How I got published, part 1:
There are many good writers but only a small percentage of them are going to make it to the shelves. To turn yourself from a good unpublished writer into a good published writer requires an enormous amount of LUCK and TENACITY.
I had written short stories for years but to get beyond winning a few book tokens in competitions I had to write a novel. The only other, Kate Atkinson, way would be to win one of the big competitions like the Ian St James annual short story competition. (Write an original short story in any genre, with the exception of stories for children. Ten awards with a top prize of £2,000. Details: Merric Davidson, PO Box 60, Cranbrook, Kent TN17 2ZR). I reckoned it was harder to win a major short story competition than getting a novel published. Of the many people who can give good copy, who can write brilliant unputdownable stuff, not all of them have the staying power to complete a novel. So you're narrowing the competition there. But then you've got to have the dogged determination to write 80,000 words plus with rotten odds on chance of success at the end of it.
I decided to write commercial fiction because I thought I had a chance of doing as well as some of the stuff I'd picked up in the bookstores, whereas the literary end of things just held me in awe. Oh, all right then, the Bridget Jones bandwagon was in full swing and the papers were full of stories about girly authors winning enormous six figure advances. So I wrote three chapters, short sentences, sympathetic main character etc., and a synopsis and sent them off to an agent under a pseudonym. I used a pseudonym because I felt I could be more honest, write more what I wanted (s.e.x.) without feeling restricted. The 3 chapters were a tester, I had no idea if I was good enough to be considered or not.
When my agent phoned and said she liked it and wanted to see the rest, after asking her to hold on while I silently punched the air, I had to confess I hadn't written any more. 'Good,' she said, 'because I can help you.' Luck. I heard one big agent say recently that she found this practice extremely annoying. She'd invested her time reading the chapters, analysing how they'd do in the current market, only to find out there wasn't a book. This is understandable. From an author's point of view, however, getting a professional opinion at this stage is no bad thing. Of course, you won't know the whole story, unless you're a master plotter, so you'll have to fill out the synopsis with a bit of blag, but it can be done.
I am 33,000 words into my current novel. The agent I'm working with called yesterday after his first read to say he thought it should be in the third person, not the first. An idea I hadn't considered. It'll open up opportunities the restrictions of the first person would have held me under.
Going back to that first book and the first agent, we changed the viewpoint from four viewpoints to one, much easier to handle as a beginner, and she helped me all the way through the writing process over the following year. After the carefully honed, drafted and redrafted first three chapters, the first complete draft I sent her was TERRIBLE, truly truly Konnie from Blue Peter singing terrible. But fortunately she stuck with it.
Five drafts later, when it eventually got to a state of sellability, I went in to meet her. Big grins, handshakes, 'Hello Kate, lovely to meet you.' How do I tell her? I wondered as I sat, all hairdo'd up, in her in her little office stuffed with manuscripts and posters and books. How do I tell her I'm not called Kate? She might tell me to get lost. She might not like me if I'm not called Kate. All through our glitzy conversation, the conversation I'd always dreamed of having, about exclusive submissions and foreign rights and film deals all I could think of was this.
Bye bye, thanks for visiting, come again soon.