Interview with Chelsea Pitcher

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 fellow Lucky13 Chelsea Pitcher, author of THE S-WORD. Chelsea is a native of Portland, OR where she received her BA in English Literature. Fascinated by all things literary, she began gobbling up stories as soon as she could read, and especially enjoys delving into the darker places to see if she can draw out some light. THE S-WORD is available now from Gallery Books / Simon & Schuster.


Are you a Planner or Pantster?

I have always been a Pantser! I love the thrill of discovering things along with the characters. Recently, though, I attempted to write a synopsis of a book I hadn’t written yet (except for a few sloppily drafted first chapters) and it ended up being eleven single-spaced pages. I couldn’t believe how much of the story I already knew, without having written it.  So now, I wonder… should I continue being a panster, or am I better suited to be a planner? Or is there some perfect balance between them?

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

Oh, man. There is no “typical” about it for me. The novel I wrote before THE S-WORD took several years to finish. THE S-WORD (or, the 50,000-word first draft) took a month. It all depends on how clear the story is in my head, much is going on in my life, and how much the Internet is distracting me!

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

Oh, I miss the days of only working on one project. My brain is so full of projects right now, it’s a wonder I can do regular things like make coffee (sometimes, when I’m really distracted, it does end up spilling everywhere). Right now I’ve got one finished MS, four partials that I keep coming back to, 8 started-and-then-lost-interest-in stories, and several more ideas in my head. That said, one story generally takes precedence, and I’ll work on it as long as I can, until another one takes over and pulls me in a different direction.

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

Oh, no. I started writing long before I knew what good writing looked like! I was just a kid, and I wrote because it was a way to express my thoughts (I was very shy, introverted, the Middle Child—all that). It wasn’t until I started submitting my work that the fear set in. For the longest time, writing had been just for me, and suddenly these other people were going to see it—professionals, who read multiple submissions a day. But even that fear, I pushed through, because I loved writing so much. If I could do something I loved and make a living from it, well…why not try? 

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

Three and a half! I attempted my first novel at sixteen, and only got about a hundred pages in. The story was about a girl who went to hell and became the devil’s mistress. I wanted to do all this stuff about spirituality and religion and the way sex and shame get connected and… the idea just got too big for me. There was no way to pin it down on the page. I wrote three more novels after that, and I queried each of them, but none of them was quite ready, writing-wise (although I thought they were, at the time). Still (and this is so cliché, but very true), if I hadn’t slogged through each of them, and learned how to take criticism, and edit, I never would’ve been able to write a novel that sold. 

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

I don’t know that I’ve ever consciously said: “This is it, novel. I quit you.” “Quit” is a hard word for me. Rather, after some time had passed, another idea would start tugging at me, and I’d think, “I’ll just work on this new idea for a while…I’m still coming back to the old one.” Then, of course, once the new book was written, I’d look back at the old one and go, “Holy crap, this is terrible!” *hurls old MS across the room*

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

My agent for THE S-WORD is Sandy Lu from L. Perkins, and she pulled me out of the slush pile! (I know, I was surprised too.) Going to a conference can be a great experience, but it’s not going to get you any closer to that “Yes” if your writing isn’t ready. Trust me. I speak from experience. 

How long did you query before landing your agent?  

Sandy was one of the first agents to request THE S-WORD, but I ended up querying twenty-seven total while I waited for her, and others, to read. 

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

The hardest part of querying is not knowing why you’re getting rejected: is it YOU, the MS, or the agent? And really, you can only control two of these things. There’s no possible way to make an agent love a MS that simply isn’t for them. So don’t worry about it. Focus on the two other things:

1. Follow the agent’s submission guidelines to a T (otherwise, you might be getting rejected because of you—i.e. your refusal to follow instructions). Don’t respond angrily to agents. Don’t badmouth agents or other authors in public spheres. Publishing is a small world after all.

2. Get that query and sample chapter(s) as sparkly as you can. Get peer critiques (Absolute Write and are awesome resources). Use query sites (Evil Editor is my personal fave, and he crits EVERY query he receives). Listen to what other people are saying, especially if they’re saying the same thing. 

And then, after you’ve done all this, remember to trust yourself. Go with your gut. And keep rewriting. A refusal to rewrite is the number one reason writers don’t advance. But don’t worry. I believe in you ☺

How did it feel the first time you saw your book for sale?

Yeah…I might’ve cried, just a bit. The reality of being published is so overwhelming, and I really couldn’t believe it until I saw it for myself. There was this thought in the back of my mind, like maybe this was all a dream, or a joke, or a trick, and until I saw that book out there, I couldn’t fully wrap my head around it. But once I saw, saw that it was really real…Bliss.

How much input do you have on cover art?

My cover creation process was really interesting, because they pretty much nailed it on the first try. I didn’t even know they were working on it, and then my editor emailed me the cover Gallery’s design team had come up with, and we were both like… YES.

What's something you learned from the process that surprised you?

I think, when I first heard about the book deal, I expected to feel like a little tiny author working with a mega massive publishing house. I had no idea how welcoming and encouraging people would be. They are AMAZING, and they made me feel like part of a team. Go Team Gallery! 

How much of your own marketing do you?  

I’ve kind of done all the marketing I could think of. Facebook, Twitter, a blog, a website, a blog tour, a book trailer…Maybe I went a little marketing crazy, ha. But it’s been great. I love doing giveaways, getting creative with swag, and all that. In the beginning, I thought marketing would be really awkward and scary, but so much of it is just connecting with people and talking about books. I love it!

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

On the one hand, it doesn’t hurt to have a platform before you start querying. At the same time, all the followers in the world won’t take the place of a well-created story and an original premise. Personally, I say focus on the writing. Then, once you’re on submission to editors, you can really delve into the marketing side of things. And, after you’ve made a sale, shift it into hyper-drive!

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

This is a really interesting question. It certainly seems like it would. And again, having lots of people looking at your book tweets and posts isn’t going to hurt you. But so much of building your readership is getting your book into the hands of teens (if you write YA, like I do) and there are plenty of teens who don’t use Twitter or Goodreads. So I do think getting your book into libraries, and getting it into schools is just as important as anything you can do online. Balance is key.