09 July 2012

HELLO GORGEOUS! author Taylor Morris talks tweens, 12-steps, ghostwriting & more

Please welcome today's featured author, Taylor Morris! Her books for teens and tweens include CLASS FAVORITE, TOTAL KNOCKOUT: TALE OF AN EX-CLASS PRESIDENT, BFF BREAKUP (all published by Simon & Schuster M!X) and the HELLO, GORGEOUS! series (Penguin's Grosset & Dunlap). Taylor has worked as an editor for a teen magazine, writer of the non-fiction book ORIGINAL DIVAS for Girls Press, and as a YA book reviewer (three books a month for five years!) for Romantic Times Book Club. She's also written short stories for Girls' Life magazine. 

Learn more about Taylor and her work at www.taylormorris.com.

Q: I've read the very fun bio on your website, but for those who have not… can you tell us a little bit about your path to publishing?

A: The best thing I did to get my writing started was to take a novel writing workshop. I did the 12-week intensive course through Media Bistro—this was actually before they had a YA or children's series, too. My poor classmates! I'm so glad I got that early feedback and help with structure and plot because I really had no idea what I was doing or even what I was writing about.

Through the 12-week course I wrote a little over 100 pages, then took maybe a year to finish writing it as well as have good friends read it for feedback (including one of my new friends from Media Bistro). And let me tell you, it was a mess. Thank goodness for that feedback.

As for getting an agent—I literally bought a book of children's book agents. I wish I could remember what it was called. I also went through novels I liked by authors I admired who thought I might be compared with and read the acknowledgements to see who their agents were (an old trick). Then I simply looked up the agent's query guidelines—and I followed them to a T. After sending out a few queries (and being rejected), one named Steven Chudney bit! He suggested lowering the age of my characters from 15 and 16 to 13, changing from high school to junior high. I took his advice and eventually sold to a two-book deal. That book I worked on in the Media Bistro class became my first novel, CLASS FAVORITE.

Q: The main character of your HELLO GORGEOUS! series is 13 years old, and you note that you write for tweens. Are your books considered Young Adult or Middle Grade? How would you describe your typical reader?

Taylor Morris
A: My books are definitely considered tween. I think within tween there are different levels and ages of readers. Hello, Gorgeous readers might be a bit younger than my BFF BREAKUP readers, for example, but it's all under the tween umbrella.

As for my typical reader? I'm not sure but from the readers I've met and heard from online I think they're a bit like me—slightly shy girls who like makeup and such but also don't mind getting their knees dirty. Girlie girls with a slight tomboy edge.

 Q: HELLO GORGEOUS! is described as an "ongoing series." How many more books are planned? Can you tell us a little bit about the process of writing a series like this?

A: The series will land on five books total. The fifth book, "Do's and Don'ts," came out in May. I signed on for a four-book series and although there was talk about having six total, the publisher has settled on five.

The process of writing a series like this? Well, if you have a full-time job like I did through most of the writing, it is insane. The pace is relentless. Theoretically I'd have three months to write the first draft; while my editor edited it, I'd start conceptualizing and outlining the next. Then, she gives me her edits while I give her my outline for the next one.

It rarely went this smoothly and there were many times I was working on two books at once. And with my full-time job—it was exhausting and I wrote the five books over a year and a half or so. I often worked for an hour or so before work, getting up at 5:30 or 6, then another hour when I got home. Weekend days were always for writing. I'm not saying I gave up all of my Saturdays or Sundays but it was rare that I didn't work six to seven days a week.

Now, though, my life is a very different. My husband recently joined the Army—he's a music conductor—and we left New York City in November and are now living in Virginia. All along I'd been saving most of my book money so now I'm able to write full-time, especially with my husband's steady job and our low-cost of living. I also recently got a ghost writing job (more on that below), so it's all working out nicely for us so far.

Another important thing I should mention is how I got the Hello, Gorgeous series. This was a good-old fashioned case of connections. One of my writing instructors at Media Bistro (I took two more courses after that first one) knew Penguin (the publisher) had been looking for a writer for a series about a girl who works at her mom's hair salon. She put the editor in touch with me and I wrote a sample for them about how I thought the characters would be and how the story would go and—they chose me! So I guess I can say I've gotten published by not knowing a soul in publishing (Class Favorite) and later by having a connection (Hello, Gorgeous).

Q: Can you tell us about the promotional support your books receive from your publisher, and if/how you supplement with your own efforts?

A: I think my answer is the same as others on this loop have talked about. Not a ton of publisher support in terms of marketing (but lots of excellent editorial support). I'm terrible at self-promotion (aside from posting pics of my books on Facebook as they come out) and I think most authors feel this way.

Also, because I'm not a huge author with name recognition, there's a level of humiliation to anything I try to do. I've been turned down too many times by schools, libraries and festivals that there's really only so much a girl can take. I do giveaways on Goodreads and I promote on Facebook. The good thing about Facebook is a lot of my friends from high school now have kids who are my readers' age, so I've definitely sold books and gained fans that way. I suspect that, in big publishing houses, you have to be a part of the 1%—meaning, the best sellers and award winners—to get that great promotion we all dream about.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I'm currently ghost writing a series for my publisher. I wish I could say what celebrity I'm ghosting for but it's a secret! After my HG series ended my publisher was looking for someone to work with this person on a tween series and asked me, along with several other authors, to create samples from the concept they had—similar to what I did for Hello, Gorgeous but more involved. The editors and celebrity liked my sample and one other. From there I had a phone interview with the celeb and editors to see how all our chemistry worked and then…well, I was shocked when I was chosen. I won't get any name recognition (maybe a bit in the acknowledgments) but it's great work for someone who just went to full-time writing. The money is decent and having a contract certainly gives me a sense of purpose as I stay home each day when my husband marches off to work. Also, the series (four books) is a lot of fun to work on.

(Ask me any questions about ghosting. I knew nothing about it before this began in February so I'm happy to answer any questions I can.)

I'm also working on a YA book that I started before Hello, Gorgeous but had to put aside because of the grueling schedule. I've also started coming up with new tween ideas and running them by my agent.

Thanks so much, Taylor.