Struggling to get published? Great advice from Kerry Fisher.

I’m delighted that Kerry Fisher has joined us at Romaniac HQ today and she’s brought along her dog too! Kerry has recently signed a fantastic book deal and she’s chatting about her road to publication.


The Power of Persistence

When I was struggling to get published, I used to dread reading blogs like this in case other authors were saying ‘Three weeks after I wrote the first draft, an agent snapped me up on account of my witty interactions on Twitter and two weeks later, I had a book and film deal.’

I am not that person. My story should give hope to any writers who need a Lever Arch file for their rejections. I’ve written three novels. The first was rubbish, but the other two were a series of ‘hopes raised, hopes dashed, nearly but not quite’ from agents. I simply didn’t have the appetite to write a fourth without finding a home for them. Plus I’d made the classic mistake of telling everyone I was writing a novel and was having to jump into the coat cupboard at parties when I saw the words, ‘Have you been published yet?’ forming on people’s lips. My husband has been hugely supportive of my writing but although he never actually articulated ‘When is all this writing nonsense going to stop?’, he did encourage me to apply for a job as a shepherd with the National Trust. Time for a different approach.

So I self-published in December 2012. I did two things right: I paid to have a cover professionally designed. I printed business cards and leaflets.

I did hundreds of things wrong. Instead of paying for a professional proofread, I revised the novel myself until my eyeballs bled, but still managed to miss loads of typos. Gravest mistake of all: I stuck my novel out there with nary a thought for how I was going to make it stand out from the 400,000 already jostling for space on Amazon.

My learning wasn’t a curve. More of a climbing wall without footholds. In a nutshell:

  • Two hundred Facebook friends do not equal two hundred sales.
  • Some of the people closest to you will be utterly disinterested – don’t take it personally.
  • Some acquaintances will champion you until you love them more than your dog.
  • Whatever you think of Twitter, it’s vital for networking and connecting with readers.
  • Learn as much as you can from other authors. Don’t be afraid to ask questions – most are very generous-spirited.
  • Old-fashioned, face-to-face networking has its place. I joined local business associations, approached writing and reading clubs, social groups (see and spoke at school coffee mornings.
  • Don’t underestimate the power of a thank you and help people you meet along the way to make mutually beneficial connections.

The biggest tip of all: join the Romantic Novelists’ Association!

I went to the summer party in May, where I met Helen Bolton, commissioning editor for the Avon imprint of HarperCollins. We chatted briefly about one of her authors, Mhairi McFarlane, who writes funny women’s commercial fiction. I knew Helen was unlikely to read an unagented submission but it’s not every day you speak directly to an editor who works in the market you’re targeting. I sent off a long shot submission of the first five chapters. Within a week she came back to me and told me to send the rest, plus my next book.

I had an informal meeting with her at HarperCollins HQ. I allowed myself a small skip on the steps but still didn’t think anything would come of it. However, I was determined not to squander the opportunity completely. If I didn’t get a publisher, then maybe I could still find an agent before I got rejected. On the back of ‘Avon are currently considering the manuscript’, several agents asked for the full. Clare Wallace from Darley Anderson – whom I had also met at the RNA party – came back to me very promptly and asked to see me.

The meeting felt ‘right’ – professional, detailed, honest, warm, with a clear plan of next steps if Avon didn’t buy The Class Ceiling.

I left with an offer of representation. My immediate reaction was to accept straightaway because she was smart, switched on and I knew I could work with her. There hadn’t been any point in our meeting when I’d thought, ‘Hmm. Not sure about that,’ or worse, ‘You’re scary’. But I also knew that it was crucial to make the right decision, so I asked for some time to consider her offer without cartwheeling clouding my judgment.

Events overtook me. That evening, a two-book deal from Avon pinged into my inbox. I phoned Clare the next morning. Thankfully, my first instincts were right – she did a great job negotiating my contract and then sold the books for me at auction in Germany.

Five years of writing into a black hole, then an agent and a book deal on the same day. The ultimate proof that the whole mad writing business can turn on a sixpence.

The Class Ceiling is currently available on Amazon Kindle. It will be published as The School Gate Survival Guide by Avon in August 2014.


33 thoughts on “Struggling to get published? Great advice from Kerry Fisher.

  1. Great post, Kerry. Agree with this – especially the bullet points. Couldn’t have out it better and hope people will really take your tips on board. My saga is even worse that having publ. 11 novels, I was told by my agent – a top London one, that my 12th . Diamonds& Dust was unpublishable. She dropped me. If you follow me on Twitter, @carolJhedges you will pick up on the ongoing story… Good luck with your lovely novel. Keep writing and hoping – it’s what we do best! x

    • Thank you, Sophie. I think the answer is that you have to want to get published more than you want to give up – for me, it was often a close contest!

  2. I have read the Class Ceiling and I loved, loved this book and it made my top read’s list of 2013 – which I published on my Blog. As for joining the RNA, I was told I could not as I am an Indie author as do not have a publishing contract! I felt a very second citizen. Hey ho, you can’t win them all, but a huge congrats Kerry it’s wonderful that their are still some fabulous success stories out there.

  3. Great story, thank you Kerry, but isn’t the real reason you got a deal direct from an ed and attracted an agent is because your book is really really good and stood out?!!! 🙂 Kerry – can you tell me again that Twitter does help get word out and ultimately drive sales. Do you have any tips for using it effectively? Is it really worth engaging with people all day, trying to build relationships, learning and generally socialising with folk who mostly seem to be other authors – when you ought to be writing?

    Carol – I tremble and feel angry when I hear your experience but as we all know, there is a whole new indie world out there.

    • Hi Phillipa – I do think Twitter does help, but like any marketing tool, it’s hard to quantify the exact effort = sales ratio. I love the fact that I can talk to the people who have read my book…quite a few of my readers have become Twitter ‘friends’, people I genuinely like and enjoy interacting with. I know that it has a knock-on word of mouth recommendation effect. I’ve used it to build a local following – by joining in Surrey Hour and ‘meeting’ other local businesses (I don’t know where you live, but there’s bound to be a ‘Sussex hour’ or a ‘Northamptonshire hour’ or wherever), as well as talking to local newspapers, magazines, newsletters on there. I tend to follow readers who interact with authors similar to me – they often follow back, then you can open a conversation with them. There’s a good book by Veronica Pullen – Social Prospecting for Twitter – I found it quite helpful!

  4. btw Pauline ((())) and Carol, be proud to be indie because these days I get the feeling that to be trad published is to be akin to a banker with a duck house who hacked the phone of Mother Teresa, We are spawn of the devil, lily livered cowards who didn’t have the courage to turn down a six fig publishing deal (hint: I didn’t turn it down because I didn’t get one). I now experience the reverse of being the council house, state school kid who made it to Oxford – I’m the public school educated, privileged upper class twit with sharp elbows who can’t get a proper job. 🙂 (tongue in cheek, there…)

  5. Lovely to read about your road to publication, Kerry. Always very inspiring to hear about these types of stories. Congrats on the two book deal and best of luck with all your writing projects.

  6. Love the post, Kerry! Looking at your picture, though – (all smiley with dog) -and reading your story, what comes through as the secret of your success, is that you’re clearly engaging, funny, work very hard and are super at telling a tale. You’ve written a fabulous book.

  7. Hi Pauline…as usual, you are very generous-spirited with your praise – thank you. The indie tide is turning but it is a slow process. I’m sure I would still be piling up rejections if I hadn’t self-published The Class Ceiling and proved that there was a market for it.

  8. This is a lovely story – after a long day and not much writing time for ages it’s put a huge smile on my face. Thanks for sharing your publication adventures in such a refreshing way, Kerry!

  9. What a great blog! Such wonderful stuff to read, and so encouraging. I’m one of those who’s been writing forever, and finally got a book deal last year and an agent off the back of it. But I’m also self-publishing because I have a series that’s nothing like the work my agent represents. I did the same thing as you; paid for a cover, rack cards etc, type-set and formatted it myself, and thought I could do the proof-reading myself as well. BIG mistake. This time (sequel due out this year) I’m going to give it to as many people as will read it before I get it printed! I look forward to reading your book, and wish you all the very, very best with it!

    • Congratulations on your book deal and on getting an agent, Terri, well done. And thank you for your kind comments – do let me know what you think of The Class Ceiling if you do read it. (Gulp!)
      Good luck with all your writing projects – I hope both the trad deal and self-pub go swimmingly well!

  10. What a super story Kerry, a real tale of diligent, dogged (made my laugh when you said ‘acquaintances you’ll love more than your dog’) determination, yet fresh and funny. A businesslike approach, filled with charm. Good work girl! I too look forward to reading your novel and wish you massive success.

  11. Oh thank you, Adrienne, that’s so lovely to hear. I missed out the flinging myself on the sofa and wailing! Support has come from the most unlikely sources – it’s been as much a study of human nature as of publishing. The very best of luck with your own writing.

    • Thanks so much, Elle. I see you are in the NWS and submitting your second book. Very best of luck, the NWS was invaluable to me. (The Class Ceiling was my second and I didn’t get anywhere with it until long after I’d finished the third, but it did happen eventually, so hang on in there!)

  12. A wonderful and inspiring success story – and one a few of us can relate to! Looking forward to reading The Class Ceiling, and lots of luck for the future 🙂

  13. Great story Kerry – congratulations on your excellent book! I have just finished my first, and after three of my own edits (I had six ‘readers’ go through it for the third), I’m now paying a well established editor to go through it, at great expense! Oh, my poor credit card!haha. Still, I’m hopeful she will make suggestions to tighten it up and fix any of the character flaws… so I can pitch it with confidence. I’d love to be a Kerry Fisher-esque success story this time next year. Congrats again!

    • Thank you, Cathryn! It’s a huge investment but it will be so worth it. I wish you your own success story – have you been to any of the writing festivals – I always found pitching face to face terrifying but I did meet some lovely agents – I particularly liked York Festival of Writing.

  14. Hello Karen…thank you and congrats on your own book deal…I still feel a terrible fraud as well but at least my son has stopped telling his teachers that his mum does work but ‘she’s an unsuccessful author!’ Good luck to you, too!

  15. What an inspiring post Kerry! The RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme is wonderful. I’ve spoken to you on Twitter just before RNA parties and we’ve somehow missed each other. Hopefully I’ll see you next time! Off to download your book.

  16. Oh thanks so much, Anita. Let’s REALLY try to meet up next time. I did see you at the last one, didn’t want to interrupt then missed you! Hope you enjoy TCC…thanks!

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