Tilly Rose is a huge success around Oxford, particularly with her famous site, www.thatoxfordgirl.com. Her huge following and now published book: That Oxford Girl: a Real Student’s Guide to Oxford University covers everything from enrolments, to tips, to Oxford life and more! The awesome premise for her website www.thatoxfordgirl.com propelled Tilly into the spotlight, spurring her on to write her non-fiction book which has also become a hit.
Tilly has been interviewed by BBC news, countless magazines, newspapers and radio stations across Britain. She’s been recognised for her role in fostering the student community around Oxford and supporting students to gain a place in one of the world’s most prestigious universities. She’s co-created “Nanovert”, a platform that exchanges gifts and rewards for Instagram stories, “That University Student”, a student platform for students to write and share experiences throughout various universities. Tilly is also a student ambassador for Oxford University. Phew. What a busy woman!
I’ve had the pleasure of working with Tilly during the Three Month Curtis Brown Creative Course and I happen to know, not only is Tilly amazing at writing non-fiction, she’s also incredibly gifted at fiction writing. Here, Tilly talks us through her first book deal and what she’s working on next. And I hope to see it complete and ready for readers to enjoy!
How long have you been writing?
I’ve been writing stories since I was a little girl. The novel I’m working on at the moment was actually inspired by a short story I wrote in my year 8 English class. The idea always stayed with me and I still have the original piece, stored away in my memory box.
What led to your offer of representation with an agent (or contract with a publisher, if you went that way around first?)
Whilst studying at Oxford Uni, I saw first-hand the fascination with life behind the mysterious college walls but noticed there were no books providing a student insight. I launched ‘That Oxford Girl’ (www.thatoxfordgirl.com) a platform providing a student perspective into the application process and life at Oxford University and, excitingly, it really took off! Our large social media following (@thatoxfordgirl) and plethora of messages asking for more information had proven that there was a market. I began submitting proposals for a fun, quirky and visual book subverting traditional, factual texts on Oxford Uni.
How long did you have to wait to hear back and was it a partial or full request?
In the end I opted for a slightly different route and submitted my proposal directly to the publisher. I was so excited when around 6 weeks later I received an email saying they’d like to meet me. I was invited to their head office in London where I was grilled by the MD for over an hour. I went armed with every bit of evidence I had to prove that this book would sell. A week later I received another email; I had a publishing deal!
How many submissions did you make prior to gaining representation/publishing contract?
I must have submitted over 30+ times. I also attended literary events, agent Q&As, researching anywhere and everywhere I could get my foot in the door. I had a list of all the agents/publishers I’d submitted to and crossed them off with each rejection that landed in my inbox.
Some agents replied with the generic rejections, but others said that there was something there, it just wasn’t quite right for them. It was these personal responses which inspired me to keep going. I had built the brand and knew there was an audience, it was just a case of convincing someone else!
Whilst at uni I also wrote a YA novel which I sent off to so many agents but it was never picked up. This could seem futile but I developed my writing skills so much in the process, it was 100% worth it. My biggest piece of advice would be never give up!
Any tips on cover letters/synopsis/pitches?
For ‘That Oxford Girl’, I was submitting a non-fiction manuscript and selling an idea on proposal. In this sense, I would advise positioning yourself as an expert in your chosen field. I never would have secured this deal without having built my brand first. My proposal was packed full of evidence; my experiences as a student, an understanding of the city and university, articles I’d had published about life at Oxford, press coverage, 500k+ blog and 30k+ Instagram. Publishing is a business and this all contributed to proving that this book could be a commercial success.
In terms of framing all of this information, I’d recommend keeping it as snappy as possible, avoiding waffle and researching the agents/publishers you’re sending it to. Most importantly, keep believing. If I’d have stopped submitting with every rejection, I never would have secured my deal!
Your first reaction when they offered the representation/contract?
I raced around my flat jumping in the air, then drove home to my mum and announced that we were going out to celebrate. My mum had believed in this book day one!
What’s next for you?
This year I was so excited to be offered a place on Curtis Brown’s Intensive Memoir Course and Three-Month Novel-Writing Course. I’ve never taken a creative writing course before and cannot believe how much I have learnt in such a short space of time. Working with expert tutors and two such talented group of writers has been an amazing experience.
The Girl with the Perfect Life: A Memoir centres around my personal journey of living with 13 years of undiagnosed active Tuberculosis and the lengths I went to, whilst studying at Oxford Uni, to hide this from everyone around me in a desperate attempt not to be labelled.
In my novel, Making Rosa, Rosa Harwood is told she’s been involved in a serious accident and is now part of a witness protection programme. With no recollection of her past, will she ever be able to uncover her true identity and embrace her second chance at love and life?
The next step will be submitting these manuscripts to agents. My dream would be to make a career out of writing!
Thanks so much for sharing your journey with us, Tilly! It’s so great to hear about the successes you’ve had so far. This will encourage others to follow suit.