Todays guest for the SAT (Successful Author Talk) is Vicki Leigh. Adopted at three-days-old by a construction worker and a stay-at-home mom, Vicki Leigh grew up in a small suburb of Akron, Ohio where she learned to read by the age of four and considered being sent to her room for punishment as an opportunity to dive into another book. Vicki’s debut, CATCH ME WHEN I FALL is available from Curiosity Quills Press.
Are you a Planner or Pantster?
I’m in the middle. I need some sort of backbone to know where my plot is headed, but when I write, I let my characters drive the story. And, more times than not, the story changes as I write. My favorite planning tools are the 7 Point Plot and Save the Cat. Then I pants my way through each plot point!
How long does it typically take you to write a novel, start to finish?
Now that I have a few manuscripts under my belt, it usually only takes me about 2 months to write a first draft. Then I do my revisions, send to my first-round CPs, revise again, send to my second-round CPs, and revise one final time. Then it’s off to my agent, and I revise again! So, when all’s said and done, from the moment I type the first word to when my agent tells me we’re ready to go…it’s about 4 to 5 months.
Do you work on one project at a time, or are you a multi tasker?
I only work on one project at a time. I personally believe that writers would do well to take an acting class, because you really have to become your characters when you write. And I find that if I jump from manuscript to manuscript, I lose my characters’ voices. So, if I am bombarded by an evil plot bunny — a character or a plot line screaming to be written — I’ll take a second to jot down the idea in a document, but then I get back to the story I’m working on and try to set the other one aside for later.
Did you have to overcome any fears that first time you sat down to write?
Failure. I’m a perfectionist by nature, so failure has always been my biggest fear. Even now, when I sit down to work on something new, I have to fight the desire to give up before I begin – because it’s easier to give up than put 150% into something and see it fail. But, I remind myself that giving up, by default, is failing – because I failed to write a book. And so, that keeps me going.
How many trunked books (if any) did you have before you were agented?
Just one, thank god. I’ve heard horror stories of authors who have, like, ten or fifteen manuscripts stuffed under their beds. I have to give those authors some serious kudos for not giving up, because I totally would have. But yes, I have one that will never see the light of day. It’s super, super awful; I cringe every time I read it. It deserved every rejection it got!
Who is your agent and how did you get that “Yes!” out of them?
My agent is Sarah Negovetich of Corvisiero Literary Agency. I got a “yes” out of her via a traditional query; however, I did already have a publishing contract in hand! So, a little a-typical. But Sarah did still pull me out of the slush, read my manuscript quickly, loved it, and within just a few days, we were having “The Call.” In talking to her, I knew she was the agent for me, and a few days later, I wrote her to let her know I wanted to be on Team Negovetich! ☺
How many queries did you send?
Altogether, I think I sent out twenty queries. Five resulted in full requests. Three of those ended up passing, and I respectfully pulled my manuscript from the other after I signed with Sarah.
Any advice to aspiring writers out there on conquering query hell?
Don’t give up. I know everyone’s heard how subjective the business is, but it’s seriously true. Just compare your own reading likes to your friends. My bet is: they’re very different. It’s the same with agents. They have their likes and dislikes, just like the rest of us. So, one agent might not enjoy your manuscript, and another will adore it.
Exhaust your spreadsheet of agents before you decide to shelve your novel – though, send out your queries in small waves (like, send to five agents at a time) and pay close attention to the reasons your manuscript is getting rejected. If you have five to ten agents all saying your plot line doesn’t flow, odds are you probably need to look at your plot again. Fix it, then send to your next group of five agents.
How much input do you have on cover art?
Because I’m with a smaller house, I got to work a little closer with my cover artist. I sent an original cover idea to both him and my marketing team (what I’d hope to see on the cover, what emotions I’d like people to feel when they saw it, etc.), and then I okayed the stock photo before he immersed it in the full design. I then saw two in-progress versions, gave my input, and then he finalized it. That being said, I still didn’t have final say – that went to the marketing team – but I was still grateful I got as much input as I did!
What’s something you learned from the process that surprised you?
That publishers really are approachable. To be honest, when I started this process, I kind of pictured publishers as these “big bosses” that you only came in contact with a few times – kind of like a corporate CEO that you saw maybe once every few months when they wanted to check up on their investments. But they’re really not like that, at least, not from my experience. I became good friends with my editor and my marketing director, I chatted regularly with the production guy who oversaw my book from the beginning stages to print, and I was in regular communication with the managing director of my publishing house who ensured the entire process ran smoothly.
In reality, your publisher wants your book to succeed as much as you do. And I was happily surprised that I wasn’t just “another author” on their roster.
How much of your own marketing do you?
Because I’m with a small publisher, a lot of the marketing falls on my shoulders. The unfortunate reality is: small publishers don’t make the kind of money that the big publishers do; therefore, they don’t have the budget to assign a PR person to every author. We have a small marketing team of maybe three to four people who oversee all of us authors. So, while they do some things, like call stubborn book stores on our behalf to flash their publisher cards, we authors have to do most of it. But, if I’m being honest, I’m a control freak, so I’m okay with that. 😉
When do you build your platform? After an agent? Or should you be working before?
In my opinion: before. Although it’s not necessary if you write fiction (non-fiction’s a different story), it’s still good to build up a following so that when a publisher does acquire your book, you have people already excited to read it. And while an agent will still sign you if your book is good, they do look for authors who have already established a platform, because in this day of social media and e-books, your readership is global, and it’s important to market yourself and your books on the internet.
Do you think social media helps build your readership?
Absolutely! Social media gives authors a chance to connect with their readers in ways that could never happen before. For me, I love when I’m able to talk to my favorite authors and feel like I know them as a person, not just a name on a book cover.