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Marcus Gipps, an editor at Gollancz came to speak to The T Party Writers’ Group on Saturday 8th June 2013.

I’ve summarised and reordered Marcus’s comments so any and all mistakes are mine and mine alone. I’ve also split it into sections to try and make it easier to pick out information that people might be interested in.


A Bit About Gollancz

Gollancz has been around for approximately 51 years. It was bought by Orion 15 years ago (which is part of the Hachette Group) but Gollancz is run fairly independently. Orion is best known for its mainstream fiction (including crime, literary and non-fiction). The Indigo imprint was created for YA fiction and Gollancz and Indigo do work and share books for the YA market.


A Bit About Marcus

Marcus started at Gollancz around two and a half years ago. Previously he’d worked at Blackwells for eight and a half years (having started off as a Christmas temp and ending up as the deputy manager). In the course of his job he met loads of publishing and marketing people so when a job came up at Gollancz after Jo Fletcher left to set up her own imprint at Quercus, he thought that he should apply for it or else he’d regret it and was surprised when he eventually got the job.

He started off by taking over a lot of Jo Fletcher’s authors (who were redistributed amongst the Gollancz editorial team) and the idea was that he wouldn’t start commissioning his own editors until his second year in the role. However he found a book that he wanted to buy on the Gollancz slushpile and subsequently found a self-published title that he wanted to acquire within the first few months of starting. Since then most of his commissions have been in the fantasy genre but he thinks this is only because there isn’t a lot of good science fiction being submitted and he’s been beaten to the good science fiction that has been on offer.

Marcus’s authors include Mary Gentle and Tom Lloyd. He also manages a number of US and Australian authors, Michael Moorcock’s backlist (with 24 of his titles being published over the next two years), Philip K. Dick’s backlist and a number of series by George R. R. Martin (although not Game of Thrones). Marcus is also involved in SF Gateway, which is a massive enterprise aimed at issuing classic SF books in ebook format. To date 2,200 books have been released with another 4,500 being prepared.


What Are Gollancz And Marcus Looking For In A Book?

Gollancz has 3 editors and 1 electronic editor. All 4 editors commission new fiction. Gollancz publishes 48 new titles each year, most of which are by authors under existing contract. In general 4 of those slots are marked for debut authors, but this year there’s 7 and in 2014 there will be 8 so if the right book comes along then there’ll take more.

Gollancz looks for adult science fiction and fantasy. They do some horror (most notably with Joe Hill) but it doesn’t generally do too well for them and although Marcus personally struggled with it, Gillian Phillip loves the genre.

In terms of what Marcus is looking for, he said that he doesn’t want books that are too similar to what Gollancz currently publishes. He’d love to see some proper hard SF (e.g. space opera with a big scope) like Alastair Reynolds and Peter Hamilton because he thinks that there’s a market for it but it’s also what he likes to read.

Epic fantasy is a big seller and it’s currently being driven by the phenomenon surrounding Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin. Marcus said that epic fantasy needs scale, both physical size (i.e. the number of words) but also the world building with nation-spanning stories that spread across a trilogy. Standalone fantasy is usually only possible if you’re a ‘name’ author.

Gollancz takes both agented and unagented submissions but they look at the agented submissions first and can take a long time to go through the unagented ‘slush pile’ (typically only looking at it every 6 months). For unagented submissions they want a synopsis and the first 10,000 words.

The Gollancz editors are on the website and there’s a blog that authors can use to research them and what they’re each looking for. The submissions requirements are on the Gollancz blog. Make sure that you name a particular editor because it will help.

Don’t submit in April because that’s when all the London Book Fair submissions come in and the editors will be too busy to get to yours.


Gollancz And Self-Published Authors

Marcus has previously purchased a self-published title (a Fighting Fantasy type of adventure book), which had sold about 2,000 in print. Those figures weren’t stunning but the book had been stocked in Waterstones. Gollancz subsequently sold rights into France, Spain and Holland.

Marcus bought the book because the author had spent a lot of time in producing it – it was well written and well designed, so Marcus thought that Gollancz could so something with it.


What’s The Market Like For Genre?

The retail market is different for genre at the moment. Waterstones used to be very important because their ‘3 for 2’ offer encouraged customers to take a risk on the third book and it really helped new authors and genres that otherwise wouldn’t be tried. The current ‘buy one, get one half price’ doesn’t do this so well. Waterstones’ current strategy is to do away with genre breakdown and instead have one generic ‘fiction’ section, which will probably make it even harder for new authors. Waterstones’ staff reviews remain very important and the stores remain the biggest market for the sale of ‘physical’ books. Amazon, however, holds about 80% of the ebook market but it just doesn’t have the browsability that physical stores have.


Social Media And Authors

A social media presence is important for debut authors to do because it has more impact with readers. One of the best things that authors can do is have a good author page on Amazon because it’s easy to do and keep up to date and can be used to answer questions from readers while also offering potential customers links to all of your books.

Thanks to Marcus for taking the time to speak to us and thanks also to Martin Owton for organising it.

The second event in the London SCBWI's 2013 Professional Series happened last night, with a talk on making a living as a writer. In attendance were:

- Jane Clare, a multiple published author of books for younger children, including the award winning Gilbert The Great series and a number of series for Working Partners; and

- Lorna Fergusson, an author and owner of the successful Fictionfire site, which offers writing courses and writer support services.

Asking the questions and maintaining order was SCBWI's very own Sally Poyton.

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I'll begin the report with a confession - owing to a work event I wasn't able to make it to the start of the session so I missed the introduction and Jane's opening remarks. So apologies for that.

I arrived though as Lorna was explaining that she'd started out writing adult fiction and had her novel The Chase published by Bloomsbury. She explained that this was before ebooks began and so she's recently had the electronic rights returned to her and is releasing an electronic version this year. She's recently completed a manuscript for children aged 12+ and is working on a historical novel that's over 100,000 words. She said that she wanted autonomy in her career but pointed out that this also meant having insecurity. She said that she started off teaching English A Level in Oxford but found that the teaching strand of her career collided with the speaking strand of her career and she started teaching at Winchester Writers' Conference and also taught novel writing courses and in Oxford University's adult education department. She set up Fictionfire in 2009 because she was getting frustrated with the procedures involved in teaching. As part of her business, she teaches day courses at Trinity College, does critique work and teaches. She said that she finds it all very fulfilling.

The session started with Sally putting to the panel a number of questions that had been raised on SCBWI's Yahoo Group. For the purposes of this report, I've summarised the questions in bold italics and underlined and summarised each panellist's opinion on the same.


Where do you find writing work and how do you fit in writing with your other work?

Jane: She was contacted by Working Partners through her agent about a proposed new series based on dinosaurs. Jane's a geek about dinosaurs so she wrote an audition chapter, which got her through to the second round where she received editorial comments. She took on board their comments and became the writer for the series. She has however tried out for other series but not been commissioned for them. You can approach Working Partners yourself to express an interest in auditioning for their series but Jane's work has all come through my agent because most of the contracts contain confidentiality clauses. The risk of doing work for reading schemes and Working Partners is that you've got no guarantee that you'll be taken on and paid.

Lorna: She found that doing workshops, promotion and critique work can take up a lot of time. She tends to work well to deadlines but she's had to do it by writing in the middle of the night - normally between midnight and 4 am (and only after having a nap in the early evening). Lorna sets a target of 1,000 words per session and she keeps going without doing any revision so she knows that there are bits in her current historical novel that don't make any sense. The problem with this writing method is that she does feel awful the next day but she says that you need to flick a switch in your head to stay determined and get the job done.


How long did it take you to start making enough money to support yourself?

Jane: She started writing in the 1990s and after writing for 5 years she'd made about £60 from the sale of a poem. She'd written about 6 books before thinking about doing it full-time. She was working part-time at a library and reduced her hours until she reached a point where she was making a living from her writing.

Lorna: She made the point that it all depends on what you mean by making a living. She pointed out that most authors don't make all their income from writing - most advances are around £5,000, which is usually paid in 3 instalments (one on sale, one on submission and one on release) and then you've got to get the sales to earn out to earn a royalty. She said that you need to sell about 30,000 books per year to make £20,000 and the median income for authors is £4,000. The top 10% of authors earn 50% of the income so writers need to go into the profession by being realistic and you need to find other ways of supplementing your income.


Do you need the support of a partner to write?

Jane: Her husband died 11 years ago but he had life insurance, which meant that Jane didn't have to worry about paying the mortgage. However it's a difficult question to answer.

Lorna: Lorna's husband always believed in her and believed in Fictionfire (although he worries that she's spending too much time on it). Her husband is her first reader and she doesn't know how to manage without him.

Jane: Most of her time is spent on writing and in thinking about writing - even when she's doing other things. She writes short books so she tends to get the first draft done in just 4 days.

Lorna: She's focused but tends to concentrate on Fictionfire and critiquing so she finds it difficult to switch off to write during the day although she can switch into it during the night.


Do you have to have an agent?

Jane: Jane is represented by Celia Catchpole at The Catchpole Agency who she's grateful to but she used to have a scattergun approach.

Lorna: did have an agent at Curtis Brown who was wonderful but who retired and the person who took over was less proactive. She currently doesn't have an agent but has joined the Alliance of Independent Authors and is epublishing her book The Chase. The Alliance of Independent Authors gives advice and support and has a database of support services together with a foreign rights agent. She thinks that publishing is in a state of flux and is examining itself so authors should ask publishers what they're going to do for them. Some writers are giving print rights but keeping digital rights. It's okay to self-publish as long as you behave and approach it professionally. Agents are useful - they're a buffer between you and the publisher and can deal with subsidiary and foreign rights deals.


How do you deal with school events?

Jane: Jane loves doing school visits and says that they're a good earner for writers. She charges Society of Author rates (£350 for a day's visit). Schools generally don't want to add extra for travel/accommodation so she doesn't generally charge separately for that - although she does for international schools. Schools generally want authors to be enthusiastic and inspire children to write rather than just blatantly self-promote their own work. Jane started off trying out material for free at her local school and then put together a pack that she took out to other schools together with her rates and she also joined Contact An Author and said that it helps to put on references from schools. She also contacted literary co-ordinators.


How do you deal with general events and talks?

Lorna: It started with being asked about The Chase and then slowly grew from there as people started to get to know her. She recommended making use of Twitter and Facebook because it helps you to hear about events and helps people to hear about you. Lorna contacted Oxford University about teaching - you need to network and be open to possibilities and receptive to what's going on. Authors also need to work out what their identity is, e.g. what are you an authority on? She recommended joining specialist groups because you meet people and share experiences and feel less isolated.

Jane: Jane recommended having bookmarks as promotional tools for kids because you can sign them and they want to know about your books. She uses Vistaprint for business cards and postcards. She has done local festivals and always tells the local press when she has a new book out.

Lorna: She noted that authors tend to be treated badly at big festivals. It's difficult to talk to festivals and event organisers about money but authors should be willing to have that conversation because there's usually a lot of preparation involved. Lorna usually quotes Society of Authors rates but says that writers are bad about pricing what they're doing and communicating that. She recommends that authors put an accurate value on what you're worth and what an hour of your time is worth.

Jane: Jane recommended that you don't do half-day events at schools because the schools tend to pick the 9am - 1pm slot, which is longer than half a school day. She has a three-quarter day rate for this, which schools seem okay with. Last year Jane did 28 school visits, mostly in March to tie in with World Book Day and Book Week.

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Many thanks to the organisers for another interesting and informative event.

As part of the British Film Institute's Heads Talking Season, there was a showing of A Woman Of No Importance, Bennett's 1982 monologue starring Patricia Routledge, which in part led to the commissioning of the successful Talking Heads series. Alan Bennett then appeared in conversation with Samira Ahmed.

Unsurprisingly, the conversation mostly focused on monologues and his style of writing, so I've summarised here what he said as much as possible from my notes but the BFI did record the event, which should be available from its archive. I must apologise for the quality of the photo - unfortunately I was sitting in exactly the wrong position for the spotlight so none of my pictures came out particularly well.

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Bennett said that he wrote monologues partly so that he could take more control of the production and that he'd originally intended to direct them but lost his nerve. He wasn't sure that the monologue form would work on television and wondered if it would be boring but his producer - Innes Lloyd - was very confident. He found it difficult to impress upon the production designer that he wanted a realistic but minimalistic design for the set and very little movement - he basically wanted the camera to go in and out on the actor, which was the approach he took when directing A Bed Among The Lentils, which the audience were shone a clip from:



He said that he was pleased if he could make people laugh and cry within a very small period of time and talked about Maggie Smith's ability to do that within the same line of dialogue.

He worked with most of the actors before so that they knew what they could do but that it isn't always straightforward. Sometimes he clashed with Patricia Routledge and Thora Hird, both of whom had thoughts of their own on the text. With Thora Hird, he said that she had an intrinsic trust in writers so even if she didn't agree with Bennett, she'd still do it - e.g. she wasn't happy to swear in Waiting For The Telegram (although her idea of swearing was the word "penis").

Bennett said that working with an actor is a collaboration but you need to be on the same wavelength. When working with Kenneth More on a stage production in 1970, he found that because More was the star his views prevailed and it made things difficult. However writers are primary in subsidised theatre like the National Theatre.

He said that he can write for women better than he can for men because he grew up with his mother and two voluble aunts so that when he writes dialogue it's their voices that prevail. He doesn't know if he's writing dialogue or dialect sometimes because their voices are so strong. He described his Aunt Kathleen as describing her days at work in "Proustian detail".

When asked about the view that people have of his work as "cosy" he said that he finds it a little irritating but that it's better than having people hate him or dislike him.

He learnt to do monologues in the process of writing them. He started out by thinking that they were unspoken thoughts and stream of consciousness but discovered that it's not that at all - they're full of action and tell quite strong stories. A monologue says what happens in the gap from one section to the next. However he finds that he can't write monologues now - he wrote 13 in total (2 sets of Talking Heads and A Woman Of No Importance). Of those 13, only two were monologues for men - one that he did and one with David Haig playing a paedophile, which Bennett found difficult to write.

The monologue is the oldest form in the world - if you can get the audience's attention at the start then you can hold their attention. You need to close in on the character - that's all you need to do.

There was then a clip from Waiting For The Telegram. Bennett said that Thora was in her late 80s when she filmed it and although she had an autocue for reassurance, she didn't need it. Everyone in the studio saw her as a grandma and she she finished weeping there was a long silence that she broke by asking if she should do the last bit again.

Ahmed asked him about his 1979 One Fine Day and what Ahmed described as a "visual monologue" that Dave Allan performs. Bennett said that he wrote it to try and find poetry in something he hated (modern tower blocks). Stephen Frears cast Dave Allan who Bennett thought was very good and he was surprised that Allan didn't do more on the strength of it.

Ahmed then moved on to Prick Up Your Ears. Bennett admitted that he hadn't really prepared for this In Conversation session beyond going back and re-reading Talking Heads. In general he doesn't go back and think about his past work because he wants to get on. He felt that Prick Up YOur Ears was a dry run for Stephen Frears to go on and do My Beautiful Launderette. He felt that Prick Up Your Ears was too modestly done but liked the silly bits in it - pointing to the line that Julie Walters has - "I bet Dirk Bogarde never distempered his mother's bedspread".

The conversation moved on to homosexuality, rent boys and attitudes in the light of the Jimmy Saville scandal. Talking about The Habit Of Art, he said that it was more or less factual. Auden did have rent boys and apparently they had to be very punctual or he'd not let them in. Bennett referred to the rent boys in the play in order to try and lighten it. In The History Boys he said that he had the boys shrug off Hector's behaviour and regard him as something they have to put up with because Bennett feels that it's as close to young people's views as he can get. He does think that there's a generational difference about Hector's behaviour. Bennett takes a more forgiving attitude but his partner (who is younger than him) is more censorious. When Bennett was younger it was something that just happened but it was never more serious than a trouser grope. He said that maybe it did leave a mark on him but it was also beneficial because he's ended up writing about it.

Bennett said that he hasn't written anything for ITV or BBC since Innes Lloyd died in 1992 because Lloyd made it so easy and it's all so complicated now.

He frequently gets sent monologues by students and other writers and they usually go about it in the wrong way. Bennett said that a writer giving advice isn't helpful because a writer can only say what he does. The form that most people use for the monologue is that of a person speaking their innermost thoughts but that's boring - they should say things that are prompted by their innermost thoughts. If you tell a compelling story then it should draw people in. He mentioned that in Playing Sandwiches you realise within 5 or 10 minutes that something's wrong with the character and that something terrible is going to happen. You have to know it's wrong but at the same time it must enlarge your understanding and your sympathy.



Ahmed asked him what he watched and he said that it was mainly rubbish - Midsummer Murders but not Scandanavian dramas or soaps. He said that he'd liked The League of Gentlemen, watches Dad's Army repeats and likes The Big Bang Theory.

The conversation was then opened up to questions from the audience. The main points I took away from it were the following:

- Asked why he didn't write monologues anymore he said it's because he hasn't been able to think about convincing characters and so he finds himself unable to do it.

- He was asked if he had a computer and said that he did have one and had begun to use it but it got stolen.

- In A Woman Of No Importance, he said the character believed that she was the centre of the world and even when she was dying she thought that everything revolved around her. She was slightly based on Bennett's aunt. He doesn't want to know more than he needs to know about his characters because if he knows too much then he can't do it. All the characters are telling you one story but the audience is gleaning a second story from what they're saying and is always one step ahead of the character.

- Asked who he'd like to write for, he mentioned Paul Schofield (who almost played Blunt in A Question Of Attribution) and Michael Gambon (who was in rehearsals for The Habit Of Art but became ill and had to drop out).

- Bennett's just grateful to be able to go on writing. He feels that he's lucky because playwrights usually have a vogue rather than a long writing life so he's very grateful to the National Theatre because they've taken all of his plays - even the ones that he didn't think they'd want to do.

Afterwards, Alan Bennett agreed to sign books for the audience and he signed this for me:

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The magnificent peeps at Penguin Books tonight played host to the latest event organised by the Children's Book Circle - Weighing Up The Dark With The Light In Teen Fiction, which looked at issues are dealt with in teenage fiction and the now infamous Daily Mail article by Tanith Carey and Guardian Response.

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Graham Marks took on moderation duties for a panel of 3 authors who have all dealt with complex and controversial issues within their YA fiction:

- Joanna Kenrick is the author of a number of "issues" books, including RED TEARS, which involves themes of self harm and bullying and was referenced within the Daily Mail article and SCREWED, which follows a girl on a downward spiral who engages in promiscuous behaviour;

- Anthony McGowan is the author of various books including HENRY TUMOUR, a book about a boy with a brain tumour and THE KNIFE THAT KILLED ME, a critically acclaimed book about knife crime that has also attracted the ire of the Daily Mail due to the violence within it; and

- James Dawson, the author of HOLLOW PIKE, a YA fantasy about witches with gay characters and whose forthcoming BEING A BOY (released in September 2013) is pitched the "ultimate guide to puberty, sex and relationships for young men".

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For the purposes of this report, I have had to paraphrase some of what was said but whenever possible, I have included direct quotes from the panellists. I have also put both Graham's questions and questions from the audience in bold underline for ease of reference.

Graham opened by saying that the earliest definition of so-called "sick lit" occurred in November 2000 and was about a book aimed at adults.



What was your reaction to the Daily Mail article?

Joanna: I was named in the Daily Mail article and thought that it was poorly put together and poorly expressed. RED TEARS was mentioned in the context of a quote from the writer and critic Amanda Craig who said that it had provoked a bout of self-harm in a school. There was no background on how such a case of self-harm had come about or where it occurred. The depiction of self harm in RED TEARS is not glamorous as the main character has depression, she's bullied and she also has other issues. Given that the book came out in 2007, I did feel that it was unfairly singled out for behaviour that is prevalent among teenagers and I had done a lot of research on the issue while I was writing the book.

James: I wanted to know who was actually upset by sick lit because I couldn't find anyone beyond the Daily Mail and Amanda Craig. I wondered if the article was just a good way of getting the journalist's name in the press because it seemed to be almost trolling.

Anthony: I had complex feelings about it. I'm always skeptical about the idea of "sick lit" because it begins with a concept rather than a character. The article seemed to focus on the moral objection to these kind of books rather than an artistic objection and I didn't believe the article when it spoke about the spate of self-harm because authors just don't have that kind of influence over people's lives. I think it came about because a journalist wanted attention.



"Sick Lit" books used to be called "issue books", which have always been around but have they now become a rising trend?

Joanna: "Sick lit' is a catch-all term for very different types of book. They're not all about sick kids with terminal illnesses. The main common theme is that they do deal with death.

James: I've seen it suggested on-line that a lot of girls who read this type of book think that the only way they can be seen as being special or be loved is if they're sick but I don't really think that anyone actually thinks that in real life.



When you were writing your books were you given any information or steer as to what you could or couldn't include in it?

James: No, not really. I had been worried with HOLLOW PIKE because 3 of the characters are queer and one was a self-harmer. The only real comment I got was that the self-harm storyline didn't really address the issue by the end of the book and I was told that it needed to do so and while revising, I made the decision to just remove that element of the story. However there were times when the "gatekeepers" were mentioned and I was worried that school librarians and bookshops wouldn't stock it.

Anthony: I had no guidance at all when writing HENRY TUMOUR. When I was writing THE KNIFE THAT KILLED ME I made the deliberate decision not to swear because people seem to have more issues with bad language than anything else. I was never told not to include swearing but it seemed to be the best way of dealing with it.

Joanna: I was sensitively edited but I did take out a bullying storyline because there was too much going on in the book. Despite my worries with SCREWED, my publisher was very benign with the sex scenes.

Graham You can normally get away with anything so long as the language is restrained.

Joanna: I tend to be quite restrained in my language anyway - I use "shit" but not "fuck". The sec scenes in SCREWED are explicit but I wrote them in third person (rather than the first person voice used for the rest of the book) to emphasise her distance from what she's doing and that she's on a downward spiral.



Do authors have a moral or social responsibility with their books?

James: I was a teacher so I know that parents can be very protective but authors are only responsible to use their common sense. YA fiction allows people to explore issues in a way that's appropriate. Issues are shown in a way that shows the consequences but also offers a light at the end of the tunnel.

Anthony: I try to make my readers engage with real issues but I don't see what harm authors can cause. What counts is narrative drive and character if you're to engage teens and make them think about the underlying issue.



Is there a subject that you wouldn't write about?

All of the panellists said no.

James: I think that morbid curiosity brings readers to books and there's always a place for books that deal with thorny issues.

Joanna: The teenage years are fascinating because you become more aware of people outside yourself, e.g. as a teenager I was obsessed with the environment and passionate about it. I think that teens become more compassionate and that can be influenced by books about teenage characters who have issues so our moral and social responsibility as authors is to cover those type of issues.

James: Books are for enjoyment and the books mentioned in the Daily Mail article are effectively weepies for teens.



Melvin Burgess' defence for writing about issues is that no kid is ever going to drag themselves through a book that they're not ready for. Do you agree?

Anthony: Yes. Melvin's books aren't about the issues - it's their literary values that make them readable.

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There was then an audience discussion, which got a little passionate at times because of the strong views that the subject matter encourages and particularly with regard to violence in teen fiction (which could easily be a panel in itself) although everything seemed to end happily. I'm not going to recount this in detail, but the discussion did touch on things such as whether issues books always have to actually 'solve' the issue in the end and have a happy ending, what the role of gatekeepers is in issues fiction and what we mean when we talk about the issues for YA.

Many thanks to Penguin and to the Children's Book Circle for organising a thoroughly interesting event.

The British Chapter of the SCBWI started it's 2013 Professional Series at St James's Church in Piccadilly with a focus on book marketing - what it means and how it's done.

In attendance were:

- Amber Caraveo, Editorial Director at Indigo, which is an imprint of Orion Publishing and publishes almost exclusively fiction.

- Jennifer McMenemy, a Marketing Executive at Orion Publishing who works on both the Indigo and Gollanz. As such, she deals with young adult, cross-over and 'grown up' science fiction, fantasy and horror titles working on media campaigns, YouTube videos, social media and community building and newsletters.

- Joanna Owen, a freelance marketeer who's lately been working with Noisy Crow on apps, campaigns for books aimed at children aged 0 - 12 and on establishing a strong trade presence.

Moderating the panel was SCBWI's very own Sally Poyton who (together with David Richardson) has put together the 2013 Professional Series and whose manuscript "Through Mortal Eyes" was long-listed for this year's The Times/Chicken House 2013 Children's Fiction Prize.

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The session started with Sally putting to the panel a number of questions that had been raised on SCBWI's Yahoo Group. For the purposes of this report, I've summarised the questions in bold italics and underlined and summarised each panellist's opinion on the same.



What's the difference between marketing and publicity

Jennifer: Basically, publicity is what you get for free and marketing is what you have to pay for but they do crossover with each other. If you work in publicity then you're looking to pitch ideas for features and stories to newspapers, magazines and other media that tie in with the book while marketing works with advertising and looks at establishing partnerships with print media, e.g. SFX and Seventeen.

Amber: Marketing usually works closely with Publicity to see if they can get free content to sites, magazines etc and so increase a book's coverage.



What percentage (if any) of a book's acquisition is dependent on how commercial the manuscript is and how easy it will be to market?

Amber It really depends. If the writing is outstanding then I don't care how commercial it is or how easy it's going to be to market. For example, If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch (which will be released on 2nd May 2013) was purchased purely on the strength of its writing, without considering the commercial aspects. However such authors are few and far between and for other authors, commercialiaty does come into play, e.g. does the book have a great concept or a great story or does it speak to teenagers? Orion thinks about how many children/teenagers will love the idea and want to read it but won't think about marketing so much.

Jennifer: Where a book is likely to be a difficult sell we usually look at what the universal theme of the manuscript is and what the story boils down to so that we can make it more appealing.

Joanna It can be easier to sell/market high concept books that have a good hook (think elevator pitch) so that we can tell booksellers where it sits in their store. We need to get the book out to the key influencers in book buying, e.g. the librarians, independent booksellers and chain store book buyers.

Amber At Orion, Marketing will never tell Editorial that they can't buy something because it's not commercial. Part of the challenge of marketing is to come up with something unusual and unique.

Jennifer: You have to find what's core to the reader and what they care about.

Amber You do need to know about your market and what the readers of your market want, e.g. a common mistake is when authors refer to music that doesn't automatically appeal to younger readers.

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What happens in meetings between Editorial and Marketing?

Amber We have cake! Apart from that, Orion's different to other publishers because the meetings are very editorially led and we talk about ideas for marketing books - some crazy, some workable.

Joanna Different publishers have different types of editorial/marketing meetings. Big publishing companies with big lists are typically more sales driven and will therefore want to analyse how many copies of the book are likely to be sold into different retail channels with some books being rejected if that paper analysis doesn't produce a good figure. Some publishers will also look to balance their lists so if your book is similar to something they've already got lined up then they're unlikely to want to acquire it.

Jennifer: At Orion, we do throw out a lot of ideas in our marketing/editorial meetings so it's a creative time and it's all about developing the best collective strategy.



Does everyone read the books being pitched before an acquisitions meeting?

Joanna Not always if we're at the point of acquisition but it depends on whether the editor is passionate about it. However I will normally read it before starting the marketing campaign.

Jennifer: If I'm working on a particularly dense science fiction title I'll normally ask the editor what I should be focusing on but I do normally read our fantasy titles and will ask editors about the commercial points.



How do publishers decide what their lead titles will be and who has the final say on that decision?

Amber The Managing Director has the most say in the decision but we all have input into it. I look at what books will benefit from the marketing spend and give the best rate of return on that spend, e.g. celebrity authors have, by virtue of being celebrities, done much of our work for us and so putting marketing spend behind them will bring more booksellers on side. That in turn will give us a return that we can use to support debut and other authors who will be less well known. We might spend on a book that's the start of a series in order to lead readers into the rest of the series but anything can happen.

Jennifer: If people are particularly passionate about a book then it can affect the decision on marketing spend but spending money isn't always the best way of selling a book. You need to differentiate between spend that will get the book into shops and spend that will get it out to readers. There are also things that you can't predict so you have to be flexible because backlist books can suddenly become big very quickly. You also need to look at what other books are coming out at the same time as a title that are similar to it because the campaigns for those similar books can also be used to boost your title's sales.



How important is social networking and self-promotion when you're acquiring debut authors?

Jennifer: The first thing I look at is Twitter, Tumblr and your blog. I'm looking to see if you're insane (in both a good and bad way) and what your following is like. You also need to engage with the community that you want to be part of.

Amber Publishing is a small world so you need to be careful of doing inappropriate things that cause problems and lead to gossip. Not everyone on-line is your friend and you should be aware that simply locking a Twitter feed or Facebook account doesn't protect you. The best rule is that if you don't have anything nice to say then say nothing. If we love the book then we'll buy it despite no social media presence but it does become more important if it's not such a great book. We want people who are prepared to engage.

Jennifer: I usually tell authors to figure out what their voice is on social media because it's going to become their public voice. Don't criticise other people's books and don't talk about books that you don't like. Do only what you're comfortable with but remember that your priority should be to make sure that your book is as good as possible.

Joanna Don't just talk about your book on your social media platforms.

Jennifer: Try not to come across as arrogant or condescending.



Who decides on book covers?

Amber At Orion it's the editors who decide but it will be different at different publishers. Usually an editor will brief the designer about what they're looking for and the position for it in the market. The designer then puts together some ideas, which will be shown to editorial, marketing and everyone else who'll give their input into it. The designer will then review the design and discuss with the editor. The author will have some input into the cover if they really hate what's being proposed.

Joanna Sometimes retailers will also have input into covers and want changes.

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There followed questions from the audience which I'm not going to summarise in depth because I think that some things should remain for the benefit of those who get to go to these events. However I did think it worth noting the following:

Amber said that booksellers are getting fed up of trilogies and are increasingly asking for stand-alone novels but that this is very much a cyclical trend. The best approach is to write every book as if it's a stand-alone by giving it a beginning, a middle and an end so that it's a satisfying reading experience that resolves the central plot. Don't do cliffhanger endings because readers hate it - they feel as if they're being forced/manipulated into reading the next book.

Jennifer: said that this was different for adult epic fantasy titles.

Amber went on to say that you could have an overall arc where certain issues are left unresolved but it can't be the central point of the novel because readers will complain and won't buy the second book while retailers won't take a book that they know is the first in a trilogy or series.

Following on from my post yesterday on the Writers' Roundtable Intensive

Again, in line with SCBWI blogging policy I'm going to restrict my conference report to general comments about the flavour of the comments coming from panellists and speakers. #ny13scbwi is still active on Twitter, where a lot of other attendees have Tweeted about sessions and linked to their own reports.

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- Meg Rosoff gave a hilarious keynote speech about how to react (or not to react) to whenever someone asks a children's/YA writer when they're going to write a real book for adults. My favourite lines were: "Children aren't idiots. It would be a lot easier to write for them if they were" and "Children's books are literally life changing in a way that adult fiction cannot be";

- during a panel featuring booksellers, the point was made that more people are discovering books on-line so that key words are becoming more important to discoverability (particularly in the case of non-fiction) but independent bookstores still have an important place in selling books and in enabling readers to find great books. More people than ever before are buying books because publishers are making it easier for them to do so but having a good story remains key;

- the school and library market in the US is still performing strongly because they'll take hundreds of books across the spectrum rather than just the bestselling titles. US schools are also starting to get to grips with the Common Standards and so finding ways of tying your book into them so that they can become part of lesson plans and enable publishers to know how to place your book while also broadening the market for it;

- in terms of current trends booksellers are keen on fairytale and classically-inspired literature while non-fiction narrative is also doing well. However the market is shying away from longer books for younger children and is looking at short story collections because they provide material that can be read out in class and then discussed. Picture books based on current events are also popular because they can be used in the curriculum and augmented by other material (e.g. newspaper reports, biographies etc). Realistic, action-packed novels are popular as are books about bullying, science fiction with a real edge, intriguing non-fiction, illustrated novels, movie tie-ins, books with strong themes about war, survival stories and books that spotlight diversity;

- Amazon is noticing a strong market for short fiction and serialization of longer works (both established books like Dickens's fiction and newly commissioned works) and publishers such as Scholastic are starting to produce Apps for children although it remains an expensive process;

- authors should learn how to develop dog and pony shows - learn how to do presentations so that you can get into schools or take Skype sessions;

- it's not enough to have a great concept for a novel, you also need to develop it into a compelling read. Don't write one-note stories - use different strands that feed upon and build on each other. Publishing success doesn't happen overnight;

- Shaun Tan gave an inspiring talk about writing and illustration and what interests him. I loved the fact that he doesn't know what a story's about when he gets started but instead gets insight as he goes along with it;

- Mo Willems was also hilarious with his tips on how to write picture books, including - more is not better, it's just more - be succinct; write what you're passionate about; you may own your book's copyright but you don't own its meaning; always start your drawings in the middle of the book and think about aspect; read the very best and try to find the flaws in them.

I got home on Wednesday from the 2013 SCBWI Winter Conference, which was held at the Grand Hyatt in New York. Apologies for the delay in getting this report up, but it's taken this long to get my thoughts together enough to produce a coherent report. I also apologise in advance for the quality of the photos - they're my own shots of things that interested me in the city but I'm definitely no David Bailey ...

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In line with SCBWI's blogging policy, I'm restricting this report to general comments and impressions rather than a blow-by-blow account. Anyone who wants to find out more should follow #ny13scbwi on Twitter, where there's more of a sense of what was discussed.

To repeat the approach I took for the 2012 conference, I'm going to split the report into two posts, with my report on the main conference going up tomorrow.

A full list of the conference faculty can be found here: here.

The Writers' Roundtable as a day-long event that included an editor panel and agent panel and two critique sessions. The critique sessions focused on the first 500 words of each person's manuscript/work-in-progress - one with an agent (I was in a morning group with Jenny Bent from The Bent Agency and I was in the afternoon group with Lisa Yoskowitz from Disney Hyperion). I found the critique sessions very useful - mainly because it's the first time in a few years since I had third party feedback on the opening of my novel and it was all very positive and gave me a number of things to think about.

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I took the following points away from the Editor Panel and Agent Panel:

- beware of looking for quick fixes to deeper issues in your novel. If an editor highlights something that needs fixing in your book, be prepared to take that point apart and completely rebuild it rather than just adding a short sentence or two - an author's job is to take an editor's analysis and interpret it into fiction;

- editors and agents all want an authentic voice but don't over-egg it - there's nothing worse than sounding inauthentic or patronising. The voice should give readers an insight into the characters and the story and dialogue should integrate naturally into the story;

- it always helps to know your market and where your book fits into it but don't chase trends because you'll never catch them;

- learn how to handle other people's reactions to your work (both the good reactions and the bad reactions) and learn how to separate good and bad advice by working out how it impacts on your vision for your story;

- if you're writing a book that deals with controversial or disturbing subjects and themes, then write what you want to write - put it all out there and then objectively analyse it to make sure that what you're doing fits in with the characters and the context. There are no taboo subjects in YA;

- although paranormal romance has enjoyed 2 peaks over the last 8 years, as a market it now seems to be on the way out and the demand for dystopias, angels, ghosts and Wimpy Kid style books is also starting to dry up;

- Publisher's Marketplace, editor's and agent's blogs can all give insights into trends that are beginning to develop but it's also worth while keeping an eye on television (including MTV) because it can tell you a lot about what's popular;

- chapter books are currently being actively sought, as are funny books (but be careful because you have to get the humour just right, which is very difficult to do) and picture books are doing well at weathering the poor economy because parents will always want to buy things for their children;

- New Adult is currently a trend that might turn into an independent market but presently it's being dominated by self-publishing successes and seems to be more an off-shoot of chick lit and book stores aren't currently proposing putting it into its own section. It was interesting to hear that YA really took off as a market once it developed its own distinct shelving space in book stores.

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2012 In Statistics


I had hoped to post this before 2013 started but thanks to the denial of service attacks on New Year's Eve, I was prevented from doing so.

2012 was a busy old year for a number of reasons - moved flat, changed jobs, went to a number of conventions, was a bridesmaid at my best mate's wedding and a guest at two other good friend's wedding. I read a lot of books and I and wrote a lot of words and I travelled a lot of miles. What follows is a summary of my year, put behind cuts to save your Flists:

Books To Read In 2012:Collapse )

Books Read In 2012:Collapse )

Links to my thoughts on the books are in the above list so it should be obvious what I liked and didn't like.

Films Seen In 2012:Collapse )

Loved AVENGERS: ASSEMBLE, THE MUPPETS, THE PIRATES! IN AN ADVENTURE WITH SCIENTISTS! and MOONRISE KINGDOM.

Hated PROMETHEUS and THE DARK KNIGHT RISES - both of which were awful, bloated monstrosities that utterly wasted their excellent casts. If I had to pick between the two, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES was my turkey of the year because I had such high expectations for it and because it seemed to say that a serious spinal injury can be fixed by poking it back in place with your finger and some string hoists. Neither of which strike me as good medicinal practice.

Travel wise, I went to the USA twice - New York in February and LA, San Francisco and Atlanta. I also went to Germany for the first time with a trip to Berlin between Christmas and New Year - great city with such a lot to do and the cake - oh, mother - the CAKE!

Have got a lot of plans for 2013 and am utterly determined that this is going to be my year. You heard it here first ...

Tuesday 6th November saw the last in the 2012 London SCBWI Professional Series, with a panel of SCBWI members who all saw their debut books come out this year.

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The panellists were:

- Teri Terry, whose debut novel SLATED was released in the UK on 3rd May. SLATED is a futuristic YA thriller in the dystopian mode and the first of a trilogy. The sequel, FRACTURED will be released on 4th April 2013 and is currently available for pre-order.

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- Jackie Marchant is the author of I'M DOUGAL TRUMP AND IT'S NOT MY FAULT, a humorous book for readers aged 9+ and the first in a three-book series.

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- Paula Harrison released not just one but four books this year. All were part of the RESCUE PRINCESS SERIES, an adventure series aimed at girls aged 7+, beginning with RESCUE PRINCESSES: THE SECRET PROMISE. The fifth book in the series, THE RESCUE PRINCESSES: THE SNOW JEWEL will be released in the UK on 1st January 2013.

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- Helen Peters is the author of THE SECRET HEN HOUSE THEATRE, a touching novel for girls aged 9+ about a girl who sets up a secret theatre on her family farm. It was released in the UK on 1st April 2012.

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- Jasmine Richards had two debut novels in 2012. THE BOOK OF WONDERS is a fantasy adventure for readers aged 9+ based on the 1001 NIGHTS, which was released in the US on 17th January 2012 and OLIVER TWISTED (which she released under the pseudonym J. D. Sharpe) is a horror mash-up of OLIVER TWIST and was released in the UK on 6th February 2012.

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The panel started with each author giving a brief summary of their journey to publication and their highs and lows.

Teri opened proceedings by saying that she'd tried every type of fiction before coming to children's/YA fiction. Her first novel had been for adults but she'd also written short stories and poetry - all of which she described as being pretty bad. Then she had a job interview where she needed to convince the interviewer that she knew about children's fiction so to prepare for the interview she went out and read a load of children's books. Doing so gave her back her enthusiasm for writing and she also got the job!

Teri said that when you've been focused on getting published for ages then to finally get it is actually a strange experience because there aren't any fireworks and the world doesn't stop turning. It takes a while to realise that getting published doesn't change who you are - it just gives you more things to worry about. She said that she's now been writing full-time for about a year and is finding that it's a difficult balance to get right between actually writing and going out and having a life outside the writing. She said that the great thing about the SCBWI is that you meet a lot of friends who share your goal and support you. She described how she had first met Paula at a SCBWI conference and their journeys to publication actually paralleled each other.

Jackie began by giving a hilarious account of her first meeting with Dougal Trump (which involved a black bin liner being thrown at her and a rather scary spider). She then gave the real story behind Dougal's genesis, which turned out to be because her son had asked a question about writing a will and it set her to thinking about what a boy would put in his will. She said that having got that idea, she entered a competition run by the Winchester Writers Conference where she wrote 500 words and a synopsis of what the book would probably be about and ended up coming second. Afterwards, one of the judges had approached her and said that Jackie should write humorous children's fiction. Up until then Jackie had never thought about writing humour as she'd always seen herself as a writer of more serious fiction for older children/teenagers. However, since the release of I'M DOUGAL TRUMP AND IT'S NOT MY FAULT, it's been shortlisted for 2 awards and she's recently received her first fan mail so she's really enjoying the publishing experience!

Paula explained that she'd started off writing a middle grade novel for readers aged 9+ soon after she had 2 small children. It took her 2 years to write and she sent it off to publishers and agents and got a series of form rejections. She then spent a year writing a second novel for readers aged 9+, which also got form rejections so she decided that she'd switch to writing shorter books because if they got rejected she'd know that she hadn't spent too long producing them. She knew that she wanted to write something lighthearted and she actually wrote 10 books before she got the idea for the RESCUE PRINCESS SERIES.

She said that she's never been one of those writers who can spend 10 years honing and polishing the same book (although she very much admires them) - she finds it easier to move on from one idea to the next so having got the idea for the RESCUE PRINCESS SERIES, she sent a sample out to some publishers and then got a full manuscript request from Nosey Crow. She duly sent out the full manuscript but had absolutely no expectations because of her previous rejections. However Nosey Crow invited her in to talk about it and the ideas underlying it, including one about princesses who rescue animals because Paula wanted to write a series about girls being adventurous or something with a "girl power" vibe to it. She duly wrote it and got a contract for an initial 4 books, which has since grown into more.

Paula said that she isn't agented and while she went to SCBWI conferences and learnt her craft, she felt that there is an element of luck to the publishing process because you have to be in the right place at the right time with the right thing.

There were a series of questions from the audience about RESCUE PRINCESS SERIES with Paula saying that the books are on average 12,000 words long (which is apparently long for younger readers, but seems to be going across well). She's contracted to do another 8 books in the series and she's conscious of the need to keep each story different. A new book is released every couple of months and it seems to be developing a good following. The rights recently sold into the US.

Paula said that the best thing about getting published is receiving new covers for her books in her post. The bad thing is that there are a lot of deadlines that you have to meet even though you've got other things going on in your life.

As if all this wasn't enough, Paula also had a middle grade novel for readers aged 9+ coming out in 2013 entitled FAERIE TRIBES, which came to a total of about 50,000 words so is a lot longer than RESCUE PRINCESS SERIES.

Helen said that THE SECRET HEN HOUSE THEATRE was originally intended to be a stand-alone novel but she's just got a contract to do two sequels to it. The idea for the novel came to her during a conversation with her husband about her childhood on a farm and it took her 12 years from starting to write it to getting a publishing contract. Although the major plot points remained unchanged, the overall story changed significantly during that time.

She wrote the first draft in isolation, sent it out to agents and got a lot of rejections. She said that she probably would never have written another word had it not been for her neighbour, who works as a TV executive who had asked her to read a novel that he'd written and who then read her novel in turn and gave her some great advice about it, including the fact that the farm in the story was her Hogwarts or unique selling point. It really enthused her but she didn't know what to do.

She then joined the SCBWI and went to the 2008 retreat where she had to do a critique of the opening to a manuscript by Candy Gourlay, which made Helen realise what she needed to do with her book's main character. She then joined a critique group through SCBWI, which taught her a lot about story structure and she recommended that you find one where the people get your work and what you're after. She entered the 2010 Undiscovered Voices Competition and also went to the 2010 SCBWI Retreat where she received invaluable feedback on her chapters from Jasmine and Non Pratt at Catnip Books. She received an Honourable Mention in Undiscovered Voices, which she was able to mention in her letters to agents and although she got more rejections, they were more personalised than the ones she'd received before. She also sent it to Nosey Crow's slushpile and got an email the next day asking her to go and meet them, which led to her getting a deal for it.

Jasmine's journey started as a kid. She'd always loved children's books and kept loving them as she got older but she wanted to edit rather than write and joined Penguin's graduate training programme after university. She enjoyed the training programme but there were no editing jobs available when it finished so she moved to work for Working Partners, a book packager. Then one day she had an idea about Scheherazde telling the tales of the 1001 NIGHTS because she'd been on those adventures herself and she realised that she didn't want anyone else to tell that story.

She'd initially thought that that writing it would be a doddle and spent about 18 months on the first draft, which she saw as being part of a trilogy. Because she works in the publishing industry, she was able to get advice on who to send it to and got personal feedback with one agent and an invitation to meet another. She thought that the meeting would lead to her getting signed but instead the agent told her that the idea was terrible, that she shouldn't give up her day job because she needed to have other things in her life to give her perspective and that she shouldn't do a trilogy. The agent concluded by telling her to write something else but Jasmine didn't because she's stubborn. So instead she sent it out to other agents but found that the trilogy element was putting them off so she changed strategy and decided to present it as part of 2 standalone but linked books, which she talked about to an agent who liked them enough to sign her. Her agent sent THE BOOK OF WONDERS out to published in the UK and US. Harper Collins bought it in the US but while she came close to getting it picked up in the UK, it didn't make it through the acquisitions process.

At the same time as all this was going on, Jasmine had realised that the Dickens bicentennial was coming up in 2012 and had the idea to do a Dickens/horror mash-up, which she wrote 3 chapters for and pitched. This time she found that the US publishers weren't interested in OLIVER TWISTED because of the Dickens element, whereas the UK publishers were interested because of it.

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There followed questions from the audience, which I'm not going to summarise because that's part of the reason why you should go to the SCBWI Professional Series!

Anyway, it was another great end to another great year for the SCBWI. Roll on 2013's programme!

Edited on 7th November 2012 to make clear that Paula Harrison is conscious of the need to keep her series books different, rather than finding it difficult to keep them different. My apologies for the error.

Evidently I didn't disgrace myself too badly at the last Simon & Schuster Blogger Event in February because the fools Lovely Folk at Simon & Schuster UK invited me to their autumn/winter blogger event held earlier today so I thought that I'd repay their kindness by putting up a summary of the event.

The format was the same as for the February event with 4 authors sitting on a panel, taking questions that had been previously submitted by the attendees and also further questions from the floor. In attendance were:

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ALI HARRIS is a magazine journalist and has written for publications such as Red, ELLE, Stylist, Cosmopolitan and Company and was deputy features editor at No.1 women's magazine Glamour before leaving to write books and have babies. She lives in Cambridge with her husband and their two children. She was there to talk about her second novel, THE FIRST LAST KISS, which will be released in the UK on 17th January 2013.

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WENDY WALLACE is an award-winning freelance journalist and writer based in London, whose articles have appeared in the Telegraph, the Guardian and the Scotsman. She was there to talk about her debut novel, THE PAINTED BRIDGE, which was released on 24th May 2012 to wide critical acclaim.

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DEAN CRAWFORD began writing after his dream of becoming a fighter pilot in the Royal Air Force was curtailed when he failed their stringent sight tests. Fusing his interest in science with a love of fast-paced revelatory thrillers, he soon found a career that he could pursue with as much passion as flying a fighter jet. He was there to talk about his third novel, APOCALYPSE, which will be released on 8th November 2012.

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ROBERT RYAN is an author, journalist and screenwriter. He was born in Liverpool and moved to London to study natural sciences at university. He began his writing career in the late 1980s for The Face, Arena and the US edition of GQ, before moving to a staff job in the Sunday Times. In 1999, after the publication of his first novel, Underdogs, he left to go freelance, although he is still a frequent contributor to the newspaper. He has published a total of twelve novels under his own name, the latest being Death on the Ice, and two (Steel Rain and Copper Kiss) as Tom Neale. He was there to talk about his thirteenth novel (albeit his first for Simon & Schuster), DEAD MAN'S LAND.

The questions were posed by Alice Murphy, Simon & Schuster's Digital Marketing Executive. I've set out the questions asked below in bold italics with each panelist's answer underneath. Please note that I have paraphrased their responses for the sake of brevity.


TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOUR BOOK.

DEAN: APOCALYPSE is about a villain who has a machine that can look backwards and forwards in time and heroes with the technology to know exactly what's going on in the present.

ALI: THE FIRST LAST KISS is about a love affair between Molly and Ryan who first meet in their teens. It's a non-linear book that tells their story in a non-linear way through the kisses they share.

ROBERT: DEAD MAN'S LAND was a break for me because most of my previous books have been set during or after World War II so this time I decided to move to World War I with a story that follows a doctor who's investigating a murder that's taken place in the Western Front's trenches and that doctor happens to be Doctor Watson, from the Sherlock Holmes tales. I decided to use him because in one of the original Conan-Doyle books, it's mentioned that Dr Watson returns to his regiment.

WENDY: THE PAINTED BRIDGE is set in a private asylum in 1859 and is about a young woman who's been incarcerated there by her husband. The book explores how she got there but a strong theme is about photography and its use in the treatment of mental illness as photography was still in its infancy and people were exploring what could be done with it.


WHAT ARE THE BEST AND WORST THINGS ABOUT BEING A WRITER?

ALI: The best thing is when someone makes your dreams come true and publishes your book because I had many rejections before I got my book deal. The worst thing is that because I have 2 young children, it's difficult to switch between their needs and my writing.

WENDY: I started as a feature writer for a newspaper, so being a journalist gives you confidence in your craft and I felt confident when I wrote my non-fiction books. But writing features or non-fiction is totally different to writing fiction so there's a transition there.

ROBERT: I also still work as a features journalist but the best moment in writing books is when you realise that you can just make things up.

DEAN: I make it all up and try to make it convincing. The science is mostly real but I tweak it to make the story work. There are no negatives so far as I'm concerned because I'm doing what I want to do but the science is quite hard to get my head around. It takes about 6 months to write each book and of that about 3 months is pure research.


HOW DO YOU KEEP MOTIVATED WHEN YOU'RE HAVING DIFFICULT WRITING DAYS?

ALI: I take a break when it's not happening but I do now religiously plot in advance, which I think is how I got published because previously I'd let my books drift along. I needed to learn the structure and then treat it like a job. Even if the words aren't coming then I try to do something else on the story or think about characters or if that doesn't work I go out jogging.

ROBERT: My wife counts the cups of tea I had to get an idea of how well the writing's gone. If I'm stuck I try and go out to do something else. I do think though that if you're not enjoying what you're writing then the chances are that the readers won't enjoy reading it.

ALI: I do personally find that writing 9am - 5pm can be quite stifling. You do have more flexibility in your hours when you write full-time.

WENDY: I go and do something physical. I'm motivated more than I am self-disciplined so even when the writing's tough I still get pleasure from doing it. I did a lot of research before I started to write THE PAINTED BRIDGE and then went back to look up specific points when they came up during the actual writing stage. Research does give the novel shape but you find that you leave out 90% of what you've learnt because it's not relevant to the story.

ROBERT: I wanted to use a Pal's Battalion for DEAD MAN'S LAND because they were groups drawn from the same area and professions, which meant that the men took their friendships but they also brought any feuds with them too. Most Pal's Battalions are very well-documented so I thought that it would be easier and more respectful to make one up, although I did base it vaguely on a Salford Pal's Battalion. I'd also been interested in the Sherlock Holmes books and had always had an idea for using Doctor Watson in my own fiction. I also wanted to use a doctor rather than a detective for a World War I detective story because World War I was at the cutting edge of medicine and medical innovation because of the range of injuries that were being generated.


DO ANY OF YOU FEEL RESTRICTED BY THE GENRE LABEL?

DEAN: Not really. My books are thrillers with a science fiction cross-over. I've done other stuff as well and have other ideas for books in other genres, although I don't think I could do a romance novel.

ALI: I like chick lit so I'm happy to be labelled as a chick lit writer, although it is a term that's used in a derogatory way. I'm happy to be in a genre though so I don't care what it's called.

WENDY: Some genre terms are more appropriate than others but I never wrote THE PAINTED BRIDGE as specifically women's fiction. I think genre is really more of an issue for publishers and marketers.

ROBERT: I'd written 5 or 6 World War II books and got to a point where I wanted to do something with more modern technology so I did write a couple of contemporary-set novels about an FBI agent working in London and now I'm back to World War I.


WHAT KIND OF RESEARCH DO YOU DO FOR YOUR BOOKS AND HOW DO YOU BLEND REALITY INTO YOUR FICTION?

WENDY: Photography is a theme in my book and in 1859 they thought that it would be an objective way of examining people. Photography was only 20 years old at that point so it was a lot of fun to research it.

ROBERT: I had blood transfusions in DEAD MAN'S LAND and it was a very gruesome procedure because initially they couldn't type blood properly but as the War went on, they learnt about universal donors so it became easier but the process was still intricate.

ALI: THE FIRST LAST KISS starts in 1994 so there are phones and cameras and Molly is working our through technology (including a blog) about how to savour the moment.

DEAN: I use a F-15 fighter to get a character in APOCALYPSE to Miami in a hurry because they're supersonic planes. I'd wanted originally to be a fighter pilot but my eyesight wasn't up to it but I love writing books where you blend reality into the story and people can look up the science in my books and see that there's a basis in fact there.

ALI: I was the same age as Holly is at the start of THE FIRST LAST KISS in 1991 so the research was pretty easy. I wrote the novel in a linear way but then went back and carved it up into a non-linear structure.

ROBERT: I did have a doctor read my blood transfusion scenes but I generally don't show my writing to other people because I don't find it helpful unless I need input on a technical point.

WENDY: I've done less research for the novel I'm currently writing then I did for THE PAINTED BRIDGE because I've found that the story is more to the fore. I don't feel the need to get a second opinion on my writing while I'm working on it because even well-intentioned input can throw you. I think that as a writer you need to trust your instincts.

ROBERT: I do less research now because there are so many experts out there on-line. For example I found a blog about the real life experiences of a nurse in World War I which had been based on her letters and experiences.


WHAT DO YOUR WRITING DAYS LOOK LIKE?

DEAN: I'm a full-time writer so I treat it like a full-time job and do a 9am - 5pm day, Monday to Friday. I'm currently doing about 3,000 words a day because I've got a deadline at the end of the month.

ALI: I've got 2 young children so I squeeze my writing in while they're at nursery. I'm a massive procrastinator so I find that having a set period of time gives me a structure to write within. I have a writing shed in the garden where I have time to myself.

ROBERT: I from the morning to the early afternoon and then do something else but I do work on weekends sometimes.

WENDY: I need a lot of time to write.Getting the first draft is the hardest but I'm finding that I'm also busy trying to support THE PAINTED BRIDGE too.


ROB, CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCES OF USING DOCTOR WATSON AND THE ATTITUDE OF THE CONAN-DOYLE ESTATE?

ROBERT: Although the Sherlock Holmes books are out of copyright there's a strange situation with copyright in the USA so I didn't want a situation where I found myself caught up in a US court case for using the Watson character, particularly because the characters of Sherlock Homes, Moriarty and Doctor Watson have all be protected by the Conan-Doyle Estate. So I phoned them up and told them what I wanted to do with the Watson character and then sent them a 3 page pitch document summarising the novel. After 3 weeks they wrote back and told me that they'd endorse the book provided I complied with a couple of requirements and acknowledged them because there are certain things that they don't want doing with the characters.


HOW DO YOU HANDLE NEGATIVE REVIEWS?

DEAN: I do read negative reviews to see if I can learn anything about them and sometimes I do take on board comments about repeated mannerisms or whatever.

ALI: I only really care about my family and friends and that they're proud of me. I have read my negative reviews but you have to move on and keep believing in yourself.

ROBERT: Negative reviews make me miserable, but you can take positives from them. I don't tend to read them now because they're a blow to your self-esteem but you do have to learn how to deal with them.

WENDY: I felt beaten up by a negative review a newspaper gave to one of my non-fiction books but you have to develop a thick skin because there are haters out there who don't have anything constructive to say.

The Event ended with a chance to mingle with and talk to the authors and pick up copies of some of Simon & Schuster's current and forthcoming releases.

Many thanks to Simon & Schuster for the invitation as I had a great time again and did come home with some excellent swag.

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Caroline Hooton

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