Issue #117

Free Writers' Newsletter

Dec 28, 2012  



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Ever wondered how a book gets published?
By Helen Bolton
Assistant Editor, Avon, HarperCollins

Helen Bolton, editor of the United Kingdom's No.1 bestselling ebook over this Christmas, You Had Me At Hello, offers fwn readers an insight into the publishing process at a major international publisher.

I count myself as one of the luckiest people around. I am an editor at HarperCollins Publishers, working on one of its fiction imprints, Avon. Iíve been here for the past four years, but to this day, as I walk up the steps into our office every morning, I look up at the HarperCollins sign over the door and feel a familiar buzz of excitement: the joy of being able to work on books day in, day out for a living.

I know this bookish excitement is something that many people share, and so it was with this in mind that I decided to open up the doors here at HarperCollins, and offer a sneak peek via YouTube into what it takes to publish our books. Over the course of a year, I charted what it takes for us to publish one of our books. To star, I chose a debut author of mine, Mhairi McFarlane, who has written the most incredible first novel, You Had Me At Hello. Starting with Mhairi writing the novel and finishing with the books rolling off the press at the end of the process, this is a real insight into our work here – and all in just three minutes flat! To view the video, click here.

When I reveal that I work in publishing, I am so often asked about how the process happens, or indeed, how someone can get their book published. As an editor, I have manuscripts submitted to me each week via literary agents. As you might imagine, with so many arriving weekly, it takes a lot for a novel to really stand out.

Itís virtually impossible to read everything that lands on my desk, so as a rule of thumb, I read the first 100 pages of a manuscript, before deciding whether it is or isnít for us. If it looks like it has potential, Iíll then read to the end and share it with the rest of the team. So you can see just how important to get the opening of a novel just right. We read 100 pages because thatís approximately the length of time it will take to turn a reader on or off – often taking even less time than that.

For a book to make an impression, itís all about the elevator pitch. We look for a strong concept that drives the book – one that we can pitch in a single soundbite. As soon as You Had Me At Hello landed on my desk, I knew I was onto a winner. Immediately, the tagline "what happens when the one that got away comes back?" came to mind, and this has stuck with the book ever since. As a tagline, itís simple, to the point, and you immediately know whatís at the very heart of the novel. Remember this, because however brilliant your novel may be, if a reader doesnít understand what itís about then your book will be left languishing on the shelf.


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Of course, for a book to have potential I need to love it. After all, by the time the editing process is over I might have read the book up to eight times. It also needs to make sound commercial sense. The book industry is an increasingly tough nut to crack, so I am on the lookout for novels that give the market what they want – whether they follow a trend weíre currently seeing, or whether they bring a new twist to an old favourite.

It also has to fit the list that I work on. One of the most frustrating things for me as an editor is finding a book that I love, and then not being able to take it on. This may be because itís not the sort of book we take on at Avon, or perhaps because itís not something thatís working in the market at the present moment. But donít be disheartened if you ever get this sort of feedback from an editor – your time will come.

Of course, all of this is important because at the end of the day, Iím not the one who makes the final decision to take on an author or not; that lies with the people who hold the purse strings. So I have to pitch the book and author to them. Itís at this point that Iíll get a real grilling: whatís so great about the book? Why do I think it will work? Who are its main competitors in the market? What vision do I have for the book – for the author, for the artwork and for the following books? And so on. Itís quite an interview.

But it makes it all worthwhile once I finally get my hands on the book and start to work. Itís then that I will work alongside an author to make the novel the best it can possibly be. Over the course of a year we work closely to get it into the best possible shape, giving it a title, cover, shoutline, blurb, and everything else thatís key to turning it from a manuscript into a book.

Itís a long process, and thereís no time thatís more nerve-wracking than when youíre waiting for those first sales figures to come in. But after all that itís an unbelievable feeling when it all pays off – as has happened only this week with You Had Me At Hello. Itís just been announced that itís the Christmas number 1 ebook in the United Kingdom, and both myself and the author Mhairi couldnít have hoped for better news to end 2012. This is exactly what I dream of the day that I first see a manuscript, and know that something quite incredible has just landed on my desk.



Able Muse contests open to submissions

The Able Muse Write Prize (for poetry and flash fiction) and the Able Muse Book Award (for poetry manuscripts) are now open to submissions. 

Prizes include $500 for first place in the poetry and flash fiction competition, and $1,000 for the writer of the winning poetry manuscript, plus publication for all winners.

The deadlines for entries are February 15, 2013, and March 31, 2013, respectively.

For more details, or to enter, go to 

For the details of over 100 other writing competitions, click here


Click here for great value writing classes!


New literary agent, publisher, and magazine listings

A selection of the new publisher and magazine listings added to the databases in December:


New Magazine Listing

Publishes: Fiction; Nonfiction; Poetry;
Areas include: Short Stories;
Markets: Adult;
Preferred styles: Literary

Accepts submissions by email only. Send 3-5 poems, a single piece of fiction or creative nonfiction up to 2,500 words, or up to three flash fictions, in a single file as an attachment, or in the body of an email. 


New Publisher Listing

Publishes: Fiction;
Areas include: Drama; Short Stories;
Markets: Adult

Accepts submissions for dramatic literature via literary agents only. No agent is required for submissions of short stories for anthologies. See submissions section of website for current calls and details on submitting. 


New Publisher Listing

Publishes: Fiction; Nonfiction; Poetry;
Areas include: Autobiography; Literature; Short Stories; Translations;
Markets: Adult;
Preferred styles: Literary

Small press publishing literary works by writers from British, Caribbean, and Latin American literary traditions, including short story anthologies, poetry, novels, autobiographical work, and translations into English. 


New Magazine Listing

Publishes: Essays; Fiction; Nonfiction; Poetry; Reviews;
Areas include: Literature;
Markets: Adult;
Preferred styles: Contemporary; Literary

Accepts submissions by email only. Send all submissions as MS Word, RTF, or PDF file attachments. No postal submissions. Closed to submissions in June, July, August, and December. See website for full guidelines. 


New Publisher Listing

Publishes: Fiction; Nonfiction;
Areas include: Arts; Crime; Culture; Erotic; Health; Horror; Lifestyle; Mystery; Philosophy; Self-Help; Spiritual;
Markets: Adult

Send query by post or by email. May also include synopsis. See website for full guidelines, and for examples of the kind of material published. 

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Articles from around the web this month

Amazon Bans Authors From Writing Reviews - Forbes

I think I can see why theyíve done this, banned authors from reviewing other books in the same genre they work in, but it does sound like a very bad decision by Amazon here. For the people who actually know whether a book is any good or not do tend to be those very same authors already working in the genre.

[To read the full article, click here]



How to Edit Your Own Writing Ľ  

Like most newspaper reporters, I got into the biz because a) I love writing and b) I'm pretty good at it. But it's a sobering profession. You file your masterpiece, only to find your editor thinks it's two dozen "tinks" shy of publishable. Repeat this scenario a couple hundred times, and you'll find you've grown some thick skin. You've also gotten pretty darn good at self-editing. So, I'm here to impart some wisdom on the art of quickly perfecting your own workóhow to hone, trim, and morph clumsy words and phrases into a clear, concise message that will wow your audience. 

[To read the full article, click here]



The rise of 'steamies': British publishers get wise to American craze for teen erotic fiction Ľ  

ďI cry out as a sweet explosion spreads from between my legs throughout my body, and as I do his mouth finds mine.Ē Welcome to the world of ďsteamiesĒ - a new erotically-charged genre of fiction for teenagers that has been described as ďJudy Blume for the Fifty Shades of Grey generationĒ.

[To read the full article, click here]




4 Ways To Beat Writer Self-Sabotage Ľ  

Writers are faced with the task of completing pieces of poetry and prose with not much to guide them but raw talent and an accurate inner compass for what is ďfinishedĒ and what still needs work. So when that inner compass starts to waver, many writers doubt their talent instead of realigning the compass. The following list of self-sabotage scenarios and solutions will help you evaluate your inner struggle with clear eyes so you can cancel your pity party and get back on the writing horse. 

[To read the full article, click here]


On deciding whether to write under a pseudonym Ľ  

I was recently commissioned to write erotic fiction in the vein of Fifty Shades of Grey for Cosmopolitan Magazine. I know, I know, somebody bring that bandwagon around so we can all hop on. I thought quite hard and then accepted the job, in the hopes that erotica might be a gateway drug for some magazine readers, leading them to other kinds of fiction, preferably the type that I do usually write. 

[To read the full article, click here]


A Shining Example on How Not to Write a Novel? Ľ  

Stephen King's On Writing is often quoted as being the essential book for would be authors to read before setting out on their virgin manuscript. It's good fun too, with the first half comprising a very amusing biography before the second half tells you all the dos and don'ts of writing a book. 

[To read the full article, click here]


Why are novelists turning to co-authors? Ľ  

Best-selling author Wilbur Smith signed a six-book deal with publisher HarperCollins last week for a reported £15m. But it was also revealed that some of the books are to be written with the help of "carefully selected co-authors", so how common is it for writers to hire them?

[To read the full article, click here]


Supporting Independent Publishers Ľ  

Since the announcement in October that Random House and Penguin Publishers would merge there have been further rumours of other major publishers joining forces. Bucking this trend, are the smaller, independent presses who continue to publish exciting new authors or established names that the bigger conglomerates think are no longer financially viable. But publishing quality literature and non-fiction is an expensive venture and these smaller presses have had to think creatively and find innovative ways to survive. 

[To read the full article, click here]


Michael Morpurgo's top writing tips Ľ  

Michael Morpurgo, former children's laureate, author of more than 120 books, including War Horse, and judge of the Wicked young writers' award, offers his top advice for writers of all ages.

[To read the full article, click here]


Sex tips for writers Ľ  

I started ruminating about sex writing while thinking about the annual Bad Sex awards Ė won this year by the novelist Nancy Huston for Infrared. Most sex writing is either soft-focus romance, (like those fuzzy movies you can rent in hotel rooms), utterly elided ("they read no more that night ... ") or hardcore one-handed reading, designed more as a substitute for sex than a realistic description of sex, which is usually comic, following Henri Bergson's definition of comedy as something that occurs when the body fails the spirit. Of course "bad sex" writing is funny because the anatomical vocabulary of conventional sex writing is hackneyed, impossible to visualise because full of ludicrously mixed metaphors, stale, and given to bragging.

[To read the full article, click here]


UK literary agency partners exclusively with Amazon to break authors into US Ľ  

U.K. literary agency Curtis Brown will publish over 200 titles exclusively through Amazon in a program designed to break U.K. authors into the U.S. market. Curtis Brown is working with Amazon ďWhite Glove,Ē a little-known service aimed at literary agents.

[To read the full article, click here]


A new home for the short story Ľ  

Letís imagine that you have aspirations to write fiction and have never written before. You decide to write a short story, because writing a novel straight away is too daunting, and you write and write and write and work hard at it and revise your work and write some more, and once you have arrived at something that you feel confident is finished you feel ready to send it out into the world.

[To read the full article, click here]


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