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Working with Me

Find out a bit more about who I am, my background, and the values, principles and aspirations I bring to working with writers. Further down this section you can read some recommendations, and see examples of books I’ve helped along recently.

About me


I’ve worked with writers all my professional life. I started out in literary agencies, where I learned how to dig for the potential in story ideas, get manuscripts into saleable shape and support authors through all the ups and downs of a commercial writing career.

After an intense decade in London publishing I moved to Scotland, where I did a lot of freelance work, including talking about books on the radio, reviewing for the national press, editing for independent publishers and mentoring for the Scottish Book Trust New Writers’ scheme. In 2008 I was hired, along with former 2000AD editor David Bishop, to design a new Creative Writing MA for Edinburgh Napier University.

The MA we launched was pretty unusual: we put genre fiction at the heart of the course, replaced the usual peer-critique workshops with individual mentoring, and learned how to invent new teaching methods. Described by The Times as ‘a radical departure in creative writing’ and by students as ‘a life changing experience’ the MA now has an international reputation, recruiting aspiring novelists from all over the world. I also collaborated with the wonderful Nicole Peeler at Seton Hill University near Pittsburgh, on a new joint postgraduate programme in Writing Popular Fiction.

I love teaching — but after nine years of full-time academia, I felt it was time to do things differently.

This consultancy gives me the freedom to work directly with writers wherever they are and whatever their circumstances; to stick with them for as little or long a time as it takes to get to where they need to be, and to focus wholly on their work and on the unique development journey of each potential book.

I’m based in Blackford in the south of Edinburgh, which is a perfect spot for rambling around on breaks between manuscripts. When I’m not there, I can be found volunteering in Leith with the amazing Super Power Agency, working with writers’ groups and community projects around Scotland and giving all sorts of workshops.

There are some testimonials and examples below, but if you want to find out more, I’d love to hear from you! If you’d like to talk about your work and see if I can help, contact me and I’ll be in touch as soon as I can.

My philosophy


  • Purpose
    The feedback I give is grounded in my understanding of your individual purpose and creative ambitions, not based on abstract, generalised rules.
  • Dialogue
    My work is a process of collaborative enquiry and inventive problem-solving. It’s about potential, not correction.
  • Development
    I want you to leave not just with a better book, but also as a more confident, technically informed and self-sufficient creative practitioner.
  • Challenge
    Aiming for breakthroughs means a mutual commitment to tackling big questions.
  • Pleasure
    From the fun of energetic conversation to the satisfaction of measuring your progress, what I do is designed to increase your lifelong enjoyment of your work.
 

Comments / Questions / Chat?
If you’re interested in the ideas here, I’d love to hear from you.

Quick Q & A


Who is this for?

I can help all writers, from tentative beginners, to professionals looking for a mid-career boost, and anyone in between.

What kind of writing do you work with?

My specialism is working on full-length narrative, across all aspects of idea development, technical decision making and artistic expression. Over the last twenty or so years I’ve worked with every kind of author there is — when it comes to telling a good story, my curiosity and enthusiasm are pretty universal! But here are a few types of project I particularly love:

Novels:

  • Crime, mystery or detective fiction: particularly if it features a non-traditional sleuth.
  • Science fiction, speculative fiction or fantasy: especially if comes with an awesome high concept, complicated worldbuilding challenges and powerful ethical / political / emotional aims.
  • Any novel which expands the range of lived experiences represented in commercial fiction. Diverse ethnicities, LGBTQ+ and characters with disabilities are all extremely welcome.
  • Experiments: of any genre, or none — if it hasn’t been done quite that way before, I’d love to help it happen!

Non-fiction, particularly:

  • Memoir based narratives with a strong social justice agenda. Stories that need to be heard.
  • Narratives driven by original research — the more unusual, the better!

What if I’m just a bit stuck and need some instant, free advice?

Be my guest! Email the Agony Column or suggest a topic for the Blog, and I’ll see what I can do. Keep an eye on the Events & Resources page too, and look out for free drop-in sessions — these will be occurring in Edinburgh and maybe even further afield in the coming months.

More questions? Get in touch, and I’ll be happy to answer them!

Testimonials


Working with Sam took me from ‘I’m a dancer and I write on the side’ to ‘I’m a writer with an agent and about to sign a contract for my first book’ in the space of a couple of months.

I can’t guarantee it will happen this fast for everyone, but Sam’s extensive knowledge of the business and contacts made the entire process easier and far less intimidating than I initially expected. Like many writers I’ve had the ‘how do I ever get an agent to look at this’ dread, and the ‘how do I even write a proposal? What IS a proposal?’ panic – however Sam’s mentorship and guidance made the entire thing painless.

Initially I sent a few different samples of my work alongside a full-length manuscript to give Sam a feel of my writing. She gave me extensive and constructive feedback over e-mail that already elevated my work considerably. We had a Skype session to talk through the feedback, which made me feel even more comfortable as Sam is probably the friendliest person I’ve ever encountered. Her genuine love for books motivates you beyond belief and makes you feel like you’ve already made it.

We both focused in on my manuscript – a memoir – and already Sam was thinking of potential agents for it. Over the next few weeks I made the suggested edits and we pinged my work back and forth.

We then met in person a month later and had a detailed, informative meeting about the potential of my work, the publishing process, potential agents and the industry as a whole. I wasn’t sold any dreams, which I appreciated – instead I was given a realistic and experienced account of what the next steps were and how to achieve the best start to my writing career.

Immediately she sent my work out into the world and within days I had an invitation to submit work to an agent. Sam explained each part of the proposal so thoroughly that my initial panic was almost laughable. She looked over the proposal and polished it up and then it was sent. I received my first feedback from Sam in January 2019, met up with her in March and signed with my agent in May. I couldn’t have had an easier experience and working with Sam Boyce is without a doubt the best thing I could have done for my career.

Eliška Sinti, now represented by Jo Swainson at Hardman & Swainson; debut memoir under contract with Mirror Books.

The manuscript review I had with Sam was of huge benefit. Sam was able to locate and give guidance on core structural issues with the novel that have cleared a path for me to resolve them. Based on this advice, I am confident of being able to undertake a rewrite that will deliver on my intentions and ambition for the novel. In essence, an hour spent with Sam can save months of work writing material that will not make the final cut because the core structure and plot is underdeveloped. I hold my hand up to that crime, and I’m grateful to have seen the light. These sessions are not only transformative for the current novel I’m working on, but the expertise gained will be used in future novels.

Stuart Tanner, manuscript assessment client

Sam had the ability to see a novel in its entirety, highlighting its strengths and weaknesses and then asking precise questions to enable me to make it as good as it could be. She was highly motivating and stretched me as a writer.  I would recommend working with Sam to any writer who is serious about improving their work.

Catherine Simpson, author of Truestory and When I Had A Little Sister

Sam’s editorial advice is in a different league and she should charge twice as much as she does (don’t tell her I said that) because her input is gold standard stuff. I’ve been writing for well over a decade, and have received extremely helpful feedback from various sources but, in terms of technical feedback, no one is close to Sam’s understanding and expertise.

Her appraisal of the mechanics of a piece; where it’s working and where it isn’t working, is precise and incisive. I know my strengths, and Sam knows my weaknesses. Her laser eye is exactly what my short fiction needed in 2018-19.

In submitting short stories to journals in 2016-17, the most common response was a personalised reply saying, “we loved your writing but could you send us something else?” In 2018, I engaged Sam to help me rework a story. She proved to be the missing ingredient to succeeding with these pieces. Within nine months, three stories we’d reworked had been accepted to literary journals.

She usually sets out two or three steps to get from A to B, and if the written advice needs a bit more explanation she offers that by phone. But 99% of the time the advice makes sense once I get down to applying it. And I can make it my own, too; I take the key she’s handed me to unlock the problem and I go about the solution in my own way.

Revisions aren’t easy work, but they’re worth it. Sam shines a torch on structural/formal issues – hurdles that I couldn’t jump alone because I couldn’t see them. She forces me to up my game, she’s not gentle, she has standards and she presents intelligent, tailored questions and choices. That suits me and I wouldn’t want anything less. However, I’m convinced that whatever your aim, Sam would adapt her advice accordingly. I’ve already recommended Sam to a couple of writers I know.

She’s also particularly attuned to how ‘the industry’ would respond to the work and can steer your choices along those lines if that’s a factor in the project.

Sam came along at an unforeseen juncture where my professional writing life was calling loudly but my personal situation was allowing very little time to write. Thus working with Sam ensured that the available time I had was used most efficiently and effectively. For me, in terms of professional development, Sam’s input is affordable, especially by taking it one story at a time.

Kate Tough, novelist, poet and short story writer.

Examples


Here are some examples of books I’ve helped along recently: three wonderful novels which were all developed using the methods I created for the Edinburgh Napier Creative Writing MA, before being taken on by agents and sold to commercial publishers.

Goblin by Ever Dundas

Goblin
Ever Dundas

Winner of the Saltire Society First Book of the Year Award 2017
Wasp By Ian Garbutt

Wasp
Ian Garbutt

Truestory by Catherine Simpson

Truestory
Catherine Simpson