A Writer’s Life: Frequently Asked Questions 6

A month ago I started a series of blogs to answer the questions I am commonly asked about when interviewed about my writing and the writing life. If you’re a start at the start kind of person, you can find PART 1 , PART 2PART 3, PART 4 and PART 5 here, although, they can be read out of order.

So, time to dig deep and answer some questions about the business of being an author in today’s climate in Part 6:

The side-hustle: Necessary or not?

My side hustle? Does loving to do Halloween style make-up count?

Only kidding!

One question I get asked about a lot is to do with the necessity to have a side hustle. I think, for authors writing in current times, it is necessary to have something else you can do that is related to the industry to help supplement your writing income, but also, to expand your knowledge base and your networking. That’s why I started up my Author Services two years ago.

Why did you choose manuscript assessment and mentoring as your side hustle?

It kind of came about by accident. I had been a judge for contests both here and in the US for years and always got very favourable responses back from entrants thanking me for my considered and constructive feedback. I am also a member of a few writing groups and as my writing friends in these groups finished their manuscript, they asked me to read and comment on them because they valued my feedback most of all. I’m good at workshopping through problems as well. I do have a DipEd (although I never ended up doing much in the way of traditional teaching because of the way my life unfolded) and I have always loved learning and passing on what I’ve learned.

I started doing manuscript assessments for my writing friends and started to see a pattern that after I’d done the assessment and they’d made the changes, they started to get published. Of course, I don’t think this was entirely down to me, but my help was certainly a big part of the puzzle according to my friends. And these are friends who did get professional manuscript assessments as well in the past, and they told me my assessments were just as good or better than the one they’d paid for. Then one of them hired me to do an assessment because she had had no luck getting published after she’d paid for an assessment from someone else. I did the job (friends rates) and she made the changes and sent it off and got published. My writing friends had been encouraging me to do it professionally for a while, but it was particularly after this that I realised it was definitely something I could do and do well.

Through my volunteering with RWA I had done some mentoring as well, so I decided to offer manuscript assessment, author mentoring, synopsis, query letter and blurb assessment as well. I have worked with authors on memoir, historic, YA, romantic suspense, contemporary and paranormal novels from those recently starting out to those who want to submit. 8 of the books I’ve worked on have gone on to be published in that 2 years, so I feel like I am offering good feedback and advice.

Last year I went back to Uni to do some personal development and get more editing cred – I learned some new things but also learned that I knew a lot already, which was great.

If you want to find out more about what I offer, there’s information on my website:

Pitching is an essential part of being an author. You give pitch advice as part of your services – can you let us in on some of that advice here?

Pitching gave me my first and second and each subsequent contract. I have pitched finished books and books that are ideas for further ones in a series. Now I have an agent, she does the face to face pitching for me, but I still need to pitch my ideas to her so we can discuss what I should be working on and so she can take those ideas and on-pitch them.

But this question is particularly about pitching. In regards to advice I have for writers who are preparing a pitch, I would say:

  • Do your research on what the editors/agents are looking for and only pitch to the ones who say they’re looking for what you do.
  • Research how to write a good pitch (there’s a lot of advice out there – I like the 3-8 pitch idea.
  • Keep it short and sweet, memorise it and practise it out loud in front of the mirror and to your writing friends or family, focusing on making it sound natural. Don’t try to tell the whole plot – just the high concepts.
  • While I say memorise it, always have dot points there for you to refer to in case you lose your train of thought or can’t remember it because of nerves.
  • Do include the genre, the length and where it might fit on a bookshelf (for instance, my romantic suspense has been compared to Sarah Barrie and Nora Roberts).
  • Be prepared to chat with the agent/editor about your novel and your writing.
  • If you have 5 minutes, I’d look at a 1 minute (2 minutes max) pitch with 3-4 minutes of chat.
  • Ask them questions too – it shows you’ve done your research and are interested in them beyond what they can offer you. Agents and editors are looking not just for great stories, but for authors they feel they can connect with and work well with.
  • Try not to get too nervous. Most agents and editors are lovely, lovely people like you and me who are super interested in good stories. They’re not there to be judgemental or nasty, but are looking to say ‘yes – send me your work’. I know it feels like high-stakes, but if you can just calm down enough to enjoy the pitch and the chat, then it will be so much better for you and for them.

Learning to write a Pitch/Query Letters/Synopsis helped me to improve my writing in so many ways. There is nothing like having to pare your story back into a few sentences to make you understand character conflicts and the importance of a high-concept on the narrative drive. If you can’t write a pitch, a query letter or a 1-2 page synopsis, it probably means there is a problem with your story.

If you need help with pitching or writing a query letter or synopsis, then contact me via the form below:

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