The Learning Curve - Insights from Debut AuthorsFor many the road to publication is long and fraught. For others, a publishing deal comes relatively easily. Those who are still trudging the path may find it hard to imagine what it’s like to be a debut author, and authors with a few books to their name may only dimly recall the original experience.
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 debut author, Eve Ainsworth, about her journey to publication.
From the time you first started writing, how long did it take to get a publishing deal?
In terms of Young Adult it has taken me four years. I have written two adult books and one comedy YA book that I was unsuccessful getting an agent for. Then in 2012/2013 I wrote Seven Days and secured a publisher just a few months after my agent signed me. I consider myself very lucky, but also very battle scarred.
It is said that writers have to be persevering 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?
I often thought about giving up, especially when I couldn’t find an agent for my comedy novel. That one had been shortlisted for the Greenhouse Funny Prize and I really thought it was ‘the one’, so I felt a massive blow when it wasn’t. I had brief periods when I’d sulk and decide that writing wasn’t for me. But do you know what? I couldn’t stop. I just couldn’t. The need to write just wouldn’t go away. Eventually I wrote Seven Days with growing determination. I told myself that this would be a good book regardless and if it wasn’t taken up, I’d try again. What kept me going was remembering that I could just be one step away from my goals.
How did you feel when you first landed your deal? Did it feel like the world had changed? How long did the excitement last?
I was very excited, but also very shocked and stunned. It’s pretty difficult to explain. I still feel like I’m in a bit of a trance - and someone will wake me up any minute and say “ha ha, only joking...”
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 so lucky in that a lot of early editing was simply adjusting lines or adding a little depth to certain sections. I never saw it as hard work - it’s really exciting seeing the text develop under so many expert eyes. Mind you, I was lucky not to experience major structural edits which I understand can be difficult.
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’s lovely being a creator, but sometimes you can get too close to your own story and become too involved. Having an editor, especially a good one who understands your text, is a blessing because they can see things you might have missed. My editors at Scholastic were committed to my work and they understood my motivations and direction, and together we thrashed out a stronger text. I honestly never argued with them, it was a fantastic working relationship.
Assuming you took the majority of suggestions on board, how do you feel it impacted on your story?
It made the book stronger and more polished. Even little things – like identifying and removing repetition, made the text flow much better.
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 design work was so exciting. I was asked at the beginning of the process of any strong desires and requests that I might have design-wise. Then I was shown a design brief and asked to comment. Things went quiet for a while until the draft cover was sent to me. When it came I shrieked in the street and made my little girl jump. I loved it so much. It was perfect. When I finally met the designer I gave him the biggest hug to thank him. Covers are so important and I’m so pleased with mine.
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?
My life won’t be easier, but I am happier because I’m doing what I love. Book two is harder in many ways because there is an expectation there. I think I’ll always worry and be afraid that my book will not be good enough, or that readers won’t engage. I don’t think those fears will ever go, but they are natural and healthy. They keep you in check.
Aside from the editing, what other aspects of being an author have you had to come to terms with?
I’ve worked closely with the publicity team and have written pieces to be used for PR – on themes, bullying etc. I’ve also been liaising with marketing and blogging regularly on my own websites and others such as The Awfully Big Blogging Adventure and Author Allsorts. I also regularly tweet. I think part of being an author now is working a lot online and engaging with your audience. I’ve also produced marketing material and plan to target local schools in the area soon. All of these things are new to me, so I’m learning all the time.
What have been your biggest lessons since landing a deal?
That the self-doubt will never go, but don’t be afraid of it.
What one key piece of advice would you offer unpublished writers when working with an editor for the first time?
Always listen and consider advice that is given. You don’t have to accept all suggestions but make sure you have very good reasons not to. This is a partnership and the best ones work because of the excellent communication between both parties.
Now that your first book is out – what next?
I’m currently developing book 2, Crush, which will be published in 2016. This novel focuses on controlling and abusive teenage relationships. I also hope to be out promoting Seven Days and working with as many schools as I can in 2015.
It’s a very exciting time.
You can find out more about Eve Ainsworth on her website.
You can also find Eve on --
You can learn more and buy a copy of Seven Days on Amazon here.
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.