What They Didn't Tell Me
Posted on May 4, 2017Here's another blog I wrote a couple of months ago for the blog tour. The host was the lovely Jo from Life Of Crime and the link to the original on her website is https://t.co/TfYRLnxNnL
In case that doesn't work, the article is reproduced here in full with her kind permission.
What They Didn't Tell Me
OK. So this is how I saw it at the time. Please don’t snigger at the simplistic way in which I viewed things back then because I can guarantee that most of those authors you follow religiously and who now appear like demi-gods on the literary stage will have been no different when they first started. At least, I hope it’s not just me.
So you finally get your agent and, in due course, your first deal with a publisher – in my case, a two-book deal. All downhill from here on in, isn’t it? The publishers welcome you with open arms, promise to take care of everything from now on. You just go away and get on with writing the next one and don’t worry about a thing. Leave it all to us.
In your dreams.
I am at present 57,000 words into book 3, which probably equates to two-thirds of the way through. I have another 6 weeks to finish the first draft which, a few years ago, would have been a stroll in the park. Not even 1000 words a day. Piece of cake. But . . . what they didn’t tell me is that finding time to write the next book is not the simple matter of choice that it was before I got a publishing deal. New writing time has to fight its corner against serious incursions from a number of other areas which are also very important and fall within the author’s remit. In case you’re not aware of these competing demands, let me list some of them for you – and please be aware that this is far from a comprehensive list.
• Social media. When I had my first meeting with Bonnier Zaffre my editor asked me what I was like with social media and I gave him my best smug expression and announced in true authorly fashion oh, I don’t do that sort of thing. His response was you do now. I spend something in the region of two hours a day, creating my own tweets and posts, re-tweeting others, sending direct messages, deciding which people to follow, thanking others for kind comments or RTs and, inevitably, watching that panda clutching the zookeeper’s leg.
• Website. Didn’t have one. Do now. And it needs to change every so often or no one will come and look at it. And it doesn’t change itself.
• Blogs. I’d heard of them but wasn’t sure what purpose they served. Now I’ve discovered a whole world out there of bloggers who are prepared to include you and your book and anything you want to say about it for no better reason than that they love what they do. But they have to be fed.
• Reviewers. In my naïve way, I assumed you write your book and wait to see what the reviewers in the national press think of it. The answer is they don’t – or at least they haven’t so far. You’re very fortunate if they even read it. But there’s a community of reviewers out there who not only read as many as 250 books a year – I thought I was doing well with 70 to 80 – but also write wonderful reviews which play a significant role in getting your name and your book out there. They need to be reminded how much they’re appreciated.
• Personal appearances. Not complaining for one moment. I love these and having the chance to talk about your book with people who’ve been good enough to buy it and invite you along is one of the real joys of being an author. Just saying . . . if you go to Liverpool to meet your readers, it’s probably a couple of days out of your writing time.
• Editing. You don’t just write your book once. You do it about half-a-dozen times with rewrites that can take weeks. Then you read it again for line edits and final edits and by the time everyone agrees it’s as good as it’s going to be, you’re starting to have doubts about whether it’s as good as you once thought
• Life. Whether it’s work or bringing up young children or working at your own relationship, life has a way of tapping you on the shoulder and reminding you that it’s there, waiting not always very patiently for you to get your priorities sorted out.
As I said, it’s not a comprehensive list – I haven’t for instance mentioned what it’s like to sit down and try to be creative and sparkling after you’ve just watched Wolves get beaten at home by Birmingham – but it should give you an idea of the many different directions from which distractions descend upon any author trying to meet a deadline.
Just as well we love what we do.
Posted on March 29, 2017Hello - long time no see. I'm sorry about the long gap between blogs but things have been more than slightly manic lately with the appearance in paperback of Lie In Wait, my preparation for leaving the school where I've been working for 25 years now and (minor detail) the small matter of producing book 3 which has to be completed by April 12th.
You may have seen however that I did a blogtour and contributed a number of pieces to it. In case you missed any of them, I'm reproducing them here with kind permission from the wonderful bloggers and reviewers who hosted the tour.
I'll start here with the piece on 'Writing Characters' which I did for Cleo. If you don't know her or her site, do check it out. Clicking on the link below will take you to it. If you'd rather just read the piece on this page, here it is.
All authors have to choose a starting point that works for them and for me it’s the central character. That doesn’t mean to say that potential plots don’t occur to me from time to time – they do, and I tend to shut them away for future reference because until I have a character I want to work with, there is no story to tell. Once I do, I can then look for that character’s achilles heel and choose a situation that is going to test her/him to the limit. But it’s character first.
In The Hidden Legacy, Ellen sprang out of an exercise we did for the MA in Creative Writing at the University of Chichester. We were given a comprehensive checklist which we had to use to ask our character questions ranging from which newspaper she read to what her deepest fear would be. I took ages over fleshing her out and carried her around with me for months, even asking myself how she would react to news items on TV. Not far off schizophrenic maybe but very useful for getting to know your character.
In Lie In Wait Owen was a composite of a handful of children I’ve taught over the years who seem to have the words ‘natural victim’ stamped into their psyche. Very often they are different but they are made more so by the reaction of those around them who exclude them from everything.
Writing is not just about central characters though and I’ve come up with three tips which work for me when developing the cast of supporting actors who help to bring the novel to life. In no particular order they are:
• Avoid extremes if possible. Not many people are without flaws and no one I’ve met is entirely without redeeming features. Try to make sure you throw in a few little surprises which show a different side to your characters or there’s a danger they’ll be too wooden and stereotypical to be interesting. It’s always better to challenge the reader’s expectations.
• Get the dialogue right. We all speak slightly differently from each other with a variety of hesitations, digressions, favourite expressions that, you know, we seem to kind of throw in every other sentence . . . basically. Know what I mean? Listen to people around you, borrow extensively from them. In an ideal world, it should be possible for a reader to listen to a dozen or so examples of speech from one character in your novel and know exactly who it is without being told. And the listening part is important too – try taping an extended piece of dialogue you’ve created and playing it back to see what it sounds like. If it clunks, change it.
• Test your characters. You won’t want (or have time) to do this with all of them but with half a dozen or so who appear relatively frequently, try to come up with a situation which will put them under pressure and bring out a different side to them. Characters when pressurised behave in ways that surprise us and readers tend to like being caught on the hop. At any social gathering, I don’t suppose I’m very different from anyone else in seeking out the individuals who are interesting, entertaining and informative and readers are the same. If we can make a character that little bit more interesting, we’re winning the battle for the their attention.
I did say these work for me. It doesn’t mean they will for everyone but if there’s even one small suggestion there that helps, I’ll be delighted.
Many thanks to Cleo as usual for the opportunity.
Posted on December 23, 2016Just because my blog has been out of action for quite a while now, it doesn't mean I haven't been blogging at all. In fact, during the run up to the publication of both The Hidden Legacy and Lie In Wait as eBooks, I wrote a number of pieces for a host of excellent bloggers and it occurred to me that this might now be an opportunity to post some of those on here. I do so for two reasons: firstly, I'm aware there may be some people who missed them the first time through, either because they just happened to blink (social media can be like that) or because they hadn't heard of either book at the time, or maybe even because they don't do social media full stop. The other reason, far more pertinent, is that for the next three months I'm going to be devoting a substantial amount of time and energy to writing book 3, which currently has the working title of What She Does. This will mean I'm not going to have much time to create new blogs for a while so this will hopefully entertain and maybe even help some other writers in the meantime.
I'll start with one from the excellent Jera's Jamboree which first appeared just over a year ago when The Hidden Legacy had been out for a fortnight. Just highlight the link below, right click and choose 'go to'. Hope you enjoy it.
Posted on December 1, 2016Hi! Many apologies for the lack of activity on this blog page in recent weeks. I have in fact been writing several for different bloggers who were kind enough to give me the opportunity but the website has been undergoing a number of significant changes in recent months and it hasn't been possible to post on here. I'll be adding many of those blogs here during the next few weeks so that you'll be able to catch up if you missed them earlier. In the meantime, my thanks go to Pete King for his excellent work on improving the layout of this website. If you like the new look, please let me know through the Contacts page. Graham
Bloggers and Reviewers - the lifeblood of the industry
Posted on April 19, 2016Before my first novel, The Hidden Legacy, was published as an eBook, I'm pretty sure that the number of reviews I'd submitted to Amazon totalled precisely two. The first, a song of praise to Elizabeth Hay for A Student of Weather, awarded the author 5 stars. The second, for a book I'll refrain from identifying for fear of inflicting further insult and injury upon the poor author, was not so generous. In fact, the words 'mean spirited' spring to mind.
In my defence, the novel had swept into the consciousness of book lovers on a tidal wave of publicity that promised the earth. International bestseller. More than a million copies sold. The crime thriller of the decade ' I can almost hear you all trying to identify it from here. It was built up as the novel you couldn't afford to miss and I couldn't get my hands on it quickly enough. Several painful days later, it was the author I wanted to get my hands on, or at least the people responsible for the marketing of the book, because it was dreadful ' poorly constructed, saccharine-sweet gloopy dialogue, utterly dependent upon deus ex machina interventions and outrageous coincidences which came so thick and fast in the final 100 pages that I'd have laughed if I hadn't felt so aggrieved. It was awful . . . and I couldn't wait to let everyone know how I felt.
The moment I became a published author, I discovered that my feeble efforts at reviewing were as nothing compared to others. There was suddenly a host of bloggers and reviewers out there who thought nothing of reading 150 novels a year and reviewing every one of them. Not only that, but these reviews were not two quick lines of praise or vitriol but in-depth analyses of each novel, written with style and dispassionate professionalism. Where criticism was merited, it was leavened wherever possible with positives to provide balance. Where praise was called for, it was fulsome and detailed, as if the reviewer's clear preference was to encourage and give something back to the writer.
In the couple of weeks either side of the release of The Hidden Legacy, I was asked to contribute to some of these blogs. In some cases I was responding to specific questions, in others it was a question of writing to a brief I'd been given. I submitted these pieces and was taken aback by the warmth with which they were received by the bloggers themselves. They seemed keen to engage with writers all the time on social media, as if taking genuine pleasure in building relationships with the writing community. My own feeble efforts at reviewing seemed, by comparison, rather self-indulgent and . . . yes, mean spirited.
It wasn't long before I found myself trawling through the several hundred reviews that book had generated, in search of my stinker of a review. When I eventually tracked it down, I'll admit that even then my finger hesitated while the cynic in me admired the hatchet job I'd managed to put together, before the writer (human being') in me intervened and pressed the delete key.
In my pre-published days, I had a very limited understanding of reviewers and how they operated. As far as I was aware, it was a newspaper- and magazine-based operation. You wrote your novel and the papers told you what they thought of it. I now know it's so much more than that. It's the lifeblood of the industry. Reviews and ratings have always mattered to authors for obvious reasons. I don't know how many writers genuinely don't care what anyone thinks of their work but I'm sure they're very much in a minority. I've been fortunate to have had a very positive response on Amazon and Goodreads to The Hidden Legacy, but I've also picked up the occasional semi-abusive 1 star review and wondered what on earth I'm supposed to learn from that . . . until the words pot, kettle, kettle, pot came to mind.
But quite apart from the encouragement they can give to authors who are constantly doubting themselves (and I promise you, there are more than you'd imagine), reviews and ratings on Amazon also play a major role in boosting the marketability of a novel. I'll never forget one of the first ratings I received on Goodreads from someone named Gary, who settled my nerves by giving it 5 stars and saying a lot of very positive things. When I looked again two days later, 17 people had commented on his review, all saying something along the lines of wow, if you like it that much, I'll definitely give it a go. All of a sudden the number of people expressing an interest in reading my novel shot up and on Goodreads alone I now have over 870 people expressing an interest with 50 reviews and 285 ratings, nearly 200 of them 4 or 5 star, and the paperback doesn't even come out until the end of August. Now, I'm pleased with the way The Hidden Legacy turned out and would like to believe it has its merits but that becomes irrelevant if no one gets to read it. I'm convinced there's no way it would have reached anything like that kind of audience as an eBook without the efforts of people like Gary, Cleo Bannister, Liz Barnsley and a host of other wonderful bloggers and reviewers.
So maybe this is the time to say to all of them: consider this your moment in the spotlight, in appreciation of a job well done. Thank you, from the authors at Twenty7 and elsewhere too. And to every individual who reads a novel, even if you've never thought of yourself as a reviewer or critic, please be assured of this: if you feel you can spare a few minutes to go on to Amazon and Goodreads to rate the book or even leave a short review, the author will know about it and will appreciate your efforts. Feedback matters.
And I'll bet you're still trying to work out which novel I was referring to earlier, aren't you' If you're desperate to find out, leave a guess in the comment section. If you let me have a way of contacting you, I promise I'll let you know if you're right!
Agent . . . or go it alone?
Posted on March 4, 2016OK. You've written a novel. Your wall is still covered with post-its because it feels like sacrilege to take them down and your notice board has more holes than a second-hand dartboard, but you now have a product you feel you're ready to send off. You click on save and close the document, having backed it up to at least six different memory sticks. You've been out of circulation for a long time and there will be a period of adjustment ' Donald Trump is what'' ' but you're ready to re-engage with the life you left behind several months ago. It's been tough but it was worth it. It's finished.
Except, of course, it isn't. The writing may have seemed like a long, hard slog at the time but you're about to realise that this was actually the easy part. Now for the tricky bit - getting it into print. And here comes that vexed question again - do I send it directly to a publisher or try to go via an agent?
I've been a published author for all of 4 months and one eBook hardly qualifies me as an authority on anything, so I've no intention of suggesting there's such a thing as a right and a wrong answer to this. If my own experience counts for anything at all though, I have at least tried both ways.
For years I wrote novels and short stories and sent them directly to a number of different publishers. I tried different ways of going about this:
- sending to one only and waiting for rejection before sending to another
- sending to half-a-dozen at once
- selecting the publisher carefully after researching which ones specialised in the genre I'd chosen
- going for the scattergun approach with fingers crossed and hoping for the best
Not one of these approaches was successful. I had the occasional letter, praising the opening chapters and expressing an interest in reading the remainder of the novel. I also had a few saying nice things about the quality of the writing but expressing regret that the genre/timing/economic climate/ (delete where inapplicable) was not quite right. For the most part however I heard nothing. Nothing at all. Zilch.
After a while I started doubling up these submissions with letters and proposals or opening chapters to agents and met with more or less the same result. I tended to get more replies, especially if I followed up with phone calls, and the analysis of what I'd sent them was a lot more detailed and helpful but the bottom line was the same. Thanks . . . but no thanks.
When I finally made a breakthrough with The Hidden Legacy it was with an agent rather than a publisher but there's very little doubt in my mind that what made all the difference was the CV I was able to send along with the submission. For far too long my covering letter was too light on experience. By the time I sent off The Hidden Legacy, I was able to talk about an MA in Creative Writing I'd completed, competitions I'd won or for which I'd been short-listed and this meant there was a far greater likelihood that an agent would be prepared to read the chapters I'd sent, because agents are busy people! They receive a vast number of unsolicited manuscripts every week and can't hope to read all of them thoroughly. There needs to be something that draws them into the proposal in the first place and I'm convinced my CV played a major role in this.
So . . . if it was the CV that made the difference, why wouldn't it have worked precisely the same magic with a publisher' I have to be honest and say I asked myself precisely the same question and assumed it was a matter of mere chance ' until I had my first meeting with my editor at the offices of Twenty7.
And the answer is the slush pile. If an agent receives an inordinate number of unsolicited manuscripts every week, it pales into insignificance when compared with those sent to a publisher. Editors will tell you they have far less opportunity than they would like for reading published novels for pleasure because so much of their leisure time is taken up with reading manuscripts. They may take home a dozen or so at the weekend and read a chapter or so of each along with the proposal before deciding whether it's worth reading on or rejecting it.
And the crushing thought for many unpublished writers out there (something I hadn't even considered till I was given a peek from the inside) is that the ones taken home for consideration are almost invariably SOLICITED manuscripts. Publishers work all the time with agents and get to know them well, build up an understanding of which ones they can trust. They understand that, for an agent, time is money. The agent gets nothing at all unless a book is published and generates income for the author, so if she/he is keen enough to meet with a publisher and sing the praises of a book in the hope that it will at least be looked at, it must have something going for it. Publishers also know that an agent can't afford to recommend just anything and waste their time if they want that professional relationship to continue.
My editor may take a few unsolicited ones home if there's ever a lull in the action but it's very rare for a book to sneak through the back door and it's almost entirely a matter of luck as to whether or not it ever comes to the attention of one of the readers. One publisher on a recent TV programme suggested a figure of one in a thousand unsolicited manuscripts being accepted by the company she worked for.
An agent is a way in through the front door. It's a ticket to skip the slush pile and land on the reader's desk with a winning smile that says my agent thinks you should read me. It's not a guarantee of success in itself, and it's important to remember that. It has to be good enough for the editor to like it too and to feel that it has commercial potential, which is not necessarily the same thing. It may end up being no more successful in making the breakthrough than all of your previous attempts, but at least it will have received serious consideration. And if you keep beating on a door often enough, eventually it will give way.
So my own admittedly limited experience says go for an agent. Do your research. Make a list of them and check them out online or have a look at something like The Writers' and Artists' Yearbook. Make sure you know which authors they represent, which genres they prefer and, most importantly, which ones they're not even prepared to consider. My agent's website, for instance, makes it quite clear that he is not interested in accepting submissions for poetry, self-help and illustrated children's books yet it's amazing how many of these arrive each week. It's the ultimate exercise in futility.
Once you've made a list of suitable agents, make sure the CV you send off is as attractive as possible. If you have very little experience, set about changing that:
' Write as much as possible ' enter competitions ' write some more ' maybe join a local writers' circle and get experience of workshopping ' read extensively and think about what you're reading and why it has made it into print when you haven't ' write even more ' sign up for any specialist courses or seminars you can find (and afford!) ' avoid the temptation to try to wow them with flashy presentations, video clips, promotional gimmicks ' they will judge you on what you've written and nothing else ' . . . and then write again because, as with most things in life, the more you do it, the better you'll become.
Out there somewhere there are probably a number of people who have never gone near an agent in their lives and have had perfectly successful careers as novelists. For that reason it's important to remember the point I made earlier about this not being a one size fits all solution. Every writer needs to go about it in her/his own way. What matters in the long run is that magical moment (for me, Friday February 13th , believe it or not) when the phone goes and you hear that you are going to be a published author. Forget 'in the long run'. It's all that matters.
For future reference: if there are any topics on which you'd like me to write a blog, I'm compiling a list at present. Please just leave your suggestion in a comment at the foot of the page and I'll see what I can do for you.
. . . and the mountain came to Mohammed
Posted on February 11, 2016
I have a blog.
Jolly good. What now?
Ummm . . .
You see, it's not as easy as you might think to get started on something like this. I've been thinking about what I might want to say for the best part of six months now, ever since I first decided I'd need a website and a decent blog to help me to stay in close contact with those readers who have been kind enough to take an interest in me already. Driving in the car, walking round Pagham Harbour, lying in bed at night, I haven't even needed to give it a great deal of thought - ideas have just come flying at me out of nowhere and I've never bothered to write any of them down because I always knew when the time came that I'd know what to write.
But that first blog - I never really thought about that. There's a whole stream of ideas out there, fed by a never-ending supply of tributaries, but how on earth do I go about isolating one in particular without giving the impression that it's somehow more important than all the others?
So maybe for this introductory post I'll be better off avoiding the specific and highlighting instead the areas I hope to cover every couple of weeks or so, time permitting of course. A mission statement, if you like. It seems to me the least I can do in an inaugural blog is offer as clear a summary as possible of what it is I'll be trying to achieve with it. And yes . . . of course I'll be throwing in a few random posts that don't fit into this grand scheme of things because one of the attractions for me will be the opportunity to respond as things occur to me and to go wherever the whim of the moment may take me. But for the most part, I'm quite clear about what I want to do and anticipate that most posts will be of interest to:
unpublished writers. I was one myself until very recently. Indeed I was without an agent until 2013 and had no publishing deal until February 2015 so my memories are still very clear of what it was like to battle on, armed with nothing more than dwindling faith and sheer bloody-mindedness in the face of all available evidence. I'll try to offer advice and guidance that will hopefully encourage others in that position to keep going. fellow writers. I've been helped enormously in the past few months, especially as publication day for The Hidden Legacy approached, by other writers who have encouraged me to learn from their own experiences and especially their mistakes. This will be a chance to put something back into the mix. readers. For years I've been reading between 75 - 85 novels a year and every time I've stumbled across an author whose work has really impressed me, I've immediately dived into Google to try to find out as much about that person as I can. It hasn't always been easy and it's not hard to understand why a writer will wish to have her/his privacy respected but I hope that anyone reading this blog on a regular basis will feel that I'm doing my best to make myself as accessible as possible bloggers/reviewers. I'll have a lot to say about those who play such an important role in the process of bringing a book to the wider attention of the general public. I had no idea until my turn came around as to just how crucial these people are to a book's chances of success and, just as importantly, an author's morale. the publishing business. This was a foreign country until recent months. It probably still is for many readers. I'll be happy to shed a little light on how things work. me. Sorry . . . but I'm going to assume that if you have come to this page you probably have at least a modicum of interest in the person doing the actual writing. I may now be a novelist but I've been a reader all my life and have a clear idea of what I have always wanted to know about the author. I suspect anyone following this blog on a regular basis will pretty soon know more than enough about who I am and why I write. I started out by saying this is a new blog but that doesn't mean I haven't contributed to several others . Below are links to a number I wrote during the build-up to publication of the eBook version of The Hidden Legacy. I am immensely grateful to those bloggers who invited me to contribute and would urge you to visit them as often as possible because the sheer volume and quality of what they produce on a regular basis is remarkable. If I have inadvertently missed any out here, I apologise profusely and will put the omission right next time around if someone enlightens me.
Until next time . . . happy reading! These should keep you busy for a while! If nothing else, they'll help you decide whether you want to come back for more.
Crime Fiction Lover
Crime Thriller Fella
twenty7 (my publisher)
Keith B Walters
Shaz's Book Blog
Posted on February 5, 2016This is my first post on my new blog, set up by Pete @ Büro46 who is also putting together a web site for me at this very moment.