My Writing Journey (part 2)
My first novel, Paradise Girl was published at the end of January. I say first, but actually it’s the third one I’ve written. The real first is called ‘The Poisoner’s Garden’.
I’m more of a plotter now, but to begin with I simply had a vague idea that I wanted to write a story about a hero who started out as a wimp but grew a spine as the book progressed. I also wanted the reader to come to it with no knowledge or preconceptions about the context, so I decided to set it in a totally imagined world. Nevertheless, I didn’t want it to be science fiction, so that implied an alternative or counter-factual reality. The hero would belong to a privileged family. He would be failing to live up to the expectations of his ambitious father, disliked by his step mother, hated by his half brother. That seemed to me a good recipe for conflict!
As I spilled out the words the thing got longer and longer, with new elements, threads and plot twists occurring to me as I wrote. At around 140K words I stopped. It was obvious that I was producing more material than one book could take. It would be a trilogy. I pared down the manuscript, took the story to an ending that I felt was a good resolution but would also lead the reader into book 2, polished it, and sent it to Writer’s Workshop for a critical reading.
The reader, Philip Womak, responded warmly. I’m grateful to him for this because here was an independent, published and successful author telling me I could write! I also appreciate the improvements he suggested. He thought my work would appeal to a publisher and he recommended that I seek out an agent. Now I have mixed feelings about agents, which I’ll share in part 3 of this extended blog, but it’s enough for now to report that my search – over two years – resulted in some mild interest but no success. The general response (from those who took the trouble to respond at all, that is) was that they thought the writing had merit but that ‘it wasn’t for them’. Meanwhile I had finished the second book of the trilogy, and called it ‘Exiles’.
I had a chat with Harry Bingham at Writers’ Workshop, who confirmed what I’d already concluded: if 16 agents had rejected the manuscript of ‘The Poisoner’s Garden’ it was unlikely that the 17th or 18th would rush to accept it.
Time to take stock. I had completed the first two parts of a trilogy – two novels, each of around 100K words. The second volume of a trilogy isn’t much use without the first (OK, there are exceptions, I know), so there didn’t seem any point in hawking ‘Exiles’ around agents. Meanwhile the idea for a totally different novel had come to me. I put aside ‘The Poisoner’s Garden’, ‘Exiles’, and the notes for the third volume of what was now called the ‘Leopard’s Bane’ trilogy, and started work on a new book, ‘Paradise Girl’, which I finished in about nine months.
Back to the Writers’ Workshop. This time my manuscript was sent to Sarah Vincent, a writer whose work I admire greatly. Sarah’s critique bubbled over with enthusiasm (since publication she has kindly repeated her judgement in a 5 star review on Goodreads) and she, too, recommended I look for an agent. So I tried the agent route again. This time I approached six, with the same response as before. I have a theory why that might be, but you have to wait until part 3 of to find that out.
When I started writing ‘The Poisoner’s Garden’ I wasn’t really interested in publication. Sure, it would have been (still would be) nice to see it in print, but it was writing it that was important to me. I never thought much about an audience. However, the more I wrote the keener I became to have people read my work. If I was not to spend the next two years waiting for agents to respond, and maybe even then not getting anywhere, I had to self publish.
I spent some time looking into possibilities. My wife and I had run our own educational publishing business for about ten years, so I knew many of the ins and outs of the trade. Amazon KDP seemed to be the quickest and cheapest option, but the quality of the material emerging through that route seemed to be very variable. I didn’t want my work to look home made. I wanted a company that would do most of what a traditional publishing house would do, and to a high standard. There are a few of these in the UK and more in the USA, and some of the latter offer what look to be very good deals. There are also a few on both sides of the Atlantic whose main object seems to be to squeeze as much money as possible out of their authors. In the end I approached Troubador and asked for a meeting at their Leicestershire office. They have a very businesslike set-up and went through with me in detail the services they can provide, the various options and their costs. They were also very honest about what they thought it was worth spending money on, and what not.
I took out a contract with Troubador, and I’m delighted I did. They did a brilliant job of editing, cover design and production. They’re nice people to work with, and they don’t just wash their hands of you when your book is out.
Self publishing is a long slog, and I’ve had to spend a lot of time getting stuck into promotion and marketing. However, I understand that’s nowadays expected even of an author who’s with a traditional publisher. Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads became daily companions, and I lost all sense of shame in talking about Kerryl Shaw and the awful situation she faces in ‘Paradise Girl’. If you haven’t yet read it, you should!
In the third and final blog in this series I’m going to look in more detail at the world of the independent author, the role of agents, and the whole ‘writer’s support’ industry.