The Learning Curve - Insights from Debut Authors
For 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, SARAH BAKER, about her journey to publication.
From the time you first started writing, how long did it take to get a publishing deal?
I wrote my first book aged nine, a cautionary tale of friendship, ballet and guinea pigs. It was quite a few years later (ahem) that I started writing down some of my longer fiction ideas and in 2008 I wrote the first of a three part series that’s currently languishing in a drawer somewhere. I began work on Through the Mirror Door in 2013. Following the edits I made after attending the utterly fantastic and highly recommended Book Bound course in 2014, I signed with my agent, Bryony Woods of DKW, and got a 2-book deal from Catnip Books later that year.
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 never felt like giving up, but I had no idea it would take so long or that it would be my second book that got published. Having been through the writing, submission and rejection process with the three part series, I knew what to expect, which helped. The feedback from that was really helpful, as were writer friends (published and unpublished), so I put that book to one side and started again with a brand new idea. Through the Mirror Door is that story.
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 danced around the kitchen, which was probably quite a sight to see as I was 8 months pregnant at the time. I’d had a lovely meeting with Liz and Robert at Catnip and they’d brought delicious pastries (so I knew we’d get on). More than feeling that the world had changed or my excitement about the deal, was having my publisher (and agent) love my book and my characters just as much as I do. This still is amazing.
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?
My sister works in publishing so she’d prepared me for the work ahead and just how difficult and long a process it can be so I totally expected to do a lot of editing. In fact I relished it. Editing is where the jigsaw pieces begin to fit together and Liz and I began by gossiping about the characters over hot chocolates at the National Theatre café. Did I mention I love my job?
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?
I think if you and your editor trust each other, then taking on their suggestions feels organic and right. It always felt like that with Liz. Plus she’d leave me little encouraging messages on my ms, which would cheer me up or make me laugh. We never argued. The trust works both ways so I think I only ever felt strongly about one or two points. I explained why and Liz was happy with that.
Assuming you took the majority of suggestions on board, how do you feel it impacted on your story?
Both Liz’s edits and the copy edits that the lovely Melissa worked on really strengthened the story. They made it tighter and enhanced the characters. It was like alchemy. I’m in awe of both my editors and feel very lucky to have worked with two such talented people.
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 was pleasantly surprised to be asked my opinion. As a debut author I hadn’t expected that. I saw two very different covers, both of which I liked, but I’m thrilled with the final version. The illustrator, Jess Coutney-Tickle, has captured the story perfectly and I’m so happy with it.
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?
I’m not sure it’ll be easier. I think it’ll be different. I wrote book 2 when my son was 3 months old and I’m editing it now. I certainly had less time and that was a big concern, initially, because of course you have years to perfect your first book and then suddenly you’ve got to write another one to a very real deadline. I’m loving editing it though and can’t wait to get started writing book 3. So long as I can carry on writing books, I’m happy.
Aside from the editing, what other aspects of being an author have you had to come to terms with?
Promotion and publicity is going to be the next big learning curve for me, but I’m so excited that Through the Mirror Door is going out into the world. I can’t wait to meet readers and hear what they think.
What have been your biggest lessons since landing a deal?
Patience. Things take time, but it’s easy to keep busy and not think about it these days because I’ve got another book to write and a busy toddler to wrangle.
What one key piece of advice would you offer unpublished writers when working with an editor for the first time?
Trust that they know what they’re doing, that they love your book and your characters and what they’re suggesting is in the best interests of making your story the best it can be. Also, ask questions, discuss things, be open and honest. If you’re unsure of an edit or it doesn’t feel right, talk about it.
Now that your first book is out – what next?
I’m editing book 2, Eloise’s Secret (working title), a prequel to Through the Mirror Door that’s set in the same village and the same house, during WW2, and is due out in 2017 (Catnip Books). I’m also writing a contemporary Middle Grade story called Different about a girl and her sister, who has Downs Syndrome, as they navigate their way through a new school, their parent’s divorce, bullies, identity and acceptance.
Twitter: @bysarahbaker @catnipbooks @bouncemarketing
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