To E or not to E?

One of the options I mentioned in the previous post was self-publication. One of the cheapest and easiest ways of self-publishing is epublishing (online). But when is it right to shun traditional publishers and go it alone?

The fact is you need to ask yourself if there is a reason you work hasn’t been picked up by another publisher. Maybe there actually is something wrong with it? And if there is, then it needs to be fixed before it gets published! It can be hard to pick up when you have a problem with a story because writers tend to fall into two buckets; those who think everything they write is great, and those who think everything they write is crap. Many vacillate between the two, but never sit in the middle ground.

So the best way to work out if your work is ready to be self-published is to look at external feedback. This could be a writers group, it could be an editor who you pay to look at your work, or it could be ‘positive rejections’ from publishers. Believe it or not, sometimes publishers will say great things about your work, and then still reject it. If you have started getting those rejections, it might be time to consider epublishing.

I have to admit I fall into the group who believe you should exhaust all other options before self-publishing, but remember that other options include non-paying markets. While not always as competitive as the paying markets, they are still competitive, and that means only your good stories will be picked up. After all, you never know which story will be someone’s first exposure to your writing, so it is important that everything you have out there is the best that it can be, and that requires another set of eyes.  

Happy writing!


The Waiting Game

The fact is you have three options for publication;

  • Get others to publish your work
  • Publish it yourself
  • Don’t publish

Given that a lot of us are trying for the first option, it means those who do the publishing have a lot of options. A **LOT** of options. So when they put out a call for submissions (and even when they don’t) they have hundreds or thousands of pieces to choose from.

Most publishers will also insist on no multiple or simultaneous submissions (that is, you need to wait for them to reject/accept your story before you can submit another, and what you submit must not be on offer to any other publisher). This can mean your story can take years to do the rounds, and for a novel, double that.

The longest I’ve ever waited for a publisher to get back to me (not including those who just didn’t get back to me) is twelve months. Others in my writers group have waited two years. I wrote a virus story which I sent off to a magazine, six months before the movie ‘Outbreak’ was released. Suddenly my story got rejected saying it had already been done. Not six months earlier when I sent it! Grrrr.

I think all writers have at some point fantasised about the day when they can pick and choose their publisher, especially after a nine month wait with only a form letter rejection at the end. But the reality is, there are thousands of writers out there trying to get published. I actually heard a publisher once lament that there seemed to be more people writing books than reading them. So if you decided to hold a grudge against everyone who left you waiting too long, you would end up with the entire publishing community on your black list.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is the waiting game is part of the writing game, and it is probably this more than anything that sends so many people to ebooks as an alternative. But, to those of you who are currently going through this, take heart in fact that the length of your wait is not indicative of your chance at success. Some of my acceptances came in the same week I submitted them, while just as many others have taken well over three months. The key is keep writing, if you have lots of stories circulating, then the wait is not so obvious.

Happy writing!


The Deadly Crayon

Titles, they are one of the first things you notice about any story. So if your title doesn’t command attention you are at risk of losing a significant slice of the market before they have even read that crushingly great first line that you spent three months perfecting.

So what makes a good title? Obviously it must stand out, that goes without saying, but it also needs to be relevant. For example, I’m not going to mention anything about a crayon in this post, deadly or otherwise. Feel that flash of disappointment? You don’t want that to be someone’s reaction to your story.

I should point out, before you get too excited about the prospect of me giving you the formula for finding that perfect title, that I have a problem with titles. I have a novella with a working title of ‘science fiction story’ another is called ‘future story’ and a YA novel I’m 60,000 words into is called… ‘YA novel.’ Someone in my crit group recently subbed a first chapter of their book called ‘the New Novel’ so at least I know I’m not alone with this problem.

But  bad-titleisis is not just an affliction of the unpublished. The following are examples of the author’s original title, as well as that which it was finally published under (or at least their English translations):

Something That Happened – Of Mice and Men (John Steinbeck) 
First Impressions – Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austin) 
Men Who Hate Women – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Stieg Larsson)

But perhaps my final word on titles will go to Dan Brown. He wrote an intriguing little story about the Catholic Church, and puzzles and death and stuff called Angels and Demons (ho hum). It sold less than 10,000 copies before the release of the next instalment; The Da Vinci Code. Now this title hinted at puzzles and intrigue, and has sold 81 million copies to date. I rest my case.

So don’t throw away your first and best chance to grab a reader. And don’t release a story called ‘Future Story’ –because I’ve got that one.


Avoiding Junk

Sometimes I ask myself if Nigeria is the real cradle of civilization. After all, it does seem that all of us have at least one wealthy relative living there, though perhaps ‘had’ would be more appropriate given we only find out about them after their passing, when we inherit their massive fortune. All we need to do is pass on our full name and bank account details…

I have recently been promised fortunes from long lost relatives all over the world. Just today I discovered poor old long-lost-uncle Ali in Hong Kong kicked the bucket and I’m his sole heir (don’t know quite how I managed to shoulder my parents out of the way). Luckily I had my email address publically displayed on my website so they could easily find me to give me the good news. In fact most of my junk email comes from my publically displayed email address.

So how do you make yourself accessible to your readers without drowning in spam (yes, any promised fortune IS spam)? Easy, when displaying your contact details remove things that a computer can read, and replace them with something only a human can read. Put square brackets around the parts of your email address that are not words, and turn those same parts into words:            natalie[at]nataliejepotts[DOT]com –I am sure this is not foolproof, but it will cut out a huge chunk of junk from your inbox.

You are probably wondering why, if I know the secret,  am I still getting the promised fortune emails? The truth is I love these crazy emails, so I haven’t changed my clickable email address on my site. I have a Russian bride email that makes me laugh out loud every time I read it. There is a lot of material in these scams which is begging to be turned into a story, and that quirky almost Yoda-esque English they often use sets off my imagination like you wouldn’t believe.  

Besides, I’m a struggling writer. I could do with a huge fortune! I’d better contact Uncle Ali’s lawyer and find out if there is somewhere I can send a wreath or something.

Happy Writing, and NO you do NOT have a relative in Nigeria, at least not a wealthy dead one that you didn’t know about!!!!!!!!!!!!

Who am I?

Having recently signed up to Twitter I am now getting a nightly dose of publisher and writer ‘Tweets’, the thing is, I’m not quite sure what it’s all about. Let’s face it, when you only have 140 characters to play with you can’t exactly give a preview of your next novel.

Many of the writers I am following talk about what music they are listening to and what they are making for dinner. Is this what followers want to read? And if so, how harshly do they judge a writer on their music or meal choices?

Then it occurred to me; maybe these glimpses into ‘real’ life are just an extension of the writer’s work? Maybe they are all made up? If I tweet that I’m listening to Duran Duran or Adam Ant, not only do I give away my age, but I lose credibility with the younger readers (and probably many of the older ones as well). Should I instead claim to be listening to a cool Indy band? Better yet, make one up!

And when I tell everyone that I’m slipping into the kitchen to knock up dinner, do I admit the truth, that it is tuna mornay again, or do I go for something exotic that makes me look both open-minded and well travelled? Will I offend if I eat meat? If I don’t eat meat?

Do I have to create a fictional version of me?

I’m still undecided about all this, hence my nine tweets so far have related to good articles I have read or announcements that my blog has been updated. I will ponder this some more while I slip into the kitchen to whip up a slime and tofu salad for dinner while listening to this great new Indy band, the philosophical androids. Tweet.

Who are you?

When investigating ‘how to get published’ one thing you are sure to come across is the advice to write for your audience. But until you have an audience, how do you know who your audience is? I write this blog each week, yet (with the exception of Nick who I grill every Monday to make sure he has read it) I have no idea who is reading it.

So who is reading? Some friends (maybe), some writers from my crit group, some people who were actually looking for ‘the novels of Natalie Hawthorne’ and a few people who have read one of my short stories and clicked on a link. And what demographic do all these people fall into… Human beings. That’s about as far down as I can narrow it.

So what does this mean for finding your audience? Well the fact is, for an unpublished author, the known audience is you! So write what you want to read, and let the audience find it. Your passion for the project will always shine through so much brighter if you love what you are writing. If you write what you think people want to read, your work will be the average of everything before it, and offer nothing new to the reader.

True, you could target a known audience in the hope of getting a ready-made following, for example; you write a novel about a boy wizard who is bitten and becomes a vampire. Just for the sake of it, let’s say your novel finds a publisher and sells well. Then you must write another book in the series, and another. No one is interested in the novels you actually want to write, just the boy-wizard-vampire books. Is that what you want? And remember we are ignoring the fact that right now there are probably over a thousand similar books trying to find homes with publishers.

Having said that, I wouldn’t suggest you purposely not write for a popular market, but if you do, ensure that you can fall in love with your story. You might spend a lot of time with these characters, they might pull you away from the other novels you want to finish, so make sure they are the characters you want to hang out with. If you are writing something you hate, you might as well stay in your day job.

Happy writing,



Recently I have found myself getting into lots of conversations about ‘what you would do if you didn’t have to work.’ I know, for me it is obvious; become FreeCell champion of the world and get a few novels written on the side, but for others it spans from the mundane to the entirely fanciful, but everyone has something they want to do.

The common thread, whether it be learning a new language, a new skill, or indulging in an artistic pursuit, is that they are putting it off until they ‘have time’. The truth is none of us have time other than that which we make. We push so much into tomorrow that by the time we get there, it is full.

This isn’t intended to be a lecture post, but it is an observation that has been really present in my life recently, and it is related to the risk taking I spoke of a few weeks ago. It is easy to fall into the monotony of our lives and lounge there, we do not challenge the status quo often enough. Don’t wait for tomorrow, grab your passion, and make some time for it now.

So tonight I’m going to take that story that has been kicking around in my head and I’m going to put it on paper. So it’s a short post today, because I’ve got to do some writing.

What are you going to do?



My quest to become a more tech-savvy writer has sent me in many directions this week, none of which were actually to the keyboard to write. But I have learned a lot about tweeting, blogging, commenting and following.

And this helps you how? Because now it is time to share what I have learned, to help build your online following;

  • You need to blog at least twice a week. (My Freecell game will surely suffer).
  • You need to keep posts under 500 words, unless about a technical subject where people need more in-depth information.
  • Put your blog/twitter links in your email address signature. (Yes, seems blindingly obvious now eh?)
  • Comment on other people’s blogs. (But try to make intelligent comments, you don’t want people going to your blog to see if you really are as silly as you seem)
  • Edit your blog copy, edit it again, then put it away for a while and come back to it, and then edit it again. Only then is it ready to publish.
  • Take time to write your post (at least an hour, but ideally over two).
  • Include pictures, links and videos, but only when relevant. (So don’t post your cat pictures –unless they are doing something silly, but not cute, no one is interested in cute, but funny cat photos never get old. Or is that just me?)
  • Use dot-points

I’m not sold on the last point, but I think it is wise to pay attention to those who have gone before me, so I included it. This list is just the tip of the iceberg, there is a lot of great information out there and you can be as active as you like in building your profile.

If you would like more advice on blogging specifically, or online writing in general, check out Copyblogger. While this was not my only source, I did find that I ate up huge chunks of writing time (and even a little work time) reading some of the articles.

So I guess from now on you will be seeing me mid-week. I’ll have to come up with a Wednesday theme… Any suggestions?

Happy writing!


Find me on Twitter @nataliejepotts