Monday, 28 January 2013

Second clue

Morning! I'm thrilled to announce that the cover of The Bone Season will be revealed by Entertainment Weekly on their website this Thursday, 31st January. This should take place at roughly 1pm East Coast time (6pm UK time, and 5am in Sydney if you're truly dedicated). I'll also be posting it on my blog on Friday, 1st February, along with a Q&A with the Art Director at Bloomsbury, David Mann.

See you soon!

Sunday, 20 January 2013

When students scribble

This weekend I became a Nerdfighter. I finally discovered Hank and John Green and their brilliant year-long video exchange, Brotherhood 2.0. (I appreciate that I'm really, really late to the party.) I'm only on video number 126 out of 1040 of VlogBrothers, but I think I can get through them all. I think


I've spent most of this month wanting it to be February, mainly because of the Winter Institute. I'm honoured, excited and scared senseless at the same time. There are a lot of New York Times-bestselling authors going, including the co-author of Beautiful Creatures (which is coming out as a film this year). They all have impressive collections of prizes and nominations, while I'm just there with my not-yet-published debut novel. Fortunately, I will have proofs of The Bone Season available for the booksellers – so I won't have a naked book, which is what The Bone Season has been since May 2012.

Tomorrow, there will only be 10 days until the cover reveal. I can't work out who's more excited – the designer or me. I think it might be him. Just. It is his work. It must be similar to being published, showing your work to the big wide world. They do say you judge a book by its cover, and David is the cover Mann.

I'm also very pleased to announce another foreign rights sale in Slovakia! I don't have words to express how happy I am that The Bone Season is going into so many languages. As the final manuscript is off to the typesetter's tomorrow, it will soon be sent out to my publishers all over the world for translation. I can't wait to work with them. I'm hoping to learn little chunks of every language.


The Student's Guide to Writing 

Whether you're published or not, writing and studying at the same time is tough. I did it through most of secondary school and have done it all through my degree. It's particularly tough if you're trying to juggle your work with a social life, student societies and all the other millions of opportunities that uni offers. I have the occasional breakdown when I'm just staring at my computer going 'all I've done for the past 48 hours is stare at a computer and nothing is actually getting done'. I'm always torn over whether to work on my book or my essay, my editing or my revision. You can't really put too much effort into either of those things, so it's hard to know when to stop one and start the other.

I'm in the final year of my degree now. I wrote The Bone Season during my first year, got the book deal during the second year and am now charging towards publication in my third year, so I think I can give a pretty good cross-section of what to expect from being a student author. Indeed, I'm writing this while I should be working on a Frankenstein essay. My knowledge of how university works in other countries is woefully bad, so I apologise for using English terms throughout this hot topic.  

1. Drink coffee. Even if you don't like it. Coffee will keep you awake on this voyage. Stephen Fry claims to have drunk twelve thousand cups during the process of writing The Liar, and while he's not a student, he is a national treasure. Coffee will be your best friend and your worst enemy for the foreseeable future. Seek out the nearest coffee house – or just anywhere that sells it. Try not to care how it tastes. Pray your college or university has its own café. And don't worry about looking uncool. Coffee is the new cider. 

Warning: Watch out for palpitations, irritability, headaches and muscle spasms. That means you're drinking too much. Switch to herbal tea. Now. 

2. Attempt to manage your time. Uni is made up of three ingredients: lectures, classes/tutorials and work. Occasionally, you get a twist of coursework or a dissertation. You might also be hoping to socialise, join a society, write for the student newspaper or get a First. You can do all these things if you time it right. Buy a diary and split up your days into chunks. Try your utmost to stick to your schedule. On a typical weekday I get up at 7:00, spend an hour checking emails and Twitter and drinking coffee, then go to my lecture or tutorial or seminar or other 'official' uni thing, then do a few hours of essay-ing in the college café (during which I'll hopefully be joined by one of my friends for coffee), then have dinner, then spend the evening writing. Sometimes I veer from that plan, but that's what I aim for. It gives me a relatively good split between work and writing. 

Warning: Make sure you don't end up feeling like this.     

3. Seek out other writers. There are a lot of writers at uni. A lot. Published writers, aspiring writers, poets, novelists, playwrights – just writers all over the place. Most universities will offer some opportunity for writing, whether it's a casual pub gathering, a poetry society or a structured con-crit group. If there isn't a group, why not set one up? You're guaranteed to get some interest. People who have to write essays all day should actively relish being able to write something else. I don't generally like writing in groups, but I did run a writing seminar last year for Arts Week, and I was pleased to see a lot of people that weren't 'uni writer' stereotypes (i.e. they didn't do English Literature) there. I had mathematicians, linguists, biochemists and geologists, and not one other English student. 

4. Don't panic when you don't work. It's okay to procrastinate. Forcing yourself to work may be necessary if you've got an essay deadline at 9am tomorrow and you haven't started it, but otherwise, you can stop. Stop looking at your computer. Sit down. Read a book. Watch some videos. Do that for about an hour. After that, do work again. 

5. Sleep
. No, really, do. If you find yourself having to work through the night, nap for a few hours in the day. If you don't sleep enough, you'll end up with a hefty sleep debt. You already have a student loan to pay off without a sleep loan on top of it.  

6. Eat. That's important, too. If you can employ a writer-feeder, do. This is particularly important on Leap Day, when Neil Gaiman believes it should be traditional for non-writers to take a writer for dinner. Please do, non-writers. We need food. If you can't find a writer-feeder, make sure you have something quick and easy to eat when you're in the grip of inspiration and just can't stop writing (or when your tutor just reminded you that your essay is due in five minutes). Recommendations: nuts, dried fruit, crackers, marshmallows. Maybe some chocolate. One way to resolve the food issue is to work somewhere that supplies food. Or check out Writer Food from A to Z.

7. Take advantage of the library. When you're a student, the library is usually the one place you don't want to go. It represents a hub of suffering, a prison for the procrastinator. Yet outside uni, most of us writers and readers are quite keen on libraries, and we're damn lucky to have them. Check out your university library in your spare time – if you have any – and see what it has to offer. There's a gorgeous room in the St Anne's College library called the North Room, which is small, dingy, and chock-full of big dusty books. It also has a winding iron staircase and barely any light. There's something cool about studying in that kind of Udolpho-esque space. 

8. Get up early. If you can. I always feel lazy and irritated if I drag myself out of my bed at 10 A.M. – I tend to start thinking "well, I missed that lecture, might as well make a day of procrastinating". It feels so much better to get up early and be ready for the day. But Rule #5 is more important. 

9. Exercise. I used to swim every day when I had a membership to the local health club, but when that ran out I stopped for ages. When you're trying to be a student and a writer, two problems with exercise arise: [a] your two pursuits mean you're almost constantly sitting down, and [b] you're almost constantly short on time. I now do about 20 minutes of exercise in my room every evening, before I go to bed (hoping to increase this time as I get better). I use videos by FitnessBlender, which provides short exercises that generally don't require equipment. Once I'm done I'm worn out, so I tend to get a good night's sleep.   

10. Keep calm. Remember, you never have to cope with stress by yourself. University is a high-pressure environment – you're away from home, you've got a work-life balance to maintain, and you may feel that everyone else is doing better than you are. There is no shame in asking for help. If you need to talk to someone, most universities provide Nightline or a similar peer support service (find yours here) to help. Nightline volunteers will listen, not lecture, and give you advice if you want it. There are also welfare officers and university counselling services if you're getting snowed under. Never be afraid to ask for help if you're getting upset or exhausted. You're not alone. 

 Are you a student writer, or do you know one? Any tips to share?

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

News and Q's


I'm delighted to announce that The Bone Season has now sold in Polish to Wydawnictwo SQN and Turkish to Pegasus Yayincilik.

The cover reveal date has been confirmed by Bloomsbury as 31 January. I'll let you know as soon as I know how and when exactly on that day it will be revealed. I'm so looking forward to letting you all see it! 


Going into a seven-book series, there must be many things by the end that will not line up with foreshadowing and such early on in the series. This may seem odd considering you've just edited your first novel, but how much do you think six books ahead in terms of inconsistencies? (DWD Johnson)

This is a really interesting question. An unspoken rule in publishing is that when an unknown author hands in a manuscript, they should hand in a complete book – i.e. a book that can stand alone – with the potential of sequels. This makes foreshadowing tricky when you first sit down to write a novel. I added in quite a lot of my foreshadowing during the editing process of The Bone Season, interweaving it with the original manuscript. I did have some foreshadowing in the first version, but it wasn't overt. Now I'm getting published, I can think further ahead and plant a few more seeds. There are hints in Book 1 for books as far away as the seventh. I hope there won't be too many inconsistencies in the series 
 I'm really picky with details and I like everything to flow together nicely. Some of my foreshadowing is based on character duplicity and unreliability, so watch out when characters explain things in the books: they may be right, or wrong, or lying.

How detailed were your notebook drafts when you started? (Tyler Wahl) 

When I first got the idea for The Bone Season I wrote a two-page synopsis – the basic premise of the novel – and went on to plan the first five chapters in short. I wrote some fragments based on the chapter summaries: scenes that were particularly vivid in my mind, scenes I wanted to get down before I forgot them. I jotted down some dialogue, scene ideas and character descriptions and started to classify various clairvoyant types. After my internship I typed up what I'd drafted and started to work in manuscript format. Notebooks are always useful, but I hold most of my ideas in my head – I only really use notebooks when I think I might forget something (like when I'm nearly asleep and suddenly have an idea). Having said that, I do plan to start writing down my ideas for future books in a notebook soon. I have the ideas but I need to slot them all together. I find it easier to turn the ingredients of a story into a coherent narrative if I can actually 'see' them.

More questions welcome, as always.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

On bookshops


Sorry I'm two days late this week. I was going to write a blog on the best ways to combine writing with studying, but I've decided to delay it in favour of an Emergency Blog. (That sounds SO dramatic.) This week I'm going to do two separate blogs: one today and one tomorrow. Tomorrow's will answer your latest questions and include recent foreign rights news, a bit of Bone Season  news and other things. Today's however, is dedicated to something that, as a reader, is close to my heart: the slow decline of the High Street, and what we might be able to do about it. 


Spicing up the High Street

You may or may not have heard that HMV, possibly the best-known entertainment chain in the UK, has just announced that it's going into administration. It's part of a gradual deterioration of High Street shopping that started, in my memory, when Woolworth's closed its doors in 2009. I remember being confused about it, but not paying a great deal of attention. This is a big issue, and I'm only going to touch the surface of it today, but in short, people are now starting to shop less in actual shops in favour of buying their goods online. (Doesn't help that it's nearly impossible to park a car in most high streets, at least not without paying for a ticket.) I don't know much about economics and I'm no expert on the causes of this phenomenon, but it seems to boil down to two big factors: money and convenience. Whatever the causes, more and more chains are going into administration – Comet, Jessops, JJB Sports. We're always hearing phrases like "triple-dip recession" and "austerity", feeling their impact in our day-to-day lives. Now we're seeing the results on a massive scale.  

The entertainment industry is in a precarious position. It's not quite the same as, say, the fashion industry. If I want to buy a dress, I have to go into a shop to make sure the clothes fit. I could buy online, but I know very well that Sod's law, the dress won't fit if I buy it online. With CDs and DVDs, though, I can just download them. Instantly. It's data. I don't have to test data in the same way I test my clothes and shoes. As a society, we're used to getting things quickly: instant emails, Skype calls, breaking news. The combined need for convenience, speed and low prices is causing us to turn to Amazon and iTunes for our books, music, games and DVDs. Things are also cheaper online. Shops like HMV have to pay their taxes, royalties and so on, so there's a limit on how cheap they can go. Last time I bought a CD it was about £6. If you only want one song from an album, that's a lot.  

There's no doubt about it: the Internet is the future. If not for the Internet this blog wouldn't be here and you guys wouldn't be reading it. It's a brilliant way to communicate, to send and receive information, to be part of the wider world. It's transformed the human experience. It is quite possibly our greatest achievement: a place where we can come together. At the risk of sounding like a technophobe, however, I truly believe there should be a limit on how far the Internet shapes our lives. We can now buy our clothes, pretty much all commercial goods, even our food online. We can work from home, do degrees and talk to our friends. (I don't think we'll all just stop leaving our rooms and live like zombies, but you have to wonder where we're heading with all this. But that's best discussed in a post-apocalyptic novel, not this blog.)  
I'm twenty-one. I've grown up surrounded by technology and consider myself well-versed in it. I appreciate the Internet. I use Skype and Y!M to talk to friends in the US, and my family when I'm at uni. I've bought academic books, Christmas presents and DVDs on Amazon. I buy most of my music from iTunes, simply because I tend to only like one or two songs on an album and I don't want to shell out for the whole thing. I forget everything but the convenience. I forget the High Street. I'm part of the problem.   

You might be shaking your head now. "Why do we want to save the High Street?" you might ask. "What's the point, if people don't want or use it?" I don't think most people do want to lose it. They just don't think about it. The solution? We have to make people think about it. I have to think about it. You have to think about it. 

I don't pretend to have any sweeping solutions to what's happening, but here are my thoughts on it. If the High Street is going to survive, it has to do several things. First, it needs to combine online sales with over-the-counter retail. To my knowledge, HMV didn't take advantage of the Internet. But even more importantly than online sales, a High Street shop needs appeal that goes beyond the commercial. It has to be more than simply a place to shop. It has to be a kind of hub for whatever it sells. You have to go there and get something – more than just the product. You can get that online. 

Here's where I finally get to my point: bookshops. Everyone knows bookshops are under threat, mostly thanks to the rise of eBooks, and not all of them have adapted to it. Indie booksellers in particular are struggling to cope with the eBook age. That's a whole different issue, but there are ways that bookshops can adapt. There are ways for bookshops to become more than just shops that sell books. Waterstones were absolutely right to start selling eBook readers. They recognised an unstoppable new trend and adapted to it. I went into Waterstones Oxford yesterday and was struck by how much it's evolved. It has a Costa upstairs with an amazing view over George Street. It has beautiful displays of books, neatly organised and easy to navigate. It has knowledgeable and friendly staff who are passionate about what they do and always happy to chat about books. It communicates with readers on Twitter. It has a section for eBook readers, along with a selection of lovely covers for them. It's fantastic. As someone who loves books, I feel at home there. In a way, it's a bit like the Internet: an interactive, human exchange. I don't just take the product home. I've had a positive experience. I feel better than I did before I went into the shop. It's also significant that bookshops do events: author signings, readings for kids, celebrations of literary anniversaries.  
That's what I want from bookshops on the High Street  I want celebrations. I want to go in and learn about my favourite subject: books. If HMV pulls through this, I hope they do even more to celebrate music – to give music fans a reason to go to them before iTunes.

But it isn't just the shops that have to change. We do, too. This is something we can do together – not just people who love to read, but people who love to write. I don't think there's anything an aspiring writer wants more than to see their work in a bookshop. Not on Amazon or on a website – in a bookshop, in a window, where readers can see it. That could all change if we don't all pull together to save British bookshops. People are going to HMV now, when it's too late, but they didn't before. They're complaining about the chain's collapse when they never shopped there. Don't let that happen with High Street bookshops. 

This year I'm intending to buy at least one book a month from Waterstones. This month I bought Clay by Melissa Harrison. It's a little more expensive than it would be to buy them on Amazon, but when you think about how much work has been poured into a book – when you think about the hours of editing, the typesetting, the cost of binding and printing, the hours spent on the cover design and the writing and the conception – and the fact that you'd spend about the same on a few pints in the pub, it's really not that much. A night out in London costs at least £30. A hardback costs about £12 - £15, but you can open it again and again. And remember, bookshops pay their taxes

Of course, no-one can afford to buy every book they want to read. There are just too many books in the world. Good news is, there are also libraries.

So next time you feel like buying a book, consider popping into a bookshop. I can't guarantee a fantastic experience every time, but I can guarantee a little world of books that you just won't find on Amazon. 

Sunday, 6 January 2013

The Evil Editor (or not)

After hours of unpacking I'm finally back in my room at Oxford. This is my second to last term. I'm going to have to get a lot of studying under my belt: my exams are early next term, and I'm seriously lagging behind my workload. Editing The Bone Season took a bit longer than expected, so I'm going to have to work twice as hard to keep up this term. But first,my long-overdue summary post on editing.

And hey, look what I found! The very red notebook in which I scribbled my first scene drafts for The Bone Season


"I hate editors, for they make me abandon 
a lot of perfectly good English words."

 Mark Twain

On my travels through the blogosphere, researching other people's experiences of editing, I've discovered a few articles talking about the Evil Editor myth. Sometimes the Evil Editor is that little voice in your head, telling you that every word is wrong, your story sucks and you're a worthless idiot who can't write for shit. But since the arrival of self-publishing, a new Evil Editor has emerged: the real, paid editor in the publishing house. Now that authors can put their work into the world themselves, editors are seen by some as the gears of the corporate engine that will butcher your work in order to make it a super-successful cookie-cutter, stripped of all your art and originalityYet many self-published and aspiring authors still seek editors. Freelance editors abound, offering their services to writers. 

I don't claim to know what editors are like at other publishing houses, but nobody at Bloomsbury has tried to turn The Bone Season into a cookie. (Although I do wonder what kind it would have been. Chocolate chip? Garibaldi?) All three of my editors have been brilliant in helping me get the book into shape. Having their eyes on it has made it so much better. They helped me clarify the setting, push the limits of the world and clean up the prose. The result isn't perfect – no book is perfect – but it's now much closer to what I envisioned at the beginning: a readable book. In essence, that's what the editor is there for: to make sure your book is accessible and clear to readers. And the readers are the people that you, the writer, should care about the most. 

Editors work on your book because they love it. They want to make other people love it. They're going to be spending a long, long time on your book: marketing it, sitting in meetings about it, reading it. (I was actually worried for Alexa's sanity, having to read The Bone Season as many times as she did. Fortunately she was very nice and said she never got bored of it.) They don't want to change your work, certainly not to the extent that it's unrecognisable. The publishing house wouldn't have bought it if they didn't see something in it that they loved – something unique to you. The editor wants to help you develop your style and bring out the best in your writing. It's a balancing act, a collaboration between your writing and the editor's eye. Of course, it's vitally important to make sure the novel doesn't become anything you don't want it to become – but thinking the editor's going to butcher it just doesn't make sense. If your editor starts telling you what to write, or expressing fear that your novel is too 'different' from other novels, then yes, that ought to get your heckles up. The important thing is to be open to constructive criticism and to listen to your editor's advice. 

The editorial relationship should be one of mutual respect. The editor should respect your right to refuse. You, in turn, should respect the editor's experience, skill and opinion. Alexa never told me to do anything with The Bone Season. Nor did Alexandra. Nor did Rachel. What they did was pose questions and voice their thoughts. In return, I considered each of their suggestions carefully before I decided to say yes or no. I've been surprised and relieved by how little pressure they put me under to change anything. 

If your editors try and force you to make changes you really don't like, that should be a warning that this editorial relationship might not work out. It's quite possible that the cookie-cutter approach is employed by certain publishing houses (e.g. Mills and Boon), and you should be careful if you don't want to go down that path. But for the average publisher, the idea of a cookie-cutter doesn't appeal. It's not exactly going to get them glowing reviews if they pump outhe same novels every year, like some giant book-belching automaton. It's an industry made up of real flesh-and-blood people who can give subjective opinions. If they wanted the same thing every year, all books would be written by machines. 

I did five or six edits on The Bone Season. The first batch of notes was very short: Rachel sent her thoughts from a US perspective, while Alexandra and Alexa picked up on typos and clunky syntax. Those were easy to tackle, but later edits involved bigger, structural changes. I love editing – there's something therapeutic about cleaning the dust off your manuscript – but when you introduce deadlines into the equation, those structural edits seem impossible to finish. One particular deadline exhausted me; I had to skip a big chunk of sleep to meet it. Imaginarium also sent several pages of notes, which prompted me to rethink the climax of the novel and take another look at the beginning. They gave the book to a small group of trusted readers to highlight anything that seemed confusing or needed more explanation. It was incredibly helpful to know what readers thought of the first chapters, as after reading it several times, both Alexa and I no longer had fresh eyes. Justine, my copy-editor, also went through the manuscript to eliminate typos and pick up on any inconsistencies. And boy, were there some inconsistencies after all those edits. Sometimes I'd changed a scene and then forgotten to edit some of its repercussions in other scenes, so I had leftovers that didn't make sense. I still worry that some of them might have wriggled into the final MS, but hopefully the proofreader will snag them if they have. Overall, I've really enjoyed the process, and my editors have been wonderful to work with. 

Being edited can be tough. For most of us (with the possible exception of Samuel Johnson), writing is more than just a job; it's a hobby, a passion, a lifestyle. Your book is like your baby, and no matter how tough you are, it can still make you flinch to see red marks on your manuscript. But remember, your editor is trying to help, not hinder. Your vision is the same: to create a book that readers will enjoy. So long as you keep that shared vision in mind, a good edit will be the best thing that ever happened to your book. 

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

It's the year

It's 2013! At last. At midnight, my mum turned to me with a big smile and said, "Say it, Samantha. Say "my book is being published this year".' Cue lots of tears from me – and the slow, wonderful realisation that this year will be one of the most interesting and exciting of my life. This year, I will take my Finals; I will leave university; and my book, at last, will have readers. I feel like I've been waiting all my life for 2013. It also feels like this soundtrack should be playing as I prepare for my epic charge towards August. Or, more likely, the slow, painful, foot-bouncing, hair-pulling wait for August. 

I'm thrilled to kick-start 2013 with a guest blog for Waterstones, during which I explain how The Bone Season started as a Post Office notebook. No joke. Thanks so much to those of you that have shared it online, and to Dan Lewis, who gave me the opportunity to share my anecdote. The Bone Season has also been picked as one of 2013's cultural highlights by none other than BBC News. Never in a million years could I have imagined blogging for Waterstones, or being mentioned by the BBC, when I was scribbling my strange little story in 2011.

He sees you when you're eating.

2012 was a rollercoaster year – not just for me, but for the whole world. Here in the UK we've had the Olympics, the Diamond Jubilee (seeing Prince Charles say 'Mummy' on national telly was a highlight) and a supermassive fireworks display to round it all off. I really enjoyed the last few days of December, saying goodbye to the craziest twelve months of my life. It's been a season of vicious Uno games, half-hearted studying, last-minute tweaking of The Bone Season, and making Strawberry Santas. After an excess of fun, games and Quality Street, I'll be heading back to Oxford this weekend. I've really got to crack down on my studying now – editing The Bone Season took longer than expected, and I have a lot to get through . . . like revision notes for my five imminent exams, which I've barely looked at. Oops. I tell myself every day that I'm going to start re-reading Shakespeare and tackling my old enemies, Dryden and Pope – I just get so tempted by writing.

In the final edit Alexa threw some really thought-provoking questions at me, most of which inevitably ended up prompting new scenes, or at least rewrites, and sparking off sequel ideas. She's such a fantastic editor. So while I'll be devoting a lot of time to reading and revising next term (yay to the reading, nay to the revising) I'll also be sneaking in some scribbles on the side. Every day. I've got a Bone Season side project to work on – more news to come – and I'd love to get another few thousand words under my belt for Book 2 before I graduate. Here's hoping I can maintain some kind of control over my schedule.
I'd just like to say a huge thank you again to everyone that reads this blog – you really made 2012 for me, and I hope you'll stick with me for 2013.  

Questions still answered and loved.