In good company… with Sibel Hodge
With 200 rejections under her belt, Sibel Hodge is in good company. There wouldn’t be a single writer abroad who hadn’t at some stage scored mega-rejections and wondered whether it was worth continuing. But continue she did and look what happened…
Ever since I was old enough to scrawl my first word, which was Halibaaaaa, I knew I wanted to write books. OK, so the word didn’t actually make sense, and it might take a little longer for me to actually string a whole sentence together, but that didn’t put me off. I was going to write books and no one would stop me…
From when I was really young, my mum encouraged me to read. “If you can read books, you’ll never be bored,” I remember her telling me. I secretly think it was a ploy to keep me out of her hair and quiet for a while. I was always a loud kid with lots of energy, and always getting into some sort of trouble with the boys down our street. (Yep, even then I was a sucker for boys!). After discovering the wonderful world of books, I thought I’d have a go myself, and remember scribbling down stories whenever I had a spare moment. Shame I was only six, and there was no way anyone would publish a book with I Want Big Girls’ Knickers in the title.
When I was in secondary school my favourite subject was English language. I’d lose myself for hours. And even though I hadn’t thought about my forthcoming career before I left (apart from being Wonder Woman or an astronaut), I knew, even then, I had a love of creating. I also loved to make people laugh from an early age. In the beginning, it wasn’t intentional. I was always saying ridiculous things that I thought were quite serious. Like the time I went to the butchers shop with my nan, and the lady behind the counter asked where I was from. “South America,” I said. (I know, where the hell did that come from? I must’ve had an overactive imagination from the start.) So when people started laughing at me, I thought, hey, this is pretty fun! We live in such a hectic world and laughter is a perfect way to de-stress. Because my personality is quirky, fun-loving, and slightly nuts, it was probably a given that I would eventually write chick lit, although I have recently delved into the dark side of my brain (which is a pretty scary place to be sometimes!) and written a psychological thriller.
But when I left school no one mentioned writing as a career. It was all boring things like secretarial jobs, travel agents, office work. I didn’t even know about creative writing courses until about ten years ago! I think they considered that writing wasn’t a “proper career.” No one suggested journalism or further education in writing. So what was a girl to do? Although my mum wanted me to go to University and study to be something like a doctor or lawyer (eeek!), I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do for a career, so I flitted from one job to the next, trying to find something that interested me, and eventually ended up working for the police for ten years. So there I was, too busy paying the mortgage, working shifts, and living in the rat race of life to have the proper time or opportunity to write a novel. It didn’t stop me trying, though.
It was drastic things like splitting up with a boyfriend that made me start my first novel when I was about seventeen. I never got further than the first three chapters, though, because I didn’t have a clue what I was doing, other than using a typewriter! Then I started another one (I got dumped again – can you see a pattern here?) when I was about twenty-three, and ditto (I’d hate for those to ever see the light of day). I just knew that I loved writing and therefore it stood to reason that one day I’d do it, didn’t it? And although I look back now and think I wish I’d started writing earlier, actually, I have to say, that it would’ve been bad timing. Back then I wouldn’t have had anything to really write about. A lot of the things that go into my books now are based on my experience of life. People I’ve met, places I’ve been, books I’ve read, things I’ve done, struggles I’ve achieved. At twenty-three, what did I really know about any of that?
And then five years ago, hubby and I had had enough of the UK. We got fed up with the constant grey weather, bills that seemed to increase as you looked at them, working constantly to pay them, and never having quality time for ourselves or our family. Right, it was time to make my childhood dream come true and move somewhere exotic, where the cost of living was lower, and we would actually have time to enjoy each other and life again. Then I would finally have the time and opportunity to dedicate to writing. Yes, we’d have to sacrifice a lot of things to achieve it, but it would be worth it in the end. So we moved to North Cyprus, and it was like my brain suddenly said, Hallellujah! Now we divide our time between Cyprus and the UK.
I didn’t actively think about what I was going to write, but a year after we’d moved there I had an exciting idea for a story, using my unique Turkish Cypriot/British cultural heritage, and my debut romantic comedy Fourteen Days Later was born. Then I actually became the guinea pig for the sequel, My Perfect Wedding! But it was all very well completing my dream of writing a book, but until it was published, no one would get to read it.
So I started querying hundreds of agents and publishers. I got too many rejections to even count! OK, small white lie, a while ago I did count them out of morbid curiosity, and it was a whopping two hundred!
I did come close a couple of times to being traditionally published, but it never quite worked out. It was either, “one group of editors liked it but another didn’t”, or “the chick lit market is saturated”, or “we love it but…”
When I first looked into publishing independently, platforms like Amazon Kindle didn’t support international authors. So the way I saw it, I had two choices. Either I could write another book, hone my writing skills and learn all I could about my craft, and wait for an opportunity to come up, or I could let all the rejection letters get me down, think my writing career was over before it had begun, and stick my head in the oven! Since heat tends to turn my curls into a ball of frizz, it was no contest, really. I wrote my next novel, a chick lit mystery called The Fashion Police, and waited. Because I knew, I just knew, that I COULD do this. I could write novels that people wanted to read. If only I could get the chance.
In the meantime, I also entered several writing competitions. And while I was still getting the dreaded rejections, Fourteen Days Later was shortlisted for the Harry Bowling Prize 2008 and received a Highly Commended by The Yeovil Literary Prize 2009. And The Fashion Police was a runner up in the Chapter One Promotions Novel Competition 2010 (and later nominated for the Best Novel with Romantic Elements 2010 by The Romance Reviews). Surely I was doing something right, wasn’t I? But I STILL couldn’t get a publisher!
Then last year, when Amazon opened up their doors to non-US authors, I uploaded Fourteen Days Later and The Fashion Police onto their Kindle store. I couldn’t believe it when I finally saw my books on sale. It was scary, rewarding, exciting, amazing – so many experiences rolled into one.
But what if no one liked my novels? What if I had all bad reviews? What if all the two hundred rejections were right? What if, what if…?
Time for a deep breath, Sibel. If you want to be an author, you have to repeat this mantra everyday… “I can do this. I can do this. I CAN do this.”
So I did.
And boy am I glad I did! The first month with Fourteen Days Later and The Fashion Police, I sold 44 books (another eeek!). Then I released my third novel, a romantic comedy called My Perfect Wedding, and later released my second chick lit mystery Be Careful What You Wish For. In the last 6 months alone I’ve sold over 40,000 ebooks, and all my novels are consistently in the Amazon top 100 genre categories for humor, contemporary romance, comedy, and romantic suspense. My highest overall sales ranking to date is 136, just missing out on the Amazon top 100 bestseller charts. Considering there are over 900,000 Kindle books on Amazon, that’s not bad!
And this is one lesson I’ve learned in the last couple of years…You can do anything you want to in life. It may mean you have to go a different route than you originally planned, but if you’re determined enough and believe in yourself, you can overcome any obstacles.
So I’m toasting all you women out there with my glass of wine. Cheers to dreams and making them come true! Looks like I got my big girls’ knickers after all!
You can find Sibel’s books in paperback and all ebook formats. For more info, please check out her website