Congratulations, it's a... book

I'm pleased to announce that The Coffee Shop Chronicles, Vol 1, Oh the Places I have Bean is now available for purchase and adoption.

This is our first anthology at A Word with You Press and evolved from a writing competition themed around coffee. We had a whale of a time putting the anthology together and we're still in the aftermath glow, smoking cigars and looking down at junior with a sense of pride and happy fatigue. There's a wide variety of material in the anthology including fiction (of many descriptions), true tales and poetry. A short story of mine, Diner, can be found within.

Here's the link to splash your cash:

The long and short of it (or Going for Bronze)

I heard over the weekend that my entry into the Kate Nash 'Great Novel Openings' competition did not progress past the long list.

I was thrilled to make it to the final 29 out of 500 entries, but although bronze is still a medal, it's not the silver of the short list nor the gold of the winner.

Whenever a work gets rejected there's a temptation to create your own TV programme: CSI Manuscript. A flotilla of unanswered (and, frankly, unanswerable) questions bob up and down before you, with the misguided notion that there is a guaranteed system to ensure a contract and, ultimately, publication.

What you can do is write well, gain experience, get writing credits, do your research, present your work in the best possible light and persevere. What you can't do is complain, assume the agent / editor has made a terrible mistake (and worse, tell them so), stop writing or afford to spend too much time frowning into your flatscreen.

Feedback is invaluable in these circumstances, but again, one must remember that literary agents and editors have a business to run and sometimes, however well written a book is, it just doesn't fit the list or something better has come along. If in doubt, write something else.

It has been said (by me) that the staple diet of most writers is jam tomorrow, humble pie and hard cheese - with lemons to follow. And as the saying goes, when life gives you lemons.... suck 'em up!

Taking stock

There's a mixed bag of emotions whenever my co-writer David French and I get a magazine to print. We produce two a year - on a good year - and it's very much a labour of love. Ideally, it would be a labour of wealth and recognition too, but that's never been the main consideration.

Every writer knows, or yearns to know, the singular joy of seeing something you've created right there in print, in your hand or on a shelf. You feel like you've accomplished a great journey and indeed you have. Along the road from initial ideas to writing and rewriting, you'll have learned a lot and probably suffered a little too.

But for the independent or self-publisher, there's an added dimension to the puzzle. Because now you have to sell your wares, which is a whole different set of skills. Marketing, sales and even that battle cry of the modern age, customer service, are all required. You need to know your market and, unless you're fabulously wealthy or fabulously indifferent to money, you need to run at a profit.

The conversations we're having at the moment though centre around whether you can judge a magazine by its cover, or by its sales figures or by the enthusiasm of its supporters.

Like the wind

As far as I know, Albert Einstein and I have three things in common.

1. We both enjoyed daydreaming at work.
2. We both worked in a Patent Office at some point
3. * We both came to believe that time is relative.

Our external experience of time seems to be influenced by our individual perspective and by our internal experience. Try waiting for a bus in the rain, or for a phone call about a loved one in hospital.

For writers, who – to really stretch the scientific metaphor – are usually the centre of their own universe, we could multiple this effect by ten.

Now, the general rule of thumb for submissions to literary agents and publishers is that a 12-week turnaround is standard. That’s with a strong prevailing wind, the reply email not falling into the black hole that is the spam folder and / or the posted reply actually making it to your letterbox.

But is that realistic in this day and age?

My own experiences tend to suggest that either:
a) I’m peculiarly unlucky where time is concerned – unlikely, but darkly amusing all the same
b) The sheer volume of people who want to be writers and the incredible competitiveness of the industry right now make a 3 month response time at best aspirational.

Readers of previous postings will recall that I waited over a year for a proof edit of one of my novels, only for the publisher to then go out of business. I’ve also emailed publishers and agents alike, only to wait up to 9 months to get a reply, which often runs to ‘Yes – please submit something’ or ‘No’.

Writers write in a vacuum and it’s easy to assume conspiracies or incompetence when the plain truth is that people are busy and / or things go missing.

Recently, after waiting 8 months for a response from one person, having sent in an email, a query letter, sample material and – that most cardinal of sins - having left a telephone message, I got to the point of no return. I sent them a registered letter and politely asked for my material back. There swiftly followed an email from an assistant, assuring me my submission was posted back to me at the end of July. I have not only never received anything, but I actually left the phone message in August (indicating that I haven’t had any response). As fellow blogger Monika (at Mother Road) might say: go figure.

At the other end of the scale, I know of a literary agent who generally answers emails within two days, personally. My beef isn’t with the time it takes, it’s about managing people’s expectations. When I worked in Corporate-ville, the email rule of thumb went along the lines of:
1. All emails will be responded to within 48 hours, even if that response only consists of a more realistic timescale for a meaningful response.
2. If you genuinely hadn’t answered an email for five months, someone would bounce you around the foyer with the flat end of a keyboard.

It never did us any harm, I assure you.

* Obviously, I’m no scientist so I may have misunderstood his premise entirely, but hey, this is a blog and generally blogs are pretty flaky.

Perception is everything

I saw this item in a shop in Penzance and was so surprised that I had to look it up on the web.

I'm pretty sure, when they all sat around a table and came up with the branding that they saw things very differently to me.

As it happens, my bum is pretty flat so maybe it would benefit from having pits added.