IF YOU’VE BEEN in the Christian book trade for any length of time, odds are you’ve heard of Ali Hull; you may even know her. But if not, that’s not surprising: she’s one of those remarkable people who work away in the background, helping authors turn their ideas into books, one of the unsung heroes without whom the book trade as we know it today simply wouldn’t exist.
Ali is a Commissioning Editor who has been commissioning books since 1999, and is currently working for Lion Hudson. She has edited over one hundred titles, and worked with most of the leading UK Christian authors, including Jeff Lucas, Nick Page and Adrian Plass. She has also been running (and speaking on) writers’ courses since 2003 and is an active member of the ACW (Association of Christian Writers) facebook group. In this post she explains to would-be authors…
How not to be rejected
One of my favourite jobs, as a Commissioning Editor, is going through the slush pile. There are two reasons for this – the first is the hope of striking gold, in the form of an excellent manuscript or idea: well presented, clearly written, properly thought through, and ideal for our market.
A girl can dream …
And the other reason? Sheer amusement.
I have a file on my laptop labelled ‘Insane proposals’. And while it is not full, it should be, and would be, if more of these arrived by email, rather than by post.
Most of those that do come by post come without that simplest of accompaniment – the SAE. Our website specifies that we need one, and won’t respond without one: people do not send them. Having ignored the guidelines – and most publishers do put these onto their websites – what else do writers do that ensures their work hits the bin in a matter of seconds?
They don’t look at what we publish: they don’t look at what anyone publishes. They send novels that are 200,000 words long. They send the Bible, in rhyming couplets. They send short stories. None of these fit our list.
No matter how often you tell me, I do not believe that God dictated your book to you.
Their writing is poor. Their stories have no shape (I don’t deal with fiction, but see memoir and autobiography – and this needs to be as well structured as a good novel). Their characters are two-dimensional at best: their dialogue lacks credibility. Most of us hate being bored, but we are quick to bore others. Their descriptions rely heavily on adjectives and adverbs; they don’t know when to show, when to tell, or what I mean by showing not telling. They wouldn’t go near a GP who hadn’t studied, yet want to let their writing loose on the world without ever having thought about honing their writing skills. They don’t understand how language works. They often don’t want to write – they want to be published. You have to love writing for its own sake.
They have no idea why their books should be picked up and bought, or read. They have a completely misguided belief – make that a delusion – that, as soon as their books hit the shelves, the bookshop will be surrounded and the shop assistants crushed in the rush to seize their precious title.
Finally, no matter how often you tell me, I do not believe that God dictated your book to you. What I do find interesting is the good writers – who could perhaps be forgiven for thinking that He had a hand in their work – never claim it. The poorer the writing, the more likely it that God is apparently responsible for every inappropriate word and misplaced comma.
Whatever you do, take your writing seriously, and make it the best writing it can possibly be.
What remedy? Waterstone’s stocks quite a few books on writing and being published: and my three current favourites are Write to be published by Nicola Morgan: Creative Writing, edited by Linda Anderson, and How to Write, edited by Philip Oltermann. Join the Association of Christian Writers. Read, read, analyse and read. And there are courses out there, and if you want one that will give you access to a commissioning editor, as well as the former Publishing Director at Authentic media, check out www.lakesSchool.com
But whatever you do, take your writing seriously, and make it the best writing it can possibly be.
Links Revisited (and more)
Last but not least: all of the books Ali mentions should be available to order from most bookshops, not just Waterstone’s, including any Christian bookshop with a mainstream wholesaler’s account such as those signed up to Gardners’ Hive
. Any Christian booksellers reading, please feel free to shout out for your shop if you can supply these books…