How did that happen? Getting published the C List way (other ways are available!)

Some of you lovely folk have asked me recently what was it like getting published and any tips I might want to share. So for those of you who are interested, here’s how it was for me. There is a list at the bottom in true C List style.

Having a book published is an exciting but very slow process. Deadlines from publishers will be issued months or even years in advance and seemingly very little is done until the last half an hour when all hell breaks loose.

Before taking me on, my agent put me through a resilience test because she said in her experience, people who write memoirs can be quite emotionally fragile and take rejection more personally than normal.  I must have passed the test as she then proceeded to tell me to expect lots of rejections.  She did round the conversation off on a positive note though saying she liked my writing style and the concept of lists to accompany each chapter (hence the name of my book, The C List).   For her troubles I was to pay her a slice of commission and she would negotiate on my behalf and try her hardest to get me a publisher.  She believed in me which was the best feeling.

I had some wonderful rejections from Random House and Hay House who apparently loved The C List but had their quota of cancer memoirs on the books and as the market is still very fragile, publishers don’t like to take risks.  I was told the cancer memoir genre either does very well or very poorly.

And then, came the long awaited call from Watkins Publishing, part of The Osprey Group who signed me up on a bit of an advance which was even nicer; half payable of completion of the manuscript and half on publication of the book.  They agreed that in addition to the UK, the book would also be published in America, Australia and New Zealand after I supplied them with stats of the top 3 countries for bowel cancer incidence.

I was to complete the manuscript by 31 March 2012, submitting around 80,000 words.  I heard very little if anything for six months and then helpfully they dropped their edits into my email box during a particularly stressful patch at work requesting my amendments, ideally, within  a couple of weeks.

Then it was back to the waiting game.  Meanwhile I was asked to get a celebrity endorsement as apparently you lovely lot don’t like buying books unless you have them endorsed by a well known name.   I think they underestimate you, but nevertheless I tried my best to oblige.

“Could you use your publishing contacts?” I reasonably asked. “Oh no, we think it comes much better from the author” they told me authoritatively.

So how on earth do you get the attention of a ‘celebrity’? Well not very easily I can tell you from my experience. I decided it would be easier to try people affected by bowel cancer. So, I approached Chris Evans as his dad had died of bowel cancer but he didn’t reply, not to any of my charming approaches.  And then I tried Stephen Mangan as his mum had died of bowel cancer.  His agent replied saying he was interested but was overseas.  He never came back, well at least not to me.  Finally I contacted Matthew Wright as his dad died of bowel cancer.  Not only did he say yes immediately, but he invited me onto his show, The Wright Stuff (twice) and is now almost a friend – well we send each other emails regularly with kisses on and I endured the odd bit of ridicule when I voted for him in the jungle.  So I guess that counts.  But he has kept his word and has been pretty awesome.

To cut a long story short, the book finally got printed after lots of negotiations about the cover.  I didn’t like their version as I thought it was humourless and didn’t reflect the contents very well and they didn’t like my version (supplied by my talented brother along with the illustrations in the book) as they said it was in danger of looking like chick lit. So we settled on theirs with some creative encouragement from me.

The C List was finally published on 3 April in the UK and on 22 April overseas and it took so long to get into print that I even managed a relapse and had some more liver surgery during the process.  This caused a last minute flurry as I had to squeeze in a postscript (PS) as the printer was standing by tapping his feet and inhaling loudly.

I am now in the thick of the publicity phase, which if, like me you suffer from the British disease, is a bit awkward. The famous childhood saying that still sticks with me (along with “Money doesn’t grow on trees you know….”) was not to ‘blow my own trumpet’, so instead,  I like to think of pushing my book as doing my bit for bowel cancer by breaking down a few taboos.  And even more importantly, to sprinkle some hope that you can beat stage 4 bowel cancer or at least repeatedly beat it back into submission.

If you fancy buying The C List, I would of course be permanently in your debt and might pop around and do a spot of clearing up as thanks.  The publishers did a sterling job of getting it sold into the major book retailers;  Waterstones, Foyles, WHSmith etc as well as online through most outlets including Amazon, so you shouldn’t be too inconvenienced.  But just to be on the safe side, here is a link http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-C-List-Survived-Bowel-Cancer/dp/1780286791

And now for the top 13 titbits;

  1. If you are thinking about writing a book, just start. Now. No procrastinating.
  2. I was given a good tip by my writing friend Andy. He said just put the hours in. Reserve time each week to write. Don’t worry about structure or trying to finesse it, you will have plenty of time to do this later. There are so many people who have half finished books on laptops; so finishing it is the name of the game.
  3. Come up with an angle, an idea, a concept that will carry your book and differentiate it from the crowd. Mine was lists after each chapter – I even have a list of lists at the back of the book.
  4. Getting a publisher is hard. It is easier if you have an agent who will have all the contacts and at least be able to get you through the door. But getting an agent is hard too!
  5. There is a book called Writers’ & Artists’ yearbook which has some good advice and the names of all literary agents and publishers. You will need to do your research and identify agents or publishers which have experience in your chosen genre.
  6. Be prepared to do your research on your target market. I supplied figures of the number of people diagnosed with bowel cancer each year to size the market roughly and how many were living with bowel cancer in the UK. And the same for overseas. I dug up plenty of stats which convinced my publisher there is a market out there (please don’t prove me wrong).
  7. Before my publisher took me on I was invited to meet the PR team for them to decide whether I was PR-able. So it’s a good idea to come up with angles and suggestions beforehand. I must have been given the nod as the Publisher subsequently sent out the contract.
  8. Be prepared to summarise your book and yourself many times in different templates and format for the publisher’s sales teams and publicity departments.
  9. I was given an editor to work with who was wonderful and sent back my manuscript with her marked up comments for me to embellish, amend or delete. It was quite a democratic process.
  10. Although I had a proof reader as well, I was still picking up the odd inconsistency long after it was supposed to go to print! Hopefully you will kindly gloss over any I have missed.
  11. The type setter will then do his magic and page set your A4 manuscript into proper ‘book ready’ pages. I caused a bit of bother as I insisted on preceding each chapter with an illustration from my brother, followed by a formatted list. But I think it was worth it.
  12. My press pack was sent out with a picture of me, a bit of a biog, background on the book and bowel cancer as well as some example interview and feature ideas.
  13. I am paid a small % in royalties on every sale but it’s very complicated and varies a lot and I will need to sell tens of thousands before I can buy that lovely little Alfa Romeo Spider!

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Thank you for reading. And good luck if you are writing.  X

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The C List and other stories

“When are you going to get your writing mojo back?”  I was asked from time to time as moss gathered on the inside of my blog.

The truth is after Kate’s death, every time I tried to write it just felt contrived and to be perfectly honest jabbering on about the pressures of life just didn’t seem a fitting follow up post. So I kept schtum and got on with the busy business of living.  As Barbara on twitter beautifully summed it up; “the first wish of those dying untimely is to live their dreams for them”.

So I have been doing lots of dreaming and as Kate got so much pleasure from working, I tried to do quite a lot of that too.  At times so much working that I was beginning to leak yin all over my new found yang.

But with 2 clear scans since we last spoke, I am in a good place again and I have more news.

The book that I cranked out during chemo, called The C List, got picked up by a publisher and is being released finally on the 3rd of April in the UK and the 22nd in America.  And as Kate helped me so much with this book from the first edit to being my daily muse, I feel it is only right and proper to announce it here now in her memory.

I have also been signed up to blog for The Huffington Post so there will be all manner of thoughts spilling out of me now I have got my writing mojo back (or my blah blah blah as my Spanish CEO prefers to call it!). Please feel free to suggest topics. No reasonable request turned down.

My publisher has fixed me up with more interviews for the book so if I apologise in advance, can you please put up with the odd shameless plug from time to time if I promise not to overdo it? And please, don’t just point the finger at me, spread your blame wide to Melinda Lord who challenged me on this very blog to write this book in the first place!  And Andy Blackford who forced me to write daily and supplied the title. And anyone else who told me I should write.  You only have yourselves to blame!  And no, I have never pretended to know where to put apostrophes so apologies for that too.

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http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-C-List-Survived-Bowel-Cancer/dp/1780286791

(you may have to copy and paste link for the mo as I need to do some stuff on Amazon to get the link working apparently)

Much love till next time x

Chemo cancelled, someone please tell the weather…

“Rachel, Rachel, Rachel, what are you doing back here?” asked Doctor Needles this morning as if I were an alzheimer’s patient looking for somewhere nice to sit down.

When I sheepishly confessed I was hoping my blood had recovered enough from Friday to go ahead with my last Chemo as planned today, he tsk’d loudly and said I would have more luck stuffing an octopus with ADHD into my handbag or words to that effect.

Sadly his predictions have proved more accurate than the coalition government so far and I was packed off home to put away my balloons and celebration cakes for another week.

Which means I know have an empty calender to fill and am busily taking bookings!

lol x

Cancer staging and the Daily Mail?

Table 8 at The Falcon in High Wycombe is fast becoming my favourite lunch spot. Glamorous it ‘aint. The inmates seem to think it most natural to drink pints at 11am, the fruit salads have as much fruit in them as beef tomatoes have beef and the wine comes out of taps, but it’s a lot of laughs and I am in danger of returning again and again like a hand to a biscuit jar!

My new chemo friend introduced me to this gem and shares the same aversion as I do for support groups, but we have luckily stumbled upon our own version which is a whole lot less earnest as we spend most of the time laughing like hyenas.

This week we dissected the personalities of our surgeon and oncologist after discovering we shared the same double act.  I was disappointed to discover that my memory of our shared surgeon massaging my feet at the foot of my bed was more likely to be a morphine moment confused by the post surgery stockings rhythmically inflating and deflating on my legs, then the tender moment I ‘remembered’. 

Now as everyone is aware, the medical profession is vigorously trained to gasp silently to avoid alarming the patient, so naturally our oncologists inability to dignify a question with an answer (if you don’t count “I wouldn’t worry about that” or “let’s wait and see”), was viewed with narrow eyed suspicion. However, after playing  oncologist snap, we agreed in the case of Dr W, this was less a case of deliberate suppression of bad news and more likely to be a reassuring positive personality quirk.

But the biggest epiphany was the link between paper readership and cancer staging.  As both of us had been Guardian/Observer readers, we concluded that had we been lifelong subscribers to the Daily Mail, our cancer would not have reached T4!  The Mail’s daily dose of cancer doom/cure stories would have seen us camping out in the waiting rooms of our doctor’s surgeries demanding attention long before we eventually turned up blissfully unaware that our colons were on their knees!  

Meanwhile a visit to Dr Needles (aka the Bulgarian vampire) confirmed what I had always suspected.  Not only that my white blood cells were once again on strike and my final chemo on Monday is now in jeopardy, but check out Dr Needle’s unorthodox method of extracting blood.  You can’t tell me these are not teeth marks?

Back in Monday for another attempt.  I have decided that my blood will hit a comfortable 1.7 and am visualising like mad. x

Chemo number 7 versus Rachel

The upside of my blood recovering has meant I went ahead with number 7 yesterday as scheduled, and it all went super smoothly.  I even managed to leave before the nurses turned off the lights and got treated by a new nurse putting my steroids in by drip rather than injection; amazing what passes for pleasure these days! And Jo did a change over with mum and turned up at lunchtime with liquorice toffees. Everything was going like clockwork….hmmm.

Until I tried to leave and found the neuropathy and chemo fog had descended so fast, my friend Jo resembled Usain Bolt as I tried to follow her to the car park!  And this from a women who broke both ankles and wrists last year, so I must be hallucinating or the nice nurses have messed about with my wiring again.

And sure enough sickness followed and my body began to emitt its usual chemo glow lighting up the chiltern hills. You walk in to the sight of a miserable grey rainy Buckinghamshire sky and leave a few hours later filled with chemicals and heh, instant Maldives!

Chemo number 7 is shaping up to be a nasty piece of work and roughing me up a bit too much.  Now Knock it off!  Meanwhile Dad, decorator turned nurse administers the bone marrow injections!

Sometimes you do want to shoot the messenger…

A man goes to his doctor for a complete checkup. He hasn’t been feeling well and wants to find out if he’s ill. After the checkup the doctor comes out with the results of the examination.

“I’m afraid I have some bad news. You’re dying and you don’t have much time,” the doctor says.

“Oh no, that’s terrible. How long have I got?” the man asks.

“10…” says the doctor.

“10? 10 what? Months? Weeks? What?!” he asks desperately.

“10…9…8…7…”

I do love black humour, but why do some people in the medical profession believe anyone facing the shock of a cancer diagnosis must be in complete denial and in urgent need of a nice little chat about death?

Personally I would have thought this is the very time you could do with a bit of gentle brain reconditioning to build up your mental strength, but there appears a rush to unload both barrels on you faster than quick draw McGraw with the occasional book recommendation for your children on losing a parent lobbed in to lighten the mood!

Facing your demons is in my opinion a bogus concept which causes even more anxiety than the hard working journalists from the Daily Mail!

Once upon a time I enjoyed the perverse pleasure to be had from a misery memoir, but these days I crave informed positivity and happy news even more than I crave the mute button on the nickelodeon channel, or a solid chocolate KitKat.

My own experience, which still stains my memory, was from the Ian Rennie nurses who introduced themselves with a motivational  “Hi we are from the end of life and terminal care team”.  Friends have also reported priceless gems such as “So I hear you want to talk about your death” to “If you pay into a pension, I wouldn’t bother to continue if I were you”. Now should you manage to get over this punch in the gut (possibly by holding your brain under a running hot water tap and scrubbing thoroughly for several months), there is amazing support, care and positivity out there and I can’t fault the dedication.  It just seems a shame that we have to go through this ritual first, rather like an initiation into a street gang!

Surely with the amount of evidence available on the effect of meditation, visualisation and keeping a positive outlook, there should be more support focused here? I am sure I am not alone in calling for more guidance or training for the medical profession on giving life changing news like this?

Anyway, I have just about recovered my composure and am doing well thanks to all the support and medical attention I have received and I hope the same can be said for any newcomers into the club.  The joys of Chemo cycle 7 await on Monday morning so I will be getting friendly with my bed again for a few days, after which I need to get on with some sculpting or pottery  to keep myself busy and away from the pull of the virtual world and back into the real one!

Thanks to everyone for keeping me positive and healthy!

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Cancer and a lesson in patience!

Before cancer, I had never considered myself in any way a control freak and was happy to let chaos theory take over my life.  However once I began my new full time occupation of visiting men and women in white suits, something strange happened and to my amazement I tried to think ahead and build a plan encompassing occasional treats, visits and even possibly a bit of work.  This has proved more wasteful and pointless than the British water industry.

So here’s my advice to anyone trying to plan ahead; think of a number, add 7, triple it, take away the first number you thought etc etc.

You might by now be gleaning that today’s 2nd attempt at chemo didn’t go according to plan and my blood has played yet another or it’s hilarious practical tricks on everyone.   It started with an early visit to hospital to extract more blood to see if my count had raised enough overnight to hit the minimum quota.  Despite Mary Holloway my brilliant reiki lady encouraging me to drink more water, Dad making up even stronger Chinese herbs, Mum pumping me full of protein and Sam (she is without doubt top Needle nurse) hitting the portacath spot first time again AND Jenny turning up to be chemo cady, the neutrophils still said no!

Now if you can imagine getting all the little jobs out the way that you know you will not feel up to over the next week or so (and yes this does include tackling the endless, some might say equally pointless stream of parent mail) and then adjusting the dimmer switch inside your head to 75% off energy saving levels, you will understand the frustration of being told “if you could just do that all again next week, we try again”.  So now my plans for seeing Bear Grylls with teenage son next Saturday and possibly the end of treatment holiday celebration on 1st June are looking a tiny bit unlikely.  Grrr, grrr and double grrr.