Here on Daily (w)rite, as part of the ongoing guest post series, it is my absolute pleasure today to welcome to this site author Fiona Mitchell, who speaks of her remarkable journey from disappointing rejections to a publishing deal, and the seven steps to the publication of her debut novel, The Maid’s Room.
Congratulations on your debut, Fiona! Take it away!
‘I would have given up!’ That’s what a lot of people say when I tell them how long it took me to get published. The Maid’s Room is out this week – seven years after I started writing fiction.
Throughout that time, I received lots of rejection letters and always, my spirit would slump into the end of my toes. But giving up was never an option because I felt so passionate about my idea. Set in Singapore, The Maid’s Room explores the lives of over-worked, underpaid Filipina maids who decide to fight back and change their lives.
I kept writing, re-writing and editing and finally in October 2016, I signed a two-book deal with Hodder & Stoughton. Here are the seven steps I struggled up to turn my pipe dream into reality. And it’s worth noting that my hardest knocks were my most important turning points.
1) I blew my biggest chance: Back in 2013, I entered a novel competition that was judged by four literary agents. To my astonishment I was first longlisted then shortlisted. I didn’t win, but one of the literary agents, Rowan Lawton, wanted to meet me because she liked my novel. Rowan and I met in a cafe in London where I scribbled down her suggestions for edits. I worked on the book for a few months, but it still wasn’t right and Rowan turned it down. ‘I’ll never get another chance like this,’ I thought.
2) I wrote a second book: I set that first book aside, and wrote another one: a literary love story set on a remote Scottish island with quite a lot of sex scenes. I showed it to my husband who fell asleep somewhere around the second chapter. A writer friend of mine read it, grimaced and said, ‘Well, the thing is I really liked that first novel.’ I ignored everyone and submitted my second novel to agents including Rowan. The rejections flowed in.
3) I went back to my first book: I excavated the first book, made some changes and began sending it out again. One agent requested the full, using words like ‘brilliant’ and ‘wonderful’ to describe the opening chapters. Two other agents wanted to read the whole thing too. ‘This is my moment,’ I thought. Except it wasn’t. One by one all three agents rejected me. And that’s not mentioning the scores of other agents I sent it to. There was no body left to approach.
4) I wrote a third book: I peeled my splattered ego off the floor and started to plan a new book, using my central idea of modern-day servitude in Singapore with a brand new storyline, punctuated with humour. I wrote The Maid’s Room in a matter of months then sent the full manuscript to seven literary agents, including Rowan. One by one the rejections arrived, saying the narrative wasn’t quite taut enough, the pacing wasn’t right. I was at an all-time low.
5) I hired an editor: One agent said she’d love to read The Maid’s Room again if I had it edited. I was cynical, but eventually I thought, ‘what have I got to lose?’ I contacted story editor Sara Sarre who turned out to be my saviour. She loved The Maid’s Room and knew where I was going wrong.
6) I landed a literary agent: I sent The Maid’s Room to Rowan and ten days later, she offered to represent me. And that changed everything. Rowan and I worked together on more changes, then in October 2016, I signed contracts with four separate publishing companies in Denmark, Norway, Spain and Italy.
7) I signed with Hodder & Stoughton: It was nail-biting when Rowan started to submit to UK publishers, but thankfully the book went to auction and I ended up signing a two-book deal with Hodder & Stoughton.
Fiona Shares Her Tips to Help Your Novel to the Finishing Post:
1) Choose an idea you’re passionate about. That idea will sustain you through rejection and furnish you with the magic ‘p’ word: perseverance.
2) Turn up. Don’t wait until you feel like writing. Treat it like a job and write every day.
3) Don’t Look Back. Complete your first draft before doing any editing. That way you’ll know your story works and that it’s worth spending time editing.
4) Put it away. When you’ve rewritten and edited your novel once, put it away for a couple of weeks and come back to it anew. You’ll see it through a stranger’s eyes then and will be more able to spot what doesn’t work.
5) When you’re submitting to literary agents, say you welcome feedback. Use that feedback to improve your book.
6) If you’re unsure how to improve your book, find a brilliant editor who connects with your writing.
7) Enter writing competitions. A longlisting in a competition will buoy you up through the submissions process and keep you writing.
8) Rejections hurt. Turn the negative emotion into energy and keep writing. The longer it takes to get representation, the better your writing will become.
Fiona Mitchell is an award-winning writer who has worked as a journalist for twenty years. She spent almost three years living in Singapore and now lives in London with her husband and daughter. The Maid’s Room, published by Hodder & Stoughton on 16th November 2017, is her first novel. She is currently working on a second.
Do you have questions for Fiona? Have you gone the indie or trad route? Do you prefer the independence of self-publishing? Or maybe publication by the Big Five or a small press is the only way for you? Share your thoughts and if you have questions on writing or publication for ask them in the comments!
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