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 CJ Redwine, the New York Times bestselling author of YA fantasy novels, including The Shadow Queen, The Wish Granter, and the Defiance trilogy. If the novel writing gig ever falls through, she’ll join the Avengers and wear a cape to work every day. The Traitor Prince, third in the Ravenspire series, releases this week!
Are you a Planner or Pantster?
A planner, to a degree. I have to know the basic shape of the story and what happens at the end so I know what to aim for. I write out a long synopsis before starting the story so I can figure out the characters, the backstory, and the major turning points of the novel. Then I play connect the dots between the turning points as I write. I don’t really know what happens between those turning points until I write it.
How long does it typically take you to write a novel, start to finish?
About 3 months of work before I write and then another 3 months of actual writing.
Do you work on one project at a time, or are you a multi-tasker?
I multi-task … kind of. I work hard on writing one project at a time, but I’m always doing the legwork on about 8 other projects while I’m writing my current one. I might be jotting notes on worldbuilding, tossing songs onto a playlist as I hear them, or writing out quick bits of dialogue and saving all of it to a file I can open when I’m ready to actually sit down and write that story from start to finish.
Did you have to overcome any fears that first time you sat down to write?
I have to overcome fears every time I sit down to write. There are very few days where I sit down and think “I’m good at this. I can do this. It’s going to be great.” Most of the time, I have to tell myself “I can fix this. I just need something on the page or I won’t have anything to fix.”
How many trunked books did you have before you were agented?
One full draft before I was agented (several started that were never finished). And two trunked novels AFTER I was agented because they didn’t sell.
Have you ever quit on an ms, and how did you know it was time?
Not since I got serious about being published. Now, I finish what I start.
Who is your agent and how did you get that "Yes!" out of them?
My agent is Holly Root of Root Literary and she is made of unicorns, cookies, and steel. I actually queried her because a fellow writer friend was agented by her and suggested that we’d be a good fit. I queried about 10 agents in that particular pass (I always queried in small batches so I could tinker with things if I wasn’t getting results.). Nine of them said no pretty fast. Holly took another three months to reply, but when she did, she asked for a phone call to discuss the book. I nearly died of anxiety and excitement. The call went well for both of us and at the end, she offered representation, and I accepted. That was nine years ago.
How long did you query before landing your agent?
I queried for two years before signing with Holly. A year and a half were spent querying a book that will never (and should never! Ack!) see the light of day. Six months were spent querying the book that got Holly’s attention.
Any advice to aspiring writers out there on conquering query hell?
Be professional online at all times (no bashing those who reject you!), query widely, and don’t be afraid to shelve a manuscript or a query that isn’t working and do something new. Also write a new project while you query. Not the sequel to what you’re querying, because if that doesn’t sell, you’ve got nothing new to send out.
You can do this! So much of publishing, both before and after getting an agent or a contract, is basically shoveling mud out of a ditch—it’s hard, it leaves callouses, and it takes a long time before you see true progress. This is good practice for what comes next, and if you’re committed to working on improving your craft and you have the perseverance to stick it out, you won’t be in the query trenches forever.
How did it feel the first time you saw your book for sale?
So surreal. It was both amazing and terrifying in this weird way. Like I thought maybe if I did something wrong, it would all disappear.
How much input do you have on cover art?
Not much. I give input on initial design elements for the series as a whole, and then I give feedback on cover concepts they send my way, but thankfully there’s a team of incredibly talented people at my pub house who are far more qualified than me in creating amazing covers. They’ve been lovely to work with. I’m in awe of their skill!
What's something you learned from the process that surprised you?
That the more successful I become, the more afraid I am to write each new story.
How much of your own marketing do you?
I do a lot of marketing, though my publisher does too. I just love marketing. I think it’s fun to promote books. (I own yabookscentral.com so I promote ALL the books, and it’s a blast.) I have a website, Instagram account, Twitter account, and three presences on FB: author page, regular page, and my fan group where I interact almost daily and offer sneak peeks, exclusives, giveaways, and more.
When do you build your platform? After an agent? Or should you be working before?
I started building it before being agented. Really building a platform is just interacting in a genuine way with others who love what you love. Authors, readers, viewers of your fave tv shows and movies etc. It’s not enough to generate your own content. Social media is a give and take. It’s a conversation. So seeking out others who are doing content that interests you and interacting there (Authentically. Not popping in to say “buy my book!”) is the way to go.
Do you think social media helps build your readership?
Absolutely. As authors, we are the brand. Books change, series start and stop, but we’re the constant. So having a genuine, interesting presence on social media helps draw readers to us.