Thursday, 28 March 2013

Write the book you want?

The most common advice I hear as a writer is to "write what you want to write."
Don't write to a formula.
Don't write for the market.
Don't write what you think agents and publishers might want.
Just write the book you want to write.

This is exactly what I've been doing and I'm on my third book now. I wrote what I wanted and didn't consider whether they were commercial or whether there was a market or any of that stuff. I wrote them because I was swept away by an idea and I wanted to find out what happened next.
What if what you want to write is not commercial or marketable or popular?
What if you don't have a killer concept or a breakout idea that's never been done?
What if the book you want to write is not the book an agent or publisher will want to take on?
What if you spend a year or more on an idea that will never sell?

Are we setting ourselves up for failure by assuming we can write what we want and be able to sell it? Should we be thinking about our work as more than just a way to express ourselves?

There seem to be more questions than answers in this blog post and that's because I'm afraid I don't really know the answer!

I think that what the advice really means is that only when we allow ourselves creative freedom will we ever write anything worthy of being published. Formulaic writing to try and cash in on the latest vampire craze or  dystopian mania will never ring as true as something we write from our heart.
I think that's true but I worry nonetheless.

What do you think?

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

I'm a secret wannabe writer

This blog post is confidential. If you reveal the contents I may have to hunt you down and give you a      stern telling off or, in extreme cases, a slap round the face with a wet kipper.

My secret identity as a wannabe writer is something I prefer to keep to myself.
Only a few, essential people know and only because I had to tell them.

1. My husband and son because
a) it would be rather hard to hide the fact I spend most of my time writing.
b) I need them to listen to my ideas and read my work.
and c) so I have excuses for not doing any housework and ignoring them shamefully whenever the creative urge strikes.

2. My two best friends because
a) they spent twenty years listening to me talk about wanting to be an author.
b) they spent twenty years telling me to stop being an idiot and start writing.
and c) I wanted to avoid being called an idiot for another twenty years if possible.

3. My mum because
a) she's my mum.
b) she spent many years telling me I could be whatever I wanted to be.
and c) so i could request occasional babysitting duties.

That's it. Only five people in my life know about my secret ambition. Why have I kept it such a secret?
 Well, it's always been something private, a deep, dark desire that I couldn't articulate for years for fear of being ridiculed. I've never felt comfortable talking about it and I didn't want to deal with other people's opinions.
I imagined they'd fall somewhere in between
"Ha, are you crazy? It's impossible to get published and there's no way you're talented enough. You should just give up now and save yourself the trouble."
"Have you been published yet? No? Why not?"
"Oh anyone can get published nowadays. I'm thinking of getting my epic half a million word biography of a dancing tulip published next week."

I knew it could take years to get published and I wanted to avoid being quizzed on my progress every week and feeling the weight of expectations and disappointment bearing down on me and making my own struggle even harder.
I decided I would wait to tell everyone else until I had something concrete to pass on. I looked forward to the conversation, imagining it would go something like:

"You want to be a writer? Are you mad?"
"Yes, probably but I've been perfecting my craft for a few years and I now have an agent and a three book publishing deal so nah nah na nah nah!"

I'm aware that that actual conversation may never happen. I may never get an agent or any publishing deal, let alone a three book one. Does that mean I never tell anyone else about my dream?
And is that so strange?
Surely many people keep their ambitions and dreams to themselves?
Don't they?
At least I've now admitted it to myself and set about trying to make it happen. That's real progress in my book!

Of course, since I began writing I've been lucky enough to join SCBWI, find a crit group and make a whole load of new friends, all of whom share my dream, all of whom understand exactly how hard it is to achieve, all of whom support me in so many ways. Having them know makes it all seem real and hearing about their successes makes it all seem possible.

Thank you!

P.s - this message will self destruct in 30 seconds......

Friday, 15 March 2013

Hot Key Books - Parent Parlour

 Last night I was lucky enough to attend the Hot Key Books offices in London for their very first parent parlour.

 As the mother of a  twelve year old boy with very fussy reading tastes I was quite happy to put my parent hat on for a change and have the opportunity to talk books, however I must admit that as a  writer I loved the idea of getting a quick peek into the offices of a real life publishers! 
(If you're interested, very cool, open plan with piles of books everywhere - heaven!)
 The meeting was run by Amy Orringer and Sara O Connor and after a quick dinner our group of ten or so parents began our session.

 Although we were asked about our childrens favourite books the evening was not (unfortunately) about the types of books we would like to see published but more about what we want from a publisher. It was interesting to see that everyone in the books business is looking for ways to improve and to reach their audience.
 Some of the questions we were asked included;

" How important was the publisher when buying a book?" 
The overwhelming response from us was not important at all. This led onto questions about what publishers could do to make their brand more appealing.
Suggestions ranged from reinstating something like "The Puffin Club" to providing more appealing websites. It was felt that many publisher websites were all about selling and not particularly user friendly. We asked for things like extra content from the authors, games, competitions and exclusive events. 
An indication perhaps of how everyone in the business is being asked to provide more to their customers, not just the authors but the publishers too!

 There was also a big discussion on age rating and banding and how many parents found it difficult to know the content of books. Hot Key books have a colour coded circle on the back of their books which gives an indication of what the book is about. 
Many parents wanted more specifics though and it was suggested that the website could have a button for parents which would give more indication of swearing, sex or violence for example. Another idea was having parent reviews which could indicate what age it might be suitable for and avoid parents needing to pre read everything.

We were also asked if we were using digital books or the real thing. 100% of us were all buying "real" books. One of the main reasons is because we feel our children spend too much time looking at a screen already and we feel that reading gives them a break from screen time.
Amy and Sarah showed us some of the remarkable things that can be done with digital books now. 
"Maggot Moon" by Sally Gardner for example has many different features that give exclusive author content and enable the reader to experience reading the way a dyslexic person might.
Although digital work can enhance the experience it may be the a few years before parents (from our group at least) are buying them for their children as standard. 

The evening ended finally at 9 p.m although we could probably have talked for longer. I do feel it wasn't exactly what we expected from the night. Many of us were hoping from that we'd be asked for more input into the type of books we would like to see published but I did find it very interesting nonetheless and a good opportunity to think from a publisher perspective for a change. I'm also impressed that Hot Key Books were passionate enough about what they do to ask for our input. It will be interesting to see whether any of our suggestions are taken on board and indeed if Hot Key found the evening useful.

We were all lucky enough to be able to choose several books to take home as a reward for our help and it was very hard to pick from all their marvelous titles. I finally took home 
The Great Galloon by Tom Banks
Clockwise to Titan by Elon Dann
Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner

I think I and my son will enjoy reading them so a big thank you to everyone at Hot key Books for an interesting evening.

Friday, 8 March 2013

The best laid plans...

FACT - I've written two books.

FACT - Neither of them have been snapped up by an agent or publisher.

QUESTION 1 - Why not?

ANSWER - They're not good enough.

Okay, maybe that sounds harsh. I don't think they're bad as such, in fact I think they're pretty good. They both have a  strong concept, a decent plot, an original voice and some not bad writing. They've been read by a few agents and had some good feedback and I'm proud of that BUT - the fact is they're still not good enough.

QUESTION 2 - What can I do about it?

ANSWER 1 - Moan. I do like a good moan.

ANSWER 2 - Blame someone else. Agents. Publishers. The economic crisis. The changing book world. Evil leprechauns?

ANSWER 3 - Change.

So, that first involves working out what needs changing. It means evaluating my writing from a different perspective and making use of what I've learned. Not just about writing but about the business of publishing also.

...................................................Cue much wailing and gnashing of teeth...............................................

                                                    Wait for eureka moment...

                                                                A- Ha!

Perhaps my problem is that I write organically. By that I mean that I write from an idea and a voice. I don't have any plan or plot in place before I start. I haven't thought through character motivations or themes or the wider picture in any way. Basically I make it up as I go along!
This has caused problems and led to huge rewrites and very intensive editing and still not working out as well as it should.

SOLUTION - Try planning.

So with my third book instead of jumping straight in like usual I've spent time working out an outline, looking at the themes I want to explore and developing my character motivations before I start. I've worked out the back story, I've drawn maps and surprisingly I've found it all quite enjoyable.
I'm not being too rigid, I don't have everything worked out and I'm happy to let a certain amount happen on the page but it's certainly a new way of working.

I'm hoping this will ensure a good structure to my book and allow me to develop themes and motivations as I go rather than trying to squash them in later during revision. I'd also like to think it will make the story deeper and stronger.


Well I haven't finished my first draft yet but I am a third of the way through and feeling very positive. Some of the fear and panic I usually encounter when I can't figure out what to do next or how to make something happen has disappeared because I've already worked it out.
Also I know what I need to seed in my story, what I have to focus on to make my characters motivations clear and that makes my writing more polished.

Of course it might not work. It might not be the answer but it's helping me and being able to try new methods and work differently is beneficial to me as a writer I believe. I still may be years away from the perfect book but I do feel that I've reached the next stage of my journey.

So what do you do? Planner or not? Do you have any tips that work for you??