Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The New Writers' Scheme - Inside Out - Part 3 - A Reader's point of view

The anonymous Readers of the New Writers' Scheme are its backbone. Without them there would be no critiques. Usually they remain in the background, but today three NWS Readers give us an insight to what they look for when a manuscript arrives on their door mats. Welcome to Allie Spencer, Rachel Summerson and Pia Tapper Fenton.

Allie, can you tell us what attracted you to being a reader for the New Writers' Scheme?

I wanted to be a reader for the NWS because I benefitted so much from the scheme myself and I wanted, as they say, to ‘put something back’. It is such a valuable scheme for unpublished writers as it not only gives technical advice but emotional support and encouragement too – being an aspiring writer can be quite a lonely job!

How many novels do you usually critique a year?

I don’t critique as many as I would like to, because of my own work and family commitments. I also only feel comfortable critiquing rom coms (my specialist area) so I usually manage between four and five a year.

Talk us through how you critique a novel? What do you look for?

I make sure that I read the novel carefully; taking notes as I go, then I sit down and think about what I am going to say in my report.

When I read a ts, I am looking for a strong, imaginative story; excellent line-by-line writing; characters who leap off the page, develop and grow with the story – plus a good dollop of conflict. Essentially, I want a ts that I can’t put down!

I spend a lot of time writing my report and then checking it through to make sure I have said what I need to clearly, concisely, and in a way that the NWS member receiving it can translate my advice into practical steps to improve their novel. My aim is to offer constructive, practical and, where possible, optimistic advice which the writer can use to re-work their book.

From your experience with NWS submissions, what are the key points a writer needs to think about before they submit their work?

There is no getting away from it: writing a novel is hard. Most of us who are published authors had years – if not decades – of honing our skills before we got that much-longed for contract. I think, however, if you make sure you work on all the points I mentioned above in Question 3 plus polish, polish, polish, polish – you will be well on the way to producing a publishable novel.

My agent, Teresa Chris, always says that you wouldn’t produce a quick sketch and then send it along to the Royal Academy to see what they think; instead, you would make sure your picture was as perfect as you could possibly make it. The same applies to novels: the more professional your work appears, the more chance you have of getting it published.

Whilst ‘partials’ are always welcomed by the NWS, if you really want to get that second read make sure your book is polished to the highest standard you can manage.

Also, as well as writing, make sure you read a lot, especially within your chosen genre. There is no better tutorial than reading the market leaders in the type of book you want to write. You will learn an awful lot about the craft of writing and hopefully finish the book inspired and fired-up, ready to create your own masterpiece!

What advice would you give a writer submitting to the NWS in 2012?

The publishing industry is going through a tough time at the moment. Sales are down – especially supermarket sales – and it is going to be harder than ever to get published in 2012. However, there are some very talented people around, and talent and hard work will, in my opinion, always win through. Don’t despair, don’t get despondent – just switch on that computer and get writing. The RNA and the NWS are here to support you (we really do want you to succeed) and we will do what we can to help you get where you want to be.

To find out more about Allie and her work visit her website at http://alliespencer.com/

Rachel Summerson, who writes as Elizabeth Hawksley, has been a Reader for about twelve years.

Rachel, can you tell us what attracted you to being a reader for the New Writers' Scheme?

I have benefitted hugely from my membership of the RNA and I wanted to give something back. I’m not a ‘committee person’, but reading and reporting on typescripts is a skill I can offer. I enjoy helping aspiring writers and I’m thrilled when they make it.

How many novels do you usually critique a year?

I usually critique between 5 and 6 typescripts a year.

Talk us through how you critique a novel.
What do you look for?

I read the typescript fast, the way an editor would read it, and make brief notes on each chapter (2 lines max.) to remind myself of what happens: names, dates, places etc., and any page references I want to comment on.

I’m looking for a good story with characters I can relate to.

The most common problems are with plot – which usually shows up in chapter one, that is, not enough is at stake; characters which fail to convince as they should; a tendency for the tension to drop; and a dodgy grasp of punctuation and of how a professional typescript should be set out.

From your experience with NWS submissions, what are the key points a writer needs to think about before they submit their work?

If you’ve submitted a typescript before, make sure you’ve taken on board all the advice you were given the previous year. You don’t have to agree with it but you would be well advised to take it seriously.

What advice would you give a writer submitting to the NWS in 2012?

Please, try and get it in well before the deadline!

To find out more about Rachel's work visit her website at http://www.elizabethhawksley.com/

Pia Tapper Fenton, who writes as Christina Courtenay, is a New Writers' Scheme graduate.

Pia what made you want to become a Reader for the NWS?

I was on the New Writers' Scheme myself for six or seven years when I joined the RNA and I would never have been published without the support I received from the organisers and readers. Their critique helped me to improve and their encouragement made me believe that I could achieve my goal one day, even when I doubted it myself. So when I finally became a published author, I really wanted to give something back to the RNA, and I felt this was one of the best ways of doing that. I have been a reader now for four years (or is it five? Sorry, I’ve lost count!)

How many novels do you usually critique a year?

It varies from year to year, depending on how many submissions there are in the genres that I read.

Talk us through how you critique a novel? What do you look for?

I start by reading the whole manuscript as if it was a published novel, without looking at the synopsis because I don’t want to know what’s going to happen, I want to be surprised. If there’s anything that really pulls me out of the story, I’ll make a note of it (or write in pencil on the m/s if the author doesn’t mind).

I’m looking first of all to see whether the plot works/is plausible, whether I like the characters and can empathise with them (especially the hero/heroine) and whether it feels like a story that’s ready for publication.

If anything isn’t working, I’ll try to make suggestions to improve that particular aspect and to help the author make the novel as good as possible.

Once I’ve commented on the overall story and what I liked about it, I’ll go through it again in more detail and perhaps pick out specific things that need changing or looking at. If the author is new to the NWS, I might comment on things like layout and grammar etc, but only because an agent or editor will expect submissions to be perfect, not because I’m trying to nit-pick.

From your experience with NWS submissions, what are the key points a writer needs to think about before they submit their work?

First of all immaculate presentation – although no one except the NWS reader will see this manuscript, it’s a practice run for when you send it out to agents so it has to be as perfect and professional as you can make it in every respect.

A coherent synopsis which covers only the key points of the story and tells the reader all they need to know without unnecessary waffle.

Are the characters the kind that the reader can empathise with? (Ie. not a heroine who is spoiled and petulant all the way through and doesn’t deserve her happy ever after.)

Is there enough tension throughout the story, or are there some chapters that feel very “flat”, where nothing much happens? Have you remembered the “show-don’t-tell” rule – if there are several pages of telling the reader what’s happening instead of showing it through dialogue or action, go back and change it before sending it off.

If you’re not sure about your grammar or spelling, ask someone else to read it for you before sending it off. Read your dialogue out loud to yourself to see if it really sounds like a normal person talking. I’m sure there are other things, but those are some of the more important ones I think.

What advice would you give a writer submitting to the NWS in 2012?

Believe in your story and write exactly the kind of thing you’d like to read. Don’t try and write like anyone else, just be yourself - I want to hear your voice loud and clear. And don’t write a vampire story because Twilight is popular or whatever, write one because you happen to like blood and gore, otherwise it will show!

To find out more about Pia's work visit her website at http://www.christinacourtenay.com/

Thank you very much to Allie, Rachel and Pia for talking to us and for giving your time and expertise to the New Writers' Scheme. Thanks also go out to all the other anonymous Readers who contribute to the NWS.

To find out more about the New Writers' Scheme visit the RNA website at http://www.rna-uk.org/

Information about 2012 membership will appear on the RNA website in mid December.

The New Writers’ Scheme 'Inside Out' Part 4 – 2011 NWS Graduates will be posted on 16th December.


Catherine Miller said...

A fascinating insight to the 'other' side of the New Writers' Scheme and the invaluable feedback that is given.

Carol McGrath said...

This is so helpful all three odf you, and what's more I've saved it to remind me next time I post to NWS. Thankyou. Allie, Rachel and Pia for taking time to write this.

Rebecca Leith said...

Interesting and helpful. Thanks Allie, Rachel and Pia for sharing your useful insights.

Lizzie Lamb said...

Thanks to Allie, Rachel and Pia for rounding up this excellent blog post. If any yet-to-be-published author reads it they will gain valuable insight how the NWS works; and how how it can work for THEM. I for one will be printing of the whole blog and saving it for future reference. Many thanks also to Kate for compiling and posting the article - it must have been a lot of hard work, especially at this time of year. Merry Christmas everyone in the fabulous RNA.

And to all members of the NWS - fingers crossed that 2012 will be the year when we make our 'breakthrough'into the world of publishing.

Christina Courtenay said...

I'm glad you all found it useful :)

Anonymous said...

Great Post!

I would never have been published without the New Writer's Scheme, and especially Rachel's wonderful critique. Rachel's pointer for me to think about how the reader would see the story was like a light going on, and I've never looked back since.

It's why I've become a NWS reader, too. Getting published is harder and a longer process than I ever imagined, but a lot of it is about hard work and an ability to learn. And we ALL go through the same learning process.

So hurrah for the NWS!


Deborah Carr (Debs) said...

Thank you for the informative post. It's interesting to learn about the NWS from the Readers' point of view.

I'm thrilled to be a part of such an invaluable scheme and have definitely benefitted from my Readers' reports, especially this year.

Thanks also to Kate for collating these posts.

Rachel Summerson said...

Thank you all for your kind words - it's given me a warm glow! And it's much appreciated.

http://myhalfofteh sky-lampworkbeader.blogspot.com/ said...

Thank you Allie, Rachel and Pia, you are absolute gems for sharing so much.

Norma Murray said...

Thank you Allie, Rachel and Pia, you are absolute gems for sharing so much.

Alison Morton said...

A fascinating insight from the readers' angle, and from three experts from different parts of the romantic writing field.

Livbet (Twitter) said...

The readers deserve so much appreciation for sparing the time to read x number of novels at the same time as writing themselves.

Thank you Allie, Rachel and Pia - and all the other readers for their continued and constructive support.

Susan Bergen said...

Part Three - the "Happy Ever After". Such generous advice given to help new writers. Thank you to everyone involved in this remarkable scheme.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

What a brilliant post, and a fantastic service you all offer to new writers. Thank you, on behalf of myself and everyone else who has gone on to be published!