Hannah Beckerman is the author of our Penguin Firsts pick The Dead Wife’s Handbook. Here, Hannah describes her journey, from unbound manuscript to published novel.
“Is your book still not out?” If I had a pound for every time I’ve been asked that question over the last year, I’d be one of those rare authors who gets their name on the Sunday Times Rich List. To be fair, before I began this process, I didn’t know that the route from selling a book (to a publisher) to your book being sold (in the shops) would be such a long and involved journey either. So in the interests of demystifying an otherwise cryptic process, here’s how my book journey panned out.
It was September 2012 when Penguin bought my debut novel, The Dead Wife’s Handbook, from my agent, Luigi Bonomi (yes, really, that long ago!) It was one of those moments that lived up to every imaginable cliché when Luigi phoned to tell me the news: heart racing, double-checking that I’d definitely heard right, not being sure whether to laugh or cry, being desperate to phone all my nearest and dearest straight away to tell them the news. The only cliché I didn’t fulfil was jumping for joy, but that was because I was two weeks away from giving birth and so ‘sliding like a beached whale from the top of the bed’ was about as close as I got.
A week later I met Hana – the woman who was going to be my editor – and we chatted about everything from books to babies to timelines. It was then that Hana told me they’d be publishing my book in early 2014. It did seem like aeons away but when she described everything that would need to happen in the interim – her editorial notes, me writing revisions, proof copies going out to press, cover design, copy edits, marketing and publicity, final copies going to more press and book buyers – suddenly seventeen months didn’t seem quite so long after all. And there was, of course, the fact that I was going to have my hands full for a few months with the imminent arrival of a little person.
Six months later – little person now safely ensconced at home and, of course, entirely dominating my life as is their wont – I spent three frenzied weeks working through Hana’s notes: there were a couple of new scenes to add, some secondary characters to develop and various places I needed to lose some text. It was also an invaluable opportunity to re-read and polish the manuscript with relatively fresh eyes: although I’d wrung the book through over a dozen rewrites before it being submitted to Penguin, it was incredibly useful to have another chance to read it through again after a substantial break.
Over the next couple of months, the book travelled back and forth electronically between the copy editor and me: her job was to look for inconsistencies – both in the text, in character’s behaviour and speech, and in the overall timeline. Then it went off to be proof-read and, much to my mum’s annoyance – who’d read it twice by then and is one of the most eagle-eyed people I know – there was still the odd typo to be corrected!
Over the summer, I met the people who were going to be in charge of the all-important marketing and publicity – Joe and Katie – a meeting which set things in motion for eight months of planning on social media and in the press. And it was also when I got to see the cover for the first time: opening up the email attachment that contains an image of the artwork that’s going to clothe your literary baby was probably one of the most exciting and simultaneously nerve-wracking moments of this whole process. Luckily I loved it immediately which was fortunate because so did everyoneat Penguin!
These final few months leading up to publication have been a hive of activity: designing and setting up my own website, writing features for magazines, penning posts for book bloggers, organising a blog tour with Katie, while all the time crossing every body part it’s possible to cross that we might secure some good reviews.
Now, nearly a year and a half after I squealed down the phone at various family members to tell them that my novel was being published by Penguin, when people ask me whether my book’s out yet, I can finally – happily – tell them that it is. And now all that’s left for me to do is hope that people think the book at the end of this journey is one they’d like to read.
The Dead Wife’s Handbook is out now in paperback. Read reviews, watch an interview with Hannah and much more on the Penguin Firsts page.