2009 Debutante Interview Series: Mandy Hubbard

Today’s 2009 Debutante is Mandy Hubbard! She’s one of the nicest, most helpful Blue Boarders ever and she’s been incredibly open to answering questions. I can’t wait to get my hands on her forthcoming book from Razorbill, Prada and Prejudice. A gigantic thank you to her for providing such wonderful answers to the interview questions.

 

Callie falls head over heels—literally…

 and wakes up in Austen-Era England !

Fifteen-year-old Callie buys a pair of real Prada pumps to impress the cool crowd on a school trip to London .  Goodbye, Callie the clumsy geek-girl, hello popularity! But before she knows what’s hit her, Callie wobbles, trips, conks her head… and wakes up in the year 1815!

Thanks for joining us, Mandy. Prada and Prejudice is your debut novel, so a big congrats on that. But can you give us a little statistical rundown on how long it took you to get to this point? How many books? How many rejections? How many days, months, or years?
 
The log-line on my blog says “A published writer is an amateur who didn’t quit,” and sometimes that’s all that got me through the rejections. The first novel my agent sent out on submissions, In October 2006,  was THE JETSETTERS SOCIAL CLUB and we racked up about 12 rejections. They were so short and vague; it was obvious JETSETTERS wasn’t doing it. But a few editors asked if I had anything else, and PRADA AND PREJUDICE started to go out on subs in January 2007. Over that Summer, I came so heart-breakingly-close to selling that it was devastating when it didn’t happen. That editor even said she loved it and apologized for not being able to buy it.

By the end of the year I had revised it a few times for various editors and racked up 16 rejections.
 
2008 started up right where 2007 left off—three rejections within the first weeks. However, the third came in the form of a revision request. Even though I was already in my seventh draft, I decided to do it, and I opened up a shiny new (blank!) word document and started over. I never even opened up the old version. I spent a month writing 100 pages plus a new synopsis, and my agent sent it back.
 
And I was rejected in about three sentences.  But thanks to the shiny-new version of the book, my agent felt it deserved another round of submissions. (We were up to 22 rejections at that point). So she sent it to six new editors, and two weeks later, we had two offers. In total, I spent 20 months on submissions, racking up 40 rejections from almost every editor in New York for two different projects, and PRADA AND PREJUDICE went through nine drafts.

 
You and your agent deserve a medal or something. That is incredibly inspiring. Thank you. Which “Call” thrilled you more? The call in which you landed an agent or the call in which you landed your book deal? 

I never got a call out of the blue in either case—there were always emails to tip me off. So for me, the typical reaction to ‘the call’ was actually a reaction to an email, and it was definitely the sale that stands out. I was opening the email while a co-worker was talking to me, and he managed to tell a very long and animated story, and I heard exactly none of it. The e-mail was titled good news and the first line said, we are expecting multiple offers. I started shaking, and it got hard to breathe. I actually did a video blog and recreated THE CALL, and you can see it here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ER9bv5ojBoM

 
Love your vlogs. Too fun! Throughout your journey as a writer, what resources have you found most valuable to your success? Websites? Books? Conferences?

Livejournal has been the biggest resource for me-I’ve met so many writers and authors, its been amazing. I met my critique partner, Cyn Balog (Fairy Lust, Delacorte 2009) and we’re like writing BFF’s now, and I can still find the post where we are commenting back and forth like, “do you need a critique partner?” Without her I’d go insane. I think we cried for each other’s book deals as much as our own, we were so excited.
 
I have to say, you and Cyn are the cutest writing duo ever. I love how supportive y’all are and how much you’ve grown. Y’all are a shining example to the rest of the writing community.

We all know that writers go through hard times on their way to success. How have you handled rejection in the past?

By ignoring them. HA. Sometimes a random rejection would hit me really hard, especially when it was an editor I had revised for, but for the most part, I read it, thought about it for a little bit, whined for a day, and moved on. My agent was really good at focusing my attention elsewhere. Every time she emailed a rejection, she’d end the email by saying something like, “But I just heard about this editor at X house, and I’m going to pitch it to her tomorrow…” so somehow she always refocused my attention to the next opportunity.

 
This is Fumbling with Fiction, so I have to ask, in your writing career have you ever had a big “Oops!” moment?

When I got the rejections, especially on PRADA, they never seemed to have the same reason. But somewhere around #15, I put them together in an excel spreadsheet, and BINGO, I started seeing a few patterns. Each editor expresses things differently, so it’s not like they would say the exact same thing—but if I read them all in a row, I could see tiny similarities that pointed to the same issue.  I wish I would have thought of doing that as they came in—I might have been able to revise and strengthen the manuscript.

 
 
Great tip for the rest of us. Thanks! You’re now at the beginning of your writing career. Can you believe it? Where would you like that sure-to-be illustrious career to take you?

 To the NYT list, of course. Hitting the New York Times Bestseller list would be so amazing, I’d probably have to quit right then just so I’d go out on top. Kidding. More realistically, though, I am hoping to get a rhythm going, to have at least one book coming out every year with another on the horizon, to develop a fan base, to be a professional. I don’t want to just “be” published, I want it to be my career.

 
And now that you are a soon-to-be-published author, seeing the view from the other side, what has been your favorite moment in the publishing process so far? What part of the process has most surprised you?

 Confetti didn’t rain down when I accepted my deal, so that was surprising. I think my favorite part of this process has been people telling me that I inspire them. When you first sign an agent, you think of all these overnight deals and pre-empts and auctions, because I swear that’s what it seems like happens for everyone else, so that’s what you expect. But I soon discovered that all too often, that’s not how it works. I think a lot of writers are afraid to be honest and blog openly about their trials, for fear of looking whiny, or something. But I decided to be honest from the get go, and yeah, sometimes I whined and reflected. But now I have all those journal entries, and I can read one and know exactly how it felt to get that 20th rejection. And somehow people have been finding my journal and reading those entries, and it’s been really great to know that other people are in that spot, and they’ve seen that sometimes, you just have to claw your way to the top.
 
I recently went through and tagged all the “publishing journey” entries, so that people can start at the beginning and see the key steps for me—and see the actual rejections. You can see them here: http://mandywriter.livejournal.com/tag/the+road+to+publication
There are about forty related entries, so if you want to read them, I recommend rewinding and starting at the beginning and reading forward, rather than backwards. It starts with me getting my agent, and goes through to the sale.

 
Wait, confetti didn’t rain down? Shoot.

Tell us a little about receiving your first editorial letter. What was yours like? How did you feel when you received it?

It was 11 pages. I nearly fainted. But my editor is quite possibly the most amazing person on the planet, and she explained right off on page 1 that I shouldn’t freak out, that she just liked to really explain things and offer solutions instead of just pointing out problems—and true to her word, as I read through everything, I saw that she not only pinpointed the problems, but she offered ideas and things that pushed me in the right direction. She’s really amazing. Did I mention she rejected Prada TWICE before buying it? Even then, in her rejection letters, her thoughts were well articulated and made me really think about what worked and what didn’t work. I’m so glad that the third try (with a completely rewritten manuscript)  resulted in her offering on it, because there’s no where else I’d rather be.
 
Everyone has a different relationship with his or her agent. How would you characterize yours and has it changed since your book deal?

This is an interesting question, because I’ve been thinking about this lately. I think even though it was never obvious, there was a little tension before the sale—not in a bad way, just in a we both want the sale so badly we can taste it way. We were both unbelievably frustrated that it hadn’t happened yet. Not with each other, just with the circumstances. So since the sale, I think that’s disappeared.

 
Finally, if you could have written one book previously published by another author, which book would it be?
 
 For recent books, I’d have a hard time choosing between THIRTEEN REASONS WHY by Jay Asher, about a girl who sends audio tapes to the thirteen people responsible for her suicide,  and THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH (Coming in 2009) by Carrie Ryan, about a zombie apocolypse. For all time favorites, it would be between Z FOR ZACHARIAH, about a girl who thinks she might be the only person left on earth after a nuclear fall-out, and THE TRUE CONFESSIONS OF CHARLOTTE DOYLE, a historical about a prim and proper girl who unwittingly ends up in the midst of a mutiny onboard a ship.
 
Strangely enough, though, I don’t think I could write any of those books even if I had the idea before they did—their execution of the ideas is what’s amazing. Instead I will happily read them over and over.

 

Thank you again for joining us and we look forward to reading Prada and Prejudice the minute it comes out!

Topical Tuesday: Brand Yourself

Before you reach for the hot iron and sear your forehead, I’m talking about making your name into a brand.

Stephen King, James Patterson, Nora Roberts, Janet Evanovich, Tom Clancy–These are authors whose names are now recognizable brands. Anything they put their name on sells. While we might not become mega-brands over night, we can’t get started down the path with a few simple steps.

Yesterday, Allie Boniface offered some great tips on promotion. Today, I’ll add to her great suggestions while still keeping with the theme of book/author promotion on a budget.

1. Join online writers’ groups. Absolute Write is the forum in which I am most involved. But, professional organization such as RWA and SCBWI usually have boards to which you can belong. Verla Kay Blue Boards are great if you are a children’s writer. While most of the time you don’t meet these people face-to-face, you begin to feel like you “know” them. I have felt compelled to buy several books from Blue Board writers. Moreover, other writers on the site tend to want to promote their own. A lot of support was thrown behind Melissa Marr’s Wicked Lovely and Ink Exchange as well as all of the Jennifer Lynn Barnes book by their fellow Blue Boarders.

2. Email Signatures. Put a standard signature in your emails about your book and a link to where people can find more information. This way, you don’t give yourself the option to pick and choose who you will tell about your book. You’re emailing your college professor? Ok, well, he knows about it now. Don’t be embarrassed. People are curious and will probably take the time to check that link.

3. Blog. I have been persuaded to buy books because of author blogs. The only reason I picked up Lisa Shearin’s books was because I read her blog daily. I feel invested in what she has to say. Don’t discount the importance of a blog just because it seems like everyone is doing it.

4. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Ask you friends to provide a link to your site or a blurb about your book on G-chat or on their Facebook status. Word-of-mouth is a huge component of book and author success. Widen your radius.

5. Your book can have a Facebook Page. No, faces are not required to belong to facebook. Make your book a member and then add as many people as possible as your friends. Also, on your own facebook account, how many people on facebook are friends that you actually chat with daily? Yeah, probably a minority, right? Start a group and invite everyone to belong to it. When the random person you went to middle school sees the group they are probably going to be like, Wow so-and-so wrote a book! And then you pray that random middle school person is curious enough to run out and buy it.

6. Contact your local newspaper. Most newspapers don’t have a problem with running a “Local girl pens novel” story. Send them a media package.

7. Run a contest for Amazon reviews. Lisa Shearin did this recently. Every person who posted an Amazon review was entered to win prizes on her blog. Amazon reviews matter when it comes to Amazon rankings. Remember that.

8. The Internet is your friend. Book trailers on YouTube and Google Video. Twitter. MySpace. LiveJournal. Do them all.

9. Ask for interviews. Most of the time, people are not going to come beating down your door asking for an interview. It’s ok to ask someone whose blog you like to host you for a day. What is the worst that could happen?

10. Have a cyber launch party. Avoid the costs of a real live launch party and have a cyber one. You can even wear your PJs. Places like Enduring Romance host online parties for book releases and, if you have doubts about their effectiveness, they bring in TONS of comments from readers!

11. Cheap promotional giveaways. Want to send some gear to conferences or be able to provide goodies for prizes. Consider having your book title/logo put on a few goodies. There are a ton of places you can have this done. A Cheap Giveaways you can get pens with a logo on them for $.31 a pop. At the minimum of purchase of 428 pens, that will cost you $132. Not too bad.

12. Write Great Books. That’s the most important. And Guess what? The cheapest! Though the most time consuming. Look at The Shack, a book that is currently topping the bestseller list. $300 used to promote it. But, it’s a good book and, through word-of-mouth, it spread like wildfire.

 

 For last week’s Topical Tuesday on Ideas and Execution in Book Packaging click here.

Status: Today I’m cracking down. My goal is to finish between 12-15 pages of script today. I’m working toward that July 18th deadline of getting our proposal together to submit. The query letter is almost done. I’m waiting on some artwork. I’ve been chipping away at the script. And, I just downloaded a trial version of Comic Book Creator 2 because I think I am going to do the lettering for at least the first 15 pages in order to submit. I’m debating whether or not to purchase the software, but at $50 I think it is probably worth it.

Thursday Picture Day…Or in this case video

I was a gymnast for…forever basically. And, as we approach the 2008 Summer Olympics, I thought it would be fun to become a Super Fan of at least one of the US teams because spectating is always more enjoyabe when you feel invested. So, I’ve been following the women’s gymnastics team closely this year and, if you’re intersted, I suggest you do the same since this is, quite possibly, the best team the US has ever had.

A couple weeks ago in Philadelphia the Olympic Trials were held. Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin were named to the Olympic team. The other four spots are open, though three of those are basically locks (for Samantha Peszek, Alicia Sacramone, and Chelsie Memmel). These spots will be decided at the Olympic Training Camp. Shawn Johnson was last year’s 2007 World Champion. I didn’t want to like her because she wins everything, but now that I’ve watched just about every interview, every competition, every training session I could find, I can’t help but loving her and being hugely impressed.

Here’s a video of her balance beam routine on Day 1 of the Olympic Trials.

 

 

I’ll probably be randomly updating you on the team’s progress because I’m obsessed and I want to.

 

Status: Working away at my query for SCOUT. I’m trying to get the proposal ready for the July 18th deadline that Ben and I set. It is in the SYW forums at Absolute Write if you want to check it out or weigh in. I got several pages of script done yesterday and I plan to have about 160 pages done by July 18th.

But what if…

This video is hilarious. It’s an author talking to his editor. Check it out for a Monday afternoon jolt.

 

 

Tomorrow’s Topical Tuesday will be on the subject of Beta readers. How many should you have? When should you use them? And how do you know when to disregard their advice. As always, feel free to participate and I’ll link to your blog and comment on your post.

Status: Reading Judy Blume’s Forever. I’ve been working on blog stuff all day, trying to figure out how to meet one of my July goals. So far, so good.