This week I got to start the year fulfilling a dream.
It was a brilliant moment – and you can see a little summary of it in the video above.
But probably the best bit was coming home and and handing signed copies to my two boys and seeing their faces. And having my youngest son say ‘I’m really proud of you Mummy, because you worked really hard on this.’
They know how long this has taken. And from the very beginning I haven’t been shy about sharing the ups and downs. Things aren’t always easy and I wanted to show them, by example, how to pick themselves up after a knock back. I don’t think I was ever very resilient – until I wanted to set that example for them. And I’m grateful to them for inspiring me to find that healthy dose of grit and courage.
I’ve benefited so much from lots of other writers sharing their journey to publication – and being honest about how long it took and how near they came to giving up on occasions. In particular Caroline Green, Abi Elphinstone and SF Said.
So for what it’s worth here’s my own time line. It’s almost as long as my journey to publication but there you go… I hope there may be some useful bits along the way for people needing encouragement to keep going. If you want to skip to some actual advice – jump the timeline to the last paragraph : )
I decided to get back to writing (something I loved as a child but which seemed to have fallen by the wayside).
Encouraged by a writer friend I submitted a story for 5- 7 year olds to her agent. After an encouraging start the exchange quickly turned to a ‘No’. At the time I felt like I’d been horribly naïve in my approach and embarrassed that I’d tried sending her a rewrite after her first response (which had resulted in a rather more curt and critical reply.)
I basically took it REALLY hard. In fact I stopped writing for the rest of that year. Way to go on the resilience, Mummy!
I gradually started writing again. Some picture book texts and also developing an idea for a short story about a boy and a dragon. I started submitting the picture books and was spurred on by a few encouraging comments. And after getting on Twitter and joining a writing group, I began to understand this rejection thing was all part of the process. (A not very nice part, but one I’d better get used to it.)
I got into the habit of sending out multiple submissions – so there was always another potential ‘Yes’ out there somewhere, to offset the inevitable rejections. And there were A LOT of rejections.
I took the plunge and wrote my first novel for 9-12 year olds.
At the end of the year I submitted it to a selected agent who I’d researched. Feeling very hopeful! I also sent it to the agent who had been interested in one of my picture books and had requested to see what else I’d written. Feeling even more hopeful! This time I was doing ‘the right thing’ – I’d researched my target – I’d polished my cover letters. I was good to go.
I got a ‘No’ from both. Both nice, but still ‘No’.
From their feedback I started editing, but I felt a bit like I was stumbling in the dark. So I sent the novel to The Lighthouse Editorial service. This was just what I needed. Very useful, targeted comments, which gave me the confidence to keep going with the idea – and keep editing.
I heard about the SCBWI Agents’ Party. And bought a ticket before I could think about it. And surprised myself by actually turning up, and then pitching to 15 agents in one evening.
Here I met my wonderful agent Jo Williamson. Later that week I signed with her and the Antony Harwood Agency. For the full picture of exactly how scared I was going to this event – and how glad I am that I went – check out this earlier post.
I have an agent!!! Feeling full of hope that the rest is all just plain sailing.
Naïve? I like to think just eternally hopeful…
Spent the rest of the month doing a few edits for Jo then the book went out on submission.
Just weeks later we had a publisher interested enough to want to meet and talk to me. This was amazing. It was all happening so fast suddenly, I’d be holding a copy of my book before I knew it.
Despite a lovely meeting, and spending a few months doing rewrites for the editor, in the end the book was ‘too quiet’ and they didn’t pursue it.
April – July 2014
I decided I needed to get back to writing just for the pleasure of it and stop worrying about ‘getting published’. I wrote a new story called ‘The Boy Who Grew Dragons,’ (BWGD) based on my earlier short story. Meanwhile still tinkering with my middle grade novel.
July – December 2014
Editing BWGD and resubmitting my middle grade novel. A whole lot more ‘thanks, but no’, but some really positive ones that gave me heart.
Started writing a new MG novel.
Jo took BWGD and my picture book series to London Book Fair. Lots of interest. Lots of new hope!
At this point we came really close to getting a deal for the picture book series, but in the end it was turned down as it was deemed too similar to something else on the publisher’s list. Sometimes it can just be timing.
The Boy Who Grew Dragons still had interest – BUT the publisher wanted it much shorter and for a younger age range. And with a different focus.
Feb – July 2015
I finished the first draft of the new middle grade novel. Woo-hoo – this one is it, I thought.
I worked on a shorter version of BWGD to try and match what the interested publisher was looking for.
It would all be worth it, I thought, if it got me a deal. But I got horribly stuck and horribly frustrated that I seemed to be losing what I loved about the story by changing it so radically. I shared my concerns with Jo and she agreed that if I wasn’t feeling happy with it I should not pursue it. I’m so thankful to her for supporting me at this point and not encouraging me (or persuading me) to push on with it.
Editing, editing and more editing of the new middle grade book.
We submitted the new book to publishers who had been interested and kind about my first novel. Feeling oh so very hopeful this time!
Rejected by both publishers.
Felt crushed. I thought I had got better at hearing ‘No’ but these hurt. And although I knew I would continue writing, I seriously considered that this might be the end of the road for trying to get published. I was ready to walk away.
Unbeknownst to me, Jo took The Boy Who Grew Dragons back to London Book Fair. And I got a call to say there was interest.
Less jumping from me this time. (I’ve been here. I know the score. I’ll believe it when I see it, etc.)
But then she told me three publishers were interested.
April 28th 2016
I travelled up to London to meet two publishers. I was excited to be out of my PJs and in the big city, but regarded it as a day out rather than the answer to my dreams.
Sadly with the first meeting it was clear that although the publisher liked my writing and the voice, the book they really wanted wasn’t something I was interested in writing. I texted my husband to say the trip was a waste of time – and on his birthday, no less!
So I didn’t hold out much hope for our second meeting of the day. But it was in fact a bit of a dream. After being given ‘Andy’s Dragon Growing Kit’ by the editor and hearing their enthusiasm for the story I finally let the little spark of excitement back in.
By the end of the day I had an actual publisher saying ‘we are ready to make an offer’.
On three books!
2016 – 2018
Two more years of writing and editing later, The Boy Who Grew Dragons will finally be on shelves in June 2018, followed by two more books later in the year.
Eight years after I sat down to have a go at writing something for publication. And five years after signing with my agent.
It’s taken a while…
Jump in here for the advice bit!
So here are a few things I wish I could go back and say to my earlier writing self:
OK, so you’re naïve. It’s not a crime, you’re learning, you’re going to make mistakes, you might even embarrass yourself! Never mind. Just carry on.
Keep writing. Even on the days you don’t feel inspired. Sometimes this is when the odd thing will pop into your head and take you in a whole new direction.
And keep submitting to agents/publishers. The more you have out there, the easier it will be to move on from the ‘Nos’.
Don’t get hung up on the phrase ‘write every day’ and the idea that if you’re not writing then you’re not a writer. I know that sounds at odds with the previous advice, but that’s only if you believe writing only involves actually putting words on a page.
‘Writing’ can be dreaming up ideas, planning a plot point, talking things through, playing with characters, oh and living life and even taking a break to let the ideas sneak up on you unexpectedly.
You work well in bursts. Make the most of those bursts and accept there will be times where nothing much happens. (Or so it seems – your unconscious is pretty good at keeping an eye on things)
Don’t feel like you have to do everything you are asked by publishers/editors.
Sometimes their vision will feel absolutely right and strengthen your work in ways you wouldn’t believe possible – but sometimes you will just not be a good fit. Have the confidence to both take feedback with good grace and learn from it, and disagree with feedback and stick to your guns if it doesn’t ring true. At the end of the day you want the book in your hand to be the one you wanted to write.
Above all, do it because you love it.
And then keep doing it.
And remember these wise words.
‘It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.’ Albert Einstein
‘Still round the corner there may wait, a new road or a secret gate.’ J R R Tolkien
‘Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.’ Winston Churchill
‘I am not discouraged because every wrong attempt discarded is a step forward’ Thomas Edison
‘When you feel like giving up, remember why you held on for so long in the first place’ Author Unknown
And finally finally huge thanks to Sara Ogilvie for her amazing artwork that just keeps catching my eye – and Nick Stearn and the team at Piccadilly Press for such a wonderful cover design. With it being all shiny and embossed, it’s getting a lot of stroking!
Dragon artwork used on this site courtesy of Sara Ogilvie (illustrator) & Nick Stearn (cover design)