Welcome to Author Journeys, an interview series focused on overcoming rejection and other struggles in order to get published, self-publish, or secure literary representation. If you’ve ever felt held back, lost, or stressed out by the path to publication, this series is here to inspire and motivate you, no matter the route you want to take. I’ll be interviewing a range of authors, from self-publishing authors to traditionally published.
Interview with traditionally published author Maria Kuzniar
In this interview, I’m welcoming Maria Kuzniar, a traditionally published author. She is the Sunday Times bestselling author of Midnight in Everwood, published by HQ Stories, and the Ship of Shadows middle grade series with Puffin Books.
Welcome, Maria! To start things off, tell us how you got into writing! Was it always something you wanted to do? How did you get started?
Oh, it was something I always wanted to do. I used to dream about being an author, and when I became an adult, I wanted it so badly that I couldn’t speak about it without tearing up!
I got started via my love of reading. I’ve always devoured as many books as I can, which for me naturally led on to writing. I’ve always dabbled in writing too, jotting ideas down and even writing full chapters, but I was never able to actually finish a book until I gave myself some time off to dedicate to writing.
I’m very lucky I was privileged enough to be able to do this through a combination of savings I’d made through working and my husband’s financial support, but I definitely don’t think taking time off is the only way to write a book! I have many author friends who work full-time and there are a hundred different ways to write a novel. The trick is to find the one that works for you.
Your first book, The Ship of Shadows, a middle grade pirate adventure, came out with Puffin in 2020. Did you encounter any setbacks along the way?
I was blissfully unaware at the time that I had a relatively easy journey into publishing. I took eighteen months off work to write full-time, with the goal of getting an agent. I wrote three books in that time: a terrible YA fantasy, which I only queried to a couple of agents for practise, a much-better-but-still-not-great YA fantasy, which I did seriously query and got a couple of nibbles but ultimately led nowhere. And then The Ship of Shadows. I queried about ten agents before signing with mine, Thérèse Coen, at Hardman and Swainson. That was on the very last day of those eighteen months off, just when I was reluctantly applying for new jobs! I knew immediately she was a great fit.
We spent a month working on my manuscript before it went out on submission for about a month. During that time, I had some rejections and some serious interest from other publishers before Puffin picked it up.
The main character in The Ship of Shadows, Aleja, is so fierce and determined! Was there anything in particular that inspired that trait?
Aleja is much braver than me but she did inherit my determination and love of travel. When I’m not dreaming about books, I’m dreaming about far-flung adventures. Though if I ever met a kraken, I’d be running and screaming and hiding… And, as my editor at Puffin recently pointed out, it’s ironic that The Ship of Shadows is filled with people who can read all these maps and compasses when I have the uncanny ability to get lost absolutely anywhere!
What one piece of advice would you give your younger self about writing and publishing, if you could?
I think the biggest thing I would have loved to know is that no piece of writing is ever wasted. With everything you write, you are learning and honing that skill. Even if that book you’re writing now never gets published, the next book you write will be stronger and better, and maybe in the future you can go back and re-use parts of that book. For example, I’ve purloined and rewritten a chapter of that first terrible YA fantasy into my second book for adults, and it works so much better there.
Your first novel, Midnight in Everwood, has been such a huge success – a Sunday Times bestseller (congrats)! How did you find writing an adult book compared to middle grade? Was it difficult to shift age categories?
Thank you, it still feels surreal! I love writing both middle grade and books for adults, as I get something different from each age category – I like to think that I write adventures for children and fairy tales for adults. I didn’t find it hard to shift age categories as I’ve always had hundreds of book ideas and have toyed around with writing for different ages from the very start of my writing career.
Both age categories come with their pros and cons, and one isn’t more challenging than the other, but I do always forget that my adult books are 50% longer than my middle-grade books, so I always underestimate how long they will take me to write!
The route to publication for Midnight in Everwood was a difficult one for you. Could you talk us through that, and how it finally found a publishing home?
I suspect the universe thought I’d had it too easy with my first agented book and decided to make things more eventful! I first wrote Midnight in Everwood as a YA in 2018, under the title A Dance of Silk and Snow. My agent put it out on submission in the autumn of 2018. In December, I had serious interest from a publisher, but they envisioned it as a middle grade instead and wondered if I could rewrite it younger. So, I did. Although the editor really loved it, it didn’t get past acquisitions and I was devastated.
My agent and I put it out on submission in its middle-grade form but other publishers were concerned that it wouldn’t mesh well with my kick-ass pirates series, and there were no takers.
But… I really loved this story. It was a true book of my heart, and I just couldn’t get over it. I didn’t want to write anything else. I asked my agent if I could have one final crack at it. If I could rewrite it as an adult book, going darker and more sinister than its original YA version. Being wonderfully supportive, she told me to go for it.
It took a few drafts to rewrite it and then it was out on submission for the third time! I was incredibly stressed and nervous. It didn’t help that this was also the same month that my debut novel, The Ship of Shadows, was released – July 2020.
But in the end, I didn’t have time to even worry about it being out on submission, as within a week, I got the loveliest email from an editor who was currently reading it and loving it. One week later, I received an offer from her, along with the most beautiful letter she’d written me about Midnight in Everwood and how she’d love to work together on it. The book of my heart had finally found its home almost two years later! I immediately rang my husband at work to tell him the amazing news, but accidentally freaked him out as I was sobbing too hard to explain what had happened!
Although those two years were hard at times and I often worried that I was wasting time stuck on one book, in the end it was all worth it. I’m so grateful I have an agent who also fought for this book – again and again! – and that I found the most perfect dream team at HQ Stories, who have championed both myself and Midnight.
I love that you always write about such strong female characters. Aleja from The Ship of Shadows is intelligent and resolute. Marietta in Midnight in Everwood has such strong convictions in her own beliefs, even in a society that expects otherwise. What advice would you give to female writers struggling to get noticed?
To be persistent and determined. Nothing else matters as much. When I was at school, followed by university, I wasn’t the best writer. I was good, sometimes very good – reading and writing have always been my strengths – but there was always someone better, more talented. I used to think that meant they would be published instead of me, but that wasn’t the case. I simply refused to give up. I was so hungry to become a published author that I was determined to make that happen, to write as many books as it took until someone noticed me.
My advice is to remember that persistence and determination are much more important than raw talent. That said, I realise I am coming from a place of white privilege and the situation is much harder and more complex for some.
Tell us one thing you love about being a traditionally published author, and one thing you don’t like.
I love the support. My editors – Emma Jones at Puffin and Katie Seaman at HQ Stories – have been incredible to work with and I’ve learnt so much from them. At both publishing houses, I’m very lucky to have an entire team of people supporting me, all working together to make sure that my book is the best it can be and cheerleading me when I need it.
I have always known I wanted to be a traditionally published author and that’s what I’ve aimed towards, but the hardest part is that you might have a brilliant idea you want to write, but there is no guarantee it will become a book. Your current publisher might prefer other ideas, or you might decide to write it out of contract and spend months and months working on it… for nothing!
There is a lot of working for free without the promise of getting paid. Sometimes, that risk will pay off, like it did for Midnight, but other times it won’t, and that rejection can be difficult as well as financially challenging.
What’s next in the works for you, if there’s anything you’re able to share?
I can share that my next book for adults will be announced sometime soon and I’m very excited about it! It’s Swan Lake meets The Great Gatsby, set across the 1920s, and will be another beautiful hardback!
Thanks again to author Maria Kuzniar for being on the blog to chat about traditional publishing. I hope this post helps you all get an insight into what traditional publishing is like! Remember that you can find out more about Maria Kuzniar and her books at her website.