Polish Your Manuscript Ready for Submission

I hope 2018 is off to a great start for you! From the beginning, straight to the end, following on from the last post on motivation, here’s my advice on getting your manuscript ready for submission. This article was originally written for Writers & Artists, but it received such a good response, I thought I’d share it with readers here…

BookofRevengecoverPublishing is one of the most competitive industries in the world, so when you send your manuscript out on submission, you need to make sure it is as polished as possible. You also need to provide an insight into you as an author. A publisher or agent will be looking for talent, but they also need to know that you are professional, that you are dedicated to your writing, and that you will be agreeable to work with. Although the manuscript is ultimately yours, a published book requires collaborative effort and so when an agent or publisher reads your submission, they will be considering all of these aspects. Here are a few practical things to look for before you send out your manuscript, to give it the best possible chance of success.

Manuscript

You’ve redrafted and redrafted your manuscript and are too close to see any glaring mistakes; here are some common editorial issues to look out for, so you can really polish your manuscript before you hit send.

One Line Pitch

Reducing your manuscript into one line is challenging, but it gives you focus. It also functions in two useful ways; it provides you with a succinct description of your book for your cover letter, and it also serves as a reference point for your own writing. When you reread your manuscript, does it match your one liner? If not, something is wrong – it could be a simple fix or another rewrite, but if alarm bells are ringing, give your manuscript more time.

Read Out Your Dialogue

This sounds obvious but there is no better way to know whether your dialogue is working than to read it aloud. If any dialogue is tricky to say or sounds out of place, it needs more work. This is slow and time consuming, but essential: flabby or unconvincing dialogue pops off the page and can really let a good story down.

Pacing

Look out for sections that slow the action down or cause distraction, such as unnecessary descriptions or information dumping. Are your chapters fluid and do they end in a way that makes you want to read on? The middle section of a manuscript is typically where pace suffers before editorial input – see if you can tighten and prune before hitting send.

Capitalise on Emotion

Every story takes a reader on an emotional journey – so what do you want your readers to feel? Do you want them to be blubbing, splitting their sides laughing or too scared to read on but too hooked not to? Once you have your story, your characters, your redrafted manuscript, reread to see whether you have managed to evoke the desired emotions. If it’s not working for you, it won’t work for your reader either.

Logistics

When you submit your book, it’s not just about your manuscript – you also need to make sure that you are sending desirable material to the right people, in the right way.

Choose Wisely

Is the agent or publisher you are approaching even interested in your genre or the age group you are writing for? This may sound like an obvious question, but despite the wealth of information available online, publishers and agents are constantly bombarded with manuscripts that don’t fit their criteria. It may seem time consuming to check every detail, but submitting work that is not relevant to an agent or publisher will result in instant rejection. Save embarrassment and unnecessary heartache by doing your research.

Presentation is Important

Have you studied and adhered to the submission guidelines requested by the publisher or agent you are approaching? Each will have their own way of working and their own requirements and it is important you follow these exactly. Agents and editors are extremely busy, so they expect to receive manuscripts in the format requested; submissions that do not meet the requirements may go unread. Make sure that you double-check everything on the submissions page of the website before you hit send.

Be Patient

Although it might be tempting to send your manuscript on submission because you’re hungry to get published, sending it out too early will be detrimental to your chances of success. You only have one opportunity to submit your book to a publisher or agent, so don’t send it anywhere until you are completely sure that you have made every improvements possible.

Remember

Literature is subjective and so not every agent or publisher is going to like what you send – they have to be behind it 100% to be able to take you on. So if someone takes time to give you feedback, read their suggestions objectively and see what you can learn. Everyone experiences rejection in the publishing industry, so try not to let it dampen your spirits. I’d love to hear all about your progress – and I guarantee, if you dedicate your time, if you strive to become better at your craft, if you write your stories with heart and keep going, you will make progress.

Keep writing, keep improving and never give up! 

Advertisements

Belonging to Your Tribe

fullsizerender-77There may be prehistoric wildcats, an amulet, imaginary worlds, a pet rat, and a mechanical shark submarine in the Nine Lives Trilogy, but behind it all is twelve-year-old Ebony Smart; a girl who just wants to belong.

So, why did I choose to write about belonging?

One reason is that I remember being the new girl in a school playground, looking around me and trying to figure out whom to talk to. And what I could possibly say. Everyone else was in a group or pair, and seemed quite happy with their little tribe. I can remember quite clearly that feeling of being on the outside, looking in through an invisible barrier and not knowing how to cross over it.

I also remember the times my brother and sister didn’t want me to join in their games. They were quite happy with how things were going, and adding me into the equation would feel like an interruption – so they didn’t want my input. At the time I felt crushed, even though I pretended that I didn’t care. Later, I would get my revenge by stopping one of them from joining in – but to be honest, it never felt like a nice thing to do and I felt just as bad as if I’d been left out.

BDO3

Some quiet storytelling

Another reason I wanted to look at the theme of belonging is because it’s an important part of our human existence. How could we have survived this long if we hadn’t formed social groups? We all need to belong to a tribe of some kind, so we can feel safe, loved, and respected. For some people, their tribe is their family; but not everyone is lucky enough to have a family for one reason or another. Your tribe might be your friends, your sports team, or a group of people that share your favourite hobby.

It can be difficult to find your tribe, and the dynamics will often shift. There’ll be awkward moments with fallouts, disagreements and upset, but these will usually sort themselves out over time and with a bit of effort. When you belong, it’s just as much about forgiveness and compromise as it is about having fun and enjoying each other’s company. You might have to bite your tongue or apologise sometimes, but your tribe will do the same for you. There’s no right or wrong way to belong – so long as your tribe makes you feel safe, happy, and confident, and you feel like you can be yourself, it’s a good fit.

But if you’ve ever felt lonely or left out like Ebony Smart, guess what? There’s probably someone else nearby feeling the exact same way. So why not seek them out and make your own tribe? Or, if you already belong, let them join in and see what they can add to your tribe? There are no invisible barriers – only the ones we create for ourselves.

(Note: post originally written for Girls Heart Books)

Writing Seascapes: The Book of Shadows

DSCF7950

My local pier

The sea is one of my favourite things. I find it intriguing, enchanting and at times, frightening. The sea is beautiful yet unpredictable. It whispers and calls, lulls and calms, and yet, it can be ferocious and murderous too. Did you know that seawater covers around 71% of the earth’s surface? That’s a lot of water to marvel at!

Despite its size, the sea is not a vast watery nothingness like many people believe; there are islands and reefs and ravines, and so much is hidden from view. The tides are in constant flux and below the waves, the sea is teeming with life. A wild and unruly beast, it is this incredible mix of qualities that made seascapes a prominent feature in my latest book, The Book of Shadows – Nine Lives Trilogy 2.

I live on the Atlantic coast in Southwest Ireland and I spend as much time as I can near the sea and on the sea. We have a small punt that we use for catching mackerel and pollock in the summer, and we often see lots of creatures such as jellyfish, dolphins, minke whales, and basking sharks. Then there are the seabirds including manx shearwaters, terns, guillemots, and gannets – so don’t be surprised when you find these creatures woven into my stories!

Even though my Nine Lives Trilogy is a fantasy story, it is important to me that the characters and events are believable. This means that the seascapes and high seas adventures had to be realistic as well as exciting, and so I’ve taken lots of inspiration from my immediate surroundings. There’s nothing better than heading out into open water, all your senses open, not knowing what you’ll encounter or how the journey will impact your story. It’s also fun interrogating fishermen and sailors for details that might add to your tale.

fullsizerender-77Did you realise, for instance, that it is considered unlucky to set sail on a Friday? Or that a tiny spot of rainbow portends rain? Did you know that fishermen prefer to use a clinch knot on their lines? Or that 30 foot long basking sharks might peek inside your boat (the young ones can be quite inquisitive)? Can you tell a schooner from a sloop? Finding out details like this is really fun and even though they’re not the focus of the action, they bring an extra atmospheric element and sense of realism.

Some of the place names in The Book of Shadows are real, while others are complete fiction. Gun Point, for instance, is an actual place, and so is Roaring Water Bay – these are the real names of places where I live (I just shifted them a little, geographically). Gallows Island is based on a mixture of Cape Clear and Long Island (I can see Long Island from my home); I needed to fuse the landscapes, but I also wanted a more sinister name, so I made that up.

History also plays a part, as West Cork was a haven for pirates in the 17thand 18th centuries. It’s a fascinating era, and so part of The Book of Shadows involves some pirate action – and not just regular pirates, but also black-hearted devils made of darkness and shadows. The idea for these creatures came after reading about the real-life ‘Barbary raids’ of 1631, when pirates kidnapped the inhabitants of Baltimore. They represent the darker side of the human psyche.

I hope you enjoy the seascapes and sea life that appears in my stories. And if you have any high seas adventures or facts of your own that you’d like to share, I’d love to hear them!

Happy writing x

Please note: this was originally written for Middle Grade Strikes Back as part of my The Book of Shadows blog tour. It’s a great site covering all sorts of topics, including #CoverKidsBooks – go check it out! 

Stay Motivated & Write Your Book

The New Year always brings out a feeling of potential and new possibilities in people, but this enthusiasm can quickly wane as the realities of returning to work, and real life, kick in. Personally, it’s been a busy start to the year with manuscript edits, new freelance clients, and lots of events organisation, and so my blog has been neglected (unlike Catherine Ryan Howard’s blog which is currently on fire – check it out!!!).

At the moment, although I’m on top of everything, I’m feeling a little overwhelmed and so I’m spending lots of time in nature on long walks, rather than online, to counterbalance the stress levels. We’ve survived Blue Monday, but just in case you’re suffering from January writing blues, here’s one of my most popular posts, originally written for Writers & Artists, about staying motivated to write your book.

Enjoy…

“Everyone has a book in them.” How many times have you heard this said? I’m guessing lots. But how many writers have you heard say this? Probably very few, if any.

I don’t subscribe to the notion that everyone’s got a book in them. I do believe that everyone has an idea or ideas – some good, some bad – but a book? That’s a different matter entirely, and I’m sure that anyone actually writing a book will nod his or her head enthusiastically when I say this.

fullsizerender-78? Because writing a book takes a huge amount of time and dedication, grit and determination – especially when you’re starting out. You have to take the germ of an idea and get it down on paper. Not just a bit of paper, either: around 70,000 to 120,000 words worth of paper, depending on your story and your intended readership. And that’s just the start.

When you get to the end of your initial draft, the actual work begins. Your plot has holes, your dialogue isn’t always realistic, and your characters aren’t quite as consistent as you had hoped. As Hemingway famously said, ‘the only kind of writing is rewriting.’ Your initial draft will not be good enough for publication, and it’s in the rewriting that a real book will form. But to get to this stage, you need to first complete your manuscript.

It’ll be a slog, and sometimes, without any guarantee of an agent/publisher/anyone else ever wanting to read it, you might even feel like giving up. But remember why you’re doing this – your love of books, reading and writing, and it’ll help you stay on track. You can have the most supportive partner/family/friends in the world, but the only person who can motivate you to keep going, is you.

So how do you get to the end of your manuscript without losing heart, enthusiasm, or both?

I don’t have a foolproof method – if only! But I can share the things that work for me. And if this helps just one more writer out there, then I’m happy. Here goes…

Top five motivation tips:

Try the NanoWrimo model – this means getting 50,000 words of your novel down on paper in one month. This may sound like a huge challenge – because it is! – but what this approach does is focus you on your book and help you to get your word count down. Immersing yourself with such intensity keeps the writing fresh and exciting, and you quickly learn to forget about editing as you go along. Nanowrimo is traditionally in November, but you don’t have to wait until then to try it out – you can use the basic principle at any time. This format works so well for me that I adopt it for the first draft of every book. I see it as giving me the clay to sculpt. Who cares if it’s rubbish in places? It’s better than getting stuck at 15,000 words. I find the intensity really liberating and I’d recommend anyone – especially those of you who find you over edit or can’t move forward –to give it a try.

Jump scenes – if you’re really stuck on a scene, it’s likely that you have other scenes bouncing around in your head, begging to be written. So write them. You don’t need to write your scenes in order; the truth of the matter is, it’ll probably all change around anyway when you do your first rewrite. And it’ll definitely change by the next draft. I find that approximately 20% of my initial draft (which I think of as a draft zero) is still present in the final version; so don’t get hung up on perfection when it comes to plot. Some people need to plot and plan to get started writing, and if this is you, don’t be surprised if you start to veer off course. And if you do, go with it – you can always fill in the gaps later.

Give Yourself a Breather – this is probably one of the most difficult aspects of writing because you love writing, you love your idea, and you’re hungry to get on. I wouldn’t recommend you stop completely, but taking a break and giving your work enough distance for it to breathe can sometimes help the story to grow in your head. Doing something mundane and repetitive is really useful; like ironing, weeding, or walking – it can help you to figure out where you’re going next, or solve a character issue. Your brain will still be mulling things over so if you’re really stuck, take a break for an hour or so, and then go back. This is the important bit: you must go back and write a little more to get any real benefit. You’ll probably be surprised how much more productive you suddenly are.

Reward Yourself – no matter how much you love writing, there are going to be tough days. There’ll be knocks, and self doubt, and struggles – and this is all completely normal. As humans, we tend to focus on the negative, especially when we’re doing something we really care about, and so you want to make sure you counterbalance this with lots of positives. Rewards can be small, such as a morning off to see a friend, a new pen or notebook, an evening at the theatre or a ticket to an author event or conference. Whatever it is that puts a smile on your face, reward yourself for small achievements. A book is going to take a long time to write, so keep it joyful to help cope with the challenging times ahead.

Keep learning – no matter how much you have improved on your writing journey, there is always more to know and more ways to challenge yourself. Learning your craft should be a joy, not a bind, and an integral part of your journey to completing your manuscript. Read lots and widely. Attend festivals and author events. Join a writing group for moral support. Talk to other writers on social media. Take a workshop or two. There’s no better motivator than a deadline or a critique. Choose the options that suit you and your personality, and enjoy in moderation – you still need time to write.

These suggestions are easy to add to your working day and they don’t take much effort. Maybe only one or two will work for you, but if you’re stuck in a rut or finding your motivation ebbing, then it’s worth giving them a try.  What do you have to lose? I’d love to hear how you’re getting on – happy writing!

Note: This article was originally written for Writers & Artists 

Trying something different… what do you think of video?

I’ve been on retreat in the south of France for the last three weeks and it’s drawing to an end. It’s been an invaluable visit (I’ll write about it properly in my next post) and, as well as being productive in my writing, I’ve also increased my headspace and enjoyed some thinking time.

One of the things I’ve been considering is my website and what interests its readers, so I compiled a list of most frequently asked questions. What I found was that they fall into two general categories:

  • What is it like to be a writer?
  • What is your writing process?

Both of the above are personal and different for every writer, and that could be why it’s so fascinating. I’m always delighted to hear about other people’s processes, experiences and routines; because you need to respond to your own body and brain to get the best from your day, it’s amazing how differently writers approach their craft.

I remember when I was a child, authors were mystical beings that you never saw or heard about. I love that the internet has helped to bring readers and writers together – but I believe that a writer’s online content should be just as appealing as their books.

So I was trying to come up with ways that give a more personal, rounded, and reachable view of a writer’s life. One of those options was video – and with today’s wonderfully advanced phones, I feel it’s an accessible form to try out. I’m hardly being innovative – just think of all the amazing YouTubers out there – but it’s something new for me.

To do video means overcoming a couple of things:

  1. Getting over seeing yourself on video (I look too pale/short/my hair’s not good enough/what was that face I pulled? etc etc)
  2. Getting over hearing yourself on a recording (oh god, my accent, *cringe*)

This said, I’ve given it a go and I’d like to know what you think. (I kind of cheated on problem 1 above, but hey, baby steps, right?)

What I’d like to know is…

Is there any value in short videos like this one? Does it feel any more accessible than a written post? Does it give more of a glimpse into a writer’s life?

Thank you for sharing your thoughts…

How do you do enough?

Since I’ve returned from Singing Kites, it feels like something is missing. It is lovely to be reunited with my wonderful husband, and to be back in beautiful West Cork, but when I was in Cambodia, I felt like I was useful, like I was doing something truly worthwhile.

A young Cambodian boy rocking his baby brother to sleep - no money for education

A young Cambodian boy rocking his baby brother to sleep – no money for education

Now I’m home, I’m loving my work, my writing, my home, and my life – and I’m feeling extremely grateful for what I have – but I also feel, in some way, useless. Not unworthy, but like there’s a void. That’s the best way that I can describe it.

The more you delve into conservation or charity work, the more you realise how endless the need is for help. So where do you start?

Do you help defenseless animals like at the Elephant Nature Park, or do you teach voluntarily in developing countries? Do you look closer to home and volunteer with wonderful organisatons like Inner City Helping Homeless, or do you look even closer still and adopt a rescue dog or make sure you remember to do the little things that help your loved ones and neighbours? All of the above, probably, but how can you ever do enough?

There is no doubt that I will return to Singing Kites next year (I can’t wait!), and I have an exciting charity project brewing that I hope will come to fruition soon enough. But we have to pay the bills and can genuinely only do so much, so in the meantime, I’m left wondering, how exactly can I help?

The simple answer is, that as a writer, I hope that by creating I can provide something useful – whether it’s a blog post that raises awareness, a story that allows for hope or escape, a fun children’s adventure trilogy, or a poem or piece of short fiction that reaches out to someone or simply entertains.

It’s not much to offer but I hope my writing will be read and enjoyed and will somehow affect the reader. I guess that’s what we want as writers, and, while I try and get my charity project off the ground, I’ll have to stop questioning whether that’s enough.

Innovation & Quality: Writing for Children with WritersWebTV

online writing workshops

The brains behind the operation…

I recently watched the inaugural live online writing workshop ‘Finding the magic: Writing for Children’ – an innovative world first from WritersWebTV, presented by Vanessa O’Loughlin of writing.ie.

Although I wasn’t sure what to expect, I’ve had lots of wonderful experiences linked to Vanessaincluding finding my agent (Sallyanne Sweeney), the place I now call home and as a result, my husband! – so I was pretty certain that it would be a quality affair.

Although it’s not usually easy, I was willing to write off a day of writing to immerse myself in advice from talented authors and industry professionals. The list was impressive, with the likes of Michael Emberley, Marie Louise Fitzpatrick, Norton Vergien, Oisin McGann and Meg Rosoff on hand to share their knowledge of the industry and writing tips, answer questions and set short writing tasks.

online writing workshops

Attend the workshop from anywhere in the world? A great idea!

Even though some parts of the workshop weren’t relevant to me – I already have an agent, for instance – I dipped in and out, garnering bits of knowledge that made me stop, think and at times, rethink my own approach. I also found myself enjoying snippets of advice that I could relate to, stuff that left me nodding and smile knowingly.

The set up was impressive and multi-faceted, featuring the host Vanessa, an in-house audience and an interactive online global audience with a two-way communication stream via twitter, facebook and email. Despite the fact that the workshop was online, it maintained an inclusive and personal feel and I feel the positive feedback they’re receiving is well deserved.

Covering everything from animation to publishing, illustration to collaboration, finding an agent to finding your voice, this was something I had never experienced before and didn’t really believe could actually be done – at least, not to this standard.

I don’t want to spoil it for you – those of you who missed it and are serious about your writing career can buy it online & watch it for yourself – but here are a few of my favourite bits I’d like to share, to give you a taster…

  • The sign of good writing is to take a feeling and put it down on paper convincingly – being able to create suspense is important and make sure it’s not boring for the child.” Michael Emberley
  • Write, rework, return to your work – time lapse enables mistakes to jump out at you. It took me 14 years to write one of my books and get it right – it was turned down by same publisher 3 times, and taken on the fourth occasion. Not rushing is vitally important.” Marie Louise Fitzpatrick
  • A good agent will understand the market, will know gaps in a publisher’s list and have good contacts within the publishing industry. They’ll also help you work on your book, matching your script to the right editor. If you’re lucky enough to get an agent, it’s important you feel the agent understands your book – they have your vision.” Polly Nolan
  • You don’t need a lot of description but you do need the right words – but trust in your reader and leave some things to their imagination. What you leave out as important as what you leave in.” Meg Rosoff
using social media for writing

Social Media: providing a two-way stream during the workshop

This is just a taste of what was on offer, but if you can imagine an entire day – from 10am till 4pm – of such gems, with the chance to interact via twitter, facebook and email and have your questions answered by industry professionals, then you’ll understand why I’m highly recommending the next few workshops.

  • Getting to the Heart of it: Writing Women’s Fiction Tuesday, October 15th
  • Crime Pays: Writing Crime Fiction Wednesday, October 30th
  • Getting Published Saturday, November 9th

I’d love to know who else tuned in to the first workshop and what you thought of it. And who’s tuning in next time? Even if you don’t write in those genres, you may pick up something useful as the information is always transferable and as writers, we can always improve.