Guest blog by authonomy author, Mary Vensel White

Our very own Mary Vensel White's debut novel publishes today, so we've invited her on to the authonomy blog to tell us a bit about how she went from 'the blank screen' to publication. It's been a joy working with Mary - of course the real work is only just beginning anyway - she's a truly talented writer, and we hope you'll all get behind her and spread the word about the wonderful The Qualities of Wood.

Writing into the void

My first forays into creative writing consisted of handwritten poems, poured from my adolescent heart into top-ringed Steno notebooks. Lots of them were about true love, and walking on beaches, and looking for true love while walking on a beach. I would have melted (in a bad way) if anyone had read those puberty-fueled verses. Happily, they existed in a void. During college, I began writing short fiction, each story perfectly formed, above critique and to my great surprise, mostly rejected by anyone who received one in the mail. I couldn’t even imagine a way to improve them and didn’t try much.

Novel-writing is a comprehensive, mind-draining process, as you all know. You plan and plot for months (years!), fighting for the time and inclination to set it all down. Then you finish and re-read your work, delighted with the sheer brilliance facing you on the page, quite overcome by the obvious genius you have unleashed unto the world. But it’s all been, again, in a void: you, typing away day after day with no one to receive it. So you give the manuscript to a few friends or family members and are immediately crushed by their ho-hum reaction, or you’re suspicious of their accolades. Because unless your aunt is a professor at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, the opinion of your family and friends only means so much.

Every writer is different, but for me, after years of scribbling and only a few stories in small journals to show for it, I was tired of writing into a void. I wanted someone to read my work; I wanted to see what I could accomplish with it.

When I posted The Qualities of Wood on authonomy and started receiving comments, it was an alternately sobering and exhilarating experience. Sobering when someone wrote (and I paraphrase) “Sorry, but this was just boring.” Exhilarating when a reader understood my aims or was affected by the themes, or merely loved my writing style and my story. Many, many readers gave excellent and thorough advice. Whenever I underwent an edit of the book (and there have been many), I would always do so with the most helpful comments from authonomy nearby.

Also, I found that reading and commenting on other members’ books made me a much more critical and objective judge of my own work. My participation here has really informed the entire editing process, both taking the sting out and giving me ways to think about things like structure, pace, dialogue. And I no longer felt I was writing into a void. I was conversing with other writers, sharing ideas and influences, talking about the craft. And people were actually reading my work and it was very rewarding.

I was nervous to receive the first round of edits from the authonomy team, once the book had been chosen for publication. It seemed as though they liked the book for what it was, but what if they wanted to reconfigure it to better suit some particular genre, some market? What if they wanted to change the essence of the thing? Luckily, they didn’t. I think the most gratifying part of this whole experience has been finding a home for the book with an editor who liked it for what it was. I’m sure others have it worse, but to tell the truth, my editing process was relatively painless. Mostly small stuff, and none of the bigger changes came as a complete surprise, in part because of the advice received here and from other trusted readers. And so, I was actually anxious to dive in and improve the novel. Apologies to Mr. Pack if he’d rather the authonomy crowd think of him as a cruel, exacting boss, but I didn’t find that to be the case!

I’m very excited The Qualities of Wood has been published with HarperCollins. When I look at the various places I can find it now, online, in some ways it’s like another type of void. The virtual world. People read it and sometimes type something about it; the input reaches me through my computer screen, as it did on authonomy. But I know it’s a wider audience, another portal, hopefully, to the next phase.

What is the next phase, you ask? I have many projects queued up, all waiting for me to do something with them. I’ve just finished a novel, Fortress for One, a small excerpt of which is here (and I’d love critiques!). I’m also working on a collection of interrelated short fiction called “Human Stories,” dealing with archetypal stories and how they can be upended in modern times. And I have another idea pecking in a corner of my mind, something set in the American southwest, something with a Grunge soundtrack and a teenager saddled with an incomprehensible set-back. I hope to coax all of these projects into the light eventually.

The Qualities of Wood is available now from all major ebook retailers, and for one month only at the discounted price of 99p. It is the first novel to be published by HarperCollins under the new authonomy imprint. Thank you to all of the authonomy writers and readers who supported the book on its way to the Editor's Desk.


  1. For once, let this often banned user be the first to say, "Great Job!" I wish there were more like you.

    Congratulations on your well-deserved publication. I hope you write several more on the same theme.

  2. So soo very happy for you, Mary! Off to buy the book!

  3. Where can I purchase this book? Also a note to the publisher: when does it come out on Audio? My Mom wants THAT version!

  4. Congratulations on this momentous event!! I enjoyed reading about the process you've experienced while getting your book through it's new portal to so many screens. I wish you enormous success, Mary!!

  5. Where's the publicity? I expected to see advertisements on the front page of authonomy. Instead, she's tucked away in the blog? Mary deserves better. I hope this changes.

  6. Across the waters - a warm human voice. Lovely write-up. A good reflection on Authonomy they've chosen to publish your story, Mary, and what an honour to be the first.
    Looking up Qualities of Wood on Amazon I have a question - is Authonomy an imprint of Harper Collins, if so, why not acknowledge the offspring?

  7. As Anonymous said, "Where's the publicity?"

    From the October 12 blog:

    "These books will be hand-picked by the Scott and the authonomy Editorial Board, worked on by HarperCollins’ finest publishing teams, and published as HarperCollins digital originals across all possible devices. "

    Each book should, then, have HC's identification as a chosen book, polished by the best editors money can buy, etc.

    It must just be a first book glitch, someone forgetting to carry the ball because they didn't know it was their job. Correct this, please.

  8. Nothing to correct Plain Ice.

    Different online retailers use different elements of metadata for their product listings. Authonomy is an imprint of HarperCollins. Amazon choose to list books by imprint. Apple does so by publisher, so the book is listed as a HarperCollins book at the iBooks store.

  9. I am thankful to you for sharing this awesome post with us..!
    Thesis Writing

  10. Point taken, Scott. I thought the poster was saying the book wasn't being identified as being from either HC or Authonomy. My mistake.

    I suppose we thought that since QoW is the first e-imprint of HC, you might go all-out to give it every possible chance of selling well. Nothing like a quiet introduction to insure a quiet amount of sales.

  11. There is a rainbow beyond all those clouds!

  12. Plain Ice, I bow to your greater publishing knowledge on this one.

    I have found, having published the bestselling ebook in the UK during 2011, that ebooks benefit from a gradual build and that it is best to push them once they have been out for a few weeks. This is very different to traditional publishing where it is all or bust in the first fortnight.

  13. @Scott

    "Gradual build..." That is an interesting conecpt. Is ther an online link to learn more about that topic? I'd be interested in the reasoning.


  14. Quite an idea, Gradual Build. What do you do, plant word of mouth people to whisper the book name to other potential buyers?

    I sort of like the college kids who will wear a silly costume and bounce up and down, do calisthentics, wave their arms and should "Get you taxes done here!" at all the passing cars.

    Well, good luck to everyone. How did you like my analysis of what you need from ebook sales to be able to continue to collect a paycheck?

    sucks to be you, big guy.

  15. Laura Markovitch6 February 2012 at 21:52

    Congratulations on your success! Yes, writing can be a mind-draining experience. It took me two years while working full-time, going to school full-time, and raising my family before I was able to finish, "The Waiting Room." (It is uploaded onto authonomy) I have to say that I have been thrilled with the responses and comments received thus far - only a week up and I've received great feedback. I only hope that I may gain the same success. Kudos to you! I look forward to reading it!

  16. Hi Mary

    Congratulations......and may your writing continue to flow!!!

    Have purchased a copy for my kindle on my lap-top so hope to get reading it soon.....

    As a new author myself I too hope to achieve a main stream publication for my second novel (first was self-published and a nightmare!!!)......

    Well done

    Jennifer (aka Jenna)

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