Success Story with Louise Fein
Louise Fein holds an MA in creative writing from St. Mary’s University and writes twentieth century historical fiction, based around unheard voices, or from unusual perspectives. Her debut novel, People Like Us (entitled Daughter of the Reich in the US/Canada edition) was published in 2020 into 13 territories and was shortlisted for the RNA Historical Novel of the Year Award, 2021. Her second novel, The Hidden Child, will be published in the UK in September 2021 and the US and Canada in October 2021. Louise lives in Surrey UK with her family, two naughty cats and small dog, who is the best writing companion she could ask for. She is currently working on her third novel.
I have always dreamt of being a published author, and when the opportunity arose for me to join the new MA program at St Mary’s University, specifically targeted at writing that first novel, I leapt at the chance. I naively thought I could complete the course and write the novel I had had in my head for a long time, in that one year. So I put my business on hold and decided to give this a shot. Of course, the year turned into several because although I had mostly completed the first draft of what was to become my debut, People Like Us (Daughter of the Reich in the US), it was nowhere near good enough for submission to agents or publishers. The book is set in 1930s Leipzig and is a story of forbidden love, inspired by the experiences of my father’s family who fled Germany for England as refugees in the 1930s.
Early in the course, it was made clear to us just how awful the odds of getting published were; how, if one of the twelve of us achieved publication, that would be an enormous success and that it was most unlikely that any of our first novels would be published at all. So when one of the other students received a publishing deal very swiftly for the wonderful novel she wrote in the course, I thought, well that’s it then. There could not be any hope for the rest of us: all the odds had been used up.
But something inside kept me working on this novel. Sheer dogged determination that I could not give up on this book. So I re-drafted. I sent the finished manuscript out to a few agents, but only received rejections. Something wasn’t quite working but I couldn’t really figure out what. My big breakthrough came when I considered what one of the lecturers had said about my main character. She isn’t really inhabited. He said that he felt she was just watching events happen around her and wasn’t driving the plot. I set about rewriting her, but this time in the first person and in the present tense, and I was away. Just making those simple changes brought her to life. I was her. I travelled in her shoes, experienced every sight, sound, smell. Felt her every emotion. A couple more drafts and I knew the book was as good as I could make it.
This time, when I sent the book out to agents, I had some requests for the full manuscript. I waited several months, but nothing really came of those requests. I had to learn a good deal of patience! I decided to send out another round of submissions. I researched carefully and sent it one Friday to some hand-picked agents I felt might like it. The very next morning I had an email from my now agent saying how much she was enjoying reading it. I danced around the kitchen. That moment is now etched in my mind alongside the news she brought me later that I had secured publishing deals not only in the UK and the US, but also in eleven other territories. It was the stuff of dreams.
Looking back, I think it is important to remember two things. Don’t be put off by negative statistics, and people saying, you can’t. Publishers and agents want good books. The whole industry relies on writers to produce them, and there is no reason at all why it won’t be your book they are waiting for. Secondly, don’t be in a hurry! Publishing requires a LOT of patience. Patience in writing and polishing that draft to get it as good as it can be. Patience in knowing that rejection is part of the process, and patience in knowing that waiting for acres of time is simply part and parcel of publishing.
My debut novel was published, not ideally, into a pandemic when book shops were shut, so every planned event was cancelled. I am very excited to be publishing my next novel, The Hidden Child on 2nd September in the UK and 19th October in the US. I am hoping to have a book launch this time and to see it in shops! The Hidden Child is set in 1920s England. Eleanor and Edward Hamilton, enthusiastic supporters of the burgeoning Eugenics movement, have wealth, status and a happy marriage. But the 1929 financial crash is looming and they are harbouring a terrible, shameful secret. How far are they willing to go to protect their charmed life, especially if it means abandoning their child to a horrific fate?