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‘Ghost Girl, Banana’: Wiz Wharton on choosing a publisher and staying true to your heart as a writer

We first met Wiz when the opening of her debut novel was longlisted for Friday Night Live at the 2020 Summer Festival of Writing. She went on to win our bursary for the Self-Editing Your Novel course, and after receiving six (!) offers, is now represented by the RCW Literary Agency. \'Ghost Girl, Banana\' was pre-empted by Hodder Studio and will be published as its major summer launch in 2023. Here, we got to chat to Wiz about staying true to your heart as a writer, the importance of a writing community, and more. JW: Tell us a little about your background as a writer. When did you start writing? WW: I was an absolutely voracious reader as a kid, and I think that naturally led me to think it would be something fun and easy to do as a job - haha! I remember when I was about six, I sent a hand-drawn children’s manuscript to Hamish Hamilton, called Tilly and the Flower People. It was about a gang of rebellious tulips plotting a coup against their greedy human nursery boss (don’t ask). One of the editors sent me the loveliest reply - a rejection, obviously, with two bits of advice: 1) Never send your original MS through the postal system and 2) Keep trying. I actually started my career in a different field, studying screenwriting at the National Film and Television School where I had the privilege of being taught by some of the greats like Stephen Frears, Mike Leigh and Ken Trodd. My graduation film won a couple of prizes on the international film circuit and from there I was picked up by the BBC. I subsequently worked on a few projects, but ultimately none of them were green-lit - another hard lesson in rejection! JW: What was the first piece of work you put through the submissions process? What was that like? WW: My first adult submission was for a novel that I believed sat firmly in the genre of literary/upmarket commercial. What I was subsequently told by two agents - who offered me representation - was that I’d written an “unintentional thriller” and could I please make it more of one! I absolutely love thrillers as a reader, but in my heart knew that this was not my natural home as a writer. I also knew that I was in this as a career rather than a one-book thing, and worried how I would follow this, having set up readers’ expectations of my work. As a result, and after much soul-searching, I turned down both offers and started again... Finding a community JW: How has having a community of writers around you helped with your writing journey? Do you have any advice for writers trying to find their community? WW: I think the best thing a writer can do - apart from reading everything you can get your hands on - is to find a group of people who understand you. For writers, that’s other writers because no one else can quite comprehend either why we do what we do, or the struggles of the journey. I was incredibly lucky to discover the Twitter writing community early on, especially the #VWG (Virtual Writing Group) who have been absolutely instrumental in keeping me going, but there are other outlets available too: in-person groups, creative writing initiatives/courses (like Jericho Writers!) Instagram and Facebook. The best way to find your tribe is to engage with others. You have to put in the effort because writing is a reciprocal act. What I mean is that it’s not just about creating; you’re always looking to find and understand your audience. It’s intimidating at first, but just say hi, offer suggestions to questions, enter competitions or things like #pitmad, #askagent and #WritersLift, or congratulate someone else’s achievements. By and large, the writing community is incredibly generous and inclusive, despite occasional pockets of unpleasantness, and you will be welcomed. You have to put in the effort because writing is a reciprocal act. What I mean is that it’s not just about creating; you’re always looking to find and understand your audience. JW: Tell us about Friday Night Live. What was that experience like? WW: I was a festival novice when I entered and didn’t think I had any chance of being longlisted, so it was wonderful to have that validation. And just entering a competition is an act of faith and bravery, so I have a lot of admiration for anyone that does it. I didn’t reach the shortlist of FNL but my experience with Jericho did lead to me winning the Self-Edit bursary that year, and being noticed in other competitions, so it’s definitely worth putting yourself out there. I will add that the quality and standard of teaching at Jericho Writers is wonderful, but if you can’t stretch to the cost of a professional assessment or a course, the Summer Festival of Writing is a brilliant, affordable alternative that gives you access to some of the greatest speakers and workshops on writing. The fairytale choice JW: You submitted to six agents and received four manuscript requests within an hour. You also received six offers! How did that feel? Was the process what you expected? WW: I’m still reeling, actually! It’s an enormous privilege and a thrill to have that response to your work, but I do think a lot of it came down to timing and a public appetite for more diverse stories. This wasn’t my first rodeo, and I’d been told previously that my writing was sound but my voice was too marginal for the market. Because of this, I was girding my loins for rejection again (and the famously long wait for a response), so to have that turnaround was a bit bewildering. I remember speaking to my friends in the #VWG and saying “X has asked for a meeting. What does this mean?” You always wonder “is this the call?” because sometimes it isn’t; sometimes it’s a request for a revise and resubmit (an “R&R”), but it just happened that all six offered representation. And as much as it was an absolute fairytale situation, I can’t even begin to describe the agony of making a final choice and having to turn people down. It felt really alien to me, and I do think it’s important to remember that agents are people, too, and they are also said no to daily - be that through editors, publishers or sometimes even writers! I do think it’s important to remember that agents are people, too, and they are also said no to daily - be that through editors, publishers or sometimes even writers! JW: Rather unusually, you’re represented by two agents. What is your working relationship with them like? WW: I am incredibly blessed in that department. I have to say that the wonderful Claire Wilson is my primary agent at RCW and helps me day to day with absolutely everything, but Peter Straus has also taken me under his wing and emails me with incredible advice, offers editorial notes, or sometimes just emails to ask if I’m okay. It’s incredibly collaborative and nurturing, as is the whole agency. Claire’s assistant Safae and all at the foreign rights team are also majorly amazing. I’m working on that “difficult” book two now and Peter and Claire have both been brilliant in terms of their insights. JW: How did the offer from Hodder come about? WW: Claire drew up a submissions list for both the UK and US. We’d spent the previous five weeks rewriting the manuscript (twice) to try and make it as strong as possible before sending it out as we wanted to catch people before the summer break. The “nos” came quickly, and quite fast, but the fact they were all for different reasons helped me view them as subjective rather than a fault with the book itself. And that’s the thing. A book lives for a long time in these early phases and for that reason you absolutely NEED an editor to be in love with it 100%. Some of the editors were incredibly passionate about the book, but it fell at the acquisitions meeting stage for one reason or another. I do think there’s this misconception that only one person has to love your book for it to be published, but it actually takes a village to get to that finish line. Luckily, we did have a fair bit of interest from both here and in the US, but when I had my first meeting with Sara Adams at Hodder I knew instinctively that she was who I wanted to work with. First of all, she’d brought her lucky cat to the meeting (haha) but secondly, her whole team was on board already and loved the book. Most importantly, however, Sara understood the story to its bones which is crucial to me as a writer. We were immediately on the same page about what might need changing/tweaking whilst maintaining the heart and integrity of the novel. That combination was irresistible to both me and Claire. And can I just add that I am so glad to have had an agent at that point; not just for the professional connections but for the negotiations that took place after the offers came through. It was stressful enough handling the phone calls, let alone doing all the figures behind the scenes! A book lives for a long time in these early phases and for that reason you absolutely NEED an editor to be in love with it 100%. JW: Finally, do you have any tips for writers working on their debut right now? WW: In much the same way as any creative field, writing is a skill acquired over many years of dedication and training, and the journey is fraught with disappointment and “almost there”s. Keep the faith, but also keep reading and learning. No one can write your story your way, so as tempting as it is to compare yourself to others it’s also counterproductive to finding and loving your own voice. Your voice is what makes you special and uniquely qualified to tell your story. Write with your heart rather than with one eye on the market (you’ll always be behind the curve) and do it as if no one is looking. Find a support network of other writers and be generous and sincere in your praise. Connect with agents professionally and courteously and don’t trash talk on social media, even when you’re at your lowest. And if you achieve your dream, whether that’s finishing a book or being published, or being successfully published, don’t pull the ladder up after you. I wish you all the very best on the journey. About Wiz Wiz Wharton is a prize-winning graduate from the National Film and Television School. Previously published in non-fiction, she has appeared on various broadcast platforms, including radio, television, and print media. Her debut novel, Ghost Girl, Banana - based on her mother’s posthumously discovered diaries - is a dual narrative examining the search for belonging and identity, set between the last years of the Chinese Windrush in 1966 and Hong Kong’s Handover to China in 1997. Wiz currently divides her time between London and the Scottish Highlands. Read more about Wiz on the RCW website; or on The Bookseller. Connect with Wiz on Twitter: @Chomsky1
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Natalie Chandler’s debut two-book deal with Headline Accent

Natalie Chandler began researching and writing her debut novel, \'Believe Me Not\', in 2020, and attended the Summer Festival of Writing to build up her confidence before seeking agent representation. She\'s now represented by Liza DeBlock at Mushens Entertainment, and recently signed a deal with Headline Accent. Natalie kindly shares her story and some words of wisdom here.  JW: Tell us about finishing your book – where did the idea come from, and how did you go about turning that idea into words on a page?   NC: ‘Believe Me Not’ was born from a dream, believe it or not (delighted to have got a pun in so early on). I woke up thinking about a disorientated woman trying to find her baby son despite everyone she trusted insisting she didn’t have a child - and the idea just wouldn’t be quiet until I sat down and started writing.  I’m very much a pantser so I had no idea where the plot was going or what was going to happen. But my protagonist, Megan, was already fully formed and she drove the early chapters. I did a lot of research – I hate getting details incorrect – and was fortunate that one of my best friends works in the NHS and she not only patiently answered my countless questions but also put me in touch with other mental health professionals.  For the first time, I had no other distractions, due to the small matter of the world coming to a halt with a global pandemic. No lunch invites, no exhortations for ‘just one drink’ or weekend getaways. I was writing practically full-time and it was flowing like never before. I had nearly finished the first draft when I saw an advert for the Summer Festival of Writing and decided, since I was Doing This Properly, it would be a sound investment. It turned out I was right. I came away feeling empowered, knowledgeable, no longer a complete amateur – and ready to edit until I could edit no more.    JW: How did you land your agent? During the 2020 Summer Festival of Writing, I attended every webinar led by an agent. I wanted to learn as much as I could about submissions before jumping into the fray again, having previously tried to find representation for two earlier novels and been unsuccessful. Jericho Writers provided such wonderful opportunities to, for the first time, really discover the secrets of the industry and I felt much more confident in my submissions package after applying everything I’d learnt. I also booked several agent one-to-ones, which were nowhere near as terrifying as expected! One of the early ones was particularly brilliant. She ripped my opening pages to shreds and it really stung at the time, but when I sat down to work through her deeply perceptive notes, I realised she’d helped me improve tenfold and I was so grateful to her. From then, I had a stronger package to present at one-to-ones and I gained three more full requests from subsequent sessions.   By this point, I already had six full manuscripts on submission and was prepared to wait to see what the feedback would be when, out of the blue, I saw on Twitter that Liza DeBlock at Mushens Entertainment had opened her submissions that morning. I’d followed Liza for a while and really liked her style so I decided there was nothing to be lost in contacting her. She replied within hours asking for the full manuscript and just over a week later, I was signing on the dotted line in a state of wonder, disbelief and sheer joy.  It had been nearly a decade since I sent out those first tentative letters (no email back then!) seeking representation and I was so thrilled by the opportunity to become part of the Mushens Entertainment family – a dream agency I had followed since its creation – that I didn’t quite dare to believe it was finally happening.   JW: What was the process of choosing an agent after a number of full manuscript requests?   Liza was the first agent to call – she read the full manuscript in 48 hours and left me the most wonderful voicemail telling me how she loved it so much she’d stayed up half the night to finish it, which I intend to keep forever! As soon as we got talking, I was amazed by her excitement and her sheer passion for ‘Believe Me Not’. She already understood the characters and themes and we were completely on the same page regarding edits and improvements. I knew we’d clicked but Liza encouraged me to continue talking to the other agents who had the full manuscript and see what their thoughts were. They were all lovely and so encouraging but my gut was telling me I was going to accept Liza’s offer. My partner told me to listen to the voicemail again and said ‘anyone that enthusiastic is going to be your most valuable ally. She’s 100% committed to you and the book and you can’t ask for anything more’. That sealed it for me.  JW: What is your relationship like with your agent now?   Wonderful! Editing together was the best experience – the book grew stronger and I learned so much working alongside a talented professional for the first time. Liza’s cup is always half-full and she approaches everything with positivity. She checks in regularly whilst still giving me total autonomy in the writing process, and she always has time for me despite being super busy. I can discuss any problems or concerns with her and know I can trust her advice and guidance.   My partner told me to listen to the voicemail again and said ‘anyone that enthusiastic is going to be your most valuable ally. She’s 100% committed to you and the book and you can’t ask for anything more’. That sealed it for me.  JW: So you got your agent, but then what? What was the submissions process like?   ‘Nerve-wracking’ is probably the best description. There had already been interest from a number of editors when I gained representation so we started with a list of twenty initial submissions to mostly Big 5 houses after we’d done two rounds of edits. I knew there are always rejections so I’d steeled myself but we were getting fantastic feedback and after three weeks, the magic word ‘acquisitions’ was whispered. Days later, Liza called with the news that Headline Accent wanted to meet me and was offering a two-book deal – I was really going to be a published author!  JW: Has everything met your expectations so far, or have there been a few surprises?   As a debut, I didn’t expect to be given the level of autonomy and control I have.  Even though I’m learning fast, I’m still inexperienced, therefore I’d anticipated more instructions and fewer discussions. I was impressed that my thoughts and opinions are valued and how it has been constantly emphasised that it is my book and I am free to decide what works best.  Editing together was the best experience – the book grew stronger and I learned so much working alongside a talented professional for the first time. Liza’s cup is always half-full and she approaches everything with positivity. JW: Has this experience taught you anything about the publishing industry and pursuing your goals? Primarily, I’ve learned how lovely people in the publishing industry are! Everyone I’ve met has been so generous with their time, advice and encouragement. I’m very grateful. Don’t be scared to ask questions and take every opportunity to learn and network. If being an author is what you really want, understand it won’t happen overnight – sometimes it takes a decade. Stay committed through all the rejections and keep going – write anything, write everything, but keep honing your craft and growing as an author. You’ll feel like giving up many times but never forget you write, above all else, because you love it.  It’s all worth it the moment you get the voicemail that will change your life!  About Natalie Natalie Chandler was educated at the University of Durham and currently works in behavioural education, specialising in social, emotional and mental health issues.  Her debut psychological thriller \'Believe Me Not\' was written during lockdown and delves into the fractured mind of a woman abruptly diagnosed with psychosis, as she fights to prove the existence of her baby.  \'Believe Me Not\' will be published by Headline Accent in March 2022. Natalie is represented by Liza DeBlock at Mushens Entertainment and divides her time between London and the rural North of England. 
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Jan Cavelle’s Achievements in Business and Books

Entrepreneur and Jericho Writers alumna Jan Cavelle is phenomenally successful, having grown her own 20-year-strong business from scratch and published a book of expert insights into growing a business, ‘Scale for Success’, with Bloomsbury in 2021. Whether it’s a business or a book, the journey is never easy - and Jan kindly shares her experience of non-fiction publishing with us here.   January 2020 seems a different world away for all of us.  I was paying little attention to tales of an old lady dying of some unknown disease in remote China.  In fact, I had gone off-grid, telling no one what I was doing.  It was too big, too heart-stoppingly important to me.    One chilly day that January,  I hauled myself upright at around three in the morning and drove to London, terrified of missing my appointment.  I spent most of the four-hour wait in a tourist hotel pushing congealed eggs around my plate and wondering just how many cups of tea it was possible to drink.  Finally, I walked around the corner to the hallowed offices in Bloomsbury Square to stare in awe at the Harry Potters on display in reception.   I had gone off-grid, telling no one what I was doing. It was too big, too heart-stoppingly important to me. But let me take you back a little.  My childhood dream was to write a book, but life and, as a single parent, an abrupt need to make a living took over.  I started a business on a shelf under the stairs in our tiny Victorian cottage and, from non-auspicious beginnings, grew it to something mid-size.  Single parenthood and solo-entrepreneurship are both a recipe for isolation, so it would be years before I met other entrepreneurs.  Entrepreneurs are an interesting bunch.  They come from all sorts of backgrounds and work in virtually every sector.  They are hugely driven, often obsessive, yet the majority are far less judgemental, far less worried about who they are talking to, and more interested in the quality of what is being said.  Most – definitely not all, but most - are highly intelligent and have great stories to tell.  By chance, I saw a business publication advertising for a blog writer. Remembering my writing dreams,  I answered, and thus started a decade of writing for a digital publication called Real Business.  I also joined Jericho Writers.  When I finally parted company with the business, my first thought was retirement.  It took about two weeks for me to miss writing.   I went back to writing articles, but the dream of a book still niggled.  I started working my way through the Jericho Writers resources, focussing on the merits of attempting either self- or traditional publishing.    It took about two weeks for me to miss writing. I had decided to write about sales, my strength - and with the confidence I gained from the articles, I was somewhat cavalier about the writing.  However, to play safe, I submitted my first draft to be assessed by one of the Jericho Writers team.   My editors had always been rather nice to me, so I was unworried when it came to the feedback phone call.    By five minutes in, I was having to ask for a couple of minute\'s break because I was crying so hard that I couldn\'t actually hear. The expert tore it to shreds.  The concept was wrong, the writing careless on fact and atrocious on style.  It was the very definition of tough love.  It says much for my love of writing that I kept going, and much for his judgment that when I re-visited the manuscript a few months later, I was beyond appalled that I had even considered anyone reading it.    Chastened, I wrote another manuscript.  I followed all the instructions on the Jericho Writers website and researched likely agents and publishers.  I treasured the reply that told me it was well written (but not for them).  Elsewhere it was silent.    Relaxing in the glorious summer of 2019,  I had another idea.  People often advise you to write about what you know, and what I know best is how hard it is to scale a business.  I also knew that it is a business stage that many people struggle with.   Suddenly, I realized I had a subject that could potentially be of genuine use to a reader, unlike my somewhat self-interested previous attempts.  My problem was that I was no expert.  But I did know other people who had achieved the leap successfully.  I started off by attempting to interview friends and get their expertise.  Not an easy experience, with both parties in unfamiliar roles and keen to get back to the usual bottle of wine.  I dug out old contacts, people who I barely knew.  I trawled the net endlessly for businesses that looked on an upward curve.  A massive hulk of a book, going from start-up through scale-up, started to take shape.  People often advise you to write about what you know... Suddenly, I realized I had a subject that could potentially be of genuine use to a reader. At around three-quarters of the way in, I realized that I had forgotten the trad vs self-publishing quandary, and worse, I now had an obligation to do something with this thing to the people who had kindly given their time.  Back to my Jericho Writers knowledge bank, I went.  I knew that many of the people interviewed would be less than impressed unless it was traditionally published.  Old school, perhaps.  I spent a month putting together three submissions.  The one to Bloomsbury bounced back on my email.   That bouncing email was the wild piece of luck that we all need from time to time.  Tired and frustrated, I sent a quick tweet off to Bloomsbury to tell them the email was down. It was just before Christmas, so perhaps it was the festive spirit,  but I received a charming reply suggesting I send a brief outline of what I had been trying to send through to the respondee\'s personal email.  I thought no more about it.  Other publishers, too, were notably silent.   I was dumbfounded over Christmas to receive an invitation to come into Bloomsbury\'s offices. Hence finding myself pushing around the congealed egg in January.  The initial meeting was held in a room full of would-be writers, all of them having the weaknesses of their proposals pointed out to them by the editors.  The size of my project was demolished as being far too broad and my use of UK entrepreneurs was no use to a global publishing house.  I argued - I can split it.  I can get other entrepreneurs.  I was packed off to the country to form a submission.  Luckily I could still draw upon Jericho for it.  I muttered \"possibly for Bloomsbury\" into the ears of overseas entrepreneurs and found it a magic key to get them talking.  Hearing back is not a quick process.  The book had to be approved by several layers of international hierarchy.  At each stage, I was genuinely stunned and delighted to have got that far.  Finally, however, a contract was offered, and I was on my way to being (magic words) a published author.  I muttered \"possibly for Bloomsbury\" into the ears of overseas entrepreneurs and found it a magic key to get them talking. \'Scale for Success\' came out in February 2021 in the UK and July in Australia and America.  It contains the stories and wisdom of 30 genuinely amazing people from across the globe.  I didn\'t want to go for the Bransons or the Musks (not that they would have talked to me either), but I wanted relatable people, and I am still stunned by their stories.  Working with a range of people meant a vast amount of extra work.  They all had to be found, convinced that the idea was good, interviewed, and their approval of what I had written obtained.  If I hadn\'t so loved hearing their stories, it would have been a nightmare.  Non-fiction is unbelievably overcrowded.  The self-publishing market has gone wild under the \"a book is your business card\" mantra.  Looking for a backup plan, I spoke to a few of the publishing coaches who take a fat fee for helping you self-publish.  All were confused by my expressed desire to write \"a good book.\"  Entrepreneurs of decidedly mixed-level writing skills are employing hugely expensive PR companies to tout them as the next Tolstoy.  There is little chance to compete in the sunshine with that if you are writing for the love.   Reviews on Amazon are so precious – I can read the stars but haven\'t got the nerve to read the words.  As for the future, I am having a bit of a ‘what-now’ moment.  I produce a stream of business interviews and articles for my website and other publications, but I would love to do another book. Whether Bloomsbury or any other publishing house would love me to do another book is something for the future.  About Jan Jan Cavelle is a writer and entrepreneur who successfully grew and ran her own business for over 20 years. She was chosen as one of the first 50 Female Entrepreneurial Ambassadors to represent the UK in Europe and has been invited to speak on Newsnight. Jan contributed to Real Business for many years and her first book, ‘Scale for Success’, was published by Bloomsbury and cited by publications such as Elite Business, Irish Tech News, Medium, and the Undercover Recruiter.   Find out more about Jan here. Buy ‘Scale for Success’ from Bookshop.org here. Interested in Creative Non-Fiction? We offer a six-week crash course that could be the perfect way in to your new project, taught by Galley Beggar Press\' Sam Jordison. Find out more here. Read about finding an agent for your non-fiction here. Learn how to write a non-fiction book proposal here. Getting rejected by literary agents? Here\'s what to do next.
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Felicia Yap on weaving your life experiences into your writing

Friday Night Live shortlisted author, Felicia Yap, was snapped up by Jonny Geller at Curtis Brown soon after our 2015 Festival of Writing. Her brilliant high-concept thriller \'Yesterday\' was bought by Headline’s Alex Clarke for a six-figure sum. Her latest title, \'Future Perfect\', was also published by Headline in March 2021. Felicia has had an expansive and divergent career; we spoke to her about how you can use multiple interests to inform and add texture to your writing. JW: Hi Felicia! It\'s great to talk to you. Could you start by telling us about yourself as a writer? When did you start writing? FY: I started out as a journalist. I wrote newspaper articles from the age of nineteen (for The Economist and The Business Times, amongst other publications). Later on, I became a historian at the University of Cambridge and spent years writing academic papers about the Second World War. I only began writing fiction properly after the idea for my debut novel \'Yesterday\' came to me; the concept struck me on my way to a dance studio in Cambridge. I started writing the next day and I’m glad I did. JW: Tell us about your journey to publication. Were there any events or resources that helped you along the way? FY: I was fortunate to be shortlisted for the Friday Night Live competition at the Festival of Writing in 2015. It was a joy to read the opening paragraphs of \'Yesterday\' to a large audience in York; I was thrilled by how the audience responded. It made me confident that my story began decently – which in turn made me twice as determined to finish my manuscript. \"Nothing in life is ever wasted when it comes to writing.\" JW: So, you got your agent – what happened next? FY: I did an extensive round of edits with my agent. He then sent out my manuscript and it went to auction in multiple territories. JW: What happened at the auction?   FY: I had the wonderful privilege of speaking to several editors in both the United Kingdom and America, to find out if we shared similar visions for the manuscript. It was an exciting time. JW: You’ve had a multi-hyphenate career, including working as a radioactive-cell biologist, a war historian, and a technology journalist. How have your different career paths informed your writing? FY: I have drawn on technical elements and knowledge from the professional orbits I\'ve moved through. I have also incorporated sensory details from these worlds. My second novel \'Future Perfect\' combines high fashion with technology; the book is set in the near future where computers will be able to predict how we will live and when we will die. The first chapter is told by a model who carries a bomb down a catwalk in Manhattan. I used to be a runway model and wrote quite a few articles on detection/prediction technologies for The Economist in the past. \'Yesterday\' contains spoof academic papers and science articles in the house styles of the publications I have contributed to. Nothing in life is ever wasted when it comes to writing. JW: Do you have any tips for balancing writing alongside other, seemingly divergent pursuits? FY: My unorthodox pursuits have stemmed from curiosity; I’m fascinated by the delicious possibilities out there, the things worth trying and doing. I’m convinced that divergent activities can enrich a person’s life (and one’s writing), especially the quirky ones. Life is too short not to be embraced fully. If one truly enjoys one’s pursuits, balance will come naturally. JW: Your writing balances being very high concept whilst at the same time achieving the complexity of a murder mystery. How do you approach this? FY: I normally begin with the concept and iron out the details later. Both my novels were inspired by conundrums, questions I knew I would be happy spending two years of my life figuring out the answers to. \'Yesterday\' grew out of the question: ‘How do you solve a murder if you only remember yesterday?’ While \'Future Perfect\' was inspired by the concept: ‘What if today were your last day?’ Yet, high concepts are merely empty canvases on which to hang narratives. What makes a story sparkle are the tiny yet lively details that populate it. JW: Is your writing more research-driven or informed by the experiences you’ve already had? FY: All my writing is informed by personal experience, the things I have done or encountered  (or eavesdropped on). I try to set my stories in places that I have visited before or know well. This is because the five senses are crucial in the art of storytelling, especially their rich alchemy. Stories come alive when readers can feel, touch, hear, taste and see what the characters are experiencing. I believe that one can only write about the five senses convincingly if one has experienced them in the magical amalgamation unique to a particular location. I also do a lot of research but only after I have completed the first drafts of my manuscripts. It helps to know what you don’t know, so that you can ask the right people the right sort of questions. \"High concepts are merely empty canvases on which to hang narratives. What makes a story sparkle are the tiny yet lively details that populate it.\" JW: Do you think that your experience as a journalist had an impact on your writing? FY: Most certainly. The first paragraph of The Economist Style Guide continues to resonate with me. It says: “Clarity of writing usually follows clarity of thought. So think what you want to say, then say it as simply as possible.” JW: Were there any other resources you found helpful along the way? I did a couple of writing courses; they helped me understand the basic ‘rules’ of storytelling and gave me some appreciation of form, structure, and technique. It helps to know the rules if you hope to break them. More importantly, the courses put me in touch with other writers. Many of my classmates have since become good friends and we still send our works-in-progress to each other for critical feedback. \"It helps to know the rules if you hope to break them.\" JW: What are you working on next? FY: I wish I could tell you but I’m afraid it might jinx what I’m currently working on. Even my long-suffering partner Alex hasn’t got a clue! About Felicia Felicia Yap is the author of the speculative literary thrillers \'Future Perfect\' and \'Yesterday\', published in multiple languages around the world. She has worked as a radioactive-cell biologist, a war historian, a university lecturer, a technology journalist, a theatre critic, a flea-market trader, and a catwalk model. Read more about Felicia Yap on her website. FUTURE PERFECT YESTERDAY Follow Felicia Yap on Twitter at @FeliciaMYap
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Aliya Ali-Afzal on working with her agent & choosing a publisher at an auction

Aliya Ali-Afzal became a member of Jericho Writers in 2019, signing with her agent in 2020. Aliya’s debut novel, ‘Would I Lie to You?’, will be published by Head of Zeus in the UK and Grand Central Publishing in the US in July 2021. Having already proven to be in-demand at auction, it looks set to be incredibly popular. Aliya is represented by Juliet Mushens of Mushens Entertainment. We spoke to her about the working relationship between author and agent, and the surreal experience of choosing a publisher from an online auction.   JW: Hi Aliya! Great to talk to you. We’re really intrigued by the concept of your debut - where did the inspiration for ‘Would I Lie to You?’ come from?  AA: The initial inspiration came from something that happened in my own life. I had been on a big spending spree, and when I got home, my husband called to say he had lost his job. I felt a surge of panic - then guilt - as I thought about all the money I had spent, especially as my husband didn’t know about it. This sparked the idea about what would happen if someone had spent a lot more in secret, and unless they could put that money back quickly, they risked losing everything.  I’m fascinated by human nature and when I worked in London as a career and life coach, I saw how people’s sense of self can sometimes get caught up with how much they earn and what they have, rather than who they are. I also wanted to explore what happens after someone makes a terrible mistake. Can we ever put things right and can others ever forgive us?   JW: How did Jericho Writers membership help you with your writing journey?  AA: I became a member of Jericho Writers in the Spring of 2019, when I had just started editing my novel. I listened to every single podcast and video in the resource library! There’s a really broad range of topics covered including plot, characterisation, editing, writing cover letters and synopsis. I also loved watching Slushpile Live.  In September 2019, I attended the Festival of Writing in York for the first time and loved the panels and workshops. In my one-to-one session the agent asked for the full manuscript, which was an incredible boost for my confidence. It was also very helpful meeting other writers who shared their experience and tips about the submissions process. I felt inspired by hearing stories about writers who had found agents, after countless rejections!  All these things helped enormously when I started submitting in November 2019 - which resulted in me signing up with Juliet Mushens in January 2020. I would recommend that writers sign up with Jericho Writers immediately!  \"I became a member of Jericho Writers in the Spring of 2019, when I had just started editing my novel. I listened to every single podcast and video in the resource library!\" JW: In what ways have writing groups helped you along in your journey to publication?  AA: Our group meets every fortnight to give honest feedback, help with plot ideas, synopsis, advice on cover letters, agents, and publication. We also provide each other with that other vital ingredient for writers- moral support! The group has been invaluable and feels like having my own personal hotline whenever I need help!  Knowing each other’s work intimately, we feel comfortable enough to point out things that could be improved or are not working. By workshopping regularly, we also shift the focus from writing being ‘good’ or ‘bad’, to work that is simply being edited and improved. This is an important distinction. As well as learning how to give clear, productive feedback, it is important to know how to receive and process feedback too. Over the years, I’ve almost developed an intuition about which feedback I want to take on (often something that most people in the group agree on), and which elements of the feedback I disagree with. After a while, you learn to trust your own instincts as well, and it is important to be able to reject feedback sometimes too, even if you value and accept it most of the time.  \"[We] provide each other with that other vital ingredient for writers- moral support! The group has been invaluable and feels like having my own personal hotline whenever I need help!\" JW: Can you tell us about how you found representation with Juliet Mushens?  AA: Juliet was my dream agent and there were several reasons why she was at the top of my list. I knew that she represented some incredible writers, who all raved about what a great agent she was. She was super successful and brilliant at her job, but also seemed very passionate about it, which I admired. I followed her on Twitter and found that we shared a similar sense of humour and a love of beautiful dresses, which also convinced me that she would be my perfect agent!  I attended an excellent Guardian masterclass that she presented on how to find an agent, but was too shy to go and introduce myself or even ask a question. I did, however, take lots of notes! By the time I submitted to Juliet via the slush pile, I had done months of research about her wish list and wrote a targeted and personalised cover letter. Juliet asked for the full manuscript the same day that I submitted to her. Five days later, she emailed me to offer representation. It was, without doubt, the best email I had ever received in my life!  In total I submitted to five agents and it took me seven weeks to find representation. I had expected it to take months, even years, so I was blown away at the speed at which it all happened. Some of this was of course down to luck and timing too, but I think it also helped that I did months of research, preparation and hard work before I started to submit. JW: What’s your working relationship with your agent like? What do you think are the benefits of having an agent?  AA: Juliet is an incredible, extraordinary agent. Despite being insanely busy, she is always available for me and makes me feel as if I am her only client! She is direct and honest in her communication and I love that – I\'m the same and I feel comfortable saying what I think to her. We also instantly got on when we met, so I really enjoy working with her too.  The most valuable aspect of having Juliet as my agent is that I absolutely trust her opinion on both business and creative matters. I have consulted her throughout the publication process and value her advice. This is especially important as a debut, when you can feel out of your depth.  Juliet is also a brilliant editor, and gave me extensive editorial feedback. I love brainstorming with her, and it helps that we are both obsessed with working on the manuscript until it\'s perfect, however many rounds of edits it takes!  \"Juliet asked for the full manuscript the same day that I submitted to her. Five days later, she emailed me to offer representation. It was, without doubt, the best email I had ever received in my life!\" JW: Can you describe the auction?  AA: It was a surreal and very exciting experience. Under normal circumstances, we would have visited each publisher’s offices for the auction, but under lockdown, everything took place on Zoom. Each publisher’s entire team- editorial, marketing and publicity - pitched to me and Juliet, showing us presentations about their publication plans and creative visions for ‘Would I Lie to You?’ We also chatted to see how we got on.  After years of wondering if I would ever get an agent or any interest at all from a publisher, I suddenly had three publishers, each wanting me to choose them! It was a great feeling to have these amazing publishers telling me how much they loved my writing and discussing my characters with me. It boosted my confidence enormously, both in my writing and in my story. Juliet debriefed me after each pitch and outlined all the factors I needed to consider before making my decision.  JW: Do you have one last piece of advice for the JW members?  AA: Prepare, prepare, prepare, before you start to submit!    About Aliya   Aliya Ali-Afzal is studying for an MA in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway, University of London, and studied Russian and German at University College London. She is an Alum of the Curtis Brown Creative novel-writing course. Aliya lives in London and is a career and life coach.   Get ‘Would I Lie to You?’ from Waterstones From Bookshop.org From Amazon Follow Aliya on Twitter: @AAAiswriting 
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Paul Braddon’s journey to publication & the speculative fiction market

Paul Braddon discusses the publication process for his debut sci-fi/speculative fiction novel, ‘The Actuality’, published by Sandstone Press in 2021 and optioned by BBC Studios. Paul’s connection with Jericho Writers began with a series of manuscript assessments by Liz Garner. Paul also attended our Festival of Writing for several years and was shortlisted for Friday Night Live in 2013. He got his agent in 2018, and you can read about his journey to finding representation here. Set in a crumbling future England where human life has been bioengineered and subsequently outlawed, ‘The Actuality’ follows Evie, an example of near-perfect AI, as her hiding place is exposed and she is forced to take to the streets and make critical judgements about who she can and can’t trust. We loved that alongside explicit sci-fi themes, ‘The Actuality’ has notes of philosophy and human psychology which invite the reader to question what sets humans apart from machines. Its pace and journey-led structure would make it ideal for television. We sat down with Paul to discuss his debut, his experience working with his publisher Sandstone Press, and what it was like to have his work optioned by BBC Studios. JW: Hi Paul! When we last spoke, you had recently been signed by your agent. What role has she played since she took on ‘The Actuality’? The first thing Joanna (Joanna Swainson – Hardman & Swainson Literary Agency) helped with was making the manuscript as attention grabbing as possible. One of the challenges was ensuring that none of the tension dissipated during the opening chapters. To achieve this, I made sure that a reference to accumulating events appeared on every page. We also added a prologue to provide a foreshadowing of events and a chilling strapline (‘Fear makes her human / Humans make her fear’), which is now on the front cover of the hardback. Once the manuscript was ready, Joanna drew up a list of editors to approach and sent it out. We had favourable feedback from quite a few but Sandstone Press was first to the table with an offer. Joanna called to let me know in April 2019 – it was my birthday and the best birthday present I could have had. We were very happy to go with Sandstone. They’re a great indie publisher and having recently won the ‘Not the Booker’ with the dystopian ‘Sweet Fruit, Sour Land’ by Rebecca Ley, were keen to build a thread around speculative fiction. They had great ideas on how ‘The Actuality’ could be given a final polish and their enthusiasm was infectious. It took a few weeks to finalise the contract, with negotiations handled by Joanna, and then it came through to me to sign. JW: What has been the subsequent process of working with your publisher? Once the UK and Commonwealth rights had been acquired by Sandstone, the editorial work began. My editor, the talented Kay Farrell, gave me as the main challenge the reordering of section 4 (the novel is in five sections). She was absolutely right – the flow here was not working as well as it could. After spending a few weeks on a revised draft, I returned it and to my huge relief, had nailed it. The manuscript was then passed back and forth a half dozen times. It was all small things, like she’d challenge why a character was behaving in the way they were and I’d go back into a scene and try to understand her concerns. It was down to me to find solutions and make the changes. Kay’s role was to challenge but I’d usually find that she was right, and an improvement could be made. By October 2019 we had an agreed draft ready for proofreading. The proofreader – Georgie Coles – did an excellent job tidying the punctuation and ensuring consistency. Her changes were largely invisible – just as they should be – but afterwards the novel felt slicker and smoother. The cover then went out to the designer. I was asked to contribute ideas but had no expectation of what the creative mind of Heike Schüssler would come up with. The trade loves ‘different’ and her eye-popping, all-the-best-colours-from-the-children’s-paint-box design has garnered praise from all quarters and has been successful in heralding the novel’s literary ambitions. Christina Dalcher – author of the bestselling ‘VOX’ – submitted a lovely review and from it, the word ‘Exquisite’ was taken and added to the front cover. Next came typesetting and I was sent a pdf to check. Whenever I read the text through, I saw little things I wanted to change and although at this stage I wasn’t meant to be doing anything other than checking for typesetting errors, I persuaded Kay to allow me a few more tiny edits. Arrangements for the audiobook were also now completed. Sandstone don’t publish audiobooks themselves but sold the rights to W.F Howes – the audiobook specialist. The audiobook for ‘The Actuality’ is now complete and is read with great sensitivity by the actress Eva Feiler. Having been used to only hearing myself read my words, it’s such a pleasure to hear them spoken so movingly. In January 2020, I met with Ceris Jones, the Sandstone marketing exec, to discuss promotional plans, including the venue for the launch event – we were assuming a central London bookshop – and in the background I was compiling a list of attendees… …which is when the virus struck! Initially Sandstone tried to stick with July but when it became clear that bookshops would be closed, deferred publication to February 2021. The delay was a disappointment but also a silver lining, as it allowed time for an option for the TV/Film rights to be sold to BBC Studios, helping create a buzz ahead of publication. In the leadup to publication, social media activity has mounted. ARCs (Advanced Review Copies) have been sent out to reviewers to drum up excitement. One highlight is a piece on the BBC Culture website which positions ‘The Actuality’ in the footsteps of Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’. I think this is lovely and works on so many levels, not least in that there is indeed something of the gothic heroine in my ‘electric’ character Evie. The revised date for publication – Thursday 18th of February 2021 – is now upon us. As before, bookshops remain closed, but Sandstone have gained experience with online events and we have a Q&A on Twitter planned for lunchtime – plus hopefully an evening event to follow soon. I will also definitely have a proper launch party when circumstances allow and the wine can be safely shared around! ‘The Actuality’, Paul Braddon. Sandstone Press, 2021. JW: How would you place ‘The Actuality’ within the sci-fi/speculative fiction market?  ‘The Actuality’ straddles sci-fi / dystopia and literary fiction. What is rare about it, is that the story is presented through the point of view of the AI and maybe because of this, reviewers have engaged. In the words of The Publishing Planet: ‘As an exceptionally designed and advanced AI, Evie is outside the category of human but feels like the most human character in the book. Braddon’s ability to write about this rough and brutal world through the eyes of such an elegant and honest character is beguiling.’ I love that they love her. JW: The world in the novel is quite bleak – does this reflect your perception of what the future could be like or are you more optimistic? The setting of ‘The Actuality’ is 2135 and the impact of climate change has taken its toll on the environment and society. The UK has fragmented, suffers bitter winters and baking summers and the population has drastically shrunk as a result of a decline in fertility caused by unchecked pollution. All of this is completely plausible. However, our potential saviour is science – technological advance has created this mess, but it is quite within our wits to use further advances to find our way out. The rapid growth of electric vehicles is testament to this and the implementation of artificial intelligence will enable machines to aid us in the quest. JW: In very exciting news, ‘The Actuality’ has been optioned by BBC Studios! Can you explain what the process has been like so far?  It was amazing getting the news that we had an offer for the TV and film rights from BBC Studios. Joanna spotted the screen potential of ‘The Actuality’ right from the start. Her agency works with a specialist dramatics rights agent called Marc Simonsson who has all the studio contacts here and abroad and had been championing it, albeit the crucial lead came from a pitch made by Sandstone, with Marc expertly negotiating with BBC Studios to close the deal. The great thing about being optioned at this stage is that it gives us valuable pre-publication publicity. JW: What’s next for you, and how are you approaching new projects? ‘The Actuality’ was written as a standalone novel but the potential to develop the story is part of the appeal to BBC Studios and if a TV series is commissioned I might well revisit Evie’s world. I love dystopian/speculative themes and hope to work more in this genre. The novel I am currently working on however is a bit different – I’d love to say more because I’m very excited by it, but it’s early days and I can’t risk jinxing it! From Paul’s Agent, Joanna Swainson (Hardman & swainson Literary Agency) JW: Hi Joanna! Thanks for chatting to us. What was it about Paul’s manuscript that originally drew you to it? JS: I was initially drawn to Paul’s manuscript by the prospect of reading a novel set a hundred years in the future, in a ‘broken down England where technology has lurched forward then all but seized up’. This was how Paul described it in his pitch and although it sounds depressing, I immediately saw a vivid backdrop to a story with wonderful potential for exploring human nature. And then as soon as I started to read, I was hooked in by the atmosphere he creates and the protagonist, Evie, a beautifully drawn character who kept surprising me. JW: As an agent, what kind of thing are you looking for right now? JS: As an agent, I’m genuinely open to representing a wide range of fiction and non-fiction. Particular areas of interest in fiction are novels which explore the darker side of human nature, so crime and thrillers and horror (and folk horror). But I do also like funny and uplifting, too! And in fact, I think a book should put a smile on your face, whether it’s through humour itself, or irony, or sheer ingenuity of character or writing or whatever it is. We’re here to marvel and be entertained. I’m also a big fan of history and folklore, whether in fiction or non-fiction. JW: Could you comment on what it’s like pitching work in the sci-fi/speculative fiction market right now? JS: There are possibly slightly fewer editors you can approach for sci-fi/speculative fiction but pitching into this market is much the same as pitching in any other – it’s tough out there, but if the work is amazing then it should get the deal. If it’s speculative with cross over (i.e. book group or literary or other categories) appeal, then all to the better. But then sometimes you don’t really know if it will cross over until it’s published and embraced by the masses and it very much depends on how a publisher positions a book too. About Paul Braddon Paul Braddon lives in London with his wife Mary and son Thomas. He got the writing bug after coming runner-up in an essay competition as a teenager and went onto study English Literature at Reading University. You can check out Paul’s website here and follow him on Twitter here. Links to buy ‘The Actuality’: From Sandstone Press From Amazon From Bookshop.org Hardman & Swainson Literary submissions information here. Got a manuscript ready to submit? Our renowned AgentMatch database has up-to-date information on every agent in the UK and US – perfect for compiling your shortlist.
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How Steffanie Edward went from 28 rejections to a two-book deal

We first met Steffanie Edward in 2018 when she became the first recipient of our Self-Edit Your Novel Course bursary. Two years later, we caught up with Steffanie to find out what it’s been like to sign her debut contract with a digital-first publisher, without the help of an agent, discuss writing for oneself, getting past the first draft, and, of course, her fantastic achievement with Bookouture. JW: Lovely to chat with you. Where are you at with your writing process right now? S: At the moment I’m doing structural edits – it’s all new to me. I’ve had my work looked at through manuscript feedback, but it’s nothing like this. Structural edits are much more detailed, and all in your hands. Rather than being given specific suggestions on where and how to make changes, you’re tackling specifics where you have to read the whole novel again and again to tweak and implement changes. It forces you to go deeper into your characters, makes you interrogate who they really are and why. JW: Your debut, ‘This Other Island’, comes out in May 2021. What can readers expect from it? S: It’s fresh, it’s different. It has lots of twists, turns, and surprises. Working with my editor, Isobel Akenhead, is helping me produce a novel which will have the biggest impact on readers it can possibly have, and I’m loving it. JW: How did you land your book deal? S: I was submitting to so many agents and just getting nowhere. Three or four of them said nice things in their rejection, but it was still a rejection. Then I signed up for a book surgery offered by Peepal Press. It was suggested that mine was quite a common journey for black writers – they often end up at independent presses because they can’t get an agent, and so it was suggested that I tried submitting to independent presses, like Peepal Press. I felt quite demoralised, but I submitted to a few independents. And then the Jericho Writers Summer Festival of Writing came up. I watched the Bookouture interview with Jenny Geras, and thought, ‘I really like this woman.’ Sometimes you just get a really good vibe. Jenny was saying all these nice things about how they don’t believe in slushpiles and you don’t need an agent to submit to them. I still didn’t submit – I thought I’d just get another rejection. Then the Jericho Writers newsletter came out and Harry did a write-up on Bookouture. He was very encouraging. He mentioned that if you do the maths, you’re more likely to get through with Bookouture than you are with an agent, just based on the number of submissions they accept per year. And there was another Jericho Writers piece about Bookouture encouraging black writers to submit to them. So, in the end, I submitted twice! JW: How did you feel when you found out Bookouture wanted to publish your novel? I was so overwhelmed. I’d had so many rejections from agents, I think I’d had 28 rejections. But then Isobel’s email said she was so pleased my book was assigned to her because she ‘absolutely LOVED IT’. I couldn’t believe it – it was an amazing moment. Debi Alper [who runs our Self Edit Your Novel Course] was the first person I told because she was always there with me. Every little disappointment, every time I had doubts, she’d say ‘just keep going!’ Every time I contacted her, she came swiftly back and really helped to prop me up. JW: That’s a lovely relationship to have. Do you think you’ll contact Debi for the draft of your second book as well? S: Yes, I’ll always be running things by her! I feel really blessed that I’ve met her, that she believed in me and that she kept encouraging me to hang in there. ‘Keep submitting,’ she’d say. ‘You just need to find the right person at the right time.’ JW: How did you discover our Self-Editing Course in the first place? S: I joined Jericho Writers in August 2018 mainly because I’d get access to loads of webinars and other things that I could tap into to learn more about writing and getting published. Then I saw the Self-Editing Course advertised and I thought, ‘well, I’ve got this novel I’ve been working on for the last ten years. Let me see if I can get moving on it.’ I’m not working – well not paid work anyway. I look after my mum who has Alzheimer’s, so I applied for the bursary and thought, nothing ventured, nothing gained. When Jericho contacted me to say I’d been successful, I couldn’t believe it. That was my first opening door. “I feel really blessed that I’ve met [Debi Alper], that she believed in me and that she kept encouraging me to hang in there.” JW: What has it been like to work with Bookouture? S: So far, I’ve found everyone to be very on the ball, easy to talk to and efficient. When I was submitting to agents, I noticed how young many of them were and I remember saying to Debi, they’re not going to get me, they won’t get my story. Not only am I a mature writer, but I am also a black writer. She told me I should just go for it. My editor, at Bookouture, Isobel Akenhead is young enough to be my daughter, but she knows her work and has a good eye for what works and what doesn’t. Also, she loves my work and actually gets it. JW: That’s exactly what you need. Sometimes, especially for a debut author, the publishing process can be really daunting. What was it like to negotiate the deal without an agent there backing you up? S: I didn’t like it. It took me away from the creative process to something more business orientated. On Debi’s advice, I joined the Society of Authors, and I sent the contract to them for feedback and advice. They gave advice on things I should query, but very little changed at the end I thought I’d take a chance and be positive about Bookouture because this is the contract that would launch my career, and they seem like a great fit. Everything moved quite fast. I just couldn’t believe this was happening to me, or that I was the person this was happening for. JW: It must be very overwhelming. Bookouture do things like royalties slightly differently don’t they? S: They don’t do advances, but they give you 45% of your sales. It really suits me. JW: They’re doing a few things that are quite radically different, which I think is so intriguing. Are there any challenges that you’re facing right now as an author, and how are they different to challenges you might have faced in the past? S: I feel now that I’ve signed a contract, I’ve joined the big league. So, I can’t get demoralised, or say, ‘I can’t be bothered to write today.’ But the great motivating thing about it is that I’m not writing in the hope that a publisher or an agent will take me on. Things are clearer, I know the stories I’m writing will be published. I love writing, find it satisfying all my efforts are being rewarded and it’s exciting, so it’s all great. JW: How long have you been writing for? S: I started writing seriously in my thirties. I wrote a novel when I was living in Abu Dhabi, despite knowing nothing about writing. I sent it off to all these agents in England, and all of them said ‘get stuffed,’ basically. I abandoned it, and then when I came back to England I started going on courses and getting my short stories published. I was really into Octavia E. Butler, who wrote sci-fi. All her main characters were black, and I liked that about her – I liked that they were women as well. I thought perhaps I could write a story like that. My first novel, which was the one I submitted to the Self Edit Your Novel course, was literary fiction with Caribbean magical realism (there are lots of myths and legends in the Caribbean). I’d been writing that for so many years and couldn’t get past a certain point, and the course helped me to get past that point and actually finish it! JW: Let’s talk about first drafts. Do you have a method that you stick to? For example, do you give yourself a certain amount of words to write each day or set deadlines? S: That’s exactly what I do. For my second novel, which I’m writing now, as part of the Bookouture deal, the target is 1500 words each day. Sometimes I even manage 2000. For my previous novel, the target was 500 but then I realised I could do much more! You definitely have to have an element of planning. I didn’t do enough of that for my first novel. But as you’re writing it’s like some magic happens in your brain – ideas just come to you. Things just happen! You just have to keep going until you’ve got that first draft completed. Put it down for a bit, then come back to it for a second draft, which is likely to be more challenging than the first because that’s when you change things, find certain things don’t fit well into the plot; some characters disappear, another might enter etc. “That’s the writing process. It just has magic in it.” JW: How different is your final draft to your first? S: With ‘This Other Island’, I started the first draft thinking I’d only have one point of view and one protagonist. My final draft has three points of view and the plot itself has become much more intertwined – with more twists and surprises. Having to write a synopsis, query letter and pitch, helped me to identify the main theme in the novel. When I was submitting to agents, some asked which novel or author your novel would sit comfortably next to. Though irritating at the time, that helped to get me focused on the themes in my novel too. With the help of Isobel, I’ve identified more themes running through ‘This Other Island’. And I feel even more proud of the novel. I have always been fascinated by the consequences of not knowing who your parents are. JW: That’s interesting, where do you think that fascination comes from? S: I think it comes from my culture – perhaps a historical thing from slavery when many children were sold off and didn’t know their parents. Parents had children they had to say good-bye to and never see again. I think it’s important to know who you are, who your people are, and who you’re connected with biologically If you don’t, it could lead to dire consequences. JW: Of course. Do you feel like writing became a kind of catharsis in that sense? S: Maybe, but unplanned. The idea for this novel actually came from my mother, when I listened to her talking about her journey to England on a ship. Then whilst plotting and getting the story out, things came through and eventually the whole thing worked. That’s the writing process. It just has magic in it. JW: Do you have any tips for writers who might be working on their first draft? S: Have a plan – you don’t necessarily have to know the end, but make sure you know what the characters are going to go through and have a rough idea of what you want to happen. Many seasoned writers say write the first draft for yourself. Don’t worry about the reader yet. I agree. It’s the best method for me. From Isobel Akenhead, Steffanie’s Editor At Bookouture JW: You must see a lot of submissions at Bookouture. What was it about Steffanie’s novel that stood out for you? Isobel: From the moment I started reading Steffanie’s novel, I was captivated by the story she was telling, the characters she’d created, and her entirely distinctive voice. It was a book I couldn’t stop thinking about! In talking to Steffanie, it became clear that we felt the same way about this beautiful novel, and shared a vision on publishing and readership, that made the editorial partnership feel strong right from the outset. JW: What are you currently looking for at Bookouture and how can writers help their chances of success? Isobel: [At Bookouture] we have an open submissions portal, and are equally delighted by direct and agented submissions, which we endeavour to respond to within a matter of weeks. Writing a compelling synopsis, and enclosing the entire manuscript are practical things you can do to help its success, but in terms of content, we simply want powerful, gripping stories that readers won’t be able to put down. Whether that’s romance, crime, historical fiction, or more book club reads, broadly at Bookouture we’re just looking for commercially written stories that we think a large audience of readers will love. With two books already on the way, Steffanie Edward is a Self-Edit Course alumna to watch. We’re so glad Steffanie found our resources useful and can’t wait to see the debut of this exciting new author on our shelves. You can follow Steffanie on Twitter at @EdwardsaEdward. Don’t forget to view our bursary opportunities here. See more success stories from the Self-Edit Course for yourself at #SelfEditAlumni on Twitter. More about Steffanie’s deal with Bookouture here. Submit your work to Bookouture here. About Steffanie Edward Steffanie Edward was born in St Lucia but brought up in London. Her writing career started with short stories, five of which have been published. Two of them came runner-up in a Darker Times Fiction flash competition. Her novel ‘This Other Island’, was longlisted for the SI Leeds Literary Prize. Her first attempt at writing a novel was over twenty years ago, whilst living and working in Abu Dhabi. That novel, ‘Yvette’, didn’t make it into print, but the main protagonist, has muscled her way into Steffanie’s debut novel, ‘This Other Island.’
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Neema Shah on her two-book deal with Picador

Neema Shah talks to us about her experience with Jericho Writers and her debut novel ‘Kololo Hill’. We were first introduced to Neema Shah on our Self-Edit Your Novel Course, and then at the Festival of Writing in 2017, where she was longlisted for two out of our three competitions that year. Her work was noticed by agents who were keen to read more, and now we can’t wait for the release of her debut novel ‘Kololo Hill’ (18 February 2021), the first in a two-book deal with Picador. We chatted to Neema about how she got her agent, balancing writing with other commitments and telling underrepresented stories.  JW: Hi Neema, lovely to talk to you! Could you start by telling us about your background as a writer? When did you know you wanted to be an author?  N: I actually started off doing a law degree and then went into marketing as a career. I only decided to take up a short creative writing course because my work offered us the chance to do an extra-curricular thing – and I was just hooked. I remembered how much I loved writing as a child, and now I just can’t imagine my life without it.   JW: It’s really strange how life can work out like that! Your debut novel, Kololo Hill, is coming out in February 2021 with Picador – where did it begin? Did you start with a particular character, or maybe a concept?   N: I grew up reading lots of fiction about other places and times, but I found that although there was fiction about the British-Asian experience and the Indian experience, there was nothing about people like my family. I also knew a bit about the expulsion of Asians from Uganda by Idi Amin in the 1970’s – I was always astounded that people could be sent out of their country in just three months. Those two things were really interesting to me, and that’s really what sparked my story. I wanted to explore different viewpoints, because people like my family aren’t necessarily that well represented in fiction.   JW: How did you discover Jericho Writers?   N: I found out about both the Festival of Writing and the Self-Edit Your Novel course back when Jericho Writers was called the Writers’ Workshop, and I used both in my early stages of writing. I had heard really good things about the Self-Edit course – all of which turned out to be absolutely right. Not only did I meet Debi Alper and Emma Darwin but I also met a really great writing friend, Daniel Aubrey, who continues to beta read for me. There are so many great things that come out of the Self-Edit course and I just love it. I’ve recommended it to so many people since.  Off the back of that, I decided to go to the Festival of Writing. That was such an incredible, intense day with lots of workshops – I also did the agent one-to-ones. There were three competitions that year – I came runner up in ‘Best Opening Chapter’ and was longlisted for ‘Pitch Perfect’. I’ve used those on my submission letters since and they’re really well-recognised!  I’ve had loads to do with Jericho Writers and you‘ve been a really key part of my journey.  JW: Do you have any tips for writers working on their first draft?  N: I really feel that a lot of writing is psychological. We spend so much of our time having doubts (which are natural), and you have to push those aside. In an early draft, it really is ‘just keep writing.‘. I’ve been thinking a lot about psychology through my day job in marketing, and the idea of the rational and emotional sides of the brain. When you’re writing, you want to ignore the rational side (which is telling you it’s awful) and access the emotional side. I know there are some writers who will write the first paragraph and edit it straight away, but I find it easiest to write a draft without looking back at all.  Keep on going past the next few drafts and accept that to get a novel finished it can sometimes be boring. It’s just keeping going that’s really important. You also have to have space away from your draft, because you’re far too close to it when you’ve just read over it.  JW: Can you tell us about your journey to finding an agent?   N: I did lots of research – I even made an Excel spreadsheet because I knew I was going to contact quite a few agents and would need to keep track of it all. I also went to events where agents were talking and read blogs so I could get a sense of what agents were like. I made a shortlist and starting by submitting to about 10-12 agents. I was lucky because some of the agents had been on competitions I’d been listed in, including the Festival of Writing, who had said they wanted to read more when it was ready.  I had a lot of rejections, but quite a few manuscript requests, which was brilliant. I ended up with two great agents offering to represent me and I was really spoilt for choice.  JW: I also wanted to ask about your gorgeous book cover – what do you think of it? I noticed that it’s modern Batik print – was that an idea that came from you?   N: I love it so much! It wasn’t the first version – the designer had come up with a few concepts based on fabrics and she wanted them to be related to the story. If you look closely on the cover you notice that as well as the Batik print, which is common to Uganda and India, there’s also an imprint of an Indian passport. There are so many little details working together which you might only see on a second look. I was blown away because I love looking at covers but I never considered how much thought and conscious choice goes into it.  ‘Kololo Hill’ by Neema Shah. Picador, February 2021 JW: How are the challenges you’re facing as a published author now different to challenges you might have faced in the past?   N: When I first started out, I didn’t know any writers at all. Doing the courses definitely helped, as I’ve kept in touch with quite a few people I met there. Twitter was also great for finding other writers, particularly ones to beta read for. There’s a massive writing community there, and the #bookstagram community is also huge.  I do think the publishing industry is getting much better for underrepresented writers (I’m an example of that), but I did have few experiences that I was quite taken aback by. There’s still a way to go, but it is better than it was even five years ago.  I also find there is a slight lack of transparency about what it’s like to be an author. Advances are all different and the way you’re treated in terms of marketing can be very different. Picador are brilliant and they’ve been really transparent with me, but from my understanding that’s not always the case. So, I think finding communities or people going through similar experiences is such a big help, and that’s a piece of advice I would give whatever stage you’re at with your writing.  At the one-to-ones with Jericho Writers, I got really detailed feedback on my opening chapters and my covering letter – that kind of thing can be quite hard to come by and looking for those resources can be really helpful.  JW: How do you organise your time between writing and generating free content for your online platforms (blog and YouTube channel) and having a day job in marketing?   N: The funny thing is that I wrote ‘Kololo Hill’ on my commute, on my smartphone! So, just making use of what would otherwise be dead time really helps. I’m lucky enough to have a good work/life balance as my job is quite flexible. That said, it’s only now that I’m promoting ‘Kololo Hill’ and starting book two and working a day job that it’s starting to feel like a bit much, so I am trying to get better at organising myself. It’s so important to save energy for your creativity – just being creative takes a lot out of you! I try to write early in the mornings before other things get in the way.   “There is a slight lack of transparency about what it’s like to be an author… Finding communities or people going through similar experiences is a big help, and that’s a piece of advice I would give whatever stage you’re at with your writing.”  JW: You mentioned that you’re a big fan of books on the writing process. Are there any other books, perhaps works of fiction, that particularly shaped your writing?   N: One of my favourite books is ‘Small Island’ by Andrea Levy (based on the Windrush generation, which definitely inspired me). My other favourite books aren’t necessarily the kind of thing that I write about but are things I’d love to write more of – ‘Fingersmith‘ by Sarah Waters is amazing – it has an amazing twist and I’d love to write a book with a proper twist because it’s so hard to do.  For ‘Kololo Hill’ I used a lot of blogs, online photography and a couple of TV shows. I also went on a research trip to Uganda. In terms of first-person experience there wasn’t that much available in writing though. That’s another reason why it was important to me to make sure that story was told, even if in fiction.  JW: Are you reading anything good right now?   N: I’ve been getting into audiobooks, and I’m listening to ‘Elevator Pitch’ by Linwood Barclay. I’m reading a proof I was given of ‘The Smallest Man’ by Frances Quinn, which comes out in January, and I also just finished ‘If I Can’t Have You’ by Charlotte Levin, which is a really good debut from 2020.  From Jenny Savill, Neema’s Agent (Andrew Nurnberg Associates) JW: Hi Jenny. What drew you to Neema’s work, and in what ways was it a strong submission?   JS: Where do I start?!  Her manuscript had a strong opening. The action was firmly rooted in a terrific sense of place and time – a place and a time that I knew a little about from TV as a child but had never really understood. Seeing the 1972 expulsion through the lives of one particular family and their friends was such a brilliant lens through which to show a massive political and social upheaval. That coupled with distinctive, flawed characters whose story I felt compelled to follow, and whose lives continued in my imagination long after the last full stop, made for an impressive submission.  I do love a novel that illuminates a life or lives in a way that does away with preconceptions or conventions. I love to be surprised by characters and by the turn of events in a story. ‘Kololo Hill’ does this beautifully.  As an agent, Jenny is always keen to find new voices in 7+, Middle Grade and Young Adult writing. Jenny also represents authors writing for adults. She is on the look-out for writers of literary fiction, commercial and literary women’s fiction, well-written thrillers and psychological suspense, historical fiction (the whole gamut – including alternate histories), memoir and narrative non-fiction. She welcomes originality, depth, and the ability to move and surprise in submissions.    If you’re interested in submitting your own work to Jenny or other agents, AgentMatch is a great tool to refine your search and develop your perfect shortlist. Find out more here.    If you can’t wait until 18 February to read some of Neema’s work, take a look at her website here for more insightful writing tips.    More about Neema Shah here.    Submit your work to Andrew Nurnberg Associates here.    About Neema Shah Neema Shah is an author, blogger and marketer. Her debut novel ‘Kololo Hill’ will be published by Picador on 18th February 2021. She came runner-up in the ‘Best Opening Chapter’ and was longlisted in the ‘Pitch Perfect’ competition at the Festival of Writing in 2017. She has also been shortlisted for the DGA First Novel Prize and Bath Novel Award, both in 2018.
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Amanda Berriman, author of ‘Home’, on getting an agent

Guest author and blogger Mandy Berriman shares with us how she hooked her literary agent and the importance of never giving up. I went to a family wedding earlier this year. At our places at dinner, we each had a name card with a quote on the back. Mine read: I have one talent; I never give up. We laughed at the aptness, but it was also a well-timed personal reminder to me. Keep going, you’re almost there, don’t give up. And on I went with the current rewrite, kicking the doubt demons into the dust along the way. I think it is possible that in the history of Jericho Writers (The Writers’ Workshop), I hold the longest record for not giving up: eleven years, two months and 26 days, to be precise. I was one of their earliest clients with my nine chapters of an unfinished ghost novel for children. It was the first piece of fiction I’d written since leaving school and although I had experienced a huge buzz writing it, I’d taken a year and a half to get to Chapter 9 and then stalled. Was it any good? Did I even know what I was doing? Could I actually write a whole novel? After uttering once too often, ‘but how do I know if I can actually do this?’, my husband found The Writers’ Workshop and told me to go and find out. A few weeks later, I had a report back from Harry. The gist: yes, you can do this, and here are all the things you need to learn about writing. That was June 2005, and I haven’t stopped learning since – Arvon, reciprocal critiquing arrangements, constructive feedback from agents, self-editing, six Festivals of Writing, mentoring from outstanding Debi Alper, and always the ongoing support and encouragement from the team here. I spent many years on that original novel (writing, finishing, rewriting, editing, finishing again, rewriting, editing, finishing again), and I came very close with a number of agents, including one who read, offered feedback, and re-read several times over a period of three or four years, and my opening chapter was shortlisted at 2012’s Festival of Writing, but I never quite jumped the agent hurdle. I decided to put the novel in the drawer and move on. I’d been writing and rewriting it for nine years and was desperate for a change. I started a second children’s novel and rediscovered that buzz of fresh, no-idea-where-it’s-going writing. But fitting it in around two children and an increasingly demanding job meant progress was slow and I struggled with motivation. I dabbled in other bits and pieces, never settling on anything, but I started to write short stories and flash fiction in different styles and voices, and quite a step away from the children’s fiction where I felt comfortable. In 2013, several things happened to dramatically change my direction and fire my motivation. Firstly, I moved jobs to one that was far more creative, allowing me to focus on my passion for music and step back from time-consuming paperwork. Secondly, my youngest son started preschool freeing up a precious few daytime hours in which to write. Thirdly, and probably most importantly, Stories for Homes happened. Debi and her friend, Sally Swingewood, decided they wanted to create an anthology of short stories and poems on a theme of ‘home’ to raise money for Shelter. Debi asked for submissions of stories, techy help, proofreading and so on. I was determined to make progress on my children’s novel and I had no story ideas, so I replied to say that I would help where I could but doubted it would be in story form. However, just before the story deadline, I read Claire King’s The Night Rainbow, a wonderful, inspiring novel written from the POV of a five-year-old girl. (Read it!) Its themes are not about homelessness, but it sparked a thought – what does homelessness look like, feel like, smell like to a young child? And there was Jesika with her hands on her hips and that look she gets on her face when an adult is being really silly, wondering out loud why it took me for ages to notice her. I wrote and edited Jesika’s story in a week and sent it to Debi and Sally just in time for the deadline. They loved it. They made it the first story in the book. The book was filled with sixty or so other fantastic stories and poems and the book went on sale and raised over £2,000 for Shelter. (It’s still on sale, still raising money for Shelter.) I was very proud to be a small part of the overall project and when the excitement died down, I returned to the children’s novel. Except Jesika had other ideas. She wouldn’t leave me alone. I realised that one short story was not going to satisfy her. I’ve spent the last three years writing, rewriting and editing Jesika’s novel. In that time, Debi has continued to mentor me and I’ve been to four Festivals, each time taking a little bit of Jesika’s story with me for my one-to-ones. In 2013, all three agents told me they loved the voice, and they’d love to see more. (I wasn’t finished, so made a note of their names). In 2014, I saw two more agents who loved the voice, but weren’t convinced I could sustain it (and I still hadn’t finished it, so I couldn’t prove them wrong). However, that year I also went to a workshop run by Shelley Harris and because of a piece of writing I scribbled for one of her tasks, she introduced me to her agent, Jo Unwin, and we talked about the novel and she gave me encouragement to continue. In early 2015, I finished the first draft and started rewriting. In 2015, I submitted to Jo as one of my one-to-ones. She loved it and wanted to see more, and then after the festival, one of the agents I saw in 2013 asked to see the first chapter. She also loved it and wanted to see more, but the rewrite wasn’t finished. It took me a year to finish – during an emotionally challenging year and with enormous help from Debi’s editorial genius – and just before the 2016 festival, I was ready to submit again. I had two agent one-to-ones arranged and I emailed Jo Unwin and the other agent to ask if they wanted to see it, too. I assumed that nothing much would happen for a few months, and then I’d look at any feedback I got from the agents and talk to Debi about further rewrites. What did happen was I ended up with four agents reading the full manuscript, two making me an offer of representation, one taking me out for lunch and me having a choice to make – all in the space of three and a half weeks! I’m delighted to say (and still pinching myself when I say it) that I chose Jo Unwin. I know that this is one more hurdle in a series of hurdles and who knows what comes next, but I’m very excited to have arrived at a place I’ve been working towards for so long and so grateful for the day my husband handed me The Writers’ Workshop info and told me to get on with it. I stepped through a door that day that led me to so many fantastic opportunities, wonderful people and great friends – and I am the writer I am today because of them. Back in 2007, Harry posted about me on a now-dead blog to congratulate me on that initial success of finding an agent who believed enough in my first novel to offer feedback and ask to read it again. He acknowledged there were no guarantees that it would lead to representation but he said, ‘I bet Mandy makes it though. And I bet she sells well when she does. Certainly hope so.’ I printed that blog off and pinned it up to remind me to keep going, and I did keep going. Thank you, Harry. And thank you to everyone else along the way who believed I could do this. Lastly, incredibly, one of the many agents who rejected my children’s novel five years ago is the agent I’m now signed with as my book heads to publication with Doubleday. My advice: be rejected, crawl away and weep in a corner, look at feedback, eat chocolate, learn, re-read feedback, swear, try new things, get involved with other writers, allow your writing to be critiqued, learn more, delete, rewrite, edit, throw the whole lot in the bin for a day – but never give up!
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Just the Beginning: Getting Published by Eleanor Anstruther

By Eleanor Anstruther I got a call from my agent.  “I have news.” I sat on my kitchen table, my feet on a chair, my elbows on my knees, one finger jammed in the other ear, the better to hear. For the first time in days I hadn’t been obsessively checking my inbox; I’d let it go, I’d given up, I’d said to myself, oh well, I’ll just have to write something better.  I’d gone off to town with my children, I hadn’t looked at my phone all day till I was home and saw three missed calls and an email saying, do call when you have a minute.  I was holding the phone in my hands, staring at the screen, when it rang again. It’s a bit like when you’re pregnant for the first time, all you think about is the birth.  Not the aftermath, the what comes next, the slow reveal of fears you never thought you’d have.  I’d spent a decade driving at representation, a manuscript finished and loved and taken up by an agent.  When I signed with Jenny Savill following FoW16, I thought that was it.  It was a height I had dreamt of and not once had I thought beyond it.  It had never crossed my mind that anything would be as fraught. A friend once commented that being taken up by an agent was child’s play compared to selling to a publisher. A writer can submit to the same agent year on year if they want. But once a publisher turns your book down, that’s it. It’s a one shot game. At the beginning, with Frankfurt Book Fair looming and all the excitement of total ignorance, I was convinced I’d hear within days, hours, of easy success. Instead the weekly updates from Jenny were crammed with kind, encouraging notices of failure. It was three weeks into that torment of declines that Jenny gave me the best advice I’d ever had.  Lower your expectations she said to my whining misery that I hadn’t been bought overnight, that the industry moves at its own quiet pace, that clearly I knew nothing.  And when it seemed like pessimism was getting the better of me, she said It’s not over yet.  But Christmas came and went and my infant novel looked for all the world as if it would never make it to adulthood.  I practised saying it happens and searched for examples of Booker Prize winners who’d struggled to find air.  I got on with writing something else. A trip to town on a freezing afternoon at the end of January, my children needing boots, or the dentist, or maybe I just needed to get out of the kitchen and away from what felt like humiliation – I don’t remember anything of that day except coming home, and checking my phone for the first time since breakfast, and seeing three missed calls and an email.  When it rang in my hand my heart jumped and my breathing went funny. “We’ve had an offer.”  And then she told me who it was, and I sat on my kitchen table with my feet on a chair, and my elbows on my knees and one finger jammed in the other ear, and I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. My debut, ‘A Perfect Explanation’, comes out in March 2019, published by Salt Books, one of the finest independent publishers of literary fiction.  It’s happening; the thing that I gave no thought to, that I presumed would be easy, and wasn’t and felt crushed by.  Those four months seem like nothing now, but looking back at the struggle, I have learnt this: that every step is a test of what you know and reveal of what you don’t, and when a brilliant and hard working agent and you decide to work together, remember it is just the beginning.
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7 years to publication, 7 things I’ve learned

Isabel Costello’s debut novel Paris Mon Amour was released in June 2016 in digital and audiobook. She also hosts the Literary Sofa blog, where you can find her selection of recommended Summer Reads 2016. Isabel attended the  Festival of Writing in 2012 and 2013 and hopes to return one day! Like any endeavour measured in years, my journey to publication has many significant milestones, starting with the decision seven years ago to stop talking about wanting to write (don’t most people?) and get on with it (many people don’t). Fast-forward three years and I had a novel ready to submit to agents (or so I thought) and attending the Festival of Writing for the first time in 2012 was a watershed. As well as being sociable, stimulating and educational, it made me realise just how many people shared my precise goal of getting their novel published. It was the best kind of wake-up call: slightly alarming at the time but the catalyst for good things. Without it I doubt I’d have reached – another four years later! – the most exciting landmark so far: publication of my debut novel. Many people have been astonishingly generous and supportive on a road that’s had a few bumps, as most paths to publication do. I’ve learned a lot – and not just about how to write books. This is definitely not a ‘How to…’ (it’s pretty obvious I don’t have a magic formula.) For me and most of the writers I know, getting published has been mostly down to persistence and hard work. THE SECRET TO GETTING AN AGENT Free submission pack templateGET YOURS 1. READING MATTERS Reading as a writer alters the experience in a way that can be distracting, but noticing the structure, the language, even being able to guess the twist or the ending three chapters in (so annoying!) are signs of developing your own sense of what works. Payback time comes when you forget to register any of that because you’re so immersed in the story. That’s inspiration. It’s what you’re aiming for. 2. FRIENDS MATTER You might be – and hopefully are – writing ‘the book or story only you can write’ but that doesn’t mean you have to go it alone. The camaraderie and support amongst writers at all stages has been one of the best parts for me. It’s easy to others at events like the Festival of Writing – I’ve made wonderful friends this way I would never have met otherwise. But keep in touch with your other friends to avoid living in a literary bubble. 3. IT’S ALL ABOUT THE BOOK – SERIOUSLY, IT IS And a very large side of luck and timing. In a business where getting anywhere is very hard, it’s easy to invent imaginary obstacles. It probably doesn’t hurt to be young, movie-star gorgeous with a life story as fascinating as your book, but it’s far from essential. Not saying they aren’t great, but you do not need an MA in creative writing. (I have no writing qualifications.) And don’t fret about ‘who you know’ (or don’t) in the business. Frankly, if that made a difference it wouldn’t have taken me this long to get published! 4. THERE’S NOTHING LIKE EDITORIAL INPUT This is a tricky one because it generally involves money, but the reality is that to get noticed by agents, publishers or competition judges you need to be submitting work that’s already of publishable standard, or very close. When I think mine’s good enough, it rarely is, and the honest, constructive input you need at that point is unlikely to come from anyone who’s not a confident and experienced editor. A structural edit following my first Festival of Writing transformed my fortunes entirely, resulting in a choice of agents. It was worth every penny. 5. DON’T PIN YOUR HAPPINESS ON AN OUTCOME YOU CAN’T CONTROL Learning to cope with the inevitable setbacks in a positive way is important, and something I’ve discussed openly along the way. Some advice from Lionel Shriver at an event I attended has stayed with me: write what matters to you – it’s the only way you can be sure your time is well spent. There are no guarantees in this business. Although it’s impossible to avoid completely, comparing yourself to others – your process, your book, your success – is not a good use of time or energy. The most important lesson I’ve learned is to focus on the only part I can control: producing the best work I can. Closely followed by enjoying other things! 6. VISUALISE WRITING SUCCESS, BUT NOT WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE I know this sounds like a contradiction, but positive thinking can be a self-fulfilling prophesy too! I could always picture myself succeeding, however remote the prospect (and for a long time it really was). ‘Disruption’ in the book business has led to many new ways of reaching readers. I may not have anticipated my novel coming out first in digital and audio but I know an exciting opportunity when I see one. 7. THE RIGHT WAY TO WRITE IS THE WAY THAT WORKS FOR YOU Faced with the deluge of generic tips directed at writers, there’s an art to identifying those which motivate, assist and inspire you in your work – thereby making it more enjoyable, and you more likely to stick at it – and ignoring all the rest. For every person inspired by ‘write what you know’ or ‘write every day’ there are many more left cursing and grinding their teeth. Ultimately it’s not about the method; it’s the end result that matters. Structural feedback may just help you get there, too. MORE ON GETTING PUBLISHED Link to: How to Get Your Book Published GETTING PUBLISHED All you need to know
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Becoming An Author By Lucy Ayrton

Blogger and newly-published author Lucy Ayrton shares with Jericho Writers the experience of the early stages of her career and her tips on how to become a writer, but also reflects on what it really means to write and if there is a difference between writers and authors. The first time I ever seriously called myself a writer was on my wedding day. They ask you what your job is, to put on the wedding form. I dutifully wrote “Communications Manager” down and my soon-to-be husband nudged me. “That’s not all, though. What about your writing day?” I rolled my eyes. “They don’t need to have that on the form.” He shrugged. “It’s your job.” And I wrote it down for the first time. “Communications Manager and Writer.” I am a writer. It takes a while to claim, as an identity. The line between “writer” and “not-writer” is not clear cut. I mean, I’ve been able to write since I was about five. Maybe I wrote my first story when I was seven or eight. My first poem about the same time. But I wasn’t a writer. What about when I started scribbling in my spare time as a teenager? Or when I came second in the country poetry competition when I was seventeen? Was it when I got onto my creative writing MA? Or was it only once I’d finished a body of work? People love to say that “writers write” – but that’s ridiculous, surely. Write what? How much? How well? It’s meaningless. Writer is a title that you have to bestow on yourself. By contrast, the line between “writer” and “author” is very straightforward. When you’re published, you’re an author, and that’s that. And this is my publication week, so I’m about to become an author. I have been looking forward to this for a very long time. It’s emotionally very difficult being a writer. You’ve got a day job, probably, and friends and family and other commitments and a life. It’s a big ask to carve out time to lock yourself away in a room and hang around with people you’ve made up in your head. You have to do a fair amount of not-going-to-the-pub, and going-to-bed-early-I’m-writing-tomorrow-morning, and basically being less fun than you could be. It is a choice you have made, between writing and watching Jurassic Park and drinking wine with your girlfriend, and you know it. When there’s just you and the book, making these choices can make you feel a little bit… stupid. You’re painfully aware there’s no guarantee that anyone’s ever actually going to read your work. It’s easy to wonder what it’s for. And I would always say that it ultimately doesn’t matter. The process of writing is valuable in and of itself, and the work produced has value too. I’d be miserable if I couldn’t write, and whether my work gets sold in bookshops or emailed to close friends doesn’t change that – if I didn’t write and share stories then I wouldn’t be me, and that’s why I do it. Art that isn’t sold is still art. But I’ll be honest, when I first got my book deal, the idea that my work was going to be a “real book” was a massive lift. I felt vindicated – all those times I’d felt a bit silly for the compromises and sacrifices I’d made, I’d proved it was worth it. I wasn’t missing out on other experiences to do a kind of grown-up version of playing with my dolls – this was a serious business. This wasn’t just some scribblings sitting on my hard drive anymore. I had undeniably made something, and now people were going to read it. I felt like “being an author” was going to change everything again. This time it would be even better, and  surely I would never have to doubt myself or feel stupid ever again – because I was an Author. I kept waiting to feel it – the rush of “being an author”. I thought it would happen when I first held the hard copy of my book. Like having a baby, I vaguely thought. I’ll hold it and suddenly feel it – suddenly understand. My author-ness will descend on me. And it really was brilliant holding my baby book for the first time. I flipped through it and cried and took photos of it with a glass of champagne. It was such a lovely evening. The thing is though – nothing changed. I still had to sit on my bum the next day and write the first draft of the next book when I could have been re-watching Game of Thrones. It’s not like I really needed the permission. My process hadn’t changed and neither had I. The little bit of swagger was lovely to have – a bit of spring in my step, a bit of a smirk when I opened my laptop  – but essentially I am still the same woman tapping away at her laptop wearing PJs while everyone else is at the pub watching football. Writing life is exactly the same. Ultimately, I don’t feel different. I’d assumed that it would either help, or paralyse me – the idea of a faceless audience, a crowd of people I’ve never met reading my precious words. I’d assumed that it would change things. But when I come to actually write, it’s still the way it’s always been – just me and the page and maybe an idea of just one person, who I’m telling a story to. But then, publication is still 3 days away. I’ll let you know. How To Become An Author: Tips For Your Writing Career So here is some useful advice I’ve had on being a “baby-author” Say thank you to everyone. I’ve read this advice from a few different people. It seems like a decent life rule in general! But also, I’ve been thanked for a positive review or a nice tweet before and it feels amazing.Get a new signature. You need a new signature – a different one to the one on your bank card – for signings. This is to make it harder for people to embezzle you.Get a uniform. A friend told me it was a good idea to decide upon an “author’s uniform” so that you’re a bit more recognisable at events and also you never have to worry about what you’re wearing. I actually already have this from my poetry career – a pretty dress plus Doc Martens.Think about money. It can be very easy to lose a handle on any income when you haven’t earnt from writing before. Luckily I had a hustle-heavy poetry career to teach me this. It’s always good to have a rough idea of how much you’ll charge for what (ie a visit to a school) so that if someone offers you some work you won’t be caught on the hop and agree to do a week’s worth of workshops for £10. Think about travel expenses! Also, if you’re not already a freelancer, sort your business side out.Make friends with other authors/book industry people. This is partly so that they can give you more helpful advice along the lines of the above. Mainly though, this is because having a network of friends and colleagues who just bloody LOVE BOOKS as much as you is a childhood dream in and of itself. Author Lucy’s debut novel One More Chance is available now from Dialogue Books. The novel follows the story of Dani, a London prison inmate, and combines physiological suspense with contemporary women’s fiction. To learn more about how to become an author from Lucy’s perspective, have a look at her blog ‘Books and Bakes and Beverages’ here where she writes about the day to day happenings in her writing career. Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers, providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter. For more writing articles take a look at our blog page or join our free writer\'s community. 
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Festival Success: Joanna Cannon

Guest author extraordinaire and blogger Joanna Cannon attended our Festival of Writing in 2014. Jo walked away with seven offers from literary agents and eventually signed with Susan Armstrong from Conville and Walsh. The Trouble with Goats and Sheep is her first novel, published by The Borough Press (HarperCollins), called ‘A delight’ by Paula Hawkins and ‘A wonderful debut’ by Jill Mansell. There is a certain, creeping horror, when I look back and think I nearly didn’t enter the Friday Night Live competition at the Festival of Writing. I was a real eager-beaver when it came to the Festival booking. I was logged in and ready to pick my one-to-ones the minute the website went live. But the competitions were a different matter altogether. They were A Scary Thing. I’d been to the Festival before, and watched other writers on stage, reading their work out to an audience of very important people. I didn’t want to do anything quite that scary. I’d much rather stick to the brilliant workshops and talks, and the Gala Dinner and scary (but slightly more manageably scary) one-to-ones. But right at the last minute (sorry, lovely organisers!), I changed my mind. It’s a strange business, this writing malarkey. We write because we have something to say, but when it comes to saying it, we run for cover at the thought of anyone actually hearing us. I avoided telling anyone I write. On the rare occasion I admitted it to someone, it was always accompanied by a slight apology for being so ridiculously self-indulgent. I don’t write anything very interesting, it’s just a little hobby, nothing will ever come of it, etc. ,etc. Yet in September last year, I found myself on a stage in York, with 500 words of my manuscript trembling away in my hands. I’m not going to lie, it was the most terrifying thing I have ever experienced, and as I walked up to the microphone, I honestly felt my legs were going to give way. But it needed to be done. We spend so long agonising and doubting, and battling with our words, we really owe them a chance to be heard. Even if it is a Scary Thing. The best experiences of my life have usually started with more than a pinch of anxiety and, as it happened, this was going to be one of them. No matter what else life has in store for me, winning Friday Night Live is something I will always remember. Overcoming my fears, and looking out at the audience and seeing people raise their hands to vote for me, was the most incredible feeling (and if you were one of those lovely people, thank you!). It really was one of the best nights of my life. What I didn’t realise, was within hours of leaving York and heading back down the M1, I would have seven offers of agent representation. Seven amazing, incredibly skilled people who wanted to help me with my book. I felt like I’d either stumbled onto the set of a Richard Curtis film, or I was having a transient psychotic episode. After a very tense, tearful and pacey few days (I know it’s a great problem to have, but it was still very stressful!), I decided to sign with Sue Armstrong at Conville and Walsh. I met Sue during one of my one-to-ones, and I just knew we’d get along brilliantly. C&W represent some of my favourite authors, and it’s a huge privilege to be joining such a prestigious agency. Within a week, HarperCollins had offered a life-changing amount of money for my manuscript (the manuscript I was worried about showing anyone, because doing that would be a Scary Thing), and I began to spend large amounts of time staring into space and trying to believe it was all true. That’s when the creeping horror began. When I began to imagine what would have happened if I’d listened to the internal narrator we all have, the one who tells us to walk away from the Scary Thing. The Festival is the most wonderful, supportive, fun environment, filled with amazingly talented people, and I’ve learned so much in the time I’ve been going. I do hope I will see you there and I really hope you’ll ignore that ridiculous internal narrator, and enter all competitions. You have nothing to lose and absolutely everything to gain.
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Tor Udall on patience and passion in writing

Guest author and blogger Tor Udall shares her story of publishing A Thousand Paper Birds with Bloomsbury after her time at the Festival of Writing, plus how patience, perseverance and passion were key to success. The Festival of Writing had a transformative impact for me. After signing with my agent, what happened next? More drafts. Another four to be exact, since A Thousand Paper Birds is a many layered thing. Based in Kew Gardens, with five characters, two love triangles and a mysterious death, it’s told from multiple perspectives and two time-frames. Add in a speculative thread and the folds of origami, and you can imagine why it took a while to pin this girl down. I learnt a lot in those two years – not just about my characters and craft, but also about perseverance and passion. There were days when it felt like I was entering a boxing ring, wrestling the pages, and leaving the desk with my jaw bloodied. In one particular draft, I tried so damn hard to please that I took on every suggested edit and ended up with a Frankenstein manuscript, the stitches so coarse you could see the seams. It had no blood in it. No heartbeat. I had to go back and lovingly unpick it, gently resuscitating it back to life and asking it to forgive me – and thankfully it did. It’s a delicate balance – taking in other people’s advice, but also staying true to the world you’ve created and to the book’s anima, or spirit. In September 2015, the manuscript was ready, and we sent it out on submission. What a terrifying process! Within 24 hours, an editor in Italy had read it overnight, fallen head over heels and wanted to make a pre-emptive offer. I thought this is it, we’re on a roll. Then nothing happened, for days. Slowly, other offers came in – Portugal, Netherlands, Russia – but nothing from the UK. The rapturous declines were wonderful, but frustrating (it made me laugh to discover that while agents send ‘rejections’, publishers send ‘declines’ … it’s all so much more civilised!). Finally, we got a bite from one editor (followed by a great meeting), then a few more showed interest, and suddenly editors were taking A Thousand Paper Birds to acquisitions. This is not an easy hurdle – the entire team must love it and in the run-up to Frankfurt Book Fair, a lot of books are vying for attention. Trying to keep positive, I took myself off to Kew Gardens (the book’s location) to hear the Director’s Talk. As I left the event, my phone rang and the moment happened. Bloomsbury had put in an offer. I was standing outside the famous Palm House, in the perfect spot. A couple of times I had to ask Jenny to repeat herself – partly out of disbelief, partly because the ducks were quacking, but there I stood by the glasshouse, my dream solidifying in the trees, the lake, the sky, my body. This elation continued in Frankfurt when Random House in Germany offered me a 2-book deal (without even seeing a synopsis for the second). Signing for a second book felt like the start of a career, a validation. So guess what happened next? Yup. More drafts. Two more. It’s pot-luck on who you get as an editor, but thankfully Alexa von Hirschberg is one helluva talented lady. Sensitive, funny, wise, stylish (we even share the same taste in musicians), she was a joy to work with. The copy-edit, too, was a wonderful experience. The copy-editor’s attention to detail was love-filled. It’s the fine work of the scalpel: ‘do you really want ‘in’ twice in a sentence?’ (see, I’ve just done it again), ‘should it be ‘garden’ or ‘Gardens’? Did you realise that you swap between imperial and metric?’ After the large-scale edits, it was a pleasure to focus on the miniscule. Ten drafts in all. So many different versions, characters cut or changed, whole passages gone, and for a while I worried that I would grieve for all the different ‘Paper Birds’ that had vanished. But when I read through the final edit it was the book it was always supposed to be. Everything had come into focus. During this period, there was a lot of other stuff happening, too. While I was writing the draft(s) of my life I also had to set myself up as a business, dealing with foreign tax forms, complicated contracts, asking the Foreign Office to certify certificates of residence. An illustrator was working on a map of Kew Gardens to go at the front, copy for the blurb and catalogue were needed, copyright permissions required for quotes and lyrics, author photos taken, the jacket design approved (oh my, it’s so flutteringly gorgeous!). Then there was also a pregnancy that involved me injecting myself in the stomach for 9 months daily, a premature baby and the usual sleeplessness and chaos that comes with a new-born – but that’s a whole other story …! And now I have a year to write my second book (the first one took seven years, so you can understand why my eye is twitching!). There’s a host of unknown and wonderful things ahead. And I’m frightened. Of people reading it. Of people not reading it. The author events, the promotion – all challenges for a publishing virgin. But in the end, away from the noise of twitter, book sales, reviews, I know my main job is the work itself: to write the next book better, using everything I’ve learnt. The landscape of language, the puzzles of plot and pace, the intimacies of character – this is where I’m happiest, and how privileged I am to be able to spend my day at the typeface, conjuring up things to believe in. This passion (obsession? endless curiosity?) is both anchor and fuel. So, yes, since York, life has changed. After years of writing alone, it’s amazing to be part of a collaboration with some of the most talented, brilliant people in the world. Good luck to all of you ever coming to the Festival of Writing, and remember, too, so much can happen in the one-on-ones, in the coffee queue, at the bar … the quickening of fate can happen in the most unlikely places. Who knows? The roller coaster may be coming for you, too.
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Kate Armstrong on book critiques

Guest author and blogger Kate Armstrong shares her story of publishing The Storyteller after a manuscript critique from us. It was 2013. Summer. I was a nervous management consultant who had once, a long time ago, been an English student. I was opening an assessment report on the draft of my first novel. I’d sent it off for a professional reading a fortnight previously. In that fortnight I’d obsessively researched Jessica Ruston, who would be writing the report. The subjects of her books were very different from mine; maybe she wouldn’t get what I was trying to do. But then again, maybe she would read it and be astounded at my debut genius. In my wildest dreams, Jessica would declare this was the best writing since Plath – better even than Plath – and I would be turning away agents dangling golden contracts. In my nightmares, the report would come back dripping with pity and rejection. The reality was of course neither one nor the other. When I summoned my bravery to open the file, I found a thorough, balanced, extremely helpful set of comments. Jessica had understood the novel perfectly well. She pointed out both its strengths and where it was not yet good enough, and mostly I agreed. She found it ‘unusual and thoughtful’, praised the writing, and recommended more work on character and plot. I breathed a sigh of relief, and got to work on the next draft. Fast-forward three years, and that novel, The Storyteller, is being published by Holland House Books. It has, as they say, been a journey. Along the way I’ve learned how to take rejection, and how to accept graciously while keeping my hysteria in check. I’ve learned that an agent response of ‘you write incredibly well’ can be immediately followed by ‘but we don’t think we could place this’. I’ve learned how to do social media more effectively and how to write a blog that is true to who I am. I’ve pitched articles to magazines, and some of them have come off. I feel that I’ve been learning a new trade. Because that of course is what it is; both the writing and the ‘being a writer’. I’m published by a passionate literary independent, but passion does not go hand in hand with a huge marketing budget, so much of the marketing responsibility is mine. That was an eye-opener. The other eye-opener was how fast the book became an object separate from me. Other people had views on how it should be edited, what the cover should be like, how to market it. Cutting the umbilical cord – seeing it as a product in a market – was something I was unprepared for. The Storyteller is a very personal book in many ways. It draws heavily on my experiences of mental ill health and its aim, so far as it has one, is to share those experiences with others. It is also a coming of age novel, and a story of friendship, first love and betrayal. Whatever your definition of ‘literary’, it is certainly in that camp. It is, for my sins, narrated in the second person. (I had written it before I read articles advising against.) It is fuelled by atmosphere and character and not so much by plot. It has unsettled many of its readers. I hope it will continue to do that. But regardless of what it does for its readers, it has already changed my life. That life change is nothing external: I have no idea how it will sell. My dreams are of a prize-winning best-seller, my nightmares that only my mother-in-law will buy a copy. Neither is likely to happen. No, the change has been inside. Before I wrote it I could not share my life long experiences of depression, and I didn’t believe that I could write. When my publisher offered a contract it took me 18 months to accept; I didn’t think the book, or I, was good enough. Once the contract was signed I was too embarrassed to tell anyone, too ashamed of the content, too scared of what exposure as a writer would mean. Over the last year I have moved past all of those blocks. I am definitely now ‘a writer’, and that is where I want to be. I have risked sharing some of the things that go on deep inside. I have welcomed other people into my world. Most of all I have built the psychological platform to keep on writing honestly and openly, and in the way that is most true to who I am. Learn more about editorial feedback.
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Getting an agent and deal you really want

Guest author and blogger: James Law will be well-known to Festival attendees. Here James tells us about his journey and what it took for him to succeed. (Going to the Festival is often a good idea.) So, where to start on the road to publishing? I think, and this is only my opinion, that we should start with ‘The Dream’. Set your sights on a dream and run with it. Make sure it’s big enough too, and I mean aim high! Shoot for the stars and even if you miss, the trajectory should carry you somewhere good and the view will have been great. But what do I actually mean? Well when I set out on my writing journey in earnest, I did a number of things: 1. I started acting like I thought an author should act. I started writing a book every year, setting my own deadlines and sticking to them. I sought help from readers and other writers for feedback and I submitted my completed books to agents. 2. I started networking. I went to events, super events like the Festival of Writing where I met more writers, readers and, of course, some agents and publishers too (usually in the bar, long after Cinderella’s ride was being carved into a scary face). I pitched my novel when asked, or when it was polite, but really, I just wanted to be recognised and known as someone who was serious about writing, so that when my next manuscript hit their desk, they knew the face behind the words. But I think the next is the most important one (so important, I split it in two). 3. I started treating getting published as though it were a project. I gathered intelligence on what I’d need to do, who I’d need to submit work to, exactly how they wanted it submitted, what books they liked and had bought or taken on, where the good places were to meet them etc. I created a plan that I thought would offer me the greatest chance of success – then I stuck to it. 4. I decided in my own mind what ‘success’ looked like for me, and defining this can be hard to do. I decided that, for me, success looked like this: a ‘top’ agent from a major British agency and a publishing deal with a ‘Big 5’ publisher. There, I said it! Outrageous, but that was the target I set myself. This was what success would look like in my project, the stars I was going to aim for. Now, let’s not be silly about this. This is a target, the ultimate end goal, but there could be steps along the way. I’m not saying I’d have turned down almost any agent in the beginning, I simply wouldn’t have, and I’m a loyal person so it’s unlikely I would leave an agent I liked and trusted, but this was The Target and I’d urge you all to identify yours and stick with it. If it’s to be a massive self-published success story, then go for that too, whatever your goal is, get at it with vigour and verve and don’t let any set-back, upset, rejection (I’ve had loads of them!), or dismissal put you off. ‘Publishing is broken! They don’t take debuts anymore! I submitted to five agents and got rejections from all of them!’, etc., etc. (Ring any bells?) If you submit your work to five agents and then give up, then you lack the tenacity for this business. I submitted my work through the usual channels – the slush pile – and got well over thirty rejections. (Some weren’t even rejections, they simply didn’t even acknowledge me at all and never have.) I kept going. I wrote six novels. The first four are pants, some not even that good. The fifth started getting noticed. I had some requests for the full manuscript and got some valuable feedback from great agents (and even a hint of an offer of a very small publishing deal with a small press), then I wrote Tenacity and submitted that. It got nowhere. I had easily twenty rejections and had all but given up, even though it was still out with some other agents. I was already writing my next novel, when I got an email from Curtis Brown – the office of Jonny Geller – yup, there are some agents who are so super that you’re allowed to swear in the middle of their name – Jonny ‘Freaking’ Geller called me. Excited doesn’t begin to cover it. Then, in the same day, more agents showed interest, more great ones. Suddenly, I was in business and that aim, that definition of success, didn’t look so outrageous after all. I signed with Jonny, having been picked up from the slush pile, and my debut novel Tenacity was published by Headline on July 30 2015. I also sold very quickly in the US, too. So my message is hopefully clear. Decide what you want to do, set out a plan to do it, and hang on to that plan as though your life, and the lives of everyone you hold dear, depend on it. Grit your teeth, be ready for rejection, but know absolutely where you want to go. If you want it bad enough, then show the world that you have the Tenacity to get it. And I love that word, Tenacity, so much so that I made it the title of my debut novel, and it’s hopefully one of the strongest traits you’d recognise in my lead character, Danielle Lewis. She doesn’t give up, ever, and neither should you.
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My Pathway to Publication by Sarah Linley

by Sarah Linley This week’s entry in the My Path to Publication series belongs to guest author, Sarah Linley. Sarah’s debut novel, The Beach, will be published in 2020 by HarperCollins’ digital publishing division, One More Chapter. Me, Myself And My Book I have wanted to be a writer since I was a little girl, but I didn’t really do anything about it until I reached my early 30s and decided that if I was ever going to get published, then I needed to take it seriously. In 2014, I booked on to the Festival of Writing and entered all the competitions with my first novel. I was incredibly lucky and was shortlisted for Friday Night Live. At this point, I had no idea how big or influential the festival was. I thought I was going to be reading to 20 people in the back room of a pub. That was terrifying enough. I had never read my work out loud before. I arrived to find a huge room, a stage, a microphone and an audience of around 200 writers and literary agents. Cue major stage fright and the conviction that I was going to vomit in front of everyone. I eyed up the exit and considered making a run for it. Fortunately, the other writers were equally nervous, incredibly supportive and I got through OK. People even laughed (which was good – it was a comedy). Joanna Cannon won that year and became a major literary superstar. I had two brilliant one-to-ones. I had requests for full manuscripts. I thought ‘this is easy’. I was so wrong! That book did OK. For a first attempt, I’m surprised that I did get full manuscript requests and helpful feedback but ultimately no agent. Fair enough, I thought, I’ll try again. I switched to crime. I read a lot of crime. I know and love the genre. My favourite books are psychological thrillers and I felt that was the right fit for me. I wrote another book. This time, I knew a bit more about story structure (thanks to Julie Cohen); psychic distance (thanks to Debi Alper) and the four-act structure (thanks to Allie Spencer). Harry Bingham had taught me to challenge my prose and to really care about its quality. I realised I needed to include some setting (which was conspicuously absent in my first book). I went to the next Festival of Writing feeling confident with my first chapter and my synopsis fresh off the printer. In retrospect, I should have waited. It bombed. The feedback from my one-to-ones was completely true, but hard to swallow. There were tears. I got onto the Curtis Brown Creative novel course, which was fantastic, and I learned to accept, welcome and value criticism. I met my amazing critique partner, Phil, and I revised the novel. I went to the Festival of Writing again and the feedback was more positive but still generally ‘meh’. To be honest, I was feeling the same way about book two myself. I gave up on trying to win over the industry. It just wasn’t going to happen. I licked my wounds a little and then decided to write something just for fun. If it didn’t get published, so what? I was just going to write something that I loved and if no-one liked it, then at least I would be proud of it. I wrote my third novel free from expectation but there was something deep inside me whispering ‘this is the one’. I started looking at digital-first publishers who would read manuscripts without an agent and had a faster track to publication. When I got the email from Killer Reads, a digital imprint of HarperCollins, I automatically thought it was another ‘thanks, but no thanks’. I had to read it several times to convince myself that it was a ‘yes’. I had a book deal. I stared at it for a long time, wondering if they had made a big mistake, sent it to the wrong person, but no, it definitely had my name on it. (NB Killer Reads has now amalgamated into One More Chapter). By the time The Beach is published in February 2020, it will have taken the best part of a decade to get a publishing deal. And I still haven’t managed to secure an agent! From Manuscript To Publication I got the book deal in March, just as I was about to embark on my third and final backpacking trip with my husband. The next stage was structural edits which came at the start of June. I was really pleased with the suggestions put forward. I thought they made the book stronger and I felt that my editor really understood what I was trying to achieve with the book. I didn’t have much to do with the title and the cover, but I thought they were both great, and I absolutely loved the blurb. They did a much better job than I could have done! I am now just awaiting the copy edits. I have just the one contact at HarperCollins – my editor Kathryn Cheshire – and everything is done via email. I did get chance to meet her at the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate this summer though which was lovely. Surprises It would have been so helpful to have had an agent when I received the publishing contract as I didn’t have a clue what to look out for! Harry Bingham’s Getting Published was invaluable for helping to explain the terms and conditions and I am fortunate that one of my best friends is a lawyer, so she helped me to understand what I was signing. I had read a lot about the industry beforehand, so I haven’t really been surprised by anything so far. I suppose the weird thing about getting a publishing deal is that suddenly people are interested in your writing in a way they weren’t before. You go from writing something quite secretly, perhaps sharing it with some writing friends, to everyone from your boss to your next-door neighbour promising to read it, and that feels very strange! Letting Go I think you have to accept that your novel will never be perfect, so my test for letting go is: if this version was published tomorrow, would I be happy for people to read it? Beta readers are fantastic for letting you know what’s working and what isn’t. Pick people who are going to be honest with you; there’s no point otherwise and listen to their feedback. You don’t have to agree with it, but you should always consider it. Also, deadlines help. Either your own or your publishers. As a former journalist, I am used to working to deadlines and I take pride in always meeting them, so if someone asks me for something by the end of July, it’ll be ready by the end of July! What\'s Next? I am currently working on my second novel. It’s the same genre and style as The Beach, but it’s not a sequel. I am trying to finish a complete first draft by Christmas and I’m really enjoying being back at the start of the process again, creating and developing plot and characters. Also, the research for this new novel is a lot of fun! About Sarah Linley Sarah Linley lives in Yorkshire and works as a Communications Manager for a housing charity. She spent two years backpacking around South-East Asia with her husband. Their travels inspired her debut novel, The Beach. The Beach will be published by One More Chapter in February 2020 (ebook) and May 2020 (paperback). You can follow Sarah on twitter here and keep up with her travelling adventures via her blog, here.Link to: How to Get Your Book Published
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Peter Papathanasiou’s Path to Publication

by Peter Papathanasiou Author, and Jericho Writers member, Peter Papathanasiou shares his journey to publication. From rejected manuscripts, getting and then losing an agent, to working with publishers and editors, and more re-writes, Peter leaves no stone unturned. The path to publication is filled with creativity, re-writes, disappointment, bad news and great news. The ‘My Path to Publication’ series features posts from writers, and Jericho members, who are sharing their journey to publication. We here at Jericho Writers are very excited to introduce our inaugural post by Peter Papathanasiou. Peter’s memoir, Son Of Mine, was published in July 2019 in the UK with Salt Publishing, and is available now from Amazon. If you’re based in Australia, then fear not, you can get hold of Peter’s memoir courtesy of Allen & Unwin, entitled Little One. You can find more information about Peter if you scroll allll the way down. Otherwise, sit back and enjoy. ME, MYSELF, AND MY BOOK I was born in 1974 in Florina, a small town in northern Greece, but raised in Australia. I was an only child and enjoyed reading and writing. I wrote stories at primary school, but during high school gravitated to studying subjects like biology and mathematics which were more focused at university entrance scores. I eventually went to university where I studied a law degree and PhD in genetics. In 1999, I found out I was adopted; my parents were actually my aunt and uncle, who’d been unable to have their own children and were gifted a baby by my biological parents in Greece. They already had two of their own children, so suddenly I had two brothers. We eventually reunited in 2003. I began to write about this time of my life in 2006 when I was at a writing course in New York City. In 2007, I turned it into a short story, entered it in three competitions, and won two. At this point I sensed I had something, but it was only the tip of the iceberg. From 2008 to 2010, I researched and wrote a full-length manuscript. The manuscript had two narrators, with half the book in my voice and half in my mum’s. Chapters alternated, with the story spanning a hundred years of family history. Editing took another year. I showed the manuscript to friends, my wife, and also got the help from Jericho Writers who lined up an exceptional editor. What made this editor so good? In short – he was a bastard. He saw potential in me and encouraged me accordingly, but he also didn’t let me get away with anything sloppy and told me firmly and without self-censorship. It was confronting to hear at times, but deep down I knew he had my best interests at heart. Additionally, it also avoided arguments with my wife over why this chapter wasn’t working or why that character wasn’t compelling enough. Money well spent! By 2011, and after 13 drafts, I had a polished manuscript of 100,000 words. Filled with optimism, I approached literary agents but received little interest. I must’ve submitted the opening chapters to a hundred agents in the UK and Australia, and only received requests for the full manuscript from a few. None offered contracts of representation. The vast majority didn’t reply at all. TURNING MY HAND TO FICTION Feeling slightly disheartened, I put the manuscript, and four years of work, in a bottom drawer. I decided to consider it my literary apprenticeship – the book I had to write in order to learn how to write a book. One agent who did reply said that most people could adequately write about their own lives, but that ‘that doesn’t make you a writer. The real test of a writer is whether you can write fiction.’ I found it an altogether interesting thing to say, and accepted his challenge. Opening a fresh computer file, I began writing a novel. With a super-fit writing muscle, I wrote faster and with more relevance. After three years, there was less fat to trim in editing. Only seven more drafts followed this time, and my Jericho editor had less to do, which pleased both him and me. By now, I was living in London, and enrolled in a Master of Arts (MA) to write a third book. But first, I submitted my second to literary agents. After only 12 submissions, I had three offers of representation. I was overjoyed. But my happiness was short-lived; after three months, my agent said she’d been unable to sell my novel to publishers. The familiar black cloud of rejection returned. I was told to push it away and instead write another novel. Easier said than done; but fortunately, I had a good idea brewing. From 2015 to 2017, I wrote a third manuscript, and finished my MA. My agent was more hands-on this time around, more proactive with suggestions and guidance than she had been with my first novel. During that time, I returned to Australia, became a father – twice – and lost my own father. Those were deeply emotional years and major life events. Deaths and births always are. 2018 shaped as a defining year. My agent was going to send out my second novel and I didn’t know if I would get a third chance. And with a growing family, it was now getting harder to find the space and time to write at home. It was then that I remembered my failed first manuscript based on my adoption story. Reopening the file, I gradually began to reacquaint myself with the words. I was soon seeing holes and deficiencies, but also things I really liked. Slowly, I began editing old chapters and adding new ones. A lot of new and significant life had been lived since 2011, which now also gave my story an ending. The first time I’d written it, I’d been forced to manufacture an ending, which technically made it a work of fiction. But it was all nonfiction now. I finished my 14th draft in June 2018 and was pleased with the 90,000-word final product. I was keen to show it to my agent. But not long after, she informed me that she hadn’t been able to sell my new novel to publishers, and politely added that I might also want to find a new agent. Needless to say, I was pretty devastated. This was the harsh reality of commercial publishing. I offered my memoir for submission but it was declined. I subsequently spent the next few months in an existential hole. I’d now spent a decade writing half a million words but hadn’t manage to publish a single one – they were still just words sitting on my hard drive. Picking myself up, I started submitting to new agents. I thought having already signed with one agent would help my cause, but I was wrong. More rejections followed. Every agent has their own taste and what they think can sell. Casting my net wider, I began submitting to publishers directly. There were still a few who allowed writers to do that, who opened up submission channels. Even more rejections followed. Those were dark days indeed. Light Emerged, In The Shape Of A Publisher But then, light emerged. It’s funny how it works like that. It’s always darkest before the dawn. I had an offer from a UK publisher, Salt, for my memoir, and two separate offers from Australian publishers. I signed with Salt first and then Allen & Unwin. Allen & Unwin actually plucked my manuscript out of their ‘Friday Pitch’ pile, which apparently makes it 1 in a 1000. I also signed with a new literary agent. Over the past few months, I was sent cover art and proofs from both publishers. I worked with copyeditors and proofreaders and graphic designers, and now with publicists. I shared the proofs with fellow writers whom I admire, and who provided advance endorsements. I called bookshops to organise launches and events. Whenever I needed a break from my manuscripts, I wrote and published short articles in a freelance capacity. These helped increase my public profile and were the equivalent of little ‘sugar hits’, which are needed to feed the publishing soul because writing a book can take so long and be so arduous. I am deeply indebted to my Jericho Writers editor, who has now been with me since 2013 and seen my writing evolve across three manuscripts. He’s not just my editor now – he’s a friend, someone with whom I discuss all things literary, not just manuscripts. I am also grateful for my fellow authors for their incredible support. I’ve found it especially amazing how the writing community embraces debut authors, perhaps because most writers remember how hard it was for them to get their break. The Winding Road To Publication It’s been a long and winding road to publication, but one which has made me a better writer, and also richer for the experience. Everyone treads their own path and in their own time. I’ll always remember the stories of two writers I met in London when they told me their literary journeys. One writer wrote a short story, entered it into a competition, won second prize, and was offered a publishing contract before she’d even started a book. Another wrote four books before she secured an agent, and another four before she was offered a publishing contract. As you can see, the differences can be striking. For me, it was an 11-year gestation from 2008 to 2019. And I’m only just getting started – I still have two completed manuscripts which remain unpublished, and plans to write another one. Naturally, I would’ve liked to have taken less time to publish my first book, but the time was not wasted – in terms of words written – and I know has also made me a better writer. ABOUT PETER Peter Papathanasiou was born in northern Greece and adopted as a baby to an Australian family. His writing has been published internationally by The New York Times, New York Post, The Guardian UK, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, Good Weekend, The Canberra Times, The Herald Sun, The Daily Telegraph, ABC, SBS, The Huffington Post, Frankie, Neos Kosmos, The Pigeonhole, Caught by the River, Structo, 3:AM Magazine, Elsewhere Journal, Litro, CutBank, Meanjin, Overland, Island Magazine, Going Down Swinging, Verity La, and Tincture Journal, and reviewed by The Times Literary Supplement in the UK. Peter’s short stories have won or been shortlisted for over twenty literary awards in Australia. He also holds a Master of Arts in Creative Writing from City, University of London, and a PhD in Biomedical Sciences from The Australian National University. His first book was published in 2019. You can follow Peter on Twitter here, he’s also on Facebook, and has a Blog too. Son of Mine was also reviewed by The Guardian, have a read here.
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Dominic Brownlow’s Success Story

Dominic Brownlow\'s Success Story I read recently on Chris Bonnello’s blog those distant and, until now, impossibly unreachable words ‘Then it happened to me’, and had to sort of shake myself, not because it has also happened to me but because I realised it is not as simple as that. It is not something that happened to me, or to Chris for that matter, I imagine, but because we’d made it happen. We’d shortened the string on that wild, flailing kite and pulled it out of the sky. This is not gloating, by the way. My journey to this point has been as long and as painful as everyone else’s, I can assure you. The writing part, or so I thought, finished a year ago. Those endless, fey evenings at my desk pretending to be an actual writer were, and are, some of the happiest, if not most distraught moments of my life. I loved it. I still do, but whether we care to admit to it or not we all crave for our stories to be in print, for the ‘It happened to me’ moment and so at some stage we must prise them from the confines of our computers and send them out into the dark, unknown world of agents and publishers. If you’re like me you’ll do this far too soon and potentially blow all your chances of publishing something that is fundamentally, so you believe, as worth publishing as anything else. As with many people here my writing was a secret affair. After a while, many years in fact, you tire of people asking you how the book’s going and people tire of asking. Eventually, my first draft completed, some five or six years ago now, I sought the advice of an editor. He was fantastically honest and I owe a great deal to him. He stuck with me as very slowly, scraping hours between work, I would once a year send him a new draft and he would, at the same time as encouraging me and persuading me I had the potential to write something publishable, quite brutally put me in my place. ‘I’ve been on many aeroplanes in my life,’ he once told me over coffee, sitting outside the British Library,’ but I wouldn’t think to fly one.’ This resonates with me still and I think is the best advice, as a wannabe writer, I have ever been given. Yes, I could write pretty sentences, often staring at them for hours, freely swapping the words around as though they were jigsaw puzzle pieces, and I had a decent story up my sleeve, but in order to write it I had, at first, to learn how to write. And so I did. With these words reverberating in my ears and what I believe to be the best writers’ guide available, Release The Bats, by DBC Pierre, positioned like a Bible at my side, I started again. I deleted the entire folder, 149,000 words, and started again with the same idea but a different outlook completely. It was slow, fastidious work, as we can all appreciate, finding hours here and there and forever being tired, but over time something clicked and I knew, in practice at least, I was doing it right. And I was loving it. If anyone had asked me how the book was going I would have told them with the fervency of a new father that it was going well, that I was getting ready to send out to people, but they weren’t asking anymore. Best to keep quiet about ‘the book,’ they most likely thought, but it didn’t matter, not now. A publishing deal was a dead cert. I even, lofty in my own self-belief, entered and was long-listed for the Bath Novel Children’s Award. It was surely only a matter of time. A quick trip to the York Festival, to get out of my house and into the publishing world at last, and I was in. But I wasn’t, was I? I wasn’t even on the starting blocks and I’d been going at it, one way or another, for nearly seven years. What I got, though, from the York Festival was encouragement from a couple of agents. They very kindly told me I could write well but, and here’s the cruncher, they didn’t think they were would be able to place the book. Was it a children’s novel or a literary novel? I had purposefully, and somewhat foolishly as it happened, set out to write a literary novel for young adults. Confused once again, disheartened and at a bit of a loss, I took the plunge of seeking professional help, to learn how to fly. I found the very fantastic Susan Davis at Jericho Writers and everything from that moment changed. Susan instantly took to the manuscript, concurrently instilling confidence but highlighting some quite major issues. More importantly she encouraged me to stick to my guns, that this was a novel that didn’t need categorising, even when others were telling me it did, that in order for it to progress it had to have a clear and definable place on a shelf. I never doubted her, even after making the changes and sending out to near enough two dozen agents and receiving some of the most glowing yet fundamentally worthless rejection letters imaginable. They all claimed they liked the book but couldn’t place it. Frustrated as I was with the responses, I turned again to Susan who contacted a friend of hers, Louise Walters, who had recently set up a small imprint, Louise Walters Books. In August this year I sent her the manuscript. She came back to me, saying that on first reading she loved it but, here we go again, she couldn’t categorise it. However on a second reading, back to back, she knew just how to resolve this situation and was in complete agreement with Susan about its potential. By this stage a couple of other small publishers were showing interest, but nothing now would stop me signing with someone who was not only willing to read the novel twice over in one sitting but to look at it with such vision and optimism and, dare I say, bravery, and we signed a few months later. Relief and, yes, a general air of purpose gild now the hours I spend at my desk but I am acutely aware, also, of the temporal nature of this solace. In order to retain ‘this thing that has happened to me’ not only do I have to keep learning but I have to pack my bags and leave for University. For, as I am fast learning, the lessons are getting harder, my lecturer is not simply a voice in my head and whilst I am unreservedly enjoying Freshers’ Week I understand that, really, all I have learnt so far is how to take off. The Naseby Horses is set for release in paperback and ebook in December 2019 with Louise Walters Books.
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The Rewriter’s Journey by John David Mann

by John David Mann In this article, New York Times bestselling author, John David Mann shares his experiences editing and rewriting his first novel, Steel Fear (2020). When I handed my wife my five-hundred-page, hundred-fifty-thousand-word completed draft of my first novel, she did three things. She read it. She told me she loved it. And then she gave me the best advice I’ve had in a decade: “Send it to Jericho.” Context. This wasn’t my maiden voyage. I first learned about the value of rewriting—the agony and ecstasy of rewriting, its trials and rewards—more than a decade earlier. Back in 2005 I coauthored a little “business parable” with a friend and managed to secure us a terrific literary agent, who in 2006 sent it round to a handful of publishers in New York and got the following responses: Editor 1 at Publisher A said no. Editor 2 at Publisher B said no. Editor 3 at Publisher C said no. Editor 4 at Publisher D said no. Editor 5 at Publisher E said no. Editor 6 at Publisher F said no. Editor 7 at Publisher G said no. Editor 8 at Publisher H said, “This one was pretty interesting. The writing is good, but the payoff was a bit lacking.” In other words…no. So we took the manuscript back, spent months reworking it, and then in 2007 sent it round to publishers yet again. This time, some of those same editors from 2006 responded, as did a few different editors at some of those publishers, as well as some altogether new editors from entirely different publishers. Here’s what they all said: Editor 9 at Publisher A (Editor 1’s publisher) said no. Editor 10 at Publisher B (Editor 2’s publisher) said no. Editor 11 at Publisher I said no. Editor 12 at Publisher J said no. Editor 13 at Publisher K said no. Editor 14 at Publisher L said no. Editor 15 at Publisher M said, “Starts out with a bang but loses steam in the middle.” That’s a no. Editor 16 at Publisher N said, “Liked it, but not quite right for our imprint and the direction we are going in this year.” Nyet. Editor 17 at Publisher O passed to Editor 18. Who said, “Like it, but couldn’t get other team members enthusiastic about it.” Nein danke. Editor 4 (back at Publisher D) who’d said no on the first try, said, “It’s very well done, but I don’t think it’s the kind of book that will work well on our business list.” En-Oh. Editor 5 (back at Publisher E) read the new version and said, “Needs a unique hook or punchline to get people to respond. Writing is great but payoff not strong enough.” Fuggedaboudit. Editor 6 (still at Publisher F) said, “Saw this twice now. Liked it, but didn’t love it. While I like the message a lot, the story itself seemed a little more didactic and forced than we would like.” Amscray. Editor 7 (back at Publisher G) said, “Liked it. Wanted to love it, but I’m afraid I just didn’t connect with it. I’ve been incredibly wrong before and probably am on this one, but I’m going to have to pass, with regret.” Don’t let the door hitcha where the good Lord splitcha. Editor 19 at Publisher H, the same house where Editor 8 had said “This one was pretty interesting but the payoff was lacking” the previous year, said— Wait, what? He said “yes.” The Moral Of The Story We published THE GO-GIVER in early 2008. It hit some lists, won some awards, and to date has sold nearly a million copies in more than two dozen languages. But the moral of the story isn’t what you might think. You’ve heard the stories about persistence— JK Rowling turned down by a dozen publishers. Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen and their goofy idea for a book called Chicken Soup for the Soul turned down by 144 publishers. Harlan Sanders and his recipe for fried chicken rejected more than a thousand times. And so on. The moral is, persist! Believe in yourself! Don’t listen to the naysayers—keep knocking on those doors! Right? Yeah…but. Those first eight editors were right to reject our book. To this day I thank my lucky stars they all said “no.” Because if even one of them had said “yes” and we’d published the book back in 2006, it would not have sold a million copies. Maybe a thousand. Or not. Because it wasn’t ready. Those eight editors knew something we didn’t know. And that, that, is to me the moral of the story. Yes, believe in yourself, believe in your idea, trust that your story is the most fantastic and amazing and compelling story that has come around in years, that the world needs and wants your story. Have unshakable faith in yourself. But keep one ear open. Maybe both ears. Because there are people who know things you don’t know. And if you want your idea to become all it can be, all it should be, all it was born to be, then you need to hear those things you don’t yet know. Hear them, and act on them. During those months of reworking that original manuscript, our agent first covered every page with red ink, and I then spent dozens of hours rephrasing, simplifying, compressing, and deleting. Changed one character’s gender. Cut a few other characters altogether. Remember that comment about how “the payoff was a bit lacking”? Right: we tossed out the entire last chapter and wrote a brand new one. And it became the book it was meant to be. Which was why Number Nineteen (aka Adrian Zackheim at Portfolio, an imprint at Penguin, now Penguin Random House) said “yes” and launched my career. Fast forward a decade. By 2018 I’d written a bunch more books, some fairly successful, some not so much, but all of them sharing this in common: they were all shelved on the nonfiction side of the bookstore. In June of ’18 I set out to do something that terrified me: write a novel. Harry Bingham is one of my crime-fiction heroes. I’ve loved every word of the Fiona books. I wanted to do something like that. I’ve also come to love Harry’s teaching and coaching. Before starting work on my novel I read his How to Write cover to cover, joined Jericho Writers and watched his video course. Then I started. Steel Fear The story is a thriller called STEEL FEAR, and I cocreated it with a friend, a former Navy SEAL sniper with whom I’ve written before (all nonfiction, till now). He had the basic story idea, supplied technical and background detail, and was a rich source of color and flavor for the world I was building. The actual writing—creating characters, designing the plot, working out the twists and turns, putting flesh and blood and bones on the whole thing, and tapping out one damn word after another—was my job. Here’s the elevator pitch: A disgraced Navy SEAL stalks a serial killer aboard an aircraft carrier in the midst of the Pacific Ocean. It took me about fifteen months, from first research notes and scribbles to first draft. At which point my wife said: “Send it to Jericho.” Understand, this is something I’ve never ever done before: hired a third-party consultant to critique my first draft. I’ve gotten critique-and-review assistance from my agent, from my publishers’ editors, and from the handful of friends who form my early readers’ circle. This was different: a novel. My first. And a thriller, yet. I knew my wife was right. I needed professional help. So in mid-September 2019, I submitted the manuscript to Jericho for a full manuscript assessment. I don’t think it’s too early to say, that one action has changed the trajectory of my career. Jericho paired me up with veteran thriller author Eve Seymour, who turned around a lengthy, comprehensive critique within a shockingly short time. (Weeks, not months.) Eve was most generous in her initial comments, the “What I think is great” part. And then got down to business. Chapter by chapter, page by page, structure, plot, characterization, pacing and tension…she mapped out the entire thing, end to end, from broad-strokes observations to detailed notes. Her critique was fantastic, phenomenal, incisive, spot on. Kind but ruthless. Terrifying. Galvanizing. Motivating. I saw what was lacking, and what was possible. Eve helped me see that the story had major flaws. I’d conceived of it as having more or less three protagonists—and you can see the problem right there in the phrase “more or less.” It was vague. Not a clear three-strand braid, but not a clear one-hero thread either. She prodded me to make a clear choice as to who was the protagonist, and then rework everything to serve that choice. I had way too much backstory. Heaping helpings of unnecessary exposition. The pacing was fantastic toward the end but laborious in the first half. And inconsistent: some scenes zipped along, some dragged or halted the momentum altogether. Plot took way too long to get going. Some subplot threads didn’t really work. And so on. I had a lot of work ahead of me. I spent October through the end of the year completely reworking it, in the process shrinking from 152k words to 129k. On New Year’s Day I sent Draft 2 to my agent. Who read it. Told us she loved it. And asked for further cuts and revisions. Her observations ran along exactly the same lines as Eve’s. All I had to do was keep going. Between January and April I went through two more drafts, in the process taking that new 129k word count to 120k, and finally to 103k. (From the original, that’s about one in every three words chopped. Warning: Many, many darlings were murdered in the course of this production.) Deleted a handful of characters, some of whom I’d thought were “indispensable.” Tightened timelines. Shifted critical revelations to earlier. Rewrote all the murder scenes that were originally told from the killer’s POV to now be from the victims’ POV. Eliminated a prologue I’d thought of as brilliant and riveting but which turned out to be neither. And so on. Until, finally, it had become the book it was meant to be. In June we got a handful of offers, took the one from Ballantine Books for a two-book deal. Signed a contract in early August. The first book of the series, STEEL FEAR, will hit the shelves on August 24, 2021. The sequel comes a year later. With, perhaps, more to follow. And here’s the cherry on the sundae: we are presently in discussion with three A-list Hollywood producers, all of whom want to bring our story to the screen. The book has, as they say in Tinsel Town, “buzz.” Once a deal solidifies and we know for sure which horse we’re riding I’ll see if we can append that information to this post. Will the book be a hit? No one knows. Will the screen adaptation really happen? No one knows. But this I know, and know for sure: If we hadn’t gone through all that rewriting, none of those editors in New York would have jumped on it. Not one. And the novel would have ended its days sitting on my shelf. Writing made the story. Rewriting turned it into the story it was meant to be. About John John David Mann is coauthor of the New York Times bestsellers The Red Circle, Flash Foresight, The Slight Edge, and The Latte Factor. His Take the Lead (with Betsy Myers) was named by Tom Peters and the Washington Post as “Best Leadership Book of 2011.” His international bestselling classic The Go-Giver (with Bob Burg) was awarded the Axiom Business Book Award’s Gold Medal and the Living Now Book Award’s Evergreen Medal given for “contribution to positive global change.” You can keep up to date with John’s new releases, on his Amazon page. Find John on twitter here, or have a nose around his website here. Are you on the lookout for representation? If so, why not check out AgentMatch, our database recording all UK and US literary agents. Or, perhaps you’re also looking for some editorial feedback? If so, then you’ll probably find this blog about the types of editing really helpful, and not forgetting our editorial services too!
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How I Got A Publishing Deal by Philippa East

By Philippa East Okay, well I’m not dead yet, but in the three years it’s taken me to create my novel Little White Lies, the story has reincarnated more times than I like to count. Draft zero took about three months to write. The subsequent editing took three years (and counting). Am I mad? Has it been worth it? Best if you decide… Before embarking on this novel, I’d had a number of short stories published, so I reckoned I could write okay. In December 2015, I had a premise, some characters and… not much else. In the end, I decided to just start writing. (Uh oh.) I set myself a target of 1,000 words a day and stuck to it for the next two and a half months. I ended up with 82,000 words of… something. I wrote THE END on the final page: draft 0, aka the sh*tty first draft. Honestly, mine was very sh*tty. I had written a mess, basically a patchwork of random scenes. I tidied up what I could and gave it (now called draft 2) to my sister. Always my biggest critic, I knew she’d be honest. She had a lot to say, some positive, a lot on what needed improving, all of it valid. I wanted to make it better but I was completely overwhelmed. And so, I signed up for Emma and Debi’s brilliant self-edit course. Over the next few months, I rewrote and rewrote. Characters, plot, voice, pacing. Pretty much everything needed fixing. In September 2016, I went to the York Festival of Writing for the first time and immediately liked the look of the one-to-one agent I sat down with (Sarah Hornsley). She had some pertinent feedback (the whole weird omniscient narrator POV wasn’t working AT ALL), but asked to see the full. Maybe I liked her because she asked for the full, but I think I liked her anyway. The novel, though, was nowhere near finished. It was still a mess. I was still rewriting and rewriting, this time trying to include Sarah’s feedback too. I could have just sent it, but I wanted to get it as good as it could be. A full year on from Sarah’s manuscript request, I was finally ready. By now the MS was on draft 12(!!). Alongside submissions to a handful of other agents, I sent the full in to Sarah. A couple of tense weeks later, I received her response: There is a lot I like here but I think at the moment it isn’t twisty enough for me to offer representation. I would love a call with you though to discuss some of my editorial thoughts as I do think it has real potential, but I think it would take a lot of work. By now I’d already written this book 12 times. I had worked on it non-stop for almost two years. Now an agent was calling me to suggest I rewrite the whole damn thing? She felt the plot needed a big twist. She thought it would work better written from two alternating POVs, instead of one. This was (in her words) ‘a massive rewrite’. Was I up for it? Another author might walk away at this point, feeling the agent’s vision was just too different. But a little voice in my own head was already whispering that the book could – and therefore should – go up another level. Personalised feedback from other agents was suggesting something similar. I realised I had written a book that was ‘for me’. Now it was time to let go of that version and write a book for the outside world. I told Sarah I would give it a go. The next couple of months were agonising. Coming up with a brand new twist idea, and re-drafting my opening chapters in dual POV (which I had never done before) were two of the biggest challenges I have faced as a writer. I had to push myself so far beyond my current level of competence, while trying not to freak out about how much was at stake (agent representation, a potential publishing deal, etc. etc.). I rewrote and rewrote, inching my way there, trying to avoid a nervous breakdown. Finally, I achieved what I wanted. Not perfect, but good enough to represent my vision. I sent my new outline and first 47 pages to Sarah. She emailed back within a couple of hours. She loved them and wanted to represent me. I jumped for joy, all about my house. Over the next eight months, under Sarah’s guidance, I rewrote the rest of the novel – all 85,000 words of it. (Again.) Together, we went through at least another 4 drafts. The version that we ultimately ended up with was so different to the original that, in my head, I now consider them two separate novels. One was the book I had to write for myself, and I still have a lot of affection for that story. But as they always say: you have to kill your darlings. What have I learnt from all this editing? Here are a few reflections: Don’t Be Afraid Of The Sh*tty First Draft. Painters need paint; sculptors need clay. We need word-vomit on a page. Writing is re-writing; it really is. Read (Current Titles In Your Genre). This is like getting your hands on a thousand past exam papers. If you’re trying to fix issues in your own novel, why not look at how other (successful) authors have done it? No need to reinvent the wheel. If You Possibly Can, Create Some Kind Of Outline. I’ve come to accept that, in the long run, pantsing will only ever get you so far. Eventually you’re going to have to learn how to plan. Learn Your Craft. Editing a novel isn’t about changing it. It’s about changing it for the better so that it works. There are basic elements of writing craft that make stories work for readers. These include: show vs tell, point-of-view, psychic distance and – so importantly – story structure. Getting to grips with these will make it easier to edit your novel successfully. Not easy, obviously. But easier. Be Humble. Listen to feedback, and accept that other people (agents, editors, even beta-readers) are often better judges of your own work than you are. Your book has a very best version of itself. Be open, and trust that others can help you achieve that vision. Don’t Panic (Too Much). Editing is scary, especially editing in response to feedback. By definition, you’re being asked to fix things that until now you haven’t been able to. You are going to have to do better than your best. Keep working at it, seek help when you get stuck, and trust that you will eventually get there. So was it worth it for me, in the end? By October 2018, I finally had a MS that Sarah was happy with. (Probably draft… ooo, 20 by now.) We were ready. Sarah talked me through her submission plan, advising that it would be about a month before we’d know if we had any firm offers. Oh, and just before we sent it out to publishers, could I edit the climactic scene just one more time? By the end of the week, I was ‘on sub’. Six days later, we had our first offer and a couple of weeks after that, Little White Lies sold at auction to HQ/HarperCollins. I celebrated with Pink Cava and made sure to enjoy the moment. After all, an editorial letter would soon be on its way…
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Amanda Berriman, Author Of ‘Home’, On Getting An Agent

Guest author and blogger Mandy Berriman shares with us how she hooked her literary agent and the importance of never giving up. I went to a family wedding earlier this year. At our places at dinner, we each had a name card with a quote on the back. Mine read: I have one talent; I never give up. We laughed at the aptness, but it was also a well-timed personal reminder to me. Keep going, you’re almost there, don’t give up. And on I went with the current rewrite, kicking the doubt demons into the dust along the way. I think it is possible that in the history of Jericho Writers (The Writers’ Workshop), I hold the longest record for not giving up: eleven years, two months and 26 days, to be precise. I was one of their earliest clients with my nine chapters of an unfinished ghost novel for children. It was the first piece of fiction I’d written since leaving school and although I had experienced a huge buzz writing it, I’d taken a year and a half to get to Chapter 9 and then stalled. Was it any good? Did I even know what I was doing? Could I actually write a whole novel? After uttering once too often, ‘but how do I know if I can actually do this?’, my husband found The Writers’ Workshop and told me to go and find out. A few weeks later, I had a report back from Harry. The gist: yes, you can do this, and here are all the things you need to learn about writing. That was June 2005, and I haven’t stopped learning since – Arvon, reciprocal critiquing arrangements, constructive feedback from agents, self-editing, six Festivals of Writing, mentoring from outstanding Debi Alper, and always the ongoing support and encouragement from the team here. I spent many years on that original novel (writing, finishing, rewriting, editing, finishing again, rewriting, editing, finishing again), and I came very close with a number of agents, including one who read, offered feedback, and re-read several times over a period of three or four years, and my opening chapter was shortlisted at 2012’s Festival of Writing, but I never quite jumped the agent hurdle. I decided to put the novel in the drawer and move on. I’d been writing and rewriting it for nine years and was desperate for a change. I started a second children’s novel and rediscovered that buzz of fresh, no-idea-where-it’s-going writing. But fitting it in around two children and an increasingly demanding job meant progress was slow and I struggled with motivation. I dabbled in other bits and pieces, never settling on anything, but I started to write short stories and flash fiction in different styles and voices, and quite a step away from the children’s fiction where I felt comfortable. In 2013, several things happened to dramatically change my direction and fire my motivation. Firstly, I moved jobs to one that was far more creative, allowing me to focus on my passion for music and step back from time-consuming paperwork. Secondly, my youngest son started preschool freeing up a precious few daytime hours in which to write. Thirdly, and probably most importantly, Stories for Homes happened. Debi and her friend, Sally Swingewood, decided they wanted to create an anthology of short stories and poems on a theme of ‘home’ to raise money for Shelter. Debi asked for submissions of stories, techy help, proofreading and so on. I was determined to make progress on my children’s novel and I had no story ideas, so I replied to say that I would help where I could but doubted it would be in story form. However, just before the story deadline, I read Claire King’s The Night Rainbow, a wonderful, inspiring novel written from the POV of a five-year-old girl. (Read it!) Its themes are not about homelessness, but it sparked a thought – what does homelessness look like, feel like, smell like to a young child? And there was Jesika with her hands on her hips and that look she gets on her face when an adult is being really silly, wondering out loud why it took me for ages to notice her. I wrote and edited Jesika’s story in a week and sent it to Debi and Sally just in time for the deadline. They loved it. They made it the first story in the book. The book was filled with sixty or so other fantastic stories and poems and the book went on sale and raised over £2,000 for Shelter. (It’s still on sale, still raising money for Shelter.) I was very proud to be a small part of the overall project and when the excitement died down, I returned to the children’s novel. Except Jesika had other ideas. She wouldn’t leave me alone. I realised that one short story was not going to satisfy her. I’ve spent the last three years writing, rewriting and editing Jesika’s novel. In that time, Debi has continued to mentor me and I’ve been to four Festivals, each time taking a little bit of Jesika’s story with me for my one-to-ones. In 2013, all three agents told me they loved the voice, and they’d love to see more. (I wasn’t finished, so made a note of their names). In 2014, I saw two more agents who loved the voice, but weren’t convinced I could sustain it (and I still hadn’t finished it, so I couldn’t prove them wrong). However, that year I also went to a workshop run by Shelley Harris and because of a piece of writing I scribbled for one of her tasks, she introduced me to her agent, Jo Unwin, and we talked about the novel and she gave me encouragement to continue. In early 2015, I finished the first draft and started rewriting. In 2015, I submitted to Jo as one of my one-to-ones. She loved it and wanted to see more, and then after the festival, one of the agents I saw in 2013 asked to see the first chapter. She also loved it and wanted to see more, but the rewrite wasn’t finished. It took me a year to finish – during an emotionally challenging year and with enormous help from Debi’s editorial genius – and just before the 2016 festival, I was ready to submit again. I had two agent one-to-ones arranged and I emailed Jo Unwin and the other agent to ask if they wanted to see it, too. I assumed that nothing much would happen for a few months, and then I’d look at any feedback I got from the agents and talk to Debi about further rewrites. What did happen was I ended up with four agents reading the full manuscript, two making me an offer of representation, one taking me out for lunch and me having a choice to make – all in the space of three and a half weeks! I’m delighted to say (and still pinching myself when I say it) that I chose Jo Unwin. I know that this is one more hurdle in a series of hurdles and who knows what comes next, but I’m very excited to have arrived at a place I’ve been working towards for so long and so grateful for the day my husband handed me The Writers’ Workshop info and told me to get on with it. I stepped through a door that day that led me to so many fantastic opportunities, wonderful people and great friends – and I am the writer I am today because of them. Back in 2007, Harry posted about me on a now-dead blog to congratulate me on that initial success of finding an agent who believed enough in my first novel to offer feedback and ask to read it again. He acknowledged there were no guarantees that it would lead to representation but he said, ‘I bet Mandy makes it though. And I bet she sells well when she does. Certainly hope so.’ I printed that blog off and pinned it up to remind me to keep going, and I did keep going. Thank you, Harry. And thank you to everyone else along the way who believed I could do this. Lastly, incredibly, one of the many agents who rejected my children’s novel five years ago is the agent I’m now signed with as my book heads to publication with Doubleday. My advice: be rejected, crawl away and weep in a corner, look at feedback, eat chocolate, learn, re-read feedback, swear, try new things, get involved with other writers, allow your writing to be critiqued, learn more, delete, rewrite, edit, throw the whole lot in the bin for a day – but never give up!
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My Path to Publication by Ruby Speechley

Ruby Speechley got her big break after winning best Opening Chapter at the Festival of Writing in 2017. Now, nearly two years later, her debut novel Someone Else’s Baby has just been published. Here Ruby tells us about her path to publication and how the Festival of Writing helped her on her way. My Writing Journey My debut novel, Someone Else’s Baby was published by Hera Books on 25 July 2019. It won ‘Best Opening Chapter’ at the Festival of Writing in 2017, so it feels very special to be asked by Jericho Writers to blog about my publication journey. I’ve been writing on and off ever since I first picked up a pencil, but it wasn’t until thirteen years ago that I took my writing more seriously and applied to do a part-time MA in Writing at Sheffield Hallam University. My second child was only two and it meant driving to and from Cambridgeshire once a week, but I was determined to do it. Three years later, in 2009, I graduated with my first completed novel. But I needed a break from that book, and I wasn’t ready to start approaching agents, so I wrote another novel whilst being mentored on the Gold Dust scheme. In 2012 I heard about the Festival of Writing and decided to go, partly to meet my new Twitter friends, Amanda Saint and Isabel Costello and partly to see if there was any interest in my second novel. I came away from the full weekend experience buzzing with everything I’d learned in some of the best workshops I’d ever been to, given by the now legendary, Debi Alper, Andrew Wille, Emma Darwin, Julie Cohen, Shelley Harris and Craig Taylor. I made lots of new friends, but there was no interest from agents. I went home and dug out my first novel and worked on it again. In 2014, I went back to the Festival of Writing and this time three agents asked to see the full manuscript. Despite the positive comments, the rejections came in. After a further edit, I took it back in 2015 and again more agents were interested, but no offers of representation followed. I skipped the Festival the following year and started work on a new novel, but in October 2016, another idea came to me while I was watching a FoW friend on a TV show. Another guest, a surrogate and the couple she was having the baby for, took my interest. The surrogate’s pregnancy was fraught with problems, not what she’d expected at all and to me she seemed incredibly naïve to think she’d breeze through the experience. I wondered how well she really knew this couple who were promising to involve her in their baby’s future. What obligation did they really have to this woman once they’d paid her? I had so many questions! For the next two months I researched my idea as much as I could and on 1 January 2017, I started writing my messy ‘zero’ draft by hand. Four months later, my third novel was completed. I typed and polished the beginning and sent it out to competitions, including the Festival of Writing, to gauge the response. I arrived at the Festival of Writing a couple of months later, not knowing that my novel was on the shortlists for the Best Opening Chapter and Perfect Pitch competitions, because they’d forgotten to send out the email! So it was a shock to be called up on stage and even more of a shock to win Best Opening Chapter and be the runner up for the Perfect Pitch. I was asked to read out my prologue and it received a fantastic response. A flurry of agents contacted me on the night and over the following days, but my manuscript wasn’t quite ready. A couple of agents were prepared to wait for the next edit but one, Jo Bell at Bell Lomax Moreton, who I’d subbed my first novel to a year before, asked to meet me and to see my second novel, which was in a more publishable state. She loved that novel even more! When she offered to represent me, it was an easy decision because she loved my writing and all my novel ideas. I felt at ease in her company as soon as I met her. Although Jo isn’t an agent who edits, she offered insightful suggestions, as did her assistant. A few writer friends read it for me and I took on board their helpful and detailed comments in the final edit. Sending my novel out to editors was a drawn out and painful experience. Weekly rejections for months is not something I was prepared for. My novel received mostly positive feedback but there were no offers from traditional publishers. I believed in my novel and so did Jo. By this point it had won and been listed in eight competitions. I’d been told enough times that it was a unique take on surrogacy. I was determined to keep going so I worked on it again. This time Jo sent it out to a few digital publishers and an offer to publish quickly came back from a big publisher’s digital imprint. A few days later another offer came in from an established independent. While I was weighing them up, a third publisher, Hera Books contacted Jo. I loved reading their editor’s response to my novel – the big reveal made her gasp! They were a new company, set up by Keshini Naidoo and Lindsay Mooney. I remembered feeling excited reading in the Bookseller about this dynamic, female-led publisher only a few months before. Their entrepreneurial spirit spoke to me (I founded and ran my own local magazine business while doing my MA and successfully sold it on four years later). I consulted my scribbled wish-list – Hera Books were at the top. Once I’d heard from all three publishers, about their thoughts on how I could edit and improve my novel, I knew for certain that Hera was the right choice for me. Keshini completely understood the true story I was trying to tell. She did an incredible job in helping me improve my manuscript through a round of structural edits followed by line edits. With her expert guidance, I worked as hard as I could to make Someone Else’s Baby the best book it could be. The Festival of Writing has been such an important part of my journey to publication. Each time I went, I used the festival dates as deadlines to finish whichever novel I was working on. The workshops and agent one-to-ones were always helpful, relaxed and friendly. It’s an incredible experience to be in a room with so many writers, all at different stages – people who really understand the ups and downs of trying to break into the business. Hats off to Harry Bingham and his team of dedicated organisers and tutors who give everything to make the process of building writers’ skills and knowledge enjoyable and accessible. I’m back working on the novel I put aside to write Someone Else’s Baby. I was stuck, not sure how the story could develop and what the ending would be, but it worked itself out as I wrote the first draft in a month using NanoWriMo (National Write a Novel in a Month). Writing never ceases to delight and surprise me! About Ruby Ruby Speechley graduated from Sheffield Hallam University with an MA in Creative Writing. She is a Faber Academy alumna and prolific writer whose work has been longlisted for the Lucy Cavendish Fiction prize, Exeter Novel Prize, The Caledonia Novel Award, The Bath Novel Award, and has won the Retreat West First Chapter Competition and Best Opening Chapter at the Festival of Writing in York. Someone Else’s Baby is her debut novel. You can follow Ruby on Twitter here and have a look around her website here. Have you been to the Festival of Writing before, or will this be your first year? Head on over to Townhouse and join the festival conversations. We’d love to hear from you!Link to: How to Get Your Book Published GETTING PUBLISHED All you need to know
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Jodi Taylor’s path to publication

What follows is Jodi Taylor’s guest blog about her path to self-publication. Do read what follows: Jodi tried the agent route, wasn’t successful (we’re still not sure why not), so published her book independently with amazing success, emerging at the end of the process with a three-book deal from an independent publisher. Some time ago, I sat down and wrote the first sentence of my novel, Just One Damned Thing After Another. Actually, that’s not true, because, having no idea what I was doing, I started in the middle of my book and wrote backwards, but I like a good dramatic opening. Like many people, once I started, I couldn’t stop. The word just piled up like the contents of an elephant house whose occupants haven’t been able to get out much. The first draft totalled 123,000 words and at this point I realised I was a writer in need of help. The Secret To Getting An Agent Free submission pack templateGET YOURS Jericho Writers has asked me not to plug them, but I can’t help it. I sent them my manuscript and seriously expected a ‘Thank you for sending us your novel. It’s not really quite good enough for publication but you obviously enjoyed writing and that that’s the main thing.’ What I actually received from them was a closely packed editorial report (a bit like these ones) and tons and tons of much needed encouragement. About six brain-boggling months later, during which I parted, weeping, with some of my best prose, my favourite characters and about thirty thousand words, I finally had something I was prepared to let the world see. At this point, never having heard of self-publishing, I proceeded along the conventional route, sending off the required chapters to a few carefully selected agents. Three months later I repeated the procedure. And then again. A year passed – I grew older and my cherished novel had been rejected by the biggest and best in the land. I was quietly proud. And then (have I mentioned the importance of wine in the creative process?), during a very long lunch with very good friends, I heard of the existence of an online organisation named Smashwords. Overcoming my deeply held belief that self-publishing is the last refuge of the talentless, I swallowed my pride, some black coffee, and got stuck in. I got the manuscript formatted – the technically competent can easily do it for themselves – or Smashwords can supply a list of approved formatters if you wish. Total cost $54 dollars for the Smashwords format and $54 for the zipped Amazon file. The same company also offers a range of cover design services. I chose the middle range option, sent them the blurb and told them they could be as creative as they liked. Cost $137. The result was first-class, and I’ve received some very favourable comments. The formatted files and cover design came back within five days, I sat down at my laptop and uploaded the files to Smashwords and Amazon. It took only a couple of hours and I was led through the processes, step by simple step. I clicked ‘Send’ and, terrified at what I had unleashed, retired into a wine bottle. And that’s it! That’s really all there is to it! The whole process – from being persuaded to give it a go, to my book appearing on the Smashwords and Amazon lists – 6 days. As soon as they’d checked the format, Smashwords sent my book on to Apple, Nook, Kobo, Barnes and Noble and all the rest. I didn’t have to do a thing. My life changed. It might perhaps be clear by now that I wasn’t particularly well balanced in the first place, but normal life as I had known it just disappeared completely. Obsessed, I started getting up in the middle of the night to view my all my download figures. Do not do this. Wobbling blearily up and downstairs with a mug of tea and an open laptop is not a good idea. Trust me. It gets even more embarrassing. Because I hadn’t got a clue what was going on, I couldn’t understand where all the reviews were coming from. According to the figures I had, apparently, only sold 3 copies and yet I had over one hundred reviews. I emailed Amazon. A very, very kind lady gently broke the news that I was looking at the wrong column and that I had, in fact, had over 25,000 downloads. Life changed all over again. For a start, I had to have a good sit-down. I began to suffer separation anxiety if I couldn’t check my download figures every couple of hours. Did I mention I wasn’t particularly well balanced in the first place? The book climbed steadily up the Amazon charts, reaching Number One of their Free list. I suspect this was because many people were downloading free books for their holiday reading. It never occurred to me to schedule publication to coincide with a seasonal event. That’s how dumb I am, but it makes sense. Publish a Christmas story at Christmas. By now, of course, I had to be surgically separated from my laptop. And then – I opened my emails one morning to find the independent publisher, Accent Press, was interested in offering me a publishing contract. The last remaining brain cell fled for the hills. They contacted me – we liked the sound of each other – and they emailed me a draft three-book contract. Because, even with over 65,000 downloads and over 500 reviews, I didn’t have an agent (and still don’t – what is it about me? I know I’m not normal, but I’m not that bad, surely?), I was advised to contact the Society of Authors, who were marvellous and offered excellent advice and assistance. So my book was published in paperback on September 12th, less than 3 months after the initial Smashwords publication on June 24th. Of course, my life is now full of deadlines, re-writes, blogs, author interview (only one, actually, but it sounds so grand. Please forgive me.), but the sequel, if I live long enough and survive the editing process, will be published around the end of November. And the third one, next year. So, do I have any advice for fellow writers? Well, first of all, you’ve got the write the damned thing. So knuckle down and write. Secondly, avail yourself of the very excellent service offered by this team. I have no hesitation in saying none of this would have happened but for their superb editorial services. Thirdly, if you can’t get an agent, it’s not the end of the world. You can do it alone. Some people prefer it that way because you have complete control over every stage of the process. Yes, there’s a lot of self-published dross out there, but there’s no reason why yours should be part of that mountain. Lack of attention to grammar, punctuation and spelling are common complaints. My scattergun approach to commas received one or two comments. Fourthly, do set up your social media sites in advance so you won’t be caught on the hop, like me. Even now I’m still not completely sure what a Twitter is. Get to know online book clubs such as Goodreads and add your book to their lists. Join the discussions. Drink wine. Eat chocolate. Not simultaneously, obviously. And enjoy yourself. More On Getting Published Link to: How to Get Your Book Published GETTING PUBLISHED All you need to know
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Rejection Set Me On The Path To Publication by Sally Harris

By Sally Harris No-one told me writing should come with a health warning. Something like on cigarette packets would be great; a shocking or disturbing thing to dissuade the unwary from venturing too near pen, paper or laptop. When I signed up for a creative writing course several years ago, I assumed it would be nothing more than a relaxing pastime, a quiet hobby like reading. How wrong I was. As we waited for the first session to start I looked warily at the other would-be writers. I had no clear notion of what I would write and certainly no thoughts of publication. All that came later. There was just one thing that bothered me back then; what would the group make of my writing? Each writer’s journey is unique but we pass many common milestones. The writing community share tales of progress, disappointment, and triumph on social media. One writer may finish her novel in a year, another may take a decade. Others write flash fiction or short stories and never consider anything longer. However, we all experience one thing if we put our work out there, and that was what worried me back then. Rejection. If you are getting rejected on a regular basis, you are, without doubt, in fine company. J.K.Rowling’s submission story is well known. Beatrix Potter was rejected so many times she decided to self-publish. Both writers went on to sell millions of copies of their books. Even though we writers know this, we still dread the Big R. The staple of the writing life. I escaped much of this angst for several years. There had been the odd bumpy bit of feedback in the weekly creative writing class but nothing to raise my blood pressure too much. Classmates were kind, my tutor, very lovely. Nothing much to stress about. When I submitted my novel to agents, things start to heat up. The submission process was a whole new ball game. It didn’t help that I submitted my novel far too early. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but back then I’d done with redrafting and polishing; all I wanted to do was get the story out there. I buried the nagging little voice in my head that said the story wasn’t hanging together as it should. I researched suitable agents. Little did I know I was heading for rejection addiction. After I pressed send on carefully crafted emails to a few hand-picked agents fear loomed large. My pulse started to race and I suddenly became inseparable from my mobile. My little ghost story, an old and haunted house, a family, isolated and struggling to survive, was nothing new or unique. No USP. Imposter Syndrome took hold, my writing was inferior, the characters cliched. No agent would bother to respond with hundreds of stronger submissions arriving each week. Stress levels soared, rejection was heading my way. Weeks passed and silence pulled out. I’d been right, my story was boring, going nowhere other than agent’s trash-boxes. A couple of standard rejections dribbled in then silence again. I relaxed, assumed I would hear nothing more and went back to everyday things. No real harm done. I had been to a networking lunch when her email came through. Two hours of chatting with fellow lawyers, local business owners and listening to a speaker about new tax legislation had kept me away from my phone. I read the agent’s email, checked it was meant for me. It had my name on it, the title of my novel. A woman I had never meet and who knew about books and publishing had pulled my submission free from the slush pile. She was looking forward, she said, to reading the full manuscript. I danced a little jig in the ladies loos back at the office then sent off the manuscript. News spread, my writing group and tutor all held their breath. Again, more weeks passed, my mobile welded to my palm. Rejection, when it came, had a very sharp sting. Heightened by hope, the crash was steep. I rushed the novel out to more agents. Surely someone would offer on it? More agents declined. I was a junkie craving the next fix, no way could I stop now, not having come this far. Exhaustion set in. I paused, took stock and sucked up all the feedback from agents. I needed some expert help so I contacted Jericho Writers who teamed me up with Susan Davis. She looked over my submission package and said it looked good. Then a lengthy and detailed manuscript appraisal followed. Susan was generous with her praise and kind and clear regarding areas where improvements could be made. A lengthy phone call followed, more encouragement and advice was given. A fresh pair of eyes on the story made all the difference. I was clear about what was working. Taking to Susan solved problems with the plot and how giving information to the reader could be threaded through the narrative. The fog had cleared, I could, at last, see my way forward. I set about redrafting. The novel inched further along the path. Susan read the novel again. We stayed in touch with the occasional email exchange and piece of advise regarding agents, a kind word to keep me on track. The nagging voice became a mantra, restructure, restructure, restructure but I didn’t know how and it’s not easy to get advise on the big picture. I read books on the three and five acts, looked at character arcs, the turning points in a narrative. I obsessed about fixing the novel. Eventually, I pulled it apart, wrote out road maps, made lists, plotted timelines. During the Christmas holidays, I took a leaf out of Scrooge’s book and ignored the festivities, Bah humbug, all that could wait. I silenced the nagging voice and rewrote the novel. I sent Haverscroft out to publishers and agents in the spring of 2018. The novel was as good as I could make it. I knew that it worked. Without the rejection from that first agent, my novel would not have developed into the story it is today. The dogged determination to keep getting it out there would never have set in. Persist. If you don’t send out your writing it becomes invisible, no one can hear you. The best protection against rejection is to become the very best writer you can be. I signed with an agent in July at a time when three indie publishers also liked the look of the book. I signed a contract with one in September. Haverscroft was published by Salt on 15th May 2019. Now I wait for the reviews to roll in… Sally Harris’ novel Haverscroft is available to purchase now. Our list of over 50 editors work with hundreds of authors like Sally, providing  detailed, structural editorial feedback on your work including advice on how to address any problems raised. To find out more, click here. MORE ON GETTING PUBLISHED Link to: How to Get Your Book Published GETTING PUBLISHED All you need to know
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How I Got My Agent by Paul Braddon

By Paul Braddon The first in a regular new blog series, Paul Braddon takes us through his journey to finding a literary agent. My Writing Journey The writing bug first bit as a teenager when I entered a sixth-form essay competition run by Barclays Bank and shocked myself by winning a runner’s up prize.  Heady stuff! But the real surprise was how much fun telling a story could be when I wasn’t being told what to write. Anyway, I was now sold on a career as a novelist and the only sensible step was to study English Literature at university… although unfortunately, after three years of Dickens, Wordsworth and the major works of Shakespeare, I was no nearer to being published. My biggest hurdle was thinking I knew everything just because I’d read a few novels. I spent years on a lovely story titled The English Witch – a sort of Sabrina meets Harry Potter (all before JK Rowling put pen to paper) set in the 1930s – that I couldn’t interest agents in, although my friends were generous. ‘Better than Tolkien’, one told me, although that isn’t as great as it sounds because he was no lover of Tolkien. After The English Witch, I wrote an historical novel about a piano-playing German girl and with it made my first sensible decision – I commissioned editorial feedback. Nervous as to what I was paying for, I opted for Jericho Writers (Writers’ Workshop as it was then) on the basis that the offer included a follow up ‘conversation’, a guarantee in effect that the editor would have to do a half-decent job. In the event I got lucky and was allocated the truly excellent Liz Garner, who wrote me several extensive assessments, each followed up by a long phone call. I took my now much-improved piano-playing German girl manuscript to the York Festival of Writing but failed to interest my chosen agents in it. However, one of these agents was the fantastic Joanna Swainson, who was eventually to sign me, so not all would be lost, although of course I could not know that at the time. By now fed up with historical fiction, I was willing to do almost anything to succeed and turned my hand to a contemporary thriller set in Finland. The process of leaving my comfort zone was like casting off heavy boots and this book – The Butterfly Hunt, was my best work to date. Three of the first four agents I queried (including Joanna) requested the whole manuscript but the feedback I received was consistent, that although the first third worked, I needed to rewrite the rest. Which unfortunately was easier said than done! I think the lesson I learned is that when you change significant elements of a carefully structured plot, you can end up twisting it completely out of shape and end up with less than what you had before. In early 2018 I started on The Actuality, a further genre shift, this time into speculative fiction. The Actuality is set a hundred years in the future and could be best described as a cautionary tale of friendship, love and advanced bioengineering. My approach to writing The Actuality came from my experience on previous projects. My method has become to first plan out an overall structure, getting the main beats in place and when I’m happy with all of that, I dive in to see how I do. If this appears to work, I merely keep writing, filling in the plot details and editing chapters as I go, and if all continues to go well, in four or five months I have a reasonable first draft. That’s the plan anyway, but in the case of The Actuality it wasn’t so simple. In fact it was a massive struggle and this was because I grew to believe that the story of an AI living with her ‘husband’ at the top of a Thames-side high-rise complete with rooftop garden was almost certainly unpublishable. In the end, after rushing through the last couple of sections, I did make it to the finish line, but the word count barely scraped 62,000. Anxious as to what I had created, I only sent it to Joanna, hoping I could trust her not to laugh. To be honest, if she had, I would have shelved it. Instead, amazingly, she actually liked it, and liked it enough to chat about it and encourage me to expand it to a commercial length. Confidence regained, this I did, adding 18,000 words, and shortly after that in October 2018, she took me on! Last Piece Of Advice I think, if I was passing on any advice, it would be three things. Number One (and I think most readers will have worked it out for themselves by now) – Seek Professional Advice, whether that is through courses, editorial assessments or reading up on the craft – don’t spend years thinking you know everything. Two – Escape Your Comfort Zone – perhaps try a completely different genre, you can always go back, you never know you may not want to. And Number Three – Don’t Be Afraid of Trying Something a Bit Different, if that’s what you fancy – different will stand you out from the crowd if nothing else and if there is passion behind it, that will make a huge difference too. About Paul Braddon Paul Braddon lives in London with his wife Mary and son Thomas. He got the writing bug after coming runner-up in an essay competition as a teenager, and went onto study English Literature at Reading University. His debut novel, The Actuality, is due to be released in 2020 (Sandstone Press). You can find Paul on Twitter here, or have a nose around his website here. If Paul’s story strikes a chord with you, head on over to Townhouse and tell us about your writing journey. Are you on the lookout for representation? If so, why not check out AgentMatch, our database recording all UK and US literary agents. Or, are you about to embark on your first round of agent submissions? If you are, then you’ll probably find this really helpful!Link to: How to Get Your Book Published
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How I Got My Agent by Helen Fisher

By Helen Fisher In this blog post, Helen Fisher tells us about her journey to finding a literary agent for her debut novel, Spacehopper Did I Always Want To Be A Writer? I’ve always wanted to write a novel, but didn’t do it until I was 44 when a friend bullied me into it. She told me to write a chapter a week and send it to her. Clocking in with her was a great incentive, although I realise a lot of authors like to write the whole thing before they let anyone see it. About 30,000 words in, I panicked: I DON’T KNOW HOW TO WRITE A NOVEL, I thought (constantly) and – realising I needed help – I bought Harry Bingham’s book: How to Write. I read it cover to cover and quickly discovered I wasn’t alone in any of my thoughts – neither the negative ones (I CAN’T do it) nor the positive (I CAN do it). As well as practical support, that book provided the emotional support I needed. I read it and went back to my novel, and – with steam coming out of my ears, and springs coming out of my head – I finished it. I commissioned a really useful editorial report via Jericho Writers, and submitted it to a few agents. But ultimately I shelved it. A year later I wrote my second novel, Spacehopper, the one that’s going to be published. I was in a better place to do it, because this time I had some tools in my belt before I started: the ones I didn’t have until I was 30,000 words in the first time round: I’d read How to Write, been to a JW Getting Published Day and used the resources I found on the JW website. What I Learnt And How I Learnt It I learnt a lot from reading books about how to write. Not just Harry Bingham’s book, but the famous On Writing, by Stephen King, and other books like that. Reading about writing inspired me and made me believe I could do it; I needed that. Mind you, the feeling would wear off quickly, it wasn’t long before I’d start thinking I can’t do this, again. It was like a drug I had to keep topping up to get the same effect, so I kept reading. Reading novels also helped. I found I was reading more attentively now, really looking at what I loved best in novels, so I could more knowingly make an impact on readers through my own writing. I took out a month’s membership at JW as a birthday present to myself, it was a luxury I found hard to afford – it is fantastic value, but I was skint – so I made the most of it: joined up when I knew I could make best use of the online videos. I immersed myself in the information, made notes, and soon felt like I had a bag full of stuff to help me get through the writing process. Unfortunately, at that stage, it did feel as though I was simply trying to get to the finish line, rather than enjoying the process. I’m an impatient person, and novel-writing isn’t ideal for the impatient. Now, I’m getting there: learning to enjoy the process. With my new novel, Gabriel’s Cat, my agent asked for a synopsis early on, something I’d never done until the book was finished. Being clearer about where the story was going has helped. I feel less frightened about what will happen next when I sit down to write. I have never enjoyed writing more. I learned a lot at a JW Getting Published Day. There were lots of really interesting and practical sessions during the day. I left with more inspiration, and was buzzing because I’d spent a blissful succession of hours with people who could talk all day long about writing novels, without glazing over once! My First Draft It took me four months to write the first draft of Spacehopper and I gave it to four friends to read in chunks. These were the same friends who read the novel I cut my teeth on the previous year, and this time was different. They didn’t really have any criticism, just wanted me to get on with it, so they could find out what happened next. This boost to my ego was essential: much as I wanted honest feedback, I think I would have crumbled, possibly stopped, if the feedback had been bad. I wanted them to be honest, but I wanted them to honestly love it. Spacehopper has a big twist; I didn’t think of it until I was more than halfway through writing the novel, and as soon as I decided on the ending, I couldn’t write fast enough. I wanted to hear what my readers felt about the ending. When I made them cry, I punched the air. When the first draft was done, I did the same as last time, and commissioned a full editorial report through Jericho Writers, from the same editor as last time. It was a stretch on my finances, and I knew I would only be able to afford one round of feedback. The report I got back was worth every penny, not only in its practical suggestions, but because the editor said she was certain it was a novel that would be published. Hearing that from a professional, gave me the confidence to keep going, make a few adjustments and start to get ready to submit to agents. I think I would have enjoyed writing Spacehopper more if I’d planned out the story in more depth before starting, and followed more of the plot structures that make stories work. Not just because there is something nice about knowing where you’re going with a story, from beginning to end – indeed I truly believe you can know too much about what’s going to happen in the novel you’re writing: things that you don’t plan will be some of the best bits. But when you understand the plot structures that make stories work – even if you don’t follow them strictly – you will surely have more confidence that your story is going to be better told. Understanding what makes stories work, makes us better storytellers. From First Draft To Final Version The editor who conducted a full editorial report, via JW, suggested I make some changes. I’ve looked back in my notebook and I see I made 39 changes to Spacehopper based on her recommendations. It might sound like a lot, but the majority were fairly straightforward. Essentially the novel remained unchanged (in comparison, when I made changes to my previous novel, it was a huge task and I felt I had a different book by the time I’d edited it). I worked for a couple of weeks tweaking Spacehopper, and after that, without the finances to put it through another round of editorial revision, I started getting ready to submit to agents. I didn’t give it to anyone else to read at this stage. As I mentioned, patience is not my strength, and I had to get it out. How I Got My Agent/h2> In September 2018, I put together my submission pack to agents. I trawled resources online and in books, to make sure my letter was just right and I used JW’s AgentMatch to look up agents that might like my type of novel. A problem for me was that my novel includes time travel, but it’s not science fiction, or fantasy, it’s about love and grief and what we would say to those we loved and lost, given the chance. But it’s hard for people to see beyond the time travel element. I put my synopsis together and finally decided that I needed to get a submission pack assessment done: I didn’t want to mess up my first impression with agents before I’d left the starting blocks. Again I commissioned this via JW, and after that I began submitting with confidence that my submission pack, at least, was as good as it could be. I’d read enough to know I needed to brace myself for rejection. It was a rite of passage, everyone said so, and even if I was to get an agent one day, I knew I would have to taste rejection first. But knowing you’ll get your heart broken, doesn’t make it any easier when it happens. The first time I saw the name of an agent in my email inbox, I held my breath. I was at work, and I stopped everything: the email wouldn’t open. I trotted to another part of the college trying to get a connection, all the time thinking what if they want me?? When the email opened and I saw it was a rejection, I realised I wasn’t really prepared for the disappointment; the way it stuck in my throat and made it hard to swallow, the way I teared up because this email had been the difference between my dreams coming true and my dreams basically, not coming true. And then I got another rejection, and another, and another, each one feeling like a shovel full of dirt being thrown over me, until I felt buried. Fourteen rejections between October and Christmas brought me to an all-time low, which I managed to hide from most family and friends. I remember thinking that if I couldn’t write, then I couldn’t do anything I really wanted to do. Plus I’d made the mistake of telling everyone that I was submitting to agents. One of my friends who’d read my book and loved it said he would help me self-publish, and I said I’d think about it. But first I needed to get myself into a better place. I’m usually a happy person and I was so down. I needed to get back up. Over Christmas and January 2019, when I’d put Spacehopper in a drawer and locked it, I convinced myself that I’d been happy before I wrote this novel, and therefore I could be happy again. Eventually I started to come to terms with the idea of not getting published, even though I still believed so strongly in this novel that I’d locked away. Then a little bit of fate stepped in. Last year – before I started submitting to agents – my ex-husband’s fiancé asked in passing if she could read my novel, and after some deliberation, I agreed. Then in February this year, I got a message from her saying I just read a book that makes me feel a bit like your book did. That’s nice, I thought. The next day I happened to be in Waterstone’s and picked that book up, wondered if the agent was mentioned in credits. She was. Maybe – I thought – maybe I’ll try just one more agent – Judith Murray, at Greene and Heaton. And I did. I submitted my letter, synopsis and manuscript to her in the middle of February. When I got an email saying that Judith was loving Spacehopper and could I send the rest of the manuscript, I wasn’t prepared: by now I was only prepared for rejection. I sent the manuscript, and held my breath for three days. She rang me, and on March the 1st I found myself meeting Judith in a restaurant in Borough Market in London. At last I felt I had opened the wardrobe door and stepped into another world. Meeting Judith was one of the most delightful experiences of my life, hearing her thoughts on my novel, getting to know her and that feeling that I’d met my fairy godmother and she was going to do everything she could to get me to the ball. My Author-Agent Relationship After we met, Judith and I talked about making changes to my novel that she thought would give it its best shot at being an attractive prospect for publishers, and she gave me a set of notes to work from. Everything she said struck a chord, and I enjoyed working on the edit. Where the changes were trickier to come to terms with, Judith explained why they would work, and by Jove, she was right! By the beginning of April, Judith was ready to submit to publishers. She told me that waiting to hear back from editors/publishers could be nerve-wracking (why does everything about this business have to be so bloody nerve-wracking!) and Judith clearly knows that some authors need more support than others during this stressful process. She was always there at the end of the phone or email and did what she needed to do to help me not lose heart. I always felt she was there for me, even though I knew how busy she must be with other authors and all those submissions. She kept in touch regularly during those early days of submissions and we talked on the phone weekly, or more if necessary. Even though we now have a deal and things are calm at the moment, we still talk and email. She is an utter joy to work with, and I feel incredibly lucky that I found her, and that fate led me directly to her door. I trust her completely, she is wise, and kind and life is better for knowing her. And if that sounds over the top, don’t forget she’s negotiating on my behalf to make my dreams come true. Last Piece Of Advice I have two pieces of advice I would give to anyone who wants to get published (I have more, but am sticking to two, as I’m well over my word-count limit!). The first is to listen to anyone who says your novel needs changes. If they are professionals, in particular, I think that for the most part you should trust that they’re right. You might not want to change things in the way they suggest – no problem – make changes in your own way, but certainly, listen to their advice and act on it. Similarly if your friends or family feel that something doesn’t work, even if they’re not professional writers or readers, they are still readers, and if they feel something’s not working, then they’re probably right. Secondly, targeting the right agent is key. You know that, I knew that, I’d read it a million times. But while the information available on agents’ likes and dislikes is useful, in the end, for me, it was finding a novel that felt something like mine that led me to the right one. If you can read a lot of books and find out which agents are likely to go for a story like yours, then hopefully, you will hit a bullseye. About Helen Helen Fisher lives in a small Suffolk village, with a black cat and two pinkish children. Before turning her hand to writing fiction, Helen worked in a number of interesting jobs, including as an ergonomist for the RNIB (blind people, not lifeboats). Her debut novel, Spacehopper, will be published in hardback in January 2021, and in paperback later that same year, by Simon and Schuster. It’s also going to be translated into German, Swedish, Polish and Portuguese. It won’t be called Spacehopper because in America, Space Hoppers are known as Hoppity Hops, so the publishers are currently wrangling over a new name. The deal with Simon and Schuster and Droemer-Knaur (the German publisher) is a 2-book deal so she’s currently working on her next novel, which is called Gabriel’s Cat (and hopefully always will be, because in America they’re also called “cats”), and is due to be released in January 2022.Link to: How to Get Your Book Published
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Meet UK literary agents at the Festival of Writing

It’s not easy wowing literary agents. With one email, just a letter, a synopsis, and your first chapters to go on. A great literary agent submission pack makes a difference, but agencies in London are often inundated and it’s not uncommon for writers to not hear back. UK literary agents are looking for new writers, though – and you’re that bit harder to ignore face-to-face. (It’s not to say you can harass agents. You couldn’t phone an agent to ask a meeting unless you were a client – nor is it an idea to thrust a manuscript under a nose at first chance. Nor send gimmicky gifts to UK literary agents’ offices. This has happened.) What you need is a chance to connect authentically, in a professional setting. With an agent there who is open and expecting to talk to you. Here’s how to make the most of the Festival of Writing in York and meet literary agents for yourself – plus an incredible story from one author who had several UK literary agents jumping to represent her after her time at the Festival of Writing. Who’s The Festival Of Writing Really For? If you’ve got a manuscript written and want to publish – and you’re ready to talk to editors, agents and book doctors about it – the Festival of Writing is for you. And whilst you’ll find great workshops on improving writing and craft (as on publishing topics), agent 1-to-1s are part of your ticket. So the focus is on publication, whether it’s traditional or self-publishing you’d like. You’ll be a writer looking to pitch an unpublished manuscript. You’ll be able to send competition entries on time for judges to review, opening chapters in time for your chosen agent to look at before the day. It means you’ll get full value out of your Festival ticket. If you’re also pondering self-publishing (our Festival workshops cover self-publishing), professional feedback is still vital before you self-publish a book. A literary agent, book doctor or editor 1-to-1 at the Festival can give that feedback. And if you’re not from the UK – that’s okay. We’ve had many writers fly in for this event. Just bear in mind it’s literary agents from the UK you’ll meet at the Festival. If you’ve just started writing, or you haven’t got a manuscript ready, or you couldn’t get it ready in time for the next Festival, this is an annual event, and one to plan for – you’ll want to have your writing ready as it can be. It could be the sort of event to write towards in a year. And you can follow us on Twitter or join our mailing list for ‘earlybird’ updates each year, too. How Prepared Should I Be For The Festival Of Writing? On one hand – there’s no need to be worried about presenting your agent pitch. The only thing that ever persuades an agent is the quality of your manuscript. Think of the pitch simply as a gentle way of introducing the rest of the discussion. 1-to-1 sessions are also the most formal part of proceedings, but we hope you will chat to agents over tea or in the evening, as well as other writers. Some of the best contacts can be made this way. All the same, you’re investing in your writing career. Aside from 1-to-1s, you’ll enter writing competitions (deadlines before September), and shortlisted entries are read out for literary agents in the room. Past Festival visitors have been offered representation because of these things. Your agent submission packs also need to be with your chosen agents before the Festival itself, so they need time to read your work over before 1-to-1s. So it’ll help you to prepare at least a few months in advance. Be as prepared as you can, because the Festival of Writing gets you noticed – as happened for author Tor Udall. Tor came to the Festival of Writing in 2013 and A Thousand Paper Birds went on to be published with Bloomsbury. Tor Udall’s Story (Warning: Attending The Festival Of Writing Could Seriously Change Your Life) The truth is I was terrified. My comfort zone is a quiet room with only my characters and words for company, so the idea of spending three days with hundreds of writers I didn’t know felt challenging. Apart from having to face industry professionals, there was also the prospect of the Gala Dinner. When I followed participants on the forum discussing dresses they were going to wear (taffeta was mentioned), I definitely wobbled. But I was determined to do something radical. I had been writing for 15 years, been close to publication a couple of times, but the overall message I was receiving was ‘you have talent, you write beautifully, BUT…’ Hearing I had potential in my early twenties was lovely. Hearing I still had potential 15 years later was frustrating and I realised that if I was going to cross that golden threshold I had to do something different. I had submitted my third novel to 5 agents in June 2013. After receiving silence, I booked my place at York. The week before the Festival, three of the original agents got in touch, saying they were interested. So I arrived at #FOW13 on a high and had an absolute blast. I learnt so much from the workshops and loved meeting writers from other genres. The biggest discovery was that I actually ENJOYED ‘small talk’ if it was about books. I was in my element. During the weekend, I met two agents who both asked to read the manuscript. I returned from the rollercoaster, proud that I had pushed my courage to the limit, and as I sat there on the Sunday evening I had no idea that the real ride was only just beginning. The agents from the Festival read my manuscript within 24 hours and both offered representation. I then returned to the original 3 and they offered representation too. Overwhelmed, I contacted two people I had met in York: the wonderful book doctor, Andrew Wille, and the fabulous Francesca Main from Picador. Both offered advice without being directive and both suggested that I contact other agents too. This led to a ridiculous number of agents saying yes and my diary became unrecognisable with daily meetings. I was in the centre of a ‘buzz’ and I realised that people were now reading the manuscript differently with a starting point of ‘how can I help make this work?’ The doors I had been knocking on for 15 years were crashing down around me. I now had a new problem. Who was I going to pick? All the agents were smart, passionate, experienced and a delight to be with. I would have happily worked with each of them as they all brought something unique to the book and showed great insight. By this point, several successful writers were also getting in touch to recommend their agent or offer advice – and I remain stunned and humbled at the support I received from so many professionals who took time out of their busy schedules to help. But it did get to a point where I was scared to look in my inbox to see which celebrity was there that morning: ‘BOO!’ However the overall message I received was clear. I needed to listen out for that infamous ‘click’ … and to trust my instincts. When I walked into the ANA offices, Jenny Savill led me into the boardroom where I found a pictorial homage to my book spread out on the table. There were not only photographs of the novel’s location, but print-outs of music I mention and images of motifs that proved to me she understood the subtleties of what I was trying to do. She then introduced me to her colleagues and they had read the book too. Despite being in the hectic run up to Frankfurt, each of them stopped to meet me and I was so overwhelmed that I walked into a glass door. A classic Bridget Jones moment. … Had I heard a click? There had been a symphony of castanets. But still I wasn’t sure. How could I possibly turn down the others who I also adored? But I kept coming back to Jenny who had shown me that she understood the book, and what I’d been trying to do, better than I did. The key moment came when I drove past a poster of an NME cover showing David Bowie surrounded by origami birds. Both of them key motifs in the book. It was the strangest synchronous moment … and the first person I wanted to call to was Jenny. And that was that. It was hard to let the others down – all who had put so much energy and belief into the book – and of course I would have loved to mesh them into one uber-agent! But this was the real world and after all the excitement, my suitors rode into the sunset to find other books to fall in love with, other writers to court. In the ensuing silence, I was left standing opposite the one I had chosen, the two of us looking into each other’s eyes, thinking of the years and challenges ahead of us and saying. ‘Okay, let’s make this happen.’ So then I had the draft of my life ahead of me. But I was back in my ‘happy place’, playing around with words and asking these wonderful, frustrating characters to reveal themselves to me just a little bit more. And as I worked, I didn’t only have the brilliant support of Jenny … but all the agents’ wise voices in my head. And I feel hugely supported and blessed. None of this would have happened without the Festival of Writing. They were the spark that lit the fire. I also can’t thank Andrew and Francesca enough for their unbiased support – I couldn’t have got through the rollercoaster of these crazy months (or had so much fun) without them. There are still many more hurdles to jump. But I have learnt an important lesson … and ironically, it’s a lesson I needed to learn for my characters too. If you do the thing you’re most frightened of, you might just get what you want. 11 Tips For Making The Most Of The Festival Of Writing Be brave. As Tor said – if you do the thing you’re most frightened of, you might just get what you want.Make sure to locate the front desk. This is where you’ll check in and can ask your questions during the weekend.Write down your 1-to-1s and keep these with your programme. This way you have your map, timetable and 1-to-1s all in one place!Be professional. We’ve mentioned it before, but it’s very important! First impressions really do count, and although this is a fun weekend, it’s the opportunity to meet UK literary agents with whom you may want a working relationship – so don’t just thrust your manuscript at them! They are people, too, so have a chat.Make the most of tea breaks, meals and drinks. These are all great times for networking and if you’re professional and polite, industry professionals will enjoy talking to you.Bring bottled water. Although there’s plenty of tea breaks, it can get hot and you’ll be going between workshops and 1-to-1s. Make sure you’re properly hydrated!Wear comfy shoes. Between workshops, panels and 1-to-1s, there’s lots of walking around. Make sure you’re comfortable in what you’re wearing!Take a walk if you need a few quiet minutes.Bring a bag with some empty space. There’s the opportunity to buy books over the weekend and maybe even have them signed by their authors. Leave some room to take your books home!Remember to ‘dress to impress’ for the Gala on Saturday! We’ve had kilts, black ties and ball gowns. On the other end of the spectrum, we’ve also had jeans, nice shirts and tops. Wear whatever you’re comfortable in to bring a bit of sparkle to your evening.Have fun and enjoy your weekend! Find out more about the Festival of Writing! A Thousand Paper Birds (Bloomsbury) was longlisted for the Author’s Club Best First Novel Award and has been translated in six languages. The paperback was released 3 May 2018. You can follow Tor’s journey on Twitter and at her website.
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