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08 April 2021

My path to publication | Christina Sweeney-Baird

© Sophie Davidson 2020© Sophie Davidson 2020
by Christina Sweeney-Baird Author Interviews, Writing Tips

Christina Sweeney-Baird is an author and freelance journalist. She is represented by Curtis Brown literary agent Felicity Blunt. Her highly anticipated debut novel The End of Men is to be published by Borough Press 29 April 2021.

The End of Men is a compelling dystopian novel, when a mysterious illness sweeps through a hospital at deadly speed it isn’t long before they realise… The victims are all men.

Here Christina shares her journey to publication and offers unmissable advice for aspiring authors…

The journey from ‘I’d like to be a published author’ to actually getting there is a long and often-sleepless one. I always wanted to write books but was very private about it. I like to fail quietly and succeed loudly. I wrote essays and the beginnings of novels throughout my teens – I can remember feeling extremely self-conscious, typing away on my ancient laptop when I was nineteen and living in Paris for six months on my gap year. Everyone can see how much of a cliché I am, I thought, panicked, as I tried to balance laptop, hot chocolate, pastries and a notebook on a rickety metal table and the French waiter no doubt thought, ‘Jesus Christ, here we go.’

            I studied Law, not English, at university which I think was quite helpful. Creative writing and literary criticism are such different skills and I never lost my love of reading as so many English students say they do. I kept trying – working on the beginnings of novels in the Summers – but I didn’t have the time or mental bandwidth to write properly until I finished my Legal Practice Course exams in August 2016. It sounds ironic that starting work as a corporate lawyer in the City finally meant I had the time and space to write and yet, it’s true. I wrote my first novel between October 2016 and August 2018 and it was such a significant step. To finally have finished a manuscript. I had the idea of The End of Men in Spring 2018, when I was still working on my first novel, and I knew The End of Men was ‘it’ but I wanted to be certain I could finish a novel. It’s so easy to jump between projects, never finishing anything, but finishing a novel is in-of-itself a huge success.

            The day after I finished my first novel, I started writing The End of Men, the first draft of which took about nine months. With endless googling I made a spreadsheet with practically every literary agency in the UK and chose an agent from those thirty-six agencies based on their taste, their clients, their experience and what they said they were looking for. I divided the agents into Plan A and Plan B. I queried the twenty agents in the Plan A category and had I received no offers, I would have paid a professional editing services to provide feedback, rewritten the novel and then queried the sixteen agents in Plan B.

            And in case you’re wondering, yes. I am a very spontaneous and laidback person.

            I was incredibly fortunate that the querying process was quick for me. I had a full manuscript request within a few days, and then others arrived especially once I had my first offer. Make sure to check on agencies’ websites if they want to hear if you receive a full manuscript request and/or offer of representation from another agent; they often do! Felicity Blunt, my lovely agent at Curtis Brown, was my first-choice agent and I still remember bursting into tears and excitedly texting my best friend when I checked my emails and saw that she wanted the full and had said some lovely things about The End of Men.

            I met Felicity to chat and it was clear that she was a) incredibly clever and b) wanted significant edits of the book. As a lawyer, I’m used to documents being redrafted and not being too attached to the work you’ve done so I instinctively trusted her more because she wanted to change the book so much. Edits meant the book would be better and it transformed over the course of Autumn 2019. The first draft of The End of Men had around forty perspectives, showing the global impact of a world in which a virus to which women are immune, kills ninety per cent of the world’s men. That draft had a lot of world building but not enough character engagement. Over the course of the rewrite, we culled the number of perspectives to draw out the key characters and created a new central character who is the heart of the story.

            By January 2020 the book was ready for submission and not long after it went out, Felicity called to tell me we had received a great German pre-empt. I was going to be published! The following few days were a blur of offers and bids and checking my emails fourteen times a minute. Finally, it was confirmed (another phone call with Felicity I’ll never forget) and I excitedly visited my now-editor and publicist at the HarperCollins office.

            I think it’s easy to look at other people’s publishing journeys – and I certainly read many a Bookseller announcement going green with jealousy and longing – and assume it’s been a walk in the park. But almost every author I know has at least one manuscript they finished but never got published, competitions entered but not longlisted, and thousands of hours spent reading and writing to improve.

            A few tips for the publishing process before I leave you to go back to writing my second novel (and encourage you to go and write/edit/draft a synopsis/do whatever it is you need to do):

1) Finish the book

There’s no way round it, you have to finish the manuscript. The idea of a book you haven’t written yet is always more exciting than the book you’re currently writing.

2) Read!

It’s the most basic advice but it’s so important. You have to read to write, everyone knows that. But to query well I think you need to know the section of the market your book will live in. The ‘comps’ I included in my query letter for The End of Men were VOX by Christina Dalcher, XX by Angela Chadwick and The Power by Naomi Alderman.

3) Query a lot of agents

I queried twenty agents, had seven full manuscript requests and received four offers. There is so much magic that has to happen at the right time for an agent to offer you representation – they have to have space on their list, love your writing, love the idea, believe it has commercial legs – and so give yourself the best possible chance.

4) Choose an agent who edits

If there is one thing that I’m grateful for (and I’m grateful for a lot) it’s that Felicity is such a talented editor. If your book is going to make its way from your agent’s laptop out onto the shelves of a bookshop, it needs to be so polished and sparkling that it stops an editor in their tracks. And then the next one needs to do that, and the next, and the next ad infinitum. When you meet with agents, ask how much they want to edit this book and – most importantly – the other ones. I can’t imagine sending a manuscript straight to an editor from my 2am ‘I just finished!’ sleepless haze. It will be invaluable, long-term, to have your agent’s editorial input on all your work, not just your debut.

Good luck!

Get your hands on The End of Men, out 29 April.

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