Today’s guest for the SAT (Successful Author Talk) is Hayley Long, author of several award-winning books for teenagers, including What’s Up with Jody Barton? and the Lottie Biggs books. She also works as an English teacher. Her newest release is SOPHIE SOMEONE releasing March 28th from Candlewick Press. Hayley Long lives in England.
Are you a Planner or Pantster?
Total pantster. I am also a total hypocrite because when I was an English teacher, I used to tell the kids in my classes that IT’S REALLY IMPORTANT TO PLAN. But the truth is, I just can’t do it! I begin with a very vague outline of a story in my head. I know where I will start, I have a rough idea of how I will end, and I have a few thoughts about what is going to happen along the way. And from there I just make it all up! It’s worked for me so far. All the best ideas I have had are ones which have occurred during the writing process – they’re not ones that I could ever have planned or predicted.
How long does it typically take you to write a novel, start to finish?
It varies. The fastest I’ve ever written the first readable draft of a novel has been six months – but it was still longer than that really because I was thinking about it for at least four months before I got going. SOPHIE SOMEONE is the book which took me the longest to write. Because it was the hardest to write. Making up my own coded language was harder than I anticipated. It took a lot of adjusting and readjusting. From start to finish, it was about two years before I had a draft which I was happy for anyone else to read.
Do you work on one project at a time, or are you a multi tasker?
Inevitably, I’ve found that I have to be a multi-tasker to a certain extent because there are always other things that need to be done. In between writing fiction, I visit schools and libraries, I sometimes write articles for newspapers or websites, and other times – like now – I answer questions. But I find it impossible to concentrate on two big writing projects at a time. I can’t switch my mind from one major puzzle to another. So if I’m writing one thing and asked to do edits for another, I have to put the new writing on hold until I’m free to give it my full attention again.
Did you have to overcome any fears that first time you sat down to write?
Gosh YES. But I STILL DO. Every time I start a new book, I go through this same old rigmarole. There’s this voice in my head which is saying, ‘Hayley, what are you doing? This won’t work. Nobody is going to like it. And you need to write about three hundred pages and you’re only on page four. This is a waste of time. GIVE UP NOW.’
That’s what the inside of my head is like every single time I start a new book. And sometimes it stays like that until I’ve had feedback from my agent and editor!
At least, there’s no danger of me getting over-confident and carried away with myself.
How many trunked books did you have before you were agented?
None. It wasn’t like that for me because I was having books published before I had an agent. I lived in Wales and I had two novels published with a small Welsh publishing house. By the time I was ready to look for an agent, my Welsh publishing friends were suggesting names of agents who I might try. I sent my manuscript of Lottie Biggs is not Mad to the first name on the list and I received a positive reply.
Have you ever quit on an ms, and how did you know it was time?
Oh yes. But I always quit early on – before I even have 10,000 words. And then I delete all memories of it from my head.
I know I have to quit when I’m struggling to write more than five words an hour.
How did it feel the first time you saw your book for sale?
Oh, it was totally lush. I think I hung out around the shelf for a while.
How much input do you have on cover art?
Honestly? Not a lot. But I’m not a designer or a marketing expert so I’m very happy for others to take the lead. The production of a book is not just about me – it’s a team effort.
I’m always shown the cover ideas and asked whether I like them or I don’t. I’ve only strongly objected once and that was because the message communicated by that cover really worried me. On every other occasion, I’ve liked my covers. While we’re on the subject, I think the cover of SOPHIE SOMEONE is very stylish. I like the way the artwork is a subtle nod to Brussels and London.
What’s something you learned from the process that surprised you?
It’s not really surprising – but the suggestions of editors are almost always right. They see things that the writer doesn’t. And sometimes it amazes me how a seemingly simple suggestion from an editor can have such an enormously positive impact on my novel. It’s nice because it has the overall effect of making me seem cleverer than I am ☺
How much of your own marketing do you?
And that’s it. Social media? Less is more 😉