Monthly Archives: July 2012

The Law is an Ass

I won’t, after all, be calling my first novel The Girl with the Julia Roberts Smile. That’s a shame. I felt it was the best and most evocative title I had come up with.

But it had to happen, I suppose. That’s what you get when you ask a lawyer. Here’s the general drift: It would be 99% safe, or thereabouts, to use Julia’s name but, in view of the residual 1%, my legal friend could not in all conscience advise me to proceed. Litigation on matters like this is far more common in the US than the UK and Julia, if she took me to court, would have marginally more funds at her disposal than yours truly etc. etc. In addition, she has, it seems, been known to sue unwanted intruders like me. She is, in other words. not always as sweet as in Notting Hill. More like Erin Brockovich, by the sound of it.

I can’t argue with this. My adviser, one of the UK’s foremost media lawyers, regularly deals with issues like this and he helpfully set out the background to his advice in intricate detail, quoting specific cases. While admitting that, for example, the old song Bette Davis Eyes never led to successful prosecutions, he still felt that, on balance. it would be unwise for me to go ahead.

I accept his advice, of course. If you ask a top expert for guidance, you’re crazy not to follow it. Julia wasn’t central to my novel, anyway – the Julia Roberts smile was only mentioned twice (very briefly) in the body of the MS. So, out goes Julia and on goes the old thinking cap as the search for a title resumes. My second last effort was The Girl with the Haunting Smile. Maybe that’s where it will end up.

It gives rise to an interesting debate, though. It’ is accepted practice, even in an unauthorised biography, to use a real person’s name in the title and throughout the text. Why, then, can’t you safely use a real person’s name in the title of a novel, especially if (as was the case with mine) any reference to that person is highly complimentary?

What makes a good Twitter profile?

Make your Twitter profile catchy, the experts tell me. Okay, let’s look at my current one: ‘Ex-TV scriptwriter, now journalist moving into novels, first due out soon.’

Catchy? Hmm, not exactly. Maybe I should redo it thus: ‘Ex-creator of racy TV dramas, now adrenaline-fuelled hack about to take world of ebooks by storm.’

Better? Hmm, maybe not. The thing is, now that I’ve got more into Twitter (I reached 2,000 followers yesterday), I’m not sure some of the so-called catchy profiles really work. They don’t with me, anyhow.

I don’t want to know if you’re addicted to  Chinese tea or black coffee. I don’t want to know if you love your wife or your husband. I don’t want to know if you see yourself as a nerd or a geek. I don’t want to know if you’re a useless cook or a hopeless mother. I don’t want to know if junk foods are your staple diet.

What amazes me most is how many Twitter authors use their profiles to tell the world they love God. They do it in droves! I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s their way of saying it’s their religion that inspires them to write. Or maybe they’re just saying they don’t want to be followed by erotica freaks or hardcore junkies. Whatever the reason, it makes very little impact on me. I decide to follow them – or not to follow them – for other reasons like their reading tastes.

For the moment, I’ll leave my profile as it is. It isn’t catchy but at least it tells how I got here. In a few weeks, I’ll change it as the date of publication of The Girl with the Julia Roberts Smile draws nearer and my focus turns more to marketing. That’s when I’ll need the black coffee and the junk foods.

The Cover Pic

How do you go about finding a good cover pic for your ebook? I’ve spent many hours trawling through photos and vectors on the so-called royalty-free websites. I’d rather have spent the time editing or tweeting or blogging.

To complicate it further, royalty-free isn’t the same as free. On most of these websites, you still have to buy your preferred pic and agree to observe fairly stringent terms of licence. I eventually found a few websites that allow you to use their photos free, even for commercial use, but you have to seek the written approval of the photographer and give him/her a credit in your ebook.

Now that I’ve settled on one that’s right for The Girl with the Julia Roberts Smile – you guessed right, it’s classy but not cheesy (in the shrewd words of my daughter, who helped me pick it) and doesn’t look too like Julia – the next problem is that I can’t get a reply from the photographer and the website makes it clear that I’m on my own.

Ah, if only I could draw!

Who loves literary agents?

Which is the most disliked profession? For the public,  it’s surely the tax inspector. For writers who can’t get representation, it must be the literary agent. I’ve long since lost count of the scathing comments I’ve heard and read about agents. They’re rude, arrogant, aloof, uncommunicative, uncaring etc. etc.

Okay, maybe some are – and there’s no doubt that many agencies lack the communication skills of the authors they reject. For instance, in this era of instant multiple emails and texts, there’s no excuse for telling authors who submit their cherished work that they can expect to hear sweet FA unless the agent is interested.

That apart, I’m largely on the side of the agents. They have their hands full as they struggle to adjust to the ebook revolution that is causing an upheaval in their business and in their lives. They now have to negotiate with publishers who have fewer retail outlets in which to place their books and far smaller marketing budgets to support their authors. Agents, by and large, love their work and put their hearts into it but, right now, theirs can’t be the easiest profession to be in and the openings they can offer to new writers are probably as limited as they’ve ever been.

I say this though I failed to find an agent for my novel, The Girl with the Julia Roberts Smile, which will now be epublished in a couple of months. Agreed, I could have tried harder. I only approached 12-15 agents, so maybe my experience of them isn’t typical. But, having come very close to being taken on by one agent for whom I have genuine praise (she is a delightful person and read my whole novel), I gave up trying because, rightly or wrongly, I reckoned I knew why she turned me down. Agents make no secret of the fact that they want to build a career with their new authors and I might have been the UK’s oldest debut novelist if I had been published. I’m healthy and a free spirit and I expect to go on writing for a long, long time (I’m already well through my second novel and planning the third) but that counts for nothing if it doesn’t fit an agent’s mould. Apart from which, as a journalist, I can’t help thinking with regret of the fantastic media coverage a novel by the UK’s oldest debut author could have attracted!

Now that I’m getting deeply into Twitter, I initially followed about 20 agents, which I’ve now reduced to four – Carole Blake, Janet Reid, Carly Watters and Kate McKean. They didn’t follow me back, of course, but why would they? I simply wanted to see if they’re normal human beings and if I could pick up some snippets of valuable info. They are and I can, so I’ll continue to follow them and enjoy the experience.

Oh God! It’s synopsis time! Please help!

I’ve been dreading this day. My epublisher has asked me for a blurb of up to 400 characters and a synopsis of up to 4,000 characters for The Girl with the Julia Roberts Smile. There’s nothing I hate more than writing a synopsis. I’d rather write a whole novel than one of these pesky things.

Okay, it has to be done and I’ll get on with it. The problem, from where I stand, is that any synopsis risks throttling the life out of a novel. What I must do, somehow, is 1) provide an accurate digest of my novel without squeezing the vital juices out of it 2) write it in a lively, zestful style, not one that switches readers off.

Is there any foolproof way to write a strong synopsis? Please help!