An open letter to the writer who told me I’d likely NEVER be published

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Hello,

While I was going through some papers I found a report you’d written on my first novel and as I read it I felt incredibly sad. You probably won’t remember it, or me, but in 2015 you almost crushed my dreams.

Almost.

I’d longed to be a writer much of my life but, always lacking in confidence, being published seemed unachievable. I didn’t have a degree, any A Levels. I didn’t have the courage to sign up for a writing course.

In my 30’s an accident left me with a disability and my life radically changed. I then spent several years struggling with chronic pain, and my mood until I started writing a story, then entitled ‘Dear Grace’ about best friends, Grace, and Charlie.

For the first time in a long time, I felt I had something to get up for. A purpose. Often I was awake throughout the night, lonely and uncomfortable but now I had my manuscript – a world I could escape to and I escaped often.

I felt a feeling of immense pride when I finished my first draft but then came a bereavement, one of the people I loved most in the world suddenly gone. My depression came crashing back and I didn’t write for a long, long time.

In 2015 I reread my story and a tiny ember of hope began to smoulder. I thought it had potential but I was plagued with self-doubt.

Could I write?

Who could I ask?

It took much courage, several glasses of wine and all of our savings to send my manuscript off to a well-known organisation who offered critiques. When I heard you would be reading my story – someone who reviewed books for a living – I felt delighted.

Until I received your feedback.

Your report started by saying Writing fiction is a long hard slog for anyone and the chances of getting published are very slim.

Immediately I felt deflated, stupid for ever thinking I could achieve my dream. Assuming that for you to have told me it was unlikely I’d ever get published when I hadn’t asked for your advice nor was it something the agency listed as including in the report, must mean my writing was bad.

Very bad.

After your feedback on my story which you weren’t keen on, you ended your letter with ‘you show some flair but I think, bluntly, you need to face up to how difficult it is to get published. You may want to consider self-publishing. Traditional book deals from publishers are increasingly hard to come by. I’m sorry not to be more encouraging and I wish you the best.

Tears rolled down my face as I packed away my manuscript and my dreams for another six months as I spiralled back into depression.

I am writing this to let you know that dreams are fragile and hope easily extinguished. I googled you before I began writing this post and you still critique for the same agency. Please, please think twice before telling someone how impossible it is to be published if they haven’t asked you for publishing advice. You just might make them feel they aren’t good enough to write. Not everyone has an endgame of seeing their words in print and if they do not everyone is chasing a traditional deal. You never know what led them to the story they want to tell and what it means to them. I overcame depression largely because of my characters and it was something I enjoyed. You made me think I was wasting my time. That I shouldn’t. I couldn’t.

But I did.

‘Dear Grace’ became ‘The Sister’ and it went on to spend several weeks at No.1 in various countries, quickly sold well over half a million copies, has been translated into 25 languages and nominated for an award. Three other novels have followed, all with huge success. My fifth is due to be published this October.

Publishing is so subjective and although you thought I couldn’t, I’m so pleased I found a publisher who thought I could.

And for any writers reading this, don’t let anyone lead you to believe that you can’t and if they do, prove them wrong.

From Louise

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Novel Writing – The Mentor and the Mentee

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In May 2015 I was lucky enough to be offered a place on The WoMentoring Project and receive a few weeks of mentoring from the lovely Louise Walters, author of the fabulous Mrs Sinclair’s Suitcase, and the forthcoming ‘A Life Between Us.’ (Due to be published February 2017). The support I received was invaluable and really helped shape me as a writer.

It was thrilling to recently get together with Louise to celebrate my book deal, and amongst the coffee, cake and talk about books, it was great to compare our experience of the project.

 

LJ: How did you hear about the WoMentoring project?  

LW: Twitter! I hear most of my bookish news through Twitter.

LJ: Me too – I’m using it more and more. Why did you want to be a mentor?

LW: I wanted to help other women to write. As soon as I heard about the project I knew I wanted to be involved. I know how hard it can be to find the time to write, to find the money for a critique, and perhaps most importantly, to find the self-belief. I also thought it would be beneficial to my own writing, and it has been. When I spot something that isn’t working, I often react with “OMG, I do that!” So critiquing others’ work is I hope mutually beneficial.  Why did you apply to the Womentoring project?

LJ:  I’d gone to a local writing group with the view to writing a non-fiction book. At the beginning of the meeting we were given a couple of words and ten minutes to write something. The bare bones of what is now Chapter One of The Sister was born. I spent the next few days thinking about Grace, my main character, and when someone from the group sent me a link to The WoMentoring Project and suggested I should apply and develop my writing I checked it out, and then discounted it straight away. I thought it was aimed at ‘proper’ writers. Not someone with no experience or qualifications, who had only scribbled down a few lines on a torn out sheet of a notebook. I bookmarked the page though. I’d noticed you on the list of mentors and having just finished, and fallen in love with Mrs Sinclair’s Suitcase, I felt really drawn to apply. It took days and days and a few glasses of wine before I felt brave enough to email, and I never dreamed I’d be accepted. Why did you pick me as your mentee? 

LW: I liked your writing and it was easy to spot your talent. I also spotted areas for improvement and I thought we might be a good match. The fact you live not a million miles from me helped too, as I thought it would be lovely to meet up. Also in your application you stuck to the word limits and applied as per the Womentoring Project instructions. I turned down other applicants because they didn’t do this.  How did the mentoring help?

LJ: Firstly, it gave me the confidence to try. When we first talked and I said I wanted to write a short story you asked ‘why not write a novel?’ as if I could, and I felt a real spark of ‘could I?’ That spark grew and grew until I scrubbed out the title of my story and wrote ‘Chapter One’ instead. Your offer to critique my first 10,000 words drove me forwards but I never quite believed I could write so much – having never written more than 200 words before, but I wrote and wrote until I had the first few chapters. I was euphoric! I sent them over to you half-expecting you to call and tell me they were so brilliant you’d sent them to your publisher! Of course, they weren’t good, as first drafts often aren’t.  You told me, so kindly, they’d be great as individual short stories but they didn’t flow like a novel should and I didn’t hesitate in deleting them.

LW: I had no idea you’d deleted all those words! I hope I wasn’t too blunt… it’s so important for writers who want to publish their work to grasp that a novel is more than a series of events… it’s the tale you weave around those events that makes a story, and makes a novel.

LJ: I went back to basics. I’ve always been an avid reader but I started to read like a writer instead, noticing the flow, the sub-plot, those subtle undercurrents and then I tried again, frantically trying to write another 10,000 before our mentoring period ended. The relief when you liked my second attempt was immense and I think that’s where mentoring was so beneficial. Getting that flow, that balance, is so critical. I feel so lucky I got the advice I did, 10,000 words in and didn’t spend the next 18 months writing a book that no-one would want to read. Did it take long to read and critique my work? 

LW: Longer than I thought it would, to be honest! I had to concentrate really hard!

LJ: You were very thorough. Were you comfortable with criticising?

LW: Yes, I think so. I know only too well how painful it can be to receive criticism, so I tried to remain constructive and positive, while at the same time be honest enough to be of decent help. I didn’t want to demoralise you. I was relieved to find that you were sure enough in your own aims and abilities to not necessarily agree with everything I suggested… Mittens, anyone??!!

LJ: Yes! You really didn’t like the cat in Chapter One and although I took most of your advice on board, the cat you didn’t like, stayed. I think building enough confidence to develop my own voice, trust my own instincts and not take things that aren’t working personally, has stood me in good stead to cope well with the inevitable rejections, and now the publisher’s edits. Writing in present tense is something I wouldn’t have dared try at the beginning as so many people don’t like it but by the time I’d finished the first draft in past tense, I knew I hadn’t written a book I’d love to read. That meant going back to the beginning and changing the tense, and then losing the last 40,000 words completely to change the genre. I feel like I’ve written more than one book during this process but I’ve honestly loved every second of it.

LW: Would you recommend the WoMentoring Project to other writing women?

LJ: Absolutely. It’s hard to believe that 18 months ago I’d never written any fiction except a couple of 100 word stories and now I’ve signed a three-book deal with Bookouture. My first novel, The Sister, will be out in July 2016 and I feel so grateful to Kerry Hudson for founding the WoMentoring Project and all the women who volunteer their time to help fledging writers find their voice.  I’m indebted to you for helping make my dream come true and I’m fully intent on paying it forward.

 

You can read my previous posts tracking my experience of the project here,  here and here.

 

The WoMentoring Project is still open for applications and offers free mentoring by professional literary women to talented up and coming female writers who would otherwise find it difficult to access similar opportunities.

Their mission is simple: to introduce successful literary women to other women writers at the beginning of their careers who would benefit from some insight, knowledge and support.

The hope is that new, talented and diverse female voices emerge as a result of time and guidance received from our mentors.

 

 

Beta Readers, shudder

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I have lost my way a little with my manuscript. The first draft and initial rounds of editing went surprisingly well but then life hit me with a sledgehammer and after weeks of grieving I made a conscious decision to try to move forward with at least one area in my life. Writing seemed the obvious starting point. A world of my creation to immerse myself in, what could be better than that?

I dusted off my laptop, creaked open the lid and waited an inordinately long time for it to fire up. I blinked at the brightness of the screen as my words, so lovingly crafted, loaded. They made no sense to me. I felt detached from them. Had I written this? Was it any good? What was the next stage?

When I first heard the term Beta Readers, many months ago, I shuddered. Who would want to send out their manuscript into the world? Crazy people. What if people slatted it? What if people pretended to love it but secretly laughed. No, Beta Readers were absolutely, definitely, not for me.

A gallon of coffee later and my eyes misted over. I had no idea where to start. I needed help.

I tentatively put a message on social media. Does anyone want to read my manuscript, and, to my astonishment, they did.

I chose four people who I know will give honest feedback, and my husband who will tell me it’s wonderful regardless (hey, we all need a little praise), composed an email, attached my file and pressed send. Heat rose through my body and I could feel adrenaline flooding my veins. Heart pumping, skin pricking with sweat I scrambled around my email searching fruitlessly for a retract button (why oh why has someone not invented one)?

So now I sit, and I wait, and I worry.