The BIG editing lesson I learned writing The Surrogate #WritingTips

Today is the UK paperback publication of my third psychological thriller, The Surrogate (US paperback publication will follow later this year).  Although I’ve learned from every book, it was this one in particular where my editor gave me a piece of advice that has always stayed with me.

When I shared with my sister that I’d be writing a book about surrogacy she told me that she though the subject was too limiting. That the story would be predictable. I was determined to prove her wrong.

The Surrogate features Kat and Lisa, childhood friends, and Kat’s husband, Nick. They are all keeping dark and damaging secrets. I never plan when I write. I had a vague idea of who might be bad and who might be good but as I got deeper into the story the characters pulled me in unexpected directions. The plot became more complex than anything I thought I was capable of constructing.

As the ending gathered pace I layered twist upon twist, they tumbled onto the page as they tumbled out of my head, until finally the story reached its dramatic conclusion.

Nervously, I sent it over to my editor.

‘This is a phenomenal story’ her feedback began, ‘but…’ my heart sank ‘you’re not giving your twists time to breathe.’

I wasn’t entirely sure what she meant until I reread my manuscript. There wasn’t time to process each revelation before another one hit. It had been exhausting writing it. It was equally exhausting reading it. Rather than the pacy, hard hitting ending I thought I’d written it was confusing, lurching from one reveal to another.

She suggested taking out several twists which I was reluctant to do, so I set about rewriting the end.

For the twist she’d classed as ‘the big one’ I ensured I had no other reveals in this chapter. For other twists I moved a couple so they were away from the end. For most I lengthened the chapters so they weren’t so crammed together, particularly the epilogue which contains several.

Rereading it, I could see the difference. There was time to rest back, to process the turns of the story before it once more turned on its head.

There’s nothing I like more than pulling the rug from under the readers feet. To lead them to think they’ve got it all figured out when they haven’t. My stories always contain multiple twists. Now I’ll always give them time to breath.

You can read the opening of The Surrogate here and buy it on your local Amazon here. It is also now available in Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s & all good book shops.

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The valuable lesson I learned on my writing retreat

In 2015 I nervously went on a ‘How to create a submission package’ retreat at Wentworth Castle. I’d finished my first novel and although I didn’t feel quite brave enough to send it out into the world, I wanted to explore my options if I one day I drank enough wine to actually sum up the courage to share it.

Ali Harper and Anna Chilvers were the tutors and after reading the opening for The Sister, felt it would glean much interest and after running through the pros and cons of agents, publishers and self-publishing, encouraged me to craft a query letter and gave me tips on writing the dreaded synopsis. I went home believing, not that I could, but that I might, and I held tightly onto that kernel of hope until the day came when I did drink enough wine to press send on the submission emails that had been languishing in my draft Hotmail folder.

Fast forward three years, four books published, nineteen translation deals and a million sales later I was delighted to be invited back to Wentworth Castle to talk to Anna and Ali’s new students on their ‘Writing Fearlessly’ retreat about my bumpy journey to publication. I spoke about the group I was part of in 2015. How the 15 other students and I were passionate about writing but never believed it would happen for us. How being an author always seemed too far out of reach.  I shared my experience  – how extraordinary things can happen to ordinary people if you can pick yourself up after the inevitable knock backs, always be willing to listen to constructive criticism and never, ever stop writing.

It was in the bar afterwards (where else would you find a bunch of writers) a lovely lady shared with me that she never wanted to be published and had no intention of ever trying to be. ‘I write for myself’ she said ‘for the love of it, because it brings me so much happiness.’

I paused. Lowered my glass and remembered how it felt to write The Sister, with no hopes or expectations, just the pure joy of spending time with my characters. How writing lifted me out of clinical depression and gave me a purpose. I still love writing, of course I do or I’d choose another career but sometimes caught up with the deadlines, the marketing, the accounts, everything else that comes with the job sometimes, just sometimes, it’s possible to lose sight of what drove me to write to start with. The passion, the drive, the possibilities.

The desire to tell a story.

I do hope the retreat participants got something out of my visit, I know I took something valuable away too.

In 2015 I was unable to stand unaided so it was super special that this time I was up to having a little mooch around the grounds, checking out Stainborough Castle and the beautiful countryside. As gorgeous as it was, alone at the castle I was seeing crime everywhere, plots spinning around my mind, picking out potential hiding places for someone to spring out, bodies to be buried. Can we ever entirely switch off the writer side of us?

Novel writing 1st draft – When the end is also the beginning

Today, I typed two words on my fourth manuscript. The two words that are often the most exciting to write. The End. Although it’s only a first draft, the relief I feel is immense but it’s also mixed with a nervousness, and if I’m honest, a little sadness.

Relief, because despite the success of my first three books the self-doubt has never completely gone away. The little voice whispering I won’t be able to do it again. This book has been such a hard write, and a long time in the making, started and abandoned twice, and there were times when I absolutely believed that voice and almost, almost gave up.

Nerves, because this is when it goes over to my agent and publisher for their feedback. This psychological thriller comes from a different angle and I’m hoping it’s one they will like. It’s also pacier, darker and more emotive than my first other books, although I hope it still retains the same feel.

Sadness, because again, I’ve become ridiculously attached to my main character, Ali and in a way this feels like letting her go. She’s been through such a lot in her life (and in my story!) and after spending 8 hours a day with her for almost a year I am already feeling lost without her.

I remind myself that this is not the end, this is the beginning and it’s the next part of the process I enjoy the most. The editing, the shaping of the story, polishing the language. It will be interesting to see, when the edits come back, how they compare to my previous books. I feel I’ve learned so much working with an editor and I’ve tried to put it all into practice. I shall let you know shortly as well as sharing the tips I have picked up along the way.

 

Sponge Cake & Self Doubt – The day before publication…

Today I’m distracted, unable to settle. I’ve opened and closed my wip, started and abandoned a short story. The puppy has trailed me as I’ve paced our overgrown garden, the cat rolling his eyes as I’ve stalked the places he thinks of as his own. I’m edgy, excited, easily distracted. It’s a little like waiting for Christmas, except it isn’t. It’s better.

Tomorrow is the paperback publication day of my debut, The Sister and even with a pile of paperbacks sitting on my desk and less than twelve hours to go I still can’t quite believe it’s happening.

This morning I’ve collected the bookmarks for my Waterstones launch tomorrow night, resisted the urge to dive into my cake and bought enough wine to fill the boot of my car. Each time I’ve been out I’ve darted into Asda and stood staring blankly at the books for so long an assistant came to check if I was ok and I couldn’t bring myself to tell her that tomorrow, nestled amongst the other titles, my story will sit. It doesn’t seem real.

It’s been a long road to publication, and after signing with the digital phenomenon that is Bookouture I never dreamed that a year on I’d also have a contract with Sphere (Little, Brown). After all those no’s finally two yes’s.

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I feel so emotional today. So thankful that even when it seemed utterly impossible anyone would take me on I never gave up writing and submitting. Tomorrow in-between two radio interviews, I’m planning to visit WH Smiths, Waterstones and the supermarkets to reassure myself it’s really there. I can’t imagine how I’ll feel when I see Grace and Charlie’s story on a shelf although there’s still a part of me, a larger part than I’d like, that is half-expecting a last minute ‘sorry we’ve read the book again and changed our minds’ email. I’m not sure when this self-doubt will go, if it ever will, but in the meantime I’m watching the clock and waiting. Endlessly waiting. And for now, still resisting the cake.

 

 

 

 

Hachette acquires Bookouture!

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Huge congratulations to my publisher, Bookouture, who have announced they are now part of Hachette. Exciting times ahead for all!

Here’s the official press release: – 

Tim Hely Hutchinson, CEO of Hachette UK, today announces the acquisition by Hachette UK of Bookouture, Britain’s leading independent ebook publisher.

“I am delighted to announce today that Hachette UK has acquired Bookouture, the UK’s leading ebook specialist publisher.

“In just four years since it was founded, Bookouture has established itself as an outstandingly successful and innovative ebook publisher. Its formidable reputation and enormous success in publishing many bestselling ebook authors, including Angela Marsons, Louise Jensen and Robert Bryndza, whose novel The Girl in the Ice has sold over one million copies, demonstrates that Bookouture probably knows more about selling ebooks than any other publisher in the world. We salute Oliver Rhodes and his colleagues and welcome them warmly to Hachette.

“The acquisition of Bookouture is a landmark event for Hachette UK, demonstrating the scope of our ambition to expand and develop our core publishing business by acquiring the best companies in their field where the fit is right and their ambition matches our own. Bookouture has achieved remarkable things in its short history and, while it will continue as a standalone business, I know that we will mutually enhance and grow our businesses through, where it is appropriate, sharing our expertise and pooling our talents.”

Bookouture will have a special relationship with Little, Brown, which will publish some of Bookouture’s authors in print editions. Oliver Rhodes, CEO of Bookouture, will continue in this role and will also become Digital Publisher of Hachette UK. He will join the board of Hachette UK reporting to David Shelley, CEO of Little, Brown and Orion. In his new dual role Oliver will both continue to run Bookouture and, by steering and advising, also help increase ebook sales across the Hachette UK group.

Bookouture employs 16 people, all of whom will remain with the company, which will continue to be based in its offices in King’s Cross.

David Shelley said:

“I have long admired the work Oliver has done at Bookouture – he and his colleagues have discovered some amazing authors and have enjoyed extraordinary success with them; they publish with real flair and creativity. I could not be more excited to work with Oliver and his team in taking Bookouture and its authors to the next level, and to have Oliver’s input into Hachette’s digital publishing more generally. I think he will bring something very special to our business.”

Oliver Rhodes said

“Seeing Bookouture flourish in the past four years has been an incredible and rare privilege – we have an extremely talented and dedicated team and a fantastic group of authors who we are very proud of. What is so exciting about taking this next step and becoming part of Hachette UK is that it will help us to build on the significant momentum we already have and achieve even greater things for our authors.

“Tim and David’s vision for Bookouture within Hachette UK is absolutely everything I would want it to be – supportive, forward-thinking, and ambitious – and that was a key factor in making this decision. To sit alongside the other fantastic publishing houses in the group and work with some of the best people in the business will be a real thrill. I know we’ll learn a great deal from each other and I can’t wait to get started.”

I never thought I’d see my book in print in English and now…

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I am so excited to share the Hungarian covers for my first two novels, ‘The Sister’ and the forthcoming ‘The Gift’.

Ten months ago, being published seemed such an unachievable dream and yet not one I was quite ready to let go of, picking myself up after each rejection and trying again. Having my debut published earlier this year was phenomenal, but even then it never occurred to me that my story might one day be translated into different languages.

The rights to my first two novels have now been sold to several territories and I can’t wait to see the different covers. Hungary have chosen to use the same artwork as the UK versions.

I am so glad I never gave up. As C.S. Lewis said ‘You are never too old to set a new goal or to dream a new dream.’

Behind the scenes with Bookouture Publicity Manager – Kim Nash

 

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Kim Nash is Publicity and Social Media Manager for fast-growing publishers, Bookouture. An impressive title, but what does it actually mean? As I writer I’m eager for a glimpse behind the scenes and super busy Kim was happy to answer my questions.

 

Kim, when Bookouture takes on a new author at what stage of the process do you get involved?

An interesting question and lots of answers! Some authors that we have taken on have come to Bookouture because I have introduced them. I’ve read their work and loved it and passed it on to the editorial team for them to make a decision. Some we’ve taken on and some we haven’t.

That must be fabulous to play an active part in making someone’s dream come true.

It is and sometimes the editorial team get a book that they ask us all to read for our feedback. This is really exciting!

So an author signs a book deal. What happens next?

When we decide to take an author on, I introduce myself and we ask them to fill in a questionnaire so that we can learn more about them and look at potential PR opportunities. I try as well to have a skype call with the authors quite early on, so that they understand the process of how I work and when some of the things that I do happen.

Running up to pre-release, how do you get the book out there?

I share the cover reveals on social media which I love doing. It’s so exciting listening to everyone’s reactions and seeing how much they want to read the book, just from seeing the cover. And when the book goes onto NetGalley, I announce that on social media too.

And readers can request a copy of the digital book via Net Galley?

On NetGalley we are really looking for committed bloggers and reviewers to feature our books on their blogs. Reviews are so important to an author.

Do you read all the books that come through Bookouture? 

I’ve always tried to read every single one of our books before they go out to reviewers but with the amount we have out all at the same time right now, sometimes the reviewers get them at the same time as me. I would find it very difficult to promote a book that I hadn’t read and always find it easier if it’s a book that fits into the genres that I like reading. As I’m a blogger too, I hope I understand the pressures that bloggers are under and publishers have to understand that blogging is a hobby not a job!

How do you structure your time, particularly as social media posts are sometimes done in the evenings?

I’m a social media addict so I’ve always got my computer, my iPad or my iPhone close to me at all times. I have had many times when I’ve been out at the park with my son, or playing football in the cul-de-sac where we live, while doing a cover reveal. As long as I have wi-fi nothing stops me.   A lot of our work happens in the evening though, that’s the nature of our business and when readers/bloggers are at home and working on their blogs.

Do you instinctively know when a book’s going to do well.

It’s another great question. I know what I like to read and I know what a lot of bloggers like to read. As a HQ team, we watch chart positions constantly and send messages to each other from 6am to 11pm and are chatting all the time about books on the move. We normally get a sense through pre-orders and how many people are talking about our books and what they are saying about them, to see how they’re going to perform. And sometimes you just read a book that you KNOW is going to be a massive hit!

Exciting times! Thank you so much Kim.

Bookouture are currently open for submissions. 

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