There’s a graphic that regularly does the rounds. It’s made up of two graphs. The first goes under the caption, ‘what you think your career will look like’ and it’s upwards all the way. The caption for the second is ‘what it will actually look like.’ A roller-coaster. That has been my experience of writing.
My first novel secured me an agent, who told me, ‘Jane, you’re a writer’, which sounded much more glamorous than, ‘Jane, you’re an insurance broker’. My second won the Daily Mail First Novel Award.
I was going to be the next Joanne Harris. But a couple of months after publication of Half-truths and White Lies, Transworld rejected my follow-up. It was beautifully written, but it wasn’t ‘women’s fiction’.
There was no point arguing that I hadn’t set out to write women’s fiction. No meant no.
I carried on submitting manuscripts. One had already won an award for its opening chapter. Surely two awards would open doors?
By 2012, I was touting three novels around the market. I felt like the writer in Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys who attends the same conference year after year with a different edit of the same novel. A novel which continues to be rejected, albeit for slightly different reasons.
Remember that second graph? When I met with one of The Writers’ Workshop Book Doctors at The Writers’ Workshop Festival of Writing. I was in a dip. I had submitted chapter one of These Fragile Things for critique. The waiting was agony. I watched people exit the hall, clutching manuscripts covered in red ink. When my turn finally came, I took my seat at the table and saw that my manuscript had no corrections. ‘You didn’t like it,’ I said. ‘No,’ came the reply. ‘I loved it. It’s ready!’ My heart sank. How to explain that the manuscript had been widely rejected. I had wanted someone to hand me a magic formula. What I hadn’t wanted to hear was, ‘It’s not you, it’s the market’, and yet this break-up style advice was precisely what I needed.
There was another path, but I’d been resisting it. The next month I attended a self-publishing conference. Established authors who’d been dropped by publishers were rubbing shoulders with novices who had priced their e-Books at 99p, and sold 100,000 copies within a year. This was a revolution! Was I out or was I in?
I decided I was in. Though I made rookie mistakes, reviews were positive. The next time, I did better. I grew my team of professionals. In May, the artwork for my fifth self-published novel, An Unknown Woman, won an award for best fiction cover at Book Expo. Now, I’m thrilled that Writing Magazine and the DSJT Charitable Trust have named it their Self-published Book of the Year.
The plot revolves around a book within a book. It seems rather fitting that a novel with a self-published book at its heart should win an award that recognises excellence in self-publishing. This one’s for the whole team.