Event report

Conference 2011 - Giving yourself the best chance

Report published 23 September 2011

Dorothy Lumley: Giving yourself the best chance

In a highly entertaining and informative talk, agent Dorothy Lumley took us through some of the key elements of the publishing world today for those aiming to be published through the traditional route. 

Dorothy began by saying that while publishing has moved on from the days of carbon paper and tippex; one thing has never changed, and that’s the importance of the story.

Putting her tips under three headings, she began with ‘the stuff you already know’.  The first thing she said was that solicited submissions today were generally sent by email, and unsolicited submissions by hard copy. All emailed submissions should have a clear subject heading which gives the title of the novel and the name of the author. The novel should be sent as one continuous Word document, and not in separate chapters.

When it came to layout, there should be only one line between paragraphs.

Dorothy then moved on to the accompanying letter. The first paragraph should state clearly the genre, the word count and that the writer had finished the book. The remaining paragraphs should first say something about the book, and then give a little personal information about the author. If an author has previously self-published a book, it could be worth mentioning that, and also any other relevant information, such as membership of the RNA. Finally, the author should show clearly that he/she had plans for several more books,

Dorothy’s second heading was ‘the stuff we never stop learning’; namely, the actual writing. She began with characterisation, and said that it was a good idea to begin by writing a biography for each of the main characters. This is for the benefit of the author, who would have a clear understanding of each character before starting the novel. Much of the character’s biography would be known only by the author, but the author’s knowledge of it would help to give depth to the character.

The importance of ‘show not tell’ was stressed, and writers were encouraged to develop their characters by showing their actions. Before leaving the subject of characterisation, Dorothy reminded everyone that readers needed to care about the characters; if they didn’t, they wouldn’t want to read on to find out what happened to them.

The first chapter of the novel should capture the mood of the book – whether it is light or dark. Also, period detail should be given – be it contemporary or historical – and the genre should be indicated. Genre could be quite simply shown, for example, by introducing the hero and heroine as soon as possible in the opening chapter, or by producing a dead body.

The third and final section of Dorothy’s talk was entitled ‘the tough stuff’. This particularly related to the synopsis and outline. The outline should be one page long, but the synopsis could be six to eight pages long. The pages could be double-spaced, if the author wished. Whereas the synopsis should cover all aspects of the story, including the ending, the blurb was much shorter, and should aim to tantalise and tease the reader.

Dorothy finished her highly enjoyable talk by saying that there was now an assumption that authors will be multi-submitting.

Everyone present went away with her update on publishing today ringing in their minds.

Written by Liz Harris

It's a fact

The first romantic novel – arguably the first modern novel in English – was 'Oroonoko' by Aphra Behn, published in 1688, full of drama, violence and cruelty; it ends tragically.