When I was growing up it was through books that I lived other lives, was transported to different universes and saw a world of possibilities and choices. Books inspired me – and I wanted to make other people feel this way.
When the economic crash hit the UK, I was a legal cashier in a city law firm. Surprisingly, becoming a casualty of the City’s panic, although scary, was a stroke of good luck. I was unemployed for six months – but this gave me time to examine my life and make some big changes. After all, I was 48 and not getting any younger.
It was time to start doing things I’d always wanted to do, so I wrote my first novel – Angel of Light, Angel of Dark. It was a labour of love and discovery. Writing was exhilarating but more involved than I thought, including hours and hours of research.
Proudly I sent off my sample chapters to 12 agencies. After two weeks, I began checking my junk mail account as often as my inbox. When the rejection slips started to come in I took it hard. Until, finally, one agency wanted to read the whole novel.
They liked the story but it wasn’t different enough to the novels already out there – the market was saturated with angel/demon young adult novels. I’d been so busy polishing and editing my novel that I missed the boat. Dejected, I’d learned about marketing and timing.
Eventually I calmed down and picked my confidence up off the floor. It occurred to me that maybe I needed to address my obvious shortfalls. It seemed that writing wasn’t just about passion – it required skill in putting together the story and characterisation, as well as about understanding supply and demand.
Deciding to combine this with something else – a BA degree to give me more choices workwise – I couldn’t afford to be a full time uni student so I chose the Open University and I’ve never regretted this. The OU was tough going. I learned to be very organised and never lose sight of my goals, planning study around a meagre social life and then, a month later, around a full-time job.
I began writing short stories; Hope; A True Story and my fictional short story The Price, which was later published in Scribble magazine. This galvanised me and revived my excitement in writing.
My second novel, Mana, began when I was also able to scrape together enough money to go back to New Zealand to see my family. This is when inspiration struck. I went on a tour of Rerenga Wairua – a sacred place in New Zealand. On the day I went they’d been hit by a huge storm – the sea mist was so thick I could barely see two metres in front of me. Rerenga Wairua is on an escarpment and the Maori legends say that the spirits of the dead must travel there to descend into the Underworld. It was creepy, atmospheric and gave me the short story I needed for my dissertation for the creative writing part of my BA degree. The story was about a modern woman stalked by a ghost and entwined with Maori myths and legends. I scored 86 for this and was thrilled.
There is a market for adult ghost stories so I began to turn this into a novel. It was nearly finished when my faithful old Dell laptop crashed and I lost my novel. It was a crucible; if I didn’t pull myself together and retrieve what I could right now, I never would. After a cry, I scoured my ‘sent items’ because I used to send chapters off to various friends for opinions and grammar corrections. So bit by bit, I recovered parts of my novel, stitching them together and, in many cases, doing a rewrite altogether. It wasn’t easy but it came out as a better novel.
Then the big day came; August 28, 2016. I finished my novel. I sat in my garden enjoying my time in the sun before the next stage.
And that’s where I am right now. I’ve sent off my first two submissions to literary agents. In another few weeks, I will send off two more and so on. I already know what it’s like to get rejections, to get immersed in depression and loss of confidence. That’s when my straight-talking cheerleaders come in – my friends.
While I’m waiting to hear back about Mana, after seeing an article on how to self publish, I might rewrite Angel of Light, Angel of Dark and self-publish on Amazon. Likewise I’ve also made myself learn new things; I have a fledgling website to increase my profile, although it takes me well out of my comfort zone. Always have a back-up plan – sometimes the journey to your dreams isn’t a straight path.
Selling books is a business and that’s what literary agents and publishers are: business people. Here are some hints to help you get started:
- Do your research. Choose agencies that take first-time writers – one agency alone can receive 1,000–2,000 submissions and will chose one, maybe two, a year.
- Consider the genre. Look at the agency’s website and address your submission for the agent in your genre. Otherwise they will bin it, not pass it on.
- Prepare a writer’s CV. Note anything you’ve had published or writing courses you’ve completed. Include it either in the covering letter or submission form – your submission will go to the top of the pile.
- Write a good covering letter. It’s your first sales pitch and it must be brief, interesting, carry a mini biography and be without mistakes.
- Write a synopsis. Go strictly by the agency guidelines – usually one to three pages. This is their first taste of you as a writer, so sell your story.
- Hone your first three chapters. The agencies always want this, so get several friends to critique it for you – make sure it has punch and no errors. Your novel will be judged on these chapters.
- Have patience. Agencies can take between 6–12 weeks to reply. In the off chance they send feedback, it will help with your next submission.