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 Kim Rendfeld, author of THE CROSS & THE DRAGON. Rendfeld grew up in New Jersey and attended Indiana University, where she earned a BA in journalism and English, with a minor in French. She was a journalist for almost 18 years at Indiana newspapers, including the Journal and Courier in Lafayette, The Muncie Star, and The News and Sun in Dunkirk, and won several awards from the Hoosier State Press Association
Are you a Planner or Pantster?
Pantster, mostly. When I started TC&D, I was so eager to get it on my computer screen. If I had started with an outline, I’d likely have gotten stuck and never written a draft of the story.
Upon seeing the draft, my critique group asked me to write an outline. I did, and it helped me get focused. And then I ended up throw two-thirds of it away as I made revisions.
Definitely not efficient, but this is the process that works for me when writing fiction.
How long does it typically take you to write a novel, start to finish?
This is a complex question for me to answer because my writing process is not continuous. With TC&D, I spent a year or two on the earliest draft and thought it was done. About a year or so later, I found a critique group who kindly informed me it wasn’t done, that it read like a very good outline but not a novel. And it was mired in back story. And the characters weren’t showing enough emotion. And there wasn’t enough conflict.
Two years later, I had another draft, which I was certain was ready for publication. Wrong again. Over several years, I sent out queries. When I got a useful rejection letter, I would revise the manuscript, setting other work aside.
If I were to total it up, I’d say five years.
Do you work on one project at a time, or are you a multi-tasker?
I was going to say one project at a time because it would be difficult to write more than one novel. But as I thought more about this, I realized after I got my first manuscript done, I am more of a multi-tasker. I have a full-time job. On top of that, I was querying agents and working on a second manuscript. Even as I work to promote TC&D, I am trying to find time to work on its companion, The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar.
Did you have to overcome any fears that first time you sat down to write?
I was a newspaper editor when I started on TC&D and encountered people who thought they could write well. I had to ignore the voice in my head that whispered, “How do you know you’re not one of those people, the ones who just think they can write?”
How long did you query before landing your publisher?
I began querying in earnest in 2003, the bad, old SASE days (stamped, self-addressed envelope for the acronym impaired). Most of the time, it was the equivalent of a cold call; a few times the query went to someone I met at a conference. I finally got an agent in 2007 through the query process. My agent was not able to sell the book and after three years had, for all intents and purposes, given up on me.
In early 2011, the saying, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results” came to my mind. I knew I had to do something different. I terminated my relationship with my agent and entered TC&D in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award competition.
I ended as a quarterfinalist and couldn’t have been happier with my prize, a positive review of the unedited manuscript from Publishers Weekly. I had another tool to promote myself to agents and editors. Just as important, the review gave me a boost in confidence when I really needed it.
Who is your publisher and how did you get that "Yes!" out of them?
My publisher is Fireship Press, a small press based in Tucson, Arizona. I decided to query them after reading a blog post from an author who had a bad experience with one of the Big Six and an agent but later connected with Fireship and was happy with them.
I sent an e-mail to a Fireship editor, along with the first chapters, as specified on their submission page. The editor liked what she saw and asked for more.
Any advice to aspiring writers out there on conquering query hell?
What helped me most in getting through query hell was writing another book. Of course, I still checked the mailbox (as I said I go back to SASE days), but pouring my creative energy into other characters and another story helped take some of the sting from the rejections. And I had a lot of them, enough to paper a large walk-in closet.
A couple more pieces of advice:
If you get the rare response that tells you specifically why your work was rejected, pay attention. By acting the suggestions in the rejections, I made my book better, and ultimately publishable, in the end.
While you should be patient—this industry is fraught with rejections—be mindful that these days, there is more than one path to publication. If it’s been several years and one path simply isn’t working, consider something else.
How did it feel the first time you saw your book for sale?
Dreamlike, as in wow, this is real!
I still am adjusting to the fact that my book is for sale on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. It’s a heady feeling to see the novel for sale not only in dollars but also in pounds and euros.
How much input do you have on cover art?
Cover art is one of upsides about working with a small press. Not only did I get to suggest images for the cover art, I got to ask readers to help me and my publisher decide on a public domain image. My readers chose my favorite image, Rowland Wheelwright’s Enid and Geraint. They have great taste.
The cover artist did a nice job, and I got to approve it.
What's something you learned from the process that surprised you?
I was surprised by how much control I had in the process, another upside to a working with a small press. My editor’s suggestions for the story were minor but they improved the book. She and I also worked together on fonts for the cover and decorative elements of interior.
I could not be more pleased with how it turned out.
How much of your own marketing do you?
For now, I do all my own marketing. Although it is taking time away from work my second book, The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar, it will be worth it in the long term.
When do you build your platform? After publication? Or should you be working before?
I built my site, blog, and Twitter platforms after I had written two manuscripts but long before publication. I’ll admit it. I was a skeptic about blogging. How was I going to find time? And who would care about what I had to say, anyway?
Yet if you’re a historical novelist, you have an advantage. You have done more research than you will ever be able to fit in one book. You can’t show it all off the novel. I’ve tried, and it just gets in the way. But you can show off your research in a blog, in short essays. If your period is not well known, mine is one example, this whets readers’ appetites.
I am glad I set up the platforms before I was published. (The Facebook fan page was after I signed the contract, and Goodreads and Amazon were after publication.) I was too busy making revisions and proofreading once the process gone under way.
It’s important to remember the novel should come first. My limit in most cases is one blog post per week, and I’ve started opening it up to guests. When I was in throes of the final proofread, I didn’t write in my blog for three weeks.
Do you think social media helps build your readership?
Oh yes. I’ve met so many nice people, and I participate in Facebook and Twitter promotion boards, where we post links to each other’s blogs. It is key to letting people know when you have a new blog post.
However, that doesn’t mean that the 300 friends you have on Facebook will result in 300 sales. And whatever you do, don’t bore them with “Buy my book, buy my book.” On my Facebook fan page and Twitter feeds, you will find promos for my posts, reviews, and interviews. You will also find links to other author’s posts, reviews, and interviews as well.
You still have to reach out. Review and interviews with book bloggers are a great way to let get your work before new audiences.
Thank you, Mindy, for this opportunity to share my writer’s journey.