Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Prizes and Why Aiming to Win Them Is A Darn Good Idea

One of Fiction Feedback’s authors, DJ Harrison, has his crime novel Limited Liability currently shortlisted for two awards with a book promoting company, Books Go Social. If you’re tempted to go all sniffy, remember that prizes wherever they’re found mean brownie points – prizes, however small or seemingly insignificant, boost the confidence and self-esteem of the author and provide massive opportunities for publicity that can’t be ignored. Subsequently, they garner attention, and whether that’s of readers and would-be buyers of your book or of literary agents and publishers, that’s surely the name of the game today. (If you’d like to look at the award shortlist and maybe vote for Dave’s book, the link is: Voting closes on 25 June.)

Another of Fiction Feedback’s authors, who has had several of his works critiqued by us, has written a Guest Post for us about prizes. David James, author of The Confessions of Becky Sharp (a raunchy and delightfully readable prequel and sequel to Thackeray’s Vanity Fair), is a respected academic and author of six novels. He is also the promoter of the Quagga Prize for Self-Published Literary Fiction, which he himself set up in 2014 to reward the self-published non-genre author. This year’s deadline for the annual reward is at the end of this month, 30 June. The nice thing is, if you’ve missed that but think oh well, my book was published this year, it won’t be eligible for next year’s prize, then you can smile and think again: the Quagga is open no matter when the book was published.

Confessions is itself in the reckoning for a prize with the Historical Novelists Association – good luck, David, and thanks for this fascinating post.

Guest Blog by David James

Small Prizes: The Way Ahead

Why go in for Prizes?

I write to please myself, not for others. We’ve all heard that mantra, and many of us believe it. But there are prizes out there, some very large, many quite small. And in your heart of hearts you know you covet recognition: a good review, a warm response, a pat on the back. Above all you want readers – apart that is from friends and family.

However, I do get a little tired of reading about ‘award-winning’ authors and wonder about the nature of the award, not to mention whether the award is for this book or one of the writer’s earlier efforts. Once an award winner, always an award winner! Nevertheless, I must be at least marginally impressed. For the small-time author, such an accolade is a great comfort. For the apprentice writer it’s the first step on the road to what we think of as success. Even to be short-listed is a treasure in itself.

Yes, there are hundreds of prizes and awards of all kinds advertised on the net, but there are also thousands of writers, both seasoned and neophyte, and the number grows by the minute. Unless you are already attached to a publisher or are backed by a reputable agent or a well-known sponsor, the Booker is out; in any case Rule 3(d) clearly states ‘self-published books are not eligible where the author is the publisher’.

But to come down to earth: James Minter gives a useful list of Fifty Book Awards Open to Self-Publishers. This could be a good place to start your search. All genres and types of writing are open to budding writers here, from the prestigious ForeWord, the Ippy and the Rubery awards to flash fiction, cookbook, first novel, first chapter and even prizes for the first page. So don’t be shy about entering. We all have to begin somewhere.

Unless you are submitting to your local writing group’s monthly or yearly prize you should expect to pay an entry fee. After all it takes time to read and assess the value of a book or even a flimsy manuscript. Fees naturally vary enormously, from gratis to $80 per title; and so do the prizes, from an offer of journal publication to the Writers’ Digest 23rd Annual Writing Competition for Self-Published Book Awards topping the list at $8,000.

Of course it’s a rule of thumb that the higher the fee, the higher the sought-after prize. Winners of high profile Gold or even Silver medals are frequently garlanded with offers of book deals, free air passages to attend humungous ceremonies, with much bolstering of ego and promises of gold in store. But the most your also-ran can expect is a book report – of vastly varying quality in my experience. Thus a judge of my road novel Paris Bound had clearly not read much of the book, spending all his time savaging the cover. By contrast, five years later the same company awarded me 100% in 4 out of 5 categories for my novel about a girl boxer, Punching Judy. Prize-hunting is a bit of a lottery. One man’s meat and all that.

Rejection is par for the course, so you have to get used to it. There may be many reasons why your work doesn’t quite hit the mark, including the obvious one of your not complying with the guidelines. First, check past winners to ensure you have not submitted, for instance, literary fiction where crime or romance is the speciality. No point either in sending in manuscripts or galleys to Mom’s Choice Awards. Next, you should examine the credentials of the judges. Are they likely to be sympathetic to your subject or approach? Having checked that you have done all that the gatekeepers have demanded, take a close look at the judge’s report. The tastes and values of the judging panel may not be yours. If not, go elsewhere. Next time widen or even narrow your field. Or cut and come again.

The most obvious reason for rejection is often overlooked by the enthusiastic writer. It’s simply that your work is not good enough. That’s a tough thing to tell yourself, but it may well be true. Having accepted that fact, do you give up or try again, getting a little closer to the required standard? If you’re a writer of course you write; you revise, reshape or scrap. If you really believe in your manuscript or book you perhaps need to take advice from a fellow professional. There are plenty of literary consultants to be found on the net. They may well be able to set you straight. In this regard I found Fiction Feedback very helpful.

Book festivals are another avenue the serious writer might explore. There are hundreds of these spreading across the globe. Almost every major city seems eager to promote new writing, from Beverly Hills to San Francisco, from the Beach Book Festival to London, Paris and New York. Once again large prizes await the lucky winners and some of these festivals have as many as 40 different categories. More and more of these jamborees are now open to digital as well as paper books. Watch the dates and submit to as many as you can afford!

Far less prestigious awards, or simply publication on websites such as Authonomy, Youwriteon, The Book Shed or Year Zero Writers are ways of keeping in contact with other writers and readers. Random House and Orion review their Top Ten Budding Authors on Youwriteon monthly throughout the year. Listed authors can sell their books direct from the website. There’s always somebody looking for your book and as a writer these days there’s really no excuse for not having a go. This way you circumvent the traditional publishing process with its agonising delays in response time. You are in charge, you are respected and with a bit of luck you are even earning money.

So, although we may look up to the stars and envy those who have landed a six-figure contract for their book, the majority of us are struggling on the lower slopes of Mount Parnassus. We are for the most part the humble toilers in the field and need to accept that fact. That doesn’t mean that we don’t strive to make our work as good as possible, nor does it mean that we don’t shoot for the top prizes on occasion. But we accept the fact that sometimes small can also be beautiful.

David James is the Promoter of the Quagga Prize for Literary Fiction.

Many prizes insist on recent publication, often within the past year or two.  Quagga does not.   I believe that a book stands on its merits, and the common impulse to discover the new and latest is misplaced.  Unlike fruit, books do not rot; the best may go out of print but never out of style.

The Quagga Prize for Literary Fiction (£300) is given annually to the best novel submitted. If in doubt whether your novel qualifies as 'literary' (see Terms below) submit it anyway.  It  could well be  awarded  a  silver  medal  (£100)  or  receive  an  honourable mention (£50).

Entries are accepted from January 1 to June 30, 2015.  All entrants will receive an email acknowledgement on receipt and a Judge's Report in November 2015.  Shortlisted entries will be published here.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Robert The Wayward Prince in Paperback At Last

Many of my colleagues, friends and family will have heard me talk about the editing Robert The Wayward Prince. It’s a historical novel written in the first person – an impeccably researched fictional autobiography of William the Conqueror’s fascinating eldest son: Robert Curthose, Duke of Normandy.

He never became King of England.

And I was thinking that he’d never be launched in paperback, but guess what? After two years as an ebook only – and I know lots of you out there adore your ereaders and read almost entirely on screen, but I also know I’m in good company in preferring a physical book – Robert is now available in paperback form.

Why am I so excited? Fiction Feedback first began working with the novel’s author, the redoubtable Austin Hernon, about four years ago. I say redoubtable because that man has stuck with us, from original critiques of Robert which found some merit in an early draft from an inexperienced author and nurtured it, to exhaustive (and exhausting) copy-editing. The first draft I saw, Robert was written in a rather remote third person. I suggested this was changed. I thought using first person would allow the author to get under his hero's skin, and help him write with more passion, even if he found it hard to sustain and eventually reverted to third person. Well, Austin stuck with I and the book developed from there; passion hasn’t been a problem. In fact, Robert’s romantic, lusty relationships with various ladies form a significant part of the book. So do political intrigue, betrayals by friends and family, and the sacrifices demanded in the name of nobility. The professional cover shows soldiers and battles, and there is an element of that in the book, but if you’re after lots of blood and gore, sorry, that's not a main dish. But if you want a banquet of a story about a hot-blooded man growing up at odds with his ruthless father and conniving brothers, a man who believes in justice learning to understand himself and his place in the world, and developing the strength to go his own way, then this is one for you. 

It also takes in much of early medieval Europe, giving a thousand-year-old perspective on places from southern Italy to northern France, and of conquered Saxon England from Winchester to the wilds of Wales, and from Leicester to the borderlands of Northumbria.

So I’m thrilled that Robert is out as a paperback, and to my mind, worth every penny. And I’m glad that the sequel, The Warriors of the Cross, about Robert’s controversial leadership (he didn’t want to take land or kill without scruple; he wanted to liberate Jerusalem) in what became known as the First Crusade, is about to be released as an ebook.  And I’m delighted that I expect the third in Austin’s Norman Princes series to cross my editing desk this summer.

Congratulations to an author with sticking power, who has obviously got rather a lot in common with his hero; someone else who believed in himself despite early criticism.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

What’s the difference between a critique, structural editing, copy-editing and proofreading?

A critique takes a broad view of your story or novel and highlights major strengths and weaknesses and makes outline suggestions for improvement. It’s a good starting point.

Structural or developmental editing looks at all the strengths and weaknesses and helps you make changes. It’s in-depth and hands-on. It looks at the nuts and bolts of how the MS is working as a story or novel – structure, narrative arc, characterisation, plot, storylines, pace and writing style.

Once that’s done – and allow for editing to at least two drafts – it’s time for line- and copy-editing. This is where we examine the prose word by word. Yes, we pick up problems with spelling, grammar and punctuation, and ensure all-important consistency, but you’ll also be encouraged to test that every word is doing its job to the utmost. So we’ll look at vocabulary choices, naturalistic dialogue, facts, logic, repetition, minor glitches in characterisation or plot, anachronisms and verisimilitude. Do you quote a TV show of 1963 and mention its host? We check it was broadcast then and that the host is the right one. Do you write about watching events at the bottom of an unlit garden from an English home at 5 p.m. in January? We tactfully mention that might not be feasible. Do you use one expression of amazement no matter which character is speaking? We suggest you create different expressions for each character. Allow for two copy-edits.

Once you’ve checked the final copy-editing amends, you shouldn’t really be making any further revisions. But just in case you do, and most particularly to pick up any oversights or inconsistencies, the novel needs to go through a final proofread before publication, preferably by a different pair of eyes. At Fiction Feedback, whenever appropriate we use a different proof-reader from the editor.

What process when?

A critique when you’re not very experienced or confident and need some general guidance.

Structural editing when you’ve got your novel to a certain stage you’re happy with. You’ve worked on it, possibly a lot, and maybe had other input too. Now you need to hone it into something strong and beautiful.

Copy-editing is the next stage. This focuses on the prose, so it’s only done when you’re sure the structure, plot, characters, story, setting and pace are working for you 100 per cent. If you’re submitting to an agent or publisher, we recommend you go down this path only if problems with the prose are likely to be an obstacle to an editor liking the work. If you’re self-publishing, it’s essential.

Finally, proof-reading. You only need this if you’re self-publishing. Sometimes if you’ve had several drafts of copy-edits, and the last one asks you to make no further changes, it’s not necessary, although it’s always advisable. But it’s definitely not for writers who are submitting their work to agents or publishers as it’s the final stage before publication.

Becky Sharpe Book We Critiqued Gets Rave Review from Historical Novel Society

Hope readers don’t mind my dropping in this HNS review of a book critiqued by Fiction Feedback as my blog post. We were very impressed by David James’s literary yet very readable sequel to Vanity Fair – we have a paperback copy on the Fiction Feedback ‘published’ shelf – and it’s great to see we aren’t the only ones who like it. It’s a bit racy – but compared to a certain famous book–now–film, it’s pure vanilla sauce.

Historical Novel Society reviews are well regarded, so worth a look?

The Confessions of Becky Sharp by David James: Review by Anne McNulty in HNS Reviews

Fans of William Makepeace Thackeray’s novel Vanity Fair and its unforgettable anti-heroine, Becky Sharp, will delight in David James’s smart, intensely readable, funny, and surprisingly moving take on that classic novel’s plot. In the pages of James’s novel, Becky Sharp (the semi-tragic Lady Crawley) jumps to center stage and tells her own story, culminating in her marriage to Rawdon Crawley, her disastrous affair with Lord Steyne, and her own take on the decidedly scandalous characterization Thackeray gives her throughout his book.

James fills the whole narrative with great pathos, glints of humor, and some very perceptive echoes and warpings of his famous template, all the while imbuing Becky herself with all the caustic intelligence Thackeray gave her, but a good deal more humanity. Without doing excessive violence to the continuity of Vanity Fair, he manages to give his unforgettable heroine the one thing Thackeray pointedly denied her: a kind of triumph. Readers who are familiar with Vanity Fair will love this book, but even readers who are not will find it an intelligent and fast-paced story. As a literary pastiche, it could hardly be bettered.