Author james david nicol

Author James David Nicol, previously a Writercast guest, is back with a post of his own crafting!

So, You’ve Finished Your Book….

Congratulations! I know the feeling. Back in 2013, I finished my first novel, Mac and June: Love In The Time Of Oil. Relief, triumph, elation, an incredible sense of accomplishment — all these emotions, and more, coursed through my veins.

Five days later, I, ‘the author’, attended an independent publishing conference.

The first speaker, a smug, hirsute fellow, stood behind the mic at the lectern. He cast his smiling eyes around the room, tapped the microphone, and asked the following question. “How many of you have finished at least the first draft of your novel?”

Dozens of proud hands shot up, mine included.

“Congratulations, you’re forty per cent done.”

I could almost hear the deflation hissing out of my fellow attendees’ pores. Forty per cent done? What’s this wanker on about?

After this pronouncement, almost as devastating as the day I found out Santa wasn’t real, he went on to catalogue a litany of ‘to-do’s’ we still had to tick off before we could order that lime green Lamborghini Huaracan.

These included, a second draft, death by editing, and making changes that the as-yet-to-be-procured publisher wants to make. (“How about if the hero only has one leg?”)

Suffice it to say, I went home feeling like someone had slapped me across the face with a wet halibut. That evening, however, after several Newcastle Brown Ales, my wife buoyed me up with a pep talk, and hauled me back into the lifeboat, bless her.

Fast forward a few years and I can tell you this; I am still waiting to hear back from four agents. All agents differ in their requirements for submitting the dreaded query letter. (I will also tell you straight off that I did not go the snail mail route; if they didn’t accept email queries, I figured they were still using sealing wax on their correspondence, and that’s an era I had no desire to revisit.)

Some wanted a bio, and a list of your published credits. Starting to sound like ‘Catch-22’?

Some wanted a synopsis of the novel. Condensing your baby into two paragraphs, tops, is a somewhat depressing business. Eighty thousand words down to about a hundred and fifty. Young Italians from well-to-do, Hatfield/McCoy-type, warring families fall in love. Lots of speechifying and declarations of true love from underneath balconies in the moonlight. Some sword-fighting, and finally, a bit of confusion with poison, resulting in the deaths of the star-crossed lovers. Yeah, doesn’t sound so good, does it?

Some wanted only the ‘elevator pitch’, also known as the sixty second pitch. This is so called because, in the unlikely event that you are in an elevator alone with, say, JJ Abrams, in a building that has enough floors for you get your pitch across before he gets out, you will have your zippy, alluring, funny, concise paragraph memorized, and lay it on him. This is presumably so awesome that he will push that red ‘STOP’ button that lovers do in rom-coms, and say, “Oh my God, it sounds fascinating. Tell me more. Wait, let me get my agent on speakerphone first, so she can hear it too.”

Some wanted all three. So gird your loins, and attempt to make the synopsis sound different enough from the 60-second/Elevator Pitch to be interesting, but not too different that they wonder if you’re writing about the same novel.

Back at the conference, the second presenters, a middle-aged, metrosexual, , husband and wife team, also made much of this ‘pitch’ business, to the point that I thought about quitting the novel game, and getting into writing advertising copy.

Next up, after a break when I smoked five cigarettes in ten minutes, was a panel debating the merits of independent publishing houses versus the traditional monolithic houses, versus self-publishing.

Each of them worked their respective corners, and, of course, considered theirs the best. They fought with words to a bloody tie. So, not much to be gleaned from that.

As the day progressed, and each successive speaker expounded their preferred route to fame and fortune, I began to feel less, not more, enlightened. I did learn some useful pointers, but on the whole, I came away with more choices than I wanted. I didn’t consider that a good thing. I yearned for the perfect solution; a personalized signpost detailing my way to publishing nirvana.

The one thing they did all agree upon, however, was this — now is a very good time to be a writer. Never have there been so many ways to get yourself published. The thing is though, which way is the best? Aye, there’s the rub.


James David Nicol was born and grew up in the North-East of Scotland. On leaving school, he lived in London for fourteen years, working in a bank by day, and playing in bands on nights and weekends. He spent a couple of years in Hong Kong and Australia , before moving to the USA, where he still lives.
A relative newcomer to writing, Nicol contributed short stories to two anthologies; Twisted History, in which a journalist interviews a still very much alive Elvis in 1995. In Twisted Nightmares, Nicol’s piece concerns a young doctor who seduces the young wife of a ninety year-old billionaire, with unexpected consequences.

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