Getting to Know...Emily McDaid, Suspense Author

Emily McDaid is the author of "The Boiler Plot" and the forthcoming, "Tetherbird."
I’m so excited to interview my critique partner, Emily McDaid, today.  Emily and I “met” at, a website that matches up writers seeking other writers to critique their work.  I had the opportunity to read her forthcoming suspense novel, “Tetherbird,” and she gave me some invaluable advice on “Sweet Little Lies.”  Like me, Emily’s background is in PR and I think that’s yet another reason (besides how awesome she is) that we clicked right away. 

Emily’s first book, “The Boiler Plot,” about a PR gal living in London (sounds like chick lit, but it’s not – it’s about a sinister plot to use the internet against the public) was a candidate for “Amazon Breakthrough Novel,” and has been described by several reviewers as “gripping” and “fast-paced.”  If you’ve ever been curious about the world of technology PR, and are looking for a suspense novel that explores white-collar crime, definitely check it out.

Here, Emily talks about her journey to self-publishing, lessons learned and gives a preview of “Tetherbird.”

What’s your writing background?
I have wanted to be an author since second or third grade, but I admit, I wasted a lot of my twenties not really doing much writing. (But living is important, too – it gives us creative fodder!) I took a creative writing class at college at Johns Hopkins (just one – pathetic, really) and loved it. Then after I got my PR career underway, I started focusing more on writing. I just wrote a lot at home, after work, to ease problems or challenges I was facing, etc.  I took another creative writing course in my late twenties at the London School of Journalism, and that’s when things really started taking off.

I submitted a first chapter of the book that would become “The Boiler Plot” as my final project. I also met a really cool group of writers in London and we met at a pub every Wednesday night after work, and used the time to write and critique each other’s work. My group members were amazing writers. From there I really had the writing bug and kept at it until I had a completed novel.

How did you decide to self-publish?
I tried querying agents first and none of them responded with a request to see pages. I was so deflated from the process, it convinced me that the ‘slush pile’ is not only broken, it’s derogatory for aspiring writers, too. I finally decided to take my writing career into my own hands. Self-publishing really suits me. I rue all that time I wasted trying to please agents, when I should have just been trying to please myself and my readers.

What’s been the easiest aspect of self-publishing?  The hardest?
The easiest part is picking a cover. I absolutely LOVE getting involved with artists/designers to create an image that communicates the feeling of a book.

The hardest is marketing your book. Even though I have more than a decade of experience in PR and marketing, I have never had to market a product that has a million competitors.  And those really are the odds you’re up against. Plus it feels icky to constantly be pushing a brand which is essentially yourself.

What’s been the biggest surprise on your self-publishing journey?
How social it is! I’ve met so many amazing people (such as yourself) who also publish their own books. Writing is mostly done in solitude, but marketing a book is all about meeting others who love to read and write.

With the benefit of hindsight, is there anything you would do differently?  Anything you will do differently moving forward?
I didn’t seek professional editing for “The Boiler Plot” because I was a little too cocksure (I thought, ‘I have twelve years of professional writing experience! I will see everything!’).  However, the process of copyediting my own work drove me insane. I am a perfectionist and it’s just really, really hard to properly copyedit your own work.

I have changed that strategy with “Tetherbird,” coming in May. It’s with a professional editor as I write this! It saved me a ton of angst and makes me feel more confident in the final product.

How did you come up with the idea for “The Boiler Plot?”
I wanted to write what I knew, so I wrote about a PR girl. Some of my friends have poked fun at me for writing something so autobiographical in nature, but I felt it was where I needed to start with my books. I no longer feel that way, so my next novel isn’t going to feature an indie writer with two kids!   The scam that occurs in “The Boiler Plot” was pretty easy to come up with, because technologists are very cutthroat and it was easy for me to imagine an internet startup that was evil! If you’re going to write a book about technology, you have to write about Google because, like I say in the book, they really do own and run the internet.

Give us a preview of your upcoming release, “Tetherbird.”
“Tetherbird” is a contemporary suspense novel with similarities to “Homeland,” in that it explores the life of an Afghanistan veteran, and a modern-day “Downton Abbey,” because the veteran protagonist is matched up against a Duke in the quaint English countryside. It explores how our gun culture and the culture of fear may be even more treacherous than war. And like all my books, it questions what we are told by the media, and what we should believe.

The full jacket copy is available here:

What are your thoughts on working with a critique partner?
I admit I used to feel a little intimidated by the process of critiquing. But now that I'm fully comfortable with it (because I have found an amazing one -- you!) I realize it's absolutely invaluable. One of the biggest lessons any writer needs to learn is that you can't put work out before many eyes have gone over it. When more than one reader has the same reaction to a sentence and it's not the reaction you were looking for, it needs to be tweaked or removed.

I can't say enough about the critiquing process. I think it's hugely important to give feedback that follows the guidelines given on the Ladies Who Critique website. (Link: We are all "smart" in the writing business and yet none of know what will sell, not even the most successful author or agent. It's therefore important not to be preachy or condescending and to look at writing as what it is: a piece of art that the writer has spent many hours putting together. Your role as a critiquer is to help the writer say what they were trying to say in a clearer and more concise way. 

Sage advice.  I wanted to ask about your tagline, “character-driven suspense novels.”  Why that particular tagline?
I personally feel the majority of books that fall under the thriller/suspense category are too plot-driven. I tend to dislike books where a lot of people die or books with bombs that will blow up the whole world. For me, what is suspenseful is when a character I have come to know quite well is standing on a train track without realizing it, and as a reader you can see the train coming, but he/she can’t, and you read because you desperately want to get them out of the situation.

I guess another way of saying this is, my books are quite psychological in nature and more about inner people than outer catastrophe. I am quite certain there is a far better tagline out there for me, but I haven’t come up with it yet. The other tagline I use is “mainstream suspense novels,” because I hope the word “mainstream” assures readers there isn’t a ton of gore, or gratuitous violence, and that my books should appeal to lots of age ranges/demographics of readers. Grandmas will like my plots just as much as hipsters. Or so I hope.

How did you decide to write suspense novels?
This is a wonderful question, and I’m not sure I have the answer! I read a ton of historical fiction and mysteries, but I wound up writing suspense novels. My little secret is that I don’t actually seek the suspense shelf first as a reader. My sister thinks it’s hilarious I write in a different genre than I typically read in. I like reading literary stuff but I don’t think my stuff is ever going to fall under the literary category.

I love the challenge of making my stuff stylistically interesting while also making sure it’s commercial. The only answer I have is, when I read a book that is truly suspenseful and I am deeply tied to the characters, those are the books I truly cannot put down and cannot stop talking about or recommending to others. I think I read “Gone Girl,” in about five sittings, I was so engrossed, and I have recommended it to hundreds of people. I don’t necessarily do that with any other genre. Suspense hooks me like no other.

Who’s an author that, when you read their work you think, “I wish I could write like that.”
Tana French – all the way. I love every sentence she has ever written. Other authors that I always think ‘gosh, I wish I wrote like this’ include Gillian Flynn, Tim O’Brien, David Sedaris, the late Stieg Larsson and Kazuo Ishiguro.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Set yourself a daily writing goal and always make sure you do it. I kept mine relatively low: 300 words. I never would have finished my first novel without that daily obligation to the craft. Writing is as much about discipline as about talent, perhaps even more so.

What’s your writing process?
I’m old school. I handwrite my first draft in a notebook. I edit that draft as I type the notes into the computer, so that becomes my second draft. From there I use a bizarre and always-shifting method of revising. I usually wind up rewriting the entire book four times before I’m done with it.

What’s next for Emily McDaid?
I am not sure! I have an idea for a combined sequel to my first two books. (So my first two would both be prequels to it). It revisits the media characters that my readers have liked. However, I would absolutely love to write a standalone satire that focuses on funny family dynamics, parenting and emotional relationships. I just don’t know which one to write first. I usually let my craft tell me what is going to happen.

So I think I’ll just lie low for the next couple months while “Tetherbird” is released, and let some ideas percolate.  The one thing I know is I will never stop writing books because it has been life-changing in such a dramatic and positive way. I’ll never look back.

Awesome.  I can’t wait to pick up my copy of “Tetherbird” when it comes out.  Thanks again and I need to get back to writing so I can have you critique my next manuscript!