Tag Archives: publishing

Post-FantasyCon 2018: thoughts and advice

So I was at FantasyCon 2018 this last weekend in Chester, and honestly…it was a bit weird.

I’ve gone from fangirl and small indie author when I last went to the con in 2016, to a senior editor at an indie publisher and junior editor at a mid-list publisher… and that has very much changed the conversations that I’m now involved in. I’ve gone from, “I’ve written a book and I edit stuff” to “what have you written, because I could be interested in it…” alongside “I write and I edit stuff!” – alongside, of course, the always-interested, “So what are you working on at the moment?”

But it did also give me a chance to think about what those conversations were, and how they’ve changed. Being a relative newcomer to the publishing side of things, and having been a writer and editor a very short time ago…actually, what would I have wanted to know two years ago when I was at the con as an author? What could have helped the people I was meeting to get the best of me as an author and writer?

So, some bits of random advice:

Know your elevator pitch

Give me an idea of genre, length, and a very brief idea (as in one sentence) of what your story is, and then another sentence on what makes it stand out (pick one or two themes, characters, settings…) Bluntly, what I need to know is;

a) is this something I can even be interested in as a publisher? (eg. if it’s the wrong genre or style, then I may be interested personally, but I’ll mentally cross it off the list of possibles for my job), and

b) if it is, I want a very brief overview! Catch my interest, make me want to ask you more. And, frankly, this applies to anyone asking about your book, not just publishers – what you’re trying to do is very briefly answer the question, “why do I want to read this?” Because that’s where I’m coming from as a publisher – I want to read it myself first!

And then practise your pitch. Learn it, and trot it out whenever anyone asks – you can always expand on it! But if you start with a long-winded explanation of the background themes…unless I’ve specifically asked about those or we’ve come from a conversation that was relevant to that background, it’s not what I want to start with.

Have your online persona visible

I was guilty of this myself until I put my Grimbold badge on, which has my Twitter handle on it! I recognise names and Twitter handles more than I recognise faces, or I don’t match the two until I see someone – so have it visible!

Mentioning your affiliation is also helpful; if you’re with a particular publisher, or you’ve got a book out that I may have heard of… have a badge, a lanyard, a t-shirt. Give me some hook to go “Oh yes, that thing! You’re part of that/wrote that/know X?”

Or, failing all of that, have something I can ask about! I’m as introverted as the next person – give me something to approach you with, because I suck at approaching people cold.

Your book does not matter until you’ve finished it

Blunt, I know, and it sucks. But I can’t use a half-finished novel, and honestly – as a publisher – I can’t really spend time being interested in it until you’ve proved you can finish it. As a writer and generally Dreadfully Enthusiastic Person, I will likely be cheerleading you on to finish it – but professionally, I can’t do much with something that’s not yet ready!

That said…you can always pitch us! But that’s a bit of a different skill and set of circumstances, and I’d need to see that you have a solid background in actually finishing things before I was interested in a pitch for a not-yet-written novel…which still argues for the “finish something” thing.

Also, if you’re getting caught up with re-writing…please don’t. Get words on the page, finish your first draft, THEN worry about all the problems. Seriously. Just finish the damn thing! (This is apparently a bugbear I didn’t know I had…but man, I got frustrated!)

Write what you want

Do it! Absolutely do it. Yes, you have to write with one eye to the market, and so much of publishing is watching what’s commerical and selling and how the genres are working and…but half the stuff I end up reading is mashups, and I think that’s where the fun of the genre comes from. It might not be as easy a sell, but definitely keep going.

Write, write, write

Don’t pin your hopes on one project. If you want to make a career of writing, you’ve got to keep going – and if you’ve shopped something around and it’s not sold, then shelve it, write something else. If I (or an agent, or a submissions editor) likes your writing and says, “Well, this project doesn’t quite work because it’s the wrong genre/length/style/I can’t sell it at the moment, but what else do you have?” then what else have you got to show off?

 

So, there you go…those are my random thoughts!

FantasyCon 2018: I did the thing!

I was at FantasyCon 2018 in Chester over this last weekend, and it was alternately fabulous, tiring, wonderful, weird and overall pretty exhausting!

First, huge props to the organisers (Allen and Karen) and all the redcloaks – they did a hugely fabulous job with panels, organising, events, answering questions, herding cats… and it was marvellous.

I was on two panels. The first was blogging in genre fiction (which Alexandra Peel did a lovely review of)  – it was great fun as I just got to chat to Alasdair and Kit, and then Micah when he arrived! They’re all always interesting so it definitely felt more like a natter than an actual panel. I did manage to dodge out of my panel on punk on Saturday evening, although I went along anyway – and I’m actually very glad that I did, as my views were very different to everyone else’s! I appreciate that it probably would have made for a good panel, but I also would have got flattened by the combined coilsprings of cheerful rage from Ren Warom and Kit Power, so… selfishly, I’m very glad I didn’t have to talk! (I do want to write a blog post on the subject though). And the second panel was fandom on Sunday, which felt like another natter – we got to talk Marvel, shared worlds and Star Wars!

I also got to see several panels; Writing on a Contract on Friday, which was really interesting; one session of readings from the wonderful Steven Poore, GV Anderson, Allen Stroud and Hal Duncan; a panel on publishing on Saturday afternoon, and one on editing anthologies on Saturday evening; and then a panel on starting out in genre fiction on Sunday morning, followed by underrepresented voices. All the panels were really interesting, and it was great to see so many subjects and voices talking about things they were passionate about – and I learned so much! Plus my reading pile and research list have grown exponentially, as usual… I didn’t haul many books; I picked up Steven Poore’s Heir to the North and Pete Sutton’s Seven Deadly Swords and promptly gave them away to someone who NEEDS TO READ THEM, but I did pick up Margaret Helgadottir’s The Stars Seem So Far Away for myself. I did, however, get a stack of suggestions – as if my reading pile wasn’t bad enough…

In between, I got to talk to people, talk to more people, eat stuff, talk to even more people, get a brief walk around Chester’s wall in the sunshine (absolutely beautiful!) and then keep talking…I spent most of my time with Rebellion’s lovely PR person, Remy, but managed to catch up with a whole bunch of Grimbold Books people, Fox Spirits, some old faces, some people I’d only met so far over t’interwebs, and some new introductions!

I did feel pretty weird throughout the con; I’ve gone from indie author and writer to editor for a mid-list publisher, and I felt I couldn’t win with how I spent my time – I loved seeing everyone I did, but I didn’t feel I spent enough time with anyone! It was very strange meeting so many people as well, having gone from someone who didn’t matter (not in a bad way, just…frankly, I didn’t, two years ago) to someone who might be a good recipient for writing, stories, agent subs, anthology ideas…

So…yeah. I’m still feeling pretty unsettled from that. I was definitely feeling both imposter syndrome and that I was supposed to be filling more of a role that I’m not sure how to work yet; I should have talked to more people, done more deals, found out more about what could be coming our way – but I’m also still the person who was looking at everyone else with wide eyes two years ago, and I still don’t feel I have anything to say. I don’t yet know how to combine those two roles, or how to fill shoes I’ve only been in for six months; I don’t know enough people, don’t know enough about how this world works, don’t know what I can do. I don’t know what my role is meant to be, yet, and every time I stretch I’m wondering when I’m going to hit a boundary or look like someone I’m not.

But. BUT. I’m still the writer, author, editor, the person who loves chatting to anyone and everyone about what they’re writing and hearing about amazing stories. That was my sanity when I was feeling lost, and I think – I hope! – I held on to that well enough to be able to talk coherently to everyone that I did get to speak to! It was amazing to meet so many writers and professionals and enthusiasts; everyone who talked to me was absolutely lovely, and the con has such good energy. Despite feeling unbalanced, I loved meeting everyone.

I’m going to do another post in a sec with some thoughts I had, partly about the above mix of emotions and partly some advice, so keep an eye out for that.

But overall: a fabulous weekend, even if I did manage to miss the karaoke – oh noes! (Apparently it was epic, so I’m half sad to have missed the amusement…but not sad to have missed the chance to demonstrate my awful singing!)

Why Identity Matters: thoughts from Stewart Hotston

Regardless of that, I hope you can be brave enough to buy stories that aren’t obviously about people like you, that aren’t showing you nothing but a blurred out mirror with only the bits you like reflecting back.

Why? because then my friends who write together with those buy, market and publish those stories will be able to justify changing the world – because you’ll have done it first.

From an interesting and thoughtful post from Stewart Hotston that’s worth a read, along with another thoughtful post on race.

6 Months as an Editor: Thoughts

I’ve now been a Junior Editor (well, at least it’s not a minion!) with Rebellion for six months…and it’s still going great! A friend was asking me some questions, and I thought – actually, the answers are kinda interesting. Going from a writer and editor for friends to a professional editor and formatter… what have I found in the last six months as someone who’s just stepped into a pretty new world?

Am I a better editor? Well, yes. It still scares the hell out of me that I’m the one making judgement calls on others people’s writing, and to the level that I can input on if they get published or not…but at the same time, I’m mostly passing the buck (hi, commissioning editors!) and at the level I’m now working at, it’s not so much a question of if the stories are good – because they overwhelmingly are! – but whether we want to publish a story of that type. The one thing I have got better at is adding in a personal opinion to whether a story is any good; whereas before I’d just comment on the writing, I can now weigh in with my personal opinion – which is, I think, as valid a part of reading as the actual writing skill is! If a book is beautifully written but does nothing for me, then maybe it’s not for us; if it’s something that I want to absolutely rave about, then maybe it is! Being able to convince my boss to publish something – and, therefore, being able to wave my hands and squeak excitedly about how awesome it is – is as much a part of publishing as “the writing’s very pretty”.

Do my editing level-ups have any input on making my writing better? Well…no, not really :-/ if anything, I’ve learned that I’m even more right to know I can’t edit my own work! I’ve got more awareness of tropes and how other people do things, and more awareness of the fantasy and fiction world in general – but my ideas are still mine, and the way I write is still mine. I can’t see the flaws in my stories any better for having edited other people’s than I could before I started. The thing that has helped, though, which is advice given to every writer – READ MORE.

Am I reading more? Well, yes, but unfortunately it’s not reading that I can talk about yet – and I still need to keep current with fiction, too! The thing about the endless slush pile are true, though – I have to make sure I block out time to read! And also, to writers: you have to make a good first impression. I don’t tend to read the agent’s blurb more than to get a flavour (but then the ones I currently read have gone through the agents & my commissioning editor before I read it) but if you haven’t hooked me in the first three chapters, I’ll start skimming (and others might put it down). That’s not to say I can’t cope with slow starts – it’s the writing and the characters that get me in, but something does have to be happening. You need to be driving towards a story at least.

I am definitely seeing the benefit of agents! Yes, it’s frustrating to have another layer to go through; but they negotiate the contracts (and while a lot of the contracts stuff is important, it’s also dense – it’s definitely worth having someone on your side to tell you what the benefits of various options are, even though I’m arguing over a percentage point at times…) and also – a huge plus on my side – have already vetted the books I see. A minus in that they’ve already done one layer of skimming, but a plus in that I don’t have to try to fit reading that much into my schedule! Agents also learn what the editors like, so will send things based on our criteria. There seems to be a lot of hate for the agent gateway/chokehold etc, but I can definitely see the benefit.

Commercial considerations are frustratingly big. We have to make money – that’s the baseline. It costs time and space for editors, even if one of us does all the jobs of formatting/reading/covers etc… and for every book we take on as a “I really love this and I want it to be out there!” we have to take on a “people will buy this”. Also, sequels: I entirely get the frustration of not wanting to start a series without knowing the end, but we can’t risk paying for six books when we don’t know if they’ll sell (or, we’d pay such a low price that it’s not fair to the author.) We’d buy one with an option on the next, sometimes two, maybe (riskily!) three – but you need to be buying the first ones.

Short stories are definitely useful. Having your name in the industry and proving that people will buy your work is useful; any kind of track record is good just to show me that you are out there and can do this writing thing! Also knowing industry people, or being known; panels at conventions, interviews, or even just presence at conventions are all good. If you’ve pitched us with writing before, then we’ll also likely remember you – although this is for good or for ill!

Also, pitch. To all writers: keep pitching. Keep writing. There is so much truth in the “I love this book but it’s not quite right for me now” – the It’s Not You, It’s Me of the writing world! Sometimes the last fantasy Western didn’t do too well, and I can’t spin this one past my boss. Sometimes I don’t think the world needs another grimdark. Sometimes we have to choose between a (very good!) epic fantasy and something a bit weirder, and one has to win. There is so much timing and personality and market forces and…urgh. Seriously, just keep trying. If you get rejected, then you can always shelve the novel and come back to it later.

Be easy to work with. I know, there’s all sorts of personalities in the world, and most of the time people manage pretty good working relationships. But I was reminded of how useful it is to be able to work well with people by an author I gave some (fairly harsh!) feedback to recently – and they were very sweet and grateful, when I was expecting a tantrum. It means they’ve got up several points in my estimation and actually, even though I don’t want the book in its current state, I’m more willing to take a look at it again!

Think of it as a business and you’ll get further. As as an author, you are allowed to push back. It is your book and your writing: if you’ve got a contract and publication deal then it’s a bit of a different power dynamic, but there’s usually space for negotiation on editing tweaks. If you’re going to push back (and you may have to!) then do it gently but firmly; work out where your line is and why. There are clauses in the contracts for disputes, and if I think a book I want to take will need major changes then I’ll usually say in the negotiations – but for anything minor, you should be able to come to an agreement. (Of course, sometimes it’s a flat no from your editor, and that’s why you need to work out your boundaries.)

And, one for me:

I am allowed to be enthusiastic. I love the books and authors I get to work with. I love my job, even when it frustrates me and I have deadlines piling up. I love the work, even though I’m still learning – and I hope I’ll always be learning!

I’m allowed to get things wrong. That’s how I learn. I have to make mistakes: I just shouldn’t make the same one twice.

I’m allowed to grow. I’m a professional. I’m someone who now has larger shoes and a larger outline to fill – and damnit, I’m allowed to fill it.

So – I’m happy. I’m learning. I’m growing. And I’m loving my job! I get to read amazing books for a living – what more could I want?!

Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite: No Man’s Land

Nothing to writing - sit down and bleed. Hemingway

I had some really good feedback recently for No Man’s Land that basically boiled down to, “love the characters and the setting, but the action starts too late. Integrate the two plotlines better.”

Thirty seconds of internal wailing later because my book is perfect and they just don’t get iiiiiit and you know, ok. They’re right.

And when I started thinking about it, ideas started bubbling. Start with Ghost and Nat. Start with them fighting something. Bring the vampires in. Keep the outline of the story, but integrate more. It would be a full rewrite but would leave the core of the story intact, I’d be able to re-use most of what I currently have, and I could do it for NaNoWriMo!

And then reality sunk in.

It’s going to really hurt.

No Man’s Land isn’t an easy story to carry. It came out of Dresden, and carries a large piece of my heart anyway; the characters came from somewhere tangled, and seem to have so much woven into them that it’s going to be hard (and emotional) to pick them up again. In terms of actually writing, I’m kind of screwed as well: my original circle of support for the book got trashed as one of my beta readers isn’t particularly in favour of me, the second is dead, and the third’s about to have a baby. The person I wrote a lot of the stories for isn’t here; I shelved Ghost and No Man’s for a year because I couldn’t face the world without Ryan to read them, and even now I’m feeling pretty shaky about diving head-first back into it all. It’s not an ideal situation for ripping something to pieces and putting it back together, and on top of that, re-writing a 70k novel that’s already fairly decent and needs to be made better isn’t exactly a piece of cake.

It’s all pretty scary.

And this is the point when I either shelve it permanently, or I fight back.

via GIPHY

Fuck it. I’m fighting.

(And with any luck, that’s going to feed into Ghost. If anyone needs to be spiky and sarcastic, it’s my beloved spirit-talker; and I’m going to put every bit of fight into her.)

Ps. In-progress 4am messy scribbles for the new start!

Notebook with scribbled writing