This week I had the great pleasure of talking to Julia Blake, an author who has written every one of her books in a different genre (besides series, of course!). We had a chat about how she approaches the different genres, how she handles the marketing, whether she’s ever considered a pen name, and much more.
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Sarina Langer: Hello, and welcome to The Writing Sparrow podcast. I’m Sarina Langer and this podcast is all about writing, publishing, and marketing your book. You can find transcripts on my website at sarinalanger.com. Let’s get started.
Welcome back friends and sparrows and good morning, it’s the 8th of February. This is Episode 22, and today I have Julia Blake with me on Zoom to talk about writing across genres. Just for reference, and for clarity, that’s not writing one book with different genres overlapping because most books do some of that anyway, but writing every book in a different genre. Welcome, Julia.
Julia Blake: Oh, good morning. Thank you for having me. It’s great to be here.
Sarina: It’s really great to have you. How are you?
Julia: I’m a bit cold. It’s a bit chilly this morning. I’m okay, I’ve had my tea so I’m fine.
Sarina: I’m having a tea right now. We actually had some snow yesterday so it’s cooled down right over here.
Julia: We had some, but it’s all gone. We don’t tend to get much snow down here.
Sarina: We don’t tend to get any [chuckles].
Julia: It’s still really cold.
Sarina: Normally, the way these interviews go is that I’ll have roughly five questions prepared, and maybe one or two from social media. Today, Instagram’s hijacked our interview.
Julia: That’s my followers for you. They’re a bit of a feisty lot, I’m afraid.
Sarina: No problem.
Julia: I hope the questions were clean.
Sarina: Yes, no, they all were. I’ve got two questions for you from myself and then I gave up because we got quite a few in from your Instagram followers. I just quickly want to apologize, before we start, to everyone who sent us questions, because I need to keep at least a little eye on the time, but also still keep it on topic. I think we got quite a lot of questions from your followers, that I ask every author in my monthly writing routine interviews anyway. If you’re up for doing one of those?
Julia: Oh, absolutely. Yes. If you want me back after this one? Absolutely.
Sarina: Absolutely. I don’t see why not. We can split it that way, that we’re doing a lot of the questions that we got today and then a lot of the others we’re going to answer in the writing routines chat that we can do, I think the next one that I’ve got for you now is April. We can schedule one for that.
Julia: Absolutely. That’s brilliant.
Sarina: Then hopefully no one is going to feel left out. To start with, if you talk us through everything that you’ve published and written so far, and which genres you’ve covered?
Julia: The Book of Eve was my first ever published book, that’s contemporary fiction, but contemporary drama. Then I self-published Lifesong my novella, which is science fiction, but it’s not about spaceships or robots or anything like that, it’s more sci-fi fantasy. Then I published my epic Becoming Lili, which is contemporary.
Well, it’s classified as contemporary women’s literature, but I’ve had plenty of men read it as well. It’s set in the ’90s so it’s borderline contemporary, almost historical. That’s weird to think that the ’90s are considered historical, but there you go.
Sarina: It really is because I was born in the ’90s. I can’t think of myself–
Julia: Oh, shush, I was born in the ’60s [laughs]. Then I published Erinsmore, which is my Narnia-inspired fantasy. A lot of people have called it YA. To be honest, it never even occurred to me it was YA until people started calling it that, but I guess it is aimed for the younger audience, but anyone can read it. I have my Blackwood Family Saga, which are very short, pacey romantic-thriller suspense novels.
I have Chaining Daisy, which is the sequel to Becoming Lili and is equally as big. I have The Forest which is a weird little one to put in a genre because it is a fantasy but there’s no elves or pixies or anything like that in it. I tend to call it folklore fantasy because it draws very heavily on ancient British myths, like the Green Man and stuff like that. I’ve got that one. I have Black Ice, of course, my latest one, which is a fairy tale retelling of Snow White, and it’s in a steampunk genre as well, so lots of melding of genres there. I think that’s it. Yes. I think that’s it.
Sarina: Wow. There you go. I think for most authors when they decide to write a book, they tend to have one genre that they write in, and then they tend to stick to that. I’d forgotten just how much you’ve done until you’ve just talked me through that. You’ve really covered almost every genre in that.
Julia: I haven’t done horror yet.
Sarina: Not yet?
Julia: Not yet. I don’t tend to read horror because I am a bit of a fraidy-cat. It upsets me mightily. I’m fine while I’m reading it, but it’s later at night when I’m alone in the house, and there’s, what’s that noise? Then everything I’ve read comes back into my head. On the flip side, that might make me really good at writing horror, because I know what scares me. Maybe if I can pen that down on a page, it might freak the heck out of my [unintelligible 00:05:38] readers as well.
I haven’t done horror. I haven’t done Western. I haven’t done a true romance either.
Sarina: All right. There is still some places there where you–
Julia: There’s still a few. There are a few. Also, I haven’t done what I call true sci-fi, a true out in the planets, futuristic sci-fi, haven’t done that yet. We’ll see.
Sarina: Do you think you might do those genres in the future or you just not interested in those at all?
Julia: Definitely science fiction.
Sarina: Definitely science fiction.
Julia: Oh, yes. Definitely. I’ve got two books in my head that have been in my head for about five years now, which are true science fiction. Yes, that’s definitely in [crosstalk].
Sarina: You heard it here first, everyone. Julia Blake is going to write science fiction [laughs]. Do you find it easy to switch between genres? I don’t think you tend to work on too many works in progress at the same time anyway. Say, once you finished a book and you then move on to the next project, which is a completely different genre, do you find it easy to switch? This is also– [crosstalk]
Julia: Sorry, I’ll let you finish that.
Sarina: It’s also a question that seconded by @lilaslibrary on Instagram. To add to that, do you find it easy to switch between genres like I’ve asked, between fantasy, romance, steampunk, and all that, but also categories like young adult, new adults, and middle grade and what have you?
Julia: Yes, I do. To be honest, I don’t really think about what genre I’m writing in. When I get struck by a story idea, it’s just, “Oh, gosh, I want to write this story,” and I start writing it. It’s not until I’m halfway through or even finished it, that I think, “Oh, okay that’s a YA fantasy,” or, “Oh, that’s a romantic suspense.” Sometimes it’s not even until I publish it that people go, “Yes. This is YA,” and I see it, “Oh Okay. I guess that’s YA.” [laughs]
To me, a good story is a good story, the genre is just the packaging it comes in. I really don’t understand the hang-up that some people have with reading outside of their genre or writing outside of their genre.
Sarina: No, I [unintelligible 00:07:55]
Julia: It’s like a lot of people say, “Oh, I hate science fiction,” but they’ve seen Star War, or they hate fantasy, but they’ve seen Lord of the Rings. The story can hold people’s attention and drag them across genres.
Sarina: I think most stories tend to overlap with various genres anyway. Most stories tend to have some kind of mystery element in it. Most stories tend to have maybe a romance subplot. They’re all overlapping to a degree anyway.
Julia: No. We don’t all live our life in one grove. We have different moods, different things we do, different sides to our personality so why stick to just one genre?
Sarina: Exactly. One question that we didn’t get, which I’m a bit surprised about, that I just thought of right now. Let me ask you before I forget, did you ever consider to write maybe under a pen name for some of those genres? I know many authors, say, once they’ve established a reader base, maybe in fantasy and then maybe they want to write romance, for example. They think this is great, and I want to do it, but will my fantasy readers like it, so should I consider using a pen name for those new books? That’s never occurred to you, has it because you’ve published them all under the same name?
Julia: It never even occurred to me until I was about three or four books in and someone sent me a rather snippy message saying, “You really should use a pen name for all your different books.”
Julia: I know. That took me aback a bit, and I thought, “Well hang on a minute. I’m up to four different genres already, how many pen names am I supposed to have?” I’m now up to seven or eight genres. I would not know who I was. I would lose track of who I was. Can you imagine how many Instagram pages I would have to have?
Sarina: God, that’d just be so exhausting.
Julia: Just the thought of it, just leaves me tired. I’m sorry guys. I’m Julia Blake. Everything is under my name, it’s pick a mix. It’s also had a good knock on because I think a lot of my readers have been happy to explore the genres with me. Sometimes I get wonderful messages from readers saying, “I’d never read fantasy before but I read it because you wrote it, and you know what? I loved it. Now I’m going to try a book by this other fantasy author.”
Sarina: Oh, great.
Julia: That is so amazing. I’ve had it, especially with my last book, Black Ice, which was steampunk. The number of people who contact me going, “Steampunk, what is that exactly? I don’t think I like steampunk.” As if they were telling me what I could or could not write.
I went back and said, “You’ll love it. Think corsets, think airships, think cogs and clockwork,” and they went, “Oh, okay, we’ll give it a try.” Every single one of them who’s tried steampunk for the first time has come back to me said, “We absolutely loved it. Can you write more?”
Sarina: That’s the best kind of feedback, isn’t it? That you’ve introduced someone to the genre, and they ended up loving it, even though they thought that it wouldn’t be for them?
Julia: Yes, absolutely. I think it’s the story and I think every author has their own individual voice. If you stay true to that voice, it shouldn’t matter what genre you’re writing in.
Sarina: No, because, at the end of the day, you’re just telling someone a story.
Julia: Yes. We’re storytellers.
Sarina: I think with the pen name thing, it’s just become your thing, to write different genres anyway. It’s not like you’ve been, say you’ve written 10 fantasy books first. I keep coming back to fantasy because that’s my primary genre. Just as an example, think if you had maybe written say, 10 horror books first, and then thought, “I’m going to go in a completely different direction now and do a romance fantasy story,” then that might have been different, but because you’ve always done different genres anyway, it’s–
Julia: I can start.
Sarina: Yes. It’s just that’s your thing, isn’t it? It’s like your genre is to write in every genre.
Julia: Yes. My tagline is Julia Blake, an author for all seasons and I like to think that there is something for everyone in my books. If you don’t like fantasy, fine, try my romantic suspense. If you don’t like that, well, why don’t you try my sci-fi? If you don’t like that, why don’t you try my steampunk? There’s always something for everyone in my books.
Sarina: That’s a clever way to approach marketing. To come to our next question, this one from the constant_voiceover on Instagram. They are all from Instagram, by the way. Just so I don’t repeat myself, if I have a question from someone else, just assume it’s from Instagram, because they will ask. What’s your favorite genre to write?
Julia: I knew I was going to be asked that. I just knew it and I thought about it last night. When I’m writing a book, I tend to be very obsessed with the book that I’m writing. I’m not one of those authors who can write two or three books at once, or even be writing the next book while a previous book is in edit. I can’t do that. I am a bit like a new mother with a newborn baby. I’m completely in love with the story I’m writing to the point of obsession, to the point that my daughter thinks she’s an orphan.
Julia: I do tend to tunnel vision my books. Say, for example, while I’m writing Erinsmore, I’m thinking, “Oh, my goodness, this fantasy I’m writing is the best thing. I’m going to write, nothing but fantasy from now on because I’m loving it so much.” I launch the book, and it’s all very exciting. Then after a few weeks, I start to think, “Well, I guess that was all very nice but I have this great idea for a girl living in London. Why don’t I write that?”
Then I launch into that book and then that becomes my latest obsession but saying that I do have a fondness for fantasy, I must admit. I do love the liberation that you have with fantasy. The fact that if you want a talking dragon, well, heck, you just have a talking dragon. I love that there are no rules. That so long as it makes sense within the context of the world you have created, then that’s okay.
Then it must fit in with the laws that you have established in your world but after that, anything goes. Then writing Black Ice, which was steampunk, and a fairytale retelling, I really enjoyed writing that. It just flew out of me. Well, six weeks from beginning to end for a 150,000-word book is not by going even by my standards. I think it was because I just enjoyed it so much. I just enjoyed the story so much. I hope that answers the question.
Sarina: It does. You also tend to write primarily in standalone novels, I just realized. You don’t tend to have series as much. I mean, you do have a few but I feel like–
Julia: I do, I do.
Sarina: -it mostly.
Julia: I do have series. Well really the Perennials Trilogy, that’s a series. There’s two books in that so far. Third book, hopefully out this year. I have The Blackwood Family Saga that had three books in it so far, Book 4, hopefully out this year. Surprise announcement Erinsmore is going to be part of a series. It’s only Book 1. I know. I have the next two books in my head already.
Sarina: Well, I feel honored that you’re announcing it here.
Julia: Also, the latest one I wrote, Black Ice, I did plan for that to be a standalone, in fact it was originally going to be a short story but I mean, look how that turned out. That is going to be Book 1 in a five-book series, all fairy tale which is all based within the five kingdoms steampunk world that I created. Really, give me a couple of years and it will be mostly serieses I’m writing.
Sarina: I stand corrected. To get back to our questions from your followers, here’s a question from McKenna Dean Romans. How do you make it in such a way that your readers understand the different genres you’re writing in, especially, for example, closed-door versus steamy or paranormal versus contemporary?
Julia: Good question. I’m a bit rubbish at promoting. I tend to approach promoting the way you’re supposed to cook pasta. I just throw everything at the wall and see what sticks. I make it very clear when I’m writing and promoting my books, what nature of book they are. To be honest, none of my books are very explicit. There are one or two scenes in Becoming Lili and Chaining Daisy and there are one or two scenes in Book of Eve but they are pushed as 18+.
They make no pretense of being for a younger audience than that. I mean, for example, when I was writing Black Ice, I really pushed it as a steampunk fantasy retelling. For weeks before it was published, I was posting character pictures and backgrounds and information and snippets, just to really get people accustomed to the fact, “Oh, okay, Julia’s new book is steampunk. All right. Okay, what’s this all about?” By the time the book comes out, people are comfortable with what genre it is.
They have read the snippets. They know what age it’s aimed at. Basically, I’m a fairly clean writer. Most of my books are clean. I mean, The Blackwood Family Saga are clean. They’re hot. There is sensuality in there but I closed the bedroom door very firmly because I did make a conscious decision to have a series that your gran could really. Mind you, I have had some grandmothers read my other books and come back to me about the sex scenes going, “That was very good.”
Sarina: That’s a sweet comment, isn’t it? Maybe there’s another genre for you to explore one day, really hot, steamy erotica.
Julia: Well, you may laugh but the first-ever book I ever wrote that is still unpublished. Well, let’s just say if I ever published it, it would kick poop out of 50 Shades and steal its lunch money. It really would, but I don’t know if I dare publish it.
Sarina: Would you then have a pen name for that?
Julia: What? No.
Sarina: No risk on that? No one would know it’s you.
Julia: Then it wouldn’t sell.
Sarina: Wouldn’t it though? No offense to anyone who might maybe take offense of it. I don’t know but I always feel like erotica sells a lot easier because maybe reader expectations are low, and maybe they are less likely to look for story in those and more likely to look for something hot and steamy.
Julia: Well, this was the thing with the first book I ever wrote. The first full-length novel I ever wrote and a few people have read it and they’ve all said the story is amazing. The story just gets you by the throat and doesn’t let go because it’s interesting.
Sarina: Literally by the throat.
Julia: Yes. It was written in complete and utter first person. Absolutely in the moment, first-person, and then they say, “But the sex scene. Oh, my word.” [laughs] I might. We’ll see.
Sarina: We’ll see. No, pressure. To get back to the questions from your followers, here’s one from Nets Shorts. My stories are all over the genre spectrum, but it’s because those are the stories my characters bring me. Is it the same for you or do you plan it?
Julia: I don’t plan anything. I think we all know that I don’t plan a thing. Yes. The way I work, so usually I imagine a scene, but sometimes it is the character who just strolls through my head as if they own the place. They sit down, cross throw the legs over the arm of the chair, and say, “Right, I have this story for you, and it’s going to be a good one, so get your fingers on the keyboard and get ready to write.” Like I said, it’s not until I’m halfway through the story that I suddenly think, “Okay, this is some fantasy?” or, “This is a contemporary, or this is a romantic suspense or whatever.”
The stories just come out of nowhere. I never plan. Now I’ve got more books behind me, I am thinking in my head, “I need to write the third book in The Perennials, I need to write the next book in The Blackwoods. I’d really like to sit down and write the next book in The Five Kingdoms. There is a degree of planning there that I know which books, I’m honor-bound to get out next but in terms of the actual story, no, I never know what’s going on.
Sarina: When you sit down to write a new work in progress, do you not have any idea of where it might go or how it might end? Nothing at all?
Julia: I know that really surprises you. I know, you can’t–
Sarina: I can’t wrap my head around it.
Sarina: When you sit down to write, how do you know what to write if you don’t know where it’s going to go? How does anything come out of your fingertips?
Julia: I usually have a title, believe it or not, the first thing I usually get is the title. Something will pop in my head, and I’ll think, “Oh, that’s a really good title. Okay, I need to write a book to go with that title.”
Sarina: Oh, I like that.
Julia: If that’s the title, [unintelligible 00:21:46] out there. I’ll sit down and then sometimes I will have a character as well. One or two characters will be there and they’ll really establish themselves so I’ll know that this character is going to be the main character. Then usually, believe it or not, I have an ending.
Sarina: Oh, really?
Julia: I know where I’m going to end up but I have no idea how to get there. Then the longest thing it takes me to write is the first line. That’s the thing for me, getting that first line. Sometimes, it can take me absolutely ages to think of the first line. Then when I’ve got it, bam, I write the next line, and then the next, then the next that’s just how it goes on and on. All of a sudden, bam, I’ve written 150,000 words, and it all pans together, somehow.
Sarina: Just like that? [chuckles]
Julia: Just like that.
Sarina: Surprise 150,000 words just out of nowhere.
Julia: Yes. Kind of.
Sarina: That’s amazing. Next, we have a few questions from, In our gumboots. I hope I got that right. On average, how many drafts do you write off each book? I’ve adjusted a few of these questions just to bring them back again to our topic. How many drafts do you write of each book and does it vary for each genre?
Julia: Again, that’s a really tough question to answer because I’m always fiddling with my manuscripts. I’m one of those writers where the first words down are pretty much as is going to be. I’m usually really happy with the first words that come down. I am one of those authors who does edit as I go. I know I’m not supposed to but it’s my routine, it works for me.
I’ll finish a writing session and I will just read through what I’ve written, basically, to find out what I’ve written, because it’s all a mystery. I had no idea until I read it through and go, “Oh, we’re doing that now. Are we? okay, fine.” I’ll read through and if I see any obvious typos or punctuation or errors, I will correct them there and then.
I’ve learned from bitter experience that if you don’t change that typo now, you will never see it again until it’s in print.
Sarina: [unintelligible 00:24:09] on that.
Julia: Oh no. I do tend to edit when I finish writing, say a chapter or a session or however many words I’ve written, I’ll go back and I’ll read it through just to make sure it flows and it hangs right in my head. If I see any typos, I’ll pick them up. Then the next time I sit down to do another writing session, I will just read back through the previous bit, just to get me warmed up back into the sprint as it were, and then I can just take off and do another one.
In terms of how many drafts do I do, where they are radically different, not many, but I’m always constantly fiddling and polishing and amending. I’m not one of those authors who takes massive chunks out either, not usually, if it’s there it tends to stay. I hope I’ve answered the question.
Sarina: I think so. The line between, which number of draft you’re on ends up blurring a bit then, doesn’t it?
Julia: It does.
Sarina: I sometimes have moments where I’m not sure, is this draft two, is it draft three, did I accidentally already go into draft four on some stage. It can muddy quite easily.
Julia: I have a unique way now, not unique, but a new way of saving myself, because I did get a little bit like that where I would have, Erinsmore one, Erinsmore final, Erinsmore final final. Erinsmore this is the final, Erinsmore oh please let this be the final. Now, if I’ve done a significant amount and I save it, I put the date. I save it under the date so I can always see which one is the latest. Then I don’t, like I have done in a mad frenzy, end up deleting the latest one. That was a hard lesson learned.
Sarina: Yes, that sounds like it. It’s not something you want. Next question from, In our gumboots, how do you know when a story is ready for beta readers, and my addendum, and do you get different beta readers for different genres?
Julia: Yes, I learned to my cost that it is a good idea to make sure your beta readers are comfortable with the genre that you have written in. They are comfortable with the age range of the book. For example, The Forest I gave it to a few people. I wasn’t going to publish The Forest, actually because when I first wrote it, 10 years ago, I gave it to my then sister in law and a friend to read. They’d both read The Book of Eve and they had both read Becoming Lili and they loved it.
They read The Forest, and I had it handed back to me and neither of them had progressed beyond the first chapter.
Sarina: Oh no. [unintelligible 00:26:53]
Julia: I know. The thing is, when I gave it to them, I thought The Forest was the finest piece of work I’d ever done. I absolutely loved it. I’d put my heart and soul into The Forest so when they handed it back with just one chapter, picked up and said, “Didn’t really grip me, couldn’t get into it.” I was devastated.
Sarina: Oh, I bet you were.
Julia: I was absolutely devastated so I just threw it in a drawer and it languished there and on various hard drives for 10 years. Every now and then I would think about it and with a little pang of regret and think, “Oh, well,” but then I was talking to my favorite cousin. She was going through all the books because she’s one of my best friends. She tends to buy all my books.
She said, “I have read all the books you’ve written,” I said, “Actually, you never read The Forest.” She pounced on me and said, “What book is The Forest, I want to read it,” I said, “It’s not very good.” She said, “I’ll be the judge of that.” I gave her this huge spiral-bound copy of The Forest and she went away. Two days later, she phoned me and said, “This book has got to be published, this is the best thing you have ever written. I have read for two days straight, and I could not put it down.” I was, “Okay. Right.”
I went through it, gave it a really good edit, tidied it up, updated it. By this point, I had published, The Book of Eve, Lifesong, Becoming Lili, Erinsmore, and Lost and Found. I think Fixtures and Fittings as well. I was more confident with the whole publishing process, I was more happy in my writing. I tidied it all up and I sent it out to three beta readers, but I might not have picked them too carefully, because some of them gave me very negative feedback. They were YA writers and romance writers and it was a little dark, and a little wordy for them.
Then for the first time, I decided to do ARC readers. I picked really carefully and I found ARC readers who were into that genre and sent out and the feedback that time was much, much better. Yes, I do try and fit the beta reader to the genre. Although I do have now a couple of amazing beta readers, they’re happy with any genre, just that they’re really happy with it. It is a case of finding the right fit because wrong feedback, especially if it’s on your first book can be absolutely devastating. It can even prevent you from publishing which is really a shame.
Sarina: It makes such a big difference, doesn’t it, just the kind of feedback that we get? I think even just giving feedback in itself is a skill, really. It’s something that you can get better at all the time.
Julia: Yes. I’m a terrible beta reader.
Sarina: How do you know when your story’s ready for beta readers?
Julia: When I can’t see anything else wrong with it. When I have looked at it so many times that my brains are leaking out of my ears and I absolutely loathe my book. I think when you reach the point of utter hatred every time you look at your book, that is the time to say, enough and just send it on its way. That’s the time and then step back.
Sarina: Eventually, you’ve just gone over the same story one too many times.
Julia: To some extent.
Sarina: It’s not really even that you hate the story as such, it’s just that you know where all the plot twists are, you know where all the misleading bits are. It doesn’t work in the same way anymore.
Julia: No, and you’re, “No one is going to like this. This is rubbish. This is nonsense.” Then, of course, you send it off to your Beta readers and then they come back with, “That’s amazing, we loved it,” and then faith is restored.
Sarina: It’s always the best thing when the first bit of beta feedback you get is something positive. It makes such a big difference. Next question, still from In Our Gumboots, which of your novels took the longest to create from the time you started writing it to the time it was released, if we take The Forest out of that because that’s just sat there basically for 10 years?
Julia: Well, actually, I’ve been writing all my life. When I was a child, I wrote plays for my dolls to perform. I’ve always written silly poetry. Every birthday card that went to a family member usually had a dark poem in it. I wrote school plays as well, which I put on, which was nice. I wrote short stories, but I never wrote anything serious because life, work, that sort of thing, children. It wasn’t until about 2005 when a friend asked me to go to a six-week writing course that my local college were holding.
I went along to that, and from the first session, it was as if a light bulb went off in my head. When I got home that night, I started to write my first novel. At that writing course, that’s also where I met Becky Wright.
Sarina: I was just going to ask because I knew that you two had met on a writing course.
Julia: Yes, that was where we met over 15 years ago now. Good grief, it’s really been that long. I just wrote incessantly. My daughter was still young enough to have incredibly long naps, and go down to bed really early. I was on my own. I just was consumed by these books. In a three year period, I wrote the explicit novel that I mentioned, I also wrote Becoming Lili, I wrote The Book of Eve, I wrote Erinsmore, I wrote The Forest, I wrote Lost and Found and I wrote Lifesong, as well as all the short stories and the poetry that is in Eclairs for Tea that was all written between 2005 and 2009/’10. Maybe even shorter than that, I think it’s only three years I wrote it over.
Between 2005 and 2007 I wrote all of those books. I did try, I then tried until 2016, I tried and tried and tried to get an agent or a publisher, but it’s a very closed shop, especially in Britain. I guess I just wasn’t what they were looking for.
Sarina: It can be very difficult.
Julia: It can be soul-crushing, it really can. I think the hardest thing that new authors have to accept, is that sometimes getting traditionally published, it’s not down to you. It’s not down to talent, it is literally down to luck and being in the right place at the right time and sometimes even knowing the right people. That’s what it all boils down to. That’s a really hard lesson to learn that, it’s not your book, your book is great. You are a good writer, you just didn’t get lucky.
I look upon it as the same way that not everyone who buys a lottery ticket wins the jackpot. It doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with you as a person. It just means you weren’t lucky. Then eventually, The Book of Eve was picked up in 2016, I believe it was by small press. At the time, I thought, “Oh, wow, I’ve made it, this is it.” It doesn’t work that way.
Small press is a hard, hard decision to take because usually, they have no money to promote your books. They don’t even edit them, even though this company said that they would edit my book, they didn’t. They literally published my first draft, which was devastating for me. Then when I went back to them and said, “Look, it’s got so many things wrong. I thought you were going to edit.”
They said, “Oh, no, well, you didn’t–” Obviously, I didn’t pay to have it published, but apparently I had to pay to have the editing package and I hadn’t been aware of that.
Sarina: Oh, my God. Things that many writers don’t realize when they first look into getting traditionally published is that even if you do get a really good agent, and even if you do get maybe the best publishing house, it doesn’t mean that you don’t have any more work to do yourself anyway. You still need to do a lot of marketing yourself, that doesn’t stop just because you have a publishing house. For example, you may say there were certainly pros and cons to each side, but don’t think that you won’t need to do any marketing, for example, just because you have a publisher.
Julia: I know. I’ve heard so many stories, I actually personally know an author who was delighted to be picked up by a traditional publishing house, quite a big one, actually. She thought that that was it, she could then just go home and write and that would be wonderful. They did absolutely no promoting of her at all. She was just left adrift, not knowing how to promote herself.
Of course, her book sank without trace, and then when it came to picking up the contract, the second year, or even being interested in her second book, they weren’t interested because she hadn’t made them any money at the end of the day.
Sarina: It’s really–
Julia: That’s all publishing houses care about, making money.
Sarina: Yes, because, ultimately, it’s their business. They have to consider if they can make any money with you because they don’t want to go bust basically on a bad deal, essentially, so which sounds really cold, but it’s just the nature of being in a business with someone. It needs to be profitable for both of you. I think that’s something to maybe really research and really read into, if you are looking for agents or publishing houses, just what they are going to do. What their part of the deal is going to be. [crosstalk] Just be aware.
Julia: Yes, check how long, check if they’re going to take your copyright away from you and how long for.
Sarina: Yes, don’t make any assumptions.
Julia: I got caught badly with that one because I didn’t realize. Well, I knew they were taking my copyright away from me for The Book of Eve, but I didn’t really fully appreciate what that meant, and how long they were taking it away for. Then suddenly, I’m self-published, I want to bring this book back into the fold with my other books, and publish it with a new cover to fit my brand, but I couldn’t, because they held copyright. They held it for six long years, which was awful, but of course, I finally got it last year.
To answer the original question, I would say 10 to15 years is how long some of my books have taken between first conception and publishing. That’s the answer.
Sarina: There you are. Then we’ve got two or three more questions from Lilaslibrary. What made you decide to write books across genres and the age spectrum? I think I already know the answer to that because it sounds like you don’t really plan it like that, it just happens.
Julia: It just happens. It’s very organic, my writing. An idea strikes me and I just sit down and write, there are really no plans. At any given time, I have. I added it up the other day, I actually have 20 story ideas, the books floating around my head right now. It tends to be whichever story is shouting the loudest, is the one that gets written first.
Sarina: How do you keep track of them? Or do you have maybe your notebook where you’ve got them all written down?
Julia: Oh, you would love me to have a notebook, wouldn’t you?
Sarina: I really would.
Julia: You’re [unintelligible 00:38:07] notebooks out. Do you have a notebook?
Julia: No, I have no notebooks. [chuckles] They just float around in there and some of them have been in there for 15 years.
Sarina: What if you forget one, Julia, that will be my worry.
Julia: No. It will come back.
Sarina: Okay. [chuckles]
Julia: If I forget one there’s another 19 going on in there. I don’t think I’ll ever run out of stories.
Sarina: Fair enough. [chuckles] I think that probably answers the next question from Lilaslibrary as well, which is you’ve written a novella, a short story collection, and novels, but what’s your favorite and why?
Julia: Novels. Absolutely novels. I wrote the short stories during a period in my life when I was a very busy single mother working and I liked them for their immediacy. Also, a lot of the short stories in Eclairs for Tea were original homework assignments from that writing course that I went on. We were–
Sarina: Oh, really?
Julia: Yes, a lot of them are my work, my homework assignments.
Sarina: [unintelligible 00:39:10]
Julia: I kept them all these years, which is great. Poetry, I went through a stage of writing poetry, because it’s a bit like a one night stand, poetry. I always think poetry is a one night stand. Short stories are a summer fling, holiday fling, and then novels are a marriage [chuckles] commitment.
Sarina: That’s a nice way of putting it.
Julia: I had a lot of poetry in my head and I wrote it down. Basically, when I write poetry, it has to be based on something that happened in my life, something real. I’m very much a kitchen sink poetress, that my poetry is not a daffodil or a glowing cloud in sight. I tend to write more about things like the school run and my grandmother and going to Weight Watchers.
Everyday things that people can relate to. I wrote the poetry during an intense year of my life when I was so busy. I was going through a divorce, I didn’t have the headspace to really write anything more complex or that needed a bigger commitment. Poetry was something I could write down while my daughter was there and stuff like that. I don’t think I’ll ever write any poetry. I think that was it. Also novels, definitely novels. The longer the better. What is it with me and long books?
Sarina: Oh, tt’s nice when you can really lose yourself in a book. Obviously, you can also go either way that if the writing doesn’t really mesh with you, you might then look at the page numbers and go, “Oh, God I still have 600 left to go.” Equally, I think the longest book that I’ve read at least recently was The Wise Man’s Fear, which is maybe four pages short of 1000 but I read the first book in that series before that which is In The Name of The Wind. Of course it is. That’s 664 pages long I think.
With both of them, that’s nearly 2000 pages but at no point in that did I think, this is too long. If anything, I actually thought that these are still too short and I wanted more of it. I read one right after the other. I think as long as the story is really compelling and you are really in there, you can really lose yourself. Then by all means, the longer the better. Give me more of the nice word building
Julia: I think if it’s a page-turner then, the reader won’t care how many pages there are.
Julia: Becoming Lily is 490 odd pages, and I’ve had people read it in a day. Literally.
Sarina: Wow. God, I’m such a slow reader I can’t even comprehend that.
Julia: They bought it in the morning, they read it during the day. They posted their review next morning.
Sarina: I don’t understand how that works. I’m such a slow reader. That’s pretty incredible to me.
Julia: I was quite surprised by that one. I was like, “You read it?” “Yes, I’m now reading the next one.” “Oh, okay.”
Sarina: Amazing. Last question, still from Lilaslibrary, do you find short stories more difficult to write? I would second that question actually because I have been trying to write some short stories and did something that for me is a lot harder than writing a full novel.
Julia: I find it very hard to keep brief. Black Ice was originally going to be a short story. The anthology that I believe you were going to be a part of as well with the [crosstalk]–
Sarina: Oh, yes.
Julia: That was when I first had the idea for Black Ice. It was going to be a short story of about 3000 to 4000 words. Of course that all fell through, and it just sat on my hard drive. The opening chapter just sat on my hard drive for about three years, until suddenly, I just discovered it and ideas began to twist. In the end, I ended up completely discarding that first chapter because it no longer fitted in with the story. I just wrote and wrote and wrote.
I like writing short stories. I wrote one actually last year, which was included in the VE Day celebration book victory, 75 years last year, from VE Day. That was nice going back to writing a short story. I did enjoy it. I think the rules are different with short stories.
Sarina: It’s a big change of pace.
Julia: Yes, one of the exercises that our teaching needs to give us in this writing course was to write a story of only 100 words. We weren’t allowed to use any more words than 100 words. It had to have a beginning, a middle, a twist, and an end. That’s a lot to do in 100 words.
Sarina: Oh it is. That sounds really interesting, though. It sounds quite fun. I might give it a [inaudible 00:43:53].
Julia: It’s a good mental exercise for writers. It really is. It also helps you with things like writing the blurb?
Sarina: Oh, I bet it does. I used to hate writing the blurb but I actually quite enjoy it now because I feel like I’ve sussed out how to do it well. Of course, I could be completely wrong about that. It could still be terrible. It reminds me of an exercise that we did when- I can’t remember what year it would have been. It was at some point while I was in school, it was either primary school or maybe high school, I’m not sure. Where when we were given an assignment to write a story that we were given three words at random, a noun a verb, and maybe an adjective. Then we had to write our story, incorporating those three words. I like little challenges like that.
Julia: They are good mental exercises for writers. Have a go at it, but it’s harder than you think to stay within 100 words.
Sarina: Oh, no. I imagine it would be very hard.
Julia: Yes. Actually, I did three short flash fiction like that, three of them are in Eclairs for Tea. One got extended. Two of them are in their, 100 words and under. Then the third one, I actually entered it to the Reader’s Digest 100 word story. That was actually Eclairs for Tea. I entered that, and it won. I was published in the Reader’s Digest back in 2008, something like that.
When I decided to amalgamate all my short stories and my poetry plus Lifesong, into Eclairs for Tea, I expanded a bit on Eclairs for Tea, because I felt there was more I wanted to say, it was too brief. That’s still a short story. It’s still only about 400 words, Eclairs for Tea, but it says everything within those 400 words. I think learning that brevity, learning to paw down to the bone, to be able to get across your meaning in as few words as possible it’s a good exercise. It’s good training.
Sarina: Yes, it sounds like it is. One last thing, before we wrap it up. Do you have any advice for writers who want to try writing maybe in different genres, but maybe aren’t quite sure how to start or even if they should?
Julia: Do it, just do it. You don’t have to publish what you’ve written, you don’t have to even let anybody else read it. If you have always written just romance and you want to try your hand at fantasy, maybe ease your way in with a fantasy romance. A romance but in a fantasy world or something like that. There are ways to bleed the genres into each other. That is not such a huge leap for you. Maybe try it that way. Maybe write a short story in a different genre first.
See how you get on with that but don’t let anybody tell you, you can’t do whatever you want to do because there is no limits. You can write whatever you want to write. If you’re a self-published author, you really can write whatever you want to write. Do it. Just do it, you’ve got nothing to lose.
Sarina: Thank you so much. That’s fantastic advice. That’s a very good positive note to end on as well. Thank you so much for stopping by.
Julia: You’re welcome. Thank you for having me.
Sarina: Of course. Thank you so much for having a chat with me. I hope that we’ve answered most of the questions that you follow us at. We will pick up all the other ones like what’s your favorite food for writing? When we do the writing routines interview, which will then go live sometime later in April.
Julia: Okay, that would be wonderful. I look forward to it.
Sarina: Me too. Thank you so much again, and bye.
Sarina: If you enjoyed today’s episode, maybe learn something along the way, hit the subscribe button. You can also connect with me on Twitter @sarina_langer, on Instagram and Facebook @sarinalangerwriter, and of course on my website at sarinalanger.com. Until next time, bye.
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