2009 feels like such a long time ago. Five years, to be precise. But that’s where it all started, with some spaghetti letters and three little words: Hot Cross Mum.
In a knee-jerk reaction to redundancy (and to distract me from the bizarre urge to tidy the kitchen cupboards), I went to a writing workshop. Later that evening, I had my own blog and a notepad full of ideas. Soon, Hot Cross Mum was thriving and through meeting a wonderful community of other bloggers (that’s YOU!), my alter-ego took off. I was so excited to attend the first ‘live’ BritMums event in 2010, where I read out one of my posts. In public. At a podium. In heels. Without falling over. Blogging was a fantastic experience, but behind the scenes I knew I wanted to write that novel I’d been banging on about for, oh, around twenty years (possibly longer – you’d have to ask my sister).
So, I wrote a book, based on my blog. I got an agent. We submitted to publishers in 2010. They liked it. But not enough. I naively self-published as an ebook, knowing nothing about self-publishing or ebooks. It didn’t really go anywhere.
Undeterred (or possibly hopelessly misguided) I carried on blogging and started to write another novel. Women’s fiction. In 2011 I signed with a new agent. Things were looking hopeful. My poor old blog was now being horribly neglected (if you’ve ever left the cat out all night in a thunderstorm you’ll know how that felt), but I was making progress with ‘the novel’. Although I couldn’t see it at the time, I was slowly learning my craft, understanding what it felt like to write an entire novel (turns out that 100,000 words is A LOT of words), finding out what I really wanted to write. Not women’s fiction, as it transpired.
Then something strange happened. A few months before my 40th birthday, I had a light bulb moment (some might say mid-life crisis. I prefer the term light bulb moment). TITANIC. I wanted to write a novel about Titanic. The spark had been lit and by the end of 2011 THE GIRL WHO CAME HOME was written. Once again, rejections fell at my feet. Nice rejections, but rejections all the same. Cue more tears.
However, all was not lost. The Titanic centenary was looming in April 2012. My agent (and friends and family) suggested self-publishing. Self-publish? ‘But I don’t want to self-publish (again), I want a traditional deal!’ But this time, I got organised. I sought lots of advice. I used a professional editor and cover designer and in March 2012, THE GIRL WHO CAME HOME was released on Kindle. It was an exciting, terrifying, strangely un-ceremonial experience. There was no launch. No champagne. No confetti. Just a quiet click of a button that said PUBLISH and off she went.
Then things got serious. After I offered the book as a free download for a day it shot up the Kindle charts. The following day, lots of people started to buy the book. My sales figures took a remarkable leap.
Fast forward to Jan 2013. By this stage, my new novel (my fourth in total) had been submitted to publishers in the UK and Ireland. It got lots of great feedback but ultimately, you guessed it, the dreaded rejections followed. And to top it all off, I parted company with my agent. Sigh. I was now agentless, with a bestselling ebook and a great new novel which nobody wanted to publish. I started to think that my time might be better spent sorting out those kitchen cupboards after all.
Then again, I am a stubborn Taurean (from Yorkshire), and refused to give up. With a bottle of Hendricks Gin tucked under my arm, I took the road less travelled and started to research and write my next novel (my fifth). I also started to research new agents. It was slow going. Those kitchen cupboards were still staring at me.
Then, in May 2013, something remarkable happened. THE GIRL WHO CAME HOME had been featured as part of a Kindle Daily Deal. It was being noticed again and read by lots of people, including (deep breath) two New York based agents who contacted me, completely out of the blue, within a week of each other. Both loved the book and both were interested in representing me.
*collapses on the floor*
In mid-May I signed with Michelle Brower of Folio Literary Management. By early June, I had my first offer of publication and in mid-June my two novels (THE GIRL WHO CAME HOME and DAUGHTERS OF THE FLOWERS) went to auction and were bought by William Morrow/HarperCollins.
After so many false starts, dashed hopes, ups and downs, round and rounds, nearlys and not quites, the dream had FINALLY come true. And ……………………….. relax.
So, what’s changed?
A lot. The shift from being self-published to working with a publisher has been quite something. Self-publishing was a great experience (the second time) and, without a doubt, the last stepping stone to getting a traditional deal. I’m so glad I took the leap and I’d encourage other writers to consider self-publishing as an option. That said, self-publishing does exactly what it says on the tin: ‘self’. Everyone thrives with a partner, with a team behind them, and that was what I wanted too.
Getting a publishing deal is about professional editors, copy editors and proof readers, cover designers and publicists – an entire team – really getting behind you and your book. They get excited when you get excited. They share the experience with you. Through working with my editor and publishers, I’ve learnt so much about my writing and the mechanics of putting a book ‘out there’. In short, it has been everything I’d imagined it would be – and so much more.
Those five years of plugging away and knock backs still feel like a very long time, but I have such fond memories of my blogging years. It was a brilliant experience, without which, quite frankly, I would never have written a single word. Yes, there were many points when getting published all felt improbable – impossible even – but slowly, slowly things turned around for me. Me and my writing are at a new beginning. And like every good book, I can’t wait to see what happens next.
P.S. Hot Cross Mum is still ‘out there’ on the interweb, but she officially hung up her slightly scuffed ‘posh’ shoes in July, 2013, with her last post, ‘It’s a book’. I like to think that she is now in a gin-soaked daze somewhere warm, enjoying a bit of peace and quiet.
P.P.S. My attempt at writing women’s fiction is in a padlocked box under the bed, where it will stay until the end of days.
Hazel Gaynor is an author and freelance writer in Ireland and the U.K. and was the recipient of the Cecil Day Lewis Award for Emerging Writers in 2012. Originally from North Yorkshire, England, she now lives in Ireland with her husband, two young children, and an accident-prone cat. THE GIRL WHO CAME HOME – A Novel of the Titanic is her first novel and will be published by WilliamMorrow/HarperCollins in April 2014. Contact hazel at http://www.hazelgaynor.com/ or on Facebook or Twitter @HazelGaynor