Be the author of your writer

Alex James at a stall

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I became an author without quite knowing how to become an author or what sort of author I wanted to be. I know I wanted to get my books out there, and that was a start, but there is a lot more to being an author than many writers think … and foremost, a lot more to being a writer than authors think.

As with any business, being an author is a little bit like running your own business, and this is the case whether you’re self-published or traditionally published, from what I’ve read. You therefore need to find your ‘unique selling points’ and what differentiates you or your books from every other current and soon-to-be author/s in your genre. It’s not easy either because the competition is fierce, but knowing what makes you different is a tremendous start.

If, like me, you have times when you wonder what sort of author you are, if you’re putting enough time into it or simply what avenue to explore next, perhaps the answer lies in your writing and your priorities. I like writing that builds up to character discoveries, plotlines, events, and conclusions; and in the science fantasy genres because it gives me the freedom to explore new ideas in a specific way where I can savour the richness of the story. That’s the kind of writer I am! It’s what I’m good at and I’ve had plenty of practice. And so I need to continue focusing on my strengths and understand their place in the ‘market’ (cringe — what an ugly word!). I have written full-length stories. Who is looking for full length stories in my genre? The answers are readers, editors, proofreaders, cover designers, literary agents, and publishers. Then you need to link what makes you or your books unique and different with professionals or bodies that are looking for what you have to offer. This may also depend on the sort of person you are.

For example, if I’m good at writing full-length stories, unless I want to put in 100% effort into learning how to write short stories or different types of stories over a sufficient period of time (which I don’t) then it is fruitless attempting short stories. You’d be adding to your skillset but it could mean changing your writing focus, and therefore it would redefine the kind of author you are. This is more the case if you write as a hobby, as I do. If you worked as a ‘professional’ writer you’re sometimes compelled to adapt your writing, whether for your agent, publisher, or sometimes even for fans. I suppose I’m talking about ‘specialising’ your writing and your identity as an author as a way of discovering what works best for you that doesn’t necessarily for any other author.

Okay, let’s say you know what differentiates you as a writer, and therefore author. The question on your mind, if it hasn’t crossed already, is how do I publish? It’s actually one of many questions. Should I publish? When should I publish? How am I going to market my book after publishing to ensure I get the most out of actually publishing it, and that readers keep discovering my book/s? I don’t have an easy answer to that question and most authors find what works for them, and it’s not always the first professional, service, or method that is the most successful. Authors are learning what is best practice, what isn’t, and who to trust. As authors scale this steep learning curve, they may even find that what worked gloriously and reached loads of readers and earned them lots of money simply doesn’t work in the same way anymore. For example, book retailers are changing their rules all the time, and where traditional print used to be the primary way of reaching readers it now longer necessarily is.

My advice regarding publishing is to find likeminded individuals, groups, and organisations that are hungry for your unique skills. It’s a win-win situation. You benefit from a vital support group that can act as a safety net and a growth ladder, and they take advantage of your skills to grow, justify their existence, and probably use your name and face in all their print material.

How do you become the author you want to be?
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Lighthouse School Visit

Thank you for your welcome!

Lighthouse School Photo 1


Lighthouse School Photo 2 Lighthouse School Photo 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Some of my books photographed in the Lighthouse School library, as well as a display.)

On 4th November 2016 I had the pleasure of visiting the Lighthouse School, which is a school in Cookridge, Leeds, for young people with an autistic spectrum condition or related communication disorder.

I was kindly invited and welcomed by teachers Caroline Maston and Lisa Mitchell. I was there to speak about my experiences as a writer in the hope that I could help encourage the students. I had an informal talk with several of the students, who asked well considered questions, such as how long it takes me to write a story, how I keep my writing going, and what advice I would give to young authors. I thoroughly enjoyed visiting the school and meeting the teachers and students; there was a nice atmosphere and I would be happy to visit again.

I hope the students continue with their interest in writing, and I’m sure they have a lot to write about 🙂

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“How to Get Published” at Bradford Literature Festival 2016

On Saturday 21st May, I went to the Bradford Literature Festival to attend a panel about How to Get Published. I got the impression that the idea of the festival was to reach out and encourage new voices in under-represented groups. Indeed, there appeared to be a diverse mix of people in the audience, and I gathered from the questions asked that many seemed to be unpublished writers. Overall the event was 1h15 minutes long and went smoothly.

On the panel were two authors: Nikesh Shukla and Michael Stewart, who was also moderating. There were two publishers: Lisa Milton, executive of HarperCollins Harlequin Division, and Kevin Duffy, founder of independent publisher Bluemoose Books.

Upon the commencement of the panel’s talk, it was difficult to hear some of the speakers at first, but after somebody complained this was no longer a noticeable issue. As can be expected there was a lot of advice about dealing with rejection. If I recall correctly, Michael Stewart said something on the lines of rejection being a good thing because it can strengthen your submission. I agree with this to an extent, but let’s face it most literary agents do not provide feedback on your submission. You’re left in the dark wondering why you were rejected; indeed there might not have been anything particularly wrong or unappealing about your submission; perhaps your idea was not right for the literary agent’s subjective tastes or they were looking for something else. It would have been interesting to hear scheduled speaker Nelle Andrew’s (literary agent from PetersFraserDunlop) opinion on this, but she was missing from the panel for some reason.

There was a bit of good-natured back and forth between independent publisher Kevin Duffy and traditional publisher Lisa Milton. It was not unexpected, and some of the exchanges did remind me a bit of Labour and Conservative at Question Time, but thankfully it wasn’t that annoying. Kevin Duffy asked Lisa Milton about whether money influenced which books she selected for publication, but she cleared this up quite well by insisting that publishers always have to make a case for every book they choose before approaching sales/marketing teams.

A female writer demanded to know why she had been rejected by Kevin Duffy, to which he supposedly replied, “It wasn’t my cup of tea”. There was good advice given to her about the importance of getting people you trust to give you honest and constructive criticism/feedback. It must have been tough to hear this from the panel, and the panel maybe jumped to conclusions about the type of writer the lady was because she had written her manuscript in such a short time, which might have been unfair (even if what they said were things a lot of writers need to hear). However, in the defence of new writers, what the panel didn’t state was how difficult it is because not every writer has a network of trusted friends who are prepared to read through an entire novel for them and give them honest feedback. Finding “trusted, reliable, and honest” people who are willing to go out of their way to spend time to help isn’t easy. Perhaps some more profound advice on this could have been given, other than directing us to the latest Writers and Artists Yearbook. Furthermore, once new writers have written a story, they are told repeatedly to look back through it, but to know how to do this you need to understand or research about writing craft. Just telling new writers to look at it again with fresh eyes might not be enough. They might need to read about revision, take courses, or begin similar professions.

This sparked a debate on making sure your writing is ready for submission. Nikesh Shukla was very vocal here, and much of what he said made a lot of sense and chimed well with my experience of writing: you’ve got to develop your idea and message, and understand your work to make sure that you know what you’ve written. I agreed with his points. It’s no good having nearly one-hundred thousand words on a page if you don’t understand the significance of what you have written, why it’s unique, or if your planning and research might not be expressed the way you intend it to be. At this point, Lisa Milton concurred with, “You’ve got to know your whole story, even before you write it”.

Part of the point of the event was intended to encourage new writers, and break the cycle of mainstream publishing where ethnic minorities and women are often excluded. One lady spoke up about whether an agent or publisher needs to know the gender of the writer, which just goes to show the fear that if you are a female writer then you might have less chance of being represented by an agent or published. I don’t think you need to explicitly state your gender in submissions, and if you have a name that is neutral it might help, even though sometimes literary agents and publishers insist on you using your real name. However, I believe you have more chance of securing an agent if you are able to convince them that you know your subject well, and for this you might have to include who you are, background expertise, or achievements. Understandably this means you don’t have to mention your gender, but the recipient of your submission will likely have enough information to know who you are. Yet this doesn’t mean I think you should go out of your way to hide your gender if the need arises! I’m not knowledgeable about the submission process for Bluemoose Books, but all of this is contrary to what Kevin Duffy said about his only having the information about the book upon which to judge submissions. Regarding ethnic minority under-representation, somebody in the audience complained that successful books from African, Asian, or Indian writers typically have to have a strong current of magic, mysticism, or an overly strong protagonist to be taken on board by publishers rather than if they would submit a story being from the point-of-view of an ordinary person.

Nikesh Shukla was strong on these arguments as well, insisting that unless people from the aforementioned groups submit to agents and become a part of the industry, rather than distancing themselves from it by seeing the books currently on shelves as unrepresentative of their writing and perspectives, then the cycle will continue with similar authors being published. Lisa Milton said she encourages writers from different backgrounds, which is nice to hear, but unless Lisa Milton is starting initiatives to help encourage unrepresented groups or unless HarperCollins has open submission periods, then I’m afraid little will change. That being said, it was still nice of her and the panel to make time to come to Bradford and for an appearance, which does enable transparency between what could be seen as the bottom and top of writing and publishing.

At the end of the event, most stragglers wanted to speak to Lisa Milton, which I wasn’t surprised at, being the executive of a traditional publisher. I didn’t have any pressing questions to ask the panel, but a few ladies approached me and handed out leaflets about a new publishing company (Dandylion Publishing) they have launched, for which they are looking for new writers. What I liked about them was the motivation and drive they had, competing for the writers, some of whom only had eyes for the panel.

I happily took a leaflet, and looked up the Dandylion Publishing website. It just goes to show that despite new perspectives on the traditional route to publication; Writers and Artists’ Yearbook, submitting to an agent, rejections; there are other ways to publish and get maybe get feedback if we are open-minded to book publishing as a whole. It would have been very interesting if the ladies of Dandylion Publishing had been on the panel, and to hear what they would have to say about improving writing and preparing material “good enough” for publication. I say this as well because, though Nikesh Shukla had experimented with crowdfunding, presumably his non-traditional route, most of the panel seemed to channel the conversation in the traditional submitting to an agent route, as if all writers had been thinking about that exact route.

There can be opportunities at such events for aspiring and existing authors.

(@s are on Twitter.com)

Bradford Literary Festival – @BradfordLitFest and bradfordliteraturefestival.co.uk

Dandylion Publishing – @DandylionReads – dandylionpublishing.co.uk

Kevin Duffy – @Ofmooseandmen

Bluemoosebooks.com

Lisa Milton – @Lmrhjb

Nikesh Shukla – @nikeshshukla

Michael Stewart – @headspam

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