Category: Authors

Jenny Knight

Language barriers: navigating the world of publishing jargon

In the BookMachine Editorial Board, we’ve been discussing the barriers that prevent people getting into the publishing industry. One of the factors that keep outsiders outside is our love of specialist terminology – if you’re not already connected to someone ‘in the biz’, it can feel daunting getting to grips with all the procedures, stages and random bits of jargon many of us use every day. We’ll be looking at this issue from a staff point of view in future, but we’re delighted to have author Jenny Knight’s take on the subject here.

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Riff Raff

Behind the scenes at The Riff Raff: why we built a community for debut authors

This is an interview with Amy Baker, founder of The Riff Raff. Amy is also author of Miss-Adventures: A Tale of Ignoring Life Advice While Backpacking Around South America, and a freelance writer, writing travel and lifestyle content for a range of publications. Learn more about The Riff Raff, and follow them on Twitter.

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Taking criticism well

Listed by the Observer as one of “Our top 50 players in the world of books”, Clare Conville previously worked as an editor at Random House, before co-founding Conville & Walsh in 2000. Between them Clare’s clients have won or been nominated for nearly every major literary prize in the UK including the Man Booker Prize, the Bollinger Everyman Woodhouse Award, the Whitbread First Novel Award, the Commonwealth Writers’ Best First Novel Award, and the Orwell Prize, the Guardian First Book Award and the Kate Greenaway Medal. Here, she discusses handling criticism well.

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8 essential steps to successful self-publishing  

A former journalist and author, Jon Watt is now Country Manager of Type & Tell, an innovative new self-publishing services provider offering free book layout and 100% author royalties. Here he shares his top tips for succeeding in the competitive world of self-publishing.

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Contracts? Show me the bit about advances and royalties and the rest isn’t worth reading!

Mara Livingstone-McPhail was a bookseller, reviewed books on BBC radio and organized book events in inner-city schools before being lured to London by the team who now run Chicken House Books. A freelance editor, proofreader and writer, she reads every day for as long as she can keep her eyes open. Here she explains some of the common sticking points in a contract which you can share with authors. 

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membership economy

Why authors need to get messy

If you’re an author, or you’re working with an author, then you may beat yourself/them up for being unable to summon up a laser-like focus on the job in hand. Alternatively you may be exasperated by the way your/their creativity and the immediacy of the writing seem to evaporate as the book progresses. (I speak from experience of both perspectives here.) ‘Just focus!’ you might yell – out loud or under your breath. ‘Stop getting distracted!’

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Introducing The Riff Raff: A new writers’ community

Amy Baker is a freelance writer and the author of travel humour memoir, “Miss-Adventures: A Tale of Ignoring Life Advice While Backpacking Around South America”. She has just co-founded The Riff Raff – a writers’ community that champions debut authors and supports those hoping to one day be published themselves. 

When working on your first book, so much is up in the air. You’re in a constant state of worrying and wondering – are all these hours, drafts and moments of despair going to be worth it? Will you ever get that deal? How do you even get a deal anyway – do they exist, or are they something that only happens to other people? Will you ever leave the house again?

It’s a lonely time – you’re in your own head and your own imagination so much that it can become more familiar to you than the outside world.

In a bid to keep myself motivated while writing my first book, I’d go and see my favourite authors speak – and while it would interest me, I’d often leave dejected. The gaping disparity between where these superstars were in their careers, and where I was at was a major bummer to me as an aspiring writer. After all – these authors were selling out the Royal Festival Hall…I was returning home to put on my tracksuit bottoms, and to cry into a tub of peanut butter. What I wanted (and needed) was to hear from debut authors – those who’d only just retired the tracksuit bottoms and dessert-spoon. Those who’d only just progressed to ‘published author’ status, and could therefore remember what it was like being in the trenches.

When I’d given up clean clothes completely, and would spend indeterminate periods of time staring forlornly out of windows just to catch a glimpse of other human beings, I put a distress call out asking whether anyone knew any writers I could befriend. Someone heeded my call, I was introduced to Rosy Edwards, author of the hilarious Confessions of a Tinderella and we drank three bottles of wine on a Tuesday evening because it seemed fitting given we’d finally found each other.

Over the months that followed, Rosy and I came up with an idea – The Riff Raff – a writers’ community specifically designed to champion the work of debut authors and to offer support, advice and discussion surrounding the process of getting a first book published. We want to lure people out of their writing caves and bring them together in one spot, to hear from debut authors, with a book out that month. At each event our five authors will introduce themselves and their work before reading their favourite extract to the audience, who will then get the chance to quiz them on their journey and processes. There will also be ample mingling time during the break, and after the event where attendees can chat to the authors and snap up signed copies of the books.

By bringing together debut authors and aspiring writers in a cosy room once a month, The Riff Raff will eliminate that feeling of being on the outside with no chance of gaining access to the golden palace that is the publishing industry. We’re here to offer you encouragement and inspiration by showing the hopeful that getting published is attainable.

The Riff Raff’s first event is taking place on May 11th at the Effra Social in Brixton. You can snap up your tickets here, or find them on Facebook here.

Difficult authors: 14 tips for editors

Editors deal with all types of clients. Many of them are pleasant and easy to work with. Some can be very difficult. In a previous article, freelance copy-editor Sue Littleford discusses different sorts of difficult clients and the problems an editor faces. Here she follows up with some useful tips on how to tackle these issues. 

Here are a bunch of strategies that may help should you have the misfortune to encounter any difficult authors (who, I stress, are the minority!).

1) Trust your instincts

If the client makes you feel uneasy at any point during the negotiation stage, trust your instincts and don’t take on the job. Do NOT cross your fingers and think, oh, it’ll be okay. While you’re dealing with a client you don’t want to have, you’re using up the time and energy you could have spent finding the client you want. A really bad client will be an enormous drain on you.

2) Test the waters

If you’re not sure about a client, offer a paid-for sample edit, the cost to be offset against the final invoice. You’ll get to see not only the writing, but how the author responds to your edits and your invoices. I have declined to work on a handful of jobs as a result, with no regrets.

3) Define your terminology

Have a document you send to prospective clients, or a page on your website, that explains the differences between the services you offer, and check they understand what it is they’ve asked you to do to be sure it’s what they actually want you to do.

4) Define your quality

Don’t promise to deliver ‘perfect’ text. You’re human, so you won’t. Don’t raise your client’s expectations to an unreasonable level. Remember the old adage – underpromise, overdeliver.

5) Pre-empt

This one is so important, as it deals with several of the ways authors can be difficult. Have a contract that says exactly what work you will do, referring to the definitions you’ve supplied, how you will deal with re-edits, and edits of changes or additional material, for what reasons you will walk away or the client can, payments in instalments, what happens to those instalments if either of you fires the other, whether you must be paid the balance of your fee before you release the files – think about every way a job could go wrong and anticipate it in your contract. Whenever you finish a sticky job see whether you need to update your contract. In the UK, the Society for Editors and Proofreaders provides a template contract to use as a starting point.

6) Put yourself in the author’s shoes

If you were on the receiving end of your edits, how would you feel? You may think the author is an unconscionable idiot, but are you rubbing them up the wrong way whilst savaging their literary baby? Are you giving the author what they need and what they are paying you to do? Are those two things the same? Is there a conversation to be had now you’re further into the text and more of its horrors are being revealed?

7) Learn how to query and comment gracefully

It’s hard to be criticised. And that’s what queries about the text are – you’re saying the author didn’t get it right. So be kind, and clear, and pepper your queries with words like ‘please’ and ‘perhaps’ and ‘would that be okay?’ no matter how exasperating the job. It’s doubly hard to be criticised if your editor seems to be scolding you. As editor, you may think you’re being brisk, but it will all too easily be read as brusque.

8) Consider that your author may conceivably know more than you on this subject

Don’t snap out a query each time something looks a bit weird. Look it up. You may find that your author is entirely correct. Odd-sounding turns of phrase may be exactly right in that field. And if you’ve looked it up and it’s still wrong, then your query will be all the better phrased because of your research – you may well have discovered what you think the author was aiming for, and now you just need it confirmed (or not).

9) Patience, patience, patience

You may be concentrating on the text, but the author’s life is proceeding apace. It’s no longer their main focus. You may have to wait your turn to get their attention. They may be dealing with problems you can’t begin to imagine.

10) Learn the art of the snottogram

This is my closely guarded secret, honed in many years in the civil service persuading senior officers to do things my way without offending them. If your author is threatening the publisher’s timetable, or is being uncooperative in some other way, send a carefully worded, polite but steely message that spells out the consequences of their behaviour, and what they need to do about it. Include a checklist of what’s outstanding – it could be they’ve just lost their way.

11) Vary your working practices

Try to work out what your author’s problem is, and see if a change to your usual way of working will help them out.

12) Set out your stall

Most of my work is in scholarly non-fiction, working for publishers and pre-press companies. In my introductory email to the author(s), I tell them the timetable, invite them to say if it’s a problem, tell them how queries will be handled, how often they can expect to hear from me, whether they get the whole amended text back for a last read-through or not, ask any initial questions I have based on the brief I’ve been given, and anything I’ve already noticed in the manuscript, and I encourage the author to tell me of any concerns they have about the edit, and anything they think I should know about the text before I start on it.

13) Alert the publisher early

Put the desk editor on warning that there may be trouble ahead. Could be they can do something about it. Could be they can produce some wiggle room in the timetable. At least they’re forewarned.

14) Communicate, communicate, communicate

I’m not saying this is a panacea, but talk to each other before it goes completely pear-shaped. Most editors I know prefer to keep all exchanges to emails – a sensible precaution for both sides, as there’s a record of what was said and agreed (or not agreed). Thrashing things out by phone or on Skype is sometimes the only way to go. Make notes as you go, write up the conversation immediately afterwards, email it to the author as a record and ask them to agree it or to correct it. The key is to take action early, not hold on in silence and hope things will miraculously improve. Sometimes you need to be proactive – a new author may need a bit of education about the publishing world. Even an experienced author may not realise the impact their action or inaction is having. No author wants to have the edit go badly.

One final point – the Society for Editors and Proofreaders requires its members to adhere to its Code of Practice. If an author feels that a member editor hasn’t done so, then there is a complaints route.

Sue Littleford has been a freelance copy-editor for ten years, working in scholarly non-fiction, but with forays into fiction. She is an Advanced Professional Member of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders, and author of their Guide Going Solo: Creating your freelance editorial business.

17 ways to annoy an editor

Editors deal with all types of clients. Many of them are pleasant and easy to work with. Some can be very difficult. Freelance copy-editor Sue Littleford discusses different sorts of difficult clients and the problems an editor faces. Soon to follow is Sue’s companion piece on how to resolve these issues, and what authors can do if they feel an editor isn’t adhering to the Code of Practice. 

I’m a freelance copy-editor, so I hang out around freelance editorial online watercoolers. If you do the same, or read blogs with any regularity, you’ll have seen editors’ tales of nightmare authors and, indeed, authors’ tales of nightmare editors.

Some of the most recalcitrant problems arise around conflicting ideas of ‘perfect’. Objective perfection doesn’t exist, but many freelance editors sell themselves as able to deliver it, which does no one any favours. And some authors expect their editors to be quite unfeasibly perfect – and read minds, to boot.

I’m going to state right now that, in my experience, most authors are lovely to work with. But in any barrel, there will always be a few bad apples. Here are several ways to annoy your editor. Some of these happened to me. Some of these happened to people I know.

1) The me-too

I had one of these very early in my freelance career. Not too long after JK Rowling had published the final Harry Potter, the first part of story about a young orphan wizard in a school in a castle, with horrible relatives, an owl and two friends whose names began with H and R landed on my desk. It was dire. Even if it had been half-decently written, there was no getting away from the fact it was a rip-off. When the client asked if I thought she’d get it published, I had to say no. Getting paid for that job took a while…

2) The can’t-stop-fiddling

Ah yes, the author who just keeps adding and changing and expecting you to edit all the new bits for no extra cash and in the original timescale. I’d once returned files to the publisher for typesetting, and days later was still getting new material from the author, who was trying to charm me into doing more work just because he was a ‘head-in-the-clouds academic’ (I’m quoting). Didn’t work. Note to authors: when you submit your manuscript to your publisher, the working assumption is that you’ve actually finished it. Aside from the actual extra work involved, and the cost and time added to the schedule that no one has budgeted for, it’s hard to do a quality edit of a moving target.

3) The precious

The author whose work was perfect to begin with and who rejects every single edit and comment. You wonder why they bothered getting an editor.

4) The precious with attitude

As for no. 3, but rude with it. The editor is clearly too stupid to comprehend the author’s artistic vision.

5) The vague

The author who can’t answer a question unless you send a separate email with each one. And/or they keep changing their minds about things they’d already answered. Or you have to ask the same question five times to get an answer. Note to authors – if we ask, it’s because we need to know.

6) The condescending

Now, not all academic authors are like this – most are absolutely delightful, I’m happy to say – but there are some who make you deal with their secretary, as they can’t be bothered with your queries, or who treat your introductory email setting out the timetable, query handling and initial questions with airy indifference. I remember taking several attempts to get the author to confirm which variety of English they wanted me to edit the book into. The manuscript provided no clues and the clock was ticking. I was finally told ‘I’m sure you can work it out.’ So I went with my preference, which may not have been theirs. You can edit the book of one of these authors without ever having a conversation with them about it. Editing is dispiriting when the author doesn’t seem to care what happens to the book.

7) The didact

The editor sends the academic author a query. The academic author doesn’t answer the query, but writes a paragraph explaining around the point so I can figure out the answer for myself. Good teaching for your students, not so good for letting your copy-editor know how the manuscript should read at that point. I get one of these about once a year and it really slows things down and does nothing for my blood pressure.

8) The headstrong

First cousin to no. 6, the headstrong author will not be interested in following their publisher’s house style and certainly won’t have bothered to read the publisher’s guide for authors, because it’s of no interest to them – they’ll write the way they always have, and expect the house style to disappear in a puff of smoke. Your copy-editor, however, will be distracted from reading the actual words you worked so hard on by toiling away on the mechanics, taking out, or inserting, commas in references, or substituting First World War for World War I, or correcting your capitalisation of acronyms to haul the text back into house style.

9) The uncooperative

They won’t answer queries, they go silent for days on end, they email you from the airport to say they’re going away and will be offline for ten days and make it your problem to deal with the publisher’s schedule (not to mention the knock-on effect on your own bookings).

10) The my-friend-knows-better

It’s enough to make you cry. You’ve slaved over not very promising material and improved it significantly. Then the author shows your edits to a friend or relative, and they find fault with everything you’ve done. They’re wrong, of course. They can’t spell and they don’t understand grammar or how hyphenation changes with context. And they certainly don’t understand that there’s no such thing as perfect. So the author wants you to do it again, this time inserting all their friend’s mistakes.

11) The litigious and/or blackmailer

You’ve done your edit, you’ve sent in the files and your invoice, and the author claims you’ve not done a decent job. There’s a comma missing on page 172! They want a do-over at no charge, or they won’t pay your invoice. Or they’ll take you to court to recover what they paid you before they got bent out of shape over the missing comma on page 172. Or they want a monstrous discount, because you missed out a comma on page 172. And/or they’ll shred your reputation across social media.

12) The utterly deluded

They think an editor will work for a share of their royalties, because their book is such a wonder, movie producers will be lining up for the rights, and publishers will be printing hundreds of thousands of hardbacks for the first print run for an unknown novelist.

13) The parsimonious

‘Freelance means free, doesn’t it?’ ‘Budget? Oh, well, how does £50 sound – I don’t have any more’ (for a 150,000 word copy-edit). Sometimes the author just doesn’t want to pay, because the book is so good really, you should be paying them for the honour (and yes, I’ve had one of those), others just really have no idea of time or cost. And yes, it takes longer to edit a book than to read it. Much longer. And further, editors have mortgages, bills and commitments that require cash, not a swapsie for, well, anything the author wants to offer.

14) The crafty

Editors talk to each other. Facebook groups I belong to have in the past few months caught out two people sending out individual chapters to different copy-editors for a ‘free sample edit’ in an attempt to get the entire book edited free of charge. It’s not big and it’s not clever. Any author who tries that must be prepared to be called out on it, or, should they get away with it, have a manuscript that will not have been well edited. Editing is about consistency much of the time – and no editor will edit a long text in exactly the same way as another.

15) The no-show

After going through the negotiations and agreeing to take on the job, and having fitted it into your schedule, the job doesn’t show up. With some authors I’ve been told about, it doesn’t show up on the rescheduled date, either. When it finally shows up, unheralded, it’s for an immediate turnaround. Sigh. Now, for the freelance editor the no-show means they have a gap in their schedule. No money coming in. Other jobs, perhaps, have turned down because they’ve taken yours on. The editor can try their contacts to see if they can fill the gap, but an offered project may not have the same time requirements as the one you’ve just bailed on. Editors know that sometimes a manuscript isn’t ready when you’d said it would be. Things happen, we get that. But please – communicate with your editor ahead of the date you’re due to deliver your manuscript if you’re at all worried about meeting your commitment.

16) The wannabe book designer

If you know you’re writing for publication, then making your manuscript look just like you hope the book will is, 99 times out of 100, a total waste of effort on your part, and creates work for the copy-editor. And if the author is paying the copy-editor for their time, that’s a waste of the author’s money, too. It is also really dull work for the copy-editor to have to squash all your design into typesetter-friendly format. So don’t use fancy styles – the editor wants to know a chapter title from a side-heading, and what needs to be italic, what’s a quotation and so on, but don’t try to replicate the book designer, who will be following the publisher’s brief (as will the copy-editor). It doesn’t help, either, if the author hits return at the end of each line, or uses strings of spaces or tabs to make a pretend table.

17) The legally naive

Copy-editors and publishers worry about copyright infringement and libellous statements a lot more than some authors seem to. One author told me that they didn’t need permission to quote material and use other people’s photographs ‘because they were on the internet, so they’re free’ (despite the copyright statements in the source websites…). Publication was delayed. Another said a lot of things about Berlusconi that may well have been true, but hadn’t yet been proven, and the publisher was not about to spend its money defending an action for libel. A couple of paragraphs were ripped out.

Sue Littleford has been a freelance copy-editor for ten years, working in scholarly non-fiction, but with forays into fiction. She is an Advanced Professional Member of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders, and author of their Guide Going Solo: Creating your freelance editorial business.

Writing for international audiences

Writing has a huge potential audience now as we have many ways to access the written word. If not done well, though, writing for a global audience will not reach some readers.

Who is the audience?

When writers are writing, they may not automatically have their worldwide audience at the front of their mind, or that their words may be used in translation.

For example, it is natural for a writer to focus on an English-speaking audience if that is the language they speak, read and write in. While native English speakers often read in phrases, international readers often tackle a sentence word by word.  The potential for confusion increases with longer sentences. If writers take this into account as they write, their text will be accessible to more readers.

How do writers do this?

Plain Language and Global English can help meet the needs of the target audience.

Plain Language and Global English have a lot of key areas in common. Recommended points include:

  • Use short and complete sentences
  • Use active voice or passive voice appropriately
  • Be consistent in spelling, capitalization and formatting
  • Use a common list of approved words
  • Prefer strong direct statements
  • Cut out unnecessary words and repetition
  • Be aware that humour does not always travel well
  • Proofread before sending out for translation, to avoid costly mistakes.

The idea is not to ‘dumb down’ but to be clear and concise and to explain any phrases or words that could be new to the reader. This can occur in surprising places, and we also need to watch for regionalisms and cultural references which may have different meanings, or nothing comparable once translated. For example, these show that a writer is being considerate of a larger audience:

  • Looking out for seasonal references, particularly when working for Northern to Southern hemisphere projects.
  • Being aware of nouns that are vague e.g. ‘local’ or ‘in our area’ unless the location is clear.

Reading through content on screen, on paper and even reading content out loud can highlight areas that are not clear.

Things to be aware of

Many international style guides use American English as the default option. British audiences do not usually take issue with this, but it does not always work the other way around. A quick visit to some internet writing or editing forums, or Amazon reviews, will reveal British English speakers being told by American English speakers that they have made spelling or grammatical errors in their books! Also, some cultures consider the active voice to be rude or condescending, and others find the passive voice to be impersonal and awkward. A favourite read on language and culture is The Meaning of Tingo by Adam Jacot de Boinod, who used to be a researcher on the quiz show, QI.  (

What about translation?

Giving your translators the tools and permission to adapt to the target audience can help better reach that audience. Good feedback with the author can speed the translation process up and lead to better terms (and it can lead to smoother work on future projects).

A text can expand in translation, sometimes by up to 30%. Keep this in mind because it can significantly alter costings of a project and it can make formatting for webpages a bit of a headache.

Consider giving the translators a credit. This helps develop a good relationship with your translators. And, just as important, it makes it clear to readers that the content has been adapted and sets the expectations of the international reader.

Why bother?

Clear writing with well chosen words is a delight, and can aid communication and understanding.

Writing for an international audience is not vastly different from any other editorial task, and becomes natural after a while, if you consider it to be a normal part of quality control.

Mara Livingstone-McPhail was a bookseller, reviewed books on BBC radio and organized a book events in inner-city schools before being lured to London by the team who now run Chicken House Books.  A freelance editor, proofreader and writer, she reads every day for as long as she can keep her eyes open.

Interview with Pageturner Prize winner Leaf Arbuthnot

Leaf Arbuthnot is a feature writer at the London-based Sunday Times. She also writes poetry reviews for the Times Literary Supplement and draws cartoons as the Glum Cartoonist. Her debut novel An Unmaimed Man, has won the Pageturner Prize. Norah Myers interviews her about her prize win here.

1) Congratulations on winning Tibor Jones’s 2017 Pageturner Prize for unpublished novels. What motivated you to enter?

Thanks very much! As people always say when they win these things, “I’m honoured”. I genuinely am though. I entered the prize because I had recently finished editing my novel An Unmaimed Man and I was wondering whether I should do anything with it. The Tibor Jones prize was relatively fuss-free to enter; it was run by a reputable agency and I saw no reason not to give it a go. Of course, I didn’t think I’d win it. I figured that rather than sitting on my novel until I grew old, I should send it somewhere.

 2) Whose writing do you look to for inspiration?

That’s tricky to answer because I don’t think I’m ever exactly hunting for inspiration per se. I read because it nourishes me; I don’t read because I want to absorb others’ work and hope that it will enrich my own. That said, naturally I’m influenced by a large number of authors, many of whom function in my writing probably without me noticing.

The writers I value most highly in my life currently are Nabokov, Primo Levi, Ben Lerner, Phillip Pullman, Flaubert, Zola, Bassani, Dante, Kingsley Amis, Phillip Roth, Henry James, Proust, Phillip Larkin (Jeez, another Phillip), Mel Pryor. Others I’m sure.

3) Your work has been compared to Rachel Joyce’s Harold Fry. How do you feel about this comparison?

Yeah, I’ve been told this tons and to my shame I’ve still not read her book. I’ve ordered it online though so I’ll get reading soon – when no doubt I’ll be overcome with embarrassment at the paltriness of my own novel in comparison.

Other comparisons that have been chucked at me which I understand more (because I’ve actually read what they refer to) are Ian McEwan’s Saturday and Martin Amis’ Lucky Jim. The McEwan comparison is rather groundless, in my view – my novel, like his, takes place on one day in London, following a white middle-aged man around but, apart from that, they’re very different books. The Lucky Jim comparison holds more water, though, my book is a) less good – I hold Lucky Jim in high esteem – and b) it plays for laughs marginally less. Both feature hapless, awkward, desolate, lovable/hateable central protagonists though.

4) What do you look forward to most about working with your new agent?

As I finished editing my story after writing it intensively for a few months, I realised I had lost a grip of what the book was actually like. I really just didn’t know and couldn’t even tell if it was readable or not. Some sentences had been wholly wrung of meaning – sort of blanched from too much attention. So I’m psyched by the prospect of working on the book with someone from the industry who knows what they’re doing and has a fresh perspective on the story.

Clearly I entered the competition in the half hope that it would lead the book to be published so I look forward to exploring that with Laura too.

5) What advice would you give authors who wish to enter this prize in the future?

Man, that’s hard because I’ve only entered the prize once and won it once, so I’m not sure that makes me qualified to pontificate. But I suppose step one would be to write a book long enough to enter the prize. That’s pretty hard. I managed it by carving out time around my full-time job – write for an hour in the mornings before work, write during your lunch breaks, write at the weekend, in the evenings, whenever. One breakthrough thing for me was that I decided to bang out a first draft as quickly as possible and worry about polishing it later – I prioritised words on the page, not quality of the words.

Then once you have the manuscript, be brave and get your friends and family to read it before you submit. The help I’ve got, particularly from my mother who is a formidable proofreader, was invaluable.

Curtis Brown Creative: An award-winning author’s perspective

Curtis Brown Creative offers in-person courses and online courses for students interested in writing fiction and nonfiction. Norah Myers wanted to know more from a student who successfully completed an online course. Here, she interviews author Jane Harper.

1) What motivated you to sign up for an online writing course with Curtis Brown Creative?

I wanted to take a writing course because I felt I needed some external motivation to focus seriously on writing a novel. I was attracted to the Curtis Brown Creative online course because it offered good opportunity for feedback and discussion, and a Q&A day with the agents. I was also able to take part in the online course while continuing to work full-time.

2) You wrote your first full draft of your novel in just three months. How did the course help that happen?

I’ve always worked best to deadlines, and being on the course encouraged me to concentrate on writing and made me realise that I actually could finish the first draft of a novel if I focused. I found the group feedback very useful, and the discussions with course tutor Lisa O’Donnell and the other students motivated me to continue writing and to try to improve.

3) What advice would you give anyone who wishes to take a Curtis Brown online course?

Come prepared to take your writing seriously and be willing to take the feedback on board. I learned so much from the group and one-on-one discussions, but it is only valuable if you are willing to act on it and make changes and do rewrites as necessary. It takes work to improve but it is worth it if you end up with a novel you are proud of. The online course is also a lot of fun and I really enjoyed getting to know other writers from around the world and seeing the work they produced.

4) How did you land your agent?

My debut novel The Dry won the Victorian Premier’s Award for an Unpublished Manuscript in May 2015 before I had submitted it to any agents. I very quickly had discussions with Curtis Brown as the Australian company approached me upon winning the prize, and I’d had that contact with the agency during the course.

I am now lucky enough to be represented by lead agent Clare Forster from Curtis Brown Australia, Alice Lutyens from Curtis Brown in London, along with Kate Cooper and Eva Papastratis managing foreign rights. With feedback from my agent, I worked up another, longer draft of the manuscript, and this was the one we submitted to publishers worldwide, selling first in Australia, then around the world.

5) What are your plans for your second book?

My next book is another mystery set in isolated regional Australia. It will be out in October 2017 in Australia and early in 2018 in the UK and US. It’s not a direct sequel to The Dry, but the main character, Aaron Falk, returns — a little bruised but a little wiser. The novel is similar to The Dry in tone and feel, with a few twists and turns along the way!

Jane Harper studied the Curtis Brown Creative three-month online novel writing course in October 2014. During the course she wrote her first novel, The Dry, an atmospheric thriller set in a drought-stricken Australian community.

The Dry won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript in 2015. Rights have since been sold in more than 20 territories and been optioned for a film by Reese Witherspoon and Bruna Papandrea’s production company, Pacific Standard. Jane lives in Melbourne and worked as a print journalist for 13 years on newspapers in the UK and Australia. 

Feature image credit: Nicholas Purcell

A budding author’s experience of The London Book Fair

It’s London Book Fair! A daunting prospect for rookies starting out… Bookollective co-founder Esther Harris remembers Day 1 of her first Fair as a new writer.

7:00 a.m.: Carefully lay out my LBF wardrobe: distressed jeans, heels and blazer. I’m-too-cool to-pitch-however-if-you-happen-to-be-the-editor-of my-dreams-vibe? Check. Hot stationery? Check. Copy of MS (just in case)? Check.

8:00 a.m.: Board the shuttle bus at West Ken with lots of bearded men and women in thin knit cardigans. No pushing in the queue and lots of smiles and air kissing. People in publishing very nice.

9:00 a.m.: Olympia at last. It’s HUGE. Panic. Get coffee and a cinnamon roll to calm nerves. Copy other people by standing and adopting a just-having-a-mid-book-deal-sugar-hit look.

9:30 a.m.: Feet killing me already. Flats next year.

10:00 a.m.: Pass Author HQ set up for new writers. Lots of similarly wide-eyed people pumped for a seminar on ‘Using disruption to increase discoverability’. Not exactly sure what it all meant but the speakers were very passionate and I got to doodle in my flash new notebook. All good.

11:00 a.m.: The ground floor of the main hall is where publishing goes Hollywood. It is where all the BIG houses have their stands. Larger than most London flats, raised several feet off the ground and lit up like a TV studio, they are Something Else. Lots of meetings. Lots of Mariella Frostrup types flicking through lists and talk in hushed, literary tones. I feel weak with longing.

12 noon: Go for lunch. Spend £15 on a halloumi salad and bottle of water.

2:00 p.m.: Finally screw up the courage to approach the Bonnier Zaffre desk. “Do you have an agent or is your manuscript unsolicited?” a kind receptionist asks. I whisper that it’s the latter and am steered to the submission details on their website.

2:30 p.m.: Get an Indian Head Massage from a guy giving them out in the main hall. He’s a graphic novelist. He has an agent. He said he felt tension in my neck.

3:00 p.m.: Finally… my raison d’être. An actual meeting with a nice editor I’ve been emailing. She gently explains they won’t be moving forward with my story. Crying inside but offer to do lattes my treat again next year. Tweet the F. Scott Fitzgerald quote about how he had 122 rejections before he sold a story and never give up.

4:00 p.m.: Life dreams in tatters. Weep in toilets. Momentarily give up.

6:00 p.m.: Get tipsy on warm white wine at a bloggers after-party. End up barefoot and disillusioned with publishing. Someone invites me to join a cult. Snap back: “We ARE in a cult…” Then have a light bulb moment. New story! Renewed faith in writing. Going back tomorrow. Next challenge – the Agents’ Floor #loveLBF

Esther Harris is co-founder of Bookollective. @bookollective @writer29

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