The Truth About Publishing a Novel: Interview with Frances White

Frances White, author of Voyage of the Damned, who shares her publishing journey in this blog post.

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Frances White is the author of Voyage of the Damned, a fantasy murder mystery at sea, coming in 2024 from Penguin Michael Joseph. Born in Leicester and now a Nottingham resident, Frances is a creative writing graduate from Royal Holloway University of London. She has a soft spot for writing unlikely, flawed, messy heroes and loves mixing humour and heartbreak. Frances is also passionate about bringing more LGBTQIA+ representation and fat positivity into fantasy. When not writing, she can be found sewing costumes for comic conventions. She also loves to perform on stage, with a fondness for musicals and Shakespeare. 

We’re so excited to feature Frances on our blog today to discuss her publishing journey for her debut novel! Thank you so much for joining us, Frances!

Hi! Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your upcoming novel, Voyage of the Damned?

I’m Frances White a writer from the UK. I was born in Leicester and now live in Nottingham (that’s the place Robin Hood is from!) Outside of writing I’ve been a cosplayer for over a decade, and I also love performing on stage, especially musicals and Shakespeare. My lifelong dream outside of writing books is to become a cat mother with an army of cats.

Voyage of the Damned is my debut novel. A standalone, it’s a big old genre mashup of fantasy and murder mystery.

The book takes place over the course of a 12-day voyage undertaken by 12 magical heirs of 12 provinces of an empire. It follows one of these heirs, Ganymedes, class clown, slacker, and lacking his own magical gift. However, when a beloved heir is murdered and the bodies begin to pile higher, Ganymedes must become the hero he was not born to be and unmask the killer.

The book is humorous and unabashedly queer, with a chunky and funky main character, but also has a decent helping of heartbreak and twists.

What did your journey to publishing look like?

I always worry a little when people ask this question as I don’t purposely go out with the intent to traumatize people but I also want to be honest so…buckle up.

It was LONG. I always knew I wanted to be an author, it was literally the only career path which ever made sense to me, and when I was younger I perhaps naively believed that if I wrote a book, that would be the hard part of getting published. How wrong I was.

I wrote four complete books before Voyage of the Damned, but I faced a ton of rejection. Over the course of those four books I was rejected over 200 times by agents before I even made it to the publisher’s desk. I was stuck in the querying trenches for six years before I finally got my agent with my fourth book. I don’t know how many times I was sure a book was THE ONE to only see it get torn to pieces before my eyes.

Unfortunately, getting an agent was just the brief ride in an air-conditioned limo from one trench to another—submission to editors. You can imagine after six years of trying, I was SO sure that book was the one, the one that SURVIVED.

Yeah. Editors did not agree. I got a flurry of rejections across the board which quickly made me realise the battle was far from over.

Voyage of the Damned is actually the book I first wrote while querying my fourth book. I returned to it when I was on submission and rewrote pretty much the entire thing. I think writing that book while facing so much rejection on both occasions is what forced me to just go for it with my voice and what I wanted to write. That story is way more authentically me than any of the books I wrote before it.

Submission with Voyage of the Damned was not one of the super quick sales you often read about, but I do consider it quite quick in today’s landscape. It got a flurry of quick rejections, but then ended up getting an offer after about four months on submission, then another soon followed. I still don’t think it’s actually sunk in and I often expect to wake up in the trenches to discover it was all a beautiful dream.

Overall, from querying my first novel to getting the offer on my fifth it took almost eight years. The main thing that kept me going was the mantra that ‘you don’t fail until you give up.’ And I feel like I’m living proof of that!

You wrote several novels before Voyage of the Damned. Do you think you’ll ever come back to these to try to get any of them published? Or are they shelved for good?

I never like to say never, but I’m 99% sure these are shelved for good.

People tend to think this means I hate or are ashamed of my old novels, but that isn’t the case at all. I’m fond of all my old novels! But personally I feel like I developed a lot with every novel I’ve written, and each has built on and improved upon the last. I feel like returning to my old novels would be a step backwards, I’m way more excited about writing new things, and I’m a very different writer now to who I was back then.

I joke about my books going to a book graveyard rather than a shelf, but I mean this fondly! Graveyards are there to remember good times and to reflect on your time together. Those books helped develop my skills and taught me a lot, so I don’t consider them a waste of time at all, regardless if they stay buried. They made me the author I am today. All hail the book graveyard!

You have a BA in English and Creative Writing. Do you feel like this sort of educational experience is necessary to become an author? Why or why not?

No I don’t think it’s necessary at all. The vast majority of writers I know don’t have any degrees or educational background in writing. The best thing about doing the degree was that it gave me the time I needed to focus on and develop my writing, and also get feedback from experienced writers. It was beneficial to be in a group setting receiving and giving feedback. But you don’t need to do a degree to get that experience, a good writing group could offer similar.

As with all things, what works for one person may not work for another. Some find the structure and focus of a degree helpful. But I think the best thing for anyone who wants to be a writer is to write and read a lot!

Are you more of a “plotter” or a “pantser”?

I place myself somewhere in the middle of the two. I always plan my novels to a certain extent, I know where it starts, some of the major events along the way, and where it needs to finish, but after that point I need to go through the process of writing the novel to feel out the characters and fill in the gaps.

I often do what some refer to a ‘zero draft’ which is unreadable babblings which nobody would (or should) ever read. But basically it sets out the plot of the novel, and gives me a skeleton to build on. From there I go over and over the book again and again focusing on different element like plot, character, setting etc, adding muscle and tendons and skin until we have something that looks more like an actual novel.

It’s a long process and requires a lot of ‘trust’, as your novel will generally look and read like garbage until several drafts in, but it works for me!

In what ways did Voyage of the Damned change while you were drafting it?

Voyage of the Damned underwent some big changes from its initial conception. Originally Dee, the main character, was actually a side character, he fulfilled that comedy relief detective assistant role, but I thought to myself ‘this guy is way more fun and interesting than the current MC, so why not put him center stage?’ I’m so glad I did, the entire story then morphed around him and was all the better for it.

Additionally, the original book was written to be young adult. All the characters were a lot younger and the book was shorter. I would say it still carries some of that YA feel to it, but the edits pushed it way more into the adult space, I would call it crossover now. Also it means I got to add a lot more swearing which we most of us can enjoy!

7. Can you provide a headshot, book photo, and links to any websites or social channels you’d like readers to follow?

I go by @franceswhiteauthor on Instagram and Threads, and @frances_writes on twitter. My TikTok can be found at @frances_white though I am still learning its mysterious ways.

I also have a website where I have a monthly newsletter which gives a behind the scenes peek at publishing. And if you’re interested in my arduous path to publication, I have two detailed blog posts of my experiences, warts and all.

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