Today’s guest for the SAT (Successful Author Talk) is Laura Liddel Nolen, who grew up in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. She has a degree in French and a license to practice law, but both are frozen in carbonite at present. She lives in Texas with her husband and two young children. Her debut, THE ARK, is available now from Harper Voyager.
Laura’s success story is doubly special to me, because she was a participant in the PAPfest – a writing contest that I hosted on my blog back in 2013. Laura is also a great example of a non-traditional path to success. She’s an un-agented writer published with a major house – not something that happens everyday!
Are you a Planner or Pantster?
Total planner. That being said, things rarely go according to plan.
How long does it typically take you to write a novel, start to finish?
Since THE ARK is my first, I guess I have to say five years. But the sequel is scheduled for publication next year, with the last book in the trilogy one year after that, so I’m going to have to work on my record quite a bit. To say the least.
Do you work on one project at a time, or are you a multi tasker?
I work on one project until I get writer’s block, which happens fairly often. Then I procrastinate by writing a short story or starting a new project. It helps my confidence overall, but not my faith in whichever manuscript is stalled at the moment.
Did you have to overcome any fears that first time you sat down to write?
One problem with writing is, you have to be slightly delusional even to attempt it. Like, what makes me think anyone will want to read my stories? But the more you write, the better you get. It’s quite a learning curve. If nothing else, I can always pull up an old story and cringe my way through it, which helps with confidence in my more current stuff.
How many trunked books did you have before you were agented?
I actually don’t have an agent yet. I’m planning to start querying this summer. I’m living proof that editors read their slush, though!
Tell us more about being published as an un-agented author.
I’m happy to share my “stats,” in case they offer any hope to other writers: I queried nine agents. Six asked to read my manuscript for THE ARK. Of those, four gave me some helpful comments. Of the original nine, two agents sent a form rejection, and one didn’t even reply!
I also submitted THE ARK to Harper Voyager, the science fiction and fantasy imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, when I heard they were accepting unagented work.
I planned to revise the manuscript and resend it to the four agents who’d given me comments. But then I got a call from Natasha Bardon, editorial director of Harper Voyager UK, saying they’d like to publish me! I guess I got the cart before the horse, in a sense.
Have you ever quit on an ms, and how did you know it was time?
Yes! My first attempt at a novel was just awful. I think I was trying to copy everything I thought YA lit should be like, which is a great recipe for a terrible book. I’m glad I got that out of my system. I knew it was time to quit when my friend Taylor said, “I can’t believe you’re not writing science fiction. That’s what you always wanted to do, right?” The next day, I started The Ark, and I haven’t looked back.
Any advice to aspiring writers out there on conquering query hell?
Rejection is an absolute given in this business. That doesn’t make it hurt any less, but at least know that you’re not alone when it happens. It only takes one yes, and bam! You’re in.
How did that feel, the first time you saw your book for sale?
It’s completely surreal. And I’m not sure who’s more excited, me or my mom.
Just kidding. Definitely me.
How much input do you have on cover art?
I was given two options for a cover. The one I chose is the one the editor liked best as well. I’m thrilled to say that I really do love it, and it was clear to me that the artist had read the book. The details are amazing. For example, the meteor matches her eyes. How cool is that? And there are a couple of lines in THE ARK referencing Char’s ratty hair, which is reflected in the cover image.
What’s something you learned from the process that surprised you?
It’s amazing how supportive the writing community is. I think you wrote a post about this recently, and it really made me smile. As an aspiring writer, you don’t even need an agent or a book deal to reach out and find thousands of other people in the same boat, almost all of whom will be happy to cheer you on along your way. I’ve made some great friends on this journey. There are also tons of established writers who are committed to helping up-and-comers. It’s an exciting, inspiring group to be a member of.
How much of your own marketing do you? Do you have a blog / site / Twitter?
When do you build your platform? After an agent? Or should you be working before?
If I could do it over, I’d have gotten involved with Twitter a lot sooner. Otherwise, there’s not a whole lot to market before you have a product to sell. I think there’s value in focusing on writing the best book you can.
Do you think social media helps build your readership?
Definitely! Just look at your blog! I started reading Writer, Writer waaaay before NOT A DROP TO DRINK came out. By the time it was finally published, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy.