Becoming an author, getting published.

Getting your story right.  These are just a few basic guide-lines, not necessarily cast in stone.

I’ll start with the first few paragraphs of my novel “The Man with Green Fingers”:-


Stella crossed over on to the shaded side of the street.

  There was nobody about.  The early July sun blasted down the Skipos avenue and beat against the whitewashed walls of the houses, their shutters closed against the heat, and that heat ricocheted off back in to the air which was heavy with post-luncheon sleep and thick with the feel and scents of Cypriot summer.  Her hand-bag, laden with emergency-repair make-up,  felt moderately heavy slung as it was over one shoulder.  The elaborate scarf she had tied artistically around her neck, with a pretty little butterfly clasp to hold it in place was now limp, like a fading plant.

Although Stella would have enjoyed a love affair, she accepted with inherent patience that it just wasn’t possible.   That was an advantage to being a bit older – age gives you wisdom, she thought, and she never minded  her forty-eight years.  Only the most unusual circumstances and only the most private and secure position would allow her to even consider a love affair; and while these conditions did not present themselves to her, there was no way she was going out to look for them.  In fact, it could ruin everything.


Now, in the very first sentence I established to the reader that we are talking about a woman.  Within a few lines the reader knows that we are in Cyprus, that it is summer, that it is in modern times (it could be any time between, say, 1980 and today), and the reader also knows a fair bit about the person in question.  The last sentence sets the scene: there is something going on, something she is up to could be ruined.  And so the reader reads on.

Here are the first few lines from a typescript that has just been loaned to me for perusal:-

He got to his feet and stretched.  He grunted as he did so.  All around him the women sat in silence, ignoring him, and he made his way slowly to the exit and stood a while, looking out.

 It was still raining.  Heavy rain that had started the previous day and showed no sign of easing.  It made everything difficult. He needed to go out but didn’t want to get wet.  The land would be muddy and slippery. It was raining so hard that it was even difficult to see.

It goes on several paragraphs in this vein, fairly well written BUT …. where are we ?  This could be in a cave with a caveman, it could be in a modern dwelling, an office or a bank or an airport.  The man could be big, small, black, white, young or old.  It could be in England or Ohio, China or Ghana or Alaska ….. anywhere.

Set the scene first.

You do not have to give all the details in the first paragraph or two, or even on the first two pages, but by the start of page three the reader should know:-

–          The sex and approx.age of the person

–          An idea of what the person is like, or how you want him/her to come over

–          The approx. geographical area

–          The approx. date or time-line

Never rely on spell-checks !

The spell-check on your computer does not know the difference between her and here, their and there.  Rely only on yourself.  Truly, if you cannot paragraph or punctuate, it is essential you learn to do so, or at least get somebody you trust to read and correct your work.  There is not a publisher in the world who will look beyond the first page if there are spelling, punctuating or paragraphing mistakes.

If you are self-publishing it is nigh-on impossible to spot all of your own mistakes and to be objective.  Typos are everywhere – that is inevitable.  Do not try to edit your own work more than once, twice at a pinch, because you will find yourself altering things, improving things, and then finding you have lost the thread or changed the feel, and even repeated yourself.

However, it is remarkably difficult to find a friend who really DOES understand spelling, punctuating and paragraphing.  Lots of people think they do, but they don’t.

Do not allow friends to say “this is very good” – none of them will say “this is dreadful”!  What seems very good to one person will seem like rubbish to another.  Only you can decide.

Questions frequently asked about writing & publishing:-

–          Would you say that it is easier to self-publish or should I persevere for a publisher ?  I’m afraid that, unless you have a specialist non-fiction subject, the chances of a publisher taking you on are about the same as the chances of winning the lottery. However, people do win the lottery and do get published!  Make no mistake, self-publishing is very difficult, very very difficult indeed.  Getting the book in to the stores is one thing, but marketing it is excruciating.

–          But why is that ?  Because the book just BEING THERE is no use at all – unless you just wanted to see it in print.  You will need millions – seriously millions – of people to know it is there.

–          But if I self-publish I am worried that people will think I am being pushy …?  If you are thinking of going it alone, you have to be very thick-skinned.  You cannot worry about what people think.

–          I can count on the support of all my work colleagues, family, neighbours, friends. Can you really ?  You’d be amazed.  It is extraordinary how your family and close friends do not support you. They mean to, intend to, will do so tomorrow … but somehow don’t.  And, just like if you were selling Avon or Amway or similar, they rapidly get fed-up with you too!

–          When submitting to a publisher, there are all sorts of “rules” about double-spacing, length of synopsis, stamped addressed envelopes. I am always very careful to follow these guide lines but they have never made a jot of difference.  Some of those guide-lines are good, the essentials being : double-spacing (or 1.5 spacing), wide borders, short and concise covering letter, short and concise synopsis.  Ignore the rest.

–          But I read somewhere a publisher complained because somebody couldn’t even be bothered to find out her name!  Yes, that happens, but the opposite happens too.  You can waste a lot of time phoning up for names.  I don’t.

–          Sometimes I wonder why I persevere ….  Don’t we all ?  We are artists, after all, with all the sensitivities and fears of artists.  We have to be business people too.  But know this: there is a difference between giving up and changing direction.  If you feel it is time to change direction, do not hesitate. Let the business person in you override the artist in you.

Catherine Broughton is a novelist, a poet and an artist.  She is widely travelled and writes regularly for magazines and blog sites.  Her sketches are on her web site .  Her books are available from Amazon and on Kindle, or can be ordered from several leading book stores.

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Catherine Broughton is a novelist, a poet and an artist.

Her books are available on Amazon & Kindle, or can be ordered as paperbacks from most leading book stores and libraries.

Posted on 28/10/2012 by Catherine
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