From First Draft to Publication
Reflections on success. What constitutes success for a writer? What can we learn from it and what can it teach us?
Over the course of fifteen years of working with up and coming writers a few titles stand out. They include the debut of first writer who came to us seeking a conversation in the days when manuscript appraisals were strictly hands off, at arm’s length reports based on the publishing model. That call was the start of Adventures in Fiction and devising services that are writer oriented.
We were the first consultancy to offer a complete mentoring programme and continue to evolve and adapt to changing circumstances.
These are a few of our favourite things
Each of these titles is special, for different reasons. They include Important stories, poignant stories, entertaining stories. Stories that expand the narrative, bear testimony, unpick the legacies of the past, throw new light on a familiar subject.
All these novels found a place in the world because they had something to say, all contain that tantalising element—a hook. They are all page-turners too.
Each of these writers have had their own unique journey and we’re honoured to have played a part. They include an immensely talented writer who, nonetheless, had to wait years before breaking through with major, world best selling success, a writer whose personal history was so charged with emotion it took time to find the right words, another overcoming dyslexia, writers from backgrounds where even the idea of being a writer would have seemed outlandish, audacious if not utterly unthinkable. Also included here is a writer who knew from the outset what she was aiming for and just needed a skilled mentor in her particular genre to act as a guide in those initial early stages.
It works both ways
One of the wonderful things about working with aspiring writers is that it’s rewarding for mentors too. With each new writer we learn something new about the writing process, or have to find a fresh way to articulate how or why some aspect of narrative development is or isn’t quite working yet and to offer strategies to break through. It means we take risks on behalf of our clients.
We’re in it with you.
The Importance of a Debut
What many new writers don’t realise is how important that first novel is. With a debut you are establishing your brand. (I know, a hated term, but publishing deals in product. This is one of the first rude awakenings that published writers learn.) If you make your mark strongly enough, you’ll establish your place in the world of publishing. You’ll establish what kind of writer you are and what kind of books the reader can expect.
That’s why it’s worth taking your time.
What type of novel are you aiming to write?
Genre is important if you are aiming for a commercial publisher. (And even if you aren’t.) Genre is about categories, about how a novel will be marketed and sold. Of course, there are exceptions, the genre-breaking or genre-bending novel, but even in those instances you need to have some sense of what the general principles are first.
Success Comes in Many Form
All the writers here have faced rejection. Some have had to overcome personal hurdles. Sometimes this can be about entitlement. One writer was so nervous, we had to break the process down into manageable stages and take it step by step. At the other end of the spectrum was a writer who, from first reading, was obviously going to be a huge success. This was a writer who sucked up every piece of technical and structural input and made it their own.
It’s a special pleasure to recognise potential in the early stages, to see that diamond in the rough, to make suggestions, to offer guidelines and watch that potential flower into a magnificent novel that then steadily makes its way into the world. It’s a joy to get those first phone calls or emails. I got an agent! I got a book deal! My novel is coming out!
An Individual Approach
Some writers know what they want and just need guidance. Others need a little boosting along the way. All writers benefit from an experienced eye and practical tools. Sometimes it’s about tweaking. Should this be YA or middle grade? Is this a literary novel or actually commercial? Some writers are surprised to discover that writing a novel isn’t an entirely subjective, intuitive process.
A novel, like a house, needs a structure. Few people would start building without a blueprint. Those that do, may find the house difficult to sell. (Yes, there are always exceptions too!) Sometimes a writer needs to adapt Paul Klee’s advice ‘to take a line for a walk’. To see where the writing takes us.
Writing fiction brings it own rewards
There are also novels that don’t find a publisher—novels that we didn’t know we needed yet, novels that tell uncomfortable truths. To those writers breaking boundaries, say to yourself not yet, not yet …
Of the hundreds of unpublished manuscripts we have worked on over the years, many memorable scenes and scenarios and characters linger. I think of these as a revolving kaleidoscope of possibilities eternally circling around waiting to find a place. That scene, that character, that evocative setting. They may find themselves migrating to another manuscript, or contain the seed of a novel that will finally break through.
Finding a Voice
Writers gain by experience and practice. We learn what works and what doesn’t. Sometimes we may be working out something for ourselves or trying to find words for experience that has previously felt indescribable. It is not an accident that so many beginners writing classes are called Finding A Voice. Every manuscript is a personal triumph worth celebrating. Every one will have taught the writer something of value. Every manuscript is worthwhile.
It is also worth remembering great novels that remained unpublished in the writer’s lifetime. My personal go to is The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien, published after his death and now an undisputed classic.
I also bear in mind what an agent once said to me. Publishers can simply be wrong.
Pathways to Success
Our success stories include writers who graduated from the groundbreaking Apprenticeship scheme, who won the Spotlight First Novel Award, who opted for a one-off full appraisal, a partial, a Stage-One mentoring package, a submission package and a writer who took it one step at a time and devised a programme that worked for him. (Now called Start-Up.)
You can choose the level of input that works for you.
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