Today’s guest for the SAT (Successful Author Talk) is Caitlin Sangster, author of LAST STAR BURNING. Caitlin grew up in the back woods of California and would rather go hiking, running, swimming, or general outdoorsing than just about anything else. She always thought of writing as a silly sort of compulsive habit until she realized that people like reading stories and she liked writing them and there wasn’t much silly about that.
When I started I was a Panster, but now I’m a mix. I’d say there are fixed points I have planned and I pants it in between.
How long does it typically take you to write a novel, start to finish?
If I’m really focused, then about six months. When I first started writing it took longer because when I was straight up pantsing, going back to make sure everything fit made for a lot of rewriting.
Do you work on one project at a time, or are you a multi-tasker?
I think if I had more time I’d multi-task. In an ideal world, I’d be revising one manuscript and drafting another one, but at the moment, I only have time for one or the other. I don’t think I could draft two at once though, because of voice and the momentum that comes from a first draft. Switching off would probably break my brain.
Did you have to overcome any fears that first time you sat down to write?
Oh my goodness, yes. I was mostly afraid of what people would think of me if they ever read what I wrote. Writing YA novels is so much fun, but I sort of assumed anyone who read it would think I was writing my own personality and take on the world rather than my characters. I also worried that I didn’t know enough about what I was writing and that it would be a wasted effort. But then I started having fun and didn’t care so much.
How many trunked books did you have before you were agented?
I was lucky enough to get an agent with my first book. Seriously. Lucky.
Have you ever quit on an ms, and how did you know it was time?
I’ve only really quit on one manuscript. Mostly because it was just not good enough. I might go back to the concept and start over, but the work I did put into it wasn’t holding my attention. Usually I think abandoning a project is poor form because writing is hard and of course there are moments when you want to quit. This particular project was my first (and only) attempt at NaNoWriMo, which is a great thing for some writers, but not me. Every word I wrote, I knew I was going to have to go back and fix because I was going too fast for my writing process. Whenever I went back to reread what I had, I just didn’t like it.
Who is your agent and how did you get that “Yes!” out of them?
My agent is Victoria Wells-Arms, and she is so awesome! (I’m singing that in my head, Jack Black style. Which is weird. But she really is great to work with.) I sent her a traditional query right when she first opened her agency after leaving Bloomsbury.
How long did you query before landing your agent?
I’d been querying for about ten months.
Any advice to aspiring writers out there on conquering query hell?
First: Remember that it is subjective. I know everyone says that–even the awful canned rejections they send you say that–but it’s true. Just because someone isn’t madly in love with your book doesn’t mean it’s bad. Agents only take things on if they Love them with a capital L, and you can’t expect everyone to be that passionate about your book. Don’t take it personally.
Second: Look at your results. If your query isn’t getting any bites, change it. If it’s your partial or full MS that’s getting rejected, send it to more readers and revise. If you get feedback from more than one agent that says something in your book isn’t working, listen. Revise. Keep trying.
Third: Write something else. Get excited about a new project. Not the sequel to the project you’re querying, either. Something new.
Fourth: While you are querying, have something else in your life that you don’t have to depend on anyone else to succeed in. I trained for a half marathon while I was querying, and it saved my sanity. I could decide how far I was going to go and how fast, and a specific goal to accomplish: thirteen miles by the time my race date came around. With querying, it’s a rollercoaster and you don’t have much control, so having something else that is positive and goal oriented that you can progress in without regard to anyone else is helpful.
How did it feel, the first time you saw your book for sale?
My book is up for pre-order now, does that count? It’s sort of surreal, actually. My book will be out there for anyone to read! Sort of scary, but also makes me want to jump up and down with excitement.
How much input do you have on cover art?
Conceptually I didn’t have any input. They did, however, check in with me to make sure they got things right. There’s this really awesome arch on my cover that is very important to the story, and they wanted to make sure it looked the way it was supposed to.
What’s something you learned from the process that surprised you?
For some reason I was surprised by just how many people were involved. So many people got to mark up that manuscript, including on the very last pass when somehow ALL OF US had missed that I’d accidentally said a statue was “in a pose of mediation” rather than “meditation”. Also, I was surprised by both how slowly and quickly it moves at the same time. There were months at a time where nothing seems to be happening, and then suddenly I’d have copy edits to go through or something cool like my jacket proof would come in the mail.
How much of your own marketing do you?
I’m not quite to that part of things yet. I set up my own launch and a blog tour and stuff, but that’s because I’m antsy and wanted to make sure those things happened the way I wanted them to. My website was super fun to make: caitlinsangster.com and you can find me on Twitter @caitsangster
When do you build your platform? After an agent? Or should you be working before?
A platform is always a positive thing, so if you’ve got the time an means to start, awesome. I wouldn’t say it’s essential before going after an agent, though.
Do you think social media helps build your readership?
Honestly, most of the people I network with on social media are adults. It’s great for meeting other writers and finding fun opportunities in the writing community, but I don’t know about building readership among actual teenagers. The few I have met who are librarians or teachers might help getting my book into teenage hands, but aside from that, I feel like social media mostly helps me keep up with other writers, editors, etc., rather than connecting me directly to my target audience. I’m not that great at social media though, so it might just be me!