Interview with MarcyKate Connolly

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!

I'm very happy to bring you today's SAT (Successful Author Talk) interviewee, MarcyKate Connolly. MarcyKate is one of my regular critique partners, and also one of the people that I met and banded with at the beginning of my publishing journey, years ago. MarcyKate, RC Lewis and myself all met years ago on the writing site AgentQueryConnect. We would read each other's stuff, pick apart our query letters, and root, root, root for each other when we entered contests to try to gain agent attention.

Are you a Planner or Pantster?

I’m a plotter *steeples fingers*. Outlines and beat sheets are my best friends when I’m drafting a novel.

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

Wellllllll, that varies. A lot. I’ve written 11 novels so far and I can’t really say I have a pace that’s consistent. Every book has its own unique path. First drafts have run the gamut from 10 days to 1.5 years. Add to that necessary time for revision, critique partner feedback, more revision, etc, and the shortest was a few months, the longest about 3 years. 

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

I am a multi-tasking fiend. I use Zoho projects (an online project management software) to keep myself on target and meet goals for revision and drafting. I always have another project in the pipeline once one stage of a book is complete. For example, I may draft one book in the morning (say, MG fantasy) and then revise another in the afternoon or next day (say, YA contemporary). Once I’ve finished revising that YA, I’ll move my next project that’s due for revision up in the queue, and then cycle through them that way until they’re ready for my agent or editor to review.

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

Not really, aside from the pretty normal fear that what I’ve written sucked. (But that doesn’t ever really go away for a lot of writers. Sorry to break the bad news!). 

Though that fear did take a turn that I had to overcome. When I went to revise that first manuscript, I was so terrified of screwing up the writing in a technical sense (misspellings, bad grammar, etc) that I actually edited every ounce of voice right out of that book. I had readers tell me that it was the cleanest manuscript they’d ever read, but they couldn’t connect to my characters at all – that was why! Took me another 2 books before I finally got a handle on voice (and learned not to edit it out!) 

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

Six. Monstrous was the 7th novel I wrote, 4th that I queried. 

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

I did decide to set aside three books. One I queried briefly and the response made it very clear the book wasn’t really there and I wasn’t as interested in getting it to where it needed to be either. The other two were NaNoWriMo novels and very much practice books.

I’ve “paused” a couple other books, but I have plans to revisit them and rewrite them eventually. 

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

My amazing agent is Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary & Media. I queried her the traditional way – my book was a slushpile baby despite the fact that I entered agent-judged contest after contest!

How long did you query before landing your agent?  

I queried for about 3.5 years before signing with Suzie. I sent well over 300 queries for three different books and got hundreds of No's in response. The three agent offers on Monstrous were totally worth it!

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

The best way I found to get through query hell is to always keep looking forward. 

Write that next book. Yes, THAT book. The one that won’t leave you alone and keeps you up at night. Even if it’s weird and crazy and scares you. It’s worth the risk, and at worst, you’ll learn something and have a fun distraction.

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

I haven’t seen the hardcover of Monstrous on a physical bookstore shelf yet (though I have held a copy in my hands and it is beautiful!!), but when the pre-order links for it began popping up, it was surreal. The fact that this is really happening began to sink in then too. I’m SO EXCITED to see it in B&N and my local indies!

How much input do you have on cover art?

Not much. They picked the (perfect) artist and worked up the (perfect) concept. There was one little issue on the first final draft they sent me, but it was quickly and easily fixed. Basically, they didn’t need my input – the artist pretty much plucked my main character out of my brain and dropped her on the page!

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

How different the process is from one author to another, and one book to another. We’re all going through the same basic process, but the details vary dramatically!

Also, publishing is sloooowwwww. This should not have surprised me – I’d heard it before, of course. But to experience it is another thing entirely. Case in point, my book sold in 2012, and it will finally be on shelves in 2015!

How much of your own marketing do you?  

I’ve had a website and been on social media for years before I started writing seriously, so I was prepared to promote things like giveaways and news across my site, twitter, facebook, tumblr, etc. Social media promotion, and the postcards I’m sending to my local bookstores and libraries are the main marketing I’m doing for Monstrous. I’ve also done some in person outreach to my local libraries and gave them advanced review copies of my book. However, my day job background is in marketing, so if my publisher wasn’t doing a lot of marketing on my behalf I’d probably do more. 

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

I already had a platform, so it’s hard for me to say. I do know it’s not going to be a dealbreaker for most agents if you don’t have a social media platform when they sign you provided you are open to building one if your book sells.

For me, social media was most effective pre-sale / pre-agent in finding my place in a community of authors. There’s a lot of awesome people out there, especially in the kid lit community, and getting to know them and knowing they were going through the same highs and lows in the query trenches was really helpful for me. Made me feel less alone. And really, that’s what social media is about – connecting with a community. It’s a way to engage people on a personal level and should be treated like it (not like a sales channel!)

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

It definitely can, yes. But the key thing to remember about social media is that it is first and foremost and place to be social. A lot of people forget that. It is about building a community and engaging with people (which is why it can be great for engaging with your readers). Blasting things like BUY MY BOOK BUY MY BOOK BUY MY BOOK is going to get you blocked and possibly even banned from places like Twitter. Basically, don’t be noise; be yourself – that’s way more interesting.