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Querying

How I signed with an agent

For more context about where I was at before I started querying, take a gander at this blog post. But for those who only have time to read one lot of my ramblings today, a summary:

I queried two books before I signed with an agent with my third. Sadly, this partnership didn’t work out for a number of reasons, and we parted ways. I found this process really difficult and there are loads of ways I’ve carried it with me into querying again, some of them good and some of them bad.

The biggest thing was that I didn’t expect to be here again. I’d had an agent, so I thought my days of querying were done. The crushing blow of losing that agent, although I did ultimately feel like parting ways was the right decision, was that it sent me right back to square one again.

BEFORE QUERYING

I took some time before I dove back in. The YA book I was working on with that agent was probably query ready, but I’d utterly fallen out of love with it. I wanted to do something new, and more and more my mind was turning towards the weird little crime stories I’d written whenever I needed a brain break.

I grabbed the one that was calling to me the most and totally rewrote it. I changed the main character, beefed up subplots, added in better setting descriptions. I literally rewrote it word for word because I knew that so much needed to change. I think I also needed this time. I needed to fall back in love with my writing again, to prove to myself that I could write something compelling and deep, that I could enjoy some part of this process and find life in it.

Once the re-write was done, I asked a whole load of people to read it – nine of them! This may not sound like a lot to some of you, but it’s the biggest pool of beta readers I’ve ever used. Some of them gave detailed line-by-line notes, some gave overall comments, one commented on the police procedures, and some (my mum) were cheerleaders. I needed all of them. Like I needed the time of rewriting to heal, I needed the affirmation from beta readers to show me that I could write a story worth reading.

By September 2021 (five months after splitting with my previous agent), I was ready to query again. I put together my query letter (read more about that here) and synopsis, plus made sure that my first three chapters were as hecking exciting as they possibly could be. And then it was time to dive in.

That first month, I sent out just four queries. I was being very particular, but I also knew that if I threw my work out to loads of agents and then got loads of rejections, I wouldn’t cope very well. I chose carefully, made sure I referenced their wish lists and researched their client lists, and then tried my hardest not to think about it.

I have to say that at this point I had literally no idea the toll that querying would take on me. I had done it before, so I thought I knew the deal. I’d be careful not to check my emails too much (I failed) and I’d manage my expectations (ha). What I hadn’t taken into account was how much my previous experience with an agent was hanging over me the whole time. It robbed me of confidence and basically made every little bit of the process all that much harder.

So if you’re in a similar boat, I’d advice taking all the time you need before you start querying again. I know how gutting it is to part ways with an agent and I know the terrible fear that you’re never going to find someone to represent you again, which can galvanise you into action too soon – but please take care of yourself. I wasn’t very good at this, and it made querying an even less enjoyable experience than it is anyway.

THE FIRST REJECTIONS AND THE FIRST FULL REQUEST

The rejections came first, and they didn’t pack quite as much of a punch as I’d expected them to. I think I was vaguely realistic about this part of the process – even if my novel was shit-hot (and I would go so far as to say it was quite good), then it wasn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea. I really loved writing about a traumatised detective and interspersing the action with loads of emails and report and transcripts, but that wasn’t going to be what every agent I queried was looking for.

So I was alright with being rejected. Maybe there was even a little bit of my brain that believed they were right to reject me – one agent already had in such a monumental way, so it was no surprise that others would to. What I was less prepared for was my reaction to a full request.

Now, I really don’t want anyone to think I wasn’t insanely grateful. Part of me was jumping for joy – this was the validation I needed to throw more queries out there and maybe this was the first step in finding an agent. Yay!

But there was another part of my brain that totally freaked out. I cried when I got that first request, and they weren’t tears of joy. There was some panic thrown in there too. Some fear.

Now I’m not exactly sure what was going on in my little brain, but I think that the part that wanted to protect me from further pain would have actually preferred it if all I got were form rejections. With full requests came greater hope, and with greater hope came more potential for pain.

I don’t know if anyone else feels like this, but I wanted to talk about it. I feel like all we are meant to feel when we get a full request is unmatched joy, but this wasn’t my experience this time around. Every full request I got freaked me the heck out. I didn’t cry every time, but I certainly wasn’t very happy.

I know that sounds strange, since the literal point of querying is to get full requests. But I do wonder if I’m not the only one who feels this way. Maybe I’m not the only one who felt a whole range of emotions when they got full requests. This is such a tough business and we’re putting so much more than words into agent’s hands when we send them our stories. That’s a really hard thing to do, and the more encouragement we receive then the harder the fall if it doesn’t work out.

(I’m not meaning to bum anyone out here. I hope talking about this is helpful!)

MORE REJECTIONS AND MORE FULL REQUESTS

Over the next few months, I sent out a steady stream of queries, and got a mixed bag of form rejections and full requests. I also started to get rejections on the fulls I’d already sent out, which were uniformly kind and encouraging. I got into a groove with querying – I made sure to send out at least 5 but up to 10 submissions each month, and I tried my hardest to think about the pending full requests as little as possible.

But between all this zen-like denial of what was going on, one rejection broke through and cut deep. I have no idea why this one hurt me so badly. I’d very carefully not allowed myself to get attached to any particular agent that I queried, so it wasn’t like I had high hopes for them. It was for a full, which was always a bit more painful, but it wasn’t the first rejection for a full I’d had. It was the fourth, so I thought I’d gotten used to the blow. It was kind and helpful, and the agent gave the most feedback that I’d gotten for a rejection so far.

I honestly don’t know why this one hit me so hard, but had a proper cry when I read the email. I felt, for the first time, that maybe I really was right and this story wasn’t going to go anywhere. At least, not in a traditional publishing sense.

I took two things from this rejection. The first – sometimes we think we have querying figured out and then the toughness of it slams into us. Querying is ridiculously hard! I think we forget this sometimes, because it’s the process most writers have to go through and forgetting is often a helpful tool so that we don’t get too down. But we’re throwing little bits of our hearts out into the world with no idea what reaction we will get. The odds are monumentally stacked against us.

I guess what I’m trying to say is – I think it’s completely reasonable to find querying an emotional rollercoaster. Sometimes you’ll feel like you’re pootling along happily and then there is a sudden dip or high, and you’re not in control of these things. It’s okay if sometimes rejections just make you shrug or if they make you question everything you’re doing.

The second thing I took from this rejection was that there isn’t only one way to get a book into reader’s hands. I have some lovely writing friends who have self-published their stories. I have always been fairly set on wanting to go down a traditional publishing route, but I think my previous experience with an agent and the toughness of entering the querying trenches again had me rethinking that. I realised that there are a hell of a lot of benefits to self-publishing – greater autonomy and control, ability to set your own timelines, pocketing a greater percentage of profit per book, to name just a few. I read a book, just to dip my toe in the water, and found it really helpful – The Writers’ and Artists’ guide to Self-Publishing. I highly recommend it to anyone considering this route.

This new idea there was a way to get my book into reader’s hands even if my querying didn’t work out the way I hoped took a lot of the sting out of subsequent rejections that flowed in. I was no longer solely dependant on a gatekeeper – I could become my own gatekeeper! I would get my book out into the world no matter what.

I’m pleased that things have worked out the way they have, but I am so glad that I looked into self-publishing and took back that control for myself. It made my final months of querying so much more peaceful, which was helpful because…

THINGS STARTED TO GET INTERESTING

At the start of February (five-ish months into querying), Kate Nash Literary Agency did a little flurry of tweets about what each of their agents were looking for. I had a look through them, plus a nose around their website, and felt like my story was what one of their agency assistants, Saskia Leach, might be looking for.

I sent off my query to her on the 9th February. I wasn’t very confident about it, as the agency asked for the letter to be laid out in a different way with slightly different information included to what I was used to. (A quick aside – ALWAYS FOLLOW THE AGENCY GUIDELINES!)

Saskia requested the full on the 14th February. I sent it off, and then did the usual of trying to forget about it as much as possible. I’d had fulls out since October/November that I still hadn’t heard back from (I nudged the agents every month or so and they had assured me they were still interested but just really busy), so I didn’t expect to hear back from her any time soon.

Something that I found really kind and considerate, is that Saskia checked in a month later to let me know that she was reading and enjoying my submission, and to let me know that she’d be in touch soon. These small things that show agents are aware of the tole querying takes on writers, how horrible it can be to have fulls out for a long time and hear nothing, are a sign that you’re in contact with a good egg. I still tried really hard not to get my hopes up, despite the good vibes I was getting, since how many times have we felt a connection with an agent and it’s ended in pain?

But on the 28th March, Saskia emailed to request a chat. She said she loved my story and would be interested in finding out more about me, my vision for the series, and where I saw my writing career going. I was absolutely bricking it before this chat, but Saskia put me at ease right away. She explained how the Kate Nash Literary Agency worked, the kinds of authors they represented, and how they worked with their authors. She gave me some suggested edits that she’d want me to make before we went on submission – and they were all great. They all showed that she had connected with this story and had a clear vision of how to make it stronger.

We chatted for over an hour, during which Saskia made sure that I asked any questions I needed to. I was buzzing when we said goodbye, and later that afternoon Saskia sent me an offer of representation.

DECISION TIME

My gut instinct was that I wanted to be represented by Saskia and the Kate Nash Literary Agency, but I really didn’t want to rush into a decision. I also had four fulls out with other agents at that point, and I felt like it was only fair to give them a final chance to read my story. I set a deadline of the 15th April – giving them two weeks to make a decision.

I emailed them all to say I had an offer of representation and tell them about the deadline, plus everyone else I had a query out with. Over the two weeks, two other agencies also asked for the full.

I spent those two weeks in a state of nervous anticipation. I knew I had an offer from an agent who I really liked, so some of the pressure was taken off, but I also knew there was a chance that another agent would also offer, and then I’d have a really hard decision to make.

You may not believe me, but I was honestly so pleased when I got to the end of those two weeks and Saskia’s was the only offer on the table. I would have hated trying to make a decision between two agents, and I had such a good feeling about her.

I accepted the offer of representation on the 14th April, and signed with the agency on the 20th April. Since then, Saskia has only confirmed how lovely she is while guiding me through my induction into the agency and introducing me to the other authors they represent. We’ve had another chat to nail down all the changes needed before we go on submission, and I feel so excited about them. They’re only going to give depth and flair to my story.

And that’s it! If there’s one thing I’d want anyone to take from my experience, it would be – be kind to yourself. Let yourself feel sad when the rejections roll in, let yourself feel mixed emotions when good things happen, don’t over query and exhaust yourself, and, whenever possible, stay away from your emails!

STATS

For those who are both nosy AND geeky beans (like me)

Total number of queries sent – 50
First query sent – 8th September 2021
Last query sent – 21st March 2022
Requests via pitch contests – 2 (both of which resulted in a form rejections)
Introductions via writer-type people – 7 (which resulted in 2 full requests (who then rejected), 4 form rejections, and one no reply)
Cold queries – 41
Full requests – 14 (13 of these rejected and 6 of them gave feedback)
Form rejections – 20
Rejections on the submission with personalised feedback – 2
No replies – 14 (one of which was a full request)
Longest reply – 5 and a half months (full requested in November, didn’t hear until April)
Shortest reply – 1 day (full requested and then rejected (with no feedback) the next day)
Offers of representation – one 😊

I hope this has been helpful! I love helping other writers make their stories shine. If you’d like me to take a look at your story, check out my editing options. And I’d love to keep you up-to-date with all my editing tips, writing adventures, and editing availability with my monthly newsletter.

Specifics in Query Letters

I love helping editing clients make their query letters shine and a thing I find myself saying repeatedly is that there are more specifics needed. To help make sure that your query sticks in agent’s minds, the letter needs to be snappy and original. The only way to do this is by being as specific as possible about your story, characters, the comparison titles, and you as the writer. Vagueness is easily forgotten, but interesting specifics will stick in agent’s minds.

Disclaimer for my editing clients – I only ever share advice that I find myself giving again and again. I am NOT talking about you and will never reference your stories. In fact, I’m probably going to talk about ME quite a lot!

So let’s break it down. I’m going to go through a query letter in the order that I wrote one and which I feel works well to introduce agents to your story in a fun and helpful way. Starting with…

1. THE ELEVATOR PITCH

This is one or two lines designed to encapsulate the essence of your story. This doesn’t mean they have to tell the whole story, but just give a flavour and hook agents in. Here’s mine:

Note – it doesn’t tell you very much BUT there are some interesting specifics in there to snag interest. We know the victim, that the case is a difficult one, and that the suspects are not going to make it any easier.

Now, this isn’t perfect. I could have rammed even more specifics in there, but hopefully you get the gist. Make sure that this short intro to your story could only ever be describing YOUR story – and pull out as many interesting details as you can. Avoid vagueness at all costs.

2. INTRO TO CHARACTERS AND PLOT SUMMARY

This makes up the bulk of your letter. It doesn’t have to tell the agents everything (that’s what a synopsis is for) but acts more like a blurb – something to capture interest and give a better sense of what the story is about. Here’s mine:

I feel like I should say here that I honestly don’t think that my query letter is perfect, but I hope that sharing it is helpful! I’m such a nosy bean – I love seeing what everyone else has sent to agents!

Anyway, this plot summary is full of more specifics. They are the ones I felt were the most important to know, to both give a sense of the story and the characters, and they would give agents something to think about. Note – I didn’t include everything. There are two suspects that aren’t even mentioned, plus the detective’s histories are only hinted at. There is a fine line to tread between being specific enough that your story stands out, but not getting overly bogged down in the details.

I like to think of this part of the letter as the walk between the elevator to the front door. Your elevator pitch interested them enough that they want to hear more, but you’ve got a limited amount of time before they’ll walk out the door.

Keep it snappy – tell them only what they really need to know and only what is really interesting. Think about what is unique and attention-grabby about your story and make sure that’s included. Make sure the characters, their aims, and the stakes/threats are clear. And again, avoid vagueness at all costs. If your character needs to save the world, then how are they going to do that and what do they most care about saving? If they are looking for romance, what’s different about their search and why to they need a special someone?

Ask yourself why a lot, and try to be as specific as possible in your answers. Make sure that this section is exciting and enticing – leave all the other details for the synopsis. Look at the backs of books and practice writing about your story in the same style.

3. THE BORING BITS

These are the things that agents need to know, and I’d suggest putting them further down in your letter simply because they can get excited about the story first and then read the info they need. Here’s mine:

This is all the junk that agents need to know – how the story is told (if it’s a bit different to the norm), the word count and genre. And, MOST IMPORTANTLY, your comparison titles. Comparison titles are something I’ve harked on about before. They are a great opportunity to show off both that you’re reading in your genre and that you understand where your book sits in the market.

AND they are another chance to get specific. It’s not that helpful to say, ‘my story is cross between The Hunger Games and Pride and Prejudice.’ (SOMEONE WRITE THIS!) What elements of these is it similar too? What bits do you want to evoke in agent’s minds?

If you’re using comparison titles (which can be anything – books, magazines, films, TV series, songs, famous people…), make sure to say more than just the name. Maybe it’s the brutality of The Hunger Games set alongside the miscommunication and family dynamics of Pride and Prejudice?

Note that I haven’t talked about themes at all. This is another area where vagueness is RIFE. What story isn’t about friendship or courage or love? Show these elements in your plot summary with specific details, rather than putting something in your letter that could apply to a hundred other stories

4. THE PERSONALISED BIT

I always feel like it’s a good idea to spend some time researching agents and personalising your letter. This doesn’t have to be much – just referring to something on their wish list or in a recent tweet is great. Here’s mine:

Note – this is also a great place to say specifically why you have written this story. Do you share any characteristics with your main character? Do you have a specific experience that informs your writing? Did something interesting happen that sparked this idea?

5. ME ME ME

The main thing, initially, that you need to sell is the story so make sure that your letter is focused on that, but it’s good to throw in a few specifics about yourself. In the end, agents are signing you as a writer, so they will want to get a sense of your personality. Here’s mine:

There is loads of stuff I left out here – I didn’t chat about my degree or how long I’ve been writing or any awards or my love of cake. Instead, I just picked a few things I felt were relevant and interesting – and mentioning a pet is always a win. Reading is such a big part of my life that I couldn’t resist mentioning it here, and that’s the thing to ask yourself – what defines you and informs your writing? Are you a keen traveller, blogger, baker, or crafter? What makes you tick?

Two final notes:

1. Do be careful not to waffle. Specifics are great, bogging down agents in too many details isn’t. A query letter should be no more than a page long – mine was 487 words (which is probably a little on the long side).

2. This isn’t actually the letter I sent to my lovely agent. Kate Nash Literary Agency asked for things to be done differently, so that’s what I did. So make sure to retain the specifics, but ALWAYS follow agency guidelines.

I hope this has been helpful! If you’d like me to take a gander at your query package or your whole story, check out my editing options. And I’d love to keep you up-to-date with all my editing tips, writing adventures, and editing availability with my monthly newsletter.

April reads

April has been a lush reading month, and not just because I have FOUR favourites to chat about. I’ve been taking full advantage of the slightly warmer weather with some quality outdoor reading time. Is there anything better than reading in the sunshine while birds holler around you? But onto my faves…

I hesitate to call a book my FAVOURITE EVER but if I was going to bestow that title, it would be to Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I love this book so much! It’s the original rom-com – full of romance, jolliness, and a bucketful of misunderstandings. If you’ve not dipped your toe into much classical reading, I’d recommend giving this one a try. It’s easy to read and pacey, and the silly side characters will put a smile on your face.

Must Do Better by Kate Weston had me giggling and crying in equal measure. This is the second in a YA series, so go back and read Diary of a Confused Feminist if you haven’t already. Kate’s writing is fun and heartfelt, toeing the line perfectly between teenage foolishness and confronting the sometimes harsh realities of living with mental illness. AND these books are a masterclass in voice – check them out if this is something you’re trying to beef up in your own writing!

Mad About You is Mhairi McFalane’s latest offering, and it’s just as gripping as her other novels. The main character is dealing (or ignoring) past traumas, until they come back to bite her. This story explores the poisonous nature of the online pile-on alongside a romance that will have you glued to the page. I’m always a fan of a robust love interest, and this one fits the bill.

The Last Firefox by Lee Newbury is a beautiful story, not least because of the wonderful illustrations by Laura Catalán. This middle grade adventure pulls together magical fun and the message that every family is precious and valid. I loved the animal sidekick, who will have kids aw-ing and laughing in equal measure.

I also want to give a little shout-out for The Cosy Cottage in Ireland by Julie Caplin. This is pure escapism – mouth-watering food description and a dreamy retreat in rural Ireland with a hunky man were just what I needed! I’ll be checking out the other titles in the series.

As always, read them all and we can be chums 😊

March reads

March was a splendid reading month – a mix between fun rom-coms, magical adventures, and even a bit of non-fiction! These were my highlights…

A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske is my first five star read of the year. It is PHENOMENAL. Beautifully written and wonderfully crafted, I had to force myself to slow down so that I didn’t race through it too quickly and then make myself sad because I had to leave the characters behind. It’s got so much that I love – hidden magical societies, found family, hidden romance, and WHO CAN RESIST THAT HECKING COVER?! Perfect for fans of Natasha Pulley and Becky Chambers, but also everyone should read it so that I can STOP SHOUTING.

I was incredibly fortunate to be sent an advance copy of The Extraordinary Adventures of Alice Tonks by Emily Kenny, and it’s one that any lovers of middle grade adventures should add to their TRB right now. Reading this was doubly special, as I worked with Emily on an early version of this story before she even had an agent. It was lovely to see how the novel has changed and grown. If you love talking animals, autistic main characters, and boarding school fun then this is the one for you.

I cannot recommend the Writers’ and Artists’ Guide to Self-Publishing highly enough to anyone thinking of going down this route. It runs through the essentials – editing, design, production, sales, and marketing – all in an inspirational and practical way. If you want to publish your words well, then make sure you get a copy of this!

Beach Read by Emily Kenny is one of my favourite rom-coms this year – and I’ve read a few! One of my biggest peeves is when the love interest is just a vaguely male shaped thing who the main character can bump/rub/hump up against, but this is not the case here! I honestly don’t think the title or cover does justice to this story – it’s deep and heartfelt, delving into the pain of loss and the difficulties of starting something new when people have lots of baggage. This is great for any fans of Olivia Dade or Ali Hazelwood.

As always, read them all and we can be chums 😊

February reads

I delved deep into romances during February, and came away with ONE clear favourite…

The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood is such good fun. The main character is a female scientist – intelligent, passionate, and career focussed – and the romance element is so well spun out. I have read a few too many rom-coms that feel a little lacking in both tension and believability, but this isn’t one of them. I could have hung out with these characters for much longer, and I can’t wait for Ali’s next book to come out!

And I want to give a quick shout out to The Spanish Love Deception by Elena Armas. It’s exactly what it says on the tin – utter jolly nonsense. The perfect escape if things in the real world are getting a little too heavy for you at the moment. Plus, this is a self-publishing success story. Elena published independently at first, but when her book soared into book charts and became a Goodreads book of the year, she was picked up by a publisher and is now reaching even more readers than ever.

As always, read them all and we can be chums 😊

Disappointing Climaxes

in novels…

I’ve seen a few disappointing climaxes in client’s stories recently (cue childish giggling), so thought I would share some ideas to make sure your story climaxes are as satisfying as possible (cue more giggling).

A little disclaimer: previous clients – please don’t worry that I’m talking about you. I will NEVER reference specific stories and I only share topics that I find myself returning to on several occasions.

The climax of any story is the moment that writers and readers alike are working towards from the first page. It’s the culmination of whatever was kicked off with your inciting incident being wrapped up in some way. It could be an epic battle, a gentle kiss, a jump from the back of a train, a step towards self-acceptance and change… there is no one thing that constitutes the perfect climax to a story, but I think we all know when one hasn’t quite hit the mark.

We walk away from a story feeling distinctly MEH. So much was promised, and we were let down. Sadly, I’ve read a few published novels recently that have left me feeling this way.

The perfect climax for a story is hard to get right, but it’s so worth the effort of rewriting and editing. It’s the difference between becoming an author that readers will return to, or one that they will pass by next time. A good climax makes the story. Please don’t get too mad at me if you totally love Lost, but how many people now loathe that series because the ending was so appallingly bad? But how many people love Schitt’s Creek because that ending was everything we needed it to be?

There are a few things I’ve noted cropping up repeatedly in my client’s work that mean their climaxes fall flat. This is not an exhaustive list, but it could help you to round out your story’s climax if it’s not quite there at the moment

  1. THE CLIMAX IS RUSHED

Simple, but so easily done. You’ve battled through writing most of a book, all those pesky threads are coming together, you’re so close to ending this beast – so you don’t give the climax the time and space it deserves. It would be kinda like if at the end of The Lord of the Rings after you had all this epic set up and Sam literally carrying Frodo up the volcano thing, it ended with a line like:

‘And Frodo threw the ring into the lava and he and Sam walked home.’

No. Nooooo. Firstly, we need that final battle with Gollum, the final battle within Frodo himself. We need to see all the gore and pain and heartbreak of those final moments. We need to linger with this final, pivotal scene because we’ve been building towards it for so long.

Now, your book may not be the final in a series of fantasy epics, but the principle applies. Linger with your climax. Think of all the threads that have led there and make sure they are all tying together. Think about your characters – what do they need to achieve as they cross this final hurdle? What have you been making readers want for the past 200 pages and are you going to give it to them?

2. THERE AREN’T ENOUGH THREATS

Apparently I’ve decided to hinge this thread on The Lord of the Rings. Oh well.

Imagine if Frodo had a mission to get rid of the ring because it turned people invisible and that seemed a bit weird. He went for a camping trip with some friends and they encountered some barriers but eventually got to the big old mountain and threw it in. The end.

What a boring arse story. Without the threat of THE ENTIRE WORLD THEY KNEW BEING DESTORYED there is no real point to the quest to destroy the ring. Even apart from this big threat – there are lots of little personal threats throughout. Threats make the stakes high, and stakes need to be high for readers to feel invested in the climax of a story.

Again, you might not have THE FATE OF THE ENTIRE WORLD at stake in your story, but there has to be something significant that your character stands to lose if they don’t achieve the thing the story has been working towards. If they’ve got nothing to lose, then why should your readers care about what the character is doing? Another reason readers will struggle to care about the climax is if…

3. YOUR MAIN CHARACTER’S AIM IS UNCLEAR/THEY LACK AGENCY

Handily, I did a whole blog post all about agency last year. You can read that here.

Agency is your character needing or wanting something and then taking steps towards achieving it. Sometimes, it’s hard to spot when your novel lacks agency because stuff is happening – but is this stuff caused by your main character or happening to them?

Ideally, you’ll have a good mix of things that happen to them and things they make happen, but the climax needs to be hinged on the aim or goal or wish your character has been fighting towards working itself out in some way.

Imagine if Frodo got to the bad mountain and he said he couldn’t climb it so Sam plucked the ring out of his hand and threw it in the lava for him. That would have been soooo unsatisfying. It had to be Frodo that threw the ring in. It was his aim, it was his goal to achieve.

4. TOO MUCH INFORMATION HAS BEEN WITHHELD

I think we’ve all read those novels, and crime is a genre that is particularly guilty of this, when you get really close to the end of the novel and you’re suddenly blindsided with all this information that was withheld throughout.

It’s really annoying! You’ve spent the whole novel with your brain engaged, following the clues, tracking suspects, and then it turns out it was their long lost aunt WHO YOU WERE NEVER TOLD ABOUT who stole the manatee.

Characters developing skills that have been in no way hinted at during the novel, relatives popping up who have never been mentioned, new creatures suddenly charging in to save the day – they might make for a dramatic finish, but probably one that will leave readers unsatisfied.

Leave hints at anything important that’s going to happen in the climax throughout the novel. The ending is not the place to introduce a whole load of new info, but rather a place to piece together what you’ve already got. This is similar to another type of disappointing climax:

5. A TWIST THAT CANNOT BE TRACKED

Frodo gets to the top of the mountain, he goes to throw in the ring, and suddenly Sam turns on him. He pushes Frodo into the lava and takes the ring for himself, becomes the new dark lord or whatever, and becomes best mates with an orc.

Um, no. No, thank you. Sam has been set up throughout the novels as the most pure and loyal individual who has ever lived. His every action is to the benefit of Frodo, apart from a few mistakes that he heartily regrets. There would be no way, if he suddenly turned on Frodo at the end, to track that twist back.

Readers should be able to read books with twists at their climax and spot all the little warning signs along the way. That’s what makes the best twists brilliant – we didn’t see them coming but we should have, and then we can go back and spot all the hints and feel very clever. An unprecedented twist will leave readers feeling alienated – they haven’t been included on the fun

6. THERE ISN’T ENOUGH CONNECTION WITH THE CHARACTER

Now, there is a lot of discussion about how difficult it is to make a character who is relatable for everyone, since we all have such different backgrounds, but connection isn’t really about relatability. It’s not even really about likability.

I don’t know what it’s like to be a short dude with hairy feet. I don’t know what it’s like to go on a horrible camping trip with a load of other people and fight off the urges to wear a weird ring. I don’t know what it’s like to climb a mountain, fight orcs, or even have a second breakfast.

I do know what desperation and fear feels like. I have friends I would do anything for. I have things I care about and fight for. I feel jealousy, fight impulses, and can empathise with looking at a task and feeling there is just too much to be done for one person alone

Your character doesn’t have to be exactly like the reader or even someone they would want to be friends with, but there does have to be something about what they’re experiencing that will draw the reader in. There are universal things that make us human – love, hope, joy, pain, fear, sadness – and depending on the genre and age group you’re writing for, your novel will tap into one or more of these. Write about them authentically, and readers will care about your characters and the culmination of their journeys.

And that’s it! All my thoughts about disappointing climaxes. I’ve had to be very sensible for almost this blog post, so I think I may go lie down now.

I love working with other writers – making sure their climaxes and all other elements of their stories shine. Take a gander at my editing services and get in touch if you’d like kind and thorough feedback on your words.

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January reads

A slightly slow start to 2022, but a good start. I have three favourites to shout about…

Talk Bookish To Me by Kate Bromley was pure fun from start to finish. It’s a great read for any writers out there who want to feel seen – there is so much procrastination and struggling with deadlines! The food descriptions are lush, so make sure to read with a few of your favourite treats to hand. This would be a great read for any contemporary rom-com lover.

Hexed by Julia Tuffs is the first in a young adult series following a teenage witch’s discovery of her epic powers. It has wonderful period rep in it – their powers are literary linked to their menstrual cycles – and it shines a light on just easy it is for young men to steamroll and gaslight young women. It’s fun and funny, and I particularly enjoyed it as it’s set on the Isle of Wight and I could point at the page every time it mentioned somewhere I knew.

The Magnificent Sons by Justin Myers blew me away. It’s unflinching portrayal of bi-erasure and the struggles of coming out later in life had me glued to the page. Following one man’s journey away from the relationship he’s felt forced into by societal, familial, and personal pressures, this story is a love story at its heart – both a romantic one and between two brothers.

As always, read them all and we can be chums 😊

December reads

A grand reading month in December helped me finish the year on a high AND I completed my challenge of reading 100 books – I actually read 101! There were two clear favourites this month…

Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade was just as fun, fat, and (struggling for a third F word) feisty (?!) as All the Feels. Dade is a new firm fave author of mine. It’s so lovely finding a writer whose work connects with some part of who you are – I love these rom coms and can’t wait for more! They are great for fans of Mhairi McFarlane and Sophie Kinseller (I read my first of her books this month and it was also a corker!)

A Court of Silver Flames by Sarah J. Maas is actually the fourth book in a series, so really you need to go away and read those first… BUT this is so worth the wait – all these books are fun and action packed. I have really enjoyed dipping into some fantasy – and can’t wait to read her other series!

As always, read them all and we can be chums 😊

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2021 favourites

My top reads of the year

I had such a great reading year in 2021 that I really struggled to whittle my favourites down to just 12 books. I discovered wonderful new authors and returned to some old, comfortable reads. Choose any of these to add to your TBR and you are in for such a treat.

All the Feels by Olivia Dade is a glorious rom-com for those longing for a leading lady who isn’t stick thin. The fat rep in Dade’s books is phenomenal – the realities of living as a fat person aren’t shied away from but these women’s bodies are celebrated without reservation by their partners. And the love interest in this novel is also so real and flawed and loveable.

Last Night by Mhairi McFarlane is another intelligent rom-com – the characters are so well written and the friendships complex and messy. I went back and read McFarlane’s other books after picking this one up at Sainsburys and none of them disappoint – there is love, hurts, and humour by the bucket-load in all of them.

A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers is beautiful. I love Chambers (GO AND READ EVERYTHING SHE’S WRITTEN PLEASE) and this is a continuation of her wonderful ability to pull apart what makes us human. There is also a lot of tea drinking, which made me want to go out and conquer my apathy towards it (recommendations welcome!)

My Broken Vagina by Fran Bushe is one of the few non-fiction books I read this year – and it is a corker. I read it in a day (I always feel bad when I do this, since it takes authors such a long time to put their books together!) and was both smiling and cringing all the way through. This is a great read for anyone who has experienced discomfort during sex and wants to feel seen.

Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty is a mishmash of family drama, thriller, mystery, love story, and so much more. Somehow, she makes baking a batch of brownies into an incredibly gripping and tense moment. If you loved The Husband’s Secret and Nine Perfect Strangers, then you’ll enjoy this – I’d say it’s her best yet.

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro is sad and hopeful in equal measure. Told from the point of view of an incredibly advanced robot, this novel delves into the wonderfulness and awfulness of what it means to be human. I really struggled to put this down, and recommend it to fans of Never Let Me Go who want something just as well written but a little lighter.

Lost for Words by Stephanie Butland was a reread of an old favourite and it was like walking down an old path you know and love. This book deals sensitively with the damaging after-effects of trauma and the complicatedness of loving our parents even when they make huge mistakes. Plus it’s set in a second-hand bookshop – always a win.

We Begin at the End by Chris Whitaker gave me a genuine book hangover. I was thinking about this crime novel for weeks afterwards. I feel a little bit bad recommending it because it will stick with you for a long time and not let go. It’s beautifully written and compelling – great for anyone who loves getting stuck into a complex mystery without too much gore.

The Kingdoms by Natasha Pulley is phenomenal. A time-twisting love story that I was stressed to put down because I had to know what happened at the end. It’s full of such well written characters that it’s a struggle to let them go, and a snappy plot that will keep you guessing. Plus there’s a broken sailor that I defy you not to fall in love with.

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam is a creepy story of what happens to a group of strangers at the end of the world. It’s tense and carefully described – flitting between the characters seamlessly and showing both their best and worst sides. Perfect for fans of Elizabeth Strout or Ingrid Persaud.

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir is great – I have discovered a love of space fiction this year and this has to be the best I read. There’s a really relatable main character and (tiny spoiler but not really) a freaky looking alien who it’s impossible not to fall in love with. If you read The Martian and were sad it ended, then check this out.

And finally, The Comfort Book by Matt Haig is pure hug in book form. It’s not a book that has to be read in any specific way at all – so dip in and out, sit down with it for a day, just read the chapters that appeal to you – and you’ll come away feeling known. I loved Reasons to Stay Alive, and this is more of the same.

As always, read them all and we can be chums 😊

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Block

What to do when you’re hit with writer’s block

First off – writer’s block is HARD. It’s MEAN. And it’s COMMON.

All writers suffer from it to differing degrees. So, if you’re suffering from writer’s block right now, the first thing to do is to stop beating yourself up about it. This is such a normal thing and it doesn’t mean you’re failing or never going to write again. It’s just harder right now.

Writer’s block, for me, is quite debilitating. It’s usually a confidence thing – I decide I’m no good and that my writing is appalling and that I’m stupid for doing it. All those negative feelings spiral and clog up my brain.

This is the case no matter what causes your writer’s block – deadlines, personal struggles, outside pressures, disappointments… the list goes on and on. These negative things take up the space in our brain that’s usually reserved for writing, so it’s much harder to make the words flow.

But again – stop beating yourself up.

No matter what’s causing your writer’s block, it needs to be tended to, not denied and shoved to one side. There may be some personal stuff you need to deal with, or some circumstance you need to come to terms with. Do it gently. Writing is not the only thing in your life – don’t let your brain tell you that you’re failing just because you’re not writing right nowTend to yourself, be gentle and kind, and the words will begin to flow again.

There are some ways I combat writer’s block – the first is taking a break. During these breaks (which I set a time limit on from the start so that I know when to get writing again, rather than letting the break stretch FOREVER) I take writing off the table completely.

This means that there is no cruel voice in the back of my head taunting me for not writing – I can’t write because it’s not even an option. Usually, after these breaks, I am raring to go again.

Another tactic I use is mini writing sessions. I’ll write for just ten minutes each day. Usually I’ll end up writing more, but on the really bad days writing for just ten minutes is enough.

But I’ve done it. I’ve written something. And gradually, I build up to longer writing sessions again.

Sometimes you HAVE to write – there is a deadline looming and writer’s block is not an option. At these times, I remove the distractions. Carve out time in the diary and don’t let anything encroach, hide your phone, sit somewhere with only what you need to write. Make writing literally the only thing you can do with that time – and don’t worry if what you’re writing is utter shit. Sometimes, we have to wade through some crap to get to the good stuff.

One last thing I like to do is record my progress. I’m intimidated by watching my word count go up while I’m writing so I’ve hidden the word counter, but at the end of each session I love to check what I’ve done and add it to a list/chart. All those little, sometimes painful, writing sessions add up to a book in the end!

No matter how you get yourself out of writer’s block – be kind to yourself. You’re not a machine, and you deserve rest and gentleness.

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