It has taken two months of intense and thoughtful reading to read and carefully consider the well over 500 submissions we received to our call out for manuscripts. And it has been a really fascinating experience for so many reasons.
Firstly, to see themes and ideas that appear through so many books from authors in hugely different and separate parts of the world. I wonder why this is? Is it that people are trying to write things similar to books that they have read and love, or similar to books that are selling well. I have read advice to aspirant writers that you should see what is working in the market place and try to write alongside that. Based on my past two months I now know that that is very very bad advice.
Secondly, writers all over the world are looking at ways to create engaging, interesting, original and compelling stories for young readers. Sometimes those stories are so universal in their handling of their story that I feel concerned that something is being missed and the missing thing is taste and flavour. I do believe as human beings we are all very similar. We care about fundamentally the same things – love, friendship, family, independence … the list could go on and on BUT (and this is a big but) we come at all these things with such distinct cultural knowledge and that should neither be ignored or made to be an excuse for certain types of behaviour and attitude that may be challenging. How do we navigate that literary tight rope … its tough but we have to as writers, publishers and readers. We want to see ourselves in books, we don’t want to see a neutered version of people but we also don’t want to feel that we are being pigeon-holed.
Thirdly, magic. The world is full of magic. Books are full of magic. Life is full of magic. The act of writing a book is pure magic and the act of reading one and having life transformed by that book is also magic. But magic isn’t a get out of jail free card. Things should not just happen purely because magic exists. Even magic is logical and has to make sense. One action has to lead logically on to another. A crazy mayhem packed plot may not be magic it may just be confusing.
The reading has begun and I am overwhelmed by the quality, range and diversity of the submissions we have been sent. There are a few things already to read again and consider for the next round but with well over 400 submissions left to read I am going to be realistic about time frames.
By the end of August I will have read and considered all the submissions and had a chance to re-read too. Early in September I shall write to any authors whose work has sung out to me and shall ask to see the entire novel.
I realise that it is disappointing not to hear if your work is NOT selected but with 525 submissions to read we cant get back to everyone. So I am going to say here that it is absolutely amazing to realise just how many people are writing great books and have sent their work for us to consider for publication on the Pushkin Press list. In the days before the open submission date I would wonder how many submissions we would receive. I hoped for 200, I would have been thrilled with 100. 525 is mind-boggling.
More soon …
Well, the extraordinary thing is we have 525 submissions, from all over the world. And I have started reading. It is going to take a while and I hope that by the end of the week I will have a pretty good sense of a timetable on when people will expect to hear from me if they are going to be called to submit their entire manuscript.
Then I will start reading all of those and will hope that at the end there will be some wonderful authors with brilliant books who we will be able to publish.
Thank you so much everyone for your interest, for your submissions, and for your patience! You might have to exercise quite a bit of that as I didn’t in my wildest dreams imagine I would be reading so many synopsis and first pages.
Making your dialogue sound natural is always a problem. Read it aloud to yourself, or even better get someone to read it aloud to you. You soon hear what works and what doesn’t.
It is also important to avoid having your characters talk about things that have happened in the book. Dialogue should drive the plot forward not rehash what we have already read. Remember that all dialogue has to work in helping keep the pace, explore character and reveal important information.
When writing historical fiction carry your research lightly. We the reader do not need to know every tiny detail of making a dress in 1840 when your character is a dressmaker, or skinning a rabbit when your character is a poacher. It is great that you have researched and know exactly how these things are done but for us it may be a bit boring to have too much detail.
Get the voice right and consistent. Ye Olde English can be pretty trying to read but the odd word used here and there can place a character very firmly in a time and place which is not here and now. Read books written at the time your novel is set in to get a sense of language.
Look at old photos, paintings and other source material for details that can help your book feel time specific. How did a hospital look in 1917? There are pictures to help. What was London like in 1925? There are pictures there to help. Best not to guess or think it was like today but with horses.
“I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops” Stephen King
Be careful of adverbs. Running quickly, smiling happily, whispering quietly … Its easy to do and completely unnecessary if we are seeing the characters doing those things in context.
Thank you Stephen King for all your insight in On Writing and it is on adverbs that I quote the master story teller here:
“Adverbs you will remember from your own version of Business English, are words that modify adjectives, or other verbs. They’re the ones the usually end in -ly. Adverbs, like the passive voice, seem to have been created with the timid writer in mind. With the passive voice, the writer usually expresses fear of not being taken seriously: it is the voice of little boys wearing shoepolish mustaches and little girl’s clumping around in Mommy’s high heels.”
Have courage in your voice. Keep it simple. Show it through characters action and look at this great example of good and bad.
“put it down!” She shouted.
“Give it back” he pleaded, “it’s mine.”
“Don’t be such a fool, Jekyll,” Utterson said.
… Now look at these dubious revisions:
“Put it down! she shouted menacingly.
“Give it back,” he pleaded abjectly, ‘It’s mine.”
“Don’t be such a fool, Jekyll.” Utterson said contemptuously.
The three latter sentences are all weaker than the former ones, and most readers will see why immediately.
Stephen King ON WRITING published by New English Library
Get that synopsis perfect. It is the most important tool you have to hook my attention.
Make sure that it is concise, clear and deals only with the main plot and three main characters.
There is some great advice online, some very useful information and guidance can be found on https://janefriedman.com/novel-synopsis/