Thursday, March 25, 2010

Super-Freaking Fantastic YA author, Elana Johnson, EXPOSED (in a totally clothed kind of way)

You've seen her around. She's everywhere. In your dreams, you could sense her dangling over your computer, stamping her profile picture on every blog, comment section, writer's forum and networking site.

If you aren't familiar with the amazing Elana Johnson, take a minute. Stare at her picture. Tell her you love her. Stroke your computer screen and promise her the world.

I decided Elana's 900+ Followers weren't enough. I thought she could use the one or two of mine who haven't yet discovered her knack for this thing we call writing. She was cool enough to humor me, after I purchased From the Query to the Call on her site. Let me first say, had I not become new online buds with her, I'd still endorse the holy hell out of this ebook. It's fabu. Yeah, I said it.

If you're like me, your query is a nasty, foul mouthed sonofabitch that wants to see you suffer. Elana's ebook is like an awakening. A knock upside the head, of sorts. I actually had a bit of an ephiphany and re-wrote my query in ten minutes. I don't know if it's suckier or less sucky, but regardless, her ebook will spark your brain cells into action.

Now onto the, ahem, insanely talented Elana. Ms. Johnson, if you're nasty.

How long have you been writing professionally? What did you first start out with?

Professionally? Ha! Surely you jest.
No, but, I started writing just after Thanksgiving, 2007. I started with a YA urban fantasy that I swear I’m going to rewrite into a YA historical fantasy in the vein of Prophecy (Zink). One day, my feathered friends. One day.
I’ve always bled YA. And I always will. I write fantasy, science fiction, dystopian, paranormal and even a little contemporary. I love it all.

What are you currently working on?
I’m currently writing a companion novel to the novel I have on submission. YA dystopian in the vein of The Hunger Games, The Giver, and Uglies. Try to wrap your head around that! Ha!

You're current novel, on submission, landed you supercool agent, Michelle Andelman, of Lynn C. Franklin Associates, Ltd. Did you follow your own advice, as in From the Query to the Call, when querying her?
Dude, I have the best story about how Michelle and I hooked up. But I won’t tell it here. I probably won’t even tell it when I’m dead.

But I absolutely followed my own advice. The research. The killer query. Sending the subs. The follow-up emails. The phone calls. Gah. The endless phone calls before representation was offered. In total, I had 5 (not only with Michelle) before I heard the magic words “I can now offer representation.”

Speaking of, how did From the Query to the Call come about?
Well, I was blogging for the QueryTracker blog, and giving a lot of advice about writing a killer query letter. I also frequent a few forums and noticed that people’s letters were, uh, less than stellar. And they all had questions about submitting and talking to agents and stuff.

So it just sort of came out of my time spent online, seeing a need, and writing a (hopefully) fun book that is (hopefully) uber-helpful.

What, in your opinion, are the key elements of a killer query?

And on the flip side, what do you think prevents a query from being totally ninja?
-Too many words. So many people stuff their query with the unnecessary.
-Not stating the consequence. This is absent a lot and I’m left thinking, “Yeah, so? Why do I care?” And in publishing that = rejection.

In From the Query to the Call, there are reminders at the end of each topic with links, exercises and things to remember, which is great because I sometimes forget what I just read. There's one test in particular I LOVE. To take the first sentence of your blurb and combine with the last to see if it fits (it should). Should all queries, in theory, make sense this way? If they don't, what are the potential problems in the way?

In theory, yes. In practice, not all do. But it’s a good trial to see if you can sum your book up concisely. I mean, read the short sentences on Publisher’s Marketplace deals. Talk about concise! When people ask you what your book is about, they want one sentence. So give ‘em two, the first and the last.

Potential problems: Having an extra character in the last sentence because s/he is part of the consequence, but not the hook. I see that a lot. Not having a consequence also derails this two-sentence pitch.

Near the end of From the Query to the Call, you talk a lot about fielding "the call," with other authors. First of all, green with envy, second, what are the three biggest things a writer should do if they get..."the call?"
-Dude, chillax. Then go boy scout and Be Prepared.
-Be yourself. I mean, who else would you want to be?
-Practice with a friend before the real thing

I've also read you kind of, what's the word, stalked your agent before submitting. Okay, maybe not stalked, but uh, garnered interest. How much info do you think a writer needs on an agent before they query? What in particular SHOULD they know about the agent?
I think an author should know as much as they can before they query, while they query and after the agent requests.
-You should know what books that agent has sold. Have you read those books? Are the styles the same? People have taste in books. Your agent has to want to devour your book like a plate of bacon. So check out their list.
-You should know who your agent has sold to. This speaks to their contacts.
-You should know who your agent’s other clients are. You might even contact one or two of them.
-You can easily get a feel for the agent’s personality from their blog or website, twitter or facebook or other social networking site. Does it match yours? Look into it.
-Okay, one more: Be unique. Be yourself. People will come. (Ooh, that sounds so Field of Dreams!)

As a writer, yourself, what advice would you give to someone about to throw in the towel?
As they say in Galaxy Quest: “Never give up! Never surrender!”

Seriously, don’t. It took me 8 months of querying on a second project before I got an agent. I’ve written 12 books. 10 of them suck. They’re practice novels. So don’t give up.

You wear many, many hats other than phenomenal writer. Blogger. Query Tracker. Interviewee. How do you juggle it all?
Um…I’m not sure I do. Balls get dropped daily. I think the key, for me, is realizing which balls to pick up again, and which ones to leave on the floor.

Eventually, I’ll get back to those discarded balls, but you gotta have priorities and do those things first. It also helps that I don’t work much, have two independent kids and a husband who works long hours. I’m typing this at 5:40 PM without a soul in sight. The house is quiet. So I just do what I can, when I can.

Speaking of hats, you have almost 1,000 loyal followers on your blog. That's freaking insane. What's the secret?
I have so many secrets for this. I’m slowly divulging some of them this week and in a couple more weeks, I’ll tell all. But really? The biggest one? Give as much as you get.

Any must reads on your shelf?
Dude, so many. You want a list?
Candor by Pam Bachorz
Uglies (and anything else) by Scott Westerfeld
Graceling and Fire by Kristin Cashore
Skin Hunger (my all-time fave) by Kathleen Duey
I could go on and on. I keep track of the books I read on my Wicked Awesome Bloggers list ( 20 this year so far!

What about books you're chomping at the bit to read?
Crash Into Me by Albert Borris
Pure by Terra Elan McVoy
The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney
The DUFF by Kody Keplinger
I mean, I could go on and on here too…

Last chance. One important thing every query should have.

For more info on this totally kick-ass YA author, visit her site, become a follower, don't forget about me.


Suzette Saxton said...

FABULOUS interview with one of my favorite people! And it's great to find a new blog to follow. :D

lisa and laura said...

Elana J rocks. Seriously one of my all time favorite writers and human beings. Great interview, ladies!

kathleen duey said...

One of the best interviews about writing career stuff I have ever read. Fun, funny, and TRUE.

Elana Johnson said...

Thanks for doing this, Candyland! You rock harder than me, I think. :)

Heather said...

Great query advice Elana, LOVED it!

Casey Something said...

Great interview!! Love Elana!

Christina Lee said...

Dude, I SO want to know that agent story--you must email me immediately and tell me--LOL!
Love ya, ElenaJ, great interview!

Shannon Messenger said...

So I guess I can now add "awesome interviewee" to Elana's list of many talents. If she weren't so stinking nice and hilarious, it'd be easy to hate her, wouldn't it?

Great interview though! Thanks for sharing. :)

Unknown said...

Awesome interview! :)

Melissa Hurst said...

Very nice interview! I love getting wisdom from Elana!

Candyland said...

We all love you, Elana:)
Thank you to all the new faces for dropping by. Seriously. Wanna share secrets? Friends forever.

Daisy Whitney said...

Oh yay! Thanks for the shout out Elana! And I totally agree with Galaxy Quest line -- Never Give Up, Never Surrender! I had 3 books on sub that never got bought then I got a 2-book deal! Just keep writing!

porcelaine said...

Excellent interview ladies! Thank you for the tidbits and the straight talk. It was well appreciated!

Sherrie Petersen said...

Elana is one of my favorite people in the blogosphere and this interview totally rocks! Love it!

Matthew MacNish said...

Finally came back to read this. Great interview between two of my favorite ladies!

BTW photobucket broke your pic at the beginning.