Tuesday, 6 August 2013

The Perilous Path to Publication

by Sheila Bugler

Some time ago, I started an occasional column for this magazine on the trials and tribulations of securing a publishing deal. The last time I wrote was in August 2011. Back then, I was celebrating the fact I’d finally been signed by an agent. Someone who actually liked my writing and was willing to work with me to find a publisher.

It was a big moment in my life. At that point, I’d been writing for five years and it was an all-consuming occupation. Yes, I had a job, a husband and two gorgeous children but all of these took second place to my compulsive obsession. My life revolved around the writing. I lost friends and career opportunities and I missed out on many moments with my family that I can never get back.

Now, though, I had an agent. Surely things would change? Surely the next inevitable step was a lucrative publishing contract. I wanted this, you see, because I believed it would change my life. I believed a book deal would enable me to give up my job and concentrate full-time on writing. And if I did that, then I’d be able to find the time I needed for all the other stuff: family, friends and fun. I’d be able to have a life again.

My agent was great. She is great. I adore her. Since she took me on in 2011, we have become good friends. We worked together on getting that first novel as good as it could be and then she started submitting it. She sent it to a lot of publishers. Some of them liked it. Some of them liked it a lot. Unfortunately, none of them wanted to publish it. They gave all sorts of reasons but the bottom line was this: it wasn’t good enough.

In the meantime, I started work on a second novel. As the rejections piled in, I kept writing. I didn’t know what else to do.  Over time, the second novel was finished and my agent started to submit that too.

This time, my expectations were more realistic. I put the whole submission process out of my mind and got on with my life. Of course, I carried on writing as well but it took a slightly less prominent role in my life than it had until that point. I started to think about other things. Like how tired I was of living in London and what sort of future I wanted for my children. I started making plans.

Then I got a phone call. My agent had submitted the second novel to a publisher I’d always wanted to work with. They had read the book and liked it. They wanted to talk to me. Eek! Suddenly, I was very excited. Again.

I had a long telephone conversation with the publisher and a senior editor. They asked lots of questions and gave me their thoughts on the novel. I gabbled like a loon, interrupting way too often and generally coming across as slightly unhinged. At the end of the conversation, they asked to see outlines for the next four novels in the series. Novels I’d mentioned during the phone conversation but which, until that point, were no more than vague ideas.

The night after that phone call was spent frantically working out four novel plots and writing them into coherent synopses. The next morning, my agent sent off the plot outlines and we waited....

Two days later, an offer came through. A two-book deal. The publisher liked my ideas and wanted to work with me. I was sitting at my desk in work when the offer came through. It was quite a moment.

Since then, a lot has happened with the book. It’s all been exciting and I’ve loved every moment of it. The people I’m working with at the publishers are fantastic. I have a wonderful editor who is wise, funny and (most importantly) tactful with her feedback. I have a team of people marketing the book across the UK and Ireland. Some of my favourite crime writers have read it and liked it. Finally, it feels as if all the hard work might just be paying off.

But here’s the thing. Life doesn’t change. I’d devoted years of my life to reaching this moment and when it finally came, sweet as it was (and still is), everything else carried on as before. I have two children who still need looking after, a husband I don’t spend enough quality time with, a job that needs doing and lovely friends I need to be there for.

On top of which, the wheels of the publishing world move so slowly only a fool would put their lives on hold waiting for their big moment.  I signed with my agent in 2011; my first novel will be published next month (12 August 2013).

Since signing the book deal, our family has moved out of London and we’re busy building a new life for ourselves by the sea. Sorting the move has been hard work and immensely stressful. But we’ve done it. We’re living in our new house in a lovely town on the south coast.

As I write this, copies of the book are being printed, ready for distribution. In the meantime, I’m still working, trying to spend as much time with my kids and husband as I can and making the most of our new life. Life goes on pretty much as it always did. Except it’s a bit better than before. Maybe a little part of that is because I know I’ve got a book coming out. But I suspect it’s mostly because I remembered – just in time – that life is for living and not for wasting away dreaming of what might be.

Hunting Shadows by Sheila Bugler is published by Brandon Books on 12 August 2013.

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