Morgen’s day at Get Writing 2015

Get writing - registrationUp to this year, the one-day writing event that is ‘Get Writing’ took place in Hitchin, Hertfordshire in April, but this year moved to Watford’s West Herts College and was last Saturday, 26th September. Here’s how I found the event. Please forgive the ‘reportage’ feel but many of the events were panels so there was lots of back and forth. Anyway, I hope you enjoy…

The day started with an introduction by one of the Verulam Writing Group’s member, Ian, who explained the plan for the day, and the rooms where the separate events were taking place. It was the first time Get Writing (GW) was held at Watford’s West Herts College so it was new to me as it was for everyone else, although the programme for the day was very similar to previous years.

A few of us stayed in the main hall for the agent panel where the panelists (Francesca Best, Lisa Eveleigh, Lucy Malagoni) were introduced then talked about the genres and the authors they handle. Only Lisa welcomes unsolicited manuscripts. Francesca and Lucy only take submissions via agents which is where being able to pitch to them at an event like this is such a fantastic opportunity.

Get writing - agent panelThe first conversation was about cross genres and they discussed where The Time Traveller’s Wife fitted, with them saying that it was romance, sci-fi, paranormal etc. A member of the audience then asked how far away they were from their comfort zone. They either cover more than one or pass to a colleague.

Q: How does a writer approach an agent?

A: Go to the agent’s website and follow the guidelines. This was reiterated by the moderator and Chair of the VWG, Dave. Lisa said how annoying it was to receive non-genres, first drafts etc. when her guidelines are very specific.

Q: Francesca and Lucy were asked whether they only work with certain agents.

A: They said that it would be foolish of them to limit when the market is changing so often. Lisa added that as well as their own submissions, publishing agents also get asked to read some of their colleagues’ submissions where they want second opinions. Francesca then talked about the other people in the organisation including marketing department and how commissioning meetings can make or break the progress of a book.

Q: One member of the audience (a chap called Peter) said how difficult the process was to get published (his popular science book is coming out next year with an independent press).

A: Lisa said that she doesn’t have the expertise in that area but congratulated him for his perseverence.

Q: Are there more opportunities with digital firsts (where the digital version is published first or only) than with mixed format publishers?

A: There are authors who would love to see their book in paperback but the reality is that the emphasis with some publishers is on eBooks.

Q: I then raised the topic of authors writing different genres and pennames.

A: They all recommended sticking with mainstream genres and one name.

The panel’s advice was to persevere. Regardless of who rejects you, keep going. Don’t send out a first draft. Lucy’s never written a novel and admires those who have and doesn’t think she could. She agreed to keep going and read a lot. Join a writing group, get group feedback etc.

Q: Lucy was then asked whether she has people who keep submitting to you with different things each time.

A: She wasn’t aware of anyone and said she may not remember unless they stood out.

Q: Are books touted as being the next JK Rowling etc.?

A: Lucy said that some books are promoted like that but more for the benefit of the reader as they will like similar books to those they have read already.

Q: A lady in the audience is writing a business model book and asked whether an agent would be interested.

A: Lisa said she doesn’t cover business books and that most agents wouldn’t. She recommended the author go straight to business publishers.

Q: What do you think about post-graduate courses?

A: Lisa wants more non-fiction and memoir at the University of East Anglia (UEA) and doing an MA.

Keep writing.

*

After a break, I went back into the performance theatre for the Crime panel with M R Hall, William Ryan, Claire McGowan, and Helen Giltrow. After being introduced by VWC member Ian, the authors, starting with M R (Matthew) Hall, talked about their working methods.

Get WritingMatthew said that he can’t understand authors who don’t plan, or say they don’t plan. He is a meticulous planner but then he has a TV script background so he has to plan for that in advance. Claire that she doesn’t plan. She gets an idea but pretends that she doesn’t do it. She writes the first 30,000 to 40,000 words longhand which she said is secret from everyone, almost herself. Not knowing what happens thereafter excites her and she enjoys it so much.

William admits to being a pantser but is now writing something other than crime and although he did some planning, the novel ended up being quite different to the plan so he clearly is a planner.

Helen is also a planner but says there is more flexibility with a thriller. She can plan but says when she does she plans rubbish, just a plan, not a book. She likes being surprised when she writes freely. The characters don’t take over for her, or at least they don’t go off in directions she doesn’t expect, which surprised me because mine do.

Matthew has been told by his agent / publisher that the latest novel’s (a non-crime historical set in which does have some crime in it) synopsis didn’t reflect the book he ended up writing. Claire said she keeps her synopsis vague so she doesn’t have to stick exactly to a story that could go elsewhere.

Q: A lady in the audience said that she has written a book where a friend reading it felt she gave the plot in the first chapter by having the end then going back to how they had come to that (one character goes from rags to riches, another from riches to rags).

A: William mentioned William Holden’s Sunset Boulevard where there was a reveal but then the rest of the story lead to that point. Helen recommended you give more of a hint at the ending without giving the ending away, or better still imply a reveal but then deliver a punchier plot.

Q: Heard that you need a body in the first five pages.

A: William said that you don’t need a body but you have to grip the reader in any way, pulling in the reader, giving them clues etc. so they think, “Oh I wonder what that’s all about.” Claire agreed and said that you need a sinister tone with a growing tension.

Helen said it was the sense of foreboding. If you can get them to turn the page to find out what happens next. By refusing to give the reader something it’s a different way of keeping the reader gripped. No book should have too much backstory.

Matthew said new writers should be conventional (or cautious about going too off piste) if they’re submitting to an agent or publisher until you’re more established and can take risks (perhaps why I have received the feedback I have on my comic crime).

Claire concluded there could be evidence of a body (blood or signs of a struggle) or no body. Because of the Kindle, authors have less time to grip.

William said you can start a chapter with description but it has to have a purpose and has to grip. His first novel is violent and the character had an unusual reason why he would be doing it. Agents want to know that you can write and that you have a strong story to tell. He says he rewrote the first chapter sixty or seventy times.

They then talked about chapter endings and Helen said that her editor chopped off some of her final sentences, saying that she (Helen) had added extra sentences when they weren’t needed. She then asked the panel whether the hardest part of a novel is the middle and how they write their middles.

William suggested that Matthew was the expert of middles. Matthew said it depends on what kind of story you are writing. Mysteries and crime you are exploring your characters (sometimes unexpected things).

William said you are trying to uncover bit by bit and said some novels have revealed too much in too short a time. Create pressure, send the main character in different directions.

Claire said that she has seven people die in her latest novel so she had plenty of content.

Matthew said that thrillers are written on a deadline where they’re stopping something terrible happening so it heightens the pace which with a cat and mouse plot is easier to keep going.

William said crime novels tend to have an ordinary person under pressure trying to solve the crime.

Q: Helen asked her other panellists whether they know where their characters are going throughout their series.

William, who doesn’t plan, but he writes historical fiction

Q: A member of the audience asked the panel whether they feel they are genre writers.

William said that genre fiction has rules within their own genres e.g. no bombs in a romance etc. So writers need to know their genre and (sort of) stick to it, with elements of other genres. (Bond has romance elements after all).

Q: I asked the panel what they thought of crime novels from the criminal point of view rather than a detective etc.

A: Helen said she writes from the criminal’s point of view.

Matthew mentioned Braking Bad and the Sopranos. I mentioned Dexter.

Williams said they have to have redeeming features. He’s reading The Hitman’s Guide to Housekeeping.

*

Get writing - tvNext up was the ‘From Script to Production Across the Dramatic Media – TV, Radio and Theatre’ with Jeff Povey and Peter Leslie Wild.

Q: How to get a science script published?

A: Both members of the panel said that they only work with fiction.

Q: What is the main difference between writing a script and writing a novel?

A: Jeff said that there are limitations for writing TV and film script because it has to be feasibly portrayed and they always have a budget.

Peter added that you can do anything you like for radio because the setting can be anywhere. Another limitation with TV and radio is the amount of settings and actors the budget and timings will allow.

Peter then talked about the process once you’ve sold your story. You go through a scene-by-scene synopsis. Generally there are four or five drafts before it’s complete. It should work if the writer is good at dialogue.

Jeff said you get more help because you have a script editor and others when involved in collaborative ventures. A writer should think of themselves as part of a team. Some teams meets once a month (Eastenders and Emmerdale). Some soaps will have one new story of the day but with other threads going on.

Peter said a writer has no control over where the story is going once everyone else is involved but it’s very much a collaborative effort.

Jeff said new writers to TV shouldn’t write for Eastenders, Holby City etc. because they should have their own voice. Peter said you could write for Doctors as it consumes writers. In order to write one, the best way is through the Shadow Scheme but not through writing for Doctors but by submitting their own dramatic script and some from the scheme get commissioned to write for Doctors.

Q: Jeff works on several TV series simultaneously and was asked how he keeps track of all the characters.

A: He said he gets bored easily. Peter said if he listens to the Archers he knows who has written the piece within a few lines.

They both said that some great novelists can’t write script so if you write prose, you may not be able to write script.

Q: If an actor said, “Oh but the character wouldn’t do that,” would they get the script changed?

A: Jeff wrote Phil Mitchell ironing but the actor playing him said “Phil don’t iron” so Jeff changed it.

Peter added that he loves it when an actor approaches him because it means that they are invested in it.

The discussion then turned to the minor characters (someone mentioned Tracey and Ron in Eastenders).

Q: How does the rule for good writing and writing a script format marry?

A: Peter said it is in the storytelling. If there are established characters, they need to stay within that character unless there’s a valid reason why they are doing something out of character. Re. the story of the day – it shouldn’t be obvious as a story of the day as its lead by a regular character, He told us about an episode of Doctors where a down syndrome teenagers mother and sole carer became seriously ill and it was how the existing doctors would deal with that storyline.

*

Get writing - marketingI then went into Debbie Young’s marketing talk but only for a few minutes because I then had an agent pitch session…

Debbie suggested to go whichever route suits you e.g. marketing etc. One of the other attendees has turned a poem into a novel. She does inspirational talks etc. and was very vocal about herself and her writing, and Debbie said that not all writers are confident about marketing themselves. She suggested you think about…

– What would people find fascinating about you?

– Marketing should start at home e.g. local events, library talks etc.

– Is your book the best it can be? You’ve put your heart and soul into it.

I then had to go to the agent pitching and was due to come back within a few minutes but I got the chance to speak to a publisher’s editor so I took it. They were very complimentary about my novel (a comic crime) but said that it was too niche a subject, although the agent did take my cover (query) letter, synopsis and extract to read so hopefully I’ll hear with feedback. I have other novels that I’m thinking of self-publishing so I may consider doing the same with that. We shall see. I may well submit it to other agents once I’ve heard back from the one I saw.

When I returned to the marketing talk, Deborah was asking for questions and I asked if she could sum up the last half an hour in a sentence (an impossible ask). She laughed and said that an author should have an active online presence (which I have) and wound up the session.

*

Get writing cupThe final event of the day was the announcement of the Get Writing Cup for the winners of the short story competition, after a discussion about why people entered and why anyone attending didn’t enter, and what writers look for in a competition.

It sounded like they hadn’t had very many entries but there are many competitions on so more… er, competition! A £50 top prize isn’t much for a £6 fee (for example the H.E. Bates comp offers £500 for the same fee!) but the Get Writing competition is only open to those attending and there weren’t as many people attending this year (or at least it seemed to me) so that won’t have helped.

Get writing - JoyAll in all, as I expected it to be having been to every single Get Writing going, a lovely day. For the first time, I was joined by friend, Joy (also one of my editing clients) who had never been to a writing event before and by all accounts had a wonderful time.

***

Morgen Bailey Cover montage 2

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Guest post: ‘Writers Are the Market for the Publish on Demand Industry’ by John J Hohn

Tonight’s guest blog post, on the topic of self-publishing is brought to you by multi-genre author, guest blogger (twice)interviewee and poet John J Hohn.

Writers Are the Market for the Publish on Demand Industry

163, 036 self-published titles were launched onto the market in the United States in 2010, an increase of almost 260% from 2006, according to Browker who track trends in publishing. Nearly the same number was published in Great Britain. Amazon lists 3,000,000 plus titles available for sale. 288,355 new titles and editions were published in the United States in 2009.

Self-publishing makes it possible for anyone to break into print. Agents and editors at one time controlled who was admitted into the ranks of the published and only writers who brought either great talent or great ideas (if not both) were considered. Once a writer’s work was accepted, rounds of rewrites followed before the final draft was approved. Agents and editors are still their desks, but writers by the thousands stride right past them into an arena where they are fair game for printers, publishers, publicists, reviewers, web site designers, seminar moderators, consultants, how-to gurus software merchants, graphic artists, layout specialists and who knows what else. Writers, not the reading public, have become the market for the publish-on-demand industry. There is blood in the water and the sharks are circling.

The first thing the unpublished writer must do is back out of the word-processing program and slow down. Finishing a book is exciting but the eagerness fanned into impatience is dangerous. The minute writers finish a manuscript, like it or not, they become business owners. They need to get quickly up to speed on running a small business. Bad decisions waste precious time and capital, and can be a drag on the creative spirit.

Bringing a product to market involves several critical steps, not the least of which is quality control. Publishers who print on demand do not proof read manuscripts. They don’t even read them. Any errors in grammar, spelling, punctuation and usage will pass directly into the finished product only be cited by reviewers to the author’s embarrassment. Catching copy edit errors is the job of a good proofreader, a professional, and yes, they charge for their services, sometimes as much as $.02 a word or more. A 90,000-word novel can cost $1,800—more than the cost to print the book.

There is little point in subjecting a manuscript to a proofreader if a story editor has not read the manuscript. Story editing is a specialty. A good editor will look for the chronology of events in a story, the credibility behind what occurs, the thoroughness of character development, and may extend a critique to include writing style, dialogue, and descriptions. Story editors are expensive. Good editors charge more and have plenty of work on their desks to complete.

Publishers may provide both proofreading and story editing service for an additional charge. The fees, however, may not be the most competitive. It pays to shop around. Publishers also often offer layout and cover design services. Again, it may pay to shop to at least substantiate that a competitive price is being offered.

Once a book is produced, the hard work of promoting it begins. Many publishers, often for an additional fee, will send copies out to reviewers with established internet sites—like Norm Golden’s BookPleasurese. Reviews do not necessarily sell books, but it is far better to have them published, especially on Amazon, than not. Some reviewers, including venerable Kirkus, now charge for reviews. Writers need to decide whether the expense is worth it.

As for distributors, John Kremer writes, “Most distributors… aren’t likely to take on distribution of a single POD (printed-on-demand) book. POD does not lend itself to distribution via distributors, except in the case of backlist books that are being kept in print only via POD.”  POD publishers may list several well-known names in the distribution field such as Ingram and Baker and Taylor, but it is window dressing. Distributors of good standing offer larger retailers the privilege of returning volumes that do not sell. POD books are not returnable under most of the programs of this type. One publisher, Outskirts Press, charges writers $499 per year so that retailers can return books. The writer who pays the fee can kiss the money good-bye because retailers will not carry POD books as a matter of policy. Placing a call to a retailer in search of a POD book meets with the reply that it is not in stock but can be ordered. The records that the retailer has available on computer designate the book as POD which automatically means that no return privilege is extended—even though the author has paid the publisher a fee to make it available.

It is the author’s job to get books on bookstore shelves, either on consignment or the rare storeowner will buy volumes at a wholesale price. Consignment agreements, the most popular format, usually split sale proceeds on 60/40—60% to the author and 40% to the storeowner. Most bookstores are eager to help a local author on consignment. They typically will have a consignment agreement under the counter ready for signature and willing take on four to six volumes, often with the suggestion that the author schedule book-signing in the store.

The economics of self-publishing are daunting. In shopping for a publisher, authors need to keep any eye out for profitability. Several cost factors need to be considered. The most critical is the price the publisher charges the author, especially if the author wants to sell most of the books online. The second important consideration is the price at which the book will be offered to the buying public. Writers should work with a worst-case scenario. Only a handful of POD books each year will sell more than a few hundred copies. The majority will sell less than 200, which means that most writers will fall far short of recovering expenses. However tempting it may be, it is a mistake to think in the thousands because it will lead to overspending on expenses.

Writers may choose to sell books personally to family and friends because the margin is higher when they do. Other costs are involved, however. The author pays to have books shipped from the publisher, perhaps as much as $.90 per volume. If the author is mailing books out to buyers, those shipping costs also become part of the overhead.  In the United States, the lowest rate for media mail at the time of this writing was $2.78 and the cost of a padded shipping envelope somewhere in the neighborhood of $.70. If a writer is traveling to place books on consignment with dealers or appear at signings, the going rate is $.40 per mile according to the IRS. In short, unless a writer hits the jackpot, he or she is working for less than minimum wage.

This posting, because of space considerations, touches lightly on the issues for the writer in self-publishing. More information is available online and writers, especially those who are just entering into the field, are urged to research the topics introduced here more thoroughly on line. LinkedIn is home to several groups for writers that routinely address issues for the beginner. John Kremer has a free web site that is a wonderful forum for writers to share experiences. Prededitors is a web site that provides background on publishers and editors. It is a critical site to visit before hiring anyone for any task in the publishing process. There are no easy paths. Shortcuts lead to disappointment and heartache. Good luck.

Thank you again, John, this is brilliant! I’d always welcome a part two (and three… and four… :))

John

John J. Hohn is the author of two five-star literary mysteries, Deadly Portfolio: A Killing in Hedge Funds, 2011 and a sequel, Breached, 2014. As I Was Passing By, a collection of poems, was published in 2000. His prize-winning poetry appears frequently on his web site along with articles on a variety of subjects. He plans to publish a book of selected works later in 2017.

BreachedHe contributes to various web sites dedicated to writing and publishing. His own website, www.jjhohn.com, features articles on a wide range of topics including book and drama reviews, autobiographical sketches, financial planning, and civil rights.

Born and raised in Yankton, South Dakota, USA, John graduated from St. John’s University in 1961 with a degree in English.

He is the father of four sons and a daughter, a stepfather to a son, and has resided in North Carolina since 1978.

He and his wife Melinda divide their time each year between their home in Winston-Salem, NC and a cabin near West Jefferson, NC.

You can also read John’s guest blog 1, guest blog 2interview and poem.

If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please”.

The blog interviews return as normal tomorrow morning with prolific thriller (and vampire!) novelist Stephen Leather – the two hundred and fiftieth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me. You can also read / download my eBooks and free eShorts at Smashwords.