The story behind the story

Vintage-typewriterimagecreditTheMapleTeaHouseA few years ago I wrote a children’s book. I had been pondering writing one for a while but I am a massive procrastinator and generally thought there was no point because what if it was rubbish and no one liked it and nobody wanted to read it so what was the point anyway? Until a stern talking to from H made me realise if you don’t try you’ll never know and what’s the point in not trying just because it might not be any good?

I remember writing the opening paragraph as if it was yesterday and not five years ago. I have no idea where it came from – well, my brain, obviously, but the opening line just popped into my head and I wrote it down and then over the next few weeks and months I kept on writing until I had told my story and had something resembling a children’s book. I’m not going to pretend it was an easy, flowing process. I read and write about children’s books day in, day out. I am constantly thinking and talking about other people’s books. So when it comes to sitting down and writing my own, I can get stuck. I have to really be in the right place to do it. But I did do it. And I was proud of it. H was my very first reader and he was nothing but encouraging from the start. He doesn’t mince his words, he is blunt and straight to the point, which is why I was so encouraged by his reaction. It was fun to share with him and he gave me some great ideas and even the name for the baddy. I then shared it with one of my very good friends, whom I knew would be honest too. Her opinion mattered to me and her feedback also encouraged me that maybe I could achieve this after all. One of the best parts of it was sharing it with my parents, who were so enthusiastic and excited by it from the very beginning, again sharing ideas and making helpful suggestions and making me believe in it. To the point I knew it was time to get serious and see if anything could actually come of it.

I have been in the publishing industry for ten years now; I wanted to do this properly. I sought no advice from colleagues from the sheer anxiety they would think it was terrible – I am a copywriter after all, the shame would be too much. I got myself a copy of the Children’s Writers and Artists Handbook, I printed many sets of the first three chapters, I posted them to children’s literary agents far and wide. I felt sick. I waited for the rejections to arrive. And so they did, some by return of post, with the standard rejection slips I’d anticipated. But then a while later, I forget how long, I received an email from an agent thanking me for my chapters, with kind words about how much they’d enjoyed it and had laughed. Unfortunately they had a similar title on their list so couldn’t take me on. But I didn’t mind, it was so nice to know they liked what they saw. So imagine how I felt a few days later when I received another email from an agent not only saying how much they’d enjoyed the first three chapters, but requesting to see the rest of my manuscript.

I very nearly fell off my chair.

And when I composed myself, I replied, grinning from ear to ear and in a delighted daze. And then, a few days later when she replied saying she really liked my book (my book!) and would like to take it to London Book Fair (LONDON BOOK FAIR!) to pitch it to all the publishers, I pinched myself (it hurt) and tried very hard to stay calm (I failed). I still look back on the phone calls to H and my family to say I Had Found Myself An Agent with very fond memories of what a hugely exciting time it was. The anticipation of it all, the excitement of what this could be. And when it transpired that approximately ten publishers wanted to see the manuscript following my agent’s LBF pitch, I probably ran around in small circles with glee.

What followed next was a blur of Will They Won’t They Will They Won’t They; a nerve-wracking waiting game. To cut a long story short (groan), I got some genuinely brilliant feedback from some of the most respected editors in publishing today. It was so encouraging, and I took their advice and did lots of editing and then one publisher was this close to saying yes and making an offer. But at the last minute they had a change of heart. It was crushingly disappointing. Despite all that, I still feel like it was an amazingly positive experience. I have an agent, for goodness sake. That is something to be proud of.

And so I put it all to the back of my mind as something that Wasn’t Meant To Be, and every now and again I’d re-read the positive feedback and feel sad I hadn’t quite made it. Then last summer as Zee was napping I came across my feedback document once again and felt upset. Disappointed that my princess and pirate and two mischievous princes and the good ship Goodship and Claude I’m Bored and Annabel Caramel were simply living in a word document on my laptop. Destined to spend their days as black and white words on a page, instead of living and breathing characters on Jamboree Island inside the imaginations of young readers. That’s when I realised it was no longer 2010 but 2013 and if I wanted to publish my book then, quite simply, I would. I did some research on self-publishing eBooks (it’s too expensive to print physical copies myself); I could do this. But first, I’d need a cover. Oh. Foiled again. But I thought some more and remembered that my wonderfully talented illustrator friend had read the book a while back as she’d wanted to practise her illustrations for young fiction. So I emailed her to see if she could design me a cover as a freelance project, and was hugely touched and grateful when she said she would love to design a cover, not as a freelancer, but for free, for me. All the original excitement came flooding back. With a little help from my friend, I could make this happen. Even if it was just going to become something I self-published so I could proudly show Zee when he’s older, it was going to happen.

TPATP_COVER DEC 13.JPGAnd when Hannah sent me her first cover roughs I cried. There they were. My Princess Sophie and Lancelot the Pirate exactly as I imagined them in my head. It was great fun seeing Hannah’s designs going from black and white into colour and again sharing with family and friends and receiving their feedback. I paid to have the manuscript professionally formatted. Then, when the words and Hannah’s stunning black and white illustrations for the insides were ready, Amazon Kindle couldn’t have made it an easier process to upload and put my book right out there, available for download on Kindle or the Amazon Kindle app for mobile phones or tablets. Such a thrill. And via targeted emails, Facebook and Twitter, my family and friends helped me spread the word; it’s highest chart position was No.25 in Books-Fiction-Humour and No.48 in the Kindle Store Children’s eBooks. By January it had nearly 1000 downloads – mostly free following a Christmas promotion – but as Jessie J once sang, it’s not about the money.

Sometimes, if I sit and think about it for a while, as I guess I’ve just done here, I do feel really glad this happened. H was right. Life is too short to not do something just in case it doesn’t work out. I didn’t get my dream publishing deal, but I did get lots of support and positive encouragement and had so much fun along the way. I have a sequel to write though I’m currently trying to finish a story of genies and wizards and jam jars. But I am well and truly stuck on the ending, which is so tedious. Every time I try and write it, my mind goes blank. But I’ll get there. The idea of having something new to send to my agent is too exciting not to achieve. My productivity rate is sooooooo slow. No excuses, no reasons, that’s just how it is. But I’m looking forward to seeing what might be . . .

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4 thoughts on “The story behind the story

  1. What an emotional rollercoaster of a blog post Mrs T! Your book sounds ruddy delightful and I love the cover. I shall most certainly spread the word – what a massive achievement. Pursuing your passion is always a bit gut-wrenching (especially when it’s writing!). I am in awe.xx

  2. I find this blog post particularly interesting to me because I am a writer myself (or an aspiring one, if you count in the middle of one, not a writer). I’m only going on my teen years, so I haven’t hit the age where editing gets bad quite yet (laughing). I find this post inspiring and encourage you to write more books (I would like to read them). In fact, I might even pick up your book at my library and do a book review on it. Thanks for writing!

    P.S. I love the picture. I own a 1930’s Royal “O” typewriter, my father owns several typewriters of variating kinds and era, and my mother has a 1939 bubblegum-pink Royal!

  3. When I was in my country I have this story in my head for a childrens story. I dont know where to go and who to ask for it to be printed. Ive forgotten about it and saw some story like mine published and it hurts somuch. Thanks for sharing your journey. It is intersting & inspiring. #MBPW

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