Tag Archives: publishing

Kill Your Darlings?

I was chatting to Otter about writing advice, and my interpretations vs. what they’ve gleaned from reading too much of it online – and the one that got me waving my hands the most today was that old favourite, “Kill Your Darlings.”

Otter, from extensive research online, suggested that it sounded like “Take out every single piece of writing that you actually like.” Or possibly “If you’ve written a good bit, you’ve done it wrong.”

My first takeaway from that was “THERE’S SO MUCH FUCKING PRETENTIOUS WRITING ADVICE ONLINE, WHAT THE HELL.”

My second was “WHY WOULD YOU REMOVE ALL THE BITS YOU LIKE FROM YOUR BOOK?!!”

So, for me, “Kill Your Darlings” has three facets.

The Edit Tantrum

The first is when your editor sends edits back. Every single writer’s responses is going to be some form of “No! Won’t! It’s my book, I love it, you just don’t understand!” (And I say this as a writer, too. I’ve been there.)

Take a step back. Take some time out. Take a breath.

You might not agree with all of your editor’s points, but it’s worth considering them: think about why they’re being suggested, and what the effect would be. Even if you ultimately decide not to do that thing, your editor will very rarely* be suggesting wholesale slaughter for the fun of it.

So take some time, eat some “I’m Miserable” ice cream, and then kill your darlings.

The Scene Stealer

I really need to get my thoughts together for a longer post on this, but for me, every scene must do at least two things. Does it advance the plot AND tell us something about the characters? Does it give us some setting AND present a pivotal moment in character development? And, importantly, does it do something you haven’t done in another scene?

The same applies to language to some extent. You might have written the most beautiful conversation between two characters… but if you can tell us the same information in one sentence, then maybe you don’t need it. That line can be a brilliant gut-punch, but if it’s in the wrong place or offsets what you’re doing in the rest of the scene, it needs to come out.

This is the most frequent “Kill Your Darling” that I come across. It’s where you’ve written something good, fun, amazing, poignant – but it’s not needed. You’ve already told us that information; you could condense these three scenes into one; you could remove that sentence and it would make the rest of the conversation flow better.

It’s a lovely darling – but it doesn’t need to be in this book.

(By the way, I always took these bits out and saved them in another document – it’s one way of killing darlings without feeling too bad.)

The Deus Ex Darling

This one, I admit, mostly applies to newer writers, or the more tender-hearted of us. (How on earth do people like GRRM just kill everyone off? Do they have hearts of stone?!)

It’s where you can’t bear to go through with the plot or the action that you wanted. You’ve got to a certain point, to a climax, and- I just can’t do it. I want them to get together. I want them to survive.

Well, you’re the author – they can!

Except it breaks what you’re trying to achieve. It’s where plot armour comes from; where countless ordinary soldiers die, but the hero only gets a distinguished scar. Where no matter how many bad things happen, your hero still gets up again. It does also work the other way – where the hero gets more crap piled on than anyone else. Do they never get a break? Do they ever get some happiness? Frankly, a litany of Terrible Woe is as hard to read as someone Overcoming Every Obstacle Without A Thought.

Very often this is fixed by some judicious tweaking of cause, effect and the amount of shit you’re piling on characters, but it’s also a mindset. You are allowed to get personally invested in your characters – that’s the point! – but you also have to be mindful of the wider plot, of your reader, and of the need for emotional tension. You need to balance character with plot, and sometimes that does involve being mean – or not.

Don’t Kill The Good Stuff

So please don’t take “kill your darlings” to mean that you have to take everything you like out of a book – if you don’t like your book, then how on earth is the reader going to like it?

I think what “kill your darlings” is meant to do is make you look at the bits that you’re attached to, and give them a critical once-over. It’s making you think about why that piece is in there, and if you’re just leaving it in because you like it. It’s looking at the needs of the plot and the characters and the book as a whole, not at your writer’s ego.

And sometimes it’s wrong: you can leave that bit in. You can keep a sentence just because you love it. You can keep a scene because hot damn, it’s awesome.

But think about why you’re doing it.

And don’t be afraid to put the knife in when you need to.

 

 

*I mean. I’m not ruling anything out here.

A Kate Update: July 2020

In this update: cosmic foxes, roses, horrible cthulu-type monsters, kites (the bird type), a farty cat, cakes, donuts and witches. These may or may not be related to each other.

Firstly, the important news! A pile of cat paws and furBobble is sleeping, farting and ordering everyone around with happy abandon. He spent six hours on Friday asleep either on my lap or next to me, so he is one spoiled cat, and is obviously demanding cuddles at every opportunity. He is also a pile of paws and will reluctantly let us touch his toe-beans, is ridiculously fast (I may have a few small scars from trying to play with him) and has the most adorable little snore.

Then on to the second important thing: you need book recommendations, you say? I know I’m biased, but maybe try Beneath The Rising, Weave the Lightning or The Human Son? Also, we’ve got audiobooks coming out! I’d also thoroughly suggest pre-ordering Shadow in the Empire of Light, The Chimera Code and The House of Styx. Wouldn’t want to run out of books, eh? (We have so many good books at work and I just want to yell about all of them… so be thankful you’ve only had a selection!)

Also in work news, I’m reading exciting things that I can’t talk about yet…. WHEEEEEE!

I got sent a late birthday present by a wonderful friend of a voucher for roses. I have spent several hours leafing through (no pun intended) the catalogue going “SO PRETTY” and “climbers? Or a bush? What sort of soil do we have again? We’re mostly shade, so…” It’s been a lot of fun and I still haven’t decided. We think an in-person trip to the centre might be needed!

The kites have been keeeeee-kee-kee-kee from the tree behind the house; there’s two of them floating over most mornings now. They had a bit of a tough time with all the wind last week (well, I say that, but it wasn’t like they were having to flap… it was just the “getting to where they wanted to go” bit that seemed to be giving them issues) but the current sunshine is doing wonders for the thermals, and they’ve just been drifting over on the hunt for kite-sized snacks.

Cupcake with a mini skull on it!

If anyone’s in Oxford, Jericho Coffee on Osney Estate have started doing coffee & donuts on Saturday mornings… and Patron Oxford are also delivering said donuts (and brownies!) to the city! (I think this is incredibly dangerous and haven’t ordered any, because they are FANTASTIC. Once a week is dangerous enough!) And if you’re not in Oxford, they do postal coffee beans. The smell coming out of the roastery is always fantastic, so I would recommend based on that alone!

Also on a cake note, I ordered some amazing cupcakes from Happy Cakes last month (ok, no wait, May…) for one of my authors who was having a crap week – obviously skulls and gravestones helped. (They are relevant, honestly, and they did help cheer her up!)

Leaping fox with blue-stars cosmic colouring

On a pretty-things note, Lynsey Luu does amazing quirky stuff and I am still trying to decide what I want to buy! I’m somewhere between a cosmic fox, the cutest otter ever, or EVERYTHING ELSE. Currently I’m defaulting to the latter. The flower pendants are beautiful, too! Sigh.

I am currently on an Agatha-Christie kick, because it seems to be what my brain needs. Having Miss Marple sweetly pronounce that the world is horrible and evil and it just reminds her of so-and-so the butcher’s son who came to a bad end… it seems to fit the current world, somehow. Incidentally, if you like Agatha Christie, try Sexton Blake – we’re publishing collections of the best stories, and they’re the same sort of mystery and derring-do: Sherlock Holmes mixed with Poirot and Indiana Jones. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying them!

Witch on a bridge by PetiteCreme
By PetiteCreme @gemsheldrake

I am sort-of writing again! I was leafing through PetiteCreme‘s sketchbook (with her permission!) and spotted a witch on a bridge… and it reminded me of Necromancer’s Charm. So I hauled it out, and – SO. MANY. NOTES. I mean, I wrote three versions of the start because I couldn’t get the voice, and two documents of other notes because Thief & Seer is sort-of related and…. ARGH. But I really enjoyed reading the start again, which felt good! I’m sending it over to Otter for them to read, as they’re my current “is this any good?!” reader, and then… well, we’ll see if anything comes back?

In general Kate news: I’m on my third week into changing medication, and it’s… not really fun. I had one week of complete exhaustion as one withdrew, and then a week of complete ups and downs as the new one kicked in, and I’m currently in the fine-for-three-days-crash-for-a-day cycle that’s still underlaid by grey. I’m just trying to do as much as I can while manic, and then take the crashes as they come, and trying to ignore the weasels. Animal Crossing and re-reading books are getting me through, plus Bobble cuddles and chocolate. I know I’m in the best position possible to be going through all of this, and I’m just trying to keep stepping forward. If anyone spots the shops getting restocked with new brains, though, let me know. I might be in the market for one.

Also!  In happier news, if anyone’s near Fairford in the Cotswolds, or can get there, the 7a Coffee Shop do SERIOUSLY GOOD BROWNIES. Sam dropped some off for me and oh my goodness. SO GOOD. Collection only, but so worth it.

…I feel like I am fixated on food and books at the moment, which… is fair, I think.

And on a final food – and cat – note, I have been watching Jun’s Kitchen: the most adorable cats, and really nice-looking food!

 

The Process of Editing, Kate-Style

Am I getting better at editing, or am I just getting more picky?

OH I HAD THIS THOUGHT AT 3AM SO HAVE A RANDOM EMAIL ABOUT CHARACTER MOTIVATION

If you consider the villain as the hero for a moment, how do they expect their plan to work? What are the political, logistical and financial aspects? What do they expect to happen, and what steps have they taken to ensure that opposition is squashed or neutralised? And where do ridiculously huge, magical war-machines fit into all this?

More toe-bones for everyone!

Sometimes it’s not killing your darlings for the fun of it; it’s identifying the threads in the book, identifying the core story and the core moments, and taking short-cuts to get the characters there. It’s identifying something that builds the character up (or tears them down) and making that happen without the intervening 50-page build-up.

YOU CAN’T KILL THAT CHARACTER HOW VERY DARE YOU.

I don’t have a background in English Lit and I’m sure there’s proper words for everything, but I’m just going by “I’m not sure starting with action actually works, because he’s not in a place to command the narrative, ok? He’s coming in with no plan and then it absolutely fails which obviously it would. Him getting arrested is a much better place to start, because that’s definitely more in-character at that point.” I think I’ve ended up at literary theory via practise, which is basically pointing at a bit and going “I don’t like that, it would work better like this.”

…STOP THREATENING TO KILL THAT CHARACTER IN EVERY SYNOPSIS!

The idea of every scene being needed, and advancing the story; but! not necessarily for plot. Character interaction and worldbuilding are just as necessary. However – and another BUT here – that doesn’t mean that those threads can’t be wound into the plot-related scenes. Worldbuilding and character-building are two of the things that need to wind around the bones of the plot, and if you have a scene that just builds characters, check with yourself: do you actually need it? It could be The. Most. Adorable. Thing but if it just adds texture, could that texture go somewhere else? Could it be threaded into another interaction?

THIS IS SO GOOD AND COOL AND I LOVE IT SO MUCH

And the other side of that is that we do need to feel for the characters. We do need to care: otherwise it’s a bunch of DnD murder-hobos running around. Why is that specific character doing that specific thing? How would they react? What are their feelings about a thing? How are they saying something, or doing something? If you don’t have enough character building and then throw them into something, we’re just reading for your snazzy description of sword-play, and not because we’re genuinely worried about what could happen.

WE NEED MORE FROOF

(As you may have summarised, I’ve been doing a lot of editing recently! It’s been on a wide variety of books, which has been very fun – I’m going between space opera to the cutest necromancers to a rather terrifying dystopia to sword-fighting ridiculousness. It’s actually been really interesting, because I’ve read two of the books before – about five years ago! – and it’s been fascinating to see what I pick up this time versus what I did then, and also how much firmer I am in my opinions. Editors are as prone to Imposter Syndrome as anyone – and actually, probably more so, because we’re the ones that Know Best and Make Things Better and We Are Right – and it’s fascinating to me to see how far I’ve come from “so, if you possibly did this would it make this happen?” to “LOOK JUST REWRITE HALF THE BOOK OK?”

It is hard work. It is tough. It is a knotty, thorny minefield of character interactions, bits I don’t want to cut, characters I love, wordcounts I have to get down and threads I want to tug. It’s so so interesting to see how different writers approach things, and how their ideas feed into mine – and vice versa – to make a book stronger. But it’s also very very fun!)

(Also, I have the best authors. They’re all a joy to work with!)

#Cymera2020

I’m going to Cymera! (CoronaVirus allowing, of course.)

It’s in Edinburgh, June 5-7th, and I am VERY EXCITED about the events. The panels all look really interesting and I’m going to have to ration my spoons if I want to go to all of them. And I do want to go to all of them. ARGH. There are so many cool people talking about cool things!

I’m also on a panel (DOUBLE ARGH) – I’m taking part in Pitch Perfect, and feeling complete Imposter Syndrome because John and Lee are both amazing and I have to try to haul my brain up from the depths of my shoes on a regular basis. It’s going to be great. *chews nails*

I may also be involved in Other Things but they’re still being worked out, and I’m definitely going to be hanging around various panels and people and chatting to fabulous people, so if you are coming, give me a yell. I’m hoping to get my space skirt finished, and I’ll also have my fox fabric skirt, so keep an eye out 🙂

And also also – the icing on a cake of what looks like it’s going to be a really fun festival – is that Edinburgh is one of my favourite cities, I’m going with my partner, and we’re staying with a very dear friend – I’m going to have to resist spending the entire time talking about vintage roses, llama, cacti and tea! I’m hoping to take a few days off either side to spend with them both, and also get to see more of Edinburgh than the inside of a writer’s head – which, while absolutely amazing, usually contains more dragons/spaceships/giant spiders (lookin’ at YOU, Adrian Tchaikovsky) than Edinburgh does.

Super nervous. Super excited. Luckily it’s a long way until June and I don’t need to start worrying quite yet!

(Pssst! – on the subject of conventions, my colleagues are also at StokerCon and Harrogate Crime Festival, I’m hoping to attend British FantasyCon and possibly BristolCon, and I’ll be over in Canada in October for Can*Con! It’s going to – I hope – be a busy year.)

Want to be a book cover designer or artist?

As Neil Gaiman says… “Make Art.”

Or in this case, make book covers.

First, some terminology. I’d use the term “book cover artist” to refer to someone who creates the images used in covers. They provide the artwork, the background; maybe they hand-paint or create the image specifically, or maybe they use stock imagery; maybe they digitally create it or maybe they draw and then scan. However you do it, that’s the artist.

The “book cover designer” does the overall book cover: how to position the art, any effects, tweaking colours, but also doing the layout and the fonts, including the spine and blurb.

The cover designer may also be the artist – particularly if they’re an in-house designer, and have their own artistic skillset. But they can also be separate people.

So! This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot through work. We get a couple of emails a month asking about opportunities for artists – some are directed more towards the graphic novels (which is where I send those emails – not my skillset to know what makes a good comic!) but most are asking about book covers.

This is also only my view on it, and only the experience I’ve had. Please feel free to chime in with other experiences and things you’ve found that helped if you’re in publishing or art!

Getting in contact – KISS

Basically, if you’re a cover artist and want to get more work with publishers, what you’re trying to do when you contact me is make it as easy as possible for me to see what your work is like.

The other side of that, though, is that I don’t want to be immediately swamped with images and huge attachments.

So, the ideal contact? KISS (Keep it simple, stupid.) Briefly tell me:

  • who you are (your name, and potentially your location if you want to tell us that)
  • what you want (to design book covers)
  • any relevant information (you already design for X and Y, have art credentials from Z, or do a lot of artwork in a particular genre that you know we publish)
  • and provide a link to a portfolio.

That’s it for the email. If you don’t have credentials, don’t worry – just don’t include that. Basically, you’re trying to get me to click on your portfolio link.

Now, the portfolio.

You need one.

Put your art somewhere on the internet. It might be a site that you can only access if you have the specific web address (aka. make it un-crawlable) or it might be on a public site like DeviantArt. It could be your personal page. It could be a Tumblr. However you do it, get your art out there.

Because that is what I’m judging you on.

And it’s not judging as in “are you good enough” – I mean, to some extent it is – but it’s also: are you suitable for what we do? Do you do the kind of art we need? What is your style?

Are you horror? Are you fantasy? Are you intricate, detailed sci-fi? Do you draw beautiful, inspired concept art of imaginary worlds? What do your figures look like? Do you draw nature and landscapes? Is your work more abstract? Do you have a particular city or place that’s an inspiration? What colours do you use? What art styles can you cover? What makes you the artist we need?

Basically – we know roughly what we need for our book covers at any given time. Do you fit what we need for our covers?

And it’s also worth remembering that an immediate “no” isn’t an eternal “no” – I do keep a list of artists that I would like to use, if the right book comes up!

Give me book covers

There are two places where potential book cover artists fall down in their portfolio.

The first is not having much of a portfolio. I can’t necessarily tell what your art is like from a couple of drawings of computer game characters and a tattoo image; yes, you’ve got the skill, but I can’t tell what your work is like. I can’t see your unique style.

The way round this is to create, create, create. Give me examples. Show me what you make. Show me what you draw. Show me your range and depth. I want to see what your art is like, and the best way to do that is to give me as much of it as possible.

And the second place where potential cover artists and designers fall down is that I can’t imagine what their covers would look like.

The solution to this?

Create examples.

For cover artists, this means that you might have to give yourself an imaginary brief. Draw the front cover of your favourite book. Imagine you’d just been asked to make an image for something. How would you approach it? What different options could you have? Be aware that clients will often have ideas, too – so come up with concepts. Show your working. Show your ideas. Show me that if I come to you with a cover brief, you’d be able to adapt.

For cover designers, it’s pretty much the same thing – but because cover designers deal with a much wider scope, it’s a wider scope here too. Come up with multiple options: what fonts could you use? What images? What concepts could you play with? What aspects of the book would you draw out? If it’s a series, could you wind that in somehow? What directions could you go in?

If you want to design book covers, then design them! Pick your favourite. Produce concepts. Produce ideas. Play. Imagine. Give me an idea of what it would be like working with you, and what you could do.

All of this comes together to one thing: I’m looking for someone to create a book cover. Make it as easy as possible for me to pick you.

And a final comment: money & contact

It’s always nice to have an idea of your rates from your portfolio or website, but it’s not vital. You do, however, need an easy way for me to get in contact with you – ideally an email address, or a web contact form. If you don’t have any sort of contact information, or it’s only via a platform that I don’t use (eg. Instagram…) then no matter how good your art is, I’m likely to pass.

Questions? Stick ’em below or poke me on Twitter!

Ps. The original cover art for The Goblin Emperor is by Anna & Elena at Balbusso; the UK edition is by James Paul Jones. Both very good examples of portfolio websites!