Category Archives: articles

Inspiration- Friend or Foe?

Inspiration is a key element in a writer’s toolkit and is just as important as compelling characters, paper and pens and a plot that readers would give their back teeth for. But it can be a fickle friend.

In my experience, inspiration tends to act a little like public transport; it never runs on time. You can be sat in the most beautiful surroundings with no excessive noise around you and inspiration stands you up; you are waiting there with open arms, a blank canvas of paper spread on your lap, pencil poised…and nothing.

I have also noticed that inspiration likes to play tricks on its victims. Usually late at night, when you are tucked up in bed, everything in darkness and then suddenly, inspiration becomes the nagging little voice in the back of your mind that tells you a sudden idea for a story. Naturally, you try and ignore it, to pretend that you’re already sleeping and that you will remember the story in the morning. ‘Of course you won’t,’ inspiration says. The annoying thing is that inspiration is right, which is how you end up with a notepad propped up on your knees in the wee hours of the morning, scribbling furiously about this ground breaking new idea. This is also how you end up with glazed eyes at your desk the following morning, dark circles under your eyes and your boss assuming that you had a heavy night on the town whilst you swallow your fourth cup of coffee.

Whilst inspiration never shows up when it is meant to, it usually is trustworthy, provided of course that you just go with it. I have been known, on more occasions than I would care to admit, to pull over whilst driving and on finding no paper or pen to record my sudden epiphany, I have been forced to use an eye pencil and scribble on the back of a receipt so that the new idea is not forgotten during the remainder of the journey whilst singing badly to the radio.

There are of course exceptions to the rule and there are measures that you can take to ensure that you will meet inspiration, on occasion, at a time and place of your choosing. I tend to find that surrounding yourself by creative like-minded people is a good start, because naturally, conversation with other writers will spark ideas of your own. Writing prompts can also be generated in this way to help inspiration start rolling again later.

If all else fails, then the best thing to do is simply go to your local Starbucks or nearest coffee shop, find a quiet corner and merely observe people. Some of life’s real characters are far too colourful not to have a starring role in your next novel. Though do try and look discreet and above all, don’t stare- it might frighten inspiration away.

Advertisements

The (Vast) Difference Between a Critique and an Edit

Usually, when a writer has finished a story or taken a story as far as they can, they send them out to critique groups or beta readers for feedback. As the author, it’s difficult disconnecting from a story’s headspace, and that makes it tricky to judge if everything is working. This is where critique groups and betas are invaluable: the fresh eye, the new perspective, the telling reactions. These all help author see where a story might still need work.

But there’s a big difference between a critique and an edit, and sometimes authors get back one when they really need the other. I’m going to talk about why, break down each one, and suggest things writers should do when approaching someone for feedback.

Critique:

A critique is an evaluation. It’s a review where you look at the bigger picture and consider things like pacing, clarity, character motivation, character arcs, plot and plot holes, weak dialogue, unnecessary exposition, theme and motif. This is where you think about whether or not every chapter, every scene, every paragraph advances the plot. You ask if all the characters are pulling their weight. You ask what the writer is trying to get across. Think: bigger picture, overall story.

Edit:

An edit focuses more on grammar, style, and punctuation. It picks apart paragraphs and sentences and looks for inconsistencies, repetitions, misused words, typos and spelling errors, awkward sentence structure, etc. It can expand to include suggestions on characters, dialogue, pace and plot, but these are generally smaller observations, on a paragraph by paragraph (or line by line) level. Think: details, fine tuning.

When you send stories out for feedback, be clear about the following:

1) How ‘finished’ is your story. It’s no good getting line edits on a first draft–it wastes everyone’s time. Ideally, you don’t want line edits until you’ve fixed the plot and characters. Plot and characters come first, and they should be analysed in a critique. Often revision is required, which can lead to whole chunks of a story being rewritten. How awkward when you have to explain to a beta reader who just spent two hours line editing your work that you’ve had to rewrite the entire story from scratch.

2) Be clear about what type of feedback you need. Specify the elements of a critique if your reader doesn’t know the difference. Ask questions (put them at the end of the story so as not to influence the reader before they start), and get them to write down their reactions as they read. Did their attention wander at any point, and if so, when? Were the character motivations clear and believable? Did the ending satisfy and tie in, at least a little, with the start? Was anything confusing? If the reader has never critiqued before, these questions will help guide them through it.

Writers become better writers much quicker through writing, reading, and critiquing. Editing will help teach you when to use commas instead of semi-colons, but it won’t teach you how to develop an engaging character with clear, compelling motivations, or sharpen your use of metaphor or motif, or just tell a damn good story. Semi-colons generally don’t sell fiction. Good stories do.

(Not, I want to add, that there’s anything wrong with a semi-colon! I ♥︎ them.)

If you’re a fiction writer, start critiquing. Do it every week. If you can’t find a fellow author to crit, then pull an anthology off a shelf and practise with that.

Here are some other excellent resources on writing critiques:

How to Critique Fiction, by Victory Crayne.

Nuts and Bolts of Critiquing, by Tina Morgan, posted at Fiction Factor.

15 Questions for Your Beta Readers, by editor and author Jodie Renner, posted at Kill Zone.

On Countersinking: Showing and Then Telling

This is inspired by Turkey City Lexicon – A Primer for SF Workshops. It’s worth checking out the full article because it highlights some of the common clichés and pitfalls that can clog up a story. The article was written with sci-fi in mind, although a lot of their points relate to all fiction genres.

The one I’m focusing on is countersinking. This one makes me grin because I used to do it a lot in my early writing. A few years ago, me and a friend set about workshopping our earliest pieces to see what we could learn, and to track our improvements. The workshops were a riot—seeing ourselves as young, bouncy authors, full of excitement and dreadful clichés, lacking finesse and attention to detail but having so much fun writing and developing our styles. It’s a bit like travelling back in time and spending an afternoon with the kid version of yourself, entertaining and not a little eye-opening. I’m way more conscious of countersinking nowadays and rarely find it slipping into my prose, but I do falter occasionally, and often stumble upon it when reading other people’s work.

“You have to get out of here,” he said, urging her to leave.

And here is what’s happening:

A form of expositional redundancy in which the action clearly implied in dialogue is made explicit.

Or as I like to call it, “showing and then telling”. It’s obvious from the dialogue that somebody is urging someone else to leave, so the explanation urging her to leave is redundant.

Newer authors tend to do this due to a lack of confidence, but even pro authors are prone to do it too. I’m quite sensitive to countersinking; it slows down a story, reads clunky, and makes the writing feel loose and flabby. When doing a round of edits that focus on dialogue, I’m always on the lookout for sneaky countersinks. And if I find any? I kill them.

It’s strange how writing peeves can bring up so many nostalgic feelings. 🙂 

Choosing Character Names: Fun, or a Total Nightmare?

Character names can be tricky fishes. Occasionally you’ll think you’ve got the perfect name for your protagonist, only to get halfway through a story and realise that the name no longer suits them. Names can be used to stunning effect, evoking images, sounds, and even themes. They can hold meaning, both hidden and obvious, or they can be so generic that they don’t stand out at all.

But it’s a fine line between picking a name you want, picking a name that fits the character, and picking something that’s not going to jar or distract readers.

We’re often advised to avoid names that are too out there, absurd or overly complex, and just plain impossible to pronounce. But occasionally a story will call for the wacky. A good example of this is Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, where you can find names like Zaphod Beeblebrox and Slartibartfast. And that’s OK, because it’s a space comedy whose ethos is the pointlessness of trying to make an impact in an unfathomable universe–absurd names are the least of these characters’ problems. The thing is, those names probably wouldn’t work so well in a contemporary romance or a period drama like Downton Abbey.

And then there are names that try just a little too hard to make the character sound cool or edgy. If you’re writing an action thriller, calling your ex-marine protagonist Rock Stoneblast might draw more snickers than anything. Actually, a while back Sky compiled a list of 20 Mental Movie Monikers, worth checking out for the lols.

Sci-fi and fantasy fall victim to impossible character and place names more often than most other genres. This is where you get your L’kazyx’hiqxues from planet Xzerquee’h’ex or somesuch (which is probably in the Pzzy’awxze’a galaxy). These monstrosities can be enough to make a reader quit early on. There’s also the issue of people who read out loud to themselves or read stories to other people, and don’t forget audiobooks.

When I pick names for my characters, the first thing I do is check their meanings on Behind the Name, just to make sure I’m not making any unintentional faux pas. The nerd in me quite likes it when an author gets clever with name meanings. You never know, there might be a reader who looks it up and is surprised to find the meaning has a connection to the characters’ backstory, attitudes, etc.

You also need to be mindful of when your story is set and which names were popular at the time. Putting a Beyoncé in 17th Century rural England probably won’t fly with the history buffs. 😉

There are tons of excellent sources for names, if you’re really stuck. With a little patience, you can generally find good stuff in the phone book, movie or TV show credits, even graveyards (creepy, I know, but sometimes you have to get creative!). And there are the online venues Baby Names, The Internet Surname Database, Random Name Generator, as well as Behind the Name (linked above). And a silly one, Name Generator Fun.

So how do you go about naming your characters? Do they walk into your head fully formed with a name, or do you begin with a name and build the character around it? Do you struggle to find fitting names for your chars? Have you encountered any memorable names from books/TV/movies that you want to share? I’d love to hear them!

(This entry was originally written for and posted to the Get Your Words Out community on LiveJournal.)

Article: Andrew Garve and Soviet Russia

Storyslinger John Higgins wrote the following article. Many thanks to John for sharing and letting us post it here!

The journalist Paul Winterton (1908-2001) became much better known after 1950 when, using the pen name Andrew Garve, he published a number of successful thrillers and detective stories. Many of these books had nothing to do with his earlier career as a newspaper correspondent in Moscow and elsewhere, but the ones that do cast an interesting light on his politics and our general view of the communist experiment.
He was the son of a left-wing journalist, Ernest Winterton, who was the Labour Member of Parliament for Loughborough from 1929 to 1931, but who also stood unsuccessfully for the same constituency in the elections of 1923, 1924, 1931 and 1935. There was a family link to Philip Spratt, a left-wing intellectual who was a founding member of the Communist Party of India in 1927, but who subsequently became an anti-communist activist. I imagine the table talk in the family would have had a strong socialist flavour.
Paul Winterton gained a B.Sc. degree from the London School of Economics in 1928, and spent the next winter travelling to Russia, where he spent some months living with a farming family in the Ukraine and learning Russian. On his return in 1929 he stood for Parliament himself, fighting Canterbury for Labour, rather a lost cause as Canterbury has hardly ever returned a non-Conservative. He joined the staff of The Economist, and three years later was taken on by the News Chronicle. He had several overseas assignments, including two more visits to Russia, as well as a spell in Palestine which gave him the background to his first novel, Death Beneath Jerusalem, published in 1938 by Nelson under the pen name Roger Bax.  This was the first of several books featuring what must have been one of his hobbies, pot-holing or cave exploration. It is also a book with a good deal of political comment on the rise of Arab nationalism and the accompanying terrorist activities.

He was, however, beginning to discard any rose-tinted spectacles when it came to Soviet Russia. His 1937 pamphlet Russia with Open Eyes, published for an organisation called the “Friends of the Soviet Union”, had given a reasonably positive account of Russia, its industry, economy, education system and politics. However, in 1940 he published a very different book, his second novel Red Escapade, using an obscure publishing house called Skeffington and Sons, and once again using the pen name Roger Bax. I expect he took trouble to avoid being publicly associated with that book; it would have made him unwelcome in Russia. It tells of a rather naïve English girl travelling to Leningrad on a ship in early 1939, falling in love with a junior Russian diplomat who is returning on the same ship, and marrying him impulsively as soon as they land. A few weeks later the diplomat is caught up in the Stalinist purges, and is summarily tried and shot. The girl, having given up her passport, faces imprisonment or exile to Siberia. A journalist friend manages to extricate her, and they flee by train and sledge across the Ukraine to the Polish border. Many features of this frantic winter escape are re-used in a much later book, The Ashes of Loda (1965). Both books are unrelenting in what they say about the cruelty and injustice of the Soviet regime.

In 1942 Winterton was sent to Moscow, a journey that took him seven weeks, to be the News Chronicle’s correspondent, and in the next three years he wrote or broadcast—or so he claimed—a million words of reportage. On his return, very soon after V.E. Day, since he was back in London by June 1945, he published Report on Russia. In this he says he is righting the imbalance due to censorship. The million words of the previous three years had been “only nice things. Criticism was impossible.” The 40,000 words of the new book are uniformly critical of the Soviet system. He apologises for this, saying that it is only because censorship prevented him from saying any of these things before, so they have to come out all in one lump.  He is especially harsh on the way that efforts to promote Anglo-Russian friendship became lop-sided, with many Anglo-Russian friendship societies being established and encouraged in Britain, fed by speakers and literature from the Soviet Embassy, while all comparable efforts from the British side to inform ordinary Russians about Britain were stymied, with newsletters not circulated because of “paper shortages” and speakers denied travel permits.
Back in Britain, he set about establishing himself as a popular novelist and thriller writer. His first post-war book was Disposing of Henry (1947), in which an ambitious and unscrupulous girl snares a rich husband and later conspires with her lover to murder him. This was followed in 1948 by Blueprint for Murder, introducing Inspector James, who would feature in one later book. This book displayed two features that would become very characteristic of his later work, the establishment of a complex and apparently unbreakable alibi, and the use of his expertise in small boat sailing. Both books were far better written than his two previous novels and attracted good reviews, no doubt reassuring Winterton that he could safely take up his new career and abandon journalism.
Both novels had appeared under the pen name Roger Bax, but he published one more book in 1948 using his own name, Inquest on an Ally. This was an exhaustive analysis of post-war Soviet policy and ambitions, with meticulous documentation of the way in which the USSR had exploited every concession offered by the West and had offered nothing but intransigence in return. The message was clear: do not trust the Russians. At one hundred thousand words the book is a challenging read and a testament to the strength of his feelings, as well as to his indifference to offending the Soviets. I doubt whether he would ever have been allowed to enter the USSR again.
His next novel as Roger Bax was Came the Dawn (1949), published in the USA as Two If by Sea and filmed in 1953 with Clark Gable and Gene Tierney as Never Let Me Go. This picked up a thread from the earlier Red Escapade, the plight of any foreigner who marries a Russian. In this case the foreigners are English, a journalist and an engineer working in Moscow for the latter part of the war. They are sent home and are unable to obtain exit visas for their wives. In desperation they buy a small sailing boat and sail to the Baltic, where they are able to get ashore and, with suitable nail-biting tension, manage to bring their wives out secretly. For all the tension, the author does not let us forget that what they are doing is natural and decent while the regime that opposes them is arbitrary and ugly. The book is especially memorable for the accounts of the sea voyage, reminiscent in places of Arthur Ransome’s Racundra’s First Cruise.
Although there was to be one further Roger Bax book (A Grave Case of Murder, 1951) which featured the return of Inspector James, Winterton started use the pen name Andrew Garve. I don’t know why he should have done this. The first Andrew Garve book (No Tears for Hilda, 1950) was not unlike his previous crime stories, so he was not moving into a different genre. However he was switching to a new publisher, from Hutchinson to Collins, so it may be that A Grave Case of Murder was fulfilling a publishing contract with Hutchinson. His very first novel, Death Beneath Jerusalem, had featured a hero called Philip Garve, so it seems as if the name Garve had some significance for him.
His third Andrew Garve novel, Murder in Moscow (1951), published in the USA as Murder through the Looking Glass, returned to his Russian themes. A trainload of delegates, a “peace delegation”, is on its way to Moscow for a conference. The narrator, a Moscow-based journalist of course, has great fun in the first chapter describing them all: a Reverend who “had got the idea that the Soviet Union was the one country in the world where the Sermon on the Mount was being translated into practice”, a Welsh Nationalist, a Labour MP, a sculptress who is keen on Socialist Realism, an officer of the Co-operative Women’s League, and a young trade unionist. We continue to be presented with their pompous and ill-informed opinions until, half way through the book, the leader is murdered and the book turns into something closer to a detective story. This was apparently Garve’s own favourite among his books, perhaps because he was able to combine his background knowledge and strong feelings about Russia with his developing relish for ingenious plots.
A very odd book followed in 1952. This was A Hole in the Ground, which begins in a rather familiar way as a story about pot-holing. The central figure, Laurence Quilter, a Labour Member of Parliament, enlists the help of as local speleologist to explore a cave on his own land. The two men are trapped underground by floodwater, and the expert is drowned, largely as a result of Quilter’s cowardice. One would expect the plot to develop, as several other Garve novels do, with Quilter’s increasingly frantic efforts to cover up the accident and eventual exposure. Instead we have his mysterious disappearance, and a dénouement that reveals Quilter as a Soviet ‘sleeper’ intent on sabotaging a nearby nuclear plant. It’s as if Garve, having started to write a conventional thriller, couldn’t resist the chance to throw in some anti-Soviet propaganda. In his defence Quilter argues with the book’s hero:

“… How can I betray something I don’t believe in? These labels mean nothing. If some anti-Soviet Russian succeeded in blowing up a big atom plant in Russia, would your side call him a traitor? Of course you wouldn’t. You’d say he was a freedom-loving democrat, a martyr.”“He’d be fighting a tyranny. You’re helping one.”“Naturally I don’t accept that. Believe me, my conscience isn’t troubled. In the end humanity will thank me.”

(p. 193)

There were no more references to Russia until The Ashes of Loda (1965) which, as noted above, re-uses parts of the escape sequence from Red Escapade, written twenty-five years earlier. This time it is the hero on his own rather than accompanied, but we have the snow-covered landscape, the extended waiting for much delayed trains, the “hard carriages”, and the constant fear of meeting an official who will demand to inspect your papers. The writing is vivid; if this was drawn from experience, it is an experience that is still painfully clear in his memory. The main plot concerns the exposure of a Russian spy in London, and the hero encounters plenty of deviousness in his dealings with Soviet authorities.
In 1969 Garve published The Ascent of D.13, a book which showed he had not lost any of his hostility to communism. A plane has crashed in mountains in the north of Turkey, right on the Soviet border. Both sides send climbing expeditions to retrieve a top-secret camera that was on board. Much of the book is a tense and detailed account of the climb. In the end when they reach the plane, there is only one survivor in each party, an English man and a Russian woman. They must descend together. Whenever they stop they argue about politics. By the time they reach safety, the hero has not persuaded the woman that his way is better, but she changes her mind when she discovers at the Russian Embassy in Istanbul that she is about to be tried as a traitor because of her “disloyalty” in coming down the mountain on the Turkish side. Happily she can use her climbing skills to escape from the building and run to the arms of the Englishman.
In The Late Bill Smith (1971), the last of Garve’s books to contain any reference to Soviet Russia, there is very little direct preaching about the tyranny of the regime, though the plot clearly assigns a duplicitous role to the Russian secret services. The hero, a young businessman, survives three murderous assaults but cannot understand why anyone should want to kill him. He is befriended by a travel courier who gets him on to an Aegean cruise ship where he cannot easily be found. On the ship he decides impulsively to fake his own suicide as a way of avoiding further danger. On returning clandestinely to Britain, he sees a television news programme about a forthcoming prisoner exchange, Paul Munro, a British intellectual who has been convicted in Russia against Alex Gordon, a Soviet spy serving twenty years in Britain. He recognises the British intellectual, supposedly doing hard labour in a Khazakstan prison camp, as somebody he has met having an uproariously good time in a Russian hotel a month before. Now he realises that Moscow has been trying to eliminate him in case he reports the encounter to the British authorities, thereby exposing the spy exchange as phoney. There are a few more plot twists before the happy ending. Among the political asides is one comment which seems to carry several layers of irony, made while the protagonists are observing Mrs Munro through binoculars: “She’s standing up reading a paper … some lefty rag, I’ll bet … Yes, it’s The Times.”
Andrew Garve stopped writing in 1978, so we cannot know how he felt about glasnost and perestroika and the eventual break-up of the Soviet empire. In his thrillers he has nothing good to say about communism and the Soviet system. However, I would be surprised if he ever cast a vote for the Tories.
References to works by Paul Winterton:
Writing as Paul Winterton:
Russia with Open Eyes, 1937, London, Lawrence and Wishart
Report on Russia, 1945, London, The Cresset Press
Inquest on an Ally, 1948, London, The Cresset Press
Writing as Roger Bax:
Death Beneath Jerusalem, 1938, London, Nelson
Red Escapade, 1940, London, Skeffington and Sons
Disposing of Henry, 1947, London, Hutchinson
Blueprint for Murder, 1948, London, Hutchinson
Came the Dawn, 1949, London, Hutchinson
A Grave Case of Murder, 1951, London, Hutchinson
Writing as Andrew Garve:
No Tears for Hilda, 1950, London, Collins
Murder in Moscow, 1951, London, Collins
A Hole in the Ground, 1952, London, Collins
The Ashes of Loda, 1965, London, Collins
The Ascent of D.13, 1969, London, Collins
The Late Bill Smith, 1971, London, Collins

Observations: Eyes vs. Ears

Muriel Higgins sent this along, so I thought it would be good to put it up here on the blog. Many thanks to Muriel for sharing her thoughts and observations on reading vs listening!
EYES VERSUS EARS
What you read on a page with your eyes is different from what you listen to and hear with your ears.  Each medium has something the other lacks, e.g. print on the page can be seen all at once or jumping around, at the reader’s pleasure; while sounds in time are sequential and are not controlled by the listener.
These are some of the characteristics of what you read:
  • you can look ahead and see how long it is, how far to the end
  • you can see how dense it is: lots of speech? slabs of prose?
  • you can choose how fast to read and to look forward or back
  • use of indentation, eg for lists, like this one
  • hierarchy of headings (probably applies more to non-fiction)
  • different typefaces and point sizes, can help understanding
  • use of spaces: between sections, chapters, paragraphs, sentences, even words or letters
  • italics, caps, small caps, bold to show stress/emphasis as intended by author
  • asterisks or superscript numbers for footnotes
  • interpolated signs like (!) or (?) or bracketed letters Hol(e)y ghost
  • variant spelling to suggest character (teenager says alright); place/accent (color, traveled); names spelt differently as time passes He spells it Shaun now; Christina vs Krysztyna in a story about Polish girl now living in UK and adopting a new persona; or informality How ya doin?
  • idiosyncratic speech: Just William’s Violet Elizabeth: I’ll thkweam and thkweam until I’m thick
  • emoticons, OK, not (yet) usual in prose on paper … but hang about …

And some characteristics of what you listen to or hear:
  • the reader-aloud, or narrator, controls speed/tempo and volume, not the listener (you can’t listen faster)
  • the narrator adds interpretation of the text in different ways:
            . different voices for different speakers
           . regional or foreign accents
           . stress and intonation: He wasn’t really very sorry can be said with at least 5 meanings
           . pausing to show contrasts of sections etc

Some of these interpretations are suggested  by the writer:
  • in words: ‘Six o’clock.’  ‘ No, six thirty,’ she corrected gently.
  • word or sentence division: Mum went ba-llistic,  I. Don’t. Want. To. Know.
  • punctuation: … (fade out);  dash (interrupted speech); quotation marks “Lady” Jane, she calls herself.
  • italics, caps etc :  Not Quite the Thing.

Do we write differently for the eye or the ear?
I can’t decide about this, myself and would like to hear others’ thoughts.  
  • When you write you cede a bit of control, either to the reader or the narrator: does this matter?
  • Reading your own stuff is different, you know what you meant when you wrote it.
  • If someone else is going to read it, they need help and guidance …
  • … or are you happy to say Go little book and let it take its chance? 

A few things to ponder:
Reading but not-reading: when you reach the end of a page with your eyes when your brain is elsewhere.  Not-listening also happens.  Does this matter to writers/providers?  Can they make it less likely?  Or is it only to do with the reader/listener/consumer?
Do you read print with an accent?  Review of Schwarzenegger’s autobiography: I read this with a flat Terminator accent.  
Can people talk with spelling mistakes? (asterisk means wrong form) *pronounciation, *antiboetics (which my father always said), *enmity (my favourite) or are these just wrong words?
A journalist resident in Scotland has been said to write with an English accent (not a compliment)
TV review represents heart sign by: There will be a tsunami of ‘I *heart* programmes like this’; written report of a tweet finishes *innocent face*.  So asterisks are quotation marks for emoticons? 
Review of audio books: Many modern novels are distinctly puzzling when heard rather than seen on the page. 
Bill Bryson writes: The cannons didn’t go BOOM! …  they went puff.  Good for eyes and ears both.
I ended a story: Love you lots, Hazza xxx.  Can’t read this aloud, needs gestures, can’t do on radio.
Do kids read out texts to each other, or pass the phone over?

Muriel Higgins, October-November 2012

About Literary Agents

There have been a few misconceptions about agents–what they are, what they do, whether they cost or not, how it all works, etc–so I thought it would be good to briefly clarify a few points in case anyone is still unsure.

The number one factor you should be mindful of when searching for an agent is this:

You should not pay agents to represent you / look at your work.
If an agent asks you to pay them up front to read your manuscript or represent you,
run away. Quickly.

The agent gets paid when you sell your book to a publisher. An agent will take a cut out of your royalties that the publisher pays you. Usually this is around 15% – 20% (it can vary, depending where in the world you are and who you sign with).

Again, be extremely wary of agents that ask for payment up front. They could be frauds. If you’re not sure, there are a number of excellent websites that list known fraud agencies. Writer Beware is probably the best.

So what are agents and what do they do? Jane Friedman says it clearly and concisely on her website:

In today’s market, probably 80 percent of books that the New York publishing houses acquire are sold to them by agents. Agents are experts in the publishing industry. They have inside contacts with specific editors and know better than writers what editor or publisher would be most likely to buy a particular work. 

Perhaps most important, agents negotiate the best deal for you, ensure you are paid accurately and fairly, and run interference when necessary between you and the publisher.

It’s also advisable to ask an agent who else they represent. Or, you can research this online. Agents unwilling to mention any of their authors by name or any recent sales could be dodgy.

Be wary of agents who refer you to an editing service you have to pay for. As sff.net says:

There is, however, a common scam where the agent recommends an editorial service. There’s a good chance the service is paying the agent a kickback to make that recommendation.

Also be watchful for “vanity presses” who expect you to pay them to publish you.

It should be noted that you do not necessarily need an agent. It depends on what publishing route you prefer to take, as well as the type of work you’re trying to sell. Not everybody wants an agent or a traditional publisher, and there are other options available, such as self-publishing and e-publishing.

Writing in Space (or, Creative Spaces), Part I

Where do you write? A while ago Book Chick City hosted a series of guest blogs called Where Stories Are Made, in which writers posted a short entry about their creative workspaces and their writing routines. These range from home offices to parks and coffee shops, and any other place writers feel inspired and comfortable, and most importantly—where they get stuff done.

Here at Storyslingers we thought we’d share a few of our own Creative Spaces on the blog.
Shaftesbury-based writer Becky Bye shares Old Wardour Castle:
Many people say that there is a time and a place for writing, and for me, no place is better than Old Wardour Castle, near Tisbury in Wiltshire. A romantic ruin set in the Wiltshire landscape, the castle is a serene and beautiful spot in which my notebook has been filled on numerous occasions.

There is something intriguing and mysterious about writing in a location where so much history has taken place, and that I myself become part of history in those few moments; scribbling profusely in my notepad under a tree, or sat at the bottom of a spiral staircase. The mood of the castle shifts from day to day, which has a significant impact on my writing; some days the castle reveals its secrets, most of which I was never expecting to find, and which weave their way into my stories. On other days, the castle looks less inviting than usual, blending into the grey backdrop of a dreary English afternoon, and on such occasions the grandeur of the castle simply adds a unique elegance to my thoughts and ideas. No matter how bad a particular bout of writers block may be, there is no level of inspiration which cannot be released after just a few moments at Wardour Castle.
Dorchester-based author Gail Aldwin shares her study desktop:
I like writing somewhere quiet but I’m not sure what the best writing environment is, as I haven’t experimented with this. Normally I work in the family study, a small, untidy room with a window which has a fabulous view over the water meadows to the north of Dorchester.
 I share the space with everyone except my daughter who prefers doing homework in her bedroom.  My husband and son play games on the desktop and I write on a notebook.  Sometimes we sit alongside each other but that’s only possible when the headphones are in use. If I can’t stand the distraction, I relocate to the kitchen table and work there.
Writer-in-denial Stephen Pellow talks about inner creative spaces:
Writing about something that doesn’t exist is something people who write do all the time. Being asked to write about something that probably should exist but doesn’t is proving to be problematic, though.

I don’t have a writing space. No nooks, crannies or cubby holes. No ready room. No secret garden. No stark whites, or muted earth tones and certainly nothing airy and spacious overlooking sweeping vistas. I write in my head, and with all the useless trivia I have retained over the years there’s certainly no room for a desk in there.  Sometimes that’s all I need, but it mostly comes down to having pen and paper and me, and that’s it. If I were to sit in a room at a desk and try and surround myself with inspiration – when I’m put against a clock, pressured even slightly to produce something – nothing happens. If I have to do it, I rarely want to.

So I always make sure I have ready access to a notepad and pen (or pencil) because I never know when, or where, I’m going to be pinched by creativeness!

*

We will be posting more Creative Spaces over the coming weeks, so do check back for updates.

Miracle Marvel at Old Wardour Castle

One of our members, the fabulous Becky Bye, recently wrote a parody article about Old Wardour Castle where she’s lucky enough to work, and since it gave me a chuckle I thought it worth asking if we could link to it from the Storyslingers blog. Becky was happy to share, so here is the aforementioned link: Miracle Marvel at Old Wardour Castle.

And an excerpt:
Visitors will be pleased to know that Old Wardour now boasts a wide range of miracle merchandise, including bottled miracle water from the castle well, and pilgrim patches, guaranteed to cure any ailments that you may have (not subject to liability), as well as a range of miracle medicines, with current BOGOF offers on selected items, such as genuine and authentic signed portraits of The Blessed Lady Blanche. (Items mentioned may alter from items actually sold.)

Additionally, there is now a wide range of miracle inspired snacks to refresh you after your long pilgrimage, such as ‘Holy Hotcakes,’ Miracle Mochas’ and ‘Oh My Lord Hot Chocolate.’ (Please do not enquire instore.)

Definitely worth checking out if you like a bit of tongue-in-cheek!