In this new series for Writers & Artists, successful self-published author Tim Bradley will be explaining the process of writing his first children's novel, Arnie Jenks and the House of Strangers, from initial conception through to getting the book into readers' hands. In the third article of the series, Tim discusses the road to publication and how he ended up entering the world of self-publishing.
For me, utopia had always been securing the skills of a literary agent who would mentor and guide me through the jungle to reach publication. Someone who would care about the book as I had grown to love it but, from a distance so as to make their advice as objective as possible. I just needed to find the right person.
Some 18 months since finishing my manuscript, my experience could be summed up as this:
"Love your book, but I'm representing a client with something quite similar".
"I could sell this in Germany and Holland, but the ending needs some further work and, as I'm starting out myself, I'm not in a position – very sadly – to provide that kind of editorial support".
"I love the writing, but I'm changing the genre I represent in the future, I'm afraid".
"Not for me, but I'm sure you’ll have no trouble getting representation".
I took these replies at face value but it did disappoint. I had faith in the material, and others – who had no reason to champion me beyond the initial interest taken - were equally persistent that I must find exposure for my story and “get it out there”.
But how could I break through the firewall to reach the reader if I couldn't attract an agent or traditional publisher?
A television assignment was now to take me abroad for six months and so the manuscript sat untouched while I wrestled with scripts of a different kind.
And in the back of my mind maybe Arnie Jenks and the House of Strangers had done its job? Released my passion onto the page. It had been achieved. But I so wanted it to connect with others. I felt it must be read.
Back in the UK around Christmas 2013, things developed unexpectedly. I met the scriptwriter Mark Skeet at a party and we talked about his recent book Saving Picasso set in Barcelona during the second world war.
Considering his track record in the TV and film industry I’d assumed he’d have no problem achieving a traditional publishing deal. But the reality of the business model was now changing and securing a path that way was becoming extraordinarily difficult.
Mark had decided to self-publish. He’d chosen Matador, an imprint of Troubador Publishing Limited, a traditional publisher, who for around fifteen years had been developing and offering a wide range of services to those whose manuscripts were considered to be of a high enough standard. There would be a quality threshold to pass. Oh, I thought. Might they turn me down too?
New Year 2014 came and with it a headache. Do I join the revolution that is beginning to show itself as an alternative to the established route? Or hold out for the right marriage of convenience to come along. By doing nothing, nothing happening was a certainty.
I thought it over. I researched Matador. They seemed very good. A fully comprehensive service handling all stages of the editing, proofing and design work to complete the book ready to print then for distribution to retailers. One exciting thing was that I could take some control over my work, learning from those who were experts in their field and building my own experience in an area of which I knew practically nothing. In one sense I’d be the only loser if I didn't try. And my window of opportunity might soon close, if I had exhausted all other obvious routes. Also what would happen if someone else wrote something similar?
I was confident, well, semi-confident, depending on what the Editorial Director at Matador said when they received my manuscript. I decided to give it a shot. I pulled the book out of the drawer and spent two surprisingly enjoyable weeks revisiting it and doing one final clean up, not having read the material in a while.
A few days after submitting the book to Matador I was in my local Lidl car park shoving excess groceries into the boot when an e-mail pinged from Jeremy Thompson and Lauren Lewis with the news:
“We’d love to publish this.”
I was elated! Arnie Jenks was about to see the light of day.
But not tomorrow – in eight months’ time. This seemed an age, but I when I discovered how much there was to do in the intervening period, and how involved I’d be at every stage it didn't seem that long at all. I had to learn a lot – quickly.
It so happened that Matador’s Self-Publishing conference was shortly due to be held and so I travelled to Leicester to meet many of the team who would be supporting me, a perfect place to ask questions and meet other authors who had recently achieved what I was about to do.
In addition to their creative team being on hand often responding to an e-mail query within a few hours or taking a phone call if available, their website was packed with very useful factsheets to remind and advise on every stage of the process. But many of the final choices and decisions were down to me. From the layout of the text and font selection, to the briefing of the illustrator as to how my hero might look down to the style and colour of the graphics on the cover and spine. But I knew they would not let me make any erroneous choices. When all was agreed, the text and cover was sent to the printers.
On August 28th 2014, Arnie Jenks was born. But how would readers know to find him?
Next: Marketing Arnie and me. How to spread the word to the world.
Tim Bradley was born in Portsmouth in 1964. After obtaining his degree from Southampton University he joined the BBC where he became a producer in television drama. In 2000 he left to freelance. Work include Teachers (Channel 4), Primeval, Unforgotten (ITV), Silent Witness, D-Day and Death in Paradise (BBC). He lives in Buckinghamshire with his wife, son and dog. Arnie Jenks and the House of Strangers is Tim’s debut novel for children aged 9-13 years. Follow him on Twitter here.