Want to write a novel, but juggling a day job, commute and other such commitments? I’ve written novels and screenplays while shuttling back and forth to London, and here are five tips that helped me make the most of my limited time…
Blurbs are hard and I’ve been tweaking mine (ooh, Matron!)…
Hello folks, Mark Stay here. I’m sure you’ll be delighted to learn, I’ve been tweaking my blurb. Ooh, Matron. What does that mean? Well, the blurb is the book description. It’s that three paragraphs that you see on the back of the paperback or on the online retailers’ book description. And it’s one of the most powerful selling tools you have, because it’s usually the first thing that people see, and it helps them make up their mind if they actually want to read on and buy the book, and what have you. So, I got some feedback from Simon and Schuster’s sales department. They felt the blurb was reading a little bit too young… skewing a little bit too young. Let me just read it out to you to give you an idea. So here’s the blurb as was, and then I’ll talk about how I’ve tweaked it and how it’s changed.
So here’s the original blurb: As Spitfires roar overhead, and a dark figure stalks the village of Woodville, a young woman will discover her destiny. Faye bright always felt a little bit different. And today she’s found out why. She’s just stumbled across her late mother’s diary, which includes not only a spiffing recipe for jam roly poly, but spells incantations, runes and recitations… a witch’s notebook and Faye has inherited her mother’s abilities. Just in time too… the Crow Folk are coming. Led by the charismatic Pumpkinhead, their strange magic threatens Faye and the villagers. Armed with little more than her mum’s words, her trusty bicycle, the grudging help of two bickering, old ladies and some aggressive church bell ringing, Faye will find herself on the front lines of a war nobody expected. Now, the things that jump out there are references to jam roly, poly, which is in the book, and the word spiffing.
I felt they may be felt a little bit too Famous Five. This all sort of begs the question: who is this book for? You know: do you want it read by a YA market or middle grade market? And let’s define what they are: middle grade is kind of up to about… Sort of from about eight to about 12 years old. YA is anywhere from mid teens, right up to mid thirties. Actually that older, mid thirties market I think would really, really enjoy this, but you don’t want to put off a whole corner of the market that might read that and think, Oh, that’s a bit young for me. It’s a bit childish, perhaps. I mean, this book doesn’t have any swearing, because of the period really, uh, there’s, there’s no violence. Certainly not as violent as my previous books.
There’s no sex. So it could genuinely be read by anyone from the age of 10 upwards. But, it does deal with the second world war. There are demonic forces at work here. So, you know, you don’t want to put people off, but you want to sort of capture the tone of the book. So I went back and forth with my publisher on this. We removed those words like spiffing, words, like jam roly poly, and tried to make it just a little bit darker. We went a bit too far with some of our efforts, but then we dialed it back a bit. So, here’s what we got. So, uh, this is the new blurb: War rages in Europe, but in a quiet village in rural Kent, there is another battle to be won. Faye Bright has always known she was different, but when she discovers her late mother’s diary, she realizes why. It’s full of spells incantation, runes, and recitations.
It is a witch’s notebook and Faye has inherited her mother’s abilities. Just in time too. The Crow folk are coming. And they want that book. Led by the charismatic pumpkinhead, their strange magic threatens Faye and the villagers. Armed with little more than her mum’s words, the grudging help of two bickering witches, and some aggressive church bellringing, Faye will find herself on the front lines of a war with demonic forces. So you see, there are slight differences. You know, we got rid of jam roly poly, spiffing. We’ve got demonic forces in there, so it’s darker, but not too dark. And hopefully this will have that kind of crossover appeal. What’s really helped in the last week or so is I’ve started getting quotes from other authors, which is just amazing. So we’ve got a quote from Rowan Coleman. Thank you, Rowan.
This is amazing. She says it’s full of magic and delight, and we’ve put that on the front cover. And Julie Wassmer, has said it’s warm, witty, witchy, wartime fun, which again adds the fun element to it. So we don’t have to put that in the blurb. So you’ve got those two things working together. You’ve got the kind of the darkness of the blurb, but reassuring voices, other authors saying: you know what, it’s fun as well. So, yeah, we’ve also put a little shout line on the cover as well, which is: June, 1940 rationing blackouts, witchcraft. Which again, you know, combines all the, all those elements of the story. Blurbs are hard. They’re really, really hard. I mean, we’ve, uh, we’ve gone back and forth on this for months and they’re never kind of set in stone either. They’re things that evolve over time. Certainly my robot overlords blurb, has been updated recently with references to quarantine… Rather than being stuck inside. You know, you are in quarantine, lockdown, they’re using words that are very topical. That just happened. I didn’t have anything to do with that, but I think it’s very smart on the part of Gollancz to do that. So yes, blurbs: ever-evolving, ever-changing. I hope you’ve enjoyed this, hope you find it useful and, uh, speak to you again soon. Bye.
What are page proofs? And what should an author do with them? In this quick and easy video, I’ll show what I did with mine when they arrived last week. You’ll learn what they’re for, why I read them out loud, and why I back them up to a master document.
TRANSCRIPT: Hello folks. I’m Mark Stay. I’m an author and a screenwriter. And in the run up to the publication of my new book, The Crow Folk, which is coming February 2021, I’m gonna be posting regular updates here. There’s stuff about the book and the story, but also behind the scenes stuff about the process of publication and particularly all the fun stuff that happens in the run up to the big publication day.
And just recently, I got my page proofs from my publisher. So I’m going to talk about what I do with those and how I review them for my publisher. We’re a little over three months away from the publication of The Crow Folk and the proof pages were sent to me as a PDF. This is how the printed book will look on the page. They used to come as a big wodge of paper, but now, for various reasons – economical, environmental – they’re sent as a PDF. I did look into getting them printed locally, but for a 352 page document, it would’ve cost about 35 to 50 quid, depending if I wanted it one-sided or or two-sided.
Now the proof pages are an author’s last opportunity to really spot any errors and make any changes. Not big changes, either. This is not an edit. The edit is done. This is not the time to decide to move that pivotal scene in Act two into Act One No, no, no… What you’re looking for are typos, formatting errors, clunky sentences. And that’s about it. I read them out loud. Why? Well, when I was at Orion — I worked for the Orion Publishing Group for many, many years — the audio director, Pandora White, said she wished all authors would read their proof pages out loud. And the reason is that by the time they came round to recording the audio book, the proof pages had been done and sent off to the printers. So if they ever spotted any errors — and they often did — it was too late to do anything about it. So y’know, that’s why I read it out loud. I know authors who use speech software to have their computer read it back to them, which is a good way to spot typos and clunky sentences, but you miss homonyms. So y’know there are at least two I can recall from this book: draft and draught, and hole and whole. You miss fomatting errors. You can’t hear when the formatting is wrong, y’know. So I had a question mark slip off the end of the line and end up at the beginning of the next line on this ones, so I was able to pick that, so to catch that. So I read out loud. I make the words as big as possible on the screen, because I’m one of those people who tends to speed, read and skip ahead, and that’s how you miss stuff.That’s how you miss the little tiny details, and you can’t make that mistake when the words are so huge. When I read, I do so in a soft voice and try not to make it too dynamic or dramatic. You know this process can take as long as a week, and I need to save my voice. There’s a fine line between a soft voice and monosyllabic.
I mark-up the pdf as I go. I read for about an hour a time, and then I usually take a break, do a little bit of housework or something just to get the circulation going again. I generally find I can only read in the mornings. I’m just too drowsy in the afternoon and I miss stuff.
At the end of each session, I go back to my original document, which is a Scrivener document. You may use Word or similar, and I go and make those changes. All those mark-ups that I’ve made. I go and make them in my original document. And I did that for the edit, and the copy edit: any changes go back into a master document so that I have a master doc with all the updated changes. You’d be amazed how few authors do this and that’s not unreasonable. Why should I do this? The publisher is making those changes and putting it out there. But at some point in the future, you may need that document. You may part company with your publisher, you know, authors get the rights back to their books, and I may want to self publish it in 20/30 years’ time or whatever. And the last thing I want to do is have to go through this process all over again. And also, you know, you can’t just ask the publisher for those files. They’ll charge you for them. They spent money creating them, and they will charge you. Sometimes it’s hundreds of pounds, and if you got a whole series that can really, really add up so, you know, create an archive, back it up, get into the habit of creating an archive. So that’s it. That’s reading page proofs.
The Little People are coming…
BIG NEWS! My monster movie screenplay THE LITTLE PEOPLE is going to be a movie. I worked on the story with director Jon Wright (who I cannot praise and thank enough), and we have a dream team to make it. There’s more here in the Hollywood Reporter…
|I’ve got my writing groove back. After finishing a screenplay at the end of March I was feeling pretty knackered and then along came a certain pandemic (you may have seen some mention of it on the news) and it fairly took the wind out of my sails… but then I got some news that got me going again.|
I can’t really say much about it other than it looks like I will have a book out next year — the beginning of a brand new series! — and it will be the first of three, if not more. And if you want some clue as what it’s about, here’s a pic of some of the books I’ve been reading for research…
|The first book in the series is written and is currently getting the red pen treatment from the editor. In the meantime, I’m writing the sequel and, in a departure from my usual method, I’m writing by the seat of my pants. I’ve always been a big planner, but this time I decided to just, y’know, make it up as I go along… and I’m loving it! I blogged about it recently and you can read more here.|
What’s Keeping Me Sane…
|I’ve re-read Terry Pratchett’s Lords and Ladies, which I pretty much picked at random off the shelf. This is Discworld at its peak for me. Effortless to read, very funny and full of wisdom. I’ll be going back there again soon.|
I’m about to start Gray Williams’ second novel Strange Ways. I really enjoyed his debut, The End of the Line, which was a cracking supernatural thriller and this promises to be even more intense, I mean look at that cover with the lightning and the fire and the pointy things…
|Fiona Apple’s Fetch the Bolt Cutters is one of those albums where you can’t wait to learn all the lyrics so you can sing along with the same conviction she has. Righteous stuff.|
For writing music, I’ve tapping along to Torin Borrowdale’s score for Locke & Key, and Anastasis by Dead Can Dance.
Film & TV
|I’ve been re-watching long movies over two or three nights: Midsommar, Amadeus, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood all benefit from an early night and regular loo breaks. I’m trying to convince Claire to watch The Irishman with me… that might take a few nights.|
TV has been less challenging. Schitt’s Creek has been a comfort-watch. If you’ve tried and given up after the first season, do persevere. It’s a joy and the finale had me grinning like an idiot. And the most recent season of Curb Your Enthusiasm is a major return to form. I know Larry is an acquired taste, but I love his wry and excruciating way of never knowing when to just shut up.
Oh, and I watched Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker for the first time since seeing it at the cinema (remember them?). I have thoughts here.
More News To Come…
|Apologies again for being Captain Vague Pants, but I’m hoping to have more details on the book thing soon, as well news about a movie and a TV show. It’s all exciting stuff and means I will be a very busy boy for the next year or so. If you want to be the first to know, then make sure you sign-up to my newsletter here.|
Till next time, stay safe, healthy and keep being groovy…
Or, How I Learned to Write Without a Massive Outline
For as long as I’ve written, I’ve loved a good outline. It comes from my screenwriting where outlines are something of a necessity when dealing with agents, producers, directors, etc. They like to know what they’re getting for their money upfront and it’s not unusual for the writer to put together some kind of pitch, synopsis or beat-by-beat outline ahead of actually writing the thing.
I’ve done the same with my novels. I’ve always liked to write a thorough chapter-by-chapter outline — a clear roadmap, because I’d hate to be halfway through a hundred-thousand word novel and not have a clue what happens next, or discover a massive plot hole. If you’re a regular listener of the Bestseller Experiment podcast, you’ll know that it got me a proper bollocking from that nice Mr Ben Aaronovitch (skip to about 26 minutes in…).
Since the Great Bollocking I’ve had two novels published, Back to Reality and The End of Magic, both heavily outlined and people seem to like them. But… both were well in progress when Ben gave us an earful, so I figured what the hell, I should just finish what I started with them.
I listen back to our old podcasts fairly regularly. Not out of any vanity, but I really do believe we got tons of amazing evergreen advice from some of the best authors in the business and it would be daft to ignore them. One thing that became clear is there’s no single method of writing a novel. Lots of writers love to outline, plenty of them are pantsers (writing by the seat of their pants… a term I had not heard before starting the podcast), many do a little of both. There’s no definite, step-right-this-way-to-success system. You have to figure out what works for you and build on that.
I was happy outlining, but I’ve prided myself on never writing anything the same way twice. Every time I start a project, it’s a little different and I learn something new. I figured it was time for a big change, so why not try and pants a full-length story?
But what about that fear of getting lost? Of getting halfway through a story and not knowing where to go next?
It was another podcast that had a nugget of advice that unlocked it for me. I’m a big fan of Scriptnotes, a podcast for screenwriters (and things that are interesting to screenwriters). In it, screenwriters John August (Big Fish) and Craig Mazin (Chernobyl) discuss craft and the industry, and I find it invaluable. Last summer (2019) they released an episode featuring just Craig who gave a talk that he’s given to screenwriters at festivals over the years.
The advice that stuck out for me was this…
“If you can write the story of your character as they grow from thinking “this” to “the opposite of this”… you will never ask what should happen next ever again.”Craig Mazin, Scriptnotes, ep403, 41m 50s
A little lightbulb went off in my head. It was the same question I would ask myself while writing an outline anyway, so why not apply it to the blank page of a fresh draft? Would it be any different? Would it be any better?
I’ve been using and adapting this method for one screenplay (written on spec, no outline necessary) and one-and-a-bit novels and I’m loving it. I’ll start with a one-page outline, but with a bigger focus on character and theme. Who is this character? How will they change, and what’s stopping them from doing it? With those two polar opposites in mind, I rough out a very basic story and then start writing. It can be hard at first as you test the water. When I get stuck, I put the laptop aside and start scribbling in a notebook with Mazin’s advice in mind: What’s what the worst thing that can happen? What will stop this character from getting what they want? How will they overcome it?
If I can’t figure it out right away, I might stop writing altogether and get on with my day. More often than not I’ll have a solution come out of the blue while I’m washing dishes, in which case I dry my hands and email myself the note ready for the next day.
It’s working so far. The screenplay has a director and producer attached and looks like it’s a goer, and the one and a bit novels…? I’m hoping to have some good news about them soon.
I’m not saying this is going to work for everyone, but I’m enjoying living on the edge. If you’re a big outliner, why not give it a go? All you’ve got to lose is your word count…
|To say that things are weird at the moment would be the understatement of the 21st century and I’ve been meaning to update the blog for about two weeks now, but the time never quite felt right. |
I’m sure you’ve all seen social media posts and blogs urging folk to “start writing that novel, there’s never been a better time”, but I’ll be honest with you, I really struggled to concentrate on writing those first few weeks.
Apart from the world going topsy turvy, I had also just finished some intense final draft work on a screenplay, so I was pretty wiped anyway… but I’m back in the groove now, and the thing that’s really helped me is using the BXP2020 challenge method of just 200 words a day. That little and often method really helps build a habit, especially if you’re picking it up again after a bit of time off.
That said, if you’re not in the mindset to work, you should give yourself permission to take a vacation from creativity.These are crazy days and no time to be pressurising yourself.
WATCH, LISTEN & READ
|What I’m watching…|
My daughter Emily and I recently finished a months-long Game of Thrones marathon. My second time, her first. I don’t care what you say, that final season is magnificent and all the more effective when you give it a seven-season run-up.
Picard was an emotional rollercoaster and yes, parts of the ending were silly (I see Trek has fallen into the same “More spaceships! More! More!!!” bear trap that Rise of Skywalker opened), but a simple scene of a final farewell between two old friends was more engaging than any number of starships.
I’m three episodes into The Mandalorian (we only just got Disney+ in the UK) and it’s exactly what I want from my Star Wars — just the right mix of Western steeliness, blaster action, strange creatures, childish cuteness, wry humour and jetpacks. All the jetpacks.
Emily and I are also one episode away from the Locke & Key finale, which reminds me…
What I’m reading…
I recently re-read the Locke & Key comics by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez and it’s fascinating to contrast them with the Netflix show, which is appealingly YA in its tone. The comics can be much more nihilistic (particularly with the villains who regularly murder innocents in the comics, but are slightly more sympathetic on TV). I wonder if that indicates a change in Joe and Gabriel’s work since the comics, or simply what it took to unlock it for TV?
I’ve also been researching for various projects. Lots of magic and witchcraft. The Occult, Witchcraft & Magic by Christopher Dell is a wonderful illustrated history, and The Book of English Magic by Philip Carr-Gomm & Richard Heygate is thorough without taking itself too seriously.
I’ve also been reading Tempest, the final volume of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill. Story-wise it’s not as satisfying as the previous adventures, but the concept of adopting different styles of comics through the ages is ingenious.
What I’m listening to…
I’ve really gone back to basics during the lockdown. Lots of Beatles and Floyd — stuff I can sing along with. While writing this I had on Matt Berry’s TV Themes (tons of nostalgia dipped in acid jazz) and Mozart’s Requiem (weirdly soothing).
I’m also listening to… other people! Before the Corona-crisis I would put off phone calls, knowing I would catch up with people sooner or later. Now I’m taking calls all day, often with old friends I haven’t spoken to in yonks. One of the positives in all this madness.
Leaving the plugs till last…
A couple of my books are on offer at the moment…
In the UK, Back to Reality is 99p in the Kindle March sale. Just a few days left!
|Also in the UK, the eBook of Robot Overlords is 99p for the foreseeable future. I asked Gollancz to do this as the opening of the book — where everyone in the world is confined to their homes — seemed somewhat apt. Here’s me reading from it over on my Facebook page. It’s available on Kindle, Apple, Kobo and Google.|
Oh, and here’s an important message from our Robot Overlords.
Finally, if you want your book edited, copy-edited, proofread, or just want a reader’s report, reply to this email and we’ll get the ball rolling. I have all sorts of services for writers and I have plenty of time on my hands (that won’t last, by the way… I’ve recently had some news about some TV, film and book projects that will make me a very busy boy in the second half of this year!).
Hang in there…
This won’t end overnight. We’re in this for the long run. Weeks at least, months most likely. But together we’ll get through this. I usually sign off emails with “All the best” or “Speak soon”, but lately I’ve been using…
Stay safe and healthy,
Good gravy, can The End of Magic really be a year old already? I guess if you’ve been keeping up with the blog and me constantly banging on about it, it must feel more like a decade, but as I get older the years become more of a blur and it’s good to take stock occasionally.
Below are some select diary entries from around the time of publication, along with a few asides to put them in perspective. Once again, a huge thank you to everyone who supported the book. It would not have been possible without you.
Monday 28th January
The End of Magic has arrived!
My finished copies were delivered this afternoon and I’m very happy with them. They’re reassuringly chunky, the spot UV on the cover will help them stand out, and the cover art is magnificent in the flesh.
Claire and Emily helped with a little social media video where we played out the where George McFly gets his books and I’m happy to say it’s getting lots of love online.
Wednesday 30th January
A good writing start this morning, but when I had a mid-morning cuppa I checked social media and discovered that folk were getting their copies of The End of Magic! There followed a day of social media madness as the good people who pledged for the book sent photos and congratulations. It was euphoric, overwhelming, and I could get very used to it.
I have an email dated 5th February where I inform Unbound that a reader noticed two typos. This is pretty standard with any book, despite all the proofreading. We fixed the eBooks pronto.
Wednesday 6th February
No writing today for two reasons…
- It’s publication tomorrow and there’s all sorts of bits of social media to prepare, and…
- My MacBook went kaput yesterday. The keyboard and trackpad wouldn’t respond.
I took it to Stormfront this afternoon and the guy held it up to his ear. “I think there’s something rattling about in there,” he said. He ran a diagnostic, restored it a few times and it was fine. Phew.
Friday 8th February 2019
The End of Magic is out now!
Well, yesterday… Quite an exhausting day yesterday, so let’s take it one step at a time.
Yes, the book is out and off to a good start with reviews: three five-star reviews on Amazon, and a four and a five on Goodreads.
I had a day in London yesterday, starting with an attempt at uploading all kinds of social media for the book via the wifi at Waterstones, Tottenham Court Road. It was too slow to the point of stopping, so I took myself off to the Byron at Farringdon where I was meeting Graeme (author Gray Williams) for lunch, got there early and gobbled up most of my spare data using the hotspot on my phone*
*It still astonishes me how much money I spend on data
(After lunch I met with two of my uncles who showed me where they grew up with my dad. We’ll skip that bit!)
After that I met with writer and comedian Caimh McDonnell. We’re both Ed Wilson’s clients and Caimh is a fan of the podcast. I interviewed him and we had a good chat and drink afterwards. He’s a great guy — generous and funny.
*Yes, I do shameless namedropping even in my own diary. It’s partly why I started a diary. I kept meeting amazing people and then forgetting that I met them.
Told you, my memory is like a sieve.
This morning I put together a couple of ad campaigns and caught up on emails.
Tonight, Claire and I went to Vicky Newham’s book launch at Harbour Books and chatted with Vicky and her editor Clio.
It was around this time that I discovered that Unbound had published the eBook with two of the chapters in the wrong order! A bit of a panic as I kept readers updated, while Unbound made the fix. To be fair, they were pretty quick about it.
Thursday 14th February
Tonight I drove down to Tunbridge Wells for the Dominic King show (on BBC Radio Kent) and I got to plug the book and tomorrow’s launch big time. Also started to notice that complete strangers are mentioning me and The End of Magic and saying nice things. Exciting stuff!
Saturday 16th February
Last night was the launch party for The End of Magic and I’m still coming down from the giddy high it gave me.
Claire made amazing cupcakes, George handed them out and charmed the crowd (Yes! A crowd — 20+ people), and Emily live-streamed it and did cool time-lapse videos.
Rich Boarman — The Steam Wizard! — was there with Steam Witch Katie, and the Steam Sorcerer Andrew, and they stood by the door of Harbour Books getting admiring honks from passing cars and drawing the punters in.
(There’s a bit here where I name people who turned up, but I’m bound to have forgotten someone, so I’m leaving it out here)
I gave a speech thanking basically everyone I know, I read a short extract, and I offered to donate a pound for every copy sold to Nordoff Robbins as part of Jason Ritchie’s 50 Gigs in a Day event (we raised forty quid!).
It was overwhelming. Olivia (from Harbour Books) said it was one of the best and busiest launches they could remember.
Once we figured out how to fit the magic staff in the car — it had been presented to me at the start of the event by Rich, and it is magnificent! — we went for chips.
What an incredible evening.
Saturday 23rd February
Faversham Literary Festival
In the evening I was back for my event with David John Griffin. We had about twenty people and it was good event with excellent questions. We started selling our own books, but then the room was swamped by bloody poets turning up for their open mic session, so few people could actually get close to us… Which was not conducive to sales.
It was around this time that I started planning to self-publish The End of Magic in the US. Unbound don’t have much of a presence there, and I fancied self-publishing it after my experiences with Back to Reality. This had all been agreed at the contract stage with Unbound, but they still fed their edition out to the world, including the US. Having seen this sort of thing happen many times when I was Orion, I knew it was a simple fix and I asked Unbound to sort the feed. They promptly did… but also accidentally removed it from the UK Amazon store… This was after a successful AMS ad campaign that placed it in the top 100 Fantasy titles. It never really got the same momentum again. Sigh.
Friday 8th March
I sent a signed a contract to Amazon for The End of Magic, finally proving that I have US rights, so with any luck I can get that live soon, too.
And thus ended a barrage of emails between me, Unbound and Amazon sorting the rights situation. Would I do it again? Possibly, but it was a right old faff and accidentally removing the book from Amazon was a real blow. Amazon’s algorithms were behind me, I was making my up the charts and becoming more and more visible and then… nothing. Ah well. Onwards. Upwards.
The question I get asked the most is will there be a sequel. Probably not. At least, not with Unbound. As publisher, they have first dibs on any sequels and I don’t fancy going through the fundraising process again, lest I become like that guy in the office who goes on a 5k charity fun run every few months and expects you to donate every time (that said, I am mulling over the idea of doing a Kickstarter for something very different). I have ideas for a sequel, but I had planned for the book to work as a stand-alone, which is does.
The biggest surprise is how many reviews I get that say, “I don’t normally read fantasy, but I really enjoyed this.” That’s my market. Which might explain why it’s been so blooming difficult trying to target them with ads to keep the sale momentum.
But I must stop griping. Overall, The End of Magic has been a terrific experience. I had great editors, fantastic cover art, and incredible support from readers.
Thank you all!
UPDATE: It looks like this is being bumped to later in the year. You can click on this link to get reminders.
Writers! Want to get published? Course you do… Then come and join me and a bunch of amazing people at Foyles, Charing Cross Road, London on Saturday 8th February for the Publishing Talk one day masterclass for writers…
This was great fun last year, and perfect for any writers who are serious about getting publishing. There’s a great line up this year…
- Bec Evans, productivity expert, co-founder of Prolifiko and and author of How to Have a Happy Hustle
- Nicola May, Number one bestselling self-published author of 10 novels including The Corner Shop in Cockleberry Bay
- Scott Pack, publisher, editor and author of How to Perfect Your Sumbission
- Bella Pagan, editorial director, Pan Macmillan
- Jon Reed, founder of Publishing Talk and author of Get Up to Speed with Online Marketing
- Debbie Young, self-published author and Author Advice Centre Manager, the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi)
And me! I’ll be talking about the most important things I’ve learned from over 250 episodes of the podcast and the BXP2020 challenge.
I’ve been at this freelance malarkey for a year now and I’m somehow still solvent. The principles of what I learned earlier this year remain the same, but I have a confession…
I started applying for jobs.
Y’know, jobs with salaries and pensions and commutes and all the stuff I had consigned to the past when I found myself suddenly self-unemployed. Why? Because the banks insist I pay back this mortgage thingy, and suppliers will insist that I pay for goods and services. Unbelievable, eh?
Around mid-October I started to panic. It was very clear that the money was draining faster than it was being replaced and that I would run out of dosh just in time for Christmas.
Here’s the thing: I have a TV show in development, a feature film script with a great director attached, I have three novels published and one about to go out on submission. I’ve had my best year ever as a writer since Robot Overlords was released but, crucially, none of these gigs are paying anything like a living wage.
If the TV show happens I’m off to the races, but TV is high-risk business. Big budgets mean slow progress. I’ve been paid an option plus renewal (a couple of grand). The same risk and speed applies to the film script, though this is a spec script and it hasn’t paid a penny yet. Books move marginally faster, but the advances and royalties have a long way to go before they pay the bills.
I’ve tried getting TV writing work, but still have a long way to go before I have the kind of contacts who will hire me (a lot of it word-of-mouth/who-you-know). Again, there’s a high risk factor. TV is expensive, and me having made a movie and a stack of spec scripts doesn’t seem to be enough for TV producers to take a chance.
It was becoming clear that writing — the thing that took up most of my working day — wasn’t going to keep me in the manner in which I was accustomed…
And so my mind defaulted to the thing I knew was safe and certain: a job with a salary.
I began scouring the Bookseller and other publishing work agencies for jobs. Preferably for some sort maternity/paternity cover that would tide me over till the TV/Film/Book big time happened (stop sniggering at the back – it’ll happen). I applied for a number of jobs that I was perfect for. I had the experience they needed and I was ready to start immediately. What could possibly go wrong?
Warning: the next few paras will make me sound like a grumpy old man, but I can only speak from my own experience as a grumpy old man…
Nobody wanted me! I had interviews, sure, but the language of job vacancy copy is quite revealing. They blurb excitedly of dynamism and enthusiasm and pro-active-ness, but when you get to my age that all sounds exhausting. Whatever happened to a safe pair of hands? Someone who will come in and do the job to the best of their ability with a smile on their face and not set fire to the place??
Also, middle-aged folk don’t come cheap. We expect to be paid well, unlike the poor Millennials who have all been duped into taking a pittance and expected to work all hours. In the interviews I was treated like a curiosity. A survivor of the digital wars of the early 2000s, and one that would probably answer back occasionally, take an hour for lunch, and leave on time every day. Okay, yes, I guess it was my attitude that lost me the jobs, but there’s also a definite bias against middle-aged-grumps-who-don’t-take-any-crap in publishing. I’m shocked, I tell you. Shocked.
I also had a couple of replies telling me they’d read my CV and that I was a successful writer and grossly overqualified. If only they knew.
I think this was all publishing’s way of telling me that it was done with me.
The mind begins to reel when confronted with a black hole of uncertainty.
I’ve been skint before. I’ve been unemployed before, but not when I’ve been the one paying the mortgage. I’ve been massively overdrawn and in debt before, but I had the security of a monthly salary to at least rob Peter to pay Paul (with interest). I’ve never been in a situation when there was literally no more money coming in and yet here I was. Bear in mind, while all this was going there was a disastrous election, Brexit loomed like a cloud of poison gas, and humanity’s inability to get to grips with climate change made one entertain thoughts of selling-up and digging a large bunker in the Outer Hebrides.
What can you do but persist? I kept applying for jobs and touting for editorial work. The editorial stuff started coming in and that was good, but it was a few hundred quid here and there. Not enough to keep my head above water.
And then, quite unexpectedly, I got a job! It’s a book sales job, it’s dealing with Amazon and it’s with a fun indie publisher called Rat’s Tales selling some very cool thrillers (seriously, if you like a bit old-school Bond-meets-Jack Higgins-style adventure, check these out!). The wage is about half what I need to keep the wolf from the door, but it’s fun, they’re a great bunch and I can work from home.
I’m learning to live with uncertainty.
I’ve been scared of it for too long and now I’m challenging it to an arm wrestle in a crowded bar. Wish me luck…
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