In 2006, Polly published her first novel, Golden Handcuffs. The story was based around her own experience in the City – a burn-out lifestyle full of people with a huge appetite for bonuses and little concept of the enormous sums they were earning and spending (no surprise to anyone now, in the light of recent financial events!) Suffice to say the job didn’t live up to Polly’s expectations and she handed in her notice as soon as she got the chance.
Polly used her experiences to write her novel and then set about launching her career as a writer. It hasn’t been easy but Polly has used a mix of self-publishing services, insider knowledge and determination to get the final prize – a publishing contract with a large publishing house. She is in an interesting position, with experience in both a writing and publishing capacity and currently working as a consultant providing consumer insight for magazine company, Bauer (Heat, Grazia, FHM etc.).
One of the key aims of CompletelyNovel is to help readers find great books that might not make it into the bookshops otherwise. I asked Polly how, from her perspective, publishers could change to make things better for the consumer:
“The main problem with the current publishing industry is that it’s slow. A completed manuscript won’t hit the shelves until six months later at the very least, when often the content is irrelevant. Another issue is the decision-making process. Literary editors are very good at judging writing styles, plot devices etc., but in terms of subject areas they are often limited to their own experiences – which, as I found, didn’t extend to other fields such as the square mile. I suppose both of these things are changing, slowly, but a transformation of the industry can only come about with a service like CompletelyNovel.”
Polly has been happy to share some of the handy knowledge she has picked up from being on both sides of the fence in the publishing industry – something writers on CompletelyNovel may be interested to hear about!
So, what made you decide to go down the self-publishing route?
The first thing I did when I wrote my first book was get an agent. That gave me confidence, shaped my manuscript and helped when it came to submitting to publishers. I had heard about the ‘slush pile’ and didn’t want my work to end up in it. Both Golden Handcuffs and Poles Apart came very close to getting published with mainstream imprints, but in the end they were both deemed ‘too niche’. I decided that I’d rather get the books on the shelves while they were still topical and relevant than let them gather dust until I got a ‘big break’, so I looked around and found a publisher with a self-publishing arm.
What did you learn about the publication of your first novel and how did that change the way you approached your second novel?
When I decided to self-publish my first novel, I realised that I’d have to do my own marketing. The City was a topical subject, so I pushed ‘the story behind the book’ as a feature and managed to get some great national press (including some, er, interesting coverage). So for Poles Apart, I guess the marketing started even before I’d written the book, by choosing the controversial subject of Eastern European immigrants. That was critical in making a noise when it came to the launch.
I only ever write about things that matter to me. I met a girl called Marta through the consultancy where I was contracting. She was Polish and desperately trying to break into the professional workplace in London, but coming up against countless ‘Polish cleaner’ stereotypes. I realised that here was a story that needed telling.
You currently work for Bauer, one of the biggest magazine publishers, which has a reputation as knowing a thing or two about markets and consumers. Has this kind of insight helped you when it comes to getting your book to the right people?
I’m very fortunate to have found a career-type job which I enjoy alongside writing. I live a sort of double life. My role at Bauer is to bring consumer insight into the business so that we can reach those people better with our brands. Through my job I’ve learned about targeting the right people, going for niche, not always ‘mass market’ and most importantly, giving them what they expect – or better. There’s nothing worse than false advertising!
How, if at all, has your experience as an Investment banker helped you as a writer?
I’m very disciplined and I think that may be down to my science/finance background. (I trained as an engineer.) When I write, I plan my novel meticulously before starting to bash out the chapters. At least two days per week are set aside for freelance work to keep my feet on the ground, which leaves four days for writing. On a ‘book day’, I make sure I get my chapter written – around 2,000 words – but I know I wouldn’t be as efficient if I knew I had endless weeks stretching out in front of me.
You have a well developed website about yourself and your books. How important do you think it is for a writer to have an online presence?
The internet has made things easier for a lot of people, and as an author I’ve used it in a number of ways. I have used an online publishing website to mock up a quick ‘book like’ copy of my manuscripts for proof-readers or me to read. (If only CompletelyNovel had been available then!) Amazon has helped me distribute my books, blogs and articles have given me exposure and www.pollycourtney.com serves as a place where people can find out about my books, buy copies, read press and get in touch. I maintain it myself, but it’s worth it as I get so many press and reader enquiries through it.
You’ve recently had the launch of Poles Apart but I don’t believe for one minute that you’re taking the opportunity to relax! What are you doing at the moment?
I have just signed a three-book deal with HarperCollins. I’m trying to get the first one written at break-neck speed so it can go out in Spring 2009. At the same time, I’m also working on Girls In Football.com, a website to which is just going live now. I’m really excited about both projects, and happy to be making a living doing the things I love.
We are hoping that with a service like CompletelyNovel.com, we can help produce lots more success stories like Pollys, where writers can use the tools we offer to publish and promote their books and prove to publishers that there is a market for them!
We’d love to hear what you think of Polly’s experiences. If you have had any encounters with self-publishing and would like to share them, then please get in touch. We’d love to hear about them!