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Re: Sex Having written a graphic sex scene or two (because I though as I writer I should be able to write a sex scene that was not giggle/barf inducing. A writing exercise I then sold, though it remains the story I'm least happy with for various reasons. However the sex was part of the character/relationship development and so pretty vital) I can say it was a lot harder to write than, say, someone getting their hand chopped off etc.

Partly because I knew my Mum would want to read it....

But just because it's harder, doesn't mean we shouldn't write it. I doubt I'll ever be that graphic again. My love scenes tend to be more 'sensual' than 'Bloody hell! Avert your eyes dear.' Mainly because I don't I'm likely to wrote a story where it's necessary. But then I don't think I'll ever write a story where the graphic ins and outs of a rape scene is necessary. I've got a story out on sub at the moment that is actually partially about ritual abuse etc (it was inspired by various real life abduction cases) and I didn't need to do more than allude to it. Mainly, I suppose, because if I don't want to read it, I'm pretty certain no one else does either...and also because as someone said up thread, it's way creepier when your own mind fills in the blanks - because the reader's mind will fill in what is most horrific to them. If you spell it out, what the writer considers horrific may not strike the same chord.

And yes, it's just sex. Something I suspect most of us are quite fond of - and of course it's one of the big three motivators IRL(Death/fear of death, sex/love and power/money). It's a fair part of a lot of people's lives, and possibly the one of the biggest causes of interpersonal conflict IRL. Leaving that out seems like leaving out a huge part of a person, not to mention a wasted opportunity! IMO yadda yadda.

I shoudl stop thinking so much. It makes my brain hurt lol.

September 28, 2011, 11:30:26 PM
Re: Vividness in Description

Description of food: Is your character cooking the food? A chef, maybe? A gluttonous gourmand or, far more harrowing, suffering under the insidious and crippling grip of an eating disorder? No? Then quit it! Seriously, if I read one more banquet scene that goes on for two pages describing course, after course, after bloody course I'm going to hunt down the unlucky author who described it and drown them in the rich, thick gravy they're so sodding fond of droning on about at length. People mock the fantasy tradition of Hearty Stew, but at least it gets the chuffing food description out of the way quickly and efficiently. It's usually period authentic, into the bargain.

Amen, brother!

It bothers me more so though when the food described means nothing (Roast flubburt steak with wibblesplat sauce and a sprinkling of hurdfar). I have no idea what this tastes like, no idea what it is other than food, it doesn't add to the setting (IMO) because it doesn't mean anything to me....*

If you're going to use words describing something, make sure they aren't just empty words. Make what you're describing relevant and something that will have some sort of meaning to the reader.

*As always, this can also be done well, but I've seen it done too poorly, too damn often (done it myself too when I were a newb lol), and then it just feels like the author is saying 'Look at me, I can worldbuild!'

October 27, 2011, 01:40:29 PM
Re: How did you find us? I have no idea. I woke up one morning, fired up firefox and there it was....

Probably twitter tbh. But I couldn't swear to it.

November 08, 2011, 09:32:17 PM
The Publishing Info Thread Okay, so it seems lots of you are writing, and I’ve done all this research for my own benefit and, well, it seemed polite to share :D So I thought we could have an info thread, a little go-to resource that we can all add to etc. I’m not going to get into writing advice (that would be a whole forum! Though I can point you in the right direction if you like), but more the nuts and bolts of getting your writing out there and published.

All linkies are at the end

If anyone wants to add anything, ask anything, go right ahead.

Trade or Self?

Now, I have no experience of self pubbing at all (though I haven’t ruled it out for myself at some point in the future) so I can’t really give much advice there! However, times they are a changing, and it can be a valid choice. However, it is not a short cut to success, and it will require a lot of hard work from you. You can’t just bung something up on Amazon and wait for the millions to roll in. You need to do your research at least as well as you would for trade publishing. Quite possibly more. And just as probably if you go trade, you won’t be the next JK Rowling, if you self pub you probably won’t be the next Amanda Hocking. Be prepared to be a whole business all on your own. Read up on what successful self pubbers have done (Hocking for instance wrote at a furious speed so had a great backlist once she had a person turned on to her writing. She also promo’d till she dropped.) There are rah rah guys for both trade and publishing, but try to see past that while you research and get at the facts.

Now, if you’ve decided, like me, that actually that looks like a lot of work that isn’t writing, or for whatever other reasons, you want to go trade, it’s a different ball game. First off, you’ll probably want an agent.


Do I need an agent?

Need? Well, maybe, maybe not. You could get by without one, I suppose. However a good agent will:

Get your work in front of editors that you (almost certainly) couldn’t on your own.
Know which editor is looking for just what you’ve written
Knows what all that legalese in the contract actually means
Will negotiate it so it is more favourable to you, and get the pesky clauses taken out.
May well in fact get you a bigger advance than you would on your own (enough to pay their 15%!)
Will be a buffer between you and the publishing house should things go screwy (let’s hope they don’t, but hey, stuff happens)
Know how to exploit all those extra rights you have hanging around
Give you more time to actually write
Be your cheerleader
And probably more things I haven’t thought of

Okay, so I want an agent, how do I get one?

Note: Much of this also applies to small presses who don’t require you have an agent to sub

First, research your agents

A bad agent is worse than no agent. Really. This one is important. A bad agent can really screw the pooch for this MS. They might send it to all the wrong editors, who reject it and then that imprint/house almost certainly won’t look at it again. They might try charging you money before they’ve sold anything of yours in the shape of reading/editing fees(If anyone tries this, don’t walk away, RUN!)*

So you need to research agents – first you need to find an agent who reps the sort of thing you have written. I’ve heard from several sources that as much as 50% of what is received is an auto reject because the agent/publisher doesn’t do that genre. Which is just a waste of everyone’s time. So, find agents who might actually want your stuff.

The Writer’s Yearbook is one source of this info (and often has other advice in it too). It lists agents, what they rep, what they don’t.

Querytracker and Agentquery are two websites where you can filter agents by genre, see whether they are open to subs (not all are, and if they aren’t there really is no point subbing unless you get invited to)

So you have your list of agents who rep, for instance, fantasy. You are not just going to fire off queries to them all, are you? Probably not the best plan.

Not all of them are reputable. Some just aren’t very good at all. You’ll want to check out past sales, who their clients are etc. Find out if they are scammers. How do you find that out?

The two best places I can think of are:

Preditors and editors. This is run by Writer Beware (part of SFWA). It’s not comprehensive, or infallible, but it’s a bloody good start.

Absolute Write’s Bewares and Background Checks forum. (In fact I’d recc this site for all round writing advice, more on that later). Pretty much every publisher/agent has a thread there. People post their experiences, response times, whether the agent is reputable or not, has good sales, whether a publisher has a good contract, good sales…you name it.  

Run your list through both those places. You’ll find that you’ll shuffle your list. Some people will drop off it entirely. Some you will think ‘I would give my left leg to be repped/pubbed by them’

Now all you have to do, is get accepted. Simples. Right? Yeah….

*Small caveat here: In the UK, using an editing service is…seen differently than it is in the US. However, if an agent says ‘hey, I’ll represent you if you use this, and only this, editing service’ and that editing service has affiliations to the agent….it is (was?) a common scam. They offer to represent IF you hand over a few grand to have your MS edited. Then they don’t sell (or even try to) your MS. Now, several UK agents will recommend an editor. However, that editor is not part of their business and the agent makes nothing from you going there, or you are free to use a different one. No conflict. Some agents (such as John Jarrold) are both agent and editor but the two sides are kept strictly separate.  This again is where research is your friend.

The Query

Note: Again the US and the UK are different beasts here, so I shall split this up. Also note you do not have to be on the same continent as your agent/publisher. My agent lives in Colorado. I live in Sussex. I know of several US writers who have UK agents too.

Some things they all have in common though. Before you sub, check out if the agent/editor blogs. Check out if they have any preferences (like being addressed as Ms or Mrs for instance). Check out what they say they are looking for especially. Then check the submission guidelines. Follow them. You would be surprised how many people don’t, and they are there for a reason. Also, read up on MS formatting – although you pretty much can’t go wrong with TNR/Courier, 12 point, double spaced. However, if the agent says they want it sent in wing dings, you send it in wing dings.

UK agents

UK agents are slightly different animals to their US counterparts (they are also rarer, especially in SFF!). Often, the sub guidelines state they want a cover letter (not a query), a synopsis and the first three chapters. If you’ve ever tried to write a US style query this may come as a relief! A cover letter is more ‘I would like you to rep me. This is a few sentences about my book, including where I see it fitting in the market*, this is a few sentences about me including any publishing credits*, thanks for your time, I look forward to hearing from you’

Please note – I have had absolutely no luck with UK agents, so if someone who has one wants to chime in here, that would be great.

*See the end of the US agent section.

US agents

US agents usually (again, read the sub guidelines!) want a query letter, with perhaps a synopsis and if you’re very lucky, a few sample pages. What is one of them queries, then? It is, simply, a sales pitch. A short (3-4 paras, should fit on one side of an A4 sheet if you were to print it) summary of why your book is awesome, why you are awesome and why they should rep you right this very second. And it is a work of art all on its own. Like the synopsis, it is a different skill to writing a great novel, but what it is, is a showcase for how well you can write, how well you can entice people into reading what you have written. It shows you can summarise, interestingly, your book in roughly 200 words. (There’s a good reason an agent wants to know you can do this – because it might well come in handy later on in your career when someone wants ‘a quick proposal by this afternoon’, but it also sorts the wheat from the chaff because it is hard)

Now, a lot of agents receive a LOT of queries (Kristen Neilson, who blogs often and well about the publishing industry, you should read her) gives stats at the end of each year. One year she had almost 30 000 queries. No, I didn’t make a mistake with the zeroes. Out of those she might take on one or two clients. So you need to stand out. Your query needs to show a few things

You are not crazy
You can write
What makes your story different from all the other similar queries she’s read today
Why it might sell

You’ve got about 30 seconds to do all this in. No, really, often that’s all it takes for an agent to know they will pass. If you’d read 30 000 queries, or even 300, and had more in your inbox, you’d be able to do it that quick too.

A query comes in 3 parts.

1 – The opener. Why the Agent is Awesome

 Now you can put this at the end (lead off with your story, which I prefer personally), or you can put this up front. This is why you are writing to them, particularly (rather than some other agent), the title, word count and genre of your novel. Again, check if the agent blogs because not all require this, but it won’t hurt you to include it.

Crappy Example off top of my head: Dear super duper agent, I am writing to seek representation for my 90 000 fantasy noir novel, Fade to Black. A quick sentence about why you feel the agent is right (they rep author X, they say they love genre Y, etc) Agents like to know that this is a personal letter to them, rather than a mass mailing  - this is also why you address it to them, their name (spelt correctly!), and not Dear Agent.

I generally fold this into part three, but that’s up to you.

2 – The pitch, also called the synopsis or blurb or Why Your Book is Awesome

This is where you hook that agent into requesting more. This is where you need to make them sit up and take notice, show them why they need to rep you. The show is VERY important.

I find it helps, to start with (you can build on it later), to think of this as an equation.

Character A, who is like this, wants Thing B, but C is stopping them. D complicates things, and then A must X or Y, or ZOMG!

So, in its very simplest form, you need to show who your character is, and what they want and what is stopping them. What complicates this. Then you show the choice (you know, at the climax there is always a choice) and the ZOMG is the stakes – what will happen if they fail?

Here’s the first para of my query:

Dislocating your fingers to power your magic isn’t ideal. Being convicted of using magic is worse, so Rojan prefers tracking bounties with more legal skills. But today isn’t Rojan’s day—his latest bounty almost killed him three times, his girlfriends all found out about each other and trashed his rooms, and his niece has been kidnapped. Now he’s got to use his magic to find her, and it’s going to hurt.

So, I have not told the worldbuilding, or the character. I have tried to show who he is, and what the problem is – he doesn’t like using his magic but now he has to.

I’m not going to show you the second para (spoilers!) but I get to the the black moment, and show what his two choices are and what will happen if he fails, the stakes, which are vital to include. Note: This is me personally, but I think this is a good place to end a query. However some agents (research!) like to see the ending – to know what choice he makes.

Just remember to show, show, show. Show your character, show your world, show how this book is different. Pick the details that matter and forget the rest - they don't belong in the query.

3 – Why You are Awesome.

And finally we have a last paragraph. Here is where you show that you know your market, and you list any publishing creds (if you haven’t got any, no problem, just don’t add ‘em in!) and any relevant experience – for instance you’ve written a medical thriller and you’re a doctor. If you haven’t written a medical thriller (or a story involving lots of medicine) then being a doctor isn’t relevant.

What’s that show the market? Well, it’s where you show you know your stuff, you know what people are buying, how yours is similar AND how it’s different. Here’s mine (note this is where I put my genre/word count etc as well):

Fade to Black is a 90 000 word first person fantasy noir, a darker, more cynical Harry Dresden in a decaying, Bladerunner-style alternate world. I have three novels published with small press X. A further novel has been published by Imprint Y, a division of Big Publisher, and another is pending release. My latest release is Title.

So here I’m showing where I think my book will fit in the market – fans of Harry, or Bladerunner, might like this book, because it’s sort of similar, but I’ve also noted where it is different (darker, more cynical). You are not comparing yourself to the authors you mention. Think of it as you are stating whose readers you would like to steal :D Under no circumstances should you state your book will be more popular than Harry Potter and Twilight combined (that crops up a fair bit apparently…)

Now, this isn’t the only way – or even the best way – to write a query. I’ve seen some fantastic ones that don’t do any of this, but like I said this is a good place to start, to practise.


Absolute Write again, this time Query Letter Hell. (It is password protected, so google bots can’t crawl it, you'll need to register to see it) Enter at your peril, but if you read a lot of the queries posted you will see where they work, and where they fail.

Queryshark. An agent takes a letter and – with permission – shows where it works and where it doesn’t.



So, you have your MS, polished to within an inch of its life. You have had other people read it (You have, haven’t you? Not your mum either, unless she’s an editor at Tor or something. Get beta readers), you’ve taken on board their comments, you’ve got this sucker as good as it’s going to get. You have your list of reputable agents, you have your query/cover letter, you’ve read the sub guidelines, you’ve spelt everyone’s names right. You’re good to go.

Are you going to send your sub to everyone who will take it all at once? Well, while opinion varies (when doesn’t it?) it’s a good idea to send your queries out in batches. Why? Well, what if your query isn’t working? If you’ve sent it to everyone, it’s too late. If you’ve sent it to 5, or 10 agents and not one asks for any more, then you can take a look at what you are subbing and see where you can improve it, ready for the next batch

And keep on it – every time you get a reject, send that sucker out again (the revenge query!). Keep on until either you get picked up, or you run out of places to send it. Revise the query if you need to (if you get no bites at all), or the MS (if you get partial requests, then your query is working, but you aren’t getting anywhere with the book itself) but keep on it. And while you’re keeping on it, write your next book.

The main difference between a published writer (or a self pubber with great sales) is persistence.

Resources: As with everything, none of these places are infallible, but there is good info there. If anyone else has any they'd like to share, that'd be great!

Absolute Write – a home for all things writerly and a fantastic resource even if you just lurk. Has some great authors there, and plenty of aspiring writers too. Pretty friendly, but be prepared for any writing you post to be critiqued, hard. Bewares forum here: http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/forumdisplay.php?f=22

(You need to register for Query Letter Hell and the Share Your Work forum, and there is a post requirement before you can put anything up for critique, but if you crit others work, well, what goes around, comes around. You don’t need to post to see what other people have put up though :D)

Science Fiction and Fantasy Chronicles. Mainly an SFF haunt, but has writing forums too. Same for SFF world.

Preditors and Editors: http://pred-ed.com/

Query tracker: http://querytracker.net/

Agentquery: http://www.agentquery.com/

Queryshark: http://queryshark.blogspot.co.uk/

Useful agent blogs:

Kristen Neilson: http://pubrants.blogspot.co.uk/

Colleen Lindsay: http://theswivet.blogspot.co.uk/

Slushkiller (or why so much gets rejected), see section 3 :  http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/004641.html

Slush Pile Hell – object lessons in what not to do: http://slushpilehell.tumblr.com/

Self publishing:

Michael Sullivan, who knows what he’s talking about! : http://riyria.blogspot.co.uk/

Ben Galley, Shelf Help: http://www.bengalley.com/BenGalley.com/Home.html

September 19, 2012, 10:41:11 AM
Re: The Future of Fantasy
I hope Urban Fantasy never gets called 'Fantasy' lol -:)

Uf is not PNR - theyu are VERY different and you an almost always tell from the blurb

Would you call Ben Aaronvitch's stuff PNR? Hmm? But it IS UF. So is Benedict Jacka, Charles de Lint, Kate Griffin...

They are totally separate genres. PNR is a subset of romance (the biggest selling genre BTW) and is aimed at that audience *there may be some crossover(

Uf is not - it's aimed at fantasy readers

They're not even shelved on the same shelves in my local Waterstones. There should be no confusion (esp with the covers!)

And the future of fantasy is limited only by our imagination.

January 22, 2013, 12:36:35 AM
Re: What are you currently reading? Bound to be the reading.  :P

About half way through my epic In Memoriam re reading of all my Pratchetts.  On Thud right now.

April 26, 2015, 04:23:13 PM
Re: Voice Voice is a tricky one

There authorial voice -- even if it wasn't labelled you know this is a book by Pratchett or King or...It is how you writ e a book, the way things are constructed, how the book is made, how the author is looking at the world (sometomes)

Character voice is different - Consider Pratchett wring Granny v him writing Vimes. The phrases are different, the POV is different, everything is different except who is writing it. They are Vimes filtered through Practhett. You still know Pratchett wrote it, but you can tell by the words and phrases, which character the prose is dealing with. That is character voice

Take these two quotes

“Two types of people laugh at the law: those that break it and those that make it.”

"I can't be having wit this"

Can you tell? That is character voice. But both contribute to author voice

April 29, 2015, 08:07:47 PM
Re: Voice There probably are exercises, though I've not a clue what they would be!

But it'll come on its own, in time. One of the most valuable crits I ever got starting out was "This does not sound like you wrote it, it sounds like you pretending to be a writer"

And Overlord, when he read my first book (as Francis), the first thing he said was "I could have told it was you, even if I hadn't known"

When you start out it's common to try to emulate the writers you love -- natural thing to do. As you become more confident, then your "youness" begins to bleed through. Yes, we are different with different groups, but we're talking here more about the core you -- who you are when no one is looking.

April 30, 2015, 11:13:17 AM
Re: Voice I suppose one exercise would be to try to emulate someone else's voice, to see how different it is from yours?

On another board I frequent, they once did a voice experiment -- 2 posts each from 5 anonymous posters. Everyone ha to guess which two went together, and who had written them (I was outted as a poster in about five seconds flat!)

Then we noted why we thought each post was written by the person we'd nominated, and then we tied to write a post in that style

Was very illuminating

May 01, 2015, 12:59:20 PM
Re: The Future of Fantasy The future of fantasy?

Wherever the minds of fantasy writers take us

To be picked up by a Big Five, yes, you'll need to know what the market is, but also see what the market wants right now (or rather a year from now)

And also to write the book you want to write. Read the books that excite you. Because that is exactly what editors do -- find the books that excite them (they may then have to pass due to sales/marketing, but they are looking for a book that excites them)

May 01, 2015, 11:42:22 PM