Denise Barnes | Historical Novelist

Self-published author achieves traditional publishing deal

Author profile

Denise Barnes had set up and run a successful chain of estate agents in the South East, but she left all that behind to realise her dream of writing her first novel. Throughout her career, she had juggled her love of writing by completing an Open University degree and writing short stories to keep in practice. Denise’s first book was a humorous memoir, from Bad to Wurst, detailing her earlier life as a veggie cook in a Bavarian sanitorium, which she self-published. Her second book, Seller Beware: How Not To Sell Your Business, revealed Denise’s own experiences of selling her business after she was duped by a pair of charlatan buyers and subjected to a legal battle. This one was picked up by the political and current affairs publisher, Iain Dale of Biteback Publishing.

Her first foray into historical fiction saw her writing under the pen name Fenella Forster, where she created The Voyagers trilogy, all published by SilverWood Books. In 2016, she secured a traditional publishing deal with Avon HarperCollins for three historical fiction novels, which were penned as Molly Green; these proved very successful, with two of them hitting the Amazon Kindle chart at No. 1. She is currently writing her sixth Molly Green novel for Avon.

Challenge - restructuring one book into two

"When I first completed my first novel, it was over 150,000 words! I couldn’t believe I’d managed it because it had been a real challenge. I felt very proud to have finished it," says Denise. But when she submitted it to several agents and publishers, although she regularly received encouraging feedback, none took the chance to sign her up as a debut author. Eventually, she was given some solid advice: to split the interwoven stories into two separate books to make a clear story for the grandmother, Annie, and then bring Juliet, her granddaughter, to life in a sequel. As Denise had already started to write a sequel about Kitty, Annie’s daughter, it became clear that a Voyagers trilogy would give each character room to shine.

Denise recalls, "I was getting despondent with the rejections, so after following the advice to split my book into two, I then went on to look at options for self-publishing again. My critique writing partner, Alison Morton, had already published the first of her substantial thriller series with SilverWood Books. She’s a perfectionist, so I knew the company came highly recommended. I also sent off for a sample book from another self-publishing house but was not impressed with the cover and particularly, the poor editing. I was determined my books should stand side by side with traditionally published books. And it’s clear from the covers and their quality that it’s Helen’s mission to make sure SilverWood Books do just that."

Choosing a pen name to suit the stories

Having written her first two books under her own name, Denise wanted to use a pen name for her historical fiction. She chose Fenella as she felt it was a more romantic name, and Forster after her true, but unknown, maternal grandfather. Then SilverWood turned her ideas for the cover into a perfect cover design for Annie’s Story, which Denise was thrilled with.

For all three novels in The Voyagers trilogy, Denise went to an independent literary agency, Cornerstones, to help her with the structural editing process and then worked with a SilverWood copy-editor and proofreader to finalise the manuscripts. After her first experience of self-publishing, it was important to Denise to have a good relationship with her publisher. She says, "With from Bad to Wurst, the promising start of the relationship with the publisher/owner deteriorated. Whereas Helen [at SilverWood] is a people person; she always took my calls and where she did need to pass me onto someone else in the team, they would respond quickly and efficiently. Enthusiastic and friendly, they really made me feel like I was their only author."

Outcome for the author - a publishing deal

Attending the Romantic Novel Association conference, Denise couldn’t pass up the opportunity to pitch her third novel, Kitty’s Story, when she was introduced by a fellow writer to a senior commissioning editor from Avon HarperCollins who invited her to send the full manuscript. Several months passed without word, so Denise assumed they weren’t interested. However, it turned out to be a positive connection; Avon HarperCollins weren’t prepared to take on Kitty’s Story because the rest of the trilogy was already self-published. But they were so impressed with the novel itself, they commissioned Denise to write a fresh trilogy set in wartime and created a new author brand for her. Named after Denise’s mother, Molly, Molly Green was launched into the literary world. Denise has enjoyed writing more novels in the same genre and is delighted to find that Molly Green has become an Amazon international bestseller; her Fenella Forster books had given her the platform to prove she had flair for historical fiction and stamina for writing series.

At SilverWood Books, we will always encourage our authors to seek a publishing deal with the right book. We’re thrilled to see Denise’s success unfold!

Discuss working with SilverWood's Helen Hart by dropping her a line here.

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J A Higgins