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!
Kirsten Miller is the author of THE ETERNAL ONES. The sequel, ALL YOU DESIRE will be coming Fall 2011. She also has a major fan who happens to be one of my students, and Kirsten gamely agreed to answer a few extra questions that an inquiring little mind wanted to ask.
Are you a Planner or Pantster?
I’m a panster by nature, but a planner by necessity. My books are too long, labyrinthine, and plot-driven to “wing it.” I learned that lesson with my first novel. These days, I compose very long outlines before I write a word. It’s a process I despise, but in the end, I’m always happy I took the time.
How long does it typically take you to write a novel, start to finish?
A first draft typically takes around six months. Revising and editing can take anywhere from an additional three to six months.
Do you work on one project at a time, or are you a multi tasker?
I would rather not multi-task, but it’s unavoidable. The rent must be paid! I’m often editing one book while I’m writing or outlining the next. This will change the minute I win the lottery. Ha.
Did you have to overcome any fears that first time you sat down to write?
I still have to overcome countless fears every time I sit down to write. Self-loathing is a big part of my process. Kidding. Sort of. It took me a long time to realize that writing is—and SHOULD BE—work. Nothing is ever perfect the moment you put it on paper. Every sentence must be tweaked and every paragraph revised. It takes a great deal of patience, which is not a virtue with which I was blessed at birth.
How many trunked books (if any) did you have before you were agented?
None. I always considered myself a short story writer until I wrote my first novel. I do have lots and lots of terrible stories hidden deep in my hard drive. I keep waiting for someone to hack into my computer and expose my secret shame.
Have you ever quit on an ms, and how did you know it was time?
I haven’t “quit,” but I once scrapped over sixty thousand words (200 pages) of a manuscript and started all over from scratch. I just didn’t like what I’d done. (You’ll know the feeling the moment you experience it.) In this business, you’re never going to please everyone. (Believe me.) So it’s very important that YOU are happy with what you’ve done.
Who is your agent and how did you get that "Yes!" out of them?
My agent is Suzanne Gluck at WME, the greatest agent in the history of mankind. My career would not be possible without her. I knew one of her clients, and she very kindly agreed to look at an early manuscript of my first book. She loved it, and the rest was history. I thank the universe every single day for that incredible piece of luck.
How long did you query before landing your agent?
See the answer above. And try not to hate me. I don’t experience that kind of luck on a regular basis. I swear.
Any advice to aspiring writers out there on conquering query hell?
It’s a good time to grow a very thick skin. You’ll need it as an author. Just keep in mind that (almost) every single person who has written a book has experienced soul-searing rejection and criticism. From agents, publishers, and readers. But you will eventually find people who love your work, and it will make all the pain worthwhile.
How did that feel, the first time you saw your book for sale?
Terrified. And thrilled. And terrified. I avoided bookstores for a while. Can you tell I’m just a wee bit neurotic?
How much input do you have on cover art?
I’m going to answer this question and the next at the same time. I was shocked (shocked, I tell you!) to discover that authors have very little control over the cover art for their books. If you have wonderful publishers and editors (which I do), then you will be invited to express your pleasure or displeasure. However, it is the publisher’s decision, and there’s not a whole heck of a lot you can do about it!
What's something you learned from the process that surprised you?
How much of your own marketing do you? Do you have a blog / site / Twitter?
Most YA authors must tweet and/or blog, I’m afraid. It can be a lot of work. Sometimes it gets a little overwhelming. My Twitter handle is @Bankstirregular. (I really need to tweet a bit more.) My blog is also called Bank St. Irregular.
I do love blogging. My blog reflects my (bizarre) interests and (many) eccentricities. And I enjoy corresponding with the people who visit the site. It’s the best part of being an author.
When do you build your platform? After an agent? Or should you be working before?
I don’t think it’s ever too early to start building your own “brand.” It might even help you attract an agent and publisher.
Do you think social media helps build your readership?
I’ve heard a range of different opinions on this subject. I would say yes, but you really have to put in the time and effort. A blog post or tweet once a week isn’t going to do much for anyone.
Questions from My Student!
When you were little, did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I always knew I wanted to write, but I never dreamed I’d get published. I figured one of my great-great-grandchildren would discover my scribblings locked away in a dusty old trunk—and hope the compulsion to write weird stories wasn’t a hereditary disorder.
What books did you read growing up?
Anything and everything. YA literature didn’t really hit its heyday until I was out of college. There were good YA books when I was a kid, of course. (The Westing Game, Lord of the Flies) But there weren’t quite as many. So I read a lot of Stephen King, and I STILL sleep with a light on.
Did you draw any inspiration from your own experiences when you wrote The Eternal Ones?
This is a question that might get me in a whole heap of trouble. Ha. I grew up in a tiny town in the mountains of North Carolina. Unlike Haven, however, I had a fabulous childhood. I did “borrow” a bit from my hometown. Eden Falls, for example, is based on a real place. But while there are many Appalachian hamlets that are much like Snope City, my hometown doesn’t happen to be one of them.
At seventeen, I got the bright idea to move to New York for college. I guess I must have been much braver (or more foolish) back then. One day, just like Haven, I packed up and left the South for good. I’ve been in New York ever since.
Unfortunately, I’ve never uncovered any proof that I’ve lived other lives. I’m waiting!