Happy NaNoWriMo!

It's that time of year again - beloved by some, feared by others, and irritating to a few. Yes, it's NaNoWriMo, aka National Novel Writing Month.

If this is the month you decide to get that project started, good for you! Everyone's got a load of advice to give (including me; several years ago I posted daily NaNo advice over on Hodderscape; you can find (some) of the archives here.) but today I'd like to share a few important takeaway points:

  1. The most important rule when it comes to writing is to just do it. Don't feel that you can't start simply because you don't have a full outline or know how the book will end. This is the 'butt in chair' principle and it's really, really important. NaNo is all about teaching you the importance of discipline, of writing a bit every single day. It doesn't have to be much and it doesn't have to go anywhere. Just write!
  2. This is your first draft, so treat it as such: don't sweat the small stuff. Don't agonise over your word-choice, your grammar, your punctuation, your spelling. Don't get caught up in details. Leave notes to yourself (eg "what would Henry VIII eat for breakfast?") rather than get distracted while you're writing and start researching. Internet wormholes are fun, but they'll tear you away from what you should be doing: getting things down on paper. Your second draft is when you get to go back and, you know, start filling in details and sorting out the dodgy bits.
  3. Line up a beta-reader. It can be agonising to share something as personal as a fiction project with a friend or family member, but it's very important that you get solid, honest feedback on your work. Find someone you trust who'll tell you what you've done well but who will be honest with you when something isn't working. It's best if they are a fan of the kind of book you're writing, so that they can feed back to you as a reader of that genre as well as your loving and supportive friend.

Good luck, and we hope to see some of your NaNo projects in our submissions inboxes soon!



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elevator pitch

Why You Need an Elevator Pitch

If you're an aspiring author, you've likely come across the phrase "elevator pitch" - essentially, the idea is that if you should have the chance to spend a few moments in an elevator with someone, you should have a clear and concise way of pitching your project to them. In its purest form, the elevator pitch may sound like "A gender-swapped Succession" or "Pride & Prejudice set on Mars": it's quick, efficient, and it may strike you as a little reductive, but at its best it's exciting. You're trying to pique someone's interest, and a well-crafted elevator pitch will do just that.

But, as with all such things, working up the right elevator pitch for your project is an art. You want something compelling but not inaccurate. You wouldn't want to compare your gentle Regency romance to Game of Thrones because it doesn't make a lot of sense and gives your audience the wrong picture of your project.

So, how to go about it? Start by thinking about your influences: what inspired you while you were writing? Consider, also, comparison titles to your own. Where would your book sit in a bookstore? If someone likes your book, what other books do they like? Be specific! You may feel that your book will appeal to anyone who likes books, but remember that your average reader has preferred genres and your first aim should be to get your book into that person's hands. When thinking about influences and comparison titles to use in your elevator pitch, start with something your average reader will be familiar with. My examples above - Game of Thrones and Pride & Prejudice - are extremely well known, so will help paint a clear picture of your project. Using something more obscure can be limiting, even if it is ultimately a little more accurate: consider "The Wars of the Roses retold as a secondary world fantasy" versus "A medieval Succession, with dragons". Which of those sounds more compelling?

Next, you want to add in that element which sets your project apart from others: thus, "Succession, with dragons". What makes your project special? Again, this can feel reductive - how can you boil your entire work down to a few words? - but it's incredibly important. What is your unique selling point? Is it your characters, your setting, your approach to the material?

You can use another title as a convenient shorthand: when I was publishing Pierce Brown's debut, Red Rising, my elevator pitch was "Ender's Game meets The Hunger Games." Red Rising is about a group of students at an elite school, one where they're trained in the art of war by killing each other, and my pitch placed the novel firmly in the categories I intended: SF and YA.

A solid elevator pitch will do an immense amount of work for you: it will spark the interest of potential agents, editors, booksellers, film and tv producers and, eventually readers. If you're querying agents, I would suggest you work up as solid an elevator pitch as possible, but don't worry if it's not perfect. If you secure representation, your agent will work on your pitch before sending the book out on submission to editors, and should a publishing house take your book on, that pitch will likely be refined yet again.

Our friends at Jericho have also written some great advice about developing an elevator pitch; you can read more here.

Good luck!

- Anne

Photo by Sung Jin Cho on Unsplash

Yes, You Need An Author Website

Do you, an author, really need a website? In this well-connected world of social media? Really? I mean, really?

There's a lot of advice out there that, as an author, you need a presence on social media to be successful. The thing is, if you're not naturally inclined toward sharing on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram or Tumblr or TikTok or whatever it is, then feeling like you must have a social media presence can be exhausting or intimidating.

I'm not here to tell you that you need a presence on social media in order to be successful.

But I am here to tell you that you absolutely need a website.

It doesn't have to be much of a website. You don't need a blog, you don't need lots of pictures or updates or chatty commentary about your pet rabbit. That stuff is great, and if you want it and feel up to providing it, fabulous! But you don't need it.

Here's what you do need: a basic landing page, featuring your books, your bio... and your contact info.

If someone hears something great about your book, the first thing they'll do is Google you. Give the somewhere to go! Give them something to look at! Let them know what else you've written and where (and when) they can buy it!

So far so good, right? But what's the deal about your contact info?

People will want to get in touch with you. Sometimes it's because they love what you've done, and want to tell you so.

But there's another reason people may want to get in touch: to give you money. If you write an article, a short story, a book that can be excerpted... someone might want to rerun it in an anthology, or hire you to write something else. And if they don't have a way to contact you, then you're losing out on business.

"But," I can hear you saying, "I don't want to give people my info!" Fair enough. Fortunately, you have options! If you have an agent or a publisher, you can use their information. You can use Gmail or your email service of choice to create a public-facing email. Or you can create an email form on your website itself that people can use to write to you. (Don't forget to check your inbox regularly!)

Here are some examples of good author contact pages:

Jodi Picoult

Kirsty Logan

N.K. Jemisin

Stephen King

Even an author page on Facebook or LinkedIn would suffice!

Good luck!


Photo by Volodymyr Hryshchenko on Unsplash








Editorial input

Since seeing The Wife last year, I’ve been mulling over the blurry edges of authorship.  The Glenn Close character rewrites her husband’s first novel, which is published in his name, and ends up watching him collect a Nobel Prize for ‘his’ impressive contribution to literature.

This extreme situation made me start thinking about the (much smaller) editorial contributions which I and my colleagues make.  We don’t discuss it much.  Most of us feel that any editorial input to a book or screenplay is the rightful property of the writer.

Agents, publishers, script editors, and producers often discuss work in progress with the writer, and contribute ideas and comments to a greater or lesser extent.  Sometimes we offer thoughts that are adopted by the writer, and the resulting work is changed significantly.

I was interested to read this legal report this morning:  https://www.harbottle.com/martin-v-kogan/

There are some conclusions to draw from this.  First, if a writer accepts a large contribution from a friend, family member, etc, they should discuss this with them and make it right with them, to avoid a future claim.

Second, it’s a good idea to get comments from a small number of people, rather than just one or two.  I believe that professionals will continue to be happy to nurture work in progress without claiming ownership of any contributions.  Certainly there is no copyright in ideas, and if an agent, publisher or producer did decide to challenge a writer for their earnings, there would normally be only a flimsy basis.  We can continue the glorious, fascinating process of discussing developing new projects, but it’s worth bearing this issue in mind.


Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash