Saturday, 27 June 2009

Fine. So I'm paranoid after all...

Reluctantly, I learnt a lot about copyright in the eighties because my jewellery designs were comprehensively ripped off. It's very easy to take a rubber mould and make as many copies as you like by the lost-wax process. The counterfeiters got them cast in Thailand mostly, where labour is cheap, and wholesaled them here, in silver, for less than I paid just for the casting.

Some unpublished authors worry they might have similar problems with their novels, and it's no good suggesting to them that if they can't sell the darned thing, there is no reason to suppose anyone else will be able to, and that they really have nothing to lose by making it available on the internet.

Titles, I think, are a different matter. Anyone who has struggled to find a catchy, evocative title will know just how hard it is. You come up with something good, check on Amazon Books and it's been used, often many times. One gets an insight into why some of one's favourite books have quite dull or strange titles.

Since Jade Goody used my title, Catch a Falling Star (a title that's been used before, but not for a notable book) I've been brainstorming for a new one. Yesterday, I think I found it. And no one has used it, ever.

So what is it? Well, here is where my paranoia comes in. Suppose a publisher has agreed to publish a novel, but doesn't like the title? It's up to the writer and agent to find a good new one. Fast. Go on a site like Authonomy, and you will find literally thousands of novel titles, all unpublished. Steal a title there, and it's the perfect crime; no one can prove you did it, that it wasn't just coincidence. And in any case, you can't copyright titles.

I think I'll just keep quiet about it for now.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Happy birthday, novel 3!

It's exactly a year since I started writing Catch a Falling Star. I know because I wrote a post, A book called...not sure yet (and I'm still not, since Jade Goody used my title). It's interesting to look back over the year.

When I started, I'd got pages of notes for the main characters, plot ideas, and a few photographs, but hadn't decided who the murderer was. I did know what the crucial scene at the end would be. I revise as I go; I spend a few days going over each chapter until I'm happy with it before going on to the next, so when I write THE END, it really is nearly finished.

I wrote the last chapter at the end of March, and have spent the time since obsessively tweaking, helped by kind beta readers. I write concisely then add bits, so since March the book has swollen by 1,500 words, making it a nice round 75,000. The new bits are mostly minor; the greatest change was to make the villain considerably nastier.

It's been a lot of fun to write. The penance now comes with sending it out to agents, who seem to have got slower than when I sent out Tor and Trav.

And the title...what about Rock Remix? I'm getting desperate.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Little-known facts about agents

Did you know...

  1. Literary agents derive most of their large income from steaming off the stamps on s.a.s.e.s sent to them by writers submitting their work; they either reply by email or don't reply at all. (The commission on clients' book sales, thought by the naive to be their main source of income, amounts to a negligible sum.)

  2. Agents swap the names of particularly annoying writers among themselves. Every agent has his own Black List of writers whose submissions go straight to the shredder (once their s.a.s.e.s have been removed and the stamps salvaged, that is.) Example: if you have the temerity to ring an agent who does not know you, your name will be added to this list.

  3. At most agencies, the slush pile is read monthly, in the office after hours, to the accompaniment of pizzas and plentiful alcohol. Especially dire passages of submitted work are read aloud, to great and drunken hilarity. These events are looked forward to by all agents and interns. They are one of the best perks of working in the world of books. Most agents meet their future spouses at these parties.

  4. As a new, unpublished author, you are statistically more likely to die by tripping over a red squirrel than to be offered a contract by a literary agent.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Getting published in olden days...

Yesterday I was rereading Nick Hornby's A Long Way Down, and I came across this bit. Jess, a disturbed suicidal teenager, has had an uncomprehending look at a novel by Virginia Woolf, and reckons that she killed herself because she couldn't make herself understood. She goes on:

And she had some bad luck, too, if you think about it, because in the olden days anyone could get a book published because there wasn't so much competition. So you could march into a publishers' office and go, you know, I want this published, and they'd go, Oh, OK then. Whereas now they'd go, No, dear, go away, no one will understand you. Try pilates or salsa dancing instead.

I'm submitting Catch a Falling Star to agents right now. Maybe I should take up salsa dancing instead.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

How not to start a novel...

There are many ways not to start a novel. The hero waking (with a start, naturally) is bad, and gets worse if you recount the dream he's just had, then make him get up and stare in the mirror so you can let the reader know what he looks like.

Personally - and this may be to do with my gender - I am unenthusiastic about novels that begin,

He gazed through the windscreen of his Mercedes-Benz SLR, tensely clicking the Halton-Ratchett RK 41.5's safety catch, his white shirt and Graff black diamond cufflinks gleaming in the dusk...

You just know that before too many pages have passed, you'll be meeting his young, slim, full-breasted, sexually enthusiastic girlfriend. She's another bit of his kit, and with about as much personality.

Then there's the author who introduces on page one a character you warm to, only to kill him off before you reach chapter 2.

But my very least favourite first chapter has to be the one that starts with five or six characters sitting round a table; each one says or does something in turn, and in order to get any sort of grip on the story you have to memorize them. It's hard work. Was it Gina who had the fiery red hair, the underprivileged background she's fighting to escape and a media job? Or Stacey? No, Stacey's the tall one who's just been dumped by her boyfriend and has a pet cat...

I've come across several unpublished novels with too many characters too soon, and my question is, can anyone think of a published novel that begins in this way?

Virtual prizes will be awarded.