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 Sara B. Larson whose YA Fantasy, DEFY, releases today from Scholastic. Sara is a mommy of three, lover of chocolate, desserts of all kinds, and Swedish Fish. Also good books.
Are you a Planner or Pantster?
I’m somewhere in the middle. When I get an idea for a book, I usually know the beginning and the ending, but I’m not always sure of the middle. I start writing, and just keep going and going, along with a separate document where I jot down notes or ideas for the plot/characters/etc. as I go. That usually lasts until about 15-20k words, and then I usually have to stop and put the rest of the book together in a loose outline. I don’t do a formal chapter by chapter outline (most of the time, though I have done that for a couple of books, too); it’s more of synopsis of sorts, where I just map out where everything is going, until I reach the end.
How long does it typically take you to write a novel, start to finish?
I’m kind of a freak of nature, because I tend to draft really fast. Most of my books have taken me between 4-8 weeks to write. A couple were shorter and a few were longer. Basically, I get obsessive with my story once I hit a certain point and I can’t think about anything else until the story is out. Since that leads to me being a rather ineffective human being in any other way (much to my children and husband’s dismay), I usually sacrifice sleep until I get the story out of my head.
Do you work on one project at a time, or are you a multi tasker?
I prefer to work on one at a time. But I can switch between projects if I need to—for example, I’m in the middle of my contract, so I’m promoting DEFY, while I’m in revisions on the sequel, and drafting another book, and revising a completely different project all at once. That’s always fun.
Did you have to overcome any fears that first time you sat down to write?
Well, I’ve been writing ever since I could use a pencil to write words down on paper (I have notebooks from second grade with stories in them), and I’ve written books ever since. So I can’t say that I had any fears the first time I sat down to write, because I honestly don’t remember it! But I’ve had plenty ever since I started seriously pursuing publication years and years ago. And even after getting a book deal, the fears haven’t gone away. If anything, they’ve gotten worse. I’ve never had worse writer’s block than I got on my sequel to DEFY, for fear that my agent, editor, and future readers wouldn’t like it. But I just had to shut that internal critic off (or tell it that even if this book sucks, I have to at least get it out and then I can fix it), and just push through. And surprisingly, when I went back through the book, it didn’t suck quite as bad as I thought when I was writing it. In fact, I completely loved it. And my editor did too, so phew! ;-)
How many trunked books did you have before you were agented?
Uh… do I need to count all the books I’ve ever written? Let’s just start from when I started trying to get published. I wrote four books before I nabbed my first agent. I was with her for two years, and while she is a lovely person whom I still count as a friend, ultimately we parted ways, because we weren’t the best match professionally. During those two years, I wrote another book and did a major revision of two other books (one was basically a rewrite). Once we parted ways, I started querying one of the rewrites, and in the meantime I got hit with two ideas very close together. I started both books, but decided to finish only one of them. I got super close to a few different offers, but nothing ended up coming through, so I went back to the other idea. I’d hit a major block with that book, but the characters wouldn’t leave me alone. Once I finally figured out that one them was hiding a major secret from me, the rest of the book flew out and I finished it in just a couple of weeks. That was in August. I polished and revised it and started querying it on a Monday in October, got a request for a full Tuesday night and received an offer on it the next day before lunch!! It was crazy. I ended up with more than one offer and within a couple of weeks I was on sub and a month later I had my deal with Scholastic! (Yes, that book was DEFY!)
So, uh, how many books was that? I think that was a really long answer to what should have been an easy question. Ha. I always joke that I don’t know how to tell short stories, and that’s why I write books.
Have you ever quit on an ms, and how did you know it was time?
The closest I ever came was with DEFY, when I’d hit that horrible block and I’d left my agent and hadn’t gotten a new one yet. But thank heavens I didn’t let myself quit and figured that story out!
Who is your agent and how did you get that "Yes!" out of them?
My agent is Josh Adams, and even though I’d been agented before and have lots of author friends, he was neither a referral nor a contact. I cold queried him. In fact, the offers I got on DEFY were all from cold queries.
How long did you query before landing your agent?
With my first agent, between all the books I wrote a queried, I probably sent out over 200. Maybe even 300. I stopped counting a long time ago. With DEFY, I’d just barely started querying, so I only had fifteen queries out when I got my offers and made my choice.
Any advice to aspiring writers out there on conquering query hell?
DON’T GIVE UP. Everyone told me if I didn’t give up, eventually I’d make it. I’ll admit after years of writing and querying, and hundreds of rejections I was losing faith. But I knew I couldn’t quit; it was my life-long dream and I couldn’t give up on it. So I kept going, and it turned out everyone was right. Also, this might sound dumb, but exercise. Get out and do something with your body. Those endorphins helped me fight through the lows of rejections. And it just feels good to be able to push yourself to do something that you have total control over. Also, chocolate. Lots of chocolate. ☺
How did it feel the first time you saw your book for sale?
I haven’t seen it yet, DEFY is on sale January 7, but I can imagine it will be an overwhelming combination of excitement, disbelief, elation, and a whole bunch of everything. And I’ll probably cry.
How much input do you have on cover art?
None! My editor sent me the cover one day out of the blue, and I loved it so much I screamed and jumped up and down (and totally scared my kids to death)!
What's something you learned from the process that surprised you?
How amazing it has been to work with an editor. I knew it would be have to be great, because he or she would love my book enough to buy it; but there was always a fear that they’d want me to change major things or not “get” my stories. I feel so incredibly lucky to have Lisa Sandell—she’s been absolutely incredible to work with. Her insights have helped me shape my book into the best it can possibly be. The collaborative process has been way more fun than I thought it would be. I’ve been (very pleasantly) surprised to not have only gained an absolutely brilliant partner in my writing career, but also a dear friend.
How much of your own marketing do you?
I try to do as much as I can without feeling so overwhelmed that I can’t find the creative energy to still write and to be able to still take care of my family and personal life. I do have a blog and I’m working on setting up an actual website. Hopefully soon! I am also on Facebook and Twittter.
When do you build your platform? After an agent? Or should you be working before?
It depends on the person and their book. I’m not really an expert on platforms. I just try to do what feels natural to me.
Do you think social media helps build your readership?
I think social media can help, but ultimately, it’s going to depend on your book, and the readers that love it and tell their friends and family. I’ve seen people with huge followings have books that didn’t do nearly as well as expected, and people who aren’t even on social media become bestsellers. I’ve also seen the opposite. So you just never know, I guess. That’s why I think you should only do what you’re happy and comfortable with. And focus on what you CAN control: writing the best book you know how.