Is it possible for an unknown author to grab a six-figure publishing deal and a top agent in the middle of a recession? Those in the book trade say no way! Even the top authors are facing cut-backs. With no novel outline, no plot, no title, no genre, no word count and no contacts in the business, Anu Novelist sets out to achieve the seemingly impossible. Credit crunch . . . what credit crunch?

Friday, May 15, 2009

Planning our assault on the literary marketplace . . .

The prolific military thriller writer James Barrington has been in touch with some top tips for Yours Truly (and any of you considering following in my footsteps, you mad things you). James tells me that as well as his latest action-packed tome (my words), he has two more novels to pen this year and another three planned for next year. Phew! any chance of borrowing a plot or two, mate?

James has kindly agreed to share his formula for publishing success with us. This is the advice he would give to any aspiring author and I quote:

· Write the novel to completion.
· Stick it away in a drawer somewhere and come back to it after a couple of weeks.
· Read it as critically as you can, just as if it was a book you’d bought in a shop.
· Re-write those bits you didn’t like.
· Read it again.
· Get somebody else who likes that kind of book – not a friend or family member, because they’ll invariably be either kind or spiteful – to read it and comment on it.
· Even if you don’t like what’s been said about it, very strongly consider incorporating those changes.
· Go over the entire work to eliminate every single typo, spelling or grammatical error – the tool of your trade is the English language. If you don’t know how to use it properly, no agent or publisher will take you seriously.
· Study the first line of the first page. Does it set a hook – does it ask a question or make a statement or do anything else that will make the reader want to look at the next sentence? If it doesn’t, rewrite it until it does.
· Do the same with the rest of the first page, and the first chapter. Your first reader is going to be a literary agent – if he or she isn’t interested enough to read more, nobody else will be either.
· Prepare a package to send out. This should contain a covering letter, the synopsis and the first three chapters of the novel.
· Address the letter personally to the agent and explain why you believe his or her agency is the right one to handle your work. Explain why you think your novel has commercial appeal, and where it will fit into the present market. Which books will be next to it on the shelves in Smiths? Explain what there is in your background or experience which means you’re the ideal person to write the book. But, above all in this letter, emphasise your likeability factor. The agent really has to put down the letter and believe that you’d be an interesting and pleasant person to have lunch with. That may sound shallow, but it’s a perfectly viable and accurate piece of advice. Never, ever, be arrogant or appear to be intractable. One of my publishers is not renewing the contract of a very successful author simply because he’s a nightmare to work with. You have to be amenable to editorial changes. You have to be polite and considerate in all your dealings with the agency and publishing house. And you have to stick to deadlines – no exceptions, ever.
· Use the trade guides and submit the package to several agents at the same time – if you don’t, you’ll die of old age long before the last one’s replied. I’m still waiting to hear back from two about Overkill, and the book was published in 2004!
· You’ll get numerous rejections. Ignore the standard ‘not for us – good luck elsewhere’ types, but take careful note of any that make concrete suggestions, and incorporate those suggestions if you possibly can.
· Keep trying. The most important quality today for any writer isn’t talent – it’s persistence.

Love that last bit, James, it confirms exactly what I've thought all along! And I have persistence, stickability, or whatever you want to call it in droves. I can roll with the punches . . . rejections, ha! Who cares? Actually, let's cross that bridge when we come to it, shall we?

Didn't James's first point knock you for six? You mean, I really do have to write the whole darn blockbuster thing before I start approaching agents? Ouch. Serious reality check, Anu.

And James has some advice about plotting. Do you, or don't you?:

Wood versus Tree

It’s said there are two kind of writers – ‘wood’ and ‘tree’. A ‘tree’ writer sees his story like looking at a tree. He starts from the base of the trunk and before he starts writing he can see the precise path the story will take, from that point all the way up to the tip of the highest branch. A ‘wood’ writer, in contrast, starts the story like somebody walking into a wood. They know they’ll reach the other side of the wood, and exactly where they’ll emerge, but they have no idea what path they’ll follow to get there.

I’m definitely in the latter group. When I start a new book, I always know where it will start, and precisely what the end will be, but throughout the writing I frequently find the story taking entirely unexpected twists and turns as various characters dictate what’s happening. So I do write a synopsis for every book, but I always emphasise to my editors that it’s a ‘working’ synopsis – i.e. one subject to changes – though the overall shape of the story will follow the synopsis reasonably closely.

More from James about how we deal with the dreaded synopsis later (actually, he makes the whole thing sound so simple and idiot-proof, I can't believe there's much to fear - says Anu, reaching for the decanter.)

OK then, there we have it. Wood or Tree? You're expecting me to say I can't see the wood for the trees, aren't you? I hate to disappoint. I can't see the wood for the trees.

I'm a 'wood' person. Yes, wood, definitely. You're thinking I'm only saying that so I can get away with a minimum of plotting before I start penning my masterpiece.

Already you know me too well.

See ya later!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

I'm on my way - sort of.

OK, the brainstorming session was divided into two parts. Roughly translated as a game of two halves for you footy fans out there. Anyone like footy? Not footsie - down now.

My first efforts focussed on 'genre'. I divided a piece of paper into three columns (just like being back at junior school, this). In the first column, I wrote down as many genre types as I could think of: literary/ chick lit/ crime (thriller/ mystery/ suspense)/ rom com/ western/ Mills & Boon

In the next column I wrote the 'plus' points against each one and in the third column the minuses. You wouldn't believe the number of times I've been given the advice 'write what you like to read, so you won't be surprised that the plusses for the 'thriller' genre overran all the others. My favourite type of reading has always been crime fiction. But . . . (and it's a huge but, unlike my own petite (and gorgeous, so I've been told) 'butt') . . . I'm prepared to sacrifice the kind of story I love . . . for something that is more commercially viable. That's the name of the game after all. This is a commercial enterprise - all about making masses of dough in an economic downturn.

Chick lit is a real no-no for me, no matter what the size of the contract. It's too light and fluffy and boring. Yawn. As for Mills and Boon - don't get me wrong - I have huge admiration for those who can, but I don't think I could pull it off convincingly.

No what we need is a kind of saga - something that demands a sequel (possibly several) - and a TV adaptation. Absolutely. Now we're getting somewhere.

Now we just need THE BIG IDEA as Dave Haslett put it. I'm off to check out this week's top ten listings in The Bookseller, to get some inspiration for my blockbuster. Or possibly bonkbuster.

See ya later!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The friendliest forum on the Web?


Just hooked up with the lovely scribes from the Writers' News online forum:
These guys really seem to be the most supportive bunch of writers on the Net - within a couple of hours I had 30+ messages of support/ encouragement - welling up now. But if you're a member of an alterative group who wants this newbie writer (albeit with BIG ambitions) as a member, then please do get in touch.

Sorry, it's all a bit short and sweet tonight, but I've been told in no uncertain terms that I've been neglecting my other half so I'm off to seek some inspiration . . . for the novel, I meant . . . those of you with filthy minds.

See ya later!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Dave, you cannot be serious!!

Before I get down to the nitty-gritty of what happened in my brainstorming session yesterday, I've just picked up Dave Haslett's "The Fastest Way To Write Your Book." And boy, does he mean FAST! Dave reckons "we" (OK, he probably means me) can crack this thing in four weeks flat. Flat out, more like.

I quote: "Here's the plan: we're going to spend one week coming up with The Big Idea, researching it, planning the book and creating an outline. We'll then spend three weeks writing the first draft. That's zero to finished draft in under a month. Not bad eh?"

Not bad, Dave? - you're a bloomin' miracle worker, mate.

Still, I can see how that might work with a non-fiction title, but what about my blockbuster?
Mind you, on the back cover of the book, Dave reminds us that "Barbara Cartland usually took two weeks" to write (sorry, dictate) one of her novels - unfortunately I don't (yet) have the funds to hire a secretary. Pity. Perhaps we could have a whip-round? Apparently, Stephen King once bashed out a book in seven days. GMTV's Penny Smith reportedly said her first novel had taken her around two weeks to write. Hmmm . . .

Can't hurt to give this fastwriting thing a whirl. The sooner I get this little beauty down on paper the better. That's a point - paper, or screen? Don't most professional writers type their novels directly onto the computer?

Now, back to the (dreaded) BS. Before we do that, I'm just going to grab a cuppa. Back before you know it.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Brainstorm . . . in a D cup

Neat title, eh?
Not a clue to my identity. Jordan has far better things to do with her time let me assure you.

The trip to WHS this morning was a great success. I bought loads of things that look pretty on my desk (and probably will never use). Still, I remembered to bag the essentials. And pay for them, of course. "Bag" makes me sound too much like a pilferer. The coffee stop was nice too. They do nice flapjacks in . . . oops, mustn't give too much away.

I have my good friend Jurgen Wolff with me this afternoon, to assist me with my brainstorm. Not actually with me in person (Mr Wolff also has better things to do with his time I'm pretty certain). Instead, I have his book: Your Writing Coach, which I bought three months ago and thus far, have only got round to perusing the blurb on the back page, which makes me wonder if I have the stamina and inclination for this "experiment," let alone the talent. The other thing that occurs to me, is that I might spend way too long with this bloody blogging lark, I won't actually produce much in the way of serious writing. Or should I concentrate on humour? Is humorous writing ever taken seriously? So many questions!

Be positive, Anu. You can do this.

A manuscript of 100,000 words starts with a mere first sentence. I'm not ready for that yet.

I need to come up with a premise for my novel. So, Mr Wolff, what do you suggest?

Jurgen's brainstorming guidelines are:

'Go for quantity'
'No judging' - love that one!
'Write everything down - no matter how crazy or off topic it may seem'
'Build on other ideas. Don't get hung up on trying to develop something completely new, because in reality there is almost nothing totally new in the world. Even the most amazing breakthroughs tend to be combinations of existing elements.'

How very reassuring. And to brainstorm effectively apparently it helps to limit your time. Phew - result. So I'm giving myself twenty minutes from now to see what I can come up with.

See ya later!

Oh, one more thing. I had a chuckle when I saw Geri Halliwell's kiddies' book practically being given away in WHS. What with that and poor Jerry Hall having to pay back her half million quid advance on her tome that never was. Even celebs are being whacked by the CC it seems.
Right, here we are.

It's Monday morning, 9am and I'm at HQ (my makeshift office) for a briefing. I've scheduled an appointment with myself for 2pm, for my first (of many, one presumes) BRAINSTORMING session.

I've encountered these awful things in places where I've worked down the years. We all approached them with varying degrees of trepidation - yes, I know the whole idea is meant to be that you don't judge the other participants' contributions - but in my experience, there was that much huffing and puffing and sighing in the midst, you had no doubt who's "little gems" translated as "utter crap."

Still that can't happen this time, as I'll be by myself. Or can it?

Here comes the nice part. I'm taking myself off to WH Smith to bag myself an array of goodies - my start-up kit. Pens, paper, postcards - for that all-important scene-devising; post-it-notes, highlighter pens and a gorgeous notebook in which to capture my thoughts. Actually I might try Paperchase. Are they still going? Actually, I've decided I don't want anything too gorgeous, as I won't end up writing in it at all. The worst case scenario is that I start my day with a severe case of Writers' Block.

Don't be silly, Anu. Writers' Block doesn't actually exist. It's just a flimsy excuse for getting bugger all done. Once I've made my purchases I might even stop off for a cappuccino at a lovely pavement cafe to get myself in the mood. If it's good enough for JKR . . .

See ya later!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

What am I doing???


And welcome to my humble abode. Thanks for visiting.

Something I don't yet fully understand prompted me to do this. Because something inside me believes it will work. Yes, really! Already I can hear you whispering in corners.

This is my first attempt at blogging. You won't find me on Facebook, or My Space, or any of those sites, because I don't do that kind of thing. Unless I can be persuaded . . .

So here's what it's all about:

Today I read an article in The Self-Publishing Magazine by Chris Holifield, the co-founder of which boasts the largest and most visited website in the UK, apparently. Quick plug for you there, Chris, - hoping you can return the favour sometime!

The article, 'Publishing in a Recession', was about, how in these lean and uncertain times, it's more difficult than ever to get an agent to back your novel, let alone a publisher.

Which got me thinking. Is it possible for an unknown writer to achieve superstar status with their first novel? I do hope so. Because I plan to invest a bit of time in striving for that seemingly elusive goal. I'm going to bag myself an agent - and with it, that all-important six-figure publishing deal. OK, I'll settle for five figures. We are in a recession after all.

Right now, I have no outline for my novel, no title, no word count and no preferred genre, which means I can begin with a completely open mind. Hey, we all have to start somewhere . . .

Your feedback/advice would be appreciated.