Let me take you back to when I was in my early twenties…
Welcome to the late-1990s! Oh look, there’s a Spice Girl.
I had a drama degree under my belt and was combining working as a teaching assistant with the odd acting job, but I’d never lost the love for writing that had been in me since producing this heavily plagiarized, cereal box-bound beauty circa. 1983!
In my spare time, fuelled by a desire to be part of the early movement of writing children’s books that featured under-represented family units, I wrote a YA novel I considered to be ground-breaking. After finding a copy of the Writers & Artists Handbook in my local library, I set about approaching a handful of small publishers directly.
Good voice, but no thanks
A couple responded to say they liked the book and that I had a good ‘voice’, one liked it but said it was too similar to something they were already pursuing, and the rest just sent impersonal rejection letters (yes letters, not emails – OMG, how old am I?). So I promptly gave up on that manuscript.
Advice for aspiring authors #1: Don’t give up just because a couple of people say no. As I’ve since learned, there could be many reasons for this and none of them might be ‘you’re rubbish at writing’.
Back to the drawing board…
Not quite ready to throw in the towel on my dream, I wrote a couple of middle grade fantasy novels, tried my hand at screenwriting, entered a few competitions, penned and illustrated some picture books, and tried again – using exactly the same approach. A couple of picture books got a bit of interest from small publishers who didn’t mind my direct approach, but nothing concrete ever happened.
Advice for aspiring authors #2: Literary Agents are worth their weight in gold. I wouldn’t try to by-pass this step if I had my time again.
Living hand to mouth
Without the funds to keep printing off reams of paper, I put my dream on hold, completed a P.G.C.E. and, in 1999, became a fully-fledged teacher, content to put my ‘little hobby’ to good use writing stories and penning plays for my classes to perform.
I don’t regret going into teaching. It was fun (if very hard work) and many of my experiences in the classroom will undoubtedly find their way into one of my books at some point. (Yes, I was THAT teacher – the one stifling giggles at assembly farts.)
Fast-forward to 2016 and I’d taken a job with a Literacy Charity. Happily enjoying writing course materials and delivering community writing projects, my eldest (we’ll call him Biggy and he was eleven by this point) complained that the kinds of books he liked (funny, full of pictures, easy to read) never featured families that reflected his reality – adopted by two mums.
So I wrote one!
After he’d enjoyed it (phew), I contacted a well-known adoption charity to see if they’d be interested in publishing it. They responded to say that, although they’d enjoyed my sample, they felt it would suit a more mainstream publisher. That was nice to hear, but, as often happens, adulting took over, and the manuscript went up into the loft while real life continued.
I realise I’m meandering, but it’s relevant I promise.
Fast forward a bit more…
Oooo look, you’ve arrived in 2019! Remember 2019? The year face masks were only worn by dentists? Good times.
Anyway…by this point, I’d reached the ripe old age of 42 and was married with three children: Biggy (now aged fourteen) Middly (eight at that point) and Diddly (age two by then). I’d been working as a Bid Writer for a youth charity, but after Diddly’s arrival, and for a variety of reasons, chose not to go back to ‘work’.
A massive fan of thrillers, when Diddly started nursery, I decided to give novel writing another go by writing a ‘thriller’ of my own. I found it hard work, but I was so pleased with my end result I gave it to a few family members to get their thoughts. They had nothing but (completely biased) praise for my efforts. Right, I thought, I’m going to try again with the whole publisher thing.
Thank goodness I now have the Internet…
Older and a bit wiser, (and with the world now at my hands thanks to Google and Twitter) this time I spent time properly researching how aspiring authors manage to get their books traditionally published. I found out what different types of publishing terms meant, got my head around literary agents and their pivotal role in the industry, sent my manuscript off and crossed my fingers.
We’re getting to the turning point…
Shortly after that, Middly turned nine and I remembered the book I’d written for Biggy (told you that bit was relevant). That’ll give her a giggle, I thought.
It did. She was in hysterics. ‘I wish this was a REAL book mummy,’ she said (although she might have said mum, don’t quote me on that), ‘so I could take it in to school and all kinds of kids could see show “normal” families like ours are.’
Over the next few evenings, I tweaked the book here and there, cast aside the thriller I’d been agonising over and sent my revamped manuscript off to three literary agents I thought might be interested.
AND GUESS WHAT? Two actually were!
One of them (the super-splendid one I’d set my heart on, henceforth referred to as 007) asked me to bob down to London for a chat.
(There was no bobbing about it. I live in Northern England.)
Anyway, I went down and was delighted to find she was 100% my cup of tea – just as I’d imagined she would be after reading her MSWL (Manuscript Wish List – one of those terms I’d learned about in my research week). She ‘got’ my book so well and was already totally invested in my characters. I was bowled over. She wanted me, I wanted her, and a verbal agreement was struck there and then! YAY!
About a month after our meeting, having taken on board 007’s inciteful ‘tweaking’ advice, my manuscript went ‘on submission’ (i.e. 007 emailed it to appropriate editors at different-sized publishing houses).
Informing me she was off on her jolly holidays the following day, her parting comment was: ‘It might be weeks/months before anyone bites.’
And GUESS what happened THE VERY NEXT DAY?
I think it was probably a case of right book, right time, but I was lucky enough to gain interest in my series from a range of publishers. What followed was a fortnight of fun (including pre-empts and an auction and another trip to London which I’ll blog about another time) but, to get to the point, in September 2019 I was thrilled to sign a three-book deal with the wonderful Puffin team at Penguin Random House!
Advice for aspiring authors #3: Don’t give up your daydream!