Sometimes getting your writing into readers’ hands can seem like a long, arduous process. You might feel lost. You might feel like the “gatekeepers” in the publishing industry are out to get you, hate your work, or are just plain mean.
In today’s interview, we’re talking with Iseult Murphy about her writing journey, her decision to self-publish, and the power of connecting with other writers.
If you want to share your writing, don’t let anyone stop you
Getting rejection after rejection gets tough. It can start to feel like your work is awful and you’ll never get published.
This month’s interviewee has a reminder for us all: Just because you’re rejected doesn’t mean you should give up.
Iseult Murphy lives on the east coast of Ireland and is owned by five dogs, two cats, and a tiny parrot. When she isn’t tending to her furry (and feathery) overlords, she is scribbling something horrible into the walls, and occasionally her laptop. Magic and science are usually involved too.
Her latest release, 7 Days in Hell, is the first book in her 7th Hell Horror series. Her short stories have been published in over two dozen venues. Zoo of the Dead and Other Horrific Tales, a collection of nine of her horror short stories, is currently available in both digital and paperback format.
You’re the published author of several short stories and collections. Can you tell me a little about your latest book and what inspired you to write it?
7 Days in Hell is a horror book set in Ireland and is full of zombies, black magic and humor. It was inspired by a vacation I went on with my sister. We rented a cottage and lots of mysterious and creepy things happened, so I decided to write a book about it.
The first draft was actually written during NaNoWriMo. I enjoyed spending time with the protagonists — twin sisters, Vicky and Irene Murtagh — and started planning out a sequel, and then ideas for more books popped into my head and the idea of the 7th Hell series was born.
There is a little social commentary in the books as well, ala George A Romero, and a dark riff on what I see happening in Ireland and the world today.
That sounds fantastic! Let’s talk a little about your writing journey. Can you walk me through how long you’ve been writing, how you got to where you are, etc.?
I started writing before I could actually make letters. I used to scribble on pages, copying the look of writing, and then I dictated my stories to my older siblings. I’m the youngest of ten children, and I was always trying to keep up with my literature-mad older sisters.
My mother was an avid reader, which she passed down to all her children. She also loved writing, and published five children’s books when I was a teen.
I started writing fantasy novels when I was very young, and even then there was a lot of horror mixed in with the high fantasy, but I never thought of sharing my writing outside my family until I went to secondary school and teachers encouraged me to enter writing competitions.
I continued writing novels, but I never submitted them because they didn’t feel ready. I got some short stories published, but I missed a lot of opportunities with editors who sent me lovely personal feedback and encouraged me to submit to them again, because I thought a rejection meant my story was terrible, not that it wasn’t the right fit.
I had strange ideas about writing and publishing, where you had to get your work to this ridiculous standard of perfection before you were deemed worthy of other people reading it. I saw editors and agents as these alien gatekeepers with huge scythes, who winnowed out the chaff and were highly insulted that anyone would send them work that wasn’t ready.
I took a break from writing for a while because of illness. I was very depressed when I started writing again, and I found that stories — which used to be as easy as breathing for me to write — were now like pulling teeth.
I decided to invest in my writing, in the hope of improving and overcoming the painful struggle that it had become. I got coaching from a dear friend who is a wonderful writer and editor, and then I saw The Write Practice Write to Publish course, and I signed up because I loved the idea of being part of a group of writers who encouraged and promoted each other.
I had also discovered that most writers who do manage to get into print struggle to make a living from it, and that’s the successful ones, so I thought that Write to Publish would be good preparation for if or when I ever did manage to get a book published.
The course made me really think about why I was writing and what I wanted out of it. I realised that writing alone wasn’t enough for me; I wanted to be read. I wanted to share my work because books and stories have helped me enormously throughout my life, and maybe my work will inspire, comfort, educate or entertain someone else when they are going through a tough time.
Perfectionism is something writers struggle with all the time, and I know you’ve had your fair share of issues with it as well. How do you overcome that?
I’m not sure it is possible to overcome perfectionism! I suppose I’m a recovering perfectionist. I had to realise that perfection is impossible for an imperfect being, and that doing your best is all you can ever do. It has made me more critical of my own work in one way.
I see writing like building a three-dimensional structure, or chiseling a figure out of stone. I have a very clear idea of what I want the story to feel like when it is finished. I chip away at it until I am as close to that image as I can be, and then I release it into the world.
I used to worry that my work had to be brilliant, and that everyone had to love it, but I try not to let that bother me so much now. Is the story the one I wanted to tell? That’s what is most important.
I try not to stress if there are typos or clunky sentences. Everyone has them. I know not everyone will like or “get” my story, but that’s ok. There are loads of books that are widely loved that aren’t my cup of tea.
Another big hurdle for me was the thought that publication had one “correct” route that had to be followed, and that other paths were taken by the weak or the foolish. I’m talking about so-called traditional publishing here, especially with the big publishing houses.
Now, I am in no way criticizing traditional publishing, those scary gatekeepers with their scythes are one very valid way to be published. However there are other ways, and small presses and self-publishing are just as “correct” for getting your work out there into the hands of readers.
I might submit to agents and editors in the future, but at the moment, self-publishing is the route I have chosen. It has never been easier to produce nice-looking, professional-quality self-published books that don’t break the bank, and because of social media, it is possible to make a connection with readers who will love your work.
I have been very fortunate to have met some wonderful, talented, welcoming people online. I met Keshia Erin from the Caliburn Photography Group on Twitter, and she designed the beautiful cover for 7 Days in Hell and the rest of the 7th Hell series. Another Twitter connection, an artist whose work I love, is currently working on a commission for the cover of a fantasy novella I plan on releasing in November.
People are reading my short story collection, Zoo of the Dead and Other Horrific Tales, and I’m so grateful for their reviews. In the last year I’ve spoken with authors I love and admire, something I never thought would be possible, and this is all from my own home!
What other advice would you give to writers struggling to have the nerve to get their work out there?
This came as a shock to me, but editors and agents are human! I thought they were incredibly cool, together people who had the answers to everything. Now, they might be incredibly cool and together, but they are trying to make sense of life just like the rest of us. They won’t bite. Neither will readers.
You don’t have to share your writing, but if you want to, do.
My other advice would be to not crumble under criticism and rejection. I know this is easy to say and very hard to do, but it is really important.
If your work is rejected or doesn’t win a competition, it wasn’t because it was bad; there were just stories that the editors and judges liked better.
A rejection of your work is not a rejection of you. It seems simple, but writing is so personal and you lay yourself bare on the page, that it can feel very personal when someone says they’ll pass on your work. It isn’t personal, though, and really try to cultivate that distance.
Your work is your baby while you’re working on it, but once you’ve finished it and decided to submit it or publish it, it is now something unconnected to you. You have to put your business hat on. So my dream agent didn’t like it — fine, on to the next.
I see a lot of posts on Twitter from people who are devastated when their book gets a low starred review. I empathise with them, because it is always hard when someone doesn’t like your work.
However, I think it is important to remember that reviews are for other readers, not for the author, and even low rated reviews are helpful. When it comes to criticism, everyone who reads your work will have an opinion about how it “should” have gone, or what they liked or didn’t like.
Unless over five people are having issues with the same thing, I don’t see it as a flaw in the story, but it is an opportunity to make your next story better or to learn about what people want to read.
What’s the most difficult thing about writing for you? How do you overcome that obstacle?
My obstacle is depression. I have to constantly fight a part of myself that tells me I’m not good enough, that I don’t have anything to say, that my writing is pedestrian and boring, that no one wants to read what I’ve written, that writing is selfish and I should be doing other things to help people.
Sometimes I lose that fight and I can’t write. I have to lie low and weather the storm. Other times I manage to ignore that part of me so that I can work.
As a result I’m not as productive as I used to be, or as I’d like to be, and writing a first draft is very painful. Despite that, writing helps my mental health and gives my life purpose. I guess there has to be some reason I keep doing it!
Share your writing!
Getting your writing out there doesn’t have to be a painful process. Iseult had a great reminder for all writers out there: Sharing your work doesn’t have to be through traditional channels! And it doesn’t always come in the form of a million-dollar book deal. (In fact, it rarely does.) Sharing small can get your foot in the door and your name out there.
Grab some other writers, family, friends, and coworkers and have them help you spread the word about your writing. Get your writing out there, no matter what. Don’t let anyone stop you!
What’s your biggest obstacle to getting your writing out there? Let me know in the comments!
Today, I want you to think about this scenario: Your character wants something badly, and they keep trying to get that thing through the “appropriate” channels but it’s just not working.
What do they do now? How do they go about getting what they want? Spend fifteen minutes writing about what your character does.
Of course, these fifteen minutes of writing are important. But the most important part of today’s practice is the next step: sharing your writing.
Share your writing here in the comments so other writers can read it. Don’t forget to read and comment on your fellow writers’ work!