Frances Kay is interviewed by Frances Kay

Guest Article by Frances Kay
Illustration: Bradley Wind

FK: What's a published novelist like you doing on 'AUTHONOMY' - the Harper Collins online slush pile?

Frances: Debut novelist. Still a debut novelist after 2 years. If I have to wait as long to get my second novel published, I'll be over 100 years old at my next book launch.

FK: So why not use your time to write more books?

Frances: I have. I've finished two complete novels and started another three since 'Micka' was published. Sadly, no takers.

FK: Your stuff isn't commercial - don't whinge.

Frances: That's exactly why I joined Autho, as members call it. I wanted to know just how much of a minority taste I'm writing for.

FK: Why that site? There are others.

Frances: I had a personal recommendation - I'm sure the other sites work in the same way. It's all about being connected to a wider public.

FK: Does it matter what the public thinks? It's surely what publishers, editors and agents think that matters?

Frances: Up to five years ago, I'd have agreed with you. But the entire landscape of books and writing is changing so fast that no one can predict any more. I have a wonderful agent who snapped my first book up and sold it in a few weeks. She tells me that in the present publishing climate she can't sell the other books I've written, and, once upon a time, that would have been the end of the story. Now, we have options. We can self publish. Or go to small indie publishers who can't afford to pay an advance. My next book will require a massive effort from me to get it out there. And putting it on Authonomy was a start.

FK: What, to showcase it to a few wannabes and unsuccessful-

Frances: Let me stop you right there. Before I joined, I might have thought that too. Then a friend told me just before Christmas that as a result of her book being seen on Authonomy, another published writer suggested an editor she could approach. Bingo! And she is a writer I greatly respect. Kristin Gleeson - watch this name - has TWO books launching this summer. . I've discovered some fantastic reads and made friends with writers from Australia, America, England and Ireland. Some are published, some are editors or teachers. It doesn't take long to find out who the top talents are.

FK: Oh, you mean the top talent spotters and the top five books?

Frances: The 'top five' arrive there each month by an arcane ranking system involving virtual bookshelves and stars. But your personal favourites need not be the top five. The more you read, the more real writers you discover.

FK: 'Real' writers?

Frances: By that, I mean writers who are asking for and giving honest feedback, whose goal is not necessarily the Editor's Desk (where you get a Harper Collins editor's review). Some people join to 'win' and spend their time 'spamming' you to read and rate their book, some delight in being destructive and aggressive on the forums, some bring in armies of sock puppets -

FK: Did I hear you say armies of sock puppets?

Frances: - strictly illegal on the site, but it happens - where one author joins up as different identities solely to vote for their own book. That's their priority.

FK: And they get a review?

Frances: Some do. But very few of the top five books - a mere handful - have got as far as being published. The site is run for Harper Collins to find new authors that suit their house style, which is fair enough, so they won't review a book purely on its literary merit. They choose a weekly 'one to watch' which is, I believe, chosen on the quality and promise of the writing.

FK: Do I detect a whiff of smugness there?

Frances: Okay, I confess. My book was chosen as the 'one to watch' two weeks after being uploaded. Smug, me? Never. Just happy to have other writers reading and critiquing my work. It's a free beta trial that's worth a lot to me.

FK: You're so naive! Writing is a hugely competitive business. Why would other writers - potential rivals - give you the time of day?

Frances: Writers like reading. Writers, particularly unpublished ones, feel isolated. And writers write articulate, witty, insightful and supportive critiques of other writers' work. The present appetite for good novels is huge; there are enough keen readers out there. There may be a parallel universe in Authonomy where bad stuff happens. But my experience has been good.

FK: So you'd advise other writers to join?

Frances: Absolutely. Plunge into that ocean.

FK: And your new novel is going to be published as a result?

Frances: One way or another, it will. I think it will be read by the same small but select group of people who liked 'Micka'; intelligent, discriminating readers who like dark and dystopian fiction. I'm going to have to work hard at getting it published, and even harder getting it known. Without a big publisher behind me, I'll have to be super-active on the self-publicity front. One outing for 'Micka' on R4's 'A Good Read' programme, and it went straight up to the top 100 on Amazon. So I know it isn't the quality of the writing that would stop me from being a bestseller. It's about selling, branding and marketing - and my skills in those areas are abysmal.

FK: Too true. For example, you haven't mentioned the title..

Frances: Oops. It's called 'The Dollywagglers'. Take a look: Here's my short pitch for it: After the plague, most of us are dead. Some of us aren't behaving very well. But we can still have a laugh, can't we?

FK: May I ask what 'dollywagglers' are?

Frances: You may. But I'm not going to tell you.

Frances Kay's first novel, 'Micka', was the runner up for the 2011 McKitterick Prize and was featured on BBC Radio 4's 'A Good Read'. Her play 'A Man in Half' will be performed in Dublin to celebrate the Year of Science in 2012. She lives in Ireland. Become part of the tiny but lovely group that follows her blog or read free extracts from 'Micka' and 'The Dollywagglers' on 'Authonomy' - here .


Kristin said...

There are many others besides me who have authonomy as a step to being published. If you have a mind to invest the time in some of the forums it's also a place to hone the writing craft. Kristin

Anonymous said...

Nice one, Fan. Yeah, Authonomy is a good thing - writers helping writers - and if we ain't commercial enough for many, at least we can please a few!

Fontaine said...

Great interview,Frances but that interviewer was a nasty piece of work.

Jane Bwye said...

Good reading! Hooray for Autho - it has taught me sooo much.
Jane Bwye

The Divorced Lady's Companion to Living in Italy said...

Lovely interview and good luck with the long haul of book number two! Best, Catherine

Paul Freeman said...

Good interview Fan. I think the interviewer was leading you a bit though.