This Author 2020 blog series is for fiction and nonfiction indie authors who have either already published, or are due to publish, a book in 2020!
As well as showcasing their amazing writing achievement, every featured author answered ten questions to give aspiring fiction and nonfiction indie authors a behind-the-scenes insight into the self publishing process.
This final blog post in the Author 2020 blog series features established author Louise Kean-Wood, writing under the pen name Lulu Wood, sharing her experience of writing and publishing her latest novel ‘Milkshakes for the Almost Dead‘ – a young adult thriller and the first in the Girls and Monsters trilogy.
1. Tell me about your book in 25 words or less!
Milkshakes is about the importance of girls: what they want, wear, listen to, feel. Who they love. And their fundamental importance to each other.
2. How long did your book take to write?
Five years, on and off, but there was a lot of ‘off’! It took time for me to fully understand what these two new best friends needed to be, to save each other. My own life has been shaped and changed and saved by the powerful friendships of a few incredible women. I wanted to find a way to show that authentically – the big things and the little things – so that readers would really believe it. These two girls who didn’t understand each other at all on first sight end up being the most important person in the world to the other. They would die for each other. We have to believe that, or the book doesn’t work.
3. How long did the whole process take – from initial idea to publication?
Five years. I decided to write a book for young women and older women – all women in fact – and that’s not something I’d done with my first four books, which were just written for versions of me at the time: twenty-something, white, female. But Milkshakes deals with areas I’d never written about before, notably race and privilege, motivated reasoning, and being an ally. It’s also a horror story, and a love story, and a thriller. Plus, the first finished draft was twice the length of the final one, so editing took some time!
4. What have you learnt about the process of writing a book that may help other aspiring indie authors?
You need to sit in it. If you have less time to write (which I do, compared to my first four books) you can’t keep going away and coming back. You need to live it as you write it. That’s hard when you have to pay the bills as well, and be a wife, mother, sister, daughter and friend, and I am much luckier than most with the support I have. I have so much respect and admiration for the people who do it with less.
Self-publishing feels very different, too. It’s like writing my first book again. When I wrote Toasting Eros, at the age of 25, sat at my parent’s kitchen table, I wasn’t doing it for anybody but me. Then I found an amazing agent (Ali Gunn at Curtis Brown) and a huge publisher (Harper Collins) and I felt so lucky, but also really different. I became aware of everybody’s expectations, because they were paying me of course. I became aware that I might let them down. It was such a relief when I got some lovely reviews at launch, and we sold lots of copies into the booksellers and grocers – hurrah, right? But then Asda sent back 7000 copies because nobody understood what Toasting Eros means (which is also fair) and then I felt like a failure…
That’s not to say I didn’t at least try to find a new agent for Milkshakes (tragically Ali passed away a few years ago), it just didn’t happen this time. But now here I am and I don’t have to ‘fluff it up’ (I was actually told to do this with one of my previous books), or appeal to a buyer, or a trend, or be the next whatever. I can just write what I want. Marina Hyde wrote that the other day on Twitter and I loved it (and I love her, of course). Somebody said to her, ‘Why do you engage with trolls?’ and she said, ‘Because I do what I want.’
5. Is there anything you wish you had done differently, or would do differently with your next book?
It’s really tough because you need structure, certainly with a thriller, but you also want it to happen of itself, to allow the characters to open up to you as you write. But probably a bit more structure from the start would make things easier. I have an end point for the Girls and Monsters Trilogy now but, also, I don’t think you can just rush in and write it because then you’ll miss the details. Some of my favourite dialogue exchanges in this book, between Diana and Gloria, are the casual asides, the watching TV and musing, the horoscopes. I love all those fun bits, in the context of something bigger.
6. How much did it cost to get your book to market?:
More than £1,000, mostly because I’ve chosen to invest in a beautiful cover by an amazing illustrator, and to work with a professional editor, of course, and a professional PR to help me amplify it. My day job has always been film marketing so it’s very hard for me to ignore those things because I understand their value. But I am still on a tight budget, of course. It’s really hard to do it on your own, but also empowering, which is what the book is all about at least. Believe in yourself first.
7. Do you have any plans to write another/any more books in the future? If so, would you like to share any details about it/them?
I’m writing book two of Girls & Monsters now – The Devil’s Sons. It’s really surprising in style and structure, and the pace of it is so different to Milkshakes. There are a lot of avenues to explore from book one, and a lot of characters we care about (hopefully) so this one is a LOT. It also goes global – I love Lattering so much but Thetis exists out in the world, and so many of the characters are elsewhere at the end of Milkshakes so we have to follow them. But Lattering will return of course. It’s where it all began.
Oh, I’m also working on a Christmas book, just for fun, because I love Christmas so much.
8. Do you want to give a public shout out to anyone who helped you produce your book?
So many people have helped and encouraged me but the person who helped me believe in Milkshakes – and Diana and Gloria and ME – the most is my younger sister, Amy Kean. When somebody you respect genuinely believes you can do something and relentlessly encourages you, doesn’t judge you, pushes you forwards, refuses to let you doubt yourself, and wants you to be the very best you can be, to achieve all of your dreams, it’s like emotional rocket fuel.
That’s what Amy does for me and actually for a lot of other people too. She’s brilliant, and she isn’t jealous if other people are brilliant too. She doesn’t make it about her, she doesn’t think it makes her less, she just wants everyone to be their best. She also has two books out now by the way, including ‘The Little Girl Who Gave Zero Fucks’, which should be on the national curriculum.
9. Please share an excerpt of your book below.
‘When we are children, we picture the monsters that lurk in the shadows of our lives, hiding in our wardrobes until the lights go out, curled up under our beds just waiting until we fall asleep, with their fangs and their fur and their pointy claws. Then we grow up and we are told that there is nothing to be scared of because monsters only exist in stories. But that’s a lie. Monsters do exist, they just don’t have fangs and fur and claws. Mostly they wear expensive suits and have all the money, and they flick at our lives like imaginary specks of dust on their trousers.
A monster thought he’d got me. He thought I was so lonely and desperate that I’d go along with anything. He thought he could steal my life and I’d let him because I was stupid and naïve, and my head was full of romance. Because I wasn’t paying attention. Because I was just a silly, young girl. But he was wrong.
The knot in my blindfold is too tight and it’s digging into my scalp. I sit on my hands, pressing my palms flat into the leather seat beneath me. I could just reach up and untie it, but I don’t.
It’s better if I don’t know.’
10. Where can readers of this Author 2020 blog series buy your book (and any other books you have written)?
Everything is Amazon these days, isn’t it? I wish I could recommend a smaller bookseller to buy the new one from but when you are self-publishing it doesn’t work like that, unfortunately. So: Toasting Eros, Boyfriend in a Dress, Material Girl, The Perfect Ten, Milkshakes for the Almost Dead, all by me, at different stages of life. Please feel free to buy one or all of them!
Thank you for participating in this Author 2020 blog series Louise!