Tag Archives: publication process

*Sigh*. It’s Complicated.

You may remember this post, when I told y’all that my book, The Eye of the North, was all set for publication next February 14.




Publishing’s a complicated business. There are lots of layers to it, rather like a cake (though publishing’s probably a bit harder to eat, not that I’ve tried). Many people are making decisions, and there are hundreds of variables to take into account (some of them to do with things like ‘marketing’ and ‘sales’, which bring me out in a rash) and dates for publication get shoved around all the time.

And for that reason, the clever folk at Knopf (who know about things like markets, and sales, and all that stuff) have decided to push back the release of The Eye of the North a little, until August 22, 2017. So, it won’t be in your sweaty little mitts next spring, after all. More like next ‘fall’, to use the lovely American term. Which suits, in a way, because the book is a bit wintry, a bit of an ‘end of year’ story, and one that lends itself well to longer, darker evenings tucked in beside the fire.

That doesn’t mean I’m not sad that it’s delayed. And it doesn’t mean I’m not a little embarrassed to have to write this post. But these things do happen, and they happen to better and more established writers than me.

Anyway, it gives me more time to get everyone’s appetites whetted, and to drum up some excitement, and to come up with clever ways to keep everyone interested in my little story. This will include (all in good time) a cover reveal, and maybe a little competition or two to keep things peppy. We’ll see how it goes.

My apologies if (you’re my mother and) you were looking forward to the book being released in February – I hope the delay will make you keener, rather than the opposite. Any further updates I have will be posted here on the blog, and I want to thank everyone who was so congratulatory and kind when I announced the previous publication date. I don’t always have time these days to respond to messages – but I read them all and I’m very grateful for every one. Thank you!


A suitably borealis-y night sky to get you all in the mood… Image: unsplash.com Photographer: Priscilla Westra


Pick Me! Pick Me!

Writing, as a professional activity, is a funny thing. Your ‘competitors’ aren’t really that; they’re more like collaborators. It’s not like other jobs, where there’s one position and twenty applicants – when you send in your work to an agent or a publisher, you’re only in competition with yourself, really. Your work is – or should be – judged on its own merit, and not in comparison with the strengths of another writer’s work; if your writing is a good fit for a particular agency, or the market, chances are you’ll attract interest. This is not to say that there are endless reams of opportunity in writing – it’s not like there’s a tree that grows publishing contracts, after all – but whatever is there, it’s there for everyone, and everyone has a fair crack at success.

At least this is what I choose to believe. Perhaps I’m being unrealistic, but this has been my experience so far.

My, doesn't the world look pretty today! Image: joystiq.com

My, doesn’t the world look pretty today!
Image: joystiq.com

The flipside to all this, of course, is that there are a lot of collaborators out there. So many people write, or want to. So many people are talented. So many people are trying, so hard, with everything they have. The market will only bear so many of us before there’s a glut, and nobody wants that. So, how do you get your work to stand out? How do you give yourself the best edge?

Well. When you make a submission, anywhere, the only thing an agent or publisher has to go on is the strength of your synopsis, your cover letter, and/or your pitch – some submissions will require a pitch, and some won’t. Over the past year or so, I’ve learned a thing or two about writing submissions, and how to handle their main elements. In total awareness of the fact that I haven’t actually managed to secure an agent’s approval yet (though it’s only a matter of time, darnit!), I thought I might share some of my hard-earned knowledge.

(Disclaimer: the following is based entirely on my own experience, so it may not suit everyone. There’s plenty of advice out there if you’re preparing a submission; this is designed to complement, not replace, other guidelines.)

Firstly – writing a synopsis is no picnic

Writing a synopsis is hard, and it takes work. I have to get that out there, straight away. They need almost as many drafts as the book itself does, and it’s not worth cutting corners.

Image: eclipseawards.com

Image: eclipseawards.com

You’d think it would be easy to write a synopsis of your own book, but it’s really not. The closer you are to a piece of writing, the harder it is for you to boil it down to its essentials and actually express what it’s about. You, as the author, are aware of a much bigger picture than is a person who comes to your work cold; it’s hard to let some of the tasty little details that (let’s face it) only matter to you go unmentioned. It’s important, of course, to give a true and accurate reflection of the book – including how it ends, as an agent will need to know whether you’ve created a fully-realised story by the time they’ve finished reading your synopsis – but you do need to keep it brief and clear. It helps to make chapter-by-chapter (or page-by-page) summaries of your book, and use these when structuring your synopsis. I usually limit my summary to the size of a single Post-It note, which I then stick on the edge of the page. Hey presto – a handy reference guide! If you’ve summarised your work, you can see things like themes, character arcs, and all the important bits at a glance.

Essentially, your synopsis needs to mention all the main players, their roles in the unfolding of the plot, and where the characters interact or clash. It needs to show the progression of the story, the essential conflicts within it and how they are resolved, and the development of your main characters. It should be interesting, and engaging, and it should make your book sound like the kind of thing that’s worth spending money to read.

There is a school of thought which says you should write your synopsis in a similar style to that of the book you’re submitting. So, if you’ve written an uproariously funny story, your synopsis should be humorous or, at the least, light-hearted, in order to give a flavour of what’s to come. I think there’s a lot to be said for that approach. Just – you know. Use common sense. Don’t use foul language. Make sure everything is work-appropriate. Remember you are not a professional comedian.

In general, a synopsis needs to be:

– Written in focused, succint paragraphs, in a clear font such as Times New Roman, 12-point, and usually double or 1.5 spaced – but always check with the agency to which you’re submitting for their specific requirements;
– Printed in black ink on white paper (if printed);
– As short as possible (again, check if the agency/publisher has guidelines, but about 500 words should do);
– A step-by-step walkthrough of the plot, including how it all unfolds, your main characters and their motivations/conflicts with other characters, all the while remembering that not every tiny detail needs to be mentioned;
– Completely free of rhetorical questions (what if I told you how irritating they are?) and ellipses…;
– Utterly scrupulous in its grammar, punctuation, spelling and presentation – no agent wants to read a synopsis that makes them wince;
– Inclusive of a total word-count for your completed book, and its genre (though sometimes it’s best to put this in your cover letter. The agency’s guidelines may state which they prefer, so check.)


– Describing your work as ‘genius’ (even if it is);
– Describing your work as ‘Fifty Shades meets Gone Girl meets Bring Up the Bodies‘, just in order to name-drop. Some guidelines say that agents like you to site your work in relation to other writers’, but if you want to do this I’d say your cover letter is a better place to mention it. Oh, and keep it simple, and err on the side of humble;
– Blathering on about how your book could easily be made into a movie or a TV show or a theme-park or including sketches of your vision for the ‘merch’ which should be put into production immediately so as to be on sale by the time the book is published;
– Telling the agent how to do their job, and that they’d be ‘crazy’ not to pick you up.

Remember: paragraphs, clarity, professionalism. This is, essentially, a job application.

Secondly – a ‘synopsis’ and a ‘pitch’ are not the same thing

A synopsis needs to be a document that an agent can read and know, when they’ve finished reading it, what sort of book you’ve written, how it wraps up, whether the plot holds together and whether it’s the sort of thing they’d be interested in. If you’ve made wise choices regarding the agents you’re submitting to, and you’ve written a decent synopsis, hopefully the answer to the last aspect will be a resounding ‘yes.’

A pitch, however, is different.

Image: dailyleadership12.blogspot.com

Image: dailyleadership12.blogspot.com

A pitch is short, tight, and ‘hooky’ – by which I mean, you don’t need to explain everything that happens in the book. They’re a bit like the blurb you get on the back of a published book, which explains everything and nothing, and is designed to intrigue you into parting with your cash to find out how it all ends. If you read a few of those, you’ll get a good idea how to write a pitch. Basically, make it snappy, short, and mention as many of the cool details in your book as you can without giving too much away. Some people talk about the ‘elevator pitch’ – as in, imagine you’re stepping into an elevator with your dream agent, and you have ninety seconds, or until she reaches her floor, to convince her to sign you – so, basically, you need to sell her your book in no time flat by making it sound unmissable.

So, yeah. You can see how things can get complicated, fast.

Getting some feedback on your synopses/pitches is a good idea; practice is another. Take movies or books and write synopses/pitches for them as though you were the author, and then see if your friends and/or significant other can figure out which book or movie it is. Get other people to tell you where your writing is punchy, and where it sags. It’s a vital thing to get good at, because one thing’s for sure: if you’re planning a career as a writer, creating pitches and synopses are going to be a big part of your future.

I’ll look a little more at this topic, including cover letters, in another blog post. In the meantime, I hope this has been useful. Write on!

Image: screencrush.com

Image: screencrush.com

Beep Bip, Bip Bip Beep…

Image: qualityinformationpublishers.com

Image: qualityinformationpublishers.com

Good morning, listeners! In today’s show, we’ll have old favourites like the Flash! Friday flash fiction contest, and a slight frisson of the loopiness that usually marks our Friday, but there’s also a teeny bit of news.

Are you ready?

(Audience gasping with anticipation)

Are you sure?

(Audience laughter)

Well, all right then! Here we go. Hold onto your neighbour, everybody, because…


Yesterday, I managed to finish draft 1 of ‘Emmeline and the Ice-God’!


Yes, yes, thank you. Thank you so much!

(Sustained applause, cheering, stamping of feet, &c.)

Image: intermezzo.typepad.com

Image: intermezzo.typepad.com

Yeah, yeah, all right. So I’ll quit it with the playacting now. But – in all genuine seriousness – I am very, very glad to be the proud owner of a completed manuscript of the story of Emmeline this fine morning. It’s slightly awkward that I managed to finish it on the same day as I blogged about how it seemed to be going on… and on… and on, but I just got overtaken by a spirit of urgency yesterday, and I worked right through, all day long. I wrote over 6,000 words, and I brought that story to heel.

This means my brain’s slightly fried today, of course. I’m quite sure nobody will even notice, though.

I’m almost afraid to share the final wordcount, lest I cause some of you to have nervous and/or bilious attacks, but I guess I’ll take that chance. It came in, all told, at 93,500-something words – which, before you start pointing it out – I know is far too long. My brain’s been abuzz with ideas for pruning the beast ever since I placed the final full stop, and I’m pretty sure there’s an entire chapter near the beginning that can be entirely cut out. I’m pretty sure I can bring it down to around 80,000, or as close as possible to that figure. Like every first draft, there’s plenty of excess to trim.

Even though writing ‘Emmeline’ was no picnic, particularly in the last few weeks, I am so glad I did it. I’m glad I got a burst of inspiration that day in late October, and that a little girl with a know-it-all nose and a shock of curly hair decided to stroll into my head and demand that her story be told. I’m glad I got to accompany her on the adventure of a lifetime, and that I got to meet her friend Thing, who – if I’m being honest – I want to adopt as my very own. I’m sure if I’d gone with the idea I was supposed to use for my NaNoWriMo project, that it would have worked, too – but it probably wouldn’t have been as much of an exhilarating joyride.

I’m also very glad that I can say the following sentence: ‘In the last year – since January 2013, when I put aside ‘Tider’ Mark I forever – I have written three books.’ Three.

There’s a lifetime’s dream fulfilled, right there. Even if no other eye roams across a word I put on paper, I know that I have written, and that’s good enough for me. That’s not to say I won’t fight tooth and nail to have ‘Emmeline’ published, by hook or by crook, but that’s a fight for another day. My first job is to make the story as good as it can possibly be, and I’ll worry about the rest of it later.

And now – on to our other Friday feature. I’ve been getting into the habit of posting my entry for the Flash! Friday contest here on my own blog, for a few reasons: one, because I’d like to get some feedback on my flash fiction, and two, because it forces me to get my act together and produce a piece of writing. So, today’s no exception.

This week’s prompt image was as follows:

Tiger and Turtle Magic Mountain, Duisburg, Germany. Image: worldlandscapearchitect.com

Tiger and Turtle Magic Mountain, Duisburg, Germany.
Image: worldlandscapearchitect.com

We had to include a tiger, or a turtle – not just the word, this week, but the actual thing itself.

So. I made this.

The Tiger’s Mark

‘You’ll know ‘im by the tiger on ‘is jacket,’ Jez had said. ‘Idiot’s never without it.’ So I’d followed the flash of gold all the way up to the Whirligig, the tiger’s jewelled eyes starin’ me down with every step.

‘We’ll see who’s smilin’ in a minute, mate,’ I winked at it.

He jogged up to the viewing platform, me a shadow in his wake. The tiger seemed to nod, almost knowingly, as he went; I checked my blade, sweatin’ hard.

‘Get the job done, fool,’ I muttered.

I glanced at the CCTV camera; nearin’ the blackspot now. I picked up the pace.

Suddenly, he turned, flingin’ the jacket off. He was covered in long, thin scars, shinin’ silver. His mouth gaped wide, and I smelled it – hot, meaty breath. I heard the low rumble. I saw the yellow eyes like trapped suns, and the gold-black fur.

I never had a chance.

Screw you, Jez, I thought, as he pounced.


Battening Down the Hatches

You can always tell an Irish person by the fact that they’re obsessed with talking about the weather. I’m afraid to do a search on this blog to find out how many times I’ve mentioned it so far; I’d probably break the internet if I tried it, so I won’t.

This being said, I have to mention the weather today. It’s atrocious.

Sort of like this, except not as well dressed.Image: delilahskye.wordpress.com

Sort of like this, except not as well dressed.
Image: delilahskye.wordpress.com

There’s wind. There’s rain. There’s freezing coldness in abundance. At least there’s no snow this week (at least, not where I live), for which I give grateful thanks to whatever deity/ies may be listening.

This would all be fine, of course, if the weather wasn’t supposed to look like this:

Image: telegraph.co.uk

Image: telegraph.co.uk

It’s depressing to look out the window and see grey, rain-lashed, puddle-dashed concrete when what you want to see is a hillside full of nodding daffodils. My everyday life is soundtracked by sneezing, nose-clearing, voices thickened by sore throats, and people complaining (I’m not excluding myself from this list), and I really can’t wait for the weather to lift, the sun to come out and a little bit of warmth to soak into my sodden country. Irish people are a whole different race when they’ve had a bit of sunshine. We can be troll-like in wet, cold weather, but in the sunshine we turn magically into poets, raconteurs and professional comedians.


In writing news, I’ve been making good on my promises to keep submitting work for publication. This week, I’ve submitted work to one competition, and submitted two more pieces to literary magazines. I’m still pinching myself at the thought that over the next few weeks, three of my stories will be seeing the light of day in three separate magazines. It’s a feeling I’m not sure words can adequately describe. An added benefit is that with every small success, submitting work to new places gets easier and easier – you feel better about yourself when you can say in your covering email that ‘My work has appeared in X Magazine, Y Magazine and Z Magazine’. It makes you a better prospect for a new publisher if you’ve been published elsewhere, and it also makes you feel like less of a spoofer and more of a professional (albeit an unpaid one).

That’s not to say it’s an easy thing to do, this submitting pieces of your heart to the cold scrutiny of an Editor. In fact, it’s been one of the scariest things I’ve ever done. And it’s only when I started talking about it here, and on Twitter, that I realised how many other people struggle with it, too. Other writers, many of whom I deeply admire and whose talent leaves me in the shade, find it hard to summon up the courage to submit their work to journals, periodicals and magazines. I hope that my efforts will encourage them, just as their efforts may encourage me in the future. The writing karma-wheel spins on.

In April, I’m planning to get back into ‘Eldritch’. It’s been so long since I’ve mentioned it that I’ll forgive you if you’ve forgotten all about it. I’ve had a break from it for long enough now to come back to it with fresh eyes, and I’d love to get it edited, trimmed, tidied-up, scrubbed and tied in a bow, and flung around to agents and publishers before the end of April. I think having a small clutch of publications in my sweaty, hopeful fist will look good when I try to find a home for my precious little novel, so the work I’ve put in all during March won’t have gone to waste. At least, that’s what I’m telling myself.

It can be hard to keep going at times, and occasionally the inspiration/motivation engine will burn low. Finding out that a story you’ve loved, sweated over, tweaked and fiddled with until it’s nearly driven you cross-eyed has been selected for publication is like having a shovelful of coal thrown into your writing furnace, and it’s a very welcome boost. The only problem is, those shovelfuls of coal can be rare and unexpected, so it’s hard to rely on them to keep you stringing one word behind another. Then, I guess the beginning stages of any writing career are like the rainy, cold, unwelcoming weather we’re having at the moment – hard to put up with, depressing to live through, but a necessary precursor to the sunnier days that will follow.

If I can believe that sunnier days are on the way, I’m certain I can believe that things will – one day – turn up golden for my words, too.

Happy Friday, all. Stay warm, stay well, stay writing!