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We've decided to combine our previous "News" and "Writers' Diaries" pages into one, under the one general heading of "Blog". It's a lot easier to find articles if everything is in the same place.
We've simply changed the name of the "News" page to "Blog". We've also moved all of our 2017 Writers' Diaries entries to the new Blog page, but if you're desperate to have a look at any of our previous Writers' Diaries entries, the old page is still there. We might recycle one or two of these in the Blog, if they're still relevant.
Suppose someone asks you to look over the manuscript for their new novel – perhaps their first one ever. It might be the first time sou've ever been asked, too, so here are five tips from someone who's been at both ends of the process.
1. Don't confuse "story", "plot" and "structure". Sure, they're connected, and all books need a basic storyline, but there are different ways of letting the plot unfold. Sometimes, for instance in crime or spy fiction, the reader is often intended to feel confused: the entire story is revealed in the last few pages. Some stories start from the finishing point and describe how the central character got there. If the structure doesn't work for you personally, then say so, but that doesn't mean it's wrong.
2. Don't assume a central character has to be credible or likeable. The flawed anti-hero can do daft things, and can even be a pretty daft person: the concept of a little Belgian with a waxed moustache mincing around solving crimes is fairly incredible – but it works. The reader has to find the central character engaging, but that's not the same thing at all. What fails to engage you might engage other readers.
3. Don't get too hung up on background detail. A book can have too much or too little, or the detail can be wrong, but all of these can be corrected in edits or re-writes. It's the story that matters.
4. Don't "read a book by numbers" – with a check-list of things to write about. A novel is a work of art, and it deserves to be viewed as a complete entity. If you're struggling for something to write about in your feedback, then fine, a checklist can act as a useful prompt, but that's about it.
5. Finally, please never, never, never tell an author that their book is not fit for public consumption. Not in any way at all. The book might "not be for you", or "not to your taste", or even "not be a good fit for your publishing house", but you should always leave the author encouraged to write more – either to adapt the existing manuscript, or to write something else then return to that manuscript. Telling the author that they can't write or that the submitted manuscript is a 'bad book' is actually the height of arrogance – what special skills do you have to make that judgement?
Remember – that manuscript baby is likely to be the result of many long nights' hard work, perhaps years if it's a first novel. How would you feel if someone told you that your first-born was so ugly it was fit for the bin?
(This article first appeared on LinkedIn in February 2017.)
Edinburgh University's Student magazine – reputedly the oldest university newspaper in the world – published this review of Roland Tye's Weekender recently, along with a little biographical detail.
Click on the link below to see the full article.
Gordon Lawrie passes on a few tips...
Here at Comely Bank Publishing we receive a surprisingly large number of historical fiction manuscripts for consideration. (Interestingly, the genre seems more attractive to male writers.)
One all-too-common problem is that authors become obsessed with historical accuracy. It's not that hard to understand: they often spend years researching the background details and in some cases it all but takes over their lives. And when you've spent that much time on something, it's hard to bring yourself to discard it as irrelevant.
But fiction writers need to remember something. Historical fiction is fiction first, second and third – readers want to read a story, they don't want a history lecture. If they pick up a few little historical titbits along the way... well, fine, but that's not what they bought they book for. If they wanted to find out about the history, they'd have bought a history book. Dare I say it, by an expert.
My heart sinks when a writer starts to enthusiastically tell me about his or her current historical fiction manuscript and they start by telling me when it's set and what an interesting period it was. Frankly, any period in history can be interesting if it has a good story.
So here's my test for wannabe historical fiction writers: take the history right out of the book altogether, and pick out the story. What would the story be like in another era; what would be the story be like set today, right now?
That's what counts. Write that story out, then set it in your chosen background. And one more thing: don't bother about historical accuracy or research too much. Who cares if there's the odd mistake? It's just a story, after all.
Fed up with Britain's changing weather? Why not celebrate it instead?
Our sponsored flash fiction website, Friday Flash Fiction, also has a poetry section. One regular contributor, Guy Fletcher, has begun a project of short poems about different types of weather. Here's one:
Gale over Penarth Beach
All morning clouds have been darkening
as rain slashes in from the Atlantic
and the tuneless wind whistles furiously.
Wild waves explode against the sea wall,
spray cascading over half-term children
as other weather tourists stand further back,
Poseidon's mood is decidedly black
and I imagine his vast frame
appearing in the turbulent Channel
as seagulls screech, blown back by the gale.
The pier peers on with indifference
and from the warmth of the Pavilion Cafe
people watch Nature's power on display
as I'm refreshed by the angry sea's spray.
Guy has more weather poetry, for instance about fog and snow, at the website.
Readers may be interested to hear that Assured Attention, Jane Tulloch's long-awaited sequel to Our Best Attention, is now heading towards publication later this year.
As yet we're not certain when the exact publication date will be, but it now looks likely that the official launch will take place just after the Edinburgh Festival ends.
Something to look forward to!
Aspiring authors would do well to have a wee look through this article from Kendra Olson. Kendra covers the various stages of editing – sometimes mis-described as "proofreading" and often completely misunderstood generally.
Editors do two things. Developmental editors read a novel holistically, checking that the plot hangs together, assessing the role and place of the characters in the story, considering whether the setting is properly described and whether any historical, scientific or geographic details ring true. It's possible that a further specialist edit might be necessary, for instance to check police procedure in a crime novel.
The other type of editor is someone we usually call a line editor. This person goes through the book checking the grammar, spelling, writing style and all the other things you'd expect to be of the highest possible standard in any book. By the way, a proofreader simply checks over the finished product for typos and so on – although nowadays that might perhaps mean checking a pdf file before it heads for the printers.
Going back to Kendra Olson's article, the thing to watch for is what she charges. These are standard costs, she's giving a lot of her time. If you can get someone to do the job instead for free, they're saving you an awful lot of money.
Happy Valentine's day to all of our readers. It's been a glorious day here at Comely Bank Publishing, a cold but clear blue sky day that definitely heralds the coming of spring.
Meanwhile, why not share your love of reading with one of our lovely books? (Ours are the ones on the right, by the way.)
Well, here's an opportunity... a competition for independent publishers such as ourselves. All we'd have to do is send a copy of each book we're entering to an address in the USA. There are two which would qualify – Jane Tulloch's Our Best Attention, and Roland Tye's Weekender.
Just for a moment, forget that we have to send the books abroad – there are UK equivalents. Will winning the prize actually bring us any fame and fortune? Have you heard of these people? And we have to pay $95 per book to enter...
We're sure they're highly respectable – and we mean that – but these people are not in it as a charity, they're trying to turn a profit. And they'll have expenses of their own – judges' fees and so on. (There had better be, or else the books will simply will end up in the bin.)
In the meantime, sending $95 to an unknown operation just seems crazy to us. We think you'd actually be better off buying 95 lottery tickets.
Yesterday I found myself in a local Edinburgh bookstore and overheard a conversation between two fellow shoppers. The younger man was clearly an aspiring writer, and the older woman was giving him encouragement and advice. So far so good.
Once the young man had managed to extract himself, I casually asked the woman to tell me about her book. I was trying to be as nice to her as she had been to the young lad, and I really was looking for a potential birthday present for someone. BIG MISTAKE.
I think I only managed four more words in the entire conversation. It emerged that the woman had written some sort of fantasy book – not what I was looking for anyway. She confused me straight away by saying it was a Young Adult book aimed at 18+ readers (no, I don't know what that means either); then she confused me further by wasting a few minutes of my increasingly-valuable time telling what the book wasn't rather than what it actually was.
She pulled her book off the shelves and thrust it into my hands. I turned to the back and immediately uttered two of my allocated four words: "Austin" and MacAuley".
Now I've written about Austin MacAuley before, but I was interested to hear her experience – in particular what she'd been charged. I never quite found out, because by now my ears were being battered so much that I'm afraid my other two words just slipped out... "vanity publisher".
Well, she then launched into a diatribe about snobbery in the publishing world – she's right there, of course, but I never got another word in to be able to tell her. She'd obviously paid something to have her book published, probably quite a bit. By the way, I don't actually have a problem with that: my problem is with the vanity publishers who really aren't firm enough with authors to insist they get their book into better shape. They just take the authors' money.
The sad thing is that I ended up like the young man, trying to edge away and escape her. I'd spotted that she'd written something else (also published by Austin MacAuley) that I might have bought, but she herself had driven me away. Sometimes less is more.
By the way: bear in mind that vanity publishers own your copyright. You sell your soul, but you pay money to do so. Self-publishers always own the rights to their books, which means they can always sell them to anyone else whenever they want.
Just when you think life is getting impossible for self-publishing authors, something new brings a little hope. This time, Amazon has announced a prize of $20,000 for the best new self-published book published between 20th February and 19th May this year on their Kindle Desktop Publishing platform for ebooks.
It's a narrow window of opportunity – 3 months means the book will more or less have to be ready to go already – but it's better than nothing. And it's open to any type of book of more than 5000 words in length.
Interested? Click on either the link or the image above for more details.
American college professor Mike Kowis has shocked his colleagues – to say nothing of his impoverished students – by revealing that it cost a staggering $7000 to self-publish his teaching guide Engaging College Students: A Fun and Edgy Guide for Professors. In short, his costs were fairly evenly split between the writing process, printing and publishing, and marketing his book.
His figures make interesting reading. They're quite high – he's gone for high-end support for much of the work – but they serve to remind would-be authors why it's so hard to get commercial publishers to take a chance on a manuscript from a new author.
Here at Comely Bank Publishing, we have no magic powers. If pressed, we'd say that marketing presents the biggest challenges: no matter how good a book is, you can't force a bookseller to stock it. There's always a risk your book will fall flat, and many famous books only sold well posthumously.
But there's no harm in trying. And by sharing his experiences of the cost, Kowis has rather neatly given his book more publicity. So let's reward him with a link!
We're sad to announce that our Creative Director Emma Baird is giving up her post due to pressure of work. Comely Bank Publishing wishes to thank her for advice, encouragement, and innovative work in social media.
We wish her all the best in her future career.
What did 2016 mean book-wise? In traditional publishing terms, JK Rowling and Joe Wicks were the hits of the year according to the Guardian.
Rowling’s book, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child the script behind the successful West End play, was also backed up by her screenplay for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, illustrated editions of the Harry Potter books and a colouring book.
Meanwhile, online health and fitness guru Joe Wicks is described as “the publishing sensation of 2016”. His books were the only ones to appear every week in the official top 50 chart, and 12 times at the number one slot.
Nielsen BookScan reports annual book sales in the UK rose to just over £1.59 billion last year, up from £1.51 billion the previous year. Actual book sales increased too – from 190 million in 2015 to 195 million last year.
In adult fiction, Paula Hawkins’s The Girl on the Train and JoJo Moyes two books – After You and Me Before You – made their authors more than £15 million in sales.
TV celebrity David Walliams was the other big sales success in children’s fiction. In 2016, his book sales hit the £9 million mark.
Picture thanks to Martin Pettitt on Flickr.
The 2016 Costa Category Award Winners were announced last night and the winner of the first novel award is Francis Spufford, Golden Hill.
Set in New York in 1746, a young stranger arrives fresh off the boat from England. He has an order for a thousand pounds in his pocket he wishes to cash – but can he be trusted? The story is about a young man with a fast tongue who can invent himself afresh in a city that has only just begun.
The judges called the book a “captivating and original tale”.
The other novel award winner was Days Without End by Sebastian Barry, a story set in the American Civil Wars.
Other winners include Brian Conaghan. Born in Coatbridge but now living in Dublin, Conaghan’s children’s book The Bombs That Brought Us Together is about two boys living on opposite sides.
Conaghan left school at 16, taking up an apprenticeship as a painter and decorator with his local authority before returning to college to gain school qualifications. He went on to university and discovered a passion for books, writing and drama. He taught English in schools and starting writing managing to amass some 217 rejection letters before finding an agent and publisher.
The judges called his book “timely yet also hilariously funny”.
The biography prize was awarded to Keggie Carew for Dadland: A Journey into Uncharted Territory, a book about her father, while the poetry prize went to Alice Oswald for Falling Awake, a book the judges urged everyone to read.
Are you making writing and/or reading resolutions for 2017?
Resolutions to get fit and lose weight are tedious and hard to stick to so we suggest writing and reading instead, which is far better fun and easier to implement.
Here are some suggestions for reading:
And for writers:
Happy New Year from all of us at Comely Bank Publishing! We wish you health and happiness in 2017.
Merry Christmas from all of us at Comely Bank Publishing!
We've had a very busy year. We published two books - Our Best Attention by Jane Tulloch, and Weekender by Roland Tye. We launched both books at Blackwell's Edinburgh store and we are delighted the shop continues to support us. Sales have gone really well, with both authors needing additional print runs. Our Best Attention was sold out before it officially launched.
One of our authors chose a novel approach to publicity. Roland gave out free copies of Weekender during this year's Edinburgh Festival in a bid to increase awareness of his book. Jane opted for holding lots of events with different groups. She was also featured as the big name author in the Christmas edition of The People's Friend this year with her festive short story.
We've also been experimenting with social media and newsletters. If you'd like to sign up for our newsletter, email us at email@example.com We treat your email address with respect, it doesn't get passed to third parties and we don't spam you.
We have two books due out next year, so watch this space... Comely Bank Publishing's staff are also working on two or three novels each themselves, and hope to publish at least one of them in 2017!
We've had a number of approaches this year from writers interested in what we do. It's terrific that Comely Bank Publishing is getting noticed, but it certainly keeps us busy... We don't want to discourage anyone from getting in touch, but always bear in mind that we are a small operation and we do this for free, giving every approach Our Best Attention, so responses can be delayed at times.
We'd like to thank everyone who supports us - from Blackwell's bookshop and The Golden Hare in Edinburgh, to those who came to our launches, signed up for our newsletter, read our books for us and bought those books. We couldn't do it without you.
Merry Christmas one and all! Here's to a great 2017.
Don't forget that Wednesday 21st December is the closing date for entries for Friday Flash Fiction's Christmas Competition, sponsored by Comely Bank Publishing.
Entry is free, and all you need to do is write a story of no more than 100 words, not including the title. First prize is $50 US (it's open to anyone writing in the English language), sponsored by Comely Bank Publishing. Previous winners include journalists Alison McHarg and Joy Essien. Joy is one of this year's judges along with Comely Bank Publishing's very own Gordon Lawrie.
Why not have a go? You've nothing to lose. Click on one of the links to find out more.
Need some Christmas presents? Buy a book. We cover all genres - comedy, serious, young adult, adventures, historical fiction and women's fiction. There's something for everyone. Buy your book here.
We've more books due out next year. If you'd like to keep yourself up to date with what we do, please sign up for our newsletter. We send it out infrequently and we treat your email address with respect, promise!
The tech giants are to collaborate to remove extremist material from their platforms, according to a news article in What’s New In Publishing today.
Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Microsoft are to share information about prohibited material. They will create a common log of unique digital fingerprints – known as hashes – for video and image content that is thought to promote terrorism. In a joint statement, the companies said this could include terrorist-recruitment videos or violent imagery.
The shared database means that if one platform flags and removes “extreme and egregious terrorist images and videos” content, the others can use the hash to identify and get rid of it from their own systems if this breaches their policies.
In the statement, Facebook said: “Throughout this collaboration, we are committed to protecting our users’ privacy and their ability to express themselves freely and safely on our platforms.
“We also seek to engage with the wider community of interested stakeholders in a transparent, thoughtful and responsible way as we further our shared objective to prevent the spread of terrorist content online while respecting human rights.”
There’s a scramble to make sense of Donald Trump’s US election victory in the book publishing world, according to an article in the New York Times this week.
Imminent books on the subject include Katy Tur’s memoir, Unbelievable, which chronicles her time covering Trump’s presidential campaign or NBC news. Tur was assured by the programme’s head of news that it would be a brief assignment, lasting six weeks or so. In fact, it lasted 18 months and in that time Tur became a frequent target of Trump on Twitter and at his rallies. She also received death threats from his supporters.
The memoir is to be published by Dey Strett Books next year.
Random House is to publish a memoir by Khizr Khan, the Pakistani American Gold Star father which tells the story of his move from Pakistan to American, the loss o his son (a captain the US army) and the family’s role in a national debate about immigration, patriotism and religious diversity.
Other books will look at Trump’s populist appeal and the way he capitalised on voters’ economic and social anxiety. Journalist David Neiwart’s MilitiaLand USA: The Rise of the Radical Right in the Age of Trump looks at how Trump’s campaign helped extreme right-wing arguments find a place in the mainstream.
Atlantic Books is to publish the BBC broadcaster Steve Richard’s book The Rise of the Outsiders: How the Anti-Establishment Is On The March, which will also look at what drove voters to exit the European Union.
A Scottish publisher who has published a new translation of the Quran that challenges many of its accepted statements on issues such as violence, polygamy and female dress has been offered police protection amid fears for his safety.
Paigham Mustafa, who remains the only person to be issued with a fatwa by religious leaders in the west, was visited at his home by detectives following the release of his new book The Quran: God’s Message to Mankind.
It argues that Islamic leaders in the UK are perpetuating falsehoods about the religious text, including the belief that Islam condones violence against non-Muslims, domestic violence and polygamy, that it requires women to cover their faces and that murder, including honour killings, can be justified.
Mustafa has spent more than a decade researching the book to highlight what he sees as widespread misrepresentation, despite the 2001 fatwa still being in place.
Issued jointly by 15 imams, it accused him of spreading ‘sedition’ and ‘satanic thoughts’ in magazines that he produced UK Muslims and compared him with Salman Rushdie, who was the subject of a fatwa declared by the Iranian government in response to his book, The Satanic Verses.
He was ostracised by family and friends and was forced to withdraw from social life, even missing his father’s funeral, because he feared violent repercussions. With the help of his then local MP Des Browne, a former Labour Defence Secretary, he sought, unsuccessfully, to have the fatwa withdrawn and it remains in place.
The 58 year-old father-of-three, who was raised a Sunni, discussed safety arrangements with CID officers at his home, amid fears of possible reprisals by extremists.
Earlier this year Asad Shah, a Glasgow shopkeeper, was stabbed to death by a fellow Muslim who accused him of ‘disrespecting’ Islam while Jalal Uddin, an imam from Rochdale, was battered to death by an Isis-supporting Muslim who accused him of practising a form of healing he deemed to be blasphemous.
Mustafa said: “The police visited my home after reading about my book in the media. They are concerned about the security risks that I and my family face after the book's publication and I fully understand that. Family and friends also contacted me following the media coverage to say they had seen negative comments on social media.
“The police wanted to offer security advice and I told them I thought that was a good idea so I’m meeting them next week to discuss the matter in more detail.”
Mustafa said that he has received messages of support for his stance and that he has no regrets. He added that he believed in the word of the Quran, and was troubled that it was being used falsely to justify terrorism violence and other practices that were harmful and unnecessary.
Mustafa is hosting several speaking events to discuss issues raised in his book. The first is being held at on November 23 at 6.30pm at The Coffee Pot, on Woodlands Road, Glasgow. The book is available online from www.signat.co.uk/, Amazon and in bookshops.
Tickets are available at https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/the-truth-about-islam-how-the-qurans-message-has-been-hijacked-tickets-29324428154
Look out for the People’s Friend’s Christmas Special. It’s out tomorrow – Wednesday 16 November – and it features a story by our very own Jane Tulloch, author of Our Best Attention.
Jane’s story Subcontractors will appear in the magazine. She’s written several stories for the People’s Friend which are scheduled to appear over the next few weeks.
Writing books doesn’t make most writers enough money. Most writers boost their income through short story writing, newspaper or magazine columns, paid gigs at festivals, workshops and more.
Here are our tips for pitching short stories:
Most magazines will have guidelines for what they like. The guidelines will specify word count, but they might also detail the kind of fiction the publication is looking for.
Read the magazine. It sounds obvious, but you need to have an idea of the magazine’s style before you pitch a story.
Check carefully for spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. It’s easier to check 2,000 words than a book, so you have no excuse for typos. Print the story out as you’ll often spot mistakes you’ve missed when looking at the story onscreen.
Talk to other writers. If you can speak to those who have successfully submitted stories, they can give you advice.
Recycle stories. Just because one publication rejects a story doesn’t mean another one will. Or enter competitions with it, or use it for a book. Or rewrite it and make it even better.
Enthusiasm, social media and persistence – that’s one woman’s three-step formula for successful self-publishing, as told to Publishers Weekly.
Janice Petrie founded her own indie publishing company in 2000, although self-publishing wasn’t a popular option at the time. She familiarised herself with the importance of having her work copyrighted, found a copy editor and explored ways of distributing her books.
In the last few years, she has taken more time to look at marketing and find ways of getting her books known. Success means creating an effective marketing strategy and having a bit of luck. She also rates the importance of editorial reviews and awards.
Talking to Publisher’s Weekly, Petrie’s three tips were:
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