13 November 2012

Maureen McGowan on the long road to publishing and how contests can help

Maureen McGowan
Look who's here! It's Maureen McGowan, author of DEVIANTS (Amazon Children's Books, Oct. 30), the first book in a brand new post-apocalyptic trilogy called THE DUST CHRONICLES. Maureen also penned CINDERELLA: NINJA WARRIOR and SLEEPING BEAUTY: VAMPIRE SLAYER (both published by Silver Dolphin Books, April 2011). 

If you want to hang out with Maureen a bit more after this interview, you can visit her website here and her blog here. You'll also find her talking about books, movies and storytelling with some of her writer friends, over here

So, here goes!

Q: Hi Maureen, tell us about your path to publishing... when did you start writing YA, where did your writing journey take you, and how did you find your agent/publisher?

A: How long do we have?  My publication story is long and twisty and would take several pages to tell in full. Let’s just say I wrote seven or eight manuscripts in four genres, had two agents, and had a publisher close before releasing 2 contracted books for which they hadn’t paid me, all before I got my contract for DEVIANTS. 

But the short answer to your question is that I got my current agent the old fashioned way. I sent a query. Actually I sent four queries to my fantasy four agent list, and one of those was to Catherine Drayton of Inkwell Management. (Her clients include Markus Zuzak, Nathan Bransford and Becca Fitzpatrick.) After reading my query and sample pages, Catherine referred me to another agent at her agency, Charlie Olsen, who reps Andrea Cremer, among others. 

Charlie loved the manuscript and I signed with him less than a week after sending him the full and we started submitting to editors a week after that. The market for post-apocalyptic and dystopian set YA was tightening up at the time, but we got three book deal within a few months. The tough part was that I wasn’t allowed to talk about the deal for another 8-9 months after that! Mostly because the deal it was with Amazon Publishing, who were just starting up when they made the offer and their plans for YA were not yet firm. They actually first discussed publishing my book under their sci-fi imprint which also had not been announced at the time.

Once things got moving, I love how quickly Amazon got DEVIANTS to the market and they did a beautiful job of the hardcover! The second book in the series, COMPLIANCE, comes out May 21, 2013, and—assuming I finish it soon!—the third book, GLORY, will come out in late 2013 or early 2014. 

Q: Your first two YA novels were fairytale adventures (with badass heroines who still get their handsome princes!). You've gone in an entirely different direction with DEVIANTS, a post-apocolyptic sci-fi thriller. Can you tell us how your writing has changed between the earlier project and the new one, and why you chose to move in this new direction? 

A: All of my published books have a lot of action and strong heroines. I also think all three have solid worldbuilding, fast pacing and all are packed with tons of conflict and tension. But the main difference with DEVIANTS is that the Twisted Tales books had to appeal to readers as young as nine! The original publisher for that series, hoped to straddle the middle grade and YA markets, and so those books are a tad more juvenile that I would have written them if I’d had free rein. (I had some awesomely dark ideas for Sleeping Beauty: Vampire Slayer, but couldn’t really go there.)

I feel that with DEVIANTS I didn’t have to hold back at all. I just told the story I wanted to tell. In fact, other than the lack of swearing and sex, I’d say there’s not a huge difference between my voice/storytelling style in DEVIANTS versus the adult projects I’ve written. 

That’s what I love about YA these days. They may be about teens, but they’re not necessarily just for teen readers.

Q: You were a finalist in the Golden Heart® competition and the inaugural Amazon Breakout Novel Competition. Can you tell us about these competitions, your decision to participate, and how they helped launch your YA novels?

A: I think the Golden Heart is a great contest—if you final.  It’s the RWA’s main competition for unpublished work and gets about 1200 entries, of which only 70-80 final (across various categories—up to 9 finalists in each.) If you final, it certainly makes the RWA National conference experience fun. The awards night is like the Oscars—2000 people in the audience, fancy gowns and a big production. It’s during the same ceremony when they announce the RITAs, the awards for the top romance novels of the year. Unfortunately, they’ve changed the rules this year so that the YA titles need to have a central love story (versus the romance being only a sub plot) so unfortunately, a most YA titles won’t be eligible anymore.

The Amazon Breakout Novel Awards (ABNA) is a competition run by Amazon and the finals are judged by Penguin editors. (Or were the year that I entered.) The top prize the year I entered was a $25,000 advance from Penguin and there were several rounds of competition. Depending on how far you got in the competition, you got reviews from the general public and from Publishers Weekly. 

I personally would only advise someone to enter the ABNA with a project that had been thoroughly “shopped out” the traditional way, before the entry date, because the manuscript will be tied up for the months that the contest is ongoing. That is, you can’t submit it anywhere during that time. For me, entering was one last shot for one of my manuscripts, and I had the blessing of my former agent to enter.

I was part of the first year for that contest, and it’s changed a bit now, but for me, the biggest benefit was learning how to deal with reviews. Years before I had anything published, I’d dealt with reading negative (and positive) reviews from strangers.

That contest was also great because it gave a chance for published author acquaintances of mine to actually read some of my work. That helped me build connections that led to referrals to agents, great advice, etc. 

It was an encouraging experience for me. I had authors contact me saying they couldn’t believe I hadn’t been published yet. And that was early 2008. (It took another 2 ½ years after that to get my write for hire contract, and another 18 months after that to get a more traditional advance-paying contract.)

Q: I saw other authors tweeting about your release party for DEVIANTS, and I know you're active online with blogs and web presence, twitter, etc. How much time do you put into these and other networking and promotional efforts? 

A:  Lately, too much! And not enough at the same time... I feel like there are so many things I wanted to do before my release that I never got time to do. It’s so hard to get the word out about your novel. I’d like to find a balance where I spend no more than an hour or two on promotion and social networking each day, but would be lying if I said I stuck to that now.

Q: What is your writing process? How do you approach a new project (research, outlining, plotting, pantsing... what's your style?)?

A: New ideas usually percolate for a long time with me. At some point, I’ll discuss an idea with my critique partners and then start to develop it more. My ideas don’t always spark in the same way. Sometimes it will be a premise, sometimes a world, sometimes a character. And with DEVIANTS, I actually melded at least three different ideas together. It was magic to realize that I didn’t need to choose between 3 story ideas, but could combine bits of them. 

If I’m not forced to write a synopsis first, I usually only plan the bare bones. Not because I don’t find more detailed planning useful, more that I’m too impatient. I believe that to end up with a strong, tightly plotted and well-formed story with great motivations and character arcs, you need to put in the heavy planning or analysis work at some point... whether it’s up front, while you’re drafting, or while re-writing. I personally believe it’s most efficient to put that time in planning, but it doesn’t always work that way for me. Every project tends to be different. 

Q: What are you working on now/next?

A:  COMPLIANCE, Book 2 of The Dust Chronicles, comes out May 21, 2013. I’m working on my line edits at the moment. Then I need to finish the third book in the trilogy, tentatively called GLORY, as soon as possible!

After that, I’m not sure. I’m in the development stage with another YA series and I’m also hoping that my women’s fiction projects might see the light of day sometime soon... We’ll see.

Thank you, Maureen! 

And for those who are curious about THE DUST CHRONICLES, here's a little teaser on DEVIANTS: 

DEVIANTS by Maureen McGowan

In a post-apocalyptic world, where the earth is buried by asteroid dust that’s mutated the DNA of some humans, orphaned, sixteen-year-old Glory must hide and protect her younger brother. If their Deviant abilities are discovered, they’ll be expunged—kicked out of the dome to be tortured and killed by the Shredders. Glory would give anything to get rid of her unique ability to kill with her emotions, especially when Cal, the boy she’s always liked, becomes a spy for the authorities. But when her brother is discovered, and she learns their father, who was expunged for killing their mother, is still alive, she must escape the domed city that’s been her entire world.

Outside in the ruins, they’re pursued by the authorities and by sadistic, scab-covered Shredders who are addicted to the lethal-to-humans dust now covering the planet. Glory’s quests to transport herself and her brother to safety make up the thrilling and fascinating first volume of The Dust Chronicles.

 It's on sale now... herehere and here

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