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.

Breaking Free From Your Genre

It’s always nice to see a writer breaking out of their usual genre. It gives readers a deeper insight into their talents. Marnie Riches is one such author. I first knew her as a children’s writer but she’s branched out from children’s fiction to take a much darker turn with her series of moody crime thrillers. She’s a recent winner at the Dead Good Reader Awards, receiving the Patricia Highsmith Award for most exotic location.

Here’s how she transformed from children’s author to crime writer.

The difficult birth of The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die by Marnie Riches

the-girl-who-wouldnt-dieI had been writing for children for some years when I started work on The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die. Always a fan of crime fiction, particularly the Scandi-noir of Stieg Larsson and Jo Nesbo, it had been the pinnacle of my writing aspirations to pen a complex crime thriller. But what sort of a shape would an adult thriller penned by a children’s author take?

Back in 2010, when New Adult was a newly mooted age-banding, I realised I wanted to write about a girl on the cusp of adulthood. I wasn’t ready to leave my stories in the hands of a solely middle-aged cast of misanthropes, perverts and murderers (although the series is inevitably littered with those). My heroine, George McKenzie is therefore twenty in the first book and an Erasmus student studying at Amsterdam university. I think her youth brings a freshness and derring-do to the genre, in the same way Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander did to the Millennium Trilogy.

It took me two years to get The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die just right. Rewrite, after rewrite, after rewrite. It grew to 150K words. I cut it back to just over 100K. In the interim, I penned the first six books of the HarperCollins’ Time-Hunters series for 7+ children, under a pseudonym, Chris Blake. When The Girl was polished to perfection, after my second agent had sadly retired, I went on the hunt for a new agent, knowing that “clicking” would be essential for a long term commitment. Within a few weeks, I had two offers of representation, and though both were from reputable agencies, I followed my gut instincts when I made my choice. My judgement was spot on.

the-girl-who-broke-the-rulesThe Girl Who Wouldn’t Die took a year for my agent to place – the enthusiasm from my publisher Avon (HarperCollins’ commercial imprint) was there immediately following submission, but the imprint had to undergo a lengthy period of restructuring and was not initially in a position to offer. We waited for them, though, and with hindsight, Avon, which publishes great women’s fiction and crime, was always the right home for my series. Now, I’m beginning to see that patience and belief pay off. My debut made it to the top of the Kindle free chart within days and is now climbing quickly in Kindle paid. With The Girl Who Broke the Rules out in August 2015 and The Girl Who Walked in the Shadows coming in late November, I’m optimistic that the series will have won a loyal following by the end of 2015. But the buzz wouldn’t be there without the support of fellow authors, SCBWI, reviewers, book bloggers and friends. Building your supportive network is essential whether you self-publish or are traditionally published like me.

No doubt, being published can be a fraught and emotional rollercoaster ride, but it’s one worth taking. The highs are bloody awesome! It’s the best job in the world. So, if you’re an aspiring author, my advice is to keep writing, aim for the stars, surround yourself with supportive allies and never give up!

About the Author

marnie-richesMarnie Riches grew up on a rough estate in Manchester, aptly within sight of the dreaming spires of Strangeways prison. She swapped those for the spires of Cambridge University, gaining a Masters degree in Modern & Medieval Dutch and German. She has been a punk, a trainee rock star, a pretend artist, a property developer and professional fundraiser. In her spare time, she likes to run, renovate houses and paint. Oh, and drinking. She likes a drink. And eating. She likes that too. Especially in exotic destinations.

Having authored the first six books of HarperCollins Children’s Time-Hunters series, her George McKenzie crime thrillers for adults were inspired, in part, by her own youth and time spent in The Netherlands as a student. She also writes contemporary women’s fiction.

Clues to Writing A Brilliant Mystery Story: Kate Pankhurst Investigates

Sometimes when you meet an author in person you find yourself delighted they’re published, because they’re so nice, and the world is a better place for their books.

I met Kate Pankhurst in York a month or so ago, when we both attended the second of Sara Grant’s wonderful workshops on editing. We got talking, and I asked if she’d like to contribute a post to this blog. Being the lovely person she is, she not only wrote a post but illustrated it as well. Here’s what she has to say about writing a mystery story:

Continue reading

Creating a Believable Story World

I like routine. It helps me get into the right frame of mind for writing. Watching Judge Judy in the morning while I’m eating my porridge, sets me up for the day.

If it doesn’t make sense, it’s not true,” is one of Judge Judy’s little sayings. It got me thinking about fictional worlds, and how as writers we ask the reader to ‘buy into’ the story we’ve created for them. It’s called, suspension of disbelief.

If something in our created world doesn’t ring true, it throws the reader out of the story. By ‘true’, I don’t mean factually correct (although it is important to get our facts straight). I mean, do our created world’s rules, laws and behaviours remain consistent throughout? Here’s a few example ‘worlds’ to explore. Continue reading

Advice on Being Genre Specific from Bali Rai

I’m exceedingly pleased to welcome author, Bali Rai, to the blog today, who has some interesting and insightful things to say about writing within specific genres.

Genre Blog

Recently I’ve been writing in a new genre, certainly as far as my professional career goes. Fire City, which came out in September, is a dystopian horror fantasy – very different to anything I’ve done before. As a result, many people have asked if I found it difficult to switch from urban, gritty fiction to this new area. The answer is no. I didn’t give the switch much thought at all. I believe that writing to a new genre is relatively easy, but only if you do two things. Continue reading