Thank you for your proposal.

Yesterday I received a rejection email from a literary agent and I was pleased to get it. Disappointed in the rejection, naturally, though happy someone had been courteous enough to let me know. I’m old enough and life-experienced enough to understand I won’t always get what I wish for, so I can cope (just!) with being told my book isn’t good enough or suitable for their list. What I find difficult to accept is that agents and publishers don’t seem to understand this.

In scouring the submission guidelines on the websites of literary agents I’ve found quite number saying ‘we try to make a decision within three months and if you haven’t heard from us in that time please assume we won’t be proceeding’. I’m aware that many agents are extremely busy – but they haven’t time to drop back an email saying ‘thanks but no thanks’? One agent justified their position by saying they receive 1500 submissions a year. By my calculation that’s around 6 each working day – consequently possibly ten minutes a day, maximum, to email a standard rejection letter to six authors waiting for a reply. Authors who’ve spent years writing the book, not to mention spending ages researching a particular agent’s guidelines, writing a synopsis, constructing a covering letter and making the submission.

I’m not having a blast at agents, just asking for a little professional courtesy.

What’s your experience?

Editing can be fun – or so they tell me.

On Sunday afternoon a wonderful thing happened. I finished the first draft of my second novel. I’m not a Stephen King-type 2,000 words a day writer but I had been consistently pushing out 600-1,000 words every day for the past two or three weeks trying to get the job done. Coming to the end was a strange experience, different to A Shadowed Livery, and, because I’d decided to put the manuscript to one side for a while (they say you should do that), I suddenly felt bereft and I’ve been the same for the last couple of days. Not quite knowing what to do with my time. So yesterday evening I began another project. I say ‘began’ but I was actually returning to a novel I last worked on two and a half years ago. I’m not sure where it will go but there’s 7,000 words in the bag and a fairly comprehensive draft plan in place. I think I may have given it up when I started the editing of my first novel because the date coincides with receiving a contract from the publisher.

I’ll only work on the new project intermittently because I do want to get back to the real job of editing ‘A Rose by Any’. The first task will be to re-sort the chapters – some are an acceptable 2k-3k words but some are as high as 7k, just a result of expansion in the redraft. Then I’ll check the whole thing with Pro-writing Aid, a great tool for finding all the repeated words and phrases, cliches, over-long sentences, etc. I had a note they’ve released a version for Scrivener so I’ll have a look at that one soon. These steps are really a bit of a slog, but necessary (even without Pro-writing Aid I’d have to find all that stuff).

I’ve already made some project notes as I’ve worked on the first draft, such as checking for conflict in every scene, strengthening my protagonist’s internal goal, ensuring there are barriers to achievement of his internal and external goals, etc. So I’ll work on these larger themes next.

Then to reading the manuscript again. Slowly, sentence by sentence. Can I say this any better? Have I said this before? Does this need to be moved? Underlying this is the check for spoilers related to this and the previous novel, completeness of the narrative (e.g. have I left anyone standing at a bus-stop for ten chapters?), are my characters rounded and the overall shape of the novel.

All of this, of course, is only the first phase of the edit, getting it as good as it can be before it’s wheeled in front of a publisher. If they think it’s good enough then the process starts over again – only this time it will have the benefit of external eyes.

Actually, I’m looking forward to it. Let me know your tips and tricks.

The joy (?) of being an author

I’ve had my head down for weeks, so apart from five hours a day wasting time on my newly discovered Twitter (@charliegarratt3), I’ve been redrafting the novel, working title: Let Venom Breed. Back at the end of June I was in the mire, still 20k words short of target and lost down narrative arc alley. I’ve added about 16k words since then and am close to finishing the first draft. Five months ago I’d only reached 40k words and only had my last few scenes to write. Consequently, my first full draft will actually incorporate a substantial redraft – if that makes sense.

I’m in a good place mentally with my writing and I’d say, without receiving sponsorship, or anything, I don’t think I’d have arrived at this point without Scrivener. I referred to it in an earlier post where I’d just started using a trial version of the program and was still unsure. I used the trial and was so happy with it I bought the full version. I also plugged in to a free online workshop from Learn Scrivener Fast which gave me a few more helpful tips (although they have chased me a bit to buy other products – but I guess they’re in business so it’s fair enough). It’s an incredibly versatile piece of software and I’ve found the payback to be well worth the time I had to put in to learn how to use it.

So, enough of the free advertising for them. Not really meant to be an ad, simply a bit of writerly advice to have a look at it. If it helps, why not?

Biggest problem with spending so much time writing is that there’s not much left for marketing of the previous novel, A Shadowed Livery. Anyone want that job?

The vagaries of tense

I tend to write in the first person and in the past tense. I’m in the process of redrafting my second novel and discovered I continually tripped over a particular passage, though couldn’t work out why. Then I made a couple of minor changes, just to see how it looked, and hey-presto, no more tripping. I then realised it had been the tense which was incorrect, not in a seriously ungrammatical way, simply in the context of the feeling I was trying to convey. There are plenty of sites, blogs and even good old books, which explain about tense so I’ll not add to that body of knowledge here – even if I could.

However, the lesson for me is that there are subtleties in deciding which tense to use which are perhaps beyond basic grammar. This was highlighted even more as I began to think about my use of the past tense in these two novels. They’re both crime mysteries featuring a detective inspector, James Given. James is clearly narrating events from some point in the future, but how far? It has occurred to me that each scene can’t be written from the standpoint of when the case is completed, otherwise, for example, James wouldn’t need to muse over the suspects or follow red herrings. He’d know who’d committed the dastardly deed but then he’d be left with no story to tell.

So I have to assume he’s looking back from no further forward than the end of the current scene, possibly even less. I write ‘assume’ because I don’t know, I simply put down the words as best they come to me but when I think about it, most crime novels written in the past tense must be the same.

Any thoughts and similar conundrums most welcome.

How to find a publisher

A few days ago I was chatting to a writer friend who was saying she’d submitted to around 30 publishers and agents without success before self-publishing. Her book has sold a couple of hundred copies to date and has been widely praised, so why no traditional publisher?

If I knew the definite reason for that then I could probably retire on the proceeds but it occurs to me there are at least three elements:

The first is obvious – write a good piece of work and edit it until you’re happy it’s finished. It won’t actually be finished because the publisher will have their own views on the need for changes, but it needs to be as good as you can get it before you submit.

The second is also obvious if you think about it – you need luck. There are a limited number of publishers out there and they’re all trying to be a commercial success. Nothing wrong with that, they need to pay the bills same as anyone else. As I result, they will be cautious about what they take on and more likely to go with known names, famous/infamous writers of autobiography, or the current fashion. So the luck comes in at least three ways: either be famous, somehow hit the current trend (but don’t forget that the current trend was probably commissioned a couple of years ago and publishers have moved on to the next one), or hit on a publisher who currently has a space in their list.

Thirdly, research and focus – There’s very little point sending material to publishers who don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts or who only accept submissions through an agent. Equally, there’s even less point sending your noir-crime novel, regardless of how good it is, to a publisher who specialises in literary fiction or science fiction. The internet enables us to both identify publishers with an interest in our particular genre and then research them in detail. When I started to submit A Shadowed Livery I looked through the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook and highlighted all of the publishers who published crime fiction. Then I stumbled upon a list of these on the ‘net so added a few from the Yearbook which had been missed. There were, I believe, 63 on the final list. I then went through the websites of every one and weeded out those who were not taking submissions or who only took them via an agent. This left me about 13. Further research took out the ‘vanity’ publishers and those where their preferred sub-genre or target group didn’t match my novel. This left me with eight publishers I felt confident I could approach. The final bit of research was to be clear about the submission requirements and to then follow them to the letter. Virtually all of them were different. I was lucky enough to find three who expressed further interest and then went with one who definitely wanted to proceed. So, even with all the initial research, there was interest from less than five percent of the initial list – but if I had simply used a scatter-gun approach, firing off submissions just anywhere, I might not even have hit that figure.

On the other hand, I might have. What did I say about luck?

Not a brick wall after all

Last time I blogged I thought I was facing a major rewrite but over the past few days it’s become clearer I simply need to make some small amendments, a line here, a word or two there, then deal with the resolution differently and all should be fine. As I haven’t written the resolution yet this shouldn’t be a major problem.

It is fascinating how, as authors, we devise seemingly insurmountable barriers for ourselves which, in the cold light of day, are little more than molehills which are easily levelled or skirted around. My wife is also a writer and we share our tribulations so I’m lucky. If she can’t help then I also have a support backup in my writers’ group who can either offer a solution or at least act as a sounding board until I find one for myself.

As the BeeGees once sang ‘it’s only words, but words are all I have’ – shame they’re such awkward sods sometimes!

A brick wall

My, my. I’ve arrived at a difficult place. Sixty one thousand words into my second novel and I’ve worked out I don’t know where it’s going. It’s a mystery in which Inspector James Given is investigating a case where a mummified body has been found in the crypt of a school chapel. It’s not the case which is the problem, that’s all fairly well plotted, but I think I’ve realised that the murder itself isn’t the main issue for my hero. Well, I’ve known all along it isn’t, but now I realise I probably haven’t written the first draft with this in mind and will need to do a considerable amount of work to get it back on track.

Fortunately, I do have a second case he is working on and this probably needs to become the major case, rather than a sub-plot.

Interestingly, I’ve only discovered this flaw when I was working on a synopsis to approach potential agents. I was following an outline in a blog from Glen C Strathy based on Dramatica principles and realised my main character might solve the crime but won’t actually change as a result.

Ah well, back to the drawing board. At least I now know one of the reasons why I’ve been stuck on this synopsis for the past couple of weeks.

May I help you sir?

Today was not good. It started well enough with a sunny morning and the opportunity to get on with some gardening, but the main task of the day was to drop off some copies of my novel, A Shadowed Livery, at a bookshop who’d initially offered to take some. The reason I’m delivering them myself is that it appears to be impossible to get onto the bookshelves through a distributor unless you are a big name or are part of the stable of a major publisher. I’m neither and although I’m immensely grateful to my publisher, we’re both aware that marketing budgets are limited.

The bookshop in this case reluctantly took a small number, saying ‘we don’t normally take fiction unless it’s a known author’. Chicken and egg, I’d say – how does an author become known unless their books are on the shelves?

I left, muttering, I bet Stephen King hasn’t been in begging you to stock his latest novel!

I then went for a well earned sandwich and cuppa, only to be asked by the young woman behind the cafe counter if I was alright to take the tray myself or should she carry it to the table for me. Do I really look that old?

At least when I arrived home my wife was able to tell me she’d received a notice from Amazon promoting my book.

Musings

This week I visited The Four Masters bookshop in Donegal Town to ask if SP_A0085they’d  take some of books. To my surprise, and unbounded joy, they already had them on the shelf. I was so impressed I’ve put a photo as my new header image.

I’m plodding through my redraft of my current novel, though it is something to be undertaken in small bites. This morning, due to associated research to check what was in the news in March 1939, it took me around two hours to get to 300 words. I feel that accuracy is important but sometimes it takes so long to find material which will only provide half a line in the manuscript. Still, it is easier than trawling through a physical library. Actually, it was an interesting time historically, Germany invaded Czechoslovakia, finally bringing Europe to the brink of war and the siege of Madrid was almost at an end, cementing Franco as head of Spain and bringing the Spanish Civil War to a close.

Also, as an avoidance technique, I’m checking my Amazon ratings from time to time. Aren’t they strange? I had a very nice review on the Crime Fiction Lover website a few days ago and it must have resulted in some sales, I imagine only 2 or 3 , but I shot several hundred thousand places up the ratings on Amazon.

What a night

Last night we launched A Shadowed Livery in Ireland. It was a great evening, starting with general chat and ShadowedLiveryProof3excellent background piano, then some very kind words from a friend and writer about the ‘new man in her life’ – not me but Inspector James Given, the protagonist in my novel who she followed for months when we shared our latest scribblings in our writers’ group. The food (which included Donegal sheep’s cheese – it’s a new one on me too) and drink flowed until we settled down to a couple of hours of a traditional music session.

We sold some books too, but that was almost incidental to the good time we had. I’m always fascinated when I do a reading, or attend one, how attentive an audience can be. It confirms for me that we have an innate desire to be told stories, to be taken away from our own world and lifted, albeit temporarily, to another. Last night I read only a couple of pages but I was approached by several people afterwards wanting to know what happened next, further testament of the power of the written word.

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