Accomplishment: Best selling ghostwriter and book doctor
Your debut novel "My Memories of a Future Life" has been out since September 2011. What do you think about self-publishing so far? Is it working for you as you had expected?
I love self-publishing. I love the opportunities it's given me to find readers who click with my work. My novel got enthusiastic praise from editors and agents but was always ‘too unusual to fit the market'. For a long time, it was as though these gatekeepers were keeping it in jail. Then last year, a number of respected authors challenged the status quo and self-published - which I feel swept away many prejudices. Now we can self-publish while keeping credibility - indeed we’re often encouraged to by our agents.
My Memories Of A Future Life isn't the first book I self-published. I also have a writing book, Nail Your Novel - Why Writers Abandon Books and How You Can Draft, Fix and Finish With Confidence. Publishers said it was too short, so I put it out myself and readers tell me it's exactly what they need - and the perfect length!
This doesn't mean that the publishers were 'wrong' about its content - just that their economics are different from the economics of a writer publishing on their own. We're all going to be working together in a lot of new ways so it's important to be realistic and businesslike.
I also love the technical control of self-publishing - but that's partly because I've worked in publishing for years and I know how to take a book from raw manuscript to finished product. Doing these jobs myself means I can be as rigorous and fussy as I like - which suits my temperament.
What do you see happening or plan to do in the next five years?
This is a time of real flux. Everyone - from authors to publishers - is finding new ways to release their work, and new ways to connect with audiences.
I think many authors will come to regard publishers as partners they may or may not choose to work with, rather than as gods of acceptance or rejection. For each work they'll weigh up whether they need a partner and for what. Each author needs different levels of help - that might be anything from editorial services, or the connections with the market, or the reputation of an imprint or a kick-start for foreign rights deals. But there’s a lot more to publishing a book than putting your Word file onto the Kindle or between covers. If authors do decide to go indie, they'll have to find other ways to get that support.
One of the biggest problems is getting recognised for good work, but we are chipping away at old perceptions of 'vanity publishing'. Traditional publishers have tried to hold onto the idea that we’re amateurs but so many indies have proved otherwise that it’s proving difficult for them to keep that myth going. The other day my husband’s publisher told him that most of the new authors they take on will have self-published first. So publishers will use the Amazon bestseller lists to cherry-pick the profitable writers - but that’s not necessarily good for the artform because selling well is a matter of luck and marketing ability, not writing quality. And not all writers who self-publish want a traditional deal anyway. But in this climate, publishers are going to have to offer much better and more equitable terms than before. Better shares on ebook sales, more consultation over cover design and so on - because writers are a lot more savvy now.
But at heart, I just try to write well, develop my art and take advantage of new opportunities. I have to admit that when I'm writing I get weary with all the other stuff I have to do. On the one hand, I'm very proud that I can be a visible champion for my work, because my books mean a lot to me and I love the contact. But I also want the headspace to immerse in the book that's tugging my sleeve. And I need to be a human being from time to time and see real, live people who have known me since long before this publishing stuff went so crazy!
As for my plans, I've got a new Nail Your Novel book which is on track to be released in the next few months. I'm going to self-publish that because I don't think partnering with a publisher could fill any gaps for me.
I've got several fiction projects lined up, and they're a different matter. It's still very hard to get attention and credibility for fiction, especially if what you write is 'general literary' - it doesn't fit into genre categories. My second novel, Life Form 3, is with my agent at the moment and he's wooing editors with it.
What are the biggest difficulties you encountered as a ghost writer?
Actually, I enjoyed ghosting. I love collaborating on stories and the result in each case was a book I wouldn't have written if I'd been left to my own devices. To write someone else's book stretches your life experience and your storytelling muscles. It was always difficult to get the book done in the time available, as the books I wrote were to short deadlines. I didn't get as much time to revise as I'd hoped - and now if I looked at them again I'd probably spot a hundred things I wanted to change.
After publication, though, it was a bit sore to see my work vanish and never get any feedback. I remember the first time I found one of them on a forum - 50 readers who were discussing this book I'd written, thinking it was by someone else.
Has your experience working with editors, agents, publishers, etc. been positive or negative? What would you improve?
In the early days of ghosting I had some great editors who really sharpened my eye for plot details and consistency. I knew that if I wrote 'crossing the lake in the speedboat took five minutes' I would have to prove it was possible. They - and agents - also provide a valuable outsider's view of what might or might not be working in a book. Sometimes or they’re trying to shoehorn you into a marketing slot, which you may or may not want. Also sometimes their suggestions are off beam, in which case you have to ask yourself what problem they've really spotted.
What was the best moment you’ve ever had as a writer?
I never realised how generous readers are. They read your book, and then they are nice enough to email and tell you so, or post a review. When I released my novel, I had no idea that would happen, or that people would even be interested to read it. I hoped they would be, but the platform I'd built up was people who wanted writing advice - and not necessarily my difficult-to-categorise piece of fictional whimsy.
A really immersive novel mines your own depths - especially one like My Memories of a Future Life, which is quite a searching story. In a novel like that you have to draw the reader in with you emotionally - and to get that honest communication you feel peeled, even if the novel isn't about you. I was - and still am - deeply appreciative of every person who takes the trouble to connect with me because they have read my work.
Again, promoting the novel felt very different from Nail Your Novel. With Nail Your Novel I was trying to be useful. It was easy to offer it to people and say - these are the questions I'm most commonly asked so this book might help you. The same goes for my writing blog, where I only post things that I feel will help or inspire people - and they're usually not about me! Until I decided to publish my novel I hadn't given any thought to building a platform for fiction. I think I'm relying on people who like the way my mind works from reading my blog.
Writing is a huge rollercoaster. Perfectionists don’t make patient creatives - we want everything to be right immediately! Everyone has moments when they get into a fine old tangle and think they can't rescue their book. I had regular confidence crises where I thought I was wasting my time and would never be able to live up to my own expectations. But usually after a frustrating day I’d spot a way out and it would all be fine again.
In the days before indie had high-profile champions, I felt that getting a book published was like passing an exam, where every deserving manuscript was awarded a deal. It took me a long time to learn that good books do not automatically earn a publisher - and I think a lot of writers still feel this sense of failure.
At which time of the day are you most productive? Do you have a routine?
I have different routines on different days - sometimes I’ll write for a couple of hours in the morning, then I go to the gym etc. Other days I'll have a good long period with whatever I'm working on before I stagger away from my desk at 3pm to the flesh-and-blood world. I try not to touch my emails or social networks before midday, so I can spend the first working hours on something creative.
Which part of writing comes harder to you, and which comes easier?
Each part is easy when the ideas are clear and flowing - and when I am attached to the characters and what they need. I’ve just been shaping the concept for a new novel, have thought of lots of ideas but there’s a big piece missing. So I’ve put it away and picked up another I thought I was stuck on - and I’ve suddenly seen the piece I need to start a detailed synopsis. So that’s very exciting.
Writing is like that - I’ll think I’m stuck, then something will happen and the engines will kick in.
What genre do you love to read most? Do you or would you write in that genre? Why or why not?
I try to write what I most like to read - stories with great characters, lots of heart and unusual, resonant ideas. One of my favourite recent reads was Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto. Concept-wise it’s terrific - an embassy under seige that becomes an unlikely paradise, which of course will end. I love the use of music in that novel too, as the force that brought everyone together and also as a magical backdrop to the powerful stories that unfold. It’s elegant and passionate and I would love to have written it.
Have you ever suffered from writer's block? If so, what was the cure?
I’ve learned to realise what makes me feel blocked. Usually it’s because there’s a story or character problem and I don’t like any of the solutions I’ve thought of. So I write all those down and get rid of them, and experiment with possibilities until one feels right.
Can you give us one word that sums up what writing means to you?
Roz Morris is a bestselling ghostwriter and book doctor. She blogs at Nail Your Novel and has a double life on Twitter; for writing advice follow her as @dirtywhitecandy, for more normal chit-chat try her on @ByRozMorris. Her books are Nail Your Novel: Why Writers Abandon Books And How You Can Draft, Fix and Finish With Confidence, available in print and on Kindle She also has a novel, My Memories of a Future Life available on Kindle (US and UK) and also in print. You can also listen to or download a free audio of the first 4 chapters right here.
Thank you very much for the interview, Roz! :)
Thanks so much for inviting me here, Veronica! And for the Rack treatment at the beginning, LOL
Er, that was me, Roz, still being given a hard time by your anti-spam doorman...