Monday, 11 November 2013

Press 'Submit'

Submit by email. Save the trees.
A carved trunk in Aire sur l'Adour

Upload file and press 'Submit'

I started writing my first novel when I was 17 and submitted it to an editor when I was 21. It was, I thought at the time, an enthralling tale about life in boarding school in Ireland. I remember making the decision to spend half my food budget on the purchase of the Writers' & Artists' Yearbook. I devoured the pages devoted to Irish agents and publishers and chose one lucky editor. I printed off my novel, put it in an envelope and posted it, enclosing an SAE. It cost me a bloody fortune. I didn't know I'd have to wait for six months before I got a reply. I didn't write anything during the wait. When I got a standard rejection I put that novel in a drawer and started another.

My second novel was better. I had learned a little from writing and editing the first. I also had a bit more life-experience to draw from. But, instead of sending this one to an editor, I decided to pay for a professional critique: a sizable expense considering I was earning a tiny salary working as a telemarketer. But I felt it was an investment in my writing career. The critique I received was probably accurate, but terribly off-putting. I deposited my manuscript in the drawer alongside my first.

My third attempt was a children's book. I wrote the first draft and decided I wasn't really a children's writer. I didn't even read children's books at that stage. Fail. Drawer.

I gave up writing for about five years. The freedom! Now I could watch TV like ordinary people without feeling like I should be chipping away at a manuscript into the early hours. I joined a karate club. I took up the flute. I had three children. But eventually the lure of the quill pencil keyboard was too strong.

By now things had changed. Editors and agents had websites with submission guidelines. Published authors had websites and blogs. There were forums for emerging writers, places to exchange critiques, lists of competitions and literary magazines. All this information was free. I spent about a year learning about the craft of writing and finding out about the industry. I wrote short stories and a new novel. Then I came out: I admitted to friends and family that I was a closet writer. In fact I'd won a prize and was to read my short story at a prize-giving ceremony in Birmingham.

In a way I think it's easier for authors these days. Certainly the submission process is easier. Up-to-date submission guidelines are available online. Most agents accept submissions by email or by Submittable (online form). No postage. No printing costs. Save the trees and all that!

This tree trunk fascinates me
every time I visit this park.
Themes of books,
 music and dancing
carved into the wood.
I'm proud of my fourth novel, Lost in Lourdes, which is out on submission at the moment. Even after several big rewrites I still love the story and my characters and believe it will be published. But this time, instead of waiting for a reply, I'm tinkering away at my next project.






  1. Very interesting post!
    I love the pictures of the tree too, how stunning!

  2. Thanks awesome! I've only managed to capture half of it. May go back and take some more pics at some stage.

  3. Best of luck with that 4th novel, Hilary! I'm slogging through NaNo at the moment and I admire you for having finished 4 novels!

  4. Hi Sally,
    Good luck with NaNo, hope you win!