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 SAT is an Apocalypsie - Eugene Myers, author of FAIR COIN. Yes, it's a dude. Come and see this new species!
Are you a Planner or Pantster?
A little of both. I like to have some idea of where a book is going—the major plot developments and the ending—but I usually don’t work out all the details of how the characters are going to get from point A to point B, or even who all the characters are, until I’m drafting. The level of planning before writing mostly depends on how long I’ve been thinking about the project and what the project is. For example, I actually outlined my third novel, a manuscript I’m still revising, because there was a lot world building to work out and there were so many characters to keep track of.
How long does it typically take you to write a novel, start to finish?
Five or six months to write a very rough “zero” draft, then another one or two months to revise that into a first draft that I’m willing to share with readers. This is assuming I can write five days a week for at least ninety minutes a day, with occasional evenings and weekend days thrown in. I get most of my writing done in the morning before I go to work.
Do you work on one project at a time, or are you a multitasker?
Multitasking is a necessity, especially when I have books in different stages of progress. My ideal is writing a novel in the mornings before going to my day job and spending evenings and weekends working on short stories and the business-side of being an author (responding to e-mails, promotion, reading and critiquing manuscripts, etc). But when I’m under a deadline on a project, I generally work on that one project every chance I can get.
Did you have to overcome any fears that first time you sat down to write?
Just the same fear that I still face every time I sit down to write: the fear of failure. Stories have so much potential until I try to write them down. But fortunately, this isn’t a crippling fear—I look at it more like a challenge. I’m always excited to discover where a story is going, and I know that until I try to write it, I won’t know if it matches what my imagination came up with.
How many trunked books (if any) did you have before you were agented?
Happily, none. FAIR COIN was the first novel I wrote.
Have you ever quit on an ms, and how did you know it was time?
I haven’t quit on any novels yet, but I have set aside plenty of short stories. I tend to think of it as putting a story on hold until I can do the idea justice and/or figure out what it’s really about, because I don’t like to quit on things. I almost always finish at least one draft before trunking a story; I might decide to do this after I’ve written and revised it a few times and it still isn’t working, or maybe I’ve just gotten distracted by another story I’m more excited about.
Who is your agent and how did you get that "Yes!" out of them?
My agent is Eddie Schneider at JABberwocky Literary. I went through the traditional query process, and a reader at the agency picked my query letter and synopsis out of the slush and passed it up. I remember it was a rigorous process: The next step involved sending sample chapters and a “detailed outline” for the rest of the book, before the full manuscript was finally requested—and these were all paper submissions via snail mail at the time. Once Eddie had read FAIR COIN and we talked, it was clear that I had hit the agent jackpot.
How long did you query before landing your agent?
About seven months, and by the end I had queried a total of 33 agents.
Any advice to aspiring writers out there on conquering query hell?
The best thing I can suggest is to write another book while you’re querying, for three reasons:
1) It will keep you distracted from checking your e-mail, watching the mailbox, and waiting by the phone for news.
2) It will demonstrate to potential agents that you’re serious about writing as a career and have more than one book in you.
3) It will give you hope that if you don’t manage to get an agent for the book you’re querying now, that you’ll have another, better project to query with next time.
Don’t query until the book is as good as it can possibly be, and don’t rush your letter and synopsis either; you get one shot at making a favorable first impression, so make your letter as tight and polished as your novel manuscript is—but feel free to tweak it as you’re querying and getting feedback from agents.
Also, make sure you’re querying more than one agent at a time, unless one of them has requested an exclusive. I liked to send them out in batches of three or four a week, and make sure I was sending out new queries as the rejections came in.
Finally, be polite and professional in all your communications with agents, in your blogging, in your tweeting, on Facebook, etc. This process is as similar to interviewing for a job as it is to dating, and you don’t want to give any agent a reason to say no beyond whether or not she loves your book and thinks she can sell it.
How did that feel, the first time you saw your book for sale?
Exciting and surreal! It’s very strange to see something that has only lived in your head for a long time suddenly a solid, physical thing on a shelf in a bookstore, or as a product page on an etailer website. I can only imagine it was like what Pinocchio might have felt the first time he looked in a mirror as a real boy.
How much input do you have on cover art?
My editor at Pyr, Lou Anders, also happens to be the art director. He did ask me for feedback on possible covers and kept me in the loop throughout the process, which I greatly appreciated, but he also has great instincts and strong opinions about what’s right for a book. I have a background in visual art, but I’m content to focus on the words between the covers and leave people with more experience to make it all look pretty. And I had nothing to worry about; what Lou and the illustrator, Sam Weber, came up with for FAIR COIN and QUANTUM COIN was better than anything I ever thought of myself—and I’ve definitely given cover art some thought over the years.
What's something you learned from the process that surprised you?
Just that the business of being an author involves so much more than writing the book. Your mileage probably varies with different publishers and projects, but publishing a book means you may not get to do much actual writing while you promote it. I know I could have done the bare minimum and let Fair Coin sink or swim on its own, but I spent so much time and effort on writing it, getting an agent, and selling it—and so many other people have been a part of that process every step of the way—that I decided early on that I was going to do as much as I could to get the word out and contribute to its success. That seems important for a debut author trying to convince readers to take a chance on his book.
How much of your own marketing do you?
I do a good chunk of it, maybe more than some authors. I have an excellent publicist and team at Pyr who have been wonderful about sending my books out to reviewers, arranging guest blog opportunities, coordinating events and sales, and supporting all the crazy ideas I come up with. But I did make my own book trailer; design and produce my own bookmarks and assorted swag; and line up most of my readings, signings, guest blogs, and interviews. This is not only a significant financial investment on my part, but an investment in time. I have a day job, and it’s been tricky juggling all my vacation days, work, and personal commitments to make it to school visits, conventions, readings, etc.—things that only the author can do. My agent and his colleagues have also done a lot to facilitate things, brainstorm new approaches, and seek out marketing opportunities.
Basically, I’ve been partnering with my publisher and agent on marketing and we help each other out as much as we can—we have the same goal, after all. I’ve taken on a lot of it, but I only have two books and they have so many more authors and books, so I’m glad for whatever support I can get. And I also feel like the more I’m willing to do to market the book, the more they’re willing and able to do.
I devote most of my time to my Twitter and blog, but I also have a Facebook page where people can get news and links about the book and related topics. I have a Tumblr page tied to Fair Coin, and a personal Tumblr page that I update sporadically with images and videos I find online.
When do you build your platform? After an agent? Or should you be working before?
If you are planning to build a writing career and engaging with other writers and readers is important to you, then I think you should start as soon as possible—before you start querying agents, and certainly well before you sell your book. It’s true that having a strong network may make you seem more marketable to an agent or editor, but I don’t think you should build your online presence just to sell books. It’s better to be online because you want to participate in a community of people with diverse interests. I like Twitter a lot; it’s amazing to be talking daily with so many authors and bloggers I admire.
Interacting with other people through social media can also keep you better informed about the business of publishing and could lead to opportunities you wouldn’t otherwise have. A blog could offer potential agents, editors, and readers a sense of your personality beyond your work, which hopefully helps encourages their interest.
I’m always a little suspicious when I see a Twitter account or blog that isn’t updated often and/or was created the moment a book deal was announced; I’m inclined to assume someone told the author she needs to be online to sell books, and it isn’t something she is really into on her own.
Do you think social media helps build your readership?
I’m sure some readers may have found my work because of a tweet or Facebook wall post, but I think social media has been most useful as a way for people who have heard of my books to find out more about them, or for readers to find out more about me after reading them. If you’re an author who wants to connect with readers, of your work or other work in your field, then I think it’s essential to be easy to find online. You at least need a website where people can contact you, but I like interacting with people on Twitter and getting messages through Facebook or Goodreads. Being that accessible to the public may not be ideal for every writer, but it’s important to me. I’m always a little disappointed when there’s no information on an author on the internet, and it makes it harder to learn about their other books and find out about new ones.
And as I mentioned, I’ve gotten many interview requests and other marketing opportunities through social media and from people I first met online, and those have certainly improved my chances of reaching new readers.