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Tag: Quotes

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Puffs

As I wrote yesterday, getting quotes from those who are in the system, and near the top, are invaluable. The secret is to get a quote from someone at the zenith of society, someone respected by all, whose critique encourages all others to fall into line, and offer their support. The important thing to remember with publishing, as with just about all fields, is that people are naturally followers. Before they react, they look first at how others are reacting. And they don’t want to seem foolish by praising something others will decry. It’s a case of the ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’, and it’s a system that shapes our lives. The secret of success is to learn to control people so foolish that they worry how others will perceive them. And getting high level support is a crux in achieving this.



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The Agency

But let’s backtrack a little. When I was trying to break into publishing I couldn’t even get an agent. And these days publishers depend on agents as a filtering mechanism to keep them away from the public, a layer of society they disdain. So agents ferry to their door the best well-chosen writers. But getting into an agency is hard. One route is to get a well-known author to recommend you. If you write cold, then they’ll probably get a 19-year old trainee called Tabitha to send you a form letter, beginning ‘We regret to inform you that at this time…’ I bought myself a copy of the Writers and Artists’s Yearbook and wrote to every agency. All of them declined to take me on. So I started my own agency. It was called Worldwide Media and all it was really was a ream of fine letter heading, and a phone line in the back of my bedroom. I went by the name William Watkins who had a funny voice, and a single client, Tahir Shah. Firstly, I sent the manuscript with fawning letters to a lot of famous people, and asked obsequiously (pandering to egos all the way) if they might give me a quote for future publicity. Some of them did write back. And I used their quotes when I sent the manuscript around to publishers. Rather, I didn’t send them, but loaded them into a huge backpack and cycled around London, dropping them in at publishers’ offices, masquerading as Wally the biker courier. Then I went back to my bedroom to wait. Days passed. Many days. And just as I had given up all hope, a call came through. It was an editor. She sounded hurried and a little flustered, and she was asking to speak to Mr. Watkins. I was eating lunch from a can, Campbell’s soup, when she telephoned, and she took me by surprise. Remembering that a busy agent would never be available at once, (and pretending to be the poorly-schooled receptionist), I put the phone receiver on the bed and finished eating my soup. At length, I picked it up and, putting on a silky smooth voice, I greeted her a William Watkins. The long and the short of it was that Watkins came through and sold my book. And once I was in the system, published, moving forward was reasonably easy. But of course the system is designed to keep the uninitiated out, but once you’ve been blooded, you’re a member of the club



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Author's lunch

It’s all about who feeds you the best. When I got my first deal with a large publisher for an early travel book, I was taken to lunch by the editor. Author-editor lunches were once the mainstay of the getting-to-know-you process, and were an author’s perk. A hungry writer, as I was then, looked forward to being wined and dined somewhere posh. The publisher was part of a huge publishing conglomerate, whose HQ was a vast towering glass monstrosity in the heart of London’s West End. Over lunch the editor lisped out details of the book and said how much she liked it. But my mind wasn’t on conversation as much as it was on the food. I hadn’t eaten for more than a day in anticipation. When the menus were brought, my editor suggested that I only order a main course as the prices were a little steep. I remember feeling my back warming with ire. I have never forgotten that moment, and the fact that my entre of ravioli had only three miserable bits of pasta. But then, years later, I moved to the fabulous old firm John Murray. It was before Murray’s had been bought by Headline. When the editor took me for the author-editor lunch, she pointed to the most expensive thing on the menu, grilled dover sole, and suggested enthusiastically that I order it, and keep enough space for the cheese plateau as well.



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Book Publishing

This next set of blogs is about getting published. I’m writing it because it’s an area that I have come to know, and one which I think is in many ways an outright con. I say this because I think the public are duped in the most obscene way by publishers, who hype fewer and fewer authors, and allow the majority to go to the wall. These days there are almost no real publishers. It’s all about making financial targets of course, and about the corporate ladder. There are less people who go into publishing because of the love of reading and books, and far more who revel in climbing up within a corporate system. I am published by some very large publishers around the world, and in my daily dealings with them I see toe-cringingly lack of interest in the product. It’s amazing to me. Imagine a car company or any manufacturing firm in which the product is so little understood by the people who are hoping to sell it. Ask any writer and they will tell you of how many people in the editorial process fail to actually read the object they are hoping to sell. All they talk about is the container and how it looks, rather than the content. Some of them skim books, but I’m ever more amazed at how few even skim. They write, for example, the blurb for the back of an author’s book, without reading the text. I can’t tell you how many times they have got even the most basic details wrong, or even misspelled my name. But, wait, this blog isn’t going to be a diatribe on modern publishing, but a few hint on how to break in by thinking from the inside out.



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In Production

13.     Have an already in production mentality. A few years ago, I met David and Leon Flamholc of Caravan Film and we decided to make a jungle film together. They planned to follow a rather madcap and ill-planned adventure into the densest cloud forest in the world, in search of an enormous lost city. We had no money, no commission, very little equipment and nothing except for mountains of enthusiasm. I wondered aloud when and if we would ever be in production on morning while we were at a greasy spoon diner in London’s East End. Leon looked at me hard over his bubble and squeak. ‘We’re already in production!’ he said grandly. And with that mentality, that outlook, we talked the establishment to back us. Within a few weeks we had a commission and equipment, and a staff… all because we believed in ourselves.



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Pipeline

12.     Keep your work pipeline choc-a-block with projects at different stages. At any one time I have two or three books on the boil, and a couple more in the publishing pipeline. I have movie scripts too, and charitable projects and reviews to do, and forewords to write, and documentaries in development. I am a believer that one thing eventually links to other things, and that the more balls you’re juggling, the more interesting life will be. But the key thing about this system is to make sure that all projects eventually reach fruition. There’s nothing easier that starting. Finishing is what it’s all about.



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Biography

11.     Learn from successful people. It’s not a new idea to read biographies of successful people. But it’s a great one. If you can read the blueprint of a life and map out key moments, cruxes, then you are more likely to recognise such moments in your own life, as well as understanding those times when the world is piled on to of you. Last year I read a small book by Richard Branson, Screw it, Let’s do it. I can’t even remember how it came to me. But I was touched by his outlook, his ability to turn misfortune into fortune, and to use cold, clear, common sense.



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Polymathy

11.     Be a polymath. Cross-pollinate ideas and information. Learn from all sorts of areas and try and apply what you have learned into other disciplines. It’s an idea, an approach, that hardly exists in the West, but one that’s been used in the Orient for millennia. If you are interested in accounting, for example, learn about flower arranging, and archery, about fly fishing and cryptography. Don’t struggle to link one area to the next, because the amazing thing is that the universe and your mind will do it for you.



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Storytelling

9.     Be a storyteller in whatever you do. We are all storytellers. We converse in stories whether we realise it or not. That’s because stories are a way of packaging information and ideas into a format that those around us can accept. We have done it so much and for so long that we hardly realise we’re doing it. The same goes with work. If you have a report, don’t churn it out in black and white. Use anecdotes, and little tales to get a message across. You’ll be amazed at how easily they are digested. And if you have a presentation to make, or people to train, do it with stories that have a beginning, a middle and an end. 



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Ambient Time

8.     Use ambient time. I often hear people telling their family, colleagues and friends that they don’t have time to do scratch their heads. Far too busy to meet for that after work drink, to write letters, to make a phone call, or take on a project. But stop. Look at your life. Really look at it. Could the minutes you spend wasting time… standing in a bus queue, waiting for the kettle to boil, sitting at the traffic lights in your car, be harnessed?. Spend a day with a stopwatch. Time it all. Time the lost moments, and the half-spent hours. That time can be used. I’m not saying it’s sensible to write letters, say, while you’re driving. But you could be listening to self help books or even novels on an iPod. And you could be planning projects. And even better, you could be multi-tasking as they call it across the Atlantic. Doing three or four things at once. I look at my life and I’m rarely doing one thing. Even while writing this I’m paying the electricity bill, planning the afternoon, and thinking about an email I have to reply to on shrunken heads.



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