Giveaway: Three copies of the proof given away

I just tweeted this

GIVEAWAY DRAW.

Three signed proofs of the ‘wonderful, magical, gripping’ #OurChildOfTheStars to be won.

Follow me and RT this to enter

(UK post only)

details, offers, links bit.ly/2RPmOCS 

EDITED TO ADD CLOSES 12/13 Dec.  Sorry!

  1. People who sub to my newsletter are entered and if they follow me and RT on Twitter as well they get a second entry
  2. Anyone can sub to the newsletter so this is fair.
  3. The publisher only covers post within UK, sorry
  4. Sorry Mum, no close relatives, wouldn’t look fair
  5. Actually, Mum has bought a copy
  6. I use a random number generator to pick the winner. Woo, Science!
  7. If you haven’t followed me on Twitter or subbed to my newsletter you can’t win
  8. I’ll try my damnedest to run a clean fair comp, but my decision is final
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All I want for Christmas…

Well, working on the Second Book, of which more later. I am at the stage of looking a vast pile of words which I am now looking to see if it is a polished train of narrative or just a heap of rusty wreckage.  This is an interesting point in the process.

I am in a Debut Authors group, which by the way of things is mostly full of Lovely Americans. Lovely Americans are lovely. Wouldn’t it be good if I got a US+Canada deal for Our Child of the Stars…

Being a debut author is interesting. The Quercus publishers team are working hard. Two months from Official Hardback Publication and you know, launches, articles, blogposts to write.  All of which is less stress than writing the second book.

Online reviews have been supportive and insightful.  I just need as ever the entire world to see buy the book, like it, and review it.

And to write the second book, so signing off now.

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More about Our Child of the Stars

A lost child, the family who try to protect him and the secret that refuses to stay hidden . . .

Molly and Gene Myers were happy, until tragedy blighted their hopes of children. During the years of darkness and despair, they each put their marriage in jeopardy, but now they are starting to rebuild their fragile bond.

This is the year of Woodstock and the moon landings; war is raging in Vietnam and the superpowers are threatening each other with annihilation.

Then the Meteor crashes into Amber Grove, devastating the small New England town – and changing their lives for ever. Molly, a nurse, caught up in the thick of the disaster, is given care of a desperately ill patient rescued from the wreckage: a sick boy with a remarkable appearance, an orphan who needs a mother.

And soon the whole world will be looking for him.

Cory’s arrival has changed everything. And the Myers will do anything to keep him safe.

A remarkable story of warmth, tenacity and generosity of spirit, set against the backdrop of a fast-changing, terrifying decade.

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Salvaged from the Agent’s Slushpile

The Bookseller refers to a recent debut as ‘salvaged from agent […] ‘s slushpile.’

Every trade paper develops a slang, a jocular shorthand.  But to refer to the process of getting an agent as being ‘salvaged’ is a little harsh.  I am worried it might confuse people who want to get a traditional publishing deal.

An agent works for you.    They try to secure a deal with a publisher (or a series of deals regarding overseas, film, etc.)  They get paid only if you get paid, so they obviously have to be picky who they represent.

Most people who try to get an agent don’t succeed, certainly not on the first book they submit.  But when an agent does sign a debut author, the ‘slushpile’ – unsolicited contributions from people the agent doesn’t know – is a major way they find talent++.  JK Rowling was ‘salvaged from the slushpile’.

An agent usually advertises as being open for business, or not.  Therefore, if you send them your novel as a submission, when they are open, and if they represent that type of book, you are literally doing something they have asked for.

Since the arrival of The Internet, what an agent wants and who else they represent is usually findable online.

Typically, British agents ask for a short letter, a synopsis, and three chapters.  Anecdotally the majority of submissions to agents are doomed to fail.  They fall into one or all of the following errors: the agent is not currently taking submissions, the agent does not represent this type of book at the moment (or ever), or the submission is not what they ask for on their website.  And many of the books that are left are somewhere between dreadful and not at all bad but not quite there.

Given this, I understand why agents call submissions slush, but it might be better called the crude ore from which the agent will find their next nugget of pure gold.

So, in my case I sent my first novel to a dozen agents and got nothing back but a little useful feedback.  Rather than revise that book to the degree it clearly required, I finished the second, Our Child of the Stars.  I sent to a dozen or so agents, one of whom, Rob Dinsdale, told me he was closed.  (His website was down so I’m not apologising.)  Now, living in London, I had been to events and talked to a few live agents, but there are events outside London.  I participated in #askagent on twitter.  One agent advertises that she takes questions via email, so I asked her a question.  This was all mostly to make sure I understood the process.

Wow, a well-known agent, who I had met socially, asked for the entire manuscript.  I chased everyone who hadn’t actually said no, including Rob, who also asked for the full, loved it, and offered me representation.  We talked through what his vision was for the book, which matters.  I shook hands, and he got me a two-book deal with Jo Fletcher Books. (There’s quite a lot of work hidden in that last sentence.)

Lessons:

You can get an agent through ‘the slushpile’, aged over fifty with sum previous publications experience, three short stories in US SFF mags, and no high profile social media presence.

I hadn’t met Rob, and I hadn’t sent him the first novel.

How the industry works is probably more obvious now than it ever has been.  Meeting agents helps understand the process, but they will make the decision based on the book – and whether you share a vision for it.  That’s code for, if they have editorial suggestions, will you work with them on it?

Being polite, researching the process and having a great book mattered.

There are all sorts of things that are unfair, and that’s for another post.  But the point about submissions to the slushpile – one can hope this is the process LEAST open to favouritism, old boy networks, etc.

There are also alternatives to traditional publishing deals secured through an agent.  Some publishers take direct submissions.  Self-publishing is a viable and honorable route.  There are crowd-funding options etc.

 

Edited to add.  Some weeks later I saw two agents talking on Twitter.  One said all but two of her fiction clients came through the slushpile.  The other said 80%.  Of course, mileage can vary.

 

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Backstage: Editing A Book is Not Ruining It

I’m due to get my latest set of edits soon.  When I signed with Jo my editor for Our Child in the Stars, I knew from day one that she would want three broad things.

  • A developmental edit, which suggests changes to the structure and tone of the book at a para, line, scene, page, chapter level – character, setting, stylistic choices all up for comment – phew;
  • When that’s done, a copy or line edit, which literally goes through the book line by line saying delete this, unnecessary repetition – phew;
  • and finally, proof-reading, which a fresh set of eyes takes on, checking again eg grammar and consistency about italics etc.

[Added: of course these phases are not rigidly separate.  Things occur to editor and author in the discussions.]

Typewriter sends pages flying into air
Editing can feel like…

No surprise that people have said things like, ‘Won’t this ruin the book?’  ‘Will it still be your book?’

The core thing is that my editor and I share a vision for the book.  What Jo is doing is helping make it happen.  Following untold years in the book mines, her experience helps shape delivering the story well (pace and structure), dialling things up where needed, bringing things out.  If we did not share a vision, then the discussions would be short.

So, ‘There is too much warm family stuff’ is not a line I could work with.  ‘This bit could be faster’, I could.

Imagine you write and direct an amateur play.  You plan to put it on, at your own expense in the local Scout Hut.  Local rehearsals go well, your friends are impressed.  Then an impresario is given a copy, and they want to pay you to put it on.  Bigger theatre, bigger budget, paying the actors, the stamp of success.  How exciting!

That impresario likes it, they really do, they read hundreds of plays before picking this one.  But they have put on the odd play or thirty before, and they know what works.  They will come back with a string of points.  All that comic stuff in Act Two slows the pace and reduces the drama.  Do you need both the heroine’s brothers?  They seem very samey, and it’s boring when they talk to each other.  You need to work on the final speech, which seems to cut across the theme.  The set design is very bland.  Is there a reason the period is so vague?

Some of this is so obviously right you nod.  Some of this might be very challenging.  You had some clear ideas right back at the beginning you might need to give up on.  Some comments you vow you will agree to only over your dead body.  Some involves looking up the first draft again and getting out bits you’d abandoned.

Your initial response might be to Google ‘How much assassinate theatre person London?’  Or that it would take a year to do all that, so the play is doomed.  But you remember that Shakespeare probably had the same thing, and less time to do it in.

So, you muse on it all.  Somewhere, some of the more critical points start to strike you as having the ring of truth.  The editor’s suggested cuts in Act Two miss the mark, but you realise a much better way of addressing her concerns.  You find you don’t care that much about one brother or two, and just roll over on that.  The finale speech is really important, you will need to discuss what she means further.  If she didn’t understand… that means you need to flag the theme up even stronger and earlier in the play.   And she’s just factually wrong on Norfolk sheep farming.

You see the point.  Of course, in a play, the actors are important co-creators, as is the director, the designer and a host of other people.  A book comes down to you and the editor.

What you end up with, you both hope, is a work which delivers in the real world the characters, story and themes of your play/book, but more effectively.  So, during the edit, there will be cursing, but you are working with a professional who after all, is investing time and money your book’s success.  To stretch another metaphor, it’s like a marriage.  If you ask ‘who is winning’ the relationship is in trouble.  The book ought to be winning, and the readers.

An agent tweeted recently that editing was ‘enjoyable’.  I’d say it’s more like doing a run for charity.  Some of the training, some of the post training, the run itself, the aftermath – some of this is enjoyable.  Some bits aren’t, some bits involve sweating and swearing, but you know you need to see those through to do what you want to achieve.

All these books were edited…
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Backstage: Why does publishing take so flipping long?

Everyone is astonished that a book accepted in Summer 2017 won’t be out until Feb 2019.  And I’ll be honest, I gulped.  Naively, I was hoping Our Child of the Stars would be out for summer or autumn 2018.

Reason 1: traditional publishing takes time.  If I was self-publishing, you’d be reading it now.

Reason 2: most books in the UK are sold ‘for Christmas’ and ‘for the beach’.  Tons of books are published to grab the shelves for those times.  October 5th, 2017 was this year’s Super Thursday, the day the largest number of titles hit UK shelves.  505 new books were published in that one week.  I mean, Jo Fletcher Books could launch a debut novel, a bit unusual, into a Hurricane Pullman of new books.  That might work.  Better chance for a quirky debut they don’t.

Reason 3: they really like the book.  But editors don’t buy a book and say, it’s fine, we can go straight to copy editing.  They bring their own commercial and artistic insight to it.  It needs some work – not massive but not inconsequential.  And it’s not, wouldn’t the trousers in chapter six be better blue.  Or change that character’s name.  It’s more like, bring this up, bring this down, I need to believe this character would do this.  When that’s right, there’s copyediting – real dots and commas – then proofing.  I will do a piece on Editing is not Ruining.

Reason 4: Covers.  People judge books by their cover.  It sells you the book before you even pick it up.  The wonderful draft design I saw really gives the feel of the book – the hope, the wonder, the beauty and the tinge of danger and darkness.  All that without spoilers. Publishers must factor time to get the cover right, and they need the cover right long before you see the book, to sell into the trade and to talk to foreign markets.

In short, they think the book will do better with more time.  They’re paying.  And as they cheerfully say, ‘You’ll never get this much time with a book in future.’   No pressure there.

The good news is that some lucky people do get to see it a lot earlier, when advanced copies become ready.  That’s for another time, but a very good reason to subscribe to my newsletter.

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Backstage: Do judge a book by its cover

Don’t judge a book by its cover.  That’s a weird saying.  Covers are designed to help you judge the book.  They’re designed to make you pick them up, or click on them, to find out more.

Look at these above – you can see which is science fiction, fantasy, horror and not sure.

Think of the last fifty novels you read.  In how many did you think, oh that cover misled me? It might have been a terrible book, but was it in the ballpark of the sort of book you wanted?  You didn’t pick up a light women’s fiction beach read and find duelling dinosaurs in it, for example.

Agents and publishers know covers matter, not least because booksellers care about them too.  Big publishers have been known to consult Waterstones and the supermarkets.  I’m told a publisher once paid for a special cover just for Tesco, cos the supermarket didn’t like the planned one.  Smart self-publishers pay for professional designs, even when their book is primarily sold on Amazon.  Covers matter.

Authors have rights to be consulted on the cover, and I detected just a touch of nervousness in The Big Publishing Office.  A little warming up work as they prepared to show me what they believe Our Child of the Stars should look like.  They showed me the proposal – and I loved it.  It really suits the book.  It has the mix of wonder, love, beauty and a hint of darkness that it needed.  They love it too.  We sat in the canteen and loved the cover together.   It’s been presented to the sales team, and they love it.

An important feature is that it is designed to appeal to a very broad audience, which is what the book wants and needs.  I’m very happy with where we are going.

No, it’s not quite ready yet, and probably the cover reveal will be next year when more is sorted.  Why not be the first to see it? 

And I will be trumpeting the designer’s name because we creatives gotta stick together.

PS: I could have given a million examples but contrast Alison Littlewood’s dark and chilling Gothic, and a beautiful take on Jeeves and Wooster

Jeeves and Wooster, Bertie up a tree

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Covers, Edits, Delays

I have some updates coming, but my lovely subscribers will get them first.

I have seen a first draft of the cover art and I love it so much, I am seeking legal advice as to whether I can marry it.  That’s led to Serious Thoughts about Covers.

I’ve got some hot thoughts on Why Does This Take So Flipping Long?  The quick answer is, it does, and if Our Child of the Stars is going to take a bit longer than a typical debut, then it’s with good reason.  Which I explain.

I’ve had my Important Notes off my editor, Jo Fletcher.  Notes are the editorial changes she wants, and this work is underway.  I might write sometime about what this sort of editing is about.  It’s not line or copy-editing, which is fixing semi-colons, tenses, and noticing characters’ eye colour changes.

Yes, this is coming.  Stay tuned to this channel.

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#RuinYourBookInOneLetter

Our Child of the Stars might be:

 

Our Chili of the Stars

(‘This taco is as hot as Aldebaran’)

 

Our Child of the Starks

(Bloody Game of Thrones…)

 

Our Child of the Stays

(Rewritten in corsets.  Hmmm, Victorian era not such a bad idea.)

 

Our Child of the Stares

(Oh, creepy. Or maybe a gloomy teen.)

 

Our Child of the Stabs

(More Game of Thrones)

 

Our Child of the Stags

(Deer shapeshifters anyone?)

 

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Why is Our Child of the Stars based in the 1960s?

Smartphones.  The first novel I completed was a modern adventure with teen protagonists, and I was fed up with smartphones.

No, that’s not a problem, they’d Google.  No, they’d message each other.  No, they have time to text the Mayor that they’re in danger.  No, you can’t use signal problems or running out of battery AGAIN. 

I would’ve gotten away with it – if it wasn’t for those pesky smartphones…

In Our Child of the Stars, it’s true that law enforcement with modern tech would mess with the plot.  But that’s fixable.

Stories come to me, and the setting and period is one of the things that come unbidden.  Sometimes, I need take a step back and challenge my subconscious for being boring or obvious.  This kept feeling like a period piece.

The original short story was written after reading Ray Bradbury, a writer who is nostalgic even when writing about the future.

We mythologise the past, and the Sixties in particular.  It was another country, and they did things differently there.  The novel is posed at that point of high idealism souring, at a time when the wave of change was reaching into further corners.

To write about the past is not to be backward looking.  The book is first and foremost about family. It isn’t a preachy book, but I knew that it would touch on difference – sex, race and sexuality.  It’s about the morality of violence – peace and war, and the dishonesty and power of the state.  The Sixties was a time when all those issues were in ferment, even in out of the way places like Amber Grove.  Arguments exploded and if you look at the news, the pieces haven’t landed yet. Our Child of the Stars does have a nostalgic streak, but also it might make people think, could we have done better?  Can we now do better?  It remembers what we gained as well as what we lost.

Why small town America?  Biggest, it would be easier to hide Cory.  And, I didn’t want to write about radicals in a big city, but peaceniks living in a small town.  Inclusion mattered to me, which is why there are honest, decent people, friends of Gene and Molly, who support the Vietnam war, however reluctantly.  That was part of the tragedy of that conflict.

A book needs a soundtrack.  I write to music.  I knew whose records Gene and Molly are listening to in the original story.  The more I listened to the classics of the era, particularly the folk-protest tradition, the more music became important. It quickly became central to Gene’s character, and the framing of the tale.

There were so many good reasons to go with when I did.  But, also, smartphones.

 

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