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working writer wending her way through the labyrinth that is self-publishing

Friday, January 28, 2011

Interview with well-known fantasy author, Juliet Marillier

1. Although you are a well-known author, please tell us about yourself. How long have you been writing and what prompted you to start?
~~I've been writing seriously for about fifteen years and I've been a published author for twelve. I have thirteen novels to my credit, eleven for adults and two for young adults. I started quite late, in my mid-forties. Prior to that I worked as a music teacher and in the public service. But I didn't suddenly start writing as an older person-I loved reading as a child, especially myths, legends and fairy tales, and  I wrote reams of stories up until the time I started university, when I decided to concentrate on my other passion, music.
~The decision to start writing again later in life arose from a major change in my personal circumstances. I wrote my first novel, "Daughter of the Forest", with no particular intention of submitting it to a publisher-I think really I was writing to get some powerful feelings out. I had always loved the fairy tale"The Six Swans", and I wanted to investigate how the dramatic events of that story would affect a real life family. That book took me three years to write, very much part time as I was raising children and working in a day job at the same time.

2. Please tell us about your early publishing experiences. Was it difficult/easy getting your initial book/books published?
~~I was very fortunate. Firstly I sent my manuscript to a local publishing house here in /western Australia, because they had a policy of giving feedback on manuscripts by local writers. I knew they wouldn't publish "Daughter of the Forest" because it was not their kind of book, but I did want the independent feedback. I knew very little about the publishing business then, and had no idea of whether my work was good enough. That publisher sent me a very encouraging letter, suggesting I try the ms on one of two major commercial publishers. Only one, Pan Macmillan, was at that stage accepting unsolicited manuscripts, so after a bit of rewriting I sent the synopsis and three chapters to them, along with the first three chapters of a sequel I had started writing, and an outline for a planned trilogy. Within a few weeks they asked to see the full manuscript. Lots of frantic formatting followed. On my fiftieth birthday the publisher rang me and said they wanted to make an offer for the two books (this later grew to three.) Best birthday present ever!

3. Have you been with the same agent/publisher since the beginning? Do they market your books to your satisfaction?
~~My books are published by different publishing houses in different countries. For my Australian and New Zealand editions, I have stayed with Pan Macmillan Australia all through. They gave me my start, and they've always shown a high level of support and commitment. Once or twice I've had publicists who did't work as hard as I'd have liked but currently I have a fantastic team, who provide many opportunities-print media interviews, guest blogging, appearances at writers' festivals and so on. I love that as I find the need to self-promote is wearing and gobbles up valuable writing time. I do maintain a big online presence: a website (www.julietmarillier.com), a Facebook fan page, regular contributions to genre writing blog Writer Unboxed (www.writerunboxed.com) and two online fan forums. I reply individually to reader's e-maqils, answer their comments on Facebook, and pop in to the fan forums. I also feature readers' art work on my website and Facebook page-a lot of it is extremely good.
~I've had changes of publisher for my US, UK, and German editions over those twelve years. Those changes have been sometimes good, sometimes bad, always a bit traumatic. Currently my US publishers are ROC (Penguin) for my adult books and Knopf (Random House) for my young adult books. Both have excellent publicity departments and do a great job. 
~I know some authors, including authors published by mainstream houses, do hire their own publicist as well as using the in-house publicists. I haven't ever done so, but it seems a viable option provided you are confident that the cost will be balanced by an increase in sales. 
~I've never been represented by an agent for my Australian business, but I have a New York agent who deals with everything else. Russell Galen from Scovil Galen and Ghosh Literary Agency has been representing me for about nine years.

4. How do you view the changes in the publishing industry? Do you believe alternative methods, such as: self-publishing, small press, agent press, POD, e-books and others are viable alternatives? In your opinion is there still a stigma associated with these routes to the marketplace?
~~I think changes of this kind are inevitable. E-books have proven highly convenient for various reasons, and look like being here at least until the next piece of reading technology comes along. I don't like the vast amount of illegal file-sharing that goes on. Readers who believe things should be free don't consider that a free file earns no royalty for the author, and that without those royalties coming in, the author may not be able to afford to go on writing. But in general, I think e-books can exist alongside print books with each serving its separate purpose. (Personal note: I don't own an e-reader and don't intend to get one. I love the whole experience of reading a print book.)
~Small professionally run independent presses are great. Aspiring writers should always check the credentials of any independent press, to make sure they are not 'vanity publishers' disguised as something else. A genuine small press should do all the stuff a mainstream publishing house does, just on a smaller scale. A reputable small press/indie publication in your past should not damage your chances with an agent or mainstream publisher.
~Self-publishing is a vald option but needs to be approached carefully. It there's a self-published book in your past, agents will usually view it as a negative when you're seeking representation for a new book. There is still a stigma attached to self-pubished novels. There are some very successful authors out there whose first books were self-published (for instance, action adventure writer Matthew Reilly.) But for every Matthew Reilly there are hundreds of self-published authors whose books sank into obscurity. I'd suggest exhausting the other options before going into the self-publishing route, and not doing it unless you are very, very sure your ms is a winner. For a self-published novel, the services of a professional editor are ESSENTIAL, even if you think your work is flawless.
~Having said that, self-publishing is always a better option than a vanity press, which you should only consider if your book is just for your family and friends.

5. Good editing as a given, what advice would you give an author struggling to get their books published?
~~Keep writing. Keep polishing your craft. We go on learning and improving all our lives. Don't work in isolation-critique groups and writing buddies can help you analyze why you are struggling. Critiquing other people's work often gives you fresh insight into your own. Keep reading, because that's the most painless way to learn the craft. Only keen readers become good writers.
~Always have Plan B ready. AS soon as your manuscript goes off to an agent or publisher, start on the new project. Don't waste time and energy worrying.
~These days, publishers are being cautious because of the global economic downturn. It's a highly competitive market for writers, and it's difficult for new  writers to be picked up. Don't assume that if you write what's currently hot, the market will still want it by the time you finish the ms. Write the story you feel passionate about, the one that comes from the heart. Don't submit your ms before it's ready. Learn to work hard, to revise and rewrite, to accept critique in a professional way and to deal with setbacks, because we all have those. Keep your expectations realistic. Case of instant fame and fortune are rare as hens's teeth. There's no magic formula for success, but you can't go wrong with this: talent+good work ethic+self-belief.

Thank you, Juliet, for your  informative and thoughtful answers!

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