For some reason, my blogging brain staged a shut down after my latest post on October third, and here I am now on 5th November, wondering, to the sound of exploding gunpowder, if some part of that missing month is hiding in my attic.
I blame the accumulation of clutter in our house over the last two decades. I could stand it no longer and embarked on a frenzied clearout that could not be completed methodically, step by step. What was done in room A, would affect Room B, and room C had to be half emptied, to make space for refugee pieces of essential items that were banished from room D . And so on, from mild untidiness to chaos, then utter chaos and eventually, after several trips to charity shops and the municipal tip, to soothing order.
Phew! I was able to draw breath, and after producing a couple of passable poems to ease my creative famine, I turned to my neglected blog and started browsing some of the headlines on my daily updates from the on-line Bookseller. Poetry and clearouts were combined several months ago here in the post
Last week I received an email from one of my favourite bloggers, Litlove of ‘Tales from the Reading Room’,
asking if I would take part in an on-line interview with her. Coincidentally, publishing was the topic. Litlove was interested in my own venture into publishing, Novel Press. Though probably it wasn’t such a coincidence, since Litlove feels that small publishers and publishing cooperatives are going to be important in the years ahead. She is not the only blogger to be investigating publishing trends, as you can see from this post.
I was pleased to spend time in looking back on my experience of being published and becoming a publisher. All sorts of half-forgotten details came to the fore, and now I can see more clearly what a challenge it has been – and, in spite of some frustrating moments, how satisfying I have found the whole venture.
Thank you, LitLove, for asking me in the first place, and also for tidying up my rather rambling answers to your stimulating questions!
This hasn’t been the only interview I’ve taken part in this week. I’ll wait till my next post before I tell you about Tuesday afternoon, when a small BBC team brought their own clutter of lights, tripod, camera, monitor and numerous trailing wires into my own little writing room. Very exciting, even though the focus wasn’t really on me and my writing.
So what’s the connection between Rhubarb Crumble and getting published? The first clue is: The Custard Factory. I guess that won’t help much unless you’re familiar with Birmingham’s revolutionary new arts and media quarter, opposite the Coach Station in Digbeth.
For me, the relevance of that former factory building, is the fact that it’s the home of Radio Rhubarb – of which the jewel in its crown is The Crumble, a weekly broadcast presented by the multi-talented Jan Watts
I was delighted when she invited me to be interviewed on The Crumble. She’d already emailed me the link to her programme so I knew she’s a highly competent and enthusiastic presenter.
The last time I visited the Custard Factory was several years ago (It was when I handed over the complete manuscript of The Dangerous Sports Euthanasia Society to Luke Brown of Tindall Street Press – although they eventually rejected that novel, it was through them, in a roundabout way, that I found a different publisher.
Yesterday, as I approached the entrance to the Custard Factory, the narrow street seemed even more colourful than before, and I don’t remember ever having seen this amazing sculpture of a giant Green Man. (You can get an impression of the scale from the man at the bottom of this picture, on the left of the green wall.)
Here’s Jan in the studio (affectionately called The Fish Bowl – as you can see from the photo above) with Kip, the calm and very efficient producer.
After an amusing pre-recorded poem about Ants (or Aunts), I was fascinated to hear Steve Ball,
Associate Director (Learning & Participation) of the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, talking to Jan about his work, which he describes as “the best job in Birmingham” and he made it sound as though that could be true.
You can listen to Steve and the rest of hour-long programme by following the link. If you can’t spare a whole hour, you can click the right-hand arrow below the bar, until the orange strip is about an inch along (just above the ‘r’ in ‘player’ in the sentence: ‘Open in popout player’.) Here,
you can listen to me reading an extract from The Dangerous Sports Euthanasia Society. After that, Jan asks me about getting published that first time, and what happened with my next book, Paper Lanterns. I mentioned the cache of real-life love letters
(see the Sunday Mercury article)
and I read the heart-breaking letter from the young Chinese woman. You can also hear me reading the prologue to Paper Lanterns, which is set in Sutton Coldfield in 1971. This is one of the three significant periods in the novel.
You can read an extract from the middle section of the book, in which I’ve used these letters to invent a whole new storyline, in the on-line magazine, Cairns Media.
If you’d like to read the first extract published by the same on-line magazine, you can see it here.
No, I haven’t really got the recipe, but right now there are three subjects in my head that in a strange way seem to link up.
1: Getting published.
2: A novel for young adults called Wasted
3: An inspiring poetry Workshop
If you’ve visited this blog before, you’ll know that it’s mainly about my writing life as a poet and novelist, and that this can be split into two stages: before and after publication. The ‘before’ part is a good deal longer – I‘m an expert in the art of dealing with rejection: : it took me twenty years from completing my first novel to finding a publisher for my fourth.
You can find out here about Novel oneand Novel two. I nearly made it with Novel three, when I won a competition to receive a free read from The Literary Consultancy. Several amendments later, the novel was recommended as ‘deserving to be published’ . That was where the luck ran out: although I now had the backing of T.L.C., the agents on their list of contacts turned it down. They loved it, but not enough to take me on.
After at least forty more rejections, Novel Four was recommended for a free read from… The Literacy Consultancy! This didn’t feel like good luck to me. I’d been editing this novel, The Dangerous Sports Euthanasia Society, for over a year, and I knew that it had reached its final form. I wasn’t going to attempt yet another re-write.
I sent it anyway. Was that luck, or chance or sheer doggedness? All I know is that if I hadn’t grasped that opportunity, I wouldn’t have heard of “the new publisher, Transita about to bring out its first novel in a few months’ time”, and I wouldn’t have become the published author of The Dangerous Sports Euthanasia Society in October 2005. You’ll find a mention about the demise of Transita here ,and there’ll soon be more about my second way of being published.
2: A novel for young adults called Wasted by Nicola Morgan which I finished last night, made me think about the role of luck or chance in our lives, and for me, specifically, the chance that led to publication at last. Nicola has an inspiring blog, ‘Help I need a Publisher’ and has set up another for her new novel, Wasted: which, in spite of my reluctance to buy yet another novel for my t.b.a. pile, I bought.
Although when I taught English in secondary schools, I used to enjoy reading fiction for teenagers, I haven’t done so since my own children were in their teens. I’m not going to say much about Wasted here – apart from saying ‘BUY IT!’ and quoting from an email I sent her after I’d read the first six chapters: “ I love the way you kind of dance through the words on the page with such energy and sensitivity. You’re ridiculously, arrogantly original and you’re making me want to write for teenagers. (not that I could)”
Last night I couldn’t sleep until I’d finished Wasted. This morning I visited the Wasted blog and came across this review.. It expresses my thoughts and feelings exactly.On another blog, where Nicola was responding to questions about Wasted, I find her voicing my own sentiments:
“As Jack says in Wasted, “Luck is just what we call it.” I think we very largely make our own luck. Terrible things happen to people through no fault of their own, and sometimes good things happen to those who don’t deserve it, but I believe that there are lots of ways of maximising our chances in all aspects of life. With trying to be published, there are right things to do and wrong things. The more right things you do, the more likely you are to be “lucky”…”
3: Yesterday afternoon I was at an inspiring poetry Workshop in the beautiful Shakespeare Memorial Room in Birmingham, led by Mario Petrucci and organised by Jaqui Rowe of Poetry Bites. I came away feeling grounded again, and with a few notes that might become a poem. I’ve been reminded of what I need to do and, more importantly, not do. I’ll write more about this soon, but meanwhile I shall follow Mario’s advice and do - what might look like to anyone who might see me – nothing!
Yes, it IS the cover that I’ll be inviting people to judge, with a chance of winning one of five copies of my new novel, Paper Lanterns. (More about this below)
I’ve been learning a huge amount about the nitty gritty of publishing since Novel Press was dreamed into existence by our talented writing group. We met each other on the M.A. Writing course at Nottingham Trent University in the late nineties and a small group of us still meet regularly to critique each other’s ‘Work In Progress’.
I was lucky enough to have my novel,The Dangerous Sports Euthanasia Society, published by Transita. Unfortunately, after bringing out thirty-two novels in under two years, they had to pull back from publishing fiction, and focus on their other business, HowTo Books.
We began to realise that the state of publishing was even more restrictive than when my book was launched four years ago, and after much discussion we decided to retain our own authorial autonomy and start a publishing house, Novel Press. I won’t go into all that just now, because there’s more than enough material for several future posts, and at the moment, I want to focus on my new novel Paper Lanterns – or more precisely, on selecting on the best front cover for it. Click here for a sneak preview, written by Bookcrosser, Lyzzybee.
In her ‘ordinary life’, Liz has started a second career with her new Editing Service. She’s done a brilliant job, copy-editing Paper Lanterns. (more of that in a future post)
‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’ is supposed to be the accepted wisdom, but I must admit that if I’m presented with a range of books, cover-side up, it’s the cover that will entice my hand to reach out for it. Certainly, this is only the start: next, I tend to read the information on the back, and then flick through the first few pages, but if I hadn’t picked it up in the first place…
There’s lots more to be said about covers: the way they help to indicate genre is just the start of it. Beyond that, I’d never really given much thought to book covers in general. When Transita sent me the proposed cover for The Dangerous Sports Euthanasia Society, I loved it (even though the window was the wrong sort), and if I’d been asked to suggest an alternative idea, I wouldn’t have known what to say. When it came out in a large print version in 2008, I wasn’t at all keen on that cover.
When I was in charge of every stage of the process myself (with a little help from my fellow writers at Novel Press) I began to look at the question of the cover in a different light. We’d chosen Mousemat Design, because they’d produced a majority of the Transita covers.
My task was to supply Ian Hughes with enough information about my novel for him to create the perfect cover. A tall order indeed. You can read a short description on My Novel page, but I felt that he would need to know more about what I was hoping for.
Within a very short time, he had emailed me three possible versions and I was delighted to see that he was heading in the right direction. Then followed three further versions, and finally, a seventh.
The Cover Design Challenge for readers is simple:
1) Keep an eye on this website to see when I’ve managed to upload all versions of a possible front cover (or follow me on Twitter or Face Book for updates.)
2) When The Cover Design Challenge is ready to go, all you need to do is to read the extra information that I sent to the designer and will post on my site together with the pictures, and then:
3) Look at all these pictures and answer this simple question:
WHICH OF THESE POSSIBLE COVERS DO YOU THINK THE AUTHOR LIKES BEST?
I’ll be very interested in your comments, and although I’ve got my favourite, I might need to think again if enough people choose a different version.
Each entry will be given a number as they arrive, and five of these will be drawn at random. The lucky winners will be contacted and will be sent a free copy of Paper Lanterns when it is published early in 2010
I started this blog 4 months ago, mainly because I wanted to share some of my ups and downs and what I’ve learned from these, during 25 years or so of poetry and novel writing. Before this, I’d not come across many other reading/writing blog sites so it’s been a great delight to find so many informative, and/or quirky, inspiring, reflective, hilarious, challenging etc etc whole new communities out there.
One I came across recently made me laugh out loud, the way it celebrates one of the most common aspects of a writer’s life: REJECTION!.Now that I’ve reached the part of my own story, where The Dangerous Sports Euthanasia Society was accepted for publication, it seems like the right time to say a bit more about my own rejection experiences.
I haven’t kept any of the letters which came with my returned short stories during my first attempt at leading a writer’s life, nor those which, at first, caused deeper disappointment with the return of my very first novel. It took a few years for me to understand the full truth of the adage, ‘beware of what you wish for’: I’m profoundly grateful for that rejection – especially the one from an agent who said she’d be interested in seeing my next novel (click here to see what I felt at the time!).
That was in the mid-eighties; my next supply of rejections came with each return journey of my children’s novel, The Tide Machines of Mermaid’s Rock.
In the next few years, I had less time for Novel Writing, and focused mainly on Poetry.I had some success with this, but in the late 90s I was back in the firing line again with my novel, In The Lamb-White Days. This generated some truly lovely rejection letters in the course of its circuitous journey to and from agents, publishers and The Literary Consultancy (a genuinely useful organization, which, in a roundabout way, helped me find a publisher for my next novel, The Dangerous Sports Euthanasia Society).
The letter below is the one with the nicest compliments, and I’ve been amused to see from the Rejected Writers site how the same types of phrases crop up over decades and distances. I particularly like the notion of 150% commitment!
Even so, I won’t deny that did gain encouragement from it, at the time.
I have enjoyed reading In the Lamb White Days. You have captured those wonderful days of innocence beautifully and have created an utterly charming world (though with certain bleak moments), peppered with some interesting characters. That said, it seems to lack that necessary ingredient that really lifts it off the page and make me want to take it any further. We are a very small agency and take on very few new authors each year. We feel 150% commitment to those writers that we do sign up, and we work alongside them to ensure that their books reach their maximum potential. Sadly, while I have liked In the Lamb White Days, I do feel that it lacks that magical indefinable something that I would look for in a book of this type, and with that in mind, I’m going to have to recommend that you approach another agent. You write very well, and tell a good story, but without feeling that passion for your novel, I feel it would be irresponsible for us to take you on. You deserve to be nurtured and treasured by someone who believes in you and can represent you with that vital enthusiasm.
I am sorry to be the bearer of such disappointing news, but we all have to realise our limitations, particularly if it involves someone else’s career. I am sure that you will find another agent very easily and I will watch your rise to stardom with interest.
To see more about my rejection experiences for my now-published novel, click here.
Today I’ve been exploring ways of having a cover designed for my new novel, Paper Lanterns. This is a digression. I’d intended to post an account about what happens to a book (in my case, anyway) between the time it’s been accepted by a publisher (what joy!!) and the actual publication date.
This whole blog, Writing Matters, has turned me into a time-traveller, taking me back and forth over more than two decades (with additional interruptions each Sunday when I post my Poem of the Week), and since I’d been remembering my feelings of delight when I was sent the first piece of A4 cardboard showing the front and back cover and the spine for The Dangerous Sports Euthanasia Society it seemed like a good time to start thinking seriously about the cover for Paper Lanterns.
Browsing through book shops and handling their various covers, has brought home to me that, whatever people might say about not judging a book by its cover, if the cover doesn’t attract the person doing the browsing in the first place, they won’t even pick it up, still less, read the ‘blurb’ on the back and start to make any kind of judgement.
So I opened my copy of my first published book and checked out the name of the company that had produced the cover - Baseline Arts Ltd, Oxford. They’d done a good job with mine and many of the other Transita novels so I looked them up on the web and rang them.
By the end of our conversation, I had a clearer understanding of the importance of the wording on the back cover. I wrote my brief description many months ago now - it’s what I’ve put up on the ‘My Novels’ page above. But then I decided it needed some amendment, so that’s part of what I’ve been doing today -It’s taken me ages to complete this version - and I’ll probably want to tinker with it some more tomorrow. For an experienced writer, I’m ridiculously slow, especially at writing short pieces. Here’s today’s version.
Any commments will be welcomed - and when I’ve got two or three versions of the front cover, I’ll be asking for your opinions too - though that’ll be a while yet.
Told with insight and compassion, this novel moves between Hong Kong, Norfolk and the Midlands, and shows how the consequences of an act of infidelity have shaped the lives of three generations of women.
After a phone call from her younger brother, Ann travels to Hong Kong in search of the truth about their scandalous mother, Vivienne. Here, she discovers a series of letters and journal-entries which reveal a secret about her beloved grandmother’s early life that challenges her most deeply felt convictions. Ann must also face up to her own part in an event which took place just before her sixteenth birthday, and caused the break-up of the family.
Hong Kong itself, with its exotic mix of old and new in the bustling urban districts, and the quiet charm of beautiful Lamma Island, plays a key part in Ann’s reappraisal of her own life and marriage, and the unexpected dilemma that confronts her.
Following on from my post last week (About the most welcome phone call of my life),
when Nikki Read from Transita said, ‘We would like to publish your book.’ here’s what came after the magical words, ‘But our marketing person feels that the title will have to be changed.’
This was a surprise, because so many of the rejecting agents and publishers had been intrigued by the unusual title: The Dangerous Sports Euthanasia Society. But at that moment I was floating on cloud nine, and the loss of my treasured title seemed a very small price to pay for publication. I soon learned that it was Transita’s Editor, Marina Oliver, who had felt that some people might be put off by the word Euthanasia. She might well have been right, but now, over four years later, I still believe that more people were attracted by it than the reverse.
After my feet had eventually settled on solid ground once more, I attempted to find a suitable alternative title, but anything I managed to think of seemed very weak in comparison, and I became more determined to keep to the original title. I gathered a selection of agents’ and publishers’ favourable comments on the name, including one from Sara Maitland of The Literary Consultancy, and Nikki and her publishing partner, Giles Lewis, were persuaded to keep it. ( I got the impression that they were almost as pleased as I was to have received what turned out to be compelling evidence in favour of The Dangerous Sports Euthanasia Society!
I’ll write in more detail soon about my experience of the various stages between that phone call on 19th February 2005 and the publication date in October of the same year – I’d thought that it would take at least a whole year, (maybe even two years) , but Nikki and Giles weren’t the types to stand around while the grass grew up around their feet.
That April, they brought out their first four novels, and over the following months, they kept up the comet-like pace of publication. They’d already gained their expertise from their other publishing venture: Howto Books, and I’m glad to see that this is still flourishing, in spite of the sad demise of Transita after the publication of thirty two novels in the eighteen months or so of its short life.
But I’m running ahead of myself. I haven’t yet come to the launch of my book – probably the best evening of my life!
It’s been a long time coming, but after all the posts I’ve made since my very first one in May, I’ve reached the part of my writing ‘history’ that describes one of the most welcome phone calls in my entire life!
In the post before this one, I explained how I heard about a new publisher called Transita. (I’ve now remembered that I didn’t actually put my novel in the post, because they were happy to receive the first three chapters and synopsis via email.)
That was in the middle of November. By the second week in December, I decided to telephone them, pretending that I just wanted to check that they’d received my email , but really because I couldn’t bear to wait all through the Christmas season without knowing if I’d managed to jump over the first hurdle.
My heart was beating as the phone rang and rang. At first, when I explained why I was phoning, the woman said in a guarded voice, ‘Oh - I see. Well, we’ve actually had a huge number of submissions…’
Here we go again, I thought, my heart sinking. Then I told her the name of my book.
‘Ah! yes. The Dangerous Sports Euthanasia Society. That did sound promising, so if you’d like to send us the full manuscript..?
Like to!! I couldn’t get back to my computer quickly enough - and the large attachment was flying through the ether, making its way to the publishers’ Oxford office.
Well, at least my Christmas would be flavoured by hope. It’s a funny thing, hope - It starts off rather tentatively, but then gradually grows bolder, and promises all sorts of exciting futures - a really nice state of mind for the festive season. But back at work again in cold wet January, Hope begins to droop and fade.
I always like to have a fall-back plan before the inevitable rejection happens, so I started looking at the self-publishng alternatives. If Transita turned me down,there was nowhere else to try. I’d tried them all.
My husband was away on a business trip to Hong Kong and I was at home on my own on the Friday of the half-term week. It was nearly five o’clock, and I needed to put a letter in the post. A brisk walk up the hill to the post box would do me good.
I was just about to walk out of the front door when the phone rang. ‘Is that Christine?’ came the same woman’s voice. ‘This is Nikki Read from Transita. We would like to publish your book.’
Anyone who’s been dipping into this blog on Writing Matters will have noticed that the first few lines often stray far away from my intended subject. But I won’t talk about today’s torrential rain - and I’ll wait till Sunday, when I post my next Poem of the Week, before I tell you about my radio interview on Chris Morgan’s Poetry Show this evening.
Now it’s back to the next phase of my novel’s journey towards publication. I imagine the package being opened by someone at The Literary Consultancy, who glances through the synopsis and decides which of their team of Readers to send it to.
Time was doing its usual trick, and had already swallowed the rest of September and the whole of October before I’d even noticed they’d come round again. Then, half way through November, a letter arrived from Sara Maitland , the well respected novelist who also works as a Reader for TLC.
She remembered reading my previous novel, In The Lamb-White Days, and how beautifully written it was. After some more encouraging words, she moved on to the book in hand, The Dangerous Sports Euthanasia Society.
I was delighted with her initial comments :
In the first place, I think that the idea behind the book –the “concept” – is delightful, enormous fun and surprisingly original
She then paid me the complement of commenting in depth and detail for several pages about the aspects she liked and those which she felt could be developed or altered. I respected her suggestions, but at this stage, after all the cutting back I’d done in response to Leigh Pollinger’s suggestions, I knew that the book was now set in its own shape – it was a finished product.
But the crucial part of her report was this:
I don’t know if you have noticed but there is a new press setting up in Oxford to publish novels, called Transita (www.transita.co.uk) specifically to publish “grown up” novels-so they obviously think there is a market out there.
She went on to explain that Transita had just taken on a novel by a friend of hers which had been stigmatised as being about “middle aged people”.
‘So I think there is a good chance that novels on themes like yours are going to be coming into fashion, and this will obviously be an enormous advantage in selling DSES.’
The next package I took to the post, contained the synopsis and first three chapters of The Dangerous Sports Euthanasia Society. It was addressed to Transita.