Successful Author Talk with Joy N. Hensley

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 Harper sister Joy N. Hensley. Joy N. Hensley is a former middle school teacher. She used to spend her twenty-minute lunch breaks hosting author Skype chats for her students. Once upon a time she went to a military school on a dare. She lives in Virginia with her husband and two children, finding as many ways as she can to never do another push-up again. Joy is the author of RITES OF PASSAGE, available September 9th from Harper Teen,  and THE HARDER YOU FALL, slated for 2015.


Are you a Planner or Pantster?

If you’d asked me this question even a few weeks ago, I would have said pantsers of the world unite! Now, though, that there are deadlines looming and less time to get my pantser lifestyle on, I’m learning the “joys” of plotting. A TON of work up front, but holy cow, I’m figuring out stuff for my new book before writing one draft that normally would have taken two or three revisions to figure out….so I might be a convert…Can I be a plantser?

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

Man, I wish I had a formula or timeline down for how this works, but seriously every novel is different. My first book (the one I signed my agent with) took me four years. It never sold. My second one I wrote in about a year but no one’s ever seen that. Rites of Passage took me six weeks to draft (yay NaNoWriMo!) but I revised for nine more months before going to copy-edits. My latest book I wrote in nine months, but now I’m completely re-writing it from scratch, so who knows how long it will take? Man, books will be written how they want to be written—I’m not trying to fit them into a timeline anytime soon!

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

I usually try to fast draft one project at a time. I find that if I take time off from that excited early rush of a project, I lose my love for it. During the revision process I can usually do more than one thing at a time. I have an e-mail folder labeled “Ideas” though that I use to jot down snippets of conversations and characters that come to me while I’m writing. All my best ideas come when I’m smack dab in the middle of something else!

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

I didn’t have any fears at first. Now? I have tons. I feel them every time I sit down. What if this book doesn’t work? What if I’ve forgotten how to “book”? What if no one likes it? What if it doesn’t work for the market? What if I have to go back to teaching and everyone knows I “failed”? I thought once I sold a book, things would be honky-dory from then on. I think it’s scarier on this side of the fence rather than back when there wasn’t any pressure other than getting an agent or selling a book.

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

I have one I trunked before I got my agent (450 pages or some nonsense like that—I had NO CLUE what I was doing) and one I trunked after—though this one is starting to nibble at my mind again.

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

The one I quit on after I signed with my agent—there was just something wrong with it that I couldn’t figure out. It’s been two years and I think I’ve finally figured out what was wrong—hence the nibbling at my mind now. I have lots of projects that are partway done. I don’t think I’ll ever trunk anything again—I think maybe it’s just not the right time for them.

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

I’m with Super Agent Mandy Hubbard at D4EO Literary Agency. I was very lucky because I’m one of those people who knew nothing about the process, really. So I queried her (thanks to a friend’s recommendation) and she read but rejected. In the response, though, she told me why she rejected, which was the biggest help I could have ever gotten. Stupidly, though, I tried to make a “quick fix.” I e-mailed her back with some superficial changes about two weeks later and she said that if the fixes were that easy, they probably weren’t big enough for her to reconsider.

After that I was pretty down. I went to a SCBWI writing conference up on a mountain. My grandma paid for it (I didn’t have the money) and I was too cheap to get a hotel room, so I pitched a tent and almost died in a thunderstorm (but that’s another story). Anyway, I learned a whole new revision technique that weekend and after looking at Mandy’s rejection notes again, I rewrote the entire manuscript in two months, this time, and re-queried her. She read it over the weekend and offered the next week.

Writers are NOT supposed to do that. I didn’t know better…

How long did you query before landing your agent?

I queried off and on for about 9 months. I’d say I sent about fifty queries out and I got two offers.

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

Take a huge deep breath, and go slow. While the queries are out there, don’t just stare at your inbox (oh, I know how hard this is). Start something new. Continue writing. NEVER stop writing.

How much input do you have on cover art?

Picking a concept for Rites was hard, I think. I got a first cover comp and while it was ok I wasn’t sold on it. I didn’t like the color—it didn’t seem ominous enough. Mandy and I went back with some thoughts and Harper went through quite a few more comps (though I never saw any of them—man, would I love to!). When they e-mailed the black and pink cover I just KNEW that was it. They still played around with it a little bit, but I couldn’t ask for a better cover!

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

Honestly, it’s something I’m still learning and trying to figure out how to navigate. Before you’re agented and before you’ve sold, you’re writing for YOU. You’re writing to make that dream happen with the book of your heart. Once you’re on this side, though, writing becomes a business. I’m trying to figure out how to make the business part and the “writing the book of my heart” part mesh—it’s definitely an acquired skill.

How much of your own marketing do you?  

I’ve got a blog that I rarely do anything with. It saddens me, but I just don’t have time for it. I post links to book stuff, contact information, and appearances, but nothing else, really.

I do most of my social networking on Twitter—that seems to be where the YA authors/bloggers/and YAs themselves spend most of their social media time. I don’t have tumbler and my Facebook page is just my tweets pushing through. Looking at that, I feel like a huge failure!

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

I think that’s different based on what type of writer you want to be. It’s hard for fiction writers to build a platform before having a book come out. I think you should be out there, certainly, trying to build a name for yourself, but in the end, if you’re a fiction writer, at least, your platform isn’t going to give you a deal. Your words are. Focus less on platform and more on your writing.

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

Sure, to an extent. I think it’s fun to be out there, talking to readers and teens and people eager about books, and your books in particular. Is it the end-all? No. Again, your words will speak for themselves—but being accessible, being a person, not just a mythical author is important, too!