Jennifer McVeigh's debut novel The Fever Tree, the
epic tale of a British woman embarking on a new life in
nineteenth-century southern Africa, has been critically acclaimed and selected for Richard and Judy's Book Club in March. Here, she reveals her 10 Tips on How to Stay Sane as a Debut Novelist.
- Don’t quit your job before you have a book deal. Very sensible advice that I spectacularly failed to follow. I left my job as a literary agent and stepped into the terrifying world of no salary, no professional support and no real hope of achieving what I was setting out to achieve. It was a very rocky ride.
- Do join a writing group – they will keep you sane, help you to stay on track, and remind you that there are other people in the world crazy enough to be battling all day with words on paper.
- Don’t divulge your plot, or writing problems for that matter, to friends at dinner – they’ll say very unhelpful things like: Isn’t that a bit predictable? How can you not know what’s going to happen at the end? And – most gruelling of all – hasn’t Wilbur Smith written a novel just like that?
- When you’re writing sex scenes, don’t imagine your parents looking over your shoulder – a passionate kiss will quickly disintegrate into a prudish peck on the cheek.
- Don’t obsess over the perfection of other novels. Read them, learn from them, but don’t let them cast your own into shadow. I always wanted my protagonist to be as dynamic and real as Cathy or Emma, but it wasn’t until I had reached the end of her story that I felt I really knew her.
- Don’t let yourself imagine all the unpublished authors in the world being turned down by agents, like the millions of lost souls waiting at the gates of heaven. If you have written something good, then someone will spot it – you just need to have faith and determination.
- Don’t be your own judge. After I had written my novel I shelved it in despair, convinced that it was worthless. It was only by some stroke of luck – a chance meeting with a literary agent – that I was convinced to send it out into the world. Thank goodness I did.
- Don’t demonise the agents who reject you. More than likely your manuscript fell into the hands of some poor, unpaid 17 year old intern with a hangover, desperately trying to reduce the size of the slush pile. Wait a few months, and send it in again. I was offered representation by an agent who must have afterwards let my manuscript fall into the slush pile. A month later I received an earnest typed letter from the agency: “Dear Miss McVeigh, many thanks for sending in your manuscript. I’m very sorry to inform you that…”
- Once you are published – in the interests of sanity – try not to check your Amazon sales rank more than twice (OK – that’s not realistic – perhaps 5 times) a day. If sales are good your publisher will tell you, and a shift from 3050 to 2095 is almost certainly meaningless.
- Don’t make the mistake of thinking that because you’ve got one novel behind you, the second will be easier. It won’t. Sweating over a novel is part of what makes it brilliant. Or at least that’s what I tell myself. I do have a very frustrating writer friend who keeps telling me that her second novel is a breeze…