On writing

Lisa Jewell on how she got her first novel published

'Dreams can come true': the bestselling author tells us how her first novel, Ralph's Party, got published

Ralph's Party author Lisa Jewell

Ralph's Party author Lisa Jewell

I was a secretary on holiday in 1996 when my life changed forever. I’d just been made redundant three weeks earlier, from my job as a Director’s PA and was with a group of friends in a villa on Gozo, drinking, eating and sunbathing my sorrows away.

Late one night, my friend Yasmin and I were sitting out by the pool chatting drunkenly about the meaning of life, etc. She asked me what I was planning to do when I got back to London. I told her I would enlist with some temping agencies and see where that led me. She asked what I really wanted to do. I told her that in a dream-world I would like to write a book, but that I couldn’t possibly because I didn’t have the time, the money or the experience. Yasmin, a positive kind of girl from Australia, didn’t see it that way. She told me I had enough redundancy money to put off working for a month, I had a boyfriend with a computer and I had the desire. What was stopping me? She made me a bet that night – she would take me out for dinner to my favourite restaurant if I spent the next month writing the first three chapters of a book.

Never one to renege on a bet, particularly one involving food, I set about it the day after we got home. Within a month I’d written three chapters and just out of interest, I copied them and sent them out to ten agents. I signed on with a few recruitment agencies and started temping. I didn’t expect anything to happen with the book. Yasmin had read what I’d written and said she thought it was great – but then, that’s what friends are for, isn’t it? I didn’t really believe her.

Sure enough, as the weeks went by, rejection letter after rejection letter landed on my doormat – but I didn’t mind, I’d expected nothing more. I figured it would be fun to keep them and show my grandchildren – after all, not everyone’s got a rejection letter from a literary agent, have they?

And then, one morning a couple of months later a letter arrived from the last of the ten agents. She liked what she’d read and she wanted to see the rest! After peeling myself off the ceiling I calmed down a bit and then I started panicking. There was no ‘rest’ of the novel – I’d only written three chapters. I didn’t have time to write any more and I couldn’t afford to not work. I had rent to pay. What was I going to do...?

This is when my boyfriend, Jascha, came to the rescue. He could see what an amazing opportunity this was for me so he suggested that I give in my notice on my flat and move in with him – he would look after the mortgage and the bills, leaving me free to get a part-time job and spend the rest of the time writing. Yes – he is a truly great bloke! Not surprisingly, I said ‘yes’ and moved in a couple of weeks later.

That was in January 1997. I put the final full stop on my novel just before Jascha and I were about to go out to a party on New Year’s Eve of the same year.

A few days later I took my finished manuscript to the agent who’d sent me that letter nearly a year earlier. My intentions to shove it through the letterbox and run were scuppered by the smallest letterbox I have ever seen. I had to ring on her doorbell. She worked from home and, unbeknownst to me, had just come home from hospital and was recovering from an operation. She was wearing a dressing gown and was not at all impressed by my unexpected visit. She took my manuscript, but not before brusquely confirming that I had enclosed return postage.

I ran away from her house shaking and presuming that I would never hear from her again.

And that’s where the fairytale really starts. Despite her annoyance at my uninvited appearance on her front door step, the agent loved my book! I met up with her a week later and she started talking about TV rights, bidding wars and the American market – I was flattered but couldn’t help thinking that she was barking mad!

A few weeks later she – now ‘my agent’! – sent off my re-worked manuscript to a handful of publishers and, true to her word, it was sold, in March of 1998, to Penguin Books. When she phoned to tell me, it was the most exciting day of my life – I had to go and walk around Regent’s Park for two hours to calm down. They were offering me a two-book deal for more money than I could ever possibly have dreamt of – as a secretary I’d never earned more than £16,000 a year.

So – there you have it. Dreams can come true. I work at home now and I’m doing something I absolutely love. And it’s all thanks to a drunken conversation with a pushy friend at four in the morning in Gozo! Life is a funny thing.

And if you’re a film/TV type person and are interested in taking up the rights to any of my books and making them into wonderful films so that me and my friends can get dressed up and go to the premiere (oh, go on!) please contact my agents Casarotto.

“Is your book still not out?” If I had a pound for every time I’ve been asked that question over the last year, I’d be one of those rare authors who gets their name on the Sunday Times Rich List. To be fair, before I began this process, I didn’t know that the route from selling a book (to a publisher) to your book being sold (in the shops) would be such a long and involved journey either. So in the interests of demystifying an otherwise cryptic process, here’s how my book journey panned out.

It was September 2012 when Penguin bought my debut novel, The Dead Wife’s Handbook, from my agent, Luigi Bonomi (yes, really, that long ago!) It was one of those moments that lived up to every imaginable cliché when Luigi phoned to tell me the news: heart racing, double-checking that I’d definitely heard right, not being sure whether to laugh or cry, being desperate to phone all my nearest and dearest straight away to tell them the news. The only cliché I didn’t fulfil was jumping for joy, but that was because I was two weeks away from giving birth and so ‘sliding like a beached whale from the top of the bed’ was about as close as I got.

A week later I met Hana – the woman who was going to be my editor – and we chatted about everything from books to babies to timelines. It was then that Hana told me they’d be publishing my book in early 2014. It did seem like aeons away but when she described everything that would need to happen in the interim – her editorial notes, me writing revisions, proof copies going out to press, cover design, copy edits, marketing and publicity, final copies going to more press and book buyers – suddenly seventeen months didn’t seem quite so long after all. And there was, of course, the fact that I was going to have my hands full for a few months with the imminent arrival of a little person.

Six months later – little person now safely ensconced at home and, of course, entirely dominating my life as is their wont – I spent three frenzied weeks working through Hana’s notes: there were a couple of new scenes to add, some secondary characters to develop and various places I needed to lose some text. It was also an invaluable opportunity to re-read and polish the manuscript with relatively fresh eyes: although I’d wrung the book through over a dozen rewrites before it being submitted to Penguin, it was incredibly useful to have another chance to read it through again after a substantial break.

Over the next couple of months, the book travelled back and forth electronically between the copy editor and me: her job was to look for inconsistencies – both in the text, in character’s behaviour and speech, and in the overall timeline. Then it went off to be proof-read and, much to my mum’s annoyance – who’d read it twice by then and is one of the most eagle-eyed people I know – there was still the odd typo to be corrected!

Over the summer, I met the people who were going to be in charge of the all-important marketing and publicity – Joe and Katie – a meeting which set things in motion for eight months of planning on social media and in the press. And it was also when I got to see the cover for the first time: opening up the email attachment that contains an image of the artwork that’s going to clothe your literary baby was probably one of the most exciting and simultaneously nerve-wracking moments of this whole process. Luckily I loved it immediately which was fortunate because so did everyoneat Penguin!

DWH

These final few months leading up to publication have been a hive of activity: designing and setting up my own website, writing features for magazines, penning posts for book bloggers, organising a blog tour with Katie, while all the time crossing every body part it’s possible to cross that we might secure some good reviews.

Now, nearly a year and a half after I squealed down the phone at various family members to tell them that my novel was being published by Penguin, when people ask me whether my book’s out yet, I can finally – happily – tell them that it is. And now all that’s left for me to do is hope that people think the book at the end of this journey is one they’d like to read.

“Is your book still not out?” If I had a pound for every time I’ve been asked that question over the last year, I’d be one of those rare authors who gets their name on the Sunday Times Rich List. To be fair, before I began this process, I didn’t know that the route from selling a book (to a publisher) to your book being sold (in the shops) would be such a long and involved journey either. So in the interests of demystifying an otherwise cryptic process, here’s how my book journey panned out.

It was September 2012 when Penguin bought my debut novel, The Dead Wife’s Handbook, from my agent, Luigi Bonomi (yes, really, that long ago!) It was one of those moments that lived up to every imaginable cliché when Luigi phoned to tell me the news: heart racing, double-checking that I’d definitely heard right, not being sure whether to laugh or cry, being desperate to phone all my nearest and dearest straight away to tell them the news. The only cliché I didn’t fulfil was jumping for joy, but that was because I was two weeks away from giving birth and so ‘sliding like a beached whale from the top of the bed’ was about as close as I got.

A week later I met Hana – the woman who was going to be my editor – and we chatted about everything from books to babies to timelines. It was then that Hana told me they’d be publishing my book in early 2014. It did seem like aeons away but when she described everything that would need to happen in the interim – her editorial notes, me writing revisions, proof copies going out to press, cover design, copy edits, marketing and publicity, final copies going to more press and book buyers – suddenly seventeen months didn’t seem quite so long after all. And there was, of course, the fact that I was going to have my hands full for a few months with the imminent arrival of a little person.

Six months later – little person now safely ensconced at home and, of course, entirely dominating my life as is their wont – I spent three frenzied weeks working through Hana’s notes: there were a couple of new scenes to add, some secondary characters to develop and various places I needed to lose some text. It was also an invaluable opportunity to re-read and polish the manuscript with relatively fresh eyes: although I’d wrung the book through over a dozen rewrites before it being submitted to Penguin, it was incredibly useful to have another chance to read it through again after a substantial break.

Over the next couple of months, the book travelled back and forth electronically between the copy editor and me: her job was to look for inconsistencies – both in the text, in character’s behaviour and speech, and in the overall timeline. Then it went off to be proof-read and, much to my mum’s annoyance – who’d read it twice by then and is one of the most eagle-eyed people I know – there was still the odd typo to be corrected!

Over the summer, I met the people who were going to be in charge of the all-important marketing and publicity – Joe and Katie – a meeting which set things in motion for eight months of planning on social media and in the press. And it was also when I got to see the cover for the first time: opening up the email attachment that contains an image of the artwork that’s going to clothe your literary baby was probably one of the most exciting and simultaneously nerve-wracking moments of this whole process. Luckily I loved it immediately which was fortunate because so did everyoneat Penguin!

DWH

These final few months leading up to publication have been a hive of activity: designing and setting up my own website, writing features for magazines, penning posts for book bloggers, organising a blog tour with Katie, while all the time crossing every body part it’s possible to cross that we might secure some good reviews.

Now, nearly a year and a half after I squealed down the phone at various family members to tell them that my novel was being published by Penguin, when people ask me whether my book’s out yet, I can finally – happily – tell them that it is. And now all that’s left for me to do is hope that people think the book at the end of this journey is one they’d like to read.

“Is your book still not out?” If I had a pound for every time I’ve been asked that question over the last year, I’d be one of those rare authors who gets their name on the Sunday Times Rich List. To be fair, before I began this process, I didn’t know that the route from selling a book (to a publisher) to your book being sold (in the shops) would be such a long and involved journey either. So in the interests of demystifying an otherwise cryptic process, here’s how my book journey panned out.

It was September 2012 when Penguin bought my debut novel, The Dead Wife’s Handbook, from my agent, Luigi Bonomi (yes, really, that long ago!) It was one of those moments that lived up to every imaginable cliché when Luigi phoned to tell me the news: heart racing, double-checking that I’d definitely heard right, not being sure whether to laugh or cry, being desperate to phone all my nearest and dearest straight away to tell them the news. The only cliché I didn’t fulfil was jumping for joy, but that was because I was two weeks away from giving birth and so ‘sliding like a beached whale from the top of the bed’ was about as close as I got.

A week later I met Hana – the woman who was going to be my editor – and we chatted about everything from books to babies to timelines. It was then that Hana told me they’d be publishing my book in early 2014. It did seem like aeons away but when she described everything that would need to happen in the interim – her editorial notes, me writing revisions, proof copies going out to press, cover design, copy edits, marketing and publicity, final copies going to more press and book buyers – suddenly seventeen months didn’t seem quite so long after all. And there was, of course, the fact that I was going to have my hands full for a few months with the imminent arrival of a little person.

Six months later – little person now safely ensconced at home and, of course, entirely dominating my life as is their wont – I spent three frenzied weeks working through Hana’s notes: there were a couple of new scenes to add, some secondary characters to develop and various places I needed to lose some text. It was also an invaluable opportunity to re-read and polish the manuscript with relatively fresh eyes: although I’d wrung the book through over a dozen rewrites before it being submitted to Penguin, it was incredibly useful to have another chance to read it through again after a substantial break.

Over the next couple of months, the book travelled back and forth electronically between the copy editor and me: her job was to look for inconsistencies – both in the text, in character’s behaviour and speech, and in the overall timeline. Then it went off to be proof-read and, much to my mum’s annoyance – who’d read it twice by then and is one of the most eagle-eyed people I know – there was still the odd typo to be corrected!

Over the summer, I met the people who were going to be in charge of the all-important marketing and publicity – Joe and Katie – a meeting which set things in motion for eight months of planning on social media and in the press. And it was also when I got to see the cover for the first time: opening up the email attachment that contains an image of the artwork that’s going to clothe your literary baby was probably one of the most exciting and simultaneously nerve-wracking moments of this whole process. Luckily I loved it immediately which was fortunate because so did everyoneat Penguin!

DWH

These final few months leading up to publication have been a hive of activity: designing and setting up my own website, writing features for magazines, penning posts for book bloggers, organising a blog tour with Katie, while all the time crossing every body part it’s possible to cross that we might secure some good reviews.

Now, nearly a year and a half after I squealed down the phone at various family members to tell them that my novel was being published by Penguin, when people ask me whether my book’s out yet, I can finally – happily – tell them that it is. And now all that’s left for me to do is hope that people think the book at the end of this journey is one they’d like to read.

Ralph's Party

Lisa Jewell

Meet the residents of 31 Almanac Road ...

Ralph and Smith are flatmates and best mates - until, that is, the gorgeous Jemima moves in. And suddenly they're bickering about a lot more than who drank the last beer. Of course, Jem knows that one of them is the man for her - but is it Ralph or Smith?

Upstairs, Karl and Siobhan have been happily unmarried for fifteen years - until, that is, Cheri moves into the flat above theirs. Cheri's got her eye on Karl and doesn't see why she should let a little thing like his girlfriend stand in her way ...

Sooner or later its all got to come to a head - and what better place for tears and laughter, break ups and make ups than Ralph's party?

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