Wednesday, 25 April 2012

The making of it

I’ve just heard that my novel, The Making of Her, will be published this Friday. Even as I write this, it’s at the printers being turned into A Real Book. I’ve never had a baby, but I guess this is the nearest I’ll come to it. So please bear with me, because I’m going to blog about its story. Not its plot, but the story of how it came into being.

I began The Making of Her waaaay back in August 2006, on a How To Write A Novel course at University College, Falmouth, run by the redoubtable Jane Pollard. I came clutching the beginning of a novel, but my bright-eyed optimism was soon dashed. Jane told us to discard any novel we’d begun and start again from scratch. In new-age circles, Letting Go is said to be a good thing, because it creates a vacuum into which something new can be born - and this proved to be the case: that night at the kitchen table an idea came to me. I sat and scribbled, and by next day the basic plot was there. I drew on my own experience as a television director, many years in therapy and my position in society as a middle aged (aka invisible) woman.


Little did I know that this was only the beginning of what would turn out to be a six-year project, with much heartbreak - and a few highs. The first draft took about a year, although I stopped for four months in the middle: I lost faith after an incisive critique on the first three chapters. Like most beginning novelists, I was very resistant to changing my ‘baby’, partly because my skin was still too thin. Over the years, the skin thickened and the resistance was gradually dismantled. And I was lucky to be a member of three different writing groups, as well as WriteWords, a brilliant online writing community, and received invaluable critique from them. I began subbing to agents in 2008.


At that point the novel had an unfortunate title – The Change – and involved rather too many menopausal references. It was also unrelentingly downbeat. Six form rejections came back. I entered some competitions – no luck. I sent the first three chapters and synopsis to the Hilary Johnson editorial service: they were encouraging and I realise, looking back, that there are a few events in writer’s lives which act as markers or milestones – where someone ‘gets’ what you’re doing and says ‘keep going’. This, together with being shortlisted in a Cornerstones competition, renewed my faith and energy to continue. One agent asked for the full – and rejected.


But some progress was being made. I rewrote passages. I edited and revised. I changed the title to The Making of Her. I worked on making it more upbeat and changed one of the main narratives to first person. I subbed to another handful of agents. The rejections continued to come in, but now some of them were personal, and encouraging. One agent rejected, but asked to see the next one. A couple more asked for the full. There were moments of hope, but many more moments of despair and dejection. One agent ‘loved’ the first 50 pages and asked for the full, then hung onto it for many months before sending a pretty brutal rejection.


At this point I was ready to throw in the towel. As a final shot, I decided to submit directly to a publisher. My friend Derek had told me about Linen Press Books, a women’s press based in Edinburgh, so I sent off my synopsis and first chapters. To my utter amazement, since I was feeling battered and bowed, they asked for the full and, within a week or so, had read it. They asked me to make some revisions and after seeing the preliminary changes, offered me a contract.


This was in January 2011. The year that followed felt like a miracle. I had a fabulous editor who worked with me over many months like a mentor, meticulously going through the novel chapter by chapter. I rewrote the beginning (again), added a couple of sub-plots and rewrote a middle section. I could see the novel improving with each change. And because Linen Press is a small publishing house, I was fully involved at every stage, including the cover design.


So here it is. Or will be, on Friday. Now I’m immersed in marketing and asking for reviews, which feels rather like subbing to agents – lots of rejection/ignoring but a few ‘yesses’ or ‘maybes’. It’s been a long and often painful process to today, so what I’m long-windedly wanting to say is: It is possible. You can do it. Keep going. Have faith. The Making of Her will be available from www.linenpressbooks.co.uk from 27th April.

42 comments:

Derek said...

The road well travelled! I think the key point is that you stuck with it, Susie. Despite the slings and arrows of outrageous agents and all the editing and rewriting, you stayed the course and brought the ideas into life. All the writers who know you are very proud of your achievement.

Susie will be the interview guest on my own blog tomorrow at: www.alongthewritelines.blogspot.com

Rebecca Alexander said...

Congratulations Susie, it just shows how much hard work goes into getting a book out there! I'm a step behind you, I've just got an agent, so I will be watching your successes with interest...and buying the book, of course!

Sandra Davies said...

Congratulations and well done for sticking with it - way beyond what I would deem possible.

Gillian McDade said...

Really looking forward to reading your book, Susie - best wishes with it :) x

JO said...

Well done - and I hope you enjoy working with The Linen Press.

Have a great day on Friday - I'll raise a glass to you.

Joanna said...

Congratulations, Susie. Your post is an inspiration to all writers.

Halfway through the first draft of my novel and about to begin an important chapter, I was procrastinating this morning, too scared to start in case it falls flat.
But reading your post has given me the courage to keep going.
I'm looking forward to reading your book and am fascinated by the years of devotion and determination that made it possible.
Many thanks.

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Oh, what a lovely way to start the day - thank you so much!
Derek, it was you who put me in touch with Linen Press - not to mention endless support and wonderfulness - and thanks for interviewing me!
Rebecca - I don't have an agent, so in that sense you are one step ahead of me - congratulations! And I'm really touched to hear you're thinking of buying my book!
Thanks, Sandra, Jo and Gillian - Sandra, I know writers who've stuck with it far longer than I have, and won through.
Joanna, that brought tears to my eyes - I'm so glad you are keeping the faith, and keeping going. Very best of luck with it!
Susiex

Anonymous said...

Susie, what a great post, you are an inspiration. I'm not sure i could have stuck with one project that long, your faith has clearly paid off.

Enjoy the next few months, you throughly deserve your success.

Sam xx

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Funny, Sam, because I see YOU as an inspiration - I guess it's two sides of the same coin, whether you write lots of novels and learn from each one, or stay with the one and learn through its different incarnations.
Susiex

Julie said...

Congratulations, Susie! Looking forward to reading the book and to celebrating its arrival. After all your hard work you deserve every success!

Fionnuala said...

Susie, as you know I'm in the doldrums writing wise at the moment BUT your story is an inspiration to keep going. Of course, I will be buying one of your books for myself and several for friends...
Best of luck with it and WELL DONE GIRL, you get an A* for perseverance x

Susie Nott-Bower said...

My gosh, Fi, I am SO touched at how many people are planning to buy it - thank you so much! And I suspect and hope that your doldrums are the low before a fabulous, wonderful writing high.
Julie, let's lift a cappucino tomorrow - thank you!
Susiex

Derek said...

You've earned your success, Susie. And congrats to Rebecca too for catching the eye of an agent. To quote Rudyard Kiping's Kim: 'Many wear the Robe, but few keep the Way.'

Debs Riccio said...

Great inspirational post, Susie, and very well deserved after such a long journey - well done for staying true and staying the course (I am also putting it on my wish-list)I wish I had half your dedication and enthusiasm.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Susie - well, at least one of us has finally got a deal!!

sam x

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Debs, I'd say you have twice my dedication and enthusiasm. Your turn next, hopefully!
Susiex

Caroline Rance said...

Congratulations, Susie!

Geraldine Ryan said...

Susie, you really deserve this success! Wel done - I'll be buying your book too!

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Thanks, Caro and Jem.
I'm truly bowled over by all of you wanting to read my book. :)
Susiex

Neil said...

Congratulations susie! It's a very special moment when it finally all comes together.

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Thanks, Neil! :)
Susiex

Rin said...

What an encouraging tale Susie! Rejection is never easy, and persevering when all you have is your own dented self-belief sometimes feels like the hardest thing in the world. But I guess, as you story proves, it's all worth it in the end.

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Thanks, Rin. :)
Susiex

Sheila Cornelius said...

Well done. I remember this from WriteWords. So good to see it all came together. I think the title is great.

Sheila

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Sheila, how lovely to hear from you - I remember you from WriteWords, and your novel about the Drama Soc. Did you finish it?
Susiex

Caroline Green said...

Such a heartening and fantastic story. Like you, I only managed to break through when I subbed directly to a publisher. Can't wait to read the book Susie!

Kate said...

Congratulations - a fantastic achievement!

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Thanks so much, Caroline and Kate.
Susiex

The Virtual Victorian said...

And now it's the 27th! Congratulations Susie. Enjoy your day.

Susie Nott-Bower said...

And thank you, Essie, for your invaluable help with the dreaded synopsis-writing process. :)
Susiex

Sue said...

That was fascinating to read and mirrors much of my own experience in terms of the hard slog and disappointment. But you've made it - and that makes success even sweeter somehow. Congratulations!

(aka SecretSpi)

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Thanks so much, Sue. :)
Susiex

Deb said...

Been away for a week and only just got round to reading your post, Susie. Congratulations! The Making of Her will be the making of you! Well done! I'm really pleased for you:)

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Thanks, Deb! :)
Susiex

Martin Bodenham said...

Congratulations, Susie. Tenacity well rewarded!

Ute Carbone said...

Many congratulations, Susie! Yours is truly a story of perseverance. I wish you every success with your baby.

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Many thanks, Ute. :)
Susiex

Joe said...

Wow, truly inspirational! I admire your persistence and resilience. Here's to the book giving you the success you deserve!

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Joe, thanks - I'm really touched at this response - thank you everyone!
Susiex

Sandra Davies said...

Don't know where else to post this but wanted to tell you I began reading The Making of her at 9 last night - read til eleven, woke at four to continue and then finished it in three hours later this afternoon - absolutely enthralled and could not put it down in just the way I remember feeling about books when I was a child - a wonderful achievement Susie - thank you for giving me the pleasure.

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Oh, Sandra, I can't tell you how much that means to me. THANK YOU. I'm so glad you enjoyed it - that's what it's all about. Wow.
Susiexx

Sok said...

Sheila, how lovely to hear from you - I remember you from WriteWords, and your novel about the Drama Soc. Did you finish it? Susiex