Five-way auctions and six-figure deals…

Having your book out on submission and what I've learned from that process.

Your career is not just one book

…are great but not the usual outcome for debut authors. Everyone knows it happens but it’s rare and it’s not always a good thing. All that money invested by the publisher is a lot of pressure and if that advance isn’t earned out then your publisher is less likely to take a risk on your next book. As one writer friend put it, there’s a lot to be said for the softly, softly approach, steadily building your career, your audience, and your publisher’s confidence in your writing.

More likely is that, when you’ve given it a final polish, your book will go out on submission to a shortlist of publishers drawn up by you and your agent (mostly your agent because they know who’s looking for what type of book etc.) and you will wait. You’ll hope that a few of those editors will have immediately snatched your manuscript from their towering TBR pile and made the decision within minutes that they MUST have this book on their list.

But in reality you will wait.  And wait. And however much you try to sit on your hands, you will send needy emails to your agent asking if this means you are talentless. And if your agent is as lovely as mine, they will reassure you patiently and bite back the urge to tell you to get a grip…

Anyway, having got to the end of the submission process for the time being, I thought I’d outline what I’ve learnt from it in the hope of informing others in the same position. And why next time, I’m sure I’ll be infinitely more relaxed about it all (yeah, right… I can hear David’s hollow laugh as I type that)

1. Being offered representation by a great agent is a cause for celebration but you’re not over the line yet. More of a Pizza Express and Prosecco whooping it up. Keep the good champagne in the fridge for the time being.

2. As I said, when your book goes out don’t expect a crowd of publishers to come chasing you brandishing huge cheques. Although if that happens I will be delighted for you. Seriously. A little bit envious, but mostly really pleased

3. Editors have a lot of submissions to read so it’s not unreasonable for them to take a while to get to yours. Even though waiting is agony.

4. Although your agent will have targeted his submissions to the people he thinks are most likely to be interested, some editors will not get what you’re doing. Don’t take it to heart. You can’t expect your work to appeal to everyone.

5. Example: someone turned down Death Will Find Me because it was a bit ‘saga-ish’, despite the fact that there is not a clog or a bonnet or a be-shawled downtrodden woman staring out to sea ANYWHERE in it. No-one fights their way up from humble beginnings to run a massive corporation. No workhouses, no TB, no orphans. But hey you can’t please all the people all the time. *shrugs*

6. When you get feedback from editors, some of it will be lovely and boost your confidence. I can quote the words of one who had to pass for sub-genre reasons. The fact that he thought I had a “crisp, elegant style”, the dialogue “fizzes on the page” and the denouement is “sorrowful yet satisfying” made me feel loads better. Treasure those comments. It might be flannel but it will be a comfort during bouts of imposter syndrome.

7. Editors not buying your book doesn’t mean they don’t like it. Sometimes it just means that it overlaps with other titles or authors on their list. See number 6 on this list.

8. Every time an editor expresses interest, you will overthink the possibility of being published by them, get excited and, if they pass, you will be gutted. It’s a cliché, but having your book out on submission is an emotional rollercoaster.

9. Every time your family and friends who aren’t in the book trade see you they will ask if the book is sold and you will get defensive when you explain that it takes time. And you know that six-figure advance that you probably won’t be offered? They think you will.

10. If you get to the end of your list of preferred publishers without a deal, don’t panic. It doesn’t mean your career is over because your career is more than one book. Lots of writers aren’t published until their second or third book.

11. Fashions change. Your manuscript might not be what the market wants right now but it might be perfect in a couple of years. Don’t be afraid to put it in the digital bottom drawer for a later date.

12. That first manuscript taught you a lot about the craft of writing. It got you an agent and they didn’t take you on because they only wanted that one book from you. And this first experience of the submission process taught you a lot about the business of the book trade, even if was rather bruising.

13. Love that manuscript, know that you’re not writing it off and concentrate on your next book, that one you’ve already been writing because – and I’ll repeat this – your career is more than one book. Don’t get desperate, don’t feel a failure. Chances are, it’s not you, it’s the market.

And if you’ve got to the end of this post, then you can probably tell that Death Will Find Me is in that digital bottom drawer. David and I are both sure that it’s the market that’s not right for it at the moment rather than my writing, and that’s been by far the most common reason for rejections. No-one has said that my writing’s not good enough. Unless David’s been hiding those comments but he says not.

Should a publisher say to him that they’re looking for a post-WW1 crime fiction series with a strong female protagonist then he’ll be able to produce it like the proverbial rabbit from the hat*. In the meantime, I’m polishing my next book and I’ll be sending it to him for his comments in the next couple of weeks. Fingers crossed.

*If you are that publisher then he’d love to hear from you…

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Another update…

I seem to spend my life composing vague, holding posts that sit in my drafts folder, while I wait for concrete news of what’s going on with The Book. Things are happening. But slowly. I truly believe that there are tectonic plates with more of a sense of urgency than the publishing world.

This is another of those posts. There is interest in the book, there are discussions, there are enticing prospects, but nothing firm that I can talk about or that I want to jinx by even hinting at. Agent David is reassuring, my writing friends are sympathetic and knowing, and my family are soothing but also puzzled as to how any business can function at such a leisurely pace. All I can do is shrug and concentrate on my writing.

As I’ve said before, focussing is hard at the moment, especially on the second Tessa Kilpatrick book which is what I should be writing. I know the main plot, I know how my main characters’ story arcs develop through it, I know some of the little back-roads that I want to explore along the way but I simply can’t actually write the darn thing until I know that Book 1 is sold. From a practical point of view, that’s not a bad idea because tweaks will almost certainly have to be made to Book 1 during the editing process and they may have implications for Book 2, so I might as well wait.

So, I explained before I that I was writing something new – a crime novel set in the present day and that it was about art theft. It kind of still is about that but two-thirds of the way through that draft, I realised that it wasn’t a standalone as I thought, and that the book I was writing wasn’t the first book in that series, but probably the third.

My protagonist has a history that’s interesting but also important in terms of the person she is in Book 3.  So, I put that draft to one side and I’ve gone back to the beginning of the story. I’m enjoying writing that character – it’s first person which is new for me and I like Kate very much. She’s sharp and tough and flawed and even though she doesn’t suffer fools willingly, she and I seem to be getting on quite amicably despite me giving her a violent ex-boyfriend and dragging her away from her actual work back to her home town to look for an old schoolfriend who’s gone missing.

I’m currently about halfway through the first draft and it’s going pretty well. At the end of this draft I’ll put it away for a bit and let it rest. And maybe by then Death Will Find Me will have a contracted home and I’ll be able to settle down to writing the second of that series?

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End of 2018 round-up

Well, I set myself a few goals for this year and missed most of them. Like lots of people, I would have liked to have finished the year fitter, thinner, more organised and so on.

However, I did achieve one of the goals on my list and it was the one that mattered most – I finished Death Will Find Me and found a literary agent. And it looks as though he’s sold my book which is even better. I don’t want to sound smug, but I’m finishing 2017 in a pretty good place and really looking forward to seeing what 2018 brings.

I didn’t manage to tick of most of my other goals for all sorts of reasons – there were some family things that have taken up a lot of time, I was too distracted by writing to find time for my garden and renovating the house, I absolutely hate going to the gym… I have loads of excuses and justifications.

But the boost that comes with some small writing success is making me feel quite optimistic about doing those things next year and so I’m making a new list for 2018.

I’ve also read Gretchen Rubin’s Better Than Before, about habits and how to form positive ones and that’s been really helpful. The realisation that according to her I’m an Obliger has joined up a few dots I’d never really thought about before. It seems that while I’m great at meeting other people’s deadlines but I am not so good at living up to my own expectations. I need to be accountable. So that’s informing me and I have a strategy to help…

Have a great Hogmanay and I’ll see you back here in a day or two. xxx


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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.


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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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