I first sent a manuscript to The Writers’ Workshop back in July of 2009. I had just finished university and had written a somewhat unusual story about dinosaurs, dragons, penguins and bears. It was called The Dinosaur Prince and the very patient Hal Duncan did a full editing consultation and we realised that the manuscript needed a lot of work.
It was a gruelling process, changing characters around, adjusting the story in various ways, making sure the continuity made sense; but it was ultimately rewarding. After over a year and a half of editing I came back to the Writers’ Workshop and Hal had another look at it. The response was generally positive, but work still needed doing. I was young an excited to get back into the game of writing, so this time I saw it more as a challenge, as a refinement of what had been done so far.
In 2012 the Workshop sent out an email asking if any of us were interested in the Festival of Writing. A chance to meet people, make connections, get advice, and generally find new paths through the shifting shadows of the publishing world. I presented my manuscript to three agents and book doctors, and generally got the same response from all of them. The Dinosaur Prince, now a 200,000 word tome, was just too big for a first time author. Looking back, I know they were right about this. By the end of the conference I had decided to put the manuscript aside.
This might have been the end of it had I not got talking to someone at the conference about independent publishers. Larger publishers and agencies are often out of reach for first time writers, especially one as young as I was at the time. The independent market is, quite often, far more savvy about new technology, far more willing to risk a new name, and far more friendly in their rejection letters.
On the train home from the Festival of Writing I pulled out my laptop and started writing a story called The Sea-Stone Sword. In edits for The Dinosaur Prince Hal had mentioned that the back story to one of the characters was quite interesting and could be fleshed out more. We talked about it, but I put it to the back of my mind for a while. But now, with the fact that my existing manuscript was too vast and unfocussed, and the smaller publishing houses growing in my mind, I decided to go for it.
It ended up being around 150,000 words by the time I finished it. My day job was not advancing very well, and I was generally in the middle of an emotional breakdown – this is apparently the perfect time to start a savage campaign of cutting and editing. By the time I thought it was ready to be read by others it had gone down to about 80,000.
I called up the services of friends to proof read it, one of whom was a teacher and scolded me harshly for my abuse of commas. Once it had been hashed to pieces and re-forged from the fires of its demise, I set about looking for a publisher.
Many submissions went out. I crafted my cover letter at least three dozen times, making sure I name-dropped the Writers’ Workshop and Hal Duncan in there (I hope he doesn’t mind). It certainly helped because, after dozens of submissions, countless rejections and set backs, in July of 2013, the brave and legendary people of Kristell Ink decided it was good enough to take a look at.
It’s difficult to really nail down exactly how this affected me. I had been in a pretty bad state for a long time at this point, but I remember being at work and having my phone tell me I’d received an email. I checked it and stopped walking mid-step, staring at the message which said something impossible, something absurd and ridiculous. I mean, this wasn’t supposed to happen, surely? People don’t react positively to my work! That’s not how the world is… Or so I had thought.
Fast forward to now, December 2013, and I am now looking at an official front cover for my first novel. The Sea-Stone Sword has never looked more real.
My experience with the Writers’ Workshop was a wonderful one and I hope I can work with them again on future stories. Without the festival, without the editing consultation and constant support, I would certainly not be in this position.
I look forward now to the summer of 2014 when my book, The Sea-Stone Sword, will be hitting shelves and Kindles up and down the country.
If you are interested in it, my publishers have a blog where updates on my (and other) titles are posted fairly often. I even wrote a post for them.
And my book itself has its own page.
Many thanks to you all! It has been, and I hope continues to be, a pleasure.
– Joel Cornah