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 Lucky 13er CJ Flood, author of INFINITE SKY, a family story about betrayal and loyalty, and love. When a family of travellers move into Iris Dancy's overgrown paddock overnight, her dad looks set to finally lose it. Gypsies are parasites he says, but Iris is intrigued. As her dad plans to evict the travelling family, Iris makes friends with their teenage son. Trick Deran is a bare knuckle boxer who says he’s done with fighting, but is he telling the truth?
Are you a Planner or Pantster?
I am a pantser, with big splashes of planning. I tend to write and write until I get completely stuck/confused/lost and then I start drawing up colourful character arcs and trying to discover that mysterious Big Theme. Doing the character arcs is fun. Each character gets their own colour, and I draw a line with all of the things that happen to them, pyschological and physical, then I try to weave all the character arcs together in interesting/dramatic ways. You should definitely try it!
How long does it typically take you to write a novel, start to finish?
Having only completed one, I will say, with total confidence and no need for maths, it takes three years. But, that was not writing full time. I’m hoping to complete my second book in half that time. (Wish me luck!)
Do you work on one project at a time, or are you a multi tasker?
I have aspirations to be a multi tasker, but I seem to work best on one thing at a time. Certainly one thing is absolutely prioritised anyway. I’m not very good at multi tasking in every day life – I struggle to hold a conversation while cooking for instance – so this might be one dream I never achieve.
Did you have to overcome any fears that first time you sat down to write?
Not really. I have always written so it felt completely natural. Reading my own stuff in public has been the biggest obstacle for me. When I started out I would get such a whack of adrenalin that I couldn’t remember what had happened afterwards, let alone remember to breath and pause in the right places as I read! I am so glad those days are over. It’s actually one of my biggest achievements, that I can stand up in front of people nowadays and talk and read and appear – hopefully – to be a normally socialised human being!
How many trunked books (if any) did you have before you were agented?
I started two books, at least. Plus the Famous Five rip offs I use to write in the school holidays. I finished none though.
Have you ever quit on an ms, and how did you know it was time?
I quit on the ones I mentioned above because they were rubbish! I bored myself! It took me a long time to realise that you need to actually have a story to tell – whether that pivots around a simple change in a person’s outlook or a series of magnificently plotty events doesn’t matter.
Less easy was giving up on my first idea for my second book. When I started writing it (under contract) I did a lot of flailing around. I went a long way with my initial idea before I settled on something quite different. But all of the flailing brought something to the new idea: characters, events, scenes and places. None of it was wasted. (Except about 40,000 words…)
I knew it was time to give up because I didn’t know enough about what I was writing about. I felt lost, and not in that good, half magic way that is key to writing.
Who is your agent and how did you get that "Yes!" out of them?
My agent is Catherine Clarke at Felicity Bryan Associates. I met her at a meeting organised by my university. (I did an MA at the University of East Anglia, and they have great industry contacts.) She reps some of my favourite authors, including Meg Rosoff and David Almond (though I hadn’t read him back then), and so we had a chat about them. I wasn’t ready to send anything – I couldn’t even talk coherently about my book at that point! – but we stayed in touch, and when my manuscript was ready I sent it to her. She loved it and offered representation, so the agent-hunt was all quite quick for me. There were more complications along the way, and it’s all a bit longwinded, but if you want to know anymore, I wrote this story up in much more detail recently on my blog.
What's something you learned from the process that surprised you?
Publishing takes a loooong time. There’s lots of waiting. Be prepared to work on lots of other things in the gaps between the many stages of getting a book out there.
How much of your own marketing do you?
Saying all that though, I am not that confident/comfortable with marketing. Like most writers, I dream of the old (no doubt fictional) days when you just tap tap taperood at your desk and the pound coins and acclaim came looking for you. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy meeting all the lovely people I meet social networking (the Lucky 13s have been an absolute godsend).
I think the whole marketing thing will make more sense to me when I actually have a book people can buy.
When do you build your platform? After an agent? Or should you be working before?
Personally, I would say focus on the writing first. If you want to be a good writer, that is.
Do you think social media helps build your readership?
I don’t know yet. I suspect not if I am anything to go by, which I have to assume I am. I only follow authors online that I’ve already read. I only really buy books by new authors after I’ve read reviews or interviews or heard a prize shortlist/longlist or because they are referenced in a book or on personal recommendations. I have never yet bought a book after discovering the author via social media. Maybe that’s just because of my expendable income though! I want to buy people’s books all the time!