Encouragement Through A Writing Mentor
December 5, 2006
My first novel, Three Weeks Last Spring
took two years to write. I wrote the first three chapters while living in Scotland, and then put the manuscript aside for the best part of four years, only picking it up again in 2004. Working full time, and writing in the evenings, meant that it took me nearly a year to complete the first draft, and a further twelve months to find a publisher willing to take the risk, and publish this hitherto unknown author’s work.
While friends and work colleagues encouraged me to complete the manuscript, I was very fortunate to meet and have a mentor in George Bennett, who is not only a published author, but also a qualified proof reader. Without his encouragement, and that of two others friends, the manuscript would have lain untouched on my computer.
Working full-time was the biggest obstacle to finishing Three Weeks. It wasn’t always possible to write each day, as having spent eight hours plus in front of a computer, the prospect of spending my evening doing the same, didn’t necessarily appeal. However, having said that, I did try very hard to get at least a paragraph or two down on paper each day. In September 2006, I left my job, and now try to spend at least five hours a day working on my next novel.
Once of the questions that authors, new and old alike, get asked, is where do you get your ideas for your storyline from? It’s another difficult question, and the answer has a lot to do with the genre you choose to write for.
In my case I didn’t want to write a hearts and flowers, boy meets girl romance. There are many of those books on the market, and their ending is all too predictable. I wanted to write a novel that had a strong story line, which hopefully would leave the reader wanting more, and which would also leave me with the possibility of a sequel.
Some authors get their ideas from newspaper articles, a chance remark or a TV programme. Wherever it comes from you have to seize it, and develop it, adding your own characters, twists and turns, until you have the basis of a story.
For my first novel, I chose to write about something I am familiar with. I’ve always enjoyed travelling and writing, and a visit to Seattle a few years ago, made me realize how delicately balanced the eco-system of the area was. Many of you will remember the catastrophic oil spillage by the Exxon Valdez in Alaska, and the damage it caused to the environment. Something like that could easily happen in the busy shipping lanes of Puget Sound. However, I didn’t want to use an oil spillage as the scenario – I wanted something that would have an impact on man too, which is how I came up with the emotive topic of illegal chemical dumping.
Finding a publisher willing to take the risk is almost as difficult as writing the novel, as many will only accept manuscripts through an agent. Literary agents prefer to represent authors who either have had work published, or have a sure block-busting idea, such as J K Rowling did with Harry Potter. You could always pay to self publish, but there is no guarantee that your work will ever hit the book shelves.
Like many first time authors I have a collection of rejection slips from some of the best known publishing houses, for no other reason than their lists were full, or my book was too long, and wasn’t quite what they were looking for. However, I wasn’t about to be deterred, and after a little research on the Internet, I found two publishers, who both expressed interest in reading the whole manuscript.
The first, a London based publisher, offered me a contract provided I would pay them an extortionate sum of money – vanity publishing at its worst, and needless to say I declined their offer.
The second, PublishAmerica also offered me a contract, which I accepted in December 2004. Many of the larger publishing houses see PA as “self publishers” but I would disagree, for at no time has PA demanded any payment from me.
However, I would say this to budding authors. A publisher will have invested thousands of dollars in publishing your book, but that isn’t the end of the story – you have to get it on the bookshelves. But how do you do that, when thousands of books are published every month? And why should a book store choose your book over someone else’s when they know nothing about you, as an author? That is why you have to get out there and market yourself.
You need to get your book reviewed, and not by your best friend, but by a company like Oncewritten.com. You need to put together a media kit to present to local stores to persuade them not only to stock your book, but also to host a book signing for you. Register your book with the public library service, contact the local media – do all in your power to draw attention to your book, after all you want more sales than just those to your family and friends.
I had already planned a holiday in America when my publisher informed me that my book would be available in August, so I decided to capitalize on it. I wrote to the major booksellers in the area I planned to visit, including my media kit, containing copies of the reviews I had received for Three Weeks, chapter excerpts and copies of articles run by my local paper.
After a suitable time, I followed my letter up with a telephone call to each of the stores and was rewarded with three book signing events – two with Barnes and Noble and one with Waldenbooks. Once the dates had been confirmed, I sent out a press release to the local newspaper, and with the help of an American friend, I also contacted the local radio stations. Both, I am pleased to say, felt able to advertise the events.
Finally, I would offer this advice to new authors. Never submit a manuscript until you are sure it is as near perfect as it can be. Check your manuscript to ensure your time line is correct, that Ann on one page doesn’t become Anna on page two! Spell check was invented for a reason, so use it. Edit, not once, not twice, but as many times as it takes to refine your work into a well-honed story that will have the reader waiting for the next twist in the plot. You’d be surprised how easy it is, during the course of a long manuscript, to make simple errors that could mean the difference between rejection and acceptance. And talking of rejection and acceptance – remember it’s nothing personal. Publishing houses on average, receive upwards of three hundred manuscripts a day, so a good query letter and synopsis is essential. And lastly, never give up!
About Victoria Howard
Born in Liverpool, Victoria Howard
currently lives in South Yorkshire with her partner Stephen, and Border collie, Lucy. As a child she fell in love with the countryside and grew up to manage an offshore company in the Scottish Highlands. Widely travelled, her hobbies also include writing, gardening and designing knitwear, which she fits in around her job with the National Health Service…although she readily admits she would rather be writing or in her garden!
Victoria Howard Profile at OnceWritten.com