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 an old writing friend, SL Duncan. He's a writer and traveler seeking stories from inspired locations - a connection of prose to place. The first book of his YA book series, THE REVELATION OF GABRIEL ADAM, releases 2014 from Medallion Press.
Are you a Planner or Pantster?
You know, I’d love to take credit for being a planner. There’s something to being prepared that rings nice. The truth is, I do a basic, sad little outline that kind of tells me where I want to go. It’s usually based off of a lot of research and then, inevitably, it gets tossed out the window once I get into the process. So, I guess I’m a little of both.
How long does it typically take you to write a novel, start to finish?
Generally, it takes me about six months to get to where I’ve got a decent draft. That’s with some heavy editing and rewriting. But to get to a final draft? Probably a year, depending on how fast my beta readers and agent can get back to me with notes.
Do you work on one project at a time, or are you a multi tasker?
I’m not very good at multi tasking. Like, at all. I’m finicky as a writer. It takes me an hour or so to hit my stride in a writing session and the same applies to the big picture. So, to get anything done, I have to be myopic with my stuff – really lock in and focus on the characters and plot. If I tried to juggle in another story, my head would get a bit crowded. And it’s crazy enough in there as it is.
Did you have to overcome any fears that first time you sat down to write?
Not so much in the writing. There’s nobody but yourself you have to answer to when it’s just you and your story. Once you have to let it out into the world? Sure. That freaks me out every time. It’s the same sense of anxiety that most writers get, I think. Something likened to stage fright.
How many trunked books did you have before you were agented?
Okay. Don’t hate me. I’m one of those jerks that lucked out and had his first novel repped and published. But I’ve trunked one in the meantime if that makes you feel any better.
Have you ever quit on an ms, and how did you know it was time?
I’ve never quit on one, but I do have one set aside in the corner. It looks sad and guilty, but that’s because it is being SO NAUGHTY and not cooperating with the whole being written thing. I may come back to it in the future, but the further away I get from the story, the less intrigued I am to explore its world. There are so many fresh ideas out there, begging for attention.
Who is your agent and how did you get that "Yes!" out of them?
My agent is John Rudolph with Dystel & Goderich Literary Management.
I came to John after suffering through a merger of two large agencies a couple of years back. He was coming out of the editorial side of the business as an executive editor at Penguin Young Readers Group. I was at this cusp of stepping away from the endeavor of getting published and read about his hire at DGLM. The agency had an amazing reputation and I was looking for someone who might offer a more editorial approach, so I did the old-fashioned query letter and attached a few pages. Per their instructions, of course. He asked for a revise and resubmit based on some notes and soon after, I signed as his client.
How long did you query before landing your agent?
For my first agent, I think it took around six months. It happened fairly quickly, I think. Most of that time was because of all the time it took to master – and I say that word in the loosest sense – a query letter. That is an art unto itself, and one that I really struggled with. As a result, I had a solid rejection rate.
Any advice to aspiring writers out there on conquering query hell?
Giving advice here is tough. It’s like instructing someone on how to bang his or her head against a wall.
It’s a miserable experience, querying. I mean, at the expense of sounding like a shoe ad, just do it. Keep doing it until it works. You’ll know where the problems are the longer you do it. If your work keeps getting requested for fulls or partials, but also rejected, then maybe your query is good, but you have a problem with the manuscript or that maybe the market isn’t right for the work right now.
How did it feel the first time you saw your book for sale?
I took a picture of it at Barnes & Noble and tweeted and facebooked it and emailed it and messaged it until even I was sick of hearing myself talk about it.
But it’s a really cool feeling. I actually bought it when I saw it. There was this internal struggle between it being the Least Professional, Most Toolbag thing to do in the world or THE MOST AWESOME THING.
The truth is somewhere in between, I think.
How much input do you have on cover art?
None whatsoever. Like, they courtesy-asked some questions about places and characters that might be contemplated by the cover, but in the end they went a totally different direction. Which probably worked out, since visual art is not my forte.
What's something you learned from the process that surprised you?
I feel like I’ve been in a total state of surprise since this whole thing started. What’s been nice is the camaraderie I’ve discovered with other authors. There’s a surprising amount of I Don’t Know in this business and you’ll band together with other writers and sort of hold each other’s hand along the way. I’ve made some fantastic friends doing this over the years.
How much of your own marketing do you?
My publisher has a PR team that do their thing. That almost rhymed, and I apologize for the near miss. Really, though, I do a decent amount on my own. I'm on Twitter and you can like me on Facebook. I also run a terribly neglected blog at INKROCK.com, and you can also find me chipping in at From The Write Angle and Fall Fourteeners. And of course, I’m on Goodreads.
When do you build your platform? After an agent? Or should you be working before?
I think it’s always better to have a platform ready for when your book comes out.
Do you think social media helps build your readership?
Absolutely. And really, half the fun of this is interacting with readers. Even if it had no impact on the sales numbers, I’d still participate.