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 Geoffrey Girard, fellow Class of 2k13 member, Ohioan, and author of the YA debut PROJECT CAIN. Geoff's debut is narrated by a young Jeffrey Dahmer cloned as part of a government experiment where serial killers were re-made in an attempt to make killing machines. Our narrator fights against his urges, hoping to help capture some of the other monsters who have escape their facility - people like The Son of Sam, The Boston Strangler and Ted Bundy. Interestingly, PROJECT CAIN is coming out alongside an adult thriller written from the perspective of an adult in the story. CAIN'S BLOOD releases alongside PROJECT CAIN today!
Are you a Planner or Pantster?
I’ve almost always got a formal or scribbled outline with the plot and most scenes worked out and go from that. As I go along, new scenes/events will come to mind and I’ll work those in. I still, I think, bully my characters too much and am working toward letting them do their own thing more. Writing in first person for Project Cain helped me further down that path. It was Jeff’s story to tell, not mine.
How long does it typically take you to write a novel, start to finish?
It takes me a year to research and think about things, but I’m usually doing that while writing some other project. Once I’m ready to go, six months is the fairest answer. I’ve done three, I’ve also done a year. Ongoing, to sustain some kind of writing career, I’ll be holding myself to every six months.
Do you work on one project at a time, or are you a multi tasker?
As far as writing writing, one at a time. At Writers of the Future, ten years ago, the sci-fi writer Jay Lake (a fellow student at the time) gave me the advice that he was so prolific because he never started a new project until he’d finished the one he was working on. Too many writers (and I was one of them) start projects that never finish, because “I already know how it will end” or “I have another great idea” etc. And you can finish very little for years using those lines. You may NOT start a new project until you’ve finished the last. It’s good advice.
Did you have to overcome any fears that first time you sat down to write?
No fears. I love books so damn much, so it was a very natural “sit.” I do still self-edit too much, but that’s more from being an English major and writing under the false pretense that someone will be studying my craft a hundred years from now.
How many trunked books (if any) did you have before you were agented?
I have a big fantasy novel laying around. It got some faint nibbles from publishers and I might be able to do something with it, but epic fantasy is not a strength. Other writers do those much much better than I ever would. I may rework into a more urban fantasy story someday.
Have you ever quit on an ms, and how did you know it was time?
I was 20k into a novel about several strangers who wake up in a booby-trapped house. Some unseen evil guy speaking through little speakers in the house is forcing them through this bloody maze as they atone for their various sins and make life decisions, etc. etc. This was about 2003/04. Yeah, so this movie called Saw comes out… and I knew it was time.
Who is your agent and how did you get that "Yes!" out of them?
For Project Cain, it’s Stephen Barbara at Foundry Lit & Media in New York. It was as traditional a query as you get: I made a list of agents I wanted to work with, and Stephe was first choice. I sent in my proposal and sample chaps (as per Writers Guide). He said send the rest. I sent the rest. He said would you consider doing X and Y? I did X and Y. he said “welcome to Foundry.”
How long did you query before landing your agent?
Kinda fast. Foundry/Stephen was excellent about getting back to me quickly. It was a couple weeks (max) between first contact and “Would you try rewriting this as an adult thriller” (which later became “would you try writing another as a YA first-person thriller”). I went away for a couple months to rewrite the book. After I sent that, they were back with a YES in a few weeks.
Any advice to aspiring writers out there on conquering query hell?
(A) I have a folder stuffed with rejection letters from the last decade. Hundreds. MOST publishers have told me, “This isn’t for me.” Yet, I’ve sold seven books and twenty-plus short stories over that same time. 200 people can say NO and you still just need a couple (or one!) to say YES. Collect all your NOs happily. You WILL find your publisher and audience eventually. It really is a numbers game.
(B) The agent helped. A lot. I probably waited too long to get one. I’ve sent manuscripts into publishers who STILL (years later) haven’t gotten back to me in any fashion. My agent made a short list of publishers to talk to, talked to them directly on my behalf, and put together two nice book deals in about a month.
How did that feel, the first time you saw your book for sale?
I’ll know Sept. 3. I’m kinda numb to the whole process right now, honestly. It’s a lot of work (work a solid year old now) to reach a point where you have almost 0.0 control over the book: distribution, sales, criticism, etc. The book belongs to others now, so I’ve spent the last couple months distancing myself some and working on my next projects.
How much input do you have on cover art?
Very little. My agency asked for some simple font stuff to make Project Cain match Cain’s Blood a bit more. But I scored so big on Project Cain -- the cover is amazing -- so not really ever a concern. It was my job to write a book. Other people more qualified than I are in charge of promoting and packaging it.
What's something you learned from the process that surprised you?
The amount of hats an editor wears is really quite staggering. I don’t know how people do that job. I figured an editor edits your book, the end. No. They shepherd the thing from beginning to end. From acquisition through legal and layout and marketing and printing and…etc. There were a dozen times my editor contacted me about something and I was: “YOU do that??!”
How much of your own marketing do you? Do you have a blog / site / Twitter?
I’ve got a website and Twitter. Just enough to have them, not much more. Blogging, I suck at. I take too long and usually end up saying something that bothers someone. Some authors are great at social networking; I will not be one of them. I’m a teacher and best delivered face-to-face.
When do you build your platform? After an agent? Or should you be working before?
I always assumed it was very important to have my website all up to date and this and that for my agents and potential publishers, etc. Psychotically checking my web logs to see if NY had been on recently, etc. None of them cared. At all. My agents took me on and Simon & Schuster bought two books. They didn’t even know what I looked like. Had never been to my site. So, I say: just write your book. You could have no website at all and look like Frankenstein’s monster. If they like your book, they’ll be in contact. As far as adding potential readers, it usually takes two-full years for a first book to come out after purchase. You’ll have time…
Do you think social media helps build your readership?
Sure. Discovering a hundred (or even ten) new readers makes social media worth it. I’ll manage to lose some readers, also, through social media, but that’s part of “finding your audience.” You’re never gonna win over everyone. No author has ever done that (Dr. Seuss maybe?) and social media is just another way to connect with those readers who might like your work.