Monday, 30 September 2013

Four editors, one weekend.

I know I should be waist deep in revision but I have to admit to being out and about in the world of publishing again this week. Bad news for my W.I.P but good news for any of you who missed it!

On Saturday I joined twenty four other writers in London at a free event run by the lovely people at Book Bound Retreat to find out a bit more about what they're offering.

The four editors running the event were Sara O Connor, UV co founder and editorial director at Hot Key Books, Karen Ball from Little Brown, Jasmine Richards from OUP and UV co founder Sara Grant.

They met while working at Working partners and since then they have all published their own childrens' and YA books which gives them a unique perspective when working with writers. As well as knowing what publishers are looking for they also understand the authors point of view.

Book Bound has been in the works for a couple of years but was delayed due to a surge of baby making! They are all now very excited about launching their new venture which will offer a weekend of workshops to twenty four writers at a beautiful location in Kent.

The retreat takes place from 9th to 11th May 2014 and includes accommodation, food, workshops and an in depth one to one with one of the editors. You will also have the chance to pitch your work (after a handy session on how to pitch) to four agents - 
Zoe King from the Blair Partnership, Julia Churchill from A.M Heath, Claire Wilson from R.C.W and Polly Nolan from the Greenhouse Agency. 

As a little taste of what to expect each editor gave us a few tips based on the workshops they'll be running over the weekend.

Sara O Connor talked about how to make the most of your opening pages by using details. She said we should bring our characters to life with concrete, character defining details that paint a vivid picture and root us immediately into the story.

Karen Ball will be running a workshop on character and suggested we use Pinterest to make up a mood board, we can use it to deepen our understanding of the character and make them more three dimensional.  Stalking our characters through the story from beginning to end was another tip she offered and can help us to see changes and ensure they are learning something during the story.

Jasmine Richards gave us some input on plot and the rather excellent quote
"Conflict is plot. Plot is conflict"
Another good pointer was to describe each scene and see if you use the word "and" to connect them or "but/therefore". If it's the former then it may be that the scene isn't moving the story on and should be changed.
She was also quite keen for us to be as mean as possible to our characters and offered us a few ways to add conflict to our story;
 1. deception and rescue, 
 3.different setting,
 4.death of a minor character,

Sara Grant is well known for her revision workshops and offered us some basic pointers that should help us all with revising.
MOST IMPORTANT - "Don't get it right, get it writ!"
1. Don't revise as you go.
2. Finish the 1st draft then revise it.
3. Macro edit first, look at the big picture, - conflict/voice/plot
4.Focus on what's best for the story
5.Great story is more important than great writing.

It was a very enjoyable event and all the editors showed huge enthusiasm for the project. A big thank you to everyone involved for sharing a little of their expertise with us. It gave a real indication of how useful the weekend could be.

If you would like the chance to go on this retreat then you need to submit per the guidelines on the website. The writers will be chosen based on potential and what the editors feel they can offer you. They want everyone to be at the same stage so that they can make full use of the weekend. They aim to let writers know within two weeks as to whether they have been accepted or not. Full payment will be required on acceptance but if you sign up to their newsletter now you can claim a £50 discount.

I am off now to do some actual writing but will be out again on Thursday night for the marvelous SCBWI agents party! No doubt I will report back on all the excitement in a week or so.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Reasons to be Cheerful

Number One - I don't have an agent!

Number Two - I don't have a book deal!

Why would that make me cheerful you might ask. Surely those are things I've been yearning for? And yes it's true, I  DO  want a lovely agent one day in the future and a book deal would be a most marvelous thing but, rather than bemoan my lack of either, I decided to try a change of perspective and see what happened.

A couple of  things have occured that set me on this path and one of them was talking to a friend who has an agent and had been given a deadline. That's not a bad thing of course, deadlines can be very useful and they become part of the job when you have an agent or a publisher.

But the thing is that I don't. I don't have anyone's expectations to fulfil except my own and that is a freedom I intend to enjoy while I still have it.

It means I can write if I want to but if I don't, if I'm busy or not in the mood then that's fine. It doesn't affect anyone else and that let's me balance my writing in to my life in a way that's stress free. It means that writing can always be a pleasure rather than a chore.

I can also write exactly what I want. I don't have to factor in the opinions of others, market trends or publisher preferences. If I want to write a book about a girl who discovers she's a witch and falls in love with a vampire then I can do that. I don't, funnily enough, but the choice is mine for now.

And, because there's no book to market,  I don't have to worry about reviews or think about sales. I don't have to do school visits or book festivals. And much as I will enjoy promoting any book of mine in the future I think it's important to appreciate the fact that for now, for this little part of my life, I don't have to work at anything except writing the darn thing. That thought fills me with cheer.

The second thing that altered my perspective was reading  a blog by the very talented and refreshingly honest Candy Gourlay called The Pursuit of Happiness. She talked about the publication of her second book Shine and how she sometimes misses the days of being on the slushpile. I have to admit that surprised me.

Candy had achieved what so many of us long for, she had escaped the misery of rejection and toil that the rest of us pre published authors have to suffer and yet she looked back on that time with affection! Why? What could possibly be good about the slushpile Candy?

"it really was lovely when the dream hadn't come true yet." - she said

And that is the key! Hope is a wonderful thing. I might still have all that to come.  One day in the near or distant future I might have the joy of running around telling the world that I have an Agent! A Book Deal! A Launch Party! A Million Pound Film Deal...okay, I got a bit carried away there but you get my drift.

I could, if I'm very lucky, have some of that to look forward to one day and that thought, that idea, that dream makes me cheerful.

Now then, back to the editing.
And the hoping. :)

Monday, 2 September 2013

Chickens, eggs and editors.

I have been following the development of The Golden Egg Academy since it first began last year, after all how often can you expect editors the caliber of Imogen Cooper (Previously Head of Fiction at Chicken House), Beverley Birch (Previous commissioning editor at Hodder) and Bella Pearson (Previously at David Fickling) to be available to help up and coming authors?

Therefore as soon as the opportunity arose to meet Imogen in person came up I jumped at the chance and headed off to a London Writers Cafe event at a pub near Liverpool Street last Tuesday night. I wasn't the only one either as the room was packed with hopeful writers all waiting to hear Imogen's words of wisdom.

She began with a brief introduction and told us how much she enjoyed working with Barry Cunningham at Chicken House. She said that the small team of seven led to a very exciting environment, with plenty of creative ideas and a fair few arguments as they all worked together towards the same goal. However Imogen saw so many manuscripts from the slushpile with potential that just needed the help of a good editor she decided to take a step back.
She moved from the position of Head of Fiction at Chicken House to the role of Senior Editor and set up the Golden Egg Academy with Beverley and Bella.

They are now offering their skills and support to writers in the way of workshops, in depth reports, one to one sessions and mentoring.  Imogen is also planning to set up a course for editors with Winchester University that will provide training for up and coming industry professionals.

Next, Imogen began to talk about the three things that make a desirable novel -

1. Strong Concept
2. Driving Plot
3. Universal Themes

When she became an acquiring editor she had to start looking at manuscripts in a different way. She needed to be able to explain to a whole team of people from different departments why the novel she wanted to buy was so great and back it up with solid reasoning. This meant that she had to have a real understanding of the novel, she needed to be able to find the essence and heart of the story so she could explain why children needed to read this book and what made it so original.

Imogen was firm in the idea that knowing the heart of your novel will make it stronger and enable you to edit it effectively.

She asked us if we knew what our book was about, was it different to others and could we describe it in one paragraph? Imogen suggested we all try to distill our work into one paragraph that we could then use when submitting or pitching to agents and publishers.

What is the backstory/skeleton upon which everything else hangs?

Who are the main characters and what are their motivations? (You should be able to see these in every scene).

The story must come first with any themes supporting the story and being shown subtly within the motivations.

She said it was very important to be able to break your story down and be objective. Of course it isn't that easy as any writer could tell you and one of the reasons why an editor can be so important. She quoted one of her mentoring clients as saying her book was a beautiful jigsaw puzzle until Imogen helped her turn it into a 3D picture. A bit like connecting the left and right sides of your brain or turning a written play into the stage version.

Most importantly she said the paragraph should be about the BIG PICTURE and not the detail.

To give us some ideas Imogen brought along some advanced information sheets on a few Chicken House Books like Poison Boy by Fletcher Moss and Muncle Trogg by Janet Foxley. On one side was a copy of the book cover and on the other some info on the author and the all important blurb.
It was very useful to see how these books had been distilled down to their essential parts and I understood just how hard it could be as during my submission to Undiscovered Voices I'd been forced to write a fifty word blurb for my entry.

Imogen suggested we all try to write that paragraph and then keep it written up near our writing space so that we never lose track of the heart of our story.

Next we were lucky enough to hear about the Book Map which Imogen sees as an essential tool for use with editing. After the first draft has been written she suggests writing out some or all of the following -

Chapter info
Plot summary
Dramatic incidents
Main characters - including their involvement and motivations. You could divide these up into fore, mid and background characters.

You can add or take away from this but however you do it she believes it helps you to take a step back from your story and view it as a whole.
It's a little bit like storyboarding where you make the whole thing come alive.

You can then use this method to see the whole novel, all of it's important elements and then try to weave everything else through during your second and third drafts.

The whole room was buzzing by the time Imogen finished speaking and she very kindly agreed to answer some of our questions. One of which was on the biggest problems she sees in submissions.
Imogen said it was mainly plot related and often involved authors not seeding the clues throughout their book and not signposting enough.

I really enjoyed hearing Imogen speak, her enthusiasm for her work shone through and I'm sure motivated many of us to go away and start working on our manuscripts! I imagine it would be a real pleasure and privilege to have her keen and exacting eye focused on to your own work and with the Golden Egg Academy you might just get that chance.

Thank you to Imogen for such a useful and informative talk. You can find out more about what the Golden Egg Academy offers Here.