I have the distinct pleasure of introducing you to another wonderful author, Allison Winn Scotch. She has written two best-selling novels and the third is on its way. She has been a mentor to me and has helped me greatly along my path. In other words, along with being beautiful and talented, she is also extremely generous.
Her first novel is called THE DEPARTMENT OF LOST AND FOUND and her second, which I am currently reading and thoroughly enjoying is called TIME OF MY LIFE. Her third, THE ONE THAT I WANT is scheduled for release in June 2010.
Dear sweet, well-groomed readers, after you finish reading this post and have left a long-winded and highly complimentary comment on the magnificence of both Allison and this blog, run out to the bookstore or click on Amazon and buy both of her books. Seriously. Do it. I know who you are, where you live, and what books you buy. Okay, I don't. I was just trying to scare you.
Now, on with the interview!
You write for a lot of magazines. How did you break into that business?
It’s a VERY long story involving my mid-20s something-self trying to figure out what the heck I was going to do with my life, but the short story is that I was doing freelance PR work (after co-launching a website and doing all of the copy writing/PR writing for said site), when I got hired to ghostwrite The Knot Book of Wedding Flowers, for TheKnot.com. I was planning my wedding at the time, so I tossed off a pitch to Bride’s based on my experience writing the book on flowers, and voila, I landed a feature. I was SHOCKED. But from there, I had to claw for other assignments for a good long time…working my way up from front-of-books (FOBs) to features to eventually having editors seek me out for assignments. But it’s a long process and it took me many years of hard work and proving myself over and over again.
Do you think your success at writing magazine articles helped you find an agent for your novels?
Yes, but only as much as I still had to have a book that someone wanted to represent and thought she could sell. Do I think it got my query a second look? No doubt – agents love an author with a built-in platform and someone who has proven that she can write. But do I think the book would have sold if it had been crappy? No way.
What is your process for writing novels? Do you use outlines?
I don’t outline, though my last book was so agonizing that there were many times I thought I should. But I don’t, primarily because – as “writerly” and ridiculous as this sounds – I have no idea what’s going to happen from page one to page 300, and I always worry that if I were to outline, the action wouldn’t be as organic as I require it to be. What I mean by that (and again, I apologize that this sounds so incredibly lame and pretentious), is that my characters make their decisions as they grow from chapter to chapter, and often times, I’m surprised at where they go and lead me. If I decided on an ending before I knew who these people were going to evolve into, it would be like cramming them into a predetermined destiny without taking the journey into account. So…I just write and write and hopefully end up in the right place.
How long does it take you to complete a first draft?
It all depends – prior to writing THE ONE THAT I WANT. which is my third novel coming out June 2010, I’d have said two to three months. My debut took me three, TIME OF MY LIFE took me two. But THE ONE THAT I WANT was a beast…it was a very difficult book for me to write, because much of the plotline unfolds like a mystery, and since I didn’t know how all of the pieces of that mystery were going to fall into place (per the above), I really struggled with it. It was only until I was about 2/3 of the way done that I saw how all the puzzle pieces fit, and from there, I think I wrote the last 1/3 in about two weeks. But the first 2/3 took me about seven months.
How long for revisions?
Again, it depends on the book. I actually work pretty quickly through revisions ,because the hardest thing for me is putting down my first draft. Revisions for TIME OF MY LIFE probably took a month or so, and I had two big rounds of revisions for THE ONE THAT I WANT. All in all, that probably took about two months. But again, I enjoy that part – I’ve found that for me, I can sort of write as well as I can up to a certain point and then I need someone else to come in and show me where I can get better, where I’m going wrong. So I’m fortunate to have an editor and an agent who are both really talented at doing this.
When did you know you were ready to query?
Wow, that’s a good question. A tricky one actually, because I can say, with hindsight, that a lot of aspiring writers – myself included – think they’re ready to query when they’re actually not. I wrote a manuscript that got me representation but ultimately didn’t sell. I don’t regret it for one second because that unsold ms (which, btw, was HORRIBLE) was a learning lesson in how to write a good one, but I don’t know that I could have known and/or seen that at the time. I don’t really know how to explain it except to say that having written much better books, well, you come to recognize when it’s go-time. If you think you’re ready, have an honest critique partner take a look. I think it is nearly impossible for a first-time writer to be objective about his or her work – you just don’t have a basis for comparison. Now, having written several other books, I can tell where something in my book isn’t working. But before, I don’t think I could.
How long was it from the time you considered yourself a “serious” writer until the time you had a novel published?
Oh gosh, I don’t know! I don’t know that I even consider myself a “serious” writer now! But…I guess a few years. I was earning a good living as a freelancer, had editors coming to me instead of vice versa, and felt pretty comfortable in where I was. I started that unsold book about four years before I was actually a published fiction author, so I guess around then – when I wanted to try to flex different writing muscles and felt comfortable taking that leap.
You changed agents before your first novel THE DEPARTMENT OF LOST AND FOUND was published. Can you tell us a little about the agent search process?
It probably was just like a lot of other aspiring writers…I did a lot of research on Publishers Marketplace, AgentQuery.com and just plain old google to find agents whom I thought would be a good fit for the book AND for my personality. For me, it wasn’t just an issue of someone who enjoyed my writing; I wanted someone with whom I’d click so we could be in this for the long haul together. I sent out queries in batches of ten or so, and every time I got a ding, I sent out another one, so I always had a rotation of irons in the fire and never even thought twice about a rejection. Because I had a pretty polished manuscript (my former agent and I had already revised what went on to be THE DEPARTMENT OF LOST AND FOUND), I got a few offers pretty quickly – within a few weeks, if I recall. But it definitely shows that you can get an agent from a blind query – all of those interested parties and the offers were from agents whom I blind queried.
Has your experience been different between your first novel and your second novel?
Nope, not at all! Actually, that’s not totally true. For one, I’ve slowed down my freelancing to where I mostly just do celebrity interviews and profiles, and the occasional essay or feature when an editor asks. I have two young kids and the grind of the constant daily deadlines was pretty tiresome…so I’m truly fortunate to have transitioned to a writing lifestyle in which I have longer targets. For two, some people seem to think I should be a fancy-pants now that I’m a novelist! LOL. But I’m not. That’s just perception. Life is exactly the same, more or less, complete with my sweatpants, broken-in converse, and kids who won’t cut me a break!
What would you advise to writers searching for an agent?
As I said above, be 300% sure that you’re ready to query. It’s such a hard thing to know, but I really think that one of the biggest mistakes aspiring writers make is thinking they’re better than they are. This isn’t a smug put-down. In fact, again, I speak from experience. The amazing thing about being a novelist is that there is no ceiling for the learning curve…I am STILL improving as I go, and so, too, should everyone else. You often only get one shot to submit a manuscript to these agents, so be sure that you’re putting your best work forward.
What about writers who aren’t quite to the query stage yet?
Just keep writing! Again, I truly believe that every time you step up to the plate, you give yourself a chance to improve, so keep swinging.
What’s your take on modern networking technologies like Facebook, Twitter, blogging, etc?
My take is that they’re amazing. They’re incredible promotional tools, but also, they’re incredible ways to connect with your readers – to hear their feedback, to see what they’re interested in, and to make them more interested in you. I love all of them, and I’m grateful to everyone who takes some time to banter with me throughout the day.
Would you advise writers attend writer’s conferences?
You know, I never did, but I’m sure that they’re useful. So I really can’t comment on them too much. I know that my agent goes and speaks on panels, and I’m sure they’re a good way to learn more about the business, and that can never really be a bad thing.
Have you ever had a bad review? If so, how did you deal with it?
Ha ha! Is the world round? Is the Pope Catholic? Does the sun set in the west? YES, I have. More than one – plenty. People seem to love to take out their inner-snark on online review sites, and well, there’s not too much that an author can do about it. So how do I deal? Well, I often read them and then try to forget about them entirely. I was once eviscerated in the Washington Post, and after a few days of shock, I just totally blocked it out. I mean – what was my option? Stew, cry, go down to Washington and try to buy every last copy? Nope, all you can do is accept that this is part of the deal and move on. (I will say, however, that if there are collective threads of criticism, I do ruminate on them for a bit to see if there’s some truth behind them, and if so, I’ll keep it in mind when writing my next book.)
What are you currently working on and do you have a tentative release date?
Right now, at this exact moment, I am working on nothing!! Hallelujah! Actually, that’s not true – I’m working on some celeb profiles, but no fiction. I literally filed my final draft of THE ONE THAT I WANT last week, and now I’m just taking a breather. I need to fully purge these characters from my mental landscape, and once I do, I’ll start up on another book. Probably in a few months, but I need to be 100% sure they’re out of my system. I started THE ONE THAT I WANT too soon after TIME OF MY LIFE, and the voices kept competing with each other for attention.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us in regards to your writing journey?
Just a thank you for having me! And for tweeting with me and following me on my blog, if you do! I really appreciate everyone who interacts with me – so thanks!
Again, thank you, Allison, for your time and willingness to share your journey with us. I want to be just like you when, I mean if, I grow up.
And readers, if you have questions for Allison, feel free to post them in the comment section. I'll bribe her with some chocolate to stop back by and answer.