What does it take to make your dreams come true? First-time author, E.L. Schoeman, has overcome obstacles and adversity on the road to releasing a brand new young adult novel. Isabel is the tale of a spirited young woman who defies the odds, refuses to be defined by the views of others, and attempts to get what she wants at any cost. The same can be said about the novel’s young writer.
24-year-old Schoeman, grew up on a horse farm outside of Caledonia, Ontario. They say write what you know, and she does just that, letting her passion for horses seep into a story of swordplay and secrets. The titular protagonist would rather sleep in the stables than her adoptive father’s home. She’s a noblewoman in name only and is happiest on horseback. Like Isabel, Schoeman has overcome many roadblocks to get where she is today. From illiteracy to health problems, this determined young woman knows what it takes to fight for what you want. I was able to talk to Schoeman about her life, her loves, and the publishing process.
Fresh Print: I feel like we should start at the beginning. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
E. L. Schoeman: I am twenty-four years old. I grew up on a horse farm outside Caledonia. Needless to say, I love horses. I own two of my own. When I’m not writing, reading, or riding horses, I’m usually thinking about what I should write next…or I’m dreaming of riding horses.
Fresh Print: When did you start writing?
E. L. Schoeman: Books and I have had a very long history together. When I was young, my parents were told I would never be able to read or write. Because I couldn’t read, I hated books. Yet, I was envious of my older sister. I would sneak into her room, open her books and look at the words I couldn’t understand and I would think, ‘they must be the most wonderful, enchanting things. If only I had the keys to unlock them.’
I was going to drop-out of high school my first year in. I was failing classes, and no one, just like I had been accustomed to, believed I could do anything.
Fresh Print: What happened?
E.L. Schoeman: In my second year of high school, things changed. I met an English teacher who was different from everyone else. He believed in me. Suddenly, I went from failing to As. In fact, when I told him I’d never received an A before his class, he didn’t believe me. Before the end, I was planning on going to university (something no one expected of me.)
Fresh Print: Which university did you attend?
E. L. Schoeman: I became very ill my last year of high school and had to home school myself for my last months there. I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t do anything. I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia and missed my chance at university.
Fresh Print: But you didn’t give up on writing.
E. L. Schoeman: As months went by, confined to my room, I restarted a story I’d started when I was sixteen. I wrote the first draft of Isabel. It was my way of living—a way to focus the pain that I was in and a way to bring myself hope.
Soon, writing became something I had and have to do. If I don’t write, I feel like shit. I feel purposeless. I feel like I’m spinning out of control. And I feel guilt for every second I’m not writing—as if I’ve done something horribly wrong for stepping away from my books to eat, or sleep, or pay my bills. I have now written six books. Isabel was my first book written, my first book published, and the closest thing to my heart that anything in this world can get.
Fresh Print: How long did it take you to write Isabel?
E. L. Schoeman: It took me eight months to write Isabel, and six years after that to see it published.
Fresh Print: When did you know this was more than just a hobby?
E. L. Schoeman: I knew I wanted to get my work published the moment I knew I wanted to do nothing else but write books. Being a sensible human being, I realize I need money in this world to feed and shelter myself. I hope my novels will permit me to become a full-time writer.
Fresh Print: What was the publishing process like? What was your first step?
E. L. Schoeman: It took six years after writing Isabel to see the book published. I sent the first draft of Isabel to traditional publishers, and they very rightly, sent me some actually very kind rejection letters. The third draft, the fine-tuned draft, wasn’t sent to traditional publishers.
Fresh Print: You decided to self publish.
E. L. Schoeman: I didn’t set out to self-publish at first. I just knew I wanted the book a certain way, and when I learned more about self-publishing, I knew it was the right choice for me and my book. But no, traditional publishers never had a chance to look at Isabel. I wanted full control. I knew that, and once I discovered self-publishing, the decision wasn’t challenging.
Fresh Print: Self-publishing can be tricky. How did you go about editing?
E. L. Schoeman: The process is a long and agonising one. I printed out six copies of the book and gave it to friends and family. Then I had a freelance editor who used to work for Penguin Group take a crack at it. Then it went through an Editorial Evaluation from iUniverse (the company used to print the book.) Then I worked on it some more. Finally, I had a professor go over the story. That was a long, long process.
Fresh Print: What was it like to hold your first novel in your hands?
E. L. Schoeman: Seeing my novel published, holding Isabel in my hands—I imagine is what it must be like to hold your own child in your arms for the first time.
Fresh Print: What tips would you give to those thinking about self-publishing?
E. L. Schoeman: If you’re going down the self-publishing path, don’t rush and edit, edit, edit.
Fresh Print: Thank you so much for talking to us. Do you have any final words to all of the writers out there?
E. L. Schoeman: Never give up. You need persistence, tough skin, and a whole lot of patience. If you’re rejected, put your novel away for three to five months, and then bring it out, go over it, and try again. And don’t choose ‘being published’ over class.