Joanna Cannon – from online writing course to publishing deal
Joanna Cannon started her Faber Academy Writing a Novel course with bags of trepidation and not much self-belief. A few months later she was spotted by one of the hottest agents around, Sue Armstrong at Conville & Walsh, and HarperCollins snapped up the novel she was working on for ‘a high five-figure sum’. Here’s how she went from nervous scribbler to signed author.
Writing a Novel: the first 15,000 online course
- Broaden your palette of techniques
- Master viewpoint, structure, dialogue, character and research
- Assess your potential for working in long-form fiction
It seems only a short time ago I was filling in a form about my writing habits and uploading it to the ‘Sign a deal with an online course’ Faber Academy Online website. I had never been more nervous in my life.
What would people think? Would I be outed as completely delusional? Perhaps when I uploaded my writing everyone would point and laugh. Or, even worse, make kind comments out of sympathy. I scrolled down the list of sessions on the course, and discovered there was a Skype chat involved. A Skype chat. With an actual editor. How in heaven’s name would I get through that without looking like a complete fool?
I decided I would be overwhelmed and humiliated. Everyone would realise I was a fraud, and I was probably better off spending my (very unexpected and rather lovely) tax rebate on ballroom dancing lessons instead.
Strangely, none of these things happened.
Instead, I spent the next few months with a wonderful group of writers, all of whom had experienced the same crises of confidence as I had (except for maybe the ballroom dancing bit). Together, we learned how to plot, edit, critique and cheer each other along. We learned about technique and dialogue and narrative arcs, and all the other wonderful topics you cover on a course like this, but more than that, I think the course helped us acquire two very important qualities.
The first is discipline. Uploading your work regularly for the group critique is a real challenge, but there’s nothing more motivating than the worry of letting other people down (if you’re working alone, letting yourself down is always far more acceptable). The second quality is courage. On the rare occasions I admitted to people that I enjoyed writing, I would always follow it up with a small apology:
‘I don’t write anything very interesting/it’s just a little hobby really/nothing will ever come of it’ type of thing.
After a few months of building my courage on the course, I entered a First 500 Words event at a literary festival – and I won it.
Before studying with Faber Academy, I would never have dreamed of letting anyone actually read anything I’d written, let alone enter a competition. However, after a few months of building my courage on the course, I did just that, and entered a First 500 Words event at a literary festival.
And I won it.
I won’t bore you with the details of exactly how nervous I was, reading my writing out to a room full of Very Important People, and how I nearly didn’t enter the competition in the first place… but what I will tell you, is that within 48 hours of winning that competition, I had seven offers of agent representation.
And within a week, HarperCollins had offered me a life-changing amount of money to publish it (the manuscript I nearly didn’t bother showing anyone, because they would laugh and point).
I’m not telling you this to be all showy-offy and flash, I’m telling you because I want to explain how a very small amount of courage made a very big difference to my life. So when you do this course, study fictive dreams and narrative arcs and have long debates about the horror of prologues, but more importantly – perhaps most importantly – make sure you come away from it with a little more self-belief. It’s out there. You just have to dig around in all the angst to find it.
And who knows what will happen if you do.
As the great philosopher Gabrielle once said, ‘Dreams can come true’.