Happy New Year!
The last day of 2011. Another wonderful year - and again the result of luck and other people's efforts rather than any achievement of mine! So this is a good time to take stock and to thank the people who don't usually get the recognition that they deserve. In publishing so much goes on behind the scenes to support the writer whose name appears on the book jacket. I'm fascinated by the details of other people's working lives and it occurred to me that you might be too. So here's how it works for me.
When I finish the first draft of a novel it goes to my agent Sara Menguc. She's represented me for years (in a sense since I started because she worked for my first agent Murray Pollinger and set up on her own when he retired). She's everything you'd want in an agent - supportive and passionate, but also completely honest. If she feels a scene or an idea or a character doesn't quite work she'll say so. At this point the script goes too to a couple of Sara's overseas associates. Jan Michael sells for her in Scandinavia and Moses Cardona in the US and it's useful for me to have their perspectives before the new book goes to the publisher. Amabel Gee looks after the overseas contracts for Sara with amazing efficiency and diplomacy - she got an advance from my Greek publisher in full and on schedule at the time of the financial crisis there! - and quite often Sara asks for her opinion on a book too. This is probably the most nerve-wracking time in the publishing process. Nobody sees the book before Sara, and suddenly it's out there being read by several people at once. What if they all hate it?
Then, when my agent's team agrees that it's as good as it can be, it goes to my editor at Pan Macmillan. Julie Crisp heads up Tor UK, their fantasy and scifi imprint now, but we get on very well and I think she's a great editor, so I'm lucky that she's held onto me. She had a baby just before Christmas - welcome to Alahna - so I'm being looked after now by her lovely assistant Catherine. I like detailed edits. In these financial times editors are very busy, with more authors and less time to spend on them, but a fresh perspective is essential at this point in the process. I admire indie authors who produce great books without professional editorial input but for me it's essential.
It takes a year between delivering a script and publication and that time is spent on jacket design and to set up the marketing and promotion. In the meantime I'm looking at copy-edits and then at page proofs. I have a new person to look after the marketing and I'm delighted. Isolde is full of enthusiasm, energy and ideas. She's working with the rest of the team at Macmillan but also with my totally fantastic web designers, Roger and Jean at Cornwell Internet, to make sure readers and booksellers know that the book is out there.
2011 was the year that my publicist Helen Guthrie got married and also when she left Macmillan to move to a new post with another publisher. If you're a Simon and Schuster author fight for her - she's imaginative and supportive. Like Julie, she came to Fair Isle at her own expense to celebrate the launch of Blue Lightning! She's been replaced by Chloe Healy and although we've only met once, I already feel as if I'm in very safe hands and look forward very much to working with her in 2012. You see what I mean about being lucky?
Then the book is in the hands of the sales team - I think these men and women are the unsung heroes of the publishing world. They build relationships with booksellers and librarians and travel the country trying to get a groundswell of enthusiasm around a title. Social media works well but sometimes face to face contact is vital to build up the word of mouth buzz. One of the highlights of 2011 for me was a mini-tour of indie bookshops in East Anglia with Steve, the area rep, and I look forward to something similar in the spring. So a huge thanks to Andy Belshaw and his team for their good humour and dedication.
And now it's almost publication day. We'll wait for reviews. There'll be a launch party - in fact two: one in Newcastle in the Lit and Phil of course, and one in Goldsboro Books in London. I'll stand at the front and smile and take the credit, but I'll know that much of the success is down to luck and the people mentioned here and a whole heap more.
Newcastle Winter Book Festival
The last weekend of November saw the Newcastle Winter Book Festival. This began in 2010 as a very modest affair in Newcastle Central Library, but it was clear even then that there was an appetite for an event to celebrate books and reading in the city. In 2011 Andy Peden-Smith of Northumbria Press took over the programming and the festival spread to other venues - the magnificent Lit & Phil and the Star and Shadow Cinema in Byker, though many events remained in the stylish City Library. The planning started ridiculously late in the day but he persuaded some big names to come along - politician Tam Dalyell, poet Liz Lochhead, Hugh Cornwell of The Stranglers, scriptwriter Michael Chaplin (whose adaptation of JUST HENRY will be ITV's Christmas blockbuster) and the fantastic local author David Almond.
I enjoyed the festival because it was different. There was one themed day - Saturday was Crime on Tyne - but the rest was a mix of artists and writers, locals and guests. I've appeared at a number of Literature Festivals and each has its own flavour. I hope NWBF will remain individual, quirky, passionate and fun. Plans for 2012 (and 2013) are already underway.
My favourite event of 2011 was Liz Carling's reading of The Habit of Silence in the Lit & Phil. It was the last gig of the festival to be held there, and so already there was a party atmosphere, a conceptual sigh of relief that nothing major had gone wrong. An intimate audience, wine, late afternoon and already dark outside. Liz turned an ordinary story into a spell-binding, spine-tingling experience. Everyone present felt they'd been part of something very special.
Now it's nearly Christmas. The first draft of my new Shetland book (working title DEAD WATER) is with my agent. There'll be a busy year ahead, beginning with the launch of THE GLASS ROOM in February, so this is an opportunity for a break from work, a time to spend with family and friends. I send everyone my very best wishes of the season and hope that your stockings will be packed with wonderful books.