The Reading Conundrum

When I got my first publishing deal back in 2013 I found that when I was writing to a deadline it was difficult to keep up with my reading. This reading conundrum is something many writers suffer from…

  • When I’m writing I’m always slightly worried that if I read books in the same genre that they will subconsciously influence me.
  • Yet all authors are advised to read widely in order to keep up with what’s being published.

To address these difficulties I made sure that when I was writing fantasy, I read science fiction, and when I was writing science fiction I read fantasy or historical novels. That kept me happy for a few years, but gradually I’ve eased up on my own self-imposed rule. There are too many great books out there to limit what I allow myself to read.

GollanczSince 2009, I’ve blogged every book I’ve read, not on this blog (where I mostly blog about writing) but on my Dreamwidth blog at https://jacey.dreamwidth.org/. This has several advantages. Firstly it introducers people to books they may not have considered, and secondly it forms a database to help me remember book details. I so wish I’d done it decades ago.

I’ve always been a science fiction and fantasy reader. I my teens I read (from the local library) everything I saw which had one of those Gollancz yellow jackets. Oh boy, I do wish I’d been doing writeups then. I read a lot of the classics (which I was probably too young for at the time) but sadly very few of them have stayed in my brain.

Battersea BarricadesSo my advice is not only to read, but to keep track of what you read and even if you don’t do reviews, jot down something which will jog your memory five years from now; ten years from now. Go on… you’ll be glad you did.

Having said that, though I’ve been reading, I’ve had a lapse and I now need to catch up with this year’s book blogging. My reading is fifteen books ahead of my blogging. I promise to catch up soon. My random 2018 reading includes historicals by Julia Quinn, Ella Quinn, Danielle Harmon, and Sheila Walsh, a couple of delightful St Mary’s offerings by the wonderful Jodi Taylor (one novel, one short story), Patricia Briggs’ latest Alpha and Omega novel, the first Lindsey Davis Falco novel, and a couple of history books (non-fiction) by Peter Ackroyd.

 

 

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Cover Reveal Rowankind

Cover reveal: Rowankind, the last book in the Rowankind trilogy is due in November from DAW. Need to read the first two? They are Winterwood and Silverwolf in that order.  The cover illustrates Ross (Rossalinde) with Corwen the wolf shapechanger and Charlotte, the young rowankind housekeeper we met in Silverwolf, and who also appears here in Rowankind.

Rowankind_cover

The artist is Larry Rostant who illustrated the first two books in the trilogy, too. I love his work. Here’s his website: http://rostant.com/illustration/ He mixes photography and digital artwork to get amazingly natural results.

Winterwood&Silverwolf-800px

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The Gift That Keeps on Giving

Empire of Dust

My first book, Empire of Dust, launched on 4th November 2014 from DAW and, boy, was I excited. I’d waited a long time for that moment.

When I got the first review , from Publishers’ Weekly, no less, I read it with trepidation. (Hey, it was the first review of my first book, I was allowed to trepidate!) I read it, and then I read it again and gradually it began to sink in. It was a good review. Then I looked back at the email that it had arrived in – a congratulatory email from my editor, enclosing the review. (I should have read that bit first and saved myself a giant case of the trepids.)

It started off: “Bedford mixes romance and intrigue in this promising debut, which opens the Psi-Tech space opera series.” Then it goes on to talk about the book’s plot and premise and ends with: “Bedford builds a taut story around the dangers of a new world…. Readers who crave high adventure and tense plots will enjoy this voyage into the future.”

And it struck me, as I read it for the fourth or fifth time how author worries morph as you move along the path towards publication. I was talking to Alastair Reynolds on Twitter just before the review came out (Al and I did our first ever Milford SF Writers’ Conference  together back in 1998 before he got his first publishing deal and became mega-famous), and he reminded me that: ‘Worrying is the gift that keeps on giving.’

First, you worry that your writing just isn’t good enough to make the grade, that you’ll never finish the damn book, anyway, and if you do that you’ll probably never even dare to let anyone else read it. Then you do finish it and think that, just possibly, it doesn’t suck too badly. You begin to think that you’d like to show it to someone who actually might know something about writing and publishing, but you worry they’ll just laugh at your puny efforts.

Once the manuscript is finished and it’s as good as you can make it, you begin to wonder if your dream of being published is getting closer. Hey, you’ve written the book and polished it. What’s the next step? An agent? Is that even possible? Yes, it is (in my case four agents, but that’s another story, and a long one), but it takes a long time, much research and many queries (see my blog piece on How to Get a Literary Agent) and you worry that it will never happen for you.

It may take months, it may take years, but eventually (if you are persistent) it happens. You get an agent. And then you worry about whether your precious manuscript will ever sell. Truth? It might, it might not, but while you’re waiting you should keep on writing more.

Then, all of a sudden, a sale, and your life changes in an instant. Are your worries over? Far from it, but they turn into different worries. Will the reviews be good? Will readers like it? Will sales be good enough to cover the advance your publisher has paid you? Will you get a follow-on publishing deal after this? I think most authors will recognise this cycle of self-doubt and worry (and hard work), but the thrill of seeing the finish line racing towards you makes you forget the speedbumps along the road to publication.

In my case it took years of writing science fiction and fantasy in secret before I even dared admit my genre-vice to my friends. Then a chance meeting with Nebula Award-winning author Elizabeth Ann Scarborough gave me my first nudge along the road, and my first short story sale, way back in 1998. Yes, that’s right, my overnight success, from short story to novel publication took only sixteen years. I’ve lost track of the number of might-have-beens and nearly-bought-its along the road. There was the publisher who sent a sincere ‘We nearly bought this’ letter way back in 1999, and the major publisher who said, ‘The first couple of chapters look interesting,’ and then hung on to the manuscript for three years without doing anything with it. And then there were several false starts with agents before finding my current agent, Donald Maass of Donald Maass Literary Agency.

I kept on going, in part due to the encouragement of fellow writers in usenet newsgroups, online critique groups, and face-to-face at Milford . I can’t tell you how important it is to get feedback from other writers. I learned a lot about the nuts and bolts of writing and publishing from denizens of the online usenet newsgroups, misc.writing and rec.arts.sf.composition. I’m still in touch with many of them, and some have become good personal friends. I joined a small email critique group which ran for eight years, and then (through a r.a.sf.c contact) I was invited to attend Milford for a week of face-to-face critiquing and plot-noodling. The right critique group will pull your work apart constructively to help you make it better. They’ll point out the clunky sentences, the yawning gaps in your plot-logic, the excessive use of hand-wavium when trying to explain your magic-system or your latest scientific gadget. And they’ll do it without making you feel small or stupid.

2book-Rowankind

My first completed book didn’t sell, and neither did my second (unsurprising because it was a sequel to the first – duh!), but my third one did. I not only sold Empire of Dust, but in the same deal I sold my fifth completed manuscript (Winterwood, a historical fantasy) and got a commission for a sequel to Empire. Yeah, a three book deal with DAW, my dream publisher of science fiction and fantasy! Pretty cool, huh? I’ve now sold DAW six books. My Psi-Tech trilogy (Empire of Dust, Crossways, and Nimbus) is complete and the Rowankind trilogy completes this year. Winterwood and Silverwolf are out already and Rowankind follows in November 2018.

Sheila Gilbert, my editor, is hugely experienced, totally insightful, and has been working with nervous authors for long enough to know just what to suggest and how to suggest it. She’s also got great taste in cover art and commissioned the amazing Stephan Martiniere to do my science fiction covers, and Larry Rostant to do my fantasy ones. These are both very different artists but in both cases absolutely perfect for the books they are working with. My covers are a thrill and a delight.

So after four years of drafts, edits, rewrites, additions, inventions, reinventions, and just about the craziest most creative spurt of my life to date, my five books are on the shelves and my sixth is incubating. I’ve had some good reviews. My editor is happy. My agent is happy. I’m happy. I hope my readers will be happy. I look forward to more and different worries ahead of me.

3bookpsitech

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Men in Science Fiction and Fantasy

A comedy panel at Eastercon 2018 with Jaine Fenn (moderator), Juliet McKenna, Adrian Tchaikovsky and Jacey Bedford.

Comedy panel on Youtube

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My Eastercon Schedule

Very much looking forward to Follycon, the 2018 Eastercon in Harrogate. I’m arriving Thursday and leaving Monday afternoon. I’ll have a Milford Writers’ Conference display (with leaflets and information).

It will be lovely to meet up with friends and see some interesting panels… and to participate.

This is where you’ll find me over the Easter weekend.

Sunday Apr 1, 2018

11:00 AM
6:00 PM

Monday Apr 2, 2018

10:00 AM
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Pleasantly Pleasing Progress

I’m delighted to say that I’ve beaten my February 28th deadline and already delivered a draft of Rowankind to my publisher. OK, only 3 days ahead of schedule, but AHEAD is the important word here. Of course the book isn’t finished yet. My editor will have a long string of comments, and then I’ll have some fairly serious editing to do, but the whole process is chugging along nicely.

So now I’m allowed to forget about Rowankind for the next few weeks. In fact I want to forget about it, because when I start the edits I want the perspective of distance. I’m too close to it now to assess it properly. If I can give it a few weeks and come back to it fresh, I’ll be able to read it as if I were a reader, not its writer. That’s the plan, anyhow.

So what am I up to now?

I’m on a writing retreat.

Yeah, I know. Shouldn’t I have taken a few days off? Well, yes and no. A few of us who met at Milford decided to come to the wilds of Welsh Wales, to Trigonos where Milford happens every September, to spend six days with a laptop and a stunning view in order to get some uninterrupted writing time. No day job, no phone ringing, no meals to make, no kids to see to…

Sunshine portraitWe arrived in glorious sunshine on Sunday. It was a blue sky drive and then the clouds began to roll in. This is the view from my bedroom window.  You can just see the edge of the lake (Llyn Nantlle) in the middle distance and the hill opposite is the Nantlle Ridge. I did a little furniture removal and shifted the writing table to the window,  of course… because why would you want to stare at a wall when you could be staring at this.

Am I actually getting any writing done? The short answer is yes. I’m working on the edits of a book that’s largely written, but still needs a bit of polishing. It’s a fantasy set in an analogue of the Baltic states around 1600-1650. I don’t have a contract for this one yet, but I’m working with my agent, Don Maass, to ’embiggen’ it before sending it out.

It’s a political/historical fantasy and though I’ve taken the Baltic as my base, I’ve messed with both the history and the geography. I suppose it’s an alternate Baltic. For a time the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth was huge. I’ve taken a chunk of that and made it the kingdom of Livonia, encompassing present day Latvia, Lithuania and the northern part of Poland, and used it as a setting for a story of political intrigue spiced with magic.

Laptop window sunshine

It’s told from three viewpoints, Valdas, the king’s failed bodyguard, Lind the (successful) assassin, and Mirza a witch of the Atsingani travelling people. They start off separately, but come together. We know who killed the king, but we don’t know who paid him to do it, or why. There’s an obvious culprit if you follow the money, but they need to look beyond the obvious.

Yesterday I stated writing in sunshine and today I woke to snow.

Laprop window snow

snow view portraitI have to say that Trigonos is lovely in all seasons. The snow is beautiful, especially since there’s no requirement to actually trudge out in it. except for pleasure.

Compare and contrast the first picture  with the last. Chilly but gorgeous. Hopefully they’ll have cleared the roads by the time I have to travel back on Saturday. Looking at the news, it’s nowhere as bad here as in Kent.

So I guess we just hunker down and get on with the wordsmithing for the next four days.

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How to get a literary agent

I’m writing madly to a deadline, so I don’t have time to write a new blog post this week, so this is an updated reprint from my own blog, previously published in two parts and now condensed to one. I hope you find it useful.

donald-maass-photo

Donald Maass of Donald Maass Literary

I’m delighted to be settled with Donald Maass of the Donald Maass Literary agency in New York. My own personal journey to agency representation (at least until 2016) can be found on my blog. What I’d like to discuss here are the practical aspects of finding a literary agent, from research to submission packages.

The Right Agent
There are agents and agents. Some are hands-on who will see potential in your writing and help you with your manuscript before sending it out to publishers. Some agents are hands-off. If they judge that your manuscript is something they can sell, then they’ll offer representation and send it out, as is, on your behalf. Do your research. (Hint, don’t send your blockbuster space opera to someone who only wants the next great literary novel.)

Always remember that when seeking representation and a traditional publishing deal money flows to the writer. There are lots of genuine agents out there who operate professionally, but there are a few who will charge reading fees (never pay them) and then try to direct you to their chum who is a freelance editor or book doctor. All of which you will pay for – often through the nose – without getting any closer to your goal of publication.

This isn’t to denigrate professional freelance editors. They perform a valuable service and I would recommend anyone going down the self-publishing route to consider employing a professional editor – preferably one with a good reputation and a solid history of working in your genre. Sadly, these great editors are not the ones a scam agent will be sending your book to. If you’re going to use a freelance editor, pick one based on recommendations and reputation.

Seek wisdom about scammers who prey on writers from the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) on their Writer Beware site.

Witers & Artists YearbookSo, carefully avoiding scam agents, what type of agent do you want? Hands on or hands off? Are you looking for an agent who works with a specific genre of book? Do you want an agent who is country-specific? Take a look at http://www.agentquery.com. Most of the agents you’ll find listed there are in North America, but you can find British literary agents listed in The Writers’ and Artists Yearbook. Witers’ Digest hosts Chuck Sambuchino’s blog (Guide to Literary Agents) which often highlights new and ‘building’ agents.

Check the following:

  • Does the agent rep your genre and your intended age range?
  • Is the agent actively seeking new clients/building their list?
  • Is the agent willing to help and advise with your manuscript?
  • What is important to you in contract negotiations? Size of advance / foreign rights / e-publishing rights / audio rights / movie options?
  • Where is the agent based?
  • Is there anything special that may connect an agent to your pitch?

Some agents work alone, others work within the framework of a literary agency. If you sign with a single agent you are vulnerable if that agent leaves the profession. If you sign with an agent who works within an agency, your contract is usually with the agency, so if your individual agent is no longer able to represent you, then you will be resettled with a different agent within the organisation. Also a large agency is likely to have foreign rights specialists and contract specialists, so your agent has expertise to call on.

Keeping Track
List all the agents you think might be a suitable match and check their guidelines carefully. When I was agent hunting, I actually put all mine into a database. Make sure you note what you’ve sent, and when, and to whom – especially if it’s a submission to an agency rather than to an independent agent. Regarding agencies, some will tell you to submit to their agents individually, others will say that a submission to one agent is a submission to all because if your first choice agent doesn’t feel the manuscript is right for her/him it will be passed on to other agents within the organisation.

If the guidelines give a time period for response, note down when you expect to hear back. When the deadline date has passed you can politely enquire about your submission. (I always give them a little leeway – maybe a week or two.) Some agents simply don’t respond if they aren’t interested, which leaves you hanging. Didn’t they get your sub? Are they so overworked they haven’t had chance to look yet? Did they read the first paragraph and throw it in the bin? You simply have to decide to walk away if you haven’t heard back after a sensible time period, but it’s up to you to decide what that time period is. If the submission has gone more than two or three months beyond their stated response time and your queries have not been answered, then I would write it off. Having said that, I got a rejection from one New York Literary agent thirteen months after I’d signed with my current agency and several months after my first book had been published.

Following Guidelines
What should you send to a prospective new agent? The short answer is: send whatever they want you to send. It’s all in their guidelines. The agent might ask you for a cover letter, synopsis and the first three pages, or maybe the first five thousand words. A few agents still ask for paper subs, but most accept (and prefer) electronic submissions these days. Paper subs can be shockingly expensive if you have to post them transatlantic.

Your Submission Package
Many words have been written on how to submit. I recommend reading up on manuscript format online and reading blogs on the topic of submissions from pro-agents.

  • QueryShark, by literary agent Janet Reid has excellent advice.
  • The Miss Snark Archive, though dormant since 2007, is a fascinating (and funny) insight into the lit agent world from an insider’s point of view.
  • PubRants is a rant about publishing and submissions by literary agent Kristin Nelson and is very educational.

The Query Letter
This consists of two parts – the query and the pitch. The whole thing should be not more than a single page, single spaced. This is a business letter, be polite, be concise, be clear.

The Query
The order can be fluid depending on which side of the Atlantic you are sending it to — most British agents seem to prefer an opening statement of something like: Please accept my query on BOOK TITLE, complete at 77,000 words, but most American agents seem to want you to begin with the pitch and include that information at the end.

Your query letter should contain the following:

  • If you’re querying by email don’t forget your full contact details: name, address, phone number, email and website if you have one
  • The agent’s name must be correct.
  • You will have to reformat your query letter to individualise it for each query you send. Don’t make it look like they’re getting a mass mail out.
  • The title, genre and length of the work and whether it is complete or not (and for a first novel it should be). It should also say whether it’s aimed at adults, new adults, YA or middle grade. Some agents will rep a variety of ages, others rep only adult, or only children’s fiction.
  • Ditch opinion. Concentrate on facts. (Not: ‘Hello, I’m the next J.K.Rowling,’ or ‘like Stephen King, but better.’ Don’t say you know this is best-seller material. Don’t say that your Aunt Mathilda loved your book (unless she’s the Guardian’s book critic).
  • The pitch – more anon.
  • A bit about you – not your complete life story, but writing-relevant experience, especially if it’s a story about mountain climbers and you shinned up Everest last year. Say whether you have any other publications, or have won any competitions, or have attended Clarion, Viable Paradise, Milford, or similar serious writers’ events.
  • You don’t have to include something that tells the agent why you’ve picked them, but it there’s something obviously relatable you can include it (as long as it’s brief). ‘I read your interview in Writer’s Digest and note that you are looking for stories about climbing Everest…’ etc., or even  ‘I’ve followed your agency blog for a number of years and have checked out your guidelines and it looks like we have interests in common.’
  • The query letter is not the place for a full synopsis. (Though you may include a separate synopsis if the agent’s guidelines ask for one.)
  • I always thank the agent for their time.

The Pitch
The pitch is crucial. How do you describe your book succinctly while making it sound exciting? You have limited space to make your point. Here you can afford to allow your writerly ‘voice’ sneak in. If you are pitching an urban fantasy with a wisecracking heroine, consider using your heroine’s voice in your pitch (but only if you can do it successfully).

Start off with two or three succinct sentences that will hook your reader into what the story is about. Sound enthusiastic without using unnecessary ‘puff.’ You can say: Like Game of Thrones set in modern day Glasgow (because you’re not trying to say it’s better than Game of Thrones) or you can simply describe the book. Try to find its unique selling point. It’s about a wizard, a knight and a stable boy who go on a quest sounds like every other quest fantasy you’ve ever read, but maybe: An elephant shapechanger and a lavatory attendant from Bombay, have to journey into the jungle to seek the tiger’s eye, might snag on your agent’s imagination. (OK, I’m being facetious here, but you get my drift.)

Here’s a single paragraph pitch for my novel Winterwood, which sold to DAW in 2013 as part of a three book deal, and hit bookstore shelves in February 2016. (The second in the Trilogy is Winterwood and I’m currently working on the third, Rowankind.)

Winterwood front cover-smallWinterwood Pitch – 113 words
Winterwood is a tale of magic, piracy, adventure and love, set in an alternative Britain in 1800. Mad King George is on the throne, and Bonaparte is hammering on the door. Ross (Rossalinde) Tremayne, widowed privateer captain and witch, is torn between the jealous ghost of her dead husband, and a handsome wolf shapechanger; between the sea, and her unsavoury crew of barely reformed pirates, and the forest, where her magic lies. Unable to chart a course to her future until she’s unravelled the mysteries of her family’s past, she has to evade a dangerous pursuer and discover the secrets locked in a magical winterwood box in order to right her ancestor’s wrongdoing.

This may not be perfect, but it did the trick. Once your cover letter is as good as you can make it send it out. If this is your first time making submissions to agents you might want to start by sending to a few to see whether you get a good reaction, i.e. form rejections / no response / requests for more pages, or full manuscripts. Keep a record of what comes back and when, so that a year from now you don’t send almost exactly the same query for the same book to the same agent. (You can, however, query an agent who has previously rejected your first book, for your second and subsequent books.) Once you’ve got the hang of the submission process and you’ve refined your query letter and pitch, you can query as many agents as you have time to research (as long as you don’t send a mass mail out with no pers0nalisation).

If you get a rejection from an agent, note it down, learn from it and move on to another submission. Never send a snarky response or that door will close on you forever. Even sending a polite ‘thanks for your rejection’ is not required. Agents get enough email. Do you want to clutter their inbox?

General advice: Pare down / Focus / Revise / Polish / Test on a few / Revise again / Send widely / Send again / Send again / Send again / Don’t give up!

Good luck with your search for the right agent.

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