It’s amazing what a difference a week can make!
Last Monday I was really starting to wonder whether my career aspirations were just delusions. I felt like nothing was ever going to go right, and I was convinced that my novel had been rejected by the publisher I had submitted it to.
If you read my last post, you’ll know that I was just about holding it together. I hadn’t given up, but I can honestly say that it was starting to feel like nothing was ever going to come of it and that maybe it was time to start considering other options.
Well, on Tuesday, that all changed.
Not only had the publisher not rejected my submission, but the agent I had been in contact with emailed me back with some of the most glowing praise I’ve ever received in my life, and we arranged to speak on the phone on Friday to discuss what I should do next.
Let me give you some background about this novel. Anyone who knows me will already know the history, pretty much, but for those of you who don’t, here’s the basic outline.
I first got the idea for this book in about 2011, the same year I got married and then began my English Language and Literature degree with the Open University. I started working on the book, and in the meantime I began working as a freelance writer doing corporate content for an independent publisher.
By 2013 I had a fair chunk of the story written, I guess around half of it, maybe a little less. My mum was part of the Richard and Judy Book Club at the time, and she told me they were holding a competition for unpublished novelists, with the winner receiving agent representation and a publishing deal. It was free to enter so I thought I’d give it a bash, without really expecting anything to come of it.
In March 2014 I was contacted by the Richard and Judy team to say I had made it to the shortlist of the final seven, and I was sent a page of feedback from one of the fiction editors at Quercus to help me finish off the rest of the book in time for the deadline at the end of September.
Ultimately, I didn’t win, but the editor very kindly took an interest in the book anyway, and gave me some amazing notes to work from so that I could develop it further.
During the next few months I lost a very dear friend, my marriage broke down and I moved into my own place; at 31 years old, it was the first time I had ever lived by myself, and it took a lot of adjustment! I had to defer my English Literature exam in June because, well, I was mildly traumatised from ending a 14-year relationship, and I took the summer to recalibrate and start putting my life back together.
In October 2015 I started the first Creative Writing module of my degree, and I learned a massive amount over the next two years – the course covered so many vital aspects of writing including structure, narrative voice, dialogue, pacing, character development, tension and conflict, status, subtext, editing and the writing process as a whole.
Sadly, both my grandmothers died in the early part of 2016, and I was also working towards my driving test, which I passed in August of that year. The book ended up being put on the back-burner with so many other things swimming around in my head. It wasn’t that I didn’t care about it anymore, but there’s only so much energy a person can find when they’re working full-time and doing a degree, and I just didn’t have the focus to figure out what to do with it. I decided that it would make sense to finish the Advanced Creative Writing module before going back over it again, so that I would have the best possible chance of editing it to a publishable standard.
So, after I finished my studies last year and gave myself the summer to recover, I sat down with some sheets of A4 paper and wrote down every major plot point, then stuck them all onto a plastic board and worked through the whole thing with a red pen. I made some massive cuts – to whole sections of plot, parts of scenes and even characters – and reworked a lot of the material to create a more cohesive story, develop the narrative voice, give the settings more texture and the characters more depth, and expand on the use of imagery to give it a more ‘poetic’ feel. All that took a lot of time and effort, but I loved every second of it because I felt that I finally had the tools to craft a piece of work I could truly be proud of.
By March of this year I was ready to send it off again. I worked really hard on a cover letter and synopsis (very, very important things to get right!), using advice from online articles and ‘The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook’ as a guideline, and I was ready to go!
I got back in touch with the editor I’d worked with, who had been so supportive and encouraging, and submitted the book to the publishing company she is now working for. She also put me in touch with an agent friend of hers and suggested I send it to her as well, which of course I did immediately!
Then I waited.
Then, due to a problem with the publisher’s submission system, I thought it had been rejected. And I still hadn’t heard from the agent, so it seemed as if all was lost…
Last Tuesday I had a message from the editor apologising and asking me to re-send my email address, and later that day I had the email from the agent, who was incredibly enthusiastic about my writing, my characters and the concept as a whole. She said some really flattering things and I genuinely made myself read through them several times to let them sink in. It was such a wonderful moment, to know that someone else believed my book was something special and I wasn’t just running head-first into a dead end.
After a couple more emails back-and-forth, she explained what she felt needed changing and I got my thinking cap on! It’s difficult when you’ve been invested in the same project for so long to look at it objectively and shift your perspective, but I had a few ideas and I jotted them down, scribbled some out and developed a couple of them that I thought had promise.
Our phone-call on Friday was amazing, and by then I’d come up with some potential solutions to the things she was concerned about. She agreed with my suggestions and said she’d be in touch with the publishers, who said they were of the same mind and that once I’d worked through the fixes we should all get together and discuss it.
Soooo… from Friday night until Sunday night I was glued to my laptop, reworking parts of the story (again!) and reading it through from start to finish to make sure it still flowed the way I wanted with all the amended sections – which was a task in itself, the current version is around 142,000 words! Lucky I read fast 😀
This morning I sent the latest version off and I’m waiting to see what the agent thinks about it. I’m so, so excited – basically, I’m a heartbeat away from not only having an agent but possibly my very first publishing deal as well!
I don’t want to jinx it by getting carried away, and I’m sure there’s still more work ahead of me – it’s possible that this will only be a starting point and nothing is certain at all – but even if this particular opportunity doesn’t work out, I no longer have any doubt that I have what it takes to be an author. Receiving positive feedback from someone who spends all day every day working with writers and publishers has lit a fire in my belly, and I know that I just need to carry on working at it for as long as it takes to make things happen.
Even that won’t be the end of the story, just the beginning of another. My next novel will essentially be my thesis project for the master’s degree I’m starting in October, and although I know it’s really hard to get published even once, they say the second novel is the real goal because it means you have the potential to build a proper career.
I think over the years I have become one of those people who is always more concerned with reaching the next achievement than celebrating the last one, but I feel that sharing this is important because it’s vital to acknowledge to yourself when you’re on the right track. Celebrating your successes helps you get through the low times, and reminds you that hard work really does pay off eventually, even though sometimes it can seem like you’re putting everything in and getting nothing out.
Keep the faith, people. Keep working and keep dreaming.
There’s an amazing quote I’ll always remember (from the film ‘Rat Race’ – weirdly!), that ‘good things take time, but great things happen all at once.’
If you want to follow me on Twitter, I’m at @RoseJamesAuthor. As soon as I have any more news, you’ll see it first there!
I promise I’ll get the second part of the structure post out as soon as I’m able, but for now I hope this might inspire some of you to pick up that project you’ve been avoiding working on, or to begin something new with a little more enthusiasm, or just to carry on plugging away with the knowledge that good things do happen.
You don’t need to be the most talented, or organised, or educated, or imaginative person to make something of yourself. You just need to make a decision that you’re going to succeed at achieving your goals, and then work your ass off until you do! Nothing worthwhile is easy, but if it was then everyone would do it 🙂