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Bookish. Publisher at Louise Walters Books. Reader, writer, and editor. Working class gal.

Saturday, 12 September 2020

Three years of indie publishing: the view from here

Hello! My first blogpost in ages... but I say that every time I blog, so... y'know... I am quite busy! To make up for it, this is a long post. Maybe grab a coffee... 

Three years ago, on 19th September 2017, I announced I was going to be a bona fide indie press: Louise Walters Books. I'd been working towards this for months, behind the scenes, and had self-published my third novel, The Road to California, as a trial run. I was excited, scared, and looking forward to the big adventure. A few months into running my press I signed my first author, Laura Laakso, for her debut novel Fallible Justice, the first book in her paranormal crime series, Wilde Investigations. Other writers followed and my aim to publish four books per year (one per season) was in full swing. 



Three years down the line, I'm flat out exhausted; I have made mistakes, faced numerous rejections (it's not only writers who get repeatedly rejected in the crazy world of publishing!) and wept many tears: tears of frustration, disappointment, desperation, and sometimes, joy. First let's talk about the disappointments, shall we? Nobody really does... here goes... all very much in the spirit of my understanding that nobody owes me anything. This is simply my reality... 



Ebook sales. Mine are consistently low. They are increasing as I produce more books (my ninth title is out in November, Cath Barton's In the Sweep of the Bay) and Laura's series has done increasingly well this year off the back of a Bookbub promotion in June... but generally, I've been disappointed not to sell more. I have always kept the price of my ebooks low (currently they are £2.50 on all platforms). Other publishers sell oodles of ebooks (I look at sales figures in The Bookseller and regularly see authors and publishers and agents on Twitter celebrating (rightly) their "nth" sale of ebooks...) but my figures are nowhere near these levels. I've concluded it's commercial fiction which does well in ebook... my aim at LWB has been to publish books at the literary end of the spectrum, regardless of genre. And we are repeatedly told that literary fiction doesn't sell... 



Another disappointment has been the lack of sales through bookshops. When I started LWB I (rather naively, it turns out) imagined indie bookshops and indie publishers had a mutually supportive, symbiotic relationship. It would make sense, wouldn't it? Indies supporting each other? Waterstones don't carry my books (yet) as core stock, and I do understand that; there are far too many books published and Waterstones can't possibly stock them all any more than indie stores can. So while it's frustrating for me, I do get it. What I would love to see (and actually, need) is more indie bookshops stocking my titles. I am signed up with Gardners, the industry's main (and now only, after the demise of Bertrams) book wholesaler. All my books are available through them; and I clearly state my trading terms on my website, as I can also (and do) deal directly with indie bookshops. I suspect LWB just isn't on enough radars yet, and that's something I can keep working on (gotta put a positive spin on the disappointments, right?) 



There are some brilliant supportive indie bookshops who do carry some or all of my titles, and I am immensely grateful to them. But I need more, just like I need more ebook sales. There is no getting away from that. I am planning my first LWB catalogue, so I hope that will make a difference. I'm planning to send it to all UK indie bookshops, probably in early 2021. The trouble with books is the profit margin is tiny, and I've sold books at a loss, which means publishing on my small scale is not a sustainable "business model". But of course that isn't the reason I'm doing all of this. I'm a publisher because I love reading, and I love reading intelligent books, by writers of clear and genuine talent; and I know many other readers do too. So business model be damned. I'm in it for the passion. But I need sales too, or I'm not in it at all. See the problem here?



I've yet to secure a translation rights deal for any of my books. That has been quite a blow. I remain hopeful... I know my books would translate well. The frustration is real. (Rejection, you see, I get it all the time!) I have landed some audio and large print deals, and that is very good news for me and my authors. 



The lack of press reviews is galling, although I do know most books from any publishers, big or small, don't get reviewed. I nevertheless try very hard. I have spent hours tracking down emails, finding reviewers on Twitter, emailing people, offering copies of my books. Mostly I hear nothing back, or I get a polite no thank you (which is much better than being ignored). This is where I think my lack of contacts comes into play. I'm not posh, middle-class, I don't have old school friends to open doors for me. I don't have any feet in any of these middle-class doors and that has been, I've no doubt, detrimental to my authors. So that's where I feel at my worst, really. It's all very well to edit and produce a high quality book but it's to little avail if I can't get them reviewed, stocked in shops, or long-listed in a prize or two.

OK, that's quite enough of the disappointments. (No need to mention I am skint, is there? I have sunk almost all my savings into my publishing and I'm yet to break even on any of my books... but I think that might be fairly typical in indie publishing... Oh, and the loneliness... nobody talks about the loneliness of indie publishing. I've never been more lonely in my life...) 

But now I want to talk about the good stuff, of which there is plenty. First, my Subscribers!



Sixty-seven people have taken out either a physical or digital subscription. I can't thank them enough for their support and belief in my authors and their books. It has made a real difference to my finances and to my morale. And the website orders are brilliant, I'm immensely cheered every time one of these pops into my inbox... thanks to each and every person who has ordered anything from my website bookshop. You are keeping me afloat in a real, measurable way.  



I regard each and every sale as a mini-victory; a validation that I'm doing something good at LWB and that readers want it. 

And book bloggers, you are amazing in your enthusiasm and you've reviewed my titles so warmly and positively. You have been integral to getting my books on radars and I thank you all sincerely for all that you do for books, and mine in particular!  

Working with my talented team of writers and freelance helpers has been fantastic. I've learned so much about editing and publishing over the last three years. It's been brilliant. All seven of my authors have talent in bucket loads. It's an absolute joy to work on writing of the calibre they produce and I couldn't be a prouder publisher. The thrill of finding each of these writers makes up for a lot of the disappointments. They deserve more sales, of course, they should have got more reviews, of course, they should have been on prize long lists, absolutely of course. But they haven't, yet, and while I frequently feel I've failed my authors, I don't think I have, really. I've done my best for them with limited funds in a very overcrowded marketplace... I'm a meticulous editor, I hope, and I work my authors hard on their books. 



The mistakes: trying to publish four books a year! It's way too many for one person. The workload is immense even with one book, let alone four. And while my future as a publisher is uncertain, and I am going to be taking a break in 2021-2022, I have made one decision for the future, should I continue to publish: two books per year maximum! That way I may hang on to my sanity... The hours I have put in, and still do, has affected my family, my relationships, my mental health. Two books per year will restore some balance... that's the plan...

Financially, I live on my savings (now almost all gone) and my editorial work, which I do alongside my publishing. I can, and often do, earn more money from one editorial report than I sometimes make on all sales of my titles in a month. So it's a no-brainer. In reality, my freelance editorial work is my day job, my actual work; publishing is an expensive hobby that I can't sustain forever unless sales pick up. It's that simple, that sad, really. 

I have four more books to publish, the last one in May 2021. All four are brilliant novels, and all quite different... 



After that, I'm going to take a few months off, probably a year or so, and figure out how to proceed. I have several options, all of which I will consider: going back to my own writing (The only certainty. Got to write again); setting up an ebook-only imprint for commercial fiction (there is money in that, but is it true to LWB? Does that even matter?); give up publishing entirely (and get my life back!); set up as a "hybrid" publisher, where I help writers to publish their books, but the author pays me for my services... and I'm even considering switching to being an agent... all of these are options, and I could do a combination of these.  

Would I have set up LWB in 2017 if I'd been able gaze into a crystal ball? What do you think?*   

I'm jaded. The booktrade is the toughest, strangest, cruellest industry. It's resistant to change, slow to change, and it's resistant to indie authors and indie publishers for no fathomable reason. It's an industry at odds with itself. Writers, agents, publishers, and booksellers, all have different needs and want different things from this industry, and the conflict of interest is tough to navigate. So on Twitter I've been criticised for directing people to my titles on Amazon by an indie bookseller who as far as I know doesn't stock my titles. That's the conflict, right there, the downright ridiculousness of the industry and how it works (or doesn't work). But... Books, innit. We all love books regardless of our place in this crazy book world. 

For now, onwards, and I'll be around for a while yet, promoting the heck out of my seven authors and their remarkable novels. It will be nice to have the time in 2021 and 2022 to promote the books without the pressure of line editing, endless proofreading (my least favourite job!) and without the worry of the expense of bringing out any further books. Next year I will have twelve titles out, and they will be in my catalogue, nice and glossy, with those fantastic covers, for readers, booksellers, librarians, and reviewers to discover them. 

And in case you might like to learn more about my indie press, or buy a book, you can head over to my website where all my published-to-date books are available to buy now in print and digital; and my upcoming books are available for pre-order, in print and digital. All my titles are also available at internet retailers, and can be ordered through any high street bookshop, whether that be Waterstones, Foyles, Blackwells, or your local independent.  

Thank you to all who have supported me and my authors over the last three years. It means so much, you'll never know quite how much... 

Louise x

*PS, the answer to the crystal ball question? No. I may be passionate, but I'm not stupid! 


   (Good job there is no crystal ball...)
















 











Tuesday, 4 February 2020

First paragraphs: Before and After - The Last Words of Madeleine Anderson

OK, apologies, first of all. I said, in June, that I would do another of these before and after blog posts "soon"... well, February isn't soon, really, is it? Sorry! Blame  my crazy workload...

Without further ado, here is the third of my Before and After posts featuring the novels of my authors at Louise Walters Books. This time we're going to look at Helen Kitson's novel, The Last Words of Madeleine Anderson. 



Helen was the second author I signed at my indie press. She sent me this novel via my Submissions inbox and I recognised her name - Helen is an accomplished and acclaimed poet. I was keen to read her novel and after reading, I was keen to publish it. Here are the original opening paragraphs:

It’s curious how a fleeting smell, or a chance association of images or words, can conjure up a particular event so vividly it almost seems possible to relive it – to reach out and touch a remembered scene, a beloved face, a special memory.
            The sender of the letter I held in my hands signed herself Madeleine, and how could she possibly have known how deeply that name would affect me? My best friend, Madeleine Anderson; best friends since our first day at school. Dead at twenty-two; Madeleine – my Madeleine!
           Bewildered, I felt the world around me cease to spin, a jumble of memories tumbling out from a cupboard stuffed with junk: balding teddy bears, cassette tapes with handwritten labels, pens with shattered nibs, yellowed birthday cards, dice from board games long since binned; luggage labels, school ties, smooth pebbles, broken jewellery, pictures torn from magazines. Reminders of people loved, admired, lusted over, despised. Names that no longer meant a thing, others that were invisibly tattooed on the fragile skin of my wrists.
            Not difficult to imagine the grief, the tears, the unctuous if heartfelt outbursts of feeling Madeleine’s death occasioned, along the ‘taken from us so young’ lines. Unfair, tragic, appalling. Mutely I accepted the commiserations, the clasping hands, the condolence cards littered with silver crosses and embossed lilies. Worse for her parents, of course, for like me Madeleine had been an only child. Unlike me, brilliant, brimming with the vague quality called potential. Dead, gone, taken from us, her light snuffed out, at peace with the angels. Et cetera.
            Grief fades, but bombs leave black craters that can never entirely be filled. Weeks, months went by when I didn’t give Madeleine more than a passing thought, though she was never entirely absent. But the letter, signed Madeleine, was enough to bring to mind that well-remembered face, and for too long I remained in my armchair, unable to summon up the will to move, to switch on a light, to eat. The letter in itself was not vastly interesting; similar to others I’d received, in dribs and drabs, over the past twenty-odd years.

Maddie's audio book cover

I loved the voice here: Helen does that world-weary, bleak-ish sense of humour so well. My first suggestion was maybe we should start the novel with the second paragraph. I thought the first paragraph was a bit "throat-clearing", and not necessary. By losing it we also get straight to the letter; straight into the action as the main character has already received and opened up the letter that will change her life.

I made a few further suggestions, as did Helen and our copy editor, Alison - all suggestions shown here in red:

It’s curious how a fleeting smell, or a chance association of images or words, can conjure up a particular event so vividly it almost seems possible to reach out and touch a remembered scene or a beloved face.
            The sender of the letter I held in my hands signed herself Madeleine, and how could she possibly have known how deeply that name would affect me? My best friend, Madeleine Anderson; best friends since our first day at school. Dead at twenty-two. Madeleine – my Madeleine!
Bewildered, I felt the world around me cease to spin, a jumble of memories tumbling out from a cupboard stuffed with junk: balding teddy bears, cassette tapes with handwritten labels, pens with shattered nibs, yellowed birthday cards, dice from board games long since binned; luggage labels, school ties, smooth pebbles, broken jewellery, pictures torn from magazines. Reminders of people loved, admired, lusted over, despised. Names that no longer meant a thing, others that were invisibly tattooed on the fragile skin on the insides of my wrists.
            Not difficult to imagine remember the grief, the tears, the unctuous if heartfelt outbursts of emotion Madeleine’s death occasioned, along the "taken from us too young" lines Madeleine's death occasioned. Unfair, tragic, appalling. My best friend since our first day at school. Dead at twenty-two. hHer light snuffed out, at peace with the angels. Et cetera., et cetera. Mutely I accepted the commiserations, the clasping hands, the condolence cards littered with silver crosses and embossed lilies. Worse for her parents, of course;. Like me, Madeleine had been an only child.; Uunlike me, brilliant, brimming with that vague quality called potential.           
Grief fades, but bombs leave black craters that can never entirely be filled. Weeks, months went by when I didn’t give Madeleine more than a passing thought, though she was never entirely absent from my mind. But the letter, signed Madeleine, was enough to invoke that well-remembered face and for too long I remained in my armchair, unable to summon up the will to move, to switch on a light, to eat.
The letter was similar to others I’d received in dribs and drabs over the past twenty-odd years:

Between us we accepted most of these changes; Helen wanted to keep IMAGINE where I had changed it to REMEMBER. She noted: "The sense here is ‘Not difficult for the reader to imagine’ rather than Gabrielle." Point taken! We reinstated IMAGINE. And this is how these opening paragraphs appear in the book:

The sender of the letter I held in my hands had signed herself Madeleine, and how could she possibly have known how deeply that name would affect me? I felt the world around me cease to spin, a jumble of memories tumbling out from a cupboard stuffed with junk: balding teddy bears, cassette tapes with handwritten labels, pens with shattered nibs, yellowed birthday cards, dice from board games long since binned, luggage labels, school ties, smooth pebbles, broken jewellery, pictures torn from magazines. Reminders of people loved, admired, lusted over, despised. Names that no longer meant a thing, others that were invisibly tattooed on the fragile skin on the insides of my wrists.
Not difficult to imagine the grief, the tears, the unctuous if heartfelt outbursts of emotion along the “taken from us too young” lines Madeleine’s death occasioned. My best friend since our first day at school. Dead at twenty-two. Her light snuffed out, at peace with the angels, et cetera. Mutely I accepted the commiserations, the clasping hands, the condolence cards littered with silver crosses and embossed lilies. Worse for her parents, of course. Like me, Madeleine had been an only child; unlike me, brilliant, brimming with that vague quality called potential.
Grief fades, but bombs leave black craters that can never entirely be filled. Weeks, months went by when I didn’t give Madeleine more than a passing thought, though she was never entirely absent from my mind. But the letter, signed Madeleine, was enough to invoke that well-remembered face, and for too long I remained in my armchair, unable to summon up the will to move, to switch on a light, to eat.
The letter was similar to others I’d received in dribs and drabs over the past twenty-odd years:

Photo courtesy of Laura Laakso - 
celebrating the launch of Helen's book, March 2019

Like Laura, Helen doesn't really need much editing. She writes in a crisp, clear fashion, resulting in work that just needs a bit of spring-cleaning... we did make a few structural changes too, but that's normal in most novels. I'm delighted to say I'll be publishing her second novel, Old Bones, in March 2021. I'm looking forward to editing with her again.

I promise to do another of these before and after posts SOON... we'll have a look at the opening paragraphs of Diana Cambridge's Don't Think a Single Thought.

In the meantime, if you are a writer too, good luck with it, and if you are thinking of working with an editor or getting a critique of your work, I do offer those services. More info here on my website... 

Louise x




Tuesday, 4 June 2019

First Paragraphs: Before and After - Fallible Justice

Welcome to the second of my First Paragraph posts, in which I share the opening paragraphs of my authors' books, before and after they were edited. This time I'm going to talk about my very first LWB title, Laura Laakso's Fallible Justice. There's a bit of a story behind the story, so we'll begin there...

In 2017 I helped "sift" entries to the Retreat West First Chapter competition. Amanda Saint invited me to help her, and I agreed. I needed the money, as I had decided to set up my indie publishing outfit, Louise Walters Books. I also thought the experience would be useful and at the back of my mind, I said to myself, "You never know what you might find..."


Cue A LOT of reading. Some chapters were good, some not so good. Then I reached an entry named Fallible Justice and here are the opening paragraphs I read:



I am running. The foot that touches the ground is a deer’s hoof, the foot that propels me forward a wolf’s paw. Between strides, the wings of a seagull hold me aloft. Running along the sandy hill, the wide paws of a lynx ensure my passing is silent. The wind is against me, whipping through the horse’s mane that is my hair. With the wind comes the smells of the land and the sea and I sift through them with the borrowed nose of a badger. In the distance, a bird takes flight and the ears of a dormouse pinpoint the source of the sound with ease. My foot lands in a grassy depression but with the balance of a squirrel I change the direction of my movement and keep going.
      I am running through the wilderness and the wilderness runs through me.
      The hills follow the curves of the coast and from a sheltered cove, I catch a whiff of decay. My stomach growls and it is the hunger of a vixen stalking towards a chicken coop, a pine marten pouncing on a shrew, a striped dolphin chasing a school of cod. As soon as the thought registers, the smell is gone.
      A hound bays in the distance. It is downwind from me and has recognised my scent. I bay back. Kin recognises kin.
      Although I run with the strength of an ant, the speed of a swift and the grace of a pond skater, there comes a point when I have to stop. I brace my hands against my knees, breath coming in gulps. In that moment, I am all human – only human. There is no sorrow in the change; the wilderness hovers on the edge of my consciousness, ever-present and comforting. I wipe a sheen of sweat from my forehead, a mixture of beads of dew and salt of the sea. Everything is connected, myself included. I smile at the thought as I begin the long walk back to my car. 


Well. I was stumped! But there was something... wonderful about the writing. And that line "I am  running through the wilderness and the wilderness runs through me" - surely that was a gift of a tag line? But was it too ambitious? Too wild? Too over the top? I asked for Amanda's opinion. "Is this fabulous or is it bollocks?" I asked her. She read it and replied: "It's fabulous. Let's put it through to the long list."

The chapter was also short listed, and eventually picked by the judge as the runner up in the 2017 competition. A few weeks later, my submissions inbox now open, Laura submitted another of her novels to me. I wasn't that taken with it, but I recalled her name, and I asked to read the rest of Fallible Justice. I read it twice, back to back. I was keen to kick start LWB with a wonderful author and I knew I'd found her. OK, fantasy and paranormal are NOT my things, usually, but good writing and good story-telling trumps everything else. I had found her! My first LWB author. I offered Laura a one-book deal which she accepted and away we went. 

Editing Laura is relatively easy. We start from a pretty elevated position - Laura writes tidy and clean! Structurally we don't need to do much as her books are meticulously plotted and she is pretty much in charge of that side of things. It's her show and my job is simply to ensure everything makes sense... which it tends to do! Laura has nailed the internal logic of her stories - in other words, she has created a world she knows inside out and she is the boss: she is totally in charge. Nothing random or bizarre or silly happens despite this being a fantasy series... fantasy is just a style. Storytelling is storytelling and internal logic is present in all good novels, no matter the genre. Indeed fantasy is incredibly hard to write well. It takes a great deal of control and it works best when it's character-led. Otherwise it quickly becomes stale. In my opinion, the best fantasy is always, always character-led. 

Edits wise, we didn't actually change much. I've marked in red where we made changes and deletions:

I am running. The foot that touches the ground is a deer’s hoof, the foot that propels me forward a wolf’s paw. Between strides, the wings of a seagull hold me aloft. Running along the sandy hill, the wide paws of a lynx ensure my passing is silent.The wind is against me, whipping through the horse’s mane that is my hair. With the wind comes the smells of the land and the sea and I sift through them with the borrowed nose of a badger. In the distance, a bird [my note to Laura: This could be more specific. Name the bird? You name all the other animals in this fantastic paragraph, so I think we should name the bird too. (It became a magpie.)] takes flight and the ears of a dormouse pinpoint the source of the sound with ease. My foot lands in a grassy depression but with the balance of a squirrel I change the direction of my movement and keep going.
      I am running through the wilderness and the wilderness runs through me.
      The hills follow the curves of the coast and from a sheltered cove, I catch a whiff of smell decay. My stomach growls and it is it's the hunger of a vixen stalking towards a chicken coop, a pine marten pouncing on a shrew, a striped dolphin chasing a school of cod. As soon as the thought registers, the smell is has gone.
      A hound bays in the distance. It is downwind from me and has recognised my scent. I bay back. Kin recognises kin.
      Although I run with the strength of an ant, the speed of a swift and the grace of a pond skater, [my note to Laura: I think this may be too much. Could we try just picking one? The best I think is the ‘grace of a pond skater’, as it’s the most surprising of the three] there comes a point when I have to stop. I brace my hands against my knees, breath coming in gulps. In that moment, I am all human – only human. There is no sorrow in the change; the wilderness hovers on the edge of my consciousness, ever-present and comforting. I wipe a sheen of sweat from my forehead, a mixture of beads of dew and salt of from the sea. Everything is connected, myself included. I smile at the thought as I begin the long walk back to my car.


And here are the opening paragraphs as they appear in the published Fallible Justice:

I am running. The foot that touches the ground is a deer’s hoof, the foot that propels me a wolf’s paw. Between strides, the wings of a seagull hold me aloft. The wind is against me, whipping through the horse’s mane that is my hair. With the wind come the smells of the land and the sea, and I sift through them with the nose of a badger. In the distance, a magpie takes flight and the ears of a dormouse pinpoint the source of the sound. My foot lands in a grassy depression, but with the balance of a squirrel I change direction and keep going. 
      I am running through the wilderness and the wilderness runs through me. 
      The hills follow the curves of the coast, and from a sheltered cove, I smell decay. My stomach growls and it’s the hunger of a vixen stalking a chicken coop; a pine marten pouncing on a shrew; a striped dolphin chasing a school of cod. As soon as the thought registers, the smell has gone. 
      A hound bays in the distance. It is downwind from me and has recognised my scent. I bay back. Kin recognises kin. 
      Although I run with the grace of a pond skater, there comes a point when I have to stop. I brace my hands against my knees, breath coming in gulps. In that moment, I am all human – only human. There is no sorrow in the change; the wilderness hovers on the edge of my consciousness, ever-present and comforting. I wipe a sheen of sweat from my forehead, a mixture of beads of dew and salt from the sea. Everything is connected. I smile at the thought as I begin the long walk back to my car. 


Don't know about you, but I find the ending here on the very mundane "long walk back to my car" is perfect: what is this world? Who is this character? Is she a human - she seems human. She drives a car. But she has just done all these extraordinary things. I want to know more, a lot more, about this character. Don't you?! 

Fallible Justice was published in November 2018 and its follow up, Echo Murder, is published this week, on Thursday 6th June. 



I'll do another of these soon, and it will be Helen Kitson's opening to her fabulous novel The Last Words of Madeleine Anderson.

See you soon! x



Monday, 20 May 2019

First Paragraphs: Before and After - The Naseby Horses

Time to get my blog back up and running! My last post was about Laura Laakso's book launch for her debut novel Fallible Justice... and now here we are, six months later, about to publish Laura's second, Echo Murder. Laura's Wilde Investigations series is going from strength to strength, and I should know: I've read and edited the third one, Roots of Corruption. It's an absolute corker. That's out in March and I know her fans are going to love it.




I'm planning a series of posts looking at each of my authors' first paragraph(s), sharing here the BEFORE version (how it read when first submitted to me) and the AFTER version - how it appears, or will appear, in the actual finished book. The editorial process can be a bit of a mystery if you haven't yet experienced it, so I hope these posts will be interesting.

I'm kicking off with Dominic Brownlow's The Naseby Horses. The novel was long listed in the Bath Children's Novel Award in 2016. It appeared in my submissions inbox back in late July 2018. A friend of mine had critiqued the novel and Dominic had tried agents, without success. My friend asked me if I would like to read it. I agreed to have a look... and am I ever glad I did! It's a cracking novel: multi-layered, beautifully written and loaded with atmosphere. However, that first version I read (twice, in succession) was a bit... choked up. Too many words, too much imagery, it was simply too NOISY. I remember mentioning to Dominic (at Laura's book launch party, glass of wine in hand) that we needed to thin the novel out. He looked a tiny bit... worried! I'm pretty sure I said something about less being more...





It took six months to tame this beast, but we got there, and the resulting novel is something I think both author and editor are very proud of.

So, here are both versions of the opening paragraphs of The Naseby Horses, followed by the rationale behind the changes we made....

Original opening:

It’s another day and a night before they let me leave the hospital. Uncle Pete picks me up in his black Rover, driving slowly over the chain of mini roundabouts that gets us out of Spalding onto the straight, lonely roads of the Fens. There’s still been no word from Charlotte.
‘Hobby,’ he says, ducking his head to look at a small bird of prey hovering by the side of the road. ‘Marsh harriers have been plentiful over Lakenheath and there’s been a golden oriole spotted Monday. Maybe we’ll get up there when all this blows over, hey?’ There’s little of the usual buoyancy in his Norfolk accent.
The hobby drops to the ground, bouncing back into view with a field mouse locked in its talons and disappearing low across the fields as I press my head against the warm glass, my mind weighed down with the hazy fug of medication, and watch the earth streaming by in an endless blur of yellow and green and gold. Above stretches millions of square miles of unsullied blue sky.

(177 words)


Edited final version:

It’s another day and a night before they let me leave the hospital. Uncle Pete picks me up in his black Rover, driving slowly over the chain of mini roundabouts that gets us out of Spalding on to the straight lonely roads of the Fens. There’s still been no word from Charlotte.
‘Hobby,’ he says, ducking his head to look at a small bird of prey hovering by the side of the road. The hobby drops to the ground, bouncing back into view with a field mouse locked in its talons, before disappearing low across the fields. I press my head against the warm glass, my mind weighed down with the hazy fug of medication, and watch the earth stream by in an endless blur of yellow and green and gold.
Above stretch millions of square miles of unsullied blue sky.

(141 words)


We reduced the word count by about 20%, which more or less continued throughout the novel. We got it down from almost 90k words to 75k. 

After reading just that short opening paragraph, I knew two things:

1. This person can write.

2. I like this writing.

The opening paragraph is pretty much perfect. It sets up the entire novel in three simple sentences. Therefore, it remains unchanged. My note to Dominic was: "Ideal opening paragraph. Lots to get the reader wondering from the start. This we do not need to edit!"

The second paragraph needed the cuts. I suggested we get rid of the bird talk, as it wasn't needed.  And the comment about Uncle Pete’s accent, likewise not needed. Not everybody (most readers, probably) will know what a Norfolk accent sounds like, so it was almost meaningless. I told Dominic this second paragraph was too cluttered. He fired back several comments about why it was all included... but he essentially agreed with me, and the cut was made.

We are left with just the one word of dialogue - “Hobby.” -  all that’s needed to convey the importance of birds, both in the novel, and to the protagonist, Simon. The fact that Uncle Pete recognises the bird tells us these people are bird spotters. Nothing else, I felt, at this stage, was needed. 

The sentence about the unsullied blue sky was interesting. I suggested cutting it; Dominic defended it, and I backed down. He suggested it should be a single line paragraph, which I liked. It just works better, it's more emphatic, and the huge Fenland sky is pretty much a fixture throughout the novel. So a single sentence paragraph was the right decision, and we both agreed. 

We changed STREAMING to STREAM to be, I think, slightly more correct grammatically, and of course slightly more economical.

So there you are, the opening section. It's followed by a double line break before proceeding with the rest of the novel. Hope you can see how less is indeed more; and how good writing is often good because of what isn't on the page rather than what is. I always tell the authors I work with editorially (of all standards) do not be afraid of the delete button! 

One of the most important changes we made was to edit the novel as adult literary fiction, rather than as a YA novel, which is what Dominic originally intended. We debated this quite a lot, in the end deciding the pace was more suited to literary fiction, rather than YA; and we also felt if published as a YA novel, we would risk not reaching some of its potential readers - those who I know are going to enjoy this book. So that was an important decision we had to make quite early on. That in turn informed the entire editorial process. 

Editing is a two-way thing: there is much debate and almost arguing, at times! It's also an exhilarating process and a learning curve, for author and editor. A great deal of honesty is required on both sides, and the ability to take criticism is a must. As an editor, I also have to know when to back down and allow the author - who knows the novel better than anybody - to have it their way.  

The Naseby Horses will be published on 5 December 2019 in hardback and ebook. More information can be found on my website https://www.louisewaltersbooks.co.uk/

I'll do another of these soon, which will be Laura's dazzling opening to Fallible Justice

Louise x






Saturday, 10 November 2018

Fallible Justice launched!


On Wednesday 7th November we held the book launch party for Fallible Justice by Laura Laakso. Around 60 people attended and the atmosphere was friendly, relaxed and excited!

We were hosted by The Inn on the Park in St Albans, who did a great job. No hitches at all, and the staff on duty for the evening were helpful and efficient.

We had a cake, and what a stunner, created by Laura's friend Julie Green. Guests thought at first that it was a pile of hardbacks!


This is a cake, honestly!

We had a pop-up bookstall, and my clever and supportive husband ran that for me. We organised a card reader and a receipt machine and sold a total of 35 copies on the night. Amazing amount when you consider many of the guests had already bought a copy from my website bookshop. I thought if I sold 20 copies I'd be chuffed, so 35 was fab.




We had wine; and home made sausage rolls and vegetarian rolls, which smelled delicious while cooking. I didn't get one, but I did sneak home some slices of cake to share with my kids.

There were speeches - not a bad feat for a couple of introverts! The atmosphere was so friendly my nerves melted away as soon as I started talking. Then it was over to Laura who read beautifully from Fallible Justice. A friend of Laura's in Australia asked me to read out a message from him as a surprise for Laura. I practiced at home but it was too emotional and on the night I felt myself welling up, so my husband Ian stepped in and read it for me. (Blame the menopausal hormones!) It was a beautiful message and I don't think it was only Laura and me with damp eyes...




One of the best things was meeting so many of my "team". Jennie Rawlings who designs LWB covers; Alison Jack who is my go-to copy editor; Leigh Forbes was designs and typesets the interiors of my books; and another of my authors, Dominic Brownlow. It was so good to meet all these people and we had such a great time nattering that we decided we need another social. Soon! Watch this space...


L to R: Jennie Rawlings (covers), Dominic Brownlow (author), Leigh Forbes (interiors), Laura Laakso (author), Louise Walters (publisher), Alison Jack (copy editor)

Laura's mum was there too, all the way from Finland, and I think she was perhaps the proudest person in the room.



All in all it was a fantastic night. My first LWB book launch, and not my last I'm sure.

Writing and publishing a book is the best excuse for a knees-up. Can't wait for the next one!




Thursday, 1 November 2018

Fear of Flying and Other Things

Once again it's been too long since I last blogged! So long in fact I wonder if anybody will read this. No? Good. Then I can write honestly. Write (and dance) like no one is watching...

This year I've faced two of my biggest fears. I'm a deeply fearful person. It doesn't do any harm to admit that. I admire fearless people and I wish I was one, but I'm not.

In September I ran a workshop at the Festival of Writing in York, organised by Jericho Writers. It was my second time, as I first did this in 2017. To say I was nervous is an understatement. I've never been a fan of public speaking. School put me off for ever when we were forced to stand in front of a class and do a "presentation". For me that meant mumbling for a few minutes, feeling sick, deeply embarrassed and very hot. Fast forward thirty-five years and the feelings remain. Only this time, I admonished myself, I'm a GROWN UP and grown ups get on with it. So I did. My presentation was OK. Technical hitches beforehand threw me a little, and I didn't know how to turn up the volume on my film clips. (I discovered after the presentation that the volume knob was right in front of me.) One of my clips was the wrong one. But the presentation was OK, mostly, and I had good feedback from some of the people who sat through it! 

Also in September I finally faced a truly lifelong fear. I flew in an aeroplane for the first time. At the age of 50. Yes, FIFTY. Five-Oh. I know. I feel that too.

Over the years I had convinced myself I would never get on a plane. Then one day, back in the summer, a friend emailed me and asked if I fancied a trip to Lisbon. For free. For eight days, with our kids. Well, it was an amazing offer and too good to refuse. As the holiday grew nearer my head swam with all the dark possibilities. All the shit that could go down (mostly the kids and me, in a plane). But we rocked up at the airport, waved goodbye to my dear husband, and we boarded our flight. They were excited; just a little scared. I was terrified. 100%. I wanted to run away. I couldn't show my fear, so I smiled broadly and acted all like I was totally cool with it, and told the kids it would be fine. We got on the damn thing and then the engines fired up, we were speeding along the runway and then... up. Up in the air. It was incredible.


Belem, Lisbon, September 2018

OK, I didn't enjoy flying, much. But I did it, and now it's off my UN-FACED FEARS list. I feel bolder, braver, more confident and like a proper grown up. 

With one week to go until my first author's first novel is officially published, I'm feeling the fear again. The thing is, the fears feel the same as the fear of public speaking and fear of flying: what if I make a fool of myself? What if my wonderful author has put her faith in me as a publisher and I let her down? What if the book crashes and burns? What if I run out of cash (that really is the biggest fear of them all!) What if... what if what??

My cousin died of cancer a couple of years ago, at the age of forty-four. From that day I've vowed to LIVE what's left of my life. I'm pretty sure the public speaking, and the flying, and of course the publishing are "symptoms" of my new attitude to life. Fear has its place but I can no longer allow it to rule me, stifle me, and stop me from seeing and doing wonderful things.


LWB books

So, a week before publication, I wish Laura Laakso all the success she deserves. and boy does she deserve it. She's ten times the writer I will ever be, and then some.

Now, I'm off to write my introductory speech for the launch party. No sweat!

XX
 





Thursday, 7 June 2018

"Cor, Louise, you swallowed a dictionary?"

I've been hearing a lot about working class writers recently. The term "working class" is broadly situated under the "diversity" banner. And that's fine; working class "voices" should be heard. But I wonder what exactly is meant by "working class"? And what precisely is a "working class" story? I've been pondering all this for some time, following the posts and comments online of writers like Kit de Waal and Kerry Hudson, fabulous writers both.

I'm working class. I was brought up with few aspirations; very little money; I rarely had new things, even at Christmas and on my birthday. Yet I lived in an old, detached house in a village (in fact, two houses in two villages; we moved when I was ten) in Oxfordshire: generally regarded as a pretty posh part of the world. But our house was damp, had no central heating, it was furnished with second-hand, tatty furniture. It was bought by my parents in the days when one wage could just about buy you a village property. My mum was a SAHM (stay at home mum -  most mums were in the 70s, as I recall) and we didn't exactly eat like kings. Mum had about three dishes in her repertoire, and a lot of white bread and marmite. We had no mod cons as they were called then - no dishwasher, no tumble drier, no washing machine. My clothes were bought in village jumble sales and I will never forget the humiliation when a fellow pupil at my village school recognised "her" pink dungarees. I denied they were hers, of course. But she knew and she gave me a hard time. She was working class too.



The one thing we did have, either from jumble sales or the library, was BOOKS. These were the saving grace of my childhood. I read a lot, and I read about characters who were nothing like me - I devoured stories about boarding schools; posh kids' school hols adventures; stuck-up orphans; middle class American families; upper class Victorian ghosts; I dreamed I was IN these stories. I wanted to be Katy Carr's sister; Joey Bettany's best friend; Anne's fellow girly friend, because George was too hopelessly boyish. I think it's often, but not always, a myth that people want to see "themselves" "represented" in books. I didn't. I wanted to escape, and imagine a different life for myself.


As a child, my reading made me a bit precocious, at least by my family's standards. I was asked by wider family members, more than once, "You swallowed a dictionary?" and I think, in many ways, that's precisely what I did. I lost myself in books, in the worlds created by authors. From a young age I wanted to be an author, but it would take me many years to admit that even to myself, let alone get on and become one (my first novel was published when I was forty-six).




My characters rarely live the impoverished life I once had. I've written about lonely middle class women; a reluctant aristocrat; a wealthy American play boy; I do tend to go for hard working women who "make something of themselves". But I think I write, always, through my working class filter. It's much, much easier for a poor person to imagine what it's like to be rich than for a rich person to imagine what it's like to be poor.

To be a working class writer is in many ways to feel like a fish out of water. A trip down to London to meet up with my publisher cost me a fortune; the publisher's offices were stuffed full of (very nice) people who I guessed didn't attend their local comprehensive, but who instead went to the kind of  schools I once upon a time read and dreamed about. I often felt guarded in these meetings; unreasonably shy; even embarrassed by myself. What would have been useful is to find somebody else in the room noticing me; recognising and acknowledging me; understanding my background. Even better, it would have been great for me to recognise them. I pretended to be middle class, to fit in, because I felt like the only working class person in the room. Possibly I wasn't, but it felt like it.





It's great that some publishers are now accepting new recruits without degrees (I finally got mine via the Open University when I was forty-two). But I think other changes could make publishing a less alien, even threatening, environment for working class people: more older staff, more BAME staff, more accents, and perhaps controversially, more male editors and agents. How about offices based in other cities - Manchester? Newcastle? Birmingham? Glasgow? Such changes can't happen overnight, of course. And I hope agents and publishers don't attempt to ghetto-ize working class writers, insisting on stories only about council estates; drug abuse; single mums; all the cliched "working class" trappings. To do that would be to pay lip service, to reduce working class writers and their stories to token gestures. Box ticking.

I don't try to act posh anymore, because I'm not. You can take the girl out of the working class but you can't take the working class out of the girl. I'm not loaded (I'm a writer for heaven's sake!) but I'm proud of what I've achieved and I think my background eventually served me well and helped me to grow into the reader, writer, editor, publisher and business woman I've become. In common with other working class folks I can spot pretentious bullshit at fifty paces. That really is a useful skill! And of course, some habits never die: I still frequent libraries and I still buy second hand clothes. Just not pink dungarees...