About Me

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I read, write, craft and home educate. My debut novel Mrs Sinclair's Suitcase was published in 2014. My second novel, A Life Between Us, was published in 2017. My third, The Road to California, will be out in 2018. I live in Northamptonshire. My website can be found at louisewaltersbooks.co.uk

Monday, 11 December 2017

Objectivity, objectivity, objectivity - how (not) to react to a critique

Earlier this year I started critiquing novels with The Writers' Workshop. I was looking for work to help fund my publishing venture; I have a bit of experience, having written three novels of my own, and I enjoy volunteering with The Womentoring Project, where I have so far mentored four female writers. Two of them have gone on to find agents and book deals and I'm proud of them and proud I was able to help, even in a small way.

I love editing, critiquing and mentoring. I believe it has all helped me to become a better writer. When you see the same issues cropping up novel after novel - often (but not limited to) structure, plot, pacing and characterisation - I know to look out for these same issues in my own stories and make sure I work doubly hard on these aspects. It is, unfortunately, easy to write badly; and incredibly hard to write well.

Editorial reports are tough and constructive. The Writers' Workshop makes that clear on their website. There is no point in having our work critiqued if honesty isn't applied. If we want to be told how wonderful our work is, we can show it to our mum, our other half, our best friend, our kids. No. Maybe not our kids. They really do tell it like it is don't they?!




I've had great responses so far from the dozen or so writers whose work I've critiqued. Yes, there has been disappointment, and that's understandable. I've had all three of my own novels critiqued and it does take a dash of courage to go through that process. It isn't the best feeling in the world to be told that the story you spent weeks, months or even years working on isn't yet up to scratch. This is where the whole process can go horribly wrong, as I recently found out. So here are my top tips for seeking and receiving a critique. Hope they help...

1. First of all, a critique is not an ego massage. It may sound harsh, but when I'm working on your novel, I don't give a damn about your ego. I don't know you. All I am doing is assessing the project before me. It's an entirely objective process. Very few writers receive a glowing editorial report. There WILL be issues in your work; and those issues WILL be pointed out. Expect this. It's what you are paying for. If I'm mindful of your ego, the risk is I won't be as frank and honest as I need to be when assessing your manuscript. Which, in the end, is detrimental, and will not help you as a writer.

2. Don't respond to your critique immediately. Even if you feel stung, angry, hurt. Especially if you feel stung, angry, hurt. Put the report away. Simmer down. Look at it again in a few days, or weeks. Look at what has actually been advised: which often isn't what you initially think has been advised. It can take time for the report to sink in, to percolate and eventually make sense.




3. Be objective about your own work. Impossible, I hear you cry. No, it's not. It's difficult, but we must apply objectivity to our own work if we are to improve it. Fall out of love with your story. Stop being so damned proud of yourself (temporarily). Plenty of people write, plenty of people write badly. The first draft or even second draft head-rush MUST give way to cool, calm, calculated objectivity. It's one of the few things that separates a professional from an amateur.

4. Not every editor will "get" exactly what you are trying to do with your story. Sometimes it's not easy to see what the writer is trying to achieve, I'm afraid. Often I think the writer herself doesn't know. But if an editor tells you your novel suffers from lack of pace, it suffers from lack of pace. That's an objective assessment and you would be wise to heed it. Lack of pace is an issue I have seen in almost all the novels I have critiqued. Let that sink in. Pace is hard. It has nothing whatsoever to do with genre. The editor isn't suggesting you should be writing a thriller (but if you are writing a thriller, lack of pace is definitely a problem). The editor is merely suggesting you need to create readability, that great gift a talented author gives to readers: the urge to keep turning pages. That's all. That is pace. It's one of the most helpful pieces of advice you will receive.

3. Develop a thick skin. It's the best thing you can do for your work once that first draft is down. My ability to be objective about my own work, to "let it go", has stood me, I believe, in good stead. One star reviews no longer upset me. I can't afford to let them, so I've learned to shrug them off. Sometimes I even manage to laugh them off. (One or two of them are particularly memorable.) And let me tell you, a one star review is worse than a tough critique. A one star review is almost never constructive, thoughtful or sincere.

5. Finally, don't immediately send a rude email back to the person who spent hours working on your novel. That's definitely not professional. And whatever you do, don't email a second time with a string of insults and accusations. It's unlikely to make you feel better; it certainly won't make your story any better. But the report might. As writers we must develop the ability to take lots of things on the chin: rejection, bad reviews, poor sales. Most writers deal with this stuff throughout their careers. Receiving a thoughtful, detailed editorial report is actually one of the more positive writing experiences around. I promise!


I love helping people improve their writing, and I can't wait for the day when one of my critiquees becomes a published author. In the meantime, I will continue to provide honest, tough, constructive and (of course) objective criticism and feedback. It's what I'm paid to give, and it's what the writer pays to receive. Writing and publishing is tough, and we need all the help we can get.

Onwards!







Tuesday, 28 November 2017

How I found my first author (hint: enter writing competitions!)

It's been so long since I posted but I have an excuse: I've signed my first author for Louise Walters Books. She is Laura Laakso and we have signed a one book deal for her debut novel, Fallible Justice; which is the first story in Laura's paranormal detective series Wilde Investigations.


Laura and her dogs


I first became of Laura's work while reading for the 2017 Retreat West First Chapter Competition. Amanda Saint, who runs Retreat West asked me if I would help her read, and I jumped at the chance. She duly sent the stories through to me, and I started to read through them (I wrote a blog post about it here). 

I was bowled over by one of the chapters in particular (well, actually two of them were spectacular) but I was also confused by it. Was it brilliant or was it bo****ks? I just couldn't tell. So I asked Amanda this very question and she said it was brilliant. So we put it through to the long list. Then we put it through to the short list. Then it was picked as one of two runners up in the competition. By this time identities of the authors were revealed and two things struck me: I rather wistfully thought how great it would be to get a submission like Fallible Justice for the imprint I was then forming; and what a brilliant writer's name: Laura Laakso. It's a writerly name if ever I heard one.   

Fast forward a few months: My imprint was up and running, my boiler-plate contract drafted (that took hours of my life, I can tell you) and I was receiving submissions. One day a submission from Laura appeared in my inbox. I was thrilled but didn't want to get too excited. I read the submission and decided it wasn't right for me. So I turned it down, while asking to see the whole of Fallible Justice instead. Laura sent that through to me, I got it onto my Kindle before you could say #amwriting and I read it. Then I read it again, just to be sure. When I offered to publish it, I did point out to Laura that she could (should!) consider trying the agent-bigger publisher route. I feel her work is more than good enough to warrant attention from bigger players. Laura surprised and thrilled me by saying she preferred to work with a smaller outfit. 

The Society of Authors vetted our author agreement, and then Laura and I signed it early in November. I still can't believe I'm working with such a talented author from the very beginning of my publishing adventure. And I really can't wait to publish Laura's work. She deserves to garner an army of loyal fans and I will work my socks off to make that happen. It's going to be an exciting year. 

Fallible Justice by Laura Laakso will be published by Louise Walters Books on 8th November 2018, in paperback and e-book.  

      

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

The Road to California extract

I'm kicking off my promo of my third novel today! It's up on my website for pre-order here and the manuscript is currently being converted into an e-book. Once that has been completed I will put the e-book up for pre-order on Amazon and elsewhere.




All copies sold via my website bookshop will be postage-free; they will be signed and be sent with a handmade fabric bookmark.

So, I am delighted to share with you today an extract from The Road to California. This passage is our first introduction to my character Joanna, and her work... my fabric bookmarks are a homage to Joanna really, and I think she would heartily approve! Joanna is a single parent to her troubled teenage son, Ryan. She's principled, dynamic, caring and creative. She can be a little too "earnest" in sharing her principles, at times. But I love her! Hope you do too...

***

‘How much for this?’
      She breathed in the familiar scents of history and age and storage. She crumpled the fabric and buried her nose in it, as she always did with fabric new to her. It was rarely brand new, of course. She only used new fabric as a last resort. This was one of the tenets of her business. She took great pride in using the used, a characteristic of almost all her work. Road to California: her business, her life, her living. Reusing, reclaiming, recycling, upcycling: whatever you wanted to call it — it was what she did. She looked carefully at this latest find, enjoying the funky clash of orange, purple, and green, in dreamy psychedelic swirls, pseudo-flowers, clouds, a strange repeated pattern with a fluid figure that might be a fairy, a girl, a woman. And was it silk? Nylon? She wasn’t sure. The fabric smelled of tobacco, but that only added to its charm.
      ‘It’s a nice big bolt,’ said the beer-gutted stall holder. Bob, she thought. He was a softie behind the gruff exterior. And the most unlikely person she could conceive of to be running a vintage fabric stall. ‘A good five yards, I reckon. Genuine seventies, that is. Twenty quid?’ Bob took a long, thoughtful drag on his cigarette. Joanna effected not to notice. But it smelled good.
      She tried to get to the market most weeks, to pick up interesting finds. She had wanted to get out this morning, for an hour or two, just to get away from the sewing machines (she had two, plus an ancient Singer). She loved her work, but it was important to be healthy about it; and besides, new-to-her fabrics always inspired fresh ideas, exciting new projects. Her business thrived on it, and so did she. So these jaunts to the market were not a waste of time. They were essential.
      ‘It certainly looks to be genuine seventies, doesn’t it?’ said Joanna, in her husky voice. She narrowed her eyes. ‘I’ll give you ten quid. How’s that?’
      Bob looked at her. She knew he remembered her, although they had never engaged in chit-chat. People did tend to remember her. She knew her bright green eyes and wild blond curls were striking.
      ‘Fifteen?’ he said. ‘But I’m giving it to you.’
      ‘You can’t find your way to ten? I do come here practically every week.’
      Bob raised his eyes to the sky and gave a little nod. He took another drag on his cigarette. The smoke drifted towards her.
      She smiled and flourished a crisp note. Bob took it. He didn’t offer her a bag, but she didn’t need one. She had enough bags of her own.
      ‘Thanks so much,’ she said. ‘I’ll see you next week.’ She checked her watch. There was enough time for a quick pit stop. She’d go to her favourite coffee shop, a small, independent outfit that sold no-nonsense coffee and tea in pretty vintage teacups with pot luck saucers, accompanied by a vast array of homemade cakes and biscuits.

As she turned from taciturn Bob and his wonderful stall, her mobile phone rang. She rummaged around for it in her handbag. She saw the caller ID and her heart didn’t know whether to leap into her mouth or sink down into her toes. So it did both, in rapid succession, and she felt sick. There would be no coffee, no homemade cake today. Oh, no, no, no, not again. What now? What now?

***

Thanks for reading!

The Road to California will be published by Louise Walters books in paperback and e-book in 2018




Saturday, 19 August 2017

Not at all secret self-publisher

I stumbled upon yet another "Let's all laugh at self-publishers" blog post this week on Twitter. It purported to be an advice post about how to, and how to not, approach book sellers if you have written a book and are publishing it yourself. I clicked on it as it looked useful.

But there is no advice. There is just a string of arrogant insults and inaccurate statements. And assumptions that are so wrong it's mind-boggling. I won't list them here, but if you do stumble upon the blog post, they should be apparent. It's the same old, tired old bullshit that snooty types like to trot out for the benefit of their own egos and to delight their acolytes. It's meant to be "funny". You get the picture.

This "bookseller" above all implies that if a book has been self-published, it means the book is bad. Fact is, there are many bad self-published books, and many awkward self-published writers who do approach bookshops in the wrong way. Of course, it's disingenuous to tar all of us with that brush, but more important than that, it's mean spirited to ridicule any self-published author in this way.

Why? Because it takes guts to walk into a bookshop and ask if they would consider stocking your work, knowing in your heart you are probably going to make a hash of it and, crime of crimes, annoy the manager. But do you know what? Simply by TRYING, the self-published author is a better person than this (anonymous, of course) bookseller will ever be, because it takes a lot of time, dedication, and hard work to write, publish and attempt to sell your book, no matter how bad (or good) it is. You are trying to be the best a human can be: creative, brave, enterprising, passionate, vulnerable.

By all means, (anonymous, of course) bookseller, please do give advice. By all means do tell the rude (or just plain inexperienced) self-publishers where to get off. By all means refuse to stock any book you want to refuse. I've no issue with any of that. But don't take the piss out of people who attempt something truly admirable. Something that, by your own admission, you can not do.

Louise Walters (reader, writer, trade published author, self published author, and former bookseller. Not anonymous.)





Friday, 14 July 2017

Reading for a writing competition. My observations!

I recently had the great pleasure to read for Retreat West's First Chapter competition. Amanda Saint emailed me in April and asked if I was available to help her. I jumped at the chance, as I've recently started critiquing novels (writing editorial reports) and reading for a comp seemed like a great opportunity. And was it ever! I loved reading all the chapters, even those that weren't working too well. I firmly believe that as writers we learn and improve all the time, and reading something that doesn't work can be just as instructive as reading something that works well.

The long list was arrived at reasonably easily. We had 29 chapters (out of the original 133) that we both felt merited a place on the long list. Whittling those 29 down to the final 10 this week was a little harder... but we did reach a consensus quite easily.

I scribbled down a few observations as I read, and I thought I'd share them with you. Things that worked, things that didn't. No specific examples and no names, of course.

Some of the chapters that didn't make the longlist were, quite simply, badly written. Not all of them, of course. "Competent" was a word I found myself ascribing to many of these chapters. But to go further in the competition, the chapters needed to be more than competent. I had the feeling that some of the writers don't read much; or don't read attentively; or haven't studied at all, at any level, how to construct a story. There is an art to it, a craft. It takes time, effort, huge attention to detail. It's not a case of just pouring words onto the page. It was easy to spot the no-hopers. And there weren't that many.

So, the next level. Why didn't some of the competent stories get onto the long list?

Some of the chapters, many of them in fact, suffered from over-writing. My pet peeve is a list of adjectives that all more or less mean the same, separated by commas. Like this: She was tired, fatigued, exhausted. Just pick the best one and stick to that. It's more concise, and has more impact: She was exhausted. Pace suffered when over-cooked description took over.

Typos. There were typos in all but a handful of the submitted chapters. I was flabbergasted by this. Why would you do that? Check, edit, re-check, re-edit. A typo-free chapter was refreshing and I was more inclined to put those on the long list even if the writing wasn't amazing. OK, amazing writing will always trump a handful of typos. But if the writing is borderline, typos could tip it in the wrong direction. Do everything in your power to remove all typos from your chapters. Seriously. There is no excuse.

Cliches. A surprising number of stories mentioned characters' breathing. It happened a lot. Don't. It's one of the biggest cliches going. Let your reader imagine how a character is breathing in the circumstances you have described. We all know how we are likely to breathe in certain circumstances. Don't ram it home. Also, Rolex watches. Almost without exception the rich characters wore a Rolex. Try another brand. Patek Philippe?

OK, I have to tell you now, clip art was in evidence. I kid you not. DON'T. It's the height of unprofessionalism. You each paid £15 per chapter to enter. That's a lot of money. If your entry is decorated with clip art, it screeches, "This writer is not trying to be professional." It is not getting onto the long list. You wasted £15. I say again, DON'T.

Titles. There were very few good titles. A good title is gold dust, a great opportunity to get readers interested. In some ways it's more important than a good cover. People love a good title. They want to repeat it, talk about it, READ it. BUY it. Always, always do your best to come up with an amazing title, if you can. There were a handful of honourable exceptions, and more than one of them is on the short list. Good titles tell the reader A LOT about the story. They are part of the story. A good title intrigues. Titles should evoke, if possible. There were many bland, meaningless titles. Work on this aspect.

File names.


Umm.. Say no more? Please use the chapter name in your file name. Now, this didn't make any difference regarding getting onto the long and short lists. But it was a pain in the arse and made me lose patience a little quicker than I would have done if the name was obvious. It was hard to find a particular chapter. Remember, as an author a huge part of the job is to consider the readers' experience. You have to strive for clarity from the top down, and that starts with clearly naming your work.

Rules. It clearly states in the rules that prologues can not be entered. There were prologues. OBEY THE RULES. Again... you paid £15. OBEY THE RULES. The rules ask for double spacing. There was single spacing. OBEY THE... you get the picture!

So, I need to talk about the positive stuff too. Why did the final ten chapters make it to the final ten? Well, to begin with, all ten are very well written. (Yes, there are typos here and there!) The writers know how to open a story well, they know how to include enough info to whet the readers' appetite, without over loading the chapter with too much info (another frequent fault). The ten chapters are fun to read! They have a certain confidence... you have to believe in your work and believe in your ability to write. It's that quiet confidence thing. It's how you carry readers along with you. Gotta have it. Believe me, it really shows. You also have to be self-critical. I got the feeling these ten chapters had been well edited, looked at, re-written, re-visited. I felt the writers had been a little hard on themselves, which is essential.


***

I hope these tips help! It was a great experience to read the entries, and I'm already looking forward to doing it all over again next year.

Good luck to the writers of the ten short listed chapters. They are all worthy winners of the competition and I can't wait to see which one is finally chosen by Laura Williams.











Monday, 10 July 2017

Third novel title reveal and blurb!

Today I'm thrilled to announce the title of the novel I will be publishing on 1st March 2018.

Drum roll please.... my third novel is called... The Road to California

Here's the blurb:

Proud single parent Joanna is accustomed to school phoning to tell her that Ryan, her 14 year old son, is in trouble. But when Ryan hits a girl and is excluded from school, Joanna knows she must take drastic action to help him.

Ryan hasn’t seen his dad Lex since he left home when Ryan was two years old. Ryan doesn’t remember Lex, but more than anything he wants a dad in his life. Isolated, a loner, and angry, Ryan finds solace in books and wildlife.

Joanna, against her instincts and better judgement, invites Lex to return and help their son. Lex is a drifter who runs from commitment, and both Joanna and Ryan find their mutual trust and love is put to the test when Lex returns, and vows to be part of the family again...


I hope you like the sound of it! Last week I posted this photo on Twitter as a clue to the title:


This is a patchwork pattern called Road to California. In the book, Joanna is a talented textiles entrepreneur (think wannabe Cath Kidston!) who specialises in recycling and upcycling. She calls her company Road to California, which is her favourite patchwork pattern. It seemed only natural that I should name the book accordingly.

The Road to California is not an easy story to categorize. It's women's fiction; literary(ish) fiction; book club fiction; a romance; definitely a weepie!! And it could be read as YA, as there are really two protagonists, Joanna and her teenage son Ryan. I quite like the fact it doesn't slot neatly into a genre. Somehow that seems right for this novel.

There will be more news to follow in the coming months, including a cover reveal, character profiles, a look at the opening few pages, and news of a giveaway - which will include the piece of patchwork pictured above, made into an upcycled book bag (oh my, how Joanna would approve!)

More anon!

Louise x












Friday, 30 June 2017

Louise Walters Books

This week I was thrilled to announce news of my latest venture. I've set up my own imprint in order to publish my third novel. It's a scheme I've been cooking for quite a while, held back of course by a myriad of doubts.



I love my logo! Designed by the wonderful Jennie Rawlings


I self-published my second novel, A Life Between Us, in March via assisted publishing company Matador (Troubador Publishing). That was an exciting time, and consumed most of 2016! My sales have not been wildly exciting... but of course they were never going to be. Sales are steady, and regular. I've sold 27 copies through my website (admittedly, at a loss. I'm not charging for postage which is £2.90 per book, 2nd class) and through hand selling. I've given away about 50 copies. My book was left in the wild on Indie Author Day via Books on the Underground. I've heard from libraries and indie bookshops that they are going to stock A Life Between Us. I've also heard from Waterstones, who are not going to stock it. I've been awarded a Chill With a Book Readers' Award (recognising excellence in indie books). I've had lovely support from book bloggers and fellow authors.




There are a couple of other positive things coming up which I can't yet reveal, but I'm chuffed.

I check my Amazon ranking daily hourly, and it fluctuates, but it's OK. More important than ranking, I've been fortunate to receive positive reviews on Amazon, Goodreads and Netgalley. Readers seem to be responding to A Life Between Us in a positive way. Some of the reviews are overwhelming. That keeps me going, it really does. There was a dark time just before the book went up on Netgalley where I feared it was a huge pile of tosh and I was about to make the biggest fool of myself, ever.

In the great scheme of things, my second novel is doing OK. Literally, OK. I'll take that!

The idea of bringing out my third novel is just as daunting. It's going to be hard work. It may do "OK", it may not. But if I don't bring this book out it won't do anything at all. I'm 50 this year and I've realised, finally, that life is short, so precious and fleeting, and it's not a failure to try something, even if you fail. The failure is to give in to fears and doubts and not try things. (Paraphrasing Bruce Lee here!)

So here I am, running my own company, setting up my own imprint, and bringing out my third novel.

Life is sweet

xx




Wear the hat!