I Wrote A Book – This Is What I Found Hard

What do you think the hardest part of writing a book is? If you’d asked me that a year ago I’d have told you it was probably going to be getting an agent. Or perhaps getting a publisher. One comes before the other, and although you can send your book to publishers directly I had always wanted an secure an agent. I really loved the idea of having someone in my corner to help get it right and who believed in my passion to get stories out there. I’d probably also watched too many 80’s adventure movies that had cool writers and their cooler agents in them, like ‘Romancing the Stone’.

So getting an agent was mission number one. To my amazement that came together perfectly when I was signed by the brilliant Hannah Ferguson at Hardman Swainson.

After getting an agent, it’s on to the publishers

After Hannah helped me fine tune my proposal, we sent it to a number of publishing houses. I waited with baited breath.

There was a lot of interest in the story, even from the biggest names you’ve heard of. Some kindly declined for good reasons. One said they would have loved it (and it made the final team meeting for acquisitions) but they had a well known writer’s second book out in the same year. Her first book was about walking the coast path, and they thought this was too much overlap on their list.

Another said it was a great story but they had just signed a different female writer on an adventure journey so it was too similar. In all of this, I was just in awe to be part of the process. I wasn’t sad, because the feedback was practical and not one person had said the book sounded crap. This, to me, was music to my ears! The publishers weren’t writing directly to me but to my agent, so I knew they wouldn’t just be being ‘polite’. They really did like it.

Image courtesy of choice360.org

More than one publisher wanted it!

Gail writing at her desk with a pencil in hand

I did have one refusal that surprised me.

One larger publishing house were very excited by the story and said they’d have considered snapping it up, but the reason they didn’t was that my social media profiles didn’t have enough followers.

Hmm, this was my first insight into how the writing isn’t always the most important thing! Nevertheless, a couple of great publishers from that first cohort wanted my book. I was overjoyed!

One was a more traditional publisher who offered an advance, a hardback first followed by paperback and a long writing window.

The other was a newer e-first publisher with no advance, included the option of a traditional publisher/print run and a publishing date a year earlier than the other.

I met with both editors and thought both were wonderful, but ultimately went with the e-first publisher.

The editor – Claire Bord at Thread (Part of Hachette) understood the nuances of my story and that felt important to me,  Also, we were deep in Covid and shops were closed across the world.

How did I decide who to sign with?

People were buying more ebooks than ever, and in an effort to ensure my book could get in people’s hands, I thought a publisher with great e-first knowledge as well as a traditional paperback print run with their print partner being the impressive ‘Octopus’ would be the best decision. So, I politely said no to the other deal with their advance and signed with Thread. Then I turned to my laptop and thought…’Oh shit. Now I actually have to write this thing!’

Finding the self discipline to actually write!

At that stage I thought that sitting my butt down and actually putting the words on a page would be the hardest part of the whole process.

The idea of writing a book and the reality are very different. I’d dreamed of a small cottage by the sea, cracking open the spine of a new notebook with a pen and looking out at the wind and waves and creating. In other dreams I’d imagine myself tapping out ‘The End’ on metal keys and pulling the manuscript out of the old typewriter that goes ‘ping!’ Definitely not a consistent mode of writing there, but you get the gist. What can I say? I’m not a realist.

I hadn’t factored in the actual writing bit that is a relentless everyday pressure to get the story down – on a laptop as it happens, not a typewriter in sight. So, sometimes it was fun, sometimes it was hideous, but it had to happen. If I didn’t write, nothing progressed. My dreams started and ended with me at that desk! I had to concentrate.

Gail's laptop open by the pool in the Bahamas as she writes the first draft of Unlost

Learning to focus on the task at hand

Gail writing her book in a hammock in the Bahamas

 Well, I’m not great at focusing at the best of times (unless I’m hyperfocusing!) but to my surprise I really enjoyed the process of writing every day. It wasn’t the worst place to sit and write of course.

I was in a private resort in the Bahamas whilst I worked on a tutoring placement, and rubbed shoulders with Justin Bieber, the Smiths and Justin Timberlake whilst there, living in the pool house of a mansion with a private chef (I know! What a life – more on that soon!).

I disciplined myself to write 1-2k words every morning before work.

So then what? Well, I sent it in to my editor for the first read. I was full of fear that it would be taken apart at the seams.

My worst worries didn’t become reality! Thank goodness. What transpired was a supportive and instructive journey about how to tighten up narrative arcs, present a multi layered story and how to really make my words sing.

I loved working with my editor, and thought ‘Wow – the hardest part is really over!’

All the edits: Structural, Line and Copy!

Yes, there were edits. In fact there were more edits than I knew there could be! A structural edit, a line edit, a copy edit and more. The process was tiring but utterly fascinating, and I learned a lot about writing at the same time. I had to make tweaks to language and sometimes I did whole passage rewrites. There were places where I needed to add more and sections I needed to chop out completely (sob!).

There’s a lot to tell about that process that you never hear about when you dream of being a published author, but I’ll write more on the details of it all in another blog.  For now I’ll say that when all of that editing and tweaking was complete I was so tired but extremely happy. I truly believed that I was out of the woods, as it were, and into the home stretch. In many ways because I’d finished the part where I had the most control and responsibility, I thought was over the bit that would feel toughest. How wrong I was. 

Beginning to birth the book into the world

I don’t think I had any idea what a rollercoaster it would be to actually birth ‘Unlost’ into the world, and I didn’t consider how vulnerable it would make me feel once it was in people’s hands!

I was so excited for the 7th September to arrive – it had a been a day in my diary for almost a year. A target for me to aim at in my head as I went about my daily life.

In the focus to get the story to reach as many people as possible (hard for a debut writer to achieve) I forgot that what I was actually putting out there was MY story – warts and all. I was opening my heart and baring my soul. And, just like anything in life, people were going to have opinions. I just don’t think I’d thought that far ahead!

Luckily most of the opinions we favourable. As the promo copies went out, the feedback that came rolling in was good.

Cover of Gail's book Unlost

The PR machine takes over

Someone holding Unlost in a bookshop

So the book was finished and feedback was good.

I put myself in the capable hands of my publishing team, who structured the promo campaign. They spread the word that I had written a book, it was worth reading and would be out 7th Sept 2021.

The team were amazing: marketing and PR professionals that I was very grateful to have onside. They toiled long and hard at a time that publicity was so hard.

At the end of summer many of the media and news teams were out of office on well deserved holidays. When they returned, so did everything else. The world opened up – international flights, the West End, concerts and gigs – all vying for print and air time.

And then it was the day – Sept 7th

Look there to that photo on the left! Someone picked up my book in Foyles in London and sent me a photograph of them holding it! My mind was well and truly blown but it just all seemed rather surreal from my little attic writing room here in Falmouth, Cornwall.

My book was now available to own. The pre-orders were winging their way to readers and people were holding it in their hands. It was the day I’d had in my mind for so many months and now it was here. And… nothing happened. Well, it was all happening, but not where I could see it. Books were arriving and being unwrapped in people’s homes. Podcasts I’d recorded were being edited and scheduled to go out over the next few weeks. Interviews and talks were in the diary for the rest of the month through to November. But on this day – Sept 7th – I was in a kind of stasis.

Publication Day – The hardest day of all!

Flowers came from my wonderful agent, publishers and family. So kind, but I sat alone in my room in front of my laptop. I wasn’t sure quite what to do and didn’t really want to speak to anyone! My in-person book launch had been cancelled because of a covid surge here in Cornwall post-bank holiday rush.

I was a little bit lost. It didn’t last long but it felt strange and lonely. Momentum and purpose soon picked up again, but that day sticks in my mind. I would never have thought the ‘goal’ I had looked forward to for so long would be the day I found the the hardest.  

In some ways I shouldn’t have been surprised. One of the key messages of my whole story is that it’s not the end of the long trail or big adventure that’s the most important thing. It’s the messy middle and all the lessons, friends and stories picked up along the way.

Writing the book itself has been no different. It wasn’t ‘Publication Day’ that meant the most, but the surrounding experiences that filled my life with wonder, wisdom and new friendships. Yet again, a strange and unexpected experience proves to be a great teacher, and I’m very grateful. I’ve learned a lot about myself through the process of writing that first book. Thankfully I’m still learning every day.

One of many articles that were written about ‘Unlost’ and my story – this one in Good Housekeeping

Writing a book – worth every hard moment

After launch day I had the privilege of talking to and meeting so many great people who read my story. They in turn wanted to share theirs, and I’ve loved hearing every one. I have a vastly expanded understanding about what writing and publishing a book is really like. Now to try to remember to apply these lessons to the next time… as I excitedly settle down to finish my proposal for Book 2.

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  1. I am reading your book right now. I love it! I have Multiple Myeloma, and I can relate to the chronic pain thing. I have been section hiking the Arizona Trail (I live in Tucson, Arizona), and it is my dream to someday do a thru-hike the AT or the PCT. Thank you for the great story, and for the inspiration!

    1. Hello Scott! I am so sorry for the delay to this reply. Thanks for your kind words, and I’m really happy to hear the book hit the spot for you. WOW I’d love to hike the Arizona Trail – it’s up there on my list for sure. Thank you for sharing part of your story too, and I hope the Myeloma is under control and the pain is manageable. I don’t doubt that you have it in you to hike one of those long trails, and look forward to hearing about it when you do. xx Gail xx