Saturday, February 6, 2010

He had The Write Stuff: Jon Gibbs

The first in a series of interviews conference chair Kathryn Craft conducted with former conferees that made successful publishing connections at The Write Stuff conference.

Kathryn: You met your publisher, Karen Syed of Echelon Press, at last year’s The Write Stuff conference. Tell us how your pitch session went.

Jon: I remember feeling nervous.  Despite appearances to the contrary I’m extremely shy, but Karen’s friendly smile set me at ease. I gave her my elevator pitch. “I’ve written a 55k novel, Fur-Face, an urban fantasy about a 13-year-old boy who meets a talking cat that only he can hear.”

Karen asked a couple of questions as I told her a bit more about the book. She didn’t fall asleep, which I took as a good sign. Afterwards she gave me her business card, asked me to send in the full manuscript, and told me to research the eBook industry. 

K: Any advice for people pitching for the first time this year?

J: Come prepared. Polish then practice your elevator pitch (a one or two line summary of your novel ) until you can say it in your sleep, and be ready to answer questions and talk some more about your novel. 

Be yourself, but be professional. My old gran used to tell me, “You only get one chance to make a first impression, so don’t screw it up you pillock!”—she was known for being a straight talker. 

Listen to what the agent/publisher is saying. Remember, they want your book to be as good as you think it is, but they expect you to be able to tell them what it’s about in a way that captures their interest.

K: How did the submission process go from there?

J: Slowly, though that’s my own fault. I’d learned a lot about writing over the preceding year and decided Fur-Face still needed some polishing, so I set to work over the next two months, getting it into the best shape possible. Taking care to follow Echelon’s submission guidelines, I sent it to Karen at the beginning of July, along with an apology for the delay. Aside from a brief acknowledgement, I didn’t hear anything more until December 30th, when I got an email saying they’d like to offer me an e-Book contract.

K: How did it feel to be offered a contract?

J: Now that it’s sunk in, I’d say ‘validated’ is the word which best sums up how I feel, but when I first read the email it felt… weird.  Not least because earlier that day, I’d posted something on my blog about how I was determined to carve out a career as a writer. 

I wrote Fur-Face (or at least a really awful first draft of it) nearly seven years ago. Back then I really believed that all I had to do was type ‘THE END’, run spell check and wait for agents to come banging at my door. It took me the better part of four years just to figure out that I didn’t know what I was doing, and three more years of learning and revision after that to get to the current ‘We’d like to offer you a contract’ stage.

K: Your contract offered you a chance to publish an eBook. What factors did you take into account as you made your decision about whether to take this step?

J: The key thing for me was editorial input. I don’t expect any publisher to print my book ‘as is.’ I’m not talking about format and grammar (though both are important), but I’m not na├»ve enough to think my novel is perfect. I’m wanted that editorial input about the story arc, character development, etc.

Also, as much as I understand that self-promotion is vital for a book's success, it made sense to look at how Echelon Press promotes itself and its authors.

K: You blog faithfully at "An Englishman in New Jersey." How do you think this has affected your writing career?

It’s had a huge impact. I look on blogging as an important part of my writing career. It’s all very well having a novel published, but in the USA alone more than 250,000 new books come out each year. That’s a lot of competition. 

A blog gives you a chance to connect with people from all around the world. Will all those folks buy your book? No. The most you can hope for is that a small percentage of them might recognize your name when they see it on the spine of a novel or on a webpage, and some of those people might then decide to read the blurb. 

An unexpected benefit of blogging is how much I’ve learned about writing through my journal. There’s a wealth of knowledge and writing know-how on the web. How much would you pay for helpful advice from successful authors, agents and editors in your genre? An online journal gives you access to people from all around the world. Many of them share their knowledge and experience on their blogs, for free

K: Do you still have time to write?

J: Writers make time for pitch/query letters. They do that because they want people to read their work. A good blog will help you achieve that, too. There’s no denying that blogging takes work—I spend at least an hour a day on average, but that leaves plenty of time for writing. Rather than “Do you still have time?” perhaps a better question would be “Is blogging worth making the time for?” to which my answer is a resounding “Yes!”

Born in England, Jon Gibbs now lives in New Jersey, USA.  His MG urban Fantasy, FUR-FACE will be published as an e-book by Echelon Press sometime in 2011.  In addition to his online-journal, An Englishman in New Jersey, he occasionally guest posts for unsuspecting bloggers who don’t know him well enough to realize the mistake they’re making – most recently at NathanBransford.comAn active member of the Garden State Horror Writers and the Monmouth Creative Writing Group, as well as a new member of GLVWG, he can usually be found hunched over the laptop in his kitchen. One day he hopes to figure out how to switch it on.

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  1. I'd say that your blog and several other author blogs have influenced me to buy books. I read Jim C. Hines now because of his, Lili St. Crow because of the Deadline Dames, and suggestions from friends, Karen Mahoney because of her blog, and I'll probably check out Fur Face too. I probably would have found Strange Angels on my own, but none of the other ones.

  2. I don't think there's any doubt that a well-considered blog can have a positive impact on a writer's career, though of course, I'm sure there are those who might disagree.

    Thanks for stopping by :)

  3. Sure, no problem. Good interview, and I'm looking forward to Fur Face... I love cats :)

  4. Welcome to the Echelon/Quake family Jon!

  5. Thank you, Nick :)