When I first heard about Sunni Overend, I knew I had to know more, for two reasons 1) Her book ‘March’ sounded like so much fun 2) Since self-publishing, Sunni has gone on to secure a two-book publishing deal with Harper Collins.
‘March’ is the story of Apple March, an aspiring fashion designer whose career ambitions have come unstuck due to a highly embarassing and shameful incident at her design school, the highly prestigious Emmaline Gray Academy. Apple is also a little unlucky in love…
As a piece of commercial fiction, March absolutely delivers. If you like The Devil Wears Prada, then you need to nab this book faster than a half-price pair of Jimmy Choos.
It’s an absolute pleasure to welcome Sunni to Book Birdy…
‘March’ is a lovely, fun story with a fashiony heart and a happy ending. What made you want to write the story of Apple March?
My protagonists want what most modern women want: an independent life spent doing what makes them feel alive. At the time of writing March, I was involved in fashion and interested in exploring a protagonist whose creative fervor centred on the sartorial. I have a number of creative interests, and because writing wins out every time, I sometimes use it as a tool to examine lives I’ll never have the time to lead.
I like my stories to be uplifting and redemptive as it offers an escape from what most of us endure day to day. My protagonists – like Apple – still encounter their fair share of obstacles, but it’s the overcoming of doubt and failure that makes success so sweet.
Can you tell me a bit about your journey to becoming a published author?
One Spring, age 24, I was reading a fabulously escapist novel by Maggie Alderson and I remember laughing out loud and thinking, is there ever a happier time than when I’m lost in a story?
My late mother, Jenni Overend, was a teacher of writing and an author of five award winning children’s books, so it never occurred to me that it would be huge leap to go home from holiday and just “start writing”.
I grew up in a creative household and whenever I uttered the words “I’m bored”, my mother would say “go and do something creative!” This was of course very annoying but it must have worked because my younger years were spent playing the piano, holding art exhibitions in the cubby house, and writing and acting in plays for school. Still, I never thought I’d grow up and be a writer “like Mum”, not until the day I started writing my first novel.
When I did start at age 24, I’d graduated a few years earlier from a Bachelor of Graphic Design and was running my own online fashion store (and studying yoga teaching!), but when I began to write I became totally hooked and everything else began to pale away.
When my first manuscript was finished, I shelved it as practice, began March, and writing has been my main event ever since.
What took you down the route of self publishing ‘March’?
I was thrilled and excited when the manuscript of March was picked up by literary doyenne Lyn Tranter at Australian Literary Management. After a few years working hard on both my first manuscript, then March, signing with Lyn was a huge reward. I also knew that this first step was something that even life-long writers never achieved, so I felt very fortunate. My mother had become quite sick with breast cancer at that time, and I still remember her pride and delight when I told her the news in hospital.
The submission process with Lyn began well with immediate interest from Penguin. However quite a bit of editorial to-and-fro later, Lyn decided to take the manuscript elsewhere and when there was a sudden market downturn, publisher’s responses become “we enjoyed this, but it’s not the right time for us”. This was both encouraging and very disappointing all at once.
Eventually Lyn suggested e-book publishing but I decided to try my luck at self-publishing instead. Lightning Source – a worldwide print-on-demand service – had just opened in Melbourne, and I hoped that with my combined design and writing skill, I’d be able to produce a well-rounded product. The journey that followed was epic and exciting, and though it was also challenging and exhausting, it was an opportunity to connect with excited readers and this gave me the confidence to embark on my next manuscript (which has now been picked up by Harper Collins!).
I understand you have a fashion background. Do you see synergies between fashion and writing?
I think the creative process is very similar across all disciplines. I’ve enjoyed drama, design, fashion and writing, and my husband’s an architect, so we’re often designing and making things for our home. I’ve found that the more you learn and mature creatively, the more effective you’ll be when applying yourself to any medium. Skill is another thing altogether however, I’m constantly thinking up things I’d like to make and have no idea how, it’s very annoying!
Who are your writing influences, and why?
My stories are centred around modern female characters and dialogue, so perhaps unusually, I get a lot of my inspiration from screenwriters like Lena Dunham, Tina Fey, Shonda Rhimes and Amy Poehler, to name a few. Coming from a predominantly visual background, I also find myself taking cues from a good deal of non-literature creative work.
What advice would you give to other people considering self publishing?
Self-publishing March gained me some great publicity, including being in the Cosmopolitan Fun Fearless Female awards. Putting the book “out there” enabled me to connect with excited readers whom I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to connect with had I not self-published. This made the process completely worthwhile.
For those considering self-publishing however, I’d suggest assessing what you want to get out of the process and whether the financial and (huge) energetic outlay would be better spent crafting your next piece. No matter how talented and self-confident you think you are, it can prove incredibly daunting to tackle the task that is bringing a book to life, then selling it to the world. You’ll be doing what an entire team at a publishing house would do, all by yourself, and (presumably) without any experience.
I understand you now have a two-book deal with Harper Collins, which is AWESOME! How did that come about?
A few months after the launch of March, I knew it was time to start writing again, and a year and many drafts later, I had the beginnings of something.
I knew early on that I’d try for traditional publishing again, so upon finishing the work, I decided to reach out to a new literary agent who’d shown interest in my work previously and whom I suspected may “get” the style of women’s fiction I was writing.
Success! Connecting with Jacinta di Mase, was like a dream come true. She immediately grasped my writing and story telling style, and this meant things flowed very quickly and naturally from there. I couldn’t speak more positively of how Jacinta handled the manuscript and pitch, and very quickly after we sent it out, Harper Collins Australia came back offering a two-book deal for the current manuscript and my next. It was a very validating and exciting moment.
Can you tell us something about what you’re working on now? When will we see it published?
My new manuscript will be published by Harper Collins Australia in 2016. Expect characters in creative turmoil with wardrobes better than Vogue, sexual angst and frustration to rival True Blood, interiors from Belle and more food porn than Instagram. Have I sold you yet? Haha. The following book is slated for 2017…more on that to come!
Thanks for having me on bookbirdy.com, Cassie, good luck with your own writing projects!
Thank you Sunni!
To buy March or finding out more about Sunni, visit sunnioverend.com (the site is beautiful BTW, so visit it just for that)