A Tale of Two Contracts – Act II

_MG_5263Sorry about the tease at the start of the week. I couldn’t resist! Where were we? Oh yes, publishing deals being like buses. You wait nearly a year for one and two come along at once.

At this point, I hadn’t signed with the US publisher but I was close. I had to be honest. I emailed back the 2nd publisher (a UK company) and explained the situation and that I’d love to find out more but would understand if they didn’t want to pursue things. The Publishing Director was eager to chat to me and we caught up on the phone for about 30-40 minutes that evening.

What I was facing were two very different offers:

US publisher

  • Established (but only two years ago) so dedicated readership already
  • eBook only
  • Distribution rights around USA & Europe
  • 3-book deal
  • Launching summer 2015 with books 2 launched two months later and book 3 two months after that. Big pressure to have next books ready, even if the contract with them didn’t continue beyond the trilogy
  • Concern over wordcount reductions
  • Concern over the friendship theme; would I need to tone it down?
  • Writer community for all their authors with lots of support and guidance
  • Would set up a blog tour but marketing beyond that would mainly be down to me

UK publisher

  • Brand new with no track record in publishing books
  • eBook and print format
  • Distribution rights around USA & Europe
  • 3-book deal (once they found out more about the trilogy, they were keen to offer this too)
  • Launching spring 2015 (probably although could be summer) with a book a year in the spring (or summer) in order to maximise on marketing activities
  • Don’t want to cut any words at all – love the story
  • No issues over the friendship theme running alongside the romance
  • Lots of marketing activities planned because, of course, it was important for them to do what they could to make this a success
  • Lower royalties

When I write it like that, it does look like a no-brainer until we get to the last point of lower royalties which brought the indie debate back to the forefront of my mind: I’d earn far more by publishing that way but would I sell more copies just on my own? Probably not. Almost definitely not. I then reasoned that having my novel available in two formats – eBook and print – would surely mean more sales which would ultimately cancel out the lower royalties.

I asked lots more questions of the UK publisher on email the next day and all were answered in detail. I asked the US publisher to absolutely clarify the wordcount and theme issue too and was assured it wouldn’t be a problem. But there was still this niggle …

Initially my head had been saying to go for the originally offer from the US publisher – established, more money and they offered first, but my heart and gut were saying So Vain Books (SVB). On the Thursday evening after a day at work where my mind flitted back and forth between the two, I spoke to my husband. He’d been initially encouraging me towards the US offer and I was a bit concerned that he wouldn’t be as supportive if I said that I was leaning towards SVB. Unexpectedly, he’d changed his mind. He’d reflected on how I’d enthused about the conversation with SVB and how upset I’d been on Black Friday when I was so worried about whether the US offer would lead to me compromising my stories.

P1050675I ran it by my parents over the phone who felt SVB were the best option too. In my debut novel, ‘Searching for Steven’, my protagonist Sarah has some major decisions to make. She does this using colour-coded post-it notes stuck to her wardrobe door, highlighting the pros and cons. So that’s exactly what I did (any excuse to use stationery). This is my bear cabinet obliterated with my musings. Green for go (positive) and dark orange for stop (negative). As you can see, there’s pros and cons for each.

And, just to make absolutely sure there wasn’t anything I’d missed, I got my lovely colleague at work to coach me about the decision (thanks Joanna) and SVB came out on top!

So who did I go for? It’s probably not going to be a surprise after all that but I’m delighted to say that I have chosen to join So Vain Books, the UK-based publishers, and it feels absolutely the right decision.

I went to bed on Friday night with a churning stomach because my contract arrived in my inbox from my US editor and I couldn’t help but feel incredibly guilty at letting them down. I know it’s business. I know that. But I’m the sort of person who doesn’t like to let people down. It doesn’t sit with my values very well.

On Saturday morning I rose and had a shower. I’d made my definite decision to go with So Vain Books and, knowing that was going to be the case, I’d asked the Publishing Director if I could call her that afternoon to tell her in person. And if I had any doubts that I’d made the right decision, I turned the radio on when I came out of the shower and guess what song was playing? Carly Simon’s, “You’re so vain!” Now is that spooky or is that spooky? I’m a firm believer in signs and they don’t get much more significant than that! It was wonderful to make that call and be told that I’d made her day.

Emailing the US company was very hard but I was honest about the situation and, to be fair to them, I got a lovely email back saying I’d done the right thing to take time to weigh up the offers and that I had to do what was best for my career. It was a lovely email but I’d expected some reference to them being disappointed that they weren’t going to be representing Steven. Which just showed that it’s business. Always has been. Always will be. And that made me feel a lot better. But with SVB, it feels like it’s more than business; it feels like a partnership and I am incredibly excited about it. I’ll share my journey to publication on this blog as and when I can.

P1050687My parting words would be to say to any writer out there who’s still looking: never give up on your dreams. Believe in yourself and believe in your work. There are many options out there with eBooks and indie publishing so you can have the dream whether it’s via the more traditional route or by your own hand. For me, indie wouldn’t have been the “failure” option; it would have been my choice to not submit anywhere else and to take my future into my own hands. But my final round of subs reaped rewards and I knew that So Vain Books, in particular, could support me in a way I couldn’t support myself with regards to marketing so I’m absolutely delighted to be on board. A friend of mine makes signs. I got her to make me this one which fellow-Write Romantic Helen Phifer introduced to me. It feels very apt. It can be apt for you too.

Jessica xx

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A Tale of Two Contracts – Act 1

P1050690Have you ever got something you really, really wanted? Something you’ve longed for years and years? How did it feel?

On my wish list for the past eleven years or so has been “to become a published writer”. My husband and I have often joked about this making us millions and us moving to a huge grand “author’s house” in the countryside but that’s not why I wanted to become a published writer. Don’t get me wrong, it would be very lovely thank you, but the real reason is the one I’d expect many other writers to cite: I have stories to tell and I want people to read them.

On September 1st, I took a step closer to my dream. I awoke on a dark Monday morning and checked my phone like I always do. Typically this results in cleansing my inbox of Groupon deals, Nectar points info and some freegle messages. But September 1st was not a typical Monday. Because sitting there in my inbox was an email from a US-based publishing house. And they wanted to publish my book.

I’d dreamed of this moment for a long time but this wasn’t quite what I expected. I’d imagined “the call” being exactly that; a phone call coming through on a dreary day and lighting my life. I hadn’t really imagined an email and especially not one with a “but” in it. You see, they wanted my book but they felt it was a bit long (it was 100k words) and wanted to know if I’d be prepared to cut it. I wandered round in a bit of a daze as I got ready for work. I didn’t feel excitement; I just felt a bit numb. Was it because I couldn’t believe I’d finally got the call? Was it because the call was an email? Or was it because there was a “but”? I’m not really sure.

P1050689I emailed them back saying of course I’d consider a reduction in words but how much and what sort of guidance would they give? Plus, would they be interested in the other two books in the series? The wordcount cut concerned me as I’d already cut my novel by 32k words and felt that it couldn’t lose much more without starting to lose the story. Cue anxious several hours (damn time delay!) before a reply came back saying that my editor loved series and would be delighted to offer me a 3-book deal and not to worry too much about the word cut as she loved it all so much that she was struggling to see where to cut words. Phew! Finally, excitement set in. Telling my immediate family was thrilling; especially telling my parents because my mum was beside herself. It was lovely to hear how proud they were of me for working so hard at my dream and never giving up. I also made an announcement on Facebook. I was away in a hotel with work and it was a joy to sit back and watch the likes and the congratulations messages flowing in.

A template contract was sent to me, I sought some advice on it, and several emails were exchanged about the content and size of books 2 and 3.

Then Black Friday hit.

I picked up an email from my editor to double check that all the books were about 100k and to tell me she wanted them to be 80k instead. A 20k reduction? One fifth? Twenty per cent? Look at it whichever way you like, that was a hefty reduction and I’d thought the word count didn’t matter. Especially as the offer was for eBook only where surely the size doesn’t matter quite as it does with paperbacks (and the costs incurred).

It got worse.

P1050686There are two threads in my stories; romance (obviously, given that romance is my genre) but there’s a secondary theme of friendship and it’s really important to me that the stories I tell contain both. My editor wanted to check there definitely was a romance in book 3 as it hadn’t come out strongly in my summary and she also said that the friendship had to be a background story with the focus being on the romance. I panicked. Big time. You see, before I’d had the offer, I’d made the decision to go indie. Part of the reason was that I couldn’t bear the waiting times to hear news from some publishers and part of it was so that I could get the control; tell the stories I wanted to tell, with the covers I wanted on my books, the pricing and timescales I wanted and so on. I knew I’d not be able to resist a publishing deal if one knocked on my door as a foot on the ladder to getting my name known but I also wanted to be sure the deal was right. And there were some alarm bells ringing that this one may not be quite right after all.

I emailed back and expressed my surprise at the significant wordcount reduction. I also outlined where the romance came into book 3 and asked it if it was ok. An email came back the next evening saying the romance was fine and not to worry about the wordcount. Again. But we’d been there before. My contract would be with me by Friday 19th September.

But on Wednesday 17th September, another email arrived. It would seem that publishing deals are like buses because this email contained another offer from a completely different publisher. This was a publisher who could offer me a deal for a print version of my book as well as an eBook but who presented a risk because they were new.

So what did I do? Come back later in the week and I’ll let you know!

What’s your favourite word? And which ones make you grimace?

_MG_5249I recently came across a blog devoted to the word “moist” and how much the writer – and many others – hate this word. It brought a smile to my face as it’s a word that one of my good friends, Catryn, absolutely loves. I understand why some hate it because it tends to be used in quite a dirty context. But I have to admit, it’s a word I find quite amusing.

I have a word that I love: undulating. Don’t ask me why; it just has a gorgeous sound to it. From where we live, there are a few different routes to drive into town and one of them’s a country lane which is very undulating. My daughter loves it because it makes her belly go up and down like a rollercoaster and I love it simply because it’s undulating!

_MG_5264There are other words I really love too like scrumple, gargantuan, drenched and ditzy. The thing all of these words – and undulating – have in common is that they sound like the thing they describe. At first I was thinking this is onomatopoeia. (Now that’s a tricky word to spell but a beautiful word to say). But I think that’s words like splash and bang and plop which do actually make the sound of the word. I do think undulating and gargantuan sound like what they describe … but perhaps that’s because I know what they are.

I’m sure I’ll think of loads more words I love when I’ve posted this. Ooh, grimace is another one.

However, it also works in the reverse. Many of the words I hate also sound like the thing they describe: insipid, lubricate, smear. I don’t like the colours grey and taupe. Actually, I have nothing against the colours themselves; I just can’t bear their names! Such incredibly dull, boring words. And nobody can seem to pronounce the latter one; torp or toap? I have put “lol” on there in honour of my writing friend, Jo, who hates it as a phrase. For me personally, I don’t mind the phrase providing it’s not overused but I do hate it when people actually say “lol” as a word in a normal sentence. Shudder.

_MG_5248Of course, there are other words I don’t like that are rude and I didn’t want to spell them out on my scrabble board but I’m sure a few have popped into your heads already.

Returning to lovely words, I did a quick straw poll on Facebook a short while ago. My good friend Jackie responded with several corkers: mermaids, serendipity, pelagic, odyssey and zephyr. I love serendipity both as a concept and a word. Wasn’t quite enough room for it on my scrabble board! She also said “arse”. Now arse is a hilarious word which has provided Jackie, Catryn and me with hours of entertainment. Many years ago, Catryn and I were on holiday in Turkey and we invented “the arse game”. This involves finding as many words as possible with the word arse in them like gl-arse, arse-pedistra, p-arse-ly and so on. However, you do need to say the “arse” part in a Bristol or Devonshire accent. It has a far greater impact that way. We taught it to Jackie when we met her on a diving holiday and, between us, we’ve taught it to loads of people. What was hilarious was that Catryn went out to Egypt to dive one year and someone on the dive boat tried to teach it to her! It was our legacy and a proud moment. Very childish. Very funny.

Anyway, other suggestions included “strewth!” from my friend Sharon “with the emphasis on the !” I suspect she may be having a bad day. “Tibbletastic” came from my friend Karen whose surname is Tibble so I suspect she’s made that one up (although it should be a word cos it’s fabulous) and “chocolate” from my cousin Janice. Amen to that. And another friend, Carole, joined in with squidgy (love that word!) and doppelganger. Nice choices ladies 🙂 My best friend from school, Susan, suggested Timbuktu and merry-go-round. Fabulous words. And former work-colleague Sharan came up with some gems: flabbergasted, genesis, chanel (and coco!), quintessential, Mississippi and tea (as a word and a beverage). Lovely words. Thank you all for contributing.

My friend Liz said she didn’t have a favourite word but she does sign language and she had a favourite sign which is the one for “fire”. Unfortunately that’s not going to translate here but thanks for playing, Liz. My older brother, Mike, was a late-comer but he was rude. I loved one of the words he suggested but my husband looked it up. Yep, not going to put that in the post! My younger brother, Chris, suggested music and beer. I’d say that both brothers were very predictable 😉

_MG_5268What are your most loved and hated words and why? And if you can think of an arse word, do join in and play the game! I think we’ve exhausted them but are always excited about the possibility of discovering a new one. The gauntlet is laid down!

Photos are copyright of my talented husband, Mark Heslington and huge apologies to Mark for missing the ‘h’ out of drenched so that he had to put the board together again for me after he’d done all the photos. Oops!

Books, books, everywhere

I like big books and I cannot lie … Hmm, that sounds like the start of a rather dodgy song so I’ll leave it there! I like books. I like to own them. I love my Kindle (despite battling against getting one) but I will always love the physical look and feel of books. All books. I love books with pictures in them, books full of facts, and proper reading books. The problem is storage. We don’t have a big enough property to be able to devote a whole wall in the lounge to books or a wide enough hall to have bookshelves down one side. Shame. The consequence is that I have pockets of books everywhere so this is a walk-through them. Apologies that the photos aren’t brilliant. My hubby is the talented photographer in this house but he tends to take forever to set up a “project” and I know he doesn’t have the time just now.

P1050579Let’s start in my lovely new office. This was formerly the spare bedroom but, as it had probably been slept in for 6 nights over 3 years, I managed to win the battle to convert it to my writing space. Hubby finally put me some shelves up a few weeks ago. These play host to most of my paperbacks (and one or two hardbacks). I’m pretty anal and, whilst I wouldn’t go so far as to colour organise them (my clothes are colour-organised!), I have some logic to my organisation. Naturally multiple books by the same author appear together but I’ve tried to group genre together. The top shelf, bottom shelf and half of the middle shelf are predominantly romcoms or similar (except the Harry Potter ones, of course) whereas the right-hand side of the middle shelf is a bit of a mix of other genres. My triplet teddies guard them – Toffee, Fudge and Caramel. It’s not a very extensive paperback collection. Two years ago, it was double the size and I realised I was going to have to part company with half the collection or I’d be forever tripping over boxes of books. It was with a heavy heart that I freegled a stack of books I’d read and loved – Jill Mansell, Marian Keyes and many other favourites – hoping that someone else would get the joy I’d received from reading them. I regret it now but needs must!

P1050581Also in my office, under the bookshelves, I have another collection of books on top of a cupboard. These are my writing-related books. “How to” books/guides, The Writer’s & Artist’s Yearbook, Baby Name book (invaluable for character names) and my Writer’s Bureau course nestle there. Really must finish my course one day soon!!! Oh, and some teddy bears. The big boy is a Charlie Bear called Asia. He’s gorgeous. I got made redundant last summer and really struggled to find a job. I finally managed to secure some minimum-wage seasonal work in a local garden centre. They sold Charlie Bears and, as I got a staff discount, I indulged when I managed to secure a permanent position (my current role). The little fella is a Thank You Me to You bear from my lovely writing friend Jay Bartlett for supporting her with the edits on her debut novel.

P1050582The books don’t finish there. I have one more stand-alone bookshelf in the office which houses an assortment of books, a stack of notepads (I have another cupboard full of them too) and books relating to one of my other passions and a former hobby. The passion is one you can probably spot from looking at the other pictures; teddy bears. I collect bears and will write a blog one day soon about my collectible ones. The books on the bottom left are all about the history of teddy bears and/or how to make bears. I can make them but it’s very time-consuming. The other hobby is flower-arranging. I took a night class about 8 years ago and got my first stage qualification. I signed up for the next stage but it all went wrong and ended up being cancelled. I’ve never bothered again since. Every year I make some arrangements at Christmas using the skills I’ve remembered but I probably won’t take it further.

P1050668Let’s leave the office and poddle across the landing into the bedroom. Not many books in there due to lack of space but we have a custom-made shelving unit by the bed that doubles up as a bedside table for my lamp, alarm clock and glass of water. This has a few hardbacks on it and, if you’re a fan, you’ll spot that four of them are Jill Mansell ones. I’m part-way through the Sophie Kinsella on the left but, of the remaining six, I’ve only read one so far. Must rectify that very soon.

The munchkin has a room absolutely packed with books, many of which are childhood classics I’ve enjoyed. She still loves her picture books even though she’s moved onto proper books with being in Year 3 now (juniors in old money!) The hubby doesn’t really do books so his shelves are pretty bare.

P1050585Downstairs, the dining room plays host to a couple of collections. When I met hubby, he was a member of something called The Folio Society. I’d not heard of them but they make gorgeous hardback books. You sign up for a membership and get a batch of books free then have a commitment to buy so many (four I think) across a 2-year period. Most of the books on the shelf here are Folio Society ones including a beautiful set of Fairy books (middle shelf) and a box set of Paddington ones (on the top of the cabinet). We’ve got an old set of Dickens classics (top shelf on the left). But, to my shame, I don’t think I’ve read a single book on this cabinet. You see, I love to own beautiful books but I seem to struggle to find time to read them. The TBR pile just grows and grows.

P1050584The other bookshelf in the dining room has more Folio books but is also home to a couple of shelves worth of recipe books and a bit of a mix of other stuff like guide books and dictionaries. Back to recipe books, herein lies another oddity. You see, I love to buy recipe books … but I don’t love to cook! It’s as though I love the idea of being able to flick through a recipe book and pull together an amazing dinner party menu … but the thought of actually doing it leaves me cold so I don’t have dinner parties and I never flick through the books. Am I strange? Don’t answer that! I used to have recipe books in the kitchen but I found they got sticky so my kitchen is a book-free zone.

P1050583The final book resting place is the lounge. We have a set of shelves on which we have a collection of “coffee table books” – those gorgeous factual books full of pictures and information which I buy thinking “I’d love to read this” but realistically just flick through the pictures instead. There’s a bit of a theme developing here, isn’t there? We’ve got some lovely books about bears (real ones as opposed to cuddly ones) from our honeymoon in Canada and lots of nature books. I will just point out that that the one that says “Joy of …” is “Joy of Nature” rather than “Joy of Sex”!!! But there are also books about forensics, the unexplained and Nostradamus. All things that fascinate me and I’d love to read about if only … yes, you’ve guessed it … if only I had the time!

I’d love to hear about you. Are you a compulsive book-purchaser like me? And do you actually read them??? Do you have books in one place or lots? I think the only places in our house without them are the bathroom/toilet/ensuite and kitchen as previously mentioned. But, if I was organised, the toilet would actually have books in. I’ve even sorted out the joke/comedy ones I’d put in there. Just need to put up a shelf. Just need to find time to put up a shelf …

Jessica xx