Posts Tagged ‘ rejection letter ’

Harry Potter and the New Renaissance

No, it’s not an exclusive on the latest book from Ms Rowling. Sadly it looks like Harry Potter has finally outgrown his own series

And anyway no-one in their right mind would write a story about a boarding school. That went out with Anthony Buckeridge, Enid Blyton, Angela Brazil and Elinor Brent-Dyer, right?

Jolly Hockey Sticks, and all that. Just so last century!

Or so the gatekeepers would have us believe. And fourteen years after Ms Rowling proved that a boarding school setting for a book can scrape up the odd sale or two after all, the gatekeepers are still firmly dictating what will and will not sell.

Usually by the simple expedient of making sure it’s not available to buy.

But the digital revolution in publishing means the gatekeepers no longer have the monopoly on what readers will be allowed to read. And that means writers are at last free to write what they want to write, to target their own audiences, to find their own markets, and to prove their own worth.

A month or so back we were contacted by one of the biggest New York agents, keen to represent Sugar & Spice. Not that she’d read it, you understand, but the numbers excited her. Which pretty much summed up the reason why we had to send out the rejection letter. Call us old-fashioned, but we kinda think an agent could at least have read the book they are pretending to be excited about.

But even if they had, what really hit home was her statement (not a suggestion) that we could not write in any other genre “for at least three years.” We had written a crime thriller, therefore we were crime thriller writers. In fact, when we showed Ms New York Hot Shot Agent our WIP list, with everything from YA to dark fantasy to historic lit fic’ to chick-lit she pretty much told us to sit on the naughty step and not even think of writing another word of anything without her permission.

Thanks, but no thanks.

Had it been written at the time I would have referred said agent to Anne R Allen’s great post on the way the publishing industry has changed since 2009. As Anne shows, in the time it takes for a typical book to get from agency acceptance to the bookstore the publishing world has been turned on its head.

Quite simply it is a New Renaissance, where writers can write what they think readers will read and then let the readers decide.

Over the next few weeks here at MWi we’ll be exploring just some of the many ways writers are not just writing differently, but also marketing, helping one another, and engaging with their readers in ways the gatekeepers are still struggling to come to terms with.

The old tick-box genres the gatekeepers so loved have been among the first to fall. But in the new paradigm nothing is off limits. And many of you are pushing back the boundaries day by day, taking full advantage of the new freedoms digital publishing brings to prove the old gatekeeper rules have no place in the new world.

Leading the way is J.K. Rowling herself, who has turned the tables on the very gatekeepers who made her the biggest writing name on the planet. Ironically she does so just as her Harry Potter novel series comes to an end.

That’s the Harry Potter series about a bunch of boarding school kids and magic potions and wizard’s hats. You know, the sort of thing the gatekeepers said was unsellable.

Here’s teen author and MWi regular Charley R., lamenting the end of an era.

It All Ends Here… Or Does It?

Last night marked the end of my childhood. Sitting in a squishy chair, with a pair of funny black glasses balanced on the end of my nose, an over-priced Pick ‘n’ Mix in my lap and with my stomach doing backflips in my belly, I watched as the story that has captivated thousands like me finally came to an end.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part Two.

The story has spanned seven books, eight films, fourteen years, and more money than I could hope to count in a lifetime. It’s made household names of Radcliffe, Watson and Grint, and allowed me to convince every small child I babysit that, because I go to boarding school, I can – and will – turn them into frogs if they don’t go to bed on time.

But it meant more than that to me. I grew up with these books, and one of my earliest memories is of sitting outside on a chilly evening in Germany, listening to my dad read to me about the odious Dursley family, and whispering the street name to myself. Number Four, Privet Drive, Little Whinging, Surrey.

To me, Harry, Ron and Hermione’s world was more than just an entertaining story. Hogwarts, like Narnia, Middle Earth and countless other fantastic worlds, became my second home through a childhood that was not always as pleasant as one would like. Whenever I was sad, I would retreat inside the story, and comfort myself that, at least, I wasn’t expected to keep my dignity when faced with Moaning Myrtle in a bubble bath.

But now, if the media hype is to be believed, it is all over. The last book is out, the last movie finished, and the actors and actresses who brought Rowling’s marvelous creations to life are all moving on to bigger things in the outside world.

Harry Potter is over.

Or is it?

Can a story, really, end? Is one telling enough to exhaust it? Is it just a fad, like suspenders and mullet haircuts, that, having lived out its glory days, will fade away until nobody remembers it? Will I one day walk into a bookstore and have someone say to me “Harry who?”

I don’t think so. Stories aren’t that easy to get rid of. Stories aren’t one-use goods, seen once and gone with a miserable puff of black smoke, vanishing faster than a house elf. Stories can come back time and time again and, whether it’s the first, or the hundred-thousandth time you’ve heard it, the ones you love will always kindle that little spark inside your soul. They’ll always be there, like an old friend or treasured toy from childhood, waiting to welcome you back into the world you have come to love so much, and take you on the travels with the characters who first enchanted you all that time ago, ready to vanish into adventures beyond your wildest dreams.

The last film be over, but, like every true classic – and yes, I think this is a true classic of children’s literature – it will never, really, be gone. I, at least, will certainly make a point of reading the story of the green-eyed bespectacled teenage wizard to whatever children, god-children or any other form of young friend or relative I may come to know in future, and I know I’m not alone. That’s what stories are for; for sharing and passing on the magic, for bringing people together in the shared love of a tale, whatever it may be.

The franchise has ended.
The story never will.

Thanks, Charley. Check out her latest post on her own blog, which is a rather stunning poem. Yes, this gal is multi-talented!

And yes, you did read right. “Because I go to boarding school,” not “when I went…” Charley is just sixteen, and one of  two exciting teen writers I’ve recently recruited to the MWi hall of infamy.

Charley says, “That’s what stories are for; for sharing and passing on the magic, for bringing people together in the shared love of a tale, whatever it may be.”

Which is why I love collaborative writing. Because what Charley says applies to writers just as much as readers.

Regulars will know I’ve been co-writing with the one and only Saffina Desforges for a whole year now, with tolerable results. You’ll also know I predicted a time soon when books would join TV as multi-authored, bringing together a number of writers to work on a series, book by book. A sixty-thousand word novel between four writers suddenly becomes just 15,000 words each. With four minds contributing ideas, and four sets of eyes editing one another’s work.

That time has come. Saffi and I have teamed up with the above mentioned Charley and fellow teen writer Miriam, on the first of a new series of YA fiction set in – don’t tell Ms New York Agent! – a boarding school.

NOT St. Mallory's!

St. Mallory’s Forever! is the first of the series, currently underway. No release date in mind just yet – Saffi and I have other projects also under way not least Rose Red Book 2: Rapunzel and the first of our chicklit mystery series China Town, and the girls themselves have a small matter of exams to fit in – but it’s progressing well.

The new paradigm is a new renaissance precisely because we as writers can do something like this, which the gatekeepers would never in a million years approve.

So far the feedback has been really positive. Everyone seems to love the idea of a new boarding school series, and the involvement of two teen writers, one living that very life, will bring authenticity and insight we could never manage on our own. And as you can see from Charley’s post above, both these gals know how to write!

So how about you? Are you taking full advantage of the new opportunities available?

Are you discovering other writers who are experimenting, or experimenting yourself?  

Tell us about is in the comments section. Or even better, come and do a guest post and give us the full version.


Forgive Me Father, I Have Sinned – Twilight or New Dawn? Introducing Michelle Brooks.


Forgive me, father, for I have sinned. I am guilty of a most heinous crime. A crime against literature.

I’ve read and liked Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight.

Okay, if you’re a regular here you’ll know I have eclectic tastes in reading, and am happy to say on record, yet again, that Enid Blyton is my favourite writer of all time. But that’s a kids’ thing, right? A throwback to my childhood. We’re allowed to acknowledge our childhood heroes. Just not too loudly.

But Twilight? As in Steph Meyer’s Twilight?

Didn’t  Stephen King say, on record, that Stephenie Meyer was “not very good”?

God has spoken!  Who am I to disagree?

That was back in 2009. And I was appalled then that someone like King would make such a comment publicly.

King is a hugely influential figure in modern literature. And of course, he’s entitled to his viewpoint. If Stephen King thinks Steph Meyer is a bad writer then that’s fine. Good and bad writing are subjective concepts. It’s all about personal opinion. But to publicly slam Stephenie Meyer in that way…

Luckily for Steph’ she by then had her loyal readership and rode out the storm. Even so, it’s safe to say the comments King made were enormously damaging to her professionally, not to mention hurtful personally. This wasn’t just some anonymous reviewer on Amazon who paid their money and didn’t like the book. This was one of the biggest writers on the planet saying another successful author was crap. What was he thinking of?

With influence comes responsibility. Should any of us now struggling for a tentative foothold on the publishing ladder ever one day get to King’s exalted status, please bear that in mind.

The opinions of mega-sellers like Stephen King can make or break someone’s career. A less well-established writer than Meyer could have been sunk without trace.

Of course there will be some among you thinking, the world would be a better place if King had sunk Meyer’s career. No Twilight. No Edward and Bella. Bliss!

But that misses the point. Stephenie Meyer wasn’t writing for you.

Bizarrely Stephen King actually understood that point perfectly. Which just makes his comments about Stephenie Meyer all the more incomprehensible.

In King’s own words:

“In the case of Stephenie Meyer, it’s very clear that she’s writing to a whole generation of girls and opening up kind of a safe joining of love and sex in those books.

It’s exciting and it’s thrilling and it’s not particularly threatening because they’re not overtly sexual. A lot of the physical side of it is conveyed in things like the vampire will touch her forearm or run a hand over skin, and she just flushes all hot and cold. And for girls, that’s a shorthand for all the feelings that they’re not ready to deal with yet.”

Now that, surely, is a perfect analysis of Stephenie’s achievements with Twilight. That she wrote for her target audience.

No, Meyer is not Shakespeare, Tolstoy or Emerson. But then nor is Stephen King.

James Patterson

King went on to slam James Patterson as “a terrible writer” before adding “but he’s very, very successful. People are attracted by the stories, by the pace.”

Oh those stupid, mindless, idiotic readers, letting themselves be attracted by a fast-paced thriller. What were they thinking of? A nice dose of Dostoyevsky will soon cure them of that!

But leaving aside why a writer of King’s stature would want to go on record and attack fellow writers in that way, let’s return briefly to faeries and Twilight before moving on to my guest.

Faeries? Even the most Meyer-resistant among you will be aware that Twilight was about vampires, not faeries. In fact, not even proper vampires. Weren’t these sparkly, twinkling vampires or some such crazy nonsense that must have had Bram Stoker turning in his grave?

Enter, stage right, Aprilynne Pike.

Aprilynne, of course, is the NY Times Best Selling author who writes YA stories about, you guessed it, faeries. She dealt with the infamous Twilight-twinkling-vampires with this wonderful explanation for the uninitiated.

I’m using Twilight as an example here, because the sparkleyness is something I often hear mocked. But it didn’t used to be. Back before Edward Cullen became a household name, people would talk about Twilight in a reasonable tone of voice. I often heard people comment about how they thought it was fascinating how she (Meyer) could make her vampires sparkle and have a perfectly reasonable explanation for it. Their skin is a rock-like substance. It has facets and reflects the sun. Of course!

Aside from explaining the sparkle, Aprilynne makes the significant point that “people would talk about Twilight in a reasonable tone of voice.” Stephen King, you have a lot to answer for…

Okay, so now you all know why Steph’s vampires sparkle, let’s get back to the broader subject of YA fantasy.

Or let’s not.

Literally having just written the above part of this post I decide to solicit the opinion of my green room guest, Michelle Brooks, on Steph Meyer and Twilight.

Yes, I know you’re thinking, Who the hell is Michelle Brooks? Who cares what she thinks?

Well bear with me. I promise you that, while you may never have heard of Michelle Brooks before now, she is one of the big names in YA for the future. Hard to imagine now, but there was a time when no-one had heard of Steph Meyer, or JK Rowling. Or even Stephen King.

But for now, just bear in mind that Michelle is an indie author with a debut novel, still learning the ropes. A full-time mom with  a full-time job struggling to be an author in her spare time. So when I emailed Michelle late last night asking if she had read Twilight and could she give an off the cuff response, I expected a quick “yeah, it’s okay” or “no, wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole” reply.

Here’s Michelle on Twilight:

I love to read. I love to read all kinds of things … fiction, current events (highly source-dependent), cutting-edge science, the magazines sitting in the doctor’s office, the Sunday paper (parts of it, in any case), my kids’ homework, lyrics to songs … and, yes, I thoroughly and absolutely enjoyed Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series. For that matter, I also enjoyed The Host.

Does it bother me that sometimes Ms. Meyers seems to get a bad rap? God, no.  Does everybody like any one given thing on the face of the planet? Sure wouldn’t hold my breath, there’s bound to be somebody who doesn’t like that kind of weather, that pair of shoes, that public figure … or that book. Does that mean I would have written Twilight exactly the same way Ms. Meyers did? Of course not … but neither would I have written The Raven, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Hobbit, Dracula, Peter Pan, The Odyssey…  the same way those masters among men wrote them. So, they can rest easy … no turning in their graves over little old me.

That’s the fantastic thing about storytellers though, they get to share their story, their words, their world, exactly the way they choose. And we, as readers, get to choose which stories may interest us, which ones to read. Sometimes we’re right, and happily so. But, sometimes we find ourselves fifty or a hundred pages into a book and realize that… boy, were we wrong. For whatever reason we would rather clean the commode than pick up that book that everyone else is raving about to read one more page.

What I’ve noticed though, is that I can pick that same book up a few months, or decades, later and relate to it in a completely different way. Kind of like eggplant … used to hate it, now I love it. Did it change? Of course not – it’s still aubergine (a high-brow take on purple), it’s still a little slippery going down, and it’s still low on the list of the world’s favorite veggies. It didn’t change, I did.

So, back to Stephenie Meyers. Some people love her. Some not so much. But, then some people love Stephen King, others not so much. Stephenie may not be the most character-focused YA author out there, but she is a consummate plot-driven storyteller. She also has an innate sense of delivering that story in a voice YA readers suck down like a double-scoop ice cream cone on a hot summer day.

I think the best compliment for any author, aside from reaching their target audience in a way no one could possibly dispute, would be knowing that future authors dreamed of following in their footsteps.

Well, Ms. Meyers, listen up … I steer pretty much to my own paths, not so much by choice, but just because I tend to start moving and then figure out where I’m heading. But, one day, many, many days from this day, when Bone Dressing is all grown up, if it is one tenth as well read and well received as Twilight … you could color me a thousand shades of happy!

Here’s to Bella, Edward, Twilight and Stephenie Meyers! Long live YA!

How do I  follow that?!
And Michelle hasn’t even started on her post yet!
But before we get back to the mysterious Ms Brooks, let me bring in M.E. Summer, who had a great blog post recently entitled Why I Write YA.

There are various excellent YA authors mentioned, but here to focus on something M.E. herself said, which perfectly sums up the appeal of YA to its target audience.

As a teenager, your options are by definition limited by your station. You are (generally speaking) loved, but you’re also caged. You’re considered sub-human by your own society.

Having to deal within the confines of that situation is rich story fodder, and (as long as you-the-author don’t blow it) you can earn your protagonist an almost instant feeling of kinship from the reader. Everyone knows what it’s like to struggle against a repressive regime at least to some extent, because no matter how permissive your parents were, you still couldn’t drive until you were 16.

So you-the-teenager are stuck on the cusp of adulthood with everyone still telling you what you can and can’t do, and you have to deal with it. You have to put up with the frustration of it and swallow your objections and learn how to bargain. You’re essentially powerless, disenfranchised in even the most literal sense. As a YA author, I get to work with that. I get to play with characters already at a disadvantage. This means the stakes are automatically higher, because teens have to work that much harder to achieve their goals.

I like writing about teens, because I like how cagey they have to be, how observant and opportunistic, just to get a ride to the mall. I like how vulnerable they have to stay in order to keep their lives in order and their loved ones happy. They’re the ultimate martyrs, really, and oh, how I love to sacrifice them on the altar of…er, *cough* I mean, bring to light the inner depths they’re capable of when the shit really hits the fan.

Not to steal her entire article here, but one final comment from M.E. before I send her back to her own blog.

YA is a powerful genre, one which invites all our richest, most daring ideas, one that is accepting of all our whimsies and what-ifs, one that challenges us to grow up before our time and yet be strong enough to hold onto our innocence and belief in magic. No other genre can say that. Not one.

Now if that doesn’t have you rushing out to buy some YA fantasy, nothing will.

BTW, did anyone else notice the uncanny likeness between twentieth century James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause and twenty-first century Robert Pattinson (Edward Cullen) in Twilight?


But what to read if you do decide to give modern YA a try?

I would no longer recommend Twilight, simply because you now know the secret of the sparkle, and you will never free yourself from the preconceptions unfairly built up around Steph’s work thanks to people like Stephen King, who really should know better.

And supposing you wanted to try out YA but preferred to give vampires a miss? There’s just so much YA out there now. Where to start?

Luckily for you I’ve been separating the wheat from the chaff on your behalf and have come across two, count ‘em, two exceptional new indie-published YA authors.

One of those is my guest here today, Michelle Brooks. The other will be helping me wrap up at the end of the month. But in order to introduce the first properly I need to introduce the second.

Megg Jensen

So say hello first to Megg Jensen. Megg will be revealing all later in the month, so be sure to stick around for that. But for now, just to say Megg is author of a YA fantasy called Anathema.

It’s nothing like Twilight, in that it isn’t about vampires.

It opens with a fourteen year old slave girl about to be branded on her fifteenth birthday. Hooked? Me too.

As soon as I read it I dug up all the dirt I could on Megg, discovered her real name, and blackmailed her into joining me on MWi. She was a must-have guest.  So make sure you’re not busy the day her guest post goes live!

Then I came across another new YA writer, the afore-mentioned Michelle. I forget now exactly how I stumbled upon her debut novel, Bone Dressing, but I remember being grabbed by the premise. A seventeen year old girl rebel who hangs around graveyards on stormy nights and doesn’t make it to eighteen.

So I checked it out, decided it looked interesting and downloaded it to my Kindle to sit with the other gazillion books I hope to live long enough to one day read.

As always, I read a few lines to help me judge if I would prioritise it or put it in the archives for some distant future retrieval. Next thing you know I had read the first chapter and was rearranging the rest of my day to make more reading time.

M.E. Summer said above:

As a teenager, your options are by definition limited by your station. You are (generally speaking) loved, but you’re also caged. You’re considered sub-human by your own society.

Michelle Brooks has read that same script.

I commented on M.E.s blog that

“…while ‘child protection’ plays so obsessive a role in modern western society, and sexual, physical and emotional abuse are being confronted and, hopefully stopped, children and teenagers still rarely are respected. But if you don’t respect children, tweens and teens you can never successfully write for them.”

And this is what lies at the heart of the appeal of Michelle’s Bone Dressing.


Michelle knows and respects her target audience. But she also goes much further, and simultaneously writes  for an adult audience, managing that almost impossible juggling act without once dropping the ball.

Don’tcha just hate people who can multi-task?!

Ostensibly Michelle’s novel Bone Dressing is a YA paranormal fantasy about a seventeen year old girl who never makes eighteen.

Actually it’s a fantastic coming-of-age study about teen rebellion and rite of passage that, despite the paranormal fantasy element, has overtones of J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher In the Rye. It’s that good.

And it’s the first of a series of seven!

No wonder then that I immediately contacted Michelle and begged her to come and be my guest on MWi.

And got no response.

I was gutted. Supposing someone else “discovered” her first?!!!

I emailed the afore-mentioned Megg Jensen saying,

“I’m really excited by the new generation of YA fantasy, and there is just so much new talent appearing now the indie writers are bypassing the gatekeepers and bringing their works direct to readers.

Have to mention Michelle Brooks’ Bone Dressing. Extraordinary quality. Have tried to grab her for a guest post but I think she’s convinced I’m a stalker or something. If by any chance she’s in your circle of contacts please beg her to come and guest for me!

Seriously, Bone Dressing and Anathema are two of the best YA fantasy novels I’ve read in a very long time.”

In fact Megg didn’t know Michelle (Girls, I highly recommend you two get together and exchange notes!) and it seemed I had blown it.

And yes, I am a stalker. But only part-time.

Then, out of the blue, a last second reprieve. Michelle finally answered my email, expressing surprise at my enthusiasm for her novel.

I wrote back, paraphrasing Simon Cowell:

“Michelle, what I really love about coming across ‘new’ writers like you is that you simply have no idea how good you are.”

At which point it’s time to hand over to the lady herself. Uncut and uncensored. Not that there’s anything to censor, of course.

I gather this is Michelle’s first guest post. You can almost feel the stage-fright and the self-doubt as she puts herself under the spotlight.

If this was The X-Factor, Michelle would be that terrified first-timer stepping nervously onto the stage in front of a crowd of indifferent on-lookers. Another deluded wannabe?

The deafening silence before the cue, and the music starts. The first few notes of the song emerge and the audience sits back, wide-eyed and open-mouthed.

It’s like that reading Michelle’s guest post. It starts off good and just gets better and better. As for her book…

Michelle Brooks, unknown writer and future mega-star, the stage is all yours:

I am a writer. I am a writer. I am a writer… I still find myself practicing the words, reciting them to myself in the mirror, hoping they’ll fit a little more comfortably around my shoulders … maybe not feel quite so much like I’m wearing someone else’s coat. Perhaps I could even convince those words to slip inside and roost, for just a bit in any case. That would be nice …

So, when I opened an e-mail from this guy named Mark, who wrote, asking with all the charm of a thousand sunsets for me to do a guest post on his website, saying simply, “You’re a writer. Write! :-),” (smiley face and all) I was thrilled to hear someone else’s voice rattling around in my head, saying those very same words … that I am a writer … I am a writer …

And then I was scared shitless he’d find out it was all just one big joke … that I’m not really a writer, I’m just me … who happens to be writing today …

But, not only was Mark calling me a writer, he wanted to know how I had managed to get from “there” to “here”, from not a writer to being a writer. As a matter of fact, he had a whole list of very specific questions for me. Questions like, how, exactly, had I become, more specifically, an Indie writer? How had I made my little book trailer? Would this be my only genre to write in? What writers influenced me? And, how on earth did I know Syd had seven books in her, or that I had them in me, for that matter?

And … the funny thing was … I realized all the answers to his questions were running around in my head, ninety-to-nothing, trying to body-slam their way out of my skull!

So, let’s pretend for a moment that I am a writer. How and why did I choose the Indie route? Let’s do the why first. That one’s pretty simple. Painful perhaps, but simple. Absolutely, positively no one on the face of the earth that I could find was willing to represent me or Bone Dressing in the traditional publishing arena.

That’s not to say I regret trying, absolutely not. I learned a lot about how much writing means to me, how much Bone Dressing means to me, and how much it means for me to write in my own voice, not some watered-down, half-somebody-else voice. The words I keep, and the ones I toss for that matter, are mine, they are as much a part of me as my left cheek or my right toe.

As for the how, that one’s pretty simple, too. And ever so much less painful! After spending countless months in pursuit of an agent, an article was thrust in my direction by my aunt who had run across it in the local paper. She was one of the sweetest, most supportive guinea pigs to read Bone Dressing before it was all nice and shiny, and she knew what a difficult time I was having trying to get it published.

Well, the article was about a little lady named Amanda Hocking, perhaps you’ve heard about her, along with the rest of the free world? I was riveted. Better than that though, I was completely and positively motivated.

I’ve never been afraid of the path less travelled, and had wondered about self-publishing in the past, but simply hadn’t given it much thought, or credit for that matter. That one article changed my outlook and my strategy overnight … God bless Aunt Dianne!

Now, how did I make that trailer? Well, like I said, I’m not afraid of learning new things, going different places … even if that means I don’t know quite where I’ll end up. I basically figure that if something can be done, by anyone, then there’s no reason why, if I put forth the same amount of effort (even less, if I pay attention and learn from their mistakes), I can’t do the same or better…

So, I saw a book trailer, or thirty … I do my research, ALWAYS. I did manage to pull off a PhD in genetics, after all. Then I grabbed the Photoshop program that had been sitting patiently on the shelf collecting dust for two years, waiting for the day I’d make time to learn it … and I learned it. At least, I learned it well enough to do what I needed to do. Then I found out where to get pictures I wanted and could use, I discovered Fotolia for that. After I edited each and every picture to fit a general storyline for Bone Dressing, I had to find a program to make the movie. Instead of Adobe Illustrator, I went with Windows Live Movie Maker for basic simplicity and ease of use. I played around with that until I had the timing and words the way I wanted, then added the music, and presto-change-o, I had a book trailer!

Will this, young adult paranormal urban fantasy, be my only genre? God, I hope not! I’ve got a non-fiction book in the works that is utterly and completely NOT young adult by any stretch of the imagination. So, I’m working on a pen-name. Funny how the non-fiction is what will demand a pen name … might tell you a bit about my life right there!

What writers influenced me? Oh, my! I went to Poe Elementary, so Edgar has to top the list. But, while I don’t have as much time to read as I’d like, especially these days, I have read and do still read quite a bit. Masters Shakespeare and Tolkien have their place, as do J.M. Barrie, J.K. Rowling, and more recently, Charlaine Harris, Laurell K. Hamilton and Lora Leigh.

But, honestly, Jim Morrison, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Ernest Thayer, Robert Frost, Eugene Field, Evanescence, Bram Stoker, and a whole slew of others share equal billing, as well. I think it’s great that we are such diverse creatures, and it’s wonderful that so many people have had the profound ability to be so prolific.

As for the seven books, a few years back I had one really bad nightmare of a day. But, even nightmares have their happy endings if you let them, and mine ended with a little dream called Bone Dressing. The story just fell into place in my head that night … all seven books worth, each with its own message, but each hinging on the others as well. A sort of, “there and back again” tale, to steal a phrase from Tolkien. After that, there was a lot, really a lot, of research. I researched names, places, symbols, animals, things I won’t mention yet … everything. Now, it’s all there, all in place just waiting for me to write it.

And so, we’ve come back full circle to where we began. I am a writer … I am … so now I guess I’d better get busy and write!

“With all the charm of a thousand sunsets…” Is it just me or was that the best sentence in the whole blog? 🙂

Michelle identified Robert Frost in her influences, and of course alluded to his most famous poem.

It’s the perfect note on which to end.

There’s no such thing as an original story anymore.

Whatever your genre, whatever your plot, it’s been done before. Sorry, but it’s true.

So if you want to compete in the Amazon jungle and stand out among the million other books available, you have to give your novel added value. You need to take the road less travelled by.

Your book has to have the x-factor. Something that will make it stand out from the crowd.

Today’s guest understood that and has produced something that doesn’t just stand out – it is outstanding.

Michelle has taken the best from the author and books she admires, including Stephenie Meyer, and produced her own unique brand. Bone Dressing is definitely not Twilight. But it is a promising new dawn for an exceptional debut novelist.

If Simon Cowell ever produced The X-Factor for new writers,  Michelle Brooks and Bone Dressing would be in the final.

June is “Girls Just Wanna have Fun” month. Saffina Desforges opens the show.

Saffina who?

Eight months ago nobody but a handful of people had ever heard of Saffina Desforges.

Mainly because she didn’t exist. It was a pseudonym created to avoid the confusion of having two names on the cover of our books and arguing over who got top billing, and to play the google game and get some sort of foothold in the biggest search engine of all time.

Today Saffina Desforges is the brand name of the biggest success story in British indie e-publishing.

True, Stephen Leather’s self-published The Basement, has sold more.

But Stephen is a multi-million selling trad-published author with twenty years of experience, who brought tens of thousands of loyal followers with him.

Self-published success, yes. Indie, no.

Saffina Desforges was a completely unknown name and a debut novel. What’s more, a debut novel almost every major agent in the UK turned away.

And three months after we launched the book it seemed like maybe they had a point. Sales were almost non-existent.

Kristen Lamb

The book was out there, but who knew? So we tried some savvy social media marketing. In particular Saffi picked up a copy of Kristen Lamb‘s We Are Not Alone and gave it a whirl. What did we have to lose?

Four months on and the book the UK agents called “The last taboo”, “well written but unpublishable”, and “there’s no market for a story like this” is about to breach the 75,000 sales barrier. And that’s just with the tiny Kindle UK market. As yet there’s no paper version in the book stores, not even POD, and we’ve yet to seriously start marketing across the pond.

A week or so back we were cold-called by an agent. Not just any old agent. An agent on a different continent. In fact, one of the most prestigious agencies in New York.

Nothing signed yet, and to be honest we’re not sure we want to go down the paper route, with its snails’ pace processes and the loss of independence that is the unavoidable compromise a writer makes when signing with a mainstream publisher. We’ll keep you informed on that as we go.

But being UK-based, to even approach a US agent six months ago was for us unthinkable. To be head-hunted by one of this prestige is still, a week or so later, pretty unbelievable.

Obviously the book itself  has something going for it. But while no-one knew it was out there no-one was buying it.

So a huge thanks to Kristen Lamb for helping us raise our profile enough to be found.

I had hoped Kristen would be joining us in person on MWi, and with luck she may still yet do so before the month is out, but she’s hugely busy with promo for her latest book, just launched last month.

So Kristen, if you’re reading this, a big thank you from Saffi and I, and from all our readers who would never have found Saffina Desforges without you.


So, it’s time to kick off Girls Just Wanna Have Fun month.

Who's First?

But choosing the running order was not to easy. In fact, a complete nightmare!

How to do it? Alphabetical? Highest profile? Biggest sales? Prettiest face? Biggest back-hander?

Of course I went for the latter. Ker-ching!

But despite my best-efforts, no-one was willing to cough up. Gone are the days when publishers bought their writers publicity

Actually, no, that’s still true today. It’s just that my guests aren’t (yet) mega-stars with unlimited promo budgets from the Big 6 behind them. Either that or they didn’t think MWi was worth the half-million dollar price tag I asked for.

But eventually I managed to convince / bribe / blackmail a few people to give up some of their precious time to write something for the MWi Girls Just Wanna Have Fun blogfest.

But that still left the problem of running order. In the end I decided to ignore all other considerations and play it day by day. Or day by every other day, as the posts will (West Africa’s internet and electricity permitting) be running every other day.

So, while I have some huge names in blogging, books and all aspects of the writing industry, the running order is absolutely no reflection of the esteem in which I hold the guests concerned. Honest!

Which is why my second day guest, while admittedly held in extremely high esteem by me, is an author you’ve almost certainly never, ever heard of.

An as yet undiscovered talent so new to the game the e-ink on her debut book is still wet.

That’s Michelle Brooks, unknown and undiscovered, but unquestionably a future super-star.

Michelle will be here on MWi for Day Two of the Girls Just Wanna Have Fun June blogfest, going live sometime Friday June 3rd.

Why am I leading with a complete unknown?  Stick around Friday to find out. I promise you it will be worth it!

And for blog-lovers everywhere it’s blogging guru Anne R. Allen on Day  Three. That’s Sunday June 5th, when Anne will be talking about blogs, no less.

As for the rest – wait and see. I don’t even know myself yet!

But of course, there was only one serious contender to open the show today.

Unfortunately she was too busy, so I had to settle for Saffina Desforges instead!

Here’s Saffi:

So, it’s the start of a very big month on MWi and it’s gonna be fun – ‘cos that’s all girls want, right?


I’m not a feminist – far from it. In fact, one of my favourite sayings is, “Why do a job yourself, when you can get a perfectly capable bloke to do it?”

Seriously though… 😉

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I will have a crack at most things; I play and watch football. I know more about football than most men. I put all the furniture together in my house, I do a bit of I.T, I  can find my way around under the bonnet of a car (just) and I work in a completely male dominated environment.

Hell, I even laid a guy out once for exposing himself to me in a pub (last time he’ll flop his privates out on a table where I am eating!), so I am no slouch when it comes to standing up for myself…

…but being a girl has its downside.

People don’t take you seriously – fact.

“You play football? Awww…”

I sit in meetings sometimes with the MD of my company and the other Senior Managers and they ask me to make the coffee. (Well, they used to!)

Doesn’t matter that there is only me there who can answer the questions that the head of purchasing has about our quality systems. It doesn’t count that I keep my MD out of the dock on a daily basis. I am employed as the company’s ‘competent person’, and I studied and grafted hard for the title.

I used to pack fish in a factory.

I used to bike to work in the dark with a flat tyre and start at five in the morning for a pittance of a wage.

I wanted bigger and better things.

I lied about being able to use a computer when a new business advertised in the local newspaper. I blagged my way through an interview and got a job I knew I couldn’t do. Luckily, the first two weeks in the role were a bit hit and miss, because the site was still being built. I sat a computer that I could just about switch on and used the help function to teach myself Word and Excel.

I stayed there eight years in total. I even went back as H&S/Quality Manager two years after I left. I helped write the site warehouse system. I trained all the new starters, I met with the biggest customers and I got them through massive audits every year. I did something with my life.

When my old boss told me that he would pay for a qualification but that I wouldn’t get any more money, I aced the tests, got a distinction and… left. For a better job, with more money.

Enter, stage left, the most obnoxious, woman-hating man/boss that I have ever met. After stopping my co-worker (also a girl) from stabbing him in the carotid with a pair of scissors and making me cover up for her, I left again. Nobody, certainly not a bloke, was gonna ruin my life.

Men are obviously required for certain things: Making babies (not so much now), being fathers and Popes… 😉

BUT, girls rule!

If you have read my other blogs, you will know that the first book I ever read and loved, was written by Phyllis A Whitney. The other most influential people in my life: Enid Blyton (nothing to do with my co-writer, he’s not that important), my nana, and Madonna. Yes, Madge.

Self-made business woman, music guru and all-round Super-woman. Love her or loathe her, she is an inspiration. She moulded pop, got her conical boobs out for all to see and told the world to “F**k it.”

That’s my motto.

I can do whatever I want. I don’t need approval from anyone.

When I ‘met’ Mark (my quieter half) I was going to do it alone. I was going to finish my first novel  Equilibrium and send it off to all the big publishers and it would be an overnight success. I knew everything there was to know about writing and marketing. I was gonna be a star.

Mark told me otherwise.

Despite the fact that his latte went cold when reading Equilibrium, he told me the truth. I had something, but it wasn’t good enough.

I didn’t know that a comma went before someone’s name in dialogue, or that ‘and’ and ‘she said’ could be cut. I also didn’t know that you didn’t always start a story at the beginning.

And so began my journey as a writer. And as a female writer.

Mark is happy for me to be the face of Saffina Desforges. I guess it’s because I am better looking and a whole lot cleverer-er. 😉 (And maybe also that he likes his privacy in West Africa, and wants his children to grow up blissfully unaware of the celebrity-driven culture we live in.

But this month is dedicated to strong, independent women. Girls. And writers.

And the reason Mark chose this theme was because the key characters in our works so far have all been strong female characters.

In Sugar & Spice, a mother coming to terms with not just her daughter’s killer, but the mindset of the murderer.

Some reviewers have said it was unrealistic. That no mother would cope like that in real life. Well let’s hope no mother ever has to, but how do they know any better how a mother would react in such extreme circumstances?

If someone killed a loved one of mine, I wouldn’t rest until they were brought to justice. My kind of justice. Which would probably be a lot harsher than Claire’s…

I’m not into man-hating feminist crap, don’t get me wrong. I was appalled when a Sugar & Spice reviewer said her professors had taught her “all men were programmed to rape.”

It could have been written by the character Dr Ruth Reynolds…  And of course the whole point of the Reynolds character was to show that women can be just as evil as men.

In our forthcoming gritty, dark, urban fantasy thriller Equilibrium there are two MCs who are very, very female. But one is also very, very evil.

And in our summer release Snow White, the first of the Rose Red crime thriller series, the MCs are again female.

My point is, the days of the female lead’s role being to scream or swoon to order is long, long gone.

By coincidence, in the middle of writing this post, my parents came round. I told them I was writing an article about strong women. Then I looked at my ma.

Three kids (all girls I might add), a husband who was, buy his own recent admission, “in the middle of a field” every weekend, and three jobs.

No money.

I remember my mum making our skirts and dresses to go to school in (I’m not a skirts and dresses kind of girl) and leaving to go to work immediately after dropping us off at school, then going again when we went to bed. I also remember her coming in at three in the morning after a night on the cashiers’ desk at a night club. She still found the energy to read my latest story or look at my attempt at a pig fired in a kiln from pottery class (what was that all about?).

Sure, she fell asleep in the living room at four pm once we  had come home from school and were fed and watered and safe. But she was always there.

Being a writer is kinda like being a mother (not that I have any experience in that subject).

You have this idea that you want to look after people. You want to do something nice for them. Keep them warm and fuzzy and safe; make them feel good.

That’s how I feel when I write.

Granted, I may not write stuff that achieves that all of the time, I might make people feel uncomfortable, as with Sugar & Spice; or question reality (we all know there’s fairies at the bottom of the garden, right?) or even wonder why the hell they are reading this stuff… BUT, my stories are my babies and my babies are my readers.

Writing a book is like giving birth. You create new people, new worlds; change people’s lives forever.

Who’d be a mum? In fact, who’d be a girl? 😉

Make way for some awesome ladies on MWi…

Girrrrrrl power! 😉

Be careful what you wish for: Saffina Desforges 100 days later

The UK agents said it was “The last taboo.”

“Well written, but no-one would buy into the subject matter.”

“Thanks, but no thanks.”
So we stuck it on Amazon just to prove them wrong.

Today Sugar & Spice celebrates 100 days in the Kindle UK top 100.

As for the agents: They call us. From New York!

Real life… You couldn’t make it up!

Here’s Saffi:

Be careful what you wish for: Saffina Desforges 100 days later.

Also available in American!

The Good Samaritan – why it’s depressing when writers get depressed.

Sylvia Plath

Yes, that is a poet above. Sadly a dead poet. And while we all have to go sooner or later, most of us hope it will be later, and few of us will ever do it ourselves.

But Sylvia Plath chose to go sooner and to do it herself. The world has been a poorer place ever since.


One of the great things about blogging is you can plagiarise other bloggers’ works, and so long as you credit them and give them a link they’re not gonna sue.

Leastways, I’ve been lucky so far.

Or maybe it just depends what mood they’re in.

Meghan Ward

Which is a rather feeble link to the subject of writers and depression, which Meghan Ward has just blogged on, and I had to rush in and comment on. Just click here for Meghan’s full post.

But as is so often the case, writing a few words in response on someone else’s blog triggered wider-ranging thoughts. Sorry!

We all know of famous writers, artists, etc, who were clinically depressed (as opposed to just being pissed off with life – something totally different) and of course we all know of some who took their own lives rather than carry on. A tragic loss to all humanity, as well as to their nearest and dearest.

Virgina Woolf

As I say, real clinical depression is a world apart from just being in a lousy mood. For most writers being depressed just means you’re letting the realities of life as a writer get to you.

Meghan sums it up in her inimitable style:

Let me say right now—whether you are published or not—if you are relying on external validation from the public and the publishing industry to ward off your depression, get thee to a shrink stat.

Because there is NO guarantee that your unpublished book will get published.

There is NO guarantee that your published book will get good reviews.
There is NO guarantee that your published book with great reviews will sell enough to pay your mortgage.

SO PLEASE do not let the craziness that is going on in the publishing industry today determine how you feel about yourself, your writing, or your life.

You see what I mean about plagiarising other blogs? That’s 105 words I didn’t have to write! That’s certainly cured my bout of depression for the day! If only I could steal another eighty or so. That would really put a smile on my face.

Yeah, you’re right. Go for it!

I know it’s hard. We (as writers) are smart, creative, motivated people who could have gone to law school or earned an MBA. We could be making a lot of money! Instead, we chose to follow our hearts because we love literature and we love words, and we wanted to give back to others some of the joy, fulfilment, and knowledge we have reaped from the many books we have read throughout our lifetimes. That and because we love to write.

And that, of course, is the bottom line. Because we love to write.

Anne R Allen

Anne R Allen (Yes, another writer whose blogs I regularly pillage for my own ends – so I’d better stick her pic in here to appease her) said here a few days back that as writers we worry we won’t live long enough to write everything we have brewing in our writing pot.

How true is that? I sometime worry about going to sleep at night in case I don’t wake up and my latest article for Playboy magazine crime-thriller doesn’t get finished.

Ernest Hemingway

But seriously, for someone to be down enough to take their own life when they still have ideas to explore – that is what true depression is about. We can only hope and pray we never go down that road.


But if you’re sat there thinking your world is collapsing around you just because some agent sent you a rejection letter or you got a one star review on Amazon, then you need a good kick up the backside.

Rejection and bad reviews are an occupational hazard. It’s gonna happen, no matter how good you are.

So enjoy five minutes feeling sorry for yourself. Find a picture of the agent, print it off and ceremoniously burn it! That’s right, from the centre, and watch those flames spread out to engulf them. What do they know anyway? They only got their job because their father owned the company, and it was probably the same person who rejected Stephen King.

Convince yourself the reviewer on Amazon was actually paid by JK Rowling to put down your work, because you’re the only threat to Harry Potter out there. Go on, write a letter to the venerable JK herself and tell her what you think. You don’t have her address?  Try “JK Rowling, Scotland.” It’ll get there!

Then when you’re done, take Meghan’s advice: get some fresh air, some exercise, some good food down you, and go read a book.

And here I’m going to raid Meghans’ comments column (No, I have no scruples!) and quote what some idiot wrote there. (Oh, okay, it was me. Do I have copyright over my words once I put them on someone else’s blog? Guess we’ll find out in Court!)

Fresh air, exercise, good food and broad reading are essential ingredients to keep the mind active.

Look at them as fuel for your writing.

Fresh air and exercise gives you time to reflect on your work and be inspired by what you see around you.

Good food is not just about keeping the taste-buds happy. It will help your body fight ailments that might stop you writing later, and anyway good writing anyway invariably needs all five senses.

A scene where the MC actually takes time out to eat might be just the opportunity your reader needs to slow down and reflect, and the choice of food might show a new side to the MC’s character. Would Silence Of The Lambs be anywhere near as good if we didn’t know what was on the menu?

As for reading…

Hard to imagine any writer does not read every second they are not glued to their keyboard, but variety is essential.

If you’re worried about being your WIP being unduly influenced (which is a legitimate concern), then try a whole new genre. Something you normally would never touch with  a barge-pole.

You might just be pleasantly surprised.

Who We Write For And Other Imponderables

Okay, last week it was hard drive failure, I hear you mutter. What’s his excuse this time?

Yea, I know. Regular blogs are part of the deal. But living out here in one of the poorest countries in the world has its downsides, and constant power-cuts and interrupted internet access are among them. I’m trying my best. Honest!

Tomorrow, power and ISP permitting, I’ll be featuring an exclusive with Marion G. Harmon, whose novel Wearing The Cape is destined for fame and fortune.

But after a week of disruption (have you ever tried writing a novel with pen and paper by candlelight?) I’m easing myself back into things with a round up from some blogs I follow which warrant sharing.


“It’s okay to be at whatever stage you’re on.” So says Janice Hardy over at The Other Side Of The Story, in a highly recommended blog entitled All the World’s A Stage: The Stages Of A Writer.

Janice breaks down the process from wannabe to success into ten stages and offers some great advice about taking it steady and not jumping in before you’re ready.

Janice’s point being that a decade or so ago agents and publishers were inundated with new manuscripts from millions of new wannabes. The reason: word processors had made finally made completing a novel a reality for those of us never gifted with basic typing skills. (Hands up anyone who can actually write the quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog in one go without looking and without a mistake…) (And no, I didn’t manage it that time either!)

Now history is repeating itself with publishing, with just about everybody theoretically capable of putting their masterpiece before an adoring public within minutes of typing the last line.

But as Janice explains, there are several stages all writers need to pass through before they get to that point. Which stage are you at?


Someone self-evidently at the successful publishing stage is blogging guru Nathan Bransford, who this week has been guiding us through his process from writing to publication for his middle-grade novel (that’s a kids’ book for sort of 8-12 age range, for us outside the USA).

On Thursday he explained why he opted for a traditional publisher over e-publishing, and perhaps the most significant point to emerge there is that e-readers are simply not aimed at children. Quite apart from the lousy graphics on the Kindle (what were Amazon thinking of?) it’s simply a given that most parents aren’t going to spend a fortune on an e-reader for their precious off-spring.

And those that can afford it may as well get them an iPad that can do so much more, as well as show pages of a book.

The real issue is that e-readers are simply not child-friendly, which is a tragedy given even the smallest of children love computer games and have few problems handling a mouse or a decent sized keyboard. But until someone brings out a rubber-cased, shock-proof e-reader that can withstand being covered in jam or dropped down the toilet then Kindles, nooks and other rival devices will remain adult pleasures. Children’s authors with low e-sales should bear that in mind and not get dispirited.


Amanda Hocking announced another big deal this week, this time for her Trylle Trilogy. I mention this because of an interesting point Amanda raised on her blog.

One thing I love about Amanda is that she is so down to Earth, despite the bank balance and the deserved acclaim. Explaining to readers what the new deal meant for them, she said “If you haven’t read the series, it will make it easier for you to find, and the books will have fewer errors.”

This seemed particularly apt coming from the phenomenon that is Amanda Hocking given rival dark fantasy author Charlaine Harris had us sweating for a day or so earlier this week. Her e-book Dead Reckoning, the latest instalment in the fantastically successful True Blood series, came bounding up the charts despite a hefty price tag of £8.99, getting worrying close behind us in the top ten before running out of steam.

Two points arise. First, the ebook price of £8.99 is 75% more than the Amazon guaranteed price for the pending paperback, and fully 12% more than the RRP of said paperback. True, it’s cheaper than the hardback, which has a UK RRP of £16.99, but is there any justification, beyond clawing back the advance, for this kind of profiteering?

That said, I guess one has to ask why not? No-one is being forced to buy it at that price, yet clearly thousands have done so.

Would an indie publisher get away with that? Of course not.

But at least if it’s been published by a “real” publisher it won’t be full of typos and formatting cock-ups. And believe me, Saffi and I know all about that (though I think we’ve got it sorted now).  But hey, if typos and formatting errors were good enough for Amanda Hocking…

But this is where it gets interesting. Several of Charlaine’s reviewers commented on the number of typos and formatting errors in this series, including the latest ebook.

Now obviously nobody’s perfect, but this is a major release by a major publishing house and by a major author. If they can’t get it right…

Or is this a Kindle problem? I’ve seen a version of Sugar & Spice that contains typos that as co-author I know one hundred percent were not in the script we submitted. Random appearances of the hash symbol for example that we only realised were there after x-thousand copies had been sold (and that we still pay the price for in bad reviews).

Critics not unreasonably assume this is down to us being lousy spellers and typists, but I suspect even the most inept of proof-readers would spot a random hash symbol (#) in the middle of a sentence and be bothered to delete it before submitting for publication.

And yes, we did a thorough check after publishing and were quite satisfied we’d done our best.

My suspicions were first aroused when I downloaded a Sherlock Holmes book and a Jane Austen book and found ridiculous errors and typos in classics that has been published a zillion times over on paper without problem.

I suspect a close perusal of other ebook versions of major titles might reveal a similar issue…

It just may be that the Kindle download process is sending out errors to some / all devices that neither author nor publisher are aware of until the negatives start rolling in…


Of course, if you managed to get your script written with minimal assistance from the spell-checker and you know where to put apostrophes and can tell the difference between a simile and a metaphor then you probably had a good English teacher.

In fact, the very fact that you’re reading this and are (or have aspirations to be) a writer is because you had a good English teacher.

Of course no-one ever had an English teacher quite as good as Robin Williams’ role as “Mr Keating” in the inspirational film Dead Poet’s Society.

But could Mr Keating have written a good book?

It’s a question I often ponder, and one Anne R Allen drew on indirectly in her blog Want To Be A Successful Author? 10 Things English Majors Have To Unlearn.

Somehow Anne even managed to get Star Trek IV in there to make her point. (Yes, I queried her about it too.)

Her point being that writers write books to sell, not to impress their professors or win prizes in exotic prose.

Yes, it’s nice if they can do both, but at the end of the day, unless we’re wealthy enough not to have to worry about selling, then our ultimate aim is to sell our work.

And we won’t do that (or at least not on any significant scale) by worrying about what we were taught in school / college / uni. As Anne says, it’s quite the opposite. You need to unlearn all that and get real.

Fancy adverbs, fifty different “said” tags and lavish metaphors and similes all carefully alliterated do not make for a good book.

That said, it’s possible to go too far the other way and write our books line by line from the latest How To guide.

Yes, we can all mock Dan Brown, find fault with JK Rowling, or casually dismiss Enid Blyton for not being on par with Shakespeare or Tennyson. But what wouldn’t we give for their sales figures?

As writers we can sometimes be obsessive to the point of distraction when it comes to “doing it right”.

Bottom line is, the people out there actually buying our books have not read How To Write Next Year’s Shakespearean Blockbuster and don’t give a fig about POV rules (Stand up, James Patterson, and take a bow), show and tell (Dan Brown we love you!), political correctness (Enid Blyton, you are still my hero!) or a million other rules, many of which have probably been invented by the How To Write industry for the sole purpose of selling more How To Write books.

When you write, don’t write for your English teacher. Don’t write for yourself. Don’t even write for the agent who’s probably already got a rejection slip with your name on it.

Write for your readers.

How long is too long? When is the “right time” to self-publish?

Okay, I have to be honest. I’ve been struggling all week to figure out an angle to do a shameless plug for the launch of our US Edition of Sugar & Spice without it looking like a shameless plug.

Then out of the blue came three successive blog posts by a fellow author that made me realise that the plug could wait until tomorrow.

This was far more interesting. So ignore that image above. It has no place here.

Instead, say hello to Anne R. Allen.

Among Anne’s most recent offerings is a post titled “12 signs your novel isn’t ready to publish”, which follows hard on the heels of “3 questions to ask before you jump on the indie publishing bandwagon.”

As Anne says, “Trusted voices in the publishing industry, who not long ago warned against self-publishing, are now singing its praises.

Self-publishing is no longer equated with vanity publishing, and we all know the success stories of writers like Amanda Hocking, who have spear-headed the “indie” e-publishing revolution, and rightly earned their place in publishing history.

But as Anne thoughtfully reminds us, it is a bandwagon.

And, tempting as it may be to rush in now with your recipe book, great great grandfather’s memoirs, or the blockbuster manuscript you’ve been secretly working on this past three decades and lay them before an adoring public, maybe it is better to take a step back and take a reality check. Hence the “12 signs your novel…”

Anne had in mind the case of the author on Amazon who recently responded badly to what appeared to be legitimate criticism, and was savaged all the more for her troubles. I certainly won’t embarrass the author further by identifying her or her book. I’m sure we all know the story by now. A sad episode for all parties concerned, as best summed up Nathan Bransford in his blog Virtual Witch-Hunt.

I have to say I was heartened to learn (again through Anne’s blog) that the author’s sales actually picked up as a consequence. Which is kind of nice. Hopefully that writer has learned her lesson and will go on to greater things. As for those who jumped on that particular bandwagon of name calling and finger pointing… The less said the better.

But underlying Anne’s blog piece was the question of how do we, as writers, know when we are ready? Or when our work is ready?

At what point do we stop seeking approval of the almighty gatekeepers and just go for it?

“How long is too long?”


Now obviously we’ve been exceptionally lucky with Sugar & Spice.

When we finished the script last year the idea of e-publishing hadn’t been given much thought. The Kindle hadn’t really caught on here in the UK, and anyway we were writers.

We believed a book wasn’t a book until it was on the plinth in the bookstore on the High Street. Or at least gathering dust on a shelf somewhere. But it had to involve real ink, and paper. After all, this new “e-publishing” malarkey was just a modern form of vanity-publishing, wasn’t it?

Of course we’d heard of Amanda Hocking and the other up-starts making waves across the pond, but no-one in the UK read e-books, surely?

So we began the long, hard slog of playing find-an-agent.

Now it’s one of the ironies of the agent-hunting business that, the longer they take to respond, the more likely it is they are actually interested.

If your proposal comes back by return post, or even worse, the same day as an email, you’ve either submitted your work to an agent who doesn’t touch your genre, or your work was bad enough to need just a single glance and be allocated a rejection slip.

Agents are running businesses. Time is money. They don’t have time to waste trying to find the one good bit in your mess of a manuscript. And they most certainly don’t want your pointless proposal cluttering up their desk any longer than necessary.

So if you’ve been waiting for an eternity for a response, take heart. They like your work enough to at least seriously consider it.

But as we’ve seen with Tom, Mark and Gerry (previous blogs), even if you get the agency contract, that’s only half the battle. You then go through the whole thing again to get an actual publisher.

Which brings us back to the key question: “How long is too long?”

And perhaps more importantly, are you missing out on the opportunity of a life-time by chasing the paper dream?


We elected for the dual approach.

With the Kindle Christmas bonanza approaching we decided to e-publish through Amazon and continue to submit to agents simultaneously. We hoped maybe we’d pick up a few e-sales along the way and get some feedback, and meanwhile keep our fingers crossed for an agent.

In fact we’d left it too late and we totally missed the festive e-sales bonanza. Come Christmas morning when everyone was gleefully buying their first ever e-book downloads, Sugar & Spice was just another obscure e-book in the Amazon jungle and no-one knew it existed. And so it stayed in January. What did it take to get noticed on Amazon’s Kindle?

Fast forward three months…

Agency rejections have come in slowly. Slowly being the sign we weren’t being rejected out of hand, at least. But our novel is not an easy-sell. One leading agent told us it was well written and she had agonized over it, but the subject matter (inside the mind of a paedophile killer) was “the last taboo” in crime writing.

And of course the paper publishing industry anyway works on a different time-scale from the real world.

The manuscript has been with the latest prospective agent now for two months. Yes, they are definitely interested, but that’s as far as we’ve got.

The e-book?

Well, regular readers will know the situation and just have to forgive me mentioning for new visitors that Sugar & Spice is, as I write, the #1 best selling thriller on Kindle UK and #3 in the main Kindle UK chart, selling some 20,000 books a month.

And that’s JUST through Amazon. We haven’t even begun to explore other options properly yet.

But the reason for citing those figures is to make a very real point.

Leaving aside the obvious delight at having got so far on our own, and leaving aside the short-term financial boost this brings, what we have now as writers is something far more important.

Let’s return here to the third of Anne’s blogs, titled “What if somebody steals your plot?”

Anne begins by addressing the amusing habit new writers have of fearing their agent / publisher / best friend’s mother-in-law will steal their plot and make a million.

As Anne says, new writers “can embarrass themselves with plot-theft paranoia. That’s why you never want to mention copyright in a query letter. It red-flags you as an amateur.”

Wise advice indeed. But it was Anne’s follow-up comment that really struck a chord with me. Anne mentions how she and other authors are often approached by non-writers convinced they have this great idea for a book and just need someone to put it into words for them.

“I don’t want to be mean,” Anne says with majestic diplomacy, “but they (non-writers) need to understand that most writers have plenty of story ideas of our own. Our biggest fear is not living long enough to write them all.”

How true is that?!

Even before I teamed up with Saffi my projects folder was a heaving mass of ideas across all genres, fiction and non-fiction. Now, between us, just the short synopses of what we’d like to write next would make a full length book.

What of it?

Well, had we not gone the self-publishing route, and instead were still patiently hoping for the gatekeepers’ seal of approval, we would at best have been working half-heartedly at book number two, wondering what we were doing wrong.

And of course if an offer had materialised we would have just signed on the dotted line, glad to be “accepted” by the gatekeepers, and agreeing to whatever they suggested.

Which sure as hell wouldn’t be daring to experiment with a US edition of Sugar & Spice, or working on completely different genres. In fact ninety per cent of our projects would have been vetoed from the start just because they didn’t tick the right boxes for the gatekeepers.

Knowing now that we don’t “need” an agent or publisher to reach an audience has given us the confidence to press ahead with our many other projects. We hope to have several more books on Amazon by the end of the year, across several genres (the first of the Rose Red crime thriller series and the first of the Equilibrium dark fantasy trilogy to name but a few), and have plans for a dozen more over the next three years. (Two writers together can easily more than double the output of one!)

We’re far from ready to give up the day jobs, of course. And yes, we could drop out of the charts tomorrow and plummet into oblivion. Our next books may flop completely. We are always realistic.

But having the confidence to seriously get on with the next projects, knowing we can publish when we are ready and not have to rely on the gatekeepers’ approval… Having the freedom to write what we want to write next, not what the gatekeepers think will trend in two years time… And above all being able to control the timing, the marketing and the pricing (of course we would never be selling 20,000 a month at book-shop prices) is worth its weight in gold.

And it does raise the awkward question, what will we do if an agent / publisher does finally come up with an offer?

Watch this space…

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