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Wednesday, November 02, 2011


In case you're not checking out Insideadog, here it is. And hey, today I told my book clubbers proudly that I was on Insideadog and they looked guilty, since they hadn't actually got around to joining. The younger club members arrived soon after and happily went off to join and then to check out the web site's competitions. I've promised to keep their pile of books in order so they can enter the Book Spine Poetry competition...


When asked, “How do you become a writer?” I pick up a pen and a notebook and answer, “You need one of these and one of these.”

The other week, two of my former English students came up to the library desk with big smiles. “Miss, we’re doing a novel. Will you read it?”

“Yes,” I said. “How much have you written?”

Their faces fell. “None of it,” one of them admitted.

 I invited them along to my lunchtime book and writers’ club, to get their planning started. They said they’d come, but of course, they didn’t.

It’s a pity; they were capable girls who probably could write a book if they were willing to give time to it.

You have to make time to write, which sometimes means giving up something else. And if you’d rather be doing something else than writing, perhaps it’s not for you.

Assuming it is, and you’ve written your 60,000 word masterpiece – the average length of a novel – what next?

Personally, I’d put it aside for a while, then re-read it. Once you’ve screamed, “OMG!” and re-written the whole thing, check the grammar and spelling. Yes, you read right - that stuff the English teacher makes you do. You can get your revenge by buying your favourite English teacher a box of chocolates and asking her to take a quick look at it. You’d be surprised how much Spellchecker and Grammar Check miss.

I read story submissions for a magazine called Andromeda Spaceway Inflight Magazine, and I’ll tell you now that I don’t bother finishing any story whose author didn’t care enough to get it right.

So – where do you submit your story? As a reader, you’ll know which publishers publish the sort of book you’ve written. Try them first. Be aware that publishers get thousands of submissions a year and buy a handful. Be aware, but don’t let it stop you.

And be comforted to know that teenagers do sell books. Steph Bowe comes to mind. S.E. Hinton. Alexandra Adornetto, author of the Shadow Thief series and, more recently,.

Lisa Berryman, a publisher from HarperCollins, says that Alexandra presented her manuscript correctly, with the right kind of cover letter – and she had checked out her markets. She didn’t sell because she was young but because she was good.

Your book will be read by a junior staff member who has a huge pile of manuscripts to get through and desperately needs sleep. Unless it’s very, very special, it will be rejected.

But here’s the thing: if you get a personal letter instead of a printed slip, you’re on your way. It means they saw something worthwhile in it. A publisher isn’t an English teacher and doesn’t have to comment, so if she does, be thrilled. Follow her suggestions. Then send it somewhere else while you write another story. In fact, send it on even if you get a printed slip. One publisher’s trash might be another’s treasure.

A writer called Bjo Trimble said once, “Treasure your rejection slips. They prove you’re a writer – only writers get rejection slips.”

Whereas people who spend their days talking about that novel they’re going to write when they have time don’t get rejection slips, but they don’t get published either.

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