Saturday, 31 October 2009

The terrible pull of the cliché...

A father in Waitrose to his small son, 'We'll find it, they sell everything here.'

Small son, reaching for and finding a grown-up phrase, 'They sell anything and everything, don't they, Dad?'

The boy's simple pleasure in this cliché is all too common among adults, including those who write for a living and should know better. The journalist who describes something as weird and wonderful, the delighted new author talking about what a rollercoaster ride it is to publication, the unpublished writer who pens a strangely familiar plot summary:

When mysterious forces from beyond the grave threaten life as we know it, Scarran must face his own demons and risk everything to rescue the woman he loves from a tangled web of deceit without becoming a target himself - but can he right an old wrong before it is too late? His task seems straightforward - but is it?

A story of love, murder and mayhem.

I'm sure none of my blog readers are ever guilty of using such reach-me-down expressions...are you? I'd better admit right now, I once wrote she woke with a start.

I can only apologise, and promise never to do it again.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Do you write like a man or a woman?

I've just discovered a fascinating site called The Gender Genie. You paste more than 500 words of your writing into a box, and the site analyzes it and tells you whether you write like a woman or a man.

I tried it with the first chapter of Heart of Rock (was Catch a Falling Star) and the first chapter of Heart of Bone, my work in progress. Interesting results:

Heart of Rock: Female: 3345 Male: 3986 - I write like a man.

Heart of Bone: Female: 2597 Male: 2561 - I write like a woman (just).

Have a go and let me know how you get on.

Friday, 16 October 2009

The slush pile switch, and its consequences...

Time was, when you'd finished your novel, you would submit it directly to publishers, who, if your book was good (or passable, but they thought you'd write excellent ones in the future) would give you a contract. These days, overwhelmed by the size of the slush pile since the advent of the PC, most publishers leave the task of sorting through the slush to agents. They no longer accept unagented submissions.

For new authors, this is a Bad Thing, for two reasons:

1. There are now two hurdles to leap where there used to be one

2. Agents naturally prefer to take on writers who are going to earn a big advance

Most writers I know would be pleased to get a publishing deal of any sort (MacMillan New Writing, which offers twelve basic contracts a year with no advance, receives 500 submissions a week). But an agent would be unenthusiastic about such a deal; if she can't see immediate profit for herself, forget it.

So the publishers are missing out on good books judged by agents not to be flavour of the month, or sufficiently commercial - and let's not forget, this is something they frequently get wrong. Many best-sellers have had a terrible struggle to get into print, and other books which gained a six-figure advance have gone on to disappointing sales. I think publishers need to reclaim the initiative.

The current situation is rather as if I decided I was fed up with going round the West End looking for new clothes. I'd appoint someone to do it for me, and pay her 15% of the cost of each suitable garment she found. Would she battle with the crowds to seek out the odd terrific pair of boots in Primark, costing £22? Or go to Selfridges and select a pair for £295?

Which would be to her advantage? And would I be better off?

Sunday, 11 October 2009

There are two types of writers... today I am going to write about the published, the unpublished, and the huge divide that exists between them.

The writers I mix with, and they are mostly the ones who read my blog, are unpublished. Some of them have an agent, some don't; some are on their first book, and others have written three or four. Many of their books are works in progress, and a few are so brilliant I can't believe publishers aren't fighting over them. As we keep being told, times are hard in publishing, budgets are being cut and it's more difficult than ever to break into print. Small wonder, then, that those who do manage to cross the great divide become a little smug.

'I got published because I wrote a damn good book and sent it out with a first-class query letter,' a new about-to-be-published writer will say, flushed with pride and success. The implication being that, if your book was good enough, it too would get a deal.

I wish this were true. While there are, of course, many dire novels in the slush pile, some of today's best novels will never sit on a bookshop shelf, because their authors lack the thick-skinned persistence required to endure the pain of rejection after rejection. They start thinking the agents are right about their book. They give up.

Let me tell you about Patricia J Delois, who wrote a novel called Bufflehead Sisters. She sent it out to two agents who rejected it. Discouraged, she gave up. A friend told her about YouWriteOn, and she joined. Her book became YWO Book of the Year, and was self-published by YWO. Astonishingly (or not - she's a good writer) she sold over a thousand copies. And was picked up by Penguin. She says herself she had 'dumb luck'. Without YWO she would not have been published.

If I ever cross that great divide, I vow not to be smug; to remember that better writers than I languish unpublished; and that I have been very, very lucky.