Today's guest for the SAT (Successful Author Talk) is Gayle Rosengren, author of WHAT THE MOON SAID, a historical MG novel set during the Great Depression. Gayle writes full-time in her home just outside of Madison, Wisconsin, where she lives with her husband, Don, and slightly neurotic rescue dog, Fiona. Gayle is living her dream, writing books she hopes will make the same difference in children's lives as her favorite books and authors made in hers.
I'm a planner. I don't like to write even my first sentence until I have a good idea what my last one will be. It's not that I rigidly cling to the vision I have in place when I begin a new manuscript. If I come up with something better as I'm going along--as I often do-- I'm delighted to go with it. But I won't begin without a destination and a plan in mind for getting there. It's too easy to get lost somewhere in the deep dark woods of the middle and never find the right path out into the sunlight again.
Although I don't outline per se, I do block out chapters with a sentence or two describing what should take place. I find this to be the most efficient way to keep the action moving and the plot from stalling. Again, if better ideas evolve as I'm writing, I welcome them most happily, but chapter-blocking keeps me focused on the primary plot points. And knowing where I'm going enables me to see the most natural ways to get from "here to there" often several chapters in advance.
How long does it typically take you to write a novel, start to finish?
In an ideal world, the first draft takes an average of three months. At this point I run it past my critique group to get their input. Then I go through it a second time, editing with their comments and suggestions in mind. During this same pass, I also do a lot of line editing. The first time I'm too eager to get the story down to worry overmuch about how pretty it is. The second draft is my opportunity to make it smooth and shiny. It may take a month or more. At this point, I send it to my editor, and when she sends me her thoughts and suggestions, I revisit the manuscript with them in mind. This is usually where it goes from pretty to downright gorgeous and will end up ready to send to copyediting. These three drafts usually total approximately nine months of work: In. An. Ideal. World. When everything goes well. Some books are more of a struggle than others, though. Those can take years instead of months, requiring much hair-pulling and entire rewrites not once but twice or three times. Argh! Just like every child, every manuscript is different.
Do you work on one project at a time, or are you a multi tasker?
At first I worked on one project at a time, but I've learned to be a multi-tasker-extraordinaire. While one book is being considered by my editor, I'm busy working on a new one or reviewing copyedits on a previous one. Time is precious. If I'm not writing manuscripts, I'm preparing presentations for school and library visits, I'm doing online interviews or scheduling appearances at book fairs and literary events, or updating my website. Being a writer is a multi-faceted profession these days, so being able to multi-task is more and more important.
Did you have to overcome any fears that first time you sat down to write?
I have always been writing--since back in elementary school--so writing is as natural as breathing to me. Nothing scary about that. Much scarier to think of NOT writing.
How many trunked books (if any) did you have before you were agented?
I'm not agented. I'm one of a rare and dying breed who connected with her editor at a conference. And I don't really have a trunk. On the contrary; because I write relatively quickly and hate doing submissions, I have a few manuscripts that have not yet been seen by editorial eyes. I refer to them as my arsenal. ☺
Have you ever quit on an ms, and how did you know it was time?
I've taken breaks on a few manuscripts, but I've never completely quit on one. Some of my breaks have been years long, but I never count any manuscript "out" because it's always about something I felt passionately about, and if the manuscript didn't work, it was probably because somehow my writing hadn't done the idea justice. These manuscripts simmer on the back burner of my mind like a stew that just needs time and seasoning and occasional gentle stirring for the juices to blend. Eventually I'll either lose my passion for a story or serve it up.
How did that feel, the first time you saw your book for sale?
I'm still not over the giddiness I feel when I see or hold my book. It was a long-held dream that finally came true. It may sound corny, but I think I will savor the joy of it forever.
How much input do you have on cover art?
Not much, really. I was asked for some ideas of what I thought the farmhouse should look like, but that was about it. The artwork was finished when I saw it for the first time. And I was so delighted by it that all I could do was hyperventilate and say "Ohmygosh, ohmygosh, it's beautiful! I love it!" --
Does that count as input?
I have absolute faith in the Putnam/Penguin art team. They gave What the Moon Said the most exquisite cover without any help from me, and I'm sure they'll do the same for my next book.
What's something you learned from the process that surprised you?
I had no idea how much of my writing time would need to be diverted to social networking and marketing. At first this was disconcerting, but now that I'm seeing the positive results, I'm glad I'm doing it. I think with a first book especially you must give it all you've got; that's the best way to ensure that there's a second book. Obviously there is a point when a writer has to ease back on the throttle to give the majority of her time and energy back to writing. But in the beginning, the more you can do to promote your book, the better.
How much of your own marketing do you?
I do a lot of my own marketing, but lately I'm finding that the more I do, the more help I'm receiving from others. It's so sweet and so very much appreciated! I might send out a tweet about an appearance I'll be doing and several of my "people" from blogs and SCBWI and my debut groups and bookstores forward my tweet to other book people. I post a photo from a recent appearance on my Facebook page and the same thing happens. I've said it before (although The Beatles said it first!) but it's worth repeating: In book marketing as in so many things in life, we "get by with a little help from our friends".
I have a site, a Facebook, and a Twitter. I do not have a blog of my own, although I have nothing but admiration for those writers who can maintain one in addition to their manuscript-writing. I'd be burnt out in a matter of a few weeks!
When do you build your platform? After an agent? Or should you be working before?
I didn't worry about building platform until after I had an offer for my book. Then I set up a website--very rudimentary at first, containing only the most basic information about myself and my book on a very pretty home page. Then I added to it gradually over the next year until publication and continue to add to it now.
After the website was begun, I joined two debut children's authors' groups: Class of 2K14, which has a maximum of 20 members, requires an initial payment of dues, and is focused on marketing; and OneFourKidLit, which is more of a support and information-sharing group. Both have websites that promote all the members' books and both have proven invaluable. I highly recommend joining both groups if you can.
I have long been a member of SCBWI, and it is another awesome source of support and information and is a super advisory group on marketing. If you're not already a member, join at once!
Do you think social media helps build your readership?
Absolutely. Readers need to know about your book before they can read it. Sure, most young readers will just stumble on an MG novel in their public or school library, but the librarian needs to hear about it so she'll place that book order. And even if she sees it in a journal with good reviews, her funds are limited. Whether she chooses your book or another one may come down to which one she heard good things about in an online blog or literary chatter on Twitter.
The truth is there is no accurate way to measure what "works" and what doesn't when it comes to social networking, but getting your title out there in a positive way certainly can't hurt.