Margaret Johnson is an author, stand-up comedian, blogger and mum to bouncy son and dog
We wondered if you could tell us a bit about the genre you write in, what inspired you to start writing and your previous experiences of writing shorter fiction, articles and non-fiction books?
The Goddess Workshop and The Dare Club (which I’m currently writing) are what I describe as Rollercoaster Women’s Fiction – about people who are stuck in their lives and need to do challenging things in order to move on. They have funny moments and sad moments too. They do include romances within them.
I have written in a wide variety of genres, and for different publishers as well as self-publishing. I started writing when I finished at art college, thinking that if I became a best-selling Mills & Boon writer, that would be able to finance my career as an artist. Ha ha! I did have some of these early attempts published – by Women’s Weekly in a paperback series, and Robert Hale and Ulverscroft Large Print. By this time, of course, I’d completely been bitten by the writing bug and all ideas of an art career had fallen by the way side. I was also supplementing my writing career by being a cleaner/typist etc, etc. I’ve always thought of writing as a bit of an addiction – if you get just a little bit of success or encouragement, it feeds your habit for a while!
Please can you tell us a bit about your novel writing journey so far, including how you came to choose the self publishing option and the impact this has had on the way in which you work, as well as any positives and negatives there might be and whether you would recommend it to others?
I am fortunate enough to be published by 2 academic publishers in their series of fiction for people learning to speak English – Cambridge University Press and Cengage Learning. This happy arrangement came about as the result of a chance meeting with an author who already did this kind of writing. I sent CUP a proposal and a first chapter for a reader called All I Want – a romance inspired by Bridget Jones’ Diary. That was in 2000, and the rest, as they say, is history. All I Want is still in print and selling, and I’ve written lots of other titles – more romances as well as 2 fantasy books, a thriller, a book of short horror stories, a fact book about New Zealand and a couple of human interest stories.
This is obviously brilliant – and means I don’t have to have another job, so I have the freedom to write. However, despite this success, now that I’m writing what I really, really want to write – ie women’s fiction, I find I’m starting all over again. I didn’t need or have an agent for the books I’ve already had published, but It’s impossible to get anyone to take notice of you without one in mainstream markets, as I’m sure you all know. I sent The Goddess Workshop to the Hilary Johnson Author’s Advisory Service and had very positive and useful feedback, so I knew it wasn’t just me who liked the book! Agents either sent a standard rejection, or, the kinder ones, said that Women’s Fiction isn’t selling well at the moment. It seemed to me as if nobody wanted to take any risks because of the state of the market. When I continued to get nowhere, I decided I didn’t want the MS to go into a drawer, which was when I self-published it. It has been amazing to feel in control of my career and to be able to see results quickly! Some of my language readers have taken years to come out after I’ve written them. I don’t know about sales yet, as it’s all too recent. It is difficult to juggle writing time and marketing time, but I’m getting there. And I do enjoy being creative about how I let people know about me and my books!
I have had some prior experience of publishing, as you can tell, so as regards whether I’d recommend the self-publishing route to anyone else, I’d say yes, but try other routes first, and if you do self-publish, get help. It was well worth paying to have a professional critique of The Goddess Workshop. I think it made all the difference. And I have a friend who’s an excellent proofreader, which believe me, was essential!
What’s next for you, Margaret, with your first novel, your current WIP and future projects?
I’m currently working on a novel called The Dare Club, about a group of 3 women and 1 man who meet on a divorced and separated course. They decide to challenge each other to do daring things as part of their recovery process. I’m enjoying writing this hugely, and have done scary and exciting research for it including completing the Tree Top Challenge at Go Ape and doing a Stand-up comedy course and a 3 minute stand-up performance!
When I’ve finished this, I intend to revisit a couple of romance novels I started and then put aside. I will try submitting these to publishers, but if I’m not successful with them through this route, I’ll definitely self-publish them.
What are your dreams and aspirations as writers, in terms of your long-term career?
I would still like to get an agent!!! And I would like to be published by a mainstream, non-academic publisher.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us or any other advice you can offer?
My advice is to keep at it, don’t take feedback or criticism personally, find your own voice by writing, writing, writing. Say ‘yes’ to every writing opportunity that comes your way, even if it’s not what you expected to be doing – work out afterwards how you’re going to do it!
Follow Margaret on Twitter at @Margaretkaj
You can find out more about The Goddess Workshop by following this link http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Goddess-Workshop-Margaret-Johnson/dp/1483985946