OK, so you’ve all seen the X Factor, right? You know the drill – a panel of judges decides the fate of the aspiring singers, pressing their buzzers if the act displeases them. Some competitors astound you, soaring through round after round, until they reach the climax of the glittering finale. And then there are the singers that are hopeless. I must admit, these are the ones I enjoy most. Why their nearest and dearest didn’t take these delusional, tone deaf, cringe-worthy people aside and say “listen, love, you can’t sing, OK? Try knitting. Or flower arranging. Anything but singing.” is beyond me. And one thing is sure – you can always count on it that someone will murder a ‘Whitney Houston’ classic.
Well, writing is a bit like the X Factor. A couple of years ago, I decided that I was going to take my writing seriously, and not just mutter that it was ‘just a little hobby’ when friends would enquire as to how it was going. The next time someone at a dinner party asked me “So, what do you do?” I wanted to proudly declare that I am an author. However, there was one thing continually getting between me and my place on the bestseller’s list: rejection. I was becoming accustomed to the dreaded buzzer.
A bit like an audition, you only get one shot with a publisher. A friend gave me some advice that has always stuck with me. “Imagine presenting your work to a panel of stern-faced judges,” she said. “Try and get as far into your performance without them pressing the buzzer.” It was a terrifying thought, but a clever one. You see, if a publisher doesn’t immediately like your work, he or she will press the proverbial buzzer and say “next!” A crafty plan took shape.
Just like the X Factor, publishers are looking for something that little bit special. Singers are judged on whether they are commercial enough, hard-working, different from the rest, talented, and likely to sell millions of records. And so it is for authors – if they appear not to have these qualities within the first thirty seconds of reading their work, they are buzzed, and must leave the stage, dejected.
For me, joining a creative writing class was a lesson in how to take constructive criticism. And believe me, this was never my strong point! It was a baptism of fire, because let’s just say that the writers in the class were brutally honest about the work we shared with each other every week. Now, I could see my work through new eyes, and determine where I was going off-course. The exciting, funny bits of the novel were in the middle of the manuscript, not slap bang wallop on the front page where they should be. There was no page-turning, un-put-downable hook in my first paragraph, the reader would have to dig through mediocre rubble until she found the golden nuggets buried in the center. And let’s be truthful – most of us (me included) are fickle. We get bored if the beginning of a book is not living up to our expectations, cast it aside, and read something else. It’s only the hard-core among us that will stick it out, hoping that a book improves are they plough faithfully on.
So, I did what needed to be done. At first, my manuscript resembled Frankenstein’s monster, all hacked and sewn back together. But it didn’t matter; it would be stronger after undergoing the necessary surgery. It would be sturdier, sleeker, a new generation. The dilemma of the book was brought forward to the prologue. The punchlines were made punchier. The synopsis teased, promising all kinds of hilarity and intrigue.
When I stepped back from the operating table, I took a fresh look. The manuscript was now something to be proud if. More importantly, it was less likely to get buzzed, and stood a better chance of holding its head high on the stage. What’s more, my confidence had grown – I had seen my name in print, several magazines had featured my short stories.
So, I did what all writers do – I picked myself up, and tried again. Before I knew it, I had passed the first major hurdle: an actual, real-life literary agent had contacted me to say that he loved the first three chapters, and was wondering if I could possibly send him the rest of the manuscript. On average, he rejects ninety-nine manuscript submissions and accepts one. Cue deep breathing into my paper bag, and a frantic telephone call to my husband who has backed my obsessive dream since day one. I had beaten the odds to get this far, and now no-one was going to stop me.
With a contract signed, our next objective was to pitch publishers in the saturated genre of commercial fiction. I was through to the next round of the show, but the buzzer still loomed over my head, threatening to reject me again. While my agent and I waited impatiently, we self-published my debut novel. This was to show potential publishers that we very much meant business, and that we believed that Bride Without a Groom would not only sell, but would receive five-star reviews on Amazon. Luckily, the gamble paid off, and within a month, Avon (a division of Harper Collins) expressed interest. With the contract signed, the new book cover revealed, and a London lunch date with my darling of an editor set up, I’m starting to feel like one of those smug finalists on the X Factor. But don’t worry, I promise not to sing Whitney Houston.
(c) Amy Lynch
Amy is an Irish author of romance, comedy and women’s fiction. Her debut novel ‘Bride Without a Groom’ launches with Avon, Harper Collins in May 2015. Her second novel ‘Does My Bump Look Big In This?’ is complete, and she is working on her third novel at present.
Amy lives in Wicklow, Ireland with her husband, two young children and two rescue dogs, Bella and Roly. When she is not writing, she can be found juggling school runs, and dithering on Facebook.
You can find out more about Amy by following her on twitter or Facebook and by reading her website
Avon, Harper Collins will publish Amy’s debut Bride Without a Groom on 7th May.
Ebook 99p, paperback £7.40