An Interview with Mary Vensel White

Today we're very excited and proud to publish The Qualities of Wood by Mary Vensel White. Mary was the very first author to be published under the Authonomy imprint so it's quite a momentous occasion. The paperback is available now in the UK and from June 17th in the US so look out for it in a book shop near you!

We caught up with Mary when she came over to London a few weeks ago, to ask her about her experience on Authonomy and how she's adjusting to becoming a published author.

Authonomy: You’ve mentioned that, like any author, you received both positive and negative comments when you first started out on Authonomy. What advice would you give to Authonomy authors about dealing with these comments and deciding which would help develop your writing? 

Mary: I quickly realised that one of the benefits of Authonomy would be the feedback from other writers and readers. I think when you first start out, and give your work to a couple of people, anything they say that isn’t so positive, even if they’re trying to be helpful, cuts close to the heart because you’re just not used to it. One of the great things about Authonomy is that you can, if you’re a great member and you take part,  get a lot of feedback and yeah, some of it’s positive, some of it’s negative, but over time each individual comment counts for less and you’re able to see a broader picture.
Another benefit is that it really helped me with the editing process because of that. One person says something about your book, ‘I don’t think the characters are developed’, or something like that, if it repeats over and over it starts to sink in and over time you start to think, ‘Yeah, OK, maybe there’s something to this’. So I think that’s the great benefit of the site and that’s why I still use it. The offer of possibly being published is great but I think feedback was one of the big benefits for me at that stage in my career.

Authonomy: What attracted you to Authonomy in the first place? And in what ways do you think being discovered and published through Authonomy was better suited to you than a more traditional route?

Mary: I first started writing a while ago and then I took some years off, having kids, and when I came back to it, I don’t want to majorly age myself, but when I first started there wasn’t a lot of online activity. Writing is a very solitary endeavour; I think it’s just fabulous that there are things online for writers now.
I like that it was very user-friendly even at that time, several years ago. It was easy to use, easy to upload your work, it wasn’t complicated. I would say even after all my time online now I appreciate that in a website, especially now when we’re all so busy.
I liked, as I said, being able to interact with other readers and writers, that was such an eye-opener for me and such a great thing.
I certainly wouldn’t have turned down the traditional route, if I’d have had that Cinderella story at a party and an agent said ‘This is the best book ever, here’s your million dollars,’ I don’t think I would have said, ‘No, no, I’m on Authonomy’. I, of course, loved the way I was published and I’m still enjoying the whole process. Because it’s online it’s an easier way for those solitary, perhaps not outgoing people to get their work out there. I think it’s great because one thing I’ve noticed these last couple of years is that you’ve really got to have a business hat and a creative hat. I think the vast majority of writers are introverts who aren’t good at business and I’m not saying I am, it’s hard, it’s a constant struggle, so I think it’s great that there’s an opportunity for people who maybe aren’t as outgoing to get the feedback and possibly get published.

Authonomy: You mention the different ‘hats’ you need as an author – the creative one, and the business one. For authors on Authonomy, and authors in general these days, you have to do a lot of your own marketing and publicity. How have you found that?

Mary: I have this whole beg, borrow, steal approach to everything I do, except my writing (although I guess subconsciously probably in that too). I look to people who I think are doing something right and I emulate them. When I first started on Authonomy there was someone who was approaching the site in a way that I thought I wanted to approach the site and that is: be positive, don’t get in petty squabbles, be a good member, give good critiques, be thoughtful. She was doing well, and had made a lot of friends, so I thought, I’ll emulate her and see how she conducts herself. I do that with everything. When I was designing my website I looked around at author websites and saw ones that I thought were working well.
As far as business things, I’m lucky that my husband is in the corporate world. I did work in an office for a while, years back, and had a couple of women there who were mentors to me at a young age as far as how to conduct yourself in certain ways. I was very shy, my whole life, I still am I guess, but my husband is always my go-to as far as ‘what should I do in this situation’. He’s a lawyer, so, for instance, today he said, ‘I can’t believe you’re gonna wear jeans,’ and I said, ‘These aren’t lawyers! I think I’m already a little overdressed, it’s fine, it’s fine.’ So I take his advice with a grain of salt because he’s in a different world. But yeah, it doesn’t come naturally to me. I do enjoy it though, I’ve done a couple of conferences where I’ve presented and given workshops, I mean it was horrible torture, don’t get me wrong, but I also enjoyed it. That’s very surprising to me because even in college, I had a speaking class that was just awful, I thought I was going to be ill every time I got up. So to get up 20 years later and teach a class – there’s no way I would have ever thought I’d do that! So it’s been kind of nice too, though I could maybe do away with some of that stuff.

Authonomy: Was there anything that surprised you about the publishing process, or did you feel quite well prepared?

Mary: I think the positive aspects of it were surprising. I’m continually surprised by how nice it feels – and kind of surreal – that people like the book. I keep trying to think of metaphors about what it’s like but it’s not like having children, like people say ‘it’s my baby’, it’s not like that. It’s just so gratifying to have people supporting your book, it’s strange, I guess deep down you keep thinking: ‘Oh there’s been some horrible mistake’. I think that’s maybe how we all are about everything, that deep-down grain of insecurity, so to have that support is great. Seeing the early proofs of the book – that was strange, I didn’t anticipate how strange it would be! The time, the waiting, that’s hard. Everything is such a slow process but I think in some ways it’s kind of nice that I’m not getting into this at a super-young age because it’s harder to wait for things when you’re young.

Authonomy: You were saying about writing being quite an isolated process. Do you think that the build-up of putting your work out there for people to give you feedback, and already being in touch with your readers, helped it sink in that people were actually enjoying your writing and that maybe you were actually quite good at it?

Mary: Yeah … maybe I’m just an insecure person, I don’t know. There’s a political aspect to everything, so even on Authonomy if someone likes it you always think, well do they just want me to read their book? I guess you could do that with anything, it just depends what kind person you are. But again, over time you get more and more feedback, and it starts to sink in. I thought the book was good but having all that feedback, it does start to make you believe.

Authonomy: An extract of your second novel Fortress for One and your short story collection Human Stories are both available on Authonomy, do you feel it’s important to keep being involved in the site and the Authonomy community?

Mary: I do, and I wish I could do more. I have a book on my Kindle that I found on the site and asked the author if I could read the whole thing because I really liked it. I like getting the feedback, I like finding new things on there. I have a more streamlined approach to dealing with Authonomy now, which is that I have friends who are active on the site and I’ll see what they’re reading and find a lot of good things that way. And again, I keep making new contacts and new friends, so I really enjoy it. I wish I had more time to go on more often. It’s fun to use your own criteria to find new things, sometimes I’ll go and look at, say, the highest ranked literary fiction this week. I’m sure everybody’s got their own filters and ways of doing what I think the site is intended for and that’s finding things to read. I do like to still be involved, I like to hear what’s going on with people, ‘this person got a book deal’, you know, lots of people have gone on to lots of things from there so it’s nice to keep up.

Authonomy: What do feel the process of being published has taught you? And is there anything you’ll do differently for your next book?

Mary: I don’t know, it’s hard to think ahead. It was a very pleasant process. I guess, however the next book is published, I don’t know if the process would be exactly the same. Tools I could bring to a sophomore effort would be patience, taking edits with a grain of salt, staying focused and not taking things personally, and maintaining that balance between the creative and the business. Those are all things that I think can be taken to the next book. And maybe I won’t be as shocked or mortified by some of those steps! With editing, I think the longer you’re apart from the book – I wrote this book so long ago – the easier it is to take. When you first finish something, you think it’s the best thing ever and it’s very hard to hear anything about it. But over time, if things are repeated, you start to see it too. The Qualities of Wood was written so long ago, I’m pretty thick-skinned about it and able to see it objectively.

You can buy The Qualities of Wood in paperback and ebook here.

You can follow Mary on twitter @mvw888 and visit her website:


  1. One of the hardest things to learn in this business is how to accept criticism (whether it's constructive or not) and it's also one of the most important.

    Enjoyed reading this.

  2. Great interview, Mary. And I love the new cover! Very nice!


  3. My favourite Goodreads friend. I always take note of what Mary reads because she's got such good taste. Enjoyed this interview and look forward to reading The Qualities of Wood.

  4. Congratulations ☼1
    I was waiting for the printed edition, not least because I want to smell it:)
    The cover is attractive, something I'd pick up in a bookshop anyway.

  5. Thank you, friends, for your support. Talented writers and good folk, each of you x

  6. Congratulations at long last, Mary! I loved your original, and I'm sure the published version is even more compelling. So happy for you. :)

  7. Congratulations at long last, Mary! I loved your original, and I'm sure the published version is even more compelling. So happy for you. :)

  8. Wonderful news Mary. Really proud of you. I've always admired your work and I'll be getting a copy of your book. Happy writing!

  9. Great news, Mary - I remember your book well from months gone past, and you deserve every success with it.

  10. Congratulations Mary. Well done and happy writing.

  11. You've done a great job already, Ms. White.

    Can you tell us how many dollars of sales HC says it takes before they turn a profit on your book? Just as a benchmark, not for any firm number.

  12. Cecily Macintyre30 July 2014 at 11:26

    So pleased it's coming in 'real' book format at last. looking forward to having it in my hands.


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