Friday, 5 March 2010

The Sound of Inevitability

Everyone's a writer these days. I'm not sure if that's a consequence of social-networking sites and the advent of blogging, or if these things have just revealed the fact. A few days spent on Harper Collins's online slush-pile Authonomy brutally demonstrates that there are thousands of writers, both published and unpublished, desperate to get someone in the industry to read their current manuscript, never mind publish it. Nowadays, even your own mother won't read your work without a compelling reason to do so.

So, while blogging, Facebook, Twitter, Authonomy, youwriteon etc have opened up many more avenues for writers to get noticed, they've also increased the noise that the industry gatekeepers are expected to monitor, and for those of us on the other side of the fence, it's increased the number of things we need to be savvy about.

So what does this actually mean for unpublished writers? Here's what I think I know so far.

First the old fashioned way:

1. Write a searing Novel

Time was, apparently, when just a good idea and a few chapters could secure an advance, but that isn't going to happen now. So first things first - forget about getting published - just concentrate on writing the best novel you can possibly write. It can't just be average, it can't even be above average - it has to compete with the best so it shines out from all the other thousands of novels dumped online.

2. Write a searing synopsis

Yep, every writer hates doing this, but it's time to learn to love it, because if you don't, no-one else will. There's two types of synopses you need: a pitch, which seems to be what the US literary agents tend to favour, and what I call a classic synopsis, which is a chapter break-down of the book, which UK agents tend to favour - check submission guidelines carefully. Talking about what these synopses are and how to write them is a book's worth of material alone, but here are some online articles that I've found useful.

Mastering the Dreaded Synopsis

How to Write a Synopsis

Writing a Novel Synopsis

Writing the Novel Synopsis

Writing a Synopsis from the Ground Up

Sample Selling Synopsis

3. Write a searing query letter

This is the third and final part of your 'traditional' submission pack, which will normally consist of a query letter, synopsis and 3 chapters/50 pages/7-10 thousand words of the actual manuscript. Once again, how to do this is another post, but there's plenty of material out there on how to do this from people better informed than me.

The new-fangled way:

4. Get an informative and good-looking web-site

If anybody these days becomes remotely interest in anybody else they'll type their name into Google - if nothing comes up, they'll probably just bin the manuscript and move on to the next. Give them one less reason to do so - get a web-site that will keep them interested. Also, you need to support your web-site with a genuine online presence, as addressed in the next points.

5. Get your opening chapters on youwriteon and Authonomy

If you haven't, why not? Scared of someone pinching your idea? Trust me, they won't. Scared of negative feedback? Do you think negative feedback won't happen if you get published? Best get used to it now.

5. Get ubiquitous

By which I mean, get on Twitter, get a Blog, and while you're at it, you might as well get on Facebook, Bebo and MySpace - get everywhere in fact - but if you do nothing else, get on Twitter - there's a mine of useful information for writers out there, plus the opportunity to network with published writers, editors and literary agents. No one is going to pluck you out of obscurity.

6. Learn to pitch your work

There was a time when this seemed impossible to me. I'd spent years writing a synopsis, then I learned to write a pitch, and when I signed up for Authonomy, I had to pitch the novel in less than 25 words. I learned how to do that, then someone on Twitter asked me about my novel, and I had to sell it in less that 140 characters! So that makes the number of synopses a writer needs to four:

1. Classic Synopsis
2. Long Pitch
3. Short Pitch (less than 25 words)
4. Ultra-short Pitch (less than 140 characters)

I'm still working on number 4, but I'm getting there!

Do I have any idea what I'm talking about? If I'm getting it wrong help me get it right.


  1. I find your post really useful. Hoping to get stuck into my synopsis in the next couple of months I'm gathering all the information I can to get me started! I'm really unsure as to how to go about writing it.

    CJ xx

  2. No! Do I really have to tweet? I've done everything else.

    Except the searing synopsis. Synopses are hard.

  3. Thank you! This is a really helpful post. It helps me to hear about all of these avenues to pursue. Some of them I didn't even know existed!

  4. Great post with lots of useful information. Good job!

  5. Hello, I thought you might also be interested in a new site that has recently launched: at authors submit their manuscripts, readers read comment and vote for their favorites. Slush Pile Reader will then publish (edit, market & distribute) the most popular manuscript(s). There are no fees or cost what so ever involved for the author – Slush Pile Reader is an ordinary publisher with a modern way of discovering great new books. It's also a great place to meet readers and writers from all over the world. Best, Pascal