We last heard from Sarah Linley when she told us all about her journey to publication for her debut, The Trip. Now, her second novel is about to be published by One More Chapter (the digital imprint of Harper Collins).
We caught up with Sarah two years later to find out how things have been since the publication of her debut, and what she’s learned.
JW: We last spoke to you ahead of the publication of your first novel, ‘The Beach’ (subsequently retitled ‘The Trip’). Now, two years on, your second novel publishes next month. In what ways did the process for the second book feel different?
SL: I think I had more confidence going into the process of writing and publishing my second book. I knew more about the craft – structure, plot, characters, theme – and I had more experience of the editorial process, so I knew what my flaws were (weak characterisation and overuse of the word ‘just’ being two of them!).
The Wedding Murders is classic crime meets psychological thriller. Libby is a plus-one at a celebrity wedding in a grand manor house in the Yorkshire Dales. She’s the guest of her boyfriend Matthew, who used to be in a pop band in the 90s. It’s the first time the old friends have got together since they split up and Libby soon realises that they have secrets to hide…
Having someone on my side, championing my work, made me feel much less alone in the process.
I really enjoyed writing The Wedding Murders and the research was a lot of fun. This time around, I found it less daunting to approach experts and ask them questions, and I had a much better understanding of story structure which helped because this novel is set over a tight timeline.
That said, the second book produced some curveballs. Not least having to rewrite the first chapter about twenty times because I couldn’t find a good way to start the story, which hadn’t been an issue with The Trip.
Writing my debut, I didn’t understand the importance of book bloggers and I had never heard of NetGalley. Engaging with readers has been one of the best things about being published, and that was a surprise, as I was quite scared of that aspect before I was published.
I also thought I would be less nervous as publication day for book two approaches. I’m not!
JW: You navigated your first book deal alone but had an agent for the second. How did the two experiences compare, and would you recommend finding an agent before approaching publishers?
SL: Having someone on my side, championing my work, made me feel much less alone in the process. I am represented by Camilla Shestopal and she is absolutely lovely. One of the reasons I enjoy working with her is that she really cares about my writing. She speaks about my characters as if they’re real people, and I thought only I would feel that way about them!
Camilla did a lot of editorial work with me before we submitted the book which meant it was in much better shape and that made the structural edits easier.
Negotiating a book deal on my own wasn’t my first choice. I couldn’t get an agent interested in my debut, despite around 30 submissions, so I decided to go it alone because I really believed in the book.
Digital-first publishers are happy to work with unrepresented authors and I found the process quite straightforward. I read two great books by Harry Bingham and Rhoda Baxter and my friend is also a lawyer which helped. Once you have a book deal, you can join the Society of Authors and they will look over contracts for you.
Having an agent is great but not essential. They are inundated with submissions so it can be quite difficult to stand out among their huge slushpiles.
If you feel that having an agent would be helpful, I recommend trying this route first, and giving it a real chance (i.e. 20-30 submissions, not a handful), but don’t be afraid to represent yourself. Arm yourself with knowledge about the industry, ask a lot of questions, and have confidence in your writing.
JW: What kinds of resources have you found useful throughout your writing journey?
SL: Jericho Writers is a great resource for writers. You can learn everything about the writing and editing process, approaching agents, self-publishing and marketing your work – but one of the best things is meeting other writers that are on this journey with you.
Don’t be afraid to represent yourself. Arm yourself with knowledge about the industry, ask a lot of questions, and have confidence in your writing.
I have been involved with Jericho Writers since I was shortlisted for the Friday Night Live competition in 2014. The Festival of Writing in York was always such a great social event as well as a chance to learn, so I was apprehensive when it moved online due to lockdown. However, I have found the digital festival even better in some ways. Being able to watch the videos on replay meant I could pace myself a bit more and attend more sessions. I do miss the social aspect though.
I completed Debi Alper & Emma Darwin’s Self-Editing Your Novel course last year. After the course, the students set up a writing group over WhatsApp, and we are now in almost daily contact posting articles and questions, helping each other through problems, and cheering each other on. We meet weekly on Zoom to do virtual write-ins which are brilliant for staying motivated!
JW: What have you learned since publishing your first book, and what do you feel you still have left to learn?
SL: I’ve learned so much about the industry and the editorial process through publishing my debut. Writing a novel can be lonely but once you are working with a publisher, you become part of a team. You have to let go of your darlings and appreciate that putting your book into the world is a collaborative process.
There is so much still to discover about writing and publishing, and I think I will be learning for the rest of my life!
A useful piece of advice I got in the early days was to reinvest everything you earn from your first book into developing your craft. There are some great courses out there and you might want to pay for editorial help or mentoring as you write your second book. Everything helps!
Writing a novel can be lonely but once you are working with a publisher, you become part of a team. You have to let go of your darlings and appreciate that putting your book into the world is a collaborative process.
I read a lot of books about the craft of writing and I am always learning from other writers. I love attending writing festivals and have found the move to digital has meant this has become much more accessible. This year, for the first time, I attended Bloody Scotland (virtually!). One of the highlights was an interview with Stephen King – it was amazing to be able to hear such a legend talking about his writing (and get a glimpse of his study!). I’ve also been lucky enough to attend online events with Margaret Atwood, Philip Pullman, Tracy Chevalier, Marian Keyes, Dorothy Koomson, and other writing heroes, which wouldn’t have been possible before lockdown.
JW: What’s your best piece of advice for writers who are querying right now?
SL: Never give up on your dreams! Rejection is part of the territory of being a writer but it’s not personal. If someone doesn’t love your work, then they’re not the right person to represent you. Try to be patient and wait for ‘the one’. It may take a while to get published, and you may need to write a few books before you do, but it’s worth it in the end!
Sarah Linley lives in Yorkshire and works as a Communications Manager for a housing charity. Her debut novel, The Trip, was published by One More Chapter (the digital imprint of HarperCollins) in February 2020.
Her second novel, The Wedding Murders, will be published by the same publisher in February 2022. When she is not writing, she enjoys reading and walking in the Dales.
Visit Sarah’s website.
Follow her on Twitter and Instagram: @linleysarah1
View The Trip on Amazon.
View The Wedding Murders on Amazon.