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A Celebration of Comedy Women in Print and the CWIP prize

Given that this year’s Comedy Women in Print shortlist was announced last night, it seems like an opportune moment to post this on my blog – mainly to remind those longlisted authors who didn’t make the cut that their foot is already in the door. This post was originally written for the CWIP website and went live a few months back. If you’ve already read it on their blog (which is well worth a visit) then maybe don’t bother reading it again as I haven’t added anything – it’s literally the same post – you have been warned.

Women’s Writing in Waiting

2020 Unpublished Novel longlistee Nancy Peach wrote this wonderful guest post for us this week:

I entered the CWIP competition last year with a combination of trepidation and excitement. CWIP was only in its second year, the brief – to promote and discover emerging writers of funny female fiction – very much appealed to me, and it was spearheaded by the comic legend Helen Lederer. In addition, judges included Marian Keyes, photos from the previous Winners’ Event made it look like an absolute blast, and it was free to enter so there was nothing to lose other than the effort invested in pressing send on the computer.

I am a big fan of writing competitions – they make you focus, they give you a deadline and a definitive answer on a specific date (something sadly lacking in much of publishing), and if you’re lucky, as I was, they introduce you to a whole world of jolly clever and hilarious ladies who are keen to big you up wherever possible. Being part of the CWIP family is a little like being at Mallory Towers, but with added books, booze, swearing and innuendo. I have entered other competitions before and been shortlisted for some, but never have I experienced the level of enthusiasm and camaraderie that I have with CWIP. Once you’re in the fold you are in for life (if you want to be, it’s not like a cult or the Hotel California).

I duly submitted my opening chapters of Sandwich, a comic tale of a woman struggling to cope with the combined demands of her three children and her mother who has dementia. The story is not a million miles away from my own life and loosely based on my blog Mum has dementia. A few months later I had an extraordinarily exciting email arrive telling me I’d been longlisted. My name was in the Evening Standard and The Bookseller FFS! It was astonishing. I still have a tweet from The Bookseller pinned to the top of my Twitter-feed, such was the enormous joy.

Long story short; Sandwich didn’t make the cut. Did I mind? A teeny amount. Did I feel left out, discarded, rejected? No. Not one bit of it. I’d made it onto the tour bus even if I wasn’t in the starting line-up. The blow was also softened by the fact that by then I had an agent and exciting things were happening with other books I’d written, but the main reason for not sinking into the doldrums was the very real and tangible feeling of inclusion and involvement that persisted despite not making it through to the next round. Getting longlisted but not shortlisted for CWIP is like being on Strictly Come Dancing and getting as far as the Blackpool Ballroom. Who in their right mind is going to complain about that? I was Russell Grant! I was Michelle Visage!

All longlistees were invited to the Winners’ event to be held at The Groucho Club, but, you know, COVID. Still, I watched it on Zoom and probably enjoyed the spectacle a lot more knowing that I was no longer actively competing. A bit like when your team go out of the football in the knock-out stages and you can just appreciate watching the final without feeling you’re about to have an aneurysm from the stress of it all. Since then I have kept in touch with many of the CWIP family, published authors, unpublished authors, judges and admin. All are equally friendly and supportive, and SO willing to share in any publishing success. And happily, there is a little bit of that on the horizon. My first novel Love Life is coming out later this year with One More Chapter and it’s a Rom-Com set in a hospice. Not a conventional setting for hilarity and LOLs you might think?

And to be fair, perhaps you’d be right. It’s not a bed-wettingly hilarious, rolling in the aisles laughing type of book. But it’s not a mawkish dirge either. I like to describe it as ‘wryly amusing with a dash of dark humour,’ which admittedly makes it sound like a cocktail – no matter.

Love Life features a hospice doctor, Tess who encounters Edward, a man who is in denial about his mother’s terminal illness. Unsurprisingly Tess and Edward dislike each other in the beginning but as Edward’s mother becomes more unwell, they begin to discover common ground. The story also features compulsive over-eating, a daytime television host battling it out with a Jane Austen character as dual narrators, a blind date with an estate agent, a veterinary emergency, a brush with the General Medical Council and quite a lot of shagging. So basically, it’s right up CWIP’s street. Can you laugh (and fall in love) in the face of death? You betcha.

Nancy Peach writes commercial women’s fiction. She’s also a mother of three school-age children and a practicing GP working for both the NHS and a national cancer charity. Nancy blogs at Mum has dementia and Nancy Peach. Longlisted for the CWIP Prize and shortlisted for a Harper Collins/Gransnet competition, she is a member of the Romantic Novelists Association and represented by Tanera Simons at Darley Anderson Literary Agency. Her debut novel Love Life is published by One More Chapter, a Harper Collins imprint.

Watch this space for more news as we get it on Nancy’s debut novel Love Life and a huge THANK YOU to her for writing this wonderful guest post for us. You’re a peach, Nancy!

Love Life by Nancy Peach

Gosh – this is a gorgeous review

*Ceri's Lil Blog*

I was drawn to this book by the bright and animated cover. I have never read anything by this author but the cover immediately reminded me of something by Sophie Ranald and Kristen Bailey, who are two authors in this genre which I really enjoy reading. The cover evokes a positive vibe and raises themes of love, identity, exploration and mystery. I couldn’t wait to get started!

Blurb:

Palliative care doctor, Tess Carter, is no starry-eyed heroine. After all, if your dad left without a backward glance and you found your last boyfriend in bed with another guy, you wouldn’t believe in romance either. And the voices in Tess’s head – you know, the ones that tell you you’re not good enough, not pretty enough, not clever enough – well, these voices are very loud. Very loud indeed. Especially when the disagreeable son of one of her patients starts challenging…

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#BookReview Love Life @Mumhasdementia #RandomThingsTours

“Dear Book Universe – can we have more books like this one, Love Life, by Nancy Peach please?” I love this opener to Lucy’s review…

Dear Book Universe – can we have more books like this one, Love Life, by Nancy Peach please? I don’t ask for much in this book life…ok that might be a little fib as I’m constantly begging you for good books but this is a formal request…in writing.

More books like Love Life.

Many thanks, in advance.

Lucy.

Here’s the blurb:

Dr Tess Carter is no starry-eyed Jane Austen heroine. After all, if your dad left without a backward glance and you found your last boyfriend in bed with another guy, you wouldn’t believe in romance either. And the voices in Tess’s head – you know, the ones that tell you you’re not good enough, not pretty enough, not clever enough – well, these voices are very loud. Very loud indeed. Especially when the proud and disagreeable son of one of her patients starts challenging her every decision.

Edward…

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Publication Day Review: Love Life by Nancy Peach #BookReview

A Little Book Problem

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Today is publication day for Love Life, the debut novel by Nancy Peach. Happy publication day, Nancy. I have been lucky enough to have received an advanced copy of the book for the purposes of review, and am delighted to share that review with you today. Huge thanks to the author and her publisher for providing me with a digital copy of her book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

41RvTamOpES

Palliative care doctor, Tess Carter, is no starry-eyed heroine. After all, if your dad left without a backward glance and you found your last boyfriend in bed with another guy, you wouldn’t believe in romance either. And the voices in Tess’s head – you know, the ones that tell you you’re not good enough, not pretty enough, not clever enough – well, these voices are very loud. Very loud indeed. Especially when the disagreeable son of one of her…

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#BlogTour Love Life by Nancy Peach

Cheryl M-M's Book Blog

It’s a pleasure to take part in the BlogTour Love Life by Nancy Peach.

About the Author

Nancy Peach is a writer of commercial women’s fiction, a mother of three, and an owner of various ridiculous-looking pets including a dog who unexpectedly grew to be the size of a small horse. She is a practicing doctor working for both the NHS and a national cancer charity, and has been writing (in a terribly British, embarrassed, secretive sort of way) for as long as she can remember.

Nancy has been longlisted for the Comedy Women in Print Prize 2020 and shortlisted for the Harper Collins / Gransnet competition 2019. Her debut Love Life is published by One More Chapter at HarperCollins. She is a member of the Romantic Novelists Association and is represented by Tanera Simons at Darley-Anderson’ You can find her on Twitter at @Mumhasdementia on Instagram @nancy.peach and Facebook 

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Romancing The Romance Authors with… Nancy Peach

A Little Book Problem

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Today’s guest on Romancing The Romance Authors is a debut author whose publication journey I have been following closely so I’m very interested to see her take on writing romance. Pleased to welcome to my blog for the first (but surely not the last) time… Nancy Peach.

Tell me a bit about the type of books you write and where you are in your publishing journey.

I’m just beginning my publishing journey so haven’t really fixed on a type yet, but my debut Love Life is published with One More Chapter and probably sits in the rom-com category. Love Life has a Pride and Prejudice style plot, but it’s also set in a hospice, which I think gives it a different perspective. I suppose that if I have a style of writing it is to tackle hard topics with a light touch. I am a big fan of finding humour…

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#BlogTour Love Life – Nancy Peach

The first stop on my blog tour for Love Life is intensivegassingaboutbooksblog.wordpress.com with this lovely review!

Intensive Gassing About Books

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a Yorkshire lass in possession of a career, a house, and a cat, must be in want of a husb―
Oh get a grip!

Dr Tess Carter is no starry-eyed Jane Austen heroine. After all, if your dad left without a backward glance and you found your last boyfriend in bed with another guy, you wouldn’t believe in romance either. And the voices in Tess’s head – you know, the ones that tell you you’re not good enough, not pretty enough, not clever enough – well, these voices are very loud. Very loud indeed. Especially when the proud and disagreeable son of one of her patients starts challenging her every decision.

Edward Russell might have a big job and a posh voice, but Tess is determined not to let him get to her, especially if she can get her inner monologue to stop…

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Writing about palliative care within a romantic comedy – is it possible to love and laugh in the face of death?

With Love Life due to launch next week I thought now might be a good time to share my thoughts as regards my choice of setting. Please note – this article was first featured on the fabulous Women Writers website http://booksbywomen.org/ in August 2021.

When I started writing Love Life as a romantic comedy, I knew immediately that I wanted to set it in a hospice – a cathedral of powerful human emotions and the perfect place to observe a whole range of relationships. We are used to seeing romance and humour at the other end of life’s spectrum. So many television dramas, family sagas and epic tales of passion involve an unexpected pregnancy or a trip to the maternity unit, multiple stories focussing on the start of life. The new beginning heralded by a baby’s arrival into the world is a catalyst for an explosion of feeling, tears, joy, laughter and ultimately, love.  And yet we rarely see the end of life portrayed in such terms. It strikes me that this is an enormous oversight.

Reaching the end of a person’s life should be a celebration, a chance to reflect on all that has gone before, to acknowledge that although our time on this planet is fleeting, we will have inevitably touched the lives of others in ways we cannot fathom. And it is obviously something that will happen to every single one of us. Yet, dying is so often hidden away and referred to in hushed tones. We rarely use the worth death, having created a wealth of euphemisms that we are more comfortable with. We remove the dying from their homes and tidy them away in a hospital where their decline is managed in a manner acceptable to us as a society. We no longer bear witness to dying because we simply assume that we can’t bear it.

I’m not sure how we have reached this position in such a short space of time, only two or three generations ago it was expected that you would die at home with your family around you. Young children grew up knowing and understanding about death and dying. But with medical advances there is now a sense that dying is somehow a failure, a fault in our modern technology. We’ve forgotten that this process is normal, and that death is part of life. Part of this collective forgetting relates to the fact that ordinary dying has fallen off the radar of popular culture.

There are many beautifully written non-fiction books and memoirs on the subject of palliative care and similarly, attempts have been made by fiction writers to address the end of life. Many a tragic, compelling tale has been composed to pull on the heart-strings and leave the reader feeling wrung out with grief. However, it’s fair to say that there aren’t many romantic comedies that feature death and dying as a central component of the story.

It may appear to be an odd choice for a debut author to choose a hospice as a setting for a Rom-Com but I’ve been a doctor for many years now and a particular interest of mine has always been the care of the terminally ill. I have worked closely with hospices and palliative care teams and have always felt it an enormous privilege to be with patients and their families when they are considering their options and deciding what is important to them. But so often people die without having even mentioned their wishes to loved ones, they are reluctant, embarrassed, and ashamed to speak of their fears, and as a result these terribly important discussions never take place.

If we are to open up the conversation about dying, we need to bring it out into the public domain, drag it into popular culture and make it a feature of our films, television, radio and books. My way of addressing the elephant in the room was simply to write a story about that elephant, a story that wasn’t sad. A story where people make fun of each other and fall in love and swear a lot and get drunk and have sex and get on with living in the midst of death.

Love Life features a heroine, Tess, who is a hospice doctor with a history of poor choices in men, and a hero, Edward, who is in denial about his mother’s terminal illness. Predictably they dislike each other in the beginning. Predictably they grow to understand each other during the course of the novel (it’s a Rom-Com – you know what you’re getting). Less predictably the story also features a daytime television host, a Jane Austen narrator, a gay ex-boyfriend, a problem with binge-eating, a blind date with an estate agent, a veterinary emergency, and quite a lot of inappropriate shagging. And this really is my point. Death shouldn’t be a taboo. It should be regarded as much a part of our modern cultural fodder as Love Island or I’m a Celebrity or Bake-Off. We need to view dying as part of the normal messy funny old business of being alive. That way we can stop being fearful of it.

Getting an agent – ‘Make me an offer I can’t refuse, big boy’ (‘big boy’ optional)

First thing is that you don’t have to have an agent to get published (you don’t even need a publisher to be published these days which really is pretty astonishing). But it’s also fair to say that an agent can help you get published. And help you understand the process. And make sure you don’t get screwed over. And give you some measure of vindication / kudos / justification for giving up your day job (whilst also advising you not under any circumstances to give up your day job). Getting an offer of representation is seen by many (not all) as being the key to the door of the publishing world; your invitation to the book deals, the champagne lunches, the festivals, the prizes, the glory – or simply the ability to say, ‘I’ll have to check with my agent’ without sounding like a pretentious wanker (NB – you will still sound like a pretentious wanker).

For those who are convinced they don’t need an agent or those who perhaps have had their fingers burnt by a previous unhappy relationship (a professional one, with an agent – nothing untoward implied) then this blog post may be of little interest. But for those who would like to find a champion, someone to hold your hand through the publishing maze and be the terrier snapping at the heels of a vast and intimidating industry, so that you don’t have to, then let me tell you the story of how I found mine. Are we sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin… (as an aside – I read yesterday that only people over the age of forty use ellipses and that the youngsters find them sinister…)

Firstly, as per previous posts, I got my spreadsheet and started subbing. And subbing. And subbed some more. The spreadsheet lengthened and tested my abilities with Excel. Some rejections took hours and some took months but there was just enough interest to keep me coming back over and over again, tweaking my opening three chapters and synopsis to fit the brief and altering my pitch letter (always do this – it’s just unacceptable to cut and paste the wrong agent information). Likewise, make sure there are no spelling mistakes. I sent off one of my very first submissions to the legend Sheila Crowley at Curtis Brown with a grammatical error and spent the rest of the day feeling physically sick, wondering whether it was better to send a follow up email to apologise for the error and whether she would think I was clinically insane for doing so (note – I didn’t send a follow up email. Best to accept that a ship has sailed rather than look like a loon by saying ‘Dear Mrs Crowley, When I said who’s I actually meant whose)

Second thing is that when you get a request for a full manuscript, celebrate it – whatever happens afterwards you must be doing something right to have piqued their interest – but, whilst celebrating, you must also sit on your hands and resist the temptation to email them the very next day saying ‘Did you like it? Did you? Have you read it yet? Have you? HAVE YOU??? DO YOU LIKE ME????‘ etc etc. There were a couple of agents who requested full manuscripts who then didn’t get back to me for another three or four months (mostly rejections with one notable exception) so don’t stop subbing to other agents in the meantime. Don’t think to yourself, ‘Oh well, they’ve expressed a vague interest in my story and therefore I am now betrothed to them ’til my life’s end.‘ You keep on touting your wares like the book-whore you are (harsh, but in my case, fair).

Third, write something else alongside the submission you are waiting on. Think of it as two entirely separate processes occurring simultaneously – Book One is out on submission whilst you keep a cursory eye on it, there is occasional excitement and a lot of drudgery, whereas Book Two is simply you carrying on writing, ticking along, no pressure, lots of fun – Yay!

Fourth, enter some competitions. It doesn’t need to be a whopper (although why not enter those too?) but short of an agent getting back to you with an offer of representation there is nothing more exciting than being long-listed for something, or that little lift you get when you enter a Twitter pitch and get a shout out. Curtis Brown Creative run a monthly #WriteCBC competition with prompts and honestly, the joy of having other writers like your pitch – it’s a real boost. During my submitting process I entered The Bath Novel prize, the Bridport prize and the Lucy Cavendish prize because, you know, why not aim high? I also entered the Trapeze Search for a love story, Grindstones Literary prize, Myslexia competitions, the Choc-Lit Search for a star, the Gransnet / Harper Collins competition and the Comedy Women in Print prize (short-listing and long-listing for some of these proved to be invaluable). The advantage with competitions is that you have a fixed timetable. You know that on whatever date you’ll have an answer, selected or rejected. This is helpful if you are a bit of a control freak and would rather a straight No than dangling on a string for months at a time.

Although I had interest in Book One from a couple of agents, it was all dragging along a bit slowly until I started subbing my second novel which was subsequently long-listed for the CWIP. At one point (back in the early part of 2020) I had two agents and a publisher with an ongoing interest in book one but nothing concrete. One agent considered it several times bless her and was very good about reading my rewrites but couldn’t quite get past the squeamishness about the hospice setting. The other agent was just taking her time – I’d subbed her later than the others and when I had all but given up on book one I had an email from her asking to see the full manuscript (one of those lovely red letter days). The reason I had subbed this particular agent (Tanera Simons at Darley Anderson Agency) was that my sister had just finished Beth O’Leary’s Flat Share and mentioned that there were some similarities with my manuscript (not least the hospice workplace). I thought, here’s an agent who is prepared to take a punt on a potentially controversial setting, and also, here’s an agent whose client writes like an angel and is doing phenomenally well, rocketing up the bestsellers charts across the world. Worth a punt at least. I didn’t hold out much hope that I’d get into the same stable as Beth O’Leary but a girl can dream, and when Tanera asked to see the full manuscript I was over the bloody moon. The publisher who was also looking at book one in the meantime was making very helpful noises and made a suggestion that totally transformed the manuscript for the better – so Book One was suddenly looking exciting again.

And then, two or three agents got in touch about Book Two….

And then Book Two was longlisted for CWIP… (more ellipses – sorry under 40s)

Suddenly there was a proper flurry of excitement in the Peach household. I was in a position to email the agents who were still looking at either / both of my books and say truthfully that other people were interested. I started lining up meetings with agents – I say meetings when in reality I mean zoom calls because by now the pandemic had kicked in with extreme lockdown in full effect. And I say ‘lining-up’ when really I only mean three meetings with three different agents, but when you’ve been waiting for just one, having three in a row feels astonishingly lucky and thus hyperbole is acceptable.

The rest, as they say, is history. I deliberated long and hard over who I should go with and it wasn’t necessarily the straight-forward situation you’d anticipate. A lot of what you learn about an agent-author relationship occurs after you’ve signed with them and it’s very hard to make such a massive decision based on one conversation. The other thing is that when you’re having your ‘agent chat’ it’s not really clear that you are interviewing them. The reality is that you’re desperately hoping they’re going to end the conversation saying they want to represent you. You’ve been waiting for this moment, you’ve been coached to believe that here is the person who holds the key to publishing success and thus your first instinct is to please them; to say, ‘Oh you want to market my Rom Com as a Sci-Fi thriller set in space? Okay, great. Sounds good. Please sign me. Please.‘ You’re not genuinely considering whether you want them.

And yet this is the mindset you have to try and adopt – you are looking for someone who will work for you.

Some agents are hand-holders and soothers, constantly there with reassurance and support, others are more business focused and when they’re not responding to your email at midnight it’s because they are actually chasing up some tricksy element of a publishing deal on your behalf instead. Some are editorially savvy and others will say, ‘I love what you write, just carry on.’ But as far as I can tell, all agents are completely invested in the work of the clients they take on and committed to doing the very best by those clients. There is no way they would be in the job otherwise – the publishing industry runs on goodwill and the knowledge that those working within it will be thinking about books every waking moment of every day until they retire, irrespective of what they are paid for it. As far as I can gather from those I know who work across the sector, it’s very much a labour of love – which, for a romance writer, is as it should be.

Dealing with rejection – get used to it.

 

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Aha. The old ‘How I got my agent’ post….. Or rather, the ‘Here is what happens before you find an agent‘ post.

Rejection, old chums. And plenty of it. So, how to cope?

Realism

It is extremely unlikely that you have written the greatest novel of our age or that the world will be changed by the message you carry. Soz. What you have done is written a story that primarily has provided entertainment and escapism for you. And that may well be enough. It should be enough. Writing is a hobby that some people are fortunate to turn into a career but it should always be fun, soothing, therapeutic. It should do you good, otherwise what’s the point? Stories are for falling into; immersing yourself in a different world for a few hours at a time. And, yes, stories are also for sharing – that is how we learn about life, but be honest, your book may not contain the secrets of the universe. It might just be a story about a dog and penguin. And that is perfectly alright – because who doesn’t love stories about dogs and penguins?

It doesn’t matter what your story is about as long as it pleases you and gives you a route out of the humdrum of daily life. If it then pleases those around you, that’s an enormous plus, but again, not essential. And if you make it to the hallowed portal of the slush pile and find that your story pleases an agent and then a publisher, well that’s great. But what you need to know right from the off is that this story is for you.

Rolling Rota

Imagine yourself standing with your book in your hands and before you stretches a queue of agents extending as far as the eye can see, over the horizon and into a distant land. Unless you’ve written something really niche, there are a helluva lot of agents out there who might choose to represent your book. There are also many smaller publishers who will take you on without an agent AND there is the burgeoning market of self-publishing. You are spoilt for choice. So, start with your top ten, research them, make sure they represent the kind of work you’re pushing and send it out to the first five (doing exactly as these sort of articles always suggest, following the submission guidelines to the letter). And then every time a rejection comes in, simply move along to the next one on your list and send it to them. This way you always have five irons in the fire and five emails to look out for with a mixture of trepidation and excitement. Periodically add five more agents to the list and keep working through. Keep a record of it on an excel spreadsheet. Your list may run to fifty, sixty or into the hundreds. Who cares? What have you got to lose by sending it out? Nothing. What do you have to gain? Either a publishing deal or a lot of weight from your rejection chocolates – see below.

Rejection chocolates

An idea given to me by a lovely author Pernille Hughes – she suggested buying a box of your favourite, most expensive chocolates; it had to be proper high end confectionery, a real treat. And then only allow yourself to eat one if you get a rejection. No exceptions.** No chocs if you’re just ‘having a bad day’ or ‘feeling a bit peckish’ – only for rejections. What happens is you find yourself feeling pretty cheerful when you see the ‘Thank you for giving us an opportunity to look at your work. Whilst there is much to admire, we simply didn’t love it enough to take it forward….’ email because you know that you can help yourself to one of the delicious Godiva Belgian Selection currently perched on the top shelf of your study (away from small children).

 

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Resilience

Mental toughness. We get told this as GPs all the time – resilience is the key to avoiding burn-out – as if it’s my moral weakness and lack of fibre to blame for the fact that I’m crying inside when faced with an absolute bloody deluge of medical work. One thing is true though, a career in general practice has prepared me well for facing the slings and arrows of publishing misfortune. And at least publishing people are courteous, or at worst they ignore you. It’s rare to have an agent reply saying ‘You’re the worst writer I’ve ever seen and I’m going to sue you if you don’t look at my daughter’s verruca immediately,’ or similar. In the main, people let you down gently. And an author who has faced no rejections at all (if such a beast exists) is going to find life very tough when they get their first bad review on publication.

If you put it out there you have to understand that not everyone is going to love it. But one person might. And if it’s the right person then you are on your way.

The key thing is – pick yourself up. Keep writing. Keep subbing. 

That’s it really.

 

** Admittedly there have been some exceptions – and when I did get an agent I scoffed the lot, thinking my days of rejection were over – then had to promptly buy myself another box when we started subbing to publishers but that’s another story (quite literally)