Everything Crossed

You make your own luck. But just in case…

No idea who these people are. That's how good my schmoozing was.

No idea who these people were. That’s how good my schmoozing was.

It’s been a pretty big week, so welcome to the latest in my series on trying to get published. Last time I talked about researching agents, and I have news: my aim when I started this series was to get my novel sent off to a batch of agents before Easter, and guess what? Success!

I realised on Wednesday night last week that I could poke and tweak and re-poke and re-tweak my query letter forever and still not send it off. All it’s supposed to do is introduce agents to the novel (and author) – when push comes to shove, the novel needs to speak for itself. And so I stopped poking and re-poking and instead sent my first batch of query letters out. And now I’m checking my emails every five minutes. No news yet.

One of the reasons I was so keen to get things out was that I was paranoid about sending things in during Easter week when agents might be off on their hols, so I successfully accomplished that. Unfortunately what I should have realised is that this week is the London Book Fair, so I’m pretty sure everyone in the entire industry is swamped. Oh well. There’ll always be a reason not to send something in and the agents I’ve picked all sound like they do, eventually, check all submissions. So we shall see.

Just checked my emails again. Nothing.

On the other hand, seeing as this week is the London Book Fair and I just happen to have a novel to a publishable (so says I) state, I booked a last-minute day off work and pootled along. With a stash of query letters in my bag, of course.

I’ve not been to one before and a lot of the really exciting things – pitch competitions and the like – need to be booked far in advance. There was however a dedicated authors’ area with a programme of brief panel discussions about the industry. That’s where I toddled off to for the first talk of the day, an intro to the publishing process with speakers from a bookseller, a big publishing house, an independent publishing house and, rather enticingly, an agent. Lots of handy things were discussed and I asked a question about simultaneous submission etiquette to the agent, Camilla Wray from Darley Anderson (answer: it’s fine, but let agents know what you’re up to). And right at the end as everyone was leaving, I pulled myself up by my bootstraps, introduced myself to Camilla and proffered her a copy of my query letter, synopsis and first three chapters. Which she took. It was busy, and many others were waiting to pounce after me, so I didn’t really say a massive amount, but hopefully the face-to-face contact will be a helpful reminder. I was wearing a distinctive stripy jumper and have ludicrous facial hair, so I’ll stick in her mind for better or worse!

I didn’t achieve much with the rest of my time there, but I was thinking of it in terms of a fact-finding mission ahead of going to more such events. Working out what goes on, what the etiquette is and so forth. Also, couple of free glasses of wine right at the end, so score!

And as of right now, five agents, all of whom I’m specifically excited about, have copies of my query letter, synopsis and first three chapters. Hopefully someone will ask for more of the manuscript but if not, in about five weeks time I’ll send the next batch of letters out.

So. Wish me luck. More soon.



Facing The Press

In which our intrepid hero heads to The Guardian. Not to be interviewed, sadly.

A hidden metaphor, or a random bunch of pigs I found in The Guardian's office? I'll let you decide.

A hidden metaphor, or a random bunch of pigs I found in The Guardian’s office? I’ll let you decide.

This is the latest in my series on trying to get published for the first time. Last time I was talking about the elevator pitch, and since then I’ve had the opportunity to try it out on a captive audience and it went down pretty well. Where? Read on!

As I’m gearing up towards entering publishing professionally I’ve been thinking long and hard about what I’ve learned (if anything) from my previous creative endeavours.

I trained as an actor and spent a good few years pursuing that as a career. One of the many things that made me realise it wasn’t for me was the relentless self-promotion required, which I just didn’t feel capable of. How refreshing then that so far I feel a lot more engaged with that side of writing. I guess part of it is that I have more confidence in my novels than in my acting abilities. It also feels much easier to target myself with writing than with acting. More on that later and also in greater depth in a future post about selecting agents to approach.

So far so good, but engaged as I feel, I know I’ve got a hell of a lot to learn if I want to get anywhere, so that’s why I found myself at The Guardian offices last night. The event was part of their Masterclass programme, titled PR and Marketing for Authors. It was a three hour whistlestop tour of the myriad different forms of self promotion, from trying to get your book reviewed in national newspapers (hard, unsurprisingly) to the basics of building Twitter followings (also hard – spotting a pattern?) and the likelihood or not of a publisher having any kind of budget to do it for you. We also had the chance to read out a brief elevator pitch for our novel as a sort of hook for a press release and mine seemed to go over pretty well. Oh, and there was wine too. There’s always wine.

The bulk of the talk was from Tory Lyne-Pirkis from Midas PR (they work with a wide range of authors, or so her press release tells me), but I found the most revealing insights were from guest speaker C J Daugherty, author of the YA Night School series.

Hearing about the realities of the tiny budgets publishers tend to have for marketing, especially for debut authors, and how quite a few successful authors have spent a sizeable chunk of their advance on PR was, despite some fairly horrifying statistics, strangely inspiring.

I think the reason is that this is a world I’m eager to engage with. Unlike with acting, where all I wanted to do was get on stage or into the rehearsal room, with writing I’m looking forward to the behind the scenes stuff: branching out to write about other topics semi-related to my novel in the hope of a plug at the bottom of an article, approaching luminaries to beg for a quote, rocking up to a local festival in any capacity they’ll have me in the hopes I can give a crafty mention of my novel. None of it is as appealing as the writing itself, don’t get me wrong, but I can see how it fits together more. With acting, I was so desperate for any kind of work it was hard to know how to begin. With writing, I’ve got a novel and can target accordingly. Or I will have my novel if I bloody well get on with it and finish the redraft!

On that note, I’m just over a quarter of the way through the latest draft. My target was the end of March, which is still faintly do-able. The first and last quarters needed the most work, so hopefully it’ll be plain sailing through the middle. Yeah. Right.

My next post will be on the synopsis which I’ll be sending to agents with my query letter but in the mean time, if you’ve ever had to do any PR for yourself, how have you felt about it? A necessary evil, or an enjoyable part of the process? I’m really intrigued with how to fit all the work needed on PR around the time spent on writing itself, but with a massive slug o’ luck and a fair wind behind me maybe I’ll be able to write a future post on that very subject. Time (and a marketing budget) will tell!


red wine

I feel like I’m drowning, she’d said. Melodramatic bitch, he’d said.

It was not, by some margin, his first bottle of wine of the evening. The solitary glass stood forgotten on the side table as the bottle made its happy glug-glug-glug. This was a Malbec 2000, or at least he thought it had said 2000 on the label; he was finding it hard to read the labels now. This was one they’d been saving for a special occasion. Well he’d be damned if she’d take this bottle from him along with the car, the house and the kitchen sink.

Damned if she could have any of the other bottles either. One by one he’d sunk them. The Beaujolais from their anniversary in Paris, the Domaine du Grande Maine found at the back of a dusty old wine warehouse in Southwark, even that Rioja they’d picked up in Barcelona. One by one the empty bottles had been flung out of the window into the garden. Their garden. Soon to be her garden. Well let her clear up the broken glass then, he thought. He tipped the bottle up again. A thin red stream flowed from the corner of his mouth as he smiled at the glug-glug-glug.

He flung the bottle away, let out a cheer as it hit something solid in the garden and exploded into a million fragments. He reached for the next bottle. Cabernet Sauvignon. 2003. He’d always hated Cabernet Sauvignon. This was one of hers, one he’d bought to please her. Like the beige sofa. Like the taupe rug. Like the oatmeal lampshade. All to please her.

He grinned as the idea formed. He laughed as he staggered into the living room. He capered as he poured the Cabernet Sauvignon over the beige sofa, over the taupe rug, over the oatmeal lampshade. It wasn’t much revenge, not for what she’d done to him, but it felt good.

He grabbed another bottle, then another. A Merlot they had brought back from a vinyard trip to Bordeaux, a Shiraz her father had given them as a present. The red liquid sloshed out over the carpet, over the furniture, over the walls. Bottle by bottle the pools grew. Wine lapped at his shoes and still he poured. Wine lapped at his knees and still he poured. Wine lapped at his chest and still he poured. He reached for the last bottle, the 1995 Pinot Noir, the one bottle that predated even her. He uncorked and poured their relationship away.

She found him in the morning. The doctors said he’d drunk until he’d drowned.