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Comment from the book world in January 2016

2016

'An agent wanting to see the complete book'

19 December 2016

I wrote just three chapters to start with and sent them to ten agents. I received nine rejection letter in quick succession, but then the tenth letter arrived and it was an agent wanting to see the complete book.

That changed everything. I moved in with my boyfriend to save on rent, took a part-time job and began writing two-and-a-half days a week. A friend in Australia read my daily output and cheered me on and, by the end of 1996, I'd written the first draft. I'd been too embarrassed to tell the interested agent that I'd only actually written three chapters, so she was taken somewhat by surprise by a young woman in a furry coat clutching a jiffy bag on her doorstep nearly 12 months after writing to me.

She snatched the packet from me and said: ‘I hope there's return postage in there?' before closing the door firmly in my face.

Three days later she phoned me at work. She'd read it, her assistant had read it and it was ‘really rather good'...

Ralph's Party, my first novel, sold 250,000 copies in its first year of publication and was the highest selling debut novel of 1998.

There are fewer fairy tales in publishing these days, but there's still some magic left and dreams can come true.

Don't write for the publishers and don't try to second guess the market; it's elusive and impossible to pin down.

Just write what's in your head and what's in your heart and give the reader a reason to keep turning the pages, whether it's love for your characters or a need to find out what happened ten years ago or what happens next.

Lisa Jewell, author of Ralph's Party, I Found You and ten other novels http://www.lisa-jewell.co.uk/

'The agent works for the writer'

12 December 2016

‘When I began, I had very little idea about what being an agent involved. All I knew was that I wanted to read and represent writers I admired. I wanted the job not to be about money, but about the quality of the work I represented.

The bestseller list was dominated by commercial trash. Literary writers had been left out in the cold and were starving for decent representation, but it was their backlist that provided publishers with a reliable base. The works of Borges, Nabokov and Camus, etcetera, remained in print and sold steadily and the situation had to be addressed. And that was our role.

The agent works for the writer. He's the writer's interpreter, business adviser, and ideally the stable element in the writer's life - always available at the end of the phone, always ready to read and respond. The agent is the gardener on an author's estate.

A writer is like a convict, spending a good part of their time in solitary confinement. So the writer is idiosyncratic, a-socialized, isolated, insecure.

A writer sits alone in his room. It's like a prison cell. But outside the window there's a garden. It's planted as he wished it to be. And in the corner, with a rake and a hoe, the agent is planting the flowers that the author has accumulated.'

Andrew Wylie, aka ‘The Jackal', of The Wylie Agency, speaking at the Guadalajara International Book Fair

 

'Perseverance is key to making it as a writer'

5 December 2016

‘I wrote my first mystery novel, The Thomas Berryman Number, when I was 26. It was turned down by, I don't know, thirty or more publishers. Then it was bought and went on to win the Edgar Award for Best First Novel.

Obviously, and I know this from experience, perseverance is key to making it as a writer. You have to be able to accept rejection and keep going. If you know that it's what you want to do, then you need to make it happen. No one else will make it happen for you.

In my novels it's all about the story. I don't try to be a great prose stylist; I try to be a great storyteller. I like to imagine the reader is sitting opposite me and I'm telling the story directly to them. I don't want that person to get up until I'm finished. I want to keep their attention with continual surprises and twists so they're not bored for a single moment.

For me the hardest part of writing a novel is the ending. You've invested your time and energy into building suspense, getting the reader emotionally involved with the characters and with the story itself, so if the ending is unsatisfactory it's massively disappointing. Expectation has been built up through the course of the novel and you need to deliver a conclusion that fulfils it. If you can do that, you'll have a satisfied reader.'

James Patterson, author of Cross the Line and many other novels, whose sales amount to 350 million+ books

 

'The great thing about reading is that it's not a competition'

28 November 2016

‘Well, the great thing about reading is that it's not a competition. People tell me: he's read this and he's moved on to this. That's not what it is about. I want them to spend time looking, learn how to turn the page. But I do think these phones are a problem for all ages. I see beautiful young lovers walking by and they are both staring at their phones rather than each other. I mean: really! But as long as they fund the libraries I think books will be fine. If your child is ill, what is guaranteed to cheer them up? Always a book.'

Shirley Hughes in the Guardian

 

Writing bestselling erotic fiction

21 November 2016

‘I've not lived any of my characters' lives, that's for sure! But I think every author bases much of their writing on personal experience, because it makes it easier to write about feelings and how you deal with certain situations. Although I've not had sex on a rowing machine or anything like that, there are certain things within the pages of all of my books that I've experienced myself. It makes the writing process easier when you can fall back on things that have happened to you...

You can make someone feel really uncomfortable when they ask what you do. I don't just come out with the fact I write erotic fiction. I tell them I write. Then, of course that leads to, 'Oh, what do you write?' But the number of people that say to me on a daily basis, 'Eugh, smut' or 'Eugh, porn!' It's just narrow-mindedness! It's people that are uncomfortable with it and therefore try to bring it down almost...

But the truth is that sex and love make the world go round, just as much as money does. I think now more than ever, erotic fiction is there to be read and people are reading it. It's maybe taken too long to get to this point, but I think it can only be a good thing. The publishing industry can see that, I think, they accept and embrace it just as readers do.'

'Queen of erotic literature' and author of bestseller The Protector Jodi Ellen Malpas in an interview in Bookbrunch

 

'Agents mediate and enhance and improve the publishing process'

14 November 2016

"I think agents mediate and enhance and improve the publishing process. I regard my role as being independent, I will say to an author, 'No, no, the publisher is right in this case.' It is not my job to blindly support the author. I think you support them better by telling them what you regard as the truth...

If there is a person I really like and want to be close to, whose work is OK but doesn't make very much money, I'll do it. If there is another, one who isn't a very nice person but who has written an extraordinary book, [even if] it won't make a lot of money I'll do it, because I love books. If you find something great, you want to disseminate it and bring it to the world. And if there is a book by someone who is not wonderful, and the book is not particularly good, but it is going to make a lot of money, I owe it to my company to do it. I have to feed its hungry maw."

Literary agent Ed Victor of the eponymous London agency, celebrating 40 years in business, in the Bookseller

 

'Should I stop and do something else?'

7 November 2016

‘After Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Old School I took a pause and was thinking about the future. Should I continue? Or should I stop and do something else?

I'm only about halfway through (he can envisage at least 20 books in the series). If I can keep them fresh, I will definitely keep going. I'm committed to this series...

It would be hard to tell which country I was in based on (fans') reactions alone. The conclusion I've come to is that these books are about childhood and the DNA of our childhoods is pretty similar, there is maybe a 70% or 89% overlap between people of different cultures. Most of us have siblings, parents and homework.'

Jeff Kinney, highly successful author of the Wimpy Kid series, as his eleventh book comes out, in the Bookseller.

 

Sudden fame and writing your second novel

31 October 2016

‘It's wonderful in some ways but makes you feel very vulnerable in others. To suddenly become known and to have lots of people reading your slightly odd thoughts is a weird thing. You feel exposed because all these eyes are on you...

There's obviously a level of expectation (about her second novel) I didn't have before and that makes you nervous. You think about what criticisms you had of the last book and think, "Am I making the same mistakes? Am I doing the same things wrong?" I'm told that it gets much better after the second book!'

Paula Hawkins, author of the huge bestseller The Girl on the Train, in the Sunday Telegraph's Stella

'Crowd funding can be quite arduous'

24 October 2016

‘Crowd funding can be quite arduous and you have to be persistent - to the point of being very concerned that you are nauseating and repetitive! But if you stop, then the funding dries up pretty quickly. You have to keep going and you need to be of a mindset that you're happy to do that. If you're an author who's so involved in the creative process that you're not interested in getting involved with your readers, then it's probably not the route for you. But if you're someone who embraces every facet of putting a book together and selling it, then it's quite exciting!

Unbound are great to work with as a team. The author is in control as much as they would like to be within the process, which was attractive. With a book of children's poetry, I think the realistic expectation is that it will have a limited market, but that's fine with Unbound and crowdfunding because a limited market is all it needs to justify its publication. How Unbound's lists develop over the years will be really interesting to see. Will it be a random shotgun of potpourri or will it end up specialising in different areas? I don't know!

There are certain elements of Unbound's model that other publishers must look at and think are really interesting, because the low risk associated with no advances and breaking even before you start is obviously attractive. But I think there's also a finite amount of goodwill and crowdfunding money around. I can't imagine that if there were dozens of publishers doing crowd funding that it would necessarily work. You see other publishers setting up imprints which are e-only or have different royalty rates or no advances, which in some ways is a halfway house, decreasing the risk and increases the income for authors based on sales alone. Publishing is an enormously diverse industry covering every single aspect under the sun, so I imagine diverse models will remain in place.'

David Roche, author of a collection of his own humorous family and children's poetry, Just Where You Left it and Other Poems (How To Survive School, Parents and Everything Else That's Unfair In Life) in an interview in Bookbrunch. His book is at https://unbound.com/books/just-where-you-left-it

 

Learning from your editor

17 October 2016

'I took all the different drafts, false starts and half-finished ideas from my notebooks and worked up a manuscript, with the intention of applying some of the editing principles I'd learned from Don Paterson to my album lyrics. I cut and clarified, lost the baggy bits, interrogated the ideas and looked at the piece as a whole. I saw how to frame it in a more satisfying way and found a route through something that had been blocking me before.'

Kate Tempest on the gestation of her new album and poetry collection, Let Them Eat Chaos, in Bookbrunch

 

'In children's books we punch above our weight'

3 October 2016

‘One of the most important things I'd like to help alter is the general view of writing, this idea that somehow we're amateurs who only do it for love and not for money. That's not the case. Of course we love what we do, but we're also professional people, providing professional services and producing material that generates enormous economic and moral value. Therefore we should get the return on it that we're entitled to. We should be taken seriously...

People are often patronising about writing for children - but children's books are among the most celebrated publications of all time. Just look at the mega-successes of recent years such as Harry Potter, Northern Lights

Handy site which provides links to 7,500 US publishers' sites and online catalogues. www.lights.com/publisher/

, The Hunger Games. Then there are the classics - Narnia, Roald Dahl, Beatrix Potter ... I could go on, but the truth is that in children's books we punch above our weight, and our books generate a huge amount of interest. Publishers of children's books are also very sharp and locked into the world of entertainment, franchises, publicity and social media: something all writers could learn from...

There is more content now, there are more scripts being written for more outlets, which should be a good thing. But whether writers are being paid as well as they should be is another matter.'

Tony Bradman, author of more than 200 children's books, on becoming Chair of the Authors Licensing and Copying Society, in ALCS News

Illustrating and writing

26 September 2016

‘I could never imagine being a writer. I come from a generation for whom writers were either very old or dead. We could not imagine that we could have that magical profession. But I could imagine illustrating because I had drawn since I was a child. When I started illustrating, I found the stories I had to work with so boring that I started writing in order to do the illustrations I wanted to do! It took another few years before I realised I loved the writing - and that I may even be better at the writing than the illustrating...

The funny thing is - and I always tell young illustrators to be careful of this - I ended up thinking that as an illustrator I was mediocre but as a writer I could go a little further. So I almost abandoned illustration. I did black and white illustrations for my own books - my big books - but in between I did not really draw. Then two years ago, I suddenly had a longing to sketch again...

With the fifth museum exhibit in Germany of all my art, it makes me realise that maybe I told myself the wrong thing about myself and actually the illustration may be as important as the writing. I think we underestimate illustration so often. We value the words against the pencil and it's not right. The visuals can be so powerful and so often they interpret or show something that we cannot catch with words.'

Cornelia Funke, author of the Mirrorworld and Reckless series in Bookbrunch