Note: this is the story of how I got published. If you would like to find out how YOU can get published, I invite you to visit the website I've written for writers: www.fiction-writers-mentor.com.
My Publication Journey
As you may have read in the biography bit, it was only a few years ago that I decided to write a novel. I had been writing one way or another all my life, but this was the big dream. It was scary. Actually, that’s an understatement. It was beyond terrifying. What if it didn’t work? How could I justify the huge commitment of time? What if it was no good? All these thoughts – and a million more – went swirling around in my head.
Truly, there’s no sensible reason to write a novel. It demands sacrifice of time, time spent in solitude (a recurring theme of authors' stories is that the first thing to be sacrificed to make time is TV, the second is a social life). The chances of being published are minimal. Only about 2% of all manuscripts submitted ever see the light of day. Even those which are published rarely make their authors rich. Or even provide their authors with a living wage.
After all this time (years usually, given that it’s the rare person who can take large blocks of time to write their first novel, most people have to squeeze the time out of the rest of their lives) writing and editing it, it gets worse! You then have to start sending it away to agents and publishers, all the time knowing you’re setting yourself up (given the statistics) for almost-certain rejection. And this is your baby ! A rejection really hurts, you know that already. Never mind a whole collection of rejections.
So, the sensible thing would definitely be to forget about it. Except that you can’t. It’s an itch that won’t go away. It is, perhaps, a dream.
There’s something very scary about pursuing dreams. While you’re still at the stage of talking and thinking about them, it’s all still to play for. You can’t fail. Of course, you can’t succeed either, but at least you can’t fail.
Once you actually commit to going for it, you’re risking failure. What if you don’t have what it takes? What if you spend all this time writing this novel – and nobody wants it?
And also … you’re risking success. I suspect that most of us don’t realise, don’t acknowledge, just how much fear of success drives us as much as fear of failure. Success inevitably means change and change is invariably stressful. What if everybody thinks you’re getting above yourself? And how about the ways in which your life will change? I remember hearing Marion Keyes being interviewed and she was talking about the huge amount of travel needed to promote her novels. And I remember thinking: “I can’t do that! I have a young child.” This might sound silly … there’s such a long road before any aspiring novelist has to worry about her travel commitments … but it’s amazing how much such worries can cause you to sabotage yourself.
So … you’ll see that there was a lot of resistance going on.
If I had had EFT then, these issues would have been a doddle to sort out. As it was, I had to work them out by myself. And here’s what I came up with.
I realised something that’s been hugely important in my life since, something I wish I could share with everybody. And this is: the only failure is not trying. From this perspective, everything you try is either a success or a learning experience.
Jack Canfield, one of the co-authors of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series of books is quoted as saying that becoming a millionaire is a worthwhile aim, not for the sake of the million dollars … but because of the person you have to become in order to make a million dollars.
I believe that the same thing applies to writing a novel. Note that so far we haven’t even talked about getting the novel published. Of course that’s a huge part of the process, we’re not ignoring that. But the statistics speak for themselves, only a tiny proportion of novels ever get published. So, sure, if a publishing contract is the only reason to write a novel then there’s a strong argument not to even start, because the odds are so much against you.<
So what I’m proposing is that people who have a dream to write a novel, who have this itch, this urge, could think of it like this: writing a novel is worth doing because of the person you become by writing a novel.
I was always a great one for starting things, not so great at finishing them. But once I finished my first novel, I became a person who finished things! And I was – am – so proud of that. Regardless of what happened next … I had finished a novel. That was a success all by itself. I had beaten boredom, doubt, laziness, lack of confidence, fear of failure, fear of success – I had triumphed over them all and here was the proof: a finished manuscript.
And that was the success all by itself. Regardless of what happened next, that was a success, an achievement, which I could savour for the rest of my life. True, it was an achievement I couldn’t really share with anybody. What was I going to say? “Hey, I’ve completed a novel.” So what, really. But I knew. And really, if you’re doing this stuff for the approval of others, maybe you should pick something with a greater chance of success as the world views it.
Then I had to send the manuscript off, despite my fear of rejection. And by doing so I had now become a woman strong enough to do things despite her fear. Again, reward enough. And when I did get rejections, I had two choices: I could give up. Or I could send it out again. And by picking myself up and getting myself back down to that post office, I had now become a woman who didn’t give up. Who had the courage of her convictions and the determination to keep going.
I’ve shared all this with you for two reasons. One, you might just be interested, but the main reason is I’m guessing that if you’re reading this you’re interested in perhaps writing a novel and getting it published yourself. So I’m writing this to offer you my humble opinion on why you could decide to go for it anyway, but view it as a win-win-win situation – i.e. every step is a success by itself, to be relished and cherished.
I always remind myself of how many now-famous authors kept going despite tons of rejections. JK Rowling had 18 rejections. I can’t remember how many Stephen King had, but it was lots and lots. The Chicken Soup for the Soul guys mentioned above got 140 rejections! One hundred and forty! Persistence really does pay off.
Of course, you may exhaust every possible publisher and agent and still not ‘succeed’. Sometimes people just don’t. Maybe they’re just not good enough. Maybe the world just isn’t ready for their work. But at least they can go to their grave knowing that they tried their hardest. They never have to think, ‘what if?’ I think there’s a kind of peace in that.
My story has a very happy ending. The obvious publisher for contemporary women’s fiction in Ireland is Poolbeg, so I logged onto their website to get their submission requirements. When I did so I realised they were running a ‘Write a Bestseller’ competition in conjunction with RTE’s Open House. I entered this and well, I won it.
I heard that I won the competition on Thursday 20th March 2003. The day hadn’t started too well as I witnessed my beloved dog Minnie run straight out onto the road (which she normally never does) after a stray dog which had dared come into her garden – and be hit head on by a car. To this day I have no idea how she got away so lightly but she only had a small cut on her leg.
I headed off with my son Tadhg and his friend to their drama classes, and was waiting in the car outside when the call came on my mobile phone. Excited? I literally couldn’t keep still – I had to get out of the car and I was bouncing around beside it, dimly aware of people crossing the car park moving away, going the long way around in order to keep their distance from me! It was a huge effort not to burst into the drama class and announce my news! I rang Peter and other friends and shared the good news.
When Tadhg and his friend came out of the class, I told them the news. To say they were underwhelmed would be an understatement. “Oh,” said Tadhg.
When I got home we realised that Minnie-the-dog was more badly injured than we had originally thought, so we headed off to the vet. The cut needed stitches, but wasn’t terribly serious, so I wasn’t too worried about her. Therefore I could concentrate on my excitement. As I sat in the vet’s waiting room it took all my will-power not to just announce to everybody, “I’m going to have my novel published! I just heard! I won a competition!” They might have wondered what I was doing with this huge grin on my face, though, which I couldn’t prevent. Over the next few days I literally had a pain in my face from smiling all the time!
That night, and this is why I remember the date, the Iraq war began. So it was a day of hugely mixed emotion.
The next day we headed off, as previously planned, to the annual La Leche League (breastfeeding support) conference. And that evening I was sitting in the bar, with all my friends and acquaintances coming up to congratulate me – the news had got around. And it was totally surreal – I was celebrating there with friends – and on all the TVs in the bar the first wave of the Iraq war was being beamed into the room. It was Friday 21st March 2003, and it was the first night of Shock and Awe, and as I sat there, still feeling my own joy, I couldn’t be unaware of what a tragedy this night was for the citizens of Baghdad.
After the initial burst of excitement it was a case of (to quote the late great Douglas Adams): suddenly nothing happened. Suddenly nothing continued to happen. It usually takes the best part of a year to get a manuscript from acceptance to being a book on a shelf. Looking Good was produced (at huge efforts by the team in Poolbeg) in less than six months, but still that seemed long to me.
But as September grew nearer the excitement began. First of all there was the huge excitement of seeing the cover. It was nearly like seeing your baby for the first time, it was that amazing. Then Poolbeg’s catalogue featuring my novel! With the fact that it was the Write a Bestseller winner emblazoned everywhere! (I think there were other books featured in the catalogue also, but I couldn’t be sure!)
And then there was the great day that I got to hold the actual book in my hands for the first time. The excitement when the courier van pulled up outside the house! And there it was: the real, honest-to-God version of Looking Good. And it really was – looking good, I mean. Poolbeg did a wonderful job on the cover, the book looked amazing, as you can see:
It got better – Easons liked Looking Good to the extent that they chose it as their Irish book of the month for September! So it was in all the window displays! My book! Byrne’s Carlow Bookshop did a big push for me too, seeing as I was their local author. Both our local newspapers featured me. And one of the local photographers mentioned me to the local journalist for RTE’s Nationwide. And one day the presenter of Nationwide said he was coming to Carlow to do his links, and were there any local stories waiting to be told, and so they thought of me.
This was all hugely exciting – and more importantly, it was great publicity. There are a lot of books out there, all competing for attention. And as a first time author your name doesn’t exactly leap off the shelves into people’s awareness. So I was very, very lucky to have all this.
Looking Good got as high as No. 7 in the best-seller list, for two weeks in a row! Heady stuff!
So, needless to say, it was all worth it. But I repeat, it would still have been worth it even if I hadn't succeeded in getting published. I grew so much as a person from this experience, so matter how it ended I wouldn't have missed it. But still ... it's great/wonderful/fabulous/incredible being published!!'