One of the best parts about running the Literary Sofa over the last five years has been getting to know my guest authors. Some I knew already, most of them I didn’t at the time they were featured but in many cases we have since met in person, by arrangement or by chance. But today is the first time I’ve hosted someone who has had a game-changing impact on my own journey as a writer (it feels premature to call it a ‘career’), which makes introductions rather tricky. Gushing isn’t even my style and I am tempted!
These, then, are the facts: I did Debi Alper’s mini-course on Self-Editing at the York Festival of Writing in 2012. I instantly realised she could help my fix my first completed manuscript which, following her structural edit and a daunting total re-write, went from attracting no agent interest whatsoever to giving me the choice of representation. The rest is, if not exactly history, well documented on this blog. Debi is widely known in the business as a generous and insightful teacher and editor, and, as I saw on reading De Nada Nirvana, a talented author in her own right. It’s a great pleasure to welcome her to talk about her long experience in that capacity:
These days, there are more ways to publish your novel than ever before, from the trade route via an agent and a deal with one of the Big Five publishers, through smaller independent publishers (Bookouture is the name on everyone’s lips right now), to self-publishing, crowd funding through Unbound … The list of business models seems endless and choice can only be good for authors.
The landscape was very different when my writing career began, seventeen years ago. I started writing Nirvana Bites just so I would have something to read out to my writers’ group / each fortnight. And I’d only joined the group because it was something to do on a Saturday night that wasn’t related to either of my part-time jobs or to my two small children. You can imagine my amazement when I was offered a two-book deal by Orion without having an agent. (Told you things were different those days.)
The editing of Nirvana Bites went like a dream, and so did the launch. Back in those pre-Twitter and Facebook days though, it was hard to create a buzz. Sales were not spectacular, though they weren’t disastrous either. But a series of events at the publishers meant Trading Tatiana went through four different editors before she was launched. There was no one in my corner, championing me. (I spoke about this recently on my blog, Facing Down the Fear.)
I wasn’t surprised when I wasn’t offered a subsequent deal by Orion but by that time I had an agent, at least. I had already written De Nada Nirvana but he said it would be impossible to sell the third book in a trilogy to a different publisher. He advised me to keep writing more novels in the Nirvana series. Sadly, even though he liked each better than the last, he was unable to sell them. I then wrote a stand-alone novel, Somebody’s Child. He absolutely loved this story and said the kinds of things every author dreams about – only he couldn’t sell it.
Everything stagnated on the authorial front but, meanwhile, I was more than busy with my new career as a freelance editor, mentor and creative writing tutor. I may not have been able to bring any more of my own novels in front of readers, but it was a joy and a privilege to be a part of so many other authorial journeys. I was running a 6-week online self-edit course for Writers’ Workshop, appearing at writing festivals and running workshops at retreats. I had no time to feel sad about my own stories gathering dust.
In 2013, I was approached by an independent American publisher who offered to re-publish Nirvana Bites and Trading Tatiana as e-books. Although I was excited at first, it soon became clear that being with them offered me no added value whatsoever. I withdrew from the contract and the rights reverted back to me.
And that’s where it all gets exciting again! I saw this as an opportunity to publish the whole Nirvana series. Times had changed and self-publishing had lost much of its original stigma. My agent was initially reluctant but had to agree that this was the only way to bring the unpublished novels in front of readers. I was lucky enough to be supported and encouraged by many in the writing community whose own journeys I had been involved in. And it also meant that I could create a ‘look’ for the whole series.
I formed my own imprint, Nirvana Publishing, swapped an edit for professional cover designs and e-conversion, and re-published Nirvana Bites and Trading Tatiana. Then I turned to edit De Nada Nirvana, which was published on Mayday this year. Editing books I’d written ten years ago has been fascinating. I’d switched to third person after the first two and I can see now that, though I had an instinctive grasp of first person voices, I had much to learn about how POV works in third person. I was delighted to see that I’d used the psychic distance spectrum long before I’d ever heard of the concept. Writing is a combination of instinct and learning and I have learnt so much over the last decade. Next up will be Me, John and a Bomb, followed by the last in the Nirvana series, The Gene Pool.
We live in the best of times and the worst of times. There are more options than ever before for getting our stories out there. There are also more ways for us to hone our skills, some of them free – literary blogs, forums and beta readers – some costing more, like festivals, courses, and professional critiques. It’s a good time to be a storyteller. And it’s pretty cool for readers too.
Thanks to Debi for sharing her extensive experience as an author (and editor) on the Literary Sofa. For me her piece reinforces the importance of having a resilient and flexible attitude and a willingness to diversify. I’d be very interested to hear from the writers amongst you about the various avenues you’ve taken. And since we’re all readers – does a book’s route to publication matter to you? LET’S TALK!
Next week my guest will be James Terry with a fantastic Writers on Location piece about his home state New Mexico, setting for his historical novel The Solitary Woman of Shakespeare (Sandstone).