Summer Book Club Part 5: Victorine Lieske

Summer Book Club time again… And the first ever MWi post from sunny England. Minus the sunny, of course. 😦

Just a few hours ago I fleetingly met the infamous Saffi herself,and over the coming weeks we’ll be getting together properly to get the new book back on track and chase up numerous other projects, but here at MWi, just a few days late, it’s the next installment of the Summer Book Club.

Scott Nicholson

In theory this is all about Victorine Lieske, but first a quick rewind to last week’s SBC guest, Scott Nicholson.

J Carson Black

Because Scott this week became the latest of the SBC gang to acquire a publishing contract with Amazon imprint Thomas & Mercer, hard on the heels of the contract signed, also with Thomas and Mercer, by SBC member J. Carson Black.

For anyone who missed these stories, check out David Gaughran’s coverage while I was skiving off-line.

David Gaughran on the J. Carson Black deal here.

David Gaughran on the Scott Nicholson deal here.

David Gaughran

And by coincidence of timing David will be here in e-person on MWi tomorrow with a post of his own, actually arranged some weeks before either of the deals mentioned. Serendipity at work again!

HP Mallory

Just time here also to mention SBC member HP Mallory has launched her book How I Sold 200,000 E-Books: A Guide for the Self-Published Author. For reasons as yet unclear it’s only available on and Barnes & Noble, so not much use for us this side of the pond, but sure to be a valuable resource for those who can access it.

Okay, back to today’s SBC member, the one and only Victorine Lieske.

Here Victorine talks about her New York Times bestseller Not What She Seems. Yep, Victorine made the NYT bestsellers’ list with her debut indie-published novel!

Needless to say we’re all jealous as hell, especially as this side of the pond that’s the sort of media acceptance we can only dream about. Here in the UK the media are doing their best to pretend e-books don’t exist (although Louise & Mark are doing a great job breaking down that particular barrier). The UK has a long way to go to catch up with the US in that respect.

Having written an unquestionable best-seller Victorine has now gone and written in a very different genre, with total disregard for the gatekeepers’ rules (even progressive agents like Rachelle Gardner sadly are still fighting the one-genre-is-compulsory battle). I’ll be dragging Victorine back here as soon as I can to tel us more about that.

Meanwhile, here’s Victorine on her breakout debut novel Not What She Seems:

You know, it’s funny, I never set out to become an author. I thought it would be cool to be able to tell people that I wrote a novel. That was my whole motivation. It’s really kind of a silly thing, now that I think about it.

And of course, being a silly thought, I wasn’t very serious about it. I started a novel once, then about ten pages in I lost interest in it. Years later I started another one, but got busy and it never went anywhere.

Victorine Lieske

Then, one day I was getting my daughter out of the car and my back seized up. I literally couldn’t move. I was put on bed rest to heal. Since I was stuck in bed with nothing to do, I decided to write that novel I always wanted to write. Easy, right? I set my laptop on my lap and just started typing. I wanted to write about a rich business man going incognito and meeting up with a woman on the run. I thought it would be fun to combine a light romance with a suspenseful mystery. I finished the first draft of Not What She Seems in one week. (I had no idea that was fast for a first draft. I knew nothing about writing.)

After finishing that first draft I thought I was done. I didn’t know writers edited. Funny, right? (Really, it was more scary than funny.) Luckily I decided to figure out if my book was any good. That’s when I found I submitted my book, chapter by chapter, through the critique website. I learned that my first draft needed work. A lot of work! In fact, I threw out the last half of the novel and rewrote it. Then I submitted the book again. It took me four years to get the book into shape.

But I knew I had something interesting when I got comments from other authors telling me they couldn’t wait to read more of my book. They would ask me why my book wasn’t published already, and ask when the next chapter would come out. Honestly, this is why I kept going with it. I loved hearing the feedback from people who enjoyed reading my story.

Even though I’ve sold over 113,000 copies and made it on the NYT’s best seller list and signed with an agent, I can honestly say my favorite part of this whole journey is when I get an email from a fan. It makes it all worth it.

Victorine’s novel, Not What She Seems is 99 cents on Kindle and Nook.

Keep your eyes on the Summer Book Club Facebook page, Victorine will be giving away a free signed paperback copy of Not What She Seems.

Thanks for joining us, Victorine.

One week to write the first draft, four years to get it to the stage where she was happy to publish. And didn’t that wait pay off!

Victorine mentions critiquecircle, but there are many other peer review sites our there, like youwriteon, authonomy, protagonize, etc.

So what’s your experience of peer review sites? I know many regulars here, including  Tom Winton, Marion G Harmon, Dan Holloway, Prue Batten, Miriam Longman, Charley Robson and Gerry McCullough are old hands at the peer review sites. What’s your experience of them? Good or bad? Or have you totally by-passed them?

Come on, guys. Spill!

  1. I’ve joined a couple of peer review sites over the years. One was very helpful. One not so much.

    The biggest problem with most of them is that they’re full of people who have NO idea what they’re doing, yet they’re happy to tell you what you should be doing (usually they’re wrong). You have to be able to separate out the wheat from the chaff. So to speak. But if you can, you can glean some real gems.

    I found one of my fabulous critique partners through one of these sites. Her input and support has been invaluable.

    I no longer find these sites particularly useful, personally. But for someone new to writing, it’s a good way to get unbiased (well, sometimes unbiased) feedback.

  2. Well my only experience is on Protagonize. I’ve found them to be a warm and welcoming group of people. But I’m still left wondering if my peice is fit for publishing, because they are such warm and wonderful people… yet on the other hand my story has gained a few die hard fans, who point out my gramatical mistakes and typos, while begging for more. So I suppose I’m not horrible. I do know my tirlogy needs an overhaul edit to alihgn them better with each other.

    Still I love Protagonize. I get to talk to the authors, without being hindered by my shyness (that I’m slowly working my way out of). Not to mention the cool epopel I’ve become good e-friends with (or that my characters have become good firends with… You all understand right?).

    I remember one really cool thing was Miriam let me help plot one of her stories. All I had to do was ask my insanely curious questions for her to think about, reply to and then eventually write from.

    So if peer review sites are great at getting you nearly instant feedback and a feeling of community. What’s it like for a published book?

    :} Cathryn Leigh

  3. Yes, Mark… over the years I have used to good effect for peer review. I have no access to a competent critique group close to where I live and YWO filled that gap more than adequately. And I would highly recommend it for that reason.

    When I first joined (2008) it was incredibly constructive. The writers who belonged then were knowledgable and helpful and have become good friends. I valued every moment I had on the site. I still go back to chat on the forums occasionally. I’ve put all my past books up for examination… I needed to know if I was going in the right direction.

    But it requires dedication, because when you ask for review you must build points and must review randomly selected other pieces of work which takes a lot of time if one is going to do it properly. I learned more from critiquing others than critiques my own might have received.

    The current WIP hasn’t been to YWO because of the that very time factor and it may not. But like all my other work, it will go for professional editorial assessment once its finished (a week, Victorine? Gad! It’s been eighteen months so far.) To me, that’s the greatest thing I can do for any piece of work because then it is being examined by true professionals in the trade. That’s when it gets really serious.

  4. I recommend YWO to anyone who doesn’t have a local writers group they can turn to. The quality of critiques varies extremely, but quantity has a quality all its own and when you’ve got 20+ crits on a piece you’ve submitted, you can tell if your work is pushing the right buttons and why.

  5. Well, Mark and I both have experience of YWO and Authonomy. I HAVE to say that YWO is worth a visit, because it is where Mark and I met!

    Without it, there would be no Saffina Desforges, ‘Sugar & Spice’ and we wouldn’t be launching our next book in a weeks’ time. So, I guess they have their uses! 😉

  6. @ Shea (for some reason the system won’t let me use the direct reply option).

    You’re right, the downside, so to speak, of peer review is that some reviewers have little experience, let alone expertise, and sometimes that can be counter-productive.

    That works both ways. When reviewing someone else’s work I am often faced with writing a critique of a genre would not normally engage in (not that there many of those!) or at least had no real experience of.

    For example I first came across “steampunk” last year on a peer review site and was just totally at a loss as to how to respond.

    I’ve also come across some of the best books I’ve read on peer review sites, and met lots of great writers through them, several of whom I predict will go on to huge success in the future.

  7. @ Catherine – the feeling of community and belonging is one of the biggest benefits, unquestionably.

    Protagonize is very different from, say, youwriteon or authonomy, and each site brings its own quirky charms and its own downsides.

    Protag’ seems a great starting place, but a site like youwriteon would be a logical next step, and then authonomy as and when you have a complete manuscript.

  8. @ Mesmered – time is the big killer. I love getting on sites like these and discovering future stars, and where appropriate giving (hopefully) helpful advice to those who have a long way to travel to get to that point.

    But time is always the enemy. Time spent reading, reviewing and following up on future stars is time that could be spent on promotion and marketing one’s own work, or writing the next.

    But I think we owe it to ourselves and to the writers of the future to share our experiences, good and bad, and help give other writers a leg-up on the ladder to accomplishing their dreams.

    I’m really looking forward to being able to get back on the peer review sites regularly, for just a few hours every week, and to support those up-and-coming stars. To pay it forward, as Catherine Ryan Hyde might have put it.

  9. @ George – a fine example of youwriteon paying dividends. I came across George on youwriteon last year while he was still playing the ancient game of query and submission and I received his first 7000 words for review.

    I was stunned by the quality of this work (convinced this was a professional writer sounding out a new angle under a pseudonym) and tagged this author as a future star.

    George will be back here on MWi later this month explaining how, after just a few months, he is already on target to make more money than any realistic advance he might have expected by following the old route, and how he is taking full advantage of the opportunities afforded by digital to do things legacy publishers would never dream of.

  10. @ Wassername – Saffina who?

    T’is all true. The Saffina Desforges Partnership began through a random allocation of a review on youwriteon just a year ago.

    Sadly despite being one of the biggest success stories of youwriteon that site is tied so closely to legacy publishers like Random House and its own POD interests that it goes out of its way to ignore the digital opportunities for indie writers.

    And the same can be said for authonomy, which is closely ties to Harper Collins.

    Clearly neither site wants to promote the reality that digital is the future, because the legacy publishers backing these sites will lose potential future income when those writers realise they can make more on their own.

    Until youwriteon and authonomy can overcome that barrier of short-term self-interest they will continue to be of limited value to new writers.

  11. I used to belong to Authonomy before I self-pubbed. I became quickly aware that it was more of a game than anything constructive. Everyone vying for your vote so that they could eventually get their manuscript into the hands of the editors who ran the site. I wasn’t impressed, so I took my book off. A little while later I self pubbed. Now I have six beta readers who are fabulous. They range in age from 15 to 65 and one is a teenage boy. (even though my books are aimed at teenage girls). Between them they give me great feedback and tell me what is working and what’s not etc.

    I think I always felt uncomfortable having my unpublished manuscript “out there” even though we have pretty tight copyright laws in the US. But that’s just me 🙂

  12. @ Alison: Authonomy went through a really bad period where contributors tried to play the system in the hope of getting the supposed professional reviews from those in the know by climbing the charts.

    I think it still suffers badly from this obsession by some with chart hopping.

    A similar situation exists with youwriteon, where higher ranking pieces get seen by the professionals.

    That said, there are some seriously good works in the top ranks on youwriteon, and unlike on authonomy it’s not so easy to play the you-back-me-and-I’ll-back-you game.

    Bottom line is both sites have their good and bad points.

    From a writer’s perspective, far better to have a great group of beta readers you trust.

    But for those starting out I would recommend giving both youwriteone and authonomy a try. Just don’t expect even a suggestion that e-publishing might be an option, because both sites go out of their way to pretend it doesn’t exist.

    Feedback is essential to help anyone self-edit, whether or not they will submit to a professional editor down the road. And for those interested, Anne R Allen has a great post by Sam Park on self-editing, just gone live a few hours ago.

  13. Thanks for the shout-out, Mark. Samuel’s tips are great, and they contradict what 90% of the people on those critique boards say.

    I have heard really great things about, so it’s good to hear it’s still top notch.

    I’ve never visited YWO, but it sounds good too. Any critique site can be useful as long as it’s about helping and not competition.

    But I’m wary of those competitive places like Authonomy, and other sites sponsored by publishing companies, because they draw people who are, well, competitive. And like to game the system.

    If people are trying to “win” they are probably not going to give you much real help. Also, even if you make it to the top, nobody of any importance is likely to notice you, no matter what is advertised.

    It’s better to put energy into building platform, researching publishers and agents and sending out queries, if you really want to go the corporate route..

    If you can meet a few sympathetic (& good) writers on a competition site, that’s great, but then I think it’s best to form your own small group. it feels safer and you’re more likely to get really honest advice.

    Thanks for sharing your story, Victorine!

  14. Very cool! I’m so excited that five of your group got to move forward in their career by making great decisions for themselves. I just did a blog on my grog about crossing genres and how it’s a big NO NO…until…..

    I was talking, emailing, Scott Nicholson on a different issue, and he encouraged me to do something like your summer book club. AND I’m excited to say that it’s in place with a few authors Indie and traditional published. I’m super excited and can’t wait to spill the details!!

  15. Great post from Victorine! I hate when I hear people write a book in a week (I am a SLOW writer), but love when I hear they took four years to revise it. That’s more my speed. How wonderful that she made the NYT Bestseller list!

    And Mark – it’s too bad that England is lagging behind the US in self-publishing, but they will catch up. It’s only a matter of time.

    I’m curious to read Mallory’s Kindle book as well as John Locke’s (How I Sold 1 Million Kindle E-books in Five Months).

    • Miriam
    • August 13th, 2011

    Yay, I’m mentioned.

    Ha, it’s funny Mark, but when I started reading your blog our email conversations were me arguing against e-books, and half the time they still are, yet when I’m talking to my parents I’m backing it. It’s weird. They don’t understand the industry at all, and I’m trying to explain it because they still think that e-publishing is some massively weird thing that only morons do. You wouldn’t believe it was me if you heard me discussing it with them.

    I’m thinking, after reading all these posts by e-book authors, that I really need to get a Kindle. Unfortunately I lost my camera while sailing (on the first day, so I didn’t lose any pictures thank goodness!) and have to go out and buy a new one on Monday before I go to France, which means I don’t have the money for a reader at the moment 😦 But I will get one soon.

    So watch out, MWi writers, you might get a new reader soon. Sure I don’t know anything about mysteries (which a lot of you seem to write) and I’ve never been a fan of romance, but if it’s got words I’ll read it. Especially if it’s cheap.

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