This year, I have three books up for awards in the Critters Writers Workshop Reader Polls, and I’d really appreciate the votes!
I recently received a lovely email from a fan and an aspiring author asking for some advice, and while I have responded, I felt that I should share my experience with rejection with all of you.
I am a fan of all of your books and have been following you since you first published Seven Dirty Words. I’m an aspiring author myself and was wondering if you had any tips on how to avoid rejection. I submitted a manuscript to agents and publishers, but every single one of them has sent it back and I’m feeling very down.
Firstly, I’d like to say thank you for reaching out to me. I always enjoy receiving emails and messages from readers. The next thing I’d like to say is don’t beat yourself up over a rejection, especially if it’s with your first piece of work. Yes, I’m published now, but I wasn’t always and I still get rejected. In fact, I had a new manuscript rejected by three publishers in the past month – two of them being publishers I already have contracts with! Why? Because the manuscript I sent wasn’t up to scratch. It really is that simple. It wasn’t of a good enough standard to be considered. I’m lucky in that two of the rejections came with feedback and constructive criticism, and I plan on taking those comments and re-writing my novel over the summer.
As a writer, it’s important that you have a thick skin. You will receive rejections and 1-star reviews and negative comments throughout your career. Even well-known authors have to deal with it. However, while you need to let the negativity slide off you, you need to take the comments that professionals make and learn from them. One of the comments I received with my recent rejection was that there was too much too soon. My characters burst onto the scene with little or no build-up. I could take that comment and get huffy, but instead I’ve looked at the scene and found areas that could be improved on.
If you got a standard rejection letter of “thanks but no thanks” with little or no feedback, the chances are that your manuscript didn’t make it past the slush-pile. This is common when it comes to big publishers & agents – in fact if it came from a big publisher or agent, then count yourself lucky that you got a response at all! The slush-pile is the enemy of all aspiring authors. There is no guaranteed method that gets you past it, all you can do is craft an amazing submission letter and synopsis, and pray. Also, make sure you follow their submission guidelines to the letter!
With regards to the manuscript, I would highly suggest finding someone neutral to read over it. Don’t ask your mum or a friend – they’re going to say that it’s great. Join a local book club, writers group, or art community and find someone who is willing to read through and give you some good, strong feedback. The manuscript I submit is never the first one I write. I take chapters and snippets to my local writers group to read out, and I’ve buddied up with another writer who can be quite brutal when he wants to be! I then go back, completely re-write it from scratch, and then edit it about three or four times before submitting. Even then, I can guarantee there will be silly mistakes (slither vs sliver and jettisoned vs jetted are always mistakes I make), typos and grammar errors that I’ve missed.
My last piece of advice would be to find authors that in the same genre as you, and follow them on social media. They will give you insights into who they use for editing, who their publishers are etc., and you may find that you make some useful contacts along the way. When I started out, it was a chance meeting at a literary festival that led me to discovering small press publishers like Tirgearr Publishing.
I wish you all the luck with your novel, and hope you’ll stay in touch. I’d love to follow you on your journey.
I know this has been done to death, and there are several books on Amazon that claim they are able to help writers become best-sellers, but just recently there has been an influx of “it must be nice to not have a real job” and “oh I would love to have the time to write a book”. So, here is my input on what it actually takes to write a book.
It might sound obvious, but you need to have a plot. I’ve read a few books that didn’t really have a storyline, just a jumble of characters that went from A to B. There was no substance to them though. There was no progression. When children are taught to write a story at school, they are given “a hill” to work with – start, build up, conflict, resolution, end, and that is a good basic plan to follow. When planning a new novel, I visualise my story arc, and follow that. Characters are terrible for going in their own direction, but that’s okay, as long as there is still a hill to climb up and roll down.
Keep a notepad and pen in your bag at all times, for when inspiration hits you!
We’ve all read books that have hundreds of characters in them, but unless you are JK Rowling or George RR Martin, it’s generally a good idea to stick with a small-ish number. I tend to write with no more than five or six characters. I may add a few extras here and there, but they aren’t even minor characters, they are just background noise to give it a more realistic feel.
Character profiling is a thing. Some writers will create spreadsheets with every minuscule detail written down. I try to keep it simple, but it is important for your characters to be like everyday people – with different quirks and flaws. Nobody is perfect. Add a scar, or bitten nails, a short temper, a love of Marmite, just one tiny thing can make that character go from being flat and wooden, to realistic.
I don’t care if you plan to self-publish, find an agent, go directly to a publisher, or just print it out and give it to a friend, editing is vital. And not just the once either. The Final Straight was the first romance novel I wrote, but it certainly wasn’t the first to be published, because it spent so long in editing. I re-wrote the entire novel three times before even sending to be considered. Seven Dirty Words and Four Letter Words started out as a trilogy, but was condensed into two books. Taking Care of Leah was originally a full-length novel, but got tightened into a short novel. And this was all before I handed it over to a professional editor.
I would highly recommend finding a professional editor to give your work the once over before submitting it to be considered. Don’t just Google it though, do some research. Some editors are better than others, and some may specialise in your genre. But remember, just because an editor makes a suggestion, doesn’t mean you have to accept it.
Self or Traditional Publishing
I am traditionally published. That means that I have a contract with various companies who publish my books, provide me with an editor and a cover designer, hand it out to beta and proof readers, and work with me to make it perfect before putting it into print. The publishers then send me royalties (between 25% and 60%, depending on whether it’s an ebook or paperback, and the company). Self-publishing means doing that yourself. There are companies who help with self-publishing, but they cost a lot of money.
For the love of all that is good, do not self-edit, make a cover on Paint, and send it to KDP. If you can’t afford to pay for the work, then find a traditional publisher, or save up and wait until you can afford it. The market is saturated with bad covers that my nine-year-old could have made. And just because your mum said the book was good, doesn’t mean that it will sell.
Be Prepared for Negative Reviews
We all get them. One-star reviews are a badge of honour – it means you wrote something that not everybody likes, but you’re strong enough to shrug your shoulders and get on with writing the next project. Don’t cry, don’t whine, don’t stamp your feet and threaten to report them. Haven’t you ever read a book that everybody loves, but you hated? I have – The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo, Gone Girl, Fifty Shades Freed (the other two were okay, but by the third book, I was bored), Harry Potter Series (love the films, can’t read the books). All of these are best-sellers, and all of them are books that I will never read again, and wouldn’t recommend to anyone. So someone told you that your book was crap and won’t read anything you write ever again. So what? One person, out of billions. Unless your book only ever gains one-stars, I wouldn’t worry about it.
Organise blog tours and release blitzes to help get your title out there!
Marketing & Publicity
The bane of my life. When a new book is released, I tend to organise a blog tour or a release blitz, with various companies to get the title out there, and to get my book cover seen. But once that’s done, what do you do? Keep at it. There are plenty of companies out there that will help market your book, although discounted prices and a certain star-rating with Amazon is generally required. But you can also use social media like Twitter, Facebook, Google+ etc. to help get in front of readers. Marketing is hit & miss though, and it doesn’t always work. The advice I was given was to just keep writing, keep talking to readers, create a brand for yourself and keep your blog up to date. I’m terrible at all of those, except the keep writing bit.
Paying the Bills
Sadly, my book sales do not cover my bills. They cover marketing and editing costs, but that’s it. I make a loss each year because of National Insurance Contributions – yes, you need to register as self-employed and pay your taxes. So you need something to cover bills while you’re on your quest to become an author. I’m lucky that I have Hubby, who works damn hard to pay for everything, and I work as a child-minder and dog walker to pay for the luxuries in life. I did run a business working as a freelance writer, editor, and cover designer, but the truth is that it got too much like hard work, and writing should be about having fun.
Positive Mental Attitude
Staying positive is the hardest part of writing a book. We all have bad days – what’s the point, why do I bother, etc. etc. And writer’s block is a nightmare. But take a break, have a cup of tea, go for a walk, whatever it is you need to do to refresh yourself and remind yourself that this will work, if you keep at it.
Writing isn’t for everyone. I hate it when people say they have a book in them, waiting to come out, as if we can sit and spit a few words onto the page, and voila! A best-seller. It’s hard work, and it can be draining. But it’s also very rewarding.
My sales aren’t terrible, but they’re not terrific either. I won’t be quitting my day job any time soon. So the hubby and I sat down the other night and discussed my marketing techniques and we came to the same conclusion: I’m sh*t at sales. This is not a good thing when you’re a writer and need to be able to sell not only your books, but yourself as well. Also, I’ve just set up a new freelance editing business – my marketing skill mean the future does not bode well.
But why? Why am I so shocking at selling myself? Hubby thinks it might be because I don’t relate to my target audience – married women in their 30s. But I’m a married woman in my 30s! How can I not relate? I would much rather be sat on my ass playing games or watching action and thriller movies than I would rom-coms or doing the housework. Surely I’m not alone in this? I can’t be so far from the stereotypical housewife that I’m bodering on being a man?
Maybe it’s my brand. I’ve discussed branding before. I’m never going to be a sexy woman who flaunts everything she’s got – I’m comfortable in my skin, but I’m even more comfortable in a pair of skinny jeans and a baggy T-shirt. I figured my brand would be “houswife with a cup of tea”. But I’m not that either. Yeah, I drink tea, but housewifey? Nah… Like I said, I hate housework. I’m never going to be the girl-next-door or competing for Housewife of the Year.
Flyers, bookmarks and postcards get shoved into every paperback copy of Seven Dirty Words
So now I’m googling marketing, pr, publicity and books. But every blog says the same thing:
*Set up a Facebook account. Check. Readers can friend me or like my page. (Chowardauthor or Charlottehowardauthor)
*Tweet. Lots. Check. (@shy_tiger) I have in excess of 800 followers.
*Build an author kit. Check, check and check! I have a website (www.charlottehowardauthor.co.uk and http://www.rwls.co.uk) I hand out business cards, flyers, postcards and bookmarks with every copy of Seven Dirty Words I sell. I take them all to any events like Smut.UK and stuff them into hands, goody bags and books. I have a street team who do the same.
*Connect with your readers. Check. I try to converse on Facebook and Twitter with readers and other writers – okay I’m a bit lax in the forum department, but only because I don’t want to be a pushy, in-your-face, BUY MY FRIGGING BOOK kind of author.
*Keep writing. Double check. Four novels, one short story published, one recently submitted, and another one being written.
So I give up. I’ve decided that I really couldn’t sell toffee to kids and looking for a PR company to represent me.
My dream was to have a publishing contract by the age of 30, and I did that. My next goal is to be a best-seller before I’m 35. 2 years to go. Let’s see what this week brings…
One book does not a million make. Nor does it make you an instant, overnight, successful best-selling author. It means you’ve published a book; a fact that I’m only too willing to accept. Of course I’d like to be a best-seller, and I’m looking forward to Four Letter Words being released in early 2014. I am happy to give advice to all those who ask – and have done so in the past. But, I’m not going to let it go to my head or start write about how to write, sell, and market books!
Clearly not everyone thinks like this though.
Go on – head to Google or Amazon, or any other search engine / bookseller site. Type in “How to write a best selling novel” or similar and see if you recognise any of the authors. No, neither do I.
I accept the helpful guides on how to publish (particularly self-publishing, these may be very helpful if they’ve been written by a SP author, editor, publisher, or someone else within the industry). I accept the guides on how to write a cover letter, or how to find an agent. Again – most of these have been written by someone in the know. But how to write a best-seller? Nah – you can’t do that. Nobody can guarantee that your book will hit the NY Times or Sunday Times lists. Nobody can predict which books will sell like the cliched hot cakes, and which will sink like stones.
And yet somehow, these people seem to think they have the right to tell us how to write and get published AND sell millions of books.
My advice? Don’t waste your money, join a writer’s group, hire a Beta reader and professional editor, and get some criticism from someone other than a family member, or worse, a jumped-up wannabe.