Monday, 30 December 2013

How Writers might Make 2014 a Happy New Year

May I wish all of our readers and Fiction Feedback customers, reviewers and editors alike a very Happy New Year.

It’s sometimes useful to focus on what we can control about our lives to make such a thing happen. For the writers among us, there’s one very obvious thing, and that’s to find time for our writing. For those of you who are now thinking, pretty obvious, yes, check; congratulations; for others among us – well, you understand what I mean! In 2013 I made a discovery: waiting to get a huge chunk of time which I could dedicate to Finishing the Novel or Editing the Novel or even Starting the Next Novel was setting me up for a very long wait with no finished novel at the end. I can’t easily take huge chunks of time out of my working life. I found the secret is to hive off a set amount of time every day, even if it’s just half an hour, and keep it sacrosanct. Yes, you might take 5 minutes of that to get into the flow again, but if you’re working regularly you’re on top of the story and your writing style is easily accessed so the other 25 minutes is productive. If you only ever touch your novel every few months or even few weeks those advantages are lost. And half an hour a day adds up very quickly. I hope that’s useful advice for some of you.

At the end of 2013, I read a quote that made me think hard. It’s one you’ll probably be familiar with: ‘If you keep on doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep on getting what you’ve always got.’ I must have read it lots of times previously but on this particular occasion, at a time when I’m looking for significant changes in my professional life, it resonated with me. Maybe 2014 is the year I’ll step out of my comfort zone and look at ways I can do things differently with specific goals in mind. Maybe you can too.

Finally, 2013 was the year I finally accepted the fact that self-publishing is a viable and possibly even better alternative to traditional publishing. I’ve been arguing with myself over the Unknown Debut Novelist’s Big Question for a couple of years – along with the rest of the writing world – and a situation I won’t explore here in depth has led to me to this conclusion. Essentially, if you wait for a traditional publishing deal, you could wait forever and your novel could miss its time. That’s a big downside and for the determined author, may be too large a risk. Here’s a three-step rule to successful self-publishing: first, get the work critiqued and professionally edited so you can be confident your finished novel is as good as you can make it. (Well yes as the owner of a professional critique and editing service I would say that, but after you’ve read some self-published work out there that’s not been edited, you’ll likely agree it's essential.) Shop around, and get a free sample from your chosen contenders if you can; this will probably show you the way. Second, adopt a professional marketing strategy to give your novel the best opportunity to stand out from the crowd. If marketing is not your area of expertise, or you appreciate the days and weeks it will take will deprive you of valuable writing time, then pay for expert help. And shop around for this, too. Third, ensure your novel is distributed through as many of the traditional channels as possible. Notice that distribution comes after much of the marketing effort if you’re going to give yourself the best chance of success.

I’d like to wish two of our successful self-publishers further success in 2014: David Rashleigh with thriller Mindblower and Austin Hernon with saucy fictional biography Robert, The Wayward Prince. I’d also like to congratulate crime writer DJ Harrison on the astounding success of Due Diligence and Proceeds of Crime which were published by a small indie press, Open Circle, earlier this year. I’m looking forward to concluding the editing of his third book in the Jenny Parker series, Limited Liability, early in 2014.

Best wishes for health, wealth and happiness to all writers in 2014 and to the people who help them get published.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Making the Cut in Writing Competitions

I've recently had the delightful task of coming up with a shortlist of 8 stories from over 80 entries in a short story competition.

It was fun as well as hard work. Some absolutely enthralling stories.

Two things surprised me. The standard of many of the entries was very high indeed. I guess that shouldn't cause eyebrows to hit hairlines, but when I've been judging this competition in previous years there's never been more than a quarter of the total entries that gave my colleagues and me serious pause when it came to shortlisting. This time, the initial longlist was around half. The second longlist was about 30 and the final one pre-shortlist, 15. All those 15 stories deserve competition success or publication, and I shall be writing and telling their authors so even while I commiserate on their not quite making the final cut. It was fantastic to know there are so many excellent writers out there, and reassuring when we keep being told that, because more people are taking up writing, standards are dropping. Not my recent experience.

The second thing that surprised me was the lack of care when it came to typos, poor punctuation, misspelling, dodgy grammar and unprofessional layout. And that wasn't limited to the stories that didn't make a longlist, it was right up until that final 15. Even some of them had mistakes - which in a story of around 2,000 words is reprehensible, at least in my book. Self-editing is key to making a good impression these days whether it's on agents, publishers, readers or professional reviewers like Fiction Feedback. Do whatever's necessary: print it out, read it aloud, view it in a different typeface and size, give it to a friend who's a whiz at English - but do something. Read, read and read again. And if you're unsure about the best layout, or punctuation around dialogue, or a grammar question, look on the web. Lots of good advice out there and in a huge choice of books too.

Some beginner writers genuinely believe that their prose doesn't matter and that if the story shines an agent or publisher will pick it up anyway. Wrong. The quality of the prose is the first thing they can judge about a piece of writing and it takes professionals seconds to come to that judgement: if the prose is poor the manuscript is rejected; if it's good they'll stick with it.

The same is true of the reader of self-published work. OK, they might have already bought the novel, but they won't buy another by the same author and they might well leave a negative review.

Another piece of advice about writing competitions; if you're submitting an entry by email and paying by cheque in the post, do enclose your contact details with that cheque. That way, if the email entry goes astray, the organisers can contact you to ask you to re-submit the story.

Good luck entering your next competition.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

The Editor Experience -- Words from the Edited

Blowing your own trumpet sometimes has to be done – but how nice it is when other people sing your praises instead. This is a fascinating blog post from a Fiction Feedback customer, David Rashleigh, whose work we recently edited.

The Value of a Good Editor

I have to admit it: I was dreading it. The return of my latest work from the editor was not something I was looking forward to. At best, it heralded weeks of re-work; at worst the possibility of a complete re-write just so that the whole thing makes sense.

A good editor does not come cheap. Not unreasonably, they expect to be paid for the time and effort that they put into your work. For that reason, as much as anything, indie authors often don’t bother. Boy, does it show sometimes. I try to do my bit for other indies; if their book piques my interest I’ll happily download a copy (especially if they’re giving it away) but there are times when the lack of an editor has ruined what would otherwise be an excellent book.

Chief among the sins are spelling, grammar and punctuation. There’s only one letter difference between “affluent” and “effluent” yet the meanings are somewhat different. Aberrant apostrophes abound. Some can’t tell the difference between “there”, “their” and “they’re”, but an editor can remove silly errors such as these, making your work look professional.

But there’s more to it than that. A male author, like myself, should employ a female editor if the book is intended for general readership. What a man thinks is sexy, or exciting, might just be a complete turn-off for the ladies and getting that alternative viewpoint is absolutely essential. Any editor is reading your story for the first time and can point out flaws in the plot that you haven’t spotted, because you already know how the story turns out and can make the mental leaps required to reach the conclusion.

My own experience has been instructive. I hadn’t realised, but I tend to lapse into the day job style of writing. My novel ends up sounding like a report. I’m also fond of repeating certain phrases. There were inconsistencies in the plot, and I learned about a whole new tense. Pluperfect, anybody?

Now is my opportunity to plug my editor. Dea Parkin of Fiction Feedback has done sterling work on Mindblower: Assassin. There is no doubt that the book is vastly improved as a result of her efforts. What’s more, she made many of the changes to the manuscript herself; using the review facility in MS Word allows her to make the corrections whilst pointing them out. By doing it this way, I’m already more than half way through the basic rework, with the plot issues to tackle next.

In summary, if you want to be a published author, get yourself a good editor. If you can’t afford a professional, at least find a fellow indie and offer to edit each other’s work.

In a few weeks, you’ll be able to judge for yourself the quality of my work, and Dea’s. I would like to think that you’ll be impressed.

Thanks, Dea.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Better Blog in Brief Than Not Blog All

Right, we have a new resolution. I do tend to go on in my blog posts and I know full well that I don’t blog half often enough, so there’s the answer, I think. Briefer blogs, more often. Let’s see if it works!

Huge sales for customers’ books

First of all, mega congratulations to our customer DJ Harrison who has achieved impressive ebook sales with his debut novel, Due Diligence, and the follow-up, Proceeds of Crime, both of which we edited here at Fiction Feedback. They’re published by Open Circle, a company to which Fiction Feedback lends a little hand with editorial-cum-enthusiasm. Storyline? Jenny Parker, a Manchester accountant, finds both the city and the career more menacing than she could ever have dreamt, and also discovers she has rather unusual resources which help her to cope. Due Diligence reached no. 8 in the Amazon ebook thriller charts and sold over a thousand downloads in the first week of May alone. Way to go, Dave. Check out the books here: and read about Dave here:

We also offer congratulations to another long-term customer, Austin Hernon. His impressive fictional biography of Robert Curthose, William the Conqueror’s eldest son, called The Wayward Prince, has finally crossed our editorial desk for the last time after many a careful draft and is now on its way to being produced as an ebook. More details to follow shortly.

Finally, another customer, Richard Dee, has published his exciting sci-fi ebook, Freefall, to Amazon:  We were pleased to provide critiques of his first 15,000 words and are intrigued to see how he gets on.

Best of luck to all Fiction Feedback authors.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Ebook production from Fiction Feedback - limited to quality manuscripts

A busy, busy few weeks for Fiction Feedback. As well as helping our friends over at Open Circle, (, most especially by editing the second book they’ve published, Proceeds of Crime by DJ Harrison, we’re also seeing our first customer novel through to ebook production. Book cover design has gone extremely well, and the final proof-read is now in hand.

Currently, we’re only providing our ebook service to Fiction Feedback customers – writers who’ve received critiques and particularly copy-editing from us. We recognise this might disappoint some would-be customers. After all, Fiction Feedback is about encouraging writers to write and to help get quality work out there for readers to read.

Yet the key word here is quality. So much writing that is self-published today has patently not been professionally edited and while very occasionally that might not present a problem, we believe that it often has the effect of lowering expectations from readers of what to expect from a self-published novel. And this has a knock-on effect for every novel which is self-published. It tarnishes everyone’s efforts and turns readers off, which is so very unfair.

We don’t want to be associated with any work which makes it harder for good self-published authors to get their work taken seriously. So we’ll look at a manuscript that’s submitted for ebook production and check that it only needs proof-reading (and if that’s already been professionally done, then great). But if it needs editing rather than proofing, or if perhaps it’s not even ready for that, then we will decline to produce the work as an ebook and it’s up to the author what steps they take next.

Inevitably this will mean our ebook production arm won’t be as commercially successful as it might be. But if commercial success were our only aim, then Fiction Feedback’s critiquing prices would be much higher, and the personal service we provide to any customer who wants it would be compromised.

We prefer to offer a service that encourages good writers and helps make good writing available to read. We need to make an income from this, yes; our reviewers and editors all have to eat and deserve to be paid for their time and expertise. But Fiction Feedback is about more than that, and we hope would-be customers will both understand and appreciate this policy regarding ebook production. Quality is all.