Q&A About Writing and Publishing
I’m a morning person, so I’ve set up my life so I can write when I’m most creative and have the most energy. I’m lucky I can do that, but in the past when I had more demands on my time, I’d write for a short period in the morning, and then think about the story for the rest of the day, so I’d be ready to write as soon as I sat down the next morning.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received about writing?
Butt in chair. You can’t write a book if you don’t commit to the time it takes to write and revise. Also, Annie Lamott’s classic advice to “Write a sh***y first draft.” You can’t be afraid to write something that isn’t perfect. We all write things that aren’t good. Then we rewrite and rewrite some more. I rewrote A Girl Called Fearless over three years and it got better each time.
Do you ever get writer’s block?
Of course. Writer’s block is about fear. You panic, thinking you’re out of ideas. You don’t know where to go next. But instead of freaking out, I shut off the computer and go for a walk, weed the yard or empty a closet. I try to let go of the fear and imagine one small thing I can do on the manuscript.
Do you encourage writers to get MFAs?
That’s a really personal decision. I needed to be deeply immersed in learning my craft, so going to the Vermont College of Fine Arts for an MFA in Writing was a perfect choice for me. The personal relationship with my advisors and the supportive writing community I found helped me develop as a writer and weather some difficult times.
How did you get your agent?
I researched agents for five years before submitting, which sounds like a long time, but finding an agent is like finding a spouse. It’s all about fit. I attended conferences and listened to agents speak, watched PW Weekly announcements, and subscribed to Publisher’s Lunch to see who was making deals. Finally, I submitted A GIRL CALLED FEARLESS to two agents I’d met and had been following. I knew they sold YA and thrillers, and both offered me representation within a week.
What was your publishing journey like?
It was tough. My agent Sarah Davies is outstanding, but when she first showed A GIRL CALLED FEARLESS to editors, every major publisher rejected it. The biggest problem was timing–many had just bought another book they felt would compete with mine–or they had a published series they saw as competition. But six months later, editors started asking my agent what happened to my story, because they couldn’t get it out of their heads, and a young editor invited me to rewrite the book with her, but without a contract. I said yes, and a year later, got a two book deal.
What advice do you have for writers hoping to be published?
Do your research. Know the competition and identify agents who love the kind of book you want to write.
Don’t give up. Success can be fast or it can take a long time, but if getting published is important to you, keep writing and submitting.
Be kind. No one has to help you achieve your dream, but you’ll be surprised at how many people lend a hand to those they like.
Through the Tollbooth Blog
Catherine blogs about the craft of writing with Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA alums on the Through the Tollbooth Blog.