I have blogged before (in December 2019 and in August 2020) about my experience of writing, and my commitment to trying to produce fiction, in addition to writing about education. In the past eighteen months I have finished three novels, and I am proud of what I have achieved. I read a great deal of fiction, and always wondered whether I was capable of completing a novel myself – something I felt was well-written, thoughtfully structured and worth reading. I now know that this is something I am able to do, and I have greatly enjoyed the process.
‘The Dresser’ started off as a short story (10,000 words), which I then expanded to a novella (33,000 words) and then to a short novel (55,000 words). It tells the story of three generations of a village community between 1900 and 2020, bound together over time by alliances, secrets and the rhythms of the village year, such as harvest and flood. It is about family, friendship, love and betrayal.
‘#OneWord’ is the story of four women, now aged forty, who have been friends since they were 11. It charts their lives over a year, their challenges and triumphs and, crucially, the strength of the relationships which bind them. The #OneWord of the title refers to the fact that when they meet for lunch every New Year’s Eve, they each choose one word which they commit to making a focus in their lives throughout the year ahead. The book shows how the year pans out for each of the women, and the resonance of the words they have chosen.
‘The Button Box’ focusses on three generations of women – grandmother, mother and daughter – over the life span of the daughter, from her birth in the 1950s, through the decades to the present day. It’s about connection, about family (especially the mother/daughter dynamic) and love. It’s told in the first person and is the narrative of the daughter looking back on her life. Her collection of buttons – a different one added to the box on each of her birthdays – charts the map of her life.
The books are different from each other in a number of ways, but they all focus on relationships, on growth, on humanity and human frailty. They are the kind of books I imagine Book Club groups might enjoy reading and discussing. They aren’t imitative of other books or other writers. I hope they’re realistic but also in some ways affirming. They are the kind of novels I like to read.
In January of this year, while I was still working on the third one, I decided to see if a publisher might be interested in either of the first two. I contacted a local independent publisher and was thrilled when she, and her seven ‘beta readers’, read and gave me constructive feedback on both ‘The Dresser’ and ‘#OneWord’. The response to ‘The Dresser’ was especially enthusiastic. The publisher told me that, while she would be delighted to publish it, she felt it ‘deserved’ a larger publisher with a higher profile and a wider reach. The email she sent me after our meeting confirmed how positively she felt about the book:
“I can’t tell you how much I love ‘The Dresser’. I’m not sure I conveyed accurately the range of emotions the book took me through. You draw your characters extremely well and I don’t think that skill can be taught. Your characters will stay with me for a long time.
With ‘The Dresser’ in mind, I would approach the following publishers: Simon and Schuster, Bloomsbury, Faber Independent Alliance and Harper Collins. It’s important to include in your covering letter not only your publishing history, but the size of your Twitter following.”
At this publisher’s suggestion I bought ‘The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook 2021′, and found that the four publishers she mentioned all now say that they will definitely not accept any unsolicited submissions, and ask that any writers who wish to bring work to their attention should engage an agent who may make contact on their behalf. As a result, I am now trying to find an agent who would be interested in representing me. I am working my way through ‘The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook’ and the websites of literary agencies.
If anyone reading this blog has any suggestions, useful contacts, or specific advice, do, please, get in touch with me. If I don’t succeed in finding an agent/publisher who is prepared to represent/invest in me and my writing by the end of December, I will consider self-publishing in the New Year. I’m not interested in fame and fortune. I just want to get the books out there so that people can read them (and, ideally, enjoy them and recommend them to others). Because they are all relatively short novels (around 55,000 words each), I think they would be particularly suitable for Book Club discussion. I’m considering self-publishing all three within one e-volume, badged ‘Three short novels for Book Clubs’, and including suggested discussion questions at the end of each, for those who would find such questions helpful.
What do you think?
Many thanks for reading this.
If you’d like to listen to a 30 minute podcast in which I talk about writing (education books and fiction), I recorded this, ‘The Next Chapter’, for ‘The Independent Teacher’ with Susan Pallister.
Photo montage: John Berry
One thought on “Writing III – where next?”
So, this was August of 2021, and I’m now writing an update at the beginning of June 2022. In the second half of 2021 I worked really hard to try to find an agent or a publisher who would be interested in promoting my three short novels. I sent out emails in batches at monthly intervals, and by November 2021 I had approached 50 different literary agents. And I had no success whatsoever.
Generally agents just want a synopsis and the opening chapters. I focussed on ‘The Dresser’, as the response of the local publisher (and her beta readers) to this novel had been so positive. I got nowhere at all. Sometimes I received a ‘thanks but it’s not for us’ email. Often I received no response at all – and many agents say ‘If you hear nothing from us, assume it’s a no’. It was so dispiriting! I advise educators often about how to navigate disappointment and failure. I felt I was going through a masterclass in this! Every time I sent off a batch of emails (in every case submitting exactly what the individual agent asked for – and they often ask for different things, so it took me some time) I felt hopeful. After every set of rejections, or stony silence, I felt deflated.
So 50 was a magic number, and the end of 2021 was a key point in the journey. I decided I would self-publish as an e-book in the spring of 2022 – as I was thinking back in August, all three in one volume. I also found I could produce a paperback through Kindle Publishing Direct, and as many of those I know don’t use Kindles or iPads to read fiction, this seemed like a good idea. And now the e-book and the paperback are available to buy, so I am writing a new blog post to bring the story up to date. Thank you for reading this.