Finding A Publisher

Writing a book is hard but fun, getting your book into print is harder still and not as much fun. As Tortoise Soup nears publication, I will look at the three main options once your masterpiece has been completed: finding a publisher, using a vanity publisher or self publishing. Over the next few days the Tortoise Soup blog will look at each in turn, starting with mainstream publishing.

Tortoise Soup took me two years to write (admittedly I did have an 18 month ‘writer’s block break’ in the middle so the writing process itself took around six months). Once you have completed the last word, it is tempting to think that you will soon see it in print. Whoah there – the difficult part is just beginning and the path to print can be frustrating and interminable.

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Most new writers will want to be published by an experienced publishing house: perhaps Bloomsbury will sign you up to become the new JK Rowling? This is the most difficult, time consuming and frustrating option. Most publishers, especially the large ones, are profit driven. They won’t care what the book means to you, they care about what the book will mean in pounds, shillings and pence.

So how do you find a publisher? The best place to start is with the Artists’ & Writers’ Yearbook. This book is essential for any writer: as well as containing oodles of good advice it lists publishers and agents in the UK and abroad. It is worth taking time looking at their websites and finding a publisher that suits you: if they don’t publish your genre of book then don’t waste your time approaching them.

My golden rule is to approach several publishers at once: most publishers will take between 3 and 6 months to respond so if you approach them one at a time once ten have rejected you (if they do, of course) you could have wasted over five years! I told you it was a long, frustrating process. The websites will list the publisher’s submission process: typically it will involve sending a one page covering letter (a ‘query’) and a one or two page synopsis along with the first one to three chapters of your masterpiece.

Spend a lot of time on the query and the synopsis – they need to be perfect. Any spelling mistakes here and your book is toast before a page has been read. Publishers receive a huge amount of submissions, and it is so difficult to get over this first hurdle so do all that you can to make your ‘sub’ stand out.

Here is another important point: as Baden Powell once said – be prepared for rejection. I know that we all dream of getting snapped up by the first publisher that we contact, but in all likelihood that isn’t going to happen. Don’t take rejection personally, you could have written an absolutely fantastic book (you have, haven’t you?) but unless it reaches the right person at the right time then you will struggle to get accepted.

You may get five rejections or twenty five rejections, but keep going. Perseverance and indefatigability are your main weapons, because one day you might just strike lucky! Many publishers will send you a one or two line standard rejection letter or email, some won’t even reply at all. Some publishers will reject you but send a detailed reason why: these are the exception rather than the rule and they are something to treasure because they provide both encouragement and pointers as to how your work can be tailored or improved.

Should you look for an agent before finding a publisher? Agents can be harder to find for an unpublished author than finding a publisher. Again, the good ol’ Writers & Artists is the place to look for contact details. I wouldn’t put you off approaching agents as well as publishers, but in my opinion contacting publishers directly can be the best option.

Independent publishers are a good target for new writers. They don’t have the financial clout of a Hodder or a Random House but they are very committed to what they do and have an eye for spotting potential talent as well as potential sales. Some of these independent publishers are gaining mainstream success themselves – for example Salt Publishing gained a Booker shortlist place last year for their excellent novel ‘The Lighthouse’ by Alison Moore.

I myself found an excellent independent publisher for my children’s novel ‘Tortoise Soup’ – they loved the story, appreciated what I was trying to achieve with the novel and were prepared to do all that they could to get it to the audience that it deserved. There was one drawback: they wouldn’t be able to publish it for another two years. Did I agree to wait or did I take another route? For the answer you will have to wait until the third part of this series.

I hope that this article, and the forthcoming articles, has been of use to you. Coming soon is my article on vanity publishing, I hope that you drop by to check it out. Remember to keep going – your book is great and I look forward to reading it one day! Please share any hints and tips below.

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Snow

The snow has returned like an unwelcome yet relentless visitor. Just a few years ago it seemed that snow would be a thing of the past, we had gone years without seeing any of the swirling white menace.
Whether it is down to climate change or not I couldn’t say but snow is back in our winters with a vengeance. Transport stops, noses and fingers turn red, bread sells out within minutes of reaching the shop shelves.
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But snow can also be such a wonderful thing, it makes even the ugliest scene seem enchantingly beautiful. And of course snow has featured, starred even, in some great works of literature.
James Joyces seminal short story collection ‘Dubliners’ ends with a long story, a novella itself really, called The Dead. Here is how it ends:
“Yes, the news­pa­pers were right: snow was gen­eral all over Ire­land. It was falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, fur­ther west­wards, softly falling into the dark muti­nous Shan­non waves. It was falling too upon every part of the lonely church­yard where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and head­stones, on the spears of the lit­tle gate, on the bar­ren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the uni­verse and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the liv­ing and the dead.”
In this reading snow represents the death of Gabriel’s dreams, the end of what he had thought of as reality, the freezing of the love that he thought he had shared with his wife.
The incredible Japanese novelist Yasunari Kawabata tackled a similar theme in the achingly beautiful ‘Snow Country’ (check it out – it deservedly gained Yasunari the Nobel prize for literature). Again, snow represents the flip sides of one coin: beauty and death, the thing that makes beauty so extreme and powerful is the very knowledge of its fragility – the certainty of its death. Beauty and love will dissolve away like the all encompassing snow that will soon melt away leaving no traces behind.
My new children’s novel ‘Tortoise Soup’ (coming soon – check back here for details) also contains a scene where the poor little tortoise Byron battles in vain against a blizzard:
“It was a cold night on the moors as Byron continued his slow walk northwards. The great north wind had begun to howl across the desolate landscape and at times it blew Byron back so that he seemed to be getting further away from Ruby rather than closer to her. The sky had been darkening for some time but suddenly it began to grow lighter again. A solitary white flake floated down from above and landed right upon Byron’s nose.
‘Brrr, what was that?’ thought Byron, but as he bravely struggled on against the wind the flakes began to fall faster and faster until the air itself looked completely white. Byron panicked now, he had never been out in snow before, but he could feel himself growing colder and colder. Snow was settling onto his shell and his legs were growing heavier and slower. The little tortoise tried to carry on walking but soon it was a struggle even to move his limbs.
Byron had no strength left, he flopped his head down onto the cold moorland floor and lay sprawled out as the snow piled up on top of him. ‘If only I could have seen Ruby again, just one more time’ he thought and the image of her pretty face gave him one last burst of energy. He began to dig into the ground with all his strength but he made slow progress with the frost covered soil. He dug and dug until he toppled into the little hole that he had made but all too soon the snow fell in upon him until there was nothing to show where he had been except a small white mound.”
The great Finnish writer and artist Tove Jansson wrote a short story about snow. It was called ‘Snow’. Here is a recording of me reading it.

I hope that you enjoy it and if you are going out remember the Norwegian saying: “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.”
Please post any snow related comments below!

Book Shop Saturday

I love books – you may have guessed that. Quite probably you love books too and well done to you for that. But books and book stores are coming under threat and it’s time for us to fight back.

I don’t like to blame the Kindle, the Nook and all of the other e-readers but they are at least partly culpable for the decline in independent bookshops. I have a Kindle myself, although it was given to me rather than purchased, and it is quite a lovely bit of kit. It feels nice in the hand and yes it does come in handy on trains and on holidays. I also like the idea that a popular piece of new technology is dedicated specifically to reading books.

But are they actually books or are they just collections of words on a screen? To me a book is beautifully tactile, it smells of wonder, the spine becomes lovingly creased. The actual physicality of the book is beautiful and moving, not just the content within it.

Nonetheless e-readers are here to stay, and so my forthcoming book ‘Tortoise Soup’ will be out in both physical form and e-form. To clarify my position there is nothing wrong with reading books on a Kindle as long as you actually buy physical ‘real’ books as well – we cannot let this artform slip away.

A more immediate danger to our bookstores are the supermarkets and Amazon. When supermarkets sell books at a pound each they are losing money on them but they are ‘loss leaders’ designed to bring shoppers into their aisles. These deals are killing bookstores that cannot compete with the deals, that can’t afford to lose money on the books that they sell.

Amazon also discounts books, although not to the same apocalyptic level, but the problem with Amazon is its sheer convenience. We are becoming a lazy and impatient society, so many people think: ‘why should I waste time heading to a shop when I can simply click a button and have it delivered into my hand?’.

Let me tell you why. Because we need book shops. Book shops where the staff know our name. Book shops where the staff all read books themselves and can make genuine recommendations. Book shops where the staff actually love books, just like you do. Book shops where they are prepared to take a chance on books that they will stock, that will champion new and independent voices rather than giving over all of their space to celebrity tie-ins and over-hyped blockbusters.

Let us promote this great idea of ‘Book Shop Saturday’. Make an effort to visit a real bricks and mortar book shop every weekend. Let your eyes wander and pick up something that will make your heart soar. The idea wasn’t mine – it came from the talented writer Claire King but let’s all get onboard before it’s too late. Use the hashtag #BSS on Twitter to spread the concept.

I went to a great little bookshop today – or at least I tried to, but it has closed its door for the final time. Once these shops have gone they have gone for good, let us hope that we can create a future where bookshops can flourish.

And, later this year, we will find my novel ‘Tortoise Soup’ in these lovely little bookshops. I have really appreciated your support and encouragement. To say thank you here is a cover reveal:

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This cover will look even better in the surrounds of a beautiful, independent bookshop – I hope that you agree!