Welcome to my Authors 40+ Series – sharing the stories of amazing authors who published their first book over the age of 40. The series features talented, experienced and inspirational writers who share their (often non-conventional!) writing and publishing journeys honestly and articulately. Next to feature is a fellow Hull author, Lynne Emmerson!
1) What is the title and synopsis/premise of your first book and how old were you when you published it?
My first book is called ‘A Patchwork of Angels’ and is a young adult (also read by full adults) fantasy novel set in a multi-universe. A group of teenagers, dealing with the mortal illness of the grandmother of two of them, find support from their guardian angels who take them on a series of adventures in different dimensions aimed at helping the young people understand how death is part of life and that everything in the universe is connected. They find the universe is far more awesome than they had imagined and that science still holds many mysteries. The two grandchildren also discover that their own origins are far more mysterious than they could ever have thought. The book has been described as inspiring, reassuring, magical and heart-warming. That was my intention, which is very reassuring. It is the first in a series of books set in the Mystic Realms – the series is intended to be spiritual without being religious in any way, and includes art, quantum physics, astronomy, environmental and ecological issues in the interlocking themes, to name a few.
I was 66, a retired social worker, when I published ‘Patchwork of Angels’ in 2017, though I first started writing – mainly poetry – in the 1960s, inspired by Donovan’s wonderful songs. I soon stopped though, having more to think about than poetry when I was having my family. I started writing – and finding myself again – at the turn of the millennium after becoming single and taking charge of my life once more.
2) Tell me about writing the book e.g. where did the idea come from / how long did it take / what did you learn along the way?
The idea came about when my own grandchildren suffered a bereavement and though we looked, we could find no age-appropriate books with the right message to help them, so I decided to write my own. It took about ten years to write – far too long for my grandchildren to benefit from though they have subsequently enjoyed reading it. There were valid reasons for this which I will explain in due course. What did I learn? Oh! Where to start? I learnt much about the technical side of writing with the help of Open University courses/modules but I also learnt so much about myself – I have no idea, to this day, where the ideas came from – it’s like the book wrote itself. There are scenes that I never planned and when they appeared left me mystified. A lot of the characteristics of Hannah – the main teen heroine – and her grandmother, Jessica, are based on myself and many of these surprised even me, as I wrote the book. Writing is a good way to learn about yourself.
The main practical thing that I learnt was that, though writing is a solitary act, you cannot write alone. I found I needed support and started a writing circle to give me that support. This has grown into a group of just short of a dozen writers who offer that mutual support, as well as to writers in the wider community, and has become a very important part of my life.
3) Tell me about your publishing journey step by step – what happened once the book was finished?
We need to go back a bit first. I never started off writing for publication. The book was originally to help my grandchildren and to see if I could actually write a whole book. Then I attended my local university for a novel writing course. The feedback I gained from this was devastatingly negative and put me off writing for several years. The experience demonstrates the need for sensitive critiques underpinned by support – the ethos of our writing circle. Do not believe authors who tell you that you need to grow a thick skin. This only serves to harden the sensitivity of your actual creative work in my opinion and does nothing to give you confidence in your own creativity. The support of my writing circle countered the bad feedback I received and I advise anyone wanting to write seriously (or otherwise) to find or start their own writing circle (Writers@… can help you do this – www.writersat.co.uk).
Once I had decided to publish, a decision that came about after my writing circle colleagues persuaded me that my work was worth reading, I had to find a publisher. I already knew this would be hard as gone are the days when traditional contracts are common place (unless you are a celebrity, are already published or are related to a famous writer). However, a local publisher came to talk to our group and agreed to look at my work. But in the course of negotiations it became clear that it was going to cost me around £8,000. As a retired person I just do not have that kind of money. So, my excitement fizzled out until I found a second self-publisher via a scheme/competition that encourages poets to get their work published in their anthologies. I had several of my poems published in this way, so felt they were a possibility. Again, I was disappointed, as the contract when it came tied me into so many conditions. Considering I was paying them to publish my book, there were also clauses that hinted at unspecified future costs that I may have become liable for – be careful and read contracts very carefully! And, if in doubt, search on major booklists for any books published by that particular company. The one which offered me the contract claimed many satisfied writers on their books and their contract said that they would put their books (and mine, should I choose to sign) on sites such as Amazon. They gave me a list of books which I used to search various lists and found very few of the aforesaid books – some from a long time ago but nothing recent, and nothing like my book, genre-wise. I wasn’t filled with confidence.
Again, I turned them down. Meanwhile I had saved £2000 for this project which was now sitting in my bank account. I thought hard about what to do with it. I had asked the publisher (from a company called Moonwise which publishes a lunar calendar and diary annually – the diary also features appropriate poetry and artwork and I had had some of mine included in the past ten years of production) for advice on the previous contract. He would not comment but did offer to read my book and if it didn’t contradict his company’s ethos, he offered to publish and print my book for me at a set price with no conditions. I love the calendar and diary, and the editor/founder of the company shares many of my own interests and values, and so I sent him my manuscript. William (Morris) loved the book and did a brilliant job of editing it for me. The resulting book is not only beautiful to look at but is ecologically produced and very tactile too.
One thing I will do differently next time is I will design my own cover. I didn’t know anything about printing, inks, book sizes etc. (still don’t) so paid a commercial artist to design my cover. I provided a draft design but it proved very tedious keeping her to my basic premise, considering, once again, I was paying her. The result isn’t quite what I wanted but is still lovely (eventually) and represents the essence of the story, though it cost me a further £200.
One of the greatest moments in my life was when I received the first box of printed books. I tentatively undid the packaging, filled with trepidation, but once I held one of the copies in my hand it felt magical. I did this! I wrote this book! Look, I told myself, that is my name on the cover! Only receiving my degree at age 43, and the birth of each of my three children compares.
Because I’m not tied to a contract with Moonwise, I have been free to send my manuscript to about a dozen bigger publishers, receiving three offers of publication in return. But all three required me to contribute at least another £2000. I have no more money so this is out of the question, sadly, as these contracts would have offered me marketing and publicity which my present agreement of print-as-required doesn’t.
William also put my book on his own website (which resulted in a few sales) and on Kindle for me but I only sold a handful that way – mainly to friends and family.
4) Who or what has helped you the most in becoming a published author?
See above – which is, yes, my writing circle – undoubtedly. Especially those who read the drafts, and William Morris – my editor/publisher – who gave me so much technical and plot advice, especially related to science and astronomy, and encouragement. Another great help was the book ‘Big Magic’ by Elizabeth Gilbert which helped me see that we do not have to be perfect but that we do have a duty to let go and give our creativity to the universe.
5) What are the main obstacles you faced / overcame when writing and publishing your book(s)?
Confidence and the current lack of interest in new writers from traditional/large publishing companies. I have a tendency towards imposter syndrome. For those of you who don’t know what this is, it is the (mistaken, usually) belief that you are in some way conning people that you are a good writer (or artist, musician, salesperson, teacher or whatever). For me, it is the feeling that one day everyone is going to wake up and realise that I’m not a good writer after all.
6) How do you promote/advertise your book(s)?
Ha ha!! Not very well. I just do not have the energy to do much promotion and what energy I do have I prefer to use writing. I have sold most copies by word of mouth with some to Moonwise’s customers and on Kindle. I have been to two events in my first published year– a spring and a winter fair – and sold an amazingly huge total of 5 books at the first, and 2 at the second! I started a Facebook page to promote the book and got a lot of ‘likes’ but NO sales or enquiries – rubbish.
There must be other authors like me, indeed there are members in my own group, who aren’t much good at or interested in marketing their creations. We could do with some sort of cooperative and inexpensive marketing method to help those of us who are marketing-impaired – any offers?
Despite my lack of marketing skills, I am on my second print-run which in itself is an achievement, and is far more than I expected to sell.
7) How did you celebrate the incredible achievement of your first book being published?
I didn’t, other than show the final product to my fellow writing circle members. A friend was so shocked by my non-celebration that she took me out for a coffee and cake but that is all.
8) What advice would you give to other authors about to begin their publishing journey?
Never give up; read ‘Big Magic’, and get copies of ‘The Publisher’s Yearbook’ (and read its submission advice). Also, sign up to Authors Publish newsletter – it’s very helpful with lists of any publishers receiving unsolicited manuscripts at any particular time, but you still have to do the work.
A few final pieces of practical advice – do not publish in October to December. Though this sounds ideal with the Christmas market up and coming, if you want to enter your novel in national awards e.g. The Hugo Awards, Carnegie or the Children’s Book Award etc. it is too late for that year’s awards and you will not be eligible for the coming year’s awards. I discovered this to my cost and disappointment. It’s a bit of a catch-22 that needs addressing.
And factor into your costs the fact that you are legally obliged to donate 6 copies of your books (including necessary, heavy, postage) to the national libraries. It is wonderful to think your book is in the British Library but why would you necessarily also want it in the Scottish or Irish libraries, or Oxford and Cambridge, etc.? This is okay for big publishing houses that produce thousands of copies of any particular book – 6 is neither here nor there but if you self-publish/print only 60 copies it is a tenth of your (very tiny anyway) profit. This also needs addressing in parliament as it is not fair to self-publishers. My MP could not/would not help as the law already exists.
Oh! And be careful sending out review copies – check the particular magazine’s policy. A friend of mine bought a second-hand copy of my book on Amazon – I recognised this copy as I had spilt coffee on it (I’d warned the reviewing mag before sending it out to them). The magazine involved sold it on Amazon Marketplace – they got my friend’s money and I got nothing, not even a review.
9) Where is/are your book(s) currently available to read and where can people find you online?
I hold the main stock of books – you can contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org – they cost £10 each plus postage if necessary (or ring me on 07866850400 and leave contact details so I can get back to you – I probably won’t answer the phone as I’ll be ‘in the zone’ writing, or at my writing circle). You can order through www.moonwise.co.uk but if so, the book will cost you the full recommended retail price of £12.50 plus postage, as it will if ordered from Amazon. A Kindle copy is £2.99 – I think. Soon, there will be a link on our writing circle website, too.
10) Are you working on anything new we can look forward to in 2019?
I’ve finished a children’s novel about a group of six 11-year-old brownie guides and their fairy friends – they solve various mysteries, learn about the value of friendship and how sad loneliness is. They find homes for a basketful of abandoned kittens and get involved in environmental issues and gardening…all with massive helpings of fairy dust and laughter. This book will go on Kindle as soon as I’ve thought of an appropriate and catchy title (proving a headache).
Book 2 in the Mystic Realms series is still in the creative process, with the main theme of ‘overcoming disability’ and with a new group of young people and angels. I’m also writing an adult fantasy novel called Raven’s Edge set in the same Mystic Realms universe across two earthy dimensions, which is an adult romance/suspense/quest story and definitely not a young adult novel, though older young people would probably enjoy it. I have lots more ideas, but they’ll have to wait.
Thank you for taking part in my Authors 40+ Series Lynne! If you are an author who published their first fiction or nonfiction book over the age of 40 and would like to be featured in this blog series just like Michael, Devorah, Paul, Joanne, Paul, D.P., Reyna, Michael and Christina, please get in touch!