On my agent Mark Gottlieb’s website, I answer some questions about the inspiration behind my new book, my writing process and what it was like to see my book in bookstores for the first time, and talk about my journey to publication. Thank you for featuring me on your website Mark!
It was 2014, the year I finished my first novel. I was in London, attending Historical Novel Society’s annual conference. HNS conferences are heaven for aspiring authors of historical fiction. Over the course of two days, you can meet and exchange tips with other writers, hear industry professionals talk on a variety of topics, ask any questions you might have and pitch your novel to not just one but two literary agents. There are book signings, writing workshops and seminars, as well as all-you-can-eat sandwiches and cakes. I should have been over the moon but I wasn’t. At the time, I didn’t feel like I belonged there at all. My confidence as a writer was at an all-time low and I was questioning whether anyone would ever read my novel. In the weeks leading up to the conference, when yet another heart-breaking rejection letter from a literary agent landed in my inbox, I decided to give up. No, I wasn’t going to stop writing—I loved it too much. But I was going to stop trying to get my novel traditionally published. It seemed like an impossible dream and I didn’t think it would ever happen for me.
The conference started with an incredible keynote speech from Conn Iggulden, one of the authors I love and respect the most. Conn spoke of his own publication journey and I couldn’t believe it! I wasn’t the only one struggling to get my book noticed. Here was one of the most successful historical fiction authors of our time, and he had faced rejection when he was starting out too, just like me. Despite it all he made it to the top—because he never gave up. As he concluded his speech, Conn said something that stayed with me, to this day. All it takes is one yes, he said to a group of aspiring authors who were hanging on his every word. One yes and all the rejection letters of the past will no longer matter. His words changed everything for me. Right there, in the loud auditorium, as the speeches finished and everyone got up to leave, I made a promise to myself. I was going to do everything I could to get my book published, no matter how long it took. I believed in my book and I was going to find someone who believed in it as much as I did.
I’ve always known I wanted to be a writer. As a child, I enjoyed two things the most—reading and telling stories. I would devour every book I could get my hands on. Dumas, Verne, London and Tolstoy were my number one favorites. Then I would retell the stories I had just read to my friends and family. And sometimes I would make up my own stories. I loved rainy days as a child because I could stay indoors and read the books I loved. When I was studying IT at Wollongong University, I wrote poems and short stories in Russian. Having grown up in a small Siberian town, I didn’t speak much English until I moved to Australia as a teenager and wasn’t confident enough to write in English. When I returned to university to study history a few years later, my favorite lecturer told me I had a nice writing style. I decided I had nothing to lose and the next day wrote a short story in English. One of the first stories I have ever written was about a couple in love in occupied Kiev, trapped on opposite sides of the most brutal conflict the world had ever known—World War II. After the story was published in Alt Hist magazine, a few people reached out to me, asking questions about the occupation and what life was like for the local population. I realized there was more to the story than I first thought and a couple of years later it became my debut novel, Sisters of War.
Four years after the HNS conference, when once again I was losing hope to ever get my book published, I decided to give it one last shot. I heard that the publisher of my dreams, HarperCollins, had a brand new imprint, HQ Digital. They were building their list and accepted un-agented submissions. As I attached my manuscript to an email and hit send, I didn’t think I would ever hear anything back. The reply came two weeks later. An editor from HarperCollins said she wanted to speak to me on the phone. As I waited for the phone to ring, I didn’t let myself get too excited. What if it was another (nicer) rejection? But it wasn’t—HQ loved my book and wanted to publish it!
Since then, I’ve had four books out with HarperCollins (three historical novels and one psychological thriller under the pen name of Lana Newton). Every time it’s been a magical experience to see the journey from a vague idea inside my head to a paperback I could hold in my hands. I have also signed with my literary agent Mark Gottlieb, another dream come true. And I will never forget seeing my book in a bookstore for the first time. It was in Dymocks in Sydney, the store where I have spent hours in the past, looking at all the beautiful books and imagining that my novel would be among them one day. And now it was! It was an amazing feeling and sometimes I still have to pinch myself to make sure it’s not a dream. To all the aspiring authors out there, don’t give up! It might take years and, like most authors, you will probably face rejection along the way but you can do this. Remember, all it takes is one yes!