Today I have a really interesting and inspiring reader's story. It's a must-read for any writer out there, but I also think non-writers will find it insightful and encouraging as it documents Amy Lord's long and intense journey as one young woman fulfills her dreams. I don't say things like that lightly. This post shows not only how much hard work goes into writing and finishing a book but it also highlights that there are always options out there for us writers and while weighing them up is an equally daunting and draining task, there's a lot to be gained from considering all your options. I've personally learned A LOT chatting with Amy and reading this post, and I hope you do too.
Once upon a time I wanted to be a writer...
I decided I wanted to be a writer when I was 10 years old, but it’s only now, over 20 years later, that my debut novel is due to be published.
The Disappeared is about a woman living in a dystopian version of the UK, whose father was arrested years earlier by the Authorisation Bureau for teaching banned books. She grows up to become a teacher and decides she wants to rebel against the military regime, but the only way she can do this is to take the books her father left behind and share them with her students.
When one boy goes missing, Clara fears that she will be next. But she’s determined to fight back however she can, even if it means risking her own life.
Although I first had the idea for The Disappeared over a decade ago, it feels quite timely at the moment with everything that has happened politically over the last 18 months or so, from Brexit to Trump.
Writing the first draft...
I started writing the book properly for NaNoWriMo in 2013. Despite being on a roll with my writing for the first time in years, I didn’t officially ‘win’, coming in at about 30,000 words at the end of the month.
But that was enough. I kept working and entered the inaugural Bath Novel Award on a whim before I’d even finished the first draft. To my surprise, I ended up on the longlist! Cue a week of frantic writing as I tried to write the last 20,000 words of my novel for submission to the judges.
I didn’t make the shortlist, but I did have a book.
Time to rewrite!
A couple of writer friends – including the lovely Frankie – agreed to read the first draft and gave me some helpful feedback.
The story is written in the first person, from Clara’s point of view. Initially, the book had a number of dreamlike sequences that I wrote to suggest what happened to Clara’s father after his arrest. These sections never really sat right, although I did love some of them, as I’ve always enjoyed books with a little magic realism.
After doing some rewrites myself, I decided to invest in a professional editor.
His feedback, along with comments from my early readers, helped me begin to redraft the book. My beta readers noted that while Clara was a very goody goody character, my antagonist, Clara’s stepfather and an interrogator in the Authorisation Bureau, was too evil and came over as a stereotype.
I spontaneously decided to rewrite about a third of the novel from his perspective and I think that is one of my best ever writing decisions.
The Major became a much more rounded character and crucially, he was now human.
His storyline explores his relationship with Clara’s mother, who he is obsessed with. The story follows as their marriage slowly deteriorates and they begin to break against each other, each becoming increasingly bitter and unhappy.
As they say, the antagonist is the hero of their own story. They have hopes and dreams and they believe what they’re doing is right, even if no one else does.
Some good news...
It was as I made the decision to rewrite a chunk of the book that I had some amazing news: I had won a New Fiction Bursary as part of the Northern Writers’ Awards 2015. My prize was a free read from the Literary Consultancy.
Having just had an editor look at the manuscript, I cracked on with my edits so I could give TLC a fresh draft. This rewrite took me about six months of intensive work around my day job.
Since then I’ve carried on editing, while also entering the book into a variety of competitions and open submission windows with publishers. I’ve had plenty of encouraging feedback, but I wasn’t quite where I wanted to be.
Then this year I discovered the wonderful Writers’ HQ community online. They offer a number of affordable courses on plotting, editing and submitting your book, as well as a course on writing short stories. Finishing two of their courses gave me a push to start submitting to agents, which I’ve done in a couple of batches.
It was at that point that Unbound came into the picture.
The crowdfunding campaign
Choosing to crowdfund my novel was a big decision and one that I circled around for months. Most writers dream of getting a huge publishing deal with plenty of money for marketing and reviews in national newspapers, but those don’t come around too often, especially for debut writers.
For some, crowdfunding is a choice they make after exhausting other options, but that wasn’t my experience. I spent a few months sending my book out to agents and while I got some positive feedback, the consensus was that no one felt strongly enough to take it on. And that’s understandable: I once read an interview with an agent who got 1,000 unsolicited manuscripts a year and, of those, would take on one or two new clients. It’s a lot of competition and finding the right person is very subjective.
I chose to submit to Unbound because I felt that they would be a good home for my book and I felt that it was something that might appeal to them. I’d heard so many fantastic things about them from people within the publishing industry.
And I’m actually a regular contributor to crowdfunding campaigns; that was how my relationship with Unbound began. I think I’ve pledged to about eight or nine novels now and it’s an addictive process. That meant it wasn’t such a scary thing to launch my own campaign, because I was familiar with Unbound and how their crowdfunding process works.
Now that I’m on the other side, I understand exactly how amazing it feels for the author when a stranger pledges to support their book purely on the strength of the description. It’s something I plan to continue as much as possible. Sure, it’s not the cheapest way to buy a book, but it’s good writerly karma and I like the feeling that I’m playing a small part in making someone’s dream come true.
The benefits of crowdfunding a book
One of the benefits of working with Unbound is that they will take bigger risks on a new author because the crowdfunding element means the initial costs have already been covered and they know there’s an audience out there for the book. Once the campaign is funded, you work with an editor, as you would with a traditional publisher, a cover design is produced and the team begin to approach book shops.
And unlike most publishers, Unbound split any profits with the author 50/50.
Another benefit of working with Unbound is the community. I joined the author Facebook group and have enjoyed seeing the regular interactions where writers share tips and experiences with each other. It makes the whole process much less nerve wracking.
Because it is scary for a new writer. Every time someone pledges you could dance with excitement. But a few days go by with no new activity and you start to feel down about your campaign, worrying whether it will succeed. I’ve been crowdfunding for just over a month and have already learned so much. The experience has definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone, which is no bad thing.
And the other good thing to come out of my relationship with Unbound is that my work feels valid. I finally feel like a ‘proper’ writer and the idea of a writing career feels real, where before it was still dreamlike and just beyond my reach.
It helped that a literary agent saw my novel on the Unbound website and got in touch. After searching for so long, here was one of these mythical creatures coming to me!
And on to the future...
Despite The Disappeared being the first book I’ve had published, I had written a novel before, which is currently living in a bottom drawer somewhere.
And I’m working on book number three now.
Earlier in the year I was accepted into a mentoring programme for writers, where we attend regular sessions and work with a mentor to hone a new story. In the New Year we get to meet with an agent as part of that process.
My new book is slowly taking shape and having a contract with Unbound means I feel better about its prospects. My plan is to have a long-term career, so things can burn away slowly, the lack of a six figure publishing deal doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
Amy Lord is an award-winning writer and blogger from North East England. Her debut novel, The Disappeared, is currently crowdfunding on Unbound. You can find out more about her work on her blog, Ten Penny Dreams, or follow her on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
Frances M. Thompson
Find Frankie on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google+