Archive for July, 2009|Monthly archive page
Because of holidays and recent conferences, I’m running very behind in considering submissions. Please be aware that you may not have a response to your submission until mid to late August. Normal service should resume in September.
Following the Romantic Novelists Association annual conference, held this year at the University of Cumbria in Penrith, I stayed for a few days holiday in the Lake District so hence this report comes a little late.
It’s a long drive up to Cumbria but I did make it to the conference in time to see the author panel on Friday afternoon, and then enjoy dinner and catching up with lots of people. Saturday I did two hours of agent one to one appointments which I think went well. I was really impressed with several opening chapters and asked to see more from several writers. As with my experience at Winchester, the hardest I think is when you don’t want to see more of a manuscript and its nothing to do with the quality of the writing, it’s that you know that the story isn’t marketable at the current time, or that it’s just too far outside your own personal taste to get excited about.
I had time to attend several talks and sessions on Saturday including an excellent talk by Myra Kersner on putting together non-fiction proposals, from DC Thomson on writing for People’s Friend (both the magazine and the Pocket Novels) and a key note talk from bestselling author Veronica Henry, and on Sunday, from consultant and former editor Kathy Gale on what publshers want.
Saturday evening was the excuse to dress up and I’m pleased to see that my footwear, along with many others, has made it onto the RNA blog. At dinner was the presentation by RNA Chair Katie Fforde of the Elizabeth Goudge Award for a novel opening and I was delighted to see the trophy won by the talented Lesley Eames (click link for photo) who has been a friend for several years and whom I encouraged to join the RNA a couple of years ago. Well done Lesley and also thank you to Jan Jones and Roger Sanderson for putting together another very enjoyable conference.
A quick round-up of the conference from my point of view.
I arrived on Friday, spent about three hours in the student coffee bar locked away in my imagination writing… bliss! Then I checked into my room, which to my surprise, wasn’t en-suite. Having stayed at various University campuses over the last few years and always had an en-suite room I was unprepared. (The large bath towel I had brought with me was vital after all!) I spent the rest of Friday chatting with writers, which really is the pleasurable part of conferences. Caught up with Jean Fullerton, Catherine King, Sally Spedding, and Susan Franklin. I also met for the first time over the weekend Adrienne Dines, Lesley Horton, Sarah Ellender, agent Judith Murdoch, members of a writers group from Leicester and another from Worthing, and many other writers with whom it was a pleasure to meet and talk to.
Saturday was a marathon for me with my one-to-ones but most people attending the conference had a mixture of talks, workshops and a plenary session by Michael Morpurgo to enjoy. The evening ended with a gala dinner and a great talk by Lola Jaye in which she explained the determination needed on the long journey to publication. Lola got her lucky break at Winchester, which reminded me that I can attribute the “lucky break” to getting published first time myself to a conversation I overheard in the queue to the Ladies at a meeting of the Romantic Novelists Association. Get out and about, or as Lola described it, put yourself in position for those lucky breaks to become more likely.
This coming weekend is the Romantic Novelists Association conference in Penrith so I suspect I may get a little behind with submissions again. Do bear with me.
This weekend I spent at the Writers Conference in Winchester. I got down there on Friday so had a chance to relax before the big day which for me was Saturday when I was down to see 21 writers for 15 minute one to ones. I’d received opening chapters and synopses from almost all the writers in advance and had made notes on them so I could deliver useful feedback.
What I think I was most surprised about were the number of writers who clearly hoped that, on sight of their opening chapters, I would spend the 15 minutes offering them representation. Although I saw some promising work, I only requested to see more from a handful of writers, partly for reasons of personal taste, secondly for reasons of marketability, and thirdly, because a handful of the writers were clearly at the very beginning of their quest to write a publishable novel and still had a long way to go.
I thought I would share some of the things I ended up repeating on the day:
- Start your novel with action. Action does not mean there has to be an earthquake, but just that something is happening. Don’t write a first chapter full of backstory or introspection.
- I am always looking for great characterisation. Great characterisation is the most likely to be the magic bullet for me as to whether I love your story because I believe it’s what makes great stories. So if I say “work on your characterisation”, take this seriously.
- As a general rule, 1st person is more limiting for many novels, especially in certain genres such as thrillers. If you’ve tried 3rd person character point of view and are certain its not working for your story I’m fair more likely to take you seriously than a writer who tells me they’ve never written anything in 3rd person or that you can’t have charcater viewpoint in 3rd person.
- Know what your genre is. Most commercial fiction is either women’s fiction or crime.
- Crime novels are not only stories about detectives solving murders. (In the US crime is actually called mystery which is probably a better name to encompass the width of the genre).
- I represent the kinds of novels I like to read. So when I say “your writing is good but it is not for me” I’m rejecting it on the grounds of my personal taste. Keep trying other agents.
- I have to think about marketability. So when I say “your writing is good but there is no market for this kind of novel at the moment” I’m not just fobbing you off, I mean it. I could be wrong though, so keep trying other agents.
- Writing is not only about craft. First novels must have a wow factor. There must be something that makes them stand out.
- If I tell you your literary novel is a crime novel, believe me rather than arguing with me! I don’t care if its a literary crime novel or not. I just have to love it and it must be absolutely gripping and readable.
More about what happened at Winchester later.