Today's guest for the SAT (Successful Author Talk) is Romily Bernard, debut author of FIND ME and fellow Harper sister. Romily graduated from Georgia State University with a literature degree. Since then, she's worked as a riding instructor, cell-phone salesperson, personal assistant, horse groomer and exercise rider, accounting assistant, and, during a very dark time, customer service representative. . . . She's also, of course, now a YA novelist.
So don't let anyone tell you a BA degree will keep you unemployed.
FIND ME placed first in the 2011 YA Unpublished Maggie Awards (given by Georgia Romance Writers) and won the Golden Heart Award for YA Romance from the Romance Writers of America in 2012.
Are you a Planner or Pantster?
Ugh. A Pantster. I wish I weren’t. I have a lot of writer friends who talk about flow charts and outlining and character mapping and I…don’t do any of that. I wrote FIND ME, my YA thriller, with one question in my mind the whole way: “How can I ruin this?”
Oh, does Wick think she’s safe? How can I ruin it?
Oh, is the home life thing working out? How can I ruin that?
And then I would do it and we won’t reflect on what this says about me as a person.
How long does it typically take you to write a novel, start to finish?
I wrote FIND ME in about nine months then, after I was agented, we spent another four months re-writing it twice before Sarah pitched it at the Bologna Book Fair. I wish I had something witty to say about the process, but mine wasn’t exactly magical. It was work—a lot of nights, weekends, and staff meetings where I was supposed to be taking notes on new projects, but was actually coming up with places to hide bodies.
Do you work on one project at a time, or are you a multi tasker?
Multi-tasker…sort of. FIND ME’s sequel, REMEMBER ME, is with my editors right now so I’m working on a spin-off standalone. Once RM comes back, I’ll devote all my time to the rewrites, but having a project to work on during the downtime keeps me from pacing and petting the walls.
Did you have to overcome any fears that first time you sat down to write?
Not really. I wrote my first book when I was seven and had been messing around with writing ever since—now getting the guts to actually acknowledge I wanted writing to be my career…yeah, that took work.
How many trunked books (if any) did you have before you were agented?
I wrote four novels before signing with Sarah Davies at Greenhouse Literary. I couldn’t find where my writing voice fit until I tried my hand at YA and something just clicked. Suddenly, my heroines weren’t spiteful. They were spunky. And I knew I had finally found my people.
Have you ever quit on an ms, and how did you know it was time?
I’m too pigheaded to quit while writing something. I will finish a ms if it kills me and, often, it feels like it will. As far as quitting during querying, it’s usually somewhere around the 50-60 agent rejection mark. By that time, I generally had another project ready to go out so I would swap my queries around and start again.
Who is your agent and how did you get that "Yes!" out of them?
Sarah Davies at Greenhouse Literary—also known in my Tweets as Wonder Agent. She found me in her slush pile! Ahem. I’m rather proud of that.
How long did you query before landing your agent?
How about how many rejections I have? Because, honestly, I think I’m still waiting on responses for my women’s fiction. I wrote four novels before FIND ME and I scored 246 rejection letters from agents and editors. I could wallpaper my bathroom with them—probably yours too.
Any advice to aspiring writers out there on conquering query hell?
It’s a numbers game. I would blitz 10-20 agents at a time. If one rejection comes in, another query has to go out. Every time. No matter if you’re sobbing, shaking, or convinced you have lost your mind for wanting to do this. I kept track of mine with an Excel spreadsheet. It’s available for download on my website if anyone wants it.
How much input do you have on cover art?
Absolutely none and I’m fine with that. I don’t have an artistic bone in my body, but my cover artist, Joel Tippie, is gifted beyond belief.
What's something you learned from the process that surprised you?
For an industry that trades in dreams, publishing is all about product. That sounds heartless, but it’s not. Sometimes, we have to make hard decisions about what’s right for the book, but also what’s right for the market. Scary? Yes. But you have to trust the people you surround yourself with. I researched publishers the same way I researched agents so, when I accepted Harper-Collins’ offer, I knew what caliber of professional I was getting. The trick? I have to get out of the way and let them do their job.
How much of your own marketing do you?
I enjoy blogging and I love Twitter. Would really like to start vlogging too. Oh! I recently discovered Pinterest, which has been super fun for putting up character pics and random techie articles.
When do you build your platform? After an agent? Or should you be working before?
I didn’t start my online presence until after I sold. I had a website and blogged a bit, but nothing big. I concentrated almost entirely on my manuscripts. Not sure if this is the best way to do it, but it worked for me. Of course, I’m also one of the few authors who didn’t really consider people were going to read my work until after I sold. Yeah, I know. I missed the Clue Bus entirely. When readers tell me, “Oh, I read FIND ME!” I’m always like, “For reals?” And then I want to hug them because I am so flipping grateful.
Do you think social media helps build your readership?
It seems like it’s working for me. I interact with a number of book bloggers on Twitter and they’re an amazing bunch. They love to talk about books and I love to talk about books so we can natter on for hours about Rainbow Rowell, Jay Asher, John Green, Courtney Summers, Megan Shepherd…you get the point.