Geoffrey Girard On Getting YA Into The Hands Of The Audience

Welcome to the SNOB - Second Novel Ominipresent Blues. Whether you’re under contract or trying to snag another deal, you’re a professional now, with the pressures of a published novelist compounded with the still-present nagging self-doubt of the noobie. How to deal?


Today's guest for the SNOB is fellow Ohioan, Geoffrey Girard, who writes thrillers, historicals, and dark speculative fiction. Simon and Schuster published two Girard novels simultaneously in 2013: CAIN'S BLOOD, a techno thriller, and PROJECT CAIN, a companion novel for teen/YA readers which was nominated for a Bram Stoker award for "Superior Achievement in a Young Adult Novel."

Girard's short fiction has appeared in several best-selling anthologies and magazines, including Writers of the Future (a 2003 winner), Prime Codex, Aoife's Kiss, The Willows, Murky Depths, Apex Horror & Science Fiction Digest, and the Stoker-nominated Dark Faith anthology.

His newest, TRUTHERS, releases today from CarolRhoda!

Is it hard to leave behind the first novel and focus on the second?

By the time the two CAIN books (PROJECT CAIN and CAIN’S BLOOD) were off to the publisher, I was already reading a dozen-plus books about 9/11 and all the conspiracy stuff and noodling over the characters and plot of what would become TRUTHERS. In short order, I had Katie and her dilemma of trying to figure out if dad is truly crazy (claiming she’s not his daughter but, rather, some kind of living proof to the “Inside-Job” 9/11 conspiracy) or if, possibly, he may know something about the truth of what happened that day. So, it was very easy to give myself over to that new world/story. Haven’t read PROJECT CAIN or CAIN’S BLOOD, or even thought about them – beyond promotional activities – since the last draft.

What’s proven fun/interesting, however, is how other people make it hard to leave behind the first novel. Readers and publishers and agents and friends, etc. ALL assume I’m totally into serial killers (the CAIN books are about famous serial killers) and that’s what they want to talk about at book events, or they’ll send me news links and pass on new books to read, etc. But, I haven’t given serial killers a real thought since I turned in those books five years ago. Since then, I’ve written about 9/11, eugenics, Scottish ghosts, WW2, and I’m now working on a nonfiction book set in feudal Japan. There’s other stuff already in my head, replacing the old.

I expect much of this year – the “TRUTHERS Year” – will be spent talking about 9/11 and various conspiracy theories, and while I’ll happily talk about all that with anyone who wants, I’ve secretly already moved on to feudal Japan. To be clear: it’s über cool when forensic psychologists and criminologists or old neighbors of the Dahmer family find me at book fairs and want to talk – that’s why you write! But, when we’re talking, for me, it’s like talking about old high school stories or, maybe, an ex-girlfriend. Fondly, some fun nostalgia, but not what’s driving/challenging me right now.

At what point do you start diverting your energies from promoting your debut to writing / polishing / editing your second?

They happen simultaneously. I’d started writing/editing “next” books in the months leading up to the first books coming out and during the release, etc. Promotional stuff, when it has/had to be done, I mostly do/did at night while watching TV or a quick warmup exercise prior to writing. (For instance, I’m answering these questions for 15 minutes before tackling an outline for a new book I’ve got to get done.) I’ve also hired a virtual assistant to handle a lot of the nuts and bolts part of promotion (events, blog tours, school visits, contests, etc.). Part of what I’ve learned is knowing which “energies” should, or can, be diverted/delegated to others. Writing and editing and research is what I’m most interested in, and where I’m of most value. It’s a win-win. With every new project and experience, writers get a better idea of what they’re good at, what’s important artistically and professionally, etc. That’s different for each of us, and part of the fun is figuring out who you are as an artist/person; what matters to you. For instance, I most prefer school visits or working face-to-face with writers getting started in their career/craft. That’s the teacher in me. Social media, on the other hand, I’m no good at, don’t like, and do only enough to prove I exist in the universe. As for promotion in general, and its worth, I know authors who are simply amazing at it (they do everything you’re “supposed to”) and sell nothing and authors who suck at it and sell a ton. What’s that tell you? In any case, I am looking forward to getting out and talking about TRUTHERS this fall.

Your first book landed an agent and an editor, and hopefully some fans. Who are you writing the second one for? Them, or yourself?

My YA novels, I’m still writing for my own students. PROJECT CAIN is an intro to serial killers. TRUTHERS is an intro to 9/11 and conspiracy theories. I know teens and young adults pretty well (spend most of my waking hours with them as a teacher) and have built a career around being able to make stuff interesting for them – whether my own sons, my students, or when presenting at some other high school or college or book event. That’s my audience. Writing YA fiction, in particular, can be somewhat difficult/frustrating because before you can get these books into the hands of the intended audience (who you’re really writing for), you first have to first get past gatekeepers – agents, editors, publishers, reviewers. All adults. Mostly well-educated “literary type” adults who have ideas about YA fiction that don’t necessarily always match what I’m finding success with 8 hours a day.  [NOT to be confused with librarians, who are fellow teachers and spend all day with young adults also]. I got a lot of “9/11? Too soon!” from many adults, when I was writing for some readers who literally weren’t alive when it happened. My goal was a balanced book that would intro young-adult readers to 9/11 and our escalating conspiracy culture, and it was quite gratifying when Publishers Weekly and the School Library Journal claimed TRUTHERS achieved that. Looking forward to seeing what YA readers think!

Is there a new balance of time management to address once you’re a professional author?

For sure, I’m more focused now. CAIN’S BLOOD took me a year to write. MARY ROSE (a thriller/ghost novel coming out this fall) took four months; and really less than three but I don’t want you to think it was rushed, so we’ll say four. I carved out additional time to write early morning I’d never used before which added 10-14 hours of writing a week. And on top of my usual weekend afternoon writing, I got quite serious at night often, skipping bad TV to head upstairs early and finish a chapter. As noted above, I also brought on some help to take care of the stuff I have no interest in. And THAT, is true time management.

What did you do differently the second time around, with the perspective of a published author?

Not making the mistake of waiting around this time to get the third book moving; or waiting for others to beg me for another book. Do that, and four years can go by in a hurry. When the CAIN books came out, I was like: Cool, well now Simon & Schuster will love my next thriller idea for adults and my next YA idea and I’ll publish there for the next twenty years. Ermm, OR: my agent will quit his agency (putting me in limbo for almost 6 months), both of my editors will move on to other companies (one leaving publishing completely!), the publisher who gave me a huge deal and specifically urged “get that second book done!” departs publishing without warning. Suddenly I was in a room of strangers, including “my” editor who told me she “didn’t like thrillers.” Now, thinking back, it’s funny. Four years ago, I was all: Ohhh, shit…

NY publishing can be a carousel and also super slow at the same time. I recently “made a deal” three months ago – no contract yet, and don’t expect a dime for another 3-4 months; the book won’t come out for two years. To that point, you – and you alone – gotta stay on top of your career and what’s up next. Everyone else is too busy, and moving at a different pace, and there are 10,000 writers ready to take your spot if that’s a problem. So. I’ve now got two books coming out in 2017 – TRUTHERS and this creepy paranormal/suspense novel: MARY ROSE. But am banging the drum almost daily to get the next three, four, five books lined up. The first time, I filled the huge gap of time between books with getting an MFA and putting out my debut short story collection. Which ain’t shabby, but still feel I wasted some creative years. This time out, I’m more focused on lining up the next deal and am borderline obnoxious (very dog-on-a-bone) about it with my agents and publishers. My aim being that a third YA comes out in 2018 or early 2019 – which sounds like ages from now but a mere blink in traditional publishing. Doesn’t mean it’ll happen, but it won’t be for lack of trying on my part.