Writing, book deals, life… An update.

It’s so long since I posted here – I’ve been putting it off until there was news but in the meantime I’ve had a couple of messages from people asking if I’ve now turned into an actual hermit, so I’m venturing out onto the interwebs with a quick update.

The Book – Death Will Find Me – is now out on submission with publishers. That was quite nerve-wracking at first because I was constantly checking for emails from Agent David with Exciting News. Now, following a stern talking-to by the Waitose fish counter from a writer buddy, I’m waiting with a combination of resignation and equanimity that only occasionally boils over into irritation and a crushing sense of inadequacy.

No firm news yet, but interest from some interesting quarters and I’m Waiting To See. I’ve worked in the book trade for years and I know how glacial the process is but it’s so much more frustrating now that it’s me on the having-to-be-patient end of things. I always knew that I would prefer an agent rather than having to deal with it all myself and it’s brilliant having David to act as go-between, negotiator and life-coach.

And I’m writing. To be honest, I’ve been finding it difficult to concentrate on one project so I have three on the go – there’s a 50k first draft of a thriller about art theft that I’m currently taking apart and putting back together, an outline for a potential series of 1950s crime novels that seem to be turning out a bit cosier and/or chick-lit than I really want them to be and which have been put to one side until I can fix that, and I’ve been working on the second Tessa Kilpatrick book. That was coming on a bit slowly but last week a prospective publisher asked to see a synopsis and info re the next few books. Trust me, nothing focuses the mind more than having 24 hours to come up with all of that and I’m feeling pretty chipper about it now.

The rest of this month will be spent finishing the draft of that art theft novel. What isn’t done will almost certainly be parked then as at the beginning of January, Tessa and I will be settling down to her next adventure. One of my goals for 2018 is to get into more of a routine with writing. I get a lot more done when I manage to do that and so I want to establish a series of habits for my day that enable that – writing consistently every day rather than in bursts where I scarely leave the house for a few days and then avoid writing for days; getting some exercise everyday; coralling emails and life admin into set chunks of my day… I’m reading Gretchen Rubin’s Better Than Before on making and breaking habits and hoping I can implement some of her wisdom.

So, I hope you get everything done in December that you plan to and I’ll be back soon. Hopefully with exciting book-shaped news.

Vx

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What non-writers don’t know about literary agents. Or, it’s not like the Yellow Pages

What your non-writer friends don't know about literary agents. Or, it's not the Yellow PagesAs you know, I was recently taken on by a literary agent (still excited about that) and I’m getting down to writing my next book. More on that process later – trust me, it’s quite a change of mind-set.

On telling people your exciting news, your writing friends are really chuffed for you (with exceptions that tell you a lot about them) because they know that it’s a really big deal. A Really Big Deal. They know the numbers, they know that some publishers won’t consider work that doesn’t come via an agent, and they know just how hard you’ve worked to get that far, even though it is only the first step on the ladder to publication and guarantees nothing.

But, and I didn’t realise this beforehand, some people won’t get why you’re so over-joyed. They’re happy for you because they care about you and they’re pleased that you’re pleased. Why you’re quite so excited is a bit of a mystery though.

I only grasped this when I was talking to my lovely and hugely supportive father-in-law who asked me why this agent business seemed to matter so much to me. A little questioning revealed that he thought that it was a bit like taking on, say, an estate agent. You look in the Yellow Pages or the online equivalent, pick out someone you like the look of and who has competitive commission rates, and there you go.

When I explained that my agent, and this is far from unusual, gets a few hundred submissions from prospective clients EACH MONTH and takes on a handful EACH YEAR, his jaw dropped. Literally. It’s a hit rate of about 0.1%.

FiL paused for a minute and said: “He must think you’re really good”.* And he was genuinely surprised. Still pleased but in a different way, with a bit more respect for what I’ve done. Which is good, because up until now, everyone has been encouraging me in what has been, in essence, a really time-consuming hobby and they must have asked themselves and each other why I’ve been persisting. I asked a few other non-bookish people and they were under the same impression.

So, if you secure representation, do bear in mind that you might have to do some explaining. Not to brag (although you’ve achieved something great so you’re allowed to brag a little bit) but just to explain the context in which you’ve done that.

* Not that I think having an agent necessarily means I’m good. I think it implies I’ve reached a certain level of competence. What it actually indicates is that I have come up with an idea and a novel that is saleable. It’s not great literary fiction and I’m not saying anything deep about the state of our nation. There is nothing wrong with being a storyteller and entertaining people and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

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Shelf notes: Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner

Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner. One of the best crime novels I've read in a while - click through to read my review  This, Susie Steiner’s second novel, is crime fiction that goes beyond the usual police procedural. A missing young woman is at the centre of the story, drawn in detail even though we see little of her. Steiner does a great job with her cast of beautifully drawn characters in conveying the urgency of the initial investigation in the 72 hours when a missing persons case is most likely to end well. And after that, she deftly handles the step change to the more measured pace of what is more likely to be a murder investigation. The detail is rich – this is an author who really knows her characters, no-one is just sketched in or a convenient archetype.

The protagonist, Manon Bradshaw, is satisfyingly complex, and likeable even when she’s frustrating. I love details like the way she uses her police radio to accompany her insomniac hours, lulled by the repetition of stolen cars and drunk and disorderly arrests. Manon is going to be a joy to follow in this series of novels.

The sequel, Persons Unknown, is just out in hardback and was on my TBR pile but has been swiped by my mother-in-law who loved Missing, Presumed so I’ll have to wait a little while.

I loved this and if you like Tana French’s Dublin-set crime novels, I think you will too.

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Properly exciting update!

I've been offered representation by my top choice of literary agent and we're opening the champagne to celebrate! Regular readers will know that I’ve been faffing about with the manuscript for Death Will Find Me for what seems like forever. The last piece of real news was that a few months ago an agent that I was really keen to be represented by, sent me some editorial notes and suggested that I take another pass at it and then let him see it.

Well, I did revise the manuscript again and sent it back and he loved it and offered me representation which was brilliant. I’ve enough writer friends to know to be sensible, so I asked the Society of Authors to check over the agency agreement (in case you didn’t know – they will check an agent or publisher contract for free even if you’re not already a member). I didn’t anticipate any problems – the agency has a great reputation and my agent was recommended by the late and much-missed Carole Blake.

So, I have an agent – the rather marvellous David Headley at the DHH Literary Agency.

I am so happy, and so excited* and have been driving everyone mad. I think it will be a long time before I tire of referring to ‘my agent’. I’m also feeling a little over-whelmed – you focus so much on finding representation that when it happens, and you let go of that breath that you’ve been holding so tight, the enormity of the mountain still to be climbed hits you. What publisher? What sort of deal can be had? What rights will be sold? Will anyone want to publish this book?

And I have to crack on with Book 2, which feels like a lot of pressure even though it’s a very nice position to be in. I don’t like uncertainty – I tend to over-think things and I get very impatient. Give me an actual situation, however bad, and I’m great. Ask my brother about the time we came across a road traffic accident. But when I have time to think about all the hypothetical possibilities…? So I’m concentrating on Book 2 and trying not to think about those.

And I’m going to get back to blogging properly as I’ve missed it while I’ve been concentrating so hard on editing. There are some great books I want to tell you about and all manner of other things. So I’ll see you in a couple of days with a review of a marvelous crime novel that you need to rush out and read if you haven’t already.

TTFN, Vx

*A note on being excited. Writing friends know how big a deal getting an agent is. And your family and close friends know because you’ve explained to them at length. But some people don’t. Some people will assume that you just pick an agent and that’s that. Those people’s jaws will drop just a little when you explain that your new agent gets 400 submissions per month and takes on a handful of writers per year. But they won’t know that and so when you post on Facebook because you’re soooo excited, they won’t get it. So don’t be hurt when they don’t even click like because they think it’s the equivalent of choosing a new pair of trainers.

And some people, who do know how big a deal it is, won’t congratulate you because they feel that applauding someone else’s success diminishes their own, or because they’re not the sort of person who sees support and encouragement as a two-way thing. And that’s fine. But someone very wise – and the interwebs seem unclear on who it was – once said ‘pay close attention to the people who don’t clap when you win.’ I’d advocate that but I’d also add that you shouldn’t pay that much attention to them and not let those hurt feelings spoil your happiness.  

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Writer? Four podcasts you should be listening to…

Recommended podcasts for writers Podcasts only really appeared on my radar when Serial was a huge hit a couple of years ago. The wonderful thing about podcasts is that although some are very professional, it’s a  medium that almost anyone can create content for. Your podcast might be one person sitting in front of a microphone, or a group of people in a studio or based mostly on recordings made in the field. You need no permission, no significant budget, no fitting in with other people’s agenda.

I wrote a year or so ago about some of my favourites and those are still worth checking out, but there are some for writers that I’ve subscribed to and never miss. The writers among you might find them helpful too.  I listen via Itunes but as far as I’m aware these are available in all the other podcast clients such as Sticher.

  • Top of the list – although it’s in no particular order – is The Bestseller Experiment. Mark Stay and Mark Desvaux, already knowledgeable in the areas of fiction and publishing and screewriting, decided that in a year they would write, produce and publish a bestselling novel. Not just a novel, but a bestselling one. Each week they update on how that’s going and interview guests about the writing and publishing process. Well worth dipping into – the John Connolly interview was great as were the two more recent ones with bestselling self-published author Susan Kaye Quinn. The latter to even got me thinking about the viability of being a hybrid author – traditionally published for one series of books, but self-publishing a series of shorter novellas…
  • Next up is The Creative Penn. Joanna Penn is a well-known and successful self-published author who manages to combine incredible productivity with a genuine passion for helping others to achieve their potential. Whether you want to go the indie author route or are seeking a contract with a Big Five publisher, there’s a lot to learn from Joanna, especially in terms of thinking of yourself as a creative entrepreneur and understanding the business of writing and being an author.
  • Another favourite podcoast is The Worried Writer. Sarah Painter is a writer who shares her experiences of fear of failure, anxiety about her writing and how she’s managed to find strategies to shut her inner critic up and get on with the writing. While I’ve been agonising and procrastinating over the edits of Death Will Find Me, I have found this podcast an immense support and it’s really helped me to have a bit more confidence in my work. Sarah has also published a book – Stop Worrying; Start Writing – based on the podcast and I can highly recommend that too.
  • How Story Works is new and excellent. Bite-sized podcasts from best-selling author and screenwriting teacher Lani Diane Rich which unpick the structure of writing – understanding the mechanics is vital to the process of writing a novel.  The rules can guide you and understanding them makes breaking them more likely to be successful.

If there are writing podcasts that you think I should check out do leave a note in the comments. Likewise, if you produce a podcast that you think I should check out.

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