It’s October! And that means that legally, we are all required to be at least 20% spookier than normal. But that doesn’t mean you have to stop writing! Here are ten fun things you can do as a writer to get into the spirit of the season.
Sell your Soul in Exchange for the Ability to Write the Perfect Draft
Look OK I know this seems like a big step but think about it. You could write the perfect draft on the first go every single time. Every single time! You wouldn’t have to cut out repeated words or work out where objects are in physical space because you magically have that power! Yes, you do theoretically need your soul, but also – think of how easy the copyedit would be.
Summon a Ghost and Get Them to Give You Accurate Details for Your Historical Setting
We’re all busy people. Hitting the books for historical research takes time and notebook space and the prices at the library café are always marked up by a couple of quid at least. Why not take the easy way out and ask the restless dead? Will you get haunted – well, maybe a bit. But you’ll also know that your setting is on point, so swings and roundabouts.
Make Out with a Vampire
They are the bad boy love interests in a solid 45% of YA novels so technically this counts as research.
Predict Your Sales with a Crystal Ball
It’s totally possible to predict your sales without a crystal ball, of course, but that is a skill set I do not possess. And yes, I could learn about data and market trends and reaching new marketplaces OR – and hear me out – I could buy this crystal ball, which would also look nice on my bookshelf.
Pet a Black Cat
Because he is a good boy.
Find a Spell that will stop you getting RSI
Writing has a lot of physical effects on the body. Whether you write on a laptop or with pen and ink, you can often wind up getting some kind of hand or wrist strain and you usually end up all hunched over at some point. OK, you could just get a wrist support and make yourself a proper little writing area with a desk and a chair to help your posture, but you could also solve your problems with magic, which has never gone wrong even once.
Hang Out in a Graveyard for the Aesthetic
When writers do it, it’s called “soaking up the atmosphere”. When other people do it, it’s called “loitering”. As an author, it is very important that you make this distinction clear by carrying a little notebook even if you don’t write in it and by saying the word “liminal” a lot.
Learn How to Brood like the Sinister Yet Attractive Villain
Again, a very important skill. It’s important to get into the mindset of all your characters and fortunately this is an easy one to practice. You just sit in a shadowy corner or stare into the fireplace with your hands clasped behind your back, making grumpy faces until someone timidly interrupts you. Bonus points if you respond by snarling “leave me to my work” or “bring them to me” or something else equally sinister.
Pet TWO Black Cats
Because they are TWO good boys.
Read from Every Spooky Tome you Find
And make sure you do it out loud. Even if it’s in Latin. They always say that the best writers are readers, anyway, and it probably won’t backfire.
So! As many of you are aware because this is how I start all my blog posts now, I have written a book! It’s called The Shadow in the Glassand it came out in the UK on the 18th of March – American friends, it’ll be with you on the 4th of May. Move over Star Wars Day, it’s my time now.
But as we all know, it is 2021, and we are still in the midst of a pandemic. My debut novel was released in the UK while we were still in one of our many coronavirus lockdowns and pals, it’s been a very weird experience. And I’m going to talk about it! Aren’t you lucky.
Here in the UK, we are only just coming out of a full lockdown. Shortly before Christmas last year, the government put this in place, closing all non-essential shops and banning meeting people outside your household. This meant that, like many others, I couldn’t go home for Christmas. This lasted into early March, when we could start meeting outdoors again, and on April 12th, non-essential shops opened back up again, including bookshops.
What this meant for me was that my book would be coming out at a time when, legally, no shops would be open to sell it. I WAS FILLED WITH CONFIDENCE YOU GUYS.
Needless to say this was an incredibly nerve-wracking time. Publishing a book is a pretty stressful business to begin with. It is the moment when the author loses all control. Once it’s released you have no way to affect your sales (unless you decide to try and game social media which, let’s face it, is not going to work for everyone). Even before we went into lockdown I was getting nervous about the publicity stuff, because somehow when I decided to write a book it did not occur to me that other people would have to read it. But then you add in bookshops closing, and whatever financial crisis is going to end up following this pandemic, and I was suddenly terrified that no-one would be able to read my book at all, even if they wanted to.
I was (and still kind of am) hugely nervous. Part of that was standard debt author anxiety, namely: “oh no what if everyone thinks I’m weird now they can read what goes on in the inside of my brain,” which I think most people get. I always get a little nervous in the run-up to doing anything I’m invested in, and like most people who aren’t great with public speaking, I was very nervous that at my events all the things I said would come out wrong. But part of the fear was also the looming knowledge that I could still try really hard and not actually be able to make an impact on my book sales because of forces way, way beyond my control. I started feeling anxious, which is unusual for me, and I’ve been consistently waking up at four or five in the morning since a couple of weeks before my book came out. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.
But I have to say, it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as I thought it was going to be.
First of all, I’ve been really lucky in my sales, marketing and publicity team. They’ve been so supportive and wonderful, both in making me feel less nervous about events and reviews and in all their hard work selling in the book. I actually debuted at number sixteen on the Sunday Times bestseller list, and that’s absolutely thanks to all their hard work in promoting the book – and thanks to all the lovely bloggers, bookstagrammers and booksellers who’ve been involved in the press stuff too. Because in-person events aren’t really possible they’ve been setting me up with a lot of online stuff – I’ve been making videos, writing guest posts, doing Q&As and having virtual events, hence the slightly different content you’ve been seeing on this blog. Moving all of this online made me feel a lot less nervous about the whole concept, and now that I’ve done some book events, I won’t be as nervous the next time around. Also, I don’t have to worry about arriving late or something, which is a real weight off.
I’ve found that the publicity side of things gets easier the more I do it. I’m not a natural, but I feel a lot more comfortable with the whole concept now. But in some ways, it still doesn’t feel real. I haven’t had a chance to go to a bookshop yet but I expect that the fact that I’ve actually published a book won’t sink in until I do, and I actually see it on the shelves. (And I would like to pre-emptively apologise to whichever bookseller I end up laugh-crying in front of, let’s be real, we all know that’s what I’m going to do.) And of course, I haven’t had a chance to celebrate in-person with my friends and family. There’s nothing I want more than to pile everyone I know into a room and have it descend into an enormous group hug but for now, that’s going to have to wait.
The past couple of weeks have been a really weird experience. I expect it’s only going to get weirder. It’s been a very strange experience having a book release and a pandemic happening at the same time. On the one hand, there is something that I’ve been working towards my whole life, which I’m pleased and proud and excited and nervous about all at once. On the other, there is something enormous and terrifying which will change my life and the lives of everyone I care about even if everyone I know comes through unscathed – and there’s a chance, of course, that they won’t. I have been experiencing all of the emotions all at once, and it’s been exhausting.
I said in my last post about pandemic books that it’s important to remember that you’re more important than the things you make. That’s still true, although it can be difficult to remember this when everything around you feels so much bigger than you are. At this point, I’m just going to keep making things and hope that, for the people who read them, my books will be something good that came out of this pandemic.
Time for another book recipe! This one’s going to be a little bit different. It is now LESS THAN THREE WEEKS until my debut novel, The Shadow in the Glass, is released and I am being TOTALLY chill about it, you guys.
Up to this point all my book recipes have been extremely silly and not at all meant to be taken seriously. But it occurs to me that some of you might be interested in a book recipe for a real thing that you can hold in your actual hands in less than three weeks. LESS THAN THREE WEEKS. It’s fine. I’m fine.
Here’s how I wrote my book!
I was always one of those kids that was really into fairy tales. Like, really into fairy tales. I remember when I was in primary school we used to have a couple of old hardback books of fairy tales and folklore in the library – I read them both cover to cover, and I remember being way more interested in the dark, weird original stories than the adaptations I saw on the TV. I remember being fascinated by how many different versions there were, and there was definitely a point in my childhood where I was convinced that this meant that way back when, they had actually happened.
Fast forward about ten years, to when I first had the idea for what would eventually become The Shadow in the Glass. I’d always known I’d wanted to be a writer and this had all been bubbling away at the back of my mind. One night I had an incredibly vivid dream: in it, I saw the moment where Eleanor, my Cinderella analogue, met her fairy godmother. In the novel, the fairy godmother appears as a woman with all-black eyes, but in the dream, I saw her for what she really was. (And it was, of course, incredibly spooky.) Suddenly I had this magnetic idea in my head, and try as I might I couldn’t drag my thoughts away. (Also, I was a little bit pleased with myself because that’s how Mary Shelley got the idea for Frankenstein.)
The plot of the novel took shape really quickly and I knew that I wanted to write this book. But at the time I was seventeen, and I knew that I’d need a certain amount of emotional maturity to tell the story I wanted to tell. It’s always been a pretty dark story and I wanted to make sure I could do it justice. Also, I decided on a nineteenth-century setting pretty quickly and I knew I’d need to do a lot of research. I had other writing projects on at the time (nothing serious, but all practice is good practice) and after a false start I decided to let the project sit for a little bit.
I completed the first proper draft in my second year of university, when I was twenty. I was studying history and after a year or so of my degree I felt a lot more comfortable with the research side of things, so I decided to go for it. I made myself a little chart where I could only cross off the day if I’d written a thousand words or more, and added an insulting note for myself at the bottom to try and motivate myself. That part didn’t work, but the chart did, and after a few months I had a completed first draft of my manuscript.
This is where my friends come in. I printed out the draft, tied it together with some string and some cardboard to make it a bit sturdier, and then I asked four of my friends to read through the paper draft and make some notes on it for me. When they’d finished, I went through the draft myself with a red pen, scribbling wildly, and used that as a basis for my rewrites. I made them do this for me several times over a few years and I’ve still got all the paper drafts. (They’ve got stuff drawn on them, it’s great.)
By this point I’d graduated and had just got my first job in fiction. Trying to get into publishing was hard work and I didn’t really have a lot of time for writing, so I didn’t work on the book much. I was an unpaid intern for about a year, working in central London, so pretty much all my brain space went on trying to find a job. But when I was settled, I started to think about writing a bit more seriously. I’d always had projects on the go but they were more for me, rather than anyone else. But I’d started to reach the point where I was ready for some more professional feedback and I decided I wanted to try and get an agent.
My first attempt didn’t go great – I approached about three agents, realised I’d contacted them from a very stupidly-named email address, and then immediately had an idea about how I could make my book much better. So I wrote another draft, got a better email handle and tried again.
That’s when I met Chloe! Chloe is my agent and about three months into my search, she made me an offer of representation. She had quite a few editorial notes for me, which was exactly what I was looking for, and after another couple of drafts I was ready to go on submission. From there, things escalated very quickly – I was on submission for about a month or so, I think, before I received an offer from HarperCollins. It was way sooner than I was expecting!
From there, it was a lot more editorial work, some of which I’ve already talked about on this blog. I think in total it was about four or five passes, spread over roughly a year and a half. This was about what I was expecting – working in publishing gives me a good idea of how the schedule looks from the other side, so I knew I’d be in for the long haul! I’ll try not to repeat myself too much about what it was like to be edited as I’ve talked about it before, but one thing I really wish I’d done was factored in a few more breaks. I wanted to make a good impression on my editor for the first pass and agreed to turn around my structural edit in four weeks – I did it, but I pushed myself so hard that I ended up giving myself a chest infection and was laid out for like a week after that! Thankfully, this all happened before the pandemic, but I definitely learned that lesson the hard way.
Now all the editorial work on my book is complete, hard copies have been printed and I’m currently gearing up for my publicity run – I’ve had to film some things, which I guess means I’m fancy now? I’m also working on my next book as well, although hopefully, that won’t take quite as long to write. I’ll be pretty busy over the next few weeks so blog service may be patchy and book-related but hey. I wrote a book! I’m excited about it! And I want to share that with you.
Happy reading! (In three weeks. Or just, y’know, generally. You don’t have to read my book, of course, but it’d be really cool of you if you did.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Trust no-one in a big black cape.
Or a big black hat.
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.
Do not listen to the sinister elderly relative.
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.
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.
Do not open the creepy music box.
Wear trainers at all times, so you’re always ready for the inevitable chase scene at the end.
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.
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!
That portrait that looks exactly like you is a coincidence, I promise, you don’t wanna investigate.
Bring garlic. Just in case.
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.
If you insist upon sneaking around the house at night, at least switch the lights on while you do it.
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.
Never agree to meet anyone at midnight.
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.
Find out what a sinister mien is before you set foot in any mansions.
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…