Hello my lovelies,
I hope you’re all well. Spring has sprung and we’ve dealt with some ridiculously surreal snow over the last few weeks, but I’m pleased to say that the daffodils are out and more daylight is beckoning.
Over the weekend, I was talking to a friend about my journey to publication. In the course of that, thinking about how I started writing short stories during my English GCSE with great encouragement from my teacher, before moving onto A ‘levels with the prospect of reading English at Loughborough uni looming in the background, I realised that the publishing deal I ended up accepting was actually the third offer I received. Which got me thinking about when it’s right to say no to a publishing deal, and how I might share that advice with aspiring authors. So brace yourselves; it’s a long post…
I first started writing seriously when I was in my early twenties, as a single mother sitting up with a word processor in the small hours of the morning to get some quiet time. I joined the Romantic Novelists Association for a year and wrote a couple of shorter category romances aimed at Mills & Boon (I don’t say that lightly; it was blood, sweat and tears and I had very little idea of what I was doing) and got some lovely feedback with a ‘thanks, but no thanks, but please send us your next book,’ to both manuscripts. So, being the impatient novice that I was, I repackaged one of them and sent the first few chapters off to a new publisher I’d just heard off, headed up by an author from a well-known romance publishing house. Following my submission, she gave me lots of positive feedback – which believe me, when you are trying to get published is like absolute GOLD DUST – and suggested that if I rewrote the book in line with her many suggestions, a deal would be on the table. This was it, I thought, stardom beckoned, I was going to be a world-wide best seller! Except… except…
Look, I’m not precious about my writing; it’s part of a writer’s lot to get feedback and act on it, when it feels right to. I went through the fantastic Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers Scheme for three years which included some bracing constructive criticism (which after a bit of weeping and wailing, I totally took into account, later resulting in my much improved debut novel). I’m always eager to hear my lovely editor Charlotte’s thoughts on the latest work in progress and I’d say I use at least 85% of it to make changes to the manuscript, and would have to feel very strongly about something not to take it on board. However, the changes that first publisher wanted me to make to the book to get a deal, in terms of character and storyline, were so radical that it wouldn’t have been my story anymore. I felt uncomfortable and worse, that I would be miserable rewriting it. And if there’s anything I’ve learnt from being published over the last four years, it’s that while you need to write to market and consider the commercial angle, more than anything you have to write what makes you happy. So, I kindly and politely thanked the publisher for the feedback and declined the rewrite. She thanked me in turn, and asked me to send her any future manuscripts.
Was it a mistake to turn down the rewrite and potential deal? Was I being a literary snob or a difficult author? I wondered at the time, but intuitively felt I’d done the right thing. There were no hard feelings and the door was still open. However, the books I later saw published by them weren’t the best quality and I seriously disliked the covers. The publishing house went out of business a year or so later, so I’ve never actually regretted the decision.
Fast forward a few years, during which I’d put my writing aside to pursue a Human Resources career, gain more qualifications and have another child, I started writing again in 2010 after a serious illness. After rejoining the RNA New Writers Scheme, and being finalist in a few writing competitions, I submitted a partial manuscript to a small American romance publisher in around 2012. Receiving some great feedback from the editor, with a request for some small tweaks which I made without hesitation, a deal was on the table. They wanted to publish my book! This was it. Best seller stardom, royalties, fans etc. As you can tell, I had a massively naive view of publishing back then 🙂 The feeling of elation was incredible… But at that point, my sensible side kicked in. I’ve always made my decisions based on a mixture of research and facts, and considered reflection, with a little dollop of gut instinct. So I did some digging on the publishing house at a writing festival I went to, speaking with their published authors and other aspiring authors who’d heard of them. The feedback, overwhelmingly, was that the publishers were lovely people and nice to work with, however the sales of books would be extremely low, potentially non-existent. My gut instinct was that this wasn’t my time and this wasn’t the route to take. If I had poor books sales, it might hurt my ability to sell future books to other publishers or agents. So, I took the stupid/brave decision to decline very politely and moved on.
Another two years passed, in which I attended RNA parties and conferences, worked on the next book, submitted manuscripts to the New Writers Scheme, read books about writing craft and the publishing world, wrote small articles for the RNA’s magazine ‘Romance Matters’, and utilised my lovely aunt’s huge writer’s brain and generous spirit in the quest for more constructive feedback (Author Sue Moorcroft – she has given me SO much brilliant writing advice over the years, and if you haven’t read any of her books, you’re missing out. Go and buy one. Now!). Then at a Romantic Novelists Association conference in July 2013, I met Charlotte Ledger, who was part of newly created HarperImpulse, the digital first romance imprint of HarperCollins. I’d sent her the first chapter of a book ahead of my 1:1 meeting with her on the Sunday of the conference, the ‘hangover’ slot, given that the Saturday night always includes a fancy dinner and lots of wine. I had the best 10 minutes with her that morning, in which she told me she loved my voice and would read anything I wrote, really liked the book and wanted to see the rest of it. I was amazed, delighted, gobsmacked. We talked about the book, and where it was heading, and we got on as if we’d known each other for years. I confessed that the book wasn’t quite finished, or as polished as I’d like it to be, before she saw it. I asked if I could have some time to work on it, before sending it to her, and Charlotte said the magic word – yes. And then, because she and Kim Young had said in a HarperImpulse presentation the previous day that they’d consider any length of story, so long as it was great writing, I pitched two romance short stories to her, and she told me to send them over. When I left the conference I was floating on air. I had the best feeling.
I sent Charlotte the short stories in the week I got home, and worked hard over the next few months to finish the book she’d seen the first few chapters of. It was a difficult time, during the breakdown of my marriage; I was doing everything I could to make sure my kids were okay, and to hold down my demanding day job. But we were slowly getting through it, when in the October Charlotte sent me an email I still have saved in my inbox, asking when would be a good time to talk? THIS was it. It was The Call I’d been waiting for, I knew it 🙂
When we spoke a few evenings later, she offered me a four work deal (any four writing pieces, whether novel, novella or short story), and said lots of lovely things that I promptly forgot because I was so excited. We agreed she’d email me the contract and all the details, and I asked for a couple of days to consider it all. It was probably a bit of a gutsy move, but at the end of the day you’re entering into a business relationship and legally binding contract, so it’s important to know what you’re getting into and if you can be happy together. Charlotte was great, and encouraged me to talk to other HarperImpulse authors. I promptly did so, and was thrilled with what I heard. I was also impressed with the fact that authors got input into their book covers, which is rare, and also spoke to my aunt about the terms they were offering me. The next day, I emailed Charlotte to accept the contract, and I have never regretted it. It was the best decision I could have made. Two short stories, two novels, and five novellas later, I’m currrently working on the next book, an epic love story, and looking back on it, my writing journey makes complete sense. Now I think that maybe it’s a bit like a good romance; the main character often has to say no to a few Mr Wrongs, before finding Mr (or Mrs) Right.
So, if you’re trying to get published – work hard, keep writing, take the knock backs in your stride, consider your options, and don’t be afraid to say no. Who knows what you’ll end up saying yes to?
Until next time, happy reading and writing.
Love, Nikki x