Diary of a First-time Author #1 – How to fail your twenties…

My name is Paul Hawkins and I’m an author.  It feels weird and slightly fraudulent saying that but my first book Bad Santas and other Creepy Christmas Characters is being published by Simon and Schuster on October 22nd.  Since I’ve told people about the book, I’ve had a quite a few questions from friends and friends of friends about how you get published and how the whole process of putting a book out works.  So I thought I’d write a series of articles that’ll hopefully be reasonably engaging and useful and hopefully help people in pursuing their own writing.

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First of all though, I’m going to talk about my background and experiences with writing prior to the book and the events that led to me deciding to chance my arm as a non-fiction writer.

I’ve wanted to be a writer ever since I was a teenager.  At the age of 18, I did a degree in Scriptwriting for Film and Television.  Whilst doing the degree I then found out  how much power the producer held over script decisions in film and TV soI did an MA on Producing for Film and TV as well.  I then left University at 22, feeling fully qualified and ready to produce the work that would see me hailed as the brightest young writing talent in the United Kingdom.

Obviously that’s when real-life happened. I spent six months scrabbling about trying to find a job in film and television and working out whether I could afford to do some sort of unpaid internship (I couldn’t – I had bills and rent to pay) before pretty much giving up and letting the temp work I was doing to fund myself gradually become permanent.  But that was okay because I decided I’d write in my spare time, sell a script to get me started and be a full-time writer by the time I’m 25.

Again, that didn’t happen either.  If you’re reading this then you probably already know that trying to write in your spare time is an exhausting process – incidentally this Onion article is one of my favourite things on the internet – and I got a bit lazy and procrastinated.  I started writing less frequently and things got finished less and less often.  Before long my “writing career” pretty much consisted of me meeting up with a couple of friends from my Scriptwriting degree and talking about future project that we never actually seemed to get round to writing.

Before I knew it I was a public sector office worker lurching towards his 30th birthday with no professional skills, no prospects and no job security.  I’d found out my contract was not being renewed due to public sector cuts and applied and failed to get job after job after job after job.  It turned out I had a finely-honed knack for coming second in interviews.  Unless there were two jobs going.  Then I’d finish third.

All of this was really depressing and I began to seriously panic both about my short-term prospects and, more importantly, about the growing realisation I was wasting my entire life.  Miraculously I got a last-minute reprieve in my job, which was equally a blessing and a curse, but knew a second round of cuts was forthcoming so I jumped before I was pushed and applied for a PGCE to teach adult literacy.  (By the way, if you’re worried about a lack of job security, do NOT retrain as an adult education teacher.  It makes managing a football club look like a secure role with long-term prospects.)

By this point any dream I had of being a writer was long-since dead.  Back when I was in danger of losing my job, I remember going to a job interview for some sort of job around public sector pensions and being asked about by Scriptwriting degree and firmly assuring the interviewer that writing was behind me and that I just wanted to get a job where I could work hard and climb the career ladder.  I might have actually even believed that.

But then going back to University awakened something in me.  It reminded me of how much I loved learning, researching and writing essays and it reminded me that I was probably better at that than anything else I’d done in my life.  And eventually I realised I wanted to try to be a writer again – but this time, I had to make it work.

I set myself some ground rules.  The first one was that I was going to be disciplined in how much I wrote and how often.  The second one was that, whilst being sure to write about subjects I was interested in, I was going to be pragmatic about focussing on ideas that I believed had a chance of being published.  Thirdly I decided that, because my essays and dissertations went well and my attempts at fiction tended to fizzle out, I would focus on writing non-fiction.

Years before I’d had a fiction idea around Father Christmas but, try as I might, I could never quite get the story to work.  However I realised I had amassed quite a bit of research around the history of Santa and the different folklore and mythology around the world that had inspired his creation and that, in finding the research, I’d never seen one book that contained all the information I wanted.  I decided on a bit of a whim that I would pull this work together and try to put together a book proposal.

Through sheer luck – I’ll talk more about how to help your chances of being ‘lucky’ in my next article – I found myself an agent and, after a year of revising and knocking things into shape, I found myself in the offices of Simon & Schuster taking to a publishing editor.   Seven months on and the book comes out next month.

It’s an exciting time but also a nervous one.  I really can’t wait for the book to be published but I’m also apprehensive about what people’ll think when they read it and, to be honest, still a bit confused as to what the publishing process actually involves.

Over the next few of these articles I’ll talk a bit more about what approaching agents and publishers and what publishing a book actually involves.  As I get nearer to the publication date I’ll start to write more about the experience of releasing and marketing a book, what actually happens in the build-up to the release and what goes through my head.  I’ll also be very happy to answer any questions readers have and share any advice that I have to offer.

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