Getting published is my ultimate writing goal and this year I came the closest I ever have to achieving it.
It’s a cliché but the thrill of having my dream within reach like this was akin to experiencing a rollercoaster ride – although this particular rollercoaster could probably be best described as swift loops of elation interspersed with long periods of hanging upside down at the top waiting for something to happen. The publishing industry is, above all else, a waiting game.
I hopped on this ride on May 2nd 2015 when I submitted my query letter and the synopsis and manuscript of A Class Apart (the first book in my series) to an acquisitions editor in the States. She had put out a call for certain stories she would like to see and included in the list were historical romance (check!) and novels set in non-US locations (check!). Then I settled in for the long wait that I had become accustomed to in the submission process – I expected it would be a minimum of a month or two before I’d hear back.
FOUR DAYS LATER I had an email from the editor, Corinne, saying that she was enjoying A Class Apart so far and would like to see the synopses for the rest of the books in the series. This might seem something rather small to get excited about but in fact it was possibly the most exhilarating moment of this whole journey. (Yep, I went there, I called it a journey. Throw me in with the X Factor wannabes.) I went a little nuts when I got this email, I was just so thrilled.
The reason this was such a big deal for me was that it was the first time I had been asked to provide more of the series instead of being given a courteous refusal. Finally, this editor had glimpsed something in A Class Apart which made her want to read on and see how the rest of the series unfolded. Of course, because no one had ever requested the other synopses before, I didn’t even have them written so I had to put them together in a bit of a hurry (at 1am on a school night, oops…).
At this point in time, the series had four books, with the fourth still a work-in-progress. Having read the synopses, Corinne asked to see the manuscripts of the second and third books, A Class Entwined and A Class Abandoned – woo hoo! I sent them on with all my fingers and toes crossed. After a month, she got back to me with her thoughts on them.
The really great news: there were lots of elements she loved, including my voice, the Irish history and the characters.
The not-so-good news: she had some issues with my use of flashbacks and she wasn’t keen on the way the main female character was portrayed in the second book.
So it wasn’t a yes but it wasn’t a no either. This felt rather like turning a corner on the ride and seeing the tracks broken ahead of me but then veering to the side along a new path. Corinne offered some editorial suggestions which came with no promises – I could put a lot of time and effort into making changes to the manuscripts but at the end of it there would still be no guarantee of publication with the publisher she worked for.
Well, you know, it was a no-brainer. This person is a professional in the industry and she just gave me free editorial advice (which I could have paid several hundred euro for with any number of writing agencies offering editing services). Of course I was going to take her feedback on board – it was an absolutely worthwhile process, regardless of the outcome.
One of Corinne’s recommendations, on top of addressing the concerns above, was that I combine A Class Entwined and A Class Abandoned back together, as they had been originally until I split them apart about a year ago. This was a big editing challenge and meant removing about 20,000 words to bring the single book down to a more manageable word count. It took me a whole month from mid-June to mid-July but I was really pleased with the completed manuscript. Put simply, the story was a lot better!
I sent it in and another month went by. When I next heard from Corinne she said she wanted to submit the series to her associate editor (OMG!) but she had some further suggestions about editing A Class Apart first. It needed bulking up in terms of word count so I came up with an idea that tied in really nicely with the unwritten final book in the series. That edit took a fortnight and was right bang in the middle of September (busiest time of the year for a teacher…!).
After receiving that manuscript, Corinne sent me a message on October 2nd to say that she would immediately submit the series to her associate editor, Martin, who would have the ultimate call on publication. She asked me all sorts of encouraging questions about my publishing history, my social media contacts, and whether I write under a pen name. Most exciting of all, she thought my series had a great chance!
Then two months dragged by without a word.
I knew that progress would be slow at this stage because I wasn’t the only writer whose manuscript was being assessed so I plumbed the depths of my patience and waited until December 3rd to make a polite enquiry as to whether there had been any developments. Corinne acknowledged that these things do take a long time but she would follow up with Martin because she wanted to know herself which submissions she would be taking forward.
Sadly, December 12th brought the news that Martin was going to pass on my series. By a case of unfortunate timing, the publisher already has a book coming out in 2016 whose premise is somewhat similar to A Class Apart. Martin also had some reservations about my writing which he didn’t think was quite there yet.
That was very much the abrupt halt at the end of my ride.
But I got a free gift as I exited at the turnstile. Corinne says she still believes in my series and has passed it on to an agent she knows. While nothing may come of that, at least it’s another avenue to explore. She has also agreed to provide me with a testimonial which should stand to me in the next submission I make.
I’m disappointed that, after seven months, this ended the way it did because I had allowed myself to become cautiously optimistic. Nevertheless, I can take so many positives from it. First of all, I found a person working professionally in this industry who thinks my series has real potential – so it’s not a pile of sludge, good to know. Second of all, I received valuable editorial feedback for free which was a stroke of very good fortune. Third of all, my series has improved so much because of those edits that I believe it has become a stronger story overall. Lastly, I really enjoyed working with this editor and loved the whole experience discussing how to write, edit and sell it – it was a great buzz.
So I have a fresh challenge ahead of me – make my writing better! 2016 will see a lot of hard editing work and hopefully a new rollercoaster to strap into.