erratic behaviour.

What great news to end this post!

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Want to hear a personal experience directly from an editor? You can!

Sort of.

I have just begun a new job as a junior editor at publishers, Thomson Reuters. They may not publish what this readership is interested in (think legal, tax, accounting), but my job entails relationships with our authors, chatting with senior editors, writing, editing and much more. I’ll be spilling the things I learn on this exciting journey.

*** What’s that? You want to FOLLOW Novel Girl‘s blog to stay updated on writing, editing, publishing and book news? Click on any page (Home, About, etc) and enter your email address into the top-left corner. Thanks for your support! ***

What publishing advice have you received that you want to share?

What I learned from the Emerging Writers Festival: Structure

So you didn’t make it to the Melbourne Emerging Writers Festival (EWF), huh? Well, fear not! [It's still on, by the way.] I have my messy hand-written notes all typed up and ready for your perusal.

First up …

STRUCTURE

Damon Young

Damon Young, Ph.D., author of Distraction; opinion, feature, and review writer for the biggest newspapers and magazines in Australia; poet; and radio personality had this to say:

  • Introduce familiar characters/archetypes

What’s an archetype?

“a universally understood symbol, term, or pattern of behavior, a prototype upon which others are copied, patterned, or emulated. — Wikipedia”

This description perfectly shows us writers how to familiarise our readers ASAP.

An example: when was the last time you connected with the busy mother character, fumbling with six bags of groceries as she tries to heave them inside her front door? How about the sweaty, trembling teenage boy who’s waiting inside his new date’s kitchen, with her six foot, five inch father by his side?

These are familiar types of activities and familiar types of people. We don’t connect with alien subjects and concepts. In fact, even a green alien from another planet should have familiar qualities. Perhaps he’s self-conscious because he looks different to all the people on this planet called “Earth”.

  • No jargon

This is especially fantastic advice for genre writers. Cue Fantasy or SciFi writers anyone?

Jargon can be a problem in fiction as well as non-fiction. When you load your manuscript with concepts that you’ve spent years getting to know until they’re as familiar as your right hand, you may be blind to your confusing, complex language.

This is the best time to ask a romance writer to beta read your work. It’ll do wonders for ironing out problems you never thought of. Trust me.

  • Remember readers are strangers from another world; settle them in.

This involves a common mistake: if you start with dialogue make sure you have enough narrative or context in the conversation to let the readers know where they are and what’s going on.

***

Anita Sethi

Anita Sethi, award-winning journalist, writer for the GuardianObserver, Sunday Times, Daily Telegraph, Independent, and BBC, among others; international speaker, and author in anthologies, had this to say:

  • There are only seven stories in history and these have been re-written over and over. They are:– overcoming the monster;
    — rags to riches;
    — the quest;
    — voyage and return;
    — comedy;
    — tragedy; and
    — rebirth

Surprised? Well apparently Christopher Booker talks about this in his famous book for writers, The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories. I haven’t read it — yet. It sounds like I should have years ago.

Still, I’ve heard this theory before and I totally believe in it. I know we’d like to think we’re original creative beasts, churning out literary masterpieces, but I think we’re more like copycat thieves learning from the best and doing it better. :D

  • Signpost

What does signposting mean?

At the beginning of a chapter, clue your reader to what happened before and what will happen. The likely direction you’ll be going.

In dialogue remember to remind them of the setting. Perhaps it might be a literal sign or post that indicates to the reader the man and woman are chatting at an intersection (they’re not in a black void chatting away and the world doesn’t exist).

  • [an obvious one] You need a memorable opening sentence.

You’re judged by your first sentence. If you pass, the reader will allow you to have another go. Your second sentence. This happens for a while — heck, I really do this — until they can trust you. Basically for your first several sentences you cannot stuff up.

Fiona Harris

***

Fiona Harris, who has written for programs such as Spicks & Specks and Skithouse; and appeared on TV shows such as Beaconsfield, Offspring, Rove Live, Neighbours and Blue Heelers, had this to say:

  • How can I structure this story best?
  • Draw up character profiles.

You may not use 90% of what you write, but it’ll help you flesh out your main characters as if they were real people. What are their quirks? Insecurities? Secret/s? (she says each character must have one secret.) etc …

Getting to know your character to this depth helps you know them before you begin writing a manuscript. When you do write, they’ll be unique and realistic. Much less cardboardy.

  • Use colour cards to write scenes and then swap them around to alter structure. Use different colours per character. Which characters appear too little? Too much? Where are the plot holes?

My bet is this would take me a day, or maybe a week. But I certainly wouldn’t be re-writing for years, clawing my way through a blind hole (re-drafting without direction) and never getting to the light (the finished, polished manuscript).

  • Introduce conflict as early as possible.
  • Set up the world as early as possible.
  • Don’t climax the story too soon.

I read this often in self-published books. I read and think omigod this sounds a lot like a climax but wait it can’t be happening this soon but why am I reading on and on and why hasn’t this story finished yet and omigod I give up and I don’t care and I’m putting down this story NOW.

  • Unreliable characters (use them to your own devices)
  • Balance exposition, narrative, dialogue.

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

THAT’S ALL FOR NOW FOLKS!

But — wait! Yes, there’s more to come! I have personal questions I asked a traditionally published author from a small chat session and future publishing trends and tips from editors and publishers.

You can’t afford to miss what’s coming up.

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Do you already do these things in your fiction? Do you disagree?

Three Fiction Writing tips from famous authors

I love these lists. Do you?

I Googled this topic and loved these results so much that I had to share them with you. The best thing is, you can never read enough advice. I mean, who thinks, “Right I know enough. I can’t get any better at writing”?

To further stress, these tips are the ones that popped out at me but I didn’t write them. Please visit “Ten rules for writing fiction” Part One and Part Two for the full articles (from The Guardian).

Author photo of Franzen courtesy of The Guardian

ONE: Write in the third person unless a ­really distinctive first-person voice ­offers itself irresistibly.–Jonathan Franzen

I love this because it’s something I keep in mind for my novel. I’ve written my novel in first-person Point Of View because I have a protagonist who “isn’t reliable”. You may or may not have heard that a lot. The thing is, first-person POV has the best impact when it’s used for a specific reason, not the result of a coin toss.

So what isn’t reliable? For example, my protagonist has issues that skews the way she thinks about things and shows the reader her environment. This aspect is my advantage because it adds to the story.

Author photo of Leonard Courtesy of The Guardian

TWO: Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly. Once you start spelling words in dialogue phonetically and loading the page with apos­trophes, you won’t be able to stop. Notice the way Annie Proulx captures the flavour of Wyoming voices in her book of short stories Close Range.–Elmore Leonard

I’ve seen plenty of what Elmore is saying not to do in fiction. It’s easy to drop off all the “g”s and pretty up the text with telltale signs of dialect. Some people might think, “Why not?” but if you rely on this feature to show dialect, you’re producing weak fiction. If you haven’t read Kathryn Stockett’s The Help, read it. This isn’t a suggestion. Go. :) (And I’m plugging a previous post I did on this book if you want to read it here.)

Kathryn wrote the dialogue differences between the white and black women so well. The words and sentences as separate and singular entities mimic realistic voices. Kathryn doesn’t resort to chopping a few letters from every other word. This is why the dialogue is so powerful.

Author photo of Mantel courtesy of the Guardian

THREE: Description must work for its place. It can’t be simply ornamental. It ­usually works best if it has a human element; it is more effective if it comes from an implied viewpoint, rather than from the eye of God. If description is coloured by the viewpoint of the character who is doing the noticing, it becomes, in effect, part of character definition and part of the action.–Hilary Mantel

Who likes beautiful descriptions if you can’t attach a meaning to anything. Inserting something that matters to the plot, a human for example, hints to the reader that the description is necessary. The rest Hilary writes is obvious. Well-written advice.

With all editing, no matter how sensitive – and I’ve been very lucky here – I react sulkily at first, but then I settle down and get on with it, and a year later I have my book in my hand.

Did that make you feel better? It sure did for me. When I receive comments about my WIP novel that seem only to function as knives slashing apart my self-esteem and therefore tearing apart my purpose as a writer, yes, I want to screw up the paper and find a rich husband to support me so I can wallow in self-pity until the day I die. But–this is not okay after a time of deliberation (be one day or a week).

You put in the time to create the manuscript, you suffer the regret when you grow old and are still dreaming of writing “that” novel, so you need to realise that this experience will only strengthen you as a writer.

***

Now over to you, readers: What writing tips have you heard from famous authors that connected with you better than anything else you’ve read?

My top 10 tips for fiction writers

Here are my top tips for writers. They aren’t rules; they are points to think about. I’ve listed them in order of importance. Enjoy!

1. Determination: work hard. If there was one crucial point it is this: determination. You do deserve to see your novel in print, and having it sell well. But you need the will to push yourself through hours of tapping away on your keyboard, ugly re-writes, years of reading as a writer, and most importantly, remembering your goal. If your goal is to publish your novel, then don’t let anything stand in your way.

If Lauren Kate, author of the Fallen series and the Betrayal of Natalie Hargrove, received over 100 rejections before making it big, and Kathryn Stockett was rejected 60 times for her bestselling début novel, The Help, then you deserve to be up there too. Have a mantra, have a reward, if that works. The one rule that you don’t get to choose is quitting (that should be in no writer’s possibilities).

Determination Wallpaper

Image by dr.coop via Flickr

2. Think about doing a creative writing short course or moving on to an accredited certificate, diploma or degree. Creative writing courses are the best way of developing your skills if the course is practical. For that reason, I can’t promote TAFEs enough (this particular TAFE in the link is from Melbourne; you can look at it as an example). TAFEs are focused on learning skills and using them in a practical environment (with your peers). Universities are fantastic for expanding your knowledge further, deeper. At the least, you’ll come out a better writer. So, imagine the best possible scenario! But if such long commitments are too much to dive right in to, consider online courses (ultra convenient) or hour-/day-/week-long classes. If you like them, you can always step up your education.

3. Learn fiction writing techniques. Some of the most helpful hints I’ve learnt are 1) show, don’t tell; 2) use the 5 senses; 3) delve deep in developing characters/plot; and 4) write by scenes. Let me flick through these ideas quickly. I’ve linked you up for each one (because one sentence won’t be enough).

Show, don’t tell: show how the character reacts to their environment — whether that be with another person, to physical objects, or avoiding an issue/a particular setting. (i.e. don’t tell your reader that Jim is angry. Show what he does so the reader can imagine he’s angry.)

Use the five senses: Let the nervous high school girl feel the thickness in her throat as she swallows, smell the residue of pencil shavings on her fingers as she bites her nails, rub her forehead so many times that her skin becomes oily — put yourself in the character’s place even if that means closing your eyes or creating a similar scene.

Delve deep in developing characters/plot: make characters have unique quirks that individualise them; create at least two, preferably three sub-plots; study the three-act structure.

Write by scenes: scenes need to have at least two subjects (people, animals) and both should have a want and a need (want is what the character thinks they need to achieve; need is what they should learn to actually overcome the conflict). My links for fiction writing has the best sites for this.

4. Start from the character and grow your story from there. Evoke emotion, give them an inner and outer conflict. People care about other people, so don’t open your novel by describing the breathtaking landscapes of a remote island in Micronesia if it doesn’t involve a character. Create character contradictions (a woman’s mother grew up poor and grounded by rules to survive, so when this woman becomes a mother herself, she teaches her children in the same ways because it’s the only way she knows, even though she hated her mother for the things she did). This contradiction makes ‘perfect heroes’ seem real. Grab personality aspects from people you know to form original (not clichéd) characters. Watch people in conversation — what are their gestures? how does someone speak or act when they are anxious? — and apply it to your dialogue.

5. Finish your book, then follow these three stages of editing: structural (also known as substantial), copy/line, then proofread. If we are talking about putting together an outfit for a party, then a substantial edit looks at if you have enough make up on, how having that much or little make-up affects the look of your dress and you as a whole, what the length of the skirt says about your thoughts, how confidently wearing your dress changes expectations, etc. So in your novel, you need to address issues such as conflict, plot, characters, wants, needs, tension, and other major issues that affect the novel as a whole. This is done first because there is no point re-writing a scene if it doesn’t raise tensions, or show us more about the character/plot. Remember, if you are deleting entire scenes, creating new ones and cutting and pasting scenes elsewhere, then you are doing the ‘structural’ edit perfectly!

Copy/Line editing is next because it looks at paragraphs and sentences and how they work alone and in relation to what precedes and follows it. In this stage, you look at clumsy sentences, confusing wordings, unnecessary repetitions, clichés, etc. Note that if this is the first thing you look for when doing a re-draft then, you need to back up a step to the structural/substantial edit.

The last stage, the proofread, looks at fixing grammatical errors. It’s a final review to make sure the sentences are error free.

Creative writing class-fine arts center (40269...

6. Join a writer’s group or have critique partners. There isn’t a writer in the world who can identify objectively everything needs to be fixed up in their manuscript. After two, eight or twelve drafts, that is impossible. Having critique partners who either love reading the genre of your novel or are learnt in the craft of fiction writing (or both!) gives you an expert critique. Love the criticism, because if someone is taking the time to read your work for free, it’s because they care about helping you improve your work.

I know how scary it is handing out work for the first time, but once I receive mountain loads of advice for improvements I feel so much better that my prospective agent/publisher hasn’t seen all those problems.

7. Know your weaknesses and push yourself to become an expert on the topic. What better way is there of overcoming what holds your novel back than by working at it? Work at keeping your anxieties down and the more you push yourself to understand (do exercises, do practical tips) the more you’ll be able to create a better version of your novel and even more so for future ones you’ll write.

8. Network and have a website. Having an online presence is more important than ever. Remember when you weren’t sure on THAT book? What did you do before you bought it? You Googled the author. A cheap and effective option is starting a blog. If you create quality content and work at networking so people are aware of what you do then you help your career. 1) People find you when they search for a query. 2) Agents and publishers know that if you have the book they want, you can market your work (and you already have an audience because of that blog, remember?). 3) People are interested in what you do and will trust your site — vital for non-fiction writers and for readers who want more of what you do. Create friendships with fellow writers and help them as much as they help you.

Afterwards book cover

9. Read about how the publishing industry works — what’s ‘hot’; what’s ‘not’. This is less important but still great advice. You need to know what agents are interested in taking on. You should know what publishers are looking for in new manuscripts. Learn if your vampire, young-adult fiction novel is still in high demand. Or maybe you’ve written something like Afterwards. Understand if there’s a gap where your thriller (about two people who spend the novel in out-of-body experiences, trying to save their physical bodies) fills a gap in the industry.

10. Never give up. Keep going: there is no other option. When you’re still getting rejections, expand/re-do the previous steps. Find different critique partners if your current ones aren’t helping you as much as you’d hoped. Continue on to TAFE or university if you liked your short writing course (because you can never stop learning). Read more on the craft of fiction writing and analyse the novels you read with this knowledgeable eye for detail.

Now comes the most important part: what are your tips/suggestions? I’ve compiled this list so you, my loyal readers, have one point of reference (opposed to 10 tabs open, which consequently crash your browser). Please leave your comments below and I can discuss and add your thoughts for my future posts!