Thursday, 23 January 2020

Is it a bestseller?

How do manuscripts become bestsellers?

Possibly via a referral or through the “slush pile”.
Rumours claim agents don’t read their “slush pile,” but ignoring unsolicited submissions could mean missing out on the next big thing. Agents read new manuscripts from existing clients first. Next those that arrive highly recommended from clients. Interns and assistants comb through the remaining slush pile submissions and identify certain projects as having promise.
Clues in a query letter sometimes indicate that someone is worth closer attention. 
So what will prompt an agent to go for a ms? Good, confident writing. High-concept, ambitious stories. A new voice – something that feels like it simply hasn’t been done before – is a good way to grab attention.
Say the agent comes upon a brilliant ms, and decides to take on the author as a client. What happens next?
The agent and the author will take some time to polish the ms together. Then, the agent chooses the "right " editor at a publishing house. Editors are the people who will acquire the ms for publication. Mainstream editors don’t usually accept queries from authors, only from agents, who have honed their pitching techniques for years.
The pitch - when calling the editor to describe a book is vital. The rapport between agents and editors is vital but little known, built up through regular phone calls, through lunches and coffees over the years so agents know who to call on a specific project.
Picking the right editor and the right way to pitch a book is crucial.
An agent will prepare a proper pitch, clarifying which kind of readers a manuscript is likely to attract, or comparing it to existing titles. A single editor working full-time will take on six to 10 novels a year on average. The volume of offerings has increased drastically over the years. It’s not uncommon for an editor to receive four to eight manuscripts a day.
Fiction is so subjective and may not appeal to an editor who will have to work on it for two years. One editor claims it is all about the voice.
A book should grab the reader immediately. Too often submissions are either beautifully written with no story, or all story but the writing is lacklustre. People underestimate just how hard it is to do both and do both successfully.

See part 2 in the next post.

Monday, 20 January 2020

Staff of Life and all that

Do you know what pottage is?

In medieval days pottage, bread and ale were the backbone of  everyone's diet. We are told by Andrew Boorde (1542) that "pottage is made of the liquor in the which the flesh is sodden in, with putting-to chopped herbs, and oatmeal and salt."

 The object was to  produce a semi-liquid  but thick spoonmeat.
Cereal pottage was based on the breadcorn of the region - rye, wheat, or a combination of the two, often called maslin; barley, oats or dredge-corn (again a mixture of the last two). These might be ground at home with a hand quern or in a mortar. Both resulted in rough grain. Later this became illegal as it was said to deprive the manorial mill of its dues.

Once this was done, the  mixture was washed and then boiled until it was tender and brown. Some recipes had the grains boiled, cooled and then mixed with cows' milk and a beaten egg stirred in. This earned the name "Frumenty." Rich folk ate it with venison or porpoise. Poor folk ate it as a breakfast or supper dish, with little else but for milk or a little cream or butter if it was to be had. Gruel was oatmeal boiled in water.

In Scotland the cereal pottage was brochan - the old Gaelic word for oatmeal porridge, and sometimes eaten with kail and/or onions. The dalesmen of the Pennines and the Welsh ate a similar oatmeal or oatmeal and barley mixture. In the south of England oatmeal became a favourit thickener for meat and herb pottages as well as breadcrumbs or "amidon," a wheat starch very much like Cato's amulum of sixteen hundred years before.

"Drawn  gruel"  contained lean beef, boiled and pulled to draw out the gravy, and with  the addition of oatmeal, parsley, sage, and salt. "Forced" gruel had pork added, once it had been worked to a pulp in the mortar. Eggs were sometimes added, but considered rather extravagent.

Rice from the south of Europe was added to pottage, too. It came with the spice ships from the Mediterranean and the Countess of Leicester used 110 pounds of it in four months during 1265. In a smaller household, the record show only 3 pounds of rice used in the whole year 1419.

Thursday, 16 January 2020

Veterinary Blues

We seem to be spending a lot of time with the veterinary in Hexham this week.

On Tuesday he had a lump taken from his leg because an earlier biopsy suggested dodgy cells were present. Today we have been back to have the dressing checked.

I woke last night to find he had somehow licked the bandage down, revealing the wound, so we looked rather shame-faced this mornrng but Hey! the nurse says the wound is healing well and there's no damage done.

Have you ever tried to prevent a dog from licking his wound excessively? It's 2am and you wake to the sound of surreptitious licking and you stop him.  Happens again, and again at three am. You know the cone of shame is in the loft and you are not prepared to go find it in the dark.....He is doing this to annoy me....stamp downstairs, grab his muzzle and go back to bed. He may hate the muzzle but he can't chew the newly healed wound now.  I sleep and wake with a jerk next morning as he whimpers pathetically. Feel guilty, and give lots of cuddles.

So now he has a 3x4 inch plaster stuck on his left foreleg but no bandage. (Can you even see it? It is white...) Maybe he'll find this easier to accept. I hope so. I badly need a good night's sleep!

Monday, 13 January 2020

Winter musings on dialogue

Sometimes the words flow easily.

Other times I cannot think of anything to say.

This can be bad when you want to finish the book you are writing. It is at times like these that I go back to basics and refresh my writing muscle with the wise words of others. This morning I am contemplating a lunch table conversation between antagonistic acquaintences, so I'm  reading up about dialogue as I scoff my bacon, mushroom and black pudding sandwich. (Very tasty!)

Dialogue, they say, should sound natural. At the same time, we need to omit all the awkward pauses, poor word choices , non sequiturs and pointless repetitions. We don't alwys speak in complete sentences, we drop articles and pronouns  and sometimes we just grunt - but somehow we get our meaning across!

In novel form, dialogue is a way of changing relationships, or bringing conflict to a head

It requires direction from the author and the scene direction should change after the conversatin occurs.It is possible that the people in the dialogue do not understand themselves, or their motivations; it is also possible that they do, but are incapable of admitting this to anyone else. Some even set out to deliberately confuse an already tense situation.

By the time I get this far,   I can usually see my way more clearly! I hope you can, too.

Tuesday, 7 January 2020

Sloppy and wordy construction

Editing the first draft of a story can be a revelation.

The day I discovered I had used "has/have/had" twenty one times on a single page and had my characters "sighing" thirteen times on another page convinced me of the need for editing.
Your problem areas may not be the same as mine, but here are some of the things I look for. They all come under the heading Sloppy and wordy construction.

Top of my list - Participle phrases. You know - things like "was waiting," "running," "crying"
was, were - passive words that should be replaced with active
had, has, have  - passive, dull constructions
it, there, here - vague pronouns, should be replaced with something more dynamic
that, but - overused and lazy conjunctions
preposition  such as:  


See if you can't replace them with one or two better, clearer words.
Unnecessary words such as: together, start, plan, almost, just, then, own, thing, began, reach, rather, instead, even, back, very, good, great, really, suddenly, finally, about, only, totally, eventually, almost, exactly, fairly, so, such.

I use the Find Box to see where the words are hiding and I spend a day going through each and every one. It tells you how many culprits it has found and if it lists only five or six in 75k words, I will let them stand -  as long as the are not close together in the text! 

The last time I did this, I edited out 10,000 words from an 88,000 word document. I've done this after each first draft, and the nice thing is that each successive novel has required much less work than the previous one, which means I am slowly erradicating my bad habits.


Adapting to colder temperatures now. Frantically Housecleaning to remove a month's dust, the washing mountain has diminished and we'...