Do you want to be a published novelist?

Wanna be a published novelist? You know... properly published, by a real publisher? That situation where the book is printed on actual paper and the only handover of money is from the publisher to you?

If so, you might be interested in the return of Shelfstarters, the feature unique to Phil the Shelf, where you send us a crisp, one-page synopsis of your novel, plus the first 25 pages, and we bung it to a publisher or literary agent for an opinion.

Easy, huh?

Well, actually, before you type an email to and press send, it's as well to consider the drawbacks. If you send it directly to a publisher and the publisher doesn't like it, you'll get a one-line reply that goes something like:

"Thank you for letting us see your erotic novel The Woman from Rhosllanerchrugog, but I'm afraid we do not consider it suitable for our catalogue at the present time."

However, if we send it, on your behalf, the publisher has to come on the programme and - as well as attempting to pronounce the title in full - must explain why she or he doesn't think it would sell.

Sometimes this is not easy to listen to if you're the writer, although it can be entertaining if the writer's the retired English teacher who used to belittle you at school.

On the other hand, if the publisher or agent actually likes it, you get either to burst into tears of joy or coolly compliment them on their literary tastes.

Either way, you'll learn something to your advantage, if only that publishers don't like single spacing.

On which basis, if you're thinking of sending us a sample of your novel, it might be useful to know a few publishers' dislikes in advance. Some are very simple. So, here are some of the most common flaws identified by our publishers and agents.

Spelling and typos
Some writers are inclined to point out that publishers employ people to correct writers' spelling. This is true. However, it doesn't create a grate impression and can impead the reeding flo if the publisher has to keep stumbelling over careless mistaks.

Apart from thing's like not putting apostrophes in the wrong places, there are fewer rules on punctuation than you might think. All you really need to remember is to keep your style constant and don't use too many commas where they're not, really, necessary.

Show not tell
I realise that some writers - especially, for some reason, in family sagas - do this all the time, but usually it's not a good idea to give us a page of description and personal history before a character even opens his or her mouth. Also, it's often quite boring. Let the characters gradually reveal what kind of people they are by the way they talk and behave.

But don't show us too much too soon
Readers are actually quite imaginative and are able to picture a man committing a murder without knowing his shoe size or (unless this is going to have some significance later) where he bought the knife.

When people talk, especially in, you know, emotional situations, they seldom construct sentences with any kind of literary precision. So like if you’re not sure whether a piece of dialogue is realistic, try kind of saying it out loud?

Listen to Phil the Shelf tonight from 6.30pm on BBC Radio Wales, or listen again on BBC iPlayer for the subsequent seven days.


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