No sooner had I got my breath back after Bodies in the Bookshop than books were being stacked in boxes and posters and display racks slotted into the car in preparation for more journeying around the country.
Thursday was Blackburn. A small, pleasant Lancashire town – not that I saw much of it – two hours from base. An easy run to the overnight travel inn (we don’t stay over often, but we weren’t familiar with the terrain), then ten minutes to the library where we were running a murder mystery evening.
Ten minutes. Huh.
It should have been ten minutes. In fact the journey back after the event was ten minutes. But having set out with a good fifty minutes to spare, round about the scheduled start time we were making panicky phone calls to the organiser, desperately trying to follow directions that would take us round the Blackburn one-way system.
As it happened it was fine. While we panicked, the participants were insouciantly sipping wine or orange juice, and they all nodded wisely when I apologised and explained. They knew their one-way system all too well. Soon the panic was behind us, and everyone had a great time following the clues and piecing together the evidence. One team of amateur sleuths even got it right.
But other people’s one-way systems… Aaaargh!
This week has been quiet so far. Lots of posters flying off the printer for future events, but up to now there’s been time to breathe. Even time to accept an invitation to lunch with someone from one of my other lives, visiting the UK from somewhere hot and far away. He’s a retired businessman, and like many of his kind, he’s decided to write a novel. And also like many of his kind, when he sets out to learn a new skill, he calls in an expert to teach him.
Or in this case, in the absence of an expert, me. (You’re allowed to demur and protest and tell me he came to the right place. I shan’t believe you, but it’s OK to say it.)
Anyway, he seemed happy enough with the feedback I gave him on Novel Mark 1. Certainly happy enough to buy me a very nice lunch and hand me the manuscript of Mark 2 for the same treatment. And of course I’ll do my best to deliver.
This was a whole different ballgame from the editorial feedback we offer (for a small fee) on manuscript submissions. The retired businessman approached me in one of my other (these days much smaller) roles, the one which took up most of my non-writing time before Crème de la Crime existed, is happy to pay a reasonable hourly rate for the professional service he’s getting, and isn’t expecting me either to publish his book or find a publisher for him. If, after another draft or six, it begins to give Lee Child a run for his money, we’re not ruling it out, of course; but that’s not the current agenda.
But it does give rise to questions about the whole business of editorial feedback. One question in particular: do authors have unrealistic expectations of the process?
A couple of weeks ago we had to explain, diplomatically of course, that our feedback service is exactly that: one-off feedback on manuscripts we probably won’t want to pursue. If we fall in love with them, we say so and return the fee. Or we would. It hasn’t happened yet. The author in question had reworked his opening 10,000 words and sent it back for a second round of feedback, making us wonder if he’d pinned us as a cheap way to get his book professionally edited. We’re not. We just know how it feels to be an aspiring writer, and offer the feedback for peanuts because of that.
We gently pointed this out, and sent him off in the direction of a couple of appropriate – and realistically priced – editorial services. He was a little miffed, and I couldn’t decide if it was because we’d rejected his work, or because he thought, as a lot of inexperienced writers do, that publishers sit around all day waiting to receive almost-brilliant manuscripts just itching to be tweaked into shape. Whereas the truth is – well, see above. We spend more time than is strictly comfortable negotiating other people’s one-way systems.
Fortunately our feedback service is mostly used as we intend; not many people try to take advantage. If they did, we’d probably have to stop doing it. And that would be a pity.