In hindsight . . .

Writing a first novel is a long, lonely road. Oh, and it’s always night and there aren’t any street lamps. Each step is fumbled forward, small successes punctuated by an overall doubt that you’ve no idea if you’re going in the right direction. From concept to completion, a first novel is, well, a mess.

 

Here’s an analogy: say you’d only ever eaten gruel all your life, and one day, someone introduces you to McDonalds. Wow, how that burger tastes. It’s the best food in the world, you’re in no doubt of that. You finish that first burger, and then this mysterious food stranger takes you to a Michelin-starred restaurant. That burger doesn’t taste quite so good anymore. In short, that’s how my feelings for my first novel, Noah’s Ark, can be summarised. At the time I thought it was great; turns out I was wrong.

 

But for all you budding authors out there taking your first step, don’t take that as a negative, take it as a positive, a weight off your back that lets you relax in the knowledge that good books don’t happen on the first go. Think of something else you’re good at: were you world class the first time you did it? Some authors’ first novels are spectacular, others take a few goes to get into their stride, but its only by trying and failing that we find that out. Maybe my books will never be worth a damn, but I enjoy writing them, and I’m going to keep on trying, which is why I suppose that I’m not feeling too bad about Noah’s Ark — despite cultivating it over many years.

 

When I first self-published Noah’s Ark, I promised myself that if the rating slipped below 3.5 I would take it down. I’d feel bad about clogging up an already bloated market with yet another atrocity, and so when that final damning one-star review came in, I took it down. Soon it will be replaced with Vessel, through whatever journey it takes to get there, and hopefully this time I’ll do better. Maybe it’ll average out at 3.8 instead. If it does, I’ll take that as progress, work hard to bump my next novel up to a 4.0. Maybe one day I’ll breach the 4s and have something that an agent wants to represent.

 

In the meantime, Noah’s Ark isn’t gone and dead: I’ve popped a link to it on my dropbox account so you can download it for free if you want to. It’s here: https://andrewjamesmorgan.com/noahs-ark/

Perhaps if you’re a new author like me, it would be worthwhile to read parts, to try and understand what makes it sub-par and learn from it — a case study if you like. I’ll leave it to you to decide what doesn’t work; if you want to see if we’re thinking on the same page, drop me an email at thisisandrewmorgan@gmail.com.

 

In the meantime, happy reading, and thanks for stopping by.

 

Update on the search for an agent: I’ve had some positive feedback, some standardised rejections, but no full requests yet. Not what I’d hoped, but certainly what I’d expected. More on where I’m taking Vessel in its route to publication next time.

To be, or not to be (represented)

It will probably come as no surprise to you, but the entertainment industry is fickle. Trends and phases come and go, giving every budding author the same thought: Wow! This multi-national best-seller is crap! I can do much better than this! And maybe that’s true, but unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Yes, you need talent, and we all hope we have it, but more importantly, you need something that will sell. Oh, and luck. Lots of luck. So much luck you could drown a giraffe in it.

 

Ok, cynical hat off for a sec — what’s the traditional route to publishing? Thirty years ago, when pulp fiction was flying off the shelves, you could submit directly to a publisher. Not any more. Bigger advances means more profit needs to be made means less risks can be taken on the manuscripts from new authors that pile up faster than can be read. So the publishers have a front line defence: the literary agent.

 

Most publishers require submission through an agent, which means a writer hoping to be published by a reputable publisher needs an agent. Now here’s the thing: agents get just as swamped by manuscripts as the publishers used to, and they need to weed out the stuff that’s going to sell big. No point taking things that won’t sell, no matter how good they are, because – well, it should be obvious. Go to any bricks-and-mortar book chain and you’ll see celebrity bios, crime fiction and recipe books up the wazoo. Ground-breaking multi-perspective historical fiction? Not so much.

 

For a new author, finding an agent is as much of a challenge as writing a novel. The problem is thus: an agent wants a best-seller; new authors rarely write best sellers. Proven authors, yes please, but no amount of bright-eyed bushy tailed-ness will seduce an agent. This results in most agents only taking a couple of new authors on a year, if that (out of tens of thousands of manuscripts). But wait, I hear you cry, surely there are bright-eyed and bushy-tailed agents, too, fresh from agent school, eager to find new talent? Well, no. Not that new agents don’t want to find new talent, but because of the way new agents come to be. There are two ways: the first is by climbing the ranks at a publisher, maybe as a senior editor or a buyer, and then starting a new agency. The second is to start off as a junior at an already-established agency. Notice the common theme? Both scenarios include relationships between the agency and the publishers that are long forged. Because that’s what an agent is, really, an intelligent rolodex with every big name in the biz. An agency without the contacts is just a group of people in a room.

 

I’m going to put my cynical hat back on again for a moment. Remember I said that the quality of writing isn’t as important as the saleability of the manuscript? That’s not speculation. In the self-publishing world, there are books that have been swept up by Amazon’s advertising algorithms, and despite receiving sub-par reviews, have sold tens of thousands of copies. And guess what? Those authors are swamped with offers of representation. Does that mean that a new author should write to appease the masses? No, of course it doesn’t – you should always write to appease yourself.

 

I’m using the Publishers Marketplace website to source agencies from. It contains an exhaustive list that is filterable by genre, and even lists the agency’s submission requirements. Deciding to self publish is one thing, but I might as well try and get an agent anyway. As a new writer of science fiction, I don’t expect much a of a response. I’ve actually sent a few requests already (mainly to New York agents – despite living in the UK, I prefer them because they allow email submissions) and had a few responses. All said no thanks, but a couple said my work had much to be admired, and that at least is a positive nugget to take from it all.

 

What I’m trying to say in all this, I suppose, is that getting an agent is hard, so don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t happen for you. But don’t forego the process either, because you never know: it might click with someone, and one person is all it takes.

Edit, edit, edit

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my first novel, Noah’s Ark (oh, hindsight, you’re crueler and kinder than a well-meaning parent), it’s that editing pays dividends. As hard as it is to look back at the work you spent months caressing into what you think is the perfect shape, it only takes a quick re-read to see that the perfect shape is not perfect at all: it’s covered in blisters and scabs, and needs medication.

 

Self editing isn’t an impossibility, but, without immense discipline, it mirrors the age-old interview question ‘what are your negative qualities?’ I care too much. I’m too handsome. I suffer from excessive humbleness. You get the picture.

 

So I drafted the services of an editor, and now his work is done, and my work lies in tatters. At least, that’s how it feels, but when I quit my sobbing I’ll see it’s all good. Trimming words best left to the imagination, scraping the wobbly fat from the tender meat — it’s actually a rewarding process, a good shower after a hard day’s work.

 

I’m a few chapters in now, with plenty more to go. Hopefully I’ll be done by the end of the month. In the meantime, I’ll send my first three to a selection of agents, but that’s a whole other road of torturous pain. More on that next week.

A New Dawn . . .

So while I’m waiting for the editor to do his thing with Vessel, I may as well tell you about what’s happening after. Meet Jake, the interplanetary geologist, who’s been sent on a deep-space mission to a planet code-named ‘New Dawn’ to evaluate the possibility of colonisation. His eight-month journey there should be uneventful, and even quite boring, but the peaceful serenity of deep space becomes a bubble of entrapment when a crew member dies in what at first seems to be an innocent death. With no option but to go on, Jake must find out what’s going on before the return trip becomes a one-way mission.

I’ll be posting chapters of New Dawn up soon. I hope you’re all as excited about it as I am. 

So what happens next?

You may (or may not) be wondering where Vessel goes from here, so I’d like to dedicate a few blog posts to the next few steps in the journey of my manuscript. I’ve got a couple of directions I can go, but there’s nothing set in stone. Hopefully by blogging what I’m doing I can help other authors by showing what I’ve done, and perhaps spark the intrigue of readers who are interested in where something like this goes from here.

The first step for me is the editing process. My manuscript is currently with an editor who is busy scribbling away with his red pen in the slim hope that something beautiful can be carved from this rough lump of rock. No doubt you had some ideas of your own for where Vessel can be improved (please do feel free to tell me!) and I’d like to get the manuscript in as ship-shape condition as I possibly can before moving to the next stage. Some might say sending it out to an external editor is overkill, but the market is tough and extremely competitive, and if I’m going to make this work I need to do it right.

So what’s the editing process all about? By day, I’m a copywriter/copyeditor/journalist (it’s a small company with limited budgets) and I’ve seen first hand the common misconceptions of editing. The first is that many people think that editing is simply proofreading. Proofreading is good, and an important part of the process, but it isn’t the complete package. Assuming the manuscript (or any copy, for that matter) is in a good enough state not to need structural rearrangement or some other kind of serious amendment, then a copyedit is required. The copyedit is the smoothing of the rough diamond, the polish to the wet-and-dry paper, removing the edges and bringing out the story. This includes trimming words and even sentences that aren’t necessary, rearranging and changing words for smoother, more consistent reading, polishing dialogue, fact-checking — things like that. It’s a gruelling job, but a rewarding one (and one best done by someone with fresh eyes).

So that’s where we’re at now. It’s a welcome break from the manuscript, giving me a chance to settle into something new (a project that will be revealed on these pages very soon) and it’s the divide that stands between now and where Vessel goes next. Once it’s done, it’s time to send some letters out to agents, but I’ll worry about that when I get to it.

Welcome to my World

Hello, and welcome to Work in Progress, my blog about the books I write.

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Thanks for stopping by!

Andrew