Happy Christmas to All

Safely ensconced in England, I will be blogging only sporadically over the next few days as I take some time to relax, write, and watch Doctor Who.

Being British still has to mean something, after all.

Joy and peace to all this Christmas. Take care!



#PubTip - Great Things for Writers to Know

Howdy, all.

I've mentioned a few times on here that Twitter / social media are becoming ever more important for writers. Not simply because you can market your writing and increase your reach, but because of the community aspect; the shared knowledge and experience from professionals and colleagues alike. Never before has there been such ease of access to editors, authors, and publishers, all with fantastic things to say and, yes, years of experience under their belts.

Perhaps the best hashtag to follow is #PubTip - a sure fire way to get timely, insightful and - most importantly - practical advice from agents and editors. It's a constantly moving conversation, and you can jump in at any time. I spent a few minutes searching through, to bring just some of the posts to you. Enjoy!

I'm not going to reject you solely for formatting issues. Promise. No need to resubmit your query. 

When you contact an agent, you try to convince them you can be a professional writer. A professional and a writer. At the same time.

Wannabe writers might hold off sending query letters to agents and publishers until the New Year. We'll be ever more receptive. 

Authors (esp. kid's authors), you may be tempted to write a funny/ridiculous bio, but I need a REAL bio to sell your foreign rights

When replying to a manuscript request, it is VERY helpful to reply directly to the request email to keep the thread together! 

The only thing worse than underexplaining is overexplaining. It can really slow down a story. 

Remember, when you are working on your bio, that it should pertain to your project! Dogs and x-wives need not be mentioned 

Yes, it is totally my loss if I pass on your work & you end up a huge best seller. Pointing that out will not make me reconsider. 

It's been said a million times before, but needs another mention I think: a LOT in publishing is down to personal preference. 

If you're going to query for a series, it needs to be for the first book. I can't pick up mid-series, esp self-pubbed. 

There are plenty more - hundreds - over on Twitter. Check them out. As you can see, there are plenty of topics covered, some no-brainers, some things you might not have thought of. At the end of the day, it's just inspiring to see people who care about books spending time sharing their tips without ever actually having to. It's voluntary, useful, and free. What more could you want? Take care, all. 



Writers' and Artists' Yearbook Blog / Competition

This is my 100th post on this blog! A fun, if arbitrary, milestone. A lot's happened since I first set out, but it seems a fitting sign of how it's grown that I have some fun news to share ...

A previous post from this blog is being featured today on the Writers' and Artists' Yearbook website (Main page here, my post here). I've posted before about my own history with the Yearbook - it's a great resource for writers both professional and aspiring, and I'd recommend it to anyone looking for information, advice and inspiration -- which is handy, because I happen to have two copies to give away.

The kind people over at Writers' and Artists' have given me one copy of the Yearbook, and one copy of the Children's Yearbook to celebrate the blog post. All you have to do is leave a comment on here or share my Twitter post about it for a chance to get one. On Tuesday I'll pick two names at random and - bingo.


That's about it. Hope Christmas plans are coming along for everyone. A week today I'll be in England - huzzah.



AW December Blog Chain - The End of the World

The End of the World

I'm running. I'm free. The world is below me - look, it's so weird, so fuzzy, so wobbly. Where shall I run? I can go anywhere. I'm in a pine forest. The smell is of earth and time and seeds. The ground is soft. Everything's so green - soft green - like a  ... like an I don't know what. The light is green, dripping down from the trees. I'm miles - years! - from anywhere, from anyone. It's so quiet. Oh, it's so quiet.

Bored now. I'm moving on. Look - where is this? Greece? Yes. Everything's blue and white. The air tastes like salt and lemon and crackling fish. The houses have rough white walls and rough white doors, blasted by wind and sea. Oh, the sea! Roaring, growling, foaming, brimey, rough, grey, blue, green, deep.

So deep. I could dive down there. 

I want to. I will. I will dive.


She looked at him and her face was too calm, too blank, to be anything real. Only people trying too hard looked like that. He'd seen it before, but not for this long. She always looked like this. She never let it out. It couldn't be healthy, could it?
'I'm sorry,' he said. He had to. He'd be a monster not to. He still hated doing it.
Anyway, the words hung limp in the air.
'There's ... not a lot more to do. He's retreating further in. He's not responding as we'd hoped. I want to be honest with you. I want to be. You may have to prepare yourself for this being –'
He stopped, because it was pointless to continue. 
Her face was blank and she nodded, once. A strand of her hair fell onto her shoulder and for a single moment, he wanted to reach for it, and brush it back. 
She probably wouldn't have noticed.
'I'm sorry,' he said, and he sighed, deep and long and oddly heartbroken.


I'm flying! I'm flying! The stars are like little chalk dots in the sky, which is deep blue really, and not black. Not black at all. I tumble and dance and laugh and shout. I whoop and scream. No. The air screams, as it rushed past - rush, rush, rush - and the sound deafens me, 'cause I'm flying so fast.

That gets dull, though. It gets dull, doesn't it? So now ... I'm in a desert. Oh, it's burning. Dry and cracked and full of tiny, tiny grains of sand. They're everywhere. They're eternal, infinite, hot and burning and dry, dry, dry. Yellow, orange, brown, white. I'm going blind from the heat and the sun that burns and scorches and screams down its hate. Time to get out of here. Back to the forest…


'I thought the new treatment would help?' she said.
'We had hoped, but it was never certain. He just retreats further into himself. He's ... he's gone, essentially.'

The sound of the clock was wrong, she thought; almost unbearably wrong, because it was clinical – so clinical! – which was something that time shouldn't be. She hated coming here. She hated it so much she thought she might burn for it.
‘So, you can’t suggest anything more to focus him?’
‘I said earlier that the medicine he’s on now, at such a high dosage, is already unusual. There’s little more medical intervention to be had.’
She clicked her tongue at that, was silent, and spoke.
‘And, I guess… it progresses, doesn't it. If he’s not paying attention to us now, we’re standing right here but he isn't, then later, later he just won’t know anyone is anywhere.’
‘These cases are always unique, each minds to itself. Days will be better, days will be … worse.’
‘He looks different.’
What was there to say to that? This boy was changing as they watched. His mind was imploding onto nothingness and coming out with vibrancy. Endless, at least.
‘Linda,' he said.
Her face twisted so subtly it seemed to suggest contempt for something. 
‘Linda, he can go home. He probably should. Home environments often trigger –’
‘Environments are where animals live. Triggers pull guns shoot bullets kill tigers.’

The clock has such a medical tick, she thought. It’s a clock, seconds are supposed to always be the same, but it’s clinical in here. Tick, tick, your life is slipping away, tock, tock, the end of another day is coming.  Tick, tock. My son. He’s leaving here, I can see it even if they’re determined to make me carry him back to home. He’s leaving all of this, he’s leaving everything. He’s going into himself. Is he running away? Tick tock. 

She would break soon, anyway, with grief and hunger and everything else, and hers wouldn't be the only world to end.


Other writers in the chain:

orion_mk3: http://nonexistentbooks.wordpress.com (link to post)
dolores haze - http://dianedooley.wordpress.com/ (link to post)
randi.lee - http://emotionalnovel.blogspot.com/ (link to post)
writingismypassion - http://charityfaye.blogspot.com/ (link to post)
bmadsen - http://hospitaloflife.wordpress.com/ (link to post)
Ralph Pines - http://ralfast.wordpress.com/ (link to post)
AllieKat - http://roelke.livejournal.com/ (link to post)
MsLaylaCakes - http://www.taraquan.com/ (link to post)
katci13 - http://www.krystalsquared.net/ (link to post)
Angyl78 - http://jelyzabeth.wordpress.com/ (link to post)
pyrosama - http://matrix-hole.blogspot.com/ (link to post)
Araenvo - http://www.simonpclark.com/ (You are here)
CJ Michaels - http://www.christinajmichaels.blogspot.com/ (link to post)
SuzanneSeese - http://www.viewofsue.blogspot.com/ (link to post)
BBBurke - http://awritersprogression.blogspot.com/ (link to post)
gell214 - http://gelliswriting.blogspot.com/ (link to post)


An Interview with literary agent Molly Ker Hawn

I had a lot of fun interviewing fellow writer Kelsey the other week - so now it's time to turn the whole thing around, and get some insight into publishing from the other side. Those of you following along will already know that my books are represented by The Bent Agency - specifically by Molly Ker Hawn, who has a pretty snazzy resume. In her own words:

My time in the children's publishing industry has been varied, including editorial roles at Chronicle Books and Dial Books for Young Readers, early social media development for a major teen magazine, and serving as National Programs Director at the Children's Book Council, the trade association of American children's book publishers. I've also been a bookseller, and I'm a past board member of the United States Board on Books for Young People.

In her current incarnation, though, she's my kick ass agent, and she's kindly agreed to answer a few questions about life, books, and how it's all going. So, here we go!

SPC: An obvious one to start with: what kind of stuff are you on the look out for at the moment? Or, perhaps better, what are you open to beyond what it already says on your agency's website?

MKH: I'm especially interested in middlegrade fiction right now -- funny, smart novels that ask interesting questions and don't condescend to the reader. I'm also cautiously interested in New Adult, but anything with paranormal romance elements isn't really for me. (Thanks for reminding me that I need to do a blog post about my 2013 wishlist)

SPC: If there's one thing to avoid when contacting agents - and when contacting you -  what is it?

MKH: Querying before your manuscript is ready. And by "ready" I mean "revised, critiqued by honest readers with experience or at least avid interest in the YA/MG market, revised again, polished, put away for a few days, and then determined to be absolutely the very best it can be."

SPC: There's a lot of change going on in publishing, with ebooks and self publishing taking off like never before. Worried?

MKH: Worried? No. Watching the landscape like a hawk? Absolutely.

SPC: You're an active Twitter user. Should writers commit time to building a presence online before they even have an agent?

MKH: Only if they feel they can do it authentically and really engage with other people online. A broadcast-only Twitter account is aggressively boring; generic blogs about the writing process are a dime a dozen. Viewing social media as a way to meet other writers and publishing professionals is a better way to approach it; then you'll have a built-in a audience you genuinely connect with when you're ready to start telling the world about your book launch.

SPC: You work in the UK for an agency based in the U.S. Is there much difference between the two? Should U.S. based authors feel free to submit to you?

MKH: There are some differences. One key thing to remember is that if you live in a country where your agency doesn't have an office, there can be tax implications for the payments it remits to you. But in terms of your relationship with your agent, being separated by an ocean doesn't mean you can't forge a productive connection. Realistically, even if you live in the U.S., you might live 3000 miles from your U.S.-based agent. I represent authors in the U.S. and the U.K. and am happy to receive submissions from any author, regardless of where they live.

SPC: Less boring question: What's the last book you read and loved?

MKH: LOVED loved? CODE NAME VERITY by Elizabeth Wein. Masterfully plotted, incredible historical detail, and a voice that grabs you and doesn't let go. My favorite book of 2012.

SPC: Favourite book when you were a kid?

MKH: Oh, I had tons. ANNE OF GREEN GABLES (actually, the later books in Montgomery's series were my real favorites). Susan Cooper's DARK IS RISING sequence. Lloyd Alexander's CHRONICLES OF PRYDAIN. The Newbery-winning JACOB HAVE I LOVED by Katherine Paterson. THE TWENTY-ONE BALLOONS by William Pene Du Bois.

SPC: You've said before you're a pretty hands on, editorial agent. In general how much input do you like having in clients' books?

MKH: It's not about how much input I like having; it's a question of whether and how I think I can help the book be even stronger. Some clients' projects need more development than others. I do enjoy the editorial process, but not for the sake of getting my hands on something -- it has to be necessary for the work.

SPC: Winter is here! You're snowed in the house and the kids are sitting quietly, requiring nothing. The power's out, so no computer for you - which books would you hunker down with?

MKH: WINTER'S TALE by Mark Helprin. A magnificent novel, made even more magical when it's snowing outside.

SPC: Anything else you'd like to share? Bribery requests? Opinions to expound upon? The floor is yours.

MKH: I was reading queries this morning, and so many of them were good, but just not quite right for me -- and I felt, as I often do, so regretful that I couldn't respond personally to each one to explain why I was turning it down. Authors put so much work into their queries and their manuscripts; I see that and I appreciate it. It's such a leap of faith, sending your work out into the world, and I'm grateful that so many writers are brave enough to do it. (Especially you!)


Thanks to Molly for taking the time to answer these! You can follow her on Twitter as @mollykh - and if you're querying her, remember to check out her Querytracker page (found here).for up to date information on response times. 


My new books and MY NEW BOOK

It's been a good few days. My 27th birthday brought a whole new load of books into my life, which can never, really, be a bad thing. Some new, some old, some entirely unexpected - but all very much appreciated.

First, my 2013 copy of WRITERS' AND ARTISTS' YEARBOOK. I've posted about this great book / company / experience before, and having a physical copy of the newest edition is always a good moment. Highlighter and sticky notes are already at the ready.

Second, a fancy pants new edition of Neil Gaiman's STARDUST, complete with new illustrations. One of those books I own, and then want to own again, in other versions. I've done this in the past with, among others, LIFE OF PI, FRANKENSTEIN, WUTHERING HEIGHTS, and HARRY POTTER.

Now it gets interesting - the completely unexpected books. THE UNLIKELY PILGRIMAGE OF HAROLD FRY, by Rachel Joyce, and a signed - yes, signed - copy of MONKEYS WITH TYPEWRITERS, by Scarlett Thomas. Joyce's book, which I had not even heard of, was bought by my sister, who previously bought me THE COLLECTED WORKS OF T. S. SPIVET, and knew it was my sort of thing. The Scarlett Thomas book - subtitle How to write fiction and unlock the secret power of stories - was from my other sister, and looks incredibly interesting. I've read THE END OF MR Y, but never any of her non-fiction. It can only be a good thing.

See that? That's me, that is.

On top of all that, I bought myself a copy of CODE NAME VERITY, since it seems to come up an awful lot on Twitter. So far, so good.

It might surprise you to hear that I had time for anything else in among all this reading, but I have also been writing, I promise. In fact, I've finally had the epiphany I was thus far lacking, and have found the title for my new book. It's been unusually tricky, naming this one. Other books have kept their working titles, or had something slip in half way through. But my newest book? It's been downright stubborn. Nothing was working. Nothing felt good, or made sense, or wasn't just someone else's title cunningly rehashed...

But that was then, and this is now:

So yes. There is is. THE STORY BOY. At least it will be until agent / future editor / publishing overlord / minion decides that it really shouldn't be, and then we're back to square one.

What can I tell you about it? It's about a boy - Peter - who meets another boy - Jack - and from there, a lot of things get a bit weird. It's about old myths that are really only sleeping - dreams you can fall into - and stories that want to come back to life, even if it means taking someone else's. I think it's quite a fun story, but then, I would say that, wouldn't I?

It's about what happens to old gods and stories, and what happens when two boys meddle in things they oughtn't. And it's about friendship, and loneliness, I suppose. Aren't so many kids' books?



Things That Don't Matter

Writers can be an odd bunch. Though it might seem the type of profession which, by its very nature, attracts a certain sort of off person, there's still rather a lot of unexplained behavior in the writing world.

Specifically, unpublished / undiscovered / new to it writers.  Writers who are querying, or just finishing their first / second book.

It's not oddness that comes out in every day life - the sort of madness that would inspire you to move to Kent, or put on a hat - but instead, a strange, overworked anxiety about trivial matters.

Matters like worrying, very publicly, about including one hundred and two pages when an agent requests one hundred alone. Matters like fretting over chapter titles or dedication wording before even having written the book. Or maybe spending so much time quantifying and researching the very best query letter there is, that you end up with a drab and lifeless information dump.

Essentially, writers who are looking for agent representation or publishing contracts can - and sometimes do - lose sight of what they're trying to do. Yes, writing is a business, and a professional approach is key. But agents are people, and so are most editors. They're not miserly gate keepers. They're, for the most part, creative, nice people who want to find great books, and they're not going to leap upon a technicality to screw you over.

Imagine it:

The Agent, her Machiavellian schemes beautiful in their simplicity, horrendous in their scope, sits at the center of her empire - her web -, stroking her chin with a perfectly chiseled nail. She sips from her martini, one eyebrow raised in amused contempt as another query is placed upon her ebony desk by this week's trembling intern. 'That will be all,' she said. The intern bows and backs away. The Agent makes a note to have him fired - and possibly killed - by the end of the week. She returns her gaze - icy and intense - to the new batch of letters. She sips again, and sighs.

Dear Agent, please find enclosed the first 49 pages of my

Aha! Agent cackles with cruel mirth and throws her glass into the roaring fire - itself fed on copies of the Bible and first editions of Harry Potter. 'I require fifty pages, my sweet,' she purrs. 'I fear - it's the trash for you! Haha'

Dramatic? Perhaps (Okay, definitely). But the point stands. Agents might seem a barrier to be overcome, but you're supposed to do it hand-in-hand with them. Not so much a barrier as - um - a bridge?

Basically, they're nice people. I think the competition of today's market encourages writers to be overly worried and anxious that small mistakes will screw you. But you know what? There are three rules that still overcome most things.

  1. In the end, it's about the writing.
  2. The writing is probably most important
  3. Mistakes can be overlooked if the writing is good enough
Disagree with me? You're welcome to - I'd love to hear thoughts - but it's something I think is true in most cases. 

So what's the message for today? Remember why you want to be a writer - because of the stories themselves - and focus on that most of the time. 



The Appreciated Bane: Editing (and Writing, and SipSwap Blog Adventure)

Well, December is here, and everything that means. In my case, a busy work period, a trip to England (and Wales) - and, of course, edits on the New Book.

And also Bryant Park, NYC. 

Ah, editing. It's often spoken about in the same way students refer to revision. It's something to be withstood, trudged through, and put up with, but with the grudging acceptance that it does at least help in the end.

I don't mean typos and spelling mistakes and obvious factual errors ("It was another English summer. She loved December...") - anyone with a grammar book and the Internet could catch those if they had to. No, editing in its best literary sense encompasses a whole range of things: tightening up of prose, naturalization of dialogue, making sure the plot is both evenly paced and (within the confines of the novel) makes sense, and everything in between and beyond. It works on a sentence by sentence basis, getting rid of clunk and clutter and repetition, and it works on a broader basis: does this book read well? Is it rushed? Why? Is it too slow? Do the characters grow / change / seem like real people by the end, at least?

You're in good company if editing is a bane that you appreciate:
"Read your own compositions, and when you meet a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out." - Samuel Johnson
In fact, just check out this link to Quotations Book for plenty more where that came from.

All professions have their unpopular part. Actors learn their lines, teachers have to lesson plan, and I imagine even ninja have to spend some time putting in the grunt work required to be so damn awesome.

So yes, I'm editing, but I'm hopeful the book will be so much better for it. I'm also trying to flip my mental attitude to that I don't see editing as some sort of inverse, reverse writing, detached but important. I'm trying to see it as still the writing itself. Perhaps even more so than the writing-things-down part of writing. I'm sure there's a quotation I'm missing here: something about editing being where real writers make their money. If you know one, let me know.

In other news, the December Absolute Write blog chain is now ACTIVE, and it's The End Of The World. Huzzah. Watch this space for my own contribution.

And finally - my SipSwap mug arrived! You can read all about this blog adventure over on Kelsey Is Writing, read about the one I sent out over on Laura Hughes' Writing the Bad Things Out Of My Head, and see the one I received... well, here.

It's a beautiful, good sized mug. You'd be amazed how many are too small for a decent cup of tea. I am happy to say this one is up to standards. So, thank you, person who sent it!

And on that high note, I think we're done.