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 my fellow Lucky 13'er Brandy Colbert, author of POINTE, in which a ballet prodigy's life begins to unravel when she is forced to admit to the role she played in her childhood friend's abduction. Brandy grew up in the Missouri Ozarks and graduated Missouri State University with a Journalism degree. Fifteen days later she moved clear across the country to Los Angeles. Brandy has been writing since she can remember and has the many, many spiral-bound notebooks with her childhood stories to prove it. POINTE will be available from Penguin Fall, 2013.
Are you a Planner or Pantster?
I’ve always called myself a pantser, but now I’m not so sure. I don’t stick to a detailed outline – never have – but I do outline in my head. Before I start a novel, I spend several days thinking about the characters, their struggles, and even specific scenes. I start an email draft once ideas begin coming together so I can keep track of everything, in case I forget. The notes are very haphazard (they rarely contain full sentences and they’re not written in chronological order) so I don’t quite consider it outlining. But I suppose that means I’m not exactly a pantser, either.
How long does it typically take you to write a novel, start to finish?
I’ll usually spend about eight to 12 weeks on a first draft. That one is almost always just for me. I write pretty fast, but a lot of things change in the second draft. Revising is more rewarding, but it’s also very difficult, so I prefer drafting. I think the fast pace allows me to be a little freer. My first drafts are messy in terms of plotting and they need a lot of work, but I love them.
Do you work on one project at a time, or are you a multi tasker?
One project at a time is all I can handle. I get so involved with the characters and their world that it’s hard for me to switch back and forth between two projects. That being said, I don’t always finish a project in one pass. I’ll often start a draft, set it aside for a while, and pick it up again when I’ve figured out how to move forward.
Did you have to overcome any fears that first time you sat down to write?
I’ve been writing since I was about seven years old, but I started writing for publication six years ago, in 2006. My main fear was not finishing, as I’d had trouble with that in the past. I wrote my first novel during NaNoWriMo; I finished the first 50,000 words within the month of November, and then finished the novel a few weeks later. I’ve gotten to the point now where I’m always working on something, but NaNo was great motivation for that first book.
How many trunked books (if any) did you have before you were agented?
Three. All YA novels. All were queried and rejected so many times I lost count. I actually signed with an agent for that first novel, but we parted ways after six months, due to incompatibility. (It really is all about the right fit!)
Have you ever quit on an ms, and how did you know it was time?
Like I said earlier, I’m never afraid to set aside a manuscript if the story isn’t working for me at the moment. But I’ve picked up and reworked manuscripts after they were sitting on the back burner for years. Even if I only use a few elements from the original version, I still consider it incredibly helpful.
Who is your agent and how did you get that "Yes!" out of them?
I’m represented by the amazingly fabulous Tina Wexler of ICM, who pulled my query from the slush pile (!). I know that referrals can be helpful and a lot of people have success pitching at conferences, but I didn’t know any other writers when I was querying and I’d never attended a conference, so I always assumed I would get an agent through the traditional query route. I emailed my query to Tina early one morning and she’d requested the full by lunchtime. She got back to me in a couple of weeks with the kindest words about my writing and a revise-and-resubmit request. I was absolutely on board with her suggestions to make the book better, turned in a revised manuscript six weeks later, and signed with her a couple of weeks after that. Best decision ever. Tina is my Dream Agent to a T.
How long did you query before landing your agent?
I queried for four years before I signed with my agent. I don’t know if I was ever very good at figuring out how to target my queries. I extensively researched the agents I queried, but the ones I assumed would like my work (based on the clients they represented) were rarely interested, and the ones I never assumed would request pages were the most enthusiastic. (Fun fact: I queried Tina with my first manuscript and received a rejection upon query. Just because one of your books isn’t right for an agent, that doesn’t mean they won’t be interested in your subsequent work.)
Any advice to aspiring writers out there on conquering query hell?
All of this has been said before, but it’s worth repeating. Don’t give up. Start another project while you’re querying so you don’t drive yourself crazy with the waiting. Only query agents who represent what you write and follow their submission guidelines. Be polite. Be professional. Trust your gut. And remember that this is a job and if you want it to be yours someday, treat it as such before you even have an agent.
How much of your own marketing do you?
It’s a tad bit early for marketing, as my book won’t be out until fall of 2013. But I do have a blog and a Twitter account. I’ll build an official website and set up a Facebook author page closer to publication.
When do you build your platform? After an agent? Or should you be working before?
One thing Tina mentioned during The Call was that she couldn’t find a lot about me online. I was surprised at first and then realized she was right—at the time, all I had was a locked-down Facebook account and a Twitter account that I’d had for a few years but was just starting to use regularly. I think it’s smart to build a platform before you sign with an agent, but I don’t think it’s necessary when you’re writing fiction. The quality of writing is the most important part; building an online presence can come later.
Do you think social media helps build your readership?
In my case, it’s too early to tell, but I certainly think it can’t hurt. Personally, if I enjoy talking to an author on Twitter/blogs/Facebook/etc., I will most likely want to read their books. To be honest, I struggle with social media sometimes. I’m not shy, but I am a fairly private person by nature, so it can be difficult to open up to people I don’t know in real life. In addition to the privacy factor, I worry that no one will care about my journey/ what I’m working on/what I think is the smartest show on television right now. But at the same time, I’m friendly and truly enjoy meeting new people, especially those who have the same interests or career path. I’ve met so many wonderful people through Twitter— authors, writers, and readers alike—and hope to meet many more along the way!