Sunday, 24 March 2013

Juliet Mushens's DO and DON'TS

I'm pleased to welcome my agent, Juliet Mushens of The Agency Group back for a guest post. This time around she gives us the skinny on her Do's and Dont's when submitting a manuscript to an agent – 

JM: Every week I do an #askagent on twitter. It tends to be on a Sunday night, and I can get anywhere up to 500 questions (phew). From doing this I have gained a real insight into the kind of things unpublished writers want to know. Things that seem obvious to me - sat on my throne made from the bones of unpublished writers - really aren't obvious! I've also given a variation of this blog post as a talk at at least 10 conferences and it always goes down well amongst delegates. I hope it proves helpful to you when you come to submit!


Remember that we need you!
Agents can seem terrifying to unpublished writers. I met several writers at an event recently who said to me ‘well I’m the lowest of the low… an author without an agent.’ This is not true at all! Without new writers we have no business. Today’s slushpile author could be next year’s number one bestseller. Every successful writer started out where you are now – and if they can do it, so can you.

Your research
The Writer’s and Artist’s Yearbook is a great starting point to look for agencies for you to submit your book to. Once you’ve built up a list of agencies you’d like to target your best bet is to hop on google and look up the specific agents. Do they have a twitter where you can get an insight into what makes them tick? Will they be appearing at an event that you are going to where you can ask questions? Have they made any deals recently on The Bookseller or Publisher’s Marketplace? Nowadays it’s easy to find out who we represent and what we’re looking for, and that means it’s easy to send your query/submission to the right people.

Be patient
In the past 3 months I have received over 360 submissions. I read all of them, but it takes time. If 8-12 weeks has lapsed and I haven’t responded it’s fine to send a nudge, but if a week has passed..? Rein it in, bucko.

Finish your book
It’s tempting to send the early chapters out for validation, I know. Tempting to think ‘they might take 3 months to get back to me and I’ll have finished it by then!’ But do not give in to the temptation. Please. The book you finish might be radically different to the book you begin and the ending should inform and shape the beginning. It is really frustrating for me to call in a full and then get the response ‘it’s not done yet…’.

Let us know if someone else is interested
If you get an offer of representation – email everyone else and let us know, and give us a week to get back to you. It’s frustrating to finish something, love it, and then find out when we call you that you’ve signed with someone else. 

Pick your moment
Fine to pitch at me at a conference when I'm doing a networking event. Not fine to pitch at me when I'm running to the loo between seminars or desperate for coffee at breakfast. Fine to pitch to me over email. Not fine to call me unsolicited or tweet me a link to your book. It is all about timing!


Send to the wrong agent
So you’ve made your list of agencies you’re going to approach, and you’ve picked someone at each. But are they the right person? It’s integral to check that you’re sending someone the kind of thing that they represent. If their profile says ‘I am not accepting submissions’ then believe them. If I tell you that I don’t like diet books, don’t send me them hoping you will be the exception. You’re limiting your chances drastically if you do.

Ignore the submission guidelines
If we ask for a cover letter and the first three chapters in size 12 double-spaced font send us that. Don’t decide to go Broken Arrow and send me your favourite three chapters, or the entire book, or your marketing plan… I’ll just think it means you can’t read instructions. And if you can’t read, how can you write?

Forget that we’re people too
I can imagine how awful it is to send your book out into the big wide world and then have people say ‘no’ to it. I imagine it’s tough, and painful, and stressful. I imagine that sometimes you long to send a snarky response back to us. But please don’t. No one likes rejecting people, but it’s a necessary part of our job. I’ve often seen authors sometimes snark about agents in public forums, or on twitter. Being told that we are elitist gatekeepers, redundant in the face of self-publishing, or always jumping on bandwagons is not going to endear you to me! Publishing is a professional industry, so make sure you present yourself in a professional manner. 

Focus on publishing trends
Publishing takes time, and the vampire/human, wizarding school, Scandiwegian crime thing may be over by then. Most massive books came from nowhere and created subgenres of their own. Stick to writing a cracking story rather than trying to be ‘the next XXXXX’.

Sweat the small stuff 
Don't panic about whether you use the right font, or use single quotation marks, or have a blog, or have business cards... I'll sign you if you have written an excellent book. I won't reject you because you use Comic Sans (the party font, as I like to think of it). 

Give up
Every writer has rejections. Every writer has an unpublished novel sitting in their top drawer. Every writer gets told ‘no’. Sometimes I see book deals announced and remember passing on the book because it wasn’t right for me and sometimes I sign authors who have been rejected by 20 other agents but I feel passionately about their work. Practice makes perfect, and if at first you don’t succeed…

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Listen Up!

Just a quick post to say the lovely people at Audible have bought the rights to make audio books of The Erebus Sequence. As yet I don’t know which actor will provide their voice, but I do know I’m very excited. Juliet Mushens of The Agency Group sealed the deal late last night.

I’m currently deep in the second draft of book II of The Erebus Sequence, which is called The Boy Who Wept Blood. The second draft (or the way I do a second draft) requires me to read it aloud and drink lots of tea. I know many authors read their dialogue aloud, but I like to read the whole novel. If I find myself pause, hesitate, or stumble it usually means the sentence doesn’t flow quite right. Or I need more tea. Possibly both (Usually both).

In this way I’ve been making audio books of my own all week. Fortunately for you and me, I didn’t recorded them, else you’d hear me mutter ‘Full stop and start a new sentence, not comma, you idiot!’. There would also be lots of sniggering at my own jokes, which I’m genetically incapable of not doing.

Now I must get back to the second draft.


Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Thoughts on Nights of Villjamur

Note: not in any way a critical review, just my own rambling thoughts on analogues and subtext.

The citizens of the titular city are preparing for an ice age, whilst thousands of immigrants clamour outside the walls, denied access. Politics and magic mix to see dark ambitions realised as the threat of war looms on the horizon from a nameless source. 

Nights of Villjamur (2009) has much more in common with the Viriconium stories of M. John Harrison than anything else I’d read. A lot of Fantasy is simply analogue of a medieval Europe. True, there’s a trend of more Eastern (and Middle Eastern) Fantasy novels coming through (check out The Oathbreakers Shadow by Amy McCulloch), but a quick look at the Game of Thrones television series will show you where a lot of traditional Fantasy resides.

Nights of Villjamur doesn’t cling to any analogues. It’s proudly strange, somewhat chilly, brave enough to have giant trilobites rootling through garbage alongside stray dogs. Only the Banshees from Irish legend have imported wholesale – the exception that proves the rule in this case – and they are used to chilling effect near the novel’s climax.

There’s also a refreshing lack of stable boys with heroic destinies. Instead we have the dutiful Commander with a shameful secret; an Inquisition Investigator rekindling his relationship with an estranged wife; the philandering rogue who’s loyalty is only to himself (at the novel’s beginning at least). All readily recognizable archetypes, all given a twist or imported from other genres altogether. Who would have imagined the veteran cop, separated from his wife because of his dedication to the job, would find his way into a Fantasy novel (and sporting a tail, no less)?

Make no mistake, Nights of Villjamur is challenging in its otherness, but rewards the reader with a satisfying ending.

Go to any Science Fiction convention and attend a panel and there’s a good chance you’ll hear the old adage that ‘speculative fiction holds up a mirror to what is happening our world’. 

Reading Nights of Villjamur (2009) in 2013 I was repeatedly struck by how the harsh weather of Villjamur mirrored the frostiness of our economy, and how the immigrants and lower orders of society were being frozen out of day-to-day living. It’s not a subtle or nuanced interpretation, I grant you, but the nobles of Villjamur are content to shelter beneath their wealth and privilege as others face the prospect of starvation and exposure.

That all sounds a little too close to home for my tastes.