Western Australian author, Lily Malone is the author of 9 novels, and so it’s a pleasure to have her on here today, giving advice and generously sharing her journey with us! Lily goes in depth with us this week about how she secured agents, publishers, advice and breakthrough moments during the long course of her writing career. She reminds us that the road is full of ups and downs, loss of agents, flat out rejections, passes from the slush-pile, unpublished books and… wins. In fact, Lily has given so much lovely advice here, that I’ve copied some of her quotes to keep. “There are so many things that crush you in this business, you’ve got to take the wins when they come,” is something that we all need to remind ourselves during the submissions/querying process.
Lily is the author of nine novels set in Australia, her latest from The Chalk Hill Series is Last Bridge Before Home published in 2020. But Lily, (like most of us) has stories that never came to be published. This cements in mind that again, you may have to shelf a novel and start again to get noticed. Then bring it back to life later, when you’ve already got your foot in the door. Lily was never one to study creative writing, but she did enter competitions which lead her to her publishing deal with Harlequin (Harper Collins).
This interview has inspired me for many reasons, one being that most authors have had it tough before securing a contract with a publisher. You have to go through it to become a successful author of nine books like Lily Malone. We’re being reminded here of how long this journey can take and to have patience and keep trying.
How long have you been writing?
I was a journo by trade, so I’ve been writing since I started working, really. Say since 1991. But something I learned early in my creative writing process was that journalism doesn’t give you a great start at fiction! Journalism is all about fewer words, no descriptive writing and reporting facts. When I decided I would write a book it was 2010, my youngest son had just turned one, I learned about craft by that very hard way: trial and error. I am way too bloody-minded to take something like, heaven forbid, a creative writing course. It doesn’t help when you submit to agents and get a form letter response. Doesn’t give you any clues about what you need to fix. My ‘breakthrough’ moment came when an agent in the US (I will name him, it was Scott Eagan from Greyhaus) took the trouble to add two further lines to what was ultimately a rejection. He said I needed to work on characterisation and that I had too much interior monologue.
Lightbulb moment… I had something to whack into Google, which I did, and I then found such a trove of writing resources and assistance on-line. I also joined Romance Writers of Australia (RWA), and began finding a like-minded writing tribe.
From there, I had fairly rapid progress in writing craft. I finialled in a few writing competitions with RWA, and my first novel was picked up as an ebook with Harlequin Australia during 2012, published 2013.
What led to your offer of representation with an agent (or contract with a publisher, if you went that way around first?)
Oops, I think I answered this in a very long-winded way above… but I will add that when I did get my offer from HQN, that same weekend I had an offer of publication from another e-book publisher in the US. I chose to keep my book in Australia with Escape Publishing (HQN), now Harper Collins. As to what led to the offer, I have to come back to an improvement in the writing. You don’t know what you don’t know, and by going in blind with the belief that: ‘I’ve written all my life, of course I can write a book’, I was setting myself up to fail. It wasn’t till I admitted what I was doing was shit (multiple rejections confirmed this), that things began looking up.
How long did you have to wait to hear back and was it a partial or full request?
Waiting is the name of the game in this business. Everything takes forever. Drives me crazy. Even now with a contract for a print book that is now in submission, I’ve still been waiting 4 weeks (I am obviously not JK Rowling yet). Along the theme of what I’ve already said, as my writing began to improve during 2011 and I kept submitting I began being asked for partials, and then agents/publishers read the partials and asked for fulls. Baby steps. Someway during this time I started to aim more for publishers directly than for agents, certainly with my romance stories. Once I had a foot in the door with the first one, it became easier. Meaning, there is a pathway rather than the slushpile.
How many submissions did you make prior to gaining representation/publishing contract?
Ooh gawd. No idea! 15 or 20?
In 2016 (I had 3 ebooks published with Harlequin by then) I had a breakthrough when my new one did well enough, and the publishers at Harlequin liked it enough, to take a chance on taking it through to trade paperback in Australia. That book was The Vineyard In The Hills. I was lucky to be writing rural romance when it became a big thing. The year after that came out, I quit what was a permanent part time ‘day job’ and gave myself a chance at writing more or less, full time. I came up with the idea for what became The Chalk Hill series and it was accepted as a 3-book print deal with Harlequin MIRA (Harper Collins).
The interesting thing for me, I think, is that while my rural romance brand was doing okay and going places, I’d been working on a contemporary fiction story called ASHES, about a bloke who is cheating on his wife and then gets horribly burned in a vehicle accident. I subbed this story to several Australian agents and over a period probably of about 12 months by the time it got read, rejected, reworked, re-sent, it caught the attention of Haylee Nash of (then) The Nash Agency. Haylee loved the story and offered me representation. I asked her if she was interested in being my agent for The Chalk Hill series, even though I’d written book 1 and subbed it to Harlequin at that point.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t ever get a bite on ASHES. That story is on the computer somewhere. One day I’ll have another crack at it.
Haylee then also really liked another contemporary fiction story I wrote during 2019/2020 (alongside the Chalk Hill books 2 and 3), called The Water Line. Unfortunately, this too got some great comments by publishers, but no signing on dotted lines. So that book is also one I’m majorly reworking now. I believe in it. If I can’t find it a home I will self publish it. I’m proud of it.
Anyhoo – having blathered on! I’ve also had the great joy of being dropped by my agent. This was a whack to my confidence, but as it turned out, Haylee Nash ceased representing any of her authors after a change in her own life/career goals early in 2020. I stayed in her stable almost right to the end. So now I’m unagented again, but I’m lucky enough to have an avenue with my current publisher, Harlequin MIRA, and I currently have a new Chalk Hill rural romance in with them.
Not having an agent meant I did my own pitch to Harlequin in 2020, looking for a contract for an additional Chalk Hill book. But the truth is, even with an agent, you still write your own pitch/blurb/synopsis etc… it’s still your work that will or won’t ultimately get the book published.
I haven’t decided if I will try to find a new agent or not. I have to say having just had my half-yearly royalty report, that it was nice to keep that portion of it that would have gone in agent fees. But having an agent opens doors you can’t get on your own. Meaning, there are publishers who won’t accept you even into the slushpile if you are unagented. But having done both, I don’t think being unagented means you can’t get published these days, if the book is good enough. That’s the key isn’t it: the book has to stand on its own legs eventually!
Any tips on cover letters/synopsis/pitches?
Nah, no tips. Not really.
Your first reaction when they offered the representation/contract?
The day that first email came through from Kate Cuthbert at Escape Publishing offering me a publishing contract for HIS BRAND OF BEAUTIFUL (bless its cotton socks) was a great day. The day Haylee Nash asked ‘can I call you’ about ASHES, was a great day. There are so many things that crush you in this business, you’ve got to take the wins when they come.
What’s next for you?
Well, I am waiting to see what Harlequin think of Chalk Hill 4 (poor thing doesn’t have a name yet but at least Chalk Hill 4 is better than Untitled). Pending revisions of that or acceptance, that will move through the system into edits etc during 2021. That would then have a publication date around March 2022.
Right now, I’m revising The Water Line in a major way. I believe in this story, I just have to be able to write it right! If I can’t get any traction with it during 2021, then my goal would be to self publish it prior to Christmas. We’ll have to see how that goes.
What is so interesting about this, is that even when you’re agented, published and have a long career to back it up, you still have to go through the process of submitting, waiting, and potentially even having to self-publish certain work that you believe in, if the publishers don’t! I’ve loved this interview. Lily has offered a great insight into what it takes to become published and stay current and relevant. Thanks so much, Lily for being on here. You can follow Lily on her blog here! And purchase any of her novels here.
Thanks for stopping by!