Interview with Tricia Springstubb

I'm lucky (or cunning) enough to have lured yet another successful writer over to my blog for an SAT - Successful Author Talk. Even more special - this is a WoW! Edition of the SAT - We're Ohio Writers! Yeah - cause we grow 'em here. SAT authors have conquered the query, slain the synopsis and attained the pinnacle of published. How'd they do it? Let's ask 'em!


Tricia's most recent novel, WHAT HAPPENED ON FOX STREET, was published by HarperCollins last year.  It received a number of starred reviews, and was on the best books of the year lists of the Washington Post and Kirkus.  A sequel, MO WREN, LOST AND FOUND, will come out this August.  A chapter book series for younger readers, called CODY (until she comes up with a much better title) will debut in September, 2012, with Candlewick.

Tricia also writes for adults, and has published award-winning fiction in numerous literary journals.  She's a book critic for the Cleveland Plain Dealer and a substitute librarian in the children's room of her local public library.  The mother of three grown daughters, she lives with her husband in Cleveland Heights, OH.  Contact Tricia through her website, where she writes a blournal (that's a cross between a blog and journal).

Are you a Planner or Pantster?

I’ve always got a map, with start and end points (pretty) clearly marked.  But the route in between is blurry and I get lost, retrace my steps, stagger around in circles, swim crocodile infested rivers, etc.  I’ve tried to plan, but always get too excited and begin to write before I really know what I’m doing.     

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

FOX STREET took longer than I want to remember—probably six or seven years of on- and-off-again work. And that doesn’t count all the time spent thinking about it!  MO WREN LOST AND FOUND was easier, more like one year, though I had to write one whole, really appalling draft, and completely scrap it, before I figured out what I was doing.     

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

I do a lot of reviewing, so I’m often working on an essay. When I finish a draft of a novel or story, I put it aside for awhile, and during that fallow time I tinker with other fiction.  But I could never work full tilt on two new creative pieces at once!  My brain would implode.

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

I have more fears now, when I know an editor is waiting for my work.  In the beginning, I was just writing, la la la, with no expectations!

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

I have three adult novels in my drawer, but no kids’ stuff.

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

I’m too much of an optimist (or maybe too delusional) to ever officially quit—I just “put it aside”.  But when sitting down at my desk fills me with cold dread, I know it’s time.

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

My agent is Sarah G. Davies--the G. stands for Genius.  Her agency is Greenhouse Literary.  I saw her listed in my SCBWI bulletin and sent a query about FOX STREET.  She requested the full manuscript, then called me up. Sarah is very British and proper.  It was a Sunday night and she actually apologized for calling at such an odd time!  I forgave her.  

How long did you query before landing your agent? 

I think I sent six or seven queries.  Sarah was the one who said that, though the book was quiet and literary, she loved it and wanted to take a chance on it.  Within two weeks we were getting nibbles, and eventually there was, if not a bidding war, at least a very lively skirmish.  Since then, she has helped me get five more contracts.    

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

When I first began writing, which was many, many years ago, children’s writers were seldom represented.  You sent your work over the transom, and once you were published, you relied on your contacts at various houses to be read.  All that has changed.  Having a good agent makes all the difference in the world now.  Sarah easily sold a picture book for me—on my own I’d have been sending it out for months or even years, possibly without any response.  So, even though writing a query has only slight more appeal than getting a root canal, it’s really worth doing well.

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

I was thrilled, of course, but also felt kind of maternal and protective to see it out there on its own in the big world.

How much input did you have on cover art?

My editor at HarperCollins, Donna Bray, is wonderful.  She shows me cover and spot art all along the way as it evolves. At Candlewick, my editor Liz Bicknell, also thoroughly involves her writers in the illustrating process.  I’m very lucky in this.

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

How long it takes!

How much of your own marketing do you? Do you have a blog or personal site?

I have a website It has a link to my “journal”, which is the closest I come to a blog.  I also have a Facebook fan page, Tricia Springstubb Author, as well as a regular FB page. I contribute to the wonderful, lively group blog for middle grade writers and readers, From the Mixed Up Files, and love being interviewed by other blogs (!!).  As far as marketing, I’ve sought out book fairs and some conferences.  I’m very lucky to work with publishers who have great marketing departments.

When should aspiring writers start building their platform? After landing an agent? Or before?

I think it’s really useful to read and contribute to blogs you enjoy.  You can learn a lot about both the craft and the business sides of writing, and you won’t feel like you’re the only crazy person trying to do this stuff.  You make friends.  As far as “platforms”, I pretty much stand on the work itself.   

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

My young readers e-mail me, but I don’t think social networking is a big thing for them yet (I may be naïve about that).  I hope teachers and librarians, as well as kids, seek me out through my web page.  For me, one of the biggest pleasures of social media has been networking with other writers—kid lit writers are the most generous, warm people on the planet.  When I went to ALA last year, I met Grace Lin.  “I’m Tricia,” I said.  “Oh you’re Tricia!” she said.  Now that was really, really fun.