It was a long time coming. I put virtual pen to virtual paper back in late 2009 during the masters in creative writing I did in University of Edinburgh. By the end of that course, I have about 20,000 words of Mickey Bosco novel #1, original title The Long Run Back. Over the next year or so the word count was at 40,000 and then stalled. It gathered dust, so to speak. And then in the summer of 2014, when I should have been concentrating on my PhD (thank God I didn’t because I subsequently changed my topic), I started to write. And write. I wrote 50,000 words in 24 days and finished the first draft of the novel. I sat on it for a bit and did occasional minor rewriting and editing. And then in the summer of 2015 I decided to try my luck with literary agents. I probably submitted to about 16 of them, all respected, all representing legit authors, some of them prize winners. I had initial success with 3 agents. I knew immediately that I was way ahead of the curve. Most writers don’t get near to that. And we’ve all heard the stories about famous authors being rejected initially. The initial success was having the full manuscript requested – this is a big deal; it means the first 3 chapters or 50 pages was of a good quality and the agent sees potential in selling you on to a publisher. I thought I had it made at that point. And then 1 very polite refusal (lots to admire, etc.) and 2 tumbleweeds (you need to get used to black holes and tumbleweeds in this business, i.e. non-responses to queries – rude but they would claim they don’t have time – don’t have time to email with a single sentence? – “lot’s to admire, but we don’t think we are best placed to represent your book”, or similar).
I gave up for a bit then. The novel was shelved. I got my head down and concentrated on the PhD. Then I decided to submit to a small publisher in Ireland. I had seen them publish a big prize winner in crime fiction. What followed was a slightly bizarre email exchange where they said my query email only mentioned male authors, that the publishing industry was mostly female and that for future queries I should try not to alienate them. I only included some of the latest writers I had been reading – as it happens they were all male. Most of the authors I have read of late are men. I don’t see how that makes me sexist; I just gravitate to the writing I like and the fact that most have been male of late is more coincidence of timing than design (I have read in the past works by Val McDermid, Patricia Cornwell, Ruth Rendell, even Janet Evanovich, for example). Anyway, eventually I got a polite rejection (the lots to admire, but can’t be confident in representing it, type of email).
That was it for me. I decided there and then that I must self-publish, but do it professionally. The industry has been really shaken up in the last few years and it is well documented that most writers can make more as a self-published author and get more freedom and flexibility about how and when to publish, for how much, etc. But it need to be done professionally. I had the confidence that the quality of writing was fine (comments from agents like “very promising”, ” really enjoyed it”, “you can write”, “dialogue is spot on”), which drove me on and gave me confidence to put myself out there. I believed that the book would be enjoyed by the majority of those that read it, acknowledging that my novel was a bit too niche perhaps for a London literary agent to be confident in representing (i.e. that they could get a big advance from a publisher to get their 15% cut). Or maybe I am making excuses …
So that’s some of the story about the initial years of my journey to publication. In future posts I will discuss the self-publishing process, about how to do a professional job in putting the paperback and eBook together, and about marketing the book. With the book now finally published, the feeling of being a true writer is there. Of course you are a writer when you have finished a major work, be it novel, play or collection of poetry or short stories. But there is always an awkwardness when talking to others about something they can’t get their hands on – it’s all too abstract. Now I can point to the book on Amazon and say – “try calling me something other than a writer now!”.
One other thing that publishing the book has done is to release the shackles. While humming and hawing about whether to self-publish, whether to hold out for that publishing contract, I neglected my writing. Now that I have made the decision to just published and be damned, I feel something in my bones, something urging me to write. Never mind the money, the fame-seeking, etc., just write. And publish. And I will.