Olivia Cole On Writing Fearlessly

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 Olivia Cole, author of PANTHER IN THE HIVE, which as released in 2014. Olivia is a published poet and nonfiction writer who has been a storyteller since birth.

Are you a Planner or Pantster?

I’m a Planner who often goes off-plan halfway through said plan. That said, I don’t plan extensively. I like to know where I’m going and will sketch out an idea of what the path looks like, but if I feel the story is leading me in another direction midway through, I have no problem letting my pants lead me.

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

The longest it’s taken me is a 13 months. I wrote a young adult novel in 3.5 months earlier this year. It really depends on how inspired I am, if I’m simultaneously revising another project, and how much patience my husband has at the time.

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

I multi-task. This didn’t used to be the case: I could only do one project at a time to avoid the risk of letting the voice of one influence another. For whatever reason, I’m able to compartmentalize a little more successfully now.

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

Not that I can think of. Writing has always been the place where I feel most fearless.

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

Not exactly trunked, but one. Two, if you count that book’s sequel, which I was working on when I found my agent. By the time I was agented, though, I had decided to self-publish that series and I’m very glad I made that decision. I am Gollum about the Tasha Trilogy.

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

Sort of. I started a manuscript and got 70 pages in when I realized the story I had set out to tell had completely transformed ¬– for the better, I would say. So I scrapped it all and started over: same character, very different story. I can’t imagine doing that five years ago: “but 70 pages!” I can hear myself whining. 70 pages is nothing if it means doing the story justice.

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

Regina Brooks of Serendipity is my agent, and while I met her at BEA in 2012 or 2013, she wasn’t interested in my first project (Book 1 in the trilogy I mentioned above). It wasn’t until 2015 when I won her agency’s Discovery Contest that we connected again. She believed the book that I submitted was publishable, and so she offered me representation from there. 

How long did you query before landing your agent? 

I started querying in 2012 when I was still seeking representation for Panther in the Hive. I sent out maybe 30 queries over the next two years. I wasn’t very good at it. 

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

This I can’t help you with. I will say that I think some people’s skills (and story) lend themselves well to querying. This was not true for me. If you’re stuck in query hell, I highly recommend getting out of the hobbit hole and going to conferences/events to meet agents and other writers. I met another agent at the Midwest Writers Workshop who probably would have become My Agent if Regina hadn’t offered representation first. I’ve had great conversations with agents at other conferences as well. Querying isn’t for everyone.

How much input do you have on cover art?

So far HarperCollins has been very good about asking for ideas and recommendations from me. I’ve been lucky in the fact that my editor and I have very similar tastes in what we appreciate in covers, so while it does feel like a dialogue, I also trust them to make good decisions. 

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

How chill everything is! I am a deadline-oriented writer, so perhaps this would be different if I had trouble getting things in on time, but the flow of things is very relaxed. This is also because publishing is a grand machine in which things are planned far, far in advance. It feels almost like dealing with the Oracle in the Matrix: everything is pre-determined as far as pacing, so avoid black cats and keep moving forward.

How much of your own marketing do you?  

Since we’re pre-publication, I’m currently doing my own marketing, but that will change when we get closer to launch. And that’s if you can call what I do now “marketing.” I tweet religiously as @RantingOwl, and while I once blogged religiously, I’ve cooled off to focus on my fiction.

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

I would say you should be working before. Like it or not, publishers are interested in what kind of following you have and it can help them envision an audience for your work.

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

Yes. So many of my readers come from Twitter. People will like what I tweet about X topic, and then reply saying, “I saw you’re an author: where can I get your book?” While this doesn’t happen every day, it definitely happens. In any case, the function of social networking—online and offline—is mixing with strangers and discussing your life, your work, etc. Twitter is just that: some of those strangers will be intrigued and buy my books. Some will stick around to see if they care enough to do so later. Either way, it’s fun. (Sometimes.)