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 Lisa Scott, debut author of SCHOOL OF CHARM, available now from Katherine Tegen Books.
Are you a Planner or Pantster?
I was a pantser for my first few books (with a vague idea in my head where things were going.) Since then, I create outlines and find it much easier to work things out ahead of time (although surprises still pop up when I’m writing the first full draft.) I usually need to walk around with an idea in my head for a while before I start outlining—like literally going for long walks. My best ideas come to me that way.
How long does it typically take you to write a novel, start to finish?
It really depends on the story, the amount of research needed, if any. School of Charm took six months on my lunch breaks at work (and weekends,) but I’m writing faster these days, especially since I work from home now, splitting my time as a voice actor and writer.
Do you work on one project at a time, or are you a multi tasker?
I’ve found that I’ve got a creative daily limit for each project, around 1500-2000 words. Recently, I’ve tried working on different projects at once. I’ll work on one novel in the morning, another in the evening. So far, so good. (I also write romance as Lisa Scott, so there are always lots of projects brewing.)
Did you have to overcome any fears that first time you sat down to write?
I definitely had to put aside any worries about what other people would think. I also had to fight the nagging voice that would whisper, “You’re not good enough.” Stupid voice.
How many trunked books did you have before you were agented?
Two. One can’t be saved, the other needs some work and I may revisit it when I get time. (Ha!)
Have you ever quit on an ms, and how did you know it was time?
I’ve started and stopped at least half a dozen novels. Looking back on those abandoned projects, I can see that I had a premise without knowing the arc of the story and the character’s inner journey. (Another good reason to outline—you can find out if your story has legs.)
Who is your agent and how did you get that "Yes!" out of them?
My agent is Jennifer Unter of The Unter Agency. I queried her the traditional way. She requested a full ms. a month after I queried her. It took another month to hear back. She’d sent me an email, and I remember my shoulders slumping before I opened it thinking she’d passed, because when you get an agent, you get the call, right? But no! She loved it and said she wanted to represent it. I love her. She has an editorial background and a legal background, and she’s very supportive and responsive.
How long did you query before landing your agent?
Oh, it was a long, not fun process with lots of starts and stops. Short answer: 4 years.
Here’s the long answer if you’re interested. I wrote a women’s fiction novel in 2007 and got 7 or 8 partial requests but no full requests. So, I did the logical thing and picked an entirely different genre—middle grade. I finished the novel, and only queried a few agents, got no requests and decided something was off with the novel, but I didn’t know how to fix it.
So I moved on to a new project! In early 2008, I wrote School of Charm and started querying that summer. I got a few partial and full requests. Then I lost my job in late 2008. I was a mess. Shortly after, I got a full request from an agent I was crazy about and I thought, “Look! It’s the new door opening for me.” And she rejected it.
The job loss on top of the ms. rejection made me quit writing for a while. But I needed money and started writing romantic short stories for a magazine, then wrote my first romance novel and was submitting that to publishers. I was self-publishing some romantic shorts in early 2011 and thought about self-publishing School of Charm. A writer friend who’d read a bit of the book begged me to query again, so I sent out one more query. (I remembered how much I hated the process, and only sent out the one.) But that query got me my agent in mid-2011.
So, no real easy way to answer that question! And honestly, I have no idea how many queries total I sent out. Dozens and dozens. (BTW, that romance novel got picked up by Bell Bridge Books.)
Any advice to aspiring writers out there on conquering query hell?
You’ve heard it before, but you only need that one person to love your book. I got lots of publisher rejections when we went out on submission. And the reasons they gave for passing on it ended up being the revisions my editor requested. But there was something about it she loved that she was willing to take it on despite the changes needed.
How did it feel the first time you saw your book for sale?
I’ve only seen it online. I’m certain I will freak out and cry and pose for pictures when I see it in a bookstore.
How much input do you have on cover art?
They incorporated a few touches I wanted, including the dandelion puff, so I was happy with that.
What's something you learned from the process that surprised you?
Just how nerve wrecking it can be even after the sale. The editor who bought my book left the publisher in the middle of the editorial process. That was really scary. But the new editor assigned to me was great to work with, too. It seems like there’s always something new to worry about—journal reviews, customer reviews, sub-rights etc.
How much of your own marketing do you?
I do all my own marketing. I wish I were better at it. (Or that I didn’t have to do it at all! It’s definitely a different skill set from writing fiction.) One of the best things I did was join a debut authors group. I’m a member of The Class of 2k14: Fiction Addiction. It’s so great to share the debut process with other people going through the same thing. And it’s a strong marketing opportunity, too.
I also have a site and am on Twitter and Facebook.
When do you build your platform? After an agent? Or should you be working before?
Oh, before for sure. I wish I’d been more on top of that. Start making friends and chatting with people in your genre’s community even before you query.
Do you think social media helps build your readership?
I think it can, but I do believe most books that break through, take off from organic word of mouth.