It’s been a while since my last blog post here and a lot has happened. After meetings with a commissioning editor at a ‘Big Five’ publisher, my Lucy Cavendish/Mslexia-shortlisted YA novel, Twenty-Nine Locks, seemed to be blessed with a smooth journey to publication.
I was soon to discover that there are multiple hurdles a novel must clear. As a novice writer, completing a novel in itself was an achievement worthy of celebration. The next learning curve, for me, was using feedback from agents and first readers to redraft a good idea, imperfectly delivered, and enter Twenty-Nine Locks into competitions. Once I’d chosen an agency, The Good Literary Agency (TGLA), my story was assessed by their in-house editor who suggested further improvements. When ready, my agent, Abi Fellows, pitched it to publishers, sent off the manuscript, and then…
A nail-biting wait.
Requests to meet the author.
Requests for further information.
‘Sorry, but no.’
The brutal truth is that, even after all the successes, which must be celebrated every step of the way, most writers face one final hurdle to publication: the publisher’s acquisitions team meeting, made up of commissioning editors, publicists, marketers and PR staff. This is where business maths and marketing sometimes clash with an editor’s love of a story. And the story doesn’t always win.
One of my favourite YA authors, Nicky Singer, tells how her timely novel about climate change, Island, already a successful play at the National Theatre, was rejected by publishers as ‘too quiet for the current market’. It was rejected despite the fact that she had written Feather Boy, published in 28 countries to critical acclaim and a favourite class text in secondary English departments. It was rejected despite the fact that it spoke to young people about what will be arguably the most important challenge of their lives. In the end, Island’s publication was crowd-funded by enthusiastic supporters, including Chris Riddell who illustrated it and donated his royalties to Greenpeace.
So it seems even successful and established writers face the same challenges and disappointments as new writers.
I felt disheartened to come so close and it was tough to find the resilience and self-belief necessary to regroup. My agent, always up-beat, met me to discuss what a new project might look like, and the novelist Nikesh Shukla, one of the co-founders of TGLA, phoned me with encouragement and advice.
I licked my wounds and pressed on, telling myself if I had done it once, I could do it again. At this point, a good agent and a supportive agency makes all the difference. When I started writing again, I kept an email from my agent at the forefront of my mind: ‘I am here for you,’ she wrote. ‘All of us at TGLA are on your side and believe in you and your writing.’
Just as I’d forgotten the disappointment and sting of rejection and was in the middle of thoroughly enjoying writing a new novel, my agent called me to say an independent publisher wanted Twenty-Nine Locks. I was delighted and it was all the sweeter for being a surprise.
I had a telephone meeting with the publisher to discuss their editorial suggestions, and now the contract is signed, I am on a ‘writing deadline’ for the first time. Over the next few months, I will update this blog with new posts about the journey I’m now on: from working with an independent press to how the novel is being marketed and publicised.
Publishing is a long game, necessitating almost superhuman levels of hope, resilience and positivity. The process reminds me of my experience of parenthood; from conception and pregnancy worries to on-going anxieties about my three children’s health and future. Each stage brings new challenges, new things to worry about and look forward to.
So, this week I’ve started the editorial work needed to prepare Twenty-Nine Locks for publication. Having not opened the manuscript for a year, it’s rather like meeting an old friend. To my horror as an English teacher I’ve already spotted a typo. But I’ve also felt tears welling up for my young protagonist, Donny, and huge joy knowing his story will be read.
I love that boy like a fourth child, my paper child. I’m so happy readers will get to meet him in 2021.
Nicola Garrard grew up in Devon, France and Sussex. She studied English Literature, with a doctoral focus on representations of race in seventeenth-century theatre and has taught English in secondary comprehensive schools for twenty-three years, including fifteen years in Islington. Her first novel, Twenty-Nine Locks, was shortlisted in the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize and the Mslexia Children’s Novel Competition. She lives in Sussex with her partner, three children and a Jack Russell terrier. Her family is typical of modern Britain, with roots in England, Trinidad and Scotland.