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Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The Path to Publication: An Interview with Michelle Cox

Michelle Cox wrote a blog series entitled, “How to Get Your Book Published in 7,000 Easy Steps -A Practical Guide.” She didn't write 7,000 posts, but she did chronicle her own journey to becoming a published author. Today we'll discuss that quest but in a much shorter format.

When did you start your first novel? 
I started my first novel in 2013, which is called Love’s Labor Found. It has not been published.

Was there any particular author you read that made you think, I could write like that?
There wasn’t a particular author that spurred me into writing, but more the whole of contemporary fiction!  I spent from about age 10 to my early forties reading mostly classic literature.  After the birth of my third child, however, my brain turned to mush, and I turned to contemporary fiction for a bit of a break.

I was naturally drawn to historical fiction—I think because the time frame mirrors the classics—and really enjoyed it.  After a brief foray into this new landscape, I did begin to think “Hey, I think I could write this.”  I had always toyed with being a writer, but I discounted it because I knew I couldn’t write War and Peace or Bleak House.  But contemporary historical fiction . . . I thought I might get by.

How long did it take you to write your first book? How many rewrites did you do on it?
It took about a year to write Love’s Labor Found, which clocked in at an astounding 240,000 words (I was woefully unaware at the time of such a thing as a word count limit).  It took another six months to edit it, and then I spent another six months fruitlessly shopping it to agents.  I eventually gave up and went back to the drawing board and wrote A Girl Like You in about four months.  Throw in another couple for editing, and Voila!—a new book was born.

Who helped you with the editing?
Let’s not talk about editing and rewrites!  I edit all my own work until it gets turned over to the in-house editors at my publisher.  I know you’re not supposed to do that, but I was a very meticulous English major and worked briefly as an editor for Amoco Oil in their legal department, so I felt I could do a pretty credible job.  

I think I edited A Girl Like You about six times before I even let anyone read it.  Then probably about another five times before I actually submitted it to the publisher.  I still go through my manuscripts at least ten times before I officially submit them, but I have more of a system in place now regarding how I go about it. It’s not so convoluted as it was the first time.

Are you active with any writing critique groups? Who encouraged you along the way? 
I’m not part of any writing groups—I don’t have time!  After reading Love’s Labor Found, my husband and friends and family encouraged me to try to publish it.  At that point, publishing wasn’t something that had really crossed my mind.  I had set out to write a novel as a personal challenge, just to see if I could do it.  My little reading group encouraged me to submit it and to keep writing in the meantime.  Which I did, and that’s sort of how A Girl Like You came to be.

What is the hardest part of writing for you? Starting? Creating a scene? Dialog? Tension, etc?
The hardest part about writing is finding time.  I have a family to take care of, and though I don’t work outside the home, I have to be really disciplined about my schedule.  I would love to keep writing all day on whatever manuscript I’m working on, but I try to stop after about an hour and switch gears.  

Believe it or not, while the kids are at school, most of my day is spent working on promotion. Then when the kids come home, I switch to my “mom” job—you know, all the usuals: cooking, cleaning, laundry, taxi service.  

It’s not hard for me to start writing, it’s hard to stop because my focus is needed elsewhere.  

We have all experienced rejection. Give me an example of one you’ve had, and how you learned to write past it.  
Well, as I mentioned above.  I wasn’t able to get my first novel published.  I have no idea what the quality of the writing was because I couldn’t get anyone in the industry to even read it, I think because of the word count.  It wasn’t until I submitted it to She Writes Press, who also rejected it, and I had the privilege of talking with the publisher, Brooke Warner, about it that I realized it was really going nowhere. 

She told me that publishing something that large as an unknown author was pretty much a vanity project.  That really stung.  But I was starting to come to that conclusion, or a variation of it, on my own, anyway.  I was reading everything I could get my hands on about the publishing industry and vowed to write a new novel that would get picked up—something shorter and more marketable.  More sex, more violence!  Well, maybe not, but something more appealing to an agent, at any rate.  I decided to stick in the same general time period and decided to create a mystery, as I thought it would be a better seller than just general literary fiction.

What has surprised you the most in writing/publishing? 
What surprised me the most was that after I had written the slim and trim (96,000 word!) historical mystery specifically to get picked up by an agent, I was so soured on all that. I no longer wanted a deal with the Big 5!  Instead, I decided, without ever submitting it to a single agent, to sign a contract with She Writes Press.  She Writes is a hybrid, which I believe is the future of publishing.  

What frustrated you the most? 
What is the most frustrating is the current publishing climate of the traditional gatekeepers. The Big 5—are giant monoliths that are operating in an alternate, antiquated reality.  They are hulking giants that are throwing more and more money at their established writers and spending less and less on picking up new authors.  

They are very conservative in how they operate, only wanting to invest in the big blockbusters.  Despite their huge infrastructure, they don’t take chances on the little guy anymore and have no bandwidth to grow and nurture an author’s career.  Consequently, they are almost guaranteed to turn away some really great novels because they’re selecting based on what they think will sell, not necessarily on what is “good.”  

It’s a depressing system that no longer makes sense in today’s world and economy.  They aren’t changing fast enough.  Fortunately, new models are emerging and as these models garner more and more success, the Big 5 will have no option but to grow and evolve as well.  

What do you know now about writing that you wished you had known sooner?
I wish I had known ahead of time how much promotion was involved in being an “author.”  I thought being an author meant you wrote books.  I realize now how na├»ve I was!  Being a successful author in today’s market means that you have to spend the majority of your time building a platform and a brand for yourself.  

I have hired a publicity firm, Booksparks, to help me with PR and to market my books, but there is still a lot of work I have to do on my own.  It’s not enough these days to write a good book, you have to work to get it out there.  And honestly, I’m not sure I would have gone down the publishing road if I had known all this beforehand.  
What is some of the best writing advice that you’ve received or could give?
The best advice I can give is that you have to write every day without fail.  It’s a lot like exercise.  You have to do it every day whether you feel like it or not to see any sort of progress.  A lot of writers have a certain word count that they try to achieve each day; I use a timer.  

Are there any other points about writing that you would like to add?  
One of the most important things you can do as a writer is to read, especially the classics.  There’s a lot to be learned from them on so many different levels.  
Limit the number of social media channels you are on.  Build a platform with one or two, but don’t try to be a present on all of them.  You will inevitably spread yourself too thin, and it takes time away from what you should be doing, which is writing!  

What is the next book that will be coming out? Can you give me a short synopsis? 
My next book, A Ring of Truth, was released in April with She Writes Press.  It’s book 2 of the Henrietta and Inspector Howard series.  This book picks up for the last one left off.  It’s part mystery and part rewrite of Pride and Prejudice, one might say. Here are the details.
Now that they’re engaged to be married, Henrietta and Clive have to figure out how their life together is going to work, especially since they don’t know each other all that well.  
Clive reveals that he’s actually the son of a very wealthy family from the northern suburbs and takes Henrietta to his family estate, Highbury, to meet them.  She ends up agreeing to stay there for a few weeks to get to know them better while Clive returns to his police work in the city.  

Naturally, she feels more at home with the servants than she does Clive’s snooty parents and soon gets involved in finding an elderly servant’s missing ring.  The plot thickens, though, when it becomes apparent that Henrietta has uncovered something more sinister than she first imagined.  When Clive finally does return from the city for their engagement party, things begin to quickly unravel between the two of them, forcing them to reconsider whether they are really meant for each other after all…

And how will that all end? I guess you'll have to read the book. Here's how you can learn more about Michelle's writing.

Twitter: @michellecox33

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