And so it begins

My name is John K. Fulton, and I’ve been writing since I was a teenager. For the past twenty years I’ve been the clichéd “technical writer who would secretly like to be a proper writer” but it’s only in the past year that I’ve decided to take the next step and actually try to get my work published.

In the Spring of 2012, I bought and installed Scrivener, which has been an incredible tool for helping plan, structure and write a novel. Previously I’d struggled along with Microsoft Word, but really, there is no comparison. After importing some of my old writing projects and playing with Scrivener for a few days to learn how it worked, I started thinking about what I wanted to write. I didn’t want to carry on with any of my stalled projects. I wanted to start from scratch with a new novel.

For several years I’d been talking with my partner about a book containing stories of a rabbit who works for a chimney sweep in a sort of pseudo-Dickensian pseudo-London. I’d mention snippets of the rabbit’s adventures as if they already existed, and she’d play along, as if she’d already read them. We did even discuss which of us would end up actually writing the story – she’s a talented writer, but her writing time is taken up with her main obsession, cricket, including having articles published in the Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack, so it fell to me to tell the story of Giovanni and the Great City.

In December 2012, I finished the first draft of The Chimney Rabbit and it clocked in at 71,000 words – a total I’d never thought I’d reach. I got a couple of copies printed at Lulu so my partner could read it – she doesn’t like reading on screen, and is still a Kindle refusenik. She rattled through it in a day, and gave me several pages of comments, some of which were mistakes that I’d read over a dozen times and simply not noticed, which is pretty embarrassing for a supposedly professional technical writer. It does show just how important another set of eyes can be, though.

After two more drafts came the really scary part – submitting to an agent. I’ve got a copy of the Children’s Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, and it’s been invaluable, especially for information on agents. I’m trying to keep my submissions to just one or two agencies at the same time. Ideally, I’d submit to one agency at a time, but when the submission guidelines suggest that responses may take up to ten weeks, it’s hard to stay patient.

Each agent has a subtly different submission policy, so it’s been a matter of tailoring every submission to their requirements, double- and triple-checking, and crossing my fingers that I haven’t made a stupid rookie mistake despite all of my research and checking. I’ve got a two-page synopsis, a three-chapter (10,000 word) extract, a variety of covering letters with different levels of one- to three-paragraph synopses, and even one CV for an agency that required one. (I didn’t think they’d be interested in my FrameMaker, Microsoft Office, or Perl skills, so I’ve given them something that’s more like the author bio from a dust jacket – I hope that’s what they actually want!) For each submission I’ve put together a package of the information they ask for.

I’ve been rejected twice so far, both far more quickly than I’d expected. Which means either I got lucky and reached the agents when they were in a mood to go through the submission pile, or I’ve done something completely stupid that’s got me rejected unread! There’s no way of knowing, of course. Agents have so many submissions to get through that it’s simply unrealistic for them to provide feedback on rejections.

So what’s next? Next we play the waiting game. The agents will either respond with a polite “no thank you” or (and this is far less likely) ask to see the rest of the manuscript. But in the meantime, I’ve started writing the sequel, The Chimney Rabbit and the Underground Mice. Is it presumptuous to write a sequel to a book that’s so far away from even getting a sniff at being published? Probably. But I’m doing it anyway.


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