Looking at my smug mug on Urbane Publications’ shiny new website, I’m sparing a thought for unpublished writers out there who’d like to stick pins in me. A pitchfork, even. I’ve been lucky, I know. I’m sorry. But it might help you to know that my path to publication has been long, muddy and potholed.
The first blow was almost my last: my story was rejected by a pony magazine. Okay, I was ten, but the page of reasons for my rejection — no doubt intended to be helpful – made me turn to the recorder and then piano, flute…
I didn’t write again for about thirty years – by then on my second career, as a post-doc research optometrist at Moorfields Eye Hospital. I still secretly wanted to write a novel, so I took an Open College of the Arts course and started keeping a diary, but couldn’t come up with an idea.
Years later, I finally got an inspiration, and after two months of mulling, made a start (in the middle of an international conference). Unbelievably, the novel wrote itself in six months. I was an author after all! Euphoria!
Hm. Until I sent Men Dancing off to a literary consultant and was told yes, well done, but now start again with a different novel. Apparently, my female protagonist was too old (at 42, ffs) and unlikeable. An RNA report agreed. After a few sulky days I started re-writing, making her thirty-bloody-nine and a bit nicer.
Then it was time to hit The Writers’ Yearbook, submitting to the three agents that seemed best suited to my novel. A further ten. The whole effing book. Subs were nearly all postal in those days; my desk became a one-woman sorting office – and soon had a heaped tray of ‘not quite right for us’ letters. Then two agents asked for the full MS and considered it for four months (one sending agonising updates about ‘just having a second/third read’ etc.), but both decided to clear their desks for the holidays and sent painfully synchronised rejection letters a couple of days before Christmas.
It was time to hit the Yearbook pages of lovely little publishers accepting non-agented subs. But they too are swamped with hopefuls, and turned me down. Except a self-pub outfit that also had a ‘conventional’ publishing arm – that they were offering me. I grabbed it with both hands.
The company was friendly, the editing light but good. I wasn’t going to be a bestseller – or even a seller at all, other than on Amazon and in the local Waterstones – but at least I was being published. Well, sort of. I had to pay them a fee for having my novel at the London Book Fair. Then for including it in their brochure… Soon, all my royalties were used to pay for this and that – particularly when second novel Flamenco Baby came out. Then the royalties became delayed. No, they stopped. I was so busy researching for a new novel and doing promo for Flamenco Baby in Spain, that I only once queried it. Then they went very quiet… and bust. I never saw any sales figures or royalties for Flamenco Baby. Another self-publishing company valiantly scooped up most of the floundering authors – and then went bust themselves.
But hey, I’d finished another novel, so what did I care? I went bounding off to the Winchester Writers’ Festival with The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter and had a glowing response from a commissioning editor who wanted to see it once I was agented, plus two requests for a full MS from agents! Wow! Ah but listen, people: beware the One-to-One bubble (see my post One-to-Ones, I’ve had a few…). One turned it down in 3 days, and the other… well, more than two years on, I’m still waiting to hear.
So, it was back to those lovely indie publishers. One — over the course of a whole year – was interested, turned it down, invited re-sub after changes, then turned it down again. I splashed out on a literary consultancy report, revised, splashed out on another (Cornerstones & The Literary Consultancy – both recommended). It was a lot better, but still not quite fitting into a genre. Two years had now passed since I’d finished it, and — worst of all – I wasn’t coming up with any ideas for a new novel. I started to seriously question why I was pouring so much time, heart and money into it all this.
Then a Twitter friend told me to submit to his publisher, Urbane Publications. Thinking they only published Crime, I’d not bothered them with my not-quite-women’s fiction – but I’d been wrong about that. I ordered some of their books and found wonderfully unusual, genre-bending stories; heard about the inclusive way they work with authors… this was where I wanted to be! I re-drafted and submitted. The wait was the most agonising I’d had during the nine years since I started writing. But it was a YES. Oh, the screams.
I’m realistic, there are a lot of books out there and bigger publishers to compete with, but now I’m part of the Urbane family I can get on with what I want to do: read, write (new novel finally on the go), get books out there and support others whose work I admire.
My advice: Keep tramping that path, and one day you’ll find the right place to have your smug mug.
THE LIGHTHOUSE KEEPER’S DAUGHTER (Urbane Publications) will be published on 5th April, 2018.