Tag Archives: juliet mushens

Guardian Masterclass and Fantasycon

Yesterday  I was at the sold out Guardian Masterclass on ‘How to find a literary agent’ in London, being run by my agent Juliet Mushens. For a portion of the afternoon she was ably assisted by two of her clients, Elodie Harper and myself.

It was a really great event where the engaged audience listened intently as we answered some questions about our individual journeys to publication, and also learned about some of our mistakes that they will hopefully avoid.

guardian masterclass

Juliet Mushens, Elodie Harper, Stephen Aryan

There was just enough time for a short Q and A session, before the break. The time flew by and I had a great time and even managed to coax a few laughs from the audience.

Looking back I wish there had been something similar when I had first started searching for an agent, but such a thing didn’t exist. The internet was in its infancy and all agents only accepted paper submissions. If you’re getting ready to submit or will be in a few months time, I would definitely keep an eye out for similar events like this in the future.

This weekend coming I’m off to Fantasycon in Scarborough. On Saturday I’m on a panel at 2pm called ‘Another One Bites the Dust’ asking – Should we be killing off our main characters?

In the evening, from 7pm-9pm, I will be attending the David Gemmell Awards for Fantasy, where Battlemage has been shortlisted for the Morningstar Award, the category for best debut. I have a one in six chance of winning, so fingers crossed everyone.

Apart from that I’ll be wandering around the event and you’ll most likely find me either at the bar in the evening, talking and drinking, or pottering around the dealer room and sitting in the audience at some other panels as there are some wonderful guests of honour. Hopefully I will see some of your there.

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Guardian Masterclass – How to Find a Literary Agent

Next month in London, I will be taking part in a Guardian Masterclass all about How to Find a Literary Agent. The event is being led by my agent, Juliet Mushens, on Sunday 18th September.

Below is a snippet of information about what to expect during the event, but there is a lot more information on the Guardian website. I will be one of the guest speakers alongside Elodie Harper, another of Juliet’s clients. If you are interested I would book early as places are limited.

“If you’re a new writer, the process of getting your book into print might seem a bit daunting. This unique masterclass with leading literary agent Juliet Mushens will demystify the publishing process and reveal what agents look for in fiction submissions.

In the space of three hours, you’ll learn everything from how to prepare the perfect submissions package to how to edit your manuscript and pitch your novel to an agent. On the evening, Juliet will be joined by two of her most exciting authors, who will discuss their journey to publication. With plenty of time for questions and some practical activities, this is a class budding authors won’t want to miss.”

If you are serious about wanting to know how to find an agent and what they are looking for, and you are getting close to submitting your novel, then I would definitely consider it.

 

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Post-Fantasycon and Pre-SLEDGE LIT

Fantasycon is done and is now in the rear view mirror. Bye bye Nottingham and next year it is going to be in Scarborough by the sea. The event was super tiring but fun, and I had a great time hanging out with friends I only get to see maybe once or twice a year. I met a whole bunch of new people, including the great Brad Beaulieu, who was over here in the UK visiting from America. Prior to Fantasycon I’d seen photos of him going up and down the country at various signings with Brandon Sanderson, but we met across a table with only a deck of Magic: The Gathering cards between us. Den Patrick brought several decks with him and throughout the weekend we battled, sometimes head to head and once with Brad in a 3 way match. We tried to have a rematch on Sunday but didn’t manage to fit it in. There are too many people to name so I’ll just say you all know who you are and it was great to see you.

SLEDGE-LIT

So, in about four weeks time, on Saturday 21st November in Derby, I will be attending my next convention, a one day event called SLEDGE-LIT. Tickets are still available and there’s more information on the Facebook group. I’m going to be doing a reading and will be on panels, and there are also some epic guests of honour as well including Alison Moore, Adam Roberts, Robert Shearman and Charles Stross.

I’ve been to similar events at the Derby Quad before including EDGE-LIT which is normally run in July. So this is a great partner event to that giving fans an extra helping of some great voices in fantasy and science fiction.

If I didn’t see you at Fantasycon then perhaps I will see  some of you at SLEDGE-LIT or next year at another event. For now I’m going to try and catch up on my sleep…and all of the new TV that’s just come back for new seasons.

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Battlemage launch

Last week was the northern launch of Battlemage at Waterstones in Leeds, my local bookshop. It was a weird and wonderful night. Weird because I’ve gone to so many similar events in the past, sat in the audience, and listened to an author talk about their book and their world. So when I arrived and saw all of those chairs in front of those Waterstones banners a part of me was waiting for the writer to arrive.

Battlemage_Leeds_3 22 Sept 2015

 

It turned out to be a lovely event, and it was great to have so many local friends come out to see me, hear me talk about the long journey to getting the book published, and of course getting a copy signed.

This week marked the London launch of my book, which began with a signing event at Forbidden Planet where some of my family attended, making it very special. Danie and the staff there were kind and looked after me very well. I signed some stock, shook some hands, took some photos and had a great time. So if you want a signed copy then take a look here.

Battlemage_Forbidden_Planet_29 Sept 2015 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After that I went across to the Grange Holborn Hotel to the Sky Bar for the September Super Relaxed Fantasy Club, hosted by the most excellent Den Patrick and Jen Williams.

I gave a short reading from Battlemage, and then there was a Q and A session which seemed to go really well. I was pretty nervous to start with, but once it got going my nerves disappeared and I had to just try not to speak too quickly. It really helped having my family there, and so many friends and familiar faces in the crowd.

The venue was really lovely as well with amazing views across London, and later in the evening when it was dark I saw the London Eye and other landmarks all lit up. I’m probably in London two or three times a year maximum so it all added up to make it a bit special.

So, Battlemage is out there now in the wild. In America,  all across the UK (as people have been sending me photos of copies in their local bookshop) and  by now all around the world.

In the next few of months I’ll be at a couple of events, starting later this month at Fantasycon in Nottingham, and then in November I’m a guest at the SLEDGE-LIT one day event in Derby. After that it will be Christmas before I realise, then in the new year, the cycle begins again as we build up to the launch of Bloodmage, book 2 in the Age of Darkness trilogy! But for now….I’m going to have a bit of a rest.

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The calm before the storm

Battlemage is officially published next week and at the moment I’m spending a fair bit of time reflecting. Not only looking ahead to what is about to happen with my first launch event at Waterstones in Leeds, and London the week  after, but I’m also looking backwards into the past.

I was going to write about how long it’s taken me to get to this moment, but I think I covered that previously in my posts about How I Found an Agent, part 1 and Part 2. The short version is, it’s been a long time coming. I’ve written many novels and had many rejections over the years before I got to this point.

From next week my first published novel will be out there in the world. It won’t belong just to me anymore and neither will the characters or the story. That’s a very weird feeling because for the longest time it has just been me talking about these characters, their thoughts and dreams, and soon I’ll hear other people talking about them in a familiar fashion. They’ll feel as real to them as they do to me. They will live in the minds of other people. I’ve not experienced this kind of thing before, so I think it’s going to take a little while to adjust. It’s also going to be fascinating for me to hear what other people think about certain characters, how they see them and find out which are their favourites and why.

Also, I kind of knew something already, but it really crystallised very recently. Despite it taking a long time to get here, this is actually just the beginning. For readers I’ve essentially fallen out of the sky and if they like Battlemage, they’ll look for more books in the future. So after that I have to deliver something new and if they enjoy it, continue delivering periodically.

Thankfully book 2 is well on its way to being totally complete, and it will be out in about six months. I’m now inches away from the end of the first draft of book 3, which will then be coming out in about 12 months time. So by this time next year, the Age of Darkness trilogy will be complete. Totally done and dusted. That’s kind of scary but also a cool thought. It will be amazing to see the three books together and see what people think of it as a complete story.

In about a month’s time, things should be a bit quieter and for the first time in three years I’ll start to properly focus and think about something beyond the Age of Darkness. It’s an exciting and slightly terrifying thought, but it will also be a bit of a reset moment and a step back in time because I won’t have a deadline or people asking to see it. Not just yet anyway!

Next month I’ll be at Fantasycon in Nottingham and then I’ll be a guest at SledgeLit in Derby in November. Take a look at the events page for more details.

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How I Found an Agent – Part 2

As mentioned in Part 1, this is a history of how I found an agent and later a publisher. One of the reasons for writing this is to try and dispel the myth that continues to circulate that in order to succeed in getting published you need to have connections and friends in the business. This is not true and I am proof of that. There are many other examples out there as well. I was picked out of a slush pile.

This post will focus more on my specific approach to contacting an agent, detailing our initial messages back and forth, my initial submission email, and what happened after.

Part 1 details my long history of the many years I spent trying to get an agent and the many rejections I received from agents. What I didn’t mention or highlight, but if you are a writer who has been rejected then you know it already, is the agony. The pain of rejection, the fear, the constant questioning of self and your ability, the depression, the misery, the ups and downs and the tears. You’ve poured countless hours into something only for someone to say no. It hurts. It hurts a lot. If it doesn’t hurt then I would be worried because it suggests you don’t care about it.

Also if you are a friend, family member or partner of a writer then you’ve gone through all of this with them, usually for years. I sympathise and I thank you all for your patience and understanding, as it is not easy. Being rejected a lot takes a toll, sometimes physically, sometimes mentally, but it always hurts and it is incredibly difficult to get back up, dust yourself off and try again. But I did it because the alternative was to stop writing and stop trying, and that was never really an option for me.

So, all of that brought me to a point in my life when on 28th April 2013 I sent out an email to an agent with the first three chapters of my epic fantasy novel.

Writing a synopsis is painful. I hate it with a passion. Trying to sum up 130 thousand words in a page or two is difficult. I still don’t like it. Now I had to take that and cut it down even further and try to explain what the novel was about in a short email. I didn’t tell her what happens in the novel and list the events, e.g. Jim goes on a quest to find a magic sword, going from Blahdeblah-land to Zibbleland, because that doesn’t tell her what the story is actually about, only what happens. Is it a coming of age story? Is it a revenge story? Is it a romance? Sometimes you may not even know what the novel is about until you’ve written it. You may have an idea, somewhere in the subconscious part of your mind, or you may not. That may come out during the writing process.

In my email I described some of the world, gave very brief info on the points of view, highlighted that I’m deeply embedded in the fantasy genre, so if there is something that looks like a trope, it’s probably there on purpose because I want to take it and do something new with it. Tropes can be twisted, remade, repurposed. For example, if I said the novel included a grumpy and powerful wizard, a dangerous warrior and a noble, all tropes in themselves, am I talking about Lord of the Rings, or Joe Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy?

Below is a copy of my original email to Juliet Mushens of The Agency Group. I’ve taken out a couple of bits, to avoid spoilers and because the title has changed several times since.

Dear Ms Mushens,

Please find attached for your consideration the first three chapters of my epic fantasy novel, [title].

It is a story about power and the death of magic. I wanted to explore how different people react to power, be it sovereign or magical, and look at how they cope; from people who inherit it against their will, to those who covet it and will do anything to keep it.

Set against the backdrop of what is in essence a first world war, the story is told from three main viewpoints, the leaders of the defending nation, which allowed me to explore the politics and strategy, the front line squaddies and their daily challenges, and the Battlemages, powerful magical outsiders who are both feared and respected. A fourth minor viewpoint focuses on espionage and attempts by undercover agents to unravel the war away from the battlefield.

The title of the novel references several strong themes in the story, including [removed to avoid spoilers].

I’ve been a fantasy reader all my life, and have knowingly used several fantasy tropes, but have hopefully given them an interesting and often tragic twist. The story contains strong women, black humour and it subtly looks at several issues.

[title] is 130 thousand words long, the first in a planned series of three, but each novel is a standalone story, with some threads that carry over into the next.

Below is a short blurb, and if you require any more information please do not hesitate to contact me. Thank you for considering my work.

Yours sincerely

Stephen Aryan

 [Below are Juliet’s comments]

Stephen’s covering letter was succinct, punchy and interesting. He summed his book up in a brief way, he nodded to some things I like – realistic portrayals of women and black humour – and his blurb really made me want to read the book. Battlemages! Spies! A psychotic and powerful magician!

People often think they have to make their cover letter whacky and show their personality, but often those can come across badly. Stephen’s letter was professional and told me everything I needed to know.

I was hopeful when I turned to the first three chapters and he had me from the get go. He had drawn his world well – it felt familiar yet fresh – and his characters were intriguing and well-rounded. Often I feel that novels start before they should: you get pages of the character on a journey, or waking up, or starting their morning routine. But the novel threw us right into the action, meeting a battle-scarred man named Vargus and managing to convey a lot about the backdrop to the novel through action and dialogue. It was polished and compelling.

On 16th May 2013 I received the following response from Juliet.

Hi can you email me the full ms please?

I was excited and nervous and scared. But this wasn’t a yes. This was a request for a bit more. I’d read countless stories from people who have sent in full manuscripts and still been rejected. I’d read there are lots of reasons for this, including the first three chapters are sometimes the best and most polished and the rest of the book isn’t ready. Another reason for rejection is that sometimes people send in a submission and have only written the first few chapters in full and none of the rest of the book. This is a horrible and stupid thing to do.

I can sort of understand the logic, the fear of time wasted writing a whole book only for it to be rejected. So why bother? Therefore, only writing the first few chapters saves time, right? Because if they like the first three chapters, then you can write the rest once you get a thumbs up and that will be fine, right? Wrong. Totally wrong. Finish the book. Doing it this way will piss people off, and it may burn bridges in the future. The industry is small, the odds of being picked up are smaller and there isn’t an endless supply of agents, so don’t piss them off and reduce your odds even further by doing something stupid.

I kept my email back to Juliet short, professional and to the point. She wasn’t my friend because of one email and this is still business, so I treated it like any other email for my day job with a new correspondent. If she needed anything else I asked her to let me know.

Below is a copy of the email that I sent on 16th May 2013. I sent it off, knowing it could be months before I received another reply, so I tried not to check my email every ten seconds and get on with my life.

Dear Ms Mushens,

As requested, please find attached a copy of the full manuscript for [title].

If you require any more information, please let me know.

Regards

Stephen Aryan

[Juliet’s comments]

When I get to read manuscripts depends a lot on my schedule. Some days I get absolutely no reading done, sometimes I have lots of plans in evenings and weekends which also puts me behind. But luckily for Stephen, I fell ill with a nasty cold and couldn’t go to work. I didn’t feel well enough for daytime TV, so I thought I’d have a quick flick through the full manuscripts I’d been sent, and Stephen’s caught my attention.

Something unfortunate happened which turned out to be lucky for me. A few days after I sent in my full manuscript Juliet became ill which meant she had to stay at home. As it happens it meant that she read my novel in one day. On 20th May, just four days later I received a reply from Juliet, posted below. Again a few bits have been removed to avoid spoilers.

Hi Stephen,

Thanks so much for sending me this. I really, really enjoyed it. You have created a richly imagined fantasy world, which pays homage to many of the greats yet still feels fresh and original. I loved a lot of the characters too (Vargus is my favourite) and the idea of [spoilers].

I think it needs work – the pacing lags in places, your women need depth and more prominence, and Balfruss needs to be fully realised – but I’d be keen to represent you and work with you to sell this. You show a gift for storytelling that I see only rarely, and this kept me occupied on a day of being in bed ill which is no mean feat!

Are you able to come to London at all this week or next? I’d like to chat in person about my editorial thoughts for shaping the book and answer any questions you have.

All best,

Juliet 

[Juliet’s comments]

I don’t call in many full manuscripts a year, but those I do call in are often passed on for similar reasons – a lack of pace, a story that plateaus, characters I stop caring about, or just feeling very rushed compared to the first three polished chapters. But Stephen showed a real gift for storytelling. Through a 130,000 word manuscript he sustained my interest, he made me care about the characters and he made me invest in the stakes of the novel. I found myself noting down my thoughts as I read, where it needed depth, where I thought he needed to slow down, or cut, or expand. I only ever do this if I am very engaged with a book. By the end of the novel I felt very excited about the book. I could already visualise who to submit the novel to, and was confident in placing it with a publisher.

I always like to meet an author before we start working together. If I had sat down with Stephen and said, ‘I think it needs x, y and z’ and he had said ‘no way!’ then we would not have been the right partnership. I wanted to make sure that we would get on well together and have a shared vision for the book. Luckily, we were very much on the same page – Stephen was receptive to my comments and we came up with a plan of action to start work on them. I also liked Stephen, which helps! I felt we’d get on well. Working with an agent has hard times as well as good, and it’s important to feel like you are a team.

I took a day off work and went down to London to meet Juliet. We met at her office and talked through her comments. We went back and forth on the ideas, I made notes and came away feeling energised and keen to make the novel better.

In January 2014, Juliet and her assistant Sarah felt the novel was ready to go out on submission. By this point I had revised it several times.

[Juliet’s comments]

Stephen worked really hard on the novel, and in the meantime I’d been pitching it to a couple of publishers. One in particular, Jenni Hill at Orbit, was very excited to see it, and she ended up buying the trilogy. But that’s a story for another day…

Battlemage, the first in a trilogy, will be published next year by Orbit. It will have been fifteen years since I started trying to get an agent and I will be 38 years old.

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Publishing Adventures in London

Earlier this week I had my first official trip to London as a soon to be published author. It was an intense and pretty exhausting time, but overall proved to be fascinating. On Monday morning I visited my fantastic agent, Juliet Mushens, and Sarah, her lovely assistant, at their offices for a chat about the book and the trilogy, my plans and what happens next.

After that it was my first trip to the Orbit offices to meet with my editor, Jenni Hill, for the first time. Orbit have their offices at 100 Victoria Embankment, which is a massive and very impressive building, inside and out. I was nervous about being late, so rather than risk getting lost, I got off the tube and did the sensible thing. I asked the nearest security person at the station how tin find the building. The woman was very kind and patient, as she walked with me to the entrance to the tube station and then pointed at the giant edifice directly across the road. Whoops! I grinned sheepishly and scuttled off.

Over lunch Jenni and I talked about the book, the characters, and really got into a meaty chat about the first book, Battlemage, and how it connects to the others in the trilogy. I think it’s the first time I’ve had a proper discussion about the series and the shape of it with someone who had read the first book. For the longest time characters have just lived inside my head and on the page, but suddenly they were breathing again as we talked about the future and what happened next. I could answer all of the questions but I think it was the first time I’d said some of it aloud to someone else. I probably got a few strange looks from other people in the restaurant but I didn’t notice.

After that I was shown around the Orbit offices and met the rest of the team who were all fabulous and so enthusiastic. With little time to spare I zipped back across London, checked into my hotel, then ran back out again for an early dinner with some friends. The rest of the evening I could just sit back and try to unwind and unclench, as the attention was firmly on Jen Williams (she of the fabulous The Copper Promise fame) and Den Patrick (he of the equally awesome The Boy with The Porcelain Blade). At Blackwells on Charing Cross Road, Jared Shurin was asking the questions and the topics ranged from influences to monsters to magic. There was a great crowd who queued up in the typically polite English fashion to get a copy of each book signed. Technically Porcelain wasn’t out on Monday, but there were a few cheeky copies that had been released early, so I made sure I snagged one and got it signed by Den.

Not long after we adjourned to a local pub for drinks where I nobly battled to stay awake after a long and tiring day. I think I managed fairly well and had a few geeky conversations as well as getting a chance to talk archery with Gillian Redfearn. It wasn’t a late finish, for which I was grateful, and I crashed out in my hotel.

Tuesday morning I was back on the train, headed north again, towards home and also an appointment with a photographer. I think they came out quite well, despite the bags under my eyes and the stubble, but they’re both usually there anyway, so it’s going to be accurate.

It’s quite a few months until my next convention, 9 Worlds in August in London. I’ve settled back into my normal daily routine again, and have got back to work on book 2, but somewhere in the back of my mind I am now aware that other people are talking about the characters from Battlemage, and that they’re waiting to see what I do next in book 2. I also have a deadline for the first time, but so far, very little has changed day to day. I’m sure that will change next year but for now, it’s head down and keep writing.

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Book Deal News

So the big news came out today on the Bookseller website, and here is a copy of the press release in full announcing my book deal with Orbit.

Orbit has signed a trilogy of books from British author Stephen Aryan.

Jenni Hill, commissioning editor at Orbit, signed world English rights in the Battlemage trilogy from Juliet Mushens at The Agency Group.

Battlemage, which was taken from the slush pile, is set in a world experiencing its first global conflict, with the story told from three points of view – the leaders of the fighting nations, the frontline warriors, and the Battlemages, powerful magical outsiders who are both feared and respected.

Mushens said: “I was blown away by how polished a debut this was – it’s original and wholly engrossing.”

Hill said: “Stephen Aryan makes mages look cool. Battlemage has everything that’s great about epic fantasy: big battle scenes; valiant heroes and heroines; and evil forces in need of a damn good thwarting.”

Aryan lives in Yorkshire and works fulltime in marketing for a software company.

Orbit will release the the first in the series in the UK and US in 2015.

I am absolutely over the moon! Orbit publish some of my favourite authors from Jim Butcher to Mike Carey and I’m excited and nervous about what comes next, but really looking forward to it. A lot of hard work has gone into getting here and there is definitely more ahead but I can’t wait to get stuck in.

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We’ve got one!

we got oneI’m delighted to say that I now have an agent. I am represented by Juliet Mushens of The Agency Group. That’s the short version for those who want to skip to the end.

It’s taken a long, long time to get here. I’m still trying to process it and also work out how long, but probably about 15 years. The fantasy novel that was picked up by Juliet is not my first, or second, or third, or fourth. So, that’s a lot of years of writing, a lot of rejections after carefully studying the Writers and Artists handbook, a lot of going to industry events, writers weekends, spending time on writing websites, forums, reviewing other people’s work, a lot of listening to stories and advice at event panels, making notes, countless nights of staying up very late to work on ‘the novel’. A lot of sacrifices. A lot of turning off the computer game, or TV, to make myself put my bum in the chair and hit the keyboard. I didn’t always do that of course. Some nights I was just too tired after work, or too fed up, or too annoyed and I kept playing and ignored the novel. But I always came back to it, and even when I realised it was time to shelve that novel and try something else, I kept trying and hopefully kept learning. There was absolutely no guarantee that I would succeed, but I had to try because it is something I’ve wanted for a long time. When people talk about me, stubborn doesn’t even nearly cover it.

Speaking of other people, I couldn’t have made it this far without the support and encouragement of many people, friends and family, who always believed in me, even when I didn’t.

This is definitely not the end of the road, just a big step forward, and I’m also very aware that there is still a lot of work ahead, but now I’m actually on the right road. So I’m delighted to be represented by Juliet, who also represents a few friends I’ve met over the years at the conventions, including Lou Morgan, Laura Lam and Andrew Reid.

Right, time to get editing. More news when I have it, but expect sporadic random posts in the meantime about stuff, films, TV, comics etc.

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