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.

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!

BREAKABLE

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.

Add BREAKABLE on Goodreads.

Enter a contest to win BREAKABLE here.

Buy BREAKABLE for Kindle, Nook and in paperback.

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.

Querying, dream agents and the right agent for you

Hello gentle reader,

This post was inspired by some FizzyWisdom I read yesterday, aka a blog post by the amazing Summer Heacock about what you should and shouldn’t share on social media while you’re querying your manuscript. In her post, Summer explains how oversharing online can hinder your chances of finding an agent. She also mentions the term “Dream Agent”, which is the topic I want to discuss today.

What is a “Dream Agent”?

If you’re a querying writer, a Dream Agent is the agent you really, really want to sign with. This agent is whoever you think will be the perfect match for you and your writing.

Does everyone have a Dream Agent?

Sometimes, it sounds like everyone is talking about their Dream Agent, or asking who your Dream Agent is. I’m going to be very honest here and say I don’t have a Dream Agent. I have maybe 12 Dream Agents. Why? Because I want to keep my options open. Because a Dream Agent, an agent you *think* will be a perfect match, isn’t necessarily the Right Agent for you, that is, an agent who *will be* your perfect match.

How do I go about finding the Right Agent for me, then?

Do your research and find out:

  • if the agent represents your genre and is in contact with publishers interested in your genre.
  • what’s the agent’s style: editorial or non-editorial? Happy to communicate with you often or preferring to get in touch only when necessary? This info is usually available on the agent’s website or blog.
  • the agent’s sales record (how many books they sold, to whom and when): this info is available on Publishers Marketplace.
  • if the agent is an AAR (Association of Author Representatives) member. Sometimes new agents aren’t AAR members but they should work for an agency with AAR members (aka an established agency with a sales record). You can find this info on Query Tracker.
  • where the agent lives:  with Internet, whether the agent lives in London, New York or Los Angeles shouldn’t be an issue for your book to sell. However do check where the agent lives to consider if her/his location will have an impact on your relationship (time difference anyone?)
  • what’s the agent’s personality: this is where things get a bit subjective, but checking an agent’s online presence can help you determine whether she/he is the right agent for you. Twitter is a good resource for this, or agents’ blogs and Tumblr.

But the final decision about whether an agent is right for you or not will be during The Call: when an agent makes an offer of representation. This is when you will be able to judge if the agent’s vision of your book and your career matches your dream. Then hopefully, you’ll decide this agent is the Right one, aka your Dream Agent.

What about you? Do you have a Dream Agent? How do you go about finding out if an agent is the right one for you? Make sure to leave me your comments and questions below!

Getting published: finding your own path and going at your own pace

Hello gentle reader,

In 2010, I wrote a Sci-Fi novel and I sent it to my former English teacher with a question: “Is this good enough to be published?” Incredibly – given the poor quality of my Masterpiece – she didn’t say “NO WAY”. Instead she told me: “If you work hard and you really want this, I don’t see why not.”

So I embarked on my very own publishing journey, full of hopes and dreams. I chose the traditional route, because it was what felt like the best way for me and my stories. It still feels that way, actually.

 

Soon enough, I found other writers on the same path: people writing a manuscript, or people with a manuscript looking for an agent. I read their blog, followed them on Twitter, made a lot of writerly friends with whom I could share the aforementioned hopes and dreams.

I wrote another novel (a YA High Fantasy), found beta readers and Critique Partners, and after a year I queried it.

It turned out finding an agent who loved my manuscript was even harder than predicted.

At the end of 2012, I made the decision to shelve my YA High Fantasy and to start working on another story.

I began writing a YA Victorian Fantasy.

In the meantime, I started noticing the writing community around me had changed.

Some simply quit and disappeared, sometimes with one last blog post explaining their decision, sometimes without a whisper.

Some got an agent and later on a publishing deal, leaving the shore of unpublished writers for the land of authors.

Others got a publishing deal with a small press or an independent publisher, and saw their book come out within 9 months or a year.

And a staggering, STAGGERING number decided to self-publish.

Now, I’m not criticising the last two publishing paths in the slightest. I just know one thing: those publishing options aren’t for me. Self-publishing is way more work than I can handle, and dealing with a publisher (whatever its size) means I need an agent to tell me what (not) to do.

Three years on, and I now find myself rather lonely on my publishing road.

Out of all the writers I met online or in person in the past 3 years, many, many of them now have a book out or a soon-to-be-published book.

And I’m still walking on the path, with my manuscript in hand and my hopes and dreams with me, forever convinced I will find the right agent and traditional publisher in the end.

And it struck me the other day that maybe I’m not as alone as I think in this situation.

When you spend a lot of time around the writing community, it sometimes feels like EVERYONE you know now has an agent and/or a book out.

But it’s not true. We just hear more about those who have exciting news than about those who are STILL looking for an agent after three years.

So if you’re one of those lonely writers without news for the world, remember this:

–          Going at your own pace is fine. What matters is getting where you want.

–          Don’t give up on your traditional publishing dream because it’s slow to come true.

–          Don’t give up, period.

–          Write the best book you can, and do your best, always. Someone will notice in the end.

–          Enjoy the journey without worrying about what others accomplish. One day, you will accomplish those things too.

And never stop writing.

Querying, making sense of rejections and finding the right agent

Hello gentle reader,

September is just around the corner, and for some of you it might mean a new step in your writing endeavours: the querying process.

For the purpose of this post, we are going to assume you’ve done your homework, finished and polished your manuscript, written a professional query letter and put together a list of agents to contact, along with their submission guidelines. You’ve read all the success stories about writers who got multiple offers one week after sending out their query and signed with an agent within 3 months. So you send out a batch of queries and you start drafting your “How I got my agent” blog post while refreshing your inbox. You’re ready for the offers of representation to roll in.

Except instead, rejections start piling up.

And you have no idea where things have gone wrong.

So here is a little 4-stage guide to help you make sense of those rejections and hopefully help you on your way to finding your perfect agent match.

Stage 1

The problem: You’re getting form rejections, with one or two random partial requests thrown in to keep you guessing.

The diagnostic: At this stage, it’s likely the issue lies with your query letter. “But,” you’ll say, “my letter follows the guidelines and doesn’t even mention Harry Potter!” Fair enough. But to compete with the hundreds of query letters that land each month in the literary agent’s inbox, your letter has to stand out and be stellar.

The solution: Revise your query letter. Post it on forums like Agent Query Connect, Absolute Write or WriteOnCon. Enter contests and giveaways offering a query letter critique. Revise again. Re-draft until your letter is concise, clear, eye-catching and true to your story. Writing an outstanding query letter might take 20 or 30 drafts, but if it gets your manuscript requested, who’s counting?

Stage 2

The problem: You’re getting partial requests, which turn into rejections with a personal comment from the agent.

The diagnostic: There’s something wrong with your first 50 pages. Whether it’s pace, characterization or plot holes, hopefully you’re getting the same feedback at least a couple times.

The solution: Revise your manuscript. Work with your Critique Partners to fix your manuscript’s issues. Once your revisions are done, send your story to beta readers who haven’t read it before and listen to their feedback. Enter contests and giveaways to win a manuscript critique from an editor, an author or even better, an agent.

Stage 3

The problem: You’re getting full requests, which turn into rejections with detailed feedback or a Revise and Resubmit (R&R) request.

The diagnostic: There’s something wrong with your manuscript, and agents highlight what it is.

The solution: Again, revise, get feedback, revise again, and resend.

Stage 4

The problem: You’re getting requests left and right, which all turn into “I like it but I’ll pass” rejections (aka the “not for me but best of luck with it” rejection, aka the “not the right fit for me at the moment” rejection, aka the “I didn’t fall in love with it” rejection).

The diagnostic: It’s the hardest one, because there’s nothing wrong with your query letter or your manuscript. Nothing the agents are telling you about anyways.

The solution: KEEP QUERYING. You’re so close to your goal, the next agent you’ll contact might be the one falling in love with your story. And this is the one agent you want, the best possible match, the one who will wholly believe in your manuscript’s potential.

So tell me: which stage of the querying process are you at now? Do you have any questions I didn’t answer in this post? Or any advice for other querying writers? Feel free to leave me a comment below!

Querying a book during the summer: a few tips

Hello gentle reader,

Yesterday on Twitter the very talented Heather Marie ‏(@xHeatherxMariex) and DahliaAdler ‏(@MissDahlELama) had a discussion on whether or not it was a good idea to query a book during the summer. You can read it here if you’re interested (and you should also follow these two amazing ladies!).

I’ve often heard it’s better to forget querying from mid-June to mid-August, and this was Heather’s opinion: her point was that when agents and editors are out-of-office for various reasons, writers are less likely to get replies and they should therefore wait until September to contact them.

But what if your manuscript is ready now? Aren’t you wasting precious time if you wait two months to query it? As Heather pointed out at the end of the Twitter conversation: the decision to query –or not query – during the summer is up to you in the end.

As some of you may know, I made the decision to start querying Lily In The Shadows at the end of June. So here are my tips to make the most of the querying process during the summer.

1) Make sure your manuscript is completed and polished.

This is true whatever the season you choose to query it. Ask yourself if you could spend these summer months making your story the best it can be. My friend Kate is doing this right now. She badly wanted to query her book this summer, but she realised it was best to polish it first, and query it in the fall.

2) Follow agents on Twitter

It is likely agents will mention on Twitter when they are out of their office this summer. When they do, make a note of it: it will save you the anxious wait for a reply during this time.

3) Enter online contests

Some agents are still here, and some of them are generous enough to make requests during online contests. This month 3 contests are in full swing: Like A Virgin, Christmas In July, PitchMas. And there are more to come!

4) Attend conferences

Many agents won’t be in their office this summer because they will be attending writers’ conferences. Go and meet them there! And if you can’t attend a conference, make a note of the dates of the most important ones (in July: Romance Writers of America’s Annual Conference, San Diego Comic Con, Midwest Writer Workshop, etc.).

That’s it for my tips to query during the summer! Do you have other ideas to make the most of the querying process in July-August? Make sure to leave me your thoughts and questions below!

2012 : My Writing Year In Retrospect

Hello gentle reader,

I have been writing for 15 years but to me 2012 was the year I became a writer. Here is how it happened…

January: I am sitting on top of a pile of unpublished manuscripts in a castle in England, when my friends and family unwittingly suggest “Why don’t you try and get one of those published?” and I say, well, why not?

Downton Abbey - Dowager Countess

February: I read several books about getting published. I have a hunch this won’t be easy. I decide on focusing on my YA High Fantasy THE LAST QUEEN.

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March: I start my blog. To my surprise, people other than my father follow it.

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April: I attend the London Book Fair. I realise there are many would-be-published writers out there and this “get a book published” endeavour might not be as easy as I thought. I decide nothing can stop me now. I start the “A Round of Words in 80 Days” writing challenge.

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May: I send a query to 3 agents, get 1 request, then a final rejection. I decide it’s time I take this vampire writing thing seriously.

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June: I join in JuNoWriMo (June Novel Writing Month) and find out writing a book in a month is not for me. I decide this sort of challenge can’t be for everyone.

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July: I take part in the Hookers and Hangers Blogfest (hosted by Falling For Fiction) and I post the first and last lines of THE LAST QUEEN on my blog. I get good feedback as well as a record number of comments, and I connect with many awesome people.

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August: 3 words: Write On Con. More critiques, more awesome people, more connections, more motivation.

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September: my blog is 6 months old and for some reason it is taking off.

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October: with the help of some wonderful CPs and beta readers (especially Aimee L. Salter and Jessica Montgomery) I revise THE LAST QUEEN in depth. I have conversations with people about my MC Elian as if he were a real person. He thinks it’s odd too.

Pillars of the Earth - Eddie Redmayne

November: I start querying THE LAST QUEEN, for good this time. I send out ten queries and get a full request within one week.

Enchanted

December: everyone is on holidays, including the agents I queried. I am sitting in a castle in England and working on a new manuscript. I have writerly friends on Twitter, Facebook, There And Draft Again, and my blog. Life is good.

Gosford Park Elsie

That’s it for me in 2012! How was your year? Leave me a comment below and have a fun New Year’s Eve tonight!

See you next year…