Q – I’m rewriting my first novel and would like to know how to grab an agent’s attention when submitting.
Justin – There is no right or wrong way, just make sure you’ve done the obvious things right – spelling, grammar, etc. You know the drill. Just be polite. Be aware they read thousands of submissions and seem to enjoy the process about as much as filling in a tax form. Therefore make it easy for them. Good tone to the letter, sizzling teasers, and then be patient.
And start writing something new right away.
I currently have the beginning and end of my book and am having trouble stringing events and character motivations together to make the entire thing complete. Of course, this still means I’m in my outline phase. Do you think I should scrap my idea because I can’t put the beginning and end together, or any other advice?
All I can offer is my experience. I have one unpublished book for 8-12-year-olds. I’m on draft number 10. It has taken me that long to discover what the actual story is. There are two options – you can either struggle away or (gasp) put the book aside. That way you can start on something else, and often when you start on something else, ideas arrive for your first story. Re outlines, some people use them, some don’t. It’s whatever works for you. Joanna Rowling did alright by using one.
How do you get started, especially when it’s a passion and you have a career-oriented day job that pays the bills.
You write. Write when you’re tired, when you’re hungover, when you don’t want to write. If you love the craft enough you’d do it at 2 in the morning if someone asked you. I write when I cook, no jokes, I have the laptop open and add any lines that come to me. Which can be damn annoying. And dangerous.
Working and writing at the same time can be tough. Maybe try to write for an hour a night instead of watching TV. This can become two hours. Soon enough you’ll be more into your own story than any lame show on telly. 100 words becomes 1000, becomes a manuscript. The first draft will be shit, it always is, but keep going.
Do you have your characters fully planned out in your head before you start, or do you let them develop as you write the story?
This is rare – my latest manuscript arrived fully formed, names, setting, title. It was bizarre. Again, some writers like to see what happens, others plan meticulously. You’ve got to know how your main characters will react in any given situation. Once they start doing things by themselves, now that’s creepy.
How do you know a manuscript is ready and it’s time to stop editing/revising?
Make it as perfect as you can and as easy to read (and follow) as possible. Endings can change, so can character, but a lot of these issues and challenges might arise once you’ve actually scored a contract when you’ll have time to rewrite with an editor. That’s the best part. Make it sparkly, be proud of it before you hit send.
How do you introduce things like currency when there’s no direct way to correlate it to our universe. I’m writing a fantasy book in a different universe that while some things are the same, things like the currency are entirely different and I have no idea how to incorporate the value of this currency without stating it outright.
Make it up! It’s your story. 3 spigglets = 1 grosnipod. As long as you’re consistent, and more importantly that the reader understands, you’ll be okay. Please don’t complicate the reader. It’s a right ol turn off.
Does every idea, even the good ones, feel hopeless or not-worth-it at some point? I’ve never finished a single first draft. I wrote for years, recently switched over to comic scripts and screenplays and stuff because I was having ideas that fit that format and they’re so much easier to finish. Is every idea going to try to beat me up at some point?
Finish the damn book. Australian guitarist Tommy Emmanuel talks about The Shitty Committee who jump into your head and tell you how bad your piece of work is. Finish the damn book. Because if you do, you have a completed work, and if it’s not perfect, something similarly amazing could come out of the process: a character, a title, an idea. Go for it.
Having seen some scary stuff about fake publishers and stealing people’s writing, how do you find a real (and good) publisher and/or agent?
You gotta kiss a lot of frogs. Re fake publishers, ask around or google, you’ll know if it sounds too good to be true. ‘PAY US TO READ YOUR MANUSCRIPT!’ Really, now come on. This is, however, a long game so take your time finding the right team. It’s not easy, but what is? It’s the 10,000 hours thing. It’s no different. Good luck!
How many of your 31 published books do you hate?
Good question. No writer is ever 100% happy with their work, there’s always something that niggles years later. I don’t hate any of them, it’s a cliche but the whole thing has been a journey, so there are some works I like less than others.