Today's special guest on The Big Break is the delightful and hilarious Zoë Marriott, author of The Swan Kingdom, Daughter Of The Flames and soon to be released Shadows on the Moon.
Firstly, can I thank you for joining me today on my blog.
I’m delighted to be here, and thanks for asking me!
How long had you been dreaming of being published before you got that life changing phone call?
Forever! I decided I wanted to be a writer pretty much the first time I realised what a writer was (at about seven or eight years old, I think). I was a terribly over-imaginative child, and was constantly having night terrors and fleeing my bedroom, or refusing to go to bed in the first place. It didn’t help that my sister had told me wolves lived under my bed! My mother gave me a book to read, an Enid Blyton book, in the hopes that it would distract me. When I got scared I was supposed to turn the light on and read. It worked a bit better than I think she really intended. I became obsessed with books and reading, and that obsession still grips me to this day.
From the age of around fourteen I was writing dreadful romantic novels and trying to get them published with Mills and Boon – thank heavens that never worked out! I started my first young adult novel when I was eighteen, and actually got a publishing contract when I was twenty-two.
What was your first reaction when you found out that your first book ‘The Swan Kingdom’ was to be published? How did it make you feel?
Well, I remember that I just kept repeating, ‘Oh my God’ over and over again in various ways, from whispering to screaming. It must have been very boring for my agent to listen to. But then I kind of went numb for and walked around in a state of shock for quite a few days. Family and friends kept asking me if I was all right, because I seemed a bit...odd. I’m not sure I can explain it, except that when you’ve been working for something and hoping for something for such a long time, and putting so much energy and passion into it, when it actually happens it’s like you don’t know what to do with yourself. It didn’t feel quite real, anyway. The only way I was able to get myself back to normal was by focusing on writing my next book. That’s the cure for a lot of writer’s problems, I reckon!
What were you doing when you found out?
I was eating. My agent called at dinnertime, and I think I was mid-way through some fish fingers! By the time I got back to them they were stone cold and had to go straight in the bin.
Who did you tell first?
My mother and father, who were very pleased for me, but didn’t really understand what the fuss was about. Then my writer’s group, who understood completely and were possibly even more excited than I was.
How long did it take for your first book to be published after you had been told?
Aaaages! Seriously. I nearly died waiting. Walker Books hadn’t expected to commission this unknown writer from the slushpile and they really had no room for me in their catalogue. This is how it went:
In August 2004, I finished the book and submitted it to them. In October 2004 Walker Books asked me to come down to London to meet them and chat about the book. They said they wanted me to make some revisions, which I agreed to do. I worked on those over Christmas and submitted the new version of the book in January 2005 (in the meantime, I got an agent). In February 2005 I got the call to say that they were offering me a contract. And in March 2007, the book came out. MARCH 2007! I had written the book when I was twenty-one and twenty-two, and it didn’t come out until the near I turned twenty-five! I got to the point where I felt that if just one more person asked me why it was taking so long, I might explode. Or bite them. Or both.
What was happening to your manuscript during this time?
Not all that much, to be honest. I had already done all the major revisions before they offered me the contract, so we did one round of line-edits (which is where the editor picks on things like funny word choice, sentence structure, pacing, the order of scenes – things that make the prose flow smoothly) and then one round of copy-edits (which is the really fine-tooth comb editing, where pretty much every word is questioned) and that was it. It was the least work I’ve ever done on any manuscript – my second and third books required loads more editorial work and loads more changes.
How did you cope whilst waiting for publication day?
I absolutely threw myself into writing my second book, Daughter of the Flames. I wrote like crazy. It was either that or go crazy myself.
How did it feel to see your name in print?
Once again, it was a very odd experience! Suddenly it didn’t look like my name anymore. I made an image of the cover of the book my desktop background and would just stare at it, trying to make myself absorb the fact that, yes, that was me on there. When I got my author copies I did the same thing, kept one with me so that I could stare at it and try to make it real.
Where was the first place that your saw your book on sale and did you do anything crazy when you saw it?
I saw it in an Ottakars in Lincoln, which sadly no longer exists. And yep, I bought it; I bought three copies, actually, as it was on a buy-two-get-one-free offer! I paid cash so that the person at the checkout wouldn’t realise I was buying my own book. I knew it was too sad for words, but I didn’t care! I just had to have it!
Your third book ‘Shadows On The Moon’ comes out in July. How do you plan to celebrate?
I don’t tend to celebrate important events so much as worry about them! It’s a character flaw. So I hope I’ll be busy doing lots of book related promotion around the release date, which will leave me less time to panic. On the day I’ll probably go out with my mum, have a bit of a book-buying spree, and eat sushi - but that’s more to distract myself than anything!
What advice would you give unpublished authors?
Firstly – don’t be tricked into thinking there are shortcuts. You may hear about a fourteen year old who wrote a book on her mobile in three weeks, sent it off to an agent at random and got a six figure deal two weeks later and think: ‘What does she know that I don’t? What is her secret?’ The answer is: nothing. She was lucky, that’s all. There really is no super-special-awesome secret to getting published. All you can do is write the best book your talents allow and be business-like about submitting it. The rest is all luck, and out of your hands.
Secondly – when writing, give yourself permission to suck. First drafts nearly always do, even if you spend hours labouring over every word. It’s just the nature of the beast. The important thing is to finish. You can fix anything in revision – except a blank page.