Guest post by Fiona Maddock I read shovel loads of stuff about how, when and why my first novel won’t be published. In fact, if I read too much more I’ll be buried under it and then I’ll never get anything done.
I do believe strongly though, that there is ‘Life Before Publication’ however murky and sleazy it appears to the polished published people. Here’s my experience of being one of these unknown, unpublished lowlifes.
The freedom of being ‘Unpublished’
You can write what you like. You can roam freely through your head and take whatever imaginary, insightful, crazy, quirky, colourful, sombre, hilarious or spine-chilling ideas come to you and you can turn them into a story. It really is a blank white sheet.
You can have any number of imaginary friends and crazy ideas and nobody will march you off to see the nice man in the white coat at the psychiatric hospital, because you’re a ‘writer’. You can have fun; escape all the boring bits of real life - such as cleaning the kitchen or finding out why the car won’t start - in your noble quest to become that awesome being, The Published Author.
The beastly family or annoying day job may force you to phone the breakdown company but there’s no pesky editor or agent on your writer’s back so you can go at your own pace and not give two hoots about anyone else.
Grammar, punctuation and spelling
There are some rules, though, if you are going to play the game. To be able to respond honestly to the question asked at social events, ‘What do you do?’ by saying ‘I’m a writer’ you must observe certain standards.
Good grammar, punctuation and spelling are indispensible. There are plenty of aids out there. I have a good old fashioned Oxford Dictionary of English – paper version – and I regularly use Wiktionary on line. In the word processor I use the spell and grammar checker.
Commercial length fiction
I do not assume that everyone is writing commercial fiction but I am so that’s what I shall talk about. You must observe the conventions of the marketplace.
My genre (science fiction) requires a minimum of eighty thousand words. It’s a long and tearful journey to get there and it brings me neatly on to the next stage, which is the First Draft.
This is the first major milestone for you - unpublished, unknown, worthless, anonymous scribbler that you are. It is the raw version of your concept in anything from eighty to a few hundred thousand words and it is the material which you will shape into the finished work.
Those of you who have a first draft should award yourselves your favourite treat and pat yourself on the back (difficult if you are not a circus acrobat so ask a good friend to do it for you). It is no mean feat to get there, so feel proud of yourself, feel elated and enjoy the moment.
Rewrites and editing
This is a traumatic and difficult process and worthy of a post of its own. I’ll summarise here by saying that it was during this phase that I almost took that night-time shelf-filling job at the local supermarket after all.
Anyway, somehow I have come through this phase more or less the same person I was before, but still unpublished. I am currently learning how to experience trauma all over again as I go through The Submission Process. This stage has the quality of rides at Alton Towers and is most definitely worthy of a blog post of its own.
One thing’s for sure, nobody on this planet is holding their breath waiting for my novel to land on their desk, which means my time is still my own and I’m in no danger of being forced to abandon the Muse in order to attend that tiresome book launch party .
Wow! Here it is! Ninety thousand and seven hundred words, twenty crates of wine, two printers and a lorry load of black ink cartridges later, I have The Final Version of My Manuscript.
I’m so proud of it. See that ream of printed paper? I wrote that – all by myself...and it’s good. Good? No it’s not good, it’s brilliant [add glowing reviews here].
As audience of my own work I can have every accolade I dream of. All I have to do now is find an agent and get it published. Move over J.K.! Make room for another one up there on the prize winners’ podium.
Life After Publication
Savour your anonymity, fellow worthless unpublished key-tappers.
Once your work is through the slush pile, it will be dissected, scrutinised, edited, praised, vilified, scrubbed and polished, chucked back at you for re-writes, scrubbed and polished again, packaged, promoted, and that’s before the critics get hold of it.
Feeling discouraged? I thought not. You’re a writer and like a wilful teenager, whatever anyone says to you, you’ll do it anyway, but remember the free and leisurely days of being unpublished.
Once those days have gone, they’re gone forever.