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 Erin Hahn, author of You'd Be Mine, a love story about Annie Mathers - America’s sweetheart and heir to a country music legacy full of all the things her Gran warned her about.
Are you a Planner or Pantster?
Hm. A reformed pantser, I suppose. I definitely struggle to follow an outline, no matter how meticulous and well-thought-out, but now that my work has to be approved by both an agent and an editor, I try to follow a cohesive format.
The best I can come up with on my own is a soundtrack. I can follow a song per chapter, capturing the feeling of that song and write from there. USUALLY my characters allow that and since my novels tend to rely heavily on music as a subject matter, so far so good.
How long does it typically take you to write a novel, start to finish?
Usually 4 months draft to revisions. I’m a binge writer so the words will pour and then nothing for months while my creative well refills.
Do you work on one project at a time, or are you a multitasker?
Gah. ONE. AT. A. TIME. Those who can multitask their drafts? You are magical glitter unicorns with rainbow hair. I’m so jealous. I might start daydreaming a new project when I’m working on a draft, but there is just no room to switch gears in my brain.
Did you have to overcome any fears that first time you sat down to write?
Not the first time I wrote, no. I’ve always enjoyed telling stories and used to blog quite a bit back in the day. But I definitely almost threw up every time I sat down to query my first few books. I got so many rejections that I grew to expect them, which certainly made things easier. By the time I got my agent, my skin was nice and tough.
How many trunked books (if any) did you have before you were agented?
Four to five. A nearly completed YA SF trilogy, a YA contemporary fantasy and a YA contemporary.
Have you ever quit on an ms, and how did you know it was time?
I quit on my trilogy. It was socially problematic and I was pretty ignorant as I wrote it. I’ve recycled my favorite character into my WIP, so I think that means if I ever tried to revive the trilogy, I’d have to tear it apart and rebuild it without the messiness and I just don’t know that it would stand. Some stories just aren’t yours to tell. That was this series for me.
Who is your agent and how did you get that "Yes!" out of them?
My agent is the utter badass Kate McKean, VP at Howard Morhaim Literary. She pulled me out of the good old slush pile! No contests, no pitches, nothing. I sent her a query, she asked for my full and then she scheduled a call with me to offer!
How long did you query before landing your agent?
With You'd Be Mine, I’d been querying for two months. I’d sent ten queries off of pitch contest requests and thirty “cold queries” in that time. When I got my offer, I had 15 fulls out to other agents. Prior to that, I’d queried 3 other books over three years and sent probably 250 total queries for those books.
Any advice to aspiring writers out there on conquering query hell?
I queried like it was my job because it was. Some authors keep spreadsheets. I had one of those that a friend lent me that ranked agents and their YA sales. I also kept track of every agent I queried in a new notebook. I would track the submission requirements, the date sent and the date a request or rejection was received. If the agency had a 6-8 week limit, I would mark that as well so I knew if I should follow up or let it go.
When a rejection or request came through, I would open my notebook and make a note. Every week, I would pull out my notebook and see how many queries were outstanding and decide if I should consider revising or send out more queries. It also allowed me to tally just how many queries I’d sent and I would make a goal for myself. For example, the book before You'd Be Mine,, another contemporary, had gotten a fair number of requests early on. So I told myself to give it 85 queries. It was painful and by the end, I didn’t want to send it, but I also LOVED that book so hitting that number helped me to shelf it, knowing I gave it a real shot.
This method helped me to keep organized of course, but also allowed me to keep my emotions at bay. This was my business. Obviously, there were plenty of nights where I drank wine and pretended I was going to quit writing books, but the next morning I would pull out my notebook and send another 5 queries.
How did it feel the first time you saw your book for sale?
Um, BANANAS. The hilarious part is you have all these marketing people and editors and whoever and they are lovely and amazing but also, this is their job. This is what they do, putting books up for sale. So my editor was like, “don’t panic but your book with its cover is up on Amazon but you can’t buy it yet and we don’t want anyone to know so shhhhh…”
And on the outside, I’m all, “Of course. That’s fine. I’m very professional and cool.”
Inside, Reader, I was like, “HOLY SHIT THERE IS A BOOK WITH MY NAME ON IT ON MOTHER EFFING AMAZON.” My mom left me a voicemail the day my book went up for presale. She’s sobbing and saying, “I… just… searched… your…. name… and… you… were… there!”
How much input do you have on cover art?
It varies per book and imprint, but I was able to chat with my editor about what I thought fit the tone of the story and she brought my thoughts to the art team. After I saw the cover, I was able to give them feedback, but I was very fortunate in that I was obsessed with the art. I did ask them to tweak some things, like make my name smaller and play with the color… but in the end, I’m pretty sure I reverted back to the original scheme. I’m very pleased with my first cover!
What's something you learned from the process that surprised you?
Hm. How much non-book-writing is required! Obviously, writing the book is my top priority, but there is so much self-marketing and networking involved. It’s all a lot of fun and definitely the stuff of dreams, but I never realized.
How much of your own marketing do you?
I feel like I do quite a bit. I have a website, Instagram and Twitter. I’m also in the #novel19s debut class and partake in monthly live twitter chats… and then, of course, all the guest blog posts. My publisher is really excellent and has done a few Goodreads giveaways of early copies, so I’m very fortunate, but I feel like I need to put the work in, too!
When do you build your platform? After an agent? Or should you be working before?
I’ve been on twitter since I started querying and spent those first years building up a firm foundation in the writing community. I’ve made lots of friends and CPs and have been able to really clue-in to what is important and also, problematic. I waited until after signing with my agent to build my website or take author photos or do guest blogs… I would say I was waiting for a bit more credibility. I also waited until after selling my first book to sign up to mentor in Author Mentor Match, which is a marvelous community for new authors!
I think it’s important to always be working on your public persona, because that could come back to bite you if you’re a dick. The internet seems eternal and burning bridges there could haunt your future career. Make friends, be supportive, give back and be kind.
Do you think social media helps build your readership?
It can! Holy smokes, the number of people who have preordered my book because of something I’ve written in a blog or something I’ve tweeted constantly amazes me. People who will tag you in kind reviews and share their love for your words is everything to a new author.