Just because I have a book out doesn’t mean I’m immune to rejection. I still regularly get turned down by agents – an agent is still what I desperately want – and now I’ve received an inkling as to why.
My most recent rejection came with actual feedback, which is very rare in the world of publishing and agency. It said that my writing is good, but they didn’t get a good enough idea of the story from my cover letter and synopsis. Too diffuse, were the words used: the story had too many competing elements and it was difficult to know where the story would sit.
I’m very grateful for this feedback, disappointing as it is. It’s clear I have more work to do in an area I felt I had down. What that work should be I’m not exactly sure at the moment. I have, after all, written an ensemble piece with a lot of voices; how do I simplify and still accurately communicate what the story’s about?
An agent’s opinion is subjective and what might turn one agent off might attract another. I know that. But being granted an insight into their thinking is a real plus. I’d be a fool to ignore it.
I’m also confident that I’ve written a quality novel. I just need someone to read the damn thing. So, after the high times of last week, it’s back to the grindstone: there’s work to be done and nobody’s going to do it for me.
It’s here! It’s now! It’s out! Hopefully, by the time you’ve read this, your copy will either have already reached you or be in some kind postie’s knapsack, rapidly approaching your doorstep.
If you’ve not got a copy on pre-order, let me assure you that Human Resources is very much available from all good booksellers – go indie if possible, but I’m not going to Amazon-shame anyone – and is not only an excellent read but also makes an excellent Christmas present for all.
Four days to go! It’s still not too late to pre-order; get your shiny new book on release day by asking of any good bookseller or, failing that, Amazon.
Normally I’d be desperately promoting my new release through the odd bookshop signing, convention attendance and as many radio interviews as I can possibly con my way onto. This time around there is much less for me to do.
Which is not to say that my publishers have been sitting on their thumbs all this time. There are review copies out in the wild; there is a blog-tour in the planning; there are many other things behind the scenes that I am barely aware of. All to sell my book. Bless them.
But it feels a little odd to be sitting here doing virtually nothing. I should be out there! I should be helping! My face – or at least voice – should be ubiquitous throughout the etherwaves. It’s an odd feeling, becalmed, itching to crack on and yet unable to do anything.
We live in interesting times. There are bigger things going on in the world. Nothing to do but suck it up.
Still: only four days to go before the release of some excellent lockdown reading. Don’t miss out!
Getting close now! Just 11 days until Human Resources is unleashed on an unsuspecting world! So here is the fourth and – unless popular demand makes me write more – the last in my special blog-posts on different aspects of the novel. If you missed the earlier parts you can read about my characters here, my ideas about plotting here, and all about the novel’s setting here.
This week we’re looking at point of view – POV. A bit more esoteric, perhaps, but hopefully just as interesting and with as many insights about my writing process as the other posts.
I really hope these articles have got you as excited as I am for Human Resources. As ever, if you want to comment please feel free, either below or on Twitter @RobinTriggs. I do my best to give good advice to all who ask.
Also, I suppose I’d best say that you can buy Human Resources from any half-decent bookshop, or even Amazon. But let me link you direct to the publishers, and also to Hive.co.uk which is like Amazon but without the evil, working with indie bookstores to hopefully benefit everyone.
There’s no getting away from it: Human Resources, like Night Shift before it and New Gods after, is in first person. It’s a pretty rigid first-person too: no sneakily popping out into someone else’s head for a crucial reveal or simply to provide a bit of variety. No, it’s stuck-with-the-same person all the way.
So why did I choose that, and what does it mean for the story and its telling? Well, the reason I originally chose it is because, without it, the payoff for the first book wouldn’t have worked. It really is as simple as that. And I suppose I feel a little guilty about it – like the whole device was just a cheap stunt.a
But first-person is a venerable tradition and works well for me. Previously I’d worked only in third person, but I made the shift to really get inside the head of Anders Nordvelt.
To be honest, the change wasn’t as great as all that: my third person writing had always been very tight, very limited in its perspective – no omniescentising for me. So the switch to first-person wasn’t that much of a jolt. Nor has it felt too weird going back to third person in its aftermath – yes, my post-Antarctic writing is back in third-person, if only to give myself a bit of a break.
*Emphatically doesn’t mention the brief snatches of second-person in the series finale*
What does writing in first-person mean for the story? Well, in being as strict as I have been for the Antarctic trilogy, it means that we’re going to become very intimate with a single personality and perspective. That puts a heavy weight on the main character to be interesting, to not alienate the reader with a whining, dull companion.
It also means you have to be aware of what other people are doing, that you don’t leave your other characters standing around and waiting for the main character to come around before they ‘switch on’. Indeed, there is, in a way, more potential for surprise with first-person as things happen off-stage, so to speak: the character is as ignorant of others’ actions as the readers are.
That, I suppose, means there may be more potential for jump-scares as opposed to a slow build-up of tension. But maintaining tension is part of the craft of the writer, and I find that different tellings merely encourage the writer to stretch themselves in different ways. Nothing is impossible, not with any mode of telling.
Of course, the difference in perspective makes a big difference to the reader; it’s not just a case of the same novel in different clothes. I have heard of people who won’t read a novel written in first-person (and I deeply hope this doesn’t include you, dear reader). I like to write in first person or third according to what feel I want to give a novel – it’s hard to quantify or to explain exactly why, but I feel like first-person gives more of a sense of the lone film-noir-esque gumshoe whilst third person is more cinematic with a cast you can check in and out of.
That might just be me, though. As I said – hard to quantify.
If you’re interested, I wrote more about point-of-view right back in 2015, which just goes to show for how long I’ve been a) keeping this blog, and b) gnawing away at the same subjects. Check that article out if, as I said, you’re at all interested.
And that’s me for now. Expect more ramblings about Human Resources through the next few weeks but that’s the end of these themed articles about the writing of the benighted thing. Hope you’ve enjoyed them; and stay happy and healthy in whatever you do.
Greetings, travellers! Just a quick note to let you know that Night Shift is on sale for this week only! At just 99p (or cents) for the ebook it is more of a bargain than ever, and should you be lacking a copy I obviously heartily recommend you take advantage.
Important news: Human Resources has been postponed. It will now be released in November, not July as originally advertised.
First off, I need to apologise to all you who have already pre-ordered it. What’s that, you say? You haven’t done that yet? Well, it’s still orderable from Flame Tree Press’ website and, presumably, all good bookshops. What are you hanging about here for?
The delay, I hasten to say, is nothing to do with me. My copy-edits were in on time and the editor was happy with my work. It was instead a business decision. I’m not allowed to give any details beyond that a new deal has led to Flame Tree’s release schedule being rejiggered and my book is amongst those affected.
I can also say that it should work out to be a positive move both for me and the company; this isn’t one of those ‘oh my god it’s all gone to shit’ moments; it’s a good thing, I’m assured (I know very little about the actual business of publishing, though I’m learning).
Good thing or not, it’s a disappointment to me personally. I was hoping for some sort of launch event at Edge-Lit and maybe take in one or two more cons as an author with something to talk about. Now I have nothing to declare but my incompetence.
It’s also a short-term blow financially. Like most authors, the advance I will/have received for Human Resources is split into three payments: one upon signing of the contract, one on receiving of the finished text (though I’m not entirely sure when that arrives; I’ve done my copy-edit but not received this payment yet) and the last upon publication. Obviously I won’t now be receiving this last part until November. Not that it’s a great deal of money, you understand. But it’s money I won’t now be getting when I thought.
Long-term it may well be better for me to wait. Depends how this deal pans out, though in any case it’ll be very hard to judge cause-and-effect. We shall see.
Of more concern to me, however, is that it now feels like my career’s on hold until November.
Normally I’d advise people to try and fill their downtime with either writing their next novel or trying to get other material published and that’s what I’m going to be doing myself. I’m somewhat limited, however. I’m not a writer of short fiction, which is bread-and-butter to a lot of writers, and I’m contractually unable to pitch my other big novel-hope out to publishers at the moment. I don’t have an agent (my perpetual refrain; sorry to go on about it) and so don’t have the benefit of their advice on how to take my career forwards.
So, although I will be continuing to write and my endless search for an agent goes on, I feel like I’ve nothing really to do until November. My career hangs in limbo, and has done ever since the release of Night Shift – a gap of two years between publications. Two years’ wasted time.
(It’s not wasted, of course it isn’t. I’ve been busy writing; I’ve edited two novels and a have a third on the way. But that’s how it feels. Like I’ve been twiddling my thumbs all this time.)
So what do I do? I fill my downtime with writing, of course. And trying to find an agent. And making more friends amongst the writing community. And getting better at what I do.
I just wish I had something to sell, something to get my name out there. Tiny steps; no miracle-hunter I.
Something to make me feel like I was making progress.
Ain’t it a beauty? Yes, it’s the cover no-one’s been waiting for: Human Resources is here!
It’s available now for pre-order before its official release date of 23rd July 2020. The link’s to Flame Tree Press’s site but you can also order it from all good bookshops or, failing that, Amazon.
Please feel free to harangue your local library into stocking a copy or two. We heart libraries here and most (all?) have online forms to put in stock requests.
I am overcome. I still can’t quite believe this is happening – Human Resources is the result of years of hard labour and to see it graced with such a magnificent cover kinda blows me away. I wish I had the name of someone to credit but I think it’s all done either in-house or by an agency.
Authors are not employees. They are freelancers who aren’t tied to any particular business and who can be contracted to several – or more – at the same time.
I was reminded of this a few days ago when I got an email from my publishers that opened with ‘nice to be working with you again.’ As far as I was concerned I’d never stopped working with them. It also raises the possibility that, at some point, my work had simply dropped into a canyon of disinterest; that, once my novel wasn’t new anymore, they had no interest in either it or me.
This is both true and not true. Of course any publisher will prioritise new books and bestsellers; it’s the way of the industry, and they can’t keep trying to flog every old potboiler that just happened to slip through the quality-control net. There is a point where one is just throwing good money after bad. Or, to be less cynical about it, to take what slender earnings they received and move on.
But publishers still want to sell their back catalogue and so, once a relationship is forged, it never simply disappears. As long as a book is available – not remaindered, if such a thing has any meaning in this world of ebooks and print-on-demand – then both author and publisher want to sell it. They just don’t want to spend any money so doing.
So the relationship between author and publisher is always a bit confused. An author might want to promote a book that’s been out a year, but they’re not employees – and the industry has moved on. A publisher won’t simply forget an author but, ultimately, they have no responsibility to look after them once the terms of the contract have been honoured.
The agent-author relationship is even more complicated. Technically the author employs the agent but it can often feel like it’s the other way round. The agent deigns to accept a writer as a client; a writer doesn’t have hordes of agents clamouring to be selected. The agent critiques and edits the work and often has great creative say in what’s eventually put out.
But the money flows from writer to agent, and that’s ultimately what it comes down to. The writer hires the agent. Don’t forget that.
It’s all terribly confusing. But, if you’re looking for advice, allow me to present you to with a few quick bullet-points:
Maintain good relationships. Try not to piss people off; you might only be working with them for a limited time but you might always publish more than one book with the same people. That’s surely the aim. Don’t get a bad reputation.
Remember that, beyond the terms of your contract, you are beholden to no-one and no-one is beholden to you. Do a good job. Thank people who have helped you. But don’t be fooled into thinking you work for them. Be free!
If you’re lucky enough to sign with an agent, don’t think you have to slavishly follow their every command. If it’s not working – for any reason – you have the power to make changes. No relationship is better than a bad relationship
Keep writing. It’s ever so tricky, sometimes, to remember what you originally were: there’s so much publicity to do, so much business to clear. But you must keep on producing material because every new work is a new slice of freedom. Unless you’re tied in to a multi-book contract – in which case I doubt you’re reading this – each story is a new deal. And you can take that deal anywhere.
Keep track of what you’ve sent where. All this freedom can all get terribly, terribly complicated – especially if you’re working on short stories, poems, or other things where you might be sending out multiple things to many places at the same time. Try and develop a system – even if it’s only the simplest of spreadsheets – so you don’t feel like you’re drowning
It’s the question that authors hate – the first time, at least. The good thing is that we get asked it so often that we have time to prepare an answer; to evolve a soundbite that we can wheel out and reuse as required. Mine begins with ‘it’s a murder mystery set in near-future Antarctica…’ and often stops there too.
Stolen from markpollard.net
A book description, however, is a different beast. It’s disturbingly close to being a blurb – a written account of your book that the publisher will use for publicity. As such it’s got to be punchy, moody and to the point – but, unlike a synopsis, it has to avoid spoilers and the end must remain resolutely not given away.
Then there’s the author biography. How much character do you want to put into that? Where’s the fine line between
dull and factual and cringe-makingly jokey and self-reverential?
Guess what I’m doing at the moment?
Yup, it’s another ‘author questionnaire’ for my publisher: the document that they’ll use to try and flog my efforts – to bookstores, to distributors and to the media, should they be interested in interviewing me in whatever form.
And it’s horrible. This is the second time I’ve had to do it and it’s wincingly horrible. Even though I can copy-and-paste some of my answers from the last time I did it, I just have to have a little tinker and in a trice I find myself back inside the prison of my attempts to make myself sound interesting.
Interesting but not an attention-seeking freak: again, it’s a fine line.
I am currently working through Human Resources for the last time.
This is, of course, untrue. There is no way in hell that it’ll be the last time I go through the manuscript, armed with a future list of corrections and clarifications and just a general sense of must-do-better-ness.
But it is the last time I’ll go through it before I send it off to my editor. I have no more to give – I’ve got my beta-reader’s feedback and, though I don’t feel able to address some of the larger points in the root-and-branch manner I should, this is one final pass to kill a few typos and to add a little bit of explanation where it’s needed.
This novel has dragged on for years. It has been through many different sets of clothes. Now it may not be perfect but I’m happy with its overall shape, the pose of the mannequin; and it’s time to dispatch it to my publisher in the hope that – while they too might not think it’s perfect – they can see enough good in it for it to be accepted.
It’s not a done thing. I’m talking about ‘my’ editor but I have no contract, no guarantees. This could easily die a death.
But there comes a point when one must draw a line under a project, bite the metaphorical bullet and move on with life.
I believe Human Resources is good enough to be published. But the journey won’t be over when I send it out into the scary world of editordom. Now…
The editor will read it and make notes
They might send it back to be to altered even if they want to sign it
It may go to a structural editor who will suggest changes
It will go to a copy-editor who will suggest changes
It will be proofread and there may be changes
So the work’s not done, not by a long shot.
But I can do no more. I console myself thus:
The novel is good enough to be published in its current form
It can be made better
I will be proud to see it released
It will not be a disappointment to those who liked the first novel
I believe in what I’ve done. I wish the road had been easier; I’ve found so much angst, so many hair-pulling moments through the process.
Now I have just another 130 pages to edit, then one more quick pass, and I’ll be done.