Month: October 2017

Draft Zero Diary – Ground Work.

I am writing a Brand New Thing.

Since I last waffled here, I’ve been busy with rewrites of The Breathing Sea for my publishers, and have also started and stalled a couple of new ideas — now shelved. If I’m not fully enthused by the time I get to 30K of a draft then I don’t think I can see it through to the end. I expect drafting to be hard, but it was too hard. I wasn’t feeling it.

Why couldn’t I think of an idea I liked as much as my first.  I felt… clouded.

I started thinking differently. Subconsciously, I’d been picking book ideas at random, running with them if they felt sparky, or I could imagine they would hook readers. I didn’t consider if they were the kind of thing I would be any good at writing. I was forcing it, these ideas weren’t really my thing.

I went back to The Breathing Sea. Why, after five years and so many different versions, do I still love it? The main character — Aster — has always felt real. And the story is based around a setting and premise that fascinates me. I will never get tired of learning about the oceans and science innovations, and am into biology and psychology. I’ve always swum and I love diving, the experience, the simple feel of it.

I dredged my mind for the last scene in a story — either book, movie, or TV —that had shaken me, that I had truly loved in a visceral way.

I identified it easily.

And I based my new book idea (let’s call it Z-book for reasons) around what got to me about that scene. Z-book is nothing like that scene in setting, character or premise, but my love of the action and emotion is the spark.

The Breathing Sea is about what’s below the surface. Z-book will take me to the clouds. And that feels… right.

So fast-forward two months, to now.

I have a whole notebook of research notes. This novel needs research, but the kind I love, science, but also history, myth and speculation. Researching has been my geek heaven and there will be a lot more later, which for me — is fun!

I have a story backbone. Fourteen key scenes, written into Scrivener – a couple of lines to describe each, 700 words in total. In the past I’ve used various different story planners and beat sheets and I think they overwhelm me before I start. I’ll test my draft structurally when I have a draft. Right now I feel the shape of this one in my bones, like it already exists, I just need to find the words for it. I’m going to explore my way in.

I have put in groundwork with my MC. Her backstory is detailed and there will be too much of it in draft zero but I’ll allow myself that and cut later. I’ve thought about her every day and she has personality and voice. I’m starting to see this story through her eyes and she will lead me through it, changing my initial ideas as she grows. As soon as I started to hear her speak and was jotting down her comments, thoughts and conversations, I knew I was probably ready to let her speak.

I’m making it sound like I’m confident. I am so very not. But that is fine.

I’m going to diary my progress weekly. I’d like a draft by the new year. Next week, I’ll post the first week of Draft Zero Diary, and outline what I did towards my story each day, and how I fit it in the cracks of time.

Did I mention I kind of hate Draft Zero? It’s so painful watching the shiny ideas wither in my dreadful unedited words.

Because I hope this one will break the 30K barrier, and fly.

To work.

How long will I be on Submission? (they sob)

(Note: I had to remove and repost this as problems with comments)

It’s almost a year since The Breathing Sea went on submission to publishers. I want to write about what it was like to sell the book, starting with THE WAIT. And yes, it does deserve capitals.

The Wait haunts all stages of writing for publication. There are different levels of waiting, a bit like Dante’s circles of hell. Waiting for critique, waiting to hear from agents, waiting to receive edits, waiting for feedback on edits, waiting waiting waiting W A I T I N G. And my character flaw is lack of patience.
Submission  waiting is the WORST.  It goes like this: you polish your manuscript with your agent (possibly over the course of many months) who also prepares a list of fabulous editors, a strategy, and a pitch. Then you leave your agent to do his or her part and sell that shiny story which has your tender heart and soul nestled within its pages.

And you Wait.

An agent can’t tell you how long it’s going to take, even if you beg them to ‘please, just tell me when this agony will end and then I’ll be able to cope’. They can’t. They shouldn’t. They don’t know. And the uncertainty is the killer.

My agent is very sensible and honest and told me it could sell in days, or take months, and that there was really no way of knowing as every book is different. She was totally right. Some agents impose deadlines on publishers. My experience of watching friends on submission is that these deadlines usually fly by unheeded, sometimes numerous times causing more agony due to falsely raised expectations. The process really does take as long as it takes. But I ran a twitter poll which could at least give you an idea of what to expect.

Out of 210 published authors, half of their debuts took over 8 weeks to sell.

I think knowing this might have helped me a little. Maybe.

So what is actually happening whilst you are waiting, refreshing your inbox? Does it matter? I don’t work in publishing but from what I can glean,  editors are genuinely busy with their current authors who often have tight deadlines, they also need to get multiple reads of new books, and then the process of acquisition meeting, marketing, costing all requires meetings, that need to be organised when Clare or Sarah are back from holiday (there seem to be a lot of Clares and Sarahs in publishing). Plus everything either slows or speeds up around book fairs in February, March and October. Oh and Christmas and Summer are silent wastelands of misery, you need gin to get through those.

The length of time you wait is not a sign of quality.  I repeat: How long it takes to sell your book does not indicate how successful it will be. I needed someone to shout this at me when I was waiting for The Breathing Sea to sell, because it felt like this:

1 week: It would have been so cool to sell quickly. Oh well, still so much time! They are probably reading and discussing it right now *dreamy sigh* I’d better add some actors to play my MC’s on my pinterest boards,  I’ll need those very soon.

2 weeks: Hurumph. I haven’t been ‘snapped up’.  I’m probably not going to see the words ‘hotly contested auction’ and my name in the same sentence. But I can cope.

3 weeks: Where is everyone? My refresh button finger has arthritis. I know, I’ll twitter stalk some editors I know it’s on submission to, that will help at lot.

4 weeks: I wish I’d never written the thing. I hate it anyway. I’m going to write something else right now, it will probably be finished by the time this one sells which will SHOW THEM ALL.

5 weeks onwards: BURN EVERYTHING/ rock in front of screen staring at other people’s successes/ BURN/ rock and repeat.

(There were a few rejections and false starts peppered throughout to give the waiting a little seasoning. I’ll chat about those another time.)

Since this poll I’ve spoken to more authors in person. Some were on an open submission and took more than a year to sell. And those books were brilliant, often ground breaking books.

Some books will sell within a day, at auction or big pre-empt, because they are genuinely works of genius. Others sell big because there’s buzz surrounding their premise or they are similar to other books that have done well, or they have something which taps into current zeitgeist. But prize-winners  waited too. Bestsellers are often not the books that sold a auction within days of submission.

It’s a strange and unpredictable business, but here’s something wonderful and also terrifying: when the average reader picks up a book they don’t know how long it took to sell or how much money it sold for. Readers judge books by their cover and then by what’s inside.

But the best thing about waiting? There’s always more just around the corner.


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