From Hook to Book

Archive for the tag “Publishing”

Guest Author Paul Collins – On Writing (and publishing) Mole Hunt

Today, I welcome award winning YA author, Paul Collins, as my first guest blogger here to tell us about the release of the first book in his latest series The Maximus Black Files – Mole Hunt. Together with Michael Pryor, Paul is the co-editor of the highly successful fantasy series, The Quentaris Chronicles; he has also contributed seven titles to the series as an author. Paul’s other works include The Jelindel Chronicles, The Earthborn Wars trilogy and The World of Grrym trilogy written in collaboration with Danny Willis.

Welcome and over to you, Paul.

Although I suspect the time of the anti-hero is nigh, I was a little worried about Maximus Black. He’s obviously a sociopath, and demonstrates this propensity by killing two people in the first chapter. But just today I started reading Scorpio Rising by Anthony Horowitz. His baddies make Maximus look like an apprentice sociopath. Scorpio agents manage to kill a truckload of people in the first hundred or so pages. So that’s one piece of doubt off my mind – perhaps killing in comic-book fashion in YA fiction isn’t so prohibited after all. Further doubt has been eroded by various reviews that are appearing. Bookseller and Publisher said it was “bitingly clever” (I don’t usually get quotes like that!) and a cross between The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Dexter and Total Recall. Now if the book lives up to that description I suspect I’ll have an enthusiastic readership. One reviewer refers to it as being so fast-paced it would give Matthew Reilly a nosebleed, while another said she couldn’t put the book down (must be that magnetic cover!).

It’s a rather harrowing time, though, having a book appearing on the shelves. Will it sell? Will reviewers pan it? Are there plot holes? Typos? Does it all hang together? Myriad thoughts – mostly doubt in my case – rush through your mind when a book is launched.

Writing novels can be tortuous. Authors can spend a year plus writing something and there’s absolutely no guarantee that it will ever be published. So imagine working for someone for a year – maybe as a carpenter, plumber, whatever, and getting told after a year that your work isn’t up to standard and sorry, we’re not paying you.

More authors than not go through this scenario. Mole Hunt was submitted to most of Australia’s major publishers and some via an agent in the UK and the US. Many replied saying how good it was,
but . . .

Penguin UK praised it to the hilt saying if they didn’t already have Artemis Fowl, the young James Bond, etc, they’d be keen. Another prominent Australian publisher told me Mole Hunt reminded her of what she used to love in science fiction . . . but it wasn’t for her imprint, which was more contemporary literature. But of course, rejection is rejection.

After many such near misses, I decided it would be a Ford Street title. After all, I’ve been through the above scenario before. One example (and I have many!) is Dragonlinks. It was rejected by every publisher in Australia back in 1998/99 – a year or two before the big fantasy craze in Australia (ahead of my time as usual!). The publisher at Penguin left so I resubmitted it without telling her replacement that Penguin had already rejected it. It was finally accepted. That was 2001. It was published in 2002 and is still selling now.

(A tip for aspiring writers – persistence is the key word!)

But I digress. Why dystopian fiction? Well, I’ve written it in the past with The Earthborn Wars published by Tor in the US (The Earthborn, The Skyborn and The Hiveborn). Fifteen years before The Hunger Games, I also wrote a virtual reality dystopian novel with a remarkably similar plot called Cyberskin. People dying from a terminal illness can sign their lives over to a legal “snuff” movie company and get killed live for the audience (for payment, of course – a life insurance policy that goes to their grieving family). They’re pitted against a superior fighter who is an enhanced fighting machine.

So it’s a genre that I feel comfortable with. I think dystopian fiction also lends itself to fast-paced filmic action, which is usually attributed to my writing. Sometimes it’s best to stay with what we know and love. My own favourite authors are Ioin Colfer (Artemis Fowl) and Philip Reeve (Mortal Engines). I can just as easily see these books as films, as I can my own Mole Hunt.

Here’s a run down of the plot. I hope you enjoy the book.

Special Agent Maximus Black excels at everything he attempts. The problem is, most of what he attempts is highly illegal. Recruited by the Regis Imperium Mentatis when he was just fifteen, he is the youngest cadet ever to become a RIM agent. Of course, being a certified sociopath helps. He rises quickly through the ranks, doing whatever it takes to gain promotion. This includes murdering the doctor who has certified him, as well as a RIM colonel who Black deems to be more useful dead than alive. Now seventeen, he is a valuable member of a highly secret task force whose assignment is to unearth a traitorous mole. Unfortunately for RIM he is the mole, a delightful irony that never ceases to amuse him.

In the two years he has been with RIM he has only met his match once. Anneke Longshadow, another RIM agent, who nearly succeeded in exposing him. But nearly wasn’t enough. Now she is dead and he is very much alive to pursue his criminal activities.

Right now, Black has a new problem; one that will challenge him to the max. He has a lot of work to do and little time to do it but as with every facet of his life, he plans each step with meticulous precision.

Maximus needs to find three sets of lost coordinates to rediscover the power of the dreadnoughts – a powerful armada of unbeatable power, long since put into mothballs by the sentinels whose job it is to keep peace and harmony in the ever expanding universe.

Sadly for Black, complications arise. It seems Anneke Longshadow isn’t dead after all. Every bit his match, Anneke eludes the traps Black sets for her. Born on Normansk, a planet with 1.9 gravity, Anneke is more than capable of defending herself against Black’s hired help, the insectoid Envoy, and his professional mercenary and hitman, Kilroy.

Power-hungry, Black usurps the throne of Quesada, a powerful crime syndicate. His ultimate aim is to replace the Galaxy gate-keepers, RIM, with his own organisation. Matching him step by step, Anneke collects as her allies all those who Maximus has deposed in his march to becoming ruler of the universe.

Paul Collins
Melbourne June 2011


Charlotte Brontë and Me – Publishing then and now

I’m reading Charlotte Brontë Selected Letters (Oxford University Press 2010). It’s reassuring to learn that Charlotte and her sisters went through many of the same travails to get their work published as we face today. They even had to make up pseudonyms and change their sex to be taken seriously. Then, with Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey just published, poor Emily and Anne Brontë both succumbed to consumption within months of each other, before ever seeing their works acclaimed.

Family tragedy aside, it’s somewhat comforting to me that Brontë  faced the same fears waiting on responses or acceptances and harboured the same insecurities over whether her work had merit; or if anyone would want to read what she had to say.

Though Brontë writes of her own work with great humility, it’s obvious from the way she states her opinions in reference to other works and writers of the day in her letters that she held more belief and confidence in her place as a writer and the merit of her writing than her words often bespoke.

Back in 1847 the publishing process seems much the same, even down to query letters when Brontë wrote to a publisher requesting “permission to send for your inspection the M.S. of a work of fiction”.

It seems self publishing was in vogue too with Charlotte later lamenting, the three sisters, writing under the pseudonyms Acton, Ellis and Currer Bell “heedless of the repeated warnings of respected publishers, have completed the rash act of printing a volume of poems”.

I laughed to read her summing up of the outcome:

“The consequences predicted have, of course, overtaken us; our book is found to be a drug; no man needs it or heeds it; in the space of a year our publisher has disposed but of two copies, and by what painful efforts he succeeded in getting rid of those two, himself only knows.”


Works of many current day writers suffer similar fates, no doubt. I don’t know if we’re all able to face the facts as honestly as Brontë does. She recognises her early works as not her best, and better to come. As they did.

Brontë suffered disappointment in works she loved and believed in too. She tried in vain to find a home forThe Professor, a novel she revised three times, but the work was not picked up until published posthumously in 1857.

Small flags filter through some of her rejections, with remarks relevant today, such as “for want of varied interest”. A truth especially current when even the most brilliant manuscript may not make it if not enough readers are deemed likely to pick it up and buy it.

Publishing in the 1840s must have been super efficient and fast, even with the convoluted process of book manufacturing. Brontë submitted Jane Eyre on the 24th August 1847. A letter written by her on the 12th September 1847 declines to revise the mss a third time claiming “were I to retrench, to alter and to add now when I am uninterested and cold, I know I should only further injure what may be already defective.” I’m not sure many publishers would allow we writers today the same claim to get out of a rewrite or revision.

Convoluted process from typeset to print, or not, Brontë received her six copies of Jane Eyre  on the 19th October 1847, some five weeks later. She was initially offered and paid £100 for the copyright, to which offer she responded,

“one hundred pounds is a small sum for a year’s intellectual labour, nor would circumstances justify me in devoting my time and attention to literary pursuits with so narrow a prospect of advantage did I not feel convinced that in case the ultimate result of my efforts should prove more successful than you now anticipate, you would make some proportionate addition to the remuneration you at present offer. On this ground of confidence in your generosity and honour, I accept your conditions.”


The publisher later added sums to make a total of £500 for the copyright of Jane Eyre. Sounds to me, working it forward to what the same sum would equal today, that Brontë would have made many times more than a current day author would be likely to. I think even the £100 would have set her well beyond the standard advance and print run in 2011 for a newish author.

So things change, and much stays the same. Charlotte and me, we’re hanging in there. She’s way ahead of me in sales though. Love to know what you’re reading and if it’s proving inspirational? You can let me know by posting a comment.

Just for fun, Making Books is a fascinating look back at the book manufacturing process in 1947. Click on the arrow to enjoy.

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