In 2010, my husband went off to Afghanistan. He had been a soldier for 26 years, and each time he went on tour, I was terrified he wouldn’t come back. This time, I channelled my fear into a novel about a soldier’s wife whose husband gets kidnapped in Afghanistan. When my own husband came home, he read it, and—for the first time since I’ve known him—broke down in tears. His response convinced me that others might be moved by my story, and I set about trying to get it published.
Knowing nothing about the publishing industry, I had naively assumed that I would simply send my story to a publisher, and a month or two later I’d see my book on a shelf sitting alongside Picoult and Proulx. I bought a copy of the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook and followed its advice to the letter. I learned that I must first find myself a literary agent. Only then could I hope for a deal with a publisher, and, even then, it would take a year or more to get my book printed.
It all seemed terribly long-winded, but, undaunted, I began the painstaking process of sending letters, synopses, and the first three chapters of my book to 63 agents. When the first response landed on my doormat six weeks later, I was convinced that my journey to becoming a real author had finally begun. I ripped open the envelope, to see these words: “Thank you for sending Poppy Day for our consideration. However, it does not fit with our client list at this time.”
Those cold, detached words lodged like a dagger in my heart. But as letter after letter thumped onto my doormat, all bearing the same rejection, the sheer volume of them blunted the pain—and I grew the confidence to try a different route.
I found a tiny local press and paid to print 2,000 copies. The press was used for printing leaflets, but I didn’t mind. I figured that, if I had an actual book to distribute, then perhaps I could sidestep the traditional gatekeepers of publishing and get it into the hands of real readers. But the day the box of books arrived I was devastated to see a set of small, grubby books printed with tiny type. My husband saw my expression and, quick as a flash, said, “It’s perfect: handbag- and pocket-size!” I have never loved him more.
Between us, we went door-to-door to our local bookshops, asking if they would buy copies. We explained that we would donate all our royalties to the British Legion, and a few charitable booksellers agreed to at least read the book and give it a try.
Slowly but surely, the stack of 2,000 copies in our garage began to shrink. Then the office of the chaplain general of the army recommended it for army unit book clubs, and suddenly we were out of stock. Soon after, a local radio presenter asked me to come on his program to talk about self-publishing. He mentioned that he had passed my book on to a prominent literary agent, which I thought nothing of until an unknown number appeared on my mobile. It was the prominent literary agent calling to say that, not only did she want to represent me but she already had a publisher in mind.
Head of Zeus was a new boutique imprint keen to do things a bit differently. They wanted me involved in publishing decisions and even agreed to continue donating proceeds from the book to charity. Head of Zeus launched a new edition of Poppy Day, complete with a brand-new cover, a professionally edited manuscript, and bookshop orders of 10,000 copies. This time, when I received a box of my beautiful books in the post, I was the one who cried.
And guess what? I’ve just written my 18th novel. And you can find it in a bookshop, sitting on the shelf with Picoult and Proulx.
Amanda Prowse has written 18 novels. Her upcoming duology, Anna: One Love, Two Stories and Theo: One Love, Two Stories, will be published in the U.S. in April 2018 by Head of Zeus.