Saturday 24 October 2015

My People's Friend Journey to 100 Stories

This week was a bit of a milestone as I sold my hundredth story to the lovely magazine The People's Friend (bringing my magazine sales to nearly 150). If someone had told me this would happen when I sent off my first story to them in 2012, I would never have believed it.

My People's Friend journey started like this. I sent a few stories at the beginning of the year and received the standard rejection letter - very quickly as it happens. I wasn't downheartened though as I had sent them off without expectation. Looking back at those first stories I realise that they really weren't that good (although I've since used the basic ideas and themes to write other stories that have found a home) and am not surprised they were rejected.

Then I received a letter from a real live editor... oh yes indeed! In fact it was from my lovely editor of three years, Alan. Okay, so it wasn't an acceptance but it gave me hope. I'll let you read the blog post I wrote about this. It's short and sweet and had no comments as I was new to blogging then. In fact I doubt anyone ever read it. It's called Resubmissions, Resubmissions

I must say I chuckled to myself when I read the sentence, 'I think I have become very stubborn about this magazine - I have made it my mission to have a story accepted.' 

Thank goodness I did!

It was then that I decided to try writing about something close to my heart - dancing - which has been a hobby of mine for over twenty years. At the time, I was doing Zumba classes and had also started ballroom lessons so decided to merge both of these into a story.

My passion for the subject must have showed because the next letter I received wasn't a general rejection but  one full of suggestions as to how to make my story better. Here's a little clip of it. As you can imagine, I was over the moon and sat down and made all the changes there and then, sending it out before the next post. A couple of months later, I went on holiday and came back to an email telling me that my dance story had been sold. Dancing Queen was published in The People's Friend Special the following February.

The post I wrote next is still as relevant today as it was then. It's called The People's Friend - A Friend Indeed.

The rest is history really. Having got a feel for The Friend readership, I continued to write and found more and more of my stories accepted. All this time I worked closely with my editor and I know that his invaluable advice has made me a better writer. When magazine editor Angela Gilchrist said in Writing Magazine 'if we see potential in a writer, the fiction team will work very hard with that person to get them their first acceptance' I can do nothing but agree with her.

I went on to write serials for the magazine and even wrote an article for fiction Editor, Shirley Blair, on the subject for Writing Magazine

Writing for the magazine has also gained me a new friend - fellow People's Friend writer and workshop leader, Alison Carter. We share the same editor and when he spotted we lived near to each other, I got in touch. We now meet regularly to eat cake and chat about the writing world and Alan likes to call himself a matchmaker!

In fact I feel very honoured to have had my name alongside Alison's in a People's Friend tweet, advertising their guidelines as Alison is a great writer whose sales far exceed mine. You can read their guidelines here.

I hope that reading this post on my journey to my hundredth sale to the magazine will give other writers encouragement to persevere. The magazine might be called The People's Friend, but the editorial staff soon become the writers' friends.

You might like to get an idea of the sort of stories I've written for the magazine. The ones in my romantic story collection, Room in Your Heart, have all previously been published in The People's Friend as have many of the ones in The Last Rose.

They are available in both ebook and paperback and can be bought here from Amazon.

Sunday 18 October 2015

Tips for Writing Romantic Christmas Novels - Guest Post Samantha Tonge

Samantha Tonge is no stranger to my blog... in fact this is her third visit! (you can read Sam's other guest posts here and here). Originally a magazine writer, Sam is now a successful Rom-com author who certainly knows how to work a title - I'm sure most of you will have heard of Doubting Abbey and Game of Scones. As well as these, Sam brought out a Christmas novel, Mistletoe Mansion, last year, and this week saw the publication of her second seasonal offering, My Big Fat Christmas Wedding.

I decided to ask Samantha to give some tips on writing that Christmas novel... over to you, Sam.

My Big Fat Christmas Wedding is set in Greece, at Christmas, and gives the reader a different view of this seasonal time of year - although main character, Pippa, does make a flying visit to snowy London with her sexy fisherman fiancé, Niko. They meet up with her ex-boyfriend, suave Henrik and... well, I won’t tell you anymore! Just to say I LOVE writing books set at Christmas. Last year’s was Mistletoe Mansion. I’m thinking fairy lights, Michael Bublé singing in the background, the aroma of warming mulled wine... *sigh*... there is just so much to make your heart melt!

So here are my five tips for writing a romantic novel set at this cosy time of year (other writers might heartily disagree with me!) :

Think location. Most readers want certain expectations fulfilled – snowy scenery, tumbling flakes falling onto lovers’ noses, crisp frosty pavements to walk across, warming hot chocolate to be drunk once indoors again... Whilst My Big Fat Christmas Wedding is set on an island with a milder climate than us at that time of year, a visit to white London plays a significant part in the book. Also, it’s definitely chilly in Kos in December, cue the need for honey cake, ginger baklava and warm Metaxa brandy... need I go on! For some readers, a story set somewhere tropical , for example, may not press the right buttons.

Seduce all the readers’ senses – and boy, there is plenty of sensuality around at Christmas. The aroma of baking turkey and spicy mince pies. The touch of silky tinsel. Describe the romantic sights such as fairy light lit pine trees and sparkling evening frost. Then there’s the sound of nostalgic carols and log fires burning. And as for taste – well, where do we start? Chocolates from the tree? Rich fruit pudding drizzled with cream? Crunchy sage and onion stuffing? Really spoil your reader – make them salivate and long for the twenty-fifth of December to arrive.

Don’t paint too perfect a picture – remember the downsides to Christmas and thread them in to make your story more realistic. The burden of inviting those relatives around that you don’t really get on with. Those sad memories that revisit you of loved ones passed who won’t be at the dinner table this Christmas. The cost of presents and expectation that everyone should be happy. If you write romantic comedy, these negatives also offer a good source of humour.

Leave the reader feeling good. It’s Christmas – that time of year when we wish goodwill to all men and count our blessings. There’s nothing wrong with a Happy Ever After as long as the journey there is an emotional one that leaves the reader feeling satisfied.

Most importantly, when writing it, have fun, because that will shine through, into your story. Christmas is hopefully a time of year when we can relax a little, remark on those cute reindeer and snowmen and play silly board games before having one port too many during a cheesy movie. Make your story into something that will contribute to the reader’s sense of taking a break from challenging real life, just for a few days. Escapist, feel-good fun - with, of course, a delicious hero who looks hot even when the temperature is cold enough to chill your champagne in the garden... and who makes every reader wish he was in her cracker ;)

Thank you for another lovely guest post, Sam and you're welcome back any time.

Samantha Tonge lives in Cheshire with her lovely family and a cat that thinks it’s a dog. When not writing, she spends her days cycling and willing cakes to rise. She has sold over 80 short stories to women’s magazines. Her bestselling debut novel, Doubting Abbey, was shortlisted for the Festival of Romantic Fiction best Ebook award in 2014. Her summer 2015 novel Game of Scones hit #5 in the UK Kindle chart.

Things don’t always run smoothly in the game of love…
As her Christmas wedding approaches, a trip back to snowy England for her ex’s engagement party makes her wonder if those are wedding bells she’s hearing in her mind, or warning bells. She longs for the excitement of her old London life – the glamour, the regular pedicures. Can she really give that all up to be…a fishwife?
There’s nothing for it but to throw herself into bringing a little Christmas magic to the struggling village in the form of a Christmas fair. Somewhere in amidst the sparkly bauble cakes and stollen scones, she’s sure she’ll come to the right decision about where she belongs…hopefully in time for the wedding…

Perfect for fans of Lindsey Kelk and Debbie Johnson. Don’t miss the Christmas Wedding of the year!

You can find out more about Samantha here:

You can purchase My Big Fat Christmas Wedding here:

Sunday 11 October 2015

Why You Need A Good Proofreader - Guest Post Julia Gibbs

You've finished the book, you've checked it for errors until your eyes are crossed. Your work is perfect... or is it? 

I'd like to give a very warm welcome today to Julia Gibbs. When I first 'met' Julia on Twitter, I actually thought her name was Julia Proofreader (her Twitter handle). It was only when I started to read some of her informative blog posts, that I realised proofreading was her profession not her surname! I am really pleased that Julia has managed to find some time out of her very busy day to answer my questions, so over to you Julia.

How long have you been a proofreader and what made you choose this profession?

At the risk of sounding clichéd, I didn't choose it, it chose me! I have always had my nose in a book from the time I learned to read, and I sailed through all English language and literature exams at school. I worked for some years for a firm of architects and found that everyone came to me for spelling and grammar advice; when the chief architect ruled that no document was to leave the office without being passed by me, I thought to myself, 'Hang on, I could do this for a living!' So to answer your question, I think I've been doing it for most of my life.

Are you a writer as well as a proofreader?

Good heavens, no! I don't know how you authors do it, I really don't. I could no more write a novel than I could run a marathon (PS, I don't run.) I can write blog posts, though, but I think my creativity expires after about a page and a half.

What’s the difference between a proofreader and an editor?

There is a difference between proofreading and editing fiction. Not every writer requires an editor, by the way, there is a minority who can edit their own work. Editors will perform services such as: suggesting cutting out characters; changing or omitting dialogue; changing the narrative arc of the novel; moving chapters around; various other suggestions that will in their opinion improve the book. I don’t alter the writer’s work apart from correcting it, although I will point out anomalies of plot if I notice them, and any other inconsistencies (this is copy editing, and goes above and beyond what a proofreader does, but I like to do it as well). I will also make other suggestions if, for example, I see a word or phrase repeated too often in a paragraph.

Why can’t we writers just edit our own work?

You can, if you like. Some writers (a minority, as I said) are capable of being sufficiently dispassionate to edit their own work. But nobody can proofread their own work. Here's why: when you read what you have written, you see what you expect to see. In a sentence of 10 words, the mind actually reads the 1st, 5th and 10th words, and then makes sense of the rest of it on its own. I've proofread books by authors who've been pretty confident that they've been through their own work thoroughly and reckon that I might, if I'm good, find 30 or 40 errors. I've found on average 600 and upwards. You'd be surprised, as were some of my clients, see what they say here: Happy Customers

Do you only need a proofreader if you’re self-publishing?

If you have been accepted by a publishing company, whether mainstream or indie, then they will provide a proofreader for you, as part of the service. However, I have recently worked for a client who had 6 novels published by Random House, and wanted me to check his work before he sent his latest book to them, as he thought he'd written it in a hurry. (He was right to do so, I found over 1,500 errors.)

What are the most common mistakes you see writers making?

Most errors are typos – that is, mistakes made through inattention while the writer is in creative flow mode, and not caused by ignorance of spelling or punctuation. And most of these are punctuation, with people not realising that they've missed out commas or full stops because they're focussing on their characters or story line. That's where a non-creative pedant like me is so necessary, you see!
Some of the spelling typos result in hilarious misunderstandings, and I am currently compiling a list of the funniest ones I've come across, so that I can put them in a blog post – with the authors' permission, of course!

How long does it take you to proofread an average length novel?

Depends on how many mistakes I have to correct. My clients' books run the full gamut, from a few changes per paragraph, to one or two per chapter. On the other hand, some people say to me, 'this shouldn't take you too long, it's already been checked by a few people, so there will be very few errors'. My reply is, 'yes, but I still have to read every word'! I only work on one novel at a time, so that I can concentrate on the plot and the author's particular quirks. I reckon it to take me approximately 10 days.

There are many people advertising proofreading services. How can a writer sort the good from the bad?

You're right, there are so many people advertising themselves as proofreaders these days, and many of them appear to have just started. I notice that I am followed on Twitter by newbie proofreaders every day. Here are a couple of blog posts I wrote, which I hope will be of help to anyone looking for a proofreader, and not knowing where to start:

So, as my final word, dear authors – take all the time you need when choosing a proofreader!

Thank you, Wendy, for inviting me to have my say. I did enjoy it.

You're very welcome. It's been lovely having you as a guest.

You can contact Julia through her website here or on Twitter here

Sunday 4 October 2015

The Dreaded Synopsis!

I've cut the grass, hoovered the carpets, hung out the washing and walked the dog but I can't put it off any longer. It's time to write the dreaded synopsis. 

But I thought you'd already done that for your RNA industry appointments and NWS submission, I hear you say... and you're right, I did. The difference is, this time I have to fit it onto one page. ONE PAGE! 

The problem is this: my novel has a dual timeline - alternating between one character and another one year earlier (both stories have equal weight). Readers will have sympathy for one more than the other... so how should the synopsis be set out?

My attempt for my one-to-ones at the RNA conference was three pages long (yes, really) and probably bored the pants off the editors I met with. One said, "I love your writing and idea... but not your synopsis."

It wasn't that she didn't like the story - she did (so much in fact that she asked to see the whole thing once finished). The problem was the way the synopsis was set out. I had written each character's story separately starting with the events that happened a year earlier. Unfortunately this was the story written from the POV of my less sympathetic character. My nicer character's story came next and and I hadn't made it clear that the chapters would be alternating between the two, with the nicer character's POV always coming first. Are you lost? Yes, so was the editor... so now that my novel is ready to be sent out into the big, wide world I have to make this synopsis work for me.

I've been making a list of agents I'd like to approach and most are requesting one pagers. Knowing I needed help with the dual timeframe thingy, I turned to my author friends on Facebook - posing the question of how best to structure my dual timeframe in just one page.

What lovely generous people. I have been inundated with advice and I shall quote the most useful here.

  • Maintain two working synopsis (one for each story)
  • Use lots of signposts so its clear whose story it is e.g. In 1937...
  • Look at each chapter and use the key words
  • Read Nicola Morgan's book, Write a Great Synopsis
  • Read Emma Darwin's great blog post, Relax it's Only a Synopsis!
  • Read Louise Rose-Innes' great blog post, How to Write a Synopsis
  • Ask the lovely Kath McGurl who writes dual timeframe novels how she did hers (I did and she was wonderfully helpful)

I won't pretend that with all this advice, writing my one pager has been easy but I now have a synopsis that seems to be working for me. The only problem is it's one page and one paragraph long! Time to get out the pruners.