I’m about to start the proof read of My Christmas Number One, which will give us the final text that will go to publication. Cover reveal should happen around mid-July. It’s still a couple of months until it comes out (September 10! Woohoo!), but I thought now was the time to write this post dedicated to all aspiring authors.
Writing is epic. If you’re doing it, you’re an author. If you’re putting words on the page, that’s the first step to getting your words in front of readers. Do it for yourself, because it’s worthwhile no matter who eventually reads your words. And if you want to bring out a book, here are some of the parts of my journey I thought would be most helpful.
1. Write what you’re passionate about
Editors see a LOT of manuscripts. If yours is going to stick out, it needs all your passion. It might take a few false starts or even a few full manuscripts before you hit on an idea that demands your blood and sweat, but keep going until you find it. For me, My Christmas Number One, was born from things I love, characters I was dying to write. There were things wrong with my first draft (as is invariably the case), but the most important thing was that the publisher at Boldwood recognised my passion in the writing and it gripped her enough to make an offer with agreed revisions.
This sounds like simple advice, but, as you learn about publishers and genres and sub-genres and where you might find a place in the market, you have to make choices. Writing books takes a long time and we don’t have an endless amount of that resource to write every book that takes our fancy. It’s important to think about what you might be able to sell (see the next point), but primarily for aspiring authors, it’s your passion that’s going to get you a start. It’s the best way to discover the way you write best.
It’s possible your passion won’t quite match the market at first (see point 6!), but if you’ve written something you love, you’ll be doing your best writing and developing your voice. You can always try a different angle with the next book and see if that’s more marketable.
2. Acknowledge the market
I read the advice ‘know the market’ during my time querying, but it was always an impossible ask for me. Book shops are great, but not representative of the market for genre fiction anymore, given the volume of ebook sales. And trawling through thousands of books isn’t the best way to spend time when you’re writing a novel. So I’ve expressed this a different way: acknowledge that there are market forces in the publishing industry, for better or for worse. If you produce a book that’s not easily categorised, chances are it will be harder to break in.
We don’t need to write something completely new. We are individuals and each book is different by its nature, so new authors don’t need to reinvent the wheel. I was pretty clueless about the market when I started querying my book. But now, writing the second, I understand where my work fits and I feel much more certain about my style and content. It also helped with the edits of My Christmas Number One. I made a lot of changes to the style when I had a firmer idea of who would read it.
3. Find your way of dealing with feedback
Writing is a hopeful activity with periods of desolation when we get feedback. Everyone hates negative feedback and no one feels like a real writer. It’s part of the deal. Perhaps you need beta readers with strict instructions to give positive as well as constructive negative feedback? The only firm advice I have is to give it a few days before acting on the feedback. It’s incredibly emotional getting feedback on characters you have created. We need that time to process it emotionally before we can switch our brains back on and decide whether to make changes.
4. Honour the emotions
There are lots of things in the ‘writers’ life’ that we all feel, aspiring or published. We feel exposed and scared, jealous and frustrated. It’s part of the journey. But don’t get bogged down in the negatives. Be gentle with yourself and others.
5. Publishing is a long game
I wrote My Christmas Number One between January and May 2019, then started querying. I received a good number of rejections and a couple of no responses. I chose a short list of publishers to start with and didn’t go the agent route initially because UK-based agents are very picky and I didn’t feel confident about the US market. That limited the querying to a fairly short list of publishers, most of whom rejected within about four months.
I had an initial expression of interest from Boldwood, but my suggestions for future books didn’t go down too well and I thought all was lost. But it turned out my book really stuck in the mind of the person who read it and they ended up offering for Christmas 2020. It’s been a long wait!
With so many books out there, us authors now have to think about a career, rather than a single book. I don’t necessarily mean a series, but writing is a busy job. You need to keep writing new books to stay in the market. If that sounds scary, don’t worry. The first few books are the hardest.
6. You can’t fail unless you decide you’ve failed
No matter how many rejections you get, it’s not failure. My Christmas Number One is the sixth book I’ve written. For many authors, this would be a quick path to publication (and some hit the spot earlier), so I’ve learned to embrace my journey. Although the other five books probably won’t ever be published, I don’t see them as failures. I queried agents or publishers on three of them, although I didn’t do much research on publishers or query very widely.
Writing and querying is a ‘learning by doing’ exercise. Don’t give up and you’ll make progress.
There isn’t much separating an aspiring author from a published one. We are the heart and soul of an industry that brings people ideas, escapes, relaxation and a glimpse into other people’s experiences. I’m still pinching myself that my book is coming out in September, that I got to write the acknowledgements and the dedication (I got a bit teary, as you can imagine).
Whatever journey you’re on as an aspiring writer, you will make it if you keep trying. Your journey will be different to mine (although by all means query Boldwood Books!!!) but we are sharing so many of the aspects of the writer’s life already. And I wouldn’t be surprised if I look back on this post in a few years and realise that my time as an aspiring author was the most important of my career.
I can’t wait to read your books!!