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From Mind To Matter: A New Novelist’s Experience of Book Publishing

From Mind To MatterLittle did I know, at the age of ten, when my poem was published in what was then “Girl” comic (for which I received the grand prize of a ten shilling postal order) that one day I would write a novel.

In 2006 I had the beginning and the end of a story.  The main characters were already real to me.  The need to put down on paper the

ideas that were forming became urgent.  I can remember my head feeling as if it might burst and, on occasions, not being able to sleep.   The unwritten story began to build up.  So, one day, I typed in the first sentence.  Everyone stresses how important the first few lines are and I found myself imagining opening a copy of my book and wondering if I would want to read on after the opening lines.  I kept them because they felt right to me.

Developing the Story

I have long been fascinated by what can transpire when two people meet again after many years – the repercussions – the “ripple effect” – and so, gradually, the story developed.  I found I enjoyed researching essential facts, dates, current affairs, generational differences and attitudes over the years covered in the book.  Some days that would be all I would get done, as it was so easy to get side tracked with an endless supply of fascinating information literally at my fingertips.  It was important to have a timeline printed out at my side to make sure the dates and ages were accurate.

So, over a period of about two and a half years, the story unfolded.  Some days I was surprised at where it took me.  It’s exciting to discover that your characters really do go off in unexpected directions – however much control you feel you wield!

Finding Literary Agents and Getting Feedback

Then the task of searching through the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook began.  The general consensus seemed to be to send the first three chapters and a synopsis to at least twenty agents, having carefully checked to see if they handle your sort of writing – no good sending crime fiction to agents who deal only with historical romance, for example.

I had the good fortune to have the first three chapters assessed by two published authors. The first was conducting one-to-one sessions at the Cheltenham Literature Festival and the other was a friend who is a prize-winning and extremely talented writer. Their constructive comments and encouragement gave me the impetus to continue writing.

I had been warned that agents very often did not respond to, or acknowledge receipt of manuscripts, so I was pleased to receive, from most of the ones to whom I sent mine, some positive feedback.  There were various reasons why they did not ‘take me on’.  For example – wrong genre (despite my careful reading of their requirements), they only dealt with potential best sellers, they had just published two books with a similar storyline – and so on.

Getting Past Rejection

This was the time that challenged me most and made me doubt my ability to write at all, so I decided to look on the whole experience as something to be pleased about, in that I had finished a novel.  It would go in a drawer for my grandchildren to read one day. And so it lay dormant for the best part of three years.

In the meantime I joined a writing group.  There I found absolute pleasure in writing for the sheer joy of it!  There is something therapeutic in meeting with other writers and sharing your work with a supportive and encouraging audience.  I still go every week and I am learning all the time.  It has been through this group that I have built up a number of short stories and where I became a fan of flash fiction.

On the strength of this I went on an Arvon short story writing course at The Hurst in Shropshire.  It was a stimulating and inspiring week and I would recommend any writer to go on one of their courses.  It’s a lot of fun too!

Re-awakening The Novel through Self-Publishing

The novel began to burn a hole in my head again.  An avid fan of novels read it on her Kindle (you can just attach the PDF version to an email and send it to the person’s Kindle address).  She really enjoyed it and was very encouraging – and made some useful suggestions.  So, the novel nagged away at me but I accepted that I was not going to get an agent/publisher.

An email arrived announcing a Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook Conference in London, entitled “Self-Publishing in the Digital Age”.  My husband, Henry, who had been incredibly supportive and encouraging from day one and who seemed to have absolute confidence in me, was as intrigued as I was about this day, so we went.

What a stimulating day it was!  It was sponsored by the Bloomsbury Group, the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook and Amazon and the presentations, by extremely motivational speakers, meant that we came away feeling positive and excited about the prospect of self-publishing the novel.  That was in November 2012.

Domesticity got in the way of progress as we moved house and welcomed a new granddaughter in 2013!  Meanwhile I edited, re-edited and re-edited and the same person who had read the original version read the revised one.  She felt strongly that we should go ahead and publish.  By this time I knew this story was not going to stop intruding into my brain unless it got printed.

Amazon’s Create Space and Kindle Direct Publishing to the Rescue

Amazon’s Create Space offers “complete self-publishing, on-demand printing, and online distribution services”Kindle Direct Publishing does the same for e-books.  We decided to use these methods.  The website guides you through the process step by step and is not difficult to use.

Various services are offered including cover designs.  We wanted to do this ourselves and fortunately for us, one of our sons-in-law is a very talented photographer, with an extremely good camera.  If you want to use your own image for the cover it has to be a very high-resolution image.  By chance, he was due to have a week’s holiday in North Norfolk in October 2013.  As that beautiful part of the country plays a large part in the book this seemed too good an opportunity to miss.  I explained what I had visualised for the cover.  The result is a picture which I hope invites readers to explore further.

Final Proofreading Before Clicking on “Publish”

So, nervous but excited too, we requested a proof copy from Create Space.  In just a few days we would see my novel in print!  I have done some proof reading in the past but proof reading words that are so familiar is different – harder.  In the end we had two proof copies, adjusting small but crucial things each time.  Finally, on 10th December 2013 we clicked on the final step of the process and let it go!  It is difficult to describe the thrill and the terror of that moment.  I felt very exposed and vulnerable – which is one of the reasons I have used a pen name.  That way I felt just a little safer.

Words of Encouragement

So far, people seem to be enjoying it.  There have been some positive reviews on Amazon and no – they’re not all from family and friends!  I await the damning criticisms which I am sure will come my way and I am very conscious of my own limitations – and that people are entitled to their own opinions.  I am inspired by Susan Hill, who has stated that “in writing, there are no rules!”

If you have a story to tell that you think might appeal to others, don’t be deterred by the minefield out there that is the world of publishing.  It is in turmoil at the moment – because people are doing it for themselves.  I think, that for many, many years stories have not been read because one person, on one day, has read the first few pages and decided to throw them on the slush pile.  Yes, it is subjective.  What might make it through to the next stage one day could just as easily not do so on another.

It is a risk.  I always said that if just one person enjoyed my book I would be content.  I’m glad I’ve released it from my head and am sharing it with others.

Now for the collection of short stories!

I’d be interested to hear if you’ve finished your book and haven’t tried to get it published, what’s holding you back?  If you have gone down the self-publishing route, what have your experiences been?

About M J Knox

Of Northern Irish heritage, M J Knox lives in Warwickshire, UK and worked in the National Health Service for many years.

Her debut novel “Isobel’s Son”, is set in Warwickshire and North Norfolk and is a moving story about the complexities of family relationships and one man’s quest to find the missing pieces of his life. It was published in December 2013 and is available to order from Amazon.

In keeping with today’s busy lives, she is now writing an essential quick read - an anthology of short stories.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Simon Jones February 5, 2014, 8:32 pm

    Great article, it’s good someone is following through with their plan and getting there in the end. The self publishing route either physical or electronic definitely seems to offer a real route for the budding novelist. And as you’ve proven, it means that you’re not blocked by the lack of an agent. Good luck with finding a readership for the novel.

    • M J Knox February 6, 2014, 5:37 pm

      Hi Simon
      I’m glad you enjoyed the article. The problem I have at the moment is that people who have read the book are passing their copy on to their friends and families – great that they want to do this – but not good for sales I’m afraid! Marketing is the big challenge now!

      Thank you for your good wishes.

  • Terry Johnson February 4, 2014, 10:58 am

    An interesting article full of self-determination. Well done for getting your novel published and I’m sure your article will inspire others to go down the same route.

    • MJ Knox February 4, 2014, 3:59 pm

      Hi Terry.
      It was the determination of my fantastic family too! Yes, it would be very satisfying if it encourages someone else to do the same.

      Thank you for your kind comments.

  • Rod Griffiths February 4, 2014, 9:38 am

    Your experience almost exactly mirrors mine, though I have now done it twice, the second novel deriving from doing NaNoWriMo in 2012. I found that if I could afford to print 50 books with a local printer I could beat Creatspace’s price, so I have a small pile of books for selling when I perform at spoken word events.

    It is probably worth mentioning Smashwords as well, about a third of my sales have come from that route, which gets your ebooks to Apple, Sony Kobo and a few others. The rest of the sales have been via Amazon.

    Pricing is an interesting issue, I made sure to get the cover price comparable with other similar books in the shops, the ebook is priced at the difference between the cost of printing and the cover price, in other words I make the same amount whether it is an ebook or on paper, but the ebook buyers don’t pay for the paper.

    • MJ Knox February 4, 2014, 4:37 pm

      Hi Rod
      I’m not familiar with Smashwords so I will have a look. Two local independent book shops have agreed to stock a few copies of “Isobel’s Son” so I hope to sell some through them too.

      Thank you for your comments and your advice and all the best with your novels.