Lessons learned from publishing & creating a community of writers across the world. An interview with Therese Walsh

Back in 2006, writers Therese Walsh and Kathleen Bolton were looking for a writing community. They didn’t find what they were looking for, and to cut to the chase, they set up WriterUnboxed. It’s a pretty good home for writers.

By pretty good I mean that it has been named by Writer’s Digest as one of the best websites for writers for almost ten years running, it has 15k followers on Twitter hundreds of thousands of visitors annually and 40 contributors including industry veterans like Donald Maas and Porter Anderson. It also runs a ‘secret’ promo-free facebook group for over 5k dedicated writers.

Therese’s debut novel THE LAST WILL OF MOIRA LEAHY was a was published by Random House and it was a finalist for a RITA award. Her books have won praise from publications like Booklist and Publishers Weekly. She is also the editor of AUTHOR IN PROGRESS, a collection of practical, candid essays for writers. The way I see it, Therese spends her life steeped in writing and the writing community. I just had to interview her. And so I did. I hope you enjoy the interview!

Tell me about your first draft you ever wrote? How long did it take you? How does it compare to the first draft of your second book?

My very first draft was a children’s picture book manuscript that was never published, and took me a week or two at the most. Compare that to the first draft of my first novel, which took about a year. I spent roughly the same amount of time on the first draft of my second novel. Editing each of those drafts took another year, for each story.

What’s the biggest writing lesson you’ve learnt since writing your first drafts?

Every book will test you as a writer in different ways, so while you may be better at skill X after writing your last story, your next will test you in skill Y. Despite how frustrated this may make you feel, it’s actually a good problem to have; it means you’re a progressive writer.

You’ll never be able to predict how long a story will take you to write.

Why do you write? 

My stories root into something personal for me. My first two novels were ultimately about grappling with the meaning of life after great loss — how to cope, how to carry on — which tapped into the loss of my dad at a young age. My third story — my work-in-progress — isn’t related to anything so personal, but it’s on my mind lately: the danger of false narratives. Looping this back to your question, I think I write to sort through the things that are plaguing me and to hopefully deliver those ideas to people who are struggling with the same issues.

What does your editor bring to your writing?

My last editor (I’ve had several due to the revolving-door nature of the business) brought both a critical eye and generous dollops of encouragement and praise. I needed and appreciated all of those.

How much time and effort do you spend marketing your book?

Probably not enough! Writers need to find smart ways to market themselves and their work without seeming self-promotional, and without the effort wearing them down and taking them away from the work of creating new stories. I haven’t yet found the right balance, but I’m always on the lookout for new ideas.

Writers need to find smart ways to market themselves and their work without seeming self-promotional, and without the effort wearing them down and taking them away from the work of crating new stories.

You run a hugely engaged and motivated group of writers at writerunboxed. How would you describe them?

They are my writing family — generous, wise, and there when you need them.

I believe they are an important fuel that makes us feel much less alone while writing.

Who are your writing heroes?

I have tremendous respect for many, but Barbara O’Neal (a multi-published, award-winning author and contributor at WU) holds a special place for me. I find her to be both a brilliant writer, a generous person, and someone who derives much creative pleasure out of life.

Have you considered self-publishing?

Yes; when rights were reverted back to me from my first novel, The Last Will of Moira Leahy, I self-published. I think it’s a great option for many.

So you self-published! How did you find the experience?  What will you do differently the next time?

I found the experience to be interesting! I had my book deconstructed by someone who then made a PDF from the pages and then a word document from the PDF. The PDF/word document then had to be proofed to check for typos — things like an exclamation point turning into the number one — which was a bit of a slog, but it gave me an opportunity to go through the book again, and even make a couple of minor changes here and there. (I know some writers don’t recommend making changes at this stage of a reboot, but I couldn’t help myself.) I also enjoyed the process of working on a cover and the design elements within the book itself. It was empowering to have control over every aspect, but of course, there’s a downside to that, as all the hours you’re putting into those things are hours you aren’t working on anything new in terms of your craft. But I’m glad I did it, and I don’t know that there’s much I would do differently next time

As an author, where would you like to be in 5 years time?

I would like to have published two additional books and to have developed a rhythm that sustains me creatively.

What do you wish you could change about the publishing industry?

I wish traditional publishers planned for a long-tail in promoting a novel, rather than pushing out books and then moving on to the next books.

 It’s a business, of course, but so much could be done that isn’t being done to support authors and books that have already been published.

What advice do you have for someone stuck on writing their first draft?

If you’ve been stuck for a while, see if you can find a beta-reader to analyze what you have and offer thoughts, question decisions, and push you to consider your story through fresh eyes.

Ultimately, the most success I’ve had at overcoming ‘stuck’ness’ is to write, write, write, so I’d encourage those writers to keep at it. Perseverance is my favourite word.

Want to hear more from Therese? Check out Therese's author website or check out her uber helpful community at Writerunboxed.