Snowbooks has sent five of its authors off on a blog tour and today they visit How Publishing Really Works.
Paula Brackston runs creative writing classes and workshops, is a script reader for a film company, and sells short stories. She lives half way up a Brecon Beacon with her partner and their two children, and is the author of The Book of Shadows, and the forthcoming Nutters and Lamp Black, Wolf Grey.
Andrew Sanger is an award-winning freelance journalist and travel writer. He has also written some thirty travel guides, and his novel The J-Word is published by Snowbooks.
Thomas Emson has been a singer-songwriter, an author, and a journalist. He lives in Kent with a wonderful woman, an elderly cat, and two house rabbits. His debut, Maneater, became a bestseller as did his second novel, Skarlet. He is writing numerous further books for Snowbooks.
Alastair Sim has published stories and playscripts in magazines, anthologies and on the web. The Unbelievers is one of two books which he wrote while on the University of Glasgow’s prestigious MPhil Creative Writing course.
Fiona Robyn writes to help herself and other people to pay attention, and because she loves to. She writes a daily blog, a blog about being a writer, and has an excellent collaborative blog. She lives happily in rural Hampshire in the UK with her partner, her cats Silver and Fatty, and her vegetable patch. Her three novels, The Letters, The Blue Handbag and Thaw are all published this year.
Jane: How long did it take you to get published, and how many books did you write in that time?
Alastair: I’ve written three books, two of which have been published. Of the two published, it took just over two years for each of them to get from what I regarded as a market-ready manuscript to publication.
Andrew: It’s worth mentioning first of all that I had had about 30 travel books published already before I wrote The J-Word. After what I’d heard about dealing with fiction publishers, I felt that I couldn’t be bothered with them at all! So I planned to publish The J-Word myself, and was all set to go. But I was tempted to send the book to just one small publisher, because I really liked the look of them—it was Snowbooks. As you see, they wrote back that they wanted to publish The J-Word.
Fiona: I’ve written two books of poetry, one ‘self help’ book (A Year of Questions: How to Slow Down and Fall in Love with Life) and three novels. I published the first three myself and then Snowbooks said yes to all three of my novels, six years after I’d started to write the first one.
Paula: My non-fiction has been published since 1999, when I wrote a travel book, The Dragon’s Trail about my month-long horse trek around Wales. I then started having pieces included in anthologies, and sold my short stories to magazines. But, from first page of first novel to publication of first novel (not the same book!) was nine years. I need to say that again. Nine years. In that time I wrote four novels and two screenplays.
Thomas: My first book was published in 1996 in the Welsh language. It was the first novel I wrote, but the second book—the first was a collection of short stories, which the publisher didn’t want. But they asked me if I had a novel. I sort of did—half a novel, really. But I said yes. I quickly finished it, and they liked it. I’ve been lucky ever since with publishing – in Welsh and English.
Jane: What do you think you changed in order to get published, and how? Your writing, your editing, your attitude, or anything else?
Alastair: I’ve been lucky that my 2nd published book, Victorian detective novel of ideas ‘The Unbelievers’ found a very good publisher in Snowbooks (the first, ‘Rosslyn Blood’, ended up with an unprestigious American publisher who didn’t market it). ‘Unbelievers’ found a better publisher because it’s a better book—it reflects the intensive editing and peer-review input of having been developed when I was studying for an MPhil in creative writing, on the University of Glasgow course which has produced over fifty published novels and one Booker shortlisting.
Andrew: I think the real answer to ‘What did I change?’ is that I became willing to focus on the reader’s point of view rather than my own.
Fiona: This might be controversial, but all that changed was my luck. I somehow felt more ‘ready’ to be published too, so maybe I was sending out different vibes. I do think it’s vital that we constantly strive to improve our work, but I’m not convinced that there’s always a direct correlation between how ‘good’ you are and how likely you are to get published.
Paula: During those long pre-published years I did an MA in Creative Writing at Lancaster University, which was sort of a statement of intent: ‘I am a writer’ kind of thing. I also had my two babies, and I do think that boosted my creativity. More practically, after all those hundreds of thousands of words it is just possible my writing got better.
Thomas: I didn’t change anything, really. I’ve certainly learned with every book. Learned to be a better writer, hopefully. I’ve been a journalist for more than 20 years, so I’d been in the publishing world, if you like—I knew all about deadlines and getting the job done and working with other people—which you have to do even in a solitary job such as writing
Jane: What was the low point of your search for publication? A story involving humiliation or mortification would be good here!
Alastair: An agent I was keen to work with turned down ‘Rosslyn Blood’ because she ‘couldn’t see a market for a contemporary thriller around Knights Templar and the secrets of Rosslyn Chapel’. This was just months before ‘The Da Vinci Code’ came out….
Andrew: To be honest, I have been lucky. My problem is not with publishers but with agents. I still haven’t got an agent and don’t know how to get one.
Fiona: Searching for publication is a constant cycle of reaching out and disappointment, followed by
a period of recovery. Depending on the disappointment, recovery can take five minutes or five months. I have got better at handling rejection, and this is a vital skill if you want to be a writer. I think we can be harder on ourselves than any publisher could possibly be.
Paula: Low point, you say? Hmm. Which to choose.… Having an agent who failed (in two years) to place any of my work? Being shortlisted for a crime-writing prize (which included publication) but not getting it? Maxing out all my credit cards with no sniff of a publishing contract? Fortunately, all these painful moments fade faster than a British suntan once you get your first book published.
Thomas: Oh dear! I don’t have one, I’m afraid. I’ve been very, very lucky. When I decided to give up full-time work and focus on writing three years ago I did have low moments, thinking: This is never going to come off. Not because my work was being rejected, but because I was aware how difficult it was to get published. But I’ve got a wonderfully inspiring wife. And she, along with a dose of good luck, got me through.
Jane: What has been the high point of publication so far? And has it changed the way you see your writing career?
Alastair: Seeing ‘The Unbelievers’ face-out on the shelves at Waterstones, beside writers whom I admire and respect like C J Sansom. It confers a reality on the business of being a writer.
Andrew: The experience of seeing The J-Word in print, seeing people reading it, hearing people discuss it, was intoxicating, a dream come true. It has been exhilarating ever since. Having a novel published has totally transformed my view of my future. Above all, I feel that it’s really worth plugging away at the new novel I am writing.
Fiona: Holding my first novel ‘The Letters’ in my hand, and seeing it in Borders with all the other real life books! And I’m always very happy to hear from satisfied readers. I have changed my ambitions since becoming published. I used to think I wanted glitzy awards and critical acclaim. I realise now that what I’d like more than anything is for ‘ordinary readers’ (whatever that means) to love my characters and to learn something about themselves from my books.
Paula: Holding my first copy of Book of Shadows in my hands for the first time. Seeing it on the shelves in Waterstone’s. Watching its ratings go up (and down, and up!) on Amazon. Doing book-signing events. Finding my son’s ‘book’ that he is now writing (aged 8) to be like Mummy. Giving my daughter (aged 6) a copy to take to school for Show and Tell. Shall I stop now?
Thomas: When Snowbooks said they wanted to publish Maneater. My first English-language novel. It gave me the confidence to think I could do this as a career. They keep publishing my books and keep making me feel very confident about my stories and my writing.
Jane: What single piece of advice would you give to new writers who are aiming at publication?
Alastair: You’ve got to combine a bizarre level of self-belief with a willingness to learn and revise, and revise again. Everyone else thinks you’re a fantasist for wanting to be a writer—it’s up to you to put the effort in which will prove them wrong.
Andrew: Picture a complete stranger reading your book, eagerly turning the pages.
Fiona: Be kind to yourself, and keep on going.
Paula: Don’t give up!
Thomas: Write something. Finish something. So many people I speak to say they want to be a writer, but they can’t find the time or can’t think up a story. Well, without having something written, finished, you’ve got no chance. Once you’ve got a completed novel, you’ve got a chance then. You might need a bit of luck, maybe, getting someone to read it and then like it. But at least you’ve got something people might read—and like.
My thanks to all five writers for taking part, and to Emma Barnes of Snowbooks for sending them in my direction in the first place (and I do hope you’ve all remembered to subscribe to White Magazine, which is turning out to be a very good thing indeed).