Hello everyone! I haven’t done a writing related post for a while (besides my many posts about my new YA novella, Dear Jackson), so I thought that you all deserved something special.
A few months back, I contacted Stephanie Morrill (author of ‘Within These Lines,‘ ‘The Lost Girl of Astor Street,’ the ‘Ellie Sweet’ series and more) about doing an interview on WritersBloK. Despite her busy schedule, she agreed to this- so let’s get on to the interview!
Carynn: Firstly, when did you start writing?
Stephanie: I’ve been writing stories since first grade. Our school was really good about encouraging creative writing, and we had a lot of time in class for this. (In my memory, anyway, which is probably faulty!) When we finished a story, we took it to the “publishing house,” which was a parent volunteer in a room with an Apple computer. We could pick what color we wanted for our cover and binding, and the volunteer typed up our story for us. A few days later, the story would be delivered to our classroom for us to illustrate and share with the class. Other than the illustrating part, I loved every bit of it and wanted to write books from then on.
Carynn: How many agents did you query before someone decided to represent you? Do you have any advice for people trying to find a literary agent?
Stephanie: I don’t remember, honestly. Maybe a dozen, plus one-on-one meetings at conferences? That was actually where I had some success, was when I could meet an agent face-to-face. Investing the money in attending conferences paid off big for me, not just in finding my first agent, but also developing writing friendships.
This is hard if you’ve never been agented, but it’s really important that you find the right agent, not just an agent. This person represents you in the industry. Your reputation is tied to their reputation. Follow them on social media, read their blog posts/listen to their podcast. Do whatever you can to get a feel for who they are and what they value. Also, it’s helpful to know that this isn’t a forever commitment. If you get in there and realize this isn’t a good working relationship, you can stop working together. Not without pain, but it can be done. Most writers I know have changed agents at some point for a variety of reasons.
Carynn: Can you talk about what comes after finding an agent?
Stephanie: After you find an agent who is excited about your work and who you think you’ll work well with, a variety of things might happen depending on the agent. If they liked your book but want you to make some edits before they start shopping it out, you’ll start on those. If the book is good to go, then they will probably put together a list of editors they want to query on your behalf. Sometimes you wind up with a contract within months of signing with an agent, but more often it might be a year or two. I’ve seen both happen.
Carynn: I’ve heard that signing a book contract can be very stressful. Do you ever feel pressured when you have a deadline to meet?
Stephanie: I do feel a little pressure, but it’s not a totally bad thing. I think there’s a healthy amount of pressure that helps with focus, and I haven’t struggled too much with ridiculous deadlines.
Carynn: How does the writing process change when it’s a career rather than just a hobby? Do you ever find that you enjoy it less?
Stephanie: My enjoyment of writing continues to grow, actually. I have times where I endure burn out but that’s usually related more to the career part of being a writer (marketing, social media, public speaking) than it is the actual writing.
The biggest thing that changes is that you have readers. I didn’t have readers before I was published, so I wrote whatever I wanted and I didn’t think too much about it. Once you start developing readers, however, you want to continue to have readers. You want them to like this next book even more than the last book. You want them to feel excited when they see you have something new coming out. It’s not a relationship I take lightly, and I’m aware that the trust can be broken. I know that because I’m a reader and my trust has been broken before. I won’t please everybody all the time, but my readers’ expectations always factor into picking a new project.
Carynn: How often would you say you write, and how many words in one sitting?
Stephanie: Currently, I write 4 days a week, for 1-2 hours. I tend to write about 1,000 words an hour. I would like to be writing 5 days a week, like I used to before I had kids, but I have another 18 months before my youngest heads off to kindergarten.
Carynn: What are your current goals as a writer?
Stephanie: Currently, I’m working on restoring the balance between focused writing time and my writing-related-but-not-actually-writing tasks. Those are tasks like preparing classes that I’m teaching, blogging, social media, etc. I said yes to a few too many things, and I need to tip my balance back so that I’m getting more focused fiction time.
Carynn: What writing obstacle would you say you struggle with the most?
Stephanie: Insecurity. So often it leads me to say yes to things I shouldn’t and keeps me from feeling confident to say yes to the things I should.
Carynn: Which of your books did you enjoy writing the most?
Stephanie: I think The Lost Girl of Astor Street was the most fun to write, although it’s been a few years so it might just be that the really hard times have faded in my memories. I love my main character, and I loved navigating two new genres (historical and mystery). I’m really proud of how that one turned out.
Carynn: Is there any advice you can give to writers looking to publish their books?
I want to give a big thanks to Stephanie for letting me interview her, and I hope that this was as helpful to all of you as it was for me! I can’t recommend Stephanie’s books enough (Within These Lines was my personal favorite!), so be sure to check them out.
I should be posting more often now that I’ve gotten some work out of the way (a college student is always busy- even an online college student), so get ready for lots of writing tips and challenges soon!
Until next time,