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Tag Archives: Writing

Writers are used to rejection. (Here’s a collection of woe-is-me turned wow stories. There’s  this, or even this one are all relevant to the great wheel of rejection) Where ever a writer might be on the career scale, best seller or new to the market there is still rejection. It comes with the job. The story might be brilliant but just doesn’t fit an editor’s requirement; the novel might require more attention to point of view, or it’s on the wrong slush pile.

It’s a gated flow system, which often loops on itself. (It’s something they don’t tell you in workshops or courses.) Getting to acceptance generally involves: Gate one: Drafts. Gate two: Edits.  Gate three: Does it fit? Gate four: Will it sell?  Gates five onward once you get the contract. Yes, there are more beyond signing with a publisher or agent. For every gate you get past you realise your work is improving, but in balance the drop is harder. As more join the chorus of support for your work you allow yourself to believe a little more – even as you know there still might be a ‘no’ in the system.

For the past year I’ve had such a project. It’s been fun working in a world which eventually stumbled over something beyond my control. I’ve grown as a writer because of it, and it’s the main reason why my blog has been so quiet.

Whenever a rejection comes it raises demons: self-doubt, anger, frustration. Every writer has answers for these demImage of a demon, red beast with fangs and spines.oralising monsters. So close, yet so far. My demons have been busy this last month going above expectation with unhelpful advice and distractions. It takes a while for the doubt to die. But it does. Answers come if you know that you have done the work. It allows you to understand that some rejections are outside of your influence. Knowing that there are other authors out there who have mourned their own losses makes you realise it is not the end.

It’s not wasted; no work is ever wasted.  No matter how good the work and how many promises are made. Sometimes the answer is still no. My demons have become tolerated strays, and I know what to feed them to get them to shut the hell up.

These types of setbacks are part of the learning curve, yet they really do blindside you. Get used to it. Life’s not fair. Opportunity doesn’t knock in publishing. Sometimes you have to kick its door down, figuratively of course.

I’m working with some amazingly dedicated small presses across on SFFWorld, and they sff_logo_smallare dedicated to getting the job right. Small but Mighty, a feature due to go live later this week, was set up to highlight that fact, and to give these hard working people a place to shout about the result of their investments.  I’ve long been a fan of the invaluable work the small press industry brings to the reader. But dear writers, be you aspiring, almost there, or still a little green around the gills there is something I really want to draw your attention to.
You have spent every spare moment you can scrounge to write your story. You’ve called in all the favours you can ever remember doing to make sure what you’ve written really is as good as your mum says it is.  You skipped the holidays, avoided the nights out. You edited it at 4am because it wasn’t really quite good enough yet. But now? Look at it. Its proper perfect init? It wants to be read by someone who’ll write fan fiction about the lead character. Or something.
Your best mate’s cousin’s friend knows a guy who does something with books. It returns with a lovely, shiny contract.

Really? I wouldn’t buy a car, computer, phone, pet….ANYTHING this way, so why would I trust word of mouth to find a home for a story I’d spent hours and months writing?

Nope. Don’t do it. All those hours you bled over your words to toss the finished work at the first whisper of something? Seems a bit silly – like firing a gun in a spaceship silly.

I mean. I should know a bit about contracts (I don’t, despite marrying a lawyer) and expectations of the industry (also only from one side). I do know about how to make something look better than it is. I know how to use words to influence, I even get paid to do it from time to time. I know how to gild that lily. I don’t like doing it. I do like helping people, but I learned the hard way not to make promises I can’t deliver on. It’s not a nice life lesson.

It’s easy to confuse a successful something-or-other with a one man band preying on the gullible. And writers are very easy targets. I know I am!  I have fallen for the nice guy routine in the past.

Do your best to avoid the misery of dodgy presses, malicious contracts, agents that take the mickey, and loss of earnings by doing a little bit of research. It’s ok, this is just as important as the word count and the synopsis:

  1. Two years to make or break. It takes at least this amount of time to learn the ropes of any business, for investments to show any sign of return, and reputations to be more than good intentions. If your agent or publisher is new you’re risking a lot more than just your story.
  2. Check reviews of other books from the publisher. Are the reviews on Amazon complaining about typesetting? Is the Good Reads account peppered with structured reviews about well-rounded characters, pacy plots and vague about the actual personal connection to the story? A bought and paid for review tends to be ambiguo s. If itncould have been written about any story, be suspicious.
  3. Writer Beware. Check it. Is the planned future publisher or agent listed here? Yes? Is it worth the risk?  Get on the mailing list.
  4. Preditors and Editors. Another good ‘go-to’ while you’re there read this too.
  5. Absolute Write has a thread dedicated to highlighting publishers and agents who aren’t getting it right. Decide for yourself if the dream is worth the risk. There are other sites out there which provide similar lists.
  6. If you must part with money to see your name in print, please, please, please self-publish. You’ll have far more control over what goes out there, and the only person you’ll be contracted to is yourself.
  7. Reading charge? Wait…they want to make money from you before they read anything? Money flows to the writer. Always. Forever. See point 6.
  8. Editing Fee? Money flows to the writer. Always. Forever. See point 6.
  9. Promotion Charge. You did see point 7 and 8 right? Yes, the internet is a scary place, and no, an SEO package won’t save you from it. An advert on an obscure site won’t either.  Not even being ranked 1 on a Google search will do that.

These tips are for the ones who want to do more than kick the tyres.

  1. Get out there. Conventions and writer days are a good starting point to find those publishers who are investing in their portfolio of authors. It is so much harder to pretend a business has 100 employees and that “Everything’s going swimmingly” in a face to face context. Also, hanging out with other writers and authors is good for the soul.
  2. Web-check. If the publishing business is registered in the UK, the website must display the Company Information i.e. the business name, place of registration, registered number, registered office address. It should also let you know if it’s a member of any associations. Sole traders should be displaying the address of their main place of business.
  3. They sound familiar, Whois that? Run a whois on the domain name. Businesses want to be found, and generally the domain is registered to the place of business. It should match the one on their website. ANYONE can own a domain, website and therefore, anyone can reinvent a troubled publication. While data can be held private, it can cost more to do so. A step some skip to save money.
  4. Companies House. Check out the business history. A business in trouble won’t hand in very good accounts. An individual with a very good accountant can make things look better than they are. There are loopholes that allow one firm to buy out a failing one. And the same person can be involved, or related to the person from the previous one. It’s a tried and tested way of avoiding a bad rep, shedding a name and starting fresh. There’s nothing wrong with starting over if lessons have been learned so… back to square 1 they go. Right?

So far we haven’t spent anything on researching but:

  1. Got a contract, but not an agent? Get a lawyer. Freelancers don’t charge the earth for a check, and there are plenty of legitimate freelance sites set up for you to find one. OR become a member of one of the many writing associations that include contract vetting as part of their membership. Society of Authors for example. The biggest advantage of joining such an association is that should something go wrong, they’ll fight in your corner to help make it right.


If all that doesn’t help, grab a cuppa and have a look at a professionally drawn up author contract. This is in the public domain, available to download by ANY publisher wanting to use it, it’s legally binding when signed. Look what rights you’d be signing over.  Fancy your book being a TV Show? Will you see any money from it? Hope you don’t mind them using your name in any form of promotion (Good or bad) without your consent. There are plenty other examples on that site, fortunately they aren’t actually using that contract for anything other than teaching their students.

All this might have made your brain hurt, I know. Don’t take my word for it, figure out what press is best for you, based on your choices. It all gets in the way of seeing your words in  print. I get that.  This book is your baby, this dream is your precious future, don’t just kick it out the door and hope.  Do as much as you can to make the right choice for you and your work. Do your research!

Back in the 80’s Marshall Cavendish published a collection of stories. No biggy right?


Story Teller Binder

Story Teller Binder

These stories were released once a fortnight with a cassette tape for you to listen and read-a-long with.

Hidden within the magazine’s pages were tales from Oscar Wilde, poems from J. R. R. Tolkien and classics like Hansel and Gretel, mixed in with these were mythological tales from across the world, and comic book-like stories. All of this delivered in an episodic fashion, accompanied by beautiful illustrations and read by the likes of Joanna Lumley, Tom Baker, Tim Curry, Brian Blessed, Diana Rigg oh and so many more.

Clever eh? Introducing kids to stuffy old stories this way?

Those kids, now grown up, remember how those fortnightly magazines helped them to read, and allowed them to discover a world of poetry and prose. Parents and grandparents buy these collections on Ebay to pass that magic on to their children.

Myself included! Though I didn’t need to buy them, mine were stashed away. While George and the Dragon still roars, and the Three Wishes has me siding with the wisest, I no longer consider a cat a Witch’s cat after reading Gobolino. For me it was Pandora’s Box that opened my eyes to the world beyond my own. I never did look at a box the same way, any more than wonder, thanks to The Tinder Box, what might be hiding under an oak tree.

Each story is approximately ten minutes long. They are the perfect length to listen to with my girls, some quality snuggle time before bed.

I’m certain I am not the only one that remembers Story Teller, so what was your favourite tale?

For more on Story Teller, have a look at this

Lillian Bilocca

Lillian campaigned ‘strongly’ for better safety on boats coming out of Hull. She went head to head with ‘the’ industry giants, while everyone told her to mind her place.

I come from a town where the woman of the house didn’t take well to back chat, but gossip was expected – how else do you learn about what transpired the night before? A housewife was left to deal with the day to day while men were away at sea – after he had spent all his earnings in three days. She wasn’t afraid of standing up for herself while her husband worked solid for three or more months. But she had to get to that point in life, she had to fight for it, it didn’t just fall in her lap.

I am surrounded by and brought up in an environment that differs to what many call the norm for that time. If women didn’t step beyond the usual expectations of the time, the town would have come to a standstill.*

So my take on ‘strong female characters’ in fiction is somewhat warped. Especially within SFF.

While the fiction market wants to see more women with “strength” everyone’s idea of Strong Female Characters With Agency differs for this very reason. They want the fierce lioness because that’s where the action is. Action keeps the reader turning the pages after all. Page turning action sells books. Nobody likes a sob story, right?

Sophie Turner as Sansa Stark

Sansa Stark – Game of Thrones.

Readers don’t want to be stuck in several dozen chapters of “how she learned to use a bow”. When we meet Katniss she already has a fire of self-awareness brought on by the poverty of her district. Sansa Stark is everything she is supposed to be when we are first introduced to her. The perfect little lady of the manor, seen and not heard.

Inner strength doesn’t usually come from being a yes person, insipid and cautious of rocking boats. Those characters have a purpose of their own.  Sansa is surrounded by decision makers and those of sound moral judgement (or if you prefer ‘stereotypical heroes of fantasy’) within Winterfell. So she has an understanding of what is perceived as right and wrong, and witnesses many wrongs as the Game of Thrones plots unravel around her. Yet she doesn’t have the power, or isn’t willing to risk her own place/neck, to do anything about it, she is not the kick-arse Scrappy-Doo that her sister Arya is. Sansa is the most unpopular female character in Game of Thrones because she is the stereotypical historical female. Because she is pushed from thing to thing, avoiding confrontation, and doing what she has been led to believe is expected and right of a person in her position.

It takes some time for her to discover her strength through the vicious actions of others, and see others at Kings Landing wield a different and more manipulative type of power. Sansa Stark has the potential to become one of the more deceitful and manipulative women within Game of Thrones, using her projected simpering as a shield to work behind.

Sansa is well aware of what dangers lie in wait should she rock the boat, she has seen them all. She now knows how to cause waves that will capsize anything in her way, she doesn’t have to rock the boat she’s in.

When we meet Sioned she already has a sense of purpose and has a unique fire all her own.

When we meet Sioned she already has a sense of purpose and has a  fire all of her own.

You aren’t born with wisdom or strength. You have to have a reason to develop these attributes just as much as reason to learn a weapon skill. Arya’s spirit comes from her upbringing in a large family, being one of the younger Starks, playing with swords is more interesting than sewing to any child.

Not all ‘strength’ comes from a witty put-down, some well softened leather and a suitably placed hair swish!
Sure, they are fun. But I’ll take my Sioneds, Cats, and Trices just as much as the Sansas of the fictional worlds.** I’ll watch them grow, gain purpose, take no prisoners, and learn to bring all of their fiery independence to being.




*That is not to say a woman didn’t have her place, more the women in Hull knew how to fight their corner and work the system!

** Yes… I see the red head connection here… shh…! It’s a different ‘fiery women in fiction’ issue!


I’ve heard a lot of authors say that you never stop learning. 2014 turned out to be one heck of a hill for me. On the outside, nothing has happened. Yet, those who write (whatever you write) know that that’s possibly the best type of happening.

I put this growth down to tea lack of sleep other people. No they didn’t do all the work, (don’t be silly, they’d want paying.) but they did make my own thinking cogs churn more.

I’m not talking about beta readers, or editors. Though editors do deserve a glass or two of wine for how they can truly polish an author’s work.


If your New Year’s resolution is to write, write more, or finish writing, then there is something you need to do.

Walk away from the writing. Go out and meet people.

Stop crying. Please.

I know going out to a strange place doesn’t appeal. I don’t mean abandon the dream. I mean share time with other dreamers. I’ve talked about the importance of ‘getting out’ before. You really don’t have to listen to the voices in your head all night, share the crazy with other like-minded writers.

Writing groups, workshops, literary festivals, conventions, writing classes, twitter panels, pitch contests, Nano-meets, forums….

You might come away with friends.

(Yes I am aware that some of those things don’t involve the act of “going out of the house.” It does mean you stop churning over ‘that nightmare paragraph’ in your head for a little while though.)

Go with an open mind.

Writing groups are focus on you, your work and others in your group. You might not get opportunity to share every week. Creative writing courses and classes involve learning – and a very different environment to a writing group.

Both – unless tailored to a genre- will have a range of styles, age groups, experience and genres.

Forums are a great source of random interests combined with the one thing everyone has in common. Writing. And in most cases, writing for your chose genre has its own sub-forum. You don’t have to walk up to someone and start a conversation online, you can read everyone else’s chit-chat. Blogs are full of how to articles, and twitter pitch contests turn all of that up a frantic notch.


November. One month of writing chaos.

Nano-meets. (NanoWriMo ( We blame thank the internet for a month of crazy) Despite having a standing invite to the not-so-local group… I have yet to get to one. However, imagine. A collective hive mind of moral boosting, coffee sharing, creative minds all with one goal “I will finish this story.”

Literary Festivals. These events are a celebration of the printed written word. That can be plays, films, books, poetry, games and they all require writing.

Conventions. Well that’s just the best place to be. All of the fun, and meeting those in the industry that are already making and shaking combined with all of the ‘well I didn’t know that.’

All of these things can reveal a plot hole you may have missed, cause you to throw a strop and abandon 60,000 words, show you a technique on how to deal with a grating piece of dialogue. Or just help you feel normal after a bout of “That is nothing like what I planned to write.”

I’ve met unpublished, debut and best-seller writers. (Not just of novels) And regardless of their experience, they are all human (So are agents and publishers too… shhh!) You don’t meet them hiding behind your glowing screen, or scrunched in a corner with your notebook. Sure you can “meet” their words. However, as a writer you already know the power in text not to mention how it can be misused, manipulated and misread.

By far the best use of my time was the Writing Degree with Hull University. Not because it taught me how to imagine – (Sorry they can’t teach ‘what if’ that you get from being who you are.) – but because it forced me to look at the words on the page and make them do more. Would I have gained all I have using only the writing groups, the conventions, workshops and forums?

Probably after years of rejections. No.

No one thing alone would have put me where I am at the start of 2015. But making the friends I have in 2014 has made me a more sane happier person, and I wouldn’t have met those people had I not left the writing at home.

Fun and randomness mixes with the seriousness of debates over which Red Shirt will get it next. Sub forums are there for any SFF writer, publisher, artist…to pick the brains of those in the industry.

If you are not sure whether to head out to your nearest group I’ll be taking part in a Twitter panel on January 11th with some impressive company.

Teresa Edgerton, Anna Dickinson, Bryan Wigmore and Juliana Spink Mills will be bringing their wealth of knowledge to Twitter to chat about the pros and cons of writing groups, educational writing courses, workshops and all that online help. Find us on Twitter on 11th January at 9pm GMT Bring your questions #SFFChrons!