Monday, 16 June 2014

Worth the Wait - John Dougherty

Image © LostMedia
It's pretty rare to have your very first submission accepted for publication.

I certainly didn't. My first submission was a series of four picture book scripts about a teacher called Mrs Daffodil and the strange things that happened to the children she taught. Inspired to write them by some of the children in my own class, and inspired again by their responses when I read them to them, I sent the manuscripts off to a bunch of agents and I waited.

And, slowly, the rejections began to come in.

Except that one agent didn't entirely reject the stories. She told me that picture books are pretty expensive to produce and no publisher is likely to take a chance on a series of them by a previously unpublished author; but she did like them, and felt that if I reworked them as a single book of four stories they might stand a chance. Despite the fact that she was gearing up for maternity leave and so wasn't taking on any new clients, she took the time to give me a bit of advice about submitting the stories directly to publishers - and, crucially, gave me permission to use her name in approaching them.

So I did. And, again, the rejections began to come in.

Except that one editor didn't entirely reject the stories - or, rather, didn't entirely reject me. I had a letter from Sue Cook, then at Random House, telling me that although she couldn't use these stories, she liked my writing enough to want to see more from me.

And so began a period of years during which I would write stuff in my spare time - when teaching and, latterly, being a dad allowed me enough of the right sort of spare time - and send it to Sue, who invariably took the time to give me genuinely useful feedback and guidance. One of the stories I half-wrote during this time was The Legend of Bansi O'Hara, a fantasy-comedy which got completely tangled up in its own sub-plots but in which Sue still saw enough to encourage and advise me.

And then, finally, after Sue had suggested I try writing a school-based story for Random's Young Corgi range, I came up with Zeus on the Loose, and - after a bit more guidance from Sue, and a couple of rewrites - it was accepted for publication, more than six years after I'd first sent off those Mrs Daffodil stories.

"Wow!" said a friend, when I told him. "You've worked for such a long time for this, haven't you. It really shows that if you want to do something, you shouldn't ever give up."

It's been twelve years since that first acceptance letter, and more than ten since my first book was published. I have eleven published books now - including Bansi O'Hara and the Bloodline Prophecy, much reworked from the original - and another five finished and due for publication in the next year or so.

And it's been about eighteen years since, naive and hopeful,  I first sent off my Mrs Daffodil's Class stories. Eighteen years during which, occasionally, I'd read my favourite of the four on a school visit and tell the children that not everything you write as an author gets published, but that I still hoped this one might do one day.

So imagine my excitement, just a few days ago, to hear that Egmont has made me an offer on it. It's my first picture book deal, and - while I have other unpublished picture-book MSs in the figurative bottom drawer, many of which i still very much believe in - it feels somehow fitting that it's for one of the stories which, all those years ago, started me off on the road towards publication.

It reminds me to never give up.


 John's latest book, Stinkbomb & Ketchup-Face and the Badness of Badgers, is illustrated by David Tazzyman and published by OUP


Emma Barnes said...

Makes me feel like searching around in my own bottom drawer, John. Well done! I had a similar story in that I wrote a good few unpublished manuscripts and was lucky enough to get some good feedback and encouragement from an editor - from Egmont, as it happens. Made all the difference.

Heather Dyer said...

Congratulations! Doesn't it take such a long time... I think people often don't realize how long.

Joan Lennon said...

A good post to read at ANY stage of this game of patience!

catdownunder said...

Congratulations - yes, it is a reminder to never give up trying (even if it is mighty depressing at times!)

Becca McCallum said...

That's great news about your Egmont offer. The rest of your post is encouraging too - some how it makes the whole process seem more normal and achievable than having to pull a best-seller out of a hat like a magician.

C.J.Busby said...

Congratulations on the picture book deal! And yes, writing is a path well strewn with rejection letters, isn't it?!