I’m lucky (or cunning) enough to have lured yet another successful writer over to my blog for an SAT- Successful Author Talk.
Today’s guest is Amy Reed. Amy was born and raised in and around Seattle, where she attended a total of eight schools by the time she was eighteen. Constant moving taught her to be restless, and being an only child made her imagination do funny things. After a brief stint at Reed College (no relation), she moved to San Francisco and spent the next several years serving coffee and getting into trouble. She eventually graduated from film school, promptly decided she wanted nothing to do with filmmaking, returned to her original and impractical love of writing, and earned her MFA from New College of California. After thirteen years in the San Francisco Bay Area, she now resides in Asheville, North Carolina. Her short work has been published in journals such as Kitchen Sink, Contrary, Fiction, and Mission at Tenth. She is the author of four Young Adult novels: BEAUTIFUL (2009), CLEAN (2011), CRAZY (2012), and OVER YOU (2013). Her fifth book, DAMAGED, will be released October 14, 2014.
SAT authors have conquered the query, slain the synopsis and attained the pinnacle of published. How’d they do it? Let’s ask ’em!
Are you a Planner or Pantster?
Definitely a planner. I write elaborate outlines with lists and sub-lists and sub-sub-lists. But I find that the real magic happens when I allow myself to go outside the box I build for myself, when I let the characters lead instead of me trying to push them around.
How long does it typically take you to write a novel, start to finish?
I’ve been on pretty much a one-book-a-year schedule since I published Beautiful five years ago, and it’s been grueling. I think a more comfortable pace for me is one book every two years, and I’m going to try to stick to that from now on.
Do you work on one project at a time, or are you a multi-tasker?
My last two books overlapped, and it was hell. I found that I couldn’t work on them concurrently. My brain just couldn’t hold both of the stories and characters at one time. The only way I could do it was to put one of the books aside while I worked on the other. I had to get a couple of months added to the second book’s deadline, but both books benefitted in the long run.
Did you have to overcome any fears that first time you sat down to write?
Every time I start a new book, I’m terrified. I feel like I’m supposed to like this part the best since it’s full of possibility, but I hate it because it’s full of the unknown. There’s no plan, no order, and that makes me feel crazy. I only start liking it once I have a solid outline and a good thirty or forty pages written. But then I freak out again as soon as I finish the second act. So the enjoyable sweet spot is only really in the middle third of the process. Kind of like pregnancy.
How many trunked books (if any) did you have before you were agented?
Luckily, none. My first novel, Beautiful, was the first book I ever attempted to write. I had a handful of unpublished short stories I wrote during my MFA program, but that’s it.
Have you ever quit on an ms, and how did you know it was time?
Yes. After writing CRAZY, my third book, I put together a proposal for a three-book post-apocalyptic series, which included an outline for all three books and the first forty pages of Book 1. My editor wasn’t excited. She wanted more of what I had been writing before—gritty, realistic, contemporary. I was upset for about fifteen minutes, but then I realized I felt relieved. I was trying to do something that wasn’t really me. I came up with an outline for another book later that day, and I got signed for a two-book deal for OVER YOU.
Who is your agent and how did you get that “Yes!” out of them?
Amy Tipton of Signature Lit. She was with Fine Print when I signed with her, just starting out as an agent. I had also received interest from a very well established YA agent, but I decided to go with Amy because she seemed the most enthusiastic about my work. She was with a well-respected agency, so she had great connections, but she also had the added passion and energy of a young agent. We also went to the same tiny, hippie MFA program, so I knew we had stuff in common. Plus, she looked cool in her picture.
How long did you query before landing your agent?
I think I queried twelve agents, but they were all adult literary agents. I hadn’t known I was writing YA. I didn’t even really know YA existed. I got some interest, some requests for fulls, but no takers. Eventually, an old-school and very well-respected agent sent me a letter—yes, an actual snail mail letter—asking if I was working on anything book length, because he loved my short story “Under the Wall” which had just been published in Fiction Magazine. The timing was perfect. I sent him the manuscript for Beautiful. He liked it, but he said he didn’t rep YA. He’s the one who finally informed me that what I wrote was YA, and I realized I was submitting to the wrong agents all along. So I submitted to two YA agents and they both requested fulls. Amy called two days later and offered to represent me, and the rest is history.
Any advice to aspiring writers out there on conquering query hell?
Just make sure you’re submitting to the right people. Don’t blindly send query letters. Really do your research and query agents whose taste matches your own.
How much input do you have on cover art?
They often show me a few choices and I get to give my input on which one I like best. But I know better than to try to get too involved. I worked in publishing before I got published, and one of our biggest pet peeves was authors trying to be cover designers.
How much of your own marketing do you?
I do the best that I can on social media like Facebook, Twitter and my own webpage, doing guest blogs and interviews like this, but it’s hard. I’m not a natural marketer. I’m so in awe of authors who are out there doing conferences and readings and panels all the time. It takes a lot of hustle to make those things happen.
Do you think social media helps build your readership?
I honestly have no idea. It’s difficult to gauge how successful social media is. But most of the time, at least it’s fun and I’m making connections with awesome people who love YA. I enjoy building relationships with bloggers and being part of the YA community that way. I’m kind of a hermit by nature (so many of us are), so it’s a great way to feel connected.