Abigail Shepherd is the 29-year-old author of soon to be launched teen historical fiction novel Victoria’s Victorian Victory. Her work has most recently been published by The Flash Fiction Press, Mystery Weekly and she has a Regency Romance Series Ask Me No Secrets on Channillo.com. She’s hoping her upcoming novel will encourage teenage girls to think about their futures, set goals for themselves, and insist on being treated with the respect they deserve. We sit her down to chat about handling upcoming book launch nerves, social media authenticity and her advice for approaching publishers.
What made you want to be a writer? How did you begin writing?
I don't remember ever not wanting to write. I've always known it was what I needed to do, however I didn't start taking it very seriously until a couple of years ago. I suppose I was just getting a bit older and realized that if I really wanted to be a writer I'd have to do something about it. Plus, I hate my day job of cleaning!
What inspires you to write?
I'm lucky to live in the beautiful, atmospheric surroundings of Perthshire, Scotland. I usually get my ideas when I'm out and about in them.
You have an upcoming book launch. Please explain the process leading up to this and how you are feeling at this point.
I'm quite nervous! My publisher is going to be sending out press releases soon and I'm torn between two conflicting fears: either that I'll get an awful lot of attention, (scary for an introvert) or none at all. The reality is likely to be somewhere in between I hope.
In the next few days I'll be sending out emails to various local businesses to set up book signings, I'm also planning on online launch party for my social media friends. That's going to be a lot of fun!
How do you handle rejection as a writer?
It's hard. You have to think of it as a sort of rite of passage. You're not a real writer unless you've been rejected. Even very experienced writers are rejected. And it really doesn't mean your work isn't good enough. Almost everything I've ever had rejected has been accepted somewhere else. Just keep polishing it and sending it out.
How do you deal with isolation, as writing is an inherently private exercise?
I'm actually really grateful for any time alone to write! It doesn't happen that often. However, it's nice to be able to discuss your writing with fellow authors. That's why I love the writing community on Instagram and Twitter. I've never felt isolated as a writer since becoming a part of that.
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
Get on social media now, before your book is even finished. I cannot stress this enough! Start building an author platform as soon as possible. Then, when you do publish a book, there won't be a mad scramble to try and get an audience for it.
Any advice for approaching publishers?
Remember that they are very busy professionals. Check their guidelines carefully and follow them as best you can. It's best to keep your cover letter brief. I usually stick to three paragraphs- in the first one summarize your book's premise in two or three sentences. In the second give vital information such as word count, current successful books that yours is similar too and who the story will appeal to. I also like to put in something personal about why I'm approaching them in particular. In the last paragraph, give a little information about yourself. Mention anything you've previously had published, writing courses you've taken and, if you've built yourself an author platform, mention that too. Do not mention that your mum really liked it!
By all means try the big publishers, but don't forget the small press. They are usually not quite so inundated with manuscripts and more willing to take a risk. And you will have more control over the final product.
Any advice specific to writing for teens?
When writing for kids, take lots of time to remember what you were like at that age. I have a Pinterest board that I use specifically to remember things I had and did in my childhood. I find that seeing a picture of a toy I loved, or a film I was obsessed with, or the pencil case I took to school, brings things back very vividly. And always be careful not to talk down to children.
Which writers do you admire?
Victorian classic authors such as Louisa May Alcott, L M Montgomery and Laura Ingalls Wilder are my very favorite. I'm also a huge Agatha Christie fan.
How will you go about marketing your upcoming book?
Because I started building an author platform over a year ago, I have most elements already in place. Instagram is the main one for me. I also have a Wordpress blog, a Twitter account and a Pinterest account. My latest project has been setting up my newsletter. I'm really excited about that.
What do you think is the biggest marketing challenge for new authors?
Standing out. When you start using social media as an author rather than just personally, you realize how many authors are doing the exact same. The key is to form real connections with people. An automated post every few hours saying 'Read My Book' won't get you far.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with aspiring writers?
A common mistake among new writers is to think they need some sort of creative writing degree in order to be able to write well. But not everyone has the circumstances for that. So I'd just like to mention that, because I was home educated towards the end of my schooling, I ended up teaching myself English and literature from the age of eleven on. I learned to write through reading a lot. I'm not suggesting this as a way to go, I'm just making the point that if circumstances don't allow you to do any kind of creative writing course, be assured that you can do without it.