‘Behind the scenes publishing stories’ have always fascinated me. Before I got my deal, I would scrutinize them in great detail, seeking glimmers of hope to help me in my own journey.
Because no one journey is the same, I am going to share my story and hope if you are waiting for your breakthrough, that you can feel my hug reaching through the screen and my whispers of encouragement.
In case you don’t know me, my name is Hannah Gold – I’m in my 40’s (and I only mention that in case you think you have to be super young and trendy to get a deal – I can contest I am neither) and I live in the UK with my hubby, cat and tortoise
But the most important thing to know about me is I love animals. And earlier this year all my booky dreams came true when I got a 2-book deal with HarperCollins Children’s Books for my debut MG, THE LAST BEAR.
There are no polar bears left on Bear Island. At least, that’s what April’s father tells her when his scientific research takes them to this remote Arctic outpost for six months. But one endless summer night, April meets one. He is starving, lonely and a long way from home. Determined to save him, April begins the most important journey of her life…
This moving story will win the hearts of children the world over and show them that no one is too young or insignificant to make a difference. The Last Bear is a celebration of the love between a child and an animal, a battle cry for our world and an irresistible adventure with a heart as big as a bear’s.
This is a LONG article – I tried to make it shorter and failed miserably – and so I have split it into various sections.
- My Inspiration
- My Writing Journey
- Getting An Agent
- The Publishing Process
Sit back, grab the drink of your choice and get tucked in.
Excuse me whilst I put my serious face on for a moment whilst I talk about the background to this book. When starting out, I knew that I wanted to write a book about a polar bear and when I researched where to write it, I stumbled across a real-life island off the coast of Norway, called Bear Island.
Oh, I thought to myself, how perfect.
But when I started digging into the history of the island, I discovered something heart-breaking. You see, even though Bear Island was named after the polar bears which once teamed there, unfortunately because of the melting ice-caps, polar bears can no longer reach Bear Island.
And once I found that out – there really was only one story to tell. How an eleven-year-old girl rescues a starving, stranded polar bear a long way from home.
“Hannah Gold’s debut middle grade novel is a bold, unapologetic look into the devastating effects of climate change and its impact on wildlife. “The Last Bear” is a fast-paced novel that will awaken or strengthen readers’ concern for their environment, and has the potential to act as a powerful discussion tool in classrooms and book clubs.” – Early Netgalley review
In Glennon Doyle’s UNTAMED, there is a passage about her daughter which I’d love to share with you. Her daughter, Tish, had heard about the plight of the polar bears at school. Tish is sensitive. So naturally when she heard about the polar bears, she was upset and sad. And so were her classmates. But as soon as break came, her classmates ran outside and starting playing. But not Tish. Because Tish couldn’t get the polar bears out of her mind.
Tish couldn’t help being heartbroken about the polar bears and what we (humans) are doing to the planet. And I can find no better way of expressing why I wanted to write this book other than that. I can’t get the polar bears out of my mind – even when my life is thousands of miles away.
THE LAST BEAR is not the first book I’ve written but it is the most heart-felt and the one which means the most to me. It’s not just a story, it’s my way of trying to add value to the world and making the littlest bit of difference about a cause which means so very much to me.
That’s my why. Now here’s my how.
My Writing Journey:
In terms of my previous writing experience, I started writing my first book, which was YA, in 2006 and it me took 6 years and about a dozen rewrites before it was even remotely good. I sent it to ten agents, all of which either said no or didn’t reply. The nicest reply was from a lovely agent who said they would love to see something else of mine in the future. I re-read that about a million times.
My next book, also YA, again took 6 years to write and I hated it so much at times, I once burned and deleted all the drafts except one. Which then sat untouched on my computer for around 18 months before I could even stand to look at it again. At the start of 2018, I sent this book to around 18 agents and this one fared better. I got 4 full manuscript requests and distinctly remember dancing around the living room, thinking ‘this is IT!’
Sadly, this wasn’t it. 3 of those agents said no and the other never got back to me.
I’m not ashamed to say, I sobbed my heart out on my husband’s shoulder. And I didn’t write for well over a year. During that time, a lot of other things seemed to stack up against me as if life were having a big belly laugh at my expense.
Come the start of 2019, something deep within me seemed to wake up and surge through me.
I would write a book. Not just any book. But the book of my heart. I would write about everything I loved most in the world. And, although I didn’t know it at the time, I would also claim back my life in the process and find my ultimate purpose.
I even gave myself a set of guidelines which I will share in case they are useful to you too:
- #1 I would not follow the market trends and worry about whether I fitted in or not, or how funny I was or wasn’t or whether my book was topical.
- #2 I would give permission to myself and accept that what I was writing and, more importantly, who I was, was enough.
- #3 I would put everything of myself onto the page and not leave a single ounce of me behind – even if that meant exposing myself as someone was sensitive, sentimental and who loved so huge, sometimes it hurt.
- #4 I would write exactly what I wanted to write about and believe that by being true and authentic to myself, my voice and my story would connect with others.
- #5 To always back myself but most importantly, back the message in the book and do whatever I could to make this book as big and as HUGE as possible, not for me, but for the polar bears.
I wrote THE LAST BEAR in under 6 months and everything about it just felt right. I think sometimes when we find our flow, and I would even go as far to say, our destiny, that things just slot into place.
Getting An Agent:
Come September 2019, after a couple of rounds of light edits, I was itching to start submitting. I had come so close with my previous YA book, and was fairly familiar with the children’s agents and which ones I wanted to approach.
But there was one BIG difference.
When I had submitted in the past, I had often done so with a sense of my own limitations and what I was capable of. In short, I put caps on what I could achieve even before attempting to achieve it! Although I still had all of those same fears, something deep inside keep telling me that this book was different. And hey. I had made a promise to the polar bears. This meant putting aside my very human fears, insecurities and limiting self-talk to make sure the message of this book was spread as far and wide as it needs to be.
Sometimes we have to get out of our own way, right?
I then drew up a list of who I perceived to be some of the most highly regarded children’s agents in the UK and then, heart in my mouth, I went for them.
Sometimes at this point you hear of agents who reply within HOURS. Nope. Didn’t happen for me. I think the first agent replied after about 10 days – which in agent-waiting terms is the equivalent of 10 years. Then there was a LONG anxious wait (the equivalent of a century) and then suddenly in November, they all started replying at once.
And even though there were the inevitable rejections or no replies, for the most part they started expressing interest and it was genuinely very paradigm shifting for me. I could literally feel my own self-imposed limitations peeling off. As if I had been living inside a Russian doll for years and not realizing, there was a bigger version of me available all along.
(If you’re interested, I’ve actually recorded a live about this whole process and if you want to hear me waffling on about it, you can watch that here.)
Mid-December 2019, about 10/11
years weeks after submitting, I got an offer from Claire Wilson at RCW – who was, still is and will always be my DREAM AGENT. Claire represents all my agent goals in one. Smart, experienced, kind, generous, a reputation which precedes her and someone who is also, most importantly, aligned with the eco values of my book.
The Publishing Process
I was in a lucky position that the book didn’t need a lot of edits – and I know this will sound a bit trite, but it really had seemed to come out ready-made. Claire offered a few suggestions and after tackling these over Christmas, the book was then ready to submit to publishers at the start of January 2020.
What followed turned out to be an incredible, life-changing, roller-coaster, thrilling week and by the end of it, I had agreed to a 2-book deal with HarperCollins Children’s books.
During the meeting with them – this was pre-Covid – so it took place in their swank London office, I felt so nervous. When your dreams come true, it’s actually extraordinarily emotional (or at least it was for me!) and I confess I even cried in the meeting. (I know. I still cringe about it.) In my defense, the room was hot. I was sweating. I was tired. Surrounding me on every side were books by authors I had admired since I was a child. I think, between you and me, I was probably just a little bit overwhelmed.
It all felt incredibly surreal and the speed and scale of everything was leaving me breathless. But not so breathless, I couldn’t dance around my living room when I got home knowing that I was finally going to be a PUBLISHED CHILDREN’S AUTHOR!
And not with any old book, but the book of my heart.
Despite some setbacks and delays caused by Covid, 2020 has been a whirlwind of a year for me and I can’t wait for the next step – which is when THE LAST BEAR is released into the wild come February 2021!
Imagine making friends with a polar bear… The Last Bear is perfect for readers of 8+, beautifully illustrated throughout by Levi Pinfold – winner of the Kate Greenaway Medal and illustrator of Harry Potter 20th anniversary edition covers.
And if you are still here at the end of this article, I am seriously impressed and would love to offer some advice. I’ve wanted to be a children’s writer all my life and at times I genuinely thought it would never happen to me. That something like this was destined for someone younger, prettier, more talented, more confident, more anything – than me.
But it can and does happen.
- Savour every success you get – even the ones which feel like failures.
- Don’t be afraid to be real and raw. There’s millions of people out there who feel exactly the same as you.
- Never underestimate yourself and what you can achieve. It’s often way more than you think.
- Add value to other people’s lives and to the planet and you’ll automatically add value to your life too.
- And most importantly of all, don’t forget the polar bears.
If you are interested in reading my book then THE LAST BEAR is out in Feb 2021 in the UK and US and you can click on this link and choose all the wonderful ways to treat yourself to it.