This is my summary of the second of Suzanne Ruthven’s workshops I took at the Caerleon Writer’s Holiday.
1) Rejection Slips
Suzanne said, “Rejection slips can tell you quite a lot. If it says it is not suitable for their list, it means you have not done enough market study and that is why it does not fit in. However, it could also mean it is too similar.”
When anything becomes popular, others tend to follow suit but publishers want something with a totally different slant. Suzanne advises that you should never try to copy someone else’s style or try to emulate. Leaning towards with an original voice is your twist.
2) Writing Style
Every book has a hero and / or a heroine and you as the writer have to empathise with the age group you are writing about. Especially, if you are writing for children, maturity age can always show through. The writer must be aware of this. Listen to the age group you are writing about and the way they express themselves.
“Think about the way people communicate and write in a language they can empathise with. The days of writing for ourselves are long gone and if you want to see yourself in print you need to be clear and focused about your novel.”
She stressed it is important to read the latest in the genre you are writing. Look at the language and the writing style the publisher will accept. The only way to get a feel is to find out what everyone is publishing.
Suzanne said, “Really study what the publisher is accepting. If your novel is wordy, it is no good sending it to a publisher who likes short, sharp sound bites. Editor’s preferences influence what gets taken on.”
Know what you are writing, who for and where you are going with it. Always finish a chapter on a cliffhanger. There are no preferred lengths for chapters and no problem with shorter chapters. Keep it short, snappy and punchy.
3) Submitting Your Manuscript
Suzanne’s advice for new writers is never to submit anything over 80,000 words, as you will be told to cut it. This is not so relevant for children’s writers as some of the novels I have written are only 8000 words. I could not imagine writing 80,000. She suggested we aim for 100,000 words and cut.
She also said, what you submit should be the final product. It is no good thinking you can edit it later or an editor will go through it and make the necessary amendments. This will not happen. Nowadays the book-publishing world is an industry and a writer, especially new writers, should treat it as such.
We were told that when you’re a beginner do not approach a publisher or agent until you’ve finished your book. Once finished in the first draft, you can start tightening. They also want to know you’ve got something else in the pipeline. They want continuity.
Publishers need to know that you’ve finished a book and what you are now working on. It gives them an indication that you are serious. Suzanne also said you can waste more time trying to get an agent than writing a book. Often it is not what you know, but whom you know.
On the question of simultaneous submissions, Suzanne said she knows the handbooks say not to but she recommends you send out as many as you like. As soon as someone asks to see the whole of it then you stop sending it out and let the publisher know who else is considering it.
Suzanne added that nowadays, writers are expected to do a lot of their own publicity.