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 (Successful Author Talk) is Annie Sullivan who grew up in Indianapolis. She received her Masters degree in Creative Writing from Butler University. Her debut, A Touch of Gold, about the cursed daughter of King Midas, is available now.
Are you a Planner or Pantster?
I’m a total pantster. I like to have a general idea of who characters are, maybe a few major plot points, and possibly how things will end. But other than that, I make it all up as I go. I find if I plan too much it becomes restrictive; whereas, if I just let the characters and setting guide the plot, I come up with details and events that I wouldn’t have thought of otherwise.
How long does it typically take you to write a novel, start to finish?
My first novel took 2 years because I was working on my Masters degree in Creative Writing at the same time. Now, I can write a novel in about 3 months. Then, I like to take a few months to work with critique partners and revise.
Do you work on one project at a time, or are you a multi-tasker?
I work on one project at time; otherwise, I would start confusing characters! The only exception would be that I might be doing copy edits on one project and then actively writing another.
Did you have to overcome any fears that first time you sat down to write?
I think a lot of writers struggle with the feeling that they’re not good enough and that no one will want to read their story. But I tell myself now that it doesn’t matter what others think. As long as I’m happy and entertained by a story, the rest will take care of itself.
I also remember when I set out to write my first novel thinking, “I have no idea how to write a novel." I’d only written short stories up to that point, but I figured there was no better way to learn then to just give it a try.
How many trunked books (if any) did you have before you were agented?
I was lucky and only had 1, but I’d still like to see that one come to light!
Have you ever quit on an ms, and how did you know it was time?
I have this rule about making it to Chapter 8. If I can make it to Chapter 8, then 95% of the time, I’ll finish the story. However, sometimes I get there and realize I have to start over. It’s about that point when I realize either a character or major plot element just isn’t working in a given story. And since I’m a pantster, that often requires a lot of rewriting. It may seem frustrating at times, but even realizing something isn’t working is valuable. It gives you the chance to go back and make something better.
Who is your agent and how did you get that "Yes!" out of them?
My agent is the amazing Christa Heschke of McIntosh & Otis. I had entered a competition on Christa’s blog where you posted the first 250 words of your novel. While the winner was picked randomly, Christa saw my 250 words and asked to read more! A few weeks later she offered to represent me! Fun fact: I was actually in Antarctica (I love to travel) when the offer came in, so I was little slow getting back to her and had to have my sister let her know I’d be in touch soon.
How long did you query before landing your agent?
It took me about 9 months to get an agent, but during that time, I queried two different books because the first one wasn’t getting a strong response from agents. For that first book, I probably sent 100 queries, but for the next one that got me my agent, I probably only sent out 20 or so.
Any advice to aspiring writers out there on conquering query hell?
Don’t give up. So much of this business is just finding the right agent at the right time. Keep writing while you’re waiting to hear back from agents, and if the first book doesn’t work, move on to the second. You’ll just keep improving with every book you write, so keep going!
How much input do you have on cover art?
I got to give them some initial direction, and we had a few discussions about what direction we might go. Then, my publisher ran with it and created something beautiful!
What's something you learned from the process that surprised you?
I was surprised by how many people wanted to help support this book. People I hadn’t talked to in years were letting me know they’d bought multiple copies of the book. It was such a wonderful surprise every time someone would reach out letting me know they’d bought it and were looking forward to reading it.
How much of your own marketing do you do?
My day job is in the publishing world, and so I have a background in publicity. Thus, I wanted to do as much to help my book succeed as I could. I reached out to bloggers every chance I had and brainstormed lots of marketing ideas myself. I also even paid for a few ads on sites like Facebook and Twitter.
When do you build your platform? After an agent? Or should you be working before?
Start as early as you possibly can on building your platform. Your book will ultimately have to sell itself, but having a large platform can sway an agent or publisher who might be on the fence.
Do you think social media helps build your readership?
Definitely. I’ve had multiple people find out about my book through Facebook or Twitter. These sites allow you to reach people who you wouldn’t normally be able to. They can really help spread the word about your book.