Friday, July 30, 2010

A Few Fans of August Rock

There is something about being on the water that inspires me. I can't explain it but it stirs ideas. Yesterday was one of those magic summer days and it was also one that had a very low tide (springs) and I dragged DH out to see August Rock. The photos were taken when it was no longer exactly low tide but one could get the feel for how the reef could do some serious damage to the unaware....

While motoring back, I looked to the position of the house, Trevenen, and I knew that the book must be rewritten in first person. I have to confess that the thought came to me complete and of such certainty that I will have to follow this up even though I have only ever dabbled with first person. However the ground work has been laid with the removal of Tristan's pov in the last revision. So this latest light bulb moment tied up with the one I had in bath about two months ago while reading Agatha Christie I think will make August Rock the book it needs to be. I am a happy bunny except for the fact that this project is at the back of the queue. I need to submit my NWS partial of Penderown before I can do anything else. Of course I mustn't let the lids know that it hasn't been sent because after last summer I promised them it would be done and dusted before the holidays....

So the question for there anything that inspires ideas or clarifies them for you?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Apologies in Advance and Links

I am winding down on time here in Dubai and will be shifting to Cornwall for the summer - so there may be blog silence for a week or so while I re-jig life. I promise I will return to RNA conference posts.

In the meantime I'm struggling with the feel that I can no longer judge my own work. I know this means I'm too close to it. When I reach this point I feel it's crap whether this is true or not. I have a deadline in front of me - NWS and a few personal deadlines writing wise which are making me edgy. I take this writing business very seriously and at the moment I feel I'm not getting it right which bugs the ..... out of me. So I will ask - how do you evaluate your own work? How can you tell whether its good enough?

PENDEROWN update: the first page has changed and changed again (am I getting obsessive? no, don't answer that I am). If I can get the additional blog pages to work I may post the two options on there to kill two birds with one stone - figure out how the additional pages work and two sneakily get feedback...

Finally some longer overdue links...there has been some wonderful stuff in the blog-shpere recently

As always I can't say enough go to Sarah Duncan's Blog which she now has an email feed...
Nathan Brandsford's Page Critique Mondays are superb. Here's the latest.
Encouraging words from agent Jenny bent.
Ten Writing Tips
Good post on pacing

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Nineteen Years

I don't know where the time has gone...but it goes fast when you are having fun. My best friend and maid of honour sent me an old photo, which hasn't scanned very well but I thought I'd share with you anyway.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Carole Blake - RNA Conference 2010 Part Two

Carole Blake and Roger Sanderson
I've pushed this report forward to counter the article in the Time Book Review saying that agent roles are changing because it didn't fit at all in with what Carole Blake said at the Industry Day of the RNA Conference.So herewith are my notes from 'What An Agent Can Do For You' :

As a yet to be published and un-agented writer you dream what it will be like when an agent says yes. Well agent supremo, Carole Blake, told all and her words were the stuff fantasies are spun from, but being Carole it was all very practical. One of course had to expect that from the woman who wrote the bible FROM PITCH TO PUBLICATION (which was a given to me as a birthday present by a dear friend after I had finished draft three of AUGUST ROCK. I duly read it and knew I was not yet ready....)

She’s been in the business a long time – about forty years, which means that she can pull on experience gained with many clients. She still gets a thrill from selling and selling over and over again. A manuscript normally goes out widely and swiftly to multiple locations. If possible she tries to split up the English speaking world to maximize royalties.

She said to remember that you are in a relationship and that revolves around communication. For her being an agent is about preparation, selling and career management. She spends a long time finding out what kind of career her authors want and what kind of editor they need. Time is spent on making sure it’s the best possible submission package. She edits but many agents don’t.

She doesn’t like to sell a manuscript cold so she lunches almost every day with publishers and editors to find out their taste. This is a hardship she endures for her authors...

Much of her work is invisible. She listens carefully and talks general ideas. This is not done in formal way. She sets situations up. You can plan but fate will play its own role.

Carole’s goals are to sell, for her authors to be happy and to have a long career. Agents should not make decisions for authors but with them. She speaks to her author at least every ten days. She wants her authors to cc or bcc her in on every email with editors – it is a ménage a trios.

She highlighted some key things agents should keep on top of:
The Google Settlement
What happens after the contract – ie. marketing
The development of the digital market

She cautioned that things have changed and writers now need to be public people and know their USP (unique selling point). 

She doesn’t think about trends. She has to love it and luck is important and always has been.

She personally has twenty authors and has taken on only one new author in the last three years. The agency as a whole receives 12 to 30 submissions a day and takes on 6 to 8 new clients a year. It is normally an eight week wait for a reply to a submission.

(Now off to go say a novena to St Anthony to find me the right agent and to finish the polish of PENDEROWN - I can see Carole giving me 'the look' and her voice saying just get on and write a damn good book!)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

RNA Conference 2010 - Industry Day Part One

Sales and Publicity: The Insiders' Guide
Charlotte, Rob & Katie
The opening session of RNA Conference 2010 Industry Day began with a welcome from our wonderful chairperson Katie Ffforde. She then introduced two people she knows well - Charlotte Bush, Publicity Director of Cornerstone Publishing - a division of Random House and  Rob Waddington, Director of Sales at Random House.

Rob began by saying his job was to get books into as many hands as possible and his customers were the retailers. 

He gave the example of the three Katies (Katie Fforde, Kate Flynn and Katie Price) who each -
-write books for their market
-target their market
-know who will read their books

Each of these writers delivers - readers know what they will receive.

He then stated that you need to tell a great story and that the book jacket is the greatest marketing tool. Readers need a signal that this book is for them.

Charlotte then spoke saying her job was to secure coverage and drive sales with as little budget as possible. The process begins 6 months ahead of publication. They need to know what is interesting about you – what’s personal to your story. They need stories to tell. For example:

- what you may have done for research (Katie Fforde being a porter in an auction house for the book Flora's Lot)
-What was the real story or inspiration behind the book?
-Good location connection

For commercial women's fiction the best location to place publicity is:
-women's magazines (5 to 6 months before publication)
-weekly magazines 
This is because women's fiction is about relationship and this appeals to the magazine readers.

Six weeks before publication copies go out to broadcast media.
Radio is a fantastic place for women’s fiction and regional radio is extremely effective – local connection.
Work with your local libraries and book stores.

In general they don't give parties any more because parties don't sell books. Tours are very expensive. Publicity has changed. Space has shrunk.
She recommended using the free media that is avaialable. It is an effective way of getting the news out there.
Internet – use blogger, tweeting, work with website and Facebook

In the questions section this information came out:
-harder and harder to sell to women in their 20s
-the biggest book buyers are between 40-49
-make sure the jacket hits the reader

A question was asked with regard to the level of language used in books - should it be lowered or raised?
-the answer was there was no demographic
-there are 18 Million customers a week in Asda and 25 million a week in Tesco

A question was asked about stickers on books - were they an affective sales tool?
-only if the reader trusted the recommendation - ie Richard & Judy
-there is huge power in recommendation from a trusted source

A question on the difficulty of selling a book from a new author. It is harder.
-retailers rely on reader loyalty
-the jacket is key
-the hook
-the concept
-something a little different

The reality today is that a book may get less than a minute to be sold to a retailer.

NOTE: The above is taken from my quickly scribbled notes and are no doubt very flawed. I apologize in advance for any mistakes...

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Conference Musing - An Overview of The RNA Conference 2010

I’m back in Dubai with so many things bubbling in my head – in a good way. The conference this year was amazing – location, speakers, food. The only downside was the accommodation (university digs which it always is but this time the heat and non opening windows were the worst culprit) and none of us go on conference for the food or the accommodation...

This year I wanted to write up my thoughts first as an over view as so many of the sessions seemed to link together – well at least in my head and where I am in my writing journey.(will try and post more session specific notes - I promise)

The industry day was filled with challenging information from the small budget for marketing and PR to a publishers take on romance (it’s big but call it anything but romance) to the agent’s perspective of how important it is to maximize your sales world-wide and that luck is still a key ingredient.

On Saturday’s sessions I heard the same things albeit in a different way – your USP(unique selling point) for the ‘X Factor’ session, ‘fauxromance’ from the MIRA editors, Sarah Duncan in her talk on ‘Mind the Gap’ exhorted us to find pzazz on every page and every paragraph (in other words leave no stone unturned to keep your reader with you for every page to the end), and Kate Hardy encouraged us even if we are not planners to use some to be more effective – even if it’s just time management...

What tied everything together for me was the somewhat controversial talk by, in Katie Fforde’s words our ‘Koh-i-Noor’,  Joanna Trollope because for her too ‘romance’ is a problem. To get around it she gave us a history of the word romance and then moved onto to its origins in literature...where we come from as romantic novelists. (Note: she separated herself from us at the end by saying that we wrote about romantic relationships whereas she wrote about relationships – which made me smile because I was then left with the impression that she too had fallen foul of the pink fluffy jackets she complained about and not had not read many of the writers sitting in front of her)

No one over the weekend including the JT denied that romance sells, but the clear message was that everybody even those writing it are afraid of the implications of romance. It has been downgraded by society in general – possibly over loaded by images of superficial sides of romance. JT spoke of the cartoon covers put on books that degraded not only the contents but most importantly the reader. My brain immediately jumped to David Shelley’s comment about how books which as essential romantic novels are been rebranded as inspirational lifestyle books (I heart Paris for example) or vampires (The Twilight series). This then led me to the session with the Mira editors who were talking about their new young adult line and the need to bring these readers to romance but please let’s not call it romance... but cover it with paranormal or whatever works.

Then JT spoke of the snobbery and a fear of emotional display which in effect dismisses a whole genre that has something to say to us all - I wanted to stand up and cheer.  I have read romance all my life from Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer (yes it is an adventure story but I loved Becky’s part), Harlequin/Mills & Boon, Georgette Heyer, Jane Austin, Anya my favourites of today. They have carried me through my worst days and continue to do so. My life would have been so much less without them. I would dreamed less and aspired to less without these romantic books.

She spoke of how ground breaking Brigid Jones Diary and Sex in The City had been and how in an overcrowded market the consistent cloning had brought romance down and lost the important message in the hearts of woman.

So JT’s talk and the industry have fired me up. I’m not yet facing deadlines, editorial demands, and pink fluffy covers so I have time. At this stage I can still write the book of my heart which is my unique selling point and that can’t be found anywhere JT’s words roughly – offer something that can’t be found anywhere else...the quality of hope...engage with the complexities of the heart...write with your voice...think of your reader(which came from every speaker)...lift the imagination out of the habitual and reboot the soul to the possibility....your readers know that this is fantasy but need to believe in the possibility...

So the conference’s industry day and JT’s bracing talk gave me the courage to continue to write the books of my heart and not chase publication at any cost (ie the latest trend in publishing ie paranormal if that is not me) and through the craft sessions the conference gave me the tools to lift my writing to the level that will make my readers believe in the possibility of the world I have created. I simply could not have asked for more.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The RNA Conference in Greenwich

I'm at the conference and loving it- more reports later but here's a few photos...

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Happy 4th of July and Like Bees To Honey

It's all a bit strange. It really is. It is strange how certain things conspire to make you dwell on things that run beneath the surface of your life- the part that no one sees or to be honest cares about -the inner workings of 'self' that define who you are. Today is the 4th of July and I'm sitting in my beloved HOME in Cornwall. This place is my home as in where my heart lives, but it is not where I am from.

Where am I from? I get asked this question as frequently as once a day. Really? Yes. It's the odd word slipped in or phrase or a slight vowel sound change and someone thinks she's not English. So they ask and my reply is usually - do you mean where do I live? Over the years this of course has meant Massachusetts, London, Englefield Green, Calgary, Gatwick, Moscow, Cornwall, Houston, Jakarta and Dubai...

This leads me to two books that I have just finished - BROOKLYN by Colm Toibin and LIKE BEES TO HONEY by Caroline Smailes (in fact as I write this I have just finished the later and there are still tears in my eyes). Both books deal with some one who has left 'home' and both spoke to me in very different ways. One made me cry and the other didn't. One left me hopeful and the other didn't. Both explored parts of me - one my past and the other my current.

BROOKLYN is a exquisite compelling read. It is a book that you don't stop but flow through and experience but don't feel - if that makes sense. All four of my grandparents left Ireland for a new life in American and although this book relates that experience for a later journey (1950s) I was given a glimpse- an insight into the life in New York and in Ireland. Because of this, I felt as if I had made some connection to my past. The most important aspect for me was in the struggle Eilis had adapting to her new world and then the going home - that peculiar feeling of neither world seeming real for moment and then dream like quality of the world you are away from. The book encapsulates that perfectly.

I don't recall that it captures the haunting dreams that continue (do they ever stop?), but that could be because the book's time frame is short. LIKE BEES TO HONEY deals with so many things...but one of them is that haunting of your past that floats around you reminding you/ taunting you of what you have chosen to leave behind. The book spoke to me of my dreams that reoccur of revisiting the past - past places - past homes that are the same yet different...

Nina's going home is to heal as is Eilis's return trip to Ireland, but Nina's trip is more poignant as her grief is still alive. Eilis's isn't truly real until she returns home. One of the worst parts of being away is when loved ones die. You are not there. You can not see (which is a huge part of my Irish/American experience of death and grief) and therefore you cannot say goodbye or let go. How can you let of something that is still there living as you left them? You haven't seen them so they live on in your thoughts unaltered. This is something that I have struggled with and continue to do so. This forms a huge part of my life - the hold of the past and the one of the present...

LIKE BEES deals with this beautifully. It touches upon guilt, unfinished business - no that word isn't right but I can not find it at the moment. LIKE BEES probes love...and how that doesn't always come out as we would like. It probes guilt - real and imagined.

You are left at times wrecked, in tears but ultimately hopeful and there in lies its gift, its beauty and its strength. Caroline's books in the past have dealt with painful subjects and the beauty of her words aided me through the pain - this time it was words giving me the hope that led me to tears.

So two books both superb in there own right - BROOKLYN is a flawlessly written book exploring the devastating experience of leaving home and having no home - that no man's land but in the end I was left emotionally untouched.

LIKE BEES TO HONEY will stay with me always. I will carry it in my heart.

On a truly personal note I also have to say that LIKE BEES deals with faith - this is a subject that is at the core of me (BROOKLYN does too but only the lip service part of it). I flinched when I began LIKE BEES as it deals not only with faith in general but with the Catholic faith. I am used to it being the punching bag for one and all... yet I felt that faith, the church, God are perfectly portrayed in LIKE BEES... imperfectly - real, as people with faith experience faith by fumblingly blindly led by love.

I mentioned at the start that today is the 4th of July. In past years I would have made sure that blueberry pancakes were on the table for breakfast - that I had dug out the stars and stripes table cloth - in short that I had done something to mark the day as special. This morning I woke to a brilliant blue sky and forgot. It wasn't until I read this from Sue Guiney. Sue, an expat/transplant like me, has captured so many of my feelings. My last proper 4th was spent on Cape Cod in 2001. My youngest was not yet two and the boys were 7 & 9 - too young to really remember the cookout and fireworks. My children recall little of their American experiences....I must try harder. Maybe I should dig out that old table cloth and find some hot dogs and tie the boys together for a three legged race....

P.S. great post on knowing your characters Help I Need a Publisher