Thursday, 30 May 2013

Copyright and Permissions

By Gillian Hamer
To substantiate the importance of the following article, let’s simply quote a Guardian headline from May 2010.

‘I still have invoices. For quoting one line of “Jumping Jack Flash.” £500. For one line of “Wonderwall.” £535. For two lines (eleven words) of “I Shot the Sheriff.” £1000. All plus VAT. Book total = £4401.75.’ 

If that doesn’t make you sit up and take note, nothing will. That cost could easily wipe out a typical advance from a publisher, and most likely wipe out all future profits from a single novel by an indie author.

And that was doing it right, getting permission from the required sources and paying for the privilege. Had the author chosen to ignore, or feign ignorance, of the law those costs could have been easily ten times more and would most likely have seen him on the wrong end of a scary lawyer’s summons and an even more costly day in court.

The article in question was written by author Blake Morrison, and related to a party in his novel, South of the River, at which the DJ’s somewhat dubious choice of music – and more importantly the context of the lyrics in relation to his novel – ended up costing the author dear.

Copyright and Permissions is a minefield. This obviously covers not only song lyrics, but use of images, letters, quotations, and extracts of prose or poems (more detailed list below).

In very simple terms, permission is required to quote any part of any work that is in Copyright. In the UK (and in most parts of the world) for most works this is until 70 years after the Copyright owner’s death.

So, how can a writer get around these permissions? Answer: you can’t. In the example above - you could safely name the song and/or the artist, but once you decide to put Bob Marley’s words down on paper and you can see no way around it that won’t ruin your novel – prepare to pay out.

You may argue that Bob should be grateful for the free advertising, happy that you may through your books, encourage a whole new generation to seek out his music. Good luck selling that one. It’s very unlikely his estate or his record company would agree. At a time when illegal downloads and sites like Spotify are eating into its multi-million pound profits, the music industry needs every penny and will have no hesitation seeking out a writer who breaks strict UK copyright law – even accidentally.

However, it’s important to take a balanced perspective. Your work should remain just that. And while permissions are big business now, not only within the music industry but also the literary world, the law is in place to protect you as the owner of your copyrighted work. Many literary agents and publishers have specialists who deal with permissions for their clients, and often you will see publishers have a section of their website that deals solely with these requests. For famous, best-selling writers, this can run into millions of pounds in potential lost income if not handled correctly. For example, imagine how many times Harry Potter may get mentioned or quoted, or have trademarks abused, and imagine how much money JK Rowling could lose without a band of eagle-eyed lawyers protecting her assets.

Summary of Material Requiring Permissions

- quotations of over 300 words from a book

- quotations of over 50 words from a journal, newspaper, or magazine article

- reproduction of certain works of art

- photographs

- charts, tables, or graphs

- reproduction of web pages or screenshots

- any third-party software used in a CD, DVD, or website supporting an author’s work

- film stills and film grabs

- reproduction of advertisements

- certain trade mark usage

- certain photographs containing recognisable people

Summary of Material not requiring permission

- in ‘fair dealing’ cases (see below reviews and critiques)

- excerpts falling within the STM Guidelines for Quotation and Other

- Academic Uses of Excerpts from Journal Articles (provided that the relevant publisher is one of the signatories to the Guidelines)

- direct quotes from interviews (conducted by the author)

- facts or ideas

- public domain information

- Crown copyright material covered by a Click-Use licence or waived by OPSI (Office of Public Sector Information, formerly HMSO) – for more details see

- certain use of trademarks, logos, and company names

- mathematical and chemical equations

- substantially modified material (just credit the source)

- useful forms

Where can authors look for advice?

The first place to turn for advice prior to publication would be The Society of Authors. They have detailed guidelines on Permissions and Copyright and Moral Rights.

The use of images, quotations, extracts of prose or poems has rules concerning ‘substantial’ extracts that requires detailed study. Copyright of song lyrics gets a special mention, as the music industry has a reputation for rigorously defending its rights. And the Society makes it very clear that it is you, as the author and owner of your work, that must take responsibilities for any permissions required.

Another area that needs highlighting is the use of quotes in reviews or critiques. This is another trap you may fall into unawares. The subject is covered by what the SOA call ‘fair dealing’ – allowing the use of a single extract of up to 400 words, or a series of extracts (none of which exceeds 300 words) to a total of 800 words from a prose work, or 40 lines from a poem that does not exceed a quarter of the poem. If the law is so complicated when simply looking at reviews of a copyright work, you can probably see how stringent it is when quoting another person’s work in your own novels.

The SOA Permissions guidelines are substantive and worth a read, covering areas like: Who obtains copyright permissions? Who or what to ask? When do I need permission? How much will it cost?

They also supply a comprehensive list of agencies to contact if seeking copyright permission is difficult, and they’ve produced a Model Permission Licence Letter in this regard.

These guidelines are available free to members and for a nominal charge to non-members – please contact the SOA via their website for more information.

More sources:

Another useful source of advice and information in this regard and others is the Writers & Artists Yearbook, which can now be found online. They have a section on Rights & Legal Advice that deals with Copyright issues, as well as financial advice on granting permissions and who to contact if you do find yourself in breach of the law. The website is a useful resource for a community of writers, offering a wealth of advice on all aspects of writing and getting published, the opportunity to gain feedback on your work and access to regular writing competitions.

Another superb resource for writers can be found in The Writer’s ABC Checklist (written by Lorraine Mace and Maureen Vincent-Northam) which also has a helpful, regularly updated blog that keeps writers up-to-date with changes that may affect them. They have an in depth section on Copyright in the handbook (available as an eBook or paperback) that puts to bed myths like “passing off”, copyright in names and titles, how to handle copyright with co-authors and the use of the registered © symbol. They have written a blog detailing the tough stance taken by the music industry about use of song lyrics.

There is also a list of useful resources that offer specialist assistance for writers in a variety of areas which is well worth studying.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

The Lewis Man: Peter May in conversation with Gillian Hamer

This was the first book I've read of the Lewis Trilogy from Peter May. I realise now that it is the second book in the Lewis trilogy, but I can honestly say that reading this out of order didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the story.
This is a stunning murder mystery set in the Scottish Highlands. It opens when a body is pulled from a peat bog, which is firstly assumed to be an ancient archaeological discovery - but an Elvis tattoo found during post-mortem puts a whole new complexion on the case.

We are introduced to ex-policemen, Fin Macleod, back from the mainland after the tragic death of his son. His back story from the first book is quickly and efficiently summarized and we soon understand his dual loyalties when Fin's childhood sweetheart's father is implicated in the murder – and he feels he has no option but to become involved in the case.
This is where the writing really took off for me. The clever way the author weaves together the investigation along with the confused and dislocated thoughts of an old man with advanced dementia was brilliant to read. The reader is torn between compassion and the niggling feeling that all may not be as it seems with Tormond MacDonald – and it is this quest that keeps the reader gripped as the story twists and turns. It is a really clever narrative that would have taken considerable skill to achieve.

The other reason I connected with this story was its location. I’m a strong advocate of bringing location into a novel as a central theme or a character in its own right. May describes not only Lewis but all of the other locations, particularly South Uist and Eriskay, with a skill that makes you ache to be part of the landscape. He also touches on a period of Scottish history that I was previously unaware about – the practice of sending orphaned children from the city slums out to new lives with complete strangers in the Outer Hebrides.
It's such a thrill for me to discover a new name in crime fiction whose writing I enjoy and really connect with. The Lewis Man totally gripped me. The combination of strong location, excellent characterisation, and a clever narrative that takes you through past and present lives with real skill makes this a winner.

I can't wait to look out more novels from this talented author and intend reading the other books in the trilogy as soon as possible.

We are also delighted to have a conversation between this month’s Book Club author of The Lewis Man, Peter May, and our very own Triskelite, Gillian Hamer. So, what did these two crime writers have to say about their love of genre, location and the secret world of gannet chicks!

Location is a vital element of your novels, almost standing as a character in its own right. This is something I connect with strongly in my own writing, but why is it so important to you? And how and why do you choose particular locations?

For me every story starts with the characters.  The plot grows and develops according to what affects these characters and how they in turn affect everyone and everything around them.  Obviously relationships between characters are important, but the world which they inhabit is central to who they are and how they behave.  The location, the weather, the culture and way of life all have a bearing on the people and the story so the setting is always centre stage for me.  My next book takes place partly on the Isle of Lewis and partly in Quebec's Magdalen Islands in the Gulf of St Lawrence.  Although there are certain similarities about island life, the the two locations are very different culturally.  I've written books set in China, France, the USA, and even in the online virtual world of Second Life!

You now live in France (Enzo Files) and I believe used to spend a lot of time in the Outer Hebrides (The Lewis Trilogy) is it important for you to see and feel and absorb a location to be able to bring it across effectively in your writing?

I never write about a location unless I have been there and experienced it personally.  I love research.  As far as my writing process goes, research takes up most of my time.  Visiting locations and soaking up the atmosphere is a vital part of that research.  In the early days when I was writing about China  I made more than a dozen visits there, often for more than a month at a time.  In the early days, I took copious notes about each location and took hundreds of photographs.  When I got home I would get the photographs developed and paste them on large pieces of card, constructing panoramas of each of the locations I was writing about.  I would pin them up on the wall above my desk to take me to the places while I was writing about them.  Times have moved on and it's easy now to take videos with my phone at the locations, so I can record sounds or notes instantly along with the pictures. When I get back from a research trip I construct short videos of each location that I can play on my computer while I'm writing.

In The Lewis Man, you bring out very strongly the different character of the islands - Harris v Lewis, Protestant islands v Catholic. Where did your understanding come from? And how have the islanders themselves responded to your depiction of them?

Some places I know better than others. For example, in the case of the Outer Hebrides, I lived for half the year, every year for five years on the Isle of Lewis.  I co-created and produced a drama series for television that was shot on location there during the 1990s. During the research and scriptwriting I got to know the people, the culture and the customs and during the filming I got to know every square foot  and blade of grass on the island searching for the right locations, and shooting scenes in them.  The books have been better received on the islands than I could ever have imagined.  When The Blackhouse and Lewis Man were published I made visits to Stornoway where I had a great turnout.  And so when The Chessmen was published Quercus arranged a tour of the Outer Hebrides from Port of Ness in the north of Lewis to Lochboisdale on South Uist.  Everywhere I went, the halls were full to overflowing and the warmth of the reception I received everywhere was overwhelming.

You have a wonderful ear for local dialect and a natural ability for bringing this across successfully in your writing. Do you think your background in television script writing was a help in developing this skill?

My years of working in television have had a great influence on my writing, not just in terms of having an ear for dialogue, but in my whole approach to writing.  I "see" very vividly every scene that I write.  I also employ the scriptwriter's technique of drawing up a very clear storyline of the book before I write. In scriptwriting, writing the story and writing the script are two separate jobs each making different demands on the writer and calling for different abilities.  Often, in television the two jobs are done by different people.  I think there are some writers who tell great stories but write badly.  Equally there are acclaimed novelists who write beautifully but hang their writing on flimsy stories.  For me plotting and structure are an important part of a writer's craft and I always work hard to get the plot right before starting to write the book.  An initial draft of the storyline is written very quickly - perhaps 25,000 words in a week.  At that stage the only thing that is important is going with the flow of the story.  I can then stand back and look for flaws - which are much easier to spot and fix than trying to do it in a finished novel that's maybe 120,000 words long.  When I'm happy with the story outline, I start to write the book, with the security of knowing the plot works, and allowing me to concentrate fully on the quality of my writing.

Again I write quickly, I get up at 6am and write 3,000 words per day.  Writing quickly and writing to deadlines is something else I brought with me from television.

You have a wide, varied list of characters across your novels. When developing a new character, where do you start? And what are the important, key points you focus on?

Characters are like people.  You meet them, you make assumptions about them, sometimes you're proved right, sometimes they prove you wrong.  Gradually you get to know them better and often they surprise you.  I have sometimes been criticised for writing characters "warts and all" - some readers get annoyed if the hero has flaws. They want the good guys to be all good and the bad guys to be bad.  To me the characters are human beings.  Heros have flaws and even the bad guys sometimes have a redeeming feature.  During my research, I spend a lot of time living with the characters in my head and getting to know them.

Where do you stand on the subject of research? Love or loathe? And how do you approach, for example, historical details or factual information like police procedurals?

I love research.  I always seem to be interested in subjects that require a lot of research - genetic modification, the Chinese police, forensic pathology, forensic science.  I've heard some writers say they hate research and believe that writing is all about "making things up". I find that the wonderful thing about research is that you set out to find the answer to one thing, and discover a wealth of inspiration that provides you with even better ideas. Research is where I get all my stimulus.  It's also important to me to get my facts right.  I know I'm making up the story, but it's taking place in the real world, so I want to be accurate. For the China Thrillers, I needed to know where the Beijing homicide squad was based, where the guys went to eat at lunchtime, what the inside of the Shanghai police morgue looked like.  

I take research for my Enzo Files books, which are set in France, equally seriously.  When I wrote the second book which is set in the vineyards of Gaillac, I had to visit as many of the 120 vineyards there as I could, talking to the winemakers and, yes you've guessed it, drinking a lot of wine!  In fact I got to know the wines there so well that I was inducted as a Chevalier de la Dive Bouteille de Gaillac.

How did you learn so much about the secretive world of the hunt for the gannet chicks?

Ahh! After you have inveigled your way into the world of the Chinese Police, the Guga Hunters of Ness were not so daunting.  I simply did what I always do when I need to know something.  I go to the people themselves and ask them to talk to me.  In the case of the guga hunters I spent hours with them, listening to their stories of the hunt, of their childhoods, of the preparation for the trip and the journey itself.  I also talked at length to the young skipper who takes them to the rock in his fishing boat.  People are usually very open and incredibly helpful when you go to them and ask to learn about the things in which they are expert.  I find that most people are usually very happy to talk to me.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Meet the Editors - Perry Iles

Perry with Doris, the Jack Russell.
Perry Iles is a freelance proofreader and editor, working from home in a small Scottish town where he lives with his wife, daughter, two dogs, a cat and a lizard. He has worked as a writer for many years now, and believes that it’s good for the soul, if not the pocket. He likes his job because there’s no commuting and he doesn’t have to wash, and after a hard week of strenuous mental activity, he enjoys sleeping and watching anything with Ant and Dec in it. Contact Perry at One day he will build a proper website, but is currently too busy working to do so. He considers this a good sign…

Let’s start with you. How did you become an editor?

I was recommended to a German translator who wanted book catalogue blurbs knocked into a more alluring shape for potential buyers at bookfairs. We got on well, she liked what I did and I’ve worked on speeches, instruction pamphlets and novels, and I’m now attempting to do some of the translations myself using Babelfish and schoolboy German, with occasionally amusing results.

What kind of editing do you do?

How much money have you got? I’m an editorial slut that way. Seriously though, I look after the small stuff. It’s more proofreading than editing, so I’m less of an editor and more of a proofreader with attitude. Typos, spelling, consistency, layout, basic grammar and common sense. I often find myself making suggestions on word-choice and smoothing sentences off a little, but large scale structure, characterization and narrative arc are not my areas. I’m the guy who polishes what Stephen King would call your little red wagon before you drive it home.

How do you approach working with a client on a manuscript?

I tell them what I do, what I don’t do and how much I want. I give them some background about me and invite them to email me a sample manuscript to look at if they need further convincing. I seldom meet clients face to face, and usually do my work using MS Track Changes on the documents they send me. If people don’t like Track Changes I mark suggestions and alterations in a different colour on their manuscript.

How would you describe a successful author/editor relationship?

Keeping to deadlines, not overstepping the mark, charging people what I say I’m going to charge them and making sure they understand what I do and equally importantly what I don’t do.

How does the situation differ when you’re editing non-fiction?

Non-fiction is very different. For one thing it’s usually less entertaining and has to be approached a bit at a time to avoid skimming. Non-fiction writers (I deal a lot with academics whose first language isn’t English) have less of an idea about how to tell a story – and an academic essay needs to tell a story too, so for academic work I charge more because it takes much, much longer and is far more intensive. My goal is firstly to stick to the facts (I use Wiki a lot, but don’t tell anyone), and secondly to make it approachable; readable by all. This is often the hardest part, especially when tackling subjects like the philosophical approach to neo-Confucianism in eighth-century Korea or Marxist-Leninist dialectical analyses of post-war economic theory in the Middle East (don’t laugh, I really have done this. It was hard.)

What kind of genres do you prefer to work on?

In the light of what I’ve said above, fiction is more fun. Any type, because I’m so involved in the words that the story doesn’t matter. I’m not there to judge, I’m there to work, so it can be chicklit or science fiction, it’s not important to me. It can even have dragons in it if it wants. The blurbs I do for the German publisher vary wildly from bunny-books for five-year-olds to 700-page treatises on European philosophy through the ages.

I’m intrigued to know how you get into the writers voice, how you know what kind of words might work, what sort of sentence rhythm will fit and how you know it will still sound like the author, not the editor.

An editor’s job is to make the author sound like the author on a good day. A bad editor turns the author’s work into something they wish they’d written themselves, or something they’d want to read themselves. I’ve given up peer-review sites for that very reason. To get into the author’s head, I read a few chapters of the work, or I read the essay to take notice of things like voice, tone and style. This is very important, especially in fiction, because the editor should preserve these aspects even at the expense of grammar, spelling or common sense. Otherwise where would James Joyce or Cormac McCarthy be? Nobody wants to sound like everybody else.

Robert Gottlieb says the editor’s relationship to a book should be an invisible one. Do you agree?

It should appear to be invisible, at least, but given the quality of most self-published work out there that screams out for editorial intervention, it’s a vital relationship. Like I said earlier, my job is to turn you into you, but on a really good day. As I tell my daughter, I don’t want you going out looking like that.

In the age of independent publishing and authors doing it for themselves, does the future look rosy for editors such as yourself?

Very much so – but only as long as writers know how necessary we are, and are willing to fork out a few quid to get their little red wagon polished. Writers need to realize that their job is to write, and other people’s job is to make it look nice. I’m the bloke who has to stick his nose two inches from the tree and say “Oooh, what a lovely forest!” Writers can plot, characterize, invent and sail away on the fluffy clouds of their own imaginations, but the world of self-publishing should tell anyone with any sense of discernment that sometimes writers don’t know where the apostrophes go, can’t tell a dash from an ellipsis and often miss things that the spellcheck doesn’t pick up (form/from, of/if, that kind of thing).

Writers often agonise over blurbs and synopses. Would you be the kind of person who could help a writer distil the essence of a story?

No, because I’m so busy fannying about with the details that as often as not I don’t connect with the story. But I could turn a bad synopsis into a good one and distil a blurb from it – simply because experience has taught me what those things should look like and what they should say.

What do you write?

I once wrote novels, but they were very bad. I wrote some short stories that were good, and they’ve done the rounds and got published in a few fairly low-key places. Nowadays I write a bi-monthly article for Words with Jam magazine, scathing remarks on Facebook and scurrilous, unpalatable, irreverent and often downright filthy definitions for words that don’t exist. You can read these in a book called A Dictionary of Linguistic Absurdities, which you can buy here


Wednesday, 22 May 2013

My Top Ten Crime Writing Tips

 By Gillian Hamer

Gillian Hamer has published three cross-genre thriller novels via Triskele Books – The Charter, Closure and Complicit. She is now working on the third book in her Gold Detective series after the successful release of Crimson Shore and False Lights. She's a founder member of Triskele Books and an avid reader of crime novels. 

Here, Gillian imparts advice and tips she has accumulated over more than a decade writing in her favoured genre - for any writers who may be considering trying their luck in the murky world of crime and thrillers.

Knowing your market.

Read widely and varied - by that I'd suggest as many authors as possible, not necessarily as many books. If you’ve read one book by Rankin or McDermid, then move on. Find what else is out there. That means reading the classics but also being aware of current market trends too. For example, I had a meeting with an editor of a major publisher who liked my writing but thought I needed to make my style darker. ‘Read Tess Gerritsen, she said, try Kathy Reichs (both authors I’d never previously read) - those are the writers who are selling now.’ Sample everything out there and see what style suits your writing.


Not something you may expect in the top ten of my tips on the genre – but I’m a firm believer that getting the setting right and creating a backdrop that stops the reader in their tracks is as important as a strong lead character. Written well, location can become a character in its own right. And I’m not alone in my view. Think of Dick Francis who based all his books around horse racing or Colin Dexter’s use of Oxford as a fabulous backdrop or Ian Rankin’s view of Edinburgh. Try to think of somewhere original. Research or visit the area. Make the reader connect with the place if they know it – or close the book wanting to visit. Having a solid foundation for your crime novel will improve your chances of success.

Conflict, conflict, conflict.

Plot and getting it right are crucial in crime writing, central to that is the subject of conflict. Without conflict there is no crime, in fact without conflict there is no drama in any genre. Always take care to make sure your plot has enough tension and conflict to keep the reader hooked, but also enough breathing spaces to keep the story real. Getting the level of drama in the right place, at the right time, is another consideration when trying to create a plot with tension, twists and turns. You want to amaze the reader, not frustrate them.

Killer Opening.

It is more vital in crime fiction than any other genre to grab the reader's attention during the first page, first paragraph or even the first line. Readers expect shock and awe in the first chapter and they don't want to be disappointed. So, make sure you kick off the book in the means you want to continue.

Killer Ending.

It is also vital to ensure that the reader stays with you for the journey and comes to the end, not only entertained but satisfied with the summary and conclusion. If you're writing a crime series, the best way to ensure your reader reaches for the next book is to ensure you get the end of the previous one right on all counts.

Killer characters.

While plots are crucial to the novel, they can be easily forgettable, and by the nature of crime fiction can often feel very similar. Characters, on the other hand, never leave us: Poirot, Marple, Lecter, Rebus. Characterisation is crucial in crime writing – whether that’s the goodie or the baddie. There are a wealth of new UK writers who have this nailed. Ann Cleeves with Vera for example. A character who shouldn’t work, who we shouldn’t like, and is the antithesis of everything we expect – and yet Cleeves is steadily building mass market popularity. A lesson in how to be different and competent at the same time.

Research your genre.

There's a lot of emphasis on research when writing crime. Whether it be police procedure, medical terminology or historical resources - it's vital you get it right. Credibility can be a huge stumbling block. And whilst, most of us won't know how it feels to be a pathologist or a murderer, being as accurate as possible is vital in keeping the reader's attention. If you want a forensic scientist to excel in their field, for example, and baffle your reader, make sure you study the subject yourself, not simply rely on the Wikipedia. Maybe do a forensic science course as I did. Make sure you sound as much of an expert as your characters. If you don’t get it right, your readers will – and you’ll be caught out.

Pace and Style.

Getting the pace and writing style right is another crucial element. Crime thrillers need to be tightly written, no flowery language to muddy the waters, and as a general rule you can look to reduce your first draft by at least 10%. Be ruthless in your edits. If a scene doesn't move the story on, then cut it, keep the style taut and the pace tight.

Aim for Perfection.

Today, if you have any hope of getting your work noticed, published, acknowledged – it has to be Great (with a capital G!). And that is what you have to aim for no matter how many drafts it takes. Soak up advice, good or bad, and don’t disregard a single opinion until you’ve considered it carefully. Of course, it doesn’t mean every single person who comments on your work is right – but make sure they’re definitely wrong before ignoring any advice.

Practise Makes Perfect.

You learn by experience. The more you write, the better you become. Every chapter, every draft, every novel … you will improve. Think about building your skills, engaging with fellow writers, researching the industry as well as the genre, or maybe getting expert editorial advice. All those things will increase your maturity as a writer and get you one step nearer to establishing your goal. Remember, writing can be a lonely place, but you’re not alone.

And on that note, I’ve asked a few up-and-coming crime writers what their one top crime writing tip would be.

Scene Building … JJ Marsh.

I hate violence. Which is tricky to avoid as a crime writer.
So with a violent scene, I try it both ways.
I write it twice - from victim and perpetrator perspective. Sometimes, even from the POV of an observer.
When I read the whole thing back, my instinct tells me which voice should relate the incident.
It all comes down to the effect I want to have on the reader.

JJ Marsh, author of the Beatrice Stubbs series

POV … Frances di Plino

When writing your antagonist’s parts of the book, you have to inhabit his or her head to the extent that you understand why they act as they do.

Frances di Plino – author of Bad Moon Rising, Someday Never Comes, Call It Pretending and Looking for a Reason

Action … Chris Curran

When you're writing a fight scene or a physical struggle, always act it out.

Chris Curran – author of After the Darkness and Her Turn To Cry.

Background … Sheila Bugler

Read as much crime fiction as you possibly can. Understand the different sorts of crime fiction and where your work fits within the genre. Laura Wilson's regular crime round-up in Saturday's Guardian newspaper is a great way of discovering new crime fiction writers.

Sheila Bugler, author of Hunting Shadows, The Waiting Game and All Things Nice

For more ideas and tips on writing crime and thrillers, check out this post on The Writer's Workshop

Monday, 20 May 2013

The Hard Sell

In a pop-up blog, Jo Furniss presents her MA thesis on social media and fiction.
Featuring video and audio interviews with Kate Harrison, Nick Harkaway, Liz Fenwick, Triskele's own JJ Marsh and members of the Romantic Novelists Association, Jo asks ...
Do tweets sell books?

The short answer is: no. But well-known, well-liked writers do. That much, at least, has not changed.

Schmoozing with newspaper reviewers, touring the country for signings, promoting their wares to book clubs and literary festivals: writers have always networked socially. The select few, anyway.

But social networking online has opened up the field. Now every author – from self-published to traditionally-published, fiction to non-fiction, pulp to literary - has to play the game.

My name is Jo Furniss, I'm a journalist, writer and student. This mini-blog comprises an Industry Analysis for my MA Professional Writing at University College Falmouth. I set out to ask: what can traditionally-published writers learn from self-published authors when it comes to social media marketing of fiction - or are we all in it together?

Read what Jo discovered about authors, social media and sales in:

Jo has worked as a journalist, writer and editor in radio, TV, online, magazines and books. I spent nine years with the BBC and also freelanced for Monocle, the UN and a variety of magazines. I’m on the home straight of a two-year Professional Writing MA programme.


Monday, 13 May 2013

Meet the Editors – Lorraine Mace

Let’s start with you – how did you become an editor?

I started as a Writers Bureau tutor (fiction and non-fiction) just over six years ago. Many of my students asked for on-going help with novels after they’d completed the course and also recommended my services to their writer friends. As a result I set up a private critique and editing service.

What kind of editing do you do?

This depends on the clients’ needs. I have some regular clients, who spell out up front exactly where they would like me to concentrate my efforts, but generally my reports cover grammar, punctuation, plot, theme, pace, voice, opening hooks and cliff-hanger ends to chapters and scenes. I also work with a number of non-fiction authors. In all cases I comment on what is working in the manuscript, as well as what isn’t.

How do you approach working with a client on a manuscript?

I like to establish upfront what the client expects and how (and whether) this can be accommodated. I am flexible on the type of help given. For example, an experienced writer is in need of different feedback and assistance to that required by a beginner writer.

How would you describe a successful author/editor relationship?

For me, trust is the key ingredient. Unless the relationship is built on trust there will always be difficulties. As a writer myself, I know how important it is to seek feedback from people whose opinions I value, but who don’t expect me to follow their ideas blindly. I want my clients to feel the same way. When I make suggestions for changes, that’s all they are – suggestions. It is up to the author to decide how, or if, to follow through on the ideas.

How does the situation differ when you’re editing non-fiction?

It doesn’t differ that much. I’m still looking to bring out the author’s voice and help to make the work interesting and have a page turning quality. I have a number of non-fiction authors who have been successful with their submissions to publishers after working through their manuscripts with me.

What kind of genres do you prefer to work on?

I don’t have a preference. My reading taste is eclectic and that follows through into my editing life. My goal is to help people tell their stories in the most entertaining way, be it fiction or non-fiction.

I’m intrigued to know how you get into the writer’s voice, how you know what kind of words might work, what sort of sentence rhythm will fit and how you know it will still sound like the author, not the editor.

I make a point of reading the entire manuscript before I pick up a pen. In this way I get a feel for the author’s voice. On second reading, I underline passages where the voice shines through. On third reading I begin editing, marking out the parts where the author’s voice falters and commenting directly on the text as to why I believe the passage isn’t working. I never suggest anything that doesn’t tie in with the sections marked out highlighting the author’s unique rhythm and style.

Robert Gottlieb says the editor’s relationship to a book should be an invisible one. Do you agree?

Absolutely. The end product should reflect the author and not the editor.

In the age of independent publishing and authors doing it for themselves, does the future look rosy for editors such as yourself?

Yes, it does. However, sadly, there are too many writers who rush to publish without employing an editor. I’ve read several self-published novels recently, with excellent storylines, but poorly edited, resulting in plot holes you could drive a train through and underdeveloped characters moving woodenly through the plot, delivering dialogue that simply isn’t credible.

Writers often agonise over blurbs and synopses. Would you be the kind of person who could help a writer distil the essence of a story?

I have a system where I show authors how to get down to the heart of their stories and will then work with them to produce attention-grabbing synopses.

What do you write?

As Lorraine Mace, I am a non-fiction author of books, articles and features. On the fiction side, I write short stories for magazines and novels for children. As Frances di Plino, I write crime thrillers.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

You've come a long way

As writers, we learn but sometimes forget how little we knew when we were starting out and how hard some concepts can be at first. – Sheila Bugler

This week, some writers gathered in a coffee shop. The conversation ranged across perspective, transmedia, ultimate audience, validation, voice, and whether or not the barista was a Jedi. During a fascinating discussion about aims and inspirations, I had a moment of ooh.

As always, I participated in the conversation as if I knew what I was talking about. Then, as the clouds of steam parted, I realised I actually did. Ooh. How did that happen?

It happened because I learnt from others. Due to the steady, informal bettering of my writing comprehension, I don’t even realise how much I’ve learnt. So I went back through critiques of my work, notes on workshops, advice I’ve adopted and all those Post-It Notes of the Mind, which gradually assimilated into know-how. And I asked the other Triskelites to do the same.

Here we collate a selection of precious personal nuggets and Triskele treasures to share with you. It reassures us of how far we’ve come, and reminds us how far there is yet to go.

Read. You’ve got to read to write. If you’re a writer who claims not to be an avid reader, then I’ve got a very special word for you, and it’s not a good out loud one. Dan Abnett

What to write. If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it. – Toni Morrison

Lose inhibition
. To make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, first you need a sow's ear. – David Michael Kaplan

Write. First drafts are to fill the reservoir, which I then go fishing in. – David Mitchell

Who to write for. The reader. Literature is a gift, so I write for the most intelligent, sensitive, enquiring, open-minded reader there is. – Christos Tsiolkas

. Fiction is an accumulation of detail which yields meaning. Life is a series of details and is born of who you are. Get out there, get out of yourself. A cornerstone of writing is empathy. – Bret Lott

Move in. The author needs to inhabit the character rather than writing from on high. That individual’s actions in order to achieve his/her desire must make sense for that person. Many writers make the mistake of lobbing obstacles at the protagonist. Real pity is aroused by seeing the character as undeserving of suffering. – Sam North

Point of view ... like perspective in a realistic painting – it changes the size and shape, the nature and identity, of characters, objects and events in accordance with their proximity to the viewer … an audience member needs to be told whom to attend to and empathise with. – Jane Smiley

Develop your style. Style is diction; style is cadence; style is syntax; style is word choice and the spectrum of a writer’s vocabulary; style is length of sentences and the careful placement of different length sentences into a paragraph in the way a master stonemason would set stones into an unmortared wall meant to last for centuries; style is repetition and knowing when not to repeat; style is omission; style is misdirection and subliminal suggestion; style is specificity set into deliberate vagueness; style is crafty vagueness set amidst a forest of specificity; style is the motion of the mind at work; style is the pulse and heartbeat of the narrative sensibility; style is balance; style is the projective will of the writer creating a portal of access to the receptive will of the discerning reader; style is the sound our words make on paper. Style is goddamned hard. – Dan Simmons

Listen. Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open. Stephen King

Work your words
. You are an excellent wordsmith, however, why use twenty words when two will do? When I read your writing it's like it's covered in a veil, a fine mist and it makes me want to scream. If you could erase that mist, polish those words until they shine, your writing would sparkle like a diamond. – Critique Circle

Rewrite. Ensure every scene, every line, every word earns its place. Check that every line, paragraph and chapter ends with the strongest word. – Janet Skeslien Charles

Subtext and imagery. In skilful hands it’s poetic. The small boy stealing a carved acorn from The Hundreds in The Little Stranger, the young lass with dextrous hands sewing fake pelts onto dogs in Fingersmith. The curtains and layers of disguise in Tipping the Velvet. The work of Sarah Waters

Use the reader. This may be the first book you’ve written, but it’s unlikely it’s the first book your reader has ever read. Use your reader as a resource. Use their expectations – meet them or subvert them. Use their imaginations by describing sensory, sensual experiences. Patricia Duncker

When to stop. Every work of art is a solution to a problem. How to say a thing. A work of art is never finished. It’s just abandoned. John Banville.

Distil your story
. Story elements are character, situation, objective, opponent, disaster. Write the story question: TWO sentences – one statement which establishes character, situation and objective. One closed question which nails opponent and disaster.

When humans start growing to twelve-foot high, John Storm wants to find out why. But can he defeat traitors in high places who would kill him and fake an extra-terrestrial plot? Dwight V. Swain

Know yourself. If you can write just badly enough, you can make a lot of money. Flannery O’Connor

Collaboration. More fun, less lonely but also more frustrating. This to me is like the question: are you more yourself when you’re alone or talking to a friend? You’re always yourself, but different kinds of self at different moments? I’m always working, but differently, not better or worse. Naomi Alderman

Know your market. There’s confusion between literary merit and saleability. You may be rejected because your agent/publisher can’t see how to sell your work. Define your bottom line as a writer. Do you want your book to find an audience? That’s always possible. The old models are no longer working, so it’s time to create ones. For most books, there is a readership. You just need to find it. David Applefield

Protect yourself. While writers’ platforms are essential, “protect the instrument”. Make a conscious choice to switch off and use your writing mind. You are a writer. Spend three days away from the internet. Protect yourself from that intrusiveness and the anxiety it creates. Colin Harrison, Simon & Schuster

Feel free to share your best writing tips – we’re all still learning ...

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Things you can do now to help your writing career

By Janet Skeslien Charles

An author’s career begins long before publication. In this article, I would like to share what a few fellow writers and I have learned through being a teacher of creative writing, working on the editorial team of a small literary journal, and working with a critique group made up of five writers of literary and commercial fiction, memoir, and sci-fi. A decade later, four are published authors. We all had different approaches, personalities, writing styles. We had some successes and made mistakes. I am certainly not an expert in publishing but perhaps sharing strategies and mistakes can help other on their journey toward publication.

Commit to a goal. A chapter a month, a scene per day. Find an objective or schedule that you can stick to. Finish a novel within a year is too vague, but finishing a chapter per month is a tangible, measureable objective. Don’t wait for inspiration. It may only come once a year. Writing is hard work and the quicker you commit to a writing schedule or an objective, the quicker you will move towards finishing a piece.

Send your work out. This may seem elementary, but you have to send your work out to be published. The writer in my group that is not published is by far the best editor and writer. She is also the most timid about submitting her work. After sending ten queries, she gives up. Submitting work is like looking for a job or dating – filled with rejection; however, you have to keep trying until you find the editor or agent that loves your work.

Read. Writing is a passion but it is also a business. Read new books to learn about the market. Read the classics to learn about structure. Read agent websites and submission guidelines. Read sample query letters and synopses to help you learn these documents.

Be an active member of the writing (and reading) community. Go to readings, volunteer at the library, start a book club, or join a writing group. Support your local booksellers. In our group, one author bought all of his books online. Another was a good customer of the local independent bookstores and volunteered at the library. When it came time to do publicity, the first author was turned down when he asked to do readings. The second was invited to do several presentations, and her book was featured in bookstore newsletters and websites. Another author in the group interviewed writers on her blog. When her book came out, several of the writers asked to interview her on their blogs. She also began a lecture series and met great authors. As an author, you will end up doing a lot of publicity for your book and it is easier to be in a position of being invited rather than having to ask. Start making connections now. Support other authors, local booksellers and libraries, because they are the ones who will be rooting for you.

Write for newspapers, journals, and magazines. When working on my novel, I let myself be consumed by one project and didn’t write anything else. In addition to working on a book-length project, another writer in the group chose to write essays and articles. When her book came out, she had already made several media contacts and had several articles and reviews about her book. A French publisher recently told me he finds English-speaking authors through their short stories. A writer in my group was signed by an agent who had read one of her short stories. Start building a portfolio now by writing short stories, book reviews, essays, and articles.

Publishing is a contact sport. It is no coincidence that many writers live in London or New York. Attend conferences and workshops. Get out and meet people. The more you do it, the easier it becomes. Live in a small town or foreign country? Join the editorial board of an online journal or organize your own critique group, in person or online. In our group, one author met her agent at a conference and another got a glowing endorsement from an award-winning author she had met at a workshop.

Think before you write. “Where to begin with this misbegotten horror?” I have seen fellow writers frustrated with their unpublished status pen nasty blog posts and reviews. You may hate a book and want the rest of the world to know how terrible it is. Resist. Remember W. Somerset Maugham words: “It may be that you only get out of a book what you put into it and see in it only what you are.” I have learned something from everything I have ever read, even if it is only what I don’t want to do in my own work. Before you post something about another writer’s work, make sure the criticism is constructive. Focus your energy on writing your own book instead of trashing someone else’s and on being a positive force in the writing community.

Janet Skeslien Charles is the award-winning author of Moonlight in Odessa, which has been translated into more than a dozen languages. She has led writing workshops for over a decade and currently works as the programs manager at The American Library in Paris.

Janet grew up in Montana where she studied Russian, French and English. She spent two years in Odessa, Ukraine, as a Soros Fellow.

Moonlight in Odessa explores the dark side of marriage brokers and Internet dating with a light touch. Daria, the young heroine, has a talent for fixing people up. Everyone, that is, but herself.