Breaking the Glass Ceiling

Len Berry

Yesterday, I mentioned my woes when it comes to getting a large amount of feedback, especially on something the size of a novel.  I called it my glass ceiling, and I think it’s the right term.

Many times in my life, I’ve heard the line, “God helps those who help themselves.”  This is me helping myself.  This is me trying to break the glass ceiling.

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9 Tips on Submitting Novels for Publication

In this blog I’m returning to the mechanics of writing and getting published.

I’ve self published, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to be published the old fashioned route. I’ve learned about getting published the hard way – by figuring things out as I went along. So I thought that a post for newer authors on the route to getting published might help. So here are my 9 tips on submitting novels for publication.

Tip one – get your work checked before you send it

As an absolute minimum, get someone to read your manuscript for typos and repeated words. Agents don’t mind the odd typo here and there – we’re all human – but if you send in work that’s littered with poor spelling, poor grammar, typos, repeated words, half finished sentences, and so on, it will be binned.

Tip two – use a professional editor

A professional editor is someone who understands how stories work, and can read your work and give specific feedback on its structure, characters, stories, and the central concept or ‘hook’ of the story. They can also identify typos and grammar issues if you ask.

Beware that professional editors tend to be self-employed and that this is their job, so they rightly charge for their services. A typical cost for a sample of your manuscript to be reviewed, and to receive a report, is £500. Check editors’ fees with them in advance, and make sure you identify your budget in advance. If you only have £200 available, tell them up front, and ask what you can receive for that. If you have £1000, you can obviously have more in depth feedback, or more of your work read.

Authors should consider this an investment in their work. But like all investments, it’s a gamble on the author’s side.

Tip three – ignore the publishers

This is a tip for newer authors who might not – yet – have much insight into the publishing industry. There are two ways to get published – the first is to self-publish on Kindle, Lulu, FeedaRead, iBooks, Nook or other platforms.

The more traditional route is to get published by a publishing house, like Random House/Penguin, Orion, Picador, and so on. But many first time authors make an unwitting mistake in sending their complete manuscript to these publishing companies.

If you’re approaching completion of your first novel or short collection, hold back. Here’s the route to take.

Literary agents are the people to focus on. They are like the gate keepers – they look for work and decide which books they want to publish. Publishing houses will approach agents for material, and also let agents know what kinds of books they’re looking for.

To be clear – in general, publishing houses will not accept direct submissions of work (there are a few exceptions, but this is the norm).

A literary agent acts as the first line of formal quality control in the publishing ecosystem. Their quality control includes identifying books they can sell to publishers. This means first time authors really need to write for the market. Identify what’s selling, and write a book that pitches to those successful markets. For example, crime books are still selling well, but the interest in teen vampire books is on the wane.

I’ve been to many talks by agents who talk openly and passionately about the many brilliant books they receive for consideration and which they choose not to represent. They talk with genuine regret about not being able to pick up books that have no existing market into which they can be sold.

Newer authors might think this is unfair – it suggests that the industry is conservative and favours existing authors, or stories very similar to what’s already sold. There is some truth to this. Authors like Neil Gaiman have spoken openly about the publishing industry needing to take more risks. But we also have to accept that we live in a world where people need to pay their rent or mortgage, which means they need to be able to predict sales from books they publish. Authors need to accept this is the case.

So, if getting a literary agent is the way in, how do you get one?

Tip four – getting a literary agent

The general approach for agents is this:

  • check their website first to see if they are currently accepting submissions from new authors. There is no point sending material to an agency which is closed to submissions. Your work won’t be read.
  • if they’re accepting submissions, send a query to them either via email or in print, depending on what they prefer.
  • Your query should feature: a cover letter giving brief details of your book; a 1 or 2 page synopsis of your book (with the ending!), and usually the first 3 chapters or 50 pages of your book. Do not send the full manuscript.

At the end of this post, under my sign-off, is a list of literary agents I’ve submit work to so far.

Tip five – writing a cover letter to agents

Here’s a cover letter I use when submitting to agents. I’m not saying it’s perfect, however I get responses from 90% of the agencies I contact, so I believe it isn’t putting them off. Please feel free to use the format if you think it’s useful.

  • Literary agent cover letter sample
Dear [name of literary agent],
please find attached a submission document containing a synopsis and the first 3 chapters of my novel “Backpackers”.

Escalator pitch: Skins meets Eat, Pray, Love.
Logline: In 2013, rock star Jack Wolf tries to track down Cath Pearson, a backpacker he fell in love with in south east Asia ten years previously. He traces her through the stories of other backpackers, but the more he hears about her, the more he fears she never survived her backpacker days.
Genre: General fiction / road journey
Target audience: 18 – 35 year olds
Full novel word count: 107,260
Notes: Backpackers is currently self-published on a number of platforms. It is my second novel.
Author biog:
My first novel, Planetfall book one: All Fall Down, is science fiction/space opera and has around 400 book sales or electronic downloads from self publishing sites (primarily Kindle). I am halfway through writing the sequel. (Note: published under a pseudonym)
I am currently writing a genre book about the antichrist coming to power in the UK, and her desperate attempt to avoid her fate (horror/political satire).
I attended City University’s creative writing course Towards Publication, and have previously self published a collection of short stories, Dark Things, and written a sitcom pilot Out Of Work.
I blog about my writing at
I am 40 years old and work in the sustainability sector. I live in Surrey with a gay cat.
I hope you enjoy the material,
[your name]
So that’s the generic template I use. Notice a couple of important things here:
  • Escalator pitch – this describes your work using the format of 2 well known books or films (etc) crossed with each other. So for Backpackers, I’ve said it’s like Skins (young people having trouble growing up) mixed with Eat, Pray, Love (a woman goes on a road trip to discover herself).
  • Logline – this gives a one or two sentence description of the core tension within the book. Note that it’s not the same as a book cover blurb (although it is similar). It can be quite hard to produce loglines! It’s worth writing a number of these before you send off your first query. Don’t worry if you don’t get the hang of it immediately.
  • Word count – most novels should be between 80,000-100,000 words. My books are slightly over this. Including the word count allows the agent to judge if you’ve written to the industry standard. For example, if it was under 80,000 words, they may class it as a novella, which has a lower chance of sale to publishers. Significantly over 100,000 is also difficult to sell, unless you have a track record in the industry. (Would you risk your money on 1000 pages of a new author’s work? Or would you prefer to reduce your risk to 250 pages and less time?)
  • Notes – if your book is already self-published, you must say so. The vast majority of agents and publishers don’t mind, but they do need to know if your work is already on the market, or if it has a profile and sales record behind it.
  • Biography – tell the agent a little about yourself. What have you written previously? Are you a serious writer, with a number of works, or is this the very first thing you’ve ever written? Have you had a short story published anywhere? Also, bring yourself to life – give them some insight into who you are as a person, without divulging your life story.

Tip six – write a synopsis

Your work must be accompanied by a synopsis. This will be a description of the story, the main characters, the main dramatic themes or tensions, so that the agent can see what the whole book is about. Remember, the agent will only see three chapters of your work, and needs to make a decision about asking for the rest of the book based on those 3 chapters, and your synopsis. You must include the end of your book in the synopsis, even if there is a twist. Every important plot point must be divulged.

I’ve attached a file here with a synopsis of Backpackers. However! I know that writing synopses is a weak point of mine, so while I’ve included it for reference purposes, I would advise that you can find better examples on the internet.

The agent’s website will tell you how long the synopsis should be – as a guide, you should keep it under 2 pages, and aim for 1 page.

Backpackers synopsis

Note that the synopsis is at 1.5 line spacing. You should use this or double line spacing.

Tip seven – don’t send the whole manuscript

Most agents will ask for the first 3 chapters or about the first 50 pages of the novel. Make sure you stick to this. If you have long chapters, or no chapter structure, then stick to the 50 page limit. Certain agencies stipulate 10 pages only, so check carefully.

Tip eight – keep track of agents

Literary agents tend to take 2 – 12 weeks to read submissions and respond. If after 12 weeks you haven’t heard anything, it’s fine to send a polite query asking if the agent has any feedback. Phoning agents every day, or sending angry or impolite or hassling emails will get you blacklisted.

Remember that agents love literature but need to be able to sell your book. If they respond with a “this book is not right for us at this time”, don’t take it personally. Most of the amazing authors we all love had scores, if not hundreds, of rejections before they were published. And their “debut novel” might actually be the third, sixth, or tenth book they wrote. This is a journey.

When submitting to agents, it’s important to keep a note of which agents you’ve contacted and when. This allows you to check when to send a polite query asking for feedback (if you don’t hear from them), and also means that you don’t submit your work twice. I’ve made this mistake before, and I am sure it’s pissed off an agent (apologies to Janklow and Nesbit).

Tip nine – self publishing

What if agents keep saying “no”? Does that mean your work’s unpublishable or has no audience?

Not necessarily. Publishers only have statistics on what’s selling in the formal marketplace and which books have sold most. They aren’t psychic and can’t know how books might sell in unproven markets.

Self publishing is a great way of testing your material. There are millions of novels self published now, and many of them are very good, and of a quality that could be published in the traditional route. But they are in niche, unproven markets. Let’s be clear – the publishing houses are watching what’s being published and what’s selling. If a significant new market emerges – like with Fifty Shades of Grey – they will investigate and try to develop it.

Self publishing is also good for understanding the tasks involved in the publishing world: producing drafts, book covers, writing the back cover blurb, marketing, reaching readers, dealing with feedback, pricing, and so on. If you choose to self publish be clear with yourself that it’s almost a full time role, where you are Creative Director of a company. You will need to enlist the help of different people (readers, proof readers, editors, cover designers, etc). Books don’t sell by magic, so be prepared to learn about marketing, identifying your key readership markets, influential blogs… It’s a tall order.

So there we have it. Nine tips on the route to getting published. If you have any advice to add to this, think you can improve on anything I’ve said, or want to write a better synopsis of Backpackers which I can use, please leave a comment.

Bye for now,

astro x

Literary agents (most accept email submissions)

A M Heath (by post)
Ampersand Agency
Andrew Lownie
Annette Green Agency
Anthony Harwood
Blake Friedmann
Capel & Land (by post)
CarinaUK (publisher)
Caroline Sheldon
Conville and Walsh
Curiosity Quills Press (publisher)
Curtis Brown Creative
Darley Anderson
Ethan Ellenberg
Eve White
Felicity Bryan
Futerman Rose Associates
Greene & Heaton
Gregory and Company
Hardman and Swainson
HMA Literary Agency
Janklow and Nesbit
Jenny brown associates
Johnson & Alcock
Ki Agency (Donald Maass)
Kimberley Cameron
Knight Agency
Lindsay Literary Agency
Lutyens Rubinstein
Madelein Milburn
MBA Literary Agents
MCA Agency (Mulcahy Conway)
Mic Cheetham Associates (by post)
Prentice Beaumont
Rogers, Coleridge and White
Rupert Heath Agency
Sharon Ring (independent)
Standen Literary Agency
Susan Yearwood
Talcott Notch
The Susijn Agency
Tibor Jones
Toby Eady
United Agents
Viney Agency
Voyager publishing
Wade & Doherty
Williams Agency
WME Literary Agency

Free ebook summer giveaway!

Hi groovers,

It’s summer in the UK and it’s hot and sunny, and we’ve all gone a bit bonkers with the heat.

So let’s go a bit crazier: for the next month the ebook versions of my 2 novels, Planetfall and Backpackers, will be free to download from

Follow this link to grab them. And if you like one or both books, feel free to share them:

What can you expect? Well, if you don’t mind following a different link to Amazon (where they’re not free because of the way Amazon Kindle works), you can read reviews from readers. Click:

here for planetfall reviews

here for Backpackers reviews

Happy reading!

astro x

Competition winner announced

A few weeks ago I ran a competition to win this very copy of Backpackers:

Backpackers book photo






There was a good response to the competition (which I am hugely grateful for). I am pleased to announce that the winner is “lovely Rita of Stroud Green“. Well done lovely Rita!

For everyone else who entered, sorry that this wasn’t your time. You can buy a copy of Backpackers very cheaply on ebook through my store. Paperback copies are also available through that route, or via FeedARead (which I am promoting, because it was set up by Arts Council England, and that’s A Good Thing).

Thanks again to everyone who entered. I will undoubtedly have other give-aways later in the year.

Best wishes,

astro x

Competition – Win a Copy of Backpackers!

Hi all,

It’s competition time once again (UK residents only). This is your chance to win a paperback copy of my latest book, Backpackers.

The book follows a number of people backpacking through south east Asia in 2003. Each one of them meets Cath Pearson, who is running from home, screwed up on drink and drugs, and heading for oblivion.

Ten years later in 2013, rock star Jack Wolf is in a similar situation: screwed up on drink and drugs and running from himself. He decides to find Cath, who he fell in love with on a beach near Bali in 2003. But the more he learns about what happened to Cath after they parted, the more he fears she may be dead.

It’s a tale of growing up, of love and loss, of adventure and greed, and of villains and heroes. Rated 5* on its Amazon ebook page.

To be in with a chanBackpackers book photoce of winning this very copy in the picture, simply answer a few ridiculously easy questions and send your answers to me using the details below.

Competition questions

1. The first few chapters of the book are set in Indonesia. What is Indonesia’s capital city?

2. Later in the book, a boat journey becomes very dramatic for our main character Cath Pearson. The river she travels on stretches from Vietnam, through Cambodia, then up through Laos. Which river is it? It’s a big one.

3. I have a science fiction book for sale under my pen name, astrotomato. What is it called? (ps, it’s really good – read the reviews)

Competition rules

This competition is only for UK residents, due to postage costs. If you live elsewhere in the world and want to enter, I am happy to give away an .epub file of the book for e-reading devices as a separate prize. This prize is only available if I receive entries from outside the UK.

None of my family are allowed to enter. Isn’t it about time you bought a copy, anyway?

Oh yes, closing date. Please ensure your entries are with me by midnight (GMT) on Saturday 22 June.

Send entries to or follow and DM me on Twitter @astrotomato. (I think I’ll need to follow you, too, so let me know.)

Good luck!

astro x

Writing update 02 June 2013

A very productive weekend.

I was sent home sick on Thursday afternoon with a weird virus-thingie. Hot & cold flushes, nausea, disassociation. By Friday afternoon I was starting to feel better, so I sat down to write around 4pm. By Sunday morning, with pauses for sleeping, eating and going into London to see friends, I’d managed to write about 10,000 words.

I don’t know if it was the illness, but most of the writing revolved around two new characters in my secret project. They’re dwarfs from 10th Century Romania who develop a cocaine habit. They were a completely unplanned part of the novel, though they seem to have found a very natural place in the narrative.

They initially sprang out of a Twitter comment which caught my imagination. I played around with them in one scene, and grew rather fond of them.

This afternoon I also made a few lazy edits to my long-in-gestation Robocop fanfic. I realised, too, that it’s not very good. And though I’d originally wanted to write it quickly and with a complete pulp fiction feel to it (that’s pulp fiction as in the 1950s and 60s stuff, not the film), I’ve now fallen into a trap of wanting to improve its quality.

That’s about it writing-wise.

I finished reading The Twelve Tribes of Hattie, too, which was OK. There are a handful of good short stories in there, and a larger handful of fairly tedious ones. The book is structured in a similar fashion to my own novel, Backpackers, which is pleasing, as I had been concerned that a narrative which is loosely centred around one person, but goes into short stories about other people, wasn’t market friendly.

Adieu for now,


astro x

5 Reasons Why New Authors Should Use Clichés

I started writing fiction when I was about fifteen years old. It was 1988, Margaret Thatcher appeared an unstoppable force in the UK, and The Smiths were a popular band. It was misery in politics and misery in the charts. And writing, for me, was an escape.

That’s the clichéd start to how many of these blogs start, isn’t it? “I wrote as an escape.”  And for those people who say that they wrote – write – to escape, it remains true. It’s a truth repeated so often that it has become a cliché, albeit one we allow to continue existing, because we don’t want to take anything away from people’s feelings.


But if you read writing blogs that aim to help new authors, you’d be forgiven for thinking that clichés are verboten, that they’re forbidden in all creative writing endeavour. And I think this is wrong. If we’re allowed to start writing for the same reason – it was an escape – then why can’t we write clichéd things?

Below, I argue that we can, and indeed should, write in clichés. This argument is very much aimed at people new to fiction writing, to help cut through the confusing ‘rules’ on other blogs.

Reason #1 – The 7 Basic Storylines

There are seven basic plots that underpin all stories, or so argues Christopher Booker in his seminal work The Seven Basic Plots. (You should buy this book.)

These plots are:

  1. Overcoming the Monster;
  2. Rags to Riches;
  3. the Quest;
  4. Voyage and Return;
  5. Comedy;
  6. Tragedy;
  7. Rebirth

Often these plots are combined, such that we might have a Voyage and Return, like Jason & the Argonauts, in which the hero must also Overcome the Monster.

I won’t describe the basic plot types, but the point here is simple: if we can boil all plots down into one of these basic seven types, with a dash of another thrown in depending on the cocktail presented to the reader, then we are quickly bound to clichés anyway.

“A-ha!” you argue, “but if there are only seven basic plots, then shouldn’t we do our best to escape cliché elsewhere?”

Not yet, dear new author. Not yet. Otherwise there’d be no blog for me to write! But let us ignore that inconvenient truth, and explore reason to cliché #2.

Reason #2 – Wriggle, Wiggle, Crawl, Walk, Run, and Fly

Imagine this: you’re a new mother or a new father. There’s your baby just days old. Her or his little fingers wiggle in your hand, their chubby knees squirm at your tickle and their delicate feet are too cute for words. Now, carefully put the baby on the floor in your home, stand back, and say:

“Baby of mine, I want you to stand up right now, walk to the door, run to the nearest airport, buy a plane ticket, hop on the plane and go travelling!”

What do you mean it’s just a baby and it’s impossible? Tell it to fly immediately, damn it!

You get the point. New authors are like new babies. You’re perfect in every one of your toes and fingers, and each of your letters and words on the page is lovely and cute. But like that baby, you need to practice the basics first.

We don’t look at a baby and say, “Oh god, it’s so clichéd, crawling. Come on, little bubba, innovate a different way to strengthen your legs.”

No, we encourage them to wriggle and wiggle. We help them stand until they can stand on their own. We help them to walk by holding their hands, until they can manage their first few steps unaided.

And that’s how it should be when we’re learning to write. Practice the basics first. And that means practicing the clichés. For example:

Develop a simple love story.

Write a story about going into a cave and fighting a monster.

Craft a tale of a hero who is too flawed, and becomes a victim of his flaws and loses everything.

Write in clichés, and write them until you’ve mastered them. Be good at crawling to build leg strength. Be good at walking and upright balance before you start to run. Write in as many clichés as you can, until you can churn them out without even thinking about it. And then think about flying.

Reason #3 – Clichés Have Power

Here’s a few basic plots and characters. See what you think about them:

1. A woman treated like dirt by most of society is noticed by a rich and handsome man. He takes a fancy to her, and rescues her from the poor life she leads. She lives happily ever after.

It’s a cliché, right? And yet Cinderella is famous the world over, and Pretty Woman is one of the most famous films ever made. Why? Because the clichéd story of someone in a low position being rescued by someone in a high position appeals to us. It gives us hope that maybe we, too, can be rescued. Or if not us, then someone just like us.

2. A dark power has cast a blight on society. A small group of apparently weak and insignificant people travel into the heart of the dark power and overcome it. Society is saved.

Another cliché. Like the first example above, it’s one of the basic plots. But we recognise the power in it. The power of the story speaks to us. What did you think this plot was from? Star Wars? Lord of the Rings? Krull? These are powerful films because they’re clichés, not in spite of them.

Notice where the power lies in these clichés. It’s in their simplicity. Knowing our clichés, mastering their forms, and then using that mastery to unleash the power in the story is what gives us the grounding we need to become competent, good authors.

Reason #4 – Even Famous Authors Aren’t Above A Cliché Now & Again

What’s that? Famous authors use clichés? Yes, and they get away with it, too.

The question, of course, is why do they get away with it? Is it because they’re famous that we’ll forgive them anything?

No. I’d argue it’s because they’ve practised their writing so much, have mastered the basic forms so much, that they have a damn good sense of when to use a cliché. Because the point isn’t that we master a cliché so we can step away from it. Rather, we master clichés so we know when to use them for maximum impact.

Here’s an example from one of my favourite authors:

“[their] eyeballs moved no more than necessary, as with animals on the hunt.” – 1Q84, Haruki Murakami

Is that an innovative way to describe something? Is it beautiful description? Does it soar with beauty? Or colour synaesthetically our emotions? Not particularly. It’s the kind of description we’d find in a thousand books, from the wonderfully written to the absolutely atrocious.

But it doesn’t matter. It may be a clichéd line , but it’s the context in which it’s placed that makes it stand out: two men are in a bar appraising two women. These are men on the prowl, but within the story, so are the women. And it is the women in this scene who have the power. Haruki Murakami is so practised with clichés, that he can deploy them in a way that makes them effective: here stoking the appearance that the men have the power, when we know it’s actually the women. Mastery of the form, “men looking for women are like hunters looking for prey” is what gives him the ability to use it to better effect.

The point is that you can’t innovate or twist a cliché until you know how to use it properly. And to use it properly, you have to use it improperly first. Write in clichés until you’re sick of them and can spot the approaching from a mile off. And then push yourself to use them in an unexpected way.

Reason #5 – The More Creative the Writing, the More It Distracts

I’m falling back on the great Elmore Leonard here. Here are two of his 10 Rules of Writing which he outlined in a New York Times article [source]

  1.  Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
  2.  Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”…he admonished gravely.

Now, what’s the cliché here? For new writers who are still practising their craft, and who are trying to build their creative writing muscles, one of the most common instructions is this: “Try to find interesting ways of to allow characters to express themselves.” So you’d think that using “… she said,” is bad, and we should write things like, “…she screamed,” or “…he whispered,” or as Elmore says, “…he admonished gravely,” and so on.

Elmore is telling us that in fact we should stick with the clichéd, “…she said.” Why? Because the power of the dialogue should come through how it’s written, punctuated, and the surrounding build up and atmosphere. It’s a cliché to just use “…said”. But that simple form isn’t is a barrier to the characters properly expressing themselves in the narrative. Flowery description (he admonished gravely) is a barrier and distracts from the story and the characters’ emotions.

(And when you feel you’re practised enough with using “…she said,” try dropping it altogether and just putting the speech in, without attribution to a character.)

Of course, Elmore Leonard also said, “Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.” and he was absolutely right.It’s not they’re clichéd, though. It’s that they’re just awful.


So, there are 5 reasons to use clichés. The blog was aimed at authors still exercising and building their writing muscles. And to them I will always say: use as many clichés as you need to. Master the basic forms and basic approaches to writing, like Daniel in Karate Kid mastered his basic moves in slow motion: first wax on, wax off, and then wax lyrical.

Oh, and that reason I gave at the start about why I started writing? It wasn’t true, it was a cliché and it also gave me a reason to say that The Smiths are rubbish and get away with it. And do you know what? I think I got away with it, too.

Writing updates 30 May 2013

A quick update on my various writing projects.

Planetfall book 2

I written around 100,000 words in the sequel to Planetfall: All Fall Down, which is called Children of Fall. Writing has gone very well, and I know from feedback from my writing group and from my own sense of my writing that it’s a more mature and better written work. This is good, and I’m happy.

Despite being at the 100,000 word mark, the novel is only halfway through.  Full length books are supposed to weigh in between 70,000-100,000 words. This means I’ve written a full length novel in word length alone, and I guess it equates to having finished my 3rd novel. Except.

Except this book really is only halfway through. It’s a concept double album of a book. It will eventually be somewhere between 170,000 and 200,000 words. And this leads me to consider something: do I release it in two parts? I won’t go to agents with this book, as the first book is self-published, which pretty much means the rest of the series won’t get picked up.

I’ve got a while to think about this, though, as I’ve put the book on ice for 6 months.

Book 1, by the way, has now been downloaded or sold in physical paperback about 310 copies. I get good feedback for it from complete strangers.


Backpackers has been available as an ebook and in paperback for just over a month now. It is selling terribly – I think I’ve shifted about 8 copies. This is a shame, because it’s a much more commercial book, and the writing is better than Planetfall: All Fall Down. Backpackers was almost picked up by a couple of agents.

I’ve been trying to have Backpackers reviewed by book review sites run by bloggers. One recently got back to me and said after consideration, having received the book, they’ve decided not to review it. Obviously I’m disappointed, though I understand their editorial policy is to only review books they really feel passionate about, and road journey books aren’t for everybody.

I will continue to seek out book reviewers and blogs to review this. I really believe in the book, and I think it has a readership out there. If I was better at marketing I’d figure out how to bridge that gap. More news as and when.

Secret project

The past 6 weeks I’ve been working on another novel. It’s a sort of horror-comedy-steampunk-political satire affair. I’m not releasing any details until the book is finished. I can say that my writing group have said it’s the best thing I’ve ever written, which is exceptionally gratifying.

The writing is coming very easily for it. I’m at 28,000 words at the moment, and I’m aiming for about 75,000 words, so it’ll be a short book.

Those 28,000 words are currently with two trusted reviewers (outside my writing group). It’s essential that writing is shown to people and feedback is received.

As with all my writing projects, this is a real test and it’s taking me outside my comfort zone. I’ve never written comedy (except for an attempt at a sitcom script last year, which resulted in one and a half pretty good episodes), I’ve never written horror, I’ve never written political satire (though I have done dystopian political writing) and I’ve never tackled steampunk.

This book will also be the first of my books that I will send for professional editing. That’s simply because I’ve saved up £500 for it, whereas Planetfall and Backpackers were finished when I was unemployed.

Other writing

I recently wrote two synopses for other books. One was a political/crime thriller, and the other a Young Adult adventure. Both way outside my comfort zone. Both synopses were intended to be my secret project, but I chose not to progress them. I may publish the synopsis to the Young Adult book in the spirit of sharing and being transparent with my approach to writing.

Buying my work

Well, a plug. If you wish to buy either Planetfall or Backpackers, they’re available in ebook and paperback, from both Amazon and Lulu. Links to both are below, and you’ll find that Lulu is the cheaper option, where ebooks are 90p each. The paperbacks are more expensive than I’d like, but they’re print on demand, and most of the cost goes to the printer.

astrotomato on Amazon

astrotomato on Lulu

That’s it for the moment. As ever, I’d love to hear what others are up to. Until the next blog,



Flash fiction as writing exercises

Flash fiction competitions

In whatever we’re working on – a novel, a script, a short story – we often get to points where we’re stuck: maybe it’s a scene we don’t know how to approach, a descriptive passage we need to develop, or a way of demonstrating a relationship as quickly as possible.

I think “flash fiction” is a great way of exercising those writing muscles. Flash fiction is generally taken to mean short stories of less than 1000 words, though many people focus on 500 or even 300 words. There are writing circles on line that have a 50 word limit.

The short nature of the form – less than 2 pages – forces us to concentrate on what’s important, and get to the heart of the story as quickly as possible.

Entering flash fiction competitions is also a great way of ensuring we write regularly, with external deadlines to drive us (if that kind of thing motivates you).

There’s a flash fiction competition currently open on the Ink Tears website, which I would recommend to anyone developing or refining their writing. Here’s the link:

There are cash prizes on this one, with a top prize of £250.

A writing exercise

Below is a piece of flash fiction I worked on last night. It’s not good enough for entry into the competition above (the end is too flat). I used this as a means of establishing a relationship with a strong emotional base very quickly, and to try (however successfully) to turn that relationship very quickly. It’s not wholly successful. In the interests of writing development, I’m happy to share my failures:

No title – flash fiction

“You know how this story ends,” Jez said. He held Sarah’s hands in his and felt her warmth burning into his cold skin.

“No,” she shook her head. Her lower lip thinned and her cheeks turned to jowls. A tear sprang onto a cheek and clung to her skin. A sickly green light refracted inside it and for a moment Jez saw another eye, green, pure, un-jaded by recent events.

“I can’t,” he said, but his voice cracked.

“Please, Jez. Don’t go.” Sarah pawed at his face. There were no tears there. His skin was already so cold, and whatever colour it might once have been, it was now pale as ashes at dawn.

“I’ll love you forever.”

“I love you, too.” Sarah’s voice broke, and they sat in a silence punctuated by the sound of Jez swallowing over a dry throat, and Sarah hiccupping through her tears.

The clock on the wall ticked, each mechanical wobble of the second hand a gunshot in the quiet hospital room.

“Oh,” Jez’s face creased.

“Do you need more pain control?” Sarah started fiddling with an electronic box, out of which snaked a tube which entered Jez’s arm through a dark bruise.

Jez shook his head. He squeezed his eyes and grit his teeth. “S’OK,” he managed.

“Do you remember the night we met?” Sarah said. She had picked up a thermometer and was holding one end of it, watching the mercury slowly rise to her skin temperature. “You were so sweet.”

“Nervous,” Jez closed his eyes agin. A waxy sheen broke on his forehead.

Sarah smiled at the thermometer, “Sweet, too. I remember you knocked over that vase.”

“Soggy quiche. Sorry,” Jez nodded and managed a smile. He opened his eyes. Sarah wasn’t looking at him. Her attention was on something in her hands which she was worrying, a thumb moving up and down.

She shook her head. “I want more,” she whispered.

“I’m sorry.”

“Sorry. Sorry. Everyone’s sorry.” Sarah put the thermometer back on the bedside table. At her feet was a Bag For Life. She looked inside at its contents’ shadows and obscure lumps. “How’s the pain?”

Jez’s eyes were closed. Sarah glanced quickly at him. She couldn’t bear to see him in pain. His face was creased, but quickly fell into a plain silence.

“Jez?” She kept her eyes on him and leaned down, fishing in the Bag For Life until her hand found what she needed.

Jez’s eyes snapped open. They were pale. His irises were a pale green, like the tear which had so recently sat on Sarah’s cheek.

“I’m sorry,” Sarah said.

Jez’s face, devoid of pain, moved upwards as he tried to rise.

Sarah brought her hand up. She put the gun to his forehead and fired.

Jez’s face exploded onto the crisp white hospital pillow.

“Fucking zombies,” she said. She put the gun away, picked up her Bag For Life, and left the hospital.

Writing update

A short blog this time with updates on my various writing projects:


  • Planetfall: the first book in the trilogy has been available since January 2013. It’s had over 300 paperback sales or downloads. A few agents have expressed some interest in it, but have been dissuaded because it doesn’t fit current market trends. However – recently an online publisher asked to see the full manuscript after reading the first three chapter. More news as and when.
  • Planetfall: book 2, Children of Fall, is going well. I’m about halfway through writing it. It’s already at 100,000 words, which is the length of book 1, and Backpackers – ie, a full novel’s length. The final book will probably be 200,000 words, and I am currently wondering whether I should release it in two halves, and then combine into one book. I have a few months to consider what to do, as I’m taking time out to work on a short, secret project (see below).
  • Backpackers: this has had some interest from agents, and was almost picked up by one. However each cited Fifty Shades of Grey as having changed the market, and publishers wanting more books along those lines. I’ve self published the book for a short time to gauge interest. So far it’s selling badly, which is a shame, as it’s a better book than Planetfall 😀 Oh well. I shall leave it for sale until June, and then take it down. I may re-write Chapter Three, which I think is its weakest link at the moment.
  • Secret project: Not much to say, other than I’m trying to write a novella or a short novel (somewhere between 65,000-75,000 words) in three months. All I’ll say is Jack Wolf from Backpackers makes a guest appearance.
  • Robocop fanfic: on hold. I’m sad about this, as the film is coming out soon, and I’d hoped to cynically cash in on the publicity to grow my readership. The secret project has to take precedence though.


Hope your writing is going well. As usual, I’d love to hear what you’re working on.


astro x