What I’ve Learned from Being Published

This is what 85k of a first draft looks like.

My edits are back!

Which means I have to knuckle down and shape the novel into something vaguely publishable.

And …sobs…some of my carefully-crafted paragraphs (and chapters!) are having to be cut (which is why I shouldn’t have spent so long on them, of course).

Yep, I am killing my darlings, as well as adding more ‘wordage’, especially to the end, which was only half-finished when I submitted it.

So, I will probably be a little quiet on here for the next few weeks.

A random touch of spring

I thought you might be interested to see the piece I wrote recently for Jericho Writers – and which they’re happy for me to reproduce here – on the subject of ‘what I’ve learned from being published.’

Anyway, here it is:

What I’ve Learned from Being Published

“I spent over 20 years writing short fiction for women’s magazines but novel writing was always my goal. Eventually, I decided it was ‘now or never’ and my debut was published in January 2022.

The biggest surprise about the publishing process was the speed at which it all happened (someone told me, in publishing, everything is either ‘very, very fast’ or ‘very, very slow’). I signed with HQ, (Harper Collins’ digital-first imprint) and my debut was published 6 months later (firstly as an e-book, then in paperback 6 weeks later). My second novel came out 10 months after that, which meant my first two novels were published in the same year (January and November 2022).

It was very tight – and there was a lot of pressure – to get the second novel finished. I learned that a deadline is a deadline, with very little leeway. When my debut came out, there was little time for wallowing or celebrating. I was busy writing my second novel and my head was already somewhere else.

Another surprise was the number of people who had input into the final version of the book. Not only the editors but also the publicity and marketing teams. Everything on the book’s cover is outside your control (blurb, title, cover and price). But it’s also refreshing to be part of a collaborative process, after working alone for so long. It’s comforting to have others invested in making your book the best it can be.

I had to compromise a little on the titles of both my novels but I was happy to bow to my publisher’s greater expertise and I think they’ve done a great job.

I’ve learned that it’s not my job to sell the book. It’s tempting to spend time on marketing (via social media, doing interviews, giveaways, etc) but whatever you do as an author to boost sales will only ever be a drop in the ocean. Whenever I can, I try to promote my books, of course. But I have to remind myself that, as a traditionally-published author, it’s not my job to sell the books: that’s what the publisher does.

People’s reactions can be strange when they find out you’ve written a novel. The uninitiated think you must be rich. And famous. And of course, I’m neither. And when you tell people you’re being ‘edited’ they sometimes think that’s ‘cheating’ and say things like ‘Oh, but it won’t be your book anymore!’

And some fellow writers – people I counted as friends, both in ‘real life’ and virtually – have struggled to congratulate me (or not mentioned my book at all). It’s hurtful but, like the not-so-good reviews, it’s amazing how quickly I learned to shrug it off.

Something else I’ve learned is that even getting published and achieving ‘the dream’ doesn’t mean the end of imposter syndrome or striving for more.

I’m working on my third novel and I still worry sometimes that I won’t be able to do it. I still look on Twitter and envy other authors’ sales figures, prizes, foreign rights, marketing campaigns and best-seller flags on Amazon.

It’s not the end when you’re a published author: the goalposts simply move. You’re always learning, always trying to improve. And I think that’s all part of the adventure of being a writer.”

Another random touch of spring

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22 Responses to What I’ve Learned from Being Published

  1. Thank you for sharing your experience of having your novel published. Very interesting. But quite disappointing ‘so called’ friends didn’t congratulate you or take any interest! Well done for achieving what you have. It’s hard work 😣!

    • Thank you, Yasmin. Yes, it’s incredibly hard work! Hmm, people’s reactions have sometimes been odd and disappointing but then, when something really big happens to you, it isn’t the same as if it were happening to them. So I’ve tried to be understanding and not let it get to me…!

  2. Sharon boothroyd says:

    Many congratulations Helen- it is an incredible achievement. I’m not aiming for novel success myself,as I wouldnt be able to cope with the pressure. I’m still kind of interested in tv drama, although I wouldn’t be able to cope with the pressure there either! My dream is on hold pretty much because of that reason, so I’ll be sticking to womag stories for the forseeable future.

    • Sharon, you probably could handle the pressure, don’t do yourself down! I think I’m just still reeling from the shock of how much work’s involved. Plus, I am a slow writer and it’s probably ‘easier’ (although I don’t think it’s ever easy!) if you can write faster. I’ve heard other authors say that the more novels they write, the faster they get, so I’m hoping (praying!) that happens to me!

  3. lbamfield says:

    Congratulations, Helen on your publication and the one in the offing. This is an interesting post and like other comments I find it sad that friends did not congratulate you on your publication. I have been hovering on the edge of several writing circles online and have seen many authors now published. Yes, I’m sad that my novel is getting nowhere and a bit envious of those who have succeeded but never could I not wish them well. After all if I ever do achieve publication, I’d hope they would be happy for me! Thank you for the daffodil picture. I miss daffodils so much. The ones I planted are merely a few leggy specimens that are dwindling each year!

    • Hi Lindsay and thanks for your comment. The beautiful daffodils were at Batsford Arboretum, near to me, by the way. That’s not – sadly – my own garden! Most of my friends, I should say, have been delighted for me and some have been more excited than me! But, a bit like bad reviews, I do tend to dwell on the more negative responses. I suppose that’s just human nature.

  4. Karelann says:

    Congratulations on your books Helen – I have read and reviewed both and enjoyed them very much. .
    This is a fabulous article too – so refreshing to hear about the reality and hard work.
    Try to not have imposter syndrome (almost impossible) so much because you are certainly not one. I look forward to number three!
    Thanks for sharing
    Karelann x

    • Thanks for your kind words, Karelann. I’m trying not to sound too much like a moaning Minnie but the truth is that there is pressure and it is hard work! (or maybe that’s just me, doing it wrong! No, other writers have said the same to me!). But it’s still a nice position to be in so I’m not grumbling really!

  5. Gill chilton says:

    Fascinating blog. Your books are tremendous Helen. As uplifting as those daffodils but with all the range of emotions other as well!

  6. Sharon Boothroyd says:

    Thanks for kind words Helen, but I would find all the edits and re-writes hard to handle. I have mental health issues that prevent me from taking my writing career further. I’m very much aware of my limitations and I need to be realistic about the goals I can aim for and achieve, and the goals I can’t strive for. Mind you, a careers advisor told Mark Gatiss he’d never work as a scriptwriter for TV and look at him now! He’s one of the best UK dramatists and currently writing new episodes of Dr Who.

  7. philippabowe says:

    Good luck with the editing Helen, and thanks for sharing that very interesting article. People can have strange (and unsatisfying reactions) to the writing successes of others – maybe an underlying jealousy, anger at themselves for not getting on and writing the book so many people say they have inside? Pretty crap anyway. I hope you have lots of other people giving you the big huge CONGRATS you deserve on all that hard work and its results over these last years!! I’ve loved watching your journey and how you share it with so much humour and kindness. Oh and “the goalposts simply move” is such a good way to sum up what happens on the writerly path (based on my own minor experience and hearing about many others’)! P.xxx

    • Thanks Philippa! I fear I sound like a bit of a diva, wanting to be heaped with praise and adoration by EVERYONE and taking the hump when this doesn’t happen! Most people – in fact 99% of people – have been absolutely lovely and kind and interested and all those things (after all, how hard is it to say ‘Great news, well done!’ – even if you don’t actually mean it?!). But there are a few who I know have deliberately not congratulated me. But that’s OK. I can cope with it. Joanne Harris says in her very wise book ‘Ten Things About Writing’ (which I can recommend) that when you are published, “you may find that some of your writer friends withdraw from your circle” and she explains that’s because “it’s hard to come to terms with the success of a friend when you’re trying so hard to achieve that success for yourself.” That kind of made sense to me. But I couldn’t write an article on ‘what I’ve learned since being published’ without alluding to it.

      • philippabowe says:

        You do not sound even vaguely like a diva, I promise! It’s good to discuss these things, get them out in the open. 😆😘

  8. Kea says:

    Congratulations Helen on your third book – so very pleased for you!

  9. Penny A says:

    Many congratulations are due, also thanks for an interesting article!

    Yes… also aware from (friendly enough) comment that some (usually non-writers) may feel editors are a threat to The Art of Writing! I’ve never seen it that way. You simply have to trust that the ed. will know her/his job better than you do. Which, almost invariably, they do! Always worth building that good relationship.
    All the best with your third (!) novel!

    • Thanks, Penny. Yes, people (non writers) can get very uppity, on my behalf (!) about my work being ‘edited’. I take the same view as you, that the editor knows her job. I’ve never actually disagreed with anything that my editor or my agent have suggested (so far!). They are good at what they do and I’m grateful for their input, which makes my work better!

  10. Eirin Thompson/E.D. Thompson says:

    Another really interesting post, Helen. I think Gore Vidal said something like: “Whenever a friend succeeds, a little bit of me dies”. While this is amusing, I don’t actually agree. I consider you an online writing friend and am delighted to follow your publishing success. I read and loved A Wartime Secret and I have bought the second book, though I haven’t read it yet. I am in awe of the masses of positive reviews and ratings you have received and am envious of that, but only in the nicest way.

    • Thank you Eirin, for your kind comments. I have been lucky with the comments and ratings BUT I have still had a ‘lovely’ one from a male American reader (who is definitely not my target market – he likes gritty WW2 thrillers) who said, “this is the worst book I have read for ten years… blah blah. ‘ and ended with .. “I shall certainly never read anything by this “author” again.’ So, there you go. Not all good! And it’s always the bad ones that you remember, isn’t it?! (I consider you an online writing friend too, by the way! Maybe one day we’ll meet IRL). x

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