My journey to publication by Laura Wilkinson

Posted: November 11, 2011 in Friday Guest

A long and winding road

When I was an aspiring novelist the question I asked published authors most was: ‘How did you do it?’ What I meant by this was: ‘How did you get published?’ I was looking for some kind of a recipe. Something I could pilfer or mimic, add a little spice to and push myself to the top of the slushpile. The truth is there is no magic formula, other than tenacity and, of course, talent. And luck. Luck, or timing, can play an important part too. So today I’m going to tell you about my journey to publication.

It’s almost three years since I printed out the first draft of my novel BloodMining. It was written during snatched hours between working full-time and looking after my two little lads, Ginger1 and Ginger2. Although it was ropey I felt I’d achieved something. Like so many people I’d harboured an ambition to write a novel for years. I wasn’t sure I could do it. I’d written non-fiction for much of my adult life, but fiction is SO much harder. But after penning a handful of short stories with moderate success (they seemed manageable with a new born baby – Ginger2 – JK Rowling I’m not) I thought the time had come.

The first draft took twelve months, but it was a complete novel. I spent a further eight months redrafting and editing until it was in a state that I was, if not exactly proud of, not desperately ashamed of. I joined a writers’ group and showed chapters to ‘proper’ authors: people who had MAs in creative writing and even had books of their own published. They were encouraging, and so I entered a debut novel competition. To my surprise I was long-listed. I wrote another draft and sent the first 10,000 words and synopsis to Roz Hart at Real Writers. Her comments blew my socks off. Once I’d finished basking in her praise (thank you, Roz, it meant the world to me, still does) I addressed the concerns she’d raised, those that resonated. When I set off on the journey I did not write with publication in mind, but I started to think maybe, just maybe…

So I wrote to half a dozen agents. Most said no immediately, but two were encouraging and asked to see the entire MS. Whey-hey! In the end they both declined to represent me, but offered enough kind words to make me think it’d be worth battling on. In the meanwhile I entered two other competitions and this time I was short-listed in both. I wrote to a handful of independent publishers. Although the odds are stacked against (independents publish, on average, just six novels a year) independents are more likely to take on unusual books or first time novelists. Again, two came back asking to see the entire MS. And again, both said that although they admired the book they didn’t love it enough to spend a not-inconsiderable sum of money and months of hard labour on it. I heard back from one competition: I had not won.

Pessimism set in. I re-read the book and was dismayed to find all sorts of things I hated about it. Some easily fixable, others more difficult to nail. It’s flawed, complete rubbish, I said. And by now I had almost completed the first draft of novel #2 and was having a whale of a time with it. Putting BloodMining in a virtual back cupboard, and consoling myself with the knowledge that few writers get their first book published, and how much I’d learnt along the way, I forgot all about it (almost).

Then one morning in October 2010 I received a call from Debz Hobbs-Wyatt at Bridge House. I’d won their debut novel competition! They wanted to publish the book! I was at work, in the staff-room, I had to sit down. For days I wandered round in a state of shock. I told few people; I didn’t believe it was real; I expected the ‘Gosh, I’m so, so sorry – we misread the winner’s name, it was Laura Williamson that won, not you,’ call. It never came and slowly, I came round to the idea that it was really going to happen.

And so it has. The paperback was published 13 October; the Kindle edition comes out next week. I still can’t believe my good fortune, and the reviews and responses from readers have been better than I could ever have hoped for. And it’s an incredible feeling, knowing that my story is out there, that people are reading and enjoying it. I feel privileged. Reader, thank you.

***

About the book

Primarily set in Bangor in the not-too-distant future, BloodMining is the story of a mother, Megan, whose son is diagnosed with a terminal, hereditary condition. A condition passed down the mother’s line.  To save her son Megan must unearth the truth and reveal buried secrets; she must excavate family history and memory. Enlisting the help of former colleague Jack North, a man with a secret of his own, Megan embarks on a journey of self discovery and into the heart of what it means to be a parent.

 ***

About Laura Wilkinson

Laura grew up in Wales, and now lives in Brighton. She works as a journalist, copywriter and a reader/editor for Cornerstones Literary Consultancy. For her fiction she has been a finalist and shortlisted in a number of competitions including: the New Writer, Cinnamon Press, the Virginia Prize and Brit Writers’ Award 2010. Laura has read her work at Ace Stories, Short Fuse and ABCtales events in London and Brighton, as well as speaking at a Spit Lit(erary) Festival event. She has facilitated creative writing workshops at Spit Lit, The Women’s Library at London Metropolitan University and at the Museum of London in Docklands. She has published short stories in magazines, an anthology and digital media like Ether Books. BloodMining is her first novel. Currently, she’s working on her second.

You can find out more about Laura here or find her on Twitter.

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Comments
  1. Rebecca Emin says:

    This is a brilliant interview and incredibly inspiring for aspiring writers.

    I am currently reading BloodMining and it’s an excellent read.

  2. Thanks, Rebecca. Glad you’re enjoying it.

  3. It’s great to hear of your success, Laura, especially after persevering so long. I hope ‘Bloodmining’ does well for you. Can I ask a question about your work for Cornerstones? I’ve used them before and know several other writers who have too. Without meaning to be rude, I was a little surprised that you worked as an editor/reader for them, having had just one novel published. Were you approached because of previous experience in some area of book publishing? Thanks.

    • Hi Clair,

      Thanks for your good wishes. No, you don’t sound rude at all! First off, having written novels yourself is not a prerequisite for a good editor. Many of the editors at the big six publishing houses (and other houses) are not authors themselves, likewise agents; editing is a skill in its own right. Helen Corner, Cornerstones founder, worked as an editor at Penguin for many years and is well respected throughout the industry. All readers/editors at Cornerstones are carefully interviewed/vetted and have to produce test reports before they are taken on, and I know of people who have been turned down, despite MAs in creative writing and other such qualifications. I was recommended, but went through the same procedure. Also, I was managing editor of the Virago supported creative writing project hagsharlotsheroines.com for four years, and wrote book reviews and features on authors and trends. The site is no longer live, but you can find it archived at the British Library here: http://www.webarchive.org.uk/ukwa/target/116802/source/subject.
      I realise that there are mixed views regarding literary consultancies. Some author colleagues have used them (not necessarily Cornerstones) and found them useful, others have not. And there are friends who would never use them. Like so many things in life, it’s a very personal decision. For my part I can only say that the author feedback I have received so far has been positive. Of course, writers have not agreed with every single thing I’ve said, but they have found my reports valuable and very useful. I hope this answers your question, Clair. Do come back to me if you need to!
      Best wishes,
      Laura

      • Thanks for your reply, Laura, and for not taking offence! I was concerned as Cornerstones are regarded, as far as I’m aware, as one of the top consultancies and charge a fair amount for their critiques. It’s interesting to know a little more about your background and I do understand that good editors aren’t necessarily authors themselves. Thanks for sharing and best wishes, Clair.

      • Cheers, Clair. Yes, given your background I figured you probably knew that good editors aren’t always authors… put it in for absolute clarity that’s all! And yes, the charges are not inconsiderable (market rates though, all the leading consultancies charge around the same), but I genuinely believe they offer good value for money. The report I’ve just completed comes in at just over 8,000 words. Best wishes to you and good luck, Laura

  4. […] you will find me in a variety of exotic places throughout the web. I set off on Friday, landing at Susan Howe’s blog with a small suitcase. I forgot my toothbrush so I’m back home for a couple days before […]

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