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!
Amy Reed was born and raised in and around Seattle, where she attended a total of eight schools by the time she was eighteen. She eventually graduated from film school, promptly decided she wanted nothing to do with filmmaking, returned to her original and impractical love of writing, and earned her MFA from New College of California. Her short work has been published in journals such as Kitchen Sink, Contrary, and Fiction. Her Young Adult novel CLEAN has been described as “The Breakfast Club in rehab." You can read my review of CLEAN here.
How long does it typically take you to write a novel, start to finish?
BEAUTIFUL took me about two years, CLEAN and my third book, CRAZY (coming out next summer), took me one year each. I think the next one will take closer to two years.
Do you work on one project at a time, or are you a multi tasker?
I focus on one project at a time, but new ideas are always popping in my head and I’ll write a lot of notes to follow up on later.
Did you have to overcome any fears that first time you sat down to write?
The fear of failure is always there. I’ve gotten better at turning it off, but sometimes it’s still really hard.
How many trunked books (if any) did you have before you were agented?
BEAUTIFUL was my first attempt at a novel, but I have a few short stories that never got published.
Have you ever quit on an ms, and how did you know it was time?
I’ve quit on short stories plenty of times. I knew it was time when I stopped caring about my characters.
Who is your agent and how did you get that "Yes!" out of them?
My agent is the wonderful Amy Tipton at Signature Literary Agency. I sent her a traditional blind query and she responded really quickly with a request for a full manuscript. I think I got such a quick response because I mentioned in the first sentence that we went to the same MFA program. It was a very small and unique program (Writing & Consciousness MFA, now at California Institute of Integral Studies) and I was pretty sure we’d be soul mates based on the fact that we both went there.
How long did you query before landing your agent?
In retrospect, I think I got really lucky and got to avoid a long depressing experience for the most part. I sent around a dozen queries to adult lit agents before I realized my manuscript was YA (an agent kindly informed me of this--I honestly had no idea!) Then I queried a total of two YA agents, and received interest from both of them pretty quickly.
Any advice to aspiring writers out there on conquering query hell?
Do A LOT of research. It’s a waste of time to query agents who aren’t interested in the kind of work you do, and it can be demoralizing to keep receiving those rejections. Find out who represents the writers you admire (and hopefully resemble) the most. A great way to do this is by checking out the acknowledgments in your favorite books. Each agent has very specific guidelines; follow them perfectly. Don’t assume you’ll be sending each agent the same letter or packet. And finally, be patient. They get really annoyed when you start calling after a week asking if they’ve read your manuscript.
How did that feel, the first time you saw your book for sale?
It was surreal. It’s still surreal. It’s hard to believe I have achieved a dream I’ve had since I was a little kid.
How much input do you have on cover art?
Very little. My editor sends me drafts and give feedback, but ultimately it is always up to the publisher. I work in publishing too, and authors meddling in their cover design is kind of a running joke in the industry. Cover designers are professionals who understand how to combine design and marketing. Authors do not often have this expertise.
What's something you learned from the process that surprised you?
How kind, supportive, and generous the YA community is, how humble and down to earth YA authors are. I feel very lucky to be in their company.
How much of your own marketing do you?
A lot. I’ve done a lot to build relationships with bloggers, and I’m active on Facebook and Twitter. I also have a website/blog that I update mostly with news about my books, etc. I tried blogging for a while, but decided I’d rather spend my precious writing time actually writing books.
Do you think social media helps build your readership?
Absolutely! Since my main audience is teenagers, it makes sense that I would reach them where they are: online. YA is totally centered around the social media community, especially bloggers. I think bloggers do more for YA books than probably any traditional media outlet. It’s such an incredible grassroots community that has been built by readers themselves. I really credit bloggers for spreading the word about BEAUTIFUL and CLEAN. I absolutely love them! I can’t thank bloggers enough for their support.