I was fortunate to have an opportunity to pitch Sympathy for the Devil to an agent at the recent London Author Fair.

I’ve just received feedback. It’s a “no”.  But! I am enormously grateful to agent Meg Davis for her very kind and positive words on such an early draft.

Here’s an extract from her feedback:


That’s the sort of comment that keeps me motivated. Thank you.


Writing update 30 March 2014

A quick update on my writing projects.


Sympathy for the Devil

I have a full second draft of the novel, with a proper ending. The first draft was finished within three months (I think taking May-August 2013), and it’s taken another 7 months to properly re-write that initial draft. The first draft was about 70,000 words long, and the second draft is 96,000 words.

In terms of re-writing, I deleted the final 30,000 words of draft one and re-wrote from scratch, taking it into a completely different direction. Of the remaining 40,000 words from the original draft, at least 25,000 words were wholly re-written.

I think this is a good thing. Some initial drafts are strong and need tinkering. This initial draft was strong on the central character (Lucy) and a few key scenes, but had little direction or cohesiveness. I’ve had to put a huge amount of thought and research into giving story a logical structure, supporting characters with depth and multiple and rising tensions that make sense and keep complicating the story in an understandable way.

I think this full second draft of Sympathy for the Devil has an open and accessible style, which is what I was hoping for. (I contrast this with Planetfall, which was quite densely written for a scifi crowd who would already understand the kind of world put forward.)

I’m now resting Sympathy for a few weeks so that I can go back in a few weeks and make a few final tweaks. Afterwards, I’ll be sending it to a professional editor – and all suggestions on good editors are gratefully received.



I mentioned Planetfall, and there’s an update on this too.

Book one, All Fall Down, has now shifted over 500 copies through physical book sales and digital downloads. Reviews keep popping up on the Amazon page, which is satisfying. I’d really like to see more reviews on there – there are seven now. Thirty would be amazing. 

A plea – if you’ve read the book, please leave an honest review (whether you loved or loathed it, I don’t mind) on its Amazon page.

Book 2, Children of Fall, is still on hold while I’ve been writing Sympathy for the Devil. I’m hoping to be back with it by September 2014.

In the meantime, while I rest Sympathy, I am writing a short story set in the Planetfall universe. I’m hoping to release it on Kindle and other formats towards the end of May 2014. More updates as and when.


Other writing projects

Robocop fan fiction. A couple of years ago I started writing a Robocop fan fiction novella. I have now abandoned this.

Backpackers 2. I wrote half an opening chapter for a sequel to Backpackers. I’ve no idea where that might go. Maybe I’ll add the occasional thousand words here and there. Cath’s a hard character to shake off, and the format – short stories linked together by a single character – is still attractive to me.

Job Centre sitcom script. I was really pleased with the spec script I wrote in 2012. This is now shelved due to lack of time. 


Future writing projects

I’ve agreed to co-write a script, probably for a short stage play but potentially a pilot script for a series. The subject will be on mental health, and work will hopefully start around November or December 2014.

Writing update 02 March 2014

It’s been a long time since I blogged about writing, at least in this long form. (I do use Twitter every day to talk about writing @astrotomato).

The back half of 2013 proved an eventful time. Lots of things happened in my private life which aren’t for a public forum, except to say that they took my spare time and energy, and things like blogging had to go by the wayside. I had hoped to spend the summer giving critical feedback to an author called Len, who shared his psychics/action thriller with me. I owe him an apology for not being able to do that, but no longer have the email address (if you’re out there, apologies). Life happened, but I should have found time to say that I couldn’t fulfil your request.

The rest of my spare time, when I had the mental space, was focused on writing Sympathy for the Devil. This is my 3rd completed novel, and I am now almost at the end of the 3rd draft.

Sympathy has gone through a lot of changes since I wrote the first draft in an intense 3 month period between May-August 2013. Before Christmas I deleted the final 1/3 of the book, 30,000 words. I suspect this will sound horrifying to some authors; I found it liberating. With the 2nd draft I had started to hone in on some of the core drama at the heart of the book, and I also had to change one of the key characters, who was frankly too boring. Those early changes meant the end of the book no longer matched the beginning. With a blank page, I was able to pull a completely different story into focus, a stronger story, and one which had more action and more opportunity for insight into political satire.

The accepted wisdom about writing is that it’s mostly re-writing, and I think this pretty much proves that.

Within the next month I hope to have a final 3rd draft ready to go to a professional editor. Neither of my 2 self-published books have been through professional editing, due to lack of funds. I’ve saved up for this one, and am looking forward to having an experienced eye look over the structure and character and dramatic flow (as well as spotting those annoying typos).

All of this means I see an end point approaching. At some point this year, the book will be finished and ready to send to agents. I’ve started airing it already. On Friday I was at the inaugural London Author Fair, where I pitched Sympathy to a literary agent. Her feedback was that satires aren’t hugely popular with publishers, and that they’ll only pick up one or two a year. I appreciated her honesty, it means when I submit to other agents that I won’t be expecting to hit a lucrative market. That’s OK. Managed expectations are better than unrealistic expectations.

In May I hope to send out the draft of Sympathy to my beta reading group. If you’d like to be one of them, let me know. You’ll get to read a book for ‘free’, in return for sending me 1 page of critical feedback. All of my books have gone through this process, and benefited enormously from real reader feedback.

I hope you writing is going well,

astro x

London Author Fair 2014

I was pleased to attend the inaugural London Author Fair yesterday. It’s a great indication, I think, of how far the publishing industry has come in supporting its lifeblood: authors.

The fair was structured around a day of seminars and workshops, covering everything from digital publishing, through cover design, what literary agents do, and how the distribution industry works. There were representatives from Kobo, Nook, Blurb, Amazon (Kindle, Createspace) and a host of other providers in the new publishing industry.

And let’s acknowledge that straight away.

The publishing isn’t going through change. It has changed. Traditionally published (ie, physical) books now account for 80% of total sales. Go back 10 years and that was 100%. 1 in 5 books now sold is digital.

And the industry, I think, is adapting incredibly well. I say that because I look at the music business, which utterly failed to respond to digital music formats in the 90s. Arguably, large parts of the music business are still struggling with digital, although the last few years have seen significant improvements, with the likes of Google Music, Spotify and other streaming services starting to drive the market.

Publishing has long been the preserve of a few lucky people. Musicians can gig anywhere – busking, bar gigs, small venues in focused regions. No such audience for the author, who traditionally could get published by getting snapped up by an agent, or going to enormous expense and vanity publishing.

Now an author can cut out the entire middle bit of the industry and go from writer to publishing on their laptop.

And so back to the London Author Fair. Most of the seminars were focused entirely on this. And the technical content (as mentioned above, like cover design) was matched by this strong message: authors may no longer need agents or publishers, but that means they too need to adapt.

Authors have to think of themselves differently now. No longer the tortured artist slaving over a typewriter.

An author is now a business person.

That puts us right in the realm of showbusiness. We might have a book to show off, but no one ever made (much) money by simply showing up or showing off. No, people make money by accepting that the money from ‘show’ comes from tying it to ‘business’. Now that might be anathema for some, it might be uncomfortable or alien to others. But this message needs to go out strongly and be repeated by all authors now entering the market:

An author creates (writes) a product (a book) and is responsible for taking it to a market (a set of readers who like that kind of book).

There is no way to escape this.

I was pleased that this message came through in the seminars at the London Author Fair. We are the CEO of our own small businesses. Like any businesses, as CEO we might not be good at marketing, we may be weaker on finance, we may have started in logistics and now have responsibility for the art department. But as CEO we don’t have to do all of those things, we simply have to accept responsibility for ensuring they are done.

This is an important distinction. All of us authors are responsible for producing one thing: the story. It’s then up to us to find out how to run the rest of our business. That will mean employing others. Employment might be on a temporary basis: hiring someone to design a book cover, contracting a professional editor, perhaps even asking a friend to upload a manuscript to Kindle and do the tech-y things. More successful authors, those who earn millions, have researchers and publicists and managers, all employed from their income. They get it. They understand that to be successful they need to be business-like. And we need to get it to.

That’s the challenge I took away from the London Author Fair 2014: think like a business. Act like a business. Market your product. Find your product’s niche in the market and exploit it. Have a marketing plan. Look after the finances. And if the market doesn’t want the product, go back to the drawing board, do some research, find out what it does like, be humble, and create content that fits a niche.

It’s a hard lesson to learn. It’s an essential lesson to learn. And I think the London Author Fair 2014 did a great job of showing the publishing industry has woken up to authors, and of pushing that challenge back to us. I’m taking it on board. And to my fellow authors, I challenge you to take it on board, too.

As ever, good luck with your writing, and I’m happy to hear everyone’s thoughts.

astro x