An Interview with Miriam Forster

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!

Miriam Forster learned to read at the age of five, wrote her first story at the age of seven and has been playing with words ever since. Her debut novel, HOUSE OF A THOUSAND DOLLS is being published by HarperCollins. In her daily life, Miriam is a wife, a terrible housekeeper and a dealer of caffeine at a coffee shop. In her internal life, she imagines fight scenes, obsesses about anthropology, nature shows and British television, and reads far too many books. Miriam is represented by Jennifer Laughran of the Andrea Brown Agency. 


Are you a Planner or Pantster?

Definitely a planner. I work mainly in lists, list of scenes I need, lists of characters, lists of settings.  That way, if I run out of words on one scene or setting, I can go work on another.  Then after the first draft is done, I go through it with a basic plot outline in hand to make sure the pacing is right.

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

Every book is different. DOLLS took me a year to write, the novel after it took about three or four months. But I have done a first draft in a month before.

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

When I first draft, I’m very focused and don’t work on more than one thing at a time.  But I’ve been known to be a multi-tasker when I edit.

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

Every part of the process has a fear attached to it, and most of them revolve around the fear that this time I won’t be good enough. Oddly enough, the first time I sat down to write a novel, I was in high school and there was no fear. I just thought it would be fun to try.

How many trunked books (if any) did you have before you were agented?

MF: THE HOUSE OF A THOUSAND DOLLS was the second book I ever wrote. The first one is firmly trunked, which is kind of a long story, but I did write three more books  between the time I wrote DOLLS and the time it sold

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

I quit on ideas all the time, or write the first page and nothing else. But if I get into a first draft, I finish it. So far I’ve only trunked one novel, and that had more to do with content and the market changing than giving up on the actual book.

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

My agent is the awesome Jennifer Laughran, and I got her through the traditional query process. Actually, it was a fabulous piece of serendipity. I was pretty sure she’d say no, I was just long-shotting a query to make myself feel better about yet another rejection letter.  But she loved it.

How long did you query before landing your agent?

I queried this book for about two years, but that was really off-and-on. I would query a batch or two of agents, collect rejections, sit on the book for a while, query again, etc. At one point I shelved it for about six months and then did a major rewrite. All together, I think I sent around 40 queries. (Not counting the ones I sent for other projects in between querying DOLLS.)

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

Sending out another query is a great way to celebrate a rejection. ☺

Actually, the BEST advice I ever got was “Write another book.” One of the reasons I think I made it through query hell with only a few scars was that I kept writing. Having another book lined up in the queue that could be the one, is a great comfort.

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

When I saw the Publisher’s Marketplace announcement, I squealed. I squealed even louder when the book went up on Goodreads. I can’t imagine how loud I’ll squee when I see it on the shelves. It feels unreal, amazing and a little scary.

How much input do you have on cover art?

Contractually, not much. But my editor is awesome, and she sent me an email asking if there was anything I really wanted or didn’t want on the cover. That really made me feel included. But I’m not a marketer, so whatever they put on the cover is fine with me. (As long as it’s not fugly.)

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

I was surprised how much work the edits are. I was expecting to edit, and I even managed to avoid most of the “OMG, my book sucks” reaction that is very common. But the edits were intense. It was like taking a master class in storytelling.

How much of your own marketing do you?  Do you have a blog / site / Twitter?

Fortunately, I started blogging and getting into social media several years ago, so I feel a lot more prepared to do promotion than I think I otherwise would. I have a blog, a Facebook page, a Tumblr, a Goodreads profile and a real author. J

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

I think social media is a great thing to get into before you get an agent. But it should be less like building a platform and more like joining a conversation. If you view us as a market and not as people, we will know. Most people on the Internet can smell insincerity from the first word you tweet, and they tend to avoid it.

Do you think social media helps build your readership?

As I said, social media is a great way to join the conversation. If you view people as people and genuinely connect with them as friends, they’ll respond. And it’s very likely they will want to support you and buy your book.

Thursday Thoughts

1) Now that news of my book deal has spread, the students have conferred super-hero powers upon me that I just don't have. They want me to contact authors much higher in the echelon than myself and encourage them to write books faster. They want me to "tell" major publishing houses to move pub dates forward. And lastly, they want me to put bugs in the ears of prominent authors on what exactly their next book should be about. I just tell them I'll get on that.

2) You know how your brain tends to meld things together into a bastardized form of what you're actually thinking about? Today I had a student asking me if SHIP BREAKER had come in yet, along with a kid who was looking for a biography of Sitting Bull. I won't repeat what I ended up saying at the circulation desk while talking to both of them at once, but I will give you the hint that it was craptacular.

3) Migraines have the ability to steal your soul. Migraines while processing books lead to very odd choices in cataloging. Like accidentally putting ATTACK OF THE MONSTER PLANTS in non-fiction. Which led to giggling. Which hurt my head.

Thursday Thoughts

Thoughts lately:

1) Most people have a TBR pile. I have a TBR room. Yes, Mindy’s house has its own library, and it's stocked (or is that stacked?) I know the librarians are laughing right now... In any case, I have to wonder if I've got the lifespan to read all of them. Is there some kind of program I can use to figure out my reading rate, number of pages in each book, and my life expectancy?

2) When people tell me not to do something I've got to try it at least once to see if they're right. Canning on a smooth stovetop? I got away with it... until last night. Yep. Thought it was a gunshot. In retrospect, my action of running towards the noise was not incredibly intelligent.

3) Actually, once I thought about it, I have a long history of moving in the direction of perceived danger. I think it has something to do with my inability to handle anticipation. However, if the trend continues I imagine it will have an impact on my imaginative algorithm from Thought 1.