For me, this summer has marked the end of one major journey and the start of another.
The start involves Talking To The Dead (which, 36 hours after publication, has just had its first 5-star review on Amazon. And bless you, LJ Donaldson, for that.) I jolly well hope that the book launches me on a durable crime-writing career. I’d love that.
The journey that’s ending has to do with How To Write. That’s a 130,000 word follow-up to my earlier 120,000 word Getting Published. Quarter of a million words talking about my day job. I’m really pleased with the two books and happy that other people have enjoyed them.
But golly gosh, there are a lot of other books on similar topics. Most of them, I don’t really rate. Many are badly written (how dare they be!) or patronising or out of date or just so gimmicky you want to cry. But there are some real gems as well.
I’ve recently seen – and have particularly enjoyed – Nicola Morgan’s bracing Write to be Published. It’s such a good read. It’s packed full of such common sense. It’s you’re a long distance runner, entering your eighteenth mile, and all of a sudden you have someone calm, positive and direct jogging alongside you and telling you just what to do.
Here are some characteristic Crabbitisms:
[Talking about why being an author is a tough job.] The money is usually rubbish and the hours are long. You will go into your bookshops and not find your books there. Your publisher will blame you for poor sales and dump you. This is like being made redundant but without the money. Your work will at some point be reviewed negatively and this will be on the internet for ever …
This is why we eat chocolate. It is the only antidote to insecurity that I know. Get your supplies in.
Or on judging the market:
Publishers want something that is sufficiently the same and yet sufficiently different. If the same, it must not be too the same, unless it’s supposed to fit a formula. If different, it must not be so different that people are confused or that their expectations are missed. Some publishers will take a risk with something experimental – though less so in difficult financial times – but most can’t, because it will be too hard to sell, unless a virtue can be made of its difference. It’s not easy to sell a book by saying to people, ‘You know how you normally read that sort of book. Well, this is NOT like that but we still want you to buy it.’
And sometimes you just get bursts of lovely, invigorating candour: ‘Some incredibly annoying writers get a publishing deal at their first attempt. I hate them.’
It’s a cracking read. Brisk. Expert. Sensible. Motivational.
If you’re relatively new to writing and the whole business of approaching the industry, this book is a perfect place to start. It’s so direct, so clear and so unarguable.
If you’re already reasonably sophisticated at writing and the whole agent-submissions process, the book may not vastly deepen your understanding but , gosh, I bet it’ll clarify a few things all the same – those little kinks of thought which you sort of know to be wrong, yet choose to protect anyway.
Nicola has also produced an ebook on writing a great synopsis (called, astonishingly, Write A Great Synopsis). There’s an upcoming book on writing to agents, which will be called with equal imagination, Dear Agent. The first of those books is priced at just under £3 on Amazon, which is a pretty good offer I reckon: for the price of a cup of coffee, you get an expert guide to the kind of issue that has so many writers (needlessly) shaking in their espadrilles.
Oh – and Nicola’s expertise and general loveliness (*) is going to be on show to all at the Festival of Writing. So go and order your copy of Write to Be Published, then come to the Festival and ask her to sign it.
* – she says she’s crabbit, but – meh – not really.