Monday 30 May 2011

Writing a Novel and Getting Published

Now that I've moved from an almost successful writer to a somewhat successful writer I am still asked how one traverses that tricky hinterland between the gloomy forest of obscurity to the sunlit uplands of actually getting paid to write. I cannot speak to the journey that others may take but I can certainly describe my own rock and cowpat strewn path to occasional success.

I've covered much of this ground before but I thought I'd consolidated in one easy to find blog.

Part 1: Prior to Writing the Novel
1. To paraphrase Yoda 'Write or do not write there is no fucking endlessly telling people you're going to write a novel if you don't write it and BTW you fucked up badly in that cave you're worse than fricking Obi Wan I swear this is why I gave up teaching...'

Part 2: Writing the Novel
1. Go out and buy 'How Not To Write A Novel' by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman.
2. Read this book at least twice.
3. Write your novel following its advice.
4. Do not rewrite earlier chapters until the book is finished.
5. Do not show your work to more than 1-2 people until it's finished.
6. Do not ask professional writers to look at work unless you are a) sleeping with them, b) related to them, c) prepared to give them more than £2,000 in cash or d) all of the above.
7. I don't need to defend these rules to anyone since they worked for me but you can ignore them as much as you like - I'm easy.

Part 3: Selling Your Novel
I did the conventional get an agent and let them sell the book route so if you want to sell direct to publishers or self publish I can't help you and my speculation is just uninformed as anyone else. Also all of this applies to the UK - I have no idea how you'd do this in a different country.
1. Buy the latest copy of the Writers and Artists Yearbook.
2. Turn to the pages that list Literary Agents and pick 10 agents by whatever criteria suits you, I started with the biggest London based agencies but you could do it by reverse alphabetical order because it actually makes very little difference.
3. Follow the following procedure with exactitude...
a) Check the agency website to ensure that they are open to submissions, that they are looking for the genre you are writing in and what their submission guidelines are. If they don't have a website then make a quick phone call to determine these things. Be friendly and do not overstay your welcome or pitch over the phone (unless you are explicitly invited to).
b) prepare a submission package following the exact guidelines you were given in a). You do not win points for innovating your submission or trying to explain why you should be an exception.
c) Repeat the process for the other nine agencies.
d) Post or email your submissions.
4. Pick another 10 agencies and repeat until you have submitted your material to every single agency in the book that is willing to look at a submission. I did about ten submissions a week I can't see any reason to do it slower unless you really like to string out the agony.
5. Once you have an agent selling the book becomes their problem.
6. I can't really help you if this doesn't work since I got an agent.

Part 4: Some Statistics
I submitted my work to 45 agencies...
Of which 10 subsequently asked for a full manuscript...
4 asked for meetings of which...
Only 2 made offers of representation.
The fastest rejection took 6 days and the longest 6 months.
The average time before a manuscript request was 4 weeks.
Meetings, when they happened, were requested within 7 days of submitting a full manuscript.
To this day 13 agencies have failed to do so much as reject me by email.

That's the sum total of knowledge of how to get your work published - I hope it's useful.

Thursday 26 May 2011

Driveby Signing at Waterstones Covent Garden

I will be conducting a quick informal signing at Covent Garden Waterstones today. As you might know I used to work there and they've always supported me and flogged my books with the kind of gusto that other authors only dream of. They also like to make sure they have lots of signed copies so every so often I go down and sign a batch.

Since I'm there with sharpie Mary the manager thinks it would be a waste if we didn't invite people to come along and get their books signed. So from 11:00 to 12:30 I will be hanging around the store with my sharpie ready sign anything put in front of me.

That's Today, Covent Garden branch of Waterstones - 11:00 - 12:30

Thursday 19 May 2011

I wish it was in Russian

I'd love my books to be published in Russian (as well as German and Hungarian) but alas so far this has not happened. Fortunately on the interweb a Russian reviewer has translated the first couple of paragraphs of Rivers of London and since I still own the copyright I have no compunction about nicking it and showing it here...

«Реки Лондона»
Это началось в час тринадцать холодным утром вторника в январе, когда Мартин Тёрнер, уличный актер и, по собственным словам, жиголо, споткнулся о тело, перед западным портиком собора Святого Павла в Ковент-Гардене. Мартин, который был не слишком трезв сам, сперва подумал, что тело было одним из многих празднующих, кто выбрал площадь в качестве удобного наружного туалета и спальни. Будучи прожженным лондонцем, Мартин бросил на тело «лондонский оценивающий» быстрый взгляд, чтобы понять, был ли это пьяный, безумный или человек, пребывающий в депрессии. Факт того, что это было вполне возможно для кого-то быть одержимым всеми тремя симптомами сразу — был причиной, по которой добро-самаритянизм в Лондоне приравнивался к экстремальному спорту — как бейсджампинг или реслинг с крокодилами. Мартин, отмечая хорошего качества пальто и ботинки, только-только квалифицировал тело как пьяное, когда заметил, что оно без головы.

Как отметил Мартин детективам, проводившим с ним беседу, это было очень хорошо, что он был пьян, потому что в противном случае он бы напрасно потерял время вопя и бегая вокруг — особенно, когда понял, что стоит в луже крови. Вместо этого с медленной, методической выдержкой пьяного и испуганного, Мартин Тёрнер набрал 999 и попросил полицию.

Monday 9 May 2011

Multinationals - Threat or Menace?

For writers of everything from Cyberpunk to Literary Fiction the multinational corporation has provided a fruitful source of menace, bad guys and, for the boys at Kudos, deus ex machinas. Like the Russians during the cold war or the Islamic terrorists post 9/11 it is barely considered necessary to provide them with a motive - they're multinationals - evil incorporated.

I've often heard the phrase - bigger than the GDP of a small country - and after a while I wondered 'how much bigger?' So I looked up the turnover of the world's really big companies and compared them to the GDP of various countries.

So the biggest company of all, Wallmart, has a turnover of $419 billion. Looking down our list of adjusted GDP as calculated by the IMF we find that Wallmart is bigger than country 29 on the list Malaysia ($412 billion).

The next biggest company is ExxonMobil at $370 billion which makes it bigger than Sweden ($352 bn) but smaller than Nigeria (374 bn). After Exxon come a raft of big oil companies, American, Dutch, French and Chinese, until we come to the first manufacturing company on the list - Toyota. The Japanese motor manufacturer weighs in at $204 billion which makes it smaller than Israel ($219 bn) but larger than Denmark ($203 bn).

So there you go - multinationals are bigger than small countries but probably not as big as the guys at Kudos think they are.

Saturday 7 May 2011

Signing Tomorrow at Waterstones Covent Garden

Just a reminder that Suzanne MacLeod and I will be signing a various magnificent octopus at Waterstones Covent Garden between 2-4pm on Sunday the 8th of May. It's all part of the Covent Garden May Fayre which should be a fun day out for all the family. For the geographically challange I've made a little Google map for you here.

Mein Name ist Peter Grant.

Rivers of London is being published in Germany by DTV, here is their cover and here is their blurb...

»Können Sie beweisen, dass Sie tot sind?«

Peter Grant ist Police Constable in London mit einer ausgeprägten Begabung fürs Magische. Was seinen Vorgesetzten nicht entgeht. Auftritt Thomas Nightingale, Polizeiinspektor und außerdem der letzte Zauberer Englands. Er wird Peter in den Grundlagen der Magie ausbilden. Ein Mord in Covent Garden führt den frischgebackenen Zauberlehrling Peter auf die Spur eines Schauspielers, der vor 200 Jahren an dieser Stelle den Tod fand.

»Mein Name ist Peter Grant. Ich bin seit Neuestem Police Constable und Zauberlehrling, der erste seit fünfzig Jahren. Mein Leben ist dadurch um einiges komplizierter geworden. Jetzt muss ich mich mit einem Nest von Vampiren in Purley herumschlagen, einen Waffenstillstand zwischen Themsegott und Themsegöttin herbeiführen, Leichen in Covent Garden ausgraben. Ziemlich anstrengend, kann ich Ihnen sagen - und der Papierkram!«

The strapline at the top translates as, I think, "Can your prove that you are dead?" which is not bad at all and very funny. I also like the cry of '...and the paperwork' »...und der Papierkram!«

Tuesday 3 May 2011

Sneak Preview: Whispers Under Ground Covers

For bonus points you can guess which one is British and which one American...

Monday 2 May 2011

The Wisdom of Woody Allen

You read your own reviews - this is a given. It's not that I wouldn't believe a writer if he(1) said he never read the reviews of his own work but I certainly wouldn't lend them a fiver or sit next to them on a long plane flight. It's not the bad ones who freak you out, although they reduce me to incandescent rage, nor is it the ones that attribute you with strange motives and agendas which generally just puzzle me.

No - the ones that keep me up at night are the ones that describe my work as 'light', 'fun' and 'inconsequential'.

Inconsequential - moi? Can't they see the depths of my subtext, the cleverness of a metatextual metaphors - am I being just too clever?

Perhaps I should make my subtext more obvious or maybe I should dispense with such bourgeois notions as plot, character and syntax.

Fortunately it's then the scene from Stardust Memories by Woody Allen flashes in my mind. The one where he meets the Martians. When he asks them whether he shouldn't do something more meaningful with his life to be of service to mankind. The Martian tells him: 'You want to do mankind a real service? Tell funnier jokes.'

So 'fun', 'lightweight', 'enjoyable fluff' or 'an easy way to pass the weekend' fine, these are better words than 'unread', 'remaindered' and of course - 'unpublished.' So thank you Woody Allen for everything you've taught me and one day, I promise, I'll sit down and watch 'Interiors' with an open mind.

(1) he/she, him/her etc etc

Sunday 1 May 2011

Novel Associations

Well it's not the combination that sprang to my mind...