Interview with Nicole McInnes

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 fellow Class of 2k13 member Nicole McInnes. Nicole is the author of BRIANNA ON THE BRINK. Nicole was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, received a Bachelor’s Degree in Literature (Creative Writing emphasis) from the University of California at Santa Cruz (go, Banana Slugs!). She also received a Master’s Degree in English (Creative Writing emphasis) from Northern Arizona University (go, Lumberjacks!).


BRIANNA ON THE BRINK is about a one-night stand that has life-altering consequences for popular, sixteen-year-old Brianna, who must then accept help from the one person closest to her mistake. Available now from Holiday House.

Are you a Planner or Pantster?

Actually, I think I’m a little of both. I like to keep careful notes on book ideas, but then once one of them “takes” I do like to let things percolate a bit and/or take me by surprise during the initial drafting. 

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

I’d say it typically takes about 8 months to get a fairly solid draft hammered out, especially if I can keep myself in a more-or-less productive work mode while writing the thing.

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

My main focus is always on one book at a time. That said, it seems inevitable that ideas for other stories, characters and titles come to me while writing. I try to always write these down for later use.

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

I’ve been writing since I was a little kid, and I started doing it because I first loved reading. I think starting from that place of excitement and feeling like there were no imposed rules or boundaries really kept me from being fearful back then. As an adult, of course, I often find myself at some point on the fear spectrum when sitting down to write. 

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


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

There was one manuscript I wrote after I had an agent that just never amounted to anything. While I still like parts of it, it was written during a time of huge upheaval in my personal life, and I think the writing was disordered as a result. I may go back and scavenge from it someday, though. You never know. Abandoned manuscripts are sometimes useful for parts if nothing else.

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

My agent is the extraordinary Stacey Glick at Dystel & Goderich Literary Management. After my initial query letter, she contacted me requesting a partial and then, I *think*, a full. By the time she offered representation, I had another agent interested as well. As soon as Stacey and I talked on the phone, though, I knew I’d be a fool to not go with her. Thankfully, I listened to my gut, because she’s been wonderful not just in getting my work in front of editors but in helping me develop projects as well. 

How many queries did you send before getting an agent?  

While I don’t have an exact count, I’m pretty sure I still have a box somewhere up in my closet with a few dozen rejection slips inside. 

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

Sending out queries and receiving rejection after rejection can be such a brutal, disheartening process. I don’t know any successful way out of it other than through, and you’ll be shocked at how quickly you forget all those rejections when you get that first “Yes.” That said, this time before landing an agent is important. It matters. It’s teaching you things that will carry you through your writing career – things like persistence and how you’re going to choose to handle disappointment (both of which will be totally necessary skills after you sell a book, by the way).

Of course, professionalism and attention to detail are mandatory. You MUST adhere to the cardinal rules of querying, including knowing the names and preferences of agents who interest you. Do they represent the kind of book you’ve written? Are they taking new submissions? Do they have a list of pet peeves? It’s the Internet Age, so there’s no excuse for not doing as much research as possible to avoid wasting your time and theirs. Also, publishing is a remarkably small world. Don’t be “that guy” or “that gal” with a reputation for being unprofessional. People will notice, and they may well remember. It’s hard to be gracious when gnashing ones teeth in frustration over the latest “not quite right for us” note. Be gracious anyway. Don’t burn bridges.

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

Technically, the first time was when I saw the pre-order pages for BRIANNA ON THE BRINK on IndieBound, Barnes & Noble, Powell’s, etc. It was amazing as one might suspect. A little surreal, too. 

How much input do you have on cover art?

Well, my editor (the amazing Sylvie Frank) called to ask me what sort of vision I had for the cover. Basically, I didn’t want any ball gowns (they wouldn’t have fit the story anyway), and I didn’t want a too-skinny, Photoshopped fembot-type model. Girls are already so bombarded with images of this sort of false “perfection”, and it was important to me that Brianna look like an actual human female. I was thrilled with the naturally beautiful model who was chosen, and I couldn’t imagine a better Brianna.

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

I was really surprised by how much I learned about story development and editing and the business of writing in between signing the contract and receiving my first copy of the finished book. I think I assumed that once an author sold a book, that was it. He or she was a master. Now I realize just how much I still have to learn to get my writing to where I want it to be. It’s truly a lifelong endeavor.

How much of your own marketing do you?  

I try to think of marketing as play more than anything, as a chance to connect with people and support other artists more than just as a place to hawk my wares. I’m on Twitter, tumblr and Facebook quite a bit, so I guess in that sense I maintain an online presence. Meanwhile, the heavy lifting is done by my wonderful publicist. I also have a writer's site.

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

When I first signed up for this writing-for-publication gig, mastodons still roamed the planet and there was no such thing as an online platform. There were literary journals and graduate theses, so that’s where I put some effort. Nowadays, it seems important to be findable online at all stages of the game – when searching for an agent, when having a book out on submission to editors and when waiting for your book to land in the hands of readers. At the very least, people are going to want to get a sense of who you are and how you might be to work with.

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

Oh, absolutely. What I love most about social media is the ability to share thoughts and laughs with people I’d otherwise never get to meet. And again, readers can get a sense of the writer behind the book this way. It’s not important to every reader, of course, and I suppose there are plenty out there who prefer to not know about authors, but I think a certain amount of curiosity is natural. Also, it goes both ways. It can be fun for authors to get a sense of their readership, to find out what types of people are into their books as well.