Breaking into New Fiction Markets: Livi Michael Shares Her Experience

Livi Michael is an established writer of children’s fiction. I first came across her work when I read, Frank and the Black Hamster of Narkiz, which was on my reading list for Manchester Metropolitan University’s Writing for Children MA.

However, as her post below shows, being a children’s author wasn’t much help when it came to producing adult fiction. Here’s what she has to say about her writing experience:

Starting Again

What do you do when you’ve been out of one field of writing (adult fiction) for a long time and are trying to get back in? This was my situation, when starting to write Succession. For ten years I’d been publishing children’s books. I knew virtually no one in the field of adult fiction, and publishing categories are inflexible – it really isn’t easy to move from one to the other.

It felt a lot like starting again, from scratch.

I started to write Succession in April 2007.

Succession 1200

I was full of doubts. Not just about the publishing world, but about myself as a writer. These doubts were so intense that at first I could only get myself to write a book at all by promising myself that no one would ever read it…

All I had in my favour was that I loved, genuinely and passionately loved the subject of my research; the period of bloody civil war now known as the Wars of the Roses. And Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII. She had married three times by the age of 14, had her only child at the age of 13 and lived through the reigns of six kings. In her lifetime England moved from medieval feudalism to a recognisably modern society. So I had plenty to work on. And the famous advice of Dorothea Brande, which was to write first thing every morning as soon as I woke up.

I wrote the first two drafts in bed.

I was so happy, every morning, to wake up and write some more of my book.

Gradually reality kicked in.

Three years into this project I realised I was going to have to do something about the mass of material. So I edited it down drastically, to just under 300,000 words.

Yes, I know.

But every time I’d thought ‘You’re mad – this is far too long!’ I reminded myself that I was not trying to please anyone else, I was writing this book just for me. And it felt good.

Still – far too long. But to be fair, it wasn’t much longer than Wolf Hall, say. And actually shorter than Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries or Jonathan Strange and Mr Norell. So I sent it to my agent.

Who hated it.

Very hard phone call.

Had to lie down.

When I’d recovered sufficiently I read the whole thing again.

I still liked it.

So I sent it to the very first editor I ever had, on the grounds that he might remember me. He did and was good enough to read it. But not accept it. So I had to take this further rejection seriously. I was going to have to re-write my novel. This time bearing the reader in mind.

In the meantime I’d accepted a new job. I knew I would only have about three months before my new schedule kicked in and I would have no time at all.

I hit the keypad. Twelve to fourteen hours a day, seven days a week for fourteen weeks.

The new version was just under 100,000 words – actual novel length.

I sent it to a different agent. Two weeks into my new job I had a phone call. I had a new agent. Three weeks later I had a new publisher, Penguin. But the first thing my new editor said was that it was completely unpublishable as it was – I would have to re-write it!

Part of the problem was my use of extracts from actual medieval chronicles. I saw my text as illustrating or interpreting the originals – she saw it the other way round. She wanted more focus, whereas I had been aiming for a kind of tapestry effect.

Seven months later there was a new draft that made us both happy. Succession, the least likely of all my many literary projects to make it to publication, is out this month.

Now all I have to do is write the sequel…

About the Author

Livi Michael is the author of five novels for adults and eleven for children. These have won various awards including the Faber Prize and a Nestle Award. The Whispering Roadwas Book of the Month in Border’s, US, in May 2005. Her fifth novel for adults, Succession, will be published by Penguin in June 2014.

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