‘After 12 years of rejections, I owe my writing career to these three things’
31st Jul 2021
Jenny O'Brien is an Irish writer now living in Guernsey. She has four crime fiction books with HarperCollins. All published during lockdown. She also works as a nurse and has three teenagers, including twins. She speaks to Amanda Cassidy about her journey into publishing.
“My journey to becoming a traditionally published author has been a long one. But with three kids under five, including twins, it’s a miracle I managed to write a shopping list let alone a book.
That was thirteen years ago. The oldest is now at uni, or he would be if it wasn’t for Covid, while the twins are sixteen going on thirty-five.
When the first character exploded on my consciousness, it took me a year to pick up the courage to put pen to paper. I had written nothing creative since school and I didn’t have a minute to myself, let alone the opportunity to write.
My lack of confidence was also a huge issue. Who was I to think I had a book in me, anyway?
"Who was I to think I had a book in me, anyway?"
But I had a story of a little boy in my brain so I found the time, which was easier said than done. I spent the evenings catching up with housework and, during the day, I worked as a nurse on a busy rehabilitation ward, a job I still hold.
I took to carrying a small notebook in my scrub pocket and, in my coffee breaks, scribbled down some words. Within six weeks I had a very poor first draft of a book. I didn’t tell anyone apart from my husband. It took years and a few minor successes to share my secret, the fear of failure and ridicule an ever present chip on my shoulder.
“I took to carrying a small notebook in my scrub pocket and, in my coffee breaks, scribbled down some words”
In the end, it took twelve years to find a publisher. Twelve years of rejection by both agents and publishing houses. It was hard to keep motivated, but that’s where my busy life helped.
I didn’t have time to mess around with what-ifs and maybes. A writer is someone who writes, only that. So that’s what I did. I carried on writing, and over time, self-published six books.
“It was difficult not to take each negative response personally”
But my dream was still nagging. The thought of my book in a library or a book shop was really important to me. It’s difficult to view that period of my life now through the lens of time.
The quality of my words certainly improved but constant rejection took its toll. I’m not sure why I carried on for so long. It was difficult not to take each negative response personally, especially when I had to watch new writers streak past the publishing post ahead of me. I’ve always viewed life as a competition but with one player.
However, writing isn’t a race. It’s an endurance test.
It was up to me to break down what the problem was and to fix it. If something’s wrong, change it. I looked inwards and asked myself the following key questions:
Was my writing up to scratch?
What about my plotting? Original enough?
Grammar and punctuation?
Pitching to the right agent?
Did I have a strong opening hook?
What about my query letter? It is essential to know how to writing a strong query letter. This is one of the hardest parts of the publishing process. This is your one opportunity to shine through all the other manuscripts that land in an agent’s inbox.
Only when I’d addressed all of these points did my book finally find a home with HQ Digital, an imprint of Harper Collins. Time is still an issue with my writing but now it’s more that there’s usually something better I can think to do than staring at my laptop – procrastination is the writer’s constant buddy.
But if my nurse training in Dublin taught me one thing, it’s discipline. It’s all very well having the dream of finding my books on Easons’ shelves. Dreams only come true with a lot of hard work, determination and a sprinkling of luck: I owe my writing career to all three.”
Jenny’s book Silent Cry is available on http://mybook.to/Scry
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