Writing update – marketing and editing

Finishing the first draft of a book is difficult. Doing it while trying to write a marketing plan for another book raises the stakes. Doing those while holding down a full time job puts it all in peril. And doing all of that while selling, buying and moving house and becoming a first-time father puts us in high stakes drama mode. So here I am – Planetfall 2 draft finished, a marketing plan for Sympathy for the Devil in development, bedrooms full of unpacked boxes and a 2 week old daughter in my arms.

One of the first lessons we learn as authors is that we have to make space for writing. We all do that differently. Some of us grab the spaces between other things and scribble like mad. Some of us eschew television or social engagements. Some of us rise early and dedicate an hour or so before our ‘normal’ day begins. And some of us may give ourselves two hours every Saturday and Sunday alone in a cafe to catch up on our writing. Whatever our approach, we do it because it’s important. Writing needs space, it needs dedication, and it needs its own time free from other distractions.

That lesson is even more important when a baby comes along. Babies don’t care about our approach to grabbing time for writing. Those two hours we normally have? Gone in bringing up baby’s wind. The social engagements we eschewed are no longer an option while we catch up with just 20 minutes of writing in-between changing nappies, putting the washing on, tidying up the kitchen and cooking a meal.

I’ve carried on writing throughout this tumultuous period and it’s been difficult and it’s also been necessary. Ever since 2008 I’ve planned my writing time, and now that’s really paying off with the following writing updates:

UPDATE – Planetfall 2: Children of Fall

I finished the first draft of PF2 in early June, amid a rush of writing as moving and birth date approached. I was really pleased with the first draft. It was structured and planned in much more detail than previous books, which meant when I came to write, I could rattle off a 5000-word chapter in a couple of days.

The first draft has already been to a beta-reader, and I now have an extensive list of re-writes. The most significant re-write will be around returning lead character Kate Leland, whose character I haven’t quite nailed. Returning characters are a little more difficult to get right, I think. I last wrote Kate in 2011, and in-between wrote Backpackers and Sympathy for the Devil. PF2 is also set 12 years later, and there needs to be clear character progression between the two books. Kate needs to ‘feel like’ Kate from All Fall Down, and she also needs to feel like she’s matured, and changed in response to her personal history. A returning reader should be able to tell they’re back with her and also recognise and ‘allow’ her to be and feel slightly different.

I’ve just completed my own read through of the first draft. The second half of the book I’m very happy with. The first half, or at least Kate’s first four chapters are going to be completely scrapped so that I can get her storyline and character right. There’s also work to do in bringing out the other returning characters who are only present in light brush-strokes at the moment (Djembe, Daoud). And there are character relationship issues between new characters (Swan, Stendahl) which need strengthening and made deeper.

Children of Fall was originally slated for a Christmas 2015 release. I think this is now looking unlikely. Even if I get a second draft written by October, I’ll still need to go through a 3rd and 4th draft and then let the book rest for a month or two before I can contemplate a final draft. Perhaps May 2016 would be more realistic?

By the way, I maintain a Facebook page for Planetfall, on which I also share news about science fictions films, books and other media. Please Like it for updates: https://www.facebook.com/planetfalltrilogy – when Sympathy and the next PF book are published, there’ll be exclusive competitions on the page.

UPDATE – Sympathy for the Devil

To fill the release schedule left empty by Planetfall 2, I’ve got Sympathy for the Devil almost ready for publication. I was disappointed not to find representation for this book. Based on feedback from agents I know the quality of the book is at the right level for ‘formal’ publication. Unfortunately the book is satire, and the agents who sent personal responses (as opposed to template responses) said that publishing houses rarely pick up satire. This means it’s not worth their while putting effort into representation. Their time is money, and if there’s very little chance of publication, their time is wasted. I understand this, we all need an income. I’m also disappointed – it would be nice to have the book’s quality validated by industry recognition.

Onwards and upwards though! I’ve been extremely fortunate in working with a talented artist and now have cover art for the book. The design ethic is a departure from my previous book covers (Planetfall is a deliberate mix of scifi art and graphic design, Backpackers was self-designed with help on the lettering from Whitefire Designs), and I’ll be revealing some of the artwork on here in the next few weeks.

In the meantime, I’m waiting to get my new home wired up for broadband before I start any significant work on marketing the book. Before that I’m writing a proper marketing plan. This is a first for me – previously I’ve used marketing plan templates and taken bits and bobs from them as tips. This time I’m raising my game and putting together a proper action plan. Once it’s prepared I’ll share it for other writers to crib.

That’s all for now. I hope you’re writing is going well. Drop me a line here on  Twitter @astrotomato if you want to chat about any #amwriting issues.

astro x


Writing updates 30 May 2013

A quick update on my various writing projects.

Planetfall book 2

I written around 100,000 words in the sequel to Planetfall: All Fall Down, which is called Children of Fall. Writing has gone very well, and I know from feedback from my writing group and from my own sense of my writing that it’s a more mature and better written work. This is good, and I’m happy.

Despite being at the 100,000 word mark, the novel is only halfway through.  Full length books are supposed to weigh in between 70,000-100,000 words. This means I’ve written a full length novel in word length alone, and I guess it equates to having finished my 3rd novel. Except.

Except this book really is only halfway through. It’s a concept double album of a book. It will eventually be somewhere between 170,000 and 200,000 words. And this leads me to consider something: do I release it in two parts? I won’t go to agents with this book, as the first book is self-published, which pretty much means the rest of the series won’t get picked up.

I’ve got a while to think about this, though, as I’ve put the book on ice for 6 months.

Book 1, by the way, has now been downloaded or sold in physical paperback about 310 copies. I get good feedback for it from complete strangers.


Backpackers has been available as an ebook and in paperback for just over a month now. It is selling terribly – I think I’ve shifted about 8 copies. This is a shame, because it’s a much more commercial book, and the writing is better than Planetfall: All Fall Down. Backpackers was almost picked up by a couple of agents.

I’ve been trying to have Backpackers reviewed by book review sites run by bloggers. One recently got back to me and said after consideration, having received the book, they’ve decided not to review it. Obviously I’m disappointed, though I understand their editorial policy is to only review books they really feel passionate about, and road journey books aren’t for everybody.

I will continue to seek out book reviewers and blogs to review this. I really believe in the book, and I think it has a readership out there. If I was better at marketing I’d figure out how to bridge that gap. More news as and when.

Secret project

The past 6 weeks I’ve been working on another novel. It’s a sort of horror-comedy-steampunk-political satire affair. I’m not releasing any details until the book is finished. I can say that my writing group have said it’s the best thing I’ve ever written, which is exceptionally gratifying.

The writing is coming very easily for it. I’m at 28,000 words at the moment, and I’m aiming for about 75,000 words, so it’ll be a short book.

Those 28,000 words are currently with two trusted reviewers (outside my writing group). It’s essential that writing is shown to people and feedback is received.

As with all my writing projects, this is a real test and it’s taking me outside my comfort zone. I’ve never written comedy (except for an attempt at a sitcom script last year, which resulted in one and a half pretty good episodes), I’ve never written horror, I’ve never written political satire (though I have done dystopian political writing) and I’ve never tackled steampunk.

This book will also be the first of my books that I will send for professional editing. That’s simply because I’ve saved up £500 for it, whereas Planetfall and Backpackers were finished when I was unemployed.

Other writing

I recently wrote two synopses for other books. One was a political/crime thriller, and the other a Young Adult adventure. Both way outside my comfort zone. Both synopses were intended to be my secret project, but I chose not to progress them. I may publish the synopsis to the Young Adult book in the spirit of sharing and being transparent with my approach to writing.

Buying my work

Well, a plug. If you wish to buy either Planetfall or Backpackers, they’re available in ebook and paperback, from both Amazon and Lulu. Links to both are below, and you’ll find that Lulu is the cheaper option, where ebooks are 90p each. The paperbacks are more expensive than I’d like, but they’re print on demand, and most of the cost goes to the printer.

astrotomato on Amazon

astrotomato on Lulu

That’s it for the moment. As ever, I’d love to hear what others are up to. Until the next blog,



Backpackers – deleted material

This week I returned to my completed novel Backpackers and re-wrote the prologue and first chapter.

It seems like a strange thing to do, considering I had strongly believed it finished and in its best possible form. I have sent it to a score of publishers. Oops.

Rather predictably I have fallen foul of the lesson that we all need to learn as writers – rest your material before you proclaim it finished. I knew this, but I was so intent on finishing the book and getting it to publishers before I went back to full time work that I blinded myself.

Lately, on my long commutes to my new job, I started running the book through my head, thinking about it, testing parts of the story. And I realised that the opening chapter was letting it down. The changes I’ve made aren’t enormous – it essentially amounts to a re-structure of the material, to bring some of the tension and conflict at the end of the chapter right up front, and cutting out 6 pages, and writing in 6 pages of fresh material.

The material I cut out was a “darling”. Most writers will have heard the editing advice, “kill your darlings”. My darling was the original short story which spawned the entire Backpackers novel. I had kept it in for a year, because it was the seed, and it helped set out part of Cath, the protagonist’s character. She’s a story teller, a mischievous fun loving party girl. What I realised was that the diversion into the short story (which is presented as a story that Cath tells) diverts the story from establishing the conflict it needs. The reader is set up with too many stories to think about.

But! Not wanting to lose it, I thought I would upload the material here and allow people to download it for free, specifically so that writers can compare the kind of material I cut out, and see how that applies to their own writing.

Here is the Backpackers – old opening file.