Thursday, 21 January 2016

Taking the #amwriting seriously

I mentioned in my previous Writing Reflections and Plans post that this neetswriter blog helps to keep my writing in check, and that’s certainly true.

I’ve been working on my novel daily with a new determination, updating my spreadsheet with the word count, working towards my end of month target, even when the word count decreases because I’ve cut bits out. This is the year of my book, this is the year that I’ll submit my book 2, and my goal is to get it finished before the Historical Novel Society Conference. My deadline is 2 September 2016.

There are days, aren’t there, where you write, and you produce rubbish, and you read it back (or don't even bother because you know it's totally rubbish), and think, ‘this isn’t working, and it never will.’ The next day, you say to yourself, ‘I’m going to leave it today, it’s just not working.’ Then it can be a week or more before you return to your manuscript. But I can’t do that this year, if I’m going to get book 2 finished. I need to produce the rubbish to produce the good stuff (but ideally produce writing gold all of the time). Because it’s like learning to drive (pre-Sat Nav), when you got lost and drove around for ages, trying to find your way to the right road. I had to get lost all of those times to get to know the roads around me. And isn’t that the case with many things? You have to get a bit lost to find your way, you have to make mistakes to know when you’re not making mistakes.

So there you go, my first neetswriter post of 2016.

A belated Happy New Year, and best wishes for a fantastic 2016.

And in true neetswriter blog tradition, I’m posting a summer holiday photo because it’s cold out there (in the UK), and the above photo is of a place where I’d like to be right now, watching the boats speed up and down Lake Garda. With perhaps one of these in my hand and a good book to read:

Friday, 18 December 2015

Writing Reflections and Plans

I’ve been reflecting on some of my neetswriter posts from 2015, as the end of December is fast approaching. One of the highlights of this year was a road trip to Italy, with a research day in Venice:

Can you see a trend?!

My neetswriter blog has become an ongoing pep talk to myself, a useful way to keep my writing in check. Writing has become a thing that gets squeezed in between other things, but I do want to carry on with it. One achievement this year is that I have fallen back in love with writing (as per my June post), and I’ve spent a significant amount of time on my work in progress, which has moved forwards in the past few months. But my WIP is a big project, being partly set in the eighteenth century, a period I'm drawn to (and I don't know why!); and it will take time to complete, mainly because of the research involved.
From 2016 I shall be an Associate Member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association ("RNA") as my alter-ego, neetsmarketing, a freelance social media manager with clients in the world of books. This means that I’ll be leaving the RNA's New Writers’ Scheme (a wonderful, supportive scheme for unpublished writers) at the end of this year. I’ve been on the NWS since 2010, and I think it’s time to free up a space for someone else. I’ll continue to write, of course, and pursue my quest to be published in other ways. It’s such a privilege to be accepted as an Associate Member of the RNA, wearing my neetsmarketing hat.
Also, I’m excited to tell you that I've been invited by Jane Bidder to speak about social media for writers at the Freelance Media Group in London on 14 March 2016.

I’d like to thank everyone who has supported my neetswriter blog in 2015, and my neetsmarketing blog which I launched this time last year. My neetsmarketing blog on social media for writers and book marketing has received more support than I ever expected, and I’ve had some fabulous guests this year too. My latest neetsmarketing post, inspired by client questions is 19 Tips on How to be the Ideal Blog Guest.

Now I’m off to locate the Michael Bublé Christmas CD, which has completely disappeared, and to make some mince pies. I wish you all a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year. See you in 2016!

New neetsmarketing post: neetsmarketing One Year On

Friday, 30 October 2015

How do you Prepare for a Writing Retreat?

Sheffield Park and Garden
This half-term has been filled with family walks; and making soup, biscuits and crumble. Plus I've ploughed my way through most of a hard-going, but informative eighteenth century journal and worked on my novel during spare moments. Next week it will be back to the school run, sourcing bits of costume for Christmas productions, using the art of persuasion to get homework done; and of course my neetsmarketing work.

Over the years, I’ve been on a few writing retreats and I can’t wait to escape to a cottage next weekend with my favourite group of writing friends. This time though, my approach will be different because apart from ensuring there is a substantial supply of Prosecco and crisps, I’ll know what I’m working on before I arrive. On the past couple of retreats, I’ve spent much of the time planning and reading research, but now my work in progress is progressing at its fastest rate for a while because I’ve fine-tuned the plot by writing previous drafts.

The finish line for Book 2 is finally approaching, and I want to make the most of two days with zero distraction, where I don’t have to justify time spent writing. This week, my aim is to find a couple of hours every day to write, so it won’t take long to get into the zone when I arrive (once we’ve consumed the Prosecco and crisps, of course). So off I go to write...see you in November.

In other news, booking is open for:

The Historical Novel Society Conference in Oxford, 2-4 September 2016!

View from the Mathematical Institute, Oxford
Photo used with kind permission of Lorna Fergusson
I'm Publicity Officer for the next HNS conference, where keynote speakers include Melvyn Bragg, Fay Weldon, Tracy Chevalier and Kate Williams. The conference will kick off on Friday night with a drinks reception to include a special event with Fay Weldon in conversation with Jo Baker about writing the Big House story. The Saturday night Gala dinner will include a costume pageant, plus historical suspense readings to follow. This is just a hint of what's on that weekend; and you can find out more and book via the website. I'm also the HNS Social Media Manager, and you can follow the HNS on Twitter @histnovsoc, and on Facebook.

Previous neetswriter posts:

neetsmarketing posts (my blog on social media for writers and book marketing):

How Can Writers Use their Photos on Social Media? (covers Instagram and Pinterest)
Liz Fenwick on Using Twitter to Connect with Readers

Friday, 18 September 2015

Lisa Eveleigh on What Agents Look For

My guest today is literary agent, Lisa Eveleigh from Richford Becklow Literary Agency, who kindly accepted my invitation to write a post for this blog. I first met Lisa at The Romantic Novelists' Association's Conference in July 2014, and we saw each other again at The Historical Novel Society Conference, a couple of months later when I helped to organise the setup for the agent pitches. We've since bumped into each other at various events, and it's lovely to host Lisa on my blog. Thank you, Lisa for visiting, and over to you...

Lisa Eveleigh on What Agents Look For:

Hello everyone and thanks for inviting me to the blog, Anita.

The first thing to say is that agents really want to like every submission they are sent and dream of finding a bestseller.  You can increase your chances of being read quickly by a polished approach.

Do follow the submission guidelines on an agency website to the letter, and make sure that you aren’t submitting a genre that the agent doesn’t represent; for me that means no horror or erotica. Do email your submission if requested and don’t send by post if the agency website asks you not to. Don’t phone to pitch your book – ever. Somehow the phone seems to deaden a story and in any case we make decisions solely based on the quality of the writing and the way a story is told.

If you are submitting to more than one agent at a time that’s fine, but please say so. Write the very best submission letter that you can,  then print it and read it again after a good night’s sleep to see if it can be improved in any way.

Write the very best novel you can and then put it aside for a week – or even two - before reading it out loud to yourself – you will almost certainly hear any faults in your dialogue, and revise things,  and they will always be good changes.  It’s not a great idea to send a first or second draft, because a third is always better and I know many authors who do four.  
I personally have truly eclectic taste in fiction written for women. I love novels by Jilly Cooper, Katie Fforde, JoJo Moyes  Marian Keyes just as much as books by Helen Dunmore, Raffaella Barker, Elizabeth Jane Howard, Esther Freud and Julie Myerson. So I’m very open to both literary and commercial fiction, contemporary and historical. 
But if I think about what attracts me to all the writers named above it has to be that they all create strong, memorable characters, describe the scenery and the natural world convincingly, and write with a strong sense of time and place.  So I’m looking for all those qualities in a submission,  and if I’m made to laugh or get a bit teary then that’s a good sign too.
This is how to approach an agent in the best possible way.
Send a professional presentation consisting of; a brief but compelling covering letter,  a one-page synopsis and the first three chapters.   Manuscripts should be double-spaced throughout and use a clear font like Times New Roman or Garamond. I only accept submissions by email, as Word attachments
Explain in your covering letter what you’re aiming to achieve,  and what you think your market is
If appropriate, tell me writers you admire and think you may be similar to, or define your USP (Unique Selling Point)
I always read past the first page anyway, knowing that openings can be tricky, but there’s no doubt that a really arresting first paragraph does impress. Write and rewrite until you’re happy that it is going to grab an agent’s attention.
It’s not a good idea to send a novel before you’ve finished it.  Debut writers need to shape and structure an entire novel before it is ready to be seen, and let it grow into the best work it can be. Surprising things can happen even if an author is working to a detailed synopsis;  a character can suddenly do something wholly unexpected.   
That said, I do work on fiction as it is being written with my existing clients but this is after we have worked on a few titles together and know each other’s rhythm.
It’s also quite important that authors know how to conduct a relationship with an agent once they have formed a partnership. Constantly asking ‘is there any news?’ is frustrating to the agent who obviously has a vested interest in making deals and chasing up submissions. Any good agent will keep an author in touch with progress when time permits so resist the temptation to hassle!  It’s also important to respect the confidentiality of the relationship so be discreet in what you share with other writers. That doesn’t mean that you can’t pass on useful contacts you’ve made in the industry but do beware that gossip can backfire.  
Lastly, it may seem like stating the obvious but it’s important that writers read as widely as possible in order to enrich and enhance their own skills and to avoid writing a story that someone else already has…
Good luck!    
Writers seeking agent representation will undoubtedly find this post very helpful, Lisa, and thank you so much for writing it! (Wish I'd had this post to read when I first started submitting Book 1!)

About Lisa:

Lisa Eveleigh read English literature at the University of Durham and began her media career at the BBC where she was a researcher.  Meeting authors and their publicists, she realised that most successful writers had agents. She then set about becoming one…

After 10 years at A P Watt, the oldest literary agency in the world, where she was a Director, she set up her own agency, and following a career sabbatical in Glasgow came back to London and founded Richford Becklow. 

The agency is named after the street she lived in before she moved to Glasgow, and the road she lived in when she moved back, signifying a new beginning to her agency career.   
Lisa is currently doing a part-time MA in Biography and Creative Non-Fiction at the University of East Anglia.  This only takes her out of London for one afternoon a week and ‘I represent very little biography, yet I read it in my private time.  It is fascinating to explore a genre that is slightly out of my agent comfort-zone, and since I’m allowed to do a Creative writing module in Year 2, I have chosen ‘Adaptation and Interpretation’ which means I shall have to write the beginning of a screenplay based on a novel that I love.  This will also add to my agency skills.’

Lisa lives in London with cats Nate and Snoop, and Stewart McCartney, who is an author and TV question-writer.

Lisa published a book in June 2015, and the wonderful painting below is from the cover.

Beauty and Chivalry: The Duchess of Richmond's Ball

Summoned to Waterloo: Brussels, Dawn of June 16th, 1815
By Robert Alexander Hillingford, 1898

Brussels, June 1815: The Duke of Wellington was marshalling the Allied forces in readiness to fight Napoleon, who had escaped from Elba in February. The many British living in the city at the time were enjoying cricket matches, race-meetings and picnics despite the threat of war. 

On the fifteenth, the ambitious Charlotte, Duchess of Richmond, held what was to become the most famous Ball in history. Published to coincide with the Waterloo bicentary, the book recounts the experiences of those at the ball, and the surprising coincidence that Wellington's despatch was presented to the Prince Regent at another ball, six momentous days later.

I have downloaded Lisa's book, and look forward to reading it, especially as it's set a few years after my current work in progress ends; a fascinating period in history. 

My previous post on this neetswriter blog: A Grand Tour, a Deadline, and a Course 
My latest post on neetsmarketing blog: Managing What Your Friends See on Facebook

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

A Grand Tour, a Deadline, and a Course

This summer I went to Italy, by car with my family. My dad used to drive our family to Tuscany every year, and it was lovely to go on a similar holiday with my husband and children. My current work in progress includes a journey to Italy, by chaise when the roads in the Alps were so poor that travellers would have the chaise dismantled and transported by mule whilst they were carried by sedan chairs. The journey these days is of course much easier, but still a long way, and by the end of the holiday, we'd covered 2000 miles.

We drove through France, making a few overnight stops en route: via Épernay in the Champagne region where a glass of Champagne with dinner was €3.50; Pontarlier, then over the Grand St Bernard Pass to St Vincent in Aosta Valley. After that, we drove along the Italian motorway, on a par with the M25 at its busiest with lots of last minute pulling into the fast lane without any indicators; past Turin, Milan, Verona, until we reached Lido di Jesolo, a resort near Venice. I’ve been to Lido di Jesolo a few times, the first time aged seven, and I returned in my twenties. Lido di Jesolo is a hectic town with a constant buzz and although I loved it there in my twenties, this time four nights was long enough.

Lido di Jesolo has a long, sandy beach with a road running parallel, which is packed with restaurants, shops, bars and ice-cream parlours. We were there for a few days, as I wanted to take my children to Venice, and do a spot of research whilst I was there. We discovered a new trend for the 'pick and mix' version of selecting ice-cream, complete with taps for all sorts of flavours-liquorice was my favourite; and a fine assortment of toppings, including fudge pieces, chocolate and caramel sauce, and more...a popular venue for us all every evening after dinner.

Then, on to Lake Garda, where I read on a sunlounger with this fabulous view; and watched the boats go by: water ski-iers, yachts, and speedboats whizzing up and down the lake. In Malcesine, on Lake Garda, I ate my favourite meal of the holiday, the best mussels and clams ever.

After a few days in Lake Garda, we began the journey home, via Cormayeur at the foot of the Italian Alps, which has breathtaking views in all directions. We had a bit of a National Lampoon moment in Cormayeur when we arrived, as the Sat Nav kept taking us around the one-way system, back to the bus station, over and over again. Eventually I found the tourist office, and picked up a good old-fashioned map. And we discovered that our B&B was on the other side of the river, with this view:

Then, on to Dijon where I saw this wonderful sixteenth century tapestry of the Siege of Dijon by the Swiss which took place in September 1513. After Dijon, we stopped at Le Touquet overnight, a favourite place of mine, then took the ferry back to Dover. 

The following morning, I ignored the unpacked suitcases around me, and greatly inspired by our trip, immersed myself in my manuscript because the deadline for the RNA New Writers’ Scheme is the end of August. I posted a partial yesterday, and I've made huge progress over the past week, transporting myself to the eighteenth century, where I incorporated research from Venice into the story. More pics from the road trip are on Instagram.

I’m running a Social Media Course for Writers on 3 October 2015 at The Hotel Mandolay in Guildford, which is £70, from 10am-5pm, including a two course lunch, plus refreshments (with cake in the afternoon). It promises to be a fun day with the chance to socialise with other writers. Attendees can bring their laptops and tweet/update Facebook live, and see results on the big screen (only if they wish to, of course). Bookings have been coming in over the past couple of weeks, and places are limited, so let me know if you'd like to book at anitajchapman at gmail dot com; and find out more via my website. Four members of the RNA have signed up. You can read my neetsmarketing blog on social media and book marketing for writers here.

And in other news, I'm Publicity Officer for the next Historical Novel Society Conference in Oxford, 2-4 September 2016. I'm very much looking forward to a committee meeting at the venue in late September. There is the option to submit your email address here, and the HNS will send you an email when the website is ready.

I have a special guest appearing on this blog on 18 September, Lisa Eveleigh of Richford Becklow Literary Agency on 'What Agents Look For'. Lisa has recently published a book 'Beauty and Chivalry: The Duchess of Richmond's Ball', and you can find out more here. I'm very much looking forward to Lisa's post.

Hope you've had a good summer, and it's good to be back!

Monday, 13 July 2015

Going to a Writers' Conference as Two People

Ceiling at the Octagon Library, Queen Mary University of London
I've just returned from my third Romantic Novelists' Association Conference at Queen Mary University of London. Writers' conferences certainly help with topping up the writing inspiration, because being surrounded by successful authors, and industry professionals makes you feel part of that world. Seeing friends who write is also wonderful, and we always have so much to talk about during our kitchen parties over Prosecco and crisps.

This was the first conference I've attended as a writer and a Freelance Social Media Manager, and I was grateful to see so many talks on book marketing in the programme. 

I tweeted during the conference from both of my Twitter accounts using #RNAConf15 (do take a look at this hashtag to find out more about the conference, and to see photos), using @neetswriter for personal and writing tweets, and @neetsmarketing for tweets on the marketing talks. This post will be about my experience as a writer and my neetsmarketing post will cover three fantastic marketing talks by: Hazel Gaynor, Kate Harrison and Alison Baverstock.

Julie Cohen on ‘The Art of the Rewrite’:

Julie Cohen’s reputation as an amazing creative writing teacher precedes her, and thankfully I managed to get up on Sunday, grab a fry-up to soak up the two-day hangover; and make it to her talk on time. Julie was witty and inspiring, and she engaged a lecture theatre packed with flagging delegates for the whole hour, by cracking jokes, and with clear, concise explanations of how to go about rewriting a novel.

Advice from Julie:

Write your first draft as quickly as possible. Then celebrate (preferably with Champagne)! She said, it’s important to celebrate every writing achievement, because as a writer you will fail a lot, so you need to celebrate every single success.

Make a list of revision points, and leave the manuscript for a few days at least, if possible. Revisit the revision points and make more. Julie never shows anyone her first draft, but says if you do, show it to the right person (someone who is honest, and 100% positive), cry and rant if necessary (but not on the internet), then make more revision points.

Make Macro and Micro revisions. Macro revisions are about story structure, characters, plotting, pacing, beginning and ending, consistency and continuity. Julie said it’s worth working on the beginning and ending separately because the beginning ‘hooks your readers in’ and the ending is ‘what sells your next book’. Micro revisions are more about show and tell, realistic dialogue, accurate and evocative description, strong verbs, grammar, punctuation, spelling, repetition, research points and R.U.E. (‘Resist the Urge to Explain’). Julie doesn’t do research too early, and highlighted the need to avoid ‘info dump’.

When it comes to planning and editing, Julie prints out her manuscript and works with paper, Post-it notes, scissors, and coloured pens. She cuts pieces out of her manuscript with scissors and throws them away, then sticks it all back together. She uses real calendars for her timeline with Post-it notes, so she can move them around; and she uses Post-it notes for planning on the back of a whiteboard (she writes on the front) or on paper because they can be moved, they’re colour-coded and they can be thrown away easily. 

I enjoyed Julie's talk, and would love to attend one of her courses.

Emma Darwin on ‘The Writer’s Voices-how to keep readers reading’: 

I attended one of Emma’s creative writing courses a few years ago, and it was great to hear her speak again. Her ‘This Itch of Writing’ blog is excellent, and you’ll find everything mentioned in her talk under the tool kit section; including a detailed explanation of 'Psychic Distance'. Emma's blog is well worth a peruse when you have a moment for advice on creative writing. I can’t wait to read her ‘how to’ book on historical fiction, which comes out in the autumn.

Added later: Emma has now written a post with links to everything she mentioned at #RNAConf15:

Charlotte Betts on ‘Weaving the Tapestry of Time’:

My novel is set during the eighteenth century, and I am a big fan of Charlotte Betts’ writing. I especially enjoyed The Apothecary's Daughter (which I mention in another post here), and must download ‘The Chateau on the Lake’ for my summer holiday reading. In this workshop, Charlotte ran through ways to do research and talked about how to transport your reader to another time by using the senses. She recommended visiting the location of your novel if you can, and then to sit there and mentally block out anything modern. Ask yourself what you can see and hear, feel the stone on the walls, then log it all in a notebook and return to those notes when you write scenes set in that place.

We had to write a character profile for someone from an illustration Charlotte provided of a courtyard in Delft, or from some information on the Battle of Hastings. Then we had five minutes to write a short scene from that character’s point of view at a pivotal moment in their life, a useful exercise. I find writing exercises set to a timer bring out something I didn't know was there, and I must do them more often. 

During Charlotte's talk, I learnt that you need to be careful with flora and fauna, because many flowers have been brought from overseas and they may not have existed in the period you are writing in. A lady in the class said she kept a list of flora and fauna, with which season they appear in-a great idea! We also talked about religion, and how in a historical novel you cannot avoid referring to religion in some way.

Thank you to Jenny Barden, Jan Jones and Elaine Everest for a fabulous conference! I have lots of notes to inspire me. And here is my post from last year, also a fabulous weekend: 'Why go to a writing conference?'

And I’m very excited to tell you that I shall be going to Italy this summer, driving there with my family, through France and Switzerland, along the Aosta Valley, to Lake Garda, and we’ll spend a day in Venice, the setting for my work in progress. I'll certainly be doing what Charlotte Betts recommended when I get there. This will be special, because my family used to drive to Italy every year when I was a child. I cannot wait, and shall return with lots of photos. Here’s one for now, and more pics of Italy can be found on my Pinterest boards.

My two posts on the marketing talks are now ready:

Book Marketing from #RNAConf15, Part I covers the fabulous talk on 'Promotion Commotion' by Hazel Gaynor.

Book Marketing from #RNAConf15, Part II covers the talks by Alison Baverstock and Kate Harrison.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Falling Back in Love with Writing

I went out for lunch with a writing friend recently, and we talked about our writing. How we shall be published one day, how we need to get our books finished, how we are closer than we’ve ever been. Then I said that I miss those days when I first started writing, when it was exciting, when I wanted to write all of the time. Where I thought this is it: I’ll write a book and get it published, within a year, perhaps two at the most (how deluded!). I’m not going to tell you how long ago that was, well maybe later in this post. I said to my friend that I didn't find writing exciting anymore, ever. 

I said: Why does it feel like a chore, why does it get pushed to the bottom of the list, over and over again? Why do I have to force myself to sit down and push out some words, or rejig those which are there already? 

And my friend said, she didn't think it was possible to feel like that after the initial excitement had faded. Now, I am an optimist, and whenever anyone says that something isn’t possible, I say why can’t it be? 

After that lunch, I decided that I was going to fall back in love with my writing, that although me and the writing have been together for almost twelve years, and things have got a bit stale, I need to give the writing a bit more attention, a bit more TLC, take it out for dinner, give it a glass of Champagne. So that’s what I did for a couple of weeks. I’ve gone back to how I used to do it at the beginning, because at least that way I was writing, always. I created a new spreadsheet for the outline, because the other one was a confusing mess. I created Draft 7, and returned to working like I used to, where once I get stuck on editing a draft, to save it as a new draft, and go back to the beginning, giving the story more depth by filling in bits of research and new scenes. 

So, me and my writing have rekindled our love, and hopefully it will last. And thank you to the RNA's New Writers' Scheme for giving me an annual deadline, which definitely helps.

On 10 July, I’m off to the RNA Conference at Queen Mary University in London, and I can’t wait! Here is my post from last year

An update on my neetsmarketing blog:

Sue Moorcroft’s post on Balancing Writing with Social Media was a hit (with 162 direct tweets from the post, and many more tweets and retweets). Thanks so much to Sue for writing such a brilliant post for my blog, and for promoting it on Twitter and Facebook.

Jane Holland will be a guest on 3 July with a post on Managing Different Twitter Accounts.

Julie Stock will be a guest on 11 September with a post on Book Covers.

Also, I’m running another course on 3 October 2015 in Guildford on social media for writers. Find out more via my website, and email me at anitajchapman at gmail dot com for further info.