Writing, Editing, Publishing Q&A

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Over on Instagram (@writerclairefuller) I recently asked if anyone had any questions about writing, editing or getting published. And there were lots! I’ve answered them all in brief in an Instagram post, but it’s hard to be concise with so many questions. So here are my longer answers. Do let me know if you have any other questions in the comments below and I’ll save them up for a future post.

My writing day

How I organise my writing time (@raluca1503 @tftmotherland)

I worked for so many years in a marketing company following normal office hours that now I write full time, I can’t rid myself of the old 9 – 5. Well, actually 9 – 6pm. But I’m doing much more than working on my novel in progress in that time, and it does depend on where I am in the publishing cycle. I have been known to be promoting one book, Continue reading

Publishing Interviews: The Foreign Rights Agent

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This week I’ve interviewed the lovely Juliet Mahony, Foreign Rights Agent at Lutyens and Rubinstein (L&R), a London-based literary agency. Juliet has handled the sales of both my books to non-UK publishers as well as the audio rights. Read on to find out how she does it and to discover something that might surprise you.

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Claire: Hello Juliet. When I was starting out as a writer I had no idea that there was such a thing as a foreign rights agent, let alone what they did. Can you tell me about your role at L&R and what an average day is like for you?

Juliet: I oversee the L&R authors whose rights we handle, being published into foreign languages and also in subsidiary rights, like an audio edition for example. I work directly with publishers in The Netherlands and in Scandinavia but in most other territories I work Continue reading

Publishing Interviews: The Literary Agent

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This is the second piece in a new interview series with people from the publishing industry. I’ll be asking them exactly what their jobs entail, what they like about them, and what they don’t. I’ll be interviewing editors, designers, publicists, sales people and many others. This week I’ve been speaking with Jane Finigan, a literary agent, and Partner at Lutyens & Rubinstein. The agency is based in Notting Hill, in London and represents a broad range of authors and books including fiction, non-fiction, cookery, YA and children’s. And, in the interest of full disclosure, I should say Jane is my literary agent.

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Claire: You’ve been with Lutyens and Rubinstein [L&R] since 2006, and recently you’ve been made a partner. Congratulations! What does your role involve; what’s an average day like for you?

Jane: My role involves working with authors at every stage of their career, from helping to develop and shape a first draft, to negotiating a publishing deal and holding their hand through the publication process and beyond. I’m always looking for new talent Continue reading

Publishing Interviews: The Agency Reader

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This month I’m starting a new interview series with people from the publishing industry. I’ll be asking them exactly what their jobs entail, what they like about them, and what they don’t. I’ll be interviewing editors, agents, designers, publicists, sales people and many others. To kick off, today I’m posting an interview with Susannah Godman, the person who reads all the manuscript submissions received by Lutyens & Rubinstein, a literary agency based in London.

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Claire: What exactly is it you do as a reader for a literary agency?
Susannah: I work at home so all our unsolicited submissions come into an email address.  I log them onto paper for my records (which I type up for the office grid), have a quick look, call anything promising in, highlight anything else that is promising to read first, reject anything completely unsuitable and then they get read and considered in turn.

C: Roughly how many submissions does Lutyens & Rubinstein [L&R] get in a month, say?
S: I’ve never counted them, but well over three hundred…

C: And then you call in the full manuscript from those you like? How many is that? How much of them do you read before you decide whether it’s a yes or a no? What percentage of them get through?
S: Whole manuscripts I’ve called in?  No more than ten a month probably.  I try and stop as soon as it is a no, sometimes carry on.  Oh, too tiny a percentage to measure I’m afraid.

C: It sounds like a perfect job: to be paid to read. How did you get to do this for a living?
S: I went to work at L&R nearly 20 years ago as office assistant (I was a Waterstone’s Bookseller in Charing Cross Road before that), when I was their only full time employee. With their help I worked my way up to being the Foreign Rights person, and eventually had a few clients of my own too.  All that time I also read the submissions pile, which was a proper tower of paper then, so am quite good at knowing what every agent at L&R would like.

C: What’s your average day like?
S: Sitting at a laptop in the dining room.  I’m part time self-employed now, so try not to spend all day on it, although I do more than my designated hours because I love it and sitting down is nicer than housework.

C: Most things are nicer than house work. Do you actually call the unsolicited manuscripts you get sent a slush pile?
S: I might do…

C: What kind of person do you think you need to be to be a reader?
S: I’m not sure I could read for anyone else, but am well attuned to what the agents at L&R would love.  Usually.

C: What about your own preferences for books you like to read? Do you try to quash them?
S: I don’t really need to.  I like all sorts of things.

C: Do you also see the covering letters and synopsis?
S: Yes, If they’ve sent them in. I try not to look at the synopsis until I’ve read the chapters, but a good letter does make one prick up one’s ears.

C: Interesting. What makes a good letter for you?
S: The sort that makes you quite want to meet its writer:  warmth, lack of bumptiousness, unforced humour if appropriate, about the writer as a person rather than a form letter (I don’t mean screes and screes: all this can come across in a couple of sentences).  Some letters are brilliant but then the book isn’t, which is always a huge disappointment and one just wants to say, gently, Just Be You.  Oh and DO find out who to address your submission to, if you can.

C: What do you love about what you do and what’s not so good?
S: I love reading, and there is such variety coming in, I love it when I find something wonderful and pass it on to the office, and I try to make my rejections bland but kind.  A cross rejectee once responded with ‘Lick my boots, bitch’ but that is mercifully rare, and she apologised a YEAR later, claiming to have been hacked…

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The agency is in the basement of Lutyens & Rubinstein bookshop in London

C: Hah! Sounds unlikely. What about the craziest submission you’ve received?
S: Oh, guided by the spirit of Lady Di, or the actual crazy stuff from people who clearly have mental health issues, which actually is the worst thing about this job because it does make one worry about them.

C: Are there things that put you off a manuscript?
S: Sometimes you can just tell the writer is a wrong’un (sexist, racist, that sort of thing).

C: Do you ever manage to read for pleasure now?
S: Of course, but not as much as when I lived in London and commuted for upwards of two hours a day.  I sort of miss that. Unhelpfully, I recently read an old book about donkeys called People With Long Ears by Robin Borwick, and Miss Mole by E.H Young, and A Big Storm Knocked it Over by Laurie Colwin.

C: Thanks so much Susannah. One final question –  what advice would you give to unpublished writers who are submitting their work?
S: Write a nice, human letter to the right person if you can.  Do multiple submissions rather than one at a time (the beauty of computers, no stamps).  Gently nudge if you’ve waited forever.

To submit a manuscript to Lutyens & Rubinstein, visit their website to find out exactly what they’re looking for and how they’d like to receive it.

Do let me know what you think about this interview and my plans for the series, in the comments below.

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Read my interview with a literary agent
Read my interview with a Publishing Director at Fig Tree / Penguin
Read my interview with an Art Director at Tin House
Read my interview with a Foreign Rights Agent in a literary agency
Read my interview with an Editor at Tin House
Read my interview with a Translator

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Swimming Lessons

My second novel, Swimming Lessons, will be published in January 2017 in the UK, and Canada, and February 2017 in the USA. Click on the country links to pre-order.

The auction

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This is my second blog post about my journey to publication, taken from my diary entries. If you missed the first part about how how I got an agent, you can read it here.

11th May 2013: I’m about half way through the revisions that Jane [Jane Finigan, my agent at Lutyens & Rubinstein] sent me. I’d already forgotten how hard it is to write new words and I have to write quite a lot of new words. Nothing too major really, but it still takes time and creating new words is painful.

27th May 2013: I sent my first round of revisions to Jane on a Thursday and she replied that day that she would look at them and get back to me ‘shortly’. What does shortly mean? A couple of hours or a couple of days? Email checking in overdrive.

In order to keep busy I’ve been thinking about a new book. I should write some notes, especially as we get closer to submitting Our Endless Numbered Days to publishers who might I suppose, ask what I’m working on now. Or would ‘checking my in-box’ be a suitable answer?

Jane got back to me the following Friday. It was like having had a couple of dates with someone, believing that you got on well with them and then not hearing back for ages. But I resisted the urge to email her in a needy voice with, ‘don’t you love me anymore?’.

She liked everything I’d done, but had some more comments for me.

19th June 2013: In the past three weeks Jane and I have gone through three or four rounds of amendments, each time getting more and more minor. There was some discussion about whether I should write a prologue or not. I decided not to, but instead put a new paragraph in the first chapter about eating some fish eyes, but in the end we both decided it was too disgusting, so I took it out. So, after a month and a week, we got to a stage finally where we agreed it was ready to go. Not very long really – I understand that revisions from agents can sometimes take much longer.

Yesterday Jane sent through a list of publishers she’s going to send my novel out to. I can’t wait for it to go. I had no idea I was such an impatient person. I keep reminding myself that getting an agent is no guarantee that a book will be published. It might not happen. It might not happen.

And, in less than a month Tim and I are getting married. So much excitement.

27th June 2013: Yesterday Jane sent Our Endless Numbered Days out to her list of editors. She wrote me a lovely email to say that it had gone, and she was keeping her fingers and toes crossed.

I spoke to her on the phone on Tuesday and she explained the process, although it was as I had imagined. Any no’s will come in first. If an editor likes it they might communicate that to Jane and say don’t do anything with anyone else before talking to me, or they might just show it to their editorial team and if they like it, then take it to an acquisitions meeting. That will have to be done before an offer is made in any case.

She reiterated both on the phone and in her email about trying to stay patient and realising that this process takes a long time.

She said she would be in touch with any updates next week. So, for my own sanity, I have told myself that this means a week on Friday. And if I haven’t heard anything by then I’m still not allowed to email her.

28th June 2013: Friday night. India has gone off to her 6th form prom tonight. Henry has turned up for dinner, and Tim and I have had some wine and played Upwords (I won) and we were just packing up when my phone rang.

It was Jane. She sent Our Endless Numbered Days out on Wednesday and she’s already heard back from three editors who love it. But, there are no offers on the table, yet.

Then she said there was more good news. Because of the response they’d had from the UK editors, they’d sent it out to their foreign agents, and now people around Europe are reading it. And she said the editor in Italy had finished it, and would be making an offer.

Oh my god. I am very excited. I can’t really type or focus on stuff properly. Tim is cooking dinner, the lovely Tim who this wouldn’t have happened without, or as he said, it might have happened, but my children would be very dirty and thin.

The other day I was saying I was worried that I’ve said too much to too many people and if the book doesn’t get sold I will have to unsay it to everyone, so when Paul [my ex-husband] came round to drop Henry off, I practiced not telling him the news. Anyway, this isn’t really news; I haven’t had an offer.

1st July 2013: Received an email from Jane: The enthusiastic response to your book continues to grow and, to make the most of this momentum, I’ve asked editors to get their opening offers to me by Wednesday at 4pm.

Very much looking forward to being in touch on Wednesday afternoon but OF COURSE feel free to get in touch with any questions – I’m always at the end of the phone or email.

Wednesday 3rd July 2013

2.12pm:

There is a line going through my head that I’m practicing a response for:

“I’m really sorry Claire, but we haven’t had any offers in.”

I can only do mindless work. I have spent the last hour and forty minutes filling in names on a database.

4.20pm:

Jane phoned. We have an offer from Italy and three offers from UK publishers! I did a little scream in the office when I put the phone down and then told everyone. My book is going to be published.

Now we go to auction!

Read the final post about my journey to publication.

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Our Endless Numbered Days will be published in the UK and commonwealth, US, Canada, France, Italy, The Netherlands, Taiwan, Israel and Turkey. It is available to pre-order now:

UK

US

Canada

You can add it to your Goodreads ‘to read’ list here, and you can join my mailing list to receive updates and news, here.

Magic Lists

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I don’t believe in magic lists – those self-help, what-do-you-want-out-of-life scraps of paper where you write down what you want to achieve and then forget all about them.

Despite that, when my partner, Tim, moved in with me we spent days merging and sorting his books with mine and I came across a piece of card on which (six years previously) I had written my own magic list.  Once I had read it, I put the card inside another book, which is now lost amongst the thousands in our house. I can only remember two of the things on that list – one was to find someone to love who would love me back, and the other was to write a book (I hadn’t written anything when I put that ambition down in black and white).

Zoom forward to 2013, and here’s a summary of what happened in date order:

  • March 2013 – I finished writing my first novel, Our Endless Numbered Days
  • April 2013 – I sent it out to agents, met Jane Finigan from Lutyens & Rubinstein, and signed with them
  • July 2013 – Jane sent it out and it went to auction with three publishers
  • 13th July 2013 – I married Tim and the sun shone
  • 15th July 2013 I accepted the offer from Fig Tree / Penguin
  • July – October 2013 the book sold in a further eight countries
  • December 2013 I received my MA in Creative Writing from the University of Winchester – a distinction.

 

I still don’t believe in magic lists, but don’t get cross if I write another one.