Author C.A. Lupton joined us as a student on the Ultimate Novel Writing Course in 2019. Fast-forward to 2022, and her debut novel has just been published by The Book Guild, through a hybrid publishing model. Here’s how she went from first draft to published book.
Having spent many years in academia, I was no stranger to writing for a living: publish, or be damned, was the nature of the game. When I subsequently joined the civil service, I had to learn a very different kind of writing (even down to the font of choice: goodbye the ‘gravitas’ of Times Roman; hello unfussy Arial). Writing was now driven by the need to communicate clearly, concisely (and back-coveringly) with even the dimmest Secretary of State. Finally freed from the linguistic constraints of either setting, I was confident that writing a work of pure fiction would be relatively easy.
Starting out, I was very clear what kind of book I wanted to write, being a long-standing admirer of speculative fiction; and I knew what I wanted to write about: the clear and present dangers of human genetic modification. As a social scientist, I found the task of building a near-future world enjoyably easy, but it soon became obvious how little I knew about other key aspects of the writing craft such as characterisation, dialogue, plotting and, perhaps especially, ‘voice’. I realised I had to forget much of what I thought I knew and get back to the drawing board.
Finding what works
To this end, I signed up for the Jericho Writers’ Ultimate Novel Writing Course (UNWC) in 2019 and this proved to be one of the best decisions of my writing career. I received an in-depth, professional assessment of the first draft of the novel, identifying the main areas of weakness and setting out specific ways in which these could be addressed. Encouragingly for a novice author, areas of relative strength were also noted and, for the first time I got a sense that the book might just work. Drawing heavily on the accompanying course materials, and with the sustained encouragement of my tutor, I completed a further, much improved, version of the text.
I signed up for the Jericho Writers’ Ultimate Novel Writing Course (UNWC) in 2019 and this proved to be one of the best decisions of my writing career.
Over the following year, I submitted the revised manuscript to innumerable agents, experiencing one or two ‘near misses’, but mostly getting the standard ‘much to admire, but not right for me’ kind of reply. Feedback from the one-to-one agent sessions at the Jericho Writers’ Festival of Writing proved rather more helpful, and I had one promising ‘close encounter’ that in the end came to nothing when it became clear the agent wanted a very different book from the one I wanted to write.
By the start of 2021 I was becoming increasingly despondent; emotionally buffeted by the endless rejections and frustrated by the time the whole process was taking. Determined on a trilogy, I simply couldn’t afford to waste another year on unrequited advances to agents. Self-publishing was the obvious solution, but the more I listened to the excellent Jericho Writers sessions on the topic, the more I realised I did not have the skills, or inclination, to pursue that route effectively. A third way was needed!
The third route
So, I began to search for publishers willing to accept direct submissions – a process not assisted by the fact that several of the most promising-looking indies had ceased, or greatly reduced, their operation due to the pandemic. It quickly became clear that there were (are) many sharks operating in the profitable ‘author services’ arena, who will tell you they love your baby and, for a considerable sum, will help you take it to market. I felt I was at risk of sailing too close to vanity publishing waters; a place where a defenceless baby would almost certainly sink without trace (or regard). What I needed was a publisher who accepted agent-less authors but was selective about what it took on.
With the help of the ‘Self-Publishing Services Directory’, produced by the Alliance of Independent Authors (AIA), I identified a small number of publishers who were judged to offer services that were fair, ethical and of good value, and eventually decided on the UK-based Troubadour. This long-established company had an ‘excellent partner’ rating from the AIA and offered three publishing routes: ‘traditional’ and ‘hybrid’ (both, to differing degrees, selective) as well as a ‘self-publish’ option (under Matador). My submission was reviewed by two people and I was offered a ‘partnership’ arrangement on what I considered relatively good terms for an un-agented, novice author.
What I needed was a publisher who accepted agent-less authors but was selective about what it took on.
In short, the deal was that I would pay a proportion of the production cost (comparable to what a self-pubber could end up spending on cover design, line/copy edits, marketing, etc) but receive a much higher royalty rate than would obtain on a fully traditional publishing pathway. Should the initial print run sell out, the publisher would bear the full cost of a reprint but would not demand the first refusal on the next book. Most importantly for someone without a social media presence – and absolutely no desire to establish one – I would benefit from the sales, marketing and PR expertise of a large and experienced industry player.
Floating or sinking
The book went to market on time, actively and, as far as I can tell, effectively, supported by a marketing manager, a production manager, an eBook sales manager and a customer support manager! Would I have written a better book if I had secured an agent? Very probably – although much would depend on the skills of the agent and my relative (un)importance in their scheme of things – and the book would definitely have a greater market impact if it was published (and selected for promotion) by one of the ‘big five’ or genre-specialist indies. But my hybrid route has given me a chance to get my foot in a door that was otherwise proving stubbornly shut.
My hybrid route has given me a chance to get my foot in a door that was otherwise proving stubbornly shut.
It may be that my literary baby still sinks without trace, and it may be that the hybrid option will not work for many. But for me the alternatives were unthinkable: to spend precious time in a (likely) fruitless fish for agents or to delay the start of the second book in order to develop the skills and strategies of a successful self-publisher.
So big thanks to Troubadour, and big thanks also to the fabulous folks at Jericho Writers without whose support and encouragement – and smorgasbord of excellent learning materials – Red Dirt Girl would almost certainly never have seen the light of day.
About C.A. Lupton
C.A. Lupton spent all her working life in the health sciences, initially in a university research unit and later as a research commissioner for the UK Department of Health. She has now retired from paid work and lives by the sea with her family.
Buy ‘Red Dirt Girl’ here.
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