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 Tatum Flynn, who lives by the sea in England with a cat called Friday and too many hats. She has a soft spot for the word ‘ramshackle’, and a vagabond past which involves piloting lifeboats in Venezuela, playing poker in Las Vegas, shooting rapids in the Grand Canyon and almost falling out of a plane over Scotland. Her debut, THE D’EVIL DIARIES, will be out from Orchard/Hachette on the 2nd April 2015, with a sequel, Hell's Belles, to follow January 2016
Are you a Planner or Pantster?
Mostly a planner. For me it’s like a road trip: I like to know where I’m starting and vaguely where I’m ending up, and at least a few places I’m going to stop at in the middle, but, you know, if I suddenly see a sign for Dollywood or a monster truck rally or all-you-can-eat pancakes I can always swerve off and take a different route for a while. (Yes yes I’m English but I heart American road trips :)
How long does it typically take you to write a novel, start to finish?
My first two (one trunked, one my debut) took me about 3 months to draft, and around another 3 to revise and polish. My WIP (Evil Sequel) took me a little longer, around 6 months for a first draft. All books are different and it doesn’t surprise me that some come easier than others.
Do you work on one project at a time, or are you a multi tasker?
The nature of publishing (so I’m learning, and it was expected) is that you’ll be writing one book while doing copyedits or proofing for another. But I don’t think I could *write* two different books at the same time like some people do; my brain would feel like a TV tuned to two channels at once, and probably all I’d end up with would be static.
Did you have to overcome any fears that first time you sat down to write?
Nope :D After all, the first time I sat down to write a novel, I didn’t have to show it to anyone if I thought it sucked. I didn’t even know if I could finish it. So it was just pure fun in the beginning. Plus I’d had articles in my student magazine way back when and have also worked on a travel magazine, so it wasn’t the first time I’d have the world see my scribblings.
How many trunked books (if any) did you have before you were agented?
One, an MG historical adventure. It had a bunch of fun stuff in it, so quite possibly one day I’ll sit down and rewrite it.
Have you ever quit on an ms, and how did you know it was time?
You mean quit in the middle of writing it? Not exactly. I often write copious notes and a couple or even several opening chapters just to see if an idea will ‘take’ – if it’s something I want to spend the best part of a year on. But I see those as possible ideas for future, that maybe need further mulling over, not abandoned stories. I’ve got a few of those.
Who is your agent and how did you get that "Yes!" out of them?
I’m with the Blair Partnership (JK Rowling’s agency, which is still fun to say). I queried traditionally, pretty much (see next question), ended up with three offers, and picked them. (Although – I can’t believe I’d forgotten this – I did enter an agency’s writing contest as well, where I was runner-up and which led to my first offer. So competitions are good too!)
How many queries did you send?
I sent OVER A HUNDRED queries for my debut. Yup, just that one book. I liked it and wanted to leave no stone unturned before moving onto another book. Still, I was on the verge of giving up when I got an email from my current publisher asking me to come in and meet them. (I’d met the acquiring editor at a SCBWI retreat where she’d read my first chapter and asked to see the rest.) That was a very good day. (And it didn’t hurt that I was in Paris at the time!) Agent interest followed :)
Any advice to aspiring writers out there on conquering query hell?
Alcohol. Cake. Writer friends who understand what you’re going through or even better are querying at the same time as you. I was extremely lucky to have my CP, NK Traver, querying at the same time as me. We then got agent offers around the same time, and then a book deal around the same time, which was hugely fun. I’d probably have gone nuts if it weren’t for her :)
How did it feel the first time you saw your book for sale?
My book isn’t out until April 2015 so I haven’t seen it in a bookshop yet, but it has been fun seeing it for sale online. And I did grin massively over the page proofs. I have no idea how I’m going to feel the first time I actually get to hold a print copy. There’ll probably be a tiny bit of screaming.
How much input do you have on cover art?
My editor is incredibly sweet, and showed me a couple of early iterations of my cover. I got a little input and they did a few tweaks based on comments I made. But… see next question…
What's something you learned from the process that surprised you?
What surprised me was that I got to have lots of input regarding my illustrations (The D’Evil Diaries is illustrated throughout). Some characters were changed completely at my (and my editor’s, we were very much on the same wavelength) behest, and I asked for and got a bit more of the setting put in. So that was immensely cool, and I’m so thrilled with the way they’ve turned out. The artist, Dave Shephard, is super talented. (And actually, what surprised me even more was that I got to have illustrations at all! Like most writers I have a pretty vivid imagination, but it hadn’t even crossed my mind that my publisher might want to have the book illustrated. Such a huge bonus, like getting 25 covers all at once!)
How much of your own marketing do you do?
I spend way too much time on Twitter, but I can’t help it cos I love it, it’s full of fascinating and hilarious people. I also have a Tumblr, a Goodreads page, and a Pinterest for my books. Oh yes and a website where I blog occasionally.
So far the only marketing I’ve really done is having a presence on those sites (which I’m on because I enjoy them anyway), which has led to meeting a few book bloggers who’ve become interested in my book, one of whom kindly did my cover reveal. I’m also about to get some bookmarks printed up to hand out to libraries and bookshops etc, and once the book is out I’ll look into doing school visits, and maybe even festivals or conference panels (if anyone will have me!).
When do you build your platform? After an agent? Or should you be working before?
Personally I don’t think of it as a platform, but instead (especially Twitter) as a way to find your tribe, so you’re not isolated and clueless. I’ve met so many lovely writers and other bookish types online, and not only will you meet nice people and learn all kinds of stuff about writing and publishing, but you’ll also stumble into opportunities and lucky occurrences. For example, it was through Twitter I found out about the SCBWI writing retreat I went on that led directly to my debut being bought! It also led to my meeting in person some lovely MG/YA authors in my hometown and elsewhere. And I met all my fantastic CPs online too. It’s a pleasant sort of accidental networking.
Do you think social media helps build your readership?
That, I have no idea, since my book’s not out yet. I hope so, at least a little, but I suspect the best thing you can do to build your readership is just to write damn good books. Social media is probably the icing on top that helps sell a tiny handful more, for 99% of writers anyway, although as I said above, sometimes opportunities can come your way that might help your career, if not your readership directly.