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Writing, getting the deal and a truck load of worry!

Sarah Alexander

Continuing with the theme of writers’ anxiety (and general anxiety), here is a whirlwind tour of my journey to publication.


I’ve spent the last few years wondering whether each bit of good news related to my writing was a joke, a miscommunication or, most likely, a case of mistaken identity, and then Usborne announced that my book would be published on April Fools’ day. NOOOOO!

But, it seems now that it was not a joke. And if it was a case of mistaken identity then it’s too late. Mwahahahahaha.



I started writing when I was very young – first, a story called Jack and the Magic Cap about a boy who could swim with whales, followed by Pigface, a story about a girl who stood up to her evil bullies. I clearly remember the day I decided to be a writer – I was seven years old and realised after watching MY GIRL that I was already too old to become an actor – I needed to have gone to stage school from the age of four, according to my wise seven-year-old self – so instead of being in the stories, I should just write them. And also, my parents wouldn’t pay for stage school. I kept writing all through school and university, and then at the age of twenty-three, with no less than ten half-finished novels on floppy disks, I stopped because I didn’t feel ready to write.

In 2011, After spending a lot of time having life experiences so I could be a writer, I finally worked out that being a writer was not about having experiences but more about actually writing. In need of a kick-up the bottom, I signed up for an MA in Creative Writing. Thank god for DEADLINES because I actually wrote stuff. Despite harsh criticism at times, the course gave me confidence and bunch of like-minded people to hang out with. The idea for The Art of Not Breathing came while I was on the course and when I shared it with my critique class I got a sense that I had ... something. I told myself that I had to finish this one and so I didn’t stop until I had.

Meanwhile, I continued to write short stories and one got spotted by my now-agent. She got in touch to ask if I was working on anything longer. I sent her the first ten thousand words the following week and not long after that she asked if I could come and meet her. I was CONVINCED she had emailed the wrong person – on the way to her office I practised my reaction for when she finally confessed that she’d contacted the wrong Sarah. But she didn’t confess, instead she made me do endless revisions until she thought it was ready for submission. (Side note: going on submission is a horrible, horrible process.)

My agent was away somewhere exotic when the offer came through and I was getting married (literally, yes, really), but luckily WiFi enabled an email from Usborne’s office in London to get to my agent on the other side of the world, to get back to me in London shortly after my nuptials. After a couple of days, though, that familiar feeling came back – was it mistaken identity? Had Usborne emailed the wrong agent? Perhaps they did want to make me an offer initially but since re-read and withdrawn the offer. But they didn’t withdraw the offer, they damn well published my book.  And so did HMH in the US.