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My Novel Debut

I've written a book. For those of you who haven’t seen me punting it on Facebook, you can find it here: Worth Waiting For - Carrie Goodwin. It’s a scary thing, putting your name to print and setting it free to public observation. It would be really scary if it were 100% fiction. But this book is only about 75% fiction, which makes the 25% that’s loosely based on facts rather precious to me.

So lets take it back a few steps. I started writing the manuscript sometime during 2009. I was feeling pretty crappy about certain aspects of my life and so I guess it was escapism at its best. I also had a really vivid dream, which gave me about a third of the mid-section of the storyline. This all culminated in a ‘novel’ of about a hundred and twenty pages finished a year later. I then gave it all some thought and decided to rewrite it and flesh out the entire thing. A friend also told me that the characters needed to be built up a little. This took another year or so. By May 2012, I was ready to publish it but had only just begun the mission of editing the manuscript (myself) and approaching publishers. Gosh, what an ordeal that was. I think I ended up with a rejection letter pile with so many phrases on ‘cut and paste’ that I wanted to puke. My manuscript was wrong for the time, style, country, target-market, financial climate… blah blah blah. Again, let me re-iterate, the manuscript/story was rather precious to me.

When a few publishers sent more promising letters, ones asking for the manuscript in its entirety or suggesting a few changes in order to re-submit it for consideration, I went along with the naivety and excitement that can only be expected for this situation. God and other wannabe writers know, a letter that comes actually addressed to a specific person with real details seems unbelievable! Editors promise that it takes six to twelve weeks before you hear from them, but I maintain that if they want the manuscript, you hear from them sooner than that. And also, and this is just my gut and not from my experience, if they really want the manuscript, they take it as is and offer you a deal before suggesting changes. Needless to say, even these came to nought.

For Christmas 2012, I was given a professional editing service and a literary assessment as a gift from my ever-supportive hubby. This also took twelve weeks and eventually my manuscript was given a really resounding ‘above average’ grading and I looked at it, realising that if my book was ‘above average’ then why the hell was nobody biting? As in, seriously biting? Plus, with all the people I knew through various literary stages of my life, how come no one had a contact that would seriously help with publishers, agents, editors, marketers for my manuscript?

Ultimately, I decided to self publish through one of the manydigital options out there. The royalties are better, the prospect of being in control of my own work seemed better, plus it was instant. A past pupil of mine painted a beautiful cover. And hey presto! I was available for purchase (virtually) immediately in ebook format. (Again, if you haven’t found the link: Worth Waiting For - Carrie Goodwin)  

Let me tell you in all seriousness, I do not believe I have written a Boeke award winning romance drama. I don’t even believe I have written one of the best books you will ever read. BUT it is my story, and one I felt deserved a chance to be told and shared and read. And it’s a pretty good story too. I cannot believe how much crap is in circulation out there which is less worthy, (in my opinion, clearly not in the publisher’s opinion,) but also how difficult it is to find the guts to just do it. I am almost 100% certain there is a good chance someone will say the exact same thing (that it is crap,) about my book one day. And if not this book, then certainly the next one. I have heard people lambaste Jodi Picoult, Wilbur Smith, Dan Brown and Stephen Fry as easily as they dislike Shakespeare, Tolkein or Lewis. Not that I am putting myself in their league, but stating that once you put your work out there, it is fair game. And no writing will ever be everyone’s taste.  

I will NEVER, EVER forget the feeling when I looked onto my sales report and saw that I had sold my first twenty copies. That meant that there were twenty people out there reading my book. It was surreal. I knew who some of them were, but some were honestly a mystery. Good friends immediately sent me messages to report problems the editor or I had missed, for which I was most thankful. One close friend, who actually knows roughly how much of the story is truth, warned me of the areas where I was a little too close to the fact for it to sit comfortably. I also really appreciated the encouragement I received from people I didn’t even think read my Facebook posts – who not only bought the book, but reposted the link so that their friends could buy the book too. That’s the bugger with self publishing, I need to self market the book too.

But truth be told, I’m not really in it for the money. Or the fame. Writing has always been about healing to me. It is my ultimate form of self-expression and self-fulfilment. I had never dealt with the aspects that came to the fore in this novel on various levels and in various stages of my life, but now I believe I have. I have been each of the six main characters at different ages. What I wished when I pressed, “Save and Publish” for the first time, was that someone out there would read the story and be touched by it in some way, on some level. That my journey somehow rubs off on someone else’s. That’s all, I believe, any writer really wants.

While I was in Oxford, our lecturer in creative writing told us that you aren’t a writer when you get published, you're a writer when you write. This has taken so long to sink in that perhaps I should go back and do the summer school again. I became a writer, then, when I was eleven years old and I wrote a poem called “There is a God.” It was a cute, simple poem. The opening lines, “There is a God and He is good, he always does the things he should. He started each and every race, put every star in perfect place.” Not too shabby for a pre-pubescent, maybe.    

Someone once told me that every writer has about 60000 rubbish words in them that they need to get out of their system, before they write anything worth reading. I have written two other novellas, before Worth Waiting For, which are probably well over that 60000 limit and these will (pray God,) never see the light of day again. Now, I have submitted a novel of close on three hundred pages, about love and sex and a boat accident and finding a soul mate. I experienced a whole myriad of emotions writing about the boat accident I really had and the romance that was associated with it. It was cathartic, as writing should be. Reading it later, on my own Kindle, it was enjoyable, as reading should be. My subject matter and choice of genre have changed enormously from when I was eleven, as have I. But still, I write because there are words in my heart that need to be shared. Stories from parts of me that I want to express.  

When last I checked, there were over a thousand five hundred copies of my book in circulation. Plus I have given copious amounts away for free. I am now looking into self-publishing it in print, so that technologically challenged potential fans can read it in hard copy too. I am also trying to be more savvy when it comes to marketing… but that’s a whole other ballgame.

I've just finished reading a book that was on the New York Times bestseller list for two months last year. It had more spelling mistakes than mine did in its final version, the storyline was rather weak and the sex scenes were putrid. The book cost double what mine is going for as well. While that situation might frustrate some, it encourages me. I realise that people will like or dislike what they like or dislike; either way, the book will be read. What I needed to deal with first and foremost was the fact that they/the readers would be reading my (precious) words and judging me. That made me feel quite vulnerable. It’s like starting your own business, any business. You want desperately for people to buy into your idea because you have faith in the idea and at the same time, you shit and question yourself in equal parts.

I have also always been slightly sceptical of praise and therefore knew I needed to be open to criticism as well as its rapturous counterpart. But here I am – not knowing who reads this blog, putting the vulnerability out there and saying, unashamedly, I’ve written a little book, and I would like people to read it. Because aside from having words to express and stories to share, no one writes a book for it not to be read. Just the same as no one opens a business hoping no one will come through the doors.

Yet, dear readers, the lesson greatest of all in writing/self-publishing a book is that the feeling, (once you have got past the fear and anxiety,) is remarkable. This feeling translates to all things it takes bravery to do. The only comparison that comes to mind is a soldier who gets an office job and never leaves the country and the soldier who has seen battle. Putting yourself out there is hard and scary, it takes tremendous gall sometimes; other times balls of steel. But it is so incredibly satisfying that it would be nearly impossible to not want to do it again and again. 

So maybe don't take it to heart about writing - take it to heart about anything. Be brave today. Put yourself out there. Who knows, the world may be missing out on something specular because of your silence. And even if it's not that spectacular, its uniquely yours and has earned a moment in the sun.     


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