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 Raasch, author of the 2014 title SNOW LIKE ASHES from Balzer & Bray. Sara has known she was destined for bookish things since the age of five, when her friends had a lemonade stand and she tagged along to sell her hand-drawn picture books too. Just FYI, SNOW LIKE ASHES does not feature her hand-drawn pictures.
Are you a Planner or Pantster?
Planner. SUCH a planner. I think my level of planning-ness is borderline unhealthy, but with writing fantasy, planning is kind of necessary. There are so many characters/storylines/world building details to keep track of, I couldn’t imagine Pantsing a fantasy novel. I have detailed story outlines, character progressions, maps, maps for the maps, maps for the story outlines, and on and on. Plus, can I just take a second to bow down to Pinterest? I have no idea how I ever did any world building before Pinterest.
How long does it typically take you to write a novel, start to finish?
This is a very unfair question. I wrote the first draft of SNOW LIKE ASHES when I was twelve, so if you calculate how long it took me to get to this current version…almost twelve years? Yikes. Numbers are evil. There were some detours in that time period, of course – other novels, silly things like college, etc. But if you count only this current draft of SLA, it took about five months. Which is a much less evil number.
Do you work on one project at a time, or are you a multi tasker?
In every other area of my life, I rock multi-tasking. I can cook dinner, text, IM chat, and play fetch with my cat all at once. But when it comes to writing? One story at a time is all my brain can handle. It goes back to how encompassing fantasy is – I like being able to totally immerse myself in a world, and if I’m trying to be in two worlds at once, it splits my brain in a very unfortunate way.
Did you have to overcome any fears that first time you sat down to write?
That first time? Try every time I sit down to write. I’m currently working on the sequel to SNOW LIKE ASHES and suffering from major first-draft pains. No matter how many books I write, first drafts are always huge confidence-kills. One of the things that keeps me going through the massive suckage that is drafting is a quote by Jodi Picoult: “You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.” Which to me means “Put da words on da paper, you crazy obsessive over-analyzer, you.”
How many trunked books did you have before you were agented?
Well, as I said above, SNOW LIKE ASHES was originally written when I was twelve. It took about seven-ish years before I realized that that trilogy just wasn’t doing it for me (at the time, at least), and I shelved it in favor of two other books that eventually bombed out too. Only when I returned to the wonderful world of fantasy did I land that ever-elusive agent, and even then it was another three years, two books, and one more agent before I sold.
Moral of the story? Keep. Moving. Forward. And when you don’t feel like moving forward, watch Meet the Robinsons and cry into a box of truffles. But the moment that movie is over, you best be moving forward. The time will pass anyway, so you might as well be working toward your dream.
(Yes, I AM a treasure trove of inspiring quotes, thank you for noticing.)
Have you ever quit on an ms, and how did you know it was time?
Let’s tally up the aforementioned trunked books. Including the first draft of SNOW LIKE ASHES (and its two other trilogy books) that twelve-year-old Author-Sara wrote, the total is seven. Seven books that now sit in the abyss of Maybe Someday But Not Now. Seven books that at one point in time I adored, but ultimately didn’t spark the same adoration in agents/editors. Knowing when it was time to move on was never an easy decision, and usually came only after months of rejection and tears. Mostly it had to do with realizing the market just wasn’t right or the story was good but my craft wasn’t quite “there” yet.
Who is your agent and how did you get that "Yes!" out of them?
Good ol’ fashioned querying. My agent is Mackenzie Brady at Sheedy Literary. I actually got her on a different book (a paranormal ghost story that is currently in the abyss of Maybe Someday But Not Now). I could go into a nice long rave about how awesome my agent is, but then I’d get pelted with jealousy-bullets, and I don’t have a lead vest with me.
How long did you query before landing your agent?
My querying process was excruciatingly ideal when I got Mackenzie. I was only querying for about a month when she offered, and letmetellyou, Younger Author Sara kind of hates That Author Sara for getting it so easy. Mackenzie was my second agent; when I got my first agent back in the day, I queried for months. Months and months. And before I queried that book, I queried every other book I wrote on its own, and nearly lost myself under piles of rejection letters over the course of years. There is a weird kind of thrill to querying though, no matter how sucky it is. The thrill of possibility that just can’t be matched (except maybe with submissions, which is its own kind of suck).
Any advice to aspiring writers out there on conquering query hell?
I said it before, but I’ll say it again – keep moving forward. You got a rejection? That’s GREAT! It means you tried. You got rejectionS? That’s even MORE awesome, because it means you KEPT trying. This industry rewards those who persevere. If you want this, really want this, then don’t you dare stop. Even if all you want to do is stick a knife through your laptop. First of all, laptops are expensive. Don’t do that. Second of all, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and tell yourself you want this more than the rejection hurts. If you don’t root for yourself, who will?
How did it feel when you saw your sale announcement?
I had a hard time SEEING my book sale because of all the tears. When my agent called with the news, I was able to keep it together pretty well through the phone call, but once I hung up I burst into tears. Ugly tears. Sobbing, coughing, blubbering tears. So when the email with the contract details came through, I could barely form coherent sentences, let alone read words on the computer screen. I have a feeling the same will happen when I first see SLA on a shelf in a bookstore.
How much input do you have on cover art?
I’m still pretty early in the process to be involved with cover art. Not that I haven’t thought about it. My aforementioned Pinterest obsession attests to just how much I’ve thought about it. If any of Balzer + Bray’s cover artists are reading this, I have 400+ pins of ideas I’d like to run past you.
What's something you learned from the process that surprised you?
Though there are parts that aren’t so much fun, it IS as good as I imagined. Better, even.
How much of your own marketing do you?
When I finally sold, my inner marketing-nerd went “*cracks knuckles* I got this.” I have a blog and Twitter, and those are really the only marketing venues I use (I have a Facebook fan page, but I’m a recovering Facebook Addict going on four years sober). I recently started a Join the Blizzard campaign in which I give away season-themed goodies the first day of every season now until SLA’s launch next fall. The closer it gets, the more I’ll do, and boy, am I pumped to get to it. I feel like I had my marketing side bottled up all those years of querying/submitting, and now that I have a product to sell, I’m all over it.
When do you build your platform? After an agent? Or should you be working before?
It’s never too early! I know a lot of people who have HUGE followings already and aren’t agented. The trick is to find the venue that works for you. If you hate Twitter, it’ll show, and people will be less inclined to follow you. Even if you aren’t particularly talented at any certain social media outlet, don’t lose heart – believe it or not, there ARE still quite a few authors who don’t have online presences. It helps, but it’s not necessary.
Do you think social media helps build your readership?
Nice segue! I think it can definitely be a beneficial tool, but it isn’t a make-or-break thing – if social media isn’t for you, don’t force it. The biggest thing that builds readership is still and always will be word of mouth. Sure, you can build up a good following on Twitter/Blogger/Goodreads and develop some word of mouth spreadage, but for the most part it happens organically.