15. Group hugs

CREATIVE writing can be a pretty solitary business. When you’ve embarked on crafting a novel you can spend hours on end with only yourself as company, agonising over every word.

At times I’ve been unfairly labelled with the reputation as a pretty “social” animal; mischief-makers have even recounted tales of me dancing on tables wearing a tie around my head but I refute these charges on the basis I have no recollection of any such incidents.

When it comes to writing though I would rather hide myself away from the world and disappear into my own protective shell.

Since moving to London, though, it has been useful to make contact with a number of groups quite happy to lend morale support and advice to those ploughing this lonely furrow.

Recently I came across ALLi, the Alliance of Independent Authors and, though I have yet to actually go into print or at the very least publish something digitally, they have been happy to accept me as one of the gang (for a small fee, of course).

Back in January I attended one of their London group meetings where I met a very helpful bunch and convivial bunch, willing to swap experiences and hand out priceless advice.

The meeting took place in a pub called the Star of Kings a short walk from King Cross station and just up the road from the Guardian offices. We had to battle to hear ourselves above the Heavy Metal jukebox and a rather enthusiastic quiz night host, but I found myself highly motivated as I touched base with those who had been there and done that.

One such writer, Ian Sutherland, whose novel Invasion of Privacy is about a computer hacker who helps police track down a serial killer, was able to recommend the 99design group for book covers. You put the crux of your novel to them and various professionals come back with ideas for cover designs. Then you choose the one you consider the best and pay them accordingly. A great idea.

Others talked about the best way to publish and all the different options – a minefield as far as I’m concerned. Handy stuff.

As well as ALLi, I recently joined a group called The London Writers’ Cafe. A self-help writers group, they quite often invite guests along to give talks.

It was at one such meeting in the Shooting Star pub near Liverpool Street that I met Ben Seales. Ben is a professional editor who has worked for some big publishing houses and edited a number of best-sellers, including the popular Terry Deary Horrible Histories series. For a modest fee Ben agreed to look at a synopsis and sample chapters of Crossing The Whitewash and give me his professional opinion.

I’ve reached such a stage in the process that I am wary now of inviting too much feedback. There is a deadline I’ve set myself for publishing this summer and the last thing I need is someone to pour cold water over the whole project. I’ve gone too far to give up now.

This seemed too good an opportunity to pass up, however.

Ben provided me with a warts and all report which made for interesting reading. I agreed with some of it, disagreed with other parts but at the end of it all realised the one thing I wasn’t particularly good at doing was writing a synopsis for the work.

When we spoke on the phone he admitted that in some instances he had perhaps misconstrued the way the story was going, and that was down to my failure to write an accurate synopsis.

It’s an interesting point because I tried to explain my novel to my brother-in-law at Christmas and got into such a muddle I eventually gave up. The story doesn’t seem at all complicated to me until I try to tell someone else what it’s about.

This is why those in the trade place so much store by the elevator pitch. If  you got into a lift with a literary agent and had just a short journey in which to “sell” your idea could you do it? And how would you go about it?

It’s got me thinking about that and the book blurb to go on the back and on the sites where the book might be sold.

With just a few months to go before I push the button on the book I am now considering investing in a full “line edit” and final proofread from Ben. It will probably cost in the vicinity of £1,000 but the alternative is a book that might not be as good as it can be.

Hopefully shelling out the cash in the short term will result in more sales further down the line.




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