With 250 writers on our books and over 100 books edited and published as ebook and/ or hard copy it seemed a good time to focus on common writing problems to help writers achieve success…
Whilst maybe ‘everyone has a book in them’, not everyone who commits pen to paper finds it easy to polish their product to the necessary standard to achieve the success they are after.
We always respond to submissions and give feedback and advice. We offer workshops and editorial support to tidy up loose ends…
Indeed all good publishers will support their writers to achieve more… yet not all books that are published have had such a rigorous process and sadly it shows.
Here are some thoughts from our editorial and submissions team on what turns them away and what turns them on…
- The first issue must be why are you writing and for whom?
Writing for ourselves is totally valid. Creating a memoir or legacy of your life and loves or particular experiences is a meaningful experience in itself … Maybe you are your audience too?
Or… maybe you may have a burning message to share such as ‘A Brief History of Time’ or a story that simply must be told, like ‘White Teeth’. Perhaps you weave spells and have a voice that compels people to listen. Maybe you are a performance poet or comedian… or a natural born story teller. Perhaps your travels have taken you to far flung places or your research has uncovered new worlds or old worlds in new ways…
Whatever your starting point in order to built castles in the air you must have passion and commitment. And know what you want out of this. It is a long and lonely road. Be clear and consistent in your aim and goal.
If you want money from your writing then don’t become a novelist or poet. Yes you may earn something – you may even earn a lot – but you are most likely to earn around 10k a year after 11 years of doing it…
Writing for profit is possible and increasingly common among the commercial options are blogging, web writing and copy writing. These forms of writing may be much more lucrative, but if you are bent on a more personal and expansive single work project you need a steely disposition and a lot of grit.
Add to this an objective and critical eye and an ability to be selective on material and flexibility of perspective and you are well on the way to being able to start a magnum opus.
Know why you are embarking on this journey and map out where it will take you will give you an even better chance of success… Why? Because it will take you to great highs and deep lows. Highs when you achieve a well crafted coherent and cohesive chapter that does what you intended… and lows when your muse has vanished and your proverbial pen has run out of ink.
Know who you are aiming at – what do you want them to take away from this experience?
Who do you imagine will read this and why? Imagine your reader. How old? Gender? Interests? Reading level? Reading for pleasure or to learn? How will they interpret ypur language and ideas? What short cuts can you deploy and what will you have to explore in greater depth?
…How will you lead them into your maze?
- PlotYup…it is number two…
Whilst plot is always the first question we ask when someone says they read a great book or they are writing a book…it is not the first thing on your agenda. Writers may feel they have a great story but aiming it at the wrong audience kills it dead. They may have a fantastic voice and structure but if it is not in keeping with the reader then it will not be picked up in the first place.
How is the plot formatted in terms of recognisable genre? Readers like to know what they are getting into and use short cuts to recognise stock genres and ideas. Of course your idea may be novel but take care to make sure it does not scare off your audience. Equally do not bore them with old hackneyed ideas re-invented for current times. A little copying is flattering; some recognisable characters, traits or scenarios are comforting …just not too much. Keep it simple and keep it fresh.
Structure…again …keep it simple…you will know your plot inside out and keep abreast of the channanagans of 10 characters yet your readers will tire of trying to work it out. A simple plot with more characters can work or a complex plot with fewer characters. Equally time and place require thought. Are you writing in chapters? In chronology of events? Backwards? Epistolry excerpts? Diary? As a conversation? Complex structures can be clever and effective but balance this with plot and characters…there are few writers who succeed in breaking these rules…Tolkein, CS Lewis, JK Rowling.
Hence their enormous success …yet most successful novelists keep to regular and balanced relationships with plot, character and time and place. Think about rising and falling action; problem, solution and resolution. How are you creating catharsis and using hamartia to turn drama and tension?
One cautionary note if you feel you are the next Great… take the reader into your world with just 2, 3, 4 main characters…and take them slowly…
- Narrative VoiceSubsume your ego! Your voice at parties may have a highly successful draw. You have ready listeners who are relaxed and your story will be short…your writing however is not to be pitched in the same vein. Your reader wants to be taken to another world where they feel comfortable and are able to relax into a universe that is well observed and interesting…not crammed with details but has just enough to show rather than tell and for them to gaze and pick at all the fruit without feeling pressured.
Be careful in autobiographical elements not to create over bias on characters. Readers like to feel they can choose whom they like amongst your ‘pen-sketches’. Try not to direct them too obviously. Allow their creativity and imagination to build the pictures you are framing.
It is acceptable to change narrative viewpoint throughout. Look at ‘Pride and Prejudice’. Just ensure your reader knows you are doing this so you don’t confuse them!
- Time and PlaceNot just about being PC but being comprehended.
As readers we need to understand the chronology and the setting. Even in a new universe where we might be alien travellers, we need points of reference. A spaceship becomes home on a new planet. Our alien travelling companions become old friends in the face of confronting new challengers. Take your reader to the heart of these characters and their worlds before introducing action and plot. Think about Bilbo Baggins …we are familiar with his earthly burrow and his habits before we journey out… We know Harry Potter has a terrible suburban life before we are greeted by his wizarding family. We know the present and the intended setting before we travel in the Time Machine.
- Language and grammarRead lots before you write. Consider how narratives are made interesting. Do not liberally throw in adjective lists to try and create description. Vary your sentence structure; length; order. How do passive verbs and subjunctives create respite from standard active verbs. What about adverbs? Look at Steinbeck…his use of adjectives creates tension and drama more than any other device in ‘Of Mice and Men’.
How will you address your reader? Omniscient narrator? Interfering narrator? Travelling narrator? Who will lead the narrative? Different characters have different perspectives and the story can be told from all or some or none of these. How will you use modifiers and metaphorical language? What about rhetorical devices? The best writing is varied, non didactic, easy flowing and not too intensely packed.
How will you use direct speech, articles, instructions and poetry in your writing? Try out different styles for your narrative and for your characters and sample these among friends before you write the entire first draft!
- EditingI am not sure that a perfect mistake free book actually exists even though we all strive for this. I have yet to come across even a great work that is entirely error free.
The key to editing of course is to limit these, but more fundamentally is to look at the flow of the story, the weaving and balance of action and the credibility of characters and plot. Your editor is your best friend as well as your nightmare! They will push you to optimise your work and create something that without them is just not as good or as finished. A good editor is really worth their weight in helping to make your writing reader ready. They are objective and that is key to your success.
Many 1000s of words are lying on the floor of my office, stripped from the work of writers, who on publishing have all agreed that the final product is much leaner and and better for the diet! They have subsequently written sequels that build on the learning from the previous works and the editor / writer relationship grows to one of friendship and trust and mutual respect.
- Proof readingThis is slow and laborious. I was taught to proof read by reading long, dull, legal documents backwards. That way you are reading what is actually there and not what you think is there. Sadly with predictive text and auto spelling and grammar checks, automation takes over and we rely on it too much. Add time and budget to your project for proofing. Many eyes are better than one and many read-throughs are required. This is especially true of printed works. We will not sign off any work that has not been signed off by the author. They are the last point of critical eye and the work is ultimately their responsibility.
In choosing your editors and proof readers you must ensure you have final say. A word of caution comes with this…make sure you have checked every last word before you sign off.
- CoverSo you have finished the book. Done. No! The cover is your shop window. It must be exciting and relevant to your writing and your audience. Again an objective eye is greatly required here. Successful covers are not necessarily expensive but they are professionally produced. If you insist on creating your own cover, get it professionally photoshopped or edited to make it stand out. Think about the typography as much as the image and colour. Road test it with friends who have read the book and who will not necessarily be nice but who will be critical and impartial. Listen to their advice. We work with writers and artists to optimise the covers for ebooks and hard copy and best promote the works.
- Ebook or hard copy? This is about cost and reach. How much effort are you prepared to put into your marketing and PR? How much social media do you currently employ to communicate with your wider ‘Friends’? Ebook publishing is easy and low cost whilst hard copy is obviously more expensive and time and space consuming. Ultimately a successful book is one you love after it is finished and which you promote and share. We work with our writers to help them promote and network and distribute both hard copy and ebook on an on going basis.
Your publisher must be prepared to assist you in both strategy and operational support to get your book to market and being in sales. It is a mutual relationship and not one that just ends with the uploading to Amazon…
- Launching and promotion Marketing and PR.
These are themselves the topic of another blog. Essentially the book is not finished once it is complete. That is just the beginning. Many books fail due to a poor launch, a lack of marketing and PR and a refusal to engage in social media. At mardibooks we work with our writers to create a launch strategy, which combines with distribution, PR, publicity, sales opportunities, social media and press and radio links as well as ongoing social media support.
Make sure your publisher continues to support you…