I'm lucky (or cunning) enough to have lured yet another successful writer over to my blog for an SAT - Successful Author Talk. SAT authors have conquered the query, slain the synopsis and attained the pinnacle of published. How'd they do it? Let's ask 'em!
Today’s guest for the SAT is Brandon Marie Miller, an award-winning author of U. S. History for young people. She earned a degree in American History from Purdue University and now lives in Ohio. Her books have been honored by the International Reading Association (IRA), the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS), the Society for School Librarians International, Voices of Youth Advocates (VOYA), Bank Street College, and the Junior Library Guild.
Are you a Planner or Pantster?
As a mostly nonfiction writer I am definitely a Planner. I have notes, some neat, some scribbled on scraps, some in MS Office OneNote. I have outlines. I have timelines. I have stacks of books ready to tip over. I have piles of photocopies spread all over the floor. Now that I think about it—things are a lot less planned and organized than I’d like.
For fiction, I usually have main plot points in mind, but I go with the flow after that and see what develops in a bare bones draft.
How long does it typically take you to write a novel, start to finish?
The only novel I’ve written (YA historical) took me 8 years off and on to finish. It is not yet published but I have hopes.
My history and biographies take about 2 years to research and write.
Do you work on one project at a time, or are you a multi-tasker?
I only work on one project at a time, although there are always small things going on and fires to put out. I might be waiting for comments from an editor while working on a nonfiction book proposal or writing a blog. But multi-tasking at writing is not one of my strengths and I don’t beat myself up about it.
Did you have to overcome any fears that first time you sat down to write?
I’ve had 13 books published and I have fears every time I sit down to write. It’s huge, it’s a long process; you need thick skin, persistence, and self-confidence, which are often in short supply. I always worry I won’t be able to do IT (write something) again. I worry I won’t be able to sell the next thing or will I go through a long drought of nothing. But, the writing community (especially in kid lit) is supportive and helpful. I don’t think I could do this without my writing buddies.
How many trunked books did you have before you were agented?
I handled my own submissions, rejections, and contracts for many years before getting an agent. It used to be that more houses were open. And for nonfiction you have the chance to sell a book based on a proposal and a sample chapter instead of a finished manuscript. Contracts are so complicated now with e-rights and different things, and so many houses are closed to submission, that I was very happy to have an agent for this last book.
Have you ever quit on an ms, and how did you know it was time?
I don’t have any half finished ms stashed away. I finish what I start and quit the rough way-- when the market tells me to quit through numerous rejections!
Who is your agent and how did you get that "Yes!" out of them?
My agent is Dawn Frederick at Red Sofa Literary. I actually queried another agent at Red Sofa who wasn’t taking on new authors at that time, but she loved my query and told me to send it to Dawn. I sent Dawn my book proposal and she offered representation after we talked on the phone. So I had a referral, but also wrote a query letter and a book proposal.
How long did you query before landing your agent?
For the project that got me an agent I probably sent out a dozen queries, maybe more.
Any advice to aspiring writers out there on conquering query hell?
Patience. Also, if you don’t have writing credits, don’t point it out—just leave any comment about that out of your query. Read successful queries. Use the internet and social media to refine your focus on agents who like what you are writing.
How did it feel the first time you saw your book for sale?
Unreal. Fantastic. That first book, now long out of print, is still so special to me!
How much input do you have on cover art?
None. And out of 13 books, only one has my working title!
What's something you learned from the process that surprised you?
How very slow it all is. How bruising the process can be. And the biggest surprise: How little money a writer actually makes.
How much of your own marketing do you? Do you have a blog / site / Twitter?
I do what I can, but it is out of my comfort zone, for sure. I submit for book festivals, and spend time on social media. I’ve tried to build relationships with other writers, librarians, teachers, and hope they will put in a good word about my books once in a while. Share other writers’ news. Be generous. But you can’t count on other people doing the same for you. I share a blog with two other nonfiction writers and I have a website that is chronically in need of updating. Marketing is hard. A good marketing team at the publisher can be uplifting. Sometimes you have to ask for what you’d like to have. Be kind, thoughtful, respectful, but ask.
When do you build your platform? After an agent? Or should you be working before?
I think you should start before you get an agent—after all an online presence may help you get that agent.
Do you think social media helps build your readership?
For some authors, yes, but it certainly doesn’t translate for all authors. I see people fretting about the number of followers they have. Don’t. Instead, have generous interactions with a smaller number of followers who are actually interested in what you do. These are the people that will support you and share your information.