My journey to becoming a published author

By Stephanie Nimmo, author of Was This in the Plan?

@stephnimmo

People often ask me how I write, how can I produce pages and pages of content for clients, write blog posts, write features for publications, write my own book. Because I love it, is my response, and I write every single day.  That’s the secret, practice, practice, practice, exercise that writing muscle, fall in love with words on the page, put all your thoughts down and the more you do it the better you become.

Writing is very therapeutic for me, my life has been pretty tumultuous over the past few years and writing has kept me grounded and focused.

In 2004 my world changed forever when my fourth child, Daisy, was born.  She was a much wanted and anticipated addition to our family but when she arrived just before Christmas, two months premature, very poorly, the who trajectory of my life changed forever.

Daisy was diagnosed with Costello Syndrome, a rare, life limited condition and we entered the world of hospitals and caring. Desperately missing my previous career in marketing I began to blog about this new world that, thanks to a random, sporadic gene mutation, I now found myself in. Blogging became my therapy but it also became a way of shining a light on this new world.

Gradually I branched out pitching ideas to editors and being commissioned to write for publications. The worldwide audience for my writing grew, social media was my best friend for sharing my work when Daisy would be hospitalised for months at a time. I enjoyed shining a light on this new world we were now inhabiting, a world of which I had no previous knowledge.

When in 2014 we were hit with the shock that my husband, the father of my children, my partner since the age of 20, had terminal cancer, my writing took on increased meaning and importance as I shared our journey and how we were choosing to handle this new challenge that life had thrown our way.

Andy died a year later and one of his dying wishes was that I should follow my dreams and write the book that I had always wanted to write.

Despite now being a single mum to four children under 18, including one with the most complex of disabilities, I set to—the book became my focus. It helped me ride the waves of grief at the loss of my husband and to process everything that had happened to us.

Although I was freelancing as a writer and journalist I had no idea how to get a book published, there seemed to be so much choice.  In my mind I had this idea that I would get an agent and they would find me a publishing deal, I’d have an advance to live on and that would be it.  The reality was very, very different.

I started off by tapping into my extensive contact list. “What do I do?” I asked. “How do I get my book published?” In one of many lucky connections I was recommended to contact a writer who was about to start an online challenge for prospective writers to help them produce a watertight submission document.

This online challenge took place over about 6 weeks and each week we focused on a different area of the submission and our tutor would give us guidance and advice on what publishers and agents were looking for.  At the end I had a really robust pitch for my book.  I had also been working developing a few sample chapters.

I started email agents, such a thankless task, some just didn’t respond, most said they didn’t have room on their lists. I signed up for a course at Bloomsbury on how to hook an agent. It confirmed that I was doing all the right things, but there are hundreds, thousands of people contacting agents every week, all brilliant writers with excellent ideas, it was a numbers game.

My experience of life caring for a disabled child and a terminally ill husband had given me resilience in bucket loads however, I refused to be ground down by the process. In my mind I wanted my book to be published on what would have been my 25th Wedding anniversary the following year. It was going to be my gift to Andy for our beautiful time together. I started to forget about waiting for a fat advance cheque and set to, writing my memoir, often writing until the early hours while night nurses were on duty caring for my daughter at home.

A writer friend recommended me to her agent and she agreed to read my manuscript. She gave me the best feedback I could have got at that time.  “I love your story, but your writing is not speaking to me. I think you need to work with an editor.”

I had become so entrenched in my story it was difficult to be objective.  I engaged a fabulous editor who I just clicked with and she helped me turn my writing into a robust, readable memoir.  She helped me shape the story arc and took out some elements while encouraging me to expand others. Working with Jemima took my book to the next level.

The clock was ticking and I started thinking that I should go down the self-publishing route to get my book out there.  I was on twitter one evening when I saw a tweet with the hashtag #AuthorSchool, intrigued I clicked on the link.  They had a one-day course coming up and it was not going to break the bank to attend. I booked and in many ways the rest is history. 

At the Author School I learned about all the different models of publishing that were available. I had so much food for thought as I chatted to Helen and Abiola at the end of the session. There was so much choice, it was down to me to think about what I wanted and make it happen.

I was very interested in a collaborative model of publishing, as a highly experienced marketing professional I did not want to lose control of the creative process, I also knew that I had a bulging contacts list and social media platform that could support a more collaborative approach with a publisher.

That’s how I became the first non-fiction author to be published by Hashtag Press, Helen and Abiola’s publishing imprint. It was a learning journey for all of us but definitely a meeting of minds. This book was so precious, it was the story of my family, of my life, I needed to make sure it was in good hands.

Was This in the Plan? was in final edit when the unimaginable happened and my little girl Daisy died. We had always known she was going to die young but Andy’s death had truly broken her heart and a year later she followed him to dance in the stars.

I was more determined than ever to tell our story, throwing myself into the process as I grieved for my husband and my daughter.  My good friend, the radio DJ Jo Whiley wrote a foreword and my I worked with Helen Braid, the illustrator who had worked on my blog design, to come up with the book cover.

I set up my own author website and the pre-orders for my book came flooding in. Working with Literally PR, I appeared on Loose Women, something my mum was very proud of!  Pooling our contacts reaped huge rewards as I was interviewed and invited to write pieces to help promote the book. I even wrote a feature for Marie Claire!

Was This in the Plan? was published by Hashtag Press on 12th September 2017.  On my silver wedding, my gift to Andy. We had a fantastic press launch, it was even featured on the back page of the Bookseller. I received a 5-star review in The Sun and orders flooded out. 

Nothing gives me more joy however than to receive an email or message or review from a reader telling me how my book has helped them reflect on their own life.  Was This in the Plan? was truly a collaborative effort with Hashtag, The Author School and Literally PR. I knew it was in safe hands.  I’m looking forward to working with the team again to publish my children’s book “Goodbye Daisy” which is aimed at helping children with learning disabilities cope when someone close to them dies. 

My advice to anyone wanting to write a book?  Be prepared to work, hard, day in, day out!  And you will probably also be juggling this with work and family and life.  Write, write and write, work with an editor and keep focused.  The best reward is that moment you hold your book in your hand for the first time, it’s one of the best feelings in the world!

Book your ticket for An afternoon with The Author School on July 13th. £45-£50 at CitizenM London Bankside, 20 Lavington Street SE1 0NZ from 1.30-6pm http://www.theauthorschool.com/an-afternoon-with-the-author-school/

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