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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Long Process of Traditional Publishing: Author Interview with Bonnie Ferrante

Bonnie Ferrante is a multi-talented writer. She’d had three romance novels published and this year is unveiling a YA historical paranormal novel called Switch. But that’s not the end of her writing styles. She is also self-publishing her picture books which she has illustrated.
When  did you write your first book?
To be perfectly honest, I wrote my first book a long, long time ago. I sent it out to fantasy and science fiction publishers. Many, many publishers. It was rejected. Justifiably so, I think now. I had read several books on novel writing, attended a few workshops, belonged to a short story writing critique group, and had gone for a week long course at the University in Kingston. But, really, my work was not publishable standard. I just hadn't put in the 10,000 hours needed to develop a skill.

When did your writing start selling?
I continued to write small things over the years and had several short stories published. I was a newspaper columnist for three and a half years. When I stopped teaching, I decided to focus completely on my writing. I started taking in person and online workshops and classes. I steadily wrote and I read about writing. I saw a call for submissions from Noble Romance Publishing for a new young adult line of books. I dug out my old manuscript and ripped it apart. I submitted it, and it was accepted. Part of my original problem, I think, was that I was submitting it to the wrong type of publishers. It was too heavy on romance.

Who encouraged you?
No one encouraged me to keep trying. I think I've just inherited my family's trait of stubbornness. I wanted to be a writer my whole life but never felt confident enough to give it 100%. I always felt that I had to have a "real" job with security and a decent paycheck. Teaching took every bit of my energy and creative juice.

Have other novels been started and stopped along the way?
Yes, but I don't get very far into them. I have enough ideas that I'm not going to waste time on something that doesn't fuel my creative energy. The ones I have abandoned were still at the concept/outline stages. I may even get back to them someday.

What made you switch from romance to YA writing?
I discovered that YA was my voice. I just kept slipping naturally into that tone and perspective. Maybe I still have a teenage brain. I think I'm actually a perpetual new adult. I don't read romance books so it really isn't a genre I could become an expert in.

How hard was it to find a home for this historical paranormal story?
It's funny that you used the word switch, because that is the title of my historical paranormal novel. It has the strangest back story of all my books. I wrote it as a children's short story for magazine. It was rejected. I tweaked it a little and begin submitting it as a picture book, similar in style to "Tatterhood" by Robin Muller, which I love. I sent it to Tradewind Books, a small Canadian company, and the publisher telephoned me! He loved my voice and style and told me to change it into a young adult novel and he would look at it. He was interested in working with me!
How did you go about re-working it into a YA novel?
Working about six hours a day, it took me four months to prepare the outline. I had to do a lot of research because, although, I knew enough about Elizabethan times to write a short story, I did not know enough to write a book. I submitted it and begin writing the novel. I didn't hear anything back. After two months, the publisher called and said he had not received it. So I sent it again along with my completed first chapter.

What happened next? Did he like it
Three months after that, an editor contacted me. She had been given the manuscript by the publisher and was unable to open the file. A month later, she wrote back telling me what a wonderful writer I was and how much she loved the book, but unfortunately they weren't going to publish it because they felt it was a little too unusual for their market. She suggested I send it to another publisher. She also said she'd like to take a look at it when it was complete.I finished writing the novel, which took another year. I sent it to her only to learn she had moved to another publishing company. She sent it to Tradewind Books, thinking he had proprietorship I guess. He didn't remember having any contact with me before and expressed interest in publishing the book.
Since then, I have been working with a different part-time editor for three years on the novel. It takes several months to get my edits back. We planned to have it published in 2014, but I'm not sure if that will happen.. It has undergone two dramatic major plot rewrites and is barely recognizable from my first draft. We are on the final edits. In May, it will be four years since I sent the original short story. The lesson in all of this is, you must develop patience if you're going to go the traditional publishing route.

I’ve often seen notices for applying for writing grants, but haven’t applied. You've been successful. What does it take to win a grant?
No one was more surprised than I was, when I won the first and second grants I applied for. Since then I've applied for three more and been unsuccessful. Thoroughly research the types of grants and be sure you are applying for the correct one. Polish your submission to perfection, and that includes the grant application as well.
If you're planning on submitting for a grant in the future, it's a good idea to read the application well ahead of time so that you can start building up your portfolio. After that it's based on luck: how many people apply, how good their work is, tastes of the panel of judges, if there are similar applications, how much money is available, etc.
How did you use those grants?
My grants were used to provide me with time to write.

You’ve now moved into self-publishing.  Will you still try the traditional route?
I may still submit traditionally. The problem is time. I'm not a young woman anymore and I've recently developed Parkinson's disease so I can't take five years to get every novel published. I would still recommend traditional publishing for beginning writers. Working with an editor is an incredibly valuable learning experience. No matter how many classes or how many books you read, you'll never get the same personal attention to your work.

What do you think is the most common misconception about self-publishing?
The most common misconception is that you can a write decent book in a couple of months and then put it on the market. It's frustrating to see how the market is flooded with so-called writers who have not polished their craft to a professional level. I was horrified to see that someone had written the first draft of a novel in November for NaNoWriMo and actually published two weeks later. There is no way that book could be ready. The picture book market is even worse because it takes less time to complete a first draft.
You are currently doing picture books. I’ve heard non-writers say picture books should be easy to write. How would you respond to that?
I'd respond with a giant bull shit. I've had just about every kind of writing you can think of professionally published: magazine articles, newspaper columns, short stories, novels, even poetry. Picture books are as hard as anything else. If you are doing your own illustrations, I'd say even harder than most. It's that attitude that floods Amazon with amateur books that would've made lovely family keepsakes but are not good enough to be sold. BTW, I'm still writing young adult novels as well. I have three in the works.

What type of publicity do you do to promote your book? How does social media play into your promotions?
I have zero budget for publicity, so I do it all myself. I spent three or four hours a day on social media, press releases, interviews, requests for reviews, etc. It takes a tremendous amount of time and energy away from writing, but it's necessary. How else will anyone know my work exists?

What do you know now about writing/publishing you wished you had known sooner?
I wish I'd known how much online advice was available. I could've followed the advice of experienced individuals instead of finding out things alone, the hard way.

What is the best advice about writing you’ve learned that you would like to pass along?
Put your work in a drawer and don't look at it until it has become completely unfamiliar to you. When you reread it, you will realize things you never did before.

Thanks for your insight, Bonnie. Once again we're reminded that writing doesn't come as an overnight success. It takes years of hard work.
If you'd like to get a glimpse of all of Bonnie's writing styles, here's some of your options. With the links below you can see she is active with social media.

Website            Amazon         Linkedin         Goodreads          twitter - @BonnieFerrante

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