Category Archives: Writing

About my writing

Success!

I have signed with a publisher – Crooked Cat Books – so I thought I should give some insight into the process and what I did to get here, in the hope that it might help someone else along.

Everyone in the business offering advice to aspiring authors says that you should never give up. There are many tales of famous authors who have had tens or even hundreds of rejection letters before achieving success.

However, I took a slightly different approach. I did get lots of rejections. The real problem was that I was getting either no response or form letters. I think I had only one personalised rejection. So, after a period of getting a bit down about it, I decided that I needed to do something different.

To back up a bit, I’ve been writing for about 25 years without much success. But, just over five years ago I went on an Arvon course and learnt that writing was a skill that can be honed like any craft. I got stuck into reading books about plot and structure. I started to look at my earlier books as practice pieces. If you imagine writing is like, say, carpentry, then my earlier books were slightly wonky tables and chairs. No shame in learning that way, but if you keep making the same mistakes, well then, you’re not making progress at all.

So, I had this book that had a solid structure. The characters were well formed, had crises and showed development. As I couldn’t see what I was missing, I went to a professional literary consultant. I chose Cornerstones, but others are out there. They put me with an editor and I saw the flaws. For me, it was primarily point-of-view that needed tweaking.

Also, I never stopped thinking about the opening sentence and the ending. Those two bits I rewrote probably five or six times over the last year. Because it wasn’t getting picked up, I knew I had to keep changing things until it did.

As well as viewing writing as a craft, the other change I made was to view it as a business. I have a head full of ideas but I realised that as an unknown, first-time author I’d be asking a lot of an agent or publisher to take on a challenging cross-genre book. So, I decided to home in on one tightly defined genre – crime. It’s not that I’m not writing what my heart wants to write, it’s more that there’s now a negotiation between heart and head. I love puzzles and thinking beyond a normal plot to what happened next. So it was very natural for me to write the kind of “what happened twenty years ago” crime novel. While I love writing it, it was also a business decision.

Likewise, around the end of last year I was still getting nowhere with finding an agent. I had a professionally edited manuscript, well honed pitch letter, list of agents, everything together. So, I decided to go in a slightly different direction. Recognising that I was still a big risk, being unknown, I targeted digital-only and digital-first publishers. These have lower overheads so can take more risks.

So, after making all these changes, I was very quickly accepted by Crooked Cat. I have read some of their books and feel at home here.

My takeaway message then is to have persistence. But don’t have blind persistence, do it with knowledge and a clear head.

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Good luck and thank you for reading!

Three Hundred and Fifty

It’s been a long time since I blogged. At first this was because I was writing but then the summer holidays arrived. As I’m a stay-at-home Dad or House-husband, the summer holidays mean that the three boys take priority. As they get older, they stay up later, and my writing time diminishes. I have, unfortunately, never been one of those people who can rise early in the morning and write before the boys wake up. Unfortunately once you stop writing, and especially if you start submitting to agents, it becomes really hard to get your momentum going again.

I found salvation in a writing blog that I’ve signed up to – Randy Ingmersons Advanced Fiction Writing Magazine. I get a monthly email and it is always an interesting read. This month there was an article about how to organise your writing and increase your productivity by setting word count targets. It was all really useful but one particular nugget helped me out. It’s a simple starting point for writing when you’re struggling – write 350 words a day.

It’s kind of a trick because it’s very easy to write 350 words – it’s not a huge amount and can be done in twenty minutes if you set your mind to it. The reason it’s a trick is because hard to stop once you’ve written 350 words. Usually I write between 450 and 500 words every day. It doesn’t sound like much but it does mean that the word count is going up quite satisfyingly. certainly after a dry spell, it’s a good feeling. For ages, I’d written about 16 or 17 thousand words, now it’s over 21 thousand.

And what it does is keep your book alive in your head. I do a lot of my writing in my head, running plots and characters around while I’m doing other, slightly more mundane jobs. Then, when I have enough, I write it down. But while I’m writing a mere 350 words a day, then my book is moving forwards.

So that’s my one tip for the day – write 350 words. I’ve made this blog a living demonstration of the principle – it weighs in at 350 words!

Enjoying being a writer

I have one completed novel and I’m working on the sequel. I’m currently in the process of looking for either an agent or a publisher which entails a lot of waiting. I am still writing and putting words down – I should crack the 10,000 barrier in the next day or two! But, maintaining a positive frame of mind I know that once I start to get contracts signed, life will get busier and I’ll be less free to pick and choose what I do and what I work on. So at the moment, I am enjoying being a writer.

I’m currently re-reading one of my favourite books, Stephen King’s The Stand. It’s weird because I know it’s not SK’s favourite but popular with his fans. Viewing writing as a craft, I’d like to draw an analogy with carpentry. Before I started studying writing technique, I’d look at a book, like a table or cupboard. I’d know what I liked and what I didn’t – what worked and what didn’t. Then as I learnt, I’d read books, but I’d be looking at the joints, the carving. Whether the angles were true or not, how it was all put together. Even more so when I was watching TV I’d start to see the underlying structure of the plot and character development.

Now, finally I seem to have gone through that and can reread a book (like the Stand) and see how it is put together. I can enjoy reading it but now my enjoyment is deeper because I know why it is good. It’s like seeing a table or cupboard, knowing it to be useful and beautiful. But also going beyond that point to appreciating the choices the craftsman made, and why they made them. Then, wrapping all those feelings up to an overall appreciation of the work.

I’m guessing that this what is meant by reading as a writer. Not just reading to fill the time but reading to see what else is possible, what other people have done – studying the work to learn from it.

The other thing that I love is that books and reading seem to me to be as natural as breathing. But every now and again something happens to open my eyes to the fact that other people are different. I bumped into an acquaintance the other day and she saw that I had a paperback with me as I was intending to eat alone. But instead she started chatting about the Stephen King novel she was reading. So she went from an acquaintance to a friend. In this day of multiple TV channels, online streaming of films, automatic recorders and all the other temptations of the internet, reading is being marginalised. Meeting someone else who chooses to read over any other form of entertainment is meeting a kindred spirit – even more so if you share the same taste in books!

Have any of you met other readers and formed a bond like that? I get perplexed when I meet people who don’t read so it’s lovely to meet those who do! I know I have other writers who read this blog and I wondered what you think? Do you analyse books as you read them and does that make them less or more enjoyable?

What’s it all about?

I’ve decided to share my ideas for a blurb, intro letter or even an elevator pitch in this blog. (An elevator pitch is where you find yourself in the same lift (I am British not American!) as a publisher and have thirty seconds to pitch your idea before they get off at their floor.)

It’s quite common among writers for people to be afraid of sharing their work too early, if at all. There is a fear that someone will seize upon your ideas and write a book based on them. I discount this for several reasons. Firstly, I’ve put many months of hard work into my story, so anyone looking to steal would be starting from a long way back. By the time they’ve got to first draft, hopefully my manuscript will have passed across the desk (OK, email inbox) of agents. Also, it’s all electronic nowadays, and a beta copy has been sent out to many people, so there is proof that I got there first.

But the most important point is that I have confidence in my voice. I am the only one who can tell this story in this way. Even if I gave another writer my plot and character outlines, it wouldn’t be the same story. There is a Kurt Vonnegut quote (well probably, I haven’t been able to verify it!) – “Somebody gets into trouble, then gets out of it again. People love that story. They never get tired of it.” It’s a bit flippant but it does underline an important point. There are very few really original stories, and to an extent, readers don’t really want bold and original. They want to hear a writer’s unique take on the stories they are familiar with.

To hark back to an earlier post, it’s like music. Yes, you could make music that was atonal, a random collection of notes and screeches, and it would probably be ground breaking and revolutionary. But no-one would want to listen to it. Once you start following the rules of a particular genre, then you start to build an audience and have a place to do things with your own stamp on it.

Anyway, for all that I’ve now spent 350 words putting it off, so here goes:

Identity is the first book in the Reluctant Buddhist series. It is a mystery set in an English seaside town with spiritual and psychic undercurrents. Imagine a Phil Rickman book with Buddhism or a Jason Bourne adventure set on a small stage – an off-season, English tourist resort.

I haven’t got much further than that, but next will be a blurb. I do have various synopses around because I’ve entered a couple of competitions.

Please let me know what you think on the comments below!

Squibbleflip

Hi all. I’m just testing out the whole Google Authorship thing. To do that I need a page that will be easily found on a Google search so this one is entitled squibbleflip as there aren’t any other pages on Google with that name. I’m just going to leave this up here for a few days and see if it gets spidered and how it all works. Please do comment and/or link in to this to make it come up higher.

Graham H Miller

Google