Posts Tagged ‘ literary agents ’

Don’t Believe The Hype – David Gaughran Separates Myth And Reality About Indie-Publishing

They say tomorrow never comes, so when I said, last post, that David Gaughran would be my guest here “tomorrow” I was sort of right.

Okay, I was wrong. Events overtook my plans, as far too often recently, but (fingers crossed) MWi resumes normal service from today. Honest!

So, David is finally here as promised, fresh and  forthright as usual, and taking no prisoners!

For those unfamiliar, David has, in the space of a few short months, gone from the proverbial “nowhere” in literary circles, to one of the foremost indie bloggers on the publishing industry circuit, and probably the most significant commentator this side of the pond.

His Let’s Get Digital blog is  a must-read for its up-to-date common sense news and analysis of the latest in publishing, and his latest book, also titled Let’s Get Digital, is a must-read for anyone still on the fence about the future of e-publishing, or anyone about to embark on the journey.

Because of my connection problems back home in monsoon-ridden West Africa the intended post here on MWi to help launch David’s new book never saw the light of day. So before we move to David’s guest post for today here’s MWi regular and indie-publishing success Sibel Hodge on Let’s get Digital:

If you want to self-pub, you absolutely have to read this book. When I started out, I didn’t have a clue about all the things that an Indie author has to get involved in. It’s not just a question of writing a fab book – that’s the easy part! The hard bit is what comes next…

I didn’t have a clue where to find covers, good editors, how to market effectively and gain lovely readers and fans. PRC, MOBI, Epub sounded more like a scratchy disease than anything to do with e-pubbing. I had to learn it bit by bit and very slowly, but in LET’S GET DIGITAL you get you all the information you need in one place. David’s done all the hard work for you!

And the authors who contributed their stories to this book will show you that it really is possible to be a success as an Indie self-pubbing. Their experiences are uplifting and truly inspirational.

So do you want your manuscript sitting in a dusty drawer somewhere, or do you want to live your dream? If so, you need to get a copy of this book!

Let’s get Digital is in the top ten in its genre on with five star reviews across the board. It’s also in the top ten in three categories on, with similar rave reviews.

Without further ado, here’s David:

Don’t Believe The Hype

Big Publishing likes to characterize self-publishing as an annoyance, a gadfly, an inconsequential nuisance that it would smote if it weren’t too busy counting its gold doubloons and polishing its Fabergé eggs.

Self-publishing is a side-show. The Digital Revolution will be tamed and assimilated. And if any indie writer does actually manage to slither out of the primordial soup, they will be co-opted.

Indie advocates are branded nefarious prophets, Pied Pipers leading clueless writers off the wharf to perish in the endless self-publishing sea.

Why the hysteria? Well, fear is a powerful tool. It can cow entire populations. What chance does a new writer have? All their hopes and dreams are wrapped up in one manuscript, and they are being forced to make a choice.

They know the publishing business is in trouble. They know that e-books are becoming a lot more popular. And they keep hearing indie success stories – new names all the time too.

But when they look at the map they were given, one path clearly leads to being published, once they get past the Gatekeeper, and the other just leads to a dark forest, and all the legend says is “Here Be Wolves.”

I prefer to deal in facts.

  1. You can earn 70% royalties from self-publishing. Big Publishing will pay you 14.9% once your agent gets their cut.
  2. If you self-publish, you will get to decide who edits your book, and who designs your cover. Your book will look exactly like you want it to. With Big Publishing, you have no choice. They may say you will have “approval” over the cover, but in practice you will be railroaded into taking whatever the designer comes up with.
  3. If you self-publish, you will decide the price. Big Publishing won’t care what you think.
  4. If you self-publish, you will decide when the book is released. With Big Publishing you will be locked into a schedule of their choosing, meaning a minimum of twelve months before it hits the bookshelves, often eighteen months, and sometimes even longer.
  5. If you self-publish, you will be paid every month. With Big Publishing, you get paid every six months, if they send the royalties out on time, if your agent processes it quickly, and if the statements are accurate.
  6. If you self-publish, you will have access to up-to-date sales figures. With Big Publishing, you never know how your book is selling until well after the fact.

Those are just some of the clear, irrefutable advantages of self-publishing. If any defender of Big Publishing would like to argue with any of the above, without resorting to nonsense arguments based on fear, I am all ears.

Big Publishing has its advantages too, and the two biggest are you the advance, and access to the print distribution network they have monopolized.

Let’s break that down. The average advance for a new writer is $5,000. If you are lucky, and you bag a contract with one of the major publishers, that might rise to $10,000. Maybe.

That cheque will be split into three payments. A third on signing the publishing contract, a third on acceptance of the manuscript (i.e. when you have made all requested edits), and a third on publication.

The overwhelming likelihood is that you will never see another red cent for that book, so their meagre royalty rate won’t even come into play. That’s all your getting. Forever.

How does that compare with self-publishing? Let’s say you price your book at $2.99, meaning over $2 per book royalties for you. To beat the publishing deal with its $5,000 advance, assuming costs of $1,500 to publish, you need to sell around 3,250 books.

That might sound like a lot to a new writer, but you have forever to hit that number. Well, not quite forever, that’s just shorthand for the length of your life plus 70 years. In other words, your grandkids will still be getting paid by Amazon, long after you are gone. Hey, it’s one way to be remembered.

Forever is hard to think about, and tastes change. For the sake of argument, let’s assume the book will sell for ten years, and then it will be badly dated and no-one will really want to read it. That means you need to sell 325 books a year to beat the average publishing deal. That’s less than one a day.

Therefore, if you think your book is good enough to sell one a day or more, then, on average, you will lose money by going with Big Publishing.

Maybe you think your book is good enough to bag that contract with a major publisher, and step up to that $10,000 advance level. As a self-publisher, you just need to sell two a day and you have that well beat too.

That should show the much-touted advance in a different light. To me, the only real advantage in going with Big Publishing is their ability to get your book into lots of bookstores. That’s near impossible for a self-publisher. So let’s examine that a little closer.

I’m sorry to break this to you but, on a $5,000 advance or even a $10,000 advance, your book is not going to be in every bookstore across the country. It’s not going to be in the window display. It’s not going to be in that prime spot behind the cashier. And it’s not going to be on that table that everyone sees when they walk into the store.

It’s probably not even going to be “face out”. All that bookstore real estate is bought and paid for by the publishers. They only purchase those spots for the books they have made significant investment in, i.e. not a $5,000 or $10,000 advance.

Bookstores are dying. That might sound callous, but it’s a fact. People are moving online, either because of reduced prices and greater selection, or because the recent spate of bookstore closures and chain collapses have left them without a physical place they can buy books other than the box-stores like Wal-Mart or Tesco which only stock the bestsellers anyway.

Amazon is on its way to controlling 50% of the overall US book market in 2012. Each week that one clear advantage of going with a large publisher is worth less and less, and at the kind of advance most writers will get, you won’t even get to exploit it.

These are the facts. But Big Publishing doesn’t want to engage in that argument. Instead, these self-appointed Guardians of Literature do battle with straw men, delighting in these Pyrrhic victories, cheering as straw heads are placed on their crumbling parapets.

Look over there: an awful cover by a self-publisher! Look at this atrocity: prose riddled with dangling modifiers! Look at this poor misguided soul: he only sold five copies!

They can’t defend the status quo with reasoned debate. They must resort to fear-mongering and myth-spreading. You will never make any money. You will never be taken seriously. No agent or publisher will ever touch you. No reader will ever be able to find you.

Amanda Hocking

All of these claims are false and have been debunked again and again, but my favourite is a new one doing the rounds. Apparently, the fact that Joe Konrath, Barry Eisler, Blake Crouch, Amanda Hocking, Michael Wallace, J Carson Black, Scott Nicholson, Mark Edwards, and Louise Voss have all signed deals with large publishers is proof that self-publishing is some kind of dead-end, that the smart ones are getting out, and that Big Publishing can co-opt the successful anomalies and assimilate them.

J Carson Black

This ignores one very important fact. The power relationship has been inverted. All of these writers were able to get the deal they wanted on the terms they wanted on the back of their self-publishing success.

All bar three of those writers have signed with Amazon and their royalty rates will be far, far in excess of 14.9%, and they will get an unparalleled marketing push. The other three have received eye-popping advances, which will also force their publishers to throw the entire weight of their marketing machine behind them.

Because they self-published. Fact.

David Gaughran, thank you.

Of course, you’ll be thinking “All very well, but these named writers have all been break-out successes selling in numbers most of us can only dream about.  What about the rest?”

Well, Marion G Harmon had a post recently on his progress as a newly self-pubbed writer who hasn’t yet broken-out. Marion will be joining us later in the month to tell us more, but I’ve stolen the following from his blog as a fine example of what David is describing.

Marion is author of a simply brilliant superhero novel called Wearing The Cape. He’ll be back on MWi later this month to tell us about a bold new experiment he’s trying. But for now, the numbers.

Marion started off at 99c to get some traction, as an unknown name with a unknown book, and has now upped to $2.99. Here’s what he reported on his blog last week:

After spending nearly a year seeking an agent, I self-published on April 25th, three months ago. Assuming that I had found an agent, who then immediately found me a publisher (an insanely optimistic assumption, since agented writers often go for years before closing a book deal), I would likely have earned a $7,000 advance–the industry standard for newbie writers–then had to wait for at least a year for the publishing company to actually publish my book. They might have printed 7,000-15,000 copies, not all of which would have sold, and I would probably have never seen more than my initial advance.

So. After spending a year writing Wearing the Cape and another year finding an agent/publisher for it, I would likely have made no more than $7,000. But what is happening now?

This month I sold nearly 300 copies of WtC, more than 200 at the new price, and cleared $400. Assuming growth in sales remains steady, adding around $100 more a month, in half a year I’ll be getting $1,000/month from my first book (and assuming sales of 500/month is not being wildly optimistic). Taking that out to one year, I will have made more than what would have been my author’s advance on a book doing no more than moderately well by self-publishing standards!

Let’s just here that last bit again:

Taking that out to one year, I will have made more than what would have been my author’s advance on a book doing no more than moderately well by self-publishing standards!

And of course had he signed with a paper publisher his book would not even be available in that time!

Nor is Marion a lone voice.

DD Scott - WG2E

The chicklit-and-chocolate girls at WG2E are also not just balancing the books but beating the odds with their great range of novels.

Tonya Kappes -WG2E

They’ll all be joining us here on MWi shortly to tell us more.

And in a bizarre twist of fate I’ll be doing a regular feature over at WG2E from September. Well, as regular as I can manage.

LA Lopez - WG2E

So how about you guys? David shows you don’t have to be a phenomenal success to beat the big publishers at their own game. Remember, most paper published books sell less than a thousand copies. Most new authors never get a second book accepted.

I know not everyone likes to talk exact figures, but speaking generally, how are you doing? Are you close to exceeding, or have you already beaten, the likely return from an “average” trad-published deal?


Summer Book Club Part 4: Scott Nicholson

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water…

Yep, I’m back!

And yeah, I know. It doesn’t get much later than this! So apologies to Summer Book Club guest Scott Nicholson for the appalling tardiness.

Regulars will know I’ve been in transit escaping the tropical storms and  power / net disruption in gorgeous West Africa and have reluctantly returned to the freezing climes of the UK.

Had I opted for good old England the transition might have been easier, but I ended up in the picturesque mountains of North Wales, where net access seems to be only marginally better than whence I left, and winter appears to still be in force.

Later this week I shall be heading east and normal MWi service should resume, so be sure hang around!

August will be fun,  assure you. There’s a great line-up of prospective guests, some news and reviews, and all the usual inspirational stories, inside information about what authors have for breakfast, and hot celebrity gossip  you come here for.

Watch out also for a big announcement on some short story anthologies we hope you, MWi readers, will want to be involved in.

And of course it’s the official release of the first of our new Rose Red crime thriller series. And Scott, if you think we were late with your guest spot, our book release is now two week overdue and still being chased up. The best laid plans…

But for today, back to playing guest catch up. So say hello to Scott Nicholson.

Scott is one of those transition writers that started out with the legacy publishers and then embraced the opportunities of self-publishing to further expand his horizons, his career and our reading enjoyment.

His choice for the Summer Book Club anthology (available for peanuts on Amazon – royalties to the Joplin library fund – or free via Smashwords) is his dark novel Disintegration.

Given this is another quickie post while I catch up with everything else, I hand you over to Scott without further ado.

Disintegration was written four or five years ago during a dark time in my life. The title just sums up what was going on, and what I had to write to survive. I knew it was going to be dark and bleak, and that good people would do bad things and terrible people would do worse things. The evil twins are just a symbol of where I was at the time. And I knew the ending was not going to be happy, and I put off writing the last five pages for nearly a year because I knew what had to happen and I didn’t want to type it and make it real.

I don’t think I ever showed it to my agent. I thought it was too dark to ever share with people, and I was a little ashamed of what it revealed about me. I think stories help us solve what is going on inside our heads and hearts, but it also leaves us vulnerable because written communication is so personal and intimate. If it wasn’t for self-publishing, and the encouragement of mystery writer Vicki Tyley, I never would have released it. My wife said, “Somebody might need that message.”
With low expectations, I put it out during my 90-day Kindle Giveaway Blog Tour last fall, and it hit #30 on the Kindle list. That was weird, to have the biggest success of my writing career on a book I never wanted to publish, on my own, after six books with a traditional press. That taught me something about “writing to market” or “writing to please people.” First, you have to take chances and put it all there. If you get the back end, and the connection with readers, that’s the bonus and completes the purpose of the story.
Luckily, I’ve put the pieces back together over the years since I first wrote the novel, and it helped launch me onto other books and success. I owe a bit to Jim Thompson and James M. Cain and some of the other noir writers, and William Goldman, Shirley Jackson, Kurt Vonnegut, Richard Brautigan, Patricia Highsmith, Dean Koontz, Stephen King, Ira Levin, James Lee Burke…that list could just keep going.
I am a full-time writer now, but I’m only as good as whatever chance I take today, whatever basic principles of the craft I discover anew, and whatever I get back from a reader. Really, I’m only as good as the last sentence. And the next. There’s no other way to write a novel except by building it out of nothing. It’s easy to stay humble when you are tackling something that is essentially impossible. Once in a while, you get lucky and the words fall in place and share something about what it’s like to be on the crazy ride we call Life.
Enjoy the ride.

Scott Nicholson is author of more than 20 books, including Liquid Fear, The Red Church, and Speed Dating with the Dead. His website is and he wastes too much time being clever on Facebook and glib on Twitter. (His words, not mine!)

There was a face-to-face opportunity to interact with Scott on Facebook, but as I was unable to access my site over the weekend I had no way of alerting you all. Apols for anyone who missed it. I hope to drag Scott back here some time real soon to tell us a more about his other works and more about his life as a writer with a foot in both camps.

Hopefully MWi will be back to normal by this weekend. But don”t quote me on that. Still got  a lot of catching up to do!

I leave you with a reminder of Scott’s words on who we write for.

That taught me something about “writing to market” or “writing to please people.”

How about you? Are you still stuck in the pre-digital rut, writing to suck up to what an agent / publisher thinks will make them money? Or have you taken the plunge and are now writing for your readers (and making yourself money into the bargain)?

Living The Dream: The Gatekeepers Eat Humble Pie Yet Again

If you’ve come to MWi today seeking inspiration and reassurance, having just gotten your latest rejection from the gatekeepers, this is your lucky day. We have an extraordinary story of rejection, redemption and rejoicing for you.

Today it was officially announced that indie authors Louise Voss and Mark Edwards have signed a four book deal with Harper Collins for a six-figure sum. And having been a supporter of these guys since they first launched on Kindle earlier this year I’m absolutely delighted for them.

But this not just a great story about an author partnership that got the dream ticket. This story is special in so many way.

Because this isn’t  just a story about a couple of authors who wrote their books, sent off their queries, waited patiently and eventually hooked the big fish. This is a story of a couple of authors who wrote their books, sent of their queries, hooked an agent each (each!) and still couldn’t get the big fish.

They tried, and tried, and tried again. But they never quite got there. And with rejection comes dejection. Eventually these guys just gave up.

Literally. They threw their battered manuscripts in the drawer, closed their book of dreams and walked away from writing.

It was only when the Kindle came along they they got the urge to try again. They dusted off those old manuscripts, updated where necessary, and stuck them on Amazon. Not re-written.  Just updated to take account of things like mobile phones, that didn’t exist first time round. But let’s be clear, these were the same books as before. The ones the gatekeepers turned their noses up at.

But that’s the funny thing about the gatekeepers.  They claim to be protecting us from the drivel that us self-publishers stick on Amazon. Yet the moment that “drivel” starts to sell it suddenly acquires some hitherto non-existent star quality that the gatekeepers are desperate to get the rights to.

And after suffering so much rejection that these guys actually gave up writing, one can only imagine how gratifying it must be now to have the gatekeepers not just querying them, but handing over a six-figure sum to be allowed to publish the books they previously turned down.

Mark Edwards’ first appeared on MWi back in April, soon after Louise and he launched Killing Cupid onto Kindle. The second book was still being prepared for release.  Mark explained in raw, emotive terms, his journey from wannabe-writer to f**ck-’em-all-I-can’t-take-this-any-more defeat and back to new aspirant.

His story is reproduced below, as originally presented here on MWi.

It was an amazing story when I first ran it. That was just thirteen weeks ago.

Since then that second book, Catch Your Death, has become the number one best-seller on Kindle UK, and at one stage the first book, Killing Cupid, joined it at number two. The ultimate double-whammy. Last month alone they sold a total of 42,000 e-books.

No surprise, then, that these dreadful books previously deemed unpublishable are now hot properties.

Here’s Mark’s story once again, with my original intro.


Mark’s road to publication has been an emotional roller-coaster of a ride, and the road behind him is littered with shattered hopes and dreams.

For wannabe-writers Mark’s story is a salutary lesson in how, even when it seems nothing can go wrong, things can turn pear-shaped at any time, even when you think you’ve finally made it.

There are no prizes for being oh-so-close in this business.

Just heart-ache and derision. Mostly derision.

As mark says,

The problem is, I guess, that the wider world is utterly indifferent, whether you’re a writer, actor, artist, whatever…

Everyone thinks that it must just be because you’re not good enough.

For years I didn’t tell anyone about my attempts to make it as a writer because I got tired of the pitying looks.

The Sea of Obscurity

Now I have people asking me how many copies of Killing Cupid we’ve sold all the time which is kind of embarrassing at the moment! Still, we should sell 100 this month (March) which I think isn’t a bad start.  The difficult bit is staying out of the ‘sea of obscurity’ as Tom puts it.

Pause here to ponder Mark’s earlier words: Everyone thinks that it must just be because you’re not good enough.

Doesn’t that just sum it all up?

Sad but so true.

As writers we start out with such high hopes (yes, often too high hopes, as Mark readily concedes, below), only to have them dashed against the rock of rejection as one agent after another declines our work.

Of course many rejections will be thoroughly deserved.

But many more will be simply personal or commercial judgements by the agent at that time. Maybe she had a row with her partner before leaving for the office and something in your submission reminded her of it. Maybe he simply doesn’t like that genre and you didn’t do your homework properly before sending it to him. More often your work simply doesn’t have, in their humble (but expert) opinion, the commercial appeal to make them money.

Yes, make them money.

There is a very common misconception among wannabe writers that agents are some kind of charitable institution, offering their services free to anyone who can peck at a keyboard.

I’ll be looking at the role of agents more closely in future blogs, but here just to remind everybody they are running a business, and their money (usually about 15%) is only made if and when they manage to sell your work and it goes on to make money from readers buying it.

No wonder agents reject far, far more authors than they ever take on.

Which doesn’t make it any more pleasant when the rejection slip lands on the mat. But unless your work is seriously dire then it’s best not to take it personally and just move on to the next one.

Of course, getting an agent is just the start.

True, agents do have a hot-line to editors in publishing houses. But… They don’t have decision-making powers.

Getting an agent means you’re well on the way to being seriously considered by a publisher.

But as Mark found out the hard way, nothing’s final until the money’s in the bank.

For sheer determination in sticking with it, and as inspiration for all those of us are on the fence or haven’t the confidence to go for it, this is Mark Edwards’ story.

The Kindle has, ahem, rekindled my love of writing. Until very recently, when I caught scent of the indie writing revolution as it carried across the Atlantic, I had officially stopped trying to be a writer.

I had a great job that I could pour all my creative energy into, a family who happily occupied all my spare time, and I didn’t need the grief of trying to get published, a pursuit that had been an obsession for a long time. I had quit. I felt like a smoker who occasionally sniffs cigarette smoke and thinks ‘Hmm, I quite fancy…’ before stamping on the thought. I was cured of my writaholism.

Rewind fifteen years to my twenties. I had a rubbish job and lived in a dead-end town: Hastings, East Sussex, a place that had been cursed, according to local legend, by black magician Aleister Crowley just before he died. I wrote as a means of escaping the crap job.

I churned out novels almost as quickly as Amanda Hocking does now, writing them by hand on paper – paper! – with, wait for it, a biro and typing them up on this ridiculous contraption called a Fontwriter, a kind of glorified typewriter that displayed five rows of text at a time, the display blinking as you typed, rather like a Kindle does when you change page, come to think of it. Then you had to feed in and print out the pages one at a time.

If I wanted to copy a manuscript I had to take it to a shop and endure the embarrassing questions and pitying looks of the staff.  All of my early novels exist only on floppy disk, unaccessible, buried in a technological grave.

Sometime during this period, during which I spent half my income on brown A4 envelopes and printer ribbons, I landed myself an agent. A proper agent with bestselling clients. She LOVED my novel. She was going to make me a star. I was going to be rich and famous. I truly believed this was a certainty. The day the agent phoned me to tell me she was going to take me on was one of the happiest of my life.

But then… rejection. None of the publishers she sent my novel to wanted to buy it. I was gobsmacked. Sick as a parrot. I wrote another novel. She loved this one even more. The same thing happened. Then I rewrote the original novel and made it vastly better. At this point, the BBC enter the story for the first time.

BBC2 were making a documentary about first-time novelists. They wanted three people:  someone who was just starting out; someone with an agent but no publisher; and someone with a deal. I was the middle one. The successful one was Jake Arnott.  The other one was a friend of a friend of the director.

Again, I was assured of fame. I had cameramen following me around Hastings and filming me in my job(answering complaints for the world’s worst rail company). I did a photo shoot for the Radio Times, standing just behind Jake Arnott. It was so exciting.

But when the TV show went out, showing me receiving rejection calls for the edification of a shrugging public, it made me look like a desperate wannabe.

This is probably because I was a desperate wannabe.

I was like someone years later on the X Factor semi-final, blubbing because they’d been voted off and hadn’t landed the million pound deal, vowing ‘You haven’t heard the last of me.’ The programme didn’t bring about a single whiff of interest from publishers – these days I would have self-published and probably sold thousands of books. But at that point, no book existed. I got recognised in the street for months afterwards but I had nothing to sell.

The one good thing that came from that programme was an email from Louise Voss. Louise was in exactly the same boat as me. An agent, no book deal. We emailed each other all the time – I had just graduated to an iMac and binned the Fontwriter – and swapped moral support. We didn’t meet up for around two years but we were each other’s biggest cheerleaders.

Then Louise got the big break. A super-agent took her on and suddenly everyone wanted to publish her. Her book, the fantastic TO BE SOMEONE, went to auction; she got the long dreamt-of advance. It seemed like her time had come. I can honestly say I wasn’t jealous. Instead it made me think that if I kept going my turn would surely come.

I kept writing. I came maddeningly close to landing a deal once or twice. I kept writing. My agent gave up and dumped me. I tried and failed to find another one. I was that desperate bloke off that programme. I was tainted. I turned thirty. I had an early midlife crisis. Left my wife, left Hastings, went to live in Japan for a year…

While I was in Japan, Louise and I came up with the idea of writing a novel together. Her career hadn’t taken off as anticipated. She was still being published, but the books weren’t selling as well as her publishers hoped; which was a huge problem, since they had invested so much money in her. We came up with the idea for a stalker novel, written alternately from male and female perspectives, with a delicious twist in the middle and another at the end.

For the zillionth time I was sure I was finally on to a winner, especially when the BBC hove into the story for a second time:  a drama producer who had read and loved one of Louise’s other novels optioned our book, KILLING CUPID, before it was even finished.

Writing together was a dream. As Louise says, it’s as if while you’re asleep the writing elves come out and craft the next chapter for you. We would brainstorm the plot, decide what was coming next, then one of us would write a chapter before the other person edited it. The whole thing was so easy to write I couldn’t believe there weren’t more writing duos out there.

When the book was finished, Louise’s agent tried to sell it. Unbelievably, although I was by this point punch drunk on rejection and should have seen it coming, she couldn’t find us a publisher.

The book didn’t fit neatly into a genre: it was part thriller, part comedy, part suspense, part literary fiction.

Still, we had the option. It was going to be on TV.

Yeah, right….

The production went into development hell. The BBC changed their policy around two-part crime dramas. Somebody upstairs didn’t like the main character. The option expired.

I banged my head against a wall until it bled.

I was back in the UK and had just started my first proper job, at the ripe old age of 32, by which I mean a job I enjoyed rather than endured, being a digital marketer for a publisher.

I was OK.

Writing wasn’t everything.

But Louise and I had one more go. We wrote another thriller called CATCH YOUR DEATH, a Dan Brown-esque chase novel about a killer virus. Louise, by this point, no longer had an agent or a deal.  We finished the new novel the same week my first daughter was born. We sent it out to agents. Several said they liked it, but not enough. Getting published, it seemed, was getting harder and harder. And life, I had realised, could be enriching without being a writer. Real life was more interesting and infinitely easier without the relentless stress of trying to find a bloody agent and publisher.

That was it, I decided. I had given it my best shot. I read about other writers getting big deals and didn’t feel a thing.  I could see a novel by a celeb in  a bookshop and not feel the urge to projectile vomit.  I had stopped caring. Nobody could say I hadn’t tried. It was time to concentrate on my career and my family. I felt liberated.

And then the Kindle came along. Reading about this new way of publishing, it seemed so exciting. Finally, here was a way to take back the power from the gatekeepers. I persuaded Louise that we should put our novels on Amazon; we had nothing to lose. So we went through them and discovered they were as dusty as my old manuscripts. In KILLING CUPID, no-one had broadband or a mobile phone. Facebook didn’t exist, and how can you have a modern stalker novel without a bit of Facebook stalking?  We spent a few months polishing them, got my sister-in-law to design covers, and on February 19th 2011, when KILLING CUPID was added to the Kindle store, I finally became a published author.

A self-published author, but so what?  We are in control. The book’s success or failure is in our hands. If it’s good enough, and we put enough energy and intelligence into promoting it, we will reap the rewards. The day after it was published, we had an email from a BAFTA-winning film producer who wants to option it for the big screen.

With my track record, I’m not going to order a Porsche – or a second hand bicycle – yet. But my interest in writing has been reborn, this time without the ridiculous self-imposed pressure.

This time, I know there’s more to life.

This time, it’s fun.

Plus a little bit of an addiction to checking the sales figures.

In the next few weeks, we are going to add CATCH YOUR DEATH to the Amazon store. Louise has got the digital rights to her old Transworld novels back and is planning to get them on Amazon soon.

I am going to rewrite the best of my old novels, a psychological horror about neighbours from hell.

And we are going to start work on a third novel together.

And one day I’ll be able to tell the world about how it took me fifteen years to achieve overnight success.

Or maybe twenty years.

I don’t really mind.

Fifteen years to achieve overnight success? How about thirteen weeks.

Louise and Mark I’m proud to have been in there at the re-start and to have watched your incredible journey. It couldn’t have happened to two more deserving people.

Dumb And Dumber. The Myth Of Stupid Readers.

Well, you found this blog and you’re reading this post. How on Earth did you do that?

There are literally millions and millions of blogs out there, and the number of web pages just doesn’t bear thinking about. Yet somehow you found the MWi site and are reading this now.

Chances are you’re a return visitor, which means you’re a real masochist and have decided to forgive my occasional typos, lax editing and lack of formatting skills to come back for more.

If this is your first time (and a warm welcome if so) then most likely you came here by way of a link or recommendation from someone you trusted, or just out of curiosity having seen a reference to MWi on twitter of Facebook, or any of a thousand alternatives.

The one certainty is that no-one forced you here, no-one tricked you here, and no-one is making you stay.


Simple fact is, people aren’t stupid. Okay, we all know an exception, but by and large we do not need anyone to lead us through the internet maze and find good sites that suit our particular needs. We manage.

When we go into a supermarket isn’t it just incredible how we don’t need someone to guide us down the aisles telling us which products are good quality and which aren’t? We’re quite capable of making up our own minds.

We even manage this remarkable task of making an educated choice when we go into a major book-store.

All those tens of thousands of books, mostly spine out by authors we have never heard of, all clamouring for our attention. Yet somehow we manage to emerge brain cells intact, with a handful of books that we have decided, after careful consideration, are what we would like to read.

Help me! I'm too stupid to find a good book I'd like amongst all these.

Sure, the author’s big name may be a factor. We all love the comfort of an author we know and love. But before we part with our money we’ll also look at the cover art; the title; the blurb; maybe the font used and the shade and texture of the paper pages. Most likely we’ll stand there and read a few paragraphs, or maybe find a seat and read a few chapters.

What we certainly don’t do is go into a bookshop and grab ten books at random from a shelf and hope for the best.

Yet when it comes to buying e-books it seems common sense goes out of the window. Or so the gatekeepers would have us believe.


We are told constantly how the gatekeepers’ sole reason for existence is to protect us from being drowned in the drivel self-publishers are swamping us with.

Fact is, of course, the sole reason for the gatekeeper’s existence is to make money. Nothing wrong with that, by the way.  We all have to make a living, and they are just doing their job.

But in pursuit of their shareholders’ needs the gatekeepers have ensured that what readers get to read is what they believe will make money for them. And for the past century or two they have done that by having an effective monopoly on the production and distribution of books.

That monopoly is now ending, and no-one is screaming against it louder than the gatekeepers with a vested interest in the Old Model.

And yes, they have a point. There are writers out there who are self-publishing their aunt’s memoirs, their children’s homework and their love-letters to their pets. There are writers out there self-publishing their first novel having not even run a spell-check. There are writers self-publishing their novels that have no idea about sentence structure, let alone how to create a cover or format to e-book standard.

And yes, if you know where to look and are so-inclined you can probably find an example, pay good money to download it, and then shout to everybody about how bad self-published books are.

Equally you could find a self-published blog or other website and say the same thing. But you wouldn’t. Why waste your time and energy? And you certainly wouldn’t part with hard-earned cash to do so.

You know, I know and everyone else knows that lousy blogs and websites exist. So do lousy e-books. So do lousy paper books. Big deal! Who cares?

Joe Konrath this week wrote a great piece entitled, in his inimitable way, The Tsunami Of Crap.

Some people believe the ease of self-publishing means that millions of wannabe writers will flood the market with their crummy ebooks, and the good authors will get lost in the morass, and then family values will go unprotected and the economy will collapse and the world will crash into the sun and puppies and kittens by the truckload will die horrible, screaming deaths.

Or something like that.

This is bullshit, of course. A myth. A fabrication. One rooted in envy and fear.

Envy and fear. As often as not I disagree with Joe, but on this one he has it almost spot on.

There is real envy from those locked into the Old Model, through existing contracts, or just as likely from simply being afraid to take control. Institutionalised writers who have always had mommy there to hold their hand, and now just can’t imagine having to make decisions for themselves.

There’s also real fear from those who have always hidden behind the writers. The gatekeepers.

Publishers, agents and editors to name but a few, who suddenly see their job-for-life existence is coming to an end. Suddenly, instead of sitting behind their desks awaiting the writing minions to come begging for their approval, the gatekeepers are having to go out and seek the approval of writers. Their world is being stood on its head.

Note the present tense. There’s still life in the Old Model yet, and so long as paper remains the predominant means of distribution then no question they still have a role to play. But in the English-speaking world, at least, that role is fast diminishing.

As Konrath says, envy and fear are driving these attacks on the e-publishing Revolution.

But he would say that, of course. He’s nailed his colours to the mast and while he still straddles the paper and e-market there’s no question which way he’s going. Surely we need another respected commentator to give this argument some validity?

Enter Kris Rusch.

In a great post entitled Slush Pile Truths Kris drives another few nails in the coffin of the gatekeepers’ tiresome We Know Best mantra.

Kris also deals with another of the gatekeepers’ myths – that low start-out sales for many e-books show they have no future. It’s something many new indie writers fail to grasp too, so this from Kris’s post:

I’ve seen blog after blog from writers who put their books up on Kindle, then watch the numbers, and bemoan those two or three sales in one month.  Yeah, yeah, those writers complain, the next month I had six sales, and the month after that twelve, but eighteen sales in three months won’t make me rich.

And yet…the book is on an upward trend.  Which means that the three original readers probably told a friend or two who read the book, and those friends told more friends, and so on and so on.  Yeah, you won’t get rich in 2011 with those numbers, but with some patience, and a willingness to write and publish more books (instead of spending all your time promoting), you might make a small living on that book in 2013.  And by 2015, you might have enough to kiss your day job good-bye.

Which is better than most traditionally published writers can do four years after their first publication.

David Gaughran also deals with gatekeepers’ myths in Battling For A Broken System, and thanks to David for linking to a great post by Michael Stackpole here.


Official APP figures show most paper published books sell less than a thousand copies. But still the gatekeepers churn them out. They sit in book stores for a few months and then get returned, and are pulped or remaindered. The authors are never heard of again, even though the few readers that did find them may have loved them.

They failed to make enough money quickly enough for the gatekeepers and so they were discarded.

E-books are forever.

Our own Sugar & Spice sold almost nothing in the first three months. Had it been a paper book with that track record it would no longer be available. The gatekeepers’ monopoly would have meant (not that they ever wanted it in the first place) it failed the Can-It-Make-A-Quick-Buck-For-Us test.

Game over, Sugar & Spice. Game over, Saffina Desforges. Failed writer.

Yet in the next three months Sugar & Spice sudddenly grew wings and sold 60,000 copies. Almost nine months on and it’s still selling thousands every month.

To all you writers out there disappointed with low start-up sales, take heart and keep on writing. The great thing with e-publishing is you don’t need to waste years seeking the gatekeepers’ approval. You don’t need to wait years from getting their approval to actually seeing the book published. And you don’t have a three month window to prove yourself or see your career finished forever.

Just make sure you have a good book.

If your book is good enough readers will find it. Just like you manage to find good music, good web sites, good blogs and good books on the net. It may take time, but readers will find it. And they’ll tell their friends. Who will tell their friends…

On the other hand, if your book’s not good enough it will just become another statistic in the “tsunami of crap.”

The choice is yours.

There are still gatekeepers, make no mistake. But the new gatekeepers are the readers. And they only have one vested interest. Finding good books to read.

Pass their test and your future as a writer is assured.

Being The Boss – Controlling Our Own Destiny. Gerry McCullough Takes Charge.

Day Thirteen

One of the things I love about writing this blog is the serendipitous manner in which the final posts come together.

Not that serendipitous is a word I usually throw about in polite company, of course. Five syllable locutions are generally best avoided, but we’re all writers here. Words are our tools. And one of my favourite words is the noun serendipity.


Noun: The occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way: “a fortunate stroke of serendipity”

Because that pretty much sums up the way my posts come about.

Gerry McCullough

Take today’s guest in the green room, Gerry McCullough. I invited her to join us to talk about female characters as part of the Girls Just Wanna Have Fun blogfest. Gerry has  a great review site where she talks with undiluted affection of the books she loves to read. Highly recommended.

But she wrote her MWi post several weeks ago, the subject: Being The Boss, and right up until this morning I had no idea how I would intro’ it. Me? Plan ahead?  Never!

But I have faith in serendipity. I just knew it would all fall into place.

According to Wikipedia serendipity first appeared in the English language on 28 January 1754. Of course that’s the kind of precision that makes you wonder if this is a wiki-wind-up. But in this case it seems genuine. Horace Walpole was apparently commenting on a Persian fairy-tale, The Three Princes of Serendip, where said Princes “were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of”.

Saffi and I are currently immersed in fairy tales as our new series of crime thrillers gears up for launch (Rose Red Book 1: Snow White – available from end July!), and we unquestionably write in serendipitous fashion, letting the story take us where it will, and savouring the discovery of plots, storylines and characters we were not in quest of.

Some people call it “pantsing”, or “writing by the seat of their pants.” How lovely on these occasions to be British and look with disdain on what the Americans are doing  to our once beautiful language. 🙂  Serendipitous is a far better description!

However you call it, it’s not for everyone, of course. Some writers like to plot every last detail in advance, before writing the first word. Which are you?

Rachel Hauck

There are no right and wrong ways. Write however you feel most comfortable. For those interested, Rachel Hauck has a guest post over at Rachelle Gardner’s blog, on rules of writing and advance planning. Interesting, but defintely not for us!

What counts, at the end of the day, is if the reader likes it.

Which is not something I could have said a year ago. A year ago what counted was if the gatekeepers liked it. If you didn’t meet with their approval the readers would never get the option.

Gerry’s guest post today is about girls / women being the boss. Taking control of their lives. In her post Gerry says,

Pretending to be something you are not, in order to win the approval of the other sex, can’t be a good thing. And yet for centuries that has been how women have been encouraged, indeed in many cases forced, to behave.

Couldn’t agree more, Gerry. But if I may plunder your paragraph:

Pretending to be something you are not, in order to win the approval of the gatekeepers, can’t be a good thing. And yet for centuries that has been how writers have been encouraged, indeed in many cases forced, to behave.

At the moment we are all so wrapped up in the economics of the e-pub revolution that the wider picture is being overlooked.

E-pub is not just handing writers control over their economic destiny, by allowing them to reach their reader direct. It’s handing them the freedom to be writers. To write what they believe needs to be written, not what the gatekeepers think will make a fast buck.

And as the indie movement grows in confidence and takes control of its destiny I predict a renaissance in literature like we have never known. The new world of publishing won’t just be different from what it is now. It will be far, far better. Writers can once again be artists.

E-pub allows us to take control of our destiny.

Lexi Revellian, who has sold 30,000 ebooks with no help from the gatekeepers, ran a great post recently entitled You Don’t Need Permission. This from Lexi:

Lexi Revellian

What I want to say in big letters is, YOU DON’T NEED PERMISSION. Just a good book, because validation can only be given by readers: not agents, editors or marketing departments.

Konrad Lorenz tells a story about the geese he kept. Each morning he would open the gate to the small compound where they spent the night to allow them to roam freely during the day. One morning, he saw from his window he’d forgotten to close the gate the night before, so he didn’t need to open it. A while later, he noticed the geese were still in their compound, making dissatisfied noises. The gate was open, but they would not go through it until he went over, shut it, and opened it again with a flourish. This ceremony over, they went off to forage.

Don’t be like those geese. Agents and publishers are losing some of their power. They are becoming aware of this, and so should we be.

That’s not to say us indies can just dispense with the gatekeepers’ services. No question they have their uses, especially now, when the paper market is still significant.  And it’s certainly not an “us and them” battle.

At this stage in the Transition (note the capital – this is  major historical event taking place. Let’s give it full recognition) both e-pub and p-pub are options. There is still a paper market out there and no question the old-model experts are still best placed to handle that. So yes, agents and publishers still have an important role to play for a while yet.

Saffi and I currently in discussion with a major NY agency. We’re not obsessive about being “indies”. But we have had to make clear that we’d appreciate their partnership to reach the paper market. We fully understand we will never get our book distributed in the major bricks and mortar stores without the gatekeepers’ help. They have the monopoly. They control that domain.

But we neither want nor need them to reach the e-market, and certainly have no intention of letting them take money for doing what we are managing to do fine without them.

Our experience with agents so far is that, with the best will in the world, they know sweet Fanny Adams about why e-publishing is a revolution, not just a technological adjustment, and they are far too blinkered by their old-world view to ever grasp it fully.

Which is why I worry about “indie gurus” like Joe Konrath. As I wrote in the comments over at Scott Nicholson’s,

Joe Konrath

It seems far too many “new” writers are looking to Konrath as some sort of guru with all the answers, but Konrath has a foot in both camps, and is in a position to take the best from both.

Konrath’s choices may well be ideally suited to his circumstances as an established author with a backlist and both paper and ebooks bringing in money.

But much of what he says does not apply to the “new” writer at the bottom of the ladder. They would do well to take a step back and look at the bigger picture.

The Konrath model works for Konrath because of where he is. Check out Scott Nicholson’s post in full for a fine explanation of why Konrath’s keen promotion of estributors may well be a backward step for most of us.

This little snippet to give you a taster:

I just don’t see why agents should be considered ideal candidates for this task. What is an agent’s current job and experience? To assess a manuscript and find a market.

Scott Nicholson

In self-publishing, they do neither. Their assessment skills have zero value in self-publishing. Right now they assess with one measure: can I sell this to one of the few dozen editors in New York? Self-publishing requires no assessment, unless the agent says, “Whoa, this is crap, you can’t publish this!” And who is going to lose their 15 percent to be that blunt? The agent’s second role and experience is also rendered useless. The market is already there, and it’s the millions of readers owning electronic devices or ordering print-on-demand books.

And as Gerry McCullough herself wrote a few days ago in the comments here at MWi,

I’m not sure what an agent can do for anyone who is already self-published. Or does everyone secretly want to be taken on by a ‘real’ publisher? An agent is certainly needed for that.
If eBooks and self-publishing are really the way of the future, surely agents are definitely a thing of the past? You mention some things they can do for us, Mark, but I can’t see that any of these are things writers can’t do themselves.

Absolutely. As above, while paper is still there the old gatekeepers have a role. But in the new world the gatekeepers are definitely expendable.

E-pub isn’t just about writers making money. It’s not even mainly about that. It’s about writers taking control. About being the boss.

Speaking of which, here’s Gerry with her original post by that title. And I have to say, Gerry, you’ve surpassed yourself this time. I thought I was the only person on the planet who had read Evadne Price’s Jane! Can’t wait until these are e-published.

Girls Just Want to Have Fun – and there’s no fun like being the Boss!

Evadne Price

You’ve probably never heard of Jane Turpin, the heroine of Evadne Price’s Jane series – female equivalent of William, in Richmal Crompton’s Just William books. I don’t know why ‘Jane’ was less successful than ‘William’ – to my mind, the books are at least as clever and funny as the William books if not more so. The social setting has similarities to the Mapp and Lucia books of E.F.Benson, and doesn’t lose by the comparison.

Jane is ten in the series, which is set just before the Second World War. There’s something good about being pre-puberty. You don’t care what boys think of you, and you can be yourself. Jane was the perfect tomboy. With her two friends/followers, Pug (Percival) Washington and Chaw (short for Charles) Dalton-Smith, she ran wild, leading her henchmen into mischief repeatedly. Her snobby socialite mother and her elder sister Marjorie (‘Marge’ to Jane) constantly tried to control her, but her father, although usually prepared to exercise discipline, was often secretly on Jane’s side. 

The books have a host of adult characters drawn with wit and irony who suffer from Jane’s activities.  The Turpins’ gardener, for instance, Arnie, in a communistic mood, tips all the new spring bulbs he’s supposed to be planting into the rubbish heap, and is filmed by Jane with someone’s new cine camera, with very funny results.

I read Jane avidly when I was about her own age, and whether I was influenced by her or not, I in turn bossed my young friends, both male and female. It was only after reaching the crucial teens that the dreaded shyness and the desire to be thought attractive overtook me. Now the wheel has come full circle. As an adult, past the courtship/child-rearing stage, I can be myself again, and the bossiness is re-emerging!

About the same time I was enjoying Jane, another Jane caught my attention – Calamity Jane. A film, not a book, but another tomboy, a leader, someone who was fully herself – until love intervened. Calamity Jane was another role model for me. But she cleaned up her act and dressed more attractively, in order to get her man in the end – so what does that say?

Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet

Then there’s Elizabeth Bennett. (I first read Pride and Prejudice, borrowing it from my sister’s pile of schoolbooks and reading it eagerly when I was supposed to be asleep, at much the same age.) Elizabeth, living in a society where women were supposed to win a livelihood for themselves by marrying a well-off man, had the guts to spurn Mr Darcy, a millionaire by today’s standards, because in his pride and arrogance he proposed to her on the assumption that she would accept in spite of his extreme rudeness. I cheered when she told Darcy where to get off, and even more when she treated Lady Catherine De Burgh to similar home truths. Elizabeth chose to be herself. And in her case, she got her man in spite of it. But Darcy already admired Elizabeth for her ‘fine eyes.’ Admiration for her character came later.

Jane Turpin was blue-eyed with fair curly hair. In one – only one – of the stories, she makes use of this prettiness to get her own way, winning the approval of a new arrival in the neighbourhood who has stolen her position as leader, by appearing at a party dressed to look her most attractive. (By her mother’s insistence, incidentally, not Jane’s own.) So is it true that a girl needs to do more than just be herself? If she wants to be loved as well as to be the boss, does she need to rely on her looks, as it sometimes seems?

This is, I suppose, the real life experience of women writers.  But what is the male writer’s view? When I met Esme Weatherwax, Granny Weatherwax, in Terry Pratchett’s marvellous books, at a rather later stage in my life, and admired her at least as much as my earlier models, I noticed that Esme made no attempt to use her female charms to win appreciation from men. Even in Equal Rites, her first appearance, it’s her own tough, bossy nature which wins her the admiration of Archchancellor Cutangle.  And in Lords and Ladies, where she is fully herself, there is a great line, which anyone who is at all clever, not just women, can relate to, ‘there’s a certain glint in her eye generally possessed by those people who have found that they are more intelligent than most people around them but who haven’t yet learned that one of the most intelligent things they can do is prevent said people ever finding this out.’  Esme Weatherwax is a strong, unbeatable character. Mustram Ridcully is still in love with her because of her strength, not in spite of it. My admiration for her never ceases. In Witches Abroad, when the usually shrinking Magret is hypnotised into acting with confidence, ‘The tiny inner Magret struggling to keep its balance on the surge of arrogant self-confidence wondered if this was how Granny Weatherwax felt all the time.’ Yes, apparently it is.

I wonder if I like these characters because I want to be like them, or because I am already like them? Is it that I want to be myself, and am encouraged in this by Jane, Elizabeth and Granny, to say nothing of Flora Poste, Nancy from Swallows and Amazons, Jo March from Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, and others too numerous to mention?  Or do I enjoy their bossiness because it excuses me, because I’m quite aware that this is already my nature?

(Answers on a plain postcard, please. Or maybe not.)

I think myself that the example of these girls and women is an excellent one. Pretending to be something you are not, in order to win the approval of the other sex, can’t be a good thing. And yet for centuries that has been how women have been encouraged, indeed in many cases forced, to behave.

Maybe ‘yourself’ isn’t perfect. Maybe you need to make a few changes – be more caring, more considerate. But to recognise this, you probably need to stop pretending to be someone you are not – and learn to be real, for a start. You can see where it goes from there!

Wonderful stuff, Gerry.

Gerry’s book review blog can be found on the link earlier in the post. There you’ll also find links to her own book, the highly acclaimed Belfast Girls (top 100 Women’s Literary fiction on Kindle UK!).

So how about you? Which fictional characters or real people inspired you to take control of your destiny? Or are you happy not being the boss and letting others make the decisions?

I leave you with this image from one of my all-time favourite films, Dead Poets Society.

Carpe diem! Make your lives extraordinary!



Meggosaurus Rex – Megg Jensen and the Jurassic Park Agents

Day Twelve

So what is it about agents these days? Anyone would think they were an endangered species.

In fact I was going to open with that observation even before Anne R Allen’s latest post Literary Agents: An Endangered Species? went live at the weekend and really put the cat among the industry’s pigeons.

Simple fact is, of course, they are. The days of the agent we knew and loved / hated are coming to an end.

That’s not to say they will all become extinct. Just that those that survive the e-publishing revolution will have evolved into some entirely new creature from the agents that, along with the Big Six, reigned supreme over the publishing world until incredibly recently.

The e-publishing revolution is the equivalent of the giant meteorite strike that caused the mass extinction in a bygone era. Except this time it’s just Planet Publishing that is being hit.

Is that a good or bad thing? It certainly seems good for readers and writers so far. But who’s to say? The only certainties just now are first that nothing is certain, and second that some agents are a lot more clued up than others.

As Anne explains in her post (see link above) some agents are turning predator. And it’s not  a pretty sight. Others are turning to new business models. Most just seem like startled rabbits in the headlights of the oncoming truck.

David Gaughran

For anyone still chasing agents, Anne’s post is  a must-read and has numerous links to other must-read posts. To those I would add David Gaughran and Joe Konrath. David is fast becoming the most significant industry commentator this side of the pond. Anyone not yet following his blog is missing out on some serious and valuable debate.

The other JK

Joe, of course, is known to everyone, and it seems loved / hated in equal measure. But one thing you can’t do is ignore him.

Not here to go over the issues they cover. Just to say those sites are where you should be if you’re still hankering for an agent, or even just wondering what the future holds. Joe’s latest has some useful insights from Barry Eisler too.

Two agents sites I must mention here though, as fine examples of likely survivor and definite dinosaur.

One is Rachelle Gardner. She did a great post entitled Will Self-Pubbing Hurt My Chances, and came out with a resounding NO!

Read it and rejoice. There is a voice of reason among all the vested self-interest clinging to the old model.

And speaking of which…

Another agent (NOT Rachelle!) ran a post this week on criticism, critiques and editing, which basically was the same hoary old urban myths about how agents are the gatekeepers that ensure quality, and that without agents and editors the cultural world is doomed. Needless to say I disagreed. I’m not going to dignify the site with a link here, just to say she began her post,

Do you take criticism well? I don’t, really.

Well, fair enough she did warn me!

But I posted a comment anyway, as one does (isn’t that what blogs are for?) and another reader debated my comment. I responded. But apparently this particular agent doesn’t want debate. It seems anything except hero-worship is unacceptable.

Comments regarding the usefulness of editors, agents, and other publishing professionals, when posted on a literary agent’s blog, cross a line. My blog is not your soapbox. Future comments that seem deliberately malicious or provocative will be deleted.

As I say, she did warn me with her opener. 🙂

Those of you who follow MWi will know provocative is my middle name.

If we don’t debate and argue, how will we ever get to the truth? 

But as for being malicious… Not that is offensive.

Why does a literary agent run a blog if they don’t want anyone to disagree with them? Stick to a standard website.

And I love the way this literary agent proclaims to the world her role and who she works for, and then says all opinions are her own. If her opinions are her own, why make a big fuss about who she works for at the top of the site? Would she tell us that if she was stacking shelves at Wal-Mart?

I’d like to ask her, but that would be malicious and just get deleted. 🙂

But it comes back the the issue of old-school agent dinosaurs. If this agent doesn’t understand that a blog that invites comments is a place of public interaction then what hope her understanding the needs of her clients in the new world of e-publishing?

Late edit extra: Prue Batten over at Mesmered has just run a post on Rachelle Gardner’s latest blog on what a Big Six marketing team can offer. Rachelle  Gardner is the sensible one of the two agents referred to above, I hasten to add. 

But Prue’s response is provacative to say the least. Rachelle lists an impressive array of things the Big Six might (note the might) do for an author. Indie author Prue is already doing most of them. And as Prue says,

if I can do a good proportion of the above, plus help run a farming business, look after acres of garden and write other books, I wonder if that raises issues about the efficiency and efficacy of what a publisher’s sales team actually does.

Now that’s what blogs are for.

Provocative, but not malicious. I’m sure Rachelle Gardner would be happy to debate that. The other agent would probably be on the phone to the thought police.


But now, back to today’s guest, Megg Jensen. Back in May Megg ran a lovely little post about her desire for an agent. That isn’t her guest post (that’s further down), but it seemed appropriate to steal part of the earlier post and reproduce it here, just because of the self-portrait. Don’t tell her!

In 2010 when I was searching for an agent that was me:


That’s how I looked at agents. Me, a respected freelance journalist who dealt with editors on a regular basis under a purely formal guise. Those magazine editors were my employers, not objects of desire.

Yet for some reason when I began to query, I got all foamy at the mouth, googly-eyed, and starstruck. I look back at myself and I get embarrassed, for me and for the agents.

Since I told myself last December that I would no longer query and I would take my career into my own hands, I’ve mellowed, A LOT, when it comes to agents. Do I still want one? OF COURSE. What self-respecting writer wouldn’t? Yes, it’s awesome to be an indie writer, but there are things we just can’t do. Who’s going to show your book to the movie execs? Who’s going to sell it to other countries? Who’s going to help you move up the ladder? Even Joe Konrath has an agent. Authors may be turning away from traditional publishing, but they aren’t, and shouldn’t be, turning away from agents

Megg’s last point is interesting. A lot has happened since early May. Perhaps Megg can let us know if she still feels that way after reading some of the posts mentioned above.

BTW, for those following Saffi and my own dealings with agencies, we reported a month or so back how we were approached by one of the planet’s most prestigious agencies over in New York. Just to say here we are still in discussions with said agency and we will make a formal statement next month on our position.

Meanwhile we would urge everyone to read the posts referred to above, and not to rush into anything, no matter how tempting it may seem at first glance.

Back to Megg:

First, Jurassic Park. OMG, I was in high school when this came out and I saw it in the theater three times. Can you say LOVE?! Before I saw it, I wanted to become an archaeologist. After I saw it, I knew I wanted to be an archaeologist. I’m not, but I did graduate with a minor in anthropology!!!!

Relevance? Well, a tenuous link with Anne R Allen’s post, as above, of course. But actually Megg just happened to do  a post on Jurassic Park and I happen to be a huge fan of Ariana Richards and Stephen Mazzello, the two child actors who upstaged both the adults and the dinosaurs, and made Jurassic Park a true classic of cinema.

And yes, I’m a fanatical about children in the cinema, as past posts testify. Any suggestions that I’m just trying to get in Spielberg’s good books, on the off chance he’s in need of an e-book to turn into a film, are totally without foundation. Steven my email address is on the site. And yes, I can cause my co-author to mysteriously disappear, but not until after the next book is finished.

No, the reason I dragged Megg here was to talk about finding reviewers – a subject dear to all indie-publishers’ hearts. After all, getting our books reviewed is key to finding an audience and hopefully a market.

When I first approached her I had no idea Megg would have her new book out this week. A happy coincidence for all, but honestly, it wasn’t planned that way.

Anyway, here’s Megg again:

Megg Jensen - definitely not a dinosaur

When Mark asked me to guest blog, I was totally surprised. I’m still not sure where he picked me from, but perhaps it’s better not to know his stalking methods. No matter, I was pleased. Stalker, fellow writer, fan – whatever I’ll take it.

Mark asked me to blog about review sites since, as he put it, I “mastered that aspect of the game well.” I laughed when I read his email because up until a couple months ago I had review sites all wrong. When Anathema (February 2011, DarkSide Publishing) debuted I sent out zero book blogger requests.

I didn’t know I could request a review. I didn’t know bloggers might be interested in Anathema. I didn’t know because I made an assumption and never checked out how it worked. I thought bloggers randomly reviewed whatever book they felt like reading. Was I wrong!

What every indie author needs to know is that there are book bloggers out there who will happily read your novel and review it. Let’s forget the frightening aspect of a potentially horrid review and focus on finding a reviewer.

I found most of mine on Twitter through other tweeps. I didn’t request reviews immediately. I wanted to get to know them so when I did send Anathema out, I knew I’d be sending it to a reviewer who not only liked YA fantasy, but also was a fair judge of books. If you troll reviewer sites you’ll find they run the gamut from snarky and mean to overenthusiastic. I wanted a good match for Anathema and I hand-picked each potential reviewer.

As a plus, I’ve now become friends with some of these bloggers. Many of them are writers too and we have a lot in common. My hope is that they remain impartial on future reviews because the last thing I want is for a reader to think, “Well, they’re friends with Megg so of course they’re going to like her book.” That’s not really fair to the reviewer or me.

Since then I have received reviews from people who’ve bought Anathema and from bloggers who’ve requested a copy. The vast majority of them are great reviews, and even the reviewers who gave me lower ratings had good reasons for it. Reading is a very personal experience and no author can expect everyone to love their book. Talk about unrealistic!

I’m still seeking out reviewers for Anathema, but now I’m switching to offering a free copy of both Anathema and Oubliette (coming June 2011, DarkSide Publishing) in exchange for a review of Oubliette. With nearly 60 Goodreads reviews under my belt, I’m now tackling some of the larger review sites. They don’t always take self-published books, but my hope is that with a positive track record I’ll be able to break into them as well.

I’m not Amanda Hocking, but I’m still able to slip my books into every review site that will have me. It’s great publicity and I’m meeting amazing people along the way!

Mark asked me to add a little about me. Well, Megg Jensen is a pen name. Why? I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you. There’s a small chance it could be because in real life I’m a journalist and I don’t want the two careers to mix. But that’s boring so let’s just say I’m with a secret division of the U.S. government that does NOT exist.

Anathema is my first novel, Oubliette has just been released, and the third book in the Cloud Prophet Trilogy will drop this fall. I have releases lined up for the next three years. Prolific is a bad word to describe my work ethic; manic might be better.

I live in Chicago with my husband, two kids, and insane schnauzer, Ace. Yes, I named a character after him. If you knew my dog, you’d know why.

Thanks, Megg. And you’re right. It is better not to know my stalking methods.

Megg refers to two books there, Anathema and Oubliette. Click here to go to Megg’s site with full links for both e-book and paper versions. I’ve just bought Oubliette and its on my Kindle top-list. The reason being I have read the previous book of Megg’s, Anathema (hence my inviting her here) and was very impressed.

Regular visitors will recall I was host to Michelle Brooks at the beginning of the month and praised most highly her debut YA novel Bone Dressing. I said then that Bone Dressing and Megg’s Anathema were two of the best YA books I’d ever read.

I stand by that. Two superb examples of indie-published YA. Neither anything like the other.  Both unbelievably good.

As this is Megg’s guest post I’ll end with Megg’s own summary of Anathema.

Reychel is a slave girl surrounded by magic, lies and manipulation. Her best friend disappears in the middle of the night leaving Reychel to face her fifteenth birthday, the day her master burns his brand into the back of her bald head, alone. She’s sheltered from the outside world and doesn’t have any hope for escape, but when people desperate for freedom ask for her help can Reychel learn to believe in herself?

Irresistable or what?

To close, back over to you. What’s your experience of agents? Of getting reviews? Of reading YA?

Feel free to be provocative! Malicious? Go on, I can handle it. Unlike the agent above, I take criticism well. Sadly I’m used to it.

Chart-busters and babies – they both take two: Louise Voss explains why.

Day Ten

“Death, taxes and childbirth! There’s never any convenient time for any of them.”

So wrote Margaret Mitchell in Gone With The Wind, Which reminded me of literary agent Jenny Bent’s observation on the gatekeepers recently.

Jenny wrote,

“A year or two ago I was having lunch with an old friend, someone I think both intelligent and savvy, the publisher of a largish imprint at a major house. We had a disagreement about what was going to happen as e-books became more popular. His position was that readers would always need the big publishing houses because they needed to have their content filtered, so to speak–because as agents, editors, and publishers, we had a certain kind of literary taste or standard and we needed to pass that along to the reader.”

The reason Margaret Mitchell came to mind was that I’m late, again, with the blog post. And one of the reasons is childbirth.

No, I’m not a father again. In these temperatures?  It’s too hot here even to think about it!

But one of my little projects here is supporting the new born, in a country where desperate poverty is a way of life. Infant mortality is nowhere near as bad as it was ten years ago, but still far, far too high.

It was Daniel Defoe who first observed the certainty of death and taxes (variously attributed since to Benjamin Franklin, Mark Twain and others) but Margaret Mitchell’s words about the inconvenience of death and childbirth sprang to mind as I was looking to explain the latest blog delay.

Not here to burden you with tragedy. Just to remind you that most people in the world do not live a phone call away from emergency services and a well-equipped hospital. And sometimes real life gets in the way of blogging schedules.


 I chose Margaret Mitchell because she famously had her manuscript for Gone With The Wind rejected thirty-eight times.

The role of the agents / publishers has traditionally been to decide what the public could or could not read, because they believed they knew best.

And of course they got it wrong time and time again.

Fortunately somewhere along the line one or other of the gatekeepers took a chance on these numerous famously rejected authors and they went on to huge success. John Grisham, Stephen King, JK Rowling… The list is endless.

But still the gatekeepers turn down good books people want to read.

I mention here briefly our own Sugar & Spice, which met with the disapproval of almost every UK agent before we put it on Kindle and let the readers vote with their feet.  Just this week we got our one hundredth five-star review.  Evidently the public do not share the agents’ views…

Thanks to e-publishing authors can now by-pass the gatekeepers and go direct to readers. And many are doing so.

And time and again books the gatekeepers turned their noses up at are selling in serious numbers. Sure, none are yet matching Grisham or King, let alone Rowling. But e-books have only just begun.

Of course we all know of Amanda Hocking’s story, and John Locke just this week became a million seller with his own range of e-books.

Here in the UK the e-market is several years behind the US. Kindle UK only came into existence a year ago, so no surprise there are no comparable sellers here yet. Our own success with Sugar & Spice will be well known to most readers, but today’s guest in the MWi green room, Louise Voss, proves the UK e-book market has now matured, and that our success was no fluke.

When I first approached the fellow writing team that is Louise Voss and Mark Edwards and asked them to do a post on their new thriller, Catch Your Death, the e-book had just been launched on Kindle and was still finding its feet. Their other e-book, Killing Cupid, was slowly rising in the charts.

Today both books are in the top five. Catch Your Death held #1 best-seller position for a couple of weeks, dropped to # 2 overnight and as I write this is back at #1. They have sold over 30,000 copies in a ridiculously short space of time.

Both books were rejected by the gatekeepers time and time again. Go away, Louise Voss and Mark Edwards. We don’t want your rubbish.

Needless to say now the books have proven to be commercially successful the gatekeepers are fighting themselves to get their grubby paws on them. Now where have we heard that before…

As this is Girls Just Wanna Have Fun month Louise drew the short straw and was invited to talk about how she and Mark wrote their two thrillers. Of course none of us ever suspected that by the time the post came up they would be the only indie writer ever to take the #1 slot, and to have featured on BBC television (this very morning) for doing so!

For the first time in the UK, indie writers are being taken seriously. Britain is finally catching up with America. Don’t let on to the agents and publishers though. They’re still partying like its 2010.


Another odd thing. Saffi and Mark… Louise and Mark…

Is it coincidence that the only indie writers to break the UK Kindle top five have been male and female co-authors? Probably, yes, but then again…

Is it coincidence that both partnerships have guys called Mark?

You’re right. Who cares? Here’s Louise.

I’ve never been much of a fan of ‘boysey’ thrillers .  James Bond leaves me cold.  (And I realise I’ve never seen the word ‘boysey’ written down before, either…’boysie’?  ‘boyzi’? )  I guess you know what I mean, though:  peripheral characters meeting gruesome fates, lots of ammunitions hardware and/or military references, jaw-dropping martial-arts moves from the hero and imaginative torture rituals from the baddies.  I don’t want to generalise, but they’re usually written by men. 

So when Mark and I set out to write a straightforward  thriller, I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about it.  Would I be able to cope with the jargon?  The corpses, the blood?!   I’d wanted for a while to set a novel around the old Common Cold Unit in Salisbury, but it was Mark’s idea to make it a thriller involving rogue scientists and hidden collections of exotic viruses capable of wiping out the entire planet… ( I’d been thinking more along the lines of a gentle romance, perhaps with a hidden family secret or two to uncover….I have to say, Mark’s plans for it were a lot more exciting!)  

Our first novel together, Killing Cupid, had been a thriller of sorts, but more of the psychological variety – the tale of a stalker who becomes the stalked.  It was enormously enjoyable to write because we took a voice each – that of the male and female protagonists, so their discrete world views are very clear.   With Catch Your Death, however, it was more complex because we just used a third person narrative, sometimes omniscient and sometimes close third person from the main character Kate’s POV.   As with Killing Cupid, we took it in turns to write a chapter – but this time, instead of cracking on with our own characters’ plotlines, we made sure we edited each other’s words and added little bits of our own to try and make the voice more uniform throughout the novel.   We had to rely more on dialogue to convey the protagonists’ personalities, rather than the interior monologue that a first person narrative affords.

All these issues were an initial concern, but as Catch Your Death progressed one thing became very clear to me – it was just as much fun to write as Killing Cupid had been.  I did tend to leave the more imaginative scenes of bloodshed and violence to my writing partner (who showed a slightly worrying relish for them!)  But what we both discovered was that writing really bad guys is really good fun.  There are several very dodgy blokes in CYD who are very much larger-than-life: Vernon, the mean-spirited philandering ex-husband of the main protagonist Kate;  and Sampson, handsome, devoid of emotion, a cold-blooded assassin.   All my own previous novels had dealt with basic themes of family, loss, friendship, that sort of thing; and so there was something  extremely liberating about creating characters who lived outside of social norms and values.   We couldn’t get enough of them! 

I think that thrillers co-written by male and female writers often do work really well for this reason – they have an inherent balance, containing as they do the perspectives of both sexes.   I love the books by the Nicci French partnership, for example – they have that blend of gritty realism and emotional inner life.  Of course, I’m not saying that women can’t write violent car chases and men can’t do tender love scenes, far from it;  but one of the joys in a male/female writing partnership is the stretching of writing horizons and the challenge to react differently to the way one might in one’s own world.

Right, well, the next one won’t write itself, must crack on *rings co-author and suggests a night at the pub* …

Thanks Louise. I love that last line about the interaction of different genders in writing. I think you hit the nail on the head with that. What does everyone else think?

Have you ever tried co-writing? Would you ever considerate it? It worked for us!

Louise and Mark originally wrote their books many, many years ago. They submitted them to the gatekeepers and the gatekeepers said no. Dejected by being rejected, they turned their backs on writing, and threw those tatty manuscripts in a cyber-drawer. Today…

I leave you with this thought on Margaret Mitchell and her thirty-eight rejections.

Gone With The Wind is one of the all-time classic of  both literature and cinema. Supposing she’d given up at thirty-seven?

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