Monday, 29 September 2014

Hunting for Agents

I've been trying out a new service called Agent Hunter ( It's a subscription service provided by the same people who organise the excellent Festival of Writing at York, amongst other things. The festival is a great opportunity to meet agents (I know, I've been), so these people certainly have all the right contacts.

Looking for an agent isn't easy. If you're searching online a good starting point is to visit the Association of Authors Agent ( and then look at the agencies' individual websites. At least you know you're looking at reputable agents (who don't charge a reading fee, for example).

But you still have to browse the agents' websites to find out whether any agents at that particular agency are interested in the genre, or subject matter, your manuscript falls into.

This is where Agent Hunter comes in. It allows you to filter a search by genre, returning the individual agents who are interested in considering the type of material you write.

If you know you write in a similar style, or genre, to another author, you can search this database for that writer's agent (although this is dependent upon the agent declaring this information in the first place). I did try this with a couple of authors, and while I found this worked most times I did note that some individual agents listed authors represented by the agency they work for, rather than just the authors they themselves represent, but it was still useful. (And far more easier than trawling through the Writers' and Artists' Yearbook looking for those authors.)

Agent Hunter also offers some personal information about the individual agents (provided by the agent, so some are more detailed than others), which can be useful when trying to find a shared interest.  That doesn't mean that if you stumble across an agent who supports the same football or netball team that you do they will fall in love with your manuscript, but it might be worth mentioning any common interests in your covering letter/email. Anything that makes your approach more memorable (for the right reasons) has to be beneficial.

The database also states whether the agent is:

1. Keen to build their client list,
2. Open to new clients or,
3. List largely complete.

Obviously, it makes sense to target agents who are actively seeking to build their list. Those who say they're open to new clients are not actively seeking new clients, but they won't turn the right person away. Those whose lists are largely complete clearly have enough work to do already!

When I cross-referenced this with a couple of agents, I found one whose Agent Hunter entry said they were actively looking to build their list, whilst on their own website they said they were not looking to take on new clients at the moment. As with all these things, a database is only as good as the information it recieves. You might think the agent's website would be more up to date, however when I scrutinised the agent's news page on their website, the last entry was made in May. So it's difficult to determine whose information is the most up to date: the agent's own website, or the Agent Hunter database.

What is really useful is the Twitter names and blog list that agents have are detailed here too, which means you can follow and find out more about an agent from their own online presence, and really get to know them better, before you make an initial approach. Whatever you do, don't approach an agent by tweet, but follow their Twitter feed for any useful snippets of information. You never know what you might learn.

If you want to look around the database you can register for free, and this will give you access to basic information. If you subscribe, you get full access to all of the information. Subscription costs are currently:

1. £5 for one month's access,
2. £8 for six month's access and,
3. £12 for one year.

If you're looking for an agent, then this service could prove useful. It's cheaper than subscribing to the Writers' & Artists' online database (which doesn't give as much information about agents, although it gives you access to a world of other information), and unlike the W&A database gibes you options to sign up for shorter periods than a year. Indeed, if you feel you're ready to start searching intently, the a one month subscription may be all you need to find you agent. If not, £1 a month for a year's access won't break the bank.

It'll be interesting to see how frequently the database is updated. And while you're there, you might want to search the publisher database, which lists over 430 publishers (and you can fine tune your search to only return those publishers who accept unagented submissions).

For further information visit

Good luck!

Monday, 22 September 2014

Announcing the Writers Bureau Flash Fiction Competition

The Writers Bureau are running a Flash Fiction competition this year. I mention it here, because although I only dabble in fiction, it can be a great exercise for any writer to undertake. The whole point of Flash Fiction is that it is short - and the Writers Bureau’s competition asks for a story in no more than 500 words, on any theme. (And remember what I said a couple of weeks ago in my post

Prizes include:

1st Prize
£300 plus the choice of any
Writers Bureau Course
2nd Prize
£200 plus subscrition to 
Freelance Market News
3rd Prize
£100 plus subscriptiion to 
Freelance Market News

The rules for the competition are:

 1. The fee is £5.00/$8.00/€6 per entry  or three entries for £10/$16/€12 . There is no
limit on the number of entries competitors may send provided each one is accompanied
by the correct entry fee. Sterling cheques and postal orders should be made payable to
The Writers Bureau. [Note: we only accept personal cheques drawn on a UK bank.]
Only sterling, American dollars or Euros are accepted in currency. Subscribers to
FMN have the reduced fee of £4.00/$7.00/€5 per entry  or three entries for
£8/$17/€10 .
2. Stories must not exceed 500 words and must be typed using double spacing. All work
must be in English.
3. For postal entries, each story should start on a separate sheet of paper.
4. Work may be on any theme but should not have been previously published.
5. No competitor may win more than one prize.
 6. The author’s name must not appear on any work but should be entered on the Entry
Form or attached on a separate sheet of paper.
7. Copyright remains with the author but prize winners must agree to publication in a
single issue of Freelance Market News, plus permission to include the work on The
Writers Bureau website for a period of up to twelve months.
8. Entries cannot be returned to contestants; so please keep a copy.
9. Receipt of entries will only be acknowledged if accompanied by a stamped, selfaddressed
postcard. Results will be available on the Writers Bureau website from 15th
January 2015. Winners will be notified individually.
10. Entries that do not comply with the rules will be disqualified and entry fees will not
be returned.
11. Current employees of The Writers Bureau are not eligible to enter the competition.
12. The Judge will be Diana Nadin, Director of Studies.

The closing date for entries is 30th November 2014

Why not give it a try?

Good luck!

Monday, 15 September 2014

He said. She said.

At the NAWG Festival of Writing last month I attended a couple of workshops led by the crime writer Veronica Heley. ( In one of her workshops she explained how to avoid that particular dilemma fiction writers find themselves in, when writing dialogue … how to tag the conversation.

The most common tag is said:

“I love you!” he said.

After using a few saids writers are often tempted to raid the thesaurus and use a different verb …

“I love you!” he exclaimed.

The temptation here, though, is to use every alternative verb in your dictionary, which then becomes hard work for the reader and often involves using the wrong word for the emotion you’re trying to convey to the reader. So, to avoid this, writers then turn to adverbs to augment said

“I love you!” he said, gushingly.

But they should be used carefully. Veronica suggested a common editing trick is to delete adverbs when used in a dialogue tag (and by this she was referring to adverbs ending in -ly). While the use of numerous adverbs in dialogue tags may be seen as out of fashion at the moment, that doesn't mean obliterating them will improve your text. There are many other adverbs (including those that don't end in -ly) that are important to our text. Like any other word we use in our writing, when used correctly, adverbs have an important role to play.

Veronica continued by saying that if you have a conversation taking place between two characters, you can use the said tags for the first time each character speaks, but after that, as long as the conversation is short, most readers can keep track of who said what, allowing you to drop the tag completely:

“I love you!” he said.
“Oh?” she replied.
“Don’t you love me?”
“I’m … I’m not sure.”
“Ah. I see. I thought … I thought we had something between us.”
“Not from where I’m standing we don’t.”

Tags were only used for the first two lines, and after that it was possible to keep track of who was speaking.

However, the technique that Veronica said writers should consider is the beat. Used well, it helps to give writing a rhythm, which the said tags often destroy. A beat is where you attribute some sort of action to the dialogue, instead of a dialogue tag, like so:

Charles dropped to one knee and took Susan’s hand. “I love you!”

You don’t need he said at the end of this, because the reader knows that it is Charles saying them. The dialogue falls naturally after the action. Alternatively, you can put the action after the dialogue:

I love you!” Charles took Susan’s hand and kissed it.

This technique of attributing some action to the dialogue can be useful in clarifying to the reader who is speaking, when you have more than two people taking part in the conversation. It also helps to convey some of the emotion behind the dialogue as well. When you think about it, most people augment their speech with body language, and this can be quite revealing, so using this action to enhance the dialogue makes sense. And it avoids having to use said quite so often.

Look at how other writers use this technique when you’re next reading fiction. 

Good luck.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Competitions Lead To New Work Being Created

Well it was a surprise when I received this trophy at the NAWG Festival of Writing last month. During the festival there is a competition to write a mini-tale of 100 words … and it has to be exactly 100 words long. The closing date for entries is 3.15pm on the Saturday of the festival, and then the winner is announced during the festival’s gala dinner, later that evening. To make judging impartial entrants have to submit their entry using a pseudonym … and before you ask, no, I didn’t use my pornstar name (as I did last year).  I was delighted to discover that my tale was judged to be the winner.

Writing competitions are useful. Not only are they a delight if you win them, but they’re great for developing your writing skills. They can stretch your creativity (and writing something of exactly 100 words certainly does that). The word count also focuses the mind when it comes to editing, because you know it’s vital you don’t submit an entry with more words than the rules allow. And the deadline gives you something to aim for.

More importantly, in my opinion, is that even if you don’t win the competition has forced you to create something new. I’ve often gone on to sell a story, or an article, that started off as a competition entry, which failed to win. Once you’ve created something you have a piece of work that you can adapt, edit and send off.

So, the next time you see a writing competition, don’t just think about the opportunity of winning a shiny trophy, or a cash prize. Think of it as an opportunity to create something new.

Good luck.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Rejection Might Be For The Best

Following on from last week’s post about rejection being part of the job, I was intrigued to listen to writer David Nobbs had to say about rejection at the 2014 National Association of Writers’ Group’s Festival of Writing this last weekend. 

He gave us a humorous account of his writing career (to date!) and, of course, that included the background to one of his most famous of works, The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin. This originally began life as a play, which Dobbs sent to the BBC. They rejected it. He called this, “the best rejection of my entire career,” although, obviously, it didn’t feel like it at the time. Dejected he put it to one side, until a while later, when he found himself thinking about it again. Realising that perhaps the play wasn’t the best format for this idea, he began rewriting it as a novel, called The Death of Reginald Perrin. This was published and found critical acclaim, and was followed by two more highly successful novels. 

As a result, the BBC then came calling, wanting to turn the novels into a television series, which David was asked to write. And so The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin was produced. 

Had the BBC not originally rejected that initial play, the books and the subsequent television series probably would not have been created. So in the end, that rejection turned out to be extremely fortunate!

When we receive a rejection, it’s easy to focus on the here and now. We know how we feel now and it’s not always easy to see what the future holds for a particular project. But just take comfort from the fact that it’s not necessarily the end of the story. Who knows what the future might bright? It’s possible that the idea is destined for bigger things - you just don’t realise it yet!

So, next time you receive a rejection, just hold that thought that what has just happened might just be for the best!

Good luck!