Special Author Feature: EJ Newman

Planetfall_final coverToday’s author is another special guest who I interviewed here and had actually been stalking her on the internet–I mean subscribed to her newsletters full of short story goodness–for some time before I interviewed her. I was excited in that glorious fangirl way the first time I interviewed her, and now, several published books later, I am extremely pleased to welcome EJ Newman back to the blog.

Please give EJ Newman a warm welcome.

1. We last spoke in May 2012. Can you talk a little bit about what your writing career was like at the time?

It was a little bit strange. You know, it’s hard to think back to that time – I measure my life in books written now, rather than dates. I think I had finished the first Split Worlds novel then and had written many stories set in that world. If memory serves, I had met Lee Harris, then of Angry Robot books (now with Tor) and he was in the process of deciding whether he wanted to buy the series and it was terrifying and thrilling and nerve wracking in the extreme. It really was a critical turning point in my career; I had a short story collection and one novel published by micro presses and I was all set to self-publish the Split Worlds when I met Lee and he fell in love with Between Two Thorns. Everything was changing and I felt that my writing was actually going to turn into a career at last.

2. What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned about writing since then?

That no matter how many people tell me they love my work, and no matter who they are, the self-doubt never goes.

There was a time, really, really early on when I was desperately trying to get my first novel published, when I thought that if I got a book deal, the doubt that I had what it took to be a professional writer would magically disappear. I thought that someone investing thousands of pounds in my work would finally quiet that voice at the back of my head that I’m not a real writer, or at least, not a good one.

The thing is, that feeling of ‘Imposter Syndrome’ and inadequacy doesn’t go away so easily. I’ve learned to live with it and write despite the doubts. I know now that they will always be there and to be honest, I fear the day they truly disappear, as that would be when I stop trying to write better than I have before.

3. How do you balance editing/marketing existing projects and writing new things?

Writing the new book has to come first. When I’m in a first draft phase, I prioritise that over all other things in my day. The internet connection stays off until something between 2,000 and 4,000 words get written (it depends on the project). Then I do all the other stuff. I try not to schedule a first draft writing phase at the same time as the month of a book launch, but of course, sometimes that doesn’t work out – especially when you are having three novels published in one year like the Split Worlds novels were!

4. You’ve also narrated a lot of audiobooks. How did you get into that?

By accident! I podcasted my very first novel a chapter a week when I was trying to get a book deal and had no idea if I could actually write or not. I hit upon it as a way to get feedback without jeopardising any first publication rights.

Unexpectedly, I got lots of great feedback on my reading of it and a couple of people asked me to narrate short stories for them. I then recorded a few things for free, to build a portfolio and then auditioned for a royalty-only project and got it!

Since then I’ve recorded several audiobooks written by other people, over 50 Split Worlds short stories, all three of the novels (which was such a relief as I really wanted to narrate my own work!) and most recently a wonderful novel called Those Rosy Hours at Mazandaran for Ghostwoods Books.( http://www.amazon.co.uk/Those-Rosy-Hours-Mazandaran-Unabridged/dp/B00TTLNFV2) That was the most technically challenging as there are lots of words in different languages and even some singing. It’s a wonderful book and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

5. Of the marketing techniques you’ve tried, which have been the most successful?

In all honesty, I have absolutely no idea! I get fan mail from all sorts of people who describe lots of different ways that they’ve come across my work. Sometimes it’s my podcast, Tea and Jeopardy, sometimes it’s Twitter, sometimes it’s just pure luck and they stumbled across my book in a shop somewhere on the other side of the world.

I think the main thing is to say yes to every opportunity, be it appearing on a convention panel, or on a podcast or being interviewed somewhere – whatever comes your way – and, if you can bear it, Twitter can be great too.

Ultimately though, the books have to come first, as does trying to improve one’s craft. Otherwise all that hard work trying to find readers does nothing – if the work isn’t good enough once they’ve found you, you’ve wasted their time and yours.

6. Where would you like to see your writing career in 5 years?

I’ve just reached my first five year milestone: to get a book deal with one of the big five publishers. I’ve just signed a two book deal with Ace/Roc for two standalone science-fiction novels and I am absolutely thrilled.

As for the next five years… well, I’d like to have several more Split Worlds novels published as it’s pretty crowded in my head and they need to go somewhere. I want to branch out into another genre but I’m not ready to talk about that yet. I want to write more science-fiction. I’d love to feel more financially secure but that’s pretty unlikely, given the nature of creative work.

You know, what I really would like to have in 5 years is more books under my belt and for them to have found people who love to read them. Of course, like every other author, I would love to have one of my books optioned for film or TV, but that’s such a lottery it’s very much in the “that would be fabulous” day dream box, rather than career milestone.

7. If this was your last interview ever, what would you really want to say?

Hmm, that’s a tricky question. There are things I’d like to say if it was my last day on Earth, but not necessarily my last interview. I guess I would just beg writers who are constantly searching for that secret to writing a book and getting a deal to stop doing that and just focus on writing as much as possible and reading as much as possible (and not talk about the story in your head with anybody, otherwise the desire to tell it evaporates before you reach the page).

All any writer of any level of success can do is talk about what worked for them and it won’t necessarily be what works for anyone else. I really do believe that you just have to figure out how to write the most productively, and the best you can, by yourself.

Back when I was desperate to be published it felt like I was banging my head against the biggest, most unfair iron gates in the world. Like everyone with a book deal must have done something and then just wouldn’t share it with anyone else. It’s not like that. I promise. It’s just hard work and a tiny bit of luck.

Emma Newman writes dark short stories and science fiction and urban fantasy novels. ‘Between Two Thorns’, the first book in Emma’s Split Worlds urban fantasy series, was shortlisted for the BFS Best Novel and Best Newcomer awards. Emma’s next book, Planetfall, will be a standalone science fiction novel published by Ace/Roc in November. Emma is a professional audiobook narrator and also co-writes and hosts the Hugo-nominated podcast ‘Tea and Jeopardy’ which involves tea, cake, mild peril and singing chickens. Her hobbies include dressmaking and playing RPGs. She blogs at www.enewman.co.uk.

Please leave your thoughts and questions for Emma in the comments section below!