Books, Careers, Fiction, International Literature Festival, Writing

My Date with an Agent

It’s exactly six months since I publicly stated my goals for 2016: to write a book and buy a house. Here’s an update on my progress:

Goal No.1 is complete. I’m now the proud owner of a perfect little house in south London and it really is a dream come true. I’m looking for a nice little writing desk so that I can stop straining my back by sitting on my sofa typing for hours.

Goal No.2 is going well, kinda. I’ve written about 55,000 words and I’m told a novel needs to be at least 90,000 so that’s what I’m aiming for. More on that topic…

Last weekend I had my long-awaited Date with an Agent, set up as part of the International Literary Festival Dublin.

Myself and 75 others were matched with the agent who was most likely to represent us, and we would have just 10 minutes with that agent – in my case, Simon Trewin, partner at William Morris Endeavor Entertainment in London.

Some would say this wasn’t worth travelling to Dublin for, but for me it was a priceless arrangement, worth it for the 10-minute meeting alone but even more worthwhile when you factor in the rest of the Getting Published Conference and, for me, the chance to meet up with old friends after three years away from Dublin.

Like all good dates, mine went on longer than it should have done. By some stroke of luck I was given the slot right before lunch so we were able to run well over our allotted time, which was just as well because I had a ton of questions.

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The date was very much like a counselling session. Simon didn’t so much offer direct advice as ask questions that let me to think “I should do this” or “I should do that” – clearly a better method of working because it means any changes come from yourself.

My biggest realisation was that I need to make the main character way more different from myself. One of Simon’s opening questions was, quite rightly: “I see your main character is described as slim and brunette with green eyes – do you think maybe you need to make her a bit less like yourself?”

We talked about the book and its target audience, the protagonist and her motivations and the role of social media in marketing commercial fiction. I didn’t have anywhere near enough time to discuss all the things I wanted to discuss, but it was a start.

Most of all, it made me realise how much I’ve got to do. It’s not just a case of getting from 55,000 words to 90,000 words. It’s more a case of rewriting those 55,000 entirely and starting from scratch.

I’ve set aside an entire week at the end of June just to write. I hope to recraft my synopsis and get on a clearer path to be able to present a much stronger proposal later in the year.

I’ve been saying I’m going to write a book for almost 34 years and I finally feel like I’m getting somewhere with it, but there’s a very long way to go…

Are there any budding writers or debut authors reading this who are in the same boat? Did you also have a Date with an Agent? I’d love to hear your thoughts and advice if so. 

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Books, Careers, Fiction, Ireland, Non-fiction, Publishing, UK, Writing

24 tips on how to get published

On May 28 I went to the annual Getting Published Conference, part of the International Literature Festival Dublin, hosted by the brilliant Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin of writing.ie.

Having last attended in 2013, I was particularly impressed to see they’d taken it up more than just a notch, and I came away with new friends, heaps of good advice and a ton of things to add to my ‘to do’ list. I’ll definitely go again next year.

Here are a few of my learnings:

ON WRITING AND EDITING

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1. Read!

It sounds obvious but it’s critical for writers to read as much as possible, says Faith O’Grady, an agent from the Lisa Richards Agency. Aside from the enjoyment factor, you’ll learn a lot about what works and doesn’t work in other people’s writing.

2. Know your genre

Read everything in your own genre, be aware of what others are writing and put your own spin on yours, says James Wills of Watson, Little Literary Agency. Also think about where your novel will sit in the bookshop. If it crosses genres, it may present problems.

3. Show, don’t tell

Keep it simple, stupid. It’s the age-old piece of writing advice but it really is vital, says Alison Walsh, author of In My Mother’s Shoes. Go easy on the adverbs (e.g. “she said, angrily”) and instead let the action do the talking.

4. Try peer critiquing sites like youwriteon.com

When you can see the holes in someone else’s work, you’ll find it easier to spot them in your own, says O’Loughlin. As an author, you don’t see the same thing on the page as your reader does.

5. Be brutal

If you really love a piece of your writing, there’s a very good chance it needs to be cut, says O’Loughlin.

6. Be prepared for the long haul

Be ready to write, rewrite and then write some more. Just persevere and keep editing your own work, says Sallyanne Sweeney of Mulcahy Associates.

7. Know your characters inside out

Clear characterisation is vital, says O’Loughlin. What three things does your protagonist never leave home without? Who was their best friend at school? What would they rescue in a fire? Ask yourself all these questions until you know everything about them.

8. Don’t edit on the screen

Always print off your work and edit on paper, says O’Loughlin.

(I feel pain for the rainforest on this one. Maybe wait and print off a whole draft once a month or so, rather than every time you make a change.)

9. Get your word count right

This is absolutely vital as agents and publishers won’t even consider publishing a novel that’s too short. Commercial fiction should be 90,000 to 110,000 words. Non-fiction can be 60,000-70,000 because often there are illustrations.

10. Enter writing competitions

Short stories competitions, Date with an Agent contests… everything you can do to get your writing out there is great practice and experience and allows you to get feedback, says O’Grady.

 

ON SOCIAL MEDIA AND MARKETING

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11. Have a blog or social media presence, particularly Twitter

There’s no downside to having a blog, according to Simon Trewin, partner at WME London. Aside from getting your work out there and giving you practice at writing, it also allows you to create a community and get support from other writers and readers.

12. Think of every social media contact as a potential sale

You don’t want to sound like a marketeer but if you use your social media presence as honestly as possible, you can build an audience of future readers of your book, says O’Loughlin.

13. Don’t be afraid that people will steal your work online

The advantages of getting your work out there on social media outweigh the risk of someone stealing your work, says Trewin, who, in all his 25 years of agenting, has never had someone steal a client’s work.

14. Don’t expect to hide behind a pen name

You might want to create an alias – O’Loughlin writes as Sam Blake simply because her own name is too long. But don’t expect to hide behind it – you’ll still have to market the book as yourself.

 

ON SELF-PUBLISHING

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15. Consider self publishing

Whilst this was not actively encouraged by the panel, it was generally agreed that self-publishing won’t necessarily harm your chances of getting an agent or being published in future and in some cases can open doors. Hazel Gaynor, author of The Girl from the Savoy, and O’Loughlin, who penned Little Bones, both had novels published the traditional way after self-publishing.

16. Don’t treat it as a last resort

If you’re going to self-publish, make sure you do a great job of it and put as much effort into it as you would through a publisher. Hire an editor and get a professional to design your cover, says Gaynor.

 

ON SUBMISSIONS AND FINDING AN AGENT

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17. Follow the agent’s submission criteria

Does your agent like attachments or do they want you to paste your text into the e-mail body? It sounds trivial but it’s vital – without following the guidelines, you might end up with your entry in the ‘slush pile,’ meaning it takes forever to get read, says Polly Nolan of The Greenhouse Literary Agency.

18. Put as much time and care into the synopsis and submission letter as into the book itself

You can tell what a writer is like by their submission letter, says Nolan. And you might have the best manuscript in the world but if you’ve littered your covering letter with spelling errors, you could ruin your chances of anyone reading it.

19. Hook ’em with your first line

Instead of starting your email with “Hi, my name’s Laura and I’m a 33-year-old aspiring writer from Huddersfield…” (Zzzzz) think of beginning with a line of your book instead – or something abstract and thought-provoking.

20. Always submit your most complete work

Don’t submit a first draft. Work on it for as long as humanly possible. Write and rewrite multiple times. Agents are looking for something that’s almost publishable, says O’Loughlin.

21. Take time finding the right agent

Is your agent someone you’d happily go for a drink with? Make sure you want to spend time with them because they’re going to be a big part of your life, says Gaynor.

 

ON REJECTION

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22. Don’t take it personally

“I don’t talk about rejection any more,” says Trewin. “I just say ‘we haven’t found the right publisher yet'”. Agents and publishers get so many great submissions but some of them are just not right for them. Boost your chances by targeting your manuscript correctly.

23. Don’t give up your day job 

We all have the goal of becoming the next JK Rowling but in reality, most writers don’t earn much at all. The only way you can make it work is to do it for the love, says O’Loughlin.

24. Call yourself a writer

“I suffer from imposter syndrome,” says Gaynor. “Can I call myself a writer? Can I change my Twitter bio? If you’re writing, you’re writing.”

 

Are you an author, editor, agent or publisher? I’d love to hear your tips on getting published and the pitfalls and challenges you’ve faced – please leave your comments below.

In the next post, I’ll tell you about my Date with an Agent – hit the ‘Follow’ button at the top of this blog to find out how it went!

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Books, Dublin Writers Festival, Fiction, Ireland, Non-fiction, Publishing, UK, Writing

What happens in the Writers’ Retreat…

Two months ago, I attended my first Writers’ Retreat. The purpose of the day was literally to sit in a room and write, but it was thoroughly worthwhile because I often don’t have the motivation to spend a full day writing, let alone turn off my phone from nine to five.

Despite spending a good while staring into space and wondering what everyone else was writing, I managed to pen about 10,000 words and firm up some of my earlier chapters, so it was worth the spend. I also made a new friend, a fellow writer (obvs) who is working on her second novel whilst pitching her first to agents. Said writer and I are now planning a little group where we’ll read and give feedback on each other’s work.

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In other news, an email popped into my inbox on Thursday that absolutely made my week. I entered a competition for “A Date with an Agent” – 75 budding writers would be selected to present their work to five leading literary agents.

I didn’t really think I had a hope in hell’s chance of being selected because my book is really in its infancy and the first chapter is the hardest to write but, amazingly, I made the cut and will be pitching to a top agent on May 28th.

Have you ever pitched to an agent? How did it go, and what are your tips?

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Books, Careers, Magazines, Non-fiction, Publishing, UK, Writing

2016: the year I wrote my first book

So, two and a half years ago I wrote a blog about writing your first book. I still haven’t written mine.

I know that having my first book published will be the happiest day of my life, so I need to achieve this goal. But sadly I suffer from all those things that stop even the best writers from writing: self-doubt; having a full-time job; arriving home knackered and wanting to do nothing other than have a long, hot bath; spending hours on Facebook/Instagram/Tinder (it’s all research, I swear); and just generally sitting down and having f*$k all to write.

But this year is going to be different. This year I have goals:

  1. To buy a house
  2. To finish my first draft

Why am I writing this here? Well, I’ve been working on the book goal for a while but it was only today that I figured it might help if I made it public. Over the last three years, one of my biggest sources of inspiration has been a blog called Vivatramp, by an aspiring writer called Bee. She shares her lists and goals and thoughts about reading and writing in such a brilliantly accessible way and she’s taught me it’s important to be brave and bold and share those ideas, even if you’re just as clueless as the rest of us.

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Why today? Because it’s Monday 4th January and my first day back at work after Christmas was so bad that I cried a little bit on the train home. (For what it’s worth, it was only bad because of the trains). Then I decided to have a long, hot bath and tuck into a fresh copy of Marie Claire – one of my other sources of inspiration, along with quite a few other women’s magazines – and I came across an article about a Writers’ Retreat in Devon.

No sooner had I dried myself off than I had booked a place on a £45 one-day writers’ retreat in London at the end of the month, and I plan to book a three-day retreat in Devon if it proves useful. They even have claw-foot bathtubs.

Of course, I know I could spend that day writing at home on my own for free, but I’m a big believer in having a little push to help me achieve my goals, and this seems like a worthwhile investment – not to mention a little January treat to myself.

So there you go – I’ve written it down and I’m writing a book.

What about you? Share your stories and goals – I’d love to know what you’re up to!

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Books, Dublin Writers Festival, Fiction, Ireland, Non-fiction, Publishing, UK, Writing

So You Want to Be a Writer?

Everyone’s got a book in them, right?

Last month I was lucky enough to attend Publish and Be Famed, an event at the Dublin Writers’ Festival focused on publishing tips for budding authors. The session turned out to be extremely helpful, so I thought I’d share a few of my learnings with you.

The following tips come from the panel of experts, which included Declan Burke, author of Eightball Boogie and Absolute Zero Cool, Seán O’Keeffe, Publisher and MD at Irish publishing house  Liberties Press and Alice Dawson, Publicity & Marketing Manager at Liberties Press.

Fiction or Non-Fiction?

IMG_0332Sometimes you’ll have more luck getting published if you write a non-fiction book first, says O’Keeffe. There are far more budding authors of fiction than of non-fiction, so this could be a good way to make your work stand out from the slush pile, giving you a chance to move on to fiction once you’re an established author.

Beta Readers

Have a group of Beta readers who can give you their honest opinion on your initial drafts. These people should not be a) relatives or b) people to whom you owe money. You don’t want to give them any reason to have to tell you your book is good when it isn’t.

Finding an Agent

In the UK, the Writers & Artists Handbook is the place to go to look for agents.

Take time, do your research and target the right agents, says Burke. An agent who specialises in science fiction might not be interested in your literary fiction, and vice versa.

Include a covering letter with your manuscript, clearly setting out what your book is about, and whether there will be a market for it. Your job as an author does not stop at writing a few pages – you also need to sell, sell, sell.

Don’t write to an agent until you’ve done at least three drafts of your work, and have a full manuscript at the ready. Unless you’re an utter genius with JK Rowling-esque talent, you’re unlikely to have agents jump to sign you based purely on an idea for your unwritten five-book novel series.

Persistence, Persistence, Persistence

The biggest mistake is having no patience and giving up after receiving rejections, says Burke. That said, you won’t get anywhere if you don’t have talent.

“Everybody does have a book in them, but in most cases that’s where it should stay.” — Christopher Hitchens.

Pitching Etiquette

The best way to pitch your book to publishers is through an agent, not directly, says the panel.

Publishers will assume you’re pitching your book to various publishers, which is fine, says O’Keeffe. However, says Burke, agents often ask for exclusivity, so be careful if you’re asking multiple agents to pitch your work.

Shameless Self Promotion

Talent and writing ability are just a small part of the battle to sell books these days, says Dawson. A huge part of being an author is promoting your book and yourself as a writer, both before and after publication.

Publishers, when considering your work, will look at your commercial potential as well as the quality of your manuscript, says Dawson. They’ll want to see what kind of online profile you have, and what capacity to promote your book later down the line. A Twitter account, Facebook page, blog and Pinterest page are all great ways to create that online presence, she says.

Be aware that you may need to promote your book actively after it’s published. This is a huge part of being an author and it’s very much a group job, involving the writer as much as the publishing house. The work of an author doesn’t end after the manuscript is sent off and the book deal signed, says Dawson. You may need to be prepared to talk on local radio or even on TV.

Creating an Online Presence

Having an active presence on social networks such as Twitter and Pinterest is extremely important, but it’s also important to make sure you write about a relevant topic. Burke originally created his crime fiction blog, Crime Always Pays, to promote his books, but it quickly turned into a popular blog in its own right, serving to draw new readers and allowing him to constantly create new topics of interest.

Be Professional

Make sure you behave professionally throughout the entire process: talent and luck only go so far. You could have the most professional and well-written covering letter and manuscript in the world, but if your online presence reveals you tweeting abuse to celebrities, you might turn off would-be agents and publishers.

IMG_0333Be Patient

Of course it varies, but the typical time it takes in Ireland from a label signing an author to the book hitting the shelves is about 9-12 months. If the topic is particularly topical and newsworthy, the process may be quicker.

Remember:

  • Take time – don’t submit your manuscript until you’ve done at least three drafts.
  • Be selective – do your research and pitch to the right agents.
  • Create an online presence – spend time designing an appropriate blog, writing original material and promoting your work on Twitter, Facebook and other social networks.
  • Be prepared to promote your work – selling your book is half the battle.

Got more publishing tips? Please feel free to share them in the comment box below!

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Careers, Fashion Magazines, Ireland, Journalism, Magazines, UK, Writing

Find What You Love

Ever thought you’re too old to start again and follow your dreams? Read why I decided to do just that and become a 30-year-old intern…

Click here to read this post on The Big Scary ‘C’ Word

IMG_6429The day I quit Bloomberg in March 2012, I expected my managers to be mad at me. I was abandoning the company to which I’d devoted most of my 20s, and I was leaving my colleagues in the lurch.

Instead, the wise bureau chief gave me a hug and said “You’ll never regret leaving any job. Every time you leave a company or make a big change, things always work out for the best.”

Fourteen months on, I can honestly say he was absolutely right. Things did work out for the best. Just not exactly in the way we both imagined.

It turned out the decision to quit Bloomberg and leave Argentina was the decision that saved my life. The move to Ireland prompted me to return to the doctors for a second medical opinion, and the rest is history.

IMG_6431So, when a colleague at Facebook said the exact same thing when I told him I was leaving today, I couldn’t help but smile. Everything happens for a reason.

Some people have found it hard to see why I’ve been – for the most part – a happier person since cancer came into my life, and it’s always been a little hard to explain. Now, here goes:

When I was about six years old, I knew exactly what I was going to be when I grew up. I was going to be the editor of a magazine. From the day I learned to write, I was scribbling down stories, typing away furiously in MS-DOS and making my own magazines with cut-out pictures and Pritt Stick. Over the years, I broadened my interests and grew to love a lot of things, from acting to languages to teaching to sport. But one thing always remained constant: my passion for writing.

Somehow, though, my career took a different path. I took a languages degree, travelled the world, became a financial journalist. Seven years into my career, I left Bloomberg – partly for personal reasons, partly because I had lost track of my goals and wasn’t passionate enough about finance. I moved into a job at Facebook, continuing with my love of languages and Latin America, but it wasn’t right.

IMG_6114Then I got cancer, and every instinct in my body told me to write, write, write. And it was the easiest thing in the world: writing about something close to my heart, something I knew, something I truly cared about, something people wanted to read about.

Apart from my Mum and Dad, to whom I owe everything, writing was the thing that got me through the last 11 months of hell. My blog was what connected me with my friends, family and colleagues past and present when I was too sick to keep in touch with them in person. My blog was the thing that put me in touch with a whole new set of friends – a group of girls all over the world with whom I have cancer in common but who are by no means defined by their cancer.

But there comes a time when the Cancer part stops and the Life part starts again. I will continue this blog because there is still plenty to say and people who are benefiting from it, but I will be writing more and more about other things and the cancer part will take a back seat. It’s a shame when it takes a major illness to push you to follow your dreams, but if there’s anything I’ve learned over the last year, it’s that life is way too short.

photo(1)Tomorrow is my last day at Facebook and after that I plan to take a few months to properly rest and reflect on the crazy year I just had.

In September, I’ll be moving back to London to start the MA Magazine Journalism at City University – a course I’ve wanted to do for about a decade but never got the chance because life was too busy passing me by. I may be the oldest student in the class, probably doing my knitting in the back row and drinking cups of tea while the rest of the class go out drinking, but that’s ok. I’m doing it for me.

I will be forever grateful for the amazing times I had working at both Facebook and Bloomberg – two brilliant companies that taught me so much. From the lifelong friends I made at Bloomberg, to the people at Facebook who supported me through the hardest time of my life over the past year. I’m so lucky to have worked with so many talented, inspiring people at both companies and I don’t regret a single moment of my career so far.

When I was on sick leave, a colleague wrote a career testimonial in which the main message was “Find what you love”. A couple of weeks before me, she took heed of her own advice and jumped bravely into an unknown world of book-writing and doing what she loves. She didn’t even need cancer to spur her on.

When I announced my resignation from Facebook a couple of weeks ago, a big smile spread across my manager’s face. While there is the smallest possibility that he was just pleased to get rid of me, I’m pretty sure the smile indicated he was happy because he knew I’d found what I loved.

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