In which I change agents

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My agent Rob is moving out of agenting.  He’s sorry to go and I’m sorry to lose him. Perceptive and thoughtful, Rob picked my book from the slush-pile and got it to fly.  Who knows if Cory would have been published without him? (At least not as quickly or as well.)  He’s taught me a lot and I’m grateful.

It prompted some philosophical musings on publishing, but first the facts.

Fortunately, Rob can still give me his feedback on the next draft of Our Child of Two Worlds, so I will have that continuity.   Check out his latest books, The Toymakers and Paris by Starlight.

Rob is not one to leave you in the lurch.  I have a new agent, Alex Cochran of C&W, one of the larger agencies (and as it happens, the outfit who already partner Rob in handling my film rights).  Alex was on my top agents to try list, both for my unpublished novel, and for Cory. He likes the book, and its cross-genre appeal.  I’m optimistic Alex can help me navigate the strange waters ahead.  Getting the second book finished is the priority and then, Next Big Thing.

And the moral of this is, that publishing is a rum old game.  So many people assume that it’s all slog finishing that book and sending it out, but once you get the agent, all is plain sailing.  A book a year and the fifth book will win the Booker, the Hugo, or be in the Richard and Judy Bookclub. 

Real writing careers are more complicated. Famously George R R Martin wrote three books which were successes and the fourth, Armageddon Rag in the eighties, flopped.  He moved into TV and editing anthologies for a decade. 

Agents and editors move on, or fall out, there’s a merger or a start-up.  That brilliant idea doesn’t come off, the sequel doesn’t come off, or indeed, there is suddenly a nasty little virus. Many old hands say it’s harder now to have a steady career than in their youth.

That’s why I guess three things for authors I’ve come to realise, catching up with the wisdom of more established writers.

  • Write for joy. There will be days you hate it, but overall if you don’t enjoy it, there are other things to do.  In fact, people who write primarily for themselves can be very happy authors.
  • Make each work as good as you can.
  • Don’t define your self-worth purely by the financial and critical success of your work. 

Becoming a writer, by Dorothea Brande

This small classic book was published in 1934 and is bang up to date.  That is, if you don’t mind that the piece of tech she recommends is a typewriter (as opposed to longhand).

Brande directs you to other works to study the structure of plot, how to write grammatically, and so forth.  What she teaches is how to understand the creative process and she recommends disciplines to help you be more creative and productive to order.  She argues that the process of writing combines the anarchic creative free flow that is in part coming from the unconscious, and a more rigorous detached intellectual self.  Both need to be firing on all cylinders but not necessarily the same amount at the same time.    Exercises include writing on first rising, and writing at a fixed time, as a discipline to generate initial pages, without undue concern about quality.

If you like, the metaphor of write drunk and edit sober, or the adage to write the first draft as if no one is watching.

I can’t claim to have followed her method, but in so far as I understand my own process, it seems sound enough.  Interesting that many other writing books don’t touch on this.

Brande has plenty of bugbears.  She doesn’t like group discussion of student work, as unfocused and prone to pile-ons – though she doesn’t call them that.  What listening to public criticism of your work does is teach you to receive feedback and learn how to be selective in what you act on. Some is just wrong.

The book is short, practical, and focused on areas which many other books skip over.  Indeed, Brande would argue by doing so, they are actively unhelpful. 

Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande

…Two Worlds making progress

September is probably my favourite month, for weather, foliage, and oddly a sense of a new start. 

The crucial news – I believe the draft of OUR CHILD OF TWO WORLDS has really come together.  It will only be one more sweep through – strength, consistency, etc – and it goes to Jo the Mighty (my editor).  Hopefully we will be moving to proper edits, a series of successively quicker to and fros…

For punctual updates, and in due course an original Cory short story… subscribe to my newsletter.

Interview with Suanne Schafer

Suanne is an American author who runs a regular author interview slot on her blog.  It was fun to do. We covered a lot including message fiction, whether SFF has to be political, and what makes a good book.

Regardless of genre, what are the elements that you think make a great novel? Do you consciously ensure all of these are in place?

SC: Characters that leap off the page and that you care about, situations that do not feel contrived. For me a world which acknowledges the dark and unfair side of life but addresses it with hope and humour. Voice. The sort of writing that takes you by the hand and says, Trust me, this will make sense in the end. This will be worth the journey.

Read it here.

Online Discussion Sunday 7th June 2.30 pm

I am discussing what makes us human on Zoom with another writer, full details here.

It is pay what you like. book to get the Zoom details, and I hope you will come.

If you hurry you can also see the top secret cover of Our Child of Two Worlds which they have used by mistake… and which will probably be replaced very soon…

 

 

 

Going virtual

Odd how a virus can change things.  I’ve been tied up fighting it, biologically, and at work.  And I’m waiting for the feedback on the latest draft of OUR CHILD OF TWO WORLDS.

EdgeLit in Derby has moved its event to November, so that still may be happening.

Cymera (more here) is going online and I’ve just filled in a long questionaire about what I can do online. (No juggling on a unicycle, I’m afraid.)

I’ve just done an interview for an author’s blog and there might be a couple of other things.  But really it’s about staying well, keeping up with the day job, and waiting for the notes…

And my writers group has gone online, using Zoom.  I’m looking at trying to do some videos or Q+As because launching in the US in a pandemic obviously hasn’t been ideal.

More when I have it.

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Save the dates: A guest at two conventions

Scotland has hosted the big science fiction and fantasy conventions including I believe a Worldcon.  However it did not have a (big) annual convention of its own.  Cymera which is relatively new tackles that.

And I’m going, to do a panel on ‘what makes us human’.   I’ll be on the Sunday 2.45 7th June with Adrian J Walker, an Australian author new to me and whose intriguing book I have ordered, naturally.

The whole programme and how to get tickets (weekend passes look good value) can be found in their website.

This is wonderful to be asked, an excuse to visit Edinburgh, and I’ll post more thoughts as I have them.

And of course, quite a big likelihood it won’t happen because of The Virus. Certainly events are being cancelled all over the country and in the US.

I am strongly tempted to do something online with Adrian if not.

I am also at Edgelit in Derby, a friendly convention which I enjoyed last year, 11-12th July.  Put in your diaries.  It’s top secret but be naughty and tell your friends.

Nothing makes you a real writer except writing, but this certainly good to be asked.

Since the invite I have been thinking often of the great Alistair Gray and his ringing statement, “Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation.” Words for England too.

Image result for work as if in the early days of a better nation

Stephen

Our Child of the Stars on sale in US and Canada !!

Having won rave reviews in the UK, Our Child of the Stars hits the US and Canada on 3rd March. Available as hardback, the three e-book formats, and audiobook! (BTW if your local shop doesn’t stock it, they can order it.)

The LA Times loved it

“It’s 1969, the year of the moon landings, Woodstock and the ongoing Vietnam war. Against this backdrop, Gene and Molly Myers have been having a rough time since their child died some years before. [When] a meteor strikes their New England town… Molly is given the task of caring for the gravely ill survivor – an alien child called Cory.

Cory’s difference to others highlights the real messages that have been tenderly provided here – those of acceptance, warmth of human spirit along with parental love and sacrifice. It’s a wonderfully emotional, heart-warming journey of what it really means to be a parent and a reminder that at times it feels like society as a whole hasn’t really become any more accepting of those who are different since the 1960s.”

Edited for spoilers

UK praise here

Buying links here

IndieBound finds independent bookshops

Barnes and Noble HB

B+N Nook

Indigo Canada

Amazon

 

A million pounds or a million readers?

A genie offers a writer a choice.  Would they rather have a million pounds, or a million people read their first book but for no money at all?

It’s an interesting question.  Do we write to be able to keep writing, or do we write because we want to share the story?

To write solely for financial security is a mugs game.

If you have faith in your book, a million people reading it will produce enthusiasts.  Say 5% of people who read it become fans. (By which I mean only someone who is super likely to buy your next book.)  50,000 fans is an excellent base for a career, you might become established.

Conversely, a million pounds frees you to do only that work you want to do.

Of course, in the real world you are not offered this choice.

This was prompted by news that my publisher has remaindered some of my paperbacks to The Works, a company which runs 450 discount shops across the country.  You can currently buy a copy of Our Child of the Stars at £2, less than a coffee.  Three books for a fiver.

It’s a common sense move to shift copies you won’t sell otherwise. I hope the Works sell all these copies to build fans of my work.

Many people think this is the devil, and that my publisher should burn unsold copies in their furnaces. Many book people want to go back to prices fixed by the publisher.  Another debate for another time.

When you look behind this, there are other considerations.

For example, WH Smiths, the Works, and the supermarkets can reach people who rarely use bookshops.

One Year On: The joy of PLR

Wall of books in library
Library: Courtesy zaini izzuddin unsplash

One of the little joys of authorhood is seeing your book in a library, and thinking of people taking it out. It’s also a good retort for those of your friends too mean to buy it. ‘Go to the library.’

I’m a fan of libraries. As a kid, my parents showed me the local library and for years I walked five old books back and took five new books out each Saturday.  I was also tall for my age and allowed free range into the adult section rather too early.  I couldn’t tell you everything I read, the SF selection tended to be collections, and a lot of Andre Norton. Peter Dickinson’s weird fantasy about a UK with apartheid against green skinned Celts.  I’m not sure I remember much fantasy but there were some classics.  (Our school library was also rather good.)

To be a writer is to approve of reading, and to believe that  access to books is a good thing.  But also, authors need to eat.

So the PLR scheme (like a number across Europe) pays each author the princely sum of 9p every time one of their books is taken out.  What is more interesting is that it gives a rough idea of how many people borrowed your book – in the relevant period, around 500.

(I thought every book in every library was connected. In fact, they check a sample and scale up which makes sense.)

500 readers. And a little something in the bank next month. And yay for libraries.