I’m snatching a morsel of time for this post before I have to go to work. In the last few weeks I’ve had to choose between my almost daily pre-breakfast dose of endorphins at the gym or jogging, and working on my Writing Matters.
My last mention of The Dangerous Sports Euthanasia Society was in the post ‘Devon, Torrential rain and my novel’
One of the questions I get asked about writing a novel is,’ How long did it take you?’ My answer for my first published novel is ‘Two years,’ but there’s a lot more to it than that. It depends on what you mean by ‘writing a novel’. For me, it’s a lot more than finding myself at the ending of the story, because that’s when the intensive re-writing begins. Paradoxically, a major part of this process involves ‘un-writing’ – i.e. cutting.
My original version was 120,000 words, from which I cut about 6,000 before I started sending it out on its long journey towards publication. As I’ve already said in a previous post, in some ways, I enjoy the re-writing more than the first draft(s).
I was well aware from my previous attempts at getting novels published, that publishers are very unlikely to look at your manuscript if it has come directly from the author, rather than an agent. But this time, I had a direct introduction to a publishing house, Orion. Helen Cary, my tutor on my first creative writing course on the Greek island of Kithera in June 2001, was a personal friend of Yvette, a reader/editor at Orion.
I was delighted when she replied to my package of the usual first-3-chapters-and-synopsis, asking to see the complete manuscript, and even more delighted, a few weeks later when she said that she really liked the book and would recommend it to the editing team.
I was rather puzzled when she wrote again, saying that the others had considered it to be a ‘difficult subject’ and would therefore not be publishing it. This was my first introduction to what is now, increasingly, an essential ingredient in being published: the crystal clarity of the category into which your book will fit like a glove. No fit, no publication. The most important people in the publishing house, the Sales and Marketing Team, will find it ‘difficult’ to sell to the book-sellers – they wouldn’t know what shelf to put it on.
My book couldn’t be placed on the shelves of any of the following: Crime, Romance, Thrillers, or any other nice, clear category (certainly not ‘Sport’ in spite of its title). And I’d made the most naïve mistake of all: creating a main character who, instead of being young and feisty and beautiful, was merely feisty. And how was a marketing person going to promote a book about a seventy-five year old woman in search of her grandchildren, who invents an unlikely life-saving society when she’s prevented a lonely, retired barrister’s clerk from throwing himself under a high speed train on Birmingham’s New Street Station?