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Anna Davis answers your questions about creative writing, literary agents and publishing

BY Katie Smart
25th Jan 2021

Last Thursday our founder and Director Anna Davis took to Twitter to answer your burning questions about writing and publishing – from advising on how best to approach literary agents to discussing the current book market. It was clear from your questions that many of you have set the goal to submit your novel to agents this year as you are currently busy working on edits and preparing pitch letters - while others are closer to the start of their writing journey.

Below we have gathered some of our favourite questions (and answers) from the last week's #AskAnna. We hope that these top tips inspire you…


Is there a way to get the creative flow to kick in at any time other than when I want to go to sleep?

It's so hard when our lives are exhausting! Try forcing yourself out of bed early mornings? Or get a regular writing time slot wherever in your routine you can fit it – and really stick to it.

If you’re looking for a way to kick-start your creativity, check out our new four-week online course Creative Writing for Beginners.

I get very bogged down with research. Is it better to just get a first draft down then do the research?

Research is important – but don't let it keep you from writing. Yes, put it aside and get planning and writing. You can always keep a note of points that may need extra research and deal with those when you have a full first draft.

I'm currently writing a book with pretty dark undertones and certainly without the "happy ever after" vibes. Would you say, in our current climate, that's a mistake?

Dark can be GREAT. Nothing wrong with dark. Perhaps avoid 'depressing' (especially if the story isn't gripping and/or the characters aren't compelling) – and definitely avoid 'dull' – but dark is fine!

Lots of novels reimagine the lives of real-life historical characters. Do you think an author can really let their imagination roam freely or does one have to tread cautiously to avoid legal action? Will a disclaimer that this is fiction cover it?

You're fine on the legal front if you're writing about dead people. And I absolutely think it's the job of the author to reimagine the lives of historical characters - though credibly. You have to be more careful with the living, legally. Check out our Writing Historical Fiction course.


What is the best way to start editing when you have a finished first draft?

First of all stop and take a break for a couple of weeks to get distance. Then read through and make notes on big picture and small points. Take time strategising and planning rather than just launching in.

I’m just about to start edits of my YA novel. Do you have any tips on what I should concentrate on editing first?

Analyse each component of your book and whether it's working as it should - perhaps start with your protagonist: Are they taking action right from the start? Are you clear on their motivation? Their voice? Are they slightly older than your intended readers? (That's a good thing).

When you feel that you’ve completed your book, would you ask others such as family members to give it a read? How many people would you ask?

Read it yourself first – and get it as good as you can. Then go to maybe two trusted readers – ideally not family members. You want people who will pay close attention to your work and give helpful feedback. Our courses and writing groups are good places to find trusted readers.

For lots more in-depth guidance from Anna on the rewriting process enrol on our Edit & Pitch Your Novel course.


If an agent really likes the novel and writing but isn't sure about a specific part such as the ending, is this something most agents are willing to work on with the author or would it be a deal breaker?

Most agents do editorial work if they LOVE the novel – and endings are actually one of the easiest things to change! However, I'd suggest you get your novel as good as you can before submitting. It's frustrating to be rejected because of something you already know needs fixing.

Is it worth entering writing competitions etc whilst writing your first novel to get your name out there or should you spend all your energy on the novel itself?

I'd say concentrate on the novel EXCEPT for very amazing competition opportunities which you really don't want to miss. It's best to get your novel written and into good shape – and if you fail to get on a long/shortlist, that could discourage you while you're working.

If you're unsure what genre your novel is how can you figure it out? Can you decide where it fits or does the agency/publisher?

I wouldn't get too worried about it – some novels are very clearly in a genre, while some are less so. You can focus your pitch on your story.

Where do I find out about literary agencies and how to contact them? And how do I work out who is best to approach for my genre of novel?

Agents generally have websites showing their client lists and what they're looking for etc. Lots of agents are also on social media, online interviews etc. Do some googling and you'll find out a lot. Also, we have lots of info about all this on our Edit & Pitch Your Novel course.

When an author sends you a manuscript in the hopes of gaining representation, how much of it do you read before making a decision? Do these go through an initial reader first?

Some agents use readers first – others get straight in there. They get masses of submissions and will only read as much as they need to in order to be sure they DON'T want it. If they read all the way to the end of the novel, you're being very seriously considered!

Do you think agents often read just the query letter and possibly don’t get to the MS?

Lots of agents will read the letter – then move to read a bit of the opening material, and glance at the synopsis before deciding whether to call in the full manuscript. But at any stage, if they don't like what they see, they will reject. It's worth getting your letter really good ...

Do you have any tips on how to deal with rejection fatigue?

Take a break from submitting. If you've had lots of rejections, put that earlier project away for a while and give yourself a break from all that. Joining a writing group or one of our courses might help – offload to fellow writers and let them cheer you up.

No matter what stage you're currently at we have a variety of courses and resources to help you on your writing journey. From our FREE twelve-week writing workout to our six-week online How to Write Your Novel courses.