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Picking the Brains of Published Authors

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Wed Jun 15, 2016 2:12 pm
Noelle says...

As some of you might've seen on my wall, I attended Barnes and Noble's Book Fest this past weekend. I chose to specifically attend the event on Sunday because they had invited three published authors to share their experiences with noveling and publishing:
Sara Maxwell, author of Unhooked and two others
Jan Gangsei, author of Zero Day
Karen Hattrup, author of Frannie and Tru

All three of these women are very friendly. They seemed to know each other well enough to create a banter to keep us talking and asking questions. Even when we didn't ask certain questions, they still gave us details they felt we'd want to know. Despite already knowing much about publishing and the industry, I still learned something new that will stick with me through my writing career.

I highly recommend attending a panel or event like this if you ever get a chance. The knowledge these authors have is beyond helpful.

Without further ado, here's what I learned from them.

Publishing is a long process.
Everyone knows this already. You can't just send away a manuscript and expect it to be on the shelves in book form within the year. Books take time to perfect both inside and out; grammar and spelling, story, cover, taglines, font. There is a lot more that goes into the process than most imagine.

These ladies recommended getting an agent. You can always publish without one, but then all of the pressure is on you. Agents are great for knowing which publishers would best suit your novel and they know how to fight for your story to get out there. It's helpful to have someone from the industry in your corner.

Once an agent accepts your manuscript, they send it to different publishing houses to see who will bite. When you finally get that book deal the fun begins. It takes about two to three years after a securing that book deal to get your story on the shelves. Of course that timeline is different with each publishing house, but that's the average time.

You have less say on behalf of your novel than you think.
The story you sell may not be the story that ends up on the shelf. It will be the same plot, the same characters, the same conflict, but with slight changes. Again, this isn't how it is for every publishing house, but a majority of them operate like this. Each author attested to this, Karen Hattrup especially. Her novel is a contemporary, focusing on a single summer in which Frannie gets an unexpected visitor in her cousin Tru and together they have wonderful adventures. The story she sold was simply a story of a bored teenager who sees her summer become one of the best after her cousin visits. The publisher didn't think it was as strong as it could be and basically told her to spice it up. She had to go back and add more drama and excitement than was in the actual manuscript.

As for the cover of your novel, you're at the complete mercy of the publishers. There are designers hired to create the perfect representation of your book. Some publishers want to collaborate with you on the cover, but most of them will design it for you. When the cover is finished they will send you a preview. Sometimes they'll listen if you tell them you don't like it, sometimes they'll just say too bad. The cover is all about presentation, being enticing enough for someone to pick it up off of the shelf. Lisa Maxwell's Hooked went through three covers before the final cover was chosen. The publishers even went far enough to present the cover to Barnes and Noble to see if the store would put it on their shelves. Readers judge books by their covers. That's how the publishers decide.

Karen's book was just recently released on May 31st. She had to wait longer for it to be released because it's a summer tale. Obviously it wouldn't make much sense to release it during a different season when the entire story takes place over the course of one summer. So depending on the timeline of your story you may have to wait longer for it to be on the shelves.

Rejection will always hurt.
As a writer I'm sure you've always heard about how you need to develop a tough skin. It's true, you are going to be receiving a lot of rejections before you get that book deal. There are those authors that get lucky of course, but that is extremely rare. Lisa joked with us that she named the folder on her computer that held her query letters the "Rejection folder" because she expected everything to be a rejection. Everyone has different tastes in books including agents. You could send your fantasy novel to an agent that only accepts fantasy novels and they could hate it. Send it to another fantasy agent and they might love it.

All of this rejection doesn't leave you unscathed though. I mentioned to Lisa that I'm used to rejection at this point, but it still hurts a bit each time. She agreed and said she still got hurt by rejection. As an author you aren't expected to be void of emotions. Rejection should hurt. You poured you heart and soul into this story for two or more years and now someone tells you in a three sentence letter that it's just not good enough. Of course they say it a bit nicer than that. Rejection is motivation. It brings you closer to that book deal. Don't be afraid to be hurt by it.

When you submit to an agent make sure the draft is your final final.
When you send a manuscript away to an agent, they are only going to give you one chance. It's either a yes or a no, and you have to live with that. You want to be sending them your best possible work. Once you've sent a manuscript to an agent you can't ever send them that piece again. Not even if you make more edits. They only want to see it once.

From left to right: Lisa Maxwell, Karen Hattrup, Jan Gangsei

After all the publishing questions, we started talking about the writing process. These ladies had great advice for that as well.

How to get over writer's block.
It's different for everyone, just like writing. Writer's block is probably the most hated part of writing. Lisa admitted that she had a lot of it while writing her novel. She would set a timer for fifteen minutes and free write. Whatever came to her head she would write down. Even if it was "I'm so bad at this it's all terrible." Jan Gangsei said that she goes on walks. The moment her mind is off of her story, the ideas start to flow. Obviously there's no magic to get rid of writer's block so you just have to keep trying different tricks until you find the one that works.

Not every idea is going to become a finished novel.
Sometimes we start writing those novels, or any other kind of writing, that we're so excited about. By the fifth chapter it's fallen dead and all our ideas have left us. Don't be afraid to put that story aside. Lisa admitted working a character into Hooked that was starring in a book she hadn't finished writing years ago.

Don't be afraid of writing terribly!
Everyone does it. Even published authors do it. No one is perfect, so why is it we always expect ourselves to write the perfect story the first time around? While writing the first draft of her book, Karen would continue writing a chapter even when she knew it was going to turn out terrible. The editing phase was when she set it back into place. She was able to keep the story going and jump ahead to parts she had been preparing for.

Every bit of writing that you do makes you better. I have a dozen folders filled with old writing that I've scrapped. When I get frustrated with what I'm doing I'll go back and look through my old writing. I find myself correcting my old mistakes which helps tremendously when I go back to working on my current project. Keep the pieces you hated or knew were terrible. They're inspiration for moving forward.

The authors' greatest writing advice:
Lisa: "Read everything, finish [writing] something."
Jan: "Your family loves you and everything of yours they'll read will be the best ever. Let people read your work who will be unbiased and honest."
Karen: "There are only two kinds of stories: a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town."
Noelle is the name, reviewing and writing cliffhangers is the game.

Writer of fantasy, action/adventure, and magic. Huzzah!

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"I'm writing a book. I've got the page numbers done." -- Steven Wright

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Wed Sep 26, 2018 11:39 am
ahmed11 says...

It was good :P

I always knew that deep down in every human heart, there is mercy and generosity. No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.
— Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom