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I've cleaned up and updated the list of links to Canadian publishers who accept submissions from writers — NOT on this blog — but HERE — on my other, Wordpress blog.
As explained in an earlier post — I'm migrating most of the links on this blog to the other blog.  This will take some time.

So, while this blog will continue to exist I will NOT be updating the links on here. 

However, I will endeavour to keep links up to date over on the other blog.

I hope, too, to publish a Clueless post once a week on the other blog — probably every Tuesday.

When you visit the other blog you'll find links on a page under the Clueless, INK tab.

Currently you'll find recently updated links to UK and US publishers who accept submissions from writers and links to indie author and self-publishing websites and blogs of interest.

Apologies for all inconvenience caused.

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I have begun transferring links from this blog to my main website here – they are situated, unsurprisingly, on the Clueless, INK pages.
When you visit the page you’ll find a revised list of 57 UK publishers who accept submissions from writers.
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[This post also appears on the author's blog HERE]
Many UK writers often bemoan the lack of paying markets for short stories.
Here’s one: The Fiction Desk. Doesn’t pay much, but if accepted you’ll be in the running for a £200 prize for the best story as voted for by the contributors. (An excellently produced series. I’m a subscriber - and if you write short stories then you should be  a subscriber too.)
There have been several initiatives over the past decade which have attempted to address  the issue. 
Some of those initiatives focussed on consumption - through trying to popularise the habit of reading short stories; other initiatives focussed on stimulating production - through encouraging ‘serious’ writers to embrace the form. 
Consumption and production have never really been the issues that needed to be addressed; the problem, as with cinema, has always been about distribution.
UK writers do write short stories - UK readers will read short stories.
1 Comments on U.K. SHORT STORY MARKETS and DISTRIBUTION, last added: 2/15/2012
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If you are looking for a UK literary agent to represent you then you will want to check out this series of interviews with 6 leading agents in Myslexia magazine. Myslexia is an excellent resource – especially so for women writers.

If you are based in the USA write for children and/or young adults and are looking for an agent, then you'll want to check out this series of excerpts from interviews with 107 literary agents, and lots of other useful notes and pointers, painstakingly assembled by Casey McCormick and Natalie Aguirre on their very informative blog, Literary Rambles.

For future reference I'll put links to both series of interviews into the sidebar: UK Literary Agents Interviewed, and US Children and YA Literary Agents Interviewed.

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It's Canada Day today!

To mark the occasion I'll draw your attention to two new lists you'll find in the sidebar:  
Canadian Literary Agents' Websites
Canadian Publishers Who Accept Submissions.

And, while rooting around in the sidebar you could check out Canadian Publishers' Blogs.

To be clear, if you do not reside in Canada then you will likely not have any success with approaching Canadian publishers and agents. If you have a UK or US agent and you feel you need some sort of presence in Canada then let them do the talking; they will likely have a preferred Canadian sub-agent.

A little over two years ago I penned some thoughts on Canadian literary enterprise HERE. From what I can deduce nothing much appears to have changed; a few publishers, such as Key Porter Books, have since gone out of business. The most significant change is the re-branding and re-invigoration of the Association for the Export of Canadian Books.

However, since writing the post I've learned a bit more about Canadian writing and, more importantly, have met 5 more Canadians, three of whom are writers, and of whom, Ellen Frith, had a novel published by Oolichan Books. Ellen also very helpfully posted a review of my novel, After Goya on Amazon UK.  The book is also available at Amazon Canada (but no review and annoying typos in the product description) for only CDN$ 14.60.
And you can buy a secondhand copy of Ellen's novel, Man-S-Laughter HERE .

I was surprised to learn that according to the Association of Canadian Publishers, Canada only publishes  10,000 English language titles a year. That's really not very many in comparison with the UK (approximately 250,000 titles a year), and is on a par with Hong Kong and Argentina, though marginally more than Australia. With a population of a few hundred thousand over 34 million I would have expected a much larger figure - somewhere nearer the 86,000 Spanish titles that are published in Spain (pop. 47 million). Spanish publishers also feed markets in Central and South America. So, why isn't Canadian feeding markets in other Anglophone countries?

Given as it appears, from outside looking in, to have a well-developed network of support systems in place, given its linguistic diversity and possible access to French language markets, given its physical proximity to the US market, given its cultural links with the UK, and Scotland particularly, given its links via the Commonwealth, I cannot fathom why Canadian publishers are not more expansive in their ambition. Methinks someone (like the British Cheese Board!) isn't doing their job.

Perhaps, with so many agencies and organistations involved in Canadian book production and distribution, it's a case of everyone thinking someone else is doing it and leaving the task solely with Livres Canada Books.

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I'll be in the UK when you're reading this. Visiting the North to attend the wedding of a very good friend's daughter. Then hooking up with my son to visit Edinburgh and catch up with a friend and former colleague whom I've not seen for several years. Then flying to Bristol and meet with a dear friend who lives in Box, before moving on to Banbury to stay with two close friends and attend a meeting, as a guest author, of The Thin Ladies' Reading Circle. And I'll take a trip to Oxford to catch up with my daughter - who, though having finished her PPE finals, will still be at St. Hilda's

After this excitement I'll be calling in on my mother and sister in Bishop's Cleeve and attending a birthday party for one of my two nephews before flying back home to Barcelona. 

One of the organisers for the Thin Ladies' Reading Circle explained, "We are not called the Thin Ladies because we are undeniably slim and attractive. No. We are called the Thin Ladies because we prefer thin volumes. However, we've made an exception for you." 

I've scheduled a few posts for you to read while I'm away.

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I've added another 10 links to the U.S. Literary Agents' Websites sidebar - which you'll find when you scroll through the lists - bringing the total to 395.

I also spent a fair chunk of time testing the links and updating or repairing links. However, if you do find any broken links please let me know.

There are still, surprisingly, a good many literary agents both in the USA and the UK who do not have a website or a blog and rely on sites like Publishers' Marketplace, Agent Query etc. to maintain a presence on the web.

As always, if you are planning on contacting any of those listed first check they are members of AAR (though there may be a very good reason why they're not members; or they may be members but are not listed by AAR for some reason). Also, run a check on Writer Beware, Preditors & Editors and Agent Research & Evaluation.

Good luck!

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OK, excepting Penguin UK (which opened up for direct submissions for a limited time) there are now 77 UK publishers linked in the sidebar headed U.K. Publishers Who Accept Submissions.

I know there are more out there - maybe we will be able to hit the hundred - but many are not currently open to submissions - either because they're swamped, or taking a breather while they re-assess their situation in the scheme of things.

Again, I will remind you that those listed are not fly-by-night (love that expression) enterprises (however, should your experience tell you otherwise please let me know) but genuine outfits concerned to promote their vision of good writing in print format.

You know the ropes - if not, make it your duty to learn the ropes. Do not send stuff you are unconvinced is a match for the particular imprint. Doing so makes you look silly, gums up the works for everyone else thinking of approaching them and generally pisses people off.

Read the submission guidelines. Research the publisher, imprint, commissioning editor. Find their blog, if they have one. Familiarise yourself with their policies, their foibles, their needs, their desires. Then compile your submission package.

Among the new links you'll find The Fiction Desk, specialists in short stories lovingly bound in soft cover and offered on subscription. They have some brilliant writers on board. I may very well forward them some stuff, but only after I've done a bit more homework.

2 Comments on 77 U.K. PUBLISHERS WHO ACCEPT SUBMISSIONS FROM WRITERS, last added: 6/21/2011
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10. Indie Writers Provide Free Kindling for Amazon Kindle's Bonfire of Vanity

I know you're fairly sharpeyed, and I'll know you'll have noticed I've created a new sidebar - EBOOK FORMATTERS. There's only one link at present - but with your help - I'm sure it will grow.

This is the first post of what I envisage will be the first of many discussing aspects of ebook production, distribution, promotion and sales.

It is a vast and rapidly expanding area of endeavour - though equally it is a rapidly settling, or maturing, sector of the publishing business.

Having achieved lift-off with the unpaid-for help of an army of not so cynical independent writers - whom have bug-tested Amazon's direct publishing platform, and have given the system a certain measure of credence - Amazon's Kindle programme (in the States) now seems to be turning away from the independents who fuelled its lift-off and is now courting what were termed until recently, Legacy Publishers.

Legacy publishers were those companies deemed too slow, too stupid, too cynical, too conservative, too stubborn, to sense the benefits of jumping from the cold shower of narrowing margins and the current fiscal crisis into the warm bath of growth, reduced overheads, increased margins and profits.

Well, having watched Amazon avoid a possible train wreck scenario, and having watched all the eager beaver independents experiment with pricing points and social networking driven sales campaigns, the larger publishers are now properly testing the waters - some still dressed in bathing suits and with water-wings - but they're wading in and in increasing numbers.

And, most importantly, Amazon are positioning themselves as a publisher.

Indie writers are already experiencing the impact of this. SEE Dan Holloway's (author of the bestselling  The Company of Fellows) comments on this HERE.

Not convinced that falling sales of one title can be safely attributed wholly to the rising (discounted) sales of other titles - that's kneejerk analysis. I mention Dan's reaction only to illustrate how some indie writers perceive the bigger publishers' dabblings in what, until recently, had been seen as, if not level, then almost even market.

In a future post I'll explore the differences between ebook markets in the USA, the UK, Europe and Asia.

I have a Kindle book available through Amazon UK, Amazon US, Amazon Germany. It is also available in several ebook formats through Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Diesel Books , Kobo Books, and Goodreads. Though as yet, for reasons I'll explore in a future post, not yet available through UK retailers, with the exception of Amazon.

3 Comments on Indie Writers Provide Free Kindling for Amazon Kindle's Bonfire of Vanity, last added: 6/19/2011
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A common refrain you'll hear from many unpublished writers is, 'Publishers won't accept unsolicited manuscripts from writers - you have to go through an agent.' Which is nonsense, as I've shown in several previous posts.

These would-be paid authors are referring to the submission policies of what are referred to in the States as The Big Six - go HERE, to the very informative Fiction Matters, for a brief overview of The Big Six. And, of course, several large publishers outside the Big Six also maintain no unsolicited manuscripts policies.

However, in among the Big Six there are imprints and editors who WILL consider manuscripts submitted by writers - or unsols as they referred to in the trade.

If you write paranormal fantasy, science fiction and fantasy, horror, mysteries, thrillers, mainstream fiction, women's fiction, children's middle-grade and young adult fiction and want to be published under the umbrella of a Big Six publisher, go HERE.

If you write literary fiction, and want to be published under the umbrella of one of the Big Six, go HERE.

If you want to be published in the States, and do not want to be encumbered with finding an agent, then there are many, many opportunities to do so. If you go to the sidebar you'll see I've created a list of 50 U.S. publishers who will consider unsols. All of the publishers listed handle print editions exclusively or in addition to ebook editions.

Amid the list are several publishers that will only look at material for children and young adults:
Houghton Mifflin (a big publisher); Boyds Mill Press who publish work exclusively for children and young adults and have four distinct imprints; Beacon Press, the large, respected, long established (1854) publishing house based in Boston, will look at fiction that would likely interest young adults (but not general fiction at this time); Chicago based independent, Albert Whitman & Company, founded in 1919, publishes exclusively for children and young adults (from age 2 to age 16); Cobblestone & Cricket also cater exclusively for youngsters and teenagers; Harlequin is another very well-known large publisher who will look at work for teenagers.

Amid the rest of the list you'll find a good mix of genre fiction and general fiction and literary fiction imprints.  This list is the first batch of U.S. publishers who accept submissions from writers. The list will grow, or, perhaps, diminish, over time. So, it could be worthwhile to check back now and then.

There are several U.S. publishers and imprints whom I know of who do accept submissions from writers but

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Here's the cover of my latest novel After Goya.

Designed by Xavier Peralta.

Pretty damn good I think.

You'll enjoy reading "An intelligent literary thriller."

Sant Jordi this coming Saturday.

When, hopefully, I will be able to gift you a FREE digital version of After Goya.

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I've added another ten publishers to the U.K. Publishers Who Accept Submissions sidebar. So, now, there are a total of 74 UK publishers listed.

Of the publishers I've added two are based in Wales: Gomer, Parthian Books; and two are based in Scotland: Linen Press and Floris Books. Linen Press will only accept submissions from women writers.

Of the publishers added three specialise in material for children and teenagers: Andersen Press, Floris Books (NOT teenagers) and Piccadilly Press.

The remainder: Fledgling PressPegasus Strand Publishing and Tangent Books, will consider fiction for adults.

Parthian Books has a blog - which I've listed in the Publishers' Blogs sidebar HERE.

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If you look in the sidebar you'll see I've put up a list of twenty-three Irish publishers who will look at submissions from writers. This list supersedes the list I posted two years ago HERE.

I have not included publishers looking for material in the Irish language, nor have I included poetry presses and literary magazines.

All the publishers listed will look at fiction of one kind or another - by which I mean O'Brien, for example, will only look at fiction for children and young adults but not adult fiction. Be advised, too, that Hodder Headline will ONLY look at work submitted by writers who have already had work published - they will NOT look at submissions by unpublished writers.

To complement this list I have also opened up a new sidebar list of Irish Literary Agents' Websites where you'll find six different agencies listed.
And, remember, there is already a list of Irish Publishers' Blogs in the sidebar.

If you're looking to have any dealings with Irish publishers and/or agents I strongly recommend you go HERE (the Irish Writers' Union) first and read their FAQs.

Also, to get a current, upclose feel for the publishing scene in Ireland I recommend you subscribe to Eoin Purcell's blog HERE. Eoin not only writes about Irish publishing - of which he is extremely knowledgeable - but issues facing publishers, editors, writers and retailers globally.

And, to round off, if you're based in the States and looking for an in into Ireland you may want to check out Svetlana Pironko's Author Rights Agency HERE.

Oh, and if you're wondering, the photo is of Brendan Behan, tapping away in a pub.

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Sorry for not posting stuff as often as I should. Have been really very busy - proofreading and correcting and re-formatting both print and digital versions of a novel, visiting the UK, and researching the wonderful world of ebook creation, publishing and distribution. Fascinating stuff, and I'll probably report back on my findings at some point.

In the meantime, if you're interested in following developments around ebook distribution and sales then check out the inimitable J.A. Konrath's blog at A Newbie's Guide to Publishing and An E-publisher's Manifesto, the Self-published Authors' Lounge, and, for an interesting UK perspective, Lexi Revellian's blog.

All of which seems a strange introduction to announcing that I've added another 5 links to the U.S. Literary Agents' Websites sidebar and another 5 links to the Literary Agents' Blogs sidebar.

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16. WRITERS ON WRITING: Kurt Vonnegut (Jr.)

   1.Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

  2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.

  3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

4. Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.

5. Start as close to the end as possible.

6. Be a sadist.  No matter sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

 7. Write to please just one person.  If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

 8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible.  To heck with suspense.  Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

The greatest American short story writer of my generation was Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964).  She broke practically every one of my rules but the first.  Great writers tend to do that.

1 Comments on WRITERS ON WRITING: Kurt Vonnegut (Jr.), last added: 2/9/2011
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Sorry, have been meaning to let you know about the Crime Writers' Association's Debut Dagger  Award for some time. Kept putting it off. Been busy. Disculpa.

The CWA's Debut Dagger is a competition for unpublished crime writers. Send them your first 3000 words of an unpublished crime novel and £25 before 12 noon on the fifth of February, 2011, and, if the judges like what they read, you may receive £700 and an invitation to a glitzy bash where, I'm sure, you'll meet lots of agents, editors and fellow writers. The prize includes a couple of nights' stay at a hotel  - but not the travel costs.

Go to the site and sign up for the Debut Dagger newsletters. I did. Interesting stuff.

Ryan David Jahn, a visitor to this blog, won this year's Crime Writers' Association John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger award.  Ryan picked up the £1000 prize for his novel Acts of Violence published through the  Macmillan New Writing imprint. Go here to read what the judges said about his prize winning novel, and, if so impelled, watch a video of Ryan talking about the making of the book.

The Debut Dagger is the only award of all the Daggers open to writers on their own behalf.

The Debut Dagger is a truly international competition and attracts entries from most, if not all, anglophone countries.You'll  find it linked in the sidebar under International Competitions.

No, I refuse, I will not say it's got to be worth a stab. Bugger, I just did, in a roundabout kind of way.

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When you scroll through the sidebar you'll see I've re-organised the Markets information. I've created three new categories: International Markets, UK Markets, US Markets and Market Listings.

International Markets lists links to print and online publications which have, or aspire to have, an international readership and who will consider submissions from writers regardless of their country of residence.

UK Markets lists links to publications that serve a mainly UK readership and will ordinarily only accept submissions from UK based writers, or ex-pats, or who have not specified their preference regarding potential contributors' domicility.

US Markets lists links to publications that serve a mainly U.S. based readership and will only accept submissions from U.S. based writers or who, as above, have not stated any firm line on writers' residence status.

All the publications listed in these categories pay for contributions. Some pay on acceptance, some pay on publication. The starting rate for one of the outlets is a paltry $1 for a 150 word article. But, at least they pay something. Some of the publications pay up to 9 cents a word, and more for established contributors, for short stories.

There are a few prestigious literary heavyweights, such as The Paris Review, The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly and Granta amid the list of links. And, there are a good few established and respected genre or pulp publications, such as Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Asimov's Science Fiction, Interzone, and a few newer, though respected paying outlets such as Glimmer Train.

One of the more curious listings is Broadsheet Stories, a UK based publisher which welcomes inernational contributions, and which pays £25 on publication for stories up to 1900 words. Curious because it distributes free copies of its broadsheet to a network of cafés. Brilliant idea. Why haven't Costa Coffee, sponsors of the Costa Book Award , or its rival Caffé Nero, picked up on this?

Markets for short historical fiction seem hard to find so it's good to see Solander, the in-house magazine of the Historical Novel Society, paying $150 for stories up to 5000 words.
There are more than 40 paying outlets listed in the International Markets section.

The links in the above categories will direct you to the appropriate submission guidelines page.

Market Listings is where you'll find a list of links to useful directories where you can run your own searches for paying and non-paying publications.

And, remember, before you dive into the international links ... do you mean

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19. THAT SNOWFLAKE GUY and other useful resources

You'll see I've created a new sidebar category simply titled RESOURCES.

Heading the list of links is Advanced Fiction Writing, a blog and website published by Randy Ingermanson, "America's Mad Professor of Fiction Writing," also known as The Snowflake Guy.
Mr Igermanson got lumbered with the mad professor tag because he is a PhD in physics, has published several novels, and has developed a series of classes for fiction writers. He is also the author of Writing Fiction for Dummies.

A couple of years ago I needed a bit of help with developing a novel I was working on; I couldn't seem to sustain any sense of forward motion. After months of tinkering, adding, chopping and tinkering again, I stumbled across Advanced Fiction Writing. And, I'm really glad I did. 

I was skeptical, but also at the point where I'd try anything which might help get the whole shebang on the road again. So, I trawled through Mr Ingermanson's website and read and studied the free stuff. And, it worked. Through following the basic Snowflake model, one step after another, I managed to put the re-energised novel back on track.

Go here to read an introduction to the Snowflake method.

If you feel a need you can buy various essays  training exercises and creative writing course material. I can't vouch for these.  

Mr Ingermanson is very open about his leaning on Swain, which he insists is, "quite simply the finest book ever written on how to write fiction. If you don't have this book, you are robbing yourself blind."

I like Ingermanson's warm, chatty tone. You may not.

Though knowing Ingermanson is a Christian writer, and thinking I may get spammed by bible bashers, I signed up for his email newsletter. I'm glad I did, it's very good, and need not have worried - I've had no spam and junk problems.

When you visit RESOURCES in the sidebar you'll find links to more than a dozen sites offering information, inspiration, tips, tricks and lots of other stuff to help or divert you.

If you know of any useful resources please pass on a link in the comments box. Thanks.

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Here are four competitions you may well be interested in:

Lightship Short Story Competition,
Lightship Poetry Competition,
Lightship Flash Fiction Competition
and the Lightship First Chapter Competition.

All four competitions have been organised by, yes, you guessed, Lightship Publishing, a new independent publishing company based in Hull, northern England, headed up by writer and creative writing teacher Simon Kerr.

Now, before you decode 'new', 'independent', and 'northern England' as 'flaky', 'under-funded' and 'provincial', be aware that Lightship has managed to corral some heavyweight support from literary luminaries, both as patrons of the whole endeavour and as judges for the respective competitions.

Remember Sir Andrew Motion, the former Poet Laureate? Well, he's involved as a patron, as are novelist Hilary Mantel and poet Christopher Reid. And, Lightship has managed to retain novelist Tibor Fischer, well-known agent Simon Trewin (United Agents), writer Toby Litt, poet Jackie Kay, publisher Alessandro Gallenzi, and Commonwealth Short Story Prize winner Kachi A. Ozumba as competition judges.

All prize-winners will be published by respected literary publisher Alma Books in 2011. The winner of the Flash Fiction competition will receive £500, while all the other prize winners will receive £1000.

But, that's not all, the winner of the First Chapter competition will receive three professional mentoring sessions over the course of a year from Tibor Fischer, Simon Trewin and Alessandro Gallenzi. They will also receive editorial support from author, and Lightship editor, Simon Kerr. And, if, after the mentoring process, the First Chapter winner's finished novel is as enthralling as the first chapter, Simon Trewin will represent their work and Lightship Publishing and Alma Books will publish it. Thus, the hope is that with a quote from Tibor Fischer on the cover, people will pick up your novel in a bookshop, and buy it. 

The organisers say, "If your work is of the highest quality your mentors may become your champions. Winning First Chapter is a fantastic publicity platform to launch your novel and achieve the acclaim and sales that could secure you a career as a novelist in a highly competitive market."

The closing date for all entries for all competitions is June 30th, 2011.

The competions are open to all writers writing in English regardless of nationality or place of residence.

So, there you go, you have plenty of time and no excuses, except, perhaps, not being able to afford, or organise, the £15 Sterling online entry fee for the First Chapter competition, or the £12 for the Short Story competition, the £10 fee for Flash Fiction or the £8 fee for the Poetry competition.

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Since putting up the post 52 UK Publishers Who Accept Submissions from writers, and creating a list in the sidebar, I've added nine more links to publishers.

I'll keep adding and deleting links to UK publishers who accept submissions from writers as and when I come across the information -- unless, of course, you come across the information first and generously forward a link.

As stated before - please be aware that not all the listed publishers are accepting submissions at the current time. Please read the submission guidelines.

In the meantime I'm continuing research on a massive, updated list of U.S. publishers who accept submissions from writers - but don't hold your breath. I check each link and read the guidelines before I post the information, so it will be some time before I'll publish the list.

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Here's a competition you MAY be eligible for and which you MAY be interested in.

It's an interesting idea - a sort of bridging opportunity.
You've written the book, you've got an agent, but they haven't made the sale.

Shit. How are you going to get some action going?

Well, if you're a resident of the UK and you've got yourself a UK agent and you've got a marketable 'script, but you're still unpublished, the To Hell With It first novel competition could be a way to go.

Last year's winner, David Whitehouse, picked up the £5000 prize and a special limited edition print-run for his novel Bed. His agent, Cathryn Summerhayes of William Morris Endeavor Entertainment, then went on to sell the novel to Jamie Byng's Canongate Books.

Obviously, if they've done their homework, your agent will know about this competition and will have already delivered your finely turned, finely proofed typescript to the award jury for their assessment. If they haven't already done so you have until November 4th to get your act together.

The award ceremony is to be held in April 2011, immediately before The London Book Fair opens. The hope is this will further enhance the winner’s chances of securing a publishing deal.

All first works of fiction written by a UK resident will be eligible, but the author must be represented by a UK literary agency and be unpublished up until the point of the shortlist announcement in February 2011. Short story collections are not eligible.

Go HERE to download the guidelines and rules.

To Hell With Publishing will accept submissions from writers -- go HERE to check out their submission guidelines.

I've also put up a link to their site over in the UK Publishers Who Will Accept Submissions sidebar.

Best of luck.

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23. Punctuation the Music of Language? The ART of PUNCTUATION or A DASH of STYLE by Noah Lukeman

This post was first published March 9th, 2009.
Punctuation is not my strong point. I often hesitate before placing a comma in a sentence.

No, I mean ...

Punctuation is not my strong point and I often hesitate before inserting a comma into a sentence.

Or, maybe I mean ...

Punctuation isn't my strong point; I often hesitate before reaching for a comma.

I think you get my drift.

Here, Noah Lukeman writes almost lovingly about that set of signs and symbols, those indispensable marks, which, when inserted into a text, elucidate or obfuscate meaning and expression.

There are hundreds of books dealing with punctuation. What sets this volume apart is that it is aimed squarely at writers; as is set out in the introduction:

'This is not a book for grammarians ... This book is for the audience
that needs it the most and yet for whom, ironically, a punctuation book
has yet to be written: creative writers.

When I read a (usually unpublished) writer declaring, 'Punctuation? No dealbreaker. The line-editor will correct it,' I often bring to mind a macho type, pointing Percy at the porcelain, missing the pot and saying, 'No worries, I'll have the missus clean it up.'

Laziness? Arrogance? Ineptitude? Or an uncouth mix of all three?

Setting aside apostrophes and slashes, Lukeman ably, and entertainingly, takes us through the most important marks, illustrating his points with telling examples, pointing up underuse and overuse, and setting us end-of-chapter exercises.

There's a lot of food for thought here:

'Why did Ernest Hemingway and Raymond Carver lean heavily on the full stop? Why did William Faulkner eschew it? Why did Edgar Allen Poe and Herman Melville rely on the semicolon? Did Emily Dickinson embrace the dash, Gertrude Stein avoid the comma? How could the punctuation differ so radically between these great authors? What did punctuation add that language itself could not?'

Such is tempered with practical, no-nonsense suggestions for improving one's work.

  • Ever wondered what your use of paragraph and section breaks reveals about you?
  • Do you want to know what F. Scott Fitzgerald said about the exclamation mark?
  • Ever thought why Cormac McCarthy avoids commas?

Excellent stuff. Every writer of English and American English should keep a copy within easy reach of the desk.

The U.S. edition is titled:  A Dash of Style and is published by W.W. Norton & Co.
The U.K. edition is titled: The  Art of Punctuation and is published by Oxford University Press.

If you're curious to learn what Lukeman writes about the period (or full-stop) go here for Part One, here for Part Two, here for Part Three and, fina

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Aware you may not have read popular posts from 2009 I'll be re-posting stuff every Sunday. Here's the first - my thoughts on Noah Lukeman's The First Five Pages.

The author of this handbook, Noah Lukeman, is a literary agent, writer and editor. As an agent he's sold over 200 titles to publishers. His client list includes Pulitzer Prize winners, and his clients' titles feature regularly on the New York Times bestseller lists. Interestingly, one of his fiction clients is Gene Hackman, the well-regarded Hollywood actor.

You can find out more at his agency's website . But don't get too excited -- he's not currently accepting queries. But it's well worth checking out the site because you'll find two very useful downloads: How to Write a Great Query Letter and How to Land a Literary Agent, both of which I strongly recommend you read.

After you've written, and re-written, your novel, put it up on a crit site for feedback, and re-edited, re-structured, and re-written accordingly, there will come a time when you'll want to start shopping it around agents. STOP. Read this book first.

The First Five Pages -- A Writer's Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile is an excellent handbook for all writers, not only novelists, at all stages of development.

In two words this book is focussed on word economy; every single word in those first five pages (or first five sentences) has to really work to earn its presence.

Lukeman methodically (yea, forensically) dissects and examines, giving examples of enfeebling prose, every aspect of the writing-reading experience. Reading the book is akin to having a sharp editor sat aside you at your desk, talking you through the process of skimming a slush pile.

Each chapter is topped with a quote from a known writer and tailed with a practical exercise.

I enjoy Lukeman's prose; it's clear, cogent, eloquent, precise and sincere.

There's a lot of information and opinion here, and Lukeman manages to get it across in digestible style. One could say his tone is a bit humourless -- but, hey, do you still need sugar with your medicine?

The only advice in this book which I would advise writers to seek more specific advice is on the method used to consign work to a targeted agent. Here, Lukeman advocates using FedEx, or other guaranteed-signature delivery method. This will have some agents, such as the legendary Miss Snark, climbing walls.

I'm aware some writers find Lukeman's tone to be superior, or condescending. For others he's overly precious. What do you think?

Next Sunday: Noah Lukeman's The Art of Punctuation.

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Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it's the only way you can do anything really good.

William Faulkner 
(September 25, 1897 – July 6, 1962)

Go here to listen to a recording of Faulkner's Nobel Prize acceptance speech.

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