Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Catchy Tunes and a Rather Long Journey to Publication

Hello. My name is Paul Baines and I am addicted to writing.

Not in a bad way, you understand. It's more of a passion. I have two stories that I use to explain why I started on the quest for publication. The first is that I was fed up with my job and wanted to try something new. The second is a bit more spiritual: I wanted to do something for God. And so I asked God what I could do to serve Him, secretly hoping to get an answer to both of my prayers at the same time. As it turns out, both prayers were answered, but not in the way I expected.

You know how sometimes you hear a catchy tune and it won't go away? My first completed novel was a bit like that, because within a matter of days of me saying that prayer, I found myself with a story rattling around inside my head that would not go away no matter how much I tried to ignore it. I did my best not to listen but it simply would not leave me alone until I had written it down.

At the time I had an Amiga 500 gaming computer with 512KB (that's kilobytes) of RAM and a dot matrix printer (the kind that uses an ink ribbon and a continuous feed of paper with the little holes down each side). I bought a small monitor to make the writing process a little easier because although you can play games fine on a TV with the Amiga, for word processing you really need a high-res monitor. I upgraded my memory to a huge megabyte of RAM and started typing.

The first draft was completed in five months. It took a mammoth amount of energy and concentration and I nibbled incessantly, gaining twenty pounds in weight and losing about a month of sleep. I printed out my masterpiece and my wife took a photograph of it propped up in my daughter's stroller (it was, after all, my baby). What I did next taught me the most important lesson I have ever had to learn in my writing career. I sent out the manuscript before it was ready. Yes, yes, I know that now, but back then I figured that God had given me the story so surely He would open the doors to get it published. Boy was I wrong. Instead of prayerfully editing and revising, I sent it out to a dozen UK publishers and waited for the offers to come rolling in.

A dozen rejection letters later, and the expectation started to fade. I decided to try the US market. After reading some advice from successful (and rather smug-looking) authors, I opted to approach a few agents. On my second attempt I hit gold. A well-known and respected literary agent in New York liked my story and offered to represent me. Convinced I was starting a new career, I wrote three more novels back-to-back in eight months. The agent liked them all and tried to sell them. My first story "The Wire" came very close (according to the agent) but never sold. Many comments came in from various publishers (some positive, some negative), but nobody wanted to buy my books. After a year, the agent "regretted to inform me" that they could no longer represent me.

Over the next ten years I continued writing for pleasure, trying my hand at a few different genres. I would occasionally send something out, but the closest I came was a small publisher's short-list. One said they loved the piece I had sent them but "it was not for them" and they were sure I would be published. All I needed, they said, was "a little luck". I decided then that publication was not for me. In spite of coming so close it always seemed as if the doors were constantly being closed.

I realise now that God gave me those first novels, not to be published but to learn how to write. As an avid reader, I knew what I liked in a story but had no clue how to get my own ideas down in a coherent and entertaining way. Looking back at those early pieces, I am so glad they were never published. If they had been I would have embarrassed myself and God. I was simply not ready.

About three years ago I wanted to study towards a degree and so I selected Creative Writing, mainly because it was the most affordable course on offer and also because I had some experience that I figured would help me get good grades. During my second year, the tutor suggested I try entering one of my short stories for competitions. Later, after submitting my work for examination, the assessor awarded me an A grade and said I should seek a publisher. For the first time in ten years I seriously considered trying for publication. This time, however, I was determined to do it properly.

And so I set about writing my first full-length novel in about eight years. It was called "Hour" and I enjoyed it immensely. It felt so much easier than I remembered, something I attribute to me having found my "voice". While I was finishing Hour, another story came to mind. I wrote this one down in three months. I called it "Alpha" because it was a story about beginnings and, more importantly, Jesus. I entered both novels for the Marcher Lord Select contest, although I hesitated to submit Alpha since I felt it would not be well received.

As it turns out, Grace had entered the contest as well. She spotted Alpha and liked the premise. After the contest was over she asked to read it and, following a plot revision, offered to publish it. Alpha became "Alpha Redemption", and was published by Splashdown Books on September 1st 2010.

Fourteen years is a long time, I know, but it was worth the wait. And during my rather long journey to publication I have learned a lot about how God works. He does things at His own pace, no matter what my plans may be. He opens doors when He is ready and when the time is right, often in ways we never expected. That can be frustrating but it is also deeply reassuring, because it means God is in charge and He has everything under control. And I like that.


  1. Hi Paul, and welcome to this blog. So glad your story had a happy ending, even if it took years to get there.

  2. Thanks for sharing your journey, Paul. I've been quite discouraged lately, so this helped.
    Marcia in Alberta Canada.

  3. I so identify with that first novel attempt, Paul. My first published novel I still call my "apprenticeship" novel and was started back in the now ancient days of hand writing and on a portable typewriter. It too had to wait on God's timing and God's lessons as it was revised and rejected and revised and rejected until He opened the doors to being published. Thank you so much for sharing.

  4. Thanks for sharing, Paul, and welcome to ICFW!

  5. Congratulations, Paul! There's nothing like that first book. My feeling was that I was pregnant--that book just 8had8 to get out. I wish all my books would come that easily. Well, not easy--it's never easy--but that over-whelmingly.

  6. Thank you for sharing, Paul. The path to publication is a long one.

    I myself started writing in third grade but didn't go pro until the end of 2009 - while I was unemployed. Now more than half my life later I've finally reached the goal I've been trying to obtain. But then, God never gives us anything until we're ready.

    Now finally, just in time for my birthday this year, my first book, 'Winter Awakening' is coming out. The very first dedication listed is to God.

  7. I relate to your story, Paul, except after rejection on the first novel, it took me another four before I sent anything out and then on my sixth I was published. Yes, I too, had to learn that it was in God's timing not mine. An encouraging post for those on the journey to publication.

  8. Well done on your perseverance, Paul. I have written six novels and haven't submitted any of them because I know they're not ready. So why do I keep writing them? Because I love writing novels in between my non-fictions writing.

  9. Welcome to ICFW, Paul, good to have you on board.

    Congratulations on the publication of Alpha Redemption.