The End of the Beginning

Last time I posted, I had just heard that a publisher had made an offer for The Ship. Since then, two more publishers have offered, and the deal has been done. The Ship is to be published by Weidenfeld and Nicolson in January or February 2015. As an extra bonus, my editor is busy with Malala’s memoir until the Autumn, so I have the summer off. Instead of sitting in corners with my laptop, I’m swimming, playing with the children, picking the yellow cherries that grow in the garden here, reading, watching the box set of Game of Thrones my husband brought with us and revelling in the complete lack of mobile reception. There’s a great deal of wine, a lot of laughter, and, for the purposes of this holiday, ice cream has been declared a nutritionally complete foodstuff. Thank you, Jonny Geller. Thank you, Arzu Tahsin.

So what has changed since I got a book deal? On the one hand, everything. Essentially, I’m going back to work. After ten years of childbearing and full time motherhood, I’m going back to work. It’s a daunting thing. I always said that if I didn’t get published by the time my youngest (now three) starts school, I’d go back into teaching. And part of me knew, with incredible clarity, that this was a distinct possibility. Good writing does not always get published. If it is published, it does not always sell. Some terrible writing does get published; sometimes it sells extremely well.  A novel that contains such lines as, ‘The famous man stared at the red cup,’ sells over eighty million copies. And in a world with no logic, how can you rely on ever succeeding?

An established novelist, who does a great deal of teaching, once told me that there was no mystery to getting published – you just had to write well. And I’d love to believe that. I’ve been told, more than once, that cream rises. Well, cream might, but good writing doesn’t. Good writing can be admired and dismissed; it can be crushed; it can be lost (and frequently is) in the sheer volume of work that’s submitted to agents, and then to editors. I submitted the first fifty pages of The Ship to four agents; three of them asked to see the rest and one rejected it outright. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the rejection came from the agency that received the submission through the general pool. The other three were agents I’d met at events, or who’d rejected my earlier novels. They were people to whom I had a connection, however tenuous; a submission that opens with, ‘We met at…’ gives the recipient a reason to click on, and read, the attachment. It didn’t take ten years to write The Ship, but it did take ten years, and four other novels, to get to a point where my submissions were read with intent.

There is only one way to get published (unless you are considering self-publication, which will be the subject of a future post). And that is to keep writing. If you keep writing, redrafting, improving, writing more, sending out, rewriting, going to author events, agent events, reading, taking notes, remembering names, writing more and redrafting again, you may get published. If you have a name yourself, don’t insult those of us who don’t by pretending it doesn’t matter. Just write as well as you can, use the name to get a hearing, and no one will grudge you the head start. If you’re starting from scratch, don’t be bitter about it. Just keep writing. And one day, when you’ve accepted that you’re going to write, whether or not you get published – when you know that your world, at least, is a better place because you put those words down on paper, with all the courage, sacrifice and tears that it took – when you know you’d carry on, published or not, then, my friend, you’re beginning to pave the way to a miracle.

My writing is the same now as it was before my agent took me on. It’s the same as it was before my editor made her offer. My life will still be a juggling act, my writing squeezed into precious moments like this one. Everything has changed, but nothing has changed. I was a writer before, and I’m a writer now. If you are a writer dreaming of publication, then keep dreaming. Keep submitting. But above all, keep writing. It’s all you can do.

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