Sneaky Snippets – 31/08/16

‘Your boy was so kind as to let me in and provide me with a glass of wine whilst I waited for you,’ he explained, gesturing to the glass on the table beside him. ‘I trust you don’t mind.’

‘Trust away, Reverend,’ Conroy replied bitterly, striding across the room towards the fireplace. ‘I presume he lit the fire for you as well?’

As he spoke, he grabbed hold of the metal poker and started jabbing angrily down at the flames, trying to disperse the wood so that the fire would burn out quicker. To his annoyance, this only made the fire grow stronger.

The Vicar smiled.

‘No, no, I am responsible for the fire,’ he said, settling himself back into his chair with a gentle smile on his face. ‘I always find that a fire makes a room, don’t you agree? I thought you might appreciate coming home to a more…’ he paused to glance around the sparsely decorated room. ‘…Well, a more homely feel.’

Conroy thrust the poker down beside the grating and turned swiftly to face his visitor.

‘In future, Reverend, perhaps you would be so kind as to not meddle in my affairs…’

‘I certainly didn’t mean any offence by it.’

From The Butcher of Barclays Hollow – ©Nick R B Tingley 2016

Sneaky Snippets is a weekly segment of short extracts of my work – usually something I’ve been working on in the past week or so.

Did you like what you read? Do you want to learn more about The Butcher of Barclays Hollow? Who is Conroy? And why is he so irritated by the presence of his visitor?

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Profiling Evelyn Giles

A few days ago, I read a post called The Six Question Character Challenge. Basically, it’s a tag post where authors share a few insights into their characters by answering a series of questions from their character’s point of view.

Whilst this is a great post, it’s not something that I’m going to partake in (on this occasion at least), partly because some of the answers are likely to reveal some fairly big plot twists from The Bluebell Informant, which (as you might imagine) I’m fairly keen to avoid at this point.

That being said, there was something in this post that got me thinking. As one of the questions, the writer is required to give the character’s Myers-Briggs type. Now, for those of you who aren’t sure what that is, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is basically a questionnaire designed to group people into psychological preferences and make broad statements about how they perceive the world.

I was vaguely aware of it before, but had never actually done one before so (out of curiosity) I took a free version that I found online…

And results were surprisingly accurate.

Yes, I know what you are going to say, a lot of these things (like mentalism or mind-reading) are designed to be vague enough that they could apply to almost anyone if they thought about it in the right way. But the explanation of the results of this test weren’t just broad flicks of the brush – they were accurate down to even how I select people who I consider friends or how I weigh up arguments in my mind. Interestingly enough, the career paths that my type of personality tend to gravitate towards include writing, counselling, teaching and politics – explains a lot really, doesn’t it…?

Anyway – back to the point.

I was intrigued about what kind of results I would get if I tried to retake the test from the point of view of DS Giles. And the results are fairly interesting.

I won’t bore you with all the explanations, but I will pick out two or three sentences that particularly excited me. Why did they excite me? Because they tell me that the character I created was the one I intended…

Enjoy.

Detective Sergeant Evelyn Giles

Myers-Briggs Type: ISTJ

‘ISTJs are often called inspectors. They have a keen sense of right and wrong, especially in their area of interest and/or responsibility. They are noted for devotion to duty.’

‘As do other Introverted Thinkers, ISTJs often give the initial impression of being aloof and perhaps somewhat cold. Effusive expression of emotional warmth is not something that ISTJs do without considerable energy loss.’

‘ISTJs are easily frustrated by the inconsistencies of others, especially when the second parties don’t keep their commitments. But they usually keep their feelings to themselves unless they are asked. And when asked, they don’t mince words. Truth wins out over tact.’

So, now it’s over to you.

How does that make you feel about Evelyn Giles? Is she cold-hearted or just misunderstood? Would you want her backing you up when you were in trouble? Are you interested in taking a Myers-Briggs test yourself? What is your personality type and how accurate is it for you?

Let me know what you think in the comments.

And, as always, if you like what you’ve read (and if you read the whole thing I’m hoping you did), hit that like button or share about on Facebook and Twitter. You can even tell me in the comments if you like. Likewise, if you weren’t a fan, let me know in the comments. I don’t bite – I promise.

What I’ve been listening to this week…

A few years ago, I wrote the music for a youth theatre production of Shakespeare’s As You Like It. During my research for the score, I decided to work thematically and settled on using gypsy-swing music as the inspiration for any songs I wrote for the banished Duke Senior.

It was during that time that I first began to listen to the works of Django Reinhardt and I have been a fan ever since. His particular brand of jazz and the intricacies of his guitar playing are so easy to listen to and serve as fantastic background music when writing – particularly when tackling slightly more upbeat moments in a story.

There are so many pieces to chose from, but I’m going to have to go with one his more popular songs – the toe-tapping and insatiably catchy, Minor Swing.

Enjoy.

 

Now it’s your turn.

What do you think of Reinhardt’s music? Does it have you tapping your toes or shaking your head in despair? Classic jazz or an abomination?

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

And, as always, if you like what you’ve read and heard (and I would hope if you’ve read this far that you did), press that like button at the bottom of the post. Or, if you’re not a blogger, share it on Facebook, Twitter and whatever else you can think of.

Don’t agree with me? Didn’t like the post? Leave a comment down below and let me know why. Anyone can comment so don’t be shy.

And if you have a suggestion for something I might like to listen to next week? Leave your suggestion below.

Tap those toes…

Planning is key…

There has been a definite theme in my posts this week – organisation.

Whether we like it or not, being organised and working to a schedule is one of the best things we can do to make our time more efficient. Whether you are a writer or someone creative or just someone who is on the look out for a change of career or house or whatever, take my advice…

Organisation is key. So make a plan and stick to it.

Then the world will be yours for the taking…

As always, if you liked this or any of my other posts, please make sure you hit the like button down below. Or, if you’re not a fellow blogger, share it about on Facebook, Twitter and any other place you can think of.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend…

First Lines: The Princess Bride – William Goldman

This is my favourite book in all the world, though I have never read it.

There is a huge amount of debate about which line is actually the first in William Goldman’s The Princess Bride. Some believe that the start of the actual tale – which begins, ‘The year that Buttercup was born, the most beautiful woman in the world was a French scullery maid named Annette,’ – marks the start of the book.

However, The Princess Bride is an odd book in the first instance – it purports to be a direct translation of a fairy tale when in fact it is entirely a creation from Goldman’s own mind. The fact that the introduction introduces the idea that he actually acting as translator, rather than writer, is as important to me as the actual story itself. In fact, much of the comedic and whimsical nature of the story derives from this narrative conceit so it is the first line of the introduction that marks the start of the story…

For me at least.

And what a great first line it is.

Already in this first line, Goldman sets up the stage for the rest of the novel. As a reader, we read this line and a couple of questions pop into our minds:

What book?

Why hasn’t he read it?

Is it boring or cumbersome?

Straight away we are intrigued. We want to know what he is talking about and, as a result of this, we are instantly drawn into his story long before it ever gets going.

On a more stylistic point, the first line gives the reader a great indication of what to expect from the rest of the book. The slightly whimsy way in which he addresses his failure to read the book that – presumably – he is about to talk about, instantly sets the tone for the rest of the story. So much so that it doesn’t surprise the reader when, later in the story, the narrator quite happily cuts massive chunks out of the tale because he considers them too boring or long, or that he frequently jumps back to his own personal narrative about how his father used to pretend to read the story to him.

Right from the off, the reader is prepared for whatever wackiness the narrator is about to inflict on them and, no matter how bizarre it gets, they stick with it throughout the rest of the story.

A fantastic first line – much better than the Buttercup one – sets up The Princess Bride beautifully. A good case for anyone looking to inject a little bit of whimsy into their writing.

Nick R B Tingley is a crime writer from the UK. After several years working as a ghostwriter, Nick released his debut novel The Bluebell Informant – the first in his DS Evelyn Giles series. He is currently working on the second in the series – The Court of Obsessions – as well as a Victorian-era mystery novella called The Butcher of Barclay’s Hollow. 

To stay up to date with Nick’s latest releases, subscribe to his newsletter now. They’ll be no spamming – I promise!

Literary Agents: Top Tips – Part 2

Yesterday I posted Part 1 of my top tips for submitting to literary agents. In that post, I talked about preparing your work – particularly your covering letter and manuscript. If you missed out on that one, you can find it here.

Today, I’m going into the organisation bit.

As I said yesterday, approaching an agent requires a plan and these tips will help you get organised so that you can put your best foot forward.

So, continuing from where we left off…

4. Scope out your targets and do your research

You will never find the right home for manuscript if you don’t check out the list of agents. Will you be able to shoot a target if you’re not looking at it? Probably not. So you need to know what is out there and find what is best for you.

There are different agencies that handle different genre of books. Some are purely children’s literature, some are only literary fiction – some are even just non-fiction. Make sure you only select the agencies that want to see your genre of work. There is no point sending a crime thriller to an agency that only deals with children’s fiction – you’re just wasting everyone’s time there.

There are numerous lists (both paid and free) that you can use to give you a start, but it’s advisable to do your own leg work. Many of these lists are out of date or contain names of agents that no longer work there so check them out yourselves. The last thing you want to do is ruin your chances by sending work to an agent who doesn’t exist anymore…

Which brings me to the most important part of this tip: check out the individual agents in an agency and find one who you think your work is most suited to. Agents like it when it looks like you’ve done your own research – remember what I said about first impressions? Addressing a covering letter to the agent who is after the sort of thing you’ve written will go a long way to getting them to like you – and liking you might just be what swings it in your favour if push comes to shove. And make sure that the agent is accepting new clients – you can usually find out if they’re not accepting new clients on their information page. Don’t waste your time by submitting to an already overworked agent, no matter how much you think they’ll love your story – you won’t get anywhere.

When you find the agencies and agents that you think will appreciate your work, check out their submission guidelines – all agencies have them and they are there for a reason. Don’t take it for granted that they will want three sample chapters, a synopsis and a covering letter. Some agencies are very specific about what they want and may well base a decision on as little as 5,000 words so make sure you note down what they want.

You want to make a good first impression and – unfortunately – ignoring the details is a common error, so they probably won’t even remember you if you screw that bit up…

5. Create a submission strategy

It is not a wise idea to submit your work to every agent that fills your criteria – it is certainly not a good idea to submit to two different agents within the same agency. If one agent thinks another in the same office will appreciate your work, they will hand it on themselves – you don’t need to do it for them. Although agents are realists and understand that you don’t want to put all your eggs in the same basket, they don’t want to feel like they are one of hundreds that you’ve submitted to at any given time so definitely don’t send out any mass emails to more than one agency.

You need to prioritise – work out which agents you’d like to submit to first and then work your way slowly through the list. And for that, you need a submission strategy.

Different writers do this in different ways – ultimately it’s down to you. I like to take all the information I gathered from step four and put it all into a worksheet – that way I colour code it based on what information is important to me and can very quickly see who I’ve submitted to and who I haven’t. It doesn’t really matter what you do as long as you have a way of quickly seeing what your next step is.

Screen Shot 2016-08-24 at 09.32.10Most writing sites recommend submitting to no more than three agencies at a time and I have to say I agree. That way, if you are faced with the terrifying prospect of a rejection from an agent, you still have two more in play, which will help keep your morale up. Rank the agencies you like most and start at the top, work your way down and submit to a new agent every time you receive a rejection.

Unless an agency offers to read the rest of your manuscript, stick to this plan. If you receive ten or twelve rejections, there may be something wrong with your manuscript, covering letter or synopsis. True, there may be something wrong with your story altogether, but the best way to find out is to go back, tweak those submission materials and start submitting again.

No matter how downhearted and demoralised you might get, stick to the plan.

Which leads me nicely on to…

6. Accept Rejection

Before you ever send your submission material off, accept one thing. There will be people out there who won’t like your work – and that includes agents.

It doesn’t matter if your work is the most brilliant masterpiece, if the agent doesn’t feel it they won’t want to read the rest. Look at it this way, I didn’t particularly enjoy The War of the Worlds and that is considered a classic piece of science-fiction.

The long and the short of it is that you could have handpicked a particular agent for your work and still misunderstood what they were after. Whether we like it or not, there are any number of things that could be wrong with your submission: the agent might not like your personality in the covering letter, they aren’t a fan or your writing style, they can’t think of a publisher who would want your story, they have someone on their books who is very similar to you already, they were having a bad day when they read it, they might disagree with your thematic approach, the main character may remind them of someone they really don’t like…

The list is endless. But it’s not all about the agent: You may have a typo in your first sentence, you might have accidentally left in a sentence that doesn’t make sense, a character might randomly change name in the middle of your opening chapter, you might have compared your story to a book that isn’t particularly good…

All these things are potential problems that can lead to rejection. The important thing is to not be phased by it. You will not – and I cannot highlight this enough – will not be picked up by the first agent you submit to, particularly if you start by targeting the best. You might be lucky, but it’s highly unlikely: think of J K Rowling – no one wanted Harry Potter to start with and now you can’t find a person in the UK who doesn’t know about her books. Think about her pseudonym, Robert Galbraith – when she started writing crime novels, no one wanted to touch her – to them she was just another new author.

If you put yourself out there, someone will reject you. If you can’t handle that then submitting to an agent may not be for you. The important thing is to keep ploughing on. If too many agents reject you, start to consider changing your submission materials or going down the self-publish route but don’t – and I mean this sincerely – don’t just give up because the first agent you approach doesn’t want to take you on.

It doesn’t mean your story is rubbish. It just means that agent isn’t the right person for it.

So there are my top tips for submitting to agents. If you are trying to find an agent I wish you the very best of luck. If you’re thinking about it then bear in mind these tips – it is hard work, but if it wasn’t then these wouldn’t be worth the time it took me to type them. Remember, organisation is the key. Make a plan. Stick to the plan.

And knock ’em dead.

Now,

I want to hear from you.

Are you submitting to an agent? Have you submitted before and been rejected? What technique did you use for keeping up your submission momentum? Were you rejected by agents and found your success in the world of self-publishing?

As always, if you have read this far I’m guessing you like what you read. If so then hit that like button or (if you’re not a blogger) share it about on Face-Twit-Pin-Book. If you didn’t like it or disagree, tell me your thoughts in the comments down below. Anyone can comment and I’d love to hear what you have to say.

All the best.

Literary Agents: Top Tips – Part 1

Have a plan.

Regardless of whether you are approaching an agent for the first time (or trying to pitch your manuscript to a publisher for that matter) you have to have one.

Let’s be absolutely clear from the outset, finding an agent isn’t like any other part of your writing experience. When you’re writing a book or a story, you don’t need to start out with a plan. Sure, you might have a vague idea of how you want it to start and finish, but you don’t necessarily have an in-depth idea of every moment that is going to happen before you start putting pen to paper. And yes, you might be one of those writers who schedules the writing of each chapter to a particular day so that you can get it all done to a deadline (something I really should start doing).

But – for the most part – any plan you may have in the beginning will be vague and lacking in detail. Some writers don’t even plan at all…

But approaching an agent is different. Of all the writery (yes I am claiming that word) things you will be doing in your day-to-day life, writing to an agent will be the least so. And it requires a different tactic.

It requires organisation.

It requires a plan. 

So here is part one of my top tips for sifting through the agent pile and making sure they get hold of the best possible form of your manuscript.

1. Prepare your materials early

Most agencies are pretty standard in terms of their requirements from you as a writer. Yes, some of the details differ here and there and some agents have very specific requirements about what they want from unknown writers, but generally speaking they are all after the same thing: the first few sample chapters of your manuscript, a synopsis or outline of some kind and a covering letter.

Prepare these early – they take far longer than you might expect and, as a writer, you should be treating your covering letter and synopsis with the same care and attention that you would give your manuscript. When I recently started submitting The Bluebell Informant to agents, I spent over a year honing my covering letter and synopsis – and I am so glad I did. My first attempts were truly awful to what I have now.

So get started today – right now. There really is no better time.

2. Recognise the role and value of the covering letter

This is where many writers fall down. They devote all their attention to honing their manuscript until it is practically perfect and then do a haphazard job of the other parts.

Out of the synopsis and your covering letter, the latter is arguably the most important – it is the only time when the agent gets to see what kind of person you are and learn a bit about you. Occasionally an agent might request a biography, but most don’t want to have to wade through your life story. Bottom line – they want to know why you wrote the story, what you think it is about (or why it is worth the agent’s time to read it) and if you’re intending to be a career writer or a one-timer.

Don’t be cocky – you’re not the greatest writer to ever walk the world and your story isn’t the best thing since sliced bread – so don’t say it. And crucially, remember that your covering letter is there to get the agent reading the first page of your manuscript – so make it personal and make it brief.

This is your first impression so make it count.

3. Recognise the role and value of the synopsis

Ironically enough, most writers are more perturbed by the synopsis. Writers tear their hair out over it – they don’t know how to make it sound awesome and, as a result, they give up fairly quickly (I know, I’ve been there too).

But the truth of it is that the synopsis exists to let the agent know what they can expect from the rest of the manuscript. It doesn’t need to be flash or like the jacket blurb of a book – it certainly doesn’t need to leave the agent on tenterhooks to want to find out what happens at the end. It is basically just a description of the rest of the plot of the story – no flashy language, just pure fact.

If you are worried that it doesn’t sound interesting enough – and you really shouldn’t – maybe consider writing an elevator pitch at the start – a simple one line sentence that shows the agent your hook. For example for The Devil’s Detective by Simon Kurt Unsworth, it might be:

A dark, mystery thriller centred around a murder in Hell

Short, to the point. Perfect.

Bottom line…

Agents know the synopsis will be boring, so don’t bother trying to make it exciting – you won’t do yourself any favours. Just make it succinct, well written and factual – if you do that, you can’t really go wrong.

 

That was just the ground work. In my next post, I will go on to talk about Part 2 – the research and organisation bit. This is where most writers either rise or fall so remember to have a look when it comes out tomorrow.

In the meantime, I want to hear from you. Have you ever submitted to an agent? How much time did you take to prepare yourself? Did you find the process easy or difficult? And if you could give one piece of advice to other writers about submitting to agents, what would it be?

As always, if you have read this far I’m guessing you like what you read. If so then hit that like button or (if you’re not a blogger) share it about on Face-Twit-Pin-Book. If you didn’t like it or disagree, tell me your thoughts in the comments down below. Anyone can comment and I’d love to hear what you have to say.

Until tomorrow…