So it seems only fair to write a post, post NaNoWriMo. And although I didn’t quite make the word count, slipping in at a sniff under 40,000 words as of the last night, I’m not disappointed. Having spent seven months getting to what was, at the end of the first draft, 160,000 words, I don’t mourn being 10k under the November target. After all, 40,000 is 80 per cent of the word goal, and that must be an A grade in anyone’s books ;).
Given the hectic nature of November, it’s pleasing for me that I got that far, and although a fair bit of what I wrote probably won’t make the final edit of what is still known as Sweeter Than Wine, it was a good exercise in writing under a certain amount of pressure. Characters got invented, situations got realised, and I found quite a bit of direction for Book 2 that was lacking at the beginning of the month. The whole section I wrote on the train on Saturday that was really more ‘Matthew and Jonathan: The Teenage Years’ might have to go, but it was a lot of fun to write!
But the end of November has marked the end (and beginning) of something in one sense. I’d been gearing up to the Mumsnet ‘Get Published’ Conference for about six weeks, and, finally, on Saturday, the day arrived. There I was, at 6am, on a rather chilly platform at Weston Super Mare railway station, waiting to go to the Big Smoke for the day. Alone. With no one shouting for food, attention or toys, no nappies to change, no noses to wipe (except, perhaps, my own), and only one person to get across London. Oh, and a conference about getting my first novel under the gaze of an agent, to boot!
The conference was held in a lovely, shabby chic building on Fitzroy Square, and me and forty nine other aspiring authors gathered to listen to presentations from some of the agents from Janklow and Nesbit, editors from publishing houses including Penguin, Scholastic, Transworld and HarperCollins and, finally, a panel of four recently published authors; Juliet West, Jason Hewitt, M. J. Arlidge and Sarah Alexander. For someone who loves books, and writing, anyway, it would have been a great day. For me, looking to publish Far From the Tree and be a part of that world, it was heaven. Hellie Ogden, from J&N was in the chair and led the day in an extremely approachable way, debunking a lot of the myths about the scariness of agents!
Several interesting things emerged from the day. Firstly, the agent-writer relationship is of great importance. This is a relationship that can last for years, so it’s vital the chemistry is right. Fittingly, the agents from J&N made it clear that they might only take on 3 clients a year, so they need to mesh well with their writers. Considering the agency gets ten submissions by email every day, the odds of being one of them are pretty slim, but the positivity and encouragement that the agents communicated made up for the chances!
Secondly, it can take a long time between submission and publication. By the time the agent has read and edited a manuscript, then marketed it to a publisher (which the lovely Frankie from Transworld spent a long time discussing in the afternoon session), there can be further revisions, ‘auctions’ between rival publishers for the rights and other kinds of to-ing and fro-ing, which can mean it’s a year, minimum, before seeing your book on the shelf in Waterstones. And that’s only if the agent successfully sells it!
There was a fascinating session on translation rights, led by Rebecca Folland, who talked about some of the worldwide trends in publishing (the Japanese are apparently mad for sex and business in their books at the moment, and if you sell anything to the French, you’ll be lucky!). It was an aspect of publishing I knew nothing about, so it was really interesting.
The final panel of the day consisted of four recently published authors, MJ Arlidge, Juliet West, Jason Hewitt and Sarah Alexander. Their insights into what it’s like to be on the winning stretch of the road we’re all embarking on were by turns fascinating, funny and poignant. All exemplified the hard work it takes, even after you think you’ve finished your version of your novel, and, while there were some differences of opinion on why people write (commercialism being a debating point of huge interest), they all brought their own unique perspectives to the process, and reminded us that some writers do break through, after all.
And in between all this good advice and sterling insight came my pitch to one of the J&N agents, Jessie Botterill. Jessie was friendly, positive and encouraging, and, although it was the swiftest ten minutes of my life, and seemed to go past in the blink of an eye, I hope I got my message across. All signs were good, so I’ve popped my entry into the Mumsnet competition and I’m crossing my fingers.
All in all, it was a great day, and filled me with both renewed enthusiasm for getting Far From the Tree out there, but also a kind of positive sense of resignation, if that makes sense. I always said that this conference would either be ‘bubble burst’ or ‘all systems go’, and, to be honest, it was both. All systems go, because I have the sense that what I’ve written might just be good enough to get on the shelves, but ‘bubble burst’ because it’s definitely going to take longer than I’d initially thought to get it there! But that’s not a bad thing, really. I’ve spent most of this year in a kind of creative bubble, so some time, over the next few weeks, to take stock, take a step back and assess my options can only be a good thing.