Agent Update

Way back in February and March 2016 I posted parts one and two ‘About Literary Agents and How to Get One’. You can read part one here and part two here.

Yes, go and read them if you like, I’ll wait.

Back again?

Well, you’ll notice that I’d already had three literary agents when I wrote that article… but now it’s four.

Lost another one? You might well ask, but the fact of the matter is that Amy has moved out of being a literary agent and into another branch of publishing.

If you were paying attention when reading the history of my efforts to snag a good literary agent, you might recall that when I signed on with Agent #2 she was part of a big New York agency. Though #2 was my agent, my contract was actually with the literary agency, not with #2 personally. However when #2 decided to leave the big agency and set up on her own, I was faced with a decision. I could either stay with the agency, in which case they would have had to team me up with one of their other agents – an unknown quantity who may or may not like my writing – or I could resign from the agency and stick with agent #2 and become her personal client. I liked her enough to do that, so when – a year and a bit later – she decided to get out of agenting altogether, I was left high and dry. It’s not a unique story. Agents move, change, retire, or even die. A writer can find themselves abandoned for any number of reasons, and have to start the lit-agent search again.

Anyhow, you can imagine that I was disappointed to learn that Amy was leaving the Donald Maass Literary Agency behind because we’d got on well, and she’d negotiated contracts for my first five books. I sincerely wish her will in her career move. However this time, I knew I was in safe hands because my contract was with the agency, and DMLA has a great reputation. Of course, finding a compatible agent within the agency was still going to be a big leap of faith.

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Don Maass

Imagine my delight when I had a long skype conversation with Don Maass himself, and to cut a long story very short, he is my new agent! Wow, I could hardly have hoped for something this great. I’ve long been an admirer of his books: Writing the Breakout Novel, and The Fire in Fiction. Both highly recommended. He’s got a new book coming out – in fact it’s out in the USA already but I haven’t got my copy in the UK, yet: The Emotional Craft of Fiction.

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Style Sheets

typewriter-3There’s a lot of information to keep in your head if you’re writing a book. There’s even more if you’re writing a trilogy or a series.

I happily wrote seven books without having a single style sheet… and then I got published.

The first book to be published (not by any means the first book I wrote) was duly delivered, went through the editing stage (content editing, that is) and then, when the story was as good as we (the editor and I) could make it, it went off to be copy edited.

At that point I started to get questions. Was it jumpgate, jump gate or jump-gate? Should telepath be capitalised or not? Was it Arquavisa or Arquevisa because I’d spelled it both ways. At that point I realised that although I thought I’d (mostly) been consistent (except where I hadn’t), it wasn’t immediately obvious to the copy editor.

Crossways

Crossways: Book Two in the Psi-Tech series.

Also there were words of phrases that I’d appropriated that meant something slightly different in my universe. House gold was a type of beer. Telepath was capitalised when it was an implant-enhanced Telepath, a psi-tech, but not when it referred to a natural telepath or telepathy. The Folds (capitalised) was the proper name of that supposedly empty space between jump gates (not hyphenated), but foldspace (not capitalised) was a type of space, not a proper name. Jump drive was not hyphenated to jump-drive unless it was a compound modifier.

Confused?

All that and more.

I didn’t have a style sheet. It was a rookie mistake, and one I’ve not made since.

The copy editor of Empire of Dust had to make a style sheet of every name, unusual phrase etc. and the publisher very kindly passed it on. I used it as the basis of a series style sheet for all the Psi-Tech novels. I’m still using it.

Every character name is on there (twice – listed as Fred SMITH (m.) and SMITH, Fred (m.) so I can find it whether I look it up under surname or forename. (Surname always capitalised, just so I know.) Every hyphenation is on there where there’s a choice of whether to hyphenate or not. Every place name is on there. Every unusual phrase is on there, for instance:
‘Juno LAKE (f. Sofia Lake’s dtr married to a nice couple)’, or
‘Orphena – dryer than Orphena’s twelve moons (saying)’, or
‘dirtsider’ for someone who is planet-bound.

So every time you start a new book have a file open for your style sheet. Every time you decide whether or not to hyphenate a term, stick it on there. Every time you introduce a new character, or invent a new place, stick it on there. Every time you use a new swear word, stick it on there (especially if you decide to use frell or frack instead of the obvious four letter word).

Since mine has become a series style sheet, if I kill off a character I note it on the style sheet (and which book they die in), so I don’t accidentally have a walk-on character appear while dead, which would be very embarrassing.

I use Scrivener to write my first draft (and probably second), but my style sheet is a word doc. I use a twenty-three inch screen, so I can have Scrivener and Word open alongside each other while I work. And, of course, Scrivener incorporates places for your research and your character files, so you don’t need detail on your style sheet, just enough of a reminder so that the copy editor knows what’s what.

Whenever I deliver a finished book to my publisher I send the latest version of the style sheet. It saves a lot of questions. I don’t always get the same copy editor as I had for the last book, and even if I do, they aren’t guaranteed to remember what went before any more than I am.

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Ten Quick Tips for Writers

typewriter-3Here are ten quick tips for writers (not necessarily in order of usefulness and not necessarily complete). Feel free to ignore what doesn’t work for you. Remember: ‘Follow no rule off a cliff.’ – C.J. Cherryh. Besides these are not rules – they’re more like guidelines.

  1. Finish what you write. If you can finish a novel you’ll be ahead of more than 90% of wannabe novelists.
  2. Don’t mix up editing and revision. When you’ve finished your first draft, put it away for a few weeks (or a few months if you have the luxury of time and you’re not chasing a deadline – though write something else in the interim). When you come back to it, the distance will give you perspective. Your first revision shouldn’t be merely tickling words to find a better way of saying something, but it should be structural: fixing plot holes, deepening characters, backtracking to foreshadow something you only decided to add at a later stage, adding a sub-plot, subtracting a sub-plot, changing the plot, changing viewpoint from first to third or vice versa. You can strengthen your verbs and remove your adverbs on the next pass.
  3. Cut out the parts that don’t move the story forward. Cut out the bits that bore you (because it’s quite likely that they’ll bore your readers, too). Boring scene? Consider, instead of a whole chapter full of road travel, writing something like: The journey from Watchtower to Lingfield took twelve gruelling days during which they progressed from arguing about politics to riding in sullen silence.
  4. When you get to the edit stage, don’t luxuriate in your own verbosity. (See what I did there?) Tell the story simply and cleanly in as few words as you need to make a good job of it. In particular, avoid raiding the thesaurus for alternatives to ‘said’. Said is a perfectly functional word and often invisible to the reader, whereas your audience may be yanked out of the story by: “Damn silly,” he expostulated. Avoid adverbs if you can find a strong verb that nails the phrase you’re working on. Use: he dawdled; he ambled; he shuffled; he inched; he plodded; or he crept, instead of he walked slowly.
  5. WordleEvery writer has little words that creep in unnecessarily, add nothing to the text and act like a verbal tic. One of mine is ‘just’, as in: He just wanted a little peace and quiet. Cut them out. I have a list of words I check which include: just, back, up, down, that. Sometimes you can spot your verbal tics by making a ‘Wordle’ word pattern. Go to the website at http://www.wordle.net/create and paste in a section of your writing. Your most frequently used words will be the big ones on the graphic. Expect your characters’ names to be big, but if ‘just’ or ‘quite’ or ‘back’ is one of your big words, you need to check your manuscript. This is one of my old Wordles for ‘Empire of Dust.’ See how (middle left-ish) the word ‘back’ is way too big, and ‘just’ is pretty obvious, too, as is ‘get’. I fixed that and a few others after seeing the wordle.
  6. Words have rhythm and shape. When you’ve finished a piece to the best of your ability, read it aloud to yourself. Your mouth will catch the bloopers that your eye missed.
  7. Find a professional standard writers’ group, or a few good beta readers who will give you honest critique. Experienced readers are good. Experienced writer/readers are probably even better. Don’t recruit Auntie Nellie or your mum as a beta reader (unless they are published authors or reviewers for The Guardian). They will be honour bound to tell you it’s wonderful. It’s in their job description.
  8. Write, revise, edit, polish, and then do it again if you need to. Rinse and repeat. Be obsessive. Fourteenth draft? No problem as long as (a) you don’t have a publisher’s deadline and (b) each draft is better than the last. When you’re changing things for the sake of it, but not making it better, put your pen down.
  9. If you get an editor or agent interested in your magnum opus and they suggest an addition, subtraction or alteration, remember that they have a lot of experience in the publishing industry and you would be advised to take their advice seriously, but… Always remember that it’s your work and once it’s out there it will be your name on the book cover, not your agent’s, your editor’s or Auntie Nellie’s. Write what you’re passionate about. Write what excites you. Write something you can be proud of.
  10. When can you say it’s finished? Some writers say a novel is never really finished – it’s simply abandoned and sent out into the world.

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Silverwolf

silverwolf-final-cvr-400A tale of loyalty, love and magic running wild

Yay! Tuesday 3rd January 2017 was publication day for my fourth novel, Silverwolf, the sequel to Winterwood (which came out in February 2016). Silverwolf is published by DAW in the USA and Canada. It’s available in the UK as an import from that well known company named after a South American river.

Historical fantasy set in 1801, Silverwolf follows on from the adventures of Rossalinde (Ross) Tremayne and Corwen Silverwolf. Corwen appeared fully formed in Winterwood, a wolf shapechanger in the employ of the Lady of the Forests (the consort of the Green Man). In Silverwolf we get to see Corwen’s background, his home and his family, and we see more of England when Corwen is called home to Yorkshire.

Here’s what Silverwolf is all about:

Britain, 1801. King George’s episodic sanity is almost as damaging as his madness. First Consul Napoleon Bonaparte is gathering his forces in France. The disease of democracy is spreading. The world is poised on the brink of the modern era, but the rowankind, long a source of free labour, have shaken off their bonds. Some have returned to Iaru to find freedom with the Fae; others are trying to find a place in the world, looking for fair treatment under the law. The course of the industrial revolution may change forever.

Wild magic is on the rise. Creatures of legend are returning to the world: kelpies, pixies, trolls, hobs and goblins.

Ross and Corwen, she a summoner witch and he a wolf shapechanger, have freed the rowankind from bondage, but now they are caught in the midst of the conflict, while trying their best to avoid the attention of the Mysterium, the government organisation which would see them hanged for their magic.

When an urgent letter calls Corwen back to Yorkshire, he and Ross become embroiled in dark magic, family secrets and industrial treachery. London beckons. There they discover a missing twin, an unexpected friend, and an old enemy.

I had great fun writing Silverwolf and as it goes on sale I’m hard at work writing the third book in the Psi-Tech series (Nimbus, due out in October 2017) and then I plan to write the third Rowankind book, which follows straight on from Silverwolf and is called, simply: Rowankind.

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My Reading Year 2016

As this is my last blog post before 2017, it seems appropriate to round up my year’s reading. I did well this year – almost a hundred books read from cover to cover. I’m not counting books I bought and used for research because I don’t tend to read them in linear fashion, I cherrypick sections and information. The only non-fiction on this list has been read cover to cover. You can find full reviews of everything on this list at my Goodreads account or on my LiveJournal blog where I blog movies and books and occasional more personal bits than on this journal. My book blogs are purely personal rather than professional reviews, which is why I keep them on my LJ blog. I’ve been book-logging there since 2009. You can find all my booklogs by going to http://birdsedge.livejournal.com/ and filtering by ‘reading’ (right hand column).

So what have I been reading in 2016? Well, since I’ve also been busy writing I’ve tried to read books that haven’t interefered with my writing train-of-thought-at-the-time. Mostly I’ve succeeded. Highlights of 2016 have been:

  • the discovery of Jodi Taylor’s St. Marys books, wacky but with serious stakes
  • Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom duo and the rest of her Grisha books
  • Gaie Sebold’s Babylon Steel novels which I’ve been meaning to read for a few years and finally managed it
  • Ann Aguirre’s final Sirantha Jax book which i kept putting off reading because I didn’t want the series to end
  • catching up with Benedict Jacka’s Alex Verus novels at long last – now i can’t wait for the next one
  • Sean Danker’s The Admiral
  • finally finding a Zelazny that wows me. (A Night in the Lonesome October, narrated by Jack the Ripper’s dog.)
  • reading more Georgette Heyer Regency romances – always a delight

Here’s my full reading list.

FICTION

  1. Patricia Briggs: Fire Touched – Mercy Thompson #9
  2. Andy Weir: The Martian.
  3. Lois McMaster Bujold: Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen – Vorkosi #16
  4. Paul Cornell: The Witches of Lychford
  5. Seanan McGuire: Every Heart a Doorway
  6. Julie Kagawa: The Iron King – The Iron Fey #1
  7. David Tallerman: Patchwerk
  8. Jim C Hines: Codex Born – Magic ex-Libris #2
  9. Benedict Jacka: Taken – Alex Verus #3
  10. Adrian Tchaikovsky: The Tiger and the Wolf – Echoes of the Fall #1
  11. Zen Cho: Sorcerer to the Crown – Sorcerer Royal #1
  12. Emma Newman: Between Two Thorns – Split Worlds #1
  13. Veronica Roth: Insurgent – Divergent #2
  14. Liesel Schwarz: A Conspiracy of Alchemists  – Chronicles of Light and Shadow #1
  15. Ann Aguirre: Endgame – Sirantha Jax #6
  16. Leigh Bardugo: Six of Crows – Six of Crows #1
  17. Anne Gracie: The Perfect Rake – Merridew Sisters #1
  18. Georgette Heyer: The Masqueraders
  19. Jim Butcher: The Aeronaut’s Windlass – Cinder Spires #1
  20. Diana Gabaldon: Virgins – Outlander (novella)
  21. Rachael Miles: Chasing the Heiress – The Muses Salon #2
  22. Tim Powers: Down and Out in Purgatory
  23. Guy Haley: The Emperor’s Railroad – Dreaming Cities #1
  24. Tim Lebbon: Pieces of Hate with Dead Man’s Hand
  25. Sarah Hegger: The Bride Gift
  26. Gaie Sebold: Babylon Steel
  27. Jodi Taylor: Just one Damn Thing After Another – Chronicles of St Mary’s #1
  28. Jodi Taylor: A Symphony of Echoes – Chronicles of St Mary’s #2
  29. Jodi Taylor: A Second Chance – Chronicles of St Mary’s #3
  30. Jodi Taylor: A Trail Through Time – Chronicles of St Mary’s #4
  31. Jodi Taylor: The Very First Damn Thing – Chronicles of St Mary’s 0.5
  32. Jodi Taylor: When a Child is Born – Chronicles of St Mary’s Short Story 2.5
  33. Jodi Taylor: Roman Holiday – Chronicles of St Mary’s Short Story 3.5
  34. Jodi Taylor: No Time Like the Past – Chronicles of St Mary’s #5
  35. Jodi Taylor: Ships and Stings and Wedding Rings – Chronicles of St Mary’s Short Story 6.5
  36. Jodi Taylor: What Could Possibly Go Wrong? – Chronicles of St Mary’s #6
  37. Jodi Taylor: Christmas Present – Chronicles of St Mary’s Short Story 4.5
  38. Jodi Taylor: Lies, Damned Lies and History – Chronicles of St Mary’s #7
  39. Joe Hill: The Fireman
  40. Benedict Jacka: Chosen – Alex Verus #4
  41. Lisa Tuttle: The Somnambulist and the Psychic Thief
  42. Peter S. Beagle: Summerlong
  43. Tom Lloyd: Stranger of Tempest (Couldn’t finish)
  44. Georgette Heyer: The Nonesuch
  45. Benedict Jacka: Hidden – Alex Verus #5
  46. Isabella Barclay: A Bachelor Establishment
  47. Walter Jon Williams: Voice of the Whirlwind
  48. Alexandra Bracken: The Passenger
  49. Eileen Putman: The Dastardly Duke – Love in Disguise #2
  50. Lois McMaster Bujold: Penric & the Shaman – Penric & Desemona #2
  51. Georgette Heyer: The Quiet Gentleman
  52. Karen Tuft: The Earl’s Betrothal
  53. Sally MacKenzie: What to do with a Duke – The Spinster House #1
  54. Julie Daines: Willowkeep
  55. Kevin Hearne: The Purloined Poodle – Oberon’s Meaty Mysteries
  56. Willow Palecek: City of Wolves
  57. Georgette Heyer: Sylvester
  58. Georgette Heyer: Devil’s Cub
  59. Georgette Heyer: Regency Buck
  60. Jodi Taylor: The Great St Mary’s Day Out – Chronicles of St Mary’s Short Story
  61. Regina Scott: The Husband Campaign – The Master Matchmakers #3
  62. C.E.Murphy: House of Cards – The Negotiator #2
  63. Allison Butler: The Healer – Borderland Brides #1
  64. Sean Danker: The Admiral – Evagardian #1
  65. Jodi Taylor: The Nothing Girl
  66. Cassandra Rose Clarke: The Wizard’s Promise
  67. Jodi Taylor: Little Donkey
  68. Donna Lea Simpson: Lord St Claire’s Angel
  69. Roger Zelazny: A Night in the Lonesome October
  70. Georgette Heyer: The Talisman Ring
  71. Alastair Reynolds: Revenger
  72. Janis Susan May: Miss Morrison’s Second Chance
  73. Regina Jeffers: Angel Comes to Devil’s Keep
  74. Leigh Bardugo: Crooked Kingdom – Six of Crows #2
  75. Leigh Bardugo: Shadow and Bone – The Grisha #1
  76. Leigh Bardugo: Siege and Storm – The Grisha #2
  77. Leigh Bardugo: Ruin and Rising – The Grisha #3
  78. Sean Danker: Free Space – Evagardian #2
  79. C.C. Aune: The Ill-Kept Oath
  80. Den Patrick: The Boy with the Porcelain Blade – Erebus Sequence #1
  81. Julia Quinn: The Duke and I – Bridgertons #1
  82. Benedict Jacka: Veiled – Alex Verus #6
  83. John Scalzi: Miniatures – The Very Short Fiction of John Scalzi
  84. Julia Quinn: The Viscount who Loved Me – Bridgertons #2
  85. Benedict Jacka: Burned – Alex Verus #7
  86. Lois McMaster Bujold: Penric’s Mission – Penric #3
  87. Bianca Blythe: A Rogue to Avoid – Matchmaking for Wallflowers #2
  88. Lois McMaster Bujold: Penric’s Demon – Penric #1
  89. Gaie Sebold: Dangerous Gifts – Babylon Steel #2
  90. Nick Wood: Azanian Bridges
  91. Genevieve Cogman: The Burning Page – Invisible Library #3
  92. Jodi Taylor: My Name is Markham – Chronicles of St Mary’s short story

NON-FICTION

  1. David McKie: What’s in a Surname
  2. Allison Kinney: Hood
  3. Nisi Shawl & Cynthia Ward: Writing the Other
  4. Susanne Alleyn: Medieval Underpants and Other Blunders
  5. Louise Allen: Walks Through Regency London
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The Yin and Yang of Writing Advice

Writing advice is great – when it works for you. When it doesn’t, find another way of doing things.

“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” —W. Somerset Maugham:

“Follow no rule off a cliff”—CJ Cherryh

 

yin-yangAccepted Wisdom says: Write every day.

I say: Except when you can’t. It’s all about balance. Come on, guys, life sometimes gets in the way. Some days just have your name on the shit-list from the get-go. You have a dentist’s appointment and come home feeling like you’ve been kicked in the chops by a donkey. Your kid is sick and clingy, so you have to do the mum/dad thing because that’s what being a mum/dad is all about. The washing machine repair man is due at 9.00 a.m., the central heating’s on the fritz and you have a dinner party for fourteen people to prepare. Your boss at work needs everyone to work late because the sky just fell in. It’s your birthday and your partner wants to take you out for dinner and a show, or a game of bingo. Your sister-in-law got bad news and she needs coffee and consolation more than you need to write chapter three. There are always reasons not to write, just try to make sure you don’t find a fresh one each day. I would moderate ‘Write every day’ to ‘Write every day that you can.’ If you’re one of those organised types who can get up at five a.m. and write for two hours before breakfast, then do it, but if, like me, you’re chaotic, write whenever you can. I’m much more likely to be able to write two hours after supper than before breakfast. I’m also a binge writer. I might go four days without writing a word, then spend three days hammering out five thousand words a day. It works for me. Whatever works for you is good – as long as you progress your writing at a speed that works for you. (If you’ve got a publisher’s deadline, you’d better be on target to meet it.)

 

typewriter-3Accepted Wisdom says: Start at the beginning. Don’t stop. Don’t go back to rewrite. If you need to make changes, just make a note and go back after you’ve finished.

I say: Fix mistakes as and when you spot them, otherwise they accumulate. There may be a limit to how many times you can rewrite Chapter One, but I haven’t found it yet. I appreciate that if you just keep rehashing the same work over and over again, you’re never going to be in a position to write ‘The End,’ however, and it’s a big however, I can’t jump forwards unless I’m jumping from firm ground, so if I don’t have the beginning sorted, I feel as though I’m standing on shifting sands. To continue mixing metaphors shamelessly, you can’t build a skyscraper on weak foundations. What works for me is to get the opening sorted out (even if I do have to take a few goes at it before it feels right). Once I get the opening sorted out, I keep moving forward – however – each day when I sit down to work I read over what I’ve written the previous day, making a few small tweaks if I have to, or even abandoning yesterday’s work altogether if I feel I’ve made a complete misstep. These rolling edits (a) get me in the right frame of mind to continue forward and (b) ensure there are no complete bloopers left in the manuscript to catch me out later.

This advice comes with one huge caveat. If you’re still writing yet another version of Chapter One after several years, consider that writing a novel may not be your path in life. (Just sayin’…)

PS, at this time of year I like to do a Books for Christmas post, but there’s a good one over on the Milford Writers’ Blog. Please go and take a look.

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Overnight Success in Only Sixteen Years

1956-jacey-school-pic-sm

Jacey – Aged Five

The beginning of my writerly story is lost in the mists of my childhood. I struggled with writing at school because, being a fluent reader (but not a writer) by the age of five, I was put into a class of kids who’d already had over a year in school. Playing catch-up, my mum encouraged me to spend twenty minutes writing a story every lunchtime (I went home for lunch in those days). Result: compulsive writer. I’ve never been able to stop. I’m not a writer because I can write. I’m a writer because I can’t NOT write.

scott-walker

Scott Walker, then of the Walker Brothers.

I started my first novel aged 15 and the world will be highly relieved to know that I only managed to write the first six chapters, though I may have been a little ahead of my time as it was a future dystopia. (Take that, Hunger Games!) Unfortunately it was peopled by close analogues of my favourite pop stars, particularly Scott Walker. Oh, well… at least my school friends thought it was brilliant. (Lesson number one: never ask your closest friends to be your critique partners.)

amstradpcw

Amstrad PCW

So let’s not start right back at the beginning, let’s skip a few years to 1994 when a friend lent me her Amstrad PCW on which to write my magnum opus. Before then I’d always written longhand and being a lousy typist might never have got to the stage of having a finished manuscript. So when I returned said machine I was bereft and immediately went out and bought one. Own up, how many of you started writing on an Amstrad in all its glory: non-WYSIWYG, with green-screen and a dot matrix printer? And wasn’t it glorious compared to an Imperial 66 manual typewriter or a notebook and pen? (Lesson number two: have the right tools for the job.)

jacey-vanc

Jacey on stage at Winnipeg Folk Festival, Canada, circa 1998

I wrote my first two novels on that Amstrad, juggling husband, kids and widowed mother while also carrying on a singing career with a cappella folk trio, Artisan (www.artisan-harmony.com) which involved a lot of travelling. The family was, if not supportive (because they barely knew what I was up to) at least tolerant of late mealtimes, late nights, obsessive keyboard hammering. Then I transferred to a PC, discovered email, got on the triple ‘W’ and found a usenet writers; group called misc.writing. There I learned about essentials like manuscript format, how to submit to a publisher and… the fact that if I was serious about this writing lark I needed an agent. (Lesson number three: talk to other writers and learn all you can from their experience.)

healers-warBy this time, through a friend of a friend in the music business, I’d met American writer Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, author of Nebula winner, The Healer’s War, who was writing a series of novels with Anne McCaffrey. Annie bought my first short story for an anthology she was editing called Warrior Princesses which came out in 1998. Anyhow, one Annie talked to the other on my behalf and an introduction to an agent in New Jersey ensued. By that time, though I’m British and based in Yorkshire, Artisan was playing regularly in the USA, so I even got to meet said agent in person. (Not always the case when you live half a world away from each other.) She shopped around my first novel and got a very encouraging ‘we-nearly-bought-this’ from HarperCollins, but regrettably didn’t actually sell it to any one of the (then) nine major publishers of fantasy and science fiction in the USA. I wasn’t too disappointed. First books don’t always sell, right? But I’d made a big rookie mistake in that the second book was a sequel to the first. (Lesson number four: stay flexible and keep your eye on practical possibilities.) Yeah, my agent shoulda, coulda warned me, but she wasn’t a hands-on agent, and we didn’t have that kind of relationship. In those days I didn’t even know that there was such a thing as a hands-on agent. Anyhow, I tried to make the sequel feel like a standalone and sent it to her. After a couple of months I got an email to say that she couldn’t sell the second book.

Now, it had taken over a year for her to decide she couldn’t sell the first book, and I got a list of which publishers had seen it and when. With the second one she was vague and somewhat evasive. Who’s seen it, I asked. Everyone. Well, can you give me a list? No answer. Did HarperCollins see it? They don’t want to see the same book twice. It’s not the same book… You get the idea? So (politely) we parted company. (Lesson number five: when something is really not working walk away with good grace and no acrimony.)

Getting agent number one had been so easy that I had no concept of how difficult it would be to get another agent. I was back at the beginning, learning how to write a cover letter and deal with the whole submission process. I was used to submitting short stories to magazines (I’d sold a few)  and even sending full books to publishers’ slushpiles, so I had the no simultaneous submissions rule pretty firmly in my head and I carried that forward into my submissions to agents. Submitting to only one agent at a time, and waiting, and waiting, and waiting. Some agents (bless them) rejected pretty quickly, some took six or nine months to reject (sometimes after going through the send-the-full-MS stage) others never responded at all. Skip forward eight years, and in that time I’d made about nine agency submissions, one painful long-drawn-out application at a time. (Lesson number six: Don’t waste time and/or opportunities.)

And then I got my break, a relatively new agent with a big New York agency who was just building a client list and whose guidelines said that [agent] did not necessarily require an exclusive submission, but if the author wished to give [agent] an exclusive then [agent] would respond more swiftly. I’d been giving agents exclusives for eight years! So I submitted, made sure [agent] knew it was an exclusive submission and waited. Bang on the time given in the agency guidelines I got a response asking for the full manuscript and shortly after that an offer of representation.

I was elated!

Unlike my first agent, Agent Two was a hands-on agent and worked with me to improve my manuscript before finally saying it was good enough to send out. (This is the manuscript that eventually became Winterwood.) I really liked Agent Two and was very hopeful. Then… with my book under submission, my agent decided to get out of agenting. Devastated doesn’t even begin to cover my feelings.

So now I had a book that Agent Two thought was perfectly marketable, but had already been seen by at least four of the major publishers with no success so far, and I was back to square one. No agent and no book sale. Though I did have a much improved book, thanks to my agent’s editorial advice.

But by this time I’d begun to wise up. (Lesson number seven: REALLY don’t waste time.) There’s nothing in the (unwritten) rules of submitting that says you can’t sim-sub to agents. I figured that I didn’t want to waste another decade with eight or nine agency submissions, so I decided to submit to all of them at once. Well, not quite all of them and not quite all at once, but…

I decided to make getting an agent my ‘job’ for the next few months. I began with research. There are a lot of websites out there that list agents and what they are looking for, one of the best being agentquery.com (http://www.agentquery.com/) which claims to be the internet’s largest free database of literary agents. I can easily believe that, though it is North-American in bias. I supplemented this with the Writers and Artists Yearbook in the UK (I’m British and I was looking on both sides of the Atlantic), and Chuck Sambuchino’s Guide to Literary Agents (http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents), a blog on the Writer’s Digest website.

Then, having built up my own database I started with my top picks and sent individual targeted submissions to each one, checking their websites and following their own guidelines. I also wrote a fresh cover letter for each one, picking up on their likes and dislikes if at all possible. I sent out fifty of these in a month. It was practically all I did. I was straight with them that the book Agent Two had submitted had already been seen by four publishers and that the only reason I was looking for a new agent was because my previous agent was retiring from the business, but that in the meantime I had more novels in reserve, seven in total. (Lesson number eight: whether your books are selling on not, keep writing, build up a portfolio.)

logo_dawIn the meantime I sent my manuscript to a publisher I really liked and one that I knew had not yet read the submission that Agent Two had sent. I did it with a recommendation from a friend already published by that publisher, which may have placed me closer to the top of the slushpile and certainly got me a note from the editor promising that she would read it as soon as she could but that she was very busy. Being very busy all the time is the natural state in which editors exist. (Lesson number nine: don’t be afraid to make use of contacts freely offered – but don’t be obnoxious if contacts are NOT freely offered.)

I began to get responses from my agent submissions. Some were form rejections, others were polite personal rejections and a few – enough – were requests for full manuscripts, which was encouraging.

My fifty submissions were still in the early stages. I’d ruled out about twenty of them, had not heard back from another twenty or twenty five, yet (but there was still time) and I had sent full manuscripts to a few and was waiting to hear back. I wasn’t getting despondent.

Then in July 2013 I got that email that every author wants. Sheila Gilbert at DAW said, I want to buy your book, when can I phone you?

Let me just say that again: I want to buy your book, when can I phone you?
And it was Christmas and Birthday all at once.

I didn’t need an agent now… but, hang on, yes I did. Why? Agents do more than sell a single book, they negotiate contracts, offer career advice and support and sell books for foreign language translation. My editor said she was happy to do the contract direct with me or to work through my agent, to which I said: Can you give me a week on that? She agreed. And then she asked the magic question: What else have you got?

So while I sent Sheila two more finished manuscripts I looked back at my list of agency submissions and picked out my ten favourites. Some had already asked for full manuscripts, some had not yet responded and one had already sent me a rejection, but I figured with an offer on the table she might change her mind. She didn’t – but I respect her for that. My email basically said I’d had an offer for my book and I would need a response within the week if the agent was interested in discussing the matter of representation further.

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Agent Amy

To cut a long story short: I received five offers of representation. Within a week I’d had long telephone conversations with the five who made offers, narrowed it down to one British and one American agent, both from highly respected agencies, and dithered for a couple of days, weighing up pros and cons. In the end, there was nothing to choose between them, so I went with my gut feeling and picked the one I’d been most comfortable chatting to. And I’m so pleased that I did. I am currently represented by the lovely Amy Boggs of Donald Maass Literary Agency in New York.

Amy developed DAW’s initial offer into a three book deal, two of them already written, Empire of Dust and Winterwood, and a sequel to Empire, to be written from scratch. This turned into Crossways. Following on from that is another deal, this time for two books, a sequel to Winterwood, called Silverwolf, which is due out on 3rd January 2017, and the final book in the Psi-Tech Trilogy, following on from Empire of Dust and Crossways. This one will be called Nimbus and will be out in October 2017.

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So there you have it, my overnight success only took sixteen years from the first short story sale to the first novel sale. (Lesson number ten: don’t ever give up, and when the big moment happens, grab it with both hands and hang on as you enjoy the ride.)

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