Sunday, 29 May 2011

Writing Tip - Be Prepared

Okay, so you've written your first book. You've sent it out to agents or publishers. Now it's just a waiting game. You can put your feet up, relax and wait for the phone calls. Right?


What you do now is make a start on book two. Without delay. You do that for two reasons.
Reason number one is that your first book will probably bomb. Sorry if that's not what you wanted to hear, but that's the harsh reality. Most first attempts at novel writing do not get picked up, no matter what stories you've read in the press. The chances are that you're not an exception, and so you need to move on. Writing gets better with practice, so treat that first book as part of the learning curve and write an even better second novel. That's the kind of persistence and determination you'll need in this business.

Reason number two: I could be wrong. Maybe you are the one in a million whose first book does get picked up. Or (more likely) you've written several books already, without success, but this is finally your time. This is when you finally get that magic phone call that I talked about in an earlier blog post - the one in which an editor says, 'We'd like to publish your book.'

But then you come down from the ceiling. You compose yourself. You try to listen to what else the editor has to say. Do you know what's coming next? I'll tell you. It's a question. Along the lines of: 'How far have you got with your next book?'

Next book?

See, publishers aren't interested in one-night stands. They prefer long-term relationships. They're quite traditional in that way. They expect to be wooed with the promise of further fruits of your labour.

The one thing you absolutely must not do at this point is say something like, 'Actually, I thought I would just write the one book.' Or, 'I don't have any plans for future books at this stage.' That's the kiss of death - the lack of commitment that will ensure the engagement ring gets thrown back in your face.

If you're planning to be published, then you have to plan to be published again and again and again. Which is what I imagine most authors want anyway, so it shouldn't be too much of a hardship.

So be ready for that question. When it comes, be positive. Reassure your potential partner that you are not trifling with affections.

And then go ahead and enjoy a long and happy life together.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

What Writers Need

Okay, so you’ve cleared your desk. You’ve set up a regular time slot in which to write. You’ve got lots of ideas buzzing around in your head. You’ve got a computer, or pen and paper. You’re good to go, right?

Maybe not. There’s something else that many of us need.

It’s the support of our loved ones.

No problem, you say. Our partners love us. They will understand. We have this burning desire to write, and loving us as they do, our partners will understand. It’s a given.

That may be a natural assumption. Why wouldn’t our partners offer their support?

Well, think about what the writing life entails. And I’m not just talking about the odd hundred words here and there. I’m talking about serious, day-after-day writing. The kind that’s needed to churn out a novel.

What you will be saying to your partner is that you want some time away from him or her. Away from the kids too. Regular, substantial time. Every night, probably. Time that you used to spend together. What you might have once called quality time.

And it’s also possible that your partner may have to start doing some of the jobs that you used to do. Like washing the dishes, or putting the kids to bed, or doing the ironing, or getting the school lunches ready. All those fun things.

Oh, and something else you will need to explain is that this is purely a labour of love. There is no financial reward here – at least not yet. It’s not going to help pay the mortgage or the bills.

Writing requires commitment and it requires sacrifices. And not all the sacrifices are yours.

Put like that, you can see (I hope) that it can be a pretty big ask.

Not all partners understand, or want to understand. Here’s Pari Noskin Taichert, over at Murderati this week:
‘From my husband’s perspective, my taking the time and space to write has been selfish, self-focused and a waste of time and resources.’

Wow. But she’s not unique. The compulsion to write is often not readily appreciated by those who have not experienced it. They just don’t get it.

I’m fortunate. Immensely fortunate. My wife has always understood. In fact, she has always encouraged me to follow this calling, even when there was no hint of future success. If she had complained – in fact, if I had detected even the slightest unhappiness in her – I don’t think I could have continued. I don’t think I would have become a published writer. My marriage, my family, is too important to me.

As writers, I think we need to remember that, although it’s generally regarded as a solitary business, we don’t do it alone.

Here’s to our loved ones. They make us what we are.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Interview at MNW

There's an interview with me at the Macmillan New Writer's blog today. Hop on over there and take a look.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

The Phone Call

There are many great moments in the life of a published author: seeing the book jacket for the first time; holding the first printed edition in your hands; seeing it on the shelves of bookshops. But one of the first and most memorable moments has to be the phone call. You know the one I mean. The one in which you hear those immortal words, ‘We would like to publish your book.’

In the case of Pariah, I had almost written Macmillan off as a potential publisher. I did not send it via an agent, but directly to them under their Macmillan New Writing scheme. The guidelines on their website say something along the lines of ‘If you do not hear from us within 12 weeks, then you should assume that your submission has been rejected.’ Six months later, I had still not heard anything. It seemed time to move on.

Then I got an email from Will Atkins, Editorial Director at Pan Macmillan. He made some very positive noises about Pariah and said he wanted to arrange a time to call me on the telephone. So we picked a mutually agreeable time on the following day. I’m glad we didn’t make it any longer than that because sleep suddenly became an unattainable luxury.

When the call came, pretty much dead on time, Will made lots more positive noises, but was still hedging his bets. He liked the book, but the decision wasn’t his to make alone. Others would need to be consulted, and that process would probably take about a week or so. I started to wonder what was the longest anyone has survived without sleep.

In fact, the next call came only a couple of days later. Everyone at Pan Mac had moved much faster than expected, and they all loved Pariah. Which meant – yes, you guessed it – I finally got to hear those words: ‘We would love to publish your book.’

I think my cries of joy could be heard in the next county as I raced up and down the stairs of our house, much to the surprise of the engineer who was fixing our boiler at the time. He remarked later that he had never met such a grateful recipient of his services.

Sometimes the cost of a phone bill can seem well worth it.