Route to Publication
(and far too much about my life on the way)
I'm am often asked about my route to publication, it is a long and arduous journey for most writers and the claims of a debut who is a sudden 'overnight success' are usually a little disingenuous. All the published writers I know have had to put years and years of hard work in to hone their writing, learn about the industry and build a network of contacts within publishing.
I started as many do - with a dream. I have wanted to write since I was little and wrote my first 'novel' at a young age when a family friend encouraged me to do so. It featured a princess, suitors and trials – I've always been fond of the tropes – and our friend's encouragement was invaluable, it fired me up, made me believe it was possible.
As I progressed through my twenties I tried my hand at Mills and Boon, making that all too common mistake that wannabe writers make by assuming that such storylines would be easy to write and all I had to do was knock out three chapters and a synopsis and wait for the contracts and the money to roll on in. I was so wrong and now hold Mills and Boon writers in the highest esteem, what they do is a precise, complicated craft and one of the most difficult genres to perfect. Before realising that though, I wrote an awful lot of beginnings. I wrote about strong business women and ruthless billionaires, I dabbled in Regency romances where kidnappings and forced marriages were common place and I'm fairly sure the odd prince and sheik featured in my international contemporaries.
I did not get published.
I did however get some very kind rejections. And a fair few standard letters as well. But it taught me some very useful things. I learnt how much I love writing. It gives me such pleasure, creating worlds to escape into. I also began to suspect – and this is the important bit - that there is no easy, slightly lazy route into becoming an author. Three chapters and a synopsis is never going to cut it. You need a full first draft to know what your book is about, let alone begin to explore your voice. I still have some of those early manuscripts and along with my heartfelt love letters written to Stedman from Five Star – thankfully never sent – they make me wince when I read them back.
From there life got in the way. I was a young mum, I went on to complete my degree when my babies were little and began working in schools, later becoming an infant teacher. There I met one of my very best friends who invited me along to a book launch for a professional poet and novelist. He in turn invited me to a monthly gathering he had at his house where a small group of writer friends would share and critique the poetry that they had written. I could not believe it, it all felt so terribly glamorous. I started to write poetry and as I did so my passion for writing, for putting words together and creating something tangible, came flooding back. I loved poetic form, finding safety in the discipline of its structure. However, I soon realised that whilst I enjoyed poetry I wanted to write books. I love literary fiction, am obsessed with the classics but it was light-hearted romcoms that I wanted to write, the escapist fiction that I loved to curl up with when the day was done.
The years were flitting by when in my mid-thirties I became very ill with ME, a disease I had once before as a teen, and everything had to stop. I could no longer do anything and became completely unemployable. It took me a good few years to learn how to cope with the day to day nature of the illness and then as I settled into a pattern that itch to write came back. I decided to see if I could write on days I was well enough to get fifty or even a couple of hundred words down and see how much I could achieve before I was well enough to go back to teaching.
It was slow. Years. But I did get a book written.
The next step was to try and get it published. The RNA (Romantic Novelist's Association) was suggested as a good place to start, I joined the NWS (New Writers Scheme) which critiqued my work and I began to make writer friends. Writer friends are invaluable, no-one understands the process as well as other writers do and by sitting chatting to them, whether in real life or online, the submission process is normalised, you begin to understand the industry, who is looking for what and the do's and don'ts of pitching to them. If you attend the RNA conference, as I did, then you have the opportunity to secure a couple of one-to-one appointments with editors or agents who will feedback on your opening chapter and synopsis. These are terrifying but invaluable. You learn to pitch and, best case scenario, they may request a full manuscript. Even the worst case scenario is a win because you have an industry professional give you insight on what you need to improve.
At the RNA's conference you attend workshops and lectures in the day and make friends in the bar in the evening. It was in one of these daytime sessions that I was told that many people have to write four books before they become writers of a publishable standard. Now, I don't know how true this is but it was wildly helpful to me. It gave me a plan. The feedback I had been getting on my novel was good enough, but nothing concrete was coming from it and I was unsure what to do next. Now I knew my next steps. I just had to keep writing more books until I learnt and learnt and became better. That felt achievable.
I went home and decided to keep it simple, I would stick to the old adage and write what I knew, which was happy singledom and teaching in Cornwall. Because of this people often think that I wrote The Cornish Village School – Breaking The Rules about me, I really didn't - Rosy is far tidier than I could ever be and no-one in their right minds would let me run a school, it would all be dancing and long lunch breaks. Maths would only be taught if we had chocolate counters and as to science, you'd better ask my children where I used to think the moon was. But I did use what I had observed as an Infant teacher to inform the story.
As with the last completed novel I obediently sent it off to the NWS for the annual critique, twice, and then received that Holy Grail of a report from my reader saying that with just a few tweaks this book would be ready for publication, start submitting. I couldn't believe it, I was already starting my third book as part of my great four-books-to-publication plan and this threw me off kilter.
I did what I was told and submitted it to my dream agencies and some publishers who would accept unagented submissions. Then I returned to my next novel.
I can still remember the feeling of reading the email from an editor that told me they wanted my book. I've kept it because I want to remember that feeling forever. Although at the time I was sure I couldn't have understood correctly so barefoot I dashed around to my best friend, who mercifully lived next door, and flung my laptop at him whilst sobbing. The words coming from my mouth were nonsensical and he thought someone had died. He confirmed that I wasn't wrong, the email was saying that someone out there wanted to offer me a contract.
Once I had recovered from all the emotions I switched my business head back on. I was aware I was now at a point that I hadn't been before and as a debut wouldn't be again so I reached out to the agents my submission was already with and explained I now had an offer of a contract and would they be interested in taking me on? This simple action meant my manuscript came out of the slush pile and I was asked to pause before I signed so they had time to read my submission before answering. Within a short period of time my dream agent came back to me and offered me representation. Then they sent my book out to their contacts. I soon had another offer of publication and had to choose between the two. I made my choice and that publisher asked if I'd be willing to turn the first book into the first of a series. The Cornish Village School was born and my writing career really took off. As I type this I am on my third professional contract and looking forward to getting better and better the more I write.
The key thing my route to publication taught me is that preparation is key and nothing happens overnight. You not only need to write, you need to keep writing and then write some more. Each book teaches you something new and hones your skills a little bit further. There is a strong chance you will need to write more than one novel to reach a publishable standard. You also need to learn about the industry inside out, know who is looking for what, what the expectations are should you be offered a contract, be prepared to pitch, always be professional and not emotional and remember that this is a business.
I wish you all the best of luck on your writing journey and do believe with talent and tenacity, you too can make your writing dream come true.