In Part I, I shared insights from authors V.E. Schwab, Brenna Yovanoff, and Emily Hainsworth about their novel-writing process.
In Part II below, the authors give more advice on cultivating your creativity, writing query letters and finding the right literary agent.
Author V.E. “Victoria” Schwab wrote three books while earning a master’s degree at the University of Edinburgh. She misses academia, but her literary agent forbade her to return to graduate school for a doctorate.
Why? Lots of books to write, lots of deadlines, and her agent wants her to focus on writing. But the insatiable thirst for knowledge and learning won’t go away. So…
“I’m teaching myself Latin now,” Victoria said with a grin during her March 2 appearance at Old Town Library with authors Brenna Yovanoff and Emily Hainsworth.
The New York Times best-selling author entered college having never written anything longer than a five-page short story. She overcame her fear of novel writing by tackling it the way she does all her other fears: head-on. (While a sophomore in college, she decided to go skydiving to overcome her fear of heights. To conquer her fear of change, she cut her hair short and got a tattoo.)
Victoria finished her first novel draft in three months, and it was among her first “heinous and awful” novel attempts because it lacked a plot. She learned a lot, though. “I tried again as a senior and got it published.”
“Every book you write, or anything you write, is a learning experience,” she said. With strong writing, Victoria was able to get published even without any literary connections or an SCBWI membership (Society for Children’s Books Writers & Illustrators).
“Getting an agent was easy,” said Victoria, who signed a contract with her her first literary agent after a week, then took nine months to realize they weren’t a good fit. “Getting the right agent was not easy.”
The experience made her realize she hadn’t been honest with herself about her manuscript. “I was in a rush to be a published author, not in a rush to be a good author.”
Getting an inside look at the publishing world helped. She spent a summer internship as one of three people who read the “slush pile” (unsolicited submissions) at a literary agency. It was interesting, she said, and also surprising: many manuscripts featured the point of view of a pet dog.
Once her own manuscript was polished (a different one that the first attempt), she queried her six dream agents, and all offered her a contract.
“A good query letter is [written] like jacket cover,” she said. “I like to give just enough to get the agent to want to read more.”
“Strike a balance between enticing and unique,” she advised. Study the book jacket copy of novels you like. “Be specific and avoid [mentioning] all subplots.”
Brenna warned aspiring authors against resorting to cutesy tactics to get a literary agent’s attention.
“If you send anything in the mail, and you put glitter in the envelope,” Brenna said, “you will go on a list to never open anything from you again.”
Victoria smiled in agreement. “Let your story speak for you.”
Katherine Valdez has thrown out all her glitter and confetti and doesn’t plan to visit the local crafts store again. (Except to buy journals and sketchbooks.)
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Outtakes – The Craft of Writing
Victoria’s writing process involves gathering ideas. “I get tiny pieces but I can’t start writing the books until I have enough pieces.
Depending on the scene, she writes sentences out of order then stitch them together. “I’m a connect-the-dots-er” she said, contrasting it with the traditional “plotters” who outline their stories and “pantsers” who write by the seat of their pants. “I try to keep outlining between the scenes loose.”
She leaves herself bread crumbs within her drafts so she can write pieces of the novel and still have a clue where she wants to go: “Any way to trick your mind to make a book seem smaller than a book.”
“I don’t write directly from beginning to end,” she said. “I write from the center out.”