So in my last blog, I shared a little of what I had found out about publishing and distribution from helpful people in the industry such as Ross from Nottingham’s Five Leaves Bookshop and Jim from London’s Gay’s The Word. At the end of the blog I said my next update would delve into the trappings of trying to get a literary agent to pick up my work, and while I promise to discuss this at a later date, I feel compelled to change direction in my blogging journey this week.
Following a meeting with Nottingham best-selling author, Darren Young (“Child Taken”) at 200 Degrees (Carrington Street) this weekend, I am enthused to share some of the parallels in our literary journey. It is hard to believe that despite the difference in our genres (“Child Taken” is compelling thriller for adults whereas “Best Mummy Snails…” is a picture book aimed at promoting diversity) our literary journeys are so similar.
The meeting wasn’t just by chance, it was set up by the lovely Matt from 200 Degrees. He had previously met Darren to write a blog about how he had used the Carrington Street coffee shop as a base for writing his novel. After listening to some of Darren’s story, Matt noticed the similarities in our ups and downs towards getting our books into print. He suggested we meet, so this Saturday, we did. Over a coffee we shared quips… the three hours passed by in the blink of an eye!
So, where do I start? Although his novel took some three years to put together compared to my 14 month route, as Darren put it, it was a voyage of many ups and downs. And the downs were sometimes very tough to pick himself back up from. We were both naïve in that we thought once we had our first positive response, we were well and truly on our way.
While Darren chose to attempt to gain a literary agent from the outset, I opted to try contacting a publishing house before looking at the self-publishing route. But in both cases, our initial positive responses turned out to be not so. Darren followed advice I had read too; be selective in the agents you pitch to. I was selective (or so I thought) in the publishing house I approached. We both learned the hard way from being initially jubilant to nose-diving into disappointment. I was thrilled to be offered a “contributory contract” by one such publisher, on reading the small print though I noted I would effectively be “signing my baby away.” I would lose creative control of the book. In Darren’s case, he had many initial positive responses from literary agents, only to be turned down time and time again. The learning point for us both here was to sometimes take advice with a pinch of salt and to get our stories out to as many people as possible; it only takes one person to fall in love with it and fight for it!
When I began my story, I had this silly notion it would take me 3-4 months to put the book together and then I would be on my way. Darren too underestimated the time it would take to get the book out there. When I shared my story with a group of children in a school assembly, a couple of upper key stage two children approached me, full of beans. It was great to be told they had been inspired by me to write but they thought once they had drafted and edited it that was it. Talking to the children, they were surprised that my book had taken 14 months to put together. Talking to Darren, I was amazed at how many times he had drafted and edited his work over the 3 years he nurtured his tale. I drew many comparisons in this and feel my initial expectations were a little childish.
We both had a personal drivers too. Mine was to try to support those who have experienced bullying having been on the receiving end as a child. Darren’s was to prove to himself that someone in the publishing industry believed his work was good enough to publish.
Darren too has other ideas for future stories, though he admits that his current “baby” has taken much of his spare time around his day job. It is for this reason he has not had the time or inclination to get begin his next (yet). Likewise, although I have several stories “on the go,” the only one currently in print is “Best Mummy Snails…” Again, it is fitting it in around my day job that is the stumbling block.
The length of time we were talking was testament to how passionately we feel about our books. Our babies. We both believe strongly in getting them out there. Our meeting reaffirmed my confidence in what I am doing. It allowed us to share our stories.
Although it may sound like getting a book published is a long and often negative process, Darren has a positive outlook on it. He said that of the hundreds of books sent to literary agents daily, only a tiny fraction hit the note for them. It is for this reason that there are so many knock backs. The literary agents are the gate keepers to the trade. To have both got our books to where we have done so far without agents should not be down played. Though we have opted to do it in different ways, we have both had our successes and we should both be proud of this.
It was a fantastic opportunity to meet someone who truly understands the highs and lows of putting a book together. I’m sure many other writers are in the same position. My advice to you if you are a budding writer? Keep believing in what you are doing, toughen up when you get the knock backs and enjoy the highs. Stick to your vision and goals.