(chorus) “I’m gonna be rejected!”

First off, apologies to any Alice Cooper fans out there for the lift. Secondly, apologies for the absence. This was due to circumstances beyond my control. OK, now back to the show.

This week it’s all about rejection. The sort all writers have to prepare themselves for and the particular hell of finding an agent. That’s the big hurdle. If you get over that then, if traditional publishing/books is your thing, then you are almost there. That will not be the case for the vast majority, who will end up littering the in-trays before the cursory rejection e-mail. Why will an agent reject your blood/sweat soaked masterpiece? Well in no particular order they might do it for the following reasons.

  1. It’s a poor idea
  2. It’s a poor idea badly written
  3. It’s a poor idea well written
  4. It’s a good idea badly written
  5. You picked the wrong agent for the genre you are writing in
  6. Your genre/story just isn’t that popular at the moment
  7. You didn’t format/synopsis/cover letter as requested
  8. They were swamped and decided to dump a whole lot sight unseen
  9. The agent is a jerk and hates you
  10. The universe hates you
  11. You wrote an OK story quite well…..meh

Of those possibly the last is the worst. You were OK, he/she has read worst, probably got it published too. So near but so far. Better luck next time. As for the rest, the point to understand from them is that they are they are all your fault to a greater or lesser extent. Even No.8. Did you check to see if they were even taking submissions at the moment?

So in the last week or so I have finished the second draft. It still needs work, but that can continue, no need to wait any longer. The basic plot, story telling, characterisation, world-building is done. If they don’t like it, no amount of tweaking is gonna save it. To that effect I have written a synopsis, a covering letter and formatted the first three chapters in the style most of them seem to want. Next step is to sign up to Agent Hunter, create a profile search and identify 8-10 agents who might be interested and who are open for submissions at the moment. Press the send button and wait for those rejections to just start rolling in. But I am lying to you dear reader because I have already sent it out to one agent. The reason, well it’s a bit weird actually. Whilst researching the book and it’s London locations, I was in the Citte of York, which has some of the old furniture of Beneke’s the setting for the first two chapters. Well while taking some photos, a gent strolled by and asked what I was doing. When I told him about the book, he told me that just behind the pub were his agents. He wished me luck and went off to meet them. Well, at that moment I knew I just had to send the finished MSS to this lot. The coincidence (I imagined) foretold of great things. Such were my delusions at the time.

See you next week.

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Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.

Not so much of a blog as a personal update. This morning my mother died. It was long expected, and today her suffering came to an end. Updates maybe a little less frequent and work on the book has stopped for the time being.

See you out there.

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“I’m sorry, I have a plane to catch.”

Clever, very clever. I bet you say that to all your master classes. Mind you so would I. Any excuse to be able to make a sharp exit and not have your path blocked by us zombie like authors, all desperate to tell you about our masterpiece.

I was here. Attending a Guardian master class. “How To Get A literary Agent” run by the very professional Juliet Mushens. She works here and by all accounts is one of the best and most successful agents in the UK. So of course, we all want her to be ours. She’s perfect for us. Us? Oh yes, there is us. Almost one hundred of us, all shapes sizes and variable dress sense.  We hang off her every word. The words shooting, fish, and barrel come to mind. She is kind. She tells us about what happens if you get an agent. She tells you how to present your manuscript in the best possible light. She has two actual authors with her Amy Alward and Laura Purcell. They are very nice, and they have been published. So we also hang off their every word hoping to learn the holy grail of being picked up. This is something we are desperate to be part of. But of course it’s what she doesn’t tell you that really matters.

Publishers use agents to filter out the crap. Of the people attending today approx. 0.1% of us have a chance to be taken on by an agent. The rest of us will be rejected, frequently, brutally. Juliet gets over 5 thousand manuscripts a year. We will need to develop the hide of a rhino to carry on. “It’s not you, don’t take it personally.” She’s right it’s not you, agents don’t care about you. I’m serious and so is she. It’s the book, the whole book and nothing but the book. Lesson one and the most important thing any of us can learn from today is “write a good book”. Keep writing it until it’s the best you can make it. Then let it go. A fresh pair of eyes will see things you cant, or wont.  So remember, you haven’t finished writing it yet. Just the first stage is completed.

After that, research your agents. Find between six and ten who will consider the genre you are writing in. Writing across genres? Decide on the major category. If it’s a romance with time travel, send it to an agent who is interested in romance. If it’s a thriller, but also a biting satire on our inner cities, it’s still a thriller.

Next get your package right. Yes you heard me, time to adjust you package. Write a good covering letter, be professional. Write an enticing blurb, the back jacket elevator pitch for the novel. To do that follow the Mushens method of character, setting, conflict, resolution. Somebody, somewhere has something happen to them which results in something else happening and so…..You can find mine here. Next, you have to have a synopsis. One to two pages where you outline the characters, the plot and, crucially, tell them who dunnit. At this point I felt rather sad for Juliet. Doesn’t she ever long to read a book where she doesn’t know what happens?

Other things to remember.

Agents are subjective. It’s their opinion and they only back what they like.

They make money out of your book. 15% domestically, 20% overseas. Before you cry out in horror, what they do for that is all the business side of getting you a deal and managing your career. Don’t whinge, it’s a bargain.

Treat “open door” months by publishers with caution. Some may very well offer sub-standard contracts, and how do you know what is fair and reasonable? Agents do.

What else? Oh, some off us got to read out our blurb and get some live feedback from Juliet. I got an opportunity and some good comments, but then we all did. Finally, she said the one thing we were all secretly hoping for.

“Thank you all for coming, sorry I cant stay.  Here is a pile of business cards, do take one. I look forward to reading any submissions you make.” We descend on the cards like wolves, hardly noticing that she has already left the room. We have all decided that Juliet is the one for us. It’s not true of course. She is mine, all mine, the rest of you losers can go to hell. I am the 0.1% and nothing will stand in my way.

In other news, I am still engaged in the second draft of the book and I have updated the creative writing page with some more examples from my writers workshop.

See you next week.

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Agents of Fortune

First off, anybody know which band I have ripped off for the title of this weeks blog? For those of an inquisitive nature you can find the answer here.  So, as the eagle eyed of you will have spotted, last week I finished the first draft. A bit of a weird moment I can tell you. To go from writing something to having written something is a big psychological step. Still no time for backslapping and garlands. Next day I started on the second draft and adding some much needed punctuation. I can already see that some sections will need to be rewritten, especially the last chapter as I sense I have fallen into the trap that many authors do, closing down the story too quickly, impatient to get it finished. But that is to come, first I have to audit and review what is already there. To do that I have given myself the following criteria.

Grammar and punctuation – this also includes synonyms, repetition and the vexed issue of keeping it in the present tense.

Dialogue – flow, structure and fit with the character.

Character – consistency, development and credibility.

Plot – pace, credibility, development etc.

Jokes and exposition – more of one, less of the other, or vice versa.

I have also sent the draft to my key followers with a plea for comment, not so much on the minutia of spelling and commas, but rather on the broader issues of plot, characters and basic enjoyment of reading the story.

The other major development, is starting the quest to find and agent to represent me and my book. Why do you need an agent, why not go direct or self-publish? All very good questions, the  answers to which are well explained here. So to find out more and to give the management and myself an excuse to go to our favourite restaurant, I have signed up for a Guardian Masterclass workshop. My reasons for going, apart from having a day out in London, are about how to find the right agent for the genre of book I am writing, how to approach an agent with the right pitch and generally learn anything that gives me an advantage. As part of the course, they ask you to writ an elevator pitch for the book. This is the sort of thing you read on the back cover and is designed to inform, entice and tease in equal measures. I have made an attempt, and you can find it here. I will report back about how it went and what I learnt.

See you next week.


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“…..the end dear reader. I typed it.”

At approx. 11:45 this morning, I typed the last word, the end of the first draft.  Would you like to see it…….

The End

Whew, pretty exciting eh! So there we have it, the first draft completed. I have told myself the story. It is the end of the beginning and the beginning of the end. I have to go now, and lie down in a darkened room as I have run out of clichés.

See you next week.

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The Final Chapter

Short and sweet this week. I have started the last chapter in the book. No, I stand corrected. I have started the last chapter of the first draft. Not so impressive, but strangely satisfying. I have got here. I know how it is going to end. There is sense of achievement. When I first started this project, I had no real idea whether or not I would, or could finish it. I had no track record, only several pantomimes and a few sketches. Of course I am adept at fiction, having written a lot of PR in the past.

So here I sit with a story in front of me. Whether good, bad or indifferent, that is a decision still in the future, and one for others to decide. For myself, it is enough to have (nearly) finished, to prove to myself that I am capable of creating a tale, where no tale existed before. If nothing else it is unique. I have found a voice, created some characters with whom I enjoy spending time with, wondering what they are thinking and feeling. It has been fun finding out what happens next. The core of the next book is already mapped out. There is another story to tell that leads from this one. There is already something beyond this, which is good.

So, the plan is now thus. Finish the first draft this week. Spend the next few weeks revising and re-writing with the aim of having a finished manuscript that I feel comfortable in sending to prospective agents interested in the realms of speculative historical fiction with a side order of Sci-fi.

I don’t think that is going to be a very long list.

See you next week.

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In The Zone

Or, why does word count matter. But before all that, a slight apology for the delay in posting. This was caused by an impromptu decision to go camping in the wilds of Norfolk, to a pop up campsite in Cromer. You can find the details here.  It’s only open for August, but it’s a great location and Cromer…..Well Cromer is a bit down at heel and woebegone, but somehow wonderful. Well worth a visit. Ok, Ok back to the substantive issue, word count, why does it matter?

In many ways it doesn’t. You have a story to tell. You tell it. It takes just as many words as you need to tell it. End of story, so to speak. A good example is the short story The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway. This was given to me by my son as an example of how to right economically and yet convey a great deal of information (he has a problem with the faux Victorian style of writing I am using for this novel). Reading it is quite easy to see that the story could have been extended into a full length novel, but I think that is to miss the point of Hemingway and his style. It leaves you wanting to know more about the characters and their story/history and perhaps that is a good thing. However when writing a full blown novel it seems there are clear guidelines based on the type of novel you are writing.  If you are interested, here is an excellent article on novel length by genre. It seems word count is quite a critical factor in the commercial reality of a novel and authors need to show that they understand  this to improve their credibility in the business end of the market. So no good writing the next Bridget Jones barnstormer if you need 120k words to do it. How am I doing? Well it seems Ok, as I am writing in both the historical and sci-fi genres where the readership expect a bit of world building and want to immerse themselves in a particular story and expect detail. Here you can go up to 150k without spooking the horses. My current word count is 110k or 112.5k if you include the as yet optional epilogue. I estimate that after the rather epic action scene I am writing, it will be time to sort out loose ends, wrap up certain key plot lines and leave others wide open as a lead into the sequel. So, I think that the final word count will be 120-5k. Of course, this is only the first draft. The next one may involve substantial rewriting, but I suspect the final manuscript will still be that ball park area. It feels about right to me. I don’t want to short change the reader. Ultimately I want him/her to join me on a much bigger journey in the next book which currently has the provisional title of “Manifest Destiny”. But more of that later.

See you next week.

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