In lieu of working on my next podcast — which will appear 7th Jan — I thought I’d fill you in on what happened with Scott Pack, Chief Buyer for Waterstone’s. Constant readers (i.e. my dad) will recall that Scott Pack came across an article of mine that bemoaned the difficulties of getting my book into Waterstone’s (among others). Scott emailed me thusly:
I enjoyed your blog piece. Perhaps you’d like to send me a copy of your book and I can see if there is anything we can do with it. No guarantees but would be happy to read it.
(Scott has, by the way, given me permission to quote from his emails.) Pausing only to spray my tea over my lovely iBook, I sent Scott a copy of Déjà Vu forthwith and sent about being unnecessarily grumpy to my girlfriend, staring out of windows at the rain, and clicking send/receive on my email application while I hissed, “Reply, damn you, reply!”
Well, Scott did indeed reply, one week later:
I did finish it (and there are lots of books I don’t finish — life’s too short) and enjoyed it. It is a good book that could be a very good, or even fantastic, book with a bit more work.
He went on say some nice specific things:
* The thriller element would hold its own with most of the books we sell in quantity. The chase scenes have great pace and the airport scene is particularly good I think.
* The characterisation, often a flaw in this sort of fiction, was very strong, especially in the lead characters. They were human, not just plot devices.
* The ending and how the last couple of chapters linked everything together — oxtail soup was a nice touch — left me impressed as I put the book down which is a good place to be.
But he also had some constructive criticisms:
* The virtual reality world was, and forgive the obvious irony, not as realistic as it needed to be to bring the reader along. It is a bit too vague. I am still not sure exactly what I was dealing with. A reader more used to scifi may have happily accepted the concept but a thriller reader may need a bit more substance.
* The first quarter of the book does not have the flow and pace of the rest. It was fairly ordinary and I was worried I’d have to send you a very depressing email but it really picked up after a while.
* The jacket and format. Lightning Source are great at what they do but there are limitations. To be a real commercial proposition this needs to be an ‘A’ format (think Da Vinci Code size) with shorter chapters and a visually impactful jacket. That would really drive some pace in the reading and would attract the sort of reader who would enjoy this book.
So how am I feeling about my Marvellous Waterstone’s adventure? Generally positive. Scott liked the book, for the most part. He had some criticisms — nothing I don’t agree with. I’m not the kind of writer who thinks the last thing he wrote is the best thing since sliced bread. On the contrary, I find the flaws in Déjà Vu bloom in my imagination the more I think about them.
The comment about the physical aspects of the book is bang on target. Though Lightning Source (the printer) have a done a good, professional job, the book itself does not suggest ‘thriller’ in same the way that a smallish, thicker book with larger text might. I can see how this could make the casual book-buyer pause. (The cover, incidentally, was designed, by me, to be visually impactful at thumbnail size, since I considered — accurately — that web sales would be the primary sales conduit.)
Of course, it would have been poptastic if Scott had requested, say, five million copies for special promotions involving an animatronic Saskia Brandt raising her left eyebrow in a ‘This is all a bit familiar’ expression. I’ll save that idea for the movie, starring — as if you had to ask — the excellent German actress, Franka Potente.
Has this adventure helped me plough through the daft of Flashback (working title), the sequel to Déjà Vu? Well, I’m writing this blog entry instead of describing the last moments of an air crash (don’t ask), but it’s heartening to know that, at the centre of the Waterstone’s web, there is a chap who (a) is articulate, measured and (I think) largely spot-on in his assessment of a story but (b) has a sense of those elements, not just the cover, that might stop a reader picking up the book, and © is happy to lend his brain to a young author (who is, let’s face it, just some bloke what wrote a book).
So, though my dealings with Scott are perhaps not representative of his role towards publishing in general, I’m certain enough that the opinion I advanced earlier this year (here, for example) — that Mr Pack is someone writers and publishers need to worry about — is not truly grounded. Scott is frequently portrayed (see this Observer article) as a mogul upon whom publishers must lavish trinkets and tribute. This isn’t consistent with my little Waterstone’s Adventure. As far as I can tell, there was nothing stopping me from getting my book bought centrally by Scott. Well, one thing stopped me. The book did not quite reach standard. This is nothing to be worried about, because it is something, as a writer, I have complete control over. All I need to do is write better. I’m very happy with that conclusion, even if writing better is very difficult; it isn’t, at root, unfair. While the publishing industry can seem unfair to writers who are starting out — and, let’s be honest, there are important ways in which it certainly is unfair — there are, if you can get to them, people on the inside who are prepared to offer time, wisdom, and opportunity.
That’s not a bad thought for the last post of the year, but here’s a better one: Merry Christmas and a happy New Year!