Thursday, June 28, 2012

Reject letters

I suspect there are very few authors who have not felt the pain of a reject letter. And no matter how many books an author has published, it does hurt intensely to have the latest baby rejected.

Crying and eating chocolate is permitted on such an occasion. Bad-mouthing the publishing house/agent/editor who rejected the book is not. Publishing is a small industry and everyone knows everyone else. Scream at home. Throw things if that helps. Be polite in public. And “public” includes online.

Once the first agony is out of your system, read the reject letter carefully. Has advice been given? A reason for the rejection? Did you read the submissions page for that company carefully? Maybe your book is perfectly good, but was too long or too short or not the genre they’re looking for at present.

If the letter mentions something that you agree should be changed, think carefully about changing it before submitting the book elsewhere. If it didn’t fit the submissions guidelines be sure to read them much more attentively before submitting in future. If no reasons are given, just get on with your day and submit the book elsewhere, or self-publish it.
And to cheer you up, here are some famous rejection letters: 

Carrie by Stephen King
If it hadn't been for Stephen King's wife, Tabitha, the iconic image of a young girl in a prom dress covered in pig's blood would not exist. King received 30 rejections for his story of a tormented girl with telekinetic powers, and then he threw it in the trash. Tabitha fished it out. King sent his story around again and, eventually, Carrie was published. The novel became a classic in the horror genre and has enjoyed film and TV adaptations as well. Sometimes all it takes is a little encouragement from someone who believes in you.

Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

The only book that Margaret Mitchell ever published, Gone With the Wind won her a Pulitzer Prize in 1937. The story of Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler, set in the South during the Civil War, was rejected by 38 publishers before it was printed. The 1939 movie made of Mitchell's love story, which starred Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh, is the highest grossing Hollywood film of all time (adjusted for inflation).

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle

The publishing house of Farrar, Straus and Giroux was smart enough to recognize the genius in L'Engle's tale for people of all ages. Published in 1962, the story was awarded the prestigious Newbery Medal the following year. Wrinkle remains one of the best-selling children's books of all time, and the story of precocious children and the magical world they discover was adapted for television in 2001. Still, L'Engle amassed 26 rejections before this success came her way.

Helen Woodall

Helen is available to line edit and/ or content edit fiction and non-fiction. Rates on application.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Don’t be scared by R&R letters

Most authors and aspiring authors have heard horror stories about Revise and Resubmit letters. And yes, authors have obediently spent weeks crying over their precious manuscript while deleting a character or theme and rewriting to a publishing house or editor or agent’s specifications, only to have the book rejected anyway.
When you get an R&R letter stop and think.
Read the letter carefully.
What is being asked of you? Is it really such a major change? Or is it more cutting out some dead wood, tightening the plot, making your book sharper, better, more saleable?
Ask yourself, “Do I really want to work with this publisher/agent/editor?”
If the answer to these questions is yes, suck it up and revise the book. But keep the original. Do the revisions on a new copy so if the manuscript is still rejected you still have your original book to submit elsewhere, or self publish.
Often the changes requested are not all that major. It’s more the publisher can see this is a good book, but unless you straighten out those head-banging POV changes (or whatever they’ve mentioned) their editors won’t want to work on the book with you. Effectively you have a foot in the door with this company. Act professionally, present your book properly, and you’re in. Pout and throw a temper tantrum and you’re out.
Your choice.
A busy editor has taken the time to explain why they’ve not contracted your book. Even if they’ve hurt your feelings don’t disregard their advice. It’s totally your decision whether or not to change your book. It’s your book. But what this editor has said may be just the information you need to go from aspiring to published.

Helen Woodall

Helen is available to line edit and/ or content edit fiction and non-fiction. Rates on application.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Flawed heroines are fine

Today I want to reassure writers and aspiring writers that it’s okay for heroines and heroes to be flawed. By flawed, I don’t mean so damaged by previous backstory and adversity they’ll need counseling for the rest of their lives. But everyone has problems, worries, failings. These are normal and normal is okay in a book. The reason readers resonate with a book is when they see a flawed person overcoming adversity to save the world/solve the problem/ gain their happily ever after.
Nothing is more romantic to a reader than a hero who doesn’t see the heroine’s flabby thighs, but her sparkling personality. Who doesn’t notice her tendency to stumble in her stilettos, but does notice her love and care for plants/animals/children.
Much can be forgiven the hero who loves and cherishes the heroine and puts her first, caring for her as together they achieve whatever is needed.
The days when all heroines were stunningly beautiful—and usually blue eyed blondes or redheads with jade eyes—have gone. Today’s heroines are all sizes and shapes. What they have in common is tenacity, spirit, and a can-do attitude that endears them to the hero.
Helen Woodall
Helen is available to line edit and/ or content edit fiction and non-fiction. Rates on application.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

On the anniversary of the death of the Oxford comma…

Back on 29 June 2011, the University of Oxford Writing and Style Guide decided that writers should, “as a general rule”, avoid using the Oxford comma. Have you missed the good, old-fashioned serial comma at all?
Here’s an explanation from the style guide: “As a general rule, do not use the serial/Oxford comma: so write ‘a, b and c’ not ‘a, b, and c’. But when a comma would assist in the meaning of the sentence or helps to resolve ambiguity, it can be used – especially where one of the items in the list is already joined by ‘and’ [for example]: They had a choice between croissants, bacon and eggs, and muesli.”
Vampire Weekend has even made a (NSFW) “Oxford Comma” video as you ponder the rule change. (
But although I have Googled far and wide, I find editors, journalists and writers don’t miss it at all. In fact most newspapers and popular fiction killed it off long ago.
But just in case anyone cares…

Helen Woodall
Helen is available to line edit and/ or content edit fiction and non-fiction. Rates on application.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

How to write a book

There is only one way to write a book. It’s incredibly simple but also incredibly hard. It can be summed up as BICFOK.
Butt In Chair Fingers On Keyboard.
Sure you need to start with some kind of idea/plan/wish/plot/characters. But it doesn’t need to be a fully plotted summary of every scene. Some writers cope better with an outline, even quite a detailed chapter summary. Other authors find an outline stifles their imagination, or that their characters just ignore them and do whatever they please anyway.
Anyone serious about writing a book will find out quite quickly what works best for them, just as some writers like silence and others can’t write without music playing on their ear-buds, or the television blaring in the background.
The important thing is to sit down and write. Just write. Don’t try to get every sentence perfect. Don’t read and reread and edit and re-edit what you’ve already written, or you risk removing the soul and passion from it, and ending up with perfectly polished platitudes no one wants to read.
Write the words. Get it down on file. Keep writing while the words are flowing. Later you can polish it, edit it. You certainly need to do that before you send it off to an agent/editor/publisher, but first get the words down. Just WRITE.
And don’t tell me you can’t write because you have six kids under the age of four, or work for the boss from hell who thinks he owns your soul. If you really want to write a book you’ll find some time, even if it’s only half an hour a day, or an hour on the weekend. Every line, every paragraph you get down, brings you a sentence, a paragraph, a scene closer to achieving your dream of writing a book.
Take a tip from a company that shall remain nameless and just do it. BICFOK and write. 

Helen Woodall

Helen is available to line edit and/ or content edit fiction and non-fiction. Rates on application.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Word count: This book is supposed to be how many words?

At some time or other most authors struggle with word count. The story has to contain a certain amount of plot, enough characterization that readers understand the motives of the characters and find them likeable, and, if it’s a romance novel, a strong chemical relationship between the main characters. For an erotic novel this means the couple needs to get up close and personal with each other. For a mainstream novel it may be more glances across a room and facial expressions. But all of the above must be in the word count, clearly and demonstrably.
Sooner or later most authors discover their short novel is becoming very long, or that their category-length novel is all finished with 10,000 words still needing to be written. This is where the critical eye of an editor can be useful. Editors are trained to notice where plot threads remain unfulfilled or more characterization, more back story could be added. Or another action scene.
They can also point out scenes that are just padding. Nice to read but that don’t move the story forward at all and could be deleted. If the book is much, much too long it may be possible to cut it into two short stories.
Or maybe the book is fine the way it is, and the author should just submit it to their publisher but not for that submission call, or to a different publisher who prefers the length the book ended up.
The worst possible response is for the author to try to wrangle a perfectly good book into an obviously wrong-for-it word count.

Helen Woodall

Helen is available to line edit and/ or content edit fiction and non-fiction. Rates on application.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

For all aspiring and struggling authors

There’s a four lettered word
As offensive as any
It holds back the few
Puts a stop to the many.
You can’t climb that mountain
You can’t cross the sea
You can’t become anything you want to be.
He can’t hit a century
They can’t find a cure.
She can’t think about leaving or searching for more.
Because Can’t is a word with a habit of stopping
The ebb and the flow of ideas
It keeps dropping
itself where we know in our hearts it’s not needed
And saying “don’t go” when we could have succeeded.
But those four little letters
That end with a T
They can change in an instant
When shortened to three.
We can take off the T
We can do it today
We can move forward not back
We can find our own way.
We can build we can run
We can follow the sun
We can push we can pull
We can say I’m someone
Who refuses to believe
That life can’t be better
With the removal of one
Insignificant letter.