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Okay, are you ready for Part 5?

Good, because today’s mission is to jot down a jolly good log line.

Huh?

A log line. You know, that one sentence you scream at an PEA (publisher/editor/agent) as they whizz past you at a writers conference.

Oh, that. But I can’t tell anyboy what my story is about in one sentence.

Well, suck it up because you have to. Hey, you do it on Twitter all day long.

Right, I’ve already explained it but for the benefit of the few sitting at the back of the room playing ‘Angry Birds’ on their i-phones, a log line is one short, sweet, grab you by the seat of your pants, sentence that explains your whole story. Simple :D

Easy. Now for the hard bit.

But why do we have to do the log line thing now? I want to plot.

We do the log line now because it will help you stay on track when writing your novel. Plus, if a PEA asks what your current work in progress is, you’ll be able to tell them minus the ‘..and then this happened’ or ‘..oh, I forgot to tell you about so-in-so at the beginning’…. See how it all makes sense? You need to hook them and quick. A good log line will do that.

Would it surprise you if I said PEA’s really do want to know what your novel is about? The problem most writers have is they just cannot get the right words out quick enough. In some instances you have a mere ten seconds to hook your listener. Choosing the right words is vital. Get it right, and you are on your way.

So, how can we do that?

Basically, a log line consists of four things. Seems simple doesn’t it?  Think again. Nothing in life worth having is simple. *Cheesey grin*.

Lets take a closer look at what these three things are.

1.     A main character, who
2.     Has a mission or a goal, but
3.     Must overcome an obstacle or some kind of opposition
4.     Before all hell breaks loose.

First, our protagonist is our main character or ‘hero’. The goal is what he/she wants and the obstacle is what is stopping he/she from reaching it. All hell breaking loose is what happens if he/she fails in their quest.

For example:

In the first of the ‘Twilight’ series, (the aptly named ‘Twilight’), the protagonist is school girl, ‘Bella Swan’.
Her goal is to find out more about mysterious class mate, ‘Edward Cullen’.
Her obstacle is that he is a vampire and vampires like to drink humans dry.
All hell breaking loose is that Edwards vampire enemies want to kill her.

Now we have that down, is there anything else we need to create a great log line?

Hell, Yes!

First, we must be perfectly clear. We may understand what is going on in our story, but the PEA reading our log line doesn’t know squat and has absolutely no idea what it’s about.

You need an example? Oh, alright, I’ll tell you my very first ever log line. No laughing.

An American socialite witnesses a murder and goes on the run from the MOB and FBI, but an attempt on her life leaves her with selected memory loss and it is up to a London police officer to uncover her past before they’re both assassinated.

And breathe. No choking. Excellent, lungs refilled? Then let’s continue.

There are so many things wrong with this log line, it would be easier to tell you what’s right with it….absolutely nothing. It’s too long – another ten words and I’d have a completed novel. It has too way too much back story, and blah, blah, blah.

So what went wrong? I followed the rules. I have my protag and antag. I have the goal and all hell breaking loose.

Well, yes that’s true, but then I just threw everything on the page and hoped the words would sort themselves out while I grabbed a cuppa and watched NCIS. Let me explain – Writing the words is only part of the processes. The order in which we place them is a whole different ball game.

Thanks to the awesome Kristen Lamb, the format for a log line should be something close to this:

An ADJECTIVE NOUN (protagonist) must ACTIVE VERB the (Antagonist) before  SOME REALLY HORRIBLE THING HAPPENS (stopping the protagonist from reaching her goal).

Now, if I’d presented my log line correctly the finished product may have looked something like this instead:

‘A quiet museum curator suffering from amnesia must uncover her secret past to unlock the real reason the mob has put out a contract for her life.

One thing to remember: The main logline is one sentence.

And please bear in mind that squeezing ten commas and a couple of semi-colons between one hundred and fifty words doesn’t constitute as ONE sentence….more like a splitting headache and a weekend recovering at the Priory. So, one sentence = 30 or less words.

Ok, I’ve embarrassed myself enough (something I seem to do a lot on this site), and now it is your turn. Be brave and mirror in the comment box your first vs current  log lines. Alternatively, if you have a log line you need help with, add that too. Everyone will be kind, I promise :D

Have you had a novel requested off the back of a log line? Do you find writing log lines hard or easy? Come on, don’t be shy….you know how I love talking to you guys.

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I want to ask a question. 

You’ve written a book. What direction should you take? Should you concentrate all your energy into querying literary agents and wait for months with bated breath in the hope one asks for a nibble? Or should you take the plunge and go it alone down the e-book road?

I am a book lover. I love holding a book in my hands, to feel the paper rough between my fingers. I love my book case. I love dust jackets….oh God, I love books full stop. Doesn’t everyone?

Up until now, I’d never considered owning a Kindle or Nook and, as an author, I couldn’t imagine my books being in any other format other than paper. I never thought the Kindle would ever take off. After all, how do you ask an author to sign a computer screen?

But, am I behind the times?

A couple of days ago I read a story in the Evening Standard newspaper which kind of got me thinking. I reiterate ‘kind of’. I’m not totally convinced, yet.

Most of you have probably already heard of Louise Voss. She was a struggling UK writer who couldn’t find an agent, took matters into her own hands, and published her novel on Amazon’s Kindle. She is now selling 50,000 books per month and has been offered a six-figure, four-book deal by publishers HarperFiction.

This also seems the case with writing duo Sarah Griffiths and Mark Williams, who write under the pen name Saffina Desforges. Their success on Kindle has led to discussions with a top New York agent.

We, as writers, already enter our stories into competitions and dedicate hours a week to social media so we can proudly boast our conquests to agents. Being able to brag at e-book sales is just another plus point, isn’t it? As author Linda Regan told me last year, “Agents have to sell you as well as the book. You have to be interesting.”

This all sounds super cool and easy, but is it? Going it alone sounds a mighty bit scary if you ask me. But, as I am the curious sort – and probably the only writer on planet earth that hasn’t looked at e-book (or indie) publishing – I had a nose around the Amazon web site.

So, let’s look at what I found.

Marketing.

If I was considering the e-book route, and let’s just use Amazon for this example as it’s the only site I looked at, I’d have to market the book myself. Okay, this I don’t find scary. It’s 2011 and I have Twitter and Facebook. Oh, and my good friend Kristen Lamb’s social media book ‘We Are Not Alone’ to guide me through – it should be a doddle. Plus, I have Kristen’s phone number and I know where she lives. She also taught me how to shoot a gun. There is nowhere she can hide 🙂

A big fat tick can go next to marketing.

What’s next?

Formatting.

Huh? I saw something about an rtf file and as I save all my work that way, I think I can tick that one too. Moving on swiftly.

Cost.

Books sell for as little as 96p on Amazon. How can anyone make any money from that?

Well, from what I can see, Amazon’s cut is 30%. I’ll round my book off at a £1 to make things easy, and because it’s late and I can’t be bothered to go fetch my calculator. I’ll earn 70p from each sale. Hmmm, that’s about the price of a chocolate Snicker bar these days, isn’t it?

Right, so unless I sell a hundred thousand copies, I’ll never be rich. Then again, writers don’t write for money. They write for the love of it, so that doesn’t matter.

(N.B. There is another plus point to this 96p Kindle e-book downloading, which is – I’d have saved a fortune on the rubbish Vampire Diary books).

Another tick.

Other bits worthy of a mention.

I retain the rights to my novel and, as the author, I’ll have full control of the book cover, pricing, and well, absolutely everything.

Tick, tick, tick.

I’ve tried to find some horror stories on the web regarding e-publishing on Kindle, but there really aren’t any out there.

So, that is why I am turning to my trusty followers. Have I missed something?

What do you think of e-publishing? Do you know anyone who has published on Kindle? Would you consider publishing your novel on Kindle? Have you already published on Kindle? What are your experiences? Do you know of any successes or, more importantly, have you heard any horror stories? Let me know.

You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Linkedin

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I remember years ago having someone say to me, “As long has you have a good story, it doesn’t matter what your writing is like. That’s what editors are for.”

I can just hear the gasps echoing throughout the writing community as the murmur or a witch hunt is organised.

I research a lot. I like research. Very lucky thing considering I’m a writer. And, like most writers, I have read much on the subject of writing. From all that advice, and I am talking tons of it, one main point consistently raised its ugly head….The advice was contradicting.

“Agents want first three chapters. Never send agents the first three chapters. Send to a publisher. Don’t send to a publisher.”

It’s enough to drive a writer even more insane than they already are. And yet, here I am; about to add yet another blog post and more advice onto a mound higher than the slush pile at Harper and Collins.

Hang on. Did I say advice? I don’t do advice. I merely try to enlighten. Phew! Untie the nooses – You can breathe again.

Finish Or Not To Finish?

“Start sending off your book as soon as you’ve finished the first few chapters. After all, what is the point in finishing it if no one wants it?”

Now this does seem like its common sense but I’ll say it (type it) anyway. You need to complete your novel before you submit. If an agent likes it and requests a full manuscript  to read, he isn’t going to wait half a year while you finish it.

Check it and double check it. Let your friends read it and critique it. Polish it until it’s beaming brighter than the diamond tennis bracelet I’m begging my hubby for. Then, and only then, can you submit it.

Publisher Or Agent?

“Send you book to everyone and their friends. The more the merrier.”

It seems that, in today’s market, publishers are frequently turning to agents for submissions. The idea behind their madness being, why should they spend time and money sorting through manuscripts when an agent can do it for them?

Decide on an agent, and please find one that deals with your genre. Check out their website and most importantly, follow their submission guideline rules. Every agent is different. Some want a query letter, while others are happy to look at a synopsis too. Some, the wonderful few, will even read a couple of chapters.

One Agent Or Two?

“Send your book to as many agents as you can. Why wait for one to answer first?”

Oh, now this I am 50/50 on. Usually, this would be seen as a massive ‘no-no’. But nobody likes to wait six months for a reply before they can submit to their second choice agent. We’d all like to get a book represented during this lifetime 😀

Who Goes There – Friend or Foe?

“I’ve sent this book to many other agents so, if you know what’s good for you, you’ll get in quick .”

Er, do you like prison food? No mild threats! Enough said.

“I’ve enclosed a picture of my dog, and a woolly scarf for those cold New York winters.”

This is a stranger! While grocery shopping in the frozen food aisle at Asda, would you go up to a person you’ve never met before and give them a present? Of course you wouldn’t. (And shame on you if you say ‘yes, but only if they were gorgeous’).

One mistake many new writers make is they address the agents like they are their friends. They’re not. There should be no first names, no information about the last holiday you took. Just as there shouldn’t be any mild attempt to scare your agent into representing you.

Now, I want you to tell me about the horror stories you’ve read, not including this one :). What’s the worst advice you’ve been given? Again, this post is excluded :). What’s the most cringe worthy mistake you’ve ever made while submitting to an agent? Do you agree with the above? Do you submit direct to a publisher? 

I also talk on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, and LinkedIn

Some other excellent websites for writers are Kristen Lamb, Nathan Bransford, Jennifer Holbrook-~Talty

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I used to wonder if there was a correct path I had to follow to become a successful writer.

I’m sure that isn’t unusual. After all, haven’t you all wondered the same at some point or another? And, wouldn’t you also admit to having listened to many writers tell their story in the hope of finding the answer?

Let’s take J K Rowling. Every writer knows that story; the woman who invented ‘Harry Potter’ on a delayed train from Manchester to London. In 1993 she was a single parent living on benefits. In March 2010 she was listed in Forbes as the 12th richest woman in Britain with a fortune of £560 million ($798 million).

Okay, so I have taken the most extravagant of examples, but was her path an easy one? ‘Hell no!’ (I bet she’d use those exact words if you asked her :D).

She was turned down by nearly every major publishing house until finally being accepted by an editor who worked for a then not-so-well-known Bloomsbury.

Or, what about Stephanie Meyer? She apparently had a dream and wrote a book called Twilight’, solely for her own entertainment. On her sister’s insistance, and ignoring every submission guideline known to man, she sent her manuscript to fifteen agents. Bagged one, and sat back to let the publishing auction commence. In 2010, Forbes ranked her as the 59th most powerful celebrity with annual earnings of $40 million. No wonder her husband has quit his job.

For any writer whose just starting out, it seems there are certain rules one must follow. Those rules are:

1)      Write a book. This is self-explanatory, and if I have to explain it further then you really should think of a career change.
2)      Find an agent. Some argue this. I personally think (if you find the right one) they are worth their weight in gold.
3)      Send your agent a query, synopsis, or even a chapter or two.
4)      Your super agent will have your book published within months.
5)      Count your millions as they roll in.

Okay, so there are a few holes in 5 and 6 but, in essence, these are the rules we, as writers, are told to follow.

So what is the reality?

Honestly? I think it’s a lot to do with luck. Of course you have to be able to write, although I’ve read a few books and asked myself the question ‘how the @%$*?’

But how many of you out there have found an agent via a chance meeting, word of mouth, being in the right place at the right time, or just by holding your breath and taking that brave leap of faith?

The pathway to success is a maze. There are twists and turns and lots of dead ends. We get scratched by overgrown hedges, worn out from all the walking and if we fall we get totally mud splattered. However, if you perceivere and you’re carrying with you a good idea that’s even 75% well written, I really believe you will conquer that maze and exit into publishing madness.

My current story? The novel I’m working on at the moment is an adaptation of a script I wrote with fellow writer Natalie Duggan. We were asked over to LA where I was told ‘get it written as a novel’. Two days later I was at the DFW writers convention pitching it to an agent. I was nervous, unprepared, had no chapters, no synopsis….nothing. But, he liked it and requested I send him the first few chapters once I’d drafted them. Was this down to talent? Maybe a little. After all,the LA trip was based on a pilot we’d written. Was this down to luck? Again, probably. The script had been sent to our lawyer who read it just as our manager telephoned regarding an unrelated matter, and just happened to mention she was looking for new writers. Hell, maybe it was just good old fashioned Fate stepping in.

It certainly helped that this agent had worked with our manager before. It certainly helped that I had the ‘TV pilot’ angle to ‘glitter and dazzle’ the pitch. Hell, it helped that the agent didn’t seem to mind the complete unprofessionalism of pitching a book I hadn’t even started to write!

I was told by author, Linda Regan, that a big part of being accepted by an agent is YOU. If you are interesting, then you are half way there.

Now – This is my favorite part of blogging. I love reading your comments and stories….. So, I want to hear your stories – good, bad or just downright cringeworthy. You tell me the things you have done to try and win the heart of an agent or publisher – no matter how embarrassing – and the success stories involving luck, fate and a sprinkle of bravery.

(Like my Facebook page and join myself and other writers for a natter – to my American friends, that means ‘chat’.)

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So you’ve written your book. You’ve gone through a million and one edits and now it’s finished. What do you do next?

Answer: Jump up and down with relief? Phone everyone I know and brag that I’m now a writer? Ah, I know. I find an agent or publisher, of course.

Question. What another one? Okay, what is it? ………..How do I find the right agent or publisher?

I was recently asked this very question and, if I am honest, it shocked me. I just assumed people, especially writers, would know. I mean the information is absolutely everywhere.

It’s like when you watch a quiz show on television. You assume that, because you know the answer to some questions, everyone will, too. They are the easy questions, right? Well it was the same with this question.

I had to sit and think back to the days when I first wanted to submit to a publisher. I was very young and stupid, and all the memories of bad mistakes came flooding back. No wonder I’d blocked them from my mind, along with the images of that awful, back-combed hair do I insisted on during the ’80’s. So, today’s post is going back to basics – just for you new writers out there.

Okay, your book is written, the grammar has been checked, and you’re so happy with the rewrites and edits, you fill like bursting with excitement. What do you do, now? That’s easy, I hear you say. I send it to lots and lots of people who…… Whoa, hang on there, Speedy Gonzales. It’s a little more involved than that.

Mills and Boon have reportedly claimed that, from the massive tens of thousands submissions they receive each year, if they find 10 or 12 new authors, they have had a bumper year.

The days of writing a great novel just isn’t enough to cut it these days. As with everything, the more choice available, the more picky people get – and in our case, it’s publishers and agents.

Would you believe me if I told you there is a high probability your novel will never be read? No? Most publishers and agents have what’s called a ‘slush’ pile, and your novel, yes, the one you’ve slaved over day and night for the past year, can end up sitting on it, like a cherry on top of an ice-cream sundae. Well it can, and most probably will if you don’t adhere to the following rules:

Rule One: Get yourself a copy of the ‘Writers and Artists Yearbook’, and make sure it is an up to date copy. They are printed every year, and also have a website so there is no excuse to use information that is three years old.

Rule Two: The all important research. I cannot stress enough that, just because you’ve typed ‘THE END’ on your novel, it is the end of you research too. Research never ends. It must be reapplied to the next job in hand – in this case, finding the correct agent/publisher. Sending to every contact listed in the W&AY (Writers & Artists Yearbook) is nothing more than a waste of time and money. This book tells you who is best to contact and lists everything you will need to start: The agents/publishers contact details, their required genres, submission details, etc. Everything is in this book.

Rule Three: Over to the internet. Just because the W&AY lists the details, doesn’t mean they are completely up to date. An agent or editor may have left or be closed to submissions. It happens. Think how many times you have changed your email address. Can you honestly say, with hand on heart, you’ve remembered to update every social network site you joined in the past year? So, log on to the contacts company website. Check the editor is still the editor. Check their email address remains the same, check they are still accepting submissions. Check, check, check. These are the things that make sure your novel will reach the right person.

Rule Four: Presentation. Most manuscripts are required in a certain format: Typed, double-spaced, 12pt Times New Roman, inch wide margins and un-justified. Please stick to this. Don’t use fonts so fancy they are hard to read, or make your writing so small the agent will need a magnify glass, otherwise the only thing seeing it will be the ‘slush pile’.

Rule Five: Following the Rules. Just because agent Joanne wants the first three chapters of your book submitted, doesn’t mean agent Tim will too. Tim may just want a synopsis first, and agent Barry may be so busy, he only has time to scan a query letter. It is imperative you only send what the agent/publisher requires. Anything more or less and you will end up on that mountain of slush, and we do not want to end up there, do we?

Rule Six: The small print. The small print is a bunch of extra submission rules. Some are, hopefully, obvious and the main one that springs to mind is not to staple work – always bind it with an elastic band. But some are not so obvious. I read in one set of submission rules that sending your work in the wrong envelope will mean instant ‘slush’ pile. It’s true. The company’s post room were under strict orders not to deliver those fibre padded envelopes to one agent, as she hated the mess it made to her clothes when opening them. Bubble wrap padded envelopes, however, were acceptable. Fair enough. I don’t like opening one of those fibre envelopes either, let alone opening 25+.

Rule Seven:­ Respect. This is so important. The person you are sending your beloved story to is a professional. They are busy, under pressure and can be the gatekeeper to your new career. For God’s sake, respect them. Do not bombard them with gimmicks, such a fancy coloured envelopes, glitter, perfumed pages, photos of yourself or your pets, cakes or sweets….oh I could go on and on and on. Remember, you are trying to sell your story, not your soul. All they want is an easy opening envelope, to remove clean pages and read.

Rule Eight: Last but not least, pestering. If an agent says it will take 3-4 months to reply, don’t start contacting them after two. If you require confirmation of receipt, add a self addressed envelope with the correct return postage. If, after the four months is up, you have not heard back, then it is acceptable to follow up with a polite enquiry as to the status of your work. But, beware. Bother them too much and the slush pile will just get that little bit taller.

I hope this helps, and I would love to hear any mistakes you’ve made in the past, no matter how bad (come on, spill the beans :D), and if there is any advice you can add, please do.

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