Cheat! It’s the only way to get published.

This article in New Republic makes for salutary reading. It shows how it’s not what you know, or what you write, but who you know that determines whether you get published. If you already have an ‘in’ to the publishing world, then your submission is more likely to be given serious consideration. 

But escaping the slush pile might be down to the whims of unpaid interns: if you think that your three chapter writing sample, synopsis and query letter is scrutinised by a literary agent or editor, then think again.

Weekend-Dingbang-Slush Pile

Masochism & the Writer

Any novice writer starting out, soon realises that there’s so much commitment needed to create a story that it’s going to mean self-denial, humiliation and pain. More experienced writers accept that they’ve grown a thick skin to withstand rejection and that tremendous willpower is required to complete the tidying up of a manuscript after The End is typed.

The term ‘masochism’ comes from a writer—Leopold von Sacher-Masoch— whose sexual proclivities included submission to powerful women.

BDSM has become mainstream in recent years, but masochism includes more than painful sexual activity. The Cambridge English Dictionary gives a definition of masochism as:

‘The enjoyment of an activity or situation that most people would find very unpleasant.’

It’s arguable, that to achieve success in any endeavour, an ability to power through pain and denial is essential. Patience and perseverance are needed to get published.


I feel unlike a writer this year, for although I started a novella as therapy while I became a self-publicising blogger and social media poster, I’ve been ploughed under by the repetitive mechanics of promoting myself and my novels.

I started the year by transferring 44 titles from Smashwords and Amazon to a new digital publisher called Draft2Digital.

It took longer than I anticipated, as I had to take my ebooks off Smashwords and Amazon, then reformat the manuscripts to suit D2D’s requirements. It was tedious—the opposite of being creative—I disliked doing it but soldiered on.

In reactivating my Paul Pens blog, which I started in 2014, then neglected ignored in favour of writing, I’m using many of the threads I started on The Colony. Although I’m glad to have them as a resource, editing and updating what I wrote, including checking if hyperlinks still work, has taken me a month of 8-10 hour days. I’ve ended up with 400 posts, which sounds impressive, but I have no idea if anyone will read them or how it will contribute to my author platform. Like anything in writing, what I’ve done is speculative.

I was relieved to complete this nit-picking task, which didn’t feel like much of an achievement—more like I’d finally stopped scourging my back with a cat o’ nine tails!

Once my blog goes live, I’ll begin to tweet, post on Instagram, update the pins I’ve already made on Pinterest, post fresh material on my Facebook business page and offer to do guest posts for other bloggers. I’m going to try to enjoy these activities, and I reckon I will get something positive out of interacting with people who make comments, but I feel more like a business agent than an author. I’m having to force myself to do it—my Cornish Detective novels require publicising if they’re going to sell—it’s a form of advertising. Not only am I a part of show business, but I’m also a manufacturer and self-promoter and performer. Ta dah!

I’m brainwashing myself into staying positive—but not go so over the top, that my blogging and social media activity becomes sadistic—as if I’m inflicting myself on potential readers!

Actually, I’m also concerned that I’m getting off on the masochistic side of writing and publishing…will I forget how to enjoy creating new stories? I know that Rome wasn’t built in a day, but I had no idea how many bricks were involved to build a writing career.

All of us, at some time or other, say to ourselves “Why am I doing this?”

How do you cope with the insecurity and disappointment of writing?

Do friends and family worry about your dedication?

Psychoanalyst Edmund Bergler

Dread On The Page

There’s a difference between fear and dread—it’s subtle—but, as writers, we should use dread to create an atmosphere of unease…a pervasive foreshadowing that coats our characters.

To me, dread implies fearful expectation, or anticipation, whereas fear is a response to a threat that’s appeared.

Image result for gif explosion hero walk away

These days in Thriller and Crime writing and film adaptations, there’s too much instant gratification—BOOM!—big explosions, courtesy of CGI that the hero is immune to, calmly walking away from them, as if shock waves, heat and debris don’t exist. If our hero is injured, it’s usually a designer cut on his cheek, that won’t leave a scar. No one ever receives a wound that makes him weak and insecure and vulnerable…which could crank up the tension, rather than detract from their powers.

I’ve just finished reading Michelle Paver’s Wakenhyrst, in which she created a cumulative sense of dread from seemingly unconnected incidents, skilfully using all of the senses, including smell and touch.

Nice to come across a hardback book so well-designed with the use of colophons depicting reeds, ivy leaves, a magpie, carved devil heads, bulrushes and leafy vegetation to mark chapter and section breaks. I was delighted to see an eel slither onto the corner of page 165 out to make mischief. Good too, that there’s a red ribbon bookmark attached to the spine. Such features make a book feel special, that it’s worth the asking price.

The dread-full atmosphere of Wakenhyrst put me in mind of the Fantasy and Ghost stories penned by M.R. James in which he weaved a creepy atmosphere, where nothing was quite what it seemed to be, leading to a satisfying crescendo.

Image result for m.r. james

Several of these tales were adapted by the BBC, in a strand of short films under the banner A Ghost Story For Christmas. Shown from 1971-1978, with a one-off in 2005, they were eagerly anticipated by viewers and much-discussed afterwards.

I vividly recall several scenes, including one from the first shown, The Stalls of Barchester, based on M.R. James story The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral, in which a scholar is haunted by a ghostly cat, as he investigates the mysterious death of his predecessor. What made me jump, was a scene where the doomed protagonist is sitting in the darkened cathedral, with only a candle for illumination, nervous of an unseen cat yowling nearby, grasping the arm of his chair for reassurance—which suddenly turns from wood into black cat fur!

In my own writing, I try to create a sense of dread in my Cornish Detective series, sometimes by letting the reader know things that the coppers don’t, meaning they blunder into dangerous situations. Judging how well I’ve made the reader uneasy, is as tricky as deciding how funny a listener will find a joke I’m telling.

Books I’ve enjoyed for the way that the author instils apprehension, include Willliam Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist, Susan Hill’s The Woman In Black and Cormac McCarthy’s No Country For Old Men

How about you?

Are your stories tinged with dread?

Which authors make you afraid to turn the page?

Illustration by James McBryde for M. R. James’s story ‘Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad’