Saturday, February 28, 2009

The evolution of a novel - submitting

As I mentioned before, I had submitted The Kult in its initial incarnation to an agent (I have a few agent stories, none of them good – but that’s another story), who took me on and sent the manuscript out, but she failed to secure a publisher for it. I still feel the fact that it didn’t sell wasn’t down to the writing, but more because the story wasn’t that good, which is why I rewrote it, basically from scratch. So now I was ready to start submitting it again, but who to submit it too?

In the Stone Age before the internet, I used to buy a copy of The Writers and Artists Yearbook, and then trawl through the pages for possible markets. Nowadays, I use internet sites that list markets I would never otherwise have discovered. The search sites I commonly use are:

I also regularly check out forums and message boards that talk about horror, where there are sometimes posts about new markets.

Now the submission procedure itself is the most nerve-wracking and tedious part of the process. For a start, you are sending your baby out into the world on its own for the first time, hoping and praying that it can stand on its own two feet and that people welcome it with open arms. The reality is that many of the people you submit to will look upon it as the ugly duckling. But then sometimes, someone will see something in what you’ve written and might request to read more. That’s when all fingers and toes get crossed. Of course, to reach this point might take many years and many submissions. Or of course, it could happen the first time you submit it.

I made a list of the markets I was interested in submitting to, read each of their specific guidelines and then sent to them what was requested for an initial submission (usually a covering letter, a synopsis and the first three chapters).

Now among those I had selected to submit to was Leucrota Press. Although they aren’t a major publisher, and are pretty new on the block, I submitted to them because I liked what I read on their website. They seemed to have their heads screwed on straight, I got the impression that they cared about the books they published, and I just had a good feeling about them. Of course, it didn’t hurt that they paid an advance, which shows that they were prepared to put their money where their mouth is.

So I sent off my submission to them on November 22nd 2008.

On December 1st, I received a reply from David Peak, the acquisitions editor, which said he was in a bit of a pickle. He felt that from what he had read, the book seemed more along the lines of a crime or a mystery novel than horror, and Leucrota Press only publishes science fiction, fantasy and horror, so he wanted me to clue him in with a better overall picture of what the novel was about.

So the next day I sat down and composed a reply, and here is what I wrote (I have deleted a small portion of the reply as it gives away a bit of the story, but you’ll get the gist):

‘To answer that question I guess you would have to ask what horror fiction is. Some people believe that it has to have a supernatural element, revolving around witches, zombies, vampires and their ilk. While that is certainly true, I believe it’s also anything that elicits fear, and nothing elicits that feeling more than real life horrors: hate, murder, cruelty.

There have been many, many stories about serial killers that are classed as horror. Some linger in the grey area between thriller and horror, and others are just pigeonholed into what might be perceived a more acceptable genre. I believe that at its heart, The Kult is a horror story as it deals with ordinary people being forced into real life horrors over which they have no control. Ordinary people. People like you and I. It’s a story about the decisions people make in life, and the terrifying repercussions that happen as a result. THE FOLLOWING SECTION WAS DELETED AS IT CONTAINS SPOILERS.

The real monsters are all around us. Being able to spot them is the problem.’

So then I sat back and waited. I expected a long wait, but I received a reply the same day asking to read the complete manuscript, so I emailed it off post haste.

Next time, I will talk about the next stage in the process.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The evolution of a novel - editing

OK, so to backtrack a little, I will talk about the initial editing of The Kult.

I believe that since the publication of my first novel, Evilution, I have learned a lot, especially about the process of writing, and I’m still learning. It’s easy to string a couple of words together – the art is making those words the best ones possible for what you are trying to say. Now I won’t claim to be an expert on the matter, but when I write my first draft, I pretty much just let the writing flow without bothering too much how good it is. That’s where the editing comes in after.

Now some people might be able to get away with a couple of edits. Me, I have to keep going through whatever I’ve written a number of times before I’m anywhere near happy with it. My edits are an ongoing process and go something like this:

After I’ve finished the manuscript, I leave it alone for a few weeks to let the dust settle. It’s much easier to look at it then with a more critical eye. On the read through, I look for many things, such as the following:

Are my characters engaging? After all, they have got to drive the story forwards. The reader has to care about them and engage with them, especially on an emotional level. For that reason they need a journey. They need a goal, and they need obstacles in their way, with dilemmas and decisions to make.

I believe anything you write in a novel has to either inform about a character or drive the story forwards. If it doesn’t, then I cut it out. I can probably expect to delete about 10 to 20% of what I’ve written just because it doesn’t really add anything to the story, and makes for boring reading. Then I look for redundant words and anything that stands out as flowery prose. There are many redundant words that can be deleted quite easily, many of which are those words that make a sentence passive instead of active, and by the deletion of which, the sentence becomes much snappier and easier to read. Prime suspects are the words ‘had’ ‘that’ and ‘was’. Here’s an example:

‘The scowl that his face had been wearing was replaced by a mischievous grin.’ This is a passive and wordy sentence. I would make it active by rewriting something like this: ‘The man’s scowl melted into a mischievous grin.’ That cuts 14 words down to 8. A near 50% reduction that makes the sentence flow much better. Also, where else would the scowl be but on his face? So the use of the word ‘face’ is unnecessary. It’s a redundant word.

As I use Microsoft Word, it’s easy to use the ‘find’ function to highlight the passive offenders mentioned above (had, that, was) and then to see if I can delete them or rewrite the section wherever they appear.

Another thing I look for is cases of ‘telling instead of showing’. The difference between the two is that ‘telling’ is the reliance of simple exposition. ‘Showing’ is the use of evocative description. For example, I might first write:

‘Prosper felt sick.’ That’s telling you how he feels. In the rewrite I might write: ‘Prosper’s mouth watered and he clutched his stomach, doubling over as he tried not to vomit.’ One sentence states a fact, the other paints a picture.

I also like to delete adverbs, those pesky words often ending in -ly. Here’s an example:

‘He ran quickly into the room’. One solution is simply to delete ‘quickly’. But to make a more powerful sentence, you could write, ‘He charged into the room’, or ‘He sprinted into the room’.

After I’ve been through the manuscript a few times, I like to pass it on to a beta reader, someone I trust to be honest. They will undoubtedly spot things I missed, leading to yet another rewrite or two.

So that’s my initial editing process. As you can see, there’s a lot to consider and look for, which is why it takes me lots of rewrites. It’s all about the words. Finding the right word(s) can make your prose shine.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The evolution of a novel.

I thought I would talk a little about how a novel comes about, the changes it goes through, and the long hard road to publication. For this example, I’m going to use The Kult, which is being published by Leucrota Press. Of course, there are many roads and many ways to write and get published. This is but one.

At my age, specific dates become fuzzy, but I originally wrote The Kult about 4 years ago at a guess. The book I wrote then was a completely different beast to what it is now. Firstly, it started off as a supernatural thriller that I wrote off the cuff, without any planning, and it came in at about 85,000 words and took about 6 months to write.

There are many things that can spur a story, and the genesis for this one was actually a building that I sometimes drive past during my day job. Because it’s such a fantastic building, I wanted to use it for something, so it provided part of the seed, from which the rest of the story grew. And here's a picture of the building so you can see what it looks like:

I must then have rewritten the novel about 5 times within a 2 year period, but deep down, I was never really happy with it. It’s hard to explain really, but it didn’t ‘feel’ right. It was as though there was another story clawing to escape, but I wouldn’t let it. Although I didn’t have a set plan laid out, I did have a rough idea in my head about what I wanted the story to be, and so I kept restraining it, moulding it to my predetermined plan. But it didn’t work, which is why it felt ‘off’.

I did send it out in this state, and I snared an agent (with whom I have since amicably parted company), and I know she submitted it to a couple of places, but it was rejected, which didn’t really surprise me. Again though, I couldn’t get rid of the nagging feeling that the story wasn’t right. Something about it was wrong.

After parting ways with the agent, I put the novel aside and continued writing other stuff, but The Kult kept niggling at my subconscious. I knew there was a story there, but I didn’t know what to do with it. Then I guess there was the sort of epiphany moment, when I decided to rewrite the novel again, removing the supernatural aspects, and making it a purely horror/thriller story. In essence, I let the real story come out, and stopped trying to dictate the direction that the story took, instead literally allowing it to write itself.

At this point, I probably did a couple more rewrites, so it now stood at about 7 or 8 revisions. After the rewrites, the novel came in at 70,000 words, and although shorter, I now liked what I had written and felt it was something that had a chance at publication. So now that I was happy with the story, it was time to start submitting it.

Next time, I’ll continue talking about The Kult’s road to publication.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

I'm back!!!

Okay, it’s been a while. Quite a long while, and I feel as though I’ve just returned from the desert after a severe drought.

So what’s been happening? Well, firstly I’ve got news. Good news in that I have sold a couple of novels and a novella.

The first novel I sold was Fangtooth to Ghostwriter Publications

A short summary:

The fishing trawler, was the first. All hands lost and its nets shredded. The fishing village of Mulberry has been suffering with declining fish stocks but two people discover one reason for the decline... Anoplogaster cornuta...better known as Fangtooth.

Ghostwriter Publications have also accepted a novella with the working title, Dead Man’s Eyes.

I’ve also sold a novel called The Kult to Leucrota Press (

A short summary:

People are predictable. That's what makes them easy to kill.

Acting out of misguided loyalty to his friends, police officer Prosper Snow is goaded into helping them perform a copycat killing, but when the real killer comes after him, it’s not only his life on the line, but his family's too. Now if he goes to his colleagues for help, he risks being arrested for murder. If he doesn't, he risks being killed.

Both novels are due later this year, so I will post updates as and when.