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On the tricks of the trade

The rather brilliant little BBC series Trade Secrets has recently invited experts from various walks of life - photography, antique-restoring, building, butlering - to reveal the tricks and short cuts that make their work easier. Because the craft of writing has yet to be included in the series - a surprising omission since there are few professions where trickery is more widely used - the Endpaper research team has been collecting some of our own best-kept trade secrets… * Here’s a way of clearing the mind every morning. For 45 minutes, limber up for the day’s work by writing down the whatever pointless gibberish happens to drift into your mind. It is said that many of Jeffrey Archer’s short stories have been created in this way.   * When your publisher asks you to do a major rewrite on your manuscript, simply change the font you use on your computer....

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On establishing a relationship with a publisher

Heaven knows, it is difficult enough in these brutal, fretful days to keep any serious relationship fresh, stimulating and alive through the good and the bad times. Where once it was assumed that partnership involved serious, long-term commitment, today those of us who manage to stay “hitched” for five or even ten years are often regarded as oddities, throwbacks to gentler, more civilised age. Again and again one hears the same old story. It was perfect the first time, they will say - a whirlwind of energy, optimism, need and mutual satisfaction. But, once the novelty wore off, the relationship became something of a chore. Boredom led to indifference which sharpened into active dislike. Soon it was only a matter of time as to when the final rift would occur. Does it always have to be like this between authors and publishers? Endpaper asked several of our most successful writers...

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On discovering whether one is worth knowing

It’s all about contacts, you know. There’s no point in sitting at home, gazing out of the window and sucking your pen, expecting your career as an author to look after itself. You have to be out there in the real world - or, at least in the book world. Test the variety and worth of your personal literary network in this exclusive Endpaper survey. You gain a point if you know someone who: Has reviewed their own book under a pseudonym. Can get you a mention in a novel by Bret Easton Ellis. Has had a book ghosted without reading a word of it. Can quote an entire sentence from Finnegan’s Wake. Has met Thomas Pynchon. Has been on an author tour of China. Has had an entire wall papered with genuine rejection slips. Has written something that has caused someone to be physically sick. Earns a 17½% royalty...

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On discouraging the young from becoming a writer

When, on the letters page of the last issue, Mr William Stevenson of Edinburgh wrote, ‘I have long felt that what The Author needs is an Agony page,’ he was representing the views of many readers. This column now and then offers emotional, therapeutic advice to writers, as a result of which the Endpaper office is inundated with letters, emails and telephone calls, covering every kind of authorial agony. Frankly, if I were charging basic Hampstead rates for this counselling service, I could have put my laptop on permanent suspend months ago. The problem is that, frankly, other people’s problems can be a bit of a bore. Whenever I have tried to move into Dear Marje mode, the editor has returned my first draft with tetchy notes of criticism in the margin - ‘Gimme a break’, ‘Who cares about this loser?’, or, his favourite, ‘Booooring!!!’ Off the record, he has...

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On caring for your publisher

A writer friend was rung by her agent. He had good news. The author’s publisher had acted with surprising dynamism and efficiency and had secured for her next novel privileged, front-of-shop status with of the one of the book chains. ‘I think you should send them some flowers,’ said the agent. Pleased as she was, the author was slightly surprised by this idea. ‘Flowers?’ ‘Or maybe a bottle of something nice, with a grateful note. They’ve done well. It’s important for an author to offer a bit of support and encouragement on these occasions.’ ‘I rather thought it was meant to be the other way round,’ said the writer. ‘Surely it’s the publisher who normally offers support and encouragement to the author.’ ‘Not these days, it isn’t,’ said the agent. ‘Shall I call Interflora or will you?’ As is so often the case, an uncomfortable truth was here being delivered...

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On becoming part of the creative arts industry

It has been brought to the attention of this column that many Society members do not have access to the internet and are therefore unaware of the many opportunities for writers and would-be writers in the government’s exciting new creative industries initiative. As a one-off service to the cybernetically challenged, we are pleased to be able to reproduce the home page from one of the many websites in this burgeoning sector of New Labour enterprise, creativeculturecareers.com. Hello! Are you a Creative Person? Do you write, or write about writing or teach writing? Are you interested in becoming a provider, funder or member of the support staff from the country’s writing industry? Would you like to source your inner creativity and develop core writing skills - and then have the appropriate certificate to prove it? If so, creativeculturecareers.com is here to help you. There are over 50,000 people currently working in...

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On attending the right literary events

At a recent festival, the subject under debate was whether there was such a thing as literary London but, because a high proportion of the audience were would-be writers, an edgy, anxious discussion soon developed about the art of networking. Where should one be seen? Who should one meet? Those of us on stage tried at first to remind the audience that it was what you wrote not who you know that was important but, in the end, we had to admit that strategic party-going is as important as it ever was. To make their way in the modern literary world, writers have become visibly and actively social, popping up, like Will Self, on the ghastly TV comedy quiz Shooting Stars or advancing their careers by being appearing in a special author’s edition of the humiliation show, The Weakest Link. For the beginner, the problem is simple. Which literary events are worth attending?...

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On writing bad sex

There comes a time in the life of many novelists when the terrible possibility begins to dawn that he may not, after all, win the Booker Prize, that even a sniff at the Whitbread might be beyond him. He has learnt down the years that prizes rarely have any connection with real, lasting worth - look at who wins them, for heaven’s sake - and he knows that fiction is not, officially at least, a competitive sport. All the same, it would be good to pick up the odd literary trinket, if only for the pleasure making other writers jealous. Inevitably, at these dark moments, thoughts will turn to the Bad Sex Prize, an award given by the Literary Review for the year’s most embarrassing attempt at eroticism. It is national. It garners an acceptable amount of publicity. It even confers a sort of skewed prestige on the winner. Writing bad sex,...

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On etiquette for a writer

A senior agent boasted in a recent interview that an important part of his job lay in advising authors on a variety of non-literary matters. One of them might need to know what to wear for a publishing meeting; another was concerned as to whether he should drink wine or beer when lunching with his editor. Most were worried about the class structure of the book business. Was your publisher essentially your boss, they wondered, or your employee? What is shocking about these remarks is not that they suggest a certain unworldliness among authors - we have higher matters to consider, after all - but that anybody should actually seek advice on etiquette from a literary agent of all people. Those uncertain as to how to behave while pursuing a writing career need do no more than bear in mind these basic guidelines of deportment. Agents, emotional relationship with Just...

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On interpreting a royalty statement

Every six months it happens. Authors all over the country receive a communication from their publisher which, in brutally reductive terms, defines the state of their writing careers. It is called a royalty statement and, in many cases, has been carefully designed by experts to conceal rather more information than it reveals. This seems a terrible shame - after all, for many writers, receiving a royalty is the only contact they have from their publisher all year. Because professional writers deserve, if nothing else, to know where they and their books stand, Endpaper proposes that a new form of code be included in future royalty statements - a code which will bring a spirit of honest transparency to relations between authors and publishers and reveal precisely how their books have been faring.. Statements would include: OD A close relation of OP, or ‘Out of Print’, OD will stand for One of the...

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