Stephanie is a delightful person and her book is great: powerful, very moving and fascinating.
NM: So, Ms Butland, pitch your book to us. Who is it for and what do you hope they get from it?
How I Said Bah! To cancer: a guide to thinking, laughing, living and dancing your way through is for anyone dancing with cancer, and anyone who wants to understand, help, and support someone who is going through it. I hope that people who read it will be comforted and helped, and I hope they will laugh a bit. It's a mix of memoir, thinking strategies, and practical advice. As well you know, because you saw an early version of it!
NM: How did you get your agent?
I won him in an auction! My agent, Oli Munson at Blake Friedmann, was participating in an auction to raise money for the book trade charity. Authors could bid to have their proposal and first three chapters assessed. I put in a bid, and several friends and people from Twitter chipped in too, and I won. Oli read the first three chapters, asked to see the rest, then took me on.
NM: What did that process teach you about submitting a non-fiction proposal? Can you share what you learnt, in the form of tips? Anything surprise you?
Getting an agent was the last stage in a long process. I wrote and rewrote until I thought my first few chapters were perfect, and then I had them assessed by you via Pen2Publication, and I realised that there was much more work to do - so I kept writing, polishing, writing, polishing. Other friends in publishing were generous with time and invaluable advice.
My tips are:
- Every single word has to earn its place in a manuscript.
- Getting your ms read by people who will give you honest and robust feedback is essential. The less they know you, the better. Some of the best feedback I got was after putting a shout out on Twitter for readers.
- You are not entitled to be published. Accept help gratefully and rejection gracefully, and keep learning.
I didn't have to do a lot. I'd written a short epilogue, addressed to people who were dying, and Oli rightly pointed out that this wasn't really in the spirit of the book. Oli was very positive about the book, which gave me great confidence, and I pretty much left him to it - I'm a great believer in letting people use their expertise.
NM: What happened then - ie how did Oli get the deal? Did your publisher make changes/suggestions?
I was away from home, running a training course, when I got an email from Oli to say that Hay House wanted to have a meeting 'in advance of making an offer'. After that it all happened very quickly: we had a meeting in which people said ridiculously lovely things about me and the book, which was slightly bizarre, as when you are unpublished you somehow imagine that everyone in publishing hates books, hates writers, and especially hates you - and within a fortnight the offer had come in.
NM: Did you then have to make any changes that you were a little bit sad about, even at first? Did you have to throw out any babies? If so, how do you feel about that now?
Not really. I'd discussed some small changes in emphasis with my editor at Hay House, Carolyn Thorne, who was always very clear that this was my book, and I must be happy with it. Before submitting the manuscript I went through it one more time, sharpening up and expanding some bits and taking out others, and really felt that I'd done the best that I possibly could. Of course, copy-editing made it even better.
NM: What do you wish I'd asked you?!
Can't think of anything, I'm afraid!