Rejection Letters – How to Build that THICK SKIN

Anyone who has ever wanted to work in a creative field, be it writing, painting or playing music has been told they’d better develop thick skin. After all, it doesn’t matter how good you are, someone will always be there to tear you down.

Rejection letters from editors, literary agents or publishers usually hit a writer right in the chest even when the writer is an old hand at the game. The reason is simple. A manuscript is usually a product of months even years of work and more work. You’ve poured your time, your effort, your creativity; you’ve poured your soul into this piece of work. To get to the point where you submit it for review with the hope of it getting published usually takes a lot of guts. To then have someone send it back to you with a note of rejection is, at best, deflating.

So what do you do if and when you receive a manuscript rejection letter?

First let’s take a look at how it might look like.

1. Form Rejection Letter: This will usually be a short note. A form letter, no matter what the exact phrasing, is a nice, generic way of saying no thanks.

Usually a form will voice thoughts similar to this:

Doesn’t meet our needs
Doesn’t fit our plans
Have to pass on this
Isn’t resonating with me/us
Isn’t something we’d like to pursue
No room for more clients
Not a right fit
Not exactly what we’re looking for
Not for us
Not suitable for us
Not quite right for this list/publication

A form letter doesn’t mean you sent your work to the wrong agent or editor. It doesn’t mean you’ve made a mistake by sending your submission. It just means you need to count your losses and move on.

What to do with this: Let your manuscript rest in a drawer for a while. Work on something else in the meantime. Then take it out, give it to a new round of readers (assuming that you had in fact gone through a peer review process before submitting your work). Listen to what your readers have to say. Take note. See if you need to make changes (you might not necessarily have to make changes but listening to intelligent readers can help you make that decision). Then submit elsewhere.

Note: Here’s a list of books that were first rejected but went on to become major successes after resubmission. It is important to note that each of these books went on to sell more than 20 million copies with some hitting the 100 million mark and at least one selling 450 million+ copies:

  • Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
  • Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maude Montgomery
  • The Ginger Man by James Patrick Donleavy
  • Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach
  • The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
  • Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann
  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
  • Chicken Soup for the Soul by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen
  • Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
  • Animal Farm by George Orwell

2. Personal Rejection Letter: A personalized rejection letter will likely give you a reason for the rejection and critique or recommendation.

What to do about this: Seriously consider resubmitting to any literary agent or editor who cared enough about your work to offer a personal comment. Send the agent or editor a thank-you note.

In this case as well you need to take time to recover, ponder over the comments/critique, decide which to incorporate and which to ignore. If/when you resubmit, reference the comments from the original rejection.

You might also want to consider submitting elsewhere. Different agents and editors have different perspective, and the fact that an agent actually decided to send you personalized critique might indicate that your work is worth some trouble.

3. Invitation to Resubmit: In some cases, a piece may be rejected because the timing of your submission is off. Perhaps your project was too similar to something else that the agent or editor has already accepted. Or the editor or agent might believe you have talent and he/she is looking forward to seeing you develop it.

What to do about this: Send a thank-you note and a new submission. Be sure to reference the original comments in your query letter.

It is important to remember that writing is a serious profession. Agents and editors have nothing against writers personally. But an agents’ or editors’ job depends on the choices they make, and if they don’t feel the work will sell—or they simply don’t feel any enthusiasm or passion for the piece—they have to be sure they make sound business decisions.

Literary agents and editors have different tastes and interests. As a writer, you should learn what you can from rejection letters and then keep submitting to find the agent or editor who will love your work.


Are you working on your manuscript? Do you need an editor or literary agent? Please write to us at


How NOT TO write a Query Letter

Let’s start with this:

I hope you watched to the end. I have just come to the awesome realisation that aspiring writers all over the world are the same.

So what is a query letter?

A Query letter is a one page, three paragraph letter introducing you and your book. Your query letter is the first (and possibly only) impression you’ll ever make on an agent or editor. Don’t slam the door on yourself – learn everything you can about writing a good query letter. It consists of:

1. The Hook – a brief, compact, preferably one sentence tagline that sums up your book. Example: When Muki Oduol, a former colonel in the South Sudanese militia, spends his family’s remaining funds into a house formerly owned by a Nothern Sudanese General, he unwittingly puts himself and his family on a trajectory to disaster.

2. A mini-synopis – This is a basic description of your project.  This part identifies the underlining theme, the plot hook, your main character(s), and their conflict. Be sure to also state the word count for your book as well as your book’s genre e.g. mystery, romance, mainstream.

3. Your Writer’s Biography: After the synopsis paragraphs, you can point out your credits, for example, if you are a lawyer working on a legal thriller, mention that. If you have any nonfiction publication credits, mention that.

Your query is a business letter and should be formatted and worded as such.

  • There should be no spelling or grammar errors.
  • Be sure to include the date on your letter. This can be important if you feel later on that your idea has been stolen.
  • It should be addressed to the appropriate editor. Use their full name and do not use Mr. Mrs. or otherwise. The exception to this rule is Dr. or other professional title.
  • The publication name and address should be correct.
  • The salutation should be formal.
  • Single-space your paragraphs and double-space between paragraphs.
  • Include your name, postal address, email address and phone number in the letterhead or at the bottom of the letter.

Now that it is clear what a Query Letter is, let’s deal with what NOT TO include in a query letter.

Let’s first deal with the 3 pet peeves editors, agents and publishers have to deal with.

  • “Go to my website for a sample of my work…”
  • “Find my query attached…”
  •  Querying before your manuscript is ready.

A query letter is an idea pitch. You want to give it the best chance to sell. So if there is any information you want the agent to know you include it in the query. Please keep in mind that this is a Query Letter not a manuscript submission. So at this point you just want to see if the editor/agent might be interested in your idea.

You do not attach a query, because the query should be the email body. I get this a lot, people saying something like:

“Hi buddy, hope you are well, please find my query attached.” Actually that’s the best of them. This is a business letter, and a good agent will likely file it as a business and legal document and will use it as such.. Keep that in mind.

And now, here’s one thing all editors/agent seem to share. You do not call your manuscript ready when it is a first draft.

First, you write the first draft. Then you leave it to simmer in a drawer for a while – a month minimum, during which time your brain cells have a chance to rejuvenate. then you come back to it and read, edit it, edit some more and then some more. you give it to a bunch of peer reviewers and they come back and tell about this gaping hole in your plot, or the fact that your characters are boring and one dimensional. You go back and make an attempt to fill the hole, maybe end up cutting out a whole lot, adding much more. Then you give it to the readers to look at it and from what they tell you you come back and edit some more. You leave your manuscript to rest again because at this time your brain has multiple bleeds. Then you come back and edit some more. At about this time you can begin to consider very tentatively the possibility of calling your manuscript ready.

  • Here’s a list of other things NOT TO DO in your query letter.
  • Sending a query that has clearly not been proofread.
  • Queries with more than one agent listed in the “To” field.
  • Talking about the book’s sequel.
  • Pitching more than one book at a time.
  • Writing a query that lacks confidence or on the other end of the spectrum: overconfident or pompous.
  • Queries addressed to “Dear Agent” (or anything similar!)
  • Queries that have no clue what the agent represents.
  • Queries that have no clue what the agent’s submission guidelines are.

So pause, think and then work on that query letter. Writing is an art. Writing a query letter is an art in marketing your work.

Are you working on your manuscript? Do you need an editor or literary agent? Please write to us at



How to Deal with a Manuscript Critique / Editorial Letter

Over the last few days I have come to the realisation that most artists and artistes do not know the difference between criticism and critique. As a result, most artists/artistes feel that any critical examination of their work is elicited by jealousy or hatred.

Some of those feelings may be warranted, but I believe it is important to make it clear: Criticism may include critique, but critique is far set apart from plain criticism.

Criticism is usually a complain, which is why criticism can very easily destroy a friendship or a marriage. It just points to mistakes and whines about them.

See the difference between the above and this definition of Critique:

Definition of CRITIQUE

: an act of criticizing; especially : a critical estimate or discussion <a critique of the poet’s work>
Examples of CRITIQUE
  1. She wrote a radical critique of the philosopher’s early essays.
  2. They gave a fair and honest critique of her art.

Based on the above, you can then expect that when you submit your manuscript to an agent or publisher, you will receive a critical estimate of your work, in other words, an editorial letter.

It is standard practice that when you submit your work to a literary agent, they will first review and analyse your work. They will point out structural flaws, guide you on self editing processes and possibly review your work again and again.

Now, judging from my experience in the last few months, writers are seriously averse to revising their work over and over again. In fact, enmity between a literary agent/editor can develop because of the critique.

So what do you do when you recieve that editorial letter?

1. Read it. Once. Then put it aside and allow the rage building up inside you to subside. You may need a few days for this. Don’t respond to your editor and tell them what a ‘hater’ they are and how better off you are without them. At least not yet. Don’t burn your manuscript either. Just wait.

2. Several days later, go with your gut. It is very important to listen to editorial critique, but even as you consider reworking your manuscript, listen to your gut. Only you know what was the intention of your setting word to paper. So, if you feel that you cannot follow your agent’s/editor’s suggestions, and you find that you cannot reasonably explain why not, find yourself a new agent/editor.

The only thing you have to remember is that your agent/editor’s job is to first of all get your work ready for sale and then represent you as best as they can to the publishers you need. Your agent/editor does not earn money unless they can sell your work, and therefore any suggestions they make are not a result of ‘jealousy’ but rather an attempt to get your work in its best form.

3. So let’s say you have decided to work with your agent/editor even after that infuriating editorial letter. What next? Look at the suggestions. Instead of blindly following them, look at your story and consider what prompted your agent/editor to suggest those changes. Think of the underlying problem rather than just remedy prescribed.

This will help you to go with your gut in that instead of just typing up a bunch of words and inserting them as prescribed, you will look at your manuscript in its entirety. think about how one change affects the rest of the manuscript.

Case in point: An author I know followed editorial suggestions without thinking about the story in whole. She decided to get rid of a character who was important for the introduction of the story, but not of any use in the middle sections of the story.

So what she did is she pointed to spot in the story where the character was not needed anymore and promptly killed the character. And then she was done.

Lo and behold! Dead person was alive in the closing scene of the story. And no, not a ghost, a zombie or vampire story so don’t even try to justify it.

4. Lastly, the angrier you are, the more likely it is that your agent/editor is right.

Why? If someone comes along and tells you to do an absolutely ridiculous thing, you don’t get mad. You just give them an “What kind of crazy are you?” look and walk away.

But if someone comes along and tells you that you have a problem that you need to solve, and it just so happens to be about your precious baby sweetheart manuscript, you get defensive almost as if it was a personal attack. The more you know that what you are hearing is true, the more likely you are to get even more defensive.

So go back to number one and take time out to cool off. Then come back and listen to what is being said.

Talk to the greatest novelists, you’ll find out that they may have edited their work several times over before their work was done. The trick is in holding on to your original dream while working out the best way to present it.

Are you working on your manuscript? Do you need an editor or literary agent? Please write to us at

Promoting Your Book by Writing

I’ve been talking to a number of authors who feel that their publishers are not doing enough to publicise their books. As a result they are not getting enough sales once their books are out in print.

Yes, your publisher and literary agent should ideally do their utmost to get your work to sell. Unless, of course, they are vanity publishers in which case they have already earned their bit from you. Publishers and agents can only legally earn money from your work by selling it and you as a brand.

Even so, there are some things YOU can do to market your book.

You are a writer, you love to write. So why don’t you market your book by doing what you love?

”]You have the option to write for newspapers, magazines, e-zines and even your own blog. Print and Online Magazines often include a bio of the author of the article which is great publicity if it includes mention of your book and where it is available.

Many popular magazines online or in print serialise book excerpts. Of course, they generally want excerpts from books that relate to their magazine eg a travel magazine will quote travel books and society magazines want to excerpt books that address issues that are current in the society such as relationships, careers and politics.

If, for some reason, your publishing contract restricts you from doing the above, why not write articles related to the topics addressed in your book? You could even submit articles on topics only remotely related to your book and still promote your book by virtue of a mention of your name and publishing history in the byline.

It is important to note that both writing exceptionally well and demonstrating your knowledge of the topic whets the readers appetite for anything else you may have written. The most effective articles for marketing your book are those relying on your expertise.

I’ll give you an example. Sunny Bindra. You probably know him as the author of ‘A Sunny Day’ – the column published on the Sunday Nation, and ‘Thought Leadership’ the column published on Business Daily.

In the course of reading these two columns you will find out that Sunny Bindra is Kenya’s renowned management consultant, writer, educator and public speaker. Sunny’s primary work has been as a management consultant and board advisor.

He has two degrees in Economics from the London School of Economics, and specialises in business strategy and corporate governance.

And then you will find out that he has published two books Crown Your Customer in 2007, and The Peculiar Kenyan in 2010. You will likely also be guided to his blog/website

How are you finding out these things? Not from the articles themselves. You will find the articles will focus on management strategies and solutions, provider-customer relationships, our peculiarities as Kenyans in business and so on.

In the tagline bio is where you will find the details about Sunny Bindra’s experience, publishing history or speaking events. And because you enjoyed reading his articles so much, you will likely go on into the bookshop or online store to look for the titles mentioned and any other works he may have published.

Of course, the strategy above requires you to be an excellent and creative writer to begin with. Most newspaper & magazine editors will reject articles that blatantly promote a product, so keep your article from sounding like a sales pitch for your book. Simply write a useful and informative article suitable to a particular magazine and mention your book where appropriate.

So how do you get started?

  • Study a variety of magazines from cover to cover.
  • List as many topics related to your book as you can.
  • Brainstorm with friends and family.
  • Approach editors with your query/submission

The bonus point is of course that newspapers and magazines will pay you for your article. If you are good enough they may even offer you a regular column which will be of more use in publicising your work. So give it a try.

In this article, I mentioned a personal blog. You may even have gone over to Sunny Bindra’s online space to see what I am talking about ( However I did not expound on the blog aspect because keeping a blog to promote a book or writing brand is a whole new ball game that should be discussed on its own. So let’s do that next time.

If you need help marketing your articles or selling your published book excerpts, please contact us at

On Creative Writing – A Personal perspective from Sheblossoms

Who’s to say that certain types of irrational thinking aren’t exactly what the world needs? Maybe you’ve had grand plans before, but stopped yourself, thinking: That’s impossible or that costs too much or that won’t benefit me. For better or worse, we kids aren’t hampered as much when it comes to thinking about reasons why not to do things. Kids can be full of inspiring aspirations and hopeful thinking, like my wish that no one went hungry or that everything were free kind of utopia. How many of you still dream like that and believe in the possibilities? Sometimes a knowledge of history and the past failures of utopian ideals can be a burden because you know that if everything were free, that the food stocks would become depleted, and scarce and lead to chaos. On the other hand, we kids still dream about perfection. And that’s a good thing because in order to make anything a reality, you have to dream about it first. An Excerpt from Adora Sitvak’s Speech at TED2010.

Listening to Adora’s speech was like listening to my mum all over again. And I loved it!

I woke up one day, maybe 2 or 3 years old with the ability to read and the demand for a name change. No, it was not a miracle. I was not a child prodigy, nor a genius, no matter how hard I wish for that to have been true so I could brag a little. I’d spent so much time listening to my mum reading to me, and watching her teach older kids with learning disabilities how to read that I actually picked up the skill.

As explained in a previous article, my mother encouraged my reading. She read to me, read with me, let me chose books for myself whenever she could afford it, and generally allowed me to experience the joy of books as much as was possible.

I don’t think it was very much of a surprise when 5, 6 years later I decided that I wanted to be a writer. Again, my mum indulged my need for notebooks and pencils and pens. She never reprimanded me for my wild daydreams, and furious scribbling. It’s from my mum that I first heard the words, ‘learn as much from writing as you do from reading’ and ‘see the world, so you can tell it’.

When I was 12, the topic of my desire with regards to writing came up at one of those extended family dos that happen around Christmas. I remember my aunt jumping in to say, ‘You need a career before you can become a writer.’

I hadn’t quite connected writing to a career yet. But I think there was a pause in my bubble dreams for a while. My high school teachers will attest to various phases in my high school career. I pretty much went through all the career that I felt my relatives would find glamorous and ‘becoming’.

One day, mum came home with the response to a letter she had sent to a college that offered English, Literature and Creative Writing on distance learning options. I was 16. My mum said anything is possible no matter how old or young you are, all you have to do is be willing to learn how to do it right. That was my reaffirmation.

But oh, you should have been there when my decision to become a Kindergarten teacher became known to the same extended family. Except for my mum, no one really wanted to know why I wanted to become a teacher. A kindergarten teacher.

So I didn’t tell them about wanting to impart and share the wonder of words, and the world, and discovery with children who were still able to dream and imagine a wide, wonderful world where everything was right.

Learning between grown ups and kids should be reciprocal. The reality, unfortunately, is a little different, and it has a lot to do with trust, or a lack of it. Adora Sitvak

Years later, I got to do both, to teach and to write. Kids are accepting. Trust me there were times when I was absolutely clueless, and so completely frustrated I could cry. But the nature of kids is such that when you accept that learning goes both ways, they will create many more joys, and teach you to appreciate life’s beauty so much more.

I wish that could be said of the adult world.

When I first presented some of my work to a Kenyan publisher, the response I got was that I was too young for their market. I was 21. I am not very certain that they actually read my work.

Over the next four years, I committed myself to learning the art of writing. I read expansively, attended workshops, found ‘older’ writers whom I hoped would mentor me. In the end, it seemed prudent to conclude that only I could decide upon my style of writing and form of expression.

I did present another piece of work to yet another publisher. The response? My work though well-written was fantastical, hardly anything for the Kenyan market.

Probably true. But…

A few years back, a friend and I were talking about mind-sets. He asked how old I was in this context. I told him that I decided to be 12 when I was 6, and had still not undecided. This spawned a discussion about ‘child-ishness’ and ‘child-likeness’.

Like Adora, I noted that undesirable and irresponsible behaviour is described as childish, when in reality adults display just as much of this undesirable and irresponsible behaviour. And so when I speak of child-like mind sets, you will probably assume that I am referring to said undesirable/irresponsible behaviour.

In reality, what I mean when I say child-like, well allow a child to say it for you:

In many ways, our audacity to imagine helps push the boundaries of possibility. For instance, the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Washington, my home state — yoohoo Washington — (Applause)has a program called Kids Design Glass, and kids draw their own ideas for glass art. Now, the resident artist said they got some of their best ideas through the program because kids don’t think about the limitations of how hard it can be to blow glass into certain shapes. They just think of good ideas. Now, when you think of glass, you might think of colorful Chihuly designs or maybe Italian vases, but kids challenge glass artists to go beyond that into the realm of broken-hearted snakes and bacon boys, who you can see has meat vision. An Excerpt from Adora Sitvak’s Speech at TED2010.

Think about all those ideas that buzz in your head when you give them a chance. Imagine that they did not have the limitations of time and resources. Can you see how far you could possibly go? I’ll give you an example of my world without limitations.

In my perfect world, I could write stories that people who love mysteries and fantasies would love and enjoy. In my perfect world, I would be free to reflect culture and history as it really is without worrying about being politically correct. In my perfect world, you would buy my book, read it, and be inspired to tell a story for tomorrow’s kid. In my perfect world, a publisher is not an obstacle to overcome with Herculean effort, but a tool for the proliferation(!) of the love of words, and books. In my perfect world, no one would use the phrase ‘Herculean effort’ or ‘Kid gloves’ unless they knew the etymology of the phrase. In my perfect world, we are all writers, and master storytellers. It certainly would make Discrete Modelling Unit a lot more palatable if the lecturer knew how to translate Math into Story.

Speaking of which, how is that for an endless wonder pursuit? A story that teaches Math, without the jargon that loses the magic in Numb3rs.

Even worse than restriction is that adults often underestimate kids abilities. We love challenges, but when expectations are low, trust me, we will sink to them. My own parents had anything but low expectations for me and my sister. Okay, so they didn’t tell us to become doctors or lawyers or anything like that, but my dad did read to us about Aristotle and pioneer germ fighters when lots of other kids were hearing “The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round.” Well, we heard that one too, but “Pioneer Germ Fighters” totally rules. An Excerpt from Adora Sitvak’s Speech at TED2010.

If you don’t believe Adora, just take a look at the Kenyan Education system. The expectation of mediocrity is so deeply ingrained in tradition that it is no longer seen as mediocrity but as culture.

How many times have you heard someone excuse something that is so shamefully bad in quality with, ‘This is Africa.’ As an accusation it should drive us to defiance. But more often than not, it comes as an excuse.

But take a young mind, show him the challenge, and allow him to think and create, without boundaries real or imposed. You will be so completely blown out of your socks and still have your shoes on. Trust me, I know. So many are the times minds as young as 3 years old have left me gasping in surprise at the intelligent logic in the wide-eyed wonder.

I read comments and articles written about child prodigies, a few in very positive light, many of them in negative light, some bordering on jealousy. But everyone seems to agree on the axis that parents and caregivers have a lot to do with how much and how far a child can learn, develop and accomplish. The thing is; as much as a child is, so is their adulthood.

Child Prodigy or not, the end product is directly proportional to the formative years. Encouraging creativity in children determines how much these same children will be open to challenging barriers in finding solutions and creating new frontiers in the world’s economic, socio-cultural and scientific arenas.

When I was little, my brothers who were much older than me hated babysitting me. I am not sure my mother knows this, but sometimes they would pile up books on the floor, and then lock me in, hoping that I would be so lost I wouldn’t notice they were off to play soccer without me.

The thing is, I loved my books almost as much as I loved climbing up the old tree in our backyard to watch them play. The first few times they locked me in, I tried to climb up onto the window ledge and watch from there. I soon became bolder, and without the concept of dimensions and heights, I found a way to squeeze both myself and my book of choice out of the window, crawl along the edges and latch onto tree branch, then crawl to the safety of the wide bough from where I could both read and watch my brothers play.

When my brothers saw me there, well, let’s just say window escape onto tree manoeuvres stopped. My brother used to describe me as ‘little menace’.

Now, after a few falls of course, and an ugly jagged scar on my forearm, I have issues with heights. I also don’t think my hips would fit through the window grills. So if I faced the same problem as I did when I was 4, I’d probably stay indoors.

Or maybe not. I’d like to think I would pick the lock and walk out. What would you do?

“There is a garden in every childhood, an enchanted place where colors are brighter, the air softer, and the morning more fragrant than ever again.”

© Juliet Maruru 2010

Talk is Cheap [From Writing Jungle Gym]

Written by Beenduta. First Posted in the Writing Jungle Gym

It’s heart-wrenching to hear writers say that publishers do not take their work.

It is heart-breaking to see writers doing nothing about it.

All we do is talk, yet we know that talk is cheap.

We bitch about, bad mouthing publishers, yet we do not even know what’s happening at our own backyard. As much as we have stories, which we consider perfect, there might be certain elements that will render these stories weak when it comes to publishing.

Some of these aspects range from the simple basic issues including punctuation and spelling to the more complex ones such as research and presentation. As much as we would like to blame the publishers, we are part of the problem.

For starters, we do not take risks. This can be confirmed by Agatha Verdadero, Publisher at Master Publishing, the Managing Director of CAN DO! Company, and author of Utado?. During the Publishing Process Open Forum, she highlighted some of the mistakes Kenyan writers make, including the fact that Kenyan writers play in a crowded field and they hate challenges, competition and risk.

I know all about the competition part. I have hung around a large number of writers to know that this is true. We all hide in small cliques of ‘writers who agree with us’. Every time someone wants to bring up something different, we either shut him/her down or we start calling them haters and bitch about them. We also have the tendency of shutting out others from getting into such cliques.

One day a friend of a friend of another friend asked an acquaintance why he does not attend another friend’s event. He was told: ‘Simple, she did not show up at mine.’ Keep in mind that the acquaintance did not invite the said friend for the said event.

I think, we as writers, are full of ourselves- egotistic proud okes who are too comfortable with where we are, we cannot sense an opportunity even when it is right under our noses.

As much as we might go around claiming that this and that is against our principle, we need to open our eyes. We have to get out of our comfort zones, and maybe, just maybe, we will have something to add on our plate.

The other major problem we have as writers is that we do not set goals for ourselves. We sway with the wind, depending on where it is going. We become lazy, and then end up pinning it one excuse or another, most often than not, writer’s block. (I should know I have used that excuse a number of times, and pretended not to feel bad about it.) Lying to yourself will never work. Get up and get to writing.

When it comes to the publishers, we are a sad group. Most of the time, we fail to do our research, be it research on the specific publishers, research on the submission guidelines, as well as research on what is the best offer we can get from these publishers.

When we get a publisher, we do not take time to nurture our relationships with them. Most of the time, we think that we have done our part and the ball is on the publisher’s court. Wrong. The process is just starting. We have to be available, keep checking on what the publisher is doing with our works. They need us we need them.

That said and done, I think we have a lot of work to do: take writing seriously, setting goals for ourselves and getting out of our comfort zones.

Now get to writing!

Beenduta is a Learning & Mentorship Consultant at Lesleigh Inc. To find out about their programs, please write to or Also check out

Your Style

What is style and how do you acquire it? Writing style is the manner in which a writer addresses a matter. It is the result of the choices the writer makes in syntactical structures, diction, and figures of thought.

We all have a natural style. Style is simply the way in which you put words together when you are writing. It is a reflection of your speaking and thinking habits. Clear, muddled? Some people write in short staccato sentences, sometimes even without using verbs. Style can reflect your personality, e.g. serious, brusque, friendly, chatty, “whacky, breezy”… and so on.

This could be your style. Wait, what are we talking about?

Here are four habits that can help you develop your own personal style into something that will draw your work to readers.

Don’t be too wordy. Make your writing easy to read.  Keep it simple. Keep paragraphs short and sweet.  Keep sentences shorter and sweeter. This means “concise,” not cryptic.

Space your work properly. White space is not wasted space — it greatly improves clarity.

Pick your words carefully. 
Writing with precision is as important here as it is in any other kind of discourse.  Consider whether what you have written can be misinterpreted, and whether that is something you wish to have happen. (Puns and entendres can create humor, depending on who your audience is.) Define the acronyms and abbreviations you use.

Spell words correctly. “Cute” misspellings are difficult to read, especially if the reader is not fluent in the language involved. Obvious misspellings are jarring and distract the reader. Leaving out articles (such as “the,” “a,” “an,” etc.) for “brevity” mangles the meaning of your sentences and takes longer to read. It saves you time at the expense of your reader.

In non-fiction works, try to write in a simple and unobtrusive style, with the odd “whacky” bit of humour thrown in to keep the reader entertained, as well as informed. Your writing mission should be; through words to inform, illuminate, entertain, uplift, delight, as well as hopefully even inspire people.

How Serious Are you?

Good writing allows the writer to be taken seriously, and being taken seriously is always important in communicating ideas. If a person’s writing is awkward and clumsy, readers (and editors) get the mistaken notion the person is that way, too. (“Seriously” doesn’t have to mean “serious” though, so you shouldn’t feel compelled to make things sound “official” or stodgy.) Borrowed from Write Away –  Learn how to become a better writer.

Some of the very best writing I have ever read is humorous, delivering the punch in such a way it leaves me thinking over the issues quite seriously. That would not be quite possible if the writing is riddled with spelling and grammar mistakes.

Admittedly, when writing on a deadline, it is quite easy to make repeated mistakes. Sometimes, even when you are taking your time to go over your work, you might not see a mistake until it has already been sent out to your editor.

My mentor has taught me a number of things over the last few years, from taking my work seriously to exploring subjects I normally would shy away from. But one thing he has taught me, by his own example, is that it is always a good idea to do the first, second and perhaps third draft, then leave your work to rest overnight.

In the light of a new day, without the fatigue of rewriting your work, it is much easier for you not only to see grammatical mistakes, but also to have a chance to review your writing.

Don’t get into the habit of allowing your writing to be ‘cleaned’ up by your editor. Editors are notorious for cutting up your script, changing words and so on to make your work fit into their specifications. You can minimise the loss of your voice by cleaning up your work yourself. As a matter of fact, this is one reason for last week’s note on ‘word count’.

I will mention my mentor once again. I have watched him agonise over word count so many times, even though he usually submits his work to reputable newspapers. If he goes over the word count, then he stands the chance that his work will end up looking like someone else’s work – the editor’s. The same thing goes for grammar and spelling.

So, how serious are you?

Publishing Process – Open Forum

Have you ever wondered what it would take to get your work published? What are publishers looking for? What happens during the publishing process? 

Lesleigh Inc,  a company that helps you manage the creative process, understands that you need to know what to expect during every step of getting your work out there in the market. We have teamed up with Publisher and CEO of Can-Do Publishing, Agatha Verdadero to bring you a forum that will take you through:-

  • How do I get published?
  • Are there different types of publishing?
  • What’s the difference between submitting fiction and non-fiction?
  • Is there anything I need to know about my work before looking out for publishers or agents?
  • Are there certain periods of the year that is better to submit the manuscripts?
  • What are the modes of delivery- email or post or both?
  • What if I want to self-publish?
  • Rejection vs revision
We invite you to an afternoon of information and discussion at August 7th Memorial Park Conference Rooms on Sunday, March 4, 2012 from 1:00 PM to 5:00 PM 

Please indicate your interest by registering your name and details in the registration page here.

Note: Your attendance in the forum will only be confirmed and guaranteed once you pay the forum fee of Kshs 1000/- You can pay cash at our offices or via MPESA to 0725758389. A confirmation message will be sent to you with a ticket number once your payment is received.

Lesleigh Inc
Victory House 1st Flr
Ongata Rongai

P. O. Box 47237
00100 NBI
Cell – 0725758389 – Juliet Maruru
        – 0725836533 – Nduta Waweru
        – 0720927655 – Linda Musita

We Love It! Here Sign This… Understanding Your Publishing Contract

Wow! It’s been a while. Writing that novel. All that editing. Waiting on your literary agent or the publishers to respond. A few rejection letters on your desk. And then it comes.

Wow! We love it! We want to  publish it! Come in and sign the 
publishing contract!

Bliss. Cloud Number Nine! Phone marathon to all family and friends. Yeah. And then…

Most writers are not lawyers, so they are likely to know more about writing than about the law and how it affects what happens to their work. And publishers with their lawyers likely have years of experience negotiating contracts. So how in the world can a writer ascertain that they are getting a good deal?

So, step number one, talk to other writers. They may not be so forthcoming and you may be a little cautious telling them all the details but try.

Step number two, talk to your agent, have them explain exactly what the contract means. If you don’t have a literary agent, talk to your lawyer, or a friend who is a lawyer and who would be willing to help you understand the jargon.

Step two is a really important thing, to have someone who understands the law and legal jargon. But if that isn’t an option for you, here are a few things to look out for once you have the contract in hand.

1. Duration of agreement. Publishing contracts generally last about 3 to 7 years. Try and avoid anything longer than seven years, or anything that lasts for the duration of the life of the copyright. The life of the copyright, is the life of the author plus 50 years, or in the case of a joint work, the term lasts for 50 years after the last surviving author’s death.

2. Copyright. The copyright legally prohibits anyone other than you from reprinting and selling or disseminating your work. In Kenya you can register a copyright at the Kenya Copyright Board. The purpose of the contract is to give the publisher the right to publish pursuant to the copyright. We call it a license to use the copyright for the duration of the agreement and not for the duration of the copyright. You can of course, file it yourself, but it can save you the time, money and stress of not knowing what to do if the publishers or your agent do the filing for you.

3. Primary and Secondary Rights. The right to print the book, and to post an e-version of the work is a given (today most publishers will demand both unless they are e-pubs who are not interested in print) once you sign the publishing contract. However, it would be wise to retain some of the secondary rights – the rights to produce a film, merchandise, syndication, gaming, book club, etc. Sometimes you can even keep translation and foreign rights.

4. Advance. An advance is the money that the publisher pays you in ‘advance’. Once the publisher earns back the money that they paid to you, then you start receiving royalties. Not all contracts come with an advance. If you are not a first time author, and your previous works were successes, a publisher will be happy to pay you to acquire the rights to your book. If your book is clearly the kind that will send ripples of excitement and giddy buyers lining up to buy it, then maybe the publishers will pay you an advance. But this is not a guaranteed feature of a publishing contract.

5. Royalty. Royalties are the percentage of the profits that the publisher will pay to you. These vary from Publishing House to Publishing House and on the medium of publication, from hardcover, to mass market, to e-books and audio books. Mass market royalties are usually the lowest, and can be as low as 4%, and e-books vary the greatest from about 6% to 65%. The Kenyan average royalty is about 20%. Self publication contracts are different.

6. Out of Print. The publisher will decide when the book goes out of print. Customarily, when a book is out of print for longer than a 12 month period, the author may ask to terminate the agreement and have the rights reverted.

Other terms you need to look out for are anything that gives the publisher the right to terminate the agreement early. Be aware of what will trigger the Termination. Pay attention to make sure that you do the edits and they approve them. Never give up the rights to change your work without approval. And if the publisher includes a clause about the right to publish an excerpt of your work for non paid marketing purposes, be sure that the word count is no more than 10% of your completed work.

So… there may be a few other things to consider once you have that contract. this was just a basic guide.

Bottom line: Read your contract. Make the effort to understand it. Don’t sign it before you do both.

Need an agent? Email to request a consultation.