Monday, 4 September 2017

Navigating the Slush pile: Ten Tips for Agent Hunting.

Having recently signed with a new agent, this time by going through the slush pile, I thought I would share are few tips. I hope these might be useful for anyone currently navigating the slush pile and help with some of the etiquette for dealing with agents.

1. Make sure your manuscript is ready
This should really go without saying. The MS should be complete and ideally have been read by a couple of trusted beta readers, who you can really rely on to give honest feedback. (I’m talking about fiction here. Non-fiction is a different matter).

2. Keep your cover letter to the point and business like.
Avoid gimmicks. If you want to be treated like a professional act like one. Make sure you include the title, genre and word count.

3. Don’t sweat the synopsis.
Writing a synopsis is hard, but so long as it provides an adequate summary of what the story is about and how it ends you should be okay. It is your writing that will hook the agent.

4. Send out in batches of ten.
The types of responses you get from each batch will give an indication of whether you should press on with the MS as is (you start to get full requests and personalised responses) or whether maybe you ought to revisit your sample chapters and covering letter (nothing but form rejections).

5. Set a time limit on exclusives.
Sometimes an agent will request an exclusive, either on a full or on a rewrite and resubmit. It is up to you whether you grant this or not but do set a time limit of, maybe, a month. If other agents are already reading the full inform them that you can’t offer an exclusive and offer to update them if anyone else requests or offers. If someone wants to work with you on your MS on an exclusive basis and their feedback makes sense to you then you may want to take them up on that.

6. Inform agents when other agents request a full.
If someone requests a full it is a good idea to let any other agents already considering your full MS know. It is also a good opportunity to nudge any agents who have not responded. Nothing like other agents being interested in something to make it more appealing.

7. Follow up with non-responders and keep submitting.
Unless an agent specifically asks that you don’t in their guidelines it’s a good idea to follow up with non-responders. Sometimes your submission has gone astray. Sometimes they have fallen behind with their slush reading. If you are nudging to inform them about other agents requesting fulls they may suddenly show an interest. The worst that can happen is that they say ‘No’.

8. When an agent offers give the others a chance to read
Inform any agents currently reading the full, and any others you have submitted to who you particularly like, that you have received an offer and give them a deadline to get back to you. They will often be keen to read and you may receive multiple offers. A nice position to be in.

9. Check out the offering agent thoroughly
Presumably you already did this before submitting to them but even so now is the time to delve a bit deeper and to ask questions about the agency agreement they are offering. Read it thoroughly and ask for clarification if there is anything you don’t understand. You may also want to contact their other clients. They’ll be happy to answer any questions you may have.

10. When you accept an offer do let anyone who has offered or who is still considering your MS know.
This is a simple courtesy. There’s nothing more frustrating for an agent than to offer and find you’ve signed elsewhere. And you never know. You may be knocking of their doors again further down the line, so always best not to burn your bridges.

Good luck with you agent hunt, and I’ll be happy to answer any questions you may have in the comments below.

Friday, 11 August 2017

Review: Destination Mars by Andrew May



Mars fascinates me. I have always loved reading science fiction about the planet and have eagerly followed the various expeditions to explore this world. So I was especially pleased when I received a copy of Destination Mars by Andrew May to review.

Destination Mars is a fascinating history of Mankind’s obsession with the red planet. It describes our attempts to explore Mars and discusses the possibility of colonising this world in an easy and accessible way. Andrew May goes into just enough technical detail to not be overwhelming, but wets the appetite for those who want to know more, as well as providing a useful history of the successes, and failures, in our attempts so far to learn more about this world.

I really liked the way the books kept referring back to the science fiction written about Mars to illustrate how our understanding of this planet has changed over the years. The use of references to The Martian by Andy Weir, to help explain many of the challenges that will be faced if we chose to colonise this planet was particularly effective.

All in all Destination Mars is a very concise and informative introduction to the subject which would appeal particularly to anyone who has read the science fiction and would like to know a bit more about the science fact.

Strongly recommended.

Amazon UK
Amazon US

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Short Story in Sci Phi Journal

My short story, Desiccation, which originally appeared in Jupiter SF, has just been published over at Sci Phi Journal. It’s a free read so do head over and take a look. I hope you enjoy it.

Friday, 7 July 2017

Review: Planet of the Red Dust by N Tolman Rudolph


Planet of the Red Dust is a story of hope and survival on an alien world. The novel opens with Jared, sold survivor of the crashed Wayfarer, burying his dead colleagues on a planet which, by all indications, is devoid of life. So it comes a something of a shock when two humans appear nearby.

We quickly realise we are in the realm of the Lost Civilization genre (a genre I particularly love), but this is a civilisation lost in space. The surprisingly human nature of the denizens of this world is soon explained and their origin is unexpected and original. However, this in itself raised more questions and I eagerly anticipated answers which never came.

This was my one niggle with this tale. We discover the Who and the Where but never the How or the Why, and this left me a tad disappointed. I would also have loved to know more about the ancient technology to which we are introduced and although the people themselves may have forgotten how things work I would have expected Jared, as an astronaut, innovator and adventurer, to have more of an enquiring mind. He felt at times rather too accepting and not sufficiently questioning.

But that aside I enjoyed this tale very much. It is a gentle and ambling story of love and survival. I found the world building fascinating, both the planet and the solar system we are introduced to and the culture of the people who inhabit it. The environmental disaster that threatens this world felt very real and totally plausible. And of course, Jared has a key role to play in their survival. But to say any more would only be a spoiler.

So all in all an enjoyable and leisurely read that should appeal to all ages.

To find out more about the author visit her blog.

Available from:
Amazon US
Amazon UK

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Submission Planning 2: Direct to Publishers.

As I have already mentioned, my preferred route to publication is through a Literary Agent, and this is the route I am currently actively pursuing. But I know that the agented route isn’t for everyone and so I’m going to talk about another option – submitting directly to publishers.

There are a few disadvantages to going this route.

Many larger publishers only take agented submissions

You’ll have to negotiate your own contract.

There will be nobody to fight your corner if things go wrong.

In short you will effectively be doing the role of an agent yourself. But if this is something you feel you can manage then it is a perfectly viable option. There are plenty of publishers out there, many of which may, at sometime or other, be willing to take a look at unagented submissions. So in order to help you to find yourself a publisher I’ve listed below a few possible opportunities to watch out for.

Small publishers who routinely take un-agented submissions
These vary considerably, some being better than others. Often they don’t offer advances and the royalties can differ. Also many may be e-publishers and only offer print runs if a certain threshold of sales are reached or use POD technology, in which case your books are unlikely to make it into bricks and mortar bookstores. My best advice here is to do your research. I’ve talked about some of the things you need to consider before signing in another post here.

Imprints of larger publishing houses
Some of the bigger publishers have imprints which are open to un-agented submissions. Very often these imprints are genre specific. Here is a useful list of some of them.

Open submission windows
Keep an eye out for publishers with open submission windows. They crop up from time to time. They do tend to get inundated but you never know. You could be just what they’re looking for.

Twitter pitch parties
These happen on a regular basis and it’s a good exercise anyway distilling your pitch down to the side of a tweet. However a word of caution – do check out any agents/editors that show an interest very thoroughly before submitting anything to them.

Networking
Make the effort to get out there and meet people, be it literary festivals or writers conferences. For example book a slot for a 1-2-1 with an editor at a literary festival. (Go into these to learn something rather than expecting a book deal, but that editor could prove to be a useful contact). You never know when you might meet someone who you can submit directly to further down the line.

Monday, 10 April 2017

Guest: David Pipe, author of Sacrificing Starlight

Today I would like to welcome David Pipe to The Scribbling Sea Serpent, to talk about how Cornwall inspired his debut novel, Sacrificing Starlight.

Sacrificing Starlight

Time’s running out for DCI Hunter. His wife and child are missing, perhaps even dead. Unable to pursue those responsible he has been transferred to the wild landscape of Cornwall where he must smash the local branch of an international paedophile ring. But can anyone in this remote location be trusted? 

Alice Trevelyan’s father has his own agenda and wants retribution for the loss of his child. When he hears that small children are being abused in a disused tin mine he metes out his own violent justice. 

As Hallowe’en approaches, will Trevelyan help or hinder? Hunter must make his move if he wants to save Starlight.


Over to you, David:

I’d always wanted to write. On a bike tour my last stop was a village where a folk festival was taking place. The tourist office found accommodation in an isolated farmhouse. In ten minutes the landlady told me her life story. She and her two children had been abused by her husband. The daughter was given up for adoption. At age 21 the son committed suicide, 25 years previously. I had a story.

I don't plot. I use the Stephen King method. Ask, what would happen if? Put a character on the page, watch what he does and write it down. So I asked, what would happen if my landlady used her B&B to trap young tourists and hold them prisoner, as substitutes for her beloved son. You don’t believe it works? Try it.

I had lived in Cornwall so I moved the story there; old monasteries, ruins on misty moors.

Danny Payne is doing a bike tour. I put him on the page and followed him. He led me to Sacrificing Starlight.

Sacrificing Starlight is a gritty thriller. It asks with whom we can trust our children. Who is protecting the predators and hindering the investigators? What would you do if your child had been ‘taken’ and you caught one of the perpetrators?

If you liked Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, you’ll love Sacrificing Starlight.

This is my first book. Of all of the self-help books I read Robert McKee’s Story tells you all you need to know about structure and design and Rayne Hall’s The Word-Loss Diet turned my text into a manuscript.

Whatever you do don’t skimp on editing or the cover. My brilliant editor, Helen Baggott, turned my manuscript into a book and the amazing Jessica Bell designed the awesome cover.

I hope you enjoy Sacrificing Starlight.

Buy Sacrificing Starlight at Amazon(UK) or Amazon.com

David Pipe is an Essex man. He studied Chemistry at Hull University and after six years in the pharmaceutical industry in England and South Africa did a Ph.D at Imperial College. After postdocs in Geneva and Mulhouse he moved to the oil industry in Hamburg. In 2003 he set up a private consultancy and in 2008 gave it all up to scratch the writing itch which produced his first book, Sacrificing Starlight.

David keeps fit with swimming and Nordic Walking. When he’s not writing you’ll find him creating something delicious in the kitchen.

He lives in Hamburg with his wife and their Border terrier, Henry.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Multiple First Person Points of View

I’ve noticed that multiple first person POV narratives are becoming increasingly popular. Sometimes this can be really effective, skilfully executed by the author, and other times it can be confusing, the narratives merging together, all the characters sounding the same.

Why would this be? you wonder. Well I’ll tell you what I think. I reckon it’s all about Voice.

Finding your voice is something all writers have to do, but for a beginner this can all seem a bit puzzling. What exactly is 'voice' and how do you find it? Well the best way to find your voice is to write, and write, and to pour your soul into your words. And your voice will come to you.

Not being very helpful am I? Let me put this another way.

There are two types of Voice.

1. Your unique voice.

This is you, the way you write, the way you use words to get across your meaning. Every writer’s voice is distinct. It is unique and when you have ‘found your voice’ people will start to recognise your writing, simply because it is a reflection of you.

2. Your character’s voice.

Each character also has a voice and when you write and you immerse yourself into the head of your character and so you release that voice.

A good way to find your character’s voice is through role play. Pretend to be your character, walk like your character, talk like your character. Maybe put yourself, as your character, in the ‘hot seat’. I’ve done this in writing workshops that I’ve run and it is fascinating to see how people transform, they talk differently and sit differently as they get into character and the other group members quiz them.

So for each character’s POV the voice of that piece becomes a unique blend of your voice and your character’s voice.

It is the way the voices blend that determines whether a multiple first person narrative will work or not. If the author hasn’t developed the character’s voices enough the author’s voice will dominate and both POVs will feel the same. But develop the character’s voice and the POVs will feel distinct. The reader won’t be constantly checking back to see who is speaking. They’ll be in no doubt.

This, in my opinion, will determine whether a multiple first person narrative works or not.

What do you think?

Monday, 6 March 2017

Squally Seas

It was squally down at the beach today. 

One moment the sun broke through, lighting the shingle golden and turning the sea to jade, then the skies darkened and the rain swept in. 


We took shelter down by the shore and watched as the rain pocked the surface of the sea and the wind whipped the waves into spray. Out in the bay the ships looked as if they were floating on mist.


Then the rain passed, clouds dragging their burden out to sea and the sun lit up a rainbow, brilliant against the darkness of the sky.


Our world may have entered squally times - but there’s always a rainbow.

Monday, 6 February 2017

Review: DRIFTFISH (A Zoomorphic Anthology)

Zoomorphic is an online magazine dedicated to celebrating wildlife and nature through the written word and DRIFTFISH, their first anthology, has a particular focus on the marine environment. So it goes without saying that, as a marine scientist, I was instantly drawn to it.

The anthology itself is a beautiful creation. The cover art, three gannets plunging into a tranquil sea, says so much about the drama that hides beneath the surface waves and in a way is a metaphor complementing the contents of this gorgeous little book. For inside that cover, within these pages, are a collection of essays and poems that will transport you, wherever you are, back to the sea.


This isn’t a book to be read in one sitting but one to be taken in small chunks, each poem or essay pondered over and allowed to resonate. For resolute they do, each unique and powerful in the own right. It is a joy to discover so many authors who love the sea as much as I do.

I would be hard pushed to pick out any favourites from within these pages for all the content here is powerful and evocative but the opening essay, Standing on Stromatolites certainly appealed to my inner geologist and I found the Brief Eulogies for Lost Animals particularly poignant.

All in all this is a gorgeous book, a real gem to be treasured and I challenge even the most hardened of land lubbers not to feel moved by the spirit of the sea.

This is a book that would make a wonderful gift – although you might want to get yourself a copy as well because it’s something you’ll want to keep to immerse yourself in again and again. That is the joy of pieces like these. Each time you read them you take something new away from those words.

And now the sea is calling to me too.

Buy DRIFTFISH.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Library Love and PLR

Today was PLR statement day.

In case you’re not an author I’ll explain. PLR stands for Public Lending Rights. Authors receive a payment every time someone borrows their books from a public library. Currently this stands at 7.82 pence per loan and the number of loans is calculated from a representative sample of libraries.

This was my third PLR statement and there’s something lovely about seeing how many people have borrowed your books from their local library. My payments are modest but each year has shown a steady increase in the number of times my books have been loaned.

Libraries are a wonderful resource and often serve as a community hub. They do more than just lend books – they provide a quiet space for study, a venue for local groups to meet. Often they have a programme of talks and visits. So it always saddens me when I see reports in the news about libraries being closed.

So if you’re an author and you haven’t yet registered your books for PLR then I suggest you do so. You don’t want to miss out on the next round of payments!

And if you’re a reader then do support your local library. Borrowing a book will cost you nothing but each time you do you are helping to make an author a little bit happier.