I bookmark all sorts of useful blog posts every week – on everything from plotting techniques to what kind of socks writers should wear to become better writers (I’ve been doing my own research into this matter and the answer, surely, is those fluffy ones from Penneys that look like small animals. Hours of sitting still at a desk wreaks havoc on the circulation). Sometimes the posts are just words of encouragement from established writers, or reassurance that they too, for the most part, don’t know what they’re doing until they’ve done it.
So I thought it might be an idea for a regular feature to round up the best items I come across over the course of the week and share. If anyone has any other must-read suggestions, do please let me know.
So many niggles, so little time
First up is Here Are The Things You Should Worry About While Writing A Novel. By aspiring novelist Susannah Felts, it’s a list of the simultaneous doubts that plague the would-be writer. She offers no solutions, but at least you know you’re not alone in your writerly neurosis:
“I worry that I have not done enough research. I worry that I’m spending too much time researching. I worry that people will think it’s not true to life. I worry that it’s too true to life and thus boring” – Susannah Felts
Getting that query letter right
Another, really useful article deals with the issue of writing cover letters when submitting a manuscript to agents and publishers. Although I’ve read many posts on this subject, Rites Of Submission: Cover Letters And Query Letters by editor Jacqueline K Ogburn is the first one I’ve come across that actually includes concrete examples of good and bad letters, something I’ve been searching for. I don’t know how recent this article is as it isn’t dated, but it’s new to me, and the information is timeless. And it points out that ultimately it’s the writing – the book – that matters most:
“Because the submission process seems so mysterious, cover letters are viewed as talismans or lucky charms, the magic object that will open the door leading to publication, fame and fortune. Not quite. A terrific cover letter never sold a bad manuscript, and many lovely books have sold in spite of their cover letters” – Jacqueline K Ogburn
Initial contact – how not to do it
There’s a similar message in How Did I Get My Agent?, a typically entertaining read by Irish writer Catherine Ryan Howard. Catherine, who has had success as a self-published author and will shortly have her thriller Distress Signals released by Corvus/Atlantic, is an expert in social media marketing and is well connected in the book industry. Yet she too met with unexpected pitfalls on her circuitous route to getting a book deal. Here she talks about one of the most basic reasons people (though not she herself) have their work rejected:
“The vast majority of submissions that come into agents’ offices – and for as long as I live, this is something I’ll never understand – don’t follow the agency’s submission guidelines. Even though they’re right there, on the website. I just don’t get it. You’re hoping this person will enter into a long-term business relationship with you, that you’ll become partners at the wheel of your career. That they’ll risk investing time in you that they might never get paid for. And they’ve never met you. All they know is what you present. And you start off by completely ignoring what they’ve politely requested you do?” – Catherine Ryan Howard
Food for thought
There’s something of a dichotomy evident in these posts – on the one hand, your good/bad letter won’t make your good/bad novel any worse/better. On the other hand, in order to give your brilliant/terrible manuscript the best chance of being considered, you have to abide by the submission rules and letter-writing guidelines.
Many years ago, I was involved in hiring someone at the company where I worked, and one candidate accompanied their CV with a note written in orange crayon that simply said: ‘I’M THE ONE YOU WANT!’ It made me laugh and I would like to have met with the person who had been daring enough to do something different. My boss threw it in the bin. There’s a time and a place for quirkiness, he said, and the applicant wasn’t demonstrating that they were taking the process seriously. That stayed with me; people like a bit of etiquette.
One person who has successfully navigated the submission/agent minefield is Galway-based author Lisa McInerney. Her recent debut The Glorious Heresies – described by Joseph O’Connor as a “big, brassy, sexy beast of a book” – has been longlisted for the Baileys Prize for Fiction. In this zippy Q&A for the Irish Times, she and her editor Mark Richards describe their working relationship, and how important it is to ‘get’ each other. The energy of their partnership leaps off the screen.
Short story competition
Finally, and completely unconnected with all of the above, is some competition news. The International 2016 Michael McLaverty Short Story Competition is open for entries of stories under 3,000 words. Run by the Linen Hall Library in Belfast, the award has been held biennially since 2006, and was set up to foster the tradition of the Irish short story.
Entrants must have been born in Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland and be over 18 years of age. The theme is ‘Lost Fields’ *tries to shake off image of Bull McCabe glowering* and the entry fee is £10. First prize is £2,000, and the winning story will be published with the two runners-up in a limited edition anthology. The competition closes at midnight, 30th June.
Happy Easter, everyone.