I'll be blogging at authorsoundrelations again on 14th April, and would love to see you there!

Monday, 14 April 2014

Three Top Tips for Getting Your Writing Done...

Distracted? Who, me? 

1. Enjoy yourself and your work, and it'll be reflected on the page. If you’re wrapped up in your characters and can’t wait to find out how their story unfolds, then it will show in your work. Indulge yourself in your imaginary people and their fictional landscape. Those powerful feelings will travel from your brain, all the way down to your writing (or typing!) fingers.  To paraphrase the old quote: write, and they will read–but only if they get swept up in your enthusiasm.  You’ll know when you’ve found the right mix of characters and plot. The writing won’t feel like work!

2. I love using  #1k1hr on Twitter to join forces with other writers who need the motivation of writing to a deadline. It’s really useful to be part of that supportive online community, but like fire, the internet is a great servant but a terrible master. If you want to produce a reasonable amount of quality work, you’ll have to find some way to stay off-line for long periods.  Who hasn’t gone online for a few minutes to check their emails, only to then lose hours to WILFing (What Was I Looking For?) as Susan Maushart put it. Read her book “The Winter of Our Disconnect” to discover that there really is life on the other side of the screen.  

3. Like it or not, whether they’re going to be self-published, emailed to an agent or publisher, or sent out conventionally by post, manuscripts have to be put up on a screen eventually.  Writing things out longhand then transcribing means you get an extra look at your work as it goes through the process. That’s useful, but it takes more time than simply tapping away at a keyboard from the start. If you’d rather type than write out in longhand but get easily distracted by the internet, try a Neo. It’s a simple keyboard with a basic memory–that’s all. No facility for going online means no distractions (well, not from that direction, anyway!). When you finish your writing session, you just upload your work into your current WIP document. 

If you've enjoyed these tips, you can find more at my website, What's your most useful tip for getting the writing done? 

Monday, 7 April 2014

Do You Need A Literary Agent?

By Antonio Litterio

The obvious answer to that question is–no.Writers have so many options open to them now, the thought of sacrificing 15% or so of your hard-won earnings to a literary agent is enough to send everybody rushing off to do it all themselves. To date, I've sold three million novels worldwide, hundreds of non-fiction articles and short stories to magazines–and all without an agent. 

But wait a minute. Most people fit their writing work in around their day job.If your aim is publication, once you've finished a book, the business of selling it must begin. Without an agent, you'll be spending a lot of time online, checking out which publishers are buying in your genre. You'll be reading the type of books on their lists, and targetting your submissions. If you follow my tip here and start on your next book straight away, all this research will eat into the time you should be spending on your writing. There are only so many hours in the day.  Which would you rather do - write, or spend your precious free time trawling the net in the name of research, and getting distracted all the way by pictures of cute kitties hazzing this or that(we've all been there)!

This is where literary agents earn their keep. They lift a lot of the non-writing stuff off your shoulders. They've got the inside track on current market trends, and they have ready-made networks. A lot of writers recoil from phrases like that.  This is why agents are vital. They know whose lists are closed, and who's buying, and most important of all, exactly what those buyers are looking for. Publishers use literary agents as a shortcut. If an agent thinks your work is worth showing around, it's already been through one roguing process. Think of it as first-stage quality control. When someone who knows the business thinks the mechanics of your work are worth forwarding, a publisher may be more inclined to check out the economics of your project.
Out Now
Once a publisher says yes, the horse-trading starts. Most writers are loners. A certain amount of introversion goes with the job. Can you honestly say you'd feel happy negotiating the best terms for your contract, if you've never done it before? Professional bodies such as The Society of Authors will vet contracts for you if you're a member, but that will take time to arrange. And if you've got no experience in the craft, can you really see yourself getting the best deal over publicity arrangements, tour dates, extending deadlines when necessary and sorting out foreign editions and rights? Really?

Writing is a lonely business. A good agent will be on your side. That’s a great feeling. It takes the pressure off, knowing that someone is taking care of business. It gives you the chance to get the "creative" back into your "creative writing". 

To return to what I wrote at the beginning: yes, I might have sold three million books without the benefit of an agent. But how many more books would I have actually managed to write if I'd had an expert on hand to help me target my work and do all the drudgery, while I got on with the fun stuff?

Have you got an agent? What are your experiences?

Thursday, 3 April 2014

RNA Creative Writing Study Day, Hereford, 31st March 2014

Hard At Work...
In 2013, The Romantic Novelists' Association announced a generous donation toward  all its local groups. I'm a member of the RNA's Marcher Chapter, and we decided to put the money toward the hire of a room at The Courtyard, Hereford. The intention was to have a critique session. As it would be held so close to April 1st, the day was called  "Be A Fool For Love".

The prospect of spending a whole day with like-minded people talking about writing was irresistible, but we wanted to show we'd taken the RNA's  aims of promoting romantic fiction and encouraging good writing to heart. One month before the workshop, everyone emailed a ten-page sample of their current work in progress to organizer Ann Ankers. Ann collated them into a document which was then circulated among the group. The extracts were anonymous and we did a critique of every one, including our own. That way, we could make our comments without prejudice and still remain anonymous on the day.

Marilyn and Ann
Nobody likes the idea that their precious literary baby might be torn to shreds in a gladiatorial arena, so Historical novelist Joanna Maitland provided some invaluable advice beforehand. She advised that each critique should contain "three stars and a wish"–that is, highlight plenty of good points for every query or suggestion for improvement you make. This worked really well.

On the day, there were seven of us: Fay Wentworth, Georgia Hill, Christina Courtenay (fresh from winning the RNA's Historical Novel of the Year Award for The Gilded Fan), Joanna Maitland, Marilyn Rodwell, me and organizer Ann Ankers. Ann also acted as our chairwoman and did an excellent job. She  kept the discussions moving, and made sure the day ran to schedule.

Fay, Georgia, Christina and Joanna
We were treated like royalty by the hardworking staff of The Courtyard. Regular refreshments (including delicious home-made biscuits) and a fantastic lunch was included in the price, and we worked so hard the time flew by. A photographer from Herefordshire and Wye Valley Life came to record the event. This was organised byChristina Courtenay. That gave me pause for thought. As I'd played an April Fool joke on my DD that morning, when a guy tapped at the door and asked for "Christina" I thought for an awful moment  DD had sent a male stripper  to our meeting as revenge. Thank goodness I was wrong!

We all had an amazing day. I learned a lot, and can't wait until we can do it all again.

Have you attended a workshop? What was the most useful thing you learned?

Monday, 31 March 2014

Three Top Tips For When You Think You've Finished Writing...

By Antonio Litterio

1. BE PREPARED: live in hope of publication, and never stop writing. Before you send anything out, make sure you’re well ahead with your next book. When I first started writing fiction I didn’t do this, and I suffered for it. I went back to writing non-fiction instead, which was paying my bills at the time. When my first novel was accepted by a major publisher, they assumed I was already working on the follow-up, and wanted it as soon as possible. That meant I had to write day and night to produce Book Two. I barely had time to eat, much less sleep, or talk to anyone! Never let this happen to you. Always have another book of a similar style on the stocks. 

2. USE A BETA READER - and the emphasis here is on the word “reader”. Editors know what sells and they can perfect your grammar and layout, but someone who can report honestly on whether it swept them away - or how you can make sure your readers are swept away  - is invaluable. You can track down professional beta readers and editors in the small ads of writing magazines. Alternatively, join a creative writing group, and ask for recommendations. Word of mouth is always the best way, and sometimes tutors will offer reading as a service, for an extra fee. Whoever you get to read your work, make sure you can trust them to offer constructive criticism rather than simply telling you what you want to hear. It's better to find out the truth sooner, rather than later. 

3. LET IT BREW: you need time to think before you print, or hit "send".  Once your perfect manuscript has been made better still by the help of a beta reader and by your careful (but ruthless) revisions, let it sit for a while before you send it out. Put it aside. Forget about it. Ideally, get right away from your keyboard. Spend time doing activities that have nothing to do with writing. Ok, I'll let you do a bit of thinking about Book Two, but that's all. Then, after you’ve been away from your manuscript for a while, read it straight through from beginning to end. You'll be looking at it with fresh eyes. If you still think you're on to a winner, that's the time to send it out. 

My next Top Tips blog will discuss whether it's better to send straight to a publisher, or get an agent first. To make sure you don't miss it, sign up using the subscription box above. 

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Revised Review: Book Two in the Liveship Traders Trilogy, "The Mad Ship"

In my review of Ship of Magic (Book #1 in the Liveship Traders series), I explained how DD had introduced me to the work of Robin Hobb when I was keen to do some reading outside my ususal favourite genres. I grew to like that book more as I read further into it, and was keen to start this second book in the trilogy. I loathed spoilt brat Malta in Book 1. However, i n Book Two, she develops a maturity and depth of character that had me cheering for her, right to the bitter end. She's a fighter, and is on the way to becoming one of my favourite literary heroines. The moment when she recognises herself  in her loathsome travelling companions is priceless. It's matched when Malta finds herself rebuking them in exactly the way her grandmother tried to reason with her, back in Malta's good old, bad old days. Every parent will have sympathised with Ronica at that time. When Malta is forced to experience what her Grandmother must have felt when faced with a lazy, truculent wastrel, it's a clever use of character development.

There was only one thing about this book I didn't like. That's not bad for a volume running to 906 pages, but this failing in the text irritated me so much it pulled me right out of the reading experience whenever I encountered it. I lost count of the number of times the word "muck" cropped up. On pages 673/4 in particular, it appears no fewer than 6 times. Now, characters spend a lot of time burrowing in, and escaping from, well...colloids of dirt. There's no escaping the substance, but Robin Hobb seems to have only one word for the stuff. In my ancient Thesaurus, there are a total of fourteen alternatives to the word "muck". Not all would work in the context of this book, but surely replacing the word with mud, sludge, slime, slop, ooze and mire would bring a bit of variety to the text. I know all about repeating a word for dramatic effect, and so - in another context -  does Ms Robb. This is apparent from the amazingly beautiful effect created by the repetition of the word memory and memories when Malta is finding her way thrugh the underground caverns, but that isn't what's happening here, with "muck". All the constant overuse of the word does is to convey the author's personal revulsion in a way that broke the spell, distanced me from the fictional world and tied me far too personally in to Ms Robb's mind.
If the Liveship Traders hasn't already run to a second edition, could this be addressed in future printings?
That's my only complaint, and I'm looking forward to reading the final book in this trilogy.

Monday, 17 March 2014

The Two Things Every Business Needs...

By Antonio Litterio
Today’s blog has been provoked by a case I saw online yesterday. It has implications for everyone - not just writers -  who trades in either goods or services, whether on line or through stores. 
A woman who started a small printing-press and was then beset by dreadful personal problems found herself unable to pay her creditors.  I’ll come to the details of that disaster later but first, let's cut to the chase. In twenty years of self-employment I’ve seen a lot of companies and individuals rise, and sometimes fall. I’ve noticed that the successful ones have at least two things in common. They’re always ready to face what isn’t working, whether they’re small businesses or a sole-trader. And when they’re on a roll - especially when they’re on a roll - they’re always anticipating trouble. 

1. FACE WHAT ISN’T WORKING: Thousands of people start businesses on their kitchen tables, with a little know-how and less money. That’s the good news: the bad news is, most of them never get any further than that. Of the small businesses that actually get off the ground, one in three will fail in their first three years.  (Quoted from The Times 100 Business Case Studies). While that means two-thirds survive, there’s a big difference between surviving, and being a success. Yes, sayings such as: “Somebody who never made a mistake never made anything”and “Fall down six times, get up seven” are the mottoes of true entrepreneurs, but there are limits. Sensible people find out what those limits are, before investing too much time or money. 

If you have a dream, do the research, get professional advice, make a business plan then get out there and try to make it a reality. If you complain that’ll take too long and cost too much, think again. Would you rather spend a large amount on qualified, professional help now, or a vast fortune on legal teams and penalty fees later, when things go wrong? It’s painful, but think of it as insurance. Talking of which...

2. ALWAYS ANTICIPATE TROUBLE: before you make any moves toward starting your own business, have a Plan B for every eventuality, and a fighting fund of at least three months’ salary, and preferably a lot more.  How would you manage if world events meant demand for your product fell off a cliff? Remember the  horse-meat scandal.  Big food producers have contingency plans, multiple streams of income and staff employed specifically to firefight bad publicity like that. If your start-up business produced only tiny quantities of the finest hand-made beef lasagne, you’d have been be floored.  In cases like that, mud sticks to the innocent as well as the guilty. 

If roadworks, floods or bad publicity turned your customers away, how long could you last? What would happen if you couldn’t work through illness, divorce, or other catastrophe? Sudden changes in your childcare arrangements, or the need to become a carer for a partner or parent? These things happen, and more often than you might think. Make sure you have adequate insurance. 

Have a proper business account, keep detailed records and never, never, never dip into it to pay personal bills. Whenever and whatever monies you get paid, immediately put at least half into a separate account and don’t touch it. At all. That’s to pay your tax, and other dues. Fifty percent seems high, but once all your bills have been paid any excess can go toward the fees of a good accountant. Financial help can save you money in the long run, and best of all, they’ll keep you on the right side of the tax people. You definitely do not want to fall foul of them.

So remember: in business as in life, reality can be cruel but ignoring it leads to disaster. And if you assume everything will cost three times as much, and take four times as long, you’ll be delighted when (or rather, if!) it comes in on time, and on budget. 

I’m not in a position to comment on the circumstance of the original case that provoked this blog, but here’s the link so you can make up your own mind–

I just hope it can be resolved amicably.

I’m Christina Hollis, and I write both contemporary and historical fiction - when I’m not cooking, gardening or beekeeping. You can catch up with me Twitter and Facebook, see a full list of my published books at and get details of my latest release, Jewel Under Siege, here.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Three Top Tips - How To Give Your Writing Appeal...

By Antonio Litterio
Last week, I told you that underestimating the intelligence of your audience is a bad idea. Whether they dropped out at 14 or if they're looking at their doctorate in the rear-view mirror, everyone knows something about the human condition, even if their field of experience is only a narrow strip. If we're talking of qualifications for writing or reading fiction, however fantastical the subject you need to germinate it from a grain of reality. Don’t give your landlord-evading private eye a Bugatti Veyron to drive, unless he’s stolen it. Even then, at 3 miles per gallon, he’d better take a Saturday job if the bailiffs aren't going to be winching it onto a truck. And that’s before he’s paid for the insurance.

Aways do your research, but leave them wanting more. Drip feed information. Coax them to keep turning the pages by revealing only a little bit of what they want to know. Be a literary fan-dancer, but like the best burlesques, know how much to give, and when. Lead your reader up a blind alley or two, distract them with the occasional red herring but give them the pleasure of exposing the odd secret along the way as well. Don't frustrate them too often, or for too long. When there are so many real-life distractions both on-and-off line, there's a balancing act to be managed between suspense and revelation. Keep it fresh to keep them reading.

One cliche that no tip-sheet can avoid is "write what you know". It works. You’re an expert on at least one thing - your own experiences. That’s a rich seam to mine, so get digging.  That doesn’t mean you should regurgitate your life story and nothing else ad nauseum, though. Did Shakespeare murder his wife over a pocket-handkerchief? Did Thomas Hardy hang children from clothes hooks? No, but they used their own experiences of human nature, jealousy and misery to colour their inventions. people are people the world over, and they've been like that down all the centuries. Powerful emotions  drove Cain to kill Abel and King David to send Uriah the Hittite away to war, and they've throbbed through the veins of thousands since then. Find your story, and make it speak to everyone.

I write both contemporary and historical fiction - when I’m not cooking, gardening or beekeeping. You can catch up with me on Twitter and Facebook, see a full list of my published books at and get full details of my latest release, Jewel Under Siege, here.