The fantastic weekend that was the Festival of Writing 2013 came to a close with a talk from author S. J. Bolton (http://www.sjbolton.com/). The one distinction she gave between authors who have been published and those that weren’t were the published ones are the writers who did not give up. Who believed in themselves and kept going no matter how many rejection letters crept in through the letterbox. Who went into bookshops and libraries and had an all-consuming feeling of jealousy whenever they didn’t see their own books there.
Timing is everything in publishing but taking your time is as important as having the right idea at the right time. Even if your work fits the market, a badly-presented piece won’t last five minutes.
Here are the pointers S. J. Bolton gave to us during her talk:
1) Write for yourself
2) Take risks
3) Write the thing
4) Finish it
5) Read it out
6) Decimate and annihilate anything that doesn’t add anything to the story
7) Clean it up (not everyone likes rude words)
8) Make the first and last lines as good as they can be
9) Be talented, hardworking and professional
10) Be nice
11) Do not be a twat.
All useful stuff there. Well, I hope you enjoyed this twelve-part epic tale of the Festival of Writing. I’ve certainly been inspired to go back again next year and I strongly advise anyone else thinking of getting published to go too! If you want to see what the Writers’ Workshop is all about visit their website and join the Word Cloud: http://www.writersworkshop.co.uk/literary-agents.html
Following on from the morning’s panel discussion, I went along to a talk on playable stories by Christine Wilks (http://www.crissxross.net/) who is a digital writer and artist.
One example Christine showed us was a work called Tailspin, where the reader clicks over a series of shapes that tells each part of the story in a scene before moving onto the next bit. This allows the reader to read the story in any order, thus having a story presented in a non-linear way with the aid of sounds and graphics, both still and moving.
I would have loved to have heard more but I had to leave early again for another session but the examples on the website look really interesting. I think there will have to be a future post on here about computer games and books at some point.
Crime Writer Eve Seymour (http://www.evseymour.co.uk/) talked us through the best ways to put tension into a book.
The difference between pacing and tension is that pacing is used to turn the pages while tension adds depth to the story. This is vital for attracting agents as it pushes the characters to their limits. A writer should imagine what the worst thing to happen to their characters would be and see how they react when it happens. Suspense is also a useful thing to use as the reader will want to know what will happen next so it is important not to rush it. Subtle hints help to build up the tension before a sudden revelation (such as an accusation in the middle of small talk).
Eve discussed some of the problems that writers faced when trying to build tension. These included:
- Solving problems far too soon
- Characters having too many skills
- No proper forshadowing (not mentioning skills earlier)
- No surprise
- Vague missions
- Protagonists falling for the same trick twice
- Violence too mechanical – should show the pain and fear
The reader needs to know what the character will do when faced with a sudden situation, how they will get out of it and what will happen next. Up and down endings are also good to have (such as those in 24) where the protagonist has to lose something to win such as their family, their career or their life.
Sunday kicked off with a panel discussion on how storytelling is evolving and making use of new technologies and the Internet. First up was Rob Sherman (http://bonfiredog.co.uk/), who wanted to try something new for his university dissertation. This led to a collaboration with Random House for the Black Crown Project (http://blackcrownproject.com/s) which makes use of choose your own adventure software and is one example of how literature and video games are beginning to link up together.
Next was Lisa Gee (http://www.lisagee.net/) who is writing a digital biography of poet and essayist, William Hayley using the Padify software that helps you build your own applications (I don’t like saying ‘apps’ either). One idea is to have an application that lets Hayley send you advice each day whether you want it or not. Lisa also mentioned the project is funded through Unbound, which allows people to pitch their ideas on the website (http://unbound.co.uk/) and gain finance through offering freebies, etc.
The last to speak was Tom Abba (http://tomabba.com/), who has written a digital story which you can find here (http://pagesfall.com/). Sadly I had to leave to go to another session so did not make many notes but it looks very interesting.
The last session I attended on Saturday was hosted by Jo Unwin. We started with everyone in the group giving a short pitch of their work, which was written up. We came back to this at the end.
There are three main forms of media: prose, theatre and screen, with each one showing drama in different ways. Novels work for displaying internal conflict, theatre uses subtext and screen uses action. Of course, some of these do overlap and those that do the best make the best adaptations.
Films, unlike books and, to a certain extent, stage plays, cost a lot of money to make and, especially in these austere times, finance can be quite hard to come by. A low budget can cost roughly £100,000 and Massive Hollywood Blockbusters can cost many millions so if you want to make one of these it’s best to become good friends with a bank manager. Having a big star can help with getting cash. Appealing to the widest audience possible (all the family) will also be a good thing to do as will writing a bestseller.
At the end of the session we went through each idea to see what sort of films they would make. Some would attract funding, to make into films while others would work as documentaries. In the Shadow of the Gods would cost quite a bit what with the scenic Scandinavian setting and longships don’t come cheap these days.
This workshop was led by Andrew Wille who is a Book Doctor and a teacher of Creative Writing (http://www.wille.org/)
Now, editing is not my favourite part of writing by any means. I know the story and I’ve got it out of my head and onto the page. I’ve done it now and I want to do something else. I’m sure I’m not the first writer to say that but the fact is editing is one of the most important parts when writing a piece of work. Andrew quite rightly said that the first draft is ‘when the author tells him/herself the story’. Not the reader. There will be various mistakes, poor use of grammar, punctuation, etc and this will be noticed by readers who have parted with their hard-earned to be entertained by your work.
There are various stages in the editing process. Most publishing houses have people that do each of the tasks. The first is structural editing which looks at the structure and consistency of the story, characters and chapters.
Next comes copy editing that looks through each and every line to see that everything works. This includes style, spelling, grammar, etc. As this is a very fine job it is very easy to miss things and these can sometimes be found in printed books that have gone all the way through the publishing process and ended up on the shelves of your local bookshop.
Then there is typesetting that deals with formatting. All the pages are arranged, the lines are spaced out and the fonts chosen. After this the proof copy is printed.
Then it’s time for proofreading. The proof copy is checked and this is the last stage of quality control. The book is all done and goes off to the next stage in the publishing machine!
Andrew also gave other tips that included printing out work, two pages on one piece of paper, landscape. Not only is it good for the environment but it also makes your work look like a book! He also distributed a handout which will be very handy when I next edit some work!
After lunch there was a discussion between the agent Jo Unwin and the publisher Jane Lawson. Again, this discussion emphasised the need for clarity and for pitches to be concise. Everything needs to be honed down so the agent can convince the publisher that they can be sold as a commercial prospect.
In the traditional publishing world there is a chain of sales: author to agent, agent to editor, editor to marketing, marketing to bookseller, bookseller to reader (something that was also discussed in the self-publishing workshop the next day). This whole process can take between one or two years and in that time tastes and trends change. Editing is one of the longest processes as authors are consulted on every single edit made so it is best to make sure that the work is as perfect as can be before it is submitted.
One interesting piece of advice, one I have heard before and is worth repeating, is that January is a good time to submit. This is after the Christmas sales (and parties) and everyone is ready for the New Year’s round of books. Another good tip was that it wasn’t a problem to approach the same agent twice (what a good idea…) Authors should also be ‘shameless’ in self-promotion. It shows they are serious about selling their work and will appeal to the commercial minds of publishers.
This was a very insightful talk about the agent-publisher relationship and interesting to see what happens when a work is sold. The description of editing led very nicely to the next workshop I went to: Editing for Writers which you can read about tomorrow.
Just before lunch there were a series of genre panels for everyone to choose from. These included Literary Fiction, Science Fiction and Fantasy, Children’s and Young Adult, Women’s Fiction, Crime and Thrillers, Scripts and, the one I naturally went to, Historical Fiction. This was chaired (see, still none of this facilitating nonsense) by two agents, Sam Copeland from Rogers, Coleridge and White and Chris Wellbelove from Greene and Heaton.
One thing that I was happy to hear in this session is that Viking and Medieval fiction is becoming a trend, partly due to the popularity of Game of Thrones and the upcoming Thor film. This, however, is a problem as, by the time a book is published, the market would be interested in something else. So, if anyone from Marvel is reading this, please ask your mates in the film industry to make another Thor film. Iron Man had three and you don’t want to be accused of favouritism, do you? In fact, why not make a fourth one that can be called Thor Four? Just a Thort.
Anyway, the general feeling was that most agents do not care when it is set as long as the story is good. It’s only publishers that look for trends in the market. There was also more discussion about how to pitch, the advice being that the story is the most important thing, followed by the time and place and a pitch should be like a blurb. All in all this was a good session and, if you want to write historical fiction, then write what you find interesting. Don’t choose a period because it is popular because by the time your book is published something else would have taken over.
This workshop was led (I have a real dislike of the word ‘facilitated’) by Juliet Pickering from the Blake Friedmann Literary, TV and Film Agency.
The whole purpose of the one minute, two line pitch is to sum up what your book is about in a clear and concise way that also makes it sound interesting to readers (and agents). Starting with the title of the book, this needs to involve the setting, what it’s basically about, what happens to the protagonist and where the book fits in the market. We started off summing up the book in three sentence before adding another about what makes the book unique (and therefore appealing to the market). Then we mixed the two to make it two lines.
Here’s my latest attempt, see what you think:
In the Shadow of the Gods is a the beginning of a series following a Norse family through the generations. Thorwulf is forced into conflict with his friend and adoptive brother, Einar, after a series of prophecies shapes their actions. With action taking place in Norway, Scotland and England, will Thorwulf be able to escape the fate that seems to have been planned for him?
OK, I know that’s three lines and it needs a bit of work but that’s the general idea. It’s also helpful to write a blurb (like what you see on the back of a book) that you can use if you need to elaborate further. These are better than synopses in my view because they do not give away the ending!
This session was very useful as I had two one-to-one appointments with agents so it was handy if I needed to pitch my work. I also spent the weekend telling people what I was writing so, if you go to writing conferences, you will have lots of opportunities to practice!