Peter Jones – Author & Public Speaker

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The Truth About Great Cover Design…

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TTATCM publicity

Book covers.

I hate ’em.

No really, that’s the truth, because that age old piece of advice – never judge a book by its cover – is universally IGNORED!

Everyone judges pretty much everything by its cover, ESPECIALLY books. So it really doesn’t matter how many months I spent slaving over the words on the inside, if the cover isn’t absolutely perfect (or as close as), I’ll have pretty much wasted my time. After all, I went through goodness knows how many covers for my first novel and to this day I’m still not entirely sure we got it absolutely right (read about that here).

So it was with considerable trepidation that I approached the cover design for my latest fiction offering; The Truth About This Charming Man. And just for “fun” (yours, not mine) my agent thought you might enjoy seeing the personal torment we went through to arrive at the FABULOUS jacket above / to the right. That’s nice of her, isn’t it.

Anyway, let’s start with these three doodles…

The Truth - proof4 The Truth - proof The Truth - proof2

If you’re shaking your head in bewilderment I can’t say I blame you. Let me give you some context:

My latest novel was never intended to be a novel at all. Back at the beginning of 2015, in a desperate attempt to plug the hole in my bank account, I’d written a five part story entitled The Truth. The plan was to submit it to a well-known weekly women’s publication in the hopes that they might serialise it. This is a bit like trying to solve a financial crisis by purchasing a single lottery ticket, but still, I was determined.

The basic plot was (and still is… to some degree) about a thirty something actor who, despite never having secured a ‘proper’ role on stage or screen, has, somehow, landed three unusuallet’s call them ‘positions’… pretending to be whoever his clients need him to be. And although it still isn’t proper theatre, by and large, life is pretty good for our hero… until the day he needs to play two of those people. At the same meeting.

It’s an idea that Kate and I originally came up with many years ago – although typically, when I actually came to write it, it morphed into something very different, and in my humble opinion, far better, than what we’d originally envisaged.

In fact, so pleased was I with my second piece of full length fiction that I resolved to self-publish it as a novella should the magazine in question decide not to take the story. Hence the doodles above. These are *some* of my attempts at what I thought might be the cover… and I hated them. I still do. In my head I had this idea about our hero falling between sinister versions of the two famous actor masks. I realised too that the design had to be at least sympathetic to my first novel, but I just couldn’t get it to work; close friends I shared these doodles with said it made the book look like a murder mystery. Arrrgghhh!

FORTUNATELY, around March of last year, destiny stepped in.

I’d just landed myself a new agent, who in turn had secured a publicity deal with amazon, which led to my first novel being re-vamped and re-published. But before I’d even signed my contract, my agent was understandably keen to know what else could be in the pipeline. So I showed her The Truth, and… she loved it.

Though she didn’t love the title.

Or the fact it was a novella.

“Go away,” she said, “and turn this into a proper, full-length novel… with a better title.”

Nine months later and I had finished The Truth About This Charming Man.

Which brings us onto this…

THE TRUTH kindle proof

 

I was still basking in the glory of somehow completing an entire novel in the tenth of the time it had taken me to write the first one, when this cover was designed. Maybe I wasn’t being objective but at the time I loved the masks. I loved the way they’re all angry or sad with the exception of the one he’s wearing. I loved the spot light. I loved everything about it. I was in love!

So pleased was I – and so confident that both amazon and my agent would love it too – I grabbed my wallet and went right ahead and had the finished artwork made up.

Oops.

My agent did like it, sort of, but there were some problems.

Firstly, apparently books that are obviously about actors or acting are unpopular with publishers (as are books to do with writers, or writing). So anything with actor masks on it was a strict no-no.

Secondly, my market, apparently, is women’s contemporary romantic fiction. Regardless of whether my books are heavy on the romance or not 90% of my readers fit that demographic, and therefore it’s those ladies that have to look at the cover and go “Ooooo…”

I was sent back to the drawing board, with strict instructions to come back with ‘at least three’ ideas that we could pick from.

Several days later – with the dread that this entire process might take as long as it did last time hanging over my head – this design popped out:

TTATCM man in heart sketch

I liked it!

I felt we’d finally cracked the font. I liked the colour. The strap-line felt right.

I wasn’t sure whether we’d get away with the mask on the man…  more than that though, I was even more worried it still wouldn’t appeal to the women’s contemporary romantic fiction market.

A fear that was addressed by the following…

TTATCM bench sketch copy

Bear in mind this is a sketch, so it’s a bit rough round the edges. Those lines on the bench wouldn’t be there in a finished version.

I hate it.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all bad. It’s more or less a scene from the book, and I like the London skyline, but it’s so… chick-lit. There’s nothing wrong with chick-lit of course, but slap a cover like this on my book and I could envisage two things happening:

  1. I’d lose every single one of my male readers (even though there are probably about 6, and I know them all by name).
  2. There would be more than a few female readers who were hoping for a plot that’s a good deal more romantic than the one I’ve actually come up with.

Put simply, I wasn’t convinced it was a  good fit, even if I knew, in my heart of hearts, that this was probably the cover amazon and my agent would go for.

There hardly seemed any point in having a third idea – so I suggested a simple typographical solution, using the font and background colour from the first idea, maybe the border from the second idea. Just something we could throw into the mix so we could say, hand on heart, that we’d delivered three covers. The book equivalent of a guy in a red jersey beaming down to an unexplored planet with Captain Kirk.

What I got was this…

TTATCM typographical solution sketch

This is another sketch. Those glasses, I was assured, wouldn’t have the words shutterstock across them. But I wasn’t listening. What I was thinking was…

Woah!

I knew pretty much instantly that this was it. There was a kind of stirring. In my loins. Despite the fact that this design was turned out in the time it took me to send an email, go downstairs, make a cup of tea, and cup back up again – I just knew.

And I wasn’t alone. I sent all three covers to several friends, and most chose the design above over the other two. Especially those friends who hadn’t seen any other design, or had no idea what the book was about.

My favourite bit of feedback was this:

“I like the glasses. It makes me think of ‘deception’ – but also about those comedy glasses you could buy with a big nose and bushy eyebrows attached.”

Perfect!

Interestingly, those that didn’t choose this design, chose the couple on the bench. But no one liked the guy in the mask.

So, naughty though it may be, I casually forgot about the guy in the mask. I know, I know – I was tasked with submitting three ideas, but I wanted my favourite to have at least a 50/50 chance of winning even though I was 100% certain that the chick-lit cover would beat it to a pulp!

And I’m delighted to say I was wrong.

My agent circulated the two covers (the ones on offer) round her agency and my fave won hands down! The only objection being that it might not be *quite* romantic enough… and was it possible to ‘fix’ that? Which is why we came up with the finished version below by adding a little bit of a glow and a few love hearts (including the dot on the i in the word ‘charming’).

Personally I prefer the un-romanticised version, but hey – it’s not that much of a compromise. I’m still proud to be associated with this design.

TTATCM kindle

But… maybe we’ve got it wrong?

Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments below.


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Hot news; my second novel The Truth About This Charming Man is available right now, in paperback and for your phone, tablet, computer or kindle device!

Read the opening chapter, right now, right here.

The film will be along some time in the next decade.

Now 8% funnier!

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TGGGTGTG-drop-shadow
“Why don’t you go and do some writing?” That’s what my wife Kate had said to me.

I returned half an hour or so later with a paragraph or two about how I always hoped Kylie Minogue might break down outside my flat, and how – having discovered that her mobile phone was dead – she’d choose my door (from the multitude of doors available to her) to knock and ask if she could borrow my landline. And this – this seemingly unlikely event – would be how destiny would finally bring the two of us together!

Kate roared with laughter. “That,” she said, “would make an excellent first chapter.”

First chapter? I was just killing time.

But back in September, ten long years after writing that initial scene, I published my debut novel – The Good Guy’s Guide To Getting The Girl. The book that Kate had encouraged me to write. The one that she hoped would allow us to sell up and move to warmer climes. The one she never got to read.

top 10

Putting the book out there was pretty scary. I’ve written (or co-written) four other titles, but I wasn’t anywhere near as emotionally invested in those books, as I was in this one.

When the book climbed to number 9 in Women’s Contemporary Humorous Fiction I was besides myself with joy… when it fell out of the charts a few days later, only to fall and keep falling, I was heartbroken. I felt like I’d failed. Worse still, I felt like I’d failed Kate. The money was running out, my days as a full-time author seemed to be numbered.

Well maybe not.

In much the same way that the first edition of ‘Happy’ eventually got the attention of Audible, an agent, and Harper Collins – my little novel found it’s way into the offices of people with considerably more clout than me – and earlier this year I signed not one, but two contracts – the upshot of which means that today, Thursday 21st May, Good Guy Jason Smith gets another shot at the big time. Behold the revamped, re-released, second edition of The Good Guy’s Guide To Getting The Girl.

It’s not massively different to the original: A few tweaks here and there to make it a little less ‘blokey’. A brighter, more feminine version of the original cover. I’ll be blogging about some of the other differences between this edition and it’s forerunner in the coming days, but for now all you really need to know is that it’s still the amusing tale of a thirty something guy, and his somewhat unorthodox attempts to find the woman of his dreams at the turn of the century. All made up. Honestly. And the perfect summer read whilst you soak up some rays, or take cover from a monsoon.

Right now the ebook version is little more than a couple of quidthat’s less than the price of a cup of coffee – and you can download it from amazon and read it on your kindle, your ipad, your smart phone, even your mac or pc. Or, if you’re more retro, for a few quid more there’s always the paperback.

And am I scared? No. Well, maybe just a bit. But this time around things feel more ‘right’ than before. This time around I think Kate would be proud.


My hour long talk entitled ‘How I Met Kylie Minogue‘ is the story of how I came to write this novel. Drop me a line if you’d fancy getting me along to your group, society, or ‘after dinner’ event. In the meantime…

TGGGTGTG sidebar

Hot news; my debut novel The Good Guy’s Guide To Getting The Girl is part of Amazon’s 99p Summer Book Promotion. Get my quirky, lad-lit, rom-com for less than a quid! But hurry – the promo is for July only!

The film will be along some time in the next decade.

Would the real Peter Jones please step forward

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photo montage2 small

Back when my agent was shopping How To Do Everything And Be Happy around the UK publishers, there was some talk about whether or not I should change my name to avoid confusion with the other Peter Jones who, whilst equally tall, is often described as being more dragon like, and has a tendency to arrive at venues in a helicopter.

Sharing a name with a celebrity has advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand people rarely forget me. I’m Peter Jones. Like the dragon. Like the shop. Memorability is a useful thing when you’re an author. On the other hand, journalists have this annoying habit of getting VERY excited about the possibility of an interview… and then lose interest just as quickly when they realise I’m not a billionaire, or a regular face on prime time television.

It’s a little like I offered you a five quid, and you thought I said five-hundred quid. When you realise I meant a five pound note you might feel ever so slightly let down. You might politely tell me to keep my cash. I want to say, “it is still cash you know!” but neither you and I are the actual people in this scenario, and nobody’s talking about cash.

Even amongst readers there’s some confusion. I occasionally get emails along the lines of “so you’re not the real Peter Jones then?” (am I somehow not real). And at a book signing back in January one lady came up to me, asked for the book to be made out to her son – and then promptly told me that he was doing my business course at college (I just nodded and smiled). Then a couple of weeks back, when I popped along to Author Della Galton’s latest book launch, one of her readers (who was clutching a copy of How To Eat Loads And Stay Slim) exclaimed “Wow! You’ve written a book with Peter Jones! Will he be here today?” When Della pointed out that I was standing right behind her there was that awkward moment of confusion that I’m beginning to expect when I’m introduced to people.

It occurred to me that a little re-branding might be in order. Time to tell the world that there’s another flavour of Peter Jones available, and like any branding exercise, give people some sense as to what I’m about. With this in mind I had some new author photos done.

Reaction has been mixed. Most have reacted very positively. Others… less so. I feel that I’ve stuck my head above the parapet somewhat. But then I suppose that was the point.

I’d be interested to know what you think (though try to keep in mind that I’m a human being, with actual feelings, armed with a delete button…), and even more interested if you’ve got a similar experience of your own to share. Use the comments box below.


You can see more of the pictures from the shoot on my facebook profile

Doing Everything. Being Happy.

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walletThe eagle eyed amongst you may have noticed that it’s been a while since I posted an entry on this blog. I’d like to tell you that I’ve been ludicrously busy, and whilst that wouldn’t be a lie (these past few months have been possibly the most manic I can remember) it certainly wouldn’t be the whole truth.

The thing is, I’ve been feeling a bit of a fraud.

This is my author blog – it says so right there at the top of the screen, but with only book to my name, published through my own company, there have been times this past year – quite a lot of times – when I’ve felt that calling myself an author is akin to the average man on the street buying himself a second hand lute and declaring to the world that he is a musician. But no more.

Allow me to give you a potted career history of Peter Jones.

Back in my early twenties, a series of poor choices and lucky accidents resulted in me becoming self-employed and working for most of the UK’s Credit Card banks as a freelance business consultant. I was (and I suppose, still am) an ideas man, and a fix-it man; wealthy men would ask me how to make even more money using the tools they had at their disposal, and I would tell them. Though it pains me to admit it, the credit crunch is partly my fault – not my idea, but I was most definitely pulling the levers and pressing the buttons that made it happen.

It wasn’t a bad way to make a living – the money was nice – but whilst I enjoyed the problem solving, and the company of the people I worked with, as the years rolled by I became less and less comfortable working in that industry. By the time I met my wife Kate I wanted out, and much of our time together was spent trying to find ways to use the few skills we had between us to create an alternative career. We tried everything from website design, to property investment. None of those things really worked. And when she died, it felt like my dreams of escaping credit card consultancy died with her.

How wrong I was.

What actually happened was that my focus changed. And instead of trying to dig myself out of the pit I’d spent almost twenty years getting myself into, I concentrated my solution-finding skills on seeking out the very thing that I seemed to lack; happiness. I read a lot of books, made a lot of lists, and tried anything and everything I could think of. Most of the ideas didn’t work. But some.. did!

One day a good friend of mine (hello Tina) suggested I ought to write down some of the quirkier ideas. Several months later I found that I’d accidentally written a book.

Around that time one of my banking contracts was drawing to a close, so I took the somewhat risky decision to dedicate the next few months to publishing my strange work of accidental non-fiction, first as an e-book, and later as a (Print On Demand) Paperback. If you’re a regular visitor to this blog you’ll also know that not only did I achieve that but that the book was quite successful. And when I say ‘quite’, I am of course being extremely British about the whole thing. I’m using ‘quite’ in the same way that some Americans might use the world ‘wildly’. By Christmas of last year my sales were such that I’d started to wonder if I could actually get away with not returning to my previous life – whether I could achieve the impossible, fulfil a child-hood dream, and become a full-time author.

So, in January I set myself the following goal:

“I am supporting myself
doing the things I love & enjoy,
and no longer worry about bills.”
December 2012

By March, and thanks to the persistent efforts of my assistant, I found myself one of the many authors taking part in the prestigious Essex Book Festival. A few weeks later I signed a three book deal with audible (.co.uk | .com), the world’s largest supplier of audio books. I asked if I could audition to read my own book – I passed the audition, recorded the title, and timed the second e-book edition of How To Do Everything and be Happy to launch alongside the audio in June.

It was always my intention to bring out this updated version in paperback too but events took a slightly different turn. The cover with drop shadowebook success and audible deal got the attention of an agent, who in turn was able to get the attention of some fairly major publishers. On August 31st I officially signed a deal with publishers Harper Collins to relaunch the book that got me here in the first place. Essentially How To Do Everything and Be Happy has broken into the mainstream.

What does this actually mean?

Well firstly the book has a brand new funky cover. Secondly, the e-book is now available EVERYWHERE, for every e-reader on the planet, from all good e-book retailers. Thirdly, it’s still only £1.99 (or your local equivalent).

And last, but by no means least, a brand new paperback version – with all the lovely second-edition extras & goodies – will be on shelves, in bricks and mortar UK book stores, on the 17th of January 2013 (a little later in the US – be prepared for half a zillion pictures of me in bookstores up and down the country on facebook in the New Year)

That said, you can pre-order it right now from your favourite online retailers (amazon.co.uk | amazon.com | other options) – amazon have even slashed the RRP price down to a mere £5.99. That’s £3 cheaper than the original paperback ever was.

To celebrate the re-launch of the paperback I’m planning on having a book-launch thingamy. I’m not a huge fan of book launches, or indeed any social gatherings (you seem surprised?), but even I’ve got admit that this can’t go by without something to mark the occasion. And so long as I’m left in charge of organising it please consider yourself (and a friend) invited, because I could never have got this far without you!

So does this mean I’ve achieved my goal?? Am I no longer worrying about bills? Pfff! Not quite. But I’m a good deal closer, and I’m still working on it.

The next book – How To Eat Loads and Stay Slim – is finished. In a few days I’ll be able to tell you where and when it’ll be available. And right now I’m half way through writing a third book, and about to start a fourth. I am quite frankly stunned at what I’ve managed to achieve. Not proud – just stunned. Pride will follow shortly I’m sure, but right now I’m still reeling on a daily basis from how much you can achieve if you set your goals correctly, and put some effort in.

And you’ll be pleased to know I’m feeling a good deal less fraudulent. Expect more frequent author blogging from this point on. At least, assuming I’m not too busy.


The official announcement in The Bookseller

why its impotent to have the rite grandma and prefect smelling

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spelling

Why a misplaced hyphen can dash your hopes of ever being published.

My first real literary ‘rejection’ came at the hands of an agent who we’ll call Jane Slash. On the day that Ms Slash received my manuscript she’d clearly discovered that her husband was indeed the cheating scumbag she’d always suspected he was. Moments later she burnt both slices of toast, the cat threw up all over her white carpet, and she broke a heel on her favourite shoes. I don’t know this for sure of course, but I’m guessing it must be the case because when the first three chapters of The Good Guys Guide to Getting The Girl arrived on her desk she wasted no time in telling me how much she hated it. And my god, how she hated it.

I can’t recall off the top of my head all the things she said (although me being me, I assembled them into a list and diligently worked through each point over the following months) but I do remember her final scathing comment:

“Further more the manuscript is littered with typos which is very distracting, and shows a somewhat careless and slapdash approach to your writing.” Or words to that effect.

It was this remark that stung the most. Whilst I was prepared to take on board everything else she’d said, the one thing I was pretty sure I had nailed down was my spelling, and grammar. Throughout my entire professional life nothing I’d written had ever left my computer without being run through the internal spell check, and then read through by myself and my colleagues. Even the pages Jane was busy using to stoke the fire under her cauldron had been scrutinised by several sets of eyes.

“There’s nothing wrong with those chapters,” said my mate Pat, “and I should know!” Pat’s an English teacher somewhere in the south-east of England. And given what happened next, maybe that’s as much as I should tell you about him. Or her. I’m not saying.

“Well let’s find out!” I said. “Jules -” (that’s my long suffering assistant) “find me a proof reader!”

Which was how I came to meet Alison the Proof Fairy. I duly sent Alison the same first three chapters and expected to have them sent back with a covering email telling me that she couldn’t find anything to correct.

Boy howdy – how wrong I was.

I’ve just had a quick look at the document Alison returned to me – for old times sake – and believe me when I say I can feel my cheeks glowing again, just as they did almost two years ago. I’d include the file here for you to look at, if I wasn’t too ashamed to do so.

Needless to say I learnt several very important lessons:

Firstly, regardless of how you rate your attention to detail, unless you proof for a living it’s extremely unlikely that you’ll spot all the errors in your own writing. You’re just too darn close to it. But more surprising, unless your friends are professional readers (and may I respectfully point out that being a teacher doesn’t seem to be close enough), neither will they!

Secondly, agents don’t actually seem to accept anything. They reject. As would you if you had a mountain of manuscripts to get through. You’d work through those chapters looking for reasons to throw them out, until you finally unearthed the one document that hadn’t, in any way, made you want to toss it across the room.

Finally, two years on, having published How To Do Everything and Be Happy, with a further two titles waiting in the wings, I realise more than ever the importance of perfect spelling and grammar. I simply can’t take the risk that one of my readers might come across a typo. Particularly if that reader turned out to be Jane Slash. Heaven knows what she might do.


You can find out more about Alison the Proof Fairy and the services she offers at theprooffairy.co.uk

Now what?

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please wait
Having sent the second draft of my novel back to the agent, here’s why I’m not prepared to wait one moment longer

So, a while back you’ll remember I was sharing with you the challenge of having to bring a 115,000 word manuscript to under 90,000 – whilst shoe horning in another couple of chapters.

You’ll be pleased to know that I did it.

Two months to the day after I sharpened my editing pencil, the novel finally weighed in at 89,532 words and was promptly shipped back to my agent.

Now – apparently – I wait.

Let me just take this opportunity to segway into a barely concealed rant about how much waiting there seems to be in the traditional world of publishing. From the moment you type the words THE END on your manuscript you actually begin a perilous journey on the road to publication – most of which involves waiting for someone, somewhere, to come back to you.

Which is quite a shock to the system for a fella like me, when up til now the only person preventing me from moving forwards – was myself.

It doesn’t help that I come from a Credit Card Banking background where hard-nosed, money-minded gentlemen want everything this time last week – earlier if at all possible – and I hate to admit it now, but that suited me just fine.

You might have gathered that I’m not a patient person. In fact, in the words of Charlotte from The Importance of Being Earnest – “I hate waiting even five minutes for anybody. It always makes me rather cross.” But what makes the waiting even more torturous (for me at least) is that I’m acutely aware that there are no guarantees. In my head, every second that ticks by is just another moment when my manuscript might be buried under something else, never to see the light of day.

So what’s to be done? How can I prevent myself from gnawing off my forearm as I sit and stare at my empty email in-box? The answer – so I’m told (thank you Wendy, thank you Della – two ladies who have said this very thing to me many many times over the past few weeks) is to start writing my next book.

And that – you lovely, lovely people – is exactly what I’m going to do. Consider this a formal announcement as such, if for no other reason than I’ll look pretty silly if this time next month I haven’t actually done anything about it.

A few gems to whet your appetite. It’ll most likely be another non-fiction book. It’ll most likely be another self-help book. It’ll most likely be written in a similar style to How To Do Everything and Be Happy. And here’s where I really lay my head on the block – it’ll be finished, proof read, formatted, and on-sale (for the kindle at least) by next April. Ish.
Because… I wouldn’t want to keep you waiting.

In the meantime though feel free to torture me with your writing-related-waiting-experiences (I think I’m going to regret asking that) OR any pearls of wisdom you may have re the publishing process and how to survive it, in the comments box below.


Originally written for Amwriting.org

5,497

4 Comments

redpenBack in July you may remember that I told you how, after six years, my novel is almost finished.

Oh my god how wrong you can be.

Let me bring you up to speed on a few things: At the time of writing I had an agent, who, having read the first three chapters, liked the book and wanted to see the rest. Which would have been fine if the rest was just sitting around ready to be sent – but, it wasn’t. Hence the flurry of activity to finish it, and the aforementioned blog post.

A few weeks after typing the words THE END, the agent got back to me and invited me to ‘pop into her offices’ for a chat. There I sat, surrounded by books written by her other clients, whilst she told me that she really liked my manuscript – but she’d like it a whole lot more if I made some changes – namely;

  • lose a character,
  • add two more chapters,
  • bring the word count down to 90,000 words.

The first two items were achieved within a few days, but the third… well I’ve been struggling. As my novel weighed in at 115,000 words I was faced with having to cut 25,000.

This is what I tried first

  1. made a list of every scene in the book (actually I had this already – a great tip that I picked up many years ago)
  2. identify any scene that didn’t move the plot on – cut it
  3. identify any scene in my heart of hearts I didn’t actually like – try and cut it
  4. identify the wordier scenes – trim them agressively.

Two weeks ago I was down to 103,000 words. Still 13,000 left to cut.

Out of desperation I printed off the entire manuscript (something that my friend Wendy told me to do from the off), sat down with a red pen, and read the whole thing looking for anything that could go by the wayside, and a weeks later I was down to 97,000 words.

I’d be depressed if it wasn’t for the following
– I have an inch thick pile of pages covered in red pen that I’m working through (probably another 1000 words in there)
– I have a list of seven scenes that I could cut (though god help me I really don’t want to)
– the book is actually better.

And that’s the bit that’s really taken me by surprise.

Weeks ago my friend Della Galton told me my book would be better for the level of cutting I was embarking upon – and by golly she was right. Somehow, the very act of taking out the weaker words, scenes, and in a couple of cases whole chapters, has distilled what was left, and made for a much stronger story.

But please God I hope my agent doesn’t want me to lose any more. As of this morning I’ve still got 5,497 words to find.