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Friday 25 November 2011

Getting Published 101

In the week of the announcement that Penguin have paid £400,000 to acquire a party planning book by celebrity relative Pippa Middleton, it must be hard for new writers to keep their optimism alive. The temptation to dump your first draft straight onto Kindle and wait for the e-millions to roll in must be a powerful one.

Console yourself with this. That £400,000 is just business. The book will be ghostwritten and will go the way of all such rubbish; bought, gifted, unread, remaindered. It has nothing to do with publishing. It's regrettable that a great name like Penguin should be attached to such a venture but the writing was on that wall when they paid a fortune for the meretricious Lace, all those years ago.

Every now and again I get an email to the website asking for advice on getting into print or getting an agent. Here's pretty much what I always say; read on and save me the trouble of saying it again.
Despite a widespread belief that publishers are resistant to new work, they're all on the lookout for good stuff that they can run with. And it's always been harder to get an agent than a publisher. You're asking a publisher to commit to a book, which is a known quantity. An agent commits to a career, which is a major unknown. Often the best time to get a good agent is when you have a publisher's offer.

The traditional strategy is to study what's around and note the kind of publishing house that would seem to be a fit for what you're trying to do. Then find out the name of the fiction editor (a quick phonecall to the switchboard usually does it) and write a brief, polite query letter asking if he or she would be willing to look at your submission. Work on the letter; the verbose, the needy and those who can't spell rule themselves out at this stage. If they ask to see something, send only your best. Not something unfinished, not work-in-progress; keep your work offline and out of the public eye until it's done.

It's an ever-changing market and traditional publishing is under pressure, but it's still the quality route. I shouldn't need to tell you to watch out for the predators and never pay anyone to represent or publish your work, but for safety's sake I'll say it anyway.

Sunday 20 November 2011

Magic and Memorabilia

Along with Chris Moore I headed down the motorway to Memorabilia last weekend. There I met up with Good Dog, and we had our first decent chat since a fleeting hello at the NFT's South Bank Chimera event. I urged him to get blogging again. Which is slightly ironic, considering my own long periods of blog silence over recent months...

Memorabilia's a twice-yearly UK event where one of the halls in Birmingham's National Exhibition Centre gets turned into a giant dealers' room for mostly SF and media-related goods, old and new, along with a section of autograph-selling tables for mostly TV faces, mostly old. It probably pales by comparison with similar US events, but I enjoy a mooch and usually come home with a few stocking-fillers for friends and family.

I view the autograph tables with a mixture of cringe and curiosity... very few of the personalities involved get more than sporadic visits, and most spend the day fiddling with their pens and chatting with their neighbours. Some have solid achievements in their resumes, like lead roles in old shows, and they're the ones I feel for; but while I'd love to chat to Quiller's Michael Jayston or William Gaunt of The Champions, I come from a tradition where such appreciation is offered over a drink in a Convention bar, not fifteen quid on a table. And not when cheek-by-jowl with someone who did two days' work on Star Wars and has been blagging hotels and expenses off it ever since.

But then I think back to the time when @Audreydeuxpink and I stood in line for a picture and a word with the great Leslie Phillips, and I think, Oh, what the hell. Each to his own magic. But I suppose I feel a share of the pain when the magic falls flat.

As it happened, Good Dog was acting as minder to some of the better-known faces on the weekend's guest list. The organisers have got it together more since the early years when signers were just parked alone with no one looking after them, but I can still find it an uncomfortable spectacle when people with careers have put themselves out there and nobody's stopping by. I can remember The Man from Uncle's Robert Vaughn, alone at his table with no one else around him, looking like the most pissed-off man in the world while attendees tiptoed nervously past at a respectful distance.

That's a Brit thing, perhaps. But it's compounded by the way that the less experienced of the enthusiasts who organise fan weekends and conventions can sometimes show little idea of what's required of them as hosts, especially when their guests are ageing performers, often insecure and uncertain of their reception, lured with a promise of hospitality only to be cut loose to fend for themselves amongst strangers.

They're not those giants you see on the screen; they're rather more like you and me. And I know how I'd feel if it was me out there.

For a start, there was that book signing in Watford in 1989...

The Metropolis image is one of a range of brilliant movie posters created for screenings at San Francisco's Castro Theater and offered in hand printed, limited editions by Memorabilia exhibitor The Dark City Gallery. Those that may look a little dull on the website are actually printed on gold or silver stock, and have to be seen to be appreciated fully.

Thursday 17 November 2011

Coming Events