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Comment from the book world in January 2019


Writing your first non-fiction book

10 June 2019

‘First the length. In an age of ever-shortening attention spans, you have to have a pretty powerful message to keep anyone's interest for much over 75,000 words (about 300 pages). In fact, if you can't present your proposition in 300 pages, then you may have a problem with excessive verbiage you should deal with.

Then structure: as my background was working as a management consultant running organisational efficiency projects, I approached my first book like I would a project. I broke the book down into easily manageable pieces of work. If I was going to write about 75,000 words, then that meant around fourteen or fifteen chapters of around 5,000 words each. This hugely simplified the task of writing a book because now all I had to do was write fourteen or fifteen 5,000-word essays. By splitting the book into these fourteen or fifteen easily digestible chapters, the task of writing a book somehow seemed easier than when being faced with the need to produce 75,000 words. Moreover, to make the book even more digestible for readers, I split these fourteen or fifteen chapters into three to four sections of just a few chapters each...'

David Craig, management consultant and author of The Great Charity Scandal and Don't Buy It! in an article on the Andrew Lownie Agency website


'A massive world for our books'

3 June 2019

‘When...I started, there was the hardback and the paperback. Then there was the hardback, the trade paperback, and the paperback. Then there was the hardback, the trade paperback, the paperback, and the ebook. Then there was all that plus audio. Then all that plus podcasts; and, with the likes of Apple and Amazon involved, more places than ever before for serialisations and dramatisations; and more places than ever before for film and TV adaptations; and more markets than ever before opening up for deals.

The book is the perfect starting place for any kind of platform for a story. And the literary agency should be the place where all these deals begin...

There is a massive world for our books. China has opened up, just in the last 10 years: we've sold 14 million books by Bear Grylls there. Jeanette's [Winterson's] Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal sold 50,000 copies in China in two months. Regularly, Lynda Gratton's books sell over 350,000 copies in Japan. And we're doing deals in new countries all the time. Vietnam is starting to buy books. We did a deal in Azerbaijan the other day.'

Caroline Michel, literary agent and CEO at London literary agency Peters, Fraser & Dunlop, in Bookbrunch

'85% of crime readers are women'

13 May 2019

‘I get gendered questions about the violence. I'll give you a case study: a few years back, I got an email from Lee Child - who I love - saying he just read my recent book and he had just finished writing something with a similar theme. When I was doing press for that book, I got a lot of questions about the violence; Lee didn't get any. And there's Jack Reacher, going around killing around 3,000 people and beating everybody up...

With Reacher, you're never really scared he's going to get hurt. My characters are more vulnerable, so if I kill one person in a horrible way, it resonates. Keep in mind that 85% of crime readers are women. It makes sense that women reading about women being murdered is going to resonate more, probably because the real world is a very dangerous place...

I love character-driven books but hate when the crime is almost secondary. But I never want to go the opposite way. I think James Patterson does a really great job at what he does, but you're never going to close a book of his and wonder what's happening with those characters a week later. I want my characters to be strong enough that they live on in readers' heads for a while.'

Karin Slaughter, author of The Last Widow (to be published in June), Fractured, Faithless, Pretty Girls and 15 other novels in the Bookseller.




'It's just an opinion.'

6 May 2019

‘Why would anybody be intimidated by mere words? I mean, neither I nor any other atheist that I know ever threatens violence. We never threaten to fly planes into skyscrapers. We never threaten suicide bombs. We are very gentle people. All we do is use words to talk about things like the cosmos, the origin of the universe, evolution, the origin of life. What's there to be frightened of? It's just an opinion.'

Richard Dawkins, ethologist, evolutionary biologist, and author of The Selfish Gene, The Blind Watchmaker, The Enemies of Reason, River out of Eden, The God Delusion and 9 other books.

'Living in a novel for ages'

2 May 2019

‘I knew it had to be a long book. That was partly because I guess I was thinking that the one thing that the novel as an art form has over other art forms is time. I think I got this from those 19th century books I read when I was younger. One of the great pleasures I used to get was sort of living in a novel for ages. And I suspect that with a first novel you are unconscious of your influences, so what I grew up reading is still kind of in me. I may not have been reading 19th century books while I was writing, but there might have been some unconscious influence. Maybe I've written something slightly old-fashioned in the sense that it's a great sprawling thing with tons of characters.'

Isabella Hammad, whose highly-praised nearly 600 page first novel The Parisian was published in April.


'Ebooks made all of those old books immediate'

25 April 2019

‘Ten or 15 years ago, (literary estates) were dead. There were a few classic books that will always be with us, and the rest was dust. Then e-books provided the mechanism of making old things timeless - there was no such thing as backlist or frontlist any more. We, like a lot of people, worked hard and scrambled to make these books available again. Film and TV people have, let's say, quick attention spans. An idea floats into their minds, maybe about a book they read years ago, and if it's not available they are off to another idea. But e-books made all of those old books immediate, and that coincided with the rise of Netflix, Amazon, and all the other streaming services.'

Bill Hamilton, MD of the A M Heath Literary Agency, which celebrates its centenary this year, in the Bookseller


'Turning up'

18 April 2019

‘I'm a great believer in turning up still. No forgiving yourself because you are tired. I try to get there before 10, not too early. On those magical writing days you forget you exist and you surface an hour later and you have 400 words you were not expecting to write. But turning up is certainly the first condition. Work until lunchtime, listen to World at One, have a sandwich. Walk the dog. We have a very active sheepdog.'

Ian McEwan, author of Machines Like Me, The Children Act, Atonement, Amsterdam, Enduring Love, The Child in Time and many other celebrated novels in the Guardian


'Now I could write a real death, a true loss'

8 April 2019

'Whatever happened to me in my life, happened to me as a writer of plays. I'd fall in love, or fall in lust. And at the height of my passion, I would think, 'So this is how it feels,' and I would tie it up in pretty words. I watched my life as if it were happening to someone else. My son died. And I was hurt, but I watched my hurt, and even relished it, a little, for now I could write a real death, a true loss. My heart was broken by my dark lady, and I wept, in my room, alone; but while I wept, somewhere inside I smiled. For I knew I could take my broken heart and place it on the stage of The Globe, and make the pit cry tears of their own.'

Neil Gaiman, author of Adventures in the Screen Trade, American Gods, Neverwhere, The Sandman: Book of Dreams and 41 other books.


Memorable short stories

1 April 2019

‘An admirable line of Pablo Neruda's, "My creatures are born of a long denial," seems to me the best definition of writing as a kind of exorcism, casting off invading creatures by projecting them into universal existence, keeping them on the other side of the bridge... It may be exaggerating to say that all completely successful short stories, especially fantastic stories, are products of neurosis, nightmares or hallucination neutralized through objectification and translated to a medium outside the neurotic terrain. This polarization can be found in any memorable short story, as if the author, wanting to rid himself of his creature as soon and as absolutely as possible, exorcises it the only way he can: by writing it.

Julio Cortázar, Argentinian author of Hopscotch, A Manual for Manuel and 4 other novels, as well as 11 short story collections.



Ten years of writing history

25 March 2019

'I've been sitting at a desk writing history books for something over ten years. It's been engrossing, demanding and occasionally exhausting. This is a good moment to take stock. What does it add up to? Four books in various languages (the last still in proof), thousands of pages of handwritten notes.

Despite the impressive number of different language versions it's been a modest living not a handsome one - I'm still waiting for the film rights. People come by and take out options but I've become realistic. I spent three unpaid months writing outlines for a Game of Thrones style history epic based on one of my books at a publisher's behest - no luck so far. There's an element of gambling in all this - the next book could make it, a producer could get serious, but I've learned that seasoned punters read the odds - a history of Venice is never going to be Fifty Shades of Grey.'

Roger Crowley, author of Constantinople: The Last Great Siege, Empires of the Sea and three other books on the Andrew Lownie Literary Agency site

'The seed that sets you off'

18 March 2019

‘I do think that sometimes the seed that sets you off on the process of writing a novel can have been around for many years, even decades, before it actually - for some mysterious reason - comes to fruition . I think it's almost a good sign if an idea has been fermenting for quite a long time in a sort of semi-conscious way.

I've learnt to distrust the staggeringly brilliant new idea that was triggered by something that happened quite recently. Ha ha! You need the dog-eared thing that's been around for a long time, quietly nagging away at you.'

Pat Barker, author of The Silence of the Girls, the Regeneration trilogy, The Eye in the Door and five other novels.


'No writing is wasted'

11 March 2019

'No writing is wasted. Did you know that sourdough from San Francisco is leavened partly by a bacteria called lactobacillus sanfrancisensis? It is native to the soil there, and does not do well elsewhere. But any kitchen can become an ecosystem. If you bake a lot, your kitchen will become a happy home to wild yeasts, and all your bread will taste better. Even a failed loaf is not wasted. Likewise, cheese makers wash the dairy floor with whey. Tomato gardeners compost with rotten tomatoes. No writing is wasted: the words you can't put in your book can wash the floor, live in the soil, lurk around in the air. They will make the next words better.'

Erin Bow, Canadian YA writer, whose books include Stand on the Sky, The Scorpion Rules and Plain Kate