Jerusha Cowless, Agony Aunt

Jerusha Cowless, Agony Aunt: "I have a book deal. Why don't I feel euphoric?"

Q: When I got my very first short story published I was truly ecstatic and I'd always planned, if a book deal happened, to take all my clothes off, run around the garden, and roll in the grass. Now, I've worked long and hard to write a book good enough to sell, and succeeded: it's two-book deal with a well-known smallish independent publisher which punches above its weight in terms of presence in the industry. But I've never felt the euphoria. The thing is, there was no advance involved so I still feel I've achieved nothing. It's my family's voice... Read more →


Jerusha Cowless, agony aunt: "Can it be anything but a bad sign to feel sick of the thing you're writing?"

Q: Oh, Jerusha! Can it be anything but a bad sign to feel sick of the thing you're writing? I've done well with children's fiction - prizes, sales - and now I'm tackling an adult novel. My agent's feedback is very positive but we've agreed that before it goes out large parts need not revising or editing, but full-on re-working - new scenes, settings, characters - which I'm now doing. I don't know if it's just that I've had such a bumpy ride with this adult book but I have a sense of just wanting shot of it now. I'm... Read more →


Jerusha Cowless, agony aunt: "How much should I reveal of my antagonist's intentions?"

Q: Dear Ms Cowless - I am struggling to make what should be a simple decision, and I'm stuck because I can't make it. Basically, I have my Antagonist sitting down having a catch-up meet with his top guy to discuss the direction of their plans. The Antagonist is using the skills and abilities of his top man to exact his revenge. The reader will be carried through the story and will see the good guys caught on the back foot, i.e. they obviously have no idea about the impending act, but the reader will if I choose to have... Read more →


Jerusha Cowless, agony aunt: "Does it matter that I don't feel exposed?"

Q: I'm being kept up at night by one rejection; four full MS are still out there. The agent in question is super starry and it sounds like she gave my MS a thorough reading. She said some nice things, even said I nailed some things. But she said she didn't get a new perspective, neither was she challenged. I've also come across a lot of stuff about risk in writing. I am now wondering more generally where I actually take personal risks, and finding that I'm not doing it much. I guess the book that is looking for a... Read more →


Jerusha Cowless, agony aunt: "Am I single-handedly ruining my career by not talking personally?"

Dear Jerusha: I read Emma's blog Too Much Meringue and wondered if you could help me with a different facet of coping with the media? I hate all this stuff anyway, so would much rather refuse to do it all, though I have got used to it. But my new novel is set in the rather unusual milieu in which I grew up, although the story and the characters aren't like anyone real at all. And of course everyone wants me to say that it's all about me really, and write about my own parents and my own children. A... Read more →


Jerusha Cowless, agony aunt: "It isn't faith in my writing that I've lost. But it's getting ever harder to believe that I'll get a second book published."

Dear Jerusha: I'm at the getting-one-book-published-was-a-fluke-and-it'll-never-happen-again stage. Sometimes I can cope with it; sometimes I feel lousy and can't bear anyone to mention books, writing, publishers, agents or anything remotely writing-related. I have to keep telling myself it's not disease, death, war, torture, bereavement etc. and to keep things in perspective. Not helped this week by a genuinely kind antipodean relative texting to ask "When's the book coming out". It isn't faith in my writing that I've lost. I really don't know how I'd cope with that. But the longer the time goes on the harder it is to believe... Read more →


Jerusha Cowless, agony aunt: "Do I go with my head and finish the book that I think has a good chance? Or go with my heart and write the stuff I really enjoy?

Dear Jerusha - I'm currently working on my WIP, a thriller/drama which I think is a really good idea and I love the plot. However, I'm struggling to get motivated with it. But after churning out a few short stories this week, I've realised just how much I love writing humorous stuff. It just feels more natural. I have an idea for a chick-lit style novel, but I know this market is declining rapidly. So what do I do? Go with my head and finish the book that I think has a good chance? Or go with my heart and... Read more →


Not Me Me Me at all

It's been a bit quiet here lately, for which I apologise. I tried to get Jerusha Cowless to stand in for me, first while I was going full-steam-ahead with re-building the first 100,000 words of the novel, and teaching an OU tutorial and a six-week Writers Workshop online course in Self-Editing Your Novel. And I tried to get in touch with Jerusha again just before I headed off to France to research the novel (6 days, 2 planes, 1 dead & 1 live (hire) cars, 10 novel-settings, 270 photos, 1100km, ∞ bad French/good food/great ideas...). Eventually I got a message... Read more →


Jerusha Cowless, agony aunt: "if I find out I don't have what it takes, it might take my enjoyment out of my writing"

Dear Jerusha; I am scared. I have written two books of a series, and the first is out with a couple of agents, but I know that I'm likely to get a standard rejection, which won't tell me anything except that today, that agent thinks they can't sell that novel. But I am working on other novels - I have loads of ideas from children's books, to YA, to adult. Time is lacking. Eventually, when my daughter goes to school I would love to devote my time to writing novels. The thing is that I started writing to escape and... Read more →


Why does it hurt more, the closer you get?

If you've been collecting standard rejections (wonkily photocopied, unsigned, spelling your name wrong) for your novel it's easy to believe that any squeak of interest would have you celebrating. And the maths and psychology of submissions (very well described here by Sarah Davies and Julia Churchill of the Greenhouse Agency) mean that you know you should celebrate - you DO celebrate - being asked for the whole manuscript. And you celebrate more if you get a long email about the novel, or are taken on by an agent, or hear a publisher is interested... Each step, if you've got any... Read more →


Jerusha Cowless, Agony Aunt: "How can I make a good, quiet and put-upon character more interesting to readers?"

Dear Jerusha: I had a one-to-one with an agent who said she felt my main character was rather dull and not pro-active enough. She was afraid that, not being like the usual feisty heroines who buck the system, my MC might fail to grab the reader's attention, and my writing friends have said similar things. I fully appreciate what they mean but I have struggled to correct the problem. The thing is, she is meant to be a bit 'wet' for want of a better word, or at least she is to begin with. She has to overcome this and... Read more →


Jerusha Cowless, Agony Aunt: "I'm not a writer any more, I'm a failure."

Oh, Jerusha, I hardly dare write to you, because I'm not a proper writer, not any more. I don't belong on this blog, or the postgrad course I'm doing, or anywhere. Two years work on the novel, and it's a failure. I'm a failure. A friend has just bagged a two-book deal after an auction. My novel's been rejected everywhere it's gone out to. I can't start something new because all my mental and physical energy - my very breath - is on hold for this one. I know that my writing's good, and I've worked and polished and re-worked... Read more →


Jerusha Cowless, Agony Aunt: "Can I start with a character who isn't an MC?"

Dear Jerusha: Can you have an opening chapter in the point-of-view of someone who isn't the MC? [Emma notes: that's main character, not master of ceremonies] I'll try to explain. My opening chapter is in the point-of-view of a doctor. Her patient, James, is a main character, but is unconscious after an overdose of illegal drugs, and the scene is with James's family, in the hospital. The whole scene is from the doctor's point-of-view, but one of the family there, Edward, is also a main character. The reason I did it this way is because I needed a negative view... Read more →


Jerusha Cowless, Agony Aunt: "How do I get myself to read my book in one sitting?"

Dear Jerusha: I can't seem to read my novel from start to finish – perhaps in one sitting, perhaps over a few days – without changing things. I’m not a fan of directionless editing, but I’ve never read my book without spying at least a hundred words that need cutting – or maybe a couple of grammar catastrophes. I can’t just sit, read, relish. In fact, I think this type of editing – when all you want is to read and assess the flow – massacres the enjoyment: it’s disruptive and dispiriting, constantly illuminates the flaws, poses questions such as,... Read more →


Jerusha Cowless, Agony Aunt: "I'm falling before the first hurdle"

Dear Jerusha - I've been writing for over five years now. The second novel I wrote met with a pretty usual reception: eight rejections, and one request for the full novel which bred only silence in the face of several polite follow-up emails over the next two years. Since then I've written several more, which I haven't been able to face sending out at all. When I finished my most recent novel I summoned up every ounce of courage I had and sent it to two agents. Result: one rejection, one request for the whole MS which I'm sure will... Read more →


Too much meringue

The other day I heard a cri de coeur going up in a forum, and it was from Jenn Ashworth. She's one of The Guardian's 12 Best New Novelists, her first novel A Kind of Intimacy was much admired, and her second, Cold Light is due out soon. If you didn't catch her in The Guardian, then maybe you did on BBC2, and she's knee-deep in reviews and interviews and, most important of all, promotion within the book trade. Of course I'd like to forward Jenn's post to Jerusha Cowless, but the last I heard Jerusha was several hundred miles... Read more →


Jerusha Cowless, Agony Aunt: "I'm not a romantic soul, but my readers will want romance"

Dear Jerusha; I have interest in my novel from an agent who has sent me very comprehensive editing notes. One of her broader comments was that the novel would appeal to female readers, who would expect a more romantic approach to my main protagonists' relationship. She wants me to show the sexual tension and electricity, flirting etc. that accompanies a new love. I agree that it will improve the novel and make the way everything goes wrong towards the end more heartbreaking, but I'm not a romantic soul and am long past my sell-by date. I had carefully avoided the... Read more →


Jerusha Cowless, agony aunt: "I'm falling before the first hurdle"

Dear Jerusha - I've been writing for over five years now. The second novel I wrote met with a pretty usual reception: eight rejections, and one request for the full novel which bred only silence in the face of several polite follow-up emails over the next two years. Since then I've written several more, which I haven't been able to face sending out at all. When I finished my most recent novel I summoned up every ounce of courage I had and sent it to two agents. Result: one rejection, one request for the whole MS which I'm sure will... Read more →


Waste not, write not

In Jerusha Cowless's most recent missive from the South Seas, she came close to telling a writer what to do. (Clearly Jerusha is not me: I try never to tell anyone what to do, only to unpick the possiblities as clearly as I can. Honest.) Jerusha hinted that a poetry course might be the best way to go beyond the edges of that writer's own commercial-mum-lit-writing nature. And, having read Jerusha's answer, I'm working on a theory that the thing to do when you need/want a break or have got stuck with your writing, is the absolute opposite of what... Read more →


Jerusha Cowless, Agony Aunt: "Understated and 'gentle' just is my voice"

Some time ago, I lent This Itch of Writing to Jerusha Cowless, agony aunt, so that she could reply to an aspiring writer. Since then Jerusha has been travelling the world from New Zealand to Harmondsworth, in search of new ways to understand our peculiar art and craft. But every now and again another cry of writerly anguish reaches her by pigeon post, and she stuffs her reply into a bottle and tosses it into the sea to reach me. As she did with this one. Dear Jerusha; I've published four novels with (and had four more novels rejected by)... Read more →