Deadlines – from a traditional author’s perspective

Even if it doesn’t actually tick – the clock is always there.

Flowing on from last weeks post about deadlines from an indie author’s viewpoint, here are some thoughts from the other side of the spectrum.

I am a traditionally published author… and I love a deadline. I mean, seriously love them.

Maybe it dates back to my years as a TV journalist. The nightly news went on air at five or six or seven o’clock, according to where I was working. And whatever story I was preparing for that show, if it wasn’t ready on time, it didn’t go on air. The next day, there would be more news. Yesterday’s story would simply be forgotten and all that work would be for nothing. So I very quickly learned the importance of a deadline and in 20 years, I only missed one (and that wasn’t my fault – but that’s a different story).

So – a deadline is a good thing.

Two deadlines? That’s a bit harder, but still do-able with a bit of planning. A lot of publishers these days like at least one full novel and one novella from every author in a year.

Three overlapping deadlines? That’s really, really hard work and likely to induce stress and much need for chocolate or red wine – or possibly both.

And anyone who accepts four deadlines is a crazy person. Seriously crazy. This is usually linked to writing in more than one genre of novel under more than one name. (Guilty as charged Your Honour.)

When I look at my writing schedule, this is what I see:

  1. New Australian novel to be go my agent by September 30th
  2. September or October – edits for book number 10, due to be released in January 2017 (under another pen name).
  3. Something called “the New York Novel”, which I have promised my agent I will start writing before Christmas and finish by next summer. The END of next summer (she says loudly, hoping that’s true)
  4. A follow up to book 10, due for release in January 2019, which must be started in September/October and be in the publisher’s hands by June next year, with edits for that probably around the end of summer (see point 3).

(Did you notice how I combined a couple of deadlines in the last two? If I hadn’t, that would be five/six deadlines. And no-one their right mind ever takes on five/six deadlines, because that’s just impossible.)

So – how am I going to do all this?

Research can leave you a bit overloaded.

I usually write a minimum of 1,000 words a day. 1,500 words is normally a good day. That’s about 8,000 words in a week. It might not sound like a lot – after all there are more than 600 words in this post. But there’s research and planning and thinking through plot possibilities. Plus of course there is real life, which often includes a day job.

In the past few weeks, I have been inspired by all these deadlines. Yes. Definitely inspired. It sounds so much better than terrified.

I have been writing as much as 3,000 words per day. Sometimes more. And as always when the words are flowing that easily, they are pretty good words. Of course they will still need reworking and polishing and editing, but they are right there on the page. There is also the small matter of going back and changing ‘loko’ into ‘look’ and trying to figure out what ‘naviess’ is supposed to be. I don’t type well when I type quickly.

When I’m this terrified  inspired, a few things have to give way to make those deadlines. These include ironing, laundry (except in dire emergencies), gardening, exercise and being social. As for tidying the house… well, best not think about that.

In about three days, I expect to finish the new Australian novel – with the working title of The Homestead. At that point, my level of terror will subside just a little. But the funny thing about all of this is that I love it. I cannot think of anything else I would rather be doing. Maybe this is the writer’s equivalent of the adrenaline rush that sportsmen and actors and surgeons and stock traders get when things go well and fear is replaced by a sense of accomplishment.

In three or four weeks, I will be able to cross off the first deadline in my list, so maybe I could think about adding that Christmas novella….. after all, I wouldn’t like to run out of deadlines – and inspiration.

Summer in Winter, Christmas in August

I’m thrilled that, finally, the announcement has been made that I’ve signed a new three-book deal with Avon Books UK (HarperCollins). Because announcements are never made until all parties have signed the contract, and the contract takes a while to prepare, the agreement was actually reached back in March – and it has nearly killed me not jumping the gun and announcing it myself! But I’m thrilled to continue working with the fantastic Avon team.

The first of the three new books is The Little Village Christmas. The next will be a summer book and the last another set at Christmas. This makes my position as an author ‘seasonal’. Every book will have a seasonal title and cover. You can see that I began exactly this way in my original contract with Avon.

TCP-and-JFTH-for-web

So, what does it involve to write books with such an overt seasonal slant? Frequently, I’m working on a book set in the ‘opposite’ season to the one I’m experiencing. I’m proofing The Little Village Christmas now, reading about snow and ice while sunlight is streaming through my window (if I’m lucky!). I’m thinking about Christmas decorations, raffles and big coats. Avon has been hard at work writing a Christmassy blurb and creating a Christmas cover. Amazon has even sent out the first promotional email (thank you all those who have preordered 🙂 ).

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My paper proofs

On the plus side, the book I’m actually writing is my Summer 2018 book, working title The Summer of Finding Out. I had the huge pleasure of writing a good chunk of it while on my Arte Umbria writing retreat. (NB If you’re interested in joining me on the writing retreat next year you can find information here.) To write a book set in Italy while I was in Italy was a special experience. My hero, Levi, paints the scene I could see from the terrace and I took hundreds of research pix in Orvieto, to which ‘my’ Umbrian town of Monteliberatà will bear some resemblance. After running out my camera battery I sat down for lunch with a couple of lovely people from the course and remained after they’d gone, sipping Orvieto Classico and making notes about what I’d seen, heard and smelled as I’d walked the cobbled streets earlier.

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I have to be honest, I planned my writing schedule around writing about Italy while staying in Italy. I defended it against the necessity to edit The Little Village Christmas and even asked for a couple of days extension to my deadline in case I needed it when I returned to the UK.

When I’ve finished the first draft of The Summer of Finding Out I’ll be returning to The Little Village Christmas in order to perform a few more edits for the German publisher. Then I’ll write a two-part Christmas story for My Weekly, due in by the end of August, and return to The Summer of Finding Out to write the second draft.

All this time, of course, I’m promoting Just for the Holidays, which is my Summer 2017 book! And in the interests of such promotion you might like to know that Just for the Holidays is only 99p on Kindle and Kobo right now …

Whatever books you love and whenever you like them – Happy Reading!

 

Editor? Proofreader? What’s in Your Indie Budget?

So you’re hot on language, your grammar is impeccable, your style puts Strunk and White to shame and like Akeelah you could win any old spelling bee. Why would you, as an indie author, need to pay for outside help? Well, you only have to read a few Amazon reviews to know that readers can be an unforgiving bunch, quick to spot a typo or a missing space between paragraphs. As an indie author you have to make some difficult choices about how much assistance you can afford to enlist. We wrote a whole post on the importance of a good book cover and we still feel that unless you’re amazingly hot stuff at art, you’re probably wiser to leave that to a professional. But here’s Ellie Campbell’s take on things.

 

Having a good editor is brilliant. Our first editor, Emma at Arrow Books, was instrumental in whipping How To Survive Your Sisters and When Good Friends Go Bad into shape. She pointed out that the endings were too short, the middle was too long, told us which characters needed motivation or fleshing out, where we’d over-described, repeated ourselves, or missed some vital information. After our rewrite, she did a massive line edit, cutting, stretching and pulling those babies until they cried uncle and turned into halfway decent novels. And did we learn a lot from her! These days we rely on our two sets of eyes, multiple drafts and hard-won experience to get the story tight and hopefully catch any glaring errors. We might then send the book to one or two amazing friends who can be trusted to say things like ‘your hero’s a bit of a creep’ instead of just ‘it’s great, honest’. BTW, if you have discerning friends like that, never let them go. They’re pearls beyond price.

 

Then copy editors, what an amazing job they do. Who knew that you’d been misquoting Shakespeare or the words of that pop song for your entire existence? Or what year Madonna adopted her black biker jacket, cropped bleach hair, ‘bad girl’ look? How could the fact that your own heroine changed from blonde to a redhead halfway through the manuscript escape you? A copy editor will check facts, correct misspellings, grammar and punctuation, notice when you switch from British to American English, or say ‘10’ instead of ‘ten’, warn you of potential lawsuits and altogether bring clarity and consistency to every element of your manuscript.

 

In fact Ellie Campbell has been saved from all kinds of awkward bloopers by copy editors, and anything they might have missed (or we’ve introduced in the flurry of a last-minute re-write), our proofreader, Wendy Janes, will spot. Traditionally proofreaders come along at the end of the process, when the edited manuscript has been printed as a proof, looking out for printing errors, spotting those awkward word and page breaks – and of course the dreaded typos.

 

Meanwhile, about those typos – isn’t it amazing how you can read and re-read the book numerous times, scan each word line by line, yet still those little devils slip past you? Apparently the reason it’s so hard to spot your own typos is because your clever busy brain skips over details like transposed or missing letters because it knows the meaning you’re trying to convey and focusses on that. In other words it sees what it expects to see. And that, more than anything, is why we need outside help. But perhaps you have a different experience. Or another professional you – and your writing career – couldn’t live without?

 

‘Just for the Holidays’ hits the shelves!

JFTH Ebook cover smallPublication day!

Yes, today Just for the Holidays will be hitting shelves, shopping trolleys and e-readers. It’s the culmination of a lot of work, not just for me but for my agent, editor, publicists, assistants, sales team, cover artist and everybody else who’s involved in the publication of a book. Huge thank yous to every single one of them.

Thanks also to all the lovely readers who buy my novels and make my life as an author possible. Every book’s special to me and it fills me with joy when you contact me on social media to tell me what you thought.

So what’s Just for the Holidays about? It’s about Leah, who’s mad on cars and chocolate but not mad on the idea of a husband and children. She gets roped into looking after her sister’s husband and children with only a Porsche and a pilot to cheer her up.

What else can you expect to find within the pages? France, teenagers, more chocolate food technology, lovely sunshine, a Goth, furry creatures, an unexpected guest and a helicopter.JFTH Blog tour small

If you’d like to follow the blog tour, here’s the schedule.

 

‘My next book’ – all three of them

Question: which of these statements is true?

Answer: they all are.

How can that be? Because what constitutes ‘my next book’ depends upon the context of the conversation.

  • Just for the Holidays – ‘is my next book to be published’. (18 May 2017 in ebook, paperback and audio, if you’re interested. And you can order it here.) This is also the next book to be promoted, which will involve me in writing blog posts, social media, radio interviews etc.
  • Give Me Till Christmas – ‘I’ve just sent my next book to my editor’. (9 October 2017 in ebook, 2 November paperback, audio tba. I was a little shocked to be told last week that you can order this, too.) This will be the next book to be edited. Structural edits first (ironing out all the plot lines that aren’t quite working etc.); next come line edits (minutiae and punctuation etc.); finally the proofreading.
  • The Summer of Finding Out – ‘I’m just about to begin researching and planning my next book.’ (Scheduled for Summer 2018) This will be the next book to be written, in between the promo of Just for the Holidays and the editing of Give Me Till Christmas.

In case you’re wondering, I am no special case. Many novelists work in this way. Personally, I love it. I choose to see it not as a pressure but as an affirmation that I’m a commercially published author. I don’t groan when I’m asked to do promo because whoever has asked me is helping me to sell my books. I don’t go into a huff when I receive my editorial notes, line edits or proofreading because we’re all working to produce the best book I can. (That sentence is grammatically incorrect on purpose – a team works to produce my book. How cool is that?)

Lest you think I’m polishing my halo, there are things I don’t react well to – spurious interruptions, people wasting my time unnecessarily, unreasonable people etc. etc. Here’s a recent example:

Phone rings. I answer. It’s the bank, asking to speak to another member of my household, one who is out of the house during the working day. This is the fifth time in two days that they’ve called with the same request. The first four times, I pointed out politely that the person is not here because he doesn’t work here but I do. Please, could the bank stop these calls? They’re interrupting me. On the fifth occasion, I’m half way through a difficult scene and my temper snaps along with the thread of what I’m trying to write. I find myself rising vertically from my chair. ‘Look! I keep telling you that he doesn’t work here! I DO! Look in your records for his daytime number and RING HIM THERE! It’s DAYTIME! I’ve told you and told you and told you this and you persist in interrupting me! I’m self-employed and I’m TRYING TO DO MY JOB! Why don’t you GO AWAY AND DO YOURS? And if you’re stupid enough to ring here again with the same request I’m going to take all my money out of your bank and put it somewhere else. Plus, I’m going to speak to your supervisor and tell him or her that you’re stupid! Right?’

And, you know what, she didn’t ring back and I was able to get on with my next book.