Amy Baker (image courtesy of the author)
Amy Baker, one of our wonderful contributors, has her first book coming out in March. This is so exciting and such an achievement! But how did she do it? I caught up with Amy over a pub lunch in Clerkenwell. Her book, 'Miss-Adventures: A tale of ignoring life advice while backpacking around South America' is out March 9th 2017.
What was your idea behind your book?
The idea formed pretty gradually – I decided to quit my job to go and travel, as I wanted to write and see the world. When I announced these plans, a lot of people had a lot to say! Although I received some wonderful encouragement, much of what I was hearing was absolutely crazy, over-the-top advice. I thought it was bonkers (and a little infuriating) that so many people thought I needed their help, especially as a lot of it felt like advice they’d only dare offer a woman – so I stubbornly decided not to listen to a word of it! Needless to say some of the advice came back to haunt me along the way, and this made me wonder who it might have actually paid to listen to. This is where the idea for the book came from – should I listen to those who knew me, or those widely deemed “successful”? This is the structure of the book – friendly advice vs. expert advice, and what I learnt off my own back when I refused to listen to anyone but myself.
What made you decide to write it?
My primary aim when I went away was to try and write as much as possible – but I was having so much fun that although I did write, most of it was just scribbles in my journal about funny things that had happened, boys I’d met, huge misjudgements, or things that I was learning about myself en route. When the end of my trip was nearing I panicked because I didn’t have a plan, so I decided to turn it all into a book - mostly so I’d actually have something to show for six months having the time of my life!
How did you go about finding a publisher?
Once I had three chapters down that I was proud of I went in search of a literary agent. I wrote a cover letter, synopsis, and sent them off along with the chapters to all the agents I could find who represented similar books. I got a few rejections but eventually a mate put me in touch with an agent she was connected to and they loved it! Once I’d signed up with Graham Maw Christie, my agent Jen helped me put together a book proposal. In this you detail the theme of the book, all the chapters that’ll feature, any books on the market that are similar, and who you see your target audience as. Once this was all compiled, Jen sent it out to her hit-list and we sat back and hoped someone would like it – fortunately Summersdale did.
Have there been many compromises along the way?
Yeah – there have been. The whole process is basically a gigantic learning curve. Just when you think you know what’s going on, up crops something else that you didn’t have any clue was involved. I had a title that I loved, that we had to change, which was pretty gutting. It’s crazy how attached you get to it. I was working on it for a year and a half before I found a publisher so when they step in with their ideas, for a moment you’re like, ‘hold up – this is MY baby!!’. It took a little while to adjust, and to accept that the publisher knows more than me, but all of it was hugely valuable, and taught me a lot about what’s involved in publishing a book.
How often to do get updates from or meet up with the publishers?
I’ve only met them a couple of times because they’re based in Chichester, I’m in London, and Southern Rail is whack, but they keep me constantly updated.
How long has the whole process taken (from starting to write to getting your book out on the shelves)?
Let me see…I got back from travelling in May 2014 and it took me until November to iron out the concept and to finally start writing. I had a first draft by April 2015, got my agent in November 2015, my publisher in June 2016, and it’ll finally be on the shelves on March 9th 2017. So…nearly three years. Blimey!
Did you receive an advance from the publisher to write the rest of your book?
I did, but it was split into three rounds. The first round came when I signed the publishing contract, the next when I delivered all of the content, and I’ll receive the final one upon publication.
What is the main offering that the publishers can provide, rather than self publishing?
I’ve never self-published anything, so I’m not clued up on it at all. I do know that Summersdale have helped me to shape the book – the theme, the overriding story, the structure. They’ve got sales knowledge that I don’t possess, a team of grammar heroes that make sure everything’s tight, they sell it in to book shops and have a huge database of media contacts. Having a professional onside has been great for me – I feel like I’ve learnt a lot from them.
What advice would you offer to anyone wanting to get their work published?
Write something good and authentic! It took me ages to work out how to structure it and to establish the right tone, and I only eventually figured it out by writing a whole load of rubbish to start off with. My first draft was hideous, but I kept going, and asked the opinions of mates I knew would be straight about what worked and what didn’t until I knew what I needed to do. Things only clicked for me writing-wise when I stopped trying to write what I thought other people would want to read, and instead wrote things exactly as they happened and the exact thoughts that went through my head. That was entertaining (and often embarrassing) enough, without also trying to make myself sound cool.
Amy's book is out in March - can't wait! You can buy the book on Amazon, and follow her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Check out her website and sign up to her newsletter.