The New Mrs D – A Publication Update from a Terrified Author

Image I have been asked by many for an update on my road to publication, so today I am making an announcement: The road has been temporarily blocked. And yes, I am now terrified. I do want to do what I promised I would for other new writers and that is share my journey. I’ve had to be quiet about it for a while, but can now give you all full access.

Since finishing the first draft of my first comedy novel, The New Mrs D, in November 2012, I’ve had a roller coaster of a time. After sharing her with a few friends, then getting her proof-read and copy edited and subsequently undertaking so many rewrites I lost count, she was ready to go out to agents. Two small, little known agencies even approached me and asked for her but I declined. I wanted to try the big players first.

My submission of a synopsis and three opening chapters to agents yielded some very encouraging results. Of the thirteen I submitted to I had four tell me they liked it very much but didn’t think they could find a market for it. One called it ‘laugh out loud funny’ and another said, ‘this is seriously funny stuff’. One of the four – a very large and prominent UK agency – told me they’d love to see anything else I write in future. Two agencies went as far as to request the full manuscript and one – Hannah Ferguson of the Marsh Agency – signed me up. In all, the time taken from submission to signing with an agent was around six weeks.

Mr and I jumped up and down. We opened our favourite bottle of whisky and stood in the garden looking at our beloved rented house, talking about how in a couple of years we might finally be able to buy it. Surely the level of positive responses and the speed in which I got an agent meant I’d written something really special? Then, my agent submitted to ten major UK publishing houses… and all of them passed. Actually, I have ended up with thirteen rejections in all, if I count some small presses that didn’t reply.

I’m not going to do any naming here, I feel very grateful and privileged to have received feedback for my work from some top editing professionals, most of whom made very kind comments as well as offering some useful, constructive criticisms. I rewrote again on the back of the common theme elements that came out of the exercise. Still, The New Mrs D remains on the shelf as far as the world of publishing is concerned.

I wanted to write something less mainstream; a non-romantic comedy. A novel about a less than perfect, forty something woman who isn’t seeking a man to complete her story. One who will not necessarily stay single for the rest of her life, but who has bravely broken away from the social norm of standing by her man – yes, five days after the wedding – and running off to find herself. She has flaws, she makes bad decisions and – shock horror – she admits that actually she isn’t happy with her husband committing what she considers to be virtual adultery.  Oh and she says ‘fuck’ from time to time.

I’ve taken a very serious, quite modern issue and written a riotous comedy around it and I grant you, this is unusual. If you search the internet for humorous fiction novels by and for women that are not romantic comedies you will draw a near blank as I have. Go on, try it. Not that I don’t love romantic comedies. They are huge business and I enjoy them as much as the rest of the romcom buying public. But I didn’t want to write one. I wanted an older protagonist, who has begun to grow out of her need to chase love and adoration in order to feel complete. I wanted to challenge media objectification of women and speak out about the saturation in our magazines, movies, adverts and the Internet, of women in varying stages of undress. And I wanted to do it in a humorous, easy read which might reach and empower women. Editors have described it as containing ‘close to the bone, crude humour’. Guilty as charged.

My protagonist married a man with a porn addiction and in order to research this, as well as drawing on my own feelings on the subject, I read books and trawled countless internet forums. On the forums in particular, I saw heartbroken women being told the real and only problem is their own self confidence. They are told to ‘put up’ with their partner’s porn use as it is ‘just something men do’. And ‘while you’re at it go lose some weight to feel better about yourself’.

Of course, it must be said that some women don’t mind and are accepting of and even joining in with their partner’s porn use. I want to stress that my book is not attacking the porn issue or discussing its rights or wrongs, it is about the women that aren’t comfortable with their partners using it and are not speaking out. Women in these situations are often not even telling their closest friends because they are embarrassed to admit it makes them feel bad. To quote an article by Joy Go Mah in Huffpost Lifestyle:

‘The vast majority of films produced tell the stories of men, with women cast as girlfriends, wives, or mothers, or in other periphery roles.’

By the same token, the vast amount of comedy fiction I have read has been about women who are already in or yearning to be cast into these roles. I remember how much, even as a younger woman, I enjoyed Shirley Valentine, Educating Rita and First Wives Club – all empowering stories about older women temporarily shunning men and marriage to find themselves. I think these books and films did okay. 🙂

So now – *drum roll* – I am, on the advice and with the support of my agent, going to self publish The New Mrs D.  My story needs to be out there, I am committed to it and I want to bring it to you. And yes, I am very, very afraid. Self publishing can be like throwing a fish into the ocean. But some very kind authors have given me amazing support and advice. Every one of them saying, ‘go for it’.

The quote pictured above was posted on the Facebook page of the wonderful and inspirational Elizabeth Gilbert on a day when I was struggling with the fear of striking out alone with my novel. She continued:

and our fear of being rejected, criticized, ignored, marginalized, typecast, bullied, challenged, misunderstood, mocked, dismissed, and — worst of all — disappointed in ourselves when our completed work does not match the dream of inspiration that initially flourished so beautifully in our minds. I am afraid of all these things, don’t get me wrong. And I’ve experienced all those things. But you know what I’ve always feared more? Facing my death someday and realizing that I never lived a creative life because I was too shit scared to try. Because that would be the worst, saddest, most frightful fate of all. Thus, and always, we must march right over our fears, trampling them to dust under our bootheels (as Hanneke de Groot would say) and continuing ONWARD!

As usual, in my mind, she was talking to me. So I’m off to make something… it’s a less conventional comedy novel called The New Mrs D. However, I am not going to ask you to spend your hard earned cash buying a copy until it is as perfect as I can make it. Had I won a publishing deal, I would be getting some professional editorial advice to make sure the plot is as tidy as it can be, so I am working with someone I have found myself right now. Then I need to get a cover and have the manuscript all properly formatted for publication. All of this costs money, of which I don’t have a lot, so I will be working as fast as I can on all of these aspects and announcing a release date soon. I hope to bring her out for your summer holiday reading enjoyment.

And a special thank you – to all the people who have followed my tweets, Facebook page and blog offering encouraging comments on my writing and telling me how much you want to read The New Mrs D. All of this has added to my determination to keep going. I really do appreciate all of it and feel lifted every time someone tells me how much they enjoy my writing.

This is why I know I’m doing what I’m meant to be doing with my life. And to anybody reading this who is afraid to create something unique, or tempted to alter their natural creative instinct to go and do what everyone else is doing, I encourage you to fight it and keep doing that which makes you YOU.  Don’t give up. I’m not gonna.

Added 19th June 2014: AND… they said it should never happen, but it has! You can now buy The New Mrs D HERE and within TWENTY-FOUR HOURS of it becoming available for pre-order, my little book went into the Amazon 100 Best Sellers in Women’s Fiction Humour chart in the UK. My book… which they said was ‘unmarketable’.

I’m not sure where it will go from here, but I’ll keep you posted.

COver design smaller Heather X

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35 thoughts on “The New Mrs D – A Publication Update from a Terrified Author”

  1. Hi Heather
    Wow, that’s a powerful post! On a day when I’m feeling quite scared and vulnerable about my own writing career, so thank you for making me pull myself together! I’m sorry none of the publishers were interested – which seems ridiculous. I love the sound of your book. Good luck with the self publishing, can’t wait to read it 😉

    1. Thank you Jenny, I’m really glad you commented to say this helped you too. It feels hard, particularly for someone like myself who is known to write comedy, to lay myself bare like this but I felt it was important to do. It is terrifying – how empowering to admit that in print. I quit my job & my husband works long hours to support us and I know a lot of writers work under the same conditions. When you write a novel then submit, it’s like working for a year and waiting for an employer to agree to pay you. It’s very hard and so tempting to throw in the towel. But I’ve been very lucky in being able to speak to successful, published authors who assured me their journey was a lot like mine. One told me she had SEVENTY rejections! And her writing is beautiful. It’s a hard nut to crack but I would tell everyone if it feels right and you feel compelled to write then you have to do it. You have to keep going. Good luck with your writing Jenny – the world needs new voices and I’m a great believer in the old saying ‘what’s for you won’t go by you’.

      1. Writing is certainly a harsh and difficult industry to break into, but what can you do when you’re born a writer?
        I’ve just left my job for a number of reasons and am going to spend the time focusing on my writing.
        I think we’re very lucky to live in an age when self publishing is so easy to do (well, mostly lucky, depending on how you look at it!).
        But we will get there, eventually. I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. And if you haven’t got that book deal yet, it’s because something bigger and better is waiting round the corner 😉
        Or in my case, it’s because I haven’t been brave enough to submit yet… *ahem* That’s this weekend’s challenge 😀

  2. Good luck Heather! Just wondering really, if you get a rejection from a publisher on a novel, “is that it” so to speak or could you theoretically resubmit same unpublished title if your genre “has a moment” in the future?

    1. Thank you! The process as I understand it, is that if the publisher sees market promise, then they will not reject but ask you to rewrite based on their edit suggestions. I haven’t been through the ‘accepted’ process of course, but this is what I’ve learned from my agent & other authors. So basically, a no is a no. Even if you feel, as I do in a couple of my submissions, that perhaps with hindsight you chose the wrong editor for your work you can’t then go to a different editor or another division of the same publishing house, because if the editor felt it would be of interest to a collegue, they would have passed it on in-house. You can go back with something different, however. Depending on what it is you have written, I wouldn’t stop at thirteen submissions as I have. The problem for me is it is a hard genre to classify so there seems nowhere else to take it. It’s not exactly ‘fluffy fiction’ so not chicklit & not really what you would call ‘literary’. I pitched it to my agent as women’s commercial fiction, but this seems to need to be either romantic, literary or both! Maybe I made a new genre lol! I am not experienced in the publishing world at all to tell you what I say is 100% the way it works all the time, but this is what I’m told re repeat subs. Hope it helps you 🙂 x

      1. Thanks for the reply. Gosh, it’s such a minefield and there’s so many shoulda couldas involved from the sounds of it. It’s absolutely brilliant to have got yourself to the hands of the people that “count” and get the compliments that you have, although I’m sure that’s little consolation at the moment. Have you thought of sending off for feedback from others in the biz eg Caitlin Moran types? You never know, you might get lucky and find a mentor who “knows” people. I’m probably being very annoying trying to offer amateur advice on ground already walked but am totally behind you! I really like the conversational tone of your writing here and am certain success has to just be round the corner. Sorry, just been a little bit sick in my mouth. All true though! X

    2. Here’s an extract from an article I published 5 years ago, I think a lot of it still applies:

      That basic principle of acquisition is simple – the process is not. Where agents are involved there are two tears of acquisition, one by the agent and another by the publisher, acceptance or rejection by one does not necessarily mean acceptance or rejection by the other. Publishers will hardly ever “fall in love” with a manuscript, they are clinical and it’s all business. An agent on the other hand, may fall in love with your work and make it their life mission to get you published. In many cases an agent may even accept much of the publishers workload in polishing your manuscript – if you find one of these propose marriage.
      Different publishers go about acquiring manuscripts in different ways, some will only accept manuscripts from agents, and different genres even at the same publisher may follow a different method of submission.

      Keeping it simple though, there is but one submission process and three possible ways to get “acquired”.

      The Process: All manuscripts received are dumped into a ‘slush pile’ and they remain there until someone reads them. Time period before reading? Different for every publisher but when reading starts, the ‘slush pile’ is closed. (If your manuscript arrives now it starts a new slush pile.) The reading process seeks to short-list works for publishing. Normally the amount short-listed equals three times the number the publisher hopes to publish, i.e. if the marketing plan is 20 books the readers (sub-editors) short list 60 from a slush pile. The pile itself can hold any number of works but let’s say it’s 500 manuscripts. So in this example, depending upon the publisher, the authors of the 60 selected may get a “we are interest letter”, but it’s NOT the norm. Certainly all of the 440 rejected authors will be contacted – if you didn’t get a rejection letter it means your manuscript is still in the process, so a longer wait (if the publisher/agent isn’t tardy) is a good sign. If you get rejected, your manuscript doesn’t transfer into a new slush pile, it gets dumped. (In which case, don’t resubmit to the same publisher, unless specifically requested to change the premise and resubmit.) If your work is amongst the remaining 60, ‘method’ kicks in:

      Acquisition 1/Classical: The sub-editors move the 60 up to the editors (plural) and the team shortlist, (40) which they show the boss – that’s the person with the title ‘Publisher’ and that person has the sole and final decision which twenty manuscripts get acquired. What gets shown to the boss are manuscripts still standing at the end of many meetings between sub-editors, editors and agents. (And then only agents ‘connected’ to the inside track are privy.)

      Acquisition 2/Modern: The sub-editors pitch the projects they like to the “Editor” (singular). The Editor typically forms a few teams consisting of sub-editors, designers and ‘connected’ agents. Each MS of interest is discussed within a series of formal and informal meetings. Finally the Editor decides which projects (again 60) he/she will take forward. The Editor now prepares a budget and acquisition proposal for each. Every title chosen is presented to the Acquisition Committee at a publishing meeting. The committee is typically made up from the heads of marketing, sales, subsidiary rights, art and design, distribution, the Publisher and if applicable, representatives from subsidiary publishers. All of the required 20 scripts will be approved by this committee but it may take several meetings before every one of them is finalised.
      If you’re in the 20, you will be contacted to enter into contract or alternatively you are amongst the additional 40 rejection and you’re ready to start submitting all over again.

      In either model getting your manuscript acquired has nothing to do with you or your writing. Truth is, getting published is a very arbitrary business and the quality of your work isn’t necessarily the key. (Certainly it can’t be rubbish – but I’ve proven it can be crap and still make my publisher money.) Quite frankly, your work will be looked at based only on the amount of money the publisher is prepared to spend on marketing effort. Readers have no idea of how good your story is before they buy it and read it … and they buy it because the publisher has invested in marketing it for you and taking all of the commercial risk.

      >>>>> Taking on your manuscript will always be a business and not an emotional decision. First and foremost, publishers go for storylines which they think are marketable, not for writing that is remarkable. <<<<<

      Your work can win a Pulitzer Prize and never be a seller, its demand and not its quality of writing that sells. A publisher will sign you up if your book is written in a genre that they know and understand, and that they believe will reach the readymade book-buying audience, that their branding has created over the years. Good writing is subjective – you may think it's terrific, and it may be that you really can write… but if what you have written is not considered marketable to the publisher – you’re dead! Trick is to look who publishes the kind of stuff you’ve written and then research which agent gets them most of their material –find that and you’ve found both your publisher and your agent.

      …. these days, publishing is global and you may need to seek outside your backyard to find success.

      Good luck.

      1. Thank you for this Hamilton, a very eye opening read. In my case, looking for a publisher to take my ‘kind’ of manuscript has drawn a blank. This is because nobody is publishing my kind of book. Just yesterday I was told by my agent that a small press publisher read it, liked it and agreed to look at it again if I REMOVE the porn addiction element from the story – my central theme. Sure, it’s an icky, taboo subject but an important one to address in the current age I think. I’m sticking with my story 🙂 x

  3. What I would say to anybody is don’t feel too bad about the rejections. I can’t explain it to you, but I don’t. Of course, I dream of the big book deal but, strangely, I don’t feel so down about the rejections. I think perhaps it is because every successful author has a rejection story and because the feedback is just somebody’s opinion at the end of the day – you see so many stories of the gatekeepers getting it wrong. I have people tell me they like my conversational writing style – and editors that have clearly hated it. If creatives spent all their time trying to appeal to all tastes instead of sticking to their natural style, then no one would ever produce anything new or different. How boring would that be? Blogging helps me for sure. Ten thousand, three hundred people have stopped by so far – that’s a readership 🙂 If you’re doing it for love more than money, I think you’re already more than half way there. The very best of luck to everybody. Jenny – submit your work when you feel it’s ready, don’t hold back. They can only say no. They can’t stop you X

  4. You’ve managed to highlight in this post, suitably backed up by other commentators, all the reasons I decided to go the self-publishing route with eBooks.
    You wrote the book, and then followed the appropriate ‘traditional’ route that so many of us would like to try, and I’m disappointed in a system that didn’t see your story for what it is – unique. I’ll be keeping an eye out for it, and will buy it. I will also happily review it and post it on my blog, website, FB, Twitter, and Google+.
    It’s worth noting Heather, that if you go the self-publishing route (paperback, or eBook), you already have a fan base – and it will help springboard your efforts.
    I wondered if you’d even considered the electronic self-publishing route. Okay, I know it’s frowned on by many, but if the work is put in, it can produce the goods for you.
    I’m happily working on my third novel in three years. I hope to e-publish in June, so I’ll have three of them on Amazon. I don’t have an editor, an agent, or a publisher, but I work my backside off, to get my writing as good as I can – just as you have done. I use an editing programme over and over again. I have somebody (not family), who reads every chapter, and then the rewrites, and gives me constructive feedback.
    It’s not a perfect set up, but I enjoy my writing, and it feels better than the stress I would endure if I considered the traditional path with all the guardians in place.
    I read and reviewed the first version of ‘Fifty Shades … ‘ and my review of it was pretty scathing. I believe that story had so many ‘suggestions’ that it was transformed from what was originally written.
    In summary, you believe in yourself and your ability, plus you believe in your writing. Don’t give up, and do consider other avenues; there are plenty of them open out there now.

      1. Heather: The lovely thing about going indie is you choose the category for your book: Women’s Fiction. You publish it. You promote it. Your book will find its niche readers. Agents and publishers don’t know it all. I submitted a book to an agent, who sent it back and said “This story doesn’t have a hook.” I self-published. Last week over 97,000 readers downloaded the book in its first promotion. The reviews are fabulous. So! The title did not hook that one agent. with one opinion. I’m good with it.
        Good Luck!
        Jackie Weger

      2. Hi Jackie, apologies for the delay in replying here I only just saw this comment today for some reason! I didn’t get a notification as I usually do. Thank you for your thoughts, that has certainly cheered me up knowing you can achieve numbers like that. How exciting for you! Congrats! A quarter of your success would make me happy, to have people Mrs D publically out there, that would be pretty cool 🙂 x

  5. I like this idea. I like the idea of tackling a proper subject and making it comedy. And you are right, the published “comic” novels by women that are sold rely on a notion of “pleasing” – “sparky” heroines but those ultimately looking for a man to complete them. Good luck.

    1. Thank you Denise, it is a less conventional way of dealing with a very current, difficult and quite taboo subject. I had a publisher offer to look at it again if I take the porn addiction story out. I have said no, didn’t even consider it for a second. I want to talk to women about this albeit in a slapstick comedy but I hope it works.
      Thank you for stopping by, I read your blog too Denise and you are quite right to get online and write. It’s a whole new, very supportive community that will bring you new purpose and finding an audience for what you do is wonderful. I hope you get the same ‘hit’ I do knowing you are read. Keep going, one foot in front of the other xxx

  6. Hi Heather, Thanks for liking my new, and rather bland, blog. I have just read your synopsis for Mrs D, and it sounds great, and totally original. I am looking forward to hearing about your self publishing journey – your novel deserves an audience – and self publishing is something I am also contemplating. Good luck!

    1. Thank you for your kind comments Karen, and you have a lovely blog. Writing for children is a wonderful thing, I do hope you keep going with it. I’ll let you into a secret – eleven years ago when I was expecting & later home caring for my fifth child I wrote a novel for children. Back then it was easier to submit to major publishers yourself so I did. I submitted to SEVEN in all and got six rejections and one, Scholastic books, saying they’d like to see more. I sent the full MS and a few weeks/months later they wrote to say they’d decided not to go with it after all.

      Then something really, really silly happened. I quit. Even as I read those words now I can’t believe myself. Just SEVEN rejections and I binned the whole idea of writing.

      The difference between eleven years ago me and today me is now I’m in the right place, if that makes sense. Now, I couldn’t quit if I tried. NOW I know that all I’ll ever want to do is write and that if I went back to my old job, and even that lovely, regular wage I’d always wonder for the rest of my life: ‘what if?’

      If you really are a writer, you’ll just know because the itch will keep on bugging you until you have to go back to it. If you have that itch, keep on scratching it 🙂 x

  7. Go at it, go, go! You’ve written an excellent post that precisely describes where you stand and quite clearly you are ready to self-publish. But the easiest way to do that is to go digital. Look up David Gaughan’s blog and book, he’s full of excellent advice. Konrath’s Guide for Newbies is also very useful. It’s a steep learning curve – a whole new world really – but well worth it, provided you are satisfied that you’ve done everything you could (a) to edit it to the best of your ability and (b) chosen the best possible cover. Both Amazon’s KDP and The Smashwords site are extremely accessible and supportive.
    I started out 3 years ago and I learned a lot (made many mistakes that I wish now I hadn’t made, but I did learn, though the hard way!). My biggest gripe with self-publishing? The amount of marketing/book promotion you need to do. It’s all on your shoulders and it’s really hard work. You probably will need to do it full time for at least 6 months and better start even before you publish you book!
    Good luck and I’m looking forward to reading your book!

    1. Thank you Claude, that’s great advice 😉 I think I’ve more or less decided to go to KDP and a great pal at Design16 has begun work on my cover. I got a sneak preview of the work in progress the other day and was thrilled. Still tonnes to do but I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – the amount of author’s like yourself who have dropped by and taken the trouble to offer a nuggett of brilliant advice has really astounded me. I’m really thrilled to feel at last like a part of the author community. Onwards!

  8. just to say thanks for the follow and I find your blog very interesting and informative, talking as it does about subjects that interest me greatly, eg the publishing journey and comedic writing. Jane M.

    1. Thank you Jane, that’s very kind and I hope it helps you 🙂 Thanks so much for stopping by and taking the trouble to comment, it’s lovely to know you’re reading X

    1. Thank you,I hope you’re right! Self publication has given me such a renewed respect for indie authors who make it out there. It’s so hard -like you’re in a big, loud & busy room shouting ‘pick me! Pick me!’ I don’t know what makes people succeed except keep writing. 🙂

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