From Classroom to Contract in Two Years

 

eileen-gormleyThe dream of anyone who has every put pen to paper is be a published writer. Ideally, a published writer whose books are available all over the world and who is getting fan mail from different continents, and who is getting a royalty cheque every month.

The good news is that this is not impossible. It doesn’t even take years, just a lot of hard work and the application of intelligence.

Two Dublin women, Caroline McCall and Eileen Gormley both signed up for a writing class in UCD two years ago. They joined Patricia O’Reilly’s class “The Nuts and Bolts of Writing” in 2009. Both had a background in writing, Eileen as a journalist for twenty years and Caroline had written articles for genealogy magazines and journals, but neither had attempted fiction before joining Patricia’s class.

Patricia O’Reilly is novelist, broadcaster, journalist, and former editor of Image magazine. She is expert on what is necessary, not only to write a story, but to sell it afterwards, and she made it clear to her class that they were writing for publication, not to feed their artistic temperament.

Q: Why did you join Patricia’s class?

Caroline: I had wanted to write fiction for a while, and I was searching for a class to go to, and I’d heard good feedback about Patricia in UCD. But I was quite nervous because writing fiction is quite different from non-fiction.

Eileen: I felt that I was burned out. I could write an article on demand, but couldn’t come up with any ideas for writing fiction, and writing had become a chore. I was hoping this class could change that.

Q: What are the differences between fiction and what you were doing before?

Caroline: Coming from a background of writing historical stuff, everything had to be well researched and historically based, but writing fiction was like letting someone inside your head.  And reading your work aloud to a group of strangers was terrifying. I soon got over it.

Eileen: This was fun. You could write things without worrying that you would be sued for libel if you misspelled something. I misspell a lot! But also that instead of being the objective reporter, I had to get inside the heads of all my characters.

What did you get out of the class?

Caroline: Encouragement, confidence that I had an ability to write fiction, and most important, I got into the habit of writing. From the start, I got into the habit of writing several days a week, now I write every day.

Eileen: A goal. I wrote a joke short story about how Sarah Palin was really a space vampire. Patricia said “Yes, that’s fine, now make a book out of it.” I goggled at her, then sat down to write a book about a space vampire.

So where did you go from the class?

Caroline: I wrote my first novel, Honey Bee, a paranormal fantasy about fairies which was set in Dublin. It is now languishing in drawer as so many first novels deserve to do. It was 100,000 words long and taught me that I could do it, and I could finish something. That was the start of my writing addiction.

Eileen: I finished my space vampire story, called it Don’t Feed the Fairies, and at Patricia’s suggestion, entered it into the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award competition. It got to the Quarterfinal.

Q: What came after that?

Caroline: I wrote a sequel, then worried I was still writing the same novel so I started writing something completely different.  I wanted to write a novel set in Viking Dublin but I got Swine flu at Christmas and had fever and strange dreams. Somehow my characters got transplanted from Viking Dublin to the 26th century.  Having researched the market in Ireland, I knew I wasn’t going to get it published here, but the paranormal and urban fantasy market in the States is huge, so I decided to see if I could get it published in the USA.

I naively thought that by putting my novel through an American spell checker it would pass muster. Instead I got a rejection complaining about punctuation and bad word usage and it was back to the drawing board.

On my second attempt, another rejection, and then out of the blue, I got a request for a full manuscript. I chewed my nails for a month waiting to hear back, and when the e-mail finally arrived, I was afraid to open it, expecting another rejection.

It wasn’t.

Then it was into the world of contracts, edits and deadlines, and Time Slip was finally released on the 8th of September by Ellora’s Cave. I have a second novel submitted to them and am expecting to hear back soon.

Eileen: Through the ABNA, I met a lot of other writers and one mentioned me to DJ Hall, in Fantasy Island Book Publishing. He and I started chatting and he asked me to send him my manuscript. I did, and he said he wanted to publish it. That was when the hard work really started. I thought my story had been edited to perfection, by then practically everyone in Dublin had some input into it, (special thanks to Vanessa for her comments on the early section), but the reason it has been eliminated at the Quarterfinal stage was for bad spelling and word use. Things like “travelling” and “car park”. I had a major job editing it for the American market, and then a technical edit so it could be formatted for Kindle to go on sale on Amazon.com.

It went on sale in May and I still log on every day, just to check it’s still up there.  When JD told me that Don’t Feed the Fairies was going into paperback; that meant another huge edit before it went to print.

Bang went my illusions that editors did this stuff. Editors tell you that your book has this, this and this problem, and can you fix it and get it back by next Thursday? Oh, and when do you expect to have the next book in the series ready for submission?

Q: Any words of advice to new writers?

Caroline: Don’t give up just because you don’t find a home for your novel here in Ireland. Read, read, read, Find out who is publishing your favourite writers, and have a go.

Eileen: Writing isn’t magic, it’s a skill that you can learn, and that you have to practise. Nobody gets it right first time. What makes the difference is being willing to go back and rewrite, and edit, and rewrite again until you get it right.

(c) Eileen Gormley, September 2011.


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