Today we feature author and publisher, Lynn Michell. Check out our interview with her to learn about her latest novel and her indie press for women:
Fem: What is it like running a press? Are there any challenges?
Lynn Michell: I laughed at this first question, especially the “Any challenges?” I set up Linen Press with no experience of publishing, and I run it myself with help from one freelance colleague and two superb interns. It’s not a job, it’s a way of life. If it wasn’t, it would go under because the book trade is a tough place right now with competition from the Big Five conglomerates who put out their crowd pleasers in tens of thousands and with Amazon’s price slashing. What I do is right up the other end of the scale – working with new and innovative authors and publishing their writing in small runs.
I get twenty submissions a week and check out all of them because the slush does, very occasionally, disgorge some glittering gems. Reading is time-consuming and tedious because the same themes are re-hashed and the writing is often poor.
But once I’ve signed up a project, the fun begins. I spend four months closely editing each manuscript with the author, page by page, line by line. We work by email, batting chunks back and forth until we are both satisfied. A close relationship inevitably develops both with the writing and with the writer. Some have remained close friends. Then comes the design and making of the cover which is the best part of all.
Marketing is the biggest challenge. Without the minimal £100K of marketing money the big publishers throw at a new novel, I have to create visibility and sales for my authors which means writing persuasive emails for reviews and articles to editors and bloggers whose desks are already weighed down with new releases. There’s more: social media sites to be updated, orders fulfilled, articles written, accounts done plus the production of each new book which includes type-setting, print estimates and print runs.
Finally, I personally stuff every book ordered into a padded envelope, address it, stick on pre-paid stamps and walk down the steep hill to my tiny village post office where Sandrine takes my books and asks me how business is going. Tres bien, I say (because I live in France). It’s going well.
And at 6 pm the Linen Press dog, Homer, needs walking!
F: You recently wrote a novel, Run, Alice, Run. Can you tell us what it’s about?
LM: Run, Alice, Run is an irreverent coming-of-middle-age novel which looks with irony and sorrow and at the way society defines and diminishes women of a certain age.
Respectable, middle-aged women do not embark on crazy shoplifting sprees but when Alice Green understands that being over fifty is much the same as being invisible this is her release valve. Her head-in-the-sand husband doesn’t notice the clothes mountain nor the accumulating piles of stationery. When two police cars draw up outside her house in leafy, upmarket Edinburgh, a much younger Alice appears at her side to offer moral support and together they back-track through memories, recasting the events and people who chipped away at her confidence and contentment over the years. What happened between the heady university days and the sad marriage to a husband who gets more excitement from his computer than from his wife?
I want this to be a novel for every-middle-aged-woman who may recognise the dilemmas, losses and gains that come with middle age.
F: What was your motivation for writing the novel?
LM: It was the irritating inner dialogue that kept running round my head. My wise feminist voice assured me that growing older was fine. The loss of a pretty face and body was offset by the acquisition of experience and knowledge and wisdom. At fifty and sixty and seventy, we women have a freedom to be ourselves and to find fulfillment in whatever direction we choose to go in. It’s a rich, satisfying time of life. BUT the messages that bombard us in a society obsessed with youth and physical perfection cast all this into question. The other voice contradicted all of the above and told me I was surplus to requirements, diminished by age, unattractive and invisible. I was useful as a good citizen and granny and carer of elderly parents, but my own heady, effervescent time in the limelight had gone for ever. To silence the argument, I wrote Run, Alice, Run and dumped the responsibility for a measured response on my heroine Alice Green.
F: Do you have any upcoming projects?
LM: Yes! The next LP publication is Catch The Moon, Mary by Australian librettist and Penguin short story winner Wendy Waters. It’s been a magical collaboration because Wendy has invested so much passion, energy and imagination into her writing and into its marketing and I love her novel. Ghost story, horror story, thriller, fantasy, fairy tale noir, it defies classification in its originality and exuberance. The story is about a gifted, vulnerable girl who is both saved and damned by an angel who falls in love with her music and claims it as his own in a devilish pact to enlighten the universe. He ruthlessly kills anyone who threatens his grand plan to bring Mary to Carnegie Hall and so she grows up shackled to a redeemer-murderer. How can she save her music and herself? Wendy has re-written the opening chapters as a play and we plan a musical, flood-lit launch in a London theatre in September.
And I’m working on my third novel The Red Beach Hut set in the week before the last general election and picking up on recent news about famous men like Jimmy Saville discovered to be long-term abusers and pedophiles. It’s about a short, significant relationship between a gay man on the run and a boy on the spectrum and it takes place in and around a beach hut in a tatty English seaside town. I’m half-way and praying the energy drives on. I’ve never written a novel this fast before.
F: Any advice for women who are aspiring writers?
LM: Yes, but it’s harsh. Look at your writing carefully and critically before sending it out to publishers. Is the plot coherent? Is it well constructed? Do you ramble and digress? Are your sentences varied and well formed? Do you keep starting with He or She or with the name of someone? Is there a fluidity and rhythm to your writing? I ask these questions because judging by the twenty submissions a week that arrive in my inbox, it amazes me that so many people believe they even approach the standards set by the emergent writers we do publish. About 75% of submissions are badly written. I can’t say it any other way. A further 20% are adequate but not astonishing or marvelous or breath-taking in terms of style, and many tell domestic stories about relationships without a social context or backdrop. Perhaps 5% are worth considering and amongst these I find the occasional glittering gem that comes in as an unsolicited manuscript and makes the rare transition to a Linen Press book. Among my most valued finds are Hema Macherla’s Breeze from The River Manjeera which was later short-listed for Richard & Judy and French translation rights bought by Mercure. Within two pages (I usually know within a page or two) I was entranced and had to read on. Hema is a born story teller. Equally gripping was 27 year old Lindsay Parnell’s Dogwood which we’ve just published. I was immediately caught up in the raw energy of her writing and her ability to steer a fine line between brutality and beauty. The writing is exceptional.
So be realistic. And send in a synopsis which tells me about your book. I don’t want to know what happens, blow by blow, chapter by chapter, but I do want to know what kind of book I’m reading, why this book is special, why it is right for Linen Press, what it offers that is unique and captivating. Very few writers send me a good synopsis but those who do usually follow up with good sample chapters.
And good luck to all of you because it gets harder and harder to find a home for your writing with the Big Five publishing crowd pleasers and celebs and cookery books, leaving the small indies like Linen Press to pick up the exciting emergent writers who have a vision and a future but whose names are not yet known.
Learn more about Lynn Michell and find out how to buy her latest book, Run, Alice, Run by visiting her website.