Submitting my first client

Yes, so we have finally reached the stage where I went out today to publishers on both sides of the pond with my very first client Sam Hawkes who I took on in June last year. 

You may be asking - why has it taken so long? Well the simple answer is, it takes time to craft a book. Sam's original submission was wonderful, fabulously written with original characters and some great world building. But my previous role was as an editor and editors like to tinker with words. Okay - maybe not so much tinker as ravage, pillage and reorder. So that's what we did. And after having done that poor Sam went back through it all and took in my suggestions. You think once you've signed with an agent it's all plain sailing? Hardly. :-)


On being edited by Sam Hawke

When I first signed with Julie, she re-read my MS and said something like, ‘it’s very accomplished but let’s do some minor editorial work to it.’

The next email was part way in. ‘You have a fabulous way with words! No major line edits for you . . .’

Then she started managing expectations. ‘Don’t panic at the level of mark-up I’ve done! ‘

And finally, with the marked-up MS: ‘I know it looks like a lot of red . . .’

And thus, the long slog began.

For the most part, Julie’s suggestions were accurate and insightful but weren't anything too drastic – fixing small plot holes that needed patching, the occasional chase scene that went on too long, and my strange and unhealthy obsession with certain words, fleshing out a few sub characters and offing a few others. 

But she had some big ideas for POV changes, and implementing that took . . . well, let’s just say a long time.  Bumping up the percentage of the book told from my second POV character to close to 50%, and maintaining a strict chapter by chapter split, meant I had to reorder and/or rewrite almost every scene in the book. Although both characters were often present for the switched scenes, they see the world very differently and have different physical and psychological limitations which affect how they act. Likewise, switching from third to first person isn’t just a question of changing pronouns. It took a long time, and a lot of moving coloured scene cards around to try to make the story work within the new structure.  There may have been a copious amount of swearing, occasional despondency, and a few kilos of chocolate consumed during the process. My five year old son took to asking questions like, ‘Is chapter 17 finished yet? How long is this chapter anyway?’ I dreaded people asking me how the rewrites were going.

In the end, though, you know what? This is the great and painful truth about a brilliant editor like Julie: she was right. It’s better. It’s a LOT better. Changing the structure forced me to find the essential threads of the story and make them shine. It made me think more creatively about how information could be conveyed indirectly. Sometimes it made me hate her a little bit (only a little bit, I promise – possibly when I was despairing over bloody chapter 17).

A great editor takes a book they love and sees how to pull it strategically in the right direction, while leaving the execution up to you. It might have taken me months but I am grateful and honoured to have waded through Julie’s sea of red.

So now the sea of red has been well and truly conquered. And I, personally, think the book is awesome! Here's the copy for it:

Jovan wears two faces. Outwardly, he is the lifelong friend of the Chancellor’s charming, irresponsible Heir. Quiet. Forgettable. In secret, Jovan is a master of poisons and chemicals, trained to protect the Chancellor’s family from treachery.

His sister, Kalina, hides her frustrations behind a mask of calm. While other women of the city hold positions of power and responsibility, her own ill-health seemingly prevents her from doing anything to further her ambitions. But Kalina has developed skills that not even her brother knows about and works to ensure that, when the time comes to make a difference – she’ll be ready.

When the Chancellor succumbs to an unknown poison and a revolutionary army lays siege to the city, Jovan and Kalina’s structured world unravels. Trapped and desperate, unsure whom to trust, they must protect the Heir. But as they hunt the assassin, they soon discover their civilized country also has two faces; behind the beauty and sophistication is an ugly past built on the oppression of the indigenous people.

Their enemies aren’t who they thought they were, and it may be that the traitor is closer than they thought . . .

And now comes the rather terrifying, and yet also hugely exciting, experience of submitting to other editors. As an agent, especially one who has demanded so much work from your author - you feel a huge amount of responsibility for them and their work. You feel personally invested in their writing and career. Now having also been on the other side of the fence myself as an Editorial Director, I know how many submissions editors get. This will be one in a sea of many. And while | can hope that they see the potential and love the book as much as I do - everyone has different tastes and varying list shapes. And even if they DO love the book there's still the matter of trying to get it through an acquisitions meeting, considering list shape, publishing schedules, critical paths and the many different and complicated aspects involved in publishing. Having been there I know just how many hoops have to be jumped through. So we shall see . . .

In the meantime, just as a taster for those who are interested - here's the very first page of the script: 

I was seven years old the first time my uncle poisoned me.

He served me the toxin in his signature cheese stew. It gave me waves of stomach cramps and hallucinations of every horror my young mind could conjure, but left no lasting damage. I learnt that day to trust nothing on my plate or in my glass, not even something prepared by my beloved uncle Etan, my Tashi, most honoured and trusted person in my world. Especially not him.

By ten, I could identify the ingredients in most dishes set before me, from the spicy baked fish served year round in the farms and estates, to the flat black bread cooked in clay ovens in every kitchen in the city, to the delicate cheese and honey pastries favoured in the highest circles of society. I could detect any of the eleven greater poisons hidden in those dishes. Most by taste, some by smell, and one by its unique mouth feel. I could also, should the need arise, use them myself.

Before his own Tashi died and my uncle Etan inherited his seat on the Council, he had trained as a cook; something of an oddity among the Six Credol Families, but not unheard of. No one thought it amiss that he should instil in me the same dedication to the craft. By the age of fourteen, foreign dishes and imported spices were no obstacle to my tongue or nose, and I knew all that had ever been written about the natural and crafted poisons of our land.

Over the next ten years, and hundreds of poisonings, Etan gave me many gifts: immunities, scars, an appreciation of our family’s honourable and secret role, and a memory and mind trained in our craft so I could one day protect the ruling family of Silasta as he did.

As he lay dying before me, none of it seemed enough.