Saturday, 3 January 2015

Marinating Your First Draft

Witnessed a tweet the other day promising unlimited riches for e-book publishers, even those who can't type or even write. 

(Gosh, what we do is so valued, isn't it).

I was so close to buying the book for the sheer chutzpah, but, in the end, even fifty pence in the hands of these talentless parasites is fifty pence too many so I left it. 

It reminded me though of the get-rich-quick landscape we're in. 

Like San Francisco in 1849, they came from far and wide to the Yukon to make their fortunes in gold, shining nuggets seemingly lying around for the taking like pebbles on a beach. 

For the first few rugged pioneers, there may have been a nirvana, but for the bandwagon jumpers following in their wake, there weren't even pebbles left to take home as souvenirs.

In today's Yukon Gold Rush publishing landscape (even though most of us are now in the disappointed souvenir hunter stage), the most consistent advice I have been given is this:

"The Best Form Of Marketing Is Your Next Book"

Naturally, people have taken this advice to heart. 

a) No-one seems content to write a stand-alone novel any more. 

b) The great Paul Auster said this week he is happy with a page a day: one author on my timeline wrote six novels last year and is planning six novels in 2015. WTF?

c) "Novels" are shorter than they have ever been because of this advice. I saw someone marketing a "novel" of 48 pages the other day for $2.99. 48 pages. 

I'd need pages as long as a roll of Laura Ashley Orchid Green Floral Wallpaper to justify that price. The author has about fifteen similarly sized "novels" and I am positive that she does this partly because of that advice above.

Another consequence? No-one marinates a novel any more.

I knew a pubbed author - a very good one - who is always being set mad deadlines and she manages to get her work in with about six minutes to go after much angst, and many tears before bedtime. 

The publisher than bangs out the book a week or so later. Because of the pre-ordering craze, all the minutae (editing, proofing, covers) is already in hand, so there is nothing stopping the publisher from getting it out there as soon as possible.

What about the marination?

How many of you do this?

How many of you complete the first draft of a novel and then store the manuscript on a memory stick for a month or so in a dark cupboard and forget it ever existed? 

Marinating in its own juices, as it were. 

Before today's publishing industry Gold Rush started, this was common for a novelist to do. 

Not so much nowadays. You may be one of those people with multiple projects on the go, (On the Wizard's Cauldron, I have interviewed a young lady who has ten or eleven books on the go at any one time), in which case, it won't be a problem, but the compulsion (both internal and external; the latter especially for trad pubbed authors at the mercy of publishers) to get the book out there in the market can be overwhelming.

Try to resist it. 

Marinate your novel on completion for a month. 

Here's how. It's simple.

a) Copy your first draft to a memory stick.

b  Eliminate all traces of the manuscript from your usual laptop/PC/Typewriter, 

c) Stick the memory stick in a cool dark place and completely forget about it. 

Go on holiday. Have a wild affair with your next door neighbour. Lose the kid's inheritance on the horses. Paint the fence. Read. Run. Gym. Get a job...(let's not go too far, Marky - Ed). 

Do anything for the month except touch your MS.

Marinating, among other things;

1) tells you whether your draft is any good or not. You will soon know on that next read, after your manuscript has been left to stew for a bit. 

2) establishes critical distance between you as creator and you as reader. These are two different perceptual conditions and you really need to approach a completed first draft in the mindset of the latter.

3) enables you to proof read before a proper proofer gets involved (will save money).

4) provides the incentive and the courage for you to be ruthless. The emotions you have for the characters will have dissipated in a month and you can be hard and savage, which every good novelist needs to be. 

Lesley Duncan as the NY Time Critic Tabitha in "Birdman"

The film "Birdman", which I saw this Saturday, has a portrayal of a theatre critic which left me stunned. I won't say anything more, because it is worth watching, but when I came home, I realised that the only critic that matters at the first draft stage is YOU and you need to be harder on yourself than ANY critic out there. 

To do that, you need to marinate. 

My latest work, Project X, which I completed on New Years Day, is a work I love but I'll let you know how it really reads in one months time when my emotions for the three principal characters have died down. 

At the minute, it runs at 68k, but I know 3k of that is cellulite, jowls, floppy cheeks, divots, dimples and belly fat that simply needs to come out. It needs excision. I know this to be true and I need the courage to do it.

Marination will help me grow the balls I need. I strongly recommend it. 

And with 175000 novels written in November for NaNoWriMo, I guess there's no real urgency to get your work out there? It's not as if readers are going to starve! 

Let that rush die down a but. With all this relatively average (by definition) Yukon Gold Rush output coming onstream in the next three months, why not make sure your work is bloody brilliant in the interim? 

The absolute best IT can be. Not YOU, but IT, the manuscript you have created, which by now, has probably developed a life of its own.

Take your time. 
Build some distance. 
Keep your patience 
And create something wonderful


Time on your hands? Some other UK reads for you to get your teeth into/follow, with information from extremely knowledgable sources.

Terry Tyler on Talent

Phil "Literastein" Conquest

Bodicia - A Woman's Wisdom

Boy, am I glad the holidays are over. Did you know the Christmas and New Year break is Harvest Festival for Suicides? It spikes like a cardiac jolt on Christmas Day, by all accounts.


  1. 100 times well said!! I know, I know, I know. For a start of, (aimed at the ignoramus & friends above) (you understand that I am not sure about the plural of ignoramus and can't be bothered to look it up right now), a novel is a piece of work of 40K words or more. Between 20K and 40K it becomes a novella, and from 10K to 20K a novelette. Somewhere around those figures, anyway, they're not quite right.

    I saw someone the other day who hadn't even completed a book yet, asking for help on Twitter for the best way to maximise sales and asking how much he could reasonably expect to make. Can you imagine that, even for a minute - writing a novel because you expect to make money from it???!!!! Morons. You want to make money, go and do some telemarketing or rob a bank, or something. No, I'll say it louder. MORONS! Writing is not an 'anyone can do it' money spinner. All we can hope is that these idiots find out it doesn't work, that you actually need some fucking TALENT, and give up.

    Yes, yes, I do agree that you need to keep bringing out new titles in order to maintain your readers' interest. But they also need to be of quality, or those readers sure as hell won't want to buy your latest rushed out 60 page 'novel'. However, I'm not going to get any more riled up about this, because it's a waste of energy! I'll just go and re-share this post :)

    1. Terry, I think 2015 will be a real game changer for this landscape. That NY Times article last week, where a published author went the Self Publishing route and didn't sell one book sent shockwaves throughout the industry.

      The model doesn't seem to work anymore and, sadly, if an author hasn't headed to the Yukon and filled the saddlebags with nuggets by now, it probably isn't going to happen.

      I don't know what the answer is, but paradoxically, you, me and many others offering hints and tips isn't really helping because you could probably write a terrible novel and publish it without even a CSE in English just by following the advice we offer every week, free of charge, used in conjunction with an online plot generator and a copy of Twilight or Harry Potter.

      I don't know what the answer is. Have you got a tin hat? 2015 could even get nasty, Terry. Generally, there is a lot of goodwill among authors (outside Goodreads) and a bit of an esprit de corps, but over the past month, I have noticed that even the most affable authors are losing patience with bad authors and bad books because they are blowing up the landscape like a pulp processing company clearcutting virgin rainforest for palm trees, to coin the second ropey metaphor of the day.

      But then, what's a bad book? What is a bad author? Hmmm...consensus needed ha ha ha.
      Anyway, enjoy your reading and Sunday lunch :D Marky - and thx again for reading!

    2. You want to know what a bad book is? Right - oh, no, sorry, I haven't got all afternoon - ha ha ha!!! I'm not talking about popular fiction, or the stuff that follows a craze (vampires or whatevs), because it's all in the telling - I'm talking derivative, badly written shite, or flat creative writing group stuff. But then you know that!!!!

  2. ps, and I'm SO fed up with every book having to be part of an 11 part series, too! GRR Martin has a lot to answer for. Stand alones are actually MORE likely to sell, because their purchase is not reliant on the buyer having read and enjoyed the first part enough to do so.

    1. Agreed, Terry. I probably wouldn't even start a series. I tried it with The Ritual - which is probably my favourite on the GW menu, even if no one agrees with me :D - but it didn't work because, I suspect, readers saw a commitment of SIX books at once and thought, f**k it. That's the weakness with the series theory. I'm an ex-Psychologist as you know. I would love to do a study on how long the modern reader takes to ditch a book. I'll bet at one point it was five chapters or so. Now? This morning, I read that one reader took 10 PAGES to make a decision. Jeez, she was never going to even start The Goldfinch was she?
      OR a series. huh? Marky

    2. I used to ditch in about 3 pages, to be honest, and that was even before all this self publishing stuff. It only takes that long to tell if a book is badly written, or if it's just not your bag. I think you're WAY off with 5 chapters. I force myself to 10% now. I got to 41% with the book I mentioned in my piece this week, the one I thought was going to be an interesting drama, but was chick lit. I kept thinking, perhaps the characters will start to become interesting instead of being girly cliched one dimensional ditzy cardboard cut outs, ie, the stock heroines of chick lit. They didn't. I forced myself from 30% to 41% because I didn't like to feel I'd wasted an afternoon!

    3. ps, re the series thing, think about it.
      You publish part one.
      100 people read it. 30 don't finish, 20 quite like but forget about it, 30 like a lot and look forward to the next one, 20 adore and rave about.
      Already you have a potential of only 50 buyers for the next one. Those 50 buy it. 10 of them don't think it's as good as the first and don't buy another. Another 10 buy and like, but have forgotten about it by the time part 3 comes out. So you're down to 30.
      You pick up another 30 who discover it along the way. 10 buy, like the look of it and buy the first one too. 10 realise it's a sequel and that they will need to get the first one, but don't get round to it. 10 don't like it much anyway. So you're up to 40.

      See what I mean? A very simplistic explanation, but the principle's about right! Might be a blog post - yes, one I might do next week!!!!!!

  3. Good stuff. There is both a current tendency to rush to print too soon...and then wait for the money to roll in (all you will get are reviews pointing out your errors) and publishing houses who abet this by NOT editing, proofreading etc properly... I've had this from a very well known publisher myself. We live in an instant results society. Books take, as you say, a LONG time to germinate..and are much the better for it.

    1. Carol, did you write "wait for the money to roll in?" I must have missed that meeting :D
      Thanks for reading, Carol. I agree that a rushed book is a book strewn with errors, that is something I learned over time. There is one publishing house I am connected to loosely who just bangs them out and applies the same rules to selling books as Heinz does to selling beans. Pile them high, sell them cheap. Irrespective of errors in proofing and editing, how good are the books? You write quality, well written stuff, but how will a reader ever reach it if there are is a column of baked beans the height of the Tower of Babel between the reader and you. That's partly why publishers bang them out nowadays. Saturate the market with product and create a literary swamp where only the very best of their product survives. Marinate For Quality I say! :D Thx, Mark

  4. This is one of the best pieces I've read on how the writing process ought to work, rather than the way some feel it should operate. Thank you.
    My only regret is that I ate the last two mince pies in the house before reading it. My New Year's Resolution would still be intact if only I'd seen those "Before" and "After" pictures sooner ;)

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting, Christina. I love those graphics. You'll never forget the message purveyed therein. Some fellow on Twitter had to leave to his breakfast. Me? #loveit. :D

  5. It's time to shave our heads and go Travis Bickle..."Here is someone who stood up!"

    We need a Charles Manson-like leader to start 'a war' on 'all this'...I was thinking about that at work the other day - (12+ hrs of doing pretty much the same thing over and over, there isn't much you *don't* think about ...) - and thought about the Healter Skelter daubing at the Tate house too after the murderous lunacy and was going to tweet/blog something about it but then thought better of it, as if that wasn't opening myself up to be misunderstood in potentially some of the worse ways then I don't know what is.
    Also, "He didn't spell 'Helter' correctly -" was something I'm sure some would say missing the point and metaphor etc and even the facts... Even though I hadn't fine tuned the metaphor itself. Jesus, I'm starting to sound like some of the REALLY BAD BLOGS ABOUT WRITING TIPS I've looked at this week for fun and a laugh and then paid for afterwards with rueful tears while chastising myself viciously for having even thought of having a peek to begin with. This however, obviously, isn't one of 'those'. There isn't anything I can add to this because you've said it already and you pretty much know my opinions by now...

    It's a sad state of affairs whichever end of the gun barrel you look down at it from...

    1. ha ha ha ha ha. Please rant on this subject on Literastein, Literastein :D I love the analogy. It's only going to get worse before it gets better, so what can we do? Who's Koresh? Fancy the job? Marky

    2. Just need a compound, to hone my ideology and to have a bevvy of susceptible ladies and a nice suit with a wonky pair of aviators.

      Look at Mishima.
      The day he completed his tetralogy he committed ritual suicide.
      Way to buck a trend before it even got to be one...

      Hard to picture any of the elliterati going out the same way as Mishima, HST and Papa no matter how much they may quote Hem, - as if anyone is going to think there is even a faint parallel?
      All the blowing of smoke and positioning of mirrors to try and fool the Scooby Doo's at this funfair...
      What a sad farce it has become...
      I still can't believe that huge typo in that promotional image we saw yesterday...unbelievable. More unbelievable too, that wasn't the first time it was used: it's been used again and again and again...!! Doesn't bode well for the quality of the rest of the individuals writing does it?

  6. Good article, Mark. My first book took ten years - yes, ok, a bit long granted, but I was so much happier with it by the time I finally got it out and it felt a real achievement. I've got the third of my trilogy to get started this year but don't think I'd do it again, a stand-alone book for the next thing I write. It's all a learning curve, but you're certainly right - why pump out book after book in one year? What are these 'authors' trying to prove and who are they trying to impress? I find the idea of reading the books of someone who keeps churning them out more off-putting than anything. And i totally agree - let your writing 'marinate' and come back to it. I certainly do that and it does work and you can be more self-critical. Thanks for writing this post!

    1. Thanks for reading, Emma and Happy New Year to you :D Much appreciated comment.
      The lady who wrote six last year and is planning six this, has just submitted her first novel of the year to Harper Collins. You can't fault her chutzpah. I am following her progress closely. Don't think I have seen such a confident person. You can't argue with that, but sooner or later, you have to make a stand for quality because of the lady's work is poor, then it reflects on all of us, doesn't it. Check my reply to Georgia too. Look forward to working with you again this coming year. Cheers, Mark :D

  7. Great post Mark very entertaining and informative - thanks for sharing but I'm interested 'Before' and 'After' what exactly? Or is the transformation all down to the purple pants!! Haha! Anyway I totes agree with your marinating idea - exactly what should be done and it is what I do as it's the only way to come back to it with a clear view of what you need to cut out. I've read all the comments about writing a series too - oh dear... *deep, deep sigh* still onwards and upwards Mark I can't not finish mine now can I!

    1. Georgia, thank you for reading and commenting. To an extent, ASS, BtD and TtW (to come) is one long book split into three parts, planned as such, prepared as such, plotted as such. It is ONE long story with sub plots and characters and situations common to each. In the eighties, you would have been able to publish this as a blockbuster but today's landscape is all about the sprint rather than the marathon. I don't see your work as a series as such. Neither do I Emma's "Party Games" trilogy, which is a similarly long book split into three.
      Did you really write totes, you trendy person, you :D I'm incorporating that now. Mark :D
      PS: Those pants - almost a Y-Front for ladies - were the reason I chose the before and after :D :D Glad you noticed he he.

    2. Y-Fronts for ladies!

  8. Ahh...yes I like that reasoning :-) I'm with Literastein though...Y-Fronts for ladies!...Now there's a thought :-)

  9. ps, I'd just like to say that proofing your own novel won't save you any money re the proofreader, because they all charge per 1000 words, however many mistakes are in it.