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.