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 Erin Cashman author of THE EXCEPTIONALS. A teenage girl must use her long-ignored ability to communicate with animals to unravel the mystery behind the disappearances of the most talented students at Cambial Academy, a school for teens with special abilities. Along the way she uncovers a chilling prophecy and meets a gorgeous but secretive boy – who may know more than he’s letting on.
Are you a Planner or Pantster?
I’m a hybrid for sure. Once I come up with an idea, I jot down some ideas, and then I let it swirl around in my head for several days, especially when I’m out walking my dog. I usually know how it will end, and how it will begin. For everything in between, I prefer to just write, and see where the story – and more importantly, the characters – takes me. But then I have a tendency to lose my way. Now I write a very loose book outline – like a half a page to a page, and then start jotting down notes -- character descriptions, settings, ideas, etc. And then I roughly outline a few chapters, and take it from there. I don’t outline the whole book in detail, because then I think it’s hard to change it. It becomes like a roadmap to the book, instead of the book. (At least for me). A thing that really helped me, is if I’m dying to write a scene, even if it’s the last scene, I write it right away. So with The Exceptionals the very first thing I wrote was the last scene with Claire and Dylan. Otherwise, I rush to write the part I want to the most!
How long does it typically take you to write a novel, start to finish?
Anywhere from six months to a year, depending on how extensive the re-writes need to be!
Do you work on one project at a time, or are you a multi tasker?
I work on one project at a time, and I try to work on it every day if I can, so that I stay with the characters and the flow in my head.
Did you have to overcome any fears that first time you sat down to write?
No. I guess I figure, just get something down, you can always go back and change it. And if it’s terrible, chalk it up to a learning experience and move on.
How many trunked books (if any) did you have before you were agented?
Have you ever quit on an ms, and how did you know it was time?
I quit on my first novel, a vampire middle grade story that I finished just as Twilight came out. I worked on it and sent it out for three years until an agent finally said: we are only interested in vampire romance, and even that is getting saturated, but I love your writing, so if you write anything else send it to me requested. I had an epiphany right then and there. My novel just wasn’t going to sell, so I needed to put it away and move on. I started something else within a week, and 6 months later finished. But as I sent it out, I began writing The Exceptionals, and 6 months later I finished that, and luckily, I got an agent and an offer right away. (Finally!)
Who is your agent and how did you get that "Yes!" out of them?
My agent is Erica Silverman from Trident Media Group. I actually read online that she represented YA, which, at the time she didn’t! I sent her an email query, and she agreed to have her assistant at the time, Alexandra Bicks, read it. Alexandra liked it, so Erica told me she would read it. A few days later she called to tell me she loved it. (I was absolutely ecstatic!) I became her first YA client.
How long did you query before landing your agent?
For The Exceptionals I only sent out a few queries, but with the other two novels I sent out dozens!
Any advice to aspiring writers out there on conquering query hell?
I absolutely hated writing query letters, and as an attorney I am terrible at them. I write them too professionally! My only advice is to be sincere, and to tell – in a couple of sentences – what makes your book special. What I did learn is that when you’re rejected, it’s usually not your writing that the agent is rejecting; it’s simply that the agent doesn’t think your story will sell. So keep writing, and keep trying!
How did that feel, the first time you saw your book for sale?
Just today I saw The Exceptionals in a bookstore. It was surreal! To see a dream come true in such a tangible way is amazing.
How much input do you have on cover art?
My incredible editor, Pam Glauber and I talked about it several times. We both did not want an illustration, or a photograph. Pam chose Richard Tuschman, who is a very talented artist. He combines drawing and photography in his work. I love the dreamy quality to the cover, and the light between Claire and Ferana, the hawk in the story. But I did not have final approval or say in the cover.
What's something you learned from the process that surprised you?
I was surprised by how important a good editor is. Pam was very thorough and thoughtful. She never told me what to write, but she pointed things out like: I know you need Charlotte for the plot, but she’s kind of boring. Charlotte is a minor character, and I had never given her much thought. Once I thought about her, and her place in the family and at Cambial, she became the annoying, bragging, tattle-tale that she is now. Pam helped me write a far better novel.
How much of your own marketing do you?
When do you build your platform? After an agent? Or should you be working before?
I think you should focus first and foremost on the writing. Then, look to join some author groups. I am amazed at how kind and generous other authors are. They are so free with their time, advice, help and encouragement. It is a wonderful community, and I am so happy to be a part of it. They will help you figure it out!
Do you think social media helps build your readership?
I am very new to social media – about a month into it – so I’m not sure. I think it will. I would have loved it if my favorite author in high school, J.R.R. Tolkein, (and still one of my favorites, now) had a fan page and website! I would have emailed him all the time!