How I got a publishing deal - An interview with author, Rachel North
firstwriter.com – Friday September 20, 2013
Rachel North recently acquired a publisher using firstwriter.com's database of publishers. We asked her about her writing, and how she found success.
fw: Congratulations on securing a publisher for your book, Rachel! What's your book about, and what's it called?
RN: The Book is called A Horse Called Ambition. The title was the easy bit! The book focuses on the lives of three women and their horses, one of which is named Ambition.
fw: Were you particularly trying to target people with a love of horses?
RN: The book is undeniably aimed at animal lovers, particularly horses and dogs, but the story itself mainly focuses on emotions – those that we have for the animals we welcome into our lives, and also the feelings we have for each other, for our backgrounds and for ourselves. A Horse Called Ambition is a journey, and I really hope those that read the book enjoy coming along for the ride.
fw: What inspired you to write about horses?
RN: I am a bona-fide hands down horse nut! I have been since I was 9 and my whole life has revolved around my horses. I lived on a housing estate growing up and my parents divorced when I was very young, so I definitely wasn't born into a horsey life. I fell in love with horses the first time I rode and from then on I dreamed of rural living and a horse of my own. I never stop appreciating the immense trust they place in us to allow us to ride them and work with them and I never take just being able to spend time with them for granted.
Many of the great and traditional Equestrian novels focus on the height of competitive and professional riding, larger than life characters and elite priceless horses. I wanted to tell a story that ordinary horse lovers with ordinary problems could relate to. It isn't all about riding – for the thousands of UK horse lovers it is often more about getting covered in mud and working incredibly hard, constantly worrying about the health and well-being of your horse and ignoring the electric bill because he needs a new rug. Then occasionally, you are blessed with a rare sunny day when you are not at work (desperately trying to afford the rug and the electric bill), when you might actually get to ride your horse!
And why do we do it? Love. When I wrote a Horse Called Ambition, I wanted to celebrate that love. Our horses are often not just commodities, they become our best friends.
I take my three characters on some pretty painful journeys. Rosie discovers a life altering truth about her father, Jules is locked in an abusive relationship and doesn't know how to get out, and Gill is struggling to run her small business and make ends meet, whilst desperately trying to be a good mother to her increasingly difficult teenage daughter. When the horses they love are put in grave danger, the women have only one option and the story takes a dramatic twist...
fw: How long did it take to write?
RN: The book took about two years to write. Then I spent another year editing, proofing and fine tuning before starting to look at trying to get published. I have a full time job plus two horses to look after and a partner, so writing had to fit in where there was time which made the process slower.
I really enjoyed writing it. It was frustrating at times, but once I had solidified my characters to the point where I knew what they would say or do in any given circumstance, it all started to flow. I think character building is so important and if you can bring your characters to life and develop unwavering faith in them, the writing almost happens naturally!
I always carry a notepad, or if I had an idea at work on my lunchbreak I would email it home to myself. Sometimes I would even record my thoughts verbally on my mobile phone whilst driving (hands free of course!). If you have an idea or you find yourself thinking about your story, always record it. Your moments of greatest brilliance don't often come when you are sat at your computer in your allotted writing time, they come when you are queuing at the supermarket or trying to concentrate on something else entirely!
fw: When did you first find you had an interest in writing?
RN: I wrote my first “book” when I was 7, it is in the back of a school exercise book which I should have been using for maths and I still have it! I have done some freelance magazine writing and website and newsletter editing, but this is my first novel and my first experience of having my writing praised.
I can honestly say, until the moment I received the email from Indigo Dreams Publishing (“IDP”), offering me a contract, I am not sure I ever really believed it would happen! I have a career, a mortgage and two huge four legged mouths to feed, writing has always been for enjoyment for me rather than something I relied on to make a living. If the book does well and makes me some extra money though, it will certainly be welcome for those electric bills!
fw: Do you think it's important to build a portfolio of writing credits before approaching a publisher?
RN: In my case, it wasn't very important at all. I would always recommend getting as published as possible by any means to build a portfolio, but IDP judged my book by its own merit and it was the story that was important to them.
Another factor in IDP's decision to publish A Horse Called Ambition was my enthusiasm. I was full of ideas for marketing and determined that if the book was published I would work my socks off to try and make it a success. If you believe in your book and you have determination and drive, it never hurts to show it.
fw: What were the first steps you took towards trying to get your book published?
RN: I tried without success to find an agent, and I really struggled to find publishers accepting début author unsolicited submissions. Within a few months of joiningfirstwriter.com and finally having access to up-to-date information on the types of publishers who might actually be interested in my book and in new writers, I had a contract.
fw: Wow, that was quick! What methods had you tried prior to that?
RN: Internet searches and looking at publishers who had published similar material. Many equestrian publishers only publish reference material and although they were accepting submissions, they were not accepting fiction. I did despair for a little while because I was so sure my book had a market, but I had no idea who out there would help me reach it, until I found firstwriter.com!
fw: Were there any particular features of firstwriter.com that helped you?
RN: The search facility, and also the facility to bookmark publishers and add your own comments to them: it really helps in creating a short-list for yourself of who you are going to approach. Being able to specifically search for publishers who do not charge the author, your specific genre and type of book, and publishers accepting submissions almost makes the short-list for you!
fw: How did you go about approaching publishers?
RN: I sent lots of initial emails to equine reference publishers to test the water and even had interest from a magazine publisher who has now indicated they will help to market the book. It wasn't until I joined firstwriter.com that I started submitting seriously – it wasn't until then that I found publishers who made it easy to submit, because they were actually looking for what I had to offer. After I had signed my contract with IDP, I heard back from another publisher I had found on firstwriter.com and sent the book to, and they also offered me a deal. I felt bad turning it down but chuffed that a second publisher had thought the book worthy! It worked out for the best, though. I am very happy with IDP. They are an independent house and they really believe in what they do. I feel very looked after and like we are all working towards the same thing.
fw: Did you try to secure a literary agent at any point?
RN: I approached countless agents with no luck. It was quite depressing at the time, but when I started to approach the right publishers, things started to happen almost immediately.
fw: When you were receiving those rejections from agents, did you ever feel like giving up?
RN: Many of the agents I approached didn't even respond, or simply replied and said they were not looking for new clients. They were always polite but a no is always hard to hear, however well it is put! It can be hard not to give up, but I usually gave myself a few months between trying each new avenue to allow the enthusiasm and overall belief in the book to build back up.
fw: What do you think made IDP go for your book?
RN: IDP love books, they love stories and they get genuinely excited by new talent.
fw: What was it like having other people get involved with your book?
RN: When I had my first set of revisions and questions to review from the copy editor, I was mortified and very defensive! But I soon realised it was going to be a two way process and that actually, any improvement made to the prose was only going to increase the book's chances of success! I became very fond of my copy editor, and I completely respect her. She in turn found love for the book and recommends it wherever she goes! Something I thought was going to be really hard turned out to be fantastic and as much as I thought the book was a finished product when I submitted it, I see now just how much better it is for expert involvement.
fw: What tips would you give to other aspiring authors?
RN: Believe in your book. I know it is a cliché but if you genuinely feel your book will sell and could be enjoyed by more than just your friend and your mum, convey that belief! If you have ideas for promotion and marketing, mention them.
Writing a novel is a gruelling process which, while rewarding, can consume you and make you rather bad company! If you have researched your market and you have not been afraid to pick apart your own work to get it just right – steel yourself for the next stage. The real hard work doesn't actually start until you are sat with your finished novel feeling all proud, because then you have to start figuring out what you are going to do with it!
Put your heart and soul into every submission, don't just saturate the market with the same covering email or letter. Research each publisher and once you are sure they are the right publisher to receive your work, write your submission based on why you feel they are the right publisher and draw on the features of your work which you think will entice them. Then wait – if you send out multiple submissions without waiting a reasonable time for a reply, you could find yourself with too much interest, and it is polite to only submit to one house or agent at a time.
fw: When will your book be available to buy?
RN: A Horse Called Ambition will be out at the end of November this year. I am so excited for the next phase!
We already have a website where you can register your interest and receive a notification and link once the book is available to buy – www.ahorsecalledambition.co.uk and I am intending to join a stand at the Christmas Equine Fair which is a yearly event held in Devon. The book has a facebook page too which will be regularly updated with the progress of the publishing and printing stages, and will have links to buy once the book is in print: www.facebook.com/ahorsecalledambition.
If Ambition sells well and is well received, I will be turning my attention to getting the sequel, Seeing Red, finished and ready to submit to IDP... Getting published has changed my life, I have so much more confidence in all areas, not just writing. I cant recommend this feeling enough!
fw: Thank you for taking the time to talk to us, Rachel, and best of luck with all your future writing endeavours!
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