This week the topic is:

How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?

When I sent my first book entitled ‘The Porn Detective’ (now called ‘Mind Games’) off to a London literary agency in 2013, they decided they would have a meeting to discuss whether to represent me.  I waited on tenterhooks for a week, until they phoned with the news that they wouldn’t be taking it on.  Another agency was interested too.  They asked me to re-submit after I had acted on their constructive feedback.  Here’s what they said:

‘I think your central premise is brilliant – man with a porn obsession, and how this takes a toll on those around him. There is a cue here for an in-depth exploration of the issues – and it’s timely with porn, and the effects of porn, in the news. I also love the thought of a character faking their own death – but I’m not convinced that this needs to be in the same story.

My advice would be to trim down your ideas for this single novel by 75%. You’ve got ideas for about three different novels in one, and it’s not necessary. You write well enough to make ‘effects of porn on family’ interesting, especially with the twist of why he has that obsession in the first place.

Build up tension, work towards a few set pieces – it’s not necessary to have things constantly happening. Make the reader look forward to your next big moment, and really explore the relationships between the main characters. For example – why exactly was your female lead saving herself for marriage – what are her issues?

A pro-active lead is more interesting – not just someone who reacts to what is thrown at her. She needs to be on a journey of her own – and I wouldn’t kill off your male lead. Remember he’s on a journey too.

To sum up – and I hope you don’t mind my feedback – I think you’ve got the makings of a very fine novel in here. Pare it back, and really expand on the issues at the heart of your story. I would be delighted to re-read your work.’

And here’s some more feedback from a third agency:

‘I found the writing very readable, which is good – it flows, though I did feel the pace was rather fast so that we’re rushing past events rather than being able to really absorb what’s happening. In many ways the opening is engaging because it sets the dark tone for the rest of the story, and I found the dialogue quite good, giving us an insight into Frances and Martin’s relationship. 

I did wonder about the probability of Frances being a virgin on her wedding night – I know it’s the 80s, and she’s quite young at the age of twenty-two, but it’s something to consider, especially since sexuality will be such a big theme in the book. If you’re portraying how innocent Frances is, compared to Martin, then I think this can be drawn out more – having mentioned the rather fast pace, I think there’s scope to do that. ‘

It took me another year, but I re-wrote the whole book and toned down the pace with less events happening, and kept the male lead alive.  I changed the title to ‘Mind  Games’, and tried my best to build up the tension.  I won a free edit for a quarter of the book, and as I read through the newly edited chapters I realised it had been made more ‘readable’ by an increase in the number of paragraphs, and a decrease in the amount of repeated words and adverbs.  Buoyed by the thought that ‘Mind Games’ was probably going to be the next best seller I whipped out more adverbs, repeated words and words ending in ‘ing’ for the rest of the chapters, then sent it off to the agencies again.

Nothing.

Bugger it.

Nearly 7 years later I’m still at it, but I’m a bit more realistic.  I don’t think Stephen King needs to be worried about being knocked off his perch just yet…

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