Author Chat: Katherine Macdonald
Kate shares with us how she got into writing, the logic behind her brilliantly re-imagined fairtytale retellings, and the highs and lows of being a self-published author.
How long have you been writing for?
Since I was 12. Like a lot of people I was obsessed with Harry Potter and wrote my own story about a school for witches and wizards. It was truly atrocious. I wish my author origin story was cooler than that, but alas… it is not.
I certainly learnt a lot from the experience, though!
You’ve written a lot of fairytale retellings – was this intentional or did the ideas start snowballing after the first?
Yes and no. I've adored fairytales all my life, Beauty and the Beast in particular, but I'd yet to read a version where I truly felt them falling in love. I didn't have real plans to write my own though because the Disney version was so perfect in my mind.
Then I was inspired by a dream of a girl in a field of flowers that suddenly turned to ash. It was a really intricate, gothic dream, with flashes of a horrible face in a mirror. I finally saw a way to put my own spin on the story with a gothic reimagining that paid homage to both the original tale in its portrayal of a gentle beast, and in subtle ways to the Disney classic.
After that, it was only natural that I tried my hand at the other stories. They tend to snowball from the basic idea. I look at what needs to stay the same (Sleeping Beauty needs to have a spindle and be kissed awake, etc) and what needs to change (she can't be asleep the entire story and needs to know the Prince before he kisses her).
All of them aim to give heroines agency in their own tales. And the boys are super sweet!
Do you have a routine that you follow strictly or do you write when you can/inspiration strikes?
I used to only write when inspiration struck, which is why my debut took six years to write. Now, I have a very strict routine. I write for one hour between 7pm–8pm, or to 500 words, whatever is the soonest if inspiration isn't coming.
I usually write for a lot longer, though, because once you’ve written 500 words, it’s hard to stop. But it doesn’t take long to get there if I’m really not feeling it.
Do you prefer to outline or just dive right into the story?
Absolutely I prefer having an outline. Sometimes it's pretty rough, and other times meticulous, and I've yet to have a plan that didn't deviate at some point, but it’s always there.
I've found it a much better way of writing, with fewer tweaks and rewrites and cuts! I tend to underwrite and then ‘embroider’ on a second draft, as it’s quicker and easier to plough ahead when you have a plan.
How long does it take you to write a first draft?
About three months, but sometimes two! I wrote the first draft of my companion novel to Rose and the Thorn in about three weeks! But I already had all of the dialogue, so it was much easier.
How long in total from first word on the page to hitting publish?
Four to five months, depending on how large it is, how soon betas can get back to me, and what their suggestions are. I might also delay publishing to hit a certain date or space them out across a year.
How has experience changed your writing process over the course of your career?
I am so much faster at drafting than I used to be. I don’t wait around for inspiration to strike, I dive right in and just keep going. I don’t stress over the perfect word; that’s for edits. Sometimes I’m even aware I’ve repeated myself so I embolden the word and keep going. Don’t lose the flow! My average speed is about 1k an hour, but sometimes as many as 1.5k.
As a teen I never used to plan and it shows. You become obsessed with keeping in a certain scene because you love a line or something else superfluous. I tend to write chronologically to avoid scenes like this, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t sometimes skip ahead!
What made you decide to self-publish your first book?
I’d sent out a handful of queries years ago (nothing, I know!) and got nowhere, and I was having a really tough year. I’d survived what was probably post-natal depression, returned to work full-time (I’m a teacher), and realised that my marriage was ending and that there was probably nothing I could do about it. I couldn’t fathom returning to the query trenches with all of that going on, but I really wanted to make something good of that year – other than successfully keeping a child alive!
So, I dusted off my old MS and edited it quite badly after my baby was asleep, self-publishing it just after his first birthday. It was a bit of a personal triumph for me! I think writing a romance when I was experiencing none myself was also a way of convincing myself that the world wasn’t as awful as it sometimes appeared, and that love could be found anywhere… even if it was only between the pages of a book, or the keys on my laptop.
What do you like best about self-publishing?
Umm… the royalties? I jest. Slightly. I publish exclusively with Amazon so watching the brilliant Kindle Unlimited reads is a bit of a kick, I must say. I also kind of like how personal it is, getting to know your readers, and having more of a say etc. Having no one but my lovely betas say, ‘Kate, that be too much longing, cut some down!’
I’d definitely sacrifice a bit of control for the opportunity to do an old-fashioned book signing, though.
What do you dislike most about self-publishing?
Having to do the marketing yourself and knowing there’s a limited reach. Wondering if I should have held out and carried on trying to find an agent and if I’ve blown my chance to be a ‘real’ author by self-publishing. We probably all face these doubts!
Is there a part of the ‘mechanics’ of self-publishing that you struggle with the most? Editing, formatting, cover design, marketing etc.
I’ve struggled with all of these and had to find ways of getting better or hiring help. Good cover design I’ve found to be an absolute must. I’m pretty familiar with kindle create now so I can usually manage formatting myself.
Still trying to work out marketing!
You’re currently querying a Hades and Persephone retelling – what made you try the traditional route for this one?
I’ve always dreamed of being traditionally published and the dark faerie genre seems particularly popular right now, so why not? Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
As always, I write the books I’ve not quite read. In this case, I wanted a dark faerie romance with a range of compelling character relationships and a love you can really feel developing. And a couple that are actually nice to each other more or less from the start!
Plus, I will never get tired of broken faerie boys. It’s just not happening!
What does ‘literary success’ look like to you? Getting fan art? Landing an agent? TV adaptation?
All of the above! Fan art is currently no.1 on my list; I’d die with happiness if someone presented me with some.
But success is in the little things too; breaking £300 a month in royalties, getting 70k monthly page reads… You have to take pleasure in the smaller things, as well as the big ones.
What advice would you give to authors considering self-publishing?
Get a beta reader first. Oh dear, the problems I would have solved if I’d known about them before I self-published! And join the Writing Community. The support is fantastic.
Also, consider your genre and do your research. I’ve read fantastic books I know aren’t doing as well as some of my retellings – turns out people still love fairytales. My dystopian trilogy was a little bit of a flop, alas.
Where can we find your books and what are your upcoming plans?
If you’re into fairytale retellings with fierce girls and gentle boys, oozing with lyrical prose and witty banter, you can find all of my books here:
I don’t have much planned at the moment as I’m querying, but I’m thinking of starting a Patreon with deleted scenes, a little bit of smut I didn’t want the young adults reading, and a weekly serial. It’s as yet unnamed, but has been described as ‘Beauty and the Beast meets Hunchback meets Me Before You.’