How I Got Published
Although the end of my publication journey was very unusual, it began in a very typical way. I’d written a couple of books that yielded a mixed-bag of silence and blunt rejections. There were scraps of much-needed encouragement too, but I was honest enough with myself to recognise that, although I could write, there was something missing from my work. It was a bit thin, inconsequential―a series of events rather than a compelling narrative. That changed in 2010, for a couple of reasons.
I had just begun a teaching career, and been surprised to discover an interest in writing for younger readers. I realised a more distinct voice was emerging, free from the mimicry of which I knew I was guilty.
In addition to this, my adored grandfather passed away, and I found grief staining my pages. Suddenly I had something to write about, and my work had the depth and consequence it had been lacking. I wrote a middle grade novel and took it into the big bad world, joining an SCBWI critique group, attending an event for aspiring authors at the Edinburgh Book Festival and entering a national competition. After a long series of rejections, my shortlisting in that competition helped catch the eye of my agent, Molly Ker Hawn.
So far, so typical.
The atypical part came after a year or so. While the feedback on my MG novel was positive, publishers indicated that the darkness of its tone might be an issue for younger readers. Did I have anything else?
So my agent submitted a short story I’d based on an article in a newspaper supplement and, amazingly, Penguin made an offer to turn those 1,800 words into a novel: Riverkeep. The short story became the first chapter and I followed the publishers’ advice―stepping a little further away from the darkness and into the light. Feedback really is always a gift, no matter how critical!
Don’t be precious. Be honest with yourself. Cut anything that doesn’t work. Accepting that a particular project hasn’t worked is not a defeat―it is an exercise in the development and refinement of your talent and voice in which you should delight. Each project you set aside takes you a step closer to the one that will work beautifully. Think of the abandoned drafts as a Shed of Wonder, to which you can wander and tinker when in need of inspiration!
Research your submissions to agencies. In the days of online information you can read their guidelines, discover the interests of individual agents, and even check out their Twitter feeds. Use this to tailor your submission to each agent, explaining why you think they, in particular, might be interested in your work.