Thursday, October 15, 2009

Notes From 'How To Get Published' Course - Part One Michael Ridpath


I know I promised these notes from 'How to Get Published' workshop at Kingston University ages ago but time....well lets just leave it. First let me say that again these are my notes and therefore are only what I heard and are therefore riddled with mistakes. So Michael Ridpath, if you drop by, I hope I haven't made any terrible faux pas and if so - sorry.

I found Michael's talk brilliant. It was enlightening and honest. It was filled with concrete advice. His website is filled more wonderful information too.


Herewith my summary of Michael Ridpath's talk.

-writes thriller
-was a bond trader
- very analytical
- FREE TO TRADE was first book
-uses index cards (he’s a planner which is very important for a thriller)
-took 6 mos to write during which he gave up tv etc, woke at 4, word count 90k
- characters were flat, stereotype plot
- 3 to 6 mos later gave him the distance to see this
- he couldn’t let it go though
- took 6-9 months rewriting it which he enjoyed
- then took another year & another draft which was much better
- put together a list of agents and submitted to 2 at a time – had 3 rejections then Carole Blake requested the full
- after a bidding war it marked the highest offer at that time ever offered for a 1st novel
- made it to #2
-he wrote 7 more books all financial thrillers; 2nd was difficult; enjoyed the 3rd; 4th set in Boston very difficult because of relationship in it; 5th ok; 6th good; 7th hedge fund; 8th his best
- he had success in UK – US very different – it’s all down to luck
- over time sales of his books declined and he moved publishers – he tried to work out why sales were declining and realized that readers preferred legal thrillers to financial ones
- in 2005 dropped by the publisher
- agent suggested he try something else and he thought of a detective from Iceland called Magnus (book comes out in the UK in the spring- WHERE THE SHADOWS LIE)
- this whole thing caused self doubt and he could have given up or even two years before that
- PERSISTENCE IS KEY – THAT IS WHAT MAKES A SUCCESSFUL WRITER; RESILIENCE
- things are on the way up

What to Write About
- what you know and enjoy
- details are important
- you will get more pleasure this way

Don’t Copy
- write your own book not what you think will sell
- needs to be something original that can come from ONLY YOU
- what do you want to say; don’t let them take that out
- keep in YOU

It the 1st chapter, 1st paragraph, 1st sentence that sells first books. Go to a book shop and read all the first paragraphs all the first novels published.

Key things:
-act professionally at all times
-be reliable
-expect rejection and don’t give up
-the higher your profile and the more you make – the more bad things will be said
-know when to give up
-learn the craft
-techniques can be learned
-you can never write the perfect book – you are always learning
-you are always worried that your writing isn’t good enough
-you must always be striving to write better
- you mustn’t get complacent
-don’t rely on income always being there-have a plan

Writing Process
-total time 1 ½ years
-6 mos to pan and research
-5 mos first draft
-7 mos subsequent draft
-crime or a thriller needs a plan
-begins with a I page story idea
-then spends months widening it; asking questions about the characters
-he does a schedule of 12 ideas which grows to 120 which covers each scene

The first draft is fun
-after about 25% of the way through he stops to rework it and compare to plan; sometimes he goes with the difference or he then goes back to the plan or not – which ever works better.
-he does the same process at 50% and 75%

Rewrites – GIVE YOURSELF TIME
-ideally 6mos so you can see faults and solutions more clearly

Get feedback from trusted sources
-if they aren’t pros then ask specific questions like- where is it slow and what do they like most

The Role of the Unconscious
-when writing you make up things all the time – day after day. But you get stuck; stand back; look at connections from a new angle
-on a Friday he will think about the problem and write down the questions that needed to solve the problem; then he doesn’t think about it consciously all weekend
-then on Monday morning he sits with a blank sheet and answers questions then and there
-if still stuck he writes down all the possibilities

Alsion Baverstock
then summed up the talk before opening it up to questions. Her highlights were:

Method
Discipline
Structure –for time and writing
Replicable talent – that you can produce professionally
Think of what happens to your manuscript when it gets into an office

He was then asked a series of questions:

-he does roughly 2000 words a day – min 1000 and max 3000
-a book is never finished however most people think it is finished too early
-when leaving a book to ‘rest’ he takes 4 to 6 weeks ‘holiday’ but he is always planning
-he always writes in the morning
-he used to basic books on writing to learn about character and plot – both were by Writers Digest
-he takes notes on every book he reads to see what he can learn from the book

Finally he said AN AGENT SHOULD CHOSE YOU. THEY NEED TO LOVE YOUR WRITING

9 comments:

Phillipa said...

Liz. This was fascinating stuff, full of very helpful tips about reworking and solving plot issues. But also rather scary. The length of time taken to write the book is very daunting - for example, if you need a job (as most of us do), how do you earn any money in the interim? Because it sounds as if you need to make writing your full time job to put in this much time.

Argh!

Kate Hardy said...

Liz, this was inspiring. Thanks for posting. Has given me food for thought.

Getting up at 4 to write - mmm, I could do that, as a lark, but as I live with owls... I think I'd be the first one to get cranky from lack of sleep!

Fia said...

Thank you for posting this Liz, it's tremendously helpful. What a great man!

I wish I could learn the techniques more quickly but I always was slow at school. Good to know he believes they can be learnt though.

liz fenwick said...

P- I think he said he to a leap of faith and left the City after 1st book and threw himself into it!

Kate - same problem in my house. I'm the only lark!

Fia - so glad you are enjoying them. I think the learning curve on writing is huge - hang in there. x

Flowerpot said...

thanks Liz - great stuff. I couldnt get up at 4 to write either!

Pat Posner said...

Thanks, Liz
Great stuff.

I used to write at 5am *shudders at the memory* before going to the day job.

Glynis said...

What a great post, thanks for sharing.
I loved reading this part...
Don’t Copy
- write your own book not what you think will sell
- needs to be something original that can come from ONLY YOU
- what do you want to say; don’t let them take that out
- keep in YOU

There is so much out there telling me to change my writing habits and I find it hard to comply. The list above has helped me push doubts aside.

Susie Vereker said...

Very interesting, Liz. Inspiring too. It's good of you to take so much trouble to blog about these talks.
But I am never going to get up at 4am!

Liz Harris said...

What excellent feedback from the course, Liz. Thank you so much for relaying the content those of us who weren't there.

It sounds as if it was an invaluable course - what Michael Ridpath said makes so much sense. It's made me sit back and look at the way I approach my writing in the light of his comments.

Many thanks for that and for all of your other really interesting postings.