I first met Janne, Rights Manager at Black & White, at a book event in summer 2012. ‘Tell me about your new agent,’ she said. She was so warm and friendly that I forgot I should probably be trying to impress her. ‘My book’s women’s fiction,’ I said, shaking my head gravely. ‘It seems like a very difficult market. And I’m not sure exactly where mine fits because has a chick litty feel but also a more serious side.’ (Note the brilliant attempt to ‘sell myself’.) I was expecting her to pull a sad face in return, but she shrugged in a ‘don’t despair’ kind of way, and said that publishers would always be taking on new women’s fiction. We went on to talk about all sorts of book-related things, like selling foreign rights, and I glimpsed a world that I knew, really, very little about, but felt like it should be my world. There was a torrential downpour as I left the event, and I got soaked, but I practically skipped along the street. Between entering that bookshop and leaving it, I’d undergone a Velveteen Rabbit-like transformation… somehow, I felt like a real writer.
A few months later, my agent, Joanna, submitted my finished manuscript to Janne, and then we waited.
Joanna phoned me with the news one evening, just as I was attempting to get my little girls upstairs for their bath. Black & White had said YES. My knees went all wobbly (I’d always thought that was a myth) and I had to sit down on the stairs. After the phonecall, I recovered the use of my legs, and the girls and I danced around in a circle screaming. (My 3-yr-old didn’t quite know what she was screaming about, but certainly isn’t one to pass up a screaming opportunity if it presents itself.)
By the next morning, I’d convinced myself that they were going to change their minds. This phase lasted several months. I had recurring dreams where I’d wake up sweating, sure that it had all been a big mistake - that it was someone else’s manuscript they liked, not mine. I convinced myself that they’d see I only had 129 Facebook friends and 3 followers on Twitter and ditch me in horrified disgust. I must stress here that Black & White were lovely from the start, and never did anything to make me feel like this. It was just the hangover from years of struggling with my own doubts as I wrote the book, then being at the sharp end of painful critiques from other writers, and then polite, professional rejections that said things like, ‘We just didn’t love this enough.’
I was hugely relieved when Janne and her fellow editor, Kristen, sent me their suggestions for edits, as this tended to suggest that yes, it was my manuscript they liked, and yes, they did still intend to publish it. I loved the experience of being edited. They saw things I hadn’t been able to see, and they encouraged me to fill out aspects of the story that needed it. The book became more truly itself than it had been before. After that came copy editing and proofreading. We agreed on a new name - Tiny Acts of Love.
Then, along with the new year, came the cover. Black & White had gone to great lengths to get right – it needed to convey the funny, romantic side of the book yet also hint at the more thoughtful aspects - about motherhood, and how it changes relationships, and the struggle to find an identity within that.
Seeing the cover, in its final form, had quite an effect on me. I know my book inside and out. It’s like a child to me; something I have made, but with a life of its own, which I could feel pushing behind every line as I wrote it. I love this book. I’m fiercely proud of it. And last week I saw the face that it will show to the world.
It seems that I needed – quite literally – to see it to believe it. This is happening. My beloved, firstborn book has been brought to life. The ‘yes’ has sunk in (and it only took a year).
PS You can see the cover and details for Tiny Acts of Love here.