Tuesday, 27 December 2011
Taking Stock... by Rosalie Warren
Sorry about the visual pun, but it's Christmas after all and I had a lovely picture of some leftover gravy just begging to be posted...
It's now a little over five years since I gave up my university post as a result of ill-health and decided to take the opportunity to focus on my writing. This was something I'd always wanted to do but had never found much time for, in among the demands of bringing up a family, studying for a PhD and then being a researcher and lecturer.
So maybe it's time to take stock and ask myself what I've learned, where I've failed and what I've managed to achieve, as well as trying to decide my aims for the next five 5 years or so.
The failures speak for themselves. I'm not a household name, my books are not bestsellers and I'm not a millionaire... though I'm not sure whether I was aiming at those things, and I certainly wasn't expecting them. What I have achieved is three published books, several more completed ones which have not yet found homes, and an exciting new project for younger readers recently commissioned (and still under wraps). But, much more importantly, I've learned quite a bit, made some wonderful new friends and had a lot of fun.
I spent the first two years of my 'freedom' writing short stories and submitting them to competitions, as well as joining several online writers' groups and learning how to give and receive feedback. I took a creative writing class and began work on two novels, one of which I'd had in mind for several years. It turned into Charity's Child, and an independent publisher, Circaidy Gregory, with whom I'd had a short story placed in a competition, expressed interest. It was published in 2008 and I experienced all the joys (and disappointments) of being a first-time published author. The trouble was, I knew very little about how to publicise a book and my publishers, though enthusiastic, had limited resources. I had some encouraging reviews, did a couple of signings and was invited along to some bookgroups to discuss my novel. An agent read it and invited me to London to meet her. It was all very exciting, but she didn't sign me up (a story that would soon become familiar).
My second novel, Low Tide, Lunan Bay, was less serious - a sort of comedy-suspense-romance. I sent it to an appraisal agency, who recommended that my protagonist, who found new love on the internet at 46, had her age reduced by ten years. I did just that (gosh, I was compliant in those days...) A publisher, Robert Hale, liked it but said it was too long - could I cut it by 25%? I did - by removing the sub-plot and sewing up the seams. Hale accepted it and I was, of course, delighted, though I still think it would have been a better book with the heroine ten years older and the sub-plot still in place.
My next novel, Alexa's Song, failed to tick a number of boxes. Male protagonist for a female readership - black mark. Too 'dark' for a love story. Mental health issues - woopsadaisy. Several agents said it would be 'difficult to place'. It still hasn't found a home, but I may well revise it and publish it myself as an eBook one of these days. I think there's a need for more books about depression, bipolar illness and so on, and I'll be only to pleased to add to the list.
I attended the Winchester Writers' Conference in 2008 and entered one of their competitions - to write the first 500 words and synopsis of a novel for age 12+. My entry made the shortlist and became, eventually, Coping with Chloe, the story of a teenager whose life is being taken over by her twin. Several agents expressed interest, but no bites. I sent it to Cornerstones for an appraisal, then rewrote and resubmitted it. One agent, who shall be nameless, got very excited and promised (I thought) to sign me up when I'd made a few changes. I made a few changes, while she made just the one - her mind.
I was distraught, to the point where I didn't submit anything or even do much writing for several weeks. Then I picked myself up and sent Chloe to a new children's publisher, Phoenix Yard, who liked it... and signed me up. My editor there was brilliant - and thanks to her help it came out in March 2011 and has had some great feedback and lovely reviews. Though not, sadly, huge sales - or not yet, anyway...
In March 2012, Charity's Child is going to be reissued as an eBook and as a new edition in paperback, by the original publisher, Circaidy Gregory. Other possible eBooks for the future include my 42000 word novella about a woman with Alzheimer's, which is probably too short to be considered by a publisher. There's also an SF book for 12+ which hasn't yet found a home. And my current project is an SF novel for adults, which draws on my research interests - cognitive science, linguistics and AI. If it doesn't find a publisher, I'll definitely publish it myself.
One thing I've learned is that it doesn't get any easier - you just set the bar higher as you go. And there are always going to be people who are more successful than you, so why worry about it? I've also discovered that authors, and children's authors in particular, are some of the maddest, funniest and kindest people in the world.
I've learned that you have to stay true to yourself. There are always compromises to be made in terms of what agents and publishers are looking for - but if you lose your vision of what you want to write, you might as well give up.
I'm very happy still to be writing, after five crazy years. I wouldn't want to do anything else... though to earn a bit of money from time to time might be nice.
And finally finally... I've discovered that hearing a child or young person say they liked your book and found it interesting, exciting, helpful or whatever, is one of the best feelings in the world and no writer could wish for anything more.
Wishing all of you - readers, writers, whatever you may be - a very happy, healthy, prosperous and successful New Year.