I’ve been fortunate enough this week to attend two writing related events where I’ve heard from published authors – and there was one interesting common element in both.
The first was a talk at one of my local writers’ groups from Catherine Cooper, author of the children’s series which begins with The Golden Acorn. Catherine has based the fictional world of her books on the Shropshire area where she lives and writes, and it was clear from the way she spoke about her work that for her it’s far more than just about the writing. Catherine, who was originally a primary school teacher, probably spends as much time marketing her books, designing and making props, drawing illustrations, and going into schools to work with children, as she does actually writing. She has an extremely strong online presence, with a website http://www.pengridion.co.uk/, Facebook and Twitter account – all of which she uses in an effective way to support her fiction, rather than as a jolly distraction from the actual task of writing. She is methodical about the way she deals with her emails (she gets about 200 a day from fans and so forth), and in maintaining her website, supported by links to social media. Having started by going down the self-publishing route, Catherine has always been energetic and determined in her approach to selling her own work – so that even now, in the luxurious position of having a publisher, she is still hard at work on the marketing side.
The second event was the launch party for Kim Slater’s debut novel Smart. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Smart-Kim-Slater/dp/1447254090 Kim, who was a fellow student on the MA at Nottingham Trent, started out by writing a short story for our Children’s and Young Adult Literature module. We all loved it (something, I have to say, that was unusual – there’s none so critical as a fellow writer!), and given such a positive reception, Kim worked on the initial idea, building it into a full length young adult novel. The launch was held in Waterstones, where Kim, despite some pre-speech nerves, carried off the evening with aplomb, giving a reading from the book, some background into how the novel had come into being, and finally a brief Q&A. Afterwards, everyone eagerly surged to pick up a copy of the book for Kim to sign, only to discover that there weren’t enough copies available. Kim had sold out on the first evening – pretty good going!
So what was the common theme? Well, obviously the sheer amount of hard work which went into the journey from unknown writer to published author – the resilience in the face of umpteen rejections, the faith in one’s own work, and the length of time it takes to see a book finally in print. But there was something far more tangible which came up in both Catherine and Kim’s ‘how-I-made-it’ stories. At the outset, each of them had felt they had a strong idea for what should have been a good novel. Both of them sent their work to a number of agents, but despite some interest, they were not taken on. And both then paid for their work to be professionally critiqued.
I suppose I’ve always felt the critique to be a bit of a con (let’s face it, it’s only as good as the view of the person who happens to be doing the critiquing) but what I’ve heard this week has changed my view. In both cases, the feedback from the critique was invaluable. In Catherine’s case, it helped her to separate out two competing plotlines in her initial draft, allowing her to re-write the book to achieve a much stronger finished story. In Kim’s case, the person who was doing the critiquing was so impressed by the manuscript that she passed it on to an agent directly – thus bypassing the notorious slush-pile, and ensuring that Kim was at last offered that long sought after representation.
So, if I do ever get to the enviable position of having a decent draft novel, I too will send it off for a professional second opinion. Perhaps we are too close to our own work, and need a fresh objective eye to help us see the flaws. For both Catherine and Kim, this stage has helped them move from aspiring to published author – something they both deserve after much hard work.