Are online writing platforms changing agent dependencies and the publishing world? It’s a question that goes on to be at the heart of my conversation with Estelle Maskame, author of the best-selling Did I Mention I Love You? trilogy. “My publishers came direct to me, so I felt there was no need for an agent. Because they don’t publish as many books per year as larger publishers do, they’re able to really focus on their authors. They give me a say on everything and it’s great to be able to talk to them about any concerns I have. I’ve learnt about what it really means to be an author.”
Maskame works with Black & White Publishing, an independent publishing house in Edinburgh. Their YA imprint, Ink Road, has seen great success since it launched 18 months ago. Maskame’s first book in the DIMLY? trilogy was published as Ink Road's inaugural title, and since then the imprint has gone on to successfully publish authors such as Lauren Price and Rachel Cotton, another two young writers who'd developed their storytelling craft and growing their audience by publishing sections of their work via Wattpad. Maskame argues that this sort of platform - where publishers are directly able to gauge the reaction of a readership to a story - is what's enabling a publisher-author approach.
At 21, Maskame already has a remarkable five books to her name, and she credits the ability to publish only as being a part of her development. “I’ve always loved writing from a young age. We did it once a week at primary school, and it was my favourite time of the week. But that wasn’t enough for me and I started doing it at home and that’s how it grew into a hobby. By the time I was 13, I started to share my work on several different writing platforms and promoted myself across social media. Over a couple of years, I got about four million hits online and my book deal followed at 17.”
Following her book deal, the DIMILY? trilogy went on to become an international bestseller, with rights sold in 14 territories. Now writing full time, a determined work ethic is certainly one of the reasons for Maskame’s success. With over 150k followers on Twitter, she’s built up a loyal fan base who enjoy interacting with the author and talking about the characters in her book. “I have fun as an author and I don’t like to overthink what I’m writing. If I’m having fun, I think that comes across to my readers. Talking to them and sharing thoughts on the characters is part of that.”
What about her writing process? “I'm a 'pants-er' all the way. I go into a story with a basic premise and as I start writing it develops. I can only see ahead for the next two or three chapters, but once I’ve finished them I know what’s going to happen next.
“It can be daunting to sit down and write an entire book. But it’s just one chapter at a time. Once I finish my first draft, I go back and edit it from the beginning. It takes a while but the end result is always worth it.”
And then back to another advantage of having developed work in front of a loyal online audience. “I’ve learned so much about my writing and plotting from gauging reader reaction. That came first, and now I have an editor to discuss plot holes and structure with. Any sort of critique like that has always really helped shape the eventual finished book.”
And what about the current YA market? What is it about the genre that enables books to really catch fire?
“YA pushes the boundaries more than any other genre. It often gets criticised as 'just for kids', but it deals with issues that adult novels don’t often touch upon. There’s so much going on in the world; for example conversations around LGBTQ+ and mental health are just a couple of examples of important recent issues really being addressed in YA fiction.”
And just one more thing before her publicist calls time on the interview. What advice would you offer to others just starting out on their writing journey? “Have fun with it. Don’t worry about other people reading your work and whether they enjoy it. As long as you’re enjoying it and it’s the story you want to tell, that's what really matters.”
Estelle Maskame started writing at the age of 13 and completed her DIMILY trilogy when she was 16. She has already built an extensive and loyal fanbase for her writing around the world by sharing her work in instalments on the digital platform Wattpad. The DIMILY trilogy has now been published, with rights sold in 14 territories and becoming an international bestseller. Estelle won the Young Scot Arts Award in 2016, and has been shortlisted for the Young Adult award at the Romantic Novel of the Year Awards. Dare to Fall is Estelle's first novel following the success of the DIMILY trilogy. You can check out her website or follow her on Twitter.