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!
Jaclyn Dolamore is the author of MAGIC UNDER GLASS and BETWEEN THE SEA AND SKY. She spent her childhood reading as many books as she could lug home from the library and playing elaborate pretend games with her sister. She has a passion for history, thrift stores, vintage dresses, David Bowie, drawing, and organic food. She lives with her partner Dade and three strange cats.
Are you a Planner or Pantster?
I am a planner with the option to pants. (Pants? Does that sound right?) I must begin with some idea of where I'm going to take this thing from beginning to end, but it never turns out quite like I think it will, so "the outline" is an ever-evolving thing.
How long does it typically take you to write a novel, start to finish?
Well...it's really all over the place. MAGIC UNDER GLASS, the original draft, was written in eight weeks. I sent it to agents, got some rejections and a revision request, rewrote it again in 2-3 more months, got some more rejections, rewrote it again in another couple of months. This was over a year-long process all told. BETWEEN THE SEA AND SKY, on the other hand, was one draft that took about a year to write, and then a six week revision when I got the editorial letter. MAGIC UNDER STONE was six months of writing and I haven't revised it yet.
The shorter answer is, somehow or another, I write a book about every nine months.
Do you work on one project at a time, or are you a multi tasker?
I usually focus on one at a time, but I might set aside a finished first draft, then revise something else, or start something else and go back to the first thing when I get stuck in the second thing. Also sometimes I get an unexpected editorial letter and I have to drop what I'm doing and give it first priority! Staying flexible is a helpful quality!
Did you have to overcome any fears that first time you sat down to write?
I've always written quite a lot...I have diaries from age 5, and piles of notebooks from childhood. So I didn't have to overcome any fear over the act of writing itself. I think I have a lot more fear now, understanding public scrutiny better. I have a terror of writing something that is unknowingly offensive to people. And I think the closer you get to writing about things that really affect people, the more chance you might also write something offensive, so it's something I just have to get over unless I just want to write fluff all my life, which I don't. But I do get a bit paralyzed by it sometimes. I'm a very non-confrontational, people-pleaser sort of person and when you write for the public, you have to understand that you can't please all the people, and some of them might even want to confront you about something, and I spend a lot of time wondering how to handle the public persona part of the whole thing.
How many trunked books (if any) did you have before you were agented?
I wrote two before MAGIC UNDER GLASS, and then it took three separate versions of MAGIC UNDER GLASS before one got a yes, and I wrote another book in the middle of those drafts as well. I only consider one of them truly "trunked", though. The others I have reworked beyond recognition, but I still believe in them.
Have you ever quit on an ms, and how did you know it was time?
My first completed novel was about a teenage girl who finds out she is really a fairy, moves to a small town with other magical beings, and falls in love with a vampire. Yes, this was written before Twilight...but it's nothing like Twilight anyway. It was a quiet, character-driven book with a sort of nerdy vampire, and while I still like the characters and some aspects of it, I consider it unsalvageable because of the plot had no tension, plus the fact that I don't think a teenage girl/180 year old vampire love story is something I can really pull off, especially these days. I actually reused the vampire in my short story for the CORSETS AND CLOCKWORK anthology, although I regret it a little. It doesn't really feel like him to me. But I had to write that story so fast I was scrambling...
Who is your agent and how did you get that "Yes!" out of them?
It was all pretty standard! Jennifer Laughran (of Andrea Brown) was a very new agent at the time and she'd been posting on the Blue Boards, and I knew we had similar taste in books. She repped my friend Lisa Madigan, who has since sadly passed on, but Lisa spoke glowingly of Jenn from the start. I queried Jenn with another project first, which she rejected. I was revising MAGIC UNDER GLASS at the time. It sounded exactly like something she'd like! So as soon as the third rewrite was done, she was at the top of my list again. I queried many other agents as well, but Jenn was the first to offer rep, so my hunch that she'd love MAGIC UNDER GLASS was correct. I was a little shocked at the time. I hardly asked her any questions when she called to offer because I was so excited. Luckily she's proved to be a perfect fit for me.
How long did you query before landing your agent?
Almost three years to the day, and over 100 queries spread over multiple projects.
Any advice to aspiring writers out there on conquering query hell?
Try--and I know it's very hard--to treat it like it's all part of the business. Rejections just mean you're working. Lots of rejections mean you need to work on your craft more. They don't mean that you suck or you'll never make it. They're only saying "not yet, not with this person". There were times when I had been at it for three years and seen many many friends sign with agents and sell their books, and it can really hammer at your ego and make you feel like maybe you just don't have the chops. But now I'm approaching the three year anniversary of having an agent, and the three years of struggle don't seem long at all.
How did that feel, the first time you saw your book for sale?
Well, good, of course. There are so many little "it's real" moments along the way--when you get the first advanced reader copy, the first review, the first fan email, author copies, etc... Each one is amazing in its own way, but I guess it also lessens the impact of the moment when it's on the shelf. However, the first bookstore I ever walked into to see it on the shelf, there were a couple of teenage girls complaining about how everything was about vampires. It was almost like they had been put there to give me "a moment". I started talking to them about my book and they bought one!
How much input do you have on cover art?
Sometimes my editor will ask me if there is anything I think would be good to have on the cover, but they kind of do their own thing from there and it may or may not include anything I mentioned, so...not much.
What's something you learned from the process that surprised you?
Um...I don't think I had TOO many surprises, which is the good thing about having a lot of published friends and writer groups to share information with. I will say that sometimes things happen really reeeeally slowly. Like, you may have heard that, but you just don't realize how slow it is until it's happening to you!
How much of your own marketing do you?
I blog, have a website, and Twitter @jackiedolamore. I don't really "market", so much as I just...be myself. I like to travel and meet other writers and publishing folk, and sometimes that has resulted in good connections, but I don't do it with that aim in mind. And I do promotional things if I find them fun. Like I've already sketched out a little series of humorous prequel comics for BETWEEN THE SEA AND SKY that I'll be posting around release, but I don't know if anyone will like them! I just kept thinking of cute little gag strips, of sorts, so I went ahead and did them.
When do you build your platform? After an agent? Or should you be working before?
I've always been social in the online writing world. I think it's nice to network. You have a support system. I don't know if it was a platform, though. I talked about things like how to make a salad a lot! I've actually found it a lot harder to blog since I sold a book. It feels more high-pressure, and my audience is more split...some old friends, some writers, some bloggers, some fans...they will want different things and I've just kind of gotten tongue-tied.
Do you think social media helps build your readership?
A little? I do feel it's only worth doing what you enjoy or have a gift for. I'm sure one starred review does far more for me than a year of blogging. My favorite thing about social media is just being able to connect with fans. It makes me feel like I'm not just writing into a void, and that inspires me to write more and better. Maybe I'm only reaching a few hundred people that way, but having the support of a small group of vocal people bolsters me a lot, which the silent majority of readers can then benefit from!
Jackie was good enough to share her winning query for MAGIC UNDER GLASS, which captured her uber-agent, Jennifer Laughran.
Magic steeps the gas-lit lanes of New Sweeling, where Nimira is a foreign singer, paid barely enough to survive. When wealthy sorcerer Hollin Parry hires her to accompany a piano-playing clockwork automaton, she thinks her savior has arrived.
Hollin may treat her with the kindness and respect she's yearned for, but buried secrets stir--including a rumor he may have murdered the former head of the Sorcerers' Council on the brink of a peace treaty with the fairies. Nimira discovers the spirit of a dashing fairy gentleman named Erris is trapped inside the automaton's stiff limbs, waiting for someone to break his curse. As Nimira and Erris fall into a love that seems hopeless, Nimira must uncover the truth behind the councilman's disappearance, or not just her fate, but all the magical world may be in peril...
Set in an alternate Victorian era, MAGIC UNDER GLASS is a YA fantasy with a Jane Eyre-atmosphere, complete at 65,000 words.