Tara Hyland was born in 1976. She studied History at Cambridge, and then worked in London as an Equity Analyst for several years before leaving to write full time. She currently lives in London with her husband. This is her first novel.
What one issue makes you struggle the most as an author? How do you handle it?
Self-doubt. I waste a lot of time worrying that what I’m writing is no good, and I struggle to make decisions on how to proceed with the plot – coming up with three alternatives, and not being able to pick which one is best. When I’ve figured out how to handle this, I’ll let you know! But sadly I fear it’s just part of the job.
What is the best writing (or life) advice you have ever heard or wished you had followed? Why?
From my agent – “be patient”. After the initial euphoria of getting a publishing deal has worn off, it can feel a bit frustrating to realize that you aren’t going to be an overnight success. My agent constantly tells me (and all the others writers he represents) that it takes ten years to build a career as a genre writer. Even if sales are slow to start off with for your first novel, hopefully a reader will pick up your fourth book and love it so much that they go back and buy all the other novels that you have written. So you have to give yourself time to build a readership.
“Don’t Google yourself / other authors” is another one of his gems. It’s far too easy in this information age to get obsessed with reading reviews and trying to work out how your book is performing versus competitors. Tracking your Amazon sales ranking versus other authors is the path to unhappiness! It’s far better to channel that energy into writing.
Tell us a bit about your current project.
I’m currently working on my second book, which as yet is untitled. It’s another big canvas, sweeping novel, but this time it’s the story of a mother and daughter. The mother is a somewhat flighty, selfish character, who abandons her daughter in exchange for fame and fortune, and the book is about the impact of her actions on them both. The action starts in the 1940s, just after the Second World War, and takes in everything from the golden age of Hollywood to gangsters in sixties London and the heyday of Fleet Street. There’s also a big mystery, which starts on page one and is present throughout the book, so I’m hoping that will make it a real page-turner! It should be out in spring 2011.
We are all about journeys…unique ones at that. How convoluted was your path to your first published book? Share some highlights or lowlights from your path to publication.
It took me about three years from having the initial idea for Daughters of Fortune to finally being ready to send the first three chapters of my novel off to literary agents in March 2007. I spent some time researching who to write to, looking for someone who represented authors who wrote the kind of book that I had – a big blockbuster / family saga. I was lucky that the first agent that I sent it to called me back straight away saying that he loved what I’d written. BUT, before you think it sounds too easy, it took me a year and a half of rewrites (and other hurdles) before the book was finally submitted to publishers in October 2008. That was when the fun part started. Over the next couple of weeks I had four publishers bid for my novel. Having weighed up all the offers, we finally settled on Simon & Schuster in the UK and Atria in the US. Since then, my agent has gone on to sell Daughters of Fortune in nine other territories, including Germany, Russia and Turkey. So it was worth all the heartache in the end!
What mistakes have you made while seeking publication? Or to narrow it down further what’s something you wish you’d known earlier that might have saved you some time/frustration in the publishing business?
My initial draft of Daughters of Fortune was 220,000 words long – and while my agent loved the manuscript and thought it was a page-turner, he refused to submit it to publishers until it was reduced to AT THE MOST 150,000 words long. Cutting one-third of my book was both heart-breaking and frustrating. Imagine the time I would have saved if I’d known at the beginning to watch the word count! Obviously there are exceptions, but if you’re writing a commercial book, remember that most novels are between 70,000-120,000 words long.
Share a dream or something you’d love to accomplish through your writing career.
I guess I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I’d love to end up on the bestseller list one day. But I’d also just be happy to be able to do this as a career for the next twenty-thirty years. It’s such a privilege to be published, and I hope that I never forget that or take it for granted.
What gives you the greatest writer buzz, makes the trip worth the hassles (besides coffee or other substances, of course)?
I absolutely love the gorgeous cover of my book, with its connotations of wealth and glamour, upper class Englishness and dark family secrets. When I first saw it, I couldn’t help feeling proud that what I’d written had inspired something so beautiful. But apart from that, the highlight has definitely been receiving emails from readers, telling me how much they loved the book. I get so much pleasure from reading, and it is wonderful to be able to do the same with my own novel.
What aspect of writing was the most difficult for you to grasp/conquer? How did you overcome it?
I think dialogue has been one of the most difficult things for me to master. At first, the dialogue I wrote felt very flat, and all my characters sounded the same! Then I realized what’s probably quite an obvious point – that dialogue is just another way of portraying your characters. So I started thinking about how each of my characters would sound, whether they were upper class or common, whether they would swear or not. That helped. Plus, I read some of the masters at dialogue, like Jackie Collins.
Writing rituals. Do you have to sit somewhere specific, complete a certain number of words, leave something undone to trigger creativity for the next session? Some other quirk you’d like to share?
When I’m writing the first draft of a book, I have to force myself to write a certain number of words a day – usually at least 3,000 words, however rubbish they may be! Otherwise, if I tried to make everything perfect, I’d never finish a draft of the manuscript! Once I’ve got that draft down, it’s easy then to go back and perfect scenes, adding in description or tweaking until they are just right. But getting a beginning, middle and end down is so psychologically important to me.
Plot, seat of pants or combination?
I’m definitely a plotter. I planned my second book in more detail than my first, and it definitely made the process easier. It helped me to see pitfalls before I’d invested time and energy writing those parts in full. I’d spend even more time planning out my third book. It’s so tempting to feel you have to get down to writing, but I think planning is just as important and it really is worth investing time in it upfront – it will save you heartache later on.
Have you received a particularly memorable reader response or peer honor? Please share.
I had an email from a reader comparing me to Jackie Collins, Barbara Taylor Bradford and Sidney Sheldon. I love all of these writers, and could only dream of being like them, so that made my day!
Have you discovered any successful marketing/promo ideas that you’d share with us?
Sadly, no. The whole marketing/promo aspect of publishing has been a big shock to me! I’m quite a shy person – as I think most authors are – and so I was horrified when I was asked to go and record three videos about myself and my work! It was a painful experience, although I understand it’s also a very necessary one in this day and age.