It’s a question which plays on my mind every time I cross an international border …
An act which, the more you read this blog, you’ll understand happens rather a lot in my life!
Admittedly, these days the safest occupation to write on immigration forms seems to be ‘Student’, however every now and again I get the urge to fulfill my childhood dreams, and admit that my current occupation is a ‘Writer’ or even an ‘Author’.
But at what point can I genuinely say I’m a bona-fide author?
What exactly qualifies you to be an author?
Is it simply the act of writing a story?
Because in that case, I checked that box when I was eight years old!
The story was called ‘The Magician’s Mistake’ and was entered for my local village Eisteddfod. It won second place. I’m sure I wrote stories before that one, and I know that I won first prizes in later years, however it will always be that story which sticks out in my mind.
But whilst that story might have solidified my love of writing, and even classified me as a ‘writer’ on some level, it definitely didn’t make me an author.
So how about writing my first book?
I wrote my first novel ‘Flicker’ in five months and across ten different countries. It was an idea which had been in my head for at least three years, but which only properly blossomed into a full story once I had travelled down the east coast of Australia, in December of 2008. I finally put pen to electronic paper in New Zealand, in February 2009, and was half a world away, in Ecuador in July 2009, when the story was finished.
I can remember sitting on the back of the buses, typing away for hours, and catching the attention of my fellow travellers. Frequently they would ask what I was up to, and rather sheepishly I’d reply that I was writing a novel. The reason I was sheepish was because I knew the question that would inevitably follow. ‘Oh, so you’re an author?’ Hmm.. Well kind of??? I mean, I was writing a book. But for all I knew, the only people to ever see that book would be the travellers peering over the bus seats for a glimpse at my glowing laptop screen! Did that really make me an author?
Even once I had finished ‘Flicker’ and was busy hassling literary agents for the opportunity to be represented, I still didn’t feel like an author. An ‘unsigned writer’ maybe … but surely writing 180,000 words, and sending out a few speculative emails didn’t warrant that mystical title just yet?
What about when I got an agent?
And so as an ‘unsigned writer’ I began my quest for representation. I remember reading somewhere that these days, the writer’s search for an agent is akin to a search for a publisher in the old days.
Because these days, very few writers deal directly with the publishers. And so the quest for an agent is the only time when a writer has to turn into a publicist, marketing herself and her work, so that someone else can take on that role.
In hindsight, my own quest for representation was relatively short and painless. Admittedly I DID send out a lot of emails, and realise that persistence is definitely a virtue! But within three months of finishing ‘Flicker’ I had attention from some of Britain’s largest agencies, and on my arrival back to the UK, in November 2009, I signed with Agent ‘S’, at Peters, Fraser & Dunlop.
I had an agent. So clearly someone believed in me. Someone believed in my story.
But did that validate me as an author? Or simply change my status from unrepresented writer to a represented one?
There’s a very big difference between ‘having an agent’ and being represented by one.
And this was something which took me several months to truly understand.
I finished Flicker in July 2009, and was signed to PFD in November 2009. At this point Flicker was 180,000 words long … warranting my first request from my new agent.
She asked me to cut it in half!
The advice was sensible. These days teenage fiction is dramatically shorter than the epic later Potter novels. Publishers ask for first books to be between 70,000 and 90,000 words. Which meant, having spent five months coming up with 180,000 words … I now needed to cut out at least half of them!
This first edit took me around six weeks. Aided mainly by my stubborn determination, and by my new job – I had moved to the Canadian ski resort, Whistler, and had found my niche as a nanny. Not necessarily a career I had ever seen myself writing on immigration forms (!) but one which allowed me to earn a living in a way which encouraged me to write. I wasn’t really using my brain during the day, so I thrived at night.
After I edited the length of the novel, ‘S’ then asked me to edit its content. She provided me with a list of changes to be made, which took me around another six weeks.
My second, agent-driven, edit. Completed February 2010. If I’m honest, at this point I was beginning to feel a bit like an author. Someone was reading my work, and giving me feedback on it. My writing experience was no longer an exclusive relationship between me and my own characters. Someone else had entered the equation, and as a result, Flicker was transformed.
And then ‘S’ let me down. Out of nowhere, following the second edit, she told me to give up!
Not writing altogether … but Flicker.
In a total turn-around from her attitude just four months beforehand, ‘S’ told me Flicker wasn’t the book to launch my career, and whilst I shouldn’t doubt my own writing, I ought to start a new project.
Which I did … though somewhat battered and jaded. I wasn’t an author. I was a spurned writer, with a newer, more bitter, bit between my teeth. Because Flicker had been my story. The book had become my life for a year. And I had seen the story beyond the first book, and was looking forward to exploring it.
And then a few short weeks later, everything changed.
Peters, Fraser & Dunlop merged with MF Management, and Agent S was one of the casualties of the merger.
I was technically agent-less once again … however, what should have been a disaster actually became a godsend.
My account was transferred to ‘S”s former assistant. The wonderful Lucy Dundas.
And with my new representation, came a new realization.
I finally discovered what you need in order to FEEL like a bonafide author.
You need someone who is genuinely passionate about your work.
You need a loyal reader!
I think Lucy officially became my new agent six months ago. And of the past two years, I genuinely feel like those six months have been the most productive.
I have dramatically re-edited Flicker, and Lucy submitted it to thirteen of Britain’s most prolific publishing houses.
I completed the ‘new project’ Agent S suggested I work on … The Dream Navigator. And then, with Lucy’s guidance, doubled it in length. I officially finished the novel last week, and it will hopefully be submitted to publishers in the very near future.
And finally, I experimented with a completely different genre of fiction. Psychological women’s fiction. Watch this space to find out where My Ten Future Lives might take me …
Right now, as I sit waiting to hear back from publishers, and crossing fingers and toes that my work might finally be given the opportunity to reach not just tens of readers, but thousands, I genuinely feel like an author.
I live and breathe writing. All day my mind ticks with stories, and every night, no matter how late I get in, I find the time to commit them to Word documents.
And when I cross a border, or someone asks me casually what I do, I finally feel confident, and legitimate enough, to tell them that I’m an author.
Because I know I have a dedicated readership.
Even if, at present, it only consists of my wonderful agent, and the dear group of friends who willingly read every word I write!