My journey to a book contract by Lucy Rycroft
Last week, I celebrated my birthday by signing my first book contract.
It's nerve-wrackingly exciting, but I wanted to share a little of my journey towards it, lest anyone think it has been quick or easy. It has not.
Things started midway through 2017, I believe, in one of those late-night sessions where something has inspired you and won't let you go to bed until it's been transferred from your head to a Word document. (Everyone has these inspired niggles, right?)
And then I forgot all about it, this half-finished, atypical piece of writing for children (my writing had exclusively been for adults up to this point).
Until January 2018.
This was the month when I started to get serious about my writing, started to push doors and see whether God might want me to pursue this as a career. The unfinished book came back into mind, so I finished it. (Don't be impressed: it's written for 4-7s, it's hardly War and Peace.) And then I sent it to my hands-down favourite Christian publisher for children.
After a month or so, I heard back: it was a 'no'. It was probably the loveliest way you could ever reject a manuscript, with suggestions of other publishers to try - and, if I'm honest, I hadn't thought it'd be right for this particular publisher anyway, but my love of their brand had made me try them first.
What happened next was slightly surreal. I sent the manuscript off to a smaller publisher, who came highly recommended, with an award under their belt. They accepted my manuscript within days. Hooray! The book I was feeling increasingly passionate about was going to find a home.
Except - not.
Forgive me if I gloss over the next few months of my story; it is to remain gracious towards the publisher in question, rather than to indicate that this was an easy period. It was not.
Suffice to say that my book spent March-November not being published, nor getting anywhere near.
"Tell them you're going to look elsewhere!" advised friends and family, indignant on my behalf.
Ah yes, maybe this would be the preferred action for a more experienced writer, with the confidence of past publications under her belt - but for me, a first-time author, this kind of action felt rather foolhardy.
I was desperate, if I was honest, for this publisher to turn me down. At least then I could say I'd given them every chance.
Eventually, the publisher did pull out, and I was relieved, if a little disappointed. I was back to Amy Boucher Pye's helpful list of Christian publishers (on the ACW Facebook group, if you're interested), one by one crossing off those who didn't accept unsolicited manuscripts and those who didn't publish children's books.
I had several left to try, and sent off the required emails, working into the early hours to make sure that any more delay in getting my book to market would not be caused by me.
Again, a positive response from a small publisher occurred within a week or so. I'd learnt my lesson, and responded cautiously. Within a few days, I'd had a long phone chat with the head guy, who was patient with my many questions, and even worked out the finances, knowing exactly how many copies he would be printing in the first run, and what they would be selling for.
The picture was a little gloomier than I'd previously been led to believe, but the crucial thing is that it was a realistic one. I immediately had a very good feeling about this publisher: they were being honest and upfront, they sensed the need for my book, and they were willing to put in a fair bit of time, before we'd even signed a contract.
However, a couple more months went by as I awaited the response of two further publishers who were considering my manuscript. The publisher who'd given me a 'yes' had, very honestly and humbly, suggested that other publishers would have better distribution networks, and would do a better job of marketing my book. So I waited again.
Then, the response: neither was taking the book.
I was satisfied: I'd knocked on the door of every publisher I was aware of, and this was the one who was interested, and had the plan in place to bring it about. I accepted gladly.
And then came the important stage of submitting the contract to the Society of Authors for their comments. This was a recommendation from other ACW authors and I now wholeheartedly pass that recommendation on. You pay around £100 for a year's subscription, but it's worth it to know that you're not going to be swindled out of any earnings, ten years down the line.
You may be thinking, But Christian publishers wouldn't act dishonestly, would they? No, on the whole, I don't suppose they would. But they're also a business, trying to stay afloat, and what works for them won't always work for you. It's about balance - trying to come up with something which benefits both you and them. Through the SoA, I realised that I actually had a bit of bargaining power through the number of books I'd committed to buy, and this was helpful in negotiating certain clauses.
The response time was superb. I called the SoA on Monday morning to join (sadly there's no online payment facility, so you're restricted to business hours). They informed me I could email my contract straight away, without waiting for my membership pack, so I did. By Friday afternoon I had a comprehensive reply from one of their consultants. I sent the negotiations to my publisher on Saturday, we fiddled around a bit, he sent me the revised contract on Monday, I signed Monday night and sent it off on Tuesday.
So yes, I have a book contract. But the journey there included no fewer than seven rejections from other publishers, a lot of heartache from one, and the challenge of getting my head round the legal bits.
Forgive me: this post has already been too long - but, for the sake of those of you who may be at a similar stage, may I end with a few lessons I've learnt from my experiences?
* Tempting though it is to rush into the arms of the first publisher who shows an interest, do some research. Talk to others who've published similar books. Who do they recommend?
* Don't be too discouraged at a rejection - maybe that publisher wouldn't have done a good job with your book. Have faith in what you've written. I do understand that any rejection can feel a bit gutting, but consider that if your book is worth publishing, it's worth doing well. For this, you don't need the biggest publisher, you just need one who believes in your book.
* A good publisher should be really excited about your book! I mean, maybe not quite as excited as you, but excited enough to speak in positive, enthusiastic tones about what you've written. If they're not excited, they sure as hell won't be able to get booksellers excited.
* A good publisher should also be realistic. As I said, the situation with my publisher is maybe a little gloomier than I would have liked. Ideally, they would print more copies. Ideally there would be a larger illustration budget. But I have to bow to their wisdom on this. Their algorithms tell them what kind of a punt to take on a new author, and that's fair enough. My job is to market this book so well that they then do a second print run!
* A good publisher will communicate well. They will be happy to chat on the phone and over email - maybe in person if circumstances allow. They will be patient with all your questions. Nothing will be too big or small for them to deal with.
I've yet to see how this book ends up, and how sales go, but at this stage I'm optimistic. I plan to use all the tricks in the book to market it really, really well. I'm certain there's a gap in the market for it, and I'm confident that it will appeal to parents and their kids - I just have to get the news out to them!
Desertmum and writes freelance for Home for Good and other organisations. Her first book will be coming out in the near future. Lucy lives in York with her husband and four children.