Friday, 8 June 2012

Four key lessons about writing, editing, publishing and marketing

Trinity College Oxford
Last month I ran four Fictionfire courses here in Oxford, designed to guide writers through all the stages of producing a book, from sourcing first ideas through to marketing. These courses were ambitious in their scope and intense to say the least but all those who attended came away feeling they'd learned a great deal and I learned - or at least reinforced my awareness of - some lessons myself, which I want to share with you.

1   Write the thing! It's easy to get carried away by the notion of selling books and making millions (hollow laugh) but you need to create the story first. This will involve hard graft and commitment - no way round it. You also need to be open to learning and honing your writing skills. Remember, writing is the apprenticeship that never ends.

Oxford's Radcliffe Square, looking stunning on a May morning
2   Once it's written, you have to make it the very best it can be. That first draft is just the start: you must find the self-discipline and dedication to revise it, over and over, bringing in editorial help if need be. If you want to be proud of your work, you need to think like a professional. That means being able to take criticism and suggestions. It means cutting your beloved prose so that the shape of your story can shine through. It means checking every apostrophe. It means going an extra mile. And then another.

3   Don't shut the door to any publishing options. If you're afraid of the digital world, don't be. But don't allow yourself to be herded into the e-publishing corral if you feel it's not the right place for you. Exciting developments have taken place in the past couple of years and they've happened at a dizzying pace. This is wonderful. But it's not for everybody, this e-publishing, self-publishing business. If you're a fan of digital, don't blind yourself to what traditional publishing may still be able to offer you. The key word is options: there are more possibilities open to you than ever before. You choose what's right for you.

4   It's never too early to think about how to market your book. Whether you've chosen traditional publishing or self-publishing, you need to start making contacts and building relationships not just with potential customers but with bloggers, reviewers, fellow writers, reading groups - people who can put the word out about your book. You need also to have a clear sense of what your book is, what it offers the reader and who that reader might be. Think about genre and readership. Think about comparable books/authors. I, for instance, will market The Chase when I republish it, as 'Daphne du Maurier meets Joanne Harris', because it contains mystery and sensory richness, it's set in rural France, it's about people haunted by the past and it's steeped in a sense of place.

Guest speaker Ali Luke
I'd like to thank all the wonderful course attendees for their enthusiasm and stamina! I've loved hearing about the 'Aha!' moments of realisation they experienced and one person has declared that the courses took her 'from desperation to determination'. I also want to give wholehearted thanks to the inspirational Ali Luke of Aliventures and Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn. Their presentations during the second week were fantastic: so well-illustrated, informative, encouraging and exciting!

Guest speaker Joanna Penn
It's summer now (another hollow laugh), so I'm hoping to get down to some of my own writing, making progress with my new novel. I will be running more Focus Workshops at the end of the summer and will post details of these as soon as they are organised. If you're interested in my courses or workshops, please contact me at  - and let me know if there are any particular topics you'd like me to cover. You can also find details of my manuscript appraisal, editing and mentoring services on my website,

My next teaching gig will be at the Winchester Writers' Conference: I'll be running a Masters' Course, Making Memorable Scenes, on 22nd June and giving a talk on writing Cracking Openings on 23rd June, followed by a day-long workshop on dialogue on 28th June. I may well see you there!


Ruth said...

Great summary of the course, Lorna. I really enjoyed it and was certainly one of the attendees who had several "aha" moments!


Karen said...

What a lovely setting for a course.
Great tips too, though I'm still scared of the marketing side of things!

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