Tuesday, November 17, 2009

You don't have to be crazy.....

to work here, but it helps.

Yep a cliche that a writer would never use. But cliches become so because they tend to be true. And I do actually believe that in order to actively seek and then survive the life of a professional writer you need a certain degree of insanity. Except you don't think you're insane, it's only everyone else who thinks you are.

And who can blame them? You have no job security or career structure. Your entire livelihood is based on the subjective decision of others. And unlike the work of a self-employed carpenter for example, your work is up for scrutiny by millions of people who have access to the internet and aren't slow about voicing there opinions.

I 've noticed that James Moran has stopped blogging and for a nano second Stephen Fry stopped twittering. A writer is open to abuse in ways never before anticipated. And for a writer that is tough, especially for the sensitive variety and especially for a TV/film writer. We have our names on the credits but the viewing public as a rule have no idea of the battles fought and lost so any sense of injustice over criticism leveled is magnified because the writer in general is overuled by the producers et al and can count themselves lucky if 70% of what was envisaged ends up on screen.

It's why I'm trying to move out of that arena with the novel. I want more control over what appears. If I get slated then fair enough. I'll know it was mostly down to me. If it works then it might give me more leverage if I go back into TV. Though to be honest I think it's doubtful if I will go back. I wouldn't trust any of the current regimes on any of the terrestial channels to know good drama if it fucked them soundly and left a return airfair to Rio on the sideboard as a tip.

So yes, a degree of insanity is a pre-requisite to being a professional writer. But not too much. As Swiss Tony from The Fast Show would say - being a writer is like making love to a beautiful woman; Nutters don't get to do it. But someone a little off the wall just might.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

It's not a sprint

It's a marathon, after first completing a slow jog with a dead leg from Bloomsbury to Soho via Dusseldorf.
Or so it seems at the moment.

For anyone wondering if I was alive or not, yes I think I am. And ready to continue the saga of my quest to turn from TV to novels. To continue where I left off, I have now signed with an agent. Not the mega agent but the other good but less high profile one, for reasons that I will now bore you with.
Back in the summer (remember that couple of weeks?) I got line by line notes from mega agent. The other agent had suggested that I alter the structure of the book, and while I understood his reasons, it wouldn't have been the book I wanted to write.
Yes okay, I can hear the snorts of 'prima donna' but hell, I've spent 10 years writing shite at the behest of others and don't want to spend the next ten doing the same.

So I put the other agent on hold and duly did the line by line notes for mega agent who had no concerns about the structure. Soooooooooome time later, I got a reply from mega agent saying she wanted to pass me on to another agent there because she thought it needed more editing for description and this agent was a whizz, and was that okay with me?

In principle it was. Everyone needs a good editor. I think the original title of Mein Kamph was something like 'My four and a half years of struggle against lies, stupidity and cowardice'. I don't think it would have been quite so popular with the original title, possibly because some words have two or more syllables.

But... I was then told (cos I asked) that the suggested agent/whizz editor hadn't yet read the manuscript. I mentioned that there was another agent who wanted to sign me and holding him off was making me a litttle uncomfortable, so a little haste would be appreciated. I got a message back that the suggested agent would read the first 50 pages overnight and get back to me.

Three days later ....... not a dicky. One thing that 10 years in the Tv trenches has taught me is that you go where the love is. By this point I was feeling like the spare prick at a whore's wedding so decided to go where the love was.

I called the agent who wanted to sign me and told him of the problems I had with his notes. He suggested a meeting the next day. The meeting went like this :-

Me - My difficulty is that the notes you gave me would make a great book. Just not the book I want to write.

Agent - The only reason I made those suggestions was it would make it an easier sell. An absolutely archetypcal thriller if you will. Personally I love the book the way it is.

Me- How about I finish the draft I'm working on with the current structure, give it to you for notes and then we put it out to a few publishers for feedback. If it comes back that they want the structure changed, then I'll change it.

Agent - Fine by me.

Forms signed, hands shaken, meeting done. Okay those were the highlights after the chit-chat, but as a synopsis that was pretty much it.

I've just finished the draft and sent it in. Once again awaiting notes, but this time the marathon is extended yet again as the agent is jetting off on holiday for the whole of December, hey ho. Hopefully I'll get the notes back before he goes and can work on the book so it's ready to go out in January.
Did I say via Dusseldorf? Try Tokyo.

Anyway, what did I learn? Well, the fact that mega agent liked the structure gave me the confidence to stick up for it with the agent who suggested I change it, so I can't say that the months of delay before signing was wasted time. And I'm extreamly happy with my agent, well respected agency, a guy you can talk to, loaded with integrity, business savvy, the bees knees.

I learned from my beautiful and talented girlfriend who hooked up with me just before I started this entreprise that, contrary to my own self-image and denial of others opinions, I do indeed have a kamikaze streak and so it's a good job I'm a well hung stud-muffin who's fantastic in bed or I'd be dumped. ( She doesn't know I write this blog so I can get away with a little exaggeration. I don't really think she'd dump me)

I guess the next thing of note will be when and if the book goes to a few select publishers for feedback. There will be another post then for anyone who isn't sick to death of the longest suicide note in history!

Monday, October 05, 2009

Time for an update

Life gets tedious donnit? Well, not really, it can just seem to have a hiatus now and again; the trick is to enjoy the hiatus to the best of your ability.

So here's the updated skinny re: my foray into novel writing.

Mega agent gave me notes somewhere near the begining of August. I was pissing off to France for a couple of weeks at about the same time. So not a lot of work done then. In my defence it was my first ever proper holiday with my new significant other with rug-rats in tow. My familial duties during the day and getting rat arsed at night with an eclectic bunch of Slovenians who were also staying at the same converted farmhouse [long story] made actual work not as high on the list of priorities as I might have hoped.

But boy..... did I learn a lot. And in my view that is the one of the few things a writer can put in the bank and live with. Apart from money.

Monday, June 22, 2009

nearly July

Jings and help ma bob, where does the time go? I just realised that it was June 2nd when I posted that I was waiting on notes from the big agent. The exciting news is that I'm still waiting. Not that I can complain much as the wait is due to a medical glitch resulting in hospitalization. [the agent, not me] Though truth be told I did complain - silently to myself, you know the kind of thing , why me? If it was raining soup I'd only have a fork, etc.

I'd like to think that the reason for my apparent initial lack of sympathy was due to the pressure of holding off another agent who has offered representation and not just because I'm a selfish git. But there is another reason why time is important. As my mate Dublin said, and I paraphrase, 'They all fuck off for the summer' Actually I didn't paraphrase very much of that.

You see, Dublin had pretty much finished his 'going out' draft about this time last year but his agent told him he may as well take his time because there was no point in it going to publishers until September when they were all back from their summer jollys in the fleshpots of Margate or trekking in the foothills of Butlins [I hear times are tough in the publishing world] I figure his agent must have been right due to the amout of zeroes in Dublin's deal when it finally went out in September.

So this delay seems to me to pretty much mean for certain that at best the book won't go out until the nights are drawing in. At worst it won't go out at all of course and that will be another story.

Bearing in mind I began writing the book last September, that's a whole year of my ever shortening life gone for a Burton. That might not seem a lot to you, but I enjoy my earthly pleasures to such an extent that I think the old 'three score years and ten' is wildly optimistic in my case.

What's more to the point is that it looks like I will have to put on a suit for the first time in fifteen years. Yes the time has come when I have to get a proper job. Man cannot live by bread alone and I am doughless. Having concentrated on the novel over the last year and become tired of the whole TV game to the point where I can't be arsed writing for it [and to be fair the feeling is probably mutual in that they can't be arsed employing me] money has become an issue. A few months back I put feelers out in my old career, mainly to please those riding the alimony pony, not really thinking it would ever actually come to the point where I had to do anything about it. But this latest delay which will now turn into months has forced my hand. I've been offered a consultancy job for an initial three months, which suits the time line down to the ground. I figure it'll take them that long to discover I'm crap by which time the book will hopefully have sold.

This is as close to a back-up plan as I ever get.

So that's how things roll at Chez English. The next expected news is next week when I should finaly get the notes I've been waiting for. Coincidentally the week where I should be donning the old whistle and flute [ if it still fits]

Tuesday, June 02, 2009


For those of you following this foray into the novel writing world, and I know there at least three of you lol, here is the latest.

I met with the big time agent who said she loved the book and would give me line by line notes shortly. She didn't get down on bended knee, call me the greatest gift to writing since Jeffery Archer and offer to have my children, but I'll let that slide. Neither did she offer to actually sign me, saying that she never signs a client until the book is ready to go out. Fair enough. It was a good meeting and the broad notes she gave were very do-able. I haven't done anything about them as yet because experience in the trenches tells me that anything I do on the broad notes can easily be fucked six ways from Sunday by the line by line edit.

I got back from the meeting and checked my email. Lo and behold to my great surprise I'm invited to another meeting with another agent. I trotted along and that too seemed to go pretty well. The broad notes were a bit more onerous involving some hefty structural changes that right now I think may or may not change the tone of the book, and again he didn't whip out the papers and ask for my John Hancock.

That didn't worry me too much. With no mention of signing I was free to take or leave whatever notes I wanted and after due consideration go for a re-write with whichever agent I thought best.
Until yesterday
That was when the second agent mailed me to say he had thought about it over the weekend and wanted the old moniker asap.
To make matters more complicated the first agent mailed to say her notes would be delayed as she had to go to LA for most of this week.

So what's a girl to do? I like the second agent. He 's with a good agency, gives good notes, is a nice guy and clearly has integrity. The first agent, I've yet to see substantive notes but liked her and what she had to say and she's with an agency with major international firepower.

I guess common sense has to come in here. There's no way I can sign for the second agent without seeing the first agent's notes. As my mate Dublin pointed out, these guys spend all day pressing the reject button so I shouldn't feel bad about keeping them waiting for a decision. They do what's best for their business and therefore so should I. For my business I have to decide on who gives the best combination of getting the book into shape to sell and then selling it. Two equally important parts of the equation. I won't have all the information I need until I get the second set of substantive notes when the first agent gets back from La La land.

I don't want to piss off the second agent by stalling. As I said, I liked what he had to say, but it's a risk I have to take. This is a business when it comes down to it. And talking of business I feel a bit like a whore working two beds, trying to figure out which one is the more lucrative, but hey, no lay no pay.

I'll stall and I'll wait. If it goes tits up.... well you know me. I'll let you know!

But here is the major difference between book agents and film agents that has only just become apparent to me. Because I'm a bit thick.

A film/tv agent will take you on not because they think they can sell your script, but because they think they can use it to get you other paying work. A book agent takes you on because they think they can sell your book. End of story.

My sense of dramedy kinda likes that.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

And yet another

Is blogging magical? No sooner do I post than something happens. Or it could be Eleanor breaking my legs! If so it worked.

I mentioned in the previous post the agent who asked me to call before signing for anyone else as she hadn't finished the manuscript? Well she still hasn't, but emailed me to say she wants to meet next week.

I know enough to know that agents don't meet with writers unless they are pretty serious. I don't want to go into names at present but here was how this all came about.

A few weeks ago I had just gotten a couple of rejections. As a pro writer and therefore by definition a masochist nothing spurs me on like a rejection so I thought I would go to the top this time and query three of the biggest players. Two responded almost immediately and one responded with a deafening silence.

A couple of weeks later one came back saying she hadn't finished it but really enjoying it. This is the one asking to let her know before I signed with anyone else. I thought at the time that it was promising but didn't make too much of it as she could still finish the book and decide it was a steaming pile of crap.

I didn't hear anything for a week or so, then the other big player came back having read the first 10 chapters and asked for first refusal on the manuscript.

As I said in the previous post I didn't quite give that but told them I would wait to hear from them before signing with anyone else.

Now it seems to me that any right thinking person is going to use what little leverage they have in this situation, so to find out where the first agent was at I emailed her telling her of the second agent's interest, basically stating they had asked for first refusal. Never lie! It is a very small world!

She emailed back asking for a couple more days, then the next day asked for the meeting. Of course she may well have got back to me this week anyway, but I don't think a little pressure ever hurt anyone.

The thing that strikes me is that if I had taken the first two or three rejections as gospel and thrown in the towel then it would never have got to this stage. My mate Dublin Dave, he of the mega-deal, has a good chuckle over some of the rejections he got for his novel before striking gold shortly after. It is a very subjective business.

So that's how I went about it. a short query letter, a submission, and a long wait. The query letter consisted of just a short introduction saying who I was, a one paragraph description of the book and finishing off by saying I had solid ideas ready for five more novels. [No one is that keen on a one-book writer]

My success rate on requests was pretty high so it seemed to work.

I'm still waiting for the second agent to get back, and a third has had a re-write. But as Dublin said the other day, writing is one half of the job and selling is the other. For example, off his own back, and not from his publisher, he has got some A list writers to blurb his novel. That's chutzpah! Being a good mate he has also volunteered to quiz his editor on the merits of the two major agents interested in my book, thereby giving me some valuable information, but maybe as importantly creating a little ripple of buzz that there might be a hot book out there.

You've got to work it!

I guess it's going to be a long week to the meeting and that tiny voice in my head is still saying she might actually finish the book and change her mind. If I wasn't insecure I wouldn't be a writer!

Monday, May 11, 2009

The latest

Eleanor has reminded me that it is some time since my last post. In the intervening weeks life has treated me like an excited puppy, in that it has smacked me on the nose then rubbed it in my own wee. Nothing to do with writing but a reminder that if you don't take care of things they have a habit of biting you on the ass.

Anyhoo, back to the book. After an initial surge of requests from agents everything went dead, in that I heard practically nothing, nada, zilch for several weeks except for a couple of rejections from agents citing that they didn't really handle that type of material, which made me wonder why they had requested it in the first place? Oh and one from an agent whom I thought would lap it up but said he was too busy with existing clients. That was a disappointment, mainly because I think it was really just a brush off - but it's a numbers game so I ploughed onwards.

One particular very big agency asked for an exclusive read of the first 10 chapters, stating that they were very quick and on that basis I agreed, but after a month I decided that either they weren't that quick or weren't interested so sent it out to a few more.

Again, things went quiet for a couple of weeks but then in the space of a few days a week or so ago I got what I think are some good notes back from one agent who said he'd be happy to take another look if I felt like re-writing to his notes, and another top agent sent me an email to say she hadn't finished the book yet but was very much enjoying it and to please call her before signing with any other agent.

Then a couple of days after that, the 'exclusive read' agency, about 7 weeks after I first contacted them, finally got back to say they loved the first 10 chapters and please send the rest, again on an exclusive read basis.

I decided that honesty was the best policy and told them what I had done and why. They took it pretty well, apologising for the delay caused mainly by the London Book Fair taking up their attention and still wanted the read. But they did ask for first refusal on the manuscript.

This is a top agency and one I'd love to sign for, so on the basis that they said they'd get back to me hopefully this week I agreed. Well I didn't quite agree. I said I wouldn't sign with anyone else until I heard from them, which isn't quite the same thing as first refusal but I think is fair enough.

So that's where I'm at. Three good agencies are showing a bit of interest, but I've been in this game long enough, albeit the TV side, to know that doesn't count for a bucket of warm spit until the deal is done. And then of course, even if I'm signed there is no guarantee the book will sell. Though at least the agents involved have more than enough juice to get it read by the top people over a weekend kind of thing, which I'm told counts for a lot in this business.

So it's fingers crossed that at least one of the three will come good. Time wise I guess I'm about six to eight weeks behind where I hoped I'd be, but having no experience at this I don't know whether I was being unreleastic or not.

I should know in the next week or two whether I have a shot with an agent and then the real white knuckle ride starts with re-writes and going to publishers. I'll keep you posted!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The story so far.....

Okay, time has passed and after an initial send out to half a dozen agents here is the score sheet.

Two agents have had the first 10k of the novel for about four weeks - no word as yet.

One has had the first 10k and knocked it back citing how busy he was with the London Book Fair as the reason he was not able to rep it. [which means he didn't really dig it that much]

One has had the full manuscript for three weeks - no word yet.

One has had the full manuscript for two weeks and knocked it back. Apparently he was looking for a more different take on a classic genre. I'm not going to panic about that. I write stories the way I write them and if that is more of a classic take on a classic genre then that is my taste. It is all very subjective.

One has had the full manuscript for a day - the bugger hasn't got back yet.

My initial plan was to target a few specific agents and if none bit then I might at least get some feedback that would improve its chances down the line.

Got to say the feedback so far has been less than illuminating, but I think I'll persevere for a while. It isn't the agent's job to give feedback to someone he or she has no intention of signing, but if they are honest enough to say exactly why they didn't go for the book then that can be helpful.

I'm not throwing this out as rock solid advice, just the way I'm going about things. The other plus with this method is that it gives you time to read and re-read the manuscript, honing as you go. You can always find something that could be done better and as there are still most of the big agents to try this can only help if or when they read the book.

On another note, I sent a spec script to World Productions last week. The company famous for This Life and perhaps not so famous for Rough Diamonds, Party Animals and Goldplated.

A guy's gotta eat, and the producer I sent it to is a fan and also a very nice person.

She emailed me yesterday to say that it was her last day in the office as everyone was being made redundant.

World Productions, one of the former powerhouses of Indie production going to the wall? Times are tough indeed.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Be prepared, they are quick!

So last Friday lunchtime I sent off four query letters to agents. Being used to the film and tv world I expected the sound of silence for weeks if not months. Imagine my surprise when all four responded within hours asking for the first 10k.

It is indeed a strange land!

Two of them asked for a detailed synopsis as well. Which of course I hadn't done. Luckily having whipped up treatments at short notice in the past I wasn't much fazed by this but for someone who maybe isn't used to it then maybe forewarned is forearmed.

You can see from the above I am a dummy at this and of course everyone else already has a detailed synopsis already written.

So with packages duly emailed back to them on Monday I sat back to wait in the expectation it would be some time before I heard anything.

On Thursday I got a request from one of them for the full manuscript. Now, as I've said, I'm a dummy at this game but that speed of reply is something that I know all you TV veterans out there think only survives in a world of chocolate lampposts and candy cotton clouds.

But it's true I tells ya. Just like in Waterworld, that fabled dry land does exist.

Okay it may just mean I get to hear my rejections quicker, but hey. The point is I guess, that if I had gone by normal TV timetables for reading material, I would have been tempted to have sent
out the first 10k while I still had another 20k to write, thinking I'd be finished by the time anyone got back to me.

Far as I can see that is a definite no-no. If an agent gets back to you in a timely and professional manner I figure the last thing he wants to hear is 'I haven't finished it yet'.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


Firstly, Dave and Will and Potty and Adrian and John and Charlie and everyone else who is still reading this after all this time, thanks for the exclamation marks, lol.

I started up the blog again mainly because I thought it would be interesting for writers who haven't yet done it to see how the process worked, or didn't, with a TV writer going to novels.

Have no idea how this will pan out, as it may be a very short re-start before the novel world quickly tells me to piss off.

But here's the skinny as I have played it so far.

Step 1 - Write a novel

Step 2 - Send off query letters to any book agents for whom you have managed to finagle direct e-mail addresses. [Dump addresses are not worth bothering with unless you plan on living to 120]

Step 3 - Finally remember that sending off query letters to any Tom, Dick or Dick is not the way to go.

Step 4 - Have a good mate who has just had a half million dollar book deal give you addresses of agents who get back to you the same day and are interested in the same kind of material.

Step 5 -Make sure that the 10k words you send off to said agents who get back to you the same day aren't shit.

Okay I had two advantages. Steps 1 and 4. Step1 is common sense and step 4 is earned from the trenches. Friendships forged in the heat of TV battle are like veterans from a platoon hitting the beach on D day. Except half of the platoon are Nazis.

Associates grass on you to the Gestapo. Friends are like Anne Frank's landlord.

Anyhoo, the first 10k of the novel is now with 4 of the top agents. Now it's squeaky bum time.

When you've done what you can, all you can do is wait.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

For those about to die

The lights have been off and the blinds shut for a few months now and I've been a reclusive, obnoxious bastard. But the novel is just about finished.

In a week or so I'll be sending it out into the big wide world and so I thought that, bearing in mind I have no knowledge whatsoever about the publishing world, it might be of interest to someone to see how, or if, it progresses.

For the last 10 years I've written for TV, mostly in serial drama, with an option or two on my own creations. I know a fair share of producers and network execs and agents, and I know from looking at a story before I even begin to write the script that it will come in at X pages plus or minus five.

But this is different. I don't know any publishers. I don't know any book agents. I don't even know if I can write a novel. I mean write a novel as opposed to type 400 pages of drivel. Is 300 pages the second act mid-point reversal? Who the hell knows.

All I can say is that I like how it's turned out. Which, admittedly isn't saying much as I may be slightly biased. But more importantly I liked the process. I even like the fact that I'm a total virgin in what is for me a shiny new arena.

I can tell the kind of stories I want to tell and not have half a dozen bods sticking their oar in at every stage, and that is HIGH COTTON after some of the assholes I and every other TV and film writer who lasts more than a few years have had their fair share of. I might not make any money from the book, but heck, it took me less time to write than the sum total of a couple of years worth of spec scripts that got nowhere, and it did my soul a lot of good.

So here we are. No agent, no contacts. An unknown submitting his first effort. Yeah baby! Let's roll the dice.