Friday, May 14, 2021

Bumbling through

 By Abir

What comes first, the book or the pitch? Put another way, do you develop the larger idea of a book to test out with your agent/publisher, before writing the book? Or do you write the book and then look for the pitch in it? Or?




Friday again! If you live in the UK and you’re wondering what happened to the weather in the last fortnight - how did it suddenly go from unbroken sunshine to clouds and rain and snow and general misery? -  well the short answer is that it’s my fault. A week last Wednesday, I finished the first draft of a new novel, and at 1pm I emailed it to my editors. Naturally at 1.01pm, the heavens opened and it’s been pissing it down ever since.


You’re welcome.


Good question this week, and as usual, I have the benefit of answering on a Friday, and can glean from the wisdom of my colleagues who’ve answered it already. It’s interesting to see the range of answers, from James’ short pitch for every book, through Brenda and Dietrich’s writing the novel first and then coming up with the pitch, to Terry’s quick chat with her agent.


My experience is different again.


I’ve been lucky. For the Sam Wyndham series, I’ve only ever written one pitch – a two page synopsis that accompanied the first five thousand words of a specimen draft which I submitted for a competition. I was fortunate enough to win that competition and it came with a publishing contract – hooray! 


That first book, A RISING MAN, was received favourably and to date, my wonderful publishers have offered me new contracts to write a few more whenever I’ve started annoying them by asking what I should write next:


Me: Please, please, please, please can I do more of the writing for money, pleeeeeeeease? I’ve had a great idea involving killer dolphins who invade Mexico! No one’s ever looked at it from the dolphin’s point of view before.


Editor: Okay, how about this? I give you a contract for another two Wyndhams and you stop e-mailing me for another two years.


Me: Hooray!


Editor: I meant starting now.



In general, they tend to give me contracts for another two books at a time, and I’m comfortable with that. One book is a bit short to give me certainty, and three is probably too many, should I wish to write something else. They never ask me for a synopsis or a pitch of a new idea, but like Terry, I always have a conversation with my editor and my agent before starting a new novel, just to let them know what I’m thinking and to get their input.


The pattern has changed though in the last eighteen months. As I’ve mentioned here before, after having written four Sam Wyndham books in four years, and with the fifth one underway, I was keen to try to write something a bit different. I’d discussed this with my UK publishers who basically extended me carte blanche, telling me they’d back me to write whatever I wanted to (I was thinking of  trying my hand at Up-Lit), but they’d prefer it if I stuck to crime fiction, given that inexplicably, some people seemed to like what I was writing, and that yes, they were as surprised by that as I was.


Then things flipped again. Through my agent, I was contacted by a US editor who told me he’d liked my work (and for a Brit, there’s nothing quite like an American telling you they like you – just ask Prince Harry). He said that if I was to ever think about writing something more modern, that he’d be keen to talk.


We spoke on the phone a few times and I told him how wonderful America and all Americans are, and how I show my love for all things American by eating too many Big-Macs, and while rambling something about rodeos and baseball, I must have come up with an idea cos he said he liked it. I wrote a two page pitch: the first paragraph was the elevator pitch, and the rest was a short outline of the idea. I sent it to my agent, who didn’t hate it, and then on to the US editor. On the back of that, he asked for a partial – the first fifteen thousand words and a detailed outline of the rest of the novel.


I set to work on both, essentially giving him Act I of the book, and then put together a ten page document, describing why I wanted to write this book; what I hoped to achieve; an outline of the major characters; and a scene by scene overview of Acts II and III. I was honest and said that the ending was still hazy in my mind, but that I’d work it out by the time I got there (which turned out to be a lie).


I sent it to him, and to my UK publishers, and they both inexplicably liked it. This made my agent so happy that he started taking my calls again. He then sorted things out so that the US editor got US sub-rights and my UK editor got to bring it out here. That book, provisionally titled HUNTED, will be out next year.


So far I’ve never had to write a book without having a contract in hand, and I’m conscious of how fortunate I have been in that regard. I’m not a rich person (unlike James ‘Bezos’ Ziskin, or Terry ‘Weekends in the Hamptons’ Shames) and writing to contract gives me a degree of financial certainty which has, over the space of five years, allowed me to give up my day job and concentrate on the writing. I also know that this is a state of affairs which could change pretty rapidly. You’re only as good as your last book, they say, and the publishing industry can be a cut-throat place.


Fortunately the Wyndham and Banerjee books have developed enough of a following whereby my publishers are always keen to have me write a few more, and as long as readers enjoy the series, that’s great for me. It gives me a degree of financial certainty while allowing me the freedom to develop my writing in new ways by experimenting with other books, like Hunted, in between.


So there we go. Five days this week and the full gamut of the writer experience. 


(Gamut is a strange word isn’t it? Gamut. Saying it makes it sound even weirder. Gamut, gamut, gamut. See? Wonder where it came from?)


Anyway. Till next time. Have a great weekend, look after yourselves, and keep writing.




Brenda Chapman said...

Congrats on finishing that book and for having an in with Mother Nature. Sounds like you have a terrific agent and publisher(s). BTW, I think Hunted is a great title.

Catriona McPherson said...

Looking forward to HUNTED, although the story of what you did with the 10 pages and the Acts and all that would terrify me.