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24 September 2014

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Guidelines for writing BBC Books

Please note: This is an archive page. The BBC Books range no longer selects unsolicited manuscripts

Frequently Asked Questions
Before you start, Jac Rayner has some great advice - how to write a covering letter, how to format your proposal, and what NOT to do. More >>

Guidelines for Prospective Authors

Thank you for your interest in Doctor Who publishing.

BBC Worldwide is committed to a long-term future for Doctor Who. Our objective is to create a series of books that will appeal both to the new generation of fans brought to the property by the Eighth Doctor and the loyal readership which that has supported Doctor Who over the years. At present we publish two novels a month (except December), one featuring the Eighth Doctor, and one featuring a previous incarnation. Each novel is around 80,000-85,000 words in length (around 288 pages in printed paperback form).

The target audience for Doctor Who books is young adults from fifteen years old and up. But bear in mind that we have many readers who are younger than this - so be wary of using swear words and 'adult' themes. Also, many of our readers are considerably older than this, so each novel needs a thematic depth to it that enhances the more superficial story and plot elements.

Although we are willing to accept proposals for both our ranges, there are more available slots in the Past Doctor range, as a number of the Eighth Doctor books are specially commissioned to tie in with on-going storylines.

Please note that we are not currently considering any non-fiction, illustrated or short story proposals.

Please do not submit proposals for Big Finish Productions' officially-licensed range of Doctor Who audio dramas to us. Thank you. More information about Big Finish can be found at their website.

If you wish to submit a proposal, please use the following guidelines. This will enable us to give the fullest possible consideration to your idea. Proposals that do not follow these guidelines may be rejected automatically. So it is important that you read, understand, and adhere to them.

What you should submit
Proposals should be clearly typed or printed in black ink using a legible typeface, double-spacing and 30 mm margins on white A4 paper (or US standard 8.5"x11"). Paragraphs should be indicated by a double line break rather than indentation. You should enclose a large, stamped, addressed envelope. Please do not submit proposals on disk or by e-mail.

Please do not send in full manuscripts as we simply won't be able to read them. We would expect a full proposal to include:
A covering letter briefly giving your name and address, and referencing any relevant past writing experience you have
A synopsis of the plot of your novel - this should be about 3,000 words long
A sample chapter of about 5,000 words. This does not have to be the first chapter of the book, but does need to include the Doctor and companions so we can see how you cope with writing for them. (Note that your synopsis must also include a summary of your sample chapter so it can be read separately.)

If we feel that the plot might be suitable for our list, we may ask you to submit further sample chapters.

General guidelines Please take care with spelling and punctuation. Even if your prose is wonderful, errors are a distraction and do not create a good impression. Watch out especially for its/it's, your/you're and there/their/they're.

If you are a first-time writer, please buy or borrow a book on how to write a novel. There are many excellent guides on the market by authors who have written successful novels themselves and these give good advice on how to structure plot and depict character - take a look at How to Write Science Fiction by Bob Shaw, for example (ISBN 0 74900 135 6). Writers' groups can also be very helpful, giving you the opportunity to discuss your work with other authors; if you wish to join one of these, your local library should have a list of when and where they meet.

We are looking for strong, credible plots that hang together. Each novel must have a storyline that makes the reader want to know what's going on. If the plot is either too simple or too complicated, the reader will lose interest. The reader needs to wonder how the characters are going to get out of the sticky situation and whether they're going to do it in time. Your main plot will need a subplot(s) to help raise the stakes and increase tension. A strong final conflict/showdown is a must.

Remember, as well as looking for novels that tell a good story in a strong, imaginative way you are aiming to write a Doctor Who book. The submissions most likely to be looked upon favourably are the ones that have that elusive Doctor Who feel to them as well as being original in style and tone. And remember your medium! Think of what you can do in a novel that you couldn't pull off on screen.

All characters you use should be well-drawn and must act in a consistent and credible manner. Motivation should also be clear and consistent unless your characters are double-crossing, or lying, or hiding something for a reason, etc. Whether it is part of a belligerent race of beings or some force of nature, the adversary's objectives initially need to clash with those of the Doctor - whether or not he realises this. If you are creating a new adversary, make sure that it is a well-rounded character or alien race with clear aims.

Doctor Who continuity
Please keep to the character of the Doctor as depicted in the TV series. You should not use characters from Virgin's New Adventures series (Roz, Cwej, Benny, Kadiatu, etc.) or the Big Finish audio series (Evelyn, Erimem, Bev Tarrant etc.) If you are reusing former companions from the TV, they should also remain true to their TV personae. Bear in mind that the reader may not necessarily know the TV series and may never have read another Doctor Who novel before. You will need to bring out your players' characters, without inserting long character sketches.

Obviously, references to past events or characters in Who history must be accurate. If in doubt, there are a number of good non-fiction reference guides to the series available from bookshops or libraries (a comprehensive work is Doctor Who: The Television Companion by David J. Howe and Stephen James Walker, ISBN 0 563 40588 0). Please remember that many of the aliens featured throughout the series were created by scriptwriters and remain their copyright. You're always better to invent your own, new creatures, races and characters.

Although we have published a number of books featuring returning characters/races, we are very keen to go in wholly original directions in the future - as the TARDIS can go anywhere in space and time, there are an infinite number of beings and places the Doctor can visit. Gallifrey, the Daleks and Cybermen are definitely off -limits. And talking of which...

If in doubt...
We often receive enquiries asking 'Is it OK for me to...?' In general, if you feel you have to ask, it probably isn't something we want to see. New incarnations of the Master (or the Doctor!), adventures set before An Unearthly Child, the later lives of companions (or, indeed, their deaths), Blake's 7 crossovers, multiple Doctor stories, the Valeyard, more adventures for K9 and Company, new (or non TV/BBC Books) companions, Time Lord mythology or history, virtually any sequel to a televised adventure - these are just a few of the things we don't want to see, and in general they'll lead to an automatic rejection. That doesn't mean we will never a publish a book featuring any of the above - just that, if we do, it will almost certainly be specially commissioned from a previously -published author. For unsolicited proposals, we prefer to see wholly original submissions - you stand a much better chance of impressing us with your inventiveness and imagination that way!

Things to avoid
Other things you should try to avoid, which are common mistakes in synopses sent to us:

Having a good idea for the theme of a novel and using this as the hook rather than a strong plot. Even the best idea or character or setting needs a good plot in which to function. Although it's possible to be wildly experimental in a short story, to do so in a novel requires a lot of experience and/or flair.

Having a story in which the Doctor is more-or-less irrelevant - the events would have evolved in the same way with or without his presence. Don't just tack on a character called 'the Doctor' to your science-fiction idea - it always shows! These are Doctor Who books, and the Doctor is the person the readers are most interested in.

Revealing the Doctor had a psychic insight into his adversary's mind and knew what would happen all along. This tends to destroy tension and can be very frustrating to the reader. Many excellent books have hinged on psychic powers, but they are all too often used as devices of convenience.

Too much reliance on coincidence. This usually indicates a plot that hasn't been thought through very clearly and will soon irritate the reader.

Explaining the ancestry of the Doctor. Please don't do this. He is a being of mystery and should stay that way. We don't need to know too much about him - nothing too concrete, anyway. Leave out his family members too - no grans, dads, or maiden aunts. No revelations about Gallifrey's past or future either, please.

Parallel/alternate universes also feature quite often in synopses. Again, these have formed the basis of some excellent novels, but can be difficult to sustain. If you are going to include a parallel universe in the plot, you should make sure that you work out the boundaries and stick to them. In general, we'd rather you just stayed in this universe. It's big enough!

What happens next
If you send in a proposal, we will try to respond as soon as possible - - but please bear in mind that this could be a matter of months. We do receive hundreds of proposals a year, and aim to read every one that follows the guidelines, so bear with us. If you wish us to acknowledge receipt of your proposal, please enclose a stamped, self-addressed postcard.

Contact details

Please send all correspondence to:

Doctor Who Books, Room A3133, Woodlands, 80 Wood Lane, London W12 0TT.

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