A little later than planned, here's the second part of Daniel Blythe's account of how he became a professional, published writer (you can read the first part here). Read and it and boggle.
No publisher, no new book on the horizon and a dearth of new ideas and enthusiasm – that's where I was when we left my publishing career in 2000, with a new baby taking up a lot of the spare time anyway. I was down, but didn't really have time to think about it.
During this time my agent tried, and failed, to sell my novel for 8-to-12-year-olds to every children's publisher in town. They just didn't want to know. I had no idea what I was doing wrong. It felt like when you get on a losing streak at Scrabble and just can't get back into that winning groove. I wanted to scream from the rooftops "I am PUBLISHED, for God's sake. Four novels! Count 'em! Do you think I am some newbie wannabe?" At one point (such was the state of my confidence) I remember saying to my agent, "You are *telling* them about my previous books, aren't you...?"
However. One of the publishers with whom my agent had made connections was David Shelley at Allison and Busby, and I started to talk to him about an 80s film book – which turned in to an 80s music book. Despite David being a few years younger than me we shared similar musical tastes and the book, a 500-page whopper, slowly took shape during 2001 and was published, first in hardback and then in paperback. It got extensively reviewed in regional papers up and down the country, got me lots of radio interest and even, thanks to an enterprising chap at BBC Leeds called John Ryan (who is now running BBC Radio Manchester) a co-presenting slot on an Eighties radio show. Suddenly, I was not only a non-fiction writer but also a DJ too!
Thanks to The Encyclopaedia of Classic 80's Pop, I had re-invented myself. More non-fiction followed – Dadlands: The Alternative Handbook for New Fathers for Wiley, about my experiences of fatherhood, and I Hate Christmas: A Manifesto for the Modern-day Scrooge for Allison and Busby. Both still get a bit of media interest to this day. My agent was doing a great job – putting me out there, matching me up with editors who liked my ideas. And now, a new novel finally came to fruition, in the form of a manuscript called Cruel Summer which I had been working on since 2003. Another 500-page whopper, it ended up being called This Is The Day (my agent suggested Cruel Summer was "a bit too Bananarama") and it was sold to Allison & Busby in 2006, appearing as a trade paperback in 2007 and – hooray! – this time, finally, a paperback a year later. A wine-and-nibbles launch at Blackwells helped shift a few copies, as did some more radio slots. Although the half-promised Richard and Judy appearance for I Hate Christmas hadn't materialized, I had good reason to be thankful to my new publishers.
Diversity, survival, eclecticism – these were my new watchwords. I started up a novel class for the Workers' Educational Association, still running to this day. A chance encounter with some Writers In Schools and a conference workshop by the inspirational Two Steves got me inspired to go into primary schools, delivering workshops and doing author "appearances". The paying gigs began to pile up. More non-fiction commissions came along – the latest being two books for Pen & Sword. My agent sold my idea for X Marks the Box: How to Make Politics Work for You, a political book for non-political people, to Icon Books – a small publisher in the Faber distribution network. That was written with the support of the Authors' Foundation, and will be out soon. And I successfully applied for an Arts Council award in 2008 to write my new children's book – which my agent still believes in, and is still trying to find a home for.
I also returned to the Doctor Who fold when the BBC's Creative Consultant, Justin Richards (himself a writer of hugely popular books for young people) invited me to write one of the Autumn 2009 books featuring David Tennant – last chance to write for the Tenth Doctor before he stands down! I jumped at the chance, and wrote Doctor Who: Autonomy in an intense 7-month period. The "Doctor Who" books are a very different proposition now – they are written by invitation, rather than the editors accepting unsolicited ideas. They are shorter and punchier than the chunky 90s novels and aimed at a younger readership. They have, of course, a huge publicity machine behind them, "Doctor Who" now being a massive, populist, multi-media success story (rather than the slightly embarrassing anachronism it was seen as in the early 1990s). And – somewhat less in the authors' favour – they now pay on the basis of a fixed fee, rather than an advance and royalties. So, not much wiggle-room for my agent to negotiate on. But it is a good fixed fee, and there is a bonus built in once the title sells over a certain number of copies. And, for goodness' sake, I needed the work, and I know I can write "Doctor Who" – I have been a fan since I first cowered behind a cushion at Davros in 1975.
So now, here I am – a working and teaching writer, an educator, an Author In Schools, a sometime radio presenter, and still a would-be children's writer. What have I learned from all this? That you need to diversify to survive, and never take anything for granted. That you just keep plugging away. And that if you have a good agent, hang on to them through thick and thin – this spring, I mark thirteen years with mine, and I'm hoping neither of us is going anywhere else in the foreseeable future.
My thanks to Dan for suggesting this series to me, and for kicking it off so very well. If any publishers are reading, Dan's two excellent children's books (both with good series potential) remain unpublished; and if any writers reading this have a good publication story to tell, I'd be very pleased to hear about it.