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 Casey Lyall, debut author of the MG novel HOWARD WALLACE, P.I., coming September 6 from Sterling Children's Books. Casey (5’4”, brown hair, blue eyes, no known aliases) is a middle grade writer from Southwestern Ontario. She works at her local library where she runs a number of teen groups and waits for management to discover they’re actually paying her to have fun. When she’s not writing, Casey loves to bake, watch an “unhealthy” amount of movies and television, and of course, read.
Are you a Planner or Pantster?
I’m definitely a planner. The plan is fluid and ends up changing as I go along, but I like to have a frame to work with. It’s like building a house: I like to know how many rooms there’ll be before I start playing with colour swatches.
How long does it typically take you to write a novel, start to finish?
The first one took a few months. The second one…longer. Like,‘trying to murderize me’ longer.
Do you work on one project at a time, or are you a multi tasker?
Generally one project at a time, but I keep notes for other projects as I go along. Sometimes an idea hits me when my brain is busy with the current project and I have to write it down so I don’t lose it.
Did you have to overcome any fears that first time you sat down to write?
Not really because I’ve always loved writing. That part felt natural. The fear came more with the after-writing stuff: querying, revising for an agent, submission, revising for an editor, etc. As the stakes got bigger, my fear of messing things up increased. But so far it’s working out okay!
How many trunked books did you have before you were agented?
One delightful (to me) picture book that maybe I’ll revisit someday. I’ve learned a lot since then so it might be fun to go back and noodle with it.
Have you ever quit on an ms, and how did you know it was time?
I haven’t quit on a book yet. My second book has been an interesting process because I had a whole different plot line originally. I spun my wheels for a while before realizing it wasn’t working. I couldn’t progress beyond the first few chapters. Once I figured out what was wrong, I scrapped a bunch of it, melded the rest with another plot idea I had, and things improved from there.
Who is your agent and how did you get that "Yes!" out of them?
My agent is the lovely Molly Ker Hawn of the Bent Agency and we found each other through the traditional querying process. I read a few interviews with her and felt like she’d be a great match for me so I sent a query. She requested a full requested a full which was mondo exciting. I ended up with a few offers, but I ultimately signed with Molly because we clicked so well.
How long did you query before landing your agent?
I did two rounds of querying over a period of about a year. After the first round, I did some serious revision based on feedback from agents and then queried again about six months later. Taking that time to revise made all the difference.
Any advice to aspiring writers out there on conquering query hell?
Build your support group. No one is going to understand what you’re going through like another writer will. And giving support to others is just as important as receiving it. There’s nothing like talking an author friend out of a stress spiral to realize that you’re not alone in this sea of feels. Keep learning, keep improving, keep making friends. That’s what will keep you sane.
How much input do you have on cover art?
My publisher was very open to my input. We talked a lot about the cover and I love what we ended up with.
What's something you learned from the process that surprised you?
Oh, man, just how intricate the whole process of making a book is. Getting to see all the behind the scenes work that goes on has totally blown my mind. It’s such a group effort and it’s made the whole process, if possible, even more fun.
How much of your own marketing do you?
I’ve received a ton of support from my publisher, but I try to make sure I’m putting in my own effort as well. I blog with a group of awesome authors on Tumblr. We’re called Kick-Butt Kidlit. I love working on a group blog because it takes a lot of the pressure off. Instead of coming up with new content every week, I only have to post once a month. It makes my life easier. I also have a Facebook page and a Twitter account along with a website. I’ve got some really exciting promotional plans for when my book releases so more on that to come!
When do you build your platform? After an agent? Or should you be working before?
I don’t think anyone should ever feel pressure to build a platform. If you’re not comfortable with social media, don’t engage in it. Your energy is going to be put to better use when you channel it into something you enjoy and gives you energy in return.
That being said, I think you can dive in at any time. There are so many different outlets available. Take your time and figure out which medium works best for you. I personally love Twitter. It’s fun and it’s quick. Other people love Instagram and SnapChat. If you’re happy and comfortable with the site you’re using, that will come through in the content you produce.
Do you think social media helps build your readership?
I think it does if you’re using it properly. Tying back to the previous question – if you’re genuine in your posts and having fun getting to know people online; that will be reflected in your readership. People who use social media to blast spam at their followers will never see a result from that. Think of it as an investment. You have to put in quality in order to see any kind of return. I’ve met some great people online. They provide me with support and encouragement, but I’ve also had the chance to learn about them. For me, it’s all about the community. (So find me on Twitter because I like making new friends!)