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The Trials of Writing & Publishing

 

The Trials of Writing & Publishing

 

Table of Contents

 

 

 

http://www.adriankyte.com/

[] Introduction

 

Through a series of short blog-posts, I have charted my progression through the often fraught and occasionally pleasurable process of bringing a novel to completion. And the inevitable pain of rejection. It was a journey thus laden with many anxieties and disappointments, which I am glad to share for free. My take on this subject is of someone who loves to read anything from science fiction to literary novels, and has been writing for over twenty years. Yet is still learning, and (like every writer) always will.

 

So don’t take this so much as a how-to guide than a “here’s how I went wrong, how I learned from that, how I can still get it wrong.” And at the very least if you are a struggling writer you may find something consoling in these posts.

 

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[] Making that breakthrough

Posted on [+ May 6, 2013+] by [+ adriankyte+]

If the first rule of blogging is check carefully what you’ve written before publishing, then the second should be: double-check if it was done late at night.

And if you’re sending off a manuscript submission you’d probably quadruple check. Yet it’s amazing what mistakes slip through. I often am of my own, and I think I’ve learned to be careful!  Anyway, I might give my thoughts on the submission process (to agents & publishers) in a future post.

But let’s assume you’ve completed the novel, with all the basic errors eliminated. Typically, In the process of writing, it’s been enthralling but troublesome in varying measures, and in the darkest days seemed as if it would never be finished. Then (after [insert number] rewrites) it is finally ready to be released to an unsuspecting world. And with the myriad of free self publishing opportunities it can be. Only problem is it won’t sell, or at least only achieving numbers that barely reach three figures, unless you’re one of the rare exceptions – which has more to do with gaining a following, hitting upon some Zeitgeist whereupon interest snowballs. But more likely it’s your mood that will resemble fifty shades of grey (heading nearer the black end) than sales; and if you’re writing SF, that’s a uniquely tricky proposition. Of course giving it away is far more likely to generate interest. I write from experience here. But to have a realistic chance of making money from your labour of love there’s still only one sure route: The agent.

With the second (and hitherto unsuccessful) attempt at publishing, I’ve become obsessed trying to second-guess what a publisher – or in the first instance an agent – is looking for: their filter process. Now, if they are having to apply some quick criteria to deal with the welter of submissions the process might as well be done by an AI. Let’s see … Previously successful idea+variation, at least enough to give a new spin on the genre Zeitgeist, which can be described in a back-blurb length; opening chapter that does not contain lengthy description (esp world building or biography) but instead either an immersion into an action scene or a character; plot driven by character rather than a concept; no switching POV without a clear break of paragraph; no author intrusion or omniscience; no red herrings or loose ends that are never tied up; no false cliff hangers; SF esp: no deus ex machina style contrivances; no concepts which lack any basis in contemporary science; no scenarios without any bearing on real life situations, or cannot be related by analogy, metaphor or allegory. And there’s probably much more needed to add to the programming. And you’ll notice the filtering would mostly be done through negative criteria.

Anyway, it’s likely I would fail on that test. But then good writing is not about adhering to a strict set of rules, even if it is about having an awareness of them. I can think of some great/acclaimed writers who break the rules, except their talent lies in knowing how to break them, and previous success gives them the confidence to do so. And confidence comes from finding a [writing] voice readers like but which is not pandering to some perceived market-oriented populism. So, of course, you can write something great and it will get slammed (check out Amazon reviews of classic acclaimed novels, or Booker winners) or simply have your work dismissed. Above all it’s about garnering interest. Many flawed novels can be interesting and valuable; I tried to analyse one, only to find smoke and mirrors, but the illusion was enjoyable.

So, yes, something does need to change in the publishing industry. In the meantime, there’s only the frustrating waiting process and the uncertainty of never knowing where you went wrong. Sounds like a publishing dystopia!

[] The Pitch

Posted on [+ May 10, 2013+] by [+ adriankyte+]

 

If I am to follow the much sage advice I should be preparing my latest submission proposal email for the next agent, instead of writing this. A sophisticated form of procrastination, perhaps.

But you get to a point when you think where have I gone wrong? Especially after having felt i’d finally got it right, then that rejection comes through (or passes through my over-zealous spam filter. The last couple of times in red, as if the computer was somehow alerting me that it could be a dangerous one to read – dangerous to my happiness, especially on a Friday). OK, so it could be the content of those first few chapters. Otherwise I may have missed a trick in my pitch.

So is there a secret to The Pitch? Truth is, if I knew of one I may’ve succeeded. But what I have learned is that it’s best to condense the synopsis and introductory letter/email into something that can be read within ten minutes minutes. (Agents would doubtless speed-read.) Start with a few lines to say what it’s about. I also provided a blurb link http://www.timeover-sf.com/ which does the same, but that might be overkill. I added the synopsis as a separate doc, so more emphasis is on those first few lines to encapsulate a 100,000+ word novel. Not easy!

Really, at the most, all I can tell you is how to fail better.

Btw, I’m still having that technical problem mentioned in my last post. Will have to do something about that.

[] Where does it come from?

Posted on [+ September 24, 2013+] by [+ adriankyte+] It’s a mysterious thing, the creative process. Truth is, I try not to analyze where those ideas come from, otherwise it can feel like the spell is broken. Most often, though, there are subliminal influences from the myriad of media we ingest and somehow it gets distilled down into a seemingly original work. I’m not even sure if anything is totally original these days. However – and this blog will now take a darker turn – an idea can truly come from the unconscious (or subconscious). Almost never does a dream translate into a coherent narrative, much less a story; they exist with a different set of rules to the logic of reality: the surreal, the inconsistent is accepted. But on one Saturday morning I had a dream that was clear and vivid. I watched – like a movie – someone planning an atrocity, a man angry at the world and how it had treated him and his kin. So all a bit dark, and seemingly random at the time. Still, I couldn’t get it out of my head and had get it down into a story to see if it made sense. Well, it did that evening after hearing the news reports of the atrocities in Pakistan, Iraq and of course Kenya. I had a different take on it in my dream/story. Of course, as humans we look for connections and patterns where there are merely coincidences. So I’ll leave it to you to decide.

[] Is any character type off limits?

Posted on [+ September 29, 2013+] by [+ adriankyte+]

The short answer is yes, as far as I’m concerned. A successful and talented enough writer could write from the point of view of the most despicable character and be praised for it. Being a big name in literary fiction affords you that freedom.

Myself, on the other hand, would avoid writing a first person narrative of, say, a sociopath. Certainly anything more than a few thousand words would become unbearable. I wrote one short story about someone who planned to commit an atrocity, and doing so in the first person made it a more interesting if not powerful narrative than how the idea originally came to me. But it felt risky, making it seem personal.

Few people nowadays at least under the age of 50 would have any qualms about playing a game from the viewpoint of a killer, even if that character is a brutal drug-dealing gangster. Although I’ve played many a 1st person shooter I haven’t played the GTA games but I can see the appeal: it’s a chance to be transgressive in a controlled and safe way. Maybe it’s even a safe outlet for that darker inner self. The same could be said for those who write crime or horror fiction; it’s perhaps a truism that they are considered to be the nicest and most well adjusted people.

Yet I always harbour a concern that writing through the eyes of a warped or nasty character would somehow reflect back on me as an author. After all, they say write about what you know, which often gets interpreted as write about what you have experienced. And of course, we don’t live in a bubble; life must have some influences that come through in the work. But if actors can play at being bad without the consequences then why not writers? OK, slightly different: an actor interprets and channels someone else’s work rather than creates it.

Well, one piece of advice i’ve taken is don’t let your creativity be thwarted by what others might think.

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[] The Novel vs the distracted mind

Posted on [+ January 24, 2014+] by [+ adriankyte+]

You might read the first sentence or two and then you’ll be distracted. Perhaps it’s an email or twitter update from that person who once said something personally relevant, or even profound, and is bound to do so again; well, maybe not this time.

I’m currently reading Iain M Banks – The Hydrogen Sonata. I’ve read almost all of his SF books – avidly – but am finding this one a struggle; can’t seem to get immersed in it and find it difficult to follow certain strands of the plot. Is the problem with me or the book? I get the feeling I would have found it easier to read had it been around ten years ago.

So what’s happening? Am I being caught up in the great digital distraction by things such as blogs, or is it those pernicious shooter games giving me that immediate short-term reward? There’s just so much, well, content and it’s so readily available, and there’s always something better – more useful – just a click away. This is one of the reasons i avoid twitter (for which the twitterverse can be grateful) or spend much time on any social media.

It’s reported that distraction can become even more of a problem with the natural ageing process. Maybe in part due to that incipient sense of time running out. I hear it being discussed increasingly: Are computers and smart devices ruining our ability to concentrate? In my case, I’ve never had the greatest attention span but have noticed it is getting worse.

Ironically, the number of self/published novels is increasing exponentially, while my generation or younger have (on average, in the UK) a lower ability to read and write than the over fifties. There’s an argument there about changes in forms of communication. Anyway, the education debate is for another blog/ger. So if you’re publishing today without an agent, a traditional publisher or a considerable number of followers, or a successful back-catalogue, it’s going to be tough to get noticed. Not that the pre-digital method (which depended on people seeing your book in a store and taking the time to consider it) was ever ideal. So does this mean the conventional form of the novel has to change to accommodate the digital environment? I hope not. I hope it can always remain in a pure form although only in content; I’m not one to fetishize the dead tree medium.

I’ll stop now, ’cause you’ll be wanting to check that new message. But thanks for giving this your attention.

[] However you get there

Posted on [+ April 3, 2014+] by [+ adriankyte+]

I think most writers develop rituals for their creative work. Even the most rational can harbour a superstitious belief that sitting in a certain chair, a place, or even wearing a particular type of clothing will summon that creative genie. Well if those things worked before…

There are of course the ultra prepared who have their novel all mapped out before they even begin the first chapter; they know the story arc and roughly how its going to end. These tend to be the more prolific writers who can churn out a novel a year, and start early morning writing for five or six hours a day every week day, without fail. They are often successful. And though many of those have their quirky rituals, that’s the only thing I share in common with them. From the outset to right near the end I had no plan of how my novel would finish. I’d be ensconced in my shed with an old netbook and have no idea of how to move the story on, just staring at its little screen. Then somehow the next scene would come to me, and a sentence became a paragraph, became 500 words. Reaching 103,000 words really felt like an achievement (though still, a lot of rewriting to be done!). In short, I found the best way to keep making progress is to put myself in a situation free from distraction where there is nothing else to do but write.

[] Sympathy for the Protagonist?

Posted on [+ April 7, 2014+] by [+ adriankyte+]

One of the basic rules writers are taught is make your protagonist believable. That can be interpreted as: make it easy to relate to them on some level. But it could also mean: give them an internal logic and consistency of behaviour.

But what if a writer invents a character for whom there are none of the realistic constraints associated with ‘normal’ people? Well, they couldn’t be human. You could not empathize with them, right? Even in the more morally simplistic world of video games the least sympathetic protagonist has some kind of flaw or disadvantage to overcome, otherwise there is no sense of jeopardy or challenge for them.

I once created a character who, though not possessing any superhero powers, was genetically engineered to be superhuman in some ways. Roidon Chanley was highly intelligent, charismatic and almost entirely without self-doubt …. and of course he had a lot of success with women. So he seemed like the writer’s enviable third-person alter-ego, having qualities I could hardly even dream of. One compromise was to not make him especially good-looking or tall; in The Hidden Realm, Roidon is described as having a striking, deliberate ordinariness (which was useful for him). Nevertheless, to have him as the main protagonist would be difficult to sustain. At best the reader could admire him, at worse they would think him implausible. For me it didn’t matter that he should be liked; even for for a first person protagonist that is not essential. Perhaps Roidon had become a writer’s self-indulgence, needing to be curtailed in some ways. Yet he lives on, in new iterations.

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[] The best intention of SF?

Posted on [+ August 25, 2014+] by [+ adriankyte+]

What are the best motives for writing speculative/science fiction?

If you think it’s to make money then you’re either deluded or already successful – though perhaps only enough that you can make the next mortgage payment. There’s usually better financial reward from writing fantasy, crime or anything that’s sold at an airport.

No, it should be for the love of the genre, right?

I think it’s important to explore a possible future without ignoring the present or the past; to show what can happen if things progress down a certain path. Or put another way: to describe a future not in isolation but at least have some resonance with today. For example, in a far future war my characters have to consider whether it is worth working with an old and deadly adversary in order to defeat something even worse. Being so far in the future there doesn’t have to be an obvious link to the present; it shouldn’t matter for the reader to see any specific connection to current events.

There is a space for alternate history/timelines, but I tend to avoid those, as counterfactuals are inherently problematic. In my case, bringing aliens into the mix can give a different perspective on universal themes; not sharing the same history they are unlikely to react as we would. I mean, how much of current strategic thinking is influenced by success or failures of the recent past? More to the point, what ultimately is sanctioned by politicians in response to their electorate’s [presumed] memory and lack of historical knowledge?

Anyway, back to the main theme. How many writers can honestly say they have kept true to their vision and not been swayed by some new successful breakthrough?

It’s never a good idea to plan your book according to some formula shown to bring financial success. I’d generally avoid anything where the author is described as the new [insert best selling name]. It might not be that they planned to emulate any particular author and just happened to be inspired by them – which is perfectly fine, if they can bring something fresh to the genre.

Publishers often prefer books with the potential for sequels – it keeps the reader hooked for the next one, guaranteeing further sales (in theory). Not so bad if the reader knows in advance that they’re buying the first in a series, and better if they know how many there will be. What can be irritating is when one book ends on a cliff hanger and you have to wait six months or more for the next, which is often more expensive, since the first is designed to hook as many readers as possible. I prefer a novel that is self-contained and can be read as a stand-alone, even if it means a bit of exposition of the previous.

Having these ‘best’ motives may seem high-minded and over-ambitious. (A lack of ambition in my writing is not some something I could ever be accused of.) After all, there’s nothing wrong with providing some good old escapism and entertainment.

[] Reaching for the Stars

Posted on [+ September 29, 2014+] by [+ adriankyte+]

A question many writers ask themselves is: how much do reviews matter?

I noticed something curious when I recently withdrew a novel I wasn’t happy with, and also had some spare time to rewrite. The book could best have been described as an interesting failure, problematic in its creation. So I’d given up finding a traditional publisher and went with Lulu.com as well as putting it up on various other sites as a free download. Anyway, checking the Amazon UK page I was surprised to see there’d been nine reviews of the book, averaging 3 stars. So did that suggest mediocrity, or something more interesting? I think most writers would prefer to think – given that average – some hated their work and some loved it. But there was not that smiley face bar graph. Ok, so there were way out concepts in the book, stretching the science fiction to the fiction end at times. I half expected there to be some negative comments about certain sex scenes that were not exactly conventional (although not especially graphic). None however. Frankly, it was That Difficult Second Novel where I tried to expand my writing range, where I’d got a little too ambitions. You aim for the stars and end up getting three! It is pleasing though that even ten people (1 US) were motivated enough to write a review of a free book from a relatively unknown author, especially those who seemed just a bit disappointed. Trouble is, when you write a blog about writing you build yourself up to be knocked down. At least that’s usually the British way. But I’d be the first to admit there’s always room for improvement. It’s a constant learning process.

Well, I’ve republished Time Over on Amazon KDP. The price can’t be set at zero but is as low as possible, for now anyway. Will be interesting to see how it fails this time. I know there are those who have an aversion to paying for a novel that hasn’t been recommended or passed some threshold of star rating. But any starred reviews are welcome – if they’re well considered.

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[] Is it all material?

Posted on [+ October 12, 2014+] by [+ adriankyte+]

The most commonly quoted advice, write about what you know, is often open to misinterpretation. I’m not entirely sure how much it refers to personal experience or general knowledge. But it’s generally accepted that experience of life is a good thing for a writer. That is, going out and travelling as much as possible, and just living. But should there be limits?

There have been times when I have forced myself to go on risky holidays where things haven’t worked out as I’d hoped. We’re not talking any life-threatening adventures here (I could happily brag about trekking along the Amazon or Gobi desert were it true). The only things truly threatened were my sense of morality and bank balance. Possibly this has helped my creativity, given a better perspective on my writing. Possibly.

I wonder, as a writer, the way of dealing with things that go wrong is different; you process them differently. Maybe it takes a while, and then: I could incorporate that experience for one of my characters. Even in science fiction, in my view good sf, you should bring something of contemporary life into whatever future. After all, it’s all about transposing … and it’s probably something I should have done more of. I’ve tended to avoid autobiographical writing in previous years; it had seemed somehow self-indulgent. But I guess there is always a way to finesse that into fiction.

It is said that the best writers are often the most troubled. Not an observation I entirely buy; I know of some seemingly very well-adjusted prize-winning authors. Maybe, though, writing is a therapy in itself, and without it those authors would be wrecks. Certainly with a novel in progress I seem to be at my most contented, even if there’s no knowledge of it ever being publishable. Otherwise writing this blog comes a close second. But without either would problems and worries become insurmountable? Well, I wouldn’t want to test that.

[] The One … for now

Posted on [+ October 27, 2014+] by [+ adriankyte+]

For me, starting work on a new book has been easy. Getting beyond the first chapter – let alone to a completed novel – is an entirely different matter. Some might compare embarking on a new novel to falling in love … again: This is The One, at least you think that when it starts to take shape. Of course, all previous ones seemed exactly as special at the time – it was going to be your magnum opus, nothing was ever going to top that. Then reality hits. In my case in the form of reviews. Although some have been positive I always like to fixate on the negative. My initial reaction (in my head) is: But you haven’t read it properly; you don’t understand that character’s motivations or the underlying causes. In truth, I would get carried away with an idea. But – in science fiction – you can get mired in trying to unravel a complex theory shaping an event with an even more complex explanation. Brushing over it can seem like a lack of attention to detail or authenticity; the obverse seeming weighty and stymie the reader if not the plot. However, this type of insight has tended to be very much after the fact (when the book is out there). At least with an E-book it’s never really too late.

If I’m going to stretch my initial analogy, then think of that work-in-progress as a new relationship. You invest your all into it and expect to find answers very quickly. You are filled with hope but also troubled by insecurity, the latter tends to happen about a quarter of the way in. Life eventually intrudes: distractions, maybe personal events or outside that can make your big idea seem insignificant, irrelevant or inappropriate. At the start it might have been like living in a bubble. But when that bubble bursts is when you can truly get a handle on what your WIP will become. Not that there’s anything wrong with quixotic thinking at the outset, because the voices of doubt telling you to prepare for failure are rarely useful. Anyway, if you make it halfway (for me around 50,000 words) then there is that sense of having been on a journey with a possible destination, maybe not what you expected it to be, but still well worth continuing.

Time Over is now free to download for a very limited time. 

[] All about confidence?

Posted on [+ January 22, 2015+] by [+ adriankyte+]

Let’s be honest. What matters most is not how good you think your novel is but how others rate it. Now I’m not writing this as someone who received accolades for their work and can smugly pontificate. On the contrary, I’ve had some negative reviews, one even used the dreaded B-word (bored), a state you should try to avoid causing more than even offense. So how could this happen?

After a number of rejections I lost confidence in my second novel Time Over. The first book The Hidden Realm was also rejected, but the problems with it were clear and I mostly fixed them although in the days before self publishing became, er … respectable. So I cut my losses and put it out as a free download. It proved relatively popular, got a good number of likes. Only Time Over seemed to have no easy fix; I’d set up a simple premise, which then spiralled into something rather complicated.

The problem is, once you lose confidence in a project you focus on what’s wrong rather than the positive: a loose end here, an inconsistency there. You imagine a reader picking up on some implausible aspect (and in SF there can be a lot of those). So what you do is add more detail for verisimilitude. Dialogue can also be affected in this way, slowing down the pace. I’ve of course tried to address these issues. But regaining confidence: that’s something entirely different.

Still, you move on to the next project with a renewed faith. At least until the next rejection.

[] Bringing your A-game

Posted on [+ February 13, 2015+] by [+ adriankyte+]

If you’re writing the third and possibly final draft there’s no excuse for not giving it your all. The question is, does that mean only working on it when you feel a hundred percent well, comfortable and generally on top of your game?

Today I’m writing this with a cold when I’d normally be on that third draft of The Captured. It’s easy, then, to make excuses for not really feeling up to it. It could be that you’re just feeling fed up for having missed the only bit of sun on an otherwise gloomy February day; a whole multitude of reasons for being less than a hundred percent focused on the work. (And, BTW, I hate it when people talk about giving something 110 or more percent, as there’s no sense of any maximum effort. OK, rant over.)

There’s plenty of advice out there on writing fiction in general, about ploughing on even when the muse is not there. But this (though hardly ever stated) seems to refer to that first creative stage, when just getting those words down is a achievement and never mind the quality. Not that I’d ever set myself a word-count goal – that’s a tyranny of the self, treating it like some feat of endurance. If someone has set a deadline, a contract with money involved, then maybe. No hard and fast rules otherwise.

I guess many writers have realized that on their third draft they haven’t been completely focused, and so they do a fourth, or a fifth…. But why waste the time if you’re not giving it your A-game?

 

[] In defense of The Prologue

Posted on [+ March 16, 2015+] by [+ adriankyte+]

In a book review I read only this afternoon someone decried the use of a prologue, recommending that you skip it, saying it detracted from the story. While that can be true, it can also give an insight onto the essence of a novel, a flavour (if it’s done properly) of the style as well as story. In brief, a shortcut.

Not that I’ve managed those things perfectly. There’s always been something of a compromise, having to balance interesting or entertaining writing with explanation (though trying to avoid exposition). There may have even been inconsistencies. My latest focuses more on a key character than any important plot point; it’s about his condition as result of his predicament.

A prologue is not about leading you into the story’s beginning but more like a snap-shot taken from a different angle to the rest, maybe a wider angle or a narrow focus, whatever seems the most interesting and revealing. If it focuses on a specific point in time dealt with later on in the novel then best to avoid repetition, even if the reader has forgotten much of the prologue by then. Peter Watts’ Blindsight is a the best example I’ve read in recent years.

It’s true that the prologue seems to have gone somewhat out of fashion. I don’t know how much publishers and agents are reflecting this or leading the way but many now are showing their dislike, judging by blogs I’ve read. Maybe it became too obvious a device; in science fiction often used to ease the reader in to a complex storyline concept. Then that dreaded word formulaic is invoked.

But here’s a final plea from someone who still cleaves to that old device, not as a standard formula, but just as an option. Because sometimes there seems no better way to begin a story.

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[] A lot of hard work for…

Posted on [+ May 27, 2015+] by [+ adriankyte+]

Very little reward, if you’re one of the ninety-nine percent of fiction writers. Well, that’s what it feels like when you read about the latest multi-book/million [insert currency] deal, and you’re still trying to make that breakthrough, still getting the rejections. Or self-published and garnering fewer sales than some second-rate generic knock-off that managed to get five-star reviews from well-wishers (or dare I say it: followers). Actually some of the most brutal reviews have appeared on Amazon, not so much for my novels but those who have achieved acclaim for their previous works; well that’ll knock ’em down a peg or two – is perhaps the thinking, but also it could be that expectation has been built up way beyond anything a mere mortal writer can fulfil.

So if you do make it to the big league it’s not all plain sailing. Acclaim doesn’t guarantee good sales, neither does fame. I was shocked, looking at the sales rankings for authors with big publishers who are probably only selling in the hundreds. Maybe that goes to show that less and less readers bother to even notice if it’s HarperCollins, Tor or some small press, and instead look for reviews and recommendations. And, yes, this is when it’s good to have many followers. One big league author who got a huge advance and deal was questioned over whether he might not make even more money if he self-published, such has the indie route come of age. He pointed out that it was a risky option – and it is: many successful self-pubbers have accepted the lure of a big publisher, because that means less hassle and more security, if less profit for said author. Editing one’s own book is the most difficult thing an author can do, even when it doesn’t feel like it is.

Of course, writing novels can be a rewarding experience. Just not, in my case, financially.

[] The difficulty with editing…

Posted on [+ July 14, 2015+] by [+ adriankyte+]

…is knowing what to leave in, or cut out.

On that (possibly) final draft, when I’m feeling confident, I rewrite with ease, often thinking: that so obviously needs changing, how could I not have seen it before? So another paragraph further honed until I’m happy with it – again. But the thought of having to cut said paragraph seems, well, unconscionable. This is common; it must have given rise to that troubling phrase “kill your darlings.”

What precious sections were in need of cutting only becomes apparent when it’s too late. I recently noticed a new review for my novel Time Over, having assiduously avoided reading them lately (I find it’s generally best not to read my own reviews, and certainly while the next book is in progress). I just happened to see the word edit (or editing); it was enough to make me turn away and click off before I could see any more words of that damning indictment.

The problem is, one reader’s self-indulgent dross is another’s profound insight. At least that’s what you tell yourself – to keep the darkness at bay. But really you can’t strike the same cord with everyone. Yet there is a standard, and maybe this is why a professional editor can be valuable.

But if my latest book does go to an editor, it would be tempting to tell them: “I accept all the amendments you advise/the corrections you’ve made. Just don’t let me see them.” Then I am spared the potential pain of seeing my creation ripped apart.

[] Synopsis Hell!

Posted on [+ August 31, 2015+] by [+ adriankyte+]

The best way to put readers off your novel is to write a scene-by-scene synopsis. Or so it can feel. Prose is replaced by dry description. It’s like looking at an image of your most precious one rendered as an x-ray skeleton; the bare bones revealing nothing of what made them special.

Yes, I’m in the midst of writing a synopsis for a potential literary agent … and not managing it very well … and feeling that because of it i will fail, facing a winter of rejections. I don’t know if this is a common feeling. But it’s when the doubt creeps in – going over the whole thing again and finding yet more careless errors.

The main problem: how do you compress 100,000+ words into less than a thousand? Whole scenes have to be omitted. Which ones?  This is where it’s so easy to become lost; not able to see the wood for the trees. The funny thing is, writing a blurb-style teaser précis hasn't been a problem – you give an impression, set up the tension (must stop rhyming now). But by the same token that can build false expectations in much the way advertising often does.

I’m certainly not expecting much sympathy from anyone in the publishing industry. They’d probably tell me: “If you can’t manage to sum up your novel in less than a thousand words then maybe there is something wrong with the book itself.”

[] Finally Submitting

Posted on [+ October 15, 2015+] by [+ adriankyte+]

…that precious manuscript to an agent is probably the most delayed action in every writer’s life. At least once you’ve had the experience of rejection. You never feel adequately prepared, remembering – in my case – more than one example when I sent an MS off to an agent only to later bitterly regret it. Oh, no wonder they rejected it, it was inevitable, I think to myself with typical 20/20 hindsight. And yet at the time my novel seemed perfectly honed, that covering letter just right. But if only I’d given it a bit more time. So won’t be rushing to send it off now, whether post or email.

Not that rejection could definitely have been avoided. I might be fooling myself into thinking the work had commercial potential if only I’d got the presentation right – the pitch, or made that change to the first page and chapter. Fact is, there are always things you think could have been done better, but you have to eventually move on to the next one. Science fiction is especially tricky when you’re pitching it through a synopsis; it can seem to get bogged down in fantastical-seeming detail which requires too many words to explain why in fact it’s not so fantastical.

I don’t think any author can really know what will meet with wider approval. Even those who are supposed to be objective about these things can often get it wrong. And usually their default judgment is negative.

Here’s an extract from a Guardian interview with this year’s Booker winner Marlon James, who had one novel rejected 78 times.

“No! No,” he says, shaking his head, as if it is the question that is mystifying. “This is why I tell students when they ask for advice, if you’re a writer, you have to believe in yourself.” He bangs accompaniment to the last three words with his hand on the table. “Because if you’re a writer, you’re going to come across that moment where you’re the only one who does.” He sounds freshly disappointed when he adds: “And I failed that test.”

[] Reflections on Rejections

Posted on [+ January 27, 2016+] by [+ adriankyte+]

Surely it’s the time most writers dread: those weeks (and sometimes months) waiting for a reply from an agent. After analyzing the odds, the percentage of submissions rejected, I defy any writer not to be worried. Or to not feel despondent when the rejection does come.

Personally I’d reject most of what I see, not just from debut authors but a lot of professional writers. But then I’d make a bad literary agent: too quick to judge, not being open to something that seems unconnected with my life on any easily accessible level. In particular, science fiction (which, actually, I mostly read) can seem forbidding initially. And, perhaps like most readers, I also rely too much on reviews and reputation. The challenge these days is finding something new and special among the sheer welter of books.

Now that my own work is out there to be assessed by those who are still thought of as the gatekeepers to the literary world, I’m wondering if what i’ve submitted is going to be judged so hurriedly. It would be interesting to know the exact process of each agent: how much is determined by that first page, chapter or synopsis – where I feel I’ve already failed (see Synopsis Hell).

After my last book Time Over had been rejected a few times, I did some rewriting then self published. How tempting it is these days to just give up on the traditional route. Because rejections are troubling if not painful; you read into each word, wondering what s/he truly felt behind the polite or diplomatic language. Well, I guess I have more of that to look forward to in the near future.

[] Fear & Hope – a revision of…

Posted on [+ November 24, 2016+] by [+ adriankyte+]

I’m owning up to my biggest fear: Rejection. Not just any rejection, but from someone whose response would matter more to me than anyone. A certain literary agent.

Rejection is not unfamiliar to me now, having plunged into the dispiriting reality of the querying/submission process. So I’ve decided to take the safe option and not submit my work to this person. I’m sure some would say that’s a wise choice given previous failures. It’s surely dangerous to conflate a personal (I’m reluctant to use the word romantic here as that would seem to be getting carried away) preference about a person with an objective regard for how suitable they’d be to work with. But especially when only based on a photo and a short description of the type of fiction she likes. Is it even better for them to publish a picture, one professionally taken, no doubt? Images are so powerful, especially the human face. It’s difficult not to read character into a portrait photo, believing to be uncovering some essence – some truth. And sometimes we are led to do so. Pictures are deceiving, Photoshop and its ilk the creators of illusions manipulating our most innate judgements.

Anyway. If there truly is something sublime about this person, then to be rejected by her (even if it is only for a work of fiction) feels more personal. It will hurt!

Of course such a reaction is not rational. They say develop a thick skin, or you’ll never succeed. After all, it is not actually me that is being rejected. But a lot of it comes down to these two questions: How much is your work is representative of who you are? And: How important are the preferences of the person that can hold the key to you success – and potentially happiness?

These questions are difficult to answer and can maybe be explored in a future post. But suffice to say, even when you thought you’ve avoided autobiography, it somehow creeps in under the radar. The work is never a thing in isolation.

So, I hope I will not be left that one difficult dilemma. I hope another agent will accept my submission. Otherwise I may end up plumbing the depths of that vast murky ocean of self publishing, and never be discovered. Okay, that negative view is a grim exaggeration for effect. Personally when looking for a book online, traditional or self-pubbed is not something i even notice. To stretch a metaphor, maybe that murky ocean is finally clearing to reveal its treasures.

Revised version of a previous post.

[] Being in Control

Posted on [+ November 27, 2016+] by [+ adriankyte+]

The one big advantage of self publishing is having total control of your final output. No editor to ‘kill your darlings’ – drawing metaphorical red pen lines through your precious finely crafted text. Yes surely the reader has the time and patience to read that digression so integral to your protagonist, their back-story.

While the self publishing route can seem like a recipe for an unrestrained and undisciplined (and unchecked) writing sprawl, it represents creative freedom. I’m surprised what is allowed to remain in the books from big-name publishers of big-name authors – those with past acclaim. One rule for them? The difference is that they have garnered the trust of readers who know the book is worth sticking with through all the flabby parts. Not that I’d claim to be a great editor. Certainly self-editing has been a problem. It’s never easy to see the wood for the trees when it concerns your own novel.

It always seems as if traditional publishers/agents are looking for the next big thing that is similar to the last, but fresh. They state what they prefer, mentioning particular authors. So somehow you should be like them and yet original, as if there this finely tuned skill known only to writers of a certain talent. That can feel dispiriting. Even if you admire said author, hold them up as an ideal, what you produce can only ever be a sub-version of theirs. Yet to claim “I am an original, and I aspire to no one,” can just seem like arrogance.

If, from those gate-keepers, examples of their ideal fiction is only meant as a guide then perhaps they should state that. Or maybe they should be more open-minded to the possibility that the next big talent may come out of left-field, and surprise everyone.

Been writing blogs on this theme for four years so not sure how many more there will be, if any.

Thanks for reading.

http://www.adriankyte.com/

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20


The Trials of Writing & Publishing

Through a series of short blog-posts, I have charted my progression through the often fraught and occasionally pleasurable process of bringing a novel to completion. And the inevitable pain of rejection. It was a journey thus laden with many anxieties and disappointments, which I am glad to share for free. My take on this subject is of someone who loves to read anything from science fiction to literary novels, and has been writing for over twenty years. Yet is still learning, and (like every writer) always will.

  • Author: Adrian Kyte
  • Published: 2017-05-21 23:15:09
  • Words: 7411
The Trials of Writing & Publishing The Trials of Writing & Publishing