How can this be?

Synopsis crisis 1Submissions to agents require that you send a sample of your novel.  Typically this is described as sample chapters (usually three) or 10,000 words.  Often you’re told to conclude your sample at a sensible end point, rather than get too hung up on precise word-count.

My novel, Singled Out, is divided into eight days (a one week holiday, see?).  Each day is divided into between 8 and 12 individual segments, each segment written from the point of view (POV) of one of three main characters.  I realise a day in this construction is too long to count as a chapter, but the individual segments are also too short.  Day One is around 12,000 words and to my mind marks a sensible end point – so that’s what I’ve been sending as my sample.  I figure if I’ve failed to excite an agent, it will be well before that 12,000 word mark and they’ll simply not read to the end.  If I’ve excited them, a few extra words are unlikely to put them off.  Hopefully.

However… one of the agents I’m currently keen to tempt with Singled Out specifies three chapters as the sample length, but then goes on to make the point that this limit should be strictly adhered to.  So yesterday, I was reviewing my sample document, to create a shorter version for this particular submission.

And on the first page – the very first page – I found a typo.

I know why this is.  This particular section has been in the past tense, then in the present tense, then in the past tense again (and perhaps even back and forth another couple of times – I forget). Somewhere in the transition from ‘He chose’ through ‘He chooses’ and back to ‘He chose’ again, I left a verb in the wrong tense.

I could have wept.

It seemed prudent, after approximately 20 minutes of swearing, cursing, throwing stuff around, stomping, stamping and kicking the cat (I lie – I don’t have one), to use the opportunity to review the whole sample segment, just in case anything else had slipped through in those first 10,000 words.  So I read it very, very slowly.  I found a few dozen more words I could do without, which was a plus.

But then I found another typo.

The error was not in a word, but in its absence – it was a missing word.  I’d probably read right through that invisible word two or three dozen times, failing and failing again, to notice its nonexistence.

Just in case you’re wondering how I’m dealing with this catastrophe of care and diligence, here it is. Yesterday evening I prowled my kitchen for comfort food. There wasn’t much, because I’m being very good lately; vegetables don’t even nearly qualify.  I managed to find three Rich Tea biscuits (stale), which I covered in butter and the dregs from a bottle of salted caramel sauce (Christmas leftover).  Thence to a restive night – I gave in to the TV and a repeat of The Jeremy Kyle Show at 5:15am. Today finds me curled up on the armchair in the corner of my office, rocking from side to side, cuddling a cushion and snivelling into a Kleenex.  It’s too early for alcohol, but I fear this may feature as the day advances.

By the way – there’s a lesson.  Now I understand what people mean when they say the final level of edit should actually be to read your novel backwards, word, by word, by word.

So am I a writer? (Part Two – the question of success)

writingmagcard0001Back in August 2011, I asked the question, ‘So am I a writer?’ here. That was when nobody – nobody at all – was reading my blog. I had scrawled the first (catastrophically rough as it now turns out) 45,000 words of my first ever first draft and written 3 unremarkable short stories, one of which has, astonishingly, been published.

Today, I have produced the completed manuscript of my first novel – that’s 97,000 words give or take – and I have the firm intention to get it out there one way or another.

In the intervening months whilst writing, editing and doggedly refining Singled Out, I’ve continued to earn my living as a business copywriter and marketer.  I deliver blog posts for my clients (for which I am paid); I deliver short promotional vignettes for my clients (for which I am paid); and I deliver a slew of output around sales propositions, products, thought leadership and product/service promotion (for which… yes… you got it). So I will, thank you very much, define myself, however cautiously, as ‘a writer’.   I write, therefore I am… a writer.

Moving on from this, today, a fellow blogger Eli Glasman at his fascinating blog here, gave me pause for thought on defining success or failure as a writer.  It gave me cause to reflect on whether I am – or ever will be – a successful writer.

Here were my thoughts on the matter, commenting on Eli’s blog:

What makes you or I a successful writer? Is it enough simply to write until something – anything – is complete? Must one produce multiple stories, or a novel, or more than one novel? Is it enough that your friends and family love what you write? Is it sufficient to self-publish? Or to be published by an independent? Or do you need the credibility of a mainstream publisher? Do you need sales in the several thousands to consider yourself successful? Do you need an occasional royalty cheque, payment for the odd short story? Is it enough to earn something – anything – from your writing? Or a proportion of your income – one-third, half perhaps? Do you need to be able to live on your writing income? Do you need to be an in-demand speaker at literary events? Would you have to have a place on the bestseller lists? Or a prize – Booker, Costa perhaps? Where does it end?

If you’re one of my writerly blog followers, have you ever considered what would make you classify yourself as a successful writer?  It’s a wholly subjective question.  And the inevitable follow-on question is this: If one isn’t – perhaps by one’s own definition – successful, does that mean one is an unsuccessful or even, heaven forfend, a failed writer?

I don’t believe so.  I might be successful on one level as my freelance work, which is largely writing, supports me.  On another level – in the field of fiction – I can’t own the word successfulYET.

I’m going to brand that perspective on the matter ‘success-in-waiting’.

What’s my genre?

Notebook 03

One of the things I struggled with when preparing the framework text for query letters/emails, was genre.  I’m a marketer in my current day job, so I understand perfectly well why it’s helpful for agents and publishers to be able to classify a book according to what category or categories it falls within.  Amongst other things, genre (and, by the way, sub-genre and sub-sub-genre) will point to a likely audience, set expectations as to the content and style, and drive decisions on cover design, marketing and promotion.

Knowing your genre means you can pinpoint authors whose books bear similarities to your own – although whether you indicate same to agents in your submission material is a matter of fierce debate here and there on the interweb.  Either (i) do it because it helps the agent figure out where you might sit in their talent stable or (ii) don’t do it because it makes you seem cocky and pretentious and you should let them be the judge. No help there then.

Inevitably for every mainstream genre, there are gazillions of sub-genres, and sub-sub genres, and it’s up to you how far you navigate the tributaries, to arrive at a label which adequately categorises the novel you’re writing.

What follows here is not some great rambling on the whys and wherefores of genre – if you’re looking for guidance in categorising your own writing, Google is your friend.  There is already more help out there than you can possibly need in an entire literary lifetime.  This is about me and my genre, and how I got there.

The first issue was the question of literary vs commercial.  Commercial books – apparently – sell in large volumes to an audience which may not be sufficiently discerning – apparently – to mind that books in this category may – apparently – not be all that well written.  In commercial fiction – apparently – the plot is the only thing that matters. Everything else (characterisation, setting, sensory detail, realistic dialogue, linguistic style, grammar…) is inconsequential relative to the plot.  It may therefore have been thrown together and served up as a literary and linguistic dog’s dinner – and – apparently – nobody minds.

Literary fiction, on the other hand, is all about the quality of the writing, and how poetic, evocative or mesmerising it is.  And the plot?  Who needs plotting when the writing, line by line, word by beautiful, witty, well-chosen word, is such a sublime joy to read.  Apparently.

For those of us who fall somewhere between the sublime and the ridiculous (no, I’m not getting drawn on which is which, thank you very much) there is a wealth of options for that first level categorisation, amongst which Quality Commercial, Mainstream Literary, Literary-Commercial Crossover, Book Club, or even more specifically, ‘Richard & Judy’, and my personal bête noir, LitLite.

I vacillate between Quality Commercial and Book Club for Singled Out.  Books which end up on book club reading lists tend to offer plenty of scope for discussion around moral dilemmas, character qualities or shortcomings and so on – and I like that.  And Quality Commercial?  I don’t see what’s wrong with cherishing the vision that I’ve written something which might be simultaneously popular/saleable and well-written.  An agent or publisher will probably put me straight one of these days.

Next, there’s the subject and content of the story.  At the high level, is it a romance or a thriller?  Is it science fiction or magic realism, chic-lit or crime?  Is it humorous or historical, fantasy or satire, politics or parody? Is it erotic, domestic or dynastic?  And… breathe.  Yes, if you’ve looked into this, you’ll realise as I did, there are myriad ways to slice-and-dice for genre.  There’s a crime in my story, but it’s not, technically speaking, a crime novel – there’s no mystery (well, not much mystery) and no police (ah, almost no police).  There is a little romance and an erotic moment or two (no sniggering at the back please), but not enough to make it a romance and certainly not enough to position it on the same shelf as Fifty Shades of Naughty.

Having read several (too many?) blog posts and articles, I think I’ve got there.  The genre I’ve concluded best fits Singled Out is Psychological Suspense. Theoretically this is a crime fiction sub-genre – but that’s as close as it’s going to get to crime.

The elements which characterise psychological suspense include the following:

  • Psychological suspense may use crime as a pretext for investigating psyche and personality, but the story is about the context of the crime, rather than the crime itself.
  • There’s often no mystery as to who committed the crime – what psychological suspense is interested in is not whodunnit, but whydunnit.
  • Psychological suspense is about the mind of a criminal – and the other people involved.  There will be insights, observations and reflection, from all sides of the house.
  • Psychological suspense stories are often told from multiple points of view – from inside the minds of protagonist and antagonist alike.
  • The overarching mood is one of dread or malignity – a sustained suspense embedded with moments of heightened tension, rather than a build-up to one massive peak.
  • Psychological suspense stories often feature psychologically damaged central characters such as sociopaths, or people with weaknesses, phobias, a tragic past, the weight of guilt or shame bearing down.
  • The reader can see what’s happening before it happens – they watch, seemingly helpless.  I liken it to the reader banging soundlessly on a window, trying to attract the attention of a character, who walks innocently towards some terrible scenario or event, content in the company of the person the reader knows to be dangerous.
  • Interestingly, psychological suspense is often ambivalent when it comes to ethics and justice.  There are moral ambiguities, few happy endings or easy solutions; and the baddies don’t always get what they deserve.

I’m fascinated by stories like this – they’re the ones I go to when I’m looking for a good read, and so it felt good to be writing one, even though it’s not what I set out to write.  I started out to pen a wry dissection of the comings and goings on a singles holiday. But when I realised this amounted to not very much and would bore a readership to tears, the landscape shifted.  And that’s when I begun to learn how much I loved writing about bad stuff happening and dark, damaged psyches.

Hey ho, happy days.

2014: Two Goals – One Vision

Flowers language clicheI have two goals for 2014.  Many people will be all too familiar with Goal Number One – which is to shed (an unspecified number of) unwanted pounds, get fitter and eat more healthily. After several false starts over recent years, I don’t believe I should put it off any longer.  It’s time to begin to act consistently (ie, for more than 3 days at a time) in the interests of staying fit and well for a good many more years.   This, I’m sorry to say, doesn’t come naturally to me; so I’m linking it to my other goal, in the hope that a firm eye on this particular prize will help me stay the course with what is, for me, an undeniably challenging task.

Goal Number Two of course, is to find an agent and secure a publishing deal for Singled Out.   I’m more resolved than ever on this matter, as the final email I received on New Year’s Eve 2013, around 10pm yesterday evening, was my second rejection.  I experienced the initial lurch of excitement as I realised who it was had emailed me.  That’s a bit like getting an envelope in the post that you know is from the Premium Bonds, and until you open it and find out you’ve only won £25, you can dream it’s the jackpot.  It wasn’t the jackpot.  It was another perfectly polite and encouraging standard format rejection.  But I found myself quite content to receive it, as it came from one of those agents whose website says, ‘if you haven’t heard from us in 8 weeks, you can assume we’re not interested’. It was reassuring to be handled courteously and to be encouraged to try other agents.

So – getting fit and getting published – how do my two goals connect?  It’s in a single positive visualisation – something I’ve used on and off in life to help make the things I want to achieve more real and vivid and connect me on an emotional level with how much I want to achieve them.  I know it might seem a bit nuts and I confess I did get the idea from self-help guru Tony Robbins originally. But on occasion it’s served me well, so I make no apology.

Everyone should dream, no matter how far-fetched or remote their dreams may feel.  Mine feel to me to be tantalisingly attainable.  I hope I’m not being pretentious, sharing them with you.

I picture myself on the stage at a literary festival, maybe in an elegant public room, a small theatre, or a marquee, discussing my debut novel with an interviewer and reading excerpts to an audience.  In another version of the same, I see myself in a larger branch of Waterstones, seated at a table on which there are multiple copies of Singled Out.  In front of me is a gratifyingly lengthy queue of readers waiting for personally signed copies.  When I get going I can build these pictures into mini movies in my mind, imagining textures, colours and aromas; my choice of outfit, the refreshments on the table, the way the room has been dressed, the looks on the faces of the audience and more.   When you let yourself go, it’s fun to play with visualisations.

To properly relish the sense of achievement and success in these mini movies, I visualise myself as the best I can be – a worn-out, overweight and unhealthy version of me has no place in these pictures.  To enjoy the pleasure of my writerly efforts coming to fruition, I want to be full of energy and vitality and I want to look my best – that’s how I picture myself on that stage, or at that table.

And for that, I cannot afford to waste another moment. So before I get my head around the next few pages of the 2014 Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook and get some more agent submissions out, I’m jumping on the treadmill.

It’s nothing personal

White rabbitFor those amongst my lovely readership who are following my search for an agent… I received my first rejection email today.

It was clearly a standard rejection email, but for that, it was courteous and kind and it urged me not to be discouraged. In a bizarre way, I was actually quite pleased to receive it, as it broke my duck in terms of agency rejection. Now I know how it feels. What’s more, if they’re all like this one, it won’t hurt a bit. Well, maybe just a bit – but not much. Also it was a pleasant surprise to receive an email, as one is often advised simply to draw a conclusion of rejection, as in, if you haven’t heard from us in X weeks, we’re not interested.

Rejection is an unwelcome visitor, returning time and again in life. It introduces itself in in the playground, where friendships are fluid and children can be unintentionally cruel. It rears its head at the school disco, where everyone except you seems to get a last dance and you feel the sting of being looked right through, as if you’re transparent, in pursuit of a prettier model.

For several painfully pubescent years, rejection is a constant companion. It’s all boys, boys, boys, with their dismissive see you around, or worse still, the casual I’ll call you, ahead of the anxious three week wait and the phone that never rings. Harder to bear today, I imagine, with ever-on phones in pockets. At least back then, we could convince ourselves that we must have missed the call during those few occasional minutes when we moved beyond earshot of the phone in the hall, or when our mothers or siblings so inconsiderately monopolised the dreaded device. And what about the acid-tongued adolescent rejection – the one that brands you as frigid, inadequate or repressed, because you won’t do what all the other girls will, round the back of the bike-sheds?

Then comes work, and rejection sticks its head around the door again. In the 80’s, an era of full employment, I confess I don’t recall much in the way of rejection as I progressed through a succession of secretarial posts. But I do remember I was neither sufficiently cutting-edge, nor sufficiently waif-like, for a position at uber-trendy Virgin Records – one of relatively few knock-backs I was forced to swallow in my early career.

It was when I moved into IT Sales, that rejection and I became regular bedfellows. Here’s where you learn to lean on the platitude that it’s not personal – that the people to whom you’re trying to sell your impossibly complex technology are not rejecting you; they’re rejecting the impossibly complex technology. That thought doesn’t halt the torrent of negative reflection and self-criticism however; because if only you’d seen one more manager, made one more presentation, found the answer to one more tricky technical question, brought one more expert over from the States, put one more tick in one more box… it could all have gone your way, not the way of your competition, who, as everyone knows, are a load of amateurs flogging a box of old rubbish – aren’t they?

When it comes to redundancy, rejection has its feet firmly under the table. You’re supposed to appreciate that it’s not you that’s redundant, it’s your position… But that’s no help as you carry your cardboard box to the lift lobby and everyone on your floor contrives to be in the toilets or out running errands as you stutter your goodbyes through gritted teeth. Two redundancies for me – about par for the course these days.

Now I’m self-employed and rejection, when it comes calling – which, thankfully, isn’t often – is a gentler and more subtle guest; a display of interest or enthusiasm that isn’t followed through, for example; a polite, sorry, but we’re not quite ready to go ahead with this. It’s a kinder world I inhabit these days, and I’m glad of it.

One last place where rejection elbows its way in; I played around with internet dating for a couple of years. Here, I dished out as much rejection as I received in this plenty more fish in the sea environment. Snap judgements were the order of the day – on an ill-judged profile picture, a stuffy turn of phrase, an interest in football, the presence of a dog, the absence of ambition or the inability to string a few words into a sentence. Yes, I get it; maybe there’s a message here. Perhaps the whole agent/rejection thing is set to dish me out a bit of karma.

That said, no would-be novelist goes into the business of writing, blind to the possibility – nay, likelihood – of rejection. It’s a numbers game and there are more writers seeking to be published than there will ever be agents seeking to represent them, by a mind-boggling margin. Rejection is a fact of literary life, and I shall embrace it and take encouragement from something a dear writerly friend has just shared with me: Only real writers get rejections.

Where the wind blows…

I feel a little unwell; light-headed and a bit giddy. Random stars and spots drift across my field of vision and I’m in danger of hyperventilating. As the wind whips into a pre-storm outside my door, I’ve had my finger poised over the Big Red Button on my PC so long that it went numb. Eventually I did it. I pressed ‘send’ – twice – and dispatched SINGLED OUT to two agents.

Only two, you say? Yes that’s right, only two; two important agents who’ve been recommended to me, either of whom I would be thrilled to be represented by. This is where it starts. I plan to take things slowly, in case it transpires (imagine!) that I receive any feedback. I might have missed something, or have something to learn, an error to correct, or things to polish, to improve my approach and raise my chances of success in the future. I don’t want to burn all my bridges at once.

It’s also inevitable that, despite having poured over my manuscript sample, synopsis and query emails for the last several days, tweaking this word and that, I will reread these documents in the morning and cringe – or cry. Most likely, I will reread the Nth redraft of my synopsis and want not so much to burn the bridges, but throw myself off one of them.

I’m the first to admit, I made heavy weather of the synopsis thing and I still wasn’t happy with the end result. Happier than I was, but I got nowhere near the smug glow of satisfaction I was hoping for, when I first imagined that if I reworked it diligently enough, I would eventually produce the perfect synopsis. Okay, you can laugh. But that’s the problem when you’re a bit of a perfectionist and your only deadline is self-imposed. Perfection feels tantalisingly within your grasp, so you keep reaching for it. Guess what, it isn’t.

But I admit it, there’s a nano-hope glinting in the corner of my mind and you must allow me to tease myself with it, at least for now. My nano-hope is that one of these two formidable agents finding my query email in their in-trays tomorrow morning will get a shiver of excitement when they skim through the contents, and I in turn, will get a request to submit my full manuscript. One step, one step at a time. I dare to dream. How about that?

But for now, it’s Sunday evening and there’s some kind of a weather event set to blast across the South East tonight, which will be my excuse if I can’t sleep. Right now, I think brandy is in order. Then at least I’ll be able to breathe again.

Confession (aka Synopsis Crisis 2)

Synopsis crisis 1Forgive me, readers, for I have sinned.  It’s been… aah… sorry about this… 14 days since my last confession blog post.

I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve been committing myself to the task of getting my synopsis written, crafting a persuasive query letter and tweaking my first 10,000 words; all in a dramatic prelude (drum roll please…..) to submitting SINGLED OUT to an initial short list of literary agents.

It’s not quite ready yet, not through want of effort, I assure you. But in my less creatively energetic moments, I’ve also drafted an impressive spreadsheet listing all the agents I plan to contact, with their submission instructions and a few other essential details, all gleaned from agency websites.  Some might accuse me of optimism (oh, go on…), but there are just four agents on the list at this stage, all recommended to me by my mentor, which is a gift for which I’m absurdly grateful. This is where it all begins.

But first, I need the perfect synopsis.  And I’ve discovered that writing the perfect synopsis is a bit like looking for the perfect man. Yes, girls, you get it, don’t you?

So my synopsis is presentable in parts and pretty hopeless in other parts.  I’m trying to change him it but it’s proving a tough job.  There is a wealth of advice on writing synopses in the ranks of ‘how to’ books on my bookshelf and on the internet – and plenty of it is sound, sensible advice too.  I’m trying to follow it – but I think I’m trying too hard.  In all honesty, I’m making a bit of a job of it.

In the process, I’ve drunk my way through two jars of instant and 16 capsules of Tassimo Carte Noire Latte Macciato (yum) and even – the day my stomach became inexplicably crampy, probably due to stress m’lud (or maybe too much caffeine) – three peppermint teabags.  Yes, I know, I told you I hate tea – and I do.  But peppermint tea is more like drinking a Polo Mint and it was good for my withered digestive system, so I suffered it.

But I digress.

Each agent very helpfully puts submission instructions on their websites.  They want a query letter or email – that’s fine.  Actually that wasn’t too hard to write given my [mumble number of] years in sales and marketing work.  It has to be modified for each agent, but it’s as complete as it needs to be for now. They want the first 10,000 words, three chapters or 50 pages – that’s fine too.  It’s all much the same thing and once you’re happy with the content, you just need to cut-and-paste into a document topped with your contact details. But then there’s the synopsis… 300 words… 1,000-1,500 words… one or two pages… ‘brief’…  So, more than one version then.

Taking some good advice and paying a deal of attention to an interesting online workshop in free pdf format from Mslexia here, (for which many thanks sandradan1), I started with a 25-word elevator pitch.  Okay, so it was a scratch over 40 words.  But it fits the bill, and it helped me focus.  I graduated from there to the 300 word version which, with more help than I would have liked to have needed, is now complete.  Next… The Big One – character detail, motivations, inciting incidents, tipping points, trials and tribulations, tension and triumph – phew!  My first draft was a car crash and my second wandered into a maze of detail and never came out.  But, armed with a short version I’m now happy with, I have more confidence in draft number three.  There’s a faint hope that the process will be less like being hung upside down by my fingernails over a pit of vipers, and output more… forthcoming.

If somebody had said that writing a 1,000 word (or thereabouts) synopsis of your work will be harder than writing the 97,000 words itself, I’d probably have laughed confidently in their faces.  I’m a writer after all, aren’t I?  I’ve written dozens of business proposals, white papers and case studies, summarised entanglements of technical hogwash, edited endless articles and cut swathes from wordy websites.  A synopsis is just another job, isn’t it?

Not so, when you want nothing more in your whole life, than to be taken on by an agent, find a publisher for your first novel, and enjoy the privilege of spending the third phase of your working life immersed in fiction.  Not so at all.

Synopsis Crisis

Synopsis crisis 1Today I began the task of writing the synopsis for my now completed manuscript.

I’ve read books, articles and many, many blog posts on how to write a synopsis.  I know it’s more about what you leave out than what you put in.  I know how long it should be… um… between 1 and 5 sides of A4, depending on whose advice you take.  I know that it needs to not be a blow-by-blow account of what happens next, and next, and next.  I know it needs to be about character, inciting incidents, conflict, tension and emotional progression; and it needs to show that I know how to plot – and how to write too.

All that, it’s all very well.  I get it.  And I’m an intelligent woman (don’t argue…) with a good grasp of the English language and an intimate knowledge of the subject of this synopsis.  So what could possibly go wrong?

Well… I sat in front of my PC this morning and the words that spewed on to the page were a confused, desperate ramble around my plot.  Tangled, like a plate of angel hair pasta, a mass of fragile threads jostled for attention.  But there was no sauce and it was all very, very claggy and dry.

One thing was abundantly clear about Draft Number One; if I were reading it, I wouldn’t be reaching for those first three chapters.

At least I know it’s crap; self-awareness is a strength, I tell myself. But it’s only a first draft, so I’m not going to get discouraged.  No, really.  I’m not.  I’m going to print it out in double spacing with big margins.  I’ll scribble on it and chew it over for a few days, and perhaps the right way to tackle it will surface (maybe around 4:00 in the morning).

I know there are things that need to be worked out. Whilst my timeline is a snug single week in the life of my characters there are intricacies in how those characters’ stories weave together, impact my protagonist and move the plot forward.  I’m going to have to decide which of these need space in the synopsis, and which do not – there isn’t room for them all.  Then there’s my ‘big reveal’ scene, an intense mental battle between two characters. At the moment, it is dispatched in a single line.  I may only have 500 words to play with, but I feel it deserves more than that.  Or maybe I’d just like to think that because I bled all over the carpet for weeks writing that darned scene, I’m going to force anyone who reads my synopsis to appreciate the time and effort it took.  I don’t know.

I’m sure I’ll get there – I’m a writer and a marketer after all, so I should be able to cope with a synopsis. Right?  I just said I’d give you a feel for what’s happening in my head now the book is written and the selling game begins.

So here you have it – synopsis crisis, day one.

What’s your USP?

So ‘novice crime writer’ Robert Galbraith is revealed in yesterday’s Sunday Times to be the phenomenally successful author, JK Rowling.

One or two publishing houses are nursing their wounds having rejected the manuscript for the now critically acclaimed The Cuckoo’s Calling.  According to yesterday’s Telegraph, Kate Mills, publishing director of Orion bravely admitted she had thought the work ‘perfectly decent, but quiet’ and confessed she could not find a unique selling-point with which to market it.

It must be hard enough to launch a new author, with no public profile and no track record.  Without a compelling USP, it’s easy to understand why a publisher would not be inspired to invest their time, effort and resources, especially in a crowded genre such as crime.

I’m a writer with ambitions to be the next critically acclaimed debut novelist. Assuming I don’t have a gold-etched multi-million dollar alter ego tucked in my back pocket (I haven’t), my first novel needs to stand out in other ways.  More of the same, just like this writer or that book already on the shelves, won’t be enough to get a debut novelist off the ground.  Marketing and selling – whatever the product – is all about the USPs.  Uniques give the publisher something tangible to promote and give the reader a reason to take a risk on an unknown author.

I set out to write the sort of book I enjoy reading, but rarely find.  My (almost finished) work-in-progress is a slow-burning psychological drama with the sun shining on its face, but a dark heart and tension running through its veins.  I’d say it has one or two significant USPs for a publisher to go to work on.  It’s a book I’d take a risk on if I saw it on the 3-for-2 table at Waterstones, particularly if I was going off on holiday. (There – that’s all the clue you’re getting.)

I have 105,000 words to show for two years’ worth of evenings and weekends and I’m editing, editing, editing; tightening the writing, balancing the rhythm of the plot, ensuring my characters are consistent and credible and my landscape sensual and evocative.  If I stay on track, it’ll be out on the wind by October, in search of an agent to help it on its way to the publishing houses.

Then, when a publisher like Orion reads my first novel for the first time I’ll be hoping they feel a rush of blood to the head as they realise they have their hands on something different and exciting – and marketable; something they won’t want slipping through their fingers.