So how do you know if your book isn’t finished?

I’m doing the agency rounds for book number 3 at the moment. As you’d expect, the submission criteria don’t vary that much between them:

  • Covering letter
  • Synopsis
  • First fifty pages or the first three chapters.

A lot of the agencies also post some helpful hints about presentation, and increasingly, recommendations for literary consultants – which I’ve talked about before.

Anyway, I came across the  Caroline Davidson Literary Agency who, according to their entry on LitRejections, were not interested in any of the following:

Chick Lit, Romance, Erotica, Crime, Thrillers, Science-Fiction, Fantasy, Poetry, Children’s Books, YA, Or Non-Fiction in these areas: Autobiographies, Memoirs, Conspiracy Theories, Educational Textbooks, Local History, Occult, PhD Theses, Self-Help, Unfortunate Personal Experiences, True Crime, or War Stories.

Bloody hell, I thought, what are they interested in?  I was intrigued enough to head over to their website to take a look, and under submissions guidelines, I found this:

What we are looking for in a novel »

A good title; an engaging story with a beginning, middle and end; vivid, memorable characters whom one cares about; superb dialogue; a trans­porting sense of time and place; accuracy of detailing; psycho­logical plaus­ibility; an intriguing beginning and memorable ending.

In addition, what fills us with joy is the writer who has a palpable love of language; who always chooses precisely the right words; eschews cliché; handles pacing with the grace of a dancer or musician; conjures up moods and atmospheres with precision and panache. His or her spelling, punctuation and grammar will be immaculate.

First novels are welcomed at CDLA, but only if they fit all the requirements above.

And there you have it:  all they’re looking for is a bloody good book. At the very least this is what every writer should be aiming for.

A bit further down, we have a few more gems that tell you whether or not your book is in a fit state to be published:

The classic signs of an ‘unpolished’ novel are as follows:

  • you haven’t actually finished it
  • you haven’t revised it
  • you’re still at the first or second draft stage
  • you haven’t read it out aloud and improved it in the light of that experience
  • you haven’t given the novel to test readers (i.e both men and women of different ages and from varying backgrounds) and acted on their detailed feedback.

Points 1–3 should be obvious, and I will keep banging on about point number 4: read every page in a loud clear voice to hear how it sounds. There’s no better way to catch awkward sentences and an overabundance of dialogue tags. After you’ve read your work for the ninth time, missing/misplaced words will just wash over you because you’re not actually reading at this stage; you’re remembering. Read it out loud, and watch the mistakes fly out at you.

Jessica Jones: Superheroes with soul.

Netflix and Marvel’s Jessica Jones shows how these things should be done. Yes, it’s another superhero series, but this one is every bit as good as Daredevil, and what makes it good is what’s been left out:

jessica-jones-netflix-poster.jpg

  • No one seems to have any super powers; well, nothing earth-shattering anyway. You won’t find anyone here who can knock down a building by breathing on it. Jessica gets by on modicum of super-strength, and seems to be powered by vodka and very little else. She’s a private detective by day, and like all good gumshoes, she drinks to forget.
  • There are no city-levelling fight scenes.
  • No hi-tech armour, no mystical hammers and no indestructible shields.
  • No Scarlett Johanssen, but I’ll get over it.

What it does have is an easy slow-burning plot and a rather seedy feel that comes across as a sort of film noir shot in a slum. The script is deadpan, not overdone, with a hint of dark humour. They’re not trying to send a message or save the world; none of the heroes and villains here give a hoot about anything or anyone.  It’s surprisingly heavy on the sex scenes, and the director hasn’t pulled any punches in any of the fight sequences – and there aren’t that many of those.

I didn’t make it through the first episode of Supergirl; I’ve watched four episodes of Jessica Jones, back to back, and when I’m done here I’m going back for more. Great stuff.

Eight out of ten.

Interested in self-publishing? Read Ana Spoke.

I don’t often recommend websites, though I think I probably should do it a lot more often. I’ve been following the adventures of Ana Spoke on her path to self-publishing stardom. If you’re deciding between traditional publishing and going it alone then you owe it to yourself to spend some time on Ana’s website. What separates Ana from the vast majority of the self-publishers is that she’s done it properly: she’s spent two and a half years writing the book, has had it professionally edited, reworked it and edited again.

She’s also documenting what’s she doing as a kind of self-publisher’s diary, and it’s a fascinating insight into what  it takes to get your work noticed in a market where thousands of new works are appearing almost every day. Ana has listed the places where she’s tried marketing her book (It’s called Shizzle Inc., by the way) and tells you (with graphs, no less!) what pricing models have worked best for her. There are some lively discussions there too (especially concerning grammar and the use of editors, and if pricing your work to low devalues it in the readers’ eyes).

The biggest takeaway for me? Marketing yourself as a self-publisher takes time, effort and it can’t be done for free.