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Questions from participants of ‘How to get published’ with Alysoun Owen - 14/08/2020

Do you have any opinion on the value of writing software such as Grammarly and Scrivener?

These can be helpful as a way to structure your work or as writing prompts; they can provide a discipline that some find useful. I prefer simply to type into Word and to use Excel to keep track of progress, but many swear by software such as these. Scrivener gets a great press: see if you can try them out before you buy or ask via a writers’ group or forum what others think about them: how can they help?

Is it a good idea to go back to my well-known, grandmaster of an agent who was with Peters Fraser & Dunlop back in the day (after a long break)?

Yes, and if she/he is not interested in renewing the acquaintance then try elsewhere, but always good to start with the contacts you already have. This assumes you parted as friends of course. Highlight how well you did before and what gems you now have to offer.

When writing your first letter of introduction to an agent, being as I write short stories of differing lengths in varied genres; to whet the agent’s appetite would it be acceptable to put in a few tempters of some of them?

Yes, you would need to submit several stories – equivalent to three chapters of a standard-length novel. See agents’ sites for what exactly they wish to receive, i.e. up to how many words of text. It’s a good idea to give a range of stories and to provide a complete list and your ‘hook’ – what links the stories together: a theme, characters etc. Publishers and agents are prepared to consider shorter fiction even from debut writers, but sometimes they might spot some quality writing and ask writers to expand an idea into a full-length novel.

Re: preparing documents in 12-point font (or thereabouts). Is this related to the size of a book page? I am in the habit of using 18-point Times New Roman in an A4 document. I find this gives one around 10-14 words per line which seems to be the norm for modern writing, whereas 12-point tends to 16-20 per line, which seems excessive. A smaller font on reduced paper size would give similar results, so is A4 the correct option to be using? There is obviously no longer any such thing as a “standard book” size, and I can find no obvious candidate on Word. Grateful for any advice on this.

It’s up to you – though 18pt does seem a bit large. As long as your text is readable that’s fine. Many agents will download Word or PDF files (check what format they want) onto their Kindles and other E-readers: they can then adjust the font to the size they wish.


Questions from participants of ‘How to get published’ with Alysoun Owen - 23/07/20

Can you tell me where to find marketeers, please?


How do I move a self-published book to a traditional publisher?

Give evidence to sure your self-published book has is valued and has a market (reviews, sales numbers etc.). Consider why you are seeking a traditional publisher-agent deal.

How many words should be in the synopsis, sample chapters etc (if too long presumably it won't be read)?

Concise and precise and clear is usually best for a synopsis – perhaps no more than 2 pages equivalent to A4 for an average length novel of 80-90k words. It should be long enough to cover the key points in your story and to provide the agent who reads it a clear sense of what happens to whom when.
Your sample chapters (usually the first three) should be the length they need to be so tell your story well. These are likely to be between 4-6k words or so for each chapter. Look at what published books in your genre tend to have.

Can you submit on-line or does one NEED to send an actual package?

Nearly always digitally – so by email with attachments or via an agent’s online submission form. Take a look at the submission guidelines on their websites to see how each agency wants to receive submissions. Very, very few would expect to receive a postal submission, though there are some exceptions.

Which publisher's deal with biographies/autobiography?

Many. Take a look at the publisher listings in the latest edition of the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook. The spine and copyright page of published titles will indicate who the publisher is: that’s a good place to start.

What is a recommended word limit for historic non-fiction?

For a debut novel for adults, you should aim for no more than 85k words. Some books may be shorter; longer would probably be too long (unless you are Hilary Mantel et al).

Do you use Word or are there other packages for writing that are more suitable?

Word is fine. You could also investigate writing software such as Scrivener, Novelize, Atomic Scribbler. Many will offer structuring, progress tracking features etc.

Our books or our writing is our baby, and we are a bit scared of letting it roam in the world...will people be nice or horrid to it, and do we have to grow a very, very thick skin?

Yes! To be a published author you have to let others read what you write. Surround yourself with those who encourage you to write and share your work with those you trust (say in a writers’ group) before sending out more widely as a way to get used to ‘letting go’.

Why do some competitions specify that you must not have entered it in any other competitions? Difficult when a lot of deadlines are close together....

I’m not really sure. It will be one way to make sure entrants have thought carefully as to why they are submitting to a specific competition and not following a scattergun approach. It may also be a way to keep numbers down to a readable number. We don’t stipulate that for the annual Writers’ & Artists’ Short Story Competition.

I have written a manuscript and had it fully edited and set out as required for a novel. I now want to have it read through by people if possible to give me their opinion and suggestions for possible changes and potential edits. What are the likely costs of this and are there any free services available?

If you want a professional read by an editor who will comment on your work, you will need to pay for that service. E.g:

If you want peer review, you could join one of the sharing sites such as WattPad or ‘swop’ your work with others in a creative writing group and comment critically and constructively on each other’s writing.

I wonder if it is acceptable to approach more than one agent at a time or should one wait for a refusal from the first?

Yes. Gone of the days when you need to wait for a reply from one before approaching others. You might want to narrow down your first batch of submissions to 6-10 or so agents and see how that goes. Always tailor your submission to the specific agent you are writing to. Don’t send a standard cover letter without adjusting it for each agent.

I am coming to the end of a manuscript which fictionalises / re-imagines the post-war life of one of World War One poets. Within my narrative, I have drawn on words and phrases that the poet jotted down in his diaries. I’ve also quoted the occasional line from his poetry which was published over 75 years ago. Do I need to contact the late poet’s literary agent before publishing? Would I need to gain some sort of permission to do so?

Are you planning to self-publish? If so, you will need to check how much you are quoting, especially of the poetry. You’ll also need to look up details about copyright and use of material still in copyright, but note too the fair-dealing rules which usually means you can cite up to a number of words from an original source without payment.

Take a look at: https://www.writersandartists.co.uk/writers/advice/1038/after-publication/rights-and-legal-advice/

Were the dairies published? You might need to contact that publisher for advice. If you are following a publisher-agent route they will advise you and worry about this on your behalf.