I was so excited that I was able to do the interview that I didn’t eat all day! It wasn’t until ten minutes into my two-hour drive that I realized I should have had something! When I walked into a little back room of the bookstore, I found all of the authors gabbing away with each other. It was easy to see that not only has this group tour given them the ability to meet authors like themselves, they all shared a deep unbreakable bond with each other.
Which was part of the idea behind the tour when, Melissa Marr created the tour. Why tour alone when you can be joined with other writers? They got to pick the cities, the authors, and the events all while sharing the burden of traveling together. Not only was it a brilliant idea for the writers but their readers love it. The bookstore quickly filled up with tons of people just dying to get a little bit closer to each author.
I had a blast interviewing each author and am so glad that they shared their path into the publishing world here for you to see. I have to warn you, this is a Monster Post (almost verbatim) just in time for Halloween and I will be hosting a Monster Giveaway in honor of it!
1) Describe your journey into the publishing world?
Alyson Noel: I was always one of those people who talked about being a writer for a pretty much decades and I would take the occasional vacation off of writing here and there. Then 9/11 happened and I was assigned to New York City. It was a good time to finally go after that dream. I took a story I wrote years ago and expanded it into a novel. I had no idea what I was doing, I didn’t know any other writers. I thought I was the only one that wanted to write a book. I thought I’d just finish it and then choose the publisher that would be lucky enough to have me. Seriously, I was that green and naïve and embarrassing. So, I littered the publishing world with my manuscript that wasn’t fit for anyone to read and I got a slue of rejections for my effort!
They were the kind that said really great voice and if you ever have a plot to go along with it, we’d love to see it again. I knew I had something but I had to figure out how to do it. I took some writing classes and through one of those classes, a fellow writer, Susanne Dunlap, introduced me to her agent and said I like your story and I think my agent would too…are you ready to submit? I polished it and sent it off. She told me the same thing: great voice, but you need a plot, Read Story by Robert Mckee. And I said I don’t write screenplays, I write novels. She said get the book. I went and got the book, read it in two days, and took the next three weeks to really revise my manuscript, and turned it back in and got signed.
Melissa Marr: I taught at a university for literature for women and gender studies. My husband was deployed and I had a lot of trouble sleeping because we didn’t have a lot of communication. I’d just watch the casualty officer down the street and hope it wasn’t my door he was knocking at. I saw a physician and the physician prescribed me pills to help me sleep. My husband called and said, “If your gonna be awake anyhow and you don’t want to take the drugs, write a book”. And I did. The first book was horrible. But during that time I had written a short story, and one of them had lingered with me and I thought about it for the next eight months, expanded it into a novel, and sent it out. My first book had 40+ rejections and, I think I even got more rejections than I sent out replies for…I think they wanted to send an extra just in case I didn’t know how bad it was. For the second one, I actually had agents competing with each other to be my agent.
I picked an agent out and they sent it out to a bunch of editors. Instead of buying one book, they ended up buying three and a national deal, and then all these other people bought it, and now its going to be a movie and since then there has been three more books in the series that have all far exceeded my expectations. The good news is these book deals have brought my husband back from the Marine Corps, and no one shoots at him anymore which is the most important thing at the end of the day. I have him back and I love my children.
Kami: Margie and I met when her oldest daughter, who is know a senior in high school, was in my third grade class. We discovered we both loved books and we became really good friends. Margie has always been a writer, she’s written video game scripts, teleplays, all kinds of things and I wasn’t a writer, I was just a reading teacher. Even though I was a painter, I was mostly an elementary school teacher who taught books to teens.
11 years later, Margie and I still talked about books all the time. Margie used to get really angry because our book club was in this back room at her house and she always wanted to come into the book club but the rule was that there were no parents allowed into the book club, so Margie would sit by the door and we could hear her. Her daughter would say, “I can hear my mom! She’s by the door, Mrs. Garcia tell her to get away from the door.”
Because I was teaching teens and she had teens, we ended up reading a lot of YA fiction fantasy and science fiction that we loved. One day, we were hanging out one day drinking diet coke and eating tacos, talking about books, and we came up with this idea that we thought was a great idea for a book. We were like we should write something together; it’d be so fun.
So Margie went home to her daughter I taught and she said, “Kami and I went to lunch, we had this great idea, we’re gonna write a book.” And her oldest daughter was like, “Yeah right, whatever.” Margie, “No seriously! We have this great idea, we have a plan, we’re gonna write a book.” She said, “Mom, you might say your going to write a book but next week you’re going to be doing something else because you never finish anything.”
Margie called me and said, “That thing we were talking about that we probably were never gonna do, now were totally doing it.” My response was, “Were definitely doing it because I’m not going to get punked by my students.”
So we wrote the book like serialized fiction, chapters at a time.
Kami: The kids loved it. We wrote something that they were in to, that we were into. Then, a lot of my students because they were friends with her daughter, were reading it at other schools so we decided that going to create a website and put it up online so all the kids could read it.
Margaret: We were writing it as fast as we could, it went viral and one day I got a text from some girl in the middle of the night asking for more pages. She wasn’t from our city. We didn’t know her. We just wanted to finish because we wanted to win the bet and when we did finish we were so happy, it was so gratifying. Honestly, we didn’t care what happened after that.
My oldest friend is a middle grade fiction writer, which was our connection into the field also often that’s the way it happens, he gave it to his agent without telling us. Then, I got a call from an agent who I didn’t know was an agent. I was totally confused and pretended that I knew who it was until I was on the phone for 40 minutes, then I figured out what was going on and the book was published.
All you have is—
Kami & Margaret: Two mean women who wanted to make a teenage girl cry.
Kami: When we turned in our book, we were like its perfect and thought it was going to be made into a book. And then we got like an eight page single spaced letter saying, “We totally love the book.” But there was all this stuff on it! So I called Margie, and said, “I don’t think this is for our book. Because they loved our book and fought for our book, and this is all kinds of stuff that’s bad about our book.
Margie said, “But Kami it has the name of our book in it.”
So, then for eight months we edited it.
Margaret: And there you go.
Jennifer Lynn Barnes: I have a very different story in the fact that I wrote seven books before I managed to get the first one published. The first time I actually finished a book was my senior year of high school. Before then, I had started a bunch of books but I’d never finished one. I was thinking I’m getting ready to finish high school, going on to a new part of my life and I want to actually finish one of these books. The middle of a book is work for me…like the beginning of eight million books is so much more fun than writing the middle of any book. So, I told myself I’m not allowed to start a new book until I finish the one I’m on. Which was a really great motivation for me because I love starting new books. So I actually finished one and sent off the query letters with a couple of paragraphs of would you be interested in reading this? And everyone was like no, no, no, no, not at all.
I would compare it to dating where being a writer is like asking guys out all the time. And they’re like, “No, no way, never.” So by books three and four, they were like, “Well, I’ll go to coffee with you for five minutes and we’ll see.” Which is like reading three chapters and then they were like, “No, no, no, definitely not.”
It took me till book seven and with that book I had contacted an agent and she said why don’t you send me your last three books. And I sent her all of them including one that nobody had ever seen, and she liked the one that no one had ever seen and asked me to revise it. So I revised it and then she want on maternity leave for six months. So there was some delay. It took me four years to get an agent, after she took me on it was three weeks until we sold the first book and another four within the first eighteen months. So it was a long time coming for the first one and then very, very fast.
*So did you sell all the books you had? (another author interjects)
Jennifer: No, actually my first six are still unpublished to this day. But by the time we sold number seven, I’d written eight, nine, and ten.
*While getting her PhD in brain science, a student at Yale.
*She’s an insoniac.
Jennifer: No, I like sleep!
*You mean like two hours though?
*How many books do you write a week?
Jennifer: A week? A month? None. Every three months. Books are two-three months.
*Wow. We still like you though…
Jeri Smith-Ready: At my old job they used to call me, “Jeri, Jeri, quite contrary.” Because I never went by any guide lines anyone gave me and it eventually trickled down to my publishing past. My favorite author growing up was Margaret Atwood. I was like, I’m gonna be a writer and be like Margaret Atwood because she’s my favorite. I wrote the first two pages of a short story in that style and it was horrible…because I’m not Margaret Atwood. I very depressed and I went to a Blues show with a friend of mine and I had my very first double espresso. It was very loud in there and I had caffeine coursing through my veins. I came up with this scene there for my very first book about a guy at a blues bar and a beautiful and mysterious women, who walks in and it was very funny and kind of goofy. I went home that night and wrote the first ten pages. And then that became what I call my practice novel. My novel like a lot of people at the first attempt was disastrous.
*The bad pancake
Jeri: Yeah, the bad first pancake. I did query that and I got a lot of rejections. I gave up with that quickly because the next idea I had really clicked from the beginning and eventually became my first published book and that was called Requiem for the Devil which is an urban fantasy. The way it got published was that a friend of mine told me about a contest. It used to be AOL Time Warner book groups, they had a contest for first novels, science fiction fantasy novels so I entered in that and it got to the finals but I didn’t win. However, the editor sent it over to the head judge. They were starting this new epublishing thing at Warner, and was very unfortunately named Ipublish.com
The editor there loved it and he bought it. And it came out the following year. It was 2001 and the world wasn’t really ready for ebooks at all even though at the time it was, “Ebooks are going to take over!” So, whenever I hear that now, I’m like, “Yeah, there were saying that ten years ago and it still not happening.”
A few hundred people read it and I thought, “Ok, I’m gonna go to graduate school and do something different now.” And rather than building on what limited success I had with that, I decided to write something completely different. I could never quite stay in my lane. The third book I wrote was just as bad as the first book. But it didn’t have the excuse of being the first book. Partly because I poured a lot of what I learned in environmental politics in graduate school in to it so it was incredibly preachy and tiresome.
Then, I heard through the grape vine through an author friend of mine that Harlequin was starting a new fantasy line and that the editors had really loved my ebook and she called my friend to tell me to submit a proposal. So I submitted an proposal for an urban fantasy trilogy and we worked on that. She gave me revisions and I sent it back twelve times and I started to get the idea that they weren’t going to take this. I looked at what they were publishing which was epic fantasy and I came up with an epic fantasy trilogy proposal. As soon as I got the rejection for the urban fantasy one I said here, “How about this?” and they bought that. They bought three books from me on just three chapters and a synopsis. I interviewed a few of agents and picked the one I liked the best.
From there it’s been pretty steady, I went five years before the first book was published and then another five years before the second one. And now I’m on my fourth series. I got picked up in the epic fantasy series and I sold a vampire one that’s still going on. And I also sold a YA series so…I’m learning to stay in my lane a little better. But I’m always trying to branch out and do something different.
Kelley Armstrong: I’ve been writing stories since childhood. I was telling stories before I was old enough to write them down. I never thought I would become a writer because in my family, no one had an career in any part of the arts. If I had said it to someone, they would have said, “That’s nice dear, but what are you going to do to make a living?”
I went through school in psychology. I had just gotten into a graduate school when I realized I was heading towards the kind of career that wouldn’t leave me any time to write books. And if I ever dreamed of doing that maybe this wasn’t where I wanted to go. So I had to sit down and think of what direction I wanted to go. Do I dare take a writing route knowing how hard it is to get published? So, I switched paths at that time and did something else that I loved which was computer programming. That gave me your basic 40 hour a week cubicle job, where I could write in the evening or…in my cubicle. 🙂
I decided to get really serious and I was taking some writing courses, workshops, joining writing groups, and sending out things. I had always written things that had paranormal elements in them. Once I did start writing in groups, I was asked if I could start writing something more mainstream. I did try and I tried every genre. I tried straight history, straight fantasy, straight romance and I couldn’t get anywhere. In the mean time, I was writing stories I loved of a female werewolf that crossed lots of genre’s which is what I had always loved doing.
And they said, if your going to do that at least write a book about vampires. So I went and bought books on vampires, after years of being rejected, I had a friend who looked at it and offered to send it to an agent, who once she heard it was about werwolves said she did not want to read it but finally agreed to just to get him off the phone. A week later she called with an offer, to represent me and six weeks later, I sold various rights. And its been going well ever since.
Took a lot of years of trying different things and getting rejected, over and over, and then a very sudden drop.
Kami: How many books have you written in total?
Kelley: In total? 25
Kami: I went to a signing with her and there were like 25 books in her name and all different.
*Yeah, don’t ever go to a signing with her because you’ll be there for days!
*You’ll just leave feeling bad about your self.
If you each had just one tip you could give an aspiring writer, what would it be?
Alyson: Be kind to yourself.
I think a lot of people give up, they think they have this great idea and they can’t wait to get started. But then they start judging themselves and get completely discouraged and quit when the fact is that every body in this room writes gorgeous books but we revised our way there. We write crap before we write good and that’s just part of the process so allow yourself to make mistakes and polish it later until you get the book you had meant to write.
Melissa: Follow your passions and run with that.
You write a book based on what you care about and what your fascinated by. You’re going to write a better book that way then to try and follow the trend. When I wrote, Wicked Lovely, Twilight wasn’t even out. There wasn’t a paranormal market. But it’s what I couldn’t stop dreaming and thinking about. And I wrote five books on it and it’s going to be turned into an upcoming movie. If nothing else, even if it doesn’t take off your going to have a whole lot more fun.
Jennifer: Write a lot, read a lot, and do things that aren’t reading and writing.
I think people underestimate the importance of going out and living your life, and being passionate about other things because that’s what’s going to give you the inspiration to write. If all you do is sit around reading and writing then you don’t have much experience to inspire you.
Margaret: Write the worst book you can write from beginning to end and put it away. You wrote a book, now you’re a writer.
One thing that we all have in common is that we all wrote a book that was a bad pancake but the act of finishing is in itself a huge, huge thing and you can’t know what that’s like until you have done it. You can’t be a writer until you finish writing a book.
Kami: There are no rules. You also don’t have to have a degree or have taken classes. None of that is a prerequisite for being a writer. I think that a lot of people think that you have to have an MFA or some special credentials to be a writer. All you need is a pen. If someone wants to write, the most important thing is to finish because if you don’t finish anything, you have nothing to work with. Nothing to revise or show someone and you won’t know its bad until you finish.
Kelley: Write as much as you can as often as you can. Don’t be that person who’s 50 years old saying that some day they are going to write a book even though they’ve wanted to since they were twelve.
Jeri: It’s important to think for yourself because there is a lot of advice out there and just always remember that whoever is giving that advice to you that they have a path that they have traveled and its not going to be the same as your path. Think for yourself, whether or not it applies to you, and hear both sides of an opposing argument.
*So her advice is don’t listen to our advice 😀