Agent Questions, Vol. 8: The Secret to Getting Published by Jennifer Haskin

Jennifer Haskin

What’s the number one thing I can do to get published? What’s your best piece of advice?

Authors ask these two questions the most. Interestingly enough, they have the same long answer. But in short: Strength. Have you heard the words “strong” manuscript yet? If you’re a writer, you will. Why? That’s what agents look for. I’m coining the phrase. A strong manuscript is one with good use of language, good sentence structure, no plot holes, a complete manuscript, it has a clear beginning with rising action to a climax and resolution, a strong voice (another post), showing action, not telling the reader things they’d rather “see,” and above all, they need a great concept.

Not just a good one. Agents get hundreds of good books that come close, but are not quite ready. “Good” is a debatable and subjective term; “great” means simply better than “good.” You can’t know what every agent’s stance and tolerance level is. Just to be sure, make yours as great as you can.

Agents are looking for a book that is either ready to publish, or one revision away from publishing. So, edits never hurt. Use your beta readers. If you need an editor, NOW is the time. The agent doesn’t have time to sign you and then wait for your manuscript to be edited to greatness. It needs to be there already for the agent’s signature. They will have edits for you right away, and the publisher may do multiple rounds of edits for/with you.

Hire the independent editor before querying the agent. Do all you can to make sure that your manuscript is ready to go, from the internal killer sentences, to the format of your manuscript. Look here for a checklist of items for completing your publish-ready manuscript:

You are the one who makes your manuscript a dynamic story. When you have a strong manuscript, it will capture an agent. That’s your job. The agent will help you find the right publisher and negotiate the contract. But what you have at the starting gate will determine the outcome of your “race” to the finish line.

Your query (How to Write a Query) is next; it is mostly about communicating your concept to agents, and how to show your level of professionalism, and how well you follow directions. Agents do reject on queries alone sometimes due to their volume, so it’s always good to have yours look professional, it gives the appearance of experience and forethought. This is a business and your query is your book’s resume, so treat it as such.

The most important piece of advice is this: make sure your book is different. Every idea has been written at least twice. Trust me, it has. No “but’s.” I have typed this a lot this week. Every author, yes, I am one, wants to believe that their story idea is completely unique because, “I have never heard it before and the whole thing came right out of my brain, word by word, which by definition makes it unique.” Right? Umm…no. That’s not what I’m talking about. That idea you had, someone else has already had it, written it, edited it, queried it, signed it, pitched it, and gotten it published. Sorry, but you’re late to the party. Actually, it probably happened before you were born. People have been writing stories since the dawn of time.

That’s the trick with writing. Find the most unique combination of ideas to string together in the most interesting of ways and present it to the world. This is your challenge.

Publishers want something “different,” something new and fresh. Yes, “regular” and “tropey” books make publishing deals, too. A lot are self-published or taken by small presses. That’s not to say they are bad. They all have readers. However, if your goal is to be traditionally published by one of the Top 5 Houses or their imprints, you are going to have to look for something new. Try two ideas together that you wouldn’t expect.

Cinder (Marissa Meyer)-a Cinderella retelling with cyborgs in space; Throne of Glass (Sarah J Maas)- a girl assassin who happens to be a fae queen; Twilight (Stephanie Meyer)-a vampire that can’t go into the sun because he sparkles; Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins)- a child killing-game; Angelfall (Susan Ee)- Angels that hate and kill humans, or classic stories and retellings, with a surprise twist. One of my clients has a book about Peter Pan in space opera form. Now, that sounds intriguing.

Some people cannot write within set parameters and insist on writing only what they feel passionate about. My suggestion is to write that book. It’s a learning experience. But when you are brainstorming your next story, think about your theme and do some research on what publishers are looking for. What’s the market looking for? Get a few ideas from those parameters. By the time your story comes out, it may not be on trend… but it might be. Either way, you’ve got a new book to be passionate about, to stand behind. One of the best ways to figure out what the industry wants is to look at what agents are asking for.

A site I send everyone to is: There you enter your genre and search for agents or editors (these are acquiring editors for publishers) who are wishing for just what you are writing. But occasionally on their wish lists, there are subjects that you notice are a common theme. Those are especially of notice. Other times, their wish lists have specific ideas. Write one of those stories, and you already know an agent you’ll want to query when you’re ready. Here are a few on there today:

  • Looking for queer gang ensemble casts in any YA genre/sub-genre that kick ass physically, mentally, at the arcade or in a high-stakes heist
  • Bonus points if they are set in the South or offer a diverse spin on a classic tale.
  • [Folk] witches/psychics
  • I want to see more mental illness stories that aren’t just about diagnosis and LGBTQIA+ stories that aren’t just about coming out.
  • Books that defy genre lines and is a total sucker for vivid descriptions of California

So, am I asking for perfection? The publishers seem to be. If writing a strong, compelling manuscript means perfection to you. But you want nothing less for your bestseller, do you? What publishers want is what they’ll contract for, so that is what agents are looking for. Sometimes you fit the mold, and sometimes you make yourself fit the mold. If it’s the success of my book in the balance, I am sure going to try. Wouldn’t you?

Finally, I encourage writers to google such subjects as: words to cut, writing killer sentences, plot structure, and showing, not telling. Knowing these things will make your writing stronger. Also, after you write the first draft, put it aside and read another book, get it out of your mind. Better, read two books. Then, go back and look at your manuscript with the eyes of an editor. And when you think you’ve seen about all you can, there’s a trick.

Change your manuscript somehow. Change the font, or the color of the text. It makes the text unrecognizable to your brain. You’ll see it as a new document, and the errors become so much clearer. My secret is to mail the document to my kindle and read it like a “real” book. That’s when the glaring mistakes jump out at me. Fix me! Fix me! It sure makes editing less straining. Maybe do the same thing for your beta readers when they read different drafts?

About the Author:

Jennifer Haskin is the author of the YA fantasy/romance series the Freedom Fight Trilogy. She is also a portrait artist and literary consultant. Jennifer lives in the Midwest with her husband and five children. When not attending writer workshops, she leads her own creative writing groups. She is a member of Savvy Authors, and Nebraska, Missouri, and Kansas City writers guilds. Actively publishing her debut trilogy, she is writing full time.









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Editing Fiction V. Non-Fiction by Lorna Read

I have often been asked if one needs different skills to edit a non-fiction manuscript, as opposed to a fiction one. The answer is yes – and no! I have been an editor for forty years and have worked on everything from books on outdoor gear for walkers, climbers and cyclists, to novels of high fantasy, passionate romance and smart-paced thrillers.

Lorna Read

There is some common ground with editing fiction and non-fiction. The first similarity is obviously that, whatever the genre, the spelling, punctuation and text layout have to be spot-on.

With non-fiction, it is necessary to fact-check and this can be an arduous task. Here, there is a crossover into fiction too, as romance writers often incorporate elements from history into their plots and thriller writers cite details of weapons and warfare. Believe me, if you don’t know your M4 carbine from your AK-47, how is a reader with an interest in weapons going to take you seriously? And just imagine how much you would upset a reader from Bydgoszcz if the author of a romance novel set in Poland missed a z out of the name of their city!

I often advise fiction writers to make like a Method actor and totally immerse themselves in the personalities of the characters they are creating. As an editor, it is essential for me to do the same. With fiction, not only do I ‘become’ the characters in order to flesh out any skimpy or wooden writing, but I also do my best to retain the author’s literary style when doing any rewriting.

With non-fiction, the ‘Method acting’ consists of immersing myself in a subject, rather than a character. It is essential that a factual book does not bore the pants off the reader, so it must scintillate on the page, even if the subject is as pedestrian as gravel pits. (Yes, I really did both write and edit a newspaper supplement about those!)

Wearing my author’s hat, I have been on the other side of the editing game, too. Most publishers have their own in-house editing teams, so I am familiar with having my own written work edited. This gives me a lot of sympathy for authors, as I know only too well how it feels to have one’s precious words tinkered with. For this reason, I always supply a list of explanations for any editorial changes I have made, which I hope is a help to the writers with whom I work.

Never has an editor been more necessary than today, when anyone who fancies putting fingers to keyboard, can self-publish their work. Many writers think they can skip the chores of checking and proofreading but they are making a big mistake, for nothing screams ‘amateur’ as much as pages littered with careless misspellings and the misapplication of possessive pronouns and pronoun-verb contractions–especially those annoying ones like its/it’s, or their/they’re. A mainstream publisher is hardly likely to pick up on a self-published book if it looks as though the writer hasn’t cared enough about their work to correct these errors and typos.

An editor thus puts the polish on a rough diamond. And a good editor can raise a book from the merely adequate, to the realms of bestsellerdom. One of the joys of editing fiction is to get goosebumps from reading and working on something truly wonderful.

With non-fiction, an editor’s satisfaction is gained from knowing that every effort has been made to check names, dates and facts, so that the reader can feel confident in the author’s (or, more often, the editor’s) ability to get things right.

About the Author

Lorna Read is the author of over thirty novels and non-fiction books for all ages. Her most recent one is The Earl’s Captive, a historical romance set in the early 19th Century. Lorna is also a published poet. After graduating with an Honours degree in English Literature, she started her career as a local newspaper journalist then worked for many years as a magazine editor, for rock music and romantic fiction magazines. She is now a freelance writer and book editor. She has appeared many times on daytime television and on various radio programmes as a romantic problem expert. She is also a songwriter and won first prize at one of the Bridport Folk Festivals with a song titled,Sail to be Free.” She is currently putting the finishing touches to a book about the many supernatural experiences she has had.




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Can A Person Ever Change? by Swan Morrison

swan-morrisonI was employed as a mental health social worker for very many years. ‘Can people ever change?’ was a question I was sometimes asked. I never came to a definite conclusion about that. I have, however, observed a related phenomenon: I have seen lives turned around when individuals discover an activity that inspires them and for which they develop a passion. This might relate to a different career path or a spiritual calling. Alternatively it might be a new creative direction. The common feature lies in finding something that adds a new meaning to life—something that awakens previously untapped elements of a person’s true self.

I remember experiencing such an enthusiasm when I gave up a career as an engineer to work in mental health. I recall the feeling fading, however, after I accepted more senior positions and discovered, too late, that being a manager was not an extension of my previous role but a totally different one—one for which I was never suited. It was at this point that I began to write and discovered a pursuit that re-engaged with the person that I felt I was inside.

This was a theme in my first novel, Judgement Day, which saw a number of its characters escape the narrow constraints of their everyday lives to discover surprising new facets of their own personalities. I was heartened when this book gained the silver medal in the humour category of Dan Poynter’s Global Ebook Awards in 2016.

If I could go back in time and speak to myself at age eleven, I would tell myself to follow my interests, follow my instincts and be brave when the world around wanted me to be someone else. Sometimes during the past fifty years I have done that, but far too often, however, I have not. At least now that I am retired, I have been able to reflect and take my own advice.

I have now published five books: three collections of short stories, a novel and a novella. I have also learned to sing and to play guitar and ukulele. In addition, I have turned my garden into a vegetable allotment and, in a voluntary capacity, resumed direct work with people who experience mental health issues.

If only one could turn the clock back—but also make use of subsequent wisdom. It is probably no coincidence that the forthcoming sequel to Judgement Day, called Until the End of Time, explores exactly that idea.

About the Author:

Swan Morrison is the pen name of Brian Huggett. Brian lives with his wife and a cat named Blackie in Hampshire, England. He has been publishing work on the Internet and in print since 2001. In 2006, he created the Short Humour Site at for comedy writing of around 500 words.

All profits from the writings of Swan Morrison are currently donated to charity.


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Websites for Swan Morrison’s books:

The Short Humour Trilogy:

Deep Black:

Judgement Day:


Research that Keeps Critics at Bay by Jane Risdon

IMG_4969On several occasions, recently, I’ve been asked to provide my expertise to authors whose books have featured characters in the Music Industry – I’ve worked in the International Music Business for most of my adult life – and it got me thinking about my own writing and areas where I’ve been in need of ‘expert’ advice. I write crime stories and sometimes they venture into the hazy world of MI5 and MI6, and although I can call on my own experience back in my distant youth when I worked at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in Whitehall, London, limited though it might be, I still need to clarify details and exactly what each part of the British Secret Security Services does. Of course I can always delve into their websites for general information and it is now possible to contact their Press Offices who are happy to work with authors. I’ve also been fortunate enough to have met a retired Detective Chief Inspector – also an author – on Facebook, who has been kind enough from time to time to answer my many question about police procedure.

It is important as writers, especially crime writers, to get our facts right when telling a story which may well involve the investigation of a particular crime. And, as I mentioned earlier, I’d been thinking about my knowledge base and how to expand it for some time. Late last year I was lucky enough to discover the answer. I found several British Universities offering on-line courses in various aspects of Forensics – fantastic. Just what I was after. Somewhere I could educate myself at my own pace at home. Since starting my first course – Human Identification and Forensic Science – which introduced me to the world of clandestine burials and the identification of skeletal dismembered remains, which I and the other students managed to eventually identify – using the most recent methods of facial reconstruction, DNA and Anthropology – working as part of the Forensic and Police investigation of a missing person, I have undertaken two further courses.

The second course I’ve completed was an introduction to Criminal Justice and Forensic Science. I learned about the complex world of DNA profiling and Fingerprint analysis and researched many criminal cases where miscarriages of justice had been discovered and how convictions had been over-turned and the role played by Forensic Science in obtaining evidence and solving crimes. It was a real eye-opener I can tell you.

The third course I’ve completed recently, Forensic Psychology: Witness Investigations, has been fascinating and has made me realise just how we cannot always believe our own eyes and memories. During this course I and the other students worked alongside the police in the investigation of an armed robbery and we (virtually) sat in on the interviews with witnesses by two detectives. One used old fashioned methods investigating the case and conducting interviews, getting the witness to tell their story, often with prompts and leading questions using Photofit pictures of a selection of potential suspects and a physical line-up to identify the suspect. The other detective conducted their witness interviews using the latest methods – neuro-psychological techniques – to question the witnesses, allowing them to relate their story uninterrupted and not prompted, and using computer generated images of faces where the witness was able to move the eyes, nose and lips etc. to build an image they felt was closest to the suspect they’d witnessed. This method helped solve the case faster, more accurately, and didn’t lead or suggest anything to the witness.

Now, armed with my new knowledge and basic understanding of how to investigate a crime, make an identification of a skeleton from basic anthropology and forensics, right through to getting a witness to a crime to relate what they saw more accurately, I am more confident in my crime writing. Those authors for whom I was a musical consultant tell me I gave them that same confidence. Keeping things real and accurate for our readers. Most important for me as a writer and also as a reader. I hate finding inaccuracies in crime stories I read and I hope my readers won’t find any in mine.


Jane Risdon has spent most of her adult life in the International Music Business, managing songwriters, musicians, singers, and record producers with her musician husband. Always longing to write she never had the opportunity until a few years ago when her husband’s former fan-club secretary, ex rock journalist, and now award winning author, Christina Jones, urged her to take the plunge. Since then Jane has become a published author with Accent Press and has contributed to various anthologies as well as co-writing with Christina. Their novel is due out later this year. Jane is also writing a series of novels, Ms Birdsong Investigates, about a former MI5 Officer who finds herself investigating a missing woman and ends up tackling Russian Mafia and Ukrainian people traffickers in rural Oxfordshire.

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Why a Dog? by Margaret Mizushima

DSCF4389_pp Low RezAuthors are often asked what inspired their characters. My debut novel, Killing Trail: A Timber Creek K-9 Mystery, has three primary characters and one happens to be a dog. My husband is a veterinarian, and his work inspired the development of Cole Walker, DVM. But Deputy Mattie Cobb and her dog Robo were inspired by more serendipitous circumstances.

When our children were young, we decided to train our Rottweiler, Ilsa, in search and rescue. We live in Colorado, and occasionally children become lost when hiking or camping in the mountains, so my husband thought it a good idea to have a dog that could find our kids if this happened to us. We joined a group of volunteers who worked in search and rescue and trained dogs together.

We would set up tracks in incremental levels of difficulty, always providing treats and celebration when a dog discovered a person at the end. The dogs loved it. Ilsa showed great potential, and soon the whole family—kids included—enjoyed playing hide and seek with her. Fortunately, neither of my daughters wandered away from our campsites during our weekends in the wilderness, so we never had to test Ilsa’s skills under more serious conditions. But it planted a seed for developing a dog character later in my life.

A chance meeting with a retired K-9 officer named Beth led to the development of my character Deputy Mattie Cobb.

My mother worked as a public health nurse and while on the job, she met and became friends with Beth’s mother, also a nurse. When Beth came to visit, her mother brought her to Mom’s house to introduce them to each other. Beth and her German shepherd Robo had retired from the police force, having both been injured in a warehouse explosion which also deafened Robo. My mother invited them into the living room where Beth sat, and Robo assumed a body-guard-like position at her feet. For the entire visit, he stayed alert and on guard, staring at my mother. She said she was afraid to approach Beth even to offer her a cup of coffee.

By the time I met Beth, Robo had died of old age. Beth let me shadow her while she trained dogs for tracking and evidence detection. She shared stories of Robo’s prowess, and he must have been an exceptional K-9 partner. She gave her permission for me to use his name in my series, and many of the skills that the fictional Robo demonstrates—like searching for narcotics, evidence, and missing people—came out of these interviews with Beth. I’m fortunate and grateful to have been able to meet her.

These life experiences inspired me to write about a dog, and time spent with Beth led to writing about a K-9 partnership in particular. Since then, I observe police dog trials and training whenever possible. These dogs and their dedicated handlers never fail to amaze and impress me. They can often be found standing together on the front line of duty, facing danger as a team.

About the Author:

Margaret Mizushima is the author of Killing Trail: A Timber Creek K-9 Mystery to be released December 8, 2015 by Crooked Lane Books. After earning a master’s degree in speech pathology, Margaret practiced in a hospital and her own rehabilitation agency, and now she assists her husband with their veterinary clinic and Angus cattle herd. Her short story “Hay Hook” was published in the 2014 Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers anthology Crossing Colfax. She enjoys reading and hiking and lives in Colorado on a small farm where she and her husband raised two daughters and a multitude of animals.

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Will You Choose The Correct Fork In The Road? by Kim Gosselin

TSES Business Photography-1Everyone comes to crossroads in life, a fork in the road if you will. At one point in my own, I found myself at a dead-end where all that I knew was gone. My vision for the future was not to be. In an instant. Tick-tock. Quickly, like a second hand on a clock. A new normal was in store for me and my family from that day forward.

To the left were tears leading me down a pity path. To the right I felt magical whispers of wind wafting through my hair. Somehow, scents of leaves beneath my crinkled nose. Colors of orange and copper splayed across a sunlit wooden bridge beneath the weathered limbs of hanging trees. Cross it and everything would be okay if only I believed it to be true. Yes, please, choose the correct fork in the road.

Metaphors of my life from over twenty years ago when my children so young were diagnosed with chronic conditions. The above shaped much of who I am today. Like my children, I had to change too, and surprisingly became a writer. If not for the two of them, I never would have written a single word.

Had I ever thought of writing before my children became diagnosed with a chronic condition? Did I know what I was doing? Certainly not. At the same time, nothing could have stopped me back in the 90’s. Passion drove me like never before. I prayed every day for God to guide me on the right path, for my words to help others through paper pages.

How I wish my children could have ridden bicycles while licking dripping popsicles.   Or, gone off to birthday parties to steal real crumbs of chocolate cake off colored paper plates! That would have been a true dream come true for me. Yet, in all of their little lives, it was never to be. No, God had other plans for us.

My little boys who once played with toys are now grown. They will always be blessings who helped make positive differences in the world. I thank God for holding my hand to choose the correct fork in the road.

About The Author: 

*Kim Gosselin has written sixteen children’s books and published twenty five titles to help educate children about chronic conditions and/or special needs in a fun manner. She is about to release her first book in fifteen years, an e-book entitled Babies of Two, soon to be available on   Kim is a wife and mother of two grown sons, living in St. Louis, Missouri. She is a grandmother to five little ones ages three and under, including baby twins. 

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Why on earth would you want to be a writer? by Ricardo M. Fleshman

Ricardo M. Fleshman“Why on earth would you ever want to be a writer…I mean for a living?” That is the question that stands out in my mind every time I outline my next novel, each time I take to social media to promote myself or my books and each time I put the proverbial pen to paper. The question was posed to me by one of my grade school teachers who had but the best intentions in asking the question. She asked that question years before there was the opportunity to self-publish but during a time that was dominated by traditional publishing houses. It was a time before the World Wide Web where publishing houses only had each other and reader apathy to contend with. And though the entire industry has changed by leaps and bounds since then, her question is no less apropos.

Today, we have the option to self-publish and as such create our own writing destiny- provided we as authors are willing to take on the marketing and promotion that was once (and still is) the onus of publishers for their authors. It is arguably more difficult for a single self-published author to market and promote their books on the level that reaches worldwide readers. Certainly vehicles like twitter, google+, and Facebook have made it easier but it is no small effort the self-published author must devote to those platforms if he/she is indeed going to successfully market themselves and like it or not that success is also contingent on having written a book worth reading. The manuscript must be proofed and edited, contextual review, cover design- all of those elements combined that it takes to make a worthwhile read.

So I go back to the question: Why on earth would you want to be a writer? My first reading of Tolkien’s Hobbit at a very young age is the book that turned me into a writer. The feeling that I had whilst reading through that novel made me say, “I am more than a reader and I can create my own stories that give readers this same level of enjoyment and satisfaction.” I do not liken myself to Tolkien, but I am a writer and my books now also give my fans and readers the enjoyment and satisfaction that I intend. Reader feedback, good or bad (and I am proud to say that overwhelmingly mine have been better than good) fuels my addiction to writing. Ultimately, I write to be read and when that happens, I am fulfilled. In regards to my aforementioned statements about self-marketing and promotion I offer only that I approach those things with the dedication and consistency they deserve if I hope to truly make a living at this one day. So for me the answer is not a question of why I want to be a writer, the answer is another question: How could I be anything but?


Ricardo Fleshman is the author of the Detective Byone series. The Dying Dance (2013), The Devil’s Serum (2014) and The Cemetery Paintings (2014) are the first Detective Moses Byone novels that follow the detective through the dark and sinister cases set in 1970’s New Orleans, LA.

Ricardo is an avid reader, travels extensively with favorite destinations in the United States South and also international locations in South America and Europe. He is a fan of horror books and movies, dark art and “The Blues.” He is a graduate of Lynchburg College in Virginia. He resides in Northern Virginia with his family where he continues to write more stories of Detective Moses Byone. Find out more about him here:

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The Pupils Inspiring the Teacher? Count the Years… by Nancy Jardine

Nancy JardineEvery author’s story is a different one but this is my progress to publishing and my present writing situation. Once upon a time, I used to be a primary teacher with a class of about thirty pupils aged eleven to twelve. That made for extremely tiring, but never boring days. I taught all subjects, though mostly loved teaching History, English, and perhaps surprisingly also the Maths lessons. The history topics varied but I found huge satisfaction in giving my pupils a taste of the era when Ancient Roman legions advanced northwards over the Celtic lands of Britannia.

In 2005, the kids in my class wrote fantastic short stories as an end product of our Roman/ Celtic studies. I may have initially set up their writing lessons, but it was their startlingly excellent results which inspired me to write my first-ever novel. That original draft of a time-travel historical novel, written in 2006, for an audience of 10-12 year olds, has undergone many changes over the last eight years. It’s been abandoned, plucked out of the cupboard, revised, rejected and the process repeated many times. I’m determined that it will be published…soon. If you will, please imagine a *winking, smiley face* inserted here.

Yet writing a book wasn’t entirely new because I had used previous school summer vacations to write non- fiction books for local history projects- though I considered them as voluntary unpaid school work and not proper writing. The first had a print run (on my home printer) of 50 copies, delivered free to local schools. My obligation was then over and no further marketing was needed. The second book was a history of the village school where I taught the senior pupils, which dates back to the early 1500s. It’s also been my home village for the last 26 years. Prior to the move from a Victorian building to a brand new school, there was a special ‘Open Day’ during which former pupils were invited back for a stroll down memory lane. 350 copies of my history of the school were printed by the local education authority and all were sold to attendees. No further marketing was necessary since it was a ‘one-off’ print deal. My task was finished. The school got all profits and I got the pleasure of doing the research and compiling the information. The research skills learned then were invaluable when I came to do research for my historical novels, and were also useful for research during the writing of my contemporary mysteries.

What I didn’t encounter at that time was any of the internet, post- publication marketing I need now for novel writing!

In 2008, I cut back teaching to 3 days a week and got serious about writing novels when not in class. I focused my time on full-length stories for the adult market rather than for children, and purposely tried out manuscripts in different genres – historical adventures and contemporary mysteries – all with varying degrees of romance included since romance novels seemed to have a good market.

August 2011, was a momentous month. My debut novel, a contemporary romantic mystery was published and I also became a full time author when I finally stopped teaching. In 2012, I had three novels published, two of which were with Crooked Cat Publishing, who also published my fifth and my sixth novel in 2013 and 2014 respectively.

I haven’t written any political thrillers like James, my host of today, has. My closest novel would be Topaz Eyes, published by Crooked Cat Publishing, which is a mystery thriller. I’ve found over the last few years that even when I’ve been writing a contemporary mystery some historical aspect or other sneaks in- I just can’t help it! The very complex and deep mystery in Topaz Eyes centres on a family tree I created which goes back to third and fourth generation levels – the family originating in Amsterdam with the next generation becoming scattered around Europe and the US during the 1930s. The contemporary third generation cousins, who are mysteriously brought together to uncover a cache of jewels hidden amongst family members, are not all happy to get to know each other. The gloves are off when the treasure hunt begins – greed and deception is rife to the point where murder isn’t discounted. Where does family trust come in? You’d need to read to find that out. Writing this novel also gave me the opportunity to include some of the wonderful locations that I’ve visited including Heidelberg, Vienna, Amsterdam, Minnesota and Edinburgh.  I’m delighted that Topaz Eyes is an Award Finalist in The People’s Book Prize 2014 Fiction category.

It may sound as though all I’ve done since 2011 is write novels- but that’s not quite true. Like many authors, my family circumstances have changed. My first grandchild was born in late 2011 and no matter how much I try, I just can’t say no to childminding. From early 2012, my week became divided into slots – half of the week was part-time childminding with gardening and writing sharing what remained of the seven days. My writing output slowed down considerably.

Since January of 2014, my house has also been home to my granddaughter, her new baby brother and their parents since the building of their new house is fraught with continual delays.  Right now, I’m sitting at my desk in the dining room to write this post, snatching some precious time to type in between the mayhem of the needs of small bodies. I try to squeeze in the inevitable marketing tasks during the day: doing tweets and checking emails, Facebooking etc – often with babies at my feet or on my knees, since concentrating on new writing isn’t my forte at such times. I take my hat off totally to authors who produce copious new work with toddlers around them, or those who work during the day at a seriously demanding job and only write in the evenings.

My writing slot is generally from 9pm till around 1am when the house is usually silent. I love the bustle of our family life and wouldn’t want to have missed these early months of my grandchildren’s development, but I also cherish that late night quiet. My writing output will increase again, but that’s not likely till next year and the new house on my back garden is completed.

Yes. You read that correctly. My offspring will be living in their own house a mere few steps away. I won’t have to travel to visit or vice versa.

What’s nice to look forward to, is that they will be able to take over all the domestic tasks I currently do when my daughter is occupied with some other drama, because I’ll be writing like a mad thing to get Book 4 of my Celtic Fervour Series completed. There’s also my languishing three book family saga which begins in Victorian Scotland, the first book manuscript already started. However, by then I’ll maybe also be working on books two and three of my time-travel novel for children because by then that very first time-travel novel for kids WILL have been published!

Of course, before my daughter returns to her job after her maternity leave, she’ll maybe have sussed out how to help me with my book marketing tasks. I’m trying to set realistic goals just now. One can hope.  *smiley face again*

About The Author   

Nancy Jardine’s books at the Crooked Cat Bookstore: author page:

Buy Topaz Eyes: Amazon UK  Amazon US





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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in Guest Blog posts on this website do not reflect those of the Blog Host.

The Pitfalls of Writing and Pursuing Success

James North-Blog Post PhotoOver the past several years I have come to realize that writing with the aim of getting a book published and into print is no longer a journey of patience and persistence but a march along a footpath laden with landmines. This experience by a growing number of aspiring authors was no doubt a major factor in the explosion of eBook publishing—an explosion noticeably buoyed by low- or no-cost marketing via social media. The eBook and social media platforms have given thousands of aspiring authors the opportunity to fulfill their dreams. They have also generated a wider variety of books and even new genres. In all probability, independent or indie authors/publishers, still seen as a growing alternative to traditional publishing, will continue to produce exciting and very good books. However, in order to become successful, indie authors/publishers must work very hard to get their books before thousands of potential readers, particularly if they want to earn and keep a larger percentage of royalties. And yes, for some authors there remains the hope of discovery by an influential literary agent and landing a lucrative deal with a major publishing house.

The arrival of the eBook was in effect a gauntlet thrown down by ePublishers and the indie author—a development that for a time shook the traditional publishing world to its very foundation. With fewer restrictions on opportunities, new genres and sub-genres appeared and will almost certainly continue to do so, breaking new ground and sowing seed which the traditional publishing world will harvest, without of course having to invest in or risk exploration/failure. Trends started by indie authors/publishers will continue to push the publishing envelope. Genres like Climate Fiction (CLI-FI) and Mythopoeia are but a few examples of growing trends. Because of ePublishing aspiring authors no longer sit waiting for rejection letters to be deposited in their mailboxes (in some cases email inboxes), raising the proverbial question, “Will my stories ever be read and accepted?” These authors are venturing out in increasing numbers, standing on their own two feet. Unfortunately, they are finding that success remains, inescapably, part of a filtration process. Whether it be pitching to a literary agent, a traditional publisher with/without a literary agent or pitching to potential readers who now have a more extensive menu of books from which to choose, breaking into the system is still fraught with challenges.

Nevertheless, for the “committed writer” in pursuit of success beyond seeing his/her book(s) on the pages of online bookstores, going it alone is nothing short of a paradox.  In other words, new and near unfettered opportunities for aspiring writers to join the ranks of “successful published authors” do not come without costs. The drive for success, frequently defined as rising sales numbers and book awards, garnered by the use of social media and paid marketing, can be time-consuming and expensive. Ironically, this drive presents what might be the penultimate if not the ultimate challenge—one that carries with it an equal, if not greater cost for the writer than time and money spent on branding and marketing. That challenge and often a source of frustration is the disruption of the creative process. While the optimal and often prescribed solution is “effective time management,” we all know that the uncontrollable challenges of everyday life can lay waste to the best of plans.

Adding to the bevy of pitfalls is the imperative of making your voice heard above an ever increasing number of social media users, many of whom are also writers, stealthily looking to tap into your followers and fans, while unwittingly creating what might be construed as a “mutual admiration society.” An ironic aspect of determining a writer’s potential for success is the use of eBook rankings by literary agents and publishers. This speaks volumes about the pragmatic, risk-averse tendencies of agents and publishers nowadays. Their philosophy/strategy is quite clear: “The cream will rise to the top.” While few if any writers expect to be catapulted upward and onward, I have discovered through my own toil that efforts to begin the climb toward the top are much more difficult than they appear, more difficult because an unfortunate result of that pursuit is a skewed relationship between marketing and productivity, with a larger percentage of time being devoted to the former, to the detriment of the latter.

While I too believe that marketing is important for branding and getting the word out about what I as a writer produce, I also believe that finding a balance between the two or achieving some ratio that will allow time to produce, with the aim of improving on each manuscript, is the way forward. Consequently, for me, success is staying true to what I write, developing my skills and growing readership a few dozen (well maybe a few hundred) readers at a time. Remember, individuals will always decide what they want to read, hence the importance and long-term viability of trend-setting by indie authors/publishers. Reaching potential readers, however, is increasingly becoming a much bigger challenge than indie authors/publishers may have expected. Therefore, in the end, how your success is defined is up to you, the writer. Where the future of publishing is concerned, these challenges and the characteristics of the publishing industry discussed above are why I believe the relationship between traditional publishers and indie authors/publishers will evolve from one that is antagonistic into one that is increasingly more symbiotic.

Clearly not all observers of the publishing industry share this view. In my discussions with fellow writers, quite a few have used my views on trend-setting, genre creation and rising stars in indie author/publishing to turn my assertion on its head. They argue instead that the relationship between traditional publishers and indie authors/publishers is becoming more parasitic, with large publishing houses reaping most of the benefits. I contend that the jury is still out on the issue; in the meantime, there are opportunities for growth on both sides, but the cost to authors will grow exponentially with the number of authors searching for success.

Writing Comedy and Horror by Sarah England

Sarah EnglandAs a fiction writer I seem to gravitate towards either the supernatural, or comedy. It’s a bizarre whizzing from one end of literary genre to the other – like an out of control typewriter. However, with a 20 year + background in nursing and medical sales, I suppose it’s inevitable that gallows humour creeps in. I’m a Northern lass (UK) too – and there’s an in-built armour of self-deprecation pertinent to the environment in which I grew up: no one is allowed to take themselves too seriously.

So when I began to write fiction, around 10 years ago now, many of my short stories were humorous. I guess I’m also the kind of person who trips up steps into revolving doors, goes out of the house with a Velcro roller still stuck in the back of her hair, says exactly the worst thing at the most inopportune moment, and generally endures a lot of toe-curling, squirmy  situations. So I have a lot of real-life experience – lucky me – only natural then, to make it an art form.

My dad took the proverbial micky out of me since I was old enough to crawl. One incident highlights the point – my parents took me pony riding, the horse sneezed and I flew off. Bawling my eyes out I quickly realised they weren’t coming to my rescue because they were rolling around laughing too much. Oh how that hurt! It sort of went on from there. I’d love to have been an actress really, but I had to earn a living and so nursing it was, and from there medical sales, where I eventually specialised in mental health, which came in handy with a family like mine.

After writing short stories for magazines over many years, my first comedy novel, Expected was published last year by Crooked Cat, and I’m happy to say it’s made most people laugh their socks off. I will do a sequel for my hapless heroine, Sam Sweet, but I’m also writing serials for magazines now, and I have a very dark supernatural thriller to finish. I’m not sure where the fascination for all things spooky comes from…but rest assured this is as scary as it gets… Meantime there’s a collection of dark thrillers in 3am and Wide Awake published by Alfie Dog Fiction, and both books are available on Amazon.

More information is available on my blog:

About the Author:

Sarah England originally trained as a nurse in Sheffield, England, before going on to work as a medical representative specialising in mental health. Since then she has had around 150 short stories published in national magazines and various anthologies; most recently a 3 part murder-mystery serial in Woman’s Weekly. Sarah’s 3am and Wide Awake – a collection of 25 dark tales, mostly supernatural stories, or medically themed thrillers, was published in May 2013 by Alfie Dog Fiction; and Expected, a comedy novel with Crooked Cat Publishing, was released on 28 June, 2013. She is now working on a supernatural thriller, and continues to write serials and short stories for magazines.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in Guest Blog posts on this website do not reflect those of the Blog Host.