Bumbling Round the Citadel

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    Philippa East

    Hello Denizens,
    Following up on my previous two blogs (which you can find here and here), here is the latest instalment on my publishing journey. I hope it is useful to you and good luck to everyone for whatever stage you’re at in your own writing journey xxx

    December 2018
    As you may recall, on 4th December 2018, I officially accepted a two-book deal with HQ/HarperCollins for my debut Little White Lies. Charlotte Mursell, my editor(!!!) called me the next day to welcome me… and let me know that she would be sending me her edits by 21st December.

    A couple of weeks later, just before xmas (at my request, as I would have time off from the day job over those couple of weeks) I had the dreaded editorial letter. “There wasn’t much to do,” Charlotte had told me, but as far as I could tell, there was a HUGE pile of issues, starting with: Plot Holes (Fuck fuck fuck).

    In her letter, Charlotte was asking so many (totally valid) questions about all the things I had “fudged” up to now. All the things I was not clear on myself, even after three years of working on the book. Charlotte also suggested I cut the opening chapter (the chapter that had got me full MS requests, a mentorship and a long-listing with Mslexia.)

    Meanwhile, my agent Sarah advised that she’d like me to get the main edits done by the end of January so that she could submit for translation rights prior to London Book Fair (eeeek!).

    It all immediately triggered thoughts of being a fraud and a faker. I did a LOT of freaking out*.

    *FWIW, I think this reaction to an editorial letter is natural.

    January – February 2019
    I spent the next few weeks slowly, slowly slogging through the edits, taking them one step at a time. I had to spend a week reading and re-reading her editorial letter before I could even START to get any sense of how I could tackle it. It involved day after day of working out solutions to the problems Charlotte had raised. I dreamed about the problems at night. My average editing rate was less than 1 chapter per hour.

    Gradually though, the balance of “I have no clue” to “maybe this idea could work” shifted. Finally, by the end of January (my deadline), I was done. HOORAY!!! Nothing left now but copy edits, right?

    Shortly afterwards, the deal was announced in the Bookseller. That was a nice moment. Then in February, couple of months since verbally accepting the deal (and after the Bookseller announcement), I received the official contracts to sign for the publishing deal. I got paid the first installments of my advance (and made sure to set aside the tax owing!). I felt I was riding high. Basking a little bit in the glow of success.

    March 2019
    And then… the inevitable downturn of the roller-coaster. I got feedback from Charlotte on the edits I had submitted. She was very positive about the work I’d done so far, but… she sent me a whole new stack of edits, some of them fairly major, such as potentially CHANGING THE ENDING!!!! Other potential edits involved moving scenes around, re-writing whole scenes, changing the prologue, deepening a bunch of character relationships, and loads of smaller plot holes I had still failed to fix.

    On the manuscript, she had marked up a total of 327 comments. THREE HUNDRED AND TWENTY SEVEN.

    I managed to arrange a telephone call with Charlotte to discuss the (fairly radial) ending issue. (This was made worse by the fact that I was getting different feedback from Sarah and from my critique partners about the proposed change and I felt totally torn in the middle.)

    After about an hour of talking (and clarifying) we came up with a solution we agreed on. I sent her a written summary of the ending plan, and got down (again) to work. I asked Charlotte whether it would be okay to have a few more days / a week over deadline if needs be, and she was fine about it.

    Still, I felt (again) like a failure, a fraud. I’d got to the point of feeling the book was fundamentally flawed, and that I simply wasn’t up to the challenge of completing these edits. I felt I’d already done all I could and had no idea how to “do better than my best” (again).

    At the same time, I was doing my best to plan and outline Book 2 (which I had now signed a contract for, delivery date: 1st March 2020). As you may recall, this “Book 2” was a last-minute pitch, pulled together just as we went out on submission with Little White Lies, after Sarah and I had binned the (only) other idea I’d had back then. Long story short: I didn’t really know much at all about what the heck this “Book 2” was meant to be.

    I tried to relax over the weekend, but I couldn’t switch off. I was exhausted and overwhelmed. Juggling the various aspects of life had caught up with me (I was still working as a psychologist too). My husband found me crying* (*hard-core sobbing) in the shower. I had reached a tipping point where I felt the challenge outweighed my creative / mental / emotional resources, and then the whole thing grew to feel so impossible and terrifying. It is hard, even now, to fully put into words how lost and overwhelmed I felt right then, but it was like complete burnout. Complete overload. A vicious circle of fear and loss of creativity / ability to problem-solve. This honestly, was the worst I’d felt in this whole journey.

    Talking to my husband helped. I think being able to voice all that was in my head helped me gain some perspective. Gradually I manage to pull myself together (again) and push on.

    In the meantime, on a positive note, Sarah had got the book taken up with film and TV agent Emily Hayward-Whitlock. That was kind of a cool moment, meaning (basically) that an agent potentially saw potential TV / film potential. Potentially. ☺ (There are A LOT of hurdles that have to be overcome before a book gets aired on screen. This was cool, but didn’t really mean anything was going to happen.)

    By mid-March I had (just about) stopped crying and was making progress on this second round of edits. And by the end of March, I had sent them to Charlotte.

    April 2019
    So now I went back to working on Book 2. I wrote a 4,000 word outline, shared it with my critique group, binned it. Wrote a brand new 4,000 word outline. Didn’t even show it to anyone before binning it. (Remember, all I had of this book at this stage was a 150 word pitch which I’d made up in the space of three days. These outlines didn’t even feature the same characters as each other, never mind the same plot.)

    Cried, packed, had frantic phone calls with my CP. Got yet another idea. Began another outline. Managed to get at least half a story I felt could work. The second half though, I knew was a mess.

    I sent the outline to my agent for her help, and we had a phone call about it. (Advice: try and arrange a phone call if you’re stuck on any edits. Emails back and forth over a plot point can send you mad.) I managed to come up with a better idea for the second half which we talked through.

    In the meantime, the second round of edits for Little White Lies had been approved. THANK FUCK. So now I would await copy edits. (Honestly, though, editing just NEVER seems to end!!!)

    And my TV/ film agent Emily Hayward-Whitlock sent the MS of Little White Lies out to her “list”.

    May 2019
    I got the next instalment of my advance through (the “manuscript accepted” pay-out).
    There was no luck from my TV / film agent* (and there still isn’t), BUT we got an offer, following the London Book Fair, from a Polish publisher. WE SAID YES*.
    *For the record, to date that is still my only foreign / translation rights deal ☺

    On mid-May, I began writing draft one of Book 2. Over the next 6 weeks, I wrote 2,000 words a day, every fricking day, like, seven days a week. Brutal.

    In between all of this, I also got my copy edits for Book 1. THANK GOD they were not too arduous, and only took me about nine hours to complete overall (over a couple of days). My editor Charlotte also asked me to send in my acknowledgements, book-flap bio and dedication for Little White Lies. I wasn’t expecting that to happen at this stage it was one of the loveliest tasks to do.

    Around this time, I also got to see the mock ups for my UK and my American cover, which (thankfully) I loved. Additionally, Little White Lies became available to view on online on Waterstones, Amazon and Goodreads*.

    It was funny – now that the hard work on Book 1 was done, there were these little nice bits with each step.

    *Of course, someone managed to give me a bogus 2-star review on Goodreads, before the edits for Little White Lies had even been completed. (Thankfully it has since disappeared, but it did a good job of hammering home the best advice I’ve received to date: never, ever read your reviews on Goodreads.)

    June 2019
    I got “page proofs” for Little White Lies. This was a printed out, type-set version of the MS that I had to comb through for typos and the like. A proof reader was doing the same at HQ’s end. Boy, were there a lot of typos, but because I don’t mind monotonous task, I didn’t find it too arduous. It took me about 10 hours in all, marking up in pencil, then going over my notes in pen while watching “The Children’s Act”.

    End of June 2019
    I finished my draft on Book 2. ~80,000 words. I avoiding any other writing. I took two weeks off from the psychology practice. I did NOTHING but watch Wimbledon. Boy, did I need the rest.

    I joined a FB group for debut authors publishing in 2020. It was good to know I wasn’t riding the roller-coaster alone (conversely, it’s also hard not to compare yourself to every other soon-to-be-published author out there. “They got a six-figure advance???”etc. A bad idea).

    July 2019
    Now that I had a whole draft, I re-wrote my Book 2 outline and sent it to my agent again. Freaked because her response seemed luke-warm and I was already doubting the book so much. (Reading her email back now, it actually seems pretty positive. Weird.) But Sarah said the outline was ready to send to my editor, and when I did, Charlotte seemed happy. Two months of outlining, an 80,000 word draft, and now I was committed.

    As I had done with Book 1, I gave this very early draft to my sister. As before, she had plenty to say. There was plenty of work for me to do. Unlike with Little White Lies, I didn’t feel confident in my ideas for this book at all. I barely felt connected at all (yet) with the characters. I felt as though this was a “surrogate” baby I was carrying – for someone else, not my biological own. I continued on, with blind faith in the process, nothing much more.

    Despite all of these doubts and disconnections, at this stage, I felt a sense of familiarity. I had been here before, with Book 1, and I realised: this is my job now. I recognised this “citadel”, even if I was still only bumbling around in it.

    A few weeks later, proofs of Little White Lies arrived.

    My book was REAL.

    I finally had my printed book in my hands, fully edited* (*Well actually, we spotted a whole bunch more typos in the proof including mortifying things like my character’s clothes changing colour half way through a scene.)

    What did it feel like to hold the proof in my hands*? Well, because I’d had short stories publishes in magazines etc. before, it wasn’t a totally new experience. Also… the ARC cover didn’t look quite as I’d expected. I flipped through the pages; decided my writing was a pile of pooh. Took a photo for Twitter of my “fabulous proofs”. Went back to worrying about Book 2.

    *Lesson: There are so many moments along the way that not every one is the ecstasy you expect. I was pretty happy though. The best part was showing the dedication to my husband (it’s dedicated to him ☺)

    So, there you have it. I hope this blog post has been useful as a blow by blow account of these further stages of the publishing journey.

    What next? Well, promotion of course* and continuing Book 2. And generating a pitch for Book 3 and, and…. but more in other posts about that later. For now, i was just glad to finally, finally have Little White Lies ready for the world.

    *Speaking of which, if you want to pre-order Little White Lies, you can find it here (Amazon UK):

    and here (Waterstones):



    On top of all of that you have to deal with page proofs? I had fondly imagined that at least would be the publisher’s job. They certainly make you earn your crust, don’t they?

    Thank you (I think) for this insight into the process. Before I smash my computer and run screaming for the hills, I must congratulate you on seeing it all through. Well done, you. I can’t wait to read it x

    Philippa East

    Hah hah, yeah! Well, I suppose I could have not bothered reading the page proofs and just left it to the proof reader. But when I asked other authors, they all advised checking myself, saying I would KICK myself down the line if I spotted typos I could have caught! TBH though, I’ll take page proofs over structural edits any day!


    Kudos for sticking with it all, Philippa – it sounds like it has really taken a toll over this year.

    Looking forward very much to reading it – I am sure that it will be worth every bead of sweat, nibbled fingernail and tear shed.

    And if it makes you feel better – Tilda’s just been published and even though we went through all the pages, there’s still a blasted typo in the final thing. A Ring oom, rather than a Ring Room. Must’ve missed it on at least four separate occasions… Doh.


    Someone on Jericho has suggested that the best way to pick up typos is to read the book backwards. Much though I hate typos, I’m not sure I hate them quite that much.


    Thanks for sharing this, Philippa. What a journey!
    And I would just like to add, for the record, that while Philippa was going through all this, and working (and crying) so hard, she has continued to be ever-generous in giving support and encouragement to others. Much appreciated.


    What @hilary said.

    Despite going through all this rollercoaster Philippa is still here to support and encourage others and is very good at talking people off the ledge!!

    Anyway, cannot wait to buy my Little White Lies copy.

    Philippa East

    Hah hah! Reading back, I think I maybe make it sound worse than it was. Despite all the tears and tantrums, it still felt like a privilege to sit down and create something with my words. I still knew this was what I wanted to do. Plus, I have a lovely agent who I knew would support me. At the time, it was all so new though, such a steep learning curve, which is why I’m hoping to write these blogs to give as much of a heads up as I can!


    Well the story of the book is seriously interesting, so I can hardly wait to get my copy.


    You certainly had a lot of ups and downs but congrayimations for sticking with it all the way. I am so looking forward to reading it and have just pre-ordered it.


    You certainly had a lot of ups and downs but congratulations for sticking with it all the way. I am so looking forward to reading it and have just pre-ordered it.

    Philippa East

    Hi Athelstone! And thanks.
    Yes, I’m currently planning a launch party for February (whoop!). It will likely be in Lincoln, and you will all be welcome! Details to follow once I’ve sorted them out…

    Philippa East

    Aw, you star, Jane!!! Thank you so much!! It really means a lot
    BTW You are in the acknowledgements 🙂

    John S Alty

    Fascinating tale, Philippa, well done for sticking it out to a triumphant end. Looking forward to reading the book.

    Philippa East

    Thank you Jon!

    Philippa East

    *John, sorry!

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