Category Archives: Securing an agent

Self Editing: Eveything you need to know

I had planned a post at some point similar to this, but when I read the talented Sharon Zink’s page I decided to share it.

Sharon is an amazing writer and I have had her on my blog. She also does the same job as me in that she offers manuscript appraisals; the same level of detail.

So I decided to share this link because it really is a masterclass in writing and everything on here is exactly the kind of thing I say to clients all the time when I assess their manuscripts…

Take heed fellow scribes!

I am now about to write the homecoming chapter on Pelicans… this is exciting, it’s the final chapter when we reveal the last of the missing pieces… and it’s raining so I am loving the sounds of rain on the roof as I write! The morning goes pitter patter… ❤

Have a wonderful day everyone!


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In The Spotlight Guest Post R J Ellory [Spotlight On Crime Series]

I have a very special guest in the spotlight this morning — a very special guest. R J Ellory is the author of many books, perhaps shot into the public eye when A Quiet Belief In Angels made the Richard and Judy list. I love his writing style, writing sometimes on the darker side — crime/psychological thrillers — just my bag. Well worth looking at his extensive list — not that he needs me to sing his praises, the books speak for themselves.

I met Roger (in the virtual sense) through a writing friend and we have stayed in contact. He signed his novel Bad Signs to me and I loved it. So I asked, even though I know he is SO busy, if he would share some of his journey with fellow writers (and readers.) As Roger will tell you himself, it has been a long journey and he is testament to the fight, if you want it enough and you’re prepared to work at it, you can get there. So without further ado I would like to welcome to the spotlight, author R J Ellory (pause for RAUCOUS applause) …




Welcome R J Ellory


RJ Ellory Image

“I started writing my first book, and over the next six years I wrote a total of twenty-three novels.  Once I started I couldn’t stop…”


Introduce yourself: Have you always wanted to be a published writer? Tell us something about your path to having your first book published.


Okay…well, my name is RJ (Roger Jon) Ellory, and I was first published here in the UK in 2003.  That was the end of a fifteen year-long ‘battle’ to find a publisher.  The first published book was the twenty-third I wrote, and the gap between when I first put pen to paper and first secured a publishing contract was fifteen years, taking into account that I wrote nothing for eight of those years due to accumulated ‘disappointments’ and mental exhaustion!  Of course, my own experiences are unique, and I am sure that there are great many more published authors out there who secured publication with their first or second novel, but this was just my journey and this was what it took for me.


Did that journey involve an agent? If not did you try to get one? Any advice about that?


I tried to work through an agent, and secured the services of three or four, but nothing came of it.  I think they just didn’t have the persistence that I had, and they each gave up after two or three attempts to find me a publisher.  I ultimately secured a contract with a publisher (Orion UK) directly, and my editor advised me to get an agent, recommended three or four, and even then – knowing that I already had a publishing contract with one of the most prestigious publishing companies in the UK – only one agent contacted me and met with me.  That agent is still my agent twelve books later.


Do or did you ever belong to a writing group?


No, I never belonged to a writing group.  I never had anyone read my work before I sent it off.  My wife used to read my work, and she was never anything but convinced that I would one day be published.


Who did you first tell when you heard your first book/story had been accepted?


My wife, of course.  She said, ‘About bloody time!’


What happened next? Can you tell us something about working with an editor? How important is that to you now – is there a lot of discussion and does the editor make a real difference to your work?


Working with a good editor is the same as learning any new subject.  I have studied music, graphic design, photography, all sorts of things, and working with an editor starts with the same premise.  There is a great deal of difference between writing a novel and writing a novel for public consumption.  Your editor, usually, is the first person to read your novel as an ‘audience’.  He will see holes that you didn’t see.  He will see plot weaknesses that remain unknown to you, even when you have dragged your way through two rewrites.  There is an old expression: A wise man is a man who knows he knows nothing.  I approach my working relationship with my editor on this footing, that he does know better, that he can teach me a great deal from his own experience, that he is working towards making the book as good as it can be, and I am very fortunate to have one of the finest editors working in the UK book industry.  There is no book I have written that is not better as a result of his working on it.  He advises, we discuss, I then amend, rewrite and/or edit as applicable.  After working on twelve books together, we have a system that could not be better.  Not that I have any criticism of self-publishing, but that basic and fundamental relationship between writer and editor is missing, and I do not see how a book could be as good as it could be without that external and objective critique and input, especially from someone who is vastly experienced and knows exactly what they are doing.


Tell us something about your writing day, routine.

For years I wrote longhand, almost three million words, but now I use a computer.  Sometimes when I’m away from home I’ll write longhand, and then transcribe when I return.  I tend to write a whole book, furiously ploughing through it, and then I go back through from start to finish and handle all the snags, anomalies, mistakes, cut back on the over-writing as best I can.  It’s kind of organic in a way, like it’s something that takes on certain character aspects of its own.  It’s like living with a bunch of people for a few weeks, and you watch them grow, watch them take control of certain elements of the story, and then when you’re done it’s like losing something.  Capote once said that finishing a story was like taking a child out into the yard and shooting them.  Perhaps a little melodramatic, but I know what he means!  When a book is finished it kind of leaves a hole in you, and then you have to start another one right away!  I am disciplined.  I start early in the day.  I try and produce three or four thousand words a day, and work on the basis of getting a first draft done in about twelve weeks.  Sometimes it takes longer, sometimes shorter.  For me a book always begins with the emotion I want to evoke in the reader.  That’s the most important thing for me.  How does a book make you feel, and does that memory stay with you?  So that’s my first consideration: the emotional effect I am trying to create.  The second thing is the location.  Location is vital for me as the location informs and influences the language, the dialect, the characters – everything.  I choose to start a book in Louisiana or New York or Washington simply because that ‘canvas’ is the best for to paint the particular picture I want to paint.  I buy a new notebook, a good quality one, because I know I’m going to be carrying it around for two or three months, and in the notebook I will write down ideas I have as I go.  Little bits of dialogue, things like that.  Sometimes I have a title, sometimes not.  I used to feel very strongly about having a good title before I started, but now – because at least half the books I’ve published have ended up with a different title – I am not so obsessive about it!  And as far as little idiosyncratic routines and superstitions are concerned, I don’t know that I actually have any that relate to starting a book.  I do have a routine when I finish a book.  I make a really good Manhattan, and then I take my family out to dinner!


What or who inspires you most? Any particular people, authors, books?


Other writers inspire me.  I spend my time finding books by writers that make me feel like a clumsy and awkward writer.  I love film, too.  Music, of course.  Artists in all areas inspire me, especially those who have had to really work hard at creating recognition for something special or unusual.  I am inspired by the achievements of people in all fields, to be honest.  The basic truth that kept me going for yeas despite many hundreds of rejection letters was a quote from Benjamin Disraeli: Success is entirely dependent upon constancy of purpose.  I also love the following words from Eleanor Roosevelt: It is never too late to become what you might have been.


Why do you write? (Now that’s the question!) What do you want your stories to do?


I was always creatively minded, right from an early age.  My primary interests were in the field of art, photography, music, such things as this.  Not until I was twenty-two did I consider the possibility of writing.  I remember having a conversation with a friend of mine about a book he was reading, and he was so enthusiastic!  I thought ‘It would be great to create that kind of an effect’.  That evening – back in November of 1987 – I started writing my first book, and over the next six years I wrote a total of twenty-three novels.  Once I started I couldn’t stop, and now I think it just took me those first twenty-two years of my life to really discover what I wanted to do.  Now it seems like such a natural part of me and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.  As for what I am trying to achieve as a writer, for me the most important thing about any novel is the emotion it evokes.  The reason for writing about the subjects I do is simply that such subjects give me the greatest opportunity to write about real people and how they deal with real situations.  There is nothing in life more interesting than people, and one of the most interesting aspects of people is their ability to overcome difficulty and survive.  I think I write ‘human dramas’, and in those dramas I feel I have sufficient canvas to paint the whole spectrum of human emotions, and this is what captures my attention.  I once heard that non-fiction possesses, as its primary purpose, the conveying of information, whereas fiction possessed the primary purpose of evoking an emotion in the reader.  I love writers that make me feel something – an emotion, whatever it might be – but I want to feel something as I read the book.  There are millions of great books out there, all of them written very well, but they are mechanical in their plotting and style.  Three weeks after reading them you might not recall anything about them.  The books that really get me are the ones I remember months later.  I might not recall the names of the characters or the intricacies of the plot, but I remember how it made me feel.  For me, that’s all important.  The emotional connection.  Those are the books I love to read, and those are the books I am trying to write.


How much marketing have you had to do, even with a big publisher? How comfortable are you with self-promotion?


I did over one hundred and fifty library events in the first year of being published, all of them without charge.  I set up Facebook pages, Twitter pages, a website, whatever else I felt would help get my name out there.  I went to festivals, book-signings, seminars, and did anything and everything I was asked to do.  I think publishing has changed so very dramatically over the last twenty years, and the nature of how books are read (or not, as the case may be), has meant that we have had to adapt quite markedly.  It is an audio-visual age, and reading as a leisure activity seems to have declined so very much over the last decade or so.  While everyone is running around scratching their heads and trying to figure out why book sales have deteriorated so much in the UK, we seem to be ignoring the fundamental fact that literacy levels have collapsed, educational standards are at a record low, and reading for pleasure is rapidly disappearing.  It has been suggested that e-books and other digital formats have contributed to this decline, but that makes no sense as the shortfall in book sales is not being compensated for by downloads.  Also, changing the way in which books are being read does not make a non-reader into a reader.  Readers are readers, and they will read regardless of the format.  If the combined might, influence and financial power of the key publishing companies in this country devoted their energies and resources to a huge literacy and reading campaign, then they would secure their own future, both organizationally and financially.  However, it may be too late to reverse the dwindling spiral.  I hope not, for losing the book as a mainstay of entertainment, pleasure and education would be a huge tragedy.  Even though it may not sound so, I am an optimist at heart and I hope we can revive the book in the country.  We still publish more books per capita than any country in the world, and I think we carry a responsibility to maintain what we have created with our language.


Tell us about the latest published work …


The latest book (released on May 22 this year) is called Carnival of Shadows.  The blurb is as follows:


Kansas, 1959. A travelling carnival appears overnight in the small town of Seneca Falls, intriguing the townsfolk with acts of inexplicable magic and illusion. But when a man’s body is discovered beneath the carousel, with no clue as to his identity, FBI Special Agent Michal Travis is sent to investigate. Led by the elusive Edgar Doyle, the carnival folk range from the enigmatic to the bizarre, but none of them will give Travis a straight answer to his questions. With each new turn of the investigation, Doyle and his companions challenge Travis’s once unshakeable faith in solid facts and hard evidence. As the consequences of what has happened become ever more disturbing, Travis struggles to open his mind to a truth that defies comprehension. Will he be able to convince himself that things are not what they seem? Or will he finally reconcile himself to a new reality – one that threatens to undermine everything in which he has ever placed his trust? In his powerful, atmospheric new thriller, bestselling author R.J. Ellory introduces the weird and wonderful world of the Carnival Diablo and reveals the dark secrets that lurk at its heart.



On facebook I can be found under both Roger Jon Ellory and R J Ellory

On twitter, it’s just @rjellory

My website is


The book can be obtained anywhere on-line and in bookstores.

What next? Tell us about work in progress and aspirations. Where do you see yourself in ten years’ time?


The work I progress is a slow-burn mystery set in West Texas in the early 1970s, but there are two stories that run parallel.  The backstory, for want of a better term, is in the same town but twenty or thirty years earlier.  Very little violence, very little bad language, and the crimes perpetrated are deception, falsity, greed and jealousy.  Currently there is no title, but I am close to competing the book and we shall see what transpires!  As for where I will be in ten years’ time, I am sure that there will be another ten novels published, but I am also branching out into music, and I don’t doubt that I will have a good few albums and a few national and international tours under my belt.  That’s what I hope, for music is something I very much want to pursue as vigorously as writing.


Any advice for writers who are trying to get their work published?


Very simply the tenet from Disraeli above, and also something else that I feel is very valid, in that the worst book you could write is the one you think others might enjoy, whereas the best book you could write is the one that you feel you yourself would enjoy.  There is no formula for a good book.  You cannot predict what will be successful.  If you try to jump on a bandwagon and catch the current genres of interest, you will inevitably finish your book right about the time that the interest has waned and the public are following another thread.  True commercial success has come about as a result of writers creating their own genres and sub-genres, but writing for commercial reasons is always the very worst reason to write.  I think it was Hemingway that said, ‘Compared to writing novels, horse-racing and poker are good solid business ventures’.


Tell us something random about you for the pure hell of it


I am a guitarist and vocalist in a band called Zero Navigator.  We have just completed our first album, produced by Martin Smith of ELO, and featuring percussion by Hossam Ramzy, he of Page & Plant, Peter Gabriel, Shakira fame.  We are currently filming a video for the first single, and will be on tour soon.  I think this is a good example of Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote, ‘It’s never too late to become what you might have been’!  Our website is at


Which of your characters would you most like to be friends with and why?


I think that’s a really tough question!  There are characters who I see I would like to know, those I’d like to find out more about, those I feel sympathetic or paternal towards, those I feel could teach me a few useful lessons about life.  Actually, I think it would be interesting to raise the issue of autobiographical writing here.  How much of an author’s work is autobiographical?  I think we absorb so much from life – some of it good, some of it bad.  We take in events and circumstances, we deal with them (or not), we recover, we carry on, we try our best with everything we do.  Sometimes we get it right, other times we get it wrong.  That is life, and that is living.  As with any field of the arts – whether it be painting, sculpture, choreography, musical composition – the creator must draw on personal experience and personal perception in everything he or she creates.  I think that what we paint and what we write and what we sing are merely extensions of ourselves, and that extension grows from personal experience.  I think there are very few writers who write their own lives into novels, but I think there are a great deal who write their perceptions and conclusions and feelings about their own lives and the lives of others into the characters they create.  From that standpoint, every character I have ever created must have some small aspect of me within them…and that, in itself, could be quite a scary proposition!


Thank you so much Roger for being so honest and generous in your answers. You truly are testament to the journey and that if you have the talent and the belief you can make it. I am thrilled to have you in the spotlight on my blog and I am sure your story will inspire the readers of this blog. Thank you so much.

Have a great day everyone!



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Small steps … how much marketing do writers need to do?

Well I had a lovely birthday and a rare day off in the week. Now I’m back and working.

I was pondering how much time writers need to spend on their social networking. I’ve been paying for a Facebook promo that’s been running since the new year and will for the final 2 days, hoping to reach 500 new likes.

I also promoted posts with the Kindle offer and I think it will have made a difference, unique likes and definitely, as we approach a reprint, and clock up over 1500 downloads, and a reasonable sales, we have moved beyond my sphere of friends.

Initially sales by unknown writers are friends, family, even friends of friends. The average self-published novel sells 200 copies — it’s hard selling books. Luckily I have a publisher, but again small presses do not have the resources for the kinds of massive print runs and marketing you see with the big presses.  But they do have avenues perhaps not open to the self-publisher. So it’s good to know at least my book is out there with people who don’t know me.

I remember when that news broke about J K Rowling and her altered ego, reporting sales of only 1500 books. Well to me these kinds of sales are good, but nothing when you examine the bigger picture. Of course then sales had a dramatic turnaround.

But what can we really expect as new writers and how much can we do?

A close friend self-published a crime novel and has had phenomenal downloads!  How did he do it? He claims that luck plays a big part, and he has targeted a very specific genre with a loyal following. He also works in marketing so has employed a range of software packages to follow the right people on twitter building an audience far larger than the one I have built through interaction. He also tells me about other sources (all for money) where you can locate the emails of reviewers, extracted using software.

Now at the end of the day all of this becomes superfluous if the book isn’t any good, and in this case I know the book is good. So the writing has to speak for itself!  But the question is — even if a book is GREAT can it disappear if not enough people get to know about it?

And how much do you, as the writer, need to do to make people know about it.

I have to make the time for a lot of this, after all I have to write, it’s what it’s all about and I have to work so I have to edit etc.

I am hoping a combination of my own marketing things (small steps) and those of the publisher (with 21 years of experience) will allow the book to start getting into more bookshops, airports, reviewed by broadsheets and so on.

I remember saying to the publisher in November — but “200 books is not enough sales”. He kindly told me that it had only been out for 3 weeks and everything takes time.

He is right.

But now I need people to spread the word, word of mouth does make a huge difference.

With people enjoying the book as much as they seem to be, I hope for more good reviews and that they will tell people who will tell people. And sadly I have to keep pushing.  This self promo stuff is tiring!

So I really appreciate all the support and I hope all this pushing and dreaming will get me that bestseller!

And if you have read the book and would like to review it, have me on your blogs as a guest, tell your friends, share the links, this will be greatly appreciated!

I will have the slightly tweaked cover to reveal next week! So sorry for all the promo things but since you have all been on the journey with me I am hoping that sharing the  journey with you will be helpful as you take your own steps towards writing success.

Dream big, but enjoy and celebrate in even the smallest steps. Count your blessings. I still pinch myself when I see how far I’ve come!

So all that remains  to say is — have a great weekend everyone!

Small steps, big waves …

Always believe ...

Always believe …



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Keeping the dream alive … responding to criticism

I was reading an article this morning about how we receive and how we give feedback and criticism and it made me think.

As a writer I am no stranger to having my work picked over. Fortunately those who have, have always been encouraging even if there was plenty to address.

I also give feedback as part of my day job and I like to think I have developed a style that is encouraging and empowering, but at the same time, honest. It has to be.

What I did was look at what I want from a critique, honesty first and foremost, but no point in saying what’s wrong if you can’t offer a fix, an idea, a suggestion. This is where I think various things combine — me being a writer myself, the fact I work in publishing (albeit on a small scale) but I have worked with lots of stories and lots of writers to know what works, being a reader helps, and my MA alongside numerous other courses so I have a strong grasp of what works and what techniques to use to make things work better. And like you, I return to books and I read magazines and I make sure the advice I give is as solid as it can be.

I once had someone critique my work who just said things like — nah, boring, cut, don’t believe you — and no offer of why or how. I found it demoralising. And I vowed I would never do that or make someone feel that way.

Yes I have worked on manuscripts by very new writers that need a lot of work, but handled right, the comments and suggestions and advice make it clear they have a lot to learn, but a good teacher empowers and makes the student want to learn, and doesn’t demoralise or make them feel like giving up forever.

It helps I am, a ‘people’ person, or I like to think I am, so I approach the job with passion and enthusiasm and do go the extra mile for people. I love it when they tell me they can see the improvement and when they start to have success.  And since I have my publishing contacts, the various projects I am involved in, like CafeLit, I do offer ways to kick-start careers where I can and have suggested they submit to various collections.

Not everyone can teach, I like to think I have the balance right between honesty and encouragement. All I can say is it seems to work and we start the official first full week of work this year, I have a full board of jobs and lots are new clients, as well as familiar faces — so I look forward to what we can do together.

2014 is going to be a great year, come along and see!

Have a great week everyone!

1455061_614034055330223_967283944_nPs the kindle version is still 99p!


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Here we go … setting your writing goals

Yay it’s a shiny new year! Don’t spoil it!

I don’t know about you but I love the feel of a new year. I used to see it as a way to start over with new paper, clean diary, new goals but now I see it more as a restoration of the default setting and to make sure I am still on track.

Resolutions are usually broken within a couple of weeks so I prefer to think it terms of setting realistic goals and this can be at any time, but then pushing yourself to achieve. If you see it as a chore you will never succeed. If you  just keep making lists and moving the writing one down further, or pushing deadlines too much, the initial relief you feel will fade and you will still feel like a failure.

I am very driven anyway and I remember spending new year’s with  friend a few years ago and one of the first things I did in the new year was buy a copy of Writers & Artists Yearbook for that year and say — I have to stop getting rejected and I will do what it takes to find me an agent or publisher. At the time I think this was with the infamous Colourblind and I adopted a new approach by being more choosy in the agents I contacted. While I soon learned at the time my writing was not quite there, the agents who did look at it mostly asked to see the rest of it and it was certainly better than my send to all approach as a novice!

When I knew it wasn’t good enough I then set out new goals and took more courses and in my case studied for my MA too. I went back to short stories to learn the craft. I was determined and still am. But an important lesson I learned was that like evolution and indeed ecology, we must adapt to a changing landscape in order to move forward.

At this melancholy time of year we often look back. So look back at some of your earlier writing as this is a wonderful way to see how far you’ve come. We never stop learning.

So here’s some advice for those with manuscripts and the dream  that this will be the year, how much have you worked and reworked that MS? What has the feedback been like? Are you still trying to flog a — no I won’t say it, are you still trying with the same novel you wrote ages ago? There comes a time when you have to move forward with the next one, as I had to do with Colourblind. That isn’t the same as giving up, it’s learning, adapting, taking what you learned from each step and progressing and one day you will come back to that MS with fresh eyes and be able to do it justice. You will see why it was rejected.

I am a lover of lists and I live for the dream, but not just the realisation of it, the ride to get there which is why I say you should celebrate every success along the way, it’s all part of the journey. And we never stop learning.

For me as well as my having to keep telling people about my book (still 99p on Kindle it seems!) and planning the LA trip etc, I am now having to focus on getting the next one submitted and being prepared for rejection because it will come — but let’s hope this is the year I find me an agent.

We need goals, but just don’t set yourself ones that mean flying before you have learned to walk, the oh sod it, let’s just self-publish this anyway approach. You know what I mean, sending it out there when it’s not quite ready. It is a long ride, but if you want it you will get it.

And anyone who missed my Essex twang I was invited onto a Radio Show on New Year’s Eve. Funny as I follow a couple of Essex radio stations on Facebook and that morning it had asked for people to sum up their year in 5 words. I chose: My dream finally came true. And in a short follow-up said why. Apparently it was read out on BBC Radio Essex and I was picked up for the Mike Forrest Show that goes out to 39 local radio stations in the BBC! So that was a great way to end the year. Oh and when you listen, sorry George Clooney! I only meant he is too old to play Gary in the film (since Gary is in this 30s) I’m sure I could find a role for him and no way is he too old, oh George … fine!

Mike Forrest Show 31/12/2013

(about 23 mins in)

Welcome to 2014! 

Come fly with me!


PS if anyone wants to contribute a piece to CafeLit here is the link: CL

Bridge House are now open for short story submissions: BH

And if you want me to start up Fiction Clinic on the last Friday of the month, I am seeking 500 words that need a little online TLC. |Email them to me

Oh and I have revised my prices on novels and novella work finally on my website but there is still an introductory discount for new clients

Tomorrow I will share a link for a little guest blog post I did!

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Looking back with a smile, looking forward with expectation …

Happy Christmas from The Jet-Set!

Happy Christmas from The Jet-Set!


Christmas has always been my favourite time of year and it seems to have taken ages to come this year. I guess with all the excitement of the book launch I already felt as if I’d had Christmas!

It’s been a whirlwind of busyness and now finally after working my little socks off I sent some work off and can sit back and relax for a few days with the family.

I see Christmas and New Year as a time to restore the default settings. The same way I have a day every week when the house is cleaned and the messiness of the week is restored to its rightful place to welcome in a new week, and perhaps the same at the end of the month, but paying myself too so finances are restored. And so the big one is the end of the year — when we all take stock and I get out my new journal and look at my list of goals.

I love the pages in a new diary and the look of a new calendar. I like to write what I have achieved as if I have. It’s something I leaned from The Secret. I wrote a press release announcing my success in finding a publisher long before it came true and I was able to use it!  Now the focus is bestseller, but that’s where word of mouth has to come in and where I need all of you!

For the last few years I have told myself soon — soon someone will want to publish my novel and it finally happened. And what a year 2013 has been — in every sense. And it started right at the beginning of 2013, early January when I had a message on my answer-phone from Parthian Books asking me if my novel was still available. Then it was the waiting game. March 11th was the day I started to dance and have not stopped. It was the day they said we love it and we want to publish it! The very words I had on my wall on one of my positive affirmations.  It was not so long after that I learned about being on the short list for the Commonwealth and then WINNING the Bath Short Story award.

This year I have also been published in three collections as well as having one of my stories in a literary journal.

It will be a hard year to beat, but I’m gonna try. Oh yes.

Of course you can’t expect that every year and I know it will be business as usual when I try to find an agent and a publisher for the next one — but onwards I go. Always believe. Always do what you love, and always celebrate every success, no matter how small. BUT dream BIG. And I do.

This year has seen much sadness in the world, but then what year has not? And Christmas is also a time that reminds of me the dawn chorus — when we have a roll call and remember those who did not make it this year and those we have lost in the past. So for us there will be tinges of sadness, but in all of that you must make sure there are plenty of places for the light to get in.

People live in unrest and war and every day can be a struggle so I am so so so grateful for the life I have. I mean this morning the only thing to irk was a  2-star review, and while my writing is my world,  in the great scheme of things, what is that but a blip, right? I am so thrilled with the response from my novel. I knew the run of 5 stars would not run forever but it interested me this morning to see someone say they thought Lydia was the most boring character ever and had far too much padding so they glossed over a lot of her parts. Then they missed the real crux of the story I guess. But we all have different tastes and you can’t please ’em all. I will accept her opinion with grace. Of course Lydia to just about everyone else is the character they truly loved and couldn’t wait to get back to and the reason we return to her at the end. But if you don’t like books that err on the literary side for depth of character, then I accept opinion is opinion. At least she bought the book.

In the great scheme of things this is what you have to expect in the arts — so long as people don’t think it’s badly written as that would hurt — and for what it’s worth, it’s not. Honest.

So I went to a lovely carol service last night at the church and I think this is the first Christmas in a long time when I have thought about the real meaning. I’m not religious. I am spiritual, however, and while I find it hard to believe in what I can’t see, I think like so many of us, I want to. And I have to say I really enjoyed the service. No matter what you believe, a time to look back and be THANKFUL and to gather close to those you love (and think about those you’ve lost) can be no bad thing, right? And it was all by candlelight.

So I look back at this amazing year with a HUGE smile and my heart does that flippy thing as I look forward to 2014 and write down what will come true then. It will be a GREAT year. BRING. IT. ON.

I will be having a rest from blogging for a week or so to just enjoy ‘being’ and relaxing with the family. So I want to wish everyone who has stuck by me, read my ramblings and listened to me talk endlessly about bookish things and indulged in some glorious self-promo — a truly WONDERFUL Christmas and a SUCCESSFUL 2014, in every sense.

See you soon. Debz x

This was a great year. You wait till you see what next year brings!

This was a great year. You wait till you see what next year brings!



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Skewed sense of reality

Back in Wales

Debz and Book

Oh God it’s that writer person again!

A short post this morning as I find myself amid all sorts of admin things to catch up with after returning from my Essex trip, and need to clear the decks for 2 weeks of lots of writing and lots of work and promo stuff too! Exciting!

It seems slightly surreal that this time last week I was preparing for the Canvey launch event, and that it was only last week Mum and I were in the lovely city of Bath. So much seems to be happening! But some of it seems like ages ago!

It’s like when you come back from a holiday and it seems like another lifetime!

Odd being in the house without the pooch, but cats very happy! Lots of snuggles!

I will finally sort the photos of the launch and do a gallery of photos and maybe even a short video clip next week!

Also only 2 weeks until the WILD N FREE TOO launch party in London! All welcome, will do a poster and share here next week as well (need to create more time to get it all done!)

Mission for next 12 months — (waking thought this morning) get I Am Wolf and Isle of Pelicans submitted and find me an agent. You heard it here first! And a bestseller would be nice (a girl has to have a dream, doesn’t she?)

So will wish you all a great weekend!

Come along and please share if in North Wales!

Come along and please share if in North Wales!


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To Self-publish or Not to Self-publish …

Today self-publishing opens up a whole new world to the writer. Not only can writers still pay for the services of vanity publishers, but they can publish relatively inexpensively via sites like CreateSpace as well as set up their own small presses as I did with Paws n Claws. They can publish direct to Kindle, Smashwords, for iPhones etc, etc. And this means their work can get out there into the world.

On top of that the stigma that once surrounded self-publishing seems to have been largely dispelled and agents and publishers now have a way of assessing how proactive authors are in self-promotion as well as look at previous sales and whether they have a fan-base already established — testing the water. This will help them sell a book to a publisher.

That said, if the work has that elusive WOW factor we all seek, it makes no difference. They will take you on anyway regardless of social presence or previous sales. But they will look at it if it exists, for sure. And this was a question I asked a couple of agents.

It’s not the same world it used to be for sure. Opportunities exist in ways they never used to and with the right degree of knowledge and some appreciation of  the business models, relative nobodies can achieve great success. But (oh here it is) a HUGE number of people do not. It’s hard work.

I think it’s great this opportunity exists. I really do.

But I do have concerns that knowing this other way is out there can hinder the development of some writers.

Yes I did say that. Yes. I. Did.

Let me explain. Rejection, painful as it is, for me anyway, has been the fuel that drives my desire to be the best, if such a thing is achievable. I seek validation in acceptance from the industry, as hard as that ladder is to climb. I could have chosen to publish my novel at Bridge House relatively cheaply. I could have created an imprint with my own press and done it that way. And I did think about it, many times. I still don’t rule it out in the future. This isn’t about saying that isn’t good enough. No. Don’t misunderstand me. But for me, I am a control freak when it comes to this journey of improvement. This need to  write the perfect story, especially the perfect novel and I know this probably does not exist, or is only in the mind of the believer. But I try anyway.  I strive to get better and better. 

So rejection ignited or added more flames to that fire. In this world of opportunity I still see the agent and the big publisher as the ultimate. I am thrilled to have been signed to Parthian. Thrilled isn’t a strong enough word for it. They are a great publisher with a great reputation and I am still dancing! I hope it does well and I hope I can find me an agent for the next novels.

What rejection did was teach me I wasn’t good enough — yet. And yet is the important word. So I did and still do everything I can to be good enough.

My fear with doing it yourself, is side-stepping, or perhaps short-cutting and not learning to be as good as possible. But let me say — for some. Not all. And this is where critique and copy editors are invaluable to process.

If you do self-publish don’t rely on a friend or even a teacher who knows grammar, or even just another writer friend. Do it right. Have someone professionally assess your MS. Then have it copy-edited and proofed before you go to press. If what you produce is well written and good quality, you have the best chance for some good sales.

But it’s more than that. While you expect a flurry of sales from family and friends, it’s going beyond that — way beyond that. And only the truly most loyal of friends will keep buying your books if they didn’t like the first one. It’s about return custom. It’s about correcting what stopped the agents and publishers picking it up. Right? Let me say that again — it’s about correcting what stopped the agents and publishers picking it up.

So make sure you do it right. Some might not agree with me, I speak only as my own work ethic dictates, and hey maybe there is a little touch of delusion thrown in there knowing how tough the industry is — but is that such a bad thing?

Well, that’s me for today. Feel free to comment.

I am currently building up a mini series in the In The Spotlight Series called Spotlight on Crime so have been in conversation with some crime writers. If you want to take part or know someone who does, then please let me know.

Have a great Tuesday y’all!


Welcome to my madness …

Really good link about publishing …  LINK


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In The Spotlight Author Daniel Blythe

spotlightoj-mdWe welcome to the spotlight this week the highly talented and successful author Daniel Blythe

I met Daniel at a School Skills Sharing Workshop for writers who visit schools  run by NAWE, we exchanged emails and later I met up with him when he was one of the headlining authors at the Hay-on-Wye Literary Festival. He agreed to be one of the Paws Judges this year — although as a rule his tastes are not usually children’s animal stories …  in fact at Hay I was plunged into the world of Sci fi and Dr Who.

So over to Daniel to tell us what it’s like to be a ‘real’ author with an agent and a deal from a big publishing house!

Hello! I’m Daniel Blythe, sometimes writing as Dan Roberts, and you may know me from such books as my Number One In The Tesco Charts bestseller, Doctor Who: Autonomy, my new book for older children and teenagers, Shadow Runners (aka Shadow Breakers) and my novels for adults, The Cut, Losing Faith and This is the Day. I also write non-fiction books – my best-known are Dadlands, which sold in 6 countries (I think! I sort of lost count) and The Encyclopaedia of Classic 80s Pop. My new one is Famous Robots and Cyborgs, which is a Dan Roberts book published by Pen & Sword.

Have you always wanted to be a published writer? Tell us something about your path to having your first book/story published.

I can’t remember not wanting to be a writer. It’s something I wanted ever since I could read, practically! I was a fairly normal boy – not at all sporty, but I played outside, I rode my bike, played French Cricket in the garden with my dad, built dens on farmland with friends, climbed trees, and, later, played computer games. But I was always, always reading – went to the library every week, either in Maidstone or Tenterden, and got four books out (that was all we were allowed back then) and got into the Jennings and Just William series, the Three Investigators and the Willard Price adventures, and Enid Blyton and Alan Garner… as well as finding books of all the Doctor Who stories which had been on TV before I was born. (I tell kids in my talks about this, explaining how we didn’t have videos or iPlayer back then, and that there were few repeats!) And I sat on the swing in my garden and thought up stories. I had friends, but preferred my own company a lot of the time – I’m still a bit like that. (I have a much older brother and sister, and they were both working and left home while I was in primary school, so they weren’t in the way much!)… I wrote my own stories in exercise books – often comic strips, sometimes text with very short chapters.

(Want to see the famous swing in the garden says Debz … here it is …)

Where it all started ...

Where it all started …

Later I borrowed my dad’s typewriter, and I started sending stuff off to publishers and to magazines in my teens. It came back, sometimes with comments, but more often with a curt ‘No thanks’. I learned to recognise the heart-sinking thump on the mat heralding the return of my manuscript. I had a couple of things, eventually, in small-press magazines – no payment, but a free copy was always given! That seemed such a special and precious thing to achieve back then.

And in 1992, I had the mad idea that I could write for Doctor Who’s New Adventures series. These were books published by Virgin Books, who had the official rights to continue the series with books ‘too deep and too broad for the small screen’. I dusted off an old idea I’d once had for the TV show – one which I wrote when I was about 16! That became, with a lot of rewriting, The Dimension Riders, which was accepted by Peter Darvill-Evans at Virgin and became my first published book. I then did another for them, Infinite Requiem, under Peter’s successor, Rebecca Levene. These Virgin books sold really well. Some diehard fans didn’t like them, because they didn’t fit in with their personal concept of what Doctor Who should be, but that didn’t harm the range at all! At this time I didn’t have an agent or anything like that. I knew very little about publishing and how it worked. I was just delighted to be published at long last. (I wrote that first book on a creaky old Amstrad and printed it on a dot-matrix printer – and the pages had to be scanned for the proofs, resulting in line after line of typos! The proofing for that book drove me insane. I did it in the shared house in Canterbury where I was living, over three days, fuelled by coffee and red wine – I felt as if my eyes were bleeding by the end.)

So tell us something about ‘getting an agent’ …

After the Who books, I tried other publishers with my own stuff but nobody was biting. I got, if I’m honest, some very patronising responses from people – London literary types – who obviously didn’t take writing for a popular series like the New Adventures that seriously. So I thought I’d better get an agent before going any further. I did this by the tried and tested method of randomly mailing ten names from the Writers’ Handbook. Five of them responded, three fairly positively, and Caroline Montgomery at Rupert Crew Ltd. was the most positive of all. She invited me to London for a meeting. At that stage, I didn’t have anything I could offer to them to send out – Caroline had seen some of my early attempts at fiction, including a completed novel, and while she didn’t feel she could offer to represent me with that novel, she saw the potential in me. By the time we met, I was able to show her half of the new book I was working on, called The Cut – and she felt strongly enough about it to take me on and to try and sell it for me. She got me a deal with Penguin after a few months, and the book was published as a Paperback Original. It got really good bookshop exposure and some reviews in major newspapers – I didn’t realise at the time how lucky I was to get this. I thought this was just what happened with a fairly well-promoted first novel. My review in the Times was about a quarter of a page! I can’t imagine that happening now…

It’s important to say that you’re only as good as your latest book – it may have looked as if the Who books got me an ‘in’, a foot in the door, but in retrospect that doesn’t feel like the case. I think I’d have got The Cut published in my 20s even without them. Perhaps having them published gave me the confidence to approach agents and be taken seriously, though.

My agent Caroline is fabulous and I don’t always appreciate everything she does. She is especially good at generally confidence-boosting – I think she has talked me out of giving up at least twice! – at making sure a book is right before it goes out. She is also great at putting feelers out for projects I’d be interested in, keeping me updated about who wants what, etc. This kind of thing is invaluable for writers outside London – having a London-based agent who is right there in the thick of it all is exactly what we need. And she is also very adept at making sure my books sell in different territories, and at generally fighting my corner with difficult or obstinate publishers. Recently I was commissioned for, and wrote for, a TV-tie-in book series, which fell through for various complex reasons. I’m not sure I’m even allowed to say what it was, but it was a popular children’s series on the BBC (not Doctor Who) and, despite the collapse of the whole thing for reasons outside our control, my agent made sure I got paid for the work I’d done (writing one book and plotting the second).

Do or did you ever belong to a writing group? Crit group? Did you ever have someone professionally critique your work before first submitting? Or do you have friends or anyone else who sees it before you send it off? Has that changed since you became a ‘successful author’?

 I’m not fond of writing groups, to be honest. If they work for others, that’s great, but I’ve been to one or two and just cringed my way through them. I didn’t have any professional critiques because I didn’t know one could do such a thing. (Again, my youth and naivety!) There are one or two trusted people who always see the finished draft of a book and comment on it, though.

Who did you first tell when you heard your first book had been accepted?

Rachel, who was my fiancée at the time. (Now my wife, and mother or our two children!) We were living together in a suburb of Sheffield, called Crookes – I told her as soon as she came home from work. I think I told her on the doorstep as she was getting out of the car! Then I phoned my parents. I think I gradually told friends and other family members on the phone – hardly anybody had email at home, even though it existed! Seems like another world! It was only just over a decade ago!

What happened next? Can you tell us something about working with an editor? How important is that to you now – is there a lot of discussion and does the editor make a real difference to your work?

Well, I have had varying degrees of input from different editors, to be honest. I won’t mention them all, but the team at BBC Books were very constructive and presented all their feedback in a very user-friendly way. They had endless suggestions in footnotes but they were all valid and helpful. My Chicken House editors were different again – equally effective, but I had to get used to a different style of working. They worked me very hard, rewriting and redrafting at a structural level, then at line level, and it really made me focus on what worked in the book and what did not. So yes, a good editor makes a very real difference to your work. I’m always amazed when people want to put their stuff straight on to Kindle without anyone else’s input – that unpolished, unfinished book will be worse than no book at all

Tell us something about your writing day, routine.

I wish I had a routine! I don’t know how to get one. I used to bracket the day by taking my children to school and collecting them, but these days they are old enough to get themselves there and back so I am almost redundant. I’ve been writing at home now as a freelancer for eight years, but combining it with teaching and going into schools. I’ve taught adult learners for the WEA and Sheffield Hallam University. I’m out doing other things 1 or 2 days a week, and the other 3 or 4 I am at home writing, but it is very easy to get distracted… My one piece of comforting routine is my morning coffee-break accompanied by Ken Bruce’s Popmaster on Radio 2. This probably makes me sound very sad, but I am getting quite good at it – my family keep saying I ought to go on.

What or who inspires you most, people, authors, books?

I’m inspired by all kinds of writers. With children’s books it tends to be those I grew up reading – Terrance Dicks, Anthony Buckeridge, Richmal Crompton, Tolkien, the Three Investigators series, etc. – but I try to keep up with what’s happening now as well. I remember the moment I got back into reading children’s fiction as an adult was when I read Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights – I must have been in my 20s when that came out, and I was still hoping for my big break into publishing. I wanted to write something that big and epic and compelling! I still do. I’ll always check out the new Iain Banks when it comes out – although I worry he’s been re-treading old ground recently. Too many other writers to list, really, but it’s still exciting to find a great new novel by someone I’ve never heard of. And then I find out they are only 22, and I grind my teeth in envy – but usually reassure myself that their enormous talent will disappear without trace in five years’ time because their publishers drop them, after their book fails to sell more than 3000 copies. Of course, it would help if their publisher put more than 3000 copies in the shops to begin with and actually promoted it at all.You can see how writing helps you to develop a healthy cynicism…

Why do you write? (Now that’s the question!) What do you want your stories to do?

I share stories. I give stories out to the world. That was what I wanted to do all those years ago when making them up on my swing, and I used to dream of being able to do that for a living. To have my name on the cover of a book and be The Author. I also used to make stories up because I lived in a small, really quite dull village without much going on. I mean, it was beautiful, but it was the kind of place which used to appear in Doctor Who in the 1970s —  only without the added excitement of an alien invasion. So that’s what I still do, really – I make up stories to enliven my life. And to bring adventure and excitement into other people’s lives.

How much marketing have you had to do, even with a big publisher? How comfortable are you with self-promotion?

Publishers increasingly expect you to do a hell of a lot. If you think your job is done once you have written the book, think again. We are expected to fill in a form listing all out media contacts – I baulked at this the first time I was given one, as the idea of my having any media contacts was laughable! It’s still quite laughable today, actually… But you are expected to have a ‘platform’, to be online, to tweet, to have Facebook, to promote the book relentlessly. This can be a bit wearying at times, because you don’t want to risk annoying your friends in ‘normal’ jobs who don’t understand that you have to do this, and that nobody else will do it for you!

Not everyone is a natural self-promoter. I’m not, really. I suspect most writers aren’t. If we were, we’d be in marketing and be earning a hell of a lot more than we do as writers. Quite why we are expected to be good at it, I don’t know… Most writers end up gnawing their fingernails and wondering what on earth publishers’ marketing and publicity departments actually do. We are never really privy to this part of the process. It’s especially frustrating when they say, “Oh, I know, it’s the market, it’s so difficult, blah blah,’ as if they are on your side but, you know, what can you do? They tell you Waterstones didn’t go for it as if it something over which they have no control, like the weather. That sort of thing is the lowest point of being a published writer – the reality of sales, the comedown after the stellar promises all publishers will make at first.

One lovely writer who I met at a Chicken House event said that the way to overcome this despondency about whether your book is actually out there is to go to  see it being printed, and marvel at the thousands of copies of your book coming out and being boxed up. Um… I hated to say it, but this would just depress me more, because I know just how many of those will end up in remainder stores or as ‘returns’!

Tell us about the latest published book …

Shadow Runners is the story of Firecroft Bay. The little town’s name comes from the Old English meaning ‘wickedness’, and when 12-year-old Miranda May moves there with her mum and her little brother, she thinks at first that it is just a quiet, windswept little end-of-the-world harbour town. But dark forces are stirring in Firecroft Bay, and Miranda’s new teacher, Miss Bellini, may have something to do with it all… She discovers that the Bay is a place where ancient stories come to life, where supernatural curses are very real, and where the dark shadows she sees at the edge of her vision are also creeping into her dreams. There are lots of questions asked of the reader. What is the mysterious Shape? Who is the girl in the burning forest who haunts her nightmares? And what does it all have to do with her strange new friends – a bunch of children and teenagers calling themselves the Shadows? They could be Miranda’s allies in a terrifying fight against the darkness – but she isn’t sure who she can trust.

It’s my first book for Chicken House, who have been great to work with at every stage. I wanted to write a book which both boys and girls will enjoy – Miranda is a feisty, witty, skateboarding heroine who tells the story in a sardonic first-person voice, taking you with her on every step of her new journey. It’s out in the UK, Canada, USA, New Zealand, Australia, Brazil and Germany, and there is an audiobook from AudioGo.

My own website is and my publishers are at

What next? Tell us about work in progress and aspirations.  Where do you see yourself in ten years time?

If I could predict where I’d be in ten years’ time…! Still working as a writer, I hope. But I’ve no ideas beyond that. I’m working on a number of different projects right now, for teenagers and children, fiction and non-fiction. I can’t really say any more than that! I’m also going into schools – about 35-40 a year – and I’m always on the lookout for new schools to visit. Details of my school visits are on my website. I do a packed, interesting day suitable for Year 5 and 6 in primary and Years 7,8 and 9 in secondary, but I have worked with ages younger and older than that as well.

Any advice for writers who are trying to get their work published?

Well, people need to be reading a lot and knowing what is out there. They need to get hold of the Writers’ Handbook and the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, which are often more up-to-date than agents’ or publishers’ websites! Anyone writing seriously needs to have an agent, I think. You need to find the one who is right for you, who you click with. Expect to write a lot before you are published. Don’t expect to make a living out of it, at least not at first – very few do. If you have another job, keep it even after you become a published writer.

Tell us something random about you for the pure hell of it.

Well, I have very eclectic and unusual musical tastes which often amuse and surprise people…

And I once won a huge black-and-white telly in a raffle at a fete and then somehow had to transport it 3 miles home… and found I had to watch everything through a snowstorm anyway.

Oh, and I almost fell off a cliff in Switzerland once. . This was on the Schilthorn, a big snowy peak in the Bernese Oberland! It’s the one which featured in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. It was just a mountain walk, supposedly hard but OK without equipment, and it turned into a bit of a climb as we had gone off the beaten track – could have been a fatal error! But luckily it was a fine day and there was a narrow path round the rock to get back to the path. I do recall inching my way round this icy rock-face, and then the piece of ice I was holding on to snapped off and I almost went plummeting into the abyss. Luckily, I lived to tell the tale. I don’t really know how. And we got to the top of the Schilthorn, and found that there were all these tourists up there who’d come up the quick way on the cable-car.

Finally: can we post an extract of your latest published book? 

There is one here:

USA version Buy Me

USA version Buy Me



UK/Europe version Buy Me

UK/Europe version Buy Me


Many many thanks to Daniel for taking the time to tell about being a writer and I hope  many of you will buy some of these books! Check out his website for more of his titles!


Next week I welcome to the spotlight another talented and successful writer Alan Gibbons


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Filed under a book deal, being a successful writer, Book Covers, Critique, Daniel Blythe, Dr Who, Dreaming, ebooks, freelancing, ideas, In the Spotlight, Indentity, Learning to be a writer, Mainstream Fiction, making money from writing, Novel writing, Passion for writing, Publishing, Reading, Securing an agent, Social networking, Writing

Should you write what feels natural … or what you think the agent/publisher wants?

I am throwing this question into the mix as we go into the weekend. Although I am suddenly aware it’s the last Friday of the month and I have been so busy I’ve not had time to think about Fiction Clinic, but we will have it next month. But this question is on my mind for personal reasons and also because of things I’ve heard talked about recently amongst writers.

So I thought I would throw it out there and see what you think?Here it is again: Should you write what feels natural … or what you think the agent/publisher wants?


I write from my heart. I don’t try to be any one thing or the other … apart from good, and that is something we have to keep working on. My short stories tend to feel more literary, some of them, my novels more commercial, but I don’t force it to be something it’s not. I love good literary writing, I love good commercial writing … actually I prefer to think I love good writing full stop and let’s leave the classification to the agents and publishers. But when it comes to seeking that elusive agent or big publisher, where the decision has to be a commercial one … should we forget what the heart says and do what’s expected to get the work out there or stay true to what comes naturally?

In my case I am writing a lot of things set in the US in my novels which is a distinct stumbling block when it comes to representation … but should it be? Because this is something that has come to my attention recently it’s made me look at the current novel that for what it’s worth I am really excited about and feels as if it’s coming along well … I had one of ‘those’ moments yesterday when I thought … yes, this is working. But since writing is like the wind — it changes from day-to-day, what I wrote yesterday might be deleted today … you know what I mean I’m sure. But it is about a US reporter. I had thought about whether she now ought to be a UK reporter but it means changing the story so much, and since voice is the one thing I love the most,  the whole voice would change. So I pose the question… do I write it as it is (60 K in now) or rework it to make it British, but change it (possibly too much) just so it gives me a better chance of getting an agent?

I think I need to stay true to the voice of the novel and what it is now … but it is something to think about.

What do you think?

And on that note I bid you all a fantastic weekend.

:Last day of the Paws Competition! Kids have until midnight ... and I might leave the form on for one extra day (you heard that here first!) LINK

Last day of the Paws Competition! Kids have until midnight … and I might leave the form on for one extra day (you heard that here first!) LINK



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