Monday, 14 September 2009

The trials of getting published

Hello y'all! I know, I know! It's been rather a while since I spoke to you but things have been pretty hectic since the launch of "Bree McCready and the Half Heart Locket". I will do my best to post something on my blog as much as I can but no promises!
Anyway, I've been planning a talk I am giving in October as part of the North Lanarkshire Works Festival. I thought it might interest some of the young people there to know what it's like to work towards getting your book published. Here is a rough outline of what I'll be saying if you fancy a read:

"Once I had finished writing “Bree McCready” I had absolutely no idea where to start getting it published. I didn't know anyone in publishing. I didn't even know anyone who knew anyone. All I knew was that I had a good book that I felt certain children would like. So I set to work. My first stop was the internet. I got the names of some well known publishers and I sent them a copy of my synopsis and the first three chapters of the book. After that I thought I had nothing better to do than to sit back and wait for the offers to come flooding in. What I hadn’t realised was that hundreds of other aspiring writers were doing the same thing! This is a very competitive market, you see. There are lots of children’s books out there and even more coming along every day.
When I started getting rejection letters I tried not to let it bother me. Everyone knows that even J.K Rowling got rejection letters. However, after the twentieth "thanks but no thanks" I started to feel a little downhearted. I started to anticipate the depressing thud of the returned manuscript every morning on the doormat. Was I doing something wrong? Nobody ever came right out with "this is absolute rubbish, don't give up the day job!" but at the same time nobody was knocking down my door to get me to sign that exclusive contract. Many of the letters I received were very positive - along the lines of "We really like this but.... or "Some great ideas and excellent writing but..." Always a but! It seemed that despite my having a good story full of terrific ideas this market was already saturated and highly competitive. Still, at least I was getting feedback. I had read somewhere that for every one manuscript that is read, two are filed under B for bin. I hadn't considered rejection on this scale but undeterred I kept going, sure that one day I would laugh at my run of bad luck. And on the bright side my pile of rejection letters would be something to talk to the newspapers about when I was mega famous!
One kind publisher (at the foot of their rejection letter!) advised me to invest in a copy of the 'Children’s Writers and Artists Yearbook' which I immediately did. This was very helpful not least because it advised me how best to structure my covering letter to publishers and how to lay things out so my manuscript wouldn’t get chucked in the bin before it had even been read. I re-wrote my synopsis and trundled off to the Post Office with another pile of bulging brown envelopes (*see foot note). I did a lot of waiting and experienced a lot of disappointment before my luck finally changed.

A lovely lady at Strident Publishing called Alison Stroak read my manuscript, as it was - very raw and in paper form. A pile of paper as thick as a doorstep and with lots of mistakes. But she loved it. Alison saw something special, something promising and she really believed in me and my book right from the beginning. That was all it took, just one person to see the potential and then the ball started rolling.

In the run up to Bree being printed there was an unbelievable amount to think about! The first priority was to consider the volume of the book. What I had written was almost three times the size of the finished book - which might have put some younger readers off. So my editor, a great guy called Graham Watson got to work. Editing was quite a long process which mostly took place via phone conversations and email but luckily Graham and I agreed on what was best for the finished article.

Then we had to decide on the cover for the book. Time was ticking on and we couldn't quite get the result that we thought would do the book the justice it deserved. With less than 6 weeks to launch I was starting to sweat that we would be having a launch night without a book! Graham reassured me that all would be fine and he was right (although he admits now that he was sweating slightly too!). I ended up with a cover that I could only have dreamed about (thanks Lawrence!) Then the different fonts were chosen and decisions were made about margins and where the page numbers and my name would go etc. Then there was the blurb to think about because that is as important as the cover. Proof reading was crucial - lots of different people checked the grammar and spelling and made sure that there were no big mistakes before the book went to the printers.
So, the next time you pick up a book spare a thought for all the hard work that goes into getting it just right!"

(* - I will always be eternally grateful to Carole at the Wester Hailes Post Office for her unwavering patience and support during that time. Not once did she ever loose her cool/roll her eyes to the ceiling/sigh deeply/swear/be rude/all of the above -even when I plonked my huge pile of envelopes down on the counter to get weighed and asked for individual receipts of postage for each and every one of them. She showed an interest in what I was doing and always had a smile for me. She never hurried me along even when the queue behind me snaked all the way up to Poundstretchers. To show my appreciation I popped in on Wednesday last week with a signed copy of Bree for her. She was thrilled.