A Writer in the Spotlight – Mackenzi Lee

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Hello gentle reader,

I had the pleasure of interviewing YA author Mackenzi Lee in June 2015, a couple of months before her YA Historical Fantasy debut THIS MONSTROUS THING came out. Eighteen months later, and Mackenzi is now an established author, with two books coming out in 2017-2018. I thought it was time to have another chat with her… Hope you enjoy!

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My interview (9th January 2017)

Mackenzi Lee

THIS MONSTROUS THING came out a little over a year ago. What were the highlights of your debut year? Anything you’d do differently?

I’d sort of do everything and nothing differently–in the same way I’d do everything and nothing differently if I could live my life again. So much of what I know at the end of my debut year is because I made mistakes and learned things the hard way, but those mistakes are the reason I now know things.

Don’t think about it too hard.

But there were so many highlights, and I keep thinking about those highlights whenever I’m down or stuck or things feel like I don’t know how to author. Like getting to hold my book for the first time, or the reader who asked me to write a note to Mary Shelley in her copy of Frankenstein, or the reader who showed up to an event with a copy of TMT that she had color coded, or getting an envelope full of mail from an eighth grade class who read the book, or the twin girls who chose to come to one of my events and buy my book for their birthday present, or my childhood librarian sending me a picture of my book on the library shelf, or the guy sitting next to me on a red eye flight buying my book on his Kindle right in front of me.

I think the thing I would do differently would be to try and focus more on these moments, and not the lists I’m not on or the stars I don’t get or the festivals I’m not invited to. But I’m a neurotic writer, so that’s easier said than done. Focusing on the good moments is a lifelong battle.    

Now that you’re published, what would you say has changed in your writing life?

Right before I sold THIS MONSTROUS THING, a grad school mentor told me to enjoy this time before I was published because it was the last time I could write for myself. I thought at the time that was so stupid–publishing is the end game! What’s there to enjoy about not being published?!

Now I understand what she meant, because once you’re published, there’s a lot more to consider every time I make a decision about my writing. I feel like editors and agents and reviewers and readers have all become my internal voice. As a result, the first thing I tried to write after TMT was a disaster because I was so caught up in how backward the process felt when I already had agent/editor/publishing house attached to the book, as well as reader expectations.

But then I wrote Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, as a project that started just for me, that I never intended to let anyone read. Publishing has definitely changed my writing, but I’m trying not to let it change that I want to always be working on things I love and am proud of.

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You have a much anticipated book coming out in 2017, THE GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO VICE AND VIRTUE. Can you tell us a little bit about your inspiration for this story?

I first learned about the concept of the eighteenth century Grand Tour (a sort of gap year young noblemen took in the 1700s between finishing school and waiting to take over their family estate) years ago, when I was a TA for a humanities class in college. It was the sort of thing I shelved in my brain as “something to write about someday.”

I really love playing with tropes and genre conventions in my books–TMT is very much my self-aware Gothic novel. I don’t know when exactly I had the idea to write the same sort of tropey adventure novel set during a grand tour, or what prompted it, but I remember deciding early on that I wanted to write an adventure novel populated with the sort of people who have traditionally  been left out of these sort of narratives—both historical and adventure novely. So my lead trio of my very traditional historical adventure novel interact in various ways with sexuality, race, chronic illness, and gender in ways that adventure novel protags usually don’t.

What type of research did you have to do for this book? Did you go on a Grand Tour of Europe yourself?!

I went on a Grand Tour-ish?

When I was in college, I did a year abroad in England, during which I took my own Grand Tour over the course of the weekends and school holidays, so it was a long, drawn out, sporadic tour. But I did get to visit all the places Monty and Percy go to in the book, and I definitely drew on my memories when I wrote. And I also definitely plotted the book around my favorite cities in Europe. The “road map” of the book was one of the first things I figured out, even before I had a plot.

My favorite research I did for this book was reading the journals and letters of real 18th century grand tourists, both because they were populated by so many colorful interesting details about a daily reality that felt almost otherworldly to me because of how different it was from mine, but also feelings and thoughts and anxieties that I related deeply to. A lot of these grand tourists from the 1700s—men around the same age as me—shared so many thoughts that I do. It was amazing, and definitely shaped how I thought about my novel.

Can you talk a little bit about SEMPER AUGUSTUS, which will come out in 2018?

Oh my yes! This is not a book I am well practiced in talking about yet!

SEMPER AUGUSTUS started from a place of me wanting to dissect my least favorite trope—the girls dressing as boys in historical fiction. But of course it ended up being a lot of other things too—a book about religion and family and first love and community and ambition and loyalty.

It’s set in 1637, during the Dutch Tulipomania which is this very odd pocket of Dutch history where an economic bubble sprung up around tulip bulbs, until, at the peak, single tulip bulbs were being sold and traded multiple times a day, sometimes for the price of a canal house in Amsterdam. Basically 17th century Beanie Babies. SEMPER AUGUSTUS is set during the height of the mania, and is about two siblings trying to pull off a con to sell a tulip bulb for way more than its worth. My family is Dutch, so I have a lot of personal ties to the cultural landscape of the story, as well as the conflict between religion, community, and self.

I’m so excited for everyone to read it. But one book at a time.

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Finally, do you have any reading recommendations? Recent reads that stood out?

I literally always have reading recommendations. Some recent reads that floored me:

My current obsession is Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery, a nonfiction book about octopuses and animal consciousness and emotion. I could have not have given less of a shit about octopuses before this book, and now I am OBSESSED with them. Not only are they basically the most fascinating creatures on the planet,  but Sy writes about them with such elegance. I found this book utterly and unexpectedly riveting.

Also I’m late to the game with Landline by Rainbow Rowell but that book had me inconsolable on a plane. Rainbow is a freaking wizard with words–if I could write sentences half as good as she can, I could die happy. That book made me feel all the things–the most emotionally real and honest novel I’ve encountered in a long time.

Lastly, The Fair Fight by Anna Freeman, a fabulously accessible and high-stakes historical fiction novel about lady bare knuckle boxers in Georgian England. I mean….what’s not to love in that premise alone?

Thanks for the interview, Mackenzi!

You can add THE GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO VICE AND VIRTUE on Goodreads, as well as SEMPER AUGUSTUS.

A Writer in the Spotlight – Sarah Glenn Marsh

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Hello gentle reader,

today I’m delighted to share with you another interview with a YA author! Meet my friend and critique partner, the very talented Sarah Glenn Marsh, author of the upcoming FEAR THE DROWNING DEEP!

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Author: Sarah Glenn Marsh

Website: http://www.sarahglennmarsh.com/

Twitter: @SG_Marsh

Biography:

Sarah writes young adult (YA) novels and picture books in Virginia, where she lives with her husband and four rescued greyhounds. When she’s not writing, she can often be found browsing an antique shop, taking an art class, or watching something scary on TV.
She loves: roses and lavender, stargazing, red lipstick, hot tea, and raising awareness for animal rescue. She loathes: seafood, spiders, and traffic jams. Fantasy is her favorite genre! She sincerely hopes her books take you someplace you’ve never been.

My interview (26th October 2015)

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Did you always know you wanted to be a writer? 

I’m pretty sure I was born with my love of writing! I wrote little books when I was in kindergarten about why I should be allowed to get a dog (and I must’ve done something right, because we got one on my 6th birthday!). I got in trouble for daydreaming and writing stories in elementary school so often that my fifth grade teacher called my mom to discuss it!

In my teens, I took creative writing classes at my high school, but where my love of writing really blossomed was on Elendor, a Lord of the Rings text-based role playing game! Maybe that sounds crazy, or silly, or what-have-you, but…writing collaborative stories in Tolkien’s world taught me so, so much about establishing setting and creating conflict and multi-dimensional characters. I don’t think I’d be a strong writer if not for the countless hours I spent on Elendor.

My big push to pursue publication, though, actually came from my husband. I was complaining to him about my office job one night when he turned to me and said, “So quit. Write a book. That’s what you should be doing anyway. You’re an amazing writer.” And I did leave that awful job. And I wrote many books. And I don’t ever want to stop chasing the dream of a writing career!

When and where do you write?

I write during the day; I’m most focused in the mornings, but I also write through most of the afternoon! As for location, I sometimes write in my office upstairs, surrounded by my favorite books, signed posters, and random nerdy things like my Lord of the Rings and Sailor Moon action figures; other times, I write in our sunny living room while sharing the sofa with a couple of cuddly greyhounds!

What do you say to writers who want to be traditionally published one day?

I’d say: be in it for the right reasons (the love and sheer joy of storytelling!). That way, when terrible things happen on the journey to publication–and they WILL happen at some point, to everyone, in some way–you’ll have your love of storytelling to carry you through the hard times.

I’d also say: be prepared to stay in this for the long haul. Learning to bounce back from rejections is a slow process for some–like sensitive little me!–but it will happen in time. The thing is, it could take years to get an agent, and then several more years to sell a book, and then there’s the 1-2 year wait from publication offer to seeing your book on shelves. This isn’t an overnight thing for anyone, even those who do land agents quickly.

And another thing: make some great writer friends. You’ll carry each other through the publishing process, offering support when things are tough, and celebrating each others’ successes will become some of your best memories!

Wait! Just one more thing: believe in yourself. Learn all you can from everyone else who’s done this before you, but always trust your instinct when it comes to your own stories. That’s how you’ll stay true to your voice and your vision.

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To write FEAR THE DROWNING DEEP, where did you get your inspiration from?

The first line of FEAR popped into my head one night. I knew I wanted to write a book about the sea and monsters, and once that first line came to me, the words just started flowing, and characters appeared–like Morag, the witch! I think FEAR was a result of my lifelong love/respect/fascination with the sea, as well as a reflection of the gorgeous, rich fantasies and fairy tales I read growing up, where ordinary girls were forced to be braver than they could ever imagine.

Your book is set in 1913 on the Isle of Man, how did you research this time and place?

I’m so glad you asked this! My research process was a bit unusual. For one thing, I found some great books from the 1800s on Manx mythology (mainly dealing with fairies and the Islanders’ customs and lore surrounding them), and read those/took notes! I also ordered some Manx history books directly from the Isle–I don’t recommend this though, unless you want to spend a TON on shipping!

I also went to YouTube to look up videos of the Isle of Man TT. This is a famous motorcycle race (for those who aren’t as enthralled by motorcycles as I am!) and my awesome biker dad had mentioned it to me several times growing up. Anyway, bikers from around the world flock to the Isle of Man for this big race around the island each year; it’s actually been happening since the early 1900s! Anyway, I watched videos of the TT to get a sense for the Manx landscape and the accents of the Manx people reporting on the race!

Your book is a Historical Fantasy: how did you find the right balance between historical facts and the fantasy aspects of the story?

This is a tough one to answer without discussing specifics, which might lead to spoilers! But in short, with FEAR, I wasn’t changing any particular aspects of history; I added magical elements that didn’t change the culture or technology of the time, so it never felt as though the fantastical bits were at odds with the history.

I think it helps that the Isle of Man is such an intrinsically magical place, too! If you don’t believe me, just head over to Google and look at some photos (or better yet, go there and take me with you!). I chose to set FEAR on the Isle precisely because the landscape appears to be brimming with magic.

What are you working on now?

I’m always a bit shy about sharing early on, but… my new project is a dark YA epic fantasy that I like to describe as “SABRIEL meets GRACELING.” Think necromancers + LGBT romance + a super cool magic system!

I can vouch it’s a VERY COOL magic system 😉

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What are your favourite books? Any books you’d recommend?

Here are a few favorites that inspired FEAR: literally everything by Patricia McKillip and Charles de Lint; Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier; The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare.

And here are a few favorites I read growing up: Tolkien, Harry Potter (Slytherin represent!), The Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander, The Black Jewels series by Anne Bishop; the Alanna series and the Immortals series by Tamora Pierce; Patricia McKillip’s The Forgotten Beasts of Eld— if you’ve not read this book, GO FIX THAT IMMEDIATELY. Go. Now. I’ll wait.

Lastly, here are a few titles I’m excited for next year that are on my mind: The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig; The Reader by Traci Chee; The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie; The Girl Who Fell by Shannon Parker; Firsts by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn; Into the Dim by Janet Taylor; The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner; Hearts Made of Black by Stephanie Garber; Liars and Losers Like Us by Ami Allen-Vath… I could go on and on! Basically, if it’s by any of the Sweet Sixteens, I’ll be reading it!!!

Thanks so much for this interview Sarah!

You can add FEAR THE DROWNING DEEP on Goodreads here.

 

 

Querying and the request for an exclusive submission

Hello gentle reader,

While querying, you may be faced with the situation of having an agent request “an exclusive”. It’s when you send your manuscript to this agent alone and stop querying other agents until she gives you the green light.

Does this happen often?

According to a completely unscientific Twitter poll of my own doing, it seems to happen more often than you might imagine. Therefore if you’re querying, you might want to think about what you’ll do if/when faced with this situation.

How do you respond?

First, you celebrate, because this is a request!

Then you have three options. Panicking isn’t one of them.

Option 1: Your manuscript is already on the desk of one or several agents, so you can’t actually grant this exclusivity. In this case, you have to inform the agent who requested an exclusive and she’ll decide whether she still wants to read your manuscript or not.

Option 2: You don’t have any material out but you want to keep your options open, i.e. keep querying. This is what’s usually advised. Granting exclusivity means you stop querying for at least a couple of weeks, which many see as a waste of time, especially since there’s no way to predict the exclusivity will result in an offer of representation. In this case, be honest and let the agent know you’re not willing to grant anyone exclusivity. Again, she’ll either choose to request anyway or she’ll step down.

Option 3: You don’t have any material out but you’re willing to grant to the requesting agent the exclusivity she asked for.

Now, why on earth would you do this?

Since the consensus seems to be that granting an agent an exclusive isn’t to your advantage, when and how should you decide to say yes to this request?

  • The agent is your Dream Agent: in this case, you might not want to risk saying no to her. You might decide granting exclusive is worth it, even if the agent ends up rejecting your manuscript.
  • The agent is from a Big Agency: there are agents from big/famous agencies who ALWAYS request exclusives and refuse to read if this exclusivity isn’t granted. On the plus side, it often means they request material they’re really excited about: they believe in it and they want to have the chance to make an offer before anyone else. It’s flattering. On the downside, they might not make an offer in the end and you’ve wasted time. Again, it’s up to you to decide if you think it’s worth it.
  • If you grant exclusivity, make sure you set a deadline of no more than 4 weeks and make sure the agent agrees to it. If you haven’t heard from the agent after 4 weeks, nudge and feel free to start querying again (unless the agent replies and asks for more time… or makes an offer!).

Whichever the case, GRANTING AN EXCLUSIVE SHOULD FEEL LIKE THE RIGHT DECISION AT THE TIME. Dahlia Adler has a great post on querying red flags, and she explains that if it feels like an agent is making an unreasonable request, they most likely are making an unreasonable request.

To finish this post on a personal note, here is my own experience with exclusives:

I had one request for an exclusive in my querying life. I said yes. Here is why:

  • I had no material out at the time. I hadn’t even started querying. I met the agent at a writers’ conference. She read the first 10 pages of my manuscript, and asked for the rest – as an exclusive.
  • She was from a Big Agency, and she was used to requesting exclusives when she loved a project.
  • She was one of my dream agents.
  • I asked for a 4-week deadline. She replied to me within 2 weeks.
  • She didn’t offer representation, but she did give me valuable feedback.

To this day, I don’t regret granting this exclusive. So my advice on this topic is: do what feels right and what you think is best for you and your manuscript at the time of the request.

What do you think? Have you experienced a request for an exclusive while querying? What did you do? Feel free to leave me a comment below!

On Querying , Subjectivity and Getting Contradictory Feedback from Agents

Hello gentle reader,

I’ve blogged before about the Querying Process and the 4 Stages of Rejections. In my previous post, I explained Stage 4 as the moment when you’re getting requests left and right, which all turn into “I like it but I’ll pass” rejections.

Today I’d like to expand a little bit on this type of rejection.

If you’re in the querying trenches and getting a lot of form rejections, you might think that receiving personalized feedback from agents is great: at last, agents take time out of their busy schedule to let you know WHY they’re rejecting your manuscript and what you can do about it! When I was querying for the first time, I thought so too.

Except that sometimes, the agent’s feedback isn’t as helpful as we hope.

When I queried the manuscript that led me to signing with my agent, I had 19 requests. I received personalized feedback from 16 agents (which, incidentally, means that two agents form-rejected my full manuscript – that can happen too).

Now, if half these agents had given me the same reason for rejecting my work, I would have gone back to the drawing board and revised. But it’s not what happened.

Instead, I received a lot of “I’m not the right agent for this” replies. Fair enough. I understand an agent has to believe in a project with a fiery passion to sell it to editors.

But then I also received the oh-so-confusing Contradictory Feedback (NB: my main character is named Lily):

Agent 1: “I had some trouble with Lily’s voice.”

Agent 2: “I just didn’t find myself to be as hooked by Lily and her narrative voice as I had hoped to be.”

Agent 3: “I thought the voice was great.”

Agent 4: “I’m afraid I wasn’t able to connect to Lily’s voice.”

Agent 5: “I just LOVE Lily’s voice.”

These quotes are not made up. They are straight from my inbox.

Are you seeing a pattern here? Yes. It’s the Pattern of The Contradictory Feedback From Agents.

Now, what does this tell us? It tells us that when you reach Stage 4 of the Querying Process, it’s likely your manuscript is polished and good enough to find representation. And when agents reject it, it reminds us that the publishing business is subjective.

And it’s an important lesson, because the rest of our publishing journey will also be affected by subjectivity. From editors to readers, we’ll have people who won’t like out story, hopefully not because it’s bad, but because it just isn’t their cup of tea. And it shouldn’t get us down: we can’t please everyone. We just have to be grateful for the people who do enjoy our stories.

And don’t forget…

What about you? Have you been confronted with subjectivity in your publishing journey? How do you deal with contradictory feedback? Make sure to leave me a comment below!

The Agent Announcement

Hello gentle reader,

Remember how short my Year In Retrospect post was a couple of weeks ago? That’s because things were happening and I couldn’t talk about it yet. Now you get the full story of My Year 2013 aka The Year I Got An Agent.

The short version

I’m thrilled to announce that I’ve signed with Erin Niumata of Folio Literary Management. The manuscript which helped me find an agent is entitled LILY IN THE SHADOWS and you can find out more about it here.

The stats

I know querying writers like statistics, so here goes…

Queries sent: 33

Requests: 19 (including 13 full requests)

R&Rs: 4

Offers: 2

Time between first full request and offer of rep: 6 months

Here I’d like to point out that even if you’re querying successfully (i.e. you’re getting requests, positive feedback and R&Rs), the querying process can take a long time. I’ve read MANY posts by writers who signed with their agents only a couple of months after sending out their first query. It’s not necessarily the norm.  Out of the 13 agents who read my full manuscript, the quickest one took 1 week and the slowest one 4 months. Their average reading time was 10 weeks.

The long version

Before 2013

1998-2009 I write stories

2010 I write a sci-fi novel and ask my former English teachers to read it. Incredibly, they don’t think my idea of getting it published is crazy.

2011 I start 4 novels, and can’t finish any of them. I start reading about this whole publishing business. I read Claire Legrand’s blog and daydream that one day, I’ll have an agent too.

2012 I start a blog. I write a YA Epic Fantasy. I query it, get a couple of requests, and lots of rejections. I find a Critique Partner. I read Susan Dennard’s blog and decide to follow her amazing advice. I open a Twitter account. I join the ROW80 fun. I shelve my YA Epic Fantasy.

2013

January

I have a notebook. On the first page, I’ve written “Flower girl in Victorian London”. After watching Les Miserables at the cinema, one evening at the castle, I decide it’s time to write epic stories again. I sit down and open a Word document, with the title “Lily In The Shadows”.

February

Thanks to the ROW80 sprints (every day at 2pm EST), I write 20k words. I research Victorian London. I outline. Every time an agent mentions somewhere online she is looking for Historical/Victorian/Gaslamp Fantasy, I add her to my “Agents to query” list. I’m determined to do this right, gentle reader.

March

I go to the SCBWI Conference in Paris with my first 10 pages, and a synopsis. I have a One-on-One Critique Session with an Agent, who requests to read my full manuscript.

April – May – June

I finish writing Lily In The Shadows. I revise it based on my CPs/beta readers’ feedback. I enter giveaways and win query critiques, first pages critiques and even a full MS critique. You’d be surprised at how few people enter this kind of giveaways. Yet I cannot stress enough how much it helped me write a stellar submission package – and for free!

July

I send my manuscript to the agent who requested it in Paris. I enter two contests: Christmas In July (organized by the fabulous Michelle Krys and Ruth Lauren Steven) and Like A Virgin (organized by the wonderful Kristina Perez and Rhiann Wynn-Nolet) and to my astonishment, Lily In The Shadows is a finalist in both contests. That same month, I take part in the PitchMas Twitter Pitch Party and I get 3 requests, including one from Erin.

August

Given what happened in July, I decide to throw caution to the wind and to query the 22 agents on my To-Query list all at the same time. I know people say to send only a few queries at a time, and to wait for feedback before sending more, but with the contests’ results I hoped that my query/first pages were good enough. I was READY, lovely reader.

 

September

I get requests. I get rejections. I get R&Rs. I tweet my pitch again during PitMad and get 5 more requests. I have excited DM conversations with my writerly friends on Twitter. I have depressed DM conversations with my writerly friends on Twitter. I believe in myself. I doubt myself. I’m not sure I’m very productive at work.

October – November

Based on the 4 (!) R&Rs I’ve received, I completely rewrite my manuscript. Then it’s off to CPs and beta readers again, before I send it to agents in…

December

Things get crazy. I have agents asking me for additional material (aka my other WIPs). I have agents asking me how many agents are currently reading my MS. I have an agent who refers me to another agent. Then on 16th December, Erin emails to ask if I have time to talk.

2014

The Call happens on Thursday 2d January. Yes, that’s 2 weeks after Erin’s email. I told you things don’t always happen overnight. At that time, 4 agents are still reading my full manuscript, and 2 have a partial. Some nudging later, I have 1 additional full request, 1 more offer of representation and 4 passes. I wait the required week (and give the agent who belatedly requested my full enough time to read it) before saying yes to Erin on 10th January. Erin tweets this on the same day:

Tweet Erin

Best. Subtweet. Ever.

I sign the contract on 13th January.

 Thank you

To my amazing CPs: Jessy Rubinkowski and Allie Schellong

To my Beta Readers: Jani Grey, Bridget Shepherd, Serena Lawless, Kate Michael, Cassandra Marshall, Jenny Perinovic and Marieke Nijkamp.

To my cheerleaders: Lauren Garafalo, Rachel O’Laughlin and Aimee L. Salter.

To the people who helped with my query/synopsis/first page: Veronica Park, The Writer Diaries, Stephanie Diaz and Stacey Lee.

Now that I’m done with the querying process, I’ll be able to blog about topics I avoided before, such as How to deal with a request for exclusivity or with a referral, or What happens during The Call (and what doesn’t), etc.

But in the meantime, feel free to ask me your questions below!

A Writer in the Spotlight – Aimee L. Salter

A Writer In The Spotlight Logo

This week again I was lucky enough to have a YA author give me an exclusive interview! You may remember I interviewed the wonderful Aimee L. Salter back in November 2012. At the time, she was an agented writer with a book on submission and I asked her questions about her writing process. Since then, Aimee has chosen to self-publish her amazing debut, BREAKABLE, which came out on Monday 4th November 2013. This time, I’m interviewing her about her self-publishing adventure…

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Author : Aimee L. Salter

Genre : Young Adult, Magical Realism

Location: Oregon, USA

Contact: Blog, Twitter, Facebook

Bio: Aimee L. Salter is a Pacific North-Westerner who spent much of her young (and not-so-young) life in New Zealand. After picking up a Kiwi husband and son, she’s recently returned to Oregon. She writes novels for teens and the occasional adult who, like herself, are still in touch with their inner-high schooler. Aimee is the author behind Seeking the Write Life, a popular blog for writers.

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My interview (22d October 2013)

Where did you get the inspiration for your book?

In early 2011 I was reading the website www.dearteenme.com, in which published authors write letters to their teen selves. As I kept reading and reading (you know, one of those days when you should be doing something else, but a website catches your attention and you just keep reading “one more post”?) one sentiment was a recurring theme in the letters. Many of them, very early in the piece, said something along the lines of “I know you won’t listen to me when I tell you this, but…”

That got me thinking – what if I could actually talk to my sixteen year old self. That line would be paramount in my letter because I know if we could sit down, she’d nod and smile, maybe even think I was right, but go ahead and do whatever she wanted anyway.

As I chewed that over – what I’d say to try and make her listen; what approaches I might take that might actually get through to her; it just kind of came to me. I could see these two versions of this one person, both with feelings and thoughts based on their point in life. Both with the same hurts and wounds – but different perspectives on them…

Anyway, I started writing that afternoon, more for my own interest than anything else. It was a hard book to write. But I’m glad I stuck with it!

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Your book has just come out. Can you tell us about your (complicated!) path to publication?

Gosh, complicated is right! Well, when I wrote Breakable (then called Listen to Me), I was trying to get another book, an urban fantasy, published traditionally. Unfortunately, I’d “broken up” with my agent the year before, and I was having trouble finding a new agent for it. It took another year to refine Breakable and get an agent for it.

Brittany Howard (AKA: NYT, USA Today, International and everything else Bestselling author, Cora Carmack) picked my book up in August 2012. By November of that year her own author career took a massive leap. We were still working, revising, and submitting to editors when in June of this year she admitted she just didn’t have the time to agent anymore.

But she still believed in my book and wanted to help it find a home, however I chose to do that. So, after a couple weeks of discussing, chewing, praying, and, yes, freaking out, I decided to go ahead and self-publish Breakable rather than look for another agent (there were all kinds of legal rigmaroles I’d have had to jump through, not to mention that with the editors we’d already seen, some agents would be concerned their “pot” had shrunk).

So… here we are! “Cora Carmack” blurbed my book and is busily promoting it to her entire network (can’t TELL you how grateful I am for that!) and Brittany also has a useful network of bloggers and reviewers who’ve jumped on board to help too.

All in all, there’s no guarantees for any kind of self-publishing venture. I know that better than anyone. But I also know my book couldn’t get a better chance than this. So if it doesn’t “make it”, then it wasn’t ever going to anyway!

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Getting your book out there was quite a bumpy ride, did you have moments when you thought of giving up? (If yes, what made you carry on?)

Yes. And yes. And yes. And YES. (Did I mention, &#$% YES?)

I think every writer goes through those moments (or weeks, or months – even years) where they believe it’s pointless. Or just too hard. I certainly have (and do!) but there were two reasons I never actually let go:

  1. I think this is what I was meant to do. I think God wants me to do it. I know I want to do it. And frankly, even if I never tried to publish another word, I’d keep writing – so why not try if I’m going to be carving these worlds out of nothing anyway?
  2. Every time I’d start to feel like giving up, something would happen to encourage me. I’d feel like I just couldn’t get the story to do what I wanted – then someone would read it and rave. I’d feel like my writing was poor, then I’d send the manuscript in for a critique clinic and (besides all the useful criticism) I’d get unsolicited praise for my writing. When I was (nervously) looking for an agent I got a really good response to the query. When I kept getting rejections or R & R’s I wasn’t comfortable with, I attended WriteOnCon and got several new, unsolicited requests. Then when nothing came of that and I was discouraged, I got an offer from a small, independent press. Then Brittany offered to represent me – and she turned out to be PERFECT for me. On and on and on… the number of times I’d start thinking “I can’t do this anymore”, then something good would happen…well, it just picked me up. I had to keep going. Those little stories continue to this day!

What were the challenges of self-publishing your book you didn’t expect?

Hmmm… how much time do you have? I mean, don’t get me wrong, there’s been some pleasant surprises in the self-publishing process. So it hasn’t been all bad. But I’d been researching self-publishing for two years. And I had the advice and foresight of a very successful self-published author. I felt like I was going into it prepared. But there’s some things you just can’t understand until you get into them.

Like, the fact that so many reviewers and bloggers just flatly refuse to look at self-published books. I actually knew this, but I hadn’t anticipated how widespread it was. I even understood why people did it (I have turned down more self-published author review copies than I care to count for my blog, and I don’t run a “big” blog). But being on this side of the coin… it actually made me angry. “What, so just because I have “self published” next to my name, you won’t even look?

I also “knew” that the formatting process was complicated. But when you’re working through it – even with the good advice that I’ve been given ahead of time, and the fact that I’m a genuine, advanced user of the Microsoft suite, I am surprised on a daily basis at how one, tiny little slip or miss can make such a big difference to the appearance or professionalism of my book. It’s frightening actually.

But I’d say the biggest thing, and something I didn’t anticipate at all, is the fear of and sense that I’m “going it alone”. I mean, I went into this with a lot of support. My husband is behind me 100%. I have a bestselling author promoting me and blurbing my book. I have an awesome community of writers and bloggers (like you, Eve!) who are encouraging me and supporting me.

I didn’t anticipate that, when push came to shove, I’d feel so isolated by this process. The success or failure of this book is squarely on my shoulders, because I’ve done all the work. Sure, I’ve had editorial critique, and designers involved. But all the decisions are mine. The final buck stops with me on everything.

One the one hand, there’s something very freeing about that. I can do exactly what I want to do and I don’t have to answer to anyone else about it.

But on the other…no matter what the product, there’s no one actually behind it except me. If there is criticism, I can’t say “well, such-and-such made me do that”, and if there’s failure I can’t say “well, the press should have do thus-and-so.” It’s just me.

Of course, if there’s success, I get the kudos too. But let’s be honest, failure is a MUCH more likely scenario in this game. I’ve had to power through that on a mental and emotional level and prepare myself for it. I do feel prepared now. But I definitely wasn’t a couple months back. It’s an interesting ride!

Thanks, Aimee!

Thanks for having me, Eve.

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Writers and Publishing Trends

Hello gentle reader,

On 27th September 2013, Publishers Weekly published an article about new trends in YA. Such articles appear every so often, informing us of what’s “in” and what’s “out” and attempting to predict YA readers’ future tastes.

Right now, Paranormal, Dystopian, Greek mythology, Sci-Fi, mermaids, vampires, werewolves and trilogies are not what editors are looking for. They are more interested in realistic contemporary fiction, thrillers, fantasy, mysteries and stand-alones.

As for what will be popular in a year, no one has a clue.

So what are we, writers, to do with such information?

Should we care about trends?

Writers wishing to get traditionally published should be aware of trends. Querying a paranormal manuscript with vampires and Greek gods in 2013 will only bring on rejections and disappointment. This is why writers are encouraged to read widely in their genre, and to stay informed of what’s happening in the publishing world (book fairs and specialised websites are a great way to find such information).

Should trends affect our writing?

Let’s be clear. I strongly believe you should write whatever you want, regardless of trends. Write that vampire book if it makes you happy: you will be honing your writing skills if anything else. Trends only come into play when you want to publish said book.

On the other hand, don’t try to write according to trends: your book will be out in 18 months at the earliest. By that time trends will have changed 3 times.

So what are we to do?

Write a book as original as possible within its genre, with an interesting plot, a great voice, unique characters and beautiful writing. Think about what makes it stand out from other books on the market.

This is what agents and publishers are looking for. This is the next trend.