Tag Archives: writing collaboratively

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

Writing Together (part 2) – What have we learned?

Half my voice is you.

Some notes can only be reached

Singing together.

I’m delighted to present the second part of the conversation about writing collaboratively with my co-writer, Eileen. You can find the first part here.

Caroline. We’ve been writing together for eighteen years now. How would you say we have developed our ways of working together?

Eileen. Over time and through different ways of experimenting, a bit of trial and error really, so that now we write better together than we do on our own – like that haiku you gave me says.

C. So what have we learned?

E. Writing is still hard because we want to get better and better. Now I’m more aware of things than I was at the beginning – like economy of writing, ordering and making points, being more upfront. I’ve been learning those things from writing with you.

C. I think I’ve come to trust the process more, seeing how first off one writes to clarify ideas and then writes to be read and that we have developed ways of doing this together in which I trust. And we’ve consciously reviewed and reflected on our processes from time to time. Including when we decided to write for this blog!

E. When we finished our first draft of that last book we were asked to write it with more edge. We rewrote the whole book (C: 12 chapters!) and it became much better because it had to be more precise.

C. I think we had some good conversations about how we did it, like having a good hook, or being colloquial but avoiding clichés, and putting the important things up front.

E. It was a really good exercise. And it’s interesting because I can’t write like that at the beginning and have to go through the same stages again. There are no shortcuts.

C. I think it’s always lengthy, but at least we can now say to each other this bit of writing is at this stage, or needs editing or whatever.

E. That’s a really good point.

C. I know!

E. One thing I think is different about our individual approaches is that you can go further with that on your own. I spew it all out and need some thoughts from you before I can continue, whereas I think you give me more thoughtful pieces on your own. Perhaps I’m just lazy.

C. You’re just lazy.

E. Seriously, I think it’s about the essence of collaborative writing – I want to check with you that this is the sort of thing we really want to say, rather than steaming ahead on my own and just writing my bit.

C. Perhaps to some extent we have internalised each other’s writerly voices?

E. When we’ve extended the collaboration to include our reader there were several points she made and I did hear her voice, especially about the opening of the chapters not matching the content.

Writing tog

C. So what would you advise people who want to write together, based on our experiences?

E. It’s difficult to start off in a new collaborative writing relationship and what would be helpful would be to talk about, and make explicit, how they see that process happening and what approach they would want to adopt as they go forward.

C. We’ve both had experience of failing to write collaboratively with very brilliant writers. So would we agree that if it doesn’t feel good don’t do it?

E. Yeah! They need to be open all the way through and make clear the processes and feelings.

C. It probably helps that we are good friends then, although of course the friendship has also developed as we have written.

E. I don’t think its necessary to be good friends, although nice, (C: thank you) but I could imagine writing professionally with people. It’s talking openly – that’s the important thing.

C. What can go wrong then?

E. That someone isn’t prepared to adapt. So you need to listen, be flexible, be prepared to change things, see the writing as shared and not your own, not holding onto it, otherwise it’s just joined up pieces of writing.


Caroline and Eileen had this conversation, then edited it together.

For Christmas 2012, Caroline commissioned David Varela to write the haiku quoted at the top of the piece as a present for Eileen.

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