Friday, 4 February 2011

How publishing doesn't really work...

…assuming that ‘those in the know’ have deemed you “good enough”, i.e. offered you representation, even carting your “warm, witty, wonderful usp”, written-in-blood books off to Frankfurt. 

What do you do when you’ve written for years, through said blood, sweat and tears, taken on board every criticism, every piece of well-meant advice, hired professional editors (at NO small cost), gone along with ideas offered by agents and written whole books—WHOLE BOOKS—just they way they wanted them written—and they don’t sell, again?  You blink is what you do, like a rabbit in the headlights, stunned, shocked, exhausted, heartbroken.  You can’t quite believe the door to publication that miraculously swung open, offering sad little you access, has slammed hard-shut in your face, not again. 

You pick yourself up though.  That’s what writers do.  You’ve given too much of yourself, juggled home, job and family, worked too hard through life’s tragedies, to just…give up.  It is not an option.  Not when you’ve come so close.

It’s hard out there.  This we know.  Writers read the Bookseller, too.  It’s hard for agents, bombarded with unsolicited manuscripts, wading through slush-piles, trying to find that all-elusive usp (unique selling point—or expletive, depending on viewpoint).  It’s no picnic for publishers in the current climate.  But it is hardest of all on writers.  Simply because to justify the blood (rep), sweat and tears, the many, many wasted years, the almost vicious determination with which we try to guard our precious writing space (read time.  Actual writing space we also cannot justify), we need to earn money.  Without it, writing is not justifiable.  It remains a hobby.  How does one justify a hobby that necessarily takes over one’s life?  A hobby that becomes a burning desire to succeed, because you have been told by “those in the know” that you are good enough.  And you have to believe it, because how could you write if you didn’t?

I don’t feel the reputable agents I’ve had represent me—three in all—did anything deliberately against my interests.  I believe one…or two…made mistakes, but I also believe that, in the interest of all parties, they did their best for me. 

It didn’t work.  I was left floundering…each time sinking a little lower…back at square one.

As stated, however, I wasn’t about to give up.  My eyes and ears open, I looked for other chances.  Perhaps other approaches to the one dictated by protocol: slush-pile, query letter, cv, synopsis, first three chapters, then pray, followed the rejection letter.  The wasted trips to London, along with days and then another year or two of my life, I could do without, too. 

Then came the invitation to join the Brit Writers' Awards Publishing Programme.  I went for it, not out of desperation—although reading the above you would be forgiven for thinking so, but because I believe I am good enough.  Because I believe that the ethos of the Brit Writers’ Awards, whose ambition is for “this British-born initiative to champion writing around the world and create an important shift in the way people of all ages and backgrounds view creative writing”, to be not only a good, but necessary, one. 

And so, after a long and painful journey, I am now firmly on board with the Brit Writers’ Awards and I couldn’t be more thrilled. 

For information, the first group meeting, at the Park Lane Hilton in London, was extremely well organised and truly inspirational.  Imran Akram is a powerhouse of ideas.  He clearly knows his subject well and is determined to help each person identify their market, tailor their work accordingly, if necessary, and move them forward to publication.

I came away from my first follow-up meeting quite literally buzzing.  The aim of the Brit Writers’ Awards seems clear to me: to make writers as good as they can be and to give writers from all backgrounds a voice.  

After a further intensive one-to-one meeting, along with available access by text, telephone or email, should I need it, I have now completed simple revisions based on what I can only call the vision of Imran Akram and I am very excited by the result.

In my humble opinion, the Brit Writers’ Awards Unpublished should be applauded for encouraging and offering expert help to writers—from all areas—achieve their goal.  Never, ever, has my writing time been better spent.

Please do check back for a rundown of tasks undertaken—and achieved—in readiness for our next BWA meeting.



  1. I could not agree more with you Leanne! It's an inspirational programme.

  2. Thank you Leanne for spelling out in such detail the above info. I hope it reaches a large audience.

  3. Thank you Claire and Eiry. I will be posting a link up on various forums, inviting people to take a look. It will be interesting to see what kind of feedback we get.

  4. Hello Leanne,
    Thank you for blogging about this. I'll be following your journey with interest.
    Best wishes,
    Claire King

  5. This iis a most informative and interesting article, Leanne. I think a lot of British aspiring authors (published and unpublished) are 'floundering' at the moment.

    The Brit Writers Awards seems to offer a much needed lifeline!

  6. Hi Claire.

    Thank you for posting. Ditto yours! Everyone is working very hard at the moment—particularly the Britwriters—with an impending group meeting on Friday. I’ll update further as I find. I must say I’ve been around the block…sigh…a few times and I am not disillusioned or concerned in any way. All very positive.

  7. Hi Hywela Lyn,

    That is so, so true. I have it from the horses’ (plural) mouths. And published authors get published because they are good enough. And then—some—get dropped. Are they suddenly not good enough? Are all those that get selected for representation and then dropped ‘not good enough’? I don’t think so. Do we really want libraries closed and creative writing to be discouraged?

  8. Hello, uh, Leanne? Your Texas friend here, still sorting out your identity.I always knew you were an excellent writer, clever, witty, funny,sometimes sprinkled with a little angst. So, I congratulate you and wish the best and hear this--you must keep in touch with your Book Spa Friends. We do not give up our friends easily--so keep us posted on your posts. That's one way we support each other. Big ol' hugs! Celia

  9. Will do, Celia! We need all the friends we can get in this business. Talking of support, that’s what the Brit Writers’ Awards aims to do: support writers. In line with their vision: “to champion writing around the world and create an important shift in the way people of all ages and backgrounds view creative writing”, the Britwriters have created an international writing awards event that accepts entries from people of all backgrounds and all ages. Their first ever competition attracted over 21,000 entries from Brits in 92 different countries. Submissions for 2011 are now open. £10,000 for the overall winner. Spread the word!

    Lovely to hear from you. Thank you.

  10. I champion your well-written words Leanne.

    Are we a desperate group on the BWA publishing programme? ABSOLUTELY NOT! Are we inspired? ABSOLUTELY!
    This is a new, forward-thinking initiative and we feel privileged to be involved.
    For the record, the fact that I turned down a publication deal that was not the right one for me demonstrates that I don't feel desperate to be published at all costs. Rather, I am being mentored towards publication using a new model encorporating elements that I would have struggled to deal with on my own. I don't feel pressured to comply with formulaic demands and that, to me, is priceless.

    The camaraderie and group support also come for free. You cannot put a price on a strengthened self-belief, as in my case, and a faith in our concepts.

  11. Well said that girl! We go from strength to strength. No baby steps here, m’dears. We move forward in leaps and bounds. Loving it. LOVING IT.

  12. Just noticed your post Claire. It was a pleasure to have been treated with respect previously on your blog and not to have been deemed desperate, in need of a nanny and/or a brain. Joining the BWA publishing programme was one of my best decisions and the mentoring and direction is superb.

  13. Leanne, great blogging! You summarise our journey so well. And I'm with Eiry re publication - it's not at any cost, or by compromising on our work and beliefs. I love the fact that we 15 are so diverse, and I'm loving the support and creativity. especially like my 'accolade'. onwards, dear girl!

  14. OK. Time to jump start said remnants of brain from jocular mode:

    I don't wish to hijack Leanne's site to outline my thoughts about writing for small big people, but I'm sure she'll forgive me this one post until I have a blog of my own. I'm gradually building a relationship with social networking, but I have a way to go.

    The fact is that I champion lyricism, rhythm and rhyme for children passionately and fully understand the financial constraints that lead to such reluctance by editors, agents and publishers to consider manuscripts submitted in this particular format. I might have chosen to capitulate and go with the flow, so to speak, but going with the flow, to me, means being true to the flow of the language and true to myself.

    What I have on offer is a concept, which needs time and patience to decipher. This has been a gamble that I chose to take whilst considering slush pile issues and in-house pressures, especially within the current economic climate.

    The fact that I chose to work in collaboration with an illustrator/animator is also something that I fully realised would go against me, but I don't place being published at all costs at the top of my agenda. My illustrator is more than the title suggests. He is a collaborator in every sense of the word. Working with him has brought out new ideas which has broadened the scope and appeal of my concept for young readers. Also, his experience and skill might attract the attention of those interested in material suitable for animation.

    However, my desire, above all is to champion literacy standards in schools, in the home and in libraries. A Canadian publisher offered me a contract, which was thrilling. However, they use templated software for illustrations and this would have placed constraints on those already complete, which was unfortunate. The editor fully supported my decision and championed me for sharing their vision in terms of literary standards. In their case, they aim to improve such standards among the Hispanic group of young readers. They were happy to send me edits for this very purpose free of charge even though I declined their offer, and they were superb. There are no full alternate page illustrations because the transition level does not call for them. What I have are character presentation images and a mystical map, thus allowing an interested publisher to call for preferred options if needs be. This also provides material for online resources, tools for learning and enjoyment etc.

    Whilst contemplating my decision regarding the Canadian offer and licking my wounds, I felt buoyed once again when I got through to the third round of judging in the BWA competition. My association continues with the team through the BWA publishing programme. They, also, share my vision and feel passionate about literary standards. They deserve recognition for their excellent schools programme and for taking the time to look at concepts such as mine with such precision, with this in mind. I have not been discouraged by them in terms of lyricism and the Canadian publisher actually planned to print the books as Spanish, French and possibly Russian co-editions.

    I'll post details of my blog soon and would enjoy hearing views supporting my stance, or otherwise. I believe that the success of brilliant books writing in my chosen format shows that hurdles can grow wheels.

  15. Hurdles can grow wheels. I like that! Well done, Eiry. Please do post the link to you blog here. Each of us has a story to tell, after all. And I think each story will make mighty interestng reading.

  16. I forgot to add author to your accolade, Sinead. How you manage to be so multi-talented, whilst clearly supporting your son as only a mother can… I think determination is the key word. As Eiry so eloquently exampled, we have that in oodles.

  17. Just finished reading Spencer's Voices of Crabtree Lane. Thanks Spencer for such an absorbing read and for transporting me to a post war setting when values were different in so many ways, and yet. . .
    It taught me a lot and will teach young readers even more. Don't feel tempted to read the ending, everyone. I'm glad I resisted.
    Hope you're over the jet lag Spencer.

  18. Thank you, Eiry. Good point about the educational value to the younger reader.

  19. I visited a school today, files at hand, hoping for positivity. I received it in spades!! The teachers are well and truly behind my concept and how it's being brought about. They aim to work as diligently as the Britwriters Awards Publishing Programme team, Matthew Harding, my illustrator, and myself to see it though. I couldn't be more delighted.

  20. Ahhh, so you have something the reader wants! Interesting. :) Well done, Eiry. We need to get out there. I can't think of a better way of reaching your audience than talking to them.

  21. World Book Day is just around the corner and I’m off into my local secondary school to do three, one hour sessions, with year’s 8 & 9. How’s that for throwing yourself in at the deep end with public speaking! Three groups of 60 children! To be truthful I really can’t wait – some have already read my YA novel DEAD GAME and I’m sure others are at that ‘I’m too cool to read’ phase, which I will happily talk them out of! I can safely say the BWA Publishing Programme has given me the confidence to do this! I love doing my creative writing clubs – it’s so imperative children and young adults relish in the creative writing world.

  22. Brilliant! Well done, Claire. I couldn’t agree more. And isn’t that what creative writing is all about? More than storytelling, it is reaching out. Getting children excited by writing and how they can express themselves until their heart is content through the written word. If I may, I would like to quote one head teacher involved in the Brit Writers Creative Writing Programme for Schools, as follows: “We have an extremely culturally rich school. Therefore it would be great to channel this into their creative writing. To promote writing as an enjoyable, exciting and rewarding activity would raise it up to the level of importance that it deserves."
    Paul Carless
    Assistant Head Teacher
    St James Junior School

    For information (and this information is all on the Brit Writers’ Awards website). The Brit Writers' Awards is an exciting initiative designed to encourage and inspire new writing talent — particularly among young people. We (BWA) want to show pupils — and people of all ages throughout the rest of the UK — that creative writing is an exciting and powerful way to increase your literacy skills, enhance your capacity for self-expression and turn your dreams into reality. Over 400,000 children are now involved from Schools across the UK in the Brit Writers Creative Writing Programme for Schools.


    Good luck, Claire. Having read DEAD GAME, I am sure it has all the right ingredients to have the children spellbound: Adventure, fantasy—a whole world of imagination set free. And, if I may say so, it is beautifully written.

  23. One of our group, Spencer Ratcliff, based in Australia, is being featured on BBC Radio Essex currently - Ian Wyatt, on Saturday mornings. It links the area with his fantastic book, 'The Voices of Crabtree Lane'.
    Here's a link:
    Cogratulations, Spencer.

  24. Here’s a link to Spencer’s third interview:
    Encapsulates the book so well, Spencer.