Stepping Stones to Success

October 01, 2018 | Blog | View 1 comment ↓

Stepping Stones to Success

When I first started writing, I thought there were three steps to getting published:

  1. Write a novel
  2. Get an agent
  3. Get a publishing deal

Sounds easy when you put it like that, and they are the three big steps, there are just lots of smaller steps that nobody talks about. I think we all hope that we can get to the final destination, the published book, as quickly and easily as possible.

Most of my stepping-stones started out looking like obstacles, impasses that I had no idea how to move past. The first one came after I completed my first draft of my novel, The Box, back in 2014. I had been working on it off and on for a few years, with the support of my amazing critique group. Their support helped me to form and explore my idea for a world where sugar is illegal and baking is a crime, and they encouraged me to go deeper with my story, bring out the themes of societal judgment, the daily pressure on women, government control and their role in our decisions.

That insecurity and doubt is a writers’ biggest danger, a pitfall on the journey, definitely not factored into my three stepping-stones. It’s also one that crops up over and over again, no matter which stepping stone you’re on.

I realised I had taken my writing as far as I could and now I needed something to help me get to the next level. This showed up in the form of a self-editing course, which transformed my writing and introduced me to the work needed to take a first draft and polish it into something suitable to show to an agent – step two on my path.

Editing your own work is both hard and rewarding. It’s fantastic to see your writing coming together, seeing the big, fuzzy scene you wrote honed down to something sleek and sparkling. There’s a zing of electricity I feel every time I know my story is getting better. There gets to a point where you’re too close though, when you can’t decide any more if the scene/chapter/book works, and self-doubt kicks in. You wonder why you’re bothering, if it’s any good, if you’re wasting your time; it’s tempting to just go and read a book by someone else, someone you know is talented, because they’ve already got the publishing deal.

That insecurity and doubt is a writers’ biggest danger, a pitfall on the journey, definitely not factored into my three stepping-stones. It’s also one that crops up over and over again, no matter which stepping stone you’re on.

I knew I needed external help, somebody impartial who could read through my work, see it from a different angle and give me some feedback on what was working and what I could improve. Beta readers are great for this, but I knew I needed a professional edit. I was fortunate enough to receive a TLC Free Read from a bursary scheme run by the National Writing Centre. They paid for me to get feedback on my manuscript, and I was grateful because I wouldn’t have been able to access the service otherwise.

It was a big step letting somebody see my work, I hadn’t allowed many people to read it, and this feedback was coming from a stranger. That actually helped a lot, I could read their report and know it wasn’t personal. I worked through highlighting everything they liked, the things they thought I could improve on and their suggestions for changes I could make.

The feedback came at the perfect time; I had reached the final four of the Hodderscape open submission, so I implemented the changes and kept moving forward with my writing, submitting to agents and entering other writing competitions.

Editing your own work is both hard and rewarding. It’s fantastic to see your writing coming together, seeing the big, fuzzy scene you wrote honed down to something sleek and sparkling.

I like competitions because they’re a way to get your writing out into the world and seen by people you might not normally come into contact with. That’s why I decided to enter the Good Housekeeping Novel competition this year. I sent off my two thousand words and promptly forgot about the whole thing, until I received a call that changed everything. I spoke to Clare Hey from Orion and discovered that I had won a publishing deal for my novel, The Box, and representation by Amanda Preston from LBA Books. I was, and still am, over the moon. This was it, from working so hard to go from step one to step two, I had somehow leap-frogged straight to step three, the coveted publishing deal.

It feels like a dream come true, but looking back I can appreciate each stepping stone and pitfall; each near miss of a competition entry, each rejection by an agent, every piece of feedback that I received, evaluated and then incorporated into my manuscript, they all got me to this point. They helped shape the writer I’ve become and taught me valuable skills that I’m putting into practise now I’m deep into my structural edit and I’m grateful for the lessons and the growth.

It turns out there are even more stepping stones between signing a publishing deal and getting published, but looking back and now forward, I know that I have what it takes to keep moving towards the final goal, to hold a copy of my published book, when it’s released next summer. I can’t wait.

You can read more about Claire’s writing journey at her website here, and support her by pre-ordering her debut novel, The Box, here.

Claire Wade is the winner of the Good Housekeeping Novel Competition 2018. She was bed bound for six years with severe ME, trapped in a body that wouldn’t do what she wanted; her only escape was through her imagination. She now writes about women who want to break free from the constraints of their lives, a subject she’s deeply familiar with.
Her favourite things are books, baking and the WI. She’s the founding president of a modern WI (Women’s Institute) and runs a baking club for other cake lovers. You’ll find her in her writing room, nicknamed Narnia because it’s also home to a wardrobe and is the place where she escapes to other worlds. She’s happiest if she’s got a slice of chocolate cake, a cup of tea and a good book.
Claire’s debut novel, The Box, is published in July 2019 by Orion.
Visit www.clairewade.com for more information or to get in touch.

1 comment on “Stepping Stones to Success”

  1. Congratulations to Claire.
    I have heard many times that novel writing is similar to a woman having a baby – pain, angst – pleasure,then the baby’s life.
    But can one imagine the gestation period of a novel taking 55 years?
    The seed of my latest creation was planted in 1963 when walking the Pilgrim’s Way in the North Downs of Kent. HAMMER AND THORN was conceived.
    THOR has a lot to answer for!
    I will not bore the reader with what happened in-between then and now. (another book ?)
    HAMMER AND THORN is my third book – at 95!
    Maybe I shall make my century with a few more – who knows? (perhaps THOR knows?)

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