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.
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.
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.