Sunday, 13 September 2015

Next Steps

At what point can a writer consider a book finished? I mean, seriously, I'd like to know. When does an author sit back and think: 'That's it; that really is as good as I can make it'? If experience proves anything, it's that such a moment can never really come.

I've just finished the revised second drafts of both my novels and, thanks to lots of helpful feedback from many indie authors (and those kind editors at Harper Collins), I have to concede that the new versions are considerably improved. They've donned the magical boots of critical analysis and have marched leagues ahead of the originals.

I'm pleased about that, naturally, but it makes me wonder how much further they could go. What new changes might a chance comment from an enlightened reader yield? What fresh re-workings might stem from a moment of idle musing?

More to the point, at what point does one put the keyboard aside and turn instead to the sobering business of marketing?

Rightly or wrongly, I think I might have reached that point. Yes, I could keep amending my two little works and yes, I could probably keep finding new ways to improve them. But that would risk turning them into a continuing hobby rather than a project with a definite goal. An endless fiction might be a fitting world for my characters but it isn't a place where a writer should dwell for too long.

With that in mind, I have at last begun the process of approaching publishers and that, in itself, is a new and challenging experience.

My first task has been to figure out a decent short pitch and whether to strike a balance between drama and comedy. Here, for example, is the 'drama first' approach. I'd be interested to hear what you think...

Myrah wants to know who she is.

Until now, she always thought she knew. She was the good girl; the dutiful niece. The quiet cartographer, forever helping other people to make their names and fortunes. But then a dying wizard tells her she once led a very different life; that her stifling world of quills and coin is no more than a fiction - an unplanned consequence of a magical quest that went extraordinarily wrong.

She's sceptical, naturally, but while dismissing the idea is the easy option, it might also get her killed. If the wizard's right, then her old past is out to get her and with demons and assassins in keen pursuit, surviving will mean learning the truth about a life she didn't know she'd led.


I know. Not very comedic. It doesn't scream 'spoof', does it? On the other hand, publishers are very busy people and brevity really matters. Compare those 128 words with my first attempt a little over a year ago.

Young cartographer Myrah discovers someone has been interfering with history. More worryingly, it looks like it might well have been her.

Unreliable Histories follows Myrah and her only-sometimes-intrepid friends as they seek to understand lives they didn't know they'd led. In their way stand hired killers, unreasonably angry warlocks and some very embarrassing relatives. Ideally, they'd like to escape the whole terrible mess - and if they can avert a war in the process, then so much the better.

While exploring the secrets of her hidden past, Myrah also discovers the answers to some important but seldom-asked questions. Questions such as:

Who keeps the torches burning in all those long-deserted subterranean lairs?
Why does women's armour always look so suspiciously like fetish-wear?
And why is everyone suddenly so obsessed with avocadoes?

This is a tale guaranteed free from lovelorn vampires, arcane prophesies and ancient-but-recently-awoken evils. It features no Chosen Ones, no boy-wizards and hardly any murderous demons at all.

At a flabby 159 words, that's far too unwieldy for the real world of pitches, loglines and query letters.  

So - another learning curve looms and it clearly won't be easy. This new phase of the authoring business is typically characterised by long silences, punctuated with the occasional 'no'.

 It's not a great way of boosting the self esteem but, on the positive side, it does at least afford plenty of time to refine the pitch. When that work can be considered finished is, of course, a completely different question.

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