Friday, 29 March 2013

Submission letters and synopses

By Gillian Hamer

There is little more terrifying to a new author, when considering dipping a toe into the world of agents or publishers, than the idea of putting together an acceptable submission package.

We’ve already had excellent advice this week from Kelly Jarosz about the important of manuscript presentation, but another area which can cause hot sweats and sleepless nights is the topic of submission letters and synopses.

I’ve had varying degrees of success with agents over the years, but one thing I have discovered is that when it comes to synopses, less is more. Unless an agent states clearly on their website or submission terms they require a full three page, chapter and verse, detailed synopsis, my advice is to stick to a one page resume of the plot. If possible add a hook or interesting snippet in there, something to stand out from the crowd.

Again, please always follow any rules for agents that prefer strict guidelines, but if not, don’t worry yourself into the ground about your synopsis. I have had two agents now, both of whom told me they never read more than a single page synopsis, and would never make a decision on a novel on the strength of one.

However, one thing I think is vital is a strong submission letter. Again, I would strongly advise this is kept short (no more than one page), polite and succinct, but again, I’d recommend inserting something that takes an agent’s interest. Maybe comment on how you chose to submit to them as your writing has been likened to one of their clients. Or show that you have done your homework and studied the genres they specialise in. Also, don’t be scared to add a little humour or humility – both can work well in the right situations.

Even if you are subbing to more than one agent at a time, which in my opinion is completely acceptable, always personalise each letter. NEVER send a round robin type letter or email. Always take time to study their websites, find out who is the right agent to submit your work. There’s little point in sending anything to an agent who only represents non-fiction classical authors if your book is a comedy take on the next Fifty Shades of Grey! The fastest way to end up in the slush pile (or probably the bin) is to send a batch of letters that have been cut and pasted with no personal detail.

Remember, agents are human. Publishers are too (for the most part). From the dealings I’ve had with both … most are lovely people who are as passionate about writing as you are. Give them a break from the norm. They get as fed up of slush piles as you do. So, if you feel confident enough and you have something witty to say, be articulate, state your case. Most importantly – stand out from the crowd.

And the most important piece of advice I can give you … be yourself.

I’ve included a couple of sample submission letters below. Both of these have been successful in getting request for fulls from their initial pitch, and both went on to get representation with the agent. You may be surprised how short and succinct these letters are, but trust me, agents are busy people, the less waffle, the more likely you are to attract their attention.

Obviously, it goes without saying that you will need to tailor these to suit your remit, but as a simple template, stick to these guidelines and you won’t go far wrong.



I am currently looking for representation and would very much like to submit my novel to the XX Literary Agency.

As an obsessive reader myself, I enjoy many of the writers currently on your books, particularly XX and XX

I do feel that my own writing (my novel is XX fiction) would fit well within the XX Agency's current list of

I am looking for an agency whose ethos is based firmly on working closely with their writers and I was delighted by your website and your dedicated approach to writers and literature.

Briefly, (put BIOG here – no more than 100 words)

My novel XXX is complete at XXX,000 words.

Best regards,



Having studied your website, I am attaching a short synopsis and sample chapters of my crime thriller, XXXXX, which is complete at XXX,000 words. The novel is the first in a series of six books which I have been working on for the past two years. I am actively seeking representation for my work with a view to future publication.

Briefly, (ENTER 100 word BIOG here)

Sample chapters of XXXX came third on XXXXX, and I received a very promising review from a top editor. (ENTER ANY AWARDS OR ACCOLADES YOUR BOOK HAS RECEIVED here and a TWO OR THREE SENTENCE SUMMARY OF THE NOVEL)

I've completed a XXXX course, and have had numerous short stories and articles published in XXXXX. (SHORT WRITING BIOG HISTORY here)

I am now actively seeking an agent to assist me in breaking into the difficult world of fiction, and I'm prepared to work hard to realise my dream.

If you require any further information, or wish to read more chapters, please let me know.

Thank you for your time.

Yours sincerely,

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Triskele Bookclub - House of Silence by Linda Gillard

Books that don’t fit the mould always appeal to me and this one is no exception. House of Silence is a tricky book to define. It has mystery, romance, skeletons in the closet, a decrepit family manor house and a fair few emotional truths. I read it in one weekend, completely absorbed by the world the author creates.

The characters are deftly drawn, with layers upon layers of personality, and each with a distinct voice. Considering there are several scenes containing four sisters, this is some achievement. Our protagonist is also more complex than even she realises, and her journey of discovery is as much about understanding herself as it is about uncovering long-buried secrets.

Another area where Linda Gillard shines is in dialogue. The early conversations between Gwen and Alfie fairly crackle with wit and intelligence. My personal favourite was Hattie, whose butterfly monologues flit from subject to subject with flashes of colour and beauty.

The expertly paced plot is full of surprises, not least the romantic twist, and just when you think you know what’s going on, there’s another development. The damaging effects of long-distant choices reverberate down the years, surfacing in the present to upset the fragile balance.

And as with all Triskele Bookclub choices, the entire novel is suffused with a sense of place. Both the Norfolk location, with windmill, sea mists and December chills; and Creake Hall, the seen-better-days Elizabethan manor, with formal gardens and draughty attics, are beautifully realised and atmospheric. The hall becomes a character in itself.

I was initially wrong-footed by the switches in point-of-view, but once I got used to this stylistic choice, I found it an interesting way to experience incidents from two angles. Reading House of Silence reminded me of several other well-loved books, such as Cold Comfort Farm, The Pursuit of Love, Janice Gentle Gets Sexy and The Little Stranger and was a delightful way to spend a weekend.

Review by JJ Marsh

Interview with Linda Gillard

Linda, location is a key feature of all Triskele Books, why is why we chose House of Silence for our bookclub read. Personally, I think your choice of setting works perfectly as backdrop to the story. But could you tell us a little about why you chose Norfolk?

I know the area well and lived there for many years, but beyond that, I think there’s a sort of literary north Norfolk landscape that exists in the mind of the general reader: isolated, bleak, flat, with big skies and artists’ light. I wanted to write about a family who don’t communicate with each other and never have. They spend a cold, emotionally harsh Christmas together, shut away in a gloomy, decaying mansion in a Norfolk backwater. Revelations change the family’s domestic landscape for ever and light is finally let in. The north Norfolk coast seemed just the place for all that to happen.

On a lighter note, the Norfolk setting allowed my hero live in a converted windmill which provided a great contrast to the Jacobean mansion.

You clearly have an ear for dialogue and excel at characterisation. I know you used to be an actor. How influential was that?

It’s been hugely influential. I actually see myself as not so much a novelist, more a failed screenwriter! I read drama at university, went to drama school, then acted professionally for some years, so dialogue, “voice”, how they portray character are all deeply ingrained in me.

I do very little dialogue attribution. I expect readers to be able to tell who’s speaking from the way the characters talk. I’m quite fanatical about tinkering with dialogue until it sounds right, until every character sounds individual. I hate it when I read books and all the characters sound the same regardless of gender, age or class. That’s just lazy writing.

Over the years I discovered a character’s “voice” was a lot to do with rhythm – the length of sentences, punctuation, elisions, the way people truncate sentences when talking, even the way they swear. I noticed in one of my drafts that everyone was cursing in the same way. People don’t. There’s a world of difference between “Blast!”, “Blimey!” and “My giddy aunt!”

On the same topic, do you think a theatre background informed your concept of structure? There is something classical about the way House of Silence builds to the dramatic third act. 

I think my theatre background has definitely influenced how I structure novels. I even write what are known as “curtain lines” at the end of chapters! (Something pithy or surprising that makes a good “exit” from the chapter.)

I think HOUSE OF SILENCE owes something to the 19thC plays of Ibsen and Strindberg, whom I studied at university. It’s not just that all the revelations come out in the final “act”, I also give the main characters a great big “soliloquy” in which they each talk about the past and what really happened (or what they think happened.) This is very much a theatrical device and I wasn’t sure it would work in a novel, but I couldn’t see how else to unravel my complicated plot.

I was also playing around with the Agatha Christie convention of Poirot gathering everyone in the library to hear the (false) revelations/confessions before the reader gets the real solution. I knew that worked in classic detective stories, so I thought I’d use it in HOUSE OF SILENCE which owes something to the English country house mystery.

One of the things which threw me at first was the switching between 1st person point-of-view to an omniscient narrator. It’s an unusual technique. Was it a conscious choice or did it simply develop that way?

I’ve done that in all but one of my books. (In STAR GAZING I have two first person and a third person narrator.) I settled on this narrative style because I get bored writing in just first person, listening to only one voice. But equally, I think third person narration is not nearly so effective for getting readers to feel what the characters feel, see what they see. So I devised a “horses for courses” style where I use whichever narrator will best serve the bit of the story I’m telling. Describing how my heroine feels sexually attracted to someone was probably best done in the first person. But I also needed to show scenes where she wasn’t present, scenes in which members of the family talk to each other about the past. That couldn’t be done in first person so it had to be an omniscient narrator.

This switching back and forth irritates some readers and they’ve complained about it in reviews, but I think this seamless combination of first and third narrators gives me the maximum flexibility and scope. In STAR GAZING I had a congenitally blind first person narrator heroine, so much of the book was told from her blind “point of view”. Even if I could have sustained that for an entire book, readers would have got bored with the lack of visual reference. So I had another first person narrator (the blind woman’s sister) and a third person narrator. I just used whichever I thought best for the bit of the story I was trying to tell. I suppose it must have worked because that novel was short-listed for two awards and won another.

A bond develops between two characters over quilting and material. (In fact, I joined in Gwen and Alfie’s Austen game by dubbing the book Fabrics and Fabrication.) The seamstress/unpicker is powerful theme running through this story. Is sewing a personal interest or was this an area you needed to research?

I didn’t need to do any research because I’m a quilter (or used to be before I started writing full-time.) Three of my novels incorporate patchwork quilts and textiles as part of the plot and two of my heroines are textile artists. (The other two books are EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY and UNTYING THE KNOT.)

I think there’s an affinity between constructing quilts and the way I write novels. I’m sure years of designing and making quilts fed into my writing. I guest-blogged about this for another indie author, Joanne Phillips. 

Something I noticed were the many moving truisms about grief, behaviour, family, love and trust. I’m curious as to whether you started out with the express intention of exploring those ideas, or whether they grew out of character interaction.

I don’t think I ever write about anything else! I hope I do it with a light touch – there’s always plenty of humour in my novels ­– but all my books are about love, loss, trust, family and friendship. Something that interests me is how much damage can be done by people trying to do “the right thing”. Everyone in HOUSE OF SILENCE acted for the best, but no one could foresee the long-term consequences.

I explored this in another novel, A LIFETIME BURNING, in which the main protagonists act “for the best” with catastrophic consequences. That novel definitely showed signs of my undergraduate study of Greek tragedy! With that book I set out to write something on a grand scale, a Greek tragedy set in suburbia, written in the style of someone like Barbara Pym. It was an experiment. I didn’t have a publisher when I wrote it and I was feeling brave. I just wanted to see if you could do something almost operatic in a novel.

The structure of that book is very complex because in addition to my first and third person narrators, it’s non-chronological. The story jumps back and forth over sixty years of an extended family’s life. Some readers dismiss the structure as random, but events and information are fed to the reader in a very precise way for maximum dramatic effect. A life doesn’t generally have a good dramatic structure, so I imposed one by manipulating the sequence in which events were narrated.

There was another advantage. I could cover sixty years of this family’s life and follow Elmore Leonard’s very good advice to “leave out the boring bits.”

You’re one of a growing number of traditionally published authors who have forsaken publishing houses to go it alone. What drove that decision?

I was an award-winning, mid-list author of contemporary women’s fiction when I was dropped by my publisher a few years ago. (“Disappointing sales” was the reason given.) After two years my agent still hadn’t found a publisher for my fourth and fifth novels. Editors liked the books, but said they’d be hard to market as they belonged to no clear genre. I had a modest but enthusiastic following nagging me for a new book, so I decided to indie-publish my fourth novel, HOUSE OF SILENCE on Kindle.

And has it been successful? 

Yes, very. I hoped to sell 10 a month, maybe 10 a week if the book really took off, but I sold 10,000 downloads in less than four months. Amazon acknowledged my success by selecting HOUSE OF SILENCE as a Top Ten Editor’s Pick Best of 2011 in the Indie Author category. I’ve since published four more indie novels (two backlist, two new) and I now earn a good living from them – something I wasn’t able to do when I was traditionally published.

I’ve proved I can earn more for myself than a publisher can earn for me, but the main issues for me were creative freedom and artistic control. Two of my traditionally published novels were sunk by unappealing covers and I’d had a title foisted on me which I hated. I was asked by editors to simplify my storylines and make my heroines more likeable.

For years I was told my books didn’t belong to any genre and were therefore hard to market. I wouldn’t accept that. I embraced the genre-mix and used it as a selling point. My tag-line for HOUSE OF SILENCE was “REBECCA meets COLD COMFORT FARM” and readers have told me that made them click. Mixing genres isn’t a problem for readers, just retailers.

HOUSE OF SILENCE is the first of yours I’ve read, but I know it won’t be the last. Does location play a key factor in your other books? If so, where should I start?

I’ve lived in the Scottish Highlands since 2001 and I’ve spent many of those years living on islands – Skye, Harris and Arran. Although I’m English, I’ve carved out a bit of a niche writing novels set in the Highlands and islands. STAR GAZING and THE GLASS GUARDIAN are set on Skye, EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY is set on the remote Hebridean island of North Uist.

Location is very important to me, both as a reader and as a writer – the area, even the actual building in which the story is set. UNTYING THE KNOT is set in Highland Perthshire, in a 16thC tower house that the cracked-up ex-soldier hero has renovated as a family home. The tower house is another character in the story, in the same way that Creake Hall is a character in HOUSE OF SILENCE.

I don’t think of myself as being very good at descriptive writing – I find it very hard – but creating a sense of place is something for which I’ve been praised. I’m also interested in creating interior landscapes, eg the sensory world of the blind heroine of STAR GAZING. A few of my characters descend into delusion or madness, where they inhabit their own world. In UNTYING THE KNOT the hero suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. At the climax of the book he retreats into a private world of flash-backs. Sometimes he believes he’s on a Falklands battlefield, sometimes he thinks he’s patrolling Londonderry during the Troubles.

I was trying to create a landscape within a landscape – one that’s imagined inside one that’s real. My hope was, the sudden dislocation of place would give readers an inkling of what it’s like to suffer from PTSD, a devastating mental health condition that isn’t widely understood and for which there’s little in the way of treatment.

So if you’re interested in Scotland, landscape, family stories, romance and mental health issues, you might enjoy any of my novels.

Thanks very much for inviting me onto the Triskele blog. It’s been a real treat to answer your questions. I love talking about the nuts and bolts of writing!





UK -






Monday, 25 March 2013

Manuscripts Dressed to Impress

Imagine going to a job interview. You are by far the most qualified person for the job, but you show up to the interview in sweat pants and a stained hoodie. We all wish the world were a place where that wouldn’t matter, where the boss would overlook your outward sloppiness and give you the job based only on your brilliant ideas and excellent record of success. But we know the world doesn’t work like that.

A previous toolbox post talks about the importance of professional cover design ( However, professional presentation starts with our manuscripts, well before the book hits the shelves. Whether we’re submitting to an agent, an editor, a workshop, or a critique group, the document’s spelling, grammar, punctuation and formatting will make an impression on readers. Therefore, it’s to our advantage to make sure our work is professionally dressed anytime we send it out into the world.

Ensuring a professional-looking manuscript requires spending time on two skill sets: language skills of spelling, grammar and punctuation; and technological skills of formatting and submitting.

Language Skills

While it’s a good idea to hire a professional proofreader if you are publishing independently or submitting to an agent, it’s still worthwhile to invest time in learning to proofread yourself. The following resources can help.

Fellow writers: It takes time to learn to identify your mistakes. Editing other writers’ work helps build an awareness you can apply to your own work. If a fellow writer proofreads well, ask them to line edit a short piece. Their edits will show you what mistakes you often make. Then you can create a list of these mistakes to refer to while proofreading.

Style guides: A style guide is the ultimate resource when you’re not sure where that comma goes, how to abbreviate a certain word, or when to use italics. If your form of writing doesn’t require a certain style, pick a style you like and use it consistently. Style guides include The Associated Press Style Book, The Chicago Manual of Style, and Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style. The Economist provides a free A-Z style guide online here:

The Internet: There’s little excuse for language mistakes when we have the whole Internet at our disposal. Use an online dictionary if you’re not absolutely sure of a word’s spelling or meaning. Also check the idioms in your piece. If you’re not positive whether it’s ‘chock full’ or ‘chocked full’, do a Google search for each. The phrasing with more search results normally is the correct one. For quick and entertaining tutorials on mistakes we all make, check out the series of grammar-themed online comics at (

One note: Correct language doesn’t mean your piece must sound like an encyclopedia entry. Depending on the piece’s tone and voice, you might break some rules. What’s important is to know when you’re breaking rules and to be able to justify how breaking them enhances your story.

Technology Skills

Today’s writers can’t avoid using computers, so it’s crucial to learn how to change font sizes, margins and line spacing; add headers and footers; determine your word count; and upload or send your files via e-mail. The Help function in your word-processing program is a primary resource, followed by an Internet search for your specific question. If you are seriously technologically challenged, basic tutorials or classes could be a worthwhile investment.

Formatting guidelines: Before submitting your work anywhere, check for preferred formatting and submission procedures. For example, many publications prefer that you paste your piece into the body of an e-mail and may automatically delete your submission if you send an attachment. That said, formatting your submission according to the following guidelines will be appropriate most of the time.

- Use an 11-12 point serif font like Times New Roman. Serif fonts are more comfortable to read.

- Double space between lines, even between paragraphs. Scene breaks can be indicated by an extra line of white space or a small centered symbol. Use only one spacebar space between sentences.

- Use 1 inch/2.54 cm margins.

- Include a header or footer on each page with your last name and the page number (Example: Smith pg. 7 of 8). Your name is there in case your printed piece is accidentally scattered all over the floor along with several other submissions, and the page number makes it easier for readers to point out specific passages for critique.

- Save your work as a Microsoft Word document (.doc, not .docx) or .pdf file. These file formats will most likely work on all computers.

- Include your last name in the file name (Example: Smith_BestStoryEver.pdf). Again, having your name in the file name makes it easier to identify your work in a sea of submissions.

Improving language and technology skills can seem like a waste of precious creative writing time, but over the long term you will avoid stress and your readers will avoid frustration. It could even save your submission from instant rejection.

Kelly Jarosz is a published academic writer and award-winning communications consultant. She is co-founder of the Zurich Writers Workshop ( and is actively working on a novel.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Tips for time management

By Sheila Bugler
For most writers, finding time to write is always a challenge. Unless you’re a trust fund baby or have a rich partner willing to support you, chances are you’ll have responsibilities which cut into precious writing time. There are occasions, too, when a lack of time is a great excuse not to write. Because, let’s face it, no matter how much we enjoy the process of writing, having to sit down day after interminable day to do it can be a whole different challenge.
The key message I want you to take away from this article is: don’t let a lack of time prevent you from writing. If you’re serious about becoming a published author, you can make that happen – no matter what time constraints you have.
I wrote my first novel while my children were both young, I was working and my husband had a job that took him away from home a lot. Finding time to write on top of that was exhausting. And yet, I was so sure this was what I wanted to do. So I started getting up early – about 4.30 or 5.00 – and writing before my kids got up and the day started. It wasn’t easy, especially during the dark winter months, but I was determined to get that first draft done. And I did. If I had an hour and a half to myself, that was a good morning. Often I had far less than that. But even if I only had fifteen minutes, I made sure I made the very best use of that time that I could. And so can you. Here are my top tips for making use of whatever time you’ve got.
Set yourself a daily word count. This is the single most important thing you can do. In his wonderful book, On Writing, Stephen King recommends 2,000 words a day. I found this too ambitious and aimed for 1,000. I suggest you try for between 500 and 1,000 words a day. Just think, if you write 1,000 words for 100 days you’ll have created a 100,000-word story (a decent size novel, in fact). Obviously, the word count will depend on the tools you use. If you are a fast touch typist and use a computer, then 1,000 words a day is reasonable. If your keyboards skills aren’t great or you prefer to use pen and paper then your daily word count goal should be lower.
Set aside a dedicated time each day for writing. Don’t make it too long. An hour or two hours maximum. More important than the length of time is the amount of words you write.
Get your first draft down as quickly as you can. Stephen King recommends a period of no more than three months for this. My first draft took about six months. It was rough as guts but that hardly mattered. I had something I could work with now. Sure, it took another nine months to rewrite that first draft and turn it into something readable but that sense of achievement as I typed THE END for the first time was a great incentive to continue. And that takes me onto the next tip.
Keep going forward. Don’t look back. Never, ever go back over what you’ve written. Keep writing until you get to the end.
Don’t sit staring at a blank page waiting for inspiration to come. It won’t. Force yourself to write something, even if you think it’s utter rubbish. Anything is better than nothing. If your story isn’t flowing, write an interview with your central character. Ask them questions – where did they grow up? What inspires them/drives them/makes them happy and sad?

Sheila's first novel will be published by Brandon Books in September 2013. You can find details of this, along with her free online writing workshops, at her website:

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

A Year in the Life... more perspectives

Last week, five independent authors shared their experiences of getting published. Today, two more writers join the debate. Triskele Books author Jasper Dorgan and ALLiA member Dan Holloway tell us what they've learned since they took the leap into independent publishing.


An author’s lot is a lonely one. The writing can’t be done by anyone else but you. Some human contact of kindred spirits, who are not always necessarily kindred, can be found in the best peer review sites but they are still distant and for the most and inevitable part of the roller coaster processes of writing a book you are on your own.  But of course it’s not a book yet, it’s only a manuscript. That’s what I had a year ago. 90,000 painstakingly crafted words on paper, or rather hidden away in the cyber caves. I didn’t have a book.
I would not be published without the help given by my fellow Triskele authors and friends. In the last year I have learned from them about script editing and typesetting and cover design and ISBN licensing and POD and e-booking and most of all I have learned that  it takes a person to write a book but it takes a team to make it. A real, live book. My book. There are scant few thrills to compare to it. Apart from writng the next.


I made the decision to write “seriously”, in the sense that I thought it’d be cool for someone other than me to read what I wrote, in 2007. By 2008 I had decided that I was going to self-publish because no self-respecting (or shareholder-respecting) publisher was going to go near my weird and quirky bits of literary fiction. By January 2009 I had started a collective of like-minded individuals and we had an absolute ball, pushing each other to new levels of weirdness and quirk, exploring form and the boundaries of media and genre with absolutely no one to be answerable to. The self-publishing community seemed to be full of creative anarchists and refuseniks and I loved it. Then along came Kindle and very quickly that changed. Self-publishing was flooded with entrepreneurs, people who wanted to make more bucks by by-passing those in the middle. The media got interested in self-publishing – because it was financially making waves. For those of us who’d set out in 2008/9 it felt like our skateboard park had been bulldozed to make room for yuppie winebars. And then in the last 12 months, things changed again. Quickly. More and more small presses seemed to be popping up doing exciting, uncommercial, experimental things, the kind of things we’d loved doing when we set out. I feel almost like I’ve come full circle, and am seriously considering submitting my work for the first time in years. Self-publishing is no longer the creative frontier – it hasn’t been fro two or more years. But now we have such a frontier again – with small presses.

Dan Holloway ( runs the small imprint 79 rat press ( whose first 6 titles are coming out in June of this year.

Friday, 15 March 2013

A Year in the Life of an Indie Author ...

By Gillian Hamer

When Triskele Books celebrates its first official birthday in June, I shall take a moment or two (probably over a glass of fizzy stuff) to consider the rollercoaster journey I’ve been on since the inception of this mad idea over posh tea and equally posh cakes in a scarily posh hotel in Park Lane, London two Christmases ago.

Since then, everyone involved with Triskele has come one hell of a long way, and experienced the delight, or the imminent delight, of getting their books published. The feel of holding your novel in your hand for the first time is something that probably never leaves you. It makes up for all the traumas of … ISBNS, formatting, editing, paper colour, web design and marketing … combined.

There have been numerous highs – and yes, a few lows. But independent publishing has been a rewarding and worthwhile experience for me and I do not regret one single moment.
I thought it may make interesting reading to find out if other authors agree. And discover what we have actually learned over those first critical twelve months, starting with Triskele members … but also opening up the question to members of ALLiA (the Alliance of Independent Authors) and getting their thoughts also.
The first batch are below, more to follow …



Quality. Good writing will find its audience. Marketing sleight-of-hand works, to a point. But no matter how slick your promotion is, people can tell the difference between snake oil and story. Good books find good readers who tell other readers ...

Flexibility. 'Published' previously meant set-in-stone, unalterable, liable to date, and every mistake an eternal albatross. Not so now. E-books can be updated, corrected and tweaked to reflect the Zeitgeist.

The author is in control.


Last year at this time I knew nothing about indie publishing, a big fat zero. I came onboard the SS Triskele rather later in the journey than Jill and Gilly; only three months before our launch. So, I had to learn everything in a tearing hurry. The result was a vague idea about all aspects of self-publishing, but a lot of confusion remained.

A year on, I have had more time to learn about it. I'm still far from an expert, but I have learned SO much about all the aspects of the process in one short year, and feel far more confident than I did a year ago.


I know how important it is to work together as a team.

ALLiA Members :


It’s not as easy as it looks …BUT… After a zillion publishers said “We love your writing but…” I was thinking of taking up knitting - socks perhaps, for Antarctic explorers. But we’re short of Antarctic explorers in Ireland. Then I read about AlliA, joined up, went to a meeting and Wheeeee, I can publish myself. Suddenly I had a huge surge of creative energy.
The learning curve is incredibly steep. I’ve spent hours trying to figure out Internetty things. At times I felt like curling up in a virtual corner and weeping… Still do. BUT… Next time will be a lot faster.

It is easy to get overwhelmed … BUT… After one of my internet meltdowns I remembered my father’s advice. “The way the monkey fought the bees on the Naas road…one by one” I focused on the next step and ignored everything else. Now most of those bees are back in the hive.
When you know for sure that you’re going to be published a wealth of ideas leap into your head.
When you know for sure that you’re going to be published you discover that you can write a lot faster than you thought you could.

Would I do it again? Absolutely.


That it's both surprisingly easy and incredibly hard, and that this constant contradiction is something you just have to get used to! I'm not sure how useful that is to someone starting out, though; it's kind of like a mum telling her teenage daughter there are plenty more fish in the sea - there are some things you just have to find out for yourself. 

What I know now is that there is no excuse for not diving right in - and I wonder why any decent author would bother hanging around waiting to be 'discovered' by an agent or publisher when there is a whole world of readers out there just waiting for you. 

But - and it's a big but - the work is overwhelmingly multi-faceted. You become everything all at once: writer, editor, marketer, promotions manager, cover designer, blurb writer, distribution manager, IT professional, webmaster, PR consultant, project manager - plus you have to actually get on and write the next book. 

Many indie authors have jobs, and families, and lives (!) as well. I wouldn't change a thing about the last twelve months, but I do wish there were a few more hours in the day. The biggest contradiction of all: Indie publishing puts out some of the most amazing reads around, but still we have to fight to be taken seriously.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

The Historical Fiction Club

Historical Fiction. Do you want to be in our club?

by Gillian Hamer

For the next few months, I shall be dipping my toe into the elite world of Historical Fiction.

My next book, to be released in June under the Triskele banner, is another cross-genre crime novel called Complicit.

As well as a modern day criminal investigation around DS Gareth Parry and the team at Bangor CID, in Complicit we are also transported back two thousand years to one of the most turbulent periods in local history. The ownership of Anglesey (or Mona as it was known then) was one of the most bitter battles faced at the time by the invading Roman army. It took two attempts, plus the building of a huge barracks at Caernarvon (Segontium) to secure the island down to the resilience of local Celt warriors and the mythical stronghold of the Druids. I thought it would be fascinating to bring to life a little of the atmosphere and tension of that time.

I’ve long been fascinated by anything associated with the past, especially the plethora of archaeology, shipwrecks, myths and legends surrounding Anglesey – some of which I’ve managed to squeeze into both of my previous novels.

I thought it would be interesting to put Triskele’s two historical writers, Liza Perrat (Spirit of Lost Angels) and Jane Dixon Smith (author of June’s release, Tristan and Iseult) under the spotlight to discover where their own  passions for the genre first developed.


GEH: So, HF has seen a popularity surge in recent years, with Philippa Gregory and Hilary Mantel, but it's still not really trendy, is it? So what is it that attracts you? Jane ... why legends of post Roman Britain? Liza ... what's the attraction of historical France?

JDS: Which genre really is trendy? I think everything has had its day at one point or another. Historical fiction and film was hugely popular following successes like Gladiator, and now the early 1900s are popular with series such as Downton Abbey. Regency Romance has always been popular too, don't forget, and we have Austen to thank for that ... and Colin Firth, of course.

As for me, it was always about the swords and the period costume and different cultural and social expectations and classes which attracted me. Someone once said: 'You would love to live in the past, wouldn't you?' and I said: 'Yes, but for plague and lack of antibiotics.' Post Roman Britain specifically has always had a soft spot for me since I first read Bernard Cornwell's Arthurian trilogy, and his very unique but utterly believable take on our legends and history.

LP: History fascinates me, so I love reading about it. I also like contemporary novels, but not as much. I became interested in the history of France from living in a rural French village that was founded by the Romans. Surrounded by such a long history, having it all on the doorstep, drew me into writing about it.

GEH: Location is key for me. Anglesey has such a wealth of history from Neolithic onwards, it’s hard not to get pulled into the stories and legends. And I’ve always been totally fascinated by shipwrecks, as a kid I had piles of books on the Titanic. And I remember on a very early visit to Anglesey going to the church where many victims of the The Royal Charter are buried. It’s those kind of little acorns that grow and grow for me … Do any of you visit real life locations when plotting your books or while writing particular scenes? For me it really helps to stand on a cliff, feel the spray of the waves, and imagine the boat in peril …

LP: Yes, I visit  if possible and take lots of photographs, and try and get a feeling for the place. That’s really important to me.

JDS: I wish! With the next book set in Syria I would have loved to have gone and got a real feel for the place, but alas that’s probably not going to happen any time soon. With regards to writing about Britain, yes, I’ve visited many places, and love exploring forgotten times.

GEH: It's said historical fiction is one of the hardest genres to have success in, in terms of agents and publisher interest? And that's despite recent success. Why do you think that is and did that ever have any effect on what genre you chose to write about?

JDS: All genres are having a hard time in terms of securing contracts with agents and publishers. It never had any effect, no. HF was always, always, without doubt going to be the genre I wrote in.

LP: I haven't followed any publishing trends, so it had no effect on my choice of writing in this genre. It was simply that I thought I had found my "voice" in historical fiction, as opposed to contemporary fiction

GEH: I’m only really dipping my toe into HF as part of a crime thriller cross-genre, and I can’t imagine a publisher ever taking on the ‘mongrel’ books I write, so I write what I love.

GEH: Who are your favourite HF authors ... and why? What makes a brilliant HF novel?

JDS: Bernard Cornwell was always my hero. He was not only the first historical fiction writer I loved, but the first fiction writer I read as an adult. I adored his Sharpe series, and then I found his Warlord Chronicles. They will always have a special place for me. HF is such a broad-ranging genre, with so many sub-genres. I love Robert Harris for his political Rome novels, Conn Iggulden for his Emperor series. I'm a massive fan of Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, and also a new favourite of mine has to be Michelle Moran's novel Cleopatra, which I would recommend to any female reader. There's too many to choose from.

What makes a good historical novel? Story and character as with anything. Good writing, good plot. And of course, to fit the period, you have to have good description of the time and place.

LP: Karen Maitland would have to be my favourite, as she perfectly captures the essence of medieval times. I also love Sarah Waters' books. I think in a brilliant HF novel the reader is completely transported back to that particular time in history.

GEH: Yes, Sarah Waters. And I have to admit I’ve lost myself in a few Phillippa Gregory books too!

GEH: Why do you think HF has such success in cross-media, thinking of film and television adaptations of HF novels?

JDS: Swords. It's always down to swords and epic battles and going back to the days of damsels in distress. Don't we all just love it a little bit?

LP: Because historical events and people make for such dramatic scenes. The historical characters, or events, are probably familiar, to some extent, to viewers, so they relate more readily to the story.

GEH: I think there’s a bit of a sword-obsession going on here, Jane. I don’t think you can attribute the success of Downton Abbey to them, can you? J I agree though on the fantasy element, and also I guess with the success of war stories, people want to relive periods of history they’ve missed.

JDS: Perhaps not Downton, but all the rest ...

GEH: Any future projects in the pipeline you can discuss? Any ideas to move to another time period or place? Thinking of Jane's old motto - if the book you want to read hasn't yet been written, you must write it - what book about what period do you think is begging to be written?

JDS: I'm moving to Roman Syria next. Actually, I'm not moving, I'm already there. I wrote the first novel of a series about four years ago, and the second is well under way. I do love the idea of finding piece of history largely untouched and retelling it, bringing it to life for this generation. There's something very special about that.

LP: The series I'm currently writing takes place over several time periods: the French revolution, the Nazi occupation of WW2, and now, the 14th century plague years. So that has compelled me to research three different periods in French history, and I find it exciting to learn about each different era.

GEH: Both sound fascinating. I’m joining Jane in the Roman period, but on home turf, with the invasion of Mona and the Celt and Druid tribes joining together to oppose them. I found out such a lot about Anglesey in the research, it really makes you look at the places differently.

GEH: And finally, looking at research. How do you handle it? What are your sources? And for me, I find myself filled with dread that someone may read some of my work and pick out a discrepancy and really slaughter me - does that concern either of you ... and if so how do you handle that?

JDS: I'm rubbish at it. I always want to get on with telling the story that research is secondary and I really only do what it absolutely necessary. That said, I have watched an awful lot of kick-ass epic movies in the name of research ...

LP: Yes, that does bother me, that someone will point out an historical blunder. But not too much. I think in most HF novels, there will be some discrepancies, but readers, unless they are eagle-eyed historians, won't generally notice, or be bothered. They just want a good story. That's the most important thing, I believe, to write a BELIEVABLE story, even if it's not entirely factual. Concerning research, I read everything I can get my hands on, about that era, both fiction and non-fiction. Of course I use the Internet, but check the sources as much as possible, as there are always so many discrepancies. I also spend a lot of time at the local historical association, which is full of helpful information and people. I visit sites and memorials and take lots of photos. If possible, I try and talk to people who lived at that time. For example, for my second book in the series, Wolfsangel, I spoke at length with a man who was an active resistance fighter. First-hand knowledge is priceless.

GEH: So, kick-ass movies, sword wielding warriors and heroic resistance fights. I think we’ve probably sold the genre. Long live, historical fiction!

And thanks for sharing your thoughts with me today, ladies!

Spirit of Lost Angels by Liza Perrat is available now: HERE HERE
Smashwords: HERE

Tristan and Iseult by JD Smith is published June 1st


Sunday, 10 March 2013

Indie-friendly Book Reviewers

by Liza Perrat

List updated November 2017

Before I had a novel published, I didn’t even know review bloggers existed. Reviews, you say? I must get reviews for my book? But why? I quickly learned that book reviews are very important and I was about to discover a vast and increasingly influential network of review bloggers. 

Firstly, it’s good to know what your readers think, and secondly, it’s often a critical part of the decision-making process for book buyers.

Nowadays, most authors - not only indie-published ones - are their own sales reps, marketing managers and publicity departments. Review bloggers, who are gaining more and more respect among readers, booksellers and industry professionals, are responding to this self-publishing need to secure high-profile reviews from successful review bloggers. 

 I’ve heard so many complaints from self-published authors about the difficulties in getting their book reviewed. While there are certainly many bloggers who won’t review self-published books, I’ve discovered many who will. There are literally thousands of websites and blogs where people offer to review books free of charge. Certainly, you’ll need to spend some time searching for suitable ones, and you’ll need to approach them the right way. I’ve sent out dozens more requests for the replies I have actually received, but I’ve learned not to take it personally. Book reviewers are just as busy as the next person.

Before I list the best way I’ve found to get an indie book reviewed, I’d like to mention a few, fairly obvious, ways NOT to get your book reviewed:

  • Ignore the reviewer’s preferences and guidelines. If they say they don’t review self-published books, or chick lit, sending them your self-published, chick-lit novel is a waste of everyone’s time.
  • Send out mass emails such as: ‘I just published a great book. Let me know if you want to review it.’ Or, ‘If you want to review my book, click here.’ Nothing turns a reviewer off faster than an impolite, demanding request implying you are doing them a favour by giving them the opportunity to review your masterpiece. Don’t forget they are doing you the favour.
  • Think the book blogger cares about you and your book. You have to entice the reviewer into devoting many hours to reading something written by someone they’ve never heard of before.

So, how does an indie author go about getting reviews?

Make a list of possible reviewers. This takes time, but Google is fairly efficient at finding this information. Also, many authors and websites have already compiled lists through which you can scroll.


Don’t send requests to anybody and everybody. Most reviewers have submission guidelines clearly stating the genres they are interested in, and the way in which they operate.

Formulate a polite, typo-free review request document, giving the reviewer the following information:

  • Who you are
  • The genre of your book and the blurb 
  • How, when and where your book was published  
  •  If you’re offering an e-book or a paperback
  • Any additional information such as extracts from existing reviews, interviews you may have done (with links) - anything that might be of interest to the reviewer. Bloggers receive so many review requests that they are overwhelmed. Don’t make your book look like just another one “on the pile”.
  •  A last line thanking the reviewer for their time and details of how to contact you if they want to review your book.
  •  Keep track of reviews you’ve requested, and replies. I use a spreadsheet. Reviewers don’t want to receive a second request - and only follow up (after a lapse of at least four months) if you don’t get a response.  
  • If the reviewer informs you they would like to review your book, send them a “thank you” email and explain what type of file you are attaching, unless you are sending a paperback. 
  •  Then wait, or preferably get on with your writing. It could be months before you hear back.  
  • When the review is posted, write and say thank you. Even if you hate or don’t agree with the review, you still need to say thank you. And don’t bother arguing with negative reviews. No author can be a crowd-pleaser and it’s not worth your time. Again, just forget it and get on with your writing.

Enjoy it! Most book bloggers are nice people, and I’ve met some really lovely ones. If they like your book, they will spread the word. Review bloggers are worth getting to know not only for reviews, but as a long-term support group for your writing career.

ATTENTION AUTHORS AND BOOK BLOGGERS: With thanks to book blogger Anne Williams (@Williams13Anne) for this helpful tip: A great way to connect authors with bloggers who'd like to review them is via the Facebook group, Book Connectors.

1. A list of review bloggers we have found helpful for our Triskele Books indie-published novels.

2. A (non-exhaustive) list of sites compiled by other authors and reviewers you might want to check out.