I loved being a small part of proofreading Melissa’s first soon-to-be-published novel. I love her style. But, more than that, I appreciate her approach to life, love and literature.
1. Please tell us a bit about yourself and the book(s) you have written, including the genre you prefer:
I am a writer, blogger, recycler and beauty therapist; also the slave of one presumptuous cat. I live in Cape Town with the aforementioned feline, a patient husband and two smart daughters. I am a serial defaulter on Kayla’s bikini body programme and I surf my SUP when the ocean allows me to.
I have written two books. One was rejected by all the publishers in the Southern Hemisphere and a smattering of those in the North before I gave up and ate chocolate. The second, A Fractured Land, was *yay* requested by publishers in both hemispheres before I was offered a contract by Literary Wanderlust of Denver, Colorado. I write eco-romance. A Fractured Land has a few scenes set in Texas, but it’s mostly on a farm in the Karoo. There, Lexi Taylor is peacefully managing a guesthouse,until the land is earmarked for shale gas exploration by the brusque, yet intriguing Texan geologist, Carter O’Brien.
2. What was the process of getting published like?
The road to publication is paved with rejection. Also desperation, self loathing, great sadness, crocodile-thick skin and mediocre wine. When you feel you are ready to query your manuscript, it must be complete, edited and so polished that it gleams. In South Africa, if you would like to go the traditional route, you query the publishing houses directly. You write a letter that contains a bit about the book, a bit (a very small bit) about you, and then you attach the first three chapters and a synopsis. There are about 5-7 major publishing houses in South Africa and a couple of independent ones. You submit your query and wait. It can take 6 weeks to 6 months to hear back from them, if at all. And then they might ask for a partial (half the manuscript) or the full, before they decide whether to publish it or not. Some don’t take unsolicited submissions, except during certain windows stipulated on their website, so you need to stalk them a little and time it right.
If you would like an international publisher, you need to find an agent. The query process is similar, you send out query letter, 3 chapters and a synopsis, if that is what they indicate on their website. It is important to review their submission requirements before you submit.
Then you wait. Soon you begin to empathise with Miss Havisham at her wedding table. You may even channel your inner Mrs Rochester and wail in your attic.
If you would like to go the self-publishing route, you must be sure you are at peace with not traditionally publishing your book. Because you can’t go back. Also you need a bit of cash, as you are going to have to pay for the cover design, editorial process and all the behind-the-scenes stuff that produces a book. Staging Post (the self-publishing imprint of Jacana) recommends crowd-sourced funding like Thunda Fund or Go Fund Me.
A Fractured Land got lots of interest straight up, from all areas of traditional publishing: local publishers, an agent and two international publishers. I knew I was onto something straight away. (Unlike the previous manuscript. That manuscript had so many rejections I lost count. One agent said there was nothing about the sample chapters that made her want to read further. Which was like a kick in the teeth after my editor and writing teacher told me it was so good.)
3. What made you decide on the publishing house you did?
I think you have it the wrong way round. What made them decide on me? I entered a Twitter contest, where you pitch your book (ie. query your manuscript) in 140 characters. (It was the fourth time I have entered such a contest, for you to get a sense of the mountain of rejections). Literary Wanderlust was among the respondents who liked my pitch and asked for the full manuscript. They were first to send me a contract. (Which is basically the best love letter you can send a writer.)
4. What kind of feedback have you had from your readers and editors?
My beta reader, a prolific and talented writer, gave me some tough advice, which I followed. It was hard to do, but it turned out to be the right advice. I am thankful to her. My editor found a huge hole in the plot, which we fixed, and since that, I have had good feedback. I’m stoked.
5. We’d like to know the results of your decision. Would you consider it successful? Why? What does success mean to you?
I feel it’s a success because I worked so hard to get the manuscript to a standard that interested publishers and I didn’t give up despite the odds and the difficulty. It’s also terrifying. The thought that the things I wrote in private are now going to be in the public domain is paralysing. But I am pleased that I no longer feel like a fraud when I say I am a writer. I am stoked that I have the credibility now.
6. If you knew then (before embarking on the journey of publishing through a formal publishing house) what you know now, what would you tell yourself?
Stock up on wine, chocs and tissues. And a nice comfy chair because you are going to have to own that desk if you want to get a book written in the first place. I would also tell myself not to let the rejection define me. I was determined to view the rejection, not as a rod that beat me down, but rather, as a mollusc treats any irritation inside its shell. It uses it to create a pearl.
7. Please give us a quick list of pros and cons for the traditional publishing route.
There are no cons to a traditional publisher offering you a contract. Stephen King sank to the floor when he was finally offered a publishing contract. I nearly did too. Literary Wanderlust have been amazing, so professional and supportive, from the editorial and marketing perspective, as well as the art and cover design. It’s been a fantastic experience working with them. After I received the contract, I was invited to become a member of PEN South Africa and I am really excited about that. I feel that the personal validation afforded by traditional publishing is invaluable.
8. What advice do you have for aspiring authors?
Write the book. Even if it’s terrible. It’s kind of like sculpture. If you don’t have a big ungainly hunk of marble, you will never be able to refine it to the Venus De Milo. Your first draft will be big and ungainly. Edit it, shape it, take out the rough spots, polish it, but if you never throw it down in its large ugliness, you will never have a book. Social media can be helpful to build a platform. But you need to be authentic on social media, mind your manners and know your lane. Bitter rants are best avoided. Writing and publishing can be a small community, so good online (and offline) behaviour is paramount. Nanowrimo is also useful if you need a kick in the writing pants. It gets you going or back on track. Also, do not let rejection define you.
Then, just some fun questions:
9. Do you try to be as original as possible? Or do you prefer to stick to what you know readers / publishing houses are looking for?
I write what I like to read. Writing is such a consuming thing, you must enjoy the process. And half of writing is reading what you wrote. I know I’m writing well when it moves me emotionally, even though I made it up and knew it was coming.
10. When did you first experience the power of literature?
I loved all the Little House books when I was a child and, for years, our garden was my mind prairie. I remember being deeply upset by Csardas when I was a young teenager. I think when you have a more intense emotional experience in a book than you do in real life, you feel the power of literature.
11. How much time do you spend writing per day / week?
I’m a binge writer. I write in clumps. I should write a regular 2 hours a day. Successful people like Stephen King do that. Instead, I write when I have blocks of time or I when I am on a roll. I think a lot about plotting while I drive.
12. What do you tend to edit out of your books after the initial writing?
I edit out about 15% of the first draft, most of which is from the first few chapters. I think I set the stage for myself and my writing process by a long involved beginning which is a death knell for any book. So I end up cutting most of it out.
13. What are the hardest scenes for you to write?
Dialogue is quite tricky. It’s hard to make it sound natural but still be the literary device that shows character and drives the plot forward.
14. What could you have done as a child or teenager to ensure that you were an even better writer today?
I read a lot as a child and a teenager. I guess I could have read more but I should have written more. I didn’t know that all first drafts are terrible. I just assumed my writing was bad.
15. How long (on average) does it take you to write a book and how many times do you edit it?
It takes me about a year to write and a year to edit.
16. What else do you do, if you aren’t a full-time writer?
I work as a beauty therapist in my home salon. It’s a great job. I love the people I meet. Writing can be a lonely business, so I enjoy the human interaction in my day job. I thrive on the energy my clients give me.
*Note: all interviews are published as submitted, and not edited*
I am on Instagram @sunrisebeautystudio.