Interview with Rebecca Barnhouse

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! Even more special - this is a WoW! Edition of the SAT - We're Ohio Writers! Yeah - cause we grow 'em here.


Rebecca Barnhouse is the author of The Book of the Maidservant (2009); The Coming of the Dragon (2010); and Peaceweaver (coming March 2012). She teaches English Literature and Writing at Youngstown State University. The Book of the Maidservant will be out in paperback on April 5, 2011.

Are you a Planner or Pantster?

A combination: I know the broad outline, but things change as I write, leading me in surprising directions.

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

So far, there is no typical. My first novel was a ten-year process of writing and rewriting, while I also wrote other books and did other things during those ten years. My second novel took two years. My third, because it was under contract, took a year. I work full time, so that year was pretty stressful!

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

I'm a multi-tasker in that I teach and try to write simultaneously, but I usually focus on one writing project at a time.

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

No fear---but then again, I had no expectations, either. I was writing to write, not to try to be published. Of course, that was many, many years ago.

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

I've lost count, but at least five.

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

I haven't quit in the middle of a manuscript, but I've finished a manuscript, realized it wasn't very good, and trunked it without ever sending it out.

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

My agent is Anna Webman at Curtis Brown. I had an offer from an editor before I officially signed with her (although the two things happened within a single frenzied hour). My critique partner referred me.

How many queries did you send?

I didn't do much querying; instead I spent most of my time sending work directly to editors. I met the woman who would eventually become my editor at the Rutgers One-on-One Plus Conference, which I was accepted to the second time I applied.

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

I am the wrong person to ask. Not only did I never do much querying, but I can't for the life of me write a decent query letter. But I can whole-heartedly recommend the Rutgers conference for meeting other writers as well as agents and editors.

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

I'd had some scholarly and professional books published previously, so I knew my own reaction would be muted excitement. Having a novel published was wonderful---but it wasn't life-changing for me.

How much input do you have on cover art?

On the first novel, which is historical fiction, I was consulted about historical accuracy and some changes were made based on my comments. I had no input on the cover for the second or third novels.

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

I had no idea how much say the marketing department would have in everything from the cover design to whether the book would be designated as MG or YA.

How much of your own marketing do you? Do you have a blog / site / Twitter?

I have a website but because my teaching job keeps me pretty busy, I don't do nearly as much marketing as I feel like I should. I've read comments by people who do a lot of self-marketing but who see no real difference in sales, which I use to rationalize my own lack of marketing! I do mostly local marketing (having an article about my books in the local Sunday paper was particularly effective).

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

My perspective on it is that it's the writer's job to write the best books they can. If I had been thinking about all this stuff while I was trying to craft my novel into a publishable story, I probably would have given up in despair; after all, there's plenty to despair about already, what with all those rejections!

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

I don't think it builds mine because I don't use it effectively, but I think it helps lots of people build their readership.