In The Spotlight Holly Stacey
Welcome into the spotlight this week the talented Holly Stacey. I met Holly (in a virtual sense) when we first published some of her short stories at Bridge House. Holly also works as a publisher and has gone onto to have great success and I we are now involved with a new project together that I will tell you all about soon … so over to you Holly …
Tell us something about you …
Hi Debz and thank you for having me on your blog! I’m a writer primarily of teen fiction but I also write regularly for an online children’s fiction website called knowonder and have several stories published in anthologies. I also run a small publishing company called Wyvern Publications and Pixiefoot Press.
I’ve self-published a couple of my longer novels after receiving high praise from editors and agents, but was told my work was too original to comfortably sell. When I finished my first novel, I started Wyvern Publications, first to help publish my book, but then, after the release of The Faerie Conspiracies, to publish other people and help them achieve their publishing dreams too. I balance my writing and publishing with jewellery making (Seadrake Creations) and being a stay-at-home mum. It’s all a lot of work, but there have been so many successes these past three years, that each year brings a new reward (and new books!).
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
In a single answer… yes! I always wanted to be a writer. And an archaeologist and well… a lot of things. Many of them I’ve done and some I decided I didn’t want to do after all (like bungee jumping). I remember in primary school a real author was visiting our school library and I was so excited. I sat so politely, hanging on every word and had my hand up for every opportunity for questions. I had one burning question which was: “How do you become an author?” He never chose me (sniff) but I soon learned that anyone can be an author and you don’t need a specific degree to do it (though it often helps! My degree was in Medieval Archaeology) .
For my first novel, The Faerie Conspiracies, I’d spent much of my time re-writing and editing. I did a Cornerstones weekend workshop, which was wonderful and also had two of their editors go through it with suggestions. The first read through was really good – it pointed out all my narrative mistakes and helped me create a more realistic ‘voice’ for my main character. The second suggested that I’d probably find an agent or publisher, which was encouraging and when I didn’t, I had no doubts that I could publish it myself. Self-publishing is a huge journey and the industry has changed much since my first book! But that’s another story. The book eventually won the runner up prize for the Writer’s New and David St John Thomas Trust Self-Published Awards, which was a real high.
I did have some articles published and I’d finished a Master’s Dissertation, but other than that, it was my first published work. Although, before the book hit print, I suddenly had a flurry of acceptances for my short stories. Since then, it’s been very full on, though I still get more rejections than acceptances.
Do you have an agent? If not did you try to get one? Any advice about that?
No, I don’t have an agent yet. I do have a couple of my children’s stories with agents at the moment. If they bite, then I’ll be over the moon, but I’m not holding my breath… I know some amazing writers who still don’t have agents and I understand the market is tougher now than it ever has been. I’ll continue looking for an agent, at least for my children’s books. As for my teen and adult fiction novels, I’m happy to find indie publishers or self-publish if need be. It’s great to have more power over my larger book releases – it helps compensate for those constant agent dismissals. I think the best advice it to keep trying! And successful friends often tell me that they got their agent through networking.
Do you belong to a writing group? Crit group? You say you had a professional critique, how was that?
I have a great online writing group and a small network of writers that are wonderful to bounce ideas off. The right writing group can help an author go far. But I really emphasise the RIGHT group. When I first started, I found a few groups run by bullies who did nothing but put everything down without contributing to any constructive criticism. SCBWI has some wonderful critique groups, but there were none held in my area unfortunately.
Cornerstones was a real boon for helping me achieve a professional finish for my book and really helped me with subsequent projects, but I know there are some other great critique professionals out there that can assist new writers. If I had the money, I’d have a professional critique and review for all of my novels. I’m lucky in that as an editor myself, I can do manuscript swaps with other editors who are an amazing help. Having that fresh perspective is imperative.
What are your thoughts on traditional versus self-publishing?
I knew if I didn’t have my first novel published, I wouldn’t be able to move on to my next work. Self-publishing was the step I had to take and I’m so glad I did. There were lots of options for self-publishing but I didn’t want to do vanity publishing and there were a lot of companies out there only too willing to take money and do jobs that required a fraction of that. In the end, I did most of it myself, got a pro for the cover and found a local printer. Book stores were impressed that I went with a traditional print run rather than a print on demand, but in the end, it still meant I had to act as distributor, which took more time and money than I’d ever get back in sales. Which is why, when I started my publishing company, I used a printer/distributor called Lightning Source. But again, the industry has changed and my company won’t be doing any more print books (perhaps e-books, but only after my next novel is released).
Would you self-publish again?
I’d definitely do it again, and I did, just recently with my historical fiction, Blood Tide. The editing process is always the most difficult. No, wait, the back cover blurb is always the most difficult! It takes me between one and two years to write a novel and another year at least to edit it. But then, I have at least three readers, and they’re usually published authors or editors who know what they’re talking about. And this recent book required a high amount of research, so I also had some readers who knew their history to catch any historical mistakes.
If I could afford Cornerstones, I would go for that again, but I do think their slant is more for the traditional published book and their editors will help authors make their work more mainstream, which is great if you want to bag an agent. But for me, I just wanted an excellent book that didn’t have the same restrictions a mainstreamed novel would have.
My first book, I printed though Biddles, traditionally and had a professional do the cover. My second novel I published through kindle and had a professional do the cover. I sold a good amount of my first novel, but I still have two boxes of stock sitting in the loft. I didn’t enjoy the distribution side of publishing, so kindle (although I’ll use Smashwords next) was right for me. I’m still learning and the market and industry is going through some massive changes so by the time my current novel is ready to upload, I expect it would have changed again.
How much marketing have you had to do and how have book sales been?
Marketing is never ending. Really, never ending. For the first, I tried every avenue, sent out review copies (some reviewers reviewed, but most just never had a chance, they were so inundated). Letters and calls to local magazines and national papers, follow up e-mails, travelling to book stores to see about signings… I tried doing this in the UK and the US and only a few people were interested. Libraries didn’t want to know, even rejected donated books at first. But local book stores were amazing. They were happy to stock my book sale or return and put it up in the teen section. I think the first year of Faeries, I only sold about 300. I know some are lucky to sell five and others have wonderful sales. It’s a tough job and even the top experts can never really predict what will be a best seller and what will lose them money. It’s a gamble for everyone.
For Blood Tide, I blogged and sent out copies to reviewers (still awaiting some) and then I put it up for free for three days – I had over 400 hits, but only one person left a (favourable) review! I’m still waiting for the magic to happen for Tide, but I’m sure it will because it’s the best thing I’ve ever written (no offence novel 1).
Tell us about the novel …
The novel I’ve just released is a teen fiction, but has some strong life situations, so I’d recommend a 15+ readership. Blood Tide is about a teenage girl who grows up on a plantation in 1733. Amber is born a slave, but has a mixed race background and is very unique in the sense that she is educated by the local vicar. Her mother is a healer of the old religion and when her mother is murdered by the plantation owner’s son, Amber is sent away with other ‘problem’ slaves to the Americas. The ship, however, never makes its destination. The crew revolt and free the slaves, turning pirate; Amber finds herself literally fighting for her life and her freedom.
The book was inspired by a sketch of a young Caribbean woman that my grandmother had hanging in her house and the real life slave revolt aboard the Amistat. At the moment the book is only available on kindle download, but I may see about a print book in the future. Here is the amazon.co.uk link: LINK
What next? Tell us about work in progress and aspirations. Where do you see yourself in ten years time?
Next? I’m lucky enough to be a judge on the Paws n’ Claws competition! I’m also continuing my short stories, submitting children’s books to agents and editing my teen fantasy fiction, Downtrodden, which I hope will be ready for editing by the end of the year.
Downtrodden is about sixteen year old Sarah who is expected to become a prostitute like the rest of the women in her family, but she refuses. When a magical creature comes near, Sarah is expected to help capture it, but instead it helps her flee from her dark fate and find her own feet away from her vile Uncle. On her journey, she unwittingly makes an enemy of her sister who has vowed to bring Sarah back home humbled. Sarah’s sister has a few tricks of her own. She may not have a unicorn to lead her, but she has some of his magical hairs, which have helped her to bind her own dark magic…
In ten years, I’d love to have had a few children’s books out with mainstream publishers and placements for my teen fiction with publishers too. If I’m really dreaming, a six-figure contract (blissful sigh) so I can relax a bit and focus on writing great fiction. Realistically, I see myself with three to five more self-published novels and work with indy publishers, writing non-fiction to pay the bills and sending out short stories to paying markets.
Any advice for writers who are trying to get their work published?
Keep going and don’t give up! Also don’t just hand your credit card over to an agency who claims they can do it all for you. There is no easy way and even my friends who have big writing contracts with highly famous publishers are expected to really work for their books. It’s not easy. Writing is the easy part… getting it published isn’t the end either anymore. Authors are expected to be full time publicity machines either self or traditionally published.
Tell us something random about you for the pure hell of it
Apparently, creativity runs in the family… but this is the first time it’s manifested in writing. Most of my artistic family are well… artists! My mother, Linda Gunn, did the artwork for Blood Tide and all the ‘tales’ anthologies for Wyvern Publications. Her grandfather, George Drake, was one of Walt Disney’s first artists (you’ve probably seen his work in the films Pinocchio – his project was the cat, Figaro and Snow White). The rest of that family line don’t paint professionally but have impressive works of art (by their own hand) hanging randomly on walls. I really wish I could do that!
Finally: can we post an extract of your novel?
This is from a scene where Amber is helping her mother prepare with herbs and magic for the new arrival of slaves…
A chill slithered down Amber’s spine. The vapour from the bowl spread unnaturally and swirled around her feet. As if something invisible was crawling up her legs and spreading over her skin. She tried to jump up and scream, but she couldn’t lift her limbs and no sound came from her lips.
Her heart began pounding hard, and the memory of her dream came back – splitting her thoughts into vivid flashes. She was back in the jungle, running from the hoard of men carrying torches. Their voices shouted at her angrily as she jumped over fallen branches and twisted vines.
Then, just as suddenly, she was back in her mother’s hut. The chanting had stopped but instead of silence and the odd crackle of the fire, Amber felt a deep, rhythmic drumming. Her blood seared though her veins like a thousand splinters of dried cane and as she looked down at her own hands – they seemed to be steaming like the contents of the wooden bowl.
Again, she tried to open her mouth to cry out, but it felt like a dirty apron had been shoved inside, drying out her tongue and keeping her jaw from moving. As the loud drumming increased, she realised with horror that it was her own heartbeat.
‘Ere now, dauta,’ said her mother’s voice while gentle but calloused hands lifted her from the floor. ‘Drink some of dat.’
A cup of steaming tea was put into her palm and she inhaled the fumes. The pungent aroma brought her senses back and she tried to smile.
‘Not now, dauta, ya’ve had a bit of da magic though ya. By da time ya finish ya tea, ya’ll be ready for da fields again.’
Copyright Holly Stacey, Blood Tide, reproduced with kind permission of the author
Thanks so much Holly for sharing your story that I’m sure will inspire writers and readers who follow my blog. Many thanks … very interested to hear your connections to a Walt Disney artist as well as my dad particularly and also my brother have worked as artists for Disney … interesting.
Well next week I have invited Ashley Stokes from Unthank Books to tell all about his new book and his work as a publisher as his new book is out next week and will be reviewed here on Thursday.
Have a great day all!