On Tuesday this week, I announced the thrilling news that I’d secured a 9-book publishing deal with Boldwood. I’m so excited about this but it wasn’t that long ago when I could have given up…
Warning: long post coming up but I wanted to share it for any writers who might be struggling, to show that it is worth waiting.
Towards the end of 2018 and moving into the start of 2019, I have to admit that I was feeling pretty low about my writing. For ‘pretty low’, read ‘big, fat failure’. Serious thoughts of giving up on this writing malarkey swirled around my mind frequently and I even hit the point where I struggled to find the motivation to put fingers to keyboard. Not good.
What happened? I had rejections. But I’d had rejections before and had never felt like this so what had changed?
If I look back to 2013 when I sent my debut novel, Searching for Steven, out into the world with the objective of making friends with publishers and agents, I didn’t have any major expectations. I hoped, of course, that I would secure a publishing deal but I really didn’t have a clue whether Steven was good enough or not. He was my first book-baby and I was very proud of him, I’d had some superb feedback from beta readers and a couple of really positive critiques from the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme, but this was publishers and agents. Would they feel the same?
Quite a lot of them didn’t. Between September 2013 and June 2014, 12 agencies and 11 publishers said no. Actually, not all of them even took the time to say that. I’d expected to be hurt by the rejections but, instead, I viewed it as a process. Rejection? Ok, fine, knock them off the list. Who’s next?
And then I got bored.
It was taking so long to hear back and I had a book sat there ready for release with a sequel nearly written and a third in the pipeline. Why not get them out there myself? I was waiting to hear from three more publishers and, if they all said no, I was going to indie publish. Guess what? Two of them said yes! It would appear that publishing deals are like men or buses…
Having two publishing offers on the table was a very happy dilemma. I could have gone for an eBook-only deal with an established USA-based publisher or with a new UK-based publisher producing eBooks and paperbacks. Oh my goodness! A paperback? What author doesn’t long to hold their book-baby in their arms and sniff it? So I chose the UK-based one.
My publisher had great plans and lots of contacts in the publishing world. They were going to do well, weren’t they? Sadly, no. Between May 2015 and August 2016, a prequel novella was released through them, followed by the trilogy. Steven’s launch came with enthusiasm, passion and marketing support. The others were left to fend for themselves. Things clearly weren’t going well for my publisher and, after an email exchange following Daran’s release, the owner admitted that it hadn’t worked out and they would ultimately cease trading. I secured my rights back and, across late 2016 and early 2017, my husband designed new covers and we re-released them.
Being an indie author brought many positives, mainly around decision-making, but it also brought many negatives. My biggest challenge was that writing wasn’t – and still isn’t – my main job. I still have a day job and writing has always had to fit around that. To be a successful indie author, I needed to spend a lot more time promoting my work and that simply wasn’t time I had; or at least it wasn’t if I wanted to work on new material too.
Over the next couple of years, sales of the series and a new release, Bear With Me, trickled along but I had many days of zero-sales which are very disheartening. In Christmas 2017, I released two Christmas books and was quite astonished at how well they sold. I now have four Christmas books (although one of them is a sequel to Raving About Rhys) and, despite being mid-June as I write this, they’re still selling. It seems Christmas is popular all year round!
When I say my Christmas books were selling well, we’re not talking huge numbers. We’re not talking the sort of income that could match my day job and allow me to write full-time. We’re not talking impressive chart positions. When I started this journey, I’d have been happy for any sales, but now I wanted more and I realised that the only way I was going to be able to find a wider readership was to secure a publishing deal again. The thing was, I’d already been burnt. Could I risk lightning striking twice?
At the RNA’s July conference last year, I pitched my work-in-progress, Wish I Could Tell You Goodbye, to four publishers. All were very enthusiastic and wanted to see the full MS when it was ready, but there was a mixed opinion as to where they saw the book going. Two of them wanted me to move down a more cosy romcom route with it and the other two wanted me to have a more emotionally-driven story which was what I’d intended. One of the publishers who wanted cosy asked me to send her one of my finished books so she could get a feel for my world and my writing. It wasn’t for them. I decided not to submit to the other publisher who also wanted cosy. This wasn’t a difficult decision because the two who wanted emotional were so enthusiastic, one of them appearing absolutely convinced it would be a fit. It wasn’t. They both rejected the final MS. And I didn’t take that news well.
When Steven received his rejections a few years back, I never shed a tear, but I cried bucket-loads each time Wish I Could Tell You Goodbye was rejected. Why? I think it’s because it felt more personal this time. When I tried to secure a publishing deal for Steven, I honestly didn’t know if he was good enough. With Wish I Could Tell You Goodbye, I knew I had a great story. My beta reader feedback was that it was the best thing I’d ever written and that was very much at the forefront of my mind. If Wish I Could Tell You Goodbye was my best work and these publishers didn’t think it was good enough, where did that leave me? Had I been kidding myself for all this time that I could actually write?
Having a support group around you is so key as an author: writing friends who understand the highs and lows as well as friends and family who aren’t connected at all and can be completely objective. My wonderful writing friend, Sharon Booth and my writing family, The Write Romantics, were there for me to encourage me to keep going. Outside of writing, my husband, Mark, and my mum have been so supportive too. They believed in me and I just needed to get that self-belief back.
Realistically, I was never really going to give up because I have stories to tell and I can’t not write them. It’s part of me. It’s who I am. So maybe that’s another reason why rejections were harder. When I wrote Searching for Steven, it was simply something I fancied having a go at. I had no thoughts of ever publishing him. I wasn’t even sure if I’d ever even finish him. Wish I Could Tell You Goodbye was my tenth book, though, and I’d very much defined myself as a writer several books back. It felt like the publishers weren’t rejecting the book; they were rejecting me.
Objectively looking at it, there were so many positives in their comments. Every single rejection – and I received five in total for this MS and 3 rejections from the same group of publishers for one of my back-catalogue books – talked about how good my writing was, how warm my voice was, and how much they loved the setting. It’s just that the book wasn’t for them. I needed to hang onto that positive feedback and accept that the story might not speak to every editor who read it. But it would speak to someone…
I’ve always been a great believer in things happening for a reason. Those rejections, although hard, were because the right publisher for me hadn’t opened for business yet.
In January this year, I spotted an advert on Facebook for a new publisher called Boldwood who’d be open for submissions on 1st February. I’d already been stung by joining a brand new publisher but I checked out Boldwood’s website anyway, just in case. Words and phrases like “publishing reimagined” and “developing authors’ careers” and “working in partnership” leapt out at me. The credentials of the team were impressive too. They’d had proven success elsewhere; something my previous publisher had lacked.
I sat up till midnight so that I could be the first to submit to Boldwood as soon as 1st February arrived. Then I panicked later in the day when I saw a Twitter announcement from them saying they were now open for submissions. What if my midnight submission hadn’t made it because their inbox wasn’t open for business? So I submitted again.
On Friday 15thMarch, I received the email I had longed to receive: Many thanks for submitting to us – I really enjoyed Wish I Could Tell You Goodbye. What a gorgeous read! … Are you free next week at all for a phone call?
Eek! Of course I was. We scheduled a phone call for the following Wednesday so I had a nerve-wracking few days. Surely it had to be a publishing deal if they wanted to speak to me, but what would it look like?
I never in my wildest dreams imagined the offer I received: a 5-book publishing deal but they were interested in my back catalogue too so would come back with a proposal on that. A few days later, I had the full 9-book publishing deal, with potential plans to take on the whole back catalogue depending on how things went. Oh. My. God!
So, to any writers out there who are struggling with rejections, hang on in there. Things happen for a reason and perhaps that publisher wasn’t right for you. Perhaps no publisher is right and the indie route is for you? Perhaps a hybrid approach? An agent? There are so many options available to writers these days that it might take a while to find what’s best for you and it might take several false starts, but keep believing in yourself and your writing.
Wish I Could Tell You Goodbye will be released on Tuesday 3rd September under a brand new title: The Secret to Happiness. I’m honoured to be part of the team of authors at Boldwood and look forward to developing my career with them as they continue to reimagine publishing. I have a feeling it’s going to be a wonderful partnership.
What’s that saying? The best things come to those who waited. Well, I waited, and good things came!
There’s no cover image finalised just yet, but you can pre-order The Secret to Happiness on eBook here.