How did let’s talk about cats come to life?
Wow. It’s been one hell of a journey with lots of ups and downs but finally my second book, Let’s Talk About Cats, hit the shelves on 26th November 2020. That day was so special to me because I fought to give life to this idea right from the start and to see the final product out there in paperback felt amazing.
My world is cats and my knowledge field is cats and, for those who didn’t know, music! The first half of my life was immersed in the world of songwriting and singing before I become involved in studying and helping cats. So, the thought of stepping into the unknown arena of book publishing was daunting, to say the least.
My first book, Claws, Confessions Of A Cat Groomer, was snapped up quickly by a literary agent and was signed by a publisher not soon after. With this first experience I had no idea the second book would test me to the limits.
With Claws, the first thing I learned was that 99% of publishers do not accept unsolicited material and the hardest part of getting a book published was in fact finding a literary agent to champion your book. After the publisher got involved I was guided every step of the way and it was an enjoyable easy process.
Not so with Let’s Talk about Cats!
The idea of the book came to me after Claws was a success. I wanted to follow up with a second book about cats but never really wanted to write a serious book on feline behaviour. I was always hoping to find an unusual angle for a follow up. It then dawned on me that the interviews with cat professionals posted on my website, that I had been doing for years prior to Claws, would be quite an unusual book. I went on line to see if anyone else had written a book of interviews with cats as the subject matter and found my idea to be unique. That fired me up and I decided this would be the foundation of my second book.
The thing is with ideas is that not everyone is as enthauseastic as the person with the idea! My literary agent didn’t like the idea and the editor of Claws also was not so keen to get involved.
Still, I couldn’t get the idea out of my head and so decided to try the idea out with three chapters. The initial idea was in fact to shine a light on the ‘lives’ of my interviewees, of which the original interviews for my website focused on. I re-worked the three interviews and then sought an editor to get them in the best possible format for the submission process.
Here’s where another lesson came into play. The many various roles of editors from line editors to proof readers. Here’s a list of different editors. I used at least three at various stages of the book.
- Proofreader. …
- Online Editor. …
- Critique Partner. …
- Commissioning Editor. …
- Developmental Editor. …
- Content Editor. …
- Copy Editor….
For someone who knew nothing about the editing process I made lots of mistakes along the way, some financially bruising!
After finishing the first three chapters I felt satisified this was the direction I wanted for my second book and so I continued at pace and finished the books format within 6 months. During this time I had to contact each individual contributor to, not only ask for their permission to publish their contribution, but also to tidy up the interviews with possible follow up questions.
My then editor also had plenty of follow up questions for each interview. Some of the questions my editor was asking should have been obvious to me, for example honing in on or clarifying finer details (areas/dates etc), so it was a really enlightening process. Once I knew the sort of areas that needed expanding on I was able to go forward myself with the tidying up process.
Even after months of working with various editors, the final line proofer, a professional that looks for errors in consistency and grammar, was able to mark up plenty of overlooked errors. I was astounded how many they found, considering I had read my words a thousand times over.
Once the book was written I agonised over the title. I went through lots of variations on the same theme, asking friends for their input, and scouring the internet to see if anyone else had used the same title. I was really happy to settle on the main title Let’s Talk About Cats with a subtitle to explain further what the book represented: Conversations With Feline Experts. That title was reworked once a literary agent got involved.
That is another learning process.. the dreaded journey to find a literary agent.
I contacted every literary agent in the UK that were open to non fiction books and concentrated on agents that also seemed to express an interest in female writers, experts in their field and animal books. Every agent has their own unique way of how they wish an author to send them material. Some want 1 chapter with a synopsis, some want 3 chapters with a synopsis and some want 1-3 chapters, a synopsis plus a full outline of the market for the book and numbers of followers on your social media platform. It then becomes not so much about the subject of the book but about how the author can be marketed and how ‘well known they are’.
Finding a literary agent is a very frustrating process especially when the author feels they are alone in their self belief!
I had almost given up hope of finding a literary agent (a year trying!) when an email landed in my inbox, around midnight, from award winning agent Madeleine Milburn. She thought the 3 chapters I had sent her were interesting and she had been looking to get behind a cat book. Could I send over the full manuscript? I was jumping with joy and thought I had finally ‘made it’. That night I couldn’t sleep and paced up and down wondering who I could tell at such a late hour. I knew Madeleine’s email wasn’t a firm yes but to get such a friendly personalised email from such a legend in her field meant that I stood a very good chance of getting Let’s Talk about Cats published.
The full manuscript was sent the next morning and I waited for news.
The email came about a week later. Madeleine LOVED the manuscript and thought she could get it published. However, I wasn’t out of the woods. Madeleine thought it needed work to tighten the concept and make it more marketable with more focus on me rather than about the lives of the contributors. She hooked me up with one of their developmental editors and they took around 6 weeks pouring over each chapter before sending me advice as to what needed further work. Basically, the whole book had to be re worked and boy, am I glad I listened.
The advice was direct and clear. Make each chapter ask a specific question about cats which the contributor answered naturally in their initial interview, loose all of the personal writing about the contributors lives and make my voice much stronger in each chapter.
I really appreciated the advice and went back to the drawing board. This involved adding all of the cat chat sections, loosing some interviews that didn’t focus on answering a specific cat behaviour questions and finding new contributors to take the place of the interviews I sadly had to let go. I also had to contact all of the original contributors again to see if they were happy with how their chapters had changed focus.
This took another 6 months until I was finally ready to present the newly evolved book to Madeleine. I changed the title of the book again to incorporate the changes, hence the subtitle Conversations On Feline Behaviour. I waited for news.
Would Madeleine love the new direction?
My answer came when she sent me a contract to sign with her company: the Madeleine Milburn Agency. I remember running into my husband to wake him up to tell him the news. We both jumped for joy and I was on cloud nine.
That was until 3 months down the line.
Despite Madeleine’s best efforts every publisher in the UK turned the book down. They all started with high praise, which made me wonder why they would all decline to sign it. It really was a slap in the face and I felt rejected and disapointed after all of my efforts.
This was a turning point for me. It was either wait another year when someone new in the publishing world may see the potential of the book, let the idea go and move onto another one or step into the world of self publishing, the latter of which scared me to death.
I spoke to Madeleine and she confirmed that she had done all that she could to get the book away and that even she was surprised that no one had picked it up. What was ironic is during this time of punting Let’s Talk about Cats to publishers I was privately contacted by Penguin Books. They asked me if I was interested in writing a book about cat behaviour!
“Of course I am” I said straight away ‘and you may wish to know I have already written the book!”
Madeleine excitedly contacted them and sent them over the manuscript. We both thought that Pengiun would jump at the chance of publishing a book ready to go. However, Pengiun wanted input as to how it was written. A good compromise was for Let’s Talk about Cats to be published with another company whilst I started on a new cat behaviour book based on their ideas, which was what we as humans could learn from cats; a bit like a mindfulness book.
I set my book aside and wrote three chapters for Pengiun which Madeleine approved and sent over to them. Unfortunately, although Pengiun liked the direction of the chapters, they thought there would be a conflict of interests with marketing the book if my own cat behaviour book was also out there. So, alas, I was set adrift not only by Pengiun by also by Madeleine.
I was gutted.
Not being one to stay down for long I sent the chapters Pengiun turned down to Your Cat Magazine and they immediantly commisionned me to write 3 more chapters as part of a six part series of what humans can learn from our moggies.
At the same time I had to quickly learn all about self publishing. There were so many different things to consider that I felt totally overwhelmed. The types of things that end up being a mindfield were:
- Front cover artwork
- Back cover artwork and text
- Sized font
- Type of font
- Size of book
- Any photos or illustrations
- Permissions from previously published sections used in the book
- Launch dates
- Where to print
- Where to sell
- Registering book with British Library
- Correct copyright wording / layout of references / bibliography
- Any legal issues
- Correct wording of contributor release forms
The list seemed endless and I began to see how difficult self publishing really was. So many things to consider. I now had a newly found respect for authors who go down this route.
The key is finding the right team to get the various jobs done and I found an amazing team in Deborah Ripley, who did some editing alongside the artwork on the cover and inside and Amanda Crook who did the final line proofing. Without these two fab ladies I would have found it really hard to cross the finish line.
I also received great advice from another writer friend of mine who had self published his book years ago with an online print on demand company connected to Amazon called KDP.
After nearly 3 years of having the idea for a follow up to Claws, Let’s Talk about Cats: Conversations On Feline Behaviour was officially ready. My launch date was set and I planned everything leading up to this date.
Then the unexpected happened. Covid 19 struck the world.
My grand ideas for my launch party had to be cancelled, the caterer, the venue and all of my guests, including some press.
Like many other authors whose launch dates were caught up with lockdown, I had my launch party online. My friend made the best vegan cake and I was joined by my friends, family and London Meow to raise a glass and wish the book well on its journey.
It was the best day ever!
Let’s Talk About Cats was a dream of mine. If I can do it then anyone can. Follow your dreams and never give up.
Hearing all of the great feedback and reading the 5 ***** reviews has made it all worth-while.