Posts

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That sinking feeling…and yet…

It doesn’t seem like a very good time to be part of the book publishing business. The industry is in a parlous state of flux – publishers and agents appear stressed and depressed, and many bookshops are struggling. In my local area I have watched two lovely independent bookshops open, flounder, and close in the past couple of years. And as of today, industry knowledge has become public knowledge: Borders and Angus & Robertson are in big trouble too.

E-books are on the up, and they have risen so quickly that when we were negotiating my first publishing deal the e-book portion of it proved a little bit tricky, because we were all still getting to grips with the ramifications of the format. Traditional book formats are expensive at RRP – and many of my readers are happy to tell me they got my book out of the library. I don’t mind this at all (I get some books out of the library too), and writers do earn a little bit from library borrowings. Nevertheless, I made more in my final year of editing than I have done in my last three years of writing combined, and soon I will probably need to supplement my writing with another source of income. 

It seems that for everyone in the book business it’s time to adapt in order to survive. I hope as many as possible make it through to the other side, and that diverse, original, independent booksellers can tough it out against the big discounters. And I hope that all writers, published and those to be published, can ignore this horrible blip in the business and pursue their ideas wholeheartedly, because surely, at some stage, things will settle down, and earning a living this way might get a little easier. In the meantime it’s a pleasure to be part of the book-business community, because I’ve met (or cyber-met) so many superb, supportive people in the last couple of years: booksellers, authors, readers, agents, journalists, salespeople, librarians, editors and publishers. Good luck to every one of you, and here’s to a brighter day tomorrow.

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Don’t get rejected before they’ve even read a word…

writing (2) 75 dpiPeople who work in book publishing always have a ridiculous amount of reading to get through. I once worked on what is pejoratively termed the ‘slush pile’ in the HarperCollins fiction department, where I would often be the first reader. As such, I would get to decide if the story was worth further consideration by those higher up the chain. There were so many submissions I don’t think I was ever on top of it.

So, when submitting your work, to give yourself a head start you need to make your book stand out. Why does the publisher HAVE to read it? (If you’re not sure, how can they be?) Why do you believe in what you are doing? What is it about this book that warrants the attention of the book-buying public? If you are able to provide an agent or publisher with this kind of information BEFORE they look at it, then – as long as they are enthusiastic, of course – you’re a step ahead.

How can you make a potential agent or publisher want to read a script? It’s a big question, and you should take your time and consider your approach. First and foremost you need to stop thinking like a writer and start thinking like a marketeer. Can you condense your story down into one or two awesome sentences? If you can, you’ve developed a pitch, and depending on the policy of the publisher/agent in question, you can use this to get people interested – either on the phone or via cover letters/emails. I realise this can be scary, as you might get an immediate no. But the pitch will remain important right through to the book-buying stage, because in this frenetically paced market you never have very long to grab anyone’s attention.  Don’t start pitching until you’re ready, as a publisher isn’t going to take very seriously the person who develops a new pitch every few weeks. They want to know you are focused and serious about what you are doing.

Do you know which market you’re aiming for? Have you thought about how your book will compete with others on the shelves? Why is it different? Why will readers pick up your travel book on Rome rather than the Lonely Planet’s? If you can give a publisher answers to these kinds of questions (without them having to ask), you will pique their interest. Otherwise, if such questions come up and you have no reply, you will look naïve.

Look at submissions policies very carefully and use them to your advantage. A script that comes in clean, tidy, correctly formatted according to guidelines, and with a concise covering letter will get more attention than the dog-eared, single-spaced tome with a rambling two-page explanation. Are there small embellishments you can use to draw people’s attention – artwork, for example? Be careful with using unusual fonts – only attempt it if they fit the kind of book you are working on, and remember they must still be easily readable. If you make the presentation too much of a challenge for a publisher, you are shooting yourself in the foot before you’ve begun.

Can you do anything else differently to get people’s attention? Your ploys need to be subtle, as at this stage a busy agent/publisher is doing you a favour by reading your work. When I worked in-house we would get writers ringing up demanding why we hadn’t yet got to their synopsis and outline, and that didn’t go down well. Never mind the writing, who wants to work on publishing a book with a stroppy, argumentative author. If you haven’t heard anything for a while, keep your inquiry courteous. You can remind them why they really should read your book, but be careful how far you push.

The submissions stage is one where books and dreams are made or broken. Success is a combination of skill, perseverance, patience and good fortune (and much more besides) – but the only way the final line is ever drawn is the moment you give up. Good luck!

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Bye bye editing, hello life!

Finally, after six long weeks of work, I have finished the structural edit of Beneath the Shadows. It’s lovely to put my head up again, as I’ve literally been working morning, noon and night, around my toddler’s waking hours, to get everything done. I am already thinking of things that need changing or tweaking, but I will get another chance to do that when the copy-editing begins. I have a little bit of a love-hate relationship with this side of the editing process, which is ironic since I’ve been a book editor for the last ten years. But editing someone else’s work is fun. Editing my own novels seems to be much more gruelling, since I find myself continually re-examining every aspect of plot, characters and writing, and coming up with more and more problems or weaknesses that need fixing. However, I thrive on the challenge, and so far I’ve had two great editors who have really pushed me to make my books stronger.

So, while I’ve been taking a break, I’ve been dabbling with my bookshelf on goodreads.com.  I now have an author profile, which I’m still working on, and you’ll find my latest book reviews on there as well as on this website. You’ll notice they all tend to be rather positive, but I often don’t finish books I’m not enjoying, and as a result I don’t feel entirely qualified to comment on them! I’m currently reading and loving Water for Elephants, so you can expect another positive review soon!

Lately, quite a few aspiring authors have asked me for advice on what to do when you feel your novel is ready to go out into the world. So, while I have some downtime, I’ll shortly put up a blog or two with some general advice and information. Good luck to you all. Book publishing is a tough world, but it’s a very exciting and fulfilling one too, and I love being part of it.