Between the mid 1990s and early 2000s, I researched and wrote a historical novel part-time about a poor handloom weaver and his family in Manchester, UK, in the early 19th century. They eventually became quite rich and this led to a whole new set of problems for them. My inspiration came from a postgraduate creative writing course I topped from 30 students.
I went through about a dozen drafts, rewriting, revising, editing and polishing. My goal was to produce a high quality product that readers would enjoy. Finally, I was happy with it and sent it to a professional reader, Alison Rushby, to get an appraisal that I could use in my approaches to literary agents and publishers. I still didn’t have a title for it. Based on her comments, I made many more changes to the novel, going right through it another two or three times. During this time, I came up with A Weaver’s Web as the title.
Next, I got a local printer here in Brisbane to run off a couple of boxes of the novel in book form to give to friends and relatives. As it turned out, I received some excellent feedback from various folk, including old friends of my wife, a work colleague’s mother, friends of friends, and so on. Five people out of 18 who commented said they couldn’t put the book down.
I thought, right, I’ve got a highly polished novel, a favourable professional appraisal, general readers who couldn’t put it down, and top mark in a postgrad course. What more could I need. Getting this thing published will be easy, I thought. I sent it to a large literary agent in London. To my surprise, they didn’t take it. I sent it to another one. Sorry, it doesn’t suit our list. And another one. We’re not passionate enough about it. And so on and so on.
I daren’t count the number of literary agents who knocked it back over best part of a decade. I’ve got all the letters and emails, so I could work it out one day. It must have been at least 150, including a couple of dozen in the US, and a dozen or so in Australia, which is about all there are in this country, as well as a few publishers. I did get some favourable comments from a number of agents and included these in further submissions.
During this time, I remained optimistic, and submitted excerpts to a US writing site where members rated them against other excerpts under various topics. I had the number one excerpt of about 70 under historical fiction, one of 160 odd under Suspense, 1 of 140 under Life, and others at or near top. I added these rankings to my submissions to agents, hoping that these would perhaps be the clincher. But the responses were the same.
Literary agents and publishers take on few new authors and books. You can’t blame them. The market is saturated with so many excellent books, and established authors and other well known people who write a book are more likely to get good sales. And now there are 80,000 new ebooks coming onto the world market each month as the industry continues its transition from print to digital.
By now I was asking myself whether I wanted to pursue with traditional publication or think about an ebook. There are many pros and cons of each and I think I would still advise people to try the conventional path first and perhaps try about 20 or so agents. The turning point for me came when a UK literary agent compared A Weaver’s Web to John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, which appears in several lists of top 10 novels of the 20th century, but still couldn’t take it. Even so, I did send it to several more agents, and included reference to this comparison.
Finally, I got Australian eBook Publisher to put everything together, including a cover, and the book is now on Amazon and several other sites. It has a star average of 4.7 at Amazon and 4.8 at Goodreads, which is right up there. Reviewers have compared my writing to Steinbeck, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Dos Passos and Charles Dickens. One reviewer has it as their book of the year.
I’m really glad that people like the novel.