Monthly Archives: April 2011

PR and a missed opportunity

Phil: The sharp-eyed amongst you will have noticed that this blog has a new picture at its top. This is the result of a session with the camera last week. We returned to the scene of the crime quango to get some pictures of ourselves with The Book and hopefully, the old name boards and building.

This isn’t some weird ego trip, it had a serious purpose. Since everyone and their dog seems to be touting a book around publishers and agents, we need to stand out from the crowd and with that in mind, plan to generate some press interest. Candice has knocked up a press release (I make it sound easy but it probably requires hours of pained work honing every single word to perfection). Local press likes pictures, preferably ones with people faces in so we have to appear in front of the camera.

The big quango building has been taken over by a new quango so that wasn’t any good, but the old buildings were the ones we actually worked and they still had the appropriate signs. Camera on tripod, I spent an hour setting the self timer and running around to get in the shot. As well as building shots we took a few stock items including one of us sitting back to back on the grass. This seemed like a good idea except that I nearly flattened my colleague at the first attempt as I sprinted around to get into place. Handy hint for anyone planning the same thing – get the skinny one to do the running to reduce the chance of injury.

Anyway, the pictures turned out OK except I have two expression when asked to smile in front of a camera – glum or grimace – so I need to work on that a bit. Look out for the story soon in your local rag.

However all this might not have been necessary if we hadn’t missed out on a golden PR opportunity. I don’t blame myself of course, I’m a web guru apparently so can’t be expected to spot these things until too late.

It appears there is a big wedding in London on Friday. And to cover it there are lots of media types hanging around Westmister Abbey. And they are bored. After doing the “Here we are in Londonshire, England and look at the old buildings” bit, cameras are being pointed at any numpty who looks British. I noticed this on seeing a bloke who’d been camped out on the pavement since Wednesday being interviewed.

Now, if we had nipped down there with sleeping bags and a tent, NBC, ABC, Fox et al, could have had an interview along the lines of:

Permatanned interviewer: So, here we are on the streets of Londonshire waiting for the wedding of Prince Williams and Lady Kat of England. I’m talking to a couple of keen royalists who have already grabbed their spot in front of the church. Tell me, what are you doing while you wait to see the happy couple ?

Candice (also tanned but not as orange): Oh I just had to be here to see Kate. The dress will be spectacular I’m sure.

Phil (interrupting): While we wait we thought we’d write a book. [Waves book]

Candice: Yes, it’s a love story just like Will and Kate’s. We are just looking for a publisher. If you see our sleeping bags, they have a web address of our bolog where you can read more. Let me read it for people in Ohio, www dot nolanparker dot co dot uk

Interviewer: That’s great. More after these words from our sponsors.

As I say, a missed opportunity.

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Beating the synopsis into shape.

Easter eggsPhil: I had foolishly assumed that one of the toughest jobs writing a book would be putting 80,000 words in some sort of order. This is not the case. The toughest job is turning the 80,000 words into a synopsis of two pages.

The Book is full of plot, character, nuances, humour and emotion. Hack it away to reduce the text to a couple of sheets of paper and what is left ? B***er all as far as I can tell, yet it’s a requirement if you want to pitch to an agent or publisher apparently. How do they spot a good book from this ? 

My first attempt came in at 6 pages. A little chopping and I lost one of those. Losing another 3 is impossible as far as I can tell. That’s not good as at least one agent specifies no more than 2. All the instructions I’ve read tell me to dispense with absolutely everything except the very bare bones of the plot. That probably works well for a blokey story involving SAS fantasies and action. After all, you can punt a good “big picture” and then fill in a few details. Most James Bond books have a pretty simple plotline – maniac wants to take over the world for example. Except the one where Bond doesn’t show up until half way through, the title of which I can’t remember. By that time it was pretty much a done deal anyway so there wouldn’t be any need to do anything as course as “sell” the book to the publisher.

Likewise JK Rowling just scribbles down “I’ve written a book” and Dan Brown plots are just madness with random historical character so reducing these to a couple of pages would make no more sense than the full book does anyway. And if you think I’m just jealous, you’re right but then so if every other writer out there.

Anyway, on and off over Easter I’ve been chipping away but still have twice as much text as required. No amount of foil covered eggage helps either. Indeed the melted chocolate just sticks the keys on the keyboard together and covers the legends so I think every one is going to produce brown goo rather than a letter. In my less sensible moments I’ve wondered if I could just print the thing with a really tiny font, but then I suppose I’m not the first to think of this. Maybe if I aim at American publishers I can use letter sized paper rather than A4 which give me a few more lines.

Anyone got any hints ? I might save you a little egg !

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Writing in the nude – an interesting concept…?

 Candice: Phil sent me a link last week to an article on how women writers create, and some are said to write in the nude?  Not sure about this concept at all, surely things would get abit uncomfortable if you have a “leather” chair, remember sticking to the leather seats in your parent’s Maxi when you were growing up – well I do!  Not really a comfortable way of doing things – personally I prefer writing fully clothed, and it always helps when a recruitment agency or potential employer calls when you are beavering away at the PC, as it gets you into the “sell myself into this job” mode.  Having been caught out when wearing dressing gown and pyjamas, and then trying to turn on the whole “Yes, I’m a professional business women” bit on – it just can’t be done!

The article also talks about needing lead feet to prevent the procrastination.  That I can also empathise with as I am already thinking its time for the mid morning cup of tea!  As, alongside trying to start Book 2 (lots of ideas I need to put on paper) I have another target to meet.  Being a PR person at heart I’m tasked with writing a press release about what we have been up to and trying to get in into the local press, and Grazia if I’m really lucky.

So I know what I have to write, I just need to get down to it.  A common problem I understand, for writers in general.  So I shall stop distracting myself with filling the blog with words and crack on with that press release!

By the way, went back to the Coventry business park that the quango was based in, at the weekend, to look at places for photo opportunities and, it has been wipped!  The branding off the main building, the place we were thinking of for photo backdrop is now something quango.  So its either photoshop or we need to come up with another idea.  Back to the drawing board…

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Taking the writing and eating to the next stage

Hoto chocolate

Phil: Last week I brought the history of our book writing up to the middle of 2010. To recap – Candice had left the quango responsible for starting us on the road to authorship. I was still sitting there feeling all lonely, deprived of conversation and cake. Actually there was loads of cake around at the time; people seemed to have nothing better to do than buy the stuff and leave it in the kitchen but I resisted since I also had been given a date when my services as a contractor were no longer required, and felt it better that I still fitted into my job interview clothes.

It’s funny how things work out. Candice quickly bagged a job with a financial services company 15 minutes walk from home. Travel agents rejoiced at the thought one of their best customers would still be in employment but I was less impressed when I realised that for the time being I was going to be doing most of the actual putting words on the page. For some unaccountable reason her new employers actually expected their staff to do some work during the day. Work that didn’t include daydreaming about giant cabbages and exactly what happens to a good suit when you try and talk someone out of a toilet. However, it quickly transpired that the same company needed a web person to sort out a project they were working on. Someone who could learn how to use the sytem quickly and then make sites happen and happen well enough that real live people could both use an understand them. A few days after leaving the quango I was sat in an office in Solihull wearing my best interview jacket. The next week, I too had proper employment again in an office with a familiar face occupying a desk on the other side of the room.

From the book’s point of view, this was a good thing. We could write in the evening and weekends – when not too knackered from the shock of a busy day after weeks of lethargy but best of all there were plenty of lunchtimes for chatting. While the office was generously supplied with eating areas called “The Bistro”, not actually a bistro you understand, but a room with vending machines, a kitchen and some tables to eat at. Nice comfy chairs and a good view too, if you ignore the rooftops of the nearby shopping centre and concentrated on the distant hills.

The proximity of the town meant other places to eat and chat with cake possibilities too. The cupcake shop had not opened at this point, which was probably a good thing since spending your wages on fancy confectionary probably isn’t the smartest thing in the world, but Costa Coffee was only a couple of minutes stroll away and if you time it right, not too busy. Once a week we’d sit and talk book over a nice hot chocolate (for me) or some weird herb based tea stuff (not me). Sometimes this would be accompanied by cake, or my favorite meatball panini if I was working in the evening as well.

Coffee shops, especially chain ones, seem a relatively recent innovation, yet the fit with writing is very good. Maybe this is an affectation imported from America along with chinos and dress down Friday. British writers used to hail from grimy pubs full of dark and smoke and beer but they probably didn’t have to go back to work in the afternoon and try to figure out how to drive a computer to get the right APR numbers on a web site though. For aspiring novelists coffee shops are the place to be. Perhaps after book 2 you get to spend all day in the pub. I hope so.

Never mind, progress could resume in earnest.

And the other good thing about the new job ? Lots of new people who could donate their foibles to characters in the manuscript. (evil laugh).

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Crash test dummies

Books and Diet CokePhil: If you build a motor car, at some point you have to strap some crash test dummies into the seats and throw the thing at a concrete block. This isn’t just a legal requirement, nor a desire to produce some exciting YouTube footage, as a car maker you want to know that your product isn’t going to gain you a bucket load of adverse publicity when it hits the streets, or other cars.

OK, so you don’t do this with a book but at some point if it IS going to hit the world you want people to like it. With this in mind, we’ve recruited some test subjects (you notice I didn’t say dummies) of our own. They will be strapped firmly to the pages and hurled into our imaginary world.

This is why earlier today, Candice and I sat down in a pub over some nice healthy salad (we don’t just eat cake you know) to split up the pile of freshly Lulu.com printed books. We now have 6 copies, 2 originals and 4 MK2 “Phil fixed most of the bugs” versions. The new copies versions have larger print as both our mothers commented on the small size in the first attempt. This has made them a bit chunkier, and pushed the price per copy up nearly a pound but hey are worth every penny as the quality is such that when presented with a copy to read, the first victim didn’t realise it was anything other than a normally published book until her sister explained just how special it was !

Anyway, this is a big moment. Until now the only people to read the words are those of us who wrote them. Will real people think they are as good as we do ? I can’t believe the manuscript is perfect, very good  would be the best we can hope for, but I’m agog to find out what they think.

Let’s hope it’s not a car crash eh ?

(Note: Admit it, you read the title of this post and are now humming Mmmm Mmmmm Mmmm in a Canadian Accent aren’t you.)

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The loneliness of the long distance author

AppendixPhil: Following on the from the last post, Candice exiting stage left from the quango gave me a problem. So far the writing dynamic had been pretty simple. When your co-author is on the other side of a desk partition and you have nothing better to do all day (no really, we didn’t !) than chat about your book ideas, then making progress is pretty easy. Without the other to provide that little bit of pressure, the temptation to spend the day surfing the web for amusing pictures of cats or just reading every word on the BBC news website might have been too much.

Many people think they can write a book. Indeed, it is an oft-repeated “fact” that everyone has a book inside them. That may be true but then everyone has an appendix in them too and getting either out into the fresh air is a challenge that takes commitment and not a little pain. A few months ago there was an interesting article on a succesful businesswoman in a free paper that I read because she seemed to have a lot in common with Kate, our main character. At the bottom, in a break-out box, was a section asking what she would do if she wasn’t a hyper succesful seller of stuff. “I’d like to be an author” was the reply, followed by the admission that she’d never written anything. A pretty typical situation.

Now I am a bit of an author, I write nerdy magazine stuff and even a blog or two. Despite this, I wasn’t a novelist and nor was Candice. We had been presented with the idea breeding ground for a book – time, opportunity and an absence of anything else useful to do – but that had now changed. One of us was looking for jobs and the other knew he would be soon. What we had was 40,000 words and a feeling that this was A Good Thing. Strangely, we both felt a real desire to finish the project. At the time I wondered if this was really possible or just a daft idea that we’d come up with to stave off boredom. Could we maintain the momentum that had carried us this far ?

No, this was the point where we had to get serious. Simply completing a manuscript was going to be hard. So hard that I think anyone who does it should be given a medal, or at least a big slice of chocolate cake. And a cup of tea.

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Holiday inspiration

Candice:  So time was coming to an end at said quango, leaving cakes had been eaten and the boot mark on my bottom was getting more pronounced as they kicked the contractors out of the door.        So I did the most essential thing a girl can do – went on holiday!

Now this was important on two levels – one ’cause I needed to top up my tan and two because  it was  a chance to get some inspiration.

As Phil has mentioned, the book morphed from being just Tom Sharpe style to chick lit plus humour.  Around 40k words had been written and ideas were still floating around but we both needed to think about how plot lines were created, characters fleshed out and how those all important clothes mentions fitted in.  So I popped off to Tesco and stocked up on some research – ie some chick lit for beach time reading.

And off I went for a long weekend in Portugal with the other half and got to grips with how it all works.  It really helped actually and sparked off some other ideas as to how this book would hang together.  Luckily, though computer free, I’d brought along paper and pen (stylish of course, the pad has drawings by shoe designers on it) to scribble down some notes.

By the end of my long weekend in the sun I’d drawn up a mind map of how the different parts of the story would hang together and what areas we were missing or needed to discuss; and two new chapters.

Research and a tan – definitely a long term goal for a full time writer!

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