Category Archives: Interviews

Seriously, You Get to Read for a Living?

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shutterstock_322480529smallI love it when people ask me about my job as a freelance editor. It always leads to interesting conversations about books and the writing biz.

Recently, I got to continue that discussion through an interview in Southern Writers Magazine. I really liked the pool of questions they sent, so I asked if I could post some additional content here as a supplement. In true Southern style, they graciously acquiesced.
 

SWM: What are the biggest benefits of being an editor?

I think the very best part is that I constantly get to work on something new and exciting. One month I might be working on an epic fantasy and a middle grade mystery. The next, a contemporary YA novel and a paranormal thriller. It’s always fresh and interesting. Another big advantage is flexibility. I set my own schedule and as long as I have a good internet connection, I can work almost anywhere. It allows me to travel frequently to industry events or to visit my out-of-state friends and family, while keeping up with my work as usual.

The biggest challenges? Is it difficult working on your own?

Since every manuscript has a new and unique set of challenges to tackle, I never get to just sit back, relax, and go into autopilot. But honestly, that’s another of the perks—no chance of boredom! Time goes by so fast.

Working as an indie editor carries many of the same challenges writers face: you’re alone in front of a computer for long stretches of time with a manuscript, a stack of writing manuals, and your thoughts. There is definitely a potential for cabin fever! I mix things up by regularly presenting workshops at writers’ conferences and retreats. I also Skype with my clients, or if they’re local, we meet in person to check their progress and discuss issues in their works-in-progress.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received as an editor?

I’ve gleaned this piece of advice from the mentors and colleagues I respect the most: seek the right balance of criticism and praise. If you only point out the faults in someone’s writing, they may not see a reason to persevere. If all you do is praise what they got right, they might assume their work is fine and never grow in their craft. Somewhere in the middle is that sweet spot, where you help the writer understand both the strengths and weaknesses, so real progress can happen.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever heard given to a writer?

Hmm…probably this: “Where you are today as a writer is not where you were yesterday, and it’s not where you’ll be tomorrow. Take feedback with a grain of salt and learn from it. Promise me you won’t stop writing.” That’s from agent Kristin Nelson, my former boss. I think that really says it all.

What do you think is the most important quality it takes to be a successful author?

Persistence. It takes years of honing craft and working through multiple manuscripts and drafts to become an excellent writer. Once you start submitting your work, rejection will happen. Shake it off and keep moving forward! We all know real-life examples of how this pays off (name your favorite author).

This wouldn’t be complete without a slush pile question…What are your query letter pet peeves?

Ha! Nowadays I don’t really get to have pet peeves because it’s my job to fix them. 🙂 But thinking back to all those submissions I read…I’d say queries that are too long and rambling. It’s so important to be able to boil it down to the heart of the story in just a paragraph or two; without that skill, you can have a really strong novel but still miss your chance with agents. A good rule of thumb: if agents have to scroll while reading your email query, it probably needs a slim down.
 

 
Want to find out more about freelance editing or how to pursue this career? Two good places to start are The Editorial Freelancers Association and Author-Editor Clinic.
 

History Unboxed: An Interview with YA Author Stacey Lee

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It has been far too long since I featured an author interview, but I think you’ll agree once you read this one that it was worth the wait! Today I’m very excited to share a conversation with Stacey Lee, whose debut YA historical fiction novel UNDER A PAINTED SKY debuted last month from Penguin Putnam. It’s the story of two teenage girls in 1849 who escape their grim circumstances by disguising themselves as boys pursuing the Gold Rush via the Oregon Trail. It’s intense, gorgeously written, and has already garnered some amazing praise, including a starred review from Publishers Weekly.

I4wfy9XvrOoDnSzWDaZBh8KzeVfGhe9G4qEeAEJ_qKcAbout Stacey: Stacey Lee is a fourth generation Chinese-American whose people came to California during the heydays of the cowboys.  She believes she still has a bit of cowboy dust in her soul.  A native of southern California, she graduated from UCLA then got her law degree at UC Davis King Hall.  After practicing law in the Silicon Valley for several years, she finally took up the pen because she wanted the perks of being able to nap during the day, and it was easier than moving to Spain.  She plays classical piano, wrangles children, and writes YA fiction. You can read more about her work at www.staceyhlee.com, on her Facebook page, or on Twitter @staceyleeauthor.

AM: Welcome, Stacey! I first read your novel under a different title (GOLDEN BOYS), in my slush pile days at Nelson Literary Agency. It has been a huge thrill to see it debut, and to garner such well-deserved praise. Congratulations!

To start off, can you tell us a little about where the inspiration for this story and its characters came from?

My parents inspired me!  My mother’s people came to the US in the late 1800’s, but due to the Chinese Exclusion Laws, Chinese people were not allowed to stay permanently.   I always wondered what it would have been like for the first Chinese people in the US.  My main character, Samantha, is born in New York, and has a toe-hold in both cultures, American and Chinese.  I chose the vehicle of the western for my dad, who came to the US in the 1950’s when he was eleven, when the western was at its heyday.  My father loved John Wayne movies, and would often play cowboy music for my sisters and I, so that was essentially the music of our childhood.  I think, like many emigrants of that generation, the western appealed to him because in westerns, the hero is faced with an often-hostile country, and must go it alone.

UAPS_coverAM: What do you feel are the greatest pleasures and challenges of writing YA?

I love both the awkwardness and the extreme-ness of that age.  The teen years offer such a rich well of emotions to draw from, everything from anger and disappointment in parental figures, crushes, heartache, and it all feels SO devastatingly important and immediate.  The challenges are to keep up the pace, not only to hook reluctant readers, but also because teens may not have the patience of adult readers who may stick with a slow starting book because they’ve heard the book got good reviews, etc.

AM: As an editor, one of my favorite challenges is helping writers find the right place to start their story, and to make those opening pages as dynamic and engaging as they can be. Do you have any advice about this based on your own writing experiences?

It’s important to get into the story as soon as possible.  By the first paragraph, we should have a sense of time and place.  By the end of the first chapter, we should have an idea of what the main conflict is (even if turns out to be something different).  When I read, I always pay attention to how the author pulls us into the story, and I shamelessly incorporate those techniques into my own writing.

AM: I love that advice. It’s not shameless, it’s savvy!

You’re one of the team members at the We Need Diverse Books Campaign, which makes me an even bigger fan! Could you give our readers a glimpse of the project’s mission and your role in it?

Absolutely.  WNDB was created to address the lack of diverse, non-majority narratives in children’s literature.  We believe that embracing diversity will lead to more empathy, understanding, and ultimately, equality.  We have a ton of awesome projects we are working on; we’ve established the Walter Award, which will be given to the diverse author of a diverse book every year in honor of visionary Walter Dean Myers, we’ve partnered with major organizations like National Education Association to bring diverse authors to classrooms, we’re establishing an internship program at major publisher for diverse folks who want to go into publishing, we’re planning a huge Diversity Festival in 2016.  So much good stuff ahead.  I am the legal director, as well as the panels director; we all wear many hats at WNDB.

diverselogoAM: What can readers and writers do to help support We Need Diverse Books’ goals?

You can be involved directly by volunteering. If you want to support diverse books and diverse authors, there are lots of ways to do this, including buying diverse books, requesting them at libraries, and telling your friends/families about the diverse books that you love.  If you loved a diverse book, you should absolutely let your bookseller, and even the publisher know.  They value and need this feedback.  Take the time to review the book on Goodreads or Amazon.  It doesn’t take too much time to rate a book, or to add it to your GR list.

AM: Can you give us any teasers about your next project(s)?

My second YA historical fiction will be out in 2016 and is called THE UNSINKABLE MERCY WONG: a spirited Chinese-American girl pretends to be an heiress from China to get entry into an all-white boarding school, but more than her future plans are shaken up when the 1906 San Francisco earthquake hits.

AM: That sounds amazing! I’ll be looking forward to it. Thank you for sharing this news and all of your wonderful insight.

Thank you so much for having me, Anita!

Bestselling Author Sherry Thomas: Creativity & Innovation in a Writing Career

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I can’t help doing a happy dance over today’s post—an interview with author Sherry Thomas! She’s an award-winning, bestselling author famous in two genres. She collects starred reviews like most people collect souvenirs. And she’s one of the nicest people you could spend an afternoon with (cue image of us cavorting in New York at RWA). Today she’ll share about writing across genres, juggling multiple projects, and how combining traditional and indie publishing has enhanced her career.

Sherry_Thomas_Author_Photo_72dpi-2 A little more about Sherry:

Sherry Thomas is one of the most acclaimed romance authors working today. Her books regularly receive starred reviews from trade publications and are frequently found on best-of-the-year lists. She is also a two-time winner of Romance Writers of America’s prestigious RITA Award. English is Sherry’s second language—she has come a long way from the days when she made her laborious way through Rosemary Roger’s Sweet Savage Love with an English-Chinese dictionary. She enjoys digging down to the emotional core of stories. And when she is not writing, she thinks about the zen and zaniness of her profession, plays computer games with her sons, and reads as many fabulous books as she can find. You can read more about her work at www.sherrythomas.com.

Anita: Thanks so much for visiting Word Cafe, Sherry! So excited to have you. I know you have deadlines looming, so I’ll cut to the chase!

Writers are often advised to pick a genre and focus on it exclusively. How and why did you make the transition to writing in two very different genres (romance and YA), and what advice do you have for writers who hope to do that?

Sherry Thomas: I’d always intended to write in other genres. Over the years, Kristin [Nelson, my agent] has fielded various partial and complete manuscripts from me, from science fiction, to contemporary romance, to YA fantasy. She sent them all back as not being ready. The only difference was that I kept working on the YA fantasy and sending it back to her and she finally agreed to take it out on submission after five rounds of revisions!

My view on the matter is that I should be able to write whatever I want, provided that I am fully aware of both the benefits and the costs of publishing in multiple genres. Writing in another genre affords me access to a different readership and is good for my creativity. On the other hand, there is far greater demand on my time and I will probably grow my readership in a given genre at a slower rate, since I am not producing as many books in that genre.

What’s the best part about writing romance? How about YA?

ST: The best part of writing YA fantasy is that it’s plot-driven. The best part about writing romance is that it’s character-driven. And the best part of doing both is that I can flex different writing muscles as I move from one to the other and back again. : )

Your titles come to us through major traditional publishing houses and you also indie publish. Could you tell us a little about the benefits of a “hybrid” career?

mybeautifulenemy250ST: I don’t indie publish much: two frontlist novellas and some overseas editions of a few books to which I hold the English rights outside North America. And most of what I have done is via my agent’s self-publishing platform. So I really can’t speak from any position of expertise to what it is like being a hybrid author, except that whatever income I derive now from self-pubbing is probably due largely to the readership I’d built via traditional publishing.

But I will say this: I very much appreciate the greater freedom that authors now enjoy. Many years ago, I wrote something of a genre-confused martial arts epic. It spanned twenty years in time, took place 1/3 in imperial Peking, 1/3 in Chinese Turkestan, also known as Xinjiang, and 1/3 in London. There was a romance in it, but it wasn’t the core of the story. There was history in it, but that also wasn’t the core of the story. Basically, it was my take on the wuxia novels that I had read growing up, except I did not set my story in ancient China, but all over the place at the end of the 19th century, and centered it around a half-Chinese, half-English heroine who is quite deadly with a sword.

This August, Berkley will be publishing my 9th historical romance, My Beautiful Enemy, which is the romance part of the martial arts epic. But what about the other half of the story, the half that isn’t centered around the romance? That I will self-publish. So the whole story will be a hybrid, half self-pubbed, half trad-pubbed, and all kick-ass. : )

That sounds amazing! And it shows the level of creativity and savviness you bring to your career. Love it.

You’ve said that you first read American romance novels with an English-Chinese dictionary after moving to the U.S. as a teenager. Now you are a two-time RITA winner, the industry’s highest award. Could you talk about what set you on this amazing career path and how your multicultural background influences your work? 

ST: I did indeed read lots of romances with an English-Chinese dictionary by my side—the library was my main source of entertainment. Also, at that time, non-traditional outlets like Wal-Mart and K-Mart carried a pretty big selection of romances. Every Saturday night, my mom would spend a couple of hours at one of those big-box stores, and I, who had no interest in shopping, would sit in the book aisle and read. It is a pretty effective way to learn the language, reading. : )

And lol, I chose this amazing career because I read a book that sucked hugely and said to myself, surely I could do better. And guess what? I couldn’t for many years. It is tough to write a book, even a bad one. : )

BurningSkyOne of the more interesting ways my background has influenced my writing is that I believe it is easier for me to recreate Regency/Victorian England than it is for many American historical romance writers, because the sexual mores of the Communist China of my childhood is much closer to that of the Victorian era than anything my American contemporaries are likely to have lived through. And the formality of conduct that I grew up around is also much closer to the rules of etiquette of the 1880s and 1890s than the casualness that typically characterize social interaction in the U.S.

What an interesting parallel— I hadn’t thought of it when reading your books but it makes a lot of sense. It also explains why your characters and stories feel so authentic!

You write multiple books at once, you manage social media, you travel to conferences and signings, you are a wife and a mother of two adolescent boys. You obviously have superpowers, but any practical advice for us mortals? How do you get all of this done and stay sane?

ST: I have no life? : )

Although I have a social media presence, I am not at all active. I try to go to as few conferences and signings as I can—and when I do, I do so mainly for fun, as no one’s career was ever made or unmade by conferences and signings.

As for superpowers, my only superpower lies in time-wasting, especially when I have to write a lot of emotional stuff and can’t sink into the manuscript to cry or feel the way I need to. Days like that you will find me frantically playing casual games, which makes me feel busy, even though nothing is getting done!

Mainly my productivity is deadline-driven. I have an abhorence of not meeting contractual obligations—or just any kind of time-sensitive agreement. When deadlines draw near, I basically work around the clock, stopping just long enough to feed myself and the children. It also helps to have a supportive husband who is really good at picking up the slack!

Thanks again for being here, Sherry, and for all your advice and insight!