Sign up to Maddison's Newsletter
Interview with Michelle Somers
Michelle’s Path to Publication
Today I chat with the lovely Michelle Somers, author of the ‘Lethal in Love‘ series.
Michelle Somers is a bookworm from way back. An ex-Kiwi who now calls Australia home, she’s a professional killer and matchmaker, a storyteller and a romantic. Words are her power and her passion. Her heroes and heroines always get their happy ever after, but she’ll put them through one hell of a journey to get there.
Michelle lives in Melbourne, Australia with her real life hero and three little heroes in the making. And a furry feline called Emerald.
Michelle thank you so much for coming on my blog and sharing your ‘Path to Publication’ experience with us all. I know so many of my readers will love to hear about how you went from an aspiring author to a mulit-published one, and many will gather inspiration from your journey!
Hi Maddison. Thanks so much for having me. I’m always happy to talk about my favourite topic – writing. Only problem is, once I start, it’s near impossible to get me to stop! That said, I promise not to go too crazy today 🙂
Well let’s get started then!
- How long have you been writing for?
I’ve always written. As a kid I tinkered in poetry and short stories. In later years, my poems and stories became longer, more complex, more meaningful.
Writing was always a way of expressing emotions that often left me feeling way out of my depth. I’d write when I was happy, when I was down. When things were going right, and when things had me feeling lost and alone and floundering for control – the whole gamut of teenage hormones, fuelling a creativity I didn’t realise would one day become my passion J
However, it wasn’t until seven years ago, when my youngest child started kinder, that I started writing seriously. I’d always wanted to see if my stories had an audience, but one thing held me back – confidence.
I had little faith in my ability, never believed I was good enough or had something worthwhile to say. I was so worried about what others would think about me and my writing, I didn’t realise I should have focused on what I thought instead. On what made me happy, and what I wanted to do more than anything else.
I was well into my 40s (yikes!) when I found the courage to write in earnest, and write something for eyes other than my own.
For me, it wasn’t a matter of ‘when I began to write’, but more about ‘when I was ready to share the news with others’. It took me months to admit to my nearest and dearest – my husband, my closest friends – that I was writing with a hope toward publication.
Revealing those earliest hopes was scary as hell. Yet I did it. I shared my dreams, faced those who questioned my choice of writing romance over a ‘real book’. And I faced my own insecurities over something I’d hidden for so long – my love for romance.
It took a lot of nail biting and deep breaths, but I did it. I leapt out of the closet, and not once have I never looked back 🙂
- How long did it take you from when you started writing, to when you became a published (or soon to be) published author?
It took me about five years and five unpublishable manuscripts before I found my niche and became published.
I started out by writing what I thought people would want to read. I tried to emulate authors I admired, tried to write to a particular line, and every bit of feedback I received was that I had a strong voice but I wasn’t quite ‘there’ with the story and storytelling.
So, I kept at it, read craft books, attended workshops and conferences, gobbled up any and all feedback I received, and worked at strengthening my weaknesses. I soon discovered the value of strong characters and solid conflicts. I learned about character arc and story arc, and how to show not tell.
And I learned the subtlety of deep point of view.
Then, after typing ‘the end’ for the fifth time and receiving yet another rejection, I threw caution to the wind and wrote the story I wanted to write. A story I knew I’d want to read.
This wasn’t category romance. It wasn’t sexy or contemporary. It was suspense, intermingled with the heat of romance. And I loved every minute in front of the keyboard, creating twists and turns that became Jayda and Seth’s story.
I entered competitions, and – OMG! – I began placing. Then I began winning. And at that moment, I knew I’d found home.
My debut novel, Lethal in Love, was released in July 2015. And since then, I’ve never looked back, and never wondered ‘what if?’, I’ve just jumped two feet in and written what makes me happy and the kind of books I know I’d like to read.
- Where do you write from, home, office, coffee shop, etc? And do you have any pre-writing or actual writing rituals (such as lighting a candle, listening to music, etc)?
I don’t have a dedicated area (much as I’d love one!). My go-to place for writing tends to be the living room couch, usually with Emmie – my little black cat who thinks she’s a dog – beside me. I can only concentrate when there’s complete silence, and usually make myself a cup of tea before I start, which I usually drink cold, because I get so engrossed in writing, I forget it’s sitting there until I’m ready to take a break.
- Are you a plotter, a pantser, or somewhere in-between?
I’m a plantser – a mixture of plotter and pantser – with a splash of scener in the mix. When I begin thinking about a new story or series, certain scenes come to me, in bright technicolour. These are often pivotal moments in my story, but how I get from one to the next is completely unplanned.
For example, my second novel, Murder Most Unusual, was born from a picture that popped into my head – a picture that became the beginnings of the opening scene.
In my mind I saw a woman in a large paddock, in the dark, on the first dry night after weeks of non-stop rain. She was struggling with something, her body all covered in mud. What was it? Why was she there? Then I sensed movement in the distance. Who had followed my heroine, only to watch and wait in the shadows? And what was his plan?
This scene, these and a long list of other such questions, formed the bones of what soon became Stacey and Chase’s story.
- What is your favourite part of the writing process?
Pretty much every part! But seriously, if I had to choose, I’d say editing. I love taking a first draft and turning it into something amazing. I get to deepen the characters, their goals, motivations and conflicts, and I get to inject more action, suspense and emotion into the story.
It’s like an artist who starts with an outline only to add light and shade, colour and contrast, depth and feeling to make a two-dimensional idea leap off the canvas and come to life.
- What is the most important part of a novel to you: plot, characters, or setting?
Wow, tough question!
Each one of these is important, but for very different reasons. But, if I really had to choose, I’d have to say characters.
I believe a story is only as strong, rich and believable as its characters. As writers, our characters should have lives that span beyond the pages of a book. They should have a past – events and experiences that define and shape them – a present – where they stand physically and emotionally at the onset of the story – and a future – where they will ultimately end up once they’ve grown and learned and reached their full potential through the lessons and loopholes we’ve forced them to navigate.
Solid, three-dimensional characters should drive both the plot and story forward. They should leap from the page, and they should be so believable that the reader can imagine them in real life. We want to elicit strong emotional responses from our readers. We want them to love our protagonists, want to be them, or be their best friend. Our antagonists should be detested, resented or even feared.
But regardless of the response they evoke, our characters should live on in the reader’s mind long after they’ve turned the very last page of our book.
- Describe your writing routine (how long do you spending plotting the novel, time spent writing, editing, submitting it):
I don’t tend to plot. I usually start with a few pivotal turning point scenes, as I mentioned before, and these are what spark me to begin a new story. With these clear in my mind – often the opening scene and maybe one or two later scenes – I put fingertips to keys and begin to type. Once I start writing, my characters tend to drive the story. They often decide what will happen next and where they are headed, and I’m merely the conduit – the medium who commits their story to the page.
And what I love most about this process is my character’s ability to both shock and surprise me. I’ll be writing and suddenly the unexpected will hit, and I’m left thinking ‘Wow, I so did not see that coming!’ Hopefully that means the readers will be left thinking the exact same thing 🙂
A novel can take me up to a year to write. Once I’ve finished the first draft, I’ll read it through and make any changes or additions I feel are necessary before setting it aside for a minimum of a few weeks. In that time I’ll start something else. When I pick the old manuscript up again, I am able to look at it with fresh eyes, making it easier to identify plot holes and inconsistencies. I analyse my characters’ GMCs (Goal, Motivation, Conflict) and their growth, and make sure every one of their actions and reactions is consistent with who they are on the page.
This is also the time I check for ‘show don’t tell’ and deep point of view. I check for cadence and active rather than passive writing. I try to cut superfluous words, pare back my sentences and up the pace.
Once I’m happy with the finished product, I send this draft to beta readers who know nothing about the story or characters in the hope they’ll identify any problems I may have missed. Then I do another round of edits, tweak and deepen until I’m happy before sending the story to my editor.
Any problems she finds are fixed, I tweak and cut and deepen some more, then I’m either ready to submit or to format and self-publish.
And then the process starts again, with a new story and new set of characters.
- How many books a year do you usually write (or are you aiming to write):
I’m a pretty slow writer, so I tend to release one book a year.
That said, last year I released two book, one fiction (Murder Most Unusual) and one non-fiction (the first in my Simply Writing Series, Simply Synopsis), plus a time travel short story that was released as part of a romance anthology.
- How did you get your agent, or your publishing contract?
I’m a member of Romance Writers of Australia (RWA) and was fortunate to pitch Lethal in Love at their annual conference in Sydney in 2014. I pitched to four agents/editors and received four requests. One of these requests was from Penguin Random House, where editor Lex Hirst pitched an idea back to me – the idea of releasing my story as a six-part serial.
The idea of Lethal in Love being part of a new line and format appealed to me, so within a very short span of time I found myself signing up and embarking on a journey that led to the release of my baby as a six-part serial romantic suspense with Penguin Random House.
- If you are hybrid/Indie published – can you explain the process you took to become independently published?
For my second book I made the tough decision to go indie. At the time I finished Murder Most Unusual, Penguin Random House was in a state of flux. Within the publishing house there was a lot of movement and uncertainty, and they couldn’t commit to anything until things settled down. I decided not to wait – my main motivator? I wanted my book in print on the shelves of a bookstore.
So I began the process toward self-publication. I found a group of beta-readers and edited the crap out of my story. Next I found an editor, a formatter and a cover designer. I beat the story into shape, found a printer for my paperbacks, and online distributors for my digital versions.
One thing I discovered as I embarked on my indie journey is that it isn’t as easy as it may seem from the outside looking in. I have a newfound respect for successful, multi-published indie authors. Every step of the process must be managed and coordinated, with no publisher there to foot the bill or do all the hard legwork.
And as I began, I discovered how much I didn’t know and how many things it would be so easy to overlook if I wasn’t lucky enough to be part of two amazing groups of authors who had undertaken that journey multiple times before – these groups were RWA and the Melbourne Romance Writers Guild. I can’t count the number of times I posted in the private Facebook groups or emailed particular members/friends with panicky ‘help!’ messages and ‘what do I do next?’ type questions only to be supplied with not only the answers but offers of assistance.
I count myself fortunate to be part of such a generous, giving group of people – the romance writing community. And I can’t stress strongly enough to other would-be writers how important it is to find your tribe before embarking on this writing gig. One day those wonderful people will become both your saviours and your sanity.
- How did you cope with rejection during the querying process?
I’m not great at taking rejection. I’m one of those ‘heart-on-the-sleeve’ people who take any form of feedback very, very personally.
That said, I’m a firm believer in taking a step back and allowing time to ease the pain. I read the rejection and put it aside until the initial sting subsides. After time, whether that be days, or even longer, I pick it up again to see what advice – if any – has been provided.
If an agent/editor has taken the time to provide feedback – a very rare occurrence these days – then I would label this as a ‘good rejection’. I’d take it as a sign I was moving in the right direction and that the agent/editor has seen potential in my work and wanted to give an indication of where my writing was lacking so I know what craft skills to work on for my next submission.
So, I’d do just that. Attack that weakness, and work my butt off until it became a strength. Then with my next story, I’d start the writing and submission process again.
- Describe the time when you got ‘the call’ regarding publication:
I just love call stories!
My ‘call story’ was a little different, in that it started out as a series of emails. As I mentioned earlier, I pitched my book at an RWA conference in Sydney, and one of the agents who requested a partial of my manuscript was Lex Hirst from Penguin Random House.
After a mega-edit session of my final draft, I composed my covering email, attached a synopsis and partial of my story and hit send. I did this on a Friday afternoon. Twenty-four hours later I had a response sitting in my inbox. Lex had read my partial, loved it and she wanted to see the full.
With my heart cautiously happy dancing in my chest, I attached the full manuscript and proceeded to bite my nails profusely. Within a week I had a letter of offer, and then within a month the contract was signed and I could let my heart happy dance for real.
- What were your biggest learning experiences or surprises throughout the publishing journey?
Everyone’s publishing journey has both highs and not-so-highs. Mine was no different.
I landed an amazing editor. I’d heard so many stories of authors working with editors who wanted to change their story so much they barely recognised it when it was done. My experience was nothing like this.
Lex was a wonder to work with – she had a real sense of my story and what I needed to do to make it stronger. Our relationship was a collaboration – Lethal in Love was my baby, but she seemed as connected to the story and characters as I was. It helped that she’d loved the story since the moment I’d pitched it to her.
It was great being able to sit back and let the experts work on publishing my book. With my input we created an author bio and blurb. A set of six covers were designed. There were press releases and blog tours.
And when I attended the next RWA conference, this time in Melbourne, I was presented with my first sale ribbon by none other than Graeme Simsion. That was a definite high 🙂
Penguin Random House managed all the hard stuff, but there was a downside. I didn’t get as much input into my covers as I’d have liked, and I didn’t get a paperback. Lethal in Love was released as a digital first and it never made it to print – something I’d love to rectify in the future.
Yet, this low was well out-weighed by one high in particular – a year after release, Lethal in Love won RWA’s Romantic Book of the Year (RuBY) Award for long romance. And that very same weekend, Penguin Random House rereleased my story as one complete ebook.
And another high? Standing next to the lovely Rachel Johns after we were both awarded a RuBY; Rachel in the romantic elements category for her novel The Patterson Girls, and me in the long romance category for my romantic suspense novel Lethal in Love.
I can definitely say the surprises in my journey were made up of more highs than lows. And every one is a moment I’ll cherish.
- Looking back, what do you think you did right that helped you break in?
Ever since I decided that romance was my genre of choice, I began seeking feedback and guidance from authors more experienced than myself. I joined the Melbourne Romance Writers Guild (MRWG), a face-to-face critique group, and entered as many writing competitions as I could find. I took note of every piece of feedback, and if I received similar comments from different sources, I researched the craft involved and worked at improving.
And I found a mentor. Several, actually. I listened to what they had to say and then put every bit of their advice into practice.
Mentor Valerie Parv AM
I worked hard, wrote heaps and never gave up. And, thankfully, my determination and perseverance paid off 🙂
- Is there anything you wish you could do differently?
Sometimes yes, sometimes no. But I try not to dwell on regrets.
Saying that, one thing I’d like to do with my next series that I didn’t do with my first is find an agent before looking for a publisher. I’d love to find an advocate for my stories who can find a great home, hopefully in the US.
- Best advice you’ve ever been given, or have heard, about writing?
That’s such a huge topic, with so much scope, it’s hard to know what to pick.
I think one of the most important and most valuable pieces of advice for me was to write from within my characters.
When I first began writing, I viewed my characters from the outside in. They were removed from me, from my thoughts, my experiences. And they were very much fiction. It took many months of writing and the guidance of a mentor to help me see the value of stepping inside my characters.
I began to put myself in their place. Don their skin, their mind, their thoughts, their experiences.
I walked the journey that is their story in their shoes. Stepped right inside to write from within their experience. And wrote from within mine.
I created characters who were so real they felt like the closest of friends or the foulest of enemies, and hoped they were as real for my readers as they were for me.
- What advice can you give to other writers on building a platform and gaining a readership base?
Build your brand from the moment you begin writing. Work out who you are as an author, what kind of stories you want to write and what kind of readers will want to read your stories. Then build a social media platform based on these three things.
Start collecting email addresses of people you believe would be interested in your stories. Design a newsletter and create a following. You don’t need to send it out too frequently before you’re published, but it’s great if you do begin to send it out.
Include content relevant to your brand. Content readers of your stories will find interesting and engaging. Find a point of difference to make it unique.
And most importantly, never stop writing stories people will love. That’s what will win and keep your readership returning.
- What’s up next for you, and what are you working on now?
I have a few projects on the go at the moment. I’m working on a new romantic suspense series set in Chicago – a kind of James Bond meets Stephanie Plum type story. I’m also working on a Christmas novella featuring a bee expert and a small-town sheriff to be included in a box set in 2018. And I’m in the planning stages of the second book in my Simply Writing Series, called Simply Characters.
Lots of exciting stuff on the boil – I just have to survive the school holidays so I can get stuck in!
- How can people connect with you?
You can find me pretty much everywhere 🙂
The first port of call is my website at www.michelle-somers.com where you can sign up for my newsletter, keep up-to-date with news and events, and read my blogroll (I don’t have a blog right now, but I’m a real blog-hopper – yep, I get around 🙂
My social media links are:
Then there’s my publisher’s website: http://www.randomhouse.com.au/authors/michelle-somers.aspx
I have an interview that aired on Wyn FM earlier this year. So, if you’d like to hear more about me and my journey to publication, have a listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FyTvXu0jZIU
I also have a teaser of Lethal in Love available on youtube. Take a look and see what you think https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KE3jSTph28Q
- Anything else you want to add?
Just one thing for those aspiring writers out there working toward publication . . .
Never give up. If writing is your passion, if you have stories in your head and your characters won’t let you rest, work hard and find a way to make it happen. Learn the craft, talk to other more experienced writers and make every story you write better than the last. If you aspire and learn and grow, just as your characters, you will succeed. And believe me, the end goal is definitely worth the journey 🙂
Thanks Maddison for hosting me on your blog. It’s been a blast. Wishing you and your followers a happy, healthy and humungous new year for 2018.
Thanks for being here Michelle – I loved chatting to you about your Path to Publication, and I know my readers will too! Can’t wait to read your new romantic suspense series when it comes out!