Before I ‘get back to my novel’, I’ve got to mention poetry first because I’m about to drive over to Leicester to my fortnightly evening meeting with the women’s poetry group, Soundswrite, and this particular meeting is one I’ve been looking forward to for ages - The wonderful poet, Mimi Khalvati is coming up from London to lead a workshop for us, and she is always inspiring - even if I don’t manage to come up with anything during the event, I’ll certainly be taking away a few lines ideas to work on later.
My free time at the moment is divided between my first love (poetry) and my equal love (fiction). I used my-as-yet-unfinished novel as the basis for my dissertation, and achieved my Masters degree - but I hadn’t joined the course for the sake of a qualification. (See my post: ‘Starting my first proper novel’. What meant far more to me than the qualification were my new friendships, and the novel for which I was determined to find a publisher.
When I finished that novel, I was back onto a self-directed course, learning even more about the Difficulties of Getting Published. My first ‘course’ on that subject had been more than fifteen years earlier, and I’d gained nothing to show for it (apart from an increased resilience in the face of rejection.)
Nothing? The hide of a rhinoceros and the tenacity of a terrier were precisely what I needed during the years that followed.
I was already aware that publishers were unlikely even to glance at a standard submission package of three-chapters + synopsis, without the stamp of approval from a reputable agent. (See my earlier post Hunting for and Agent)
In spite of that, I did approach a few publishers direct - ones which, for some reason, I’d hoped might be different from the rest. After all, a person can’t give up their store of magical-thinking without the occasional lapse - you’ve got to leave at least one tiny door ajar, for luck to squeeze through!
My belief in luck diminished as the pile of agents’ rejection slips approached the state of critical mass. It slowly dawned on me that agents themselves were longer the first port of call. I was increasingly finding, along with their brief , ‘Thanks-but-no-thanks’, an enclosed leaflet with information about the third layer: the Professional Readers Services.
The leaflet which turned up more often than any other was from an organisation called The Literacy Consultancy ( or TLC), and, being part-funded by the Arts Council it seemed like the best bet. However, when I saw the fees involved for a full length novel, I put it from my mind.
Until, that is, I came across a writing competition, organised by East Midlands Arts, inviting the submission of the first 100 pages of a novel. The prize for the one (or more) of the most promising manuscripts was a FREE read and subsequent written report from TLC itself.
I won that prize!
Once the first rush of excitement had diminished, I realised that though it was very encouraging in itself, this prize was only a start. It felt a bit like setting out on a winding track that seemed to be leading uphill, but could just as easily wind its way back down to the start again.