General

Behind the Curtain 2: What’s the Deal with Agents?

Right! So as I mention every other week, I’ve got a book coming out in LITERALLY FIVE WEEKS and I’m being totally cool about it, I swear. The Shadow in the Glass is being published by HarperCollins on the 18th of March, which is just wild, and I hear that ALL the cool kids are pre-ordering it.

Obligatory promo aside, I definitely wouldn’t have got the deal without my lovely agent, Chloe Seager. (She’s absolutely great.) But it occurs to me that some of you might be interested to know more about how an agent can help you get published and what kind of support they can give an author. So I’m going to tell you! Aren’t you lucky.

Pals, let’s talk about agents.

You’ve finished your manuscript!

Great! Give yourself a pat on the back. You’ve done really well to get this far so you should definitely buy yourself a cake or something before you proceed to the next step.

Seriously, you should celebrate, this otter says so (image: giphy.com)

If you decide that you want to try and get your manuscript published (and you don’t have to, if you don’t want to) then you’ve got a few different options open to you. You can self-publish or you can try and sell your manuscript to a publisher. There are pros and cons to both options and you’ll need to think about what you want to get out of publishing before you decide what you’re going to do. Self-publishing usually means you have to pay for everything yourself, but you get a lot more creative control, whereas traditional publishing might get you more money but aspects of your work will be up for discussion with editorial, sales and publicity all having different concerns. (I’ve done another post on what that’s like here if you want more info.) It’s important to think about what you want before you jump right in.

If you decide to self-publish, you probably won’t need an agent – although you might still want to get someone to look over the terms of any contract you end up signing. If you decide you want to be traditionally published, you are definitely going to need an agent.

What does an agent do?

Anything and everything! Here’s a quick list:

  • Provide advice about your manuscript
  • Pitch your manuscript to publishers
  • Negotiate the terms of your contract with the publisher
  • Chase outstanding payments
  • Assist with some of your publicity
  • Recommend you for other projects
  • And a bunch of other things which I cannot remember right now because I am tired

Seriously, agents do SO MUCH STUFF it’s uncanny. An agent will support an author all through their writing career and at all different stages of the process. They are priceless!

But why do I need one?

Oh man there are so many reasons why authors need agents. Agents meet with editors on a regular basis so they actually know a) who to send your manuscript to and b) who would be interested in reading it. Agents have a working knowledge of contractual terms, so they know what to ask for in terms of finances. Agents will be able to advise you about what to put in your manuscript as well, so if there’s a tricky bit in the middle you’ve got someone to talk it through with. And also, agents are there to support you. If you’re worried about something and feel a bit silly talking to your editor about it, you can talk to your agent instead.

Live footage of me emailing my agent. (image: giphy.com)

Of course, it is possible to do all of this yourself. But it would require a lot of specialist knowledge of contractual terms, market trends, as well as all the stuff you as an author already need to know about writing. But the biggest stumbling block is that most trade publishers won’t accept submissions from authors who don’t have agents. If an author has an agent, an editor already knows that somebody has looked at the author’s manuscript and decided that it was good enough to be published and that’s a huge vote of confidence. If an author doesn’t have an agent, an editor is less likely to look at it, because most publishers get hundreds of submissions a day to their public-facing email addresses and I won’t lie to you, most of them are Not Good. But if an editor already knows an agent and they say ‘hey I’ve got this really good MS which I think you’d love’, they’re much more likely to take a look.

(Side note: there are always exceptions to this rule, I will not be listing them.)

So how do I get an agent?

First things first: you need to work out who you’re going to submit your manuscript to. Different agents want different things! Find out who wants the kind of thing that you write and go and talk to them.

There’s several different ways to do this. In the UK we have a book called The Writer’s and Artist’s Yearbook, which has a bunch of different resources for writers and artists including a list of agents with their contact info and what they’re looking for. You can also look in the acknowledgements sections of your favourite books and see if the author has thanked their agent by name there – Google them and see if they’d like your book as well. Social media is also a good place to check – agents do a lot of online networking too and it’s always a good idea to keep an eye on book hashtags to see if there’s any agents talking about the kind of thing they’d like to acquire.

Once you’ve found some people you’d like to submit to – and it does need to be more than one person, trust me – check their submission guidelines. There’s no set standard of what you should send off and most agencies will have slightly different guidelines. You might need to prepare a synopsis and the first three chapters if it’s fiction, or you might need a detailed proposal document (but not a full manuscript) if it’s non-fiction. It depends! Check their websites and see.

Some investigation required. (image: giphy.com)

One really key thing is knowing where your book is going to sit in the market. It doesn’t have to be just like the most popular book on the bestseller lists, but you need to show that you’re aware of what’s going on. You don’t have to have this down to a precise art, but if you know what people are reading right now and can demonstrate that, that’s a really positive sign.

And then you wait

No, seriously. And then you wait.

Agents have an enormous amount of reading to get through so it’ll take them a while to get back to you. Hang in there! You may find it helpful to keep track of everyone you’re submitting to in a big spreadsheet so you have notes of the submission materials you sent each agent and the date that you contacted them. A lot of agents don’t have time to send rejection letters so it’s always a good idea to keep an eye on these dates.

So then what?

So you’ve found an agent who likes your work and they want to represent you. That’s great! Now what?

First step is you have to sign on with the agency. As with any contract that you end up signing it’s a good idea to get this checked by someone familiar with the law. In the UK the Society of Authors will provide advice on contracts to all members, and you can qualify for membership if you’ve received an offer of representation from an agent – you don’t always have to be fully published. I believe there are other organisations that do this for writers in other countries, so definitely check out some of them.

Once you’ve signed on with an agent, they can start submitting your manuscript to publishers, although they might ask you to take on board some editorial feedback before they do. This can be quite a long process, particularly if you’ve written something really huge – editors have enormous reading lists! From there, if an editor likes your work they’ll take it to their acquisitions meeting, and if they put in an offer, your agent will start negotiating the financial details with them. And once that’s all signed and you’re officially going to be published, your agent will continue to support you through the publishing process, whether that’s asking other authors to provide early quotes about your work or chasing things up on your behalf with your publisher.

So that’s agents! Hopefully some of you will have found all of that useful (looking at you, people who made ‘get published’ a New Year’s Resolution). Obviously everyone’s experience of publishing is going to be a little bit different, and this won’t all apply to everyone’s circumstances. But hopefully knowing what to expect is useful and will make all the waiting that bit easier.

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General

How to Survive a Gothic Novel

All right! It’s about six weeks until the release of my debut novel, The Shadow in the Glass (HOW DID THAT HAPPEN) and that’s got me thinking. It’s a Gothic novel with a capital G and when I was writing it, I drew on a lot of the traits that you’d usually see in a novel like that. What this means is that scientifically, this guide to surviving a Gothic novel is 100% guaranteed to work. I’ve done studies.

  1. No-one’s going to chase you across the moors if you aren’t wearing a long white nightie. Foil the villain’s plans and pack pyjamas instead.
  2. Trust no-one in a big black cape.
  3. Or a big black hat.
  4. Please, please, please do not fall in love with the brooding Byronic type who monologues into the fireplace about a terrible secret. They’re never worth it and nine times out of ten they’re too tortured to get anything done.
  5. Do not listen to the sinister elderly relative.
But he seemed so normal! (image: giphy.com)
  1. Learn some basic vehicle repair skills. That way, if your car breaks down on the side of the road, you can fix it yourself instead of having to struggle up to the sinister house on the hill to beg shelter for the night.
  2. If you are offered food or drink in a creepy old house in the middle of nowhere, it’s gonna be poisoned. Just bring your own snacks.
  3. Do not open the creepy music box.
  4. Wear trainers at all times, so you’re always ready for the inevitable chase scene at the end.
  5. If you’re about to escape and someone says ‘let’s wait until tonight, I’ve just got to get this one thing sorted out’ DO NOT LISTEN TO THEM. Just run, the waiting is a trick to set you up for a tragic plot twist.
  6. Invest in a sleeping mask or a white noise machine so the ghostly noises in the night don’t bother you. It’s important to be well-rested!
  7. That portrait that looks exactly like you is a coincidence, I promise, you don’t wanna investigate.
  8. Bring garlic. Just in case.
This is a very Nosferatu-heavy post. (image: giphy.com)
  1. It’s important to make sure you have a wide circle of friends so that you do not get unreasonably hung up on your childhood sweetheart to the extent that you have an all-consuming relationship that ruins the lives of everyone around you and maybe turns her into a ghost, HEATHCLIFF.
  2. If you insist upon sneaking around the house at night, at least switch the lights on while you do it.
  3. Always get the number of a local taxi firm so that you aren’t forced to spend the night in a sprawling gothic mansion in the middle of the woods.
  4. Never agree to meet anyone at midnight.
  5. You can probably trust an ingenue in a billowy white dress, but don’t rely on them. They will buckle under the slightest bit of pressure from anyone with a sinister mien.
  6. Find out what a sinister mien is before you set foot in any mansions.
  7. If a woman with all-black eyes approaches you with a magical deal in the middle of the night, proceed with extreme caution.

And there you have it! This baby will see you through all the Gothic novel related shenanigans you care to have – some of them considerably more specific than others…

General

Research Tour: Or, How to Get Historical Settings Right When You Don’t Have a Time Machine

Friends! The new year is here, 2020 is finally consigned to the bin of history and I am back on my blog. As many of you already know, this year my first novel is being published, which is absolutely wild. It’s called The Shadow in the Glass, it’s a dark retelling of Cinderella and it’s set in Victorian London.

But here’s the thing about Victorian London: I cannot go there.

As you may expect, this made researching the novel a pretty big priority. What happened quite a lot was that I’d just start getting into the swing of things with the writing and then have to stop and check a detail, because I didn’t know if it was historically accurate. I found myself coming up against a lot of questions, like how often people would get paid, or what they wore to go to sleep, or what it would be like just to walk down the street. I found out the answers to those questions fairly easily (most of them are just ‘it depends’, which is annoying) but at the end of the day, I didn’t really know what it was like to be there.

But the really great thing about London is that if you look hard enough, you can find anything you want. And luckily for me, back when we could all still go and do things I found two places which showed me exactly what I needed to know.

Why don’t you come with me?

The first place I found was 18 Stafford Terrace, aka. the Linley Sambourne House. This is the former home of Victorian cartoonist Edward Linley Sambourne in Kensington. The house is now a museum, preserved as it had been when Sambourne was living there. The whole place is crammed full of Victorian stuff – and the thing about Victorian homes is that they had a lot of stuff.

This is actually one of the least cluttered rooms in the Linley Sambourne House and I still felt like I was going to knock everything over. Every surface was filled with things. The main character of Shadow in the Glass, Eleanor, is a servant, and as I was going around the house I couldn’t help but think it’d be an absolute nightmare to clean.

You’ll notice as well that it was pretty dark in there. Some of that is my bad photography skills but it really was pretty gloomy! I don’t think the lights are genuine gas, which they probably would’ve been in the nineteenth century, but they’re a very good imitation. You become much more aware of the natural light that way and when I visited, in the simpler times of September 2016, it got just a touch creepy when the light started to fade. You just couldn’t stop noticing all the shadows. It made me realise that my protagonist would quite literally be seeing things in a different light, and I tried to work that into my setting as much as possible.

But the Linley Sambourne House isn’t the only place I found! Also in London (and not too far away, in Chelsea) there is Carlyles’ House. This belonged to Thomas Carlyle and his wife Jane, a celebrated woman of letters, who lived there in about the mid-Victorian era. Devotees of the Carlyles raised money to keep their house as it would have been when they lived in it, tracking down furniture and memorabilia to make it more authentic.

Much like the Linley Sambourne House, it was pretty dark in there too – evidently bad lighting was a real problem. But unlike the Linley Sambourne House, which belonged to a wealthier family, there’s a lot less stuff in this one. I’m sure that’s partly because some of the Carlyles’ things were sold after they died, whereas most of the Sambournes’ things were kept in place, but the class difference between the two families becomes clear as well. Look at this photo of the bed – it’s a pretty fancy-looking piece of furniture, but it’s also clear that there’s just a lot less stuff to look at altogether.

The best thing about the Carlyles’ house is that the Victorian kitchen is intact. This is actually really rare for museum houses – as you may expect, the kitchen is usually one of the first things to get upgraded in historic homes, because people want fridges and microwaves and things. The Carlyles’ servants’ quarters are still intact, and the moment you step inside, it becomes incredibly clear that this part of the house is not for the family. Look at these two photos of staircases from inside the house – it’s very clear which one is for the servants.

This was something I really wanted to bring out in my novel because it’s just so rare to see these things side by side. A whole part of the Victorian house – arguably the most crucial part, because the servants had to keep everything running – was designed in a way that clearly shows who matters. The carpet and the wood on the stair leading to the kitchen is cheap, and as I recall the steps were pretty uneven. If you were a servant, your surroundings would reinforce the fact that you were seen as inferior, something that servants’ rules in bigger houses would explicitly establish when servants were forbidden to use furniture belonging to the family. I knew right away that this was something I wanted to touch on in my novel. How would it feel to look at all the beautiful things in the main part of the house and know you could not touch them, except to clean? How would it feel to compare the luxurious family rooms to the stark, bare room of a servant? How would it make you feel about yourself to know that your employer – who you lived with for months, maybe years at a time – did not think that beautiful things were fit for you?

And here we come to the kitchen! Like any Cinderella story, there’s a lot of scenes set here – all those cinders have got to come from somewhere. This was the part of the Carlyles’ house I was most keen to see. The contrast between this room and the rest of the house – and also to the Linley Sambourne house, which I’d visited the same day – became very clear. There’s less clutter, less decoration, and the light only comes from the fire and from the very top half of the window, because the kitchen is at basement level. In the Carlyles’ house a bed for their servant was also tucked in a corner, which would mean their one servant would’ve gone to bed every night in a room that smelled of smoke, or was hung with still-damp laundry. But this might’ve been an improvement on sleeping at the top of the house in servants’ bedrooms, as it at least would’ve been warmer. Some historians think room temperature in Victorian houses would’ve been about ten degrees Celsius lower than what it is now, so that’s not to be sneezed at!

I was really lucky to be able to go around these fascinatingly well-preserved houses. They’re both public museums and, when the coronavirus pandemic is over, you should be able to visit them should you find yourself in London. If you’re writing a historical novel I’d really encourage you to visit! Going around these places will show you so many things you’d never imagine you needed to know – I really can’t recommend it enough.

General

How to Survive a Christmas Rom-Com

OK guys, we all know the drill. It’s December, and we’ve all got to come back from the high-flying big cities we live in to the quaint small towns we grew up in. And I don’t know about you but I’m just sick of all those charming yet straightforward lumberjacks/Christmas tree farmers/professional knitwear models who keep trying to teach me the meaning of Christmas every year.* What a gal needs is a handy-dandy guide to get through the Christmas season without inconveniently falling in love, so we can all fly back to our fancy city jobs just in time for the big presentation.

Aren’t you guys so lucky I’m here??

*I am absolutely not sick of this, please call me.

  1. If your small town’s candy cane factory is about to close down, just tell the mayor how to set up a GoFundMe. It is not your job to save Christmas, that sounds exhausting.
  2. You must never be seen without your knitwear. It is December.
  3. For God’s sake bring a pair of trainers, or better yet, boots. Fancy business shoes will only ever break for the sake of hilarious japes.
  4. Never, ever be mean to the old guy in the red jacket, we all know he’s Santa.
  5. Invest in some ice packs, because you are going to slip and fall in the snow at least three times.
  6. AVOID THE HOLIDAY TALENT SHOW AT ALL COSTS. You’ll either fall over or have to sing in public. Or be proposed to by someone you met literally two days ago, which is only ever going to be awkward.
Could we just not. (image: giphy.com)
  1. Learn some basic car repair tricks, because your car is going to break down in a snowstorm at least once.
  2. Look, it’s totally fine to put on an out of office for your work email. The big presentation isn’t ‘til January, and you deserve a break.
  3. You will get tangled up in Christmas lights or tinsel, so practice some escape artistry before you go home. You never know if it’ll come in handy!
  4. Why not give martial arts a try as well? They’re dead handy when it’s Christmas Eve, you forgot to buy presents and THERE IS ONLY ONE TOY IN THE WHOLE SHOP.
  5. There is only one weather, and it is snow.
  6. There are two acceptable ways to dress: bundled up in a big coat OR hideous holiday jumper. There are no exceptions.
Unless you have this specific outfit, in which case: GIMME. (image: tumblr.com)
  1. Do not be tricked by the adorable small child who asks you leading questions about why you haven’t come home more often. I can guarantee you a sweetie-waving relative has bribed them.
  2. I’m not here to tell you not to make out with the charming yet straightforward lumberjack/Christmas tree farmer/professional knitwear model. You do you! I’m just saying, don’t make any spontaneous life decisions if you’ve only known them for two days. LDRs can work!
  3. If you’re going to make a magnificent fancy pudding, always make two. You will drop one.
  4. If you’re introducing your big-city fiancé to your family for the first time, see how they respond to non-business-related tasks. If they go all sneery, save yourself some time and dump them immediately. If they roll up their sleeves and knuckle down, congrats, you’ve picked a good’un.
  5. Do not question the Christmas traditions. We all know they don’t make sense.
  6. Learn how to fake a convincing sore throat to get out of the inevitable holiday singalong.
  7. If you volunteer to cook the big Christmas dinner, I’m sorry to tell you that you are going to burn it for comedy reasons. Or your mixer will break and make a giant mess. Have a ready meal in the fridge for back up.
  8. Resign yourself to the fact that you will be heartwarmed.

And there you have it! One foolproof guide to making a fool of yourself at Christmas. Sort of.

And on that note, that’s me done for 2020! I’ll be taking a break over Christmas and the New Year and will be back some point in January. I’m not sure when exactly, it’ll be when I feel like it. But I can promise there will be some book content – my debut novel, The Shadow in the Glass, releases on the 18th of March 2021 and I shall be getting HYPE about it in the New Year. But until then, have good holidays, and feel free to fall in love with all the knitwear-wearing lumberjacks you want, as long as they support your career.

General

Simply the Worst: My Top Ten Least Favourite Tropes and Clichés

Some of you may remember the blog post I did a little while ago, when I listed my top ten favourite tropes and clichés. They can be really fun, and it’s an easy way for a writer to connect with an audience quickly and easily. Everyone’s got their favourites and I definitely listed mine.

This post is the total opposite of that.

There’s some clichés which really get under my skin. It’s not necessarily because they’re bad, there’s just something about them which I just bounce off of. And because I’ve been busier than I thought I’d be this week with some secret book stuff (oh look who left this pre-order link here) I’m going to list them.

  1. Enemies to Lovers

Don’t come at me, YA readers, but I just don’t like this one. Nine times out of ten it just doesn’t really work for me and to be honest, I’m not always clear on why. All the ingredients are there! When it’s the other way around I totally love it! But this one just doesn’t do it for me.

I think it all comes down to balance. If an enemy is going to be a believable threat, they’ve got to do bad things to the protagonist, but if they’re also going to be a romantic partner that I want to root for, I need to see them do good things for the protagonist. It’s really rare that someone manages to absolutely nail the balance between these two opposing things. And even when they do, it doesn’t always reflect well on the protagonist. If your lead completely forgets about the friends that their new boyfriend murdered last week, it makes them seem pretty heartless.

  1. Alpha Male

OK so in principle, there’s nothing wrong with a confident male hero who knows what he wants and goes for it. The problem is that a) this is now 90% of male love interests and b) there seems to be a competition to out-alpha everybody else and it’s just exhausting. Confidence is fine, following your love interest halfway across the country after she specifically said she wanted some space because “yOu KnOw ShE sEcReTlY wAnTs YoU” is ABSOLUTELY NOT. Can we please just scale it back.

Dogs really are a woman’s best friend. (image: gurl.com)
  1. Standard Female Grab Area

There’s a lady! She’s in a fight! She’s doing really well – look at her punching and kicking and flipping all over the place. But – wait, what’s this?

A MAN HAS GRABBED HER BY THE UPPER ARM.

Now she is powerless and can only struggle, limply, as she is dragged off to a lair.

(I seriously hate this one so much)

  1. “It is the only way”

It is never the only way, you just need to think outside the box a bit.

  1. Straw Sexist

This one really, really annoys me. This is when a writer will introduce a cartoonishly sexist character whose sole purpose is to be put down and/or beaten up by a woman. This usually happens as an introduction to show what a badass our female character is, or dragged out over the course of the whole thing and you only get the fight at the end, as a kind of catharsis.

What makes it really annoying is that as a general rule of thumb, once this trope gets introduced the writer tends to go “welp, guess I’ve fixed sexism forever” and never looks at any other parts of the story. It’s a token moment to show how strong a woman is, not a properly developed sign of a strong female character. You’ve gotta put that in all the way through.

I literally did a whole blog series about this (image: giphy.com)
  1. Two Days ‘til Retirement

I know I’m supposed to feel sorry for characters who are two days from retirement because we all know they’re gonna die, but at this point I just switch off.

  1. Insta-love

Perhaps I’m just being cynical but love at first sight has always rung a bit hollow for me. Real love isn’t only about physical attraction – it runs on a lot of different levels. I’ve never really got it, because I just don’t see how you could fall properly in love with someone without actually knowing them. That’s just me though.

  1. The Butler Did It

No he didn’t, let the poor man do his job.

  1. “We’ve got company”

Saying this is never helpful. Be more specific, Steve, we’re being shot at!

PEW PEW PEW PEW PEW (image: tenor.com)
  1. Don’t Turn on the Light

Why, WHY, must people insist on backing into darkened rooms and not switching any lights on when they’re running away from a scary monster? The light switch is RIGHT THERE and PHONES HAVE TORCHES NOW. There’s literally no excuse for staying in the dark.

And there you have it! My top ten least favourite clichés. I hope you don’t hate me now.