My guest today for the SAT (Successful Author Talk) is fellow Lucky13‘er Emma Pass. Emma lives in the north-east Midlands in the UK with her husband and a retired racing greyhound, and has a day job in the local library, where she also runs a writing group. Her debut YA dystopian, ACID, will be available from Random House in 2013. It takes place in the year 2113. When Jenna Strong was 13, she was jailed for murder by ACID – the Agency for Crime Investigation and Defence. Now, four years later, she’s been broken out by a mysterious organisation who won’t tell her who they are or why they got her out. Set up with a new identity, Jenna is just getting used to being on the outside when she runs into Max, the son of the man who died getting her out of jail. Soon, ACID are on their trail and they’re forced to go on the run. Now Jenna must keep herself and Max safe – and somehow prevent Max from finding out who she really is…
BBC: Are you a Planner or Pantster?
EP: A bit of both! I like to have a rough outline before I start, and an idea of the start, middle and end, but if I plan a book too rigidly I get bored with it before I’ve even started writing it. And things always end up changing. The story I end up with is usually nothing like the one I started out with in my head.
BBC: How long does it typically take you to write a novel, start to finish?
EP: It varies, but on average it’s around 6 months for a first draft. Subsequent drafts tend to be quicker – about 3-4 months.
BBC: Do you work on one project at a time, or are you a multi tasker?
EP: One project at a time. I get so into my story and characters that I don’t have room in my head for any more! However I usually have the next project brewing away at the back of my mind, and if any revelations come to me about it I’ll make notes.
BBC: Did you have to overcome any fears that first time you sat down to write?
EP: Not really. I wrote my first ‘novel’ when I was 13, and just remember feeling incredibly excited about the whole thing, because it was then that I realised this was what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. It always feels daunting to start something new, but I welcome that fear, because it makes me strive to write as well as I possibly can.
BBC: How many trunked books (if any) did you have before you were agented?
EP: Two – both contemporary YA novels. I queried the first one, but didn’t bother with the second as I knew it wasn’t good enough.
BBC: Have you ever quit on an ms, and how did you know it was time?
EP: Yes. It was the MS in between the book that got me an agent and ACID. I wrote about 5 drafts before I gave up on it, but I knew, deep down, that it wasn’t working almost from the start. It just never seemed to come alive – I couldn’t click with the main character and I knew readers wouldn’t either. To be honest, when my agent read it and agreed I should start something new, it was a HUGE relief.
Querying and Agent Hunt Process:
BBC: Who is your agent and how did you get that “Yes!” out of them?
EP: My agent is the wonderful Carolyn Whitaker at London Independent Books, who I found in the Writers and Artists Yearbook. I chose her because she represents one of my favourite authors, Chris Wooding, and because YA is one of her specialities. When I sent her my query (for another contemporary YA), I was preparing for my wedding. A few weeks before I was due to get married, she wrote to me saying she liked the chapters I’d sent, and asking me to send the next 10,000 words. In a daze of excitement, I shoved them in the mail. Then I went off to get married. When we got back from our honeymoon, I got another letter from her saying it sounded good so far, so please could I send the rest. You can imagine how excited I got then!
Not long after that, my husband and I were driving to the supermarket when my phone rang. It was Carolyn, wanting to talk about my MS and some ideas she’d had for revisions. Cue frantic scrabbling around in the glove box for a pen and a scrap of paper, while my husband (who was driving) looked for somewhere to pull over. After those initial revisions (which I was more than happy to do), the novel went through another two rounds of revisions, and then she started sending it out. I didn’t dare call her ‘my’ agent for ages, though!
BBC: How long did you query before landing your agent?
EP: Carolyn was the third agent I queried (with my third novel… so I guess there’s some truth in the saying, “third time lucky”!).
BBC: Any advice to aspiring writers out there on conquering query hell?
EP: Keep going. Keep writing. If you don’t get taken on with this book, you might get taken on with the next one… but if you don’t write it, you’ll never know.
On Being Published:
BBC: How did that feel, the first time you saw your book for sale?
EP: ACID’s not out till next year, but it’s highly likely I’ll burst into tears in the middle of the bookstore. Or jump up and down. Or scream. Or all three.
BBC: How much input do you have on cover art?
EP: I have no idea! My publisher does wonderful covers, though, so I’m totally confident that ACID’s cover will be wonderful too.
BBC: What’s something you learned from the process that surprised you?
WP: How long everything takes – you definitely need to be patient in this business! And I am in awe of my editor’s insight into my book and her ideas to make it better. I always thought you had to write a book that was good enough to be published. Now I know you have to write a book that’s good enough to make an editor want to work with you… and then between you, you write the book that’s good enough to be published.
Social Networking and Marketing:
BBC: Do you have a blog / webisite?
BBC: When do you build your platform? After an agent? Or should you be working before?
EP: I didn’t do any social networking before I got my book deal – and that was four years after getting my agent! It was my publisher who gently suggested I should start tweeting and blogging, and I have to admit, my heart sank at the thought. But it’s brilliant – I really love it! I don’t think it was a problem that I didn’t do any of these things before, though. You have to feel comfortable doing these things, and take them at your own pace.
BBC: Do you think social media helps build your readership?
EP: Yes, absolutely. I’ve connected with so many readers, book bloggers and other authors online, and I’ve read tons of books because I’ve heard about them or talked to their authors through social media.