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Mark Farrell

After 13 years trudging the well-worn path of the aspiring novelist and coming agonizingly close to success, Mark Farrell was told he should consider self-publication. But the idea of touting himself on social media non-stop didn’t appeal, so he came up with another solution. Here’s the story of how he did it.

“I started writing historical novels back in 2000. It’s in my blood; who wouldn’t want to write, with a Booker Prize winner – JG Farrell – in the family?

After five years with no success, I got my MS looked at by a literary consultant. Then another, then another, then another.

By 2009 I started a new project from scratch, and the first draft almost immediately caught the attention of Bill Hamilton, managing director of AM Heath, one of London’s oldest agencies; he diagnosed my writing as Young Adult (which was news to me) and then he handed me over to Sarah Molloy, his children’s specialist.

I asked my author friends what they knew about Bill Hamilton. “You should be turning cartwheels,” said one. “He’s the prince of agents,” said another. “He’s Hilary Mantel’s agent, and Katie Fforde’s,” said yet another.

It all felt right: the logical conclusion of someone having worked hard over years, going the right path of getting trained to develop their talent. It felt like my just reward. I’d always known deep down that I’d make it one day, and now getting a publisher would be a formality. I thought.

“This is so exciting,” said Sarah, who likewise was praised to the heavens. She knew everyone. She was the best, the Jose Mourinho of Young Adult literary agents. The Door, that had for so long been shut, had burst open in front of me. But first I had to own up that I was a bloke.

I’d had a couple of nasty experiences with feedback; more than once I’d been told that my female voice didn’t work and I disagreed so the manuscript went in to AM Heath under my initials.

Bill and Sarah both fell for it: “Dear Ms Farrell [no idea what your first name is]…” wrote Bill. “What is your name?” wrote Sarah. “I can’t keep calling you by your initials.” And finally – “Well there’s a thing: I never would have guessed you’re a man, which speaks volumes for your very convincing portrayal of a young girl.”

Why did I want to write as the opposite sex? some horrified tutors had asked. I was baffled: what was their problem? Haven’t writers always done that? And when I joined the Romantic Novelists Association New Writers’ Scheme, I was put firmly in my place: words to the effect of, how dare you?

Well, now I felt vindicated. Since I started writing I’ve read predominantly female authors, and usually female protagonists too. I don’t know why it happens, I just prefer to take my written word that way (though some have said it may have something to do with my having five daughters and no sons).

So I went for a meeting with Sarah. Talk about exciting: “They don’t take just anyone out for lunch,” I was told. We discussed changes, I set about rewriting then she asked me to change a few more things. Then she said she’d test the water by sending out the third draft to her B-list. If they go for it we’ll attack the A-list and get a contest going, she said.

An auction! Can you imagine? I was having kittens by this stage.

3 of the biggest publishers turned us down. We met again. I rewrote again. Sarah attacked the A-list. A thoughtful no-thanks from her number 1 target. More changes to make. I was beginning to run out of enthusiasm.

Then as I was about to start draft number five, Sarah retired. Her successor let me go. She apologized and suggested Kindle Direct: “there’s no shame in it nowadays,” she said. I asked her for a quote for my collection then looked around for an advertising website displaying self-published books like mine, which people in the trade were prepared to recommend. But nobody had thought of it.

And all the while, in literary supplements and on blog threads, writers and readers alike were bemoaning the difficulty in finding the good self-published novels among the dross. The answer looked simple enough to me: launch a website, and only admit the best.

Ascribe Novel Solutions is open to anyone, whether self-published or published by a small independent press, who has a recommendation from either a traditionally published author, a literary agent or consultant, or a professional editor working primarily with fiction. The first 100 books to apply successfully will be featured for a year, free of charge. Go to for full details.

(c) Mark Farrell

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