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 Ingrid Palmer, author of All Out of Pretty. She has always had a touch of the pioneer spirit, having once crewed a sailboat through the Georgian Bay, drove sled dogs in Quebec, and went river rafting in Germany. She has a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University and is a graduate of the Denver Publishing Institute.
Are you a Planner or Pantster?
I am definitely a Pantser, though I dream of someday mastering the art of outlining a book before I write it. I think it would save a lot of time in revisions.
The way it usually works for me is, I become fascinated by a character or group of characters, have a vague idea of some plot points, and then we all go on an adventure together. When I sit down to write each day, I'm never sure where we're going to end up!
How long does it typically take you to write a novel, start to finish?
Three years for the first manuscript I wrote, nine months for the second (this was my debut--All Out of Pretty), and about a year and a half for the third. That's how long it took me to finish the first complete draft of each one. After that, I put in many months to years revising.
Do you work on one project at a time, or are you a multi-tasker?
It depends. All Out of Pretty is an intense, gritty book, and there were times when I needed a break from all the heavy emotions. On those days, I'd work on a different manuscript, so I ended up writing a good portion of my third book while I drafted All Out of Pretty. In general, though, I try not to stray from my main WIP too much.
Did you have to overcome any fears that first time you sat down to write?
I had a career as a journalist and I've been writing stories since childhood, so I didn't have a fear of the writing process, per se. But when it came time to let others read my words, the fear factor went through the roof!
Joining my first critique group was terrifying--until I realized I'd found some of my favorite people in the world. I think putting your work out for public consumption/review can be scary, and I don't know if that vulnerable feeling ever fully goes away.
How many trunked books did you have before you were agented?
I had one trunked book that I put aside before writing All Out of Pretty and finding my agent. But it's only temporarily trunked...it needs work, but I plan to revisit it. I have a deep kinship with those characters and haven't let them go for good.
Have you ever quit on an ms, and how did you know it was time?
I had to stop revising the first book, the one that's temporarily trunked, because I'd been working on it for too long to be able to see how to successfully reshape it. I knew it was time to move on after I'd queried, gotten some requests and feedback, and still felt kind of stuck. I learned a lot writing that book, though, and all those lessons carried over into subsequent projects.
Who is your agent and how did you get that "Yes!" out of them?
My agent is Shannon Hassan at Marsal Lyon Literary Agency and she's amazing! I found her the old-fashioned way--through the query process. She requested 50 pages, then the full and a description of other projects I was working on, and a few months later she sent an email with the three words that changed my life: "I love it!"
How long did you query before landing your agent?
I did two rounds of queries with All Out of Pretty. The first time around I had about a 30 percent request rate (which was great!) but I wasn't getting offers of representation. After I'd gotten feedback from enough agents to see a pattern, I stopped querying and spent two years revising. When I queried the second time around, I got the request/offer from my agent after a few months.
Any advice to aspiring writers out there on conquering query hell?
1. Never give up.
2. If you're getting requests but no offers, ask for feedback on what isn't working. I had some great email conversations with agents willing to share their thoughts/advice. I even had one agent (who loved the book but had another that was too similar) contact other agents on my behalf!
3. If you're not getting requests, take another look at your query, synopsis, pitch, and first pages. Have people with fresh eyes read it. Attend a writer's conference and pitch it in person.
4. Don't just send queries and wait. Start a new project. Immediately.
5. Did I mention not giving up?
How did it feel the first time you saw your book for sale?
Seeing the book up for preorder felt wonderful but surreal. Seeing the book on the shelf of an actual bookstore was one of the highlights of my life! But the first time I saw my ISBN number, I cried with joy. That was a surprisingly emotional moment.
How much input do you have on cover art?
My publisher and designer came up with the concept, designed it, and then sent it over for feedback. My agent and I proposed trying out a few small changes, and they did. Happily, we all agreed on the final version!
What's something you learned from the process that surprised you?
This wasn't something I ever thought about before getting published, but one of my favorite parts of the process was working on the Discussion/Curriculum Guide. It was so satisfying to collaborate with my publisher and create questions that analyzed the book's themes as well as my characters and their choices. Amazing!
How much of your own marketing do you do?
My publicist arranges most events and signings, and she created a marketing plan for the pre-launch initiatives. I handle my own social media sites.
When do you build your platform? After an agent? Or should you be working before?
I think it's a personal choice. Before I was agented, I started a blog with my critique partners - We Heart YA - that I posted to a handful of times a year and had a Twitter account that I barely used. After I signed the book deal, I became more active on Twitter, created an author Facebook page, added Instagram, and hired the talented Stephanie Mooney to design my author website. It's a challenge to balance the marketing/promoting side of things with the actual writing, but I think it's important to make writing the priority.
Do you think social media helps build your readership?
I'm not sure if social media directly affects readership numbers or not (I hope it does!) but either way, it's a supportive community and a great way to build relationships with other writers, readers and book-loving people. That in itself is worth the time and energy.