Tag Archives: Arvon

Holding Our Nerve and Finding a Publisher

It’s hard to remember – now that publication is upon us – how long it took to find a publisher for our book about retirement: Retiring with Attitude. It was frustrating, emotional and hard work. One of the blessings of writing collaboratively is that when one of us is ready to give up the other stays optimistic and we both go on having ideas about who to approach next.

photo by Robert Taylor

photo by Robert Taylor

Our first contact with a publisher was informal, asking for advice. She was very encouraging, even considered the book for publication, but decided it didn’t quite fit her list.

Another publisher advised us to find an agent. Using personal connections and the listings in the Writers and Artists Yearbook, we began to send out our proposal and chapter examples. BUT agents either did not reply – so rude – or said they didn’t want to represent us although they said it was a good book and worth pursuing. Then one told us, ‘you have a strong proposal for this book and you are published writers. I advise you to approach publishers directly. ‘ So we did.

The publishers were not as enthusiastic as we were. One problem was that there are plenty of books about retiring already on the market. Some publishers who had these in their lists did not want to publish a book that they saw as competition. They could not see how different our book was from the rest. And other publishers told us they didn’t take that sort of book. ‘Not for us,’ they said.

One publisher suggested a tie-in with a national newspaper. So our final idea for a publisher was the Guardian. If this approach failed, we decided, we would rethink our strategy. In anticipation we attended workshops on e-publishing and self-publishing. However, we did not need to go down this route. We heard from an editor at GuardianBooks:

I’m really interested to see more, as it looks like a really strong idea. It’s great to see an intelligent book about retirement; it would resonate really well with our readership.

Would you be able to send me some sample chapters? 

We did and although it was not all plain sailing after that, it was the start of the publication story. (More about the later stages in a subsequent blogpost.)

During the long period – two years – when we had to hold our nerve, believe in our project, write the chapters and keep on sending out the proposals, these were the things that helped us:

  • That initial favourable response from a publisher,
  • The advice from the agent to go direct to publishers,
  • Our belief in the book,
  • Our experience as published writers,
  • Our mutual support, courage and humour,
  • The response of people in our circle with whom we discussed ideas,
  • Encouraging responses from publishers even when they declined the book,
  • Redrafting the proposal for each submission in the light of comments received,
  • Publishing articles in niche magazines on the way,
  • Feedback and encouragement from our reader, Marianne,
  • Having an alternative strategy for publication in case we needed it, and
  • Repeating our Mantra: Hold Your Nerve! (Caroline had been to an Arvon fiction course, and this had been the advice from the agent to the aspiring writers who attended. He had reminded us that the publishing business needs our books!)

That agent was right. We needed to hold our nerve. On the eve of publication of this book, we are beginning again with another book. We’ll have to say Hold Your Nerve! again to ourselves. Marianne, our reader, has joined us as a co-author, by the way. It’s great!

101 RWA cover

You can pre-order Retiring with Attitude at the Guardian Bookshop or at Hive and other on-line stores. It will be available from bookshops from 24th July.

Caroline Lodge and Eileen Carnell

Do you have advice for writers seeking a publisher for their book? Or useful experience to share?


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Filed under Publishing our book, Writing

My novel’s in a drawer …

nice work badge DSC00129

My novel is in a drawer. I began writing it 18 months ago on an Arvon course at The Hurst (thanks to tutors Jill Dawson and Kathryn Heyman and to the other participants). The theme, story and plot had been in my mind for about a year. I finished the first draft in early December 2012, about four weeks ago. Now the 22 chapters, all 90,000 words are in a drawer. Well, that’s what the how-to-write-a-novel books call it. Actually it is in 22 files on my computer, and in 22 plastic folders slipping about on a shelf in my writing room. There also notes on characters, timelines, newspaper cuttings about my theme, post-it notes to remind me about details I didn’t want to stop for, chapter outlines, scene outlines and in a folder called parking.

What is my novel doing, not in a drawer? It’s resting. Everyone says you should let your first draft rest. Stephen King says it, and, despite never having read a novel by him and avoided most of the films made from his novels, I rate what Stephen King says about writing (in On Writing). Not just writing, but what he says about editing, your strongest critic, paragraphs, readers and resting. Don’t let anyone see it, just rest it.

He had made a parallel with bread being left to prove. I like what he says about writing, but not what he says about novels being like baking bread. I would be seriously worried if my novel started bubbling, smelling rather yeasty and rising gently on its shelf and (even worse) on my computer. And he says you should probably leave it for ‘a minimum of six weeks’. I’ve never left bread to prove for that long, even when I forgot it.

And the purpose of all this is to get a little distance. It is also, as my non-fiction co-author would remind me, to allow time for us to complete our non-fiction project, which we promised to deliver to the publisher in mid-February. She gave me the NICE WORK badge. But there is writing to be done and not on the novel.

Back to my novel-in-a-drawer. Parts of it have been read and commented on by other people: the first and most worked over chapter, because I wanted to see if people reading it would want more. They are the ones who want to read the first draft. So I have my answer about that. And several scenes have been read by fellow-participants in writing classes and groups.  These were always second or third drafts. Comments, reactions, suggestions have been absorbed to make third or fourth drafts. I expect to find unevenness when I return.

But I miss the people in my novel. I like them, their company, their quirks and habits, their interactions and failings. I would like to visit them. Not writing my novel is like watching them on a CCTV camera. I think about them, wonder about them, their hopes, dilemmas. I’d like an update. I’d like a phone call, an email, a text. But they remain incommunicado in the drawer.

My fingers itch to get back to writing. I’m sitting on the bus, say, and I wonder if I’ll catch them talking behind me, a bit like everyone almost reminds you of an ex-lover when you’ve just split up. I know I will have work to do on showing my protagonists’ reactions and feelings. There are some plot issues to sort out – whatever happened to the sister-in-law? I think she died in a car crash, but if she did I didn’t tell the reader. She was sympathetic, so she deserved better. (Not better than the car crash, better than being neglected in her death). And wouldn’t the daughter have what my generation called a love life? Wouldn’t this feature somewhere in the 12 months timespan of the action. And perhaps I should erase one of the twins? And none of these things are my darlings to be killed, which those how-to-write-fiction books tell me Virginia Woolf said is good practice.

So what should I be doing about it while I am not writing my novel? Any suggestions?


Filed under Writing