I'm lucky (or cunning) enough to have lured another author over to the blog for an SAT (Successful Author Talk). Elle Cosimano is a fellow Lucky 13, who grew up in the Washington DC suburbs. The daughter of a prison warden and an elementary school teacher who rides a Harley, she majored in Psychology at St Mary’s College of Maryland, and set aside a successful real-estate career to pursue writing. Her debut DEAD BLUE is a thrill-ride of a novel, in which a math-whiz from a trailer park discovers she’s the only student capable of unraveling complex clues left by a serial killer who’s systematically getting rid of her classmates. DEAD BLUE will be coming from Dial/Penguin Fall, 2013.
BBC: Are you a Planner or Pantster?
EC: If you’d asked me a year ago, I would have told you I’m a planner. By nature, at least. I’m a total Type A, list-making, life-planning, goal-oriented systems-thinker. My first novel was outlined on tidy color-coded note cards. And I think for my first time around that was important in helping me to envision the ending, so I could actually make myself get there. But I ended up re-writing that book… twice… from scratch. And as I learn more, and I become more confident, I’m loosening the reigns. The book I just finished was completely pantsed. And I loved the feeling of discovery that came with each new page. That doesn’t mean it won’t need a complete overhaul or major revision, but it was fun to cut loose with the pen for a while.
BBC: How long does it typically take you to write a novel, start to finish?
EC: Not counting research, from first word to last word, I usually spend eight to twelve weeks piecing together the first draft. Most of my time is actually spent in very intense revision.
BBC: Do you work on one project at a time, or are you a multi tasker?
EC: I try to write one story at a time, to keep my head in that character’s world. But simultaneously, I’m researching, reading, or gathering ideas for the next project.
BBC: Did you have to overcome any fears that first time you sat down to write?
EC: GAH! Yes! I hadn’t written a word of fiction in over fifteen years when I wrote DEAD BLUE. I had a very successful career, a busy family, and I was the breadwinner. Taking time for myself to write that first book wasn’t only daunting because I wasn’t sure I could do it (or do it well), but because it felt like such a selfish thing – to do something for myself, simply because I wanted to. My colleagues were confused and upset with me for taking time off to “write a book” of all things! My family was supportive, but afraid that we couldn’t afford so much time off. And I was afraid of disappointing all of them. I wasn’t afraid of failing myself. I was afraid of failing everyone else. Realizing that emphasized how badly I really did need to do this, just for me.
BBC: How many trunked books (if any) did you have before you were agented?
EC: DEAD BLUE was my first book. It showed promise but the plot was a mess. Thankfully, I found a talented and patient literary agent who saw something in my work. With her feedback, and the help of some very talented critique partners, I completely re-wrote the book. So I guess you could say the first incarnation of the story is in the proverbial trunk.
BBC: Have you ever quit on an ms, and how did you know it was time?
EC: I’ve never quit on a manuscript, but I did cannibalize the first story I ever dreamed up, and ended up donating its organs (bits and pieces of plot and character) to the two stories I’m working on now. I’ll get back to that story one day, but it will take some reimagining to revive it.
Querying and Agent Hunt Process:
BBC: Who is your agent and how did you get that "Yes!" out of them?
EC: My agent is Sarah Davies of The Greenhouse Literary Agency. I submitted a traditional query. She responded the same day requesting a full. I knew I loved Sarah right away because she communicated with me throughout her read. She’d send brief one-sentence emails with her reactions to different characters or scenes. Querying can be such a silent process, and those emails were a real comfort to me. I was a wreck of nerves! I signed with her the same week.
BBC: How long did you query before landing your agent?
EC: I took my complete manuscript for DEAD BLUE to the Big Sur Writers Workshop. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I made a deal with myself that if the editors, agents, and authors there hated my story, I’d go back to my full time job. And if there was hope, I’d attempt a round of queries. The story was well-received and I came away feeling pretty optimistic. When I returned home, I spent a few weeks polishing my letter and sample pages, and queried my top six agents. Five of the six requested the full. I signed with Sarah a week later.
BBC: Any advice to aspiring writers out there on conquering query hell?
EC: Read. Read. Read. Read everything you can get your hands on in your genre. And read blogs too. There’s a wealth of information on craft, finding the right agent, self-promotion, and writing a saleable book! Submission guidelines and agent preferences are more accessible than ever. Read. Research. And most importantly, follow directions.
Social Networking and Marketing:
BBC: How much of your own marketing do you? Do you have a blog / site / Twitter?
EC: I have a website, I tweet at @ellecosimano, I have a Facebook page, and I contribute regularly at Ink & Angst.
BBC: When do you build your platform? After an agent? Or should you be working before?
EC: I think the answer to this is different for every author and depends on your comfort level with various social networks. Personally, I’m glad my platform was established before I found my agent and sold my book, because it gave me the opportunity to meet and interact with other authors. So many valuable resources are shared within the online writing community. It would have been a very lonely process without the friends I’ve made along the way.
BBC: Do you think social media helps build your readership?
EC: I think social media is most successful when it’s used for its intended purpose… reaching out and participating in a broader community. When it’s approached as a reciprocal, caring, and genuine way to connect with others who share similar interests, then it truly opens doors. It makes us accessible to our readers, and to each other, and in doing so, encourages those connections to grow organically.