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Working with a publisher

Written by Desiree Reynolds

When I think about my publishing journey, I’m not sure I recognise myself now.

Choose your publisher after doing a lot of research. Read submission guidelines over and over. Look at who they have already published. Does their ethos align with yours?

Like most new authors I published with a sense of true fear. I found myself at a friend’s house crying my eyes out. It wasn’t a sense of loss, that I was letting go of the thing that had framed my life, but a sense of letting in. I felt I had exposed myself to all the world and in turn the world would rush at me and judge me to be a bad writer. Of course, no such thing has happened. But when you press send something does change forever. Once the manuscript was done or what I felt was done, I sent it out. I got rejections. And then saw a new scheme being advertised.

I walked into Peepal Tree Press, a small publisher based in Leeds publishing Black and Brown authors, not knowing what to expect. There was an initiative put together by Peepal Tree and the Arts Council to support writers in the region and I was a part of that. I was lucky enough that they took me on.

But I was still a year away from being published. Once you have a publisher you can feel at the mercy of timetables and overviews and projections. You may not be this year; you may be late next year etc., and that can feel difficult to manage when you’ve probably already spent years writing. But trust the process. You are not making anything worse.

Working with a publisher means inevitably working with an editor (sometimes they are the same) and that can be a more contentious or difficult relationship. I believe my experience with Peepal Tree Press was unique because I got access to care and to support and to a real concern about the writing. I don’t know if new authors always get that kind of time. It made me feel worthy, at least in that small moment sat in the office, debating the spelling of words, character motivation, where was the plot going, would anyone believe it? Would I?

The experience of being edited I took as a masterclass of how to edit. I carry those lessons with me every day. Trust is such a huge part of all relationships and it’s no different here. You have to trust that your editor knows more than you about narrative and craft and due diligence and you know your story or what you want your story to be and in that meeting in the middle your story starts to breathe. Again, trust the process.

Check out local schemes, library writing groups, reading groups, funding opportunities etc. There is bound to be some near you.

Being published can make you feel awkward at your own party. It never feels like how you imagined. And that’s probably a good thing. Since living in the North, I have been supported by the small independent presses here, that still do the heavy lifting big publishers fail to. Lacking agility and awareness they have been slow to respond to a changing industry and a changing audience. Going for a small press is a good option.

I have been published by Peepal Tree Press, Comma Press, Culture Word, Dead Ink Books, Lighthouse Literary Journal, Crocus Books and Vanguard. Sometimes more than once. Each time being different. Each time you can tell what the editor thinks of you or your work by the tone they take and how patient they are with your edits. You can gauge how you are with them by how patient you are with their edits. If you have done your research and found a publisher you connect with, trust that they have your stories’ best interest at heart, which may not be the same as yours, and that’s an important distinction.

I’ve had bad reviews, I was told it had aired secret dirty laundry, who gave me the right to write it, the language too difficult. I’ve had people tell me how good the story was, how much they connected or felt impacted by it. There isn’t a thicker skin to develop or that you can wait for it to come. The thing to remember is that this is what you love to do. You do actually enjoy this. You do actually want this.

My experience of being published I would say overall has been really good. I count myself lucky, at the moment I make a living from writing, which is more than I ever thought I would as a shy Black, working class girl from Clapham and I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.

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