Three years ago and change, I started a blog, and aspirationally named it ‘Witchway. A Writer’s Journey to Publication.’ Witchway was the name of my parent’s first live-aboard narrowboat. I didn’t know if the publication bit would ever get anywhere close, but it sounded good, and it reflected the fact that I was serious about my writing.
Despite my own doubts and a somewhat meandering wander through writing from poetry to short stories and radio plays, I always came back to novels. But the scale of them is daunting. Am I the only one who starts a novel thinking ‘All that work and I’ve written one percent?’ Not to mention that I then have to rewrite and edit and polish before I can submit it to be sharply edited again by others. I learned that if I write every day, it takes two to three months to produce a good first draft, and maybe another month to deepen, pace, dramatize and strengthen it into a second draft. After that there’s more editing and polishing.
Three years ago I was more afraid of success than failure. I was becoming an expert at failure. Rejections of poems, short stories, everything. They would be sent out in batches, and would return to flay my confidence at sly, unexpected moments. I toughened up. Then the MA, an absolute Smörgåsbord of criticism and doubt. When you have a lecturer telling you to make radical changes and half a class full of people insisting you change your main character’s name it’s hard to hold onto your confidence, but when you do, it’s stronger for it. Jack stayed Jack, and the historical strand is in.
Getting an agent was great, but then we sent the edited novel to sixteen editors and…nothing. A handful of ‘no thanks’, but otherwise silence. So I waited, and waited… and nobody said anything. My agent was getting as frustrated as I was, and even sent the book out to YA editors, to receive the reassuring news that it really was for adults.
Fourteen weeks later, the agent rings. A publisher is putting together an offer and wanted her to answer a few questions. What’s she like with editorial suggestions? She could answer with complete truth: ‘Great, very professional, just gets on with it. On the rare occasions she doesn’t agree she is open to discussion or suggests alternative solutions.’ How prolific is she? ‘Let me send you the book she wrote while she was waiting…’ Has she thought about a sequel? ‘Let me send you the synopsis she’s prepared…’
My agent was excited, I was stunned. I had spent fourteen weeks steeling myself for rejection, I was well prepared for that. I was less prepared for success. While she’s telling me about the publisher – will probably want more than one book, has a good record at nurturing new writers, she has another of her writers doing well there – I struggled with the news.
But then it started to sink in. I’m going to be published, what seemed like an impossible dream three years ago. My book is going to be published. My agent is ringing around the other editors who still have the book, in case one of them would like to bid for it as well, but I definitely have one publisher putting an offer together. All thanks, let’s be honest, to the Mslexia prize that shone a spotlight on each of us. Others of you are polishing or submitting wonderful novels to editors right now. We’re giving back to the Mslexia team by confirming their choices, as well as making entry into a future competition more desirable to unpublished writers. So, I suggest you get ready for success… and I’ll send more details when I have them!