My writing process typically involves a ‘what if?’ idea or scenario. I’ll run it past my agent and editor to see if it gets their approval then I’ll start to brainstorm it. So for THE ESCAPE it was ‘what if a woman was wrongly accused of being an unfit mother and had to go on the run to prevent her child being taken from her?’ I’ll ask questions of my character – who is she, what happened in her past that shaped her personality and, most importantly, what does she want more than anything else in the world? Then I’ll think about supporting characters, particularly the antagonist. Once I’ve got my cast I’ll begin thinking about structure. I’ll plot on a whiteboard, using the four act structure and add post-it notes for scenes. If I’ve got time I’ll then write an outline. If I haven’t I’ll bullet point what I’ve got. I’ll then run that past my agent and editor in case they have any concerns and, if they give it the thumbs up, I’ll start writing the first draft.
I think the major difference between online and face-to-face events is energy. Whenever I’ve taught, or attended, an event it’s the energy in the room that I really notice. There’s a rich atmosphere of expectation, optimism and motivation that you don’t get if you’re sitting alone at your computer. There’s also the opportunity to swap stories with other attendees, learn from the questions that are asked (and the answers given by the speaker). There’s a sense of community that you don’t get online and people often leave feeling fired up, motivated and determined.
Writers can offer a completely different perspective to editors and agents. Agents and editors can talk about the process – the mechanics of getting published – but only authors can talk about the emotions involved. We know what it feels like to want publication, to dream of it, to chase it. We know how it feels to be rejected, to doubt ourselves, to frantically turn the pages of The Bookseller with our hearts in our mouths in case another author has had the same idea as us. And we can share the joys too. A publisher or agent may feel proud when their author’s book is published but what we feel is so much greater than that. And we all have such different experiences. The publication process may be, in theory, get agent, find publisher, book gets published but what’s more normal is get rejected by ten agents, interest from one agent, loss of interest after reading full manuscript, rejected by twenty more agents, write a new book, approach more agents.
And the same with finding a publisher. Whilst we all dream of an auction what’s more likely is a huge stretch of silence, rejection, silence, rejection and, if you’re lucky, an offer at the end of it all. It’s important to learn from the experiences of other authors. I’ve been published since 2009 and I still ask my contemporaries for advice.
That it’s easy. That anyone can write a book. That everyone has a story. Sorry, that’s three. The top misconception is probably that it’s quick. It’s not. Even if you’re lucky enough to write one book, get representation from an agent and a publishing deal it could be years before that book hits the shelves.
What’s the flaw your main character has that will stop them from obtaining their goal? And how do they change over the course of the novel?
A long rest! I’ve written two books this year (a psychological thriller called THE ESCAPE and a young adult thriller called THE TREATMENT). The plan is to give myself the next five weeks off and enjoy Christmas. The truth is I won’t be able to stop myself from starting to research my next book. I want to have made headway with the first draft by the time THE FEAR, my fifth psychological thriller, comes out on 22nd March.
‘How to Get Published’ takes place on Saturday 2nd December 8.30 am – 4 pm at Plymouth University in the ‘Plymouth’ lecture theatre (Portland Square Building). Tickets to the event are available here. (Don’t forget to use discount code LITWORKS30, our £30 discount for you at the check out). See you there!