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 (Successful Author Talk) is Jenn Marie Thorne, author of THE WRONG SIDE OF RIGHT, coming from Dial/Penguin 2015.
Are you a Planner or Pantster?
I am 100% a planner. Outlines/spreadsheets/character breakdowns, you name it. Whenever I hit something even vaguely resembling “writer’s block,” it’s because my outline has gotten fuzzy or otherwise failed me. I take those days to re-outline, then forge ahead fresh.
How long does it typically take you to write a novel, start to finish?
Before I had kids or after? ☺ These days, it takes me about four months to get from prep (outlining, making character notes) to a draft I’m prepared to show my agent and beta readers. Then I’ll redraft once or twice (or three times!) before it goes out to editors. That takes about a month. But in terms of writing a rough draft from start to finish – two months on average. I like to get into a steady pace where I’m writing something every day. Not necessarily NaNo numbers, but NaNo certainly helps.
Do you work on one project at a time, or are you a multi tasker?
I really have to focus on one thing at a time. I need that monogamous infatuation with a project in order to really be creative about it – that thing where everything reminds you of your book and you solve the third act problem while you’re taking a shower because you’re obsessed. But edits do pop up with other books, so I’ll put projects aside and pick them up again as needed.
Did you have to overcome any fears that first time you sat down to write?
Oh yeah. I still do! My rampant insecurities have not gone away, especially since every new book is more challenging than the last one. I always question whether I’m qualified to write the book I’m writing. But I set small goals that are easily exceeded, and then I get into a nice groove of patting myself on the back before terror strikes again in the form of Draft Two.
How many trunked books did you have before you were agented?
Two trunked books – a fantasy MG and a future-set Western, both of which I’ll likely dismantle for pieces and rewrite in the future. I’m proud of having finished multiple drafts of both of them, even though they’ll never see the light of day in their current form. They were great learning experiences. I call them “my free MFA.”
Have you ever quit on an ms, and how did you know it was time?
I’ve never quit in the middle of a draft, but I’ve got a whole graveyard of discarded ideas on my laptop. I have a long enough “concept queue” that I’m able to look back over concepts or hooks that I thought were genius when I came up with them and can now see are excruciatingly derivative.
Who is your agent and how did you get that "Yes!" out of them?
My agent is the lovely Katelyn Detweiler at Jill Grinberg Literary Management. I came through the slush pile – and am therefore a huge proponent of the query system. When I was querying my first two books and getting no bites, I heard so much “The system is rigged against us, it’s all about who you know,” but that just rang so false to me. I kept writing and querying. Katelyn read my second book and had sent me some incredible notes for a revise and resend, but in the meantime, I’d written THE WRONG SIDE OF RIGHT, so I sent that to her as an FYI. That wound up being the book she signed me on.
How long did you query before landing your agent?
Oh gosh, it’s so hard to say with that many trunked books! Two years? My query list got much, much smaller and more targeted as I gained more experience in querying, so I’d only sent THE WRONG SIDE OF RIGHT to a tiny handful of agents who had specifically asked to see more from me after reading the trunked previous book.
Any advice to aspiring writers out there on conquering query hell?
Write. Another. Book. I mean – embroider that and frame it and hang it over your desk. If this is the career you intend to have, then start treating it as your career now - keep writing and reading and querying and learning and growing. The stars will align when they’re meant to.
How much of your own marketing do you? Do you have a blog / site / Twitter?
I’m on Twitter but I think it’s probably more of an addiction than a platform at this point! I have a website but I can’t commit to blogging at the moment. Although, I do feel tempted from time to time.
When do you build your platform? After an agent? Or should you be working before?
Twitter is tremendously helpful while you’re in the slush pile trenches – and when you’re working on a book, which hopefully is always. I don’t think you need a website before you’ve sold a book, unless you have a particularly interesting blog with content you can’t find anywhere else.
Do you think social media helps build your readership?
Absolutely! Sometimes it does feel like preaching to the choir, but hey – choirs sing. Loudly. If social media is something you enjoy, something that comes naturally to you, there is absolutely no reason not to use it to spread the word about your work. If you’ve never tweeted in your life and suddenly you’re on Twitter every hour linking to your Amazon page and retweeting reviews and…nothing else? I don’t think that helps much. You’ve got to be authentic or it’s just kind of a downer for everybody who’s trying to interact with you in their own authentic way.