How my novel was published

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Ninevoices are delighted to welcome one of our periodic guest contributors, writing here about how she succeeded in having her debut novel published. The Governor’s Man is currently available on Amazon for a modest £6.67 for the paperback edition or £2.99 for the Kindle. As ever, Kindle Unlimited reads are free.

by Jacquie Rogers, author of The Governor’s Man.

Exactly a year ago to the day, I sat writing in my little garden cabin while a scant shower cooled the air outside. My journal records I wrote 1400 words that afternoon of what was then titled The Bronze Owl, getting my main characters moving along a trail of stolen silver to Cheddar (or Iscalis, as it was known in AD224). The world of my story, 3rd century rural Britain, was almost completely imaginary, as were virtually all of my characters. The only real thing was the shining hoard of denarii, beautifully curated and exhibited in the Museum of Somerset, which had started the story up in my mind some years earlier. Suddenly in February 2020, that story started stretching out wings I didn’t know it had.

I’d already been published as a short story writer, but aspiring to write a novel felt ridiculously over the top. Like a passenger in a glider suddenly deciding to fly to Mars. Hadn’t I read that the chances of getting a novel published were 1-2%? And those were the books that got finished and submitted. In an average year. What were the chances of getting a book researched, written, and accepted for publication, in a lockdown year when everyone and his/her dog was writing the Great Lockdown Novel?

About much reality in that ambition as there was in my imagined Roman world of AD 224.

On the plus side, as a clinically-vulnerable shielder I had precious little else to do. And I had a short story already written, screaming to be extended. Actually The Bath Curse was pleading to be turned from a YA 2200-word snapshot, into a full-blown crime novel. With two much older, world-weary adults — a military investigator and a British healer — replacing the original teenagers.  And a stroppy Londoner sidekick who insisted on muscling his way into the plot.  And then there was the antagonist. Take your pick from a lengthy line-up of ne’er-do-wells crawling out of the woodwork.

So okay — new form, new MCs, new villains, additional subplots. And a lot of unnatural deaths. Eight in total. Not including the major battle scene, which wasn’t even a twinkle in my eye last year. But with the aforementioned time on my hands, it was surprising how many words got written. By November the first full draft went off to beta readers, and simultaneously to my independent editor. One thing short-story publishing had taught me — yes, you always need an editor.Expensive, but vital.

Back came the MS, with a lot of re-writing to do. Fortunately my readers and my editor were largely in agreement. After several more drafts, I started sending my baby out into the world in February 2021, to publishers who were accepting direct submissions in the genre of historical mystery, and to agents who liked that genre too and were actively seeking new clients. No-one else, no matter how enticing they sounded. Waste of time, that, I already knew. Many, many hours spent painstakingly fulfilling the requirements of carefully-researched agents and publishers, thirty-something of them. Then I waited, while beginning the sequel to The Governor’s Man.

One agent like the MS, but was retiring the next day. Would I send it to his colleagues? Who never responded. Two other agents rejected, politely. Three publishers said it wasn’t their thing. Then a month of silence.

Then I remembered I had been given a name at an Arvon course. Endeavour Books, who specialised in historical and crime. My book was both. Jackpot! Only Endeavour Books no longer existed, it seemed. I returned to seeking more agents/publishers. Heart sinking a little, but buoyed by reading that the best way to sell books is to write them. I also began seriously researching self-publishing at this point.

Then I saw a tweet from Sharpe Books, saying they were open to submissions. Checked them out. Oh, here is Endeavour Books, resurrected! Still liking exactly my genre. And the publisher writes Roman adventure books himself. I sat up straight, gave the opening chapters and my synopsis a last polish, and pressed Send. Within 24 hours they wrote to ask for the full MS, to distribute to their reading panel. Within another two days I got the phone call I’d been dreaming about. Would I like a contract for three books?

Well, what would you say?

In a whirlwind came the contract, then editorial feedback — not much to change, but must lose 10k words. By Friday. It felt quite a draconian diet. The slimmed-down final went back, and I was published on 19 May, 2021. Paperback two weeks later.

And then my real full-time job began. No, not writing the second book of the trilogy. That’s still waiting. For three months I have been a full-time publicist. Emails to everyone I know (Do you still read books? Guess what? I have a book – would you like to read it?); guest blog posts; begging letters asking book bloggers to review; re-designed and renamed blogsite; even a change of book title, pen-name and email address; interview with BBC Radio Somerset; my own YouTube channel, and recording a road trip round the West Country to please readers begging to know more about Roman Britain. See, I didn’t make it all up — that lumpy field has a large villa under it; and over there is a redundant Roman mine. And that river has changed its course, used to have a Roman port, no you can’t see it now. It was more fun than it sounds.

And endless, eternal social media. I now tweet in my sleep, and my best friend after Instagram is Tweetdeck. Still, there’s the local village arts festival coming up. I’m the resident writer. I might buy a painting from a fellow stallholder, if I ever get any royalties.

You’re going to love it all.

To follow or contact Jacquie Rogers, go to https://linktr.ee/jacquierogers

Writing Competitions to Enter in August

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You may not be able to sit at the same bureau as Jane Austen – seen here at the Chawton Cottage – but don’t let that stop you entering one of the August competitions which are detailed below.

The Costa Short Story Award is for stories up to 4,000 words by writers resident in the United Kingdom or Ireland. Prizes are: £3,5000 £1,000, £500, with FREE entry. Closing date is 5pm on Monday 2nd August. Details: http://www.costabookawards.co

The Retreat West Novel Prize for unpublished novels. Prizes: Retreat West publishing contract and £500 advance. MS critique and editorial report. Entry fee: £15. Closing date 10 August. Details: http://www.retreatwest.co.uk

Earlyworks Press Flash Fiction, for flash fiction up to 100 words. Prizes: £100; cash and books. Entry fee: £5, £20 for up to 6. Deadline: 30 August. Details: http://www.earlyworkspress.co.uk

Aesthetica Creative Writing for short stories up to 2,000 w

ords, poetry up to 40 lines. Any theme, form or style. Prizes: £2,500 in each category, publication, books, plus editorial consultation for fiction winner and membership of The Poetry Society for the poetry winner. Entry fee: £12 poetry; £18 short fiction. Deadline 31 August. Details: http://www.aestheticamagazine.com/creative-writing-award

Cinnamon Pencil Monitoring Competition for 10 poems, 2 short stories or the first 10,000 words of a novel. Prizes: Cinnamon mentoring. Entry fee: £12. Closing date: 31 August. Details: http://www.cinnamonpress.com

Edinburgh International Flash Fiction Competition. Stories up to 250 words. Prizes: £1,000, £300, £150; £300 for a Scottish writer. Entry fee: £7. Closing date: 31 August. Details: http://www.storyawards.org

Exeter Flash Competition for fiction up to 750 words. Prizes: £200, £100, £50. Entry fee: £6. Closing date: 31 August. Details: http://www.creativewritingmatters.co.uk (Please double check as, although the flash fiction appears to have been cancelled, they are still asking for stories of “up to 750 words”, in addition to the Exeter Story Prize, detailed below)

Exeter Story Prize for short stories up to 5,000 words. Prizes: £500, £150, £100. Entry fee: £12. Closing date: 31 August. Details: http://www.creativewritingmatters.co.uk

Hysteria Writing Competition for short stories up to 600 words, poetry up to 12 lines, flash fiction of 100 words. Prizes: £25 in each category, publication. Entry fee: £1 per entry (That is NOT a typo). Details: http://www.indaph.me

NAWG Open Competitions. Poems up to 40 lines; stories 500-2,000 words. Prizes: £25o, £150, £50, publication. Entry fee: £5 each (£10 for three poems). Closing date: 31 August. Details: http://www.nawg.co.uk

Impress Prize for New Writers, for full-length debuts from unpublished fiction and non-fiction writers. Submit book proposal and sample chapter which totals no more than 6,000 words. Prizes: £500, publication by Impress Books. Entry fee: £25. Closing date: 31 August. Details: http://www.impress-books.co.uk

We live in changing times, so please take care to double-check all details before entering a competition, to avoid possible disappointment. Things can be changed or cancelled at short notice.

Good luck, and may the spirit of Miss Austen be with you…

Writing Competitions to Enter in July

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If you persevere with your writing, maybe one day you might feature in a book like this one – discovered in a local Hospice charity shop. To that end, here are a few of the competitions available during July.

Moths to a Flame Poetry Competition invites original unpublished poems of any length on the theme of moths and/or energy. Poems must be able to be read or performed for a maximum of two minutes. The winner will be decided at a Zoom poetry slam and will receive £250. Ten shortlisted poets will receive a Moth Kit, which is part of the Moths to a Flame project, plus three copies of the resulting published book. Entry is FREE. Each writer may submit one poem. Closing date 2 July. Details: http://www.mothstoaflame.art

The HG Wells Short Story Competition 2021 is open for short fiction on the theme of ‘Mask’. There are two entry categories. The Junior (writers 21 and under) has a £1,000 prize and the Senior (writers over 22) category has a £500 prize. Enter original unpublished fiction between 1,500 and 5,000 words. Winning and shortlisted entries will be published in an anthology. Entry in the Junior category is FREE. The Senior entry fee is £10, or £5 for writers with studen ID. Deadline 12 July. Details: https://hgwellscompetition.com/

The Novel London 2021 Literary Competition is an international contest that invites the first chapter and a synopsis. The entry must be part of a complete work of fiction, which may be unpublihsed, self-published or newly published. The winner will receive £500 plus six months of mentoring from Nadine Matheson. The second prize is £300 and an assessment of the first three chapters and synopsis. The third prize is £100 and two coaching sessions. Submit the opening chapter (up to 3,000 words), a short synopsis and a one-page biography. Entry fee: £11. Closing date 31 July. Details: http://www.novellondon.co.uk

The Highlands and Islands Short Story Competition is open for stories up to 2,000 words, and flash, maximum 500. Prizes in both categories are £200, £75 and £50, with the possibility of several Highly Commended places. The competition is open only to amateur writers, defined as not earning a living from writing or having been ‘professionally published in any major capacity’. “We actively like the odd and the strange”. Entry is £5, £12 for three, £18 for five. Deadline 31 July. Details: http://www.hissac.co.uk/CompetitionDetails

The Fiction Factory First Chapter Competition is inviting entries of a maximum of 5,000 words of the first chapter. If the chapter is longer, send it in full but clearly mark the 5,000 word point. As well as a first prize of £500, the winning entry will be read by Joanna Swainson of Hardman & Swainson Agency. All shortlisted entrants will receive a free appraisal. Entry fee: £18. Deadline 31 July. Details: https://fiction-factory.biz/

Finally, not a competition, but visual and literary journal Short Fiction has a submission window for writers for whom this would be their first published piece. Submit original, unpublished fiction between 500 and 5,000 words. Payment is 2p per word, with a minimum of £30 and a maximum of £100. Closing date: 31 July. Details: http://www.shortfictionjournal.co.uk/subs

As ever, let me remind you to double-check all details before entering. Good luck!

Writing Competitions to Enter in June

Dreaming…

Do you dream of having your novel in Waterstones’ window? Maybe if you enter and win a competition that dream could come true. It has been known to happen.

The annual Wells Festival of Literature Creative Writing Competition is inviting entries in four categories. Open Poetry: no more than 35 lines on any subject. Prizes: 1st £1,000, 2nd £500, 3rd £250. Entry fee: £6. Short story: 1,000 to 2,000 words. Prizes: 1st £750, 2nd £300, 3rd £200. Entry fee, £6. A Book for Children: Stories on any subject aimed at readers aged 7+. Send the first three chapters or first thirty pages, whichever is the shortest, plus a synopsis. Prizes: 1st £750, 2nd £300, 3rd £200. Entry fee: £6. Closing date: 30 June. Details: http://www.wellsfestivalofliterature.org.uk

The Moth Short Story Prize 2021 offers a first prize of 3,000 Euros for stories up to 5,000 words. The second placed writer wins a week-long writing retreat at Circle of Misse in France, including 250 Euros for travel expenses. The third-placed writer wins 1,000 Euros. Winning stories will be published in the autumn 2021 issue of The Moth magazine. Entry fee is 15 Euros per story. Closing date: 30 June. Details: http://www.themothmagazine.com

The Love Books Competition, run by Marlborough Litfest in association with Bath Spa University invites you to write why you love your favourite book, poem or play. Entries should be up to 750 words, or videos no longer than five minutes. Entries may be reviews, but do not need to be, as long as the writing shows why you love the book, poem, collection, play or graphic novel that you have chosen. There are three age categories: 13-16, 17-19, and 20+ In each category, the winner will get £300 and the runner-up £100. Entry is free, but there can be only one entry per person. Closing date: 30 June. Details: https://lovebookscompetition.org/

V S Pritchett Memorial Prize for Unpublished Short Stories between 2,000 to 4,000 words. Prizes: £1,000, publication. Entry fee: £5. Deadline: 30 June. Details http://www.rslit.org

Henshaw Short Story Competition for up to 2,000 words. Prizes: £200, £100, £50. Entry fee: £6. Deadline: 30 June. Details|: http://www.henshawpress.co.uk

British Czech & Slovak Association Prize for short stories and non-fiction, up to 2,000 words, exploring the links between Britain and the Czech/Slovak Republics. Optional theme for 2021 is “£Corona and its effects”. Prizes: £400, £150, publication in the British Czech and Slovak Review. FREE ENTRY. Deadline 30 June. Details: http://www.bcsa.co.uk

Not many competitions on offer this month, but please, as ever, check all details before entry. Things can change at short notice.

The Mask

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When I was little, watching The Lone Ranger, Champion the Wonder Horse, Wagon Train and the like, it was the convention that when a baddie pulled a kerchief over the lower half of his face he became unrecognisable.  Sheriffs, neighbours, even relatives would have no idea that it was he who was holding up the stagecoach or stealing the miners’ payroll or threatening the tellers in the bank.

Dutifully wearing my anti-covid mask I was therefore surprised on entering my local Waterstone’s the other day to be greeted with “Hello Mr Peacock”.

So either bookshop staff are unusually prescient, or the scriptwriters on those 1950s westerns were taking a short cut …

[Other bookshops are available.]

Grave’s End by William Shaw

When a corpse is found in the freezer of an unoccupied mansion, DS Alexandra Cupidi is handed a case made even colder by nobody seeming to know – or care – who the dead man is.

Her investigation is complicated by suggestions of a political cover-up linked to a greenfield site designated for a high-profile housing project, plus the discovery of a young boy’s skeleton dating from decades earlier. A find her instincts tell her is somehow linked.

Cupidi is also still coming to terms with being a parochial cop after an ill-advised liaison with a fellow officer in the Met resulted in her relocation to the flat-lands of her Kent.

The book deals intelligently with the conflicting interests of progress and traditional country values, while Shaw makes superb use of the landscape of Dungeness as a dramatic backdrop to murder, corruption and the struggling local wildlife.

To my surprise, I was totally hooked by the brief, inspired chapters by the old badger.

I will resist giving further spoilers about the plot, but must mention the author’s mastery of character, especially that between women: Cupidi’s difficult relationship with her spiky teenage daughter, Zoe; her distance from her own eccentric mother; her evolving partnership with young, man-magnet colleague, Jill Ferriter.

I was delighted to be introduced to this writer by a fellow member of ninevoices and to discover that this police procedural is one of a series featuring the complex but likeable Alexandra Cupidi. I have invested in another. But you should be warned that I am reading them out of order, and you may wish to begin at the beginning, with The Birdwatcher.

And don’t worry about that badger. He isn’t in the least twee and has important things to teach the reader.

Getting Published

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On the subject

On the subject of entering competitions, here is exhibit A, the latest book by Highland Noir writer Margaret Kirk, who won a Good Housekeeping New Novel Award back in 2016. This is her third book, which I fully expect to be as page-turning as the other two.

So, don’t dismiss writing competitions. They are well worth entering – and could be the the start of a career as a professional writer.

Writing Competitions to Enter in May

This is a big month for those hoping to have their novels noticed. Maybe, like the lambs I saw recently kicking up their heels near Penshurst Place in Kent, it is time to spring into action, either with that book you are writing, or with a short story from the possibilities below.

To begin with, the Yeovil Literary Prize have extended their deadline until 31 May. This is for novels (opening chapters plus synopsis) up to 15,000 words; short stories (max. 2,000 words); poems (up to 40 Lines); and ‘Writing Without Restrictions’. Prizes: Novel: £1,000, £250, £100; Short story and poetry, £500, £200, £100; Writing Without Restrictions: £200, £100, £50. Entry fees: £12 Novel; Short story: £7 Poetry: £7 for one, £10 for two, £12 for three; Writing Without Restrictions: £5. Details: http://www.yeovilprize.co.uk

The deadline for the £10,000 Times/Chicken House Children’s Fiction Competition has been extended until 14 May. The winner of this competition for completed manuscripts by unpublished and unagented children’s writers will receive a publishing contract with an advance of £10,000 and the offer of representation by a literary agent. What’s not to like? Entry is for completed, full-length fiction manuscripts (30,000 to 80,00 words) for readers between seven and YA. Entry fee is £18. Details: http://www.chickenhousebooks.com/submissions/

BPA First Novel Award 2021 is for unpublished novelists and offers the winner £1,000 plus an agent introduction. First prize is £1,000, with a manuscript review for the runner-up. The top three entrants also receive agent introductions. The entry fee is £20 and the deadline 31 May. Details: bluepencilagency.com/bpa-first-fnovel-award-2021/

The 2021 Page Turner Awards are inviting entries for unpublished and emerging writers. The categories are: Ebook award for published books. Open to any published or self-published book. Screenplay award, for completed scripts and screenplays. Writing award for completed unpublished manuscripts. Writing mentoring award. All awards are for fiction and non-fiction. Prizes include mentoring, publishing packages, audiobook production, marketing and book promotion packages, writing and publishing courses and manuscript critiques. Each entry costs £30. Closing date 30 May. Details: https://pageturnerawards.com/

Bath Novel Award is asking for the first 5,000 words of a novel, plus a one-page synopsis. Prizes: 1st – £3,000; 2nd – agent introductions and feedback; 3rd – Cornerstones online course. Entry: £28. Deadline 31 May. Details: http://bathnovelaward.co.uk

Bridport Prize for short stories (up to 5,000 words), novels (first 8,000words) poetry (up to 42 lines) and flash fiction (up to 250 words). Prizes: £5,000, £1,000, £500 and 10x£100 for short stories and poetry; £1,000, £500, £250, 3x£100 for flash fiction; £1,000, £500, 3x£100 for novels, plus editorial guidance. Entry fee: £9 for flash fiction, £10 per poem, £12 per short story, £20 novel. Deadline 31 May. Details: http://www.bridportprize.org.uk

The Bedford Competition is for short stories up to 3,000 words, poems up to 40 lines. Prizes in each category £1,000, £200, £100. Entry fee: £7.50. Note: Closing date 1 May. Details: http://www.bedfordwritingcompetition.co.uk

Bristol Short Story Prize for stories up to 4,000 words. Prizes: £1,000, £500, £250, 17x£100. Entry fee: £9. Note: Closing date: 5 May. Details: http://www.bristolprize.co.uk

Frome Festival Short Story is for stories between 1,000 and 2,200 words. Prizes: £400, £200, £100. Entry fee: £8. Closing date: 31 May. Details: http://www.fromeshortstorycompetition.co.uk

As ever, please check entry details carefully, especially deadlines which can change at short notice.

Good luck – someone has to win!

Writing Competitions to Enter in April

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With Easter fast approaching…

With Easter fast approaching, we suggest you let your imagination roam and write an entry for one of the competitions below. How about a story about whoever might live through the portal in this old tree, near Kent’s Scotney Castle? A rabbit family? A fairy band? Some lilliputian people?

On another miniature theme, Retreat West Micro Fiction require exactly 100 words, to a prompt posted on the website each month. Prizes: 50% of the total entry fees received. Entry fee: £4. Closing date 10 April. Details: http://www.retreatwest.co.uk

The Yeovil Literary Prize is for novels (opening chapters and synopsis up to 15,000 words), short stories (maximum 2,000 words), poems (up to 40 lines) and ‘writing without restriction’. Prizes: Novel: £1,000, £250, £100; Short story and poetry, £500, £200, £100; Writing without restrictions: £200 £100, £50. Entry fee: Novel: £12; Short story: £7; Poetry: £7 for one, £10 for two, £12 for three; Writing without restrictions: £5. Closing date: 30 April. Full details: http://www.yeovil

The Bath Short Story Award is for stories up to 2,200 words, in any style, and on any subject. Prizes: £1,200, £300, £100, £50 for the best local writer, £100 Acorn Award for the best story by an unpublished writer. Entry fee: £8. Deadline 19 April. Details: http://bathshortstoryaward.org

Killing It : The Killer Reads Competition from HarperFiction is open for entries from undiscovered crime writers. They want the first 10,000 words of an unpublished commercial crime, thriller or suspense manuscript. Three winners will be chosen, and will receive editorial reports from HarperFiction editors on their full manuscript plus editorial mentoring from a HarperFiction editor. Send the first 10,000 words of a complete or near-complete work, plus a synopsis of up to 500 words and a brief paragraph about yourself. ENTRY IS FREE, but each writer may enter once only. The closing date is 7 April. Details: http://www.killerreads.com/killing-it/

RA & Pin Drop Short Story Award for stories up to 4,000 words. Prize: A reading by a special guest at an evening at the Royal Academy of Arts. FREE ENTRY. Deadline: 15 April. Details: http://pindropstudio.com/

London Independent Story Prize for short stories, max. 1,500 words; flash 300 words; short screenplays, max 30 pages; feature screenplays. Prizes: £100 for stories and flash, Final Draft software for screenplays. Entry fee: £7 for flash, £10 for screenplays. Earlybird deadline: 15 April. Details: http://www.londonindependentstoryprize.co.uk

As ever – PLEASE double-check all entry details, including the deadline dates. We live in changing times and this has altered things like deadlines, or even resulted in cancellations of some competitions.

Someone has to win, remember. Best of luck that it might be you this time round.

Empathy, e-books and Easter

Have the last fifteen months – horrible in all sorts of ways for everyone – changed what we read – and how we read?

Lots of us may have turned to comfort reading – books which make no demands and distract us from the turmoil and sadness around us. Books which help us sleep. Books with happy endings which cocoon us in a safer, more sunlit world. Or historical fiction so we can be transported into another time. The past may have been brutal and squalid for many, but at least it’s escaping from the horrors of the present. Or crime fiction with its pleasures of puzzle-solving and the satisfaction of order restored. Books we loved as children and teenagers, and now search for with nostalgia and a longing to recapture something lost.

Others may have grasped the opportunity to tackle books they’ve always meant to read and somehow never quite got round to – classics, ‘difficult’ authors, unfamiliar genres.

I haven’t managed many of those. The most serious book I have been reading this week is non-fiction: Zero Degrees of Empathy by Simon Baron-Cohen, a professor in developmental psychopathology at Cambridge University and director of the Autism Research Centre. It’s not his most recent book, being published in 2011, and I’ve read it before, but events in the UK drew me back to it. The front flap of my hardback says that it ‘presents a new way of understanding what it is that leads individuals to treat others inhumanely, and challenges all of us to reconsider entirely the idea of evil.’ On the back cover Uta Frith, Emeritus Professor of Cognitive Development at University College London, writes that the book is ‘a compelling and provocative account of empathy as our most precious social resource.’

Baron-Cohen argues that ‘Empathy is like a universal solvent. Any problem immersed in empathy becomes soluble. It is effective as a way of anticipating and resolving interpersonal problems, whether this is a marital conflict, an international conflict, a problem at work, difficulties in a friendship, political deadlocks, a family dispute, or a problem with the neighbour.’

With so much suffering and mental illness everywhere resulting from the pandemic, empathy is something we need more than ever. Reading, as we identify with fictional characters and care what happens to them, must surely be a vital way of building up our capacity for empathy.

 Back to how we read. The pandemic and lockdown has meant that even those of us who love the tactile feel of physical books may have taken to e-books for the first time. No shelf space for more physical books and it’s hard to make room for any with the charity shops being shut.

It’s why I’ve relaunched e-book editions of All Desires Known and Of Human Telling. Hard-hitting stories of family and marital conflict behind closed doors – ‘sharp-eyed, funny and redemptive’. They might be a good e-book read at Easter.

Buy “All Desires Known” on Kindle

Buy “Of Human Telling” on Kindle