My Publishing Story by Guest Author Nikki Kelly
To really document my publishing journey, I think it would only be right to start at the very beginning…
My love for stories started at a super early age. When I was just four years old, after my Mom would tuck me in at bedtime, I would sneak out of my bedroom and to the top of the stairs, where my Mom had left the light on, and sit reading!!
As a young teenager I read, read and read. And when I wasn’t doing that I was writing my own short stories – usually involving horses and cute boys! I was even lucky enough to have a short story published when I was 12, and it was at that same age that my Aunty took me to a Waterstones and told me to pick out any book I wanted for my birthday, which was quite a treat! I spent hours choosing, and that was the moment – the EXACT moment – when the dream to have my own book published began.
Now in my twenties, I had put writing on the back burner – life having gotten in the way.
Then, one night, I had a dream…
I dreamed about a girl in a derelict building who was assisting what appeared to be an injured vampire. (Now I had watched my fair share of vampire-related TV and movies that week, so that could certainly be why!) It was a blond-haired girl, whose face I couldn’t see. She somehow seemed caught in the shadows. It was only when her face twisted around that I was met with these sapphire-blue eyes that transitioned into bright red flames – and I woke, startled. I had the spark for my novel in the form of the mysterious girl. I spent much time pondering ‘what’ – and more importantly ‘who’ – the girl was… I drank much tea…
It took me around 18 months to write the novel in my spare time, and it was shortly afterwards that I discovered a website called wattpad – a readers’ and writers’ community. Lailah is set over the month of December, which was fast approaching, so I decided to serialize the story in blocks of seven chapters a week; this way the readers would feel as though they were in real-time with the story. I posted the Epilogue – which, in the book, is set on New Year’s Day – at a minute past midnight on January 1st. The story grew in popularity very quickly, and within six months had garnered over a million reads, thousands of votes and comments, and my message board and inbox were bursting with mail from readers who fell in love with the story and the characters.
What happened next was all a series of good fortune. There was some press written about the success of the story, and it happened to be seen by just the right person, at just the right time. I was tracked down and contacted via email by Anna Roberto at Feiwel and Friends, who requested the manuscript.
Of course, I happily sent it over, and then did a spot of research on Feiwel and Friends – I fell in love with them immediately! They were a small team, but part of the Macmillan family; small but mighty – the perfect combination. Other titles across the MacKids list included Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles, Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha Trilogy, and of course a whole host of other amazing and successful YA titles.
My husband kept me grounded, telling me not to get too excited – my story involved the word ‘vampire’ which, by this point, I had realized was a dirtier word than ‘dystopia’. By now, the market had moved away from the Supernatural trend, leaning towards contemporary. But while Lailah certainly had vampires, they were quite different to what had gone before. And, of course, there were angels, new worlds and a unique backstory for all of them. Still, he reminded me, it had the word ‘vampire’.
I remained hopeful; my feelings on such things are to hope for the best, but expect the worst. A very good friend – and a very wise woman – once told me that good content will always find a home, no matter the landscape, and so I said a little prayer every night that Feiwel and Friends would think my story was ‘good content’!
It was three weeks later, when I was travelling home from work on the tube, that I checked my mailbox. At the top of the pile was an email from Liz Szabla, Editor in Chief at Feiwel and Friends. I closed my iPad cover. I was almost certain that it would be a ‘thank you, but no thank you’ because, let’s face it, ‘no’ is a far more frequently used word than ‘yes’ when you’re trying to get a publishing deal.
I got off the tube and sat down on the platform. Taking a breath, I opened the email. All I remember clearly was noticing the length of it: very long. Rejections don’t usually require more than two lines. I remember my eye line being drawn to the text in bold, about a third of the way down the email, which read: Offer for three novels in The Styclar Saga.
I burst into tears, right then and there, on the platform. Fellow commuters that walked past looked at me as though I was very strange indeed!
I ran home, calling my mom on my cell as I went; she thought something terrible had happened to me as I could barely speak. When I got to the front door, I burst through to find my husband in the shower. I whipped back the curtain and thrust my iPad into his wet hands. He got out of the shower and read the email. In fact, he read it three times before saying anything, and when he finally looked at me his smile was huge. And I remember shouting, while jumping very high in the air, ‘We did it!!”
I may have sat and written the story, but without my husband’s support – from keeping the house in order to minding the dogs while I travelled to do research, or just, quite simply, the continual encouragement – I would never have finished the novel! My dream had become our dream, and we were about to go on the most amazing journey of living it together.
Now we hope for The Styclar Saga to have its traditional ‘Happily Ever After’, and that is in the hands of you guys – the readers!