It’s been twenty YEARS since I began writing Old School Ties, and in that time, the world of publishing has changed so much – you can research agents online, enter competitions that could lead directly to a publishing deal, and increasingly, you can even submit your manuscript via email rather than face the Post Office queue.
The downside to all this internet activity is that ‘researching’ is a great way of procrastinating – and there’s a lot of less than brilliant advice out there too. So here’s my guide to the best sites – and even the odd book, too. Well, we came into this writing lark because we love books, right?
If you’re the only writer you know, it can be pretty lonely – but the internet has changed all that.
Write Words is a great online community of UK based writers. There’s a fee to join but you can try it out free for one month.
Romantic Novelists Association
When I started writing, I didn’t think the RNA – which celebrated its fiftieth birthday in 2010 – was really for me. But I realised that their definition of Romantic is very broad, taking in historical fiction, chick lit and now paranormal books. They have a great conference each year, an online community and a terrific scheme for unpublished writers offering critiques by published members. But beware – it’s always oversubscribed so you need to join in January each year.
The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators is another great organisation, if you’re writing anything from picture books to Young Adults. Again, it’s a supportive community with great lectures, events and an annual conference. You do have to join via the US site which feels a bit strange at first but works fine.
Courses and critiques
I really rate these residential courses – though I know some people struggle with the slightly hippie-ish shared rooms and shared catering vibe, as they’re not cheap. But for stunning, rural locations, and the chance to write and get drunk with other would-be writers, and be tutored by some of the very best contemporary authors and screenwriters, they’re terrific. There are grants available if you’re on a low income.
My lovely friend and published author Jacqui Lofthouse combines coaching with literary consultancy and has a range of fantastic resources to check out on her site.
Books and publishing
This is a must-read to understand the wider issues in the publishing industry – and to find out about all the latest book deals.
Books about Writing
I am a bit addicted to books on creative writing…
I’ve even written one myself – it’s called Pitch Power.
I also like these:
Wannabe a Writer by Jane Wenham-Jones
Jane is a tour de force and her two books – Wannabe a Writer and Wannabe a Writer We’ve Heard of – are funny and packed with essential information about life before and after publication.
Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maas
I think this is a great book for writers of commercial fiction – full of ideas about raising the stakes for your character and ensuring emotional engagement for the reader. Useful to read alongside Story by Robert McKee which is one of the most comprehensive guides to structure you can read: though it’s focused on the movies, it’s very relevant to novels too.
Writing the Romantic Comedy by Billy Mernit
Engagingly written and very practical – again, it’s primarily for script writers but it’s excellent if you’re writing romantic comedy novels too.
The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers
Betsy Lerner is an American book editor and her book is hard to define – she looks at everything from different personality types of authors, to the different stages of a writing career. Apart from anything else, it’s cool to buy this as an unpublished writer and to have someone ‘talk to you’ as if you are a serious, bona fide author!
From Pitch to Publication – Carole Blake
I once went to see uber-agent Carole Blake give a talk about getting published, and she was an amazing character – glamorous, opinionated and so feisty I was too scared to submit to her. But you can tell she’d guard her clients as fiercely as a tigress guards her cubs. Her book is gold dust for anyone who is about to send work out for the first time… it saves you from making terrible faux pas in your letters (like saying ‘my mum loves it’ or writing in green ink), though do check individual agents’ requirements as they don’t all want exactly the same ‘submission package’ as Carole.