Today’s guest blog post, on the topic of debut novels, is brought to you by Yvonne Cassidy.
From There to Here – Getting a First Novel Published
My first novel, The Other Boy, was published by Hachette in May. It will come out in the UK and France next year. Typing those sentences, I’m smiling. I just can’t help it. Being published is something I’d always wanted – I haven’t learned the art of being casual about it and I don’t think I want to.
I meet a lot of writers who aren’t published yet and they ask me how I got there, to the holy grail of publication. I try and answer as honestly as I can, but truth is, I’m not sure how my one-step-forward-two-step-back journey could act as a map for anyone else. My novel on shelves in bookshops all over Ireland is the same one that was rejected by over twenty publishers before that. So while I might not know too much about how to get published, I do know a bit about how to sustain belief in your own work through a period of rejection. Which might be the more important question.
My rejections nearly always came on Fridays. I imagined faceless editors clearing their ‘to do’ piles, saving those horrible jobs until the end of the week. My agent forwarded me the e-mails – as I’d asked her to do – always stressing how the fact that the editor had taken the time to write one or two paragraphs was a good sign, encouraging even, and how the fact that some had asked to see my second novel was something I should be thrilled about.
It’s hard to be thrilled getting an e-mail like that on the way to Lahinch at the start of a bank holiday weekend. And analysing those one or two paragraphs, where your whole future seems to be hanging on the quality of an editor’s sleep the night before, can be torture. There is no other word for it.
Looking back, seeing myself, printing out these e-mails, putting them in a folder, I can feel how badly I wanted it. The ‘deal’. I became obsessed, Googling my agent, other agents, publishers we hadn’t yet approached. The more I wanted it, the further away it drifted. And oh yes, somewhere through all of this, I forgot to write.
For me, it was 18 months between securing my agent and finding a publisher and it was somewhere in the middle of all that, that something started to shift. I think it was the day I found a book on my shelf I’d bought years before – The Resilient Writer: a collection of essays by well known authors sharing their experiences on rejection. They each had different journeys, offered different advice, but one thing through all the essays was the same. Keep writing. That was the one thing they all agreed upon, the one thing they urged me to do. And so I did.
Around that time, I stuck a post it note on my fridge. It said, “I cannot control the opinions of other people, I can only control the effort and quality I put into my work.” It’s still there and I see it five, six times a day, it nudges into my awareness as I take out the milk and put it back in again. It’s one of those statements that seems so very obvious but yet, I need to see it over and over again it seems, to remember that it is true.
Months passed. Rejections came in trickles now. People stopped asking me if there was any news on my book. I took up yoga. I wrote when I could. I wrote travel pieces and poems and book reviews. I started my second novel. And as I wrote my way deeper into it, as the characters came more alive to me than the ones battling it out in the trenches to be understood by editors, the joy I found in writing reignited again. A faint flame at first, flickering, but there, that after a while burned brighter than before.
For me, the truth is that there is very little else in life that satisfies me as much as the simple act of placing words on a page. I forgot that, for a while, and I needed help to remember it again. But once I did, I’d a hunch that if I stayed true to that, to the act of writing that had always made me happy, that the publishing thing would look after itself.
(Originally published on Writing4all.ie, August 2010)
Thank you, Yvonne. Congratulations on your success and well done for persevering. If we want something badly enough, we just keep going, don’t we.
Yvonne Cassidy is an Irish writer living in New York City.
Yvonne’s first novel, The Other Boy, was published by Hachette in May 2010 and translated into French where it was released under the title L’Autre Frère in 2011. In January 2012, Hachette published Yvonne’s second novel, What Might Have Been Me in Ireland and the UK and this was also released in the US in December 2012. Her latest novel How Many Letters Are in Goodbye? will be published in June 2014.
In addition to writing fiction, Yvonne has written journalism, television scripts and is a regular book reviewer. Working with new writers to help them find and develop their writing voice is something Yvonne is passionate about. Currently, Yvonne heads up the creative writing program at Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen – the largest emergency food program in New York. The dedication of the writers at the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen Writers’ Workshop – often in the most challenging of circumstances – is something she finds truly inspirational.
Yvonne has taken part in many writing festivals and events in Ireland and the US. For latest information on readings and book events visit: http://www.yvonnecassidy.com or follow her on Twitter @YvonneCassidyNY.
How Many Letters are in Goodbye? by Yvonne Cassidy
Seventeen-year-old Rhea Farrell carries the scars of a childhood accident where she lost her arm. But Rhea also carries scars that aren’t so visible – the death of a mother she hardly remembers and the impact of her father’s drinking.
When Rhea finds herself alone and homeless on the streets of New York she turns to the person she always wished she could turn to – her mother. And just like she used to do as a little girl, she starts to write her letters – to tell her the things she can’t tell anyone else, to share her fears, to ask for help.
Rhea’s journey brings her deeper into her mother’s past where she uncovers some buried family secrets. And as she finds out more about the woman her mother truly was, Rhea discovers too, just what kind of woman she wants to be.
And that it’s never too late to say goodbye.
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