I am very pleased to introduce our guest author: Mandy Webster. We’re all curious how authors started out and what challenges they faced. Thank you Mandy for taking the time to get inside your head!
Mandy has written and self-published a Middle Grade Novel: Young Marian A Viper in the Forest available in paperback or Kindle eBook. A delightful spin on Robin Hood in a world encased by English Folklore.
Amazon 5-Star Reviews:
“beautiful use of language” – Louisa M
“A refreshing change to see Marian as the main character” – Mike W.
“I found it difficult to put down” – Colleen Cronin
“I highly recommend it for any young girl, mother of a young girl, or anyone with a love for a good story!” – JAS
“exciting, with lots of action and drama, and the characters are very well drawn out” – Elaine C. Reid
Tell us a little about yourself. What got you into writing?
Although I always enjoyed writing, I started out in design. I was working in the production department of a magazine when I approached the editor and asked if I could try my hand at writing an article. As soon as I saw my first piece in print I had the bug! I began writing more at the magazine and then moved from there to copywriting at an advertising agency.
After staying home to raise my kids for a few years, I returned to work as a writer for a popular children’s website. I would spend all day writing stories for children and it was heaven. It helps that I am a big kid myself – I’ve read Harry Potter countless times and I’m usually the one dragging my kids to Disney movies and theme parks.
How did you come up with your story?
When I was a teenager we moved from Canada to a tiny village in the English countryside. It was idyllic. I’ve always loved history, romance and adventure books, so folk tales like Robin Hood and King Arthur completely enthralled me. My favorite TV show at the time was Robin of Sherwood, and 20 years later I fell in love the new BBC version of Robin Hood too.
I took some time off work and had been thinking about writing a book for a while. I’d read a couple of the Young James Bond books and was aware of the Young Sherlock Holmes (another of my favorite TV shows was the short-lived ‘Young Indiana Jones’ in the 90’s). I started thinking about telling the story of Robin Hood before he became the outlaw we all know so well.
While I had always planned for Marian to be a kickass character who could hold her own with the boys, it occurred to me that a great twist on the tale would be to make Marian the hero of the story.
And so it became a new take on a classic legend in which the girl takes the lead and the boys are the secondary characters.
Tell me about your experience, what were the biggest challenges and how did you overcome them?
By far my biggest challenge is self-discipline and actually forcing myself to sit down and write. I kept waiting for the day that I would wake up and think to myself ‘Today’s the day!’ but it never came.
One day I was watching Conan O’Brien being interviewed about the process of making his show and how hard it is. He said something along the lines of ‘If someone says they love writing, I don’t want to read anything they wrote.’ That was a wakeup call to me. Writing is a discipline – if I kept waiting for the day I really WANTED to write I could be waiting forever.
I also hate and dread self-promotion. It’s funny because I work in marketing, and I have no issues with singing the praises of my company in our ads, but when it comes to saying anything good about myself I get extremely uncomfortable. The day I actually put myself out there and asked my friends to ‘like’ my Facebook page was one of the most difficult days in the entire process!
I think that trait is one a lot of women share, not wanting to blow our own horns. I guess I need to take a page out of Marian’s book (no pun intended!) – recognize my strengths and refuse to let anything stand in my way!
What is the result? Are you doing well? What would you have done differently if you could do it all again?
Well, when my book hit #1 in its category on Amazon.ca I was thrilled! It also reached #25 on Amazon.com which was pretty cool. But as far as sales go, I am completely realistic about the fact that I have to look at the long term. I am focused on the future – laying the groundwork for the rest of the series. Right now I consider any sale over and above the one I bought myself a huge success!
If I could have done anything differently, I would have started workshopping my chapters with other writers earlier. I wrote the first four chapters and then stalled for about six months because I knew I needed feedback, but I didn’t know where to find it. Then I discovered a wonderful writing community that has helped me immensely. Not only was the feedback essential but some days when I was having a hard time finding inspiration, receiving an encouraging review of my work was just what I needed to get me back on track.
What are you working on now? What are your future plans?
‘A Viper in the Forest’ is the first in the Young Marian series. I am currently working on book two and book three is floating around in the back of my mind. My goal is to release one book a year for the next five or six years. After that, my Marian and Robin tale will catch up with the existing legends and it will be time for me to move on. I would love to develop a new story with original characters. Whatever I do, I see myself continuing to write for children or maybe young adults. My first book sort of straddles the line between MG and YA.
What advice would you give unpublished writers?
First of all, make time for writing and then actually do it! That was the biggest hurdle for me.
Secondly, seek out other writers and get as much feedback as you can. This has made the biggest difference to my writing. There are wonderful online communities, or local writers’ groups. Friends and family are great, but they have a tendency to tell us what we want to hear. What a writer really needs is constructive criticism from objective readers who share their passion for the written word and aren’t afraid to be honest.
Just for fun, which character would you kill off in your book if you had to and why?
Well, unfortunately one particularly unpleasant character, Ranulf has a role to play in the next book, but if I didn’t need him alive I would happily smite him!
Let’s hear about your Self-Publishing endeavor. Did you hire an Editor to revise your work?
I wish I had the budget to have hired an editor but as completing this book was really fulfilling a fantasy of mine, I just couldn’t justify the cost.
Having said that, I found the input from peers in my workshopping group to be absolutely invaluable. They pick up on little things, like typos and punctuation, and they also notice the big things, like plot holes I may have completely missed.
I had a couple of beta readers and my father-in-law is a successful published author so he read it and made some excellent suggestions. My sister is an amazing proofreader and she was the final set of eyes.
Was it difficult finding the right cover and blurb?
Well, I have a graphic design background so I was able to do my own cover. I had been thinking of a more traditional look using photography, but one day I had an inspiration that I wanted something unique yet simple. I laid it out fairly quickly and it just seemed right. Other than a few tweaks here and there it hasn’t really changed from that first iteration.
My cover may have a slightly more mature feel than some middle grade books, but the book is directed at older kids – 10 to14 – so I thought it would appeal to their sensibilities.
I worked with a strategist who helped me with the Amazon description and my author bio. Of course, the writer in me wants to second guess every word someone else writes – especially when it’s about ME! But she has worked in publishing for years. She knew the tricks to formatting it so that it really tells the reader who the book is for and what the benefits are to them. There’s a lot more to it than I realized – I’m so glad I had her help.
What made you decide to go the self-publishing route?
A few years ago I attempted the traditional route with a picture book I had written and it never went anywhere. I do realize that picture books are a hard sell, but this time around I just decided I would skip the long, uphill battle that, statistically speaking, would probably end in more rejections. Rather than spinning my wheels for a couple of years with nothing to show for it, I decided just to get my story out there.
I also knew I had the resources to execute it fairly economically as well as making it look professional and polished. And of course Amazon and Createspace make the whole process pretty painless.
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