…in one year and five lessons.
Time for an update on my post ‘Zero to Writer’ in eleven lessons.
This time last year I was participating in the Hachette Australia Manuscript Development Program at the Queensland Writers Centre. There I met my publisher who astonished me with her enthusiasm for my writing in Songs of All Poets. Her structural edit notes were specific and thorough, and the elusive goal of publication appeared within reach. We also participated in a number of sessions designed to get us thinking on the business of being a writer. I wrote about how these sessions impacted how I saw my writing life, as something to be managed and sustained, in this blog post. This lesson was made explicit when my publisher asked what else I was working on. I’d been anticipating this question (thanks Charlotte!) and the week before the program I began sketching out characters and a loose plot for a novel set in WA in the Depression. My publisher asked for chapters as soon as possible. Should I focus on writing this new book instead of the structural edit for Songs of All Poets? I asked. Yes. And there was the lesson that set into effect the chain of miraculous events that have occurred over the past year. ‘Getting published’ is about knowing when to shelve a project and focus on the next one, and always having a next one to move onto. Lesson One: Know when to hold them, know when to fold them.
Just around the corner from the Hachette Manuscript Development Program was NaNoWriMo. Perfect timing to get some words on the new novel under my belt. But 50,000 words? My publisher wanted early chapters and I’d agreed on a deadline of Christmas for the first draft. Madness. Lesson 1.5 – make the most of an opportunity while it’s there, but also try to be kind on yourself. I managed 46,000 words in the end, which was still pretty amazing, and more than half of my new novel. I’d received the excellent advice to plan each chapter in note form first. And it worked! Some days during November I managed 4,500 words. Lesson Two: Plan a bit, and set challenges to quickly meet writing goals.
I did it! First draft by 28 December. While I waited to hear back from the publisher on manuscript number one, I moved on to the other work of being a writer–building an author platform. I began blogging book reviews. Suddenly my daily visitors grew from 0.5 to 10. Not only this, but authors–actual real-life authors–tweeted me thanks for their reviews. I started to attend writing events, such as book launches and masterclasses, to fill my twitter feed with writerly stuff. Authors in the wild! Because of my nascent social media connections with the authors, I felt more confident in approaching them. They were real people!! They had similar fears, worries, and frustrations, about their writing as I do. Lesson Three: Social media networks are important for building an author platform, but real connections are more supportive of the human aspects of being a writer.
Last year I entered my manuscript in the Bath Novel Award and got nowhere. But this year I’d had a confidence boost from the Hachette program and worked on my draft again. I’d rewritten my second manuscript as well, following a research trip in February. It wasn’t ready to send to my publisher yet, still many changes to go, but there was no harm in sending off the first 5000 words to the Bath Novel Award either. I didn’t expect it to get anywhere–there had been about 700 entries last year. And I still had a major structural change to make, removing a central character and adding a family. Holy crap! Both manuscripts were longlisted. Because I hadn’t been working on the rewrite, I only had a few days to strip the character out of the second manuscript. If I’d had more faith in it, I might have started sooner and done a better job. Last year I wrote that doing the work and having discipline is more important than self-belief. Lesson Four: Take leaps of faith and trust. It’s the only way to take work further than expected. Work never ends, but magic is random.
On the back of my Bath Novel Award longlisting, I sent the second manuscript off to the publisher. I would have sat on it a little longer otherwise. Still, there were several months before I heard anything. Then, out-of-the-blue one Sunday morning, an email: What’s my vision for the jacket design? Time suddenly telescoped and the situation moved faster than I could process. Fits and spurts. The offer came a month or so later. Then another couple of months negotiating the contract. And now I have signed with Hachette Australia to publish my debut novel in February 2018. Reaching my goal of publication reinforced Lesson 1: if I focus on the outcome, the publication of a single book, then I might feel stuck in waiting limbo. Instead, I’ve been writing my next one, submitting short stories to competitions and writing grants proposals. Lesson Five: Being an author is constant work. Keep writing and practise non-attachment to specific outcomes.
You have to be zen-like with the alternative relativity of time in the publishing industry.