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Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Research for Writers

This issue we get down to the nitty gritty of novel writing, beginning with research. Obviously, if you are writing non-fiction, research is all important, but there are many facts and figures required for the average wide-appeal fiction title, and would-be writers are often unaware of the importance of getting these finer details in place before they start working on their project in earnest. Thanks to author Suzy Brownlee, who writes a children's series beginning with The Littlest Detective in London, and the soon-to-be-released The Littlest Detective in Paris, who helped us out with this.

Also in ISSUE 6 of Getting Published, a new column: Q?A, in which we address some of the questions we receive from you via our website. Keep the questions coming. Write to or follow the contact us link on our website.

But first, new writer and columnist, Elle Symonds, becomes a little too attached to her debut novel in 'Diary of a Newbie Novelist'.

#3 - In which my characters become my best friends, and we have sleepovers.

Sometimes, it's hard to explain the feelings achieved by writing. In the case of the very first novel I wrote, spending hours at the laptop tapping out my work of genius (ha!), what filled me was not only excitement, but desire - desire to finish it and finally get it out there. That was before I'd gained a publishing deal with Prospera, yet after each chapter I completed, I still felt a sense of hope. My efforts would pay off one day, right? And my character would be introduced to the world. Now that I have a publishing deal, the work feels somewhat different, in a good way, of course. Now I'm working towards the big day - the day in which I hand my manuscript over to my publisher and go, 'HERE IT IS!' Each page I type is a step towards release date. And even though there's a whole lot of work to get through before it even remotely arrives in completed form, there's even more of that ambition. However, this time, despite the fact I'm being published, there's something else that's keeping me glued to my laptop.

I think I'm in love with my main character. Don't give me that look - I don't love her in that way. Loving a fictional character would be silly, right? I mean, obviously I wouldn't say that out loud in a packed Waterstone's full of teens clad in 'Team Edward' shirts and kissing cardboard cut-outs, but you know what I mean. Yet, Abbie is slowly becoming my best friend. And I can't keep away from her. This past fortnight has been manic, with all kinds of hurdles being thrown my way (I god-damn hate it when 'real life' gets in the way). I've been feeling up, down, happy and in tears. But the light at the end of the tunnel has been not chocolate, not wine, but you guessed it, Abbie. Sadly though, Abbie dearest already has a best friend, so my status as potential BFF has already been ambushed. But I can live with that, I think . . . . . . but what's Kat got that I haven't? WHAT HAS SHE GOT? You see? This is what happens when you get too engrossed in your story. I'm sure I'm not the only one this has happened to. At least, I hope not, or I'll be paid another visit by those men with the special jacket.

This week in particular, I've been sneaking visits to the laptop at every possible opportunity to see what Abbie does next. Um, I mean, you know, write about what she does next. Just typing out her next misadventure works wonders in ridding my head of all the day's misfortunes. Just as I'm having a bad day, she can be having an even worse one. Right now, things are looking up for her . . . for a short while, anyway. She cheers me up. She keeps me entertained. And if I'm not with her, I'm scribbling in my journal about what's going to happen to her next. Of course, she's my creation - so is it weird to be imagining sleepovers and cinema trips with a person who only exists, thus far, in a Word document? Namely, someone you made up yourself? Hopefully not, given the following:

Reasons why I would love to be BFFs with Abbie Quinn: 1. I can relate to her total ass-over-tit moments.

Elle: 'Ha! You'll never guess what, I opened up this really personal email in work and pressed 'Print' accidentally and JUST MANAGED to stop it all being printed off right by the manager's desk. IT was horrendous.'

Abbie: 'Oh yeah? Well I just got photographed in a very revealing dress that I didn't want to wear but had to just to fit in with that whole fetish party and probably even did the whole Lady Gaga-style 'oh-is-that-my-crotch? Well-I-never' thing and just happened to end up on the front of a national paper. My PARENTS see that national paper.

Elle: 'Oh.' (Whispers) 'Always got to go one better than me haven't you?'
2. She's done the whole 'move to London and find a flatmate thing' that secretly I've always wanted to do.

3. She works for a tabloid magazine.

4. For entertainment value, she's equivalent to copious amounts of Ben & Jerry's. (Or Asda's finest. Your call.)

5. Plus, she is psychic. Yeah, THAT'S the clincher. Imagine being best friends with a psychic? And not the ones who sit at home in front of EastEnders wearing jangly bracelets and charging £3 per minute to guess things about you on the phone. A real, bona-fide psychic. Although to be terribly honest, she hasn't really mastered the whole 'deciphering visions' thing, yet . . . Elle: 'I dumped him! You said he would cheat on me!'

Abbie: 'Well yes. Yes, he was going to cheat on you. But it turns out I kinda misinterpreted that. He was going to cheat at Scrabble.'

Elle: 'I'm really, REALLY going to kill you off. There's a giant truck heading for the next chapter and it has your name on it.' Part of the fun of writing is exploring people and situations that you will never become, or are unlikely to find yourself in. Needless to say, after a particularly bad day, I can simply get lost in my book and imagine the hours away with my new psychic pal.

I'm just glad it's going to be a series. Saying 'The End' would be like saying: 'IT'S OVER AND WE CAN NEVER SEE EACH OTHER AGAIN!' to someone you're really, really fond of.

Or Ben & Jerry's. But no. Abbie will be staying for quite a while. Not even a fast-moving truck will get rid of her THAT easily . . .
Until next time,

x Elle.


Suzy Brownlee's new children's title, The Littlest Detective in Paris, is due out in May. Her series involves a motley cast of characters who end up in different countries. Here she outlines how she approaches research of a plot-driven story.

Writers write, or so the saying goes. Well, not all the time. Before they write, they research. As anyone who has sat down and delved into a good fiction title knows, part of what makes a story interesting is the information it brings to the reader. And some writers with previous careers have research in the bag: John Grisham brings his knowledge of law; authors such as Andy McNab or the late Dick Francis draw on work experiences as spies and jockeys respectively.

But what if you are writing a plot-driven story that is fairly generic in theme? Do you still need to research before you write?

The short answer, of course, is yes. Once you have a good synopsis you should know where your story is going, you need to take a good look at the places, industries and organisations that feature in your story, and find out more about them.

The reason for this is clear - if you don't know your subject it will show in your writing. For example, say you are writing about a girl who works as a model agent. Unless you are a model agent, you need to find out exactly how the talent agency business works. How? Well, the best way to research a place of business is to go and take a look for yourself. Most organisations are open to writers coming in and taking a look around. Compose a nice begging letter, requesting a visit on a particular day, and get yourself some background colour to add to your work. Once you have the basics, you can then play about on Google, find out facts and figures about your industry. Again, the more you know, the more interesting and informative your characters will be.

Now, I am not saying you should fill your fiction title with oblique statistical references. Fill your head with them instead, and keep them in mind as you write. For example, a model agent will need to know what constitutes a good commission; how much an advertising agency will pay for a model; what sorts of expenses they can legitimately charge, and so on. Once you have this sort of knowledge, it can seep into your writing naturally, without pounding the reader over the head.

Another plus point is that doing research can actually give you ways to expand your story and draw in subplots without going off point. Writing, in my view, is about lateral thinking, and research forces you to think about a subject from every angle.

If you write for children, this is especially important. For example, in my second book about Paris, I needed to know the layout of the Louvre, so that I could convey the path the bumbling Hench takes in getting to the Mona Lisa. Kids don't want to know the 'take a left as you come out of the Metro, the first entrance to the right, two security check booths' type of stuff. They want a fast moving story. So once I knew the layout, I could point my character in the right direction without alerting the kids to the notion of my directional accuracy.

Equally, research can provide ideas that you can then manipulate to suit your story. Before I wrote my Paris title, I read of a little English masterpiece that had been stolen a number of times throughout its 500-year history. I adapted that to my story by sending the masterpiece to Paris, and having my 14-year-old character steal it. Again, the basis of reality is there, but the kids don't need to know about it.

A final word for people who need a level of meticulous research that Google and a quick site visit won't be able to offer. Try the British Library first, then approach relevant organisations that deal with your subject. They often have libraries of their own, or at the very least people who have spent lifetimes working in the very field you require information about. For government departments and places like the Met, try the PR or Media offices, as they will quickly be able to direct you to people who are happy (and authorised) to help you.

Remember, research and the application of meaty knowledge will give your writing a depth that will not only make it readable, but saleable. Plus, you will, in all probability, gain some great anecdotes for book signings and readings into the bargain.
Good luck with it all,


The Littlest Detective in London is available via PayPal with free worldwide postage from our
website, or on Amazon or in the UK and Europe via your local bookstore. Suzy Brownlee's The Littlest Detective in Paris is due out May 31st, The Littlest Detective in the Land of the Rising Sun is due out early in 2011.

Questions aboout Publishing? Read on!

Q?A is a new feature that we will regularly include in our newsletter. Feel free to send your questions to us. You can ask anything, although we cannot give personal feedback about a specific work.

Q: I have an idea for a novel but am a really slow writer. Should I write the first three chapters and send to an agent? I figure that I will finish the novel by the time I get a bite.

Anicka P., Amersham, Bucks.

A. Well, Anicka, the short answer is no. There are two main reasons. Firstly, novels usually require a great deal of editing before you should even think of submitting them. This means you need to get to the end and re-read numerous times to make sure you have a coherent book that works on all levels (subplots, character development etc). Secondly, if you do get a query from an agent, you will lose all credibility if you cannot produce the whole work when asked.

Q: I have a question for author Nicky Schmidt. Is Jools in Naked in Knightsbridge based on someone she knows, or is she totally made up?

Maisey B., Manchester.

A: Hey Maisey, we spoke to Nicky who said as follows: 'Come on now, of course she is made up. I mean, what kind of fool would auction themselves off online in marriage? Now, if you don't mind, I have to get back to eBay.' You can take that as meaning it is entirely possible there is a lot of Nicky herself in Jools!

Q: I submitted a novel to a publisher (not you, sorry) months ago, and haven't heard anything. Should I give up?

John, Hackney, London.

A: Hi John. In a word, probably. It depends on the publisher, of course, but it may be worth checking their submission guidelines. Larger publishers don't accept unsolicited submissions at all, so it may have gone straight from the mail room to the intern's bin. Smaller publishers such as Prospera do accept them, but we have a caveat that if you haven't heard within eight weeks, take that as a no. The reason, of course, is the sheer amount of submissions make it impossible to reply promptly to everyone. Finally, it is possible that your submission got lost in the mail, but in our opinion, it's time to move on and submit elsewhere.

Q: I am worried that if I send my book idea to an agent or publisher they will steal it. Is there anyway to protect myself?

Rosalind, NYC, NY.

A: Rosalind, your written work is immediately copyright the moment you produce it, although there are various writers agencies both in the UK and USA that you can send a copy to if you are really worried about protecting yourself. To be honest, most publishers would not bother stealing a good idea if they can employ the person who came up with it to follow through. Publishers need authors to help sell their titles and taking an idea and passing it on to someone else would serve little purpose, particularly if they might get sued. In fact, most publishing contracts contain clauses that indemnify the publisher against the author doing just that themselves! Besides, a great book is more than just the basic plotline, it takes skill to make it something special.

Finally, it is worth noting that many writers come up with similar ideas, even similar titles, and in general these as standalone items are not immediately subject to copyright, so the point of difference is always in the work itself.

These answers are for entertainment purposes only and are not meant to be relied upon in a legal sense, or taken as professional or legal advice. We recommend you seek the advice of a lawyer for the resolution of specific issues.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

How to Plan Your Writing Day

Taken from our March Issue (5) of Getting Published. Click on the archive link above to check out the full newsletter.


Cliched, it's true, but this week we look at what is the most important part of writing your book or novel - actually sitting down and completing it. In ISSUE 5 of Getting Published, 24 Hours' author, the fabulous and talented Marsha Moore, will give you her tips for getting the job done.

Plus, our new regular columnist,
Elle Symonds, tackles her writing demons in 'Diary of a Newbie Novelist'.

Once again, thank you for the positive feedback we have been receiving for Getting Published. Please note that we have a new submissions' address. Check out the details on our

All the best, and as always, feel free to retweet or to link to our

The Editorial Department at Prospera Publishing.


As we told you last issue, we have just signed the wonderful Elle Symonds. This is Elle's as-it-happens account of her own publishing journey. As usual, we must say thank you to Elle for making time to help and entertain other newbie novelists.

PS: We know a few of you have asked for more information on Elle. Stay tuned for a bio next issue (due out end March 2010).

#2 - Head - Meet keyboard.

It seems like a long time since the first installment of Newbie Novelist. Since the announcement of my publishing deal, my inbox and Twitter have been filled with congratulatory messages, offers of lunch and numerous questions. (Still no cake). I've only just got round to answering them all.

So, last issue saw me ... you know, the one in which I mentioned my new status as 'newly signed author' (cue excited squeal) ... contemplating the rewrite of my upcoming book.

It's only been a couple of weeks, and whereas I'd planned to at least have half of my chicklit masterpiece completed by today, I've now resorted to smacking myself in the head, simply because it's a lot less painful than banging it against my keyboard. I need my keyboard.

And why the annoyance? Because I've been suffering from ... wait for it ... writers' block.

I'll admit it. There's no shame in it. Quite frankly everyone I know who writes has had the misfortune of an awful bout of the block, and if you thought I was this amazing person who sits at her desk tapping out the next big sensation (that's better than sliced bread and Jammie Dodgers and sex all rolled into one), without a care in the world. then you're mistaken!

This week, I've been extremely annoyed with yours truly, simply because, as I put it one rather chilly morning, 'MY FUNNY IS GONE.''What?' asked my friend, confused. 'I said, 'my funny is gone.' Seriously. I can't be funny anymore. It's like it got up and left for a holiday in Brighton or something, and won't be coming back.''Oookay.'Admittedly, it did seem odd, and I wouldn't have been surprised had two men in suits come to collect me and put me in one of those 'special jackets' before leading me out of the place and into a van with blackened windows. Oh, the imagery.

Even so, what started me on this little issue was the fact that I had got up early in order to do some work on the book. I turned on the PC, got out the purple journal I'd bought specifically for my book notes, opened Word, raring to go. And then ...... nothing happened.I'd been fine the day before. The words had poured out, my typing was hurried as I tried to get everything down. Ideas popped into my head constantly. I was on my way to writerly success for sure.And now?

Now, it was gone. And I had no idea why.

Everything that I planned on writing - every little joke, every piece of dialogue, the chapter plan that I had in front of me - had simply disappeared. It was as though my brain had decided to disengage and have its own little 'I'm not doing it anymore!' Veruca Salt-esque tantrum. (Damn you, brain.)I couldn't be witty. I couldn't be funny. It just wasn't flowing freely anymore.

'Fine,' I said to myself, not willing to give up just yet. 'I'll go and get some coffee. See how you like THAT!' Two minutes and a latte later, my wit was still nowhere to be found. But I still wasn't giving up. 'Okay, brain,' I said menacingly. 'You win THIS one. I'll sit and wait until my wonderful ability returns. YOU WON'T GET ME!' 9.05am: Reluctantly accept that my free-flowing ability to put very good words to paper (or, um, Word) has vanished. Unwilling to lose the battle, I decide to wait.

9.07am: Get another coffee. It's still not back.

9.10am: Read my favourite newspapers online.

9.20am: Try to write - and fail.

9.24am: Read though more book notes.

9.32am: Stare at blank screen for approximately three minutes. Still no joy.

9.35am(ish.) Get more coffee.

9.38am: Play Facebook Scrabble to try and clear my head. Find that 'a quick game' becomes the ultimate Scrabble smackdown when some girl beats my Countdown-esque efforts ('Ha! 'Supercalifragilisticexpialodocious! Beat that!'), by putting 'zoo' on a triple word square. Cow.

9.48am: Give in to Scrabble ass-kickery and try to write. Get approximately 500 words written but it's still not the same, NOT. THE. SAME.

Writers block is well and truly awful. You want to write. You know it's there. You just need to let it out. And will it emerge? No way. It's like when you're sat at a job interview and have a million great things to say about why you're the perfect candidate. You've researched and rehearsed a thousand times, have an answer to every possible question the interviewer can ask you, and you open your mouth to give one of your perfect, A-star answers and ...... NOTHING COMES OUT.

Such a block makes you want to scream and shout and quite possibly throw your PC out of the window. It's annoying enough getting it when you're not on deadline. When you ARE? It's ten times worse.Thankfully, the following day my funny returned, and here I am again, frantically working on the book. The next few chapters are going to be great and I can't wait to write more. Panic over! Let's just hope it stays that way.

Newbie out (but not down).

x Elle.

Planning Your Writing Day by Marsha Moore

Marsha Moore's new 24 Hour guide, 24 Hours Paris, is due out in May. She is also working hard on a commissioned fiction title. So how does she fit it all in? Read on as she reveals all.

When I first started writing full-time, I wondered how on earth I was going to fill the hours ahead of me. I needn't have worried - within a week, I'd discovered that organising cupboards, cleaning the floor (how had I never noticed how dirty it was before?) and foraging in the kitchen for anything that resembled snack-food took up plenty of time ... not to mention the lure of Twitter and Facebook.

In short, I became an expert in the art of procrastination. After several weeks of being thoroughly annoyed at myself - and producing only a few random chapters - I'd had enough. I needed to get serious, to treat my writing as I would any other workplace task. I needed to form routines, set targets, and I needed to deliver. I'd done it for my previous employers, so why wouldn't I do it for my writing?

So I made a routine, and I stuck to it. Getting myself to sit in my office chair at 8:00 am was half the battle. I allowed myself an hour for lunch - just like my office job - and I kept going until 4:00 pm. After a few months, I began to feel guilty if I wasn't writing by 8:00 am or if I stopped early.

Not everyone has the luxury of writing all day. But even if you only have an hour, if you set a specific writing time and stick to it, after a while it will become habit. Now that I was in the chair, how could I measure my output? I had plenty of practice eking out the nine to five slog, so I needed to make sure I was actually writing.

Every writer works differently, but for me the most invaluable piece of advice on setting writing targets came from Stephen King's On Writing. King writes every day (including Christmas!) and he sets himself a daily word target: in his case, 2000 words a day. Sometimes the 2000 words take him an hour or so, sometimes the whole day, but he always gets them finished. I liked the thought of having a measurable target so I decided to follow suit. It's definitely a struggle some days, but at least when 4 pm rolls around I know I've accomplished something.

Things become a bit more complex when I have multiple projects on the go; for example, book promotional activities as well as writing drafts. When I'm trying to organise my head space, I break down the day into chunks, still setting definite times and measurable outcomes to make sure I don't drift off an iron shirts or stare in the fridge for a few hours. Writing requires inspiration and creativity. But it also requires an iron will to sit down and just write.

Once your words pile up, though, you'll be happy to have whipped yourself into shape!

24 Hours London, recommended by Mayor of London Boris Johnson, is available via Paypal with free worldwide postage from our website, or on Amazon or in the UK and Europe via your local bookstore. Marsha Moore's 24 Hour Paris is due out May 12th.

Creating Characters with Zing!


Welcome to ISSUE 4 of Getting Published. In a change to the prescribed topic, this issue we will be looking at characterisation, and how to make your characters interesting and unforgettable. Many thanks to Naked in Knightsbridge author Nicky Schmidt for helping us out in her own hilarious style.

Also, we are proud to announce a new and regular feature to our newsletter that is sure to appeal to every new writer: our newly signed author Elle Symonds' 'Diary of a Newbie Novelist'.

Finally, we would like to thank the positive feedback we have been getting for Getting Published, and ask you all to keep those suggestions and questions flooding in. The best way to do this is via the 'Contact Us' link at our

All the best, and feel free to retweet!

The Editorial Department at Prospera Publishing.


We have just signed Elle Symonds to our small but happily successful stable. As so many of you are interested in the publishing process, we thought that Elle's as-it-happens account of her own journey would be both entertaining and enlightening. Of course, a huge thanks goes out to Elle for doing this on top of her many other commitments.

#1 - In which I am not Barbara Cartland. There she sits, visible through the window of the coffee shop, her dark scarf wound casually (yet artfully) around her long neck, her regulation dark clothing blending perfectly into the cream and chocolate-coloured interior. Looking thoughtfully through thick-rimmed specs, she stares at a pristine Macbook, not only blissfully happy, but also blissfully unaware that yours truly is watching her, wine in hand, through a pair of binoculars from the watering hole across the street.

"What's she doing?" I wonder.

"What's she writing? I bet it's some literary masterpiece."

"Or maybe coursework?" Friend replies.

"It could be coursework ..."

"True. But look at her! It's much more likely a future, bestselling novel."

I can't help but wonder and suppress a smile, my stomach giving a little flutter of excitement. Because soon (well, next year, but we'll get to that in a minute), my own debut novel will be hitting the shelves. . My name is Elle, and I'm a newly signed author. And this is my diary, in which I'll air my dirty laun ... I mean, give you the lowdown on what being a first-time author involves. Last year I was finishing my novel - the novel that had taken me months to write. Months of being glued to my laptop, consuming far too many double-shot lattes; having too many naked dashes down the stairs during the night in search of a notebook when inspiration suddenly hit; months of being in my own little fantasy world. But it all paid off, because THIS year, my dream came true. I'm now signed with Prospera Publishing, with the first in my chick-lit series due to be released in early 2011. And I'm ecstatic! I'm currently making changes to the book, and doing a complete rewrite. The publisher and I came up with some fabulous ways in which to make my original story even better, and already it has improved so much (more fun, more hilarity, and some new characters). So far the first couple of chapters involve spies, stardom and some rogue knickers. Something for everyone!

The series is about a struggling gossip journalist who, after a nasty - and highly embarrassing - accident, wakes up to find she has a very special new ability that she decides to use to enhance her career. (That's all I'm saying at the moment! You'll only find out more by holding a gun to my head. But please don't.) The prospect of ... well, new author-dom (ha!) is only just settling in, and after having told a select few people shortly after my meeting with Prospera, the congratulations and questions started pouring in. You see, there are certain assumptions some people (read: non-writers) have about authors, and most are simply myths. Things to expect when you start telling people you're going to be a published author*: *Friends, colleagues and acquaintances to ask such questions as 'When will it be in the shops?', 'When can I buy it?'

'THAT long? But I want to buy it noooooow!'

*Friends, colleagues and acquaintances to assume you'll become 'the next JK Rowling', thus earning millions and millions of pounds. It's not unusual in this case for such people to advise you to not forget 'the little people'; ask what you'll do with the money as though you've just scooped the Euromillions rollover; and if you can buy them a nice posh car.

*Friends, colleagues and acquaintances to assume that you don't want alcohol or cake because you are now posh author. Who DOESN'T want celebratory alcohol or cake? Jeez!

*People start to think that you spend all your time in coffee shops, clad in interesting scarves, and staring intently into your MacBook.

*People assume that you either live in Starbucks (see above), or you're the next Barbara Cartland. Neither, obviously, is true. *Which is why, two weeks later, you wish you'd kept your mouth shut. Okay, these are TOTAL MYTHS. Far from the coffee-shop image of artsy glamour, you have yours truly, slaving away on a pink netbook at home in her pants. Or sneaking novel moments at the day job (in clothes over pants). Or tapping away on coaches to London (yes, still in clothes over pants), as overly enthusiastic women beside her shout: 'YES, I'M ON THE BUS! I SAID, I'M ON THE BUS! HELLO? OOOH, REEEEEALLY?' into her ear.

People like me spend every spare moment cramming in the words, going to bed at unholy hours and living for the dream of one day seeing our names in print. And I really, REALLY can't wait for that day. Which makes all of the above totally worth it. The rewrite has started, and I'm raring to go. 2010 is going to be a busy year. So welcome, readers, to my journey!


PS. I'm still waiting for the alcohol and cake.


This issue, chick-lit author Nicky Schmidt gives us her take on what makes novel characters great.

Hi there, it's me, Nicky. Self-confessed, full-time cake-aholic and sometimes author. The nice people at Prospera have asked me to tell all about characterisation and I am happy to oblige.

However, firstly I would like to send out a huge 'cheers' to everyone who has been so positive about Naked in Knightsbridge. It's nice to know all that hard work is appreciated. Except of course the freak who asked me to visit his basement and peruse his collection of pants. (Answer: Let me check my diary.)

While we are on the subject then, I suppose that Naked works because the characters are so, well, unbelievable. You thought I was going to say believable, didn't you? The theory goes, in my caffeine-addled mind at least, that while people buy books for a variety of reasons, one of the most important jobs of an author is to transport readers from their own lives. Let's face it, if authors wrote about people you were familiar with - sour woman at supermarket, sour man at petrol station, sour husband who falls asleep on sofa promptly at 8:00 pm every night - we might face a rather nasty lawsuit for enticing a mass suicide.

Of course it does, naturally, depending on the genre, but in the case of a contemporary novel with a comic bent, I would say, make your characters showstoppers. Memorable. Left (or right) of centre. Turn them into metaphors. Prospera tells me that people in the office often say 'I feel like such a Jools' (the lead character in Naked), as they pig out on doughnuts or buy one too many bags of crisps at lunch. Equally, creepy behaviour at home can illicit: 'Thanks for that, Niles!' after the insane stalker in my first book. Once you have established your outline, think about how many characters you have, and how many you really need.

The trick is to leave out anyone superfluous unless they definitely progress the story in some way. One mistake I made when first starting out was to add that extra person here and there, who appeared two or three times for no apparent reason other than to converse with the protagonist. Suffice to say, they (and the useless conversations) were edited out pretty quickly.

When you have your definitive list, write a list of characteristics down next to each name. Look them over. Are they too similar? What about the names? If the personalities aren't jumping off the page, or if two or more characters bear a striking resemblance to each other, or worse, to you, try again. Trust me, you'll be proud of your newborns when you finally create them. And if and when you reach this point, I recommend a nice visit to a patisserie and a few yummy treats as a reward!

One final point on character names. Personally, I try to avoid the ordinary, because it makes it difficult for readers to remember who is who. Nicknames are a good way to manage this if you really don't want to use unusual names, but I suppose the bottom line is that a character remembered may be a book recommended, so go on, call that handsome villain Fortescue Von Strudel. I dare you!

Nicky Schmidt, Feb 2010

Naked in Knightsbridge is available via paypal with free worldwide postage from our
website, or on Amazon or in the UK and Europe via your local bookstore. Nicky Schmidt's second novel, Marrying Out of Money, is due out later in the year.

Time to write, time to plan!

Taken from our 3rd Issue in February 2010. Check out the archive link for the full newsletter.


Welcome to ISSUE 3 of Getting Published. In this issue we look at what every writer should have at his or her disposal before they begin writing: the outline. It might seem like a simple concept; it might seem to constrict the creative flow, but we guarantee that without one, you are probably overwriting and ruining a great story with structural errors. Read below for the dos and don'ts of outlines. A huge thank you to Mary Naylus, author of The Dresskeeper and soon-to-be-released The Plaguemaker, for her input here.

Also in this issue we ask one of our illustrators Ellie Boulten how she adapts an author's text to successfully bring characters to life. Another big thanks goes out to Ellie for taking time in her busy schedule to fill us in on her work.

Bringing characters to life . . . an illustrator reveals all.

Book Two in our Littlest Detective series is due to be released soon. Following feedback on the first title, we were looking for an illustrator who could bring the characters to life, and add charm to the text. We found Ellie Boulten, who works from her home office in Queensland, Australia. She tells us how she worked with the well-established characters to produce the goods.

"For an illustrator, like the reader, it's good to be able to get a picture in mind of the characters and the action occurring in the story.

Firstly, illustrations are visualisations of a written character so clear descriptions of each character, his or her physical appearance, and any outstanding features in particular (like Mrs Mac's wild red hair and crazy cat's eyes glasses for example) are great. Also very helpful are descriptions of their individual mannerisms, their quirks, and what makes them unique. A character's unique traits (and not just the good ones!) are often what make them endearing to readers and great to draw. Of course there is no need to make a laundry list of characteristics - you should reveal your characters' traits as your story unfolds.

Secondly, illustrations help to convey the plot so passages that are to be illustrated should be dynamic and move the action along. It's good to know not only what the characters are doing but how they are doing it and perhaps most importantly how they feel about the action that is occurring. For example, are they worried, shocked, excited, amused and so on.

Finally another important factor for an illustrator is the setting of the action. Where the action is located, what time of the day it is, and what season it is are important to know. If the action is occurring in a house then what room is it set in, and is there is something important about that setting that needs to be conveyed? Is the story a period piece or a fantasy? If so, what are the distinguishing features we need to know, and how do the characters fit in with their surroundings?

When all these factors come together a vivid and dynamic series of illustrations can be created that will enhance the enjoyment of the story for your readers.

All the best, Ellie."

THE OUTLINE - starting block to success.

Now it's time to start writing, so what's the first thing you do? We asked Mary Naylus, author of The Dresskeeper, how she goes about her work.

"I tend to work from the smallest premise and expand outwards. This might seem odd, so let me explain.

First things first - what is your book about? If you can't give a story outline in one sentence, I would say your idea isn't clear enough in your own mind. Of course, you writers out there might be saying 'how on earth can I condense my wonderful novel into just a few words?' Remember, that's what you'll have to do when you approach an agent or publisher. They will want to know the what and why straight up, and the more succinct and fascinating your idea, the better your chances of publication.

This is where a great title comes in. I know titles were discussed previously, but it is worth mentioning that a perfect title is both enticing and informative, firstly to the people who may buy your book, secondly to the readers who are browsing the bookstores. Spending time thinking about your title will help you hone your story idea even further.

Right, let's assume you have a great one liner. It's time to create an outline for your novel. What I tend to do is open a Word doc and write the opening paragraph, the first and second turning points, and the ending. I find that in doing this I have to think very clearly about where my novel is going. Yes, it is possible to change these, but if you think about your basic story in these black and white terms, you tend to avoid overwriting and waffling from the very beginning.

Once I have this brief outline I take up a piece of paper and - noting my turning points along with the beginning and ending - plot out the story and subplots so that the turning points of the subplots and the main story link up. Doing this outline also helps me to see how the story is pacing itself. For example, a whole lot of action up front and hardly any after turning point two doesn't make for a hugely satisfying read.

There is always the temptation to start writing without either doing a clear outline or sticking to it, which is why I tend to continue writing around my outline - a bit in the beginning, then the parts around the turning points, and the end. So I build up my story from all angles. These means I tend to avoid overwriting and become too attached to the writing rather than the story, because I am not writing around the subject or action, but directly about it.

One final point about outlines - they can be fluid, but you must ensure that if you make changes to it, you adjust your existing work accordingly. It is often difficult to cull a character you love, for example, but if you've changed focus and there is no point for her or his existence, it's time to hit delete.

Hope that helps.

Good writing, Mary."

Mary Naylus is a London-based writer who has had a life-long interest in history. She loves spooky tales and the supernatural, and tries to incorporate these into her books. The Dresskeeper is available now through Amazon, your local bookstore, or at Her next title, The Plaguemaker, a ghostly novel about (you guessed it) the plague, is due out later this year.

Starting your novel: the scoop on what to write.

Taken from Issue 2 in January 2010. Click on the archive link for a full copy.

STOP RIGHT THERE . . . before you begin typing!

Welcome to Edition 2 of Getting Published. This week, we are looking at what a writer should consider before putting the proverbial pen to paper (or plug in socket). Many writers decide to write a book, sit down, and compose quite a few pages without pausing to really think about the task at hand. This edition of our newsletter is aimed at helping you really assess what you are doing, and why.

To this end, we've asked those responsible for two leading online book review sites,
Liz de Jager and Chloe Spooner to fill you in on what they believe makes great reading.

And don't forget, as we mentioned on Twitter, that 20 per cent of all proceeds from our online store go to Oxfam for Haiti until the end of the month. Our thoughts here at Prospera are with all those who are suffering as a result of the tragic circumstances there.

Finally, feel free to forward this email to your friends (please use the link below to retain newsletter links to websites etc), and if you'd like to contact us about anything in our newsletter, you can do so via and we will be happy to respond as soon as we can.

What makes a great book? We ask two top reviewers to reveal all . . .

We've asked two well-known, online reviewers (many thanks, ladies) to spill the beans on their roles and what impresses or depresses them when it comes to new reads.

LIZ DE JAGER from My Favourite Books writes:

I have to confess that I see myself more as an intense reader than a reviewer these days so when you asked me to write this article my brain went into frazzle-mode. What makes a good book?

A good book is a book that makes you want to ignore the world. It makes you want to ride the Circle line the whole day and finish it. A good book is one you want to shout about to the world. You want to pass it around to friends. You want to hand it to complete strangers in bookshops and say: read it, it's awesome.

Some books have it, some don't. If I knew what that it was I would bottle it and sell it and retire to the Bahamas.

But I have a few ideas on this. Of course I do! Everyone does. For me a good book is one that makes me forget about my Real Life. I want to be swept off my feet to a mysterious unknown locale when I read fantasy. I want to go to Venice, Florence, Tuscany, Peru, Mexico when I read contemporary fiction. I want to read about quirky streets in London and Canterbury. Deduce from this that place is a big factor for me in a story. If I feel I'm there, you've already won. But don't go overboard - the trick to this type of thing is not to throw your reader dead with map-talk, it's more being able to convey a sense of place. Sense of place informs your characters. Setting is important, probably secondary to character.

Naturally I have to like / feel empathy towards the characters I'm reading about. I like to identify with them. Even if they do death-defying stunts that are completely over the top and cinematically ridiculous, it's how humane the writer makes that character that draws a reader in. Characterisation is sometimes something that gets left behind because the writer is so keen to convey the story, the action and the resolution that although you've enjoyed the story, you feel a bit flat, a bit cheated. A fully living breathing character that feels like a friend is hard work to create so it's important for a writer to develop a remarkable voice for their characters. Make them unique, make them believable and you'll have people trooping into bookshops buying your novel. And your next and your next.

The third most important thing is dialogue. Some people have a knack for writing dialogue, others truly struggle. It's important for writers to both listen and hear how people speak in real life. Then they have to take that and condense it, still making it appear a living and breathing thing. I've been to several author talks and conventions and every time a well established author is asked about writing advice they say: Read your writing out loud, read your dialogue out loud. If you stumble, you know you're doing it wrong. Then go back and fix it. Then read it again, until it rings true.

Of course, you need that niggly thing called plot too. Plots can be deceptively simple, they can be wildly improbably. As long as I can suspend my disbelief and somehow believe that the Red Matter can be pumped into the core of planet Vulcan to destroy it, then you've got a winner on your hands. If you have answers clever enough to cover all the plot points and questions asked, and your editor and critique partners will ask them, even if you want them to just shut-up, your readers will be happy.

I'll conclude by saying that if you are a writer you have to be a reader. Don't take my word for it. Stephen King said it in his On Writing. So does practically every book on how to write - being a reader informs you, forms you, lets you know what has gone before, how it was done and how not to do certain things. Not all books that are published are good books, but someone liked them enough to publish them. You don't have to like everything you read but do steal from them. Steal with your eye and mind. Recognise technique and how not to approach subjects and characters. But it's important to be a reader because if you are comfortable reading, it will show in your writing. And your readers will thank you for it.

Trust me. I'm a reviewer.

And from Chloe Spooner at Chicklitreviews:

What makes a good book? That is a question that could take forever to answer simply because it is different for everybody, as not everybody has the same taste. For some, it's a compelling story that keeps you hooked to the very last page, to others it's the happy ending for the characters in the book. But for "chick-lit", I have my own criteria and here's what I look for in a good book when I'm reviewing.

Firstly, of course, it's the story. It has to sound interesting for me to want to read it, and I also like a good cover too. Yes, the cover issue is a tough one because we're always told "Don't judge a book by its cover" but so many people do, and therefore it's important for publishers to get their covers right for their authors to entice readers to their books. The blurb also has to be exciting and make me want to read the whole story.

Secondly, it is the writing that can turn a good book into a great book. If it's well written then that gives a book extra brownie points for me. I don't mind what writing style an author uses - a bit of variety is good after all - but it has to be quite easy to read, with language that's easy to understand and it also has to move along at a good pace. There's nothing worse than a book that drags or flies by too fast, it has to be just right for me.

Thirdly, characters are extremely important too because they are what holds the book together for a reader. If you don't care about the characters, especially the leading one, then chances are you aren't going to care about finishing the book and then picking up more books by that author. I like a character to be believable, interesting, and someone I could imagine liking myself, and if you can relate to them all the better!

These are just a few things that I look for when I'm reviewing a book. Of course, these things don't stand alone, it's the combined effort of all of these elements which makes a brilliant book and will cause me to write a great review of it. Every reader has their own criteria for a great book, but for chick lit, I like great characters, a fun looking cover, and a great sounding story... what more could you ask for?!

Chloe Spooner, Chicklitreviews.

The top ten ways to get your novel off to a successful start.

Before you start writing, it's vital that you consider who will eventually read your book.The following is not a complete guide to every aspect an author should address, but it gives you an idea of how to begin writing a novel.

1. Think carefully through your 'novel' idea. Who is it aimed at? Kids, men, girls who read voraciously on the tube to work?

2. Is your idea unique? If so, how unique? So unique that it is too weird to be taken seriously? A serious literary work about an alien encounter in a dream is less likely to become a blockbuster than, say, the poignant, fast-moving story of a girl growing up without a father in Afghanistan.

3. Don't write about what you know, unless you think it will sell (see below for more on this). It's a harsh but true fact that a 100,000 word book on your experiences whilst staring out your bedroom window is unlikely to appeal to anyone except you. Of course, as a writer you incorporate your life experiences into your work, but beware of focusing on yourself as the protagonist and your life as the plot. How many times have you heard someone say about their life/work/family: 'that would make a great novel.' And how many times does the writer of a great novel actually say, 'well, yes, it was based on the hilarious goings on at my one-legged mate Joe's local library.' Not often.

4. When you have a decent idea and a genre, head to your local bookstore or search Amazon to see how your genius stands up to competition. Don't start writing until you have done this. Go straight to the section you feel your own novel might be placed, and start browsing.

5. Look for books that are similar to yours in style. Why? Because they are both your competition and a good marker for what is selling. If you can't find something similar-ish, that's not a bad thing, but it's a mistake to conclude from this exercise that you might have a bestseller on your hands. It's entirely possible you may have, but in terms of style and format, make sure you know what is out there, and what is selling.

6. Imagine someone going into the bookstore and buying your book. Who are they? Old, young, tertiary-educated? Now ask yourself, can you actually write for this market? Watch someone who you feel may be a possible reader of your novel (without being creepy, of course). See what interests them.

7. Now check out that title and see if you could actually write like that. If your command of English isn't the best, perhaps trying to pen the next Booker Prize winner isn't a realistic bar to set yourself. This is not to say you can be a success, you just need to tailor your abilities to the right market (and possibly enhance your education of the English language!)

8. Now back to your book. What's it called? A great title isn't everything in publishing, but without one you are putting yourself at a severe disadvantage in that huge, competitive slush pile at the agencies and publishers. Yes, you haven't actually started work on your book but now that you've seen what's out there, and you've established you've got an idea that might just be worth spending up to a year of your time on, a great title will help you to further hone your idea. Nowadays, with the advent of e-readers and Kindle, a title is more important than ever to catch the imagination of the flighty net surfer. What's a good title? One that makes you want to read the book without knowing anything about it. 'The Devil Wears Prada' is just one example.

9. Run your title and idea through google and see what comes up. It's sad but true that our wonderful ideas are sometimes not as unique as we like to think they are. It goes without saying that if there is a similar title in the same genre you should steer clear. Ditto if someone has already written your story, unless you can put a unique spin on it.

10. Now write out your title, and underneath compose one single sentence that describes your novel. As if you were pitching it as a movie. If you can't do this, your idea isn't strong enough. Keep working it until you get there. Yes, there are many facets to a novel, but it's that one main idea that pulls in those readers, so get it write before you move to your outline.

Getting your book into print, from a publisher's perspective.

Excerpt From Getting Published Newsletter Edition 1, January 2010. Check out the archive link for full newsletter.

Welcome to the first edition of Getting Published, brought to you by Prospera Publishing, a London-based, mainstream publisher. The primary reason for our newsletter is to encourage better submissions, more innovative ideas and to create opportunities for you to get your words into print. How? Well, read on. Firstly, each month we will provide a workshop on preparing your submission, whether to us or another publisher. This workshop is based on the great and mostly not so wonderful real-life submissions we receive in bulk each day. This month we begin with overall submission 'don'ts'. We will also provide interviews with our authors to give you valuable tips and tricks, and finally, we will also be running competition news - both from Prospera and others, to help get you to where you want to be - published!


You would think, given the plethora of info out there on publishing, that basic errors in submissions to publishers would be a rarity, but read on for some funny, some scary and some pretty stupid approaches to Prospera.

1. Sending an email query without checking the publisher's submission guidelines. Not a good idea at any time. However, we at Prospera like to take a proactive approach to prospective authors, so you can imagine our joy when we actually answered an email regarding a pitch, only to find the author had not, in fact, written a book at all and was asking us for ideas.

2. Sending a novel of 25 pages, which has not been proofread. A novel should be 60,000 words or more, not 6000 words. However, sending something so short without even bothering to proof it so that the protagonist's name is spelt four different ways is really not going to endear you to the publisher.

3. Misspelling your name in the covering letter. Need we say more?

4. Asking the publisher to pass your work along to another publisher should they not want it. It is important to understand the amount of effort, time and money that goes into publishing. Publishing is a business, and we expect authors to understand that.

5. Sending a teaser to a publisher instead of the correct submission material. We once received a small box with the word 'Interested in Benny' with instructions to contact the author immediately with a wonderful publishing opportunity. Back to our point about lack of time and resources. Work that is good will shine without gimmicks. Always follow the submission guidelines.

6. Being unrealistic about timeframes for responses. One author asked us to read a submission overnight as he had other publishers interested. However he had sent the material second class and by the time we received it, his self-imposed deadline was over. A work would have to be exceptional and from a respected agent for this sort of ploy to have any chance to succeed.

7. Sending the first three chapters with missing pages. Yes, it has been done. An author purposely left out crucial plot point pages to lure us to contact him. It didn't.

8. Failing to finish a novel, as per submission guidelines. We ask for the final chapter to ensure than the author has actually written a whole novel. This is because we are well aware of the difficulties of writing and often request whole rewrites of work we are considering. Therefore, lying about a novel being completed won't work, particularly as we tend to ask for the bulk of the novel by email, unedited if necessary, and know that if it takes more than a day or two for the author to deliver something fishy is going on.

9. Not including a self-addressed envelope and demanding the manuscript back. Our submission guidelines, and those of other publishers, usually state manuscripts cannot be returned, even with a self-addressed envelope. Make sure you read the submissions requirements carefully, otherwise you are just wasting your money and our time.

10. Sending x-rated material. Deciding that there is a need for more risque writing doesn't mean you should inflict it on the rest of us. Certain publishers may publish hardcore material, but most, such as Prospera, don't, so be careful before you send your 'adult' novel to a young intern at a publishing house.