Of course, this wasn't the end of the journey at all, but merely the beginning. That first draft was 85,000 words long, but it was still a draft. It had a soul, but it also had flaws, and it was too close to my heart for me to see them objectively; which is why I enlisted the help of a friend who is a professional editor.
The second draft incorporated the feedback and suggestions I received not only from Elizabeth, but also from my partner, my family, a faithful group of friends and a fellow writer, Michelle, who returned my manuscript with several pages of observations only another author could make.
The chapter samples started doing the rounds at publishing houses and literary agents and the rejection slips started pouring back. I am not one to wallpaper my house with rejection slips as other authors are known to do, so I didn’t keep track of how many there were. I wasn’t discouraged by the rejections; what was discouraging was that most publishers in Australia no longer seemed to be accepting unsolicited manuscripts, and fiction seemed to have gone out of fashion.
And then, an agent in Victoria took me on as a client! She asked for the entire manuscript and read it thoroughly, giving me invaluable ideas to improve its ‘saleability’. She gave me feedback about structure, storyline, strengths and weaknesses. A qualified psychologist, she had genuine interest in subject of mental illness, and I will always be indebted to her for her contribution. She believed it was ‘a serious story dealing with important and complex issues which will hopefully get published.’ There were no fees involved unless the book was sold.
Thus began the writing of the third draft, and some major decisions had to be made. My writer friend, Michelle, had said ‘I love the fact that your novel is not linear. I like that as a reader I felt I was putting together a jigsaw puzzle and that again shows your mastery of the craft. I find novelists usually achieve this mastery with their third and subsequent novels.’ The agent, on the other hand, said ‘in the first section, the chopping and changing in times is quite confusing and I wonder about telling the story as it happens.’
I ended up rewriting a great deal of the first section using a more linear approach, whilst leaving a number of flashbacks. This involved a revising the tenses and reshuffling chapters. I had to ask another friend to proofread the entire draft to ensure consistency. The process took almost a year, and perhaps this meant some of the momentum was lost. Still, I didn't know that – I handed Exuberance to my agent’s capable hands, and focused on my next project.
When I contacted the agent a year later, she seemed to have forgotten about my book. The reality was that by then the GFC had hit, and no publisher would touch an unknown author even if she came recommended by an established agent. She made a few attempts, and sent me back a few more rejection notes for my non-collection, and then the whole thing fizzled out.
In the intervening years, every time I ran into the acquaintances that had read Exuberance in one of its many incarnations, I kept hearing the same two questions: Did your novel get published? Why not?
Fast-forward to 2013, when I read an article about Amanda Hocking, the young writer from Minnesota who was broke and desperate after receiving countless rejections for each of her many manuscripts. Worse, she had heard that an exhibition about Jim Henson, the creator of the Muppets, was arriving to Chicago in a few months’ time and she didn't have the $300 she needed for the plane tickets. She decided to self-publish one of her novels as an e-book, to raise the $300. Within six months, she had earned $20,000. She has now sold over $2.5 million worth of e-books.
This made me consider self-publishing an e-book as an option. What was there to lose? It doesn't require an investment; just paying a percentage of the royalties to the distributor. I certainly didn't expect to have the same success as Amanda Hocking, for two main reasons:
- Although the word zombie, as in ‘the living dead’ does appear a few times in my book, in reference to the effect that depression can have upon a person, it is not a book about zombies.
- Although some of the characters in Exuberance might appear in the second novel I am writing, it is not a seventeen-book series.
The lifecycle of this novel is by no means complete, but it’s now out there, in the wide, wild world, waiting to be found by those who will enjoy it, benefit from it and learn something from reading it. It doesn't claim to be a literary masterpiece, but I know with confidence that it is well written, well edited, it has a good structure and it tells a good story, dealing with important matters. It has heart, soul, blood and bones, and will hopefully enjoy a long, well lived life.
Exuberance is available for sale ($2.99 USD) at all major online book stores– click here for details.