Polly Courtney tells the story of how she went from her high flying city job to self-published author to publishing contract... and everything in between.
I never meant to be a writer. It happened by accident. At school I was always more of a maths-and-sciences girl (a geek) and I studied mechanical engineering for my degree.
One day at university, I received a gold-edged invitation in my pigeonhole: an invitation to a ‘graduate milk-round dinner’. I went along and was totally blown away by this picture they painted of a ‘high flying’ City career: a life of fast-paced deals, big pay cheques, hard work and the opportunity to make a name for yourself. ‘I’m in!’ I thought, and a year later, I was.
But the world of high finance was very different to the one that had been described. There was noexcitement; only greed, hostility, sexism and back-stabbing.
So I left, with this burning desire to tell the world how it really was in the City. I wrote a novel, Golden Handcuffs – the Lowly Life of a High Flyer, based on my experiences.
The generally accepted route to publication was to send off the manuscript to literary agents, wait, wait some more, then hope that one took you on with a view to securing a deal with a mainstream publisher.
I got lucky. Four agents were interested in my writing and after talking with each, I went with the biggest and (I thought) best. They duly submitted the book to publishers and after an agonising wait, we received some replies.
‘We love the style, but why would anyone care about the City?’ said one.
‘Couldn’t we sex it up a bit?’ said another. ‘Replace all the office scenes with shopping scenes where they’re spending their bonuses?’
I was torn. I desperately wanted a publishing deal, but it seemed that publishers weren’t interested in the story as it stood. Their intention to ‘sex it up’ was exactly the opposite of the story I wanted to tell.
I decided to part company with my agent and publish the book myself. I picked a reputable publishing house and then emailed everybody I knew with a question that went something like this:
Does anyone have any press contacts who might be interested in the story of a young woman leaving the City and writing a book about her experiences?
The next few weeks were spent following up with small-time hospital radio DJs, local hacks and agony aunts, asking each one whether they knew anyone – anyone! – who might cover the story.
After a while, it paid off. City bonuses hit the news and journalists wanted to hear about the flip-side of this gold-paved world. I was asked to write a full-page feature in the Observer entitled ‘My high-flying City job was not worth a life of misery’ and that turned out to be the beginning of a media frenzy.
Soon I’d appeared in the Guardian, Daily Express, Daily Mail, Grazia and various foreign publications. My book launch was covered by ITV, sending the book to no. 2 on Amazon and to my amazement, a new literary agent approached me (I know!) and sold the foreign rights to Golden Handcuffs in various European languages.
I had never dared dream of such success. I wrote another book – Poles Apart, a fictional account of a Polish migrant friend’s experiences – and just as this was coming out, my agent called me with some exciting news: A publisher wanted to meet me. Avon, an imprint of HarperCollins, had heard about my self-published success and was interested in taking me on.
We met up. Not long after, I signed the contract. My dream had come true; I had not only sold thousands of copies of my first novel, but off the back of my self-publishing efforts, I’d secured a traditional publishing deal and kick-started my career as a writer. Life didn’t get much better than this.
Or so I thought.
Find out what happened when I signed with HarperCollins in my next post: The reality of the publishing deal.
Please do ask me questions about anything I’ve written – I’d love to share my experiences.
Polly Courtney’s latest novel, Feral Youth, comes out 26th June and we’ll be running a writing activity around this in a few weeks’ time with a very exciting prize... Keep an eye out!