Bestselling rural fiction author, Maya Linnell, has hit the bestseller lists quickly. Her first novel, Wildflower Ridge was written in 2018, published in 2019, followed by Bottlebrush Bridge (2020) and her latest novel Magpie’s Bend (2021). Some wonder how she did it so fast (and apart from Maya’s fabulous stories being so popular), how she gained a publishing contract? Maya attributes it to her social media profile. Often writers want to know whether a social media platform can boost recognition from an agent/publisher and in Maya’s case, it did. From a young writer, then journalist, then novelist, Maya’s journey to become a well-known Australian author was fast and exciting, yet also one to study and learn from!
Maya gathers inspiration from her rural upbringing and the small communities she has always lived in and loved. Magpie’s Bend is her third novel with Allen & Unwin, following Bottlebrush Creek and Wildflower Ridge, which both made the Better Reading Top 100 Books list. A former country journalist and radio host, Maya also blogs for Romance Writers Australia, loves baking up a storm, tending to her rambling garden and raising three little bookworms. She writes to a soundtrack of magpies, sheep and chickens on a small property in southwest Victoria, where she lives with her family, their menagerie of farm animals and the odd tiger snake or two.
How long have you been writing?
I was a bookworm and keen writer from a young age. My Dad was a freelance journalist, so our house was always brimming with magazines, newspapers, and novels. I took a gap year overseas after high school (where I wrote copious letters home), then completed a journalism cadetship at our small rural newspaper upon my return. This was a great place to learn the ins and outs of writing and thicken my skin against red pen. It was also an excellent way of learning how my words impacted readers. If I messed up someone’s name or details in print, I’d hear about it in the supermarket queue. If I wrote a great article that touched people’s hearts, I’d get a pat on the back when I was out and about reporting. These ‘brickbats and bouquets’ sure kept me accountable!
After five years as a country journalist, covering everything from primary school fundraisers to cattle sales, I moved into communications and PR. I pressed pause on paid employment to raise three little bookworms, and in 2016, when all three children were almost all at school, I decided to follow a long-held dream of writing a book. That manuscript, nurtured through a first draft and second draft course at the Writers Studio Australia, became my debut rural romance novel, Wildflower Ridge.
What led to your offer of representation with an agent (or contract with a publisher, if you went that way around first?)
My social media. I started my author platform early on and researched the heck out of creating a brand, settling on ‘writer, baker, green thumb’. By the time I’d finished my manuscript, I had 18 months of content under my belt, a community of like-minded people and a platform that showcased my passion for writing, rural living and my two favourite hobbies – gardening and baking. I followed my publisher – Annette Barlow – on social media (there’s a ‘Publishing Insider’ takeover episode landing very soon on the Words & Nerds podcast that goes into more detail). She liked what she saw and requested my manuscript.
How long did you have to wait to hear back and was it a partial or full request?
I initially emailed a partial (May 2018), but Annette replied to say she’d like the full manuscript if I had it. At this stage, I was super glad I’d waited patiently to finish and revise my manuscript before reaching out to any agents or publishers because I was able to send it through that same day while it was fresh in Annette’s mind.
The next I heard was in July. Annette had read the story enroute to a publishing conference in New York City and wanted to take it to the next acquisitions meeting, on the condition that I would work with A&U on structural edits (which of course I was!). I received the best email of my life – a book contract offer – on July 17, 2018, and Wildflower Ridge hit the shelves in June 2019.
How many submissions did you make prior to gaining representation/publishing contract?
I pitched to an agent and one other publisher in March 2018 through an ASA Red Dirt Week Virtual Speed Pitching event. Both requested the full manuscript, but the agent eventually declined because she already had a high number of rural romance authors on her list. The other publisher sent me a kind and detailed feedback letter, which at the time I thought was a rejection, but now realise was an R&R – a request to revise and resubmit. That R & R email came a few days before the ‘yes’ email from Allen & Unwin.
Any tips on cover letters/synopsis/pitches?
There are so many great podcasts that dive into this (especially the Words & Nerds Publisher Insider series I mentioned earlier), but my top tips are:
Ensure you’re submitting to the type of publisher or agent who loves the genre you’re working on.
Add comparison titles or authors to show you understand the market you’re writing for.
Get your social media up to scratch so it’s clear who you are, what you’re writing and your interests outside of books.
Look at the back of novels to help guide your own synopsis writing.
Look at the bio of published authors to refine your own bio (always in the third person).
Join a writing group like Romance Writers Australia, Australian Society of Authors or your state writing organisation as they run workshops and contests on pitching, synopsis writing etc
Listen to writing podcasts (Talking Aussie Books, The First Time Podcast, Words & Nerds, Writes4Women)
Attend author talks at your library.
Your first reaction when they offered the representation/contract?
Ecstatic! I was in the supermarket with my children, it was the best news I’ve ever received in the fruit and veg aisle. We were so excited, my son dropped 3L of milk as we dashed around the supermarket, filling the trolley with treats for an impromptu celebration party. Luckily the supermarket lady who helped clean up the milk was a family friend, and very excited for me too. I also bumped into my favourite librarian, who heard the official publishing news before my husband did!
What’s next for you?
I’m currently on deadline with my fourth novel. Wildflower Ridge (2019), Bottlebrush Creek (2020) and Magpie’s Bend (2021) each focus on a different sister in the McIntyre family. Book four (working title: Rosella Hill, June 2022) will be the fourth and final instalment in this series. Diana is the mother-hen of the McIntyre clan, with a burgeoning micro-flower farm, four busy boys and a community sewing circle. It’s still a rough second draft at the moment, but I’m loving this final chapter with the close-knit community I’ve created. I’m also contracted for a 2023 novel, which will be a completely new setting and cast of characters.
Maya Linnell ‘s social media platform is not only delicious looking, she also shares lots of generous insights into her writing life. It’s been a pleasure to have Maya on here and to learn about how she became such a reputable, popular and well-loved Australian author! For a regular slice of country living, follow Maya on social media @maya.linnell.writes or sign up to her monthly newsletter at mayalinnell.com.
Thanks for stopping by!