Monday, 28 April 2008

Writing tips from Alt. Fiction

While many of the points made by the editors and agents at the Alt. Fiction con were ones I'd heard before, bandied around internet forums, it was still good to have them clarified by people who actually know what they are talking about.

As I'm sure some of the readers that stop by this blog like to consider themselves writers (like myself), I thought it would be worth repeating some of the advice that was given. So, here are the five most important tips - for aspiring writers - that were emphasised on the panels that I attended.

1) Know your market. See what's selling, and what isn't. Publishing is a business afterall, and it's important that - to a degree - your work is commercial. No-one writes in a vacuum. Trends come and go. See how you can make use of the current ones. At the end of the day, if your work lacks a commercial edge, then you'll probably struggle to find an agent (and by default, a publisher). No, this doesn't mean 'selling out.' It just means you have to be aware of the state of the market and where your writing fits in. For example, 'gritty' fantasy is all the rage right now. But in three years this may have changed, so writing a gritty novel then might be a mistake.

2) Don't write a stand-alone novel. Publishers ideally want a series or a trilogy. Or at least a second book set in the same world. Writing a one-off book with no room for a sequel will put publishers off. They're making an investment, and want to know that there is plenty more to come from where the first book materialised.

3) Writing a good book isn't enough. It has to be brilliant, full stop. Sounds obvious, but it's worth bearing in mind. Although with the number of crap fantasy books I've seen floating around that have somehow been published, I do wonder at the validity of this point. Then again, if you want to be successful and make a name for yourself in the genre, then your book clearly does need to be very special indeed. Therefore, what you produce must be your best effort. Don't settle for anything less.

4) You have to be prepared to self-market your work. In the age of the internet, there's no excuse for sitting back and letting the marketing department at your publisher handle it. Even authors lucky enough to have others doing it for them still need to do their fair share of the work.

5) Watch out for sub-plots that have no resolution. This is one that Christian from Solaris raised. He said that one of the most frequent (and frustrating) problems that proliferated the work of new writers was the inclusion of plots that just grind to a halt halfway through the book with no clear resolution. The bottom line: make sure your subplots go somewhere. If they just sort of trail off with no conclusion, sort them out or ditch them altogether.

I'm sure there were others, however these are the main ones I remember.


T.D. Newton said...


(#2) really jumps out at me because I usually read the exact opposite, and this is half the reason I'm combining my current project into one large volume rather than three as I had originally intended (the second, and more important, reason being that the story just didn't "stretch" that far). I guess perhaps if you've already WRITTEN all three books that would certainly be a good sale. I wonder if this is just one of those things where some publishers prefer one and some prefer another.

James said...

I'm sure it does vary somewhat, but I understand why publishers prefer a series. They're out to make money at the end of the day, as much as they want to push the artistic merits of their books.

But if you want to write a stand-alone, go for it. Nothing to lose. Hell, it worked for David Gemmell. If the publisher really liked it, there's always a chance they might see if it could be turned into a trilogy or whatever.

T.D. Newton said...

Yeah, I can see both sides of it. On the one hand they are investing in the author and want to see him write more books to make more money. On the other hand, if the first book isn't well received then having a contract for two more can spell doom. I think maybe I will pitch mine as not one in a chronological series but a book telling a story about a rich world that has many more stories it could tell.

I plugged this entry on my blog, btw.