How Kerri Turner Kept on Keeping on…

December 10, 2020

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There’s nothing like learning about an author who’s been writing since childhood and after many years of perseverance, “made it” by finding an agent and publisher. Historical Fiction Author, Kerri Turner’s story is something I can truly relate to. From writing courses, to re-writes, from submitting to having a break from it and finally delving back in and securing an agent: Kerri’s interview covers what most hopeful writers want to read about. She discusses the importance of “timing”, gives us a sneak peak into her own synopsis and talks us through her tips and tricks for scoring an agent.

Kerri’s wonderful historical fiction novels The Last Days of the Romanov Dancers and latest novel, The Daughter of Victory Lights both hit different notes and have been praised for their intricate plotting, research and detail recounting the historical events of their setting. The Last days of the Romanov Dancers, set in 1914 Russia, was inspired by Kerri’s own background in ballet dancing and The Daughter of Victory Lights touches on the period after WW2 when females were somewhat forgotten with regards to their involvement in winning the war. Both are sumptuous, delicious and it’s no wonder Kerri was picked up and published by the reputable Harper Collins!

How long have you been writing?

I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. I’ve got certificates from first grade for ‘great storytelling’, and growing up English was always my favourite subject. But I’d say I began seriously writing in 2012, when I did Faber Academy’s six-month Writing a Novel course. I’d done a few one-day courses before then, and dabbled in writing novel-length stories, but this was when I really decided to try and make a go of being a professional writer.

What led to your offer of representation with an agent (or contract with a publisher, if you went that way around first?)

I’d had interest from both publishers and agents since 2012, and many full requests, but had never managed to cross that final hurdle despite plenty of positive feedback. In 2017 I came across The Nash Agency, which was a relatively new literary agency and so was open to unsolicited submissions. I sent in my pitch, synopsis and sample for The Last Days of the Romanov Dancers (the book I’d drafted back in that 2012 Faber Academy course, which had since undergone many rewrites), and I was lucky that Haylee Nash didn’t have any commercial historical fiction on her list just yet. I’d been told time and time again how ‘making it’ would come down to timing, and it was true. I just happened to contact the right person as the exact right time after years of trying.

How long did you have to wait to hear back and was it a partial or full request?

It only took about a week for Haylee to get back to me, and it was a full manuscript request. She read it pretty quickly, and in a few weeks I’d signed a contract with her. About a month later she had a two book deal for me. Once things got moving, they really moved! It was quite surreal after so much time spent waiting, waiting, waiting…

How many submissions did you make prior to gaining representation/publishing contract?

I’m not 100% sure, but after getting my publishing deal I did go back through all my emails and letters and tried to count. The best I can tell is that I had at least 23 rejections across two different manuscripts. Both of those manuscripts are now published.

 Any tips on cover letters/synopsis/pitches? 

Don’t tell any publishers or agents that I said this, because they’ll definitely disagree! But I don’t find it effective to tell the entire story in a synopsis. Agents and publishers say they like you to explain the ending so they know that you can bring a story to completion, but I never once got either a full or partial manuscript request when I did it this way. That might just be my lack of skill in that style of synopsis, but every manuscript request came when I left a little something hanging to pique interest. I still hinted at what was to come, so they’d know there was a clear climax and resolution, but I did this in broad, sweeping terms. Eg. for The Last Days of the Romanov Dancers, the synopsis detailed the characters, their backgrounds, and the complications thrown their way throughout the book. I then mentioned a specific event that endangers the characters and begins the climax of the book. The rest of the climax and the resolution were summarised as follows:

“As Luka and Valya’s secret connection intensifies, the country rockets toward a revolution that will decide the fate of every dancer. Many will have their names fade into dust. Others will become refugees. A few lucky ones will go on to make their mark in the world of ballet. But one thing is inevitable: after the revolution, the Imperial Russian Ballet, unrivalled company of the soontobeexecuted Romanov family, will exist no more.”

This approach worked for me, but it might not work for everyone. Experiment, see what suits your voice, and what grabs the interest of agents or publishers. And make sure you DO follow every other rule they have. Word count, font style/size, and line spacing might not seem important to you, but it’ll tell the publisher/agent how much attention and care factor you give to a project, and whether you’ll be the kind of person they can work with.

Your first reaction when they offered the representation/contract?

I went through all the reactions you’d expect. I cried, called everyone I knew, cried some more, and bought a bottle of champagne. What surprised me though was that after receiving my publishing offer, once the initial celebrations were done I couldn’t get out of bed for three days. I just slept and slept. It was like the work of so many years, the stress and uncertainty, the hopes and fears, all caught up with me and I collapsed with relief and exhaustion. Then I got up and went back to writing!

What’s next for you?

I recently signed with literary agent Alex Adsett after The Nash Agency closed shop in 2020, so I’m excited to see where this new partnership takes us. I’ve got two different projects up my sleeve, both historical fiction novels, and Alex is just as enthusiastic about them as I am. So hopefully I’ll have some news to share in the near future. If you follow me on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter I post updates there on publishing deals, release dates, cover reveals, etc.

You can follow Kerri’s progress through the links above. It’s so great to hear from Kerri and have her talk in depth about her achievements and the hard work that drove her. Thanks so much for being here, Kerri!

Thanks for stopping by,

Holly

 

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