April Tucholke - The Pantser Who Doesn't Quit

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! April Tucholke is a fellow Lucky13'er - a group of MG and YA authors who will be debuting in 2013. Her debut novel BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA will be released from Dial in 2013.


Are you a Planner or Pantster?

Pantster. Utterly. I like having the merest shadow of a structure before I start--because the best ideas tend to come to me as I go along. I'll get about a third of the way through a manuscript, and then decide that this or that character needs to be an a liar, or secretly evil, or violent, or arrogant, or annoyingly wholesome, or dead. It helps keep things interesting for me along the way.

How long does it typically take you to write a novel, start to finish? 

I'm pretty slow. Six months for a rough first draft, a year when all is said and done, maybe. I'm not a writer that enjoys the process--all that time spent in my own head. Ugh. I mean, I dig my characters and love the worlds they live in, but those worlds are usually pretty dark. This is fine short term, but hour after hour of it, every day for months, makes me moody.

Do you work on one project at a time, or are you a multi tasker?

I prefer to do one thing at a time.  But I'll start a new WIP, and get all caught up in it, and then switch focus to do edits on the old ms, and back and forth.  I'm the kind of person who reads six books at once, though, so I've had practice at holding several plotlines in my head.

Did you have to overcome any fears that first time you sat down to write?

Oh, heck yeah. I studied writing in college (in the Midwest), and in my program genre writing was scoffed at. Tender, coming-of-age farm stories were the thing--not really my cup of tea. That put me off writing for awhile. And then, when I thought about getting back into it, I was worried it would ruin reading for me--that I would learn too much about publishing, that I would start to notice things I didn't want to notice, like lazy rule-breaking, and too many adverbs, and unnecessary dialogue tags.  I worried that I would never be swept up in a story again. And that did happen, for awhile.  But I got over it.

How many trunked books (if any) did you have before you were agented?

None. I just kept working on the same manuscript until it was good enough, completely rewriting sections until it morphed into something else entirely. Something better.

Have you ever quit on an ms?

No, I guess not. I hate to give up on things.

Who is your agent and how did you get that "Yes!" out of them?  

Joanna Volpe at Nancy Coffey. Traditional query process.

How long did you query before landing your agent?

I sent out nine queries for BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA, and queried for two days--Joanna offered less than 24 hours after I sent her my full. That was pretty cool.

Any advice to aspiring writers out there on conquering query hell?

I've been working on this writing thing for four solid years (not counting my college days). I was repped before, and had two manuscripts not sell. This caused some of the darkest moments in my life--and I'm kind of an optimist by nature. Make sure you really want to do it before you begin. Bad. Because, unless you're very, very, very lucky, writing will make you bleed.

Hmmm…that wasn't very inspiring. OK, how about this:  do whatever it takes to find the best critique partner you can. Because you will need them. You will need them to edit your manuscript, of course, but also just to have someone to talk to about the ups and downs of the querying/publishing world. Your non-writing family and friends probably aren't going to cut it--there's a good chance they'll view writing as an artistic luxury, not a job. That's fine, but really unhelpful when things get tough. I found a brilliant CP, and I couldn't live without her.

And if all else fails, get a dog.  But this is my advice for most things.

How much input do you have on cover art?

AT: I've yet to hear any word on my cover.  But hopefully I'll have some input on it.  I worked in a bookstore for four years and, despite the saying, people happily judge books by their cover, consistently and without hesitation.

What's something you learned from the process that surprised you?

1. How many people want to be writers. I wanted to be an artist, actually. I used to hang around the art studio in college, lurking in corners and watching the painter kids slap oil onto canvases.  They seemed very exotic to me.

2. How much revising goes into a book, and how wicked hard it is. I went to the new Mission Impossible movie recently, and was sitting there, watching them try to plan an impossible mission, and I thought to myself, yo, try revising a manuscript some time. Absurd, I know. But yeah, that's what ran through my head.

How much of your own marketing do you do?  Do you have a blog / site / Twitter? 

I have a basic website, and have joined the very supportive Lucky 13s. I was on twitter for a few months, and then quit because it sucked a dangerous amount of time--I'm not sure I have the discipline to both write and be on twitter. It's funny, even four years ago when I started writing, there were very, very few YA author blogs (were there any?)…and I don't think twitter even existed.

When do you build your platform? After an agent? Or should you be working before?

Personal preference, I think. A lot of the authors I know started a blog before they were agented. I still don't have one. How much do you have to say? How much time do you want to spend saying it?

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

I think social media helps writers connect to other writers, which is great. Readership? Maybe. A bit. I think goodreads does what it can.