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Friday, 21 April 2017

How to Handle Rejection

For those of us who self-publish (or rather publish independently of the mainstream publishers) rejection isn’t as much of an issue, at least not at the outset.

For us rejection comes too late. It comes when our book is published and available online through websites such as or where reviews by customers can be scathing. What about the buyers, your friends and family, of your first book who now are strangely reluctant to invest in your second?

For mainstream authors a rejection letter could be devastating. Jack London received over six hundred rejections letters but he went on to be the highest paid writer of his time. In his book On Writing Stephen King writes of the hundreds of rejection letters he received. He got pretty discouraged bout that; his short story Carrie was rejected so many times he finally threw it in the waste bin. Fortunately for him and his thousands of fans his wife rescued it, persuaded him to turn it into a novel and the rest, as they say, is history.

For an independently published writer we have no such discouragement and, on reading some self-published stuff one can only wish there was someone to pull the plug. Indies have to be especially careful and the best way to avoid the embarrassment of a badly written, badly formatted and badly presented book is to ask for help.

The very first step is to find a beta reader; one who is familiar with your genre and who is prepared to be honest – brutally so if necessary. The next step, after you’ve taken all your beta-readers points to heart – is to find an editor. Beta-readers don’t usually bother with the fine detail. They are looking at the bigger picture; structure, someone who can hypothetically put themselves into your reader’s shoes. They are not your granny or your mother or your best friend.

The second step is to find a good editor. This can be expensive but in the end is worthwhile. The editor may even be someone who is experienced in formatting your document so that it looks like a professionally produced book.

One very important part of your book is to have a professional book cover.  Joel Friedlander writes what is probably the best website for writers at He has a monthly newsletter of e-book designs. It’s a good site to check out for what works and doesn’t work on a book cover. Local designer, Bev Robitai of has consistently produced great covers for my books.

A lot to think about before you pop that book onto the Internet. Take heart, dear writer! There is light at the end of the tunnel. There are any number of people out there who will help you so that you don’t experience the equivalent of a rejection letter – egg all over your face via an irate reviewer on Amazon.

Jenny Harrison

Friday, 7 April 2017

Basics of Plotting

Very briefly, plot means what happens in a story. To be more precise, it means an incident or a series of events leading to important consequences. Plot is simply cause and effect played out on your page.
Think of throwing a pebble into a pond. It is a small action but one that leads to big consequences. Plot is what people (your characters) say, do and feel that makes a difference to what happens next.
Let’s create an example: in a moment of mild intoxication Marla tells her best friend, Jodie, that she once had an affair with Paul, a neighbour. The action of telling her secret sets off a chain of consequences. The ripples of that particular pebble will reverberate in the lives of all the characters.
Thought and emotion can also set off consequences but only once they are acted upon. Jodie can be angry with Marla for betraying her husband but that’s not plot until Jodie acts on it. Thinking about or feeling some emotion isn’t plot. But emotions are a very good way to start an action that leads to further consequences and thus to a satisfying story.
Also, what isn’t plot: this happened and then that happened and then this happened and then that happened. It’s not even a story because there are no consequences. Something must be at stake and in all the ‘happenings’ there must be something important enough to bear the weight of consequent ‘happenings’.
A man dies. That is not a plot. A man dies and his wife dies. Again not much of a plot. A man dies and his wife commits suicide. We’re getting somewhere; that is the beginning of a plot. A man dies, his wife commits suicide and her daughter starts to ask why her father died and why her mother was so frantic that she kills herself. A plot! The father’s death is the event that has significant consequences. If the daughter merely felt sad there would be no story.
All plots emerge from that one moment when something happens that is significant enough to start off a chain of consequences.
I’m trying to imagine how I would put those words of wisdom to good use in my present project. My next Nana Naills story is a crime novel (working title: Nana and the Nest of Vipers). So the plot hinges on the finding of a dead body – as you do in a crime story.  That’s my pebble. Ah! Now I see. Each incident has consequences for the suspects. Hmm. I think I could work with that.
Jenny Harrison