This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
Ever wondered how a book is made? What happens between that magical moment when an idea is formed in an author’s mind and the finished book appearing in the shops? Well, we hope to give you an insight into that process, into everything that goes on behind the scenes, and to open the door onto the sometimes mysterious world of publishing.
So, how better than to start right at the beginning?
Introducing the novel: The Silversmith’s Wife
Its author: Sophia Tobin
And its editor: Clare Hey
Between the two of us, we will take you on the journey of the novel, as it happens.
Clare: For me the journey started with a phone call. Jane Finigan, Sophia’s agent, rang to tell me about a novel she was about to submit, called The Silversmith’s Wife. She described it as female historical fiction, set in Berkeley Square in 1792, perfect for fans of Tracy Chevalier. Would I like to take a look?
What appealed to me most about the pitch was the title, which is enticing and has commercial appeal, and the strong sense of the readership – I could see immediately where it would fit on the S&S list. If you’re a writer, this clear sense of your novel is really important. Any agent you submit to, and any editor they submit to in turn, will have many manuscripts vying for their attention so if you can make the pitch as clear and appealing as possible that helps your submission rise to the top of the pile.
Sophia: For me the journey started two years before The Silversmith’s Wife reached Clare (and twenty-five years since I told my parents, with the absolute confidence of a seven-year old, that I was going to be a writer). The idea of writing about an eighteenth-century silversmith had been at the back of my mind ever since I'd done some research on a real-life Bond Street silversmith. I wasn’t sure if I had the stamina to fulfil my cherished, secret desire to complete a novel. But in the winter of 2010 my route to work took me through St James’s Park, and it was on these daily walks that the characters’ voices began to emerge in my mind.
I worked on the story through the winter – a warm fireside is essential when reading it, because the cold is always present – and in April 2011, I submitted the beginning of the book to the Lucy Cavendish College Fiction Prize. To my surprise and (screaming) delight, I was shortlisted. Although I didn’t win, the feedback I got was encouraging.
As the manuscript grew, I thought about the terrifying prospect of submitting to agents and started researching the process by reading blogs, interviews and any other scrap of information I could find on the submission process. But before I got any further the staff at Lucy Cavendish College contacted me. An agent, Jane Finigan of Lutyens & Rubinstein, had heard about my book through their website – and she wanted to know more.
From everything I had read about contacting an agent, the core advice seemed to be: be polite, be professional and be interesting. Having read the agency’s website, I wrote a brief email, thanking Jane for getting in touch and explaining that the book was not finished. I also let her know that I did not have a polished synopsis yet; instead I gave a two-sentence summary of the book, making it as atmospheric as possible, and attached the first two chapters. I also stated my predicted timeline for finishing the book. It seemed important, even in that first email, to reassure her that I was professional, committed to writing, and that I welcomed any feedback or constructive criticism.
When she emailed back within a day or so, I was prepared for a polite ‘no’. But I was very lucky with Jane. She sent an encouraging email and asked if she could see the book when it was finished. So every spare minute I had was spent on my rapidly growing manuscript. For reasons I’ll spare you, I finished the last chapter in an unheated attic room, typing in fingerless gloves (you've guessed it, it was cold again). Then I gave it to my husband to read. “It’s okay,” he said, carefully. He was the only person to read it in its entirety before I sent it to Jane.
Luckily, Jane liked it enough to meet with me and discuss it. It was thanks to her honest and tactful feedback over the following months that I was able to work on the manuscript further, until it was ready to be submitted to publishers.
Clare: So, I read The Silversmith’s Wife and the promise shown in the pitch was backed up in the writing. It’s the story of Pierre Renard, the eponymous silversmith, and his wife Mary. When Renard is found dead in Berkeley Square, his throat cut and his possessions missing, it seems like a simple case of a theft gone wrong. But it soon becomes clear that many people had a reason to want Renard dead, not least his wife… What I particularly liked was the way Sophia brought the London of the eighteenth century so vividly to life – it felt so real and yet so different to today’s city.
When I want to buy a novel, I need to get the buy-in of the wider team, and I needed to put together a vision as to how we would publish. It’s at this stage that things can become tricky but – thanks to a great novel and that clear initial pitch – it was a dream for The Silversmith’s Wife. Everyone I shared it with loved it and we could see how we could publish it as a beautiful hardback. It’s a real ‘read-it-by-the-fire’ sort of novel, one set in the depths of winter and so it felt right to publish in winter. And so, after some thought and planning, we had a strategy and I made my offer to Jane.
But, that would have been too easy! It turned out it wasn’t just us at S&S who saw the potential of The Silversmith’s Wife, and we would have to compete against other publishers…
Next time: winning an auction, what it’s like to get a deal, and now the work begins…