One of the questions I’m asked most often (aside from ‘what are you doing in my garden?’) is how I got my books published. What’s more interesting than the question itself, however, if the belief and/or hope that there is some sort of magic formula or shortcut that I have found and can give the questioner to stop them having to do it the hard way.
There’s no secret formula. I did it the hard way.
So, in case it may help other writers who read this blog, here’s how I did it…
I started writing while still at school, eschewing the teenage norm of hanging out on street corners to sit home and practice my art. Thankfully, I hit the library (no Internet back then…) and knew enough about how books were made not to send off my first ever attempts (although I did send some sketches out to Spitting Image, Stephen Fry and Ben Elton, getting very kind ‘keep it up’ letters in return.)
As you will know if you’ve read my biography, I then went into the world of acting (the only known industry more precarious than writing!) and fought my way through jobs entertaining kids at holiday camps and on Russian cruise liners to a role in a West End musical. Even that was part luck and part metal balls – I went to see the show with my parents, saw a part I thought I’d be good at, wrote to the producer to ask for an audition, got the audition where they saw me for a different part, stopped halfway through and said I wanted the original role for which they reluctantly let me read. Eight years later, I was still there (no, not at the audition! In the show!)
While I was in Buddy, I kept on writing, turning to the age-old phrase, ‘write what you know’. I’d worked with kids for years, so why not put together all the games and activities I’d been using, and pitch them as a book. It worked, and Quick Fixes For Bored Kids was published soon after. I went on to write three more titles for the same publisher, all packed with things to do for bored kids. Not what I wanted to write, but a foot in the door, nonetheless.
Then the door shut over my foot.
Buddy closed, I left London, and the book worked dried up. I worked for a few months on a computer tech support line, then auditioned for a role in a very small, touring schools and clubs panto. I did the tour, and stayed with the production company in order to write some of their shows. I still toured in them and often found myself playing a part in show ‘A’ while writing show ‘B’. Hard work, but great fun.
I was still writing in what little spare time I had, sending off my work to publishers and agents, and amassing an impressive collection of rejection letters in return. Still, I kept refining my work, and creating new projects. Eventually, I was given the chance to write a sample chapter for Egmont Books – they were looking for new writers for their 2Heads range, and I was offered three titles in their Too Ghoul For School series (I’ve since written a further two).
That gave me enough fiction publishing credit on my CV to get a meeting with an agent. I’d sent her a novel I’d written, but it wasn’t what she was looking for. Fortunately, I had a back-up plan and pitched her another idea I’d been developing. Scream Street was born…
It took me almost a year of various drafts to get Scream Street ready for submission (my agent assured me it was worth the extra effort to get it right before we found a publisher), and the series found a home with Walker Books.
So, it’s taken me almost 20 years to be an overnight success. I’m 40 years old and considered a new writer! And the reason is, I stuck at it, took criticism of my work and, most of all, kept writing! You do the same, and you can do it, too.