On to question six of the JAMMDI author interview that started on August 3rd. If you are just joining us, I will be posting fifteen questions and answers weekly from my authors of Jane Austen Made Me Do It, a short story anthology inspired by Jane Austen.
I often wonder about how authors became published, so this question was one of the first that came to mind when I started writing up my list for my anthology authors. It is similar to “how did you meet your spouse stories”, that I also love to ask people, and can often be just as serendipitous…
Jane Austen’s road to publication was long and arduous before she self-financed the publication of her first novel Sense and Sensibility in 1811. Was your road to publication strewn with rose petals or thorns? What advice can you offer new writers seeking publication today?
- My road to publication was most definitely strewn with rose petals, for not only did I meet my husband through my online writing, but he helped me to set up our own small press and self-publish my novels to great success before Simon & Schuster called with an offer! – Pamela Aidan
- I’m still at the very beginning of my journey to publication. I look to Miss Austen’s struggles for strength and inspiration during my own difficult times. I’ve been writing for over a decade for my own amusement. I penned three fantasy novels in a series just because I wanted to know how the story would end. It has only been very recently that I’ve realized that others might be interested in reading my stories and even, hopefully, enjoy them. So like Jane Austen at the beginning, my stories were penned for my own amusement and that of my closest friends. I often think what an immense loss it would have been to the canon of world literature if she had never sought to share her voice. I look to that example and think, of her courage. Now that the potential audience for my writing appears to be widening, I feel as if I’m standing on a precipice and cannot see the bottom. If I swallow my fear and dive in, hopefully the water will be just fine. Believing in oneself is the key to perseverance. – Brenna Aubrey
- Mine was strewn with rose petals, because Fate blessed me with a much-cherished literary agent, who found me a home with a beloved editor. My advice to new writers is two-fold: don’t bother chasing ‘markets’ (vampires, teen dystopia, Austenmania) unless you love the subject—it’s critical when undertaking a book to be passionate about your work. If you are, readers will find you. Secondly, attempt to secure a reputable agent before attempting anything else. Good agents make the difference between a book sale and a career. – Stephanie Barron
- There are very few writers who don’t find the road long and at least challenging, but most also find it exhilarating and rewarding, or they wouldn’t persist. I like to think Jane did, too, experiencing all the excitement of bringing a mental world into a form that could be shared. New writers will find it useful to remember that Jane Austen wrote a number of books before publication. Don’t fall too deeply in love with the first, for it will almost certainly be flawed. When the first novel is sent out to editors and agents, don’t sit around waiting. Write the next one. Expect rejection, because 99.9% of authors receive rejections at first, and if it’s expected, it won’t hurt as much. If the novel is accepted, the joy will be so much greater. Lastly, as we see from Jane Austen’s career, publishing often doesn’t make sense. It can be fickle, unjust, and illogical. Don’t take it personally. Just keep on writing, keep on learning, and keep on sending it out. – Jo Beverley
- Thorns. I’d written five unpublished novels when I finally got published, writing the scholarly biography of my grandmother, Onoto Watanna, who was the first Asian American novelist (she was half Chinese). That gave me the confidence to get my Austen-related fiction published, and it’s all been pleasure and joy since then. Advice to new writers? Everything is changing in the publishing and literary fields. You need to keep abreast of the changes, but at the same time work out of your own imagination and interests. – Diana Birchall
- My first novel, The Season of Second Chances, was published in 2010. I hope that Jane would have liked it as in so much of her work, it features an independent-minded woman who often gets it wrong, but who ultimately has to confront and revise her own values. And with her sense of humor Ms. Austen would have enjoyed the note from an early reader who suggested an alteration in the plot that ran counter to the very spirit of the heroine’s core relationship. Frank and I joked that the same reader would have asked Nabokov to take the pedophilia out of Lolita. And I have no doubt that Jane A. would have appreciated the debate that surrounded my novel, an argument as to what constitutes “women’s” fiction, and my contention that the term is offensive in itself. But I am carping. I adored my editor, and the reception, from reviewers to booksellers, was generous and warm. So the roses you refer to smelled very sweet, indeed. As for advice for young writers – be brave and write on; cream rises to the top. – Diane Meier
- My first book had a lot going for it – James Joyce’s Odyssey, a non-fiction guide to James Joyce’s Ulysses, and I conceived it in time for the 1982 centenary of Joyce’s birth and aimed it at readers who, like myself at that time, had never finished reading Ulysses. It became a surprise best-seller, and so it was rose petals all the way. They litter my path to this day, because I took the concept and expanded it into a weekly podcast on my website decoding Ulysses paragraph by paragraph. As to advice – Diane has it exactly right: just do it. And if/when you’re good enough you’ll find a publisher and an audience. – Frank Delaney
- It’s no easier being published now then it was at Jane Austen’s time, particularly if your work doesn’t “fit” into a particular genre. Jane Austen was doing something that hadn’t been done before — writing about the quiet lives of women, with their dreams, their possibilities and their limitations. When she was writing, Gothic “horrid” romances were all the rage on the more popular end, while on the highbrow end you needed to write narrative poetry in the style of Byron to be successful. Obviously Austen wasn’t going to be a best seller. She was going against the grain. Personally, I think my road to publication has been about managing expectations. When you first start off, you think the moment you start publishing, all doors will open to you; that being published is some kind of magical key to the kingdom. In the case of most writers, getting published is a process that is destined to repeat itself. It isn’t like getting a steady job. The fact is, every time you write a book, you’re taking a gamble, and so is your publisher. You have no idea if people will be receptive or not. Tastes may have shifted, there may be a new fad, the industry is changing, the economy is declining — a million things could happen to make your book disappear into the black hole of indifference. You invest a lot of effort and emotional intensity into the writing, but to people it’s only a book, an object they buy, like a bag of apples or a box of chocolates. If you’re looking for any easy way to get rich, this isn’t it. But then, getting published has its own rewards — the thrill of seeing your new cover, the excitement of the launch and the publicity and the blog tours, meeting people from all across the world who have read your works, making some fantastic friends online and finding you all have so much in common. All these things wouldn’t have happened if you weren’t published, or at least if your novel wasn’t out there available for people to read. Frankly, my dears, I wouldn’t want to be without them. – Monica Fairview
- It was most definitely strewn with thorns. It took a long time and a lot of dedication before I finally made it into print. I think I would tell new writers to write the kind of books they love to read. – Amanda Grange
- My road was strewn with both thorns and rose petals. First, I spent 18 months researching and writing my Jane Austen love story as a screenplay—and several years trying to drum up interest in Hollywood, to no avail. Then, I researched and wrote a different book (a medical thriller) that landed me a wonderful agent… but didn’t find a publisher. Finally, I adapted my own script as a novel. I’m thrilled to say that The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen sold in a bidding war between three major publishing houses, and went on to become a bestseller. Advice to new writers: believe in yourself, work really hard, and never give up! – Syrie James
- I tried to crack the romance code and succeeded, sort of, to cries of “You can’t do that in a romance!” So much depends on timing in mass market fiction—having the right sort of book at the right time and finding an editor who loves your voice. It’s impossible to predict the market so don’t even try, but write and find your voice and learn. – Janet Mullany
- Rose petals. Definitely rose petals. I was in the right place at the right time and made the right connections. I had no idea that writing a blog about my favorite author would culminate into a book deal, but it did. For years, I wrote “only for fame, and without any view to pecuniary emolument.” Recently I was asked for career advice by a young college graduate who wants to break into writing. I told her to read, write, read, write, and then start a blog! It worked for me! – Laurel Ann Nattress
- When I look back I think I have been lucky though it took about five years before I was traditionally published. I self-published a Jane Austen picture book, Effusions of Fancy, before trying my hand at writing a novel. Lydia Bennet’s Story took a few years of learning the craft of writing, and taking advice, which was so rewarding, and after self-publishing, to my great excitement, it was picked up by Sourcebooks who have also published Willoughby’s Return, and Mr. Darcy’s Secret. Don’t give up is my advice to a writer trying to become published. Keep going, and above all, keep learning. I think to succeed as writers we must be open to criticism, learn from the advice we’re given, and not be afraid to change direction if our work will be improved as a result. – Jane Odiwe
- My advice to new writers is always the same – practice perseverance! I wrote for seven years before selling my first novel. The most important thing you can do is write. I am a great advocate of the Club 100 program that challenges participants to write at least 100 words a day for 100 days. Interested writers can sign up for the email loop via my website. Support and encouragement from other writers always helps, but it’s up to us to show up each day at the page and do our work. With the ongoing changes in the publishing industry, I would also recommend that aspiring authors not leap to self-publishing until they have educated themselves about what that decision entails. Digital publishing means your books now live forever, so never put anything out there that’s not your very best work. Self-publishing is not the place to experiment or appear amateurish. Finally, write the book that you love, the book that you want to read. It’s not a bad thing to keep one eye on the market and on trends, but writing to the market or jumping on a trendy bandwagon is no guarantee of success. Trends start because one brave author decided to follow her muse and do something fresh and new. Yes, it’s a more difficult path, but in the end, it’s worth it. – Beth Pattillo
- Write, write, and write some more! I think it’s very important for would-be novelists to find their voice, and to discover what they like writing about. I studied English Literature at university and for many years afterwards I wrote features for magazines, which made me very aware of the issues facing women today, and what interests them. I decided to write my first novel after being inspired by an article about six women under thirty who had all published their first novels. Their advice was to write three chapters and send it to a list of agents, so I did exactly that! Within two weeks I had an agent who advised me to go away and finish the book. Six months later, my first novel was finished and there was a bidding war for the book! It was a dream come true! In 2000 my first novel, What’s New, Pussycat? was published, and the rest is history… – Alexandra Potter
- I had a remarkably easy road to the publication of my first and second novels. Unfortunately, the publishers of Traditional Regency Romances closed the road, so I’m now looking for another route. – Myretta Robens
- There are always obstacles to creative endeavors. Often it’s not the best one who gets the part or the publishing contract; it’s as likely (or more likely) to be the luckiest, the most persistent, or the one who has the platform of celebrity. My advice? Don’t whine. Write like a Trollope (Anthony) who had a rigorous writing schedule. There is no such thing as writer’s block, any more than there is electrician’s block or librarian’s block. Remember that publishing is a business enterprise, not a form of patronage. – Jane Rubino
- I don’t think my path to publishing was difficult, but it was work. Of course, I went in expecting it to be work; I talk to a lot of writers who seem to think that once the book is written, the hard part’s over. It’s not. The fun part is over. For Lady Vernon, mom and I found an agent the old-fashioned way — we looked up agents, cross-checked to make sure they’d be a good fit, and sent out letters. It took three rounds of submissions and five months emailing to find an agent. She’s fantastic, and was able to find us an even more fantastic editor. On the complete other end of the spectrum, I showed my solo novel (a children’s fantasy) to the agent I work for, hoping or some advice. Instead, she offered to represent me. I would tell a new author that getting published always has its trials and tribulations. You are going to get rejected a lot, and you need to have the determination, or the ego, to keep going. You also need to be willing to put the same effort into finding an agent and getting published that you did in writing the book. – Caitlen Rubino-Bradway
- Not an easy one to answer. My novel was first published in the UK, and the first hurdle was finding a good agent. I was very lucky, because one of the people who read the manuscript knew a young, dynamic agent, and told him about it – so he actually asked to read it. Once it was published in Britain (as Mr. Darcy’s Diary), he had no trouble finding a publisher in the USA. So my advice, to a British beginner at least, would be to pull every string you can to find an agent, and then keep your fingers crossed… It’s a very discouraging business, and you have to believe in yourself and keep trying. I wonder if self-publishing might be a way forward in future? – Maya Slater
- I have to say that writing fan fiction and getting feedback (hopefully honest and constructive as well as appreciative praise) was a great way of improving my writing. The thing is, you have to be able to accept the critical feedback and work on what is lacking—and to recognize which critical feedback is useful and which is not. A teachableness of disposition in an author is a great blessing, to misquote Henry Tilney. Work hard and get your stuff out there, accept criticism as well as praise, and take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves. Overnight successes rarely occur overnight; they occur when an author finds herself in a position to take advantage of an opportunity created by hard work. To quote another great mind, Conan O’Brien: work hard and be kind, and good things will follow. – Margaret C. Sullivan
- It’s petals, thorns, candy and vinegar, it’s all of it. Write your best book, and then put it out to fellow writers, agents, friends and see what they say. – Adriana Trigiani
- My advice to new writers seeking publication is to have vision, be discerning, and tell the naysayers within and without to take a hike. Vision means never letting yourself lose sight of what you are trying to accomplish by getting your book out into the world. Vision will help you stay motivated and dissolve all obstacles. Be discerning means be very careful about whom you ask for an opinion on whether or not your book is ready to be submitted. The ability to provide honest, specific, constructive feedback that is unencumbered by envy or competition is a skill that your best friend or someone in your writer’s group or even your writing teacher may not have. Telling the naysayers to take a hike is self-explanatory. Once my first novel, Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, was ready to submit to agents, it all happened very quickly, and I found myself with a two-book deal. Suddenly I was a working novelist—if “suddenly” includes all the preceding years of writing, rewriting, researching, and confidence-building to reach the point where I was ready to put my first novel out there in the world. A fellow author and friend, the late Ron Gottesman, once told me that getting published requires the three P’s: Patience, Persistence, and Postage. For me, faith is a prerequisite for those first two P’s, and the biggest obstacle that many authors seeking publication face is a lack of faith. Faith in themselves, and thus in their work. I would also like to add two more P’s to Ron’s list: Paper and Printer Cartridges. Even as e-books gain greater market share and e-submissions become more prevalent, there are still readers and agents who prefer paper, or alternate between both. And so it is a good practice for writers to alternate reading their own works on paper with reading them on screen. I will often notice things on paper that I didn’t notice on the screen. – Laurie Viera Rigler
- It’s a strange world out there right now. These days, when I give aspiring writers advice, I warn them that my advice is dated—with my first book out in 2005, I’m practically a dinosaur with the way everything’s been moving. When I started seeking publication, it was still done by snail mail queries; “e-book” and self-publication were bad words; and almost no-one had a website. One piece of advice does still apply, though. Find yourself a good agent. Publishing is a confusing, byzantine, and very cliquey world, and never more so than today, with everything so much in flux. Find someone out there who loves and believes in your work, who can decode that world for you, and be your advocate in it. – Lauren Willig
GIVEAWAY OF JANE AUSTEN MADE ME DO IT
Enter a chance to win one signed copy of Jane Austen Made Me Do It, edited by Laurel Ann Nattress by leaving a comment answering what you found most surprising by the author’s experiences to publication, or, if you are an aspiring writer, what your strategy will be? Deadline to qualify for the drawing is 11:59 pm, Wednesday, September 12, 22, 2012. The Winner will be announced on Thursday, September 13, 2012. Print edition available to US addresses, or eBook edition Internationally. Good luck!
Jane Austen Made Me Do It: Original Stories Inspired by Literature’s Most Astute Observer of the Human Heart, edited by Laurel Ann Nattress
Ballantine Books (2011)
Trade paperback (446) pages
Please join us next Friday for the seventh of the fifteen questions and answers that will be posted over the next several weeks.
© 2012 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose