In March, my Gothic fiction manuscript, Sargasso, was to my absolute joy shortlisted for the ASA/Harlequin Commercial Fiction Prize. Before the announcement I received a phone call from Harlequin telling me that while I was not the winner, they loved Sargasso and wanted to take it to acquisitions. I still don’t fully understand what taking a manuscript to acquisitions entails, but I think it is a process whereby one or more staff members of a publishing house persuade the other members of the team that this is a manuscript worth buying. This was not the first time I’ve had a manuscript go to acquisitions, but it was the first time that I later had a call to say it had been successful—all the staff loved the story unreservedly—and that a contract would be on its way shortly.
I was over the moon for over a week. Then reality kicked in. Sargasso had been scheduled for publication in 2022 but a few days after I’d signed the contract I was told that a slot had opened up in February 2021—roughly nine months away—and Harlequin were confident they could have the manuscript ready for publication by this date—if I wanted. This was all new territory for me but I jumped at the chance for my baby to be out in the world sooner rather than later.
What happened next was that during May I received a structural edit from one of the Harlequin editors. A structural edit is when recommendations are made about, for instance, moving scenes around or enlarging certain scenes, or splitting a long chapter into two, or working on a specific character to give them more depth. I was very lucky that there wasn’t a great deal to be done—one thing I did have to do was to write a snake scene. I’m terrified of snakes, which was probably why I’d avoided including the scene in the first place, but somehow I got through thinking, talking and writing about a snake, and the book is all the better for it. I was given plenty of time to complete the structural edit and there were one or two things that the editor and I tossed backwards and forwards before we were both happy with the results. After that, in July, I received a line edit—from a different editor at Harlequin—and I have to add here that I have been blessed. Without exception everybody that I’ve dealt with at Harlequin has been absolutely lovely. Professional, warm, friendly. I couldn’t have asked for a better team.
A line edit entails going through the manuscript line by line and correcting typos, spelling specific words the way Harlequin likes them spelled—for instance, all right instead of alright—adjusting punctuation. Finding fault! There’d be a note in the margin saying you’ve spelled the name of the town like this here and like this somewhere else, which is it? I was surprised how many little things were picked up. And grateful! I thought my manuscript was near perfect … Ha ha.
After the line edit was returned, I waited anxiously for the cover. There was also a hunt for suitable other authors to endorse Sargasso. Considering I’d never met the final two who did endorse my book, it was very kind of them. Jane Cockram, author of House of Brides, was one. Her words are on my back cover. Evoking the ethereal dream-like quality of summers gone by, Sargasso shifts between the past and the present, teasing and tormenting until its final stunning conclusion. Wow! Again I am immensely grateful.
In-between all of the above, we discussed other things: what I would be called. Kathy George rather than K.W. George. The blurb for the back. There was also the preparation of the Acknowledgements pages; my bio; the dedication page; author photographs, which I organised, and which were fun. Harlequin suggested I look quasi-serious since there is nothing funny about the Gothic genre, and I am not used to not smiling for the camera. Plus there were other things, like obtaining permission from the author of the children’s book Madeleine to use a line from his book. I had to write to Penguin Random House in America to do so, and it cost me US$55. In addition, I have at Harlequin’s request written a letter to booksellers, thanking them for taking care of my book and telling them why I believe they will love it. I have also filmed myself talking about Sargasso for the Harlequin marketing team. (This was probably the hardest thing I was asked to do because I do so hate looking at myself. I think I had ten or more goes before we were all happy with the result.)
Six months later Sargasso is ready to go to print. I have seen the final cover—and it is stunning and I couldn’t be happier—and I have received what they call an Advance Reading Copy, which is a copy of the book without the final layout sent to various reviewers. On Wednesday this week I am to meet with some of the local Brisbane booksellers to introduce myself and my book, and I am sure I will be signing copies at some point. Then, I think, we are just about done—ready for publication.
What an interesting and absolutely lovely journey it has been! I have loved every minute of it—okay, you’re right, maybe not the video part (ha ha)—but I will certainly be quite bereft when it’s all over.
Kathy George is a Brisbane-based writer. She has a Master of Fine Arts (Research) from the Queensland University of Technology, and has been published in numerous Australian literary journals, including four times in Margaret River Press short story anthologies. Her Gothic novel Sargasso was shortlisted for the 2020 ASA/Harlequin Commercial Fiction Prize and will be published by Harlequin in 2021.