Allie Spencer is author of laugh out loud romantic comedies. She is a member of the Romantic Novelists Association and a keen supporter of the New Writers Scheme, being one of its readers and a former member. Here Allie tells all about the journey that led her to graduate from NWS newbie to one of the wonderful writers who share their knowledge with the aspiring authors on the scheme.
We know that, like us, you were once a member of the NWS but we wondered if you could tell us a bit about how you came to join, how long you were a member, the genre you write in and what inspired you to start writing?
I think I’ve always written in one form or another – although the desire to ‘be’ a writer was sometimes been mixed-up with other things (acting was a popular choice for a while when I was a child!) but I only started writing novels when I went on maternity leave. I’d had an idea for a book batting about in my head for a while and I thought ‘Now is the time to do it – when will I ever have the time and opportunity again?’. So I booted up the laptop and got going. That book – a country house rom com – has never been published, but I had enough positive feedback from it to make me start my next. That second novel, Tug of Love, not only got published but won the Joan Hessayon Prize for the NWS and was shortlisted for the Melissa Nathan Award too, something I would never have dreamed possible when I got that first rejection.
All in all, I did three years in the NWS – the middle year of which I entered ‘Tug’ into the scheme. I love witty, intelligent books that cheer me up and make me laugh and my favourite authors are all comedic writers – Douglas Adams, Jasper Fforde, David Lodge and the great PG Wodehouse. When I started writing novels, the women’s fiction market was dominated by clever, funny women like Marian Keyes and Sophie Kinsella and it was their style I hoped to emulate. When I grow up, I still want to be Marian!
Please can you tell us a bit about your journey to publication and how ‘The Call’ came about?
The journey to publication was perhaps not as long as some, but still filled with quite enough rejection and heartbreak for my liking! I sent the first three chapters of my country house rom com to Arrow, who were then accepting unsolicited submissions. Amazingly they wanted to see the rest…which I hadn’t actually written (a-hem). It took me about 5 months to finish and edit the rest of the book but, sadly, it was rejected. I then girded my loins and sent it everywhere I could think of, joining the NWS along the way, but it was promptly rejected by all the agents I sent it to and failed to progress in the NWS – although I did have a lovely, encouraging report which gave me some hope! The summer after that, I met my agent at an RNA party and sent her ‘Tug’ which by then I’d written, polished and submitted as that year’s offering to the NWS. My agent loved it and took me on – but it was another few months before she could find a publisher who would take ‘Tug’. Each time it was rejected was another blow to my confidence: was I kidding myself about this writing lark? Was I actually good enough to make it into print? I was so worried she was not going to be able to place it that I think, when it was finally accepted by Little Black Dress, my overwhelming feeling was one of relief rather than celebration!
Have you got any advice for others who might be hoping to emulate your success in securing a publisher and/or an agent?
It is a difficult market at the moment. Anything that could be labelled ‘chick lit’ is not currently in favour with the big publishing houses and overseas sales for the genre are thin on the ground too. A lot of former ‘chick lit’ authors – unless they are well-established names – are having to re-brand themselves as sales fall. My advice therefore is, firstly, write the sort of book you would like to read yourself. It’s a long process on to Amazon and you have to love your novel! Next, polish, polish, polish until you need sunglasses to look at your ms – editors and agents will be expecting you to submit your best possible work, so make sure that is what they get. Make certain your work looks good too – do take the time to comb through and weed out all the typos and spelling errors; make sure the pages are all there and in the right order and, if you are submitting in hard copy, don’t send in a dog-eared ms that has obviously already been rejected by everyone and their cat. Do network – the RNA parties are fabulous for this. Where else will you have all the agents and editors you could ever wish for in one room, all waiting for your pitch? Finally, stay strong. It can be a long process, even when you have been taken on by an agent. Love what you do and try hard to believe in yourself.
What was the single biggest benefit of joining the NWS, do you think?
I think there were two: the first was getting the report. What you should receive from your NWS reader is a helpful, supportive report that enables you to go back to your ms and improve it. As a reader now, I do my best to give as much encouragement as I can without raising false hopes. I know how hard it is to get that report back, though: with my first one, even though it was very positive, I cried when I knew my book wasn’t going for a second read. To get the most from your report NWS members should try and submit their best polished and completed work (although we understand it is not always possible to submit a full ms). The less we readers need to talk about typos, missing chapters and the like, the more time we have to help you improve the big, tricky things like character development and story arcs. The second (huge!) benefit of the NWS is simply getting you inside the RNA – writing is a lonely business, and you can often feel isolated. The RNA is a wonderful, friendly organisation where you will be amongst friends and where everyone genuinely wants you to succeed as a writer. Seriously, that sort of support is worth more than diamonds!
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us or any other advice you can offer?
Keep writing. If it’s what you love doing, don’t let anyone or anything stop you. Success comes in different packages – for some it will be a major international book deal; for others, it will be self-publishing on Kindle – but in my opinion, both are huge achievements. Think of all the people you know who say they ‘really want to write a book’ but have done nothing about it – you have. Hold your head up and feel proud!
And find out more about Allie at http://www.alliespencer.com/