Tag Archives: Retiring Lives

First Catch Your Publisher

One of the most stressful parts of writing for publication is finding a publisher. We have had good experiences such as being invited to write a book on a particular topic; and stressful ones, like having a first draft but no publisher.

243 New Age cover

I’m delighted to say that Policy Press took on The New Age of Ageing: how society needs to change, early in the writing process. Because of the tricky process we had been through – as Eileen explains – we were careful to target a publisher who would be interested in the book. They will be publishing it in September. We are very pleased that they have just been named the Independent Academic and Professional Publisher of the Year 2016.

I asked my two co-writers, Eileen Carnell and Marianne Coleman, to say something about the process of finding a publisher.

Eileen begins with a ballad called

The long and winding road*

We’ve walked the road before

243 Retiring Lives coverAs experienced authors we set out on a new collaborative expedition. We knew we had a book that was prescient. Reviews of Retiring Lives, our work with retirees, our membership of a retiring group, all revealed a demand for a more in-depth account of the long and complex process of retiring.

We were confident, we knew how to write and knew how to submit proposals. We knew the terrain, we had the map and compass. We were excited about approaching publishers – starting with those who had published our work before. We studied their checklists and adapted every proposal. We analysed the competition, re-wrote the synopsis, submitted draft chapters and waited.

Don’t leave me standing here

We sent proposals to eight publishers. One problem is that you can only approach one at a time. We left an interval of a month between sending material and chasing up a response. ‘A wonderful idea for a book,’ they all agreed, ‘but not the sort of thing for us’.

After all these rejections, friends suggested approaching an agent. We contacted six. Same story: ‘Great idea, but not our area’.

During this 18-month period of contacting publishers and agents, we completed the first draft of the book and polished and burnished chapters.

And many times we’ve cried

To say we experienced ups and downs would be a massive understatement. But the good thing about writing collaboratively is that the highs and lows hit one or other of us at different times. After a rejection we soon felt hopeful and excited again when we approached someone new. We were convinced every time that this was going to be the one. Throughout this period of misery and elation we refined our chapters, found further research articles and redrafted.

Dead-ends and roundabouts

Then we thought of self-publishing and attended courses and workshops to help us down this avenue. While fascinating we were not convinced about this route.

The seventh agent said:

This book is so nearly finished why not send it directly to a publisher. Look for a different sort of publisher, one who had a good, changing list that appeals to the sort of readers you want to attract.

So we approached Guardian Books.

Your destination is on the left

The editor liked the book very much but said it needed EDGE! It would be a ‘trade book’, intended for general readership. So we rewrote the whole book to address the reader directly, became more informal and modified our referencing system. This was a major change for us. We submitted – with the required EDGE. But it still wasn’t edgy enough and we had to do it all over again.

Retiring with Attitude was published by Guardian Books in the summer of 2014 and was top of their best-selling chart for ten weeks.

What did we learn?

Never give up

Get a contract before doing so much writing

* with apologies to Lennon and McCartney

Marianne and Eileen in Caroline's kitchen in January 2015

Marianne and Eileen in Caroline’s kitchen in January 2015

And Marianne wrote this about the proposal for The New Age of Ageing we made to Policy Press:

Writing the proposal is the most important single step in writing a book

The time we spent talking about and polishing the proposal was time well spent. As we have moved ahead with the writing process we have checked back to the proposal many times. Looking at it now that the book is finished I think we remained true to the initial vision, although there has been quite a lot of re-arranging of chapters and their content. As one of the three authors, I have only been involved in writing non-fiction so what I have to say may not apply to fiction, but in my view, writing the proposal is the single most important step in producing a book.

When I look back on the notes that I took from our first meeting, the first word I wrote down is ‘purpose’. The notes that followed sketch out not only purpose, but also some of the key themes that have continued to dominate our thinking as we worked our way through the writing. The first draft of the proposal emerged from those notes. Although the key themes and purpose stayed largely the same, I lost count of the number of times the whole proposal was revised. At one of the early meetings we actually read the draft out loud, which turned out to be an excellent way of picking up half finished thoughts and unfortunate wording.

What does a proposal cover?

The suggestions of what to include vary a bit from one publisher to another but the main headings are pretty similar for all. In the case of Policy Press they are:

  • Title and sub-title (we will come back to this thorny issue in another post)
  • Synopsis and aims (250 words, five key factors in bullet points and five key words)
  • Background information (e.g. why did you want to write this book?)
  • Target audience
  • Competition

Trying to make our ideas fit those headings sharpened up the thinking wonderfully!

In addition publishers need some practical details including the estimated word count, an idea of the timetable to completion, names of referees and author CVs. Policy Press were also keen to have a sample chapter to send out to referees with the proposal.

It was great to get feedback after the proposal and chapters had been read by the referees and the editor. We revised the proposal in light of the comments and it was then sent on for a final decision about whether or not we got that vital contract.

While it is important to have a good, well though through proposal it doesn’t mean you have to stick to it rigidly when writing as other ideas may occur to you and through writing you may come to understand things differently. For example, we added the final chapter, which includes our vision.

Related posts

In March we posted about collaborative writing: One Book, Three Authors. This was reported on Policy Press’s blog.

In February we posted about a residential writing retreat: Writer’s Residential

The New Age of Ageing: how society needs to change is available to pre-order on the Policy Press website for £14.99 here.

In May we plan to write about getting and using feedback.

Over to you

What strategies can you recommend to find a publisher?


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Filed under Books, Learning, Publishing our book, Reading, Writing

Retiring with Attitude at the BBC

To promote our recently published book Retiring with Attitude we are visiting some interesting places. In July it was the platform at the Ways With Words Festival in Dartington, Devon. Last week we sat in a studio of the BBC Western House, Great Portland Street, London and spoke to John Toal in Belfast. I have to admit that I hadn’t dressed for the occasion, having been on a train from Devon to London when the call came to summon me.

The authors on radio

I last did a radio interview for Anderson Country on Radio 4. Not many people remember that programme. It was broadcast last century! Eileen was interviewed more recently for Woman’s Hour about our Retiring Women’s Group and an earlier book, Retiring Lives. We were scheduled to record an interview for Radio Ulster’s Saturday morning magazine programme. We are green enough to be excited by the glamour of our experience!

Waiting for the studio

124 BBC passIt was a very relaxed, very professional, very low tech and very enjoyable experience. We waited in the foyer, watching the comings and goings of lots of busy people wearing identity cards on lanyards or pinned to their chests. We had identity tags too! People went through the security barrier and others came out. One pair in green sweatshirts carried three cat baskets. What were cats doing on the radio? They weren’t cats but something even more unlikely, which I’ll reveal at the end of the post! Anything seemed possible.

124 micThe time came to cross the barrier ourselves and wait again outside a suite of small studios. We were very conscious that it was everyday life for the people working in the building. For us peering into the little studios and noticing the red lights above the doors it was like being on a film set.

In the studio

124 empty studioWe were placed in a very small studio, shown headphones and mics like huge lollipops. There was no natural light and apart from the information that a voice would join us in a few minutes from Belfast we did not know what to expect. So I began to interview Eileen, hearing my voice and hers through the headphones. ‘What made you decide to write this book?’

And suddenly the mellifluous voice of John Toal joined in. He’s gorgeous on radio! I always admire professionalism. This guy knew us only from the book, and yet he put us at ease and got us talking and laughing and saying what we wanted to say about the book within a minute. He was warm, human, confident, reassuring and funny. He picked up important points from the book and asked us good questions. He is another in the long line of people who have helped us achieve what we wanted to achieve for the book, in this case a presentation of some of its arguments and message.

What we said

Eileen on air

Eileen on air

We had rehearsed a few of the themes we wanted to emphasise, drawing on our experience at Ways with Words. Our double act helped us by providing space when the other was speaking, and to present alternative points. And our interviewer helped as I’ve said. These were our points:

  • Retirement is changing, and nowadays it is much more in your control for decisions about timing and pace.
  • You need to prepare for other people’s expectations about your retirement, what we call the could-you-just syndrome.
  • Planning to replace some of the structures of work can help with the transition.
  • Support for you in your transition is invaluable, especially talking with others.

What we learned

It was a strange experience. We never met or spoke to Amy, our contact person. Was she in London or Belfast? We never knew. Talking about our ideas when we are already pushing forward with our next book was strange. But it was also rather wonderful, thinking that good people of Northern Ireland may be encouraged to think about their retirement in good ways as a result of our brief conversation.

Me on air

Me on air

And what was in the cat baskets? Well, there were three chickens, one of them a cockerel, and the green uniform was Hackney City Farm’s. And something else we never found out was what they were recording. Early morning wake-up?

A link

For a short while you can follow this link to hear the interview. It was the first item on the show.


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Filed under Books, Publishing our book, Writing