At some time in the afternoon, on the first Tuesday of September 2008, I started a little story on Protagonize, where I had been a member (as Tasha_Noble) for a little over four months. It was a story called Paddytum. I started it as just a bit of fun, and as a collaborative story, and wrote two chapters that day, hoping I had given people enough of a start that someone would soon add to it. A week later, after nobody had added, but lots of people had commented, saying ‘Please write some more’ or words to that effect, I wrote a third chapter. After that, I think I knew it was down to me to carry on with it, because nobody else seemed to want to touch it, and it had become mine. We didn’t have Solo stories, as such, on here, at that time. Not officially, anyway. Nick added that option a lot later, and Nick turned Paddytum into one of the very first Solo stories on the site.
I added to it infrequently, getting to only eight chapters in the course of one year, and all the time, it was gaining readers and attracting its own (nagging) fan base.
By the time I deleted it from the site a couple of months ago, the eight chapters I’d written had been ‘favourited’ by 41 members, rated 149 times for an average of 4.91, and clocked up 123 comments, a great many of which urged me to get it finished, get an agent, and get it published.
In July last year, my husband gave me a really nice birthday present. He paid for me to attend a Writers’ Conference. (I think he thought it would be an investment in my future.) There, I was surrounded by people who were toting around their one novel, some of whom had been working on their Work-in-Progress for several years. I had also written a novel – two, actually – during my first NaNoWriMo the previous November, but I didn’t think of either of them as very good. I wrote another one last November too, and hated it. One of the reasons writers attend conferences is to show off their WIP to published authors, editors and agents, to get their opinions. The trouble is, I didn’t have a WIP. All I had was several stories I’d started on Protagonize, some of which could possibly be turned into novels – The Life and Time of Bella Pleasance, Waking Up With Henry, and Paddytum, plus the two novels I’d finished writing. I was a writer without a purpose. As part of the conference fee, I could book up to three One-to-One consultations with published authors, agents and so on, sending them a few chapters in advance, so they could discuss my work and give their opinion on its suitability for publication. I chose a children’s author, and two others, one of whom wrote mainstream fiction, and the other who wrote romantic comedies. I sent each of them a different piece of work – my Young Adult novel to the Children’s author, Paddytum to the mainstream fiction author, and No More Miss Nice Guy to the one who wrote Chick Lit.
I spoke to the children’s author first. She said my writing was good, but I needed to work on getting more conflict in the book. Both the chick lit lady and the mainstream one were extremely enthusiastic about the things I’d sent them. Especially the one to whom I showed and discussed Paddytum. She said she had picked up the three chapters I’d sent her, having read in my blurb that it was about a middle-aged man whose teddy-bear had started talking to him, and expected it to be utter drivel. ‘I couldn’t stop reading it,’ she said. ‘You absolutely have to finish it!’ Unfortunately, that was what the other lady had said about No More Miss Nice Guy. So I went home from that conference nearly as confused as when I’d arrived.
Should I finish Paddytum, or revise No More Miss Nice Guy or the YA?
And what did I do? Nothing. I added another chapter to Paddytum, making it up to eight, and then lost interest again.
Then, early this year, I heard that a publisher of non-fiction, whom I’d met briefly just before I joined Protagonize, was looking for authors, as we was breaking into fiction. I thought about it, and eventually decided to drop him a note, and he gave me the go ahead to send him the eight chapters of Paddytum I’d written. The author who’d liked it so much at the Conference had told me she thought its popularity on Protagonize would be a good selling point, so I told him about that, too. I included a handful of the 123 comments, including the ones which said it should be published, For good measure, I also sent him the first six chapters of No More Miss Nice Guy.
And then, I waited a few weeks. I was about to give up hope when I had an email from him, saying that he was keen to publish Paddytum. And Miss Nice Guy. He didn’t specify in what order. That was up to me. It would have made more sense to go for Miss Nice Guy, but I had more enthusiasm for Paddytum, and felt sure I could finish it, and revise it, over a few months, and we agreed on a publication date of October this year.
Paddytum: The Novel
There’s nothing like a deadline for focusing the mind, I got to work straight away. I brainstormed the plot, and mapped out the rest of the story. The word count stood at 10,500 words, give or take, and it’s now close to 80,000 words – a pretty decent length for a novel. There’s still work to do, revising and rewriting and polishing it, so that when it goes to an editor later this year, it’ll be as good as I can possibly make it. But, even in its uncut, unpolished form, I absolutely love the story and my characters to bits. Especially Rob, my main character. I haven’t given him an easy ride, but he’s risen to all the challenges I’ve thrown at him. Between you and me and the gatepost, I think I might have fallen a little bit in love with him. Whether anyone else has, you’ll have to read the book to find out.
When I started Paddytum on Protagonize, I referred to it as a fairytale for grown-ups. It’s not really that any more. I would describe it now as a Supernatural Mystery Romantic Comedy. While I’ve been writing it there have been moments which have made laugh (lots of those), cry, gasp, and sigh contentedly. I’ve enjoyed almost every minute. I hope it has the same effect on my readers.
The publication trail
I took an unconventional path to publication. You shouldn’t really pitch to an agent or a publisher with an unfinished book. Especially when it’s only eight chapters so far and you don’t even have an ending! I was lucky. If I hadn’t taken a chance, and had someone willing to take a chance on me, I would have finished the novel, eventually, revised and edited it within an inch of its life, and then prepared a carefully written synopsis, before sending it out into the world to be rejected a few times, like normal writers. I was lucky enough to be able to bypass that process. But that doesn’t mean I get to skip all of it. I suppose the way it’s happened for me has propelled me to ‘second novel’ mode. When authors are signed by a publisher, they’re often given a deadline to write their next book. I guess I could say I’ve been fast-tracked to that stage. But I still have to produce the best book I can possibly write, because it’ll be my first novel, and I want it to be something I’ll be proud to put my name to. And, more importantly, I want people to buy it, and feel the hard-earned money they paid for it is money well spent. And that they’ll be able to recommend it to their friends, and want to buy my next book, too.
The differences between publication by an independent publisher like mine, and a big publishing house are very few, these days. I won’t be paid an advance. But many big publishers do not pay an advance, either, especially to first-time authors. All my earnings will be dependent on sales of the book. I’m not expecting anything life-changing!
I will be responsible for doing a lot of the publicity for my book (though my publisher will help with that, too.) But it’s the same for writers with a big publisher. I need to build a website and develop an online presence, and tell as many people as possible — now — that my book will soon be out there. (I’m starting here, where Paddytum was ‘born’, of course.) I need to arrange book signings. So does everyone else. Hopefully, I’ll get a launch party. Even with big publishers that’s not guaranteed. My publisher doesn’t have a distributor at the moment (though that’s in the pipeline) so there won’t be copies sent out to bookshops initially,
Another good thing is that I have a lot more say in the cover design than I would with a big publisher. I had the choice to have the cover done by their own designer, but opted to use my husband Glyn’s design instead.
If you’d like to pre-order Paddytum, it’s available now, from Hirst Books.
A bonus you will get for pre-ordering it is a special thank you from the publisher — your name will be printed on a list at the back of the book. (Hirst Books does this with every title they publish, and I’ve seen feedback from people saying it gives them a nice feeling to see their name, and makes them feel like they’re directly involved in the success of the book.) and your copy will be signed and dedicated by the author (hey, that’s me), and is guaranteed to reach you before it goes on general sale.
By the way – existing Paddytum fans – what I recently called the Paddytum Massive. There’s a bonus for you too. Before I deleted the story from Protagonize, I copied all of those 123 comments and pasted them somewhere safe. Anyone who made a comment will also be mentioned – either by your real name (if I know it) or your Protag handle — in my acknowledgments. So you might possibly have your name printed in the book twice.
Editor’s Note: You can become a fan of Paddytum on Facebook here. Congrats, Trish!