Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The evolution of a novel - the cover

As promised, here is the cover for The Kult. It was exactly what I asked for, but I would welcome people's opinions as to what they think when they look at it.

I have also now contacted a couple of authors that I respect asking whether they will read the manuscript with the possibility of offering a blurb for the back.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The evolution of a novel - final proof

OK, on March 14th I received the final proof of The Kult. I read through it, and despite numerous reads by the editors and myself, I spotted a couple of continuity errors that had slipped through the cracks! I corrected these and returned the manuscript on March 17th. Now it’s going through layout.

A cover artist was also assigned, Mediterranean artist Daniele Serra: http://www.multigrade.it/index.html

Daniele has designed many book covers, and his work has a distinctive style that suits my story. He submitted a preliminary cover on March 19th, and it’s just being tweaked, but I hope to post a picture soon.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The evolution of a novel - Chapter 1 (sample)

I received the final proof of the manuscript yesterday and I am reading though it, but as promised, here is the first chapter so you may get a feel for the novel.

The Kult by Shaun Jeffrey


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

At least that’s what the Oracle hoped. He had studied and plotted Jane Numan’s routine over the weeks. Watched without her seeing, making note of every nuance, every step of her schedule until he had a complete diary of her movements, probably knowing more about her than she did about herself.

He crouched in the recessed doorway of the kebab shop opposite where she lived and gripped the handle of the knife in the sheath inside his jacket. His weapon of choice, he hoped the mere sight of the blade would instil terror in his prey, making it more personal, and putting him close enough that he could smell his quarry and see the fear in her eyes.

He looked at his watch; 6:29 a.m. and counting.

Any second now…

Like clockwork, the front door of what to anyone else would be a nondescript house opened and Jane walked out. The Oracle sank back into the shadows as he stared at the facial disfigurement that made it appear half her face was melting. Although only 23 years of age, she probably hadn’t had the easiest of lives, which made her all the more desirable as a victim as the more public sympathy his kill received, the more publicity he would generate, and as people were fond of saying, there’s no such thing as bad publicity, especially not for what he had planned.

The Oracle watched her check that the door was locked, pushing once, twice, then a third time, as she always did when she left the house. His pulse increased, a volcano waiting to erupt within his chest. He rubbed the sweat coated fingers of his free hand down his trousers. Everything was going according to schedule.

He knew that if he had broken into her flat to stage the attack, there was the potential to leave too much evidence that might be used to track him down, and he couldn’t have that. His motto was ‘leave no trace,’ which is why he planned to snatch her off the street.

Like many neighbourhoods clinging to the hub of British cities, the area Jane lived in was rundown, with discarded trash bags spewing their contents across the pavement—fodder for the rats and feral cats that prowled the streets once the sun went down. McDonald’s packaging and the remains of half eaten kebabs discarded by late night drunks littered the gutters, and the tang of rotten produce and sour piss permeated the air. Dirt and grime coated the walls of the buildings, many of which were boarded up and covered with graffiti, the culprits marking their territory like dogs.

No one took much notice of him in areas like these, and the distinct lack of community spirit associated with the modern generation meant that people ignored most of what they saw, just trying to make it through each day as best they could.

The Oracle watched the girl walk across Hope Street, dressed for the heat of another day in a yellow t-shirt and a black knee length skirt. She clutched a brown shoulder bag to her side, and kept her head bowed, eyes focused on her white Nike trainers.

It would take Jane ten minutes to reach the main road. There she would wait for the number seven bus, which arrived at 6:45. Today, she was blissfully unaware her journey would terminate early. As usual, she would take the shortcut down an alley between two buildings, which saved her five minutes of extra walking. It was a simple routine to follow. Too simple, and his reconnaissance had revealed that the dingy alleyway between the buildings was the perfect spot to stage the abduction—it wasn’t overlooked by any windows, there was only ambient light so much of it was in darkness, and the towering buildings would muffle her screams.

The Oracle followed Jane at a discreet distance of about forty feet, which he gauged to be far enough back so as not to appear threatening if she should discern his presence. He had parked his car near to the shortcut—not too close that she would notice the vehicle, because anything out of the ordinary might make her change something about her routine, but close enough that he wouldn’t have to carry her too far.

She reached the corner of the road and turned left. When she disappeared out of sight, the Oracle hurried to close the gap. His body throbbed with anticipation, all of his senses highly aware of everything around him. It had been a while since he felt like this, and truth be told, he had missed the feeling.

Pursuing someone always gave him a buzz. The thrill of the chase. But it didn’t come close to the euphoria he felt during the actual act of killing. That was something else. The biggest thrill ride in the world. Thinking about it made him smile; his balls tightened and goose bumps mottled his arms. Although the circumstances surrounding his choice of target were completely different now to those he had killed before, it didn’t lessen the feeling—it actually enhanced it.

Jane walked with her arms folded across her ample chest, a subconscious form of protection and the barrier of the weak. Not that it would help her today.

Her footsteps echoed along the road, the Oracle’s almost silent as he followed in her wake, well versed in covert manoeuvres as he matched her step for step, becoming as one with his victim. The anticipation was almost too much to bear and he took deep breaths to control the beat of his heart. His fingers tingled and he licked his dry lips.

As soon as she turned into the alley between houses, he would strike.

With mere seconds to go, he withdrew a pair of disposable latex gloves and tugged them onto his hands, then pulled the chloroform soaked cloth from a bag in his pocket, the sodden material feeling cold and spongy through the gloves.

Jane turned the corner to take the short cut.

The Oracle followed, cloth held tightly in his fist, senses attuned to the task at hand. Jane was about eight feet ahead, her footfalls echoing between the walls. The aroma of Chinese food filled the air, a pile of discarded boxes piled up outside the back door to the restaurant. Stalactites of grease hung from an extractor fan on the wall.

It was time to make his move.

The Oracle readied himself to strike, one hand on the cloth, the other about to withdraw the knife when a young lad with a pockmarked face walked into the alley from the opposite end, a Staffordshire bull terrier tugging at the leash in his hand. The Oracle clenched his teeth, released the knife, rammed the cloth back into his pocket and watched as Jane exited the short cut.

The dog strained at the leash as it approached the Oracle, its small, muscular body set to pounce, teeth bared as it looked up at him. The owner struggled to pull it away, using both hands to yank at the lead.

“He’s not usually like this,” the lad said.

The Oracle guessed that the dog could sense the bloodlust on his mind. He could easily take them both out, but they weren’t his target. If he killed randomly, then he’d be just a savage, and they weren’t part of his plan so he kept his gloved hands out of sight in his pockets so as not to arouse suspicion.

He wasn’t happy about it, but he had considered this scenario, like he considered everything.

There would be another opportunity to grab Jane Numan.

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

Sunday, March 08, 2009

The evolution of a novel - editor jumps aboard

Now after taking on board the editors requests for The Kult, I read through the manuscript, and keeping everything in mind that the editor required, I did the revisions and submitted the rewritten manuscript on January 11th. I added 15,500 words to it, taking it to 85,500. To be honest, all of the requested changes were excellent, and I felt that they all helped improve the manuscript no end, especially some of the characterisation and the killer’s motivation.

As a different example, my novel Fangtooth that is being published by Ghostwriter Publications later in the year worked in the opposite way. The publisher wanted a shorter novel, so it was edited down to around 61,000 words from over 80k. An editor was assigned to make the cuts, and although they were substantial, I was surprised by how tight it made the prose. I had initially feared that losing a quarter of the story would rip the heart out of it, but in fact, it had the opposite effect, and made it much tighter.

I received the next reply regarding The Kult on January 22nd that basically said, ‘So far from what I've seen I'm very happy with the plot, so there won't be much to do aside from a line edit and some additional descriptions, character movement, etc.’ At this point, I was also asked to submit cover ideas.

I received the manuscript back on February 11th. At this point, another editor (Christina Celentano) had gone over the manuscript, making corrections and comments on the plot and deleting those portions that she felt didn’t work. There probably wasn’t a page where something wasn’t highlighted, so then it was a case of going through it all again and doing some more writing, accepting deletions or commenting why I thought something should stay. I went through it quickly, and returned the manuscript on February 13th.

I was sent it back on February 27th. The editor had gone through it with a fine toothcomb, and there were yet more changes and comments, but they were all helping shape the novel. At this point, they were only minor things, so I went through it quite quickly, and then emailed the manuscript back on February 28th. After the latest edits, the novel now stood at 82,500 words and that’s brought its evolution bang up to date. I am now waiting for the final edit, and then it will be a matter of focusing on the cover and marketing, which I will post updates on as and when they happen.

Friday, March 06, 2009

The evolution of a novel - acceptance

Okay, back to the submissions process of The Kult. I sent the complete manuscript out as requested on December 2nd, 2008. Then on December 22nd, I received an email from the acquisitions editor, David, saying that he read the whole manuscript in a single sitting and had passed it on to the editor in chief.

On December 27th, I received an email from the editor in chief, Danielle Kaheaku. Attached to the email was the letter concerning my submission. The letter started off with her telling me she thoroughly enjoyed reading the novel, but then she went on to tell me everything she didn’t like about the novel! Most of this was centred around the places where I was ‘telling instead of showing’ and my character development.

As I read through, I was expecting to reach the part that said, ‘Thanks for taking the time to submit your novel, but we will have to pass.’ But it didn’t say that. Instead, it said: Now, if you were able to stomach your way through the entire list of possibly disappointing yet obviously meant-to-be-constructive criticism, I would like to congratulate you on your talent and obvious accomplishment, and on the acceptance of your manuscript for publication.

As I wasn’t expecting it, this came as more than a bit of a surprise. The acceptance was conditional though, as the editor wanted to see substantial changes, including certain character development, plot line changes, more showing instead of telling, and she wanted the manuscript extending by around 20,000 words to accommodate these changes.

I was sent a contract on December 30th, which I requested a few changes to, and then at the start of the New Year, I started on another round of rewrites.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

The evolution of a novel - submission package

As someone pointed out, I didn’t mention the ‘submission package’ in my last post. This includes the cover letter and the synopsis. Like most people, I find it hard to write a synopsis. When you’ve written something over 80,000 words, it’s difficult to then break it down into a page or two that tells the complete story.

Here’s a few tips that might help:

Firstly, what is your book about?

It may seem a silly question, because you know what it’s about, don’t you? But if someone asked, and you had 20 seconds, could you explain the heart of the story and grab their interest? This is important, because you need to be able to explain the story in its simplest form, in one powerful sentence. If you can do this, then you know what the heart of the story is in its simplest form.

This is called the logline or hook line, and it usually includes ‘who’ the story is about (protagonist), ‘what’ he strives for (goal) and ‘what’ stands in his way (antagonistic force).

Here are some examples from the world of film:

In a future where criminals are arrested before the crime occurs, a despondent cop struggles on the lam to prove his innocence for a murder he has not yet committed. – Minority Report.

A psychologist struggles to cure a troubled boy who is haunted by a bizarre affliction – he sees dead people. – The Sixth Sense.

When a Roman general is betrayed and his family murdered by an insane and corrupt prince, he comes to Rome as a gladiator to seek revenge. – Gladiator.

As another example, here’s the hook line for The Kult:

Acting out of misguided loyalty, police officer Prosper Snow helps his friends perform a copycat killing in the style of a serial killer, only for the real killer to hunt them down.

In this example, the ‘who’ the story is about (protagonist), is Prosper Snow. The ‘what’ he strives for (goal), is to help his friends. And the ‘what’ stands in his way (antagonistic force), is the real killer hunting them down.

Also in the submission package is the synopsis. This is a condensed version of the novel, concentrating on the major plot points. I always put the hook line at the start of the synopsis, as like the name implies, this is the hook to draw the reader in. The synopsis itself has to tell the entire story, without leaving out the ending. It’s often easier to look at examples and take from them what you can, so here are a couple of links that lead to other authors’ synopses samples, but at its heart, a synopsis tells the most relevant parts of the story, written in a vivid, exciting way:



There’s also the cover letter. I like to keep it pretty simple. My first paragraph is my hook, then I say who I am, what I’ve sent, my track record, and how to get hold of me. And that’s it.