It was winning a competition that led to the publication of my first novel Half truths and White Lies by Random House. Winning, and pure luck, that is. It was by chance that I heard about the Winchester Writer’s conference a week before it was held in 2008. And it was by chance that, of the seven lectures available, I chose to attend one given by Jack Sheffield of Teacher Teacher fame. Because if those two things hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t have learned about the Daily Mail first novel award – two days before the deadline for entries. I entered because I was having difficulty getting any one to read my work. Even my then literary agent had not found the time to get round to it. I didn’t dare dream of winning.
Unfortunately my early success wasn’t replicated, even though sales of Half-truths and White Lies were good. However, I have since won a prize at the Winchester Writers’ conference for best opening chapter for my novel I Stopped Time – a work I had shelved as it had been rejected by agents, but have since re-edited and revived, I almost burst into tears on a Book Doctor at a writers’ conference who told me that I was not to change a word of my later manuscript, These Fragile Things. (Both are now available as ebooks and in print.)
I resisted self-publishing for four soul-destroying and confidence-wrecking years, during which I was submitting three manuscripts to market and holding out for that elusive deal. Most rejection letters said the same thing: my work was beautifully written and crafted but was considered ‘too quiet for the current market.’ On enquiry, it was suggested that there was nothing about my work that ‘a few dismembered bodies wouldn’t cure.’ For writers who don’t want to compromise their writing, that advice is unacceptable.
Last year I attended a conference about Publishing in the Digital Age and was utterly convinced that this was the way to go. The advice was to put everything I had out there in the hope that the books would start to cross sell each other. I chose to release two imediately and to hold back on the third, as I know from experience that it will take me two years to write my next book. The best advice I had was to include the first chapter of my next novel in the back of the first, so that readers are hooked. I have also included book club questions as my writing is aimed in the main at fabulous and intelligent women and contain suitable issues for discussion. I am willing to admit in this forum that I released the paperback versions too early and that some typos slipped through – even with the use of a professional proof-reader. Don’t be impatient. Getting it right is so important. I don’t want anyone to assume because of a few errors that my content is inferior. I ditched that batch of books. (I think ebook readers are slightly more forgiving.) Even though my sales are not particularly high, I am delighted that my books are being well-received by those who have discovered them and I am slowly but surely building up a strong set of reviews in the UK (not so many in the US, so any help in that area would be appreciated).
My greatest issue is now that my precious writing time is being eaten away at by marketing (I have a guest blog out with Digital Books Today), but my experience of having been published by a major house taught me that it is the author who does the majority of the foot work in any event.
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I have two latest books, but I’ll focus on These Fragile Things which tackles the subjects of near-death experience and religious fervour. These are big issues and ones I am hardly qualified to tackle fully. Orange prize-winner Francesca Kay said that she sees no reason why inexperienced novelists should avoid the big issues, but I wanted to bring the premise down to one very simple question: what happens to an ordinary family when their daughter claims to be seeing visions.