I first met our Founding Editor Helen Scheuerer a couple of years ago, when I started working for Writer's Edit as an Editorial Assistant. Little did I know then that we'd become great friends as well as colleagues – and that I'd have the chance to become involved in the process of developing her debut novel!
Heart of Mist is the first in Helen's YA fantasy series, The Oremere Chronicles. As both beta reader and proofreader for this novel, I've witnessed its evolution from early draft to polished, ready-to-publish book. It's been a fascinating journey for me as a reader – and nothing short of a roller coaster ride for Helen.
Ahead of the book's release next month, I had an in-depth chat with Helen about writing and publishing Heart of Mist, and her journey so far as a debut indie author. But first, for those who aren't familiar, here's the official synopsis for the novel...
In a realm where toxic mist sweeps the lands and magic is forbidden, all Bleak wants is a cure for her power.
Still grieving the death of her guardian, still trying to suppress her magic and dangerously self-medicating with alcohol, Bleak is snatched from her home by the Commander of the King’s Army, and summoned to the capital.
But the king isn’t the only one interested in Bleak’s powers.
The leader of an infamous society of warriors, the Valia Kindred, lays claim to her as well, and Bleak finds herself in the middle of a much bigger battle than she anticipated…
Can you tell us about the drafting/rewriting/editing process for Heart of Mist?
I wrote the first draft of Heart of Mist during NaNoWriMo of 2015 (wow, that seems like a long time ago now). I like to write fast first drafts, because there's so much work that goes into a novel after this stage that I don't see the point in dwelling on perfection the first time around. So it took me roughly 6 weeks to finish what was then a 70,000 word manuscript.
After the first draft was complete, I set it aside for a few weeks while I thought about the elements that were missing or plot flaws I already knew needed fixing. That's when I set about doing my first structural edit – moving big chunks of text around, developing my characters and world in more depth.
Heart of Mist was the first book I used beta readers for – and it was honestly the best decision I've made in a long time. As you know, I had an incredible team of beta readers read the whole manuscript and provide me with in-depth feedback. This lead to another relatively heavy edit and more structural changes.
I really can't stress the importance of sharing your work with other people enough. It did wonders for my book, but also for me as an author – it helped me feel less alone in what can otherwise be quite an isolating process.
What have you enjoyed most about the process of writing and publishing Heart of Mist so far?
I really enjoyed writing the first draft – it had been a while since I'd been so eager about a story. I would be out and about, just wanting to get back to my laptop. I was in the UK for Christmas, supposedly on holidays, and found myself getting up early just to write.
I also loved the beta reader process. It was such an uplifting and invaluable experience to add to my writing journey.
Aside from the actual writing process, working with my cover designer, Alissa Dinallo, on various concepts is always a dream. It was really thrilling seeing my manuscript develop into a complete, gorgeous book.
How do you handle the process of writing a series as opposed to a standalone novel? Are you more of a 'plotter' or a 'pantser'?
Well, this is the first series I've written, but I've always been more inclined to plotting. I don't think I could have written Heart of Mist without knowing roughly where the rest of the series was heading.
That being said, there's no way I know everything about the overarching story at this point. Heart of Mist is about to go to print and I'm only just about to finish the first draft for Book II. A lot will change between now and when Book II goes to print, and the process will be the same for Book III.
No matter how many notebooks and spreadsheets (yes, I actually use spreadsheets to plot!) I have, things change and adapt over the course of each draft.
I suppose the way I handle it is knowing the core plot points, knowing where I want things to end (roughly) and then filling in the gaps in between. I love being organised, but it's weird... There's only so much control you can have over where you want the story to go, and where it and your characters actually take you.
As well as Heart of Mist's heroine, Bleak, the novel revolves between three other point-of-view characters. How do you go about putting yourself in the mindset of each character?
I usually write books chronologically so sometimes it may have taken me a day to get into Bleak's mindset, but then the next chapter will be from a different character's perspective, so it can be quite challenging. A lot of the deeper characterisation and voice of the characters comes in later drafts, where I've really ironed out who each person is, and what their motivations are.
During the drafting stage of Heart of Mist, I actually used Pinterest a lot for inspiration and setting the scene and mood in my head. I have a different (secret) board for each character with images of what I think they look like, what their weapons might be, and also just general pictures that I think capture them as a character.
When I'm writing a particular character, I'll often have their board open on a separate monitor so when I'm feeling stuck I can glance over and get a bit of inspiration.
Can you tell us more about the prequel stories for Heart of Mist? What led you to write these?
So far I've written two prequel stories to Heart of Mist, 'Break' and 'The Gift', with another hopefully on the way very soon. I wrote these stories for a number of reasons – the first of which being that I wanted to give my readers an early glimpse into the fantasy realm I'd created, before the book was released.
I've shared excerpts and teaser quotes from the book, but I didn't want to give too much away. The prequel stories were a unique way of building anticipation, and helping my readers get to know the characters a little bit before the book's release.
I didn't quite realise it at the time, but writing these prequels has also helped me gain a better understanding of my own characters, and their lives outside The Oremere Chronicles.
I've always believed that well-rounded characters don't start and end with a book; you should be able to imagine them having lives outside the page, and that's what these prequels have allowed me to do.
What do you find are the biggest challenges of being a debut author (especially a debut indie author)?
There's one main thing I'm struggling with right now and that's balance. At the moment I'm doing a lot of outreach marketing and promotion for Heart of Mist and it's not even out yet – I know it's only going to get crazier, but I'm also meant to be writing the second book in the series.
It can sometimes (a lot of the time) feel like you're drowning in work, and that you're wearing too many hats at once. I really need to get the first draft of Book II complete, but I also need to dedicate as much time as possible to the promotion of Heart of Mist.
As an indie author, I find myself playing the role of author, marketer, event manager, project manager and publicist (to name a few). While it's hard work, I do love it. I love having control over how my book looks and feels, and how it's marketed.
I'd like to think the balancing act gets easier with practise, but from what I hear – it's always a bit crazy for us authors, particularly those of use who are publishing independently (and publishing series at that)!
What led to your decision to be an indie author, rather than pursuing traditional publishing avenues?
I actually wrote a whole blog post on this subject, which you can find here. But essentially – I've been involved in the publishing industry for a number of years now, and I just felt like it was the right decision for me and my book.
I had offers from bigger publishing companies, but through my experience with Writer's Edit and the Kindling anthologies, I knew I could make Heart of Mist work independently.
I feel like the traditional aspects of the publishing industry need to adapt, need to be more supportive of new authors. I still find it ridiculous that an author can spend years writing a book, only to receive 8-10% of the royalties, while they're still expected to do their own marketing etc.
The other big deciding factor for me was production schedule. When it comes to big publishers and unknown authors, there seems to be a tendency to take forever between acquiring a title and having it go to print. I'm writing a series, and I want to publish one book a year... I didn't want to rely on another person's schedule, or have the timeline of publication continually pushed back.
A lot of authors I know are opting for small presses, imprints and self-publishing. If you do it well, it can be an incredibly liberating option for a new author.
What advice would you offer to your past self?
That's a great question... I think I'd tell myself: don't be so concerned with what people are going to think of you. For the longest time, I wrote what I felt like I should be writing, not what I wanted to be writing. Perhaps if I'd learnt this lesson sooner, Heart of Mist would have already been out in the world.
Even now, I'm still worried about how people will perceive me online, how I look on camera and what authors I'm compared to. The thing I have to keep reminding myself is: it just doesn't matter.
You're never going to be able to make everyone happy, and that applies to just about everything, but especially people who don't like your book for whatever reason.
So I guess that's the advice I'd offer my past self, but also my present and future self as well – it's a hard lesson to learn!
Heart of Mist is due for worldwide release on 31st August, 2017. As someone who's read it multiple times (and only loved it more each time), I can tell you, fantasy fans, that you should definitely mark that date in your calendar and check it out!
And don't forget, the prequel stories 'Break' and 'The Gift' are available for free; just click here.