Updated: Aug 25, 2020
Guest post by by Anika Scott
The path to trade publishing sometimes feels like it’s littered with the stalled-out cars of writers stuck in revision hell, or the query stage, or even submission to publishers. The writers further down the street seem to have it made. How did they do it?
I’m launching my debut historical novel with major publishers internationally, and sometimes I don’t know how I got here. There’s nothing special about me. I had zero connections in the industry. I barely knew any other writers, much less trade published ones who might advise me. All I had was the conviction that my story was worth taking to a big stage, and for me, that meant trade publishing.
So how did I do it?
I revised my debut novel more times than I can count. For years. If you read the first draft and the published version, you’d see some familiar things, but light years of skill between them. Finding Clara / The German Heiress is the apex of my apprenticeship. It was the 7th novel I’d completed. The rest stink. Not everyone needs to write 7 novels to get to a good one, but some of us do. It’s okay.
I needed a kick in the pants to query. I was terrified. I had to leave my writing cave and present my work to real publishing people! I’d read all the horror stories: Frustration, devastating critiques and the worst – silence. I felt sick to my stomach when I sent out my first batch of queries. All five of them. The result: three requests for fulls, one personal rejection, one offer. The process took me about 2 months. I was stunned. I thought – Hey, this is going to be easy!
This Isn’t Easy
Then came revisions for my agent. Because of various family/baby-related issues, and the fact that my book was a big challenge, it took me almost 4 years to revise. Not everyone is lucky enough to have an editorial agent, but I set out to get one. I was a journalist and used to working with editors and I wanted someone to talk to about the writing, not just the business side of things. This phase was hard, I will not lie. I had to dig deep and level up my skills many times over. I had to trust my agent and myself. I had to be more patient with myself than I’ve ever had to be in my life. There were moments I wasn’t sure the book would ever be submitted to publishers.
This was where things got crazy again. Within about a week of submitting to publishers, there was strong interest in London and New York. A few days after that, we had our first pre-empt in the UK. A couple days after accepting it, I was meeting publishing people at the Frankfurt Book Fair. Within a week or so of that, I was lunching with my UK publishers in London and on the phone with multiple US editors as the book went to auction there. Translation markets were offering too. By the time the dust settled, I’d gotten that mythical “six-figure deal” and various other shiny deals, and I thought I’d been hit by a train. It was unreal.
Working with Publishers
My publishers have been fantastic, and I’m not just saying that. Publishing people are book people; they love stories, they love authors, and they are our allies. Publishing is a business, yes. But a business made up of people, and I’ve been lucky to have warm, enthusiastic and professional support from my publishers. My editorial letter came in quickly and wasn’t nearly as bad as I’d feared. I finished a structural revision in 6 weeks, a big challenge. But now I know I can work fast instead of slogging on every revision for months or more.
Nobody asked me to change anything I didn’t want to change, and whatever compromises were made, they were done with eyes open and my approval. We hit a sticky patch on the title, since the US and UK markets couldn’t agree on one title that worked for both of them. The UK chose Finding Clara, more suitable for an upmarket historical. The US chose The German Heiress, more in the vein of a historical thriller. Both fit my novel, and I’m happy with them, though it’s tricky always having to mention both titles.
The hardest thing for me is reining in expectations during this emotional roller coaster before the launch of my debut. Sometimes I’m on top of the world, sometimes I’m feeling so overwhelmed and drained or just plain anxious, I wonder why in the world I ever wanted to release a novel. The reality is – a lot is completely outside my control. I’d like to think I’ll influence sales, and I’m a team player with publicity, but I’m not sure I alone could do very much to move the needle. I can’t control how readers approach my book, what experiences and opinions they carry to it. All of that affects reviews, and those reviews are immediately public. It’s harrowing. The complete opposite of the writing cave!
But I wouldn’t trade the experience I’m having for anything. During this whole process, I’ve learnt so much about writing, it’s like the equivalent of a Masters in fiction – for (almost) free! I’ve met amazing people in the publishing industry, and other debut writers on the same path as I am. Those friendships are going to last. Trade publishing is chaotic and scary and magical, and I hope to stay here as long as I can.
Anika Scott’s debut historical novel Finding Clara (UK) / The German Heiress (USA) is the story of three Germans reckoning with their pasts in the ruins of postwar Germany. Finding Clara will be available March 5, 2020, and The German Heiress April 7, 2020. Anika lives in Essen, Germany, the setting of her debut.
You can find more about Anika on her website.
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