Interview with Colleen Houck, And A Pitch That Works!

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 is Colleen Houck, author of the self-published TIGER'S CURSE which won her an agent and whose sequel, TIGER'S QUEST will be released in hardcover tomorrow! Colleen is a lifelong reader whose literary interests include action, adventure, science fiction, and romance. Formerly a student at the University of Arizona, she has worked as a nationally certified American Sign Language interpreter for seventeen years. TIGER'S CURSE is her first book, which has already received literary praise and digital success. Her self-published eBook claimed the #1 spot on Kindle's children's best-seller list for seven weeks. Colleen lives in Salem, Oregon, with her husband and a white stuffed tiger.

Are you a Planner or Pantster?

I'm a planner

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

About 7 months

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

One at a time

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

Just wondering if I could actually do it

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

Two - TIGER'S CURSE and TIGER'S QUEST though I didn't trunk them I self-published instead.

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

I've never quit a book

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

Alex Glass from Trident Media Group.  He called me. I self-published my first two books and they were doing really well.  He found me through my positive reviews on Amazon and called me. I was a bit abrupt and told him to call me back after he was done with the book since I'd been burned by other agents.  I had a hard time believing a guy really liked my romance book featuring tigers. He told me he'd already read it and loved it.  After that we got along famously.

How many queries did you send out?

I never kept track of queries though I mailed out a lot and emailed even more. I sent out queries on and off for a good year or two.

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

Querying is still the best way to get published but if all else fails there is nothing wrong with self-publishing. I told myself I'd be content and happy whether I had ten fans or ten thousand.

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

Amazing.  I think the best part was going to the bookstore with my parents to browse a few weeks before publication.  Dad started crying and I turned the corner and there was a giant poster of TIGER'S CURSE on display.  That was the coolest moment ever.

How much input do you have on cover art?

Not as much as you might think but luckily for me there is a great design team who for the most part thinks like I do.  In fact my self-published covers are not too far off from the new ones.

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

I expected to be wearing business suits and having important meeting in New York.  I did get to do that once but most of my meetings occur when I'm home in sweats at my computer.

How much of your own marketing do you?

For my original versions of the book I did all my own marketing, now I have a whole publishing team working on my material from the wee hours of the morning until late at night and on weekends.  I blog on my website which you can reach here or here .  I Twitter from @tigersaga or @colleenhouck.  The Facebook page is called Tiger's Curse and there is a Facebook fan page called Fans of the Tiger which is run by my sister. I am on Goodreads and have an author page on Amazon.

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

I think you should get busy immediately with marketing yourself. Being an author is different in today's world. Young people want to know who you are and what you're working on.  Connecting to their favorite writer is very important.  When I was in high school all the authors I read had died a long time before. Imagine if Hemmingway or Poe had a blog.  Now there are so many books and so many authors to choose from that it's a great time to be a young person and reading.  To connect with your audience you must have a platform even before an agent.

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

I believe social media was how I got my agent.  I established a web presence and asked my fans for help.  They sent emails and letters to their favorite bookstores, invited me to speak at schools, and wrote reviews for me.  This all helped me to sell over 18,000 books and attracted the interest of an agent, a Hollywood producer, and a publisher. They shared my book with friends and family and might not have been as supportive or even know how to help me spread the word if not for social media.

TIGER'S CURSE is very hot with my students right now – here’s Colleen’s query, which serves as an excellent blurb for those of you who are curious:

Kelsey Hayes, an orphan, is a recent high school graduate working for the summer at a small circus.  She has no idea that the totally non-glamorous job of sweeping up popcorn and cotton candy sticks would lead her towards her destiny—a perilous new destiny that whisks her away to the far off continent of India where she encounters dangerous mythological creatures, supernatural beings, and booby-trapped caves.  However, it will also lead her to magnificent ancient ruins, handsome princes cursed to live as tigers, and the chance to fall in love.

TIGER'S CURSE, set on the lush continent of India, is a romance that sweeps the reader into an action/adventure-meets-the-paranormal tale. A cross-cultural Beauty and the Beast, this young adult novel explores the modern and the mythological, the theme of good versus evil, and the tender feelings of love and loss.

Colleen also has a great example of how to do an elevator pitch – she describes the book as Twilight meets Indiana Jones.  Now who isn’t going to be interested in that?