Claire King

Author

Archive for the ‘publication’ Category

Now in Paperback! Interview with Vanessa Gebbie & Bloomsbury’s paperback editor.

Posted on: March 28th, 2012 by Claire - 15 Comments

As some of you will have noticed, Vanessa Gebbie is a little like my Moses. She is busy parting the Red Sea of debut-novelling in Bloomsbury, and I am standing a year behind her peering over her shoulder. March sees the launch of her novel The Coward’s Tale in paperback, so I have invited Vanessa back along with her (and my!) paperback editor from Bloomsbury, Trâm-Anh Doan, to see what it’s all about.
Vanessa Gebbie (Photograph by Andrew Hasson)

CK: How has life been since the launch of your novel last November?

VG: Well, apart from the joy of knowing my novel is ‘out there’, nothing has changed. I am not doing anything different – still working hard at a hundred and one different things.

CK: What have been your highs and lows?

VG: Highs have been seeing some lovely reviews in the newspapers – especially the glowing reviews from A N Wilson. But the best thing? Getting letters and emails from complete strangers to say how much they have been moved by the book. And even better – when those come from Wales!

Of course there are lows, but it is really important to put these in context – I am delighted and very lucky to be with Bloomsbury, am learning such a lot, and enjoying working with everyone.  But it would be an unusual journey if there were absolutely no shades of light and dark.  The most surprising low is the discovery that if I want to support publicity, marketing and selling The Coward’s Tale,  I have to forget my professional rule of sticking to Society of Authors’ minimum earnings guidelines.I’m also downhearted at the lack of interest in ‘The Cowards Tale’ from lit fests – I love these, and was greatly looking forward to mingling with readers, writers, picking readings to intrigue, raise a smile – but it obviously ain’t to be. If Bloomsbury can’t get the book in, no one can.I suspect it is a vote less against the book, more against the older female author. If I was younger, the story would be different, judging from the authors’ events info on the website – I’m caught somewhere in the no man’s land between glamour and gravitas. (V shuffles off to spinning wheel, sucking her one remaining tooth)

CK: Wait, come back! What else have you learnt?
VG: A lot. That it is not an end, but just another beginning. That your book jostles for attention with a whole raft of brilliant books. Yours is just one of many.

 

CK: The Cowards Tale is getting a new boost this month with the launch of the paperback edition. What is significant about this for you?

VG: It has happened very quickly; I think usually, there is a greater distance between hardback and paperback publication. But for this writer, the daughter of a librarian, and a person who adores books as lovely things, I was delighted to have a few months in hardback, and having now got my hands on my gorgeous paperback, I am as nuts about that book as I was about the hardback.

 

CK: What has it been like working with Trâm-Anh as your paperback editor?

VG: Lovely. All I ask is that there is communication – because I care enormously about my book and need to know what’s happening, or not. And Trâm-Anh is wonderful…she seems to understand that. Thank you Trâm-Anh

 

Trâm-Anh (“This photo makes me look like Head Girl”)

CK: Could you tell us a little about your job as a paperback editor? 

TD: I oversee all paperbacks on our trade list, fiction and non-fiction. I brief our in-house designers for all paperback covers after discussing with our marketing and sales teams which direction we want to take the paperback. I then work closely with our designers as they progress their visuals and, alongside the commissioning editor and our marketing and sales directors, make the final decision on which cover we will have. I also put the book through press, selecting the best press reviews for the cover, making any corrections that need to be made to the main text, and making sure the costs for the book work. Then, in the run-up to a paperback being published, I work with marketing and publicity on their campaigns. It’s a very varied job, and I love the different aspects to it, but the best part is helping an author bring their book into the world.

 

CK: What is the usual time difference between the launch of a hardback and the paperback version? What are the reasons it might vary?

TD: It depends on the book and the time of year that we publish the original edition. In general there’s roughly a year between hardback and paperback, but with Vanessa’s book it made sense to publish in the spring, quite soon after the hardback. Spring and summer are our busiest times of the year for paperbacks as people tend to buy them when they’re off on their holidays, while the autumn market tends to be geared towards Christmas gifts, which suits higher priced books like hardbacks (publishers will almost always save their big cookbooks for October publication). So, of the 120 paperbacks we will publish this year, over two thirds of them are published between January to July. We look at our schedule carefully to make sure we’ve spread out our titles so that similar titles aren’t competing with each other.

CK: Why do paperbacks tend to have different covers from hardbacks? What were your thoughts when preparing The Coward’s Tale?

TD: The market for paperbacks is different from hardbacks – it tends to be a younger, much broader market for the paperback which is why we often go for different covers as we’re trying to reach a bigger readership with the paperback. The gorgeous, illustrated cover for the hardback of The Coward’s Tale (designed by our very talented designer Holly Macdonald) was perfect for making a statement to the trade and literary editors that this is an important literary novel that people need to take notice of. When it came to the paperback, Helen Garnons Williams (Vanessa’s editor) and I both agreed the cover should be photographic, concentrating on the boy Laddy Merridew, with a real sense of south Wales’s sweeping valleys. I have a close friend who grew up in Caerphilly and she helped me find the right kind of photographs of the Rhymney Valley to show our designer, Sarah Greeno. Here are some of the options that we initially looked at but subsequently discarded – we all wanted the cover to be more uplifting, and these designs weren’t quite strong enough (though the feather design is a beautiful and clever idea). As soon as we saw the vibrant orange sky, we knew it was perfect, and the image of the boy running down an empty street was so poignant. There was a collective, simultaneous sigh of ‘Ahhhh’ when everyone saw this cover. We later realized it’s uncannily similar to the cover for one of Vanessa’s previous books, but this was a pure coincidence!

 

CK; Books published under Bloomsbury’s new imprint, Bloomsbury Circus, will launch as ‘unusually sized’ trade paperbacks. When the paperback editions of these books launch, will there a be a difference in how you work versus one that launches in hardback?

TD: No, Bloomsbury Circus books will still be published in paperback in the same way as books that were originally launched as hardbacks.

 

CK: How do you see the share of sales changing between hardbacks, paperbacks and electronic books?

TD: Over the past year or so we’ve seen a marked increase in the sales of electronic books but so far it’s difficult to tell how much they’ve impacted on sales of print books. Sales overall for publishers are down (hardback and paperback), but we’re yet to see if the rise of eBooks has compensated for this downturn, as unfortunately the sales data for eBooks isn’t quite accurate enough for us to get a clear idea of how they’re doing.

Traditionally, the paperback is the main life of the book and 9 out of 10 print books purchased are paperbacks. In America, eBook sales of big, commercial titles have been known to outsell the print edition. We haven’t quite seen that level here, but I suspect it’s just a matter of time.

 

CK: What has it been like working with Vanessa?

TD: Vanessa is an incredibly warm, intelligent and passionate author and it’s genuinely a pleasure to work with her. I remember first meeting her on our editor-in-chief’s houseboat last summer and having a lovely chat with her about books, families, life and everything. It’s also brilliant to work with authors who are clued up about using social networking sites: I cannot count the number of times our marketing and publicity teams ask editors if their author is active on Twitter! Via her blog, website and Twitter feed, Vanessa clearly works hard to promote the book, and it’s increasingly important to have authors as pro-active as her. More than anything, we’ve all found Vanessa to be a very gracious author, thanking everyone involved in every stage of her book (marketing, publicity, production, design, etc).

 

CK: How early on in the life of a book do you get involved? OK, I admit that’s a slightly loaded question…so have you been having thoughts about The Night Rainbow yet?!

TD: Ha, good question! Well, I’m very much involved in the acquisition process here at Bloomsbury and try to read as much as I can of the books that the commissioning editors are considering. It’s impossible to read everything (especially when you have over one hundred paperbacks a year!) of course, but I try to get a feel for as much of our list as possible. So, I normally start thinking about a paperback as soon as the commissioning editor has bought it, and the editor also talks to me about their thoughts on the paperback at a very early stage. Helen Garnons Williams is such a passionate advocate of all her authors and is constantly checking on the progress of all her paperbacks.

And to answer the question about your book: as you know, I’m a huge fan of The Night Rainbow (I almost cried when Helen was launching it at the marketing meeting recently) and have some thoughts on the paperback cover but you’ll have to wait and see!

 

Vanessa

CK: So, Vanessa, now you’ve seen the alternative covers to the one you were proposed and ultimately ended up with, what are your impressions?*

VG: I am struck by the sombreness of the palette used in firstly the cover showing the close rows of houses – and secondly the boy on the hilltop overlooking the town.  And, although I prefer the third concept – the colours in the ‘feather’ cover have the same effect on me. The Coward’s Tale is not a gloomy book – it is about healing, at base – the meta-nattative is about the healing power of story, the way repeated telling of the same tales  finally  helps the community to acknowledge the past and move on.  And frees the teller.  

If I tried consciously to do anything at all, I tried to make the story sing. So when Trâm-Anh’s note, in with the paperbacks, said ‘Doesn’t the orange sky sing?” that felt absolutely right!

I know colourways can be tweaked. But the first (hilltop) holds no intimacy, whichever colour it is. The second (close up houses) is too ‘house-orientated’ – it’s muddly as an image, and I don’t really like it as a cover.  The feather idea is better, it is clever,  but it kind of misses the point – the boy is not the coward,  and it leads the reader to expect him to be.

The chosen cover works so very well – and one of the most resonant things for me,  apart from the street being ‘right’, the Cat public house, the mine in the distance…the flame-colour of the sky – is the shadows. Or not. When I was sent that cover I liked it immediately. It has very close echoes with the cover of my first book – a red-haired child walking away from the onlooker. So there was a synchronicity about it. It is a more commercial cover than the hardback, and that has to be a good thing, for sales.

The most important thing for me in all this was that I was in the hands of professionals who know the market, who know what works and what doesn’t. It would seem silly to impose my likes and dislikes onto that, as they ought to be irrelevant. Besides, Trâm-Anh told me that some important book buyers liked the cover we ended up with – and that was key. It’s just a product, in the end.

So, on to a cover I like came the fabulous quote from A N Wilson when he made ‘The Coward’s Tale’ his novel of 2011 – saying the book is lyrical, moving and funny. You can’t get better than that, and coupled with an engaging, eye-catching image, more than that we cannot do!

 

CK: Vanessa, you said at the start that you’re ‘working hard at a hundred and one different things’! What are you up to now/next?

VG: Top of the list would of course be anything needed for ‘The Coward’s Tale’. Thus far, there has not been much to do apart from a few visits to read/talk/record video etc at Bloomsbury. But I’m not twiddling my thumbs doing nothing, I hate not having lots of things on the go! While I was writing The Coward I also wrote two collections of short stories, pitched, organised, edited and contributed a chapter to ‘Short Circuit, a Guide to the Art of the Short Story’, wrote an as-yet-unpublished flash collection, did masses of teaching, and started to learn about poetry.

1. Next Novel! Yes! The working title is ‘Kit’, and it will be a prequel/sequel to The Coward. I started it in Ireland back in Jan/Feb and came back with 40,000 words to play with. Early days, and it’s going to be a rather tough call to make this work – but I will give it a good go. I’ve got a Hawthornden Fellowship for November/December, a period of four blissful weeks in a drafty Scottish castle, with no internet, no phone signal. HO HO! Hot water bottles, blankets, laptop. Imagination. Hopefully ‘Kit’ will start taking shape…. at the moment, it is shut away and I won’t look at it for a few months. Already I know I went down completely the wrong road with one character, and he has to come out.

2. Planning the most exciting thing – a residency on the island of St Helena for 2013. For anything up to six weeks/two months I would like to be on this
fascinating island, responding to the place and the people, somehow, in writing. Whatever comes. Stories, hopefully, then it becomes a third collection. If not, a travelogue with a twist. We’ll see. I’m also hoping to work with the schools, and other plans up the sleeves. And of course, it will be a suitably remote place to work on ‘Kit’.

3. Second edition of ‘Short Circuit,’ for Salt Publishing. You can’t let a great ‘how-to’ book go stale – so I’m making it bigger – adding new stuff – and working with writers like Scott Pack, Stuart Evers, Tom Vowler, Nicholas Royle, either on new interview-based chapters or they are going off and writing their own. It begs the question why am I doing this – I won’t earn much from it – but it’s a good thing, a great book, and I love the thought that it is helping new writers, inspiring tired ones. Passing this thing called writing on to the next generation is very important to me. Many of the original Short Circuit writers, whose chapters will remain an important part of the book, have blossommed even more in the last couple of years – Alison MacLeod, Graham Mort for example – both finding success in national competitions – and Carys Davies – winning the Society of Authors’ Olive Cook award. We have a strong strong team, giving insights and practical advice.

4. ‘Ed’s Wife and Other Creatures’. I am working with a fantastic illustrator on a mad collection of flash, subtitled ‘Portrait of a Marriage’. We are planning to publish this as a gift book with a tiny tiny press, planning, funding, designing, sorting all the stages of the production process ourselves – and that will be a fab experience. Sales, marketing, distribution – ask me later! All I’d like to do is break even at this point, so it is an interesting project.

5. Learning! Poetry. I am loving learning about poetry, and maybe uncovering a small talent for this slippery thing. As I write, I am in the middle of a series of wonderful poetry workshops tutored by Pascale Petit. She is poet in residence at The Tate, and we meet every Monday after Tate Modern has closed, in
whichever exhibition she has chosen that day – just us, a group of twenty or so – and we respond to the art. Yesterday, we were with Boetti and his world maps sewn by Afghan women who didnt know what the sea was, so coloured it with what silks whatever they fancied, and sometimes filled it with patterns. Amazing.

6. Teaching! Invitations so far this year to take workshops for Spread the Word in London, New Writing South in Brighton, Wellington College, University Campus Ipswich, Claremont School, The Winchester Writers’ Conference Pitstop, Hope and Anchor Writing School in Whitstable, a week on the short story at Anam Cara Writers and Artists Retreat in Ireland – and I’m in discussion about another week at a Spanish writers’ retreat. I love teaching – and besides, it pays. That is very necessary now, the combination of husband retiring a while back, our youngest son in his first year at university and the recession has done its worst in our household – I am seeing Toby through uni on what I earn as a writer… go figure!

***

Thank you to Vanessa for coming by to give us an update, and especially to Trâm-Ahn for taking the time to be interviewed and providing us with the ‘rejected’ covers!

***

Vanessa’s wacky website is www.vanessagebbie.com and her blog is www.morenewsfromvg.blogspot.com and here’s a quick link to Amazon…

Finally, it’s Bloomsbury’s Year of the Short Story. Vanessa’s ‘unofficial’ contribution is to read and record for posterity what she thinks is one of the most powerful short stories ever written. ‘The Ledge’, by Lawrence Sargeant Hall. Here it is – interspersed with a bit of natter – in two sections. It’s long… http://readmesomethingyoulove.com/?cat=110

The Night Rainbow – Hardback Jacket

Posted on: March 19th, 2012 by Claire - 54 Comments

It’s something I’ve waited over a year for. Wondering what, having read my novel, will the designer come up with? Will it capture the spirit of the story? If the characters are represented, will they be as I imagined them? I tried not to engage in picturing what I would do for the cover art, so as not to be disappointed. I’ve seen many of the beautiful jackets Bloomsbury design, and I put my trust in them that they’d ‘get it.’

Still, when I the jacket proposal was emailed to me it made me cry. In a good way.

Since then, in the last two weeks, we’ve bounced ideas backwards on forwards with my editor, my agent and the designer on possible teaks or changes, but in the end we’ve ended up very close to the original proposal. Here is the final jacket, and huge thanks to Holly Macdonald, for taking good care of Margot & Pea:

The Night Rainbow. Hardback jacket

Publication has come forward slightly, so The Night Rainbow will be out in hardback next February. I may have to go and have a lie down now.

 

The Novel Edits (Part 2)

Posted on: January 25th, 2012 by Claire - 24 Comments

In September I met my editor, Helen, to go through the structural edits for The Night Rainbow. If you missed it, you can read about that here. The next part of the editing process, which happened in quite a whirl last week, was the copyedits.

I thought that the copyeditor was there to ‘correct my mistakes’. I was really looking forward to what she would find, because before submitting I’d already done many passes of edits for typos, punctuation, and grammatical errors. I’d also paid attention to ‘continuity’, drawing up detailed maps of locations and timelines with character clothing, mealtimes etc. I didn’t go so far as a style sheet, but I’d thought about it.

Last week was quite an education…

My copyeditor got in touch and she said my book was ‘astonishing’. I loved her immediately. She said she was sending over the queries, and that there ‘weren’t many’. There were, in fact, 10 pages of them. 175 in total. And these were just the queries – obvious typos and missing punctuation had already been corrected without bothering me.

The copyedit was much more than ‘just’ about correcting mistakes. Yes there were some, but attention was also paid to to smoothing out inconsistencies in style, for example where I had used ‘grownup’ vs ‘grown up’. My editor also checked facts, questioning things as odd as ‘are puffballs safe to eat?’ and the correct references made to music. Despite my best efforts there were still ‘continuity’ queries – one minute a door was closed, the next it was open…

Responding to the queries took hours and hours. Agreeing that I should change from one kind of punctuation to another was an easy one. But where the suggestion was to choose a different word or re-phrase something it was much harder. Even though I could agree that it was necessary, working within the vocabulary limits of the narrator took a lot of thought and deliberation.

By the time I reached the end of the query list I was feeling quite anxious. Had I managed to get back into the ‘voice’ of the book seamlessly? Had I made the ‘right’ changes? And what about all the mistakes? As soon as a query drew my attention to something I then spotted the same mistake over and over in the text. Even though my editor had told me that she only queried something once and then it would apply throughout, it was very unnerving to see the repeated mistakes and inconsistencies cropping up again and again.

But the biggest revelation for me last week was that my copyeditor not only understood the rules of spelling, grammar and punctuation (of course), she also understood where I had intentionally broken the rules to use punctuation or rythym creatively. She understood my intention.

Then she worked with that intention, with my rules, to make the writing more elegant, so the words didn’t get in the way of the story.

The whole experience was really impressive, and I found myself enormously grateful that such painstaking attention is being lavished on my book.

Once the queries were dealt with and the TS returned to Bloomsbury,  I asked my lovely copyeditor, Sarah-Jane Forder, if she wouldn’t mind answering a few questions:

1) I edited The Night Rainbow many times before I submitted it. I would have said I went through it with a fine toothed comb. And yet I had 175 queries in total, which you described as ‘very few’! If we imagine I’m towards one end of the spectrum, what does the other end look like?

It was obvious to me when I first read your TS that I was dealing with a very meticulous author. Yes, there were odd things you’d missed in however many edits but that is always the way. I missed things too, which you picked up: remember? My point about the relatively few number of queries, and the absolute ease of my job, was that they were minor things: the odd bit of punctuation here, a tiny bit of garbled text there. Nothing major whatsoever. Many authors, believe me, have neither your eye nor your ear. When you answered my queries you did so with confidence, saying no when you knew absolutely what you wanted. Which is a wordy way of saying that the other end of the spectrum might have multiple typing errors and inconsistencies as well as careless repetition, holes in the plot and characters whose eyes change from blue to brown according to the weather.

2) Many of your queries represented changes that needed applying several times through the book and after you’d mentioned something once I came across dozens of subsequent errors that I’d made (consistency of spellings etc.) Do authors get ‘better’ at noticing these, the more books they write? So fewer slip through to copyedit stage?
I think, the more they write, authors do become aware of certain tics in their writing: words and phrases they perhaps rely on; that sort of thing. It’s great if an author can get it near on 100 per cent accurate (Anita Brookner, whom I copyedited at Cape, was one), but they are rare.
I have to say that I don’t regard picking up spelling mistakes or typos necessarily as part of writing: you can be dyslexic and still express yourself fluently and vividly and with originality, which is the really important thing. If writers made no errors whatsoever, what about us poor copyeditors? You’d be doing us out of a job!

3) In terms of your process – do you read the book first as a ‘reader’, or immediately with an editor’s eye?

I always do a first read as a reader, or as near as I can get to a reader when I’m working (you’ve sussed that in my leisure time I read in an entirely different way), with an eye out for plot, pacing, characterisation and so on. I will also at that point make a note of any inconsistencies of style (‘girl-nest’!) and make a ‘style chart’ to follow for the edit proper. The edit proper is slower, and usually said out loud in my head. I find it helps to hear the words – you yourself mentioned rhythm and I think that’s really important.

4) How did you become a copyeditor? What do you like about the job?

I fell into copyediting! I graduated in English with a vague idea of going into publishing: no more than that. I was lucky enough to be appointed at Jonathan Cape as an editorial assistant working with Liz Calder, one of the top literary fiction editors at that time. Salman Rushdie, Julian Barnes, Martin Amis, John Fowles, Anita Brookner, Ian McEwan: they were all Cape authors. Later, when Liz went to set up Bloomsbury, I followed her. 

I’ll be honest: the job can be extremely tedious (depends what you’re working on!) but it’s always fascinating to work one to one with authors; it can feel like a real privilege, in fact. There’s the satisfaction of making a difference, however small. The devil’s in the detail! Having been freelance now for about 15 years, one of the things I love about my job is being able to work from home, at no one’s beck and call. I like the freedom, I like the quiet! The money sucks: you don’t go into it expecting to become rich. But I specialise in editing literary fiction, and how can you put a price on the pleasure of being paid to read wonderful writing?

 

Huge thanks to Sarah-Jane for taking the time to answer these questions in her busy schedule. I hope you find them as illuminating as I did.

Next steps for The Night Rainbow? First Pages for proofreading in a few weeks, and the cover! It’s also off for translation. Still a year to go until publication, but we’re well on our way!

Is this how The Fairytale goes?

Posted on: December 16th, 2011 by Claire - 2 Comments

This week I had the privilege and the pleasure of interviewing Stephen Kelman for The View From Here.

I loved Pigeon English, Stephen’s debut novel. It’s the story of Harrison, a Ghanan immigrant, as he acclimatises to life in his new home on a London housing estate. It opens with the knifing to death of a local schoolboy, possibly the victim of local gang culture although the police are unable to prove anything. The novel is unusual, bold and challenging and for me, it’s the ending that really makes it. The final sentence still sticks with me. Stephen Kelman proposes a simple truth of humanity that fits perfectly into the story’s end…and you will just have to read the book to see if you agree!

If you hadn’t heard, Pigeon English was shortlisted for more than a handful of literary awards in 2011, including the Man Booker. I’ve read various interviews with Stephen, talking about his ‘humble’ origins, and the ‘fairytale’ of the 12-publisher bidding war for his debut novel. But there’s always more to these fairytale stories, you know. The endings may be all ‘happily ever after’ but for the most part, children are abandoned, eaten by wolves and stolen by witches. Spells are put upon innocents and the path through the forest is dark and set about with danger.

You can read the full interview here. Only there will you find answers to questions like:

  • “How much tenacity did Stephen really have to show before his destiny finally showed up for dinner?”
  •  “Does Stephen type out text messages using proper, full words?” and
  • “What is the relationship between Stephen and a man whose best friends kicked him 47 times in the testicles in 90 seconds?”

£1000 to spend at Writers Mart today! Kerching!

Posted on: December 4th, 2011 by Claire - 25 Comments

Here’s how it works. Imagine you have £1000 / €1000 (US $1500 or thereabouts), and you have to spend it on your book. The aim is to get your book to market, and make as much money as you can out of it. Here’s a selection of products available to you in Writers Mart:

 

Money tunnel

 

1. Make your Writing Better! Is your work even ready to be presented to agents and publishers?

– Get a professional critique of your work. For a full length novel expect to spend between £500 and the whole £1000. Here’s a good article on critiques. You could spend less than that of course, but is a critique of the first three chapters going to help you if something is broken in your plotting or character arc, for example?

– Go on creative writing courses, such as Arvon Courses. Most people have heard of these. A week working on your novel will cost you around £625 plus travel. For me That’s £750, for you maybe £650.

– Try a Writing Festival. Get workshops on writing and sessions with agents and publishers. Expect to spend about £350 -500 for a weekend, including your accommodation, meals, talks etc.

Writing Mentors  – pay for the services of a published and experienced author to coach you and help edit your work. You could easily spend the whole £1000 here, buying around 4 hours of mentoring from top authors through to quite a lot more time with cheaper outfits.

– Take out  a subscription to a writing magazine, such as Writers’ Forum or Writing Magazine, for a steady flow of hints and tips. Or  else literary journals such as Mslexia, Granta etc. £30 a pop.

– Read more contemporary books. Learn from other successful writers in your genre. Buy a big pile of books to read. £100 for enough to keep you going.

– Try something like the Faber & Faber Academy. A three day course on bringing your book to market –  like this one with Ben Johncock and Catherine Ryan Howard costs £425 plus travel and accommodation.

– Practice writing. This costs nothing. But if you’re struggling for time, treat yourself to a weekend writing retreat for £250/£400 plus travel like the one I did in September. Or a week long retreat somewhere like Anam Cara, with or without workshops.

– Get your book copy edited before you submit. Expect to pay in the region of £750.

– Get writing advice free online. If you don’t know where to look, network with writers and publishing professionals on Twitter. Also free.

 

1b. Blame your Tools!

– Scrivener £30 ish

– A new computer, or an old classic typewriter £500

– A better printer £200

– Moleskine notebooks, for the authentic author longhand experience. £7-10 each

 

2. Is your book astonishingly good? Make your Submissions Better!

– Writers & Artists Yearbook, for the tailoring of submissions. £16.99

– Pay for help with your synopsis. £150 – 200

– Use fancy stationery and include chocolates personalised with the literary agent’s initials and date of birth. £250.

Just kidding

 

3. Is your book excellent and your submissions splendid? Raise your profile as a credible writer, boost your CV. 

– Raise your profile by winning competitions or submitting to radio programmes like BBC Radio 4 . Competition entry fees in the £5-£15 range.  Consider The Bristol Short Story Prize, Fish, Sean O’Faolain, Bridport, Willesden Herald, Manchester…there are so many! And if you win, they actually give YOU money!

 

4. Self Publishing!

– Design the cover £200 – £700

– Interior design & layout £750

– Also see costs of editing, above.

 

5. Your book is with a publisher, or self-published. Get those sales up! Marketing!

– Get a blog up and running. £75 for your domain name and hosting, then it’s just your time.

– Get people who have read it to review it on Amazon. Very valuable. Costs nothing.

– Look the part. Get an author photo professionally done. £500

– Advertise. Facebook lets you pay per click. Meet the Author charges £400

– I also heard recently of an offer where you could have your work featured somewhere on a writing competition’s website, with claims that it will provide ‘visibility’ to agents and publishers (though no footfall data, or qualitative data about the site readership was available at the time of writing). Cost £995 for a year.

 

**DISCLAIMER**

The above are all just ways in which you could spend your money. I’m not endorsing them, just showing you the opportunities to spend your cash! Also all prices are approximate. I’d be interested in which ones you would endorse though, and any feedback on costs. Please tell us in the comments.

I would also like to apologise for the profusion of exclamation marks. It’s not really my style, it’s more a nod to the “Get Published Now!” sales pitches we see so often, offering to take our £1000 in return for a few months of deliciously raised hopes and then an opportunity to spend the same amount again, and more, on what is essentially vanity publishing. Look at some of the cheaper – and free – options above and weigh up the relative benefits before spending lots of money, I suggest.

Remember Yog’s law – “Money should always flow towards the writer.”

 

The Six Figure Advance

Posted on: November 29th, 2011 by Claire - 21 Comments

So, Pippa Middleton has signed a contract with Penguin to publish a book on being a perfect party hostess. The book is to launch 2012 and the advance is reported as £400,000 or thereabouts.

Cue people going nuts. Authors, agents, all manner of literary types. “It’s not fair!” They cry. “It’s a travesty.”

People are being rude about Pippa and her family. They are being rude about the book. And they are being rude about the publishing industry as a whole, taking this as a sign that it is terribly, irretrievably broken.

Can we just stop here for a second? What exactly is broken here?

Is it the author?

Pippa is the media-appointed celebrity sister of the Duchess of Cambridge. She never asked for that celebrity, nor any of the personal infringements it entails. It seems to me she bears it with good grace. If you suddenly had a money tree growing in your front room, wouldn’t you pick the fruit?

Is it the book?

The book was sold on concept, it’s still being written, so I’ve no idea.

Is it the publishers, then?

Because you know, it wasn’t just Penguin. There was an auction. Editors fought each other with cheque books. Why? Because their publishing houses know that in the UK and the USA there will be a huge market for a ‘celebrity’ book of this kind. And party planning seems to fit neatly in alongside celebrity chefs. Poor Pippa would have found it tougher if she’d been an investment banker. ‘Pippa’s guide to mergers & acquisitions’ doesn’t have the same ring to it, eh?

So what is it, then?

‘Readers’/Buyers of celebrity-top-ten-best-selling-autobiographical-tell-all-memoirs, spin offs and the like. I’m talking to you.

There is a big fat advance for this book, I think, for the same reasons there are helicopters circling Pippa’s home. Because there is a market for it. People will pay actual real money for this. No $2.99 e-book for Pippa. The voracious mass market hunger for voyeurism – living vicariously through others, watching them rise and fall – seems insatiable.

So, as businesses, publishers want to publish these kinds of commercially viable books. Book sellers will want them on their shelves. There is money to be made. Made from you, and your interest in ‘celebrity’ (or of course, your interest in parties, and who doesn’t like a nice party?).

It is what it is.

Writers – is this really relevant to us? We cannot compare our journey to be published to this phenomenon. It’s apples and oranges.

Pippa’s advance has absolutely nothing to do with my advance, for example. Not just because we’re with different publishers. I’m not entirely sure how it works in publishing, but I doubt Penguin would have said at the editorial meeting “Well folks, we’ve got half a million, so we can either publish fifty novels, a few literary, a Regency Romance or two, some YA, perhaps some crime thrillers…or we can take Pippa’s party book. What’s it to be?”

There’s still a market for the books we write, and most of us will not be earning the six figure advances.

If the idea of Pippa Middleton’s deal leaves you incredulous you are probably not the target market. But there is a market. Let’s move on?

A new layer of bureaucracy?

Posted on: October 22nd, 2011 by Claire - 42 Comments

I received this email today. What is it? Can any literary agents out there tell me if this is a filtering process they are looking into?

“Friday 20 October 2011

Dear Writer

Brit Writers was born with one aim… to make the publishing world accessible to everyone, regardless of age or background. As you know, Brit Writers is the UK’s largest writing project and awards for new and unpublished writers.  With our network of literary experts, agents, publishers and industry insiders growing by the day and 2 million children, their parents and teachers involved in our schools programmes, we are recognised as the champions of change. 

We are still the new kids on the block, but two years on and amidst bookshops closing down and publishers resorting to celebrity deals in order to stay afloat, Brit Writers continues to scale new heights in the world of publishing and has seen our authors successfully published and even become best selling and award winning literary stars.

During the last year, a number of partner agents have asked us to help them identify potential literary gems to save them ploughing through their slush pile. Therefore we have been asked to find potential ‘sign-ups’ for agents in the following genres:

  • ·        Novels: commercial and literary fiction
  • ·        Books for Children
  • ·        Short stories and Poetry for anthologies

How to apply:

If you feel your work is of a high enough standard and you would like to be considered for referral to an agent, please apply by emailing the following information tohari@britwriters.co.uk.

1.     A covering letter attached as a word document (not in an email) including: A short biography (no more than 300 words) – stating who you are, your writing genre, how long you have been writing, your aspirations and targets for getting published. Below your biography, please tell us if your work has been professionally appraised or critiqued in the past and by whom (please attach any reports etc.). Also whether you have had an agent in the past, or which agents have already seen your work, and if so who they were.

2.     A synopsis of your work (as a separate attachment) – maximum one page

3.     Depending on what you are submitting, please attach as follows:

  • ·        Novels: 3 chapters of your novel in addition to the synopsis
  • ·        Books for children: up to 5000 words in length, please send the entire story in addition to the synopsis (if you have illustrations then you should include them).
  • ·        Books for children: over 5000 words, attach 3 chapters in addition to the synopsis
  • ·        Short stories: the complete work in addition to the synopsis
  • ·        Poetry: between 3 and 5 poems of no more than 40 lines per poem in addition to the synopsis  

Format for all of the above:

Arial font, 11pt, 1.5 line spacing.

The title page should state your name, address, telephone/mobile number, email address and target audience for your book.

Please only apply if you feel your work is of a high standard.

Deadline for submissions for this initiative: 6pm Tuesday 25th October 2011

Terms:

By making an application for referral to an agent you give consent to Brit Writers to share your work and contact details with our partner agents. Brit Writers does not guarantee referral of your work to agents. Brit Writers decision is final as to whether your work is referred or not. If your work is referred you are aware that agents may charge a commission of between 7% and 15% if your work is successfully published through them. A maximum of 3 submissions may be sent. Each submission must be clearly labelled and submitted in separate documents.

We look forward to receiving your submissions.

Kind regards

Hari

Hari Kumar

Brit Writers Agents Division”

 

Please note I do not endorse this intiative. I am simply interested in who actually does.

For previous thread on the same organisation please see Too Good to be True (about their publishing scheme)

All about the Image

Posted on: October 20th, 2011 by Claire - 23 Comments

There comes a day in a girl’s life when she needs to choose the photo that’s going on the jacket of her first novel.

For those of you who would be very blasé about this, please could you humour me here? I’m not a fan of seeing myself in photographs *at all*, in fact it’s usually my behind the camera taking pictures of my beautiful kids, so there aren’t even that many these days.

Here are some pictures I’ve been happy to put online on my Twitter profile and so on, and for my author picture in the Bristol Prize Anthology.

Claire King April 2011

Claire King April 2010

Claire King, Nov 2010

 

**********

**********

Two of these photos are just webcam pictures from my computer, and the third was taken by a photographer friend as I emerged from a 120 hour working week and could hardly keep my eyes open.

None of them, for me, deserve to sit on a lovely book jacket on a novel I loved into life. So I decided to spend part of my advance on a proper, grown up author photo. I called a proper, grown up photographer…

“What do you want, by way of a photo?” She asked.

“I want it to look like me, only better,” I said. “I want it to say ‘friendly’, but also ‘wise’. I need to to make my eyes look bigger and my face less fat, but I don’t want you to retouch it to do that. Is that OK?”

“I think you should just relax,” said Debbie.

I didn’t really relax. I went into a big and very silly panic about hair and makeup and outfits. And all the while I was wishing I was a male novelist, who could just grow a day’s stubble, put on a leather jacket and lean against a wall.

But since I’m not, I went MAC instead, for a make-over with the lovely Benjamin (artist, illustrator and fan of English literature). If you ever want to be made to feel fabulous and not at all self-conscious, I fully recommend it. It costs £25, but you can then choose cosmetics to the value of £25 when you leave. What’s not to like about that? Benjamin put a good hour into buffing me up to be camera ready. I must have needed it!

Next stop, Liverpool Street station to meet with photographer, Debbie Scanlan.

Debbie: “How are you?”

Me: “Nervous”

“Don’t be daft. Come on,” she said, “let’s go and get coffee and cakes.” So we go and find a cafe and tuck into treacle tart. We chat as though we’ve known each other years (this is what Debbie does) and then the camera comes out. I freeze up.

“It’s OK,” she said, “I’m just testing the light.”

“The best way to look good on a photo,” she said, is to tilt your chin down slightly, and then look up with your eyes. Try it.”

I do. Click, click, click, click.

 

Afterwards we went outdoors and sat in a small park, taking more photos, and laughing at passers by, who were clearly thinking I was famous, and also checking out Debbie’s bum as she turned herself into a bendy human tripod. We took more pictures. Lots more, in fact. Here are a couple of those. Plus (by demand) the “Freaky face” one…

 

So there you have it. Overall it was relatively painless, and Debbie was just lovely. Then just comes the small task of choosing which photo should go on the book.

After discussions with husband, children and best mates, there was an overwhelming concensus as to which was the most ‘Claire’ and the most suitable for a book jacket. Which do you think?

Interview with Mike French

Posted on: October 16th, 2011 by Claire - 6 Comments

This week I’m joined by Mike French*

Claire King: Mike French, who are you?

Mike French: Is that a psychological question, because if it is then I’m still working on the answer to that. On a good day I think I’m a writer and editor, don’t ask me about the bad days.

CK: Tell me about the bad days? Why have you only got half a face?

MF: Is this one of those David Frost style interviews? No, no comment.

*Author and Managing Editor of The View From Here Literary Magazine.

CK: OK (I’ll get you later). Tell us about The View From Here literary magazine then, how and why did it come about?

MF: It started with a small group of four of us and now there are over 25 on team from all across the world. I wanted to create something that was fresh, vibrant, something that looked visually strong and built around the people in it rather than squeezing them into a predefined shape.  I think that’s been one of our strengths in that who’s on the team shapes the magazine which has meant it’s grown organically, which is a bit risky but far more exciting.

CK: There are some wonderful contributors to TVFH – novelist Elizabeth Baines, literary agent Simon Trewin and publisher and author Scott Pack to name but a few. How did you manage to pull such a strong group of people together from across the world of writing and publishing?

MF: I gathered a dossier on each one and said look no-one needs to know about this as long as you come and help me change the culture in the publishing world.  The bigger names responded very well to that type of blackmail. Although I think the real trick is to recognise what people’s talents are then give them an opportunity to bring those gifts to the magazine, to support them and encourage them to flourish.

CK: You took the decision earlier this year to move TVFH to online only. Why?

MF: That was a tough decision. We’d been in print for three years and run out 36 issues, each one a labour of love.  However we had to end it for two reasons.  The first was that we were running on a small loss and finding it hard to break into the bricks and mortar shops. The magazine world, much like the book world, is dominated by the big players and distributors who want to deal in large orders. You’re only ever going to make it by getting an advertising agency to buy in big time into the magazine and unfortunately literary magazines are always going to struggle with that. That tied with our policy not to promote self publishing and therefore most of the advertisers who may have been interested, made it very difficult.

We did get into one Waterstones which then promptly closed down.

We also tried a distributor who got us into some stores in New York but they kept wanting us to send stock at our cost with no money coming back our way.

The other reason was the amount of my personal time it took in getting each issue to print; I was doing all the graphic design. When I got my publishing deal, moving to online-only gave me the opportunity to give some time to my writing again and finally get down to writing the second novel.

CK: What conclusions have you come to about the life of a literary magazine purely online, as opposed to print?

MF: I think online literary magazines on the whole only survive because of the passion and drive of the people creating them and that often as people move onto other things or their own careers take off they fade and die.  I’d certainly see them as transient creatures unless they’re linked to a university or publishing house or some other external support system.

CK: What is happening at TVFH now?

MF: Well I’ve just gone through the above thought process for TVFH now my own writing has taken off, in that we’ve asked the question, is it now time to call it a day?  However after much thought we’ve come to the conclusion that it’s important to foster a culture of a co-operative environment so that our creativity isn’t just channelled into promoting our own work but also helping others realise their creative potential.  It’s a check against becoming absorbed in self-promotion which whilst important is dangerous if that is where all your energy is going. So we feel it’s important to keep The View From Here alive and vibrant both as a place for aspiring novelists and those already in the business and for ourselves as a check against becoming narcissistic. We’ve new blood coming into the magazine team at the moment and I’d love to see us still around in ten years’ time, certainly I plan to keep her alive and well however well my own writing career goes.

CK: That’s great news. I certainly get very excited by the talented work I see in our submissions pile for The Front View short fiction section. So, now I know I still have a job I can  congratulate you on the publication of your debut novel! Tell us about ‘the ascent of isaac steward’?

MF: Thanks. Well she’s a strange fish full of wonder and the frailty of our minds as we seek to impose a narrative on the chaos that we call life. It follows one man in particular called Isaac Steward whose life is unravelling and his journey back to the love of his life, Rebekah.

CK: How was your journey to publication? Tell me about the bad days?

MF: It was hard, as it is for most writers, although a lot of people when I say it took six years tell me that’s nothing and I’m lucky! Fortunately I avoided all the traps that lie out there for a new writer like vanity publishing, agents wanting money etc – although each tried their hand. Overall it was emotionally exhausting. It’s like standing out in a storm trying to make yourself heard to someone standing ten miles away or asking someone to hit you in the face with a large stick all day. The hardest moment, when I finally thought I’d done it a few years ago, was when a publisher was interested.  They asked for the full ms and then wanted to meet me at The London Book Fair – I think understandingly I took that to be a very good sign and that a possible contract was on the table but it never happened and I read too much into the meeting.  That was very hard to come back from, but I’m glad I picked myself up and kept going as here I am today all published and grinning like an idiot!

CK: And what is it like finally being published? Is it as you expected?

MF: It’s wonderful. When you’ve created something you really want to see it out there and not sitting in some drawer starving to death, so I was so excited to see it published. When I found out it was such a relief. When you want something for so long it’s like being surrounded by it – like the possibility forms a bubble around you – you hope it will burst and you’ll see it come to life but over time the bubble just gets bigger and you feel smaller and smaller within it until you’re not sure you can even see the bubble anymore.  And yes it’s pretty much as I expected having seen many others walk the same path from my vantage point of magazine editor although there have been some nice surprises that I hadn’t expected.

CK: Such as?

MF: Being nominated for the Galaxy Book awards for New Writer of the Year and the old fashioned type of relationship I’m currently enjoying with my publisher.

CK: What next?

MF: I’ve just finished my second novel, Blue Friday.  It’s set in a dystopian society in the future where working hours are strictly controlled by the government and follows Leviticus, the leader of the Underground Overtime Network who fights for the right for people to choose when they can work.  I’ve really enjoyed getting back into writing again and after pouring so much into the first novel wondered what I had left for the second.  It’s quite different from my first and quite short at just over 30 thousand – although Julian Barnes latest is short so I’m not too worried about the length.

I think people are obsessed with labelling things as novels, novellas, etc which I find a little strange.  Is Animal Farm a novel or a novella or a novelette?

I think people who worry themselves about such things probably would feel at home in some middle management somewhere going to meetings about how long a piece of string should be.

CK: Thanks for coming over to my blog. Good luck with your novel, and indeed with your second.

MF: A pleasure! Thank you.

Mike blogs here, and you can buy his book in ‘all good bookstores’ and also online, here.

The View From Here is a wealth of resources for writers online, and short fiction is currently being published every Friday at The Front View.

 

Pumpkins and such.

Posted on: October 2nd, 2011 by Claire - 7 Comments

I’ve just landed back in France after a short trip to London.

If this time last year, when I was still waiting to hear from my first batch of agent submissions on my novel, you’d told me that you had the power to see into the future and that in September 2011 I’d be invited to Bloomsbury’s 25th birthday party as part of a star studded guest list…well it would have made me giggle.

But strange things do happen. And the invitation came.

I didn’t think I was going to be able to make it. It clashed with a week when my husband was away earning our daily bread and I was supposed to be at home feeding and bathing the children, walking the dogs, helping with homework and so on. But how could I NOT go? Cinderella needed a fairy godmother*. Or at least a cunning plan.

“I know, I shall take my children to London”, I reasoned!  We will stay with good friends who won’t mind a night babysitting. Upon investigation, cheap flights were available. “It’s a plan,” I thought. And to make up for a couple of days missed school I will make sure the girls experience things like the science museum, the botanical gardens at Kew, and their cultural heritage in general.

Anyway, yes, so.

The party was held on a beautiful indian summer evening in Bedford Square. There were lots of delicious things to eat and drink, but most of all there were lots of lovely people. There were some rather famous people there of course, and I had been terribly worried about meeting them. What would I say, for example, if I hadn’t read their books? There are so many books I haven’t read…

Special thanks to Vanessa Gebbie, for understanding my angst, standing me a G&T at the New Cavendish Club before we went, and walking in alongside me. Thanks also to author Stephen May who took this and other photos on demand, despite having only just met me!

In the event, I met one *famous* person – Grayson Perry. I didn’t know who Grayson Perry was. I had never heard of Grayson Perry. I blame this on living in France and never reading newspapers and seldom watching the TV. So the first I knew of Grayson Perry was a man dressed like a babydoll wandering in my direction at the Bloomsbury party. How could I not smile at him? Vanessa got chatting and I came to the conclusion I liked him. He was chatty and interesting and just generally rather groovy. He’s a groovy guy. And his exhibition is opening this week and I’m sad I can’t go. But click here to see a pic of Vanessa and Grayson/Claire and click here for information on The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman at the British Museum.

The highlight of the night for me (the author who still has dreams that one day I’ll get a call saying that it’s all been a big misunderstanding) was meeting my future paperback editor Tram-Anh. The conversation went like this:

Me: I’m Claire King, my book is out in 2013

Tram-Anh: Oh, which book was that? I read so many…

Me (a bit sheepishly): The Night Rainbow.

Tram-Anh: OMG! I love that book! (Cue long and expressive pointing out of all the bits of my book she particularly liked, even though she read it almost a year ago).

Me: *Hugs Tram-Anh* Thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou.

Did I mention there was also wine?

There were around 1000 of us altogether, including Bloomsbury staff, authors, agents, press, reviewers and many others. It was lovely to finally meet up in person with lovely author tweeters Marika Cobbold, Jane Rusbridge and Precious Williams and I have to thank you all, along with VG, for being friendly islands in the sea of Big Mingle, and for introducing me to lots of Bloomsbury authors like Georgina Harding, Louise Levene, Roshi Fernando, William Sutcliffe, Tim Kevan, Andrew Marshall, Selma Dabbagh…can everyone see my to-read list expanding as I type?

Thanks also to my lovely editor Helen who spent most of her night rushing around making sure all her authors were having a good time. I think I can safely say that we were.

*By the way, I had to run to catch a cab at the end of the evening, and I lost a shoe in the process. If anyone found a glass slipper in Bedford Square, could you let me know?

The Novel Edits (Part 1)

Posted on: September 23rd, 2011 by Claire - 30 Comments

It’s starting at last. The Night Rainbow is on the move, on its way to becoming a book. And the first step is…edits.

I met my editor, Helen last week to talk through her suggestions for changes to The Night Rainbow before it goes for copy editing and translation.

I’ve never been edited before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Well, here is my manuscript, returned to me over lunch and marked up with edits:

edits

The yellow post it notes mark pages where Helen has suggested changes. There aren’t as many as I had expected.

Or should that be ‘feared’? After all this is my baby, my beautiful first novel.

Or should that be ‘hoped’? Because that way, the more edits come from someone other than myself, the more accountability I can pass over to others if people don’t like what they read.

Well, enough of that. You’re all going to love this book, despite the panic in my heart that tries to convince me otherwise.

Helen had told me there wouldn’t be many edits, but as a newbie to all this I didn’t really have an idea of scale. I think I was expecting to be asked to rewrite whole chunks of narrative, delete or move scenes, fill in missing details in a few thousand extra words…and apparently that does happen. It can be the case, but it wasn’t for me. So what were my edits like?

Helen has now read the book three times, and the main thing that she is focusing on is voice. My book has a five year-old narrator. The credibility of the novel rests on her voice being spot on. She doesn’t have to sound like child narrators in other books (and she won’t), but she does have to be believable, allowing the reader to be immersed in her story. To this end, Helen has gone through meticulously and pulled me up on a few words that she feels don’t sit well with the voice of my narrator. And guess what, she’s right.

I have spent the last few days going through these changes, using my eldest daughter as a sounding board – she is now conveniently just turned 6, so is very helpful for vocabulary cross-checks – how would you describe the smell of pastry? What sound does the rain make?

What has been very interesting for me as I do this is that Helen’s suggestions are sparking off ideas in my own mind about how to improve the narrative. The suggestion of one change of word has a cascade effect on the way whole paragraphs are written. The process seems very organic.

I now find myself criticising the entire manuscript yet again (and believe me I did that many times before submitting it to my agent). These words are going to be printed on beautiful paper, bound and covered and marked with my name. I want it to be perfect.

Can it be perfect? I doubt it could ever be, and readers probably are more forgiving than an editor, but we are making it as perfect as we can.

Next step, the copyedits!

 

£12.99*

Posted on: August 2nd, 2011 by Claire - 41 Comments

Here are five questions for you. Answer fast. No need to write them down:

 

1) What is your favourite beer/wine/fizzy drink?

2) What toothpaste do you use?

3) How do you choose what films to watch?

4) If you could eat out tonight (at your own expense) where would you go?

5) What does the price of a book tell you?

 

Got the answers? Good, because today I want to talk about authors as brands. Not about your ‘social media strategy’ or how you wear your hair at book signings. No, I want to talk about what messages you want to send out about your work to people who might want to buy it.

I’m neither a publisher nor a book marketeer, but I do know something about brand management. Once upon a time I used to do it for a living.

What brands have in common is that they aim to stand out in some way. We call it product differentiation: They make your clothes softer, your shave closer, provide greater protection for your baby’s delicate bottom cheeks against the evil of poo. They bring health to your teeth and the appearance of health to your hair. It takes fewer sheets to wipe up a spill, or indeed to, well, wipe. In this way you are better served by the products, your life is made more comfortable or pleasurable in some way. This does not just happen because the TV commercial tells you so, but because a lot of clever people have been working hard for a long time in order to try and make it that way. It is product differentiation that leads you to be able to answer questions 1-4 above with anything other than “I don’t care, whatever is cheapest.” Did any of you say that, by the way?

Delivering product differentiation comes at a cost, of course. Cost of materials, research, packaging design, advertising and marketing costs, paying the sales people who ensure it’s available to buy wherever you shop, etc. etc. Which is why you’ll not find these products at, say…99 cents.

In the world of publishing, how do books differentiate themselves?

  • Author credentials (she’s always really funny/moving, he’s famous, her books are always page-turners…)
  • Publishing house credentials
  • Literary prize endorsements
  • Reviews
  • Word of mouth
  • Retailer credentials?

You tell me. What’s clear is that differentiation is an evolving strategy. It’s a busy market, competition is fierce. You have to keep improving, keep innovating, keep surprising and delighting the people who buy what you have to sell. This is a GOOD THING. And in that way you have the right to sell your product – your books –  and for a decent price, in a world where choice has gone crazy.

I’m interested by choice. In developed economies it overwhelms us at every turn. People think they like choice, but in reality they don’t, not so much. Choice is complicated. Packed supermarket shelves are stressful and time consuming. Shopping where you have the choice between apples, oranges and peaches is far less stressful than a choice of a hundred different fruits. And when consumers are faced with a choice where they don’t have the information – or time –  to decide, they tend to use price as a measure of quality.

There is an implied value in certain prices. If you see a packet of sausages on sale for 50 cents and another on sale for 4.00€, and you’ve never heard of the manufacturers, chances are you will make a leap of logic as to which will have the more quality ingredients. Which will taste the best. Which will not only satisfy your hunger but also nourish you. In general:

  • Very low price = utter rubbish. Does not work, falls to bits.
  • Low price = low quality. The thing works. Often sells in bulk.
  • Mid price range = mid quality. Mass market. Nice. Towards the bottom end of this range are cheap brands, towards the top end are pricier ones.
  • High Price = high quality. It’s durable, or niche, luxurious or has a monopoly on the market.
  • Very high price = status symbol.

 

So what did you answer to question number 5? What does the price of a book tell you about the book and/or the author?

As with any market, I think it’s clear that there is room for a broad spectrum of prices. OK, I took a pop at 99 cent novels earlier, but I imagine there are many people who simply can’t afford full price books. A 99c e-book could be an affordable way to satisfy a thirst for reading. I would like here to mention libraries, but fear that is for a different post.

I will mention J.A. Konrath, though. He sells his ebooks at $2.99 (about 2€), which he has identified as the sweet spot between low pricing and high volume of sales. He’s a smart guy – that strategy is really working for him. However he recommends that all authors self-publish and keep pricing below $3.00 for e-books. He acknowledges that not every self-published author will earn the revenues he does, but that if you choose any other way to take your brand to market you are effectively losing money. Is he, in effect, advocating the collapse of differentiated pricing for books? Or that some authors should sell their novels at 50 cents a pop?

There is (usually) a massive amount of effort goes into writing a book. Effort and time. How much time? What is it worth to you? Would you say you put in a year’s work? Half a year? And on top of that are there costs such as editing, copy editing, cover design, sales effort, marketing effort… how can that all be represented in such a diminutive price tag?

The other problem that I have with Konrath’s model is the assumption that there is a market out there for most unpublished authors to make an average writer’s income.

 

The thing is, the global market for books is estimated at 80 billion euros and is not expected to grow significantly:

“On aggregate, it looks likely that the €80 billion number will remain relatively stable, as lower e-book prices are compensated for by increased purchases on the part of book buyers as they adopt more tablets and reading devices.”

So the pie, in terms of money, is not actually getting bigger. Which means thousands more authors get a little slice of the pie, but there’s only the same amount of pie to go round. So in the end we all earn less for our efforts.

That is BAD.

One last word about *promotions*.

There’s a big difference between pitching your books at a permanently low price, and running price promotions. A promotion can do a number of things: Get people to try you out, boost your sales (a lot in the short run, a little in the long run), tactically swamp the market with your product in order to push out competition…99 cent promotions – go wild! Use them wisely, reap the rewards.

But I still feel strongly that a permanently low price for high quality writing sends out all the wrong messages. I have been wracking my brains trying to find an example of a successful product or service launch – in any market – that chose the strategy of a permanently low price point for a high quality product. So far I am really struggling. Can anyone help me out?

 

*£12.99 is the RRP of The Night Rainbow in hardback. I hope, when the time comes, you’ll consider that it’s worth it.

Literary Agent Responses – How long is normal?

Posted on: June 29th, 2011 by Claire - 42 Comments

This week I had a response from a literary agent to a submission I sent out 8 months ago (and withdrew 8 months minus one week ago). It was a slightly surreal reminder of the submissions process (and for information, it was a rejection)…

Rainbow in a meadow

Hope?

When I was submitting I kept an excel spreadsheet of my submission dates, to whom I submitted, the initial response time etc and I thought it might be time to share. This was my process for finding an agent:

1) Look in the Writers and Artists Yearbook for agents that handle literary fiction, accept unsolicited submissions and were currently open to submissions from new authors.

2) Consider which authors my writing is similar to, and find out who represents them.

3) Draw up a long list of agencies, then check out their websites, google them and see where they have turned up on the web, what novels they have sold, articles they have written, etc etc.

4) Draw up a shortlist of 20, take a deep breath, start sending out queries in batches of four or five.

5) Wait

I don’t know if that’s a good process or not, but it felt right to me.

In the end I submitted to eleven agents before signing with an agent in early November. Of those agents, six hadn’t yet responded, so I wrote to them, and e-mailed, to withdraw my manuscript.

Of those six, three replied by email the same day, to say thank you for letting them know, congratulations and good luck. The three that replied had variously had my submission for 3 months, 6 weeks and 1 week.

Of the remaining three, one never replied. One responded to my original submission in January this year and one replied to my original submission this week, after having had the submission for 8 months!

Is 8 months normal for a response?

For those of you who have work out on submission at the moment, how long do you consider is reasonable for a response? What does an eight-month high slush pile even look like?

In other stats – for the five agents who responded to my initial submission:
One replied after a month to say their slushpile was too big and they had stopped accepting submissions.
Two rejected – One after two weeks, one after three weeks.
Two requested full – both requests arrived 6 days after I posted the query + 3 chapters (from France to the UK). And then pretty fast turnarounds for the fulls – two weeks for one agent and four days for the other…resulting in The Call.

Getting a rejection from an agent saying this: “With such a full list of clients, it is rare that we are able to take on new authors – and then only with material we are extremely confident of placing with a publisher.  Regretfully, we do not feel that your work fits into that category.” several months after my novel sold to Bloomsbury doesn’t have the sting to that it would if I were still looking for an agent. But it’s a sharp reminder that this industry is so incredibly risk averse and subjective.

Wishing all of you slush-pile warriors courage and the best of luck.

 

No-one is buying debut novels

Posted on: May 24th, 2011 by Claire - 53 Comments

No-one is buying debut novels these days. Publishers don’t want them. Agents don’t want to take on new writers because they can’t sell debuts. Booksellers are closing down and the way forward is 99cent ebooks. It’s all doom and gloom out there. So why bother? The chances are infinitesimally slim that you will ever get the book deal your heart is set on. Why not go to the pub, or get comfy and watch re-runs of Friends instead?

‘They’ would have us believe that this is true. I wonder if the reason ‘They’ would have it that way is because ‘They’ are writing their own books and don’t want the competition? Maybe not. Maybe just because dismal news seems to sell. Unlike debut novels.

But wait!

For about 18 months now I’ve been using Twitter to meet and chat with writers all around the world. A few of them were already published writers, but most were like myself – scraping time to write in jam-packed days, entering writing competitions, occasionally getting shortlisted, or getting short pieces accepted in literary magazines. For me it’s been one of the best things I ever did in my writing career – in my Twitter stream I’ve found encouragement, wisdom, cheerleading, information, coaching, tips, consolation…and I hope I’ve managed to give back, which is in the spirit of Twitter.

And recently, in the last few months, some of the debut novelists on my twitter network are having breakthroughs.

These people are not different from you and me. They are not better educated. They are not richer. They are not people with industry connections. They are people who sat down and wrote. A lot. And re-wrote. They have families and day jobs and they are busy too. These people are getting agents and they are getting book deals. Three cheers for these people:

Maria Duffy, who signed with Sheila Crowley at Curtis Brown last autumn and has just signed a two book deal with Hachette Ireland. Her debut novel, Any Dream Will Do, will be published November 2011

D.J. Kirkby, who writes fiction and non-fiction and after self publishing her first novel, Without Alice, has just signed up with Judith Murray at Greene & Heaton

Liz Fenwick recently signed with Carol Blake at  Blake Friedman and signed with Orion for her debut – A Cornish House – and a second novel…

Claire LeGrand (Who is 24, by the way!) has just sold her debut novel to Simon & Schuster

Kate Brown who just signed with Jamie Coleman at Toby Eady Associates for her debut historical novel.

Mariam Kobras who just signed her contract with Buddhapuss Ink independent publishers for her debut contemporary romance The Distant Shore

Kerry Hudson whose debut novel TONY HOGAN BOUGHT ME AN ICE-CREAM FLOAT BEFORE HE STOLE MY MA comes out from Chatto & Windus in summer 2012

Claire McGowan whose debut novel sold in February to Headline and will be published in 2012. See her blog post about living the dream here.

Jonathan Pinnock whose debut Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens is out this September from Proxima Books

Rebecca Emin whose children’s novel New Beginnings will be published next year by Grimoire books.

Hip, hip, HOORAY! And many congratulations to all these writers!

I’m NOT saying that it’s easy. The market is difficult at the moment and I know several brilliant writers who have got great agents and are still waiting for a publisher to buy their book. That must be so frustrating after that magic moment of finding an agent raises your hopes…But what they aren’t doing is sitting around moaning about it. They are all, without exception, writing the next novel.

And as well as those people there are still many of my twitter friends submitting to agents, getting rejections, revising and submitting again. And of course there are those still climbing the first draft mountain. But I’m convinced that many of them will succeed because it’s clear they are determined to do so.

So, what’s stopping you?  Write. Write today. And come and find us on Twitter – make friends, watch others succeed and be encouraged (keep an eye on the #writegoodnews hashtag). Or occasionally drown your sorrows together.

Claire King on Twitter

 

Literary ladies, canons, bottoms and inspiration.

Posted on: April 30th, 2011 by Claire - 6 Comments

I have just the juiciest and best talks on writing and books linked below! They’re taken from the launch of the Newnham College Literary Archive in February. You might not have heard of Newnham. I spent three of the most amazing years of my life there in its beautiful surroundings.

But even more fabulous than the gardens and the buildings are the alumnae, of whom you will have heard. I am privileged to count myself amongst such amazing women as Sylvia Plath, AS Byatt, Margaret Drabble, Salley Vickers, Mary Hoffman, Caroline LawrenceJenn Ashworth, Ali Smith, Patricia Duncker, Sarah Dunant, Gillian Allnutt, Wendy Mulford, Claire Tomalin; Elaine Feinstein; Lisa Jardine, Joan Bakewell, Katharine Whitehorn, Julia Neuberger… It reads like a ‘Who’s who?’ of literature, doesn’t it? And that’s before you even start broadening out to include actresses and directors such as Miriam Margolyes, Eleanor Bron, Emma Thompson…

Sorry, I am a little bit star-struck. So imagine, in February I found myself sitting in a small room, densely packed with women of this caliber, to talk about literature. It was a very exciting and inspirational moment for me! And that was really the idea Newnham had in creating the literary archive – to bring together donations of work, photos, manuscripts etc from these and other alumnae, to celebrate the achievements of Newnhamites past, and to encourage and inspire current and future students.

You’ll notice that I’m only mentioning women. Newnham is an all-women college, and whilst in many respects that doesn’t make a bit of difference to studying there and our lives afterwards, it does mean that topics specific to women, or examined from a women’s point of view are often on the table. I don’t believe this is intended to create a gender gap, but to acknowledge that one exists and take that as a context.

Over eighty years ago, Virginia Woolf visited Newnham to give a talk to the students on ‘Women and Fiction’. She discussed the idea that, ‘a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction’ and this talk was to become  ‘A Room of One’s Own’, an essay that has proved inspirational for many women writers ever since.

Alison Wells’ recent series on Mother-Writers on her blog highlights, I think, that we still have a lot in common with women writers of the last century. Do we have the space yet to write as successfully as we could – either physically, or figuratively?

I’m so pleased that the video clips of the talks and the Q&A have been made available and I really recommend having a look when you have a chance (men and women alike, of course!). They are really worth it.

Here are the links, enjoy:

Sarah Dunant on Renaissance art, inspiration for her novels, and babies’ bottoms. This talk inspired this post Everything Speaks.

Nicola Beauman on Persephone books, and why women write so well. This talk inspired my post The Illicit Pleasures of Dorothy Whipple

Claire Tomalin on biography

Q&A Part 1 (on Feminism; female writers and racy novels; the literary canon; crime writing; and is there a difference between men and women?) and Part 2  (Male/Female ratios in publishing and reviewing; positive discrimination; The Orange Prize; the impact of new university fees on reading literature at universities)

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