Sara Jayne Townsend and I have swapped blogs to share writing tips today. She stopped by in June to talk about writer insecurity. You can read that post here. Today she’s talking about the struggles she had finishing her first novel and getting it published. Along the way, she drops several lessons she has taken from her experience.
I’ll also give some writing tips on her site. My post focuses on what I’ve learned writing a series. So after you finished reading this post, hop over there to see what I have to say.
By Sara Jayne Townsend
My newest release with MuseItUp Publishing is a supernatural horror novel called SUFFER THE CHILDREN that will be hitting the virtual book shelves in late spring. This particular novel is a re-release and has a special place in my heart. Not only was it my first published novel, but it and I have been on a very long journey together.
The journey began in the early 1990s when I wrote a short story called ‘Kiddiwinks’, inspired by a creepy-looking abandoned house I used to pass on my way to work in those days. The story was about a group of children who dare each other to break into the neighbourhood’s creepy house, telling stories about the witch that allegedly lives there, and they discover too late it is indeed occupied by an old lady who eats children. I put the story to my writing group and they encouraged me to turn it into a novel. Which I did. I started the novel in 1994, and it took me ten years to finish.
I learned a lot of lessons in writing that novel, one of which was that anyone who wants to be published shouldn’t take ten years over one novel. One of the main reasons that it took me so long was that in those days I didn’t plot properly. I’d started with a concept and a set of characters. I knew where I wanted to begin, and I knew vaguely where I wanted to be at the end, but I’d given no thought as to how I was going to get there. Unsurprisingly, I got halfway through and had no idea what was going to happen next. I put the manuscript away in a drawer and got on with writing other things. Then I got to a point when I decided I was going to finish this accursed manuscript if it killed me. I went back through what I had and made copious notes, and then I wrote a three-page plot summary, detailing everything that had to happen, from beginning to end. From there I broke the plot down even further, into a chapter-by-chapter summary. Between that and having some time off from work one Christmas, during which time I was able to hammer out 10,000 words, I was able to get to the end of the first draft. And this was another important lesson: plotting. I am now a meticulous plotter, drafting out plot summaries and chapter breakdowns before I even begin writing chapter one. And I no longer get ‘stuck’ halfway through a story.
SUFFER THE CHILDREN was finally finished in 2004, and I started sending out the manuscript. Unfortunately, by then horror had fallen out of favour in the UK. Many of the rejections I collected claimed that the novel was YA, which I didn’t agree with – after all my inspiration was Stephen King, who has written many books with kids as main characters, and he’s not a YA author.
At the beginning of the 21st century, the increasing popularity of e-books saw an increase in the number of small e-presses who did not require an agent as gatekeeper and were more likely to take a chance on a new writer. I started submitting to them, and there’s another lesson: literary agents are not the only way to go. Eventually the novel got accepted by Lyrical Press, but they gave me a condition: the character of Leanne had to be 18, because they didn’t deal with YA. I eventually relented, re-wrote the novel and signed the contract. You have to pick your arguments – another important lesson.
SUFFER THE CHILDREN was released by Lyrical Press as my first published novel in 2010, but the contract was for three years. When the rights were returned to me I commissioned an artist friend to design a new cover, and self-published it. Finally, when I signed on with MuseItUp for the Shara Summers series, they expressed interest in more of my work and I sold the rights to them. SUFFER THE CHILDREN will once more be available later this year – and with the label of YA I resisted for so long. And there’s possibly the most important lesson. Don’t get too hung up on labels, especially if your publisher is suggesting how to market your novel.
SUFFER THE CHILDREN – blurb
Orphaned at eighteen, Leanne’s life is adrift in a sea of grief and drug use. She washes up on the shore of estranged relatives, the Carver family, struggling with loss of their own. The transition from her South London council estate to her new home in the Surrey middle-class suburbs is difficult for Leanne.
But beneath the respectable veneer of the quiet neighborhood, something terrifying lurks. Displaced and troubled teenagers are disappearing. Leanne recruits her cousin Simon and his girlfriend Carrie to help get to the bottom of the sinister mystery. Can the three of them stop a creature of unimaginable evil before Leanne becomes a target?
About the Author:
Sara Jayne Townsend is a UK-based writer of crime and horror, and someone tends to die a horrible death in all of her stories. She was born in Cheshire in 1969, but spent most of the 1980s living in Canada after her family emigrated there. She now lives in Surrey with two cats and her guitarist husband Chris. She co-founded the T Party Writers’ Group in 1994, and remains Chair Person.
She decided she was going to be a published novelist when she was 10 years old and finished her first novel a year later. It took 30 years of submitting, however, to fulfil that dream.
Learn more about Sara and her writing at her website (http://sarajaynetownsend.weebly.com) and her blog (http://sayssara.wordpress.com). You can also follow her on Twitter (https://twitter.com/sarajtownsend) and Goodreads (https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3500282.Sara_Jayne_Townsend), and buy her books from Amazon (UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B003QROE8S and US: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B003QROE8S).