A Write Old Miracle

Just for this one blog, I’m going to write about writing rather than the myriad of other interesting aspects of my life such as how I will padlock the loo so my family have to go in the compost heap if I EVER walk in and find a single sheet of paper clinging onto the cardboard roll again.

The time is right because it’s nearly a year since I self-published The Class Ceiling and that’s affected my life in so many ways. There are many opinions on self-publishing vs. traditional and I’m not going to join the drum banging for either. I will say, though, that I didn’t set out wanting to self-publish. I wanted the recognition of a publisher being prepared to pay for the words I wrote. I’m not sure how many rejections from agents The Class Ceiling received but suffice to say, it was the spotty teenager breakdancing in the hand-knitted cardie at the disco.

The husband was keen for me to self-publish on the grounds that it’s such a subjective industry and ‘all’ I needed to do was believe in myself. In his mind, overnight success was just a couple of Amazon clicks away. I, on the other hand, was paddling away aboard a raft of insecurities big enough to cross the Atlantic – ‘Who will buy it and how will they know about it?’ I dismissed the husband’s suggestion so often, he tried to persuade me to apply for a job with the National Trust as a shepherd. The pressure to swap the laptop for stumbling about the Surrey Hills gathering up my flock when I can barely get my kids to school on time seemed to galvanise me.


Hopefully my mum will buy it…

I found a designer for the cover, proofread until my eyeballs bled (note to everyone: if you possibly can, PAY for this step) and hit the publish button just before Christmas. In the first five months, I sold a few hundred books. Slowly, I started to get reviews from people who didn’t share my DNA or my dinner parties. People from Devon, Edinburgh, California – people I didn’t know – who loved the book. Who said things like, ‘I was told off for reading this on the ski lift’, ‘I’ve ignored the husband, the kids and the dog for a whole weekend’ or as one American put it, ‘So good I just about pee’d my pants’. Eventually, I stopped doing that ‘screwed up, about to eat a kangaroo penis’ face each time I saw a new review on Amazon.

Then it got really interesting. I went to the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s summer party where I chatted to Helen Bolton, editor at Avon, HarperCollins. We talked about one of her authors, Mhairi McFarlane, who wrote You Had Me At Hello. Not a word about my writing. Just a brief human chat about a book we both loved.

Afterwards, I kept thinking that Helen would like The Class Ceiling. I also knew that publishers didn’t accept unagented manuscripts. But the thought kept niggling away until the first five chapters wriggled their way into an envelope and yet another set of wasted stamps winged their way to rejection.

Except this time, I received an email directly from Helen saying ‘Send the rest’. Then, ‘Send your next book’. Then ‘Come and meet me’. Me, little old me, on the steps at HarperCollins HQ! The excitement was clearly too much for me, so minutes before Helen glided elegantly down to greet me, I had the nose bleed to end all nose bleeds and sat through the whole meeting wondering whether I had crusty red rings round my nostrils.

I left HarperCollins HQ thinking Helen would be someone I would absolutely love to work with.  I also knew that it was one thing for her to like the book, but quite another to translate that over the many hurdles into a publishing deal. So, no dancing, no chicken counting, just a determination not to squander the opportunity and a little rush of fear and hope every time I looked at my emails.

In the meantime, The Class Ceiling sales really started to pick up as though the whole wheel of fortune had turned in my favour. With Avon interested, I thought I might be able to entice agents into reading The Class Ceiling. I researched a few who would be a good fit for my writing (in the tiny minority who hadn’t rejected me before!). Discreetly, I asked their authors what they were like to work with and received some very generous responses. Then I sent out some submissions. It was an odd time of year as it was holiday season but Clare Wallace at Darley Anderson came back to me very promptly and I went to London to meet her.

I don’t do corporate, smart or schmoozy very well so I was delighted to see that the agency had the cosy, eclectic feel of a place where people love books and dogs come to work. My meeting with Clare felt ‘right’ – professional, detailed, honest, warm, with a clear plan of what the next step would be if Avon didn’t buy The Class Ceiling.

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Could I just think about that for half a second?
Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I left with an offer of representation. My immediate reaction was to accept straightaway because I knew I could work with Clare. There hadn’t been any point in our meeting when I’d thought, ‘Hmm. Not sure about that,’ or worse, ‘I’m going to be terrified of you’. But I also knew that it was crucial to make the right decision, so I asked for some time to think about it without backflipping and cartwheeling clouding my judgment.

In the event, I had about four hours. That evening, Helen Bolton’s name popped up in my inbox. I guessed it was dream over. End of my little fantasy, of approaching agents with a confident ‘the Avon imprint of HarperCollins is currently considering The Class Ceiling’. I fed the dog. The email was still there. I clicked, waiting for the heart sink that had greeted me so many times before. A two book deal was snuggling in there, waving its little wand, glittering and gorgeous. Heart hop!

I phoned Clare the next morning – feeling rather silly because I’d made such a hoo-ha about wanting to time to consider – but she set to work straightawahttp://www.kerryfisherauthor.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/school-gate-resized-130jpeg.jpegy, sorting out my contracts with Avon. I know I made the right decision because I feel that we could resolve anything, however awkward. She’s already sold The Class Ceiling – soon to become The School Gate Survival Guide – at auction in Germany. Can’t help wondering what the Germans will make of cutting the nose off the Brie…

I’ve probably made that sound a bit easy. It wasn’t – took me five years from writing a novel to getting published – but I think if I go into any more detail, everyone will be going, ‘Crikey, we don’t actually need to know the colour of your bra.’

If anyone has read to the end, I’d be delighted to answer any writing questions on Twitter – https://twitter.com/KerryFSwayne or at http://www.kerryfisherauthor.com

school gate resized 130jpeg

The School Gate Survival Guide will be published as an ebook on 3 July and a paperback on 11 September




  1. Romalyn Tilghman says:

    LOVE IT! CONGRATULATIONS! Can’t wait to read all!

  2. Congrats, great story!

  3. Congratulations, Kerry…it’s good to know that rags to riches (I’m sure you weren’t really wearing rags) can happen.

    • Hi Teagan
      Lovely to hear from you…I’m still waiting for my riches but for the moment, I am just delighted to be published. Good luck with your own writing.

  4. Lovely blog today and so encouraging to the rest of us slogging away and wondering if our writing is worth anybody’s time. Congratulations too. Thanks for sharing your journey.

    • Hi Christine

      Thank you…you are always so lovely and supportive…I only just found your comment…technological dumbo! I wish you all the very best this year and great success in your own writing. Kerryxx

  5. Kerry – sorry this is not one of the exciting contacts you are hoping for here. No writing questions from me as I’m not in your league but just to say I’m so proud of you!! Julia

  6. Cathryn Chapman says:

    Wow – what a great post! And congratulations! Five years worth the wait, hey?!!! Such a wonderful, heart-warming, encouraging, lovely and fabulous blog to read as I take a little tea break from writing my penultimate-penultimate chapter of my first book, hoping and praying to soon be represented by the very same agent. I wish you so much luck and success! Can’t wait to read The Class Ceiling.
    Cat xx

    • Hello Cathryn

      Apologies for the late reply…I just realised that I had to approve my comments…new website and all that! Thank you so much for commenting and for your good wishes…it really is a question of perseverance – I wish you all the very best – and if you do manage to get representation from Clare, she is absolutely lovely and I am thrilled to be working with her! Good luck. Kerryx

Leave a Reply