Posts Tagged Jonny Geller

Easy reading is hard writing –  why hard writing is worth it and how to do it

I have a friend on Facebook who posts thoughtful quotes about writing. This, from literary agent Jonny Geller, struck a chord. ‘One thing you learn working with good writers: the easier it was for you to read their story, the harder it was for them to write it.’

My last novel took 23 drafts, and people find this surprising. Why would you rewrite that number of times? But you get seized with love, a love for what the book could be.

And that love can be hard won. A creative person thrives on a mission. If the mission hasn’t arrived when we’re ready to work, we have to somehow find it, which can be thoroughly dispiriting. Nick Cave has just written about trying to start his next album. He talks about a profound feeling of inadequacy, ‘the familiar feeling of lack.’

Every time you listen to a complex and beautiful album, or read a complex and beautiful book, its creator has likely been through this.

Once the mission is found, the work begins. In my 23 drafts of Ever Rest, I was all the time grappling with the very essence of the book. Everything went on the analyst’s couch. Was this scene in the right place? Should I move it? Should I use it for a different purpose, perhaps to make exposition more interesting, perhaps to create a more exquisite conflict? The next revision, I’d change it all again.

Frequently, I’d change a scene’s point of view. Indeed, the novel began as one point of view and became seven, because that’s what I eventually needed.

What a lot of fuss, you might say. And how disorganised. Roz, I thought you had a process.

I do have a process, but there is no faster way. A book has to find what it wants to be, its personal mysteries, its distinctive humanity. And this hard and haphazard journey is also a joy (eventually).   

I promised to tell you how

So if this kind of writing is also your inclination, here are some lights to guide you.

The words are just the skin

How to revise your novel without getting stale – take a tip from Michael Caine

The slow-burn writer – what takes literary writers so long?

Revision is re-vision

I rewrote my novel through a critique group and now I’ve lost my way

Making my honest art – writing and publishing literary fiction

Seven steps of a long-haul novel

And my Nail Your Novel book about process!

There’s a lot more about writing in my Nail Your Novel books – find them here. If you’re curious about my own work, find novels here and my travel memoir here. And if you’re curious about what’s going on at my own writing desk, here’s my latest newsletter. You can subscribe to future updates here.

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Why do authors get treated so badly?

‘One person has been forgotten in this unholy publishing maelstrom: the author.’  That’s London literary agent Jonny Geller, from Curtis Brown, writing today in The Bookseller.

In a piece he titles ‘An agent’s manifesto’ he says: ‘The author is not an object a publisher has to step over in order to achieve a successful publication.’ Someone needed to say this and thank goodness he has.

Any author who has knocked around the publishing industry has hair-raising stories of bad treatment. Everything is usually fine if we keep their heads down and do as we’re told. But if we get out of our boxes, we suddenly meet unreasonable amounts of disrespect.

Battle lines

Typically this happens if we want changes to a cover or a blurb. Or we object to a title change. Or we make suggestions about the ebook release or the marketing plan. Suddenly we are treated dismissively, told we’re ‘only the author’, told to put up and shut up.

Publishers cannot change anything without the author’s say-so, but they don’t want us to know this. (Even though it’s probably in the contract.) And if we raise it, the standard tactic is not to discuss, but to bully the writer into agreeing by telling them publication will be delayed by a year or two, possibly indefinitely.

Now, having worked in publishers I know how important deadlines are. I know everything needs to run like clockwork. I know that publishers have not just one book to deal with, but twenty at least, plus all the other stuff that comes with working in a company. But they wouldn’t treat any other supplier or professional that way. Just authors.

Jonny Geller again: ‘If an author has a problem with the cover, blurb, copy or format, then something isn’t right.’

It is common, behind the scenes, to hear editors talk about authors with undisguised loathing – not just individual ones who may be difficult, but all of them, authors as a breed. There is a culture that authors must not be listened to.

The real work

They seem to think that because they do some editing and proofing they’ve done all the proper work, and the author was a slapdash child who spewed up a half-baked mess. That’s because the author had just spent months or even years locked in a silo with the book. We had to invent it, from nothing but ideas. The manuscript the publisher sees has another nine-tenths of work and tears below the waterline. If we put it aside and saw it with fresh eyes, we’d see a lot of those problems too (not all of them, but a lot). So no, the publisher didn’t do all the work.

Is it because they think they could write too, if only they had the time? Everybody says that. We’re used to it.

All the glory

Is it because writers seem to get all the glory? Most of us don’t get within a light year of glory. And if we do, we’ve earned it. Publishers get paid a salary, reliably every month. Writers work for several years on an idea and all we can guarantee from it is a lottery ticket that probably won’t pay back. In almost any other business environment, the one who puts in most risk gets the most reward. Try asking a venture capitalist for seed capital and see how much of your company they want for it.

Thumb-twiddling creatives

Is it because we’re uncontrollable creatives? That’s what brings publishers new, wonderful things to sell.  Jonny Geller again: ‘Remember, we don’t have a job without authors … Authors who are valued, understood, appreciated, included, nurtured and spoken to like adults will experience a phenomenon called Trust. Trust breeds loyalty; loyalty means longevity; longevity means sales.’

Heavens, we want our books to be a success. We want to work with professionals who will help that to happen. We are grateful for good guidance and support. But we want to work in an atmosphere of mutual respect.

Thanks for the pic, Lydiashiningbrightly

Agree, disagree, add your experiences? The floor is yours…

 

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