Last year, I finally finished my debut novel, Cow Girl, a romantic comedy about a girl who has to ditch London life to run her dad’s dairy farm when he gets ill and wanted to submit it to literary agents. Knowing how competitive the process can be, I wanted to do everything I could to give the novel I’d poured everything into the chance of getting noticed.
I started to research agents and, when I could afford it, attended agent-speaker events including some organised by London Writers Club which I found to be reasonably priced with a regular mix of agents and speakers. I thought that being able to reference where I’d met them and what they’d spoken about when making submissions would make it personal.
I thought about other things I could mention that would give me credibility as an author. I’d not been published or won any awards but I had invested in the craft. Being a member of writing clubs and attending courses shows how serious a writer is about and so I was pleased I could mention that I’d attended the Curtis Brown Creative novel writing course in London. I’ve also written comic stage plays that have received favourable reviews.
I captured all of this in my agent letters and sent them off, hoping for the best. But, months later, I realised I was getting nowhere. The standard rejection letters were disheartening.
When hope comes crashing down, it’s tough.
I started entering competitions thinking that, if I could at least make one of the long lists, it would add to my credibility and maybe an agent would take interest. Looking at the competitions, though, I could tell my genre would hold me back. None seemed particularly interested in romantic comedies. I entered anyway but didn’t make a single long list.
I sunk lower, feeling I’d never get anywhere. I was losing.
Then, the inaugural Comedy Women in Print Prize was launched, recognising comedy as a craft in its own right. Finally, I felt like I had a chance. I polished the opening 5,000 words of my novel, not sure if I was making them better or worse, then made my submission.
In the months that followed, the organisers were great at sharing updates on Twitter as Helen Lederer (the very clever and funny brainchild behind Comedy Women in Print) built a slick operation around the prize. Every time there was a new update, my heart fluttered.
To my surprise, I made the long list.
I started adding the news to my agent query letters, hoping it would open a door. I now had some credibility and started to receive requests to read my full manuscript. By the time Cow Girl made the shortlist, I’d met Felicity Trew, from the Caroline Sheldon Literary Agency. She devoured the novel and agreed to represent me. It felt amazing.
But there was more to come.
Soon after, Cow Girl was announced as the winner of the Comedy Women in Print Prize. I have the trophy on my windowsill and will never, ever forget the winner’s event when I realised all the years of writing had finally paid off.
This year is my publication year and now I know how fantastic it feels to hold my novel in my hands, to finally be a comedy woman in print.
Believe in your writing, even when it feels like there’s no hope. Keep working on your craft, keep putting it out there and keep going. Winning a literary prize is amazing, it really is, but you win every time you overcome doubt and keep writing.