14 July 2009
I recently attended a talk by Michelle Harrison, author of The Thirteen Treasures, which won the Waterstone's Children's Book Prize 2009. Michelle was wearing a red top, because wearing something red is one of the ways you can protect yourself against fairies.
In The Thirteen Treasures, a 13-year-old girl can see fairies, but they're nasty and punish her for talking (or even writing) about them. The girl (Tanya) gets the blame for the mess the fairies make, and is always in trouble with her mum. When Tanya is sent to her grandmother's house to give her mother a break from all the chaos and destruction, she comes across a girl in the woods. That girl, it transpires, was the same one who disappeared 50 years ago. How is that possible? The book unravels the mystery, and the part that the fairies play in it.
It was inspiring to hear about Michelle's journey to publication. We occasionally see stories in the press about authors who get a lucky break, but don't so often hear about those who persevere through countless rejections.
This is what Michelle's journey to publication looked like:
- Spent a year drafting
- Sent draft to publisher
- Three months later, received a rejection
- Sent book to six agents
- Five said no
- One said they liked it, but didn't want to represent it yet
- Michelle edited the book using their feedback, and sent it back
- They sent a longer reply, outlining bits they still didn't like
- Michelle edited it, and sent new versions back to the agent three or four times, incorporating new feedback, over a period of 18 months
- The agent turned it down
- Michelle took another look at the book herself, decided she didn't like one of the characters and rewrote to make the character stronger
- She spent "the longest time" on a cover letter to go with this submission, and then approached the top agent on her list, a name she had been too intimidated to approach before
- They asked to meet up and then quickly signed up to represent the book. It had taken four years to get to that point.
- The agent shopped the book around publishers
- A number of publishers rejected the book, with some requesting that the book be edited for a younger audience
- Simon and Schuster signed the book
During Michelle's journey to publication, there were many points at which she could have given up. Winning the Waterstone's prize is as much a testament to her perseverance as her imagination and talent for writing.