The Learning Curve - Insights from Debut Authors
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 Christina Banach about her journey to publication.
From the time you first started writing, how long did it take to get a publishing deal?
I began writing seriously in 2001 and in 2006 I resigned from my job to become a full-time writer. It took me until 2013 to get my publishing deal.
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?
Did I think about giving up? Oh yes – often – but, in a way, every knock-back only served to harden my resolve. Of course there were times when I lost faith in my abilities, times when I doubted whether I would ever get published. But I kept telling myself that if I didn’t keep at it then I never would.
How did you feel when you first landed your deal? Did it feel like the world had changed? How long did the excitement last?
As you might expect I was thrilled. As you might not expect, after doing the happy dance with a mega-kilowatt grin plastered across my face, I promptly burst into tears. Talk about my emotions being all over the place, they certainly were – and then some. Did I feel like the world had changed? Not right away, in fact it took me a long while to believe that it was real - to allow myself to give in to the excitement that was bubbling inside. How long did the excitement last? It hasn’t stopped yet!
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 where you by that?
Most of the work was done pre-deal. Some time ago I submitted a manuscript (not Minty) to Cornerstones Literary Consultancy for an editorial report and on the back of that they offered to sell me through to agents. Then began a long working relationship with Kathryn Price, their co-director and uber editor. She and I worked through several structural edits of Minty. This meant that I had very little work to do, post deal, apart from tweaking the opening chapters and then, of course, playing my part in the proofreading process.
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?
Working with Kathryn was an incredible experience. What an editor she is: insightful, considered and very encouraging. She read the first draft of the manuscript and told me that Minty was ‘a great book’ but with work could become ‘something very, very special indeed.’ I trusted her judgement completely. We never argued and I always felt in control of my story, even if I sometimes couldn’t work out what direction it should take next.
Assuming you took the majority of suggestions on board, how do you feel it impacted on your story?
I took many of her suggestions on board, but not all; Kathryn always urged me to find my own solutions towards making the manuscript better. But she did challenge me – a lot! I’m so glad she did because, without her expert eye, Minty wouldn’t be the story it is today. It’s a much deeper, and more satisfying story than it was in draft one.
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)?
The cover was designed by the amazing Jennie Rawlings. I had given my agent a postcard of the little coastal town of Elie, which plays a major part in Minty’s story. Unbeknownst to me she passed it on to Jennie, who then incorporated it into the design you see today. My publishers actually sent me a choice of three book covers, each designed by Jennie – all excellent in their own way. However, when I saw the one that became the actual cover I absolutely knew that this was the one: it encapsulates the story so brilliantly. It was as if Jennie had stepped right inside my subconscious and designed the cover I’d have created for myself – if I had the talent.
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?
In some ways it might be harder, in as much as there seems to be less time to devote to writing. On the other hand I have the support and guidance of a dynamic new publishing house and a fantastic agent – so I feel my career is in safe hands.
Aside from the editing, what other aspects of being an author have you had to come to terms with? (things like marketing, PR, admin, copyright, contracts - anything that someone new to this would not anticipate.)
All of the above! Seriously, I hadn’t anticipated how much is involved in being a published author. There is so much to learn, and it can be time-consuming and a little daunting. It’s an amazing experience, though, and I realise that I’m very lucky to be doing what I do.
What have been your biggest lessons since landing a deal?
I should’ve been more prepared for the marketing side, especially the author’s role in raising awareness of the book. For example, I wish I’d created a Pinterest mood board for Minty well in advance of publication day, or had started my blog earlier, and had my website up and running months before I did, or made a start on developing my school visits programme well in advance – that sort of thing. However, probably my biggest lesson has been learning to balance writing book number two with marketing the current one. I’m still working on that!
What one key piece of advice would you offer unpublished writers when working with an editor for the first time?
Don’t be precious. Yes your book is your baby, but you don’t always know what’s best for it. Trust your editor but also trust your gut instinct. Listen to the advice given, mull it over, then try to work out how best to improve upon the story.
Now that your first book is out – what next?
I’m working on another young adult novel. It’s a ghost story come psychological thriller and is the most ambitious book I’ve written to date. My lovely publishers are so patient and haven’t given me a deadline for submitting it – yet!
Thank you for inviting me to take part in this Q&A session. It’s been fun.
You can find out more about Christina Banach on her website.
You can learn more about and buy a copy of Minty from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com
You’ll also find Christina on: Goodreads, Pinterest, Twitter and Facebook.
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.