Are you an author in waiting?

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.

close up of typewriter vintage retro styled , inscription success ?

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.

So to all the budding writers and authors out there – good luck!

G J Marshall

About G J Marshall

I’m the youngest of eight children and raised in a very small, predominantly Maori town in the beautiful Hawkes Bay of New Zealand. I’ve always been interested in travelling and meeting new people as well as classical history so I moved from New Zealand to London – using it as a base for my travels. It's been several decades since then and I’m still here. After working as a legal cashier for 20 years in the City I was a casualty of the economy's instability and panic in the City. This gave me the chance to change my life; I started my other love; writing, then began my degree with the Open University and took a job in the Civil Service at the lively Streatham Jobcentre before becoming a Personal Assistant at the GLD. In 2015 I graduated with a BA (Honours) in the Humanities with Creative Writing and Classical Studies – and a first of which I am proud. Since then I have worked on my novel 'Mana'. I have no kids, no partners, just friends who take the place of my NZ family. But don’t get me wrong – I love my brothers and sister and all the extended family that make up my whanau, it's just that there are dreams to pursue...

  • Jeanne Ellin

    good to have an insight to the process

    • Deborah Garlick

      Do it Jeanne 🙂 x

    • Gaye Marshall

      Hi Jeanne, It’s hard work, but worth it. Are you thinking of writing a novel, or just finished one? Sorry to take so long in replying – I had an operation a week ago and I’ve not been feeling so great.

      • Jeanne Ellin

        hi Gayle mired in a novel past the half way point hope you soon feel brighter

        • Gaye Marshall

          Thank you, Jeanne. How exciting for you. Is the flowing or putting up a fight? Is it fiction or nonfiction?

          • Jeanne Ellin

            fighting! fantasy fiction You?

          • Gaye Marshall

            Fantasy fiction too – a ghost story with gods. If your novel is fighting you, try choosing one character, and write on a separate document or sheet of paper, what that character would like to do given the chance. Then another character, and another. See if any new ideas come to you that way. It works for me, but everyone is different. Just keep writing – don’t stop. You can always delete stuff you don’t like later. Its on a document not written in stone.

          • Jeanne Ellin

            like the sound o yours mine is truth fairy tales were devised to hide the very first spin doctor is my heroine maker of fairy tales. Thank you for your suggestion I will try it.

  • Gaye Marshall

    If you are wondering if you can do it – yes you can!!! Write. Believe. Publish.

  • Gaye Marshall

    A tool to help all you budding writers – Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’. It is brilliant and has helped me. The horrormeister wrote this semi autobiographical/self-help book. Its a no nonsense look at writing both novels and short stories, sprinkled with anecdotes about his experiences and family that make it entertaining – I laughed out loud at a few.

    • I bought this after hearing a great many recommendation – I really must get started on reading it!

      • Gaye Marshall

        Do read it. Its really interesting and helpful. I normally struggle with non-fiction but this was great.

  • Belinda Reid

    A wonderful and interesting read, especially how you started. Loads of good advice and encouragement with a good dose of reality. Hope there’s a sequel to this article so we can follow your journey!

    • Gaye Marshall

      Thank you – that’s nice to hear. If I get an agent, that is definitely a post script worth sharing. Should I be exceptionally fortunate and get a publishing deal it will be far off, but I would love to follow this article with that. I hope but don’t expect …

  • Linn

    What an interesting background to starting out and inspirational in the fight to picking yourself up of the floor, dusting yourself off and carrying on. I’ll keep an eye out for you on amazon for when you publish your first noval and the very best of luck with the agents and publishers for your second. Hopefully we’ll get to see updates on your progress and when you succeed, which having got an idea about your tenacity from your article I am sure you will.

    • Gaye Marshall

      Thank you for your encouragement Linn. I will be sure to let you – and everyone here – know when my first novel is published. LOL.

  • Good luck with the feedback from publishers. So many people are now self-publishing on Amazon, and there is a large reader pool that read the cheap and free novels – it’s a great way to be found, and then to start charging for sequels. If you already have a reader base, a publisher will chase you instead. Fantastic article, and very positive.

    • Gaye Marshall

      Thank you Gayle for you positive feedback. I do think I will try self publishing with my first novel, Angel of Light, Angel of Dark (going to have to find a shorter, snappier title) but for Mana, my novel I’ve just finished, I want to see it in actual books.I love books and spend ages in charity shops and book shops. Opening a book to read for the first time makes me feel excited and I want that with Mana. Thank you for the helpful update on Amazon publishing. That really helps me make my dream come true – I can’t bear for my first novel not to see the light of day. I am so fond of the characters. How is your publishing going?

  • Deborah Garlick

    Thank you very much for a fabulous article Gayle, and good discussion. We’ve just launched our book Menopause: the change for the better (http://amzn.to/2euXfqU). The sense of accomplishment is amazing and I’m so happy to see the reviews on Amazon. Hard work but if you want to write a book, do it x

    • Gaye Marshall

      Thank you, Deborah. Good luck with your book – a subject close to my heart as it happens. How long did it take to publish – once you were ready after the final editing?

  • Jan Beales

    Great article. It sounds as if preparation, perseverance and patience are the order of the day. For you to have overcome so many obstacles and actually have a finished novel at the end of it makes me ashamed of my own lack of staying power. I’d like to hear how your journey progresses!

    • Gaye Marshall

      Thank you, Jan. These things are important but it has to be about something you have your heart set on. To the things that matter to you, I bet you are relentless.