Homecomings

A blog post by author Lynn Michell.

Sara asked me to write something about returning to IQ Press with my second novel and fourth work of fiction, a request which led to some off piste reflection. It’s a topic close to my heart and one which worries its way into my writing. As a wordmonger, the word return has the built in connotation of a place to which one willingly goes back,  but in real life, as an army brat, that for me was rarely the case. I have no roots. But as a writer I still search for a home for my books and look for that elusive sense of belonging.

Previously I’ve been published by HarperCollins, Longman, Pluto Press and the Women’s Press. The Women’s Press is the role model for my own Linen Press, now the only indie women’s press in the UK.

So it was with a quiet confidence that I sent my first novel, White Lies, to Quartet Books. Two days later a husky voice with a heavy foreign accent on my answer machine said, ‘I love your book. I want to publish it.’ The joke wasn’t funny. Which friend or foe was responsible for that one? In fact it was the owner of Quartet who went on to offer me a contract and within a week all was signed and sealed. But things went very wrong. They designed a glossy cover for a hardback book and discussed a rapid publication. Then came the proofs.

‘Did I like the font?’ they asked.

’What about the editing I’d been promised?’ I asked back.

‘No need to edit.’ came the reply. ‘Your novel is perfect.’

Oh but it wasn’t. No debut novel is. What followed was a very nasty and costly extrication from the contract but I’m glad I did it. That novel wasn’t ready for publication. I put it in a drawer for a year, re-wrote it, and published it myself.

Looking back, this was probably the start of the cutting back by many publishers of costly editing until we arrive at today’s state of play in the book trade where a famous author and activist, Maureen Freely, comes to Linen Press with her seventh novel having left her mainstream publisher because they refused to edit it. She described the ethos as ‘anti-intellectual and anti-literary’ and likened her publishing house to a bunch of Tesco salesmen. The writing was on the wall, and we in the business stared at it with growing alarm.

And so it was in a rapidly changing and shrinking book business that I finished my second novel, Run, Alice Run. Two things mattered to me: I wanted a press whose ethos was right for my writing and I wanted close collaboration with a good editor. I knew that the Big Five wouldn’t touch it. I wasn’t a known author. I hadn’t written a sensational novel nor a series. I was no longer young, and my heroine was middle-aged, a fact that my male foreign rights agent told me would bar it altogether from publication.

The end of this long story is that I accepted a contract from Sara-Jayne Slack here at IQ. I knew nothing about her, nor her publishing house except from the website. She followed up with warm personal contact, Skype discussions, an openness and transparency, and, most important, excellent editing.

She and I work very differently as the bosses of small indie presses. I am not highly organised, work very intuitively, often play things by ear, and spend the first couple of months with an author talking about the manuscript. During my first Skype with Sara, she asked me about my expectations and described how she worked but not a word did she say about my novel. Not even if she liked it. Over the next weeks we talked again – about the timetable, social media, an online presence, branding and marketing, software, the contract, but not my prose. I was worried. But this is her way of tackling a project with a new author and she does things in a different order. Later, when the first round of edits came in, I was impressed and delighted. My manuscript had been reworked at every level from the overall structure to the choice of vocabulary. She suggested moving sections, rewriting sections, changing the nuts and bolts of the plot, making subtle changes to the characters. And she was available to answer my queries and objections. She held a very effective magnifying glass to the book that we both called Alice and I was satisfied and happy that it had found a good home.

It is with no qualms that I’m returning to IQ and placing in Sara’s safe hands my new novel,The Red beach Hut, which is more dear to my heart than the previous one. Sara may talk to me and email me about many topics outside the writing, but I’m confident that once more my prose will be carefully, sensitively scrutinised and edited and that the published book will be a better version of the one I sent her. Two books now with one press. Two horses in the same stable.

I have continuity, security and the beginnings of a sense of belonging, even of coming home.

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