I have been truly lucky to work with some absolutely fantastic people to bring this Writer’s Workshop to you. This 3-part blog feature spotlights authors who are at various points in their writing careers. Part I focused on aspiring writers and Part II revolved around self-published writers.
PART III: TRADITIONALLY PUBLISHED WRITERS
For Part III, I collaborated with five amazing ladies who have been traditionally published. They were extremely generous in answering my questions and sharing some of their WIPs, which I am excited to share with you!
Like in Parts I and II, everyone was asked to answer similar questions, as to demonstrate that the path to success is often different for everyone and certainly not paved! They have a lot of great things to say, and their full interviews will be compiled and added to the blog in the near future, along with the authors who have contributed to Parts I and II. I am a fan and happy to support all of these talented writers. Meet the gals:
Tracey Neithercott’s first book was written by hand and illustrated with some really fancy colored pencils. It was highly acclaimed by her mother. Now, she writes YA stories of friendship, love, murder, and magic. (None of which she illustrates—you’re welcome.) She’s the author of GRAY WOLF ISLAND, a YA novel about the truth, a treasure, and five teens searching for both. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband, who suggests improving her novels by adding Star Wars characters.
I can’t NOT share Tracey’s earliest memory of wanting to be a writer because it had me laughing out loud! When she was in elementary school, she wanted to be an actress but her Massachusetts-based family was not on board. Instead, she wrote and performed plays with her family as the audience. “Once, when I was in fifth grade, I wrote a terrible play to Whitney Houston’s The Bodyguard soundtrack. (I’m not joking about this.) (I really wish I was.) There was a lot of drama. And lip syncing. But it was the first time I remember thinking, ‘Huh, this writing thing is fun.'”
Tracey is a full-time magazine editor, so her writing is squeezed into her spare time. Her long work hours lead to minimal writing during the week but usually dedicated full days for writing on the weekends.
Tracey has a degree in journalism but no special training in fiction writing. Although she feels like formal training could be helpful, she doesn’t feel that it’s necessary in order to write or be published. Most of what she learned about writing came from reading:
- Read a lot of books in the genre you’re writing. Read a lot of books in genres outside of what you’re writing;
- Read craft books; and
- Read writing blogs.
Tracey always tries to keep in mind this great piece of advice: “Everyone’s process is different. And that’s okay. I’m a slow writer. No amount of reading about writing faster is going to make me write 5,000 words in a day. It’s about taking the tips and applying them to your process.”
She also offers to aspiring writers: “Don’t compare your first draft to someone else’s finished novel…It’s easy to look at your WIP as complete trash after reading a great book. But remember: Published books have gone through so many rounds of revision. Your WIP is messy, but so are all first drafts. Yes, even the first draft of your very favorite, near-perfect novel.”
Shani Petroff is a writer living in New York City. She’s the author of the “BEDEVILED” series, which includes DADDY’S LITTLE ANGEL, THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY DRESS, CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR, and LOVE STRUCK, and is the co-author of ASH. She also writes for television news programs and several other venues. When she’s not locked in her apartment typing away, she spends a whole lot of time on books, boys, TV, daydreaming, and shopping online.
When Shani was in grade school, she dabbled in writing. She didn’t seriously consider writing, though, until after college. She is a full-time writer, but not a full-time author, as she also writes and produces at a TV news station and freelances. With her sporadic schedule, she tries to write whenever she can and takes advantage of days off.
After college, Shani took some writing classes and feels that having a deadline helped her to move forward with her writing. She also thought the classes were a good source for feedback. Additionally, she always has an eye on Publishers Marketplace and tries to attend as many author/book events as she can. Events are a fun way to learn more about authors, their work, and how they got where they are.
Some of the best advice she has received is to just do it! In turn, though, the advice she’d like to offer aspiring writers is to stick with it! “The first book I wrote didn’t sell, neither did the second, but my third wound up with a four book deal! I now have eight books out in the world, and have sold the next two. If I’d given up after the first rejections, I wouldn’t have any books out right now.”
Kristen Simmons is the critically acclaimed author of the ARTICLE 5 series, THE GLASS ARROW, METALTOWN, and PACIFICA. She has worked with survivors of abuse and trauma as a mental health therapist, taught Jazzercise in five states, and is forever in search of the next best cupcake. Currently she lives in Cincinnati, Ohio with her husband, where she spends her days supporting the caffeine industry and chasing her rambunctious son.
*Random note: I have a special place in my heart for novels that are set in West Virginia. I’ll never forget when I first read Kristen’s ARTICLE 5 and it mentioned WV. Not that my love of her books revolved around this alone, but it became a gateway to reading more from her. I was so thrilled when she agreed to answer some questions for this post.
Kristen is a full-time writer, but she is also a mom. She writes while her son is in school. “First, I work out to get my brain awake. Then, once I sit down, I focus on reading through what I wrote the previous session and self-editing what I can. This puts me in the right frame of mind to start writing fresh material. If I’m working on a deadline with revisions, I’ll do that instead. After that I’ll do my admin work – emails, social media, interviews, etc. If I start with social media, I’ll never get to my actual writing!”
She has a bachelor’s in psychology and a master’s in social work. She says she wouldn’t trade for anything those degrees or the years of work in the mental health field. Her experience as a social worker and therapist gave her the skills to be self-employed and helped her to understand the connection between thoughts, actions, and emotions — all things she uses in writing.
Kristen’s advice for writers? “Read a lot. Write a lot. And think a lot about yourself. What made you who you are? What important events shaped your life? Why do you think and act the way you do? How has your childhood and heritage shaped you? Know yourself, know your biases, regrets, and vulnerabilities, and then write from that raw, unguarded place. It’s a lot of work, but I truly believe it makes your writing stronger.”
Katy Upperman is a graduate of Washington State University, a former elementary school teacher, and an insatiable reader. When not writing novels for young adults, Katy can be found whipping up batches of chocolate chip cookies or exploring the country with her husband and girls. KISSING MAX HOLDEN is her debut novel; her sophomore novel, THE IMPOSSIBILITY OF US, is available July 31, 2018, followed by HOW THE LIGHT GETS IN, scheduled for Summer, 2019.
Katy has always been an avid reader, but she didn’t want to be a writer until she was in her late twenties. After leaving a career teaching when her daughter was born, she was devouring books and anxious for a creative outlet. She tried writing and enjoyed it, so it wasn’t long before she decided to pursue publishing.
She is a full-time writer in the sense that she doesn’t have another paying job. Truly, she is a full-time mom that puts on her writing hat around her mama duties. She usually gets to write early in the morning before her family wakes up, naptime, after her girls go to bed, and random chances on the weekends when her husband is home to help with the kids. “For me, it’s all about prioritizing and making sacrifices. Like, I never watch TV, and I only go out with friends occasionally. There are times when I’m on a deadline and work constantly, and there are times when I don’t have a lot going on, writing-wise, and can do all of the fun things.”
Katy has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and took some writing classes in college. However, the writing courses were focused more on teaching writing to children rather than the craft itself. She reads a lot of craft books and tons of fiction. Learning about writing happened as she went along, and she continues to learn from critique, practice, and study. The best advice she has received is to write the sort of book you love to read.
She has a lot of advice to offer: “First, you can’t revise a blank page; drafting is hard, but it’s got to be done. Second, be an adventurer and an observer; take walks, visit parks, go to museums, people-watch, and seek inspiration. Third, there are no real rules as far as process. You don’t have to write every day, it’s fine to plot or pants, set word count goals, or not—do what works best for you. Fourth, read widely, and pay attention to why and how books give you strong reactions. And finally, don’t give up!”
Brighton Walsh spent nearly a decade as a professional photographer before deciding to take her storytelling in a different direction and reconnect with her first love: writing. When she’s not pounding away at the keyboard, she’s probably either reading or shopping—maybe even both at once. She lives in the Midwest with her husband and two children, and, yes, she considers forty degrees to be hoodie weather. Her home is the setting for frequent dance parties, Lego battles, and more laughter than she thought possible.
Brighton didn’t grow up wanting to be a writer. It wasn’t until she was well into adulthood that she wanted to pursue writing. She started with a goal of being published when she was 33.
A full-time writer, she previously had a photography business that she closed in late 2014. That was soon after her debut novel released. She tends to write in the morning and hit her word count goal before lunch. She then has her afternoons to deal with the administrative side of the writing business. “As for balancing…when I figure it out, I’ll let you know. LOL”
Brighton doesn’t have any formal education or training, but she does do continuing education through conferences and online courses. She feels that Twitter is a great way to meet writers, and she follows writing hashtags and participates in writing events through that platform. Though this advice wasn’t given to her, she reminds herself that you can’t edit a blank page.
In turn, she wants aspiring writers to “keep on keeping on. This business has the ability to crush you. There are so many lows that it can seem daunting to get anywhere, but the only way you stop being a writer is if you stop writing.”
I’ve selected a bits of advice from each of these wonderful writers. I wanted to give you insight on a variety of topics regarding the writing process, but remember, their full interviews will be posted soon in case you’re interested in learning even more! I’ve also got some fun sneaks of what they’ve been working on!
Tracey’s current WIP “is a beast that up until a couple weeks ago was threatening to devour me whole but has, I’m happy to report, been tamed. I have such a love-hate relationship with it we could be a rom com with adorable scenes in which I threaten to tear it to pieces then cry in the rain as I profess my love.
It took me a long, long time to write this book. That’s partly because as I began to write it, I found myself with so little time outside my day job. But more than that, I doubted myself the whole way through. But that’s just my process, I guess: Hate the book while writing it then fall in love during revisions.
Anyway, I’ve been describing this as a modern fairy tale—a bit like Rumpelstiltskin if the miller’s daughter was Maleficent. It has an evil protagonist, a marshmallow of a boy, and a crew of people with fantastical magic. Some of my favorite things about it are the magical setting, the friendships, the found family, and the complicated relationship between the main character and the antagonist.
Because photos inspire so much of my writing (including the very idea for this particular story), here’s an aesthetic:
The advice I’ve pulled from Tracey’s interview is on the topic of querying: “Querying is like a super long beauty pageant made up of only the swimsuit competition. Which is to say it’s not fun at all. Partway through you’ll start worrying about your flaws: Are my characters three dimensional enough? Does my plot make sense? Did I accidentally swap “their” and “they’re” in my query letter and doom myself for all eternity? (Things get pretty dramatic in the query trenches.)
The three best things I did while querying are:
- I went in prepared. I did extensive research on the agents I wanted to query so I knew my manuscript was going to people who represented the type of books I wrote and who I wanted to work with. There’s a lot of info out there on agents, but two that are incredibly useful for gauging their interests are ManuscriptWishList.com and LiteraryRambles.com (a site I basically lived on during my agent search). I also suggest creating a spreadsheet to prep for the agent hunt. Mine included a list of the agents I thought would like my book, plus important details about them that I learned through my search—the number of deals did they’d make over the past year, a list of their other clients, whether they like queries that jumped right into the summary or preferred an opening line. I also found the site QueryTracker.net really helpful for tracking who I queried and when, plus any specifics, like whether they requested pages, if they passed, and so on.
- I pushed through the rejections. This is a tough one—nobody likes being rejected. But everyone gets rejected by agents. Your favorite author got rejected dozens of times. Consider it the mark of a writer who’s serious about getting published. Rejections can be useful if you notice they’re all commenting on the same thing. If six agents mention your main character is unlikable, you might want to revise. But other than that, don’t dwell on the no’s. Send out another query so you can get to the yes’s.
- I wrote another book. This is the best advice I can give you: While you’re querying, start something new. Brainstorming and writing a new novel will take your mind off of the old one. I found that while my first book was getting rejected, those rejections hurt a whole lot less once I’d begun writing my second book. A new book brings with it a whole lot of hope. And when you’re smack dab in the query trenches, hope can be a really great thing.”
Shani is “currently working on FINDING MR. BETTER-THAN-YOU. It’s due out winter ’20. It’s about a girl who gets dumped at the start of senior year and is determined to find someone who is so much better than her ex.”
I wanted to share what led Shani to the decision about how she would publish. “My middle grade series I went the traditional publishing route, but my YA rom-coms are traditional with a twist. ROMEO & WHAT’S HER NAME is through Swoon Reads, which is an imprint of Macmillan. However, with Swoon, instead of submitting your book through an agent, you upload it to the SwoonReads.com website yourself. People can then read your book and leave comments. Afterward, the Swoon staff reads through the books (and the comments) and picks a few to publish every season. It’s a fun way to get your book seen by a publisher and to build excitement for it by people in the community. After ROMEO, it went to more of a traditional submission process, but there are still fun interactive elements with the SwoonReads community. IE, Swoon puts up book cover options, and lets people vote for which one should be used!”
Kristen has a contemporary drama in the works! “I am so excited for my next series, beginning in February 2019. Book 1, called THE DECEIVERS, is about a girl who is accepted into a school for con artists. It’s a contemporary YA thriller full of twists and turns (and kissing), and I love it so much. I hope you do too! You can read more about it here.“
Katy is “currently working on revising my next project, a young adult novel called HOW THE LIGHT GETS IN, which releases Summer, 2019 from Swoon Reads/Macmillan. It’s a ghost story about sisters, swimming, grief, and love, and it’s set in a west coast beach town based on one of my favorite places, Cannon Beach, OR. Here’s a tiny excerpt…
Something like love bubbles up in me, new and thrilling and magical. “You make me happy,” I tell him, the absolute truth.
If I’ve spent the last year lost in a forest of grief, he’s the long, winding road out.
Katy shared about her decision regarding her route to publication with me. “I’ve always wanted to publish traditionally. I love the idea of collaborating with an agent and a professional editor, and I knew I’d need help with the promotional piece. I can write stories, but I don’t have a huge reach as far as putting them into the hands of readers. Traditionally publishing my work gives me the benefit of marketing and publicity support. My struggles are probably very similar to those of others who’ve published traditionally. Getting an agent was a challenge and selling my first book was a huge challenge. I’ve collected hundreds (literally) of rejections over the years. The hard stuff definitely gave me a lot of perspective, though. I’m so thankful to be able to write and publish books!”
Brighton “ just finished up a serial novella that I released exclusively in my newsletter. I wasn’t planning on writing it, as it’s the prequel to a full length book that’s third in line in my latest series, Havenbrook, but those characters spoke to me. As of this week, I’m diving back in to book two in that series, Hometown Troublemaker. It’s about a pearl-clutching PTA mom whose life is crumbling around her. She finds the perfect distraction from her cheating ex and real life woes in a sexy as sin, too-young contractor who’s all too eager to fix more than just her house.”
In regards to querying, here’s some advice Brighton offers: “Listen to what others are saying. I’ve heard so many horror stories of writers signing with schmagents simply because they were so excited someone wanted their work. No agent is better than a bad agent. Look on Writers Beware, Google the agents you’re looking at, and do your research. Follow submission instructions to the letter (why give them a reason to say no?). Check out the website manuscriptwishlist.com where agents and editors discuss what they’re hoping to see (and if you have a match, mention that in your query). Don’t query both agents and editors at the same time—pick one avenue and stick with it.”
The ladies have shared so much great information and advice! I’m grateful to be part of a community that is so willing to share and support each other! Thanks again to Tracey, Shani, Kristen, Katy, and Brighton!
Check back soon to see the full Q&As with all of the contributing writers from this 3-part feature.