The Learning Curve - Insights from Debut Authors
|Photo by Liz Emerson|
So what is it like? Does life change? Do dreams become reality and with a deal to your name does it all become plain sailing? And what is the process from slushpile to contract to published novel actually like? I asked Jo Franklin about her journey to publication.
From the time you first started writing, how long did it take to get a publishing deal?
Thirty years! But only about seven years and nine or ten books from when I first started submitting manuscripts to agents and publishers. I generally received positive feedback but never that elusive ‘Yes’ until I submitted to Anne Clark. Anne had recently set up as an agent so had an empty list. My manuscript made her laugh and we went from there.
It is said that writers have to persevere and have a tough skin – did you find you grew in endurance and perseverance? Did you ever think about giving up? What made you keep going?
When you are feeling euphoric about your creation, it’s very hard to get a handle on whether your work is of a publishable standard. I remember submitting as soon as I typed ‘The End’ for the first time. And I got positive feedback! But I really didn’t have a clue what I did and did not know. Everyone should assume they will get rejected when they send a submission out. But however you prepare yourself, some rejections hurt more than others. I had a dark spell when I wasn’t selected for Undiscovered Voices and two different agents who I already had an ‘in’ with turned me down, all within the space of a month. Took me a long time to get over it. But what else was I going to do? I’m a writer.
How did you feel when you first landed your deal? Did it feel like the world had changed? How long did the excitement last?
While I was thrilled to be taken on by my agent, I didn’t go over the top with excitement. Maybe I’ve become a bit of a cynic, but I realise that each stage of the journey is as hard as the last one. Having an agent doesn’t mean publication. When the first publisher made an offer, I couldn’t believe my luck. No the world hadn’t changed radically. But it made public, what I always felt about myself. The excitement comes and goes. As each stage of the process of producing a book is brand new, it’s still exciting.
If you think about the amount of work you did on your story pre-deal, how much more work did you have to do once you’d landed your deal – did you realise the real work had only just begun and how surprised were you by that?
I was incredibly lucky. My book had been edited to the nth degree by me and my amazing crit group. My agent used to be an editor so she helped me fashion the beginning to be more satisfactory. My German publishers didn’t want many changes at all. Only strengthening one liners. Luckily they didn’t want to change the structure.
As the creator of your story, having always been in control of your characters and your plot, how did you find taking on board someone else’s comments and suggestions – was it like losing control and did you ever argue with your editor?
It was absolutely liberating. Both my agent and my editor want my book to sell. They have much more experience than me. I listen to what they say and generally do what I’m told, which is totally out of character! If I don’t agree, I discuss things with them until we come to a mutually acceptable solution. But this has only happened on very minor points so far.
Assuming you took the majority of suggestions on board, how do you feel it impacted on your story?
All changes strengthened it. The edited manuscript is now the master to send out to other territories. My agent and my editor are professionals and I respect that.
How have you found working with illustrators and cover designers? How much involvement have you had with the graphic content of your book (covers or illustrations)?
I asked for the illustrations to be run past me so that I could input if I thought they were wrong. I was allowed input on the cover as well. Not that I needed to worry, the illustrations are absolutely brilliant and I hope to have a couple of them framed. I have never met or spoken to my German illustrator, but somehow he managed to telepathically invade the deepest recesses of my memory and has made my main character look like an old boyfriend of mine! Took me a while to get over that one.
Do you think that having had your first book published, your writing life will be easier and your career will be on track? Do you think it will all be easier the second time round?
No. Each step is as hard as the one before. I take nothing for granted and I am doing everything in my power to establish myself as a professional author.
Aside from the editing, what other aspects of being an author have you had to come to terms with?
I see it as a business. Being in business on your own is hard work. The admin is tedious and I am on a very steep learning curve on marketing, publicity, promotion, author appearances etc. But I am doing my very best to learn these new skills to make a go of it.
What have been your biggest lessons since landing a deal?
For me it’s been trying to make a German book deal count towards me being a UK author worthy of being invited to schools to promote reading and writing, or festivals. Despite the encouragement from everyone around me, I don’t quite believe it.
What one key piece of advice would you offer unpublished writers when working with an editor for the first time?
Remember how privileged you are. Be approachable, open, honest and don’t act like a prima donna.
Now that your first book is out – what next?
My first deal was for two books. Both have been delivered. It was great to have the synopsis of Book 2 agreed by my editor before I started.
Book 1 Help I’m an Alien has now also sold to Clarion in the US which is amazing. It’s going to be a completely different edition, with different illustrations. Everyone tells me Clarion books are beautiful. Is it really possible to have a book more beautiful than the one I’ve already got? I haven’t started work with Clarion yet, but really excited about the prospect. And the great thing is, I will actually be able to read this one!
Onto other projects. I’ve already started a new book. Similar age group but for girls this time – but not pink. Definitely NOT pink. That’s going to have to go into the contract if I’m lucky enough to get another one.
Jo Franklin’s book, HELP I’M AN ALIEN! (HILFE ICH BIN EIN ALIEN!) is published by Coppenrath in Germany.
Her second book, HELP I’M A BRAINIAC (HILFE ICH BIN EIN BRAINIAC!) will also be published in Germany in 2015.
And do look out for the Clarion edition of Help I’m an alien!
SCBWI-BI “member abroad”, Nicky Schmidt is an ex scriptwriter, copywriter, and marketing, brand and communications director who "retired" early to follow a dream. Although she still occasionally consults on marketing, communications and brand strategies, mostly she writes YA fiction (some of which leans towards New Adult) in the magical realism and supernatural genres. When not off in some other world, Nicky also writes freelance articles - mostly lifestyle and travel - for which she does her own photography. Her work has been published in several South African magazines and newspapers. As well as being a regular feature writer for Words & Pictures, Nicky also runs the SCBWI-BI YA e-critique group. Nicky lives in Cape Town with her husband and two rescue Golden Retrievers.