The Crime Readers' Association

Diary of a Debut Author: Helen Phifer

17th December 2013 by in


A big welcome to my brand new monthly blog post and I have to say I still can’t believe I’m talking about myself. It’s one of those things you fantasise about, getting your book published that is (apart from waking up a size 12 or bumping into Johnny Depp in the corner shop). My debut novel ‘The Ghost House’ was released on October 2nd and I’m pleased to say it’s going well. People are telling me they can’t put it down which is exactly what I hoped for, so I must have got something right.

It has taken me eight years of writing and editing before finally getting a publishing deal. It seems like forever but after reading lots of articles by different authors it is really not that bad and pretty much to be expected. Don’t get me wrong I have a friend who has only been writing two years and had her third book published just this week. I suppose what I’m trying to say is, and these are probably the most important words you will ever hear as a pre-published writer, ‘Never give up.’ If you believe in your own writing then it will happen. You will get published. It is not a matter of if; it’s a matter of when.’

You see it isn’t easy, in fact it is rather difficult and what you will find in the publishing world is that things don’t happen overnight. It is a slow, drawn out process, but is it worth the wait I hear you ask? Oh yes, absolutely.  You will get many rejections unless of course you are the exception to the norm. But you may just get one that praises your writing, even if it isn’t right for that agent or publisher. Two sentences are all it takes to make it official, that you can indeed write.

There are many other ways to get advice on your writing and over the coming months I’ll discuss everything that I did; what worked and what didn’t work. Everything I wish that I’d known and probably the bits I wish that I hadn’t.

I got to the stage where I had finished my manuscript and thought what next? I knew from day one the story was good, I adore my characters and I found myself in turn, spooked, excited, laughing out loud and crying at my story. I loved it, I couldn’t believe that I had done it, I had written a book. Little did I know just how much more work was going to go into that book before it was finally published but the feeling was great. After all if everyone could write a book they would, we have to be a bit special and have a bit of talent to produce a story that flows and if it elicits those sort of emotions then we’re onto a winner; aren’t we?

I was so proud of my finished manuscript that I announced to my husband I was sending it off to agents, I bought the envelopes and stamps and with my well thumbed copy of ‘The Writers & Artists Yearbook’ I got some brightly coloured post-it notes and a shocking pink highlighter and set about choosing which agents I thought would be dying to take me on. Delusional someone muttered, yes quite but I preferred to call it naive. There was no writing group in our town at this time; I had no friends I could speak to about my writing because none of them had the slightest clue what I was talking about. I didn’t know any writers I could turn to for advice, so I did what all the writing magazines I subscribed to told me to do. I was beaming whilst I queued in the Post Office and wondered if the man behind the counter would realise that the woman with all those kids who came in to collect her family allowance was actually a writer as well.

I sent six submissions off that day, I had painstakingly edited them – ahem! And in my opinion my book was as good as it could have been. So I’d done everything right, right? Wrong oh so very wrong. Those self addressed-envelopes came back through my door so fast the postman must have got friction burns from them. Within ten days I had six envelopes with six standard letters each with a very polite, ‘No thank you’ and that was it. I cried over my first one, anguished over the second, got angry with the third and fourth and by the fifth and sixth I shamefully shoved them to the back of my drawer where they would never see the light of day again for the next six years. How could these people not see how brilliant my story was? Even after this harsh round of rejections I realised that my story was still good, maybe it was the way I had told it? But what should I do next? I had no idea, so I did nothing for six months and forgot about my dreams of wanting to be a writer.

Helen Phifer - The Ghost House


Helen Phifer on CRA Find An Author

Next month – critiques and writing groups.

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