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Diary of a First time Author #11 – On Crushing Rejection…

Periodically an article does the rounds on my Facebook news feed.  It’s actually a number of different articles from a number of different websites but the subject matter and examples used are inevitably the same.  It’s an article on famous rejections of people who would later become famous and here is an example of it.


Now, when you see an article like this, I think there’s two common ways to react to it.  One is to see it as reassurance that everyone starts bad and improves over time and the second is to see it as reinforcement of the idea that publishers don’t recognise talent and perhaps the problem isn’t that your work isn’t good enough, but that nobody can see just how brilliant it is.  The second view is, of course, reinforced by the numerous stories that circulate that, for example, J K Rowling’s Harry Potter books were rejected several times before a small publishing house took a chance on them.


I think the second view is a dangerous one to take.  Yes, there will always be Potter-esque exceptions – and I actually don’t know whether  or not J K Rowling made changes in between the rejections – but generally speaking, if you are being rejected time and time again, Occam’s Razor would dictate that probably there are improvements you could make to your work.


This doesn’t have to be cause for despair, however.  I’ve been rejected on several occasions myself and in retrospect pretty much all of them were the right decision.  I’d sent in work that wasn’t ready – probably several times as a writer I simply wasn’t ready – and the people involved politely declined it.  The better ones – or perhaps the ones with a bit more time on their hands – gave some feedback on how I could improve in the future.  Ultimately it does take a lot of time to become a good writer and understanding why your work is being turned down is as an important part of improving.


I’d also challenge the idea, in most of the examples on the articles, that the publishers/record companies involved couldn’t recognise talent.  To me, the only person who comes out of that article looking foolish is the person who rejected Animal Farm (the guy who rejected Gertrude Stein comes across as a bit of an arsehole but that’s a slightly different thing).  Assuming the responses were sincere (and I’ve no reason to assume otherwise) I’d say Jim Lee, Sylvia Plath, Madonna, Tim Burton and –to an extent – Kurt Vonnegut Jr all had more reasons to be encouraged than discouraged.  Yes, their work was rejected but there was pretty positive feedback acknowledging the merits of the work and claiming – rightly or wrongly – that the writers simply were not quite ready yet.


So generally speaking I think rejection should be taken as a sign of a need to improve and not a sign that publishers are all foolish.


There is caveat to this however and that’s that staff of publishing companies also have to consider both the commercial viability of the work and often whether it fits in with the company brand and image.  I realise I’ve just used three words (four if you could viability) that many aspiring writers will hate but the brutal reality is that, if you want to write and get your work published free of commercial considerations, self-publishing online may be the route for you to take.  Even the most independent and ethical of publishers won’t survive for long if all the books cost more to produce than they make in sales.


Where this causes a problem is when you have someone like J K Rowling or Kurt Vonnegut Jr doing something unconventional and outside what publishers are used to receiving.


I realise it sounds ludicrous in hindsight to call the most successful book franchise of all time ‘unconventional’ but, at the time, you would have had this unknown writer who’d created this brand new and fully-formed world to tell her story in – I think detractors frequently fail to acknowledge the ambition and audacity involved in an unpublished writer pulling that off and making it accessible.


Ultimately it’s much easier for a publisher to guess how commercially viable something is going to be if there’s obvious precedents for it so I do think there are cases where strong writers can be passed on because the originality of the work involved is such that nobody can quite see where to place it.  So I do envisage that Vonnegut or Rowling would have had a harder job getting their work accepted than someone who was writing something more in keeping with existing styles and fashions of the time.  However, even if you are an outstandingly original writer, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your work cannot be improved.


The reassurance here is that J K Rowling and Kurt Vonnegut Jr. both got published eventually and, of course, went onto have successful careers.  And I genuinely believe that, if your work is good enough to be published and you send it to enough publishers, eventually someone will pick up on that and publish it.  But, if you do find yourself getting rejection after rejection after rejection, the best thing is to use that rejection as a motivation to improve.  Bitterness and anger seldom get anyone anywhere so there’s no harm at all in viewing rejection as a positive experience.

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Diary of a First-Time Author #10 – How To To Write a Book

So you’ve sold your proposal, you’ve got the first part of your advance and now you actually need to write a book.  Someone’s actually given you money to be a writer and they’re expecting you to deliver.  It’s utterly, utterly brilliant and utterly, utterly, utterly terrifying.


With Bad Santas, I had the added pressure of the fact it was a Christmas release and so, having met the publisher and received the offer in February and signed the contract at the beginning of April, the book had to be ready by the end of May.  Which was a bit intense.  Luckily I started writing from the February of else it probably would have been impossible!


So how do you do it?


  1. Plan how much you need to write


Work out the exact number of words you need to write and when your deadline is.  Divide it by the number of weeks and then by the number of days you intend to work.  You then have your target number of words per day.


  1. Plan for Contingency


Now ignore this figure.  Instead work out the exact number of words you need to write to get the book finished four weeks before the deadline.  Aim for that target instead.  Then you’ve got a whole month to cover you for illness, parts of the book taking longer than you anticipate, rewriting days and things like that.  Also add another 15, 000 words to your word total to cover all the things you write that either ultimately don’t fit in with the book or aren’t good enough to use.  Do the maths again.  Now you’ve got your real target number of words per day.  Try not to panic when you look at it.


  1. Plan what you’re writing


If you got the pitching document I discussed in article #3 right then it will now be your best friend.  If not you really need to structure out each chapter and make sure you have a blueprint of exactly where you’re going – it’ll save you a lot of wasted time and energy as you go through the book


  1. Work out your writing routine


Be realistic about how much time you have, especially if you’re not able to take time off work to be a writer.  I was lucky enough to take a break to write the book but I’m now sat on the top deck of a bus typing into my laptop as I take the 43 from Muswell Hill to London Bridge on my way into work.  This gives me an hour to an hour and a half’s writing time per day.  It’s not ideal but, as I’m not writing any specific project at the moment, it could be far worse.


Also, think about the way that you work and try to work with that, rather than against it.  For example, I’m a procrastinator who gets occasional bursts of focus – typically first thing in the morning, shortly before lunch and then for a couple of hours in the late afternoon and early evening.  When I was writing Bad Santas, I tried to structure myself around that.  On an ideal day I’d get up about 7 or 8 o’clock, do an hour to an hour and half of work (usually revisions and re-writes from the previous day), then take a shower, a short bus-ride to somewhere scenic and from there take an hour and half long walk to the British library (walking really helps me both relax and to think about what I’m doing).  I’d then do about an hour’s work before breaking for lunch, spend most of the afternoon recovering from the lunch break and then do a concentrated burst of writing between 4pm and 7pm before going home.


Obviously I’m not suggesting that that’s the best way to write but it is the best way to write for me.  As far as is reasonable around your life commitments, it’s a good idea to think about what works for you and stick to it – there’s no point in chastising yourself but not being sat in your writing chair at 9am if you find it easier to write in the night-time.


  1. Be disciplined


At the same time, it’s really important to be disciplined.  Whilst writing is a million times better than a real job, you still get days where you really don’t want to get out of bed, sections of the book you dread writing and times when you lack all motivation and just want to pack up and go home (unless you’re working from home, in which case you want to pack up and go out somewhere instead!)   And, if you’re writing a 60, 000 word book, there’ll be times when you find yourself utterly bogged down in the middle somewhere, unable to see the end and feeling like you can’t possibly process, let alone write down, everything you need to say.  But ultimately, if you’re going to finish the book, you have to keep going.


Whilst writing the book I worked out that I could write approximately 2, 000 ‘useful’ words a day.  Any less and I was being unproductive, any more and the quality really tailed off.  So I set that as a target made sure I ended even the ‘bad’ days with 2000 more words on the page.  Obviously quite a lot of those words needed rewriting later but I find re-writing much easier than writing.  Once you’ve got something down, you can then work out how to get it right…


  1. Make sure you do something tanigble, even if it’s not what you originally planned.


Nonetheless there will be days where you really find you absolutely cannot face doing the part of the book that you were ‘supposed’ to be doing that day.  If you really can’t discipline yourself to do it then the simple solution is to do something else instead.  Revise and rewrite previous chapters or leap forward and write another part of the book which sounds a bit more interesting.  But try to always go to bed feeling you can see what you’ve achieved.


  1. Re-write continually.


You’re first draft of anything will not be your best piece of work and you should always go through and see what you can do better.  The only exception to that is when you really want to give the impression that it’s just you’re unfettered thoughts spilling out onto the page.  Which is my excuse for ignoring my own advice on these articles.  But otherwise re-writing is key.


  1. Proofread.  Or better still, get someone else to do it.


I am the world’s worst proofreader – as anyone who has read this will probably attest.  My grammar and spelling are fine but I tend to type really quickly and think even quicker, as a result of which what I type tends to be the train of the inner monologue in my head.  This can easily end up like one of those teletext subtitles pages where things are written down phonetically at speed and ludicrous spelling mistakes ensue.  Unfortunately I also read really quickly and, as a result, tend to see what I think is on the page and fail to pick up my own mistakes.


Ultimately the publisher will have their own proofreader but it looks awful if you hand in something riddled with errors and I dimly recall that there are psychological studies that show that the more spelling and grammar mistakes there are in a piece of writing, the less plausible people find the argument.  So it does matter that you get it right before submitting it.


Bear in mind this is really a case of “do what I say and not what I do” here and an area where I’m incredibly sloppy – luckily my parents and friends helped proofread the book for me but these articles are far more exposed and I’m sure my laziness in this respect has come clear several times already!



Ultimately writing is hard work (or at least it can be) and the key to finishing a book successfully is sticking with it even when you utterly hate doing it.  There are thousands – perhaps even millions – of people who’ve half-written books that they’ll never finish.  Becoming one of the few that actually finish things is a crucial part of succeeding as a writer.

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Diary of a First-Time Author #9 – The Anatomy of a Publishing Contract

Of course, the aim of all I’ve discussed so far, is to end up with a publishing contract.  And if and when you get one it’s a nice experience, albeit a very confusing one.  So what do contracts contain?


Before I start discussing the contract, I want to make something clear.  I am not an expert in understand publishing contracts.  If you aren’t either, then make sure you get someone who does able to advise and negotiate for you.  Hopefully this’ll be an agent but, if not, then it may be time to find a lawyer.  But, in any case, make sure you get good advice on what you’re signing up to.


Bear in mind too that, if you do have an agent, you might find that a lot of the contract negotiation process passes you by as the agent discusses terms with the publishers and you’re left out of the loop somewhat.  You’ll know early on what sort of advance you’re being offered but you might not hear much else until the contract’s agreed – potentially several weeks later.  You will need to take your own view and how much you want to chase things and find out what’s going on.  Personally I decided to trust that my agent knew what he was doing and let him get on with it and tell me when things were agreed but I’m sure several other people might want to be more hands-on – as might I in the future if I understand the process better!  But patience is useful here.


Every contract is going to be a little different but I’ll try to answer some of the basic questions from a writer’s perspective in Q and A form.


a)   What’s an advance?


An advance is an amount of money the publisher offers you to secure the book.  It’s called an advance as publishers treat it as part of your future royalties (i.e. the money you get paid for book sales).  So, if you get an advance of, say, £10, 000, the publisher won’t pay you any more money for sales until you’re owed more than £10l 000.


With a non-fiction book, the advance usually comes in three stages.  You get part of it on signing, a part of it when you submit the manuscript and part of it when the book gets published.


Bear in mind that, particularly in big publishing companies, the advance needs to be processed and signed off by a few different departments at each stage – so it can take a couple of weeks after each of these milestones for the money to land in your account – it’s best not to plan your finances on the basis that you’ll get the money the second the contract gets signed!


Also remember that your advance is treated as a form of income – i.e. you will need to register as self-employed and pay tax on it.  Forgetting that could land you with a big bill later!


b)   So will there be an advance?


I certainly hope so!  If there’s a bidding war then there’ll definitely be an advance and it could get rather high.  If not, there’ll be a slightly more modest amount of money.  For Bad Santas I received roughly the equivalent of a few months’ salary for the job I had at the time – and, as that job was not very secure, I did in fact quit and very much treat the advance like a salary that enabled me to go to work as a writer every day.


If you’re not being offered an advance, then it raises questions about the resources the publisher has available and how confident they feel about your book.  Whether you should proceed probably depends on whether you think you can get interest elsewhere and how desperate you are to be published.  If you’re going to write the book anyway then it won’t do any harm.  If you’re trying to write it to make a living you should maybe consider pitching other ideas.  Never ever pay money to be published.  If someone’s asking you to do that, they’re either running a scam or a pretty crummy business but, either way, it’s unlikely they’ll have the money or the will to promote your work.



  c)   How much do I get paid per book?


A % of the recommended retail price  This might be graded in stages – so 10% for the first x copies, 12.5% for the next x copies and so forth.


d)   What happens if I don’t finish the book, or the book doesn’t get published?


If you don’t complete the book then you’ll probably have to pay back the initial advance that the publisher paid you.  The second payment is subject to submitting the book along the lines of the proposal you made to the publisher.  As long as you submit something that follows the theme, argument and chapter structure then, once you’ve submitted that, your first part of the advance is safe and you get the second par of the advance too.  If the book doesn’t get published then you keep the first two parts of the advance but won’t get the third part.  Which is a good reason to ensure you make what you submit as good as possible!


e)   How long will the book need to be?


The publisher should discuss this with you and, if not, then the contract will state a number.  A non-fiction book’ll probably be 50, 000 to 100, 000 words depending on the subject.



I realise that this is very brief and there are many more questions but most of them will depend on the individual contract.  If you do have a general question, feel free to ask me and I’ll answer it as best I can but bear in mind I am no expert here!

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Diary of a First-Time Writer #8 – Meeting a Publisher

For me, the prospect of meeting with a publisher was the scariest moment of the entire process so far.  This was the point where, all of a sudden, it all became real and I wasn’t just writing things in my bedroom and kidding myself that one day somebody would actually read them but instead I was actually a proper author.  Or at least getting better at convincing other people that I was a proper author, which is maybe the same thing.   It was exciting but also quite frightening.


I think one of the reasons why it was frightening is because it’s easy to get yourself into a mindset where the belief that you’re going to fail almost becomes a source of comfort.  Yes, it’s frustrating being an unpublished author and you spend half your time telling yourself you deserve better but, at the same time, the fact that nobody ever actually sees your work means you can convince yourself that you’re secretly brilliant, yet tragically undiscovered.  Once people see your work – even if they say it’s quite good – you don’t have the safety net of imagining someone suddenly glancing at your work and hailing you an undiscovered genius.


The other reason I found it frightening was because I completely misunderstood what meeting a publisher actually involved.  In my head I was expecting something akin to the world’s most terrifying job interview where I’d be asked difficult questions to catch me out on my research, confronted over any possible holes in the book and ultimately laughed me out of the office.  Which would obviously be utterly terrifying.


Luckily meeting a publisher is not like that at all.  If you’ve got the point where a publisher wants to meet you, it’s safe to assume they actually like the idea and, in reality, they don’t want to catch you out at all.  They probably want to know how committed and enthusiastic you are about the project and they doubtless hope you can convince them you’re someone who can actually finish the project but their main aim is to convince you to work with them, rather than the other way round.  They’ll outline their vision for the look, feel and target audience of the book and try to establish whether there’s enough common ground in your respective visions for you to work together.  Incidentally this is another good reason to get your pitching document right – if you can successfully transmit the ‘feel’ of the book at that stage, it hopefully saves any awkwardness where you suddenly find you’re thinking along completely different lines!


Walking into a publishing house – or an agency for that matter –  is really, really exciting.  There’s a real thrill about wandering up to the reception desk and calmly stating you have a meeting with an editor.  The odds are you’ll have your agent with you and it’s absolutely brilliant to sit down with people who spend their lives working around books and spending an hour talking about your ideas without feeling like your being self-indulgent.   Moment like this are exactly what I dreamed of as a writer and, if happens to you – even if nothing ever goes further than that point – I think it’s worth just enjoying being there.


So how should you prepare for the meeting?


Other than looking over your proposal and ensuring it’s all fresh in your mind, it’s worth having a rough idea of how you want the book to look and feel and how you want publishers to pitch it.  Don’t be too precise but do make sure that – when the publisher starts talking about your thoughts – you know whether things sound right or wrong.   One of the things that absolutely sold Simon & Schuster to me was that, when I walked into the office for the meeting, Kerri (the non-fiction editor) had an Angela Carter book of fairytales on her desk as a reference point.  There and then, I decided I wanted to work with Simon & Schuster and the meeting had not even started!


I think, even without that, the meeting would have been really good.  TV, film and books tend to sell an image of publishing companies as business people in suits who put profit before art and try to blunt the edges from a writer’s work to make everything as bland as possible.  That certainly wasn’t my experience with Simon & Schuster.  Kerri, on the other hand, really enjoyed the darker and bloodier aspects of the book and her main goal was to ensure things didn’t become too saccharine or pleasant at any point!


But what do you do if the publisher’s vision is different to yours?  This is a difficult question – especially if they’re the only company showing serious interest.  My advice is to think about their suggestions very seriously.  Voice your opinions and see what they say but try to think seriously about whether their suggestions make sense.  Do voice your own opinions too and see what response you get but try and then weigh all the options up as objectively as possible.  It never serves anyone well to be too proud incorporate other people’s ideas or be so precious about your work that you disregard suggestions that would actually improve things.


At the same time, your name is going to be on the book and ultimately people are going to see the book that is eventually published as a representation of you as a writer.  And I’m sure there’s nothing more depressing than seeing your first book get utterly panned and your writing ability questioned when you’ve not even written the book you wanted to write in the first place.   So there are times when you might need to stick to your guns, even if you miss a chance to be published as a result. But be sure that there are genuinely good reasons, rather than simply your ego being a bit bruised by the fact that other people have ideas and suggestions about your work!

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Diary of a First-Time Author #7 – “And now we play the waiting game…”

“Aaah, the waiting game sucks.  Let’s play Hungry, Hungry Hippos” – Homer J Simpson

So let’s say you’ve submitted your proposal – or manuscript but I’m sticking with the idea we’re dealing with non-fiction for now – to an agent and the agent likes it.  They’ll probably ask to meet you and, if it all goes well, they’ll hopefully offer you a contract.


I won’t go into that contract too much – though I will talk a bit more about the publishing contract later – but the important thing is your agent will get paid via a commission on your earnings.  This generally around 15% + VAT  (i.e. 18.5%) of your earnings in the UK and 20% of your earnings abroad.  There are two good things about this


a) You don’t need to pay an agent anything unless you earn money, which means that, aside from the possibility of the agent not managing to sell your work which means there’s no risk of actual financial loss.  (If you do come across an agent or publisher who wants money up-front or to ‘split production costs’, alarm bells should be ringing very, very loudly.


b) Your agent needs to sell your work in order to make any money.  If nothing else, this should be a big boost to your confidence – an agent would not be spending time working with you unless they expect to make you both money as a result!  It also means that you can be confident your agent is motivated to get you a very good deal because it’s in their interest to do so!


Your agent will so ask you to indemnify them against any potential lawsuits for copyright infringement (which is to say that, if you plagiarise someone’s work, it’s you rather than the agent who will carry the cost for that).  This is a standard clause though it can be very scary to read!


I would also expect the agent to suggest some re-writes.  Of course, I appreciate that you are an artist and your book is your baby and that it’s a violation of your principles to start butchering your masterpiece in order to sate commercial needs.  However I would advise you to be open and consider every suggestion very carefully, whether its from an agent, publisher, proofreader or whoever.


If you do, I suspect you’ll find that – in the vast majority of cases – they have identified a genuine problem or weakness, even if the solution they suggest is not the one you would have gone with.  In these circumstances, I’d always suggest changing it to your option and then emailing back explaining your reasoning.  If you genuinely believe that their suggestion is outright wrong and nothing needs to be changed, I’d again draft an email explaining that but – before sending – I’d then read that email again (perhaps a few hours later or the following day) and make sure your reason is genuinely a really good one.  But the important thing is never ever kid yourself that you’re a genius whose work can’t possibly improved.  Personally I suspect that a lot of times, when a writer or film director gains critical acclaim through brilliant early work but then peters out into mediocrity or worse, then it’s often because they’ve stopped listening to the voices telling them how to make things better…


But anyway, let’s suppose you do your re-writes and the agent is happy and starts to send the proposal to publishers.  At this point, what should you expect?


Probably, in reality, a period of extended silence punctuated by the odd emailed update from the agent.  Perhaps you’ll get an email saying a publisher has shown an initial interest and wants to see the proposal.  Perhaps you’ll then get another email a few weeks later saying the publisher has decided not to take it any further.  Don’t get too downhearted by this – bear in mind that, at this point, there’s money involved and reasons for people not taking a book can be as much to do with what the publishers think they can successfully sell as much as questions of quality.


Nonetheless it can be disheartening and the wait can seem endless.  But hopefully, before too long, you’ll get the message that a publisher is interested and wants to meet you.  This is where things start to get interesting…

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Diary of a First-Time Author #6– Approaching an Agent or Publisher

OK.  So you’ve decided you do want to go the industry route.  Now what?  What do you need to approach an agent or publisher?  And how do you approach them?


Before I start, bear in mind this will be one of the longest posts in this blog so far – basically because I hope it’ll be useful and I want to go into a non-fiction proposal it in some detail.  So go and make a cup of tea (leave this screen open so you remember to read this) and then sit back down at your computer and read on…


The approach differs depending on whether your submitting fiction or non-fiction.   Some advice applies to both though.


When making an approach:


  1. Ensure you research who you’re approaching beforehand. Knowing who you are approaching will save you a lot of wasted time and potentially stop you looking very, very silly   Agents’ websites give lists of the agency’s list of clients and publishers’ websites showcase the books they have published in the past.  Sometimes there will even be profiles of individual staff members and their favourite authors and genres.  There is absolutely no excuse failing to check these out.  There is also no more certain route to failure than, say, pitching a deliriously bloody horror story to a publisher of children’s books.


  1. If you can get hold of the publisher or agent’s email address – and the harder it is to get hold of one, the more polite you should be when you approach them –I’d recommend sending short polite email directly to the agent or publisher briefly outlining your project and asking for permission to send them a proposal. Ultimately sending your work into people can be a lot of investment of time, money and effort for a great deal of rejection and failure.  Pitching your project beforehand helps you to establish a relationship with agents or publishers and helps ensure you only send your work in to people who might actually want to read it!


  1. If you do send something in without pitching, I’d write a short covering letter.  It gives you a chance to talk about how you see the project and explain your motives for writing it.  This makes it much easier for someone to give you feedback as they get a picture of what you’re aiming for and, if an agent is impressed by the pitch but not the proposal, could even mean they’re prepared to take you on and help you improve.


It also allows you to talk about how you see your book being pitched and marketed.  Both my publishing editor and my agent clearly utterly love books and are knowledgeable, passionate people but the reality is they are working in a business and it helps them to know that you’re a writer who acknowledges this.  And it’s really good for you to be able to have your say early on what you how you think the book should be perceived and who it’s aimed at.





With fiction, you want to include a quick pitch in your original email – this should be no more than a short paragraph (usually the shorter the better) to sell the idea.  Try to make it snappy and capture the essence of what’s unique and interesting about your pitch – basically why is this is a good idea and why are you the best person to write it?


If the person likes that, they’ll probably ask you to send a first chapter – although bear in mind that, in reality, they might only read the first ten pages or so before deciding to pass if they’re not already hooked so a strong start is essential – and possibly a synopsis of the whole plot.  The synopsis would be a few pages and would tell the story of your book, including all the key plot points that are crucial to understanding the story.


Bear in mind that, even though you’re not being asked to send a novel at this point, it’s highly unlikely that anyone will make a decision on whether to go ahead with your work until they’ve read the whole thing – ultimately there’s no other way of telling if you’ve managed to plot and pace it successfully.  For this reason there’s not really a great deal of sense in pitching it until you’ve completed the whole thing.




The big advantage of non-fiction is that you can pitch it and sell a proposal before you’ve written the book.  As with fiction, make the pitch in an email and, if they’re interested, send the following:


1)    A short pitch of the book


Basically this should be a bit like the blurb on the back of the book.  Explain what the book is, include a few juicy facts to capture the reader’s attention and try to use the tone you intend to capture in the book.


Above all, remember that you are selling the book – make it appealing.  To give you an idea, here’s what I submitted for Bad Santas:


How did St Nicholas save children from prostitution and cannibalism?  Who were the Yule Lads and why would they lick your saucepans and steal your sausages?  Why was the Alpine Father Christmas accompanied by a demonic figure called the Krampus who bundled children into sacks and dragged them off to Hell?  And why do Spanish nativity scenes often feature a defecating peasant?


Over the course of the 20th Century, a universal image developed around the world of Santa Claus as a seasonal Christmas visitor but, prior to that, each country, each town and each community would have Christmas visitors of their own – sometimes human, sometimes animal, sometimes something else entirely – with their own curious set of mythology and customs.


Some of these were strange; many of them were utterly, utterly terrifying.  Dutch children were as likely to take a beating from the sinister Zwarte Piet as to receive a present whilst the Finnish were visited by a Pagan goat named Joulupukki that was said to eat anyone who misbehaved.  In Iceland, even doing as you were told wasn’t always enough to avoid being eaten –  it was said that any child who did not received an item of new clothing for Christmas would be caught and consumed by a monstrous Christmas Cat.  Even in countries with a figure that resembled the modern Father Christmas, he was not so much a benign charitable figure as a summary judge, jury and executioner testing out children’s knowledge and fidelity to the Bible and dealing out rewards or punishments as he saw fit.  “You’d better watch out, you’d better not cry, you’d better not pout, I’m telling you why” Haven Gillespie wrote in his famous song about Santa Claus and, for much of history, this advice was something which children would cling to preserve their lives.


This book celebrates some of the most imaginative, most terrifying and most outright curious Christmas figures from around the world.  Some of the characters were vicious, such as the Perchta who’d slit your belly open and replace your innards with straw and pebbles if you hadn’t prepared the Christmas decorations.  Others were more mischievous, such as the Karakancolos who’d jump on your back at night and force you to carry him wherever he wanted to go until the break of dawn.  Others still, such as the Spanish Christmas log that children beat with a stick whilst chanting for it to ‘shit them a gift’, are simply outright bizarre.


Bad Santas and other Creepy Christmas Characters is intended to be engaging and blackly comic with a touch of the macabre and aimed at both those interested in folk mythology, the general reader who wants to learn more about the origins of Christmas and people who are looking for an unusual and engaging Christmas gift.


2 A summary of comparative literature


This should be about a page long.  Explain which other books that exist around your subject and a justify why you should write another one – has not enough been written about the subject?  Do you have a unique take on it?  Do you have access to information other writers did not?  Is there a flaw in the existing books you think you can rectify?  Do you think there’s an audience interested in the subject that wouldn’t be reached by other books?


My argument with Bad Santas was that most books about Santa Claus were either aimed for children or academic audiences and there was no book which covered the history of Santa Claus that was aimed at the general reader.


3 About the Author


This is a few paragraphs long and it’s basically who you are, what you’ve done before and why you should write this book.  Again, remember to sell yourself!


4 A provisional list of chapters


Exactly what it says.  This should just be a list of chapter names – try to use names that sound intriguing but give an idea of what will be in the book.


5 Chapter Overview


Go through the chapters one-by-one and write about 300 – 500 words about what will be in each chapter.  It’s okay if you still need to do a bit more research on the book at this point but make sure you’ve done enough to sound like you know your stuff.


6 One or two sample chapters


Choose the most interesting and show off your writing style.  Aim for a total of between 6000 and 10000 words.



Be engaging, be interesting and include enough details to show that you really know what you’re talking about.  Make sure you get someone to check through it for spelling mistakes, boring bits and any flaws or holes in your writing.


Keep in mind throughout you’re trying to demonstrate that you’ve got a strong idea that you can sustain throughout a 50, 000 – 100, 000 word book and that you’ve got the knowledge and enthusiasm to see it through.  It’s worth putting your research in but the good news is that the research and information you put into your chapter overview is going to be a really useful blueprint when you come to write the book!


Once you’re sure it’s all ready and as good as it can possibly be then fire it off to the agent or publisher and then hope and dream about an offer coming in!

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