Writers Worth Listening To

by James Batchelor

Sharing ideas at Writebulb meetings is all well and good, but sometimes you just want to hear things from the professionals. Or at least those closer to professionalism than us.

For this, I subscribe to writer’s podcasts. These shows are free, easily accessible via iTunes or their respective websites, and make for great listening when you’re journeying to work, waiting for a train/bus, working out at the gym or just taking a walk (guess which of the four I’ve long since given up on).

I have tried several over the years, but there’s two that remain essential pillars of my weekly listening regime. Check them out for yourselves…

Writing Excuses


Hosted by several published authors – including Brandon Sanderson, author of the most recent Wheel of Time novels and the Mistborn series – this show is fantastic for giving you an insight into both the writing process and the business of publishing your work. Given that episodes are only fifteen(ish) minutes long, it’s incredible how much the team crams into each weekly discussion as they cover everything from how to write certain genres, common grammatical mistakes and whether or not you need an editor or traditional publisher. More often than not, they have expert guests on to help them discuss the topic at hand. They even give you a writing prompt at the end of each episode if you’re stuck for ideas, and their Book of the Week promotion with Audible gives you some good recommendations for future reads.

Dead Robots’ Society


While this show is considerably longer than Writing Excuses, clocking in at between one and two hours, it’s possibly been the most helpful to me. Hosted by three self-published authors (although the trio has changed over time), this show discusses topics in-depth each week, really getting into the nitty gritty of whatever aspect of the writing process they’re focusing on – it’s very rare to come away from an episode of DRS and feel like the conversation is unfinished. Occasionally the discussion goes on unexpected but no less useful tangents, and the friendly rivalry between the three hosts makes it all the more welcoming. Perhaps my favourite aspect of this show is the opening icebreaker: “how’s your writing been this week?” While listening to the trio grill and motivate each other, I find myself feeling smug if I’ve accomplished something since the previous episode or guilty if I haven’t.

Both shows have their full archives available at their websites, so you can go back and listen to the lot or pick and choose episodes that would be most relevant to you. Let me know if you find any more – there’s always room in my routine for more writing podcasts.



Why I Prefer Traditional Publishing

by Anna Buttimore


The ebook revolution is upon us, and with free publishing now available to everyone the landscape for writers has changed dramatically over the last ten years. Anyone, anywhere, with any level of skill can now write a book and publish it, at no cost to themselves, and it will be indistinguishable from a book published by a large, established publisher, like Penguin, HarperCollins or Macmillan.

Many authors, including established authors with traditional publishers, are celebrating and embracing self-publishing. Some are putting out their out-of-print back catalogue in ebook format, while others are eschewing traditional publishing altogether and going for the bigger royalties percentage promised by self-publishing.

And yet I continue to send my work out to agent after agent, publisher after publisher, again and again. I have now clocked up fifty-seven rejections for my sci-fi magnum opus, Emon and the Emperor, and despite the regular assurances (often on the rejection slips) that publishing is a very subjective business and someone else may love my work, it’s hard not to become disheartened and lose confidence in my own abilities.

So the obvious question is why? Why do I continue to chase that elusive publishing contract, or enthusiastic agent, when I could just spend an hour on Kindle Direct Publishing and have Emon and the Emperor for sale around the world by this evening?

I have experience of both types of publishing. My first five books were traditionally published by small presses primarily serving the American midwest. My first two were very successful and even made me a nice bit of money. The next three, not so much. By that time the number of available books had grown considerably (partly due to the self-publishing revolution), but the number of readers hadn’t, and the amount of promotion the publishers did had dropped to almost zero, so the royalties didn’t break the £1,000 mark.

My sixth book, co-written with Hellen Riebold, was self-published because of its controversial subject matter. Royalties from that, so far, are zero. Well, not quite zero, but Amazon only send you a cheque once your royalties reach a certain level, and we’re not there yet.

So if I make no money from either my traditionally published or self-published books, again the question has to be why am I still holding out to get my next effort traditionally published? Why not just self-publish it?

I’d like to say it’s because I like getting my book professionally edited multiple times as part of the package. I like having professional cover designers, typesetters, etc., make my book look as good as it possibly can. With my first two books I really liked seeing them in catalogues, end-of-aisle displays, and on posters in bookstore windows. I like not having to do any complicated stuff, and having a team of professionals make my book as good as it can be, then send me twenty free copies. I like having my book actually appear on real shelves in real bookstores where people can browse through it and maybe even take it to the cash desk. (And that aspect shouldn’t be underestimated – my books have all sold far more copies in stores in paperback than they have as ebooks online.)

Those things are all very nice. But actually the reason I like traditional publishing best is because of the validation. I like knowing that someone believes in my work enough to invest in it. I like imagining that industry professionals think I’m good at what I do. I like being taken seriously as an author: when anyone with any level of talent (or none) can put out a book, I like being set apart from them and recognised as someone whose work was actually put into print based on its own merits.

I love this book. Ultimately I believe it is good enough to be traditionally published and to be a success. But I really need someone in the business to agree with me. So I will keep on sending Emon and the Emperor to agent after agent, publisher after publisher, until I run out of agents and publishers to send it to. With fifty-seven rejections already, that might be quite soon.



The Birthplace of Inspiration

by Sofia Andrewski

It is a common experience for a writer—or even an enthusiastic reader—to stare with awe at the words and ideas imparted on paper by the great authors and storytellers. Sometimes it is hard to understand where their inspiration came from, whether it be the imaginative worlds of Tolkien or J.K. Rowling, or the complicated network of passageways in Mervyn Peake’s castle Gormenghast. There are a million and one other examples of course, a lot of them quite ordinary. For instance, little accents of character, or an intricate plot-line. Sometimes these little touches strike the reader as a brand of genius.

If you are dabbling with writing, these strokes of brilliance in other’s works can be quite depressing. Thoughts such as, I could never do this, or, my imagination isn’t good enough, may be overwhelming. Sometimes it seems better to close our books and ignore the existence of every decent writer while we are attempting to put pen to paper.

However, this could be a mistake. Whilst no one wants to plagiarise, humans learn best by imitation. Looking at how something is done is a surer way of picking it up than turning our backs and trying to figure out how to do it ourselves. When it comes to generating fresh ideas, or recharging inspiration levels, it is helpful to re-read authors we admire, and work out why their stories are so immersive.

There is another benefit of scouring for new concepts. Not only does the mere act loosen the mind enough to see things from a new perspective—which can actually alter our style of prose—but it puts the subconscious to work, encouraging it to come up with new connections. Countless writers confess to forming the first structures of their story from ideas they had during sleep.

This is something I have experienced many times, and even just a few nights ago is another example: in the dream I was quite impressed by the inventiveness of one of the dream characters, as he found a variety of uses for a magnetic shield. I remember thinking in the dream, wow, I never would have thought of using it like that, completely unaware that it was indeed my brain that had come up with all the ideas—let alone the fact it was constructing the whole environment I was so engaged in. I woke up convinced that if my brain does that every night, creating such an absorbing environment, then surely it is capable of creating enough concepts for a decent story!

There is a certain beauty in the way the mind works, and how the imagination can flex its muscles, mixing bits of information together and coming out with something new and personal. Sometimes it is easy to forget we all have this ability, even the novice writer. It doesn’t really matter if you can’t afford to travel the world, or can’t break out of a chain of mundane situations; as long as we have access to a library, a world full of stories and inspiration awaits.



The Problems of A Pantser

by Hellen Riebold

As we all know there are two types of writers, the careful, methodical ‘planner’ who knows who all their characters are, what’s going to happen to them and how the book is going to end. Then there are the ‘pantsers’ who live a life of fear, not knowing from one word to the next what their characters are going to say. I am most definitely a pantser.

It took me a long time to discover I was a pantser, or even that they existed, mostly because people who write ‘how to’ books can’t make much money from saying ‘just write’ so only publish books for planners. The truth didn’t dawn on me until I read a protracted interview given by a multi-million selling author who spoke about being a pantser, about just writing and using the editing process to work on the kinks. This information freed me completely and has allowed me to complete three books in eighteen months.

This past month, however, while writing my fourth, I came across a big problem. A married couple in my book had an argument and the wife ran off into the woods to sulk and didn’t decide to go home until it was getting dark. That was a problem because she had been in the area for less than 24 hours so she would have no way to know her way home and she couldn’t just find a road because they are being sought by the authorities. How on earth was I going to get her out of the woods?

For two weeks I was stuck. I couldn’t think of a single way to get her out and my friend, who is also a pantser, really wasn’t as helpful as she had hoped when she told me about a time she had two characters stuck on a beach for ten years while she tried to think of a way off for them. Actually it made me panic slightly. This book couldn’t wait ten years, it was a sequel and I have people waiting for it.

For days I sat staring at the last sentence on the page, then, one wonderful day, it came to me. It wasn’t actually dark, it was getting dark, therefore my character could see where the sun was setting, which meant she could work out east from west. If I also made her remember seeing the sun rise in the living room of the bungalow, looking out onto the road, then she’d know which way to head. Bingo. She was free. Hooray! Phew.

So will this experience make me more of a planner? No, it’s just not in me, but it does make me marvel at the problem solving power of the brain. If I had planned out every detail of my story then I wouldn’t have had the joy of realising I’d finally worked it out, and I wouldn’t have missed that feeling for the world.

No, a pantser I am and a pantser I’ll stay.