My next guest author to share her experiences of writing outside the Amazon norms is Nikki McDonagh. In Nikki’s case it isn’t so much the genre, which is broadly dystopian speculative, but her style of writing that knocks the reader sideways.
I was attracted to her first book by the beautiful cover and was immediately drawn in by the narrative. There is something Dickensian in the speech of her characters, a quirky style that bears no resemblance to modern tv soap dialogue, but makes me at any rate think of nineteenth century boatmen and other London low life. There’s something sad and out of time in the words that sits very well with the underlying story of loss.
J: Tell us what the story/your work is about, the setting, the background, and where it takes the reader.
N: The Song of Forgetfulness is an unsettling and mysterious vision of the future where animals are almost extinct, humans are subjugated by the sinister and secretive Agros, and gifted children know as Meeks, are going missing.
In the book I deal with issues that are of concern to us today. Such as overpopulation, rapid advances in technology and global warming. The book is set in Scotland because oceans have risen and that is all the land that is left in Great Britain. There are no animals because of viral infection, except for the elusive birdybirds and they never land. In ‘Echoes,’ I am trying to suggest that if mankind continues to abuse this beautiful planet, then a world like the one I have created might happen. But I am also trying to say that we are all connected somehow, and that we all have something special inside us, even if we aren’t sure what it is. That we are all capable of doing something amazing if put to the test.
Brief synopsis of both books: Set three hundred years in the future, it follows the journey of 17-year-old Adara from the comfort of her hygienehome through the ravaged territories of NotsoGreatBritAlbion, as she searches for her brother Deogol. One of many Meeks abducted by the all-controlling Agros. A misfit in her community, Adara is the only one who can sing to the birdybirds and make them land. In a time of hunger she must keep her talent a secret from those who would abuse her power.
During her journey, Adara is kidnapped by lustful Woodsmales, befriends a Nearlyman, is attacked by ravenous wolfies, falls for a Clonie, and is helped by a S.A.N.T. Yet Amongst the outcasts and deviants she encounters, Adara finds unlikely friendships that help her come to terms with her ability and realise her true potential. Whilst hiding out in the Lady Camp, Adara is told she must go to the Clonie zone to find a Backpacker who will help her on her mission. Accompanied by a Nearlyman Wirt, Adara is joined by Eadgard a S.A.N.T. who takes her to the Monastery in the clouds where she discovers her true potential as a Bringer and powerful weapon.
In the second book, A Silence Heard, Adara and her friends escape from the monastery in the clouds and with the help of a mysterious map, travel to Agro headquarters. The place where the little ‘uns are imprisoned and Agros carry out sinister experiments.
Disguised as Ladies and their escorts, Adara, Kendra, Eadgard, Wirt and Marcellus, enter Agro headquarters ready to infiltrate their colony and free the Meeks. However, Agros are smart and Adara and her companions find themselves at the mercy of torturers and sleazy seducers. However, there is hope. The Meeks have a secret weapon and outside, folk are gathering. A legion of Woodsfolk, Clonies, S.A.N.T.S, Holy ones and Ladies, are on their way.
But time is running out. Adara’s struggle to save her kin becomes a desperate battle of life and death, as Agros send in their army of cloned killers to destroy the insurgents who are moving ever closer. Adara is forced to use her voice again and again, to try and stop the Agros from winning the war, but each time she does, a part of her dies.
As filthy battles ensue and loved ones perish, Adara must sing The Song of Forgetfulness one last time if she is to save not only the Meeks, but all the folk of NotsoGreatBritAlbion, from a life of slavery and despair.
J: What inspired the story in the first place?
N: The Song of Forgetfulness began as a challenge from students that attend a creative writing class I teach at my local High School. We discussed issues that they were concerned about such as global warming, cloning, and the rise in deadly diseases. They said that I should write a book for YA readers. Now, I had never thought of doing this, but when I started doing some research about the threat of future global famine and advancements in technology, I became hooked on the idea of incorporating what scientists are doing now, tweaking it a bit, and using it in my story. Adara, has a Synth bag that is both invisible and so light that she cannot feel it, despite it being full of stuff. Also, the students wanted me to incorporate characters doing things they don’t normally do in YA fiction. Things like going to the toilet and having a menstrual cycle. I asked them if they really wanted to see this in the books they read and they said, “Yes.” Then they said, “Are you going to write one?”
I said, “Okay.” And I did. In fact two, so far.
J: Did you try to get agents/publishers interested? What reactions did you get? Have they been helpful in promoting/marketing your work?
N: I did try to get an agent, but got the usual reply, “We like it, but we just don’t love it.” So I decided to get in touch with Indie publishers. The response was better, and several offered me a contract. Being new to this publishing lark, I went with the one I thought offered the better deal and would do some of the marketing. The reality of the matter is that the author does pretty much all of the promotion and marketing for their book. I am not good at it, but I am learning as I go. Selling books and getting an author profile takes time as does building a fan base and an audience. Most publishers traditional or otherwise do seem to leave the marketing to the authors. Which is why, I suppose, that so many writers are self- publishing. Why do all the work and only get 30% of the royalties?
J: Has it been a handicap not being able to stick a handy label onto your books?
N: I don’t really know? My YA books are described as dystopian and science fiction but they aren’t really just that. Putting a tag on any book will pigeon hole it into a genre or category. This will inevitably attract a certain audience. If the book disappoints that reader, then it could hinder its saleability. So far, I have had really great reviews, but this has not reflected in great sales. I suppose I just have to keep going and write more.
J: How do you tackle promotion?
N: With my hand over my face!
I promote on Facebook with an author/book page and advertise when I do giveaways and Amazon deals. But I have no control over a lot of promotion since it is up to my publishers how and when and if, they decide to make it free or do the Kindle countdown deal. So that can be a little frustrating. I twitter, I have a blog, I do author interviews, and very occasionally I have bought a cheap promo on a site. Sometimes that has generated a few sales. I have found that just telling people I know or meet, and doing a few readings in libraries, have been a good way of letting my target audience know about the book. My book is available in libraries and people are borrowing it to read, so that is really nice to hear and may lead to future sales. It is all about getting the word out to as many people as possible. Also, I work in a High School and am slowly building a fan base with some of the young people. Hopefully they will spread the word. I am planning on trying to get some radio spots. I have made some book trailers and hope they have helped to raise awareness. Building a fan base is a long process though and I keep slogging at it.
J: Are there any writers you feel you share some common ground with?
N: All Indie writers struggling to promote their books!
I would like to believe that I share the same kind of ethos that Ursula Le Guinn has in her books. The philosophical aspects she includes are similar to mine, in that she questions the role of mankind in the grand scheme of things in a lot of her sci-fi works. Also, Ray Bradbury in The Martian Chronicles. He deals with mankind’s arrogance and destructive ways with a sense of beauty and tragedy that is simply compelling. I hope that I have created my futuristic world that is somewhat similar to the way in which these two authors describe their alien environments; with strong imagery, pacey narrative, and interesting use of language.
J: Anything else, advice, experiences, anecdotes you’d like to add, feel free.
N: I would say to new authors, don’t rush to get published. It is so tempting to jump in when you get a positive response from an agent or publisher. I think I was flattered so much by what my publisher said that I was caught up in the euphoria that goes with the promise of being published by a publishing company.
Test your writing out on good writing sites to get a feel of what readers like. There is a really good one called youwriteon: http://www.youwriteon.com/ You submit some of your work, it is then randomly sent to readers who will review it and give feedback. You must do the same thing in return. I did this with Echoes since I wanted to test the waters about using such a slang-based language. Due to the mainly positive feedback I received I went ahead and sent my book off to agents and publishers. I also made sure that I had the manuscript looked at by a trusted professional writer and tutor who also proof read it for me.
After my experience with being published by a small Independent publisher, I decided to self-publish a collection of my short stories – Glimmer and other stories. I do the same amount of marketing and sell roughly the same amount of books that I do being signed with a publisher. I now question the role of many small presses, as it seems from my experience, that they do little to promote their authors. I’m sure there are some really good small independent publishers out there, but I would hesitate to send another manuscript to one unless I was convinced it would help to raise my profile and sales of my book.
One of the nicest things I heard recently as regards to Echoes from the Lost Ones and my heroine, was a teenage girl saying that she wished she was Adara, and could do all the things she could do. I was so touched.
Oh, and keep writing! Really it is good advice. The more you write and experiment with genre and language, the more you learn. Edit your work after you have written it and don’t give it to friends and family to read if you want honest feedback.
Thank you so much Nikki for sharing your publishing experiences as well as giving us an overview of your writing. You are certainly not alone in wondering exactly what purpose some small presses serve. They have limited promotional clout and many of them don’t want to waste their time and money on it anyway. Romance seems to be the exception to the rule, but even with the best will in the world, we can’t all squeeze into that particular bracket.
If you would like to sample Nikki’s writing, Echoes from the Lost ones will be a free Amazon download from May 29th through to June 2nd.
To find out more about Nikki and her work—writing and photography—here are some links to follow.
The Song of Forgetfulness website: http://www.thesongofforgetfulness.com/
Website photography: http://www.tracerlight.co.uk
The Amazon links to her books are here: