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Dreaming of Bookshelves: My Journey to Publication

After landing a book deal, a new phase of work began. 

I met with my editor at Orion and we discussed plans including edits to the novel.While I had some work ahead of me here, in a way the manuscript revisions were the easy bit. Or at least the part that was familiar to me. It was everything else that set my mind whirring.

First of all, we needed to choose a title. Before this year I assumed that publishers went with whatever sounded most appealing. But it seems there’s lots more to consider: what genre is suggested; whether it sounds similar to other popular titles (which can be good or bad); current trends (are there too many books with women’s names in the title?); the length; and even how the words will look typographically-speaking. In the end we changed from Forgetting Anna to We All Begin As Strangers which I was very happy about, to my mind the latter sounding more distinctive.

Another key step was designing the front cover. While this was done in-house at Orion, my agent and I were given the chance to suggest feedback for changes. It was fantastic to see the various iterations and being sent the final design made the whole prospect of publication feel more real. 

At the same time, I needed to work on my second book. (The deal my agent negotiated was for two novels - the second of the same length and genre, with a twelve month deadline to submit a draft of ‘reasonable quality’.) Although a year initially sounded like a decent amount of time, I was massively distracted by the ongoing work for the first novel. Having a deadline worked well, though - without this I would've been too engrossed in promoting book one.

Which brings me to the present day. Despite the excitement of the last year, a strange anxiety has been creeping into my thoughts. Maybe it’s inevitable - after the high of being told I’d be a published author, I’ve needed to come back to Earth. I’ve realised just how many books are published every year. What if my book is torn to shreds by its readers? Or, worse, no one knows or cares that it exists? I’ve always imagined walking into my local bookshop and picking my novel off the shelf… is that an unrealistic dream?

I’ve been reading up on publicity and understand how first-time authors can get a little obsessed with the success of their novel. Although it’s great to see how other authors market themselves, too often you end up comparing yourself to them and their achievements, awards and national media coverage! 

But I’m slowly getting better at relaxing and enjoying the process, partly because I now understand more. The golden rules of publicity seem to be: don’t just promote yourself but support other writers, get involved in conversations online and try to be authentic. There are tonnes of articles on the web about setting up an author website and marketing yourself more generally. And, of course, my agent and editor are always willing to help and explain things.

So what’s next? We’re currently sending out proofs to other authors in the hopes they might like the novel and give a quote to be used on the book sleeve. How utterly nerve-wracking. I’ve also been put forward for literary festivals. Again, as someone who isn’t the world’s most confident public-speaker, this is a scary prospect! However, it’s something I will embrace; some of the most important events in life make our hairs stand on end.

What I’ve ultimately learnt through the whole process is this: for all the excitement of book deals and working with editors, the daily reality of being a writer is the same - most of my time is spent on my own, staring at my computer, wondering what the heck to write. No one really knows exactly what will happen when a book is published and a little luck is probably often involved. What’s most important is to have faith in your own writing and to enjoy successes as they come along. 

This blog post is the last in a series by Harriet Cummings. Here’s her advice on getting an agent and landing a book deal. 

Harriet is a freelance writer based in Leamington Spa. Her debut novel We All Begin As Strangers will be published by Orion this April and you can follow her on Twitter @HarrietWriter or find her website here.

Click here to read Harriet's article on how she landed a literary agent 

Click here to read Harriet's second article on securing a book deal