As we launch this new blog series in 2020, Poppy Nwosu is the published author of two young adult contemporary novels, Making Friends with Alice Dyson and Taking Down Evelyn Tait. Yet back in 2018, she had just signed her first publication contract for her debut book, and she really had no idea what the future might bring.
This collection of blog posts (originally written by Poppy between March 2018 and March 2019) chronicles her experience during that strange year of limbo between signing a contract and seeing her first book released into the world by Wakefield Press.
For this first post, Poppy speaks about how difficult it really is to get published.
Post written by Poppy Nwosu
MARCH 2018: How hard is it to get published?
Um … ridiculously hard apparently.
Firstly, even writing about your journey to publication is a bit of scary thing. I mean, admitting to a towering pile of rejection letters is potentially not a smart career move.
That is why, I think, NO ONE EVER REALLY TALKS ABOUT IT!!!
Well, you know, they do talk about it really, but never in the excruciating detail I wanted to read when I was lurking on writing blogs trying to find others going through the same pains that I was. I wanted the nitty and I wanted the gritty. I wanted to know EVERYTHING.
People definitely do mention the rejections, but maybe not all of them, because hey, everyone wants to be seen in their best light! Every aspiring writer wants to seem professional and slightly less rejected than they really are.
I do too.
Which is why this post is a little scary for me. I have a publishing deal now (yay!) but is it really that smart to admit to all the difficulties I faced to get to this stage, so very early in a writing career?
The answer is, I dunno.
But here I am … writing anyway.
And I’ll try to be as honest about it all as I can.
MY WRITING STORY:
I wrote my first novel when I was in my very early twenties. Then immediately I wrote another one.
They were both awful, but I didn’t know that at the time. I thought it would be really easy to be published. I didn’t know anything about the publishing industry, and I didn’t know anything about the genre I wanted to write in (What were the latest releases? What was popular? Who were the big Australian authors of the day?).
I also actually believed you didn’t need to learn how to edit your own work because publishers would do it for you. I hadn’t done any writing or editing research, didn’t know anything about anything, and hadn’t even read much current YA fiction out at the time.
It’s hard to even remember, but I believe I sent out one query and received perhaps one rejection and promptly had my heart broken and swore off writing forever.
I started working full time instead and had no time for it anymore. I thought getting published was a ridiculous and impossible dream, I thought it was time to get back to reality.
Quite a few years passed. During that time I worked. And lived. And felt that dreams were pretty silly. And I didn’t really feel passionate about anything.
When I was a little older though, I started writing again.
For fun during that first year, then more and more seriously as each year wore on. I was soon more obsessed and passionate about writing novels than anything else in the world.
At first I thought I didn’t need to learn anything from anyone, and then later I wanted to learn absolutely everything about writing I possibly could, from anyone who could teach me (as well as the internet obviously!)
I started being brave enough to send my work out and I began receiving rejections. And it was suddenly like every rejection I got only made me want to work harder (after I picked myself up of the floor and stopped crying obviously).
So this is how it went:
I sent my first YA novel (not counting the two original awful ones that I had already long tucked away into a drawer) to a major Australian publishing house and amazingly got through the gatekeepers and slush pile immediately to have my novel assessed in full by their team. Seriously, I sent my submission of two chapters on a Friday, and got an email requesting the full manuscript on a Monday!
It all seemed pretty damn easy.
Except obviously it wasn’t.
After they read the whole thing, they came back and said they liked me and my writing, would be keen to see future stories, but it was a no from them.
By then I had written another book. So I sent them that. Three months later it was another no. But a more positive one.
I wrote another book and sent them that as well. Again they said no. Still positive. But also some more pointed and major feedback. Drop 30,000 words, restructure the meandering bits and lose loads of characters.
Obviously that publishing house said no to all my work, but they were also the very first knowledgeable professionals within the writing industry who treated me like a writer with potential. I am so grateful for the time they spent giving me feedback and encouragement, a period that spanned maybe two or three years of me sending them work back and forth. During that time they made me feel like I could actually do this.
The power of an encouraging rejection letter (or three!) is monumental!
(Though I won’t pretend I didn’t cry each time I received a letter that was a rejection! It was only afterwards, after sniffling for a few days that I saw through that initial hurt, and was compelled to try even harder!)
So that initial early encouragement spurred me on to join a writing group where I learned for the very first time about formatting and editing (I had been sending that major publisher my work without ever formatting it … gasp! horror! I was such an idiot! As in, no paragraphs, no indents, no scene breaks … yuck!).
I spent a long time submitting work to my writing group for critiquing.
I started reading everything online I could find about formatting and editing (because I was awful at editing particularly) and I realised that YA novels have guideline word limits that publishers prefer.
As per online advice, I built an author website and started blogging so I had an online presence. I started (very slowly) figuring out social media. I joined a bookclub and started learning about the current YA industry and releases, figuring out what I like and why. I worked really really hard improving my craft and then about a year later I sent that third book back to those same publishers, now completely reworked and refreshed and about 35,000 words leaner.
I waited three months and from them I got a very very very positive …
Actually it was the most amazing rejection letter I ever got.
I literally taped it to my desk pin-board as encouragement to keep working hard, that’s how nice it was. Their feedback was so utterly exciting. (I still cried though, obviously). To give you some perspective, this particular book was now the fifth book I’d ever written.
Yet despite the excellent feedback, it was still a no from them.
… on the major upside, one editor there liked my book so much she referred it onwards to another big Australian publishing house, and that new publishing house took six months to come back and say …
Nothing. Actually I never heard back from them.
Which is fine. That’s honestly how it goes a lot of the time. Getting a rejection letter within a year of sending your manuscript off (if you have no agent, if you have an agent it may be different) well, that is pretty excellent to hear back at all sometimes.
So you have to take the silence in your stride, and you have to accept it as a rejection and hold back from emailing and calling. It is what it is. And it is no one’s fault. So you need to let it go and just move on.
Meanwhile I was working hard.
I attended writing festivals, I attempted to network with nice authors I met who offered me their time and attention (amazing! So nice!). I did workshops where I could, I got up at 6.am, and then 5.30.am and finally at 5.am to get in 2 hours of writing before heading off to my full time day job as the breadwinner of my family (my lovely husband was a full time student for five years). I submitted work to my writing group for feedback, and provided them with feedback on their own work in return.
And I worked really, really hard to improve my writing and my stories and my editing.
And tried my best to figure out the whole author platform thing.
I spent A LOT of time editing the hell out of my existing work and wrote two more novels to add to my growing pile of a million unpublished stories (if you can keep count, that was now seven unpublished novels).
Oh, and I also entered competitions.
At first I entered loads of short story competitions, because I heard you need a plump author bio filled with wins to attract attention.
Except I didn’t win any competitions. So instead I turned from short story competitions to full manuscript competitions and finally, finally, finaaaalllllyyyyyy … (after getting rejected from many) …
I got shortlisted for one.
The fourth book I’d ever written was shortlisted for the 2018 Arts SA Adelaide Festival Unpublished Manuscript Award.
My novel was shortlisted down to the very last two.
This shortlist announcement was released five months after the initial competition closed by the way, so this was also a feat in waiting, like all aspects of the publishing industry.
But it felt AMAZING!
I had made so much progress over the previous five years of working hard, but I had nothing to add into my author bio to display my progress, nothing at all until I got this shortlist!
After the shortlist announcement for my novel, Making Friends with Alice Dyson, I waited another three months to find out the results of the competition. And the result was …
I totally didn’t win.
But still, though I didn’t win the competition, to be honest it kind of felt like I had.
Wakefield Press approached me at the event and we organised a meeting about my novel, and after that Wakefield Press offered me a contract for my YA novel.
I signed that contract in early 2018, and in March 2019, my novel will exist in the world, which is such a strange but exciting thing for me. I’ve worked very hard to get to this point, and am so excited to see my book become a reality, with all the help and efforts of Wakefield Press (who have been so cool to work with by the way).
The whole thing has been a bit of a dream.
But to be honest with you, I think I am maybe very ambitious, and although my first dream has nearly come true, I have a whole heap more dreams I want to work towards too. So I’ll keep working hard, and hopefully one day, I will have a whole shelf of YA novels out in the world.
It has been a loooooong journey to get to this point with this novel.
And I am over the moon (and also very nervous! hehe.)
Also, I’d like to point out this first post was just about my journey to publication for this particular debut novel, and I didn’t really touch on querying agents and how that works.
But I’ll get onto that in a future post.
So finally, thank you so much for reading.
I think maybe the message here is that you should never give up.
If there is something you want you should go for it.
Don’t give up.
Poppy Nwosu is an Australian YA author. Her debut novel, Making Friends with Alice Dyson, was shortlisted for the 2018 Adelaide Festival Unpublished Manuscript Award, and for the 2019 Readings Young Adult Book Prize. It will be published by Walker US in 2020. Her second novel Taking Down Evelyn Tait was published in April 2020.
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