Following my previous post on ‘Things I wish I’d known when I published my first novel – part 1’, I spoke to four published authors about what they wish they’d known.
Historical novelists Deborah Swift, Alison Morton, Carol McGrath and Denise Barnes have all generously offered their words of advice.
Deborah Swift is the author of five historical novels and a historical trilogy for teens. Pleasing Mr Pepys is based on the real-life women in Pepys’ Diary and is published by Accent Press.
Deborah says: Keep notes on everything
‘When I wrote The Lady’s Slipper I had no idea it would ever be published, so I wrote for fun. I also wrote ‘by the seat of my pants’ with no plan whatsoever, except to see what came next for my own entertainment. That meant I took no notes on my historical research, didn’t make character sketches, or notes on the backgrounds of my characters. Also, I cut out scenes and just deleted them, with no thought for a sequel which might need that information.
When Pan Macmillan took it on, and asked for two more, I was scared I wouldn’t be able to produce another book because I had no ‘system’. If I’d known I would be asked for a sequel, then notes from The Lady’s Slipper would have been invaluable. As it was, I spent many hours re-researching things I’d already looked up, and trawling through the pages of The Lady’s Slipper looking for things like, ‘what colour were Ella’s eyes?’
By the second book (The Gilded Lily) I had learnt to keep thorough records. Traditionally published books take a very long time to appear on the shelves, so I remember floundering when asked a question about a detail in The Lady’s Slipper at a library talk. By then, the second book was in production (being edited) and the third book (full of Spanish history and in an earlier period) was in the forefront of my mind because I was actually writing it.
So it is a head-spinner for any author to keep three books in mind when suddenly asked a question about a historical detail in a book that was finished a few years previously. At first, when someone queried the history, then I had no easily accessed file of data to reassure them that it was indeed thoroughly researched! By the second book I was much more prepared to answer questions on the nitty gritty of the history.
Alison Morton’s first five books have been awarded the BRAG Medallion. SUCCESSIO, AURELIA and INSURRECTIO were selected as Historical Novel Society’s Indie Editor’s Choices. AURELIA was a finalist in the 2016 HNS Indie Award. SUCCESSIO was selected as an Editor’s Choice in The Bookseller. The sixth, RETALIO, came out in April 2017.
Alison says, ‘Two particular things: firstly, that I needed to get a second book in front of readers’ eyes quickly. Luckily, I had been working on the second, PERFIDITAS, while waiting for INCEPTIO to come out and the third, SUCCESSIO, was half drafted. Secondly, that I needed to sharpen up my marketing skills; authors need to be pro-active in letting readers know their book exists.’
Connect with Alison on her Roma Nova site: http://alison-morton.com
Carol McGrath, is the author of the acclaimed Hastings trilogy, including The Handfasted Wife. Recently released, The Woman in the Shadows presents the rise of Thomas Cromwell through the eyes of his wife, Elizabeth.
Carol says: ‘Pause and take legal advice on contracts because you do not
have to sign away all your rights. These can be sold later by an agent.’
‘Check every detail of your historical research because mistakes can come back to bite you!’
‘An MA is no guarantee of publication but such courses can impose writing discipline and help you find your voice but the pace, story and characters are as important as fine writing.’
Denise Barnes, writing the Voyagers trilogy as Fenella Forster and An Orphan in the Snow as Molly Green, says, ‘We authors are always being advised that we should spend so much time in our day on social media to get people talking about our books. This seriously dwindles away your precious writing time, as I learnt early on. I’m a hybrid author, having self-published my saga trilogy, and now writing a series for HarperCollins.
I knew they’d set me deadlines but I wasn’t prepared for the stress of writing one book at 100k words every 8 months to be approved by a top publisher! I now only dip in and out of social media when I’m nagged by my critique writing partner! Writing the story must always come first.‘
Discover more about Denise here: http://denisebarneswriter.com/blog/