This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
Michele's latest novel is Bella Summer Takes A Chance and you can read our review here.Can you tell us a little about your average writing day?
How I wish I had an average writing day! Goodness, sometimes my characters need time on the naughty step and other days they behave well and I feel like the next Hemingway in stilettos (admittedly those days are rare).
I do try to write before lunchtime though, since I’ve never been able to write at in the evening. Plus, by the afternoon I’ve generally come up with enough excuses not to write to convince myself (I can be very convincing). So I like to leave afternoons free for admin and marketing, and a nap of course.
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When you are writing, do you use any famous people or people you know as inspiration?
Every so often I’ll fashion bits of a character after someone I know, or someone I’ve met. Oddly they never recognise themselves (and I’ll never tell). Then there’s my mother, who insists that every mother I write about is her. They never are – I’m not insane enough to risk that!
I can promise that nobody I know appears in Bella Summer Takes a Chance, but they are all people I wish I was really friends with, especially Marjorie and Frederick!
What is your favourite Women’s Fiction book of all time and why?
Oh I’ve got lots of contenders in mind for that spot. I loved Anna Maxted’s Behaving Like Adults, and Sophie Kinsella’s Confessions of a Shopaholic, On the Island by Tracy Garvis-Graves (I did not see how they were going to get off that island!), I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou and The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (do those last two count as women’s fiction?)
But if I had to pick my favourite favourite, it’s probably Watermelon by Marian Keyes, because it’s funny and sad and light and dark, and I love her ability to create characters I’d want to know in real life.
What is your writing process? Do you plan first or dive in? How many drafts do you do?
I’m obsessively well-organised. I did try writing a book without a chapter outline once. I got three chapters in and felt so overwhelmed that I gave up. So I use excel to plot my books. Each row is a chapter and each column a separate storyline. Yes, I’m that geeky. But it helps me visualise the entire book on a single page, and ensure that each storyline builds nicely but doesn’t drown out the others… Please stop looking at me like that. I said I know I’m a geek.
I usually do two or three big edits before the book goes off to my agent, then another one based on her feedback. If it’s destined for submission to publishers then once it’s accepted it goes through a round with the commissioning editor and one with the copy editor. If I’m publishing independently then that flips on its head – it goes to my copy editor for a round of changes first, and then back to my agent for a final round.
What was your journey to being a published author?
The road to publication was fairly long. I began writing on weekends in about 1998 or so, and was lucky enough to get a US agent with my second book. By then I’d gone part-time at work so that I could write two days a week. My agent didn’t like my third book, so it went into a drawer and hasn’t been seen since. Then I wrote what would become my debut with Penguin (Single in the City). I had a hard time with that because my agent wanted it written for both a British and an American audience. Trying to serve two masters never really worked and I plucked up the courage to leave my agent. I knew Single in the City was the best book I’d written so far, and I was willing to self-publish it. I had visions of standing at Tube stations with a giant sign and free chapters (this was before Kindle existed in the UK). At the last minute I did a quick search for the perfect agent in London. I put a query letter out to 18 agents, and got a positive response from one very quickly. I knew as soon as I met her that she was the one for me (cue violins). We gave it one last edit before it went out to the publishers. My commissioning editor at Penguin came back within a few days with an offer.
What do you think is the biggest myth about being a novelist?
Well, for traditionally published authors, it’s probably that we make buckets of cash from our books. At a royalty rate of between 6% and 7.5% of the paperback price, e.g. around 25p-50p per book (of which our agent takes 15%-20% and the taxman takes another chunk), we’re definitely not rich!
I also think readers tend to imagine us lounging in luxury eating bonbons while we write. In reality we’re usually found scrounging around the cabinets, wondering just how out of date that stale pack of sub-par biscuits needs to be to pose a health risk.
What advice can you give to our readers who want to write a novel of their own?
Find your story. My books always spring from a question. What if? Bella Summer Takes a Chance asks two questions: does “in love” really exist, and do you have to be in love for a relationship to last?
Find your voice. We’re tempted to write in a style that we like to read, but like covers of songs, the copy is never as good as the original. It took me three books to find my voice, so experiment and see where you’re most comfortable, what seems most natural.
If you want to publish traditionally, then find a ‘new’ agent. A new agent is just starting out. She’s hungry; she’s building her author list and her career. She will have much more time for a new author. Also, and this is key, she is going to have contacts in the publishing houses who are also starting out, and looking to build their author lists and careers. It’s very tempting to think that an experienced agent is best, but for a new writer I’d advise a new agent any day.