Thoughts on ELT, English and whatever else comes into my head
It feels like ages since I’ve been able to say “I have a new book out.” Actually, ELT-wise, it’s been about 14 months but this book, Rain, Rain, Go Away! out with Black Cat has been a thing in existence for a few years.
Available from Black Cat
Winner of 2017’s Extensive Reading Foundation award for Graded Readers.
In a dystopian future where water is controlled by The Keepers – the rulers of the city – thirst is normal because the acid rain kills people. A young girl, Kailani, goes into the desert to The Edge to look for a way to save her sick brother. If she finds water, she might die. If she doesn’t find water, her brother will die.
In 2012, I was involved in a really cool competition called The 48 Hour Film Project, with my writing group, Madrid Writer’s Group, and an assembled crew of local amateurs and professionals. You literally conceive, write, film and edit a film in 48 hours and then watch it on a big screen along with the other entries in your city. Everyone votes for the winner which then goes on to compete internationally. Best fun ever, I thoroughly recommend it. Ours, Perfect Families, is here in case you’re interested. It didn’t win, some of the other entries were incredible, but I thought ours deserved a win for Best Music as the composer did an amazing job and for Lance Tooks’ illustrations (he was the illustrator for my second Graded Reader). My favourite won overall actually and this very good one got a load of other category wins.
Anyway, the process starts with going to a meeting point to get your writing prompts. Every team draws a ball from a tombola which holds your category and we got Sci-Fi. Then all the teams get the same prompts: a name, a job and a word which, in Madrid 2012, were Luis/Luisa Garcia, plumber, a wallet and the line of dialogue “Are you thinking what I am?” Then you go away and the writing team stays up all night getting a script together which has to include the prompts. I’ve just watched it again for the first time in almost four years and it’s better than I thought — with one dodgy jump cut which is unfortunate but 48 hours is really not a long time to make a five-minute short!
While we were brainstorming, the themes the prompts suggested to me were water and money. I had this idea of a visual image of a cold glass of water with condensation running down the sides. It was the last glass of water in the world and a woman had been given it and everyone was reminiscing about all the things they used to do with water when it was everywhere and no-one could quite bring themselves to drink it and have it disappear forever. That never made it into our film and we went with one of the other writer’s idea in the end. It was very unformed too and I didn’t have any idea where I was going with it — but something about it stuck.
That idea became Rain, Rain, Go Away! — a kind of Hunger Games meets 1984. I teased out the plot from the base idea using the 8 point story arc, which is a fail-safe writing structure, and crucially, wrote it straight away over Christmas — one chapter a day whether I felt like it or not. That was the easy part. Selling it was a different matter.
Neither of my previous publishers were commissioning, at least for the time being, and I approached three others (which was about the entire market since I had had a Reader project shelved at another with no future Reader plans and another I had written something else for had also closed their lists). Everyone who read the synopsis and the first three chapters wanted it. But none of them were in a position to say yes or no, so I had to wait and chase, and wait and chase …and wait ….and chase. One of them dropped away completely so I had two, both promising some decision in the autumn but which extended to winter. I had vague plans to put it out on WattPad and see what happened but was very sceptical there was anything to be gained by doing that so ended up being OK to wait some more. The longshot hope, of course, of WattPad being to get a huge fanbase and a film deal when some producer hears about you from their kid.
So, I then got a definite offer from both publishers still in the race at about the same time. I wanted the most money and I wanted a fee and not a royalties deal. I’m done with royalties on Readers – they are just not profitable enough. Maybe they were once, maybe there are tons of reasons for that, but I’m only interested in the result. So I just want what feels like a fair fee for the amount of work, at least at the outset as I am not sure I am gauging the workload right, and to keep some of the rights. This was a key point for me and I was in a pretty strong negotiating position because I was confident that wanted the book and perfectly prepared to walk away if I didn’t get to keep the rights I wanted.
It wasn’t just the implications of signing away all rights — I know full well I am unlikely to ever sell the film rights or write and sell a full blown YA novel of Rain, Rain, Go Away! (though I think it is a good enough story that it is a possibility, it’s so hard to do something like that with no contacts and masses of competition) — but it’s the principle. I used to think that principle was about royalties and continuing to have a stake in the profits of your work but I came to see that is a) a huge gamble and usually just means you end up earning way below your usual hourly rate and b) it’s just a lucky thing writers have historically had. Architects don’t get royalties every time their building is used, artists don’t get royalties every time someone looks at their painting in a gallery and most jobs you can think of are based on fees. I think the fairest model of all is one where, after a certain level of sales, some bonus kicks in but that figure is unlikely to ever be reached so trading the hope of that for a cut in the fee is something to be avoided. My position now is that, if you’re going to fight about anything, it should be your rights to your work. It’s yours and you should be allowed to exploit it.
Luckily, my favourite of the two offers was Black Cat whose books I have always liked as they’re so comprehensively and beautifully illustrated. And their focus is on Readers, rather than them being a subset of a subset in the publishing catalogue. I had a lot of work to do writing the activity pages, also very comprehensive, but the book itself has not changed substantially from my original draft, apart from editorial tweaks and tightenings which I am always grateful for. I hope it does very well, really, there is nothing I want more for my stories than that they reach readers but I’m really glad to be freed from the inevitable frustration and disappointment of looking at royalty statements.
I intend to try and exploit the rights but I won’t have time for ages so we’ll see. This book is the one I think most filmable — it’s a big and visual setting and theme, and could easily be tweaked to add romance and action. It’s environmental without shoving it down your throat and poses questions about self-sacrifice government dictatorship/power.
So, don’t wait for it to hit the bigscreen if you want to use it with your class! 🙂