Interview with Jenn Johansson

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 the SAT is Jenn Johansson, author of INSOMNIA, and a fellow Friday the Thirteener. Jenn loves writing, playing board games, and sitting in her hot tub. Her dream is that someday she can do all three at the same time. In INSOMNIA, instead of sleeping, Parker Chipp enters the dream of the last person he’s had eye contact with.

Are you a Planner or Pantster?

I’m a hybrid. I write a very broad, very general outline to give me a blueprint and then I feel very comfortable veering off of it when it feels right.

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

Straight through drafting without taking time off in the middle…it takes about 6-8 weeks. And then I start editing and revising. 

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

Definitely one project at a time, except if they’re in different phases. I can draft one and edit another, but I really prefer focusing on one and putting the others aside until later.

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

No. I really didn’t even think I was writing a book at the time. I just wanted to get this idea out of my head. It wasn’t leaving me alone. By the time I realized it was a book I was too far in to get suddenly nervous about the whole thing.

How many trunked books did you have before you were agented?

One…but it had been revised/rewritten about seventeen times.

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

Yes. I knew it was time because I was finally so sick and tired of it that I didn’t want to look at it anymore. I also had a new idea that was really starting to pull on me and I didn’t want to make that one wait any longer. So I moved on, and I’m so happy I did.

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

My agent is the amazing Kathleen Rushall of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. I got her through a traditional query slushpile process. She read the first 50 pages of my book and then offered…I told her to finish the book and let me know if she still felt the same. She did. I squealed. We lived happily ever after.

How long did you query before landing your agent? 

My first (trunked) book, I sent over 100 queries and got quite a bit of interest but no offers. With Insomnia, I sent just over 30 before I got my offer. 

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

Most authors I know got their agent through the slush pile. It does work. You just have to keep writing, keep trying and keep improving. There is no shortcut or keyword, it’s all about hard work and perseverance. 

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

A convoluted mixture of thrilling and terrifying. I’m not sure if it’s ever going to stop feeling this way. 

How much input do you have on cover art?

Very little. They showed me what they liked and I gave a couple of minor suggestions. They took a couple, said no to the rest, and it was done. I love what they did with it. 

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

Nothing smoothes out after you get an agent or a book deal. The roller coaster keeps going and still has just as many violent ups and downs. I think people just get a little better at holding on and enjoying the ride. 

How much of your own marketing do you?  

Quite a bit of it. Flux helps out here and there and opens doors I can’t get through, but I do a lot of it on my own. I'm on Twitter, I blog, have my own site, Tumblr and Facebook. Of course I'm also on Goodreads, as is INSOMNIA

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

I think it’s a good idea to start before. It takes years to get people to listen and pay attention to what you have to say. It never hurts to get a jumpstart on that. 

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

Yes! I think there are many people I know through social media who otherwise wouldn’t have heard of me or my book who have ordered it and are excited about it. The internet makes the world even smaller and gives even more weight and power to word of mouth. We should all be trying to take advantage of that whenever possible.