Interview with Anne Blankman

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 is a 2014 debut, Anne Blankman, author of PRISONER OF NIGHT AND FOG, coming from Balzer & Bray, Spring 2014. Anne may have been meant to be a writer because her parents named her for Anne of Green Gables. She grew up in an old house with gables (gray, unfortunately) in upstate New York. When she wasn't writing or reading, she was rowing on the crew team, taking ballet lessons, fencing and swimming. She graduated from Union College with degrees in English and history, which comes in handy when she writes historical fiction.

After earning a master's degree in information science, Anne began working as a youth services librarian. Currently, she lives in southeastern Virginia with her family. When she's not writing young adult fiction, she's playing with her daughter, training for races with her husband, working at her amazing library branch, learning to knit (badly), and reading.

Are you a Planner or Pantster?

Planner! Maybe it's my background as a youth services librarian, but I like being organized. Putting together an outline helps me keep the story on track. That said, my characters have surprised maybe I'm a planner, with a side order of pantster. 

How long does it typically take you to write a novel, start to finish?

NIGHT'S EDGE is my first novel, so I don't have a "typical" time frame -- at least, not yet! This book took me about two years to write, from getting the idea to typing the last sentence, but I spent a lot of that time learning HOW to write a book, too. I also wrote in little drips and drabs, squeezing in an hour after work, or another hour while my baby was napping. Now that I'm more focused and experienced, my sequel is whizzing along.

Do you work on one project at a time, or are you a multi tasker?

I like writing one manuscript at a time, so I can stay in one character's head and world. Since I have a three-book deal, I'm writing one ms, and planning the next. 

Did you have to overcome any fears that first time you sat down to write?

Of course! I don't think the fears ever really go away -- they just change. Writers are always moving on to the next book, the next project, the next school visit, the next interview, the next new experience. Being a writer means you're constantly putting yourself out there. So, you start off wondering if you can actually write a book, to wondering if a publisher will want it, to wondering if any readers will buy it... I've learned to silence that self-doubting voice by reminding myself that I landed an agent and a book deal, so clearly I'm doing some things right. 

How many trunked books (if any) did you have before you were agented?

I wrote a horrible picture book a couple of years ago that was, thankfully, rejected. Then I wrote NIGHT'S EDGE, met an agent two weeks after finishing it (not that a book is ever really finished), and signed with her about a week later. The whole process felt like a very fast dream.

Have you ever quit on an ms, and how did you know it was time?

Sure. I've noodled a few ideas  recently, and knew within a chapter or two that they wouldn't work, for a variety of reasons. 

Who is your agent and how did you get that "Yes!" out of them? 

My agent is Tracey Adams of Adams Literary (also known as Dream Agent). I had signed up for a fifteen-minute critique session at the Mid-Atlantic SCBWI Conference in October 2012, hoping I would be matched with Tracey, my top choice for an agent. As I walked into the meeting (the last one of the day), I told myself that no matter what, I would at least get some great editorial suggestions. 

We hit it off immediately, and ended up chatting for over half an hour until the SCWBI regional advisor politely came in and murmured something about dinner (we were meeting in her hotel room). Not only did Tracey love the first ten pages and request an exclusive full submission, but I got the gift of meeting an agent in person. 

I thought Tracey had sounded great in all of the articles and interviews I had read about her, and I knew Adams Literary has a stellar reputation, but once I met her, I knew I wanted Tracey as my agent. She has such a great personality -- she's funny, smart, enthusiastic, passionate about what she does, and she's nice. That last part may sound corny, but I knew I wanted an agent who would be pleasant to work with, someone who could be tactful but firm when negotiating contracts. 

So, I shot off my full to Adams Lit, and tried not to check my email obsessively. When I got Tracey's email, saying she loved NIGHT'S EDGE and wanted to talk to me as soon as it was convenient, I replied (sounding very blasé, of course), "Sure. How about right now?", plunked my three-year-old in front of the TV, and tried to answer the phone without sounding as though my heart was about to explode. I signed with Tracey that night. 

How long did you query before landing your agent?    

I met my agent before starting the query process (Sorry! Ducking the glares from readers right now! Believe me, I know I was incredibly lucky, and my experience is not the typical one!). 

But I had a query strategy, in case Tracey hadn't liked my ms (did I mention I'm a planner?). I had already researched tons of agents/agencies, and divided them into groups of ten -- the first group being my top choices, second group my second choices, and so on. I'd compiled information on each agent -- about a paragraph or two long -- noting what the agent was looking for, some of the authors she represented, and any little bits I had gleaned from reading about her. That way, I was fully prepared to start sending out queries. I think it really helps if you have a plan for the next step, so a rejection doesn't stop in your tracks, and you have to flounder around and figure out what you're going to do now. You didn't want my ms? Fine. On to the next agent, or batches of agents. Keep moving.

Any advice to aspiring writers out there on conquering query hell?

Research, research, research. Your agent represents you and your work. She's the person who submits manuscripts to publishers, negotiates offers, and checks contracts . So she needs to be someone who's reputable, trustworthy, and communicates easily with you. 

And I can't stress this enough: Follow the agency's submission guidelines. They're not optional; they're there for a reason. Don't send your edgy paranormal YA fantasy to an agent who's looking for contemporary coming-of-age stories. You're wasting her time and yours. 

Personalize your query letter, too. Mention how much you enjoy her blog or her recent article around social media. Show that you've done some research on her. Then send it off and instead of sitting around, worrying and wondering when you'll hear back, start working right away on something else.  

How much of your own marketing do you?  

So far, I'm doing my own marketing, but I know that will change as I get closer to pub. date and begin working with my publisher's publicist. Right now I have a website - please watch the book trailer! I'm ridiculously excited about it. 

When do you build your platform? After an agent? Or should you be working before?

I think it depends on each writer's comfort level. I kept a low online profile before I signed with my agent, because I'd heard that no online presence was better than the wrong one. One of the main things, in my opinion, is to avoid the obvious pitfalls. No drunken pictures on Facebook. No rants in your blog about the agent who didn't offer you representation, and who therefore must be a horrible, soulless person who deserves only pain. Pretty obvious stuff (at least, I hope it's obvious!)

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

Absolutely! But there's a right way to do it. When it's used in an open, supportive community, social media can help you reach out to others and create interest in your work. 

Thanks for having me on the blog, Mindy!