Word Count

Plus the state of UK TV, the power of curation and an early morning Grabbity.

Hi there,

The rain has finally stopped, the sun is trying to come out, the pigeons are ‘courting’ on the flat roof above my desk, freaking Copurrnicus right out with their noise, and I am feeling loquacious! So this issues sees fewer links and more analysis, which I hope you’ll find interesting! Plus, a photo of an early morning Grabbity for those of you who reach the end.

Read this: Why bestseller lists aren’t all that

Agent Kate McKean argues that authors really shouldn’t care about whether their books gets on to the New York Times bestseller list, largely because, “If it happens that is AMAZING and a BIG DEAL but also not the golden ticket you think it will be.”

Instead, she says, you should worry more about:

Selling through that print run so your publisher has to go back to press for more books (i.e. a reprint). If they have to order a reprint before your book even comes out, because stores have called dibs on all their existing stock, EVEN BETTER. What’s going to make a publisher look at your next proposal or manuscript with heart eyes? Reprints and low returns. Stores ordering more of your book(s) because people keep buying them, long after your “launch week” marketing extravaganza. How do you sell your next book? Sell your current one.

By the way, I only recently learnt that the little daggers next to some books in the NYT list means that they think the numbers have been in some way fudged:

Institutional, special interest, group or bulk purchases, if and when they are included, are at the discretion of The New York Times Best-Seller List Desk editors based on standards for inclusion that encompass proprietary vetting and audit protocols, corroborative reporting and other statistical determinations. When included, such bulk purchases appear with a dagger (†).

Read this, two: How important is author promo? 

In the post above, McKean suggests that as an author, you must keep your “book in conversations by doing what you can do online—writing, posting, videoing, whatever you can do that makes sense for your market—whether it’s about your book or not.”

She goes on to say:

This is work only you can do in support of your career, so you can keep publishing books. The publisher cannot build your platform or following or fanbase of readers who automatically buy your next book as soon as you post a pre-order link. Readers are not looking at publishers for news of those pre-order links. They are looking at you. You do not hear about new books from publishers. You hear about them from friends and articles and random posts that get shared in your feeds and from the bio at the end of that great article you just read and oh look they have a new book coming out.

However, author Melissa Caruso suggests on Bluesky that we should not focus on making any given book a success, but should take a step back and make sure our careers are a success (my bold).

Here’s the thing. There’s not much that you, the author, can do personally to move the needle in the short term on sales for a specific book. That’s really up to your publisher, who has far more resources than you do.

Once you accept this, it’s actually kind of nice?

It’s very easy to put WAY too much effort, time, and/or money into book promo, but the truth is that all the things debuts feel like they should be doing—social media, preorder campaigns, events, you name it—will make very little difference for most people and are only worth doing if you enjoy them.

It’s important to remember that there is no empirical way to understand what makes a given book a success, or not a success. There are so many factors that combine to propel a title to the top of the bestseller list or sink it without trace that it’s impossible to predict which books will sell well and which won’t.

Some factors are always going to be important, such as author name recognition and track record or the amount of marketing spend devoted to a book. But they aren’t guarantees of success, even if they help it along. Other factors are completely unpredictable and uncontrollable, such as whether a similar book comes out at the same time, general zeitgeist, and virality.

So I think the key point from Caruso’s thread is to do what you enjoy. If you like being on BookTok, or writing newsletters, or doing outreach to indie bookshops, or organising author events, then go for it. It can’t hurt and it might help.

But don’t sacrifice your next book, or your health or happiness, on the altar of promo.

Read this, three: The state of UK TV 

It’s really nice to have your career decisions exonerated by a report, even if that report makes for less than happy reading otherwise. Televisual.com summarises a report from Ampere Analysis on current TV commissioning trends, and it doesn’t make for fun reading.

The report shows an 18% decline last year in the UK’s market for scripted TV commissions as major UK broadcasters cut spend and most global SVODs trimmed investment in international content.

So trying to get a TV script commissioned, especially as an early career writer, is essentially futile. Worse, trying to get a sitcom made is now just an act of self-flaggellation.

Comedy fell out of favour, enduring a 27% drop. It was the most heavily impacted of all scripted genres in 2023 with an overall decline of 41% among UK commissioners.

There is something to be said for being countercyclical, so perhaps still worth working on comedy, but maybe not in TV. I’m focusing on writing a sitcom podcast as well as working on a version of the script for submission to the BBC’s autumn open call, just in case.

Perhaps the ‘easiest’, if anything in the creative world can ever be said to be easy, is get your book published first.

In another risk-mitigation move, the BBC increased its investment in IP with an existing following. Roughly a fifth of BBC scripted commissions last year were book adaptations.

I decided a while back to stop working on the scripts for Tag and start novelising it. That project’s shelved for now as I focus on Fieldwork, mind, but as a CGI heavy urban fantasy, it’ll be a much easier sell as a book rather than a TV show. I always knew that, but this news confirmed that novelisation is the right choice.

However, if you’re writing in the Kids, Family or Crime genres you stand more of a chance.

Children & Family grabbed the most orders of the BBC’s scripted commissions, up by 23% year-on-year. Crime and thriller titles were up 16%.

Getting into TV through the front door is basically impossible now, so it’s really a matter of working out whether you can slip in unnoticed through a side window.

Read this, four: The power of curation

Lovely piece from Russell Nohelty about the important of curation in media, saying that:

[the problem for] every media company struggling right now is they have become terrible curators for their audience

This is true not just for large media organisations, but also for us newsletter writers too, whether we are curating links, as I do here, or our thoughts, as I do over on Why Aren’t I Writing?.

This gives me the opportunity to ask you what you’d like to see more/less of? This issue has been particularly wordy, but how do you like the usual mix of topics and number of links? Please do leave a comment if there’s something you particularly like and would like more of!

Obligatory cat picture

Grabbity does love to come and pin me to the bed just at about the time my alarm goes off, so I frequently wake up to this view. She’s very keen that I stay in the prone position so that she can nap in comfort, after a very tiring night of yelling at us from the bottom of the stairs.

Right, that’s it for now! See you again in a couple of weeks, or maybe in the comments!

All the best,

Suw

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Plus the London Festival of Writing, Coyote vs Acme, and Copurrnicus being Copurrnicus.

Hi there,

Catch up with Dr Dean Burnett

If you missed last week’s webinar with bestselling author Dr Dean Burnett, you can now catch up with the recording at your leisure!

Dean and I kicked off our conversation with the story of Blue Monday — not the New Order song, but the confected PR nonsense that claims one particular Monday in January is the ‘most depressing of the year’. Dean, already a keen blogger and stand-up comedian, debunked it and soon found himself writing a regular blog for The Guardian.

We then moved on to talk about how Dean came to write his first book, international bestseller The Idiot Brain and then his second book, The Happy Brain, how he does his research and how he made the decision to go full-time as a writer. We also talked about our childhood assumptions that other people wrote books, not us, and how that’s affected our writing careers, as well as Dean’s experience of doing stand-up comedy, the weirdness of having his book optioned by Whoopi Goldberg, and a bit about what he thinks writer’s block might be.

Watch now!

Opportunity: BBC Writers’ Studio: EastEnders

BBC Studios Drama Productions have launched a new scheme for anyone who wants to write for EastEnders.

BBC Studios TalentWorks Writers’ Studio: EastEnders is an open script call for those who are looking to take the next step in their writing career and join the ranks of the EastEnders writing team. The initiative intends to find writers with some experience, who are actively keen to pursue a career in continuing drama. The open call process will shortlist 8 writers who’ll each write one paid trial script with the full support of the in-house development editor. Of the 8 shortlisted writers, up to 5 commissioning slots will be available on the main show.

Applicants must have an existing broadcast credit, or an agent, or various other credits/experience in order to apply, and the deadline is 22 April.

The BBC also runs The Writers’ Studio: Casualty, and a similar scheme for cosy crime.

Tip-top tip: Gary Gibson on building a sustainable writing career

Sci fi writer Gary Gibson has written about the things he’s learnt as a “formerly traditionally-published author” about building a sustainable career as a writer.

Gary, who hasn’t been under contract with a major publisher since 2015, talks about the conflict that sometimes arises between what readers want and what writers want, risk-taking and experimentation, marketing and BookBub, promotion and much more.

It’s a useful post with valuable advice not just for independent authors, but for anyone interested in a writing career.

Event: The London Festival of Writing

Jericho Writers’ annual writing festival will be running over the weekend of 29-30 June, at the Leonardo Royal Tower Bridge Hotel in London. Tickets aren’t cheap, at £420 for the whole weekend, including lunch and Saturday night dinner, but excluding accommodation.

The weekend consists of seven workshop slots with three to choose from in each session, and they cover topics such as character, first chapters, working with small publishers, dealing with your midpoint plot, genre, how to write query letters and a lot more.

Watching: Coyote vs Acme might be lost forever

There’s been another wave of fury about the loss of Coyote vs Acme, the completely finished Warner Bros. Discovery movie that massive arsehole David Zaslav canned for no good reason. It was reported last month that Warner Bros. Discovery said that:

in an earnings filing it wrote off $115 million in content due to abandoning films in the third quarter of 2023 as part of a “strategic realignment plan associated with the Warner Bros. Pictures Animation group.”

Actor Will Forte, who played Wile E. Coyote, got to see the finished film and called it “incredible. Super funny throughout, visually stunning, sweet, sincere, and emotionally resonant in a very earned way.”

The film tested really well, and Amazon offered $40-$45 million for it, but that wasn’t enough for enormous wanker Zaslav, who wanted $75-$80 million for it. So, it seems Coyote vs Acme will by now have been deleted. All we have left of it has been compiled by All Things Lost into this 38 minute video:

As someone points out in the comments, “You can’t burn down your own business for insurance money. You shouldn’t be able to destroy your fully filmed, expensive project, for free money either.”

Whilst the buck stops with contemptible scumbag Zaslav, the underlying cause is perverse incentives in the tax regime. Now that despicable shitweasel Zaslav has normalised the deletion of finished films, regardless of quality or prospects, we can expect this to happen more and more often.

The only question now is whether creatives will start to shy away from, or even boycott, film studios who have shown themselves willing to destroy movies for the tax breaks.

Read this: Recently on Why Aren’t I Writing?

It’s been a while since I gave you a round-up of my newsletters over on Why Aren’t I Writing?, so for those of you who aren’t subscribed over there, here’s a bit of reading for the long weekend:

Grist & author webinars

This month, I organised both a Grist conversation and an author webinar with Dr Dean Burnett. I really enjoyed doing both, and I get a lot out of them, but they take a lot of time and they’re causing me quite a bit of stress. So, rather sadly, I’ve decided not to do any more webinars for a bit. Grist will become a monthly newsletter, and I’ll do another author webinar when I really can’t resist the urge any more.

Obligatory cat picture

Copurrnicus, a tabby and white cat, stands on top of an antique cabinet, and stretches out a paw to try to reach a hanging decoration in the shape of a flower. After the first Christmas of the pandemic, my husband and I decided to leave up the fairy lights and to then decorate the lounge seasonally. Sadly, we had to leave all the themed lights back in the US, but we are slowly rebuilding our collection of decorations here.

Copurrnicus pretty much ignored the hearts we put up for Dydd Santes Dwynwen, which is also the anniversary of our engagement, and which we left up until our wedding anniversary in February. But he has taken rather a shine to our spring decorations, which at the moment consist of eggs and paper flowers.

Grabbity doesn’t care, because none of the decorations are made of tinsel.

Right, that’s it for this time! See you again in two weeks, or on Notes or Bluesky.

All the best,

Suw

 

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And how I’m adapting our project plan to account for changes in TV commissioning.

Saturday saw the Big Comedy Conference take place in London with a slew of industry professionals taking the stage to share their accumulated knowledge and experience. I went last year for the first time, so this second go round made for an interesting comparison.

The atmosphere was much less chirpy, for one, and the financial challenges of putting on an event of this size in the current economic climate were made obvious by the single stream of speakers with no break-out rooms and the more modest catering. I don’t blame the organisers for that at all – time are tough and they have to cut their pattern to their cloth – but the event felt smaller and less optimistic.

I can understand that loss of optimism too, though. Comedy is in decline in the UK. Last November, Ofcom released a report in which it “explicitly labelled scripted comedy to be ‘at risk’ as a genre” for the sixth year in a row. One of the speakers confirmed that spending on comedy has been cut, with the number of comedies being commissioned dropping by half.

Last year, we were told that the way to get your comedy made is to find a producer whose work you love and approach them. You can’t approach broadcasters directly – most of the commissioners on stage said they were either part of very small team or working solo and they don’t accept unsolicited scripts.

So how do you get the attention of a producer? Twice, we’ve been advised to record a table read and send them over a link. That does make sense – it’s easier and quicker to click a link and listen for a few minutes than it is to read a script.

But that doesn’t seem to be how things actually work. I spoke to someone who had tried sending the recording of her table read to the very same producer who’d given that advice . Yet she still met a brick wall of “We don’t accept unsolicited scripts”.

There was further conflicting advice about agents. This year, we were told to get an agent, whereas last year we were told that agents aren’t necessary and you’ll only get one once you’re established anyway.

It’s Catch 22. Commissioners say that they only accept submissions from production companies. Production companies don’t take unsolicited submissions, preferring work to come via agents. Unlike literary agents, TV agents don’t take unsolicited submissions either. The whole industry is Kafkaesque.

I chatted to one very well established writer and even he can’t get stuff made, despite decades of experience and all the contacts you could possibly want within the industry.

So what does this mean for Fieldwork?

The original plan was to write a short film script, then look for some funding to get it made. Which isn’t a bad plan, but I’m not sure that it’s still the best plan. I am not a film producer and nor do I particularly want to become one, so I’d have to find a producer to work with. I’m not going to rule that out, but perhaps it’s not the best place to start.

I’ve signed up for Dave Cohen’s Build a Sitcom course, so by the summer I will have a half-hour sitcom pilot script written, which I will then cut down to a 10 minute short film. Having a sitcom pilot will give me some more options: I’ll be able to submit it to the BBC’s open call in the autumn (I’ve missed this year’s BAFTA Rocliffe comedy competition deadline), on the off chance. But with hardly any comedy being made now, that off chance is tiny.

What became clear to me on Saturday is that there really aren’t many opportunities for comedy writers at the moment. One’s chances might be improved if one became a writer-performer, but as much as I love doing improv, I’m not about to start trying to develop a career as a stand-up comedian (despite having done it before) in order to write. Honestly, that’s like becoming a worm farmer in order to go fishing.

Where I do see an opportunity – and I can thank Julian Simpson’s Lovecraft Investigations and Tom Craine and Henry Parker’s ReincarNathan for demonstrating this to me – is in audio. Whether that’s BBC Radio or a podcast doesn’t really matter, although one requires me to get commissioned and the other I can do myself (ish).

The podcast route seems the most feasible in terms of getting this story out in to the world (and, perhaps, catching a commissioner’s eye). Being less expensive, it also seems like something with the potential for a bit of crowdfunding to cover the costs.

I know a lot more about the TV industry and the process of getting a sitcom out into the world now than I did two years ago when Thorunn, Pen and I started talking about this project. So it makes sense to adjust our plan in the light of all that new information. An adaptation for audio could potentially be an intermediate step ahead of making the short film, or it could become our final destination, and either of those outcomes would be fine for us.

Having been fretting about the idea of making a short film for a while now, I feel much more excited about developing a podcast. It feels much more doable and much less stressful. The lesson here is that creative projects like this take time to develop, and as they do, the wider commercial landscape changes. We have to stay abreast of those changes and adapt our plan to fit reality.

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Plus new profit-sharing publisher, why the names in Dune are actually great, Amazon sued over counterfeit books, and more!

Hi there,

Lots and lots of interesting stuff to share with you this week, so it’s a bit of an epic newsletter. But there is a cute photo of Copurrnicus at the end to reward you for your hard work, so let’s dive in.

Event: Dr Dean Burnett in conversation

I’ll be chatting to Dr Dean Burnett, neuroscientist, podcaster, comedian and author of the international bestsellers The Idiot Brain and The Happy Brain, at 19:00 GMT on Tuesday 19 March. We’ll be talking about why he decided to give up his career as a lecturer at the University of Cardiff to become an author, how he researches his books and what he thinks of writer’s block. The webinar is free and on Zoom, so if you’d like to join us, grab your ticket now!

Opportunity: BAFTA Rocliffe comedy competition open

The BAFTA Rocliffe New Writing Competition for comedy, including sitcom, sketches, feature films and shorts, is open to submissions until 21 March 2024. They will take both live action and animation formats. Unfortunately, it costs a whopping £58 to enter.

Stop, look, listen: We Can Be Weirdos – E43 Be Funny or Die

I’m halfway through Joel Morris’s fantastic new book about comedy, Be Funny or Die, which I cannot recommend highly enough (full review coming when I’ve finished it!). So I jumped straight on this episode of Dan Schreiber’s podcast, We Can Be Weirdos, in which he talks to Joel about the book, whether ghosts exist and the way we try to do a little magic every time we say “Good luck”. It’s a lovely listen!

Read this: New publisher promises profit-share

Authors Equity founders Don Weisberg, Madeline McIntosh and Nina von Moltke.

Authors Equity is a new publishing company that will profit-share with authors, paying out on a monthly basis, instead of via a traditional advance. Founded by three publishing industry veterans, Don Weisberg, Madeline McIntosh and Nina von Moltke, and funded by authors like James Clear, Louise Penny and Tim Ferriss, Authors Equity “promises to give authors more control and participation in the production of books, and create a collaborative model for publishing books that is currently lacking in the industry”.

The devil’s in the details of course, because how will they define ‘profit’?   There are different way to calculate profit and some would be more advantageous to authors than others. Hollywood does quite a lot of profit-sharing — that’s what ‘points’ are, a percentage point of the net profit — and has become adept at creative bookkeeping to reduce the amount of money actually paid out.

Neither of the articles mention this rather massive elephant in the room, instead focusing on the loss of an advance. From the NYT:

Some in the industry expressed skepticism about the approach, noting that many writers can’t afford to wait and hope that a book will succeed.

“It’s putting the risk more on the author than the publisher,” said Robert Gottlieb, a literary agent and chairman at Trident Media Group, which represents more than 2,000 authors. “Most authors need the advance, and if that’s taken out of the equation, the risk is enormous.”

That might seem like a major hurdle for a lot of authors, but let’s face it, most advances are so low that authors are already forced to work a main job to pay their bills. Losing a few grand up front will make no functional difference to authors in that situation.

I can imagine that a profit-share might appeal to two types of authors: Those already successful authors/celebrities who know that they are going to sell well, and those two-job authors for whom developing a portfolio of a steady income streams is more attractive than a paltry advance. It won’t be any good for authors dreaming of a lottery win advance, or those who are getting a decent sized advance but aren’t earning out. But perhaps it doesn’t have to be for everyone to still be a useful addition to the publishing landscape.

Tip-top tip: Be thoughtful about your SFF names

I loved this piece from Lincoln Michel about how good the names are in Dune. I’m not some big Dune aficionado, but I kinda like that the protagonist is called Paul Atreides. It’s an easy name to read and pronounce, whether out loud or mentally.

One thing I cannot abide in science fiction and fantasy are deliberately obtuse names that are hard to parse. As Michel says:

You probably won’t effectively evoke a far future if everyone is named Jim Johnson, Allie Smith, and Tom Miller. OTOH, it’s simply annoying to read a book where everyone is named Fl’imabib DoXlolak, Sththk Ta Lo, and Tlijadjlll’d’d’d’d’a Gonkdaborg.

I can’t count the number of books I’ve read that have tried to create a sense of the alien by ramming a bunch of consonants and random punctuation symbols together. That jerks me out of the story so completely that instead of creating a sense of the alien it’s just straight alienating.

One author who was really good at creating naming schemas was Anne McCaffrey in her Pern books. She created a whole tradition for how her characters would get their names by mixing syllables from parents’ names, plus a second tradition that dragon riders’ names would be shortened. The names of her characters make sense within their own world, and are a part of the world building without ending up looking or sounding ridiculous.

Michel shares some great thoughts about naming alien terminologies and creating alien jargon as well, so the piece is well worth reading.

Read this, two: Amazon sued over counterfeit books

Bestselling self-published author David Goggins is suing Amazon over its unwillingness to remove counterfeit versions of his book, Can’t Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds.

Amazon allowed the sale of counterfeit versions of his self-published book on its platform, leading to negative reviews and lost revenue […].

[I]nauthentic versions began appearing on Amazon in June 2019 which included poor print quality, missing pages, and wrong dimensions, according to the complaint.

Amazon only took action after Goggins complained to his millions of Instagram followers, which Goggins says proves that they could have done something earlier but simply chose not to. It’ll be interesting to see how this case shakes out. Honestly, the only way Amazon is ever going to clean up its act is if it’s forced to by the courts.

Thread of the week: Philip Ralph on the closure of Doctors

The BBC has axed Doctors, a British daytime soap that has been running for 24 years, and Philip Ralph has an excellent thread on why this is a disaster for the actors, crew and screenwriters especially.

Doctors was a training ground, a series on which screenwriters could cut their teeth and learn their trade. It also provided consistent work for a lot of people. And it’s not being replaced by another long-running show, but probably by game shows and other thin daytime TV gruel, so there are hundreds of people who are now going to be out of work.

And, to be clear, Doctors was still incredibly popular. The BBC said it was axed because it was expensive, but that’s not a good enough reason, given how huge the knock-on effects will be. As Ralph says:

The soaps are collapsing. Mid scale drama is contracting. This leaves just the high profile writers and creatives succeeding, and everyone else scrabbling around for scraps, hoping to somehow ‘win the lottery’ and get onto an existing show or even more miraculous in the current climate – get their own original series idea commissioned. There’s no ‘career ladder’ left. There’s incredible good fortune – or there’s nothing. And that’s no way to build and grow a sustainable industry.

Over and over again we’re seeing industries ditch their entry level positions, which is what Doctors was for a lot of people, in favour of short term gain. But they are going to regret that in five to ten years, when they realise that they’ve no promotable talent coming through. Where are the screenwriters of the future going to get experience and learn how the industry works?

Read this, three: UK screenwriters get 10 per cent rise

It’s not often that you see writers getting a pay rise, so it’s lovely to see this news from the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain:

Writers commissioned by the BBC and BBC Studios will receive a significant increase on minimum fees and compensation for the commercial exploitation of their work across a number of new platforms, following the renegotiation of the BBC Script Agreement for Television and Online.

[…] the minimum rate for a 60-minute teleplay increase from £12,780 to £14,040. Series minimum rates will rise to £12,900 per 60 minutes, dramatisations to £9,360 per 60 minutes and adaptations to £5,760 per 60 minutes.

Even sketch writers will see a 4 per cent increase in their per minute minimum rate, which will go up to £123.

Of course, trying to actually get a job writing for the BBC is a bit like trying to win the lottery by typing a lot.

Obligatory cat photo

Getting my ironing board and 2m of fabric out must send some sort of only-heard-by-cats batsignal, because Copurrnicus invariably appears within seconds to make himself comfy. That he makes ironing impossible is of no relevance to him at all, because all he wants is to pretend he’s camping.

Of course, the time I bought him a Tiny Tent so that he could indulge in a bit of glamping any time he fancied, he completely spurned it. Because cat.

(If you’re wondering what the fabric is for, I’m replacing the lining and pockets on a beloved coat, so it’s already really slippery and a nightmare to work with, without Copurrnicus making it harder!)

Right, that’s it for this week. Thanks for reading to the end, if you made it this far!

All the best,

Suw

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Women's Prize for Non-Fiction long list books and judges.

Women’s Prize for Non-Fiction longlist books and judges.

Plus Women’s Prize for Non-Fiction longlist, fake biographies on Amazon, Hugo/Worldcon furore.

Hi there,

It’s yet another grey day here, after yet more rain and with more rain to come. The water meadows are full again and the river’s towpath is still flooded. Yet there are hints of spring everywhere I look – daffodils and croci flowering, the bluebells coming up, and buds on the trees. Spring starts officially in a couple of days, and hopefully it will start in spirit soon, too, when the rain eventually gives up!

Grist: Creating characters with personality

The next Grist conversation, about how to create characters with distinct personalities, will happen at 19:00 GMT on Monday 11 March on Zoom. It’s open to subscribers and anyone who wants to take out a seven day free trial. If you’d like to come along but aren’t in a position to subscribe, drop me a line by replying to this email and I’ll send you the Zoom link when it’s up.

I’m looking forward to this conversation! I’m working on new characters now for Fieldwork, and particularly need to come up with people who have some sort of fundamental character clash. That doesn’t mean that I want people who are constantly arguing, but more that the way one person thinks has to be almost alien to the other.

We’ll be talking a bit about things like the Big Five Personality Traits, what makes a character seem ‘real’, and other frameworks you can use to create characters. We’ll also talk about how to make your villains villainous – something I personally really struggle with!

Opportunity: All3Media New Writers’ Collective

The Edinburgh TV Festival’s ALL3Media New Writers Collective 2024 scriptwriting competition is open for submissions until Thursday 21 March. They’re looking for scripts from unrepresented and uncredited TV writers, and winners will attend an “intensive residential writers’ retreat” to develop their ideas and script. Entries cost £24.

The rules say nothing about not being able to resubmit a script that’s been previously rejected, so I’m tempted to send them the reworked version of Tag, because it has significantly changed since last year. Nothing to lose but £24!

Tip-top tip: A radical empathy writing exercise

Author and teacher Rachel Kadish shares the “most important writing exercise” she’s ever assigned and the impact it has had on some of her students. Without giving the game away too much, she asks her students to put themselves in the heads of characters with unpleasant views and find way to encourage the reader to feel empathy.

I find it quite hard to write truly obnoxious characters, so I’m going to add this to the list of pre-writing exercises I do, as a way to try to get under the skin of my antagonists and not only make them worse people, but humanise them as well.

Industry insider: Why don’t agents reply in order?

Loved this Twitter thread from agent Julie Crisp about how she works through her submissions, and why she doesn’t get to them in the order in which they were submitted.

I noticed on #querytracker some confusion as to why I’ve been ‘skipping’ submissions. As in that someone in November may have heard back from me and someone in September hasn’t. So for total clarity, thought I’d give you an insight into how I work through my submissions…

Women’s Prize for Non-Fiction 2024 longlist

The first ever Women’s Prize for Non-Fiction longlist of 16 finalists has been announced. The books who’ve made it on to the longlist cover topics as diverse as capitalism, artificial intelligence, Renaissance history and motherhood, according to The Guardian. The winner will receive £30,000, which for some of them will be more than they got for an advance, I bet.

The longlist is:

Read this: Fake biographies of dead people on Amazon

LLM-generated books popped up pretty much as soon as ChatGPT was released to the public, because scammers can’t resist the lure of a fast buck. So it should surprise no one that Amazon is now awash with error-ridden biographies of people who’ve just died, including several for Joseph Lelyveld, a former executive editor of The New York Times:

At least half a dozen biographies were published on Amazon in the days immediately following [Joseph] Lelyveld’s death. Several of them were available for purchase on the very day he died. The books, he said, described his brother as a chain smoker, someone who honed his skills in Cairo and reported from Vietnam — none of which is true.

“They want to make a buck on your grief,” said [his brother] Michael Lelyveld.

Ghoulishly, some of these books are credited to authors whose names are themselves stolen from other dead people.

Whilst we’re on the subject of so-called AI, Nature reports that generative computing isn’t just causing problems for grieving relatives, it’s causing an ecological and environmental crisis. Legislative efforts to curb these excesses would be unlikely to help enough, even if they made it all the way into law.

Read this, two: Hugo/Worldcon situation gets sticky

Four weeks ago, I mentioned that irregularities in the Hugo Award voting had called their integrity into question. Despite demands for answers from authors and fans alike, explanations were thin on the ground until a member of the Hugo admin team, Diane Lacey, released a tranche of emails which showed that the irregularities were down to Western administrators censoring the award nominations list in an attempt to “follow” Chinese laws.

Chris Barkley and Jason Sanford have done sterling work investigating the situation, and Jay Blanc has put together a comprehensive timeline of events going back to 2009. It has to be said that the problems with Worldcon and the Hugos aren’t just ones of racist idiocy. There also seem to be problems around legal structure and taxation, as well as potential Chinese sanctions violations.

Author Xiran Jay Zhao said on Bluesky that Congress, specifically the House Select Committee for Strategic Competition Between the US and Communist Party of China is investigating the situation. A government representative apparently said that they found the situation “deeply troubling” and “worthy of additional scrutiny”. Cue warnings that anyone involved should lawyer up immediately.

The problem is that Worldcon is not run professionally: Every year a new team of volunteers in a new host city takes over. And no matter how well things are handed over (and I actually doubt that they are), it’s not possible to develop the required depth of understanding of event organisation under those circumstances.

It took me eight years of organising Ada Lovelace Day to feel like I had my playbook sorted. And it took so long because we, too, were peripatetic, hosted by a different venue every year. That meant that every year I had to form new relationships with new venue staff, learn how they do things and adapt my own processes to fit.

When you have an event organised by a new team in a new venue in a new city, and maybe even a new country, every year, you simply don’t get the continuity you need for those essential lessons to be learnt. And it’s worse when your team is drawn primarily from the fan and author community, rather than from a pool of experienced event organisers.

Organising an event well is a difficult job. Ada Lovelace Day was regularly pulling in around 400-500 attendees, depending on venue, prior to the pandemic. In 2019, Worldcon was held in Dublin and hosted 6,525 people. That’s a lot of organising to be done.

This year’s Worldcon will be held in Glasgow. One member of the team, Kat Jones, was complicit in last year’s fiasco and has resigned. It’s not yet clear how the rest of the organising committee is going to respond to this, but my concern is that absolutely nothing will be learnt and that the issues with Worldcon won’t be fixed. And that should concern all of SFF fandom.

Sparrow, a calico cat, sitting on a green staircase looking very suspicious indeed. Obligatory cat picture

This is a very suspicious Sparrow, who was deeply concerned at the number of strange people in her house on Sunday. She visited us twice, very briefly, just to let us know that she wanted her house back, thanks.

That’s it for this week!

All the best,

Suw

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Plus a serial plagiarist, developing agency, generating husbands, final chapter of Argleton now online, and Grace.

Hi there,

Lots to share with you this week, including a couple of great opportunities and some even better writing advice, so let’s get on with it!

Opportunity: The Fern Academy Prize

Penguin imprint Fern Press has joined forces with How To Academy and Tortoise Media to launch the Fern Academy Prize, “a new annual non-fiction essay prize for those working at the frontier of creativity and thought”.

The prize is designed to find and nurture emerging non-fiction talent and will be awarded to an essay of literary merit with an international and multicultural interest. The prize encourages essays that shine a light on the universal human experience – on a micro or macro scale – and which speak clearly to the times we live in. The prize is open to unagented and unpublished writers from around the world, writing in the English language.

Submissions open on 2 April and the winner will receive a cash prize of £3,000, be published by Tortoise Media, receive representation by RCW literary agent Laurence Laluyaux, and much more.

Opportunity: Channel 4 New Writers Scheme

Channel 4’s New Writers Scheme is looking for unagented screenwriters interested in writing TV drama to take part in a six month training program. The scheme is being organised around 3 regional hubs – Bristol, Glasgow and Leeds – although I can’t find any info as to catchment areas.

Applications will close on Friday 1 March, and if you’re selected you have to be able to travel to your regional hub for in-person training.

C4 is “particularly keen to hear from Deaf and/or disabled people, ethnically diverse people and people from lower socioeconomic groups”. They are looking for dramas that fit into the following categories:

  • The Way We Live Now
  • Young-Skewing
  • Lower Tariff

I think the latter one means ‘commercial’ and ‘cheap to make’!

Tip-top tip: 20 mins of dialogue a day

Mason Currey has a great blog post about David Milch, writer on NYPD Blue and Deadwood, and his creative processes. It’s well worth reading the whole post, if only for the description of how Milch would dictate his scripts whilst lying on the floor!

However, that bit isn’t my tip-top tip, as fun as I think writing with a room full of people would be. No, the bit I’ve taken to heart is this quote from Milch’s memoir:

For the next five days, find a time each day, preferably the same time, and sit down and write not less than twenty minutes and not more than fifty minutes. Five-zero. Don’t think about it, don’t set it up on the computer, don’t think about what you’re going to write before you do it. No exceptions. This means you. Two voices, one and two. No names. No description. No description. That means no description. Voice one and voice two. The setting—don’t say what the setting is. No description. Write for not less than twenty minutes with those two voices. Just follow, just hear what they say. Not more than fifty minutes. Put it in an envelope, seal the envelope, and shut up. Don’t talk about it. Don’t think about what it means. Don’t think about who they are.

The next day, preferably at the same time, sit down and do it again. They may be the same voices, they may be different voices, don’t worry about it. Whatever comes out is fine. Don’t think about it. Just do it.

I did that four times last week, and it was glorious. Seriously.

I did slightly do it ‘wrong’, in that I had two characters and a scenario for Fieldwork that I wanted to play with, but still, I ended up with over 20 pages of dialogue.

I can’t wait to do it again!

Read this: The Serial Lit Mag Plagiarist

Literary magazines are being plagued by a serial copy-and-paste plagiarist who uses the name John Kucera. Yet most don’t seem to have the tools (or perhaps the interest) in taking basic steps to detect this kind of blatant plagiarism. And despite having been found out and confronted, Kucera doesn’t care:

While it is unlikely that we will ever know the full extent of Kucera’s plagiarism, what makes this case bizarre is that it doesn’t appear to have stopped.

One journal reporter that they received another submission AFTER they had already confronted him about his earlier plagiarisms.

Stop, look, listen: Scriptnotes, E627 – Unbelievably Agentic

I enjoyed this conversation between John August and Aline Brosh McKenna about characters’ agency, in which they discuss, “What are the traps and pitfalls of going after what you want? How do you get people to engage with your protagonist, especially when the protagonist is yourself?”

Character agency has been one of the key challenges in the rewrite of Tag that I’ve been tackling. I hadn’t realised how event driven the plot was – stuff happens, then more stuff happens, then yet more stuff happens. But in order for it to be satisfying there has to be a chain of cause and effect, and the cause has to be a character’s decision to do something. That’s agency.

If your characters aren’t ‘agentic’, if they aren’t driving the story through their decisions and mistakes, give this a listen!

Read this, two: Generating husbands

I loved this post from Holly Gramazio about how she created a webtoy to generate husbands for her new book The Husbands which is, you guessed it, about husbands. You can play with The Husband Generator yourself, but I thought that Holly’s comments about how to generate appealing husbands was fascinating:

the hardest thing about the Husband Generator was coming up with characteristics that felt concrete and fun but also appealing. Adding pets was a godsend, because you can be specific about, say, the breed of dog, or add a cute randomly-generated name, and all of a sudden there’s an idea of who this guy might be. I went through and added a bunch of adjectives about appearance, too, which I didn’t originally have much on; tastes differ, of course, and “symmetrical and willowy” or “dimply and bearded”, say, will work for some, not for others. But at least they’re a potential thing to go “hmmm, maybe?” to.

Lots of jobs, especially concrete jobs where you can imagine what it might be like for someone to do that work; fewer jobs that are “he works in an office doing office stuff” or “he works in a shop doing shop stuff” because they’re so general and widespread that there’s nothing to latch onto.

That’s a quite masterclass in the need for specificity when drawing up a character. It’s no good to have them just working in a shop, you have to have details.

But it’s also a masterclass in marketing. Because now I want to read The Husbands, which I probably wouldn’t even have known existed before.

Argleton: Final chapter up online

Last week saw the last chapter of Argleton go out to everyone who’s subscribe to receive my fiction sub-newsletter. If you like magic realism or urban fantasy and you missed the emails, you can start at the beginning online or download the ebook directly.

I’ll prepare Queen of the May for publication in a few weeks, so if you’re enjoying my fiction, there’s more to come!

Obligatory cat picture

This week we are featuring the marvellous Grace, whose is owned by my friend Louise, who told me this about Grace:

Grace Murray-Hopper started out life in another home, but was poorly and was surrendered to Holly’s Merry Moggies. We adopted her along with another gorgeous girl, Ada Lovelace. Grace is a one year old British Short Hair. She is statuesque in both physical size and personality. Her favourite things are food & treats. She loves face rubs & whilst she isn’t a lap cat she snuggles up to legs most nights. Grace is also very amenable and will happily be walked outside on a cat lead. She is very happy in her new home and we adore her!

Holly Brockwell, who runs Holly’s Merry Moggies, specialises in nurturing ill cats back to health and taking on disabled cats who might otherwise be put to sleep. One of her more famous cats is Smol Paul, who features on her Patreon page. If you have a pound or two spare, please consider helping to save the cats no one else wants.

That’s it for now. See you again in a fortnight!

All the best,

Suw

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Plus great advice from Matthew Dow Smith, a fun thread from Alex Paterson, Hugos eligibility furore and hopefully the last update on Grabbity’s poorly eyes.

Hi there,

The next Grist webinar will take place on Thursday 8 February at 19:00 GMT, and we’ll be taking a look at Plan Continuation Bias and how you can use that, and other cognitive biases, to help your characters make a jolly old mess of whatever it is they are trying to do. Stay tuned for the Zoom link, which will be sent out to paid subscribers soon!

Opportunity: RLF Fellowship

The Royal Literary Fund is looking for professional writers “with at least two (sole-authored) books published, or professionally produced theatre works performed, or radio/TV scripts broadcast” to work with university students across the UK. Fellows will be available for students two days a week, with an extra half day for admin, prep etc, for 30 weeks, and will be paid £16,000 per year.

The aim of the Fellowships is to “foster good writing practice among students through one-to-one coaching” and develop “student writing skills/academic literacy (rather than on creative self-expression as with the conventional writer’s residency)”.

Read this: The Gathering of the Ghosts

The New York Times has a fascinating piece about a ghostwriting conference that was held in NYC earlier in the month. Ghostwriting is booming, although when describing the state of the industry, ghostwriting agent Madeleine Morel said, “I’ll paraphrase Dickens: It’s the best of times and the worst of times. It’s the best of times because there’s never been so much work out there. It’s the worst of times because it’s become so competitive.”

I have to admit, last year I did think about trying to get into ghostwriting, but it seems like a challenging industry to break into. If you’ve experience with ghostwriting, leave a comment and let us know how you got into it!

Tip-top tip: Be proud

Love this little bit of advice from Matthew Dow Smith on Bluesky and Instagram:

Never put down your own work. Is it perfect? Probably not. It rarely is. But you did something that very few people can do, and you should be proud of that. And you actually made a thing. That is always something to brag about.

Tweet of the week fortnight

Illustrator Alex Paterson is reading Little House on the Prairie with his daughter and decided to illustrate some of the more, uh, interesting incidents described in the book.

On the perennial matter of “we see” and “we hear”

I’m in a few screenwriting Facebook groups, which are almost all completely useless being mostly unproduced writers telling other unproduced writers how to write. One of the things that comes up again and again is whether the phrases “we see” and “we hear” are Against The Rules, or whether, in fact, no one actually cares.

The latest instalment in this long-running drama comes from Reddit, where user Prince Jellyfish decided to take a look at a bunch of award-nominated scripts to see how many of them used “we see” or “we hear”. It probably won’t surprise you to hear that 53 of them did, in fact, use these verboten phrases. Only one did not, and that one was written largely in French.

It seems that, in reality, no one does care.

Cue a lot of unproduced writers telling each other that actually these screenwriters have Broken In, ergo can do what they want and therefore Don’t Count, which is an argument that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

Prince Jellyfish also linked to a post by Manfred Lopez Grem, who runs through a list of ways that “we see” can be used to great effect, and who also points out that “Nearly Every Single Screenplay that is up for awards consideration in 2022 / 2023… uses ‘we see.’”

Case closed, you’d think, but this argument is like ones about how to cook steak or whether bicycle helmets work – it’ll never, ever end.

Read this: The Hugos’ eligibility furore

Last year, the science fiction convention WorldCon and the associated Hugo awards were held in Chengdu, China. But a week or so ago, voting totals for the Hugos were released, revealing some strange exclusions. The Guardian’s Amy Hawkins writes:

Recently released documents showed that several works or authors – some with links to China – had been excluded from the ballot despite receiving enough nominations to be included on their respective shortlists. The excluded nominees include Kuang and Xiran, authors who were born in China but are now based in the west.

Concerns have been raised that the authors were targeted for political reasons, connected to the fact that the ruling Chinese Communist party exerts a tight control on all cultural events that take place inside its borders.

No satisfactory explanations have been forthcoming from Dave McCarty, head of the 2023 Hugo awards jury, as to exactly why these and other works were excluded.

However, the next Worldcon will be held in Glasgow in August, and both it and the Hugos are being organised by a different groups of people, who released a reassuring Bluesky thread about their plans for making sure that this year’s Hugos are administered transparently.

Stop, look, listen: The Rest Is Entertainment

I generally shy away from celebrity-led podcasts, but Marina Hyde and Richard Osman’s new podcast, The Rest Is Entertainment, is a really great listen. From how game shows manage their prize money budget to the phone hacking scandal, as well as insights into Richard’s book writing progress, they cover a lot of topics using their years of industry experience to provide insights into why TV, publishing and entertainment works the way it does.

Obligatory cat picture

Grabbity has always loved swiping at post-it notes, but it’s game that requires very fast reflexes.

Hopefully this will be the final Grabbity eye update for a while! After the last newsletter, and a few days after we stopped the steroid drops, Grabbity’s left eye started weeping badly and she was holding it shut, so back to the vet we went. It turned out that she had another corneal ulcer, in a totally different place! It was really quite large, but already showing signs of healing, so we got some antibiotic ointment and went back last Friday to find that it had completely healed. Just a few more days of ointment, then we stop treatment again and hope that this is the end of it all.

Poor Grabbity! It’s been seven months of me faffing with her eyes every day and although she gets treats every time I don’t think that has made up for the discomfort. She has chonked up a little bit too, so I’m going to have to put her on a bit of a diet soon. Maybe after a break, though, so that she can enjoy a little bit of normality first!

Right, that’s it for this week!

All the best,

Suw

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Plus yet another article about how broken publishing is, a tip from Cavan Scott, a selection of the finest links, and an update about Grabbity’s eyes.

Hi there,

Happy New Year! We might well be halfway through January already, but 2024 still has that new year smell. I hope that yours is just bursting with creativity and joy!

Suw’s News: Two submissions and it’s not even February yet!

I usually give myself two weeks off over the festive season, but this year I had two submissions due on 8 January which meant I spent most of my second week writing. I can only describe it as a delightful taste of what it might be like to write full time! Honestly, it was lovely.

I got the first 10k words of Tag (the novel) written and revised and submitted to the Discoveries 2024 prize, and the pilot episode of Tag (the script) revised in the light of the changes to the novel and submitted to Thousand Films. The novelisation process has been fascinating. Novels allow you to get into the head of your characters much more deeply than you can in a script, so I’ve been able to look at their motivation and the way they think, and that has helped me to solve a few niggles in the script that previously seemed intractable.

I also had the joy of working with John Rickards again on the novelisation. John edited Queen of the May, and has always just instinctively understood what it is that I’m trying to do. He’s lovely to work with, and if you are looking for an editor, then he’s absolutely the person I’d recommend.

I can’t wait to crack on with the rest of the Tag novelisation process, except I’m going to have to wait because…

Suw’s news, two: Fieldwork update

All other creative writing is officially suspended until Fieldwork is done and submitted to my colleagues as my final deliverable for the I-COMET project. (Well, apart from that research paper draft that we’ve collectively been utterly failing to write, but we’ll just not mention that.) To that end, I’ve made a plan and will let you know how it goes!

Opportunities: BBC Comedy Collective and Cheshire Novel Prize

If you are a scripted comedy writer, producer or director who already has at least one previous credit in any genre, on any platform, then you can apply for the BBC’s Comedy Collective scheme. Ten winners “will receive up to £10k worth of paid shadowing on a BBC Comedy production, along with an allocated production mentor, plus a £5k development grant to put towards new material or to further support the individuals development.”

The deadline is Wednesday 31 January, and there’s more info on how to apply on the BBC website.

If you’re a novelist, then the Cheshire Novel Prize, a “worldwide writing competition for un-agented authors of adult fiction, memoir and fictional memoir”, is now open for submissions. The deadline for entries is 1 May 2024, so you have more than enough time to whip the beginning of your novel into shape.

Each entry costs £29 and you will receive “a page of feedback as to why [your entry was] not long-listed or shortlisted”, which is actually quite a bargain given the cost of a professional development editor. Sponsored places are available, so do not let the cost put you off. Entrants will need to submit the first 5,000 words of their novel, plus a one-page synopsis.

I’ve already got that ready for Tag, now I’m wondering if I could whip something up for Fieldwork too!

Read this: Publishing’s broken, part eleventy billion

Airmail has a fascinating, if depressing, piece about how some young debut authors are getting six-figure book advances, but “nearly all of them are losing money”. Although these huge advances, paired with a New York literary scene that is “buzzier than ever”, seem positive on the surface – they do, after all, seem to indicate huge confidence in new authors and a revived excitement about books – outside of that world the news is less positive. Instead, a tiny minority of books are getting all the sales, opening up a gulf between hype and sales. And that gulf is bad news:

one editor at a legacy publishing house says it feels “like an unsustainable bubble that is going to pop when I see these deals for mid-to-high six figures, or even low seven figures. I know that book is not going to earn out or make money. Any company—it doesn’t matter how big they are—can only take so many of those hits before something goes wrong.”

Are huge advances, then, more a sign of desperation than confidence?

Quick links

The most-rejected books of all time. Topping the list is Dick Wimmer’s Irish Wine which totted up a huge 162 rejections. Honestly, if you haven’t toped 150 rejections, you’re really not trying.

Meta AI chief puts foot in mouth. Meta AI chief scientist, Yann LeCun, suggested that because most authors don’t earn much money, they should just give their books away for free. So Meta AI can steal them, I suppose.

Four things you should know if you’re writing for teens. Samantha Cameron provides some insights into teen psychology for YA authors. Top of the list is that “teens are easily bored”, which reminded me of what author Shelley Parker-Chan said on Bluesky recently:

as a writer I sometimes break out in a cold sweat thinking about my kid and her fellow fifth graders critiquing The Hunger Games as having “kinda a slow start”

Eep.

Tip-top tip: Start with one page

Cavan Scott extolls the virtues of starting small when something feels too big. Even if you only write a page, or a paragraph or a line, Scott says:

even the slightest motion can generate momentum. Yes, you may have to go back and edit what you’ve written, but it’s on paper or the screen. It’s started, and once you’ve started, it’s so much easier to keep going.

That look is Grabbity’s “Why is the tinsel out of reach? I want to eat it” look.

Obligatory cat picture

 

I took Grabbity back to the vet last week to have her eyes checked over again. The good news is that the corneal ulcers have gone and her eyes are starting to heal, so we’re going for a month without any steroidal eyedrops to see what happens. If the ulcers stay away, then we are firmly on the road to recovery. The giant craters and the white deposits, which might be calcium, may never go away completely, but we’re both relieved that nightly eyedrops are no longer a thing.

 

Finally, I’ll crack on with organising the next author webinar and the next Grist sessions, but do bear with me as I finish my year end accounts. I would much rather be writing, but the tax man getteth grumpy if you submit a 500 word synopsis instead of your accounts.

See you in a couple of weeks!

All the best,

Suw

 

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What’s in store for Fieldwork in 2024?

by Suw on January 12, 2024

In which I make a plan for the next year and publicly commit to a deadline. Eek.

In May last year, I broke down the process of writing Fieldwork into four stages:

  1. Background research
  2. Comedy research
  3. Script development
  4. Funding for production

I’ve largely completed Stage 1. Last year, I did ten interviews and picked up a few anecdotes via our online form. I’d have liked to have done more interviews, but I got some really great stuff out of the conversations I did have, so I feel content with that. (Unless you’re an ecologist who would like to talk to me, in which case please get in touch!).

This year is therefore going to be devoted to Stages 2 and 3 and, in a somewhat unprecedented move, I’m planning the first chunk of the year month by month. That plan was in large part prompted by advice from comedian Dave Cohen, who said in a recent newsletter:

If I’m entering that BBC Writersroom competition in Q4 I’ll want a good third draft or so by the end of Q3. Have had some kind of professional feedback and be working on rewrites after that. In which case I’ll want to have completed the first draft by the end of Q2. That gives me Q1 to thoroughly work on the idea, Q2 to write it.

To help me keep to my schedule, I’ve signed up to Dave’s From Zero to First Draft in 8 Weeks course, which starts on 19 April and walks participants through the development and writing of a pilot half-hour sitcom or comedy drama. Although the aim for this project was to produce a script for a 10-15 minute short film, I’m not going to look a gift half-hour script in the mouth!

Working with someone as experienced as Dave will also help me to produce the best work I can, the first step of which is to produce something terrible. I’ll be happy to do that, though, because I’ll know that Dave will pull me up on anything that’s not good enough and make me work harder.

I’m pretty bad at writing without deadlines, so having both the BBC Writersroom open call deadline on the horizon and having to prep/write stuff on a weekly basis from April to June will be a huge help. To support that process, I’ve had a think about what my timetable will have to be:

  • January: Read through existing transcripts; do some more background reading and research on comedy.
  • February: Continue reading; begin character work; write two vignettes to test out how those characters respond to plot.
  • March: Continue character work; write two more vignettes.
  • April: Begin Dave’s course; work on basics of the idea; develop themes and hone basics.
  • May: Develop characters further; outline plot ideas; outline script.
  • June: Write pilot; incorporate feedback; refine pilot.
  • July: Write short film based on pilot; refine pilot; submit both to colleagues as final deliverable on iCOMET project. Discuss ways to take project forward.
  • August to December: Continue refining pilot; submit to BBC Writers room; continue to explore funding opportunities and open script calls. Assess opportunities to turn into radio play or podcast.

I’m also going to commit to writing at least one post here a month to update you all on my progress.

In addition to all of that, or in support of it perhaps, I have amassed a fairly large reading list that I’d like to get through, including:

And along with all that, I’m continuing my improv lessons, which have turned out to be ridiculous amounts of fun. I can feel them already loosing up the nuts and bolts in my brain and helping me to develop my comedic instincts. Before Christmas I had an absolute cracker of a scene about having never been to visit Santa Claus in his grotto, so I’m starting to believe that I might actually be quite good at it. Wednesday evenings have definitely become the highlight of my week!

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Plus an online kerfuffle illustrates why publishers and agents should do more to support debut authors, and young Grabbity under a Christmas tree.

Hi there,

The festive season is truly upon us, which means that there is a four day weekend in the offing for us Brits. I’m taking a couple of weeks off to recharge and recuperate, a break that is sorely needed. At this point in the year, I’m so tired I can barely spell my own name and we really don’t want a repeat of what happened the last time I made that mistake.

If you find yourself at a loose end over Christmas, why not take a look at some of my fiction or essays? You can read my short story, The Lacemaker, or my novella The Gates of Balawat, which are both available in full and for free. And my first self-published novella, Argleton, is currently about halfway through, although there are free ebook downloads for all three if you prefer!

Read this: Best SFF books of the year

I don’t read enough to put together my own list, so I like it when I find one that, top to toe, looks interesting to me. It doesn’t happen very often, but The New York Times’ list of the best fantasy and science fiction of the year includes one of my favourites, Nick Harkaway’s Titanium Noir. Obviously reviewer Amal El-Mohtar’s taste at least slightly overlaps with mine! Pretty much all the books mentioned sound fabulous, so I now have a much longer TBR list for 2024.

Don’t forget that if you’re searching for more good books, take a look at the Word Count Bookshop.org list, which features all the books and authors that I’ve mentioned in this newsletter over the last 10 months.

Read this, two: British indie bookshops blossoming

I loved this piece by Nell Card in The Guardian about six independent British bookshops that are doing well. We hear so much bad news out of the publishing industry that it’s delightful to hear some good news for a change.

What I find interesting is how important it is for a bookshop to find the right niche. The new ones started because the owner had a vision, and the people who took over existing shops reinvigorated their stock list based on serving a very specific community. It’s a good example of how you can thrive if you commit to the ‘passion economy’.

Tip-top tips: Lucy Werner’s book launch blueprint

If you have a book launch coming up, do yourself a favour and read Lucy Werner’s blueprint for ideas on on how to do it. Although Lucy focuses on non-fiction book launches, much of what she suggests would also be useful for fiction.

I particularly like this sage advice, which is relevant for everyone who has ever written anything:

Contrary to popular belief, the success of your book is not based just on the first six months. There is heaps of pressure from everyone to go big and hard in the run-up to your book launch.

Why do we push heavily for the first three months for the marketing department to call that box ticked and move on to the next one?

I find this way of promotion incredibly archaic and stress-inducing.

Pace yourself and go long. I still sell books today, years later, because I’m not burnt out from heavy launches.

Read this, three: Latest online kerfuffle shows how debut writers need more support from their agents and publishers

A debut author, whose book was due to come out next year, has been caught review-bombing other authors whose book launches are also slated for next year. Courtney Maum, after a brief summary of events, has written a very thoughtful piece about how debut authors are let down by the publishing industry, which entirely fails to prepare them for what’s coming.

In most professions in the world—but certainly in America—when you get a job, you are given either an initiation (sometimes called “onboarding”) and/or a code of conduct to sign. An instruction manual to your new job, if you will. […]

Job preparation is a kindness. It’s a kindness to the hire, it’s a kindness to the hire’s colleagues. […]

But when you are an author who gets a book deal, there is no instruction manual. There’s no onboarding document. There’s not a formal initiation period— there’s just a book contract and the assumption (which is a naive one) from your editor and agent that you know what to do now; that you know how to behave.

The publishing industry really does need to do better. Maum has written a book, Before and After The Book Deal, which aims to help early career authors navigate this difficult period, so the information is out there in a digestible form. There’s no reason why agents and publishers couldn’t do a better job of author prep – the could just buy every author a copy of Maum’s book.

Obligatory cat picture

Christmas Day, 2009. Grabbity and Mewton were just seven months old and experiencing their first festive season. We spent Christmas with my parents, taking the cats with us so that they could stay there whilst we hopped off to Lanzarote for a week around New Year’s. Grabbity took the best spot under the Christmas tree so that she could keep an eye on everything that was going on.

I’ll note that since this photo was taken, Grabbity has developed a bit of a passion for eating tinsel. She loves the stuff, and we have seen sparkly poo and vomit on more than one occasion. Now, we use just one or two garlands of tinsel at the very top of the tree where she can’t get at it, and she remains livid about that for the entire time the tree is up.

Honestly, if you can find a life partner who looks at you the way Grabbity looks at tinsel, you’ve got it made.

That’s it for this year! Whatever you are doing over the festive period, I hope you have a restful and enjoyable time.

See you again in 2024!

All the best,

Suw

 

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