The writing of Be My Baby took about six years, on and off – mostly off. I started it around 2002; I was living in London, and the idea for the book was born when one of my best friends unexpectedly fell pregnant and asked me to be her daughter’s godmother. This is exactly what happens to Be My Baby’s protagonist, Anna Harding. But the thing about living in London – and, like Anna, working as an entertainment journalist – is that it’s frenetic and busy and there are all together too many bars and shoe shops. Suffice it to say I was easily distracted and the writing progressed at a snail’s pace. As Kingsley Amis said, the art of writing is the art of applying the seat of one’s pants to the seat of one’s chair – and that was an art it took me a long time to master.
Cut to 2008 and I’d relocated to Sydney and was working as a magazine editor. With my 28th birthday approaching, I suddenly got the bit between my teeth and decided I would have the manuscript finished by then. I was living on the Northern Beaches and commuting to work in the city every day on the Manly Ferry, so I decided to use the 30-minute each-way journey to write. I wrote longhand, filling countless notebooks, and found it easy to lose myself in the story. I remember one morning, my heroine, Anna, suddenly did something entirely unexpected yet completely logical and I shouted, ‘Of course!’, much to my fellow passengers’ consternation!
I finished Oh My Godmother!, as the book was called back then, as the ferry pulled into Circular Quay on the morning of my birthday. I mean, I literally wrote the words ‘The End’ as the boat docked. It was a very proud moment!
Immediately after finishing the manuscript, I sent it to a literary agent that an acquaintance had introduced me to. The agent said she liked the book, but that ‘chick lit’ was proving a tough sell at that time and she didn’t think there was currently a market for it. So I put the manuscript in a drawer and vowed to return to it at some later date. Every now and then I’d send it to one of those ‘open call’ days that the big publishers run for unsolicited manuscripts, but I didn’t get a single response – even a rejection would have been nice! But honestly, I wasn’t too disappointed that it wasn’t going to see the light of day; I was just proud to have finished it at last.
The book deal
Fast forward to 2013. Poor old Oh My Godmother! is still gathering dust and I’ve turned my attention to other endeavours like establishing myself as a freelance journalist, going to film school and having a baby. Then I read a great book called Cityglitter, which was written by my friend and fellow journo Carla Caruso and published by Penguin Australia’s ‘digital first’ romance imprint, Destiny. I hadn’t really thought of OMG as a romance, but I realised immediately that my book was stylistically similar to Carla’s. On a complete whim, I jumped on the Destiny website and submitted my manuscript.
Less than two weeks later, I missed a call from Carol George, one of Destiny’s two commissioning editors. I called her back thinking perhaps she’d say she liked the book, but that it needed work – which would have been entirely reasonable, since it had been languishing in a drawer for the best part of five years! Instead, Carol said, ‘We love your book and we want to publish it.’ I was literally speechless, which anyone who knows me will tell you is a rare thing indeed!
As it turns out, I knew Carol vaguely – she was the books editor at Women’s Weekly magazine at the same time as I spent six (awful) months as a book publicist. But I didn’t know that she, along with Melbourne-based Sarah Fairhall, was now running Destiny, so I couldn’t really say that my ‘contacts’ helped my book find a home. I think my journalism background certainly helped, but mostly it was the fact that Destiny Romance is new, daring and willing to publish romantic stories that don’t necessarily fit the mould of traditional romance novels. (Read fellow ‘Destineer’ Anna Cowan’s Untamed for proof of this – it’s one of the best and most subversive romances ever!)
Destiny also has a ‘first look’ option on my next book, which is almost finished. This one has only taken six months to write, so I’m definitely getting better at that ‘seat of one’s chair’ thing.
After the signing
The beauty of signing with a digital-first imprint is that you don’t have to wait years for your book to be released. I signed with Destiny in November 2013 and Be My Baby was released on June 16, 2014. In the interim, the manuscript went through a minor structural edit, as well a copy/continuity edit. One of the advantages of labouring over the book for six years was that I’d been editing as I went and it didn’t need much re-writing or structural work, though I was glad to have the opportunity to go back and update many of the pop cultural references – plenty of 2008’s big names in entertainment had sunk without trace by 2013!
I have zero issues with the fact that Be My Baby is an ebook rather than a print book. I am personally addicted to my Kindle, and while I will never stop collecting printed books, I really believe e-readers and digital publishing are only going to grow. And Destiny also publishes many of its titles in subsequent print editions, so BMB (or perhaps my next book!) may yet make it onto physical bookshelves as well as digital ones.
I cannot speak highly enough of the way Carol and Sarah support Destiny’s authors. I was eight months pregnant when I contracted my book to Destiny, and I was keen to get the structural edit done before my baby’s arrival at Christmas, but Carol wouldn’t hear it. She instructed me to put my feet up, enjoy the peace and quiet while I still could and get in touch once I’d begun to get to grips with motherhood. It turned out this was at the end of January, and it then took me almost a month to complete the edit based on Carol and Sarah’s notes, but not once did I get a ‘hurry up’ from them. I’m enormously grateful for that.
The title of my book changed from Oh My Godmother! to Be My Baby, as Carol and Sarah didn’t feel OMG was romance-y enough. Be My Baby was my suggestion and came to me after an online brainstorming session with the other Destiny authors, who are scattered around the country and are an incredibly talented and supportive group of women. I love the new title and think it’s a much better fit for both the imprint and the work itself.
Aesthetics & essentials
I wasn’t involved in the cover design process for my book and was definitely curious as to what Destiny would come up with. I don’t think a ‘traditional’ romance cover – a stunning woman in the brawny arms of some chiseled hunk – would have fit Be My Baby at all! I am absolutely in love with my cover, from the font right down to the vibrant fuchsia. The day Carol emailed it through I was out walking with my little girl; I checked my emails on my phone and actually screamed and did a little dance in the street. (No one saw, not that I would have cared.) I can’t quite describe how I felt in that moment. As a journalist I’ve seen my name in print a million times, but seeing it on a book cover was just out of this world. It was truly one of my happiest moments; I know I’ll never forget it.
Marketing & publicity
Not long after I signed my contract, Penguin employed a dedicated Destiny Romance publicist, the lovely Anna Esposito. Anna works tirelessly to promote Destiny titles, but she only works part time and also has more than 20 other authors to attend to, so I always knew I would need to be proactive about publicising Be My Baby.
Because I’m a journalist and have also worked as a book publicist myself, I had many, many ideas for promoting my book. I sent Anna a mammoth email outlining them all, but if she was overwhelmed (or thinks I’m totally anal retentive) she hasn’t let on! Anna is much more au fait with the major romance/chick lit review websites and blogs than I am, so she has been sending Be My Baby out to all of them, while I’ve been dreaming up tie-in feature ideas and badgering all my friends and contacts in magazine-land and the blogsphere!
I am really determined to have a career as an author, so I don’t mind at all doing a bit of legwork to promote Be My Baby. The possibility that I could write novels and hang out with my kid all day and that could actually be my life makes all the effort totally worth it!