Writers need to have a passion for writing, because readers need to be immersed in that passion when they pick up a story or book. Writing can never be a chore or laboured. Luckily for me, it never is!
I remember winning a prize for a poem I had published in the Brownie Magazine when I was 7 (it was about a kangaroo and I managed to skilfully rhyme ‘jump’ and ‘bump’. I’ve never attempted poetry again!) I’ve written continually ever since. In lessons at school I would be writing stories in my notebook while teachers believed me to be writing notes.
When I left school, I started on a novel, pen and paper always to hand, whiling away any spare moment – and many moments that weren’t spare, for that matter. Motivation has never been a problem, my problem is being forced away from my writing by starving offspring or smoke detectors, beeping away furiously to announce dinner’s ready. I probably spend at least 2 hours a day writing; although usually it would be more.
As I also have a passion for horseracing, I started to combine the two by writing articles and sending them in to every racing publication I could think of. Finally, (and they say life begins at 40!) an editor rang to accept my article and request more. “Where have you been all my life?” he asked. “Where have you been all mine?!” was my retort! It was a long wait, but now I’m a full-time racing journalist and my work has been recognised at prestigious awards. I’m living testament to the phrase ‘never give up’. If you enjoy what you’re doing, why would you? I’m blessed to be writing for a living, but I’d still be writing as a hobby if that lucky editor hadn’t arrived.
When I completed my first novel, I sent it to every publisher listed in the Writers & Artists Yearbook. I lack patience, so I posted off 10 copies at a time, sending them back out to the next 10 on the list as the rejections rolled in. I wasn’t put off by rejections, books are a matter of taste and we don’t all choose the same novel from the library. So it is with editors. I just plugged on until I found one who liked my work. In that instance, there wasn’t one!
So I wrote another novel and that got rejected, too. But I had faith in my work and I knew there was a market for it. The book was a fictionalised biography of the Roman Emperor Nero and we took the risk of self-publishing.
Back in 2002 it was a pricey venture, as we needed a minimum order of 500 books. ‘Nero – The Last Emperor’ was like a new baby. It had taken me 6 or 7 years to research and write and now we were involved as a whole family, investing money and time. My husband Tony designed the cover and it was a joint effort getting it to the printer. Minor trivialities such as page numbers were almost forgotten. That would have been a nightmare omission from a 300+ page book!
We got there in the end, supplying the book perfectly print-ready and taking delivery of 500 copies. Once again it was a family effort, delivering boxes of books nationwide and even to UK shops and museums. Marketing was hard work, but enjoyable. I became very inventive when it came to keeping the book in the news. It still sells now, a few copies a year, via Amazon and orders from bookstores.
Having collected less rejection slips on my third novel, because by 2006 there were far less fiction publishers accepting unsolicited work, I went back to self-publishing very quickly. This time we had no money to invest, so I went to Cafepress.com, the first of the print-on-demand outlets. It was literally print-on-demand, with zero investment. I sent up my files via the internet, and Cafepress printed a copy whenever someone added one to their shopping basket. This made each individual copy a little expensive. When a copy sold for $9, Cafepress kept $6 for printing costs. I therefore wasn’t able to market ‘Gala Day’ (a horseracing thriller) in the same way as ‘Nero’. If I bought copies to supply to shops, I’d be selling at a loss. Sales were only via Cafepress and very low.
By the time I wrote my fourth novel (my third to be published) print-on-demand had opened up. I got a friend’s book print-ready and she took delivery of just 200 books, which all sold at her launch. She went back for another run and by now the price per copy was very reasonable and within every author’s reach. Print runs can be from one copy upwards. Another change was in the Artists & Writers Yearbook. This year I had only two publishers to send my novel to, a clear sign of recession. Fortunately the first of those phoned me within a week to offer me a contract! (The other one has still yet to reply!)
And so ‘Chantilly Dawns’, an adult rite-of-passage story set in the racing community of France, will be published the conventional way. I still feel just as much involved in the project, however, and my input is requested at every step of the way. The book’s success depends just as much on the work and time I’m prepared to put in as it does on my publisher. It’s a team effort and not too dissimilar to self-publishing. Even the editing work was painless and right now I’m looking forward to several months of touring bookstores and signings and full-scale promotion. As busy as I have been in the past weeks since signing my precious contract, I’m still on my laptop, typing the next best seller!
‘Chantilly Dawns’ will be published in February by Book Republic, a boutique imprint of Maverick House. Book Republic specialises in new and innovative writing that might not find room with bigger publishing houses. It specialises in short runs of limited edition hardbacks, so can afford to take risks with new authors. That isn’t to say that trade paperback runs won’t follow, if sales dictate. And I shall be working my socks off to make damn sure they do!