Friday, August 25, 2006

The Great Publisher Hunt

How does one hunt a publisher?

Cue jungle music. I envision myself as some clueless north american tourist asking a local guide for help hunting through treacherous jungle. The guide is suspicious, but once I prove my worth to her, she agrees to take me, so long as I provide the proper equipment. And so now I will picture Julia, in a pith helmet and khaki shorts, leading me through the brush.

And I could continue with this analogy for this entire post because I have no concrete facts to share. The fact of the matter is, when it comes to hunting publishers, well I don't have a clue how it's done. I just stayed in the lodge and drank hot chocolate.

You see the joy of a literary agent is that she knows what she's doing. She knows what to do, who to submit to and what needs to be submitted. She's a smart lady. And so Julia submitted my MS to half a dozen or so publishers. And yes there was some rejection, but I have to say I wasn't too concerned with it. Partly it had to do with my faith in my wonderful agent, and partly because as an actor I had faced so much rejection that I've just stopped taking it personally. Possibly every author should try acting for a year to get accustomed to it. The great thing to me about writing is that, right away, you are being judged on your talent and not something superficial like your appearance (trust me, it is so infuriating being judged simply on one photograph. Have you ever tried to choose the perfect headshot (actually many of you probably have)? It's one of the most stressful decisions. You can't show all the complexities that is you in one single shot. Smile, not smile. Black and white, colour. Hair up, down. Sexy, pretty, cute? All this in one picture that casting directors glance at for less than a second. For only an audition! But I digress.) At any rate, even something as simple as a query letter is akin to that first audition. In fact it's better. In an audition, you can have prepared and prepared, but something within the moment can happen. The director/casting director can yawn during your speech, you could forget your lines. You might be having a bad hair day. But you can devote as much focus and preparation on a query letter, and it will always be the same query letter - the one you wrote at home is the same one the agent/editor receives. Anyway. My point is, I'm used to rejection.

But then suddenly there was interest. And I was in a taxi driving to meet Publisher XYZ. And suddenly I was in a board room sitting around with some lovely individuals talking about . . . my book. My book. The one that I wrote on my laptop in front of the television, or at work, my little book. Talking about plans, about how it might look, about all those things you fantasize about having conversations over. Ooh, and eating brownies.

It was amazing. It was fun!

And then came the offer. And then came the contract. Later on when I feel like I'm allowed to give more details I will tell the story of Publisher XYZ's offer. It's a nice story. And there is a picture to accompany it.

And 4 weeks after signing with my agency I had a book deal. A two book deal!

And it was glorious.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Look Up.

Hey just a quickie. I have changed the name of my blog. Again. I just figured I should honour the fact that I am a writer, not simply a temping actress. So . . . Like the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion; like the siblings in A Series of Unfortunate Events; like Destiny's Child - I have become whole, by becoming three.

Let us all revel in the glory that is now:


Sunday, August 20, 2006

The Agent Acquisition Part 2

And wait.

When we last left our temping actress she was waiting to hear from the lovely Julia from the Darley Anderson agency after having sent her the full MS of her novel.

How long was the wait . . ?

Well I let it go 8 weeks. I counted every one, like a prisoner scratching marks on a wall. Hmm . . . that's a bit melodramatic. Then on the advice of a friend of a friend, a published children's book author, I called to give a gentle nudge, or really just to find out what was going on.

It was possibly one of the most terrifying phone calls I've ever had to make. It actually wound up being pretty civilized. Once I recited my prepared speech (courtesy of the friend of a friend), I was told that Julia would get back to me. That was good enough for me. It wasn't a no, and that's all that mattered. Later that day I got a very friendly email where it turned out that Julia had been quite busy and hadn't finished reading the MS yet, and she would let me know once she had. Thus the waiting began again.

I didn't know it then, but I had only to wait a few days before she called. I could be mistaken, but I believe one of my housemates answered the phone in a silly voice that time. Ah, well. Whatcha gonna do?

Anyway, she liked the book. But? No but. She liked the characters, and the story. But? No, seriously, no but. And wasn't such and such bit really funny. But? But? Oh okay but. But could you cut it by like 10 000 words. Sure, sure, no problem that's only like . . . 26 pages!!! She also asked to shorten the chapters and to create more momentum for the second section. And I in my, Adrienne is an actress and therefore never sounds worried about such requests, replied coolly that that would be more than easy to do.

Hang up phone. It's okay. It's okay. I can do this. I can.

So I decided to give myself a deadline of two weeks. I told mom and dad about the challenge, and we chatted about it. I was pretty determined not to cut any scenes, simply words within scenes. Enter: the focus group.

The Focus Group

A family of three, friends of my parents with a daughter aged 10, the perfect age for my book. They had been given my MS to read, so that I could have the opinion of a real-live kid. This was far more terrifying than even having it in the hands of an agent. I was worried that the book worked for adults, but would its target audience approve? However they proved far more helpful than I had any right to expect. Not only did the daughter enjoy the book (mom read it aloud to her before bed), but both mom and daughter had some absolutely brilliant suggestions, some just general editing comments and others specifically for cutting down the word count. With that help, plus mom and dad, plus me sitting at my computer in front of random reality shows on TV, we cut the piece down.

At first it was easy. A paragraph here, a paragraph there. Then it began to get tricky. I'm not sure if you've noticed, what with my penchant for brackets, but I like to digress in my narrative. At times it's pointless, but it is also a stylistic choice, something that makes the story what it is, and it got tricky determining which asides should go, and which should stay. I fought valiantly for many of them. And many of them stayed. And some were sacrificed to the gods of the delete key. By the end of the two weeks I was cutting single words within sentences. But I did it. I cut 10 000 words. And the funny thing was, upon re-reading the novel (and my parents whole-heartedly agreed with this), you couldn't actually tell what had been cut. Yes. I am just that long-winded.

So the week before the Easter holiday, in a downpour, I walked the new MS over to the agency again. What the girl who answered the door must have thought of this sad looking person presenting her MS protected from the rain by a plastic bag, is her story to tell. But she took it, and I turned around and returned to whence I'd come.

That Friday Julia called. Again a housemate answered, but this time a much more civilized one, and no silly voices were invoked. She wanted to meet with me.

Sure (begin silent screaming and flailing arms in the direction of housemates [and one housemate's friend]), when?

How about Saturday?

Cool. Cool.

Hang up phone.

Begin real screaming.

So I met with Julia around 6pm on the Saturday. And wound up hanging out with the girl for 5 HOURS. We chatted about the book, about some more edits she wanted done. About our families. And about one topic I have been obsessing over lately, the job of an agent and all the wacky stuff that happens. I love talking about that stuff. After much chatting I finally had to ask: "After I do all these edits and stuff, I mean . . . um . . . well what happens next?" It was then that she finally told me she wanted to represent me. It was then that she also told me she liked to wait to see when the author would ask that question. Oh those wacky agents.

At 11pm we parted ways and I immediately called mom and dad. I was taking the tube but fortunately my route was above ground. I talked to them the whole journey home (my dad has recently become obsessed with google maps where you can see the satellite view of the world, so he followed my route online - in case you forgot, they were in Canada, I was in London). We were very excited. They, possibly, were slightly more excited. That isn't to diminish my excitement, but merely to try to express just how excited my parents get about these sorts of things.

I still had to complete some edits, but I did it and finally, FINALLY, I signed the contract. I visited the agency for a third time, and this time, this time, I was let through the door. And I have to say, I love Julia's office. It's this cozy room with poorly constructed shelving that sag under the weight of all the books of the authors they represent.

So I signed the paper and was given as a gift a book by one of their clients. Of course I needed to be difficult about it, one was too scary, one wasn't really my genre. . . finally I was given a Lee Child (Killing Floor - his first). It was very good by the way.

I had one or two more little edits to make that I said I'd do that night and send them to her then. And that's just what I did.

Then . . . oh then . . . as the wonderful team that we were . . . we started The Great Publisher Hunt!!

Saturday, August 19, 2006

The Agent Acquisition Part 1

When we last left our temping actress, she was faced with a conundrum - how to find a literary agent? So, what did she do? Read on dear friends, read on.

As I've already pointed out, I did a fair bit of writing at my various temping jobs. However, when I was faced with writer's block, I would google questions about the publishing world. I stumbled onto the Bloomsbury website where they offer a lot of free information on the industry. This is the link: By checking out this link I learned about the Writers' and Artists' Yearbook - a large fat book that tells you everything you need to know about the publishing industry (in the UK), as well as providing lists of addresses of publishers and . . .agents!!!

So after much research I learned I needed to provide my prospective agent the following things:

- a query letter
- a synopsis
- the first three chapters

The Dreaded Query Letter

I was a lucky girl. I had no idea how difficult such a letter was supposed to be. I read the example provided in the yearbook, found an example online of a published writer's query, and took what I considered to be the best bits from both and combined them into what seemed to me to be a professional sounding, witty and intriguing letter. I was very familiar with the art of the cover letter, having sent out many many of them as an actor. So I knew to be professional and to the point. It wasn't easy, but it wasn't a terrible struggle. It was only after I had had success with it that I noticed on writing forums and agent blogs just how huge and important the query letter was - how so many writers worked themselves to the bone to get the perfect letter, and how there were even courses on writing the perfect one. Had I known any of that I would have second guessed myself throughout the process of creating the thing. You see the problem is, no two queries are the same. You can have your query letter edited to death, and be told to do such and such by one person only to be told that such and such is the absolutely wrong thing to do. So, ignorance was bliss. The most blissful of bliss.


This again I think I may have done wrong. Fortunately the one thing I did right was not end with a cliffhanger. I knew that the agent wanted to know the story and it wasn't my place to be cute. However the tone of the synopsis was quite dry, and the middle section was actually bulletpointed! From what I have since learned the key is to write the synopsis in the tone of the book, like a mini-story. That to me makes a heck of a lot of sense.

The First Three Chapters

I just made sure my first three chapters were amazing. It occurred to me early on that I had a big problem however. My middle grade adventure book opened with a chapter where there was absolutely no dialogue (this has since changed in subsequent editings). And this is where I did wrong thing number 372. I wrote a prologue. If there is one thing I have noticed in the blogs of the various agents and editors out there is how much they don't like prologues. Well again, I didn't know that at the time. I wrote a short prologue which was virtually entirely (what I considered to be) amusing dialogue, and that was relatively short. To be honest, I love this prologue, it adds a heck of a lot to the story and gets things started off on the right tone. Still, is there anything this temping actress did right?

Well . . . I did follow the instructions of each specific agent. I also phoned all the agencies to get the name of the person to whom I should submit. I made sure I didn't submit to any agent who didn't take children's lit. And I didn't use any fancy fonts (Times New Roman 12 all the way), or scented paper, or anything else that is ridiculous. On the other hand. . . .

I hadn't finished the novel.

Okay, in my self-defense all the agent sites and blurbs said that it takes 4 - 6 weeks to get back to you. And I knew I would be able to write my ending in that amount of time. Besides I work better in a panic with a deadline looming in the not so distant future.

So on a cold Monday morning in January I took half a dozen manila envelopes filled with queries and synopses and first three chapterees, and sent them off on their merry way, wooshing through fair London town with the help of those noble knights from the Royal Mail.

And I went about my business.

La di da di da di da, la di da, la di da.

The next day (Tuesday - the same day I had an audition for Robert Altman which was awesome, and even though I didn't get it, I actually thought I did pretty darn well):

Ring, ring. Ring, ring.


And then followed a stream of words I didn't quite understand until the title of my book was mentioned. And then everything clicked. It turned out that a marvelous young woman by the name of Julia Churchill from the marvelous agency Darley Anderson wanted me to send her the whole MS. Could I do such a thing?

"Of course, yes! Thank you . . . yes . .. yes. . .all right. Goodbye!"

I hung up the phone. And then started running in tiny little circles waving my hands around. WhatdoIdowhatdoIdo???????????

I tell you what I do. Mom and dad (wonderful English teachers and the king and queen of grammar) get the novel, up to the point I had written it at the time, to edit. Woosh, there it goes over the inter network. Meanwhile I sit in front of the computer and finish the thing. In three very long days.

I sat at my kitchen table and wrote all day, and late into the night. Pausing occasionally to watch the favourite TV shows and to eat. And I finished it. Meanwhile I received the edits from the folks, and after a long chat on the telephone, made the various corrections. Then on the Friday I printed it up at one of those print shop places.

It sat quietly on my mantle for two days and three nights.

Monday morning I walked it over to the agency (it was in my neighbourhood you see, and it saved me money and the worry of whether or not it had made it).

Then all there was left to do was wait. And wait.

And wait.

Next Time: The Conclusion of The Agent Acquisition.

Monday, August 14, 2006

A Big Announcement

Ladies and gentlemen of the imaginary audience, I have signed a contract. I have. Now this isn't a contract I made up in my room to play "Let's sign a contract" that wonderful game of make believe. No this is a real live contract with . . . a real live publisher.

Ooh! What's this, you gasp. Since when is our lovely temp and/or actress also an authoress? Kinda snuck up on you didn't it? Well to be honest I have been writing ever since I was very little (you must somewhat sense I like to write silly poems). And heck, this is a blog people! And a blog is a form of writing. So really the question should be, "How come it took so long?" To which I stick out my tongue at you!

Right now I am being very tentative as to the sort of information to release, as I don't know if it is my place. So I am not going to go into specifics yet (though when I need you all in all your invisible glory to buy my book, then I will give you all the information you could possibly handle. Maybe even the colour of my socks on Wednesdays - ah Wednesday socks. You know I just imagined this second a whole slew of invisible people going into book stores and taking my book off the shelves and people gasping in horror as dozens of books seemingly of their own volition fly towards the cash register. And this is an extremely long aside. Which I will finish . . .now).

However I did want to start writing down the process from submission to publication, just because I am utterly fascinated by it myself.

First I should share the story of the story. Which fits nicely in with The Temp and The Actress.

I have always had something on the go writing wise. Usually it is some manifestation of my comedy detective novel which is always such fun to write until I remember I have to include a plot. Occasionally it is a play (the most recent a modern Jacobean tragedy, the act of writing it became a bit of a Jacobean tragedy in and of itself). But never, not ever, a children's novel.

So what made me do it? Well first off I LOVE children's lit. I do. I am a Harry Potterphile (omg! How amazing was the reading in New York! And she was introduced by . . . Jon Stewart!! Who, if you read earlier along in my blog -, is the sole reason I write this blog at all. Anyway, so great and if you care and want to check out the whole reading - that included Stephen King and an absolutely sensational reading by John Irving check out Second I was in Bath. Not the bath. Bath. In England. Where Jane Austen wrote and was miserable.

I went to Bath February of 2005 for a weekend getaway from the hustle and bustle of London town. I brought my laptop so I could watch the extended Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. And also a couple of 'A Series of Unfortunate Events' to read in the plethora of tea shops around the town (shout out to Sally Lunn's and her buns). Well after the first day I had exhausted all tourist sights as well as seen 'The Life Aquatic' at a cute little movie theatre. It was cold and wet and as I wandered around the lovely town aimlessly I started thinking about writing a book (as one does). Since I was reading children's lit at the time, and felt quite well versed in the area, I thought, what if I wrote a children's book? I bet I could do that.

Well what would it be about? I asked myself. I answered. What else would it be about? I answered that too. And as I asked myself questions, I passed sights and shops that found their way into my story and finally when my stomach was fluttering about with butterflies of inspiration (not the deadly butterflies of inspiration!! Run, run for your life!) so much that I couldn't sit still (also it was really cold out and not much fun sitting still for that long), I went back to my B & B and started to write. I wrote around 20 pages that weekend, nothing too significant, but enough to convince me that I wasn't going to give up any time soon.

For the rest of the year I wrote. I wrote at home in front of the tv and various reality tv shows (which are excellent for white noise). I wrote at work (but only after I had of course done my work - I am a very good girl). And once August rolled around suddenly the thought struck me that maybe I should try to get published. The idea seemed absurd and impossible, but I am an actor and used to impossible dreams. And if there is one thing actors are familiar with it's rejection. So it didn't seem a big risk.

But, and this was the big problem, how to do it?

Dum dum dum!!!!!!

(Always end on a cliff hanger - author advice #264)

NEXT TIME: The Agent Acquisition