Boy X wins Essex Book Award 2017!

So. It looks like I’m going to have to stop saying I never win anything. Y’know . . . until recently it was true. But first there was the Coventry Inspiration Book Award and now BOY X has won the Essex Book Awards 2017!


Yesterday was a long and brilliant day in Chelmsford, at King Edward VI Grammar School, where students from 18 schools came along to listen to the shortlisted authors say something (brief) about their books. There must have been over 250 students, all of them awesome readers (of course!), and over the past few months they, along with other students from schools across Essex, they have been reading the shortlisted books, reviewing them, and voting for their favourite.

It was great to meet the other authors – Helen Dennis, Monica Vaughan, Robin Jarvis, and Hayley Long – but most of all it was fantastic to meet all the students who have been reading the books, and I even had the chance to give Olivia her award for the best review of BOY X.

The organisation was excellent, the staff were amazing, and the students were awesome!

Thank you so much to everyone who reviewed BOY X and voted for Ash’s jungle adventure. And to the student who apologised for not giving it a good review . . . well, that’s okay. If we all liked the same things, the world would be a very dull place.

That’s all.

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The ‘Synopsis and First Three Chapters’ Nightmare

Trying to fnd an agent/publisher is hard.

I’ve been through the ‘synopsis and first three chapters’ nightmare like many other writers, trying to persuade someone to read the whole manuscript. But I’ve recently had an insight into what it might be might be like on the other side – to be an agent or publisher, sifting through a pile of manuscripts – and it turned out to be something of a learning experience. I enjoyed it very much, it was a great way to sample other writing and to see what new ideas writers are toying with, but three things in particular really stood out for me.

I was always told that a synopsis should be one page of A4 (two at the most) and should clearly show the plot progression. A difficult task, but for someone who’s just read a stack of submissions, I now know how important it is. I saw a lot of very long synopses – some as long as 10 pages – and equally as many that gave almost no plot detail at all. 10-15 of those a day? No one’s got that kind of time or inclination. In my mind’s eye, I can see agents and publishers flicking through those submissions and casting them aside in frustration.

Another surprise for me was how few submissions began with a really strong hook. And what can be more important than wanting to make the reader read on? Again, if you’ve got 10-15 of these landing on your desk every day, the beginning’s got to be good if it’s going to hold your attention. It has to reach out and grab. It has to make the person want to read it rather than skim through and move on to the next one.

And the third thing? Well, I expected to find some great stuff and some terrible stuff, but mostly what I found was a lot of OK stuff. And that’s much harder to sort out. A synopsis can be fixed, a hook can be worked on, but how do you really make the work stand out?

Well, if I could answer that, I’d sprinkle it over all my work, put it in a bottle, label it and slap on a high price tag.

And then I’d be a rich man.

Dark Horizons, trailers . . . what’s it all about?

Book trailers. Do they work? I’m not sure. I suppose it depends what they’re supposed to do. Film trailers are a different animal altogether – there’s already a whole range of images avaialble to take from the film; clips that can tease the audience with what to expect. Sound bytes and famous faces. They’re shown right before you watch . . . another film. Oh, and there’s the guy who sounds like he drinks acid laced with broken glass.

A book trailer, though? Text? I mean, Kindle and ibooks already make sample chapters available so that readers can settle down in their favourite spot and actually read them. So the intention of a trailer must be to pique interest in a different way, right? It’s another way to bring a book to people’s notice, so it needs to be immediate. Stimulating. Interesting. And, probably, over and done with quickly. It needs to capture the feel of the book within a few seconds and leave an image in someone’s mind. Maybe. Hey, waddooIknow, I just write.

There are any number of book trailers out there, some good, some bad and some great. I’ve seen a few that are quite long, with some gentle music, a few images with words fading in and out. I’ve seen some with actors – good and bad. And I’ve seen some that get right inside my head and leave an image that I remember. But I can put my hand on my heart and say I’ve never bought/read a book on the strength of a book trailer. So there.

But . . . ha, you knew there was a ‘but’ coming, didn’t you? You probably looked further down the post and saw it, right? So, well, yes, I’ve put a trailer together for DARK HORIZONS. It seems to be the thing to do these days. Anyway, it’s short and it’s supposed to capture something of the ‘feel’ of the novel. There’s no text from the book at all. No quotes. Just a brief intro and then DAN SMITH and DARK HORIZONS in yer face in large letters you can’t miss.

The question is, does it have any effect on anything?

The man from Google…he say ‘Yes!’

Shows how little I know. I thought that all you had to do was design a web site, get someone to host it for you and then you were done. Oh no. No, no, no. I thought it would appear on Google searches straight away and the whole world would flock to my site. Turns out, it doesn’t quite work like that. You have to wait, you have to be found, you have to be ‘crawled’ and probed and ‘spidered’. And only then, after a bit of patience and whoring myself across the internet, has Google finally noticed me. Yes. I’ve been indexed. But do I feel different? Do I feel whole? Meh.

Dan Smith