Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Confession time!

So: how are you all, and how was your Christmas? A long time ago? Yes, and I know I haven't written anything on this blog since November. It's been a long, difficult winter, and without wanting to sound sorry for myself, I've had such a lot of physical pain since October that I really haven't done much with my time. I've had a slipped disc, but the worst of it was the horrible, unrelenting sciatica that went with it. When I finally got to see a consultant, after Christmas, he said it should clear up on its own and normally does so within 3 to 6 months. I'm still waiting for a physio appointment. But ... fingers crossed, the pain is easing, and I can actually walk a little way down the road now. And spring might be on the way soon. So: onwards and upwards! And with that in mind ...

I had a really nice fan message through my Olivia website this morning, from a reader saying how much she enjoyed my books and asking when the next one would be out. While I can't pretend I'm inundated with fanmail, I do get messages like this every now and then, and they really do cheer me up. I normally respond that I'm working on the next book and will let them know when it's out. But today, for some reason, I felt like being a bit more honest. After all, it's been 18 months now since 'Tales from a Honeymoon Hotel' was published and perhaps I owe my readers a little more than this half-truth, and keeping them hanging on. And perhaps I owe all of you that, too!

It's a common tale in publishing now. 'Mid-list author' produces several books that sell OK but not brilliantly; editor likes her books and is keen to keep publishing her, but eventually the editor is overruled and the author is dropped by the publisher. When it happened to me, I was devastated. Rejection is part of our lives as writers; I'm so used to having short stories rejected, I barely even blink now when it happens, and my first novel was rejected by so many agents and publishers before Piatkus accepted it, I thought I was dreaming when I got that first contract!
But this was a far bigger blow - it actually hurt my pride and made me feel exactly the way I did when I lost my job, all over again. Or even worse!

It did help that I knew my lovely editor had been 'on my side'; she took me out to lunch a few months later and we've stayed friends. And it also helped that, by a stroke of good luck, I'd acquired an agent for the first time just a couple of months before this happened. At least, I thought it was good luck! My agent seemed almost as devastated by the news as I was, and appeared to be fired up with enthusiasm on my behalf. 'Don't worry,' she said. 'I'll find you another publisher.' So, when just another couple of months later I received a very short e-mail from her saying she was leaving the business, giving up being an agent, and wishing me all the best - I was shocked to say the least! I don't think it was anything I said!

For a long while, I only told my family and closest friends about all this. Then I started noticing that I wasn't alone: other writers were freely admitting that they'd been 'dropped', and there was a lot of discussion going on about the economics of publishing, and how the current situation was hitting those of us who were neither 'big names', nor exciting new talent. It wasn't just me! I began to realise it wasn't personal - I shouldn't feel a failure. I've had eight books published, and even if it never happens again, I've achieved my dream.

However, of course, I do want it to happen again! And knowing that I've got fans, readers out there who want me to be published again, really helps to spur me on. So after months and months of fruitlessly submitting my completed novel in all directions, with the 'overcrowded market for this type of women's fiction' being mentioned in virtually every rejection, and after completing the second novel in that series but having nowhere to send it, I decided it was time to change direction. I'm now working on a completely different type of book. It's slow going, because I'm out of my comfort zone and I have no idea whether what I'm writing is any good or not. It's not so much that my confidence was knocked by what's happened (although of course, it was!) but that I haven't yet acquired any confidence in writing this type of book! I'm a beginner all over again.

But I'm a beginner with the advantage, now, of some experience. I'm still being asked to give talks about writing - and in those talks, I usually describe some of the realities of being a writer in today's world - including the fact that the majority of published authors earn peanuts, which is a big shock to some audiences! And in between working on the new venture, I'm still having short stories published (as Sheila Norton, as always) - having been thrilled (not to say amused) to be described as one of 'This Month's Big Names' on the front cover of a recent fiction special! I'm also selling some features - currently working on another one for 'Writers' Forum' and have just sold a short article to one of the cat magazines! I'm also trying to find an e-publisher for my out-of-print titles.

So this isn't a whine, or a complaint: I've been very fortunate to have the success I've had so far, and I never forget that plenty of writers might give a lot to be in my shoes, despite what's happened. On the contrary: the reason I've decided to 'go public' with this story is that I've realised it's more helpful to show how things really are, than to try to pretend everything in the garden is lovely and coming up roses! The reality is that people seem to enjoy my books when they actually get to read them - but like those of most less well-known authors, they're usually tucked away at the back of the shop (if they're in them at all) and only promoted by one person - me! I do my best ... but I can't generate the sort of sales the big publishers are looking for.
But thank goodness for libraries! And that's the subject of the next feature I'm writing for 'Writers' Forum', so I'll let you know when it's due to be published.

Perhaps I should write a new feature about 'how to survive being dropped by your publisher'! Well, thanks for 'listening' and sorry I'm so bad at being a regular blogger. Must Try Harder!