Tag Archives: Publishing

Question Time 2015: Answers Part IV

DJ Paterson asks:

The publishing landscape seems to have changed significantly in recent years, with the rise in popularity of both e-readers and self-publishing. There seem to be more books than ever released each year. In addition, I’ve noticed an increased expectation that e-books should be cheap (there are plenty of people who bemoan paying more that 99p for an e-book, when they shell out two or three times that for a coffee!). As a ‘traditionally’ published author of top-quality thrillers, what’s your take on this?

It’s opportunity, it’s chaos, it’s freedom, it’s messy. It’s a floor wax and a dessert topping.

This is a wonderful time to be a writer. E-books offer opportunities authors haven’t had in centuries. But the publishing industry is in flux. How will it all shake out? I don’t know. This topic occupies thousands of column inches and blog arguments and conference panels and publishing meetings. All I can tell you is: Write. Write like hell and focus on the work.

As for the devaluation of books, I’m with Taylor Swift: Art has value, and should be paid for.

Danielle asks:

What will your next book be about? Also have you considered writing another book with some of your characters from one of your stand alone books.

My job involves keeping readers in suspense. So, to answer your questions: a thriller. And yes.

Claire Marie O’Brien asks:

Are you Irish?

Irish, Scottish, Welsh, German, and Chickasaw.

(And DJ: As a Brit, you might not have seen the Saturday Night Live skit about “Shimmer” — the dessert topping and floor wax.)

Questions from a young writer

Recently I corresponded with a friend who is writing her first novel. She’s young (mid-twenties), highly accomplished, and about to travel from urban America to its wild hinterlands for a summer job. She had questions about writing, editing, and publishing. Because these are questions that many people starting out as writers are likely to have, I’m posting her queries (paraphrased to protect her and her hatchling book) and my answers.

(Note that my answers are geared for someone who wants to send her work to publishers rather than to self-publish, and who doesn’t have a lot of spare cash to hire freelance editors.)

The questions:

When you first started, how did you find an editor? Did you participate in a writing group? Since I move around quite a bit these days, I’m not sure how to go about finding a class or critiquing partner / group. At what point in your process did you decide to start looking for an agent? Did you send a completed manuscript to potential agents?

My reply:

“How exciting that you’re working on a novel! I hope the writing is going well, and that you’re enjoying it (at least when it isn’t driving you crazy).

As for publishing: the number one thing is to write an awesome book. Before you even consider sending material to agents, finish the novel, revise it, edit it, find a critique partner or an online writing group, and polish it up till it shines. (When I first attempted a novel, I made the mistake of contacting agents when I only had a few chapters written. D’oh… for first time novelists, publishing professionals want to see a completed work.) Focus on the book!

I was lucky enough to find a writing group, and I heartily recommend it. I know it’s tricky if you’re moving around. Writer’s Digest might have links to online groups. I don’t recommend posting material on random blogs or message boards for critique — unless you know the blogger, or the board has prerequisites, you have no idea of the qualifications of the people who are commenting. If you have a well-educated friend who loves books and writing and is willing to take a look at your material, that would be better.

Here’s the important thing: a critique partner or beta reader should focus on the big things — the story, the characters, pacing, dialogue — and tell you what works, where things slow down or don’t make sense, rather than just proofreading or copyediting the text. Otherwise, you can end up with polished, grammatically perfect sentences in a draft that falls flat. BIG PICTURE FIRST.

It’s not necessary to hire an editor to work on your novel before you send it out to agents and publishers. Besides, that can become expensive very quickly (from hundreds to thousands of dollars). I know some good freelance editors but I don’t suggest that you go that route. It might be worth your while at some point to go to a writers’ conference — you might get advice and inspiration, and meet other writers who would be interested in forming a critique partnership.

Publication: Most publishers want submissions to come through an agent. (Some small presses take submissions directly.) Initially, you’ll send queries to agents — a 250 word email or letter that entices them to request pages from your novel. Almost never will you simply send a full manuscript to an agent unsolicited. Nowadays most agents and literary agencies have submission guidelines online. Some will ask for a query alone; some will ask for a query plus the first ten pages, or the first three chapters, or pages plus a synopsis. For an understanding of what goes into a good query letter, check out Query Shark, which is run by agent Janet Reid.

From the description of your novel, a comparable title is [redacted so as not to give away the plot]. Take a look at it to see how the novel handles the topic your book tackles, and how the author develops the characters and creates dramatic suspense from that starting point.

In summary: there’s a lot of work ahead, but it is totally worth it. I think there’s nothing more awesome. Good luck! Keep at it!”

Question Time: Do I write slow or fast?

Stacy McKitrick asks:

Do you consider yourself a slow or fast writer? Are you glad you only have one book a year out or could you do more? With all this self-publishing stuff around, it scares me to think readers expect books more often (I’ve been guilty of feeling that way – especially before I wrote my first book). I wish I could write faster, though. Do you?

I consider myself a speedy writer because I can compare my present pace to my starting point. When I first wrote a novel, it took me five years. It took that long partly because I started writing it in my oh-so-slim spare time–when I was teaching at the University of California, and had three kids at home under the age of seven–partly because I moved to England in the middle of writing it, and partly because I was a complete novel-newby and had little idea what I was doing. That novel, by the way, was eventually stuffed back in my file cabinet and has never been published. Thank God.

China Lake, which I wrote on spec, took two and a half years to write. By then I had more experience, and I had more time to myself, because all the kids were in school. Then it sold. And to my delight and terror, I was asked to submit a sequel in a year. That’s when I learned how to outline, and budget my writing time, and focus, and panic, and sit my butt in the chair and get the sucker written. And so, twelve months after China Lake, Mission Canyon was published.

After that, I knew that I could write a novel in a year. And that’s more or less what I’ve done for twelve years now. Considering that my novels average 95,000 words, and that, as thrillers, they require significant development and research, and that I inevitably write at least four drafts of each book, I think a year counts as speedy. Writing more than one novel a year would be taxing for me. Or rather, writing more than one good novel a year would be taxing for me.

That said, there’s time in my schedule for other writing. Short stuff, mostly. There’s this blog, for instance. And essays such as the ones I wrote last year for Books to Die For, The Arvon Book of Crime & Thriller Writing, and Now Write! Mysteries. And there’s an occasional short story.

But do I wish I could write faster? Of course. I wish I could plug a jack into my cerebral cortex and download a novel in its entirety in ninety seconds. When I get that system sorted out, I’ll let you know.

Novelist fakes kidnapping to promote new book

Writer fakes kidnapping to get his book published.

Damn. Now everybody out there knows that this is how writers get our books published. I’ll have to think up a new strategy.

London Book Fair

I’m heading to the London Book Fair, where my new British publisher, the HarperCollins imprint Blue Door, is having its official launch this afternoon.

Back later.

Blue Door


I have a new British publisher. Blue Door will be publishing my next three novels in the UK and in a number of other English-speaking markets including Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Canada.

Blue Door is a new imprint at HarperCollins — so new that it will officially launch at the London Book Fair later in April. But it’s headed by publisher Patrick Janson-Smith, a pro among pros and an editor I feel privileged to work with.

Blue Door will be publishing The Memory Collector in June.

Bookbrunch has the skinny.

How publishing really works

(Via GalleyCat.)