Publish and be damned! Or… don’t.
2019 was a poor year for me in terms of mental health, but one of the things that helped me was writing. I had my first book coming out, which should really be enough for anyone to focus on, especially as alongside returning to work after baby#2. When you’re a few sparks short of a sensible brain, though, you don’t necessarily take a common-sense approach to these things.
I’ll save you from the details of how we came to have two kids in such close proximity but safe to say I never thought the year my first book came out would also be the year I was a mum to two-under-two. It took me ten years of torturing my heart and my head to get my first foot on the ladder, so I had to make the most of it. I was very conscious that this was starting small – I still didn’t have an agent, and I was being published by a small publisher. I had to use this to build some sort of profile as a writer and keep momentum going in order to be able to get published again. Maybe with an agent, maybe with a bigger publisher.
During what I now fondly refer to as my ‘technicolour breakdown’ a few months after baby#2 arrived, I clung to the idea that I could make it as a writer, and decided I had to throw myself into it as much as my circumstances would allow. I had to gain exposure for The Raven Wheel, of course, but part of me had already written it off. TRW was what allowed me to blag my way into the party I’d not been invited to, but now I was there I had to seriously up my game to a) act like I belonged there and b) come up with a gift worthy of letting me stay. I had to write my next book, urgently, and it had to be fucking outstanding. No pressure.
I didn’t want to do a sequel, because that wasn’t going to get me an agent. So I had two ideas. One was in a similar vein to TRW, but with a bit more hope on the horizon. The other was totally different, out of my comfort zone, but it felt relevant, urgent, like it was a story that needed to be told. I went with it.
Cue late nights, early mornings, sacrificing any time that wasn’t day-job or childcare, to get the damn thing done. I even did NaNoWriMo, ffs. By Christmas, I was ready for the exquisite pain of submissions to agents and publishers. Off it went.
My previous experience of submissions was that they either disappear into the ether forever, get a template rejection, or occasionally a ‘we like it but we don’t love it’. This time something different happened. My subs were read and responded to much quicker. Result! They were rejections, but weirdly positive ones. This is not a polite business, fyi. People generally don’t have time to give individual feedback on something they’re not taking up. This was a good sign, surely? If all these people bothered to read it and took the time to respond praising the writing, then even though it might not be their most-loved, it would be someone’s?
Well, no, it wasn’t. One agent was kind enough to be devastatingly honest and spell out that even though she thought the writing was great (I know that makes me sound like a dick but I’m including it to make myself feel better) she could never sell it to a publisher. All seemed lost. Then, just as I was giving up, I received an offer of a traditional contract with a small indie publisher – one shortlisted for a ‘Nibbie’, no less. Time to celebrate, right? I did use it as an excuse to open some fizz. Something wasn’t right, though, and I kept putting off signing the contract.
That agent had planted a seed of doubt that was slowly taking root. It became harder to ignore. On it went, growing each day, until it had completely taken over. Her doubts had become my doubts and I couldn’t believe they wouldn’t be my publisher’s, too, if it came out. I asked for help. A writer friend put me in touch with an academic who is an authority on the subject I was concerned about. She didn’t read the MS, but based on my summary of concerns, she confirmed my fears might well be legitimate. This then morphed in my mind into an unequivocal message: If I signed that contract, I would bring all holy hell down on my head. I couldn’t do it.
I’m possibly the most conflict-averse person EVER with fairly fragile mental health still, so I wouldn’t volunteer myself for vitriol. I won’t go into the subject matter here because that would defeat the point of not publishing it, but basically I chose a topic so fraught it had the potential to attract abuse from all sides, not just the people I wouldn’t mind hating me. The exposure might have been minimal as the publisher was small, but still. No online pile-ons for me, thank you.
I backed the wrong horse, so now I have to swallow my pride and humbly beg the horse I had no faith in for forgiveness. I’m not a horsey person, but I’m in a business with a lot of horsey types and that’s part of the problem.
My wild mare and I will put the hard yards in and pass for thoroughbreds though, you mark my words. I’ll stop torturing this metaphor now.
Here’s to the next year, one in which I hope to write the book that might finally get me standing room in the Winners Enclosure. Sorry.
Wish me luck.