Today’s guest for the SAT (Successful Author Talk) is MG author Alison DeCamp, whose debut, THE STUPENDOUS SCRAPBOOK OF (SOMEWHAT MANLY) STAN will be available in 2015. I’ve only read the first few pages, but I love it like only pre-teen girls are allowed to love things. Alison has a grown up bio, but instead of using it I’m going to use her requests for what she’d like her bio to sound like: Alison Decamp would like to sound reasonably intelligent and funny and like someone who has long legs and hair that doesn’t frizz. Also, she works out a lot.
Are you a Planner or Pantster?
I wish I had invented the term “Plantser,” because it’s so great! And pretty much what I do. I can outline, but it changes at least 5 times from start to finish because ideas come up as I write that I never could have anticipated.
How long does it typically take you to write a novel, start to finish?
I thought I had finished LumberStan (or whatever it ends up being called) at least three times before I actually even figured out (with lots of help from my agent) what the actual climax is AND the main character’s true dilemma. That being said, from start to finish, probably 10 months. I thought I was done in December after starting the book in September. Then I added 10,000 more words. And then I thought I was done. And then I signed with Sarah and added 15,000 more words, subtracted 5,000 and somehow ended up with around 43,000 words. And I’m still not done. (Also, why are my answers always so long?)
Do you work on one project at a time, or are you a multi tasker?
Just like I can read 2 books, 3 magazines and anything else in print (including toilet paper packaging and cereal boxes) all at the same time, I can work on different projects at the same time. The voice sometimes carries over, however, from one work to another, so I have to be careful about that. Or else my 8 y.o. girl MC sounds suspiciously like my 11 y.o. boy MC.
Did you have to overcome any fears that first time you sat down to write?
I really felt like I had nothing to lose. I wasn’t sure I could write an entire book, however.
How many trunked books did you have before you were agented?
Technically, none, although I have unearthed old SASEs from the time when you would send queries directly to publishers. They were picture book ideas. I had no idea what I was doing and they were really bad.
Have you ever quit on an ms, and how did you know it was time?
I quit every manuscript I ever write probably 15 times throughout the process. And then I pick it up again. But since this is the first “real” book I’ve ever written (not counting “Old King Harriss and the Three Trolls”—the evil character’s name was Bloody Eye, which was in NO WAY referencing your little pencil accident—which I wrote when I was 10), the short answer is “no.” But I have had ideas I’ve quit on.
Who is your agent and how did you get that “Yes!” out of them?
Sarah Davies of The Greenhouse Literary Agency is my most excellent agent. She’s also the agent of one of my closest friends and critique partners, Kate Bassett, so prior to signing with her I got to see how she works with her clients and was so impressed with her editorial process and insight. I must have told Kate how lucky she was to have Sarah as her agent at least once a week. (She agrees, by the way). I actually waited to query her until I was 85% sure I was going to get an offer of representation because I really didn’t want her to say no. Then I sent her the query and two days later an email letting her know I had an offer of representation. She loved the voice of my MC and I signed with her the following week.
How long did you query before landing your agent?
I started querying in January 2013 and signed with Sarah in March. It seemed A LOT longer than that during the process, however. Days in the query trenches are measured in dog years, right? So I think that’s equivalent to 4 years. That’s more what it felt like. And right before my first offer of representation I had gotten a rejection that left me literally with my head in my hands saying, “What am I doing? Why am I putting myself through this?”
Any advice to aspiring writers out there on conquering query hell?
I had four offers of representation, BUT I had at least 40 rejections and even the week that I signed with Sarah I got an email from an agent who had my full; all it said was that my writing wasn’t strong enough. It’s so very subjective. I know everyone says that, but that’s because it’s true. I think during the process you need to be humble enough to listen to people’s critiques (especially if you get helpful feedback from an agent—that’s a huge bonus, so don’t downplay it. I never got a rejection that said, “Hey, this isn’t quite working for me, but send me something else!” So if you get encouragement, it’s because you’re doing something right). And if something isn’t clicking with agents, rework your query, get help from others, enter contests, reach out to the community because YA/MG writers are amazingly supportive.
How much of your own marketing do you?
I have had blogs in the past, but mainly when I was making glass beads and jewelry, so the audience is not quite the same. As it gets closer to the time when my book will come out, I’ll get a blog up and running. I like blogging. For me it’s an easy way to write without the major commitment of an entire book. I’m also on twitter as @aliyooper (a “Yooper,” by the way, is someone born in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan—the U.P.), and I check twitter a lot, but don’t always post things. I’m afraid of not being funny.
When do you build your platform? After an agent? Or should you be working before?
I think having a platform at any time is valuable. I simply am not very good at promoting myself, so I’ve been waiting until I actually have something to promote.
Do you think social media helps build your readership?
I think social media can help build readership. I know I have bought books simply because of Twitter buzz. But I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary.