Monday, March 3, 2008

Broken by Daniel Clay

One of our beloved LROD readers is launching his book, Broken, today: Daniel Clay. Congratulations to Our Man Dan who was nice enough to share his thoughts about his book and his experience overcoming rejection.

When did you start writing the book?
March 2005 but it took me till June to really get going and understand what the book was about. Virtually everything I’d written before that ended up in the bin.

What prompted your interest in it?
I read a newspaper article about Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird which I’d read for the first time myself the previous year. There’s an interesting back-story with the fact it’s Harper Lee’s only novel and the rumours that Truman Capote actually wrote it, plus the fact the character Dill is supposedly based on Truman Capote, who Harper Lee knew as a child. Something in my mind started to wonder how the characters in To Kill A Mockingbird would cope with life in the society we live in today, as times have changed so much in the eighty or so years since the events in that novel took place. Once I started thinking about it, I couldn’t let it go. Although my characters and plot don’t resemble To Kill A Mockingbird, this train of thought was my starting point and, right up until I was taken on by my agent, Broken was actually called It’s A Sin (because it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird…). Jonny suggested I came up with a new title because Broken’s not about sin and he’d kept humming the Pet Shop Boys hit of the same name when he first read it…

How long did it take to finish the first draft?
Including the time I spent messing around between March and June, about nine months. I got my first rejection for it in December 05, about five days after I finished it, and chucked the novel in a drawer for six months because I thought I’d messed it up.

How many revisions did you write?
I constantly revise as I write, so it’s difficult to say, but once I’d written through to the end and spent six or so weeks polishing the entire novel on screen, I read the first draft on paper from start to finish twice before I considered I’d done the best that I could. All this is included in the above time-line for the first draft.

Who read your drafts?
No one at all while I was writing it, (although two people saw the early opening pages and a very rough plot – they were far from impressed). As I was finishing the first draft, an agent had just turned down another novel I’d written but had really liked my writing so wanted to see whatever I wrote next. I e-mailed her and said I’d just finished a new one and she asked to see the whole thing rather than the standard first three chapters. A friend who also writes read it at the same time. Both loved the writing but felt it was too dark, which is why I flipped out and stuck it in a drawer for six months. I then read it again and loved it so asked my wife to read it because she doesn’t do dark and wouldn’t have finished reading it if she’d felt it was depressing. She read it in two days and loved it, which is very unlike her – I think Broken is the only thing she truly loves about me! I then started sending it out again, but after six more months of rejections I contacted a local reading group and they agreed to read it for me. At the same time this happened, the agent I’m with now took an interest and he and his assistant gave me a lot of feedback too. I then spent three weeks doing the draft that sold.

How did you decide which comments were important and which you didn't need to heed?
I considered every comment, whether I acted on it or not, and felt very lucky to have six total strangers suddenly take an enthusiastic interest in my writing. Although there were suggestions I didn’t act on – one character my agent felt should live still ended up dying, for instance – there were no suggestions I dismissed out of hand.

What was your overall rejection experience with this book?
As you can gather from the above, quite horrendous. I’d say more than forty agents turned it down overall, either in face to face meetings at conferences or through slush-pile submissions or through positive contacts I’d made when submitting other novels in the past.

Did you already have an agent? Or did you use this project to get one?
I’d had an agent once before, but although he loved my writing he never actually sent anything to publishers for me as he felt my overall standard wasn’t quite right, which was fair comment at the time. We hadn’t been in touch for a couple of years by the time I wrote Broken, but I did send the opening pages to him. Someone in his office turned it down flat so I sent it off to other agents, which is how I came to be represented by Jonny Geller at Curtis Brown in England.

How long did it take for you to get an agent?
On and off, I was submitting Broken from December 05 onwards, and it was March 07 when I first sent the opening chapters, synopsis, and covering letter to Jonny. It was April the first time we met and discussed a rewrite, and May when he started to represent me. Other than the year I was dealing with my previous agent, though, I’ve been trying to get one for twenty years!

How many agents passed on the project?
As per the above, definitely more than thirty. I think the actual total is over forty, but I’m not entirely sure of the exact number and don’t want to be accused of exaggerating. Most of the slush-pile rejections were standard compliment slips, though at least three agents did want to see the whole novel before deciding it wasn’t for them, which I think is quite a respectable hit-rate for slush-pile submissions.

Once you got an agent, how long did it take to find a publisher?
We got our first UK offer just under three weeks after Jonny started submitting it.

How many editors passed on the project?
Good question! I don’t know, being honest. I seem to remember Jonny mentioning he’d widened the net when it was on submission in England as the first few he submitted to were very keen. In the end, two did bid. Around the world? I have no idea. It’s been in an auction between two publishing houses in each of the five territories it’s sold in so far, but I don’t know how many it was actually submitted to. Being honest, I never ask.

Where were you when you found out the book had been bought?
At work. Jonny had been in New York on business for two weeks but I knew he’d got back the day before, so was expecting to hear from him at some stage that day. Because he hadn’t been in touch all the time he’d been away, I was certain we’d run out of options. It was very nice to be proved wrong.

Who was the first person you told?
My wife. I went outside and phoned her, as no one I worked with knew what was going on.

Has your philosophy on getting published changed? Would you do anything differently now?
I think a lot more about what a reader will get out of what I’m writing since all this started to happen. At the time I wrote the first draft of Broken, I only thought about my own enjoyment and doing my own thing, although I was definitely writing to be published. I was also very shy about the fact I wrote and – outside of submissions – showed very few people what I had written, so got very limited feedback which, in hindsight, slowed my development. Using a reading group, getting feedback from Jonny and his assistant, then getting feedback from three different editors who, in turn, were all getting feedback from people around their offices, has been such a fantastic experience, and definitely made me a better writer so, if I could have my time again, I’d hunt down friends who read and beg them to look at my stuff and give feedback.

What's your view of the rejection experience now?
I wouldn’t change it for the world. It’s made me a more resilient writer and I think I value what’s happened a lot more than if it had all fallen into place when I first started writing in my teens.

What words of advice would you give to a writer, rejected on the journey toward getting published?
Keep writing. Don’t take it personally. If someone gives you constructive feedback as part of a rejection, consider it carefully but do what feels right to you as a writer. If it’s just a straight no, get your stuff out there again, onto as many desks as possible, and never, ever give up until there’s no one left to send it out to. Then write something else and send that out instead.

Any other comments?
Good luck!

Let's all support our brother in the struggle by buying his book. Here's a description of Daniel Clay's Broken to entice you:

"Skunk Cunningham is an eleven-year-old girl in a coma. She has a loving dad, an absent mother and a brother who plays more X-Box than is good for him. She also has the neighbours from hell: the five Oswald girls and their thuggish father Bob, vicious bullies all of them, whose reign of terror extends unchallenged over their otherwise quiet suburban street. And yet terrifying though they undoubtedly are, the stiletto-wearing, cider-swilling Oswald girls are also sexy - so when Saskia asks shy, virginal Rick Buckley for a ride in his new car, he can't believe his luck. Too bad that Saskia can't keep her big mouth shut. When, after a quick fumble, she broadcasts Rick's deficiencies to anyone who will listen, it puts ideas into her younger sister's silly head - ideas that will see Rick dragged off to prison, humiliated, and ultimately, in his father's words, `broken' by the experience.

From her hospital bed, Skunk guides us through the events that follow, as Saskia's small act of thoughtlessness slowly spreads through the neighbourhood in a web of increasing violence. Skunk watches as her shabby, hardworking father finds love, only for her courageous, idealistic teacher to lose it; as poor `Broken' Buckley descends into madness, while across the street her brother Jed makes his first adolescent forays into sex; and as her own gentle romance with soft-hearted, tough-talking Dillon struggles to survive against a backdrop that seamlessly combines the sublime and the ridiculous.

As we inch ever closer to the mystery behind her coma, Skunk's innocence becomes a beacon by which we navigate a world as comic as it is tragic, and as effortlessly engaging as it is ultimately uplifting, in this brilliant and utterly original debut novel."


Jane said...

I've read a early copy of Broken and it is a superb book. Really and truly. I read a lot of books but I haven't read one that kept me up way past my bedtime in a long time. I did love the paralells between it and To Kill A Mockingbird, one of my all time favourite books.

Steve said...

Just read this book and it was great, couldn't put it down.

Anonymous said...

What happens at the end? Does skunk live or die?

Anonymous said...

if you had to choose a symbol for this book broken what would it be?