How To Write A Book Blurb Part 1

Just in case you missed it, Thursday October 2nd was a big day in the book world: the day when 426 heavy hitters released their books for Christmas, including Philip Pullman, Jojo Moyes and Bill Bryson. This was swiftly followed by just last Thursday October 17th, when further probable blockbusters from mahoosive names including Elton John, John le Carré and Nadiya Hussain swamped the shelves.  So if you had a book coming out this autumn, and you HAVEN’T released it in the last 2 weeks… congratulations! You just avoided being stampeded by a herd of anxious, needy elephants in a race for column inches.

In previous posts, I examined when might be the best time of year to publish a novel, which concluded that Christmas might actually not be the worst idea, despite the flood of heavyweights. I also examined the effect of blockbusters on the sales of other books.

Assuming anyone out there agrees with any of these ideas (and I’m not saying they should. I am notoriously unreliable, and often cheat at Lego), you might be thinking about getting a book out there in the near future. So today I’m referring back to another former post, to look at how blurbs work – or don’t, as the case may be…

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The above is a perfect example of what a blurb shouldn’t do. Going off on a tangent, and then over-explaining it. A lot of blurbs-in-progress tend to say too much about things which aren’t sexy. This might sound odd, but think about it. Some points in a synopsis might be essential to the story (or beloved by the author), but they do nothing to incentivise a reader to pick up your book. And above everything, you want people to pick up your book. That’s what a blurb is for.

Dissecting The Blurb: It's A Formula, Not A Torture Implement

Blurbs are short synopses with cliffhanger endings. They’re not reviews, so if your book is brilliant, heart-breaking or mind-blowing, this should be put into a quote, not a blurb (with one exception – but more on that later).

Many blurbs are also preceded by the book’s tagline, or what I call the Killer Line. Sometimes it’s on the front cover, sometimes on the back – it’s the one-liner which catches your eye and piques your interest. It doesn’t even have to be that relevant to the story, to be honest. The best one I can think of offhand is from Girl On The Train:  “You don’t know her. But she knows you.” Bloody superb, that is.

The blurb is often the part of the bookselling process which gives authors the most headaches. How can 100-300 itty bitty words cause so much pain? But they do. If I ever want to torture an author who has wronged me, I will chain them to a desk in a bright room and tell them they only have 6 hours to write a blockbusting blurb for their book.

And yet, blurbs are just formulas – which was the basis of another post, where I ruined rewrote the blurbs for classic novels as if they’d been categorised as women’s fiction. Each genre has its own formula, and can be broken down accordingly. Many of them have the same ingredients, only in different order.

To tell the truth, I was shocked by just how formulaic genre blurbs were. For instance, most crime novel blurbs end in the dreaded elliptical dot dot dot. Historical fiction blurbs end with self-praise, which doesn’t seem to be allowed in any other genre. And less surprisingly, thriller blurbs are full of questions.

And now, to prove my point, because I’m stubborn like that, I’m going to break down a few bestseller blurbs. This turned into a very long post for one post, so today, I’m dealing with Thrillers and Romance, because they’re currently the most popular genres. Next time we’ll dissect the bejaysus out of Crime, Historical Fiction, and Science Fiction/Fantasy. And to finish up, I’m going to have oodles of fun with Short Stories, Self-Help and Literary Fiction.

Dissecting The Blurb: It's A Formula, Not A Torture Implement

  1.  Thriller/Mystery (Grip-Lit)

Let’s look at Gillian Flynn’s GONE GIRL. The paperback edition of the blurb online is as follows:

Who are you?

What have we done to each other?

These are the questions Nick Dunne finds himself asking on the morning of his fifth wedding anniversary, when his wife Amy suddenly disappears. The police suspect Nick. Amy’s friends reveal that she was afraid of him, that she kept secrets from him. He swears it isn’t true. A police examination of his computer shows strange searches. He says they weren’t made by him. And then there are the persistent calls on his mobile phone.

So what did happen to Nick’s beautiful wife?

BLURB FORMULA:

  1. Set up the intrigue with a ‘what happens when…’ question, or a character quote.
  2. Introduce your Main Character, who is [puzzled/afraid/upset], say what’s happened/happening to them, and what problem(s) this creates.
  3. Throw in some curveballs which use specific scenarios or keywords to create intrigue.
  4. Ask: what will Main Character do? And will the problem/mystery ever be explained?

Dissecting The Blurb: It's A Formula, Not A Torture Implement

  1. Chick-Lit / Romance

ME BEFORE YOU – JOJO MOYES:

Lou Clark knows lots of things. She knows how many footsteps there are between the bus stop and home. She knows she likes working in The Buttered Bun tea shop and she knows she might not love her boyfriend Patrick.

What Lou doesn’t know is she’s about to lose her job or that knowing what’s coming is what keeps her sane.

Will Traynor knows his motorcycle accident took away his desire to live. He knows everything feels very small and rather joyless now and he knows exactly how he’s going to put a stop to that.

What Will doesn’t know is that Lou is about to burst into his world in a riot of colour. And neither of them knows they’re going to change the other for all time.

BLURB FORMULA:

  1. Start with a short quote from your novel, and/or a logline question, such as: What happens when [romance-related theme or question being explored in this novel]?
  2. Explain how your Main Character thinks/does things a certain way, until they meet irresistible Main Character 2, and how this makes them change/question/learn.
  3. Ask: will Main Character ever [overcome obstacle to love]?Or will [non-love related obstacle] ruin everything?
  4. Repeat for Main Character 2, if applicable.

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Tune in next time for more amazing generalisations and crude dumbing-down.

What Do Literary Agents Really Want? Try Abnormal People

Articles listing literary agents who are actively seeking new authors are writerly catnip. It’s a gateway drug to hope for any author who dreams of seeing their name written sideways on a bookshelf someday.

Every time I see one it’s like I’m playing ‘Fastest Finger First’ on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, where the odds are somewhat better than getting published these days. These articles are a temptation of success and glory to anyone who cares to take proper notice of them.

This sort of article is getting more common these days, precisely because I imagine that they get all the other clicks as well as mine. And of course for me there’s another bonus: they’re perfect blog fodder. It’s the best indication of what literary agents think is trending, or at least trended 6 months ago at best.

But trendspotting isn’t as easy as you think. You may reflect, for instance, that when some people say they want world peace, what they really mean is that they don’t want foreigners to take away their nice things. If someone tells you they want to concentrate on their work, they really mean your voice goes through them and they’re inches away from Sellotaping your mouth to your keyboard.

Reading between the lines of what agents say they want is vital. And the more clickbait I read, the more I see that it’s the same line: it’s the characters, stupid.

You’ll hear variously that they want uplifting stories (Up-Lit) and surprising plot twists (Grip-Lit). They say that want unique love stories and book club fiction which thoughtfully examines the issues of the day. When talking about character in specific, you’ll hear they’re looking for unique voices, or strong women, or middle grade characters with a sense of humour. But what does that all even mean?

The truth is that most agents don’t have a clue what they’re looking for, until they’ve read it. You’ll hear a lot of talk about unique voices: but what’s a unique voice, other than a character who’s so original it’s like they invented a personality type? Even though we all know, or think we know, people just like that… isn’t it just that we haven’t read about them before?

These characters could read out a shopping list and make it interesting. What they are not is Mary Sues. They remind us of the people we meet, rather than ourselves. And by being unpredictable, they create settings where anything can happen.

When I look back at some of the biggest runaway hits in recent times, one thing both unites them, and makes them stand out, and it isn’t story. It’s their main characters in general, and their unusualness in specific. Consider:

Connell and Marianne (Normal People): Sally Rooney is credited with being the voice of a generation. I confess this puzzles me sometimes, but still, this book about two really quite normal people who basically grow up and go to college without anything major happening at all resonated with several generations. I think this is because because Sally Rooney managed to show us that ‘real’ normal people are actually far weirder than most fictional characters.

Eleanor Oliphant (Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine): You can say this is Up-Lit, or a story about loneliness, or the power of community. But really it’s a story about a very unique individual who doesn’t think at all like you do.

Rachel Watson (The Girl on the Train): the unreliable narrator who launched a thousand more. An alcoholic with serious memory issues makes the story gripping because there is always something important at the corner of her mind she can’t quite get to.

Nick and Amy Dunne (Gone Girl): two truly awful personalities play cat and mouse. Fascinating and wonderfully unpredictable in their awfulness, making perfectly fertile ground where anything could and did happen.

Jack Reacher (5,409 novels by Lee Child): Sure, you can say that these are standalone stories with merit all their own. But they’re not really. Lee Child fans would read any instalment about the enigmatic former military cop Jack Reacher walking down a road for no reason at all… oh, hang on.

Ensemble Pieces which are really character studies, united by what can be a tenuous narrative thread:

Noah Hawley’s Before The Fall:

A whole host of weird and interesting people united by a plane crash with an element of whodunit. I know Noah Hawley is a genius but this is good, even for him – wry social observation filtered through many voices which snare the reader within sentences of each new storyteller opening their chapter.

Donal Ryan’s The Spinning Heart:

The narrative thread tying this story together is almost non-existent, and it still works. This book stood out in its uniqueness. Most agents would have run away screaming from an ensemble piece told from double-digit different perspectives by a debut author, but The Spinning Heart showed them why this can actually be a good thing.

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The moral of the story is that what a good book needs nowadays is the exact opposite of a Mary Sue. It’s not about characters you identify with. It’s about characters you couldn’t possibly hope to identify with – and nor would you want to.

We’re human beings. We’re fascinated with the otherness of other people. So take pity on a poor literary agent, and go and create something they don’t know they want yet. Give them an Abnormal Person.

Why You Should Never Live With A Character From A Historical TV Drama – Part II

We’ve been here once before, Ladies and Gentlesirs: yea, and verily so. But a spate of reading historical fiction lately, the lightning wrap-up of Poldark on BBC and the forthcoming ice-cream headache that is the Downton Abbey movie have caused me to ruminate on the differences between historical novels, which tend to plod along quite nicely for a thousand pages, and historical TV dramas, which after about one and a half episodes of character-settling soft focus, tend to hurtle along like a steam engine which just discovered rocket fuel.

So without further ado, here is the latest instalment in the blog series which was once said by nobody at all to be ‘like a wolf in stereotype’s clothing’.

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It’s dusk. Light is failing, like the health of an urchin with a persistent cough. Shadows lurk in corners, on walls, and on the jawlines of swarthy young swains in ragged trousers; still, there is suspiciously enough light to conduct the glow of the comeliest maidens and the swashbuckliest gents. A creak sounds. It might be a door, a floorboard, or the last rattle of a dying patriarch with a posthumous fortune which would tear apart the morals of the most sanctimonious clergyman.

You peer into the gloom. Suddenly, nineteen more candles which are somehow deemed unnoticeable to anybody watching cast a dancing beam onto the faces of HISTORICAL TV DRAMA GENTLEMAN and HISTORICAL TV DRAMA LADY.

Tark And Mara Reluctantly Agree To Appear On That Dreadful Blog

HTVD Gentleman: Hello? Hello? Who goes there?

You: [looking up from your phone] What? It’s me. I’m not going anywhere.

HTVD Gentleman: Speak, Sir, and state your business! We have just come from the most terrible carriage accident, in which we both almost lost our blessed lives.

You: Would you ever give over? I live here, remember? I’m your landlord. I rented the room to you a year ago?

HTVD Lady: But a twelvemonth.

HTVD Gentleman: ‘Tis true. ‘Tis important to get the dialogue most rightly. The cadence of speech, and the bloom of ye olden days dialecticals.

You: But it’s fine to leave 20th century props lying around the place and have the place lit up like a Christmas tree by only two candles and a clearly fake fire in the hearth? You guys are a continuity nightmare.

HTVD Lady: Oooh, my stars!

HTVD Gentleman: My dear! Whatever is the matter?

HTVD Lady: I’ve suddenly come over most peculiar.

HTVD Gentleman: Fetch the smelling salts!

You: I don’t have any. I don’t think anyone ever had that many smelling salts to hand, truth be told.

HTVD Lady: [Draping herself, with the help of HTVD Gentleman, over a conveniently located settle] ‘Tis like the turn I had yesterday, my Lord.

HTVD Gentleman: God’s bones! When you saw that villain from your past, the one who stole your father’s fortune and threw you, your mother and sisters onto the mercy of your beastly cousin, who promptly schemed to marry you, only for me to save you at the last moment and simultaneously discover that you were in fact a missing Russian princess who had been forced to murder your father’s assassin?

HTVD Lady: The very one, yes.

You: Sorry, but is this not an awful lot of info dumping, even for you?

HTVD Gentleman: Prithee, Sir! We have three more pages of backstory to race through before we may get to the glorious setpiece that is the strangely long swordplay scene with my lady’s beastly cousin!

HTVD Lady: And you are rather delaying things.

You: What? I only said one line!

HTVD Lady: But even one line can slow the action to a crawl! This scene was supposed to end two minutes ago.

You: But that would have been only twelve seconds after it started!

HTVD Gentleman: Precisely! Your dilly-dallying has cost us the setup for two whole plotlines!

HTVD Lady: [weeping prettily] And I had been so eagerly anticipating the story of the poor-but-happy farmhand rescuing the lonely rich heir who got trapped by rioting peasants…

HTVD Gentleman: Let alone the agonising setpiece of the vicious old grande dame who begets her comeuppance through the strangely modern socialist views of her newest housemaid.

You: Stop! We’ve already had enough plot for an entire series in the last half hour alone. I’m exhausted.

HTVD Gentleman: PLOT!! PLOT!! THERE MUST BE MORE PLOT!!

You: But this is intolerable, don’t you see? We don’t even know who you are! How can we care about you if you haven’t fleshed out your character?

HTVD Lady: I beg your pardon? How dare you! We simply cannot conceive of such a thing. We are historical TV drama characters! We exist only for the plot!

You: I’m not sure that’s actually how it works. Actually.

HTVD Gentleman: Well, I’d love to stay gasbagging all day, but I have four plot devices to cram into my next two lines, and I can’t see a damned thing by this candlelight.

[A pantomime servant with an unnecessary twitch whom you’ve never seen before arrives and hands a piece of period-inappropriate Egyptian parchment to HTVD Gentleman.]

You: Why are we getting post delivered to the door at eight P.M.?

HTVD Gentleman: Oh, my stars!

HTVD LADY: Oh, my Lord!

You: OMG.

HTVD Lady: Pray tell, whatever does it say?

HTVD Gentleman: [white-faced] It’s my extensive business interest in something vaguely to do with ships. Something terrible has happened. We must immediately to London in the morning!

You: But that’s five days from here by carriage!

HTVD Lady: Not for us, it isn’t.

[Morning. Carriage rolls over London cobblestones.]

You: Oh, for Christ’s sake. I blame Julian Fellowes for this nonsense. I’m off to watch something about cops.

10 Bloody Brilliant Reasons To Marie Kondo Your Bookshelves

Why Your Attention Span Is Under Attack From Authors Who Just Don't Get It

Remember the furore earlier this year when Marie Kondo suggested that books constituted ‘clutter’? That nobody should have any more than 30 books in their home? And that you should therefore get rid of the contents of your bookshelves?

Remember when Twitter exploded with all the self-professed Top Book Lovers of the World getting hot under their jackets? Saying How Dare She Suggest I Throw Out My Beloved Books, The Charlatan?

Remember?

But do you remember what she was actually saying – that you should only throw out the books that don’t spark joy?

Well, I’m totally down with that sort of thing. I mean FULL support. All over it, in fact.

The reason for this is that not only do I have books on my shelf which don’t spark joy: I actually have books on my shelf which spark misery.

I realised this because I’m viewing things through new eyes, having just returned from my holidays. (They were great, thank you. I went to a music festival and then I went around Ireland in a campervan and then I went on a sun holiday so, yes, I am feeling both fortunate AND entitled right now.)

Upon returning from holidays, I started looking around my home at all the things which had been piling up over the pre-holiday weeks, when I was working 10 and 11-hour days. The bits of paper representing admin stuff I hadn’t done. The holiday clothes I had no homes for. The bookshelves which, despite being combed for holiday reading, still had reams of unread books which I hadn’t wanted to bring on holidays with me.

As a result, I’ve decided to Marie Kondo the bejesus out of my bookshelves.

When Is 5* Not 5 Stars? Benchmarking Book Ratings

And here’s why:

  1. Why keep books you didn’t absolutely love and might want to read again? There should be more than enough of those to fill any respectable bookcase. Nobody should really dislike more than half the books they read, and if they do, they’ve got far bigger problems than clutter.
  2. Unread books are constant reminders of what you’re NOT doing.
  3. A neglected, never-changing ‘To Be Read’ shelf or shelves makes you feel like you promised somebody you’d do something and then you didn’t do it. Everyday. Forever.
  4. Kind people sent me books I never read, which makes me feel unkind.
  5. I bought loads of books at book launches I probably would never have chosen to read otherwise. Still, every time I see them I feel guilty.
  6. I kept buying books which were mentioned in news articles, but then I forgot why I wanted to read them, which makes me feel stupid.
  7. I kept buying books about lofty subjects I wanted to know more about, but then when it came down to it, I never committed enough to read them, probably because I’m mostly always tired and wanting to lie down.
  8. I wasn’t able to read properly for a long time this year because my Dad passed away. Certain books are always going to remind of that time, and I can do without that every time I walk through my hallway.
  9. If you only buy books for how they look when artfully arranged on a bookcase, you need to stop reading this blog immediately and go and post more bullshit selfies on Instagram.
  10. Because they’re MY shelves, and I can do what I want.

How about you, then? Are you feeling ready to embrace the minimal – or would you rather fight to the maximalist death to defend your right to a full bookshelf?

Hey, Authors! Sorry My Mood Ruined Your Book

Hey there, Author. How’s the book going?

The public reviews? The sales, the marketing, the royalties, the writing career in general? The back- and buttockbreaking toil of writing the great 21st century novel, for years and years, and then the hawking of your soul and the draining of your last reserves of enthusiasm and optimism in order to to sell it?

Good? It’s going good? Yeah? Great! You won’t mind atall what I’m going to say, then.

And that is: I’m sorry. Sorry my mood ruined any chance your book had of me thinking it was brilliant. Sorry I picked it up when it hadn’t a snowball’s chance of getting through to me. And sorry I doggedly persisted in reading it when my brain was about as receptive to fiction as a White House reporter with ethics.

Books, like seeds, might just fall on fallow ground

Most writers will tell you that they write for themselves, or they write because they just have to.

(Yeah, whatever.)

I reckon most writers actually write for an imagined audience who think we’re only brilliant and fabulous.

If we didn’t, none of us would write at all. After all, who amongst us would write for a moody cynic who thinks they want to be perfectly entertained, when in actual fact what they want is a big non-existent magic wand to undo the day they’ve just had?

All this came to mind recently because I’ve only recently returned to what I call “Proper Reading”, which is when I’m able to pick up a book without judgement, and read it in an amount of time reasonably short enough to allow the story to breathe.

When I can allow one chapter to flow into the next and the next, without the brain constantly asking “Aw feck, who’s he again? What year is it? And why is yer man wearing a toilet seat?”

Prior to this, the vast majority of books which came into my hands were doomed. Life was not conducive to good reading. I was working from and until stupid o’clock. Domestic tasks were glaring at me. I was tired and under stress. I was worried. Sometimes I was just plain angry. Stuff was going on, and stuff did not allow for fairytales.

Books got started and books got left. Most of us have To Be Read piles: I had a To Be Finished pile which toppled. And as the pile got bigger, the books in it started to look crappier.

Who would want to be an author whose baby got consigned to that pile?

The Irrefutable Scientific Research Part

The sad thing is that it wasn’t any of those authors’ fault. But I only realised this when I went on Amazon to check the reviews for a highly unusual book I’d finally and unusually enjoyed. At least 50% of the reviewers hadn’t agreed with me at all, at all. We disagreed on every single point to such an extent that I wondered – had we even read the same book?

I completed this utterly scientific study with a whole second specimen, and checked Amazon reviews for a book I thought I’d love, but didn’t so much. And yet so many of the reviews were breathlessly admiring. They seemed to particularly like the bits where I remembered putting it down. And then I remembered – I started reading that book when my Dad was sick. And no amount of magical realism was going to unreal that reality.

More Demotivational Posters For Writers

I thought back to previous books which were supposed literary marvels, lyrical and beautiful and sweet and funny and sad, and which left me cold.

I thought about books I had loved and recommended to people with my own breathless admiration, and with which they had struggled and strained, leaving them squinty-eyed each time they saw me thereafter.

I thought back to the books I thought would be one thing, only to be disappointed they weren’t, and thought about rejections which said that very thing to me. And then I wondered if perhaps it wasn’t actually my fault.

So while I’m apologising to authors, I’m also going to tell them to suck it up. A bad review can be merely a result of someone else’s bad day. Or a bad week, or month, or year. It could be down to a reader’s baby blues, breakup, bereavement, or battle.

Sure, it can be down to a bad book, too. But more often than not, books are just collateral damage in someone else’s house fire.

So look, I say too, Authors: the only thing to do is to shake your head at the damage while you’re passing. Keep sympathetic to their plight. And then keep on walking to where you were going.

Oh Nooooo! Someone Else Wrote My Book!

I wrote the following piece for my Writing.ie blog a couple of weeks ago. I think we’ve all felt that sense of heart-sinking when we hear of someone else writing something extremely similar to our own work-in-progress – but what happens if someone else writes your opus maximus before you’ve even begun?

(In a gorgeous testament to the peculiar idiosyncrasies of Twitter, when this post was tweeted out by the Writing.ie folks, someone responded to the tweet: “Impossible. Either they plagiarized, or your story isn’t that original and you failed to put a unique spin on it.”  They then added helpfully “Remember: only the unique expression of an idea can be copyrighted, not the idea itself. The way you express an idea should be unique to you”. I don’t think they’ll mind being quoted here, as they’d have to read further that the headline to find out I’ve done so.)

Oh Nooo! Someone Else Wrote My Book!

Somebody is wrong on the INTERNET!!!!!!!

Anyhoo, without further ado – here’s the post.

Oh Nooooo! Someone Else Wrote My Book!

Social media might have brought out the narcissist in us all, but it could be said that creative folk, such as writers, might be more than usually prone to the sort of solipsistic world-view where you’re utterly convinced that everything is about you.

“These are MY opinions!” you might think, upon reading commentary online, even when people are agreeing with you (and particularly if people are agreeing with you before you’ve even articulated your point of view).

How many times have you come across a particularly well-written article or essay, and thought “but those are my thoughts! This person has just published the contents of my head!”

Of course, anyone who has the ability to write something which makes you think it’s entirely your world view has to have a real talent. Still, someone else’s talent is also something that can quickly be forgotten with the aid of social media, so we’re completely and absolutely fine with that.

The Movie I Never Wrote

Still, I did get a terrible feeling of jealous dread recently upon watching the film Isn’t It Romantic on Netflix. “I should have written that!” I thought. “A parody of the romantic comedy genre – I mean, I practically wrote the book on that!”

The fact that I hadn’t written a rom-com parody screenplay, let alone the book, was no barrier to my sense of injustice. “How DARE a team of talented writers write a truly enjoyable movie which brilliantly satirises a popular genre!” I fumed. “Don’t they know that’s MY schtick??”

What it all boils down to, obviously, is the sense that someone pipped you to the post. And it happens all the time, with fiction. How many authors are idly browsing Amazon to check out their chosen genre, only to suddenly come across a book which is uncannily like their own?

It’s often said that there are only 7 basic types of story (or 4 or 5, depending on who’s written the book on it this time). Most of them have to do with very basic rise, fall, journey, death and rebirth themes, and admittedly, it’s very difficult to avoid any of those ideas when you’re writing.

It’s no wonder, then, that we sometimes feel like what we’re writing has been done before. It can be a dreadful moment, half way through our latest Opus Maximus, to feel like all our effort and sweat and toil has been a terrible waste of time.

Oh Noooo! Someone Else Wrote My Book!

Just picture it.

Imagine you got to that crucial point in your story, when Farquhar convinces Ermintrude he’s his own butler, a war veteran with a dubious angling history. You’re LOL-ing your writerly heart out, having finished the scene where he presents her with a large trout who reminds her of her grandmother, thinking “I’ll have them rolling in their wing-back library chairs with this one!”

Then you hop online to Amazon. A little demon in your head makes you search for the genre, “Romantic Thrillers – Mistaken Identities (Angling) – Grandmotherly Trouts”.

And there it is. The book – or 7 books – published before yours. Or the one in particular which, even without opening the first chapter, you just KNOW is going to be referred to in every single book review, newspaper round-up, and bestseller logline you have any hope of being mentioned in.

Just Because It’s Been Done Before, Doesn’t Mean It Can’t Be Done Better

What to do? Do you give up, and start another book immediately? Perhaps one where you don’t give in to your craven need to include tasty freshwater fish in every third scene?

Or do you continue on doggedly, firm in your resolve that the book/film/poem/performance art shopping list YOU write will be the best of the genre, the king of the plot, the example against which all future such stories will be benchmarked, the greatest of them all?

Could it be the Harry Potter to end all school stories? The Bourne Identity to beginning, middle and end all amnesiac spies? Or even the rom-com parody to end all rom-coms?

You know the answer to this, of course. You knew it before you even got halfway through this blog.

The moral of the story is: never ever ever (EVER) Google anything you’re writing, before you’ve finished it. And that’s how good ideas are born. I promise.

17 Pieces of Excellent Writing Advice In One Handy Post

To all and sundry* a big hello. Now that I’m back to blogging, but before I return to the nefarious narcissism of the Superblogger, I thought I’d interrupt that particular bile with my customary speciality – dubious writing advice.

In 2015, the restaurant critic and broadcaster Giles Coren made a programme for Sky Arts called “My Failed Novel”. In it, he explored the possible reason why a decade before, his one and only fiction novel, Winkler, failed in fairly spectacular fashion, both commercially and critically.

17 Pieces of Excellent Writing Advice In One Handy Post

Giles Coren (happy)

Because Coren is a minor celebrity in the UK, it meant he got to interview a lot of heavy hitters (the like of whom you might pay actual money to hear speak at a literary festival, for instance). Immediately I saw it, I thought: good grief, that’s jampacked full of advice and insight! I should put some of it into a blog post and share it, says I to myself. And it only took 2 years of it sitting on my telly box to actually do it.

So here it is – practical, helpful and realistic advice, divided into the 4 stages of the literary process known as Hope, Delusion, Stress and Despair (otherwise known as Writing, Publishing, Selling and Criticism).

And before you say it, none of this advice is coming from me, which is what makes it so excellent. If you don’t agree with some of it, don’t blame me.

1. The Beginning: Advice on Writing

1. Jeffrey Archer still does 14 drafts of every novel before submitting to his publisher. “You’ve got to put the work in… never be satisfied”.

2. David Mitchell said that there’s a difference between being a writer and an author. The writer sits in the back bedroom writing the book. The author launches it, and goes to literary festivals, and does the interviews, and signs the books. If you start to think of yourself as an author all the time, you’ve had it. The writer gets payoff while they’re actually writing the book, when the writing goes well.

3. However talented you are, you still have to learn how to write. You have to learn how to organise a plot.

4. Rose Tremain said you can teach people how to write better simply by recognising what they’re really good at, and what they’re not really good at – by bringing the former up, and making the latter go away. It’s editorial more than teaching. All you need to be a novelist is empathy, patience and imagination.

17 Pieces of Excellent Writing Advice In One Handy Post

Giles Coren (not so happy)

2. The Middle: Advice on Publishing

5. Having a public or celebrity profile, such as Coren, will help you to publish a novel, but it won’t help you to sell one.

6. Rachel Johnson said success comes from familiarity, which explains the popularity of trilogies and series: “It’s all about long-form now. It’s not about the quick hit. People want the same thing over and over again. Don’t ever try and do anything new.”

7. Curtis Brown agents said some of the things which put them off straight away are easiest to avoid: starting off by saying “I know my book’s not very good but I was hoping you might look at it anyway”; sending queries to one agent addressed to another; and failure to follow basic rules e.g. capital letters at the beginning of names.

8. William Nicholson was already a hugely successful play, screenplay and YA fiction author when he got his 8th rejection for adult fiction. He says: “Successful books might be clumsily written, but they still come from something visceral and emotional deep inside the writer.” He believes that writing a novel takes maturity, and that writers hit their peak in their late 50s.

 

3. The End: Advice on Selling

9. Rachel Johnson said you do not write a book for money, because you won’t get it. Also, there’s no point to having a launch party. They’re expensive and ineffective.

10. Despite Coren being a famous restaurant critic and journalist, his first book only sold 771 copies, after he was paid an advance of £30,000. Jeffrey Archer’s first book sold 3,000 copies. He didn’t break through until book no. 3. (Cain & Abel).

11. Readers have to hear about a book 5 times before they buy it. Word of mouth is the singlemost important thing when selling a book.

12. Kate Mosse said that if you don’t win a prize or your book isn’t shortlisted for any, it might only stay on shelves for a maximum of 6 weeks.

 

4. The Aftermath: Advice on Criticism

13. Some traditionally published authors get no reviews at all.

14. Your worst reviews can come from people who haven’t read your book. Coren concluded that criticism from people who haven’t read your book is “simply by-the-by”.

15. Your worst critic might have thought they were making a joke.

16. When things go wrong, authors blame agents, publishers and readers. Never themselves. But Sebastian Faulks said if you write a good book, the readers will come.

17. Coren believes that ultimately his book failed not just because it wasn’t very good, but because he wrote it not for its own sake, but for the things he thought it would bring him.

 

*(Who is Sundry, anyway? Does he ever get invited to parties? I bet he brings terrible gifts. At the moment I feel like Superblogger is coming back next week, but time will tell.)

5 Things Which Might Get Your Mind Off Grief

Why Russian Geography Is Good for the Soul

I’m interrupting this interlude to bring you some normal programming.

I had to take a little break there, while I didn’t feel particularly funny (and for some reason became allergic to the internet). That’s not to say that nothing is funny after someone dies. Grief apparently has a sense of humour too. The humour is just very different – and it’s a lot like a sit-com in places.

There was the part of the funeral homily my follically challenged Dad would have appreciated most, when all the women in the congregation were told to stop dyeing their hair. The look on the face of the guy outside the crematorium who had to run after me to tell me he’d broken the coffin plate.

Then there was the man himself, the dearly departed, whose great wit was remembered and recounted at great length throughout the period I like to call the funeral bubble, when it’s kind of all right because everyone’s in it together and swapping stories about the only one who’s missing.

And so, despite the relief in finding that there is indeed comedy in everything, it would have felt seriously weird, just to return to ha-ha-so-jolly-did-ya-hear-the-one-about-the-stereotype-who-walked-into-a-blog jokes, without at least acknowledging what got me through the last 2 months. Especially this week, which particularly sucked, being also the anniversary of my remarkable Mum’s even more untimely passing, so let’s just leave that there.

And so here, therefore, are 5 recommended aids to get a body through the first few months after a loved one dies:

  1. Crime

  2. Filth

  3. Ire

  4. Caterwauling

  5. Leopards

 

1. Crime

For a lot of grieving people, reading becomes impossible. It’s probably something to do with certain parts of your brain going into Safe Mode. It can be very upsetting, though, not being able to read: it’s not what you need when you’re already trying to figure out what the hell is going on in your head. The answer to this dilemma, apparently, is true crime podcasts. I devoured them for about 4 weeks solid. This has the added bonus of keeping you away from the news, which is depressing even for happy people with functioning brains.

2. Filth

I don’t care who you are or what you do for a living, one of the few things that’s going to make sense to do after someone dies, is cleaning. It’s logical, sensible, immediately satisfying, and you have complete control over it. Think about it: there is dirt on the thing. You remove the dirt. The thing is now clean. Instant, indisputable results, and fairly mindful too.

3. Ire

They say that anger is one of the 5 or 7 stages of grief, depending on whose dodgy roadmap you’re looking at. However, they don’t say anything about the benefit to one’s psychology of being in a space where nobody even questions your right to be angry. Allowing yourself to get mad at eejitry can be oddly comforting, as can being openly dismissive in the case that one might have one or more colleagues or collaborators who must be suffered gladly at other, non-griefy, times of life, no matter how much you want to tell them otherwise.

4. Caterwauling

Some people call this singing, but that wouldn’t look half as cool in a listicle. I sing in a few choirs, and it’s even more mindful than cleaning. It washes a lot of the sad sticky dross from your head, and shakes out the rugs while it’s at it. Of course, this isn’t really an option available to everyone, but there’s nothing stopping you belting out an old showtune while you’re in the shower, or hoovering.

5. Leopards

I got a big leopard named Brendan, and I hug him when I’m sad. There is more to this story, but I won’t ruin it by telling you.

 

So that’s it. I’ll be back soon with standard messing about. Until then, thanks for checking in on me, and being generally lovely in your comments last time around.

Excuse Me While Real Life Takes Over A Bit

 

To all of you lovely people accustomed to stopping by my blog on any kind of a regular basis, I just want to say hello, and ask you to bear with me.

For the first time since I began blogging in 2013, I need to take a little break. My wonderful and most excellent Dad passed away on April 17th. It will take me a little time to get back to writing. Perhaps a little more time to poke fun at things again.

So if you’ll excuse me while I turn my head inside out and figure out where the humour now lies, I’ll be back.

He really was most excellent, by the way. He’d even read my blog once or twice. And made sure to shake his head at it when I wasn’t looking.

Superblogger Chapter 9: How To Become Your Authentic Best Self With A Classic Smokey Eye

Well hello, my beauteous fans of beauty!!

I get papped and photographed all the time, but you should see me behind closed doors when the camera isn’t on! I literally spend most of my life in my favourite sweats with my hair sticking up in all directions.

It’s important to remember that we’re all the same when the spotlights aren’t on us. I might have way more spotlights on me than a lot of people, but even I still have a bad day very occasionally.

People see me as this superglamorous creature who goes around looking perfect all the time. I get told all the time that I’m naturally pretty, that I must never feel ugly, even on an off day. When I hear some of my fans tell me they feel so ugly that they never ever feel pretty, not even for like half a day, it literally #BreaksMyHeart.

Superblogger: How To Become Your Authentic Best Self With A Classic Smokey Eye

But while I have no problem admitting that I may be Superblogger, I’m not superhuman! I think the reason my beauty channel is so popular, with 17 million hits in my first year, is because I let people see that side of me – the side that covers up the fact that I’m just like everyone else, with really skilfully applied makeup from the best brands.

People also say money can’t buy you happiness, but it can literally buy you stuff that makes you feel better for a while, which is also super important. Nothing cheers me up better than looking great, like I’m really confident and ready to take on the world.

So whether I’ve been getting nasty comments from the online haters, failed a test, or lost an endorsement deal to a new rival even though I knew they probably wouldn’t last two months past becoming my new BFF, I just whip out the make-up palette, and put on my armour.

For me, there is no more effective weapon than a classic smoky eye. But then, you should learn to nail your signature look: this will be your USP (Unique Superblogging Pathway). Once you become known for your signature look, you just sit back, and count the hits.

 

1. The Classic Smokey Eye In Just 4 Easy Steps

You’ll literally find a million tutorials online showing you how to do a smoky eye, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my blogging journey, it’s that one more will never go to waste. This look is so popular that you could even have your own signature smoky eye. Mine is a back-to-basics, more traditional take, done in charcoal grey, silver, black, blue, purple, green, and of course, brown.

My inspiration for this look was Kristen Stewart – before she cheated on Rob (because afterwards you’ve got to admit she just looked evil, right?)

When you’re going for the classic smoky eye, always remember to work with the colour of your eyes, not against it. I always follow the 3 Golden Rules Of Dramatic Eyes:

  1. Never use shades which go in and out of fashion too quickly.
  2. Green can be worn by anyone, unless your actual eyes are green.
  3. People with green eyes (like me, and most of my YA book heroes!) are lucky, because we can wear any colour.

For a full list of products to achieve this look, please check the dedicated Smoky Eye page on my blog. For further application tips, you can check out tutorial numbers 1, 15, 43, 212, 501, 911 and 1,583 on my YouTube channel, or just follow this super-easy step-by-step visual guide!

Step 1

Superblogger: How To Become Your Authentic Best Self With A Classic Smokey Eye

Prime your (gorgeous) eye with the most expensive products you unboxed last week!

 

Step 2

Superblogger: How To Become Your Authentic Best Self With A Classic Smokey Eye

Start with a base colour in a (designer) neutral shade which complements your skin

 

Step 3

Superblogger: How To Become Your Authentic Best Self With A Classic Smokey Eye

Add a complimentary darker shade at the corners, taking care to blend outwards and deepen as you go

 

Step 4

Superblogger: How To Become Your Authentic Best Self With A Classic Smokey Eye

Layer just a little more of the same darker colour… et voilà! The classic smokey eye in just 4 easy steps!

And that’s all there is to it. This is also my go-to look for premières, book or product launches, nightclub appearances, awards ceremonies, and other celebrations of my success. And if you don’t have many opportunities to go to these sort of events, remember – nobody EVER got arrested for looking fabulous when going shopping.

 

2. My Signature Look

Everyone should have their own signature look. Mine is the No Make-up Make-up Look. As this has been the most watched tutorial of my dedicated beauty channel since forever, and the look I’m most famous for and get the most comments (and compliments) on every single day, I’m super happy to share my fresh-faced secrets with you!

Note: It can be a bit tough starting off, if you feel you don’t have all the products which are literally essential to look like you’re not wearing any make-up. I started when I was just 12 years old with a garden rake, coal (Dad misheard me), and some silver eyeshadow, left over from the decade when my Mum used to smile.

But I think you’ll find the following look easy to achieve with the most basic essentials which are sure to be in everyone’s make-up bag.

The No Make-up Make-up Look: Or How To Get That Literally Fresh-Faced Glow

To nail this look, you only need the following basic essentials:

  1. Bamboo Face Cloth
  2. Cream Cleanser (1st Cleanse)
  3. Foaming Face Wash (2nd Cleanse)
  4. Anti-Acne Lotion
  5. Glycolic Skin Toner
  6. Anti-Ageing Serum
  7. Colour-Correcting Serum
  8. Daily Moisturiser
  9. SPF
  10. Skin Primer
  11. Paddle-Shaped Foundation Brush
  12. Flat Powder Brush
  13. Concealer
  14. Liquid Foundation
  15. Angled Sculpting Brush
  16. Contour Brush
  17. Square Highlighter Brush
  18. Natural Highlighter Shade (For Contouring: Brow Bones, Cheekbones, Nose Bridge & Cupid’s Bow)
  19. Natural Lowlighter Powder (For Cheek Hollows and Jawline)
  20. Full Fan Brush
  21. Invisible Foundation Setting Powder
  22. Short-Handled Bronzer Brush
  23. Natural Glow Bronzer
  24. Buffer Brush
  25. Daily Eye Cream
  26. Eye Make-Up Primer
  27. Eye Shader Brush
  28. Tapered Blending/Smudging Brush
  29. Eyeshadow # 1: Base (Natural Colour)
  30. Eyeshadow # 2: Enhancer (Slightly Darker Natural Colour)
  31. Eyeshadow # 3: Smoke/Defining Shade (More Slightly Darker Natural Colour)
  32. Eyeshadow # 4: Pop Shade (Upper Lid Centre)
  33. Precision Eye Pencil Brush
  34. Eyeliner # 1 – Natural Shade (Inner Corners)
  35. Eyeliner # 2 – Medium Natural Shade (Upper Lash Line)
  36. Eyeliner # 3 – Slightly Darker Natural Shade (Waterline / Outer Corners)
  37. Natural Effect Mascara
  38. Angled Brow Brush
  39. Precision Brow Liner
  40. Brow Shading Powder
  41. Brow Setting Gel
  42. Sculpting Lip Brush
  43. Natural Lip Liner
  44. Natural Lipstick
  45. A SMILE

Et voilà again! You’re perfect. Ready to fresh-face the world with that natural glow. It’s as easy as 1-2-45!

You can go to my YouTube channel for further step-by-step instructions, where I have 2 million hits on my fresh-faced make-up tutorial videos alone (every week).

I think you’ll agree that this simple make-up routine is a must-have for everybody before you go to school, college, or that movie date you don’t want to look too try-hard for.

For the products I’m loving right now – please refer to my blog for the brands I’m endorsing this week which will really make your face look truly, naturally beautiful!

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