Road to Publication, Part One

Darren, master of UKSF Book News, mentioned that I ought to blog about the process of my path to publication and what happens when the book is bought. To shed light on things in the industry. I’m all for this.

One of the things I’ve learned from writing, as well as being an editor at Solaris, and working in the book trade for Ottakar’s, is that very few new writers know how to go from “Oh, I’ve got this idea…” to it being, well, anything more than that. Many people I’ve spoken to don’t know where to start. So this is the first part of an ongoing blog post, a kind of how-to-get-published-in-many-difficult-steps. There are few shortcuts, so bear with me. And if there are any questions, feel free to comment. Ideally, I’ll cover everything. I’d love to make the industry more transparent.

Before you put pen to paper with a novel project, I’d say one of the essential things is to get thee in a bookshop.

Look around. Look at what are the titles on offer for 3 for 2. Look at what is selling and working. I was lucky enough to work in a store. You get an idea, then, of what commercial editors are looking for. Not explicitly the Next Big Thing, but just their tastes, an idea of trends. You are not writing a fantasy or SF novel from 1963. Sorry. Conan’s out, baby. Writing something so obviously retro is not likely to get you a book deal in 2008. Things change. None of this means you need to “sell out”, you just need to know the market you want to write in. (This goes for any genre.) You can always innovate, but unless you know what the building blocks are, you might not stand much of a chance of your book seeing bookshelves.

Whether anyone likes it or not, publishing is a business.

Money is made and lost. Editors will buy your book thinking that a) it’s very good b) they love the writing and c) they think they can sell it. Marketing departments have a major say in what books get commissioned. “So and so has sold x-thousand copies—we want more like that.” It’s a fact of the publishing world. So look around on those shelves. Read the backs of books. Better yet, read the insides. Know what is new, because that’s an indicator of what companies are looking for. You can easily tell those submissions from passionate readers of a genre, from those who don’t really pay much attention to it.

My experience with this was when I was writing New Weird novels. Essentially, I couldn’t get them published. No editor in London wanted to touch that kind of fiction. It didn’t sell. Few bought it. I had to realise that the New Weird was dead. It was barely alive to begin with. So I faced facts (half way through one of these novels), and took my writing into more commercial settings. At some point, you have to face reality. Luckily, I could rescue one of the major plot strands, so all was not quite lost. And importantly, I had a decent amount of writing practice behind me to take into new projects. Psychologically, it was tough, but essential.

So, once you’ve got a familiarity with the market and the genre, you can maybe seriously start writing your book. You ought to be able to know what you want to write about, and where it will fit in on the shelves. I’ll talk a bit more next time about good approaches to the next stages. Obviously, I can’t help much with the actual words on the page, but once they are down, there are many more steps to take, even before you think about sending it to a publisher.

Here are some summary notes which I made to a creative writing group recently:


  • Read ferociously, various types of fiction, especially what’s selling at the moment. Understand what makes a story work at the commercial level. Read out of the genre, read in the genre.
  • Be savvy as to what’s going on in bookstores. It’s the business end of things, where trends occur. Look at books, what’s being published. Look at the backs of books and see what they’re about. Get a feeling for what publishers are looking for.
  • Understand your genre. Links in to the above, but more specific. When you know what you want to write—sf/fantasy/horror/crime—take a detailed look. Spend some time in big stores. Look at the promotions. This is useful so you don’t end up copying what’s been published completely. It’ll also act as a guide as to what you think you can write. It shows you what is expected, also. Follow what each publisher is taking on. Moreover, follow this up online. There are a list of great genre review and news sites that give constant information.
  • Be aware that sometimes similar books will sell. Look at chick lit, for example. Some clichés are useful, when given a unique spin. Many fantasy novels at the moment are very similar. Understand what it is that they have in common; and how they differ.
  • So, when you sit down to write a project, you should have some awareness of where it’s going to fit in the market. This is crucial, because publishing is a business. Publishers exist to make money.
  • Know what is selling well (and what’s selling too well). These are the things that, in your synopsis, you want to compare things to (unless in the selling too well category, then don’t compare to this—Pratchett and Rowling are industries in their own right).
  • Many new novel decisions are made not just by editorial, but by marketing departments. Their job is to make money. They too have pressures for results, and the bigger the company, the more commercial decisions they will make. 

Read part two.
Read part three.
Read part four.


Vampire Weekend—”Mansard Roof”

Been busy wrapping up the delivery of the book for editor extraordinaire, Peter Lavery at Macmillan, to work his legendary red pen across. In the meantime, have some music. From this very fine collection of indie funksters. They’re a sort of cross between Paul Simon’s  Graceland and the Stokes. And it works.



Not Good Enough

An interesting piece, in which Zadie Smith says that entrants into a story competition aren’t good enough. So no one wins.

This is a difficult thing to write. Just like everybody, we at The Willesden Herald are concerned about the state of contemporary literature. We are depressed by the cookie-cutter process of contemporary publishing, the lack of truly challenging and original writing, and the small selection of pseudo-literary fictio-tainment that dominates our chain bookstores. We created this prize to support unpublished writers, and, with our five grand, we put our money where our mouths are. We have tried to advertise widely across this great internet of ours and to make the conditions of entry as democratic and open as we could manage. There is no entry fee, there are no criteria of age, race, gender or nation. The stories are handed over to the judges stripped of the names of the writers as well as any personal detail concerning them (if only The Booker worked like that!) Our sole criterion is quality. We simply wanted to see some really great stories. And we received a whole bunch of stories. We dutifully read through hundreds of them. But in the end – we have to be honest – we could not find the greatness we’d hoped for. It’s for this reason that we have decided not to give out the prize this year.

Do I agree with this…? Probably, actually. In an age where a significant amount of publishing works for a quick buck, this is interesting to see. Maybe it’s publicity for her, maybe not. Why give out a prize if there are no deserving winners? This ain’t a tombola. Sure, it’s difficult to get published, but it doesn’t mean sub-standard work should be, just for the sake of it. It’s sure to prompt a wee bit of debate though.



Nights of Villjamur

Reviews page

I’ve had quite a few questions about this, so in case anyone’s wondering what the book is about, here’s a summary (and to be read in a deep Hollywood voice, please):


An ice age comes to a chain of islands.

Villjamur: a city of ancient spires and bridges, where banshees declare the dead. You can see dodgy magic from hidden alleyways where cultists use ancient technology for their own spurious gain. Refugees seeking sanctuary from the weather find the gates closed, and the city’s councilors are the last people you should listen too about the matter. Sometimes you might hear a little jazz from certain quarters. A little further out, the dead are seen shambling across the tundra. Into the city comes a young woman to claim the throne of the Jamur Empire after her father commits suicide. Around her, politicians hover. There are garudas. There are hominid species, the rumel, a tough-skin cousin of man that can live for hundreds of years.

Meanwhile an officer in the city inquisition must solve a high-profile and savage murder of a city politician, whilst battling within his own private and work life. A cocky womanizer cheats his way into the Imperial Residence with a hidden agenda. A once-immortal man, preoccupied with the notion of death, sets a chain of events to unsettle the fabric of this world.

A group of elite soldiers are sent to investigate a bizarre genocide on the northern fringe of the Empire. And in this land under a red sun, it seems the bad weather and ice sheets are bringing more than just snow…

Everyone’s stories are linked, and they all have secrets.

Trust no one in Villjamur.


Teasers one, two and three.

Extract at Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist.

Reviews @: Speculative Horizons, The Wertzone, A Dribble Of Ink, Fantasy Book Critic, SFF World and more.

Oh, and important to credit the artist: Benjamin Carre.


It’s a a dying earth fantasy, which is an excellent vehicle to play with the concepts of death and decay, something which fascinates me. Maybe even a noir fantasy, deeply in the sense of crime noir and film noir, not merely ‘dark’, which I think can be a misleading use of the word in fiction. Although it is certainly dark. I wanted to bend genres around each other, fantasy, crime, horror, even tools and elements of mainstream fiction. Noir in the sense of the dense characters, the subtleness, the erotic, and the strange. There’s someone who’s paranoid about death; a major character is a gay man in a world that forbids homosexual acts; people who are fuck-ups.

There are references to Gene Wolfe, Jack Vance, M John Harrison to name a few; let me know if you can spot them.


New Blog

Kind of irrelevant posting this piece on here, but I’ve moved home from the old blog and am now at this site permanently. Just so we grouped everything together nicely. It looks exactly the same, just the bit at the top is different.


Advertising Genius

I saw this news article and laughed a lot.

Budget airline Ryanair has been told to withdraw an advert featuring a model in schoolgirl-style clothes and a headline “hottest back to school fares”.   

 What really made me chuckle was the response from the airline:

…the airline said the model’s clothing reflected what was currently fashionable among young women…   

Um… what city are they living in? I’m not sure I’ve seen all that many girls dress like that, apart from the leery drunken ones out on the razz of a student night in Nottingham city centre. Maybe that’s what they meant as fashion? But kudos for guts to give that as a response. Still, the important thing is that we’re still talking about Ryanair, so I guess it worked.


Two-book Deal With Tor UK / Macmillan

This is going out from my agent today:

John Jarrold has concluded a two-book World rights deal for new UK fantasy author Mark Charan Newton with Peter Lavery of Macmillan/Tor UK, for a good five-figure sum.The first book is titled NIGHTS OF VILLJAMUR, and will be published early in 2009. An impending Ice Age looms over all other events in the book, which include the death of an Emperor and his daughter’s return to claim the throne, a crime noir plot that involves the city’s Councillors in high-profile murders and a cocky womaniser who is acting as dance tutor to the new Empress’s sister…it will appeal to the readers of both George R R Martin and Scott Lynch. 

‘I’m delighted for Mark,’ said John Jarrold. ‘He was one of my first clients when I started up the agency back in 2004, and this is really the fulfilment of a great deal of thought and hard work on his part. And this is the first deal I’ve done with Peter Lavery, who I have known for twenty years – and who is one of the UK’s best and most respected editors in any form of publishing.’

Mark Charan Newton is 26 years old, and lives in Nottingham. He previously worked as an SF buyer in an Ottakar’s bookstore.