Posts Tagged ‘publishers’

Submission….and rejection. Nine weeks in the life of an anxious author.

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011

I have written only one blog post this summer. That’s it. A far cry from this time a year ago in the run-up to publishing Things He Never Knew when I was writing once or twice a week. This year is very different; first of all I was so burnt out by completing my second manuscript – the final push was tough – that I had little enthusiasm for creating anything, and secondly all I have done for nine weeks is look after my children. Which has been lovely, but not worth reporting here on my blog. There’s only so much playing and plasticine that people want to read about.

Summer has gone so quickly! Staring down the gun barrel of nine weeks of childcare is always daunting, but before I know it the diary is filled up with playdates, visits and weekends away – there’s always something going on – and oh so quickly September is here and they’re back to school. It’s extra poignant for me this year because now it’s time for my younger daughter to join her big sister in the main school as she starts Reception. As I’ve said before Alice has a genetic abnormality called 22q11 deletion, and when she was born I didn’t know if she would ever go to school, so preparing her big girl’s uniform for her has been extra-special. I’m not an over-protective mother by any stretch of the imagination, but I can’t deny feeling a little anxious this time round. However she is going into a class with lots of her friends from the Nursery and she is happy and excited about starting school so she is as well prepared as she can be. Which is more than can be said for me as I attempt to return to some semblance of routine with both girls occupied Monday-Friday. I decided back in June to give myself the entire summer away from writing, partly because of the intensity of finishing Daisychain (my manuscript) and partly because it’s impossible to be able to focus on anything with two girls to entertain, and unfair on them to try. September however heralds a return to writing…..hopefully….

At the beginning of the summer I wrote a blog post about the submission of Daisychain; after it had been approved and I had cut 30,000 precious words from it (easier than it sounds, actually) it was sent to five publishers. I was told to expect a four to six week wait and probably longer because it was summer and everyone would be away. Or sitting in the sunshine, drinking cider in a beer garden somewhere. No, she didn’t say that really. Anyway, exactly four weeks to the day it was submitted I received my first rejection. From Headline. I had a lovely email from them forwarded to me by my agent which was the nicest rejection I could have received – but it was a rejection. And I was hit far harder by it than I had ever anticipated. As any author, aspiring or otherwise will know, rejection is very much part of being a writer. Inevitably, not everyone who reads your work is going to like it. I’ve never been that bothered by rejection from agents however, most of the time I doubted they had read it anyway and if they had I respected their opinion that it wasn’t for them. In fact, strange though it may sound I didn’t see rejection as dispiriting, I saw it as a challenge – and I love challenges. I shrugged metaphorically and turned elsewhere, hoping that I was simply a step closer. I had a lot of confidence that I would be taken on by someone one day – whether this is due to the sometime positive feedback that I did receive, or just my over-inflated sense of ability I really don’t know. But I do know that you can never give up hope. And this is something that I clung to in those days after my first rejection from a publisher. It was far more of a blow because I thought finding an agent to represent me would be a lot harder than getting a publisher to accept the manuscript. Now I know that the reverse is true. And each publisher rejection is a further signature on the death warrant of the manuscript; if they all reject it there really is nowhere else to turn, I shall simply have to put it to one side and move on. And four weeks after the first I received a second rejection, from Ebury this time, which whilst it didn’t shock me as much as the first, it certainly didn’t help either. Though I’m loath to admit it I was plunged into despair, convinced that I would get five rejections and my confidence to write anything else disappeared entirely. And this was a real problem to me. I like to be quite organised and as the end of the holidays approached I wanted to be in a position to start writing something else as soon as the girls were back at school – but I had absolutely no confidence in my ability to judge the appeal of a plot. If my manuscript is being rejected surely that means there’s no market for my writing? Surely I’m writing the wrong stuff? And at that point I had ideas floating around my mind but nothing definite, and try as I might I simply could not twist them into something compelling enough for me to start planning. So then I started wondering whether I should change my writing style, choose something a little more light-hearted perhaps? But no, that would be silly and weak I decided. Whatever I write has to be true to me and if the market isn’t ready for it at the moment then perhaps it will be in the future. I can’t try and predict future trends and tailor my writing to them; that would be crazy. No, I just had to be patient and hope inspiration would come. And tonight it did. An idea that I’ve been toying with for a while suddenly morphed into a tangible shape and took on contours and colour. It truly was a Eureka! moment. Before I knew it I had the title and the cover image flooding into my mind and my heart was beating faster and I was thinking – this is it! That’s when I reached for my phone by the way and quickly the tapped the news into twitter. My idea was seconds old but I had to share the birth of it immediately. And at that point I understood – it’s not about having confidence in your writing – it’s about being passionate enough about an idea or a plot that you would write it anyway, even if everyone else hated it, just for yourself. You can’t write specifically for a market, first and foremost you need to be true to yourself. Or I do at least, anyway. So I haven’t got any further with it at the moment, but I don’t need to because it’s there, ready and waiting when I need it. The girls go back to school on Thursday and straight away I shall be knuckling down and working on it, kneading it into shape and bringing it to life. I can’t wait.

Finishing The Manuscript.

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

Yet again I must open this blog post with apologies – it has been an absurdly long time since I wrote anything here. However in my defence this was because I was extremely busy first of all writing thousands of words elsewhere and then extremely busy deleting them again. Read on to find out why…….

I’ve been busy in an unprecedented way finishing my second manuscript. This was actually a manuscript that I had part-written about three years ago and abandoned because I just couldn’t seem to get it to go anywhere. A muddled plot, too many characters and not enough substance didn’t help matters. So I closed the file one day and left it, choosing instead to write something else which became Things He Never Knew.  Then an agent whom I vaguely knew and liked described what sort of work she was looking for and I suddenly realised that my muddled bundle of words might just be that thing. So with that in mind I went back to my poor abandoned manuscript (think in terms of rusting car with no wheels) just before Christmas and upon re-reading it was staggeringly obvious where I’d been going wrong. Seriously obvious. Embarrassingly obvious. It had potential – but cunningly disguised. So I ruthlessly cut huge swathes of text, updated, re-wrote and re-focussed on where I was going. The ease with which I was able to do this showed me just how wrong I’d been going. The only odd moment came when the writing changed from re-hashing what I already had to continuing the story without being led; not unlike jumping off that infamous precipice. But once I’d got over my traumas about whether what I would write from scratch would match up with what I had already written, it was fine.

Now I’ve never been the most disciplined of writers. I would love to be like dear old Enid Blyton with her 6,000 words a day or whatever it was, but if I did that my fingernails would be ruined, my eyes would fall out and my family would leave home, (those are ranked in order of priority). I can produce 40,000 words in a week but then I won’t touch the manuscript for a month. It’s in line with my all-or-nothing personality. But it isn’t conducive to steady progress. And when you add into this my two daughters and their complicated school timetables (during this term alone I was required to be at their school on twenty-six separate occasions; EXCLUDING drop-off and pick-up) I found it hard (all right, impossible) to have a regular working pattern. Plus I am very much one of those writers who rely to an extent on being in the right mood, which is an indulgence I know, and actually I think I may have trained myself out of it, but I hadn’t when I was writing manuscript number two. It does have a title by the way but I’m not sure I like it. Anyway, so I made progress over the spring, never quite meeting the deadlines that I was setting for myself, and all of a sudden I found myself in the last half of the summer term and I knew I had to get it finished. With the best will in the world I would have achieved very little over the eight week summer holiday that the girls have from school. And this is when I seriously focussed, reduced the frantic socialising that I am fond of and made Finishing The Manuscript my sole priority. Unfortunately this coincided directly with a severe crisis of confidence. I was very pleased with what I had produced so far, it was exactly what I had wanted and the manuscript was coming together very nicely. But instead of appreciating all this, my brain just said “Well what if what you need to write now isn’t as good as what you’ve written already? The whole book will be ruined. Months of effort and thousands upon thousands of words wasted.” And this insidious message was ever-present in my mind; it was something I had to get through to be able to carry on writing. The irony of course was that when I did get through it and produce another few hundred words they were always up to standard. The lesson therefore being that I need to trust in myself more, and if anyone wants to know how you get through that feeling the answer is that you start writing and you just don’t stop and it might take one hundred words or it might take five hundred but in my experience if you just keep going you do eventually become attuned to the story once again. Anyway, that’s not the important bit. The important bit was that through blood, sweat and tears I did eventually Finish The Manuscript. I did this under the encouragement of a very nice agent (different agent) with whom I had been communicating on and off for about three years. When I was very close to the end I sent her some chapters which she read and liked and that in turn gave me some of the impetus I needed to write the final words. It’s a real boon to know that someone is actually going to read it.

I did find it difficult to finish the manuscript, I really did. It was a combination of wanting to, needing to and not being certain that I could make it all the same standard as previous chapters. Oh insecurity thy name is Sarah. But over the course of a week or so I seriously applied myself and watched my word count climb and climb until I reached 142,000 words, including the best two: ‘The End’. I printed it and sent it straight to the agent. To discover that she was out of the office for a week; which was both nice and awful. It meant that I didn’t have to be on tenterhooks immediately and I had a lovely few days shopping and drinking wine, thoroughly enjoying the feeling of having actually Finished The Manuscript.  But it also meant I had a longer wait to see what she thought. I also knew that good news would be via a phone call and bad news via an email. Of course I was also wracked with self-doubt over that week and experienced the strange juxtaposition of knowing that I couldn’t have made the manuscript any better – but what if my best wasn’t good enough? But there wasn’t anything I could do about it, and as my great-grandmother used to say: “Do your best and the rest don’t worry about”. Sterling advice. The following week however I literally jumped every time an email popped up on my (pink) BlackBerry and my heart would race as I looked it, praying that I would not see that name. I really, really wanted her to like the manuscript; she’s someone whose opinion I value very highly indeed.  And eventually, in the middle of one afternoon, my phone rang. She liked the manuscript. But I had no time to absorb this rather incredible news before she was also telling me that it was too long. 42,000 words too long to be precise. I needed to cut it down. However she also said I didn’t need to rush, it was holiday season. Well sod that. All-or-nothing. The phone call was Thursday afternoon and despite a heavy weekend’s entertaining to do, I metaphorically rolled up my sleeves and got working again. By Monday morning the revised manuscript was in her email inbox; I’d reduced it by over 20,000 words. Once I looked at it, it was glaringly obvious what I needed to do. I hoped and prayed that it would be acceptable. It obviously was because by 12 midday I’d been told that it had gone to various publishers and that now we had to wait. Wait! I hate waiting. I’m not good at it. But I suspected in this case I would have to. And actually, against all the odds, it’s not that bad. We’re three days away from the end of term and not having to worry about the manuscript means that I get to relax and enjoy the summer (summer? Ha!) with the girls. And I still have four of those twenty-six occasions to attend. And Saturday is Sports Day which means I need a dress and it has to be red because that is my eldest daughter’s House colour; I don’t own anything red, I need to go shopping. And I have to organise end of term gifts for the teachers, and cards. And I have to make sure that I have all the uniform they need for September, and I need to confirm playdates and I need to see if we can squeeze in a holiday among the already-packed summer schedule….and….and….and… no, I don’t think waiting will be that bad.

Self-publishing – why not?

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010

When people think of becoming an author and publishing a novel, I think it’s fair to say that even now it’s considered as something you can apply to do and you may or may not be accepted. For the vast majority, it is unfortunately the latter. The well-trodden, traditional route to becoming a published author is to write a book, seek and find a literary agent and for them to secure a publisher on your behalf. The number of people who achieve this, versus the number of people who try and don’t, is tiny. There are literally millions of aspiring writers worldwide, look at the current phenomenon that is NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), the slightly kamikaze idea being to write a 50,000 word novel in a month, quantity, not quality, being important. I think it’s a great idea and gives those people who have ‘always meant to write a book’ a kick in the right direction towards doing so. I am passionately committed to encouraging writing of every description. Even if it never leaves the author’s desk it can still be a wholly enjoyable and often therapeutic thing to do. There are people out there with fascinating stories to tell. Sadly, it has become clear that the writing industry is viewing NaNoWriMo extremely sceptically, because a percentage of these currently-being-written manuscripts will inevitably land on the desk of some agent or editor who already has their hands full. Anyway, I digress. Most of these writers that I’m talking about, for one reason and another, will never become published. Breaking into this tightly protected industry is an incredibly hard thing to do. We’ve all heard the infamous stories of how often Stephen King and JK Rowling were turned down which people repeat ad infinitum in an effort to be encouraging to aspiring writers, but for me it has always had the opposite effect. Instead of reassurance, it just demonstrates that actually, the publishing industry is completely prejudiced against the unknown, no matter how good that unknown work is. And frankly, one view is why shouldn’t they be? Agents and publishers are ultimately looking to make money out of a book, not give a wannabe writer their chance of a lifetime. For an agent to accept a manuscript they have to be 100% behind the project, and believe that it can be a marketable, profitable book which will sell well. Added to which there are hundreds of fully-established novelists in every genre who regularly turn out work which sells extremely well, thanks in part to their recognisable name. Therefore, it is easy to see why agents and publishers may not be fully enthusiastic about welcoming new writers into the fold. However, as I know from experience, there are those who are more open-minded than others and who have one eye more or less continually open for new projects and new authors. Sense dictates that there WILL be undiscovered talent, though these days the bar is set extremely high. But I shall not be side-tracked, this is not a piece on how to become published, instead I’m looking at the other option, the option that is currently a sneered-at phrase among the publishing fraternity: SELF-PUBLISHING.

The self-publishing industry has seen a real explosion over the last few years. More people have become aware that it exists, websites like have helped promote it as a concept, and like any new venture, the more people that go forth into it, the more people want to follow them. The reason for this is all those hundreds of writers (and I’m talking purely UK-based here) who are not given the chance through traditional publishing, yet yearn to see their work in print. And furthermore bound into a recognisable format. And why not? Should they forget their aspirations and resign themselves to be failed novelists just because the person at the top of the writing chain hasn’t liked their style or content? I don’t see any reason why. If a person has invested the amount of time and energy it takes to write a book, then that potentially deserves some outlet.

What becomes vitally important here is to be realistic, and recognise that very few people will become household names because of their writing, and still yet fewer if they self-published. But if the aim is simply to write a book and have it published through some form or other, for it to be available as an actual book in other words, then turning to self-publishing becomes a viable option. The publishing industry has experienced something of a backlash from irritated writers due to its closed -ranks policy; and this can be seen in a number of ways. For example, the growth of websites such as and The latter was the brainchild of HarperCollins publishers, designed to discover new writing talent. Once a month they review the most popular submissions, with a view to publishing them. It’s a unique site and a relatively new idea, but furthermore it creates a holding bay for aspiring writers who have a place to focus their creative energies and have the knowledge that their work has a purpose. After all, the most successful novels will be placed into the direct attention of an editor at HarperCollins. It’s massively popular, but, ultimately, just another way of breaking into the same industry, it’s not a new way of becoming a successful author.

Self-publishing is a different method. This is where the author bears all of the costs associated with publishing purely to get their book printed and bound. There are a few companies who offer this service, there is no selection criteria applied, but it does cost thousands of pounds. So why this prejudice against it? That’s an easy question to answer: no selection criteria means that absolutely anything can be printed and published. No-one in a position of authority has actually made the decision that a book is worthy of publication. However ultimately, this doesn’t really matter because if it’s no good then the market will judge it as such and it won’t sell no matter how hard the author tries. It often comes down to an issue of vanity.

And speaking of the author trying, I met a very interesting chap last week in Waterstones. He was called Alan Gilliland and he’d written and illustrated a children’s book called “The Amazing Adventures of Curd the Lion in the Land at the Back of Beyond”. He had previously worked for 18 years for a national newspaper in their graphics department. Through conversation it became clear that he had marketed his book very effectively, selling £90,000 worth. In addition he’d had interest from the USA in turning it into a feature film. No small amount of success in other words. Well, I thought, of course that’s possible with a big publishing house and consequent marketing department behind you, plus he probably has hundreds of contacts from his media days which would be handy for review purposes; it’s no surprise really. After a brief conversation about the various merits of book-signing and gaining some valuable advice, I asked which publishers he was with. His response knocked me sideways, “No-one,” he said. “I’m with myself. Completely self-published.” I was so amazed that I couldn’t speak for a second (very unusual), but it was literally the last thing that I expected him to say. He had a well-rehearsed patter which he then gave me, telling me how beneficial it was to be in control of the whole operation, that it would never go out of print unless he chose, the books would never be pulped unless he chose – and perhaps most pertinently – the amount of money that he earns per book sold is far in excess of what most authors earn. All undoubtedly true. And what is more, he’d had no help in terms of reviews, simply because he was self-published. Even after working for 18 years in the media industry, he had not been given a helping hand of any sort. It doesn’t appear to have affected his success, I was extremely impressed and it opened up a side of self-publishing that I hadn’t realised existed. However, whilst his story is undoubtedly true and inspirational in part, I do wonder what difference it would have made to him to have had the support of a publishing house.  What this story does prove is that the success of a product, and in this case the book, depends on the marketing. Being with a mainstream publisher gives the author all the advice and expertise that they could wish for. It’s on tap. For a self-published author, they have no such access to free advice and support, which makes it an expensive business to achieve even a small amount of success. Not forgetting the substantial upfront costs to manufacture such an enormous number of books.

The conclusion that I’m going to draw is that although it’s a sad fact, it is probably still true that to achieve even a moderate amount of success, respect and recognition as a writer, you do need to tread the traditional route. Being a self-published author in the eyes of the publishing industry is worse than being an unpublished author. I suggest that the reason for this is that those people high up in the business want to make the decision that a book is worthy of publication; unless they or someone of their set standards has ratified it as such, then it does not merit a glance, much less any respect, regardless of the fact that it may actually be quite a good book. They appear to loathe the confidence/arrogance of the person who chooses to go ahead anyway. There are, and always will be, exceptions to this, but I don’t think the publishing world is ready to welcome self-published tomes with open arms just yet.

Interesting sites: