Friday, 12 April 2013

The Book That's Just Like Mine

When I'm in a low mood, I try to avoid children's book stores. It isn't that I don't love reading children's books, it's just that sometimes the shops themselves give me the fear. Row upon row of books by authors who I've never heard of, all of them scrapping and struggling to find an audience. "What chance for me?" I ask myself, and then sadly turn away. Anyway, this week I found myself in the children's book section looking for a present for my daughter. And that was when I saw it:

The Book That's Just Like Mine

I turned it over in my hands, reading the title and looking at the illustration on the front. It wasn't exactly the same story I was currently writing, of course, but it was close enough. I flicked through and put it back on the shelf. On the way home, I knew what I should be hoping, that the book would be a success, so that every publisher would want their own version of the story. But I couldn't hold back the self-flagellation, cursing myself for being so slow at writing and letting someone else get there first. Suddenly, my book idea wasn't as fresh and new as it had felt that same morning.

A kind of low-grade panic overtook me, a feeling that I needed to accelerate the process of finishing my first draft so I could get my book out there before it was too late. I sat at my computer and composed an email to an editor, attaching the first chapter so they could take a look at it and hopefully start building an early buzz about the book. My cursor hovered over the Send button and then I clicked Save Draft instead. In a moment of clarity, I had realised what I needed to do most of all at this point in time, and that was to:

Hold My Nerve

I wrote the first half of this blog, then went back to my book with renewed purpose. And what do you know, this is the best I've felt about it in weeks. My low mood has lifted and I've carved out a couple of chapters that I really like. And all of that from a situation that would have driven me to despair just a couple of years ago.

As authors, we're always being told by agents that the worst thing we can do is send them a book too early, that it's better to take the time to get it right. But on the other hand, we also see them chasing trends and rushing to get books ready for the London Book Fair, Frankfurt and Bologna. So it isn't surprising that we're conflicted! I've been affected by bad timing with my last two books, in both cases caused by oversaturated YA trends that affected the market for middle-grade acquisitions as well. Both books were eminently publishable, but as yet, neither has been published.

So here I am, still holding my nerve and looking forward to returning to my manuscript when this blog is finished. But I know from experience that this won't be the last bump on the road – what happens the next time I feel the jaws of failure approaching? Hmm, maybe I'd better delete that draft email...

Nick.

11 comments:

  1. I know exactly how you feel, it happens to me all the time and is so depressing when you think have something wonderful and it may have taken you years to write and nobody wants to publish it and then all of a sudden something almost yours but not quite turns up and it is like a slap in the face. Unfortunately it happens all the time and probably to most writers and you just have to say to yourself, 'it's like mine but it's not mine' and keep going because it is still individual to you. Keep going!

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  2. Ah yes - I try and be positive and think 'Zeitgeist' but, but, but....

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  3. Yup - chin up and all that. The winner of the Mslexia Prize was another bloomin' selkie story!
    We just have to keep at it.

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    1. Oh no - what were the chances of that?! Consider yourself a pioneer in the exciting new selkie sub-genre of children's fiction.

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  4. If everyone scrapped their WIP because it was similar to something else, the shelves in Waterstones would be empty. And they'd be able to dedicate even more of them to mugs and greetings cards.

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    1. I have to say I look at crime books in particular and wonder how anyone chooses between them!

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  5. Sage advice! The moment I saw an early proof of the first Wimpy Kid book, I said 'that's what I'm writing!' Dougal Trump is now published and has been described as 'up there with the Wimpy Kid.' It was just a matter of waiting for WK to take off. Now I have a fantasy that's being rejected on the grounds that there isn't a market for it - but the day someone comes up with a high concept mega selling YA set in a fantasy world like mine, will be a good day for me. You don't need to get there first, you need to get there better.

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  6. Yep, I know totally where you're coming from here. I wrote a book that I felt was very like My Mad Fat Diary. I couldn't bring myself to watch the TV series but got my daughters too and then quizzed them about it. Does it have a ferret in it? Does she have a pyscho older sister? etc etc! The truth is this is 2013 and it's pretty much impossible to be totally original. Even very successful books aren't - e.g. for Hunger Games see Battle Royale. But I do know that awful sinking feeling only too well. Good job in making it into a positive thing : )

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  7. This business is all about holding your nerve. The fact is what's unique about your book is you and don't you forget it.

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  8. I once had a similar experience - panic ensued by I brought and read the books and it wasn't anything like mine and actually made me feel a whole lot better.

    Well done for holding your nerve.

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