Mentoring 2018 - The Importance of the Covering Letter - Karen Coles

Covering Letter

When you send out your completed chapters to a literary agent, you are taking a first step into the unknown world of publishing. And much like applying for your dream job, you want to present yourself in the best way possible. It’s easy to forget, in the scramble to polish your manuscript and put together a pithy and concise synopsis, that the first and possibly only thing an extremely busy agent will read is your covering letter.

That may seem unfair, but imagine for a moment you are that agent. You’ve spent your day seeing to your existing authors’ needs, and the only time you have to read from ‘the slush pile’ is after work, maybe on the train, or as you catch a flight, or in a taxi to your next meeting. You might have ten, twenty, fifty submissions waiting in your Inbox. The first few covering letters don’t grab you, but the tenth one does. Which one would you spend your precious time on?

Maybe, despite an uninspired covering letter an agent does read on, you might be lucky, but is that really the first impression you want to give? I know for a fact many agents won’t open emails addressed to ‘Dear Sir’, and why should they? If you can’t be bothered to learn their name, or sex, then why should they consider beginning a long-term working relationship?!

In this wonderful guest post by Karen Coles, she proves that a well-crafted covering letter can be the difference between form rejections and multiple offers of representation! Over to you Karen, and thanks so much for sharing your inspiring tale…

 Karen Coles

Karen Coles

A few weeks ago, I was struggling to write a synopsis for my recently-completed novel. Having written several versions, I finally managed to cobble together a reasonable description of the events in the story. I breathed a sigh of relief. The opening chapters were polished to within an inch of their lives, bless them. The synopsis was done. All that was left to do was the covering letter. A doddle, I thought - a paragraph or so about the book, and a little a bit about me. It did not occur to me for one moment that the letter might be as, or even more, important than the synopsis.

I wrote my letters, emailed a few agents, and attached my sample chapters and synopsis. Then I sat back and waited. Before long, rejections started arriving – form rejections.

I re-read my chapters. I loved them, but knew they were a bit odd and wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea. Still, I was disappointed that none of this initial round had even asked for a full manuscript. Then I spotted a post about covering letters on Twitter, by the lovely Amanda Reynolds herself. I responded to it, saying how difficult I was finding it, and she very kindly offered to take a look at my letter. Let’s just say it needed some work!

My first error was in not mentioning why I was submitting to that particular agent. This made me think about the agents I had been sending my work to. I hadn’t even attempted to submit to ones I thought out of my reach – those who represented my favourite writers. This time, I decided to do just that. After all, if I was just going to let the story sit on my hard drive, I may as well aim high before mothballing it. Knowing why I really wanted to be represented by the agent meant it was much easier to write an individual letter.

The next problem Amanda spotted was that I didn’t have a killer hook. I hadn’t really captured the essence of the story at all and had instead made it sound a bit dull. No wonder agents hadn’t been keen to read on! I did find this immensely difficult to do, but it turned out to be well worth that extra effort.

I submitted the story again, and this time had four requests for a full manuscript. Although I had tweaked the opening chapters, they were minor changes and didn’t quite explain the different outcome. I do think it’s vital to submit to agents who represent your favourite writers - after all, the chances are your tastes in literature are going to match – but it’s also important to work as hard on the covering letter as on every other part of the submission package. Thanks to Amanda, I have finally realised this. I have now signed with my dream agent, so all the agonising over that covering letter was worth it after all. Thank you, Amanda x

Mentoring 2018 - Introducing Kate Galley

Back in April, I posted on Twitter offering to mentor a second novel writer on their journey to publication. My first mentee, Nikki Smith, had completed her submission package and was sending out her synopsis, chapters and covering letter. She would in fact go on to secure representation within weeks.

As before, the response and quality of both pitches and entries was phenomenal, but one stood out to me from the moment I read the opening line...'Whenever I allow myself to think about my mother, she comes to me in a series of monochrome vignettes'.

Here Kate introduces herself and her book, including the two best decisions she's made so far for her writing career. I'm very excited to be working with her! Over to Kate...

Kate Galley.jpg

I’ve had my head in a book for my entire life. As a child I would often sit on a book during dinner, so it was quick to pick up when I’d finished. I would make up tales with my sister and daydream storylines when I was out walking our family dog. When I had children I would turn them into characters for bedtime stories, something different every night, and yet it never occurred to me that writing was something I could or should do.

Three years ago that changed. Something (and I have no idea what) made me open  the small laptop I had at the time and start to write. Quite a gruesome tale about a mother, her daughter and the ghost of her dead father, but it got me writing. I didn’t tell anyone what I was doing, it felt like something I should keep to myself, but of course that couldn’t last. When I told my family I was writing I received such a positive response that it boosted my confidence immeasurably and I decide to enrol on a writing course. That was in March 2017. A six-week, online course with Curtis Brown that helped me to make the most of my writing and also make many friends. It was the first, best decision, with regards to writing, that I had made.

When people hear that I’m writing they ask me where I get my ideas from and the answer is easy; I’m a mobile hairdresser. My wonderful clients are a constant source of inspiration. Tales of farming days in Somerset from a lady who is in her one-hundredth year, stories of being a Wren in the second world war, and personal stories of love and loss. I encounter many people daily who enjoy telling me about their very varied lives.

My other passion is glass. I started by making stained glass windows nearly twenty years ago and moved on to kiln-formed glass sometime later. I’m involved with a great group of glass artists here in Buckinghamshire where I live.

I mentioned that enrolling on the writing course was the first best decision I made. The second was entering the competition that Amanda was running. I couldn’t believe that someone would be so generous to offer their precious time, I also didn’t think I would stand a chance of winning. I was blown away when she phoned me to say that she had picked me for the mentorship.

Working with Amanda has completely changed how I look at my writing and allowed me to have much more confidence in myself. I’ve sharpened up what was, at first, a very messy plot and even made the bold decision to cut an entire family from the original manuscript! Having an established author read your work and like it is a powerful thing and I will admit to getting a thrill if she highlights a passage with a note to say, ‘love this!’

 My book is a story about obsessive love, damaged relationships and the repercussions when someone takes secrets to the grave. For the first time I can see me finishing and being proud of it. What comes next is yet to be known.

Harrogate Crime Festival - The First Time

What should you expect on your first visit to The Harrogate International Crime Writing Festival?

 Me (Left) with fellow Wildfire author Karen Hamilton, proudly showing off the proofs we bagged of The Tall Man (Phoebe Locke)

Me (Left) with fellow Wildfire author Karen Hamilton, proudly showing off the proofs we bagged of The Tall Man (Phoebe Locke)

Last year was full of many firsts for me, publication of my debut CLOSE TO ME being the biggest, but going to Harrogate was certainly up there as one of the most memorable and fun. I was days away from paperback publication and full of anticipation and excitement. A special time. My second book LYING TO YOU is also due out just a few days after Harrogate so it's turning into a bit of  a tradition for me. 

Here are my top tips for first-timers, as I was in 2017...

  1. Don't worry about going alone, or being published, or an author. Loads of people come on their own, from all backgrounds: writers, bloggers, readers as well as their family and friends. It's a great chance to mingle with everyone. If you do know someone who is going, why not arrange to get together when you arrive? That's what Laura Marshall and I did after connecting on Twitter (our debuts were both due out just after Harrogate). It was great to have that support, but if you know no one, I promise you soon will.
  2. Have the courage to mix. If you think you recognise someone from Twitter or Facebook then say Hi. They will be just as pleased as you are to have a chat.
  3. If you buy a weekend pass/package you will get a great big goody bag of books, so make sure you have a way of carrying it home. It's heavy but you will cry if you have to leave any of your bounty behind. (You'll also get a lanyard that gets you in to all the panels and entitles you to free tea/coffee and lunches in The Old Swan, which were excellent.)
  4. If you don't book a weekend pass you'll need to buy tickets for the panels in advance, and get there early on the day as the seats fill up fast and the back is a long way away!
  5. People come and go, generally milling around outside on the lawns (where the bar is!). There are a lot of things happening: panel events, hosted drinks/dinners, proof giveaways, signings. If you're at a loose end (unlikely) take the chance to have a breather or look for someone new to chat with.
  6. If you see an author whose books you've read, enjoyed, maybe reviewed, then let them know. They will be so happy to hear it and have the chance to thank you in person.
  7. Simiarly if you see a Blogger who has supported you, go chat. I'm sure they'd love that too.
  8. Stay somewhere within walking distance so you can pop back if you need to. It's a great few days but can be exhausting. Good sometimes to take a moment and maybe change, eat, call home, sleep!
  9. It's a long convivial day-into-evening vibe. I'd say it's an unwise move to start the proceedings with two G&Ts at four in the afternoon - not that I'd do that, of course!
  10. Take photos! This is the sum total of mine. I'll try harder this year.
 My book haul from Harrogate 2017

My book haul from Harrogate 2017

 Phobe signing proofs of The Tall Man - there was a long queue!

Phobe signing proofs of The Tall Man - there was a long queue!

When is it OK to call yourself a writer?

IMG_1734 1.JPG

On #nationalwritingday I thought it might be a good time to reflect on the title of WRITER.

 

When do you allow yourself that job description and what does it really mean to you and others?

I was earning a modest living from writing a long time before I was published and yet I never called myself a writer. I was an on-line seller of murder mystery games (that I'd written), and then a creative writing teacher (teaching classes twice a week for almost five years).

One of the first questions I was often asked during that teaching time was 'Are you published?'. It felt like that was the gold standard and once I was able to say 'Yes, I am', theirs and my doubts would disappear. The irony was, when I did finally secure the longed-for agent and book deal, I was too busy to teach.

But I'm jumping ahead.

Let's go back to the start. To the day roughly ten years ago when I left a really horrible job and told them it was because I was going to write a book. It was a bit like joining a gym, or giving up wine (as if!). I'd told people, so I'd have to do it.

It would be years and a few unpublished manuscripts before I secured that book deal, and now, two books in, that feeling of needing professional validation has in-part remained with me. It feels OK to call myself a writer because I write full-time and my books are published, but in truth, I've been a writer all my life. Even as a child I wrote stories and one summer a very short book. (I was a precocious only child!)

But is there a distinction to be made?

If an author is 'a writer of a book, article, or document' then perhaps the change in perception comes when your book is published and you graduate from calling yourself a writer, to being an author? I asked some of my friends who write when/if they started calling themselves a writer...

Still feels strange now but I have been doing so for many years (long before publication) I believe if you write, you're a writer.

I know I should but in my head I won't be a 'proper' writer till I've sold my book.

Think really you should always say it as soon as you start - if you know it’s in your blood.

I didn’t feel comfortable calling myself a writer until I sold.

I say author now but I've been a 'writer' for years.

Maybe the answer to the writer thing is whatever makes you feel most motivated and comfortable.

Writing is often considered a vocation, something as essential as other needs, integral to our psyche and as such, unavoidable. On this day of writing, enjoy being a writer.

Amanda Reynolds

How to Find the Perfect Agent (Part Three) - The Debut Author

In the third part of my 'How to Find the Perfect Agent' posts, I asked Nikki Smith, my first mentee, to share her recent experience of submitting her work to agents and signing with one!

After some amazing published authors have given their thoughts on choosing an agent, and Sarah Williams (SHA) has said what she as an agent is looking for in an author, Amanda thought it might be useful for people to read about my experience as a debut author who has just secured an agent; the lovely Sophie Lambert at C+W.

(Nikki Smith)

 My daughters' hands when we were on holiday last year - because acts of kindness and generosity can have such a lasting impact

My daughters' hands when we were on holiday last year - because acts of kindness and generosity can have such a lasting impact

My dream has always been to be a writer. I’ve had many varied jobs from a cake baking business to working in finance for a trampoline park, but more than anything I wanted to be an author. My journey has been a long one, and I would say to anyone who is currently writing, that more than anything, a huge amount of perseverance, determination and patience is required, as this process can (and usually does) take a long time.

I wrote a couple of books many years ago (looking back, I know they were NOT GOOD!) and after submitting them and getting rejections, I stopped trying. I continued to write, but just for myself. A few more years passed when I had my daughters and my job meant I was working crazy hours. A friend I’d been at school with (and hadn’t seen for twenty years) contacted me to ask if I’d ever done anything about my writing as she still remembered the stories I’d read out in class - thank you Natalia! It gave me the push I needed to do something serious about my writing so I signed up for a six-week Curtis Brown online course. I loved it, so I signed up for a second, started writing my novel in earnest, and then went on a three-month online course to try and improve what I’d written.

At this point I was in a job which was very stressful, so I resigned and went freelance so I could concentrate on my writing. I decided to give myself a year to see how far I could get. My husband agreed (I’m sure he thought I was insane but he was kind enough not to tell me that!) Then I entered a competition that Amanda was running and she picked me to be her mentee. Getting that phone call from her was the first time I felt my writing might have potential and gave me such a huge boost to my confidence. I also started entering writing competitions.

  My Nan, Lily - she sadly died last year but left me some money in her Will and without it I'd never have done the CBC 3 month course

My Nan, Lily - she sadly died last year but left me some money in her Will and without it I'd never have done the CBC 3 month course

Once Amanda and I had worked together on my novel for a few months, I began to draw up a spreadsheet of agents to submit to. I found them by looking at their profiles on their agency pages, seeing who represented other authors I liked, checking whether they’d be interested in the genre of book I wrote, following them on twitter and watching videos of events they’d spoken at. I knew at this stage my book wasn’t ready, but I also knew how hard it would be to secure an agent (those odds are terrifyingly scary), so I wanted to do my research thoroughly.

The temptation to submit as soon as I thought I was ‘finished’ was huge, but I’m so glad I didn’t. Thinking I was ‘finished’ proved not to be the case the first three times – my MS needed a lot more work. Taking on board criticism is essential to improving your writing – if you can’t accept it then you aren’t going to be able to work with an agent as no MS is perfect (sadly!). Amanda made suggestions that helped me with this (and I should thank Hayley Hoskins as well for her input). Getting trusted readers to give feedback, consider it, and take time away from writing to come back with fresh eyes is so important. You only get one chance to submit, so don’t blow it by trying too early.

  My cat Saffi, in her usual position for the day - she's kept me company over the past year whilst I was writing

My cat Saffi, in her usual position for the day - she's kept me company over the past year whilst I was writing

Once my novel was as good as I thought I could get it, I chose a few agents on my list and submitted the first three chapters, a cover letter and a synopsis. All literary agencies want things in a slightly different format, so read the instructions SEVERAL times and prepare a draft email – send it to yourself, wait, and re-read it the next day to double check for any errors. It’s so easy to send something off in a flurry of excitement, only to realise you’ve spelt the agent’s name wrong, and at that point, you’ve lost one of your potential chances.

I had my first rejection within hours of sending my first few emails. I was expecting rejections, but to get one that fast did knock me a bit! But I picked myself up and kept going. I started writing down ideas for a second book to keep my mind off refreshing my emails (which I still did. A LOT). I’m not a patient person and found waiting for responses really hard.

After a couple of weeks, I had requests for the full MS from three agents, a couple of standard rejections and one personal rejection asking to see any future work if I didn’t manage to get an agent for this one. Each time I got a rejection I sent a submission to another agent. Then I had an email from Sophie (who had the full MS) asking to see me. I felt she really understood my book, she had great suggestions on how I could improve it and I thought we got on well which I know will be so important in the months to come.

I was on a complete high after Sophie offered to represent me (and still am!) but also realise this is far from the end of the journey, but getting an agent does feel like I’ve jumped over a major hurdle and is the first time I feel I can legitimately call myself an author – which for me, is a dream come true.

Thanks so much Nikki for sharing your journey.

Amanda Reynolds

A gripping drama with dark twists and turns, perfect for fans of Big Little Lies, Anatomy of a Scandal, and Doctor Foster. 'GRIPPING and TWISTY' Laura Marshall, No.1 bestselling author of FRIEND REQUEST
'COMPULSIVELY READABLE' Kate Hamer, author of THE GIRL IN THE RED COAT

You think you know the truth, but what if your husband is LYING TO YOU?

When Jess Tidy was Mark Winter's student, she made a shocking accusation. Mark maintained his innocence, but the damage was done.

Karen Winter stood by her husband through everything, determined to protect her family.

Now, ten years later, Jessis back. And the truth about that night is finally going to come out . . .

How To Find the Perfect Agent (Part Two) - The Agent's Perspective

 Me (L) with my agent, Sarah Williams (Sophie Hicks Agency)

Me (L) with my agent, Sarah Williams (Sophie Hicks Agency)

In the second part of my 'How to Find the Perfect Agent' I asked my agent, Sarah Williams, a few questions about finding talent and what makes a manuscript stand out.

When I contacted Sarah she read my submission quickly, requesting the full manuscript within days. She then got back to me  asking to have a chat as she thought it was 'wonderful'. I was on holiday in Italy, staying in a remote farmhouse, so we arranged to chat on the phone in a few days. I was seated at a cafe table in Lucca when she offered to represent me, the phone signal then cutting out! I danced through the tiny streets afterwards, a celebratory ice-cream in my hand and my family a few paces behind, pretending they weren't with me!

  • Hi Sarah, thanks so much for answering my questions, I know a lot of writers often wonder how an agent sifts through the huge volume of submissions they receive. What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to authors submitting to you to ensure they stand out? 

I can’t emphasise enough how important your cover letter is – and there is so much advice online about how to craft an excellent one. I don’t need to know what you like to do in your spare time or how long you’ve been married or where you live. I need you to pitch your book succinctly, tell me a little bit about it and where you see it on a bookshelf and why I’m the right agent for it. I’m not Sir or Agent or Editor - any submissions that don’t address me by name get deleted.  

  • Great advice. Thorough research is so important, and saves wasting everyone's time. So beyond getting that cover letter right, what was it about the authors you have on your books that made you choose to represent them?

For fiction, it can be any of a number of things that grab my attention and will make me fall in love with a book – from an incredible, vivid voice to a character I either love or hate or a world that I completely fall into and can’t stop thinking about even after I’ve turned the last page. For non-fiction, it is usually a story or an idea that is so unique, I want to keep reading more of what I’ve already seen and can immediately picture what a whole book would look like. 

  • What takes up most of your time as an agent?

I’d love to say lunches with editors and reading fabulous manuscripts, but in reality: answering emails. I am perpetually dealing with a range of things for my authors such as commentary on book jacket design to negotiating a film option to updating translation publishers on delivery dates to discussing publicity plans to fielding requests for speaking engagements. You name it, I’m probably dealing with it. 

  • Sounds fun but frantic! What do you do for me that I probably have no idea about?

Good question! I think the thing authors sometimes don’t realise (especially those who think they don’t need an agent!) is that even if I haven’t spoken to you in a few days, I have talked about you and promoted you in some way during my day-to-day dealings with other people. I’ve had lunch with an editor who is looking for something specific and I talk about you. I’ve just been called by a production company in LA and have told them all about you and your new book. I’ve emailed the new, fantastic review of your book to the translation publisher who is considering buying your book for their territory. The promotion is endless! 

  • So out of all that, what would you say is the best part of your job?

Making that phone call to say: you have a book deal or a film deal. Every single call like this I make is as thrilling for me as the very first one I ever made.

Believe me, it's just as exciting to receive those calls!

Thanks so much Sarah, for all your advice and the insight into the world of being a literary agent. 

Amanda Reynolds

 

Finding the Perfect Agent

IMG_0730.JPG

For any writer intent on a traditional publishing deal, the first major achievement is securing representation from a literary agent.

 

Most publishing houses - with the exception of some smaller indie presses, and the odd 'open submissions' window - will not accept direct approaches, so an agent is essential. But your agent does much more than submit your manuscript. Making the right choice is crucial.

'It is worth taking great care with the agent you choose as it will probably be your single most important working relationship, ' Fiona Cummins, bestselling author of Rattle and The Collector, told me, 'For me, it was key to find an agent who was approachable (I've heard stories about authors being too scared to email their agents) and who would push me to produce my very best writing. Happily, I feel Sophie (Lambert) is a perfect fit for me.'

Laura Marshall, author of Sunday Times bestseller, Friend Request, told me how important is it to get on with your agent. 'Consider who you click with the most when you meet them and who your instinct says will be the best fit for your career. Who is the most passionate about your book, and basically who do you like the most. I am so happy with my agent (Felicity Blunt). She is always absolutely in my corner, fighting battles for me that I don't even know exist! She is a tireless advocate for me and my books. Also she's brilliant editorially and it's so good to have her to talk to about new work in the early stages. Also on a personal level she is really supportive. '

Olivia Kiernan, author of debut crime novel Too Close To Breathe, and represented by Susan Armstrong, concurred. 'I know everyone says it but I can’t express fervently enough how important it is to choose an agent who you feel you can talk to and work with!'

Editorial input is definitely a consideration when choosing an agent. Make sure you only submit to those agents you would be happy to accept, should they offer, otherwise you're wasting everyone's time! Do they represent your genre, do they have a good track record of success, how editorial are they and will they look after your foreign rights and any TV/Film interest? 

Jenny Quintana, author of the brilliant, The Missing Girl, and represented by Sophie Lambert too, advises,  'Try to get an agent who will be honest about your manuscript and will work with you on it before submission.' 

Laura Shepherd-Robinson, author of Blood and Sugar, out in 2019 (can't wait!), represented by Antony Topping at Greene & Heaton, agrees with Jenny on this. 'The agent who makes you work hardest is the one for you!’

So how do you find your perfect agent? The direct, and probably the most often used route, is via the 'Slush Pile'. An unfortunate term, but the system works well, with many authors finding their perfect agent this way, myself included. But it's not the only way.

Jo Jakeman, author of the recently published Sticks and Stones told me how it happened for her...'I met my agent, Imogen Pelham (Marjacq), at York Festival of writing. After I won Friday Night Live I had a few agents wanting to see the full ms. Imogen spoke to me as if my characters were real people. I felt she understood me and my book more than the others did, but she didn’t shy away from giving me advice on where my book could be strengthened. She talks me off the ledge when I’m stressed, is super attentive, and is a badass negotiator. If it wasn’t for her I would have sold the rights to my book for a bottle of wine (and been thankful!). I have a great relationship with my editor too but I know that partnership could be short lived, whereas I hope to be working with Imogen for the rest of my career.'

Twitter is also a great resource for connecting with agents, but as Laura Shepherd-Robinson pointed out, 'There are a lot of top agents (often with very good established lists) who don't do Twitter because they don't have time/inclination and don't need to.'

So don't rely on social media as your sole resource, make sure you research the agents you're interested in thoroughly, via their websites and where possible by personal recommendation.

Steph Broadribb, author of My Little Eye, (as Stephanie Marland) and Deep down Dead and Deep Blue Trouble told me about how she met her agent, Oliver Munson. 'My submission process was rather unorthodox- I went out on the town with my future agent and a bunch of other authors after a book launch then had a DM conversation after about the book. He read the book in two days and offered representation.'

Steph and I both agreed that your agent needs to be someone you'd be happy to spend time with, preferably over a glass of wine!

Finding the right agent takes lots of research, tenacity (unless you're very fortunate!), good timing, a great manuscript, and a bit of serendipity! But find the right one and they will be your biggest cheerleader, as well as your contract expert, chaser of everything, answerer of a million questions, and hopefully your advocate for your whole career.

My agent is the brilliantly supportive Sarah Williams, of Sophie Hicks Agency, and in the second part of this blog post I'll be talking to Sarah about what she looks for in her authors. 

Amanda Reynolds

  Following on from her e  Book bestseller  Close To Me , Amanda Reynolds is back with    Lying To You,    another gripping psychological drama. Perfect for fans of  The Husband's Secret  and  I Let You Go

Following on from her eBook bestseller Close To Me, Amanda Reynolds is back with Lying To You, another gripping psychological drama. Perfect for fans of The Husband's Secret and I Let You Go

Three Pics To Pub #5 - Rebecca F. John

I'm thrilled to welcome another wonderful writer to my #3pics2pub feature, Rebecca F. John.

Her book, The Haunting of Henry Twist was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel award 2017!

Rebecca and I met when we were both invited to take part in a RiffRaff event for debut novelists, a chance to read from your first published book and answer questions from an engaged audience of writers and readers. It's a great night out so if you ever get the chance to go, or are invited to take part by the lovely Amy and Rosy, I'd recommend it.

So, without further preamble, other than a cute dogs alert, here is Rebecca's journey to publication...

I was around ten when I first read Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights and, long before I had devoured the last page, convinced myself that I would one day become a novelist.  I had fallen in love with Lyra’s world – where souls took the shape of animals and polar bears spoke in gruff voices – and I longed to fall into it and discover the form of my own daemon.  Being a practical child, I realised then that, with a pen and paper, I too could create worlds.  And I set about doing so – in secret.  Admitting to being a writer requires a particular sort of bravery, I’ve found, and I’m only now managing to say the words without wincing.  Just! 

My route to publication wasn’t particularly smooth.  I wrote bad stories, I got rejected by magazines, I studied for a literature degree, I got rejected by agents, I studied for a masters, and at some point the writing must have got a little better, because in 2015 my short story collection Clown’s Shoes was published by Parthian Books.  The cover is gorgeous, and I’m very proud of it. Here I am looking pleased with myself at the launch party.

Book Launch - Clown's Shoes (2).jpg

2015, I can see now, was a significant year for me – not in terms of gaining recognition as such, but in terms of laying the foundations for the career I had long since committed myself to.  That year, I was shortlisted for the Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award, which led me to meet my agent Chris Wellbelove, who, after a spell of edits, put my novel, The Haunting of Henry Twist, out on submission.  I was starting to feel like a ‘real writer’. 

It was also a year of personal changes.  I bought my house and lived alone for the first time, I used my first advance to buy my little dog Betsy (a decision which was much applauded in my agent’s office), and I wrote and wrote and wrote.  I also – on account of the three dogs I acquired in quick succession – discovered my love of walking, so while I wrote and wrote and wrote, I walked and walked and walked.  I now begin every day with a walk, as many writers do.  It’s the best way, I think, to tackle sitting at a desk from the remainder of the day, and it’s a great opportunity to think about your characters’ needs, desires, actions, and mistakes without interruption.

Here is a snap of Betsy, Teddy, and Effie enjoying a beach walk.  Mercifully, I am behind the camera.

Beach hounds.jpg

In late 2015, Agent Chris sold The Haunting of Henry Twist to the wonderful people at Serpent’s Tail.  Following more edits (no I don’t like them; I can’t believe that anyone does!) the novel was published in hardback in July 2017.  The paperback followed in February of this year and here is a photo of the beautiful cover. 

I hope to publish many more books – there are so many stories I want to tell – and I feel certain that should I succeed in doing so the thrill of holding a book with my very own name on the cover will never fade.  What a special moment!

It’s a milestone that feels different for every writer, I imagine.  For me, though, the sensation consisted of equal parts joy, pride, and vindication.  All the hours I’d tucked into the spaces between work commitments and life, all the invitations I’d turned down and the writing time I’d protected from other people’s intrusions and doubts, all the horrible jobs I’d worked because I couldn’t give up on what at times seemed unattainable – holding The Haunting of Henry Twist’s lovely blue cover in my hands proved that I’d made the right decision every time.  I was a writer.  I’d known it all along, really.

Henry Twist cover.jpg

Thank you so much Rebecca for sharing your story.

The Haunting of Henry Twist: Shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award 2017

London, 1926: Henry Twist's heavily pregnant wife leaves home to meet a friend. On the way, she is hit by a bus and killed, though miraculously the baby survives. Henry is left with nothing but his new daughter - a single father in a world without single fathers. He hurries the baby home, terrified that she'll be taken from him. Racked with guilt and fear, he stays away from prying eyes, walking her through the streets at night, under cover of darkness.

But one evening, a strange man steps out of the shadows and addresses Henry by name. The man says that he has lost his memory, but that his name is Jack. Henry is both afraid of and drawn to Jack, and the more time they spend together, the more Henry sees that this man has echoes of his dead wife. His mannerisms, some things he says ... And so Henry wonders, has his wife returned to him? Has he conjured Jack himself from thin air? Or is he in the grip of a sophisticated con man? Who really sent him?

Set in a postwar London where the Bright Young Things dance into dawn at garden parties hosted by generous old Monty, The Haunting of Henry Twist is a novel about the limits and potential of love and of grief. It is about the lengths we will go to hold on to what is precious to us, what we will forgive of those we love, and what we will sacrifice for the sake of our own happiness.

Mentoring Journey - Nikki Smith

As I begin working with a new mentee, Kate, I asked Nikki for her thoughts on the journey her manuscript has taken in the last FEW months.

I must admit, having read this I'm wondering if she should have mentored me! 

Thanks so much Nikki for being a complete pro to work with and for guesting on my blog. Here's her story...

 

 Nikki Smith - Author 

Nikki Smith - Author 

Mentoring Journey

 

On 14th November last year I was trying not to refresh Twitter every few minutes. I was desperate for news following Amanda’s offer to mentor one lucky individual. ‘Is there a number I can call you on?’ popped up as a direct message. I tried not to get my hopes up. I answered her call with my fingers crossed & have to admit I did well up when she said she’d picked me.

That was five months ago. In that time Amanda and I have been on a journey that has taken my very flabby, full of plot holes, unstructured book to a novel I’m really proud of. When I applied for the mentorship, I knew deep down some parts of my book needed work but thought most of it was probably ‘okay.’

It wasn’t.

Amanda helped me to see where the issues were and to start with she pointed some of these out. I now realise having someone who is willing to give critical feedback is absolutely essential. In the past I’d had a few people read extracts of my book, but they would often focus on what they enjoyed about it – it’s difficult for friends to give constructive criticism as they don’t want to offend you. After working with Amanda for a while I was able to recognise these issues for myself and she gave me the confidence to think of solutions to fix them. Providing feedback is one thing - but teaching someone to see that in their own work is a huge skill.

I thought I would list of some of the things I have learned on our journey together - my novel is domestic noir/suspense genre, so some of these things might not apply to other genres, but I think they probably do.

1.      Support when you are writing a book is critical. Having someone who you know has been published who you can talk to or email to get a second opinion, or ask a question, really helps. If you can’t find a mentor then try joining a writing group or go on a creative writing course to meet like minded people who know what it’s like to have spent the afternoon in front of a laptop with a blank screen, or to have filled a screen with words only to re-read them and delete the lot.

2.      Show don’t tell. I’d been told this before, but don’t think I truly realised what it meant until I was some way into my book. The reader wants to know what’s inside your characters head, but not by being told they are ‘sad’, or ‘lonely’ or ‘desperate.’ They want to see it and work it out for themselves. So, for each scene in your novel, work out what you want the reader to think and then ask yourself is your scene showing the reader that, without telling them directly.

3.      All those sentences with amazing descriptions that you’ve spent hours or days constructing? (I can’t tell you how many of these I had in my novel. I was really quite proud of them.) Unless they are CRITICAL to your plot, or really say something about your characters rather than yourself, dump them.

4.      Some writers are planners and some aren’t. I’ve read many tweets promoting the advantages of both sides. But I think that as a debut writer, it is important to think through the structure of your novel and the tense you’re writing in before you start. That’s not to say that you need a spreadsheet of every scene, but a clear overview is a good idea. I say this speaking from bitter experience – I had to re-write a third of my novel (twice!) as the first time I had far too much backstory in it (a classic error) and the second time because I hadn’t done enough research to realise something one of my characters was doing would not have been possible / realistic in real life. And yes, I did have a quiet cry on the second occasion.

5.      Avoid fluff words. Claire Fuller has a great list of these that Amanda referred me to. ‘Just’, ‘Then’ and ‘Back’ are my personal favourites. Scan through your novel for these, stand back and be amazed how many you can find. In one paragraph.

6.      Celebrate little achievements. If you finish a chapter / hit a word count for the day or even just manage to get that sentence right that you’ve been working on for hours, celebrate. The little achievements all build towards something bigger, and writing can be a lonely occupation, so if you don’t reward yourself, no-one else is likely to.  [Note to self – perhaps not as many dark chocolates will be necessary next time…]

7.      Take heart from coincidences. This may just be one for me, but there have been several weird coincidences when Amanda & I have been working that made me think – yes, this is supposed to be. My protagonist is, and has always been, an A Reynolds. Amanda swears she didn’t realise that before she accepted me as a mentee!

8.      Persevere. No-one said writing a book is easy (it isn’t) but keep going, a few words at a time and be kind to others who are on their own journey. I have found the writing community as a whole incredibly supportive so join Twitter, read books and post reviews of ones you have enjoyed on Twitter or Amazon whilst you’re writing your own.

9.      Have patience. And more patience. And a bit more patience. Oh, and a bit more patience.

10.  If you are in a position to, #payitforward. Amanda did that for me, and I wouldn’t be where I am now without her.

 

Thanks so much, Nikki for your kind words, it's been a pleasure.

IF YOU'RE INTERESTED IN READING MY LATEST PSYCHOLOGICAL DRAMA

LYING TO YOU IS CURRENTLY 99P ON AMAZON

You can buy it HERE

 

  A gripping drama with dark twists and turns, perfect for fans of Big Little Lies, Anatomy of a Scandal, and Doctor Foster.    'GRIPPING and TWISTY'  Laura Marshall, No.1 bestselling author of FRIEND REQUEST  'COMPULSIVELY READABLE'  Kate Hamer, author of THE GIRL IN THE RED COAT   You think you know the truth, but what if your husband is LYING TO YOU?   When Jess Tidy was Mark Winter's student, she made a shocking accusation. Mark maintained his innocence, but the damage was done.  Karen Winter stood by her husband through everything, determined to protect her family.  Now, ten years later, Jessis back. And the truth about that night is finally going to come out . . .

A gripping drama with dark twists and turns, perfect for fans of Big Little Lies, Anatomy of a Scandal, and Doctor Foster.

'GRIPPING and TWISTY' Laura Marshall, No.1 bestselling author of FRIEND REQUEST
'COMPULSIVELY READABLE' Kate Hamer, author of THE GIRL IN THE RED COAT

You think you know the truth, but what if your husband is LYING TO YOU?

When Jess Tidy was Mark Winter's student, she made a shocking accusation. Mark maintained his innocence, but the damage was done.

Karen Winter stood by her husband through everything, determined to protect her family.

Now, ten years later, Jessis back. And the truth about that night is finally going to come out . . .

Mentoring 2018 - My Shortlist

As before, the response and quality of entries has been amazing. Thanks to everyone who took part. It takes a lot of bravery to put your work out there, pitching on social media and then sending to a total stranger. That's such an achievement, well done.

I know it's disappointing if you're not selected, but it's important to remember I can only choose one mentee and that my choices for the shortlist are entirely my own, subjective and based on the kind of work-in-progress I feel comfortable taking on. For that reason, some manuscripts, although wonderful, were still rejected. Not because they weren't 'good enough' but because I didn't feel I'd be able to add value.

Mentoring, as I've discovered working with Nikki Smith over the last few months, is a joy, but also a responsibility. I want to get it right, which means I've had to make some tough choices. Especially as the pitches and submissions were all so good. 

In no particular order, here is my shortlist. Many congratulations!

Standing Water - Anna Carr

The Forrest's End - Kate Galley

Shifting Sands - Asha North

I will now be reading these entries again in more depth to make my final choice of just one. 

If you're interested in reading my latest psychological drama

LYING TO YOU is currently 99p on Amazon

BUY HERE