• Natasha Boydell

From a novel idea to a publishing deal

Updated: Aug 25, 2021

Have you got an idea for a novel? Is your ultimate goal a publishing deal? The journey between the two can be exciting, frustrating, scary and overwhelming. Here’s my story…

I remember my epiphany moment as if it were yesterday.

I was reading a book by a wonderful author and I was waiting, waiting, waiting for the twist. Except it never came. And all of a sudden, an idea for a novel popped into my head.

It’s not the first time it’s happened. As a child, I frequently had ideas for my first novel. Unicorns, rabbits, princesses, horses, you name it. And I’d put pen to paper enthusiastically, write a few pages and then lose interest.

As a grown up the same thing happened several times over the years. I made a career as a writer – a journalist, a copywriter, an editor – but when it came to writing a book, my ideas just never quite made it off the ground.

So what made this one different?

The right time to write a novel

I was inching ever closer to my 40th birthday and feeling like something was missing. I still hadn’t realised the dream I’d had since I was a child to write a full-length book.

At the same time, I’d left my job in the charity sector to work from home as a freelance communications consultant so I could have more flexibility. Jumping off the hamster wheel gave me a little more time to consider what I really wanted to do with my life.

And then of course I had THE IDEA.

I think it was the combination of the three that created the perfect storm and I believe that it may not have happened if any of the above weren’t in play. Even so, it still wasn’t plain sailing.

I thrashed out the idea enthusiastically, chatted to my husband about it and started working on the first chapter. A few thousand words later, life got in the way. The daily demands of parenting, a new chapter in my career and a broken leg to name a few. And so, I reached the end of 2019 and my “baby” had been ignored for the best part of nine months.

It was around this time that I saw a post on social media for a local writing course called Prioritise Your Writing, run by the Collage Writing Room in Wood Green, North London. It was a six-week programme of intensive writing and feedback.

May be this is it, I thought. May be this is the kick up the proverbial backside that I need.

I signed up to the January 2020 intake of the course and made it my New Year’s Resolution to finish my novel within a year.

Getting started on my novel

I started on the course armed with my idea and few thousand words. In the first week I was chosen to submit 2,000 words to my peers for feedback the following week. Scary much?

The next week I nervously awaited their verdicts. They were kind to me, after all they’ve been there themselves, but there were some important issues that needed to be addressed. One was point of view and the other was description. As one peer told me: “With everything you’ve covered in that 2,000 words, you could easily have written 20,000.” Put simply, I was writing like a copywriter – concise and consistent. But the reader couldn’t picture the scene.

That advice was the single most important thing that happened to me. I now knew what I had to do, and I was no longer petrified by the prospect of writing an 80,000 word novel – as I had been before – because I realised I had the content, I just needed to make it work harder.

I had some struggles with my main character which I discussed in detail with the course tutor, Alison. When I felt like I’d hit a brick wall, I skipped to later chapters which I found flowed more easily before returning to the earlier ones. I did a brain dump when I literally wrote whatever I was thinking for 10 minutes which really helped.

I was paired up with a buddy and we made a deal to write 3,000 words a week. We checked in on each other regularly by text to make sure we were on track. When the course finished in February, I kept the target going myself and soon found that I was well exceeding it.

Finding time to write

Writing a novel in my “spare time” was challenging. I did it whenever, and wherever, I could. Evenings, weekends (thanks hubby for holding the fort with the girls), in the café while my daughter was at gymnastics, when I was having a quiet day at work.

Looking back, I honestly don’t know how the heck I did it, but I did. If you are determined enough, you’ll make it happen. By June, I had written 81,000 words.

I had assumed there’d be a eureka moment when I finished, where I cried tears of joy for my achievement and then proceeded to get blotto-ed on prosecco but it didn’t come. Probably because I knew that while I’d passed an important milestone, I still had a long way to go.

I spent the next month editing my manuscript. I had done this as I went along anyway, pausing every few chapters to dissect what I’d written, but it still needed a good old edit at the end. At the same time, I gave it to my husband, sister and friend to read and anxiously awaited their comments.

Their positive feedback and helpful suggestions spurred me on and at the end of July I read the final paragraph and burst into tears. The euphoria moment I hadn’t had before finally came because I knew it was now finished. My baby was ready to go out into the world.

Pitching my novel to agents

So, I’d realised my dream of writing a novel but let’s face it, actually getting it published really is the icing on the cake.

Ever the organiser, I created a spreadsheet of literary agents and publishers I was going to pitch to. I compiled this by doing a lot of googling for agents and companies that were interested in my genre of fiction and who were open to submissions. I knew there was no point pitching to anyone who wouldn’t find my work their cup of tea.

I polished up my two-page synopsis and introductory email and started pitching. Within a few days there was a flurry of activity – more than I’d been expecting as I knew it can take weeks or even months to hear back. There were a few generic rejections, a couple of personalised “it was a near miss, try other agents” and one request for the full manuscript.

Well, I was like a toddler on Haribo. Bouncing around the room I declared: “YES!!! This is actually happening!”

Eight weeks later, nothing was happening. I’d continued to have a steady stream of rejections and hadn’t heard back from the agent who asked to see the manuscript. I’d gone from checking my emails every 30 seconds to every 4 minutes. I was feeling, well, bereft.

At the beginning, before the rejections start coming in thick and fast, there is hope. But with each rejection – no matter how much you KNOW this is a part of the process and something that happens to everyone – you start to lose a piece of that hope.

Ever the proactivist, I thought I shall not be defeated by many, many literary agents and publishers! No! I shall continue pitching and continue hoping.

Out went some more synopses and cover letters. Three weeks later, I was in the midst of writing a press release for a client when an email pinged into my inbox. Ah, another rejection, I thought knowingly.

Except this one wasn’t a rejection. Nor was it a request for the full manuscript. It was an offer of a publishing deal. An actual, real fricking offer.

Getting a publishing deal

The publisher, Bloodhound Books, had asked me to submit my manuscript from the off, so they’d already read it in full, discussed it, and decided it WAS their cup of tea.

Within 24 hours, I had reviewed, considered and signed the contract. My debut novel, The Missing Husband, will be released in May 2021.

I’m not at the end of my journey yet, I’m only at the beginning. I’ve got a lot of highs and lows to come and heck of a lot still to learn. I’ll keep you posted throughout my journey via my blog. I hope you’ll come with me – and that you’ll start your own journey too.

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