Friday, 27 June 2014

Writing is a Roller Coaster Ride.

Some You Win...

In the old days you used to get a stock rejection letter, printed on a slip of paper and sent in the post. All writers who've been writing for more than ten years will be familiar with the heart-sink moment of a slim, self-addressed envelope.

The History of My Early Publications.

My first ever acceptance was to an e-zine; a story about a star-ship captain who had lost his ship. I was paid ten dollars for this piece! So exciting! And then, quite shortly afterwards, another e-zine accepted me. This made a total of two! I was on a roll! And I was earning money - well, only ten dollars, because the second e-zine didn't pay, but still...

Then came the School Journal, which accepted two stories in quick succession and rejected two more, equally as quickly. USA based Stories for Kids accepted two more. I would be paid for all these pieces. I would be rich!

And then - nothing. For ages. I finished the novel I'd been working on for five years, and sent it off to a competition. And just for fun, I sent off another novel. Meanwhile, the School Journal stopped accepting submissions, Stories for Kids shut down and both e-zines closed.

I began to feel that I was cursed.

Getting Published

And then, one day, I got a call from Storylines saying that I'd been shortlisted for not one, but both novels. A month or so later I had another call - while I'd been unsuccessful with one story, I had actually won the competition with the other. I was flown to Auckland and harperCollins presented me with the Tessa Duder Award and a contract.

A year later my novel was published, and very quickly (and somewhat to my surprise) gained positive reviews! I was on a roll! I was shortlisted for some major awards...

And then...Yes. harperCollins didn't actually close. They down-sized. Restructured. Most of the people I'd been working with had their jobs disestablished. And they no longer wanted my sequel.

Fame and Glory?

This week I was flown up to Auckland again. This time for a glittering literary event - the New Zealand Post Book Awards.  It's the major award for New Zealand's children's writing. Held at the Town Hall, Ministers and Members of Parliament attend, as well as publishers, writers and various industry figures.

Somewhat to my surprise, I was awarded Best First Book for A Necklace of Souls. I received an actual financial prize!

Awards Do Not Mean Success.

However, harperCollins have confirmed they don't want the sequel. I've had contact from one agent who thinks 'I'm a wonderful writer' but she just don't have the demand for my sort of work right now. And nothing from the others.

But: Just Keep Swimming.

Last week, I got a call from an editor at the newly incarnated School Journal. It hadn't actually closed, it had just reincarnated under a different publisher. She was interested in a short story that I'd sent in nearly two years ago.

I signed the contract yesterday. I'm not sure when the piece will come out - sometimes it can be a year, sometimes it can be a month. I'll post a link to it on my website when it's published.

And I made contact with my wonderful, wonderful editor, who worked with me on Necklace. Together, we're working on a final draft of my new YA novel, which will be called Inner Fire. (More about this project later.)

What is the Point?

The point to this post is - Don't worry about rejections. Just keep writing.

Things happen in their own time.

Writing is like riding an uncertain roller coaster. Fun, exciting, terrifying and never, ever feeling certain about tomorrow.

Friday, 6 June 2014

The Agent Quest Continues...

So you've finished your final draft? Congratulations!

Now it's time to sit on it, like a hen on an egg, and just wait. Patiently, patiently. or, if you 're like me, not so patiently. I always think the moment I've finished my drafting, polishing and polishing the first pages that The Work is perfect.

No such luck. Because when I have another look at it, it surely won't be.

To fill in the time, I research agents, draft a synopsis and construct a query letter. And after I've done that (takes about two weeks), I re-read the first pages of my draft again.

So this post is about finding an Agent.

Do You Need an Agent?

Not necessarily. A Necklace of Souls, my first novel, was published by harperCollins New Zealand and I never had an agent. However, I will be unlikely to take print versions of Necklace out of New Zealand. This means I will be unlikely to make as many sales as if my book had been published by a non-New Zealand publisher.

I know, harperCollins is international, so what's the problem? The problem is the RIGHTS. If NZ holds the international rights, England isn't interested, because it's an extra cost to put the book on the shelf.

So to access print off-shore, I will probably need an (off-shore) agent.

If your work is non-fiction, or an incredibly niche subject, or you can't be bothered with the extra cost of an agent (they don't come free), then you can approach a publisher directly. More and more publishers are accepting direct queries. Just be aware that you will have to take ownership of contract negotiation yourself. You may not always know enough to get the best terms. However, an agent will.

Which raises another question: Do you need to put your book in print?

No. You can publish yourself, via kindle direct, smashwords or ibooks. I've not done this yet, but I will one day, because I like the idea of total control. Ask my kids - I'm a control freak!

But just right now, I'm too busy. I have a day job and kids and a very time consuming hobby called writing, so I'm always short of hours. Self-publishing takes a lot of time. Just at the moment, I'd prefer to go through traditional routes, if I can. If you're an agent, please get in touch!!

How do you get an agent?

Hell, I don't know! I haven't got one yet. Here's how other people do it:

  • Talk to agents at conferences.  Have an elevator pitch ready - a thirty-second snappy little summary of your book. I am rubbish at this. My stories are usually complex, multi-layered pieces that don't condense down well.
  • Have a friend recommend an agent. Most of them won't. A good agent is like gold and seems to be a very closely guarded secret.
  • Send a submission letter. 

Are there agent directories?

On-line searches are usually not too helpful, because of all the ads created by dodgy agencies (see Caution, below). Here are three more reliable ways:
  1. Read Writer's and Artist's Yearbook  (Actually, try the website, it's got a lot of useful writerly tips on it). The Yearbook is a comprehensive guide to all the literary agents in the UK and some international agencies. I purchased the Yearbook last year, but I have to say: don't. Read it at your library - it's normally held in the reference section. The problem with the Yearbook is that it's in print and therefore dates quickly. Hint to the Yearbook: A digital version would be so much better...
  2. Look at Writer's Digest's Guide to Literary Agents - a comprehensive blog with new agencies popping up on it all the time (US based only)
  3. Approach agents of authors you like. Most of the time authors will sing a song of praise to their agents at the end of the book.

A final caution

There are a lot of scams in this industry. A lot. An awful lot. Before you send out anything, read Writer Beware.

In my next post I'll talk about query letters and synopsis construction. But just be aware it might take me a while to get to this - did I mention I'm time poor?