It’s my pleasure to welcome Sue Barnard to the coffee shop today. As well as being an author, editor and award-winning poet she has appeared on BBC TV’s Only Connect quiz show and has compiled questions for Radio 4’s fiendishly difficult Round Britain quiz. Her latest novel has just been published (9th February)
Lovely to see you, Sue. What would you like to drink?
I’d love a flat white coffee, please. I first came across this variety during my first visit to Australia back in 2005, though I’m happy to see that it’s now widely available here in the frozen north.
Coming right up. Anything to eat?
I know I shouldn’t, really, but since you’ve gone to all this trouble, it would be churlish of me to refuse… Please may I have a toasted teacake?
Ooh lovely – I’ll join you! Congratulations on your new book – what’s it about?
It’s called Never on Saturday, and it’s a time-slip novella based on an old French legend. It’s set partly in medieval France and partly in present-day North Wales, and is a mixture of romance, history and folklore, with a touch of the paranormal thrown in for good measure.
Here’s the blurb: Two stories, two heartbreaks: one past, one present…
Leaving her native France and arriving in North Wales as a postgraduate student of History and Folklore, Mel is cautiously optimistic that she can escape from her troubled past and begin a new and happier life.
She settles into her student accommodation and begins work on her thesis, concentrating particularly on one fascinating manuscript: a compelling and tragic tale of a cursed medieval princess.
Then she meets Ray – charming, down-to-earth and devastatingly handsome. Within days, Mel’s entire world has transformed from lonely and frustrated to loving and fulfilled. Despite her failure with previous relationships, she allows herself to hope that this time, at last, she can make it work.
But Mel’s dreams of happiness are under constant threat. She is hiding a dark and terrible secret, which Ray – or indeed anybody else – must never ever discover…
What would be your main piece of advice to a new writer hoping to get a novel published?
My main piece of advice is: When you approach a publisher or agent, you need to present yourself – and your book – in the best possible light.
This starts before you even consider submitting. Once you’ve written your book, get some proper feedback on your manuscript (from writing buddies and/or beta readers, not just friends and family) and act on it accordingly. Don’t submit a first draft!
Make sure your manuscript is well-polished, and that spelling, punctuation and grammar are up to scratch. If necessary, have the manuscript professionally checked before submitting it. Any minor errors will be caught during the editing process, but the overall standard of presentation should be as high as possible. Publishers or agents who see too many typos, grammatical errors, mis-spellings or misused words will quickly file your manuscript in the waste paper basket.
When you’ve done all that, you’re ready to take the plunge and start submitting. Sorry to belabour the obvious, but: when approaching a publisher or agent, READ THE QUESTION. Make sure you have chosen a publisher or agent who deals with your genre; there’s no point in sending a 600-page bonkbuster to someone who only publishes children’s books. Study the instructions for submission, and follow them exactly. For instance, don’t send the whole manuscript if the publisher or agent asks for just the first three chapters.
In addition to the manuscript, you will almost certainly need to send an enquiry letter, to introduce yourself and your book. This is your chance to shine: tell the publisher or agent a little about yourself (including any previous writing experiences and successes) and a little about the book – particularly its target audience and Unique Selling Point. What is going to make your book stand out from the crowd?
Please make sure that your letter is correctly addressed. There can be few things more offputting to a publisher or agent than to receive a missive addressed to a rival company. (Believe me, it does happen!)
Be aware, too, that if your book is accepted you will need to do a lot of your own publicity and marketing. This is true not just for indie publishers, but also for many authors who are signed to the big publishing houses. Publishers have a limited marketing budget and are very choosy how they spend it – so unless your book happens to be one of the favoured few, you will still have to do all the legwork yourself. So include in your letter a sentence or two outlining your plans for this (blog posts, social media, local press etc). If a publisher or agent sees at this stage that you know you will need to be pro-active in this area, this could help to put you ahead of the competition.
Finally, please don’t say things like “All my friends (or family) love it.” Friends and family are rarely objective, and are already a guaranteed sale. And unless your friend or relative is the Book Reviewer at The Sunday Times, publishers or agents just won’t care.
Fantastic – thanks Sue and best of luck with the new book!
About the Author:
Sue Barnard is a British novelist, editor and award-winning poet whose family background is far stranger than any work of fiction. She would write a book about it if she thought anybody would believe her.
She was born in North Wales but has spent most of her life in and around Manchester. She speaks French like a Belgian, German like a schoolgirl, and Italian and Portuguese like an Englishwoman abroad.
Sue joined the editorial team of Crooked Cat Publishing in 2013. Her first novel, The Ghostly Father (a new take on the traditional story of Romeo & Juliet) was officially released on St Valentine’s Day 2014. Since then she has produced three more novels: Nice Girls Don’t (2014), The Unkindest Cut of All (2015) and Never on Saturday (2017).
She now lives in Cheshire with her extremely patient husband and a large collection of unfinished scribblings. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter (@SusanB2011), Amazon, or follow her blog here.
Author and Editor at Crooked Cat Books
Never on Saturday: Amazon