Article – Journey of a Book: A Long and Winding Road

Published articles by Rebecca Mitchell on issues around sexual abuse

A Long and Winding Road

The story of the twelve year struggle to get published
Published in The Association of Christian Counsellors Magazine
Autumn 2011

‘New Shoes’ is a book on recovering from sexual abuse for Counsellors and Survivors by Rebecca Mitchell. This is the story of the twelve year struggle to get it published…

I was so exhausted I could hardly see let alone type.

Glancing at my watch I realised I had been awake, working or busy for nearly 18 hours. A wave of nausea sweeps over me and I wonder about my sleeping four year old.

If I went to bed now I could get in five and a half hours sleep before she wakes – and yet I had waited eleven years for this. I couldn’t give up. Shaking my wrist into action I went back to the manuscript.

So went the final stages of getting my book into print.

I first began writing a book on recovering from sexual abuse back in March 1999. I had been running a group for women who had experienced sexual abuse for five years and had gathered huge folders full of research and information. A victim of abuse myself and seeing a gap between text books so loved by therapists and ‘misery memoirs’ so loved by the public – I wanted to offer something different. I envisioned a book that recognised the difficulties of being a Survivor but also was full of information and hope for the future.

Naively, I thought that getting a book published on a topic that effects one in four women and one in five men would not be difficult. Surely publishers would jump at the chance. It would be a cash cow!

I started with Christian publishers first and was a little dented when most of them either did not reply or sent back responses that it was ‘a little controversial’.

However, I held onto one strangely spiritual incident. In April 99 my boyfriend (now husband) was driving home with his friend Yinka. Suddenly she had turned to him and said out of the blue ‘Is Rebecca writing a book?’ ‘Its strange’ she continued ‘I had a dream last night that she was writing a book and it was going to be powerful.’ It was uncanny. I hadn’t told anyone about the book and I was greatly encouraged.

Feeling the Christian market was quite limited I made some alterations and approached secular publishers with new vigour. I started with Hodder, moved swiftly on to Random, Kingsley… the list went on and still nothing.

Fast forward eight years. During which time I continue facilitating groups, writing articles and hounding publishers with my book. I also get married (in a purple dress for the record) and a baby is thrown into the mix.

My folder of rejections has now become a box and I’m on maternity leave with my four month old. I spot an advert for a new writer’s agent in a newspaper. I email her my book. To my surprise whilst I’m changing a nappy she calls me. She likes the book and would like to submit it to a publishers she knows. I’m beyond ecstatic.

She takes hold of my work, changes round the synopsis, brushes up my biography to sound like the kind of life I’d really like to be living and sends it off.

A few weeks later an email pops into my inbox… it’s a no. Another blow comes when the agent decides that she can’t help me anymore.

A couple of years later I embark on a new round of sending out the book. I go back to previous publishers I was writing to ten years ago. Technically I realise grimly, I’m going in a circle.

It’s now July 2010 and I’m sitting at my desk at work under a mountain of paper – the book is the last thing on my mind. My mobile rings unexpectedly and its David from Lion Hudson Publishers. They are looking at taking an option on the book. I’m pretty much speechless. ‘The synopsis has been lost could I resend it?’ he asks. I rush home, grab my daughter from her nursery and before I’ve unstrapped her from the buggy email him the synopsis.

The next few months follow in an uneasy internal battle of hopeful excitement versus impending disappointment.

David seems to catch quickly the vision of what I want to do. ‘An easy to read empowering book written in a chatty friendly style but with lots of information’ I explain “Something you can read on the tube without embarrassment, and importantly – NO crying children on the cover”. He gets it. David pushes hard for the book and to my delight gets the Marketing people and Management on side.

Next, we talk about a title and the cover. I say I want a big picture of a fashionable shoe on the jacket – something stylish and now. That won’t work though as it will date too quickly David responds. Also it has to go overseas and culturally also that’s a no go. The shoe idea he likes though. He comes up with a title ‘New Shoes’.

The contract arrives over Christmas and after reading it I put the JK Rowling lifestyle dream on hold for the time being.

Shortly after that I get an email from David. He’s being taken off the project and I need to send the whole book to a new editor. I do this and then early one Wednesday morning I read an email from her. She thinks a drastic re-write is needed and within the next three weeks. I can feel myself getting stressed. I’m working, I’m looking after a four year old and I’ve got a workshop on sexual abuse to organise. I feel overwhelmed with anxiety but resolve I will do it no matter how hard it is. I can’t give up now. I also agree with her. Despite the fact I must have written it and rewritten it over seventeen times it still needs a lot of attention.

I rewrite the whole book (40,000 words) in three weeks. With no time in the day I work into the night, on the bus, in the park with my daughter on the swings… hardly stopping to sleep or even eat I write and write and write. Finally on a Saturday night at 10.30 pm I email off the re-written book. ‘I haven’t seen you for a while’ remarks my husband. I look in the mirror, my eyes are bloodshot, I’ve got a strange rash on my neck and I look really rough.

I reintegrate myself back into my pre-book life. I dye my hair, put on some fake tan and regain some of my looks (well hopefully).

Two months later I get more emails. This time it’s the Copy Editor. She goes through the book line by line taking it apart and grammatically improving my language. I begin to regret not paying attention in English at school. It’s a painstaking process and my evenings (and nights) are consumed once again with the book writing and re-writing.

It’s May and I need to go through the final copy of the proofs as the print deadline is looming. This is sent from the publishers on huge sheets of A3 paper. However, I’ve pre-booked a holiday; so I’m sitting on the beach with a ball point pen trying to focus. The manuscript is flapping in the breeze and my daughter is squealing and throwing sand in my face. I wonder if Ian Rankin has these problems.

Back at home the Proofreader takes a look and once again it’s more changes.

Lastly, the cover is sent through for me to check.

This is the final piece of work I have to do. I’m happy with the book but its been twelve years of my life and I feel a jumble of emotions. Once again it’s late, it’s Glastonbury on TV and Morrisey is making his entrance. ‘Fancy seeing me here’ he comments ironically.

How fitting I reflect. I wondered if this moment would ever come too. I press send.